Brexit: Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration

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Thursday 6th December 2018

(5 years, 6 months ago)

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Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble (Con)
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My Lords, I feel sorry to have to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, that I think she is pointing in the wrong direction. If as a result of political activity we fail to deliver the results of the referendum, we are going to find a considerable reaction from people when they discover they have been swindled of the results that they wanted. I think that is the road down which the party over there is heading, and it is heading in the wrong direction.

I do not want to dwell on that matter because there is what for me is a more significant issue flowing from quite a bit of the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Murphy. I am very glad to see that my noble friend Lord Bew is in his seat because his contribution yesterday was extremely good. Unfortunately I was not here to hear it, but I have read the Hansard and if anyone was not there then I urge them to read it. There is material in that speech that has never been given here. It is surprising that the Attorney-General did not pick up some of the issues that the noble Lord covered.

The basic problem, as the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, said, is that the people who drew up the Irish protocol are deeply imbued with a different way of approaching things. I dare say most of them were énarques, but that is not our system. As has been said, they drafted something that is top-down. Being top-down means that it is depriving the people in that Chamber of having an effective say in what is happening. It is not a democratic process. That protocol is not a democratic one and it undermines the Belfast agreement.

Over the past year or two, people have expressed concern that this process might damage it. Yes, but it is not the desire to leave the EU that is causing the damage; it is what the EU is doing by way of reprisal, aimed not just at us in Northern Ireland but at the UK as a whole. There is something there that we have to take on board. What the Attorney-General did not realise is that there was a case, Matthews in 1999, in which the European Court of Justice condemned the creation of arrangements that deprive people of their opportunity for democratic participation. That is what the protocol does, and it has to go. Actually, I think the whole agreement has to go; while the provisions relating to Northern Ireland and Ireland are particularly perverse, you get echoes of the same thing the whole way through. We have a situation where a certain Mr T Blair, speaking in Brussels the other day, said that the EU will not permit the UK to leave the common customs arrangements. Your Lordships can work out who I am talking about, and I am afraid that what he is saying is most regrettable.

Those comments come from what has been said. I want to add a couple more comments on more general matters, which I will try to keep as short as possible. The first is a reflection on the single market. Looking through the newspapers earlier this week, I discovered an interesting fact: they said that non-single-market countries have been increasing their exports to the EU at a rate greater than that of most single market members. If non-single-market countries are doing enormously well outside the single market, how valuable or necessary is the single market when you are dealing with that situation? Add to that the fact that we in the UK have a substantial deficit with the single market. I have seen the figures variously reported over the last few years as being £70 billion or £90 billion per annum—huge sums. It does not work for us. It does not work for our economy. There is no point pretending otherwise. That is the reality of it.

People are talking about the problems that might arise with no deal. I think the issues there have been greatly exaggerated. In the modern world, supply-side shocks have often had less impact than expected. Thanks to globalisation, there are more alternative sources of supply; and because of information technology, we know more about accessing them.

We might leave without a deal. I do not think it is necessary or inevitable but it might occur, and it can be coped with. I think we will discover, because of the factors that I have just mentioned, that it will not be anywhere near as bad as people have predicted. But then, of course, we have been having another attempt to whip up Project Fear to scare people into going in one particular direction. Again, I think that is going to fail.

There is one other, lesser Project Fear situation. Our own Government, I am afraid, sometimes say to members of the party that they have to be careful what they do in case we end up with a Corbyn Government. Let us think about that. If there were to be a Corbyn Government, we would expect that, like all socialist Governments, they would inflict serious damage on the economy and ruin public finances. But such an Administration are not likely to survive. They might get through one term, but might not even reach the end of one. If there is a problem there, it is a short-term one. When we look at the alternative of accepting the withdrawal agreement, we see problems that are not short-term but long-term. As has been said in the Attorney-General’s report—it is also there in the agreement, if you look carefully—the provisions for the backstop and its related matters will continue indefinitely. Under those provisions there is no way in which we can be sure of getting out from underneath them.

On one hand, there is a negative thing which is short-term; and on the other, there is a bigger negative thing which will be generational in its application. If we do not kill the backstop and this agreement now, it will haunt us for years, decades, maybe even generations as well. There is only one way to go on this matter. I add as a footnote to this, directed to the leadership of our party, that in the event of a general election in the near future, there should be no room in the running of it for anyone who was involved in last year’s disaster.

European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill

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Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble (Con)
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My Lords, this is obviously an important debate, but I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I say that there is a certain degree of unreality about it, not just because so many people are anxious to refight old battles but because the discussion is about a negotiation. However, there is no negotiation at the moment, so to a certain extent this is so much hot air, talking about what might happen or what you might do. It is not until we get into the negotiation that we will start to encounter reality.

Therefore I say first to our Front Bench that we should trigger Article 50 as soon as possible, perhaps not even wait until the enactment of this Bill. The more time that is spent before Article 50 is enacted, the more time there is for people to waste their energy and confuse themselves—and there is plenty of that happening. I am not suggesting that immediately after triggering Article 50 things will be easy. They will be very difficult, I think, at that point.

I remember some time ago taking evidence in a Select Committee about the trade agreement, TTIP. A couple of witnesses observed to us that the European Union was a very difficult body to negotiate with. When asked why, one said that it spent so much time getting a common position among all 27 countries that it found it incredibly difficult to move away from that position. When we go in and put down our proposals, they will have already spent time working out their proposals, and I am not sure whether there will be any real progress after that.

As to how one should conduct the negotiation, I agree with the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, and my noble friend Lord Lothian, and with yesterday’s speech by my noble friend Lord Hill of Oareford, which all included good things to bear in mind about the negotiation. But we will just have to see how that works out.

