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My first point is that a constitutional arrangement is not the same as an institutional arrangement, an operational arrangement or defining competencies, all of which are clearly in this treaty. Even if you take the view that there is a constitutional impact, I would argue that it is no more than the constitutional impact of any treaty, because a treaty has an impact on sovereignty, as the noble Lord from the Liberal Democrat Benches described when he spoke earlier. It seems to me that we are setting a bizarre precedent in wanting to put these words in the Bill when most of us—obviously not the noble Lord, Lord Lamont of Lerwick, and probably not the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth—do not believe that this treaty has anything like the constitutional impact of its predecessors. Why take this one and make a precedent now? There can be only one reason: it is because it is the bridge-head into the argument about the referendum. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, has been very clear on that point but I do not believe that his argument stands up. I think that I have an honest disagreement with him and we will debate that further, as we did at Second Reading. I do not think that the words “lie” or “deceit” are appropriate but the noble Lord will go on using them and I shall go on objecting.

4.45 pm

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: Could we compromise with “breaking a promise”? Would that do?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Before the noble Lord goes any further, that will not do either, but I am sure that we will come to that in due course. This is a Second Reading matter and we will come to amendments later. Let us leave it until then.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: This is not Second Reading. Surely the noble Baroness accepts that there is something in the cumulative argument and the cumulative effect of all these treaties and that this is the one that breaks the camel’s back. Does she see no force in that argument?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: No, I do not. For the reasons that I explained clearly at Second Reading—the noble Lord was in his place at Second Reading because he beamed at me when I made the points—I do not accept his argument. However, it is an argument of honest political debate, not of the name-calling that we have heard this afternoon.



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Baroness Park of Monmouth: I want to make a very brief intervention. Is it not the case that relinquishing full control of our defence policy by agreeing to QMV is a major constitutional decision that affects everything in this country? I cannot see that that is not an issue affecting the country.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: Answering that specific question, I had the honour to be a member of Sub-Committee C of the European Union Committee, and the effect on our foreign and defence policies was explored exhaustively under the excellent chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Roper. We took extensive evidence and came to a wholly different conclusion to that of the noble Baroness.

At least the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, is honest and clear in his objectives. He wants to leave the European Union and reverse all our policies since we joined. It is sad that the objectives of the Conservative Party in this debate on the European Union are not so clear. The Conservatives retreat into an attempt to recreate the Union in their own image, but that image is not shared by any other member of the European Union and it is therefore a total illusion.

The dangers in today’s debate are, first, the temptation to anticipate the debate on the referendum which is to come—I think that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, fell into that trap, as though he were unaware that we will no doubt have several debates on the referendum at different stages of the Bill—and, secondly, the temptation to enter into semantic argument not about lies but about whether this is a federal or confederal matter and whether the treaty is or is not a constitution. We can lose ourselves in the highways and byways of such arguments. Indeed, objectively, the high water-mark of federalism within the European Union was probably the Maastricht treaty. Since then, a number of modifications have moved away from that high water-mark, including the safeguards contained in the Lisbon treaty, which, for example, give much greater powers to national Parliaments. I believe that the spirit of many leaders in the European Union, not least President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel, has moved substantially in that direction, probably following their electorates.

I do not follow the noble Lord, Lord Owen, in saying that in effect the 1992 general election was, at least in part, a substitute for a referendum on Maastricht. Even if there were a referendum, it would probably be on a wholly different issue from the purported issue for the referendum, as happened, for example, in the Welsh referendum of 1979. I played a large part in that at the time and the issue was: “Do you or do you not favour the Callaghan Government?”. When I campaigned with the French socialist party on platforms in France on Maastricht, the issue was not the Maastricht treaty, but “What do you think of President Mitterrand?” and various other matters which were basically irrelevant to the terms of the treaty. I remain wholly sceptical about referendums. I think it was President Mitterrand who said that in referendums the French people always answer the wrong question.

Sadly, the real danger is how the Conservative Party will react. Will there be a genuinely positive, line-by-line examination of the Bill, or will its members act in the spirit of destruction of all that is there, yet at

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the same time purport to be good Europeans? Scrutiny, yes; negativity and destruction, no. I look forward to seeing whether there is a scintilla of a positive approach to Europe emerging from the Front Benches opposite.

Surely the main point in this debate is that made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. The amendment simply says,

It is absolutely clear, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, that such a form of words was not used in previous treaties. In previous treaties, all that happened was that the name of the treaty—whether Maastricht or the Single European Act—was simply transmitted from the decision of the intergovernmental council into the form of a Bill which enacted that treaty. So one is bound to pose the fundamental question: what is the difference? Why now, when it was not considered appropriate in those earlier treaties?

