Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

2.02 pm

Lord Kinnock: My Lords, it is a great privilege for me to follow the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester. I see from his record that he was a teacher and then a young priest in a demanding area of south London, but almost the crowning glory is that he was the Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, which meant that he had the care of the flock on the Rock as well as of a much wider part of the Continent. Clearly, from his appearance as well as his speech he falls into the happy category of a muscular priest. I am sure that we will benefit from his wisdom and expertise for a very long time.

In truth, the Bill before the House relates to a reform treaty, no more and no less. That treaty is less radical and less centralising in terms of powers than the Maastricht treaty of 1992 or, indeed, the Single European Act enacted by the Conservative Government in 1986, and it makes more provision for democratic accountability, transparency and pragmatic European co-operation than any previous European Union treaty. I therefore implacably reject the false claims made in this House and elsewhere that the treaty is constitutional, that it will weaken democracy and that it will transfer more powers to the European Union.

The truth is that the treaty is most certainly not constitutional. I have always argued that that term should never have been used because neither it nor its predecessor, the constitutional treaty, can or will change the way this or any other member state is governed. But that term has in any case rightly been abandoned. Even more importantly, the proposal that all previous treaties should be replaced with a gargantuan Giscardian blockbuster has conclusively and comprehensively been withdrawn by the unanimous decision of the Governments of 27 member states.

In the reform treaty there is therefore no Foreign Minister, no official flag and no European Union anthem. However, in this treaty there are opt-outs and special provisions for the United Kingdom on the Charter of Fundamental Rights so that no law will be

1 Apr 2008 : Column 884

accepted unless it is consistent with UK law, and there are particular safeguards on common foreign and security policy—which in any case is specified as a common policy in which each initiative and action has to be agreed, and not a single policy which has mandatory status. We are indebted to the European Union Committee of this House under the able chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, for the lucid and convincing analysis and conclusions which it offers on these issues and, indeed, much else.

What, then, of the claim that would transform all of us into opponents of the treaty if it were true—the claim that it will weaken democracy? Frankly, it is the opposite of the truth. First, all European Union legislative proposals will now, because of the treaty, have to be examined first by national parliaments as well as approved by European member states’ Governments and by the directly elected European Parliament. Secondly, when the Commission compiles legislation—incidentally, but vitally, more than 90 per cent of the time at the explicit request of member states—those proposals can be sent back to the Commission if a third of the national parliaments decide that the issue in question is for national, not European Union, legislation. Thirdly, and significantly, for the first time legislative proceedings in the Council will be held in public.

As for the allegation that the treaty will mean the transfer of more powers to the European Union, the truth is that the reform treaty does not create a single new competence for the European Union. Instead, it defines the established competences of the EU with greater clarity, specifies that powers can be returned to member states and adds the substantial new democratic checks and balances that I have listed.

As always, it is elected Governments—not the Commission, not the European Parliament, not the European Court of Justice—which will decide how much and what sovereignty is shared and what is not shared, and this treaty does not alter that 50 year-old reality at all.

When confronted with these truths, opponents of the treaty shift to other spurious slogans. We hear that the European Court of Justice is political and will overrule British law. It is not and it will not. The court adjudicates only on law made by the Council, it does not make law, and this treaty does not change that at all. We hear that the new Council voting system reduces UK power in European law-making. But the new voting system, operational from 2014, is population-related and the UK’s share of the vote in the Council of Ministers therefore increases by 45 per cent from 8.4 per cent to 12.2 per cent, while the UK’s share of the majority needed to block legislation increases from 32 per cent to 35 per cent.

Then there are the other specious scaremongering allegations, the chief among which is the claim that qualified majority voting has been extended to 60 new areas and that the UK loses veto on all those issues. The truth is that there are 49, not 60, new articles where QMV will apply. Thirteen of those relate to the eurozone or to other areas which do not currently apply to the UK because of opt-outs; six articles relate to enhanced citizens’ rights to petition; nine articles relate to the composition of the Committee of

1 Apr 2008 : Column 885

the Regions and civil service committee structures. Nine relate to reformulated legal bases where powers already exist, for example, in relation to culture. Two articles relate only to state aid provision in post-reunification East Germany.

