Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I am now a little confused. I had understood the noble Lord to be saying that Britain should stand up for the rights and influence of the smaller states within the European Union, rather than giving the larger states the lead. His criticism of the Belgians suggests the opposite. Does he think that the larger states should lead on common foreign and security policy or that we should let the smaller states have the undue influence that he was suggesting five minutes ago?

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, the concept that I was trying to convey was that foreign policy--certainly in times of crisis, though perhaps not for humdrum everyday events--should be shaped by the pattern of historic relationships, alliances and coalition, which can carry things forward, such as the present relationship between London and Washington. The attempt to latch on to that a fifth wheel of a policy that runs along behind is a waste of energies.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord is not suggesting that historic patterns are immutable.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, no, I would not do so. Nevertheless, they are significant. We are all shaped by our history to a considerable extent.

The European Charter of Fundamental Rights has also been given a glad hand by the treaty document. We have recently seen the dangers of extending rights-based doctrines too far into national life at the expense of political authority. The charter is far too intrusive with its assertion of rights to detailed matters such as placement services, environmental protection, consumer protection and so on. Those are admirable aims, but are they the business of the Union and will the charter be mandatory? If not, what is the point of their incorporation into the treaty?

There will be many other points to discuss as we consider the Bill in Committee. There is the question of the funding of European political parties. How can we be sure that the moneys are not used for national political activity, which Declaration 11 of the treaty forbids? These are dangerous waters and we shall need much more openness about the way in which the regulations governing these areas are made.

1 Nov 2001 : Column 1528

Out of the treaty there looms the Snark-like search for a constitution for Europe. The forthcoming summit in December at Laeken will set the clock ticking on this, and a so-called convention will prepare the ground for 2004. All democrats should view that with some foreboding. The whole idea of constructing a pyramid or hierarchy of competence is inappropriate in the network world into which we are moving. Even the lawyers realise that trying to push all the treaties into one new treaty--a constitutional document--is a hopeless case. Generally the treaty fails to reflect the fact that the whole of Europe is now in deep transition, that the Monnet era is over, and that much of the Community method has now been invalidated. Genuinely good Europeans should be seeking other ways of carrying forward European ideals.

The other day the Home Secretary said this:

    "If we do not have a system where people are clear on who makes decisions--and why they are the people who make the decisions--democracy fails".

That may be true in our own society--Mr Blunkett was criticising the growing power of judges--but it applies 10 times more strongly in the institutions of the European Union. Until that lesson is learnt, the great cause of Europe will not prosper and neither the Nice treaty, nor this Bill, will take us one inch along the way to the new common ground and the restoration of trust in the European institutions that is so badly needed.

4.10 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, for his kind remarks on my accession to the leadership of this party, following the distinguished leadership of my predecessor, my noble friend Lord Rodgers. Perhaps I can repeat the famous remark of the well-known actress, Rita Hayworth, who said

    "I am not sure if I have a future, but I sure have a past".

Perhaps I may take up the noble Lord because I read what is happening in the world at the moment rather differently from him. I cannot help noticing that one of the great problems we confront in this and many other countries, is the profound asymmetry between the challenges presented to us, especially the economic, environmental and sometimes the military challenges, and the structure of politics which is still essentially the structure of an ancient state--what academics calls the "Westphalian system".

We can all clearly see that the exigencies of those challenges are compelling us to think beyond the nation state in ways that take us towards closer co-operation and in some ways also towards regional integration. That is not only characteristic of Europe, though Europe was the pioneer in this respect; it is now notably true ranging from NAFTA in North America and Mexico, through to Mercosur in Latin America and elsewhere. Everywhere in the world there is an attempt to try to create political structures that can deal with the challenges of globalisation that confront us.

If we look at the way in which British governments have eventually confronted these challenges, however reluctantly, it has to be said that we confronted the

1 Nov 2001 : Column 1529

trade challenge through the Single European Market Act at the time of Mrs Thatcher, as she then was; we confronted the issues of speculation through the Delors committee on monetary union; and we confronted the problems of what appeared to be the difficulties presented by the former Republic of Yugoslavia by creating the concept of the common foreign and security policy.

