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Transport Bill

3.52 p.m.

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and to be printed.

European Union (Implications of Withdrawal) Bill [H.L.]

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Pearson of Rannoch.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Lyell) in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Committee of Inquiry into withdrawal from the European Union]:

Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 1:

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 1, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 12, which is consequential. The purpose of the amendment is simple. The use of the definite article unwittingly implies that withdrawal from the European Union is, if not a foregone conclusion, at least a strong

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possibility. In so far as it gives that wholly unintended impression, it obviously irritates those who not only maintain that the EU ranks alongside motherhood and sliced bread in terms of sanctity, but that the EU is beneficial to the United Kingdom in every conceivable respect.

That, in a sense, understandable irritation must prejudice them against the Bill as a whole. That would be unfortunate, because the only purpose of the Bill is to elicit facts, shorn of emotional baggage, upon which a dispassionate and informed decision can be made if it come to that point. Therefore, the substitution of the indefinite article makes the issue more neutral and impartial, so to speak. It makes it clear that the Bill is designed to assess the effect of a possible, rather than a probable, course of action. I beg to move.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I rise briefly to support the amendments moved and spoken to so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Monson. I quite understand his feeling that the use of the definite article in the Title of the Bill and in Clause 1 is perhaps a little too definite for the spirit and purpose of the Bill. Therefore, he proposes to replace it with the indefinite article and, as I say, I see his point. Without that change, the Bill could be held to be drafted to set up a committee of inquiry to consider the implications of our definite withdrawal from the EU, whereas we are considering such a pleasant prospect only in theory.

The committee of inquiry's report is designed to inform public debate about what life might be like outside the EU so that, as the noble Lord said, the debate may take place against an informed background. As Members of the Committee will have gathered from Second Reading, many of us believe that the United Kingdom would be very much better off outside the EU, while of course maintaining free trade with its single market. Indeed, I would claim that since Second Reading on 17th March the four current horses of the EU superstate--tax harmonisation, the defence initiative, corpus juris and the charter of fundamental rights--have all kept on galloping straight at their apocalyptic goal. That is not to mention the Nice IGC, at which the Government are committed to handing over yet more of our remaining sovereignty to the octopus in Brussels.

I do not want to make another Second Reading speech now. However, I would have thought that it is obvious that our so-called partners are indeed determined to press on to the superstate which both the Government and the Conservative Party say they do not want. I am not entirely clear where the Liberal Democrats stand on this vital question, but I believe that they say that they do not want to be part of a European superstate either.

So before long, the British people will have to choose whether they want to live in a subservient region of that superstate or whether they want to keep their hard-earned right to govern themselves. The proposed committee's report would merely help them to make up their minds. Therefore, I agree with the

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amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Monson. Withdrawal is, alas, far from certain at the moment. The indefinite article is more appropriate.

Baroness Rawlings: As with most of the other amendments today, in speaking to the two amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, I wish to make clear from the start that I shall say very little during the Committee stage of this Bill. No doubt, that will be a relief to noble Lords and to Members of the Committee at this stage on a Friday afternoon.

As we on these Benches fully support Conservative Party policy, which does not include withdrawal from the European Union, we are all united on this matter. Therefore, we feel that the Bill is taking up valuable time, especially as the IGC to be held later this year will review and make many changes to the European Union. For that reason, despite having had Europe Day this week, which probably went unnoticed by many people, as did the proliferation of all the other named days, we feel that the Bill is probably ill-timed.

With regard to Amendments Nos. 1 and 12, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Moynihan, who spoke so eloquently at Second Reading of the Bill. I fully support what he said on that occasion:

    "The European Union is a work in progress which must constantly debate its directions, its speed and its geometry, and which must soon change its rules to accommodate the applicants at its door. Its political and economic order are by no means settled. Throughout its history it has constantly outgrown its old treaties as it has added new members and new functions. The model of enlargement for a reformed and reunited Europe is one such legitimate question".--[Official Report, 17/3/00; col. 1871.]

After all, enlargement of the European Union is undoubtedly the most important task facing us, not only now but in the future. We ignore this at our peril.

I thank the noble Lord for his explanation of the amendments for which there may be some arcane reason. But despite his explanation, it seems not immediately obvious to me.

4 p.m.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: When I saw the amendments, I was tempted to wonder whether substituting the indefinite article for the definite meant that the noble Lord, Lord Monson, was recognising that withdrawal can be no more than a very remote, hypothetical possibility. But I shall resist going down that line.

I make my remarks in very much the same spirit as the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings. The Government's position on this Bill was made clear. We think that it is completely unnecessary and highly undesirable. These amendments in no way affect that judgment. Indeed, I am pleased to hear again from the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, confirmation of what the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said on Second Reading; namely, that withdrawal from Europe is not the official policy of a single mainstream political party in this country. And so the Government's

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position remains absolutely unchanged. They are opposed to the Bill and these amendments do nothing to change that.

Lord Monson: I am grateful to all those who have spoken. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, for his support: I spoke to him extremely briefly about the amendment. He has correctly interpreted my reasoning. I am sorry that my explanation was not clear enough for the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, and that she finds the reason to be arcane.

The Minister interpreted the proposal correctly. I do agree that it is a remote possibility but it is a remote possibility for which it would be wise to provide. We are not taking up very much time, certainly compared with the mass of government legislation with which we have been dealing recently. I think that it is worth while pursuing matters and I hope that the amendment will be accepted.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bruce of Donington moved Amendment No. 2:

    Page1, line 11, at end insert (", and

    (d) the impact costs and other public expenditure in the United Kingdom as a result of its membership of the European Union").

The noble Lord said: In view of the lateness of the hour and, indeed, the lateness of the day, I do not wish to detain the Committee very long on these quite obviously clear amendments which are in the whole spirit of the Bill as accepted by the House on 17th March.

Perhaps the Government are not entirely free from blame for the necessity for this debate to take place at all, let alone on a Friday. Momentous events have been taking place in Europe over the past 10 years and there has been an increasing intensity in relation to the effects of the arrangements which this country has been making with Europe.

Over the years--and I have been interested in this European adventure since 1963--there has been a tendency for successive governments to endeavour to keep both Houses of Parliament out of the picture until after they have already acted. In other words, they have not sought the opinion of the country in any detail prior to taking some of the drastic steps which are beginning profoundly to affect our country in many ways, not only economically but also, indeed, politically and, above all, democratically. That is perhaps unfortunate. The entry of the UK into the European Union--then called the Common Market--was slightly unfortunate in that people were not fully aware of the Government's intended actions in a way that would normally commend itself to people accustomed to straight talking. We had the deliberate concealment of the fisheries concession.

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