Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I actually said that I was dissatisfied with that.

Lord McNally: My Lords, if the noble Baroness is dissatisfied, she has got to will the ends as well as the means. The fact is that Yugoslavia is not just a problem on our doorstep but literally in our backyard, and over that problem Europe proved itself incapable, either individually or collectively, to respond to the threat. If one is raising hobgoblins about a united foreign policy and a united defence force, one has to say what the alternatives are. The alternative, quite

17 Mar 2000 : Column 1838

frankly, is to close our eyes and pray that the Americans will come and bail us out. I do not think that is a strategy for Europe in the 21st century.

I remain optimistic--the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, talked about optimists--and I think that Europeans are optimists. The noble Lord, Lord Shore, mentioned Jean Monnet. I had the honour of working with Jean Monnet 25 years ago. In his memoirs he wrote:

    "It is impossible to foresee today the decisions that could be taken in a new context tomorrow. The essential thing is to hold fast to the few fixed principles that have guided us since the beginning, gradually to create among Europeans the broadest common interest served by common democratic institutions to which the necessary sovereignty has been delegated".

Note the key words: "common interest", "democratic institutions" and "necessary sovereignty". Those who raise false fears of a bureaucratic superstate miss the intent of the Monnet dream, for he went on to write:

    "Like our provinces in the past, our nations today must learn to live together under common rules and institutions freely arrived at".

I believe that in the last half of the last century we in western Europe settled the great issues of our time by speeches and majority resolutions, not by blood and iron. In so doing we set an example to the world of how we can become good neighbours to each other in meeting shared challenges. Just as important, that co-operation has enabled us to extend our democratic institutions to other parts of Europe. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Monson, that I was in the Foreign Office in the mid-70s when Spain, Portugal and Greece returned to democracy. I tell him quite frankly--and the papers, when they are published, will show this--that it was the offer of membership of the EU that made the ruling elites in those countries put aside any thought that there could be a possibility of return to authoritarianism. At key points during the Portuguese and Spanish return to democracy, when democracy wobbled, it was the European Union which went in strong and firm and delivered democracy in Iberia. I believe that we have that opportunity--

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He has been expatiating on the virtues of democracy. Do we take it that it is his view that the European Commission is a democratic organisation, or a democratic institution?

Lord McNally: My Lords, rather like this place, it draws its strength from the will of democratic institutions, but, believe me, if anyone wants to join these Benches in making good the democratic deficit in Europe, they will find strong supporters here concerning the accountability and openness of the European Commission. As I said before, reformers will find strong support; destroyers will be opposed from these Benches. That is the difference. We are not afraid to say where the European Union has weaknesses and we want to see those reformed.

However, just as in Iberia, and as I think we can do in eastern Europe and in connection with our other backyard problem, the Mediterranean, the Europe

17 Mar 2000 : Column 1839

that we are building can be an influence for peace, prosperity and good. My noble friend put it correctly. The policy that the other side has been putting today is not a case of, "Out of Europe to the open sea" but "Stop the world, we want to get off".

I am sorry that we shall not, by convention, have an opportunity to vote on this Bill today because I would have opposed it. However, I think that soon, as was indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Shore, we need to have a proper debate in this country. The truth is that since 1975, when the country decisively voted for Europe, things have changed--

A noble Lord: My Lords, it was for a common market.

Lord McNally: My Lords, Germany has reunited; the Soviet Empire has disintegrated; the world of globalisation and advanced technology has moved us into new challenges. All that convinces me that we need Europe more now than we did 25 years ago and, what is more, Europe needs us.

1.17 p.m.

Lord Boardman: My Lords, first perhaps I may pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch for introducing this Bill. It is quite right that we should be debating these subjects in this House at this time. The definition of democracy put forward by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, I found difficult to follow. I shall read his speech to see what he actually said, but it struck me as a strange definition of democracy, coming from those Benches.

On the Bill itself, it is not a question of whether we should stay in or get out. Of course that is an important decision we shall have to make, but it is really asking the question: what are the implications of pulling out? The Bill proposes the setting up of an inquiry into what would be the consequences if we pulled out. I am somewhat surprised that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said that if the Bill was voted upon he would oppose it. I would have hoped that those Benches would have wished as much as the rest of the House to know the facts before we make a decision as to what we are to do.

