All 1 Debates between Baroness D'Souza and Lord Armstrong of Ilminster

European Union (Referendum) Bill

Debate between Baroness D'Souza and Lord Armstrong of Ilminster
Friday 24th January 2014

(10 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Armstrong of Ilminster Portrait Lord Armstrong of Ilminster (CB)
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My Lords, I hope that I can be reasonably brief in moving the amendment. We have a long day ahead of us.

The amendment does not bear on the issue of whether a referendum on United Kingdom membership of the European Union should be held. Nor does it bear on the date at which or by which such a referendum should be held. Thus it does not call into question the principal purposes of the Bill. It is intended to ensure that when a referendum is held, the right question is put to the electorate.

I and other noble Lords who have put their names to the amendment consider that the question proposed in Clause 1(4) of the Bill is inappropriate, confusing and potentially misleading. The wording might be appropriate if the United Kingdom was not a member of the Union but was now proposing to apply for membership, or if we had applied for membership and the Government and Parliament wanted to ascertain whether the electorate would support a proposal to join the Union on terms that would have been negotiated with the existing membership. Then the question for the electorate would be whether they thought that we should forgo whatever might be the advantages and disadvantages of not being members of the Union in order to enjoy whatever might be the benefits and privileges of membership, and incur whatever might be the liabilities and obligations of becoming members.

However, that is not the situation. We are, and have been for more than 40 years, members of the European Union. Therefore, when a referendum is called, the question we should be asking the electorate to consider is whether we should forgo the benefits and privileges we now enjoy, and be relieved of the liabilities and obligations we now incur as members of the European Union, in order to enjoy whatever might be the benefits and advantages and incur whatever might be the costs and liabilities of ceasing to be members. The question put to the electorate should be clear beyond a peradventure that that is the choice on which they are being asked to vote. The question proposed in Clause 1(4) of the Bill as drafted fails to make clear the nature of the choice. It could thus be confusing, and potentially misleading, to some voters.

The question proposed in the amendment is not designed by me or by other noble Lords who have put their names to it. It has been designed by the Electoral Commission, the business of which is to advise the Government and Parliament on such matters. I cannot see why it should be thought to be necessary or right to second-guess the Electoral Commission on this matter. Only that it might sound disrespectful of the commission, which I do not wish to be, I remind your Lordships of the old adage that a man who keeps a dog does not need to bark himself.

The form of words which the Electoral Commission has recommended, and which is proposed in the amendment, provides a question which defines correctly, clearly and unambiguously the nature of the choice which the voters will be asked to make in the referendum proposed in the Bill. I beg to move.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait The Lord Speaker (Baroness D'Souza)
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I remind your Lordships that, if the amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments 2 to 7 by reason of pre-emption.