House of Lords
Tuesday, 26 April 2011.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Gloucester.
Death of a Member: Lord Ampthill
Clerk of the Parliaments
Retirement of Michael Graham Pownall
To resolve that this House has received with sincere regret the announcement of the retirement of Mr Michael Graham Pownall from the office of Clerk of the Parliaments and thinks it right to record the just sense which it entertains of the zeal, ability, diligence and integrity with which the said Michael Graham Pownall has executed the important duties of his office.
My Lords, on 8 November last year, I informed the House that Mr Michael Pownall had announced his intention of retiring from the office of Clerk of the Parliaments with effect from 15 April this year. I indicated at the time that in due course there would be an opportunity to pay tribute to Mr Pownall.
Some Members will know that, by convention, the retiring Clerk of the Parliaments makes sure to absent himself from the Chamber for this part of our proceedings. Those who were well acquainted with Mr Pownall will not be surprised to hear that it was his ardent wish to go one step further and to ensure that he had left the estate for good by the time the House dwelt on his achievements. In that respect and in many others, he led those who serve us in this House by example. In the self-effacing manner in which he performed his duties, he helped to sustain the fiction, carefully crafted by successor generations of servants of this House, that we, the Members of this House, are solely responsible for its actions and achievements. Such a wonderful and convincing tale they have woven that I, for one, have never had occasion to doubt it.
Michael also led by example in the unfailing courtesy that he displayed towards Members of the House. Imposing as we are in our collective guise, one might concede that there are some formidable individuals among our number, yet if ever the Clerk of the Parliaments shared this perception, he did not let it show. His advice was invariably delivered patiently and with good grace. There is no Member for whom he would not make time and no predicament he would have dismissed as unworthy of his assistance.
Mr Pownall’s tenure as Clerk of the Parliaments marked the culmination of 40 years of service to this House. In that time, he held every important post, including that of private secretary to the Leader of the House and the Government Chief Whip when those positions were occupied by Lord Soames, Baroness Young and the noble Lord, Lord Denham. As well as serving the first woman Leader of this House, Mr Pownall is known to have distinguished himself during that period by bravely drawing our minimum intervals to the attention of the then Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher.
In recent years, Michael served as Reading Clerk and Clerk Assistant before being appointed Clerk of the Parliaments in 2007. When assuming that august office, he could not have anticipated the twists and turns that events would take. His term coincided with the removal of the similarly venerable appellate jurisdiction of this House, with allegations of paid advocacy that prompted the House to revive its powers of suspension, and with a press campaign that exposed serious abuses of the financial support available to Members of both Houses, some of which have since led to prosecutions and criminal convictions. These have been testing times for the House—times which placed unprecedented demand on the Clerk of the Parliaments’ judgment, integrity and resilience. I am confident that I speak for the whole House when I say that in more dispiriting moments it was a great solace to know with absolute and distinctive certainty that Mr Pownall would not be found wanting on any of these counts.
Michael leaves behind a more resilient institution—one equipped with a new Code of Conduct for Members, an independent Commissioner for Standards and a simpler and more transparent system of financial support for Members. He leaves behind a legacy that I am sure will stand the test of time. That legacy alone would have been sufficient to earn Mr Pownall a place among the most accomplished of his predecessors. But there is no rest for the wig-wearing, and more upheaval was in store for the Clerk of the Parliaments. The general election only a year ago, in 2010, saw the first change of Government for 13 years and the first coalition Government since the Second World War. The speed and dexterity with which the needs of coalition Government were anticipated and catered for is of immense credit to Mr Pownall and his staff. Their planning, pragmatism and good grace allowed the strange and unaccustomed to be overcome and innovation of one day to become the tradition of the next.
There are, of course, more achievements that I could list and I trust that some of them will be mentioned by others, but the pinnacle of them all, perhaps, is that Mr Pownall succeeded in notching up his manifold achievements while holding together the unruly flock that is the House. He is not only respected and admired but held in sincere and lasting affection around the House and at all levels of the administration. That is why I very much hope that, although he may be intending to while away his retirement in Italy, the lure of the deep red carpet, the Pugin interiors and our collective good sense will prove too strong and we will see him in the House again from time to time.
It remains for me only to wish Michael and his wife Deborah many enjoyable years ahead. We are greatly indebted to him for the exemplary service which he has rendered to this House and to Parliament. I beg to move.
My Lords, it gives me enormous pleasure on behalf of the Opposition to second the Motion moved by the Leader of the House. I associate myself and my Benches with all that the noble Lord has said about the recently retired Clerk of the Parliaments, Michael Pownall.
Michael’s long service to your Lordships’ House, his diligence and commitment to his work and, at the same time, his reticence and modesty are all qualities from which the House has enormously benefited. It is characteristic of Michael’s modesty that he somehow managed to contrive to retire during the recess while the House was not sitting, but we will not let him get away without paying tribute in the Chamber to all that he has done for the House and for the Members of this House. It is characteristic too, though, that even after leaving the job Michael Pownall will still be doing it because he has to return to give further evidence in court proceedings being brought against Members of this House, and it is on these issues that I wish to focus. In paying an overall tribute to the former Clerk, the Leader mentioned that he could only touch on Michael’s role in dealing with the difficult issues with which this House has had to deal in the past few years. For most of that time I was in the noble Lord’s place as Leader of the House, which gave me a particular perspective on Michael, and it is from that perspective that I shall address the substance of my remarks today.
Parliament has had a bad time of it over this period: we have seen a scandal erupt; we have seen a media frenzy; we have seen the standing of Parliament lowered; we have seen trust eroded; we have seen Parliament fail the British people. In all this, your Lordships' House has not been impacted on to the same degree and extent as the House of Commons, but it has none the less been seriously affected. As the noble Lord the Leader said, we have as a result reformed our procedures radically. In all this, at every point, was Michael Pownall. I tell your Lordships this quite plainly: whatever difficulties this House has been in, they would have been worse, so very much worse, if Michael Pownall had not been in his job. At every moment, in every aspect of the issues involved, Michael was centrally involved not only in dealing with them but with stretching himself and his team to find ways of resolving them.
As the then Leader of the House, I and my team worked with Michael hour by hour, day by day, night by night, weekend by weekend for many months dealing with the issues involved: with the distress to Members of this House, with complaints, with investigations, with new procedures to put right what was wrong and to put our own House back in order. At times, that work led to him being attacked and criticised in public, in the media and, indeed, by the media. He was anguished by that and could barely believe that it was happening. When at one point my office advised him that it was likely that he would be doorstepped at home by press photographers the next morning and to be ready for it, he was highly sceptical that it would happen and, characteristically, highly apologetic for his scepticism when it duly happened the next morning. It was wrong, highly wrong, for a public servant to be personally targeted in that way. Politicians have to take the rough with the smooth—it is unfortunately part of the job and goes with the turf—but public servants who are simply carrying out their duties, as Michael Pownall was, should not be subject to attack in that way. It is media bullying and intimidation. Sad to say, it is something that many in the media believe that they have a perfect right to do, but they are wrong.
At the end of his career in your Lordships' House, as he reached the summation of that career in becoming Clerk of the Parliaments, Michael Pownall suddenly found that he had to deal with those kinds of issues in a way that none of his predecessors had. It is a real, lasting and permanent tribute to him that, because of the changes and reforms that he, with many others, worked so hard to put in place, it is unlikely that none of his successors will have to deal with them in the same way either. We welcome David Beamish as his successor as Clerk of the Parliaments. The transition from Michael to David has been handled well, and we now have a very strong Senior Clerks’ Bench, and, indeed, a strong team across the House authorities as a whole, to serve your Lordships' House in what may, in a very different way and with very different issues involved in terms of possible further reform of this place, be an equally challenging period ahead. We look forward to working with David as the new Clerk of the Parliaments and with Ed Ollard as his new Clerk Assistant.
Despite his still having no doubt difficult work in court still in front of him, I know that Michael is looking forward to retirement, to spending more time with Deborah and spending a great deal more time at their house in his beloved Italy. This House is paying tribute to Michael Pownall today for his long career of distinguished service to your Lordships' House—rightly so. As Clerk, he has been a wise counsel, a man of judgment, dignity and integrity, a fair man, a just man, a genuinely nice man and, rightly, a popular man with the Members of this House and with the staff of the House whom he has led. The House owes Michael Pownall a particular debt of gratitude over this last period of that distinguished career, for, when the call of duty came in ways that in this House it had never come before for someone in his job, he rose to it.
The trouble in this House was largely created by the activities of some of its Members, and it is right that we and other authorities dealt with it in the way we did. When this House was in trouble, Michael Pownall stood by it. That is a debt of gratitude which we shall never be able to repay.
My Lords, this is the first time since the formation of the coalition Government that I have spoken from the Liberal Democrats Benches. The reason I do so is that I want to make it clear that the tribute I wish to pay is on behalf of the Liberal Democrats in this House, although I heartily concur with the remarks of the Leader of the House and, in particular, with the Leader of the Opposition in the way she dealt with the torrid time that Michael Pownall had to endure as he piloted us through some of the most difficult times that this House has ever had to endure.
The phrase that comes to mind is courage under fire, because that is what he showed. Because he showed courage under fire, he was able to give steady advice to the various party leaders. Like the Leader of the House, I believe that when this period in the House is looked back on, although it will be seen as a period of turmoil and of some distress, it will also be seen as a period of genuine reform when we put our House in order, and we did so under the wise guidance of Michael Pownall. I will not try to repeat what the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition said, but I appreciated the passion that the noble Baroness showed in her tribute, which was richly deserved.
It is always difficult to find new things to say in this slot, and I usually rely on my noble friend Lady Thomas of Winchester, who is keeper of the blessed memory as far as this House is concerned. She brought two facts to mind. She remembers that, when Michael Pownall was secretary to the noble Lord, Lord Denham—who I am glad to see is in a place if not quite in his place—under stress, he would turn to cigarettes. This surprised me. I could not think that there could be any stressful moments being private secretary to the noble Lord, Lord Denham, but there you are—you never cease to be surprised. I was also told something even more disturbing: Michael Pownall is a mimic of Rory Bremner-type skill and some of his finest mimicry is, in fact, of Members of this House. I am looking forward to getting him in a private place when he returns and asking him to go through his repertoire. There was another thing I found surprising. It did not surprise me that Michael loves Italy and is a good squash player, but I read that he is a supporter of Luton Town. A Clerk of the Parliaments supporting Luton Town! Luton Town is at the Pukka Pies end of football rather than the prawn cocktail end, but that again shows the depths of the man. Luton Town won 4-0 yesterday, so he should be quite pleased about that.
I hope that what has come through is the amazing Clerks we have in this House. They hold this House’s oldest office, yet we attract men and women who are willing to serve this House. Forty years’ service is almost unknown in today’s career paths. Michael Pownall gave 40 years of service to this House including four years of tremendous service as Clerk of the Parliaments during a historic period. I think that again the Leader of the Opposition got it right. Michael Pownall was a great public servant at a time when the term is going out of fashion. He is much appreciated as a public servant and a great servant of this House. Our thanks to Michael Pownall.
My Lords, on behalf of the Cross-Benchers, I support the tributes already paid by the Leader of the House, the Deputy Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition. One of the first things that one has to acknowledge about Michael Pownall, or MGP, as we like to call him, is that there is almost nothing that he does not know about the House of Lords both legislatively and procedurally. He, like so many of the Clerks, is a walking Companion to the Standing Orders, in fact, so much so that he is almost a standing order himself. His rise from being a serious young man of 23 in 1971, when one of his first appointments was as private secretary to the Leader of the House, to the culmination of any Clerk’s ambition in this House as Clerk of the Parliaments has been inexorable.
We have all become accustomed to seeing a rather worried-looking MGP speeding along the corridors, but he had much to be worried about, as we have already heard. Two major changes occurred under his watch: the removal of the Law Lords to the Supreme Court and the acquisition and refurbishment of the Millbank site. These seemingly smooth operations have entailed many hundreds of ducks paddling furiously underwater, and Michael was, at all times, their overall leader. We can perhaps repay his and others’ work by persuading some of those still entrenched in fusty corners of this Palace to move into the light, airy offices of Millbank. On behalf of the Cross-Benchers, I thank the Clerk of the Parliaments as was, Michael, for all that he has done, and for all that he is. I trust he will keep in touch with us so that we might all get to enjoy seeing him freed from his clerkly burdens.
My Lords, I rise to associate the Bishops’ Bench with the tributes already paid to the retiring Clerk of the Parliaments. There is, as your Lordships know, a steady stream of new Bishops entering this House, since we rarely stay beyond retirement. Over the past few years, Michael Pownall has been a welcoming face and voice to many Bishops undergoing their induction into your Lordships’ House; many of them, unlike other noble Lords, arriving knowing almost nobody here and almost nothing about the ways of the House. The Church of England, even with its modernising agenda, has its own peculiarities and particularities, as you may have noticed. They are, however, different, from the peculiarities and particularities of this House. The Clerk of the Parliaments has always enabled those on this Bench to find their feet and even, in time, their voice. The Lords spiritual, to whom I have spoken, have paid tribute variously to his knowledge, compassion, even-handedness, approachability, modesty and courtesy. That is an impressive catalogue of attributes.
From this Bench we thank him for his years of service and pray that his retirement be blessed with health and happiness. Like everybody else, I should mention Italy, but also hope that he will be happy and healthy here at home.
Excuse me. My Lords, some years ago, as Speaker, I was lucky to attend a Commonwealth Parliamentary conference in Trinidad. Our hosts entertained us one evening at a concert, which was in a theatre hastily constructed for our special conference. It was a black, velvet, tropical evening and, on returning to our seats after the interval, and unseen by my colleagues, I fell through very flaky floorboards right up to my armpits, the remainder of me hanging in an abyss. My legs were dangling and I lost my shoes as I tried unsuccessfully to locate some foothold to pull myself out. After a time, I was spotted by my Clerk, Bill McKay, Clerk of the House of Commons, who grabbed his chum who was the Canadian Clerk, and together they came to my rescue. I tell you, it was a frightening experience. I said to Bill McKay, “I’m so grateful to you. What would I have done without you?”. He said, “Madam Speaker, think nothing of it, that’s what Clerks are for, to get Speakers out of holes”.
I doubt that Michael Pownall had cause to pull the Lord Speaker out of a hole—even a procedural one—but I certainly have no doubt that the sage advice given to me by the Clerk prevented me from falling into procedural holes on more than one occasion.
Parliamentary procedure may not be quite the black art it is sometimes made out to be, but the sheer size of Erskine May testifies to its complexity. The Clerk’s function, of course, is to interpret it and to advise on its application to particular circumstances. I think the Clerk could be described as the essential lubricant in the parliamentary process; he keeps the wheels of Parliament running smoothly. It would be a most unusual, not to say unwise, Speaker who did not acknowledge their debt to the Clerk who supports and keeps them on the straight and narrow. But the responsibilities of the Clerk and his staff, as we have heard already this afternoon, go wider than this: they advise Ministers, opposition spokesmen, Cross-Bench Convenors, and individual Members, like many of us here, with equal zeal and with impartiality. Quite simply, we could not manage without them. Clerks are low-profile but high-value members of the parliamentary community. What I found to be the case in the Commons is equally true here.
In recent years, of course, the role of the Clerk of the Parliaments has expanded to encompass a much greater managerial function in the administration of this House, and this has placed increased demands on Michael which he has met with energy and equanimity. Michael Pownall has served your Lordships' House and its Members with skill, devotion and fidelity, which is the characteristic of the Clerks of our Parliament. We are blessed with the best. I think the finest tribute I can pay to Michael is to quote from Chaucer’s description of the Clerk in the prologue to The Canterbury Tales. It certainly applies to Michael Pownall:
“Not one word spoke he more than was his need;
And that was said in fullest reverence
And short and quick and full of high good sense”.
In paying tribute to Michael personally, which I do in full measure, I wish him a long retirement with his family, enjoying good health and happiness in the years to come.
My Lords, I apologise to my noble friend for intervening prematurely.
As one of your Lordships’ former Chairmen of Committees, I support the Motion moved by the noble Lord the Leader of the House. I served first as Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees, and I worked with Michael Pownall in that role. He was, of course, in charge of me. I predicted at that time that he would finish up as Clerk of the Parliaments. I said that to myself; I did not say it to anyone else in your Lordships' House, and I certainly did not say it to Michael Pownall. On my first day as Chairman of Committees, the then Clerk of the Parliaments noticed, when I took the chair for the first time, that I was wearing my pass—my badge. I took over the chair when the Lord Chancellor rose—when we had a real Lord Chancellor—and Mr Michael Wheeler-Booth, who is now Sir Michael but was then our Clerk, very discreetly and delicately mentioned to me after we rose that I had been wearing my badge. I think he thought that it was unseemly of me to wear it on the Woolsack. Mr Pownall would not have drawn that to my attention.
I can say only that it has been a very great privilege to serve in your Lordships' House with Michael Pownall as Clerk of the Parliaments. It has given me very great pleasure. I wish him well, as we all do, I wish him a good future and I hope to see him frequently here in your Lordships' House.
My Lords, I am sure that the whole House is extremely grateful for the fine and well deserved tributes which Michael Pownall has just received. We all know how genuine are the feelings that have been expressed on behalf of us all about Mr Pownall. That makes it particularly unfortunate that Mr Pownall is, I believe, the first Clerk of the Parliaments for centuries—I have been unable to discover how many centuries—to be retiring without a knighthood. I happen to think that that is extremely unjust to him personally, as well as being undeserved and unreasonable. I also happen to think that it is very much not in the interests of Parliament.
As we know, Parliament, the House of Lords as much as the House of Commons, depends absolutely on the high calibre of our Clerks and on being able to attract into the cadre of Clerks young men and women of the greatest ability. They do not get much opportunity for public tribute to be paid to them, but the tradition that whoever rises to the top of this profession receives a knighthood is one way that enables us to make quite clear the esteem in which we hold the profession as a whole. Perhaps I may ask the Leader of the House to have a word in the right place to see whether this matter can be rectified.
My Lords, only the very best of the best become Clerk of the Parliaments. I am taken back to the time when the late Lord Soames was Leader of the House and was then made the Governor of Southern Rhodesia. As a result, I found myself being made the acting Leader of your Lordships’ House. I was set up in the room that the Leaders use, a very large and frightening place, but I was there and got used to it.