The Bill is concerned with the implications if we should withdraw; for our economy, for our defence and for the constitution of the United Kingdom. Some suggest that those consequences might be severe; others that the consequences would be beneficial. I think it is important that we should try to get a balanced view of those alternatives before the electorate have to make an informed choice. There is far too much speculation--indeed we have heard some of it already today--as to what the consequences would be. Let us have a proper forum and an inquiry. If we should decide to commit ourselves further and irrevocably to Europe there is no exit. A decision to go further than we have already done or to withdraw is an important matter on which we should get all the information we can.

17 Mar 2000 : Column 1840

No one would want to make blind such a vital choice to stay in or pull out, although, apparently, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, does not want to have this type of inquiry. I feel convinced that those who oppose the Bill would nevertheless wish to know what possible impact there would be on our economy, our national security and our constitution should we adopt the very real alternative of withdrawing altogether from Europe. That is what the Bill proposes.

It may be felt--indeed, it has been suggested already--that the committee referred to in the Bill might be rather antagonistic, with three from one side, three from another and the hope that it would come to a unanimous view. The Committee stage of the Bill may be an opportunity to present something rather more realistic and to make sure that we get it right.

The statements that are being made from the Government Benches in support of the euro are extremely misleading. For example, in a debate on agriculture the other day the Minister replying said that the agri-monetary compensation could be 50 per cent and that in another case it would be 29 per cent--with 71 per cent from us. She then concluded that, nevertheless, the agri-monetary compensation would amount to 85 per cent from us and 15 per cent from Europe. I tried various sources to get some lead on these figures but have been unable to do so. With the misleading information that is put around, I do wonder how any poor farmer should be required to cast his vote. He no doubt suspects, not unnaturally, that he will get nothing in any case and that the money will go to the French; and the French will have the benefit of keeping out his beef. But those are irrelevances to this Bill.

I want to ensure that we make decisions on Europe in the light of information. Do not let people go round kidding us, one day saying that we are lucky in the case of the farmers as 50 per cent of their compensation comes from Europe, and the next moment saying, "We are sorry. We were wrong about that. Only 15 per cent comes from Europe". It would also be nice if Ministers referring to farmers and their compensation would bring in the fact that we could have £166 million of agri-compensation without any matching grant being required. But that plus has not been mentioned. It is important that the committee set up under the Bill should inquire into such matters so that we can have presented to the House and to the public--the electorate in particular--what the consequences would be of a withdrawal from Europe.

In 1970, in the other place, I voted to join the Common Market, as it was then called. I relied on assurances then given that it would not lead us into a federal Europe, that it would not be any form of superstate, that we would not give up the setting of our own rates of taxation and that we would not have to accept other people's laws in preference to our own. Had an independent inquiry of the kind that is proposed in the Bill been launched at that time, it might have produced quite different projections. If the inquiry had then projected many of the features that

17 Mar 2000 : Column 1841

are today exposed, some of us might have taken a different view on voting to join the common market, as it was then called.

My personal and no doubt ill-informed view is that the implications of withdrawal are somewhat frightening. Equally so--certainly no less so--are the implications of becoming part of a federal Europe, with its currency, its laws and with a whole mixture of universal taxation affecting us. Those are the threats which stand. The Bill is aimed at the consequences of withdrawal. We can then look at what the consequences would be compared with getting into Europe on a more central basis.

I want the consequences to be carefully examined. That is what the Bill is designed to do. I am sure my noble friend Lord Pearson would accept that improvements could be made to it in Committee. But to proceed, as eventually we must, to decide our fate in Europe without a preliminary impartial assessment of what is involved would be a highly irresponsible act. Whatever view we have about the decision we will have to take, let us not be in the position in the years ahead of having to say, "If only I had known". The Bill is designed to ensure that the facts can be known. I support it.

1.25 p.m.

Lord Hooson: My Lords, in the second half of the 20th century the concept of sovereignty needed more adjustment and amendment than at any other time in history. We are now in the next century--the next millennium--and Europe is more settled, more prosperous and more secure than at any other time in the past two centuries. We have to consider how we arrived at this state.

When there is reference to the global society--there has been much reference to it today--we have to acknowledge that institutions have grown up; for example, the great international companies. They have more influence and more political power than many states. The only way in which politicians--democratically elected politicians--can begin to control, modify or influence the great power of these capitalist institutions is by building themselves a very much larger edifice. We have to think of sovereignty by sphere. We needed a secure umbrella above us, so we had NATO and the Atlantic alliance. President Kennedy often referred to the two pillars of NATO. We should face the fact that the north American pillar has been there, but we have failed so far to build an effective European pillar. That is a bad thing for America, a bad thing for us, a bad thing for Europe, and a bad thing for the world.

