§ 3.5 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now further considered on Report.
Moved, That the Bill be further considered on Report.—(Baroness Chalker of Wallasey.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Lord Blake moved Amendment No. 40:
After Clause 7, insert the following new clause:
.—(1) Subject to subsections (2) and (3) this Act shall take effect on such day as may be specified by order which shall also provide for the holding of a consultative referendum before that day to establish whether or not the majority of those voting supports the Treaty on European Union.
(2) No order under subsection (1) above shall be made unless a draft of it has been laid before, and approved by, a resolution of each House of Parliament.
(3) No order shall be made under subsection (1) above unless separate provision has been made by Parliament for defraying out of public funds any expenses to be incurred in carrying the order into effect.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment stands in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord 240 Stoddart of Swindon, the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, and the noble Duke, the Duke of Devonshire.
§ This is the 11th day on which your Lordships have debated the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, which, for the sake of brevity, I shall, with permission of your Lordships, call the Maastricht Bill. I shall endeavour to be brief and not to try the already somewhat frayed patience of your Lordships more than I can possibly help.
§ This is a different kind of amendment from those amendments with which we have previously been concerned. It does not seek to change items in the treaty or to probe for further information. In plain language, it seeks to ensure that the Maastricht Treaty takes effect only after a referendum has been established as to whether or not the people want it. By "the people" I mean in this context the majority of those who vote.
§ A referendum is not a regular feature of our constitution nor, I am bound to say, would I wish it to be so. But it is certainly not an unconstitutional matter. There have been three occasions or possibly four, depending upon how one counts, in the past 20 years when the Government have had recourse to a referendum. It was used as regards the Northern Irish Frontier in 1973, the renegotiated terms of cur entry into the European Economic Community in 1975, and the Scottish and Welsh devolution questions in 1979.
§ It was mooted but never carried by Balfour in 1911 with regard to the Parliament Act crisis. a was mooted, although not carried or agreed, by Baldwin in 1930 and by Winston Churchill in 1945 on the question of the continuation of a national government. Therefore, it is not an unknown, unusual, odd or eccentric method of consulting and discovering what democracy really thinks.
§ The common feature of the referenda which took place was that they concerned constitutional questions. They concerned questions of governance, of how we are to be governed and under what conditions.
§ I do not propose to discuss the merits of the Maastricht Treaty and the Bill. I am president of a body called the Campaign for a British Referendum, which is neutral on that point. Some, like myself, would probably, if there were a referendum, vote on balance and hesitantly for what has been described as this "ramshackle treaty". But I should do that only on the grounds that most choices in politics are choices between evils. Others would vote against Maastricht. However, what unites us is the belief that the British people have right to be consulted so that they can endorse or otherwise a measure which irrevocably and irreversibly in some respects affects their governance.
§ Some noble Lords have disputed the constitutional importance of the Maastricht Bill. It was described by one noble and learned Lord—I am afraid I cannot remember who—as a useful little treaty. Another described it as dotting the "i"s and crossing the "t"s of previous measures, especially with reference to the Treaty of Rome and the Single European Act.
§ I suppose that the dispute boils down to a rather subjective view of what are the constitutional 241 implications of the treaty. But it seems to me that a measure which greatly extends the powers of the Commission, which provides for over 100 new occasions when decisions can be taken by qualified majority voting in the Council of Ministers, which moves us from membership of the European Economic Community into the European Community—a political entity—and which greatly extends the powers of the Community in respect of health, education, rail and road communications, environmental control and a host of other matters must surely be rather more than dotting "i"s and crossing "t"s. It is rather hard to see what all the fuss has been about in both Houses of Parliament, with the enormously lengthy discussions that have taken place, if it just a "useful little treaty" which dots "i"s and crosses "t"s. I cannot believe that it can plausibly be argued that there are no serious constitutional implications in Maastricht.
§ The noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, maintains that the implications are enormous. There may be other noble and learned Lords who would dispute that fact, but it is, at least, a question of some gravity. It is possible—and no doubt there are arguments for it—that we should accept changes in our sovereignty; that we should accept a diminution of the power of Parliament and a diminution of our independence. I would not argue that that is inconceivable or necessarily wrong; but I do argue that the people should have a say in the matter. So far, they have not.
§ There was no real choice in the general election of April last year. All three parties put Maastricht in their manifestos. It was put in smallish print and without a great deal of emphasis but, nevertheless, it was included. However, as noble Lords will remember, it hardly figured at all in the discussions which took place during the general election. In fact, the election turned on a hotch-potch of other issues that I shall not bother to enumerate.
§ It is perfectly true that, constitutionally speaking, Parliament is sovereign and can pass—indeed, it has passed—important constitutional changes without reference to the people. But a right to do something is not an obligation to do it. There is such a thing as a discretionary power. That discretion has been, as I said, exercised earlier on three or four quite important occasions which concerned constitutional questions. I believe that there is a strong moral case here. I fully concede that it is not a legal case, but there is an overwhelming, or at any rate strong, moral case for a referendum on Maastricht in all the circumstances.
§ Perhaps I may now deal with some of the objections raised against a referendum. The first is that your Lordships as Members of an unelected House have no right to pass an amendment that has been rejected by the elected House. The House is fully entitled to do so. I read with pleasure part of an article in today's Daily Telegraph by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. Of course, I did not agree with his conclusion—namely, that your Lordships should reject the amendment; otherwise I would not be standing here—but I strongly endorse the point he 242 made that the House of Lords is entitled to do anything which it is not forbidden to do in the two relevant Acts under which we operate. Therefore, I hope that we shall not get bogged down this afternoon in a series of arguments about the powers of your Lordships' House and about the usages, conventions, past precedents, and so on. That is an almost unlimited bog in which to fall.
§ Secondly, it will be argued that the whole subject is too complicated for the electorate to understand and that it would be impossible to frame intelligible questions so that they could be understood. I find that rather hard to accept. If the Irish, the Danes and the French have conducted referendums on the subject without, apparently, incurring any complaints that the matter was unintelligible or impossible to understand, I find it hard to believe that the British, unlike their continental partners, are incapable of doing so.
In fact, one could perfectly well have a relatively simple question put in a referendum. The following was the question that was put in the French referendum:
Do you approve of the draft law put to the French people by the President of the Republic ratifying the Treaty on European Union?
Well, something in similar but suitably altered language could perfectly well be put in a referendum in Britain. Moreover, if it is a fact that the British people are ignorant about such issues, it is to some extent the fault of the Government. There has been extraordinarily little attempt on the part of the Front Benches of both sides in politics in this House and elsewhere—notably in another place—to explain in simple, or even in roughly approximate, language what the issues are about. If we had a referendum, the Government and the supporters of Maastricht, whether or not they are in the Government, would be obliged in the course of such a campaign to explain what it was all about—or, at any rate, to make a shot at doing so. That was done in the referendum campaign in 1975. Therefore, I do not believe that it is an insuperable difficulty.
§ Then there is the objection which I am sure will be raised; namely, that it is futile to pass the amendment because, when the Bill returns to another place, it will simply be slung out under the powers of the Parliament Act without any attempt at serious discussion and will then be thrown back to us. I do not take such a gloomy and pessimistic view of the outlook, attitude and temperament of Members in another place. If the amendment were to be passed, I believe that they would seriously consider it. I am not saying that they would reconsider it to the extent of actually reversing their verdict, but they would consider it. If we do not give them the chance to reconsider, how are we to know what their reaction would be? Although I am certain that that argument will be powerfully pursued in the course of this afternoon's debate, it is not a good argument and would certainly not induce me to change my views about pushing for a referendum.
§ There is a final objection that might be raised. Here I address particularly my noble friends on these Benches. It has been put about, assiduously in some quarters, that if a referendum amendment were to be 243 passed; if the Government allowed a referendum to take place; and if that referendum went against Maastricht—noble Lords will notice that there are quite a number of "ifs" involved—then the Government would be obliged to resign. I think that that is total rubbish. I am addressing my noble friends specifically because, of course, I quite understand that noble Lords on the other side of the House would be only too pleased ill that did happen. However, I must disappoint them. In my estimate, no such thing would occur.
§ I believe that it is a fairly well-attested and valuable constitutional doctrine that a government resign only when they have lost the confidence of another place, or have lost a general election, which, in effect, comes to the same thing. I do not gain the impression that the Government would voluntarily resign at this moment. I do not think this Cabinet is exactly full of what one might call resigning types. Again I must disappoint the Front Bench opposite as I think the likelihood of a government resigning and thus precipitating a general election because they had lost a referendum on Maastricht is so remote as to be absolutely inconceivable.
I only have a few more points to make. I have given some of the reasons for a referendum and tried to answer some of the objections. I believe that at the end of the day the moral authority of Parliament stems from the people. I shall not hesitate to quote the great 17th century political philosopher, John Locke, the author of that bible of constitutionalism, his famous Second Treatise of Government. I am sure that text is familiar to your Lordships. John Locke wrote:
Parliament cannot transfer the power of making laws to any other hands, for it being but a delegated power from the people. They who have it cannot pass it to others".
Parliament can consult the people, and morally should consult the people, when it seeks to pass on these powers to others. As I said earlier, in 1911 the cry went up over the Parliament Act crisis—the peers against the people. This is a golden chance to show that the peers are in favour of the people. I beg to move.
§ 3.21 p.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Wakeham)
My Lords, it may be helpful if at this stage I were to assist the House by setting out the Government's attitude towards the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Blake. The amendment has given rise to a certain amount of discussion outside the Chamber of your Lordships' House. It perhaps comes as something of a relief for your Lordships now to have the opportunity to consider the issues to which it gives rise. The purpose of the amendment can be simply stated: it requires the holding of a consultative referendum on the Maastricht Treaty before the Act could enter into force and before the UK could ratify the treaty.
The Government's primary objection to a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty can be put equally simply: the United Kingdom is a parliamentary democracy. The Members of another place are elected to represent the people and to take decisions on their behalf. We in this House also have our role to play. Noble Lords calling for a referendum have made 244 much of their desire to defend Parliament's sovereignty. But by calling for a referendum they are in fact undermining this sovereignty. They are advocating that Parliament abdicates its responsibility to take a decision in this case. I believe it would be wrong to place our experience and judgment in baulk and to stand aside while the people decide. They have decided.
Some have argued that we should hold a referendum because there was no real choice at the previous general election on the question of the Maastricht Treaty. However, the Government's proposals on Europe were spelt out clearly in the months before the election and were fully debated in both Houses of Parliament. The Conservative Party manifesto explained the key commitments that ratification of the Maastricht Treaty implied. The electorate could not have had any doubt at all about the position when in April 1992 it endorsed that manifesto.
Moreover, it is not sufficient to argue that a referendum is justified because of the consensus that exists between major parties on the issue of Europe. There is certainly no case for holding a referendum on all major issues on which political parties agree. Article R of the Maastricht Treaty sets out the requirements for ratification. Like its predecessors in 1957 and 1985, it states that all member states shall ratify the treaty,in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements".This recognises that each country has its own constitution and its own way of dealing with such matters. Two countries in the EC—Denmark and Ireland—were constitutionally obliged to hold a referendum. Others did not have this option. For example, I understand that Italy is constitutionally prevented from holding a referendum on an international treaty. Most countries, like the United Kingdom, have followed the parliamentary route according to their established practices. That is as it should be.
It has been suggested that the Maastricht Treaty represents a major constitutional change in the United Kingdom and that that justifies exceptional recourse to a referendum. I do not accept that argument. I can do no better than repeat what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, said during his thoughtful and weighty contribution to our Second Reading debate:the Maastricht Treaty is a logical step from the Single European Act … it is not a revision in a constitutional sense".He continued:the new express powers given to the European Community by the Maastricht Treaty are definitions and codifications of powers which the Council has been exercising under the general articles (Articles 235 and 100A) already".—[official Report, 7/6/93; col. 576.]A major change in the constitution of this country took place with our accession to the European Communities under the 1972 Act. I refer again to the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce. He reminded your Lordships that it was well established when we entered the Community in 245 1973 that European law had a direct effect in each of the member states and that if a conflict arose European law took precedence over statute law.
As my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor made clear during his Second Reading speech, the subsequent Community treaties and the Maastricht Treaty build on the framework established by the 1972 Act but do not fundamentally change the position. If there ever were a case for a referendum, therefore, it was before we joined the Community. Once we were in, the case—such as it was —fell away.
In 1975 the vast majority of the Conservative Party argued strongly against a referendum and voted against one. The 1975 referendum is cited as a precedent for a further one on Maastricht. Yet whatever the motives of those who in 1975 advocated a referendum, the logic of the 1975 vote—in so far as it could be justified—was that it would settle the membership issue once and for all, and not that it should establish a precedent for a series of further referenda to confirm the basic decision.
No referendum was held on the Single European Act, which significantly expanded the use of qualified majority voting—particularly Article 100A—and neither was there a great demand for one. Even the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, whose consistency of view on these matters is well known to your Lordships, at that time argued for a speakers' conference. In contrast, the Maastricht Treaty keeps the largest new areas of co-operation on an intergovernmental basis, accountable to national parliaments. There are also practical reasons that militate against the holding of a referendum. They are the complexity of the treaty; the difficulty of framing a meaningful question; and the risk—which was amply demonstrated in the French referendum for example—that whatever the question, people will choose to answer a different one. However, the real objection to a referendum is that the people have spoken through their Parliament. Before the British Prime Minister went to Maastricht he sought and obtained the approval of Parliament for his negotiating strategy. On his return he again obtained that approval, both of another place and of your Lordships' House, for the outcome of the negotiations. Since then, his mandate was renewed at a general election at which anti-Maastricht candidates barely recorded a vote. The other place has spent well over 200 hours considering the Bill. When it came to vote on the referendum question, it rejected the idea by an overwhelming majority of 239 votes.
Of course, and here I agree with my noble friend, it is perfectly within the rules and conventions of this House for your Lordships to seek to ask the other place to think again on the issue. But we should consider for a moment the practical consequences of doing so. Is it within the realms of reality to suppose that another place will reverse a decision taken by such a majority? If it is not reasonable to suppose such an outcome, can it be sensible to ask the other place to think again?
Well over 100 of your Lordships spoke in the Second Reading debate. We have also had six days in 246 Committee, and this is the third day of the Report stage. It is right that your Lordships should have expressed strong views and should have put queries and anxieties to the Government and had them answered. My noble friend Lady Chalker, my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, and many others of my noble friends have given good and clear responses to the anxieties of those in your Lordships' House who have raised all manner of issues, not just on Maastricht but also on the more fundamental question of whether we should have joined the Community in the first place. I hope and believe that the considered responses given have helped to clear up misconceptions and allay anxieties.
It would be wrong of us to say now that this lengthy debate has been inadequate or irrelevant and that after all this time and effort Parliament will not decide the issue and that instead we shall put it to the people. That would be a dereliction of our duty. It would do the greatest possible damage to Britain's reputation if this country were to take such a step 18 months after we signed the treaty, after an extraordinarily extended parliamentary process which has demonstrated overwhelming support for the treaty from all major parties, and after the Government have given their word that we will complete ratification during this Session. I urge your Lordships to reject the amendment.
§ 3.31 p.m.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, I listened to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Blake, when he introduced the amendment, as I always do. This is an important amendment and the noble Lord made an important speech. He put up the most attractive argument for a referendum that I have heard in many a long month. If I could be certain that his three "ifs" could be satisfied and that if a referendum were held and the Government were to go—if I could have those assurances in the tablets of stone which my noble friends Lord Bruce and Lord Stoddart have been demanding from the Government on other issues in relation to Maastricht—it would be very tempting indeed. However, I regret that I shall not receive the assurances. I do not believe that it will happen.
The noble Lord, Lord Blake, enunciated what was almost a constitutional principle, namely, that where an Act or a treaty involves changes to the British constitution and the way in which we are governed in this country it should be put to a referendum. That would apply not solely in relation to Maastricht but as a general principle. It is an argument which one could no doubt debate. I merely observe, as the noble Lord the Leader of the House pointed out, that that was not done in relation to the Single European Act. Those of your Lordships who will urge us today to vote in favour of a referendum on Maastricht but who nevertheless were opposed to a referendum on the Single European Act—not only against it but perhaps in some cases in a position to prevent it—are under a duty to explain to the House precisely why that change of mind has come about.
This is almost the final parliamentary step in the consideration of this Bill and this treaty. It has been a 247 long road. We should not forget that the treaty was negotiated as long ago as December 1991, so the gestation period for the Bill has been lengthy. Parliamentary consideration started towards the end of last year. We on these Benches took the view that that was an inordinate and unreasonable delay on the part of the Government. The process has continued for most of this year. As the noble Lord, the Leader of the House pointed out, there were two days on the Second Reading in this House and six days in Committee. There have been three days on the Report stage. Four hundred amendments were put down for the Committee stage in your Lordships' House. In the other place there were 204 hours of debate, and 600 amendments were put down during the 23 days in Committee.
Whatever one says about the Bill it would be very difficult to argue that there has not been proper parliamentary scrutiny of this piece of legislation. Not only that, but everybody has had the opportunity to say what they want in relation to the Bill and the treaty. They have taken that opportunity. They have seized it with both hands. They have had their say—in some cases, often.
Fundamental to our approach to the issue today is the fact that the Government chose to take the parliamentary route towards ratification. It is possible to argue, as the noble Lord, Lord Blake did, that they should have proceeded by way of a referendum as an alternative to parliamentary consideration because the treaty is of such constitutional significance. However, one should also remember that in the weeks immediately after the treaty was negotiated little was heard about a referendum. As I recall, there was a touch of triumphalism about the great success which the Government had obtained at Maastricht.
So we proceeded by the normal route to ratification. I use the word "normal" in this context because the Single European Act also proceeded by the parliamentary route towards ratification. In that sense what has happened in relation to the Maastricht Treaty is at least as normal as the procedure followed with the Single European Act. Not only that. It is arguable—and I would argue—that in relation to the Maastricht Bill there has been infinitely more scope for parliamentary discussion than there was in relation to the Single European Act.
I nearly uttered the immortal sentence, "We have now reached the point that we have now reached". I suppose that in a sense that is absolutely true. But we have now reached the final stage in the completion of the parliamentary process. I believe that the only issue before your Lordships in relation to the proposed new clause is whether we are satisfied that the parliamentary process has in some way been unsatisfactory or lacking. Unless we are satisfied that that process has been unsatisfactory or lacking then I suggest to the House that it would be very difficult to vote in favour of holding a referendum.
Against that background there are three strong arguments against holding a referendum. First, it is far too late; secondly, it is constitutionally unwise; thirdly, it would be an extraordinarily divisive and 248 confused process. It would keep the issue alive for perhaps another nine months, and in the end it might reach no conclusion.
I should like, with your Lordships' permission, to say a word about each of those three arguments. I turn first to the point that it is too late. If it was valid, the referendum option should have been exercised a very long time ago. It is now far too late. Let us consider what would happen if the new clause were to be accepted. It would need a Bill. When would the Bill pass through Parliament? I venture to suggest that it would not be capable of being passed through Parliament until approximately November. That referendum Bill would, in turn, like the Maastricht Bill and other Bills of such significance, require intense parliamentary scrutiny, particularly on the terms of the question that would have to be put to the British electorate. I do not suggest that it would demand, or receive, the sort of parliamentary scrutiny which the Maastricht Bill itself has received, but it would be bound to attract a certain amount of interest in both Houses. That would take us to around November. It would be very difficult to have a referendum in the run-up to Christmas. Therefore, for practical purposes, we are talking about a referendum being organised and taking place in approxirnately February of next year, two and a quarter years after the treaty was negotiated. That is far too long, my Lords.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, will speak in this debate. I believe that he is the only person in this House who has organised and run a referendum. I see that the noble Lord is here, and I think that he is nodding. I look forward to hearing what he has to tell us about the possibilities of having a referendum. I believe that it will be somewhat instructive.
There has to be a determination of the affair. It is in no one's interests, either ours or our Community partners, that the matter should now be indefinitely prolonged. My firm conclusion therefore is that the time for a referendum has long since passed.
Secondly, perhaps I may say a word about the constitutional position. I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Blake, says. Of course this House has the right to try to impose a referendum on the ratification process. But is it wise? I ask your Lordships to consider the wisdom of such an affair. As the Leader of the House told us, the issue was determined by the elected House with a majority of some 240. If that were allowed to be overturned by this unelected House, it would produce—if I may use the phrase that I used at Second Reading—constitutional friction of a high order. But it may go even further than that. If, moreover, it was overturned by the votes of noble Lords who are not perhaps the most regular attenders at your Lordships' proceedings, I believe that that friction would be intensified. The spectacle of a large number of peers appearing for the specific purpose of overturning the will of the elected House in the name of the people's democracy I fear would highlight in a particularly pointed way the difficulties that this House faces in a constitutional process.
I do not agree with the constitutional entitlement to do it, but I profoundly disagree with the political 249 wisdom of provoking such a clash with the other House. I am bound to say, too, that I am a little surprised that some noble Lords are prepared to contemplate such a result. Some, indeed, have held very high office in another place, and have regarded themselves, and have rightly been so regarded, as the champions of the rights and liberties of the House of Commons.
Thirdly, let me say a word about divisiveness. For all the "trust the people" rhetoric that we have heard in the course of the Committee stage of the Bill, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to confine the issue on a referendum to Maastricht itself. It could well turn into a vote of confidence in the Government. If only that could be accepted, if I could have the assurances I require, that might not be such a bad prospect. But the result would therefore be an uncertain indication, putting it at its highest, of the real state of public opinion in this country, as it was in Ireland, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Blake. The abortion issue was very much tied up with that referendum. In France it became a vote of confidence in the Mitterrand Government.
Therefore I have real doubts about the determining nature of a referendum, perhaps particularly so in this instance. Fundamentally my objection to the proposal is the practical one: that having gone through this detailed process of parliamentary scrutiny and examination, it is much too late now suddenly to change direction.
It is precisely because it is too late to change direction that the proposal is supported by so many of those who are opposed to the treaty itself, and not only to this treaty but even to the Treaty of Rome. Having failed to get their way either in this Chamber or in another place, having said all that they wish to say, and having said it persistently, at this late stage there is the proposal to postpone ratification yet again pending a referendum. It is clearly a wrecking device. I believe that it is designed to be a wrecking device. Therefore with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Blake, I cannot understand how anyone in favour of the treaty can at the same time be in favour of the proposal to delay ratification further.
Finally, after the detailed, almost unprecedented, parliamentary scrutiny that the Bill has had, one would perhaps have expected that those so jealous of Parliament's sovereignty would have accepted that in this case Parliament has done its job. Rarely can a Bill have been so dissected, analysed and picked over. It is only if one can be satisfied that Parliament has somehow failed to do its job properly that one can turn to the alternative route to ratification; namely, a referendum. Whether Parliament has done its job properly is a different question from whether one likes the result of Parliament doing its job. I do not like the result, for example, on the social chapter. But I am satisfied that the Bill has been given full and proper consideration by both Houses of Parliament in accordance with their respective rules of procedure. If that is so, it is time that the talking stopped. For those reasons, we on these Benches will vote against the inclusion of the new clause in the Bill.
§ 3.48 p.m.
My Lords, the debate has been much trailed in the media, and with good cause. On Monday last, The Times in its first editorial reminded the nation that the treaty is Britain's greatest constitutional upheaval since the Act of Union and it should be subject to careful consideration.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, Leader of the Labour Party in this House, seemed to be tetchy about how long we have taken in considering the Bill. He was tetchy last night; and I hope that he is better today. The Maastricht issue is bound to be involved in the argument for the referendum. That is why I did not like the Government Chief Whip adding to the three line Whip which he has issued by standing there to warn us to be careful to keep within the rules.
We are discussing the biggest issue that any of us will ever have a chance to discuss: the future constitution of our own country. There has been complaint that noble Lords have had to stay until 11 o'clock. I make a quick confession. I have not done so, but I have been present when I thought that there would be a vote.
At the time of the general election, the text of the Treaty of Maastricht had not even been published. Therefore no one has a right to say in this House that the British people knew what they were voting for so far as concerns Maastricht. They had never set eyes on the treaty. Since then we have had a most distinguished luminary of the Government agreeing that he had not read the treaty either; and he is now holding high office within the Administration.
I like the reserve of the noble Lord, Lord Blake. He does not suffer from a Celtic temperament. He pursued his argument quietly but highly effectively. He said that he would quote Locke. It is a quotation worth underlining. Locke made it clear, and it has been accepted by both Houses since he wrote it, that, we in Parliament cannot transfer the power of making laws of this land to any other land. Who would believe that a day could come when noble Lords would be considering giving to another nation the right to make legislation touching the life of our people socially, economically and with regard to foreign affairs?
The noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, shakes her head, but I shall not be intimidated. She knows that Maastricht is a gateway—that is what it is—through which the things of which I speak can come about. It is because of that that I also believe that since the Maastricht Treaty seeks to transfer the powers of our Parliament only the people can decide the issue. No one is given a mandate by the British people to sell their heritage to reach an economic agreement; to be willing to sell our political sovereignty. At the end of the day, that is the issue involved.
Edmund Burke has been quoted many times during the debate. He said that Members of another place were not delegates but representatives. He was lucky, he lived before the era of the three-line Whip. Edmund Burke was not told by his Front Bench: "You must, as a matter of loyalty, stand behind us and cast your vote in the Lobby". That 18th century Parliament was guided by individual judgments; conscience was 251 allowed to prevail. It was, therefore, a Parliament that had a special significance for those not only in the other place but in here.
The simple issue today that we have to resolve is whether we ask—not tell—another place to give further thought to something which is of long-term significance. This House would not be as crowded as it is today if it were not for the essential importance of the issues at stake. Because of that we have every right to say, and the Labour Party should have been the first to do so: "Think again before you take irrevocable action which will bind future generations and affect those who are not yet born but who will belong to this country".
I read in the media today, in a speech being trailed, that it will be said that a crisis will arise if we support the referendum—a crisis for Her Majesty's Government and would cause them embarrassment. But the Government are used to that. As for causing a crisis, when your Lordships' House decided, by a large majority, to throw back in the face of the Government the War Crimes Bill, although the Bill had had a large majority in the other place, no one talked about a crisis then. Not at all.
