|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Many do not agreemostly in our Eurosceptic movement, of course, which now comprises a majority of the British people. They point out that, at the time of her Coronation Oath, the advice that Ministers gave to the Queen was unfettered by our membership of the European Union. They suggest that the British
9 Jun 2008 : Column 404
However, we have now reached the point where a majority of our national law is imposed by Brussels, on much of which the Government of the day can be outvoted and for which the House of Commons and your Lordships' House have become irrelevant. They fear that that situation will become worse under the Lisbon treaty, which grants the EU its own legal personality superior to that of the member states. They ask: who is and who will be really giving advice to the monarch? Is it her Ministers, or have they become merely the mouthpiece for much of what they propose? They also ask such questions as where the new EU president will leave the position of the sovereign as his role evolves. Will he come to receive ambassadors and sign treaties on behalf of the European Union with its new legal personality? Who will take precedence if the Queen visits the institutions of the European Union? These are the sorts of questions that the report requested by the amendment should seek to answer. We expect the amendment to be supported on all sides of the House. I beg to move.
Lord Dykes: My Lords, perhaps the amendment is not really necessary after all and should not take too much of your Lordships time, particularly after the previous substantial debate. One comes back to the origins of the text, which for good Europeans is sacred. Article 3a(2) of the treaty of Lisbon reminds us:
The Union shall respect the equality of Member States before the Treaties as well as their national identities, inherent in their fundamental structures, political and constitutional, inclusive of regional and local self-government. It shall respect their essential State functions, including ensuring the territorial integrity of the State.
These are sovereign countriespositive Europeans working together agreeably more closely, as envisaged by the founding fathers, although they were not aware of the future details. We have seen how this has evolved gradually as a process: sovereign countries remaining national sovereign entities and in no way reduced by any co-operation between them on signing the series of international European treaties that brought together the previous two principal treaties of 1957 and Maastricht and have now culminated in the composite Lisbon treaty. I therefore find it difficult, as will other noble Lords, to understand why the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, is worried about this matter. The position of the monarch is in no way affected by our membership of the European Union.
There are seven monarchies in the current list of 27 member states. Of those, I am pretty sureI speak from memory so I hope that I am right, because it is not always possible to read all versions of Hansard of all the other national Parliamentsthat the Kingdom
9 Jun 2008 : Column 405
Lord Vinson: My Lords, it is beyond most people because, as the noble Lord clearly and often makes the point, he and his party do not believe in the nation state. He has just said that they believe in pooled sovereignty. Behind this question is the deep underlying anxiety of the British people about how one can pool sovereignty and maintain democracy. The two are irreconcilable. I hope that he will answer that point.
Lord Dykes: My Lords, I suggest that the noble Lord simply reads the treaty. It upholds the intrinsic sovereignty of the national statethe national entity. That is repeated throughout the treaty, as it was in the previous treaties. Those things are literally unaffected under international law by the treaty-making experience of history and by the ability of sovereign countries to decide to work together. They lose nothing, even at the margin of their intrinsic national sovereignty. They take sovereign decisions so to do, mostly through their parliamentary machineryIreland being the only exception this time, with a referendum on Thursday.
I believe that about 14 years ago Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh paid a notable and interesting visit to the European Commission and other institutions in Brussels. Although no official report was madeit was a private visitthey were extremely interested, we understand, in these developments, which are a mirror image of the other kinds of international treaties that this country signs with other international bodies and that create ever-larger bodies as the membership of those particular entities increases. But, because of the closeness of working together under the European Union, it can be sometimes misunderstood, quite understandably, by people who have a more sceptical turn of mind such as the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, that that means somehow giving up your own intrinsic power. That is not the case and never has been. It has always been envisaged that these are sovereign member states working together. In fact, robust Parliaments elsewhere have not seen a single amendment proposed reflecting the anxieties of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, on these matters.
Ultimately, it comes into the realms of Euro myths. I was chairman of the European Movement in Britain when Giscard dEstaing was chairman of the whole European Movement throughout Europe. I remember vividly how we decided to have a kind of contest whereby people in various member states could submit myth stories that they thought was true, including, for example, myths about straight bananas, blue tomatoes and a wonderful panoply of stories. We remember with great affection the Daily Express headline
9 Jun 2008 : Column 406
The heads of state of the republics and the monarchies in the European Union are sacrosanct. They belong to the national entity, which is a national member state fully sovereign in its fundamentals all the way down to the depths of its local political society. That is not in any way affected. I hope thatafter the profound debates we had on such an important subject previously and in congratulating, without embarrassing I hope, the Leader of the House on a positive result in that casethis amendment will not be pressed to any suggested vote.