We have needed an economic umbrella. We talk about a free trade area in Europe. That has been tried. What was EFTA but a hopeless attempt to have a free trade area? It was different. When people talk of leaving the European Community and perhaps having a free trade arrangement in Europe, they do not pay attention to what the other partners in Europe would think of that. It is obvious that they would not accept it. Therefore, if we left the European Community the

17 Mar 2000 : Column 1842

only alternative--we have to consider alternatives--would be to try to become the 51st state of the United States of America.

The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, made a good deal of reference to the funds that have been available for the "yes" campaign. Has he considered the enormous power of the funds of Sir Conrad Black and Mr Murdoch in their control of much of the British media? The whole of the influence of their newspapers has been anti-European. Conrad Black has made no bones about it. He has extolled the virtues of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Although I do not think that he has suggested it for Canada, he has at least implied that Britain could become the 51st state.

Let us examine how we have arrived at this debate today. The mistakes of timing, and therefore of opportunity, made by the United Kingdom in relation to the development of the European Community have cost this country dearly. The presentation of what I regard as a ludicrous Bill at this time merely serves to remind us that the craven spirit that has cost the UK its position at the heart of Europe is still very much alive--and wrongly. The way to minimise our influence within Europe, and indeed in the world, which increasingly affects and determines our security, prosperity and the safe survival of future generations in this country, is to follow the spirit of Euro-scepticism as exemplified, I am sorry to say, in the spirit of the speech of the noble Lord who introduced the Bill. He has always been quite open about his views and I respect them, as he will respect mine. We have had these exchanges before.

The common agricultural policy has been mentioned a great deal. It is very much in need of reform, as we on these Benches have always maintained. But why did we exclude ourselves from Europe when the common agricultural policy was being formed? It was a self-exclusion. We could have been there, yet we chose not to be. The policy was formulated and adopted, and part of its purpose, as mentioned by one speaker, was probably to prevent the movement of population from rural to urban areas. The threat certainly existed that France, Italy and other parts of Europe could have gone communist had it not been for the effect of the common agricultural policy. We chose not to be there.

Let us put the matter into perspective as it affects our country today. The recent survey by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research indicates that 143,000 agricultural jobs in the UK are attributable to exports to the European Union. It receives 64 per cent of the United Kingdom's food exports. For example, Spain imports more British food than does the United States of America. Many years before the BSE crisis, the United States banned British beef; and it still does so. One would have thought that there is so much advocacy, as it were, of our relationship with America that the Euro-sceptics should be concerned not so much about our being able to argue our position in Europe as about arguing our position with the United States, and Australia. Eighty-nine other countries in the world have banned British

17 Mar 2000 : Column 1843

beef. We had no influence over them; but we have great influence over the countries within the common market.

Incidentally, the European Union has provided 70 per cent of the compensation costs of slaughtering older cattle to take that beef out of the food chain to help what was really a national problem for this country. It was not a European problem as such; it was a British problem. The compensation that had to be paid for the slaughter of those older beef cattle was an enormous sum--and the EU provided 70 per cent.

I have a total revulsion against the idea of returning to the age of total national economic independence. I remind the House of the period in the 1920s and 1930s when parts of the landscape of England and Wales resembled a dust bowl. As a student in my teens, I went to the Henry Ford agricultural institute in Essex. The story of the Henry Ford estate is interesting. Henry Ford, the great manufacturer, was passing through Essex on a train on his way to Harwich when he saw what reminded him of the Dust Bowl of the central United States. When he returned, he decided to buy an estate there. He later purchased an estate for which I am told he paid on average £18 an acre. He invested capital and eventually, because it was not possible to grow corn effectively on the estate, brought in smallholders from Worcestershire who transformed the situation with the help of the Henry Ford capital. It became an enormously successful co-operative business. The point I want to make is that in those days, when there was no protection for agriculture, much of Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland were effectively agricultural deserts, with the various environmental effects that stemmed from that.