In every instance, whoever the government of this country may have been, they have been compelled to address the real issues that confront us and in some cases that has meant addressing those issues by closer co-operation and even integration with other like-minded countries. I say that because, in the long weariness of discussing the Nice Summit and the Nice treaty, we tend to forget the sheer historic scale of what that treaty is all about.

It is just worth saying that the concept of uniting western and eastern Europe in a single great market with a single great structure and framework of political co-operation, is a major historic goal and one that will shake the beginning of this new century. We are continually liable to be led away by the endless trivialities of the issues of the treaty from that huge historic objective. I simply want to underline that.

The Treaty of Nice, as such, is not a major treaty. My right honourable friend in another place, Menzies Campbell, described it as being at most a framework treaty; and that is correct. It falls far short of the historic ideal about which I spoke because it is not intended to do more than make possible the achievement of that goal. But I have to confess that, with respect to the Shadow Foreign Secretary who spoke at Third Reading in another place, Mr Michael Ancram, unavoidably one has to recognise that if we are to meet the timetable pledged to the candidate countries of eastern Europe, there is no alternative to the Nice treaty. Following the road of an accession agreement and an accession treaty, by every one of the candidate countries, would be inexplicable and incomprehensible to those countries. They have already waited much too long. At every point we have seen further delays in the date at which they are intended to join as full members of the European Union. In this country there is no profound division between the parties of the desirability of that aim. The Shadow Foreign Secretary said at Third Reading in another place,

    "we remain strong supporters of enlargement";--[Official Report, Commons, 17/10/01; col. 1184.]

and I believe him. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, said much the same thing. But those who will the ends must will the means, and I can see no more effective means, despite the fact that the Nice treaty has many flaws, than this treaty as a way to bring that about.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that the treaty of Nice is roughly as obscure as the statement of a brilliant lawyer with a guilty client. It is profoundly obscure. We must find ways--I commend what the Government are suggesting for the IGC of 2004--to simplify what has become a tangle of briar forests of almost incomprehensible phrases. As a simple test I

1 Nov 2001 : Column 1530

gave a small section of the Treaty of Nice to my reasonably intelligent family, one of them being a lawyer, and they all found it virtually impossible to discover what it meant.

The second objection raised by the Shadow Foreign Secretary at Third Reading in another place, to which the Minister referred, concerned the common agricultural policy. Let me, as strongly as I can, echo and agree with what she said. It would be quite wrong to try to present a candidate country, at least one of whom is heavily dependent on agriculture, with a fait accompli as part of our attempts to resolve the issue at the stage of the Nice treaty. It has to be a negotiation.

It is easy simply to dismiss the common agricultural policy and in many ways it is a bad policy. But anybody who is concerned with the agricultural community in this country, or any other country of Europe, recognises that we have to find alternative structures that enable our environment to be preserved and our rural areas to be cared for. That alternative will have to depend on some element of public support and cannot simply be limited to the destruction of the common agricultural policy with nothing in its place.

I for one do not want to see again in Britain the kind of desolation that occurred in the years between the wars. We have to think of proper ways of recognising farmers as stewards of our rural environment and as having many roles to play other than simply producing the most amount of crops at the lowest possible cost.

The third objection raised in another place was that the European Union, and in particular the Nice treaty, was not an effective mechanism for dealing with terrorism. While there were a number of things that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said with which I agreed, on this he was uncharacteristically less than generous. On 21st September, with an amazing degree of speed and determination, the European Union decided on a range of steps to be taken against terrorism which went all the way from moving extremely fast on extradition procedures, on speeding up the directive with regard to money laundering and on recognising the importance of closer intelligence sharing between the countries of the Union than one could ever have expected, given how slow some other procedures have turned out to be.

It is important to put on record our appreciation of what the fellow members of the European Union have done to try to support Her Majesty's Government and the government of the United States in dealing not only with the symptoms, but also with the sources of terrorism. I do not need to say to noble Lords in this place, who are extremely knowledgeable, that unquestionably in parts of eastern Europe, the drug trade, the trade in people trafficking and the trade in money laundering has been deeply disturbing. Nothing could be more helpful than to bring those countries within the ambit of a European Union in which they can, at long last, feel reasonably secure.

