|Back to Table of Contents
|Lords Hansard Home Page
Those were the original positions I took at the beginning of this process and it is the position that we take on these Benches this evening. This has been one of the debates to be remembered in the House, with some very high quality contributions from all sides, made with sincerity and great eloquence. I will not delay the House any longer. Those on these Benches will support the Government, as I promised. I look forward to the replies from the Lord President and the noble Lord, Lord Howell.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I begin by echoing the sentiment of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, about the quality of the debate. It has been a great privilege to sit through some of the most extraordinary and terrific speeches that I have heard in your Lordships House.
I have singled out a few of those speeches for comment. I must pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce-Lockhart, for whom it was a particular effort to come here today; he spoke with great eloquence, although I did not agree with him. The most reverend Primate made some entertaining and interesting points, many of which I agreed with. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Owenboth former Foreign Secretariesspoke with great eloquence from different perspectives and we were richer for that. The noble Lord, Lord Patten, made one of the most brilliant speeches I have heard in a long time.
Many other noble Lords spoke extremely well and I pay tribute to all of them for their speeches, whether or not I agreed with them. This has been a substantive debate and it shows Parliament at its best. It proves beyond doubt that the Governments approach in saying, This is the place to scrutinise, deliberate and debate, is exactly right. I will come on to the issues that noble Lords have raised about referendums but I do want to make that point. This is what we are here for. It is even more so what another place is here for. I believe we have fulfilled our obligations in scrutinising this treaty. I pay tribute, as I will again at Third Reading, to the Opposition, the Liberal Democrats, the Cross Benches, the right reverend Prelates and all noble Lords who have participated, because we have done our job extremely well.
A lot has been said about the purpose and role of referendums, or occasionally referenda if I am not mistaken, the plural is referendums, but I will leave that asideand the question of opinion polls and YouGov opinion polls in particular. For any noble Lord who has not made the connection, I declare the interest that my husband is president of YouGov. When the YouGov poll took place, he and I were on a boat in France, so it is nothing to with us, guv. Noble Lords would also expect me to say that I have no knowledge or information on anything to do with opinion polls conducted by that companywe keep a complete Chinese wall between us and anything that it may do. However, I look with great interest at all the opinion polls on the subject.
The noble Lord, Lord Brittan, and the most reverend Primate and other noble Lords said that the truth in the history is that when people are asked whether they would like a referendum on all subjects, they will rightly say yes. We have to keep +the context of what is being said.
I was struck by what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, saidthe noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, also raised this at Second Readingabout the complexity of the question. When the referendum took place, all those years ago now, it was on a straightforward questiona question that people could answer with great certainty. One of the great issues for us is that the complexity of the
11 Jun 2008 : Column 630
I also note what was said about the weather in Ireland. I understand the point; on issues of this complexity, it concerns me that the weather might be the determining factor. I cannot decidethe noble Lord, Lord Howell, must forgive me for thiswhether, if there were a referendum, the Conservative Party would campaign for yes or no. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, will answer that question for me. Indeed, I might press him to, because I really am unsure what the position would be; it is an important issue. If there were a referendum, I know where the Liberal Democrats would be; I know where the members of UKIP would be; I know where those on my Benches would be; I probably even know where some of the Bishops might be; I know where some of the Cross-Benchers would be; but I do not know where the Conservative Party officially would be. I have asked several times, but have not really had an answer to a question that is important in the context of those who push in relation to trust; we need to know, in particular, what the Conservative Party would doif this Bill reaches the statute book, as I hope it will, next week, and if there is ratification across 27 member stateswhether the Conservative Party leadership will reopen this. If they were fortunate enough to win the support of the British electorate and become the Government, would they acceptas Mr Cameron seemed to be moving to doing in his article earlier this weekthat what is done is done? I think the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, said in a speech in 1975 that two years on from when things have happened is not the time to start reopening that which went before.
Noble Lords have said how isolated Her Majestys Opposition are in Europe, for which I am very sorry. This is a great party and some of the best and most brilliant speeches made in your Lordships House this afternoon in support of the European Union were made by noble Lords sitting on the Opposition Benches. I hope that the Conservative Party will move back to the position of strengthto being supporters of Europe, so that we may all together be in that great position in that way.
It is my contention that it is our job to do our job and the European Councils job is to do its job. Whatever happens in Ireland, it will be for the European Council, which will meet at the end of next week, to deliberate and discuss. The 27 heads of state must make their own decisions.