The remaining 10 relate to energy liberalisation, which the United Kingdom already has, but has a vested interest in ensuring better application right across the European Union; better protection of intellectual property rights, which the UK, like every other member state, patently needs; and provision of emergency humanitarian aid in times of disaster and crisis, which the UK supports more than most countries in the world or in Europe. In short, the new areas for qualified majority voting are a mixture of the patently beneficial, the innocuously procedural and the non-applicable. They certainly are not the democracy-destroying virus that the Europhobes claim.

The House will now consider this Bill. Throughout the proceedings, there will be repeated rebuttal of the phobic falsehoods and consistent evidence that the new treaty is functionally necessary as a means of improving the conduct of business in the enlarged Union while strengthening democratic scrutiny and accountability. We heard earlier from the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that Jean Monnet would be horrified by certain aspects of what is going on. Without the benefit of acquaintance with Monsieur Monnet, I know that if he now were to contemplate not a Union of six but of 27, which was expected to base itself and its operation on rules enacted to affect six member states or at best 15 member states, truly the word “horrified” could deservedly be used.

I cannot avoid expressing the hope that in the wake of parliamentary deliberations on the Bill our country, including its mainstream political parties and its press, will conclude that after 35 years of membership we are in the Union to stay, that there is weakness not strength in semi-detachment, and that alarmist polemics about a European superstate have and will continue to have no substance in fact.

In place of those disabling distractions, I want the United Kingdom to further insist on the active implementation of the Lisbon agenda for employment and competitiveness. I want the United Kingdom to unrelentingly pursue budgetary reform that moves resources much more substantially from the common agricultural policy to research, innovation and infrastructure. I want the United Kingdom more vigorously to promote European Union action to combat the common menaces of poverty, disease, climate change and crime, which are all areas in which at best there are only partial single-nation answers. The need for all that action certainly exists. The potential for doing it is real, and the will to act must now be much stronger.

2.13 pm

Lord Howe of Aberavon: My Lords, it must be about a quarter of a century or more since the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, first began making an impact on my perception of him. At that stage, I knew that we shared only one view; that we were both proud to be Welshmen. Hearkening to his tremendously enthusiastic

1 Apr 2008 : Column 886

presentation of the case for Europe as it is today, I have to say that he has come a long way in the past quarter of a century. In saying that, I do not wish to present myself as having huge affection for this complex, marathon treaty, but I firmly support the Bill. I do that simply because failure to ratify this treaty now would be a serious blow to the credibility and effectiveness of the United Kingdom in many different ways. It would be seriously damaging to fundamental national interests. In particular, to repudiate the treaty, even if stated to be in search of some hitherto almost wholly undefined alternative, would be a bluntly negative signal of our recurrent recidivist and often continuing incapacity to play the part that we should be playing in the European Union.

Indeed, our lack of will to work in the effective European partnership that is fundamental to our future is sad when it comes at a time when it has never been more necessary. I hold no brief for the marketing of this less than poetic text. It has probably been imperfectly negotiated by a Government that came into office at a time of huge opportunity to present the positive case for a British view of a reinvigorated European Union and to sell that case with the clarity and confidence that they had when they were elected with a huge majority 10 years ago. They have faltered in their management and handling of that case, and we are lucky that they have moved as much as they have now.

It has to be said in their favour that they are by no means the first Government to have faltered in this way. If one goes back to the days of Clement Attlee and Anthony Eden, in the afterglow of victory at a time when, as the late Lord Peyton explained in his memoirs, characteristically entitled Without Benefit of Laundry, we allowed our justifiable pride in our victory, which had carried us through the war, to turn into conceit instead of pride and condescension towards the new Europe that was then emerging. That is why we were so late to join that enterprise and why we still hesitate to play the part that we should.