The then Clerk of the Parliaments, the late Sir Peter Henderson, asked whether I would interview a young man who he thought would be good as the private secretary to the Leader and the Chief Whip. I said, “Of course I will”, because I could not really say anything else. “Send the young pup along”. The young pup who came along was, of course, Michael Pownall. After the interview, Sir Peter asked how I got on. I said that Michael Pownall was a charming and delightful person, but that he had not said very much. Sir Peter, in defence of his newfound protégé, rounded on me and said, “Nor would you because that is the most frightening room to be interviewed in”. I knew it was, but on that occasion I was on the other side of the table.
As Michael Pownall’s progression went on, I am glad to think that my modest intervention of a non-offensive nature resulted, some 30 years later, in a Clerk of the Parliaments who has been one of the best, the nicest, the most courteous and dignified Clerks who we have had the good privilege to see. We are all very grateful to him for that.
My Lords, I saw Michael Pownall on virtually every sitting day when, as Clerk of the Parliaments, he would come to brief me before the House sat for business. The noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, was quite right to talk about the particular role played by Clerks in relation to Speakers, even in this House. Not only did he pull me out of holes, but perhaps more important, he stopped me falling into them in the first place. He did that, as the Leader of the House has said, with an unfailing courtesy and kindness. I owe him a debt of gratitude.
The phrase I heard him use most frequently was, “Is there anything we can do to help?”. It was always “we” because Michael is a very modest man who never took on himself that he was the person who would solve everything; he saw himself as leading a team. The phrase that came a close second to that was, “I am sorry I am late, Lord Speaker, but I was waylaid on the way to your office”. He was inevitably waylaid on the way to the office because he was incapable of discourtesy to anybody whether it was staff or Member. He took their issues seriously and he did what he could to help. He had time for everybody. I hope that, now, he will have time for himself, for Deborah and for the daughters whom he loves so much.
Motion agreed nemine dissentiente.
Clerk of the Parliaments
Introduction of David Richard Beamish
The letters of appointment for Mr David Richard Beamish as the next Clerk of the Parliaments were read and he made the prescribed declaration:
“I, David Richard Beamish, do declare that I will be true and faithful and troth I will bear to Our Sovereign Lady the Queen and to Her Heirs and Successors. I will nothing know that shall be prejudicial to Her Highness Her Crown Estate and Dignity Royal, but that I will resist it to my power and with all speed I will advertise Her Grace thereof, or at the least some of Her Counsel in such wise as the same may come to Her knowledge. I will also well and truly serve Her Highness in the Office of Clerk of Her Parliaments making true Entries and Records of the things done and passed in the same. I will keep secret all such matters as shall be treated in Her said Parliaments and not disclose the same before they shall be published, but to such as it ought to be disclosed unto, and generally I will well and truly do and execute all things belonging to me to be done appertaining to the Office of Clerk of the Parliaments
After which he took his seat at the Table.
Appointment of Edward Christopher Ollard
That this House do approve the appointment by the Lord Speaker, pursuant to the Clerk of the Parliaments Act 1824, of Mr Edward Christopher Ollard to be Clerk Assistant of the House in place of Mr David Richard Beamish appointed Clerk of the Parliaments.
My Lords, as the noble Lord the Leader of the House informed the House on 17 January, I have appointed Mr Edward Christopher Ollard to be Clerk Assistant in place of Mr David Richard Beamish appointed Clerk of the Parliaments. I therefore beg to move.
Motion agreed nemine dissentiente.
RAF Northolt: Commercial Flights
My Lords, first, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the families and friends of Colour Sergeant Alan Cameron from the 1st Battalion Scots Guards and Captain Lisa Head from 321 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Squadron, 11 EOD Regiment Royal Logistics Corps, who both died as a result of injuries sustained on operations in Afghanistan. My thoughts are also with the wounded and I pay tribute to the courage and fortitude with which they face their rehabilitation.
We are able to generate income from the existing surplus capacity at RAF Northolt providing that this is consistent with Ministry of Defence business and operational requirements. There are no plans currently to increase the capacity for short-haul commercial flights but, as with all MoD assets, alternative uses and other sources of income generation are kept under review.
I am sure that the whole House will wish to be associated with my noble friend’s remarks about the two heroes and their families. As for his Answer, it was much more favourable and positive than I expected. Pushing my luck a little, perhaps I may ask whether he envisages that there will be, or could be, a lengthening of the runway at Northolt?
My Lords, I am sorry to disappoint my noble friend, but we have no plans to extend the runway. Any proposals for development of RAF Northolt would need to be considered on their individual merits, taking into account defence requirements as well as economic and environmental considerations and the impact on the local community.
My Lords, I should like to associate these Benches with the Minister’s condolences to the families and friends of Colour Sergeant Alan Cameron and Captain Lisa Head, both of whom died as a result of injuries sustained in Afghanistan. I should also like to associate these Benches with the Minister’s thoughts and tributes regarding the wounded.
The exchange that we have just heard might lead one to the view that Northolt is being seen as, shall we say, a stealth third runway for Heathrow. That would not be an uncontroversial idea. Can the Minister assure me that before any decision is taken to significantly increase commercial traffic there will be a full impact analysis of the effect on surface transport and aircraft noise as well as of any other environmental effects?
My Lords, the impact on the local population needs to be considered before any changes are made, and I do not underestimate their concern about the adverse impact of any potential increase in the number of civil movements above the 7,000 per year limit. Commitments have been made previously to consult prior to any increase above the current ceiling, and I am happy to repeat the commitment to consult appropriately now.
My Lords, first, on behalf of these Benches I join in the tributes to those who have fallen and to the wounded. On the Question, does the Minister agree that where high-speed rail networks have been developed domestically in countries across the globe, domestic air travel has shrunk or even collapsed? Therefore, there has to be another and better route to a future for Northolt. The focus should be on high-speed rail, not expanding domestic aviation.
My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. A national high-speed rail network would provide an attractive alternative to domestic aviation in both its initial and subsequent phases and would therefore reduce the pressure on Heathrow. Around 7 per cent of Heathrow passengers travel on domestic routes which could be served by high-speed rail, and 8 per cent are short-haul passengers.
I speak as the president of the British Airline Pilots Association. Although the restricted use of Northolt is worthy of consideration, the extended use of Heathrow is vital. Is it not clear that the longer the Government prevaricate over this issue, the more the benefits will accrue to French and German aviation at the expense of their British counterparts?
My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord as a very distinguished president of BALPA. Heathrow currently operates at around 99 per cent capacity, and we cannot let it grow out of control, but the Government are committed to developing a new policy framework for the whole of UK aviation which supports economic growth and addresses aviation’s environmental impact. We want to see a successful and competitive aviation industry that supports economic growth and addresses the environmental impacts. Aviation should be able to grow, but to do so it must play its part in delivering our environmental goals and protecting the quality of life of local communities.
My Lords, what is the total number of military and civilian air traffic movements at Northolt in any one year, and are there any air traffic control constraints due to the closeness of Heathrow and the overall impact of its terminal marshalling area—TMA?
My Lords, the noble Lord has talked about an aviation strategy but in an earlier answer he made it clear that high-speed rail also has an important role to play. As there are also objections to high-speed rail on environmental grounds, do the Government have a co-ordinated transport policy which puts aviation together with rail and road transport?
My Lords, since it appears to have fallen to the noble Lord to answer questions on aviation, which I do not think is his normal brief, would he be kind enough to convey to his colleagues in the Department for Transport that, as welcome as the Government’s current position on airport expansion is, for communities where there are airports it is none the less extremely difficult to live with continuing uncertainty? Every time a decision is taken and the question is then raised of whether it might be overturned, it creates a new kind of blight in each of those communities. Perhaps he would convey that to his colleagues.
NHS: Chiropody and Podiatry Services
My Lords, it is the responsibility of local National Health Service organisations to commission services to meet the needs of their community and the education and training necessary to deliver them, including the provision of chiropody and podiatry services. This will continue in the future.
I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he share my concern that GP consortia may lack the necessary strategic overview to prioritise longer-term preventive care options and ensure future podiatric care? Can he further clarify whether Health Education England, or some other body, will have full responsibility for seeing that adequate numbers of podiatrists and chiropodists are trained?
My Lords, let me first make it clear to my noble friend that GP consortia will not be responsible for commissioning training—at a local level that will be the responsibility of the skills networks, made up of healthcare providers. Health Education England will be a new organisation with new executive powers. It will provide national leadership on planning and developing the healthcare workforce and promoting high-quality education and training that is responsive to the changing needs of patients and local communities.
Is the noble Earl aware of the recent study by the American Podiatric Medical Association which demonstrates that early recognition of foot ulcers or foot problems in diabetics can prevent hospitalisation, or indeed amputation, if action is taken early and resources are commanded to deal with potential problems?
My Lords, I am aware of that study. If we apply the lessons learnt to the UK, the noble Lord may already know that approximately 100 people have an amputation due to foot ulceration, as a complication of diabetes, every week. The International Diabetes Federation has estimated that 85 per cent of these amputations could be prevented through early intervention by a diabetic foot team that includes a specialist podiatrist. Indeed, the diabetes foot protection team in Southampton, to take one area, reduced in-patient stays from 50 to 18 bed days and saved £1.2 million in the first three years.
My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that I consider that any feet over the age of six months are utterly revolting? However, I have a serious question: will wounded servicemen, who are unable to reach their own feet due to injury, be given free chiropody?
I am grateful to my noble friend. She will know that the injuries sustained by our service men and women in the theatres of conflict form a high priority for the National Health Service and the Defence Medical Services. Indeed, chiropody and foot care will play a large part, I am sure, in ensuring the mobility of those wounded personnel. The key will be to ensure that there are sufficient chiropodists and podiatrists to deliver the services required, and that requires a process of local determination and prioritisation to ensure that workforce numbers meet healthcare needs.
My Lords, I have an interest to declare as president of the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists. Can the Minister give the House the Government’s estimate of the number of NHS patients who have suffered preventable amputations due to lack of state-qualified podiatric care?
My Lords, it is obviously difficult for me to give the noble Lord a precise figure but his central point is absolutely correct. We know that many people suffer needless amputations who, if they had had early intervention, would be spared that appalling outcome. The role of chiropodists and podiatrists, as he will know more than anyone, is in the field of prevention not least for patients with diabetes but also in the care of the elderly to ensure mobility and proper foot care.
My Lords, in some parts of the UK it is not possible to train as a podiatric surgeon. Consequently, podiatric surgery is not widely available. Will my noble friend tell the House whether in England the Government are planning to encourage more centres for training appropriately qualified podiatrists, thus remedying the situation?
My Lords, my noble friend makes an important point. She will know that there are universities that specialise in the training of chiropodists and podiatrists, and we place great reliance on them. What will emerge from the new architecture that is foreshadowed by the Health and Social Care Bill is a much greater sense of local prioritisation regarding needs. Flowing from that, with the advice and guidance of Health Education England, which will be the national body supervising workforce requirements, we may well see further centres of excellence in training emerging.
My Lords, I hope that the Minister will forgive me for being slightly personal, but I wonder how often he trims his toenails. I expect that he can actually reach his own toenails unlike many elderly people who cannot reach theirs, do not have anyone to do it for them and cannot afford a podiatrist. Would the Minister be happy to have his toenails trimmed once every three months, which seems to be the standard offer by health centres and GPs at the moment? I am sure that he will share my concern that even that service is under threat from the cuts at PCT level. Will the Minister undertake to ensure that podiatry services for the elderly become a priority for the National Commissioning Board?
My Lords, I am fortunate in being able to cut my own toenails. However, the noble Baroness makes a serious point about the elderly. It is often the lack of that simple service that prevents elderly people being as mobile as they wish and sometimes confines them to their own homes. This is a serious issue in terms of the way that we can prevent unplanned hospital admissions due to elderly people falling over. The process that I have referred to whereby we will see joint health and well-being strategies emerging from the health and well-being boards at local level should ensure a sufficient supply of the workforce over a period of time.
Finance: Hostile Takeover Bids
My Lords, the United Kingdom has a tradition of welcoming long-term foreign investment that can bring in new technologies and skills. Ownership of companies is a commercial matter for the companies concerned. Where mergers may affect the public interest, powers exist to protect issues such as our national security.
My Lords, so far as it goes, that is a fine Answer and I entirely agree with it. I suggest, however, and I hope that the Minister agrees with me, that some takeovers from abroad may have serious adverse consequences for the consumer interest, for the workforce or for both, and that some takeovers come from countries that do not themselves allow the process of a takeover bid in the reverse direction—in other words, there is no reciprocity. Does the Minister agree that there are provisions in the Enterprise Act 2002 that enable the Government, in the case of concerns of national strategic importance, to intervene? I think that the phrase is that “an intervention notice” may be submitted. If that is not satisfactory, the Act provides for statutory orders to be made to the same effect. Has the Minister considered these matters in relation to a Bill that she knows a great deal about, the Postal Services Bill, under which Royal Mail shares will be made publicly available and might, unless something is done about it, be purchased for a foreign entity?
The noble Lord will know that the Postal Services Bill is still in this House. While no decision has been taken on the formal method of sale, we would certainly not rule out the sale of shares in Royal Mail to foreign-based companies. The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, knows from his experience as director-general of the Office of Fair Trading that we have methods in place to make sure that any bids we look at will be right and proper for the safe concern of the future. The Government’s objective, as noble Lords know, is to secure the future of the universal postal service and to maximise value for the taxpayer. You can be assured that this Government will do what is best for Britain.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, spoke about reciprocity. Just because the Americans or the French can be protectionist, we should not be protectionist. Does the Minister agree that we are one of the most open economies in the world and should be proud of it? Furthermore, does she agree that protectionism is one of the greatest dangers to our globalised world economy at the moment? On the other hand, will the Minister tell us how we prioritise industries as being of strategic significance or not? A takeover is not just about broken promises, as in the case of Kraft and Cadbury; a hostile takeover disrupts the supply chain and all the other companies involved with the target companies. How do the Government intend to deal with that?
There were a few questions there. Yes, we should allow for open global trading because it is best for us, best for the world, best for our companies and best for the jobs that we need in this country now. Noble Lords will know that there are consultations going on at the moment over the Takeover Code, corporate Britain and the competition regime. We are reviewing all of them to make sure that we have the best methods in place to take us forward in the coming years.
My Lords, bearing in mind the success of acquisitions by UK companies of several overseas companies in several jurisdictions—and following the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Borrie—in formulating government policy on this issue, will the Government confirm that they will look at the risk of reciprocal actions by other countries were we to restrict takeovers in the UK?
My Lords, does the noble Baroness recall that it was I who first tasked the Takeover Panel to look into these matters in the wake of the Cadbury takeover? While it was never my or the Government’s intention to introduce or apply a nationality test in the case of foreign takeovers, I was conscious of the potential sensitivity and possible conflict of interest in the energy sector. What would be the Government’s attitude to a foreign bid for a UK energy utility from outside the European Union?
There were two questions there. One was about the Cadbury acquisition by Kraft, which raised wider questions, as we know, about short-termism and shareholder engagement. They are being considered as part of the reform of the Takeover Code and the Government’s call for evidence on the long-term focus for corporate Britain. Yes, I agree with the noble Lord on that. As to whether the Government would act to stop the takeover of a British energy company, I am unable to comment on any specific case. However, any proposed merger involving the supply of energy and its infrastructure would be subject to robust scrutiny and considered on its merits.
NHS: Consultation on Reform
My Lords, we ran a public consultation on NHS reform last year and received some 6,000 responses. As a result, we brought forward important changes to our modernisation proposals. We are now taking advantage of the natural pause in the legislative process to listen and reflect, supported by advice from the new NHS Future Forum. The Government will then respond to the forum’s report and the wider listening exercise, setting out the improvements that we will make to the Bill based on what we have heard.
My Lords, did the Minister see the Statement by the Secretary of State that the reason for the pause was because the Bill was allegedly not understood and he had to explain it better? Will he explain to Mr Lansley that it is precisely because the Bill is well understood that there is such widespread opposition, including an unprecedented vote of no confidence by the Royal College of Nursing? Will he give a guarantee that substantial amendments will be brought before Parliament after the current consultation? Otherwise, it will be seen as a complete sham.
My Lords, I think there is widespread agreement that the principles on which the Bill is based, such as devolving control of the NHS to local levels, placing patients at the heart of decisions about their own care and improving public accountability are the right principles for us to be guided by, but that there are also, as the noble Lord said, questions and concerns, some quite deep, about what we are doing and the mechanics of putting the principles into practice. As the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister made clear, this is a genuine chance to make a difference. Where there are good suggestions to improve the legislation, those changes will be made.
My Lords, the forum, as I understand it, is now fully composed. The appointments were made over the past 10 days or so. I am not aware of any further appointments. The plan is for the forum to produce a report which will be published at the end of the day. I will, however, write to the noble Baroness as regards the minutes, which are a matter for the chair of the forum, which is independent of the Government, as she will know.
My Lords, does the noble Earl agree that the pause and the mechanics that he has talked about have to be dealt with—there are lots of issues around that—but that the pause or gap is causing great concern to people working in the health service? Pause is an incidental word as regards the feelings of people who are going through this process and are caring for patients but are not sure what method they are supposed to be using. Will the noble Earl please tell us when we will know what is happening and how these people can get on with the job that they want to do?
My Lords, I am aware of that concern. This matter has occupied the minds of Ministers. I say to those who are serving in the NHS day by day and, indeed, to the pathfinder consortia and the early implementer local authorities that they should continue with the work that they are doing because it is from them that we most wish to hear about the practical lessons that our proposals may point to. It is, I am sure, an unsettling time for them but we hope that after this period of reflection we can continue with the passage of the Bill with proper momentum.
Does the Minister agree with me that the principles referred to earlier underpin the NHS reforms? These principles are supported by the coalition Government and follow on from the same reforms that were introduced by the previous Government. I would like him to acknowledge that these principles should be reaffirmed in any response to the listening exercise.
My noble friend is quite right: the principles that underpin the Bill and—I emphasise this—the principles that have always underpinned the National Health Service, are not going to change. He is right that the approach that we are adopting is in many senses an evolutionary one, following on from initiatives taken by the previous Government. I am grateful to him for pointing that out and I am sure that this will be a feature of the government response that we shall publish in due course.
