House of Lords
Tuesday, 20 May 2008.
The House met at half-past two: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.
Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Chester.
Prisons: Oakhill Secure Training Centre
My Lords, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons inspected management, care and control functions at Oakhill in October 2007. In her report, the Chief Inspector of Prisons criticised standards and suggested that the Youth Justice Board might consider emptying the centre briefly. That was not a formal recommendation and the board decided to pursue other options at that time. Following some improvement, Oakhill’s performance recently deteriorated and the board has now served notice of rectification on the operator.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful reply. Does he agree—I think he does—that this is a sad state of affairs? The Youth Justice Board says that it has been trying to sort out Oakhill secure training centre for the past four years. For that length of time, the Government have therefore knowingly placed some of the most disadvantaged and difficult children in this country in a setting that is neither safe nor appropriate. In those circumstances, does the Minister not accept that the Chief Inspector of Prisons was quite right to recommend that children should not be held there for the time being? Why did the Government not accept her recommendation and why are 30 children still there today?
My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Baroness’s point about safety. Clearly, the safety of the young people in that centre is absolutely paramount. The matter has been carefully monitored since the centre was opened. Interventions have taken place. However, while improvements occurred as a result of the interventions, it is clear that they have not been sustained, hence the rectification notices that have been issued. That is a sign of the Youth Justice Board’s serious intent in this matter.
My Lords, does the Minister not agree that when the Chief Inspector of Prisons, who is not a lady prone to exaggeration, describes,
“staggering levels of use of force by staff”,
including 535 occasions in the nine months before the inspection involving,
“the highest level of restraint, requiring at least three members of staff, with one holding the child’s head”,
the centre is not a safe place and should not stay open a moment longer?
My Lords, clearly the chief inspector’s report was important and it has been taken seriously. As I said, after its publication, there were definite signs of improvement, but the problem was that by the spring it was clear that the improvements had not been sustained, which is why the rectification process has been instituted. I certainly pay tribute to the chief inspector for her help with this matter.
My Lords, I hope that the Minister’s heart goes out to the staff working in these difficult environments, as well as to the children. Are the staff working closely with the child and adolescent mental health services and getting full support from them? Also, are the staff, as is required in children’s homes, receiving regular individual supervision from a senior management figure?
My Lords, the recruitment and retention of staff at the secure training centre have clearly been identified by the chief inspector and Ofsted as matters of concern. Although training programmes have been instituted and every effort has been made to ensure that proper co-ordination takes place between the centre and other appropriate local services, there is clearly a long way to go, which is why we wish to see urgent improvements.
My Lords, is the Minister saying that the staff were not adequately trained when they went to work there? If that is the case, does that not add to the risks that these young people face? Can he say a little more about why things went wrong as a guide to understanding what needs to be done to put it right?
My Lords, I refer noble Lords to the reports of both Her Majesty’s inspectorate and Ofsted. They identify a number of issues in relation to recruitment and selection practices, the importance of the role of front-line managers and the need for that to be strengthened, and the fact that, although training programmes may have been instituted, they were not sufficiently regular or ongoing. However, I repeat that the safety of children is absolutely paramount. This centre is monitored on an extremely regular basis and, if it were felt that the safety of children was being compromised, further action would be taken.
My Lords, will the Minister acknowledge the creative role that Grendon Underwood has played in the field of adult prison establishments over recent decades? Does he agree that the problems that have regularly recurred in young offender institutions and similar establishments point to the need for creative experiments on different methods and approaches to those who are detained in such establishments?
Yes, my Lords, I think that we need to be innovative. I also pay tribute to young offender institutions and secure children’s homes, and indeed to the other three secure training centres, all of which have recently received ratings of at least “good” from Ofsted. An enormous amount of good work takes place and I do not think that we should let the problems at this particular secure training centre undermine our general appreciation of what is being done in our youth justice system.
Indeed, my Lords. That is why it is worth informing the House of the overall Ofsted ratings for the other three secure training centres: Medway, good; Rainsbrook, outstanding; and Hassockfield, good. Good work is being undertaken in those centres. Undoubtedly, there is a real problem with Oakhill, the centre in question, which is why it is so important that the rectification process is taken forward.
My Lords, the chief inspector noted in her report that all young people are routinely strip-searched on arrival at Oakhill without any risk assessment. What evidence is there of items found in these searches that would justify that practice? Will the Minister confirm that the question of strip-searching is being closely monitored no less than that of training?
Roads: Litter Collection
My Lords, standards for the clearance of litter and refuse from roads are set out in the code of practice on litter and refuse. Local authorities and, where relevant, the Highways Agency are responsible for meeting those standards. The key is effective management, but we must acknowledge that particular care over health and safety is important when moving traffic is involved. The Highways Agency is improving its partnership arrangements with its contractors to help tackle litter hotspots.
My Lords, I am rather glad that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has answered that Question because he, unlike many of his colleagues both in this House and in another place, is a Minister with a reputation for getting results. Given that action is very much needed on this issue, and given that there is only one test as to whether roads are clean, I hope that he will take some action. First, we are about the dirtiest country in Europe—we would be even if we were not in Europe.
Secondly, my Lords, is it not about time that we made the punishment fit the crime? Let there be 20 hours of litter-picking for a first offence and 40 hours for the second offence. As for local authorities, just as they fine people who mess around with their bags, let them pay a fine organised by the Highways Agency when they fail to keep the roads clean.
My Lords, last week, on 15 May, I did some service delivery for single farm payments by receiving applications direct from customers, but I am not doing service delivery on collecting litter. There are some serious issues and the noble Lord is right that we are dirty in some ways, but I cannot comment on his suggestions for that. In the latest year for which figures are available, some 43,000 fixed penalties were issued, which is 10,000 up on the year before, and 77 per cent of that was collected in repayments. It would be complicated to look for other ways of dealing with people throwing litter on the roads, and I am told that it would not be cost effective.
My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that Mother Nature is very kind to the approaches of his home city of Birmingham in the spring and summer, for she cloaks the filth and litter along their roadsides—I use the A456—railway embankments and canal sides? Visitors from foreign countries to that city must be appalled at the amount of litter lying around. What can he do about it?
My Lords, frankly, Birmingham is one of the cleanest cities in the country. Let me make that absolutely clear. Let us look at a more salubrious part of the country’s roads—for example, junctions 1 and 2 of the M3, which are in an area that is not Labour-controlled, I might add. In April this year on one westbound carriageway—one junction, one month, one collection in one direction on the motorway— 189 bags of rubbish amounting to one tonne were collected. I am told that that is typical of our motorways and of what people turf out of their cars as they travel. Very little of it is due to the wind and it is a disgrace.
My Lords, given that many, if not most, people in this country seem to have no idea why they have to pay council tax, income tax, value added tax or any other tax, would it not be useful to put up on some of those roads, “You have to pay taxes to pick up this litter”, or words to that effect?
My Lords, that is an excellent suggestion. It is a fair point because the total expenditure for local authorities in England for street cleaning which is not chargeable to the highways is approximately £500 million, which is a lot of money that could be avoided. The cost to council tax payers of fly-tipping, lack of recycling and collecting such litter is a fortune, but getting that connection to them of what it costs society as a whole and them individually is not easy.
My Lords, at this time of the Chelsea Flower Show, I am sure that the Minister will acknowledge the huge benefits that the Britain in Bloom campaign has caused, as local authorities compete to beautify their neighbourhoods. Does he not believe that they might similarly compete in a litter-free Britain campaign, which would stimulate them into making sure that theirs is a litter-free zone?
My Lords, that is quite a practical suggestion. On the targets, not all local authorities go in for issuing fixed-penalty notices, for example. We are up to 233 authorities at the moment: a year ago, only 197 saw the benefit of issuing those. A degree of competition, with local authorities claiming that they are cleaner—with Birmingham being the cleanest, of course—cannot be a bad idea. I do not pay council tax to Birmingham and have no interest to declare.
My Lords, this is an important subject. In the town where I live, the Colne in Bloom volunteers certainly do much litter-picking. I should declare an interest as a member of a principal litter authority—namely, Pendle Borough Council—which, in the league table produced in April, came fifth among authorities in the north-west. We are doing all right, but not well enough.
Will the Minister agree that there is still some difficulty in two-tier areas over the demarcation between the county highways authorities and the main litter authority, which is the district? For example, when it comes to removing dead animals, the litter authority is responsible for small ones such as cats, dogs and hedgehogs while big animals like pigs, cows or elephants are the county’s responsibility.
Transport: Renewable Fuel Obligation
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing, I declare my interest as an arable and grassland farmer.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to review the renewable transport fuel obligation for 5 per cent of all road vehicle fuel to be made up of biofuels by 2010.
My Lords, the Government will keep the United Kingdom’s biofuel targets under review in the light of the best available scientific evidence. The Secretary of State for Transport has commissioned a review of wider environmental and economic impacts of global biofuel production to be led by the Renewable Fuels Agency. The review will report at the end of June and its findings will be relevant to both domestic and European Union targets.
My Lords, I am grateful for that slightly positive Answer from the Minister. Can he confirm that the Chief Scientific Adviser to Defra, Professor Bob Watson, and the Government’s recently retired Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir David King, have both cast serious doubts on the benefits of the use of biofuels to reach RTFO targets? Can he say whether the Government will follow their own scientists’ advice, or whether they are under the thumb of the European Commission, which I believe has said there is no chance of changing its biofuel targets?
My Lords, it is right that we follow the science and best available evidence on this and the views of those eminent scientists have to be taken carefully into consideration. We have adopted a cautious approach in implementing the RTFO scheme. At current estimates only 1 per cent of UK road transport fuels are made up of biofuels, so we do have a precautionary approach and strategy.
My Lords, that is a highly desirable objective. We place a premium on using high-grade home-grown feedstock to meet our obligation, as it is the best way to proceed. We currently need some imports, but, for the longer term, the noble Lord makes a very good point.
My Lords, I am not sure that the double whammy particularly affects us. It is certainly true that the US is keen on promoting biofuels and has made something of a dash for them, along with Brazil, but I think that our cautious approach is right because we need to ensure that we source from sustainable origins. That must be the right approach. There is increased concern over the sustainability of biofuels. We need to be led by the science here and ensure that we take maximum benefit from the second-generation biofuels.
My Lords, that is another good point in the debate. There are good biofuels and bad biofuels. That is why we should be led by the science, to ensure that we have a sustainable feedstock, that we source from sustainable sources and that the technology used to create the biofuel does not create more of a problem than that which it is intended to solve.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that, given that the enormous subsidisation and production of biofuels has made a considerable contribution to the current food shortage and the high price of food is causing great problems in many parts of the developing world, the United Nations food rapporteur has called for an immediate five-year moratorium on the production of all biofuels? Do the Government consider that they and the European Union should perhaps rethink and that this moratorium could be a good idea?
My Lords, the Government recognise that there is an issue here. We do not want to see the sourcing of material that creates or adds to the problem of world food shortages. That is why we have adopted a cautious approach and why we have asked Eddie Gallagher of the Renewable Fuels Agency to conduct his current review, so that we get our policy on the right side of the line. These are complex issues with regard to food shortages and we do not want to end up creating a problem. We recognise that there is an issue with world poverty.
My Lords, how confident is the Minister about getting in enough biofuels to honour our commitment when, as he said, we are currently producing only 1 per cent of our needs? If the biofuels are to be imported, how can he guarantee that they will come from a sustainable source?
My Lords, before the certificates can be claimed there is a process which ensures that suppliers guarantee that the sources used are sustainable. However, we recognise that it is an issue, which is why we have instituted the Gallagher review. The obligation to hit 5 per cent by 2010 represents approximately 2.5 billion litres of biofuel. It is expected that that will be supplied from a mixture of domestic and imported feedstocks. We need to get the balance right, which is why we are asking the key questions on sustainability.
Bank of England: Inflation Target
My Lords, the Bank of England Act 1998 sets the objective for the Bank in relation to monetary policy, which is to maintain price stability and, subject to that, support the economic policy of Her Majesty’s Government, including their objectives for growth and employment. Price stability is the MPC’s primary objective and an essential precondition for economic growth and so must be achieved first and foremost if economic stability is to be assured.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. We all appreciate the fact that the Monetary Policy Committee controlled inflation in what the governor referred to as the “nice decade”. Does the Minister agree that now, with inflation rising at its fastest rate in six years and the economy cooling seriously, the Government are stuck between—if your Lordships will pardon the pun—a rock and a hard place? Does he agree that one of the advantages of being outside the euro is that we can set our own interest rates, but what is the point if we do not have the flexibility? How do the Government expect the Governor of the Bank of England to be able to stimulate economic growth if he has his hands tied behind his back?
My Lords, as I indicated in my Answer, in order to guarantee stability, inflation needs to be controlled. That is the basis on which investment leads to economic growth. The noble Lord is right to say that we are moving into a difficult period, whose duration we are not sure of. The Bank of England has a clear target, which is a signal of its objective and what it will seek to achieve with regard to inflation. That helps the wider economy in the decisions that are taken.
My Lords, I accept that you would not make the Monetary Policy Committee independent if you did not want it to be independent but, none the less, is there not a serious problem? You do not have to be very clever or artful to bring inflation down if that is your target. The Tories demonstrated this marvellously in the early 1980s, when they came to power and doubled the unemployment rate, which they got to over 10 per cent and kept at a high rate for many years. The trick is not just to destroy inflation. Is not the test of your ability improvement in the real economy? Is the Minister aware that some of us, listening to the Governor of the Bank of England, are terrified of the lack of interest in the real economy, as it affects us now and in the near future?
My Lords, the credit crunch is producing a crisis in the financial sector that is probably the greatest since the depression. Therefore, there are implications for the real economy. My noble friend will appreciate that this economy is still growing and that the forecast, even in this most difficult of circumstances, is that it will continue to grow when other economies are not able to do so. That growth guarantees that we will not fall into the same trap as the previous Administration, which was to control inflation through high unemployment.
My Lords, the Question refers to constraints on the MPC. Does the Minister think that the fiscal loosening, caused by the Government giving a £2.7 billion bribe to the electorate of Crewe last week, will help or hinder the MPC when it next decides on interest rates?
My Lords, the resources that were made available last week were to rectify a fault that had been identified and clearly recognised. They also have the benefit of being fair to the low-paid and of assisting purchasing power in the economy. That does not alter the fact that the Bank of England’s objective, as indicated in the original Question, is to return to target as rapidly as possible.
My Lords, does not the fact that inflation is more than 2 per cent and rising, yet the Bank of England has made it clear as far as it can that it has no intention of raising interest rates at this point, demonstrate that the Bank is taking full account of the effect of interest rates on unemployment and growth and is therefore interpreting its mandate with considerable flexibility?
My Lords, that is certainly the case. If the Bank of England had different objectives, it would have a different strategy for interest rates. The Bank’s primary objective relates to inflation but I reiterate that its objective is also to pursue a strategy that increases economic growth and helps the economy. It is obviously working in difficult parameters at the present time, but that does not alter the fact that we should have confidence that the strategy it is pursuing is accurate.
My Lords, my noble friend may recall that some 25 years ago the Government of the day sent the retail prices index into exile because they did not like the inclusion of the housing component, which they thought was just a proxy for interest rates. Now that we have the paradox that house prices may be coming down while other inflation is going up, would it not be useful for the Bank of England to do an objective study of the pros and cons of different measures of inflation, so that we have our eye on a target that may be more relevant on occasion to the cyclical position of the economy?
My Lords, there are several proposals relating to increases in the cost of living, but the Bank of England operates against the position of the CPI, which is the internationally recognised inflation rate. It is against that that its performance stands against all other comparisons.
European Union (Amendment) Bill
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
House in Committee accordingly.
[The LORD SPEAKER in the Chair.]
Clause 6 [Parliamentary control of decisions]:
[Amendments Nos. 145 to 147 not moved.]
[Amendment No. 148 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
[Amendments Nos. 149 to 151 not moved.]
[Amendments Nos. 151A to 153 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
Clause 6 agreed to.
[Amendments Nos. 154 and 155 not moved.]
[Amendment No. 156 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
[Amendments Nos. 157 to 159 not moved.]
[Amendment No. 160 had been retabled as Amendment No. 160B.]
160A: After Clause 6, insert the following new Clause—
“Parliamentary control of opt-ins
(1) A Minister of the Crown may not commit the United Kingdom to new obligations, or alter the obligations of the United Kingdom, under the following provisions unless Parliamentary approval has been given in accordance with this section—
(a) Article 3 of the Protocol on the Position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice, as amended and renamed by the Treaty of Lisbon, permitting a notification of the wish to take part in the adoption and application of a proposed measure pursuant to Title V of Part 3 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,(b) Article 4 of that Protocol, permitting a notification of the wish to accept a measure adopted pursuant to Title V of Part 3 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, (c) Article 4 of the Protocol on the Schengen acquis integrated into the framework of the European Union, as amended by the Treaty of Lisbon, permitting a request to take part in some or all of that acquis,(d) Article 10(5) of the Protocol on Transitional Provisions annexed to the Treaty of Lisbon, permitting a notification of the wish to participate in acts which have ceased to apply to the United Kingdom pursuant to Article 10(4) of that Protocol.(2) Parliamentary approval is given if—
(a) in each House of Parliament a Minister of the Crown moves a motion that the House approves Her Majesty’s Government’s intention to commit the United Kingdom to new obligations, or to alter the obligations of the United Kingdom, and(b) each House agrees to the motion without amendment.(3) In this section “the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union” means the Treaty establishing (what was then called) the European Economic Community, signed at Rome on 25th March 1957 (as amended and renamed by the Treaty of Lisbon).”
The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 160A stands in my name and those of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, and the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands. The report on the Bill by your Lordships’ Select Committee on the Constitution, published on 28 March, concluded that,
“the importance of how the opt-ins and opt-outs are used is such that Parliament must be fully involved in their use”.
It is a matter for regret that the Government have failed to provide their response to the report before Committee stage, as was indicated, although I appreciate the pressure on officials.
The committee recommended that the Government obtain approval from both Houses of Parliament before using opt-ins or opt-outs in any policy area. It believed that it would be consistent with the Bill’s policy to require parliamentary approval of the use of the simplified revision procedure and passerelles. In the area of freedom, security and justice, issues of criminal law and policing are being brought into Title V of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union—an innovation that Dr Valsamis Mitsilegas of Queen Mary’s College told your Lordships’ committee in evidence amounted to fundamental constitutional change.
This amendment includes all possible opt-ins under the proposed new arrangements. The opt-ins are set out in the following parts of the Lisbon treaty: Article 3 of the protocol on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice; Article 4 of that protocol; Article 4 of the protocol on the Schengen acquis integrated into the framework of the European Union; and Article 10(5) of the protocol on transitional provisions. It will later be open to your Lordships to consider scrutiny of the potentially much less controversial opt-outs under Article 5(2) of the Schengen Protocol and Article 10(4) of the protocol on transitional provisions.
In parenthesis, in my view it is of great importance to public confidence in our relationship with the European Union that actions such as opting into any part of such fundamental constitutional change are properly approved by Parliament. We have seen quite enough feeling in the country that things have been done without enough parliamentary approval or people understanding what is going on.
