Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Renton: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, I wonder whether she realises that, although she made a most brilliant speech, only five Members of the Labour Party were listening to it—two on the Front Bench and three on the Back Benches.

6.6 p.m.

Lord Cobbold: My Lords, I should like to add my name to those who thanked the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, for initiating this important debate. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, and the Select Committee for their excellent reports and comments on the draft constitution.

The idea of a constitution for the European Union is a dream. As with most dreams, the problem lies in waking up to the real world. As we have heard this afternoon, even among those who have long believed and continue to believe in the building of the European Union, there remains a fundamental schism between those favouring a loose Union of like-minded national states and those seeking a more unified superstate. The

2 Apr 2003 : Column 1364

challenge for the convention is to produce a constitution that satisfies both viewpoints—a seemingly impossible task.

Nevertheless, I believe, with some other noble Lords who have spoken, that the effort is worth while and has updated and improved many of the provisions in the existing treaties, as explained by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson. I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, that more time and more public consultation is needed and that it should start as soon as possible both in Parliament and in the country at large so that all are aware of the momentous decisions involved. After a final text is agreed, I think that there should be a referendum to give the people of this country and of the whole Union the ultimate choice. But if we are beholden to the reckless timetable referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, I should like to take this opportunity to raise three specific issues and to express the hope that the Government and the Select Committee will think about them and, if in agreement, might feed them into the convention.

First, I should like to return to the issue I raised today at Question Time. I believe that the constitution must be more specific about the long-term boundaries of the Union and of what it means by "Europe". That issue has been brought to a head by the prospect of bringing Turkey into the Union and the consequent debate as to whether Turkey is a European state. Whether or not it is, I believe that the rationale should be made clearer in the constitution than it is at present.

A possible way out of this difficulty could be for the constitution to allow for a category of associate membership which would be available to neighbouring countries, "whose people"—according to Article 1 of the draft—

    "share the same values, respect them and are committed to promoting them together".

Such a category would also allow the extension of the single market and other economic provisions, but would avoid the difficulties of integrating a wider group of non-European countries into the already highly complex administrative mechanisms of the Union. Such a proposal is akin to the variable geometry option referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, and could be used by member states within Europe which were not prepared to accept the full commitment to the Union.

Secondly, I turn to a more specific point. Articles 11 and 12 deal with exclusive competences and shared competences. Among several exclusive competences in Article 11 are included the "free movement of capital" and "a common commercial policy", whereas "the internal market" is listed as one of the shared competences in Article 12.

I find these definitions rather vague and am concerned that there is no specific reference to financial markets, which I believe are of fundamental importance to the development of the Union. By financial markets I mean a common stock and bond market, common take-over rules, a unified retail banking and savings market and a Union-wide retail

2 Apr 2003 : Column 1365

payment system. I believe that financial markets are a shared competence but are worthy of a specific mention.

Lastly, I should like to support the comments of the Select Committee on the use of the phrase "sustainable development" in Articles 3(2) and 3(4) of the draft constitution. I believe that that phrase is a piece of meaningless modern bureaucratic jargon which should not be allowed to creep into a document of this importance.

6.10 p.m.

Lord Shaw of Northstead: My Lords, I, too, should like to thank my noble friend Lord Blackwell for initiating the debate. I should like to thank particularly the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, and his team—his committee, sub-committees and all his staff—for the very valuable reports that they have produced and are continuing to produce, I am glad to say. I shall refer to several points raised in those reports during my speech.

It is clear that the proceedings of the convention began very much along the lines promulgated in the Laeken declaration. We have had six months of "listening phase" followed by working groups producing a large number of proposals. But the real test lies with the praesidium. Meeting in private—13 strong—it is now drafting specific treaty articles for subsequent debate and the proposed date of submission of the final draft is rapidly approaching. How far those articles will reflect the proposals put forward by the working committees and others remains to be seen. But if they are to reflect those proposals, I suspect they will need close and time-consuming examination and debate. The danger must be that that will not happen. Already pressure is being brought to bear to present the convention's conclusions to the Council on 20th June, in which case the praesidium's proposals will be put forward with far too little examination.

