All 1 Debates between Baroness D'Souza and Lord Anderson of Swansea

European Union (Referendum) Bill

Debate between Baroness D'Souza and Lord Anderson of Swansea
Friday 31st January 2014

(10 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness D'Souza Portrait The Lord Speaker (Baroness D'Souza)
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I remind your Lordships that if Amendment 50 is agreed, I cannot call Amendment 50A by reason of pre-emption.

Lord Anderson of Swansea Portrait Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab)
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My Lords, as so often, I follow my noble friend Lord Foulkes. Our names appear on a number of the amendments. In the other place, we used to work together as part of a team, and I believe that we are part of a team now, and wholly in agreement. He talked about his visit to Washington and the trade deal. If the Scotch Whisky Association, for example, were to have a problem with Japan in respect of Japanese whisky, is it better that the UK Government make representations to Japan or that we rely on the full weight of the European Union? That is why business is so concerned about the unilateralism of this Government and, indeed, of this very strange Bill.

My noble friend has said that he is very tired after coming back overnight from Washington. Given the clarity and lucidity of his speech, I hope he can do that more often, as it clearly had a marked effect on him. I came back after only a week in Strasbourg fairly tired. This is clearly a very important debate. He mentioned the importance of turnout. We had a problem in Wales in the 1997 referendum, where there was a turnout of 50%—25% for and 25% against—although, as it happens, the devolved institutions are now wholly accepted.

The aim of these amendments is to prevent a constitutional outrage. Any sixth-former who studies politics knows it is a clear principle of the constitution that no Government can bind their successor. So why try? What is the purpose? I had a television debate with a leading member of the Conservative Party, and when it was put to him, “What, really, is the purpose of this Bill?”, his reply was very honest: he said, “It’s a signal”. If something is a signal, one of course has to ask the simple question of who it is a signal to. The signal was intended, presumably, either for potential UKIP supporters or Conservative Party Back-Benchers in the other place. If it is a signal, it is clearly a signal which has not been heard or heeded.

I referred last Friday, which seems an age ago, to an excellent article in the Financial Times which argued that Mr Cameron’s gamble had failed. He can try perhaps to buy off a portion of the electorate, be it a portion of his own party, with this gesture, but it will not work, because they will ask for more. Rather like the penguins in the penguin house they will swallow it down and demand more—the trouble is that this Government may be inclined to give it to them.

The Mirror this morning contains a piece apparently saying that the Prime Minister is in office but not in power—I think that I have heard that somewhere before. It means that the Prime Minister’s is less and less in authority. Clearly, he needs allies in the European Union. He has insulted Monsieur Hollande, who is here today, by saying that the French economy is substantially worse than our own. That is probably true, but it is not a way of influencing people and making friends.

I would remind the Prime Minister that the Czech coalition negotiations have just been announced. Previously, there was a highly Eurosceptic Government there under President Klaus; now, with the change having taken place, a potential ally has been lost in the Czech Republic. The Czech position on Europe has fundamentally changed in that the party there which is allied with my own party is Europhile; the Christian Democrats are Europhile; and the party of former President Klaus has been consigned to the sidelines— so, again, the Prime Minister has lost an ally. He lost an ally in Bulgaria and Romania with what is being said in respect of immigration. He has lost an ally in Poland. So where is he going to find that coalition which is necessary in any European politics, as the noble Lords, Lord Kerr and Lord Hannay, would say? Where would he find those allies?

The other problem which exercises me—I shall say it at this stage rather than later—is that the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, agreed last Friday that she was speaking from the Front Bench but on behalf of the Conservative Party. That was an honest assessment of where she stands; she clearly does not speak on behalf of the coalition. She also sought to preserve the fiction that this is a Private Member’s Bill. If this be an initiative of the Conservative Party, on whose behalf she speaks, and if it be the case that this is purely a Private Member’s Bill, I ask with all delicacy what the officials are doing in the official Box. Who are they briefing? Are they briefing the Conservative Party—that surely would be wholly improper? Once upon a time, I was a member of the Diplomatic Service and I sat in the officials’ box; I would like to think that I wrote one of Mr Heath’s best speeches, but that is another story. I was then, as an official, briefing the Government. Who are the officials briefing on this occasion? This is a matter of considerable constitutional importance and is potentially quite improper.

If we proceed with the prospect of a referendum by 2017, and even if one has to trigger that as a result of Motions in both Houses on the basis that no Parliament can bind its successor, what is absolutely clear, as night follows day, is that there will be substantial uncertainty. Dare I say that business does not like uncertainty? Inward investors do not like uncertainty. There will therefore be considerable problems. We have enough inward investment at the moment; we are a relatively proud recipient of inward investment because of our stability; but what will be the consequences if we say that we do not know, perhaps for the next four years, what will happen in this country? The CBI has pointed it out very clearly: what indeed is going to happen?

I return to the purpose of the amendments. It is clear that no Parliament can bind its successor—it is an outrage to pretend otherwise—and that the whole purpose of this Bill is to give some signal to Conservative Back-Benchers. They have rejected it and we should reject it.