The noble Baroness makes a very important point about local directors of public health, who most certainly do need the right qualifications for that role. As she will know, they will be jointly appointed by local authorities and by the Secretary of State and we need to ensure that they can perform their role properly. The four main themes to the listening exercise are: choice and competition; public accountability and patient involvement; clinical advice and leadership—that may be an area that impacts on her question; and education and training. In some ways it is difficult to separate those issues; they are all of a piece and we do need to look at them very carefully.
My Lords, if the current listening exercise hears the almost universal concerns about the Government’s proposal to introduce a new economic regulator into the heart of the NHS—concerns, I have to say, that were expressed but ignored by the Secretary of State right through the autumn and the spring—will the Government be removing that part of the Health and Social Care Bill?
My Lords, no, because we are clear that the current system requires independent oversight of competition within the health service. Essentially, we have an unregulated health service at the moment; the Government in which she played a distinguished part as a Minister rolled out the independent sector treatment centre programme but its terms were, in the judgment of many, not fair. We need independent scrutiny and determination of pricing in the health service to ensure that there is a fairer playing field for all those providers of NHS services.
European Union Bill
Committee (2nd Day)
Clause 3 : Amendment of TFEU under simplified revision procedure
Amendment 9 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Amendments 10 to 16 not moved.
16A: Clause 3, page 3, line 2, at end insert “either”
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 16B. These are amendments to Clause 3 and their purpose is to allow Ministers pragmatic flexibility to act in the national interest in cases of urgency. The arguments I will make are very similar to those I will make for Amendments 17, 18 and 19, and I intend to move those formally when the time comes. Amendments 17, 18 and 19 are about extending the significance test that the Bill gives Ministers to a wider range of issues than currently listed in Clause 4(1).
It is important when debating these amendments to emphasise that we are not talking about treaties that are subject to the full ratification process. We have different views about whether those should be subject to referenda, but that is not the topic of the amendments. They are about the use of referenda in cases where, under Article 48(6) of the treaty, the simplified revision procedure is used. This procedure can be used only when it does not extend the European Union’s competencies. Its purpose is to give member states flexibility to meet new situations that the treaty drafters had not anticipated when they wrote the treaty. Any changes agreed under these provisions would of course be subject to full parliamentary ratification. On this side of the House, we are not disputing that requirement.
On the first day in Committee, we considered amendments by the noble Lords, Lord Hannay, Lord Dykes, Lord Tomlinson and Lord Richard, who argued that in such cases only parliamentary ratification should be necessary and that that should be the end of the matter. In reply, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, argued, on behalf of the Government, that this was simply not good enough to restore public trust in the European Union. However, I regret to say that, from our perspective, he was unable to give a satisfactory answer as to why this was not good enough, and he was unable to cite examples of where, in these special circumstances, referenda would be required in other member states. This set of amendments enables us to come back to the same issues of giving Ministers more flexibility of action in another way.
Clause 3(4) introduces the concept of significance into whether a referendum is required. We think that that is quite a sensible approach. The Minister should have the flexibility to decide what is significant and insignificant, and put that to Parliament. Unfortunately, the Bill restricts this ministerial discretion very narrowly indeed. The Minister can apply this test of significance only under Clause 4(1)(i) and (j). The noble Lord, Lord Howell, gave us an example of what that test might be—for instance, if the Government decide that the new reporting requirements they have to make to Eurostat, in order to comply with the new economic governance arrangements, are not a change of sufficient significance to require a referendum. I think we would all agree with that.
However, we are seeking, first in this set of amendments, a provision that no referendum should be required in urgent cases; and, in Amendments 17 to 19, that the significance test should apply to all those matters listed in Clause 4(1). Why does this make sense? It is for the obvious reason that what is being talked about is a requirement to put fairly minor changes through a double ratification process. The Lisbon treaty went through a thorough ratification process in this House and the other place, but this Bill states that, to use its provisions, we have to go through yet another ratification process—this time involving a referendum. This double ratification does not seem to make any sense, particularly when it is not on issues of major significance.
That is not to deny that on this side of the Chamber we of course accept that the European Union has a significant legitimacy problem, and I think we are all alarmed by the rise of populist parties in various member states. However, our analysis is that the root of the problem is not so much an accretion of power to Brussels as a failure of political leadership in Europe to use the powers that Europe has to address the economic problems, social malaise and environmental and political challenges facing the Union. I think that this affects Britain as much as any other member state. We all recognise—at least I hope that we do—that in this world of interdependence there are a lot of these challenges and they can be met only by our acting together.
No one on this side of the Chamber is arguing for a transfer of powers to Brussels simply for its own sake. However, the huge problem with the Bill is that it is designed not, as its promoters claim, to build support for Europe in Britain but rather to appease those who do not really want us to be members of the European Union at all. By introducing this new constitutional concept of perpetual referenda, the Bill rules out the pragmatic flexibility that we need within the European Union to pursue our national interests. It is ironic that as, next week, we approach the first nationwide referendum in 36 years in this country, we should be debating in this Bill the possibility of 56 different issues which could be subject to a referendum. That does not seem to make sense; it is a denial of the pragmatism for which the British are famed. I think that this is a very un-British piece of legislation, and it is very limiting. Who can tell what urgent situations might arise or what minor changes might be necessary to make the EU effective?
I dearly hope that later, either in Committee or on Report, we will be able to argue and persuade this House to accept amendments that will sunset the Bill and mean that it does not apply beyond the present Parliament. However, if that attempt fails, we need to find pragmatic solutions within the context of the Bill that will enable the UK to continue to play a leading role in the European Union. We have to strike a better balance than the Bill does at present between what we need to do in our national interest and what needs popular assent. Therefore, with these amendments we are arguing for an exemption from the referendum requirement in cases of genuine urgency and where the test of significance can be applied more widely.
The Government say that they are trying to institute a referendum lock on major decisions. I think that what we have here is referendum paralysis on lots of minor decisions. I believe that the amendments would help to make a bad Bill marginally less bad and increase Britain’s ability to negotiate from a position of strength in Europe.
My Lords, I was wondering when the Statement would be made, hence my hesitation. I hope that I will be forgiven for making a few general remarks on this my first speech in Committee. It is very important that people should be clear about the context in which almost all the amendments are brought forward. We know perfectly well the origins of the Bill, which of course lie in the coalition agreement, but it is important to be clear where the opponents come from. The supporters of these amendments, and many others, seem to say that as there is no issue of lack of trust, there is no harm in blunting the instrument devised by the Government to restore trust. That is what it is all about. It is, therefore, a very good idea to allow a Minister to try to avoid a referendum in as many cases as possible by saying that the matters are “not significant”. They, like almost all opponents of the Bill, seem to think that any dislike of the EU is due not to any failings at all on the part of the EU, but because, as my noble friend Lord Deben said, a week or two ago,
“a large number of people spend a great deal of time misleading as many people as possible”—[Official Report, 5/4/11; col. 1637.]
You cannot talk more nonsense than that.
Surely it would be very surprising if some people were not annoyed at some of the facts, not the myths about the EU, and the truths, not the falsehoods. It would be surprising if there was not in some quarters a feeling of disillusionment and dismay. It would be odd if there was dancing in the streets to celebrate the EU budget and if people were congratulating the EU on improving the lifestyle of Hungarian dogs and securing first-class travel for MEPs. It is nonsense to say that there is no dissatisfaction; there clearly is. I note that my noble friend Lord Wallace said that when he went to Yorkshire recently he got an earful. When people hear of some of the goings-on in Brussels they get pretty cross. They are cross, for instance, about the enormous salary paid to the new President of the European Council, which is more than the salary paid to the President of the United States, and wonder what on earth that is all about.
Has the noble Lord noticed that in the past year there has been some dissent and public concern about salaries and expenses in Westminster, both in the other place and here? That does not mean to say that Westminster does not have an important function to perform, just as the European Union does.
The noble Lord is perfectly entitled to pick on what I said about salaries but, of course, it goes very much further than that. I could quote umpteen examples of things that have caused enormous annoyance. There is also enormous annoyance at the salary paid to the new EU Foreign Minister, and goodness knows how much will be paid for the European External Action Service. It is worth remembering at this stage where we are. Mr Blair was not going to have an EU Foreign Minister at any cost and was totally opposed to an external action service, but of course at the end he gave way, rolled over and agreed to it.
Of course, both posts were created by the constitution/Lisbon. I venture to suggest that if the people had had a say, not about the constitution or Lisbon but in the matter of either of those posts, they would have said, “Certainly not. Why should we pay for pointless EU aggrandisement?”. There have been some terrible betrayals by the Government of this country. Take, for instance, the surrender by Mr Blair of a large part of our hard-won rebate. It was supposed to be for reform of the agricultural policy, but no reform has taken place. There were all the carryings-on over the constitution/Lisbon. Some insist that there was enough difference between the two to justify Mr Blair ditching his promise of a referendum, but surely there is one thing on which we can all agree. With all the parties promising a referendum in 2005, and with the main changes proposed in the constitution reappearing in Lisbon, it was not at all strange that a lot of people felt that they were entitled to have a say in what was afoot, but they were told to mind their own business. They did: they went off in large numbers to vote for UKIP.
My Lords, I did not want interrupt the excellent speech of my noble friend, if I may refer to him as that, except to ask him about the intervention from the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, sitting beside me. Surely the difference is that the British people can do something about what happens in Westminster. They can elect and dismiss the people who make their laws, who defraud their expenses and all the rest of it. In what goes on in Brussels, the British people and the Select Committees of both Houses of Parliament are completely powerless. That is the difference. I apologise again for interrupting the noble Lord’s very important speech.
Undoubtedly, history has shown that it is extremely difficult to give the people the role to which they feel that they are entitled through our parliamentary structure. That is an additional argument that, in certain circumstances, there ought to be referendums.
I mentioned our Government having let the people down, but I must also point out that sometimes the EU itself has not enhanced its reputation for fair dealing. The reintroduction of the working time directive as a health and safety measure to destroy Britain's opt-out from the social chapter was, some might say, barefaced cheating. It was certainly most extraordinary behaviour. The misuse of Article 308 was a disgrace. Is not what happened with Article 308 a complete answer to the argument, which has been advanced time and time again on the other side of the House, that there is no need for referendums in Article 48(6) cases because it is not supposed to be used to increase a competence conferred by the treaty? What on earth is to stop the Commission and the Council of Ministers determining that something does not increase competence when it clearly does? That is precisely what the Commission and the Council did with Article 308, which was supposed to be used to further the common market but was used for all sorts of extraordinary things, such as giving aid to Mongolia.
Some noble Lords say that they are against referendums as a matter of principle because they are an affront to parliamentary democracy. I see their point.
The noble Lord is entirely right, which proves the point that there ought to be referendums in such circumstances to stop Governments behaving in that way.
As I said, some noble Lords say that they are against referendums as a matter of principle, but it is a pathetic argument in the context of the EU. We elect MPs to use the powers that they have inherited. We certainly do not elect them to give those powers away. I find it interesting that all those who go on about being against referendums as a matter of principle turn out to be Europhiles who, at the time of Lisbon, knew that a referendum would result in an emphatic no and would mean a pause in the constant leaching of power from Westminster to Brussels.
Some say that the Bill will make it very difficult for Governments. They may favour a proposal but stop short of embracing it because that would mean a referendum they might lose. That gives me no sleepless nights. It does not frighten me one little bit. The whole trouble is that while most Europhiles protest that they do not want us to lose our independence as a nation, every step we take involving a sacrifice of sovereignty brings us closer to that end. So reluctance by Ministers to sign away any more of our powers would be a very welcome development.
The wording of the first group of amendments supports my assertion that those attacking the Bill do not accept that there is any real problem to be addressed. If in the circumstances listed in Clause 4(1), and not just in the circumstances listed in paragraphs (i) and (j) in this group of amendments, a Minister could argue that the effect of a particular decision on the UK would be insignificant, and you would be giving the Minister far too much wriggle room and far too great an opportunity to avoid a referendum. There could be repeats of what happened over Lisbon rather than the rebuilding of trust that is the object of this exercise.
I cannot for one moment support these amendments, and I fear that almost every amendment on the Marshalled List at present is designed to blunt the instrument that has quite rightly been put before Parliament by this Government.
Listening to the proceedings on the Bill, I was struck by the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, and the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, who reminded us of the important reasons why we should have a positive relationship with the European Union. I also agree with comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that had we been involved at an earlier stage, many of the difficulties that have subsequently arisen could have been dealt with more satisfactorily. As we reflect on the situation today, there has been a breakdown of trust right across the European Union. It is not something that is confined to the United Kingdom, but is found in many parts of the rest of the European Union.
What has happened in this country is that scepticism has grown because of a sense of disconnection between successive Governments and the people. This Bill is designed to define very clearly exactly what the important considerations are for the calling of a referendum to assure people that it is necessary to try to bridge the gap between the attitudes of the people and the sense of failure in our relationship with the European Union. I disagree that having a referendum would not achieve this.
Specifically on the issue of national interest and the question of urgency, as my noble friend said, this gives room for Ministers to make judgments. We have been through this time and time again. We need to be specific in drawing up legislation to give back to people the sense of confidence that they now lack. That is why extending the definition of national interest or urgency in this way would not be satisfactory. After all, something that is urgent could well require some important constitutional consideration. In that sense, I believe that we need to look at these two amendments.
Finally, I return to the point that it is perfectly legitimate for people not to accept the value of referendums, but they are now part of the political culture of this country and of many other countries in the European Union that face this problem. It is hugely important that we narrowly define what is in the Bill to maximise the credibility of this legislation. The amendment does not do that.
I speak in support of this amendment, though I support more drastic surgery in terms of reducing the number of areas in which a referendum would be required. This amendment, however, goes in the right direction. In supporting it, I make two points, which arise from what the noble Lords, Lord Liddle and Lord Waddington, said.
The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, made an extremely important point, which has been overlooked so far, but which is integral to my own approach and some of the amendments I have put down for later debate. It is not suggested that we should go back to the status quo ante, to the situation prevailing under this House and the other place’s ratification of Lisbon, a situation where these decisions should be endorsable purely by a resolution of both Houses. The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, said in his introduction that his amendments accepted that it would go back to primary legislation. The position of Parliament in approving these matters would be strengthened over the present situation. That is, frankly, a very important point. I hope that the Government will take due account of that. There is an acceptance among a number of us—and that is true of amendments of a more drastic kind that I have tabled and which we will debate later—that we should not just be going back to the Lisbon provisions, but should be going back to Lisbon plus.
The second point relates to points made by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. As one of those who are moving amendments, I do not contest the analysis that the Government have made, namely that support for the European Union in this country has been losing ground and that there is often dissatisfaction with measures taken in Brussels. It would be quite stupid to deny that. What I, and probably some others who are moving amendments, contest is whether a whole list of referendums on matters of highly technical, and some might say trivial, interest would actually help to deal with that situation. My own view—and I would be interested to hear anybody contesting this—is that it would actually make it worse. If we went around the country trying to persuade our compatriots why they should vote in a referendum on whether or not additional advocates-general should be created by qualified majority voting, or whatever, they would think we were certifiable. Certifiable or not, the reason I am supporting these amendments, and moving my own amendments, is not because I dispute the analysis, but because I dispute the prescription.
My Lords, it is a sad fact that this legislation is needed because successive Governments have let down the people of this country in failing to protect our national interests—particularly the last Government.
A sensible balance has been achieved in this Bill. There are as many items that do not require referenda as those that do require referenda. A reasonable, practical and sensible balance has been achieved. This amendment is about waiving the referendum in cases of urgency and national interest. I am not quite sure what that means, but it occurs to me that we are right now living at a time when several European countries are in dire financial straits, largely as a result of being uncompetitive, having adopted the common currency. I can just see a financial crisis coming up in due course in Europe and the classic argument being put that, in the interests of urgency and in protecting us from some of the contagion, there is an urgent need for the introduction of far greater collective decisions on matters fiscal and economic. This would be the ultimate objective of achieving a European state with fiscal and economic powers. Should this, as has been suggested, slip by under one of the three different new powers that we have for introducing measures without referenda if it qualifies as being in the national interest out of urgency? No, the Bill has struck a sensible balance, as I have said, and putting up a whole list of new potential excuses that should remove the need for referenda is merely ducking the issue and trying to weaken the impact of the Bill.
My Lords, I was not going to speak to this group of amendments, but I have been provoked by the previous speaker. He seems to suggest that we are implying in these amendments that there will be circumstances in which we seek to hide behind amendments such as these in order to deal with circumstances of economic and monetary convergence. We should, however, look at the current reality.
I have just come back from spending two and a half weeks with some of our continental friends in the European Union. Even though I am a teetotaller, I spent a number of hours in a number of quite agreeable bars speaking to expatriate Brits there, among others. They are not complaining about the strength of sterling and the weakness of the euro; they are complaining about the exact opposite. They are complaining about how weak the pound sterling is and how few euros it buys them in what they had anticipated would be golden years spent in the sunshine. I recall, when I first became involved in buying a property in Spain some five years ago, buying euros at the rate of 65p to the euro. Now I have managed to sell my house in Spain, I was able to repatriate money at the rate of 89p to the euro. That shows that the euro has improved by 38 per cent vis-à-vis sterling. There is a serious point to this, because when we talk about the rising costs of our membership of the European Union, they are the rising costs of a budget that is denominated in euros.
The euro might be weak in relation to some other countries, but it is certainly not weak in relation to the pound sterling. The pound sterling is doing abysmally in relation to the euro, and partly in consequence of that so is our budgetary contribution to the European Union, about which there are permanent complaints from Members opposite. Complaints are being made very merrily at the moment about what will happen if Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne fail to control the Commission with regard to the budget for next year, for which the aspirations are for an increase of 4.9 per cent. The 4.9 per cent is largely the product of the relationship of the pound sterling to the euro. We, and not just the countries in euroland, have a responsibility in that regard.
I think that your Lordships are becoming engaged in a rather tortuous argument. That started off with the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, who I think should be a worried man when he gets praise for what was the alleged excellence of his speech by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. In his speech, he flipped over quite a number—
If that is the moderate centre, I wonder why I gave way so easily to the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, when he seemed somewhat reluctant to do so himself when he was on his feet. The intervention was not really worth the anticipated value.
Many of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, during his speech were rather inaccurate, so just for the sake of making the record clear—
I think he means to speak to the noble Lord, Lord Waddington.
My Lords, I think I can say that there was a time when that might have been my view, but it is not what I said today. Even if you accept that the difference between the two arguments was enough to allow Tony Blair to say that there was no need to have a referendum, there were so many similarities that it was hardly surprising that many people in the country felt that they ought to have a shout, and that has added to the disillusionment. I was trying to avoid the argument which the noble Lord is now raising.
