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Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I thought that it was rather perspicacious of Her Majesty to go so far as to refer to our relationship with the European Union in the gracious Speech. After all, there was not much mention of it during the general election campaign. We Eurosceptics found that not only somewhat surreal but also very dangerous for what is left of our democracy.

I say that because the Government admit that a large majority of our new laws now originate in Brussels, with the House of Commons and your Lordships' House acting largely as a rubberstamp on what is agreed in the Council of Ministers. If any noble Lords think that I may be overstating the case, I would point out that a year ago the Cabinet Office estimated that 54 per cent of all our major laws and a larger percentage of all our laws came from Brussels. Last week, the German Government estimated that 80 per cent of all their legislation now does so. There is no reason to suppose that we are much different.

When the Government say that legislation originates in Brussels, they of course mean the EU's legislative procedure, whereby new laws are passed either under the qualified majority voting system or by unanimity in the Council of Ministers. When they have been so passed, the House of Commons and your Lordships' House have to enact them. Huge areas of our national life are already subject to the QMV. The UK has about 9 per cent of the votes in the Council and about 30 per cent is needed to block a new law.

Roughly speaking, all of our commerce and industry, our social and labour policy, our environment, agriculture, fisheries and foreign aid are subject to QMV. Our justice and home affairs, and our foreign and security policy, can also be decided in the Council of
 
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Ministers, although in those areas our executive or government of the day retain the veto. The fact still remains that the House of Commons and your Lordships' House—or Parliament, as I hope I may still venture to call it—must enact all legislation passed under either of those systems in Brussels. That is known as the democratic deficit in Euro-speak—if your Lordships will forgive me.

I hope I can be forgiven, too, for suggesting that, given even this present state of European integration as represented by the Treaty of Nice, the House of Commons and your Lordships' House are already largely redundant. And yet no one, apart from brave little UKIP, saw fit to mention this state of affairs during the general election campaign. Perhaps this is one reason why the people showed so little interest in the manifestos of the main parties, why turnout remained depressingly low and why UKIP—with all its internal problems and lack of finance—nearly doubled its vote.

One cannot help wondering what might have happened to the Conservative vote if that party had gone to the country on a clear commitment to leave the European Union, especially if it had spent the previous year or so explaining the huge advantages of such a policy, instead of lamely saying that it wanted to renegotiate the Treaties of Rome but not daring to say that it would leave the EU if it did not get what it wanted, which of course everyone knows it would not.

In fact, I understand that a casual observation of the polling results shows that the UKIP vote was enough to deny the Conservatives some 26 seats. One can only speculate how many more seats the Conservatives would have won if they had been on a "come out" ticket and the UKIP vote had gone to them, together with an unknown quantity of votes which were not cast because the voters in question did not think it was worth wasting a vote for UKIP and could not bring themselves to vote Conservative. Of course we shall never know, but I trust that it is food for thought.

Turning to the proposed constitution, I suppose the Government have a point when they say it is only a "tidying-up exercise". I suppose they have a point because it would sweep the remainder of our sovereignty under the Brussels carpet. Anyone who doubts this clearly has not read it. Indeed, most people never will read it.

As a substitute, perhaps I may suggest that any noble Lord who thinks that the proposed constitution is nothing new—and therefore, presumably, innocent—should read the leader in today's Daily Telegraph, which is a brief and brilliant exposition of what is proposed in the constitution. I recommend it as a ready reckoner, to be cut out and kept in the pocket, for the national debate which may lie ahead.

I say the debate "may" lie ahead because, of course, the French may vote down the constitution in their referendum on 29 May, as may the Dutch on 1 June. I do not suppose it matters much what the Dutch say because their referendum is only advisory, their Government are very committed to the constitution
 
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and they are a small, if original, country in the EU scheme of things. But if the French vote "no", I fear that we Eurosceptics may be in deep trouble because a French "no" would almost certainly kill the constitution as such.

However, of course, it will not kill the project of European union; it will not kill the corrupt octopus in Brussels. It is just that its most aggressive and powerful tentacle will have been lopped off.

