The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord De Mauley): My Lords, the Government are committed to the fight against wildlife crime. We have made real progress in recent years, including providing funding for the National Wildlife Crime Unit and introducing civil sanction powers for Natural England to deal with certain illegal activities. Internationally, among other things, we have helped fund Interpol projects, building enforcement capacity to conserve tigers, elephants and rhinos in the countries where they live in the wild.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I thank my noble friend for his Answer. I am sure he is therefore aware of the comments of the CITES Secretary-General, John Scanlon, about the huge increase in poaching of wildlife, especially in Africa, which he feels is going to help fund the insurgencies there. Domestically, in Britain, does my noble friend agree that poaching birds' eggs, for example, is stealing our children's inheritance as much as stealing the Crown jewels? What guidance will he give to the new police commissioners to make sure that they realise the seriousness of wildlife crime?
Lord De Mauley: My Lords, first, I am aware that John Scanlon recognises the increasing involvement of organised crime in illegal wildlife trade. He has welcomed
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Lord Clark of Windermere: My Lords, while I commend the Government for their efforts in tackling wildlife crime in this country, is the Minister satisfied with the seriousness with which magistrates' courts in certain parts of the country take this? Does he appreciate that there is a great deal of public anguish when people who are caught and proved guilty of killing golden eagles or hen harriers get off virtually scot free?
Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: My Lords, I declare an interest as the chairman of a small charity which funds the training of wildlife wardens in east Africa. Is not my noble friend right to say that this is now an international issue? It has an impact on corruption, particularly in east Africa, and perhaps in Kenya especially. It has an impact on insurgency. The right way for us to deal with it internationally is to begin to raise the human capacity of those organisations in Africa which are taking the front line in fighting what is an increasing tide of wildlife crime. Will my noble friend recommend to DfID that it consider specific programmes targeted at raising the human capacity of, for instance, wardens in east Africa?
Lord De Mauley: First, I pay tribute to the work that my noble friend does. The Government support a wide range of action to tackle illegal wildlife trade, including working with other countries, contributing financially to Interpol-led projects which build enforcement capacity in countries where the animals in question live in the wild to conserve tigers, elephants and rhino, funding a post in the CITES secretariat to help to combat wildlife crime and chairing the CITES rhino working group, tasked with investigating the dramatic rise in rhino poaching.
Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, does the Minister think that opting out of the crime and justice measures of the European Union will assist in the fight against international wildlife crime?
Lord De Mauley: My Lords, for the reasons that I have given, I am confident that the measures in place and the resources that we devote to the matter very well address the specific problem of wildlife crime.
Baroness Fookes: My Lords, I suggest to my noble friend that another way to tackle the matter could be to encourage the use of tourism so that wild animals are an asset, not a liability. That would encourage the local people to care about them.
Lord De Mauley: My noble friend makes an extremely important point. In the past, I have been on safari in those wonderful countries seeing those wonderful animals. The more that tourism is encouraged in those countries, the more that money is brought into those countries, the more people will recognise the value of the wildlife. That will contribute to clamping down on crime.
Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, in so far as it is an international wish to prevent the extinction of lions, elephants, et cetera, is it not logical to say that in conjunction with African Governments, who have population pressures-which is why in the localities people are not so keen to do much about this problem-the police forces in those countries need a lot more resource? Would it not be logical to say that there should be international help with that resourcing for the local police forces?
Lord De Mauley: In fairness to many of those countries, their Governments recognise the problem. Some countries are making major efforts. As I said, we are doing quite a lot but we all must do better.
Baroness Smith of Basildon: My Lords, I draw the Minister's attention to the report of the Environmental Audit Committee which, like the Government, traces the work of the National Wildlife Crime Unit. The problem is that the unit has to stagger from year to year with just one year's funding allocated each time. If it is to have proper certainty in its investigations, if it is to recruit and retain the best qualified staff and get best value for money, it needs longer-term funding to ensure that it can undertake its work as effectively as possible. Will the Minister consider that?
Lord De Mauley:My Lords, the provision of funding for the year to come is an important step forward, and removes uncertainty in the short term. I ask the noble Baroness to share with me my delight that the NWCU will continue its excellent work. We will discuss future steps with the unit's co-funders in the coming months.
Lord Elton: Will my noble friend confirm that the Government endorse the view of the charity commissioners that expenditure by charities on pursuing one of their aims through the courts should be proportionate to the demands of their other aims?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, the most recent major study that included comparisons of the level of railway fares in Europe was published by Passenger Focus. It showed that, although the overall picture is mixed, Great Britain compares favourably with other European countries in respect of many ticket types, particularly on longer-distance tickets purchased in advance. The study compared some other factors, such as frequency of commuter services into major cities, in which Great Britain also compared favourably.
Lord Bradshaw: Does the Minister agree that, although the fares are supposed to go up by RPI plus one, there are countless incidents of fares rising by much more than that-for example 9% from Sevenoaks to London. Will he ensure, and also ask his right honourable friend to ensure, that, when a cap is placed on fares, it is a cap that people can understand? The majority of people do not understand the way in which the fares baskets are compiled, which allows such breaches of common sense and of what is commonly understood.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I agree that it must be difficult for ordinary passengers to understand how ticket pricing works. The increase in regulated fares is implemented by train operators as an average across a basket of fares. This flexibility allows some fares to be increased by up to 5%-although only 2% on Southern-more than the average, while other fares must increase by much less or even be held flat to comply with the regulated average.
Lord Snape: Does the Minister agree that this largely synthetic row about rail fare increases takes place every year around new year, when there is not much bad news elsewhere? The British media love bad news, and it provides them with an annual story. Notwithstanding that, does the Minister agree with the figures that show that fares for travelling by train have increased in real terms by about 20% over the past decade, while the cost of motoring has reduced by 5% over that period? Are there not some inconsistencies here in government policy?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, first, the relative prices of motoring and travelling by rail vary up and down. The comparison does vary. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State asked exactly the same question as the noble Lord about the timing of rail fare increases-and he was not amused.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am surprised that the Minister takes a patronising attitude to what the public understand. The public understand fare increases quite clearly. The National Audit Office warned that if excessive fare increases occurred they would merely be reflected in higher profits for the train operating companies. The Prime Minister said that fares should not go up by more than 1% above inflation-in other words, 4.2%. How does the Minister justify fare increases of 9%?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, a fare increase of 9% can arise where you have the RPI plus one, plus the flexibility that is necessary in order that train operating companies can adjust their fares to suit changing conditions. For instance, let us suppose there was a new shopping centre in an adjacent town. It might be desirable to adjust the pricing structure to reflect that. If there were no flexibility, train operators would not be able to adjust their price structure but would have to stick with an old system.
Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, does the Minister realise that the main obstacle for many young people searching for employment is the cost of transport, especially since the discounted fares come in after 9.30 am and they might have to get to an interview by 9 am? Will the Minister take this up with the train operators, to see whether there might be more acceptable means of providing cheaper transport for young people?
Earl Attlee: My noble friend makes an important point. The Government recognise that, for those starting their employment career, being able to travel economically to work is important. My noble friend will be aware that a fares review is currently under way, looking at all aspects of the fares structure.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, fares payable on the day of travel are invariably far more expensive than advance travel tickets. On what basis are the European comparisons that the Minister referred to being made: the former or the latter?
Earl Attlee: The noble Lord asks a good question. Just walking up to Euston and buying a ticket is very expensive, and we do not compare well with our continental partners. However, when we look at advanced purchases, we compare quite well. One day, I wanted to go to the NEC to visit the motor show and I could not afford the walk-on fare; it was too expensive for me.
Lord Dykes: My Lords, on another item of major annoyance to rail users, will the Government encourage the installation of more quiet coaches on all long routes, to follow the excellent example of Virgin Trains, which bans mobile phones in the quiet coaches?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, this is largely a matter for the train operating companies. The difficulty for them is enforcing the quiet carriage rules. I like a quiet carriage, but some people do not adhere to the rules.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, the Minister is right to draw attention to the availability of advanced tickets, which represent decent value for money in the great majority of cases. Does he share my irritation when one discovers that it is cheaper to buy tickets for a journey by buying two or three tickets rather than a through ticket?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My Lords, the impact of the £250 million Weekly Collection Support Scheme is that it will ensure a weekly collection of residual waste for around 6 million households while recycling 400,000 tonnes of waste and saving more than 1 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. All successful bids will deliver environmental benefits and successful local areas have been truly delighted with this financial injection into one of their most important services.
Lord Storey: I am grateful for my noble friend the Minister's reply to my Question. On the Weekly Collection Support Scheme-the "Pickles fund", as it is known-is there any evidence that having fortnightly bin collections leads to a fall-off in recycling? Further, the Minister will be aware that Liverpool City Council was awarded a grant but has since withdrawn its application. Can the Minister tell the House whether the Government amended any of Liverpool's grant conditions between: first, the council applying for the fund; secondly, the Government awarding the money; and, thirdly, the council deciding not to accept the grant?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, the short answer to my noble friend's first question is no. I can amplify that a bit by saying that many of the successful bidders for the Weekly Collection Support Scheme are
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On Liverpool, I absolutely assure the House that the Government did not change any of the grant conditions between Liverpool City Council applying for funding, the Government awarding the money and Liverpool deciding to withdraw its bid. That was Liverpool's option; it was not up to the Government.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: How does the Minister assess the relative merits of the £250 million fund to help weekly bin collections against the £480 million cut in council tax benefit support which, as the Resolution Foundation publication today shows, means that three-quarters of councils will be forced to demand increases of up to £600 per year in council tax payments from 3.2 million of the poorest households in our country? Does the Minister recall the poll tax?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, the £250 million found by the Department for Communities and Local Government was found from within its own budget. We are dealing with a very important area-that is, to ensure that people who already pay for their bin collections have the opportunity of having weekly collections. The analogy which the noble Lord is trying to draw and the trap he is trying to drag me into are not relevant to this particular discussion.
