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European Union (Information, etc.) Bill [HL]

Volume 689: debated on Thursday 1 March 2007

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Brougham and Vaux) in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Provision of information and statistics relating to the European Union in public buildings and on the internet]:

1: Clause 1, page 1, line 4, at end insert “where indicated by the Secretary of State”

The noble Lord said: I am grateful to the Committee for allowing me to table this amendment, which deals with a particular matter that arose in the debate on Second Reading, in which some Members understandably thought that there might be an element of compulsion. Indeed, the Minister also referred to that in her Second Reading remarks about the suggestions in the various clauses. I intervened at that stage to emphasise that that was not the intention of the Bill, which is drafted in such a way that its provisions are entirely permissive and voluntary all the way through, without exception.

However, sometimes textual equivocations can arise because of the use of, for example, the word “shall” rather than “may”. The difficulty is that “may”, as colleagues here and in the other place will understand, reduces the apparent force of the exhortatory nature of the clause, and so people prefer to remain with the stronger verb.

I thought that it would therefore be sensible and politic to propose an amendment at this stage to give the Secretary of State the power to intervene. Under the amendment, those who wish to set up a European Union centre in public buildings, public libraries and municipal buildings would apply to the Secretary of State for a certificate, which would be a board or a plaque of some kind to be displayed in the building as an indication that the Government had given their approval to the creation of the unit. That is not to say that there would be any over-riding power exercised by the Secretary of State or the Government over this matter; setting up the centre for information would be an entirely free and voluntary decision of the local authorities and other entities. However, the fact that the plaque or board was on display would show the imprimatur of government encouragement at least. There would be no connection with any European Union institutions, which would reassure colleagues who would be worried about the involvement of the European Union and its institutions in matters that should remain entirely in the national ambit. I beg to move.

Despite my general support for the Bill’s aim of providing more information to the British public about our relationship with the European Union, I am not sure that the Secretary of State is the best person to decide where that information should be displayed, unless Amendment No. 3, which is in my name, is accepted. If it is accepted, my opposition to these amendments largely disappears, because the information put out will be balanced—neither pro-European Union nor anti-European Union—and so it does not much matter where it is displayed.

However, I have one question for the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, who has introduced the Bill. At Second Reading, he said that the information would be freely available in,

“public libraries, town halls and similar public buildings”.—[Official Report, 15/12/06; col. 1771.]

Will he now, in Committee, go a little further and reveal what other public buildings the Bill has in mind? Is he thinking of schools, universities, underground stations, departments of state and so on? Does he really mean any building that is funded by the public purse? Be the answer to those questions what it may, I would have thought that the best body to sanction where the information should be displayed should be the committee recommended by Amendment No. 3. In the mean time, I look forward to the noble Lord’s comments.

It may be helpful if I set out the Government’s position on the amendment. In doing so, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, for giving the Committee the chance to discuss these important issues. The Government welcome the contribution that the noble Lord continues to make to the debate on EU affairs.

As I stated in the House last December, the Government wholeheartedly support many activities to ensure that factual information about the European Union is freely and widely available to the people of the UK. However, we do not support the idea that public buildings should be required to provide such information; I note the comments made by the noble Lord in relation to the word “shall”. Nor do we wish to support provisions that might impose extra administrative or other burdens on those providing such information.

The noble Lord’s amendments might reduce the number of public buildings covered by these requirements. Nevertheless, the new processes that they would establish for public organisations to apply and be selected and approved by the Secretary of State would be time-consuming and costly. The Government are already supporting the European Commission’s Europe Direct initiative, which has established 25 centres around the country to act as one-stop shops for public information on the EU. Many other sources, including the Government’s website and the European Union’s Europa website, offer a very wide range of factual information. The Government, therefore, have reservations about these proposed provisions and, in particular, whether they would be the most effective way of furthering public access to information on EU issues.

I echo the reservations of the Minister on these amendments. I am puzzled over how they reduce, in any way, the distinctly mandatory tone of the legislation and turn it into a more permissive measure. This highlights the dangers of trying to legislate in these kinds of areas. Legislation is the law. It empowers Governments and authorities and informs the conduct and enforcement of the law in any area, and certainly in this area. Attempts to water down, which I think is what the noble Lord, in all sincerity, is trying to do, are almost certain to be hostages to fortune.

I agree with the Minister that these amendments are unnecessary. It will be no surprise to the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, to hear me say, as I shall indicate on a later amendment, that this attempt to bring legislation into this area is a sad one. It will damage, rather than reinforce, the work of European unity and effectiveness and the creation of the modern Europe that is now developing and which I greatly welcome—it may indeed yet bring extreme benefits to our people, as it has done in the past. I do not see that this amendment will help at all.

I am grateful to noble Lords and to the Minister for their contributions to this argument. I reiterate that the clause, like the Bill, is a fairly gentle, mild set of suggestions for trying to increase the amount of physical display of our membership of the European Union, with the flag, with European information centres and so on. I say to those who might be worried about these matters that it is nothing more sinister than that.

I appreciate the words of the Minister. There is a problem of ensuring that there are no extra administrative burdens or expenses. That was not envisaged. The amendments were a particular way of trying to get over the problem of the anxiety about compulsion. Of course, there would be other ways of resolving the problem. If the Bill were allowed to make progress through further stages, I would hope that we could return to these matters.

