HL Deb 20 April 2004 vol 660 cc158-71

3.18 p.m.

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos)

My Lords, I would like to repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

"With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a Statement on the forthcoming negotiation over the new European treaty. In parallel, the Foreign Secretary is publishing today a White Paper on Europe.

"On 1 May the EU will enlarge from 15 to 25 members. It will be the biggest ever increase in Europe's size. It will reunify Europe after the travails of communist dictatorship in eastern and central Europe. It is an historic event, one this British Government and the one before us have championed. Whatever the problems it poses, and we see that in the anxiety over prospective immigration, let us be in no doubt: the prospect of EU membership, together with the courage of the governments concerned, is the primary reason why those countries have been able to reform their economies and politics so radically and so beneficially. Such change has been in the interests of all of Europe. I say unhesitatingly that enlargement is right for Europe and for Britain and we should support it.

"In addition, Bulgaria and Romania are set for membership in future years, taking the numbers to 27. Turkey is now making extraordinary strides forward in democracy, in human rights, in economic change, in the resolution of the conflict in Cyprus, strides that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago, and all under the impulsion of future EU membership. So, within the space of a few years, Europe will be transformed. It will be easily the strongest political union and greatest economic market in the world. Britain should be at the heart of it. That is its right and its destiny.

"Because of enlargement, Europe is sensibly seeking to change the way it works. In a Europe of 25 or 27 or 28, a rotating six-month presidency makes no sense; the use of the veto should be confined to the areas where it is truly necessary, otherwise decision-making becomes paralysed, and in certain areas, terrorism, security, economic reform, the environment, Europe must do more and do it better.

"The new constitutional treaty is designed both to answer the challenge of enlargement and to bring together in one treaty what is presently found in two separate treaties. Indeed, a significant part of the new treaty is a repetition of articles already in force. I want to make clear in this negotiation that Britain will co-operate fully in helping Europe to work better; but work better as a Europe of sovereign nation states.

"There are certain areas of policy where maintenance of control of our affairs is essential. In those areas, such as taxation, foreign policy, defence, social security, how the essentials of our common law criminal justice system work, treaty change, we believe that the national veto must remain. We will insist on the necessary amendments to the present draft treaty to ensure beyond doubt that they do. On this basis, the treaty does not and will not alter the fundamental nature of the relationship between member states and the EU.

"The new treaty then would take effect, after ratification by all member states, probably in 2007, with certain key provisions in 2009. Until then, the key provisions of the Nice Treaty will remain in place. If the new treaty contains these essentials, we believe it is in Britain's interests to sign it. It will replace the six-month rotating presidency with a full-time chairman of the Council—a vital step away from federalism, enabling the Council, which is of course the repository of the individual governments, to become the body that sets Europe's agenda.

"The new treaty for the first time will allow national parliaments the right to object to Commission proposals for legislation—a big advance in subsidiarity. It adds a greater ability to co-operate in areas such as terrorism and cross-border crime, which are crucial for the world in which we live. It gives a bigger role for enhanced co-operation between some of the member states, where not all of them wish to participate in certain areas.

"That is what the treaty, if amended in the way that we seek, will actually do. Ever since its inception, however, the myths propagated about it have multiplied in those quarters, political and media, who we know are hostile not just to this treaty but to the whole notion of Britain playing a central role in Europe: that the EU will be renamed the United States of Europe. No, it will not. It is to remain the EU. That The Queen will be replaced as our head of state by an EU President of the Council. In fact, we already have a President of the Council and always have had. That Britain will be forced to join the euro, without a referendum and regardless of our economic tests being passed. No, it will not. The existing agreements on the single currency remain in the new treaty.

"That Britain could not mount a future Falklands war or Iraq campaign without permission from Brussels. Yes, we could. Defence is to remain unanimous and the prerogative of the nation state. That we will lose our seat on the UN Security Council. No such provision exists. That Brussels will seize control of our oil supplies. No, it will not, and the treaty will make that clear. That Brussels will have the power to set taxes in Britain. Taxation is to remain with the nation state.