Your Lordships’ European Union Committee, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, emphasised the importance of ensuring that all opt-in decisions are subject to systematic parliamentary scrutiny, and cautioned that the Government must maintain a proper balance between liberty and security. It took evidence from the noble Baroness the Leader of the House on 13 May on the question of parliamentary scrutiny of possible future opt-ins. I shall not delay your Lordships this afternoon by reiterating the points that were made. Suffice it to say that, in her letter to the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, on 29 April—which she kindly copied to me—the Minister described “the Government’s overriding priority” to ensure that, under the Lisbon treaty, the United Kingdom can continue to benefit from valuable JHA co-operation. In my view, this is going to have to be matched by an equally overriding priority of parliamentary scrutiny of possible future opt-ins.
The notion that government could take decisions on changes to law, particularly criminal law, on the basis of material not in the public or parliamentary domains may be acceptable to officials, but it will not be acceptable to Parliament. A system of parliamentary controls of individual opt-in decisions need not impede our ability to participate fully in the JHA co-operation. Brussels—I use the word to cover everything that happens there—is fully conscious of our parliamentary timetable, and the likelihood of some ambush being mounted on us by our European partners on the eve of the Summer Recess is frankly negligible if not inconceivable. Our own system of parliamentary business management is admirably flexible—see Northern Rock as a recent example—and these are not going to be frequent occurrences. There is no reason whatever, if the Government of the day have the political will, why an affirmative resolution could not be debated by both Houses within three months. In the Republic of Ireland, both houses approve or disapprove opt-ins as soon as a proposal is published.
Moreover—a point not mentioned in the Minister’s letter to which I have referred—Article 4 of the protocol on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in the area of freedom, security and justice allows member states to opt into measures at any time after they have been adopted. So the United Kingdom would not be blocked from such initiatives if for any reason parliamentary approval was not achieved within the three-month period, although it is conceivable—but highly unlikely—that the British and Irish negotiating hand might be marginally affected in such very unlikely circumstances.
It is inconceivable that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House is unaware of the seriousness with which noble Lords regard this matter. Before we return to it on Report, let us hope that some of the Government’s advisers attain the same level of enlightenment; may the truth be seen by many. Lines in the sand may be washed away by the tides of history but they should not be washed away by the tides of bureaucracy—nor should public confidence. I beg to move.
I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad. He has set out the case for parliamentary scrutiny and I would find it very odd if this Chamber did not provide the machinery for appropriate parliamentary scrutiny of very important decisions. The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, who chairs the Select Committee of the European Union, very appropriately wrote,
“There is no separate scrutiny on whether or not to opt-in to measures under TEC Title 4; decisions are mentioned in the Explanatory Memorandum and are dealt with simply as part of the scrutiny of the proposal”.
He promises in his letter—since that time he has heard evidence from the noble Baroness—to consider whether the scrutiny offered is adequate. He underlines the need to know what the Government’s thinking is and, secondly, what parliamentary control should be available so that we can be sure that we are moving in the right direction.
I have read the reply of the Leader of the House and, frankly, I am not impressed by it. It has, I fear, been put up to her by the Foreign Office and I understand fully that it represents the view of Her Majesty’s Government. It states:
“Parliamentary control on individual opt-in decisions … would impede our ability to participate fully and effectively”.
I should like to know a little more on that. What a nuisance Parliament is to our man in Brussels. Like the man in Whitehall in the 1940s, he knows best. Are we not part of the legitimate democratic machinery that is available at the moment in this country? Should not we—I speak not for the Commons—have our opportunity to scrutinise?
The noble Baroness goes on to say:
“The timetable is very tight”.
Why was three months put in during the negotiations? Why was not a longer period put in? That question was put to the Leader of the House by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, during questioning, but I do not think there was any real answer. Why did anyone think that there are different parliamentary procedures in each part of the European Union? Some of them can move swiftly and others take a little more time. I do not think we can be faulted on that basis.
The noble Baroness set out in her evidence to the committee her experience—substantial experience, if I may say so—of how fast-moving discussions are in Brussels. I heard the noble Lord, Lord Owen, tell us of his experience last night; other noble Lords have had a similar experience. Decisions are taken very late in the night; decisions are taken as a result of negotiation. We should, however, be able to have the Government’s thinking and be able to anticipate in what way we are going to be tied down by such an agreement. We are in new territory and the Leader of the House says that it would be extremely difficult to have machinery of this kind. Very wisely, she says that it is not impossible. I am sure if there was a danger of missing a particular deadline that Parliament would find the means, double quick, to ensure that it played its part in the process and that we would not be prejudiced in that way.
It was Churchill who said that democracy is a poor way of running a country but he could not think of any better. I paraphrase and borrow some of that sentiment in emphasising to the Chamber the need for appropriate parliamentary control. I support the noble Lord’s amendment.
I am grateful to the noble Lord. As the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, mentioned, the noble Baroness the Lord President appeared before the Select Committee to give evidence on this just a week ago today. I note that this was after the exchange of letters between herself and myself from which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, has just extensively quoted.
The Lord President was very helpful to the committee. We made the point very strongly that we regard proper parliamentary scrutiny of opt-ins as crucial and the Lord President clearly took the point. We will be discussing with government departments, and maybe taking further evidence on, how this can best be done. There are some very important issues regarding timing, given the 90-day restriction that has been mentioned. We will need to begin our scrutiny as soon as possible after the proposal reaches Parliament direct from the European Commission. We need and expect a Government Explanatory Memorandum as soon as possible, giving the Government’s intentions on opting in and the reasons for that. However, we may not necessarily want to wait for their final views before beginning the scrutiny process. In those circumstances, the presentation to the Government of our committee’s own emerging conclusions might prove helpful to the Government in their deliberations.
Our bottom line is that the normal scrutiny process must be pursued. If the Government were to opt in before the scrutiny process was complete, that would be viewed very seriously by the committee and I am sure on the Floor of the House as well. We need time to decide how the present scrutiny system can be adapted, if it needs to be, to take into account these new requirements. We should therefore not rush into this too hastily.
I support the amendment. Since I was first involved in European Union legislation—it was with the very first Bill, the European Communities Act 1972—I have applied a parliamentary sovereignty test to any such Bill that has come before us, including those relating to Maastricht, Amsterdam and Lisbon. Although it sounds old-fashioned, I do not think that it is a bad test for any parliamentarian to apply. To what extent, if we agree to these treaty arrangements, will there be some concession of parliamentary sovereignty or, if one prefers the phrase, pooling of sovereignty?
As the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, pointed out, the evidence we received about the Lisbon treaty is that it is a major treaty that effects fundamental changes. It alters fundamentally the European architecture that emerged from Maastricht. It collapses one of the three pillars that emerged from Maastricht and brings the areas of justice and home affairs into the acquis communautaire, Commission-driven policy, ordinary procedure, QMV and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
Had this protocol not been in the treaty, I would not have been able to support the Bill, because the change to our constitution and issues of sovereignty is so fundamental. Fortunately, however, the Government have negotiated a protocol that represents some of the deepest red lines of their original negotiating position. The admirable analysis of the justice and home affairs area by the European Committee—dealing with opt-ins and opt-outs, past, present and future—demonstrates that the Government have achieved a very robust, comprehensive protocol, which has safeguarded not only the Executive’s position but that of parliamentary sovereignty.
Because I attach such significance to the protocol—it is the reason I will be able to support the Bill—if, at any time, this or a future Government should seek to introduce or opt in to significant parts of the justice and home affairs area, as the protocol allows, express approval should be sought before doing so. We may assent to the Bill and therefore assent to the ratification of the treaty; future Governments may decide to opt in and surrender a degree of sovereignty as a result, but such action should be subject to express parliamentary approval.
There are two specific reasons why that should be so. First, when the Government of the day negotiate an opt-in, they are not negotiating away their sovereignty in the process of negotiating away Parliament’s sovereignty. It is not just a question of an Executive action; the consequence of that Executive action is the surrender of parliamentary sovereignty as well as of Executive sovereignty. In that respect, I was somewhat surprised by my noble friend’s response to Question 2 in the European Committee’s evidence session when she said that she thought that final decisions and opt-ins rest with Ministers and the Executive. I know that they are Executive decisions, but surely they have to be subject to some kind of parliamentary debate and approval. We are not swapping royal prerogatives for Executive prerogatives. I do not think that one can say so baldly that this is for the Executive to decide and that Parliament does not have the right to seek approval.
The second reason for accepting the principle behind the amendment is that, whether we like it or not, Parliament can do and undo things at will, as it were. But in practical political terms, once the Government opt in to any of these major measures, they opt in for good. It is a permanent and irrevocable decision. That is the second reason, along with that of parliamentary sovereignty, why I believe that such decisions should be subject to express parliamentary approval.
My noble friend described vividly in a letter to the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, how Parliaments complicate and sometimes inconvenience ministerial negotiations. There are enough of us here to know that Parliaments can make life difficult for the Administrations of the day, even in the negotiating process. But that is a price worth paying for parliamentary democracy. Even if it does make life more complicated and issues of confidentiality arise, nevertheless, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, said, parliamentary scrutiny and approval are an overriding priority.
I was rather interested in an exchange in the European Union Committee where the noble Lord, Lord Kerr—I hope I am not going to put words in his mouth—suggested to my noble friend that there would not be an insuperable problem, that a UK Minister is talking to European-equivalent Ministers, all who come from parliamentary democracies. He or she should be able to explain the quirks of the UK parliamentary system or the difficulties that might arise. This is the reason therefore why fellow Ministers in the European Union should accommodate the need for a process of parliamentary approval, because others might have a very similar problem. I accept, however, that ours is unique because we are the only opting-in party.
I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, suggested in his question to my noble friend that from his own immense experience in negotiating in Brussels and Utrecht, it would not be very difficult to come to an arrangement with fellow European Ministers to ensure that, in the timescales concerned, we could build in this parliamentary approval procedure. He indicated that it would be in the interest of fellow European Ministers to accommodate the United Kingdom because they would want us to be opting-in at that stage. They should therefore be able to accommodate us in the issue of parliamentary approval.
I gently suggest to my noble friend that the principles behind the amendment are in true keeping with the spirit and the thrust of the new constitutional renewal programme that the Government have embarked upon in the past six months. In my view, it is part and parcel of and very much in keeping and in tune with, the whole of the Government’s—I cheer them in this respect—constitutional renewal programme. After years of suffering a kind of executive phobia about the idea that Parliament might get involved in having to approve the waging of war, that problem has suddenly been overcome. As a result of the Government’s determination, we shall now have a parliamentary approval procedure for the waging of war. We will have the parliamentary approval procedure for the dissolution of Parliament and an enhanced parliamentary procedure for treaty making. It will be rather curious if we now suddenly decide that opt-ins, in the context of the European process, are somehow to be excluded from this concept of enhanced parliamentary responsibility, supervision and oversight.
I therefore suggest to my noble friend that the principle behind the amendment is chiming with the whole of the Government’s view of constitutional renewal and, in particular, the right of Parliament to assert themselves on key issues such as those involved in opt-in. I strongly support the amendment.
This is an important amendment, based on the report from the Constitution Committee, which those of us on the European Union Committee read with great interest. Indeed, we have listened today with interest to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad. As the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, said, last week we were able to get useful evidence from the Lord President. We were most grateful to her for what she said on that occasion. However, it is important to look carefully at these instruments on which the Government will be deciding to opt in. In some respects, they are like any other European Union instruments and it will therefore be appropriate for them to go through the scrutiny process like any other instrument on any other area of European Union policy before a decision is made in the Council.
The particularity of these instruments, however, is that the UK will participate in negotiations only if it decides to opt into them. The question is, therefore, what arrangements should be made to deal with them. Noble Lords may have seen on page 165 of its impact assessment report that the European Union Committee suggested that we needed to think of a more systematic approach to deal with opt-ins than had been undertaken in the past—we have had opt-ins for some time, of course. That was the subject of our discussions with the Lord President last week.
The Lord President agreed that it would be important for us to begin scrutiny as soon as possible after the arrival of the instrument. I hope that that process, whereby the European Union Committee would carry out its own inquiry and give its conclusions to the Government, would contribute to their decision on whether to opt in. We would be making a contribution at that stage of an important parliamentary kind. It would also be possible, as always, for the committee to make a report for debate in the House, either at that stage or after the Government had made their decision on whether to opt in.
There are various options available to Parliament in considering how to deal with these European instruments, which will come to us in the future as they have in the past. One option—this may be to misinterpret the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad—would be an affirmative resolution procedure alone. An alternative would be a scrutiny process, which could be either the normal scrutiny process, as is the case with every other instrument, or a scrutiny process followed by some other form of parliamentary procedure. That is for the House to consider with some care.
However, from my experience of European Union Committee work, I believe that it would be a great pity if the House were to make its decision purely on the basis of a relatively short debate, either in the House or in Grand Committee, without having had the scrutiny process. Therefore, I hope that we will hear from the noble Lord, Lord Goodland, that that was not his intention in the amendment. We would also be interested to hear from the Lord President how the Government see these matters and how far they feel that it is possible for us to involve Parliament effectively in the consideration of these important instruments.
I have two brief points to make in support of the amendment. First, opt-ins are not just a question of opting into a particular measure and incorporating it into UK law. By opting into any measure, we are importing into the UK justice system the supremacy of the European Court of Justice in areas of criminal law and justice. It would be not only the original measure into which we opted; once we had opted in, any amendment made to that measure, which could be by qualified majority voting, would also be subject to interpretation by the European Court of Justice. That is why the opt-ins are particularly important: not only are they about an individual measure, but they open up a whole new constitutional significance.
The noble Lords, Lord Grenfell and Lord Roper, spoke about the scrutiny procedure. Everyone would accept that it is ideal for both Houses to be able to use their scrutiny processes to maximum effect, but that does not in any way conflict with there being a parliamentary procedure following it. I do not think that anyone would assume that the role of the scrutiny committees is to pre-empt the judgment of the House on important issues; the role of the committees is to inform the House, which they do very well. However, it is for the House at the end of the day to be given the chance to take its view, as the other place, on issues that have major constitutional significance. The scrutiny and parliamentary procedures are therefore complementary.
It behoves us to pay attention to the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, when he speaks, not only because of his vast experience in these matters but also because he is a good man from Cheshire. I support not only the Government but also the advice given to us by our chair, the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Roper, that the appropriate instrument by which these matters, especially of opt-ins, can be scrutinised and understood is perhaps through your Lordships’ committee designated for that purpose. I hope that, when she replies, my noble friend will indicate how we are setting about that task of ensuring that the expertise and experience found within the European Union Committee can aid and abet the Government in reaching their decisions.
I have two further points. The first is in answer to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, who asked whether we could introduce more delay to ensure that the proper parliamentary scrutiny procedures take place. At this point, we should remind ourselves what the Government achieved with the various red lines, protocols and so on in the negotiations on the Lisbon treaty. We are blessed with a series of exceptions and allowances of one sort or another not visited on or granted to other countries. Therefore, it behoves us also to remind ourselves that, in reaching our conclusions on opt-ins or on other matters, we should be reasonably speedy, without frustrating the proper scrutiny process, to conform to our comity with the other 26 European Union members.
My second point, which some may find distasteful, is about the practices of this House. As we have joined the European Union, we are required to modernise ourselves as a Parliament if we are to do an effective job of scrutinising important issues that come before us from it. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, mentioned the 90 days given for such scrutiny. I remind your Lordships that the pattern of work in your Lordships’ House has remained largely unaltered and is not necessarily geared to respond to the pressing needs outside. After all, a few years ago, we introduced a September session of Parliament, which I thought had great utility, as it meant that we were here in Parliament to be able to respond to matters happening not only worldwide but in Brussels and Strasbourg. Therefore, it is also a matter of, “Physician, heal thyself”. If we want to perform the valuable task, which I believe we can, of scrutinising on behalf of the British people matters that come to us from Brussels and Strasbourg, we need to reform ourselves, too.
I have recently taken an interest in the matter of opt-ins and opt-outs as a member of both the European Union Committee and the sub-committee set up to look into this question. Like the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, I was alarmed when I read the evidence of the Leader of the House—I am afraid that I was not able to be here last week—particularly the sentence that he read out, in which she said in answer to the second question that she thought that the final decision on opt-ins rested with Ministers and the Executive.
I will make one brief point this afternoon. Unless we have a firm system of parliamentary scrutiny, particularly with regard to opt-ins, Parliament as a whole will look foolish. I say that as someone who was a member of the Select Committee on the Merits of Statutory Instruments for the first three years of its life. One saw the whole range of statutory instruments that required, through the affirmative process, a resolution of both Houses. Frankly, many of the potential opt-ins—and the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, referred to this—are infinitely more important than some of the statutory instruments that come before both Houses and which demand an affirmative resolution. If we do not have that type of strong parliamentary control over these opt-ins, that will be a negation of what Parliament should be about. For that reason, I am strongly in favour of the amendment.
I have some history in this area, having been chair of the relevant sub-committee of the EU Committee in your Lordships’ House from 1997 to 2000. In producing a report on the Schengen agreement, we managed, for the first time, to get hold of and publish what was then known as the Schengen acquis, which had been accepted in the Amsterdam treaty but without being seen by several of the delegations that had accepted it. We published several reports on British opt-outs, pointing out that the British had opted out formally and then opted back into an awful lot of things in detail. We tried hard to get first the media and then your Lordships’ House to take an interest in this and, indeed, managed to find time for some of our reports to be debated in an empty House late at night. We have to be a little more honest with ourselves about the level of interest that we have had in the past 11 years in this development.
I can take my awareness of this matter back further. When I was still on the staff of Chatham House in 1988, I was asked to chair a conference of senior policemen on co-operation between the British police and their opposite numbers on the Continent. A very senior policeman from a county force in southern England commented at one point that he had just signed an agreement with his opposite numbers in France about the levels of co-operation on each other’s territory and had asked the Home Office how he should report that up the line. The Home Office told him that it was thoroughly in favour of this agreement but that it would prefer not to know too much about it. For the past 20 years, we have had a much higher level of co-operation between the British police and their opposite numbers on the Continent and, increasingly, between British prosecuting authorities and their opposite numbers on the Continent than Governments have wished to admit, the media to know about or Parliament to pay sufficient attention to.
I regret some of the tone of this debate. The image of Brussels as hostile territory, of the European Court of Justice as being a threat and of British sovereignty being surrendered suggests that we see the European Union as something of which we are a deeply reluctant member. Several million British citizens live in other member states in the European Union, most of them highly law-abiding—although the Observer last Sunday carried an interesting article on the Liverpool criminal network, its activities in Amsterdam and its holiday homes in Marbella. Crime and therefore police co-operation—and the co-operation of prosecuting authorities—have to follow the extent to which we are becoming increasingly internationalised, which has implications for how British law enforcement authorities and British legal authorities work within a clear framework with their partners across the Channel.
We on these Benches regret the intense complexity that opt-outs and opt-ins have now achieved. That seems to us to be a general obfuscation and, once this Bill is complete, the Government would do better to publish a White Paper explaining it to us. We believe that the United Kingdom’s interests are best served by opting in much more vigorously than we have done so far. We also accept the views of the Lord President about staying out of negotiations and then discovering at the end of them that what has been agreed does not entirely fit British national interests and is not actually in British national interests. We therefore accept the views of the EU Committee on this. We recognise that we have to engage in these co-operative activities and that closer co-operation among law enforcement and other legal authorities in a European framework has been, and continues to be, in Britain’s long-term national interest.