In the mean time, I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, on his very legitimate question. I thank him for his comments. In Clause 4, the definition is:

“(a) public libraries, and

“(b) borough, town, city and county council headquarters”.

Nothing else is envisaged. Bearing in mind the comments that have been made, including those from the opposition Front Bench by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, I do not wish to press the amendment further at this stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 2 not moved.]

3: Clause 1, page 1, line 16, at end insert—

“(5) All information provided under this section shall be provided by a committee of seven members appointed by the Privy Council, of whom—

(a) two shall be nominated by organisations appearing to the Privy Council to be in favour of the United Kingdom’s continued membership of the European Union, (b) two shall be nominated by organisations appearing to the Privy Council to be opposed to the United Kingdom’s continued membership of the European Union, (c) two shall be nominated by the Privy Council as persons it considers to hold no opinion as to whether the United Kingdom should stay in or leave the European Union, and (d) one shall be nominated by the Privy Council as the chairman of the committee, being a person it considers to hold no opinion as to whether the United Kingdom should stay in or leave the European Union. (6) The person nominated under subsection (5)(d) shall not act in any capacity as chairman or as a member of the committee unless at least five members of the committee approve his appointment.

(7) No person may be appointed under subsection (5) if he is or was—

(a) a member of the European Parliament, or (b) an employee of the European Union or of any institution of the European Union.”

The noble Lord said: We come now to what, I fear, may be the main bone of contention between the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, and Europhile supporters of this Bill and those of us of a more Euro-sceptic inclination. Amendment No. 3 is an attempt to bridge the ever-widening chasm between those who regard the project of European union as a good thing—a project that has brought peace, prosperity and influence to Europe—and those of us who have come to see it as a dangerous failure that is over-regulated, undemocratic and corrupt and which bodes ill for the future of the peoples of Europe in the global economy that is already upon us.

The amendment speaks for itself. It may not be perfect, but it is an honest attempt to see that any information put before the public should pass through both Europhile and Euro-sceptic filters, thus emerging as balanced as possible. Other noble Lords may be able to think of a better way of ensuring that only balanced and honest information about our relationship with the EU is distributed, in which case I look forward to hearing their suggestions. What is absolutely obvious is that no official information from Brussels or the Government should be distributed unless it is balanced by the Euro-sceptic view. Indeed, the committee proposed by the amendment might decide to do just that. It might decide to distribute the Brussels line on a given subject with the sceptic view alongside it. People could then ask questions, talk about it, at last have some of the national debate that the Government say they want, and make up their own minds.

I take the example of subsidiarity. In his speech at Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, said:

“I am especially keen that the explanation of subsidiarity, for example, should be properly handled, as well as the emphasis that many policy areas remain the principal or sole preserve of the sovereign member states, which is as it should be”.—[Official Report, 15/12/06; col. 1771.]

Europhiles claim that subsidiarity ensures that the EU is given power to do things only when they can be done better by the Community acting as a whole, leaving everything else to be done by the member states. I imagine that that may be the interpretation supported by the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, but I hope that he will forgive me when I say that we Euro-sceptics regard it as entirely misleading; we would regard it as entirely misleading if that meaning of subsidiarity was to form part of the information distributed under the Bill. We maintain that subsidiarity has precisely the opposite meaning and, indeed, has had the opposite effect over the years.

We would want the people to be told that subsidiarity has always been a deception and has done nothing to stem the steady passage of powers from the member states to the European Union. We have not deviated from this view since subsidiarity was introduced during the Maastricht negotiations of 1992. We noticed then that the clause was ambiguously worded, its first sentence making it clear that it applied only to areas that had not already been passed to the control of the EU. We felt rather sorry for poor Mr Major when he claimed subsidiarity as a great victory for national sovereignty, saying that under it some 25 per cent of the already over-burdensome EU regulation would be repealed within three years. Of course, nothing of the sort has happened.

To rub in the true interpretation of the subsidiarity clause, Protocol 30 was added to the next treaty—the Amsterdam treaty of 1997. This states clearly that subsidiarity means maintaining the acquis communautaire—or powers acquired by the Community—in full. It goes further, ordaining that subsidiarity supports the infamous Article 6.4 of the treaty on European Union, according to which,

“The Union shall provide itself with the means necessary to obtain its objectives and carry through its policies”.

As, indeed, it has, as, indeed, it is, and as, indeed, it will until the EU mega-state is complete or until we, as a country, see the light—or, perhaps, the darkness—and leave the wretched thing behind us.

We would expect any information on subsidiarity to at least contain the treaty clauses and protocol on which it is based and some examples of where it has worked. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, could—if I could have his attention—give us examples of areas of our national sovereignty that have been returned to us under it, and examples where a reasonable person might think that the EU should not have taken powers, leaving them to the national Parliament to decide instead. We feel that examples of both those should be put to the people.

Before the noble Lord gives us those examples, I remind him of the statement made last month by Mr Roman Herzog, the former German President, to the effect that 84 per cent of all German national law since 1999 has been imposed by Brussels. It may not be quite the same figure here, although it is hard to see why it should be different. Our Government refuse to answer the question of what percentage applies here, going no further than to confess that most law affecting our business now comes from Brussels, which is bad enough.

