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Lord Beloff: My Lords, perhaps the noble and learned Lord will permit me to intervene. I did not intend to say that it was unimportant because the distribution of powers was unimportant but that the federal model in itself, in its various guises in various countries, managed to do this long before the term was imported into current discourse.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, the noble Lord and I are totally ad idem. That exchange was well worth while. With great respect, I could not agree more.

Another important aspect is consensus, a point raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, and by my noble friend Lord Taylor. It was not just a matter of subsidiarity. A step was not taken until there was a consensus that such provision was not an instance of subsidiarity and that it related to matters where decisions by one canton necessarily affected its neighbours.

Secondly, it was found that stability was not achievable simply by inventing constitutional provisions and writing them down on a sheet of paper. Stability requires a commitment to the purposes of the federation by the people for whose government it is designed. It requires a sense of unity and of common nationhood. That may happen because the people recognise how much they have in common with one another. As many of your Lordships have pointed out, that was not so for the Swiss. They had no common language. They did not have a common religion. Indeed, it was the religious divide which triggered the attempt at secession in 1847 which led to the new constitution. They had in common none of the elements which are normally said to amount to a common nationality, as the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, said. Yet the citizens recognise themselves as Swiss, and there is a bond of loyalty between the individual citizen and the federation. Indeed, their pluralism has opened their culture to a wider range of influences.

Federalism does not depend on uniformity of outlook, or of interests, or of opinions. It can provide a sensible way of living together and co-operating precisely despite differences. The Swiss found that a most important way to achieve that was to establish structures through which the people could participate directly in the decisions of the federation and not simply indirectly through their canton. It is a lesson which we are learning in Europe, although I believe that we have to take it a stage further. I do not believe it will be fully effective until some of the powers of the Council of Ministers, which is the citadel of the nation states, are moved to the European Parliament, the institution representing the people.

I believe that in time the world will come to realise that, if the United Nations is to be seen as "We, the peoples", and not just as "We, the nation states", the secretariat will have to be accountable to a representative chamber. Then farmers in France and fishermen in Spain and—dare we hope—more Conservative politicians will recognise a wider loyalty to our planet, which will improve the quality of life for everyone.

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What the Swiss discovered was that loyalty is divisible. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, said, being a good Swiss does not preclude someone in any way from demonstrating a loyalty to his canton, and to his own commune.

I must have a care. The noble and learned Lord encouraged us to think more widely and less fearfully about these matters. I hope that we have responded. Not all the thoughts which I have ventilated are yet the policy of my party. I would not want to mislead anyone. But my party is alive to these issues and believes that we should reflect on them together. There is nothing to hold us back except the limitations which we ourselves choose to impose on our mental processes.

Sir Peter Ustinov, president of the World Federalist Movement, once expressed it in an article in the European in this way. He said:


    "The sure evolution of Switzerland from a people described by none other than Machiavelli as 'armed to the teeth' into a civilised nation with a world mission out of all proportion to its size can be put down to its intelligent espousal of federalism".

That is a lesson well worth the learning, and I believe that posterity will be grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, for reminding us of it.

4.44 p.m.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I have listened with great interest and pleasure to the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, about the Swiss system of government. I am sure that I speak for all your Lordships when I say that. It was a stimulating introduction to what I am sure we can all agree has been a most worthwhile debate.

As the noble and learned Lord explained with his customary eloquence, the Swiss system is one with many qualities and good points. Perhaps the most important and admirable of these qualities is that the system works. It commands the support and consent of a diverse society because it respects, both in theory and in practice, that diversity. But because a particular system works for Switzerland it does not follow that it would necessarily work on a much larger scale for Europe, or for that matter anywhere else, as the noble and learned Lord pointed out in his opening remarks.

The word "federalism" was mentioned at a number of points during the debate. In his opening remarks the noble and learned Lord gave a correct and proper technical definition of that word. But as has also been mentioned during the debate, it has become debased in popular parlance. While we here know what it means I shall endeavour to use the word itself as little as possible in order to avoid wider misrepresentation.

Secondly, as my noble friend Lord Beloff pointed out, this is a subject on which just about anything can be said with relevance, whether it is shooting an apple off the head of my noble friend Lord Lyell or going into the merits of Swiss ladies as potential wives. What I shall try to do is to focus on those matters which are relevant to our country and on the main points that have arisen during the debate. I shall also endeavour to divide

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my remarks into two general groups: those which relate to outside the United Kingdom and those which should be more properly focused within it.

