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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, the noble Baroness mentioned that Mr Hain said that there was a referendum before we went into the Common Market. If he said that, he was completely in error. There was no referendum before we went in, but there was one in 1975 as to whether we should remain in.

Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for making that very important point.

6.28 p.m.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, the acquis communautaire; comitologie; COREPER; competence; Corpus Juris; collapsing the pillars; concentric circles and variable geometry; the democratic deficit; directives, regulations, common positions, framework decisions and derogations; enhanced co-operation; flexibility; tax harmonisation; the hierarchy of norms; inter-governmentalism; legal personality; qualified majority voting; the Petersburg tasks; Schengen; the Social Chapter; sovereignty; the treaty-making power of the royal prerogative; Protocol 30 and subsidiarity—no wonder people find the subject of Europe very confusing and boring.

And what do we mean by "Europe"? Do we mean the continent of different nations which we know, respect and even love? Or do we mean the European Union, that corrupt octopus in Brussels, which many of us fear and dislike intensely?

The trouble is that one cannot really participate in the debate about our relationship with the European Union unless one has a pretty good idea about all the expressions I have mentioned, and a good many more.

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For example, a normal human being might think that if Brussels has "competence" to do something, then Brussels should be capable of doing it and even do it competently. But in Eurospeak, of course, "competence" does not mean that at all. It means that Brussels has power over us in that regard, and normally uses that power incompetently, dishonestly and always in a way that we could do much better by ourselves or in friendly collaboration with other countries of Europe, without the filter of the European Union at all.

The common agricultural and fisheries policies come to mind, of course, as other noble Lords have mentioned. But it is hard to think of any policy to which it does not apply or of any benefit that we have actually enjoyed from our membership of the European Union which we could not have had without it.

So I have to say that I and other Euro-realists are really very grateful to M. Giscard d'Estaing and his collaborators for producing such a sparklingly clear constitution for the future EU. A normal human being can now read and understand exactly what is proposed and can also see, perhaps for the first time, just how much of our sovereignty we have already given away.

It is one of the oldest tricks of the Europhile's trade to claim that if something which we did not notice at the time is already in the treaties, it must be all right. "This is not new", they say, "so there's nothing to worry about". I am afraid that the noble Lords, Lord Grenfell and Lord Maclennan, gave us an example of that today.

Let us take, for example, legal personality. Article 4 of the draft constitution simply says:

    "The Union shall have legal personality".

The Europhiles say that that is harmless because the EU already has legal personality, which, indeed, de facto, it does. It can conclude international trade agreements on behalf of the whole EU. But the convention proposes to extend the powers which go with the new explicit legal personality massively, as my noble friend Lord Blackwell and other noble Lords have revealed.

I would add that with the new legal personality, the EU flag, which at the moment is mere advertisement and requires a local authority licence before you can display it, will presumably achieve the status of a national flag. Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" will presumably be promoted to the status of the EU's national anthem.

More worryingly, could I ask the Minister—she has not been asked many things—a question which I have asked before but to which I have never had a satisfactory answer? Can Her Majesty's Government give a clear assurance that when the EU has legal personality, and after Parliament has rubber-stamped the outrageous EU arrest warrant, as, according to the treaties, we must, one will not be committing the crime of xenophobia when one speaks against the European Union? Could calling it the "corrupt octopus in

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Brussels", or worse, then lay one open to prosecution? I should be most grateful if the noble Baroness could answer that this time.

I have little doubt that the Minister will reply that that question is entirely fanciful. If that is her intention, could I take her back to our debates on the Maastricht Treaty in 1992? I know that she was not with us at the time, but at Maastricht an amendment was made to the treaty establishing the European Community—the treaty which was there before Maastricht—to introduce the concept of citizenship of the European Union. Every person holding the nationality of a member state became a citizen of the new Union, whether they liked it or not. Article 8.2 of the TEC went as follows:

    "Citizens of the Union shall enjoy the rights conferred by this Treaty, and shall be subject to the duties imposed thereby".

Some of us who did not like it put down amendments to discover what those rights might be. We were even more worried by what our new duties might be. I fear it is a matter of record that the Lord Chancellor of the day tried to dismiss our fears—several times—by saying that the new rights, whatever they might have been, did not carry with them any duties. There were no duties; it was just Eurospeak, and so we could all relax.

Well, now we see the emerging duties which we always feared. The proposed European constitution will found a new Union, separate from the member states, with its own legal personality, laws and supreme court. The primacy of Union law and the constitution becomes explicit, together with the proposed harmonisation of criminal laws and procedures, new legal instruments, some of which are delegated to the Commission, and the wholesale switch to qualified majority voting. Oh yes, my Lords, we shall have duties all right, and we shall owe them to the corrupt octopus in Brussels and not to Her Majesty the Queen in Parliament.

So we must not be fooled into accepting even the status quo just because it has been cleverly hidden in the intolerable verbiage of the treaty wordings and the Commission has decided that the time has come to bring it into the open and perhaps to embellish it.