What do we do in the meantime? We have 15 to 18 months to go. Addressing our Front Bench again directly, I think we should bring on the great repeal Bill as quickly as possible so that Parliament can get into it. There will be a lot more meat in that than there is in this Bill, and all the things that people are talking about as likely amendments would be dealt with much better in that context than in the context of this Bill. In fact, as the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, observed in the Times today, this is not a matter of scrutinising or improving the Bill, as all the amendments would put strange new things into the Bill that were not part of it. That is not really what we should be doing at this stage. We should do that at a later stage.

Bringing forward the great repeal Bill and going through its processes is fine up to a point, but there is a huge amount of work to be done alongside or after that, because that Bill will bring all our existing EU legislation into our own system. We can then look at it and consider what we want to keep, what we want to amend and what we want to remove. That will be a huge job, and it is difficult to see what will go into the Bill that will do it. We should start on that job as soon as possible. Saying that we will wait until the exit negotiations are complete is just sitting twiddling your thumbs when you could be doing something useful. We will have to consider how we are going to deal with this. We need a bespoke solution. Trying to modify normal legislative practice could cause some difficulty. Some people are anticipating the largest and most comprehensive Henry VIII clause that there has ever been. I do not think that is a terribly good way of doing it. We will have to find a way. We could then spend time—indeed, this House, with its experience in these matters, could make a significant contribution—sorting out what we do with the inherited acquis, which cannot just be left without being looked at; it has to be considered.

Another thing should be in the great repeal Bill. There is probably a plan for it to be in there, but if not I am sure it will go in. There should be some clauses to meet the points made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, yesterday. Such clauses could be tailored to provide the parliamentary involvement that he said the courts have indicated will be necessary. We should look at that.

By virtue of getting this Bill going, we underline and strengthen the Government’s position that they are prepared to walk away from a bad deal. It is important that they are prepared to walk away. If you are dealing with a negotiation such as this with lots of rules, it is importance to remember that you have no leverage if you are not prepared to leave the table. At the same time, you have to persuade people that you bring to the table something that is worth having. Those points are not entirely consistent, but you have to be prepared to do it. We will have to be prepared for something fairly tough.

My final observation does not follow from anything I have just said. It goes back a bit. There have been references to David Cameron’s attempt to renegotiate our position in Europe, which led to the referendum. My comment is simply this: had Europe really wanted to keep the United Kingdom in the European Union, it should have given him something of substance, something really important, to enable him to win his referendum. Its failure to do that tells you an awful lot about its basic approach.

Iraq

Lord Trimble Excerpts
Friday 26th September 2014

(9 years, 8 months ago)

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Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble (Con)
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My Lords, I start by reinforcing the final point made by the noble Baroness; that is a hugely important issue, which I hope we will be able to follow up. One of the pleasures of speaking so late in a debate is that so much has already been said that I can just tick off who I agree with, and I have a little list to go through in that respect.

I thank the Minister for her opening speech; it was cool and comprehensive, and I found myself completely in agreement with it. The only snag was that there was a little hole in the speech called Syria and what we do when inevitably the actions that are going to be taken in Iraq, if they have any success, involve having to go to the source of the problem, which, as far as ISIL or ISIS is concerned, is in Syria. Inevitably that issue will have to come.

On that point, I agree with what my noble friend Lord Hurd has said about House of Commons votes. It will be ridiculous if the tactical situation on the ground is that we are getting close to the Syrian border but we then have to stop in order to have a meeting of Parliament at which to pass a resolution on the matter. We are getting to the point where tactics, not strategy, may be interfered with by politicians, which is not a good idea—the noble Lord again made that point. We must trust the military and leave it to it. In that respect, we need to step back a bit.

I find myself also in complete agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, in his excellent speech. I particularly enjoyed his comment at the end about ensuring that, with regard to the operation of our forces, there is a limit to political and juridical interference. I thought that that struck a particular nail on the head. I wish that I had heard similar sentiments from other members of our coalition partners, but maybe towards the end of this debate something else sensible will come from the Benches to my right.

A lot of the discussion concerned who we will deal with, talk to and make alliances with. This issue and the related issue of what to do with bodies that are involved in terrorist activity are questions not of whether we should talk, but of what the context is in which we talk, and whether we talk as part of a coherent political strategy, with a cold eye as to what the possibilities are and what the characters of the people we are talking to are.

I heard people suggest that we should turn to Russia. What on earth makes people think that Russia under Putin, subject to the sanctions we manage to impose upon it, will suddenly come and help us? I do not think there is much prospect of that happening. Iran has at least two faces. Rouhani presents a slightly reasonable face and looks as though he might be helpful in some respects, but the Revolutionary Guard bears a heavy responsibility for the present situation. To say it largely controls the situation may be overstating it, but it certainly had a very strong influence over Maliki. Although Maliki has gone, the militia groups that the Revolutionary Guard runs are still there and will still be a huge problem. We need to be careful about that.

Regarding cosying up to Assad, I noted what my noble friend Lord Howard said about what kind of a country we would be if we did not step up to the plate on this. What sort of country would we be if we started getting close to a person like that? We have to draw some limits.

Finally, I will mention two things. Turkey and Egypt are hugely important, especially Turkey. I hope we can get a view from the Front Bench this evening as to what Turkey is likely to do: it cannot stay on the sidelines much longer. We should also remember, when we discuss what should or might happen in the future, that unfortunately the enemy also has a vote.

