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Lord Russell-Johnston: My Lords, we have been much entertained by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson. Of course, I agree with him very much on his final remarks and will come back to that. I am peculiarly and particularly pleased to speak in a debate introduced by my noble friend Lord Dykes. Aeons ago, even before sunset, I was, for about a decade, the Liberal Party spokesman on Europe in the other place. We had endless debates—I remember Maastricht, that merry occasion—and I made endless speeches. Usually, facing me, smiling beatifically, was the face of the good Lord Dykes who, at that time, was misplaced within the Conservative Party. He has now seen the light—the sunrise—and he is clearly a happier person. It was awfully interesting when I used to make pro-European comments, which I did frequently, and he would smile or nod. Immediately the people all round him would glare blackly at him. I felt that he was almost certainly due for a row from the Whips when the debate was over.

I am a completely unrepentant federalist. I know that the F-word is banned—even within the Liberal Democrats these days. I was a federalist not only before the United Kingdom accession in 1973, but prior to 1957 and the Treaty of Rome. I was never
 
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affected by the strange view of the Thatcher and Major years that somehow federalism was a centralising concept—it never was and never has been. That is why successive British governments introduced federal systems into their colonies as they shed them—and into Germany, for that matter. So the dream of an economically and politically united Europe, which continued to rejoice in its cultural and linguistic diversity, and which inspired me in the 1950s, still holds me in thrall. As somebody said, "If you don't have ideals you will never achieve anything".

There are five issues that I wish to touch on briefly. First, I refer to the constitution. We owe both the noble Lords, Lord Tomlinson and Lord Maclennan, a great debt. The Eurosceptics appear to have fled the battlefield. I know them fairly well; I know the sound of their voices.

Lord Stevens of Ludgate: I am here, my Lords.

Lord Russell-Johnston: Fear not, my friend.

The constitution is portrayed by the sceptics as a great threat to our national independence. As the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, rightly said, that is rubbish. From a federal point of view, I could say that the constitution is timid, hyper-cautious and not forward looking, but, as a threat to the nation state, it is about as threatening as a mouse in the Albert Hall. That is nonsense.

One of its other shortcomings—I could develop the point considerably, but I shall not—is the failure to deal with the issue of devolution. As we are slowly knitting together in Europe, the individual nation states are devolving at the same time. Within the United Kingdom, we have devolved to Wales and Scotland, and efforts are being made to find something suitable within England. The same is happening in France and Italy. Germany already has a federal system. There is no developed way of responding to that at a European level.

My second point refers to the rebate. I agree again with the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, that it has to do with the CAP. We should remember that Mrs Thatcher got the rebate because our colleagues in the European Union accepted that the working out of the CAP meant that we were unfairly treated financially. In approaching the matter now, the Government should not argue on defending a British advantage, but on what is a fair way of doing things. We are now a bigger European Union, with a number of countries that are poorer than us having joined. They deserve the solidarity of European Union support.

Thirdly, I refer to human rights. The European Union's most important exports to the world are human rights and the setting of democratic standards. I ask that the Government oppose completely the sale of arms to China. The huge vote against such a proposal in the European Parliament towards the end of last year cannot and should not be ignored. It is not simply because Tiananmen Square was a long time ago, or even that not very much contrition has ever
 
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been shown for what happened then; it is the present situation of Taiwan, which mainland China continually threatens, and which is developing democracy in a way that we should admire.

We should also be quite direct with Russia. A couple of days ago, Aslan Maskhadov was shot and killed. When I was president of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe, I spoke to him a couple of times. I was always persuaded that he was a separatist leader, not a terrorist in the sense of targeting civilians, such as Basayev, for example. After all, one remembers the Russian's promise to work for a peaceful solution when joining the Council of Europe, which it promptly broke.

I have two final points. First, the WEU is being knitted into the European Union, and that process is taking a little while. In particular, there is the question of how national Parliaments, such as ours, will have the continued opportunity to comment directly on defence matters that are decided at the European level. Again, that decision process is slow.

The simplest way would be to make the existing Western European Union Assembly a European Union institution. That would be a simple and pragmatic way of enabling national Parliaments to continue to give advice—after all, it is only an advisory assembly. I do not say "only" pejoratively. It is important to maintain that conduit.

Finally, there is a continued and ongoing dispute that the extension of the European Union threatens the existence of the Council of Europe. I do not think that it should do so. The two each have a place well into the future, and the Government should make it clear when they take over the chairmanship of the European Union that they do not wish the removal of the Council of Europe. Its work in democracy building—especially in the countries outside the European Union, but not exclusively so—remains of the greatest importance.

6.29 p.m.