"That our foreign policy will now be decided by the EU, because the new treaty obliges member states to support Europe's common foreign and security policy in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity. Actually, those words are taken from the Maastricht Treaty, and in any event CFSP is decided unanimously. That we will surrender control over our borders. It is already agreed that our right to control our borders will be specifically retained in the new treaty. That the assumption of innocent until proven guilty in British law will be scrapped. No such provision exists. All these, and many others, such as the hardy perennials about being forced to drive on the right, the Germans taking over our nuclear weapons, and no doubt the shape of our bananas too.

"Even yesterday, we had the Leader of the Opposition asserting that if this treaty were in place, I would be unable, as British Prime Minister, to go to Washington to talk to President Bush. All of it is nonsense, myth, designed to distance people's understanding of what Europe is about and loosen this country's belief in its place in Europe. It has been an unrelenting, but I have to accept, partially at least, successful campaign to persuade Britain that Europe is a conspiracy aimed at us rather than a partnership designed for us and others to pursue our national interest properly in a modern, interdependent world. It is right to confront this campaign head on.

"Provided the treaty embodies the essential British positions, we shall agree to it. Once agreed, either at the June Council, which is our preference, or subsequently, Parliament should debate it in detail and decide upon it. Then, let the people have the final say. The electorate should be asked for their opinion when all our questions have been answered, when all the details are known, when the legislation has been finally tempered and scrutinised in both Houses, and when Parliament has debated and decided. That was Michael Howard in 1997.

"The question will be on the treaty, but the implications go far wider. It is time to resolve once and For all whether this country, Britain, wants to be at the centre and heart of European decision-making or not. It is time to decide whether our destiny lies as a leading partner and ally of Europe, or on its margins. Let the Euro-sceptics, whose true agenda we will expose, make their case. Let those of us who believe in Britain in Europe, not because we believe in Europe alone, hut because, above all, we believe in Britain, make ours. Let the issue be put. Let the battle be joined."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.28 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement. I offer her congratulations—this afternoon, she is repeating not just one Statement, but two. The Statement that she has just repeated is an historic announcement. First, it gives the British people what we on this side have long said is their due—the right to decide in a free vote on any new EU constitution. We welcome that. The Prime Minister was utterly wrong to resist a referendum. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, and I differ on many aspects of policy on further EU integration, but we were united on this point, as were many noble Lords behind the noble Baroness.

For us, the case that the British people should be allowed to decide was a point of principle. But this afternoon's announcement is not an announcement of principle. The hand of history holds a thousand quotes that reflect the Prime Minister's real view that a referendum need not, and should not, he held. No spin, however artful, can ever wipe them from the record. All of us in this House know the truth. If the Government could have avoided a referendum they would have. They changed their mind only because they fear a total wipe-out in the European elections in June. So, let us not dress up this decision in the clothes of idealism.

Expediency, not principle, dictated the Statement today. After all, what did the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, tell this House last September when valiantly stonewalling Peer after Peer on a referendum? She said that, a referendum might be right if we needed to consult on creating or joining a new institution, not on reform of an existing institution of which we are already a member". —[Official Report, 9/9/03; col. 276.] Why was that right then, but wrong now? What has changed? When did it change? When was the noble Baroness consulted on it?

The second historic feature of the announcement is that the Government have now accepted that the earth is not flat and that the EU constitution is not a mere tidying-up exercise. The Leader of the House put up a good fist today when repeating the Statement, but she also knows the score. On 29 March, just seven short sitting days ago, when challenged by me to trust the people in a referendum, she said that, in practice, referendums, have been held where there is a wholly new constitutional structure proposed. That is not the case in this instance, and we have made that absolutely clear time and again". The noble Baroness told the House that there was no constitutional significance and that there would he no need for a referendum and no vote for the British people. I repeat her words: we have made that absolutely clear time and again".—[Official Report, 29/3/04; col. 1053.] How difficult it must be to be a Cabinet Minister loyally following the line when one can be telephoned a few days later—perhaps even from Bermuda—and told to do the political equivalent of engaging reverse gear at 100 miles an hour.

I am sure that many in this House will share my sense of sympathy with the Leader of the House and the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernon Dean, who are left high and dry by a U-turn after doggedly defending the indefensible for so long.