Fortunately, that negative attitude was overcome increasingly by the view expressed initially by Winston Churchill; it was clear enough when the iron curtain was still in place that Europe had to get its act together as he commended. It was clear enough to successive leaders; Harold Macmillan, Lord Home, Edward Heath, Roy Jenkins, John Smith; and, if I may say so, it was clear to most of us of that generation, as it was in many ways to my noble friend Lady Thatcher, who is not with us at the moment. For all the controversy that emerged from the speech that she made in Bruges in September 1988, she said:

In the year that followed that, her view and mine diverged increasingly and uncomfortably, but those propositions were important then.

Those sentiments enabled us to carry through Parliament the European consequences of two well-balanced treaties, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has pointed out; the European Communities Act 1972 and the Single European Act 1986. I had the privilege of being on the Front Bench in the other place for

1 Apr 2008 : Column 887

both those Bills, and I recollect that on the first we had 53 working days, I made 91 speeches and we carried our majority in 104 divisions. The Single European Act was completed in six days.

The decades since Bruges have been rather different. As the iron curtain came down and tensions relaxed, despite the successive enlargement, the focus on the importance of Europe has become less clear, and that is why we have, for example, in this treaty absorbed unnecessary things. I never quite understood why the additional fundamental charter needed to be there, but we seem to have been able to disentangle ourselves from that now. Such distractions are to be regretted, particularly at a time as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has emphasised, when the need for European partnership and union, not least in the field of foreign affairs, has never been clearer.

One need only mention not so much the agenda items that the noble Lord mentioned—climate change, energy or trade negotiations—but the changing shape of the world, including the emergence of China and India as new and growing powers, the re-emergence of Russia with its new ambitions to recover the empire that it did not mean to lose, and the increasing unsettlement throughout the Middle East. In all those respects, we need to be more, not less, effective in our partnership with European countries. We need to be so not just for our own sake, but for the sake of the transatlantic alliance with the United States.

This treaty in no way diminishes the way in which British foreign policy can be formulated and presented. It in no way threatens our seat at the United Nations Security Council; but it does enable us, through a new structure that is more manageable and effective, to strengthen our clout as a member of the European Union and to amplify our influence beyond that which we would be able to exercise if we were to continue to operate on an increasingly minority wicket. That has been the message that I have never doubted, with which I have bored the House for decades, since I first wrote a letter to a school friend in 1950. In a world where the relative arithmetic has been changing so fundamentally, Britain’s influence can and should be maximised by continuing increasingly effective participation in the European Union. This treaty, for all its odds and ends and for all its complexities—so lucidly explained by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell—is an important step in that direction for the enhancement of British influence.

What of the referendum? I cannot help grieving at the fact that we are in a Parliament in which at the last election the three major parties committed themselves to a referendum. I believed that it was an unwise commitment at the time. As I have said on previous occasions, the only referenda of which I have approved were those that I suggested in 1962 for Sunday opening of the pubs in Wales. That is an issue that people can understand. It took the Welsh people 35 years to liberate themselves, but in the end they achieved it. Referenda on issues of this kind are, quite frankly, a gamble. The three political parties gambled because they were in competitive confusion with each other. Every referendum commitment of that kind has been entered into not so much because of the importance of

1 Apr 2008 : Column 888

the issue, but because of the importance of the conflict taking place at home. Proposing such a referendum has always been high risk, it has done much damage to the credibility of political leadership and I cannot bring myself to say a word in support of one.

I grieve at the fact that all three political parties, including my own, have committed themselves so unwisely. Democracy requires leadership, and often effective and strong political leadership which is not trying to compete in the kind of way that too many of us can recognise as being contrary to the national interest. This Bill should be carried through without being encumbered by a resurrection of a referendum.

2.23 pm

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, while we all welcome the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester to this debate, many of us have been here before. We have been the same pieces on the same chessboard since the decision in principle to join the European Community nearly 40 years ago.

In today’s speakers list there are 14 noble Lords who voted in the House of Commons, 10 of whom also spoke, on 28 October 1971 after 180 speeches in a six-day debate designed to settle the future of Britain in Europe. Among the membership of today’s House of Lords as a whole, are more than a dozen Peers of the 69 who, as Labour Members of Parliament, voted for entry despite a three-line whip against it. There may also be a few Tory rebel survivors in this House, and there is one Liberal who voted against Ted Heath’s Commons Motion for joining.

