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Friday, April 18, 2014

Lord Blake on the need for a referendum

My Lords, I wish to make one point and one point only: the debate is about the constitutional effects of ratifying the Maastricht Treaty. I strongly believe that whatever those effects may be they should not occur without the endorsement of a referendum. I happen to have the honour of being president of the Campaign for a British Referendum, or CBR in the acronymic world in which we now dwell. This is not an organisation which is either anti- or pro-Maastricht. No doubt some members have strong views one way or the other, but they are united by the view that whether one is for the treaty or against it the issue is of such constitutional importance that it ought to be submitted direct to the popular vote.
 
The referendum is not, as some claim, un-English and unprecedented. Mr. Harold Wilson, as he then was, promised in 1974 a referendum on the renegotiated terms of Britain remaining in the EC. That was duly held in 1975, very much on a cross-party basis. Referendums have been held on other matters, as noble Lords have said.

We shall no doubt be told that there is no need for a referendum because all three parties supported Maastricht at the general election in April last year. But that, of course, is precisely why we should have one. The issue was never properly discussed. In any case, elections turn on a host of other matters such as Mr. Major's soap-box or the war of "Jennifer's ear". One can never, or hardly ever, have a single issue election. Nor, in general, would one wish to have such an election. However, there are single issues of such importance that they deserve to be put not only to Parliament, which is elected on a multitude of issues, but to the people as a whole. That particularly applies to major constitutional changes which are in effect irreversible. I am not saying that irreversible changes should never be made. I am simply saying that they should not be made without the express agreement of the nation.

We shall no doubt be told that the issues are too complicated and difficult to be put to the public and that they will not be able to understand what it is all about. If a referendum on Maastricht can be held in Eire, Denmark and France without any complaints that it was too obscurely worded or that people did not know what they were voting for, surely it cannot be beyond the wit of a British Government to achieve the same.

During the discussion about the Statement on Maastricht on Monday in your Lordships' House it is recorded at col. 928 of Hansard that my noble friends Lord Harmar-Nicholls and Lady Chalker both said it would be desirable for noble Lords to be adult and sensible in considering this matter. Ought not the Government to recognise that the British public by and large are adult and sensible and are perfectly capable of making up their own minds in a coherent fashion on the subject of Maastricht?

House of Lords, 17 February 1993

http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/lords/1993/feb/17/maastricht-treaty#S5LV0542P0_19930217_HOL_201

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