So what will the Eurocrats do? I fear they will regroup. I fear that they may set up another intergovernmental conference—proclaiming that they are listening to the people, of course—and within a couple of years we will have another treaty revision. That treaty will be written in much more impenetrable language than is the constitution, which is really quite easy to understand. Hidden in that impenetrable language of the new treaty, a number of little doors will be left ajar—and it is through those little doors that the Commission and the court will later walk, just as they have always done in the past. So I fear that that new treaty, those amendments to the Treaty of Nice, will achieve much the same effect as the proposed constitution.

But, of course, we will not be offered a referendum on that next treaty. I can already hear the Government intoning, yet again, that the Conservatives did not offer a referendum on the Single European Act or Maastricht—which, indeed, they did not—and that one was not held on the Treaties of Amsterdam or Nice—which, indeed, it was not—so why should we have one on this new, innocent, little treaty which merely makes it possible for the European Union to function better?

In the mean time, the Eurocrats will proceed to implement their plans under the Treaty of Nice, as indeed they are already doing. They are already integrating their defence expenditure and setting up their battle groups, with troops already in the Congo under the EU flag; the Galileo project is going ahead, with the obvious purpose of undermining the United States' global positioning system and in spite of US objections; they have already taken control of our asylum system; and the Luxembourg court is already invading our national ability to collect corporation tax.

So the juggernaut rolls on. It will not be prevented even by a French "No" to the constitution. But if they vote "No", and the constitution is taken off the table, I cannot see how we will get a referendum if there is no proposal upon which to hold it.

So Eurosceptics must hope that the French vote "Yes". Then we will probably have a referendum, and we will win it. Only thus can we be sure of starting the process of disengagement from the project of European Union which a majority of the British people now seem to want, even if they have never been told by any of the main political parties why they are so right to do so. Indeed, recent opinion polls show that 64 per cent of 18 to 25 year-olds would vote to reduce our relationship with Brussels merely to one of free trade with the single market.
 
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I suppose it is quite an unusual experience for the destiny of this country to be held in the hands of the French, but I hope they rise to the challenge. If they do not, we shall be forced to continue the process whereby our Parliament grows ever weaker and whereby the fundamental tenets of our sovereignty continue to be betrayed. One of those tenets is that the British people should elect and dismiss those who make their laws—the Members of the House of Commons. Another is that the British people have given Parliament the power to make all their laws for them, but they have not knowingly given Parliament permission to give that power away. Both principles have been betrayed by our political classes over the past 33 years.

If the French vote "Yes", we in the United Kingdom will probably have the opportunity to save ourselves by our endeavour, when we vote down the constitution. Perhaps, in the ensuing confusion, we shall even help to save the real Europe, the Europe of democratic nations, by our example.

4.41 pm

Lord Grenfell: My Lords, I express my warmest congratulations to the noble Lords, Lord Triesman and Lord Drayson, on assuming their new roles on the Front Bench. I really look forward to having them as interlocutors on the relatively rare occasions on which I speak in your Lordships' House.

I do not know by what Machiavellian process my name came to be put down immediately after that of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. As your Lordships well know, in my position as chairman of the European Union Committee, I cannot engage in polemics on the issue that is dearest to my heart. But were it not for the fact that I know that the noble Lord studies very closely what goes on in the European Union—although his interpretation is entirely different from mine—I would be tempted to say that his comprehensive contempt for the European Union would seem to be manifestly not bred of familiarity. I am afraid that much of what he had to say I did not recognise. However, I shall be happy to tell my friends in France that he is rooting for a "Yes" vote. They will be deeply comforted.

I thank your Lordships very warmly for once again entrusting me with the chairmanship of the European Union Committee. It is a great honour. I shall do all I can to see that it continues to scrutinise with rigour the European Union's draft legislation and programmes and to assist your Lordships' House in holding the Government to account in their decisions and actions in the various councils of the European Union.

