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Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, these documents take some time to prepare and I had assumed that the drafts for this document were circulating some time before the referendums were held in France and in Holland. I could not help wondering how different this document is and whether it does not in some part reinforce the impression among the public that it is business as usual, notwithstanding the French and the Dutch referendums—leaving out, of course, the foreword by the Foreign Secretary and the addendum of the Prime Minister's speech to the European Parliament.

On the referendum issue, is there not really some agreement between my noble friend Lord Tebbit and the Minister? Although people hold different views on the matter, no one is in much doubt what the answer would have been. That is why it is important that, in this presidency, instead of giving the impression of business as usual, the Government recognise that the constitution was rejected—it was rejected in France and in Holland and it would have been rejected undoubtedly and probably most decisively if we had had a referendum in this country—and that a new direction is needed. It is absolutely essential, albeit given the short notice the Government had having just taken over the presidency, that they reflect that in their presidency.

Lord Triesman: My Lords, one of the things that the Prime Minister said in his speech in Europe last week
 
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was that if one thing is plain about Europe, it is that it is not business as usual. As noble Lords will see, he used that phrase. The reforms are bound to be fundamental. In a way, that brings us to the difference between the two Front Benches: the question of how you get a discussion that is respectful of other views but in which you are trying to bring other people toward you. Either you have a pretty unsavoury assault on their position before you start or you try to use the arts of persuasion to bring as many people to your position as possible. What use would an attempt at reform be if all we did was antagonise people on week one so that discussion ran into the sand thereafter? That is why our approach is right.

It is reasonable enough for the noble Lord to say that the outcome of a referendum might well have been the same as elsewhere. That is always a matter of speculation, and I am just speculating, but during the course of this presidency, if we are to achieve the kind of discussion and reform that we really want, there will be fundamentally different things for the people of the United Kingdom to consider at the end of the presidency than there are at its beginning. Otherwise, Europe will continue to be in many of the dilemmas that it is in today.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, although I appreciate that it is not within the Government's power at this stage to influence, six months seems a ludicrously short period of time for which to hold the presidency given the many initiatives, which I welcome, about which my noble friend spoke.

I especially welcome what he said about enlargement. Perhaps I can press him further about those countries on the eastern borders of what will be the EU once Romania and Bulgaria join—countries such as Georgia and Moldova. I wonder whether, under the British presidency, we could not make a more positive gesture towards those countries in both closer relationships with the EU and more support for their political and social development. Those countries fear that, given the results of the referenda in France and the Netherlands, their opportunity to get closer to the EU has been somewhat stalled. A positive gesture under the British presidency would be enormously helpful to those countries and the EU.

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I think that there will be a continued effort to try to stabilise relationships and talk positively with the neighbour countries. There is bound to be a pretty rigorous debate in Europe in the coming period, not just the next six months, about how far Europe goes or what Europe is. That is a moot point. I am not sure that the Eurovision Song Contest is a guide to that, but that seems to extend further and further east.

We have a very big task in relation to Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey; we have a large task in relation to Croatia. I should like to think that we will perform all of those thoroughly while ensuring that we continue to talk to neighbours beyond them. Overreach and trying to do things too rapidly may do a disservice to
 
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the negotiations that we have promised. That is not a negative comment; but we must achieve the right balance.

Lord Chan: My Lords, during the next presidency, will we press the EU to look further afield with regard to trade, especially free-trade agreements with friendly countries in south-east Asia, such as Malaysia and Singapore, to counterbalance the growing status of China?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, discussions on trade with countries such as Singapore continue all the time. I know that my honourable friend Ian Pearson is engaged on them from day to day. But I am bound to say that when we consider the emergence of some countries—China is as good an example as the noble Lord could have chosen, although he could have chosen India or, increasingly, Brazil—we see the development of giants in the world economy. It is probably just good sense to ensure that we work closely with them, not only because we want trade with them to develop but because it gives us access to raise some of the human rights issues that people in a proper relationship should raise with one another.