Even if we are cautious and say that some 70 per cent of all our national law is now imposed on us by the Brussels system, that should give us all pause for thought. Does that not mean that your Lordships’ House and the House of Commons are now 70 per cent irrelevant, if 70 per cent of our function has been usurped by Brussels? Of course, working here in these splendid surroundings, and with most Members of the other place paid rather more than they might be in real life, it is easy not to see the wood for the trees. That is where our membership of the European Union has brought us, and I would like to know what subsidiarity has done to stop it.

At Second Reading on 1 December, I briefly set down, at cols. 1778-79 of Hansard, some of the other basic reasons why we Euro-sceptics so dislike and fear the project of European union, all of which we would want to form part of the information distributed under the Bill. I will not repeat them now. We hope that this Bill would give rise to open and honest debate on the innately undemocratic system of EU lawmaking, about which most people in this country are simply not aware. We hope that national debate would also be encouraged on the question of exactly what the economic costs and benefits of our EU membership really are—another subject avoided by the Government like a frightened rabbit, perhaps because private independent studies put the cost of our membership at anywhere between 4 per cent and 10 per cent of GDP. No wonder the Government do not want to have to validate that.

If the Bill were already law, we would expect it to create some national awareness of how the failed EU constitution is being put in place in Brussels—piecemeal, surreptitiously and illegally. That is not the sort of thing that Brussels or our Government, who are collaborating in this process by refusing to use the veto to stop it, want the British people to know about. Under this amendment, though, we could go to the proposed committee and ask it to publish the fact that articles in the existing treaties are being used to advance the constitution through the back door.

One of the main articles being used for that purpose is Article 308, which allows the EU to take power only,

“in the course of the operation of the common market”.

Yet this clause is being used to set up the EU’s fundamental rights agency in Vienna and to legalise its fundamental rights charter, a vast new human rights law justiciable in the Luxembourg court. This is the initiative, as noble Lords may remember, that Mr Keith Vaz, when Europe Minister, assured us would have no more force than the Beano, and which the Prime Minister assured us would never become justiciable in Luxembourg; yet the Commission has ordained that all new law must reflect the charter, and the court has declared that it is already deferring to the charter in its judgments. Thus the corrupt octopus advances. Article 308 has also been used to pass control of civil contingencies to Brussels, and even to validate a new €350 million EU propaganda campaign called “Promoting Active EU Citizenship”.

Your Lordships have considered these three abuses of Article 308 recently in Oral Questions, and there have been several Written Questions. To all these questions, the Government offer a wholly unacceptable excuse for not using the veto to prevent them. They have done it again today, in a Written Answer to my noble friend Lord Tebbit, at cols. WA 310-11 in Hansard. They say that before allowing Article 308 to be used, they submit the proposal in question to the scrutiny committees of both Houses. However, those committees are powerless to prevent the Government from going ahead, especially as the Government have over-ridden their reservations 180 times in the past three years.

The British public are wholly ignorant of this process and of the other areas that I have mentioned. If this amendment is accepted, the Bill would do much to enlighten them, an aim that the Government say that they share, although I fear that they do not. If it is not accepted, I cannot support the Bill. I beg to move.

I wholly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, in his exposé of the farce of the doctrine of subsidiarity from which so much was originally, and no doubt naively, expected. I broadly agree with what he is aiming at with this amendment. However, I could not put my name to it because I do not see it as a practical proposition. I cannot believe that there is a single person in the United Kingdom who has no view whatever about whether we should stay in or leave the European Union. Such an individual must be rare indeed. Perhaps he is a hermit buried in some cave in north Wales. Furthermore, how does one define him? It is true that one can find organisations, as opposed to individuals, that oppose continuing membership, but there must be others that are conditional opponents or supporters. There must be some that would be happy to remain members of the EU, if we reverted to the pre-Maastricht treaty position or if large chunks of the acquis communautaire were repealed, but which would favour leaving if our sovereignty continued to be eroded and the EU continued to poke into the nooks and crannies of our everyday lives, in the immortal words of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell. They are not catered for in this amendment. I cannot suggest a better alternative. I think that the intentions of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, are right, but I do not think that the amendment will work.

Having just stepped off a train from Brussels, I have to say that I am very much in favour of the maximum flow of information from the Community about what is going on there. I cannot see that this amendment would help that. It is entirely restrictive in both pluses and minuses, and I cannot support it.

How would the noble Lord ensure that the Euro-sceptic case is put before the British people, if he thinks that is a good idea?

By people such as himself and by newspaper journalists who would put the negative case if they believed it.

It is always a pleasure to be engaged in debate with the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. He has always brought to his views on Europe the great virtues of simplicity and clarity. We know exactly where he stands. We now know that even more so as his party membership has changed. I am slightly bemused by the concept of UKIP advising the Privy Council on the achievement of balance, which seems an altogether novel notion, but there we are.

UKIP’s views are black and white. Quite apart from anything else, this amendment allows for no intermediate colours. Which would be the two organisations opposed to continuing United Kingdom membership of the European Union? The bottom line on all this is, as we all know—indeed, I think it is broadly accepted in this House—that the level of general public knowledge about the European Union is woefully inadequate. Poll after poll reveals this to be true. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, and I agree about that. The question is how you rectify this. How do you improve the levels of knowledge? The Bill is a genuine and sensitive attempt to increase the levels of knowledge, which is an ideal thing to do.