Lord Tomlinson: But if the department can find £250 million from what the Minister describes as its own resources so easily, would it not be an act of generosity and kindness to transfer £650,000 of it to the department of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, so that he will not have to get so upset at Question Time when he is questioned about cutting legal aid services?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I am inclined to stick to my Question, which is about weekly collections of bins. I reiterate that householders value a weekly collection very much. It had gone out of favour with the previous Government and we see it as being of genuine benefit to local people.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, is it not time that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government spent more of his time fighting for the interests of local people and local authorities within Whitehall, rather than his apparently weekly attempts to micro-manage the local decisions of local authorities on matters such as bin collection and the level of the council tax?
Baroness Hanham: My noble friend knows perfectly well that the Secretary of State has been at the forefront of ensuring that local authorities are able to manage their own affairs. They have devolved funding, are able to manage their own budgets and now have the business rates staying with them. The whole way that local government finance is going is to ensure that local government can answer for itself.
Lord Bach: My Lords, the noble Baroness was a very distinguished leader of an important local authority, so she knows the role played by Shelter, the housing charity, in helping local authorities and ordinary people. Is she aware that this week it is being considered that Shelter will have to close 10 centres around the country because of the cuts in government spending, in particular in this regard in the legal aid spend? Does she know that to save those 10 centres would take about one-tenth-or perhaps a good deal less than that-of the £250 million set aside by the Government for this task? Is not that a ridiculous set of priorities?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, this supplementary question only came back to relevance in the last sentence. I understand the problems of Shelter and know that many organisations are having to make very considerable decisions. The Question today is about this money. We believe that it is a good use of funds for local residents to have a proper weekly rubbish collection service. That is what this money was allocated for.
Lord Newby: My Lords, the Government announced in the mid-term review that they would support families with childcare costs. They are considering options and will make an announcement shortly. Earlier this week, they published plans to improve high-quality childcare which represents true value for parents, children and the taxpayer.
Baroness Deech: The noble Lord will appreciate that improvements in quality do not amount to affordability. We cannot expect, and the Government cannot call on, women to take half the top jobs and half the places in boardrooms without childcare help, because they are squeezed out in mid-career by unaffordability. Childcare for a woman in full-time work is just as worthy of tax relief as secretarial assistance for the businessman, who receives the full allowance on that. The difference in treatment of employees with workplace nurseries and those without is unfair, and it is even worse for the self-employed. Therefore, will the Minister please consider basic-rate tax relief being available for the employed and self-employed alike who wish to work full time?
Lord Newby: My Lords, the factors that the noble Baroness has referred to are exactly the kinds of considerations currently being undertaken. Of course, the Government are extremely keen, not just in this area but more generally, to ensure that women can
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Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, does the Minister accept that there are many different kinds of families and parents in different economic situations? How will the Government differentiate between the different kinds of families-for example, single-parent families and so on-and decide who needs more relief or less relief?
Lord Newby: I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness. She will be aware that the Government have already focused funding on childcare and free childcare for the most vulnerable. That is why we will be increasing the number of two year-olds who get 15 hours' free childcare from about 20,000-the number funded under the previous Labour Government-to about 260,000. This is one of the most tangible ways of focusing childcare support on people at the bottom end. Those getting that additional free childcare support in the first instance will be children on free school meals and looked-after children-that is, those from the poorest families.
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, following the Government's recent announcement, is the Minister aware of the widespread concern among practitioners about the increasing ratio-to above 3:1-of the very youngest infants to carers? The additional investment in training that the Government have offered to reassure these practitioners is welcome. However, can the Minister go further in reassuring them, given the utmost importance of the highest quality of care for children at this tender age in terms of their future welfare and indeed their future productivity, as well as the deep adverse consequences for them of early poor-quality care in terms of their future outcomes?
Lord Newby: Absolutely, my Lords. That is very much the thrust of the proposals that were announced at the beginning of this week. We have looked in particular across the EU, where childcare and nursery care is in some cases thought to be better than in the UK and two things have emerged: first, that we need to have better-qualified people involved and, secondly, that the ratios that the noble Earl spoke about are tighter in the UK than virtually anywhere else. However, the two go together, and that is why in our plans for early years teachers and educators we are putting a lot of emphasis on improving the qualifications of people working in childcare, while having more flexibility in the numbers.
The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, would it not be unfair to introduce this tax relief for working parents with children while denying effective tax relief through transferable allowances to those parents who choose to stay at home with young children and who are currently penalised through the tax system for doing so?
Lord Newby: My Lords, obviously one of the problems with simply having a tax relief-based scheme is the one that the right reverend Prelate refers to. That is why we are looking at a number of options, some of which are tax based and others of which are not. I hope very much, however, that the Government will be in a position to make an announcement on this very shortly.
Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, going back to the question from the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, does the Minister agree that one of the real problems in the provision of childcare is the very low rates of pay that are awarded to people who are in fact qualified and have a great deal to offer, but who are in the main only able to earn extremely low wages? If the Government's plan is to put more burdens on those people by increasing the numbers of children that they can look after, is it likely that that will do anything at all either for the childcare or for the people delivering it?
Lord Newby: My Lords, I think the question that we have to look at in terms of the number of children is why it is that those countries that, by common consent, have the best childcare provision in the world have higher ratios of children. The answer is partly that we need to have a combination of things of which better training is one. The pay is very low, but the Government will fund the additional free support which I mentioned earlier at a higher average rate of pay than is currently paid across the sector.
Lord Martin of Springburn: My Lords, not so long ago-and it might still be the case-employees in the House of Commons who had children in nursery care were given tax-free vouchers by the House. Will the Minister and his department look at extending this scheme to the wider population?
Lord Tomlinson: Will the Minister explain to the House how improving the demands for training of care assistants of young children by requiring them to have a C-grade GCSE in maths and English helps them to make better provision for the children in their care?
Lord Newby: My Lords, I think it is recognised by common consent that having better qualified teachers and assistants in this area is beneficial to the pupils and the young children being cared for. If we want, as we do, to improve the quality of the care given, part of it will involve soft skills but another part will involve basic competence.
To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the potential escalation of regional conflict in the Middle East in the light of reported Israeli air strikes near the Lebanese-Syrian border.
The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): My Lords, we are aware of the reports of a possible Israeli air strike in the vicinity of the Lebanese-Syrian border on the evening of 29 January. We are looking into these reports, but it would be unhelpful to speculate at this stage on the implications of this reported incident.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, I wonder if my noble friend will agree with the two following propositions: first, that that pre-emptive strikes breach international law and will undoubtedly heighten tensions in the region; and, secondly, that while the benefit to Israel's security is likely to be short-lived, the likelihood of pushing the beleaguered regime into even more ruthless actions against its opponents is increased, and risks drawing chemical weapons into the equation. In light of that, will my noble friend tell the House why the United Kingdom Government seek to request a further relaxation of the EU arms embargo tomorrow against this backdrop? Do they believe that putting further arms into the equation will actually help the situation?
Baroness Warsi: As noble Lords will be aware, I try whenever I come to the Dispatch Box to provide as much detail as I can in relation to any Question that is asked. It is important to be as open and frank as possible with your Lordships' House. Unfortunately, in relation to this matter, we are still looking at these reports. It would be wrong for me to speculate about the implications of what may have taken place and of what has in fact taken place.
However, I note the point that my noble friend makes in relation to the arms embargo. We have taken the position that there should be flexibility in the arms embargo both in relation to the period of time that it operates and to its specifics. That does two things. It sends out a clear message to Assad that we intend to keep the pressure on him to try to resolve this crisis. It also gives us flexibility, as part of the wider EU, to ensure that we can respond appropriately to the situation as it changes on the ground.
Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, will the Minister inform the House as to whether, if it turns out that the Syrian regime was transferring arms or military material to any organisation in Lebanon other than the state armed forces, it would have been acting contrary to Security Council resolutions?
Baroness Warsi: I do not want to answer the noble Lord's supplementary question by speculating. I can say that on two occasions we have had specific questions on the issue of chemical weapons and their transfer. I said on those occasions that we had made clear to Syria what its obligations were in relation to any
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Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, I accept that the position is as yet unclear, but does the Minister agree that if this convoy was taking weapons to be used by Hezbollah against Israel, Israel had not only a right under Security Council resolutions but also a right under the charter of self-defence, knowing the record of Hezbollah against Israel?
Baroness Warsi: The noble Lord is aware that we have in the past raised concerns about any weapons that may be passing to Hezbollah, about where those weapons may be coming from and about comments that have been made by Hezbollah about where they may be receiving weapons from. I hope that the House feels that I am not being evasive, but it would be inappropriate for me to speculate on what has happened, the implications of it, what someone may do in response and the implications that that would have in relation to international law.
Lord Howell of Guildford: While I appreciate that the Minister obviously does not want to speculate until there is a clearer view about this, and while I am the first to be critical of Israel when occasionally it overreacts and overresponds with undue rigour, do the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Anderson, not have a point? The shipping of weapons to Hezbollah, which already has thousands of rockets, is an extremely dangerous and destabilising act in the Middle East. Anything that furthers the position of Hezbollah, which is a state within a state in Lebanon, and makes it more ready to be highly provocative, as it has proved in the past, against Israel, will add to the difficulties in the area. Does she appreciate that we need to watch this very carefully and in a balanced way?