Lord Stevens of Ludgate: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, for calling attention to the United Kingdom presidency of the Council of the European Union.

I feel somewhat isolated but undeterred in my views. Shortly following the presidency, we shall have in 2006 the referendum on the EU constitution. One hopes, therefore, that the UK presidency will seek to clarify a number of issues so that the electorate can have a clearer idea what they are voting about, in view of the conflicting opinions of European leaders.

I note that the Prime Minister's colleague in the other place, who is in charge of the negotiations, considers the constitution to be a tidying-up exercise. Others may differ from that definition. I see no point in contesting the definition, but let us consider what is being tidied up.

Jean-Luc Dehaene, vice-chairman of the convention which drew up the document, in June 2004, said that,


 
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whatever that is—

Our Prime Minister stated that the text agreed in Brussels demolished myths about Britain surrendering authority to a federal super state. It will have its own full-time President, Foreign Minister, diplomatic service; its own anthem, flag and Europe day.

Germany's Minister for Europe said last week,

The Spanish Foreign Minister said:

The Spanish Prime Minister stated last week that the EU constitution would create a diplomatic service for the EU which would eventually replace national embassies. This is tidying up, according to our Government.

The Prime Minister's former Europe adviser, Mr Liddle—now adviser to the European Commissioner, Mr Mandelson—said:

He also said this week that the Prime Minister should be more honest with voters and admit that Britain was handing more and more power to Brussels and that the constitution was a political project and not a free trade society. Mr Monnet would have been delighted with these remarks.

Our Foreign Secretary says that the constitution marks an end of the transfer of British sovereignty to Brussels; thus far and no further. At least he admits it will and has taken place. But this, of course, ignores the general flexibility clause that allows the EU to adopt new powers not set out in the constitution at any time. There is also the power to set up a European public prosecutor.

Our negotiators tabled 275 amendments and achieved 27 of them, but the Foreign Secretary said that we delivered on every one of our red lines. I assume these were not red lines. However, we lost out, for example, on the creation of a European mutual defence pact and a common asylum and immigration system.

The new constitution gives more power to the European Parliament and a say over the €100 billion budget—if that is indeed the budget—but it does not identify any powers that might be returned to national governments, even though the European convention was specifically asked to do so.

However, for the first time, a European treaty gives any member the right to withdraw from the European Union. This implies that the Union is a voluntary association of nation states. Also, if the EU as a whole cannot agree to do something, one-third or more of the member states can agree to do it on their own. National parliaments can vote down new proposals
 
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from the Commission if they think that it can be done better at a national level. If one-third reject, Brussels has to review the proposal. This, however, is valueless as Brussels can still go ahead if it wants to.

The Prime Minister may boast that he has protected his lines on tax, defence and foreign policy, but we seem to have given way on practically everything else. Small wonder when you consider the views of other European leaders, which I have expressed.

On the "Today" programme on 19 January 2005, at 7.14 a.m.—I was actually up and I heard it—the Prime Minister said:

He then corrected it to,

His actual words were:

This sums it up. This is really more than a tidying-up exercise, but even the Prime Minister does not want to admit it.

The White Paper issued in February 2005 touches on many aspects of the EU and contains some statistical information. It refers to applying the union rules effectively across the enlarged union—but what about the un-enlarged union? It states that the UK has complied with 70 per cent of the Lisbon directives, which is above the EU average of 58 per cent.

Mr Wim Kok, the Dutch former Prime Minister, has said that urgent and serious action needs to be taken to meet the Lisbon targets. The stability and growth pact is more noted for its breaches than its compliance. We are to have an integrated life-long learning programme within the EU when in this country we cannot even agree on our domestic schools' examination schedule. We are to have even more legislation on gender equality and equal treatment. The list goes on.

Much more emphasis should be placed during our presidency on what the member countries are expecting from the new constitution and on clarifying what their expectations and objectives are. They appear to be diametrically opposed to what our leading politicians seem to be telling us, sadly not for the first time. The objective of the founders of the EU was always political and economic unification. We need to recognise and admit that, unless we tackle this desire now, that is where we will end up. The Prime Minister should clarify the position during his presidency. Health and safety is yet another area where our negotiators agreed and then discovered that it invades every area of our lives.

I very much hope that many of those in favour of even more political, social and economic integration in the EU, and those against, will be able to raise the level of the debate in the coming months from insults and generalisations to something more carefully thought through and presented. To describe Euro-sceptics as xenophobes, as the Trade Minister did last week, does
 
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not get us very far. We, like Mr Liddle, are seekers after the truth, and our presidency should be used to clarify these issues.

6.37 p.m.


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