This year, we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the original Treaty of Rome. Whatever one’s views about specific weaknesses or strengths of the European Union, one thing is surely clear: the European Union has made an enormous contribution to the civilisation of which we are a part. I dread to think what the consequences of the collapse of the Soviet empire would have been if the European Union had not existed to provide a road map for the countries of east and central Europe in their progress towards a civil society. It is almost unimaginable. We had one rather scary but thankfully brief moment right at the beginning of that process when the French and the Germans suddenly found themselves with very different views about the future of the failed state of Yugoslavia. That brief glimpse of the hard edge of European nationalism, which has not yet finally expired, was a warning.

We should do what we can to improve the levels of knowledge, as well as the understanding of the enormous achievement of the European Union and the issues that remain for debate, which are clearly controversial. The Bill is a good step in that direction. The amendment, however, is based on an extraordinarily odd notion that the only way in which you can achieve balance is to take the two most extreme positions you can find and pit them against each other.

I speak not as a frightened rabbit, but as a member of a Government who are proud to be a member of the European Union, a partnership of 27 countries working together to find practical solutions to problems such as climate change and energy supply and security, which are of real concern to the people of this country. I have one comment to make on the amendment tabled by the noble Lord. The Government are rather concerned that it could impose a costly new bureaucratic layer between the Government and the public. That, from a party whose manifesto says no to paperwork, is quite a surprising development.

I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, for proposing this interesting amendment. That does not necessarily mean that I agree with the actual details of the proposals. I am grateful to other noble Lords who have spoken in the debate and to the Minister for her contribution, which although brief was a very soundly enunciated commitment to the membership of the European Union, which this Government have always stated, from the Prime Minister downwards. That is appreciated. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, made some very interesting points that reinforce my intention to try to persuade the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, who I know is a gentleman, to reconsider the amendment. I am very grateful for the comments made by my noble friend Lord Watson and the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, on this matter.

I was very anxious to emphasise at Second Reading, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, will remember, that this modest exercise and this modest Bill would be a failure if all sorts of details were not given about the European Union and our membership of it that were also adverse and negative—provided, of course, that it was factual information given through respectable public channels from independent media and so on, as we discussed before, rather than tendentious statements made perhaps above all by politicians but by many other people as well. That will be the basis of the objective information to be provided in the European Union information centres. It would, I am sure, include a lot of critical information about the EU as well. It would be daft for anyone, however enthusiastic they might be about European Union membership, to say that nothing in it poses any problems and that everything is correct. That would be childish in every way. As the very idea and notion of EU membership gets more implanted into the minds of the citizens of the member states and it is not regarded as a dangerous matter for their countries to be members, I think that natural desire to criticise in any democracy should grow. Perhaps in earlier stages those who were keen on our membership of the European Union overdid the defending of every aspect of it because they were so nervous about some of the existential attacks on European Union membership.

I was a little bemused by the suggestions of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. I am flattered in one sense but disappointed in another as he himself clearly said that he was keen on this Bill from the point of view of providing information which he would obviously consider in a different light from some of my conclusions. I am very grateful to him for emphasising, both at Second Reading and at this Committee stage, that he thinks this Bill is a good idea from that point of view.

What he has done with the change of nomenclature from Chancellor of the Exchequer to Privy Council in Amendment No. 3 is to lift clauses and subsections entirely from his own European Union (Implications of Withdrawal) Bill which still awaits a Second Reading. I believe I am right in saying that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, was one of the first to propose a Bill for First Reading in the present Session of Parliament. He therefore presumably had an opportunity to set a date for Second Reading some time ago but no date has yet been fixed. Therefore I am flattered but disconcerted to see that his technique—I do not accept it to be the right way of doing this—is to put a provision into my Bill. Is it to make it more difficult for the Bill to proceed? The noble Lord says not and I am grateful for that. But it seems to me that that kind of clause would make it much more difficult to actuate the provisions of the Bill. There are many ways in which decisions on fundamental membership can be dealt with outside of European Union information centres, which should be routine even if the data are extensive and deal with many different sectors.

Therefore, I urge the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, to withdraw his amendment, if he would be so kind as to consider that as a possibility today, and to set a date for the Second Reading of his European Union (Implications of Withdrawal) Bill so that we can have another proper debate on those more fundamental aspects. It would be a pity—

I wonder whether I might just put the noble Lord straight. It is not a Bill to withdraw from the European Union but a Bill to consider the implications of withdrawal. It is a cost-benefit analysis and an analysis of the advantages to our sovereignty, defence and every aspect of our national life were we to leave the European Union.

Of course I meant that by definition. I was using shorthand again with a natural desire to save time but obviously I feel the need to reply a little to some of the points the noble Lord has made.

With his own party in a certain amount of disarray outside this House, perhaps this is the calmest little edifice of UKIP at the moment. A classic technique of Governments was to have a foreign policy adventure or initiative if things at home were bad. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, is trying to emulate that with his suggestions today. However, in technical and mechanistic terms, what he is suggesting specifically would be a rather unwise way of trying to deal with what he quite rightly says are his aims and objectives; namely, to get the public to think about whether our membership of the European Union should continue.

