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I listened to, among others, the powerful speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, but both my heart and my head guide me to the opposite conclusion. I am a former member of the European Commission. I was proud to do that job: it was a very uplifting experience. We also heard from former Members of the European Parliament and of the Commission. They probably all share my view that neither is a dictatorial body. Members of both bodies listen carefully to voices that are not wholly Europhile. They visit their own countries and are not sheltered from the hostile views that are often expressed. But at the same time, there is no doubt, having experienced that position, that the UK has no alternative but to be members of the European Commission.
There is a vast difference between the two sides in this debate. There are members of UKIP and their allies, including some Conservatives who view our involvement with the EU as pernicious and undesirable. They are supported by those who use the issue as opportunists, perceiving that the majority of British
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There are those, like me, who contend that there is no alternative to an ever-deeper relationship with the European Union. It may change its form, but the European Union is likely to be a major player in global affairs. Already, enlargement has been a remarkable success. Of course, as in all relationships, there will be disappointments and setbacks, but there will also be huge successes that will enable the European Union to function more effectively and to flourish.
Some submit that because a referendum was promised at a general election, it has to take place now, but they ignore the fact that fundamental changes were effected in the Lisbon treaty. Among others, there is to be a full-time president of the European Council. That did not happen before. We had a president who was replaced every six months, which was utterly undesirable. The European Foreign Minister will assume wider duties as the European Unions high representative. The European Commission is likely to be reduced to 18-plus members instead of the present 27. Qualified majority voting, as the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, pointed out, is to be multiplied. There is to be new thinking about energy in all its facets. There is to be a mounting assault on third-world poverty. Children's rights are to be more paramount than they are today. New opt-outs and protocols are to be negotiated. Above all, there are to be new objectives to combat climate change. My earnest wish is that many more countries share that ambition.
In view of all that, how can it be seriously argued that this treaty represents no change from the past? It is no small wonder that 26 out of 27 members of the European Commission have come to the conclusion that this treaty means substantial change. The issue of Ireland is rather different, and that has been touched on previously. Two Committees in the House of Commonsthe Foreign Affairs Committee and the European Scrutiny Committee have voted against a referendum. Most international NGOs dealing with poverty and the environment would be bitterly opposed to any possibility of a referendum. Most significantly, it would be absolutely wrong, save in a very small number of casesand this does not fall into that particular categoryto hold a referendum at all.
Accordingly, if a majority vote in a misconceived referendum were to result in a no vote, most members could and probably would conclude that the United Kingdom no longer had its heart in the European Union and should therefore be evicted. Thus the fundamentalists, mostly in the Conservative Party, would have won. They would relish the idea, hopeless though it may be, of Britain standing alone. These people are prepared to ignore the fact that the countries in the European Union have created 18 million new jobs, expanded their exports, strengthened their underlying economies, and hence that the European Union, fortified by the United Kingdom, could be a major force for good in world affairs. Could we, standing alone, achieve any of that?
The charge that Tony Blair had offered a referendum to which we would be bound is negated by what really
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In my view, a referendum would suffer the same fate as capital punishment, where parliamentarians, who could be backed or sacked by the electors, were prepared to make their own choice. The route prescribed by the Opposition is misconceived and would be highly damaging to this country. The Government instead seek to foster the view that Europe can be a truly dynamic, positive and benign force in both European and global affairs.
Viscount Falkland: My Lords, my old Chief Whip, the late Lord Harris of Greenwich, when I was his deputy, used to say to me when a difficult vote was in the offing: Do stop them listening to the debate. My natural tendency in your Lordships House, probably appropriate for a generalist and hereditary Peer, is to listen to debates. I have listened to this debate with great care, and I have to say something which I have never admitted in the House before, because it has never happened to me before. Without having had, as it were, a Pauline conversion, my views are substantially different now from what they were at this time yesterday. Four speeches have impressed me to such an extent that it is not certain whether I shall be supporting, as I originally intended, a referendum on the treaty. I could have torn up my speech and gone home, but I was reported in the Daily Telegraph as seemingly at odds with those on my Benches in what I intended to do. I made a jocular remark to them about avoiding the dark looks of my colleagues, but I said that I intended to vote for a referendum and that I would speak if I felt brave enough. I have been brave enough. Actually I do not know whether it is bravery, but I have been moved. I should like to explain which speeches gave me the most reason to change my view.