As to the detail of the proposed new constitution, I suppose that we may dare to hope, as other noble Lords have suggested, that the new common foreign and security policy, or EU army, as the President of the Commission more accurately describes it, is a deadish duck. If so, we must be grateful to M. Chirac, who so admirably reflects France's deep psychotic need to bite the hands that freed her in two world wars.

But, apart from that, it looks as though the eventual treaty will contain most, if not all, of the frightening features of the present drafts. I am aware that the Government, like all British governments before them, are about to enter the usual "we shall negotiate to get what we want" phase. That is what happened, after all, at Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice, to no real effect.

But, as my noble friend Lord Howell and others have pointed out, the Prime Minister appears to have already agreed most of it in his Cardiff speech last

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November. I would also draw your Lordships' attention to his Madrid communique with Mr Aznar last 28th February, as did my noble friend Lady Blatch, but perhaps I could give your Lordships three very brief extracts:

    "The UK and Spain support a strong and independent Commission. We want to extend its power of initiative, particularly, in the area of Justice and Home Affairs".


    "We should explore the scope for recognising in the Treaty a category of 'delegated acts' for implementing framework laws . . . Lastly we must strengthen the role of the Commission President, preserving his/her independence and democratic accountability".

I suppose that that may be because the Prime Minister is rumoured to want the job himself. I do not know.

The next quote is:

    "The European Parliament, as the body which is directly elected by the citizens of Europe, must be developed further. Its powers have been successively expanded coinciding with each reform of the Treaties. The future Constitutional Treaty cannot and shall not be an exception in this respect".

Whatever the Prime Minister's position, and one can only hope that Iraq may change it, the Government's negotiators have clearly been already swept along on the tide of their Europhilia and in the wake of the convention's incestuous and inward-looking determination. However, I have to agree with my noble and learned friend Lord Howe, if it does not cause him too much inconvenience. It is clear that the Government have given in far more than they should have done in the convention because they are unable to play with the toy of the euro in the European nursery.

If I am wrong and unanimity is not reached on the new treaty, can the Minister tell the House what happens about Clause 48 of the TEU, which requires unanimity for any treaty change? Could the "enhanced co-operation" procedures of the Nice Treaty come into play, allowing those that want to go ahead with the new constitution to do so? But, if so, what happens to those countries which do not go forward with it? Will they be stuck with the existing treaties, or will they be offered some new form of associate status, as M Giscard d'Estaing has suggested?

Clearly, some of your more Europhile Lordships would regard associate status, perhaps along the lines of a free trade arrangement, as being cast into outer darkness. But that is what the British people thought they voted for in 1975, and a substantial proportion of them want to go back to it. We Euro-realists do not regard leaving the European Union as a retrograde step, looking backwards, as the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, suggests. We regard it as liberating, refreshing, new, forward-looking and enriching in every way. So, roll on associate status as far as we are concerned.

But my worst fear is that, given the requirement for unanimity and the controversy of these proposals—the 1,000 amendments which have been tabled and so on—we shall not end up with a new treaty at all. Instead, we may go into yet another renegotiation of the present treaties, with all the usual obfuscation and deceit in the new drafting, and with all the doors left unlocked through which the Eurocrats later wish to

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walk, which hardly anyone will spot and virtually no one will understand. In other words, more of the same. That to me would be the worst possible outcome and I hope we shall be on our guard if it happens.

If, on the other hand, anything similar to the present draft comes before us for ratification, I join other noble Lords in saying that it should be unthinkable for the Government to use the treaty-making power of the royal prerogative and steamroller it through Parliament. Yet that is what the Government have said they intend to do, and I find it very hard to believe.

The proposals now before us quite simply spell the end of British democracy; the extinction of the right of the British people to elect and dismiss those who make their laws and levy their taxes. The proposals before us would therefore herald a change as great as that brought about by the Norman conquest, or which we faced in the last war. If the Government think they can get away with imposing such fundamental change without a full and clear national debate in language which the people can understand, and if they think they can do so without a referendum, they must be mad.

6.41 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I am glad that at last we have the opportunity to debate some aspects of the convention. I much regret that we have been unable to do so in government time long before now. I have been looking again at the excellent reports which the EU Committee published for our attention. I note that they were published for information but, indeed, that the report of the national parliaments states it is hoped that it will contribute to the debate to which the committee looks forward to having in government time. Unfortunately, it has been held in Conservative debate time and I regret that it has been dominated by such a Eurosceptic tone.

The noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, is right to draw attention to the significance of the convention and the importance of having an informed and open public debate on this subject. This is an important exercise. It was intended to involve national parliaments in a wider process of debate. Our four parliamentary representatives have worked extremely hard to report back to both Houses and to their respective committees. The two committees have worked extremely hard. There have been some excellent reports. The Joint Standing Committee has met to discuss the monthly reports which our representatives have given us on successive occasions. I regret there has been very little encouragement from the Whips of any of our parties to attend the Joint Standing Committee. There has been no government-led debate and no Green Paper or White Paper. Despite urges from many noble Lords that there should be some government leadership in this, sadly there have been few ministerial speeches.