This House has its own responsibilities and I hope that those who have made special efforts to come here, who have left their arduous duties behind, will not feel that the three-line Whip has any moral obligation on them. That applies to both sides of the House. What a unique situation it is that, with agreement between the Leaders, they are so nervous that they require a three-line Whip! There is a lot of fear on those Benches, and Jacques Delors could not have had more enthusiastic support than he has had from the Leader of the Opposition. But a three-line Whip in this House under these circumstances is unheard of. I thought I had left behind me in another place such arm-twisting, such promises, such persuasion, but I understand that the pressure has been considerable.
I ask your Lordships to believe that there is no crisis if we cast our vote in favour of the amendment. If, indeed, the French—who by a whisker agreed to Maastricht—had turned it down, it would not have been the end of the world; they would just have carried on with their economic union. The trade would have gone on all right, because they need us more than we need them, if the truth be known. Therefore, I believe that we should assert our sovereign right today and pass this amendment.
The main parties in this House are deeply divided. It is a silly pretence to say "we". The noble Lord ought to have said, "Those who agree with me on these Benches will vote with me". The same applies to the Opposition Benches. The main parties are divided and the people who are involved are not minor characters but people with knowledge of our parliamentary affairs.
The advantage of a referendum would be that the unease which is spreading across the land would be settled because people keep asking me, "What is it all about? I don't know what it's about". My answer is, "lf there were a referendum, they would have to tell you what it's all about". I believe that the informed British public would then make their views known. 252 People outside feel that they do not know what the issues are and I believe that a referendum where both sides could argue their case could do nothing but good for the future of our people.
Just outside this Chamber is the statue of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham—I can tell that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, was trained in another place because he keeps interrupting. In the Central Lobby there is the statue of William Ewart Gladstone; in the Members' Lobby, Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George guard the entrance, with. Clement Attlee looking benignly on them both. I think of the great parliamentary giants of the past. They are silent reminders of the sacrifices that have been made through the centuries to keep the sovereign rights of the British Parliament. They were great names but they have gone.
I know that we are living in a different age, but there are some things that never change. The character of the British people is one of those things. That is why the politicians say no to a referendum. It is because they know the British people. There is a stubborn streak in our people. There is also a native common sense. They know when the tocsin sounds. They know when there is danger. The man who ploughs the field, and the man who works in the pit, the railway or the slate quarry has a native common sense and a sound instinct about great issues affecting this land.
The three-line Whip upsets me deeply. People do not feel free, and they should. Two things have impressed me about your Lordships' House ever since I came here. The first is the courtesy here. Hardly anyone is rude. If anyone is I say to myself, "Another one from down the road". The courtesy of this House is one of our precious assets. The second is independence. Independence is the greatest possession that your Lordships have. It also carries a great responsibility. Your Lordships are Free, unlike the mass of the British people, to register an opinion; or you can please the Chief Whip. I say to noble Lords in deep sincerity (like everyone else) that there is no monopoly of patriotism here. We all love Britain—the United Kingdom, I should say for the sake of the noble Lady—but, if we all love this country surely we should move cautiously. i ask the House—after all, it is not an offence to do so—to send this amendment back and say, "Think again". It is they, the elected representatives of the people, who will decide if there is to be a referendum. We should give them the opportunity to debate the issue.
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkins of Hillhead
My Lords, although normally and naturally I attach great importance to the established pattern of speaking of party leaders, I decided to give way to the noble Viscount for two reasons. First, I well understood that after the two very cogent speeches of the Leader of the House and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, he might wish to try to stem the tide from the point of view of the amendment. Secondly, I deferred to him not so much as a former Speaker of the House of Commons, but because when I first became Home Secretary, unbelievable though it sounds now, he was my 253 Parliamentary Secretary—the most junior of my four Ministers. I thought it perhaps appropriate after 28 years to redress the balance for that.
The noble Viscount brings to our sometimes drab proceedings the more exciting tones of the great Welsh revivalist preachers of the 19th century who have now departed from the Rhondda and the surrounding areas as much as the coal mines have done. But perhaps he would agree with me—or at any rate, some other noble Lords might agree with me—that although he excited us, he did not apply himself very closely to the cogent arguments against the amendment employed by the two Front Bench speakers.
It is now more than five and a half weeks, but it seems much longer, since almost exactly the same cast assembled for the opening phase of the Second Reading debate. We are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Blake, not only for the way in which he moved the amendment, but also for breaking the mould—or at least, cracking it a little—by coming in first. I think we shall also be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, for having chosen this occasion to make his maiden speech. I am looking forward to it intensely; none the less so because I have no idea what the noble Lord will say. It breaks up the rest of us as an opening quintet, which, I fear, on the basis of our performance on 8th June, is only too predictable. Some noble Lords have exhibited great stamina. But I am not sure that the argument has been much advanced or that there have been many conversions from one side or the other.
In the Second Reading debate I expressed some views about a referendum. Those views have, if anything, since strengthened. I am not against referenda in all circumstances. I can envisage circumstances in which a further European one might be desirable. It is of course a device which is fairly alien to our constitutional habits. There has been only one national referendum. There were a few regional ones. With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Blake, is not entirely establishing a precedent to suggest that thoughts of one flickered across the minds of Mr. Arthur Balfour or even Mr. Stanley Baldwin for dealing with certain party difficulties which confronted them at the time. But the device is unusual. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, was bitterly criticised for his weakness in introducing the 1975 referendum. He was criticised to some extent by me; but any criticism I uttered was far exceeded by that of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher.
There are, however, a number of other constitutional innovations of which I am in favour. So I would not reject the amendment on grounds of traditionalism. The essence of the reasons why in present circumstances I do reject it, or would wish to see it rejected, are these. First, if there was to be a referendum, it should without question have been at the beginning of the process of ratification, and not at the end of an incredibly tortuous and long drawn-out process of parliamentary argument which, apart from anything else, has bored the country stiff. For Britain to start now on an alternative and totally different 254 method of ratification, which would be bound to take, as I have conservatively said, at least until Christmas —after hearing the noble Lord, Lord Richard, I think it would be at least until Easter, and maybe beyond that—would make the Government look even more pathetically weak than they already look, both in Europe and here at home.
Secondly, the question to be put is far from obvious or precise. The Maastricht Treaty, in my view, is a fairly muddled treaty. And we have added still further to the muddle by the special exemptions for Britain. I am in favour, clearly and firmly, of ratifying it—not out of great respect for its merits, but because to do so will enable Europe to conduct the reappraisal which it now greatly needs in an atmosphere of common purpose rather than of mutual suspicion. Also, ratification will alone prevent Britain being reviled in Europe for having first contracted out of half the treaty and then wrecked the other half.
Maastricht yields neither a precise question nor amounts to as great a practical limitation of sovereignty as the Single European Act of 1986. That was when we accepted precise obligations relating to majority voting and other matters. If it is general aspirations containing the threat of future commitments about which we are concerned, I ask noble Lords to look at the so-called solemn declaration of Stuttgart in June 1983. Everything is there: monetary union, political union and even a common social policy. Yet the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, who warmly commended Stuttgart to Parliament, three years later, after plenty of time for reflection, pushed through the Single European Act with a guillotine and the harshest of three-line Whips.
Thirdly, if we are to have referenda, we should have them as part of a clearly thought out constitutional scheme and not just as a by-product of a tactical ploy by those who have tried and failed to defeat this Bill in every possible way. There should be a clear definition laid down in advance as to what is and what is not a referendum issue. There should be established an impartial standing body to determine the form of the questions to be put. That might take us several stages towards a written constitution. But no one should think that one can just draft in an ad hoc referendum without it having considerable repercussive effect.
Another repercussive effect would be the impact of a referendum campaign, if a referendum were to take place, upon the cohesion of parties. When I hear it suggested that it might ease the strains in the Conservative Party, I rub my eyes. A referendum is very close to a general election campaign in the loyalties and the enmities that it creates. When a party divides and fights on different sides, the traumas are deep and lasting. I, perhaps better than anyone, know the fissiparous consequences of the 1975 referendum for the Labour Party. Within a short time it was out of office and has remained so for a decade and a half. If I were a member of the party opposite, I would hesitate a very long time before setting off down that road.
But I must not pretend that my primary concern is for the future welfare of the Conservative Party. What 255 I am deeply concerned about is the future influence of Britain in the world. I am convinced that another year of delay would be fatal to Britain's influence in Europe. I ask noble Lords to reject the amendment and get on with the completion of the Bill, which has been with us for too long.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Lawson of Blaby
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins—who has just sat down—for his expression of interest in what I am about to say. I shall try not to take too long in saying it. I suspect it is somewhat unusual, although I believe by no means unprecedented, to make one's maiden speech during the course of the Report stage of a Bill. To those of your Lordships who feel affronted by my departure from custom, I can only apologise but perhaps plead in mitigation that this is no ordinary Bill and that this amendment is no ordinary amendment; not to mention the fact that, having had the privilege of being a Member of your Lordships' House for a year, it was probably about time that I broke my cluck anyway.
It is a particular pleasure to speak in a debate initiated by my noble friend Lord Blake. My noble friend was my politics tutor when I was an undergraduate at Oxford some 40 years ago. I may say that he survived the experience remarkably well. As a result, I always pay particular heed to what he has to say.
It seems to me that at the heart of this debate lie two distinct questions. The first is whether a consultative referendum has any part in our constitution; the second is whether, if so, this Bill provides one of those rare occasions on which such a referendum is called for.
As to the first of those questions, I am happy to agree with my noble friend Lord Blake. The precedent that has to some extent inadvertently been set in recent years, that fundamental constitutional change be put to the people in a referendum, is one that I welcome. I welcome it because it buttresses a constitution that is badly in need of buttressing. But I have to agree with my noble friend the Leader of the House that those who advocate a referendum on Maastricht do not strengthen their case by praying in aid the fact that at the last general election all three political parties were in favour of Maastricht, thus depriving the electorate of the possibility of casting a vote against it. Even if that had not been so, a general election is not an occasion on which a single isolated issue can be put to the people, as Mr. Heath discovered in 1974.
But much more importantly, all-party agreement is not the only way in which the people can be deprived of the opportunity to vote against a proposal. It happens all the time. The people had no opportunity, for example, to vote against the Single European Act, which was ushered through Parliament under the leadership of my noble friend Lady Thatcher. As an issue it was not even in contemplation at the time of the 1983 general election and by the 1987 election it was already a fait accompli.
No, the question—it is an important question—is simply whether, unlike the Single European Act, the 256 Maastricht Treaty involves such a fundamental change to our constitution and such a grave loss of national and parliamentary sovereignty that it should, on those grounds and those grounds alone, be put to the people in a referendum first before final ratification can be contemplated.
Those who claim that the objective of the architects of the Maastricht Treaty is to replace the European Community of nation states by a single European superstate are clearly right. There is nothing disreputable about such an objective, although for my part, as a longstanding proponent of European unity, I believe it to be profoundly mistaken and, if it were ever to be imposed on the peoples of Europe, a blueprint for disaster. But I repeat: there is nothing disreputable about it. All that might perhaps be considered disreputable would be to deny that that is the objective of the architects of the Maastricht Treaty, since it manifestly is so.
But the question to which we have to address ourselves is whether the Maastricht Treaty in fact achieves or can be expected to achieve that objective. The heart of the Maastricht Treaty and the means by which its federalist architects seek to achieve their political objective is monetary union, the replacement of the individual European currencies and central banks by a single European currency and a single European central bank. That is the heart of it.
I believe that there are two distinct constitutional dimensions to it. In the first place the loss of one's national currency and of the ability to possess a national monetary policy is in itself a constitutional change and a loss of national autonomy of the first importance. But it does not stop there. It is envisaged that monetary policy 'would be conducted by a European central bank which is politically independent.
The idea of central bank independence has aroused increasing interest in recent years. I myself have long made clear that I favour conferring independence, within an appropriate statutory framework, on the Bank of England. But what is agreed on all sides—and the Prime Minister recently made this point in another place—is that in a democracy independence must be accompanied, as indeed it is in all those countries that already possess an independent central bank, by accountability. That involves both co-operation with the elected government of the day and open accountability to Parliament. So long as there is no single European government and no genuine Single European Parliament, a European central bank, which would arguably be the most powerful entity in the entire Community, would be effectively unaccountable and thus democratically unacceptable.
As the architects of Maastricht are doubtless aware, the only way in which that dilemma could be resolved would be to create the European political institutions of a genuine European Parliament, a European finance ministry and a European government that democracy itself would then demand. Thus would the superstate be born. However, in regard to this country, none of that is in the treaty before us today, containing as it does a protocol specifying that the United Kingdom shall not be obliged or 257 committed to move to the third stage of economic and monetary union without a separate decision to do so by its government and Parliament. It is of course only at the third stage that the single European currency and European central bank are planned to come into being.
It is clear that Her Majesty's Government, by negotiating that protocol, recognised the special political and constitutional significance of monetary union. Without monetary union the Maastricht Treaty is not, in my judgment, of any greater constitutional importance than the Single European Act (in the preamble to which, incidentally, the objective of monetary union was for the first time brought back to life from the grave in which it had lain since the collapse of the Werner plan in the mid-1970s).
However, should there come a time when this or any future British Government are so unwise as to conclude that this country should participate in a European monetary union, with all its political consequences, that would be a decision of such momentous constitutional significance as to warrant not merely the separate approval of Parliament at a time as provided for in the treaty before us, but also a prior referendum of the British people. Unless and until that time arrives—and for a number of reasons I rather doubt that it ever will—I do not believe that the case for a referendum is made and I shall vote tonight accordingly.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Lord Howe of Aberavon
My Lords, slightly to my surprise I find myself following the precedent set by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins. It fell to him to pay tribute to someone who served as his junior Minister. My noble friend Lord Lawson first served in government as one of my junior Ministers in the Treasury. I am delighted to be able to follow him. I welcome him and congratulate him on the quality of his speech. There is perhaps a difference between the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, and my own, for it is not my recollection that I always, or indeed often, had the first word or even the last word in discussions with my noble friend. He gave us a speech that was lucid, learned, laconic—"Lawsonic". We look forward to hearing him again.
My noble friend helped to clear a great deal of uncontroversial ground. No one is any longer arguing that a referendum is unconstitutional in that it cannot theoretically be done. But my noble friend Lord Blake, in his compelling speech, tended to suggest that it was by no means unusual. That is slightly overstating the case. As the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, pointed out, it was without precedent in 1975 when a national referendum was held. It was strenuously and determinedly resisted at that time, for good reason. It was seen then, as it certainly is, as a formidable erosion of one aspect of parliamentary sovereignty.
The common ground now established is that we should take the utmost care to avoid falling into the habit of calling referenda. Most certainly they have the effect I described upon our parliamentary 258 constitution. That is why constitutionalists of wisdom have developed the pattern of contemplating a referendum with the longest possible pair of tongs. In 1975 it was said to be justified because of the exceptional nature of the Treaty of Rome and the Treaty of Accession. Indeed, there was then real novelty.
As the law officer in charge of preparing that Bill in concert with my noble friend Lord Rippon, I know well that there were many entirely novel features about it—entirely novel, supranational commitments; a law being made outside our Parliament directly applicable in the kingdom, enforceable by an outside court; amendable and extendable by a majority of the Community, even against the will of Her Majesty's Government and this Parliament. It was expressed in a treaty which was open-ended in duration without any provision for determination, with the deliberately timeless objective of the ever-closer union of the peoples of Europe. It was a process and not an event, a process of which Maastricht is a part. The objective has since then been affirmed on many occasions, not least by my noble friend Lady Thatcher and myself in the Stuttgart declaration to which reference has already been made and the Single European Act.
The European Communities Act 1972 was the fundamental change. There was another feature about it. The legislation had been contested line by line by the Labour Party who then came into government and had to deal with the Act, having presented it to the people in the intervening general election as unacceptable in the absence of renegotiation. The referendum which the Labour government, with great agony, undertook to impose upon this country, could be seen as ratifying not just the original far-reaching transfer of sovereignty, but also the far from marginal adjustment of the position of the government since the date of their arrival in office. Therefore, although the referendum was fiercely contested, for the first time it was allowed to happen.
The effect was clearly stated on 7th June 1975 by a figure not much heard of these days—the right honourable Mr. Tony Benn—when he said,It is clear by an overwhelming majority the British people have voted to stay in … clearly the decision of the referendum is binding on Parliament. There can be no going back".In other words, for the first time, we heard uttered the proposition that it had been settled once and for all.
The position now being advanced is that Maastricht raises such special features that the once and for all doctrine may be invoked again within less than 20 years. But for that to happen, it must be proven in one of two ways. The first is that it must be shown that Maastricht is as far reaching as the 1972 legislation. That is not even attempted. The critics of Maastricht are trying to re-run the arguments that they decidedly lost in 1975. To them I say that we simply cannot re-run the history of the past 25 years as though it had not happened. Or it is contended that Maastricht is so decidedly different from the Single European Act, which my noble friend Lady Thatcher and I negotiated in 1985, that it must be treated in a totally different way from that legislation. That distinction cannot be made. Exactly like Maastricht, the Single European Act contained both centralising 259 and decentralising elements. It accepted and extended the primacy of Community law. It tried to make it more effective. It increased the competence of the Community. It extended majority voting substantially, thank Heaven, because without that we should never have achieved the single market to which we attach so much importance. It enhanced the powers of the European Parliament, as does Maastricht. Both treaties give new rights to citizens and retain Council unanimity for crucial matters.
Maastricht therefore is in the same constitutional tradition and of the same order of change as the Single European Act, arid not the opposite. The opponents of Maastricht now seek to challenge, night after night, what has been constitutional common ground at least since the 1975 referendum. That common ground is the ground that was taken for granted at the time of the Single European Act.
One even more important point to make in this context—about a distinction that can be drawn between the Single European Act and Maastricht—is that the Single European Act was not in any party manifesto. It certainly was not in the Government's manifesto for the 1983 election. It was not in anyone's contemplation at that time. My noble friend and I were not in favour of any treaty changes at that time but in the end we were obliged to accept them at Milan, and we exploited that opportunity to the full. We presented the Single European Act to Parliament for approval in the constitutional way. But not one elector had had any choice about that: for the good reason that at the time of the 1983 election the Single European Act was not even a gleam in its mother's eye, nor even its father's. Yet no one, when it came to the point—least of all my noble friend or myself—thought it necessary to have a referendum about that and Locke was not much quoted in Downing Street at that time. Does that not expose the hollow quality of the argument of those who now argue for a referendum because the people had no choice?
But Parliament did. What else do we mean by "parliamentary sovereignty" except that? So too for the nonsense of people's choice in the present case. Parliament, before the election, without opposition from any major party, endorsed the treaty twice, before and after negotiation, by a large majority. The treaty was part of every party manifesto at the following general election. Immediately following the election, the treaty was once again endorsed on the same terms with a majority of 244 in the other place. If the Single European Act was properly legitimised by Parliament, as it was, then the Maastricht Treaty has clearly been thrice blessed.
It has been argued that the Commons endorsed this Bill at the Third Reading by a modest majority—less than the majority of the House. There is no special legitimacy about that. But if there is, it is surely important to notice that the lower House—the other place—rejected the referendum by a plain majority of that House: 363 votes to 124. So it is very curious indeed to hear the exercise of parliamentary sovereignty now being challenged in the name of the people by Members of this House, none of whom can claim any popular mandate at all.
260 Finally, I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I return to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. I refer to the hopelessly late stage in the game that this point is being advanced. I risk another cricketing metaphor. There are those who argue that it is your Lordships' role to emulate the part played on the cricket field by that admirable character—the only part that I was ever remotely qualified to play myself —the long-stop. But what kind of a long-stop is it who, as here, seeks to gather up the ball when it is already almost out of the ground—in the last minute of extra time, if I may mix my metaphors —and then demand that the game should be replayed from the beginning by entirely different rules? It is surely time for this House to recognise that our domestic parliamentary game is over. It is time for this House to hasten our national team back on to the European field so that it can there play a proper, fuller part in the European game, achieving success for our continent as well as for our country and peace in Europe as well as progress for our people.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, on his excellent maiden speech. Indeed, there was much in it with which I would concur, although he will know that I believe that it would be right for us to have a referendum at this time. I can assure him that I and the whole House enjoyed his speech and we shall look forward to hearing him on many future occasions.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, said that the whole question of whether we are part of Europe was decided in the 1975 referendum. I hesitate to disagree with him but I fear that I must because during that referendum, which incidentally was well run and perfectly well understood by the people, the government of the day issued their own document to every household in the land. The document stated quite clearly:There was a threat to employment in Britain from the movement in the Common Market"—mark you, a Common Market, not a European Union—towards an economic and monetary union. This could have forced us to accept fixed exchange rates for the pound, restricting industrial growth and so putting jobs a t risk. This threat has been removed".So I would venture to suggest that what the country was voting on in 1975 was not a European Union—nor, indeed, even a European Community—but on a Common Market. I think it is very important to make that distinction and to remember it.
The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, said that this is a parliamentary democracy and that if it is a parliamentary democracy why on earth do we want a referendum. But it is because we are a parliamentary democracy that Parliament may decide to have a referendum. It will be by Parliament's decision that any referendum we have will be held. Indeed, Parliament will decide what questions are to he asked.
We have also heard that the country decided the issue on 9th June 1992 at the general election because there was a little paragraph in the Conservative manifesto. I venture to suggest that even. Members of 261 Parliament did not know what the treaty said because it had not been published in English at that time. So there could not have been a very good discussion about a treaty which was not available to the general public.
I believe that it is sensible to ask the Commons to think again. A lot has happened since they made their decision. I believe that it would be right for us to ask the Commons to think again. I do not see why that should be constitutionally objectionable to a number of people. After all, as the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, pointed out, we threw out the War Crimes Bill at Second Reading. But we went even further. When it came back to this House we threw it out again, the Commons having decided that they still wanted the Bill. I believe that a very good precedent has been set which certainly underlines the ability and the right of this House to pass this new clause.
What is more, only a week ago last Monday this House passed an amendment to the Railways Bill which will now go back to the House of Commons for further discussion. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, said that that is precisely what would happen. There is no reason at all why this House should feel concerned about passing an amendment which the Commons would then consider. Of course, in the last analysis, the House of Commons will have its way—and it should have its way—but at least we ought to give them the opportunity for second thoughts. If we do not do that, we are not worth a light, quite frankly, and we should not be sitting here.
This is an issue which transcends party politics. It is only the electors to whom sovereignty belongs, and whose lives will be affected by this treaty, who can resolve the matter one way or another. As I have already said, it would not create a great precedent if we asked the House of Commons to think again.
What of the Labour Party? My noble friend Lord Richard made a very good and telling speech, as he always does in this place, as he has always done in another place and wherever else he goes. I am sure that it will have impressed my noble friends as it impressed me. But I say to my noble friends that we, as the Labour Party and the party of the people, as we have always boasted, ought to be prepared to ensure that the people have a say. The major ground which was put forward at our annual conference by my right honourable friend Gerald Kaufman for opposing a referendum was that it would split the party.
Since all parties are split on this issue—even the Liberal Democrats are split on it—nothing would change. Indeed, it is more likely that a referendum would clarify the issue and lead to a healing process rather than to exacerbate the split. The proposition that it would split the party is not a good one. The question should be not whether the parties would be split on the issue, but whether it is right, proper and democratic to have a referendum. Opinion polls consistently confirm that the voters want one and that they resent being denied it, especially since the Danes, the French and the Irish have been granted a referendum.
262 If the people of those countries can understand the issues and come to a decision then surely we British can do likewise. Furthermore, it is not as though the Labour Party is against referendums per se. It is in favour of an immediate referendum for the Scots as to whether more power should be devolved to them. Mr. Smith, our Leader, has promised a referendum on any proposed changes in the voting system at general elections. One really must ask why it is right for the Scots to have a plebiscite on whether they should gain additional powers, but it is wrong to give the British people as a whole a plebiscite on whether they should cede powers to the institutions of the European Union.
I hope that my noble friends will recognise the incongruity of such a position and that, in the interests of consistency, they will join me in the "Contents" Lobby tonight—even if they had not already intended to do so—on the ground that it is the democratic and sensible thing to do for the sake of restoring the reputation of British politics and of Parliament itself.
Some have argued that a referendum at this stage would not reflect a reasoned decision on the treaty of union, but as an opportunity to register a vote of no confidence in the Government. That argument has been used already. But that is hardly likely to be the case since all the main political parties would be on the same side. Indeed, those of us who would want a "No" vote would be heavily outnumbered by the political parties in argument and possibly by the Press as well. So that is not a very good argument; namely, that because the Government are in bad odour we should not have a referendum. We should decide on the basis of whether it is right or wrong. After all, France had a referendum at a time when the standing of the government of the day was at 20 per cent. in the polls. Yet the "Yes" vote was 50 per cent.; so there is no direct correlation in voting on referendums to the bad or good odour of the government of the day. The figures from France show that.
The House of Lords has the opportunity to show that it is cognisant of the need for the people to have a direct voice on decisions about self-government and the handing over to institutions outside the control of the Government and Parliament, including economic and monetary policy, which will have so significant an effect on their well-being and livelihood. It must be right for an intelligent and sophisticated electorate like ours to be consulted on such an issue when its self-government is at stake. Therefore, I hope noble Lords in great numbers and in a majority this evening, will join me in the "Content" Lobby later on.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ Viscount Whitelaw
My Lords, I mean to be extremely brief and I am sure that noble Lords will be pleased at that. At Second Reading I stressed my strong belief in our parliamentary procedure as the proper means of taking decisions. I am therefore strongly prejudiced against the use of referendums. But I shall not base my opposition to this amendment on that principle or any other principle alone. I want 263 mainly to argue the case against this proposal as a matter of judgment concerning the relationship of the two Houses of Parliament.
For what it is worth, my opinions are based on practical experience in my career as Leader both of another place and of your Lordships' House. I do not believe that they can necessarily be less valuable because of that. The success of our parliamentary system in handling legislation depends on a mutual acceptance of the different roles of the two Houses. The elected House of Commons must have its leading position, with the unelected House of Lords as a revising Chamber.