I turn to the Minister's comments on institutional change and shall briefly mention one or two. It will not surprise your Lordships to know that we on these Benches strongly support the extension of co-decision

1 Nov 2001 : Column 1531

making. We should like to see greater extension of co-decision making; in other words, the willingness of the European Parliament to go along with directives, and that they should fall if it is not so willing. We should like to see that extended much more widely because we believe that democracy has to be at a European level as well as at a national level.

In that context I issue a brief warning. I was disturbed by the willingness at the Nice discussions to accept yet a further increase in the size of the European Parliament. Can the Minister reassure the House that the further increase in size will not be followed up as a result of expansion? Frankly, a legislative chamber of over 700 members is unlikely to be effective and could rapidly turn into a mob scene.

My second point on enlargement with regard to institutional change concerns the question of qualified majority voting, which we have discussed in this House. We on these Benches accept that an extension of qualified majority voting is an essential part of making a larger community work. The Minister will not be surprised that in that context I want to raise one problem about which we feel strongly. I refer to Article 229A. The noble Baroness does not need to look up the treaty. I shall continue to paraphrase it momentarily. Article 229A concerns the agreement that the affirmative procedures will be sufficient to corroborate decisions made by the Council of Ministers.

As I understand it, at present that particular proposal relates to only the mechanisms of establishing a European patent. We understand the importance of that. However, we seek an assurance that that would be seen as an exceptional procedure, not as a first step towards a general procedure of agreeing to decisions made by the Council of Ministers without a procedure through the European Parliament, which simply takes the form of an affirmative procedure in this House.

Before I conclude, I should like to mention two other matters. First, the substantial extension of the part of the European inter-governmental treaty dealing with justice and home affairs raises great questions of accountability. My noble friend Baroness Ludford will speak about that in greater detail. It is important that we in this House should recognise that there has been a steady movement of the United Kingdom Government towards opting into JHA, especially with regard to visa and asylum policy.

That requires, in terms of democratic accountability, that this House and the other place should have a full opportunity to debate the gradual shift of visa and asylum policy from the United Kingdom to the European Union. That is not because there may not be arguments for it, especially in the case of visa policy, but because it should be transparent, open and fully debated as it takes place. There are few better tests of the commitment of a country to civil liberty as well as to law and order than asylum policy, immigration policy and visa policy. We on these Benches believe that it is crucial for those matters to be fully debated before any final decision is made about where they should lie.

1 Nov 2001 : Column 1532

Finally, I refer to the IGC that is to take place in 2004. We on these Benches believe that a European constitution, far from representing a further step towards an unclear integration, would be the best possible way of defining correctly the responsibilities of national government, and protecting them as the responsibilities of national government and of the European Union. I can think of few ways of better confusing our citizens than for that distinction to be perpetually blurred as it is today.

We should also like to see--as well as a move towards a constitutional structure of competencies, an array of competencies between the national and European levels--a full citizens' debate in this country running up to 2004, which among other things would enlighten the discussion on the simplification of European treaties and, we believe, on the role of national Parliament.

I conclude by saying that we on these Benches wish to see good British citizens who are also good European citizens. The crucial key to that is that our citizens are allowed to discuss, consider and debate European issues with the kind of freedom and thought that they bring to issues about national policy.

4.25 p.m.

Lord Grenfell: My Lords, after listening to the speeches of my noble friend the Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby--I warmly congratulate the noble Baroness on taking the leadership of her party in this House--those of us in favour of the ratification of the treaty and the passage of the Bill must be sorely tempted to say, "We rest our case". There is precious little to add. None the less, with a desire to express my support for what my noble friend on the Front Bench has said, I shall venture a few remarks.

Winston Churchill once said of Stanley Baldwin, rather unfairly, that he occasionally stumbled on the truth but would rapidly get to his feet and hurry on as if nothing had happened. Her Majesty's loyal Opposition have certainly stumbled on the truth that a failure to ratify the Nice treaty will have serious consequences for the enlargement of the Union to which, they have told us often--I have no reason not to believe them--they are firmly attached and fully supportive. Yet they hurry on down that path of opposition to the treaty as if it would have no consequence for enlargement. Of course, it does, as has already been said by both my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Crosby.