My purpose in speaking in the debate is to update the House on the work the Select Committee plans to undertake in the year ahead, as we enter the UK presidency on 1 July. My remarks are based on the work plans anticipated by the Select Committee and its seven sub-committees at the end of the previous Session, but with the caveat that the committees are free to set their own agenda. As chairman, I insist on that. When appointed again next week, as I expect they will be, it will be for those new committees to confirm
 
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their intentions. But I hope to show this afternoon how our work as planned in the light of our internal consultations would allow the House to scrutinise carefully the UK presidency proposals and hold the Government most rigorously to account.

As the presidency parliament we also have certain obligations starting 1 July, the principal one of which is for our committee to co-host and co-chair, with the Scrutiny Committee in another place, the meeting of COSAC—the Conference of Community and European Affairs Committees of the Parliaments of the European Union. I apologise, that is almost as long as the name that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, managed to find. I remember that when I first joined COSAC, a Dutch colleague said, "COSAC sounds rather like a tranquilliser and when you have been here long enough you will realise that it is". In fact, I have a high regard for the institution and I look forward to co-chairing its work in the coming six months. That meeting will be in October and we expect around 250 parliamentarians from around Europe to come to Westminster for it. This is the forum which allows national parliaments and the European Parliament to exchange best practice on scrutiny matters and I am confident that our committee will as always play a leading role in this event.

I turn now, if I may, to the substantive work of the committee and its sub-committees. The Select Committee recently published a report on the constitution's subsidiarity early warning mechanism through which national parliaments may seek to influence EU law making by monitoring the Union's adherence to the principle of subsidiarity. The committee concluded that the principle of subsidiarity needs to be applied more rigorously if it is to be effective but we also recognised the great potential of the new protocol to help create more co-operative relationships between national parliaments and the EU institutions, particularly in working to make the European Union more transparent. We hope that the House will find an early opportunity to debate this issue since improving such scrutiny is something we should be doing anyway regardless of the state of progress towards ratification of the constitutional treaty and its attached protocols.

One of the leading UK presidency priorities is better regulation in the European Union. With that in mind the Select Committee intends to publish before the Summer Recess a report proposing means to ensure that better regulation. The committee will aim in particular to establish what better regulation means and what practical measures can be taken during the United Kingdom presidency for which the Government could be held accountable. The Select Committee will also examine the Commission's annual work programme, as we have done in recent years, and report to the House.

What then of the sub-committees? Our sub-committee on economic and financial affairs has recently published a major report on the future financial perspectives of the European Union (2007–2013), identified as one of the key priorities for the UK presidency. The report has already been widely read in the EU institutions and in a number of the national parliaments of the European
 
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Union and is currently awaiting debate on the Floor of the House. This sub-committee also plans to embark on its annual scrutiny of the budget of the European Communities taking evidence from the Economic Secretary to the Treasury with a view to publishing a report in time for the first reading of the provisional draft budget at the ECOFIN Council on 12 and 13 July. I must emphasise here that getting in upstream in this way is the best guarantee that our views are taken into account by the Government at an early stage of their own deliberations. The sub-committee will also continue its customary close scrutiny work on the stability and growth pact and the European statistical framework among many other topical issues.

Our internal market sub-committee will report in June on the European Union's proposed directive on services—the so-called Bolkestein directive—which aims to create a European Union-wide single market in services and which, as your Lordships will know, has received a substantial amount of press coverage in recent months. The committee has already heard evidence from academics, trades unions, the CBI and the Federation of Small Businesses on this directive. Some sub-committee members have visited Berlin and Warsaw to find out how the proposal was viewed in a new member state and in a founder member state. The committee's report will be particularly timely as the European Parliament is due to have its first reading of this document in July and the UK presidency is keen to achieve considerable progress on this proposal for a directive.

The sub-committee on foreign affairs, defence and development aid expects to be examining the EU's relationship with the UN as well as running a second inquiry into how to scrutinise effectively the EU's common foreign and security policy. Since the policy is less document-based than policy in other areas, that has long been a concern of ours. In October it is planned, as the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, mentioned, to take an extensive look at the EU's relationship with the African Union. That promises to be a broad inquiry, looking at issues of conflict prevention, development, governance and institutional relations. It will tie in closely with the Government's own focus on Africa as part of the EU and G8 UK presidencies.