Success comes when the two Houses respect each other. The dangers arise when either House goes too far—the other place by riding roughshod, as it certainly has done even in my time as Leader of the House of Lords, over this House by rejecting all our amendments; and the House of Lords by seeking to usurp the leading role of the elected Chamber. Of course, when such cases occur both Houses are no doubt within their constitutional rights. But the question which I want to put to your Lordships is simple: is it wise in practice or unwise? That is the judgment which one has to make.
I believe that this proposal is just such a case. The other place has rejected a referendum with a massive majority of 239. That is a fact which must surely be of crucial importance in the argument and yet was somewhat surprisingly omitted from the leading article in The Times and by the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, on Monday of this week. I noticed that; arid, as I would have expected, my noble friend Lord Blake saw that and put it in his letter as a perfectly clear fact. It is a very important fact indeed.
Your Lordships' House is now being asked to overturn this very clear decision. This proposal cannot be represented as the action of a revising Chamber, neither does it provide any opportunity for compromise. It is in fact the clear rejection of the elected Chamber's decision on a constitutional and voting question. For good measure, that is being proposed by the unelected House of Lords.
No Prime Minister—certainly no Prime Minister that I have ever known—and no government or House of Commons could be expected to accept such a clear challenge and reverse their decision. Therefore, even if the vote were carried in your Lordships' House—those of your Lordships who decide to vote for the amendment will have to take the consequences of their action—the result would not be a referendum. Instead, there would be a damaging controversy between the two Houses and further delay, which would do much harm to our nation. In those circumstances, I cannot believe that your Lordships' House will proceed on such an unwise course. I trust that the amendment will be rejected by an overwhelming majority.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Lord Allen of Abbeydale
My Lords, I had not made up my mind whether to speak this evening from the Cross-Benches, but in view of what was said earlier I 264 have no alternative but to make a short contribution. I am sure that the House will not object too much if that contribution is, indeed, short.
I suppose that I can claim some modest qualification for making a contribution to this discussion in that, as has been explained, I was the Chief Counting Officer for the 1975 referendum. I am the only person to have the experience of running a nationwide referendum. It was an interesting experience for a variety of reasons, but it did not leave me as an advocate of referenda. To the contrary; and I should like to take a minute or two to give the four main reasons why I am opposed to the amendment.
First—this means repeating a point which has been made several time, but it is important—it is basic, to my mind, that it is the responsibility of Parliament to decide major policy issues. As has been explained, we joined the Common Market without a referendum, very properly, and we endorsed the Single European Act without a referendum. It is a device not easy to reconcile with our system of parliamentary democracy. If we were to go down that road. as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, has hinted, at some future date and in some future circumstances, I agree with those who believe that it would be for the elected House to decide.
Secondly, if one has a referendum—this is the lesson I learnt most clearly—it is essential that the question put to the voters is clear and plain and susceptible of being answered by a simple yes or no. That was just possible in 1975. It seems to me, despite all that has been said, to be impossible now. The issues are so complicated, especially with possible variants to take account of the social chapter and the single currency, that one could end up with a list of questions. To my mind, that is simply not on.
Thirdly, there is the likelihood that some voters would take it as an opportunity to express their views about the Government rather than the treaty. It is argued that other countries have consulted the people, and so why should not we? But, notwithstanding what the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said, there is ground for thinking that in France, for example, the voting was influenced by precisely that consideration, even though the Government scraped home in the end. As we recall, in Southern Ireland the voting was complicated by the intrusion of a totally irrelevant factor.
Fourthly, I look at the amendment itself. lt is rather odd that we have reached this stage of the debate without any comment having been made on its drafting. It seems to me, although I am no lawyer, that it falls short of perfection. In 1975, an Act of Parliament was passed—the Referendum Act—supplemented by a 24-page subordinate instrument. The Act set out the question to be asked; provided who could vote, including peers; provided for payment to officials; provided funds. for the bodies organising propaganda on both sides; made a number of detailed provisions about the conduct of the referendum, including special arrangements for the forces; and provided that the figures of the Chief Counting Officer, I am happy to say, could not be challenged in court.
265 I am bound to say that I feel grave doubt about whether the words in the amendment are sufficient to carry an order which would deal with all those things and one or two others with which I shall not weary your Lordships. It is also worth recalling that the 1975 Bill was amended substantially during its passage through Parliament. If we have all that done by order, there is no means of amending it, and some of its contents would be bound to be controversial. It is for those reasons that cumulatively I am led to the conclusion that I should vote against the amendment.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Baroness Castle of Blackburn
I, too, was greatly impressed by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lawson. I welcomed his frankness and honesty when he told the House that to proceed to economic and monetary union and a single currency was to progress irrevocably towards a federal superstate. I found it surprising therefore that he came out against the amendment on the insubstantial argument that we should rely upon the fragile lifeline of an impermanent protocol. I do not find much comfort in that, frankly, because what we face today is that the intention of the Maastricht Treaty is just as he spelt it out. That is the purpose behind it. It is intended to take us psychologically, although in this country's case not completely legally, another step towards the creation of a federal superstate. If it were put to the British people in that form, I have no doubt that they would throw it out.
The trouble is that the issues are not being put to the people in the form that they should be. I heard the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, earlier this week on the "Today" programme. He asserted something which amused me greatly. "Oh", he said,the referendum of 1975 settled everything once and for all".He repeated that today, although today he took refuge behind the skirts of Tony Benn, which I found an unusual position for him to occupy.
What struck me was the tribute that the noble and learned Lord paid to the value of a referendum. He did not dismiss it as constitutionally meaningless or unsound. He said that it settled everything. It was settled in a way that all the discussions in another place have not done, because the people had spoken. But I want also to challenge the basis for his claim that 1975 settled everything. My noble friend Lord Stoddart made that point tellingly. I wish to underline it. The misleading of the people of this country started in 1972 under the leadership of Mr. Edward Heath when we were debating the terms for Britain's membership of the European Community that he had brought back.
I remember Mr. Heath telling the British people that they need fear nothing because we had a veto with which we could always protect any national interest that was threatened. It was on that basis that many British people accepted his argument. I wish to quote from the speech that he made in February 1972. He said:The question, therefore … is how we can best protect our rightful interests. If it is to be done on a majority decision, then there is a possibility of being out-voted. But if it is a 266 question of a unanimous decision and we have the right of veto, then we have the ability to protect our essential interests. [Interruption.] With respect to the hon. Gentleman opposite, we have the right of veto".—[Official Report, Commons, 17/2/72; col. 746.]That was the starting point for this whole exercise.
We have been taken on inexorably on the basis of a series of false premises; indeed, on a series of false prospectuses that have been put before the people of this country. This is the moment of truth when we must let the people know exactly what is happening. During the referendum of 1975 exactly the same prospectus was held out.
I wish to quote from one of the official referendum documents which was issued by the Labour Government of which I was a Member—although a dissident Cabinet Minister on this issue. I read from what the British people were told during the referendum campaign of 1975:It is the Council of Ministers, and not the Market's officials, who take the important decisions. These decisions can be taken only if all the members of the Council agree. The Minister representing Britain can veto any proposal for a new law or a new tax if he considers it to be against British interests".There was, of course, a most telling passage about how we completely rejected any prospect of economic and monetary union.
That was the manifesto on which the people of this country voted yes. I challenge any Member of this House to say that we have had a proper sounding of the feelings of the British people. Throughout they have been told that this does not count and that does not count. Of course, the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, played her part. I heard her speak in the European Parliament after she had signed the solemn declaration at Stuttgart, of which she said,We are moving towards European unity but don't take any notice of the words".The next thing that we were faced with was the Single European Act. It has been agreed on all sides of the House that that was a massive step towards the federal concept, which is now being brought to fruition in the Maastricht Treaty. Indeed, some noble Lords who will vote against a referendum argue that because that Act is on the statute book we should accept Maastricht uncritically. I am sorry, I do not want death by a thousand little steps. I do not like it and I do not believe that the British people would like the end and the aim if they knew what it was about. The biggest argument for a referendum is that as yet they have not been told.
I pay full tribute to all Members of this House and of another place who have argued the rights and wrongs of the different aspects of Maastricht and have done so knowledgeably and coherently. But do noble Lords believe that the people outside understand? Do they ever talk to the taxi drivers on the way to this House? They ask, "What's it all about?". They do not have a clue what is involved.
The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, said that referenda are very complicated and he would find it difficult to formulate a question which embodied the Maastricht issue. But is not that an admission that we are expecting people to be taken in blind? I believe that the only way to make the British people struggle to understand what is involved, and the only way to 267 ensure that we explain clearly what is involved, is for them to have a vote. While all the clever MPs and Members of this House pontificate in learned terms about such matters they do not have a chance of understanding. They leave it to us and wonder a little about such issues.
It is vital that if the lifeline between us and economic and monetary union and a federal superstate is to hold we must enlighten and mobilise British public opinion. The way to do that is to have to conduct the kind of campaign in which I took part in 1975. I was on the losing side but that was because the British people had been given assurances that were not justified. It is a great betrayal of our sacred trust to those people if we take this dramatic step without involving them, their minds and their hearts as we have not yet begun to do.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Lord Holme of Cheltenham
My Lords, this is an important issue and the House is greatly in the debt of the noble Lord, Lord Blake, for tabling the amendment. Over the years I have had the pleasure of working with the noble Lord on many constitutional issues. He takes a consistent and constructive interest, in contrast with the sort of sporadic constitutional fever which currently seizes your Lordships' House.
I speak as a Member who believes that a referendum should have a defined if limited place in a new constitutional settlement in order to establish a higher standard of consent for constitutional change; changes to the rules of a political game, as it were. However, I need hardly point out that we do not have a new constitutional settlement. We have the same old partisan ragbag in which expediency rules and in which politicians under pressure grasp at whatever precedent suits their purpose.
I am not arguing that the Maastricht Treaty is the moment at which constitutional change crystallises, when the rules change and when some elements of sovereignty are pooled. As several noble Lords have said, that happened at the time of the Single European Act and before. Therefore, I shall not support the amendment, whereas some of my right honourable and honourable friends in another place did.
I believe in urgent progress by the European project. Despite the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, I fear that a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty in a country such as Britain, which has no proper tradition of referenda and no proper constitutional place for them, would turn into a gigantic national by-election. It would be an opportunity to give the Government a hefty kick in the seat of the pants. No doubt it would be highly therapeutic but it would have nothing to do with the case. Some noble Lords on this side of the House may consider that there is nothing wrong in giving the Government a hefty kick in the seat of the pants. However, Members on these Benches have a free vote on the issue. The destruction of the European project in a referendum would be a heavy price for those of us who value it to pay.
Therefore, as one who on the whole supports referenda but who even more anxiously supports the 268 European Union, I say, in the words of Isaiah Berlin, that not all good things are compatible and that for me and perhaps some of my noble friends progress towards European Union matters more.
Perhaps I may briefly lower the tone. The Government Front Bench will be bailed out this evening by fairly large numbers—although not universally—of Labour and Liberal Democrat Peers. Candidly, the Government do not deserve our help. This whole episode has come about because the Government have consistently treated Britain's future in Europe as a matter for the Conservative Party alone and as a question of intra-party dispute rather than as a national issue. They have not consulted Opposition parties. They have not tried to build a national consensus. They have not taken the electorate into their confidence. They kept quiet about Maastricht throughout the general election. Consequently, there is a gap between the Government and the people on this issue.
To noble Lords on the Government Front Bench, I say: do not think that we shall be there to save you on the social policy opt-out because we shall not. When the IGC takes place in 1996 and this debate is behind us and when there is a real opportunity to define a decentralised and democratic Europe which could command general support throughout this country, if by any chance the party opposite is still in office, will it please make it a national debate and a national decision in which we can all share? Meanwhile, I shall vote against the amendment, and I urge your Lordships to do the same.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, the central argument advanced by my noble friend Lord Blake in support of the amendment is that we are signing up to something which represents a fundamental change in our constitutional arrangements and, therefore, t he people must be allowed a referendum. I have been enormously impressed by the opinions of those who do not believe that the Bill represents a constitutional watershed. Most particularly I respect the views of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, who told us on Second Reading that,there is no great constitutional quantum leap in this treatyand that,the Maastricht Treaty has checked, or at least stabilisedsome centralising excesses which followed the Single European Act.
My noble and learned friend Lord Howe reinforced those arguments today. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has, with great authority, argued that,talk of major change in this country's constitutional law as a result of the treaty is simply wrongand that,The structure that was approved ultimately in the referendum of 1975 remains in place".—[Official Report, 8/6/93; col. 712.]Despite those powerful arguments, we are today confronted with the demand for a referendum to be held at the very end of the process of parliamentary examination—not as a consultative guide to the 269 deliberations of Parliament but as a means of reversing decisions already taken by the elected Chamber.
My noble friend Lady Thatcher, speaking on 11th March 1975 as the new Leader of the Opposition during a debate about the referendum on EC membership, said:A referendum may, however, become acceptable if given a proper constitutional foundation, that is to say, if the conditions under which it could be used were defined. But that would mean, like many other democratic countries, going as far as a written constitution or at least part of the way".—[Official Report, Commons, 11/3/75; col. 310.]In a thoughtful speech my noble friend argued against the use of a referendum simply for the purpose of political expedience for, as she pointed out at col. 309:It is frequently the case that those who are against a change in the law put up the proposition of a referendum when they believe that by having one, they can defeat the change in the substantive law … Whoever tends to be against a Bill proposes a referendum".Well, that is certainly the position that we find ourselves in today.
In April 1978, my noble friend Lady Thatcher appointed a committee under my chairmanship to consider the place of the referendum in our constitutional arrangements. We presented our report to the Shadow Cabinet in July of the same year. We began that report, as my noble friend had begun her 1975 speech and as my noble friend Lord Blake did today, by acknowledging that inside the Conservative Party the pro-referendum tradition has a long history. There are, of course, many names inside the Conservative Party and outside who can be quoted on both sides of the argument.
My committee, therefore, approached the whole issue with an open mind, and on the basis that a powerful case could be made out in favour of the referendum as a constitutional safeguard. The principal concern of my committee was about the difficulty of reconciling the referendum with the concept of representative parliamentary democracy. We said:We have been led to ask ourselves what Members of Parliament who are elected to use their own judgment are to do if that judgment should be in conflict with the outcome of a referendum, and we have had to consider whether people send representatives to Parliament to vote for something they may believe to be wholly wrong and damaging to their country because a particular question, asked in a particular way at a particular time, has thrown up a particular answer".At a very early stage we reached the unanimous conclusion that it was as a constitutional safeguard that the referendum could be most easily reconciled with our system of parliamentary democracy, although we were very much aware of the difficulty of adequately defining a constitutional issue. We had been told that it was the problem of definition that had led the Conservative Review Committee on the House of Lords under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel to decide against making a proposal to vest a power in the second Chamber to call for a referendum on constitutional issues. The Home Committee feared that it might encourage conflict between the two Houses. Consequently, it concluded that regular use of referendums as an instrument of constitutional protection should be contemplated only 270 within a wider framework of constitutional reform. The committee which I chaired reached a similar conclusion, but we proposed a major constitutional Bill which would provide for a referendum before any fundamental change in the constitution could be made.
We saw little prospect of a written constitution as a realisable objective, but we did think that the Bill that we proposed would have a special status which could not lightly be set aside by the government of the day. The primary protection sought by the Bill would be the existence of the second Chamber and it would protect the basic institutions of the constitution by requiring a referendum before they were fundamentally altered.
So, like my noble friend Lady Thatcher and the committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel, we concluded that there could be a place for a referendum but only as part of a wider package of reform; or, again to quote my noble friend Lady Thatcher by,going as far as a written constitution or at least part of the way".—[Official Report, Commons, 11/3/75; col. 310.]A few weeks ago my noble friend told me that she had been re-reading our report. I am sure she will remember that when we put that report to the Shadow Cabinet and she had the opportunity to consider and debate those proposals and had the chance to create arrangements for the use of a referendum as a constitutional safeguard and for other purposes, she chose to do nothing. She was, as always, courteous to the committee that had laboured on her behalf. She said that the report was valuable and that it should be published. It appeared as an Old Queen Street paper in the autumn of 1978.
So here we are today back in the situation my noble friend criticised in 1975, with those who are against a change in the law putting up a referendum as a means of defeating the Bill they dislike and, according to some, as a means of avoiding conflict in the government party. My noble friend was pretty harsh on that last proposition as well in 1975. She pointed out that the whole relationship of government with Parliament depends on the principle of collective responsibility. She said:No government can be properly accountable to Parliament unless they acknowledge a collective responsibility with regard to main matters of policy … on all major matters the essential task of government is decision. That does not mean absence of argument or absence of some differences; it means the capacity to reach a decision after argument and consideration and sticking to it or resigning".My noble friend continued:We now face the new system. If the Government cannot agree, gone is the discipline of resignation; gone is the principle of accountability to Parliament; the new doctrine is to pass the buck to the people". [Official Report, Commons, 11/3/75; col. 311.]That, I fear, is the doctrine being put before the House today. However, on this occasion what is at stake is even more fundamental. The Labour government in 1975 was in effect saying, "We can live with a decision taken in a referendum; we can adjust and adapt our policies accordingly". Today, the present Government is not in that position. They have embraced the principle of collective responsibility and they have taken a decision: they have taken the decision that the 271 treaty and the Bill are of fundamental importance, and they have persuaded the House of Commons to pass the Bill on that basis.
The amendment does not propose a consultative referendum: it proposes to remove the responsibility from government and place it elsewhere. The Government would not—and, indeed, could not—be responsible for all the consequences that would flow from that event, and, in my view, could not continue in office in that situation because my noble friend Lady Thatcher was quite right—
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, the noble Lord said that there was no consultative referendum. However, if he reads the amendment he will see that it actually refers to a "consultative referendum".
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, the essential task of government is to take decisions and to stick to them or resign. It has been argued that that is not so, that happy harmony would return to the Tory party and that the Government would carry on as if nothing had happened. That may be right in academic theory, but I have to say to my noble friend Lord Blake that it seems to me to be highly unlikely that that would be the situation we would face if the referendum led to the defeat of the policies of Her Majesty's Government. I have no doubt that if Maastricht was rejected in the referendum, it would be a pretty mortal blow for the present Administration.
There are, of course, other objections to what is proposed. We heard from the noble Lord who conducted the last referendum about the difficulties of posing the right question. Moreover, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, had something to say about that on Second Reading. However, it has become even more difficult since my noble friend Lord Tebbit produced his pegs during the Committee stage. Indeed, I have lost count of the number of pegs that he has hammered in and left in the cliff face for others, hypothetically, to mount. The referendum would, presumably, have to address at least some of them.
The trouble is that there is a very strong chance that however many of those questions you put, it would be matters of a very different kind that would decide the issue. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, pungently put it on Second Reading, while reminding us that the Government are deeply unpopular:If the Government were to launch a referendum in favour of motherhood and apple pie, they would probably lose it".—(Official Report, 8/6/93; col. 718.]However, there is a more central objection. I refer to the objection mentioned earlier, which is really the key to the whole matter. The fact is that the issue has been debated by another place. The other place rejected the proposition by a majority of 239. It seems to me that, whatever the proprieties of a referendum are, the worst possible way is to tag it on to a Bill by adding a clause—a clause, I should say, added by the unelected House after the elected Chamber has approved the Bill, considered it in immense detail and 272 rejected by an overwhelming majority the proposition that it should not be implemented without prior approval of a referendum.
The proposal that the referendum should be held in those circumstances is wrong in principle: it is wrong for the practical reasons that I have outlined; and, it is wrong by reason of the arguments so cogently advanced by my noble friend Lady Thatcher in the 1975 debate. For all those reasons, I shall vote against the amendment.
§ Lord Blake
My Lords, I should like to make a point before my noble friend sits down. He said that there was no proposal for a consultative referendum. In fact, if he looks at the amendment he will see that there is.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Lord Jakobovits
My Lords, in response to the plea made to us by the Leader of the House at the beginning of this historic debate, I can assure your Lordships that I neither will nor can repeat what I may have said at previous stages for the simple reason that, due to prolonged absence abroad, I was unable to participate in any of the preceding phases of the Bill.
I dare say that I am as European as anyone in this House or elsewhere. I am married to a Frenchwoman and we have five Irish-born children. We lived for 10 years or more in each of three European countries—Germany before the war, then England and finally Ireland. Moreover, since 1979 I have served as the President of the Conference of European Rabbis, which was founded in 1957; in other words, we Rabbis entered Europe long before Britain did. We meet in a different European capital every Six months.
In addition, I owe spiritual allegiance to a faith which pioneered the hope for a fraternity of nations where, in the words of Isaiah:Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more".All that disposes me to be decidedly pro-European. Yet I have serious reservations; and, indeed, some grave fears on the current development; in the European Community. Had the EEC, as its name declares, remained a purely economic union meant to promote Europe's peace and prosperity, no one would have reason to cavil. In fact, we could have dispensed with today's debate.
However, political ambitions by today's planners and bureaucrats have gone far beyond that stage. Indeed, whether we will all become citizens of Europe; how we construct our abattoirs and slaughter our animals; what constitutes pollution or proper speed limits for vehicles that are heavy on our roads; whether we tolerate some corporal punishment in schools; or whether we use cartons or bottles for our milk deliveries—all that has precious little to do with economics.
Of course, it may be argued that those concerns may not be economic and, therefore, what is the danger, harm or risk involved? A creeping annexation of sovereignty rights are involved. For the federalists, those excesses are merely the first steps towards a much closer union in which national identities will eventually be submerged in a singe European 273 superstate. To promote an illusion, to nurture hopes which are unrealistic, is in itself dangerous. If the attempt eventually fails, the disillusionment can seriously depress national morale, possibly to the point of despair and even violence.
Some people advocate a united states of Europe on the lines of the USA. What a futile comparison! In America, all citizens—except, that is, the Red Indians—arrived as immigrants. They came as equals but without a common language, a common culture, a common history or a common identity and so they had to create their own.
In Europe all these divisions and distinctions are deeply rooted and they cannot be artificially set aside by some Treaty of Rome or of Maastricht. The whole mentality is different. There is no European Statue of Liberty to proclaim in the immortal words of Emma Lazarus,Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free". Rather we hear the opposite chorus from some Europeans who say, "Take our tired, our poor, our huddled masses".
In the past Europe, or at least the bulk of it, has been truly united only under the Romans and under Hitler—both held in thrall by military might. Without such pressure, and especially nowadays, people insist on freedom and national sovereignty even more than on prosperity, and sometimes even more than on life itself. Only under the dictatorships of Stalin and Tito could the diverse national and ethnic elements in the Soviet Union and in Yugoslavia be held together and in check. In a democratic society this has proved impossible leading to fearful civil wars which even the united efforts of the rest of the world have been unable to contain.
Sooner or later, the denial or the limitation of complete national sovereignty is bound to sow the seeds of conflict. This applies even in long-established countries. I would mention in this regard the Basques in Spain, the Scots in the United Kingdom and the Slovaks in Czechoslovakia. Any derogation of national sovereignty threatens rather than promotes Europe's security.
I utter a word of caution. In the aspired European union all member states will of course be equal in theory. However, in practice some will be more equal than others, just as in Orwell's Animal Farm. Power in the modern European context means economic power. If one state has about twice the population of any other, its hegemony is bound to prevail. The stakes are high and weighty and perhaps so grave that for once even party political loyalties should give way to prudence. Is it really worth while to sell the nation's birthright of independent sovereignty for a mess of potage, however profitable the transaction may be economically? Let the people decide.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Baroness Trumpington
My Lords, behave yourselves. One at a time. We will have the Lord Campbell, then we will have the Lord Beloff.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I do not follow the words of the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, as regards the birthright exchanged for the mess of potage as that has been the subject matter of so many considerations during the course of this Bill. I mean no disrespect to the noble Lord if I do not deal with it.
I am sure your Lordships will all agree that my noble friend Lord Blake has rendered signal service not only to your Lordships' House but also to the country as a whole in affording this opportunity for civilised discussion and debate. As my noble friend Lord Whitelaw said, this amendment certainly does not invoke our revisory role. The avowed purpose of the amendment is to delay ratification by holding a referendum. Some noble Lords hope that by that measure the Bill may never be ratified at all. However, that is not the hope of my noble friend Lord Blake.
The arguments for and against the merits of Maastricht are irrelevant to this debate—here again I agree with my noble friend Lord Blake—and I exclude them. It is the futility of this exercise, spoken to by so many noble Lords, which simply beggars belief. Were this amendment to be accepted by your Lordships, another place would reject it and return it to us in a matter of days. As the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said, there would be a delay at all events until about February 1994, if not longer. As another noble Lord has said—I forget who it was—a delay would be fatal to our position.
At this stage—I hope I am looking at the matter objectively—I consider it would be wholly premature to consider any question of confrontation with another place. That matter simply does not arise at this stage. The amendment has been accepted by the Table as in conformity with constitutional propriety, and that is that so far. Indeed, in 1969 your Lordships' House assumed the role of a constitutional watch-dog on the boundaries Bill to change constituency boundaries. Although your Lordships have intervened in the past in electoral matters—I say with respect that the contribution of my noble friend Lord Crickhowell supports this assertion—I have been unable to find any precedent for your Lordships' House acting as a constitutional watch-dog in these circumstances. As my noble friend Lord Whitelaw said, your Lordships may well consider that this is the occasion for the exercise of wisdom and restraint. There is no constructive purpose to be served by rejecting the view of another place. There is also the matter of delay.
I was to some degree involved with the War Crimes Bill and I shall deal with the point that was made about it. This is not in pari materia at all. That Bill was opposed in principle at Second Reading. If one attends to the speech of my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, one can see immediately that if one is 275 concerned with the question of a referendum, this measure is not in the same league of discussion. As my noble friend Lord Whitelaw mentioned, why should we exercise restraint? Why is it unwise for us to exercise our powers? I understand it is common ground that they exist. I certainly accept that they exist.
First, the treaty was properly concluded under the Royal prerogative, on the advice of government. It has been accepted through this Bill by another place, which rejected a referendum as proposed by this amendment. Secondly, I say with respect to my noble friend Lord Blake that in my opinion there is no viable prospect that another place may think again on the issue. In the case of the War Crimes Bill it was genuinely thought, certainly by myself, that another place might think again. However, there is no prospect at all of that happening in this case. Ratification of the Maastricht Treaty was a common manifesto commitment of all the political parties and it remains the official policy of all political parties today. Therefore, what conceivable prospect can there be that another place will think again?
