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Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, I am very sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, banged his head and I hope that he soon recovers. Many noble Lords will be of an age to remember the refrain of Eartha Kitt"the Englishman needs time". He certainly does, but I will not go into the circumstances that she had in mind.
However, it is true that the Englishman does need time. Certainly, that applies to all aspects of our relationship with the European Union. After all, we joined in 1973 when the European Economic Community kicked off in 1958. Of course, in those years between 1958 and 1973 the British political establishment and the Treasury, which has relentlessly been of this view from start to finish and even today, were predicting that the whole exercise would fall flat on its face. It did not. In the British psyche so soon after the end of empire, that was something of a shock.
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But in our political culture we still have the problem that true as it is, as all my noble friends have pointed out, the document on the constitutional treaty is very substantially putting in a consolidated form what is already there. Nevertheless, the word "constitution" can easily frighten the horses in our political culture. That worries me, not because there is anything wrong with the word, but because it easily lends itself to populist misrepresentation. It perhaps needs time to be explained before it gradually becomes clear to people that it is rather a consolidation.
Also, of course, as has been pointed out very eloquently by the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, in her particularly outstanding maiden speech, we are starting a new chapterenlargementinspired not by Brussels megalomaniacs but by history drawing a line under the Yalta agreement of 1945. An Estonian colleague said to me only the other day, "You know, May 1"May 1 this year"was for us the end of the Second World War".
It is also true that one cannot say that it is thanks to the European Union that we have got where we have, because clearly the American shield and NATO are very much part of that, whatever one wants to say is the nature of the Soviet Union and how far it was aggressive, how far it was defensive, and so on. We would not be where we are today without all of the developments, including the development of the first leaders of the European Union.
They knewwe today knowthat we cannot bury our head under the pillow as regards the way in which the world is developing from China through to the rest of Asia, Africa, and so forth. But it is the job of politicians not just to pander to people's short-term anxieties. We all have anxieties about the future, particularly as we get older. We sometimes think that the country is going to the dogs. Apparently, that has been true of all periods of history. Surely, it is the job of politicians to give people an acceptable vision of their role in society and an honest assessment of where that society fits into the wider world. Going back to the 1930s, history also shows that politicians are not forgiven if they fail to look further than the end of their nose and give people a leadership and a vision.
Reference has been made to the 1975 referendum. I remember it quite well: I wrote the TUC pamphlet saying, "Vote No". Two-thirds of the electorateand two-thirds of the exit polls of our membershipvoted "Yes". I remember rather distinctly and uncomfortably one very senior member of the General Council, whose name today is a household name, saying to me after the referendum, "I thought I asked you to write a popular pamphlet saying 'Vote No'". I said, "I did". "Well, it was not very popular, was it?", he said. That is the sort of thing one tends to remember.
Of course, we also had in the annals the visit of Jacques Delors to Bournemouth in 1988, whose message was that in the modern world it is only if we can work together in Europe that we can have structural change and advance the welfare of ordinary working people in a social market economy through the means of adaptation through social partnership.
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That was a message, which, at the zenith of the decade in office of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, people grasped rather readily for short-term political reasons.
However, that has been a message that has sustained itself through the experience of the Social Chapter, particularly since the Labour Party came into office in 1997. Its first act was Robin Cook going to Brussels to sign the Social Chapter. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, that that is the part of Europe that many people in this country rather like. A massive "Yes" vote from trade unionists is what I predict in the referendum. As the explanation goes on, it will be clear that in the modern world it is only by doing things together in Europe that we can make progress in reconciling rapid structural change and sustain the standard of living of ordinary people.
We cannot flinch from addressing the fact that Britain is 1 per cent of the world's populationI repeat, 1 per cent. One might think that it was 51 per cent from the way that some people talk. We can join the United States: we seem to be half way there in some aspects of our policy. I take the point about young people going around Europe. I am not a young person. Noble Lords may be surprised to hear that I was singing in a Mozart festival in Salzburg last weekend. But people from all around Europe now do that sort of thing. They may not do it very well, but that is the new European culture. With cheap air fares, a massive range of people are doing that.
So where do we go in Britain? So far as I understand the political policy thrust of the noble Lord who has introduced the Bill, there is a proposal to be half in and half outhalf way across the Rubicon. I do not remember any Roman general saying that that would be a good place to tarry for very long. I do not know, when giving it serious thought, whether there is such a place as half in and half out.
Harold Wilson did promise a renegotiation, but we all knew at the timewe decoded the messagethat it would be something cosmetic at the margin, an adjustment at the margin of the Budget contribution. Perhaps it was a bit more than cosmetic, but it was not going to change the fundamentals, nor is there anything remotely on offer at the moment that could change the fundamentals of the structure. My noble friend Lord Tomlinson, the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan and others, did an excellent job in Brussels, but the range of forces has reached a point of pivot, and that is where we are and where we are going to be.
I turn to the point about voting in February. I certainly remember that the last time we held a vote in February, it was 28 February 1974, which might have been a leap year. I remember it well because I had to try to brush my teeth in the dark at the instigation of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. But I also remember that the result was not the one that the majority of the media had predicted.
In those days we had a much more sober media than is the case today. The Murdoch press of the time did not control 35 to 40 per cent of the readership of our newspapers. By the way, I hope that at some point the Electoral Commission will give some thought to the
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fact that in the United States it is not possible for a German, French or Swedish newspaper proprietor to control 35 to 40 per cent of the media because it is illegal. I do not know why we allow it to happen in this country when there is no degree of reciprocation. That is going to be relevant to the campaign. The Daily Mail headlined the constitution we are discussing today as, "A Blueprint for Tyranny". While some might say, "Do not use a word like 'xenophobic' to describe them", I ask, "Why not? What other word describes the sort of propaganda that is being put out and poisoning the debate?".
We need a sober debate, which will take time, and as my noble friends Lord Tomlinson and Lord Radice pointed out, we need a neutral and clear statement. I am neutral and on the side of voting "Yes", but before anyone develops that point, we know that the great majority of people who want to hold referendums are those who want to vote "No". Let us put our cards on the table. I want the result to be "Yes", while for the most part, noble Lords on the Conservative Benches want the result to be "No".
The Electoral Commission has a problem in that it has to make a judgment about whether something going into our Post Offices is to be allowed without being counted on one side of the ballots in the campaign. That should be directly addressed and it should be possible to produce such a neutral document. Indeed, the Government's own document, the White Paper on the treaty, published yesterdaywhich I welcomeis pretty nearly a neutral document itself. Its introduction by the Prime Minister states that this treaty is a good thing for Britain. Neverthelessalthough we are damned if we do and damned if we don'tthe body of the document sets out a very clear and objective statement that tries to explain the historically important decision we have to make. I hope that we can go down that line, but certainly not in the way set out in the Bill before us today.
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