So, we are left to a Conservative-led debate linked to a call for a referendum and, as has been made clear, to calls for Britain to opt out of the wickedness of continental integration, even to leave, as the noble

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Lord, Lord Stevens, bids us to do now, or to look forward to some limited opted-out associate status, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. That is not where we should be.

The purpose and the progress of the convention, after all, has been relatively clear. As the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, said, it is an improvement on the four intergovernmental conferences which national governments within the European Union have dragged through since 1985. Noble Lords will remember the Single European Act, which Mrs Thatcher famously signed and on which she did not ask for a referendum, and which, indeed, in many ways was the biggest single revision of the original treaties that we have so far been engaged in.

The question of whether we need a referendum now and the suggestion that somehow Britain still remains an independent and sovereign nation to this day but that we would lose it catastrophically if we were to move a step further forward is a great deal different from where we are now.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, referred to an obscure lecture he gave in 1996. I remember an obscure lecture given by the noble and learned Lord in 1985 in which he talked of "pooled sovereignty". I believe it was published as an article the following year in International Affairs. In that lecture he argued, I believe to his own Government as much as to anyone else, that we had great advantages in recognising that one could not have either full sovereignty or no sovereignty, but that we were in an international process in which it was to our advantage to share sovereignty with other governments on an increasing range of issues.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, clearly bitterly regrets, we have now also begun to share some of our sovereignty with Scotland and Wales and will perhaps, in time also, to a limited extent share it with the English regions. We are now the most centralised state in Europe. The French have begun to decentralise. We are now the country in which at a given time each week one could almost tell what the Secretary of State has insisted should be taught in every English school. It would be rather better if we were willing to be a little more decentralised. I felt that I was hearing, particularly in the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, the authentic old-fashioned voice of unionism, of the Conservative and Unionist party resisting Home Rule for Ireland, insisting that the imperial parliament and monolithic sovereignty is the only thing we can have. When I was extremely young I used to hear people make wonderful speeches on that, when the Empire still existed.

We have moved a little way beyond that. Some of the speeches I heard today reminded me immensely of things I heard when I was very young. Indeed, I have the distant memory that I heard the noble Lord, Lord Harris, who has just returned to his place, make almost exactly the same speech at the time of the 1975 referendum. I do not think much has changed in the content since then.

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The convention was intended to promote a wider debate. It is not totally unrepresentative. There are national government representatives, almost all of whom are Cabinet Ministers. We have the Secretary of State for Wales. A number of other governments have their foreign Ministers. It is not decisive; it is consultative. There is an intergovernmental conference to follow, which may or may not take as long as the previous intergovernmental conferences. The style is better than the last four intergovernmental conferences, most of which were guided by Conservative governments, although with the Treaty of Amsterdam everyone else became so fed up with the inability of the Conservative Government to come to any decision that they waited until the British general election before they completed the intergovernmental conference.

What is the aim? To some extent it is primarily about simplification and clarification. It is true that there are those within the convention, particularly those from the European Parliament, who are still pursuing a substantial expansion of powers. They have unusual weight in the praesidium and to some extent are attempting to push their agenda against the overall weight of the convention. If national parliaments were more fully engaged in that we would be countering those who still want to pursue a more centralist agenda. However, the confusion and technical complexity of the last four revisions of the treaty justifies simplification and clarification.

I remember one of the permanent representatives who negotiated the Maastricht Treaty of the European Union saying that if he had understood during negotiations that at the end of it this document would be distributed to every household in Denmark, they would have understood that they were conducting a slightly different exercise. Indeed, it was the distribution of that immensely complex document to every household in Denmark that had much to do with losing the Danish referendum. After all, it was immensely difficult to understand.

If there is a major extension of powers at the outcome not of this convention but of the following intergovernmental conference, clearly there will be a case for a referendum. If it is a matter much more of simplification and clarification, what is needed above all is informed public debate led by a government. Referendums catch public attention. Those of us who were engaged in the 1975 referendum will remember how much that focused a public debate on the European issue. Public opinion shifted quite radically over the course of the referendum debate splitting eventually 2:1 in favour of remaining inside.

The case against referendums—as in Ireland and Denmark now—is that after a while, if there are too many on issues that are not so central, public exhaustion and inattention creep in because the public do not share the sense of urgency. The Irish referendum on the Nice Treaty, without an immense effort from political leaders, led to an extremely low turnout and an initial "No" vote.

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The mistaken style of successive Governments—Conservative and now Labour—is part of our problem in Britain. Governments have always tended to present European commitments as things that are not new—saying that we have already accepted them 10 years before—rather than accepting where we are and how we are changing. I am sorry to say that the present Government are following the same path as their predecessors.

What issues are involved in the convention? I hope that we all accept the tremendous advantages of the current enlargement to an EU of 25 and want the successful introduction of those former socialist countries to an area of peace, security and prosperity, which is what an EU of 25 will be about. However, that will have costs.

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