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I read with interest Daniel Finkelsteins article in todays Times, arguing that the Conservatives will do much better to fight the next election while obscuring their policies, hoping that if they win, they can then spell out their policies. So the suggestion is to fight without a coherent foreign policy which has to include a coherent European policy. That is slick marketing but it is also irresponsible populism.
Last Wednesday, many of us wanted to be at the Tim Garden memorial lecture but had to be here because of the debate that day. I read last night the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, in that lecture. He said:
The popular mistrust of globalisation in Britain is focused on the European Union. In the United States, it is focused on the United Nations and on international law; in France, it is focused on the United States,
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The European Union is, however, the least undemocratic, most visible and transparent institution that we have. Compare, for example, the World Trade Organisation. It is much blamed by Irish farmersI was following the debate as wellbecause Peter Mandelson was seen as giving away Irish rights on the beef trade within the World Trade Organisation. The WTO is an international institution which carries direct impact on national policies. There is a WTO assemblyI saw an ITU document asking whether some of us would like to join it. It is completely impotent compared to the European Parliament.
On the OECD, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, who is very keen on the Commonwealth, might like to know that last weekend I was reading the Commonwealth Secretariat paper on co-operation in tax information exchange. The paper attacks the democratic deficit within the OECD. It refers to a very interesting paper by Joseph Nye for the Trilateral Commission on the democracy deficit in the IMF and G8.
We all face a large number of problems of managing to co-operate in a globalised world. I pick up todays newspapers and I see the Sun and the Daily Mail deliberately distorting the French Governments decisions on their security strategy paper by saying that in future the Royal Navy is going to be commanded for some purposes from Brussels. They do not actually mention that, for some purposes, the British Royal Navy is already commanded from Brussels; that is where the NATO headquarters are. NATO is an organisation rather less transparent and less held to account than the European Union. Drifting to the fringes of the European Union will not spare us from the management of globalisation; it will simply reduce our influence over its management on climate change, energy, international security, foreign policythe noble Lord, Lord Howell, has said on several occasions in our debates that we need stronger co-operation on our foreign policy towards Russia and the Middle Eastor on containing trans-national crime and terrorism. The Lisbon treaty contains useful measures to strengthen our joint capabilities in managing these issues. We need some of those changes in order to be able to cope more effectively.
Noble Lords should recognise that there is a real danger of giving way to populism, or following media campaigns with all their slickly obscured internal contradictions, rather than providing a leadwhich is what politicians must do in a democracyexplaining political challenges and their choices to our citizens. We failed to do that on the European and international issues from Margaret Thatchers prime ministership on. That has been one of the greatest failures of the current Government.
May I just compare that with the drift to populism in crime and punishment, which I know many people in this House are horrified by? Again starting under
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The question that we have to consider today is where British national interests lie. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, referred to certain ingenious devices. This is yet another ingenious device in an attempt to block the passage of this Bill and the implementation of this treaty and to weaken Britains commitment to European co-operation. Our choice as a revising House should be taken in the light of Britains long-term national interests.
Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, that I was not quite sure how much of his contribution actually addressed the amendment moved by my noble friend. However, I want to make clear my own personal position before I say anything more on the amendment, because many of us on these Benches have been misrepresented.
I have always been a strong supporter of Europe. In the world in which we live, there is undoubtedly an importance in being an effective partner in a grouping of nations. It was important enough when we first agreed to join; in the present world climate, with security issues, the energy crisis and the food crisis, global warming and the prospect of possibly mass migration, and with the seismic shift of wealth out of European developed countries into oil-producing countries, there never was a more important time for us to have the strength of collective action in these areas. It is because I care about that, and because I have supported Europe over the years, that I am deeply concerned about the great gulf now emerging between that concept, which is honourable and persuadable, and the great public disaffection with Europe.
I say to those who are the most passionate supportersand there are many others here, among them distinguished former Commissionersthat the defence on these issues may imperil the very existence of Britain in Europe, if we do not address that public concern. I say to those on the Liberal Benches who have addressed this issue that I was not surprised that my parliamentary neighbour David Heath, as he was when I had the neighbouring constituency, decided to resign from the Front Bench and vote against the Liberal Whip. It was not totally unconnected with the fact that in his own, Liberal-held constituency, they took a poll on whether there should be a referendum and 87 per cent voted in favour. He understood that perhapsand increasingly the elected Members next door and the Government with their declining popularity may be able to appreciate this as wellthat the public are getting more and more concerned about how they appear to be disregarded in these issues and how other, grander people are supposed to know better.
I sat through the whole of last Wednesdays debate and I have considerable respect for those who have the integrity to say that they are opposed to a referendum.