There are huge differences between Switzerland, with a population of around 7 million, and the European Union, with nearly 350 million people living in its 15 member states. I do not, however, intend to try to make a comparison between the Swiss system and the pillared structure of the European Union. That is because I believe it would be a mistake, as we approach next year's Inter-Governmental Conference, to slip back into a sterile doctrinal and theoretical debate about systems of government. It was this perhaps more than anything else which caused the disillusionment with the development of the European political process and led in turn to the difficulties throughout Europe with the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty.

Just when Europe had shown the rest of the world an example by creating an outward looking, liberal, free-trading bloc of more than 300 million people, we turned in on ourselves. When we should have been building on the foundation of the single market, using this momentum to fight unemployment and further to improve Europe's competitiveness, we turned inwards and became bogged down in divisive and sometimes almost theological battles over the institutional balance, qualified majority voting and Community competence. Those were and remain important issues. We cannot and should not ignore them. But we must not focus on them to the exclusion of everything else. Doing that can undermine the entire process of which they are merely a part.

That is why I believe that reviving a theoretical debate in the abstract about federalism would be unhelpful. Others agree. M. Balladur, M. Juppe and Herr Kohl have said that we must not do that. Only last month, the president of the European Parliament, Klaus Hansch, told an audience in Bonn that Europe was already too large to contemplate there being a United States of Europe. He said that neither the United States of America Germany nor Switzerland could be a model for the Union, which would develop in a unique fashion. It is not all that often that the British Government and Dr. Hansch are in full agreement, but on this there is nothing between us.

What we must do in 1996 is to build on the sound base for working together that was created by the Maastricht Treaty, which was implemented only 18 months ago and is still bedding down. Maastricht established a flexible structure well suited to satisfying different demands of co-operation at European level in the contemporary world. It created a pillared structure with inter-governmental co-operation in the common foreign and security policy and justice and home affairs. In the Community pillar, which covers important areas such as the single market, competition rules, agriculture and trade, the Commission, the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice are fully involved. This structure needs to be improved, not dismantled. We will be bringing forward a number of positive proposals to improve it so that it works better over the next 12 months or so.

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A number of noble Lords, beginning with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, referred to Europe and subsidiarity. We have in your Lordships' House discussed this matter on numerous occasions. It is defined clearly in Article 3b of the Maastricht Treaty. That article was a considerable success for Britain. Its effect is that, in areas of shared competence, the Community can only act if it has genuine value to add over national action. Moreover, if it does act, then it should do so in the least intrusive way possible.

Substantial progress has been made since Maastricht. The Birmingham, Edinburgh, Brussels, Corfu and Essen European Councils have put flesh on the bones of Article 3b. The number of legislative initiatives has more than halved since 1991. All have now to pass a stringent subsidiarity test. The Commission has withdrawn 11 proposals no longer deemed to meet subsidiarity criteria. At the Brussels European Council, the Commission said that it would propose the repeal of about 25 per cent. of all existing legislation. Some of them would be repealed for good and some replaced with a smaller number of new proposals. That work is well under way.

Perhaps even more importantly, the principle is now firmly embedded in the minds of the European Union's law makers. There is a general realisation that what is required is fewer laws, better observed, and that a Community which forces its way into every corner of people's lives will weaken their commitment to Europe.

Subsidiarity is working and I share all noble Lords' enthusiasm for it. The European Union approach I have described is designed for the flexible framework that the Union represents and is rather different from the Swiss model which sets out clearly and formally which areas are for action at cantonal level and which are for the federal government. I doubt that this approach makes sense for the European Union. Would such classification really end the turf battles between member states and the Community over divisions of competence? We have here a subsidiarity model that works. The Government's intention is to build on this in 1996 to make the existing mechanisms work better and not to break them up and start again.

I now refer to some more domestic matters. I begin with some comments about Northern Ireland which a number of noble Lords mentioned. In particular I shall refer to what, if any, relevance the Swiss system might have there and to try to help to resolve the tragic troubles that that Province faces. The key in Northern Ireland, as in other parts of the world, is to find a system of government that the local political representatives would support and which is relevant to local circumstances. I believe that there has been very general agreement around the House about that basic approach.

To the best of my knowledge, none of the main constitutional parties there has shown any serious interest in the type of structures which are to be found in Switzerland and which have been the basis of our discussion today; although, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, mentioned, many of the characteristics of the Swiss system may well be helpful. I believe that was the point made by my noble friend Lord Beloff. He said that he did not see that the Swiss

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model had any special relevance for the Northern Irish problem although we seem to be agreed that there may be lessons to be drawn from it.

What seems more likely to secure convergence is a system involving a devolved Assembly, with executive and legislative responsibility for a range of local issues such as health, education and agriculture, and which offers a fair and effective role for all sections of the community. New arrangements within Northern Ireland would be supported by other arrangements for close co-operation between Northern Ireland and the Republic where this was to the mutual benefit of both north and south and for close co-operation between the two governments.