One could go on at great length as these are complex matters. However, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, accidentally I am sure, misunderstands the way in which the Community functions. It is a collection of sovereign Governments working together through collective institutions which occasionally use voting procedures but often do not and legislating on behalf of all the sovereign Governments. The second chamber of the legislative process is the Council of Ministers with the European Parliament alongside and there is a democracy built in to safeguard each national member state. There is nothing for those who hesitate about our European Union membership to fear from those processes. The definition of how much legislation comes from Brussels is that legislation which has been suggested to the Commission for enactment by the sovereign member Governments—the member states—who want it.

I am sorry to intervene, but it has been suggested under a monopoly power of proposal by the Commission.

Again, I think that the noble Lord misunderstands how those mechanisms work. The way in which the Ministers in each Government safeguard the national interest is powerful, primordial in many ways, and over-riding often, as Ministers know, which is right. It reassures those in each country who want to see a proper enactment of less legislation, because Commission proposals are often couched in communications rather than legislative proposals. Where they are directed to be enacted by the member states, those directives are very broad and usually come from the Council of Ministers originally having said to the Commission, “By the way, would you look into this area and present some proposals for us to act on?”. I hope therefore that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, will kindly reconsider his suggestions on this occasion.

I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken because they have demonstrated clearly what a Europhile place your Lordships’ House is. With the exception of my noble friend Lord Monson, they clearly do not want to have a balanced debate of any kind on our membership of the European Union. To my noble friend Lord Monson, I would say that people who have not yet made up their minds on whether we should stay in or leave the European Union do exist. They might be found on your Lordships’ Cross Benches or among the judiciary. I can think of other areas of national life where they will be found.

With the greatest respect, I have to say that the noble Lord, Lord Watson, appears to have misunderstood the amendment. The proposed committee consists of seven people, two of whom would be nominated by organisations which appear to the Privy Council,

“to be in favour of … continued membership of the European Union”.

I would not have thought that that would be difficult. For a start, there is the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party.

There would also be two people nominated by organisations who appear,

“to be opposed to the United Kingdom’s continued membership of the European Union”,

which would not be difficult either. We could certainly draw on my esteemed UK Independence Party and there are 38 other groups in this country dedicated to withdrawal from the European Union. I would think that we could take someone from there. I agree that the difficulty occurs in finding people who have no opinion, but I believe that it could be done. The rest of the amendment is self-explanatory.

I have to take issue, too, of course, but I do not want to prolong—

I thank the noble Lord for giving way. On the subsection concerning “to hold no opinion”, the way in which it is expressed suggests people who have always been totally indifferent to our European Union membership. I do not think that those people exist. I think that the noble Lord is referring to people who are uncertain about whether the United Kingdom should stay or leave the EU. If he were at some future date, or perhaps in his Bill which has not received a Second Reading, to substitute the words “be uncertain” for “hold no opinion”, that would improve the wording tremendously.

I am most grateful to the noble Lord. No doubt that is something we could consider at the next stage if the Bill proceeds. As I said, I do not pretend that the amendment is perfect. I was looking for precisely that kind of advice from other noble Lords.

The noble Lord, Lord Watson, takes it for granted that the EU has made an enormous contribution to European civilisation—peace since 1945 and all that—while blithely ignoring, as usual, the fact that NATO has kept peace since 1945 and that the former countries of the Soviet bloc have benefited enormously by their membership of the European Union. There is of course a very powerful case to say that that is not true and that they were well on their way to economic success with their own democracies, which they have now sacrificed to the European project. I would not have thought that membership is necessarily a good thing for them at all. It is, of course, a good thing for their bureaucratic and political elites, many of whom now have jobs in Brussels—or on the Brussels pay scale—at rates up to 10 times that of their previous levels of employment. For the political elite, then, the European project is a good thing; but, for the peoples of Europe I suggest that that remains to be seen.

As I say, I am disappointed but not in the least surprised that other noble Lords do not want a balanced debate on this subject or balanced information to be put before the British people, as this amendment tries to do. They are content to continue with the propaganda that pours forth from Brussels, so I am not surprised—and neither should they be—that the British people are turned off by the whole subject. They dislike it, and they wish to leave it, in ever growing numbers. That said, for the moment I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [The flag of the European Union]:

On Question, Whether Clause 2 shall stand part of the Bill?

This is the flag-waving clause, and it seems extraordinary. I do not understand how such a clause could ever get into a Bill to be given serious discussion in your Lordships’ House, but there it is. It would be much better if it was not there.

The clause is quite clear, unlike the discussions that the Committee was having on the previous clause, which seemed to me to confuse information and knowledge. A great deal has been said about those matters, but this clause is clear: it says that there should be a mandatory requirement to fly this flag. That is unnecessary and it is not a good idea. More worrying than that, it seems designed to make the idea of being good Europeans—as we have been, Britain having been a good European country not only in recent years but over the centuries—and of European co-operation more unpopular.

Anything that raises antagonisms and makes these issues more unpopular seems an utterly pointless exercise. Some of us who have worked in Europe, and love it, and who want to see the evolution of a modern European Union—the past one has done great things, but requires major reforms to fit into the network age—are, frankly, appalled to see such a proposal. People should be reasonably free to fly the flags that they want. Can the Minister tell me where the Government have got to in revising the regulations to extend the list of flags that we do not have to advertise in order to fly? I gather that the proposal is that those should include the EU flag, the Commonwealth flag and the flag of the United Nations. What is the position there?

