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I take as my text for this group of amendments some of the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, during the Second Reading debate on the Bill on 17th March. There was much in the noble Baroness's eloquent contribution with which I am unable to agree, such as her suggestion that the North American Free Trade Agreement--NAFTA--is a single currency area. In fact the United States and Canadian dollars and the Mexican peso float freely in NAFTA, with the Mexican peso going into crisis straight after NAFTA's launch in 1994 and with the Canadian dollar fluctuating between 72 and 65 US cents since then. So I certainly could not agree with that part of what the noble Baroness said.
The Bill as drafted requires the committee of inquiry to consist of three people who could be presumed to favour staying in the European Union and three who favour leaving it. It is true that the Bill foresees an independent chairman, but the noble Baroness was probably right when she indicated that he might have an impossible task in getting such a committee to agree its report.
So these amendments re-cast the committee into two members who favour staying in the European Union, two who favour withdrawal and two who do not appear to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to hold an opinion either way. They also require the Chancellor to choose a seventh member as chairman, again to be someone who has not made up his mind as to whether we should stay or whether we should leave.
Lord Clinton-Davis: Will the noble Lord give way? How can he suggest that no one has any views about withdrawal or entry into the Common Market? How does he suggest that noble Lords should be adjudged about that? Let us say that subsequently they form a view in favour of or against the issues of the Common Market and they shift their opinion. Does he then disqualify them or entertain them?
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for his intervention. It would in fact be for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make that judgment. The Bill requires him to appoint two people who will have been nominated by organisations appearing to the Chancellor to be in favour of the United Kingdom's continued membership of the European Union. That might include the Labour Party. I regret to say that it might include the Conservative Party. It could include the Britain in Europe organisation for instance. Then there should be two people nominated by organisations which appear to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to be in favour of withdrawal. That might be the UK Independence Party or the Campaign for an Independent Britain, which is chaired by his noble friend Lord Stoddart of Swindon, who unfortunately cannot be present.
Then, it would be up to the Chancellor to use his judgment to appoint two people who had not made up their minds and a chairman who had not made up his mind. The Chancellor might get that wrong, but I am sure that he would do it in good faith. All opinion polls indicate that quite a lot of people have not made up
Finally, in order to make sure that the committee is as balanced, open-minded and harmonious as possible, the independent chairman would have to be agreed by five of the six other members. So one person on each side of the divide who already had firm views could object to the chairman, but no more than that. I am sure that that would make for a much more harmonious committee than under the terms of the Bill as originally drafted.
I appreciate that some of your Lordships may feel that this sort of definition of the committee of inquiry is unusual and, therefore, perhaps unnecessary. I feel that it is important that the committee's report should be regarded by the public at large as being the product of balanced judgment. I say that because the British people appear to be more sceptical about our relationship with the European Union than do our political classes and political media. So it would not be helpful if the committee's report were regarded as yet another sleight of hand from the goldfish bowl of Westminster.
I put forward some evidence from opinion polls of the people's Euro-realism at Second Reading on 17th March (col. 1806 of Hansard). Since then, there has been at least one other poll, this time conducted by the British Marketing Research Board, or BMRB International, as it is often known, which claims to be one of the UK's largest market research agencies. This more recent poll indicated that 61 per cent wanted to leave the European Union completely. That included 45 per cent who also wanted to enter a free trade agreement with the European Union and with the Commonwealth. Only 24 per cent wanted to give up the pound and join the single currency, and 15 per cent were "don't knows". Of those who expressed an opinion, therefore, no less than 71 per cent wanted to leave the European Union.
I know that this is only one more opinion poll, but I trust that it serves to underline what I said at Second Reading, to the effect that there is a large body of British opinion which wants either to withdraw completely from the European Union or to reduce our membership of it to that of a free trade area, which comes to much the same thing.
In these circumstances, I trust that the Committee will agree that the report of the proposed committee of inquiry should be regarded as fair to both sides of the debate and that these amendments will give it a better chance to achieve that goal. I beg to move.
Lord Carlile of Berriew: As a relatively new arrival in this House, I hope that I may assist the Committee by giving a beginner's impression of the debate on this amendment. After years in the other place I am bound to reflect that proceedings on amendments and clauses like these remind me of the declining years of debates on capital punishment in another place. They came to
The proponents sound ever more like the rusting needle of a collectable gramophone. I do not believe that to debate in this Chamber whether the White Rabbit or March Hare should be a member of a bizarre quango conceived by a few people in private is a great contribution to the government of this country. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, proposes that there should be people of no opinion on the committee to be appointed by the Chancellor. I suppose that we must rule out Martians because they have not yet landed. The American legal philosopher Hohfeld invented something called the "no right". Perhaps we shall have something called the "no opinion" as a major plank in our political debates. Spin doctors will be employed by them. However, they will be called "inner-spin doctors" because they will not know when to stop.
Imagine the job interviews for these appointments. One question may be, "What are your hobbies?" If the response is, "Food and wine", we could not have that because it would involve eating French prawns or drinking French wine. "Where do you go for your holidays?" Like most of the Government Front Bench, it may be that the candidate's response is, "Tuscany". That would rule out any candidate. Torquay or perhaps somewhere in the United States would be all right. The next question might be, "What films do you like?" If the answer was, "Death in Venice", it would be an absolute killer for the purposes of appointment. A book written by a German about an Italian city would not count as "no opinion". "What car do you drive?" If the person said that he drove a Daihatsu that would be all right. If one drove a Japanese car that would qualify one for this committee because it would indicate that perhaps one did not have an opinion.
This group of amendments specifically excludes the very people who know most about the subject which the committee must consider. For example, I refer to former Members of the European Parliament. In particular, the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, is a former Commissioner. I respectfully suggest to the Committee that the issue deserves much more serious treatment than the Bill and the absurd idea of a committee offered in this Friday distraction. The noble Lord seems to want to put on a statutory footing the meandering thoughts of second-rate think tanks that are available in the columns of every Sunday newspaper, every week of the year.
I was the child of refugees from totalitarianism. Let us talk about the European Union, and remind ourselves that for my generation the European Union has guaranteed comity between this country and Germany. That is perhaps the most important benefit that it has given us in addition to a degree of co-operation in trade. Let us learn the lesson that we hear from all young business people and industrialists, with the exception of a few controversialists who choose to differ, that the future of this country's economy lies in the European Union. Let us reflect on the message of the past week or so, when the London and Frankfurt