What are we to make of that? The Official Opposition, who rarely miss an opportunity to criticise Romano Prodi's conduct of the presidency, now, somewhat ironically, pray in aid his statement following the Irish referendum that ratification is not necessary for enlargement. They seize on that technicality's narrowly legalistic validity but wilfully ignore the political reality, which is that enlargement cannot go ahead as planned and agreed without the passage of the treaty. Those opposing ratification

1 Nov 2001 : Column 1533

appear to care not one jot that their objective puts at high risk the target date set for 1st January 2004 for completing the accession of the next wave of entrants.

This modest treaty does what should have been done at Amsterdam to make enlargement feasible, both for members and accession states, in a single negotiated document. Opponents are presumably content to see the whole process drawn out by a one-by-one negotiation with each member state within the framework of the individual accession treaties. Why is it that the opponents to the Nice ratification, whose commitment to enlargement I have not so far doubted, insist that this much longer drawn out, more cumbersome path to a successful and timely enlargement is taken instead of the more efficient process offered by the treaty? It is blindingly obvious why that is. There are reforms in the treaty which, as Eurosceptics, they do not like and they wish to be accommodated on those issues, even though it is to the serious disadvantage of the accession states. That is not mere cynicism; it is selfishness. Let us be blunt about that.

The opponents of the treaty have seized on a treaty that essentially is a facilitating treaty and have erected it into a vast conspiracy to further federalist aims--aims that find no resonance whatever in the text of the treaty. The loyal Opposition is, therefore, using the ratification of this treaty as a Christmas tree on which to hang their every Eurosceptic objection to the European project. Not content with dismissing the treaty as failing to deliver on all the issues left over from Amsterdam, they even vilify it for failing to deliver on objectives that the treaty was never intended to address.

Heaven knows, we all want to see a reform of the CAP--that is essential--but as my noble friend has pointed out, no rational mind ever sought to lumber this treaty with the reform of policies that required no treaty change. As long ago as the Berlin Council, CAP reform was given a modest push. It is being, and must be, pursued on a separate track. To make enlargement conditional on a prior CAP reform is to throw overboard the 2004 target. With an eye to the next financial perspective following 2006, enlargement is a powerful spur to CAP reform. However, to make CAP reform a condition for enlargement is to make enlargement its hostage, with all the uncertainties and delay that that implies.

The Conservative Opposition claim that Nice has more to do with deepening integration than with helping enlargement and that it could be a disincentive to enlargement, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, suggested. Maybe the pleasures of the Summer Recess dulled my senses, but I do not believe that it dulled them that much. I certainly do not recall any cacophony of claims from the accession countries that the treaty had dulled their enthusiasm for accession to the Union as soon as possible--quite the opposite.

Why do the opponents claim that the modest extensions to QMV are eroding our sovereignty? They talk much of their devotion to flexibility within the Union--the word "flexibility" came up again and

1 Nov 2001 : Column 1534

again in the other place--yet, ironically, they would maximise the use of a procedure under which a single country can block a sensible proposal. Is that flexibility?

At Nice the Government agreed only to extensions that are in our real interest. Where they manifestly are not, they would most firmly oppose them. Opponents of these sensible extensions of QMV refuse to judge each extension on its individual merit. They are simply against extension, period. They seem to forget that without QMV the single market would have been a non-starter. Their hostility to the extension of QMV on principle is, to say the least, unintelligent. By what twist of logic do they see enhanced co-operation as the antithesis of their famous "flexibility"? In an enlarged Union, not everyone can do everything at the same time. The treaty has made the provisions already enshrined in the Amsterdam treaty more practical while strengthening the safeguards against its use in ways that would harm the legitimate interests of non-participating states. What could be more sensible than that?