Of course, the Statement did not mention a referendum by name. But will the noble Baroness answer some questions about a referendum? I am sure that the Government have thought about them. Did the noble Baroness see the frankly very surprising remarks of Mr Sam Younger who said that a referendum could not be conducted until the Electoral Commission had seen the results of regional referendums this autumn? What possible relevance do they have to a national referendum? They will be conducted by all-postal ballots, despite the clear distaste of this House for that system. Can the noble Baroness give the House a clear assurance that the traditional ballot box will be used in an EU referendum? Who will frame the question? Will there be talks between parties before any draft is put to the Electoral Commission? Can the noble Baroness confirm that any referendum legislation will provide for equality of expenditure between all those on both sides? Those are important points of principle, which the House will expect to be answered today.

Finally, I turn to the timing of the referendum. Having resisted a referendum for as long as they could, it now seems that the Government want to delay a vote for as long as possible. I disagree with the Prime Minister about the EU constitution, but I would respect him more if he took his case to the country now. His Statement ended with that fine rhetorical flourish implying that he would do just that. But, of course, that is what it amounted to— so much rhetoric. Just as the bogus attacks on the Conservative Party for wanting to come out of the European Union are just that—so much rhetoric—as my noble friend Mr Howard again made abundantly clear in another place today.

By delaying a vote, the Government risk giving the impression that they are waiting for a Denmark or a Holland to turn up with a "No" vote and spoil the EU constitutional broth. If I were one of the increasingly grey and grizzled legions of the "Yes" campaign still waiting after seven long years for the imperial nod to be signalled for the campaign to start, I should be deeply disappointed in that. To declare that one wants one thing in public and to one's European allies and to seem to be prevaricating and praying for the opposite in private risks looking weak and pleasing no one. That is why I agree with the Prime Minister in his Statement when he said: Let the issue be put. Let the battle be joined". It is not UK legislation that is the subject of this referendum, but an EU treaty that may be done and dusted in June.

I did not notice any worry about the need to have passed legislation holding up enthusiasm for referendums on Scottish or Welsh devolution. But if this is the new government doctrine, can the noble Baroness tell the House whether the Government will now be cancelling regional referendums this autumn until legislation on the assemblies is passed?

We on this side of the House are ready to agree to facilitate the speedy passage of legislation to enable a referendum to take place this autumn. With the Constitutional Reform Bill able to be carried over and the House of Lords Bill dropped, there is clearly time for new legislation to be taken. Will the noble Baroness therefore agree to call urgent talks with the usual channels to seek agreement on a programme for a referendum Bill this summer? Surely, that is a constructive offer that meets what the public want and offers a sensible way forward.

3.36 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, I, too, thank the Leader of the House for repeating a Statement made by the Prime Minister. Perhaps I may allow myself one moment of nit-picking following the rather excellent nit-picking by the Leader of the Opposition, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. On these Benches, we have one mild objection to the way in which this matter has been handled. It is unfortunate that the Sun and the Times learnt long before Parliament about the change in the Prime Minister's intention with regard to a referendum. I think that we all recognise the brilliance of his back somersault, which would be something of an honour to any circus that could possibly win his attention these days.

My first question is about the final negotiation of the constitution itself. During the next few weeks there will be a crucial final negotiation of the constitution. Can the Leader of the House tell us whether the Government will press the argument for a greater degree of subsidiarity than exists at present? In particular, therefore, will they press for a devolution of decision making to the nation states and below where there are issues that are still in balance between the European Union, the nation states and those other regional and subsidiary agencies? Can the noble Baroness confirm that the larger part of the new constitution devoted to making the enlarged Europe work is a change that would be absolutely essential if a Europe of 25 countries—which is now what we have—is to be effective? Is that one of the major purposes of the new constitution, without which it would be quite difficult to make it work by keeping Nice going for yet longer?

I congratulate the Government on finally taking a high position in the proposed campaign. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that some of us, including myself, have grown old and grizzled waiting for this to happen. It now having happened, we on these Benches hugely welcome it and congratulate the Government on finally having reached this position.

Many on these Benches feel very strongly that the remarkable political achievement of the European Union, including the United Kingdom, in bringing about an extension of democracy, an extension of recognition of the rule of law, and an extension of a willingness to settle conflicts peacefully throughout the whole of Europe—West and East—at the present time is an astonishing achievement. It is high time that this country, this Government and the governments of Europe should more widely recognise it. We are happy to take up the Prime Minister's challenge. We have been on the battlefield for a very long time. We look forward to getting the truth across and to making the central argument for a Britain that lies at the heart of a united Europe.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, for their comments. I shall have to disappoint the noble Lord. I am entirely happy with the Government's position, as I am with the statement I made some days ago. I say that because it is absolutely true. Referenda have been used for wholly new constitutional structures. That is not the case here; that has not changed. But the Government recognise that it is time to take on the myths, absurdities and misinformation about Europe. That is what we intend to do and is why we have changed our position.