To leave the European Union now would be a disaster for the rural areas of Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland. It would be equally disastrous for the industrial areas. Perhaps I may take my own country, Wales, as an example. I have the statistics for Wales, but the same must be true of much of the remainder of the United Kingdom. Thirty per cent of jobs in Wales are linked directly or indirectly with our 14 European partners. The South Bank University's European Institute estimated in its recent report, published only last month, that if the United Kingdom were to leave the European Union, 155,246 jobs would face the axe in Wales out of a total of 3 million for the United Kingdom as a whole. The estimates are based on each parliamentary constituency affected. The figures indicate that industrial areas, as well as rural areas, would be greatly affected.

I have visited the Republic of Ireland several times over the past year or two and have been amazed at the transformation in the Irish economy. It has benefited enormously in the same way as other depressed areas in the European Union have been greatly improved by wealthier countries, particularly Germany and this country. We have been subsidising developments in the poorer parts of Europe.

17 Mar 2000 : Column 1844

I have been tremendously impressed by the amount of inward investment coming to Ireland, not from within Europe but from outside. It is the European Community that has brought the Irish Republic to the state where it has become an attractive proposition. It is interesting to talk to some of those who have moved to the Irish Republic from the United States, the Far East and so on, and find out their reasoning for going to the Republic; namely, that Ireland is an English-speaking country. Let us not forget that one of the great benefits for our country within Europe is that the English language is the commercial language of Europe. A form of English is becoming the commercial global language. That is an enormous help. Those from the United States and the Far East who want to settle in Europe or have their headquarters there are very attracted by the Republic of Ireland as an alternative to the UK. It has become an even more attractive alternative to them because the Republic of Ireland is within the euro and we are outside it. In the next two or three years we may see an acceleration of inward investment from outside the European Union. Companies which want to operate within the EU have their headquarters in the Republic of Ireland.

Whatever our problems with the EU--there is scope for reforming it--this country in particular has a great gift for organising government and democracy, and it has a good deal to contribute. We should not think simply of what we can get out of Europe--we have already had a great deal out of it--but what we can give to it. We have the opportunity to provide leadership in Europe. It is no use thinking that we shall lead Europe; we must co-operate with others in doing this. We could have a much more positive policy towards the European Union. That is why the younger generation needs the leadership that has been so lacking in the present Government as well as their predecessors.

1.41 p.m.

Lord Vivian: My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Pearson for introducing this Bill today. From the outset, I feel strongly that the general public should be made aware of the implications if this country withdrew from the European Union and did not accept the euro. Likewise, the people of this country should be made aware of the serious consequences which would result from remaining within the European Union. The public have not been informed about the steps that the Government are taking, and that is unacceptable. Surely it is the responsibility of Parliament to ensure that everyone is given the opportunity to be reliably informed about the implications if we were to withdraw from the EU. The proposed committee of inquiry would achieve those aims and if it was not established the Government's policy of open government should be critically examined.

Generally speaking, it can be argued that the EU is not a democratic union as enormous power is concentrated in three unelected bureaucracies: the European Commission, the Court of Justice and now

17 Mar 2000 : Column 1845

the Central European Bank. Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that the European Parliament has little power to bring these bureaucracies to account due to the statutes on which they were founded, even though there has been fraud amounting to some £6 billion. This begs the question: does the UK really wish to continue to be involved in such an inefficient and fraudulent organisation? We should examine the option of withdrawal from the European Union. If we did not join EMU and abolish the pound we would be able to run our own affairs and would no longer be dictated to by Brussels.

Some of your Lordships today have focused on the fact that the introduction of the euro would not be harmful to the UK and that we would be better off if we were part of the single currency. I do not agree with this. I believe that it would lead to dire consequences for our constitution, national security and the economy. There is little doubt that if we were to join the single currency our economy and our country would suffer as we would lose our sovereignty, flexibility and ability to be able to make our own decisions and impose our own regulations on our economy. The implications of not joining the EMU would probably be our withdrawal from the European Union, thereby retaining our own independence.

It is a frightening thought to reflect that the Government seem intent on the destruction of our constitution, which has provided some 600 years of well-being for our nation. All these matters are of grave concern and do not bode well for the UK. I ask noble Lords not to be under any misapprehension that monetary union establishes political integration and that the creation of a common currency is a means to a political end. This political agenda is openly agreed and admitted by Ministers in Europe and by the President of the ECB. We would cede control over interest rates and the economy to institutions which are not transparent and over which we would have little influence. Too much has been ceded to Brussels. With the loss of our currency, our economy and freedom of action would be deeply compromised. Such a transfer would be permanent and irrevocable.