My Lords, now that we have had five or six sentences of clarification when I have managed to get only half a sentence out, the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, will now understand that I will not give way to him until I have finished my point.
The noble Lord made it clear that he thought the broken promise of the last Labour Government, the alleged broken promise, was a matter of fact. He knows perfectly well that he does not have to take just the clear points of argument which were the prevailing view in this House during the ratification of the Lisbon treaty; he can take points of view from places like the Dutch constitutional court. Having looked at the matter carefully, in its judgment the court made it clear that the issue on which there had originally been discussion of a referendum, not only in this country but in countries like Holland as well, was about a referendum on a constitutional treaty. By the time Ministers had finished at the Council of Ministers, there was no constitutional treaty and a referendum was no longer necessary because what we got was a change in the existing treaty base. It was the Maastricht treaty and the Treaty of Nice being changed in a similar way to that in which all previous treaties have been changed, so it would not be a constitutional treaty. So the point was never quite necessary.
My final point is that, again, the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, has attributed views to the former Prime Minister, my right honourable friend Tony Blair. When he checks his record about that which Mr Blair was alleged to have decided, he will see that it was not in fact true. It would be a hard task to show clearly where Mr Blair ever said that he was opposed to the role that was fulfilled by Javier Solana and subsequently is now being fulfilled by the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, and to welcome both him and the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, back to the debate. However, I intend to follow neither of their arguments and to set a dangerous and reprehensible precedent by speaking to Clause 3. I wish to speak in support of Amendments 16A and 16B, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Liddle. It might be convenient if I were also to explain why I have given notice of my intention to oppose Clause 3.
I started our discussion in Committee by asking why we needed Clause 3.
I am open to correction. I thought that it might be convenient if I made now the points which I have on Clause 3. Most of them are in relation to Amendments 16A and 16B, but they are also on the general question of Clause 3. I will do as the Committee wishes.
I asked at the start of Committee why we needed Clause 3. Clause 3 refers to the simplified or accelerated method used in Brussels for producing a treaty amendment. Clause 2 refers to the product of the normal method used in Brussels. The product, by the time it reaches us, is exactly the same: it is a treaty amendment. How it began, who proposed it and which process was followed in Brussels are irrelevant to the ratification requirements here. We should decide the ratification requirements and any necessary referendum requirements on the basis of the weight of the amendment, not of the means by which the amendment was agreed in Brussels. I therefore asked why we needed Clause 3 as well as Clause 2. I have read very carefully the Minister’s answer at the end of the debate. He did not answer the question. He cleverly lured me into a semantic debate about competencies and powers, which we played into the sand, but we did not hear the answer as to why we needed Clause 3.
There is a difference between Clause 3 and Clause 2. If you eliminated Clause 3, you would eliminate something that is not in Clause 2. That is the final section of Clause 3, which contains the significance test. It is to that section that the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, is now proposing an amendment.
There is no significance test in Clause 2, which is the first of the two clauses setting out what we do when a treaty is amended. Does that mean that the Government believe that any treaty amendment made by the traditional method, however insignificant, must require a mandatory referendum? That seems to be the implication of having the test only in Clause 3 and not in Clause 2. I would be inclined to argue that we should eliminate Clause 3 now but transfer subsection (4) to Clause 2, so that the significance test, whatever its form—the form in the Bill, the form as revised by the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, or the form as revised by others—applies to any treaty amendment. That seems to be logical.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, used two arguments which perhaps play on the question. One was implicitly that Article 48(6), the accelerated method, would be used for the trivial, whereas the full-dress method, Article 48(2) to (5)—Clause 2 of this Bill—would be used for the heavy stuff. That may be so, but it does not seem very plausible to me. The noble Lord argued that we need not worry about having a series of referenda on the trivial because amendments would be bundled. He said that, from his long experience of Brussels, he knew that that was the way it worked. That is completely correct. In the past, treaty amendments have been brought together in a bumper-package intergovernmental conference, resulting in a new treaty or a massive treaty amendment.
In my view that will not be the case in future. A lesson has been learnt that it is not right to lump a whole series of questions together. The answer in the French referendum and the Dutch referendum came about partly because a whole lot of measures—not all of them necessarily very large—were put together and people were asked whether they would buy the package. If there is anything in such a package that you do not particularly like, the reasonable answer is to say no. The European Union has learnt from that and the Article 48(6) method—the Clause 3 material—will not be trivial relative to the Clause 2—or Article 48(2) to (5)—material.
Is there not a logical problem in saying that because a number of insignificant matters are lumped together, they will by definition become significant? If they were to be lumped together as the noble Lord is saying, surely it would be very difficult for someone who accepts one matter but not others to vote in a particular way. But surely a bundle of insignificant matters does not by itself therefore become insignificant; it becomes significant.
That seems likely to be the case. I agree with the noble Lord.
The second argument that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, used was about time. Here I have to say that I warmly welcome the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, which brings in the concept of urgency. It seems to me that the situation in which Article 48(6) is likely to be used will be the urgent situation. That is what was in the minds of those who invented the Article 48(6) procedure. The heavy procedure under Article 48(2) to (5)—Clause 2 of our Bill—contains provisions for a convention of representatives of national parliaments and the European Parliament meeting with representatives of the member states. It also contains provisions for doing away with that and concludes with a two-year period for national ratification. These timetable elements, and the reference to the convention, drop out in the accelerated method. The idea of a two-year delay has gone in Article 48(6), just as the convention has gone. People had in mind that there could be crisis situations in which the European Union would need to revise its texts quickly—hence Article 48(6). That makes it a little paradoxical that we are insisting on adding a referendum requirement.
More than that, we are—as the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, pointed out at the start of our first day—doing something that we have never done in this country before: we are providing for an Act of Parliament to be overruled by a referendum. That is literally unprecedented, and we would be doing it in relation to matters, if they were under Article 48(6), where we had voted in the Council for an urgent change, since nothing can be done other than by unanimity in the Council. Everybody has voted for it; it is sufficiently urgent to justify the accelerated procedure; it goes through the House of Commons and through the House of Lords; but under this Bill it then requires a referendum which could overrule an Act of this Parliament. That is why I think that there is something really dangerous in the Bill, not just in terms of our position in the European Union but in terms of our basic constitutional position in this country. I really do worry about it.
I come back to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Liddle. It must be right to introduce the concept of urgency and to make the tests not cumulative. It seems to me that Amendments 16A and 16B deserve our support. However, even if they were included in the Bill, I would still argue that Clause 3 should not stand part of the Bill, because in logic you do not need different procedures depending on how it started over there. The procedures you follow should be decided by the significance of the measure itself.
My Lords, I sense that it is the feeling of the Committee that the Question on Clause 3 stand part should be debated with this grouping of Amendments 16A and 16B, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. I therefore invite the Committee to proceed on that basis.
My Lords, on the point that the noble Baroness raised, I do not think that I heard a loud voice saying that we should not debate Clause 3 stand part. So if anybody wishes to debate Clause 3 stand part, when the Question is put to the Committee, any Member can get up and speak to it. Is that not right?
The Committee can now benefit from the correction provided by the Independent Labour Member on the Cross Benches. It enables us to make progress because, in a way, the linkage between Clauses 3 and 4 is dangerous, to use the word of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and the more we think about it the more dangerous it becomes. It is quite astonishing to reflect on the fact that Clause 4—even if it was included and referred to the Article 48(6) differences—would have been better as a brief clause of perhaps five lines at the most, without the long and lethal list of possibilities for passerelles and other areas of quite routine procedure within the European institutions which have to be automatically referendable in this system.
We forgive the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, for the length of his speech on 5 April, because on that occasion he said some very pertinent and welcome things that will help us to improve this Bill if the Government accept that improvements are necessary, as I hope they will. Perhaps the noble Lord will forgive me for quoting his own material, but towards the end of the last but one paragraph in col. 1634, he put a question on which there has, as I understand it, been total silence despite a two and a half week Recess and time for the Government to give at least a provisional indication. I am ready to be corrected if it is not true that no answer has been given. Briefly, in that last but one paragraph, the noble Lord said:
“Therefore, it seems to me that the references to Article 48(6) and simplified revision procedure in the Bill are otiose. The only other explanation for them could be that the Government envisage referenda on EU issues where no transfer of powers or sovereignty is envisaged”.—[Official Report, 5/4/11; col. 1634.]
If that is so, are they doing it because of a small number of active anti-Europeans in this country who hate the European Union? There is no indication that the public in general are very excited except by the concept of the remoteness of Brussels. That is certainly an issue, but it is an issue that the European Union is trying to address through various measures such as the Lisbon treaty and other means which are gaining ground.
The number of visitors to the European Parliament is massive compared with the numbers visiting even those national parliaments, such as this one and the German Bundestag, which get the most visitors. The number of people visiting the European Parliament has increased massively over the past 10 years, and especially over the past 20 years, and the vast majority of responses from those visiting the European Parliament —from people of all political persuasions and orientations and from people of none, who visit for all sorts of reasons—show that people are gaining a greater understanding of how the institutions of the Union work in a complicated matrix. There are now 27 member states of the Union, as opposed to six when it first started, and complicated machinery is inevitably needed to deal with all the possibilities and ramifications.
It seems to me to be a pity that the Government are persisting obstinately in not entertaining the idea of any substantial or far-reaching amendments, particularly to Clause 4 and the end of Clause 3. I share what I perceive to be the general approbation for the amendments, including the two new additions at the beginning of this cluster proposed by the Labour Front Bench today. We need to spend some time on this, aware as I am that there is a Statement coming along about a very important subject—Libya and the Middle East.
There are three conditions: the referendum condition, the exemption condition and the significance condition. The end of Clause 3 deals really with the significance condition but partly with the exemption one and Clause 4 gives an exhaustive and dangerous list of referendable items. By reversing the whole process and putting back into the list deliberately virtually all the Clause 4 list the Labour Front Bench and others who are in favour of these amendments, and Amendment 28 as well, can show the full absurdity by widening out fully ministerial discretion on everything so eventually nothing in Clause 4 would need to be subject to referendum apart from the very significant matters mentioned in one or two of those paragraphs—not very many of them, I hasten to add.
The clause does direct damage to the existing competences under the treaties and prevents any member state even responding within the powers already granted by treaty. That is the most extraordinary thing, hence the anxieties of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and of my noble friend in front of me who expressed fears about an Act of Parliament then being overturned by a referendum. My noble friend Lord Goodhart emphasised that in the first Committee sitting, and I hope that he will have a chance to emphasise it again as this one proceeds.
Such treaty competences or powers surely have the reverse effect of what the Tory antis, UKIP and the Independent Labour Cross-Bencher say. In my estimation they enhance the intrinsic sovereignty of both an individual member country and the union. These provisions emasculate this country in these crucial areas but not the other member states. A British Government would have an automatic and hugely burdensome disadvantage built in. A huge ball and chain would be attached to the Minister’s leg every time he or she appeared in the Council chamber, whatever ministerial Council it might be—not just the European Council and the Council of Ministers. It would be the beginning of us being marginalised in the European Union, with the other member states saying, “The United Kingdom already has more grumbling and whining about Europe, more derogations, offsets, excuses, opt-outs, exemptions than any other member state and now it is inflicting this absurd and, indeed, crazy Bill on the body politic of its own country and inflicting it on the Council of Ministers as well”.
The Government are therefore, I suggest, effectively abrogating existing treaty duties even by interposing a new interruption or cancellation procedure which directly damages the capacity of a sovereign member Government to deal with routine treaty additions or changes. Many items in the Clause 4 long list are capable of further rational development in coming years. If we exclude defence, which some people would want to do, and particularly because of the recent bilateral deal with France, then the loss of sovereignty of us doing a bilateral deal with France is axiomatic. It is bound to be, yet there is no objection from the anti-Europeans on that matter. There is no objection from them to us losing our sovereignty seemingly by being ordered by an American general to carry out bombing raids in Libya or a NATO senior commander giving us orders. Why is just the European Union singled out for these absurd and self-imagined fantasies about the loss of sovereignty? What does sovereignty mean in the interdependent modern European Union and the world community at large?
To assert that those of us who are a bit sceptical about the European Union are quite happy to accept defence arrangements with France and are prepared to take orders from the United States is simply not true. I do not want to take orders from the United States. We take far too many orders from the United States but certainly not with my consent as a European sceptic. There are and would be dangers of having too close an association with the French in matters of defence. What I want and what most Eurosceptics want is for this country to be free to make its own decisions.
I thank the noble Lord for intervening. I took a chance on including Independent Labour in these grumblings of mine and I should not have done so; he has a noble tradition of wanting us to be a solitary country on our own, making our own “sovereignty” decisions. That is a perfectly respectable view and I respect it. If people want to hark back to the past, however many hundred years ago it might be—maybe even only 50 or 100 years—they are entitled to do so.
I would not want the noble Lord to misrepresent me. I do not believe that this country should be on its own. I want it to be worldly and to make bilateral agreements; indeed, I want it to exploit the great Commonwealth of nations that we have built up over so many years.
That is an improvement, then. The noble Lord is now saying that this country should sign lots of treaties with other countries for all sorts of arrangements. Why can they not include the most sensible treaties of all—the treaties of European union and the two treaties listed in the Bill, which enable us to increase our own intrinsic sovereignty rather than reduce it?
We do not want to get into a permanent Second Reading debate; I am sure that that would be very irritating for those gathered in the Chamber today. The sovereign Government of this country are asked to go to Brussels, within the international organisation, following the result of the latest general election, whenever that might be, and represent the people. That is the power that the people give to the Government and the Parliament. There is no loss of sovereignty in that process at all. We actually gain in sovereignty.
I hope the noble Lord will forgive me; he has not been here since the beginning of the debate.
I shall quote from the Lisbon treaty itself. One of the most important clauses of all shows the intrinsic respect for national sovereignty that comes into the treaty as well as the collective obligations and duties that any treaty applies to its members. That is the case in the European Union. It is nothing to be afraid of. One of the most important preambular clauses states:
“Pursuant to the principle of sincere cooperation, the Union and the Member States shall, in full mutual respect, assist each other in carrying out tasks which flow from the Treaties”.
The tasks that flow from the treaties include the long list in Clause 4, the Article 48(6) items and others as well. There is nothing to fear from any of the minor extensions that come from there, and any of the significant ones can be referendable if the Government do not say what any Government of this country always say that they will do, which is to veto an unacceptable proposal in the Council of Ministers, meaning that a treaty obligation therefore lapses and is not carried.
The Lords Constitution Committee said on 17 March that most referendum-lock items would never be covered because of policy decisions. That would make some sense, but can we really rely on the Government being able to stand up to their very vocal lobby of Eurosceptics and chauvinistic characters, particularly in the House of Commons, who have got worse and worse, as we have seen in debates in the Commons on this Bill? If they wanted to maintain sanity in a difficult world, Ministers could therefore issue a non-significant decision every few weeks or months. Would that make sense? Indeed, the unique national British referendum requirement could actually be at odds with international law—but I suppose that we would not mind that too much, least of all the antis.
There is a great deal of doublethink and confused thinking here among senior members of the Government, including, I am sad to say, the junior partner—I never thought that I would say that in this House but that is the reality that we have to face—but it is time for the Government to consider these amendments seriously and accept them today.
My Lords, we have had a brisk debate so far, to put it mildly. I want to try to meet an argument that has been put today by two noble Lords opposite about the question of balance. It says that the Bill basically provides a sensible balance between the position that the European Union is not the most popular institution with the great British electorate and what should be done about it. The question of balance is being raised.
Let us just analyse this for two seconds. It applies to Clauses 3 and 4, to Clause 6 and to the schedule. The basis for the so-called balance is that if certain issues arise, the great British public will be reassured because there will have to be a referendum. That is the whole basis of the Bill. Clauses 3 and 4 set out which treaty amendments will require a referendum. I see that under Clause 4(1)(a) to (m) a referendum will be required. Quite how would you frame a question for a referendum on, for example under paragraph (d),
“the conferring on the EU of a new competence shared with the member States”.?
Will you ask, “Are you in favour of this new competence shared with the member states, which the Government have already approved and put to Parliament”? Does that make sense? Is that balanced? Of course not; it is a gross distortion of the whole process.
That is Clause 4—the height of the Bill. Go to Clause 6, which is unbelievable as far as balance is concerned. The Bill gets worse as it goes on but I will just deal with Clause 6, which says:
“The decisions to which subsection (1) applies are … a decision under the provision of Article 31(3) … that permits the adoption of qualified majority voting”.
Look at paragraph (c), which refers to,
“a decision under Article 86(1) … involving participation by the United Kingdom in a European Public Prosecutor’s Office”.
That will demand a referendum. What will we ask? Will we say to the British people, “Are you in favour of the United Kingdom’s participation in a European public prosecutor’s office”? Will it be feasible to have a referendum campaign on that? Will people be lined up on each side of that argument, saying “Yes, I am in favour of a public prosecutor’s office” or “No, I am not in favour of a public prosecutor’s office”? Look at the next one.
No, not yet. The next paragraph refers to,
“where the United Kingdom has become a participant in a European Public Prosecutor’s Office, a decision under Article 86(4) … to extend the powers of that Office”.
What will you ask in relation to that? Will you say, “We have already decided that we will be a member of the public prosecutor’s office. Are you, the great British public, now in favour of an extension of those powers”? It is fatuous. How could you possibly campaign on that, and how could you possibly respect any result that you got?
I am most grateful to the noble Lord for raising these points. I should make it clear that I have tabled amendments, which will be dealt with later when we get to Clause 6, that deal specifically—and very much in line with what the noble Lord has said—with these subjects and other rather similar ones.
I am glad to have such approval of what I am saying in advance. I entirely agree with what the noble Lord appears to want to do.
Go on and read the thing. See what it demands in terms of a referendum. Further on, the Bill gets even better. I implore the two noble Lords who talked about balance to look now at Schedule 1 to the Bill. Its heading is:
“Treaty provisions where amendment removing the need for unanimity, consensus or common accord would attract referendum”.
There are lists under Parts 1 and 2. Look at the list under Part 1, particularly,
“number of, and system for appointing, Commissioners”.
Will we have a referendum in which we go the British public and say, “Do you agree with this system for appointing commissioners, or would you prefer that system for appointing commissioners”? How on earth could you run a campaign on that basis? You could not because the issue is so narrow. You certainly cannot use it as balance.