Before the noble Lord speaks for the Opposition, let me make one point. I am pleased that this amendment has been tabled as, throughout our discussions on this treaty and on the Bill, we have been assured that the so-called red lines protect the British position on a range of matters. We have been told that matters of justice, home affairs and police or what have you are protected because we have those red lines. I assumed that those matters would have to come back to Parliament, as we have been assured that these red lines protect British sovereignty and the sovereignty of Parliament. We now know that the Leader of the House takes a completely different view. Although there should—
I am right. The view of the Government is that they should make the decision after discussion in the parliamentary committees, but with no opportunity for Parliament, meeting as a Parliament, to make the final decision on whether we should opt in. That is what worries me and the supporters of the amendment. It is not good enough for the Government to say, “You can have discussions. We gave you all the assurances during the passage of the Bill through both Houses but now, without any further ado, we are going to agree to opt in where we had opted out”. I hope that the Government will think further about that if they wish to protect the power of Parliament.
This is, or ought to be, a parliamentary matter and not a party matter, so in a way I hesitate to taint it by offering a contribution from the opposition Front Bench. But we have heard extremely wise words, based on a very wise report from enormously experienced parliamentarians—experienced in both places—such as my noble friend Lord Goodlad, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, and the noble Lords, Lord Rowlands and Lord Jopling.
We ought to ponder very carefully on the propositions that they have put forward. The propositions seem to me to carry considerable weight. What they are talking about in the name of Parliament, at a time when many fine speeches are being made about the need to restore parliamentary authority and accountability, is not just the need for improved scrutiny. I recognise that fully when the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, talks about the time he needs to develop further methods. We have been talking now for more than two or three years—for five or seven years—about beefing up the whole scrutiny process, reducing the number of exceptions and loopholes that the Government can use to bypass scrutiny, and generally strengthening the entire system. There is very widespread concern that Parliament as a whole has not been doing its job. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, on that. Although many people, especially in this House, have done an enormous amount of work trying to improve the system, it is not yet good enough.
We are looking beyond that. We are looking at the need for clear accountability in very important matters and changes affecting people’s lives. That is what the report from our own Constitution Committee addresses very squarely. I sensed in earlier debates some suggestion that we could perhaps slightly downgrade reports from committees in another place and that we must rest on our own reports. But here we have, with the full authority of its members, the Constitution Committee’s report. It clearly says, in heavy black type, what amendments are necessary to the Bill. Why does it talk about “amendments” to the Bill? It is seeking affirmative resolutions. It is seeking approval—more than just scrutiny, approval—of proposals on the opt-ins and opt-outs in the justice and home affairs area, and indeed in wider areas as well.
I concede that last night I was standing at the Dispatch Box arguing that we should go further than mere affirmative resolutions on the new passerelles—which are not similar to but are more extended than the old ones—and there should be an Act of Parliament before a great change was made moving from unanimity to QMV in important new areas. That did not seem to command vast support in this Committee, although the matter is so important that I think we will return to it. However, this report seeks something short of that; namely the affirmative resolutions about which we have heard.
If, as the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, says, we need more time to work out how this is all going to work, that is a strong argument indeed for having a requirement in the Bill to ensure that we do not just roll ahead with the whole treaty and the whole Bill before this matter has even been worked out. That is a very important argument indeed.
I am pleased to hear that that is the idea. But it would be good to hear rather more about this extra work that has to be done and whether it will move us from the mere scrutiny area which the noble Lord appeared to be talking about into the area of having actual firm decisions by the two Houses in the form of affirmative resolutions, which is what this report so very clearly requests with a great deal of backing and reason behind it. That is what we are on about.
The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, was one of the best cases I have ever heard for a renewal of parliamentary authority and reputation—at a time when we really need such a thing. Everyone knows it. The Prime Minister says it. The Leader of the Opposition says it. The leader of the Liberal Democrats says it. All parties are telling the public that we must restore parliamentary authority and reputation.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Will he therefore welcome the fact that in the treaty there is an increased role for national parliaments in the review of justice and home affairs matters and that, while Governments will certainly—and, I think, rightly—want the power to be able to negotiate in Brussels, sometimes in quite challenging circumstances, in future they will clearly do so within an overall strategy agreed by Parliament?
“As far as it goes”, would be my answer to the noble Baroness. It is my passion that we should make national parliaments the anchors for the coming together—“confederation” may be a dangerous word—which will create the new European Union in the 21st century. Obviously, one looks eagerly at treaty proposals that come along to see whether they will genuinely enhance the role of national parliaments or whether they put forward large formulae which in practice do not add up to very much.
We have debated this matter and it was debated in the other place, and a lot of doubts and question marks rest over the proposition that the position of national parliaments will be restored by this treaty. Many people would argue—not on any wild basis but on a very clear basis—that national parliaments do not in practice emerge very much stronger out of this than they were before; if anything, they come out a little weaker. Therefore, the case of the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, is immensely powerful, and it was supported with equal power by my noble friend Lord Jopling. Even if they had not spoken, I have before me the words of our committee and its members, who are very distinguished Members of your Lordships’ House:
“We conclude that the importance of how the opt-ins and opt-outs are used is such that Parliament must be fully involved in their use. We therefore recommend that the European Union (Amendment) Bill be amended so as to require the Government to obtain approval from both Houses of Parliament before using opt-ins or opt-outs in any policy area”.
That could not be more plain, more obvious or more justified.
We will now need from the Government and from those who say that there may be other ways of doing this some very clear expositions to satisfy us that somehow we should turn aside from these recommendations. They are in the interests not just of party but of Parliament, our democracy and the European system, which itself is under considerable attack and lacks enormous popularity and contact with the people. We should give our full support to amendments of this kind and I hope that we will hear full support for them from the Government.
This has been an extremely interesting debate on an area which, I agree with noble Lords, is of great importance. I pay tribute to the work of the Constitution Committee. We have not been tardy in responding to its report. My understanding is that we are well within the deadline and we intend to respond in full before Report. I hope the noble Lord will know that we have communicated that to the Clerk of the committee, who I gather was satisfied. Therefore, noble Lords will have a chance to see our report.
I have two starting points. The first is to ensure that noble Lords are fully aware of the importance of collaboration on justice and home affairs matters in the European Union. I refer not only to the more obvious ways in which we collaborate across police forces concerning criminal activity and so on but also, speaking from my experience on the Justice and Home Affairs Council, to collaboration on civil and family justice issues. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, talked about the number of people from the UK who live all over the European Union, and certainly every year millions of UK citizens live, work, travel, study and buy and sell in the EU. Therefore, ensuring that protection exists for them—for example, if they have faulty goods or debts that need to be repaid—is very important. A lot of the UK Government’s work in justice and home affairs—particularly but not only during our presidency—has been on ensuring that we provide the right level of protection for our citizens and indeed for citizens across the European Union. I make that point because this is an important area. Of course, opt-ins in this area have been around since Maastricht and I have certainly exercised opt-ins, or have exercised a decision not to opt in, on a number of occasions.
The second starting point is that I agree with much of what has been said about the importance of real scrutiny. I have listened with great care to noble Lords who have raised questions on how to ensure that we do that. I hope to allay some of the noble Lords’ concerns. Having alarmed the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, with my evidence, I am not sure how to put that to rest, but I shall certainly try.
I am extremely grateful to noble Lords who were able to attend the committee last week. I hope they will agree that we had an interesting and quite detailed discussion about how the process might work and how we might reinforce or enhance the committee’s work. I agree with those noble Lords who have said that the committee is the appropriate place to scrutinise these issues. Having attended and provided evidence to the Select Committee, I speak from personal experience. I know only too well the expertise and knowledge that has grown up in the membership of the committee and indeed in those who service the committee. I can assure noble Lords, although I do not think that I need to, that the House is well served by the work of the committee and the sub-committee. I also take the point about ensuring that we involve Parliament appropriately.
As a Minister, I have taken 17 pieces of legislation and a plethora of statutory instruments through your Lordships’ House. I know only too well that, late at night, our deliberations may not carry the expertise that noble Lords would wish to see. It is therefore important to ensure that when we are discussing issues of scrutiny, we recognise the importance and value of the committee and seek to ensure that that is where the key scrutiny takes place. When talking to the committee I was also keen to ensure that we thought more carefully about how we scrutinise these issues in the light of much of what noble Lords have said about their concerns to ensure that the committee can participate and consider the issues in greater detail.
I shall say a little more about the process and answer some of the questions that have been raised. We are sometimes aware of issues in justice and home affairs that have come along from the Commission or which may have been bubbling under the surface because of specific issues that have been around for some time. Until we receive a fully formed proposal from the Commission we cannot start the process ourselves. That process within government involves consultation across the departments that have an interest, the devolved Administrations and other stakeholders. Noble Lords will be able to think of examples, particularly on issues of civil justice, when it was appropriate to fully consult organisations to get their views on how they saw a particular proposal.
Having done that, the Government will make their decision. I think that 90 days is appropriate. They have to give us some timetable, and three months from the date of the full proposal is quite generous because it gives us time to look properly at the issues. The Government commit considerable resources to considering the issues properly. For those who think that 90 days to end up with a proposal that will become law is not long enough, I should say that that is the opening negotiating position. Negotiations can take many months on particular proposals, and at the end of that time we will probably be seeking to amend them.
At the beginning we ask whether the proposal is in the UK’s interests—whether it would be beneficial for the UK to opt into it or whether we would be in danger of damaging UK interests by opting in. Within that negotiating position there will be issues that we would wish to strengthen, to change or to discuss with colleagues across the European Union to see whether we might make them more effective. On the order for payment, for example, we might want to ensure that the ability to reclaim money is set at a level that is of use to our citizens rather than at a lower level that is of benefit to other nation states but of less use to us, and so on. That is how the process begins. It is not an end in itself but is a process of negotiation. That is very important.
When it comes to parliamentary scrutiny and the role of the committee I am keen to ensure that we “use” the committee and the expertise I have described as effectively as possible. I have therefore been talking with officials in the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney-General’s Office to see what more might be done. As noble Lords who have read my evidence will see, I have clearly accepted the importance of finding ways of collaborating as effectively as possible.
In working with the committee over the next short while, we will try to see whether we can be clear that we will lay an explanatory memorandum as swiftly as possible. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Roper, felt strongly about that in my evidence-giving last week. We would make sure that the Government put the proposed position as clearly and swiftly as possible. As noble Lords will know, sometimes when these issues are obvious the Government can be pretty clear with the committee on which way we would expect to go, while other times the consultation process needs to take place first.
We would then wish to give the committee some time within the 90-day framework to enable it to have discussions without the Government pre-empting those. Although we will have to discuss how many weeks that might be, I have a commitment from my right honourable friends in another place on wanting to do this, thus enabling the committee to have those deliberations and indeed to call evidence and invite Ministers before it to have those discussions. We will need to ensure that we set that out appropriately. How that can best be achieved is a matter for discussion with the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, and the committee. I want to make it absolutely clear that I accept it is very important for the scrutiny to be appropriate and at the right level and for the Government to put it forward with the committee in the best way.
I want to end on a more fundamental point regarding the whole area of justice and home affairs. As we move beyond the Lisbon treaty and into post-ratification, it will be important for the Government to consider their strategic approach to this area, as they would normally do. Indeed, as noble Lords will know, the Commission will no doubt produce post-Lisbon papers about the general approach that it might take to justice and home affairs. There are areas of collaboration where it would seek to work with member states to develop important areas of legislation, or indeed of policy. We will have to think carefully about what our approach would be. That will have implications for how we handle individual opt-ins. Those may come in all sorts of guises but they need to be part of a strategic approach. The Government should seek to do that in the spirit of wanting to be a participant in the European Union in this area.
It is important that Parliament should look at the strategy for government as part of that strategic approach. We will have to consider how best to do that. For example, perhaps government Ministers will initially outline that approach to the Select Committee and the Select Committee will then, through the usual channels, invite the House to debate such a strategy. In itself that will give a sense of direction and some detail on where the Government would go. To be blunt, however, I would not be in favour of the salami-slicing of individual opt-in decisions. I said that in my evidence, and I believe it from my own experience. The decisions do not come in packages, but they are often inter related within a general approach on civil justice, criminal justice and so on. Decisions need to be taken in that way.
Finally, in all this process, regardless of whether the Government ultimately decide to opt in or out—as I indicated, I have done both—one always seeks to do so in a spirit of being part of Europe, of collaboration and co-operation with our European partners. It is possible that, having not opted in at the end of the process, one can then ask the Commission and the Council about doing so if the proposal becomes acceptable. Indeed, a consultation is now out on Rome I—on which I was the Minister responsible for not opting in—concerning whether it is at the point where we could opt in. We spent a huge amount of time looking closely at the working groups, but that was exceptional.
I hope the Minister will forgive me for interrupting because she is trying to cover this in great detail, but I think she is coming to the end of her remarks. She has spoken at considerable length about the need to improve scrutiny and the work she is going to do with the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. We all agree that that is required. It would be marvellous if it could be done in a few weeks as some of us have been trying to do it for about 10 years. If we can make progress that is terrific, but the amendment is not about that. It is about an affirmative resolution proposition for certain opt-in and opt-out activities that the Government and the Executive are proposing. The Minister has not addressed that, even though she has covered the scrutiny issue in great detail. She must address it before she sits down.
I intend to. I had not sat down. Had I sat down, the noble Lord would be have been correct to prevent me doing do. I was addressing the issues that noble Lords raised in their deliberations that I thought gave rise to concerns that, for some noble Lords, were the reasons why they were supporting the amendment, because they feel that the Government have not done enough to consider scrutiny. However, the noble Lord is right, and I am grateful to him. I shall address his point but I shall finish the one I was making about the scrutiny procedure, because I do not think noble Lords can reach a decision on this amendment without me putting forward how the process currently works and some of the issues that we need to consider for the future. I was saying that it is rare to be able to look again at the possibilities of opting in, but it is possible. It would not be a strategy to be pursued in the main. I mention that because it was raised in the committee and I felt that this Committee should also hear that point.
However, it is time for me to wind up my remarks. I do not believe that the way forward is this amendment. I tried to indicate that by talking about the need to think strategically about justice and home affairs. Our approach to individual opt-ins would be governed to a degree by how that strategy is developed. I do not believe that the House would be best served by individual discussions on individual opt-ins. I believe it is well served and best served by the committee, which can take the strategic overview that is the most appropriate way forward. It has the power to bring forward to the House, if it so wishes, issues of concern and to suggest to the House that it should debate them. I know that noble Lords will not underestimate the importance and value of the committee; nor should they underestimate the value that the committee has within government. Noble Lords will be aware that those of us who have had the privilege of working with the committee in this area take great note and pay great attention to what is being said.
My response to the amendment was not just to be negative about it but to look for alternative ways in which we can ensure the best possible scrutiny, so that noble Lords can rest assured that the House will play an appropriate role. We believe that that is through the committee. I therefore hope the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for her speech and for her undertaking that the Government’s reply to the Select Committee’s report will be available before Report on the Bill. I was rather disappointed by what she said in response to the amendment, but I was encouraged by what was said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, and the noble Lords, Lord Rowlands and Lord Jopling, who between them bring decades, if not centuries, of experience on other people’s doorsteps. They understand the perception of our relationship with Europe from outside Parliament and how the way we react to the Bill will be affected by it. As the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, said, we use the affirmative procedure for far less important matters than the opt-ins that we are considering under the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Roper, in a typically perceptive speech, expressed the hope that what is proposed in this amendment would not be mutually exclusive with scrutiny in the European committee. There is no such intention. The committee did not consider the matter, but my intention is that they would be complementary, as the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, said.
Perhaps an excess of delicacy prevented me addressing the Minister’s remarks to the committee. These were alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, and my noble friend Lord Jopling, in talking about the final word on opt-ins remaining with the Executive. I am sure that it was not the Minister’s intention to throw down the gauntlet to Parliament. Governments who have done that in the past tend to find that, in the end, Parliament prevails. We await the Government’s detailed response to the committee’s report. We will think carefully about that and return to the matter on Report. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
160B: Before Clause 7, insert the following new Clause—
“Referendum requirement on the Euro
Her Majesty’s Government may not notify the Council of its intention to adopt the Euro under paragraph 9 of the Protocol on certain provisions relating to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (as amended by the Treaty of Lisbon) unless a decision to adopt the Euro has been approved by a referendum conducted under the provisions of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (c. 41).”
The noble Lord said: I hope this amendment will be relatively uncontentious. I will therefore keep my opening remarks fairly brief. The treaty of Lisbon inserts into the relevant protocol a provision that Her Majesty’s Government may notify the European Council at any time of their intent to join the euro. The treaty is, of course, silent on what process may go on within the United Kingdom before the Government make that notification. Fortunately, for the last decade we have had cross-party agreement in the United Kingdom that no decision to join the euro would be taken without being the subject of a referendum. It has been a sensible policy to uphold in this country because of the recognition of how important a step joining the euro, were we ever to do so, would be.
There are a couple of reasons for that. This is not the place to discuss the pros and cons of the euro, but most people would accept that it has both economic and political significance. The economic benefits have been argued by many, but equally there are those—among whom I include myself—who believe that floating exchange rates were one of the great successes of the second half of the last century, and that they have worked greatly in the UK’s favour by enabling our economy to adjust in periods of turbulence. Indeed, you could argue that the only periods when the UK has had real trouble have been when it has attempted to link its exchange rate permanently to some other grouping. I happen to be in favour of maintaining floating exchange rates. Whichever side of the argument you come down on, most people would agree that these are serious and deep economic arguments that run across party lines. There are people of both persuasions in all parties and, indeed, in no party.
Similarly, on political grounds, a number of eminent people gave evidence to the recent House of Lords European Union Committee report on the euro. Most accepted—or indeed made—the point that because monetary policy is intimately linked with fiscal policy and therefore overall economic policy, and because of the impact that overall policy has on the way economic development affects the country and the individuals in it, it is very difficult to proceed to monetary union without that carrying with it some degree of political union. That factor has been one of the driving forces behind the adoption and development of the euro as part of a project of European integration. Therefore, any decision by the UK to join the euro would, most would accept, have implications for the level of pooling of sovereignty in a number of areas that that carried with it.
For economic reasons and reasons of sovereignty, and the important point that these arguments have run across party lines in the United Kingdom for many years, there has been a common policy of accepting that any decision on something so important should be adopted through a referendum.
One might ask why we need this commitment in this Bill. To be delicate, the public might have reason, as a result of recent debates, to be suspicious of whether commitments to referendums made by parties in manifestos have the level of value and confidence that they might have believed them to have. It is not for me to enlarge on that point. But, with this Bill including the provision to notify the Council of a decision to join the euro, it would be sensible for us to put beyond doubt that all parties in this Parliament, and those who are not of any party but are here to uphold the constitution, still subscribe to the view that a decision of this importance should be subject to a referendum. Including this provision takes it once and for all out of the political debate. It would be settled and decided that that is the view of all involved in this question.
I do not think any member of any political party would want it thought that, having made a commitment to a referendum, there was any doubt about that commitment. Therefore, it would be helpful to all political parties to have that written into the treaty so that no one can ever question their commitment. That is why I believe this is, I hope, an uncontentious amendment that should have the support of all sides of the Committee. I look forward to it being received in that manner. I beg to move.