We say this clearly and openly: it is not to do with the constitutional position on referenda; it is to do with the myths and absurdities about Europe. There is no problem about that. Given that he has quoted hack at me, perhaps the noble Lord would like to hear what his own leader has said about referenda: A pre-legislative referendum is designed to pre-empt parliamentary debate. It is not a new device. The device was the hallmark of continental dictatorships between the wars. European tyrants used the plebiscite to sideline their Parliaments; they used it to suppress the rights and liberties of their citizens".—[Official Report, Commons, 21/5/97; col. 736.] I repeat: those are the words of the leader of the party of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, not mine.

The noble Lord asked specifically about the timing of the referendum. I think that that was answered in the Statement. We have made it absolutely clear that, if possible, we want to see agreement on the treaty by June. Following that there will be parliamentary debate, after which it will be put to the people. The details have yet to be decided, of course, but the rules that will govern the referendum, including those on funding and campaigning were decided by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. The Electoral Commission is in charge of ensuring that the rules are upheld.

I turn to the constructive offer made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, to meet to talk through timetables. That is something that the noble Lord wants to see, but it is not necessarily sought by the whole House.

I welcome the positive comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, including those on going out and arguing the case very forcefully. In response to her point about a greater degree of subsidiarity, I have looked for the exact quotation in the White Paper but have been unable to find it. However, provisions on subsidiarity are already included in the treaty and we would want to build on those.

It is absolutely the case that the constitution will make enlargement work. We have said so time and time again. That is why we are in favour of the new structures being proposed. As regards timing, although I may repeat what has been set out in the Statement, some provisions will come into effect in 2007 and others by 2009.

I turn to the comment made by the chairman of the Electoral Commission, an issue raised, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. I believe that the chairman said that he would prefer the referendum not to coincide with a regional referendum. However, as I have said, we want in any event Parliament to be given the opportunity to scrutinise the treaty first.

I think that I have addressed all the points that were raised.

3.43 p.m.

Lord Renton

My Lords, in her original Statement the noble Baroness very properly listed those matters over which we and each of the member countries will retain sovereignty. But there are a number of other matters over which we shall either share or surrender sovereignty. Will she kindly list those?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, we have made it absolutely clear that in certain areas, including defence, social security, taxation and so forth, we have red lines. There are a number of areas— this will not change—where, as a result of successive treaties, issues are dealt with by majority vote rather than by unanimity. I am perfectly happy to write to the noble Lord about those, but the list is rather long.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that Parliament has a decisive role to play in this matter? In discharging that role, all the vital provisions of the treaty have to be considered. That is my view.

Of course, when the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, refers to "expediency", he forgets entirely that the expediency of the Conservative opposition is dictated by the thought that they can win. However, does my noble friend agree that that would not be the first time that they have been wrong?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I totally agree with my noble friend that Parliament must play a decisive role. As my noble friend says, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has talked about this matter being a point of principle for his party. I have to say that, if this is a point of principle for his party, there would have been a referendum on Maastricht.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, I first heard several days ago, at the weekend, I think, that the Prime Minister had agreed to hold a referendum on this matter. It was discussed at great length on the "Today" programme this morning and it has provided the headlines for the front pages of the newspapers.

I know that I am old fashioned, but I think it is a very grave discourtesy to Parliament when matters of this kind are leaked to the press before they are made known to both Houses of Parliament; that is to say, unless there is a grave emergency and Parliament is not in session. However, that was not necessary on this occasion.

I do not accuse the Government specifically; the previous government also made a habit of doing this. However, I do think that it is very discourteous to leak the contents of Statements before presenting them to Parliament.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I hear the comments of the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun. We have come to Parliament and made a Statement. As the noble Lady knows, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary was due to make a Statement on the White Paper on Europe. However, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made the Statement instead because of the importance that we attach not only to the White Paper, but to the decision that has been taken about a referendum. That is why we have come to Parliament today.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern

My Lords, I am grateful to the Leader of the House for repeating with such clarity the Statement in this House. I wonder whether she can tell us how it came about that the BBC, on the 10 o'clock news on Sunday night, was able to intimate that the Government had decided to hold a referendum.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord will know that the Government do not comment on leaks.