Perhaps I can turn to the Metternich question. After several days of eyeball-to-eyeball negotiation with his Russian counterpart, news was brought to him at the start of the next day that his Russian interlocutor had died during the night. It is alleged that Metternich said, “What was his motive?”. I will pose that same Metternich question: what is the motive of the opposition Front Bench in moving this amendment to the Bill when there was no similar provision in earlier Bills? The only reason that I can see for inserting the word “constitutional” at this stage is to use it as a kind of paving stone for a referendum.

I will avoid the semantic, the tempting discussion of saying what a constitution is. Do we in the UK have a constitution? Yes, we have elements of a constitution. Even written constitutions can be altered fundamentally. Look at the difference between the US constitution of the founding fathers and that which exists today. Look at the way in which, for example, the different presidents—President Roosevelt as an activist president and President Eisenhower as a more placid president—led their country, or look at President de Gaulle and President Pompidou and the constitution of the Fifth Republic. Let us avoid that and come back to this amendment. Of course much will depend on experience, but, in my judgment, this amendment is not necessary. It is a departure from earlier precedents and it is bad practice to seek to amend the clause and to insert this amendment at this stage.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: I hope that today, or at some future date the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats will combine to defeat this amendment because then neither I nor the British people will ever have to read their manifestos again. I am not going to engage in some philological discussion about whether the Labour Party manifesto was a lie, but the British people—and we are an unelected Chamber—were told this:

The Liberal Democrats said:

I alone in my old constituency argued in favour of a yes vote in the referendum in the 1970s, and not a

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single member of the Labour Party supported me. We had such a heated meeting that Norman Godman, who I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, will remember was subsequently the Member of Parliament for Greenock, stood up in a public meeting and said, “Not everybody in the Labour Party is campaigning for a no vote but in this constituency we are”. That was the situation.

I am not in favour of referendums; they are not a good idea. It is the responsibility of the elected House of Commons to come to a decision on this. But the British people were told by the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats that there would be a referendum and that they need not engage themselves in this issue at the general election. That is the point. It is not whether one is for or against Europe, or about any attitude along the line, but about the fact that the British people were misled. That is fundamentally anti-democratic and I shall be saying so at the next general election.

Lord Harrison: I hope noble Lords will forgive me for absenting myself for 20 minutes while I attended the European Union Select Committee and if I fall into the trap offered by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and speak to the amendment before us and examine it line by line. The amendment would add to the rubric of the Bill the words,

I will vote against it for the reason that it does not improve the Bill and could be thought of as misleading because it highlights a constitutional basis to the Bill.

I listened hard to the noble Lord, Lord Owen, in his interesting intervention. It may be true and that all such Bills have some constitutional element, but it is for Members of the Committee to judge how potent or otherwise the constitutional element is. Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, said, the 1972 Act establishing the European Community, the Single European Act 1986 and the Maastricht treaty in 1992 all contained clear and obvious elements of constitutional change in respect of the United Kingdom vis- -vis the European Union, and might be considered transparent. As far as I know, we did not have any such rubric saying, “Watch out, there is a constitutional change being made”. It would be misleading to add this now to the Bill.

I have heard some interesting examples from both the leader of the Conservatives and the leader of UKIP in this House today. They have both invoked the familiar idea of the straw that breaks the camel’s back. My memory of recent political history is that back in the 1970s the Conservative Party brought along bales of straw and loaded the first load on this unfortunate camel. Mrs Thatcher’s Administrations brought further bales of straw to put on its back; then Mr Major, in his turn, brought his tithe of bales of straw. By now, the poor camel was labouring under the European constitution in all its brightest form, yet it is now our Government who bring along the single straw that breaks its back. All the constitutional elements that the men of straw opposite have brought over the years are as nothing compared with the straw that now breaks the camel’s back.



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5 pm

The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, who I am sure is very familiar with loading bales of straw on camels, plucked out of the air the notion that the amending treaty before us is 96 per cent—so precise—of the former constitutional treaty. From where does he pluck that figure? Is it from the same pocket or shelf as that from which his colleagues plucked 99 per cent, 92 per cent and 88 per cent? During his opening speech, he mentioned his assessment that an element that has been excised from the original constitutional treaty is the simplification that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, talked about, although it performed the useful function of trying to simplify and make more readable all the Acts that have been through this Parliament with reference to the European Union constitution on previous occasions.

Lord Howell of Guildford: I shall come back to these matters later, but I am afraid it is just more arithmetic. If 242 out of 250 measures in the constitutional treaty are in the Bill, that works out at 96 per cent. It is just straightforward maths; there is nothing dramatic about it.

