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Lord Cockfield: My Lords, it used to be just the plain Foreign Office; then it became the Foreign and Colonial Office; and in due time that gave way to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. But despite the fact that we have been members of the European Community, now the European Union, for more than 21 years, it still remains just the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. That is despite the fact that arguably Europe is much more important than the other two either separately or taken together.
While on that subject, perhaps I may invite my noble friend the Leader of the House to join the 20th century. When he announced the subject matter for this debate yesterday evening--and I prefer to quote his words rather than a mere footnote on the Order Paper--he said that today:
It may be thought that I am talking merely about the use of words, but in fact words very often reveal the thoughts which exist unexpressed in the darkest recesses of the mind. The time has come when not only the Government but perhaps other people also should have a better order of priorities.
I do not propose to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, in what he said about "federal" and "federalism". I merely seek to help my noble friend Lady Chalker by saying that the Government's policy is obviously based on that well-known dictum:
But constitutionally the position is absolutely clear. Here we have an international undertaking entered into not only by the United Kingdom Government but at the instance of the United Kingdom Government. If Parliament was not prepared to pass a Bill giving effect to that undertaking--and it is always open to it not to do so--then it is impossible to see how that Government could survive. There is a maxim of the law that every man is responsible for the natural consequences of his actions. If the Government were to fall, we should know who bore the responsibility for that happening.
Perhaps I may add a few further words. It would be disgraceful if the Government had to rely on the votes of the Opposition in order to validate an undertaking of this kind which had been entered into. In case what I am saying is giving any comfort to the Opposition, I say quite clearly that I have reservations about their conversion to the European cause. It started simply with antipathy to Mrs. Margaret Thatcher and the policies that she was following. Whether that conversion--on the road to Damascus, or what the Opposition may have thought was the road to 10 Downing Street--would ever survive the stresses and pressures of government has not yet been proved and I hope that it never is proved. But so much for that aspect of the gracious Speech in so far as it referred to European affairs.
I turn now to the other matter that I should like to mention; namely, the 1996 intergovernmental conference to which my noble friend Lady Rawlings referred in her most interesting maiden speech. It is a matter of immense importance. I see that the Community has been asked to designate 1996 as the European Year of Lifelong Learning. I hope that the Government will be prepared to enrol in that particular course.
The debate on 1996 has already started. The Social Democratic Party in Germany has published a discussion document, M. Balladur the Prime Minister of France has given a detailed interview to Le Figaro and our own Prime Minister Mr. John Major made a speech of great importance--I do not necessarily agree with it; but it is of great importance--at Leiden. So the debate is now joined. In June of the coming year, what was
I do not propose to go into the matter in any particular detail. However, there is one point that I should like to make. If one looks at the Maastricht Treaty and tries to read it--which, I may say, is not at all easy because it is a perfect example of legislation by reference--it will be seen that what the intergovernmental conference is supposed to consider are not the policies themselves but,
I believe that we already have sufficient policies in the Community, or the Union, both under the Single European Act and under the Maastricht Treaty to keep us busy until well into the next century. It is important to make a success of those policies and not to start spawning new ones which may not be effective and for which there would be no time to give effect to. That is all I wish to say at this stage about the 1996 review. I hope that we shall return to the matter in your Lordships' House and discuss it in some detail before the Government's policy on such matters is enshrined in blocks of concrete. That is the only plea that I make.
In conclusion, I should like to say that the "hang-ups" in this country--and I can think of no better word, despite its lack of eloquence--over closer ties with Europe are understandable, even if they are wrong. Since 1066 this country has not been seriously invaded. For nearly 1,000 years we have developed a civilisation, a culture, an ethos, and a set of policies all of our own. Over that long period of time we have gradually drifted away from the Continent of Europe. To come back into the Continent of Europe (which essentially is what the European Union means) involves an immense task of re-adaptation. However, it is a task that falls not just on our shoulders; it also falls on the shoulders of all the other members of the Union. In fact, it is a coming together of the peoples. It is not a matter of one country making a massive move and the others standing still and doing nothing. That point should be kept constantly in mind.
If we are to build a secure future for ourselves, for our country and for future generations, if we are to have a real influence in the world and if we are to pull our weight and to make our policies known, it can only be as part of a strong and effective European Union. Therefore, our efforts must be directed to strengthening the Union and not weakening it. We must help it to grow by the admission of like-minded new members; we must make it more effective in the world whether in politics, in security, in defence or in trade; and we must improve its efficiency, reforming its administration and its institutions to enable it to take decisions resolutely and implement them efficiently.
We cannot always have our own way. But if we play a constructive role and are recognised as so doing, we shall exercise an influence far greater than mere numbers alone would command. That is the challenge with which we are faced. That, ultimately, is the challenge of 1996.
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