The general idea that a law of this nature should be passed with this clause in it seems thoroughly un-European, and I am frankly appalled that it should be put forward at all. I wish that it would be removed.

I feel that the European Union flag needs an improved status, but I would say that the clause should read,

“The flag of the European Union”,


“be flown on Government and public buildings alongside the union flag”.

It is a rare pleasure and honour to join the Conservative Front Bench in agreeing on a European matter, and I do so with relish. The reasons why all good Euro-sceptics object to this clause is obvious: we do not want the United Kingdom to remain a member of the European Union. The less we have to be reminded that we are at present members, ever more subservient to the diktats of Brussels, the better. Nothing reminds us of the folly of our political leaders over the past 30 years in taking us into this sorry predicament more than the European flag.

I remind the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, and the Government that the European flag does not have legal status in Europe. In fact, one of the provisions of the failed European constitution was that the flag would be recognised as the flag of the European Union, along with—unfortunately—Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” as the national anthem of the European Union. Alas, poor Beethoven. So I join the noble Lord, Lord Howell, in asking the Government what the present position on the EU flag is in this country. There is a proposal to make it not mandatory but possible to fly it on public buildings, and it would be helpful to know how far that project has gone so that we can get ready to oppose it.

I suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, takes the Marshalled List home and gets it framed, so that he can see his name in such illustrious company.

I understand the noble Lord’s feeling about this being mandatory, but I think that there is a case for greater use of the European flag, not least because of the problems of ignorance that have been complained of on all sides. I am sure that we have all had the experience of knocking on a door and somebody coming out and saying, “I don’t think we should join that Common Market”; when you say, “Actually, we did that 35 years ago”, you realise the gap between general knowledge and reality. But of course that is also a reflection of the whole approach of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson.

The noble Lord reminds me a little bit of Arsène Wenger—and I am sure that he will not take offence at being compared with a Frenchman. The Arsenal manager never quite loses a match; he always has some complaint, either about the referee or the opposition. I can tell the noble Lord that the truth of how the game works is that he can put his views to the British people in a democratic election and, if they approve of what he puts to them, they will elect him to this Parliament and he can form a Government and take us out of the Common Market. The Labour Party stood on such a commitment in 1983; it was the last time that a major party stood with a specific manifesto commitment to take Britain out of the Common Market. Noble Lords will recall—although I do not want to hurt the Minister by recalling it—that Labour got its worst election result since 1918. Part of the modernisation of the Labour Party involved its realising that that kind of proposal to the British people just does not wash. The fact is that all the various Acts to which the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, referred during his various interventions have gone though both Houses of this Parliament, and those who have voted for them have had to put their judgment to the test in elections.

I would like a greater show of the European flag. I was involved in the referendum in 1975, and I remember people saying then that by this time we would all be one great amorphous mass and nobody would have any national identity. Of course, that is all codswallop. It was codswallop then and it is codswallop now—the various national identities have remained and will continue to do so. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, is associated in such rough company, because I found some of his earlier comments very encouraging. I suddenly realised why, probably, the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, has jumped ship. I suspect that the Conservative Party is changing from its position a few years ago of rabid hostility; it is now having some interesting thoughts about the modernisation of Europe, which I think are welcome, not least from such an experienced source as the noble Lord, Lord Howell.

Let us fly the flag. I have no problem with that. As I have always said, I can cheer for Blackpool at football, England at cricket and Europe in the Ryder Cup. I will wave the appropriate flag on each occasion and still be robust about all three.

I agree with everything that the noble Lords, Lord Howell and Lord Pearson, have said, which is hardly surprising since my name is on the amendment. There is another point that has not yet been mentioned, which is that, as the Bill is drafted, Clause 2 could not be enforced. If in a borough, town, city or county council the majority of elected individuals are, to a greater or lesser degree, Euro-sceptics—or are even Euro-enthusiasts—they may still resent excessive Brussels interference, and there is no way that they can be compelled to have the flag flown in their borough, town, city or county.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. There is no question of any compulsion in this sense. Obviously, one would consider any suitable changes to the text that would make that clear in later stages.

I am grateful to the noble Lord. In that case, he will have to change the word “shall” to “may”.

Before the Minister gives his reply—and I do not want to prolong the debate—I cannot let the noble Lord, Lord McNally, get away with some of the comments that he has just made. First, he implied that I might object to being compared to a Frenchman, and I take very strong exception to that.

Quite frankly, I do not know whether he is a Frenchman or not, but the implication was that I might object to being compared to a Frenchman. This is an important point, which the noble Lord, Lord Howell, touched upon in his comments on this amendment. There is an implication that Euro-sceptics do not like Europeans—that is absolutely not true. We Euro-sceptics love the Europe of nation states. We love and respect all the nations of Europe, with their diverse cultures and histories. We dislike and fear the project of European union, which is an entirely different matter.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, took us through the British democratic process, and said that—

I am intrigued by the last remark, which drew a very clear distinction between the nation state and Europe as a whole. Would the noble Lord think that there is no sense of European identity—whether through Michelangelo, Beethoven, or anybody else? Does he say that there is no such thing?