Baroness Warsi: My noble friend, as always, makes an important point and comes at it with great expertise. He will, however, be comforted to know that whatever has happened on that border, we understand at the moment that the blue line between Israel and Lebanon remains calm and that the work of UNIFIL continues in the region in the way that it has done until now. I can, however, say that any transfer of arms to Hezbollah would clearly be a violation of Security Council Resolution 1701.
Lord Triesman: My Lords, the difficulty in answering the Question without adequate information at this stage is well understood on all sides the House. But there will be an anxiety both about the prospect of Hezbollah attaining additional weaponry and about the proportionality of what has happened. When will
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Baroness Warsi: As the noble Lord is aware, I am here most days, so I am available most days to answer any Questions that may arise. The Minister with responsibility for this particular region is my right honourable friend Alistair Burt. I will be obtaining updates on this tonight and in my weekend Box and, if further information comes to light, of course I shall update the House.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree strongly with what the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, said and I also understand the reluctance of the noble Baroness to speculate. However, one thing about which we need not speculate is that the Russians have made a very forthright statement about these reported air strikes. Can the Minister tell us what bilateral exchanges we are having with the Russians about this very worrying situation, which could grow more serious on a daily basis?
Baroness Warsi: I do not have any information about the specific bilateral discussions we are having in relation to this particular incident. However, I can assure the noble Baroness that we are having constant discussions with the Russians in relation to the situation in Syria. These matters are now arising because we are failing to deal with the crisis in the region. We must deal with the issue of Syria. We keep taking this back to the United Nations. The Prime Minister has made his views very clear and I have repeated them on many occasions at this Dispatch Box. We are trying to seek agreement at the United Nations to move matters forward. In the mean time, Russia is one party with whom we seek to move further forward.
Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, may I revert to the question of the arms embargo on Syria? Is the Minister aware that it was reported on the news this morning that the Foreign Secretary, in consultation with the French, would be arguing for the lifting of that arms embargo? Does the noble Baroness not agree that that would be a very serious escalation in our involvement in what is frequently described as a Sunni/Shia war, and that we ought to be very careful before getting involved with a group of very nasty people indeed in Syria who are aiming-as apparently we are-to remove the legitimate and secular Government of Syria?
Baroness Warsi: Where I disagree with the noble Lord is that I would not describe the current regime in Syria as one that is legitimate and represents the views of the Syrian people. I can assure him that no decision has been taken by the Government to change the nature of our assistance to the national coalition. We understand absolutely the concerns he has raised in relation to further arms. Our purpose in putting forward the amendment to the arms embargo is to create the space for and increase the chances of a political settlement. It is not to exacerbate the militarisation of the conflict which is already happening.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, perhaps I may ask a couple of questions about this Motion, because it refers to starting next Thursday, 7 February. As noble Lords may be aware, I have tabled a Motion, which appears at the top of the Order Paper for debate that day, that,
We have just passed the second anniversary of the publication of this unanimous, all-party report. Nothing has been done about it and there is an increasing concern about overcrowding in this Chamber, which is why I have tabled my Motion. Can the Leader assure me that if we pass the Motion before us, my debate will not be gazumped and we shall have the chance to discuss it next Thursday morning?
Secondly, is the noble Lord aware that the Bill that passed through this House which would give effect to that report is in the Commons and has been taken up by our colleague, the Conservative MP Eleanor Laing? Last Friday she tried to get a formal Second Reading of that Bill so that it could come back here, but it was objected to by the Government Whips in the normal way. She is going to try again tomorrow, and of course, if the Government Whips do not object and she gets a formal reading, the Bill next Thursday would be unnecessary.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, further to the point made by my noble friend, I understand that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has suggested that this House should find economies of at least 2% in its budget. That seems to be inconsistent with proposals to add to the burdens on the House by appointing more Peers. This is not the moment to debate the issue, but would it not be appropriate for the Procedure Committee of this House to look at how the rate at which introductions are made is consistent with the resources available to us and the demands being placed on us by the Treasury to reduce the burden on the taxpayer, with which I very much agree?
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Hill of Oareford): My Lords, first, I should say to my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood that I am well aware of the concerns he has expressed for a long time on this issue. Indeed, I was glad to have the opportunity to discuss them with him soon after I took over this post. If the House will allow me, I should say for the record that I am slightly disappointed that, in bringing forward his Motion, my noble friend did not discuss it
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On the matters raised by my noble friend Lord Forsyth, we will be discussing those next week and I am sure that we will have a good opportunity to hear a range of views from all sides of the House. On the Government's position generally on this important issue, that has not changed since the last time it was discussed in this House in terms of both future legislation and the position regarding the appointment of new Peers. As it has always been, it is for the Prime Minister to make recommendations to Her Majesty the Queen. That is how it has always been done in this House by both parties and how it was done with great vigour by Mr Blair. It is the situation that exists now.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, can the noble Lord tell us where the Prime Minister and the Government stand on their commitment to ensure that membership of your Lordships' House more accurately reflects the votes cast in the previous general election? Does the noble Lord agree that that would give my party, the UK Independence Party, no fewer than 24 Peers, whereas at the moment we have three? Does the Prime Minister stand by this commitment or has he abandoned it?
Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, I think we all feel that the value we get from the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, is worth at least 24 Peers. The position taken by the Government on this is set out clearly and has not changed. The Government's view is that we should work over time more accurately to reflect the balance of Peers.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, I do not wish to detain the House, but further to the point made by the Leader of the House, there is a distinction between the prerogative power to appoint Members to this place and the rate at which they can be introduced. I think that my noble friend's Motion was about having a debate that takes account of the resource constraints upon this House and the proposals that are now in the other place which would enable a sensible accommodation to be reached. However, it would be useful if, before next week, we had something from the Procedure Committee to indicate what the constraints are so that we can have a more informed debate.
Lord Hill of Oareford: I am sure that the Chairman of Committees will have heard that point. More generally on this debate, my noble friend says that he does not want to delay the House. We will be discussing it next week and I am sure that there will be plenty of opportunity to consider this and all the other points that noble Lords want to raise then.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, would we not have a more informed debate if a Government Minister was able to answer a question that I and, I am sure, others have
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Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, perhaps I could just add that I have tabled a whole series of Questions to the Chairman of Committees on this matter of availability of resources to the House against the number of Peers to be created. Perhaps the Government might take note of the answers that I am receiving, because clearly the figures do not add up.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I can see that the noble Lord is looking forward to this debate next week. If I may follow up on the question asked by my noble friend Lord Grocott, at the moment the number of Conservative Peers is anything up to about 39% or 40% of the Peers in this House who carry a political label. Therefore the Conservative Party already has a higher proportion of Peers than of the votes cast at the last election. The noble Lord needs to clarify exactly what the Government are committing themselves to.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: Before the Leader of the House answers, perhaps I may reply to him on the question of tabling the Motion. As he knows, I wanted originally to table an amendment to this Motion today, but I thought that would be unfair because the House had no notice of it. There is a better opportunity next week. So I hope that he will acquit me of any discourtesy on that point.
Secondly, as regards the point made by my noble friend Lord Forsyth, the recommendation from the committee of which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, was a member two years ago was also designed to save money, and it would save money if it were implemented.
Lord Tyler: My Lords, has my noble friend the Leader of the House noted that it is possible now for Members of this House to retire permanently? Indeed, two Members have done so. That would solve the problem of the large and increasing population of the House and the difficulties that have resulted. Indeed, I wonder whether my noble friends Lord Forsyth and Lord Steel might like to take advantage of that opportunity.
Baroness Deech: My Lords, does the Minister appreciate the illogicality of the proposition that has been put forward? There are nearly 200 Cross-Bench Peers in this House who are independent minded, as the Minister will know, who may vote one way or the
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Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, I believe in deferred gratification, and I am prepared to defer some more gratification until next week when we have the debate. In the past nine minutes, we have had a good illustration of the range of views on retirement in this House. I would not want to personalise the very fair general point made by my noble friend Lord Tyler in the way that he did. However, it is true that that scheme is available for any Member of Your Lordships' House who would like to take a permanent leave of absence. I can refer any noble Lords who might be interested in looking at it to page 22 of the new Companion. In the conversations that I have had about retirement, the views expressed to me in the Corridors and around the place have tended to be affected by the age of the noble Lord to whom I have been speaking-and the age of retirement suggested is normally a couple of years above the age of the particular noble Lord to whom I am speaking.
The point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, about membership representation on particular Benches was a slight case of pots and kettles, if I may say so. I think that he conveniently forgot the important contribution made in this House by Cross-Benchers when he looked at his percentages. The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, rightly reminds us of the extremely important contribution that the Cross-Benchers make at all times.
On the specific point of numbers, the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, knows probably better than I-since he is a great expert on all these matters-the form of words that the coalition Government set out. No precise figure has been set but the general intention is clear.
Lord Hannay of Chiswick: I wonder if I can put a couple of questions to the Leader of the House about these time limits that he is proposing to have today. I know it is early days in his tenure of his present post, but does he not recognise that the business managers are imposing limits today which are severely testing the sense of humour of Back-Benchers to a point of destruction? Does he not also recognise that he is moving these time limits pretty close to the time limits imposed in the European Parliament-not an example normally thought good for emulating by this House? Finally, does he not recognise that there could be occasions when the national interest-and I think the two items on the Order Paper today are genuinely of national importance-does not require the House to rise at a fixed time on a Thursday evening?
