some default text...

Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, that is for the Prime Minister to say. My view of a European superstate is well-known, and my position on it is expressed very well in the amendment that is before the House and to which I am now speaking. I believe that a European superstate would undermine our nationality and our self-government. That is why I am against it. The Prime Minister must speak for himself. I hope that his views are in line with mine, as they appeared to be when he wrote that article on 17th March 1997. It is clear; and if my noble friend believes that I am not telling the truth, I will send him a copy of the article.

I am not at all sure that by signing the Amsterdam Treaty my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has kept the pledge about stopping all Europe moving

12 May 1998 : Column 949

towards a federal Euro-state. There are clauses which he ought to re-examine, after which he might agree that they allow other countries to go ahead towards federalism, although perhaps he does not wish to do so himself.

Nevertheless, the strong message from the Prime Minister to the electorate on 17th March 1997 was that Labour believed in Britain. So do I and so, I hope, do all other noble Lords in the House. There is no better way of confirming that policy and Mr. Blair's mantle of British patriotism than by accepting my amendment. It puts on record the final safeguard of Britain's constitution and its continuation as a marvellous country with a great history and an able and tolerant people who want nothing better than to govern themselves through their elected Parliament and Government. I beg to move.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I rise to speak in favour of the amendment to which I have put my name and which was so magnificently moved by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. The stark fact is that this proposed declaration--

    "Nothing in this Act affects the sovereignty of Parliament or the constitutional principle that one Parliament cannot bind its successor"--

can only be true if one adds the words, "provided that Parliament retains the power to take the United Kingdom out of the Treaty of Rome". If that proviso does not apply, then the sovereignty of Parliament and the ancient principle that one Parliament cannot bind its successors have already been ceded to the treaty and there would be no point in the amendment.

That cession is not just inherent in this Bill which incorporates the amendments agreed at Amsterdam; it is also contained in the amendments agreed at Maastricht; in the Single European Act; and in the original Treaty of Rome itself.

The treaty uses three deadly weapons to remove national sovereignty in perpetuity. They are the qualified majority vote, the acquis communautaire and the fact that the treaty does not contain an exit clause. The treaty also contains a worthless pretence at safeguarding national independence, which is known as "subsidiarity". It is worthless because in areas covered by the treaty the Community decides the matters in which the nation states may remain independent. It also decides the matters in which they are to be subservient to the Community, as we saw in our debates at the Committee stage on 28th April (Hansard, cols. 170 to 191). We shall be returning to subsidiarity later in the Report stage and so I will not repeat any of the arguments now. Suffice it to say that the Amsterdam Treaty amendments on subsidiarity merely clarify and underline the supremacy of the Community over the nation state. So that is one area in the Bill which confirms that the sovereignty of Parliament has already passed to the treaty for as long as we remain a signatory.

Bereft thus of any protection from subsidiarity, we should look briefly at the treaty's three deadly weapons which are designed eventually to remove national sovereignty. The first is its system of qualified majority voting. As I never tire of reminding your Lordships, there are 87 such votes among the 15 member nations;

12 May 1998 : Column 950

62 votes are required to carry a motion and 26 votes are required to block one. The United Kingdom has only 10 votes. So clearly we can be, and indeed often are, outvoted on matters which, were it not for our adherence to the Treaty of Rome, would have remained under the sole authority of this Parliament.

The villain of the qualified majority voting piece has turned out to be the Single European Act of 1985 which brought in a substantial increase in QMV by subjecting all our industry and commerce to its control. I understand that the United Kingdom in good faith promoted that expansion of QMV in order to facilitate the single market. The trouble is that it has backfired on us because we can be outvoted on the vast quantity of harmonising single market legislation which often penalises our global trade.

Recent examples of this would be the proposed EC Chocolate Directive, which your Lordships debated on 30th April, or the EC's proposed tax increases on our international art market which your Lordships debated on 10th December last year. Many other British interests have been similarly affected, including the workings of the common agricultural and common fisheries policies. There are at least a dozen other industries which I could name to your Lordships, but I have done so before and will not weary the House with examples now.

Looking back on it, more areas which were previously under national control were ceded to QMV by the amendments agreed at Maastricht. Now, the Amsterdam Treaty proposes to claim another 34 areas. So qualified majority voting is alive and well and expanding aggressively as time goes on.

The second deadly weapon is the acquis communautaire which decrees that whenever an area passes from national control to Community control, it can never again be given back to the nation states. The Community may keep still for a moment or two, but it never retreats. The Treaty of Rome is therefore a one-way ticket to

    "the ever closer union of the peoples of Europe"

which is required in Article A.

There was a moment when my right honourable friend Mr. John Major, when he was Prime Minister, thought that some 25 per cent. of all EU legislation could be repealed as a result of the subsidiarity clause which the UK had caused to be inserted in the treaty at Maastricht. But in fact, not one single piece of useless bureaucratic interference has been so repealed, let alone anything more useful. So, that is the acquis communautaire in action and this weapon is also confirmed and strengthened in the Amsterdam Treaty which we are now considering.

The last weapon is complementary to the acquis and it is the remarkable fact that the Treaty of Rome does not contain an exit clause. So if we want to leave it, we have to break it, unless all the other nations are prepared to sit down and renegotiate a new treaty which we find acceptable. The chances of that happening are so remote as to be unreal, unless, of course, they were all convinced that we really were prepared to leave if they did not give us what we wanted.

12 May 1998 : Column 951

I never cease to be amazed at how many people in this country regard the prospect of leaving the European Union as something negative or even frightening. They do not seem to appreciate that we give the EU much more than we get out of it, and so we could easily negotiate a bilateral trade agreement, as Switzerland has done. Indeed, we could negotiate a more favourable one than Switzerland has done.