Queen’s Speech

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Thursday 10th May 2012

(12 years, 1 month ago)

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
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I am slightly confused. The noble Lord asked me whether the Labour Party would support the Bill. I said that we had better see what is in it. I can tell the noble Lord that it is an inescapable conclusion and quite clear from my reading of the workings of both the Select Committee and the alternative report that, unless we are clear about the respective powers of both elected Houses, it will be very difficult indeed to make progress.

Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble
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I thank the noble Lord for giving way and I understand the importance of the issue to which he has just alluded. However, I suggest that another very important issue that might be a way of resolving these problems is to look more closely, which unfortunately the Joint Committee did not do, at procedures to resolve disputes.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
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That is a very helpful suggestion. One way or another with two elected Houses, whatever is in the legislation on the respective powers, there will always be a need for procedures to deal with the situation when both Houses disagree with each other, particularly if both Houses claim equal legitimacy, as is likely to happen, and particularly if the upper Chamber were elected on a different system of voting where the arguments for legitimacy will be legion. The noble Lord is quite right to suggest that reconciliation machinery must be part of the package, but I do not think that that can substitute for absolute clarity about the respective powers and the role of both Houses if they were both elected.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, is widely liked and admired in your Lordships’ House. In his wind-up speech last week, he apologised for not answering all the points made, but he did not answer any of them. These points go to the heart of our debate. He was asked whether a second Chamber elected by proportional representation would not claim greater legitimacy than the Commons. He was silent. Asked about the applicability of the Parliament Acts, he was no more forthcoming. Instead, he said that the Government would set out their legal reasoning on the application of the Parliament Acts if a Bill were included in the Queen’s Speech. A Bill was included in the Speech. Will the noble Lord now tell me when the advice will be made available?

The advice must answer two questions. The first is on the use of the Parliament Acts in relation to a Lords reform Bill. The second is on their use more generally in application to an elected second Chamber. I remind the Minister that both my noble and learned friend Lord Goldsmith and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said that the drafters of the 1911 Parliament Act did not intend its provisions to apply in the event of a second Chamber being constituted on a popular basis.

On the question of cost, the Minister said that no estimate could be given because a final decision had yet to be made on the number of Members. However, there is nothing to stop the Government coming up with a series of different options based on different sizes.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, suggested that the primacy of the Commons was a wonderful obstacle against which one kicked. Of course it is, but primacy is at the heart of our constitutional arrangements. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, talked about involving conventions and of the House being more assertive, which I fully acknowledge; it is one reason why many people think that the House of Lords has become a more effective Chamber in the past 10 or 12 years. However, on the balance of power, the arguments between two elected Houses will be much greater than those caused by a non-elected House exercising a small degree of assertiveness.

Draft House of Lords Reform Bill

Lord Trimble Excerpts
Monday 30th April 2012

(12 years, 1 month ago)

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Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble
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My Lords, I was a member of the Joint Committee and I begin by echoing the compliments paid by the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, to the chairman and the clerks. I also signed the alternative report, and I think that between that and the full committee report one finds a devastating critique of the Bill. However, I will not try to cram all my views on all aspects of the report into seven minutes; instead, I will pick one issue. It was one of the two issues that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, acknowledged as being the primary concerns of the Commons. We have concentrated quite a bit on the first question, which is that of the primacy of the Commons. The other is the way in which Members of another place are very nervous about having other elected persons tramping over their patch; they want their constituencies to remain inviolate.

I will focus on that issue because, as so often happens, when I read the report after we had finished—after it had been printed and it was too late to do anything about it—a paragraph jumped out and hit me, and I thought, “That doesn’t quite reflect the evidence we got”. I went and read the evidence and felt that my initial reaction was right. I confess that when we nodded through the paragraph I did not notice the points that I will make now; that was my error. I am referring to paragraph 213, which summarises the evidence that we received from the Australian Senators.

We made a considerable effort to take evidence from Australia because we felt that it might give us a good comparison with what might happen here if we had an elected upper House. It is a Commonwealth country, it operates within a common-law system, and it has an elected upper as well as lower House. We wanted to speak to Australian Senators to hear their views on a number of issues. That of constituencies is dealt with in paragraph 213.

The paragraph starts off properly by referring to the view of a member of the Government of Australia, Senator Stephens, who stated that the people of Australia regarded Members of the House of Representatives as their local representatives and identified very clearly with their Member. The Senator went on to say:

“I will ask Senator Rhiannon to respond to your question about constituencies. I will just explain the Government’s method of dealing with that. As a Member of the Government in the Senate, I am allocated a number of seats that are not held by the Government in the lower House in my state. I look after those constituents who do not have a government representative. Those people might come to me about issues and legislation”.

We should bear in mind the point about the way in which constituencies are allocated to Senators for them to nurse. The Senator then referred to Senator Rhiannon of the Green party, who said that the issue of working with constituents was very important and took up a lot of their time.

There was then a reference to the views of Senator Ronaldson, a member of the opposition Liberal Party, although he kept describing himself as a conservative—I feel that there must have been a simple explanation for that. The report says that he thought that elected Members of the Lords might engage in constituency-type work if in an area with other elected representatives from other parties. What he said was:

“I do not think that you can make the assumption that you will not be engaged in constituency-type work”.

That is putting things a little more strongly. This may be a nuance, but it is a significant nuance. He is quoted as saying that, in terms of elections:

“Senators do not campaign as Senators. They campaign for one of the lower House Members of their own party in a marginal seat, or … against a marginal lower House Member from another party”.

On this point, it would be good to look at Senator Ronaldson’s comment. He was asked a question by Eleanor Laing from another place:

“I think that I am right in saying, Senator Ronaldson, that you said that we should not assume that Members of the upper House will not be involved in constituency work. Does that also mean that they campaign in constituencies? Could we explore a little further what happens on the ground … Is it normal for Members of both Houses to be campaigning in a constituency all the time?”.

