Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page



11 Jun 2008 : Column 643

I said, “I wonder whether a previous leaflet was issued?”. I found a leaflet that was published in 2004, which my noble friend Lord Howell referred to. We have compared the two documents, and they are virtually identical.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: It is the same leaflet.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: My Lords, I realise the noble Baroness is anxious to intervene, but let me just explain. The 2004 leaflet explains how the constitutional treaty will allow the enlarged European Union to work more effectively and efficiently. The marvellous Foreign and Commonwealth Office produced these two documents. There was probably a very overworked, overstretched individual there who simply took most of the text of the leaflet to explain the European constitution and transposed it into the leaflet explaining the treaty of Lisbon. Let those who say that they are completely different documents compare these two explanatory leaflets.

Lord Jay of Ewelme: My Lords, I have just one question for the noble Lord. I did a little research on the two documents during the dinner break, having been at least indirectly responsible for the first of them. Are they not guides to the European Union and not to the Lisbon or the constitutional treaty? Since the European Union has not changed fundamentally since 2004, would one not expect the majority of the leaflet to be the same in 2008 as in 2004? As I understand it, there are references in the document to the Lisbon treaty rather than to the constitutional treaty.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: I hope that the noble Lord will continue to participate in the debate, because it is very helpful to have one of the authors of the document with us. I dare say that what has happened on this occasion used to happen regularly to him when he served as one of our leading officials; that is, his text has been taken by Ministers and turned into a ministerial document. Gordon Brown has introduced his Guide to the European Union, which contains many references to the constitutional treaty, and turned it into a document which explains the treaty of Lisbon. I have been through the two documents carefully—I obtained the former document from the House of Lords Library and am very happy to pass my copy to the Minister as she searches for further evidence. One sees that huge tranches have been taken word for word, with the treaty of Lisbon inserted where the constitutional treaty was.

I do not seek to rehearse all the arguments about the differences. The amendment would ensure that we explained in simple, understandable terms what the treaty of Lisbon meant. A huge bundle of documents was delivered to my office—I do not know whether it was delivered by a fork-lift truck, but it was of a massive weight. One of the problems with converting a constitutional treaty into the treaty of Lisbon and rewriting it is that if one wants to understand the treaty of Lisbon a massive amount of documentation is now necessary. I urge the Government to look again at all this material and convert it into a readily understandable document which can answer and knock

11 Jun 2008 : Column 644

on the head some of the myths and scare stories which, sadly, are often put around by those who wish us to withdraw from the European Union.

I shall give one example, because I treasure giving as much time as possible for the noble Baroness the Lord President to be briefed by the noble Lord, Lord Bach. One of the documents that I treasure is the no document that went to every household at the time of the referendum in 1975. I know that some Members—I do not see them here—will say that all we ever agreed to in the 1975 referendum was a free trade association. I remember being on many platforms vigorously supporting our membership of the European Community and saying that it was a step in the right direction towards a more prosperous and peaceful Europe because we gave up sovereignty in key areas and, by pooling it, made ourselves stronger. At that stage, we had a very vigorous argument. I remember that the no document was headed “The right to rule ourselves”. In 1975, it said that:

and that the Common Market has set out,

That, of course, was not the case, but I fear that by allowing the anti-European lobby continually to peddle myths and misunderstandings, we have begun to lose the argument.

In the last debate, when we were talking about the referendum, I sensed that one reason why a lot of people who supported a referendum no longer do so is that they feel that the argument about our membership of the European Union would be lost. That argument would not be at all positive, but be all about what the Government have or have not done. In many ways, that is a reflection on our failure in our duty to present the positive facts about Europe that are agreed by all parties, particularly the one I regard as the European party—my own.

I have seen the party opposite move from being one entertaining the idea of entry into one that, in its election manifesto, wanted to withdraw; that caused a number of people to leave the Labour Party at that time. My party has never adopted any such posture, and as far as I am concerned it never will. However, we want to see a much more positive attitude, so I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity given to her by this amendment to spell out for us all exactly what she and her colleagues will now be doing to present the positive case. I beg to move.