Ideas on these lines were, of course, published recently in Frameworks for the Future. The ideas in those framework documents have stimulated a level of public debate in Northern Ireland and that is what they are intended to do. They are designed to help the political parties and the wider community make progress towards an agreed, comprehensive settlement. That is what we must continue to strive towards if there is to be lasting peace in Northern Ireland, taking full advantage of the very welcome ceasefires that have been in place from both Republicans and Loyalists since last Autumn. In order to carry forward political dialogue, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has recently announced that he intends to invite the main constitutional parties for bilateral discussions in the near future.

I was most grateful for the gracious comments of the noble Lord, Lord Holme, about the framework document. I am sorry to see that Oxford has called him. Perhaps he will allow me in his absence to pick out one point of detail. Reference is made to a possible charter of rights. However, there is no specific proposal for a Bill of Rights in Northern Ireland. The framework certainly stresses the desirability of increased protection for civil, political, social and cultural rights, but leaves it for further discussion with the parties as to how that protection would be provided. I hope that that is a helpful clarification.

I now turn to the other matters which were raised in the context of domestic politics within the United Kingdom. I understand the approach adopted by many noble Lords who spoke, but it seemed to me that there was a certain degree of cherry picking by those noble Lords who had a particular point to make. If they found it somewhere in the arrangements that are in place for Switzerland, they then said, "That helps to prove our point".

Perhaps more of the debate relating to the United Kingdom referred specifically to Scotland than to any other particular matter. We had a wide range of strongly held views expressed by noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Cockfield and the noble Lords, Lord Taylor of Gryfe and Lord Holme, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer. As is appropriate with someone with his background, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, began his learned exposition with the constitutional history of our country; but it seems to me that in the context of this particular debate it is important that we begin from where we are now. We

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begin with a unitary United Kingdom. That has arisen not simply by accident, but evolved over time in response to particular requirements which people have had.

Against that background the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, said that in the most recent local government elections only 11 per cent. of the population voted Conservative. Needless to say, anyone who is a Conservative supporter would rather that more had done so. But it is important that we put that into perspective. There may be a multitude of reasons why people, for one reason or another, may feel disgruntled or antagonistic towards the Government, but it would not be responsible to think about a fundamental change to the constitutional arrangements of our country simply on the basis of one local government election where the Government in power found themselves very unpopular.

In response to the problems that there may be, we have to see exactly where the real focus of interest and concern lies. I understand that in my childhood there was a general election in which the Conservative Party polled more than 50 per cent. of the votes cast in Scotland. At that time perhaps one might have drawn an entirely different conclusion. As regards the constitutional arrangements we have to see where the real wishes of people lie. It is certainly the case that Scottish people have consistently voted for parties which are pro-Union. It seems to us that against that background, if there is to be a change in the constitutional arrangements in the Union, a case has to be made for that change. At the moment, that does not seem to have occurred.

There was a similar point about devolution which applies even more widely as regards how the doctrine of subsidiarity—a horrible word which I am sure my noble friend Lord Beloff would agree—actually fulfils a useful function in this kind of debate. Is subsidiarity being properly applied domestically? As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, said, subsidiarity, like charity, begins at home. The noble Lord, Lord Holme, complained about the gathering of power to the centre.

It seems to me that the same general principles apply here. The particular arrangements that we have currently in our society have not arisen merely by chance; they have evolved over time. It is undoubtedly the case that if one were to go back, say, 10 to 15 years, there was very serious criticism throughout society about the ways in which various activities were being carried out at local government level which were not giving people satisfaction. Again, the problem here is to identify the issue. In a democracy it is collective decision-making which is important and that is to discover what people want. Simply to apply rigidly a kind of doctrinaire principle automatically reducing decision-making to some kind of legally identified lowest possible level, regardless of the circumstances, does not necessarily mean that we shall give people the best system to live in or one that is delivering its services to their best advantage.

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Reference was made to proportional representation. Perhaps not surprisingly, it was the noble Lord, Lord Holme, who said that one of the great features of the Swiss system was that it proved that PR can work. In fact, the Swiss system is not quite as straightforward as that. It is interesting that most of the cantons have some form of first-past-the-post system. It is also relevant to note that in certain of the Swiss cantons, the different size of the constituencies becomes relevant. In a small canton with just two seats, a small minority party may need up to 34 per cent. of the votes to win just one seat, while a similar party in a large canton such as Zurich may need only 3 per cent. of the votes.

It therefore emerges that the effects of proportional representation are weakened in the small cantons and that proportional rule favours the relative electoral strength of the larger historical parties. Therefore, as far as proportional representation is concerned, I do not believe that the experience of Switzerland takes us a great deal further in respect of any debate that there might be in this country on the topic.