We are beginning to make progress towards a consensus. I agree fairly substantially with the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell. The content of his amendment is highly appropriate; it is just its location in this Bill which is entirely inappropriate and wrong. I have no difficulty with the substance of what he is saying. I believe that I support a Government whose position in relation to the euro remains unchanged. They are in favour of the principle of joining the euro and I look forward to my noble friend confirming that policy, but in practice the conditions for that entry must be right. Those conditions have been laid fairly unambiguously by the Government and we all know the evaluation of economic tests made historically.
I can agree with the noble Lord that, at the end of that process when we believe the conditions have been met, there should be a referendum. But to locate that in this Bill to enable the ratification of the Lisbon treaty would be an act of complete folly with no logic. The only argument used to sustain it is to say that, because people might not trust the Government when they talk about referenda, anything on which we may need to have a referendum should be grounded in this Bill. That is a nonsense which needs to be opposed. I am sure that on sober reflection, knowing the cross-party agreement and consensus that the noble Lord has on the content, he will withdraw his amendment, knowing that this is the wrong place to put it.
My noble friend said one thing about which I was a little surprised in his opening remarks. I have always greatly admired his erudition and sophistication in his arguments, even if I have not always agreed. But to say that to have or to propose a referendum on any subject takes the matter out of political debate seems to fly completely in the face of the facts of the history. Every time a referendum has been held or suggested, it has been a political act of the highest order, designed not from high constitutional motives but because the people who propose or oppose it wish to achieve a particular political objective which they do not think they can achieve any other way. To say that having a referendum on this issue will take it out of the political debate flies in the face of history and reality.
I oppose this amendment precisely for the reasons that the noble Baroness gave in winding up the last debate. She referred to the importance of coherence—of not just having an ad hoc policy but one that makes sense taken together, one item with another. My idea of coherence is one of support for the concept of parliamentary democracy. That is why, if the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Goodlad had been put to the vote, I would have unhesitatingly supported it. We have to be serious about these matters and not just pick and choose which particular procedural or constitutional device we want according to whether it will get us the right answer.
When there is a matter as important as the question of an opt-in, for which the Government fought so hard for the right in the negotiations, to express any hesitation about Parliament having the right not just to be consulted but to decide on the matter is inconsistent with the belief in the supremacy of Parliament. If you are a real believer in the supremacy of Parliament and the need to restore it, you have to be ready to put the decisions of the Executive to the test of a parliamentary vote, by means of an effective vote and not just a consultative discussion.
By the same token, you ought to continue the process of parliamentary democracy by refusing to resort to the essentially Bonapartist device of a referendum, however popular that might be. That is inconsistent with the whole tradition of representative parliamentary democracy. Whoever has said it; however often it has been said; however many political parties have wanted to say it, have felt it convenient to say it, been pushed to say it or been pressed by sections of the press to say it, those who are true parliamentarians and believe in our representative democracy will not support the concept of a referendum, however unpopular that may be in certain quarters and however much they may be traduced for supporting the supremacy of Parliament rather than populist devices in some sections of the press. It is for that reason and principle that I am against this amendment—not because it is in the wrong Bill, although it certainly is and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, but because it is wrong in principle.
I did not want to enter into partisan matters, particularly ones going back so far in history. If my noble friend wishes to do so, I am happy to say that that was one of the most disreputable things that happened. Harold Wilson did not have a majority in his Cabinet, there had never been a national referendum and there has not been one since, and he resorted to the device of referendum precisely to deal with the political problem that his party was divided. He said, “We’ll have a referendum and members of the Cabinet can campaign on both sides. I am in favour”. He pulled the trick off and I am glad of the outcome, but the device was a shabby one. It will go down in the annals of the history of Parliament as one that put us on the wrong road.
In moving the amendment, the noble Lord said it was uncontentious, a point which has not found universal acceptance. The amendment is completely unnecessary because the treaty of Lisbon says precisely nothing about our commitment under the Maastricht treaty to monetary union. Our opt-out, as it is called—although it is an opt-in—and the ability of the British Government to take a sovereign decision to activate it, if that is their wish, is covered by the commitment of all three parties to a referendum. Much though I, like the previous speaker, dislike the instrument of a referendum, I regard it as a complete and absolute reality that such a sovereign decision will be taken only if there has first been a referendum. That will no doubt be confirmed by all three Front Benches before this short debate is over.
One has to ask why, when the treaties of Amsterdam and Nice were ratified, no one thought it necessary to put in such a provision. It is not relevant. If we had been ratifying the constitutional treaty, it is just conceivable that you could have mounted a case saying it was necessary. Because the constitutional treaty completely rewrote all the instruments—although some of them were kept virtually identical—you could have argued that, for the avoidance of all doubt, it was desirable to make clear that the commitment by all three parties for a referendum on the euro applied to the new constitutional treaty. But we are not talking about the constitutional treaty; we are talking about a treaty which acts by amendment. It has not amended the provision on which the three parties have said they are committed to a referendum—that is, a decision to join the euro. The amendment is unnecessary. I hope the noble Lord will come to the same conclusion and will withdraw his amendment.
The noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, is surely right that the amendment should be unnecessary. We can all agree with that because all the main parties have promised a referendum before signing up to the euro. But I fear it is necessary after the disappointing fate of the promise to give the people the final say on the constitution, now rearranged, as Giscard put it, as the Lisbon treaty.
If the Government mean to escape their manifesto commitment on the currency, some sophistry would obviously be required to bolster the claim that circumstances had changed. That is not impossible. Europe does not like referendums—it has lost 11 or 12 of them—and has already shown that it is glad to co-operate in avoiding a vote if that helps promote integration. The kind of thing that might happen is that the basic objectives of the European monetary policy, which are in, I think, Article 127, could be revised to put more emphasis on growth and employment—Sarkozy would like that—and it might help the argument that the single currency was no longer quite the same economic animal as before. Maybe the Court of Justice could offer a more prescriptive interpretation of Article 4, a new article brought in by the Lisbon treaty which flatly states that the Union’s currency is the euro, or a passerelle might be invoked—I do not know.
However, I know that the British people trust politicians less and less. It is very sad but that is how it is. The supremacy of the Court of Justice, which was so cogently and brilliantly expounded last week by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn, and the noble Lord, Lord Lester, must put in doubt governmental reassurances on the treaties, even when given in perfect good faith. That is why we need the provision on the face of the Bill.
A dismissive tone is adopted by many of your Lordships at the mere mention of referendums. The fondness for them of dictators and demigods— we heard about Bonaparte today—is brought up as though electoral intimidation were somehow a threat in 21st-century Britain. I do not think it is and I shall do my best to rescue the reputation of referendums from the assault on them by my noble friend Lord Brittan. The virtue of a referendum is that it cuts across party lines. Manifestos have rival packages of attractive and less attractive policies and you have to choose which package, on balance, you prefer. But a referendum comes pure and unbundled. Voters are not muddled by conflicting preferences or open to pressures from the Whips, who can sometimes coerce and cajole all but the bravest MPs to vote against their consciences. The secrecy of the polling booth can be a great protection.
In a referendum both sides are given equal airtime. The Government cannot make their case unanswered. Television editors cannot put their own slant on the story and people soon become surprisingly well informed. When I hear people talk about it in the House, I often think they do not realise that. During the Maastricht referendum, an enterprising academic asked 10 questions to a random sample of Danish voters—
I was referring to the Maastricht referendum in Denmark. An enterprising Danish academic asked 10 questions to a random sample of Danish voters and of Danish MPs—a very well informed bunch, you would have thought. They were not very demanding questions—ones such as “Who is the EU president?” and “Which country holds the presidency?”. The voters got more answers right than the MPs. An internal Eurobarometer study confirmed that result. It showed that citizens in those countries that have held referendums on European integration know nearly twice as much about Europe as citizens in the other countries. One of the countries that came up surprisingly well was Switzerland, which of course is not even in the EU.
Invoking the Swiss example is going too far, since Switzerland operates a system of decision by referendum which means its voters vote on hundreds of referendums every few years. They therefore have a very intimate knowledge of the matter. The noble Lord has not, however, referred to the experience in France and the Netherlands a mere two years ago, when it was fairly clearly demonstrated that the voters were voting about not the text that was before them but whether or not they liked Monsieur Chirac. That undercuts his argument. The debate on this provision is in any case about not whether referendums are a good thing—the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, referred to that—but whether it makes sense and is necessary to put a reference into this Bill to the three parties’ commitment to a referendum on the euro. The Committee will have plenty of opportunity later to debate the merits or demerits of a referendum when other amendments are moved.
I thank the noble Lord for making exactly the point in the context of the Swiss about why referendums are such a good thing. Although they are not in the EU, the Swiss become so well informed that when asked questions about the EU they happen to know more about them than people in the countries that are already members. That is exactly the point I am making.
Dicey was a great believer in referendums, because they put nation above party and focus objectively on a single big question—he presumably had in mind Irish home rule. John Locke said:
“If the thing be of great consequence”—
I think this thing is of great consequence—
“the proper umpire should be the Body of the People”.
If that was a good idea then, it must be an even better one today when there is unprecedented access to information through Wikipedia and the net. So please may we be spared talk about voters being too ignorant to take the right decision? If they are that ignorant, surely they are just as likely to elect the wrong party as to make the wrong choice in a referendum.
First I have a comment and then a question, the comment being that I have sat through most of the proceedings—not all of them—on this Bill. I have not heard one Member of this Committee imply, let alone say, that the reason for not having a referendum is that the electorate of the United Kingdom do not understand, do not know and are not competent to make a judgment. There are different ways of putting it but I have not heard it said. Secondly, is the noble Lord advocating, either in the context of this Bill or more generally, that we transfer to a plebiscitary democracy that begins to compare with that of Switzerland?
I am certainly not advocating the daily or weekly use of referendums, but I thought I heard from one or two noble Lords remarks about voters not being well informed enough to take the same wise decisions as Parliament. I stand by what I said.
We talk here about codecision and structured co-operation, article this and article that. I have myself been guilty of that twice today. Millions of our countrymen are not familiar with this arcane private language, but that does not entitle us to brush them aside. The ordinary voter has a pretty good grasp of what is really at stake here. Travel abroad shows them different conditions in Germany and Spain; prices and the jobs market give them a pretty good feel for the trade-off between inflation and recession at home. The only real reason to oppose this amendment would be to clear the way to adopt the euro without consulting the people. As recently as last September, Gordon Brown and David Miliband both repeated their promise that they would not do that. I was glad of that. For reasons not quite clear to me, they said that the currency was of even more constitutional significance than the Lisbon treaty. Nevertheless, the people have already been led up the garden path once on the constitution and disappointed in their expectations.
I am grateful for that intervention. It could be satisfactory if the election were immediately to precede a move to adopt this, that or the other measure. But if the election comes two or three years later, the bird may already have flown and it may be far too late. I think that that would be the case here.
The expectations of the people have been disappointed once. It must not happen again. I have pleasure in supporting the amendment.
Before the noble Lord sits down, will he accept that the reason why Dicey, previously an academic authority on the constitution, changed his mind about the relationship between Parliament and referenda was because he became violently opposed to devolution to Ireland and feared that the coalition which held the majority in the British Parliament would not prevent devolution, so moved to propose a referendum in order to get around Parliament?
I support my noble friend Lord Blackwell. I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Brittan is not in his place. I disagreed with much of what he said but one thing he said, which was very true and revealing, was that people’s attitude towards referenda is usually coloured by their view of the result. I am sure that one of the reasons that the Liberals and the Labour Party have reneged on their promise in their manifesto to provide a referendum on the treaty is because they know what the result would be—the people would reject it. That is the most reprehensible aspect of this debate.
To suggest that my noble friend’s amendment means that we are moving towards a kind of Swiss canton system with regular referendums is ridiculous. Surely there is a clear principle here. It is not what my noble friend suggested—that Parliament is always sovereign and that supporting referendums somehow contradicts the belief of its sovereignty, which is a view I share. It is, rather, that it is not for Parliament to give away the powers which have been entrusted to it by the people without the people’s consent. There is no question that the treaty achieves that and, were we to join the euro, there would be a massive transfer of power in an irreversible direction which could not be put right by a Government at subsequent general elections. That requires the consent of the people. So my noble friend is right to insist that this is included in the legislation.
This new-found concern to have purity in legislation is very touching. I have sat in this House and watched this Government use almost every criminal justice Bill as a Christmas tree on which to hang all kinds of bits and pieces only for them to argue that somehow we now have to have purity. This amendment is in order. It is certainly consistent with the Government’s declared policy. It is consistent—at least it was this morning—with the Liberal Democrats’ declared policy and it is consistent with Conservative policy. I see no reason at all why it should not be included in the Bill, unless we suspect that maybe yet another promise could be reneged on at a future date, which would be a grave disservice to our country.
I reflect on where we would be today if Britain had joined the euro. Our economic difficulties are considerable now, thanks to the mismanagement of the Government. But I shudder to think how much worse our position would be had we joined the euro. I very much support my noble friend in his amendment and I would have thought that the Government would embrace it with enthusiasm, if for no other reason than to give the Prime Minister something to hang on to. He seems to find it very hard to hang on to his declared policy from week to week.
If the noble Lord is referring to the Maastricht treaty, on which there was an issue about whether we should have a referendum, he will remember that we made a specific manifesto commitment to implement that treaty and we fought a general election on that basis. When the arguments were put to me that we should have a referendum, we would have been reneging on our manifesto commitment had we not done what we said. My objection is that this Government have not done what they said they would do.
The noble Lord is being rather unsubtle, but for very good reasons. We had plenty of opportunities to engage in referenda and they have not seized that possibility. Of course it is right that at present people trust politicians less and less, but it is important to recognise that Parliament has to reform itself. I am unquestionably of the view that, in the final analysis, Parliament must be sovereign. For that reason, I reject the idea of referenda.
I wholly agree—not for the first time—with the noble Lord, Lord Brittan. We have both been members of the European Commission; the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, served there with consummate accomplishment. It is very important that we should vest in Parliament, without any demur, the possibility that decisions Parliament makes may be unpopular. So be it. The electorate have their remedy. Whether it is one, two or three years later, it will not be forgotten. All the political parties are capable of reminding the electorate of what has happened.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord. He made the point earlier that the people can throw out a Government who have done something that they do not like. But what if the Government have given away power and sovereignty that can never be returned? That is the point, and that is why the argument being put by my noble friend is so important.
All Governments are capable of doing that. We are not confining it to the possibility of Governments making a wrong decision vis-à-vis Europe. I have no doubt that, in the final analysis, the electorate have a right to demand that their Government be brought to account. I regret intensely that all political parties in this House have come to the conclusion that referenda are acceptable. The whole idea of referenda is unacceptable. However, they have come to a decision which, not for the first time, I regard as unacceptable. But there is it is: it may now be a fact of life.
However, the question whether the amendment should feature in the Bill remains. I unhesitatingly come to the conclusion that it is entirely wrong. As has been said previously, we are entitled to debate whether referenda should be a part of our process, but it should be not in the context of this Bill. If this proposal were adopted, it would be entirely irrelevant to the Bill and the needs of a country.
It has been raised that there was a referendum in 1975. I was entirely wrong in supporting the view that Harold Wilson took—I do not think that the decision made had no effects on other causes. It would be entirely wrong to adjudge this situation on the basis of a referendum. For that reason, I am wholly against the amendment.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, for bringing us back to the question at the heart of this amendment; that is, whether it should be in the Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, asked. The noble Lord, Lord Brittan, perhaps rather mischievously, provoked noble Lords into the wider debate about referendums. It may be of interest, since I am never going to write my memoirs, that I was there in 1975—in fact, I was there two or three years before 1975—when Mr Anthony Wedgwood Benn, as he then was, proposed to the National Executive of the Labour Party a referendum on Europe as a way of healing the party’s divisions. He could not find a seconder to that proposal in the National Executive, because its members, like most parliamentarians, at that time saw a referendum as basically undermining the sovereignty and authority of Parliament.
The noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, is absolutely right: the more often that parliamentarians reach for the referendum as a convenient fig-leaf at a moment of difficulty, the more diminished is the authority of this Parliament. It is strange how at one point during this debate we are made to be concerned about the sovereignty of Parliament and then, at another, urged to use the referendum as a kind of opt-out.
It is always interesting to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. I am reminded of those lines from Kipling’s “If” which say,
“If you can bear to hear the truths you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools”.
He is very good at interpreting Liberal Democrat policy for his own ends. Let me make it absolutely clear, before it appears in blogs tomorrow, that we will not be supporting this amendment but that does not mean that I am announcing a change in Liberal Democrat policy. It is simply, as the noble Lord has said, that this has been hung on the Bill like a bauble on a Christmas tree. It is not unusual for that to happen. I think I have done it myself once or twice. However, let us recognise a bauble when we see one and not necessarily go into this. Basically, we have been presented with the old “When are you going to stop beating your wife?” question. It is irrelevant to this Bill. It is in the wrong place and for that reason we will not be supporting it. Finally, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, that we are, at last, reaching a breathtaking consensus. We are about to see the noble Lords, Lord Blackwell and Lord Hunt, marching shoulder to shoulder on the same amendment. That is consensus indeed.
There we go again—the knave making a trap for fools. There is no deal with the Government. We have said in both Houses that we believe that it is in our national interest to see this Bill go through. There has certainly been no lack of amendments to enable a full and good debate because the Conservatives have taken most of Bill Cash’s amendments from the Commons; with those they have not taken, they have made common cause with UKIP. We have had plenty of amendments to cover us and, as the noble Lord will have noticed, assembled on these Benches is what can only be described as a galaxy of informed talent. As I put in the House Magazine a week ago in my well read column, our secret weapon is to confuse our enemies with the facts.
I rise briefly to support my noble friend Lord Blackwell in this amendment. I brought this up on Second Reading. We need this clause in the Bill because the Government are wriggling out of manifesto undertakings and promises of referenda—they have made that something of an art form. If my noble friend presses his amendment, I will certainly support him. I hope that all noble Lords who wish to see a return to parliamentary integrity will do the same.
What a fabulous debate this has been. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Blackwell on having initiated a debate that has been extraordinarily useful and which I hope gets reported in the media across the United Kingdom. I very much enjoyed the appearance of the noble Lord, Lord McNally. I recall a phrase, “the elephant has at last entered the room”. It was his constant refrain that all we were trying to do in this House was to set elephant traps for him. Well, he has come and he has fallen straight into it.
I congratulate my noble friend Lord Waddington on having elucidated a reaffirmed commitment. However, I have to announce to those who read Hansard that I detected that it was through clenched teeth. It may be that that was just the appearance at the time, but he did seem to speak through clenched teeth. I still have my suspicions, bearing in mind what he said before—and this afternoon—about referendums: that they are some form of convenient fig-leaf. I cannot quite picture the elephant with that fig-leaf in reality. However, we shall return to that.
My noble friend Lord Blackwell started an important debate, and my noble friend Lord Brittan had some very interesting contributions to make—he said that a referendum does not take an issue out of political debate. Well, I think that often it takes it out of party-political debate and enables the issue, either for or against, properly to be discussed. But I was not sure whether he was dismissing it as a Bonapartist device or a populist device. It was interesting to note that he described both those aspects with some derision—
The answer is both. Bonaparte had many qualities, one of which was to play on the public by manipulating the issues on which he chose to have referendums and the time at which he chose to have them. That has been followed by his successors through the ages. The two are not alternatives.
