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Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, as he has joined my noble friend Lady Elles in one of my Euro slogans, which is, "The Union has kept the peace in Europe", will either of my noble friends inform the House whether they think that war would have occurred in the communities, as they have existed since 1945, without the European Community's legislation and the Union? Do they really see it breaking out in future among those countries? I would be interested to test that Euro slogan.
Lord Bowness: My Lords, of course I do not know what would have happened if the European Union had not existed. It is a valid and important point that there is potential instability on the eastern borders of the Union. Our colleagues in the European Union would be anxious that we remained part of it, because it is the stability of the European Union that will help maintain stability on those eastern boundaries. I am sorry if my noble friend thinks that that is a slogan. Of course we all believe that those who hold a different view speak in slogans. Loss of sovereignty and Brussels cocktail parties are perhaps the slogans of my noble friend.
Lord Swinfen: My Lords, at the time of the referendum on the Common Market I was in favour of remaining in the Common Market. I am still in favour of membership of a common market. I am not, however, in favour of the United Kingdom being subsumed into the single European state, which is what the European Union is designed to become.
Whenever I talk to people in all walks of life outside this place, the vast majority tell me that they are happy with the idea of a common market but have no desire to be submerged into a single European state. The management of currency and financial affairs is part of a nation's sovereignty. However, under the European Union treaty preamble of "ever closer union", title to all national assets of the member nations will be pooled and put on the asset side of a single currency's pan-European balance sheet.
That, in my view, would include our oil and gas reserves as well as our gold and foreign currency reserves which under Protocol 3.1 (indent 3) of the Maastricht Treaty will be claimed by the European Central Bank. The United Kingdom's latest published estimates of proven and probable reserves of oil come out at 10,250 million barrels, which at a Brent crude market price of 23.09 dollars are worth 235 billion dollars. The estimate of our remaining gas reserves is 1,350 billion cubic metres, which has a market value of 192 billion dollars. Those total 427 billion dollars or £265.21 billion. At the 1996 estimates of the United Kingdom population, 58.784 million, that equates to the removal from British control of over £4.5 million of oil and gas assets for every man, woman and child in this country.
When answering the debate, can my noble friend the Minister point to any one of the 246 numbered articles, 36 lettered articles, or any of the 17 protocols or 33 declarations in the Treaty on the European Union signed at Maastricht which safeguards this nation's greatest single asset?
The constitution of this country, which on the whole works well, has come about by evolution. If the politicians would allow the original common market to evolve, we might eventually, peacefully, arrive at an acceptable United States of Europe--but it would probably take some generations. By forcing the pace--I suspect in some cases for a place in history--I fear that these impatient politicians risk instability if not revolution.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt yet again. I have to take issue with my noble friend Lord Swinfen on one matter. It is not something I like doing. He suggested that the people in this country regard their sovereignty as being stolen rather than ceded. Surely my noble friend will agree that we are paying our European competitors billions a year to take it.
Lord Swinfen: My Lords, I do not mind what word is used, but I know that the vast majority of people in this country feel that they are losing their sovereignty. Whether it is stolen or ceded matters not. It appears to be disappearing at an ever increasing rate.
Lord Monson: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, mentioned earlier today, nine days ago the noble Lord, Lord Richard--I am sorry that he is not in his place--in deriding Eurosceptics who were suggesting that there might be possible advantages in withdrawal from the EU, commented at col. 681 of the Official Report of 22nd January that,
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, also omitted to mention that Malta--to some people's surprise--recently voted out the incumbent Euro-enthusiastic government and voted in the relatively Euro-sceptic Malta Labour Party. No one who has studied consistent recent opinion polls in Scandinavia and Austria will be surprised at that. The fact is that, apart from a small, zealous, political elite and a few starry-eyed idealists, most of the ordinary people of western and southern Europe now regard the EU, as it has evolved, not with positive unbridled enthusiasm but rather as the lesser of two evils, from their various national perspectives.
The Belgians acquiesce in things they dislike about the EU because membership helps to mask the mutual hatred between Fleming and Walloon; the Luxemburgers, because it enables them to strut tall upon the European stage; the Dutch because they fear Germany; the Finns because they fear Russia, the Italians because they despise Rome; the Irish, Portuguese and Greeks because they have done extremely well economically out of the EC, funded largely by Germany with some assistance from the United Kingdom. The Greeks also acquiesce because they fear Turkey; the Spanish because they have done almost as well economically as those other three countries from subsidies and also because membership makes them feel wholly European rather than partly African: the Pyrenees are flattened, so to speak, notwithstanding that, as the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, pointed out, Spain's attitude to Gibraltar is more than a little African in character. One remembers that Nkrumah used to claim that the Canary Islands rightly belonged to Ghana.
