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Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, will the noble Lord emphasise the importance which he attaches to the English language itself?

Lord Sharman: My Lords, I am happy to do that. The English language is a critical part of that mix, but it is only one part.

Membership has also led to the scrapping of certain bureaucracies. I know that it is popular to point to Brussels and the excess of forms. But it is certainly clear that the Customs Union has resulted in major savings, probably in the order of £135 million to £140 million.

In summing up the attitude of big business towards the European Union I refer to two opinions from very different businessmen. Niall Fitzgerald, the chairman of Unilever, describes ruling out the single currency as not being in Britain's interest. He said:

But more important, one of Britain's great entrepreneurs, James Dyson, said:

    "In an increasingly global marketplace it is vital that the UK remains at the heart of Europe. To distance ourselves from the world's largest consumer market would be folly".

Those opinions of leading businessmen demonstrate that rather than withdraw or have the notion of withdrawal, we should be increasingly at the heart of Europe and at the heart of events.

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I turn now to small and medium-sized enterprises. According to figures from the Treasury, some 30 to 40 per cent of all small and medium-sized enterprises in this country do business within the European Union. Some 750,000 entities are involved with trade. We already export more than £3 billion to those first five new applicants which have been talked about.

I can do no better than return to the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, about the wing mirrors of Europe and refer him to the view of a manufacturer of wing mirrors, Chris Haley, the managing director of Car Consumables Limited. He said:

    "Out of the EU it would be much harder for Britain's small exporters like ourselves to get export business in Europe. British jobs need EU membership more than ever before".

A further factor in this is the development of electronic commerce and e-business, or the web as it is commonly known. In effect, it removes distance as a factor in business. Why has the web and e-commerce taken off so quickly in the United States? Apart from the take-up of access, you also have a single market with a single currency within which the delivery of items ordered and sold can take place. Withdrawal from the EU would be detrimental to the growth of e-commerce because e-commerce, like mail order, is hampered by the customs barriers which the single market helps to overcome. That is why it has been so successful in the United States and why, if we were to withdraw, it would be an impediment to us.

Currency fluctuations will remain as much a barrier to trade over the Internet as to most other forms of trade. The single currency and e-commerce are in fact two forces pushing in the same direction. A survey by Andersen Consulting in June 1999 found that 63 per cent of European firms agreed that the euro stimulated e-currency. Only 18 per cent disagreed. The same survey found that 49 per cent of US firms agreed.

I turn to the means by which e-commerce is developed--the telecommunications industry. Membership of the EU and the single market has enhanced that growth. It has directly benefited British consumers. To leave Europe would be throwing that away. It means that British firms now have access to telecommunications markets throughout the EU. The opening up of those markets to non-national operators has produced competition. It has increased and prices have been driven down, to the benefit of the consumer. Competition in the liberalised EU market has led in some places to approximately 50 per cent cheaper call prices. For example, a three-minute call to Italy today costs 91p. Ten years ago it cost £1.86. Had Britain been outside the European Union--I return to the issue of British business investing overseas--it is highly unlikely that Vodafone would have been able to take over Mannesman. Again, a major British company built its way across Europe by using the European Union.

In conclusion, the business lobby--for which I do not claim to speak but of which I am part--is appalled at the prospect of the Bill. Even talk of withdrawal damages its prospects.

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2.27 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, for bringing forward the Bill. It has enabled us to have quite a good debate. In his defence of why we should grow closer to Europe, the noble Lord, Lord Sharman, quoted Mr Dyson, who I believe makes vacuum cleaners. Did I not read somewhere that he was relocating his production from Malmesbury to elsewhere outside the European Union? If I am right, the gentleman should put his money where his mouth is, not elsewhere.

