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Lord Willoughby de Broke: I am grateful for that intervention. It may be more complicated, but the real issue is whether it should be up to the elected British Parliament, or Westminster, including the House of Lords, to decide how taxpayers money is best spent, and not to hand it over to the European Commission to spend as it sees fit. I do not want to make a point of this but we know that it is misspent. Let us not say there is fraud but there are irregularities in the European Union accountslet us put it that waywhich is why its own Court of Auditors has not passed them for 13 years. Surely it is better for Parliament to decide how to spend British taxpayers money on regional and cohesion funds than for it to be handed over to an organisation, the directors of which would probably have been imprisoned by now had it been a private company. Certainly they would
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Lord Lea of Crondall: In response to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, this is the first of a number of amendments which propose that after excluding a new clause, in effect, should be inserted. I was interested in the formulation proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, in challenging the Conservative Party to say what it would do about the Social Chapter, which strictly has nothing to do with the treaty. The same point arises in respect of like amendments: what would happen if such an amendment were agreed to?
They are all spoiling amendments in the sense that they are meant to wreck the Bill. If you purport to put new articles into the treaty at this stage, clearly that means that Britain is in a difficult position, and that is the intention of going back to say, We do not accept the treaty in its present form. I ask whether a string of 20 or 30 debates that take this sort of form, although they are perfectly acceptable in terms of House of Lords procedure, do not all run up against the fundamental fallacy that such amendments could be compatible with us ratifying the treaty. It would be more straightforward if whoever is introducing this string of amendments were to say, Our intention here is to make sure that Britain is in an impossible position in having the European treaty ratified.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I am grateful to the noble Lord; I will just answer that point. He is not quite right. Our purpose in moving the amendments is to make sure that we debate and put in front of the British public many of the wholly unacceptable aspects of our membership of the European Union, and this happens to be one of them. Nor is he entirely right to say that if we were to accept one of these very sensible amendments, which I think would be hugely popular with the British public, that would be the end of the treaty; it would not be. They would simply have to convene another conference and agree it unanimously; it is as simple as that. If they do not, does not that confirm our opposition to the whole project and exercise and that the quicker we get out of it the better?
Why should we be subjected to a regional policy where billions of pounds come to us under the direction of the organisation in Brussels that fails to get its accounts audited for 13 years on the trot? We then have to accept what it spends money onI am talking about regional policy nowand then we have to put in an equal amount to what it puts in. That is madness economically, it is damaging to the country and the quicker we stop it the better. That is the point of the amendment.
Lord Lea of Crondall: The noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, is confirming my contention that right through the next three hours, three days, three weeks or whatever it is, we will be dealing with amendments that could be looked at on their merits one by one, but the effect of any of them would be that we had to go back to renegotiate the treaty.
Lord Blackwell: We really cannot have a sensible debate on the treaty if we take the view that any amendment that attempts to probe the meaning of particular phrases is out of order because we have to accept it all en bloc or not. Whatever the intention of any of the amendments may be, we should take the purpose of this debate as being to explore the meaning and impact of the treaty and whether it is something that the UK should be satisfied to sign up to.
On that basis, it seems to me that there are two interesting points in the amendment. First, there is the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, on the effectiveness of economic, social and territorial policy and the meaning of the word solidarity. I agree that there are great failures in the way in which that policy currently works; there are many better ways of achieving the objective of helping the poor countries in the European Union develop.
The amendment exposes a broader point. If I understand the numbering, it refers to the consolidated treatys Article 3to which I referred in my Amendment No. 125, which we discussed before dinnerwhich sets out the objectives of the European Union. Following the response of the Lord President to that amendment, I am now confused and concerned about the status of these objectives in their totality, of which this is one element. Is the wording critical in terms of how the courts might interpret the objectives and how the competencies of the European Union might develop? Should we study them carefully or are they a meaningless preamble which we can disregard as simply the high-flown rhetoric of the European Union? The Lord Presidents earlier response suggested that the wording of the objectives may have a very real impact on the legal status of legislation in the European Union and the scope of what can be done in the UK.
The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, has picked out one particular aspect of the article, but we need to understand exactly the implications of all the objectives set out in it and the extent to which they may have an impact on the UK.
Lord Tomlinson: I think that my noble friend Lord Lea is too gentle on the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, in trying to have a rational debate with him. This is not a matter of rational debateit is blind, naked prejudice. It shows through not only in the noble Lords amendments but in his words. When he was having his exchange with my noble friendI know that the noble Lord was addressing the House, but it began to appear rather like a dialoguehe said that his amendments are meant to expose the problems of our membership. I shall not challenge him;I shall be voting against all his amendments. The real challenge comes from the noble Lord, Lord Howell. Is that what he supports? He stood up at the beginning of the debate, brandishing his good, solid, pro-European credentials. By his own admission, the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, has put down a series of wrecking amendments. We should put him out of his misery and tell him that they will not be supported, and then we can make some progress.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I must respond to the point about prejudice. We are dealing not with prejudice but with reasoned opposition to the project of European union, of which we do not wish this country to remain a part. We believe that that is to the benefit of our country, our economy and our constitution.