Noble Lords


Lord Mackay of Clashfern

My Lords, the question is: was it a leak?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I can only repeat what I have just said. The Government do not comment on leaks.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, the Statement concludes with the words: Let the issue be put. Let the battle be joined". I have to tell Members of the House, if they do not know already, that I have been battling for the past 40 years and I am quite happy to continue to do battle for as long as it takes to win the war.

I welcome the Statement and the fact that we are to have a referendum. However, I have to say that the simple Statement is accompanied by some tendentious argument, which I should like now to join. However, there is no time so I shall not do so.

My main question is what is meant by Parliament being able to debate the constitution in detail and being able to decide upon it. What will Parliament be able to do? Will it be able to say only yes or no to the constitution or will it be able to debate the constitution in a proper Bill which will be debatable and amendable? That point is important and absolutely crucial. If Parliament is to discuss the matter first, surely it must be able to make amendments to what is a new constitution. I would like a straight answer to what I believe is a straight question.

Does the noble Baroness agree that once we have the constitution we shall have it for ever, as it can be amended only by unanimity? The provisions of the constitution will be at the will not of our Government or of any other government in the new European Union, but of the European Court of Justice.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, has been battling on this point for a very long time. Now we all have the freedom to join in. Of course, I admire his restraint in not going into detail on the specific issues.

The debate in Parliament will be as on any other treaty. The treaty is unamendable, but the Bill will be amendable. That is what we have always done. My noble friend Lady Symons informs me that with the last treaty that we discussed through a Bill, we spent some 50 hours debating the Bill. It would be wrong to say that Parliament has in any way been short-changed in that process. The noble Lord is right to say that amendment of the constitutional treaty would be by unanimity.

Lord Blaker

My Lords, in explaining the reason why the Government have made this extraordinary change in their attitude towards a referendum, the noble Baroness referred to what I can describe only as the pathetic list of Aunt Sallys that the Statement contained in criticism of the Conservative attitude towards the European Union, none of which, in my view, has any validity. To me they all seem intended to give the impression that a Conservative government would leave the European Union. Perhaps I may remind the noble Baroness and those on the other side of the House that only one party in Parliament has ever been officially in favour of leaving the European Union and that is hers. The Prime Minister was a leading member of the party at the time.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the leader of the party opposite has made it absolutely clear that he would want to see the treaty renegotiated. That is not the position of any of the other governments in the European Union, which means that, at the end of the day, this matter is about leaving the European Union.

Lord Lang of Monkton

My Lords, given the Government's well known anxiety about fighting apathy in elections and the importance that a major step of this kind should be embarked upon only with the full-hearted consent of the British people, will the Government introduce into the referendum a minimum threshold, as they did with the 1979 referendum on Scottish devolution?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, as I said in reply to an earlier question, the details of the referendum are still to be decided.

Lord Kilclooney

My Lords, assuming the Statement means that we are to have a referendum, can the noble Baroness confirm, at least in general, that the question will specifically refer to the new constitution of the European Union and will not involve wider issues, such as membership of the European Union?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the question will be about the constitutional treaty.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I want to refer back to what I consider are the fundamental issues involved; namely, that one of the biggest developments since the last war has been the creation of the European Union. The second biggest development is the massive extension, by agreement of the present member countries, to include 10 countries of Eastern Europe. Therefore, the task of the Government should be to see that the constitution that is now being debated in Europe is a suitable constitution for that enlargement, which all parties in this country have at one time or another supported. Once that constitution is devised, it is right that Parliament should debate it and it is right that the country should decide on it.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. The issue concerns the expansion and the enlargement of the European Union. We also have to ensure that in negotiating the treaty we do what is best for Britain.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, is it true that there are two fundamental errors in the Statement. The first is the suggestion that the proposed treaty is a big advance in subsidiarity. Is it not true that the document that we had before Christmas, which was torpedoed by the Spanish and the Portuguese, allowed for only two-thirds of national governments to object to a Commission proposal? The Commission merely had to take away a proposal, look at it and if it did not want it, it could carry straight on. Secondly, and far more importantly, is the Prime Minister's red line on tax a red herring? Has the Leader of the House read your Lordships' debate on 25 February this year? Although it is clear under the official tax provisions of the treaty, particularly at Clause 93, that unanimity is required for indirect tax, the treaty is silent on direct tax, unless one looks at Clauses 43 to 44—the single market provisions of the treaty—where the Commission is already free to propose, and the court is already free to agree. Is it not clear that direct tax has already passed to Brussels?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, we have made our position clear on this matter. We have said that tax matters will continue to be decided by unanimity. Paragraph 76, on page 35, of the White Paper published in September 2003, states: Tax matters are a key component of national sovereignty and vital to the social and economic well being of the country. It is for this reason that the Government made a manifesto commitment to maintain the UK's tax veto". That is why in the IGC the Government will insist that tax matters continue to be decided by unanimity. That was our position when the White Paper was published last year and it continues to be our position.