Lord Dykes: My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord who has just moved this amendment will not necessarily feel offended if I say that in Committee and on Report he has, to some extent, been under a sort of test after the declaration of being a good European that he made right at the beginning, after Second Reading. I remember it vividly and rather agreed with it, but I nonetheless felt cautious about agreeing totally with that judgment that he is still a good European—for he was in the past, and I remember that vividly—because of the subsequent changes that had happened in the Conservative Party. It was not right for him just to

11 Jun 2008 : Column 645

gloss over that today in his concluding remarks, or to say that the Conservative Party had not really changed on Europe.

I do not want to be repetitive tonight, and I shall be very brief, but when I sat in on the Committee stage of the Bill in the Commons a number of others, including people who were sitting and listening in the Gallery, but who were not really political—for I deliberately made a point of asking them if they knew the Conservative Party’s history on Europe—were shocked by the intense hostility of the remarks made. They were made not just by the Back Benchers—mainly Mr William Cash and Mr David Heathcoat-Amory—but by the Front-Bench spokesmen and particularly the foreign affairs spokesman. There was a deep-seated hostility and antipathetic remarks, which were not just a marginal detail on the current attitude.

Years ago when we were campaigning together, I remember vividly that the noble Lord followed me as chairman of the Conservative group for Europe when I was a member of the Conservative Party. We remember those days, when the party was a strong European force: the whole ethos was strong, thanks to the leadership of Edward Heath when following Harold Macmillan. Those days are no longer here, so in the spirit in which the noble Lord is not suggesting in any way that there should be a formal vote on the amendment but pressing for a good idea—to have more information, leaflets and so on on our membership of the European Union, the Lisbon treaty and the rest of it—then one would welcome that.

In fact, the noble Lord has redeemed himself in the course of these proceedings, if that does not sound condescending, because he conveys his enthusiasm for Europe in his remarks and when he wants more information from the Government that is, understandably, part of that. So much information is provided already, both through official channels from Her Majesty's Government and through all the other things. I can quote an interesting pamphlet—a guide to the Lisbon treaty—from the forum group, which I am sure that the noble Lord has read as well. It says some very good things about the Lisbon treaty. One can quote the Foreign Office’s recent pamphlet on the Slovenian presidency period, which on page 13 sums up just what the Lisbon treaty means to everybody.

Also, the noble Lord has to bear in mind one very significant point. What if there had been lots of argy-bargy in the other member states, particularly the older members, or what they call the more mature members of the European Union? What if there had been a lot of sturm and drang in the German Parliament about the Lisbon treaty—apart from the constitutional court point, which is the only one that has come out of the German scene. In France, too, which the British press has always described as a very bloody-minded nationalistic country and extremely difficult, what if there had been lots of anti-European people around, apart from just the National Front and the Communist Party? What if there had been those manifestations of disaffection for the Lisbon treaty? And then in the 10 new countries—or the eight plus the two islands in the Mediterranean and Bulgaria and Romania—what if there had been huge hesitations in that regard, as there

11 Jun 2008 : Column 646

were in Poland for a short period, although not for very long? After that, it went back to the equilibrium state of a massive amount of parliamentary enthusiasm for the Lisbon treaty and the opportunity that it provided.

9 pm

The point came up earlier—I made it myself, though not very well, and the Leader of the House referred to it—that nine of the new countries thought that they were going to have a referendum, and then they did not need it. Yet the élan for a referendum in a newly democratic country is very great indeed, when you get the initial expressions of the whole people. Often when they devise their own constitution they have a referendum on it, and some of the member states did that. Yet, despite that, in all those member states the public accepted that there was no need for a referendum. But I do not want to go back over the old ground covered in the previous debate. The Leader of the House nods vigorously at that point.

All this shows, surely, that there is an ample amount of information about these matters. This is no criticism of the public at all; I am not saying that they are stupid or ignorant, but the understandable commonsense position of the British public is that they are not very worried about all this. The right-wing newspapers are trying to start huge campaigns and the Sun newspaper tried to get a large number of signatures, but it could not do so. So I believe that there is an adequate amount of information.