I will comment on the debate extremely briefly. Six reasons have been given for having a referendum. The firstthe obvious oneis the manifesto commitment: this is exactly the same as a constitution and there
11 Jun 2008 : Column 631
The second reason is that the Lisbon treaty is a constitutional treaty. As noble Lords have explained, far more eloquently than I can, it is not; it is different. Noble Lords say that the content is the same, is similar, may be similar, or possibly has similarities. The noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, quoted part of my letter. He obviously did not quote all of itI will not go through it allbut if noble Lords read everything I said, I hope they will draw a slightly different conclusion to that.
Yesterday, for fun, I was looking up what the DNA similarities are between human beings and other animals. Apparently, I am 60 per cent a fruit-fly, 98 per cent a mouse and 95 per cent a guinea-pig. That does not make me a guinea-pig or a fruit-fly or a mouseI hope.
We are very clear that there may be similarities. Things were brought forward from the constitution because they were important innovations in how we operate together. That does not make us the sameI am not a fruit fly. As I have already indicated, some of the safeguards in this treaty were not even in the constitutional treaty.
Then there is the argument of the cumulative effect of all the treaties we have had in the past, meaning that we have got to the point where we need a referendum. I reject that. The sixth and final reason that has been given over the course of all our debates over the past months has been that we have held a referendum on other issues so we should hold a referendum on this. I am not going to dwell on that point because I do not think that anybody has raised that today as a conceivably good issue.
I just want to comment to the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, on the case that is before the courts at the moment. I have to question the appropriateness, while the case is still before the courts, of raising what was said by government counsel. I am not surprised that the noble Lord was able to get a copy of what the counsel saidI am sure that it is now in the public domain in any event. However, the noble Lord will understand that I am not proposing to comment on it.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am well aware that the case was adjourned yesterday evening, but the decision has not yet been handed down. That is why I am not proposing to comment on it at this point.
I want to end very briefly with the issue of politics. After all, politics is politics. There are people in your Lordships House who, whatever I say, genuinely believe that the Government made a commitment and that the treaties are exactly the same. I hope that they have read them line by line and I hope that they have done the work and analysis to reach that conclusion. I do not see how they could have reached that conclusion, but I genuinely believe that they have.
There are those who will see this referendum as an opportunity to campaign to remove ourselves from the European Unioneither altogether, or to renegotiate our position. This is a vehicle or a method. It is a completely legitimate thing to do. I do not regard anything that I am saying here as illegitimate. I am just pointing out what is going onhastening, in a sense, our departure from Europe.
There are perhaps also those who see this as an opportunity to land a blow. Politics is politics and people will use the issue of trust to say something about the Government, the Prime Minister, Members of your Lordships House and so on. That is for them.
For my part, however, I am clear: the constitution is gone. It was declared gone at the IGC. This is an amending treaty by any reading and under any set of circumstances. We have negotiated a strong position for this country. I want us to play our full part in Europe, to get beyond the negotiations and discussions we have had in your Lordships House, important though they are, and tackle the problems that we face togetheron poverty, climate change, our relations with other countries, working together to promote human rights and providing greater protection for our citizens so that they can live, work, study and travel in the European Union and enjoy the benefits of being a part of it. I want us to speak with one voice or, as the most reverend Primate said, to make a fuss, on behalf of our people in the European Union, to make it better. That is the commitment of this Government.
I take what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, at the beginning. Perhaps we have not done enough to promote our own in Europe, but my goodness, I intend to start doing that if I have not already done so. We should pass this Bill, reject the amendment, take our place in Europe and get on with the things that really matter to our citizens.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I knew that this would be a superb debate and it has been. I feel privileged and humble to have had the opportunity to take part in it. I shall try to be brief in summing up some of the contributions. There obviously is not time to comment on every wonderful speech. I hope that this does not embarrass the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, but I should like to put her speech at the centre of my considerations. She it was who put, as clearly, simply and eloquently as one could, the case against which our amendment is aimed. She it was who put the question: is this different? The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, asserted with vigour that it
11 Jun 2008 : Column 633
The secondary role was played in our debate by the good Dutch lawyers who are much quoted, although I think that my noble friend Lord Neill of Bladen demolished their credibility to a considerable extent. Indeed, when you read on page 13 of their report, as I am sure all of your Lordships have, that they assert that the Lisbon treaty does not codify the supremacy of the European Court of Justice or the EU law, one realises that it must a be rather questionable document, because it does. In the treaty provisions precisely, the supremacy of EU law is codified and made absolutely clear. It has been confirmed in all our debates in Committee by the very learned and wise lawyers, judges and others in this House whose opinions are immensely valuable. They have all confirmed that the ECJ is the supreme court, that its rulings cannot be challengedthere is no appeal against them anywayand that it is supreme in all areas which fall under the ECJ. This treaty brings a whole new group of areas under the ECJ. The rulings of the ECJ are supreme and override our national view.
