Wednesday, November 4, 2015


Student demonstrators today, masked marchers tomorrow (though I doubt that prediction of 1 million very much) but life goes on and the EU Referendum Bill is making its way through the House of Lords. Today is the third day of Committee and the debate is going on as I write this and it can be watched here.

Second day of Committee was on Monday and the debate can be read in Hansard here and here. So far, none of the Amendments have even gone to the vote, let alone passed. There are still two days of Report to come and then the Third Reading. So far as I can remember, Amendments can be presented at the Third Reading (unlike the Second) but it seems a little unlikely. It is possible that the Bill will be passed without any alteration, as it came from the Commons. In that case it might receive the Royal Assent before Christmas. If there are Amendments and it has to go back to the Commons then it is unlikely to be law before next year.

Either way, an April referendum, which is what some people are predicting (probably the same ones who were predicting a referendum for 2014) is unlikely and that is just as well from our point of view. I cannot understand why any Brexit supporter should be calling for an early referendum. We are not nearly ready, no matter what these people say and the opinion polls may be moving in our favour but not particularly fast and not particularly evenly. Relying on the migrant crisis is not particularly sensible as, by itself, it will not turn the electorate or not enough of it. So, let us hope that the referendum is not till 2017 and let us use the time sensibly.

Here is one suggestion: the House of Lords Select Committees produce excellent, well-argued Reports. (One of my most entertaining sessions on the BBC Russian Service was explaining that Parliamentary Reports from either House can be and often are critical of the government. I have never managed to find out how that went down in Russia.) The European Union Committee and its various Sub-Committees are well worth following. This July, the Select Committee produced a Report entitled: The referendum on UK membership of the EU: assessing the reform process. The intention is to produce a number of reports on the subject as matters progress.

At the end of the introductory chapter we find this:
6. Given the range of views within the House and across the country that will be expressed in the referendum campaign itself, this report does not recommend whether or not the UK should remain a member of the EU. Nor, although we have borne it in mind in our deliberations, do we address the European Union Referendum Bill, introduced to the House of Commons on 28 May 2015. It is not part of our remit to scrutinise domestic UK legislation.

7. Rather, this report is designed to inform members of the House, and the wider political audience in the UK and the EU as a whole, of our views and concerns at this early stage in the renegotiation process. It sets out our assessment of the mechanics of the process. It also sets out our intended approach as negotiations continue. Although Chapter 3 of the report touches on the policy issues pertaining to the renegotiation, it is not intended to express the Committee's considered view on these issues. The Select Committee, together with its six Sub-Committees, is likely to analyse the proposed reforms in greater detail in the coming months.
The emphasis is mine. Let me recommend those words "and the wider political audience". Let me also recommend this and future Reports on the subject to that audience.

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