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Hill of Oareford): My Lords, the House has taken the decision over time as to how long it wants to set aside for debates. I take the point about the importance of some of the issues being discussed this afternoon, and the number of speakers who have signed up to discuss Europe are an indication of the great deal of interest that there is in that subject. If there is appetite for a debate of that nature, my noble friend the Chief Whip is always available to discuss that, and one could have a discussion through the usual channels as to whether we could make more time available.
The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, I feel it is an important discussion to have now. For example, can he say whether the usual channels have discussed and agreed the principle of a limit on the numbers of speakers, which would surely allow those who have prepared for several weeks for debates to have their say in a reasonable way?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, time is short and I do not want to prolong this debate. However, I, too, am concerned about the time limits today on speeches, on issues which are of concern to all the people of our country. We are a self-regulating House and, although on this occasion it is too late, my noble friend Lord Bassam did make representations to the Chief Whip suggesting that perhaps we could have additional time on another day for the second debate. It is clearly too late now but I hope that in future the Government will exercise more flexibility when it comes to these issues in a self-regulating House.
The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Anelay of St Johns): My Lords, since reference has been made personally to me, on this rare occasion perhaps I may assist the Leader of the House at the Dispatch Box. This is a Conservative Party debate day and the House decided as a matter of procedure that the time allocated would be five hours, as an envelope. That time limit may, in exceptional circumstances and in consultation with the Leader of the House, be extended to six hours. That has happened on one occasion in the past two and a half years, and it was of course open to the usual channels to consider it. However, as I explained yesterday to several Peers
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Peers have quite rightly raised the question of the importance of these matters. In a brief discussion with the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, the opposition Chief Whip, I made it clear that I was not going to invite the chairman of my Back-Bench committee, the Association of Conservative Peers, to surrender the only debate that he has had in this Session. In the past two and half years, he has only had one, in the last Session. He is leading our second debate and I would not ask him to abandon it. It could not be moved to another date as this is the last Conservative debate day until the next Session. That is how precious it is.
I have also indicated that I am very happy to look at the possibility of a debate on another day, in prime time, on an issue such as Europe, where I have had representations that have been most fairly made. On that basis, we should now move on. We have important speeches to be made, and this House has made it clear in the past that speeches can be succinct. I can assure the House that I am looking at a way of ensuring that they can be less succinct perhaps on another occasion. It is time to move on and allow those who wish to speak in the debates to do so.
Baroness Noakes: My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to invite your Lordships' House to take note of the Prime Minister's speech on Europe. This was a bold speech about the future of our relationship with the EU, and was well worth waiting for. It may be too much to expect, but I hope that all noble Lords will today join me in welcoming the prospect of a new settlement in Europe, and in particular, the opportunity for the people of this country to have their say on it.
It is well known that my party includes people across the whole spectrum of views on Britain in Europe. However, I believe that the Prime Minister's plan to
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It is a fact that the financial crisis has exposed the fault lines in the euro, and there have to be changes to allow the eurozone to function. The lesson from history was that monetary union would not survive without deeper union on other fronts, and that is one of the many reasons why the UK will never want to join the euro. The first steps towards banking union have been taken with a single supervisory arrangement, which your Lordships' House debated last week, but that is just the start of what will be needed to shore up the eurozone.
At the same time, countries outside the eurozone have to protect their own national interests against the development of a large voting bloc, particularly in relation to the single market. We have achieved protections in the context of banking union, at least for now, but the task will get tougher as the eurozone integrates further.
I am sure that those who are designing changes to the eurozone will move heaven and earth to avoid treaty changes; not because they are afraid of the UK, but because they will not want to risk testing popular opinion within the eurozone countries. Therefore, we may not have the opportunity of a treaty through which to negotiate a new way forward. Even if that opportunity does not exist, I believe the Prime Minister is right to pursue the reshaping of how the EU works, not just for us, but for all members.
The Prime Minister put forward five principles as the basis for a new start: the EU should be more competitive; there should be a flexible structure of membership, particularly for those who do not sign up to ever closer union; powers must start to flow back to member states; we need a bigger role for national parliaments; and any new arrangements must be fair for all members, particularly those outside the eurozone. I believe that all but the most ardent of federalists should support these principles. Yesterday, in the other place, the Labour Front Bench supported them and I hope that it will do so again today.
I am sure that some noble Lords today will try to dismiss the Prime Minister's determination to reach a new settlement in Europe as naive or foolish or both. I am sure that some whose careers and livelihoods depend on the EU's institutions and powers hope that they can swat the UK away like an irritating fly, and carry on as before.
The UK's concerns are not necessarily those of the majority but they are not held in isolation. Other countries will remain outside the eurozone and will need protection against eurozone bloc voting. Some countries within the eurozone, such as the Netherlands, also question the balance of powers between Brussels and their own democratic institutions. I am sure that many more have concerns about the decline in competitiveness in the EU, even if they do not yet share our view that the answer is less-not more-Europe. Importantly, there are countries, particularly those in the north, that positively want the UK to remain at the table as much as we want to remain there.
Of course, renegotiation will be tough. We cannot take it for granted that we can negotiate our way to a satisfactory relationship with Europe. I am absolutely convinced, however, that the British people must have the final word on whether or not we can remain in the EU, on whatever terms can be achieved. I know that some of your Lordships do not like referenda and believe that it is the role of politicians to make all decisions, but I do not share that view. I believe that the British people have to be consulted on major issues, and the EU and our relationship with it certainly is one of the major issues of our time. I believe that we can trust the British public to reach the correct answer. In recent history the British public have shown their innate common sense when given a referendum.
I hope that those on the Liberal Democrat Benches will not declare against a referendum simply because they might not like the answer. I gently remind them that before the previous election their leader fronted a campaign for what he called a "real referendum on Europe"; namely, an in-out vote.
Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: I am listening very carefully to my noble friend's impressive speech but, on a point of information, we should be clear that in 2008 at the time of Lisbon, the Liberal Democrats said, and repeated at the general election, that if there was a substantial shift of powers to Europe there should be a referendum. That was the position we took at the election. That is the position that has now been legislated for-just as a point of accuracy.
Last week Mr Miliband was quick to say that he was against a referendum but almost immediately his colleagues briefed that he did not want a referendum now-or yet. We can agree on that. The Prime Minister is not promising one now, but in 2017. I will be listening intently to the Benches opposite today in the hope that we will get some clarity on their position. This is not just a debating point. I am not foolish enough to think that a Conservative victory in the next general election is a done deal and hence that my party's policy will definitely be implemented. The electorate must be left in no doubt about whether and when any Labour Government would give them a say as well.
The scaremongers have been saying that the Prime Minister's speech has cast a damaging shadow of uncertainty over the UK economy for the next five years. These prophets of doom also predicted, with spectacular inaccuracy, that Britain's failure to join the euro would be our undoing. In any event, uncertainty was created as soon as the eurozone states faced up to having to work together in a deeper way. We have to protect our national interests so our relationship with the EU inevitably has to change. The Prime Minister is right to be on the front foot on this and to seek a comprehensive way forward.
If the Prime Minister can negotiate a good outcome for the UK, which meets the five principles that he set out, I am sure that the British people will vote to
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If the Government achieved most of the Fresh Start agenda, that could create an EU worth staying in but if they achieve significantly less than that, an out vote will seem to many of us like a better choice. Leaving the EU is not my preferred outcome but I am not afraid of the prospect if the deal on offer is substandard. An exit from the EU would not be the end of the world. Three million jobs might well be connected with the 40% or so of the UK's exports that go to Europe but they are at risk only if, as pointed out by the man who calculated that figure, Professor Iain Begg, we stop trading with the EU. There is no sign that we will, not least because we have a persistent trade deficit with the EU. It is therefore rational for the EU to want to carry on trading with us. It is also not clear that we have to accept the kind of solutions to which Norway and Switzerland have signed up. There are many other countries in the world that trade with the EU without conditions attached.
Some assert that we would lose out on foreign direct investment but there is no evidence for this. International studies show that there is a host of unquantifiable social, political and institutional factors at play when decisions on investment are made. There is a lot more going for the UK than its EU membership and I remind noble Lords that we did not suffer, as was predicted, when we chose to stay out of the euro.
As we have debated several times over the years in your Lordships' House, there is no definitive study of the economic impact of leaving the EU and successive Governments have refused to commission such a study. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, who is in his place, has often sought to press Governments to do just that. Professor Begg's verdict on the impact of exit is that we,
Let me conclude by wishing the Prime Minister the very best of luck in negotiating a new settlement in Europe but at the end of that road the Government must be honest about the quality of the deal available and the extent to which it meets our national interests. There must be no attempt to portray a sow's ear as a silk purse. A referendum in 2017 is an exciting prospect, but its result will need to stand the test of time and we must be absolutely clear, which we were not in 1975, about exactly what we will get for our vote.
Lord Triesman: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for introducing the debate. Prime Ministers' jobs are complex: they must lead; they must set the strategic policy direction for the country and the Government; they must optimise support both domestically and with allies abroad; and they are, of course, also party managers. Paramount among these things, however, are the interests of the nation and the reliable and honourable adherence to alliances. For Labour, the only question is the United Kingdom's interest. We are facing today's priorities and relying for the setting of those priorities on the good sense of the British public.
The European referendum statement shows that Mr Cameron has failed this key test of leadership-it is party first, and only party. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, made the point that the statement struck a sweet spot for the Conservatives. It is populist, certainly. It has been popular with his party and popular with much of the media, and it addresses, I suppose, Mr Cameron's UKIP Achilles heel. But it is tactically bizarre, even in the unlikely event of the Conservatives being re-elected at the next general election. Detailed questions about what he would seek and what would be enough for him to agree to stay in have not been answered. None of those issues has been either set out or explored.