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The noble Lord, Lord Neill, spoke most interestingly, and I look forward with great interest to what the noble Baroness the Leader of the House is going to say in reply to his very interesting points. I have the honour still to be a member of what was the Nolan committee, which the noble Lord took over as chairman. Originally, I had the honour to serve under the late Lord Nolan. I remember that in looking at the standards of conduct in public life, we set out the seven principles that we thought were key. They are repeated in the latest report that the noble Lord will have received. The two key ones were honesty and integrity. I have to say that the way that these issues have been handledthe issue of whether there should be a referendum; the situation we face after the Irish referendum; and people outside looking to build and reinforce public support for the concept of Europehas been catastrophic. It has done absolutely nothing to improve public attitudes.
I appreciate that the referendum was last week and that now we have a new situation. On the Irish referendum, leaving aside the fact that there is no quick and easy answer to what I thought were pretty powerful points made by the noble Lord, Lord Neill, it is quite clear that all honest people recognise it is all now a bit of a muddle. We do not know what is going to happen. Can anybody in the Chamber tell me what is going to come out of the meetings of the head of states and the Prime Ministers on Thursday and Fridaythe next two days? I do not imagine that the Prime Minister knows what is going to come out of them.
It seems to me to be quite incredible that we do not know what is actually going to happenmy noble friend has put down an amendment proposing late in October for the Third Reading, but somebody might like to table another amendment proposing that we wait until the end of next week, the day before heads of state are due to start considering what we do about this. Is the noble Lord, Lord Neill, right: are we dealing with a corpse? Are we meant to carry on the farce of a Third Reading on a corpse? It seems to me to be an insult to Parliament. People actually care about parliamentary sovereignty and the respect of Parliament. That seems to me to make no contribution to it at all. So I have to say quite simply that it is extraordinary that we should be here today. I think that the only way in which Parliament can recover some honour out of thisand the House of Lords can truly conduct its revising, amending and warning process to the elected Houseis that we should pass my noble friends amendment tonight.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I should like to concentrate on the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford. He put his case to defer Third Reading very reasonably and
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That much we knew already; his amendment had been tabled, and so we are here debating the reality. It is a debate to delay a Third Reading, and that has not happened in your Lordships House for more than 30 years.
The noble Lord was of course right: this amendment is indeed a pretext. It is a last-ditch attempt to block or delay the Bill. The noble Lord and his party have freely admitted that they do not like the treaty. Now he and they are using the Irish vote to try to block a Bill which has been thoroughly debated in both Houses. He is trying to do so as a pretext. He is trying to do so to delay the properly considered legislative process of Parliament.
This is the third European treaty that I have debated in this House since I joined your Lordships in 1996. In all that time, the party opposite has upheld the rights, the powers and the legitimate law-making capacity of this Parliament here in this House and in another place. The party opposite has often rightly questioned anything that might lead to this Parliaments decision-taking responsibilities and powers being in any way compromised. Now, however, the party opposite asks us to set all that to one side to put on holdto delaythe results of 24 days debate, 266 tabled amendments and 57 Divisions.
I simply do not believe that the argument that it is because of the Irish vote is the real one. I believe it is because, in all that debate and after all those discussions, the Opposition failed to land a single punch or pass a single amendment to the Bill. They now look to the Irish vote to deliver for them what they so conspicuously failed to deliver for themselves: to override the legitimate legislative process in which we have been engaged, to put this Parliaments considered view to one side and to use the Irish vote as an excuse to try all over again.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, in citing the Irish vote, made another very telling observation this morning. He was asked whether he would have voted for the Bill if Ireland had voted in favour of the treaty. He said: Well, frankly, I wouldnt. Again, he was very straightforward and honest. However, in this context, the argument that the Irish voted against the treaty in the only referendum held and that they must therefore be listened to, falls completely. If the Irish had voted for the treaty, the noble Lords party would not have listened. We know that. They would not have said, It is the only referendum and they have voted yes. They would have not have said that at all. They would have said, We want a British decision, taken in
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There are two issues. First, do we complete the British business of whether to give this Bill a Third Reading in the British Parliament? Our answer to that as parliamentarians must be yes; it is our duty after 26 days of debate properly conducted and 57 votes properly taken. Secondly, our Government must join the debate on how the Irish position is to be dealt with. I do not know what the outcome of that will be; none of us does. Maybe the treaty will fall. Maybe a compromise is available. We can all speculate but, to be frank, it is utterly pointless to do so now.
I do not want this Parliaments right to reach a view on this treaty overridden by any decision elsewhere. After all our debates and decisions we cannot be overridden by any outside power: not by the European Union, not by the Commission or the European Parliament and not by the Irish referendum. As parliamentarians it is our right and duty to take our own decision in this Parliament. I urge your Lordships to do it at Third Reading.