My noble friend illustrates the matter brilliantly in relation to the extension of powers of the public prosecutor’s office and the issue that we are now discussing. I ask him to contemplate this referendum taking place if the two sides of the coalition were on different sides of the argument and the dialogue that might occur between Nick Clegg and George Osborne, to take a random example. Would not the dialogue in that case be far more vitriolic even than the dialogue that is taking place at the moment if they were talking about the public prosecutor’s office?
My Lords, I can promise my noble friend one thing: if such a referendum were to take place, the turnout would be absolutely minimal. I do not understand how in those circumstances anybody could conceivably rely on that result as providing balance vis-à-vis the argument that the European Community is at the moment unpopular and deserves to become more popular.
With respect, I have given way a great deal. If the noble Lord will let me make progress, I will give way later.
Part 2 of Schedule 1 is even better. There is a whole page of it—35 lines—referring to, for example,
“police co-operation … cross-border operation by competent authorities … harmonisation of indirect taxes … broad guidelines of economic policies … conferral on European Central Bank of specific tasks … measures on working conditions”.
All these issues are there for the purpose of achieving balance, according to the two noble Lords who spoke. Is it conceivable that you can have referenda on any of these issues and properly consult the people of the United Kingdom? You cannot. To pretend that you can is, frankly, dishonest.
My Lords, I disagree with the noble Lord because I would have thought that it was perfectly possible to hold a referendum on whether we wanted a European public prosecutor’s office or an extension of its powers, and certainly on the indirect taxes that he mentioned. All these subjects are much closer to the British people’s heart than the referendum that we are about to have on the method by which we send people to Parliament, given that those people cannot do much when they get there, as the powers have been passed to Brussels. I would be perfectly happy to run a campaign against the noble Lord and I can tell him that there would be a big turnout and I would win it.
With respect, I will respond to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, before giving way to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. The only answer that I can give to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, is that his remarks indicate clearly what is wrong with the position of UKIP. If he really believes, as a member and, indeed, as a quasi-leader—I suppose that is what we should call it—of a serious political party in this country, if it is meant to be serious, that we could have a sensible referendum campaign on those issues, that seems to me highly indicative.
The noble Lord said that people would be very upset by having a European public prosecutor’s office, but is he aware that the EPPO would deal only with matters of international litigation and would have no effect whatever on any litigation inside the United Kingdom?
My Lords, I am sorry that I gave way to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, because he was interrupting the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, and that point has nothing to do with me. I am sure that he is right and that we will consider that matter in due course.
Finally, I urge noble Lords to read the Bill before they make up their minds on any of these issues because, frankly, in 45 or 50 years of political activity, I have never read a Bill that I find more distasteful or absurd.
My Lords, in light of what the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, said a few moments ago, I seek a little guidance, before we go any further, about taking these amendments with the clause stand part debate, which will be voted on separately. Will the Minister reply to all these amendments and clause stand part together? It would help those of us who are going to speak on the second group of amendments to know in advance what the Minister is proposing to do.
My Lords, to come back to Amendments 16A and 16B, I oppose them because they make it possible for the Government of the day to avoid a referendum if they think that some new EU power grab, whatever it happens to be, is sufficiently urgent or if they think that it is in the national interest. I fear that the supporters of these amendments have not yet grasped the point that the British people do not want any more powers passed to Brussels, period, as the saying goes—full stop. In fact, a growing majority of the British people want all their powers back; they want to be a democracy again with the power to elect and dismiss those who make all their laws.
I am afraid that the amendments do not work in detail, either. Who is to decide the urgency of the decision or whether it is in the national interest? The octopus in Brussels of course, not the British Government or Parliament. To be certain of this, we have only to look at the way in which Brussels has treated both our Government and Parliament over many years. I refer of course to its constant indifference to our scrutiny reserve. I remind your Lordships for the record, and for those outside your Lordships’ House who may not know, what the scrutiny reserve is. It is a promise made to Parliament—to the House of Commons and your Lordships’ House—by Governments of all persuasions over many years that they will not sign up to any new law or initiative in Brussels if the Select Committee of either House is still considering it. If the Select Committees have finished looking at it or have agreed it, or if it has been debated in Parliament, the Government of the day are free to sign up in the Council of Ministers in Brussels to whatever initiative is concerned. That is the promise or scrutiny reserve.
A Written Answer to me from the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, on 7 February this year reveals that in the past five years alone the scrutiny reserve has been overridden—in other words, the Government’s promise has been broken—no fewer than 267 times in the House of Commons and 248 times in your Lordships’ House. That means that in the past five years more than 500 proposals from Brussels, which the Select Committee of either House thought sufficiently important to examine and to advise the Government on, became law anyway. The juggernaut rolled on regardless. It is worth adding that the situation does not appear to be improving, despite regular complaints from the Select Committees to the Government. In 2010, 151 overrides were notched up between the two Houses—79 in the House of Commons and 72 in your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, that is not the point. The point is that it will not be the British Government or this Parliament that makes the decisions covered by these amendments; Brussels will go on doing it.
It is partly this situation, together with the fact that Brussels pays almost no attention to what our Select Committees and Parliament manage to say when they are not being completely ignored, that has led me to suggest that perhaps we do not need quite the number of Select Committees that we have, although that is perhaps a debate for another day.
I am not quite sure of the relevance of this discussion to the amendment that we are debating. The noble Lord does not reveal how much of this is double-counting. He has given a number for the Commons and a number for the Lords, but perhaps he could enlighten us as to how many are for the same measure. Secondly, he gave figures for 2010, which was a general election year here. During that lengthy election period, the House of Commons in particular did not have a European Scrutiny Committee. It has always been recognised that there are overrides during such a period. Thirdly, I wish that the noble Lord would recognise that the scrutiny reserve is a matter for consideration between the two Houses of this Parliament and the Government. It is not a matter for the European institutions and it never has been. That has always been clear. It would therefore be good if we could get back to discussing the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle.
My Lords, the noble Lord is trying to ameliorate an intolerable situation. It is a fact that the scrutiny reserve is a promise given by the Government of the day to Parliament that has been broken more than 500 times in the past five years. Therefore, it will not be the British Government who make the decisions covered by Amendment 16B, but Brussels—as it always has been. No British Government can therefore be trusted to decide on these issues, as set out in the amendments, because Brussels will simply go ahead, even if the British Government of the day could be trusted. If necessary, as the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, reminded us, the Commission will simply bring forward the EU’s new powers under treaty clauses that were not designed for that purpose. However, that has never stopped the Commission, as I also pointed out in our Committee proceedings on 5 April at col. 1640.
In conclusion, and without wishing to go anywhere near making a Second Reading speech, a number of noble Lords today—the noble Lords, Lord Risby and Lord Hannay, among others—as well as the Minister in Committee and at Second Reading, lamented the disconnect, as they put it, between the British people and their Government and the European Union. I should like to put to the Minister a point that I have not yet put to him; I should be grateful if he would answer it either on this occasion or at some future point in our proceedings.
The reason for the disconnect between the British people and the European Union—and, indeed, the Finnish people and the European Union, and a growing number of people in France, Germany and elsewhere—is that the big idea that gave birth to the project of European integration, honourable though it was at the time after the last war, has, in fact, gone horribly wrong. I need hardly remind the Minister of what that big idea was. It was that the nation states, with their unreliable democracies, had been responsible for the carnage of two world wars and the long history of bloodshed in Europe. Those nation states, therefore, had to be emasculated and diluted into a new form of supranational government run by technocrats. That is where the Commission gets its monopoly to propose in secret all our European legislation. That is where COREPER comes in. That is why the Council votes in secret on what is becoming the majority of our law, if that is not the case already. Surely that is what has gone wrong. Until we address it, realise and confess that the whole project has failed—not just the currency, which has clearly failed—and get out of it as soon as possible, we are all barking up the wrong tree.
My Lords, perhaps I may refer briefly to the remarks made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, on his amendment, and those of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, which would satisfactorily fall within the purview of Clause 3.
We have not addressed in any sensible way in this debate the issue of the referendum. I should make it clear that the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, and those amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Symons—I shall not for now discuss them further—are all attempts to address the issue of a referendum as something that is a special, rare and significant constitutional development that should embrace the interests and concerns of the bulk of the British people.
If there is to be an adequate turnout in a referendum, and if there is to be adequate understanding of, and information on, what it is about, one dare not spread the referendum concept over one relatively insignificant issue after another. We will bore the people of Britain absolutely stiff if we continue in the way suggested in what is in some ways, if I may say so, this somewhat ridiculous Bill. Perhaps I may give a couple of examples; I shall not detain the Committee for more than a few moments.
If one pursues many, many referenda, the turnout will steadily decline. The concept will become a joke and the subject of television satire, and more and more people will wonder what on earth they are being asked to do. We have already seen falling turnouts in referenda. For example, the number of votes in the Welsh and Scottish referenda was not particularly outstanding, even though at the time the matter was close to the hearts of the people of Scotland and Wales. Therefore, unless we change the Bill in the way suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, and, I suspect, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, we will simply wreck the currency of referenda to the point where they become totally insignificant and are treated as nothing more than an addition of no great importance.
As well as boring the electorate into very low participation in referenda, there is a second matter that we should carefully consider. It is closely associated with experience in the state of California in the United States, where there is growing evidence that referenda are won on the basis of how much money is spent on them by special interest groups with an interest in the outcome. That was the story of the property law referendum in California. It increasingly became an issue between estate agents and customers but it did not interest large sections of Californian citizens. Exactly the same will happen here. Whether a referendum is carried will depend on the willingness of people to finance information, propaganda and so on in trying to get the electorate to come out. Quite quickly we will see these referenda become the politics of only the most extreme interest groups on either side. The whole purpose of referenda—to try to discover the broad interests and concerns of the British people—will effectively be destroyed by the fact that they become increasingly the referenda of conflicting interest groups.
The paradox is that those who support the Bill, believing it to be an important weapon in reducing the power of the European Union, will in fact rapidly destroy their own case through their ludicrous attempt to include every minor issue within the spectrum of things to which a referendum might be considered appropriate. Even from their point of view, which I do not for one moment share, it is in no one’s interest to do what is being done in the Bill—that is, to spread the concept thinly across a huge range of subjects, many of which, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, pointed out in a brilliant and eloquent speech, will be of very little interest to anyone other than the small handful of people directly involved.
I plead with those who support the Bill, as well as with those who, like me, oppose it, to consider very seriously the constitutional consequences of what they are engaged on. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, set out brilliantly how we might endanger the whole role of Parliament by allowing a referendum with a small turnout to veto an existing Act of Parliament. That is a very dangerous path to go down. Even if one does not go that far, there will be a gradual destruction of the constitutional structures that are about making law with a relationship to the European Union as well as more widely, and people will find that they have kicked away the very structure that they claim to care so much about—the structure of representative democracy. I strongly suggest that we address this issue with due seriousness.
The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, applied the test of common sense to the relationship between Clauses 2 and 3. Sometimes I wonder about the common sense on the other side of the House as I do not hear much of it in this debate. He concluded his remarks with a devastating argument against the inclusion of Clause 3 on the grounds that it is simply not necessary, and that with the amendments to Clause 2 it really should not be there. The great French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said that perfection is reached not when everything that could be written has been written but when everything that need not be written no longer remains. I have that pinned on my computer at home when I write. If he had been listening to this debate he might well have come to the conclusion that Clause 3 fell under that rule and that it is not necessary. I shall certainly support those who claim that it should not stand part of the Bill.
I had not intended to be drawn into the debate but, having heard my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby saying that people would be bored by referenda on European issues, I wonder how bored they will be on a referendum on the alternate vote system, where I suspect the turnout will be minimal. I am not sure that there will be a large number of referenda on these issues for the simple reason that Ministers will have grave doubts about whether they are likely to win those referenda, so they will not be able to give way on these matters in the European Union anyway.
There is a terrible misunderstanding of the disillusion in this country and the way in which the British people have been misled by successive Governments on so many issues dealing with the European Union. We started by being told that we were joining a free trade area when it was never to be that, and from then on we have seen transfers of sovereignty which have never been popular in this country. The reason why people dislike the EU so greatly is because they see sovereignty being drained away and successive Governments lying about what they claim to have achieved in the European Union when in fact they have transferred sovereignty from this country to the European Union.
Is not my noble friend guilty of excessive moderation? When one thinks about it, there is no need for a single referendum and no need for any further transference of either competences or powers. The trouble is that there have been so many transferences that the whole machine has indigestion, so the demands in this country are not for giving more powers to the EU but for repatriation to our Parliament of the powers that have been taken.
I agree absolutely with my noble friend. I only wish that I could believe that we were going to see repatriation of powers, but unfortunately with the acquis and so forth that will be extremely difficult.
The plea that has been made for the amendments is that, in special circumstances and when there is great urgency, discretion should be given to Ministers to allow things through without a referendum. You can imagine how that will be abused. The procedure, like so much done by past Governments, will be abused to let things through without referenda and we will be back where we started. I totally oppose the amendments.
If the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, thinks that what happens in the European Union is of immense concern to the average member of the United Kingdom, will he consider the result of the general election in 2001, when the right honourable Mr Hague was the party leader and fought that election largely on the basis of dislike of the European Union? Perhaps the noble Lord remembers the result of that election.
Yes, and perhaps my noble friend would like to remind himself why William Hague fought the election on European issues. It was because he had done so incredibly well in the European elections not much before, and it seemed at that point that the country did not want to have anything to do with Europe.
Perhaps I may also remind the noble Lord that Mr Hague did not fight that election on the issue of Europe; he fought it on the issue of the euro, the currency. He said that the election was, in effect, a referendum on the currency. That was not wise, because a referendum on the currency had already been promised by all parties. That election was not fought on the issue of Europe.
My Lords, perhaps your Lordships might find it useful if I were to intervene at this stage, because one or two noble Lords have had a bite at the cherry, as it were, and it might be helpful if I were to answer some of the many questions that have been put to this Bench and comment on all the amendments, although I should like first to address the two original amendments, Amendments 16A and 16B, which have a particular element to them which is very important and needs to be addressed. Then I will come to the broader issues raised by the broader amendments, of which the central theme is whether the significance condition should be enlarged or extended. It is interesting to note that in the other place, all the pressure was for them to be reduced, so there is a certain contrast between your Lordships’ views and those of the other place. Often that is healthy.
I say at the beginning that I strongly agree with the remark of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, that proper leadership in Europe best comes through using the powers that the EU already has. That is a strong statement and highly relevant to what we are debating in the Bill. I ask noble Lords to reflect on it, because I think that many of the worries about what the effect of the Bill might be in checking the expansion, development, changes of treaty, new ideas and proposals for the EU stand in contrast to the wisdom of that remark. An enormous amount can be achieved in our neighbourhood, in relations with the rest of Europe and in the reform of the EU itself to make it suitable to meet the totally changed international landscape which we now all confront, by existing powers rather than further changes in the treaty or transfers of power from member states to the European institutions.
I turn to the first two amendments, which would insert into Clause 3 a new type of exemption from the referendum lock in respect of Article 48(6) decisions, otherwise known as the simplified revision procedure. Perhaps I can deal right at the beginning with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, whom I very much respect for his vast experience in this area. He asked me—he said that I did not answer him very well before, but I will try to do better now—why we needed Clause 3 as well as Clause 2. The answer is simple. Clause 2 deals with ordinary revision procedures for changing the treaties; Clause 3 deals with the special revision procedure for transferring powers from the nation state—the UK in this case—to the European Union. It is the desire of many, not just in this country—I shall give examples from other countries—that changes, whether of the treaty or in powers, should be dealt with in the same way, regardless of whether they are dealt with under the ordinary revision procedure for treaty change or under the special revision procedure, otherwise known as the passerelle procedure. That is why we need Clause 3. I hope that that clarifies that aspect. Of course I shall come to the detail much more extensively in a moment.
I apologise to the noble Lord and am grateful to him for giving way. He does not agree, clearly, that the way we handle a treaty amendment should depend on the nature of the treaty amendment, not the process in Brussels which started it. I do not understand that. I do not know why treaty amendments should not be treated as treaty amendments whether they come under the procedure that we are now dealing with under Clause 2 or the procedure which we think appropriate to Clause 3. This is nothing to do with the passerelle. That comes later in a different clause. We are not talking about Article 48(7); we are talking about Article 48(6) here. I accept that the passerelle, on which I will disagree with the Minister on the substance, is a separate issue. I do not see why treaty amendments should not be handled by a single clause setting out a single procedure. In fact, I still think it would be better.
The reasons lie in the procedures that flow from the Lisbon treaty, which gave birth, rather unwillingly, to the ordinary revision procedure. The whole idea of it getting into that treaty was a compromise, as noble Lords who followed it all closely will remember, but that is where it comes from. Whether powers are transferred or treaties are changed by the ordinary revision procedure or by the special revision procedure is of no particular interest to those concerned with our powers and competences moving away from this country to the European Union in ways that are not fully explained or subject to the appropriate procedures and rules that this Bill lays down.
I hear exactly what the noble Lord says, but he asked me a specific question and I have given him the specific answer that whether these changes are under the simplified revision procedure or the ordinary revision procedure they should ideally be treated in the same way. That is what is happening in other countries. I have a note here that states that Ireland and Denmark examine all uses of Article 48(6), the simplified revision procedure, in the same way as the use of the ordinary revision procedure to decide whether a referendum is required. It is done by the Attorney-General in Ireland and by the Ministry of Justice in Denmark. I am told that it is now going on in Denmark in relation to the simplified revision procedure applied to the matter, already discussed in this House, of changing the treaty to accommodate the European stability mechanism. I will come back to that in more detail, but that is the answer to the noble Lord’s question.
In addition to the significance condition already provided for in Clause 3, the amendment would insert a provision that would allow for the possibility of a Minister seeking to rely on urgency as a reason to avoid holding a referendum. In a previous debate in Committee, we debated what the Government mean by a transfer of power, and I will recapitulate some of the points in detail when I come to my comments on the other amendments in this group. These two amendments would mean that if a Minister deems a particular decision to be urgent and in the national interest, he could dispense with the referendum requirement regardless of the nature of the transfer of power from the UK to the EU or the significance of that transfer of power. If there was ever a proposal under Article 48(6) to give up the member states’ veto over the areas where we will still retain the right to oppose measures taken at EU level, such as decisions on the seven-year financial perspectives or on social security, if these amendments are agreed, a Minister could claim that giving up these vetoes was considered urgent and in the national interest and therefore should not be put to the British people for them to have a say but should rather by approved solely by Parliament.
