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Lord Selsdon: My Lords, on Tuesday morning I was in a rush to get back to your Lordships' House to speak on Iraq, one of my favourite countries, when unwittingly I raised my head sharply and smashed it into a heavy object. Suffering a little from what I thought was amnesia or something, I staggered back to your Lordships' House to find that we were in hard-hat country and I had left mine behind. I wondered why we had been brought back, and tried to calculate what it might have cost: it was most interesting. Then, with my throbbing headache, when I saw the programme, I said "There is skulduggery about". I wondered what the plans were, because the first item of business was a debate on Iraq. I had thought that that debate had nothing to do with what we are talking about today, but then I realised that it did. During the debate the former Cabinet Secretaries said, "We no longer have a democracy; we have sofa politics. The Cabinet is never informed and only small ill-informed groups meet; therefore, we must look at it in a slightly different way".

As a senior non-executive of a public company I tried to equate the Cabinet with an executive management which also has an executive board. Your Lordships' House and Parliament are the non-executive directors, who have a duty to ensure that everything is all right. As the week progressed, I thought, "Wait a moment, we have this debate on Friday"—an excellent suggestion by my noble friend Lord Blackwell—"There is possibly a little Conservative skulduggery, but never mind, as it may flush a few people out into the open". If we had this great European business together and we put the issue of hunting to the new constitution, would our friends on the Continent propose that we keep it or ban it? To a man, they would propose to keep it. Let us suppose we put to them whether it was right for us to go into Iraq. They would all say, "No, you were wrong". If we get further down this line, we might have a few problems: democracy may be taken away from us by others who feel that they have a right to interfere.
 
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Before my senile dementia and amnesia take over, I shall take noble Lords back to the glorious week of 21 to 28 October 1971, when Parliament debated whether we should join the EU. Some great speeches were made from the Liberal Benches, which are almost deserted today. The Liberals seem to move in phalanxes: they are all whipped together to come in one moment and at other times there are very few of them. The vote resulted in the biggest majority that the House of Lords had had since the abolition of hanging. Five hundred and nine people turned up to vote. I am the only one speaking today who voted at that time but 24 Members of your Lordships' House voted "Content". No one in your Lordships' House today voted "Not-Content".

Lord Monson: My Lords, perhaps I may correct the noble Lord. I voted "Not-Content".

Lord Selsdon: My Lords, with the noble Lord's permission, I did not know he was speaking today. I was referring to the noble Lords speaking in the debate. Of those speaking today, the only person who voted "Content" was the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, very bravely on the other side. Only three or four of those who voted remain in your Lordships' House.

In the House of Commons there was a majority of 60 per cent to 40 per cent; in the House of Lords it was 89 per cent to 11 per cent. But that was only the start. The debate was strange: the Labour Party was totally anti-Europe, except for around four men, including George Brown, who said, "We mustn't miss, not the bus, but the plane". The noble Lords, Lord Callaghan and Lord Healey, and others were in favour of joining. When we came to passing the Bill, we had to send a delegation to the European Parliament. I was the treasurer of the Conservative Group for Europe because the Treasury could not provide any financial help to our delegation. The noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, and I had to raise money. We tried hard to persuade members of the Labour Party to join this great initiative but they were not prepared to do so. They said that it would be wrong for the nation. There was only one real honest man who is still in your Lordships' House: the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, who has stuck to his guidelines.

So what happened? Over a period, the Labour Party quite rightly said, "We do not believe in all of this. We will hold a referendum". But we did not believe in referendums in those days, as we thought that they were unconstitutional. They have only become necessary these days because Parliament is no longer democratic, as a result of the centralised control taken by the senior Executive. As the noble Lord, Lord Radice, said, the referendum was held on 5 April 1975. A great turnout was needed, and, to some extent, planning had been going on before. The noble Lord, Lord Dykes, whom I wish had spoken today, was very active at that time as a neo-liberal in favour of Europe. There was a 64.5 per cent turnout and coincidentally 64.5 per cent voted in favour. Only two groups said no: the Western Isles, where 76 per cent voted against, and
 
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Shetland, where 56 per cent voted against. When one considers that 29 million people turned out, when in the last election 19 million people did not vote, one realises that referendums or referenda may be becoming an essential ingredient of democracy as Parliament begins to fail—I know not.