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, arising from paragraph 75, which sets out the presidency's major responsibility for bringing to fruition the,

the communiqué from the summit made it clear that it is not just a question of advocating more aid, as was inferred by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, but a challenging agenda for the countries of Africa. Will the Government find an appropriate means to keep relevant committees and the House as a whole informed of progress on that major strategic review—perhaps in October?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, we most certainly will; I am happy to confirm that we can do that. My noble friend is right to emphasise the importance of paragraph 75. The aid elements in it are important, but he is right to say that it goes much further than that. I know that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has written to Mr Barroso welcoming the agreement on the ODA and GNI targets and pressing him to advance his proposals for a strategy on Africa, which he will do by October. We now need to build momentum around those matters. I want to keep the House fully and thoroughly involved in that discussion.

Lord Truscott: My Lords—

Noble Lords: Time!

Decentralisation

1.16 pm

Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: My Lords, I am very pleased to be here, and to follow the distinguished contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Chan, whose
 
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reputation as someone who has spent much of his professional life in community life precedes him. He made an excellent and important speech. He made two points in particular. He is right that good policy is essential but that if it is not implemented properly at a local level, that vitiates any of its value. He also rightly stressed the role of pharmacists—community pharmacists in particular—as a pharmacist myself I was especially pleased to hear him say that. I am sure that his contribution will repay careful study by your Lordships.

I am also pleased to be here because I am one of three Whips being introduced and making maiden speeches today. There must be something in the subject that attracts three Chief Whips at the same time. I do not know what is the collective noun for Chief Whips—

Lord Newby: A conspiracy.

Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: I will settle for conspiracy.

Someone said to me just after I was introduced to this distinguished House that I had already made a name for myself because I had more "k"s in my name than anyone else and I was asked if I was a member of the Klu Klux Klan. I have never been a member of the Klu Klux Klan, but I was a Chief Whip, which is not quite the same thing. The three of us spent many happy years in the other place ordering people to come to London quickly. It is interesting that today we are debating the need to get out of London and decentralise the governance of the United Kingdom.

I enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Foster. I previously sat at his feet and learnt the black arts and look forward to continuing to do that in future. I am especially happy that the Government have provided a Minister with whom I have a relationship, because when I arrived as a green rookie as a researcher, the noble Baroness was a distinguished member of the Library service and kept putting me right with enormous—consummate—charm. I suspect that she may continue to do that later. I look forward to listening to what she has to say.

It is a quintessentially British process: the metamorphosis from having been a green legislative caterpillar in the House of Commons to a red legislative moth here in the House of Peers. I am not yet a butterfly, because I have to learn the Companion to the Standing Orders before I can fly properly. I have been told that, but I think that I will need at least an 11-week recess and at least two Italian beaches before I have any real prospect of understanding self-regulation, which completely baffles me.

But I am here and am delighted to be here. It is a fascinating and daunting process and was pleasurable right up until now, but I suppose that this is where the work starts, so I had better turn to the subject of the debate.

People who make maiden speeches make a point of recognising the role of the staff and how helpful they are in the introductory process. I absolutely concur
 
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with that view. It is not just a question of friendliness; you can tell when you come into an institution whether it is working well—at least, I feel I can—and this is a happy place where people work well together. They may have differences but there are perfectly adequate, grown-up ways of accommodating them without rancour.

The staff play a core part in that. I have been helped: with great charm I was dug out of a broom cupboard when I was confidently expecting to arrive in the Royal Gallery. I was redirected to Central Lobby—of course I was not lost; nobody gets lost—by staff who were patience personified. They were delightful; we must not forget the contribution that they make. They make that contribution because they believe that the institution is important. That is why they get up in the morning and willingly come into work. They should never be taken for granted. It is very hard to strike the balance between being open and friendly and being efficient and professional, but it has been achieved here. None of us who serves in this House should take that for granted.