Lord Monson: My Lords, notwithstanding the reassuring words of the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, there is great merit in this amendment. I suspect that the Government will argue that ratification of the Lisbon treaty will have no detrimental effect on the constitutional position of the monarch and that the amendment is therefore unnecessary, rather like the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, did. But if they are so certain why do they resist the amendment, acceptance of which would greatly reassure the public who are not reassured at present? It is not as if acceptance would involve expenditure of time or money. This amendment is not remotely in the same league as an earlier one moved also by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, which sought a cost-benefit analysis of the Lisbon treaty.
Although in my view it was as highly desirable, that amendment, if agreed to, would undoubtedly have absorbed ministerial and civil service time, and would have cost the taxpayer money. In contrast, this amendment, assuming that the Governments confidence is well placedthat is a big assumptionwould require only a one-sentence statement by the Minister to the effect that the monarchs position is totally unaffected by the passage of the Lisbon treaty and our ratification of it.
To adapt the Governments stock argument when replying to innocent people who understandably object to having their DNA and their fingerprints maintained on a police file in perpetuity, if the Government have nothing to hide, they have nothing to fear by accepting this amendment. On that basis, let them do so.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, chided the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, for wasting the Houses time in moving this amendment.He went on to speak for eight minutes as opposed to the noble Lords five, so he has no right to chide the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, for raising this very important matter. Indeed, I raised it myself at Second Reading, but I did not get a very satisfactory
9 Jun 2008 : Column 407
I emphasise that the constitutional position of the monarch is that he or she acts on the advice of their Ministers. However, in matters concerning the European Union, especially in matters decided by QMV, Her Majesty will not act on the advice of her Ministers, but on advice tempered by the decisions of 26 other countriesdecisions that British Ministers might very well have opposed. The advice tendered to the monarch will not necessarily reflect the policy of Her Majestys Government, nor that of Parliament. It will be decided by a group of foreign states. That constitutes a significant change in Her Majestys relationship with her Government and Parliament.
There is also Her Majestys position relating to the Commonwealth. This will now be quite different from her relationship to this country. Presumably she will still be offered advice by her Ministers in the Commonwealth, but that advice will not be constrained by a group of foreign countries. These implications for the monarchy should be explored properly by the Government and explained to Parliament. That is what the amendment asksno more, no less.
Many will say that the position of the monarch is safe. However, there can be no doubt that, as greater EU integration proceeds, the institution of the monarchy could be seen as an anachronism. Many of our institutions have been undermined or reformed radically in the past 10 years. Hereditary Peers have been sent packing. The role of the Lord Chancellor has been all but abolished and the whole of the office dismissed from the House of Lords. The Law Lords have been ousted from Parliament and a Supreme Court established instead. Now the House of Lords is in danger of being abolished and, only recently, the role of Black Rod was diminished considerably, apparently without any real consultation with Black Rod himself. There have been a lot of changes over the past few years.
Some noble Lords will not believe that the position of the monarch is under threat. However, I remind them of the behaviour and presidential style of the previous Prime Minister. Mr Blair attempted to muscle in on matters that were clearly the proper province of the royal family, and failed to correct the tendency of sections of the press and others to refer to his wife as the first lady. Some people notice these things and are offended by them. Furthermore, it seems to me that the police and perhaps even the Armed Forces now believe that their allegiance is to the Government of the day rather than to the monarch.
With all these significant changes, constitutional and attitudinal, to the way that we are governed, it is little wonder that there is concern about the position of the monarchy in relation to the European Union which, step by step, ratchet by ratchet, is proceeding to full union, a country called Europe. That is why we need this debate and the amendment, which seeks to ensure that the Government report to Parliament on the position of the monarch in relation to Parliament
9 Jun 2008 : Column 408
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, one noble Lord suggested that the Liberal Democrats are against the nation state. That is wholly untrue. On behalf of my party, let me make it clear that our position is, and always has been, that of course we believe in the nation state; of course we believe in the sovereignty of the United Kingdom; but we also believe in sharing sovereignty in the interests of the people of this country. Sovereignty is not like virginity, something that you either have or do not have. Sovereignty is the exercise of powers, which you may do on your own on issues that can be settled at national, regional or local level; or which may demand transnationalEuropean or internationalco-operation on issues such as climate change, pollution, terrorism, migration and fisheries. It is the belief of my party, and of many in the Conservative Partysome of whom are in their places today, but whom I will not embarrass by namingand I believe is the position of Her Majestys Government that sharing sovereignty is in the interests of this country and its people.