I was in favour of going into the EU. Together we coined the phrase, "Britain in Europe: it's our business to be there". The object was trade and commerce; it was not politics, and never should it be. As a banker, for my sins, I was given the job of EEC adviser with the Midland Bank. I was handed a smart office in Brussels, beautifully furnished. We tried unsuccessfully to get duty-free drink, and our job was to infiltrate the Commission. We did very well: we had those cosy sofa chats, like current-day sofa government, and decided what was right. We tried to get UKRep involved, but the British had already been excluded and the die was cast.

The various French and Germans had their players in the right places. Our job was, not to make constructive suggestions, but to fight tooth and nail to stop restrictive legislation hurting the United Kingdom. This even included such issues as the export of our teddy bears. It became apparent that the only way in which we could get Customs clearance for British teddy bears, which were among the best in the world, was for them to be delivered to a small town in Bordeaux, where the Customs post was open from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on a Friday.

Many organisations were set up to try to push greater free trade, but we were being squeezed out, as we are today. The consensus of opinion on the Continent is, "We will trade this off against that, but the British are not involved so never mind. We want them to go on paying a large slug of funds to peasant farmers". I should declare that I am a peasant farmer in France and that occasionally I receive support.

The most current such situation arose when heavy hail hit the grapes. To get support, we had to complete an enormous form showing damages—it used to be A5 but is now A3 in triplicate. I was asked to give the name and address of the person who created the damage. That was difficult, but nil returns were required, although normally you would just put "XXX" and the computer would process it. The more exciting incident was when wild boar had savaged some of the crop. I was required to fill in the name and address of the wild boar, and when I did not fill it in, I was told that I could not receive the necessary subvention. I am being slightly light-hearted because it is Friday, but it is a serious issue.

Returning to other serious issues, I still do not believe in referendums if Parliament does its job properly, because Parliament represents the people. If we are to have a referendum, it should be as soon as possible and when the weather is right. We should stop this politicking about, because the government of the day know full well that the British people in general do not want this sort of thing from the Continent of Europe. They want free travel and not to have to use their passports but they are not interested in being
 
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restricted. Unfortunately, as the European Union is extended, more and more restrictions come in and we move to the lowest common multiple rather than the highest common factor.

Today we have had two remarkable maiden speeches. The noble Lord, Lord Laidlaw, and I are not far away from each other in the part of France where we have a house. He has made the sort of speech that I would have expected him to make: utterly professional and very competent. Above all, he followed one unwritten rule: he made it interesting, even to me, who has heard many of his views and have great regard for what he has achieved.

The family of the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, had a great influence on my life. I used to deal with Poland. One day I was invited by Lord Bonham-Carter to go to Poland with Charles Kennedy, and a few people here, to sit with our friends, the Poles, to discuss the arrival of democracy. But when we arrived, there had been a little incident that had taken place in, I believe, Gibraltar, involving the SAS or someone. We found that there was a political contretemps and we all had to flee. Unfortunately, I did the dirty. I knew it was coming so I rushed off to a local bar, bought a drink or two and got a taxi to the airport while most of the delegation had to spend two nights in the embassy. That was Europe.

I now come to: will we have a referendum or will we not? Taking some of the words used by my noble friend Lord Blackwell, I would say, "Yes, the advice we should give to the Government is go ahead and have a referendum because I think you may be surprised"—as my noble friend Lord Patten said—"that the result may be not what you want or what you expect. Maybe you do not want to have a referendum after all and maybe you do not want this piece of new legislation".

Anyway, it is Friday. I wish everyone good luck with their ventures in the future. Since I am one of the few of your Lordships' House never to have had the right to vote for a Member of Parliament, I say to noble Lords, "You have the Government you deserve".


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