|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
However, there are five, six or seven considerations that could be included--and I see that the noble Lord is nodding his head in agreement. I do not think that the amendment improves the Bill one iota. I speak with some hesitation because, as I indicated at the beginning of my remarks, I suffered a stroke some five
Baroness Park of Monmouth: As I said when we first discussed this matter, I do not believe that we should withdraw from the European Union but I strongly believe that it needs very serious improvement. I cannot see the difficulty in considering the proposal which the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, has made, because to know the facts, particularly if we are to have a referendum, cannot but be useful.
We all know, sadly, that because of the pressure of business, both in the European Union and in national parliaments, we only too frequently do not get information until it is too late to do anything about it. That was the position with regard to scrutiny for a long time. As regards the Amsterdam Treaty, we had a little more time to consider and to scrutinise, but not enough. I cannot see why it would not be extremely valuable to any national parliament to be able to have a practical assessment of what everything has cost. We do not have that. We do not debate the budget and, because of the delays in scrutiny, we often do not consider the probable costs of something until we have accepted it in principle.
Water--which my noble friend mentioned--is a good example of that. When I sat on European Communities Sub-Committee C we recognised that the proposal which the Union was making could not be costed by it. However, it had to be costed by someone and it proved to be extremely expensive. We were not able to ascertain why a comitology committee of the kind that the noble Lord has described recommended a different level of quality from what had been perfectly acceptable to the World Health Organisation for many years. We could not get any answer to that; we could have no peer scrutiny. We realised that the cost would fall on the consumer, not the state.
Lord Clinton-Davis: I was responsible for the costs of water. No one could have prevented the House of Lords or the House of Commons from making a protest about the costs of water. However, they chose not to do so. The reason the government of the day advanced against the proposals made with regard to water had nothing whatsoever to do with costs. That being the case, why is the noble Baroness so much opposed to the opportunity which the government of the day had?
Baroness Park of Monmouth: I find that information interesting; I was not aware of it. It is clearly relevant. However, I do not think that it alters my contention that we do not know enough, and in sufficient time,
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I hope that I may add to what my noble friend Lady Park has just said. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, was extremely honourable in revealing to the Committee the fact that he has been a European Commissioner. It is unfortunately a fact of these debates in this Chamber that those who have been commissioners--some of whom may still be in receipt of a European pension--never declare that particular interest. Therefore I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, for that.
On the technicality of the point that he raised with my noble friend, I believe that the water directives come under the environmental sections of the treaties. The noble Lord will know that the water directives, like other environmental and indeed all single market directives, are subject to the qualified majority vote. It is, of course, true that on the occasion we are discussing the British government did not put the matter to a vote and agreed with the directives. However, as regards the cost point that the noble Lord made, if the British Government do not put into law something which has been agreed under the competence of the treaties in Brussels, I trust he will agree that we would be subject to unlimited fines in the Luxembourg Court under the treaties.
Lord Clinton-Davies: But qualified majority voting did not come into operation until 1987--I cannot remember when in 1987--but the ideas put forward by the Commission operated before 1987. Afterwards the Government had every opportunity--which they chose to ignore--to put forward proposals which would be subject to qualified majority voting. They chose not to do so.
The Earl of Erroll: Perhaps I may quickly say something from the Cross Benches. I have been listening to this great debate on Europe; it is quite fascinating. I think that the amendment is a very good idea. I do not see the problem. It is not a Bill about withdrawing from the European Union. The implications may indicate that we should stay in; they may indicate that we should stay out, but it is sensible to have an evaluation.
It is something which should be evaluated. It would be very nice to have documents which put in one place the implications, both ways round, so that one can see whether it is a good thing or a bad thing. That is how management makes up its mind, and that is what we are meant to be doing here.
We should not be having a debate on the cost of water and who should have done what many years ago--otherwise I could bang on about how we were misled on the Single European Act, which I sat through here.
Baroness Rawlings: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, for his explanation. I feel that the amendment covers an area which should be left to the committee which we are about to discuss in future amendments, and that the scope should be left open.
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: As ever, my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington has eloquently demonstrated his long and detailed interest in this subject. I say straightaway that the Government are very much in favour of the fullest possible dissemination of information about the European Union. I had a certain sympathy with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, at Second Reading when he said that he thought that the EU was an area not of no debate, but of intense and active debate.
In our view, Britain's future lies inside the European Union. As I said before, we consider the setting up of the committee suggested in this Bill to be completely unnecessary and undesirable. I do not propose to argue the point in any detail. My noble friend Lady Scotland of Asthal pointed out at Second Reading that we opposed this Bill in its entirety and, with great skill, vigour and detail, gave the reasons why.
Lord Bruce of Donington: It had not been my intention to embark in any way on a continuation of Second Reading speeches. I shall therefore draw a veil over the remarks that unfortunately fell from the lips of my noble friend who sits alongside me. He did not seem to address himself to the amendment but rather to the Second Reading debate, which he was unfortunately prevented from attending.
The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, put his finger on the matter. The amendment seeks only to institute, if possible, a cost-benefit analysis of our membership of the European Union. What objection can there possibly be to that? It may well be, I readily concede, that a cost-benefit analysis will show that, on balance, membership did not favour the United Kingdom. But the circumstances obtaining when the report came out and showed that result might not be all that inimical to the further development of the European Union. It would depend on how one regarded the future in the light of the implications that had been determined in relation to the past. All we want to do is to put ourselves in a position where we can make a definitive judgment in which we can believe.
I repeat: successive governments have been very coy about this. When I last sat on the Opposition Benches in another capacity I remember asking the noble Lord, Lord Henley, whether he could give us some indication. His reply was laconic and short. He said
I am sorry about the attitude of my noble friend on the Front Bench. She knows--and the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, ought to know--that not only have I been interested in these affairs since 1963 but I have played some, if only minor, part in the unearthing of fraud on massive scale not only in the European Union as a whole but in the Commission as well, of which he possibly ought to have been aware when he was there.
In order to cut short the discussion, perhaps I may say formally, taking due account of the excellent contributions, particularly from my noble friend--I still call her my noble friend--Lady Park of Monmouth, I beg to move.