This shows a lack of understanding of how the system works and how the simplified revision procedure works. Let me give noble Lords an example. The use of the simplified revision procedure to enable member states in the euro area to set up the European stability mechanism to safeguard the financial and economic stability of the euro area is obviously a matter of vast import. It will take 21 months—one year and nine months, which is admittedly not two years—to be finalised. It was agreed in March 2011, and the target date for final approval is the end of 2012. That is hardly what most people would consider urgent. Even under the simplified revision procedure, which may or may not be associated with the passerelle—I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, that they are in a sense separate, although criss-crossing, issues—the whole process of changing treaties, whether by the simplified procedure or the ordinary revision procedure, takes a long time. The urgent issue of saving the eurozone from its tribulations will take one year and nine months. This example of an urgent and important treaty change certainly sets a precedent that shows that there would be more than enough time for the UK to hold a referendum, should one be necessary, under any future uses of the simplified revision procedure that I described. I remind noble Lords that one will not be necessary for the current use of the simplified revision procedure as the present change to do with the European stability mechanism does not apply to the UK.
The truth of the matter is that while urgent issues arise, the business of putting them through the simplified procedure or the ordinary procedure is extremely lengthy. This is one reason, which I shall come to in a moment, why these things will only rarely occur. The picture of a series of small referenda issues coming along is a completely unrealistic. In fact, it is a fantasy. Whether they go through one way or the other, it will be a lengthy and complicated process, and nations will rightly seek to exert the leadership that the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, referred to of using existing competences rather than having to resort to the kind of treaty change that leads to major debates of the kind we saw over Lisbon. The truth of the matter is that this amendment would have no practical impact as there would not, in practice, be a situation where an Article 48(6) decision could be rushed through in a matter of weeks or months—it is more likely to be months and years—and the amendment would, in fact, be pointless.
That has dealt with those two amendments concerned with urgency, and I now want to turn to the broader issue.
If the noble Lord casts his mind back to the Lisbon treaty and the previous treaties, he will recall that some of them tend to turn up in the great package treaties that emerge from the European Union from time to time. They emerged at the time of Lisbon and caused so many of the agonies and concerns, the consequence of which we are now debating. I forget the number of issues of this kind that were in the Lisbon treaty, but the answer is almost certainly a considerable number.
Now I want—I will give way again, but I have to say that I am trying to help the Committee and guide it through. I will give way once more, but after that I think I am entitled within the custom of the House to be rather reluctant to yield to constant interventions on things I am just about to say anyway.
I am most grateful to the Minister, and I will certainly not intervene in his speech again. Like the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, earlier in the debate, the Minister has taken us down this road that there will not be all these minor referendums provided for in the Bill because the habit of the European Union is to group all these things together in a major grouping.
I would plead with the Government not to go down that road of reasoning. Most of us, even those of us moving these amendments, believe it is not in the interest in the European Union or this country to have any major package of institutional reform in the period ahead, yet here the Government are using an argument that is inciting people in the other member states to go in that direction—they can read Hansard too. All they will see is that the noble Lord and his colleague are saying, “Do not worry, none of these mini-referendums will take place; it will all come together in a big package”. I ask that the Government not pursue that line because there is no difference between the two sides of this argument. Nobody wishes to argue—I certainly do not—for pushing towards a new major institutional package, but the Minister is making it impossible to avoid one.
My Lords, I fear that that is a good example of taking part of an argument, which I wish to develop much more fully, and giving it a particular boost. That is just one of a whole series of reasons why there will not be referenda over trivia and over small issues, which will come out separately, and why these matters simply will not arise. I could straight away give a long list of other reasons why it will never happen. Where there is no transfer of power or competence anyway, there will not be a referendum. There are plenty of powers already, as the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, has said. Where it does not apply to the UK, there will be not be a referendum; as with the current treaty change going through. Where there are accession treaties, there will be no referendum—not in this country anyway. Where there is codification under existing competencies there will be no referendum. Where there are significant tests—we have yet to debate that in full—there will be no referendum. So there are five other reasons, as well as the question of the package, why we will look at these things in a mature and rounded way.
It is really quite pointless citing one issue and trying to project it to be the explanation of the whole situation. When you look at the whole situation it is perfectly clear that there will not be a whole series of tiny referenda on complicated issues that people will not want to vote for. That applies to almost everything that has been mentioned in this debate, including—I would love to dilate on it but it is probably out of order—the whole question of the European public prosecutor’s office, on which the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, is a great expert. We are going to debate that in Clause 6. Certainly it is one of many issues that may well come up, but the chances of it coming up as a separate issue as part of a treaty change, to which the Government would then agree and that other nations would all agree to, are very remote indeed—in fact, I would say, non-existent.
At this stage, it might be worth going over some of the essential points from the lengthy debate we had at the start of the Committee stage on the role of Article 48(6) of the Treaty on European Union and the rationale for Clause 3, which I mentioned in an exchange with the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, a little while back. There are two types of treaty change. This does not seem to be totally understood. I will try my best to remind your Lordships what they are. There is the ordinary pattern which requires an intergovernmental conference and the simplified type of treaty change which does not require an IGC. Both of them result in an amendment to the treaty and so both should be treated in the same way.
It is not right as the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, said in the earlier debates that the whole point of the passerelle is to dispense with the paraphernalia of treaty change. It is not true. It has the same elaborate systems of treaty change through the simplified revision procedure as does the ordinary revision procedure. People simply will not understand that because one method of treaty change is being used a referendum would be required yet if the same treaty changes—in this case dealing with powers rather than competencies—were being proposed and agreed under the other type of treaty change, then it would not be required. It is just that kind of incoherent approach which will go against the Bill’s aims—they may be disputed by noble Lords opposite but they are our aims—of regaining some of the trust of the British electorate and seeking to reconnect them. It would leave people completely baffled—it would certainly leave many of the experts baffled—and not enlightened at all.
Several of your Lordships wanted to ascertain what we mean by transfer of power and wanted us to give examples. Again, if I did not give enough examples at Second Reading or earlier in the Committee stage, I will try to do so now. There was confusion over the term “power” relative to “competence”. As I tried to make clear at Second Reading and during the previous debate, “competence” is a term set out in the EU treaties, but “power” clearly is not. That is why we have set out in Clause 4(1) what we mean for the purposes of the Bill by the transfer of power. I want to elaborate on that. The first would be a move to qualified majority voting in those areas set out in Schedule 1 to the Bill which are currently decided by unanimity, consensus, or common accord. It is a long list in that schedule, I agree, but that is what the schedule is about. For example, there is the removal of the veto on legislation proposed under Article 77(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union relating to passports and identity documents where potentially a piece of legislation could lead to the introduction of an EU-wide identity card scheme or a common European passport.
The second would be any proposal to amend or remove one or more of the emergency brake provisions of the treaties, which we will look at in much more detail when we come to Amendment 21.The third would be if a treaty amendment conferred a new or extended power on an EU institution or body to impose a requirement or obligation on the UK, or removed any limitation on such a power. That indeed would be a transfer of power. The fourth would be if an EU institution or body were conferred with, or empowered with, a new or extended power to impose sanctions on the UK. It is the last two transfers of power covered in Clause 4(1)(i) and Clause 4(1)(j) which are subject to the significance condition, to which I will come.
Some of your Lordships expressed the view that the giving up of the veto was not a transfer of power. That is a good point. We disagree with it. We believe it clearly is and is seen as such in public debate and in public concerns. Giving up a veto would remove the UK’s powers to block legislation in sensitive areas and has done so in the past. To be clear, we are not proposing a referendum before the UK can agree to legislation based on articles in Schedule 1. We are proposing a referendum before the UK can agree to a treaty change giving up its right to veto such legislation. That is where a transfer of power would take place.
Perhaps we should also be clear that there is no consensus or appetite in the EU to remove these vetoes, and this Government would not agree if there was. We also made clear that we were confident that this would not lead to referenda on trivial issues, a matter to which I have already referred. As a further safeguard—I mentioned it in the list in replying to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, a moment ago—we have proposed the significance condition in order to ensure that referendums would not be held on proposed transfers of power when they are on matters of little significance and where a referendum would clearly not be appropriate. I hope that meets at least some of the many observations of those who appear to be convinced that there would be an endless stream of small referenda.
We have proposed to limit the extent of the significance condition in Clause 3 only to Clause 4(1)(i) and Clause 4(1)(j), and only in relation to the simplified revision procedure. It is certainly true that the significance test and the significance procedure are limited. This is because under the simplified revision procedure the imposition of a new requirement, or obligation, or sanctions on the UK can be done only within existing competences. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, was quite right to point that out at the beginning. Under the SRP you cannot transfer competencies but you can without doubt transfer powers. They may be considerable powers and considerable derogations from the authority of this country in very sensitive areas, which would not add to the popularity of the European Union and indeed might not improve their administration at all. The significance condition would mean that the Government of the day would be able to distinguish between significant and trivial changes that might not warrant the need for a referendum, and to explain this publicly and transparently to both Houses of Parliament. A good example would be a proposal to allow an EU agency to impose requirements on a national regulator. Such a requirement might well not be significant if it concerned co-operation between member states in the field of education, such as in sharing statistics on the number of hours of teaching for IT across the EU. It would obviously be inappropriate to have anything like that in a referendum.
As your Lordships will recall from our earlier discussions on the simplified revision procedure, one of the constraints of this method of treaty change is that it cannot be used to increase the competences conferred upon the European Union. I am sorry if it sounds as though I am repeating myself, but it cannot be said too often. Now we are providing under this Bill for our Parliament to be given the chance to test that no such increase of competence is taking place, as part of our overall aim, to which we have referred again and again and to which my noble friends have referred in several speeches, of increasing trust and accountability. We will not solve these problems by these measures alone, but we believe that they will make a substantial contribution.
If it were found that the simplified revision procedure had inadvertently been used to extend competence, the only option would be to require the treaty amendments to be resubmitted under the ordinary revision procedure. The EU is a creature of law and must act legally and not beyond its powers, so it would not be appropriate to say that, if a proposal for treaty change goes beyond what is permitted under Article 48(6) but the extension of competence is not considered significant, this change can be allowed under Article 48(6). That is why we cannot accept Amendments 17 and 18.
Amendment 19 would extend the significance test to decisions under Article 48(6) to give up one or more of the vetoes in Schedule 1, or one or more of the emergency brakes listed in Clause 4. Here, again, we are not convinced of the merits of extending the significance condition to cover these two scenarios. That would go the wrong way. The list of areas where unanimity, consensus or common accord apply in the EU treaties in Schedule 1 is a list of what the Government consider to be areas in which giving up a national veto would be significant enough to require the prior consent of the British people. There are a number of other vetoes in the treaties which the Government consider not to be significant enough to warrant a referendum but where instead Parliament would be required to approve such a move by Act, such as Article 355(6) on the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and the EU status of Danish, French or Dutch country or territory, which obviously has few implications for the UK and would not touch us.
The Government have already made clear that we consider the addition of a significance condition to be useful to help guard against referendums on trivial issues—a matter that has so concerned your Lordships—but we have also made clear that we consider that the Bill should set out as clearly as possible where a referendum should and should not be required in the future, in whatever form in which it actually came in front of this nation and other member states throughout the European Union.
As part of the Government's wider aim to reconnect the British people to the decisions that are being taken by Governments on the EU, we have made it clear that we want to play a perfectly straight bat and set out precisely where a referendum would or would not be needed. A significance condition with a wide scope, for which these amendments push, would do little to achieve this ambition and would even exacerbate the problem by increasing cynicism and inconsistency, as each time a treaty change is proposed the British people would know that it would still be down to the Minister to decide whether he or she, or the Government of which he or she was a member, thinks such a treaty change is significant enough in their view to put to the people. That is precisely the status quo that has led to the sensation of what has been called competence creep but which can also be described as power creep—a feeling that stealth and non-transparency are prevailing—and which has undermined the general public consensus on the virtues and achievements of the European Union of the kind that exists on the virtues and achievements of NATO, of the United Nations and of the other great institutions of the 20th century but that has not been accorded to the European Union.
Instead of the clarity and transparency offered by the Bill, the amendments would leave us with the distant and disconnected approach, described by my noble friend Lord Risby and others, that has driven UK approval of these decisions in the past. All the long-standing accusations of decision-making behind closed doors without public consent would therefore still hold true.
I thank my noble friend for giving way for a moment. How would he escape from the horns of a very difficult dilemma? If, on the one hand, Ministers, in order to avoid a referendum, had to tell themselves that something was not in the national interests of Britain, would one not find oneself subsequently an extremely weak force in the European Union? If, on the other hand, they decided to press on with something that they regarded as being in the national interest and that would attract a referendum, would they not find themselves subject to the kind of fragmented referenda that we discussed earlier and which the Minister described earlier in his own speech?
I do not think that that would be the case, for the very good reason that the great issues that concern our national interest can be delivered very largely by the co-operation and development of close working within the existing competences of the existing treaty. My noble friend has in her mind some thought that new treaty requirements would indeed come along that would somehow be in the national interest but which Ministers would be reluctant to push for fear that they would have to expose them to the British people. There might well be issues in the future, although I cannot see any countries at the moment being terribly willing to go through the complex treaty procedure for them, which Ministers believe are in the national interest and of value and which can be pursued only by treaty change. In that case, they would rightly be required first to come before both Houses of our Parliament so that it could be explained whether they were significant or not. If they were significant, they would then be required to be put to the test of a referendum, with the Government arguing that these changes, or this package of changes, were necessary to improve the national interest and the strength of this country. That is the kind of debate we should have had over the Lisbon treaty, but of course we did not.
No, I am not going to give way again, I am afraid. We have had enough interventions.
I was concluding by saying that all the long-standing accusations of decision-making behind closed doors without public consent would therefore still hold true if these amendments were accepted and the wider and wider number of decisions were left to the judgment of Ministers as to whether they were significant. There are concerns, as I have said, that creeping power and creeping competence are not being properly debated and explained and not justified as being in the national interest, and have weakened the European cause.
People talk about the need for “reconnection”—that phrase came up. We have to be realistic and accept that reconnection has failed. It is failing here in this country, although we are not the only country in which it is failing. Some noble Lords seem to want to continue as before and seem to be happy to see a continued advance of European treaty changing, competence transferring and power transferring, which are precisely the trends that have so undermined public trust, weakened the European cause and made the European Union today in need of reform and less well positioned to meet the colossal challenges of the future than it should be.
I must say that I hope that some noble Lords who are my noble friends, and noble Lords who I greatly admire, will not be offended if I see them as the last knights or the lost lords of the old Europe, of the Euro elite. They are the ones who want to go back while the world goes forward, and indeed I myself sometimes have the same wish that things could go back, but they cannot. We are now in the information age. In the age of the internet and the website, the age of public empowerment, those ideas are as out of date as the Teutonic knights with their armour and their glories. So I urge the noble Lords who have moved and spoken to these amendments to withdraw them and to understand that we are living in a changed age in which the requirements of a strong and democratic European Union will change in themselves and will require new and agile legislation, understanding, and a new connection with the people of Europe.
My Lords, we have had a long debate on a series of relatively small amendments designed to improve the Bill, but it has been a very interesting one. Three weeks ago, when we had our first day in Committee, I have to say that I felt a bit sorry for the noble Lord, Lord Howell. He cut a rather lonely figure, with no one on the Benches behind him coming to his defence. I thought that he was having difficulty persuading the House that the Bill before us is essentially as he described it: a pro-European measure. In the mean time, the Government have called in their reinforcements. We have heard speeches from the noble Lords, Lord Waddington, Lord Flight, Lord Risby and Lord Hamilton of Epsom, all defending the Government’s position. I wonder if the Minister feels any better as a result of the people who have come to his aid, because my reaction to what they said is that if they—the noble Lords, Lord Waddington, Lord Flight, Lord Risby and Lord Hamilton of Epsom—truly represent balance and the moderate centre on these issues, then God help us and particularly God help Britain in Europe. The only reason that they see their position as balanced is that this Bill essentially does not contain what they really wanted. What they really wanted was an in-or-out referendum on Britain’s European membership and the repatriation of powers. I hope that the scales are beginning to fall from the eyes of some of their Lib Dem coalition partners about what really lies behind the motive for this piece of legislation. It is to appease anti-Europeanism—I was going to say Euroscepticism, but it is not scepticism, it is anti-Europeanism in this country.
My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that those of us who are described as Eurosceptic are not anti-European? We are against the project of European integration. We love the real Europe, the Europe of separate nations each with its glorious and distinctive past and future, if it could get out of this ill-founded and unfortunate project.
I certainly do not want to contradict what the noble Lord has said, but he ought to remember that, loving Europe’s history as I do, I know that it is also a history of bloody conflict, of massacre and genocide, which the European Union has played a major part in bringing to an end. I listened to the Minister’s supporters speaking from his Benches, and it seems that they all think that the history of the European Union is essentially one of betrayal. So when Winston Churchill called for Europe to unite, that was a betrayal, and when Harold Macmillan decided to take us into the Common Market, that was a betrayal.
I wonder if the noble Lord would allow me to put him right on this matter because it was raised the other day by my noble friend Lord Howell. In his great speech at Zurich, Winston Churchill said that he wished America, Britain and even perhaps the Soviet Union to be the godfathers of the new Europe, and he quite obviously was not considering that we were qualified for membership because of our own worldwide interests. He said that Germany and France should bury their differences and build a new Europe of which we would be the godfathers. We want no more of this nonsense of pretending that Winston Churchill committed himself to Britain being a member of the European Union, because he said exactly the opposite.
We can all trade our Winston Churchill quotes, but certainly the thrust of his intervention was greatly to promote the cause of European union. Was it a betrayal when Lord Cockfield pursued the White Paper on the single market? Was it a betrayal when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, fought for the Single European Act in order to bring that White Paper into legislative effect? Was it a betrayal when the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, as a Commissioner, fought tooth and nail to extend the single market? And was it a betrayal when John Major and the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, agreed to the Maastricht treaty, which has led to a more effective Europe on issues such as cross-border crime, freedom of movement, an effective presence in the world and progress towards co-operation in defence? The trouble for the noble Lord, Lord Howell, is that although he is right to say that the leaders of Europe can take Europe forward largely by using the existing powers granted to the European Union, most of those sitting behind him seem to think that those existing powers are a great betrayal. I do not understand the logic of their position.
