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The Earl of Erroll: As one who has sat in the House for 22 years, I find it difficult when I hear sarcasm used as a method of argument. It was amusing because, yes, sarcasm is a form of wit. But the concept of someone having no opinion is quite common in British law. We have 12 good men and true--or good people now--who sit on juries, and who are supposed to have no opinion about the person's guilt at the beginning of the trial. We have judges who are supposed to be independent. The concept of someone being independent is about as difficult as the concept of someone rising from these Cross-Benches.
It is interesting to note that a committee is being put together along similar lines, with two partisan people who can appoint independent Peers in the future. The only people who do not have a say on the committee as to who is to join them are the current independent Peers. The concept of someone with an independent mind is enshrined in law, and I am afraid that sarcasm does not remove that requirement for independence of thought.
The amendment goes to the heart of the matter. I bothered to attend the debate because the one useful thing is to have something that is seen as a non-partisan, independent opinion of the implications and cost benefits--put so well by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington--of our time in Europe. As an independent, who is not of a strong frame of mind one way or another, I have a general feeling that we have lost sovereignty to Europe and so on, but I could not put my finger on any non-partisan figures if I wanted to know the cost benefits.
The Bill might be useful in providing a body that is not unduly influenced by the government of the day or by a "Get out of Europe" group, and which might come up with figures that we could all agree would allow sensible debate instead of sarcasm or opinion. That is all that I get at the moment. People are biased one way or the other. It is virtually impossible to obtain genuine, unbiased figures from anyone. An alternative route might be to table Written Questions but could I trust the answers, or would it be argued that the Government was just putting their view? That is why this Bill is useful. It may produce figures that we can debate seriously instead of taking swings at those who are anti-Europe.
Lord Clinton-Davis: I shall not spend much time on this matter, or enter the argument about sarcasm. It is impossible for noble Lords to say that they have no opinion as to whether the United Kingdom should remain in the European Union.
Lord Clinton-Davis: The amendment refers to people giving their opinion as to whether the United Kingdom should stay in or leave the European Union. That being so, it is palpably absurd to rule out everyone who has spoken in the debate. I believe that the whole argument is absurd.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: No one who has spoken in the debate would be ruled out from sitting on the committee either by the provisions of the Bill as originally drafted or now. No one, as far as I know, who has spoken on the Bill is an employee or otherwise in the pay of the European Union, give or take perhaps the odd pension. Therefore, I am afraid these amendments do not do what the noble Lord suggests.
Lord Clinton-Davis: The noble Earl should read the amendment he has tabled. It provides that two members shall be nominated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as persons having no opinion as to whether the United Kingdom should stay in or leave the EU. I know of no such eunuchs. Perhaps they exist somewhere but they do not exist in this Chamber as regards this debate.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: There are many people outside who have not made up their mind whether or not we should be in the European Union. The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, has just indicated that he may be one of them.
The fact of the matter is that no one who has spoken in the debate so far has revealed an intention to have no views on the matter. It is quite absurd. The Chancellor of the Exchequer cannot agree the amendment because then no one would believe the Chancellor of the Exchequer for one moment in the future.
The gist of his amendments, as I understand, are to balance the committee so as not to be biased for or against the European Union. His revised committee of seven members would be as follows: two members in favour of the European Union; two members against the European Union; two members who are neutral on the issue; plus one chairman who is neutral too.
The amendments introduced by the noble Lord do need to be clarified. I wondered whether he would accept that the relevant subsection (3) could read as follows, which would be far simpler and less confusing:
While we do not doubt the integrity of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, perhaps, in order to help the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, a better solution to the impartiality angle would be for the chairman to be nominated by the Speaker of the House of Commons. That way there would be less chance of claims of bias. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, might consider that for his amendment.
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: I do not propose to deal in detail with the composition of the committee because, as I hope is clear to the Committee, our objection to it is fundamental. Any amendment to its composition does not affect that judgment.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I am grateful to all Members of the Committee who have spoken, most especially to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, who enlivened our proceedings. It is a long time since I have been accused of being a rusty needle, a White Rabbit and perhaps the March Hare all in one go!
However, I must take some issue with him for describing the Institute of Economic Affairs as a second-rate think tank. I should have thought that it was one of the most prestigious think tanks in the country. Five years ago, it produced a publication entitled Better Off Out?. At the time, I regretted the question mark, but it is a serious work and has been taken as an Oxford and Cambridge A-level text. It is now in the process of being updated. I should imagine that the noble Lord would want to withdraw his accusation about the Institute of Economic Affairs.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: Being an academic work, the question mark is important. Of course, the same question mark exists in the aims of the Bill. We are merely asking to set up an inquiry which might go some way towards answering that question mark, but it exists. Yes, I agree with the noble Lord that during the past four or five years things have moved on in the European Union. I would say that they have moved on only in one direction; the ratchet has proceeded to click in favour of ever greater control from the centre and ever weaker national sovereignty.
I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, would describe the International Trade Commission in Washington as a second rate think tank. It is one of the most prestigious bodies in the world. Indeed, at the time of our Second Reading debate the members of the commission were in London at the request of Congress to see what NAFTA might look like were it to be supplemented by the United Kingdom having left the EU.
I saw members of the International Trade Commission the day before our debate and they asked me not to politicise their visit--so I did not. However, I have to put it to the noble Lord that if the International Trade Commission in Washington comes to London to examine the kind of questions that the Bill poses, it is not the product of a few crazy lunatics, think tanks and Right-wing columnists on this side of the Atlantic.
I would also refer the noble Lord to the organisation Business for Sterling if he really believes that the only people in business who are against economic and monetary union and the single currency are a few old dinosaurs. That is certainly not the case. However, all these matters would be for consideration by the committee of inquiry which the Bill proposes to set up. Therefore, nothing that the noble Lord has said has detracted from the purpose of the Bill or, indeed, from these amendments.
I am most grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, for his contribution and, of course, I agree with what he says. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said that the Bill is designed to exclude the United Kingdom from the European Union. That is not what it says. We simply want to talk about it. I find it very disturbing if one is not allowed even to talk about talking about the wretched thing.
My noble friend Lady Rawlings followed through very accurately the requirements of the Bill. If she would prefer to see the chairman of the committee nominated by the Speaker of the House of Commons rather than by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that is of course something that your Lordships could consider. She may wish to table an amendment on Report.
Therefore, the proposal is that two people should be appointed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer from nominations put forward to him by those who favour staying in; two should be appointed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer from organisations which would prefer to come out; and there are three more--the two further members of the committee and the chairman chosen by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and accepted by the committee. That way might lie harmony. However, as I say, if my noble friend wishes to table an amendment on Report, I am sure that the House will be very happy to consider it. In the meantime, I beg to move.