To accept the amendment in those circumstances and to send it to another place would not only be a sterile exercise of your Lordships' power but it would be seen as such. It would be seen as a quixotic tilt at a windmill. It would be seen as such by those, wherever they may sit, who are anxious to impose reform on your Lordships' House. For us, as an unelected Chamber, having no mandate from the electorate, to rely on opinion polls and say to another place that we represent the will of the people and they, the political representatives in the elected Chamber, do not evinces more than a mere hint of hubris.
As to the merits of the argument for and against holding a referendum, again the principle, the process and the preconditions as formulated by my noble friend Lord Blake at Second Reading are wholly accepted and not called in question. However, it is much to be doubted whether the two essential preconditions exist. Those preconditions are, first, significant constitutional revision, and, secondly, clear, precise and intelligible questions. If those preconditions do not exist, and it is much to be doubted that they do, it is even more to be doubted whether the principle and process, albeit of relatively recent provenance and limited in the sense in which my noble friend Lord Crickhowell explained, should be extended in stark, direct conflict with the decision taken by another place. Surely divisions of opinion which exist on these Benches and on the Benches opposite cannot require and induce your Lordships to propose a referendum contrary to the decision of an elected Chamber. There must be some other reason than the internecine divisions within parties.
As to those preconditions, on the one hand there is the opinion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, my noble friend Lord Blake and other noble Lords that enormous constitutional implications are involved which would change the rules of our entire political system. On the other hand there is the opinion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, to which reference has been made, the 276 other noble and learned Lords referred to by my noble friend Lord Blake and other noble Lords, including myself, although my opinion is of very little value, that such is not the case. Here we go again, tot homilies. The question is whether it is established beyond doubt that there is a serious constitutional revision.
The second issue is the questions which are to be asked. That matter has been referred to by my noble friend the Leader of the House. It is said that it is not possible to formulate questions in clear and precise terms. The proposition has been made that it does not really matter because Parliament will decide on the questions. That is to put either the chicken before the egg or the cart before the horse. Before one decides whether one has a referendum one has to decide what questions are to be put. Nobody has yet formulated any questions for your Lordships' consideration. What sort of questions will be asked? What will the parameters be? How many questions will there be? How are these complex issues—which we have debated in more than a dozen agreed compartments and within a disciplined time limit for the purpose of conducting a six-day Committee stage—to be put fairly, intelligibly and in an understandable way to the electorate for a yes or no? We simply do not know.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn of Hadley, who was the Advocate General at the European Court for many years and as your Lordships know is a distinguished member of your Lordships' Appellate Committee, suggested at Second Reading from his experience that there could not be fewer than 25 questions. That is a view which warrants some credence.
As stated by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, the constitutional position is that with Maastricht we do not go beyond the parameters of the logical steps taken at Stuttgart and under the Single European Act, as mentioned by my noble friend the Leader of the House and my noble friend and learned. Lord Howe.
In conclusion, it comes to this. Those who propose the amendment must surely make it good. What cogent reasons or compelling arguments have they adduced to justify that conclusion?
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, I am not surprised that my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway decided not to follow the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, and preferred to relax into his favourite position of expertise on constitutional niceties. The constitutional niceties have indeed played a very large part in the speeches of the noble Lord, of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, and of others who oppose the referendum. However, having listened to the days and days of debate it seems to me that they miss the central point.
The central point is surely that we are considering whether there should be a British constitution in which the relations between the two Houses, the relations between Executive and legislature, and whether, and if so when, we should have referenda, but these are all secondary. The first point about a constitution is who makes the laws—who governs? 277 The point that has been made as to why it is important to consult the people on this subject is that that is in the process of being changed. I was convinced—I am not often convinced—by the argument of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce. It is perfectly correct that the Maastricht Treaty is not an innovation. It is a furthering of a process which has been in train since 1972. Therefore, it is also true that if we had a referendum, it would be a verdict on that process.
It is important to grasp that fact and the fact that many people prefer to try to slide over the extent to which the central issue which a referendum would be asked to address is: who makes the laws? It has been said that we have very satisfactory proceedings in your Lordships' House. However, although I was convinced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, and by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn —he was quite frank about the role which the European Court has in promoting integration—I was less convinced by some of the answers given to my noble friends from the Front Bench on particular issues of Community policy and how far the Government believed themselves during negotiations, or would feel in further negotiations, to be in a position to safeguard British interests.
It may be that if the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, is correct that the one factor to be avoided at all costs is being involved in a single government, which would be implied by a single currency, then perhaps we have an element of hope. But law making affects other factors besides currency and finance. Who makes the law is, after all, an important question. That process has gradually removed spheres of law making from our Parliament to other bodies in which we have a minority representation.
Surely that in itself is answer enough to those who say, "We have not had referenda before. We have only had them under special circumstances", or, as my noble friend Lord Crickhowell said, "I wrote a report donkey's years ago in which I showed that the thing was impossible". I believe, incidentally, that my noble friend would qualify for some kind of award for diligent historical research. I shall recommend him to the academy along those lines. However, leaving aside the reminiscences of my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, such process remains a fact. It was pointed out with great eloquence by the noble Baroness, Lady Castle. If it is interesting to find the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, sheltering behind Tony Benn, to find myself and the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, on the same side is also a matter for thought.
Therefore, despite what has been said, it does not seem to me that there is any problem about the question that would have to be put to the people. Twenty-five or a dozen questions are totally unnecessary because there is only one question which the British people should be asked in a referendum: do you wish the laws under which you live to be made by the Queen in Parliament; or do you wish them to be made by foreigners sitting in Brussels? Surely people can make up their minds one way or another. One 278 does not have to be a learned lawyer to be able to answer that question. If that question is put, I think we know what the British people's answer would be.
§ 5.53 p.m.
The Duke of Devonshire
My Lords, I rise with considerable diffidence and in some embarrassment because, as noble Lords will see, I am a signatory to the amendment, and very proud to be so. However, your Lordships may think that as someone who attends this House on relatively rare occasions I am rather above my station in putting myself forward as a signatory. Indeed, my contributions to this House are few and far between. The last time I spoke was the day the Gulf War broke out when your Lordships saw fit to discuss horse-racing.
However, I feel very strongly on the issue. I make no bones about it. I am pro a referendum because I am convinced that the country, if asked the question, would vote decisively against the Treaty of Maastricht. That is the reason that I support a referendum.
Secondly, I support a referendum because I believe, no matter what the constitutional niceties may be, that the people have every right to be consulted. It is admitted that there was a conspiracy of silence from all three parties at the last general election. The treaty was virtually not an issue. Therefore the people of this country have not been consulted on what is a matter of transcending importance, as the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, said.
When the debate began today, there were serried ranks on all sides of the House. It is not a dissimilar occasion to when Lord Grey put the Question on the 1832 Reform Act. That was a great occasion because it was a great extension of British democracy. If the Maastricht Treaty is passed, it will be a great diminution of British democracy; and that is a sad day for all of us.
We have heard much about interfering with another place and with political democracy, which is a matter for Parliament. I do not have to tell your Lordships that there is a sad disillusionment with party politics in the country today. One hears it everywhere. Were this House and another place to agree to a referendum, it would enormously reinforce the belief of the people of this country in their elected representatives. The feeling of disillusionment is sad and worrying. If the country were to be consulted through a referendum, it would lead to a great restoration of confidence in the elected representatives of this country. Therefore I earnestly support a referendum.
I, too, find myself delighted and somewhat surprised to agree with every word that the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, said. Many years ago we sat on opposite sides of the House. I am convinced that if the amendment is carried, another place is asked to consider the matter again and a referendum is held, it would be to the enormous advantage of this country because we would not go for Maastricht. It would be an enormous advantage to the country because it would restore the people's faith in their elected politicians, which sadly has fallen away. I can see no 279 reason to oppose it. I firmly believe, too, were the vote to be by secret ballot. the result would be very different from what it may well be this evening. If people could vote according to their conscience and not according to how their party Whips tell them, we would have that different result. As a proud signatory to the amendment, I ask noble Lords very warmly to endorse it.
§ 5.58 p.m.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, I venture to make a contribution to the debate from the experience of having taken an active part in two referendums in this country, in 1975 and 1979. In June 1975 it was a referendum on whether to remain in the European Communities, and in March 1979 it was whether to approve the Scotland Act and the Wales Act. Shortly after the 1979 referendum, I initiated a debate in this House on the course of events in Scotland during the referendum campaign period. The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, told us of four points which he registered in 1975 as Chief Counting Officer. I shall add some comment on two practical points as a campaigner in the two referendums.
My impression from that experience is that a referendum will not reliably reflect the opinion of the electorate unless the issue is clear and uncomplicated. I am not opposed to referendums in principle. In certain circumstances I believe that they can be a timely way of measuring opinion or support on a particular matter. In this country, which is not accustomed to referendums at intervals, little will be gained if there is not a definite, easily identifiable issue.
It is not just a matter of the question. That can be simple. The exact wording in 1975 was:Do you think the United Kingdom should stay in the European Community (the Common Market)?".The United Kingdom had already been in the European Communities for two-and-a-half years and there had been two-and-a-half years of negotiation before that. Many were opposed to holding a referendum then both in Parliament and outside. The issue was clear, I believe, and many of the public resident in this country in the previous two-and-a-half years felt that they had some experience of what life was like within the Communities.
In Scotland in March 1979 the exact wording of the question was:Do you want the provisions of the Scotland Act 1978 to be put into effect?".The question in Wales was similar. That 1978 Scotland Act was readily available and it was eminently readable. Its drafting did not consist largely of references to past statutes and insertion and substitution of new wording, as in the Maastricht Treaty, as we have learnt only too well in recent days.
However, there were grave doubts in Scotland at that time about whether a referendum was appropriate for deciding on a medium-sized Act of Parliament—doubts which one could well understand. The mitigating factor was that a voter need only read the first few pages of that Act to grasp what was being proposed. They were clear and uninterrupted by references requiring further examination.
280 It is worth noting that the 1979 referendums and questions were not on devolution, a concept which could be translated into 100 different forms. The issue was yes or no to a particular new constitutional structure embodied in writing in a document. Good and bad points were perceived as opinions and debated during the referendum campaign period.
The Maastricht Treaty is a very different creature and a strange one for the average member of the public who is new to the subject arid who has not concerned himself or herself with those matters until now. Most of the text consists of inserting new wording or replacing passages in previous treaties. That may present few problems for us parliamentarians. I myself go back to the Schuman Declaration in the summer of 1950 and the consequent Coal and Steel Community. My work, interest and of course age are reasons why I have been involved or have followed closely the negotiations and the developments in Western Europe ever since.
The question in a referendum now would presumably be: "Do you want the Maastricht Treaty to be ratified by the United Kingdom Government?", or something similar. That is a simple question, but many members of the public would not identify a clear, straightforward issue. Although many subjects would be raised in the campaign—for example, citizenship, subsidiarity, currency and agriculture, to mention a few—it is likely that the votes would, in the event, be influenced by other extraneous matters—perhaps domestic United Kingdom policies which were exercising the mind of the electorate at the time.
My noble friend Lord Blake indicated that this might reflect on the intelligence of the British public. The intelligence of the British public is not in question, but they expect subjects like these to be dealt with extensively in Parliament and for Parliament to act on their behalf. They expect Parliament to reach a conclusion about the balance of advantage.
Just over a year ago I visited Denmark immediately after the first referendum there. I was told that a major factor had been a speech by Mr. Delors which had received headlines in that country. He had apparently indicated that the small countries in the European Communities did not count for much. Of course, that speech did not appear in the press here because we are not a small country, so we were not affected. But it was clear that many Danes were appalled and infuriated just before the referendum and voted accordingly.
In France, where the recent referendum was not required constitutionally, it is clear, as has already been stated, that many voters were registering discontent with the president and the government of the day. The subsequent general election there appears to have confirmed that.
If there is not a clear, identifiable issue, voting in a referendum is likely to reflect feelings on different, current matters of concern. I happened to be on the Opposition Front Bench in 1975 and 1979 in this House and was therefore participating in the discussion here as well as taking part in the campaigns. In both of them the political parties were divided and I found myself speaking on platforms in different parts of the country with parliamentarians from the other 281 main parties. I do not regard the present situation as comparable and consider that a referendum would be out of place.
I am sorry that on this I part company with my noble friend Lord Blake. We have known each other since 1940 when we were together in the Army and I am an admirer of his scholarship, biographies and writings on recent history. He would like to see the referendum used more often in this country. I believe that it should be resorted to only when there is a clear, definite issue on which Parliament wishes to take a yes or no opinion from the electorate. One House of Parliament has already made it clear that it does not wish to have a referendum. Other speakers have dealt with the parliamentary objections to accepting the new clause. They are not constitutional. They are matters of relationships between the two Houses and also what is wise and prudent to do. To that I add the difficulty of identifying a clear issue and the likelihood that voting would in the event be influenced by topics little connected with Maastricht.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ Baroness Thatcher
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Blake for introducing this amendment with such clarity and such knowledge. I shall confine my remarks under three headings: first, the erosion of the power of Parliament and of our courts; secondly, some comments on the referendum; and, thirdly, the democratic deficit.
Because of all the debates which I have attended in total silence, I have learnt that some people think that some phrases began at Stuttgart. They did not. I have, therefore, in order to see the sweep of what has happened, been through all the debates, all the legal advice and much of the Committee stage, to see how the powers of the Community have gained against the powers of our Parliament. I have been absolutely astonished at the extent to which things are moving towards the Community and against our Parliament and against our courts.
I should say that, like many other people, I started out as an idealist on the European question, in the sense that the separate countries of Europe have developed the accepted standards of civilisation. They also developed the method of how to bring the advantages of science to the benefit of people in the industrial revolution. So I started out an idealist in philosophy, an idealist in practical terms, feeling that we had so much to give and that, therefore, we should try to co-operate together to give it. Then, of course, as always, idealism has to be tempered by the knowledge that Europe has in fact spawned the two worst tyrannies the world has known. So we must not give up our defences or our strengths lest that should happen again.
Looking back, I have seen that the pattern has been that many, many vague phrases in preambles and in things like declarations have, all of a sudden, been given authority when we thought they were harmless. For example, as long ago as at The Hague in 1969, before we were in the Community, it declared its intention of moving towards economic and monetary 282 union. In 1972, at the very big meeting just before we went in, which our representatives attended, a great deal of the idealism was taken further when progressive realisation of economic and monetary union was decided on. There was also a decision to reform the whole complex of the relations of member states into a European union before the end of the decade.
All this was decided. It was in Eurospeak before we entered in 1973. So often, when the new Eurospeak declarations came up, and I said, "I want to get that out", they said, "You can't. Your Government has already agreed it". We then had to concentrate on seeing that Eurospeak never came into the substantive clauses of our law.
In 1978 the European Monetary System was started and we joined then—not the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, but the European Monetary System. These things went steadily on. Then came—and it has so often been referred to today that I must refer to it—the Single European Act. I was surprised to hear my noble friend Lord Howe say that it was not really one of our objectives to have the Single European Act. If I may say so, the Common Market was one of the things which I believed we were joining Europe for. We wanted our industrialists to have as large a market as Americans had so that they could compete; so that we could get prosperity. We also wanted to be an example of getting down internal barriers in Europe, not to put them up outside the edges of the European Community, as is happening now, but as an example to the rest of the world to get their barriers down. So there was right in my belief as to what the Community was for: that and the genuine co-operation, voluntarily given, in order to build not only a new Europe but a new internationalism and a new world.
So I came next to the Single European Act 1986. I thought we could do it without an inter-governmental conference. Indeed, I voted against an intergovernmental conference. But then of course it is by simple majority, and I am afraid that we had to get into it. But it was to get the internal market. We would not have got that internal market unless we had gone to more majority voting. We could never have got our insurance companies into Germany. They would not allow it. We could never have got cabotage for our lorries or our ships. They would not allow it. So because we wanted something we had to give something.
We gave majority voting strictly for the purposes of the internal market and nothing else. It had already been in the Treaty of Rome for a very long time. Of course the price that we had to pay in the Treaty of Rome for wanting the Common Market was the common agricultural policy and the common commercial policy. So, yes, we did give more qualified majority voting for a strict purpose. We did give many assurances and were given many assurances. The Council of Ministers decided that some matters were so important that they must be decided by unanimous voting: tax matters; relationships between employer and employee; and immigrants from third countries moving across Europe. The Council of Ministers 283 decided that—not qualified majority voting but unanimity. And we went away in good faith. Then what happened?
I suppose I made a fundamental error which my tutor often told me I should not do. He said, "You know, sometimes when you are negotiating, you tend to put yourself in someone else's shoes. Never do that. Make the assessment of the man opposite you as he is in his shoes, and you will get a very, very different view". I thought that perhaps our idea of good faith and what the Council of Ministers had decided about unanimity would be upheld by the Commission. After all, they were European. Not a bit of it. That has not been used merely to get free trade and free goods moving about the Community; it has been used to get all kinds of social things which are no business of the Commission or the Community but which should be for us to decide here.
Yes, we got our fingers burnt—first, because they produced a whole rash of regulations that they should never have had; and, secondly, because they did not honour the unanimity rule. It is something that I will never forget. Yes, we got our fingers burnt. Do not now go back to that same fire with a much bigger treaty with many more powers and get both your arms and perhaps your head burnt as well. That is the lesson to be learnt from that.
We had then been very careful still to keep the objective of European union carefully in the preamble. We did nothing further in the Single European Act. I would not have it. I knew, as did my noble friend Lord Lawson, who made such an excellent speech, that we had always regarded that as the backdoor to political union and the European Union. And we did nothing further about European union. But what did European union mean? I was very happy to say that I agreed totally with the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, when he was Prime Minister, who said he was quite happy to agree in theory to European union. What did it mean? He said:It is a very desirable objective, but there was no agreement on what it meant at the Paris summit two years ago. At the meeting of Foreign Ministers … [in Germany] at Easter, my right hon. Friend [the Foreign Secretary] asked each of the other eight what they meant by it. There was no agreement about the meaning of that phrase. It means what individual countries or individuals want it to mean. Therefore, we were quite happy to go along with the reference to European union".Of course it had no particular meaning. On that I agreed with him. But what we were unaware of—or insufficiently aware of—was that people had put in those words and phrases with the intention of clothing them with a federal meaning at the earliest opportunity. That indeed is what has happened.
So we come to Maastricht. Some people say that Maastricht does not have a big constitutional issue attached to it. Let us look at what the treaty itself says:By this Treaty, the High Contracting Parties establish … a European Union … This Treaty marks a new stage in the process of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe".It creates the Union. It gives it all the structures of a sovereign state. That is why we have citizenship, European and monetary union, common defence policies, common foreign policy, and so on. It is something quite different. In addition, it adds many 284 more powers which can be decided by qualified majority voting. One should be very careful before extending those powers, except for a specific purpose. With qualified majority voting, the Commission has the only power—monopoly power—of proposing legislation. No one else has it. Only the Commission can propose legislation. It can do it by a simple majority vote: nine votes to eight. It can bring forward something to go to the Council of Ministers. The Council of Ministers is under majority voting; and there are 111 other examples of areas in which majority voting can apply.
In order to stop that, if our Parliament does not want it, or we do not want it, we have to find a blocking minority of one big country plus three small ones. It is more and more difficult to do it. There are 111 new areas of qualified majority voting. More and more legislation will not be made in open and free debate in two Houses of Parliament, but will be made behind closed doors without any debate; behind the Commission and the Council, without people knowing precisely what is being discussed. More and more decisions will be made which are contrary to the will of our representatives of the people and of this Chamber too.
So, yes, the degree to which that is happening and the speed at which it is happening is such, and this new European Union is sufficient, in my view, to ask the people: "Is this what you want?" What we are saying to the people is: "Look, it is no good coming to question our Members of Parliament (or me, when I was there) about this. We have given away that power to legislate. I disapprove of that law. But I am no longer accountable to you, the elector. I have given away your accountability. I have given it away". And what is more, under the treaty, and under the way in which the courts are interpreting their powers—they are taking more and more interpreting powers and they are taking them wider and wider. Who would have thought when we had equal pay in the original Treaty of Rome that the court would interpret it not only as equal pay but as equal rights to redundancy, equal rights to pension, equal rights in private pensions and equal age of retirement? That is a colossal extension of meaning without the precise words in the treaty.
So we are again not only giving away the power to make legislation—parliamentary sovereignty is being diminished—but we are giving away more and more as the courts interpret a bigger and bigger treaty. So, as well as legislation behind closed doors, we are getting justice behind closed doors. You do not get justice behind closed doors. There are 13 members of the court and only three have had previous judicial experience. They sit behind closed doors, whereas our courts sit in the open. They have only one decision; you never get a dissentient judgment. That is not justice to us. This is a very serious matter indeed. There comes a time when you have to stop it.
The authority has been extended in Maastricht over 11 new areas. The Commission has authority over 11 new areas of government. Of course all of them were 285 very pleased about it. I would never have given it to them. They have enough powers already. Their powers should be diminished in many ways.
The situation will get worse if we do not stop it or ask the people about it. It is their sovereign powers that are being diminished. It will get worse by the review in 1996. It is not an open review. It is a review to bring about a much closer European union and a much closer federal state, only they will not come out openly with it.
Let us have a look at the second point: the case for a referendum. I must say that I share the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Castle. I am horrified at the number of people who say, "Oh, the people will not understand". If noble Lords can explain clearly, the people can understand clearly. So let us improve the explanation and not shroud the Eurospeak in a drizzle of strange meaning. The people can understand. I begin to wonder how they ever decide how to vote in an election. Of course they can understand. So let that bit of arrogance and conceit be put away. Of course we can get a referendum up and running if need be.
My thesis is the degree to which things are running away from parliamentary sovereignty and our form of justice, so that this House, this High Court of Parliament, is no longer the deciding factor on many matters of law. Indeed, consider laws such as the merchant shipping law: when that law was passed, no matter how high the legal advice or the attorney's advice, no one said that it was inadequate for the task. No one said that. But when their Lordships properly said that we must ask the European Court whether this rule, this new law passed by Parliament, will prevail or whether European Community law will prevail, they were told that European Community law would prevail. That will happen more and more.
My noble friend spoke of many things concerning referenda. I confess that I still do not like having a referendum regularly. When you come to a constitutional matter, you can recognise one; you can recognise when the erosion of parliamentary powers and justice powers is so great. It is very difficult to describe but you can recognise it. You can take each one and say, "This is suitable for a referendum and more than suitable because it is the powers of the people that are being eroded. We should have one and we can have a special Bill". It is much better to accept that the referendum is an appropriate instrument and the more powers go away, the more we have in fact to ask the people.
I do not think that there is really any difficulty. It is not a matter of confidence in the Government. Have we not debated for long enough in this Chamber and the other place to know that this issue goes straight across parties, right across parties? As a matter of fact I believe that it would probably have helped all parties if there had been a referendum much earlier. It is not our fault that there was not one. It would have been a very great help and we would have got a clear decision from the people when we should indeed have had one.
There is the third point: the democratic deficit. Everyone accepts that there is one. We are used to 286 having full democracy. We fought two wars in order that democracy might survive and extend. We are diminishing democracy, diminishing our parliamentary sovereignty, diminishing our parliamentary institutions, diminishing the significance of the vote, if Members of Parliament are not accountable, diminishing the significance of the Member of Parliament, diminishing the significance of the parliamentary institutions—diminishing democracy and substituting bureaucracy for it.
Who are we to go and lecture people about the benefits of democracy when we are going the other way? We are boasting but, heaven knows, on the other side of the old Iron Curtain they have got rid of their bureaucracy. Here we are increasing ours in western Europe. It is ridiculous. It is no good saying that parliamentary sovereignty and parliamentary supremacy is going on in the same old way. It is not. That is a major change and the people are the sufferers.
Just before I came to the House I was very interested to read Vibert's evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee in 1992 about the effect of Maastricht. He was for it. He said:Members should be aware that the end result of the Commission proposals would be the eventual reduction of national parliaments to performing essentially agency roles for the central authorities".What do we need 650 Members of Parliament for—or a Second Chamber such as this? But that is the objective of many who are aiming at a federal state. The people must be warned and asked in time. They can understand the big points when they are put clearly. I think we have a duty to do that.
Over the centuries the people and the character of our people have shaped our parliamentary institutions, and not the other way round. People have been the great bulwark against over-mighty rulers and the surest defence of the rights of individuals. Their powers are the heart of our nationhood. The majority of our people want Britain to be in Europe, and so do I. They want to keep intact our Parliament too and they do not want to diminish its powers or its authority or its prestige. In my view, we have surrendered too many powers already. We should surrender no more unless the people wish it. It is the people's turn to speak. It is their powers of which we are the custodians.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, we have just heard a most impressive speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher. I am among those who feel that our proper role in Europe is to be at the centre of the policy-making forum. I was most impressed with what she told us about the role that she played in the negotiation of the Single European Act and the creation of the single market, a project which was carried forward by the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, as a commissioner at that time.
If that is one of the most important things that we have achieved as a result of our participation in the European Community, the question arises of whether the Motion before us would enhance that objective or diminish it. I very much fear that it would diminish it. It would certainly throw it into uncertainty. As we 287 heard from the noble Lord, Lord Richard, endorsed by my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, the timing of a referendum. let alone what the outcome might be, would be such that we should have to wait until February, March or even later next year before we knew the result.
That would throw the whole of the European Community into turmoil. There would be confusion. Inevitably, there would be economic repercussions. At the moment this country is beginning to move out of the recession. Yesterday, we heard the encouraging news that industrial production moved up at a faster rate in May than anyone had anticipated. Unfortunately, at the same time as we seem to be moving out of recession, some of our trading partners in Europe are moving into, or are still in, recession. That is not in our interest. Our interest is for our trading partners also to move ahead because the hulk of our trade takes place in the European Community. This seems to me the worst time to throw doubt and uncertainty over the whole European Community.
In Tokyo substantial strides have been made in trying to resolve the current trade round. We need to complement that by making sure that the single market moves ahead. We must therefore avoid the uncertainty and confusion that would be caused by re-opening the issue at this very late stage. I do not believe that this is the appropriate juncture at which to raise the question of a referendum. Had it been appropriate it should have been raised much earlier, as indeed the noble Baroness herself said.