The noble Lord, Lord Risby, argued that referenda are now part of our political culture. Let us be clear: Members on this side of the Committee believe in referenda on big issues. Were we to join the euro, there should be a referendum. Were there to be some equivalent of the European constitutional treaty, there should be a referendum. But the point of this Bill is not major referenda of that kind, but proposals for, I think, 56 different issues on which referenda could be held. Next week, we will have the first national referendum in Britain for 36 years. This is not a coherent policy. The fact is, as my noble friend Lord Richard brilliantly outlined, that many of the topics which are to be subject to a referendum would just be the subjects of ridicule if we ever got to the point of having such a contest. Indeed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, pointed out, there are grave dangers to our democracy in multiple referenda, which give power to big money because it is big money that wins. That, of course, may be the position in the referendum next week.
I would say that, yes, Europe should largely work within its existing powers and we should not be arguing for big transfers of powers. That is not the purpose of these amendments. Their purpose is to give Ministers pragmatic flexibility to deal with situations in the real world as they arise. I was not at all satisfied by what the Minister had to say about crises. What would Britain do if there was a major banking crisis which affected cross-border banks and something needed to be done at the European level in order to rescue the banking system? This is a hypothetical case, but what would Britain do? How can a Government credibly sign up to measures to tackle the problem if they know that they have to go to the country in a referendum? That is the basic argument for the amendment, which would allow Ministers to sign up to things in cases of urgency.
Listening to the Minister, one might think that there is a lot of pragmatic flexibility in the Bill to decide whether matters are significant. But that is not what the Bill says. The significance test is presently limited to Clause 4(1)(i) and (j). Its application is therefore very limited.
We are not arguing for massive transfers of powers; we are arguing for pragmatic flexibility within the structure of the Bill, and that is why we have put forward these amendments. Doubtless we will come back to these issues on Report. In the mean time, I am happy not to press Amendments 16A and 16B.
Amendment 16A withdrawn.
Amendment 16B not moved.
Middle East and North Africa
My Lords, with permission, I will repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary in another place.
“Mr Speaker, with permission, I will update the House on recent developments in the Middle East and north Africa.
Britain has continued to take a leading role in international efforts to protect civilians in Libya, and the case for action remains compelling. Gaddafi’s regime persists in attacking its own people, wilfully killing its own civilian population. Our strategy is to intensify the diplomatic, economic and military pressures on Gaddafi’s regime and, since the House last met, we have made progress on all those fronts.
On the diplomatic front, I co-chaired the first meeting of the Libya Contact Group in Doha on 13 April. The 21 states and seven international organisations represented demonstrated clear unity, with participation from across the Arab world and the African Union in attendance. The group agreed that Gaddafi’s regime had lost all legitimacy, that the National Transitional Council should be offered further support and that the UN special envoy should take forward an inclusive political process. I will attend the next contact group meeting in Rome on 5 May.
At the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting in Berlin on 14 and 15 April, I joined colleagues in showing our determination to increase the pace of military operations to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1973. The 28 NATO member states and six Arab countries that attended, 16 of which are engaged in military action, agreed a common strategy. That is an important milestone in world affairs, a sign of a growing ability to work across traditional regional divisions and a demonstration of the breadth and unity in the international coalition in support of the Libyan people.
Economically, since my Statement on 4 April, further Libyan entities have been sanctioned and the regime is now subject to some of the most comprehensive economic sanctions ever agreed by the United Nations. On military matters, since NATO assumed full control over all military operations on 31 March, more than 3,500 sorties and 1,500 strike sorties have been conducted. This action has seriously degraded Gaddafi’s military assets and prevented widespread massacres planned by Gaddafi’s forces. They remain unable to enter Benghazi, and it is highly likely that without these efforts Misrata would have fallen, with terrible consequences for that city’s brave inhabitants. Yesterday, Italy announced that its aircraft would take part in ground strikes and the United States Government have contributed Predator unmanned aerial vehicles to the coalition forces.
Heavy fighting continues around the towns of Brega, Ajdabiya, Yefren and Misrata. The regime’s indiscriminate shelling of residential areas in Misrata shows that it continues to target the civilian population. Gaddafi has shown that he has no regard for civilian lives. The International Criminal Court prosecutor has said that there is evidence of a case against Gaddafi for crimes against humanity. We look forward to the prosecutor’s report to the United Nations on 4 May. By his actions, it is clear that Gaddafi has no intention of observing the conditions in UN Security Council Resolution 1973 that I described to the House earlier this month. He has repeatedly ignored the ceasefires that he has announced.
Our military action is defined by the UN Security Council resolutions. We are also clear that Gaddafi should go, and it is impossible to see a viable or peaceful way forward for Libya until he does so. The Libya Contact Group’s statement made it clear that we and our allies regard the National Transitional Council, in contrast to Gaddafi, as a legitimate interlocutor, representing the aspirations of Libyan people. Our diplomatic mission in Benghazi is working with it. Our special envoy, Christopher Prentice, will shortly be succeeded by John Jenkins, currently Her Majesty’s Ambassador in Baghdad.
Last week, I announced our decision to expand this mission with a small advisory team of British military officers. Their sole purpose is to support the National Transitional Council’s efforts better to protect civilians by advising on military organisational structures, communications and logistics. They are not involved in training or arming the opposition’s forces, nor are they executing or providing operational military advice. This is fully in line with the UN resolutions, with which, I repeat to the House, we will remain wholly in accordance, retaining the moral, legal and international authority that flows from that.
We have supplied vital, non-lethal equipment to assist the National Transitional Council in protecting civilian lives. So far, this consists of telecommunications equipment and body armour. We are considering with our international partners further requests. In the coming weeks, we hope to agree internationally the process for establishing a temporary financial mechanism to provide a transparent structure for international financial support for short-term financial requirements such as public sector pay. Yesterday, Kuwait announced around £110 million worth of support for the NTC.
I am sure that the House will join me in paying tribute to the skill, bravery and professionalism of the men and women of the UK’s and allied Armed Forces. Their actions in the NATO operation have saved many lives and their efforts are essential to bringing a lasting peace and a better future for the Libyan people, who have suffered so much at the hands of this brutal regime.
The UK is also supporting the other needs of the Libyan people in every way we can. The humanitarian situation in the west of the country is getting worse every day. Many civilians in Misrata lack access to basic necessities, including food, water and electricity. There is a shortage of some crucial medical supplies. That is why my right honourable friend the International Development Secretary announced last week that the UK will provide medical and other emergency supplies and undertake evacuations for 5,000 migrants stranded at Misrata port in squalid conditions. The UK has so far given more than £13 million to meet immediate humanitarian needs, providing funding for medical and food supplies, emergency shelter, and assistance for evacuating poor and vulnerable migrants. In Misrata alone, UK support has given 10,000 people food and 2,000 families water and hygiene kits, and provided essential medical staff. But the regime must guarantee humanitarian access, not just broken promises which then put the lives of aid workers and volunteers at risk.
The wave of demand for change in the Arab world continues to gain momentum in other nations. As I said earlier today, we condemn utterly the violence and killings perpetrated by the Syrian security forces against civilians who are expressing their views in peaceful protests. This violent repression must stop. President Assad must order his authorities to show restraint and to respond to the legitimate demands of his people with immediate and genuine reform, not with brutal repression. The emergency law should be lifted in practice and the legitimate aspirations of the people met. The UK is working intensively with our international partners to persuade the Syrian authorities to stop the violence and respect basic and universal human rights to freedoms of expression and assembly.
Syria is now at a fork in the road. Its Government can still choose to bring about the radical reform which alone can provide peace and stability for Syria in the long term, and we urge them do so. Or they can choose ever more violent repression, which can only bring short-term security for the authorities. If they do so, we will work with our European partners and others to take measures, including sanctions, that will have an impact on the regime.
Given our concerns for British nationals in Syria we changed our travel advice on Sunday to advise against all travel there and to advise that British nationals should leave unless there is a pressing need for them to remain.
In Yemen, the UK welcomes the news this morning that the efforts of the Gulf Co-operation Council to resolve the current political deadlock are close to success. I understand that President Saleh and the parliamentary opposition have accepted the GCC’s proposal. This is potentially good news. Both sides now need to come together to confirm their commitment to the peaceful, inclusive and timely transition process that the GCC has brokered. The UK remains committed to our long-standing support for Yemen in these difficult times.
Although the immediate situation in Bahrain is calmer, there continue to be many credible reports of human rights abuses. I urge the Government of Bahrain to meet all their human rights obligations and uphold political freedoms, equal access to justice and the rule of law. Dialogue is the way to fulfil the aspirations of all Bahrainis. I urge all sides, including opposition groupings, to engage.
In Egypt, which I will visit shortly, we welcome the actions being taken by the authorities to move towards a broad-based, civilian-led Government and an open and democratic society.
In Tunisia, with EU partners we are providing support to help the Government in Tunisia meet the wishes of the Tunisian people. On 11 April, the commission responsible for bringing together opposition parties and civil society approved the draft law for the constituent assembly elections scheduled for 24 July. This is a step further towards free and fair elections and an open, democratic society.
The European Union has a crucial role to play in the southern Mediterranean. The great changes in the Arab world are truly historic and the response from the nations of the European Union should be bold and ambitious. The review of the European Neighbourhood Policy is due to be published in a fortnight. We have been making the case that we have the opportunity to use that policy to help the peoples of the southern Mediterranean achieve their desire for freer and more prosperous societies. A renewed Neighbourhood Policy should see the EU using its economic magnetism to encourage and support political and economic reform in neighbouring countries. A partnership of equals should reward those who make the necessary political and economic reforms, and—importantly—withdraw benefits from those who do not.
Finally, it remains essential that progress is made in the search for a just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict. This is what the majority of ordinary Palestinians and Israelis demand of their leaders. The extraordinary changes in the region are an opportunity to be seized, not an excuse for further prevarication leading to more frustration and discontent.
In our response to the dramatic events in north Africa and the Middle East we will continue to stand for reform, not repression, and for the addressing of grievances rather than brutal reprisals. It is a policy in accordance with our own beliefs, in line with our own national interest and in pursuit of the peace and prosperity of the wider world”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating for this House the Statement made by the Foreign Secretary on the Middle East and north Africa. We on the opposition Benches join him in supporting the Gulf Co-operation Council initiative to resolve the crisis in Yemen and to achieve a peaceful political settlement. I also associate these Benches with his remarks regarding the continued need for focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, indeed, on the review of the European neighbourhood policy.
Every Member of this House will have been appalled by the recent reports of government violence and repression in Syria. First, can the Minister provide an estimate of the number of UK nationals who are in Syria at present? How many are in the southern city of Deraa? It has been reported that 5,000 soldiers and seven T55 tanks entered the city on Monday and attacked the protestors. Have the Government had any discussions with our European Union partners about working jointly, as we ended up doing in Libya, eventually, on contingency plans to try to help to get our people out if the need arises? Of course, I fully support the condemnation in the Statement of the actions of the Syrian Government.
It was only a few weeks ago, on 27 January, that the Foreign Secretary travelled to Damascus to meet President Assad. From these conversations, how likely do the Government judge it that President Assad will heed the Foreign Secretary’s calls for restraint and reform? I welcome the Minister’s statement that work is under way at the United Nations, but can he provide a more detailed analysis of what progress is being made regarding a statement and/or a resolution from the Security Council? In particular, can he outline what financial sanctions and freezes are being discussed at UN or EU level to make clear the international community’s condemnation?
In a statement this morning, the Foreign Secretary said:
“There needs to be accountability for the deaths that have occurred”.
What discussions have been entered into regarding the investigation of accusations of crimes against humanity and the call from Human Rights Watch for an official commission of inquiry? Finally, given the strong lead that the Arab League showed in relation to the unacceptability of Colonel Gaddafi’s actions, what diplomatic work is being done across the region to marshal unified condemnation of these actions?
While news has subsided slightly regarding Bahrain, the reports of the arrests of opposition figures, deaths in custody, allegations of torture and the denial of medical treatment are extremely concerning. Can the Minister update the House on the progress of the political reform process initiated by King al-Khalifa? Can the Government also tell us what recent discussions they have had with Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, who, it has been reported, has been close to reaching agreements with the protestors? Britain’s historically close ties to Bahrain should give us all the more reason to be clear and unequivocal in our urging for reform, not repression, as a response to popular protests on the islands.
We join the Minister in commending the brave service of our forces in Libya while the House has been in recess. The specific operational steps announced by the Government during that time—providing telecommunications, body armour and 10 military advisers —each had an operational rationale reflecting the new realities on the ground. Although we understand the rationale for these steps, will the Minister now update the summary of the legal advice previously provided, to cover each of the announcements that have been made during the Recess?
The ad hoc and unco-ordinated manner in which the Government steps were announced, rooted in no clearly articulated plan, has, we fear, served only to increase public anxieties, although in truth none of them is likely to significantly affect the strategic situation in Libya. As things stand neither Benghazi nor Tripoli appears likely to fall imminently to either side. Can the Minister give the House a fuller assessment of the present military situation? I ask this because the spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office stated this morning, in summarising the Foreign Secretary’s report to Cabinet colleagues earlier today, that we need to prepare for the long haul. Yet, on the Foreign Office website, there is a press release, published this weekend, entitled: “Foreign Secretary denies claims of stalemate in Libya”. The situation on the ground led the US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, to observe on Friday that Libya is “moving towards stalemate”. What information or insight does the Minister possess about military progress that apparently has not been shared with America’s most senior military figure?
That brings me to the question of political objectives and the military mission. On 21 March, speaking of Resolution 1973, the Prime Minister told the other place:
“It explicitly does not provide legal authority for action to bring about Gaddafi’s removal from power by military means”.—[Official Report, Commons, 21/3/11; col. 713.]
However, in the Times on 15 April, the Prime Minister and the Presidents of the United States and France said,
“so long as Gaddafi is in power, Nato and its coalition partners must maintain their operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds”.
Would the House be correct in understanding the language of this article to mean that, in the view of the British Government, UN Security Council Resolution 1973 cannot be enforced without Gaddafi’s departure? Given the explicit commitment to maintain NATO operations so long as Gaddafi remains in power, is a Libya free of Gaddafi now a political aim—one, incidentally, shared on all sides of the House—or a military objective of the British Government?
Can the Minister further explain whether, following this joint statement, American fighter aircraft have been once again engaged in ground assault operations and whether this statement of aims has led to any significant alteration of the US force posture? Can he be clearer on the means by which the Government seek to achieve the outcome that they seek? It is vital to do so not simply to ensure that the Government address the real concerns at home and abroad; crucially, it matters also to convince Gaddafi’s henchmen that there is a credible strategy in place to ensure that his brutal attacks on civilians will not prevail.
We seek as broad a coalition as possible for these efforts and, in that spirit, I add my welcome for the addition of Italian fighter aircraft to the mission, as we heard announced today. Can the Minister update the House on the precise number of EU, NATO and Arab League countries that are respectively participating in the military operation? What efforts are being made to expand those numbers further? Do the Government believe that the contact group is proving agile and effective enough to direct the mission?
Does the Minister agree that the comparison made last week by the Defence Secretary between the present mission in Libya and the Afghanistan campaign, where, a decade on, we have about 11,000 troops in theatre, not only ignores the different order of the threat posed by al-Qaeda and its supporters but needlessly threatens support at home and abroad for the mission? In the light of that comparison, can he assure the House that no personnel or equipment will be redeployed from Afghanistan to Libya, given the continuing national security threat being confronted in Afghanistan?
The Government are acting in Libya for principled reasons, but that does not remove our obligation to look at practical questions. On the rebels, can the Minister update the House on whether any further information has come to light regarding possible al-Qaeda involvement? Amid talk of the long haul, it should not be overlooked that Resolution 1973 contained a number of diplomatic measures and non-military powers designed to maintain the pressure on and isolation of the Gaddafi regime, including sanctions and embargoes. What further progress has been made on this front, in particular to put the financial squeeze on the Gaddafi regime?
From these Benches, the Opposition remain steadfast in their support for the enforcement of the United Nations Security Council resolution. That decision, implemented with professionalism and bravery by both our own and our allies’ armed services, saved the 700,000 residents of Benghazi from a grim fate. The continued threat of murderous slaughter in Misrata shows why NATO forces still need to be in the skies over Libya, but we are not and should not be deaf to the anxiety in the country about Britain’s present and future role in the Libyan mission. Therefore, as the Opposition, we urge clarity and coherence from the Government’s side so as to maintain support for this mission at home and abroad.
I thank the noble Baroness warmly for the supportive nature of her remarks and for her commitment that Her Majesty’s Opposition stand fast behind the UNSC resolution and its implementation. That is a warming and strong message, for which I am grateful. I cannot possibly answer all her questions in detail, but I will attempt to answer those that I managed to write down as she spoke.
On UK nationals in Syria, there are figures, although I give them with some hesitation. It could be from about 700 upwards, but I do not want the noble Baroness to regard that as the final figure, as it is not always easy to gather all details quickly. However, the figure is in that sort of range. We are most certainly talking and co-operating with the European Union at many levels on how to react to the Syria situation.
On what we are doing about the very concerning developments in Bahrain, the answer is that we are in constant contact. We have been talking to Ministers as well as to the chief authorities in Bahrain, urging that they get back to the national dialogue that the King always wanted to argue for and observe standards of human rights as rigorously as possible. We have expressed considerable concern about the reports of torture and other aspects. We believe that our representations have to be constant and strong and we are continuing to press them.
The noble Baroness raised the issue, which one sees in many commentaries, of the possibility of stalemate in Libya. To my mind and to many of those observing the situation closely, the position is fluid rather than stalemated. There is clearly movement to and fro. One moment, a street in Misrata is in the hands of the opposition and the next it is in the hands of Gaddafi’s forces. No one can say that a stalemate, implying some sort of rigid settling-in of defensive lines on either side, has anywhere near been reached. The interventions of NATO in protecting civilians and destroying the weaponry that is killing them, with some precision in many areas, are part of the means by which the situation remains extremely fluid.
In the Statement, the Foreign Secretary reminds us of the words that he rightly used. If I get his words precisely right,
“it is impossible to see a viable or peaceful way forward for Libya”,
until Gaddafi goes. That has been reiterated by a number of world leaders and is apparently very much the view of the entire Arab League and leading Arab nations. While the UN Security Council resolution obviously does not involve, require or authorise direct attack on the personality of Gaddafi himself, there was a clear statement by the contact group in Doha and by the allies that until Gaddafi goes there will be no solution and no achievement of the aim of the Libyans being able to decide their own future peacefully.