Lord Harrison: The maths admit what I was going on to say which is that the element of revision—which would be, in the noble Lord’s words, so useful as the British public and the public of the European Union could read the simplified and cleaned-up version of all that governs us in the European Union—is more than 4 per cent of the original constitutional treaties.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: I think the noble Lord may have misunderstood what I said. I referred to the Government’s line on the previous document, which was called the constitutional treaty before the Prime Minister gave his commitment to a referendum. The Government’s line against a referendum was that it was a simple tidying-up exercise and there was nothing in it of major or constitutional importance. The Government then changed their line when they promised the referendum and are now using the previous line. It is not about simplifying. As my noble friend said, they are identical documents; all that has changed is the Government.

Lord Harrison: I hope the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, will concede that an element of the original constitutional treaty was the attempt to summarise and simplify all the treaties that had gone before and that, in that, it was a useful exercise. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Howell, to clarify that.

We are now being asked to include in the rubric of the Bill words trying to emphasise the constitutional arrangements. That would be misleading to the British public. It was not done before, when clearly there was every right and purpose in doing so. That is why we should vote against the amendment.

I do not often treasure the words of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, but I shall treasure his description of this treaty as a straw, because I feel that in the next six

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weeks we will hear quite different weights given to this treaty by the noble Lord and each time I shall be thinking of that straw.

The cumulative argument, which the noble Lord has made use of to justify the amendment, which was made use of also by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, does not wash. We are asked to ratify, or to prepare the ground to ratify, this treaty. We are not asked to give further parliamentary consideration to all the other treaties to which this rubric was not attached. So the cumulative argument cannot wash; nor can one accept that it was only an unfortunate oversight by the various Governments formed by Members opposite who put the Single European Act and the Maastricht treaty to this House and the other place that they forgot to mention that there were some constitutional implications.

I am addressing this simply because it is the noble Lord, Lord Howell, who has proposed the amendment. He has now revealed that the thrust of it is because of the cumulative effect of all the treaties. That will not work, so I argue very strongly that we should follow the practice that we have followed with previous European treaties and simply list this treaty with no qualification and no reference to its nature or style.

The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, has a very beguiling bedside manner, but I fear that I cannot follow her prescription. I much prefer the prescription offered by Dr Owen—I beg his pardon, the noble Lord, Lord Owen—who advocated constitutional medicine. This is definitely a constitutional treaty. To pretend otherwise is utterly absurd. We have not heard many quotes, so I will give the House a few quotes this evening. My noble friend Lord Howell mentioned Angela Merkel, who said:

The Spanish Prime Minister has said:

It has also been said that 96 per cent of it is still there. The Czech Republic said:

Denmark said:

So we go on. Belgium said that the new treaty takes up the most important elements of the constitution. Speaking for Luxembourg, Herr Juncker said:

Monsieur Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the author of the constitution, was delighted, and notes on his blog that:

is still there.

Then up pipes the small voice of our Foreign Secretary who says, suddenly, against all the evidence:

How very odd. He is the only person, the only Foreign Minister, to say that, and only our Government seem

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to believe that this is not a constitutional treaty, so they are not having a referendum.

The amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Howell is absolutely right. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, and the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Anderson, that you can justify not having a referendum on the Maastricht treaty because it was in no political party’s manifesto, whereas having a referendum on this treaty was a manifesto commitment. That is a major difference.

Lord Tomlinson: Will the noble Lord once and for all understand that the promise of a referendum was on the original constitutional treaty? That died with the two referenda in France and the Netherlands. The constitutional treaty was abandoned. We now have an amending treaty. The promise in the manifestos was made in relation to the former, not the latter.

Lord Willoughby de Broke: The noble Lord obviously was not listening when I read out the quotations from all 26 heads of state in the European Union, who said, “This is a constitutional treaty, thank you very much”. Of course it is a constitutional treaty. I do not accept it, and I will not accept it. I am sorry about that.

I said that the fact that none of the Governments had offered a referendum on the Maastricht treaty was one reason why we did not have a referendum on this treaty. We should have a referendum, however, first because it is in the manifesto, and secondly because, as my noble friend Lord Pearson said, several wrongs do not make a right. Where do we stop? Why should we not have a referendum on this treaty just because we have not had one on previous treaties? Do we stop and say, “Yes, let’s consider this. Let’s offer it to the British people”, or not, even though we have not had referendums before? All parties gave a manifesto commitment to have a referendum on this treaty, so we should have one. My noble friend is quite right; five wrongs do not make a right, and it is time to have a referendum. I am quite sure that we will debate that in due course. Meanwhile, I support the amendment wholeheartedly.

Lord Kinnock: I am somewhat unused to, or perhaps bemused by, the inclination of the more profound and chronic Eurosceptics in the Chamber, especially those from UKIP, to endow the words of other European leaders with massive authority, which contradicts very strongly their otherwise unblemished record of regarding with contempt the judgment of the very same people. It is quite extraordinary.


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