Our proper role is to go ahead with the treaty; to resume our formative and positive role at the centre of Europe; and, above all, to make sure that the single market develops in strength and co-operation with the rest of the world.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord Weatherill
My Lords, I now feel the agony of Members of the other place who wait, and wait, and wait. Furthermore, I remember some years ago calling the honourable Member for Bolsover in a speech on aid to minority parties. He made the same kind of powerful speech just made by the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher. When I looked round to call the next speaker, absolutely no one stood up. I sense that the steam has gone out of the debate this evening also.
I intervene briefly and with some reluctance. I do not feel particularly happy, because I share many of the views of the noble Baroness and I have such a high regard and affection for my distinguished predecessor, the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, and also for the noble Lord, Lord Blake. However, I do not agree with them on the issue of the referendum.
Our constitution is built on the responsibility of Ministers to Parliament, and Parliament is a body of elected representatives chosen by the people to discuss and deliberate government proposals. We have heard Edmund Burke quoted too often, but it is worth repeating that it should be the happiness and glory of parliamentary representatives to live in the strictest union and the closest correspondence with their constituents. But, he said, they owe them not only their industry but also their judgment. In practice I 288 believe that referenda damage the relationship between Members and their constituents and therefore diminish parliamentary sovereignty. I care passionately for the sovereignty of Parliament.
As has been said, referenda do riot necessarily determine questions once and for all. I was an Opposition Whip at the time of the referendum in 1975, which was designed to obtain a firm and final verdict on EEC membership. It is worth reminding ourselves, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, did, of the reasons for that referendum. It was because the government party was in disarray and tearing itself asunder. I well recollect that in the referendum at that time 16 members of the Cabinet campaigned actively for membership of the EEC and seven campaigned equally actively against it—one of them being my noble friend Lady Castle of Blackburn. Much the same can be said on the referendum on devolution for Scotland and Wales. It is a matter of record that the Labour Party and the government were deeply split on that issue also. Today the question of Europe still divides both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party in both Houses.
I respect the integrity of those who advocate a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty. But I believe that it is too late. I agree with what has been said by a number of noble Lords. If there was to have been a referendum, it should have been, as the noble Baroness herself indicated, in 1986. I well remember at that time a senior member of the Labour Party coming to see me at the Speaker's House and saying, "Mr. Speaker, you have simply got to stop this. It is signing away our freedom and what is more, it is being rammed through the House of Commons on a guillotine Motion".
I do not believe in referenda, and I do not believe in timetable Motions. They are not good for Parliament and Bills that are not subject to full parliamentary scrutiny are always the source of later difficulties. I repeat that I feel deeply about parliamentary democracy, and I cannot support the amendment before us.
I conclude by reminding noble Lords of Alan Paton's, Cry, the Beloved Country. He wrote of the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear. That is the feeling of many sincere and patriotic people in our country. Equally, I believe that we cannot go back. We are in the European Community and in my view we should seek to play a full and dominant part in its future. Future generations will blame us if we do not. As a group of young people said to me this weekend when I was discussing this issue, "Lord Weatherill, let's go for it". My Lords, I think that is about right!
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Lord Rawlinson of Ewell
My Lords, I have sat in Parliament both here and in another place on the Tory Benches under six separate Tory Leaders. It is the conduct, style and integrity of the one who held the leadership for the shortest time that I commend to this House; that is, my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel. Not for him criticism, overt or covert, of his successors. Not for him caballing and coffee-housing to thwart the policies of his successors. Not for him 289 resentment at the loss of position; not for him sulking, but service. It is his example of leadership to which the Tory party should look instead of what we have become used to; that is, criticism time after time of a successor by a predecessor.
My noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel is no longer able to be in his place. I suspect that he would not have enjoyed what we have witnessed here today: a party that he led so bravely and honestly yet so silent when he was dismissed as he was. All he did was serve his successors without criticism and without attacking their competence, their failures and the things they had betrayed.
The present Prime Minister, who was quickly promoted by the then leader to high office after a short apprenticeship, must be reflecting on the truth of what was said by Bruce Lockhart:The hidden dagger in politics is to regard the friend of today as the enemy of tomorrow".What in effect those who move the amendment do—this is the real reason for it—is to make a sustained attack upon the present Administration and the present Prime Minister. We have witnessed that all through the weeks that have passed both in another place and in this House. It is an attack on the successor's performance, a successor who negotiated, apparently, failure; who gave away powers that should never have been given away. I do not understand how that excuse can be offered to the House by those who were in a position of power at the time of the Single European Act. I remember very well in 1975 the words of my then newly-elected leader about a referendum. I remember her maiden speech in which she said:Perhaps the late Lord Attlee was right when he said that the referendum was a device of dictators and demagogues".—[Official Report, Commons, 11/3/75; col. 314.]I very much followed my leader's views about a referendum. I do not understand why suddenly, when power disappears, the position adopted when power is held also disappears. Therefore, there was to be no referendum in 1975. However, the view of the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, prevailed, and there was one. There was no referendum in 1986. I hope that your Lordships will look carefully at the explanation of the Single European Act. That is the definitive revolutionary treaty from which we have progressed since 1975. This is the catalyst from which Maastricht must flow. It has created a flow of people, goods, services and capital across Europe. It can make the single market possible only with the introduction of new political procedures; that is, qualified majority voting.
What were the objectives of the Single European Act? There was a progressive realisation of economic and monetary union. That entailed signature by the United Kingdom. The high contracting parties were jointly to formulate and implement a European foreign policy. That also entailed signature by the United Kingdom. It was the British who, under the then administration, pressed for the establishment of a political secretariat in Brussels. That was the decisive moment in the evolution of the European Community movement since the 1970s. Were the British people 290 consulted? They were not. We are told that they should be consulted now. Why were they not consulted at that time when the power rested in the hands of the noble Baroness, who has addressed us so eloquently today? The Act was pushed through by guillotine—those who have suffered in another place will know what that means—by the then chairman of the party and the Prime Minister who now want a referendum. Maastricht was an inevitable consequence of the decisive and revolutionary Single European Act.
What is the reality behind the facade of this amendment debate? It is about power. It is not so much power that corrupts but the withdrawal of power that pains. Let us not be duped or used by those who are engaging in a political vendetta to destroy this Government and the Prime Minister. I hope that we will have none of it, and none of them.
§ 6.43 p.m.
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, in following the noble and learned Lord, Lord Rawlinson, I am bound to say, as one who has been here throughout the Committee stage—and, indeed, all stages of this Bill into the small hours of the night—that I cannot recall having had the benefit of his contribution, or indeed his attention to any of the detailed debates that have so far taken place in this House. Of course, the noble and learned Lord has every right to speak and I am very pleased to hear his contribution this afternoon.
Before thanking the House for the kind indulgence that it periodically extends to me throughout these proceedings I wish to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lawson of Blaby, on his excellent maiden speech. It seems to me that his speech went to the crux of the matter. He is the first person of substance on the other Benches (not that they are not members of substance in the ordinary way) to admit that a single European currency and economic monetary union mean what Sir Edward Heath reiterated three or four months ago; that is, the establishment of a unitary state. What we are discussing today is the progress that we are making towards that unitary state.
My views have been consistent ever since 1967. I knew exactly what was going to happen and which way the ratchet would turn. Every time a new inter-governmental conference has been held the ratchet has turned a little bit further. If by mischance we ratify the Maastricht Treaty, in 1996 we shall be told, "Well, you agreed to the principles in Maastricht. What are you arguing about?" We shall then have the unitary state upon us.
I am not surprised that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, extended his kind patronage to his former subordinate in the matter. Quite clearly, he was very impressed by it, as we all were. The same observations apply to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, who was kind enough to inform the House that the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, was at one time a junior Minister.
I have a confession to make to the House. Shortly before the arrival of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, in another place the late right honourable 291 Aneurin Bevan said to me, "Donald, we have a new MP by the name of Jenkins coming along. Please look after him and introduce him to the ways of the House". I did so. The noble Lord has been kind enough to remind me that I helped him considerably. I regret that I went a step too far!
We have heard a lot of argument today about the constitutional aspects of a possible referendum. There has been an enormous amount of contortion. In particular, I listened to the learned dissertation of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, who entertained us in the intricacies of the whole business. But this is not really the point at issue. We are not concerned with the technicalities. The reason why the Government and Her Majesty's Opposition do not want a referendum is because they are afraid that they may lose it. It is as simple as that. There is no need to go into the awful legal complexities.
It is depressing but I can understand many Members of this place and another place who are involved in commerce and industry wishing to co-operate within an ever-widening market. I can also understand the desirability of establishing closer and more friendly relations with Europe. I have played my own modest part. For four years I was a Member of the European Parliament, and nobody here has reproached me for that. I am all for the maximum co-operation. However, I am bound to point out that the results have been disappointing. So far the European experiment has been a complete failure. A number of friendly relations have been established, and I rejoice in that. However, in terms of mass unemployment, production, productivity, world exports and the ever-increasing differences within Europe between poorer and richer nations, so far it has failed.
I hope that the European experiment will succeed and I hope that by further co-operation within Europe, by sovereign nations such as our own seeking an ever-wider degree of co-operation, we shall succeed. But what makes anyone think for one moment that the problems that have defied individual nations, acting as individual nations—decisions arrived at by very skilled politicians aided by experts, including the present Chancellor of the Exchequer and his seven economic advisers, who have been unable to solve those problems in their own countries so far—will be solved on a European scale by a bureaucracy in Brussels composed of people of no really conspicuous qualifications, problems which our own skilled Ministers of all parties have not so far been able to solve at home? What makes them think, or what makes anyone think, that the problems of this vast continent of some 350 million people can be solved by a bureaucracy in Brussels responsible to no one, or by independent bankers responsible to no one? So far the history of bankers in regard to world economies, and indeed in regard to domestic economies, including our own, has not been exactly impressive.
What we are really failing to face up to is the fact that our own prosperity and fortunes, our own relations with other countries and the development of our own culture are fundamentally dependent upon 292 us, the British people, whether or not we are in Europe and whether or not we have closer relationships. The fault—and there are many faults—lies with us. One of the discouraging features about the original entry of Britain into the then Common Market was the oft-expressed sentiment which is still echoed—I have heard it echoed in this House over the past fortnight—"There is nowhere else for us to go". In other words, the reason why we found it necessary to take all these steps, the reason why we are seeking to perpetuate and indeed enlarge them into other spheres. is that we have no basic self-confidence in ourselves and in our own country. That has led to the situation in which we now find ourselves.
I well remember—since the Single European Act has been mentioned, though I ventured to dissent at that time with some of the sentiments that were uttered by the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher—going along to the Second Reading in another place of the then Single European Bill and hearing one of my honourable friends in another place saying that the Bill did not present any great difficulty in principle and offering more or less the complete co-operation of the Opposition in getting the Single European Bill, as it then was, through. Two days later I went to a meeting of my own parliamentary party, even though I was a Member of this House, and said, "You want your brains examined if you are going to agree to allow this Bill to go through unopposed". And so it came about that there was a reversal, for which I am only mildly responsible—I was merely articulating what I thought was the general feeling of the time—and that is why the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and myself fought the Bill in this House. There were some distinguished. abstentions from some of my distinguished colleagues. There were even one or two who voted at that time against the party here on a three-line Whip. But that was the fashion. After all, the present Leader of my party in 1972 voted against his own party on a three-line Whip and supported Sir Edward Heath. So I was following a respectable precedent.
This Bill—the Maastricht Bill—is something that ought to have been examined much more thoroughly before final assent was sought. I think I am right in suggesting to your Lordships that the proceedings on the Bill in this House have been a very great credit indeed to the House. One has only to compare—I am referring now to those who opposed me as well as those who agreed with me—the quality of debate in this place with that in another place. I believe that the debates in this House have been of a very high quality indeed.
It is very dangerous, I always think, when the Government and the Opposition agree together. It is always highly ominous when the establishment, or the would-be establishment, get together in such a shining unity of purpose. Those are the times when it pays ordinary people—and Back-Benchers like myself—to have their antennae out a little. In this instance we on this Bench as well as those on other Benches think that the country ought to be given an opportunity to pass some verdict upon it.
Some noble Lords have suggested that it is too complicated an issue for the electorate of this country 293 to understand. That displays a contempt for our fellow-countrymen which is not appropriate from people who are not altogether too clever themselves. It is for that reason, across the party boundaries and to the country at large, and with such sincerity as I am capable of conveying in what I have said and in what I have said consistently for a very long time, way back since 1967, that I ask your Lordships to support the amendment.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Baroness Elles
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, mentioned the fact that in 1972 it was considered that we had nowhere else to go. The fact of the matter is that in 1993 the United Kingdom has nowhere else to go. It has to stay within the European Community. But it also has to be supported by a Parliament which supports the Government in their negotiations at Community level so that the Government can act on behalf of the interests of the British people without being undermined by those who seek to destroy the treaty which the Government have been negotiating.
I want to make four brief points which have not all been covered by other noble Lords on both sides of the argument who have widely debated this issue already. My first question is: do we know that the people of Britain want a referendum? In my belief they do not. We have already had the vote in the House of Commons by Members who have been elected by the people of this country. We all know—it has been repeated several times—that there was a large majority against having a referendum.
Secondly, there has been an opportunity for some people to show whether they wanted a referendum. Admittedly, it was what one might call a trial spin, but there was, for regrettable reasons, a by-election in Newbury in May 1993 when the treaty was perfectly well available to everyone. There is an electorate in Newbury of about 75,000. The pro-referendum candidate—he stood as a pro-referendum candidate—received 601 votes. There was another pro-referendum candidate—but on a different issue—who received 250 votes. So there were 851 votes from 75,000 voters. I do not think that that shows that the British people, at any rate at that stage, were anxious to have a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty.
I would refer to the telephone referendum which was run, with the greatest respect, by my noble friend Lady Thatcher and colleagues from this House. I understand that there were 90,000 replies as a result of a daily publication in the Sun, which has a circulation of about 3 million. It was circulated, as I understand it from the figures I have been given, for 94 days. In my calculation there were 282 million opportunities for the electors of this country to say whether they wanted a referendum. In fact, 90,000 replied and very understandably about 93 per cent. of the 90,000 were in favour of a referendum. The figures which we have so far do not give serious evidence to this House that the British people are clamouring to have a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty.
My third point is this: I have not had the benefit of 294 the wisdom of my noble friend Lord Blake as my constitutional history tutor. But I was taught that the fundamental principle of the British constitution is the sovereignty of Parliament. Therefore, I regard in all seriousness any action which seeks to undermine that parliamentary sovereignty as an attack on that sovereignty. I believe that a referendum does precisely that.
I do not believe that it redounds to the credit of this unelected House to vote in favour of a referendum. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, that we have had debates of a very high standard from all sides of the House during the Second Reading, Committee and now the Report stage of this Bill. I believe that we have respected each other's views throughout the House. We have had valuable debates on and explanations of the meaning of the treaty. I do not believe that there is any necessity to go further than that. Anybody who wants to follow what has been discussed in this House has only to read the Official Report.
Very regrettably, the press has talked a great deal about all kinds of undesirable issues that go on in the world and in this country, but as far as I know it has not seen fit to publish daily the proceedings—I repeat, the proceedings—of either House when the main issues were being discussed. For instance, we had the answer about the meaning of subsidiarity given by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and the many excellent replies which we received from our own Front Bench, particularly from my noble friend Lady Chalker of Wallasey. As we all know, many times she was submitted to cross-examination, and sometimes even examined crossly, to state what her position was.
My fourth point is that so far nobody has said what the constitutional changes are in the Maastricht Treaty. All the time we are talking about the great and violent changes in our constitution. Anyone who listened to the brilliant speech of my noble and learned friend—if I may so call him—Lord Wilberforce will know that there is no great constitutional leap at this time. There are matters for the future.
I congratulate my noble friend Lord Lawson on his maiden speech. He mentioned a single currency. If anyone ever wanted a referendum, is not that the kind of issue on which one should have a referendum? I am not in favour of a referendum, but it should be on a single issue which can be put to the people: "Do you want your pound changed into an ecu or not?" That is an issue which people can understand.
In the treaty the United Kingdom, through the negotiating powers of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, secured an opt-out, or an opt-in, whichever way one wishes to look at it, of having a single currency. That issue will have to be decided by an Act of Parliament. It is at that stage that people can say, "We want to discuss this with the people of Britain", and we can go ahead. The same question arises with subsidiarity. It is a brake on the powers of the Commission and centralisation. Although we say it is a brake, it will depend on this Parliament to ensure that the principle is enforced and implemented both through our own scrutiny committees and by going 295 very carefully through the draft directives. They will also go to the scrutiny committee in another place. It is up to Parliament to decide whether we can make subsidiarity effective and, through our Ministers, to see that it is carried out through the Council of Ministers.
I believe that we have not paid total attention to all the issues which arise as regards a referendum. I have put forward these four points modestly in the hope that we shall not in fact vote in favour of a referendum.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Lord Harris of High Cross
My Lords, as a mere Cambridge economist, and not even one of the seven wise men, I am prepared to defer absolutely on constitutional matters to the brace of Oxford dons who have spoken already. Notwithstanding what my noble and learned friend Lord Wilberforce told us at Second Reading, what the noble Lords, Lord Blake and Lord Beloff, are saying is that, taken together, they agree that Maastricht, piled on the process which has been going on since the Single European Act or before, makes up a constitutional innovation. I would say that it is a constitutional revolution.
In the 10 days of patient and good-natured debate that went on at Second Reading, at Committee stage and now on Report, if there was any gleam of consensus uniting the various sides, it was the support for unfettered trade in a widening single market. On that we were almost all agreed. My own deep conviction is that the promise of spreading peace and prosperity through free trade is already darkened by the ceaseless politicisation and imperialism of the Brussels Commission and the European Court.
Back in 1972 my very old friend of those days, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, declared in the following words:The position is that the ultimate supremacy of Parliament will not be affectedI believe that he was right in this sense: all the subsequent massive loss of sovereignty and, if you will, self-government have not been stolen from us by wicked foreigners, but freely, if reluctantly, bargained away by our politicians in the hope of getting something back, or at any rate appeasing our European partners. Maastricht confirms absolutely that their appetite for our sovereignty is insatiable. In the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, Parliament may still remain supreme, but it remains supreme over a narrowing estate which Maastricht will shrink still further.
I have a new reason for wanting a referendum which should cause rejoicing in some quarters. It is that so far the construction of European Union has been the handiwork of a narrow political class—I would say an exclusive elite—who boast of their linguistic skills and their fastidious nose for fine claret rather than for a pint of good old wallop. On the recent resignation of Mr. Garel-Jones one columnist wrote that he was not so much our man in Europe as Brussels' top man in our Foreign Office.
It is true that there is a great deal of ignorance in the country about the details of the Maastricht Treaty, 296 but my education has been so advanced over the 10 days of debate in your Lordships' House that. I believe that the public could soon be better instructed. I regard it as displaying a profoundly anti-democratic temper to scorn the ability of the voters likewise to learn from a referendum campaign that I should have thought might have taken two or three weeks. The warning that it would go on until next Easter prompted the huffing and puffing by my noble friend Lord Allen about the form of a referendum. That suggests that we might contract the whole thing out and get it over with by the autumn.
My closing thought is that, whatever view we take on Maastricht, we all now know and understand that this heart of Europe about which we all speak has been and will remain a strenuous battlefield. With or without this Bill which we are reporting on today, Her Majesty's Government will have to continue resisting the federalists, corporatists, socialists, protectionists and regulationists, and not forgetting M. Delors' flat-earthists.
Our people have kept faith with the Common Market, partly because they voted for it in 1975. Whether we go further or stay put, the Government will need the assurance and authority that can come only from popular consent. Since all of us who have spoken might wish that we were a great deal younger, I want to tell your Lordships of a letter I received from an Oxford University Conservative, who sent it to The Times for publication without success. It should interest Conservatives sitting behind the Government Whip. He wrote on 4th June:As the House of Lords approaches its debate on the Maastricht Treaty, their Lordships would perhaps do well to consider the opinions of those who will have to live with the consequences of their decision. During the last three years, the Oxford Union has rejected European political integration on four occasions with large and increasing majorities. The Campaign for an Independent Britain has become Oxford's second largest and fastest growing political organisation. Over the last two years it has numbered among its members a majority of Union officers and every President and officer of the Oxford University Conservative Association. A similar situation exists in universities across the country".His last two sentences state:It is to be hoped that the Government will come to take account of the views of those who are likely to become the next generation of Conservative MPs. It is liikewise to be hoped that the House of Lords will recall its role as guardian of the constitution and of the national interest free from the vicissitudes of ephemeral party convenience".It is no surprise that the writer of that letter has since discovered that he has acquired a double first in the recent examinations. What is even more important than whether the pros or the antis win the day is that the still sovereign people should accept the outcome as their chosen future with which they and their children will have to live.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Lord Hooson
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, quoted from his Oxford correspondent. I always understood that Oxford was the home of lost causes, and so it seems. I was the only Liberal Member of another place in 1972 who voted against our accession to the Treaty of Rome. I was the only Liberal to vote against the European Communities Bill. I did so, not because I was 297 anti-European as such, but because I believed that the terms and the timing of our going in were not in this country's interest. I believe that I was right. However, be that as it may.
If ever there was a case for a referendum, it was then. We were changing this country's constitution. We were becoming part of the Treaty of Rome which provided for, "an ever closer union". Those are the words used. Of course, Article 189 of the Treaty of Rome provided for the domination of British law by European law. Clause 2 of the Bill that we passed in the other place provided for the application of European law in our courts. I subscribe to the view that at that point Britain lost its sovereignty. Of course it did: we were making our law subsidiary to European law. That is the first point.
The second point is that the Government, in their 1970 election manifesto, had an oblique reference to the possibility of exploring the conditions upon which we might consider entering the European Community. That was the only reference. So, if ever there was a case for a referendum, it was then. Let us take what happened, and here I rely upon that magnificent precis of the legal position provided by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, on Second Reading. He pointed out how the Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty are, in themselves, a natural progression from what happened when we acceded to the Treaty of Rome. The die was cast in 1972. The moving finger having writ moves on, and never once returns. So it is no use complaining now.
There were no great cries in 1972 for a referendum, although I was in favour of it, and the Liberal Party Assembly in 1969 had passed a resolution in favour of having a referendum on whether we entered the Common Market. There was no suggestion, least of all from government circles at that time—the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, was a member of that government—that there should be a referendum. The situation represented a much greater break with our tradition and a much more important undermining of the sovereignty of Parliament than anything that has happened since. Once we were on that journey, on that train, having missed the opportunity to join in at the Conference of Messina, and failing to become a founder member of the Common Market, our tactics thereafter seemed to be one of trying to get on the train, slowing down the train and trying, as it were, to change the conditions of travel. It was of no use.
With the Maastricht Treaty which is a natural consequence of our accession to the Treaty of Rome, the situation was different. In their election manifesto, the Government were wholly in favour and explained the Maastricht Treaty to the electorate. The Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats did the same and were all in favour. The election took place only last year. The Treaty of Maastricht was topical at the time of the election. It cannot now be argued that there should be a referendum.
Basically, let me make it clear to your Lordships, I am in favour of referenda had we a written constitution or a more structured system of government. I am in favour of having a referendum on 298 any issue which involves a basic change in our constitutional position, but the truth is that in this country a referendum has been used as a political expedient. It was used as a political expedient by the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, when he was Mr. Harold Wilson, to get himself off the political hook of the dissension in his own party.
§ Lord Hooson
My Lords, the noble Lord knows that that is right. Mr. Wilson was forced into it by Mr. Wedgwood Benn. It seems to me that President Mitterrand in France took it upon himself to order a referendum as a matter of political expediency to get himself off a particular political hook. But there is no justification, surely, for this House, an unelected House, to suggest now, when we have had the clearest possible indication from the elected Chamber with a huge majority against a referendum, that we should say to it that it should have a referendum. It is asking for trouble.
I agree entirely with the sentiments expressed by the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, and the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. We are a parliamentary democracy with our own tradition. Here, I shall echo the noble Lord, Lord Blake, in his introduction when he quoted John Locke on the right of constituents to be consulted. That of course was written in the 18th century. The right then was surely to consult constituents although of course many Members of Parliament represented rotten boroughs and had no constituents. Nevertheless, he was not suggesting a referendum.
The noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, referred to all his parliamentary heroes and enumerated them. As I recollect it, not one of them ever suggested that we should use referenda instead of normal parliamentary processes. His hero, Lord Attlee, who he said smiled benignly at Mr. Lloyd George and Winston Churchill in the Lobby, declared himself on a referendum in the most scathing terms in 1946. That was referred to on Second Reading.
It seems to me that this is entirely a wrecking amendment. It has no justification whatever. If ever there were to be a referendum in this country the need for it should be decided by the elected Chamber and by no one else.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ The Marquess of Salisbury
My Lords, I intervene only briefly because much has been said about the constitutional relationship between the two Houses. Much of that is based on what are known as the Salisbury Rules. Your Lordships know the circumstances in which they arose. I do not believe for one moment that at that time they were considered to be anything other than a temporary expedient.
Perhaps I may digress. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for the kind tributes which they paid to my father a few weeks ago. My family and I are most grateful.
Too little has been said about the part played by Lord Addison, the then Leader of the House. Without his co-operation the rules could never have worked. I 299 am fortified in my belief that they were thought to be only a temporary expedient by a conversation which I heard when I joined Lord Addison and my father, who lunched in the guest part of your Lordships' dining room before the debates took place. It was perfectly clear from the conversation and the haggling to obtain concessions that nothing except the main issue came within the purlieu of the Salisbury Rules. My memory of what my father told me confirmed that.
The noble Lord, Lord Blake, in his opening remarks referred to various occasions when a referendum was almost called for. An occasion which he did not mention but which is important is quoted in J. L. Garvin's The Life of Joseph Chamberlain. It was the occasion of the Irish home rule Bill in 1893. At that time it was thought that the Bill might be passed in another place. Mr. Chamberlain went to my great-grandfather, to the then Duke of Devonshire and to Arthur Balfour. He said that if that were likely to happen it would be a good thing to introduce a Bill to hold a referendum. They all agreed. They were a formidable quartet who joined forces on that occasion.