The treaty already has major provision for subsidiarity, the mechanism allowing national parliaments to object to any Commission proposals that breach that principle. That is the first time that such a provision has been put in place.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the conflict with what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said, that there are many noble Lords in the House who are in favour of postal ballots? The evidence indicates that postal ballots will enable us to reduce the degree of apathy that has been encountered. Will the Government bear in mind that some people are in favour of postal ballots on such issues? When we come to deal with the details of the Bill, it may be possible to introduce postal ballots to extend the franchise to those who cannot get to ballot boxes.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, my noble friend makes a very good point. I shall ensure that it is taken on board when the details are being worked through.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, I am sure that the Leader of the House agrees that in all such issues the devil is in the detail. What do the Government intend to do to allow both Houses to discuss the difficult and contentious points of detail—the ones that really matter—in full debate, as we would debate a Bill? If we are simply to have a debate, which was all we succeeded in having before December—I recognise that committees in both Houses have produced many reports on the significance of the constitution—ordinary Members of both Houses will have an opportunity to discuss the details. It seems to me that if we are to go to the country saying, "Parliament takes the view"—whatever it is—and, as we know, we cannot revoke the treaty or change the detail, we need to be seen to have discussed the detail so that the public as a whole can know what is at issue.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I am not sure that I entirely follow the noble Baroness. This issue will be debated in the form of a Bill. That means that we will be able to debate each clause. I am not sure whether she clearly understood the point that I made in relation to that.

I should also say to the noble Baroness that the House has had ample opportunity to discuss European issues. We shall continue to have such opportunities. She will know that during the IGC process a special committee was established to look at this issue, which was open to any Peer or MP to attend.

Lord Lea of Crondall

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that in 1975 when a referendum was called, the Gallup polls were predicting that people would vote substantially against but by the day of the referendum they were two-thirds in favour? Is it not the case that, on balance, the process that has now been set in train contains a great educational element and that the newspapers, even if they are vitriolically against everything to do with Europe, cannot get in the way of the people understanding the real reasons why we have to go forward together to work out matters in Europe?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend: there is a need for a greater educational element and a greater degree of understanding. I am sure my noble friend noticed that when the possibility of a referendum was put to the individuals who were interviewed yesterday, many of them said that they did not understand what the issues are about. I have been pressed many times in the House—particularly by noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches—about the need for the Government to engage in a public awareness-raising campaign on these issues.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, further to the previous question and the Minister's reply, sadly, some of us have been over this course of a referendum in relation to Europe many times in the past. But, as the Government have now set their face on this course, is the Minister aware that the reason for the degree of negative public opinion about Britain in Europe is, at least, very substantially a result of the timidity of the Government in dealing with these issues? Now that they have set their course and we have immediately ahead of us elections involving Europe, can the Minister give an assurance that the Government will now pull out all the stops and unequivocally back the case for Britain being at the very heart of an expanded European Union?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, that that is entirely what the Government want to do. The robust nature of the Statement made that absolutely clear.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, can the noble Baroness explain how the Bill can be amendable if the treaty to which it refers is unamendable?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, so long as any amendments proposed to the Bill do not amend the treaty, the Bill is of course amendable.

Lord King of Bridgwater

My Lords, can the Minister answer the point raised by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde? She did not mention the word "referendum".

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am terribly sorry but we are out of time.