It is the difference between a popular and a populist device. A populist device is one in which politicians, for their own ends, choose to manipulate the people; it is not an instrument of democracy. We have evolved over quite a few centuries a procedure known as Parliament, which is meant to filter and sift the process and enable the representatives of the people—Burke will be familiar to the noble Lord as a notable example—to exercise their judgment. That is the system that we have, which I applaud, defend and support, in good times and bad, whether the results lead to what I like or what I do not like.
I am grateful to my noble friend for that helpful steer. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, really did not score when he interrupted my noble friend to say that in France—he said this in his speech, too—the French people were not voting on the constitution. He ignored the fact that a copy of the constitution had been put through every door in France and he dismissed the French people not because of the populist device but because they were, he said, voting on Jacques Chirac.
I hate to give a piece of anecdotal evidence to the noble Lord, but I was actually in France at the time of the referendum. My next-door neighbour, who farms, showed me the large tome that had been put through his letterbox and said, in the vernacular, “What the hell am I meant to do with this?”. He then threw it in the waste-paper basket. There is a great deal of evidence better than my anecdotal evidence that the large number of French people who support the National Front—the neo-fascists—and the large number of French people who support the Trotskyite wing of the socialist party, who made up the backbone of the no vote, were not voting about the treaty at all. That evidence has been confirmed by any number of sources. I do not want to press the point but I wanted to illustrate why—this will come out more when we finally get on and debate the other amendments—a referendum does not have democratic legitimacy.
I never until this moment understood how much bureaucrats hated referenda, as the noble Lord does. It is with great sadness that I hear what he says, which is really about the sort of people with whom he mixes and the sort of company that receives a copy of the constitution and throws it straight into the waste-paper basket. My view of what happened in France was that the personality of Jacques Chirac loomed large over the referendum, but that the majority of the French people did not want that particular constitution. The noble Lord should not dismiss so easily the right of the people in a referendum to decide on these very important issues.
I do not hear anyone disputing the right of a people to vote in a referendum when a referendum is provided. What we dispute is the noble Lord’s right to represent the outcome of the French referendum mainly, purely and even substantially as a judgment on what was then the constitutional treaty, when he knows very well, as he is a highly intelligent man and an observer of events, that among the strong components of the no vote were xenophobes objecting to the entry of Turkey into the European Union and objectors to migration—the whole agenda of the Front National and Le Pen—as well as scaremongers who had utterly misrepresented what was being proposed. The Polish plumber also played a part in it. Even if someone does not have precise numerical recall, surely the noble Lord will recall that.
I remind the noble Lord that, at the same time as the referendum in France, there was a referendum in the Netherlands. The electorate of the Netherlands rejected the constitution by an even greater majority than the French, and they did not have a Chirac.
I think that we have probably gone as far down that road as is necessary. I want to return to the speech of my noble friend Lord Leach of Fairford, who was also bombarded by the noble Lords, Lord Hannay, Lord Kinnock and Lord Clinton-Davis, but who stood his ground. My noble friend had an important point to make—it has been reiterated by my noble friend Lord Forsyth and conceded to some extent by the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson—about why this issue has arisen in this way. It is because there is a lack of public confidence in the Government’s ability to deliver the referendum that has been promised. That is the context.
The noble Lord knows that I conceded no such thing as a generality. I conceded a specific party commitment on the euro and I said, with equal clarity, that the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, which we seem to have stopped debating in the past 10 minutes or so, was entirely wrong in terms of locating this matter in the Bill. That is the issue that the noble Lord should be addressing.
But I am addressing that issue. Why do we need it in this Bill? Because, as I was saying when the noble Lord interrupted me, the people lack confidence in the Government’s ability to deliver a referendum. Both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats have shown that it is perfectly possible for them to break a commitment to deliver a referendum. I could go down that road, but it is for the next debate. They have both broken promises for a referendum on the constitutional treaty. The simple fact is that I strongly support my noble friend’s amendment because the Government are breaking their bargain with the people. We must remind them of that and put this to the test.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, for whom I have highest regard, as he well knows, that that was an interesting but rather scratchy contribution. I hope that, when he rereads what he said to my noble friend Lord Kinnock, he will perhaps have a conversation with him outside the Chamber. Whatever the intent, what was said was not like the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral; let me put it like that.
I am going to avoid getting into what is actually the next debate. It is always a temptation, because we will be discussing the question of a referendum, the constitution and the reform treaty in the next group of amendments. I will therefore stick to debating the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, moved extremely well when we began. I will be brief.
The Government’s commitment to a referendum on the euro stands. It was made clear in 1997 and has been reiterated recently by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s Questions. That is what we would do. Members of the Committee who decide, for whatever reason, to equate the constitution with the reform treaty will—with reason, they will argue—not necessarily wish to believe or trust the Government. As I said, we will debate the issues surrounding that when we come to the next group of amendments. I am clear that, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said, there is a commitment from all three parties to put the important issue of the euro to the British people for a variety of reasons, whether to do with handing over control or to do with the significance and symbolism of such a move, which is an important aspect.
Sometimes I feel quite irrelevant in the debates, for which I have great fondness, on the Bill. I enjoy reading some of the discussions that have taken place, often between members of the same political parties—not least the opposition party, which has a variety of distinct views on its Benches.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, adds, “And indistinct views”, but I will leave that to one side. They are none the less very interesting views.
Having been the keeper of many pieces of legislation through your Lordships’ House, I was surprised to find that the amendment was accepted for debate. I queried it, not because it is not a perfectly reasonable issue to debate but because I did not think that it was relevant to the Bill. That remains my view. The amendment got through on a technicality in a sense, because there are some technical changes to preserve the UK opt-in and ensure that we are clear on a number of monetary policy issues, on to which the amendment has quite reasonably been hung. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, made sure that it was appropriate, so I say nothing to him on that. None the less, I was surprised. However, I agree with my noble friend Lord Tomlinson and other noble Lords that this is not the place to have this amendment. For that reason, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw it.
I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate and to the Minister for her response. A number of arguments have been put against the amendment. First, my noble friend Lord Brittan, the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and others have argued that referendums are wrong in principle. Those who believe that should clearly oppose the amendment. I disagree with them for the reasons eloquently set out by my noble friend Lord Leach, but clearly if you think that a referendum on the euro is wrong, you will oppose the amendment. The vast majority of contributions from around the Committee have indicated that the amendment should, in principle, be agreed with, but noble Lords have questioned whether it is in the wrong place and whether it is needed. Perhaps I may briefly address those points.
This is a treaty of Europe. The provisions on the euro and monetary union are major components of the treaty of Europe, the treaty on the functioning of Europe and the protocols that accompany them. As I made clear in my introduction, the Lisbon treaty amends those protocols to say that Her Majesty’s Government can notify the Council of their decision to enter the euro. We are debating a treaty on Europe, and the provisions on monetary union are a major feature of the European Community and its development. If there is any doubt about the UK Government’s policies on that and other issues and about the way in which the powers in the treaties should be exercised, the Bill implementing this treaty is exactly the right place to set those matters straight. Therefore, I cannot see any argument for saying that this is the wrong place for my amendment. If the Government were to offer a separate Bill to deal with the matter, I should be happy to accept it, but it seems to me convenient and perfectly in line with the purpose of these treaties to make the amendment here, as is the case with any of the other amendments that we have discussed to do with other passerelle provisions, other opt-ins and so on.
The other argument, put forward by the noble Lords, Lord Tomlinson, Lord McNally and Lord Hannay, is that the amendment is unnecessary. This goes back to the point about trust. I was delighted to hear the Minister reaffirm the Government’s commitment to a referendum on the euro and I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord McNally, on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench confirm, under interrogation, that the Liberal policy to support a referendum on the euro is unchanged. However, as I said in my opening remarks, it would not be surprising if the public were suspicious about commitments to referendums being met, which is why I think it necessary, in the interests of public trust, to include this in the Bill.
I wish to clarify a point made by my noble friend Lord Brittan. He said that I had suggested that a referendum on the issue would take the matter out of political debate. I did not suggest that a commitment to a referendum would make the issue non-political; I suggested that, if it were clear that all parties were committed to a referendum, the question whether or not to have a referendum would be taken out of political debate. However, there are clearly those in this Chamber who, despite agreeing with the notion of a referendum on the euro, want to find a reason for not including it in the Bill. If there are any doubters, I should make it clear that agreeing to this amendment would not in any way invalidate the treaty or prevent it from being ratified; it would simply be a procedural issue within the United Kingdom.
Those who oppose the amendment must accept that they open themselves up to the electorate questioning whether their reason for doing so is that they wish to leave themselves some degree of freedom. That may not be their intent but I do not think that they can blame anyone but themselves if that is what people read into their motives. That is a decision for them. I think that it is in the interests of political trust and democracy in this country that we make it clear that, before we enter the euro, all parties are committed to a referendum on the matter. For that reason, I wish to test the opinion of the Committee.
Clause 7 agreed to.
Clause 8 [Commencement]:
[Amendment No. 161 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
162: Clause 8, page 4, line 8, at beginning insert “Subject to subsections (4) to (9) below,”
The noble Lord said: With this amendment we come to the core of our many debates, although I must confess that we seem to have come to that core several times already. I have no doubt that we will come to it again. We all know what it is. These Benches question why the present Government resist a referendum on the Lisbon treaty while we believe more strongly than ever that there should be one. I say “more strongly than ever” because perhaps I did not start with enough faith and commitment, as I should have done, about the nature of this treaty text. When I have read it through line by line as we have come to the amendments and looked at Open Europe’s The Lisbon Treaty and the European Constitution: A side-by-side comparison, I have been absolutely staggered by the fact that word after word, line after line, sentence after sentence and paragraph after paragraph are exactly the same. It is the same document.
Even if not everyone agrees with that, the father of the convention on the constitutional treaty, Valery Giscard d’Estaing, saw the point immediately. He announced very firmly that all—I emphasise all—of the earlier proposals were in the new text, although he did candidly admit that some of them would be disguised. The point was also happily and enthusiastically conceded by a whole range of European Union leaders. In fact, almost all of them did except our own in the United Kingdom.
It is curious to be told day after day that something is not which clearly is. It is as though the Government’s case has fallen into the hands of some child fantasy storyteller, and not a very good one at that. The story seems to zigzag from argument to argument and scene to scene in different parts of the forest. First we are told that it is different because the constitution concept has been abandoned; then we are told that, anyway, even if it is a constitution, the red lines will protect us. That, of course, is the classic Billy Bunter argument: “I did not steal the currant cake, and anyway it did not have currants in it”. Anyway, the European Scrutiny Committee in the other place said that the red lines leaked “like a sieve”. It said that the opt-out from the charter was non-existent, which turns out to be true; that the tax danger was mostly never there, at any rate not for direct taxation; and that the protection for foreign policy is highly debatable. Anyway, the Government made all those claims last time for the constitutional treaty which preceded this one.
Then, we were told: “Never mind about that. If that doesn’t stand up, it’s not constitutional”. Well, it transparently is constitutional, and our own Constitution Committee confirms it. It says that it has inevitable constitutional implications. Are we to dismiss our own House of Lords committee on that? Then, the Government said: “Well, even if it’s constitutional, we should not really go for referendums”. I admit, having listened to the earlier debate and the stentorian arguments of my noble friend Lord Brittan of Spennithorne, that I am not a fan of referendums either. I must confess that I took a referendum Bill for Northern Ireland through the House of Commons many years ago, with the total support of all my colleagues, even those who were not very keen on referendums. Nevertheless, it was felt to be justified in that case. Heaven knows that we have had enough of them recently. The current Government have used the referendum weapon very frequently, and now I understand that it is proposed to use it in Scotland. That is what I read in the newspapers. If people do not like referendums, that is understandable; but if it is raised into being a principle against referendums, it becomes totally unintelligible.
If that argument does not stand, then it is argued that other countries are not having a referendum. Well, Ireland is having one very shortly. And do we always have to be the copycats? Do we always have to say, “If they are not doing it, we must follow suit”? Then, we are told that it is too complicated for the British people to understand, although the Irish are apparently managing to understand it and the French and the Dutch managed to understand it. I know that some lively words were exchanged on that in the previous debate, and I do not want to stir them up again. However, I do not think that that proposition can survive for two seconds without raising questions about the intellectual capacities and sheer shrewdness of the people when carefully and properly consulted about an issue.
As for the concept of the constitution being abandoned, this is where we reach the edges of credulity. We know that it is just the wrapping that has been abandoned. I am all for pretty wrapping and doing up parcels beautifully. When I visit Japan I think how marvellous they are at wrapping things up. But it is what is inside that matters. It really is wearying constantly to be told that two and two does not make four and that black is white. In the words of my right honourable friend Kenneth Clarke, with whom I have worked closely in the past, will the Government,
“stop all this nonsense about its being different from the constitution when it is plainly the same in substance”?—[Official Report, Commons, 5/3/08; col. 1785.]
That seems pretty definite.
Having listed all those arguments that are paraded, there is one reason above all why none of these pleas should be accepted: the Government promised a referendum, as did the Liberal Democrats and my own party. We did it in our manifestos in 2005. The parties went even further than the promises in the manifestos. In the Sun, the former Primer Minister, Tony Blair, said,
“we will have a referendum on the constitution in any event—and that is a government promise”.
As for the Liberal Democrats—I was going to say the dear old Lib Dems, but I am not sure those are quite the right words—we are getting used to their vagaries. My colleague William Hague had a few words for the anatomical state of their party in the Commons debates. I shall spare their blushes here; I think that these matters are much too vulgar for your Lordships’ House. However, their new leader, Mr Clegg, said at their party conference:
“Any proposals which involve significant change in the relationship between the Union, the member states and its citizens should be approved in Britain through a referendum”.
What could be plainer than that?
Every independent analysis confirms that the two treaties are virtual replicas. According to the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, a very distinguished committee, as I know, 240 of the 250 proposals in the constitutional treaty are reproduced identically in this one. That very distinguished committee—by no means dominated by the Opposition; on the contrary, it is dominated by the Government—said that,
“there is no material difference between the provisions on foreign affairs in the Constitutional Treaty, which the Government made subject to approval in a referendum and those in the Lisbon Treaty on which a referendum is being denied”.
The noble Lord referred to some of our positions and mentioned William Hague’s involvement with the Bill in the Commons. He and his Front-Bench colleagues have often used the words of Mr Hague’s fascinating amendments for the text of some of their own amendments in this place. But does he agree that William Hague was regarded as a spectacularly incompetent and unsuccessful national leader in the general election campaign, mainly because he invoked the fear of Europe as his main plank—10 days to save the pound—and that he did very badly in that election? Does he also agree that there is an interesting comparison between the absence of his leader in the Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, who was here only on the first occasion, and the presence of the leader of the Labour Party on the government Benches and the leader of the Liberal Democrat Party on the Liberal Democrat Benches? Is there some significance in the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde? Is it a fear of a William Hague repetition?
That is the sort of intervention that lowers the tone of your Lordships’ debates and makes me quite glad that I am not in the other place, where many of us for many years endured that sort of thing, sometimes delivered with very fine oratory, sometimes with a load of rubbish. I had hoped that in this place we could if not rise above, then at least step aside from that kind of intervention. I am not going to dignify it by responding to it.
I quoted the Foreign Affairs Committee of the other place, and I was going on to say very briefly, because we do not want to delay ourselves too long, that promises were made and promises should be kept. I really do believe that the electorate will not take kindly to being treated like children and fobbed off with fairytales, because fairytale it is, and they will take ample revenge on those who try to do that to them and who try to pull such a massive layer of thick, pure, untreated wool over their eyes. I beg to move.
It is not sophistry to argue, as I propose to do, that the reform treaty that we have before us is a very different treaty from the constitutional treaty that, having been rejected in France and the Netherlands by referendum, was withdrawn by all 27 Heads of State. I want to rely heavily on evidence that has been produced in this House before. I remember, in particular, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, taking us through some of the arguments that were produced by the Dutch Council of State, an independent body in the Netherlands advising the Dutch Government and the Dutch Parliament about the decisions that they had to make. I shall briefly quote two paragraphs from its report because they are pertinent. It said:
“Unlike the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe [the reform treaty] provides no arguments for a gradual expansion of the EU towards a more explicit state or federation. The purpose of these changes, taken together, is to rid the proposed Reform Treaty as far as possible of the elements from the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe which could have formed a basis for the development of the EU into a more explicit state or federation”.
“All this means that the proposed Reform Treaty is substantially different from the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe”.
This is high-quality independent legal advice, given to a parliament and Government that had to face up to the decision of a referendum on the constitutional treaty. Anybody who has read the whole report on the Dutch decision will be totally convinced by the argument. The facts are there for anybody in the Committee to read; they have been referred to frequently in previous debates. I assert absolutely and clearly that anybody who says that there is no difference between the rejected constitutional treaty and the current reform treaty is flying in the face of all the available evidence. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, knows this and is embarrassed.
If the noble Lord can find a scintilla of evidence that I argued on that basis, I would be grateful if he could bring it to my attention and I will check whether I was taking the right medication that day. I have no such evidence of ever having used what I regard as an essentially fatuous argument. I am not going to give way again because we have plenty of points of substance to debate, rather than these childish debating points. I have told the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, that I will not give way to him because his are always childish debating points.
What I have said is very clear. There is a difference between the constitutional treaty that was rejected and the reform treaty that we have before us. The referendum pledge was made in relation to one and not the other. I believe that the pledge was wrong and said so in this Chamber at the time. My right honourable friend Tony Blair, then Prime Minister, made a major error of judgment in that decision. The pledge that was made at that time is not transferable to these completely different and new circumstances. I hope that, if the noble Lord does not have a flash of common sense before the end of the debate and does not withdraw his amendment, it will be resoundingly defeated.
Today we have a good opportunity to underline the importance and worth of this Chamber. I have always been impatient with those who talk of this House adding value to the legislative process as though our function were merely to make the legislative sausage-machine churn out Bills of better quality and in greater quantity. In fact, we have far more important functions, such as preventing the House of Commons from unilaterally extending the life of a Parliament or otherwise abusing the constitution.
Today we have a duty of enormous constitutional significance. Surely we have a duty to make Members of the other place honour the promises that they all made to their constituents that there would be a referendum on the matters formerly in the constitutional treaty and now in the treaty of Lisbon. I put it in that way because I am shocked and amazed at the way in which some people have suggested that MPs and the Government are freed from their promises because the constitutional treaty no longer exists. Common sense and decency tell us that we should look at the substance, not the form.
We are talking of the Government’s promise to hold a referendum on specific matters that would alter the functioning and scope of the activities of the European Union. These are matters formerly in the constitutional treaty and now in the Lisbon treaty, such as a full-time President of the European Council, barred from holding a national office; the Council becoming a formal EU institution, subject to jurisdiction of the Court; the coming into existence of a Foreign Minister in all but name and an EU diplomatic service; the treaty being amendable without a formal treaty negotiation; the EU getting explicit legal personality; the Court having jurisdiction over justice and home affairs; the Charter of Fundamental Rights; and the abandonment of the veto in some 40 to 60 areas. Those are some of the matters in respect of which a referendum was promised and those are matters in respect of which a referendum is being denied.