I have tabled the amendments to expose just somea very fewof the worst aspects of this project so that we may debate them and see whether the noble Lord and his Europhile friends are right in saying that they are part of this wonderful project of which we should be part. We are saying that they are not. Collectively, the amendments add up to saying that the quicker the country gets out of this, the better.
Lord Jay of Ewelme: I hope that Members of the Committee will forgive me if I focus on the amendment before us. I oppose it on the rather simple ground that I believe that the cohesion funds of the European Union are a good thing. They have helped, and will continue to help, the development of the poorer regions and countries of the European Union. That will, in turn, make the single market more effective than it would otherwise be, which is in the interests of the British economy and British business. For that rather narrow reason, I oppose the amendment.
Before I sit down, I should perhaps declare an interest as a vice-chairman of Business for New Europe. I also declare an interest as receivingand being proud to do soa British Government pension. However, for the avoidance of doubt, as the lawyers say, I am not in receipt of a European pension.
Lord Dykes: Inspired by the very sagacious, although brief, contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Jay, perhaps the natural wisdom of the Liberal Democrat Benches on these European matters can be deployed tonight to provide miniature arbitration between the noble Lords, Lord Tomlinson and Lord Lea of Crondall. Although the noble Lord, Lord Lea, was not sufficiently severe on the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, for proposing this extraordinary amendment, none the less we would all defend the right of the noble Lords, Lord Pearson and Lord Willoughby de Broke, and others to say what they want in these debates when proposing amendments. That is the natural right of Members of both this House and the other place, so perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, was being a little too brutal. Normally he is not like that at allhe is a very gentle person. However, on this occasion the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, misused the opportunity by misquoting, as usual, but we were pleased to note that he challenged the Tories on their views.
The Tory views on the cohesion fund and the social fund and their future are rapidly approaching those of UKIP. Indeed, a whole series of amendments was tabled in the other place and adopted by the Tory Front-Bench spokesmen in this House. We are now at the beginning of the amendments that start Page 1, line 12 and go on to refer to Article 1. This is not a Tory amendment; it is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, so he cannot be accused of plagiarising anything from the other place. However, the long list of Conservative amendments referring to line 12
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It is a very sobering thought that the gap between the official approach of the Conservative Party on Europe and on individual detailed European policies and the approach of UKIP is rapidly narrowing to the width of a cigarette paper. It may not be quite there yet and there may be some small exceptions to some policies but in general the Official Conservative Opposition is now deeply rooted in profound hostility to the European Union in respect of the exciting new proposals in the modest Lisbon treaty, which is very far from being a constitution. We know that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, referring to the replacement Article 2 and changing paragraph 4unfortunately my spectacles are broken so I shall have to guess the wordswants the Government to move away from supporting in the European Union what the cohesion fund and social fund will do in the future.
Article 1 in the old text concerning the competencies of the Union and Article 2 concerning the objectives, the cohesion policy and the solidarity of policy are agreed policies of the sovereign member states of the European Union, and they have what I hope is the understandable enthusiasm of the British Government. Therefore, we on these Benches accept that those would be good things to keep. As one or two other speakers have already said, there is a natural role for the Commission in funding these policies at the margin in the member states. I think, in particular, of the 10 or 12 new member states but mostly I think of the eastern European states which need a lift-up to reach the average on incomes, wealth and output, as well as Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
Around 35 per cent of the total EU budget for 2007-13 is allocated to the structural and cohesion funds, some £7 billion of which has been reserved for projects in the United Kingdom. Therefore, tonight we note that the noble Lords, Lord Pearson and Lord Willoughby de Broke, with enthusiasm, wish to abolish that effort. Those funds would not be repatriated in the sense that the British Government would immediately pick up the tabthat certainly would not be the casebut there would be a loss of funds to the areas in the UK which need that assistance. The cohesion fund is available only for those member states with a gross national income per inhabitant of less than 50 per cent of the EU average.