Senator Ronaldson replied:

“The Senators do not campaign as Senators. They campaign for one of the lower House Members of their own party in a marginal seat, or they vigorously campaign against a marginal lower House Member from another party. Senator Stephens talked about arrangements where we, as parties, will look after various seats. They are described by the Conservative Party as patron Senators. I am patron Senator for a number of seats, some of which are winnable, including one that I very much hope we will win and then become the Government. Senator Stephens will be similarly campaigning in Conservative seats to ensure the election of a new Labor Member or to support the incumbent Labor Member”.

The picture that comes from the passages that I have quoted very clearly shows that Senators are heavily involved in political work in areas. They are quite obviously put by their political party into areas where the party does not have a Member and hopes very much to get one, and they are engaged in campaigning not just during elections but all the time throughout the area. I am bringing this out so that Members of another place can get a clearer picture of what might happen when this comes. I am not sure that we should be saying that it ought not to happen.

I must say that the provisions that the report suggests for limiting the finances available to Members of the elected upper House with regard to constituency work are unfair and unworkable. They are unfair because they will mean that a rich elected Lord or Senator will be able to finance an office and have an advantage over those who cannot. A person may not have an allowance for an office, but parties will make offices available, and I am sure that political parties will make sure that newly elected Members of the upper House work just as hard as their Australian counterparts in campaigning all the time, especially to undermine opposition Members holding seats in their patch.

EU Council

Lord Trimble Excerpts
Tuesday 31st January 2012

(12 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord Strathclyde Portrait Lord Strathclyde
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My Lords, the views of the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, on this are extremely well known. He believes that there should be a referendum in the United Kingdom about leaving the EU or that the United Kingdom should just leave the European Union as soon as possible. That view is not shared by this Government. We think that in the past the EU has gone in the wrong direction but we are hopeful. The noble Lord may not have read the European Commission’s statement but I hope that he will take the opportunity to do so. I am glad to see he is indicating that he has read it. I think he should be heartened by much of what was said in it about growth, jobs, deregulation and single markets, which will aid prosperity in the long term.

Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble
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My Lords, my noble friend the Leader of the House has made reference to implementing as soon as possible the matters agreed last October. However, is that realistic? Last October, there was reference to agreeing a private sector reduction of Greek bonds by 50 per cent. There has been no agreement, and apparently officials are now looking for a reduction in value of 70 per cent, although the chance of there being agreement on that is minimal. Other institutions talk about firewalls and contagion. The EFSF was created but has turned out to be a complete damp squib. There is now talk of bringing forward the next measure but it is similar in character and is also likely to be ineffective. I appreciate that my noble friend has to be diplomatic but is not the reality that that agenda and those agreements are not going to work with regard to Greece? As my noble friend Lord Higgins said, Greece will have to leave. The euro has been a failure as far as it and other countries are concerned, and the sooner the people who are trying to give that leadership to Europe get their heads round that, the better.

Lord Strathclyde Portrait Lord Strathclyde
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My Lords, it is not just diplomatic to say that these are issues that Greece and the other countries of the eurozone need to sort out; it is common sense. My noble friend's gloomy view may come to pass, but we should all fear that. There is a chilling effect on the economy already because of the crisis in the eurozone, and it would be considerably worse if there was a real banking problem in the whole of the eurozone and the whole of Europe, which would leak into us. Therefore, we urge the countries of the eurozone to solve their problem. With the intergovernmental treaty, we have given them the best opportunity to do so.

European Council

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Monday 12th December 2011

(12 years, 6 months ago)

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Lord Strathclyde Portrait Lord Strathclyde
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My Lords, I am bound to say that I disagree with all of that. This was not about party but national interests. It was not about—what did he say?—playing to the worst aspects of the British character. That is quite wrong. This is the problem that noble Lords opposite find themselves in. Time and time again, they feel that agreeing with our European partners on everything will protect our long-term interests. We disagree.

Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble
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My Lords, we are not absolutely sure of this but is it not likely that the issue will come back to the European Council if there is any attempt or desire on behalf of the eurozone people to make use of the institutions of the Union? When the issue comes back, we will be there making our point of view known. Did the Leader of the House hear on Radio 4 this morning the comment by the distinguished American economist that if you are not prepared to walk away you will have no leverage?

Lord Strathclyde Portrait Lord Strathclyde
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My Lords, I did not hear that interview, but my noble friend is right. In any negotiation, particularly one as important and controversial as this one, you have to take a decision right at the beginning on whether you are going to negotiate in good faith. As I have already said, we put forward a proposal that was relatively humble, it was not agreed with, and that is why we said no.

On the question of EU institutions, I think I have covered that very fully this afternoon. Of course, it will come back as an issue and we will take a decision in due course.

Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill

Lord Trimble Excerpts
Tuesday 25th January 2011

(13 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble
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Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I could suggest to him that he look again at the Cunningham report on the conventions of this House. The Cunningham report made the point very strongly that the Salisbury convention, which was originally formulated in terms of manifesto commitments, now operates and has for some time operated on the basis of applying to the major Bills of the Government of the day. The point—

None Portrait A noble Lord
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No.

Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble
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Whoever said no should also go and read the Cunningham report. That report, which was from a cross-party group, was unanimous and was accepted by this House. The points made about manifestos by the party opposite are wholly and totally irrelevant.

