On Tuesday I voted for the Second Reading of the European Union Referendum Bill. This Government legislation provides that a referendum will be held by the end of 2017 on whether the UK should remain a member of the EU.
The Bill sets the question: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?" So there will be a "yes campaign to stay in, and a "no" campaign to leave.
In the last Parliament, and as recently as during the election campaign, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats opposed this referendum. But they have now reversed their position, and this week their MPs voted for the Bill. Only the SNP opposed it.
The referendum to confirm Britain's membership of what was then the European Economic Community was held 40 years ago, in 1975. Anyone under the age of 58 has never voted on the issue. Yet the institution has changed dramatically since then, becoming a European Union.
We have had referendums on changing the voting system, on devolution or independence in parts of the UK, and even on very local matters such as neighbourhood plans. Yet people have been denied a direct say on the crucial matter of the EU.
The last Labour government pledged a referendum on the EU Constitution but when the Lisbon Treaty was finally signed the public was denied a say. That breach of promise severely damaged trust in politics.
But this referendum is going to take place. As a manifesto commitment the Lords cannot by convention prevent the Bill from proceeding, and the majority for it in the elected House (544 votes against 53) was huge.
Now the great debate will begin: should we stay or should we go? I will return to that issue, but in the end the people will decide.