Last year, I launched the European Union (Information, etc.) Bill, which I presented to the House and sent to the House of Commons. Although the Conservative Party did not formally oppose it, I did not notice any enthusiasm on its part at Second Reading or in Committee. The Bill provided for the installation of European information centres in public libraries, other municipal centres, and obvious, official local buildings, along with plenty of information on the internet being freely available. One of the subsections in the noble Lord’s amendment proposes the same thing. I should like to reintroduce that Bill some time, not least because it also dealt with the display of flags.

It is extraordinary that the only European flag within several kilometres of this place, apart from on hotels, which are good at putting them up because it is cheaper just to have one European flag, is on the Slovenian embassy, round the corner. It flies one all the time. The British Government put up the European flag the other day, along with the European member states’ flags around Trafalgar Square, but they were put up very quickly and taken down so quickly. Why did they not leave them there for a week, or longer? This is the only member state where there are no displays of European flags on official government buildings. If you look at the National Assembly and the Senate in France—again, a bloody-minded nationalistic country—there are plenty of European flags. There are 65 European flags in Lille Europe station. That would be a good start. The Government should encourage that kind of thing. We can return to debate those matters later, maybe under separate legislation.



11 Jun 2008 : Column 647

Lord Hunt of Wirral: My Lords, I am really very pleased at the noble Lord’s support for this amendment, but is there a simple, easy-to-understand leaflet which he and I could use when we go knocking on doors, as we do from time to time, and somebody says, “Now what is all this about the treaty of Lisbon?”? I have not been able to put my hands on something so as to be able to say, “Here is a leaflet, it’s all explained in here”. I remember Mr Vaz saying, “All we want is a simple card with five points saying what the benefits are”.

Lord Dykes: My Lords, I have never heard anyone ask that kind of question on the doorstep. I have never heard anyone ask why we should apply a stiffer test to the European Union than to other international institutions. I have never heard anybody say, “What is all this about the latest NATO treaty proposals?”. People do not talk like that on the doorstep. They are thinking about their own homespun, direct, local and wider issues. I could not hear the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, from a sedentary position.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, I was merely pointing out that the noble Lord has obviously never been to Walsall.

Lord Dykes: My Lords, if the noble Lord would like to invite me, we could go together and test this on the doorstep. I will not proceed with this interesting debate tonight, other than to say that my support is for the idea, rather than anything else. The noble Lord needs to think again about persuading his colleagues not to be so hesitant about the EU in the future, and to copy what he is saying now. Equilibrium will then come back to the Conservative Party.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, it would be churlish of me not to rise and thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, for his extremely gracious remarks about our exchange. In the 50 or 60 hours of debate on this matter that I have attended in this House, I have been called far worse things than a bureaucrat. I can probably survive. It was very nice of the noble Lord to say what he did.

In some ways I am extremely sympathetic to the thoughts that have been expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, but I am not at all convinced by the method advocated in the amendment in the Marshalled List. A government document on these points will not change public opinion in a helpful way, particularly if—this point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Dykes—a number of the noble Lord’s colleagues, here and in another place, rapidly rubbish said government document. It is pretty certain that they would do so, starting up again the whole debate about whether the Lisbon treaty is really as helpful, positive and harmless as the Government say. I fear that such a government document would simply not do the trick.

I hate to return the ball to the other side of the net, but before we can start to turn opinion around in this country—and heaven knows it needs turning around—it is crucial that the Official Opposition tell us that they accept the ratification of the Lisbon treaty, and are going to live with it. That is absolutely crucial. If they

11 Jun 2008 : Column 648

do not say that, and the thought hovers around that in the next manifesto there will be some commitment to deconstructing the Lisbon treaty, there is no hope of taking this out of partisan politics. It will remain in partisan politics. The best thing that could possibly happen is for all three large parties to join in an information campaign. That would not then be open to the same problems as a campaign run simply by the Government. They should also agree not to score points off each other on European issues in the next election campaign, which must come by 2010.