What we have instead is five years of what I believe will be crippling uncertainty. I declare an interest because I lead a finance business. Investors, I know, avoid uncertainty like the plague and look to de-risk. The longer the period of uncertainty and the greater the uncertainty about de-risking the less likely it is that they will do anything other than withhold their investment.
Mr Cameron's priority is not, apparently, the triple-dip recession. It is not the lack of growth. It is not the 1 million unemployed young people. It is not the declining purchasing power of lower and middle-income families. It is simply this issue.
The move has been generously described, and I understand why, as sleepwalking out of the EU. However, a sleepwalker is not engaged in a voluntary activity: he does not make a calculation about setting off on his sleepwalk. Mr Cameron is a very sophisticated politician and he knows the nature of his gamble. The only logical explanation for this gamble is either that he has decided that, in all probability, we should leave the EU, or that he is reckless with regard to it happening. However, it is ruinous to British business and will be fatal for the interests of our country.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, for this opportunity to reflect on Mr Cameron's speech last week. The Prime Minister was on that occasion speaking as leader of the Conservative Party, and, on that basis, it was indeed one of the best speeches on the EU delivered by a Conservative leader. It enabled the country to hear from him where he stood on the EU, where he expects to lead his party, and, if the voters give him the opportunity, where he expects to take this country should he get a mandate in 2015.
That is all well and good, one might say, except for the consequences. Broadly, there are three. The first is that by "coming out" so clearly, he has created considerable uncertainty for business, investment and jobs in terms of investment decisions and planning. Only today the London School of Economics has published a report on UK economic growth which points to the UK political process as being the greatest barrier to a virtuous circle of investment. It describes the PM's decision to seek an in-out referendum as "misguided" because it creates the,
It points out that we need a more stable environment for investment. This is not improved by adding to policy risk which deters investors worried that the rules might change before their payback begins. This will not only affect the services and manufacturing sectors but adversely impact on financial services too, particularly at a time when the uncertainty of regulation around banking union is still so unclear.
The second consequence is that we have a firm commitment accompanied by a date. The Prime Minister might have done better both by his party and the country to have left things more open. Nailing the date of 2017 to a mast is perhaps unwise when he is not clear as to what exactly is to be renegotiated, with whom and in what manner. We are delighted that he has prioritised multilateral negotiations, working with other, like-minded countries to bring about the kind of changes that we all want in order to make the EU more competitive and fleeter of foot in meeting global challenges. Reform of the EU is not simply a UK priority but is shared across most of the Union. It may have been wiser to accept that the process needed time-conceivably more time than he has allowed himself.
Finally, while we greatly welcome the Prime Minister's robust rejection of the Norway and Switzerland model, he risks creating greater confusion by not spelling out exactly what we would negotiate for. This Government have gone further than any other in ensuring that significant powers cannot be transferred to the EU by putting in place the European Union Act 2011. This is surely the right way forward, both for the UK and the European Union.
In concluding, I want to answer clearly the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, on the Liberal Democrat position. We proposed an "in or out" referendum in the previous Parliament against a backdrop of relative stability in both the eurozone and the European Union. It was right for the time. The situation has changed dramatically since then. A new architecture for the eurozone, and consequently for the European Union, is unknown, hence our view that this is not the right time to be putting up these lines.
Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, I declare an interest, which is in the register. I want to say one word first about the exercise on the balance of competencies currently being worked on by practically all government departments. Evidence and opinions have been called for in a wide consultation, with a deadline of 28 February
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In his speech the Prime Minister called for "fundamental, far-reaching change", and the next Conservative manifesto will ask for a mandate from the British people for a Conservative Government, if elected, to negotiate a new settlement with a view to an "in or out" referendum. The Prime Minister states that power must be able to flow back to member states. He wants an EU that is competitive, flexible and fair-don't we all? Of course, we cannot set out our priorities in detail now because we have to probe the opinions of other member states. In particular, we need to assess whether our priorities are more likely to be achieved by opt-outs or by decisions of the member states as a whole-that some issues could now be left to them. I think that there may some possibilities by the second route. Although a referendum of the British people provides the essential reassurance it is also legitimate to question how the end game will turn out. There could be much dispute on whether the result was good enough, which will make it difficult for the British people to take a clear-cut position on the referendum.
Finally, it is extremely important that we have a better and fairer presentation of European issues to the public, which is not always the case now. I can think of many cases in the media almost every day. Where do we go from here? Forwards, I hope, but I commend an opinion poll in last week's Sunday Expresswhich showed that 63% of the public considered that the EU issue was a distraction from the real concerns about the economy as a whole and a great majority thought that the United Kingdom would be in the European Union in 10 years' time. That sounds like the voice of the British people.
The Lord Bishop of Wakefield: My Lords, in March 1990 the European churches gathered in Geneva to celebrate the tearing down of the iron curtain. More than that, however, it celebrated the solidarity of the Christian churches never recognising the fracturing of Europe into two post 1945. That stance was vindicated. Later that year, I walked through the Brandenburg Gate with my German friend, Klaus Kremkau. It was the first time that he had walked through it since he was a young soldier cadet in 1945. Now he was crossing the threshold with an Englishman.
No one can doubt that, but peace, as we have seen to our horror in the past few years, can never be taken for granted, even in apparently stable states, so the European Union still exists to secure and sustain a lasting peace, without which there can be no prosperity.
The Prime Minister also notes that the British are not somehow un-European. Even in the seventh century, Saint Wilfrid, Saint Benedict Biscop and others proved that as itinerant travellers and missionaries across Europe. Perhaps that is part of what we are called to be now in a more political sense. In other words, Europe needs change. Its institutions are beyond middle age-almost elderly-but good missionary work always starts from within.
The Prime Minister spoke of three challenges and, as we have heard, five principles. I wonder what might be called the foundation of those principles. Here is a starter for two. Catholic social teaching developed the concept of subsidiarity, which became something of a motto of the European movement. Decisions should be made at the most local level possible. Somehow, the spirit behind that has been lost. Subsidiarity can underpin fairness locally, flexibility and even an appropriate passing of power back to member states-three of the Prime Minister's principles.
Secondly, there is the democratic deficit. There is a feeling that Europe is ruled by the unelected, by bureaucrats. Such a characterisation has been fuelled by Eurosceptics and ruthlessly pursued by the less responsible media. Again, Christian culture has encouraged proper sharing in decision-making. Benedict's rule argues for consensus, even at the most local level.
What should be our hope for Europe? Economic prosperity, yes, but not at the expense of the rest of the world. Social development, yes, and the Prime Minister hints at that throughout his speech. In the Christian tradition, human flourishing and fulfilment are the ultimate vision. We need economic and social progress, but there is one step more.
Let me return to the less responsible press. Twenty years ago, the Sun printed one of its celebrated headlines-please forgive my language in this Chamber, but I repeat it verbatim-"Up Yours Delors". It was Jacques Delors who called for a vision founded on a soul for Europe. That remains essential. The greatest risk is colluding with a referendum process that puts us outside the tent. Reform is essential, but we shall achieve it only if we remain inside, working for Europe's soul.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, those, both here and overseas, who think that the Prime Minister's speech was all about getting some exclusive deal for the United Kingdom from the rest of the European Union are starting from entirely the wrong point. The first line of the Prime Minister's speech was that this speech was,
What he is concerned about, and what we should in all parties and sections be concerned about, is giving new direction to a European Union which is today lost in the thickets of the debate about the eurozone-which will continue for a long time, it has not been cured-overcentralisation and general unpopularity. That creates uncertainty which will continue and must be addressed.
To give new direction to that unsatisfactory situation throughout Europe, we need two things. We need colossal intellectual effort, similar to, or perhaps even
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I believe that the friends are there. I think that the European budget experience last autumn showed that many people are determined to have a new approach in Europe. They are to be found in almost every quarter, not just in the smaller ex-satellite countries of eastern and central Europe but in France, Germany, Italy and other great countries.
On the intellectual side, huge new effort will be required. If I may say so, it must be more than diplomatic effort. I very much admire the team inside the Foreign and Commonwealth Office-indeed, some of them are my good friends-but the task now is one for which we will have to draw on the best brains in business, engineering, science, management and, I would hope, all the political parties to bring new direction to the eurozone and new relationships of its members to the central institutions. The task is to show how a modernised European Union can work and how treaties can be amended to allow that. The challenge now is to draw up the architecture for a more flexible, dynamic, flexible, democratic European Union which connects to the people. It is a challenge to which all those who are concerned about our position in Europe and the stability of Europe should now turn their efforts.
Secondly, many EU leaders recognise that a new Europe built around the eurozone as it becomes more integrated should consider returning some powers to nations and regions. They have also made it perfectly clear that any such changes must apply to all member states; there will be no cherry picking. Is not cherry picking-in other words, a special deal for the UK- exactly what the PM seeks to achieve? Thirdly, some parts of the speech seemed to suggest that the PM might seek to derail the treaty change needed to stabilise the eurozone if he does not get his way on a special deal for the UK. Can we be assured that that absolutely will not be the case?
is not shared by any other member of the Union? I refer to what the right reverend Prelate said. Other member states see the European Union as a far more rich entity than that. Is it not obvious that the bulk of the EU is moving in an entirely different direction from that specified by the Prime Minister? Fifthly, and
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Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: My Lords, at the end of my noble friend's speech on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, I heard some laughter from our noble friends on the Conservative Benches. If I recall correctly, she said that this was not the moment, and she was right. Do not listen to her, do not listen to me, listen to the Prime Minister only months ago, when a Motion for a referendum was tabled in the House of Commons and the Conservative party, led by the Prime Minister, voted against it for the reason that it was not right at the moment, that it was a distraction, and that it would distract us from tackling the recession.