How is that to be done and what are the pressures? The first pressure is in implementing the resolution and doing everything to protect civilians by all possible means. Beyond that, the organisation of freezes and sanctions has been extensive. The movements, by no means fully achieved, towards controlling the financial resources available to Gaddafi and his team are strong. As far as possible, given that many of Gaddafi’s funds are under other names or obscure patterns of ownership, those funds are being frozen and individuals in Libya are being named as those who cannot have access to them or admission to other countries.
In addition, pressure is preventing Gaddafi from achieving further revenues from oil sales. There have been some unauthorised liftings of oil on the side, but they may be coming to an end. If he cannot get oil money, he will not get money and he will not be able to buy in weapons, mercenaries or any other of the instruments that he is using to attack his own people. In addition to that, we look for further defections of the kind that we have already seen from those closely around him.
This all adds up to a pattern of international pressures that come particularly from the Arab League. I stress that this is not just an Atlantic, a western or even a European project; it is a united project with the support of a very wide number of countries, representatives of many of which attended the contact group in Doha the other day, including Japan. I cannot go into details about the precise contribution that the various allies, including the Americans, are making, but we welcome the arrival of the UAVs. We believe that they will help to reinforce the protection of civilians, which is the main aim of the whole project.
Ahead lie fluidity and increasing pressures on Gaddafi himself. Ahead lies a pattern in which the nations and regions of the world, including the Arabs, the African Union—to a lesser extent so far, I admit, although there have been some strong voices there as well—and certainly the responsible nations and democracies of the world, through the UN, are all depicting an end game and a better future for Libya, in which Libyans can decide their differences and carry forward their prospects without the dark and malign influence of Colonel Gaddafi. This is a possibility. To say that it is a probability at this stage is going too far, but it is an aim that can be worked for and is being worked for at this moment.
My Lords, does the noble Lord recognise that the Statement he has just read is one of the most remarkable that many of your Lordships will ever have heard? It is about complete convulsion in a very important area of the world which threatens very significantly our whole economy and the stability of the region and the durability and survival of an enormous number of people. It is a remarkable Statement in the breadth that it has represented. We know about Tunisia originally and then Egypt; we have been involved in Libya; we now see the situation in Bahrain, Yemen and Syria; and there are uncertainties in other Arab countries, which I will not particularly mention except maybe Morocco and Algeria, where there are concerns and rumblings.
There was some comment made about the Prime Minister’s comment that we are in for the long haul. What is absolutely without question is that it is going to be a very long haul whether it comes out well or badly. The economic and security implications of what is happening now are going to be with us for a very long time indeed. There is an old phrase, “The future is not what it used to be”. There has been a convulsive change and we may be in the middle of it now or we may be only just at the beginning.
I want to add one particular point. In the first instance the Statement is concerned with the outcome in Libya. Can the Minister comment in particular about the situation in Algeria and the Polisario? What evidence is there that Gaddafi is purchasing a considerable amount of mercenary assistance which may be concealing the fact that the support he has within his own country is rather less than he might seek to pretend?
I am very grateful to my noble friend whose experience in these matters is unquestioned. What he says is right: these are historic developments. They are of course different in the different countries. There is a danger, while there is a certain degree of cross-border infection and contagion, of seeing the political mechanics inside each country as similar, which they are not. Each country is different and I have been reminded of that very vividly having spent the whole of last week in the Middle East.
My noble friend asked particularly about Algeria and its involvement in this. It is something we are watching very closely indeed. We welcome President Bouteflika’s announcement that he intends to introduce political reforms, including the setting up of a constitutional commission and a revision to the law governing political parties. We hope that is a political reform statement that will be put in practice. There is no clear evidence of Algerian support for Colonel Gaddafi but it is certainly true that in the past Gaddafi has sought friends in that large neighbouring country, as he has sought friends throughout the African Union further south. Some of these friendships probably remain but I do not think I can comment further on the precise posture being taken up by Algeria externally at the moment; internally it is clear that the Algerian authorities are aware of the reform pressure operating on all governments which do not recognise the need for reform and do not recognise that the world has changed and that people now feel empowered to demand the freedoms and justice which they have been denied in the past.
My Lords, while the Minister has said the Government are resisting mission creep, does he not accept that the greater danger is mission drift? The contact group met once this month largely to reiterate what the policy previously was and it will not meet again until next month. This does not show any degree of urgency in this matter. Does he accept that a lack of cohesion and urgency appears to be shown by ad hoc statements made by Ministers which they contradict the next day? We said we were going to arm the rebels. No, we are not. We were going to train the rebels. Well, not really. Although the Minister has said specifically today Gaddafi is not a target, the Defence Secretary in New York, I think, two days ago said that Gaddafi was a legitimate target. We cannot have this position where we swing from one to the other. While the measures on sanctions and so on are important the fact is the urgency arises in stopping the fighting and the killing as soon as possible. I regret the idea we seem to have settled easily into the acceptance that it is going to be a long haul. A long haul will not really protect civilians. We really must show a greater deal of urgency than at present.
I do not accept that depiction of the situation at all. Of course in all dramatic and violent situations, such as the one that has developed in Libya, it would be the unwise person who predicted exactly what is going to happen next and exactly which path can be followed with clockwork results. The situation simply is not like that.
However, the overall strategy and direction are clear. They are to act within the resolution and to make the obvious point, which has been made throughout the entire Arab world and in parts of Africa and indeed in Asia as well, that there can be no peace and better future for Libya until the civilian killing stops and the chief agents of the civilian killing—notably, Colonel Gaddafi—go. Of course that raises questions of where and how he should go, which are not questions we feel are our responsibility to answer. However, the general trend is a strong one, although the timing is impossible to predict.
The actions are firm and have already been decisive in some areas, although in other areas less so. There are major difficulties where tanks and Howitzer artillery and mortar artillery and possibly some revolting weapons as well are being used by Gaddafi’s troops inside civilian areas—within the narrow streets of Libyan towns they cannot be picked out. This is the problem of fighting, which is bound to go to and fro. However, I do not think the noble Lord’s picture of indecision and drift is a fair one. There is a pattern here of responsibility to protect and responsibility to open a more stable future for this very sensitive part of the Middle East and the north Africa region.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Statement. It has been widely reported that mercenaries from various African countries are now fighting for the Gaddafi regime. Referring to the question of the noble Lord, Lord King, the Algerian supported Polisario Front is reported to have now sent 450 members to fight for Gaddafi’s regime. Am I to understand from the noble Lord’s reply to the noble Lord, Lord King, that the United Kingdom has made no representations on this matter?
On the broader issue of the Polisario and the United Nations resolutions, and the way that that affects not so much Algeria as Morocco, we have certainly said that we think that the resolutions should be upheld. As for the cross-currents, though—either the one that the noble Lord did not quite refer to of apparent Algerian support for certain aspects of Polisario activity or the Polisario involvement in Libya, encouraged by Algeria—I am afraid that I cannot give him any precise information. I would say that I would write to him, but I am not sure that such detailed information exists in the smoke and fog of battle. Certainly mercenaries have been brought in, drawn from many areas of Africa, who are fighting for Gaddafi and are receiving large wads of money for doing so. That has been proved by some of those captured or killed who have been found to have this money on them.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the questions that have come from other noble Lords about the Polisario actually concern the no-fly zone and its effectiveness? Will he at least explain to the House why that zone does not seem to extend to the road routes into Libya, which is apparently where these mercenaries are coming from? I understand that maritime routes are being re-examined to ensure that they are sealed, but road routes do not as yet appear to be sealed.
On the broader point, does my noble friend agree that the most intractable conflict in the Middle East is Israel-Palestine? What discussions have the Government had with the Middle East envoy or indeed through the quartet to attempt to do something to kick-start the process again and get both sides to break the impasses and move forward?
On Bahrain, will the Minister tell us at what stage he will believe that we have got to a stage with regard to human rights violations where we might do something more than just implore the Bahraini royal family to sit down and negotiate seriously?
My noble friend raises three questions. The no-fly zone is authorised over Libyan airspace, not over the back channels through which manpower and weapons may continue to be supplied into Tripoli and into the hands of Gaddafi’s forces. That is not a possibility consistent with strict adherence to UNSCR 1973.
On the Middle East peace process, we are arguing strongly that this is an opportunity, not a time for the Israeli authorities to draw back, hunker down, hope that things will pass over and wait and see. On the contrary, this could be a large and open window through which those who genuinely want peace and a two-state solution, and who want to see Palestine emerge as part of a two-state pattern in a sensible relationship, should now be pressing forward. That is a view that we have pressed very strongly and which is represented by our actions at the United Nations in support of certain relevant resolutions, which my noble friend will know all about.
As for the Bahraini situation, we are concerned about what has happened and we think that the pattern of handling the protests has not been successful or the right path. We have urged that the whole emphasis should be on seeking a national dialogue, which the king himself and some of his advisers always wanted from the start. We think that that is the right way forward. We believe that the concern of surrounding countries, including that expressed by Saudi Arabia in physical form through its support of security in Bahrain, if rightly handled, is part of a beneficial theme, in that we are seeing the GCC countries and the leading Arab regional authorities take seriously the internal security of their own region. The same applies in Yemen, where there may be some hope, as the Statement said, that the GCC solution is going to bring a breakthrough and a pattern of less bloody and less violent development. These are early days, though, and all that I can tell my noble friend is that we are in constant contact with the Bahraini authorities and urging the sensible course, which we believe lies along the path of national dialogue and reform.
My Lords, one of the striking points in the Statement was the fact that only six Arab countries attended the meeting on 14 and 15 April. There are of course 16 countries in the Arab League, not counting Libya, which might have been there. It is worrying that 10 Arab League countries did not attend. Can the Minister offer an explanation for this? It was of course the support from the Arab League countries for the humanitarian objectives of the action in Libya that neutralised opposition at the United Nations and allowed the Security Council resolution to go forward, so it is enormously important that the support of those countries is maintained during this period.
While we are looking so hard at Libya, I ask the Minister to assure us that we are observing and, as the Statement says, concerned about the carnage on the streets in Syria. It would be difficult to defend going in on a humanitarian basis to stop the wanton killing of unarmed civilians in Libya while doing nothing at all about the newsreels that we have seen of the Syrian armed forces simply gunning down people in the streets in a number of different cities in Syria. We must not be caught on the argument of double standards. It is important that we respond in equal measure to equal problems.
I understand the sentiments expressed by the noble Baroness, particularly in her last remarks. She is well positioned to know about these matters in an acute and profound form.
Attendance at the contact group of the Doha meeting was by invitation. In a sense, the Arab League authorities represent the whole range of smaller and larger Arab countries; it is their voice that has been sought, and to a large extent secured, in the recognition that one of the causes of the civilian killings is the personality, actions and attitudes of Gaddafi himself. That has come out clearly from the Arab League as a whole. However, I do not think that we expected all the smaller Arab countries to attend the Doha meeting, nor did they want to. I am not even sure that they were invited. The invitation was to the countries that are in a position to make contributions, both financial, as Kuwait has just done, as noble Lords heard in the Statement, and in terms of hardware, as Qatar and the UAE have done, as well as in a variety of other forms, as a major country like Saudi Arabia is interested in doing. The aim of the conference was not to invite every country, large and small, in the Arab region but to ensure that the Arab League as a whole spoke as far as possible for the whole region.
As for Syria, the noble Baroness is completely right. There is murder and mayhem on the streets of Syrian cities, Deraa and elsewhere. Thinking back through history, we all know of the colossal massacre that took place at Hama when the former president, Hafiz al-Assad, was alive—under the aegis, I seem to recall, of his brother, who was the chief police authority there. Sadly, this is not a new phenomenon. Our protests are extremely strong but of course this requires international co-ordination, which we have with the EU and through the UN.
There is also the question of criminal charges being pursued by the International Criminal Court, and I believe that an investigation has opened. That is an independent court that makes its own decisions, but they are certainly ones that we welcome as we watch with horror the unfolding violence that will get the present president, Bashar al-Assad, and his Government nowhere. They will simply move constantly behind the curve, as I was told in the Middle East last week, and they will fail to catch up with the outrage and fury that will simply grow greater the more blood that is shed and the more violence that there is in that country.
The Minister has reiterated the consistent attitude of the Government to regime change in Libya. However, is it not the case that our own forces, with those of our allies, are taking part in rigorous battlefield activities which, if successful, will have the effect of emasculating Colonel Gaddafi and degrading his capacity to murder his own people and, if that continues, ultimately there will be regime change? Therefore, is this the answer to the question: we do not aim for regime change, but our actions, with those of our allies, could well bring it about, and if that happens we will welcome it?
The noble Lord, with his usual precision and crystal-clear legal mind, has put the matter in a nutshell. This is the way that things will go. It is not just about the battlefield activities, the aerial activities, the advisory role and the provision of telecommunications equipment mentioned in the Statement. The international freezing of resources, assets and oil revenues, and the international pressure from every side on the existing Libyan regime, will also be part of the package of forces that will lead in the direction that the noble Lord so rightly described.
My Lords, in repeating the Statement the Minister described the Libyan regime as illegitimate for the very strong reason of its treatment of its citizens. Given the violence in Syria that has been mentioned during this debate, do the Government take the same view of the Syrian Government and the presidency of Bashar al-Assad?
I refer back to my observation that each country is seeing a different pattern unfold. If my noble friend thinks about the Libyan pattern, to which he has just referred, it is a country with clearly organised opposition forces holding certain cities and territory against the organised force of a murderous regime, which still holds authority in Tripoli. That is one scene. In Syria, something else is unfolding—a very unpleasant pattern it is—in which the authorities are clearly acting in murderous ways and authorising their security forces to take part in actions that smash up human rights, destroy lives and create still rising tensions. It is not at the same point in the curve and is not the same pattern of development. There could come a time when the shape of things will change in Syria. There could come times when attitudes towards the Syrian authorities will evolve and grow increasingly determined to see changes in the pattern. It could come but you cannot compare like with like at the moment. These are different countries with different patterns of turmoil and political discontent, which all manifest in different ways. We in this country will use our tailored pressures with the EU, our American allies and our Arab and African allies to try to temper these great forces that are sweeping the Arab world, and see that they bring change—but change that is beneficial and not soaked in blood.
European Union Bill
Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)
17: Clause 3, page 3, line 4, leave out “(1)(i) or (j)” and insert “(1)”
My Lords, I will speak to the amendments in this bloc—Amendments 17, 18, 19, 19A and 28. They relate to matters that we discussed extensively in our earlier debate. To help the House, I am willing not to move these amendments at this stage, on the understanding that we will probably come back to these issues of pragmatic flexibility on Report. We have had a very long discussion on this and the best thing is probably to move on. However, there may be Members who wish to have a bit of a discussion on whether Clause 3 should stand part.
Amendments 17 to 19A not moved.
Debate on whether Clause 3 should stand part of the Bill.
My Lords I had not intended to speak on whether Clause 3 should stand part. However, I wanted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, but was not permitted to do so because the Minister got to his feet and obviously wanted to intervene. I was later unable to intervene on the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, who did not seem to want to hear what I had to say. The first thing I want to say is that I agree entirely with what the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, said. Indeed, he got to the core of the matter. The reason we are in this difficulty today, the reason we have this Bill, and the reason we are talking about referendums is that Parliament, under the European Communities Act 1972, cannot do its job. That is why we have this difficulty.
Under normal circumstances, when great changes take place Parliament is able to discuss and amend. However, when Ministers and the Government agree to hand new powers to the European Union and make a treaty, we can discuss the treaty but we cannot amend its provisions. That is not how Parliament should work. If Parliament is to work properly, the European Communities Act needs amending so that Parliament can do its job. Then, when a treaty—or whatever means of handing further power to the European Union—happens, Parliament can properly discuss the Bill with some effect by moving amendments, voting on them and disagreeing if necessary with what has been agreed by Ministers. In particular there was great concern about Clause 3, which refers to Article 48(6), in another place and—as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, knows—in this place as well. He expressed his grave concern about the possible use of Article 48(6) of the Lisbon treaty.
The whole basis of the European Union is wrong as far as democracy is concerned. The problem is that the more power that is acceded to the institutions of the European Union, the less democratic it becomes. That has been shown. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, referred earlier to setting aside the provisions of our own Select Committee as well as the Select Committee of the House of Commons. If the Government believe that something is urgent, they just ignore everything that has been said here. What is more, the discussions we have here are long and good; there is no question about that. The European Union Select Committee works extremely hard, takes a lot of evidence and brings forward good suggestions and reports. However, they are either set aside or ignored by the European Union itself. I do not believe that any recommendation made by this House through its Select Committee has been accepted. What on earth is the use of that? The Select Committee makes reasonable proposals which are discussed and accepted by this House but are then not accepted by the European Union. In spite of the fact that the Select Committee is a good committee doing hard work, in the last analysis it has no power.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. However, he has not quite grasped the purpose of the European Union Select Committee. The purpose is not to advise the European Union but to advise the Government. If, in their sovereignty, the Government choose not to accept our advice, there is nothing that we can do about it. However, I do not think you can say that we are not performing our function just because the institutions of the European Union might not accept what we have said.
That is precisely what I did not say. I said that the Select Committee was performing its function and doing it very well but—whether it is a case of what the Government will accept or what the European Union will accept—in the last analysis, its recommendations have not been accepted, which is a great pity. Some of the changed arrangements for the Select Committee might make it more effective, but I very much doubt it.
I remind the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, who would not allow me to intervene in his speech, that the peace in Europe has had nothing to do with the European Community or the European Union but has been kept by NATO. The greatest threat to Europe occurred in 1949 with the Berlin blockade. The treaty of Rome was not signed until 1957 although I think that it was thought of before then. The United States and Britain ensured that the Russian blockade was broken; it had nothing to do with any other European state, with the exception perhaps of France which gave a little help. Therefore, it is about time that we stopped talking about the European Community or the European Union being responsible for keeping the peace in Europe—NATO has kept the peace in Europe. I do not know what would have happened without NATO and the American deterrent, so please let us give credit where it is due.
That would take rather a long time. I think that perhaps Germany rather than the European Union had some strategic purpose in regard to the break-up of Yugoslavia, but I had better not go into that at this time. Time is getting on and I have no doubt that noble Lords want to get to dinner, so I shall sit down.