Mach has been said about the French referendum. I was in France at the time and I know that there was no question of people not understanding the issue. Apart from the vigorous government campaign to obtain a "yes" vote, there was the publication of an enormous pamphlet, of which I have a copy, explaining what it was all about. If there were a referendum in this country I imagine that something similar would happen in order to answer one simple question.
Finally, perhaps I may tell your Lordships a story. When my father was Leader of the House there was an occasion when he was most anxious to get an amendment passed. He thought it would be difficult and against the advice of the Chief Whip he insisted on there being a three-line whip. The day started badly because the call was obeyed by many peers who did not normally attend. The proceedings were held up for some time while they took the oath and signed the Roll. They listened politely to what my father said, thought that he was wrong and voted against him. Perhaps some of your Lordships may feel that that is a precedent which they might follow tonight.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships for more than a few moments. I have only three points to make and they are relevant to the referendum. The first relates to the most impressive but disturbing speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher. I thought that it was too despondent and painted too grave a picture of the incursions of the cause of co-operation in the Common Market upon national sovereignty. Co-operation is not the surrendering of sovereignty; it is the pooling of sovereignty. We must ensure that the pool of sovereignty at least safeguards the major anxiety of those who put their sovereignty into the 300 pool. Much can be worked out as we go along. Already there are a number of reservations about the treaty which cover important points.
I suggest that some examination should be made of the areas into which the European Community has extended its powers of intervention and reorganisation. Many will be found to be in relation to business, products, labelling, branded goods and the welfare of animals. Consider the 5 million sheep which now go to Europe but which never previously went there from Britain. We must know something about the transport to Europe of live animals or we are not concerned with one of the grave moral issues of the day. Those areas are essential in the interest of the co-ordination and uniformity of matters which are important economically to the prosperity of the Common Market. Perhaps I may give your Lordships a simple example. We are trying to find alternatives to the use of animals in laboratories. We are making progress but so are other countries in the EC. However, there is no co-ordination as regards the range of their activities or their success rate. The EC has set up a central validation agency to validate alternatives to the use of animals in laboratories throughout the whole of Europe. Those matters are important but no doubt they fall in one of the areas to which the noble Baroness referred. Therefore I do not believe that they are all potentially evil and unduly bureaucratic Further study of them should be made.
In the meantime we must guard against giving the public a wrong, exaggerated and unduly disturbing picture of what is happening. It is no good going towards a referendum and putting fear in the minds of the population without having justification for what is happening or proposals to see that matters are improved and that excesses are checked.
Secondly, I have listened to a great deal of history about the referendum of 1975. I was involved in that referendum. At the time I was chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party and a member of the Shadow Cabinet. I saw it all. The chief concern of the Labour Party was the depth and severity of the rift inside the party as regards entry into the EC. It went right through the unions, through the Labour Party conference and through the parliamentary party. We had to do something to bring that to an end. The promise was made in the election prior to 1975 that the Labour Party would not be in favour of withdrawing from the EC, as many of our supporters wanted us to do, but would be in favour of renegotiating the terms of entry. After all, it was the terms of entry that were the problem. We went for a renegotiation of the terms. Then the shadow Cabinet and the Prime Minister—he was Leader of the Opposition at the time—
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
My Lords, he decided to have a referendum. But it was more to settle the rift inside the Labour Party than to settle any rifts outside. I believe that the disturbances in the public mind were nothing like so great from a Labour Party point of view as the disturbances within its own ranks.
301 We must bear in mind in our approach to the question of the Common Market that this evening's vote may have the direst consequences. I share some of the anxieties expressed by the noble Baroness but I should have admired her the more, if I may humbly say so, had she been statesmanlike enough to say, "In the circumstances, I do not call upon anybody to support the amendment. I have given my warning, I have spoken to the people. Heed what I have said". That would have been a speech that I should have cheered. Instead of that, the noble Baroness pointed to the Lobby and asked noble Lords to follow her in support of the amendment.
We must ask what will be the consequences of the passing of the amendment. It would destroy the Government. It would take a coalition government to deal with the consequences of that decision because no government of any party could cope with the damage to prestige and confidence which the passing of the amendment would incur.
It may be that in the end it would take a national government to reach agreement on what are our expectations and plans for Europe in order to avoid the constant references either to the excesses which we allege are being committed or the people's discontent as regards the orders and regulations which are being made.
I have made three points and I do not believe any of them indicate that I should support the amendment. I shall certainly oppose it. Your Lordships would expect that from me because I have been a strong European for so many years now.
There is one matter which has not been mentioned in the debate but it will appeal to anybody who has endured two wars in his lifetime; that is, the peace of Europe. It was the concept of peace for Europe which began the Community policy. What about Churchill in Zurich in 1946? What about his great speech at the Albert Hall in May 1947? They were the clarion calls to what was eventually the movement for European unity and co-operation. Without talking too freely about a superstate, I believe that such a Community is indispensable to European peace and is probably indispensable also to world peace.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Lord Skidelsky
My Lords, it is a rather useless exercise to try to work out what will be the consequences of voting for or against the amendment. People must take their own decisions and do what they believe is right. They must chance their arm on the outcome.
I believe that I am one of the few people who will admit to having changed his mind on this issue. When I spoke in our Second Reading debate, I supported the Bill on balance and argued against a referendum. I have changed my mind on the second point because I have become convinced that many of the arguments used by noble Lords on that occasion were intellectually and morally flawed.
I wish to concentrate my attack on one proposition which I heard time and again as I sat through our Second Reading debate and which I have heard time 302 and again since; that is, that we should not support a referendum because there is nothing of substance for the people of this country to decide. It was said that either we were not signing up to anything to which we had not signed already or, if we were, the new things that we were signing up to would not happen. That is complete rubbish. The official government line is that the draft treaty of Maastricht was federalist in aim and character but the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, by brilliant diplomacy, were able to remove those objectionable features from the treaty and reverse the trend towards federalism and centralism.
My noble friend the Leader of the House claimed it as a victory for the anti-federalist approach that the treaty specifically excluded foreign and home policy from the competence of the Community, limiting that competence to economic matters, which were the subject of the Treaty of Rome and the Single European Act.
However, my noble friend omitted to say that foreign and home affairs are, for the first time, two pillars, together with economic affairs, of a new structure—the European Union. Competencies denied to the Community are given to the Union. The European Economic Community, officially renamed the European Community, is now merely one pillar—I admit that it is the most important pillar so far—of a larger entity.
It is as though we were being told that we had achieved a great victory and kept all the extra furniture out of our house without being told that the house had been enlarged to accommodate it. That is the heart of the constitutional issue. It is not really what is happening within the Community, nor the extension of qualified voting or the move towards monetary union which is at the heart of the constitutional issue. It is the fact that a new entity is being created which has not existed previously, of which the Community is only one element. In that, I must disagree with my noble friend Lord Lawson. Monetary union is not the heart of the constitutional issue. It is the European Union which is at the heart of the constitutional issue.
Can one doubt that interpretation? The very first line of the treaty states that the:The high Contracting Parties establish among themselves a European Union".It is a treaty of European Union. Union is not a word used in jest, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, implied. The citizens of member states are to become citizens of the Union. The Union has an identity which it will assert on the international scene. It will provide itself with the means necessary to obtain its objectives and carry though its policies. Those objectives include a foreign common policy, a common security policy and a common defence policy which is destined to become a common defence. The Union will be served by a common institutional framework. That is all there in the treaty. It will be a common institutional framework taking over from the Community, the Council of Ministers, the Commission, the European Parliament and so on. We 303 are not talking about deepening the European Community. We are talking about creating a European Union. That is the main point.
I admit that two of the three pillars of the Union are shadowy, ghostly and skeletal. They have not had any flesh put on them yet. But the history of the Community shows that an abstract assertion of a competence is followed sooner or later by a concrete claim to a power. It must be so: if you assert a responsibility, you must sooner or later claim a power to exercise it. That is how Europe has been built up from the start, stone by stone, storey by storey and wing by wing. There has been no great watershed and no single act of creation. At no point in time does the building look much different from what it looked like the moment before. And yet it rises the whole time.
I am not saying that any of that is dishonest. There was no other way to build up a European state. But it is a technique well calculated to bamboozle the pragmatic English into the belief that nothing important is happening. Why bother with conceptions? asked my noble friend Lord Carrington in the true spirit of the practical man of affairs. The reason is that conceptions pave the way for practice. The French and the Germans live by conceptions. We do not. However, that is no excuse for ignoring their conceptions. We have paid a heavy price for ignoring some of them in the past.
I hope that I have carried your Lordships with me part of the way; that is, in agreeing with me that something new and interesting is being attempted by the treaty and that we are not simply engaged in the exercise of filling in details of previous treaties. But it has been said that those things will not come to pass; that the world has changed; and that federalism is no longer on the agenda. Some noble Lords have asked why we are wasting time arguing about Alice in Wonderland fantasies which will never take place. That is the argument of the practical man: "You know what the Europeans are like. They are full of hot air". That is how the argument has gone. I argued something like that myself but I am now bound to agree with my noble friend Lord Parkinson when he said on Second Reading:It is a bad basis for signing a treaty when one's basic motivation is that one does not believe that it will be implemented".—[Official Report, 7/6/93; col. 587.]The history of "Euro-construction", if I may use that term, bears that out. The movement is not continuous, it is discontinuous. Europe has been relaunched several times, but the movement has been one way. The momentum will continue because Europe—the world—is a dangerous place. In the years ahead there will be perturbations, shocks and crises. Each one will offer seemingly compelling argument for adding new competences and attaching powers to competences already accepted.
There is surely something here worthy of the most deliberate consideration. I believe that Europe is on the move from confederalism to federalism. Precisely because the movement takes place in very small steps, it is easy to beguile oneself into the belief that nothing much is happening. Yet if one looks at it over a period of time, the change becomes much more evident. Because the British people approved membership of 304 something called the European Economic Community 18 years ago, one cannot say that they must be presumed to have accepted everything that has flowed from that decision ever since.
The full picture only gradually discloses itself. If, as I believe, we are in train from a confederation of independent states towards a federation in which the states are subordinate members of the new union, we have a duty to ask the British people whether or not they want to continue on that journey. If they do, let us join that adventure and play our part in it with the backing of that mandate. Alternatively, if they do not, it is not the end of the story. We are members of the European Community, we shall continue to be so and we shall play our part in renegotiating the arrangements. The worst possible scenario would be to go ahead against the wishes of the people, thus leaving people able to say afterwards, "We were conned". If that was done, we would risk a very nasty nationalist backlash. Therefore, I support the amendment. I hope that the majority of the House will join me in doing so.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, tonight's debate is about government by consent. Last night I looked the Reuters tape and one item caught my eye. It read:Prime Minister John Major favours full deregulation of Sunday shopping laws and the maximum amount of choice for the public, according to Downing Street".It struck me as singularly inconsistent for the Prime Minister to advocate public choice on a secondary matter while seeking to deny any choice to the public on such an immensely important question as the Maastricht Treaty. The treaty will bring about enormous changes. It will entail a massive shift of power from this Parliament to unelected and unaccountable institutions in Brussels. Moreover, it will be a substantial step towards a single European state and a weakening of our position as an independent self-governing member of the European Community. Our centuries old, hard-won rights and liberties, which are already being seriously eroded, would be put at risk.
People have not been given the opportunity to express their views. They have not been offered any choice. It must be wrong to take such an enormous step without being sure of the wholehearted support of a majority of the people. A majority in the House of Commons, achieved by pressure from the Whips, is no substitute for genuine consultation with the people. Therefore, I am convinced that it is right to support the amendment.
A huge change in the way we are governed is being forced through by a de facto coalition of the three main political parties. Their members are a tiny majority of the population and all the evidence is that the policy upon which they have agreed does not enjoy support in the country. As we all know, the 305 Government are in some difficulty with, according to the polls, an approval rate of only 12 per cent. In my part of Wales, Conservative Party officials are leaving one after another because, they say, no one will listen to what they say. Maastricht is one of the things that they dislike, but the Government seem obsessed with it. Will they continue until their approval rate falls to 3 per cent., or zero?
Your Lordships may remember an earlier ruler who would riot trust the people. Charles I said on the scaffold that the people's liberty and freedom was,not for having a share in government; that is nothing pertaining to them".That is not an altogether encouraging precedent. But I believe that if we pass the amendment it will give the Prime Minister a chance to set out on a new and more hopeful tack. If he were to call a referendum, he would, I believe, be respected for it and, whatever the result, would be able to go forward knowing what the people really want. I honestly believe that it would help him. The Government would frame the question, would have their enormous machine and that of the other two parties on their side, and would have every chance of winning. If they really believe that they would lose, what are they doing pushing the Bill and the treaty through?
I listened with great attention to the important and authoritative maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lawson. I am sure he is right in saying that monetary union is the essential core of the treaty. He pointed out that our opt-out protects us from proceeding to the third stage without parliamentary approval. The noble Lord suggested, not, as many have argued, that it is too late to have a referendum, but that it is too early and that the time when we should have it is before any decision to move to a third stage. That is a very interesting view. However, I wonder whether it is safe and prudent to defer consultation with the people until such a late stage. It presumes that our opt-out will really be effective and we might find it very difficult to block the central part of the treaty or negotiate a new treaty which would require a probably unattainable unanimity.
The noble Lord accepted that the treaty was produced by the federalists. I believe myself that it would be better and safer to put the case to the people now when the general issue is clear and before we get to the crunch on the third stage. However, if we do eventually reach that point, we would do well to remember what the noble Lord has said.
I respect—although I do not agree with them—those noble Lords who want a single currency, a single European state and an integrated Europe, the inevitable result of ever closer union. However, I find it hard to understand the position of many of my friends in the House who do not like Maastricht, who do not want a united states of Europe, a monetary union, European citizenship or a common foreign and defence policy but who feel that we have gone so far down the road that we have to ratify the treaty and then work from within for a more reasonable way forward.
306 I do not think that that is realistic. However, if those noble Lords are bothered and bewildered, would it not be better to abstain—a perfectly honourable course—rather than vote against the amendment? For those who do vote tonight, I believe that there will be no hiding place for the individual conscience. Those who vote against the amendment will be recorded for all time as wishing to deny their own people a voice on this great issue. I find it hard to believe—
§ Lord Moran
Noble Lords may laugh; but it is true. As I was saying, I find it hard to believe that a majority of your Lordships really want to do so or think that it is right to obey three-line Whips and put party before conscience. The people have every right to be consulted before their system of government is fundamentally changed. If the amendment is defeated because not enough Peers have taken the trouble to come here to support it, as The Times on Monday said:There will be new converts to the Labour Party's campaign to abolish hereditary voting rights altogether".Many people have said to me that, in those circumstances, we will not deserve to survive in our present form. However, the matter is more serious. People are slow to notice what is going on in the world, but when they wake up to find they have been betrayed by this Government—and, indeed, by all three political parties and that power has moved irreversibly to Brussels, their reaction is likely to be very strong; indeed, our whole party political system may come into question. What we desperately need is for the Government and the political class as a whole to regain the confidence of the people. One of the very greatest of our sovereigns, the first Queen Elizabeth, once said:This I count the glory of my crown: that I have reigned with your loves".That is what I believe our rulers ought to aim at.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes
My Lords, I rise to intervene briefly at this late stage in the debate as I promised to do on Second Reading—
The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)
My Lords, only one speaker may speak at one time. I hope the noble Baroness will therefore be good enough to resume her seat. As the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, spoke first, she should continue.
§ Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes
My Lords, I intend to speak briefly in support of the amendment as I promised to do on Second Reading. I hope that I shall not retread any of the ground that has already been gone over other than to say that had I not been resolved to support this amendment when I came here, the arguments against it would have reinforced my resolve today. The main argument that has been put from the opponents to the amendment is that it is too late to hold a referendum. I question that as in 1975 307 the referendum was totally retrospective. All who have opposed this amendment apparently have done so not necessarily because they object to the principle of it but because they want to achieve ratification as soon as possible. I say better late than never.
I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, who said that a referendum would be too complicated for people to understand. What an insult that is to the intelligence of the people of this country. If the elected representatives in another place can understand a referendum, and if your Lordships can understand one, surely it can be put in plain English so that the people of this country can understand the significance of the treaty. If that cannot be done, I suggest we reprint the speech of my noble friend Lady Thatcher as that would clearly explain the dangers of the position to the people of this country.
I held a referendum in my constituency in 1972. That was not difficult. No campaigns were fought during that referendum for or against a referendum or for or against entry. The facts were put to my constituents. They made a decision on the matter and honoured their decision on that occasion.
Many noble Lords have asked what will happen if the amendment is passed tonight. I hope that the amendment will be accepted tonight. If it is accepted, I believe that any referendum Bill that is drawn up should strike the word "Maastricht" out altogether. The treaty should be referred to as the Treaty of European Union, as that is what it is. Thus, the people of this country would be aware of what it is we are asking them to decide upon.
Further, I believe that the people of this country would feel totally and doubly rebuffed and resentful if this amendment were accepted in this House tonight and the other place then attempted to negate it. The sense of frustration that we have felt throughout the debates we have had in this House has given rise in Committee and on Report to what many of your Lordships have described as Second Reading speeches. I agree that many of the speeches could be so described. Those speeches arose out of the frustration that many noble Lords quite rightly felt at not being able to vote against the Second Reading. Let us not extend that frustration to the people of this country by denying them their say in this essential matter.
§ 7.54 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, I disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, in just one minor degree, and that is that I believe there is nothing wrong in this Chamber deciding tonight to carry this amendment. Indeed, I think there is everything right with that course of action. However, I take the view that we would have to send the amendment to the elected Chamber and we must recognise that that Chamber will have the final word. But we can hope that as a result of this debate here tonight many of the changes of heart and changes of perception will occur that the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, conveyed to us in a most remarkable speech. He noted, perhaps for the first time, where we 308 are going. He realised that our action must be carried out with the support of the people and not against their will.
In a fairly long life—I cannot, of course, compete with my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby in that respect but I am on the way—I have discovered that politicians tend on the whole to support those referenda which they believe will give them the results they want and to oppose those which they believe will give them results they do not want. I have discovered a way of preventing myself from falling into that trap. If one follows that course, one comes down firmly in favour of the referendum we are discussing tonight. I believe that if the referendum concerns a constitutional change of importance it is justified. However, a referendum on issues of policy, for example, is not justified as those areas must be decided by the representatives of parliamentary democracy. The issue of constitutional change is, I believe, a matter for the people. That is why I believe we should carry this amendment tonight.
In a previous short intervention I said that I thought that the chap who had put his finger on this issue was Conor Cruise O'Brien when he said that a federation of states is all right but a federation of nations is not. I do not have time to expand on that tonight, but if noble Lords will reflect on that I believe they will discover that Conor Cruise O'Brien has put his finger right on the point.
If one looks at the wider world scene, one can see that as regards the United States a federation has come off. America has had its problems of course, but by and large the federation has come off. However, one must also examine recent events in Europe. What has happened when an attempt has been made to force a federation of states in the former Soviet Union? The moment the lid is taken off, there emerges nationality. I am no great nationalist, but surely we must recommend that the loyalty of people is to the nation state: it is not to the federation of Europe. The more one looks into this matter, the more one reaches the conclusion that the way that we are going at the moment we shall ultimately achieve a federation. We are already on our way there. Tonight we will decide whether we go further, perhaps inextricably. Is that wise? Some people do not want a referendum now, but the next time it will be too late. This may be the last opportunity we have to avoid becoming part of a federal union of Europe.
It seems to me that the view has been taken in the Chamber that perhaps as we are unelected—frankly, we are in some respects rather absurd—we have no right to carry this amendment because it is an amendment of such a fundamental character. The Chamber is as it is at the moment, and as we are here in it we have to do our duty as we are at the moment. Our duty at the moment is, it seems to me, to carry this amendment and to give the elected Chamber the opportunity to think again. Let us hope to God that it does.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Baroness Strange
My Lords, I thank your Lordships very much indeed for your courtesy in allowing me to speak. I am sorry that I have gone on. Every time I looked at my speech it seemed to get worse and worse, but I speak from the heart. I am, as I believe all your Lordships are, a European both by geography (we are, after all, an island off the coast of Europe rather than America, Asia or Africa) and by history, invaded by Romans, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Danes, Normans and Bretons—which was why the Normans called my original ancestor Strange because he was a foreigner—and now tourists.
I have French, German, Dutch, Italian and Hungarian blood in my veins. I have a French son-in-law who makes very good wine and two French grandchildren. What worries me in this treaty is the loss of sovereignty—I would like very much to congratulate my noble friend Lord Lawson on his very powerful speech on this issue—because, although enough words have been spoken about Maastricht to run the Eurovision Song Contest for ever, on a vital constitutional issue there has not been a referendum.
We all want Europe to work. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has wrung some very important concessions out of the treaty at Maastricht. But it is still like patching up an old banger which may or may not go with 12 passengers but will certainly not do for 28.
We Europeans are like trees in a wood. We all have our own roots, our own variety, our own way of growing, and have done so for hundreds of years. We are all part of the same wood. The same rain falls on us all. The same winds buffet us. The same birds sing and nest in our branches. We have very much in common, but we are not one tree.
§ 8 p.m.
§ Lord Moore of Wolvercote
My Lords, I have already spoken twice in your Lordships' House in favour of a referendum. Indeed, I was among the first of your Lordships to advocate a referendum. Therefore, I do not wish to take up your Lordships' time by repeating my arguments, but I should like to make three points.
First, any constitutional objections to holding a referendum have been disposed of by the excellent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Blake, who moved the amendment so powerfully. Secondly, it carries no weight as an argument to say that the decision to enter Europe was taken in the referendum of 1975. The decision taken then was to enter a European common market. The intention of the drafters of the Maastricht Treaty is to create a federal European state. That is very, very different.
My third point, and the most important, is this. I have previously said in your Lordships' House that this is a momentous issue. Of course it is. One has only to consider the enormous amount of time devoted to the Maastricht Bill by both Houses of Parliament. One has only to look at the packed Benches of your Lordships' House today. We are faced with a vital 310 decision for the future of our country. In my view it must be right to invite the people to express their opinion.
I shall vote for the amendment.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Lord Wedgwood
My Lords, we have long been aware that language is a major hurdle to unity within Europe. It may well be that Maastricht is a complicated treaty to interpret and present in a document in language that can be understood by all. Surely the proposals are far too important to be presented in such a confusing manner, riddled with ambiguities, and therefore subject to misinterpretation by all who have the opportunity to read or study them.
These proposals, if ratified, will permanently change the way we live. It is certainly possible to argue that change is inevitable, and it has been suggested that we shall be left behind if we do not ratify. The Maastricht proposals would change the very fabric of this country, and this the result of one widely misunderstood document.
All noble Lords who have had the benefit and honour of serving in His or Her Majesty's Armed Forces will understand that ignorance of rules and regulations during service is an offence and punishable. I do not suggest that the whole nation should be subject to that system, but there is a message here. Part of the military system is to ensure that information is passed from the highest levels of command down to the lowest rank. Even complicated orders are put into language which can be clearly understood by all without ambiguity and without confusion and which will not be subject to misinterpretation.
The Maastricht proposals are of such an important nature, and, if ratified, would create irrevocable changes, that it is simply not good enough to say that the proposals are too complicated for the electorate to comprehend fully. As in the services, it should be the duty of the so-called elite to ensure full comprehension of the proposals through all levels of society. The electorate must be given the opportunity to understand proposals with constitutional implications which will permanently change the way in which their children and grandchildren live.
We are a great trading nation. Many of our products are still the envy of the world. It is possible that the single market has been of benefit to certain manufacturers. In fact, there is a Staffordshire-based pottery of which I have a little knowledge and experience which, after 200 years of tradition, for the first time has seriously established a foothold in the European market-place as a result of the focus given by the single market. The Treaty of Rome and the Single European Act gave us the single market. All the potters in Staffordshire, the whisky distillers in Scotland, the fabric mills of the North, the high-tech gurus of East Anglia, the market gardeners of the South and West and the engineering plants of the Midlands, to name but a few, welcome the opportunity to improve business through trade and exports in any market, and perhaps for many 311 especially in Europe. To most of those people and to a large proportion of the electorate who for generations have helped to maintain the proud traditions of this country, that is what European unity means—trade, not the ceding of 100 new areas of government responsibility. They do not realise that through Maastricht they could lose the ability to operate to their best advantage and to that of the country.
The great American statesman John Adams said in 1774:As the happiness of the people is the sole end of government. so the consent of the people is the only foundation of it".The electorate must be educated on the extremely important proposals resulting from Maastricht and then given a chance to decide whether they wish to allow the system to be irrevocably changed. It is their right.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Lord Glenamara
My Lords, I wish to detain the House only a few minutes. I do so because I find myself at odds with my own party on this issue. I am extremely saddened that the Labour Party officially opposes a referendum when every public opinion poll has come out with a sizeable majority in favour of a referendum. As an ex-Chief Whip I am equally saddened that the Labour Party has decided to impose a three-line Whip on an issue on which so many of us feel deeply. I shall vote for the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Blake, and I hope that many others on this side of the House will also do so. I suggest that all of us on all sides of the House forget about our three-line Whips and vote according to our consciences.
We have had three referendums in the United Kingdom, all on matters of basic constitutional importance. Can anyone doubt that Maastricht is such an issue? Of course it is. Everybody knows that it is. Maastricht plots a course which leads clearly, inevitably and ultimately irrevocably, to a European federation. There is no doubt about that.
Do the people of the United Kingdom want that? I do not know. With respect, I do not believe that any Member of your Lordships' House knows the answer to that question. Nobody knows. I heard the noble Lord, Lord Archer, say on television this morning, and the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, say a few moments ago that the subject was included in every party's manifesto at the last election and we all supported it. In that case, how could anybody vote against it? They could not. They had no choice whatever. That is no argument at all. At least give the people of this country the opportunity to express a view.
We have heard a good deal about the 1975 referendum. I was involved in it. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins—Mr. Roy Jenkins as he was then—was the Home Secretary. He refused point blank to have anything to do with it. He refused to do his duty as Home Secretary. The Prime Minister, believing quite wrongly that the Lord President of the Council had nothing much to do, asked me to do it. Therefore I was in charge of the ministerial side of it. The noble 312 Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, was in charge of the Civil Service side of it. I took the question to the Cabinet four or five times before it was as we wanted.