To join the single currency would involve a common EU tax policy. It would prejudice our competitive position and impinge on our sovereignty. If we join the euro and abolish the pound we shall lose our sovereignty and be powerless to stand up to Brussels. No longer will our own legal and parliamentary systems be in place to protect our freedom. It would be harmful and not in the best interests of the British people and the economy to join such a single currency. The ECB will set the interest rates for all countries in the EU and will bring about tax harmonisation, almost certainly at higher rates than exist in the UK today. Currently, we have the lowest income tax and corporation tax and no VAT is paid on food, children's clothing, newspapers, books, travel and new houses.

The United Kingdom should remain outside the single currency. After all, we are a global trader and have the fourth largest economy in the world after the US, Japan and Germany. We retain a seat on the UN

17 Mar 2000 : Column 1846

Security Council; we are head of the Commonwealth; and our language is spoken by 1 billion people. We are a member of the Group of Seven industrial nations, the IMF and the World Bank. Britain's trade with the non-EU world is the highest of any EU country as a percentage of total trade; and our trade in goods with the other 14 European countries accounts for only about 9 per cent of GDP, not the 60 per cent of exports as reported by the Government. To join the euro would harm our world trade and affect our economy.

The matters related to the European security and defence initiative should really be part of a separate debate, but from my knowledge of the present state of ESDI I am not supportive of it, for the following reasons. The creation of a European army goes some way towards the creation of a European superstate to rival America. Rivalry between the USA and Europe should be avoided at all costs as it would only play into the hands of the Russians. The EU cannot be separated from the US for many years to come because a European army would not have the necessary capability to deploy operationally on its own. The US is the only country in possession of the required assets, logistical support, strategic lift and intelligence to deploy a force rapidly and sustain it. The US Deputy Secretary of State, Mr Strobe Talbott, has said that the US Government would not want to see a European army, first within NATO, then growing out of it and finally growing away from it, which in any event would lead to duplication of effort.

Any real threat from Russia to the west in the future would require a genuine response from NATO and not from an inexperienced European army within a weak and complex Europe. I remind your Lordships that Russia has increased her defence expenditure and still retains over 20,000 nuclear weapons. Soon there will be a new president who is likely to be a strong leader and nationalist with a dangerous background. There will be no counterweight to Russia in Europe without a continued American security presence in NATO. A proper and well trained European army will require substantially increased budgets in percentages of GNP.

On examination it appears highly unlikely that any European country will increase its defence spending because of the acute restraining effects of EMU. That is another good reason why this country should not be drawn into EMU. Since the St Malo announcement in December of last year I believe that no European Union country has yet increased its defence budget.

One can be forgiven for thinking that ESDI is only rhetoric. ESDI can lead only to more over-commitment for our Armed Forces, which in turn will result in further overstretch. Furthermore, political pressures may develop to ensure that Britain, as a strong member of ESDI, should always take part in any European operation. Even worse, political and diplomatic pressures could be exercised to prevent us from taking part in our own national operations, such as the Falklands, Northern Ireland, Iraq and the Gulf. I see the ESDI as a dangerous road to be avoided.

17 Mar 2000 : Column 1847

I have tried to make it as clear as possible to your Lordships that the loss of sovereignty and the grave threats to our economy are not in the interests of our country. The European single currency is designed to bring about political as well as economic union in Europe. Abolishing the pound and taking up the euro would mean that interest rates, exchange rates and ultimately tax rates would be set by institutions that are not accountable to the British public. Britain's growth depends on her ability to set economic policy according to her needs and that economic and monetary union would jeopardise both Britain's democracy and her prosperity.

Some of the implications of withdrawing from the EU are that we should retain our sovereignty and strengthen the constitution. We would not become a federated state of Europe, but would remain in a European free trade area retaining the pound. The nation would avoid tax harmonisation and higher taxes and the economy would prosper. It seems to me that many people wish to leave the European Union while even more are against the EMU and the abolition of the pound. I believe that it is the duty of the Government to establish this committee of inquiry in accordance with their policy of open government to ensure that the general public are aware of the true facts about the European Union.