No, we love and respect that. But that falls under the history and culture of the nations of Europe, to which I have just referred. I make a distinction between that and the project of European union, which is entirely different and misguided. That is what we dislike.

I have been a member of the European movement for 40 years, and I have never hesitated in putting forward my views about Europe to various democratic electorates. That is the way the game is played, and I am afraid that my side has won, and the noble Lord’s has lost. Until it can get a much more radical change, it will continue to lose.

I was just coming to the noble Lord's strictures on the democratic process; but he has again confused the issue by using the word “Europe”. Does he mean the project of European union, or does he mean the nation states of Europe? They are two completely different things. It is unfortunate that the project of European union seems to have accreted, in true Leninist fashion, the word “Europe” to its cause. But it means very different things depending on what you are talking about. As I said, I do not wish to detain the Committee—I am sure that many noble Lords wish to go home for the weekend. It is wonderful to be so well supported in your Lordships' Committee.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, took us through the British democratic process and alluded, I think, to the referendum of 1975, when the British people voted to stay in what they were assured was a Common Market. They did not vote for what we have today, which is a European Union and emerging EU mega-state. When he says, “Whether you like it or not, it has all gone through Parliament”, I would submit to him that the process of Brussels law-making under which most of our national law is now made is innately undemocratic. It is proposed in secret by the Commission. It then goes to the Committee of Permanent Representatives—or COREPER, Eurocrats from the nation states—where it is negotiated in secret. It then goes to the Council of Ministers, where it is decided in secret and where the United Kingdom now has 8 per cent of the votes. And then it is rubberstamped by Parliament, on pain of unlimited fines in the Luxembourg court.

I do not call that democracy. I believe it is one of the reasons why 40 per cent of the British people now see that there is no point in voting in British general elections. Most of our law is now made in Brussels under the innately undemocratic system which I have described. That is why I think that the whole project is misguided. I think that the flag which represents it should be torn up into the smallest possible pieces and thrown into the River Tiber to accompany the treaty of Rome.

Forgive me; one thing on which I am sure the noble Lord was quite right is that everyone wants to go home. It is probably singularly unwise of me to intervene since I strayed into the Chamber as a matter of passing interest to see what was going on, having noticed that the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, was being debated. Apart from that piece of unwisdom, it would certainly be unwise of me to imply that I wish to take sides with the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, high as is my respect for him, because I would hold a rather different position on the argument on Europe, much closer to that of my noble friend on the Front Bench.

I think that a distortion has occurred in the debate in the past few minutes, because we have started talking as if this clause says that Britain shall come out of or stay in the European Union. It actually says:

“The flag of the European Union shall”—

a word which has recently been picked up—

“be flown on Government and public buildings alongside the union flag”.

I do not entirely understand what that means. Leaving aside the “may” or “shall” point, does it mean that if you fly the union flag you have to fly the European flag alongside it? I do not know. Whatever it means, I intervene only to support the basic proposition of my noble friend on the Front Bench, from his more pro-European perspective. I think that there is a serious risk that trying to impose this kind of thing will generate antibodies and hostility which are not to the advantage of the European project as a whole—whatever one means by that. I took that as the fundamental point of my noble friend on the Front Bench, and I thought that it had considerable force.

I look forward to debating some of these issues on a future occasion, because they are terribly important and I enjoy these debates, but it may be helpful on this occasion if I simply update noble Lords on the regulations on the flying of the EU flag in England. The Department for Communities and Local Government expects the new control of advertisements regulations to come into force on 6 January 2007. Once the regulations come into force, individuals, local authorities and other organisations wishing to fly the EU flag, and, indeed, the Commonwealth flag, the flag of the United Nations, English county flags and saints flags, when associated with a particular county, will not need prior permission from the local planning authority as is currently the case.

For government department buildings in England, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport issues guidance for flying flags, including flying of the European flag. The European flag is only flown on government buildings with two or more flagpoles on Europe day with the union flag in the superior position. This will not change when the revised advertisement consent regulations come into force. However, the revisions will mean that government departments will not need to apply for advertisement consent to fly the European flag on 9 May, which is Europe day.

How have the Government brought this change into effect when the flag itself does not have legal status in Europe? It would have been validated only by the constitution, which does not exist, so it is a sort of non-flag. How have we managed to say that we shall fly it all over the place, if we want to?

I want to give my own view on this and to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that there is absolutely no question of compulsion, as I said. In later stages of the Bill I hope that we shall be allowed to make that clear beyond all doubt by making appropriate changes to the clause. We want to encourage a greater display of the European flag, if it is now to become officially a flag in the normal sense. I thank the Minister for the helpful clarification that she has just given. My noble friend Lord Watson referred to my next point on Second Reading. We are certain that the European flag is displayed far less often in this country than is the case in many other member states. However, the idea that such display should be compulsory is obnoxious and dreadful. One just wants more people to consider displaying the European flag alongside our own national flag. Therefore, this is a very modest proposal.