Right from the opening remarks of the noble and learned Lord, reference has continually been made to the unique system of referenda in Switzerland. It is a political phenomenon which undoubtedly attracts many people. Perhaps its most attractive point is that mentioned by my noble friend Lord Moyne, who said that the presence of referenda—checking the government—has a salutary effect on the rulers. Perhaps not surprisingly, speaking from the Dispatch Box, that is not something that necessarily appeals to me.

The important point behind that slightly frivolous way of describing the system of referenda is that, as can be seen from the Swiss case, it can cause serious problems about government because there is now concern about the impact of lobby-driven initiatives. There is an increase in the ease with which the requisite number of signatures is breached and that has led to a backlog of initiatives. A revision of the constitution is due to address that in the summer. Equally, there have been problems about the Federal Council's foreign policy. Clearly, any country has to have a foreign policy and must be able to implement that policy.

We have been discussing some attractive ideas, but it is worth remembering that the tradition in our country is one of representative parliamentary democracy. That is the bedrock on which our nation has evolved. In recent years, referenda have been introduced, but that is very much an ad hoc development and cannot truly be said to be an integral part of our system—and our system has served our country well. We would have to think carefully before fundamentally undercutting what we have been bequeathed by our forefathers.

Many things can be learnt from the Swiss system of government—both about its systems and the principles upon which it is based. But, when all is said and done, what matters is the applicability of the lessons learnt—whether we are thinking about domestic politics or politics abroad.

We must not forget that we have other experiences on which to rely. It is clear from our European experience that if you try to impose unacceptable

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constitutional models on unwilling participants they will not succeed. It is misguided and usually divisive and can destroy the common purpose that it is designed to create.

It is central to our policy that the positive achievements of the European political experiment are not pushed aside by theoretical debate over constitutional niceties. The way in which Europe develops must be sufficiently flexible to accommodate our shared traditions, history, democratic principles and the rule of law. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, pointed out, political institutions can succeed only if they command popular support and provide tangible benefits. While the way in which we work and live together must be intellectually coherent, it must also be acceptable in human terms. If we fail to achieve that, we shall risk making a theoretical system which will not work whatever the level at which we try to apply it.

As far as our European policy is concerned, our task is to build a Europe of nation states for the 21st century which is competitive and which faces its global economic rivals from a position of strength; a Europe that pulls its weight internationally and plays a constructive role in international relations. That is the Europe that Europe's citizens want; that is the Europe that the British people want.

5.5 p.m.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, I am most grateful to your Lordships for your participation in this debate. I hope that it is not invidious if I mention only one or two contributions. First, the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, showed the great advantage of a refresher course in constitutional law conducted on the ski slopes.

I should like to refer also to the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, who I know came along to make his speech today at great personal sacrifice. He made his splendid speech under what must have been a considerable strain. All of your Lordships should be grateful to him.

I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Moyne, made the most original contribution; namely, that within a few decades it might be possible technologically for us to have a system of direct democracy on the Swiss model by using press-button techniques. One should put that in the context set by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer; namely, that direct democracy in our country, as in Switzerland, was the original form of democracy with the meeting of the Hundred and the meeting of the Wapentake in this country, just as there was the meeting of the Gemeinde in Switzerland.

The subject of proportional representation is altogether too large to be dealt with in this debate, although I confess that it did not surprise me at all that the noble Lord, Lord Holme, jumped at the chance to develop that aspect of the Swiss constitution.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, in his scholarly and, if I may say so, constitutionally discerning speech, made a most valuable contribution. I do not think that I am merely prejudiced because our professional backgrounds have so much in common.

The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, who summed up for the Government, addressed all the topics that we hoped would be addressed by him, and did so

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admirably. However, I should like to refer to the one point on which I found the noble Lord less than convincing. I refer to the subject of the referendum. We have had it in this country. The danger is that unless we work out systematically where it is desirable and who asks the questions, it will simply be clamoured for by a populist minority who find that they cannot get their own way in Parliament. I am convinced that there is a place for a referendum, but it needs to be considered much more carefully by a royal commission on the constitution, together with so many other constitutional matters.

There are two lessons that have come out of this debate. The first is that federalism is one of the constitutional aspects of subsidiarity. The second is that looking at the Swiss constitution, it is impossible to say that a federal constitution means an overweening central power at the expense of the component members. Having said that, there remains my Motion for Papers. I do not know what would happen if I took this Motion to a Division. I do not intend to do so because the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, also has a Motion for Papers on the Order Paper, and I would not wish to deprive her. So I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.


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