The French acquiesce because they are Colbertians, centralists by inclination and tradition and also because they seek to play Greeks to the German Romans; and the Germans because they crave respectability after the events of the early 1940s and because they crave above all affection. Whether those German cravings will survive the submergence of their solid and stable deutschmark into a euro, gravely weakened, as the noble Lord, Lord Braybrooke, pointed out, by, for example, a French government which capitulate to every group of strikers demanding retirement on unaffordable full pensions at the age of 55, seems doubtful.
Until fairly recently, the advantages for those countries seemed more or less to outweigh the disadvantages. What are the disadvantages? Many of them have been pointed out by noble Lords this afternoon and I shall not go through them, but there are a few more: the interfering bureaucratic nature of the EC, which was so well described by Mr. Douglas Hurd as "interfering in the nooks and crannies of our everyday lives"; and what the noble friend of the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, Lord Dahrendorf, rightly castigated fully two decades ago as "obsessive harmonisation".
As has been pointed out on a number of occasions by many people, the ancient nation states of Europe have less freedom of action in many spheres than Delaware or Rhode Island. Is it not shameful that we are no longer allowed to decide on the routeing of our own new motorways or on the optimum quality of our drinking water? Is it not shameful that we are no longer allowed to measure the height of horses in hands and we are no longer allowed to export British beef to those countries that positively want to buy it? Is it not shameful that after 1999 it will become a criminal offence for a shopkeeper to sell a pound of apples or potatoes to an old lady?
The conscientious--some might say over- conscientious--Nordic states with their Lutheran or Calvinist traditions, have felt obliged to obey all these interfering directives, with the result that there now seems to be a majority there in favour of withdrawal, or at least a watering down of the treaty.
The Mediterranean countries, on the other hand, adopt a more pragmatic attitude: namely, to grab the material benefits of the EC (why, after all, look a gift horse in the mouth?), while simply disregarding those directives which happen to irritate them. Sixteen months ago to the day, as it happens, I revisited Sicily after an interval of more than a quarter of century. I was struck by the prosperity, much of it funded by EC handouts, but above all by the joie de vivre of the people. Spurning EU health fascism and political correctness, they ate and drank to their heart's content and smoked like chimneys. In total defiance of EC directives, not a single motorist wore a seat belt--least of all the police--and no more than 1 per cent. of motorcyclists wore crash helmets. It is that contemptuous--and successful, I may say--dismissal of interfering EC rules which explains why there is so little vigorous opposition to the bossy and objectionable aspects of the EU in the Mediterranean countries. Since they have no intention of bowing to those rules, they rightly figure that there is no point in wasting time opposing them.
The British Government thought they would cleverly remedy that and spread the pain more evenly by pressing, during the negotiations over the Maastricht Treaty, for fines to be levied on disobedient nations,
No, to counter apathy in the face of centralising zeal--apathy on the part of those countries whose inhabitants have no present intention of obeying tiresome laws and directives--a stimulus is needed in the form of this Bill or something very like it. The reason is that once Britain leads the way, the disillusioned Scandinavians are likely to follow and the worm may even turn in Germany at long last. Once the recipient countries see the prospect of subsidies from the donor countries drying up, their complacent apathy will evaporate overnight and pressure for looser arrangements--for example, the repeal of the acquis communautaire--and rules to ensure that the EU's competence is rigidly confined to matters of genuine cross-border significance as opposed to bogus cross-border significance will become, one trusts, almost universal.
That is only partly a matter of being hard headed and financially prudent. The noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, who I am sorry to see is not in his place, constantly maintains, unlike my noble friend Lord Moran, that the Treaty of Rome has nothing to do with an ever closer union between states but extols an ever closer union between the peoples of Europe. If he is right, that can only mean one thing: friendship and voluntary co-operation--compulsory co-operation is worth nothing. Indeed, one could say that an ever closer union between states is totally incompatible with an ever closer union between peoples. The latter has to be gradual, voluntary (once again) and unforced. After all, a good neighbour is one who is always friendly and lends help when assistance is needed but otherwise does not pry or interfere. A bad neighbour--the neighbour from hell--is one who barges his way into your house at any time of day or night and starts trying to bully you into altering the furnishings and decorations or prevent you from building an extra room onto the back, forces you to give up certain foods and drinks and orders you to put a fireguard around your fire.
This Bill, albeit indirectly, would reduce the ability of bad neighbours to interfere and would indeed reduce the number of potential bad neighbours, so to speak. Acceptance of the Bill, paradoxical though it may seem to the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, and his friends, would be a step towards fostering good neighbourliness within Europe.
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