The first speech was that of my old friend Lord Hannay, and I say old friend because we have known each other for many years. As one would expect from a diplomat of his eminence and his knowledge of Europe, with which he has been connected, he made a balanced and moderate speech. He exploded many of my fears especially about the apparently likely transfer of powers from this country to Europe. More importantly, I was affected by his comments on referendums. I have never liked referendums. I think that I share that view with most of my colleagueswho are now actually smiling at me. In a representative democracy such as ours, why elect MPs and so on if we are to have referendums, and why even consider a referendum except on a vital issue? The noble Lords point was that other treaties were perhaps more deserving of a referendum, but he does not agree that it would have been appropriate in those cases either. I shall follow
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The other speech was that of the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock. He explained to me as no one has before exactly what the treaty entails and why it does not present the danger that I and many others felt it did. I wish that he was able to speak to the nation in the same vein. Another speech which I admired was that of my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby. As she pointed out, one of the problems is that the British public have never really understood what Europe is about. Why should they? People live busy lives, often obsessed with a shortage of money and their work, and things have not been simple to understand.
I sat next to Christopher Bland once at a lunch when he was in charge of the BBC; he was talking to parliamentarians at that time. I said, As a public service broadcaster, surely you will now be able to give to the British public a series of debates that will allow them to understand more than just the economic interests of our country but the political and social interests or concerns which we may have in the developments in Europe, because it is a social, political and economic community. He assured me that that was indeed his plan and that he intended to go about it fairly promptly. It never happened. I learnt that only today from someone who shall remain nameless. He said that it was quite simple. The BBC certainly planned to do it but, such was the difficulty of balancea problem for the BBC, with the sword of Damocles hanging above itthat it was too much. The BBC felt there would be so much difficulty in balancing between the Eurosceptics and the Europhiles that it was best to drop it. That is one of the reasons why the nation is in the current position and why it is not an appropriate country to have a vote before it in a referendum anyway. My noble friend's speech was telling, as one would expect from her. I found many of the points she made reassuring.
The fourth speech was that of my noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank. He is one of the reasons why I am on these Benches, where I am surrounded by people with moderate views which they express with great experience and great common sense. I am not making any gibes here at my noble friend the leader of my party. He made a magnificent speech but unfortunately he was provoked, as I would have been; like me, he is sometimes of a fiery temper. But it was unfortunate because the debate needed to be put on an even keel, as indeed it has been. It has been a magnificent debate and I shall be closely following all the proceedings all the way through.
I have never been a Eurosceptic. I have been called from time to time unsound on Europe. Perhaps people will be able to tell me what unsound means in that context. I remember speaking at an eve-of-poll address at the election before last. The Liberal Democrat candidate said to me politely, Were looking forward to your speech. It is unlikely that anybody will say anything about Europe, but we understand that you are a little bit unsound on Europe. I have got two councillors. In the unlikely event you should have a question on Europe, they will deal with it, so if youd
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On a serious note, there are things about which we should be concerned. In my original speech, which I tore upI made a few notes in the Royal GalleryI had intended to deal with an area which still concerns me slightly, which is the legal personality of Europe. However, I am told that my fears on that can be allayed and that it has a legal personality, but that it is, as it were, being codified. It is not being as dangerously codified as in the original constitution, which stated that the legal personality would be superior to that of the member nations; the treaty says just that there is a legal personality. It is a worrying matter, and I hope that we will deal with it during your Lordships debates. I hope that it will be dealt with so satisfactorily that I will not be drawn again towards the temptation to go with those voting for a referendum. The net result of a referendum would not be to the advantage of anybody. The decision to put a commitment to a referendum into the manifestos of the three major parties was cynical opportunism of the worst kind and the worst public relations in the body politic that I have known.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, it is always fun to listen to the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland. He is always a cheerful speaker, and was so this evening. Not many of your Lordships would admit to having changed their mind on such a fundamental matter as a referendum within 24 hours, particularly as a result of four speakers. But I should warn the noble Viscount that we are only halfway through, and there is plenty of time for the pendulum to switch the other way. I doubt that my speech will have such a cataclysmic effect on him.
There cannot have been many Bills which have had such a major impact on the country as this one. The number of your Lordships taking part is a witness to that. People on all sides feel strongly about this matter, and points have been made with great clarity and courtesy. I am afraid that my observations will not rise to the pinnacles of erudition that have been obvious in the various points that other noble Lords have made.