There are some who want this House to remain a largely nominated House. I have to say that if this House, as presently constituted, is not even prepared to use its limited powers to make the Government honour their promise to the British people, it does not deserve to survive.
We on these Benches have one technical problem with this amendment. My noble friend Lord Roberts of Llandudno tells me that the Welsh question is not entirely the same as the English question. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, as a fluent Welsh speaker, will recognise that.
Let us leave that aside for one moment, however, and address the underlying question. Is this really the treaty to end all treaties, or is it, like the Amsterdam and Nice treaties, a further amendment of the treaty of Rome, which it is therefore appropriate for Parliament to ratify?
We have heard a lot from Members on the Conservative Front Bench over the past six days, occasionally trying to make fun of the Liberal Democrats, often to cover what seemed to be their confusion. Some rather rambling speeches have resulted from their lack of conviction and the fact that the arguments that they have been asked to make are not ones in which they believe. We have had a Front Bench wavering between the Conservatives’ Eurosceptic supporters and the remaining, but distinguished and committed, Europeans on their Benches, without much guidance from their party leadership as to what their party’s overall position should be. I recall that, in the ratification debates on the Amsterdam and Nice treaties, William Hague was bitterly Eurosceptic, telling us that this would lead to the immediate creation of a European army and warning of dreadful consequences if each was passed. Much more sensibly, David Cameron has avoided making his overall policy on the European Union at all clear.
I note from eurofacts, that valuable source of information on the European Union, the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, telling us that this is a treaty that,
“will fundamentally and finally tilt the balance of power away from the nation states to the unelected Eurocracy in Brussels”.
I am not quite sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Howell, agrees with that or whether he thinks that it is not entirely the case. I heard the noble Lord on a previous day say that we were playing cricket while others were looking after their own interests. I was reminded of that wonderful cartoon from, I think, 1972, which showed the other members of the European Community putting on their soccer kit and Sir Alec Douglas-Home putting on his pads—the decent Englishman going into bat with these foreigners who do not understand how to play by our rules.
We see this as an amending treaty. It is not the European constitution. There are some significant and important differences between what was originally proposed in the overhyped convention and what is in this amending treaty. Many of us, myself included, have been through ratification debates on a series of amending treaties and have listened to the likes of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, and others telling us each time that Maastricht or Amsterdam or Nice was the final straw that would break British liberties, parliamentary sovereignty and everything else. They have not.
We recognise that, as the world changes, as this country becomes increasingly tied in with its partners on the Continent and as, in a whole host of ways, our economy and our society require international co-operation, some changes need to be made. We also recognise the justification for this amending treaty. The European Union now consists of 27 member states and will, within the next five years, consist of more than 30 member states, which also will require a number of amendments. For those reasons, we on these Benches will not support this rather dishonest Conservative amendment, which, like many others, is a means of covering over the deep divisions within the Conservative ranks.
I should like to elaborate on the words of my noble friend Lord Wallace. No self-respecting Welshman could say yes or no, because the words used are “Cyfundeb Lisbon”. “Cyfundeb” is a connection—a Methodist connection, a Presbyterian connection, a Congregational connection. It is not a treaty at all. No one could answer the referendum question in Welsh. Substituting a “t” for the “f” makes a big difference, like the one between a constitution and a treaty. Somehow or other, the Conservative Front Bench must sort this out. Does it want us to vote for a constitution, a connection or a treaty?
I thought that the Committee would enjoy that. I support these amendments. From UKIP’s point of view, a referendum on the Lisbon treaty is second best. However, even if we were to get such a referendum and win it, it is difficult to see how we would be wholly released from our ensnarement in the project of European integration.
Since the leaders of all three main political parties favour staying in the European Union, at any cost it would seem, it is not difficult to foresee the sort of things that would happen straight after the British people had voted down this treaty by a massive majority, as of course they would if given the chance. The first thing that would happen is that the Prime Minister would crawl off to Brussels with his tail between his legs to patch up the situation as best he could and to beg for mercy from our Eurocratic masters. He would be supported in this degrading venture by the Liberal Democrats, with, I suspect, the Conservatives making uncertain noises in the wings. None of them would say that they wanted to take the opportunity of the British people’s expression of their view to leave the European Union.
There would then be two probable ways forward. First, the Eurocrats might agree that the treaty could not go ahead without British participation and that, therefore, another period of reflection was called for, as it was after the French and Dutch rejections of the constitution. The project would carry on pretty well regardless, stretching clauses in the existing treaty to a credibility achieved only by the judicial activism of the Luxembourg Court. After all, Brussels legislated 25 per cent faster after the French and Dutch rejections than it did before. The claim that the EU cannot function without this treaty, given all its new members, will prove just as deceitful this time as it did last time. Another treaty will probably be slowly cooked up. It might be more beguiling and even more confusing than this one, giving even greater scope for development after it is passed. That is one way forward.
The other way forward is that a special protocol will somehow be cooked up to accommodate the wishes of the surly and ungrateful British people. The other countries will go ahead with the treaty. Over time, the judgments of the Court will wear us down piecemeal and we will gradually be wholly devoured by the corrupt octopus. Members of the Committee who are nervous of a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, because they fear that it might lead to our early departure from the European Union, may relax. That will not happen, which is why we say that a referendum on Lisbon is second best and why we want a referendum on whether we stay in or leave the European Union. I shall speak to that liberating prospect under Amendment No. 167A.
Of course, a referendum on Lisbon would be better than nothing. From our point of view, it would have two great advantages. First, the campaign would at last enlighten the British people as to the true extent of their entrapment in this project of European integration. It would enlighten them as to its colossal economic cost and the burdens that it places on them in their trade with the great wide world outside the sclerotic European economy. That would be a step in the right direction. Secondly, in spite of the fact that the project would somehow struggle on, the UK’s rejection of the treaty might cause a genuine debate in Brussels, from which some genuine reform might emerge. Brussels might even be forced to revisit the laudable aim of the Laeken declaration of bringing Europe closer to the people, whereas the constitution that emerged from that declaration and this treaty, which mirrors it precisely, go in the opposite direction.
I fear that this beast in Brussels is not that sort of animal. An octopus does not easily become a dolphin, but it might, just a little bit. Anyway, the confusion would be another step in the right direction. I support the amendment.
We have heard many of these arguments before, with the exception of the Welsh connection, so I will not repeat them. The nub of the Government’s dilemma comes down to whether the treaty of Lisbon is, in effect, the same as the constitutional treaty on which they promised a referendum. I must return to the point that has been made repeatedly; namely, that the two differ because the Lisbon treaty, it is claimed, is an amending treaty and the constitutional treaty was not. However, the constitutional treaty was just as much an amending treaty as the Lisbon treaty is, because they both would make amendments to the existing treaty text.
When the constitutional treaty was published, the Government made it clear that most of its text was the same as that of the existing treaties but was published with the amendments incorporated in it. To claim that the Lisbon treaty is different because the treaty only lists the amendments is to play with words. You have to look at the text side by side once the amendments have been included. Amendments were incorporated in the constitutional treaty and amendments have been incorporated in the Lisbon treaty. The two texts both have amendments incorporated. That is what we need to concentrate on.
At an earlier stage, I made the claim that, having looked at the two texts side by side, I could find only two articles in the constitutional text that were not reproduced in whole or in part in the Lisbon consolidated text. The Leader of the House kindly wrote to me following that. While she declined to provide her own analysis, she attached analysis of the two texts by Professor Steve Peers for Statewatch. The analysis that she provided lists 35 differences between the constitutional text and the Lisbon text. That is of itself interesting; it gets us to the ground where we can at least talk about those individual differences and how significant they are. Many of them are insignificant. If anything, the analysis reinforces the point that, if we are now able to compare the two texts and look at the differences, as the Minister has invited me to do, we see that those differences are minor.
What is more significant is that, as I go through the 35 differences provided to me, I can find only two articles in the constitutional text that are not reproduced in whole or in part in the Lisbon text. I wrote to the Minister on 8 May to make that point. On the basis of the information that she has provided me, is she prepared to accept that? If she accepts it, as I think she must, surely it fundamentally blows away the argument that these texts are different in kind or in substance. The differences can be reduced to a small list and few of them have any significant effect.
I cannot understand why the Government have taken the attitude they have to granting a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. They are making a rod for their own backs. It does not matter what they say or how much they say that the Lisbon treaty is not the same as the constitution; the public at large simply does not believe it. That is why 86 per cent of the population consistently say that they want a referendum on this Lisbon treaty. The Government will ignore that at their peril.
I forget who it was this afternoon who said it was unwise of Tony Blair to have promised a referendum on the constitution. The fact is that he did, and that promise went down well with the electorate. They have remembered it and now they are demanding it. The Government will ignore that demand at their peril. They are going through dangerous waters at the present time. Their refusal to grant a referendum has at least something to do with that. It has undermined the confidence of the people in the truthfulness of the Government. They still believe, and always will believe, that they were made a promise at the last election that they would be consulted before this constitutional treaty—call it what you like—was agreed and put into operation. Quite frankly, if the Government want to retrieve their position from the present abysmal one amongst the electorate, they should start listening to them. The electorate is telling them, “We want a referendum; please give it to us”. I repeat: they ignore that request at their peril.
Some noble Lords have said this afternoon that the Lisbon treaty is not the same as the constitution. Of course it will not be the same word for word because certain different agreements have been made, some of them worse than the constitution. I simply cannot understand why our Government, virtually alone among the other 26 members of the European Union, believe that the Lisbon treaty is different from the constitution.
Let me quote some of the countries. There is Germany:
“The substance of the constitution is preserved. That is a fact”.
That was German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, in the Telegraph on 29 June 2007. Or there is Spain:
“We have not let a single substantial point of the constitutional treaty go ... It is, without a doubt, much more than a treaty. This is a project of foundational character, a treaty for a New Europe”.
Or there is the Czech Republic:
“Only cosmetic changes have been made and the basic document remains the same”.
Or there is the Austrian Government on 25 June 2007:
“The original treaty for a constitution was maintained in substance”.
Or—the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson will be interested in this—there is the European Parliament, which,
“welcomes the fact that the mandate safeguards the substance of the constitutional treaty”.
I could go on and on, but I know noble Lords will not want that. Finally, there is Jean-Claude Juncker, Prime Minister of Luxembourg:
“Britain is different. Of course there will be transfers of sovereignty. But would I be intelligent to draw the attention of public opinion to this fact?”.
The British Government seem to be alone amongst its partners in saying there is a difference between the constitutional treaty and the Lisbon treaty. There plainly is not, and nobody else believes it.
As noble Lords know I always want to be helpful to the Government. I want to be helpful in this instance and urge them to do the right thing, to keep their promise and have the referendum. I am sure that their rating in the polls would go up overnight.
We have heard about Wales and I will say a word about Ireland, where I have my holiday home. As everyone knows, Ireland is the only member state compelled by the interpretation of its constitution by the Supreme Court of Ireland to hold a referendum on this subject. I spend about two and a half months a year in the Republic of Ireland, where all three main parties are now to campaign in favour of support for the treaty of Lisbon—Sinn Fein of course is campaigning against.
I have not discerned the slightest enthusiasm among the general population of west Cork for the subject. I certainly have not discerned the slightest interest in the tabulated legalism which involves construing whether the treaty of Lisbon is very or only marginally different from the so-called constitutional treaty. I have discerned that, whatever happens in the referendum, it will be decided not because of the content of either treaty, but because of the popularity or lack of it of Brian Cowen’s Government and any resentment or lack of it towards the enlargement of Europe involving eastern Europe. It will be a referendum not on the treaty but on wider political considerations. It is uncertain which way the referendum will go but it will not at all be a barometer of support for the matters now being debated. I very much regret that it was ever decided to make a promise about a referendum and that in order to change policy all three parties, to some extent, are having to walk upon their hands. But the main thing is the merits rather than the legalistic arguments of the kind that we sometimes hear.
It is clear from the manifestos of the major parties that they have no objection in principle to the use of referendums in the context of European affairs. Over some 40 years in Parliament, I have had grave reservations about the use of referendums generally. I have tended to take the view of Edmund Burke that Members of Parliament are elected as representatives, not as delegates, and that the use of a referendum tends to inhibit their judgment, particularly in matters of great complexity.
But that view depends on Members of Parliament being able to fulfil their function. The reality is that over the past 10 years, with the use of programming—particularly, in the context of this Bill—Members of Parliament have not been given adequate time to fulfil the function they ought to do. Therefore, given the way in which this Bill has been treated in another place, there is a strong argument—regardless of whatever view one may take about whether the constitution is the same as the treaty and so on—for giving the public an opportunity to express a view which has not been reflected adequately in another place because of the way in which the Government have inhibited debate.
I thought that the proposed constitutional treaty was legally unprecedented. It would have legally abolished the European Union and refounded it under a single constitutional order. That is a very important point which has not been touched upon as yet. The IGC mandate made that very clear and records that all 27 heads of government agreed that:
“The constitutional concept—which consisted in repealing all existing treaties and replacing them with a single text called a constitution is abandoned”.
The constitutional treaty would have done something which was legally unprecedented across Europe and here: it would have abolished all the previous treaties we have debated and introduced a single written constitution for Europe. That would have been quite novel for the UK where we have no written constitution.
This treaty is constitutionally different from the constitutional treaty because it amends existing treaties. In effect, it does constitutionally what the Single European Act, Maastricht, Nice and Amsterdam did—it makes amendments to its predecessors. Those previous treaties neither replaced nor repealed their predecessors—and that is the fundamental difference between the Lisbon treaty and the rejected constitutional treaty. That is what makes the difference and that is why going back to a promise made in regard to a constitutional treaty does not wash when we are now debating the rightness or wrongness of a referendum. The constitutional treaty would have done something quite different from what this treaty does in constitutional terms for all of us.
It is always a great pleasure to follow in a debate the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, because he always sets out in engaging transparency what he is trying to achieve. On this occasion he has damned with faint praise the idea of a referendum on Lisbon but stated that it is a step in the right direction. I cannot imagine why anyone else in this House, other than his noble friend opposite and the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, would wish to go on that journey with him, even for a step in the right direction. It is very helpful that the noble Lord has indicated the objective that is being pursued.
On the content of the constitutional treaty and this treaty, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, has just referred very effectively, it is sad that it is quite obvious that none of those who assert violently that they are exactly the same have taken the trouble to read the opinion of the Dutch Council of State. This is a totally non-partisan, non-party body of eminent lawyers and others which gives advice to the Dutch Parliament and the Dutch Government. What it states is not a textual analysis saying that there are six changes, 12 changes or 14 changes, but that the whole nature of the constitutional treaty—this is the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons—was completely different from the Lisbon treaty. Its thrust and intention were totally different and that is why the two are not the same. It is not based on the numbers of dots and commas that have or have not been changed. I doubt that we shall ever get closure on this but I wish one or two people might read that opinion. It is only 15 pages long and it is quite cogent. It may not convince everyone but it is really quite cogent.
Whether or not referendums on European Union documents of great complexity are the right way to go and a more democratically legitimate method of gaining approval than that of parliamentary ratification is a serious argument. It is one which we are having here today and, despite having been called a bureaucrat 13 years after I ceased to be one, I have no hesitation in stating that, in my view, there is no foundation whatever for arguing that a decision on a document such as this, which consists of several hundred pages of complex prose, is democratically more legitimate if it is submitted to a referendum than if it is voted on in two Houses of Parliament. After all, the case for parliamentary ratification has been supported by every party in this Chamber for many years. Only more recently—and sometimes for opportunistic reasons—has it been questioned.
The figures for the referendums that took place in France and the Netherlands were much lower than the turnout in national elections for a Parliament that could have ratified the treaty and I do not find them convincing. The arguments for going ahead with parliamentary ratification and for not accepting the amendment are extremely powerful. Moreover, when we have tried a referendum in this country we were told at the time that it was going to clear the air and finish the argument for ever. I wish it had. But it has not, of course, and the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, and many of his friends are determined that it never shall. We should have no illusions about going down the referendum route; it would be damaging. It is less good and less democratically legitimate than, after very full scrutiny—with seven days in Committee and several days on Report to come—taking a decision in this House which does not involve a referendum.
This question has powerful arguments on both sides. I have come narrowly to the view that it would be wrong to support the amendment but only after thinking long and hard. At the end of the day—this is a point made in the previous debate by the noble Lord, Lord Brittan—we are a parliamentary democracy and I respect the right of the Government to decide to bring the treaty for parliamentary ratification. I suspect that the Government will pay a political price for that because their refusal to take the matter to a referendum will be thrown back in their face for a long time to come.
Opinion polls and other ways of determining popular opinion show quite a strong undercurrent against membership of the European Union or, at least, against certain consequences of our membership. In the months and years to come that should be addressed very seriously; otherwise, the fact that we have not had a referendum will be a running sore. There is a place for referendums in a democracy—I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, would agree with this—and there have been referendums on other occasions: in either 1975 or 1976; there will be one in Scotland apparently over the question of whether the union should continue; and there was one in Wales some years ago on whether pubs should open on a Sunday, which was obviously a matter of deep constitutional importance and came to a sensible conclusion. I am told by government representatives that if there was a proposal to change the voting system for Parliament, for example, that might very properly be put in a referendum.
The problem underlying the popular hostility to Parliament and to the European Union is, to a degree, a lack of confidence in politicians. That is partly the way in which politics is reported from the other place. I say in parenthesis that in my five or six years as a Member of this House I have observed a slight deterioration in standards. Earlier in the debate we had a suggestion that somebody had contempt for the people and there was a reference to childish debating points. I wonder whether these ways of expressing ourselves are the best way forward. At Question Time I often hear people shouting to get in rather than allowing the natural process to determine who should speak. There are real issues about how politics is conducted which I hope we will attend to.
I often go back to Lord Hailsham’s Dimbleby lecture 20 years ago where he spoke about the emergence in our country of what he called an “elective dictatorship”. The Committee stage of this Bill is not the time to go into that in detail but one could instance all sorts of ways in which that prophecy, when there was a Conservative Government, has come true. For example, the absence of free votes on questions where there ought to be free votes and the tendency for decisions to be made by the elected Government who do not take enough account of other institutions in our society. A democracy requires both elected representatives and strong institutions which the Executive know to defer to and to consult. In the years to come, although we may not have a referendum on this question, there are profound questions about how our democracy works and, unless they are attended to, there will be further calls for a referendum.
On the substance of the question, my impression is that the European Union is going less in the direction of a superstate than it used to be, partly as a consequence of expanded membership. One hardly ever hears today the mantra “ever-closer union”; that seems to have been quietly dropped. The treaty of Lisbon seems to be largely a response to the fact that the Union has grown so large. In many ways it has a more intrinsic recognition of the nation states within than previously might have been assumed to be the case.
There is a cumulative effect from having the different treaties over the years. If I felt that the treaty of Lisbon really was doing what the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, who is no longer in her place, was saying just now, I would come down narrowly on the side of going for a referendum, even in the face of the Government’s opposition. In view of what she and others—I refer to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay—have said, I come narrowly down on the view that we should not try to force a referendum on the country. It would be deeply damaging and in practice it would be a very difficult process to see through. There are, however, profound issues that underlie the reason why the Prime Minister and other party leaders gave that assurance foolishly at the last election. If we do not attend to these issues in the years to come we will find that this question will come back to us again.
