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Lord Kalms: My Lords, perhaps I may state immediately my personal interest in this debate as a committed activist for the Vote No to the Referendum Campaign, a cross-party organisation which challenges the alleged benefits of the proposed constitution for Europe. From that starting point, I warmly welcome the proposed Bill introduced by my noble friend Lord Blackwell to establish now the timing for the great and definitive debate.
I intend however to offer some considered reflections on the decision-making process and the need for the serious analysis that the proposed constitutional changes demand; the timing and pace that are necessary to concentrate the arguments from all sides; and, above all, to recognise the critical importance of the proposed treaty to our nation.
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Without over-elaborating, the new treaty is a life-threatening issue, using the word "life" in the sense of life as we know it and life as we want it, and something worth fighting for. Thanks to the "No" campaign and others, the Government have finally, albeit somewhat reluctantly, agreed to a referendum. Having made the concession, they must now be further persuaded not to toss the issue into the long grass, only to retrieve it when it is convenient. Without trying to be thespian, I urge that,
The man with the ball has a strong responsibility to play fairly and equitably with his opponents. Whatever the outcome, the prime responsibility of the decision-makers is to be open, genuine and fair in the process of explanation of the realities of the proposed treaty. The word "transparency" comes to mind.
For a moment, I ask noble Lords to share with me one of the most important philosophies of my own long commercial career, a period which included many bids, mergers and takeovers that covered substantial sums. The process of due diligence was always thorough, but there were risks. It is inevitable that in any transaction, however seemingly attractive and however big the pot of gold seems to be, the one inviolable rule etched in my philosophy is that, if there is the slightest doubt, you never risk or bet the company. There is no reward worth targeting if there is a downside which puts at serious risk the careers and fortunes of those who have attached their stars to your wagon.
The process involves explaining the risks, getting people to understand your philosophy, and for them to be assured that there can be no outcome that spells disaster. It follows therefore that consultation must be as wide as possible. Moreover, within that process we should accept that at any time, our prerogative, after weighing the evidence, is our privilege to say "Yes" or, often harder, to say "No". However negative the implications, that is sometimes the only safe view to adopt, in particular when we are being asked to take a path which is irrevocable and irreversible, and where we might well be betting not merely a company, but the country: this country, our country.
It is certainly not a decision that has to be taken without the deepest reflection. Nor is it a scenario for calling in the Whips. It demands genuine and detailed discussion with the widest audiences everywhere, at every level, and of every political persuasion. Regrettably we have got off to a bad start. Already a Government Minister has dismissed the whole of the treaty as merely a tidying-up exercise. In the world of spin, that must go down as a new high in lows.
The whole of Europe meets in Nice in long, detailed discussion and fractious meetings. It produces nearly 700 pages of dense and complex details about the restructuring of power and responsibility. There is
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more debate and adjustment and, finally, the majority of the countries have decided to call for a referendum on the treaty.
Lord Kalms: My Lords, it was quite a lot of effort for a tidying-up operation. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Laidlaw, who has pre-empted a quotation that I was going to use from a statement by President Prodi. However, it is a good enough statement for me to repeat. He said that it is,
I do not have a sufficient range of words to express my rage at that attempt to trivialise the treaty, except to hope that it was a false start and that the Government will play it straight from now, and no better way would be to consent to the full text of this Bill. Let debate and argument fill the air, everywhere. Let all the risks be calculated so as to ensure that everyone knows what the referendum is about. We must all stop talking in platitudes. We must deal with the facts, listen to experts and learn the skills of genuine risk assessment.
Saying "No" is, in itself, not sufficient. We must show the treaty as a false start. The real challenge is to agree collectively as to the model of Europe we want and would be worth fighting for. A model that imbues democracy, rejects federation and enjoins the individuality of the participating state. A model that rejects a demanding, corrupt, central bureaucracy that has produced unworkable and financially disastrous formulae.
Regrettably, the headlong flight to an unsatisfactory treaty attracts uncomfortable bedfellows. The majority of the genuine European reformersmy natural habitatare forced to cohabit with those who wish to exit Europe altogether, making a very unholy alliance. We would prefer a better coalition.
Whenever the referendum, I will clearly fight to persuade a "No" vote, but I will do so in a disciplined response to the treaty and argue that the kind of Europe we want and need would not be the outcome of this tortuous and inequitable treaty.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I intervene briefly to highlight one point which has been mentioned today and which I feel will become very important in our forthcoming national debate about the proposed EU constitution. It was well put today by
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the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, when he said that the constitutional treaty contains not much new; therefore it must be acceptable if that is so.
But I would put to your Lordships that our relationship with Brussels has not featured much in any general election since 1983. So if some of their sovereignty has been surreptitiously removed, or if, for one reason or another, they did not know it was being taken from them, I believe the people are now entitled to wake up and say that they want it back. If Mr Giscard d'Estaing did us one favour, he has written the proposed constitution in very clear language; anyone can read it and understand it.
As a now independent Conservativeand therefore no longer controlled by the weighty considerations of the party whipI very briefly will put on the record in your Lordships' House the process and apportion blame for where we are today. In 1972, of course, the Conservatives were responsible for Schedules 2 and 3 to the 1972 Act and for introducing the supremacy of European law over British law. Agriculture and fish went the way of all flesh as well. In 1985 the Conservatives were again responsible for putting all of our commerce and industry under the qualified majority vote in Brussels in the Single European Act.
Under the qualified majority vote it is, of course, true that the executive or the government of the day make decisions in Brussels. But the essential point is that the House of Commons itself becomes virtually a rubber stampand this place alsoand we have to enact what has been agreed by the executive in Brussels.
That, I think, very briefly sums up the Conservative responsibility in this sorry saga. But Labour, of course, is responsible for putting all of our social and labour policies under the qualified majority vote in 1997. Now it is supporting the new constitution.
This is not the time to debate its details, save to say that it removes any pretence that our relationship with Brussels is a relationship between collaborating democracies. It gives the EU its new legal personality, superior to that of the nation states.
In this whole process we seem to have forgotten two fundamental pillars of our sovereignty, of our constitution, unwritten though it be, of our democracy or self-government, however you wish to put it. I shall remind your Lordships of those two fundamental pillars today. The first is the hard-won right of the British people to elect and dismiss those who make their laws. That process, that pillar, is abrogated by our relationship with Brussels. The second is that the British people have given Parliament the power to make all their laws for them, but they have not given Parliament permission to give that power away. I very much hope they will remember this when we come to debate the constitution and that they will throw it out whenever it is put to the vote.
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