I could continue in this vein, but many noble Lords are yet to speak and already many points have been well made. I hope that I have reinforced the points made by the Minister. The agenda of the opponents of Nice is perfectly clear. As was said in another place, if this were an a la carte Bill, they would pick the bits that they thought were better for Europe and say no to the rest. In other words, they would vote against the Bill because parts of it did not please them. In simple language, that is throwing out the baby with the bath water.

The treaty is not a perfect treaty. Show me one that is. I have never seen a perfect treaty. But it is not a botched job. I have serious doubts about at least one part of the treaty: the reform of Council decision-making. The system is now hopelessly complex and risks making the reaching of decisions even more difficult than before. Maybe at 4.30 in the morning of Monday, 11th December, when I suppose they were all a little tired, those responsible did not quite know what they were doing. The point is that such shortcomings can be remedied; there are means of doing so. The 2004 IGC offers a perfect opportunity and I hope that the preparatory convention, which will be set up at Laeken next month will address that need. I hope that there will be the political will to realise that room must be created on the agenda to straighten out the decision-making process that was not successfully dealt with at Nice.

Do not throw out the baby with the bath water. That is not the way to proceed. Such a desperate act may appeal to people within a party that is riven with dissension about Europe and that is clinging precariously to its ideological hang-ups about the European project. In the world outside, in the world of geo-political realities, such a desperate act would be simple lunacy.

1 Nov 2001 : Column 1535

4.36 p.m.

Lord Howe of Aberavon: My Lords, I shall follow the example of others and commence with a word of congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, on her emergence in such a distinguished position. I look forward to hearing her in that enlarged capacity on future occasions.

With great regret, I offer the House an apology because I may not be able to be present for the wind-up of the debate. I have a long-standing commitment with the former US Secretary of State, with whom I worked in partnership for some five years, George Schultz. I hope that that may be a reasonable, if not wholly convincing, alibi.

I thank the Minister for the extremely lucid way in which she presented the essentials of the argument that we have to consider. I cast a rather quizzical eye at the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, for the disagreeable caricature that he painted of my party. The position is nothing like as grave as that, as we have seen from the way in which my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford addressed the issues before us. I hope that some of the earlier expressions of profound hostility that characterised the last election campaign may represent the high watermark of opposition on that scale to the institution to which my party still wishes us to belong. We cannot overlook that essential feature.

As every speaker has identified, there are reasons for being anxious about some aspects of the treaty. One example given by my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford is the charter of fundamental rights. A characteristic feature of the Union is to generate texts of that kind with perhaps a benign intention, which acquire a life of their own and find their way towards the status of Community law. That is one example which is highly undesirable.

I believe that the treaty itself and the Bill now before us are necessary, and necessary now, although I would not go so far as to say that I welcome the provisions as they stand. That is much too emotionally enthusiastic a word for such a complex farrago of words. As has been said already, the important point is that ratification of this treaty and its endorsement by this Parliament signals a necessary and important step towards enlargement. That, after all, has been the long-declared objective of every party in this country, clearly reaffirmed by both Front Benches in both Houses, even today.

I shall not go over the ground covered by the Minister in that respect, except to emphasise that the treaty is clearly important in its own right because of the prospective changes that it makes so far as the United Kingdom is concerned. The re-weighting of our votes is of crucial importance; the reconstruction and the limiting of the size of the Commission is also important. I do not believe that I am wrong in recollecting that we proposed giving up our second commissioner when my noble friend Lady Thatcher and I circulated documents as long ago as 1985. I see a nodding assent from wearied former officials on the other side of the House who are now noble colleagues here.

1 Nov 2001 : Column 1536

One other reason for rejecting the invitation to set aside a treaty and to proceed country-by-country is the importance of those provisions already agreed in the treaty. If we were to set them aside, as it were, and begin to try to reconstruct them country by country, we would risk opening either a can of worms or Pandora's box. One way or another, we would not know what might happen.

The picture presented of this treaty being a hugely centralising, mammoth-creating, omnivorous document greatly exaggerates its nature--I part company on that point with my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford. Of all the treaties that we have had to consider relating to the European Union, it is probably the least centralising and the least integrationist. Of course there is room for argument about aspects of it, but, granted the difficulty of concluding negotiations in the fog and miasma of European Councils as they run into the night, what has emerged is not a bad compromise. I am anxious for the Bill to be passed.