The Irish can do it. Every single party in Ireland, except Sinn Fein, is today campaigning for a “yes” vote. In every other European Union country, the norm at election time is for parties not to disagree fundamentally on European issues. They disagree about a whole lot of other things, and have a very good election. The winners become the Government and introduce the policies that they have been elected for. Europe is not greatly affected because it is a bi, tri or quadripartisan issue in those countries. If we could get to that situation, we would have some chance of turning the position around, even in the teeth of the Murdoch, Rothermere et al press. That is a terrible handicap to all of us, including noble Lords on the other side who take the same pro-European view as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. This is honestly not the right way to do it, but the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord are admirable and I share them totally.

The Archbishop of York: My Lords, I have always admired the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, particularly when he was in the other place as a Minister. I encountered him over a difficult educational question in Brixton. I came across somebody who was interested in informing people because he believed that knowledge and information brought power.

Having said that, I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, is right to do things in this way. I associate my words with those of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who said that this is not the best way. In an earlier debate on Amendments Nos. 29 to 31, the whole question of trust was seen as a Trojan horse—you are breaking trust because it was in the manifesto. If our Prime Minister has broken trust, how can you persuade the public, as in paragraph (d) of the amendment, which states that,

If trust has already been broken, how does that square up? It does not. There is a sense that you have had your argument and defeated the very reasons that you are advancing.

I said to myself, why is the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who is the most reasonable person I have ever encountered, using this tactic? He wants to explain why the referendum is not necessary. That is not information: it is regurgitating what we have heard. There is an unfortunate phrase; the dog has returned to its vomit. Why should we go back there?

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has my respect and what he suggests is utter common sense. If Parliament is to inform the public, it needs to do something like this, but we do not need it on the face of the Bill. That is not the way to do it, so I will be one of those who says that I hope Hansardreports correctly what the

11 Jun 2008 : Column 649

noble Lord is after. Let us do that. Let us do it from our primary schools and secondary schools and have everywhere in the community engaging with everyone, if I understand how the whole new world we are living in is turning out. We should then deal with it, support it and encourage it, but we do not need it on the face of the Bill.

I would rather the Bill stayed as it is, without any more additions because it is clear. I hope that those who follow after us will say that there was one gentleman who spoke a lot of common sense, but common sense does not always need to be included in legislation. For those reasons, I for one say, “We have heard you, Sir. We do not need to go any further”. Thank you.

Lord Watson of Richmond: My Lords, I also welcome the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, but the strategy—or more accurately its tactics—are wrong. We do not need this on the face of the Bill. It would simply re‘open the issue of the legitimacy of the Lisbon treaty.

One of the depressing things about the whole European debate in this country is that it is seen as a zero-sum game. It is perceived as being the concession of sovereignty and a concession that is lost. It is never seen as a win-win situation; namely, that we are sharing sovereignty not to do the same things, but to do more things and do them better. The Lisbon treaty, as has been pointed out several times during the course of today's debate, is essentially a facilitation treaty. It is enabling us to do rather better what we are already empowered to do. It is to manage shared sovereignty, as it has already been agreed, more effectively.

To come to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, about what sort of information effort we need in order to embed in the British consciousness a greater awareness of the benefits of European co-operation and integration, surely the essence is to move the agenda on. The whole point of this treaty is to move the agenda on. I urge the Government Benches: instead of endlessly going round this course talking about the red lines and trying to confirm to people that no sovereignty or the very least amount of sovereignty has been shared, start to make the case for what you can do with shared sovereignty about the problems which everybody now acknowledges are at the centre of our public life, such as climate change and other problems. That shift of gear would be crucial.

I should like to make one other point which has been made from our Benches tonight. The challenge for the Conservative Party is quite straightforward. It can either pretend that this is an unresolved issue, that it will not accept the parliamentary verdict at the end of the day on the Lisbon treaty and will wish to reopen this if and when they have the opportunity. If they do that they defer the whole ability of this country to move forward in Europe. They have got to accept what has now happened. They have got to tell us what their forward agenda is.

If their forward agenda is to return to a European free trade area they had better forget it because that is nobody else’s agenda. The agenda is now quite different. I look forward to a new realism from the Conservative Party on the future of Europe and a new willingness to

11 Jun 2008 : Column 650

co-operate on discussing what the future agenda is and how we make use of the management enablement of Lisbon to take the whole thing forward.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page