Skip to main content

EU: UK Citizens’ Attitudes

Volume 710: debated on Monday 11 May 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have commissioned a recent survey of the attitudes of United Kingdom citizens to the European Union; and, if so, whether they will publish the results.

My Lords, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has recently commissioned some focus group work which does not provide any quantitative results like a survey but has helped us better understand people’s level of knowledge about the EU and the types of EU activity they were interested in. We will publish information from the focus groups on the FCO website.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer, but has he seen the poll by the BBC’s “Daily Politics” in March which showed that 55 per cent of people wanted to leave the EU; 64 per cent were against scrapping the pound in favour of the euro; and 84 per cent wanted a referendum before the transfer of further powers to the EU, confirming the overwhelming demand for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty? Is it not about time that the Government listened to the British people, stopped transferring further powers to the EU and conducted a serious investigation into whether the United Kingdom would be better off out?

My Lords, all in this House would expect a Minister of this Government at this time to say that we should never put our faith in opinion polls. I am glad the noble Lord has pointed out that this was not a British Government poll. It remains a clear fact that this Government have not been able to persuade all the people of Britain of the benefits of membership of the European Union and will have to go on trying harder.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that those responsible for administering the EU school milk supply refuse to supply school milk to British schools unless they advertise and eulogise the EU?

My Lords, the noble Baroness has stumped me. I was not aware of this and I will be very happy to look into it for her.

My Lords, is it not extraordinary that attitudes are so positive in percentage terms when successive governments have never sought to explain or defend the EU properly until last year, mercifully, with the British Government now defending the Lisbon treaty? They are explaining it properly for the first time since Edward Heath—many years ago. There are 1 million British companies now in the EU doing business; nearly 2 million Brits living in other EU countries, including Spain; 3.5 million jobs directly linked to membership of the EU; and 50 million individual journeys to EU countries, mostly on low-cost airlines, were taken last year. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, is independent Labour but why is he so nervous and old-fashioned?

My Lords, has the noble Lord read that enduring masterpiece by Christopher Booker and Richard North, The Great Deception, which clearly shows that the big idea behind the project of European integration has always been to replace national democracies with rule from Brussels, which also turns out to be corrupt? Is it therefore any wonder, now that they are waking up to it, that our people do not like not being able to sack those who make most of their unwanted law? However unpopular the system is down the other end and in this House, at least the British people can get rid of them. They cannot get rid of their law-makers in Brussels.

My Lords, we are on the eve of the European elections and the Commission is renewed every term, so there are plenty of accountabilities in Europe, too.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that if we ask people, “What can Europe do to improve your lives in tackling cross-border crime, upholding civil liberties, dealing with climate change in the world and delivering economic security?”, we get much more positive answers than if we concentrate on the institutional framework? As an MEP I am very conscious of 4 June, when people can chuck me out or vote me back in if they so wish.

My Lords, the focus group research to which I referred in the original Answer has confirmed exactly that point made by the noble Baroness. When Europe is not an abstraction but is about the services, benefits and projects it brings to specific British communities, there is a much higher level of support for it.

My Lords, the noble Lord said that the Government were trying to persuade British people that our membership of the European Union was a good thing. It is a very long journey. Could they start with one small step along that journey by wresting back from our European masters the power of decision over whether Danish meat or any other foreign meat can be described as British when it is brought here provided that somebody has put a plastic wrapper round it?

My Lords, the noble Lord is more of an expert—indeed, there are many experts on the other Benches—on the food policies of Europe, most of which are driven by food and safety issues but also, I agree, by the complex labelling system. Again, I am stumped on an issue, and I shall have to get back to the noble Lord.

My Lords, the noble Lord is batting nobly for his department on this difficult issue. Should we not review thoroughly the whole approach of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the European case, to remove some of the lukewarm attitudes reflected in the devastating figures given by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart? When the Foreign Office goes into bat on European issues, it should be rather more forward in promoting our links with the Commonwealth, which covers almost one-third of the human race. We notice that our French friends always turn up with arguments for the Francophonie but the British always seem to be fazed by how to please the French and the Germans rather than how to promote our worldwide network of the Commonwealth. Could we have a little more vigour and strength in that department and then we might do better on Europe?

My Lords, the noble Lord knows full well that I completely share his enthusiasm for the Commonwealth and, as he implies in his question, we recognise it is not an either/or situation. We are members of both these important networks, and the extent to which we can create links between them is good for Britain and for all our partners in both organisations.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the only experience that British schoolchildren have had of losing milk was not from the EU but on the occasion when Mrs Thatcher—now the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher—became known as “Thatcher, the milk snatcher”?

My Lords, I certainly agree with the noble Baroness that that is a much more memorable milk story than the one referred to today.