As I recall, for many years at Conservative Party conferences back in the 1980s, long before the Iron Curtain was lifted, we welcomed with enthusiasm leaders of centre-right parties throughout Europe--those who were able to reach us--from beyond the Iron Curtain and everywhere possible. All of them in the following years have been looking forward to the opportunity to join the European Community, now the European Union. Whatever the subtleties of the argument against ratifying this treaty now, it would be hard to explain to them that this party, which was always looking forward to welcoming them, no longer wanted to do so, or appeared to be rejecting their advances.

I turn to two or three of the wider topics that have been discussed. The prospect of yet another inter-governmental conference, looming, as it does, three or four years over the horizon--whether or not preceded by a preparatory convention--does not excite me with enthusiasm. I wish that I could share the optimism of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, that somehow from that will emerge a constitution shining bright and pure, as though it had come from North America in 1776. She may remember the clarity of the Stuttgart declaration of 1983, a text produced by academics for academics or political enthusiasts but which has not arrived at a constitution. Much though I would like that to be the case, I doubt that it will be possible.

I hope that, when the convention that precedes the inter-governmental conference meets, it will at least avoid producing the sort of document that emerges from a short-lived, random group of representatives--namely, a farrago of less than adequate insights. I hope that it may, as the Government suggest that it should, produce an intelligent set of options for wider consideration by those of us who are concerned with the future.

The inter-governmental conference itself must avoid generating anything that is not strictly necessary. Again, I return to my experience of European Council meetings. I cannot imagine a less auspicious place--

1 Nov 2001 : Column 1537

tired political leaders faced in the middle of the night with extremely complex issues and being required to choose this, that or the other solution. It is no wonder that mistakes are made, as the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, pointed out. The smaller the agenda, the more firmly we can distil it to the essential and the less that we are carried away by bright new ideas, the better. More important is to make head-way in filling in the gaps and hitting the targets of actual co-operation that have been so clearly identified for so many years. Of course, the common agricultural policy cries out for reform, but that is certainly not going to be achieved as a condition or precedent for anything. As the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, pointed out, the percentage of the budget devoted to agriculture has fallen steadily as a result of the hours that we spent trying to insert this, that or the other safeguard. That must continue.

On the common foreign and security policy, I begin from much the same position as does the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. Recent events show that the European Union has now become an indispensable dimension of international affairs. It is playing--and needs to play--a key role in forging the multinational partnerships that are a necessary response to the more grisly aspects of globalisation. The fact that the European Union exists alongside NATO provided the stage on which our Prime Minister was able to knit together and consolidate the necessary partnership to stand alongside the United States. That is an improvement beyond recognition on the CFSP as it was not that long ago. Commissioner Christopher Patten said the other day that political co-operation in the old days used to be,

    "all strong nouns and adjectives and weak verbs."

That is an accurate insight, but we are making progress on that. An example that is worth recalling in the latest response to the Balkan crisis is the continuing military presence designed to maintain confidence in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. That is crucially important, and our American friends have positively championed the idea that that presence should be supplied by a European-led force within NATO. So it has been, with the latest, welcome development of the United Kingdom's role being taken over--increasingly if not completely--by our German partners. That is clear proof of the importance of developing a common and effective foreign and security policy.

The real risk to NATO and to the Europe-American relationship as we develop that common foreign policy comes not from Europe trying to do more but from Europe doing less. If Europe tries to do more and succeeds, nothing could be better for the Europe-American partnership. That is true not just for the CFSP but for security and defence policy, and for the conclusions set out in Annex VI, I think, of the presidency conclusions to the treaty. That is the latest stage in our progress from St Malo in 1998 to Helsinki in 1999, based on trying to locate and allocate fresh efforts firmly within the European Union.

1 Nov 2001 : Column 1538

I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Owen, will speak on the matter shortly, and will rightly warn us of the risks of the process going wrong. Of course, there are risks to the transatlantic relationship and to NATO itself if we get the balance wrong, but developments so far, with all their glitches, suggest that those risks are being contained. Needs and targets have been identified; but in many respects, delivery still lies ahead and will require firm, sustained commitment by our political leaders. Germany's performance in that respect will be crucial.