My second point is in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Monson, who asked, Why resist this amendment?. One reason for resisting this amendment is because it is wholly unnecessary. The constitutional position of the monarch in relation to the monarchs people, Parliament and Ministers, prior to ratification of the treaty of Lisbon and following ratification of the treaty, will be precisely the same. What is that position? The position of the sovereign since 1688-89, and the Act of Settlement 1700, is that we no longer operate a monarchical constitution. We operate under the principle of parliamentary sovereignty or supremacy. The Queens Ministers advise the sovereign. The sovereign does not act in her personal sovereign capacity. As a constitutional monarch, the sovereign gives effect to the advice of Ministers who are accountable to Parliament and to the courts. Therefore, whether before or after ratification of the treaty of Lisbon, there will be no change in her constitutional position, nor in her relationship with her citizens or with other institutions of government.
Lord Vinson: My Lords, the noble Lord made an implied reference to my previous remark about sharing sovereignty, and the consequent loss of democracy. Of course one should share big issueswe have tried to in the United Nations and elsewhere. However, almost all the minutiae of our lives are being dictated by Europe. Currently 80 per cent of our regulations come from Europe and the figure is rising. This is not shared sovereignty, this is giving away sovereigntyand that, if only the noble Lord and his party would realise it, is what deeply worries the British public.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I fully understand that concern. However, it is catered for in the treaty of Lisbon. Unlike previous treaties, it makes sure that the principle of subsidiarity, which states that Brussels and the European Union should not legislate or interfere where the matter can be dealt with better at national or local level, is not only a principle of the treaty, but a principle that national parliaments such as ours will,
9 Jun 2008 : Column 409
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, we are at the Report stage. I shall try to be indulgent, but the noble Lord must not keep interrupting. At the Report stage, a specific question of clarification is quite in order. The noble Lord has the opportunity to make a speech himself, which might be the better way.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, on a point of clarification for the noble Lord, Lord Lester, since he sought to explain the position of the Liberal party, could I ask whether the party is in favour of a federal state or a confederal state of Europe?
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I can answer that question very briefly. The word federal is the most misunderstood term in the English political language; it is widely construed as relating to a highly centralised system of government, whereas as anyone can see in the federal constitutions of, for example, Germany or Canada, it is a system of allocating power to central government and to the constituent parts of that government. The degree of central control depends on the particular system. The European Union system is in one sense a federal system in that there is centralised lawmaking and devolved or decentralised lawmaking. I do not believe in a federal Union that gives most or all power to the centre within Europe. I believe, and I believe this to be true of my party, in an allocation of powers between what is in Brussels and what is in the member states. I also strongly believe in the nation states and the need to preserve their position. There is nothing defensive about that, but it is easy to characterise what I have just said as some kind of betrayal of national sovereignty. That is wholly untrue and I would be the first to leave my party if I thought otherwise.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I shall be brief because we have had an interesting debate around issues that are quite broad and I would like to make progress this evening. The amendment is specific and I pray in aid the Constitution Committee. The committee published an extremely good report, to which noble
9 Jun 2008 : Column 410
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken, in particular those who see the necessity for this report. The noble Lord, Lord Dykes, told us yet again that the EU is a collection of wholly sovereign nations collaborating together. He quoted some words that have been included in the treaties since the start. The general gist of what he quoted has always been with us but has not managed to make any difference to the inexorable secession of our right of self-government to Brussels.
I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Vinson, who put his finger on the heart of the matter in responding to the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, and to what the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, had to say, so I will not repeat his words. However, the noble Lord, Lord Lester, said that sovereignty is not like virginity in that you can share sovereignty, and he gave various examples. That is a fundamental point of difference between us. We say that sovereignty is indeed like virginityyou either have it or you do not. People say that we have given it up to Brussels, but we are actually paying Brussels billions of pounds a year to take it. Perhaps that is a separate matter.
The noble Lord, Lord Lester, also claimed that Ministers are still accountable to Parliament and the courts. That relates to the very point that I sought to make. Ministers are no longer wholly accountable to Parliament; they are now accountable for decisions taken, often by majority voting, in Brussels. That is the difference and I suggest that it may affect the position of the monarch, who is our sovereign, and so her position is reflected in our position.
Incidentally, I forgot to mention in my introduction that Her Majesty became a citizen of the European Union at Maastricht, which I would have thought also made some difference. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in what I think was an important debate to hold, but I do not think it appropriate to divide the House. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|