The question is not why the Liberal Democrats have changed their mind, because we have held a consistent view throughout; it is why the Prime Minister has changed his mind in a matter of months. That reveals the lie to this whole affair. When a Prime Minister makes a speech, it necessarily contains some politics, but it also has as a primary purpose to contain what is in the best interests of this country. His speech was about politics and nothing else. It was directed not to the nation but to the Conservative Party. It aimed to put a sticking plaster over the gaping and bloody wound that now runs deep into the heart of the Conservative soul between those who see this country's future in Europe and those who do not. It was also aimed at a second political purpose, which was to cut UKIP off at the pass.
By the way, I agree with my noble friend that it was a good speech. Measured by those purposes, it was a good speech. It was effective and well put together. It had effect in the short term, but there will be a price to pay in the long term. That is for the simple reason that even were the Prime Minister to return with his arms full of the bounty about to be dished out to him by his European colleagues-I very much doubt that that will be the case-they still would not like it. This is because there is now a virulent Little Englander movement running throughout the Conservative Party. They do not want to renegotiate Europe; they want out altogether. It does not matter what the Prime Minister brings back; they will reject it.
However, he will not bring back much because of this fact. My noble friend Lord Howell is right. The European Union is always about negotiation. There is constant negotiation. It goes on all the time and we should be involved in that. But the difference between Britain and the rest is that we are negotiating wanting to get out while the rest of them are negotiating wanting to get further in. That is the fundamental difference. So the Prime Minister will return with too little to satisfy the Conservative Party. He will have held up our attachment to and concentration on the issue of jobs and getting ourselves out of this recession. He will have damaged investment into this country. He has given huge stimulus to the Scottish National Party, arguing the case for the break-up of the United Kingdom,
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Forgive me; in a three-minute speech I do not time to take interventions. The fact is that the interests of this country have never lain outside Europe. Go back to Pitt, go back to Canning, go back to Churchill, go back to Macmillan-all of them have understood that our engagement in Europe was vital to the future of our country. The Conservative Party-the party of Little Englanders-is taking us away from that. This is folly.
How do I describe a speech that not only fails to solve the problems of the Conservative Party but deepens the problems of our recession, gives encouragement to those who would wish to see the break up of the United Kingdom and also removes our country from Europe? This is the House of Lords so I will say simply that it was deeply inadvisable.
Lord Bilimoria: My Lords, the Prime Minister was spot on when he summarised in his excellent speech that the key priorities of the European Union are peace and prosperity. We have had nearly 70 years of peace and we have had free movement of people and Europe is our biggest trading partner. So we should never take any of this for granted and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, for initiating this debate.
However, the European project has had, right from the beginning, this utopian idea of a fully integrated United States of Europe. The euro, which we thankfully did not join, was a step too far that has demonstrated that the dream of a federal Europe cannot be realized. One size cannot fit all, and the only way that Europe can function in the future on a long-term basis is if there is full fiscal union and full monetary integration. These things can only happen if there is a surrender of sovereignty by eurozone members, so it can then be a true federal state like the United States of America or India. Although there may be a lull at the moment, the eurozone crisis has not gone away. This could be the lull before the storm. If the euro disintegrates, let us talk about referendums then.
We have lost a sense of balance and perspective in Europe. The European political system is frankly useless. We have MEPs who are completely disconnected. Most people in this country-and, I suspect, many noble Lords in this House-cannot name their MEPs. Many would not even be able to name one. The MEPs themselves have no connection with the so-called regions that they represent. It is nothing like the connection that MPs have with their constituencies. There is a disconnect. The Prime Minister's speech did not touch on this.
There is also this ludicrous wholesale movement of the European Parliament between Brussels and Strasbourg. This sort of inefficiency irks us in this country, let alone things like the ridiculous working time directive. We are an open country and anything that curbs our sense of independence and openness makes our citizens want to run a mile.
There are restrictions in being part of Europe-not just financial ones. Look at the red tape, the regulations and the delays. The EU-India free trade agreement still has not happened after five years. If we had been able to negotiate a free trade agreement directly with India, it would have happened a long time ago.
We have already opted out of lots in Europe. We are not part of Schengen or the euro. But do we want to be a Norway or a Switzerland? We want to be at the top table and still remain a gateway to Europe and an integral part of the European Union. We need to renegotiate, as the Prime Minister has said, and then, if we do it on sensible terms, as the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, said, people will want to stay in Europe. We do not have to have the binary way of thinking: in or out.
At the same time, he does not appear to trust our own national Parliament at Westminster to judge what kind of relationship we should have with the Union. The decisions of this Parliament to approve each of the treaties that govern our membership, from the European Communities Act of 1972, which I helped steer through the House of Commons, to the Lisbon treaty in 2009, are perceived as illegitimate.
in Britain, and that the people have had "little choice" over the endorsement of successive treaties. Is it really of no consequence that, at each stage, a majority of parliamentarians supported our membership on the basis of treaties negotiated by democratically elected Governments? Is it irrelevant today that a clear majority of MPs elected to the House of Commons wish Britain to stay in the Union and do not support his proposed renegotiation of our membership?
I would like to think that I am wrong in suspecting that the Prime Minister's sudden conversion to the merits of a referendum is less about occupying the moral high ground of democratic consent than a search for a means to overcome the problems of internal party management. At the risk of appearing discourteous, I and some of my colleagues who are old enough to remember the complicated Wilson European era between 1967 and 1975, will recognise a distinct pattern of Wilsonian behaviour which I fear may be beginning to infect our Prime Minister in this context.
one wonders why the Prime Minister did not give his Bloomberg speech in the House of Commons rather
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I disagree. Although I am no enthusiast for referenda and do not advocate one, it seems to me that at any time the choice between the status quo and a clearly defined alternative in the here and now-in this case whether to stay in or to leave the European Union as it actually exists and operates-is a straightforward proposition. I do not, however, believe that a referendum is the best way to address that question. As the Prime Minister said in his speech, our own national Parliament, not a widely consulted referendum, is the true source of real democratic legitimacy and accountability in the European Union. It was so in 1972 and is so today, and to introduce, in this particular context, the concept of a referendum does not serve the purpose of the Prime Minister, the Government or anybody else.
Lord Grenfell: My Lords, the Prime Minister's speech went down well with my very conservative mother, who celebrated her 100th birthday on the morning that he delivered it. I myself found quite a lot to commend in the analysis of what is wrong with the functioning of the European Union, but I wish that he had heeded Rab Butler's dictum that politics is the art of the possible. The road he has taken for achieving the improvements he seeks is a road that leads to where he says he does not want to go-to Britain's exit from the European Union.
When President Hollande told his cabinet that he wished Britain to stay at the heart of Europe, his Ministers hardly needed reminding that that could not be at any price. France is not alone in taking that view. David Cameron should take seriously what Poland's foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, spelled out in bold language in his Blenheim speech last September.
The Prime Minister reminds us in his speech that history has often proved heretics right. But one proposition, which he admits is heretical, is a heresy too far for most if not all of his European partners. He attacks the commitment of member States enshrined in the European treaty to lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe. He respects the right of others to hold to that commitment but he says that that is not the objective for Britain, and that it may not be the objective of others, either.
However, attacking the founding principle of the Union is not the recommended way of seeking the indulgence of fellow member states, which is what he now needs. Why should they feel bound to meet the demands of a fellow member who rejects the club's primary objective? Therein lays the dilemma he has created for himself. The price he must demand from his European partners in order to satisfy his Eurosceptic
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However, he now has the bit between his teeth. He gallops around the Union with all the zeal-though happily not the belligerence-of Charlemagne seeking to bring a Carolingian renaissance to Europe. But David Cameron is no Charlemagne. Rather, he is the man of La Mancha, dreaming his impossible dreams and fighting his invincible foes; dreaming of treaties popping open at his command like champagne corks at a wedding reception; ready to fight the invincible foes drawn up on his Back Benches, waiting to fall on him when he fails to deliver what they believe he promised when they cheered him to the rafters last week. And then will he hear the ghostly voice of Andrew Bonar Law proclaiming: "I must follow them. I am their leader"?
As to the referendum, I happen to believe that the people will vote to stay in the European Union. We are a people, for better or for worse, much wedded to the status quo, as previous referendums demonstrated. If the case is well made that the advantages of staying far outweigh any perceived advantages of leaving, that, I believe, can and probably will be the result. But, in the mean time, the damage done to our relationships with our European partners will take long to repair, and confidence in us as members of the Union will not quickly be regained. That will be a task, I hope, that a future Labour Government will take up with enthusiasm and determination.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, it is an honour and privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, in his witty and perceptive remarks. He and others have been right to suggest that the British people, in their hearts, know what the European Union has contributed to the continent of Europe: the end of the civil wars that have lasted for centuries. There is no need to win peace, but there is every need to sustain and support it, and to enable Europe not only to maintain internal peace but to adopt a peace-making role in the wider global community to which we belong.