We would then be free to follow our global trading interests comparatively unencumbered by the EU's stifling red tape and harmonisation. If we wanted to join another trading bloc, the Northern American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) makes a far better fit with our economy than does the European Community. Indeed, I was encouraged to see that Mr. Henry Kissinger last week floated the idea that NAFTA might be renamed the North Atlantic Free Trade Area, to include perhaps ourselves and maybe others.

Of course, like all other free trade areas in the world, it would not need a parliament or a commission or a council of ministers or a court of justice. That is because its aim would not be to create a corporatist superstate, designed to devour the sovereignty and independence of the nations which took part in it.

So it seems to me that the Minister who is to respond to this debate may be in a bit of a fix. Presumably she will not want to refuse to accept the amendment on the grounds that the Bill does affect the sovereignty of Parliament or the principle that one parliament cannot bind its successors. If so, I really hope that she will agree that the sovereignty we have already handed over could indeed be retrieved by a successor parliament, but only through substantial renegotiation of the Treaty of Rome or more likely by withdrawing from it altogether.

If the Minister comes to what I regard as that inescapable conclusion, I hope that she will not regard it as too terrifying or misguided an option. It is not. It is a perfectly simple policy option, like any other, which should be decided in the interests of the British people and not in the interests of the overweening political and bureaucratic machine in Whitehall and in Brussels which has come to so dominate and impoverish our lives.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, I rise to support the amendment standing in the name of my noble friend and others. Political developments since we joined the then Common Market in 1972 have proceeded quickly, though in a series of small steps. So much so that perhaps it is necessary from time to time to go back to the beginning and find out just how much the situation in which we now find ourselves developed from the situation in which we were in 1972.

In common with your Lordships, I found some difficulty in going through the detailed provisions of the Treaty of Amsterdam as they affect the Treaty of Maastricht as amending the Treaty of Rome as amended by the Single European Act and so forth. To trace one's way through the intricate web of treaty legislation in which we have participated since that time is a

12 May 1998 : Column 952

considerable task. There is always a tendency barely to notice some of the smaller changes at the time they take place. It is only when one looks at the cumulative effect of those changes over a number of years that one begins to reflect on the enormity of what happened.

That was particularly brought home to me by paragraph 8 of the earlier substantive amendments to the European Union as set out in the Treaty of Amsterdam. I draw your Lordships' attention to that because it is unique. It says that paragraph 1 shall be replaced by the following:

    "paragraph 1 [Article F in the old treaty] shall be replaced by the following: The Union is founded on the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law, principles which are common to the Member States".

It goes on to say that paragraph 3 shall become paragraph 4 and the new paragraph 3 shall be inserted as follows:

    "The Union shall respect the national identities of its Member States".

I do not know whether or not your Lordships realise it, but that is the first time that the word "democracy" appeared in any of the treaties. It is useful to reflect that those who participated in the inter-governmental conference which led up to Amsterdam and the actual process of concluding the Treaty of Amsterdam should suddenly have realised that democracy is important.

Democracy is difficult to define. I suppose it can be said that we know when we have not got it, and we in this country, fortunately, have experienced a fairly advanced degree of democracy. We are accustomed--though not so much now as 20 years ago--to the power of Parliament. Such great leaders as the late Winston Churchill always profoundly respected the power of Parliament. Over the years I have found--others may yet have to tread, at any rate in length, the path that I have trodden--that the biggest menace to democracy is a power-seeking bureaucracy.

If we are going to follow the strict words in the treaty and uphold the principles of democracy and rule of law, one of the things we may have to decide, both domestically and in Europe, (though opinion may be divided as to whether it is necessary at all because it is so respectable to follow bureaucracy) is the deliberations and actions of the distinguished body of men and women who comprise the bureaucrats--they are enormously valuable and indispensable to the operation of modern society and indeed the enactment and enforcement of laws--and to what extent we can and should begin to limit the power of bureaucracy to dominate our lives.

At this stage of the debate, I do not wish to enter too intrusively or too embarrassingly into the events that attended the appointment of the chief of the European Central Bank, Mr. Duisenberg. That may be a little too embarrassing at the present stage. I should like the Government to accustom themselves to what happened before they embark on a definitive reply. But that is just one example.

The European Commission, right from the beginning, sought to take unto itself the greatest possible amount of power, not necessarily and exclusively for the

12 May 1998 : Column 953

carrying out of immediate tasks as it saw them, but for the purpose of increasing its own power and encroaching ever further upon the powers residing in member states.

With the permission of the House, I am constrained to give some examples of the steps we shall have to take if we are to follow the new provisions relating to democracy in Europe. They will be large in number and will take a number of years and several governments to accomplish. That is the fundamental reason why we insist on the confirmation of the edict that no government can bind their successors in what they do. Undoubtedly, over the next four or five years progressively, amendments will have to be made to the treaty and they will certainly lap over into the next Parliament after this. That is why we need a re-affirmation of the present constitutional position, as I understand it and as legally advised, that at present no parliament can bind its successors.

At the moment there are a whole series of fields which are not subject to any democratic control. I hasten to add that I shall quite understand those Members of your Lordships' House who would prefer things to be solved not democratically but by so-called and self-styled experts. I can understand that and I will make allowances for it. But talking, as I believe I may be, on behalf of large sections of the population not confined to the profession of banking, not confined to providing financial services, which of course are now called products, I think we are going to have to insist that the present series of bodies which are self-appointed should be subject to democratic control. By that I mean political control or governmental control and accountability.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page