In conjunction with the relevant Commons committees, the sub-committee will also be responsible for hosting inter-parliamentary conferences here on foreign affairs, defence and development, which are scheduled to take place in October and November. It is hoped that the relevant Ministers will be able to discuss the UK presidency priorities and developments in each area. The sub-committee is aware that development issues will come to the fore during the UK presidency as a consequence of both the UN millennium review summit and an expected forthcoming report from the development commissioner, Louis Michel.

At present the Agriculture and Environment Sub-Committee is looking into the future financing of the common agricultural policy, which is a hugely important issue, and intends to report before the June European Council. In the autumn, the committee
 
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expects to build on that work by considering progress on reform of the EU's sugar regime, one of the few remaining CAP regimes still to be reformed. Following the publication of its report on climate change in the November of last year, the committee is expected to continue to monitor and examine what action the EU is taking in order to combat it.

The same sub-committee recently heard evidence from the Minister for Fisheries, Mr Ben Bradshaw MP, and will be considering what further improvements can be made under the UK presidency to the conservation, management and control of EU fisheries. In particular, the committee was dismayed by a number of scrutiny overrides in advance of the 2004 December EU Fisheries Council, and will wish to work with Defra with the aim of avoiding such overrides during the UK presidency.

The Law and Institutions Sub-Committee was prolific last Session under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote, who has now left the committee and will be sorely missed. I take this opportunity to thank him for his significant contribution to the scrutiny of European legislation and to say how much I look forward to his future contributions in this area, in particular but not exclusively on the debates he will be introducing in the House on his reports. In the current Session the committee expects to take up issues on criminal and civil law and to be especially occupied in considering the Commission communications on divorce and wills and succession.

Finally, the Home Affairs Sub-Committee is currently responding to a new phase of EU activity in the sphere of justice and home affairs following the approval of the five-year Hague programme of action in this area. The implementation of the Hague programme is a key presidency priority for the forthcoming months. The committee published an analysis of the programme in March and looks forward to a wide-ranging debate on EU justice and home affairs in this new Parliament.

The sub-committee's main focus in the coming months will be on the topical and controversial issue of economic migration to the EU, on which the Commission published a Green Paper earlier in the year. During the UK presidency, the same sub-committee will be hosting a conference jointly with the Commons Home Affairs Committee for all the national parliaments of the EU on aspects of terrorism, on which both committees have recently published reports.

The Sub-Committee on Social Policy and Consumer Affairs published a report just before dissolution on the proposed EU integrated action programme for life-long learning. The Government's response is awaited and the report has been recommended for debate, in which I am sure many of your Lordships with your considerable experience in this field will wish to contribute. The sub-committee now intends to carry out an inquiry into the Commission's proposals for a new directive on harmonisation of consumer credit. The Commission wants to create a single market in consumer credit and to introduce new EU-wide standards of consumer protection. Our inquiry will examine whether a single
 
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market in consumer credit is feasible or desirable. It will also have to judge whether the proposed consumer protection measures are proportionate and based on a sound understanding of the complex and varied EU consumer credit market, where Britain has a significant lead and where the Government plan to add to the already extensive consumer protection framework of domestic legislation.

The sub-committee will also examine the Commission's new social agenda, published in February 2005, which raises important questions of the balance between the Lisbon goals of competitiveness and European traditions of social responsibility, which will form the basis of so much of the debate on referendums in European countries.

That is what your Lordships' Select Committee and its seven sub-committees expect to be doing during the British presidency. Some 70 members of your Lordships' House will be devoting much time, effort and unparalleled expertise to work which I know as a fact is widely appreciated and respected, far beyond the walls of this Parliament—indeed right across the European Union. This work not only focuses on significant issues that touch on matters of direct relevance to citizens, which is important enough, but also helps your Lordships' House to hold the Government to account for their work in this coming presidency, which is clearly a core task for the Parliament in the six months to come.

4.55 pm


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