I should like to point out something about the question. It is extremely important. The question asked: "Do you think that the United Kingdom should stay in the European Community (the Common Market)?" In other words, those last three words, "the Common Market", defined what we meant then by the European Community. We meant then a common market and nothing more. That is what the people of this country voted for. That is what I believed in; I still believe in it. I went round the country urging people to vote "yes". The noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, and I spoke on a platform in Glasgow about the matter, and on many other platforms. Sixty-eight point seven per cent. of the people voted in favour.
It is 18 years since that referendum. Since then the Community has gone far beyond a common market. Even if we count all those factors which are necessary in the words of that horrible modern phrase "to create a level playing field", it has gone far beyond a common market. I read in the Daily Telegraph this morning that 1,087 directives made by non-elected commissioners are currently applicable. The vast majority of those directives have nothing whatever to do with the common market. I read in the paper yesterday about Blackpool beach. It is highly desirable to have Blackpool beach cleaned up, but what has that to do with Brussels? It is a matter for us in this country; it has nothing to do with the common market. The system has run amok in the past 20 years.
The simple truth is that the federalists have bamboozled all of us by talking about creating a common market while in fact they were digging the foundations, laying the footings and starting to build the walls of a European federation, a superstate. To deny that is the same as saying that black is white.
I have been fighting elections for 48 years. One lesson I have learnt is that one should never underestimate the British electorate. It is well informed, sensible and balanced. To say that it would use the referendum to vote against the Government's record is plainly nonsense. However, if there is a fear about that, we could do what we did in 1975. I obtained from the Treasury a certain amount of money. I had the "yes" and "no" lobbies prepare pamphlets of equal size. We had those distributed by the Post Office to every householder in the country so that everyone had all the arguments fairly and dispassionately from both sides. We could do that.
If a referendum asked a simple, straightforward question, the electorate of this country would give a simple, clear verdict. Without that clear verdict from people on whose behalf we make decisions in this Chamber, I believe that the Maastricht Treaty ought not to be ratified—and I am in favour of the common market. Without that verdict of the people, I do not believe that we have the moral right to ratify the treaty.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Lord Carrington
My Lords, the time may have arrived when your Lordships believe that we should come to a conclusion on the matter.
§ Lord Carrington
I shall therefore be brief. I am opposed to the amendment, not, I must confess, for some of the reasons that have been given. For instance, I do not accept that it is improper for this House to vote on the amendment or, if your Lordships so wished, to pass the amendment on the Report stage of a Bill of this importance. In the 50 years or so that I have been a Member of this House it has always been accepted that we have a right to ask another place to think again on a measure of great importance, however unlikely it may be—and in this case it is extremely unlikely—that the other place might change its mind. It would, of course, be quite improper if the amendment were rejected by the House of Commons and sent back to this Chamber for this House to insist on it. I have no doubt that my noble friends who support the amendment would be the first to agree to that. It is no business of this House to overrule the elected House in the last instance. However, we have a right and are entitled to vote if we so please. Whether it is wise or profitable for your Lordships to do so is another matter.
I oppose the amendment for different reasons. If the amendment were passed, and a referendum were to take place, it is obvious that one of two situations would arise. If the result were a majority for the Maastricht Treaty, nothing would have been gained and a great deal of time and trouble would have been spent on the referendum. There would have been a divisive campaign and, I suspect, a campaign of much bitterness which would undoubtedly damage the standing of the Government in the eyes of our European friends. I suspect that they feel that enough time and argument has been spent on the issue in this country over these past months. It would certainly damage the standing of the Government in this country. I do not expect noble Lords opposite to be moved by that argument, but it might perhaps move some noble Lords who sit on this side of the Chamber who, although not frequent attenders, are supporters of the Government.
However, if the result of the referendum were to reject the treaty, I am not at all clear where that would leave us. It would certainly leave us in a state of considerable confusion. In my judgment, not only would our partners be wholly exasperated after all this time that such a decision had been reached; there would also undoubtedly be a powerful movement in the remainder of the Community to go ahead without us—and not necessarily on those issues to which objection had been made. We would be marginalised and cease to have any voice whatever in the future of Europe where, whether or not some may like it, our future lies.
It is unrealistic to suppose that the treaty would be renegotiated as a result of a decision at a referendum. I can think of nothing which would lead to more 314 confusion or be so disadvantageous to this country, both politically and economically. As I said at Second Reading, in many ways the Maastricht Treaty has been overtaken by events. Events have moved on a good deal since the treaty was signed. Indeed, it is certainly nothing like as crucial as was the Single European Act. It is far better that we should accept the treaty with the opt-out clauses which the Prime Minister has negotiated, and bring to bear on our friends in the Community the common sense which I believe the Government have displayed in these past two years. I hope very much that your Lordships will not be beguiled into voting for what I believe would be an amendment damaging to the long-term interests of this country.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
My Lords, I follow the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, in believing that it is probably the general sense of the House that the time has come for the winding-up speeches. What I believe is clear from the cut and thrust of the debate is that the merits of a referendum in a parliamentary democracy such as ours is a peculiarly difficult question. We were all intensely interested by what the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said about the committee set up when the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, was still Leader of the Opposition. It is obviously a very difficult question.
One can quote the remark by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, about the referendum being the tool of dictatorship; or one can point to other democratic countries which have referenda —for instance, that most placid and prosperous of democracies, Switzerland. The trouble is that both propositions are absolutely true, which is, no doubt, why the noble Baroness has been able to adopt both in succession.
I merely conclude—I hope not too dogmatically in view of my prejudices on the matter—that we had better decide these matters for ourselves rather than looking over our shoulders at what other countries do in the way of having a referendum. We should decide for ourselves, according to our own traditions and experience, whether the resort to a referendum is appropriate. Much depends on the circumstances of each case. In the circumstances of the Maastricht Treaty, I believe that the case for a referendum is very weak indeed. As I have listened to the debate, the view that I have just expressed has been strengthened. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, who opened the debate, that the basic weakness in the case for a referendum in present circumstances is that Maastricht does not make sufficient constitutional change to justify the unusual British course of a referendum. I know that that has been contested in the debate, but I have heard nothing to alter my view.
Parliament's painstaking, detailed and sometimes dreary examination of the treaty has proved exactly that view on item after item. I have probably sat through almost as much of the debate as anyone in the House. Even the new concept of the citizen of the Union, which causes anxiety to some noble Lords in various parts of the House, turns out to be conditional 315 on British citizenship and adds some modest but helpful rights to us as part of the European Community, without adding any new duties.
The major constitutional commitment to a European union was in the Act of 1972 without a referendum. The subsequent referendum, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, took place in 1975. I am sure that the two to one majority of British people was in favour of pooling sovereignty as part of membership of the Community.
As many noble Lords have said, the Single European Act took the development a good deal further down the European union road than Maastricht does. However, as was said by my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, that was whipped through Parliament by the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, without a blush, and without a referendum. If I may say so to the noble Baroness, to whom we all listened with great respect, I thought she protested a little too much about having been taken in by wicked foreigners in her signatures both of the Stuttgart declaration and the Single European Act. I was saddened that she, as a former Prime Minister, should make the attack, as she did once again, on the European Court of Justice. It is an institution of great importance to all of us in terms of maintaining the rule of law in the European Community, of which we are a member.
A second argument put forward is that at the last general election all the main political parties were in favour of Maastricht and the British voter had no chance to choose. If there had been a little electoral reform of voting in this country, there might have been an easier situation in regard to that. It is a curious and rather contemptuous view of the British voter and of democracy in each of our parties that the Maastricht Treaty was signed in December 1991. Between then and the general election there were months of major debate in Parliament and in the media about the pros and cons of Maastricht. Does anyone really believe that if there had been a ground swell of popular opinion, which many noble Lords appear to feel exists somewhere out there in the constituencies, against Maastricht, it would not have found an outlet? There were quite a number of anti-Community candidates in various constituencies, and I think that they all comfortably lost their deposits.
Noble Lords have also pointed out other practical weaknesses in the pro-referendum case. Parliament has now spent over a year going through the treaty and the Bill with a fine-tooth comb. It would be a ludicrous declaration of weakness for the Prime Minister now to turn another somersault and further delay ratification. Nor has he any need to do so with, as has been pointed out, a majority of 239 behind him in another place.
Of course, your Lordships' House has a perfect right to pass the amendment and ask another place to think again about the matter. But what we have to decide in a short time is whether, in the judgment of noble Lords, it is wise for the House to decide that another place should think again and whether that is justified in what it turns out is the constitutional scope 316 of the changes being made. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, was absolutely right that, to put it mildly, a course like that would generate constitutional friction of a high order.
The Liberal Democrats were teased a good deal during the Committee proceedings about what was regarded in some quarters as our excessive zeal for the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty. I venture to point out that tonight we are the only party in the House, apart from the Cross-Benches, to have a genuinely free vote on this difficult democratic issue of a referendum.
I wish to put my position on record. I believe that the most powerful case against a referendum on Maastricht goes deeper than the practical arguments with which I have just dealt. It is that it undermines parliamentary democracy, and in that, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. I am against the referendum, not because I believe that Whitehall or Westminster knows best. Parliament and Whitehall are imperfect institutions, as those of us who have spent a lifetime here can testify.
I am against the referendum because, as a democrat, I believe that on balance the elected House of Commons (for all the distortions of the first-past-the-post system) and your Lordships' House (for all the curiosities of its composition)—and tonight we welcome many strange and fresh faces here for the final Division—remain the most sensitive political seismograph for registering complicated political questions of public interest and public policy.
Compared with Parliament, a referendum—and certainly the kind of referendum proposed in the present circumstances, without any of the constitutional framework hinted at by my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead—is a blunderbuss liable to hit the wrong target. The French referendum on Maastricht turned out to be a referendum on Mitterrand and a British one would most likely be a referendum on Major and the Government's follies over matters like VAT. Although it is tempting to those of us on this side of the House, the ratification of an important treaty is far too serious and vital a matter for playing such party political games.
I believe that rather unrealistic and perhaps romantic nonsense has been talked tonight about Peers and people. We listened to the noble Lord, Lord Blake, with great respect; he is a great historian and constitutional expert. But his idea that somehow Peers can come to the rescue of the people does not have much reality behind it. After a long life in politics, my hunch is that most ordinary people feel that issues raised by something like the Maastricht Treaty—complex questions concerning not only bread-and-butter issues but issues of defence and foreign policy—are matters which they pay their politicians to deal with and decide for them.
The way in which the Government have dragged out the Maastricht debate to appease a tiny minority of critics in both Houses has led to the public becoming bored with the wrangling. I believe that the public want their elected leaders to get on with it. People are not starry-eyed about the European Community, any more than they are about the 317 government in this country at any time. However, the underlying consensus is that our future lies in the European Community and therefore the commonsense view is that we had better make the most of it because so much hangs on the kind of contribution we can make to Europe and peace generally.
The noble Duke, the Duke of Devonshire, argued for the amendment on the grounds that politicians—elected or unelected—are not a popular group at the moment. I agree with him on that point, but I totally disagree with him in the remedy that he recommended to noble Lords. Politicians generally are under a great deal of unfair attack by the media these days. Even the serious press has stopped reporting our debates and prefers to organise its own assembly of sound bites across on Palace Green. It seems to me that this is a time crying out for political leadership, and a time for politicians to face up to their responsibilities. As the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher said —quoted, I believe, by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, in his report—it is not a time for passing the buck to the voters who elected them.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, as we approach the end of what has been a long and relatively good-humoured debate, I hope I may be permitted to say a word of admiration for the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lawson. I have a particular reason to do so since, as he said himself, he imposed abstinence on himself in delaying his maiden speech for roughly a year since entering the House. I happened to sit next to the noble Lord in the general philosophy final schools at Oxford. The desks are organised so that they are two feet apart; the "L"s go down and then the "M"s go down. In those examinations one gets 12 questions, of which one is supposed to answer four. Mere mortals cross off all the ones that we know we cannot answer and hope that there are four left. Not so the noble Lord. He sat there cerebrating for a full hour-and-a-half before he deliberately unscrewed his fountain pen and put pen to paper. The noble Lord achieved a congratulatory first. I only received a second. I have hated him ever since. I hate him for the facility and brilliance of his maiden speech, which confirms all that I ever thought about him.
I wonder whether it is possible to find some common ground in this debate. We have ranged over a wide number of topics, some of them not very close to the issue of the amendment and the referendum. Let us see where we can agree. First of all, can we agree that this House is entitled to ask the House of Commons to think again? That is clearly the constitutional situation, and it is no shame on this House, whatever the motivation of noble Lords may be, to ask the other place, if we want to, to think again.
Secondly, can we agree that although the referendum is not a common institution in our political life, it is nevertheless a legitimate institution in our political life? Many examples have been quoted—I shall certainly not dream of going into the history 318 of referenda here—and there have been times when they have solved problems which could not have been solved in any other way.
Thirdly, I hope we can agree that a referendum is technically possible. The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, spoke about some of the practical difficulties; nevertheless, it is possible to frame a question which could be put to the people of this country and which would get an answer.
Fourthly, can we agree that the issues raised by the Maastricht Treaty are not new? We have heard many different versions of the extent to which we have moved from 1957 to 1973, to 1975, to 1986. In all of these dates there are great points for some noble Lords, while for others there is a continuity of intention which means that a break point is not particularly important. But we all agree that many of the issues that we have debated in our consideration of the Maastricht Bill have been raised before. Indeed, far too many of the amendments that we have considered were actually amendments to the Treaty of Rome, the Single European Act and earlier treaties rather than to Maastricht itself.
Fifthly, can we agree that the issues raised by Maastricht are in themselves of intrinsic importance. Even if they follow on from two or three decades of debate within this country, the issues are important. The novelty of some of the issues and the way in which they have found effect in treaties are still important. If we agree on that, then I think we can hope to narrow down our differences—there are still enormously important differences—and try to make up our minds on how we are going to vote in a more rational way.
We should concentrate our thoughts not so much on our views of the Maastricht Treaty but on our views on whether a referendum is a wise tactic to adopt (it is only a tactic) in these circumstances and at this time. I put this in general terms in order not to cause offence. It seems to me that referenda are overwhelmingly wanted by those who fear that they will lose the issue in Parliament, and overwhelmingly feared and rejected by those who fear that they would lose the popular vote. There are honourable exceptions to that; there have been one or two honourable exceptions this afternoon and this evening. However, on the whole I could have predicted what noble Lords were going to say about the referendum, not from any prior knowledge about their views on constitutional issues but from their views about Maastricht. I do not think that that is a very good way to move into a referendum.
Then there is the issue of timing. My noble friend Lord Richard said in his opening speech that the time for a referendum is long since past. Yes, indeed. I agree with him. But how far do we go back? The Prime Minister came back from Maastricht declaring that the Maastricht Treaty was a political triumph and that we had won—"game, set and match" was the phrase he used. Why then did he not put the issue to a referendum at that time? He could easily have done so. I am quite sure that he would have won. It appears, from the look on the face of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, that he thinks the Prime Minister would have won at that time. There is a history of mismanagement 319 over the past 18 months which cannot be neglected. But do we look further back than that? Should there have been—it has been a matter of great debate—a referendum over the Single European Act? Should there have been a referendum before Sir Edward Heath took us into the treaty in the first place? I shall skate over the motives for the referendum of 1975. They have been referred to by a number of my noble friends, but it is generally agreed that party considerations, as well as national considerations, played some part in the decision to have a referendum at that time.
Let us consider the issue which we might attempt to put to the people in a referendum. I have conceded (or agreed) that a referendum is practically possible. It is possible to frame a simple question, although I notice that a number of supporters of the referendum have different ideas about what that simple question might be. A simple question does not, of course, imply a simple answer arid a simple outcome. Referenda tend to be about what people want them to be about rather than the question that is put. The referendum on Maastricht in Ireland was to a very considerable extent about abortion. The referendum in France was to a considerable extent about the popularity of President Mitterrand and Prime Minister Cresson. The referendum in Denmark was confused by the fact that of those who voted "No" some did so because they wanted more European unity, and some because they wanted less European unity—a somewhat unholy alliance.
What would a referendum do about the issue that has concerned Parliament; namely, the issue of the social chapter? Could that be included in a question? Would it have to be a separate question? How could people express their view on an issue which has divided noble Lords and honourable Members in another place more than almost any other issue? How could we ask people their view on what happens if there is a "No" vote? Is it clear that the other 11 member states will go ahead with Maastricht, whether or not we ratify it? How can we deal with the fact, which is obvious from the debate today, that a very large number of noble Lords who want a referendum want it not in order to oppose Maastricht but to oppose the movements towards European union that went before it? We cannot go back. We could break away from the Common Market altogether, but if that option were put to the British people one might obtain a slightly different result.
What do we do about the issue of the power of the referendum? The amendment states that it shall be a "consultative referendum". What happens with a consultative referendum? Apparently it does not bind Parliament. Are Members of both Houses to come back after a referendum and say, "I am sorry but I was wrong. I shall vote the other way now" or will they adhere to the view that they took when they were elected just over a year ago? If it is a binding referendum who will frame the legislation giving effect to it? The difficulties are enormous and the practical difficulties are very great.
Let us consider the immediate practical issue. It has been suggested—I am sure it is right—that if this 320 amendment is agreed this evening the Bill will go straight back to the other place and the amendment will be overturned straightaway. The Bill would then come back here. Those who would vote for the amendment on the basis that it would have no effect because the other place would reject it ought to think again. It is not so short term and tactical an issue as that. It raises the issue of the comity between the two Houses of Parliament. The fact that we know that it will not have effect does not absolve us from taking the view that we believe we ought to take. It does not absolve us from the responsibility of taking a wise and responsible decision.
So the tactical problems are very considerable indeed. But I do not base my opposition to the amendment and the referendum on the tactical issues. I base my opposition, as did the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, on the whole issue of parliamentary democracy. We have heard a lot about the views of Locke, Burke, and many others; but they were speaking in general about an 18th century parliament, a parliament which did not represent the people and one in which seats in the House of Commons could be bought and sold—as indeed seats in your Lordships' House at many times in its history have been bought, though they cannot be sold, of course.
What has happened in the past 200 years since Burke and 250 years since Locke is that we have achieved universal suffrage. We have achieved a better form of parliamentary democracy than we had before. We have achieved a form of parliamentary democracy of which we have the right to be proud. It has achieved a relative degree of amity and allowed for progress, sometimes in fits and starts, over the years by dint of reference to the people at roughly regular intervals, where a whole range of issues are presented to them rather than single issues. As a market researcher, I know that one has to consider not only people's views on an issue but how important those views are to them. That is one of the things that will be particularly difficult to do. The salience of the issue, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, will no doubt recognise, is particularly difficult in a referendum when one imposes the salience upon it.
Because our parliamentary democracy is so strong and so soundly based (with all the defects which many noble Lords will feel that it has, notably in this House) we ought to be very careful about turning our back on it. That is what moving to a referendum would mean. After all, it is not as though the parliamentary scrutiny of this Bill has been particularly defective. The Bill did not have a guillotine in the other place and it cannot have one in this Chamber. It has been said that three-line Whips have been applied. But it is obvious that the three-line Whips have been widely flouted, both in another place and here. There has been considerable freedom for honourable Members and noble Lords on all sides to express their own views and not the views of their parties, and they have done so.
I say with all humility to my noble friend Lord Glenamara, a former Chief Whip who doubts whether we should have sought to impose a three-line Whip today, that we did so because we had a 90 per cent. majority last year at the Labour Party Conference 321 which was not only in general in favour of the Maastricht Treaty but also against a referendum. That is why we imposed a three-line Whip today.
There has been a history of mismanagement by the Government of this whole issue. But we are here today, on 14th July 1993, and we have to take a decision. The decision that I believe we should take is one which upholds parliamentary democracy and opposes this amendment.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Earl Peel
My Lords, I was quite surprised by the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, and his attitude towards a referendum. I was listening to Radio 4 on Monday morning when the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Party said that he felt that the politicians were distancing themselves from the people of this country. One of the ways in which he thought that that attitude could be rectified was through using referenda. I should have thought that this was a perfect opportunity for politicians to allow themselves to get closer to the electorate.
Also, I think I am right in saying that the Leader of the party opposite advocated a referendum on proportional representation. If you can advocate a referendum on a matter which I believe is nothing like as constitutionally important as what we are discussing today, surely that is a degree of hypocrisy.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Lord Tebbit
My Lords, those of us who have sat through several weeks of discussion on this treaty have heard some extraordinarily interesting debates. But quite clearly there has been none of such significance, with so many speeches of such great power, as we have heard today. Those of us who are opponents of the treaty and advocates of a referendum have found ourselves sometimes accused of narrow nationalism; yet we walk in the company of the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits. We have been accused of undermining parliamentary sovereignty; yet we walk with the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, who was one of the greatest Speakers of this century. Would he undermine parliamentary sovereignty? Is there anyone in this House who understands Parliament more deeply than the noble Viscount? I doubt it. At times we have been accused of lack of consistency, and we have even been accused of lack of consistency from the Liberal Benches. I and some of my friends have been accused of disloyalty as we remained loyal to the Prime Minister who was overthrown by those who accused us of disloyalty. So we have had some interesting experiences.
Today we have heard many speeches of great eloquence, power and conviction, not least among them that of my noble friend Lady Thatcher. We all know the strength and power of her personality and her convictions. We heard today my noble friend Lady Thatcher say: "Yes, I as Prime Minister got my fingers burnt. In short, yes, I entered into commitments which I now regret". I do not think it is right to regard that as a sign of inconsistency or weakness. I find that an immensely powerful argument in this discussion. One 322 who took through so much of this legislation and has had such great experience, unlike most of us as politicians, is able to say, "Yes, there were mistakes and I have learnt from those mistakes".
I was also immensely impressed by the brief and powerful speech of my noble friend Lord Carrington. But I have to ask: suppose it had not been this kingdom which held a referendum and voted no but France—it very nearly was—would that have meant that the Community would have stopped? Would France have been pushed into a corner by the other 11? Of course not. It is a sense of inferiority which says that only Britain is not allowed to disagree; only Britain is allowed to take advantage of the Treaty of Rome which says that any changes made to it must be reached by unanimity.
Let me try to pull out some of the threads which I feel have run through the debate. First, let me clear up a misunderstanding sadly shared by my noble friend Lord Beloff —although I am not sure whether what he said was purely in fun. The referendum proposed would not be on membership of the European Community. There is not a mood in this House or in this country to leave the European Community. It is a gross distortion of arguments to claim that that is the issue. The issue is whether we wish to change the Community's nature from the Community we have now—let alone that which, as the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, observed, we entered and on which we had the referendum—whether we wish to stay with the one we have or whether we want to go on to something radically different. It would be a referendum solely on whether we should ratify Maastricht.
The question therefore arises as to whether Maastricht is a substantial new departure. Of course it is. My noble friend Lady Thatcher dealt with that, along with many other noble Lords. The concept of citizenship, foreign policy and so forth are all there. It is a document which sets out the plan for a state, not an alliance of nations within a treaty. But even if noble Lords take the view that it is no more than an incremental change on top of the Single European Act, surely they can see that one can go up or down a hill not merely by a set of steep steps but also along a gradual slope. Somewhere or other one may take the decision that this is far enough, or even that the Community should change its direction from that in which it has been sent in recent years.
There was a suggestion that referenda are foreign to the United Kingdom. Of course they are not. As we heard recently from a number of speakers, we have had plenty of them in the past. It was suggested that it is only those who oppose the Bill who are in favour of a referendum. But it is also true that it is sometimes those who do not feel that the nation would support their legislation who fear a referendum.
It was suggested that there has already been a decision by the electors. My noble friend Lord Wakeham said that people have spoken through Parliament. Ask the cab drivers; ask the people in the shops; ask the people one meets every day at work. Put the question to them: "Sir, Madam, have you expressed your view on Maastricht through Parliament?" I fear the answer one may receive from 323 some of those people. I say to my noble friend Lady Elles, who referred to the Newbury by-election, that the candidate who won was sympathetic to a referendum. That may have some significance, but it certainly demolishes the argument put by my noble friend.
It has been said that the decision has been made by the people because they returned a Conservative Government and that this was in the Conservative Party manifesto. I invite anyone to read the section in the Conservative Party manifesto in which it states that the Government are committed to the ratification of the treaty. It says that the treaty is a good thing; that it was a brilliant success of the Government; and it lists the priorities of the British presidency to come. But the word "ratification" is not to be found anywhere—not anywhere.
It may he held that Conservative leaders made it plain in the election campaign that, if elected, they would ratify the treaty. Indeed, they also made it plain that they would not impose VAT on gas or electricity. My friends cannot have it both ways.
It has been held that it is too complicated for the electors to understand. It is not held that it is too complicated for the elder son of an hereditary peer to come here and understand. To the best of my knowledge. there is not an intelligence or academic test to pass in order to be elected to another place. Why is it that we have this contempt for our electors? Why are we unable to trust them, except on the day of a general election? If indeed the argument is made that on the day of the general election they voted for the treaty, presumably they must have understood it, taken it into account with an enormous number of other things at the same time, sorted them all out and come to a conclusion.
There are severe flaws in the logic of some of those who say that the people are not fit to be consulted. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, made an amazing assumption in regard to the people of France. By some divine insight denied to the rest of us, he knows what was in the minds of the people of France as they voted in the referendum; he knows that they did not vote on the question in front of them but that they voted on President Mitterrand. If that had been the case, the majority would have been a lot higher.
§ Lord Tebbit
My Lords, yes; the majority against the treaty. I am glad that the noble Lord is on the ball as ever.
What a meal was made over what should be the question on the ballot paper. They managed to find a question to ask in Ireland; they managed to find a question to ask in Denmark; they managed to find a question to ask in France. Are we to be told that it is beyond the wit of this assembled multitude of people, who are so wise that they understand the treaty even if the people do not, to find a question to put to the country? I humbly suggest that the question could be very simple: "Do you wish the Treaty of Maastricht to be put into effect?" That is what the issue is about. We cannot start saying, "Do you want this bit or that bit 324 of the treaty?" After all, that was the argument of the Front Benches all the way through as we tried to amend the Bill: "Take it or not; like it or lump it''. That is what Parliament was told and that is what the people would have to be told.