However, the positive advantages of a successful, properly fulfilled ESDP for the European Union and its members--new as well as old--would surely be substantial and highly desirable from the point of view of both sides of the Atlantic. If we can achieve that--if we can ensure a better, stronger, more integrated European contribution--the Atlantic alliance will be strengthened and much better balanced.

My closing point is that no possible purpose can be served by a continuing disposition to pour cold water on what looks like the only available project with a politically credible prospect of inspiring and mobilising European willingness to take on, as we should, a larger share of our defence burden--of the burden of NATO as a whole. I hope that we shall see an end to the mockery, ridicule and cynicism with which the project is sometimes treated, and recognition that it is an important objective for Britain, as much as for Europe and for the United States as much as for Europe.

As was clearly pointed out in a booklet, European Defence Co-operation: Asset or Threat to NATO?, recently written by Sir Michael Quinlan, former Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defence and director of Ditchley, the stark truth is that if this endeavour fails, the damage to Europe and to the Atlantic alliance as a whole will be severe. If it succeeds, as I hope it does--and the proof of that will come in enhanced, actual and proved performance--the benefits to us all will be correspondingly wide.

4.50 p.m.

Lord Taverne: My Lords, I agree with almost everything that was said by the previous three speakers, particularly the remarks made by my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby. Her speech indicated the likely success she will bring to the leadership of these Benches.

I shall not try to add to those remarks. I shall not speak directly to the Bill, but about some parallels which the European Communities Bill of 1972. Today I want to make the speech which I should have made on the Third Reading of that Bill. I abstained on the Third Reading and did so quietly to avoid causing embarrassment to my Labour colleagues. If a small handful of us in the Labour Party had not abstained, our entry into the European Community in 1973 could well have been frustrated. Abstaining was not a brave act. Instead I was cowardly, despite abstaining against a three-line whip, and I was unduly cowed by the prevailing ethos of Westminster. I should have voted with the Government and I should have spoken out.

1 Nov 2001 : Column 1539

Some of my colleagues did speak out in favour of the Bill. The best speech, typically, was made by a brilliant colleague, John Mackintosh, who, tragically, died young. But then he and other pro-Europeans in the Labour Party duly conformed with the unwritten rules of Westminster politics and voted with their party against a Bill which they knew was necessary for achieving the aim which they all supported.

So what are these unwritten rules of Westminster? They require that except on very rare occasions you must put party before principle. If you feel that your party is doing harm to the country's interests, and you stick to your principles and leave your party, you are reviled as a traitor. That happened only recently to my noble friend Lady Nicholson, who is not here today. If you vote against your principles and stick to your party, you are praised by all and sundry for behaving honourably.

Chris Patten recently said on the radio that he had always been a Conservative; that he always would be a Conservative; and that he would never leave the party. That, despite the fact that be believes the party's policy on Europe, about which he clearly cares passionately, is fundamentally wrong. That is his belief. He actually admitted that it was because he was a tribalist. And he might have added, "Proud of it, too.".

The noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, for whom I genuinely have immense respect, once told me that there is one golden rule in politics: never leave your party. That rule dismisses the contributions of Peel, Gladstone and Winston Churchill for a start. But to put it another way, it means that if the interests of your party clash fundamentally with what you believe to be the interests of the country, you must always put the interests of party first. I am not blaming the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine; that is the current ethos of Westminster. Tribalism rules and certainly it seems to rule inside the Conservative Party at the moment.

I left the Labour Party in 1972, soon after the Third Reading. I should say at once to those on the Benches opposite that it was a very different party from the Labour Party today. I left not only because it was anti-Europe, anti-NATO and pro-unilateral nuclear disarmament. I also opposed Clause 4--that was then a undreamed of heresy--and I felt that the party was too dominated by the unions. Again, I should add that those were not the days of John Monks and today's sensible union leaders but of a union movement run by Hugh Scanlon, Clive Jenkins and Jack Jones. Today I find the Labour Party, if anything, not radical enough.

When I resigned--

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page