1.51 p.m.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, on only one thing: that there should be a wider debate on the European Union, our future within it and the alternatives that he discussed. However, I disagree that such a debate should be undertaken on the premises of this Motion. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, has done the House and the nation a disservice, bearing in mind that his idiotic and mischievous proposal might be taken seriously by some people here and overseas as an indication of the possible course of events if we were ever unlucky enough to see the Conservatives back in power--greatly reinforced, as they would be, by the Europhobes whom they are now adopting in the constituencies that they think they are able to win.

There would be disastrous consequences for Britain if outsiders even think that we are contemplating walking the plank into the Atlantic, or if we show that we are looking for excuses to justify turning our back on the great ideal of European unity. There would be catastrophic implications not only from withdrawal from the European Union but also if the noble Lord's Bill got onto the statute book, and I suspect that the noble Lord knows that perfectly well in one part of his mind. However, another part of the noble Lord behaves like a member of some bizarre religious sect, contradicting things that are obvious to all normal people.

I want to concentrate on some aspects of co-operating with Europe that are not even mentioned in the Bill, perhaps because the noble Lord did not think that they were sufficiently important. I refer, first, to

17 Mar 2000 : Column 1848

the European Court of Justice. It has been mentioned briefly and was described by the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, as one of the pieces of bureaucracy which he wants to get rid of but which ensures that Community law is applied uniformly throughout the whole area of the EU. I draw noble Lords' attention to the fact that the Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance have been dealing with a steadily increasing volume of cases; and that is bound to have accelerated since the third stage of monetary union and the Treaty of Amsterdam which came into force in 1999. In 1998 485 cases were commenced before the Court of Justice and 238 before the Court of First Instance. They disposed of 768 cases in that year. Among the matters expected to give rise to an even larger volume of cases in the future are Title IV of the treaty which deals with visas, asylum, immigration and other policies relating to the free movement of persons, and Title VI dealing with police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters. I shall say a word about each of those later. But meanwhile I draw your Lordships' attention to a few important cases which have been decided by the Court in the area of gender discrimination.

In the case of Dr Pamela Enderby, the question was whether speech therapists, who are almost entirely female, should be paid less than pharmacists, who are almost predominantly male, assuming that the two jobs were of equal value, and despite the fact that the pay scales for the two professions were arrived at by separate collective bargaining processes in which there was no element of discrimination. The Court ruled that in the circumstances described it was for the employer to show that the difference was based on objectively justified factors, unrelated to any discrimination on the ground of sex.

In the Coloroll Pensions case, the employees of the firm had pension rights that were gender specific, providing for pensions to be paid at the normal retirement ages of 60 for women and 65 for men, and other rights such as the payment of a lump sum in lieu of pension, and additional benefits in return for voluntary contributions which were again gender specific. The company went into receivership and the trustees were not sure whether the rules for the disposal of the pension fund's assets were compatible with the "equal pay for equal work" provisions of the treaty. The European Court found that the trustees were bound to use all means available to them under domestic law to eliminate discrimination, if necessary reducing the advantages which the favoured employees would otherwise have enjoyed.

I am not sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, and his Europhobe allies, believe in equal pay for equal work, and in equal treatment of men and women as regards access to employment, vocational training, promotion and working conditions. If we were able to withdraw from the treaties, that would mean also renouncing the jurisdiction of the Court and, in order to maintain these principles, we would have to enact domestic legislation bringing the relevant provisions of the treaty and the Council directives back into force in our domestic law. But Parliament would always have the right to amend any

17 Mar 2000 : Column 1849

Bills for that purpose and discrepancies on gender equality at work between our law and that of Europe would be bound to develop. But even if by some miracle, Parliament decided to enact those provisions without amendment, we could not guarantee that our courts would always rule in exactly the same sense as the European Court and there would be a gradual divergence of case law between this country and Europe which would be harmful to our interests. I have used gender equality as an example, but the same reasoning applies to every other area of European legislation.

A few weeks ago the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, initiated a debate on employment in which he said that under this Government women's issues had been given greater priority, and he pointed to the implementation of EU directives on part-time workers, fixed term contracts and parental leave, all of which had been important in improving the quality of women's employment. These directives had been agreed in Brussels over the past three or four years at the instigation of the trade unions, and, after the debate, the noble Lord was good enough to send me a copy of the TUC's annual report detailing the impressive work that it is doing under the social chapter of the Maastricht Treaty. Does the noble Lord want to throw all that away?