The Prime Minister's speech seemed to me to be clear in neither its goals nor its recommended process for changing the Union. The tone suggested that he was not looking for reform but for revolution. That is not the way in which democratic countries operate. We have seen considerable changes in the way in which Europe governs itself since it was formed. We have seen enlargement. We have seen the enthusiasm of other countries to become part of it. We in Britain have fostered that enthusiasm. As to the objectives and process, however, the Prime Minister had very
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As to process, the gradualism which we have seen has delivered substantial changes for the better. We now have qualified majority voting in the Council. We now have co-decision-making with the European Parliament. It makes no sense to ridicule that shaping of the expressions of interest of the British people and all the other peoples of the European Union. The European Parliament is the democratic foundation. We need to go further and make sure that other institutions are elected in a not dissimilar way.
Lord Kerr of Kinlochard: My Lords, the Prime Minister has given notice that we want to invoke Article 48 of the treaty, and change the treaty which everybody sees as their treaty. Therefore, other Governments will now be trying to work out precisely what we might want.
On the five principles set out in the speech and listed by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, nothing that the Prime Minister said on competitiveness cannot be done inside the Council and inside the present treaty. The Monti report sets out what should be done and we do not need to change the treaty to do it.
On democratic accountability, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, gets it right. I would add that I personally would find it offensive if any EU treaty should purport to lay down how a Government should be held accountable by their national Parliament.
On the fairness agenda, the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, got it right. The aim is to try to ensure that, when the dwindling band of euro-outs do not constitute a blocking minority, they can still block in Council. I would have thought that the Prime Minister would have learned in the middle of the night in the European Council in December 2011 that it is not possible to do that. To get all member states to agree, and to entrench in the treaty, that the UK should have a blocking veto seems completely impossible.
On the fourth principle, that we should abandon the one-size-fits-all approach, the fact is that it was abandoned 21 years ago at Maastricht. EMU, Schengen, fiscal union, banking union-flexibility exists, and there is no attempt to force everybody into the same, rigid pattern.
The last of the Prime Minister's principles was flow-back-the return of powers. That is in the treaty already, in Article 48. But what exactly do we want to flow back? The only example given was the working
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So how are Governments in other capitals interpreting all this? I guess that they think that it is more to do with party management, and they understand that. But we are asking them to change their treaty, and I very much fear that the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, will be proved wrong; I wish that he was going to be proved right, but I think that the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, is correct that the audit exercise here in Whitehall is crucially important. That is going to be the foundation of the Government's negotiating position, and I very much fear that it will be a demand for a series of opt-outs: a bout of cherry-picking from the treaty.
That would be unprecedented. There has never been a retrospective opt-out. Opt-outs are invoked when most want to go forward and somebody does not want to go forward. An opt-out has never been invoked because somebody wants to go backward. If that is the position in which we find ourselves after 2015-arguing that we want everybody else to carry on if they want to, but we want to take bits back-then we may be in the awkward "blackmailing" scenario to which the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, referred.
I am afraid that other Governments will not agree, that it will not work, and that they will tend to say, "Make your minds up: in or out. No unravelling. Stop wasting our time. We have got work to do. Solve your domestic problem or invoke Article 50 and get out".
Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, I believe that the Prime Minister's speech was brave and far reaching. He made it clear that his view and his preference was that Britain should remain a full, active member of the EU. I agree, but I emphasise the term "preference" rather than the words "predetermined" or "inevitable". As the Financial Times said, a whole confluence of trends has made a referendum inevitable: the increasing scepticism of the British people, the changing nature of the EU and the fact that we have not had a referendum since 1975. Some people call this a gamble. But democracy is sometimes a gamble: you do not know the outcome when you call an election. One of the worst features of the EU has been that it only welcomes referendums that produce the right result. My noble friend Lord Ashdown asked why, if the Prime Minister rejects a referendum in this Parliament, we should have one in the next? There is a slight problem, however. We are in a coalition with him and they are not likely to allow a referendum in this Parliament.
The Prime Minister's proposals are designed to improve and strengthen Europe's competitiveness, as my noble and learned friend Lord Howe said. There is a challenge; it requires improvement. That is why what he said is right. It is in Europe's interest as well as ours that these changes should be made. The single market is valuable, but it should not require everything to be harmonised in the search for, as the Prime Minister put it,
The Prime Minister rightly wants to prevent the integration of the eurozone fragmenting the single market and discriminating against non-eurozone countries. That is an entirely reasonable and right affirmation of our natural interest.
"The British are solely concerned about their economic interests ... If the British cannot accept the trend towards more integration in Europe, we can nevertheless remain friends, but on a different basis".
We do want the single market, but not at any price. We could have access to it with the free trade areas suggested by Delors. Of course, we would not be setting the rules, any more than Germany would be setting the rules of the single market in Britain-and Britain is now Germany's most important trading partner. Outside the EU, Britain is not going to become an insignificant nobody. The US and the EU will still want us as an ally.
Forty-one years ago I made my maiden speech in the House of Commons, supporting our membership of the European Economic Community. I quoted Lord Rosebery about the 1707 Act of Union, when he said he wondered what affection might grow out of that union. I wondered what affection might grow out of our entry into the EEC. But I was completely wrong. As the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said, this is not just a loveless marriage but, one might add, a quarrelsome one. If there is no agreement on what the future of the marriage means, then it would be better eventually to separate and, as Delors said, remain friends and move on.
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, the House is grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. For much of the first 10 pages of his 13-page, portentous speech, I would agree with the Prime Minister. It should follow from his early arguments in favour of our interests in Europe that the prize of future economic prosperity for Britain is bigger than any one Government's transient polling problems with a rival minority party, or the Prime Minister's unwillingness to face down the militant Europhobes in his own party, as my noble friend Lord Kinnock put it this week.
It should follow, but it does not. On page 11 of the speech the die is cast and the Rubicon is crossed. If the Conservatives win the next election-and we on this side will do all in our power to make that an impossible "if"-then there will be an in-out referendum that will put, I believe, our whole economic future at grievous risk. Why? Why would the Government want to have a lengthy period of uncertainty hanging over the thousands of British businesses and their workforces whose job it is to sell into the European Union? Why would they ratchet up that uncertainty, at a time of double-dip, nudging triple-dip, recession?
Those businesses depend on Britain being a leading, influential member of the EU, pushing for day-to-day reform and growth, not a semi-detached, bags packed, ready to go, peripheral member. Why would the Prime Minister pay so much attention to those Eurosceptic friends who tell him that Britain would do just as well outside the EU, especially if we concentrate on trade with the emerging BRIC countries instead? Yes, the BRIC countries are strengthening, but the World Bank's latest figures on GDP per capita must give us some much-needed perspective. GDP per capita for the UK is $39,000. For China, it is $5,000; for India, it is below $2,000. In order to grow out of this recession the UK needs to find the scale of export market that the BRIC countries at present cannot provide and which the European Union can. The BRIC countries together do not have the buying power of France and Germany alone.
Why would the Prime Minister risk the special relationship with the United States, as he second-guesses the proposed scale of treaty change that may never come about? I know that diplomatic language was used last week when the White House pleaded with the Government not to come out of Europe, but translated, President Obama is saying, "Are you all nuts? Has drink been taken?" Why would the Prime Minister take such a gamble with our national interest? His speech should have stopped at page 10.
Lord Roper: My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friend Lady Noakes for having obtained this extraordinarily topical debate. There are three things in the speech on which I agree with the Prime Minister. First, Britain should continue to be a member of the European Union. Secondly, there are a number of areas in which the European Union's institutions and policies are in need of reform. Thirdly, the relationship between this country and the eurozone will have to be watched with great care as the eurozone develops. A good deal to protect this country and therefore the City of London from the impact of the banking union was achieved at last December's European Council, but there will be a need for continued vigilance.
Where I am confused by the speech is that the Prime Minister combines two different approaches to achieving his objectives. At one level he is suggesting that there should be a multilateral approach whereby, as he says, the changes would be,
At others he is saying that there would be a unilateral negotiation to establish a new relationship for Britain. This approach has to be seen in the light of the Prime Minister's discussion of his principle of flexibility. At first sight the concept of flexibility seems desirable, as suggesting that the European Union should not be set in concrete but should be allowed to develop as conditions develop. However, if we examine the speech more closely, it suggests that greater flexibility means greater freedom for member states to,
I believe that there is an opportunity to make progress in reform if we follow the multilateral route. My own experience meeting chairmen of European
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There is not time to discuss the case for a referendum, which does not seem to be made unless there were to be a treaty change which transferred significant powers to Brussels. I was opposed at the time to the 1975 referendum but I have to say that, when it came, I much enjoyed it and I made a number of friends during the campaign. Perhaps the remarkable movement in voting opinion suggested that the process of education which a referendum provides is of great importance.
Lord Owen: The speech was that of a party leader, not a Prime Minister. What interests me, and, I suspect, interests the country, is what the Prime Minister is going to say when the European Council meets in the summer and, we are told, President Hollande and Chancellor Merkel will be proposing changes in the eurozone. Those changes are essential due to the economic situation-you have only to see the results in America. This economic global situation is still very serious and we need to encourage that process of reform in order to keep the eurozone viable. That is essential in the British interest.
I hope that the coalition will be able to put forward a sensible negotiating position. I suggest that it should be the following. There is no need for an intergovernmental conference but there will be a need for treaty change to reform the eurozone. We in Britain will be helpful in that process. Within the European Council we will contribute to unanimity where there is to be an increase in integration for the eurozone countries. Such treaty amendment would come under the significant clause in the very sensible legislation passed in this Parliament in 2011 allowing for a referendum where there is a transfer of sovereignty which affects this country. However, these transfers of sovereignty will not affect this country and therefore there does not have to be a referendum. That is a practical new idea and a negotiating stance which should be put forward this summer.
