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Lord Rees-Mogg: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, for introducing the Bill, which has led to what can only be a useful debate in moving forward the referendum that the Government have promised. It is thoroughly helpful.

I should also like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Laidlaw, on an excellent maiden speech. It was thoughtful, informed and thoroughly valuable. The House will look forward very much to hearing him in future.

Perhaps I may add a comment from my own knowledge—a knowledge more of the noble Lord's business than of him. For some years in the 1990s I was
 
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the chairman of a company now called Informa, which was and is the main British competitor with IIR, the company that the noble Lord created and runs. You get to know the real quality of a company that is your main competitor, better than in any other way—just as the Opposition Front Bench have a shrewd knowledge of the excellent quality of the Government Front Bench.

Not only was the noble Lord's business well run, as one would expect, and very profitable—it was usually more profitable than we were—but the work his business was doing was consistently of real social value and of advantage to this country and to the many other countries in which he was operating. I am glad that we should have someone with his international business experience, at the relatively small-business scale, coming to this House to add to our knowledge.

I am not supposed to congratulate the next maiden speaker on her speech before she makes it. However, to find myself speaking before a maiden speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury, has brought back for me the happiest memories of the last Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury to speak to this House. Lady Violet was a person for whom I had the greatest fondness, for her intelligence and her loyalty to her party. If those noble Lords are sitting on those Benches with a party that to all appearances is now thriving in the country, they owe their position to those who kept the Liberal faith during the dark years of the emergence of the Labour Party and the dominance of the Conservative Party in the middle of the previous century. Therefore, the name Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury is a name which I hold in the highest regard and respect.

It is an appropriate moment for us to be discussing this issue. A major change is taking place in the politics of this country, and the referendum project is one which has to be considered in the light of a shift of ideas that is fundamental to our politics. In Somerset we have a number of village celebrations next month to record the anniversary of the death of the great liberal philosopher John Locke in 1704. What seems to be happening is that in all the parties a new spirit which could be described as "neo-liberalism" is rapidly spreading.

I should like to use today's issue of the Financial Times as a document to illustrate the point. It starts with quotations from Mr Milburn, who is taking over responsibility for development of the policy of the governing party before the next general election and for the next Parliament. What he says is therefore of the utmost importance. I hope the House will allow me to read out some quotations at the head of the article.

Mr Milburn starts with what one could call a radical assertion. He states:

Perhaps that does not mean much in itself, but he continues:


 
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That is consistent with the Prime Minister's change of mind in favour of having a referendum, which some Euro-fanatics oppose. I am sure that the Prime Minister was right.

Although I am not sure whether Mr Milburn's comments are from one speech or are interesting extracts from several, he continues:

Another extract says:

When one listens to those views as the central beliefs of the man who will decide the policy of the Government as they go into a general election and, if they are re-elected, the policy of the Government in the next Parliament, what is striking is not how controversial the ideas are but how they have spread through the parties. They have even spread to the figure whom the press, probably wrongly, build up as the great rival to Mr Milburn. I never pretend to understand the internal workings of any parties. A Cross-Bencher should not try.

However, in the same issue of the Financial Times the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is certainly a powerful figure in determining the future of his party, takes a surprisingly similar line about Europe. He says:

There we have what people might call the two wings of the Labour Party taking the same view. What about the Liberal Democrats over there? Here is an article by Sir Samuel Brittan, who is well known to many of us as the brother of a distinguished Member of this House and who is a leading liberal theoretician in the press. He says, in reference to a new Orange Book, which I regret that I have not yet had the opportunity to read, Reclaiming Liberalism:

As I understand it, the Orange Book advocates courses and policies of that kind. Indeed, the only thing that surprises me about that is that, in other articles that I read, it is clear to me that if I were a member of the party of the noble Lords in the other corner of the House, I should be regarded as a Young Turk and no doubt would regard them as obstacles to change and barnacles on the bottom of the liberal ship.

And what about the Conservative Party? I think that the reshuffle that the Conservative Party has carried out and the August policy statements all tend in the same neo-liberal direction. What, one might say after reading the papers, about the appointment of Mr Redwood back to the Front Bench on the shadow side? But Mr Redwood is not only a neo-liberal; he is an extremist neo-liberal.
 
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So we have a situation in which our politics have changed in a neo-liberal and Lockean direction. What is the situation with the European constitution that is being proposed to us? It is not a neo-liberal document; it is not even a liberal document. It belongs, quite honestly, to the 1950s, when the first work on creating the new Europe was being carried out. It is a document derived from the constitutional ideas of 19th century Europe, some of which were held by well intentioned Popes, some of which were developed in the First and Third Empires by the two Napoleons and some of which were owing to Chancellor Bismarck. Indeed, many of the ideas about the power of bureaucracy to change society derive from the days of the Prussian empire. But it is not in any way a document which shows an underlying liberal ideology.

One can see that in the constitution very clearly. There is no proposed reform of the acquis communautaire. The acquis communautaire has developed over 50 years. Any institution which has developed over 50 years is ripe for reform. That is universally true in human history. And the fact that the acquis communautaire is not only taken totally for granted and is totally protected but has also been imposed without change—85,000 pages of it—on every new member of the European Union shows that this is an anti-radical document and we cannot afford to sterilise Europe at the point at which it is reached.

There is no return of powers to the independent elected national Parliaments—none. Nowhere does it say that powers which in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s or 1990s went to the centre should now be returned in order to get them nearer to the people. There is not a word on that. Therefore, this is a document which must be rejected. We have gone down a blind alley. We have gone backwards in history towards the 1950s and the 19th century and we have produced this absurd constitution, which is itself incapable of reform and an obstacle to reform.

Now we have—I very much welcome it—a Labour Party which is bursting out with all the leaves of spring. It has decided that it is going to be a liberal and democratic party—a decision that some people asked it to take some little while ago. We have a Liberal Democrat Party in which the brightest and best of young people are urging their elders—tugging at their coat-tails—to go back to the fundamental ideas of liberty on which the Liberal Party was founded. We have a Conservative Party which shares this magnificent consensus. And, sitting on the Cross Benches, I can say that there are quite a few neo-liberals on the Cross Benches as well.

We have a European document which is flatly contrary to all those ideas. Of course, it will be swept away. The only question is: when? And the answer is: the sooner, the better.


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