Since the noble Lord, Lord Lester, has referred to the Irish case, I would like to add a brief point about that. Ireland in fact had two referendums. The first referendum was on the approval or otherwise of the constitutional treaty and that was lost. The second referendum had two questions that were locked together. The first question was the same as had occurred in the first referendum; the second question was, “Do you believe that Ireland should continue its traditional policy of neutrality?”. That explains why the second referendum was carried—you had to vote either for two proposals or none.
I found the speech of the right reverend Prelate very timely. He said certain things that have not been said by anybody else about the problem of connecting with the people; he also said that the Government—the Labour Party in this case—and maybe the Liberal Democrats are doing themselves short-term damage. This is very important. It may well be that the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats are doing themselves some short-term damage but why are they doing it? They are doing it because they think the strategic position of this country demands that we stay and play a very active part in the European Union. What is on the table is an incremental treaty—I do not know what other word would make some people happier or more afraid; it involves incrementalism. Although the treaty cannot be held responsible for this, we have seen, in the last year alone, several issues—Russia and energy policy through problems of justice and home affairs to migration and so on—in which it has become increasingly apparent that we need an extension of co-operation, of QMV and so on.
The question therefore becomes, “Is this something in a parliamentary democracy that is easy to judge by referendum?”. I echo my noble friend Lord Tomlinson in saying that I thought that the Prime Minister made the wrong decision four or five years ago to go for a referendum. He was perhaps on better terms with Rupert Murdoch at that time. The substantive reason is that if we look at the sort of campaign that we would run on a referendum it would be a xenophobic, one-sided, misrepresentation of what is happening in Europe. That would not enhance the value of parliamentary democracy and it would be a mad example of a reversion to populism such as would have been associated with a referendum in 1953 on capital punishment.
Parliamentary democracy requires a lot of things to make it work. It requires some balance of different priorities on expenditure along with the budget. It requires a balance between freedom of speech—as we were discussing the other day—and not allowing people freely to intimidate other people in the community. Every day of the week we have to get these things right through parliamentary democracy. If we allowed this to go forward this time and said, “This is how we operate parliamentary democracy in this country”, it would be a precedent that would come back to haunt us. Certainly we have to make the case; certainly on doorsteps there may be an issue at the moment because of a Pavlovian reaction to the question, “What happened to our referendum?”. That is where the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, is coming from; he wants to get out of the whole thing. That is not my paranoia; it is what the noble Lord has just said, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, pointed out. That is why I believe that we should stand up for parliamentary democracy.
If the Conservative Party comes up with some policy before a general election in 2010, I will be very surprised. It is currently putting together its policy with sticking plaster. If, as we all think is very likely, the treaty goes through, what exactly are we to make of David Cameron’s remark about not leaving matters there? That is the best he can do. There will be a crisis in the Conservative Party. Conservatives know that they cannot deliver the manifesto that they will cobble together on this topic, so where does that leave the sanctity of manifestos? As a trade union-oriented Member of the House, I point out that the Conservative Party is opposing the temporary and agency workers proposals. They were in the Labour Party manifesto, so since when has so much sanctity been attached to two-party and three-party politics?
As the noble Lord mentioned me, I would like to ask him a question. He prays in aid and makes much of our parliamentary democracy. Does he agree that the essence of our parliamentary democracy is the hard-earned right of the British people to elect and dismiss those who make their laws? Does he also accept that most of our national law is now made under an alien system of law-making in Brussels, with the House of Commons and your Lordships’ House powerless to change it or prevent it? Does he accept that he and I, on our different sides of the argument, have a somewhat different view of parliamentary democracy?
No, we cannot button down like that. The world about which the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, tells us is a total fantasy. I was a member of the EFTA consultative committee between about 1964 and 1973, when we left EFTA. Decisions were made under the Stockholm treaty, including the rules of public investment, freedom of establishment of businesses and many other trade and development questions; many international organisations, such as the WTO and NATO, were involved by treaty. We do not make our laws in isolation. I agree that it is difficult to explain that in a pub in Burton on Trent, but that is separate from the question that we are being asked to consider tonight. Indeed, with the Murdoch media, it would be very difficult, in a pub in Burton on Trent, to make it clear how Britain can best play its part through international treaties in the modern world.
I did not wish to intervene, but I have spent nearly 40 years listening to schizophrenic pontificating politicians. While I was sitting here, I asked myself two things: how many of the letter “e” are there in the months of the year—there are six—and how many of the letter “r”? And how many political Peers are there? Are we talking about political Peers? The noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, tried to put me down when I was going to be constructive.
At an early age, I was put on a secret committee of this House to determine what our strategy should be when—and if—we entered the EU. I spoke at one of those meetings with really great men and Peers and was told afterwards that I was not there to speak, I was there to listen because this European lark would take many, many years and people would bang on about it ad infinitum.
The noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, spoke about hanging. When we had a vote in this House back in the 1970s, almost the same number of people voted to go into the EU as voted for the abolition of hanging. It was an overwhelming majority. What happened then? The Labour Party decided that it would intervene and introduce this new thing called a referendum. I had the job of raising money to finance our delegation to the European Parliament because the Labour Party refused to go and to send anybody. As a result, there could be no Treasury vote.
We were totally opposed to referenda; suddenly the Conservative Party is saying that they are a good thing. I think that they are a complete and utter waste of time unless you have consulted the people. There are many ways of consulting, such as an election. What a stupid thing to do—we nearly had an election before Christmas. I am a bit worried about the right reverend Prelate because something will be happening in his patch fairly shortly; I wondered whether he was making a political speech, but I am sure that he was not.
My view is fairly simple. I have spent my life working in and around the EU, but I have always fought and competed with it; I have never colluded. I always thought that treaties were about making peace. I hate all this bureaucracy and these pieces of paper that nobody understands. If you asked the electorate tomorrow what this is all about, they would probably sound a little like the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, and say that it is about surrendering power. I have always regarded things as an opportunity. I worry now that the Government may not have consulted and do not know what they should consult about. I have a feeling that, within the bones of the country, there would be opposition to what is proposed if people knew what that was.
I believe in elected representatives. Roughly 106,000 people in this country are elected representatives, from parish councils through to regional councils and various other bodies. I rang various associations today to ask which of them had been consulted on this. The answer was none. Perhaps we are democratic. Then I thought, “I am one of the elected ones in this place, so perhaps that takes the number up by another 92”. But I am still not sure how I can equate my feeling that referenda are wrong with my feeling that the Government have not consulted. I do not believe that the Government are with it at the moment. I wish them well, but sometimes there are things that you can do from within and sometimes you can do them from without.
I support my noble friend’s remarks. I welcome the amendment, but it surprises me that the noble Lord, Lord Lea, is so negative about referendums. He seems to think—in common, perhaps, with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay—that the people do not really understand the issue and cannot be trusted to make their mind up. He said that the campaign would be xenophobic and one-sided. That is not true. Both sides have an equal chance to put their case under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. It is all set down in statute. It will be a perfectly open and reasonable debate, so I really cannot accept that it would be either one-sided or too complicated for people to understand.
Nor can I accept the notion that the French were not voting on the issues before them. I, too, was in France during the referendum and it was interesting to see the various reasons. There were agreements among various parties, but that is the beauty of referendums; they bring people together on a single issue. There was no doubt that they voted against the constitution; they were not voting about the colour of Mr Chirac’s socks or anything else. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, was quite right: a few days later, the Dutch voted overwhelmingly against the constitution. I do not think that they could be criticised for voting on something that was not in the constitution. They definitely voted against the constitution. I do not think that it is right to say that we dare not trust the people of this country with the issues arising from the constitution or from this reform treaty, which, as has been pointed out, is the same as the constitution.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Pearson that this is a very good first step but a first step only. If the people of this country are given the vote on a referendum—and the opinion polls tell us that they will certainly reject the treaty—we are still left with what we have got, which is where the EU is right now. We have a lot of experts here, and the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, will tell me if I am wrong, but that means that we would have to fall back on the provisions set out in the Nice treaty. That is how the EU is operating at the moment. From the point of view of those of us who believe that we would be better off out of the EU, we would still have the acquis communautaire, we would still have the Commission as sole legislator, telling us what we can grow on our land and what we can fish out of our seas, and we would still be paying the EU £14 billion a year of our taxpayers’ money. That would be the position even if the treaty were put to a referendum.
It would be wonderful to have such a referendum. It may be liberating and it may, as my noble friend said, wake people up if they have an open debate about our relationship with the European Union. But it may not. They may say, “Is this right? Are we going down the right road here towards further integration? Is it what we really want?”. They have not been consulted on our relationship with the European Union for many years—the last time was the 1975 referendum. So it would be an open debate. I do not see why noble Lords are frightened of having open debate in the country about our relationship with the European Union; it must be healthier to do that. As far as it goes, I strongly support the amendment and I hope that, if it comes to a vote tonight, it will be carried.
This has been an extremely interesting debate. I feared that there would be nothing new, as we have already touched on so many of the issues, not least in the extensive Second Reading debate, through Oral Questions that I have answered and through a number of debates since. In particular, on the first day in Committee, we scanned the horizon of lots of issues that were to be debated again. I do not intend to take noble Lords’ time by repeating what has been said in the debate tonight or previously.
Having feared that there would be nothing new, I did not bank on the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, and his contribution on the Welsh language. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, will take that on board. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts; it is nice to see him in his place. Also, the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, described in an interesting way his desire to see a referendum because of the use of programme Motions. The Labour Government did not invent those changes in the House of Commons. The noble Lord may feel that they have been extended, but your Lordships will know that timetabling Motions have been around for some time.
The Labour Government have introduced programmes in a way that is totally different from what used to exist. Previously, if progress needed to be made on a Bill, for reasons of urgency or to avoid filibustering, there had to be a half-day debate to justify that. That was completely different from the automatic programming of everything that goes through.
I do not accept that it is completely different, although I accept that it is different. My point is that it is not new to have timetabling in the House of Commons. The noble Lord believes that this is substantially different. That is his view, which is absolutely fine. However, in your Lordships’ House we do not have that impediment to our deliberations. Some noble Lords may on occasion wish that we did, but I am not one of those.
We began by looking at what the constitution sought to do. My noble friend Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean set out clearly in a superb speech what a constitution is. Noble Lords who recall questions that I have answered in your Lordships’ House about a constitution will know that the fundamental essence of a constitution is, as my noble friend said, that everything that went before disappears and that it is a statement, as well as a fact, that we have created something new that is of deep and enormous significance. Some noble Lords may disagree with the decision that was taken but, rightly or wrongly, the Government decided that, because this was legally unprecedented—not just a new phenomenon but also a substantially different approach—there should be a referendum.
Noble Lords know what happened only too well. We have discussed what happened in the Netherlands and in France and what was subsequently determined by the Council. The constitution was withdrawn. It is defunct; it is no more. We will get into the dead parrot sketch with amazing ease if I continue with that. Instead, after some deliberations and delay, what came and now sits before your Lordships’ House is a treaty that is reminiscent of treaties that have gone before. It is, as my noble friend Lord Lea of Crondall said, an incremental treaty. That is the fundamental difference between the constitution and the reform treaty.
The noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, wrote to me on 8 May, as he said. I was grateful for the letter. I have not formally replied to him yet, but I will. When we look at the letter, we will see that the substantive point is that this is a fundamentally different proposition: the reform treaty is not the constitution. The noble Lord is, slightly uncharacteristically, somewhat selective in the examples that he uses to define what is new and different. For example, to leave out the opt-out on criminal justice in comparing the two treaties is to overlook something fundamentally different. However, the noble Lord is at liberty to disagree completely with me.
Noble Lords have talked about other countries. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, prayed in aid a number of quotations from European leaders. Noble Lords will know that in my speeches I refer only to statements made either here or in another place or to the work of committees. That is simply because I have 50 A4 sides of quotations and I am sure that other noble Lords have the same number. We could bandy them around all day, but it does not necessarily help us.
It was A4, not foolscap. But no, it would not be of benefit. The noble Lord can find them; I am sure that they are scattered among the literature that he has in any event. I am afraid that we are all in danger of selectivity in our quotations and I do not think that they help. What matters are the deliberations on the Floor of your Lordships’ House and the work that is done in this Parliament. That is why I have stuck, as far as I possibly can, to that.
However, there is one fact that I wish to throw into this equation. Noble Lords who have used quotations—particularly the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart—from European leaders have said, “You see, that proves it. These people have said that it is the same”. But they—I believe there are nine countries—would have had referendums on the constitutional treaty. Poland, Portugal, Denmark, Spain, France, the Netherlands and Luxembourg did. If this was substantively or exactly the same, they would have had a referendum on it. But they did not. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, may quote selectively from the words of European leaders, but the proof of the pudding is that, had they believed that this was exactly the same, there would have been a referendum. The only country that is having a referendum is Ireland. That is for constitutional reasons that nobody in your Lordships’ House has disputed, as far as I am aware.
I have been extremely good in giving way to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, sometimes to the chagrin of other Members of the Committee. There is particularly, as the noble Lord knows, a lot of chagrin behind me. This is not the moment. I am happy to give way a little later, but let me get on. I will not be long.
The Government believe, for the reasons that I have given, that the treaty is fundamentally different. I understand why noble Lords will not agree with that politically. There are those who believe that we should not have a referendum whatever happens, which is a perfectly reasonable position to hold. There are those who believe that anything that has the words “European Union” attached to it should in any event be opposed and that Britain should be “liberated”, which I think is the word that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, would use. There are those who genuinely think that the treaties are the same. Sometimes there may be a bit of political expediency lurking in the undergrowth. Those are the different reasons. I do not think that I am standing here and convincing anybody, because we have been debating the undercurrent of this for weeks. I have a suspicion that noble Lords are pretty clear in their own minds.
The same is true of referendums. Some people think that they are a good idea, because the people get to choose in a particular way and get the chance to debate, as do political parties. There are those who think that referendums are a bad idea, because making these decisions should be the role of democratically elected representatives in fulfilling their obligations to the people who put them here and who pay them to fulfil that role. There are also those who say that is difficult to have in a referendum a question that makes sense. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, spoke about his next-door neighbour in France, who found it difficult to read through such a lengthy and complicated document and make up his mind without the benefit of much more information. That is reasonable, too. A little bit of political expediency is in there, too, because it is sometimes useful to want a referendum for other reasons.
The position of the Government is clear; we know exactly where they stand. We know exactly where the Liberal Democrats stand. I am still a little confused about where the Conservative Party will be post-ratification. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, will kill off once and for all—because it has been lurking in the undergrowth—the question whether the Conservative Party would accept ratification, because many of its members have a long history and tradition of support for and work in the European Union and I pay tribute to them. I will leave that for the noble Lord to address.
The amendment should be withdrawn. We have before us an important treaty that will help 27 member states to collaborate and work more effectively in the European Union. More important, it is time that we moved to ratify this treaty so that we can get on with the business of Europe, where there is much to do to support our citizens.
I shall try to follow the noble Baroness’s example in being reasonably brief, and I promise that I shall be chagrin-free as well. I become quite exhilarated by hearing the clash of fine minds in this Chamber, struggling with completely different interpretations of the truth and either not agreeing or simply passing each other by like ships in the night.
The noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, whose robust interventions I always enjoy, said that I was embarrassed by the evidence. But we are not flying in the face of that at all, because authority after authority—the Dutch state council excepted—has said the obvious; that is, that the treaty is a replica. I am a little embarrassed at hearing the contortions of people whom I greatly admire and even befriend in trying to tell us that black is white. Contrary to some people’s impressions, I can read, and I have read this treaty and the previous treaty; I even had a dip into the Dutch state council’s efforts. I have read a lot of other things as well—there are so many piles of documents that one would need a wheelbarrow to bring them into this Chamber. They all state that the sentences are the same. It is very difficult to be told by people whom one respects that they are different. We think that they are the same; we think that there was a promise; we think, as my noble friend Lord Waddington robustly said, that it is the role of your Lordships’ House to respect the manifestos of parties and see that they are not departed from, or try to do so in accordance with the Salisbury convention.
I am not sure that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, was implying it, but we do not think that it is the treaty to end all treaties—on the contrary. Although the Prime Minister seemed to imply that it might be and that there would be no other institutional reform, it is perfectly obvious that there will be more institutional reform if the Bill and the treaty go through following all the passerelle provisions which we have debated and will do so again. Beyond that, there will also be other treaties. People are already talking about others to take Europe forward, backwards, sideways or whichever way one views it. Let us leave aside the earthquake effects—I admit that it is a decade or so away—of Turkey joining the European Union and succeeding Germany as its most populous country. Huge changes are ahead, and huge opportunities will arise for wise people with a clear vision of the kind of regional Union that Europe should be, of its wider role and of what part we should play in it to make an effective contribution.
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, was absolutely right. I can stand here only as an ersatz Welshman. Someone once told me with glorious exaggeration that I was descended from the kings of Wales, but I cannot speak a word of the Welsh language. I felt very small in being put in my place by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, for getting a word wrong. I assure him that we will get that word right on Report and all further stages.
Overall, the difficulty for some of us, and the hardest thing to accept, is that we know that the treaty is a trick. We know that because so many of the European leaders—I am not going to quote them—have said it is a trick. The proof-of-the-pudding argument which the noble Baroness put forward just does not work. The reason other countries are not having referenda is precisely as the leaders of Europe have explained, because they have succeeded in making the treaty unintelligible and wrapping it up differently. Therefore, “This time it’ll be all right. We’ll get by without a referendum”. That is exactly what they have all said. It not the proof of the pudding, it is an explanation as to why all of these countries are not seeking referenda. They are able to wrap it up in various ways so that it is not intelligible and does not look like the previous treaty.
It has been asked how much one should use referenda to consult people in the modern times. They are tricky instruments. They should be used with the greatest care. But I think that there is a sort of failure to understand in some people’s minds, and in the minds of those who appear to be patronising about the “complexity” of the issue and the difficulties of consulting people today, that we are living in the internet age. We have had an information technology revolution. It is possible to mobilise 1 million signatures in an afternoon through an internet flash constituency or some other device. We are living in an interactive age where, night after night, the television tells you that you can speak back to what is coming out of the television set. This just is not the age when one could say in court, “My Lords, in the hills of Connemara they think of nothing else”, and get a good laugh. You cannot do that any more, because in the hills of Connemara now they are probably fully wired up with mobile telephones and interactive technology and they are all on the world websites discussing these issues in great detail, not only in Ireland but in England and across the whole of Europe and other continents as well.
Would the noble Lord go so far as to agree with the emerging policy of the UK Independence Party on referenda, which is that given the great and growing unpopularity of our political class and our political system generally, we should think of adopting the Swiss system of referenda? Would that not earth again our democracy in the people and give them the chance of voting on a number of issues, and not just this one? After all, we have voted on a teddy bear or something in the north of England; we have voted on the north-east region, the Welsh thing and the Scottish thing. We have lots of referendums. Why do we not make it a more regular procedure?
I think not. As the noble Lord will understand, Switzerland has grown up as a special kind of entity. Indeed, all nations have grown up organically over the centuries in completely different ways. I admire enormously the Swiss and their genuine and deep democracy. One reason why they always find it difficult to join the European Union which surrounds them is that it would totally contradict the deepest aspects of their type of democracy. But I think that we should be careful about copying other people’s patterns too precisely. We should develop our own organic system of how we govern, and we have done so very well for the last 1,000 years or so.