There is a further reason why it is important that the final conclusions should not be arrived at prematurely. The candidate countries have demanded that the start of the IGC be postponed until they have formally joined the Union in May 2004 so that they can take part in what they term an "appropriate reflection period". I am greatly sympathetic to their request. I have never forgotten the damage that was done to our fishing industry—and in particular to the fleets in Scarborough and Whitby in my former constituency—by our being forced, as a prior condition of our entry into the Community, to accept an ECC future fishing policy, a policy which, although drafted, had not been enacted at the date of our entry. Had we been allowed to debate that policy after we had entered, that policy would never have been enacted, certainly not in the form that it was, and the North Sea would still be full of fish.

After all, one of the main purposes of the convention is to prepare the ground for the entry of the candidate countries. While it has been established that they are approved candidates for membership, it is none the less clear that when they do enter the European Union

2 Apr 2003 : Column 1366

the variety of economies and social conditions within the enlarged Union will be much greater than that which exists among the present membership. I believe that such a greater variety of conditions emphasises the need for changes, some of which have already been identified and discussed, particularly in the important reports that have been produced by our Select Committee on the European Union.

The first change that I believe has to be made is in the relationship between the Council and the Commission. The Council must become more effective, certainly than it has been in the past. It has not provided the leadership that it should have done. Consequently, and not unnaturally, the Commission has become too strong. In practical terms what should be done? The size of the Commission must be restricted. The more commissioners that are appointed, the more responsibilities have to be acquired to build up the departmental empires. The number of commissioners must be related much more to identified responsibilities.

The whole subject of subsidiarity must be looked at afresh. In June 1999 we debated an excellent report from the European Communities Committee on the subject of comitology. In that debate I pointed out, for example, that there are about 250 committees all beavering away in Brussels on secondary legislation of one sort or another. Yet their efforts very often result in legislation that does not happily fit in with the procedures and circumstances of national governments.

Jacques Delors in 1992 offered a prize for anyone who could define subsidiarity. I wonder whether anyone has ever claimed that prize. He claimed that the principle was still a matter of interpretation. So far, interpretation has always been for an ever-widening scope of responsibility for the Commission and its committees. One of the consequences has been, of course, that when a regulation is challenged the excuse is made that nothing can be done because the regulation was made in Brussels. That problem has been taken on board by the convention and it has been studied by a working group. It has also been studied by our Select Committee.

There is overall general agreement on the need for greater involvement of national parliaments in the monitoring of the application of subsidiarity. As the committee states:

    "An opportunity has to be provided for such monitoring at the earliest possible stage of the legislative process".

The Protocol on Subsidiarity attached to the 1999 Amsterdam Treaty also stressed, among other things, that,

    "forms of legislation that leave the member states the greatest room for manoeuvre are to be preferred to more restrictive forms of action".

That is stated in paragraph 6.

So far as the early warning system is concerned, as described in the committee's report, I entirely agree with the committee's support of the proposal put forward by Gisela Stuart whereby, if the Commission received reasoned opinions from two-thirds of national parliaments, the Commission would be required to

2 Apr 2003 : Column 1367

withdraw its proposal. I also strongly agree with her suggestion that during the rest of the legislative process national parliaments should be kept informed of any amendments to the text so that they can monitor changes. There is an objection, of course, to her proposal, which is that it would slow down European legislation. Frankly, I do not regard that as an objection. But the implementation of any such changes makes even more imperative the need for a much improved system of dealing with European legislation in our own Parliament. When Bills go through the full parliamentary procedure they arouse an interest and discussion in Parliament and in the country that is essential to their satisfactory enactment.

European legislation that is to be applied and monitored in this country must be subjected to much more of those processes than it has been in the past. Even at present we are finding that the European legislation is at times being interpreted by government regulation in a way that would not have passed the full scrutiny of parliamentary process.

Finally, I have always believed that the long-term success of the European Union must be based on a sound and respected financial regime. Many changes have been made over the years. The Court of Auditors was set up in 1977. In order to give it more clout, at Maastricht it was made a Community institution. Although it has become more effective, it has still come in for a lot of criticism.

On 8th January 2002, the House debated a very valuable report on the Court of Auditors by the European Union Committee. Its report and the evidence given to it were first class, and are both deserving of serious consideration by the convention. The report noted that:

    "The need for the Court to be independent and to be seen as independent was accepted by all of the witnesses questioned about this".

