|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Monson: My Lords, it is difficult to follow the magnificent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Shore, but, for what it is worth, I offer him my wholehearted support--particularly, although not exclusively, in regard to the issue of referendums. I shall be brief because I know that other noble Lords wish to speak.
Perhaps I may put two questions to the Minister. The first arises from the curious phraseology in Clause 52, to which the noble Lord, Lord Shore, drew attention, "or another member state". What on earth are we talking about? Does it refer to states, for example, which are not members of the EU but which, like ourselves, are in the European Economic Area? It would be odd if a Swedish timber firm with a subsidiary in Hull, let us say, was able to donate money to a British political party but a Norwegian firm with a subsidiary half-a-mile away from the Swedish subsidiary was not allowed to do so--although one would prefer that neither donation took place.
My second question concerns the issue of reciprocity. Will British firms with subsidiaries in France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and so on be allowed to donate money to political parties in those countries? If not, then Clause 52 is even worse than it appears at first sight.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, if the excellent solution of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, is not taken up by the Government, what would happen if we simply did not proceed with this and accepted the amendment? How could any companies complain? How could any party complain? We are a sovereign country; it is difficult to see that they would be likely to take us to the Commission for having broken Articles 43 and 46. If they did, what would be the sanctions? Have the Government discovered what the European Court of Justice or the European Commission might do? Would they fine us? Would they order us to comply? What would they do? Any of those things would not be good politics from the Commission's point of view, nor, I would suggest, from the Government's point of view. It seems to me that people would be outraged.
If the Government are brave--or even sensible--and decide to do what they wish to do, and not to do what they believe they can be forced to do by the Commission, what sanctions could there be; how could anyone apply those sanctions; and what possible grounds could they advance for doing so?
Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Shore. I shall be extremely brief because the noble Lord made his points with enormous conviction and persuasiveness. I have noticed that not a single noble Lord--not even one on the Liberal Democrat Benches--has risen to say a word against the amendment. I hope that we will have a contribution from the Liberal Democrats. It is strange how so often when we get a debate going on a good European point the Liberal Democrats are silent--and then they troop into the government Lobby. We should like to hear some justification for what they are about to do--although it would amaze me if they could give any justification for it.
Lord McNally: My Lords, I was so completely in agreement with the noble Lord about millionaire's buying newspapers to peddle lies and propaganda that I did not think anything more needed to be said. The
Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, that may be an interesting point but it has nothing to do with the amendment. Perhaps, on reflection, the noble Lord will be able to think of a better argument when, as we anticipate, he finally speaks in support of the Government.
The case has been cogently made. I wish to add only one point--I shall be grateful if the Minister will reply to it--and that is this. I strongly support the Government's intention that there should not be foreign donations and foreign interference in both elections and, particularly, in referendums. The case that there should not be interference by foreign companies in referendums speaks for itself. Referendums are largely about constitutional matters; about how we live with ourselves and determine our own future. Such matters are for the British people to determine.
I have always been uncomfortable with foreign donations and I accept what the Government are doing. But if they are going to do this, it seems wholly wrong to make a law that is so partial, that affects only a part of the world and leaves another part unaffected. If a law simply states that a company in one country can intervene in our affairs but a company in another country cannot--if it treats different companies in different countries in a different way--it is a bad law. I support the Government's objective but, given what they are trying to do, this is a bad law.
I suspect that the Minister will say exactly what the Minister in the House of Commons said. He will say that he has every sympathy; he will wring his hands; the tears will flow and he will say, "But, however powerful the case put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Shore, and the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, the fact is that we cannot do anything about it and the law can only be applied in this way". I suspect that he will make a persuasive case. We will have lots of notes read out from that folder, the pages of which he is now thumbing, and he will again put a cogent argument explaining why we cannot do what the amendment seeks. I suggest that if we cannot do what the amendment seeks we should drop the idea of restrictions on companies. It is better to have no restrictions than to have a discriminatory law.
Lord Barnett: My Lords, I apologise for not having intervened in the previous debates on the Bill. I have been tempted to do so by the letter I received from my noble friend Lord Shore--I do not think it was confidential-- informing me of the debate. He wrote--if I recall his words correctly--that he hoped I would not be as opposed to him on this amendment as I have been on other occasions. As I am, I thought I should intervene and say why.
I consider my noble friend Lord Shore to be a very good friend. He is a former Cabinet colleague with whom I get on very well indeed--despite the fact that I cut his expenditure as well as others. I listened with enormous interest to what he said about foreign funding and, I think I noted it correctly, how both major parties oppose foreign funding of referendums--particularly the one which may take place in relation to the euro--from whichever side the funding comes.
I do not intend to speak at length--I should like to see the issue come to a vote, if there is to be one--but it seems to me that much of what has been said has overlooked one simple point. We are not members of the European Union by accident; we are there because of treaties and Acts of Parliament which have passed through both Houses. They have been signed, whether willingly or not, by noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. They have been signed by governments of which the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and my noble friend Lord Shore were members. They are treaties which were approved by both Houses. That did not happen by accident. The fact is we are members of the European Union.
I noted what the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, said about "synthetic outrage". I should make it quite clear that I have never accused my noble friend Lord Shore--and never would--of synthetic outrage. He sees the letters "EU" and he is outraged. I understand that. I have seen and heard it often.
I understood the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, to say that he wanted all authority to remain here, and for that to happen there was only one way out--for Britain to be out of the European Union. I disagree fundamentally with the many noble Lords who would rather that Britain was not a member. They include my noble friend Lord Shore, although he has never said so in terms. But we are a member of the EU. Both Houses of Parliament put us there. The government of which the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, was a senior member put us there.
I recall the debates on the Maastricht Treaty. My noble friend Lord Shore would say that it imposed terrible burdens on us. I do not recall the noble Viscount opposing those measures as a member of the government who introduced them. Now, he tells us that it is all wrong and we must not do this any more. I see the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, leaning forward in his place. I know his views and I have accused him, perhaps wrongly, of being too nice a man for these matters. But, as Britain is a member of the European Union, it is surely right that those in other member states are no longer "foreign" in that sense of the word.
Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, so far as my noble friends are concerned, they are the same as citizens of the United Kingdom and must therefore have equal rights. That, of course, is the lie at the heart of the whole thing. They are friends and allies; they are not fellow citizens.
Lord Barnett: My Lords, I hesitate to argue with my noble friend on this issue. I disagree fundamentally with him and many other noble Lords on this matter. The plain fact is that if we are members of the same European Union under treaties which he supported--
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page