I do not wish to detain the Committee much longer but I should refer to the musings of my noble friend Lord McNally about his experience on people’s doorsteps. At the time of the 1994 European election I was assailed by an elderly gentleman in Ruislip shopping centre who said, “I have been thinking very carefully about whether we should be in Europe and I do not think that we should join”. I replied as politely as possible, “I do not want to be discourteous but we actually joined in 1973”. His response then was, “Young man”—I liked “young”, by the way—“you’ve got to get your facts straight: that was the Commonwealth”. We have all these myths about what people know and understand about the European Union, but none of it is relevant to this extremely modest measure which seeks to have a little more European display here and there if people wish.

I rise to correct a slip of the tongue I made earlier when I said that the new regulations would come into force on 6 January 2007. I meant to say 6 April 2007. I hope that the Committee will forgive that slip.

I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying in this short debate where we have got to on this question of displaying flags. I am beginning to realise what it feels like to be a UN peacekeeper where there is not much peace. I refer to the extraordinarily polarised views of Members of the Liberal Democrats, who say that everything in the EU is marvellous, which it clearly is not, and those of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson—whose support makes me a little nervous—who believes that we should give up, get out and be utterly defeatist in these matters, which I think is pathetic as well.

I should make an important point to the noble Lord, Lord McNally. He is suffering from a delusion in that he keeps saying, “We’ve won”. It is important for him and his party to realise that they have lost. That applies also to the views of the French and the Dutch on the constitution. Indeed, the general view throughout Europe was that the constitution was a Europe too far. It was a commitment to a nature of integration which is simply out of date and no longer exists. He is looking back to the glory days when the European Union seemed to be the right thing in its then form—its integrationist form. But the world has moved on. The computer and the microchip have transformed the nature of international relations and, therefore, the nature of Europe and of the whole project. If the noble Lord does not understand that at present, he will come to understand it because we shall see a reformed Europe far more suited to the network age and less suited to the yearnings of the integrationists who want to create a super bloc in a world where blocs are no longer relevant.

I realise that the hour is late and Members of the Committee want to complete the debate. Therefore, I withdraw my opposition to the clause but with great reluctance because this clause should not stand in any Bill before Parliament. Obviously, I do not wish the Bill a very good future in that respect.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Twinning arrangements between towns in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the European Union]:

On Question, Whether Clause 3 shall stand part of the Bill?

Clause 3 encourages twinning between towns in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. As such it is not welcome in this country to Euro-sceptics of my view. Town twinning is yet one more initiative to persuade the British people happily to embrace the ever-closer union of the peoples of Europe as envisaged by the project of European integration, of the European mega-state controlled by the bureaucrats and Euro-crats of Brussels. We are against town twinning on the whole. That is why we do not want this clause in the Bill.

I have one serious question for the Government and noble Lords. Can they explain why we seem to have town twinning only with Europe? What about Russia?

I am delighted to learn that. We should encourage those initiatives and perhaps give up the twinning with the European Union. No doubt we would save money.

The twinning arrangements would and should exist if we were not part of the Union, based on one’s own admiration for Europe as individual nations. It is one very good way of encouraging our children and neighbours to make friends and learn languages in a different country. I declare an interest as president of our local town twinning. It is a very successful and happy arrangement which has little to do with Brussels.

I hope that this is a convenient moment for me to say that I remain somewhat shocked by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. I emphasise again—it came out on Second Reading—that this clause deals with those aspects of the more multiple twinning arrangements, the trilateral ones which take place between more than two towns or communities in two different member states, and the specific special exercises envisaged where they obtain modest amounts of European Commission funding to have joint conferences on particular matters. Examples were given in the official Commission documents, which are freely available in the Library if anyone wants to see them.

I hope that the noble Lord will consider kindly withdrawing his opposition to the clause, which is wholly innocuous and innocent. It in no way interferes with bilateral twinning arrangements either in Europe or elsewhere, which go on all over the place, including Africa, where there are many twinning arrangements with British towns. It is a separate matter but one which needs some encouragement and fits neatly into this extremely modest Bill.

I too oppose the clause, albeit for somewhat different reasons from those of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. The first objection is the same as that made in respect of the previous clause. It cannot be enforced. If councillors decide not to do so, they cannot be made to provide information in public libraries and so on.

Secondly, I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, objects to twinning with EU states. Twinning has been going on for many decades. It is quite a good thing; it is not quite as wonderful as is sometimes claimed. There are those who maintain that the chief beneficiaries are the councillors who go on junkets to the twin town. None the less, it does a certain amount of good, but it should not be confined merely to EU states. It should be extended to Croatia, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey, across the Atlantic and to other countries as well. I do not see that the EU should be singled out for subsidy, if you like, in this way. As for the principle of twinning, it is a good thing, but the clause is open to objection on the purely technical grounds that it cannot be enforced.

I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I remain unrepentant that I think that town twinning has been and is a part of the plot of the project of European integration. I may be wrong, but I still believe that most of our twinning takes places with countries in Europe. I do not remember going around seeing pictures of village and town signs in this country saying “Twinned with Kiev”, or wherever. There may be some. I am delighted to stand corrected.

On a point of clarification, Richmond in Surrey is twinned with Koblenz, with Versailles, and with Richmond, Virginia. There is even a radical proposal that we might consider twinning with Richmond, Yorkshire.

In that case, I am so delighted to hear that Richmond is twinned with Richmond, Virginia, that I am happy to withdraw my opposition to the clause standing part, with the strictures that I have uttered.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment.

House adjourned at 6.42 pm.