It went on to stress the need for a highly qualified chief executive, supported by a large team of audit staff who were mainly qualified.

In the light of experience, and particularly in view of the future enlargement, I feel that the convention should review the constitution and working of the Court of Auditors. Our European Union Committee's report provides a sound basis for any such review.

6.21 p.m.

Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, I add my thanks to my noble friend Lord Blackwell for bringing this important matter before us today.

Perhaps one of the most unwise things that I ever did was to not take too much notice of the Treaty of Rome until it was on the statute book. In my innocence, I was excited by this brave new world that would emerge, bringing peace and prosperity to a Europe that had spent hundreds of years tearing itself apart. I loved the thought of free trade, easier travel, and the pulling together that I was certain would benefit us all.

2 Apr 2003 : Column 1368

Thirty years ago, I was one of many who campaigned for a "Yes" vote on the crest of a wave. With the new flag flying and "Ode to Joy" playing, I was inspired to knock on doors day after day, whatever the weather. I remember the atmosphere at the count, which was euphoric as the "Yes" vote succeeded. However, what I did not realise was that the EEC was destined to become the EU, with the ultimate goal of ever-closer political union.

A quarter of a century on, I observe with sadness and even anger our nation being slowly strangled by all the regulation, bureaucracy and interference in our daily lives. Over the past few weeks, the sham that is the European Union has been exposed for all to see. Personally, I found French arrogance in the attitude to United Nations resolutions an absolute disgrace. However, all that may be a blessing, as surely now the idea of a European army and common defence policy is ludicrous. That is confirmed by the YouGov poll in the Sunday Times on 29th March. It would appear that public opinion has shifted since the outburst from France, hardening against further integration into a Europe of the regions.

I am angry that the Government are attempting to tear England apart in the Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill, currently passing through the House, simply because that suits the EU better. It is appalling that this country should be treated in that cavalier fashion, with the Government casually bringing about the abolition of the county councils—councils which have served us well for centuries.

I will not discuss the finer points of the convention debate, as others are much more qualified to do so than I am, and nor do I know all the detail. However, what I gather to be under consideration fills me with horror and foreboding.

The convention is now in the process of finalising proposals for a new treaty of Rome. I believe that it is the duty of this Parliament to ensure that the British people are made aware of the detail of the treaty in good, plain English, as my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth said. Phrases such as "community competence" and "legal personality" will not do. I am sure that no one would understand what they meant unless it was spelt out very clearly. It must also be explained how any treaty would impinge on every facet of our lives. Then the question must be put to the British people in a referendum. For surely the treaty would have a more far-reaching impact than acceptance of the euro.

In another place, the right honourable Peter Hain said:

    "We have not gone down the referendum route, except in the case of the original decision to join and—if we indeed decide to hold a referendum—in the case of the fundamental decision of joining the single currency . . . we shall proceed as we have done in the past, by ratifying treaties through Parliament, because, frankly, that is the best way".—[Official Report, Commons, 20/3/03; col. 305WH.]

That may be so in his opinion, but what could be more fundamental than the proposed treaty? Surely the Government must recognise that the proposals are so far-reaching that it is essential that the people are consulted and their views taken into account. As the shadow Foreign Secretary, Michael Ancram MP, said:

2 Apr 2003 : Column 1369

    "It would be totally wrong to accept a further transfer or surrender of sovereignty, and a diminishing of our constitutional rights, contained within a European Constitution without a referendum".

My noble friend Lady Blatch pointed out that many of our established institutions have undergone major surgery during the past five years. Taken together that constitutes a revolution, with many lives being turned upside down. We must not allow the British people to be led blind into a future where our sovereignty and rights are lost.

I well remember the Second World War song "There'll Always be an England" and what it meant to everyone. It could not be sung today with confidence. I just cannot understand the Government's determination to decimate our country and hand it over to the European Union. It would in my view be a catastrophe if that were allowed to happen.

As I have said before, the European Union has for me been a shattered dream, but I have said today what many people have told me are their thoughts. I do not wish to become an oath-taking citizen of the federal states of the European Union. I simply want to be British and English in a loose association of European member states. I can only hope and pray that we do not be become so submerged in the United States of Europe that we drown in its regulation. If we do, I am certain that our children and grandchildren will never forgive us.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page