I say that merely to emphasis the point that those who question the constitutional importance of the treaty, or who say it is merely tidying up, not very much or no big deal, really cannot have grasped what is stated in the treaty. In the decision to collapse the Third Pillar and bring the vital issues of justice, home affairs and many others into the purview and coverage of the European Court of Justice, it is constitutional. Even the Dutch lawyers admit that. Therefore the proposition that somehow the constitutional concept has been abandoned withers and collapses.
Does it have the same effects? My noble friend Lord Blackwell put this devastating question: if all the measures that were in the constitutional treaty are there, who is to explain that it does not have the same effects this time, just because it is written in a slightly different form? Of course the same measures will have the same effects and provide the same basis for the same rulings by the European Court of Justice, as would have been the case under the constitutional treaty.
Finally, is the text the same? Here again we seem to have a difference, like ships passing in the night. I have before me the text of the two treaties and I find again and again, page after page, paragraph after paragraph, word after word, that it is identical. It is the same text. As the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, rightly and eloquently said, it is in a different wrapping, but it is the same text. If that is not taken as fact from this Dispatch Box then let us turn to the great Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the sponsoring department, which in 2004 put out a guide to the European Union to explain the constitutional treaty. The other day it put out a guide to the Lisbon treaty with a foreword by the Prime Minister, Mr Brown. I have to tell your Lordships that out of 15 pages of explanation, 12 are identical. It is the same advice for treaties that are said to be different, and I am afraid that that stretches
11 Jun 2008 : Column 634
Perhaps I may say a word on the issue that came to the fore in many excellent speechesthe question of whether we like referenda. I do not like them very much. In principle, I think that we should handle them cautiously; in practice, they occur again and again. There have been many under this Government and all parties have promised them in their manifestos for various things, including my own party in 1997 regarding the euro. The truth will have to be faced by some of my noble friends who have used phrases such as time and time again, in the past and so forth. The world has moved towards the referendum mode for very obvious reasons. Quite aside from the fact that referenda have been promised, we now live in a world where 2 billion people are on the internet and the world wide web, and two-thirds of households in this nation are online and interactive. People are empowered, they have views and they wish to put those views forward. This is not the world of five or 10 years ago; it is the world of the information age, which totally transforms the way in which opinion is formed and the way in which democracies will work.
I am very sorry for those who say that they do not like referenda but there will be a lot more of them. They will come again and again. There will of course be resistance to them and there will be many cases where it is felt that a more refined judgment filtered through Parliament is much better, and that view is probably right. However, there will be more and more of what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, calls exceptional cases. I believe that we have one before us now.
Parliamentary democracy in this very difficult ageit is getting more difficultwill flourish only if Parliament acts with consistency and integrity and sticks to its promises, but it will not flourish if it disregards promises or if parliamentary control is bypassed.
Lord Kinnock: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can he now use the last part of his speech to answer the question addressed to him in my noble friends peroration? If he had his way this evening and the amendment supporting a referendum were carried, and if that became the adopted position, on which side of the ensuing campaign would he be active? Would he be active for the yes side in favour of the adoption of the treaty or the no side?
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, the noble Lord attended some of the earlier debates but he did not attend the ones where I made it clear that I believe that the treaty is badly negotiated and is a bad offer. I would certainly be opposed to it; I have never had any doubts about that. We all know that the treaty contains all sorts of things that the noble Lords Government and party were totally against from the start. They fought desperately to keep those things out of the treaty but they have been included. The only people who are in love with the treaty are the Liberal Democrats. His own party is not very keen on it, to tell the truth, and I think that the Prime Minister has distinct doubts, but the noble Lord is caught in a trap.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, that is the position in which the Government have found themselves. I was talking about Parliament, about which we all care. We want to see this House of Lords upholding its duties, which are to amend and improve and to argue with consistency and accuracy about what is necessary, and we want Parliament to be trusted in the way that everyone always calls for. However, if we push through a measure without the say of the peoplethe say of the people which is encouraged in a document about the present European Union, which says:
The truth is that in this debate, despite the sincerity of the arguments of the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, and others, we have really won the argument. We would have won the key votes as well if the Liberal Democrats had not adopted their bizarre and supine approach to everything and anything to do with this Bill, because I believe that the arguments are on our side. I respect what has been put up against us but I do not think that it stands up in the face of the facts, in the face of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in the face of the arguments of Europes leaders, as the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, said, or in the face of the frank and candid assessments of those who founded the constitutional treaty on which the text is based. Because of all those things, it really is time to put this matter to a vote and to test the opinion of the House.
|Back to Table of Contents
|Lords Hansard Home Page