I thought that I had better find out about the Bill, so I went to the Printed Paper Office and obtained a copy of the European Union (Amendment) Bill, which consists of a modest four pages and schedules. I read
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281) In Article 282, the following sentence shall be added at the end: However, the Union shall be represented by each of the institutions, by virtue of their administrative autonomy, in matters relating to their respective operation. ...
And then we are supposed to know what it is all about. I find it quite astonishing. In the normal course of events, I would almost consider it an insult. I defy anyone who is not a lawyer, and a constitutional lawyer at that, to understand what on earth is going on, or to understand what it is that we are being asked to accept. And yet it is this extraordinary document, which the Prime Minister signed in that somewhat inglorious ceremony the other day, which one is now being asked to ratify and to approve.
I know that everyone was fearful of the previous constitution, believing that we were giving away to another bodynamely, the European Unionsome of our constitutional and sovereign rights. At the previous election, as everyone knows, every partyLabour, Conservatives and the Liberal Democratsgave an undertaking that if the constitution were to re-emerge, the country would have to have a referendum on it. Even the Prime Minister, Mr Blair, said that,
The Government obviously do not want a referendum because they are frightened that they would lose it. What appears now after the treaty of Lisbon is virtually the same as the previous constitution, without the flag, the national anthem and the foreign Minister, but we now have a high representativea sort of Pooh-Bah. The Prime Minister said that it is not the same and that the,
A great part of the content of the European Constitution is captured in the new treaties ... We have not let a single substantial point of the constitutional treaty go ... It is, without a doubt, much more than a treaty. This is a project of foundational character, a treaty for a new Europe.
Public opinion will be led to adopt, without knowing it, the proposals that we dare not present to them directly. All the earlier proposals will be in the new text, but will be hidden and disguised in some way. What was
But the substance has been retained ... Why not have a single text? The only reason is that this would look too much like the constitutional treaty. Making cosmetic changes would make the text more easy to swallow.
The aim of the Constitutional treaty was to be more readable; the aim of this treaty is to be unreadable ... The Constitution aimed to be clear, whereas this Treaty had to be unclear. It is a success.
If this is what his colleagues in Europe think about the treaty, how can the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister say that is not the same as the old constitution but under a different name? It is all shrouded in total mystery in these documents.
Some years ago, when I was in the Ministry of Agriculture, I had the privilege of going to the Council of Ministers. I was deeply impressed with all those countriesFrance, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the United Kingdom and so forthwhich 30 years earlier had been blasting each others countries to pieces and killing their citizens, but which were now sitting round a table arguing about the price of a pat of butter. It was very moving and I became a great advocate of the European Economic Community. But in my judgment things have gone wrong since then and I blame it on the leaders of the Community. The European Economic Community transmogrified into the European Community and then into the European Union. The leaders have gone ahead with their inflammatory and glorious ideas of making everyone coalesce into one Union, whether they like it or not, and about which the people were never consulted.
Like a military battle, the advancing troops have gone ahead too fast and have become out of touch with their main body of people and their lines of communication have broken. The leaders of thoughtor those wishing to make an impression during their liveshave gone way beyond what people think and what people want, and for which they have no mandate.
People have been invited, unwittingly, to give up their sovereigntyyes, their laws, their judgments, their parliamentary procedures which have stood the test of time and which have been ingrained into their lives and in which they have found solace, contentment and trustand to pour it all into the pot of the European Union which is untried, untested and from which, once committed, there is no redress, and where laws and regulations are made for which there is no democratic accountability and whose accounts are so suspect that the Court of Auditors has not felt able to sign them off for 14 years. I do not think that this is what the people of this country want.
On principle I do not like referendums. It is the job of Parliament to decide. But the pass was sold in 1975 when there was a referendum on the European Economic Community. The reason why people in this country want one now is that they do not believe that Parliament has the right or the obligation or the responsibility to hand over sovereigntynothing less than thatto an outside body.
The fact is that the verbiage of this treaty, and all which surrounds it, is the re-encapsulation of the constitution, but in a way which no one can understand. All parties agreed that there should be a referendum on this, and that is what I think there should be. If I may say so, it is disingenuous of the Prime Minister to try to refuse it.
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