Lord Kinnock Portrait Lord Kinnock
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My Lords, I am glad that I gave way, even though I did not give way. The point about manifestos will be in the clear recall of the noble Lord. It was explicitly and forcefully made by the noble Baroness opposite. I was responding for the sake of accuracy and in the interests of this House on that very point. I am well aware of the Cunningham report and of the conventions of the House. I do not think that any convention or any established custom is superior to the truth.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock
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My Lords, we now return to Scotland. We have heard a few mentions of the Clyde—the River Clyde in particular—from my noble friends Lord Harris and Lord Bach. Of course, the arguments that we had in relation to the Tyne, the Thames and the Mersey rivers apply equally to the Clyde and to the River Forth. I think it is inconceivable that we would have a constituency in Scotland that would straddle the River Forth. It would create so many problems, and it has never been considered by the Boundary Commission for Scotland. This brings me to my second preliminary point. During the previous debate—and I have no quarrel with it because we were talking about rivers in England—there was constant reference to the Boundary Commission, singular; but, of course, there is more than one Boundary Commission. There are a number of Boundary Commissions; and, of course, my particular concern is the Boundary Commission for Scotland. This amendment would insert in the Bill, on page 10, at the end of line 21, the following sentence:

“The Boundary Commission for Scotland may”—

and I use the same word, “may”, as is used in the Bill for other factors—

“take into account the boundaries of constituencies of the Scottish Parliament”.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will be the Minister who will reply to the debate, and I welcome him back to our discussions. As I said on a previous occasion, he is an old friend and he used to be a constituent of mine. We have worked together—not always on the same side—for a long time. He knows Scotland well, and I think that he will understand some of the arguments that I am going to make.

In starting to think about how the Scottish constituencies would be allocated and distributed by the Boundary Commission for Scotland, I came up against a particular problem. It is one of these things that keep coming back to hit one as one sits through more and more of these debates—namely, that in this Bill there are many more problems, difficulties, traps and obstacles than seems to be the case initially when one reads it and thinks about it. The particular obstacle that I came across in thinking about the allocation of constituencies for Scotland is how many constituencies there will be for Scotland in the new arrangement if this Bill is enacted. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will give us some indication of that when he first replies, as it would be useful.

I looked at page 11, line 12 onwards, relating to the allocation method. I have tried very hard to work out from this how many constituencies there will be. If we have 600 for the whole of the United Kingdom, if we have the two preserved constituencies, how many will there be for Scotland? The allocation method—which we will discuss in greater detail later on amendments laid down to change it—is referred to in rule 8(2) as follows:

“The first constituency shall be allocated to the part of the United Kingdom with the greatest electorate”.

I am not sure whether this means that England—because England has the greatest electorate—or the constituencies that have the greatest electorate would be the first to be agreed. If the latter, I assume that if the Isle of Wight remained one constituency it would be the Isle of Wight, and if it does not, it would be Daventry on the present arrangement.

Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble
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If the noble Lord will give way, I think I can help him. Rule 3 at page 9 refers to the four parts of the United Kingdom, which are named there. In that case, “part” in the rule must refer to one of those four parts.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock
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I am really grateful to the noble Lord opposite—I never thought that I would be saying that. That is really helpful. That was my initial understanding, that the part of the United Kingdom would be England. Therefore the first constituency is allocated in England. The rule goes on to say:

“The second and subsequent constituencies shall be allocated in the same way, except that the electorate of a part of the United Kingdom to which one or more constituencies have already been allocated is to be divided by … 2C+1 … where C is the number of constituencies already allocated to that part”.

By the way, when they say,

“the part of the United Kingdom”,

I do not understand why they do not say England, because it is so manifestly obvious that England has the greatest electorate, greater than any other part of the UK if we are talking about countries. Nevertheless, I accept that the noble Lord’s interpretation is right. It goes on to say:

“This rule does not apply to the constituencies mentioned in rule 6, and accordingly the electorate of Scotland shall be treated for the purposes of this rule as reduced by the electorate of those constituencies”.

We can understand that. Orkney and Shetland and the Western Isles are not included, so it is mainland Scotland. I have tried to work out how many constituencies this would give Scotland, and I have not been able to do so. The Minister has many more resources than I have. He has behind him all the departments—principally the Cabinet Office, as well as the Ministry of Justice. It would certainly help our discussions today and subsequently if we could get some indication of how many that would leave for mainland Scotland if the Bill were enacted as it stands and there were 600 constituencies for the United Kingdom, with the two preserved constituencies.

Then we come to a dilemma. As I said in an earlier debate—I do not blame the present coalition for all of this—in Scotland we have a plethora of constituencies and of voting systems. These include council wards and council areas which have been changed on a number of occasions. We have election by single transferable vote. We have the Scottish Parliament constituencies, the Westminster constituencies and the whole of Scotland—which is one constituency for Europe. We also have the eight European constituencies, which are used for the regional elections to the Scottish Parliament, which makes it particularly difficult. As a result, we have ended up with 73 Scottish Parliament constituencies, elected by first past the post, 70 of them on mainland Scotland; we have the Western Isles as a separate constituency, Orkney as a separate constituency and Shetland as a separate constituency. Therefore, we have 70 mainland constituencies electing Members to the Scottish Parliament by first past the post.