In parenthesis, if I may be allowed an indulgence, I won the House of Commons sweepstake with a forecast of a government overall majority of 111, which turned out to be 112. Altogether, with the help of Ladbrokes, I won £165 that day, which was almost enough to enjoy a modest European holiday.

Of the participants in that debate, the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, had already been “a consistent opponent”, as he put it, since 1962, of what we then called the Common Market; and my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby had been a very persuasive advocate of membership since the 1956 Treaty of Rome. For 40 years, the Labour Party and the Conservatives have been up and down and hot and cold. All parties have had vocal dissidents, both for and against.

I have made no complaint—then and now. Joining Europe was a great historic undertaking, taking risks either way. But the fuss about the Lisbon treaty, although it is significant, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, seems disproportionate and is less about the practical merits of the case than fighting old political battles and future ones. In 1975, Harold Wilson’s Government chose a referendum finally to settle the matter and to heal the wounds of his party. But by 1983, eight years later, Labour was falling apart and its manifesto said:

We should be cautious about referendums and manifestos. The Conservative Party could share Labour's unhappy experience—as could all parties, for that matter.



1 Apr 2008 : Column 889

Clearly, some noble Lords will decide to mention what I see as those extraneous matters and the previous draft constitutional treaty, which is dead. But I hope that they will resist that temptation, only genuflect towards them, and not waste too much time in Committee and, rather, scrutinise the terms of the Bill before the House, in keeping with our usual priorities and practices.

Whether the Lisbon treaty is a mouse or a mountain, our relations with the rest of Europe have been and remain critical. If I am required to define my personal position, I call myself a good European. But I am a pragmatic, step-by-step Fabian—not an ideologue—ready to hold steady or to change and move on as circumstances require. In a familiar newspaper, four years ago, I read,

The article continued:

It added that the European Union was,

and so on. If that may be a surprise, that was the Times rejoicing and its European correspondent warned that the European Union could splinter or lose its way. I shared his enthusiasm. It seemed to me that enlargement inevitably meant institutional change and that it was in the interest of Britain, as well as the 25 or 27 members, to negotiate the best all-round deal.

I agree that the Lisbon treaty should provide a period of stability in the institutional framework and that there should be no change in the foreseeable future, but I hope that the Government will be careful about calling the reforms “a lasting settlement”. The time may come when the Government of the day will want a change in Britain’s own interest—even in its hard-fought “red lines”.

I am greatly impressed by the 10th report of the European Union Committee, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. It is a model of a report from a House of Lords Select Committee. It is clear, comprehensive and an invaluable concordance to accompany the text of the treaty.

I am also glad that the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, chairman of the Constitution Committee, will be speaking in the debate. The committee’s sixth report was published only last Friday and its scope is properly restricted to the implications of the UK constitution. As a member of it, I shall not pursue its recommendations. Although the committee wants some additional parliamentary safeguards, it has concluded that the Lisbon treaty and the Bill are likely to have no major damaging impact.

At the time of the decisive votes in 1971, there was a flood of hostile letters to both Houses and particularly to the Commons. Now, there is at least a trickle of protest about the Lisbon treaty. Some correspondents build around manifestos and referendums, but others try to get to the heart of the matter, believing that membership of the European Union was, and is, wholly unacceptable.

The language and sentiment addressed to the Lisbon treaty is often the language and sentiment of 40 years ago: membership would bring the inhabitants of Britain

1 Apr 2008 : Column 890

under an iron dictatorship; we would be demoted from an independent nation to an impotent, impoverished European province; we would lose Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights, perhaps even cricket and driving on the wrong side of the road; the whole way of life would change. However, it does not feel like that. Britain has not fallen apart. On the contrary, we have enjoyed growing prosperity and many of our freedoms have been enlarged. Of course, there are very serious threats to our lives and liberties, but it is terrorism and its consequences, climate change and intrusive technology that are the real dangers, not the Lisbon treaty.

2.31 pm

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard: My Lords, I am a member of the Select Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, and therefore I cannot pay tribute to the quality of his report. I can, however, pay tribute to the quality of his chairmanship, his stamina and his patience with his committee.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page