We have heard the argument that a referendum is bound to give the answer no because the Government are unpopular. I wish that the Government were more popular. But even if they were, I would still want a referendum.
Of more interest is the fact that the opinion polls on Maastricht have remained pretty level in their reporting of what the people of this country think of the treaty, while the opinion polls on the Government have gone up and down. They may well go up again in future. There is a presumption that when people are asked by a pollster they can distinguish between the Maastricht Treaty and the Government. There would be no reason why they should not do so in a campaign, not to mention the fact that if they voted no they would be voting not only against the Government (if that was what noble Lords wanted to say) but against the Labour Party and the Liberal Party. Are you all so unpopular?
It is held that a referendum will undermine Parliament. What is being put forward is a consultative referendum. Will this Parliament, which has developed over the centuries, be destablised if some dastardly plot is devised by which Members of both Houses become aware of the views of the people? Will it really strike away the foundations of Parliament and destroy our democracy? I find that an extraordinary idea. Should we not know the views of the people when we are enacting legislation, or is there to be a new Official Secrets Act—the only one of which parties opposite will be in favour—under which we can know anything except the views of the electors, which must be kept secret at all times?
I believe that it would be highly desirable if more Members of both Houses of Parliament knew the views of their electors. Would it bring down the Government? As has already been said today, Ministers in this Government are not notably quick to resign their posts. I cannot see any enthusiasm on the Government Back Benches for an early election, nor do I see any great enthusiasm for it in the Cabinet. I imagine that the barrier in Downing Street would be raised very rapidly if there was any thought that the Prime Minister's car would be heading towards Buckingham Palace. The Government would survive and receive a vote of confidence next day.
As a new Member I say of this place that it is an anachronism. But I do not worry about that. There are many useful and good anachronisms in the world, and I believe that this House is one of them. But the danger is that we slide from an anachronism into a museum, with us as the exhibits solely for ornamentation and to be looked at. We have a role in asking Parliament in the form of the other place to think again. We also have a role in making sure, if we can, that the whole of Parliament does not become merely a museum and tourist attraction, with no powers.
325 Many of us here have passionate and very strongly held views, some of which have been expressed today. I have never heard the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, in finer form. We have also heard from my noble friend Lady Thatcher and so many others. I also hold very strong views. What I beg noble Lords to do is for each one to believe that he can be mistaken. There is no guarantee that any of us is right on this issue. Clearly, we cannot all be right.
Suppose for a moment that I and my friends are wrong and that the Maastricht Treaty is the bridge to the sunlit uplands of a happy and prosperous European future. Will my opposition to it matter in years to come? No. If I and others are wrong about the treaty and it goes forward and is successful, we will merely be a little note in the more up-market history books as being among those who opposed this treaty which led to such a good life. But suppose that those who want to take forward this treaty without a referendum are wrong and it turns out badly—it is conceivable that it will—not only for this kingdom but for our partners in Europe. Suppose further that, above all, the people of this kingdom say, "We were never asked or allowed to give our views. All three parties pushed us into it and it has proved a disaster". What would then be the fate of our democracy? Where would the people turn? What would be the consequences for the other place or indeed this House if we shirked our duties, not least because of a false concept that loyalty to party should blind us to loyalty to our nation and our democracy?
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Baroness Chalker of Wallasey
My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friend Lord Blake for his amendment, which has brought us such a historic debate in your Lordships' House tonight on the question of a referendum. Perhaps I may briefly, but with all sincerity, congratulate my noble friend Lord Lawson on his maiden speech. It was very good to hear his wisdom in Parliament again and I am sure that all noble Lords will join me in saying that we look forward to many more clear-sighted speeches from him.
Most of the points made today have been probed in detail during the six days that the House has spent in Committee and on the last two days of Report, with the exception of the referendum, from which we steered ourselves away, largely successfully, until today's debate. I wish to be brief so I want to concentrate my remarks on this specific debate. I cannot answer all the contributions but among the many statements made there was one from my noble friend Lady Thatcher that I must address.
My noble friend said, as she also said at Second Reading, that Maastricht created the structures of a European sovereign state. My Lords, please allow me to repeat the response to that comment of my noble friend which my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor made in the Second Reading debate. He said of the treaty:It is a unique construct … This … union … does not have an international legal personality … Thus it will continue to be the Community … that concludes international agreements … 326 not the Union … Thus it is not true to assert that the Community or the Union have all the attributes of statehood. Their powers are limited and member states retain their own powers in many areas".—[Official Report, 8/6/93; cols. 710-711.]We have debated this in the past eight days and I believe that the Lord Chancellor's remarks make clear that the concerns of my noble friend Lady Thatcher that through the Maastricht Treaty we shall be creating a European superstate, are really without foundation.
The noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, and the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, made a claim which I know has worried some of your Lordships. That claim was that the text of the Maastricht Treaty was not published before the general election. Perhaps I may say to them and to the House that the first post-Maastricht text was delivered to Parliament on 16th December 1991 and the first post-signature text, tidied up by the lawyers, was delivered to Parliament on 17th February, both those dates being before 9th April 1992. There was, as I explained to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, during our Committee stage, no question of trying to conceal the treaty or its contents from anyone.
We have also heard that Maastricht was not an election issue. I must say that the Government's determination to place Britain at the heart of Europe could not have been spelt out more clearly in the months before the general election. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary made numerous statements to this effect. While the noble Lord. Lord Tebbit, is right on the word "ratification", there is absolutely no doubt, in pages 3 to 5 of the Conservative manifesto, that there was every intention to push forward with the Maastricht Treaty. The manifesto states:The Maastricht Treaty was a success both for Britain and for the rest of Europe. British proposals helped to shape the key provisions of the Treaty, including those strengthening the enforcement of Community law, defence, subsidiarity and law and order. But Britain refused to accept the damaging Social Chapter proposed by other Europeans, and it was excluded from the Maastricht treaty".I do not believe that one could put it in relatively simple language more clearly than that. No one could have been in any doubt where the Conservative Party stood; and that stance was endorsed by the electorate.
We have heard many comments about the referendum and the sovereignty of Parliament. The essence of parliamentary democracy in this country is that Parliament is elected to represent the people and to take decisions on their behalf. I believe that, while there may, under certain circumstances, as my noble friend Lord Crickhowell pointed out in his speech and in the pamphlet he wrote in 1978, be a case for referenda, one cannot go down that path on a single issue and after so many months of debate. In fact the debates started in another place on 7th May last year and therefore we have been going for some 14 months on the Bill through every clause and every subsection. The Conservative Party in opposition did not support the case for a referendum in the 1975 referendum debate and we do not support one now.
Perhaps I may come now to other points in general terms in order that I do not detain your Lordships for 327 more than a few moments. Many of your Lordships have argued the constitutional case for a referendum on Maastricht. Despite noble Lords' undoubted wisdom and ingenuity, the Government cannot accept the case. Supporters of a referendum inside this House and many outside it, support it not on principle but through expediency, because they want the treaty to fall. They are prepared to use any and every possible means to stop the treaty being ratified. They have a flag which is called "protecting our way of doing things". They support a measure which runs counter to our parliamentary practice.
First, I believe that supporters of the referendum in this House, while undoubtedly totally sincere, are doubly mistaken. They are mistaken because I believe that they are trying to stop a treaty which is a good treaty for Britain. Secondly, I believe they are mistaken because, as my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said in another place, they would fail in their purpose. If a referendum were to be held I believe that it would endorse the treaty.
§ Baroness Chalker of Wallasey
My Lords, the Government are certainly not opposing a referendum because we are fearful of a negative result, as the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, implied. Our concern is that the process would set a bad precedent. I believe that the words of my noble friend Lord Crickhowell were very wise in that respect. But I also believe that what my noble friend Lord Whitelaw said at Second Reading is important. He said:Our parliamentary procedures, built up over generations, have stood the test of time. I am not in any way afraid of changes but I dislike intensely the idea of changing the procedures on a short-term opportune basis".—[Official Report, 8/6/93; col. 728.]The UK is a parliamentary democracy and all the stronger for that. Those who have spoken eloquently in this debate in favour of a referendum have rested their case on the argument that a referendum is justified exceptionally because the Maastricht Treaty introduces a fundamental change. Opponents of the treaty have, in their public comments, given that impression, portraying the treaty as an unprecedented and irreversible abdication of sovereignty. Some have even argued that it signals the end of parliamentary democracy in this country.
Debates in your Lordships' Chamber and in another place, have demonstrated that the Maastricht Treaty is a move to control what the Community does and thus it is a good one for Britain. Leading constitutional experts such as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, and my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, have explained why the Maastricht Treaty does not amount to a constitutional innovation. Even my noble friend Lord Beloff tonight agreed with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, who went on to say that it is the furthering of a process which has been in train since 1972.
In another place in 1975, and as I well remember, my noble friend Lady Thatcher said that her opponents who advocated a referendum were describing the renegotiation of the terms of Britain's 328 entry into the Community as the most important issue that has faced this country for many years. What they meant, my noble friend said, was that the people must be asked to decide because that government had been incapable of making a decision.
This Government are not incapable of taking a decision. We have encouraged the fullest possible parliamentary scrutiny and debate before going to Maastricht and on our return and ever since. The case for a referendum was debated at length in another place and there was a large majority against it. I am confident that your Lordships' House will arrive at a similar verdict tonight. I urge your Lordships to reject Amendment No. 40.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ Lord Blake
My Lords, I promise to be extremely brief. We have had a very long day and I for one do not wish to prolong it. I should like to express my admiration and appreciation of the maiden speech made by my former pupil who is now my noble friend Lord Lawson. I thought that he did very well indeed. I believe that if I were marking him in the examination school I would give him the same high marks that he actually obtained in practice. I am sorry to say to other noble Lords that they were rat her superior—but let that pass.
Despite the eloquent remarks of my noble friend Lady Chalker, I am not in the least inclined to withdraw this amendment. I believe that the opinion of the House should be tested on it. I am not convinced by one or two points that have been made. I believe that all the evidence suggests—whether one thinks it matters or not—that, contrary to what my noble friend Lady Elles said, the public would like to have a referendum. There has been poll after poll on that point. The results have always been consistent, in that about 70 per cent. of the public would like a referendum. The House may feel that the public are wrong to want a referendum, but there is little doubt that, if carried, a referendum amendment would be popular in the country.
Secondly, it is absurd to argue that Maastricht is constitutionally unimportant. I find that argument hard to swallow. My noble friend Lady Thatcher, in what I thought was a brilliant speech—
§ Lord Blake
—made that point well. She showed the differences that exist between Maastricht and the Single European Act. This is not an idle matter. Maastricht is an important subject constitutionally. For that reason, if your Lordships accept my argument that constitutional matters should, now and then if not regularly, be the subject of a referendum, the case for having one for Maastricht is conclusive. The people have not been consulted about Maastricht. They should be, and I hope that they will be.
I decline also to believe that it is impossible to word a referendum with reasonable clarity. My noble friend Lord Tebbit made that point well. There is a simple "yes" or "no" question to be asked, and he gave art example. That problem is not one that need vex your Lordships.
329 Finally, I refuse also to be put off by the claim that, if carried, the amendment will be rejected instantly by another place. I refuse to accept so low an opinion of the flexibility and liberal-mindedness of another place. I believe that another place would consider it carefully, although it might not change its mind. But unless we pass the amendment, there is no chance of another place considering it. Therefore, I commend the amendment to the House.
§ 9.22 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 40) shall be agreed to?
§ *Their Lordships divided: Contents, 176; Not-Contents, 445.333
|Division No. 1|
|Aberdeen and Temair, M.||Gisborough, L.|
|Acton, L.||Glenamara, L.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Glenarthur, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Glenconner, L.|
|Annaly, L.||Goodman, L.|
|Ashbourne, L.||Granard, E.|
|Baldwin of Bewdley, E.||Gray, L.|
|Banbury of Southam, L.||Haddington, E.|
|Bathurst, E.||Hamilton of Dalzell, L.|
|Bauer, L.||Hampden, V.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Hardinge, V.|
|Beloff, L.||Hardinge of Penshurst, L.|
|Biddulph, L.||Harmar-Nicholls, L.|
|Birdwood, L.||Harris of High Cross, L.|
|Blake, L.||Harvey of Tasburgh, L.|
|Blyth, L.||Hirshfield, L.|
|Bradford, E.||Hollick, L.|
|Brandon of Oakbrook, L.||HolmPatrick, L.|
|Braybrooke, L.||Howie of Troon, L.|
|Brimelow, L.||Huntly, M.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Ingleby, V.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Jakobovits, L.|
|Buchan, E.||Jay, L.|
|Buckmaster, V.||Jeffreys, L.|
|Burton, L.||Jeger, B.|
|Buxton of Alsa, L.||Jenkins of Putney, L.|
|Campbell of Eskan, L.||Kagan, L.|
|Castle of Blackburn, B.||Kenilworth, L.|
|Chilston, V.||Kilbracken, L.|
|Clanwilliam, E.||Kindersley, L.|
|Clwyd, L.||Kintore, E.|
|Cochrane of Cults, L.||Knutsford, V.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Leigh, L.|
|Combermere, V.||Liverpool, E.|
|Cornwallis, L.||Lloyd-George of Dwyfor, E.|
|Cowdray, V.||Lovelace, E.|
|Cox, B.||Macclesfield, E.|
|Craigavon, V.||Mallalieu, B.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Mancroft, L.|
|Crawford and Balcarres, E.||Margadale, L.|
|Cross, V.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Cunliffe, L.||Middleton, L.|
|Dacre of Glanton, L.||Milne, L.|
|De Saumarez, L.||Mishcon, L.|
|Derwent, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Devonshire. D.||Monson, L.|
|Donaldson of Lymington, L.||Moore of Wolvercote, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Moran, L.|
|Dormer, L.||Morris, L.|
|Effingham, E.||Morris of Kenwood, L.|
|Elphinstone, L.||Mountgarret, V.|
|Erroll. E.||Munster, E.|
|Essex, E.||Napier and Ettrick, L.|
|Fairfax of Cameron, L.||Nelson, E.|
|Fisher, L.||Northesk, E.|
|Fitt, L.||Onslow, E.|
|Gainsborough, E.||Oppenheim-Barnes, B.|
|Galpern, L.||Parkinson, L.|
|Parry, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Pearson of Rannoch, L. [Teller.]||Stoddart of Swindon, L. [Teller.]|
|Peel, E.||Stokes, L.|
|Pitt of Hampstead, L.||Strange, B.|
|Porritt, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Portland, E.||Suffolk and Berkshire, E.|
|Radnor, E.||Swansea, L.|
|Ranfurly, E.||Swinfen, L.|
|Rankeillour, L.||Tebbit, L.|
|Rathcreedan, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Rayleigh, L.||Thatcher, B.|
|Rees-Mogg, L.||Tombs, L.|
|Rennell, L.||Tonypandy, V.|
|Rodney, L.||Torphichen, L.|
|Romney, E.||Trevethin and Oaksey, L.|
|Roxburghe, D.||Tryon, L.|
|St. Germans, E.||Vinson, L.|
|Saint Oswald, L.||Wedderburn of Charlton, L.|
|Salisbury, M.||Wedgwood, L.|
|Sandys, L.||Westwood, L.|
|Savile, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Scarsdale, V.||Wharton, B.|
|Sharp of Grimsdyke, L.||Willoughby de Broke, L.|
|Shrewsbury, E.||Wise, L.|
|Skidelsky, L.||Wolfson of Sunningdale, L.|
|Smith, L.||Woolton, E.|
|Somerset, D.||Wrenbury, L.|
|Spencer, E.||Yarborough, E.|
|Spens, L.||Zetland, M.|
|Aberconway, L.||Bramall, L.|
|Abercorn, D.||Brentford, V.|
|Aberdare, L.||Bridge of Harwich, L.|
|Abinger, L.||Bridgeman, V.|
|Ackner, L.||Briggs, L.|
|Addington, L.||Brigstocke, B.|
|Aldenham, L.||Brocket, L.|
|Aldington, L.||Brookeborough, V.|
|Alexander of Weedon, L.||Brougham and Vaux, L.|
|Allen of Abbeydale, L.||Bruntisfield, L.|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Buccleuch and Queensberry, D.|
|Alport, L.||Buckinghamshire, E.|
|Amery of Lustleigh, L.||Butterfield, L.|
|Annan, L.||Butterworth, L.|
|Archer of Sandwell, L.||Byron, L.|
|Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, L.||Cadman, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Camden, M.|
|Arran, E.||Campbell of Alloway, L.|
|Ashburton, L.||Campbell of Croy, L.|
|Ashton of Hyde, L.||Carlisle of Bucklow, L.|
|Astor, V.||Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.|
|Astor of Hever, L.||Carnarvon, E.|
|Attlee, E.||Carnegy of Lour, B.|
|Auckland, L.||Carnock, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Carr of Hadley, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Carrington, L.|
|Balfour of lnchrye, L.||Carver. L.|
|Barber, L.||Cavendish of Furness, L.|
|Barber of Tewkesbury, L.||Cayzer, L.|
|Barnett, L.||Chalfont, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Chalker of Wallasey, B.|
|Bellwin, L.||Charteris of Amisfield, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Chesham, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Chichester, Bp.|
|Bethell, L.||Chilver, L.|
|Birk, B.||Chorley, L.|
|Blackstone, B.||Clark of Kempston, L|
|Blatch, B.||Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.|
|Boardman, L.||Clinton, L.|
|Bolton, L.||Clinton-Davis, L.|
|Bonham-Carter, L.||Coleraine, L.|
|Borthwick, L.||Colnbrook, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Colville of Culross, V.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Colwyn, L.|
|Brain, L.||Congleton, L.|
|Braine of Wheatley, L.||Constantine of Stanmore, L.|
|Cooke of Islandreagh, L.||Greenhill of Harrow, L.|
|Cork and Orrery. E.||Greenway, L.|
|Coventry, Bp.||Gregson, L.|
|Cowley, E.||Grey, E.|
|Craig of Radley, L.||Gridley. L.|
|Cranborne, V.||Grimston of Westbury, L.|
|Cranbrook, E.||Grimthorpe, L.|
|Crathorne, L.||Hacking, L.|
|Crickhowell, L.||Haig, E.|
|Crook, L.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Halsbury, E.|
|Cumberlege, B.||Hampton, L.|
|Darcy (de Knayth), B.||Hamwee, B.|
|Darnley, E.||Hanworth, V.|
|Daventry, V.||Harding of Petherton, L.|
|David. B.||Hardwicke, E.|
|Davidson, V.||Harmsworth, L.|
|De Freyne, L.||Harris of Greenwich, L.|
|De Ramsey, L.||Harrowby, E.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Hartwell, L.|
|Deedes, L.||Harvington, L.|
|Denham. L.||Hayhoe, L.|
|Demon of Wakefield, B.||Healey, L.|
|Diamond, L.||Hemphill, L.|
|Dickinson, L.||Henderson of Brompton, L.|
|Digby, L.||Henley, L.|
|Dilhorne, V.||Henniker, L.|
|Donegall, M.||Hesketh, L. [Teller.]|
|Donoughue, L.||Hilton of Eggardon, B.|
|Downshire, M.||Hives, L.|
|Dudley, E.||Holderness, L.|
|Dundee, E.||Hollis of Heigham, B.|
|Dunrossil, V.||Holme of Cheltenham, L.|
|Eatwell, L.||Hood, V.|
|Eccles, V.||Hooper, B.|
|Eccles of Moulton, B.||Hooson, L.|
|Eden of Winton, L.||Hothfield, L.|
|Elibank, L.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.|
|Elis-Thomas, L.||Howe, E.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Howe of Aberavon, L.|
|Elles, B.||Howell, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Hughes, L.|
|Elliott of Morpeth, L.||Hunt, L.|
|Elton, L.||Hunt of Tanworth, L.|
|Erne, E.||Hunter of Newington, L.|
|Erroll of Hale, L.||Huntingdon, E.|
|Ewing of Kirkford, L.||Hutchinson of Lullington, L.|
|Ezra, L.||Hylton, L.|
|Fairhaven, L.||Hylton-Foster, B.|
|Faithfull, B.||Inchyra, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Inglewood, L.|
|Falmouth, V.||Ingrow, L.|
|Fanshawe of Richmond, L.||Ironside, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Irvine of Lairg, L.|
|Finsberg, L.||James of Holland Park, B.|
|Flather. B.||Jellicoe, E.|
|Flowers, L.||Jenkin of Roding, L.|
|Foley, L.||Jenkins of Hillhead, L.|
|Foot, L.||Johnston of Rockport, L.|
|Forbes, L.||Judd, L.|
|Forte, L.||Kemsley, V.|
|Fraser of Carmyllie, L.||Kennet, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Keyes, L.|
|Gainford, L.||Killearn, L.|
|Gallacher, L.||Kilmarnock, L.|
|Gardner of Parkes, B.||Kimball, L.|
|Geddes, L.||King of Wartnaby, L.|
|Geraint, L.||Kinloss, Ly.|
|Gibson-Watt, L.||Kinnoull, E.|
|Gilmour of Craigmillar, L.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Kissin, L.|
|Glendyne, L.||Kitchener, E.|
|Goschen. V.||Knollys, V.|
|Gowrie, E.||Laing of Dunphail, L.|
|Grade, L.||Lane of Horsell, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Gray of Contin, L.||Lawrence, L.|
|Grey of Naunton, L.||Lawson of Blaby, L.|
|Greene of Harrow Weald, L.||Layton, L.|
|Limerick, E.||Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.|
|Lindsay, E.||Polwarth, L.|
|Lindsey and Abingdon, E.||Portman, V.|
|Listowel, E.||Prentice, L.|
|Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Prior, L.|
|Lockwood, B.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Long, V.||Pym, L.|
|Longford, E.||Quinton, L.|
|Lonsdale, E.||Raglan, L.|
|Lothian, M.||Ravensdale. L.|
|Lovell-Davis, L.||Rawlinson of Ewell, L.|
|Lucas, L.||Reading, M.|
|Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Reay, L.|
|Lyell, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Macaulay of Bragar, L.||Rees, L.|
|McColl of Dulwich, L.||Remnant, L.|
|Macfarlane of Bearsden, L.||Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, L.|
|McGregor of Durris, L.||Renton, L.|
|Mclntosh of Haringey, L.||Renwick, L.|
|Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.||Richard, L|
|Mackay of Clashfern, L. [Lord Chancellor.]||Richardson, L.|
|Rippon of Hexham, L.|
|Mackie of Benshie, L.||Robertson of Oakridge, L.|
|MacLehose of Beoch, L.||Robson of Kiddington, B.|
|Macleod of Borve, B.||Rochester, L.|
|McNair, L.||Rockley, L.|
|Manchester, D.||Rodger of Earlsferry, L.|
|Manton, L.||Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.|
|Mar, C.||Roll of Ipsden, L.|
|Marchwood, V.||Runcie. L.|
|Marlborough, D.||Russell, E.|
|Marlesford, L.||Russell of Liverpool, L.|
|Masham of Ilton, B.||Ryder of Warsaw, B.|
|Mason of Barnsley, L.||Sackville, L.|
|Mayhew, L.||Sainsbury of Preston Candover L.|
|Merlyn-Rees, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Merrivale, L.||St. John of Fawsley, L.|
|Mersey, V.||Saint Levan. L|
|Meston, L.||Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.|
|Mills, V.||Sanderson of Bowden, L.|
|Milner of Leeds, L.||Seccombe, B.|
|Milverton, L.||Seear, B.|
|Monckton of Brenchley, V.||Selborne, E.|
|Monk Bretton, L.||Serota, B.|
|Monkswell, L.||Shackleton, L.|
|Montagu of Beaulieu, L.||Shannon, E.|
|Monteagle of Brandon, L.||Sharpies, B.|
|Montgomery of Alamein, V.||Shaughnessy, L.|
|Morris of Castle Morris, L.||Sherfield, L.|
|Mottistone, L.||Shuttleworlh, L.|
|Mountevans, L.||Simon of Glaisdale, L.|
|Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Slim, V.|
|Moyne, L.||Slynn of Hadley, L.|
|Moyola, L.||Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.|
|Mulley, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Murray of Epping Forest, L.||Sterling of Plaistow, L.|
|Murton of Lindisfarne, L.||Stevens of Ludgate, L.|
|Nelson of Stafford, L.||Stewartby, L.|
|Newall, L.||Stockton, E.|
|Newton, L.||Stodart of Leaston, L.|
|Nicol, B.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Norfolk, D.||Strafford, E.|
|Norrie, L.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Northbourne, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Northbrook, L.||Strathcona and Mount Roval, L.|
|Ogmore, L.||Strathmore and Kinghorne, E. [Teller.]|
|Oxfuird, V.||Suffield, L.|
|Palmer, L.||Swinton, E.|
|Park of Monmouth, B.||Tanlaw, L.|
|Pender, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Perry of Southwark, B.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Perry of Walton, L.||Temple of Stowe, E.|
|Perth, E.||Templeman, L.|
|Peyton of Yeovil, L.||Tenby, V.|
|Plant of Highfield, L.||Terrington, L.|
|Platt of Writtle, B.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Plumb, L.||Thomas of Swynnerton, L.|
|Thomson of Monifieth, L.||Weidenfeld, L.|
|Thorneycroft, L.||Weinstock, L.|
|Thurlow, L.||Weir, V.|
|Tollemache, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Tordoff, L.||White, B.|
|Torrington, V.||Whitelaw, V.|
|Trefgarne, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|Trumpington, B.||Wigram, L.|
|Ullswater, V.||Wilberforce, L.|
|Vestey, L.||Williams of Crosby, B.|
|Vivian, L.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Wade of Chorlton, L.||Wilson of Tillyorn, L.|
|Wakeham, L. [Lord Privy Seal.]||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E|
|Walpole, L.||Wolfson, L.|
|Walton of Detchant, L.||Wyatt of Weeford, L.|
|Warnock, B.||Wynford, L.|
|Watkinson, V.||Young, B.|
|Waverley, V.||Younger of Prestwick, L.|
§ [*The Tellers for the Contents reported 176 names. The Clerks recorded 175 names.
§ The Tellers for the Not-Contents reported 445 names. The Clerks recorded 446 names.]
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ [Amendment No. 41 not moved.]