I was going to say, finally, that—we must be frank—the reason why our views do not meet with each other is that there are much deeper feelings behind all this. The noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, always teases us, the Conservatives, by saying that we do not have any views about Europe. As a matter of fact, over the past 10 years of opposition my party has toiled away with all sorts of ideas and developments. I have written here that “my filing cabinet is full of plans for exactly how we are going to deal with the European question”, but I had better cut that bit out because my door does not lock properly and I do not want these ideas pinched too soon. The Liberal Democrats may laugh. They can keep their doors open because there is nothing inside that anyone would want to steal.
The answer is that we have an enormous range of ideas. Obviously, they are not finalised to the precise moment because, as far as I know, unless the Prime Minister decides, we are not about to have an election, alas. After the Maastricht treaty we did have an election, and an offer for a referendum on the euro as well. If the offer now is to have an election, then our pressures for a referendum probably would greatly reduce. But that is not on offer as far as I know. We would be very happy to have that, but I do not think that that is what is proposed. I suspect that we are not going to see an election for another two years or so.
Instead, we say that the people should have their say. That is what was promised. That would uphold the dignity of Parliament, and perhaps restore the trust in Parliament as a whole as well as possibly the trust in the Government’s position, which does not look terribly healthy at the moment. That is why we have put forward this amendment.
Many questions remain unanswered. Of course we are going to return to these issues in far more detail, because there are fundamental questions of transfers of power here of a constitutional nature. Everyone knows that in their hearts, even if they do not write it in their reports or say it in their speeches. We believe that, and that is why we will return to this matter more, I am afraid, than once in the future. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 163 to 167 not moved.]
167A: Clause 8, leave out Clause 8 and insert the following new Clause—
“Commencement and referendum on continuance in force
(1) This Act shall come into force on Royal Assent.
(2) Within six months of this Act receiving Royal Assent, a referendum shall be held to determine whether it shall continue in force.
(3) The question in that referendum shall be:
“Following Parliament’s passing of the European Union (Amendment) Act, adding the Treaty of Lisbon to the list of Treaties in section 1(2) of the European Communities Act 1972, should the United Kingdom leave the European Union in the manner prescribed in Article 49A of the Treaty on European Union?YES/NO”(4) If a majority of those voting in the referendum vote “Yes” to the question in subsection (3), this Act shall cease to have effect from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement negotiated under paragraph 2 of Article 49A of the Treaty on European Union.
(5) If a majority of those voting in the referendum vote “No” to the question in subsection (3), this Act shall continue in force.”
The noble Lord said: This amendment would trigger the provision in the Lisbon treaty for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union subject to a referendum. As I think your Lordships know, that is the position of the UK Independence Party, together with other radical and laudable policies. As far as I can see, but it is a swiftly moving target—I wonder if I can have the attention of the Liberal Democrat Benches. I am about to mention them. I will start again.
As far as I can see, but it is a swiftly moving target—
I hope the noble Lord regards it as a compliment that the Liberal Democrat Benches are still full. Most of the other Benches cleared as he got up to speak. Surely he regards this as a clear indication of the depth of interest that these Benches have in what he has to say.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord. Indeed, I was going to make my own contribution to the Liberal Democrats’ position.
For the third time lucky. As far as I can see, but it is a swiftly moving target, it is also the policy of the Liberal Democrat Party. So it is an unusual pleasure to be teamed up with it, for a change. I gather that its leader, Mr Clegg, flounced out of the Commons when he was not allowed to debate this amendment, which he supported, there.
I happened to hear Mr Clegg confirming this happy state of affairs on the “Today” programme at 8.12 am on the morning of 25 April this year. I fear it is worth quoting the relevant extract. Mr Clegg had just finished saying that he had always brought to politics,
“energy, authenticity and a great deal of energy and enthusiasm”
—that was his repetition. He was being interviewed by John Humphrys, who is worth quoting:
“Authenticity—in terms of Europe, you have a strong position on Europe, or all Liberal Democrats should have a strong position on Europe, clearly it’s an important issue for you and your party, and you are meant to have a clear position. But you fudged it over the one important debate that there was in the House of Commons, that’s to say the referendum debate”.
To which Mr Clegg replied,
“The positional we took was that the referendum, which we wanted to see take place, was a referendum on the big question about Europe, which is whether we stay in or out. What we disagreed with, as the party, was the Conservative proposal to have a referendum—a very narrow referendum—only on this Lisbon Treaty. And even if the Tories had got their way and there was a referendum, it had then been rejected, it wouldn’t have changed a thing to the way in which the European Union is presently organised. So we wanted the serious debate on the underlying issue, the underlying angst, if you like, in the European issue. We were thwarted in our attempt to even have that debate in the House of Commons, we made our ... I made my sort of, you know, frustration about that perfectly plain”.
By which I think he was referring to walking out of the House of Commons.
So I think that we have the Liberal Democrat position there. I trust that your Lordships agree that it is pretty clear.
I wonder if the noble Lord realises that he is in the tradition of, I think it was, Charles James Fox, who was described as the dinner bell because people went to dinner when he spoke. I say that in view of the rather personal attacks he is making on the leader of my party.
No doubt that it is a phenomenon with which the noble Lord is familiar.
That leaves us with the Conservatives, who I fear will oppose this amendment. One of their problems is their belief that William Hague lost a general election because he indulged in “too much Europe”; in other words he played the European card. I have to put it to my erstwhile Conservative friends that he did not. He played the currency card. He said that the election was a last minute referendum on our membership of the currency. That was not so because everyone knew by then that we were going to get a referendum on the currency. So I dispute the fact that William Hague played the Europe card.
To be very charitable to my old friends, I think their continued affection for our membership of the European Union may stem from base ignorance, an ignorance inspired no doubt by their guilt at having led us into this quagmire in the first place back in 1972. So I have another quote for your Lordships, this time from the leader of the Conservative Party, Mr David Cameron. He was attending a public meeting on 17 April in Leeds, organised by the Yorkshire Post. The meeting went on for one and a quarter hours but only one question, to Mr Cameron, was applauded by the audience. The question went as follows:
“Why would you rather be in Europe rather than govern? Why don’t you want a landslide victory that that policy would give you?”—
that is, governing and not being enslaved to the European Union. Mr Cameron’s answer is enlightening:
“The vast majority of the British people want to stay in the EU. From the very next day”—
after we left—
“our businesses will flounder and be unable to export to the European Union”.
I assume that Mr Cameron believes that. If so, it shows a degree of ignorance about our relationship with the European Union which can only be described as oceanic.
As my noble friends and I have pointed out to your Lordships many times over recent years, the United Kingdom is the EU’s largest client. We buy far more from them than they do from us. I will not go into it all again now, but even the most pessimistic analysis carried out over the past 10 years concludes that leaving the political construct of the European Union and continuing in free trade and firm collaboration with our good friends in Europe would be at the very worst trade-neutral—and, therefore, jobs-neutral. In fact, our business would be set free from Brussels over-regulation, which is put at some 6 per cent of the—
Should not the noble Lord examine a little more carefully the relationship between Norway and the European Union? Indeed, Norway and the European Union live in a free trade relationship, but it is not the case that Norway is free from what the noble Lord calls Brussels regulation. Instead of participating in making the regulations, which we do as a member, the Norwegians get theirs by fax machine. They are sent from Brussels and they have to adopt them—otherwise, as the noble Lord will see if he studies the European economic area agreement, they would be in breach of that agreement. So would the noble Lord please not perpetrate the untruth that, if we came out, we would be free of the regulation of Brussels and free to have free trade with the European Union? We would have to put one or the other at risk—and it would be more honest if he were to admit that.
It is true that Norway is a member of the European economic area and therefore has to follow the unfortunate path that the noble Lord has just set out. We do not advocate that the United Kingdom would stay in the European economic area, either; we would prefer a position akin to Switzerland’s. As a matter of fact, because we are the EU’s largest client—the EU exports some 18 per cent of its GDP to the United Kingdom and only 16 per cent to the United States of America, which is second—and because we would continue to be very friendly with the EU, we could do as good or better a deal than the Swiss. So the argument about the fax machine in Norway really does not add up.
I was about to say that our business, if set free from Brussels over-regulation, which has been put at—
Would the noble Lord find it possible to deploy any evidence whatever that the other 26 member countries of the European Union would reach the kind of conclusion that he would like them to reach in the light of the change that he advocates? The noble Lord is crystal ball-gazing, but there is nothing in the way of evidence to guide him.
The noble Lord displays his lack of great experience in international commerce. Also, he may not be aware that two years ago no less a personage than the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock—and I am sorry that he is not in his seat—together with the EU Competition Commissioner of the day admitted on the “Today” programme that there would be no conceivable penalty to British trade were we to leave the political construct of the European Union. Why would the Germans stop selling us motor cars? Would the French stop selling us wine? Just because the politicians are allowed to carry on with their crazy project in Brussels and we are set free to benefit from the new global position, that would not stop a single item of trade between us and the European Union. In fact, nobody trades with the European Union—except, possibly, the Mafia. We all have our trade with individual clients in the individual countries of the European Union. Personally, I trade with every one of them, and I know that none of that trade would be affected if we left the unfortunate political arrangements of the European Union.
I think that I had got as far as saying that no less a personage than Mr Gunter Verheugen, the European Competition Commissioner, has put Brussels over-regulation at some 6 per cent of GDP. It is also true that our people, were we to leave, would benefit by roughly £1,000 a year per family in reduced food costs over a period of time because we were no longer submitted to the common agricultural policy. Furthermore, we would of course save some £12 billion or £14 billion a year in cash that we pour down the incompetent throat in Brussels.
Those are some of the reasons—the dinner hour approaches, so I shall not detain noble Lords with more—why the UK Independence Party wants to leave the European Union. The majority of our national law is now imposed on us by an alien foreign system of government and our membership costs us untold sums—untold because the Government refuse a cost-benefit analysis that would confirm just how many billions we waste or how profitable the whole thing is. That was the subject of the amendment that I have just not moved, because I knew what the Government would say and it would have kept us here a very long time. Because of that, we want to leave the European Union as soon as possible and we would like to invite the British people to agree or disagree with us in a referendum. I beg to move.
Environment Agency: Flood Management
asked Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the risks of flooding from inland rivers in the United Kingdom and the role of the Environment Agency as the delegated body for managing it.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister and other noble Lords for taking part in this debate. Last year, great swathes of this country suffered considerable flooding. I live and farm near Brize Norton, which suffered some of the highest recorded rainfall in the UK. Our river rose around 15 feet in little over five hours, causing much damage to local homes and infrastructure. Indeed, a month’s worth of rain fell in just 24 hours in some places in the UK. The UK flood statistics show that five people died, 600 were injured, 3,500 people were rescued, 27,000 houses were flooded, 6,710 of these households by March this year were still displaced, 5,000 businesses were flooded, 858 schools were damaged, and 42,000 hectares of agricultural land were flooded.
The fire brigade’s rescue efforts were described as the biggest in peacetime Britain. These floods led to the biggest loss of critical infrastructure since World War II. Ministerial estimates last August put the cost of the flood damage at £2.7 billion. The insurance industry has concerns that this is not a one-off but a worsening trend. Claims in the UK for storm and flood damage in the five years up to 2003 were £6.2 billion, double the figure for the previous five years, and it is estimated that these costs could triple by 2050.
Between 1997 and 2005, some 120,000 dwellings were built in England in designated flood-risk areas, which represents some 9 per cent of all dwellings built over this period. In an Answer in another place, the Minister indicated that there had been only four planning applications called in under the Town and Country Planning (Flooding) (England) Direction 2007. A further four planning applications have been called in under the direction where flooding was a main issue. Yet in 2005, 21 major planning applications were approved against the Environment Agency’s guidance. Further, a proportion of the 3 million houses talked about in the Government’s July 2006 housing Green Paper will be built on flood plains, notably in the Thames Gateway. It is laughable, but it is true. I understand that the Government’s stated policy is to avoid inappropriate development in flood-risk areas. Has that policy changed?
The Environment Agency is responsible for strategic overview of all flood and coastal erosion risk management, and, as of January this year, the inland flooding role was still being developed. The management of large rivers and areas of low-lying coastline are its responsibility. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Defra, delegates to the EA the management of rivers in the interest of wildlife and having regard to flooding. There is limited clarity on what course should be taken when the needs of wildlife conflict directly with the interests of human communities. I wonder if those 27,000 home owners who were flooded out believe that the EA has the balance correct. They could be forgiven for thinking that the needs of wildlife come before humans.
Those of us who are riparian owners, or who take an interest in the management of our rivers, cannot fail to observe that our rivers have become clogged up and ill tended in recent years. In its time the National Rivers Authority, the NRA, kept the drainage system of our land—its rivers—in good repair.
Ministers have asserted that the EA will undertake prioritised programmes of maintenance work on watercourses, including cleaning and dredging where appropriate, but that responsibility otherwise rests with the individual landowner. For each urban stream there could easily be 200 riparian owners. Rural rivers too have multiple riparian owners, making inadequate the effective and overall management of a stream or a river. Speaking as a riparian owner, I doubt that most owners have the ability or finance to carry out their responsibilities. I hope that the Minister will commit to review the arrangements and to address this problem.
The Environment Agency estimates that it will have spent £65 million in support of flood-risk management in the last financial year. In the current financial year some £439 million has been allocated to the EA for flood-risk management, and a further £21 million to local authorities and internal drainage boards for capital improvement projects to reduce flood risk. I understand that other funding is available from the Department for Communities and Local Government for non-capital flood-risk management activities and from Defra to local authorities for capital projects to reduce the risk of coastal erosion.
A variety of bodies are producing a multitude of statistics generated by different schemes to deliver various objectives. Surely that cannot be the most financial or managerially efficient way to manage the inland rivers. The Secretary of State accepts that,
“a lot of disparate organisations have responsibility for different bits of the surface water drainage system”.—[Official Report, Commons, 25/10/07; col. 392-93.].
Briefing papers for this debate from the EA, the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Countryside Alliance and the NFU recommend the creation of a single body with strategic responsibility, authority and accountability for all aspects of flood risk. I must say that I welcome seeing the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I look forward to hearing what she has to say.
Not surprisingly, the National Audit Office report of June 2007 found that the proportion of the flood-defence structures in good condition was just 57 per cent, down from 61 per cent six years previously. It also took the view that the agency could reduce the need for additional funding by improving cost effectiveness. Fundamentally, there are legitimate questions to be asked about how the money is spent and what the appropriate regulatory architecture should be.
In response to a Question in another place on 18 February 2008 the Minister stated that:
“Following the summer 2007 floods the Environment Agency continued to carry out feasibility studies to consider the viability of proposed new flood defence schemes, which look to reduce flood risk where it is cost-effective, practical and environmentally appropriate”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/2/08; col. 267W-68W.]
It is disappointing that there is so much head-scratching going on and little action at this time. Will the Minister say what action is taking place to mitigate future floods?
Sir Michael Pitt’s interim report contained 72 recommendations, of which 15 were considered urgent for action by the Government, their agencies and others to take. Will the Minister provide an update on those 15 urgent actions and on the estimated cost of those 72 recommendations? Will the £34.5 million to fund the work arising from the review announced by the Secretary of State in the ministerial Statement of 4 February 2008 really be sufficient?
Further to this, the Pitt review’s interim conclusions found a number of surprising failings, including no national flood emergency plan, no clear responsibility for dealing with urban flooding, and no systematic stockpiling of emergency equipment, such as boats.
By any definition, last year’s floods were a major disaster for a great many people. A significant proportion of the blame has been attached to the Environment Agency. But how much blame should be apportioned to the Government for designing these muddled and conflicting structures that are responsible for looking after the UK’s inland rivers? One thing is certain: the impact on public confidence is predictable, and the situation is unsatisfactory.
My Lords, we should thank the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, for introducing the debate. The floods last year were very serious. There have been a number of reports, including one from the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.
My own interest in this subject was stimulated when I was director of the Met Office and I visited some Chinese villages which are regularly flooded. They recover and are flooded again. We can learn some things from that. I am also a visiting professor at Delft. In the Netherlands they have some radical ideas. It is surprising that the House of Commons committee went to France but did not visit and hear about these quite radical ideas emerging from the Netherlands.
All these areas of Europe of course will be subject to the changing climate that we now expect. Not only will there be intense rain events, but it is likely that we may have the sort of blocking conditions such as they had in the United States in the 1990s when you have many days of persistent rain, which of course will lead to serious consequences.
The first point to make is that the Environment Agency—the noble Baroness, Lady Young, I am sure will explain this—is not widely understood in the UK. It changed its policy from flood defence to flood-risk management. I was interviewed by Canadian television and asked if this really was the policy. I went to a government department in Whitehall—Communities and Local Government—just a few months ago and many of its officials were unaware of this change, which was surprising because of course it has a very important implication: that there will be floods, and that we have to design our houses, roads and infrastructure for floods. Therefore, we need to have a completely different approach. Building regulations, the community warning systems and the telephone systems will have to be in that form. This is a major change to how communities and individuals need to think about their houses.
I attended a meeting last year of CABE, which is an organisation considering buildings and design. A distinguished engineer from a major consultancy was asking whether we are now really going to build buildings where we are to assume that the ground floor can be flooded, whereas in the past the ground floor of a high-rise was a desirable part for people to live in. Is this really the case? If so, it requires quite a different approach.
As discussed in the report, many of the utilities are only just facing up to running their systems to cope with floods in the streets of London. I have heard that they have had various exercises, which for some utilities did not succeed very well. Imperial College is doing an important study of how the infrastructure will withstand the kinds of extreme events that will happen more in the future, as discussed in the Climate Change Bill.
I refer your Lordships to the interesting Chinese experience. They have warnings, as we have warnings here. Then, in these concrete-type buildings, party workers—who are not trying to get people out for by-elections in China but are helping them in floods—knock on the doors and take people upstairs with their furniture. Of course, all the electrics are at a higher level. The flood comes through and, in some cases, people rather relish this as it provides extra material to go on their allotments and gardens. After the flood has happened, people move down. The community must then restore the city completely on its own. I am not saying that this is a model for how we shall be in the UK, but that is the kind of situation that may happen more often in cities here.
The interesting point about the Dutch exploration of new building concepts is that they are looking for buildings that may be prone to flooding, such as buildings on stilts. Indeed, a suggestion of Dutch engineers, to avoid the high currents between buildings that we saw in Gloucester and in extreme conditions that may happen more in the future, is to have buildings the ground floor of which collapses inwards so that water can flow through them. This is a drastic look at the future but perhaps less drastic than having floating houses, which has also been suggested.
The other important point in the Pitt review was that we need good warning systems. These are developing. The Environment Agency and, originally, the BBC provide warning systems. Now, however, with the use of computers, radar and satellites we should be able to inform people of the kind of flooding that might be expected on a street-by-street level. Street-by-street level air pollution warnings are now provided in London, so we should be able to provide that for flooding by mobile phones to individuals at risk. In India, they provide warnings of flooding in 14 different languages through computer systems. We should be able to follow that approach.
As the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, pointed out, the country faces a changed and drastic situation. The Government must be bold in saying that we are moving into new waters. They would do well to encourage individuals, communities and industry to prepare for the future very realistically.