I turn to the question of whether the British people have given their consent for going into the European Union and an integrated European state. The British people were never asked whether or not they wanted to go in. They were consulted only in 1975--and the noble Lord, Lord McNally, knows this well--as to whether we should remain in a common market. It is no use him saying that the British people were not misled, because Mr Heath in his 1971 White Paper said quite clearly that there was no question of the loss of essential British sovereignty. The British people were misled at that time. They have not been asked since whether they want further integration.

Indeed, the Liberal Democrats, who have been so vociferous today and who claim to be such democrats, failed to support some of us, including the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, when we demanded a referendum and put down a Motion for a referendum in this House before we agreed to ratify the Maastricht Treaty. They voted against such consultation when we wanted it. They are trying today to pour scorn on the idea that we should discuss the pros and cons of our membership of the European Union. Let us get that straight.

Lord McNally: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Does the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, recall the 1983 general election when, for a change, quite rightly, there was a difference between the manifestos of the three political parties. The Labour Party fought a general election specifically on withdrawal and had the biggest rejection in the whole of its history. Does not the noble Lord think that that was the British people being consulted?

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, the noble Lord has his history wrong. The reason that the Labour Party lost that election had little to do with the common market. It concerned defence and what was happening in the Labour Party at that time. I was probably closer to the ground then than the noble Lord. Mr Kinnock believed that this issue was losing him the general election. He therefore changed the Labour Party's mind in 1985 but nevertheless went down to a big defeat in 1987 and, indeed, again in 1992. We only won the election in 1997 because the Tories lost it. One of the reasons they lost it was because they entered the disastrous ERM which everyone knows cost millions of jobs and thousands of businesses. That is the history. I know my history well.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in praising the work of the European Union--every bit of which could have been done through Acts of Parliament in this

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Parliament--mentioned the consultative process in Europe. What consultation was there with the Rover workers or the British Government before Rover was closed down by BMW? So much for the consultative process which is supposed to be so good for us.

It is difficult to know why anybody would want to oppose the Bill. It is about time we had a proper assessment of what is happening and of whether we derive any benefits from being a member of this organisation. We are often insulted by Ministers, when we dare to ask questions about the benefits or disbenefits. I have asked questions. I have asked the Government to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of our membership. The answer comes back, "The benefits are self-evident". Perhaps I may say to the Government that the benefits are not self-evident to me nor to the people in this country, particularly farmers and fishermen. So, it is no good giving that sort of answer.

I would have thought that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister would be pleased to support the Bill. He has demanded a full-ranging debate on Europe. This is one of the opportunities for such a debate. I hope, therefore, that when my noble friend replies, she will be able to say that she welcomes the Bill and will ensure that it has a good and fast passage through this House and another place so that we can get down to the business in hand before, if possible, the IGC at the end of this year.

People like me have always opposed our entry into the common market because we knew the implications. However, those who are sceptical about the whole business are slandered and labelled with all kinds of names. We are extremists or we are on the extreme Right wing. This morning, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, threw out another insult. We are aliens. However, as far as I am concerned, I have always been against it.

In the 1970s I was accused of being a Left-wing extremist because I was opposed to going in. However, I now find that I am labelled as a Right-wing extremist because I want to come out. All that I have done is to stand exactly where I always have, but the argument has, of course, moved on. However, I am still convinced that it would be in our interest to withdraw from the European Union, and to do so as soon as possible.

But I am a reasonable man. I like argument. Noble Lords will be aware that I will engage in argument on as many occasions as I feel able, bearing in mind that these days I am so often not in favour of government policy. Nevertheless, I am prepared to see this argument pursued in all areas of government policy, but in a way in which rancour is eliminated. That is why I believe that we should agree to this Bill.

We shall need to discuss a wide range of issues. As the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, mentioned, we need to talk about the damage that has been done to our farming and fishing industries and to discuss how we can put right that damage for the future. There are far better ways of dealing with the farming industry than through the common

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agricultural policy. Indeed, both the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy have been disastrous for this country. Why on earth we should want to have any more common policies, I simply do not know.

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