Furthermore, we have 59 Westminster constituencies electing Members of Parliament to the House of Commons by first past the post. However, because of the way that the Boundary Commission decisions have been made in the past, of course there is no correlation, there is no contiguity, there is no exact coterminosity between the Scottish Parliament constituencies and the UK Parliament constituencies. There could not be—59 and 70 are different numbers. As I said earlier, it was originally planned that, when the number of UK constituencies was reduced to 59, the number of Scottish Parliament first past the post constituencies would also be reduced to 59 on the same boundaries. However, this was not done by agreement across the parties of the Scottish Parliament and, I think, against the wishes of this Parliament. Nevertheless, the power had been devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Therefore, we end up with constituencies for the Scottish Parliament which are totally different from the constituencies for the UK Parliament. Very often, the overlap is not just that each Member of the UK Parliament has two MSPs to deal with. Sometimes it is three MSPs, sometimes four, because the overlap is so great and the system is so complicated.

When the Boundary Commission for Scotland looks at the new constituencies for the UK Parliament, it should take account of the Scottish constituencies and try to get a greater degree of contiguity. It will not achieve 100 per cent, of course—it cannot—but it might achieve some greater degree of coterminosity. I have thought about whether it would be worth suggesting that each Westminster constituency should consist of two Holyrood constituencies, but in fact the arithmetic does not work out because there will be more Westminster constituencies than half of the 72—there will be more than 36. I do not know what the number will be, but I certainly know that it will be more than 36.

It is still possible for the Boundary Commission to draw up boundaries for the UK Parliament that cover no more than two Scottish Parliament constituencies. To take a random example, there must be a new Rutherglen parliamentary constituency, outside Glasgow, for Westminster. It would include the Rutherglen constituency in the Scottish Parliament and part of just one other constituency. In this case it would be Hamilton. That would make things a lot easier and understandable, and I think that it could be achieved. It is a very simple suggestion. It would be helpful for the public and the Members of Parliament and it would produce a much simpler and more coherent system for the Scottish constituencies. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, on behalf of the Government, if he cannot accept the proposal in the form that I have put it, will say that it should be given sympathetic consideration.

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Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
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I think that I understand the point that the noble Baroness is making; that is, that regardless of which part of our country you come from or represent in the other place, you are making decisions here in Westminster largely on national issues, unless it is in relation to a Private Bill.

However, the Bill already acknowledges that there are certain boundaries that you should not cross, such as the boundaries between Scotland and England and between England and Wales; and Northern Ireland should remain discrete. Those are the beginnings of acknowledgement that it is not just about the UK issues or the GB issues; it is about something slightly more fine-grained now. In turn, the Bill already acknowledges, by making the exception for the Orkney and Shetland constituency and for the Western Isles, which are much smaller in population than would normally be allowed according to the formula in the Bill, that there is something so particular about those communities—as communities—that they should be separated out in the Bill. What I am seeking to argue in my relatively brief contribution, I hope, to this debate is that there are other particular communities. This has already been decided by your Lordships’ House in respect of the Isle of Wight, and the electorate in that community should feel that it has a voice.

My understanding of Cornwall, as an example, is that the Cornish people to whom I spoke when I was the Regional Minister for the South West of England up until the last election already feel an alienation from London and that Westminster does not really understand Cornwall. It is an awful job to get politicians from Westminster to go all the way to Cornwall, which is quite a journey. You have to set aside probably a couple of days to do it—certainly if you want to go to the Isles of Scilly—and we do not really understand that. If they in turn feel that we in London have, through a formula, imposed a solution which means that they will have to start to share Members of Parliament with Devon—that boundary across the Tamar River is a profound one psychologically for many in Cornwall—I think they will feel more alienated from politics and from what goes on here. I do not think that we should cross that boundary easily. I am happy to give way.

Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble
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I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I have a question. My figures may not be accurate but, if you were faced with a choice of having six constituencies, one of which crossed the Tamar, or of having only five, all of which were in Cornwall, which would you prefer?

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson
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From the MPs, and from what we have gathered from the people in Cornwall, it appears that they are happier to have five than to share. In fact, I was speaking to my honourable friend Dan Rogerson, MP for North Cornwall, earlier, and he made that point to me. It may seem strange, but that seems to be the answer. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, has raised the question.

Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill

Lord Trimble Excerpts
Monday 17th January 2011

(13 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Radice Portrait Lord Radice
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My Lords, I support the proposition put forward by my noble friend Lord Lipsey, although I also think there is a lot of merit in the proposal of my noble friend Lord Soley. I am attracted by the idea of a Speaker’s Conference, partly because I sat on one. I am not sure that many Members of this House have been on one. I was a very junior Member of the House of Commons when I served on the Speaker’s Conference of 1977-78 under Speaker Thomas. It was set up to consider and make recommendations on the number of parliamentary constituencies that there should be in Northern Ireland. It had a cross-party membership. For the Conservatives there was Sir David Renton and the late Ian Gow. The Ulster Unionists were represented by Enoch Powell and Mr James Molyneaux—now the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux. The Liberals were represented by Clement Freud. I have not mentioned the noble Baroness, Lady Knight, who was also there for the Conservatives.

It carried out its deliberations very quickly. It took written representations. Nine papers were received from political parties and six from individuals. You can have far more than that but that is what we had. It was a contentious issue that we had to solve. We took oral evidence from the Registrar-General of Births and Deaths in Northern Ireland. The key issue was the population increase in Northern Ireland, which justified further seats for Northern Ireland. This had been resisted by different Governments. We also received evidence from the deputy chairman and secretary of the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland and the Lord President of the Council.

We had eight meetings and resolved, by 18 votes to four, that there should be an increase in the number of parliamentary constituencies in Northern Ireland, and by 22 votes to one that the figure should be 17. We also decided—this is a matter of interest—that the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland should be given a degree of flexibility to overcome any practical difficulties. We then agreed, by 22 votes to one, to the final recommendation that the number of parliamentary constituencies in Northern Ireland should be 17, but that the Boundary Commission should be given power to vary that number, subject to a minimum of 16 and a maximum of 18.

Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble
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I congratulate the noble Lord and the Speaker’s Conference on the deliberations that he mentioned. However, it arrived at a result that coincided exactly with that which had been agreed as a political deal between Jim Molyneaux and the Labour Government before it was set up.

Lord Radice Portrait Lord Radice
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Yes, that may well be so but it was a sensible way of proceeding on a very controversial issue—more seats for Northern Ireland. However, it produced a result that, if it was not supported by all the parties in Northern Ireland, certainly had the backing of all the major parties in the Commons. That is precisely my point: it produced consensus, which is what the Government have not achieved with the present Bill. I recommend the idea of a Speaker’s Conference or the commission, as suggested by my noble friend who is sitting next to me, as a better way forward if the Government want to achieve consensus. It may well be better for them in the long run if they achieve that consensus.

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Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan Portrait Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan
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My noble friend makes a very good point, but I will not go down that road. It is interesting that it is not only north of the River Tweed where there have been mistakes of this nature. It is endemic in the Conservative Party and, at the moment, in its running dogs, the junior members of the coalition. The point I want to make is that the boundaries in Scotland have been changed. The constituencies were changed as a consequence of devolution. We reduced the number of seats from 72 to 59. We did so because there was a precedent or a reason for it. As a consequence of the treaty of Union 1707, Scotland was to be overrepresented in the Westminster Parliament because Scotland gave up the three estates at that time.

As for some of the earlier discussions today about the reduction in the number of seats, such a reduction can have legitimacy if there is a reduction in the inequality of the legislatures. As a consequence of devolution, when Scotland began to get responsibility for a number of the powers that it had previously had in England, we in Scotland we could not disagree with a reduction in the number of seats.

My noble friend Lady Liddell of Coatdyke and I disagreed about what I thought was the consequence of that, which was to reduce the number of seats in the Scottish Parliament as a consequence of a reduction in the number of seats in the British Parliament represented from Scotland, but we do not need to go into those battles this evening. The point I want to make is that there were well laid out precedents for a reduction in the number of seats. They were on the basis of a broad constitutional settlement, which the Conservatives grudgingly accepted but now embrace because the proportional representation arrangements in the Scottish Parliament and in Scottish local government, which I deplore, to be perfectly frank, afford them a foothold in Scottish politics that they would otherwise not enjoy under any other system. However, that is not what they are offering here, although my noble friend Lady Armstrong suggested that this might be the precursor to some grander programme of electoral reform. Frankly, that is a bit premature at this stage.

It is clear that if we reduce the number of seats on the basis that we are talking about, the Labour Party might well lose 25 seats, the Liberals about seven and the Conservatives about 10 seats. I am not sure of the arithmetic, but it would be wrong to assume that it will necessarily be to the electoral advantage of the proposers of this scheme that there will be much advantage, because it is so blatantly unfair and unjust that the British public will probably turn on this wretched Government and its associates—running dogs if you want to call them that.

I happen to believe that in some respects the reduction in the number of seats will not present too many electoral problems for us, but it will leave a rotten taste in the mouth of the British electorate. Electors will see the manner in which this whole project is being pursued: the indecent haste, the lack of consultation and the inability of individual Members of Parliament and interested parties across the political spectrum to have a say in what is happening to areas in which they have worked for over the years. This is what sticks in the craw of so many people at this time.

We have an arbitrary figure that has been plucked out of the air but which seems to suit someone’s convenience. Frankly, I think it will blow up in their faces and in the end will not be that significant. What is more important is the impact in the interim if this is carried. It will have an effect not only on the body politic in Britain but on the actual operation of politics in this country. People have said that a reduction in the number of seats and an increase in the number of electors will have an impact on the job and responsibilities of Members of Parliament.

We know that at the moment in the other place, every penny spent by a Member of Parliament is under the closest scrutiny, but if you increase the number of people a Member of Parliament has to represent, you increase the workload and the responsibilities of the staff. As has been suggested, there is likely to be a continuing rush of activity resulting from the indiscriminate sending of e-mails that often cannot be traced back to a constituent. You have to add the caveat, “I am sorry. I cannot answer this query until you give me your postal address rather than your electronic address”. This kind of thing will increase and make the job of MPs to represent their people effectively that much more difficult.

It has been made clear that if the economic difficulties that we are facing continue, the workload of Members of Parliament will rise. I represented a seat that for many years had in excess of 20 per cent long-term unemployment among the electors because of the decline in the textile industry, the closure of pits and the like. The point I want to make is that those people did not have just one problem; they had all the problems that poverty brings. It is assumed that somehow we can get out of this difficulty and that there are some bright and sunny uplands that the economy does not really worry about since there will only be 600 MPs and we are going to reduce public expenditure on political representation. That is nonsense. Frankly, I think that in playing with the political system, this Government are playing with fire.

I do not really worry about the impact of a reduction in the number of seats on the outcome of the next general election because I think that Labour will win it substantially. It will win it because of the daft notions of the people on the Benches opposite about matters such as this. What is equally worrying, however, is that as public representatives—we are appointed, not elected, but we are part of the system—we will see the political system in this country suffer as a consequence of the arbitrary and arrogant way in which this Government are approaching a fundamental proposition: the manner in which we are represented.

It is always difficult for Members of Parliament to adjust to and work out how to deal with particular areas when boundaries are changed. One reason why my title refers to Clackmannan is that for 26 years it was the one part of my constituency that I represented continuously over the period. Local government boundaries came and went, and constituency boundaries came and went, but I kept a hold on the county of Clackmannan. It is the smallest county in Scotland and the one that was never big enough to be represented on its own. It has a population of only about 55,000, with 36,000 to 38,000 electors, so it always has to be added to other bits, although the people of Clackmannan always say that other bits are added on to us.