I should confess that I have a fatal effect on institutions. Shortly after I left Cranhill Senior Secondary School, it was bulldozed to the ground. I then went on to Heriot-Watt University pharmacy school, but shortly after I graduated the school was closed. When I asked the department the reason, it said that the quality of the undergraduates was not good enough. I have just left the House of Commons, so goodness knows what will happen to the Mother of Parliaments, but I give it until around Christmas. However, I can reassure noble Lords that I propose to be here for a very long time. My next planned career move is to the great parliament in the sky, so there is no risk involved in my being a Member of your Lordships' House.

I must confess that, although people told me about the work in this House all the time, I was so busy ordering people around as a Chief Whip that I never got an opportunity fully to understand exactly how much work was done here and how high quality it was. We should do something about that. Perhaps the conspiracy of Chief Whips should get together after the debate and send a message back about how important this place is.

If I had any doubt about that, it was dispelled when, as part of the osmosis process, my new Chief Whip sent me to listen to a debate on 22 June about European Union development. I had intended to stay for 10 minutes but two hours later I was still there, listening to the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, who gave a very lucid explanation of his committee's work, followed by the noble Lord, Lord Lawson of Blaby, who talked about the Fontainebleau agreement—I did not agree with it all but it was fascinating—and then the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon. The noble and learned Lord was heckled with a great deal of discretion and a certain amount of demonstrated displeasure by the noble Baroness herself, Lady Thatcher, who was sitting next to him. It was a great privilege to listen to a grown-up debate about issues facing Europe. The sadness is that not a word of it appeared in public print thereafter.
 
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I learned from that experience. If it is indicative of the quality of debates in this House, I have a long way to go. It is 21 years since the Fontainebleau agreement was reached; perhaps in 21 years' time I will be able to make a contribution of that quality to this House. Although the debate was a little retro, as you would expect, it was a fascinating occasion, and I look forward to contributing to such debates in future.

I shall turn very briefly to the subject. The Prime Minister, in a very interesting speech to the European Parliament, talked rightly about whether Europe had lost its connection with the people of Europe. That same question could quite appositely be raised closer to home. The noble Lord, Lord Foster, will probably understand my next point better than the rest of us. I wish to quote from the Prime Minister's speech about reconnecting Europe to the people. He said:

That is a typical Blair sentence; it contains no subject. He continues:

Chapter six of Joshua depicts the Canaanites inside Jericho. Joshua is outside with his seven priests, seven trumpets and seven circuits. On the seventh day there is a great shout and the walls fall down. Listen to the next sentence:

The noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bishop Auckland, will know that when the walls fell down, Joshua walked in and massacred everybody inside, except Rahab the harlot, who had given a safe house to some of Joshua's spies. If the Prime Minister is taking us into the land of the Canaanites with some of his proposals for Europe, I do not want to go there. In fact, Joshua put the cap on the whole thing by cursing the prospect of anybody rebuilding the walls of Jericho. It is time that some of the new speechwriters in No. 10 were sent back to bible class on Sunday. We would all be the better for it.

I am pleased that this debate has taken place because it is quintessentially important. Simplification and decentralisation must be mainstreamed, in every sense, throughout government policy, across government departments. I have the privilege of serving as a director and trustee of one of the Rowntree trusts. We were so concerned about the disconnection between the electorate and the governance of the United Kingdom that we set up an inquiry, which we were lucky to get the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, to chair. We look forward to the result of that inquiry early in 2006, because it will make a contribution. I hope that the Government will take proper notice of it.

I welcome the debate; it is on an important subject. During my 20 years as a constituency Member in the other place, rural south-east Scotland suffered a salami-slicing reduction in public services in all sorts of ways. It is important that we turn our attention to putting that right.
 
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As noble Lords may recall, Woody Allen said that 80 per cent of success is showing up. As I showed up this morning, I hope that I can claim eight out of 10 for my maiden speech if I promise to work better on the content in future. But I hope that this subject will show up. If it shows up again in this House, I will be very pleased to take part in those debates. More importantly, I hope that it shows up in the Government's priorities in future, because there is almost nothing as important as getting decentralisation and simplification of the governance of the United Kingdom right.

1.27 pm


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