UK & World News

  • 31 January 2014, 23:17

EU In-Out Referendum Bill Killed Off By Peers

Tory plans to pass a law providing for a 2017 referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union have been killed off in the House of Lords.

After two significant defeats inflicted by Labour, Lib Dem and crossbench peers in the Lords, peers voted by 180 to 130, a majority of 50, to end the debate of the EU (Referendum) Bill at committee stage in the Lords.

That means there is now not enough time for the Bill to get through all its stages in the Lords and the Commons in time to become law and so it has died a death.

But the Prime Minister said he wanted to see a new bill introduced in the next session of parliament.

And he would, if necessary, use the Parliament Act - which limits the power of the Lords to block legislation - to ensure it gets on the statute book before the next General Election.

David Cameron said the defeat in the Lords was "disappointing" but he was determined not to give up on the legislation.

"After all, we succeeded in passing it through the House of Commons - a huge achievement," he said.

Tory James Wharton, the backbench MP (Stockton South) who brought forward the legislation as a Private Member's Bill, blamed Labour and Liberal Democrat peers as well.

Mr Wharton said: "Labour and the Lib Dems have conspired in the House of Lords to kill this important piece of legislation, doing the bidding of their political masters in the Commons.

"It's now clearer than it has ever been that it's only the Conservatives who will give people a choice on this important issue.

"I think many people will be disappointed by what has happened today."

The Tory chief whip in the Lords, Baroness Anelay, blamed Labour.

"Labour killed the Bill," she said.

"It's proved by the fact that is what their chief whip (Lord Bassam of Brighton) and deputy chief whip (Lord Tunnicliffe) who were the tellers on the motion (to end proceedings). I am disappointed."

Earlier, peers made further changes to the Bill when they voted through changes which would force the Government to provide a full assessment before any proposed referendum in 2017 of what Britain's relationship with Europe would look like if the country withdrew from the EU.

It was a further setback and comes after the Lords last week voted to change the wording of the question that would be put to voters.

This vote, after more than an hour of debate in the Bill's committee stage, was on an amendment brought forward by crossbench peer and former Cabinet Secretary Lord Turnbull to compel the government of the day to lay down before the electorate what it thinks will happen in the event of withdrawal from the EU.

Before the Bill fell in the Lords, speaking at a news conference with French President Francois Hollande, Mr Cameron said "whether the bill succeeds or fails" it made "no difference to the pledge I am making on this in-out referendum".

But Labour peer Lord Anderson of Swansea, who opposed the bill, said Mr Cameron's gamble in promising an in-out referendum would not pay off because Eurosceptic Conservative MPs would always want more.

"And they will ask for more rather like the penguins in the penguin house, they will swallow it down and demand more," said the peer.

"The trouble is that this government may be inclined to give it to them."

He accused Mr Cameron of being in "office but not in power" and losing authority and influence with the UK's EU "allies".

He accused the Prime Minister of "insulting" Mr Hollande "by saying in effect that the French economy, which is probably true, is substantially worse than our own, but it's not a way of influencing people and making friends."

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