Lord Owen: My Lords, like the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, I believe that this House should decide how we proceed in the rather remarkable circumstances that face us following the Irish referendum. I agree with them that this has been a very thorough debate, and I have been through most of these debates. Given our procedures, it has been a rather more detailed and considered debate than that in another House. Therefore, I have no complaints about the procedures. I was expecting a vote from which I would have abstained. I admit that that is not a marvellous position to adopt, but I am not prepared to vote against a treaty under which I may well want to live. But then the Irish vote came. In the referendum debate I said that if the Irish voted yes, I would support the treaty and campaign for it in a referendum.
In the circumstances we face today, however, we have to make a much trickier and more difficult political decision. I believe that it is our role to help the Irish. Ireland is a country with which we have very close affiliations. We know that a lot of our people would have voted in exactly the same way and in probably rather larger proportions if they had had a referendum. The noble Lord made a good debating point when he asked whether we would have cancelled a referendum. He said that we would not have done so. However, exactly the same situation has occurred. The former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, told the country that there would be a referendum on the constitutional treaty regardless of whether the French or the Dutch voted against it in their referendums. When they did vote against it, he very sensibly changed his mind. We had not undertaken all the elaborate procedures to get a referendum going and he saw that it would be pretty pointless to have one in the circumstances of their rejection. I think that that is the answer to the noble Lordthat if a referendum were cancellable, we would have cancelled it; if it were not cancellable because it was due to take place in the next three or four days, we would have gone through with it. We are pragmatic people trying to make practical decisions.
So what is to be done? The European Council, meeting later this week, should launch two working groups with a remit to report back by the end of the year, one to see what elements of the Lisbon treaty that were needed to make the enlarged union function efficiently could be introduced by cooperation between governments.
and went on to talk about the need to involve our citizens and to learn from this experience of failing to carry conviction with our people if the European Union is to remain rooted in democracy. Those are the practical ways to do it.
Now comes the question. Some people argue that the Prime Minister would be in a better position on Thursday and Friday if the treaty had been ratified. I note that the noble Lord who follows these things agrees with that. That is a serious argument and we should not disparage it. However, we now know pretty comprehensively that a number of countries want to force the Irish to have a second referendum. That is very clear from what the French and German Ministers have said and from a very good report in Mondays Financial Times from a correspondent who follows these things very closely. There is a very strong element, supported by France and Germany, which wants to muscle the Irish and either put them into a state of undefined limbo for a year or more until the Croatian accession treaty comes along, and proceed with 26 countries, or force them to have a second referendum before that. Those seem to be the only two options. That is unacceptable for many people in this country, and I believe it would be unacceptable to our Prime Minister. It is much better for this House to take this unique opportunity to exercise its judgment and simply say, Let us wait a few daysmaybe no more than a week.
Lord Kinnock: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. He is motivated decently by concern for the Irish position as it stands now and as it will transpire over coming days and coming months. I share that concern completely. I put to him the dilemma that many face regarding how best the United Kingdom can assist our neighbour in the current situation. Is it not better that the treaty is ratified by the United Kingdom Parliament, so putting us in a very strong position to safeguard the interests of Ireland, rather than to put ourselves on the sidelines and thereby add nothing to the strength of Irish arguments?
Lord Owen: My Lords, the Irish Government have asked people to use their own ratification procedures; they are not really in a position to do anything else. They have used theirs, so to speak, and they are not going to dictate to any of us which ones we should use. I agree with the noble Lord that that is effectively the choice we face about the best way to help the Irish.
I think it would be better to make the decision in this House when we know what the Prime Minister feels after spending two days in the European Council on Thursday and Friday. This debate should be resumed, if he wants, in a weeks time. After all, the Government can bring this debate back. Third Reading can be resumed at any stage on a Motion from the Government, as I understand the Conservative amendment. If the situation is not clear after the Heads of Government meeting, then it could come back at a later stage. I do not want to speak for any longer. My judgment, for what little it is worth, is that it would be better for us to postpone this debate and take a decision on Third Reading either next week, next month or next year.
Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, does the noble Lord not think that the Prime Minister would be in a much better position if he went to this meeting after securing a decision by this Parliament rather than going there and listening to what others have to say, when he could be influential? Is that not the position?
Lord Owen: My Lords, the Prime Ministers judgment is better heard in this House before we make the final decision on Third Reading. That can only come when he has made up his own mind having talked to his fellow Heads of Government and perhaps taken a few more weeks to reflect.
I am one of those who would rather follow the normal practice. I do not want this House to know what the Prime Minister may want us to do, because the processes come from the other House to this one. The moment you begin to invite those other views we as a revising Chamber are in a precarious position.
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