We Liberal Democrats believe that a regional policy developed at the European level has a very important role to play at the margin. This is a modest amount of money in comparison with what the national member states all spend on economic rehabilitation and resuscitation of weaker areas and
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EU regional policy promotes convergence within the EU, which is necessary if Europe is to maximise its strength. That has always been a sacred principle. It is only reiterated in the Lisbon treaty and advanced by way of the objectives, albeit couched in fairly vague language. The reference to solidarity can mean a number of different things to different people, but in specific policy terms it means the ancient and respectable principle of redistribution to help poorer areas, poorer families and poorer villages and towns enshrined in the statutes of the EU as well as in those of the national member states. We repeat again and again to reassure our hesitant and nervous UKIP colleagues that the powers therein are conferred only by the will of the sovereign member states. There is no excessive use of power emanating from any other source whatever. That is why we support that policy with enthusiasm. Therefore, when the Minister replies on this very dubious, shaky and unnecessary amendment, we hope that she will also endorse the Governments enthusiasm for the same objective.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: Perhaps I can get a word in now. I tried to intervene on the dispute that arose about the way in which we handle this debate and this Bill. We have to do it this way because every single treaty since the 1972 European treaty is simply an amendment of that treaty. We have to do it this way because it is not the treaty that is before us to be ratified. If the Government did it that way, it would be perfectly in order to try to alter the treaty. Because of the method used by the Government to get the treaty through, we have to do it this way, which I agree is a bit convoluted. That should not prevent us discussing every item in the treaty, including the one that we are now discussing, which is the social and cohesion aspect.
We were taken into the Common Market on the basis that we were joining a trading organisation. We now find that within that trading organisation, instead of competing with our competitors we have to subsidise them. That is what the European regionalisation policy means. Funds from this country, which could be used fully in this country, are instead used to subsidise other countries that may be thought to be poorer than ourselves.
Lord Sewel: Does the noble Lord accept that if gross national income or GDP increase in those regions that are lagging behind, that creates, as the noble Lord on the Cross Benches said, a much greater and more real single market, the product of which is increased demand for British goods? It is Britainthe United Kingdomthat benefits from the increase in the wealth of those regions that are being brought up through the cohesion funds.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: If that were the case I would be happy, but unfortunately the deficit in trade in the past 35 years has been increasingly large. The deficit in our trade for the last period2006was no
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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I read all the newspapers. That is why I have such a broad mind. In any event, the article was probably in other papers as well. It just so happens that this was handed to me today. It appears that in spite of all the largesse that we are supposed to be getting from the European Union there are areas in Britain that are very poor indeed.
For example, the table shows that in Merthyr Tydfil 20.7 per cent of the population draws benefits. In the Rhondda, where I was born, 17.1 per cent of people draw benefits. In Liverpool, the figure is 17.6 per cent. So that I can cover the United Kingdom, the figure in Glasgow is 17.1 per cent. There are many poor people around who could do with some of the money which in net terms we pay over to the European Union every year. This year the amount will be £4.5 billion and by 2011 it will be £6.5 billion in net terms.
Those of us who have some doubts about our membership of the European Union think that that money would be better spent in providing jobs and services to people in this country. I believe that it is better for nation states to handle their social and regional employment matters on a nation-state basis. We did it pretty successfully as the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, will know, because he was the deputy general secretary of the Trades Union Congress and he knows perfectly well that past Labour Governments have done their best to see to it that the regions are financed well from the national Exchequer. We could begin rebuilding our manufacturing industrythe TUC is very much in favour of that. We could use regional funds that are perhaps wasted elsewhere to build up our resources and industry in this country.
Lord Howell of Guildford: I shall not get involved in the substance of the amendment and shall not support it. I will keep my head down to allow the flak to fly from the hardline withdrawalists sitting behind me against the entrenched position of the Brussels apologists who seem to agree that everything that comes from there is perfect. It seems to have escaped the notice of some Members of the Committee that although many amendments on these issues may have been tabled in the other place they were not debated. Very few amendments were debated, and that is precisely the complaint of the newspapers and the public and, indeed, of Members of all parties, including the Government party. These matters were not debated. We were urged by the Prime Minister to look at them line by line. It is particularly sad on an issue such as this, which does not seem to have a direct connection with the proposals in the Lisbon treaty, although it has a direct connection with the evolution of the European Union. There is a lot of
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The other thing that shocked me a bit in the final 20 minutes of the debate was the attitudes of the noble Lord, Lord Lea, whose views I normally admire, and the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, whose views I enjoy but do not necessarily agree with, about the procedure. They seemed to be saying that they wanted to close the debate down. They know perfectly well that if we are going to look line by line at the treaty, we have to table amendments. I said at the beginning that we know that we cannot change the treaty; it is given to us and there is nothing we can do about it except that in due course there will be other treaties and these matters will be reopened because they will not be settled by this. There will be more vigorous debates and more successful negotiating under a Conservative Government in the future than there has been under this rather deplorable and now dying Labour Government. That will happen. That is certainly so. However, the idea that we should therefore not debate these matters at all when they have not been debated in the Commons is quite shocking, and I am sorry to hear those two, usually excellent, noble Lords suggesting such a proposition.
Lord Lea of Crondall: I shall return the compliment and say that, generally speaking, I admire the attitude of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, in debate, but I did not say, and nor did my noble friend Lord Tomlinson, that we did not think these matters were worth discussing. However, as this is the first of a string of amendments taking the form that, after excluding, other words be put into or taken out of the treaty, the effect of such amendments should be pointed out at this stage. That is all that I said. I shall leave it there.
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