It will be quite a traumatic experience for a number of people in the House of Commons, newly elected Members who have been nurturing the seat for the past four or five years, to be confronted at future general elections, earlier than they had anticipated, with selection conferences and the problems that they will cause within the party. There will have to be completely new strategies developed by these individual Members of Parliament—the people who, in most instances, are blameless of the excesses of their predecessors, but who, nevertheless are being treated with the contempt that many of their predecessors deserved. These individuals do not need that; they do not need the hassle of boundary redrawing; they do not need the hassle of being told, “The job you are doing is not sufficient, you should be doing a bigger one”. Because, at the end of the day, that is what this means—the addition of another 10,000 or 12,000 people to an MP’s workload. It can be quite significant and quite unsettling. It comes with the job, but it does not have to come quite as early as we are talking about as a consequence of accepting the changes that the Bill would afford.

The figure of 650 is one that we can live with at the moment. We can consult widely and effectively by means of a Speaker’s Conference, or by means of other forms of consultation and we can change it if that is seen to be appropriate, but to pluck a figure out of the air and to drive it through in the arrogant manner that this Government are adopting is, frankly, totally unacceptable. They will face the same consequences that their predecessors faced when they tried to gerrymander and to fiddle with our electoral system and our constitution.

Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble
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My Lords, I had thought of intervening during the speech of the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, but it occurred to me that the comments I was going to make would not be appropriate to address to him, as they relate to earlier speeches. I want to share with noble Lords the fact that a few moments ago I received a text message from my younger son, who is a university student. He told me that he is watching this on BBC Parliament and his comment is that Labour are consistently waffling.

Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu
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My Lords, I hope that the House will forgive that I was unable to speak on Second Reading on the Bill and that this is the first time that I have intervened in Committee. It is not intended to be in any way discourteous to the House. I shall try to avoid waffling and I shall try to be brief.

Surely, what all sides of the House want to achieve is a figure which will enable the House of Commons to carry out its work most effectively and at reasonable cost. What we have in the Bill—and I say it to my noble friends who have put down amendments with specific figures—is horse-trading, and that is no way to change the constitution of our country. The thought that it is only Members of this House or another place who should be making that decision, without assistance or consultation from outside, seems to me to be insulting to the electorate. It is the electorate who must decide what they want their Members of Parliament to do and how many of them are needed to do it. The failure to consult independently on the Bill in any proper or meaningful way seems to me to greatly diminish what the Government intend to do with the Bill as at present.

What cannot be decided, surely, is how many Members of Parliament are required until we are clear what we want our Members of Parliament to do. That is what my noble friend Lord Winston said earlier in relation to the medical profession and I think that we sometimes lose sight of it in politics.

We have heard conflicting evidence in the course of what I have found a fascinating evening. On the one hand there have been noble Lords like the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, who have said that there is no difficulty in representing a constituency of 96,000, I think he said, and the noble Lord, Lord Maples, who said that he could not understand what either the Scottish or the Welsh MPs were doing with their time because they had so little to do. On the other hand, I have listened to others—on this side, mainly—who have spoken of huge workloads, caused sometimes by complex legislation such as on immigration.

I have never had the good fortune to be in the other place—not for the want of trying a couple of times—but I have had second-hand an opportunity, over a considerable time, to see the way in which the job of an MP has changed and is continuing to change. That is why I feel that to set in stone a particular figure for the numbers is wholly wrong.

I was born in 1945, which, coincidentally, was the year that my father was elected as a Labour MP to another place. At that time there were 640 Members of Parliament and, I think, an electorate of some 33.5 million. That electorate has shot up many times since then, whereas the number of MPs has not. My father, as I understand it from those who knew him, was regarded as an excellent constituency MP.

European Council

Lord Trimble Excerpts
Monday 20th December 2010

(13 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Strathclyde Portrait Lord Strathclyde
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Yes, my Lords. The noble Lord says that we have been accused of kowtowing too much to Europhiles. We have certainly been accused of kowtowing to Eurosceptics. The main point of this, which the noble Lord has understood very well, is that we have said clearly that if there is to be a transfer of power from this Parliament to the European Union, it should be subject to a referendum. We hear what people are saying in various polls about their view that too much power has been ceded, that they are not consulted enough and it is all being done the wrong way. We will make this a matter of statute when later in this Session we get to the European Bill, which I hope the noble Lord and other noble Lords will support.

The countries of the eurozone need to sort out their own problems. No doubt some of us will have different views as to how that should be done but, if there was a move down the road towards a European-wide fiscal solution for European-wide economic problems, we would oppose it.

Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble
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My Lords—

Lord Dykes Portrait Lord Dykes
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My Lords—

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover
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I suggest that we hear from the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, and then the noble Lord, Lord Dykes.

Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble
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My Lords, my noble friend is quite right to say with regard to the proposed new bailout proposals that they affect only the eurozone and do not affect us, so there is no change in our position and no need to consider a referendum on the issue. However, it is probably worth pointing out that, with regard to the eurozone, the proposed changes would be very substantial indeed. The new proposals empower the EU to enforce strict conditionality, which the Wall Street Journal says today is bureaucrat-speak for telling a country what it must do on taxes, spending and economic policy as a price for being rescued. Those are very substantial changes.

Lord Strathclyde Portrait Lord Strathclyde
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My noble friend is absolutely correct; they are substantial changes. However, the eurozone needs substantial changes because of the problems that it has found itself in.