One of the many useful advances made for working people was the Working Time Directive which deals with maximum hours worked in a day or a week. The Europhobes who are so fond of telling us how iniquitous it is that we should be "ruled by the bureaucrats in Brussels" (as they put it) may be glad to get back to the good old days when employers had the power to compel workers to slave away for 80 or 90 hours a week. Alternatively, they may say that they do like workers to have one rest day in a week, a break in any day's work longer than six hours, four weeks' holiday and so on, but in the future we in Britain must have the right to be different in these matters from everybody else in Europe.

When notice is given to the rest of the world that this is a popular viewpoint here, investors who are in it for the long term will look for somewhere else to spend their money and to create new jobs. In the avalanche of redundancies that would follow, it might be some small consolation that employers are under a duty to consult trade unions about large-scale redundancies under another ruling of the ECJ.

The noble Lord apparently does not think that we need to bother about implications for co-operation in the field of justice and home affairs, dealt with in the Maastricht Treaty. Let me mention three areas in which I say that more co-operation is needed. They are asylum, drug trafficking and organised crime. On asylum, we need common policies so that refugees do not flock to countries where they believe they may receive preferential treatment. When people come to Europe partly for economic and partly for political reasons, Europe must deal with the problem collectively rather than individually. Clearly, the present movements of the Roma from Romania are of

17 Mar 2000 : Column 1850

that nature. The Roma leave their country because of their desperate poverty, as well as discrimination and ill-treatment.

Romania is of course a candidate for entry to the EU in the second round of enlargement and as such it has to put its house in order by conforming to the Copenhagen European Council criteria, which include respect for and protection of minorities. Thus, the EU has some leverage over Romania. Although the Commission had already concluded in November 1998 that it had met the criteria, it would still be open to the Commission or the Parliament to conduct a more comprehensive inquiry into the treatment of the Roma. Perhaps it could look at ways of assisting the Roma community to improve its economic status at home so as to diminish the incentive to look for betterment abroad. If Britain were no longer a member state, we would have no say in any of those matters.

On organised crime and drug trafficking, co-operation is essential because the criminal networks are international. Europol, the European Police Office based in the Hague, is developing a system for information to be collected, analysed and exchanged at European level. The European Drugs Unit, which is already operational, facilitates exchange of information between two or more member states on drug trafficking, crimes linked to clandestine immigration networks and trafficking in human beings. Were all those matters so unimportant that the implications for them of withdrawal could be ignored?

As the former Prime Minister, John Major, put it on 24th April 1996:

    "The idea that if we were outside the EU we could somehow become a trading haven on the edge of Europe with all the benefits of that vital market of 370 million--while others fix the rules without any regard at all to our national self interest--is cloud cuckoo land".

I do not blame John Major for retiring. The right honourable gentleman must be downhearted, as he comes to the end of his distinguished political career, to see the Conservative Party being taken over by the aliens of cloud-cuckoo land. As in the "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", the humans among the Tories are gradually being weeded out and replaced by creatures who look perfectly normal, but are actually engaged in a plan to detach all the rest of us from reality. They must be stopped, and the sane world outside must know that their antics on a Friday in the House of Lords are not going to make an iota of difference to the UK's full and enthusiastic co-operation with the developing European project.

2.2 p.m.

Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Pearson for introducing this Bill. After all, it will give us a few facts about the European Union. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, chastised it as idiotic and mischievous. His view seems to be, "Don't confuse me with the facts. My mind is already made up". That is the idiotic view. Whatever view we may take of Britain's relationship with the European Union, at least my noble friend's Bill has given us the opportunity--otherwise denied to

17 Mar 2000 : Column 1851

us because there is to be no debate on the current IGC--to discuss the matter. The Bill will require the Government to give some factual answers to the points raised today and go a little beyond the empty rhetoric, which we always hear, that Britain's destiny lies in Europe. From the study that is proposed in the Bill, the Government may have second thoughts about where Britain's interests really lie.

The world has moved on since we voted in 1975 to stay in the Common Market. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, said that in 1975 we voted for what he called "Europe". We did not vote for Europe; we voted to stay in the Common Market. We did not vote for the EEC, we did not vote for the EC, we did not even vote for the European Union; we voted for the Common Market. We did not vote for a common fisheries policy; we did not vote for a common security and defence policy; we did not vote to criminalise our trade as though things were sold in pounds rather than in kilos; and we certainly did not vote for qualified majority voting or the European Court of Justice.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page