At the same time, we must argue-and it is perfectly rational to do so-that you cannot have much greater integration of the eurozone countries without there being a profound impact on the single market and indeed on other aspects of the European Union. That is not a selfish or a foolish view; it is a serious view, and it ought to be represented by some of the diplomats in this House a little more frequently. The fact is that in that debate we will put forward issues. It has been rightly that it has already been addressed in part, but not sufficiently, in the banking union. If the eurozone countries were to vote en bloc in the single market, as they wanted to do in the banking union, that would
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I believe that the way to deal with this is not with British exceptionalism; it is to accept that the single market needs to be restructured at the same time as there is reform of the eurozone. The best and simplest way of doing that would be to take one single initial step-to ensure that Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, which are part of the EEA treaty, which has already separated out the single market from all the other aspects of the treaties, are invited in as full members. That would be a logical development. It would be a recognition of the fact that there are other European countries with interests and involvements in the single market, and it would ensure that Britain was not necessarily always alone because it was outside the eurozone. That is not an exceptionalist position. I believe that it could be argued for and it would be a sensible renegotiation-one which should not wait until after a general election which the Conservative Party may or may not win, but one which should happen now, in the present. That position should be put forward. There are other aspects of the single market that similarly should be addressed.
The Marquess of Lothian: My Lords, my noble friend Lady Noakes rightly emphasised the central importance of the Prime Minister's five principles, but I hope that they are more than just words and aspirations. I believe that they should form the bottom line of our negotiations in the months ahead. We must start and finish with them, not drawing down or clawing back towards them but building up within them.
However, we should be under no illusion from past experience that when the referendum eventually arrives there may still be no progress in negotiation, and that without a positive alternative the choice might still, in the Prime Minister's words, be false. We must therefore, at the same time, urgently explore alternatives.
We live today in a network world. Tomorrow's relationships will not be between blocs but between peoples and interests and common values offering new trading opportunities and new markets. In this regard, a refreshed, refunded and re-empowered Commonwealth, bound together not by wealth or military might but by shared values in democracy, the rule of law and human rights, embracing significant economic players such as India, Canada, Australia, South Africa, and Singapore, could have enormous potential. We would be going with the flow of our island history and the choice at a referendum would at least then be a real one.
I wish the renegotiations well but, if the principles are not achieved, I will have no qualms in campaigning and voting no. Of course we could survive and prosper outside the EU; to argue otherwise is to stray into the wilder realms of EU propaganda. But that is not the real question. Whether it is in our national interest is what matters-and that is not just about wealth.
Lord Monks: My Lords, it is pretty clear that European Union social and employment laws are being lined up in the Prime Minister's gun sight. He has made no secret of his wish to push the single market much more into a free trade zone, probably on NAFTA lines. If that line is pursued, trade unions in Europe and many Governments, of whatever political persuasion, will take the contrary view and will be determined to preserve a single market that has some employment and social standards within it.
Mrs Thatcher recognised the need for some social standards when she agreed that health and safety would be included in the Single Market Act-from which, by the way, comes the much derided working time directive. I wish that people would look at this in a bit more detail. Britain has an opt-out from the 48-hour rule. Fourteen other countries have opt-outs from specific parts of that directive. The one bit that really matters is the entitlement to four weeks' paid holiday, from which 6 million British workers benefit. Is the Prime Minister perhaps proposing to take that back? I do not think that he will. You could go on into Social Chapter territory on equality and equal pay. Should the single market not have equal pay provisions for the new countries, and so on? Should it not have a voice in European works councils and through the information and consultation arrangements? Are we saying that, if we can do what we want, others can too, so undercutting our interests?
The Government can take away the rights of British workers that come from British law. They have done so recently. Three million British workers have been removed from the scope of unfair dismissal legislation. However, these European-based rights are a bulwark for workers in this single market. I warn noble Lords: if the Government are successful in an adventure of this kind, the response will be protectionism, just as it is in NAFTA, with American unions influencing the Democratic Party-the major obstacle to an EU/US free trade agreement. So be careful what you wish for. In the mean time, Europe's unions are already on notice that they will have to fight with their Governments against any renationalisation of employment and social policy.
The Conservative Party has traditionally been the party of law and order. It always seemed to me that the Conservative Party was at its best when its approach was pragmatic and not ideological. However, I find it very hard to reconcile that view with the attitude of the Prime Minister and the party to the block opt-out from the justice and home affairs jurisdiction of the European Union.
I hope that my Conservative friends will look at the evidence, because a lot of the evidence given to the Hannay committee has already been published. What
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The European arrest warrant has resulted in an enormous amount of time-saving and improvement in getting our criminals back from abroad, and criminals in this country back to their own countries. It has had its flaws, but most of them have been cured, as the Scott Baker report showed. We can improve it with further amendments if we are part of it.
Dominic Raab, MP, has said that a bilateral arrangement would be just as good as cross-border policing. Do my noble friends in the Conservative Party really believe that? As regards the European arrest warrant, will we have 26 separate extradition treaties with our colleagues? The whole idea is absurd. What would we lose? We would lose our position in Europol and all the successes that cross-border co-operation has so far achieved.
I therefore hope that they will look at the evidence and will approach the matter pragmatically. It seems to me that the evidence is-and it makes common sense-that the mass opt-out and bilateral approach will be a severe handicap in our fight against crime and terrorism. Is the Conservative Party truly ready to prejudice these aims of fighting against crime and terrorism for the sake of an ideological, visceral dislike of Brussels?
The Prime Minister sought to bring together the divergent views which existed within the Conservative Party, but it remains to be seen how successful that will prove to be over the coming months and years. I welcome the Prime Minister's continued commitment to continued membership of the European Union, his acknowledgement of its achievements and his view that its original objectives of peace and reconciliation should not be taken for granted. Although he believes that the overriding purpose of the Union is now not to win peace but to secure prosperity, the two still go together, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield made clear this morning. The prospect of EU membership remains a powerful motivation in those parts of the continent where the ideals of peace and democracy have only recently been or are still to be achieved. For them and for others the European Union is more than just a trade deal.
The Prime Minister recognises that some of the changes he wants can be achieved by amendments to existing European legislation, but he also states clearly that he wants treaty change, and I believe that this may be more difficult. We seem to believe that we have a great opportunity to achieve treaty change for our benefit because the eurozone member states want to make changes for the economic governance of the eurozone. Having lectured them on the need to "get a grip", as I believe the phrase was, and sort themselves
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Will the Minister say whether account has been taken of the procedures by which we are bound under the treaties with regard to treaty change, which require conventions and intergovernmental conferences unless it is not significant? I presume that the Prime Minister thinks that he is going for something significant. The timing is important, because until the process is complete how will the British people know what they are voting for or against?
We will not get our own way in negotiations by giving the impression that our partners need us more or as much as we need them. The tone we apply to our partners also has to change. The Government would do well to remind themselves of what the Polish Foreign Minister said, which was already referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, that,
Perhaps more controversially, the Conservative Party needs a rapprochement with our natural allies in the EPP. If we can govern in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, surely we can have a sensible relationship in the EU with the EPP.
I fear that the demands of those who want a trade deal with no strings-all benefits and no burdens-will increase no matter what the Prime Minister announces, whatever and whenever he wishes to negotiate. History has proved them insatiable; UKIP policy is not the policy of the Conservative Party and my noble friend knows from her previous incarnation that people should not stand for election as Conservatives using the Tory party as an umbrella for otherwise unelectable UKIP views.
If the UK is to stay in the EU, as the Prime Minister wishes, he has to start the fight now, otherwise we will find ourselves out of the European Union as a result of an uncontrolled drift in that direction.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, for introducing this debate today. I will address one very specific point about the Prime Minister's speech that raises a serious constitutional issue around the Civil Service.
The difficult point is the commitment that the legislation is drafted before the next election. That is difficult because it is clear that the policy is not government policy or coalition policy. It is specifically Conservative Party policy. Noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches have made that very clear today.
That raises the question of who will draft the legislation before the next election. If it were to be done by lawyers independent of the Government, there would be no problem. However, of course, all legislation in this country is drafted by the parliamentary
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If the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party plan to use the Civil Service for this purpose, they must think again, otherwise why should not the other party of Government, the Liberal Democrats, ask for completely different legislation to be drafted before the next election? Why should not my own party, the Labour Party, also ask for draft legislation to be prepared? After all, according to current polls we are more likely to win the next election.
This is a coalition Government, as we are reminded over and over again. They are not a Conservative Government, and they have to instruct the Civil Service as the Government of the day, not as a political party. Of course, it is perfectly reasonable and right for the Prime Minister to say that he would expect the legislation to be drafted, but if he wants it done by the civil servants, that has to be done after an election that his party has won. The Prime Minister must recognise that he is Prime Minister because he is in a coalition, not because his party won a majority at the 2010 election.
Lord Dykes: My Lords, I very much thank my noble friend Lady Noakes for raising this debate on a most important subject. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, for raising a most disturbing constitutional point, to which I hope the Minister will be able to give us at least a preliminary response today.
I was very glad that the Prime Minister emphasised his apparent desire to remain a member of the Union. He said that repeatedly. Of course, he did not bring himself to say "full-hearted member", which was in the original Conservative manifesto we remember from many years ago. Apart from some limpid support from a few Czech politicians, the UK stands chillingly alone yet again in this chauvinistic posture.
Despite the eurozone crisis last year, most new member states are anxious to join in the euro, which they see remains a strong international currency, unlike sterling. That is one very important point that we have to acknowledge as we now see the eurozone economy and markets recovering. Instead of getting on with strengthening the Union to create a greater and greater collective sovereignty for all the members, which of course remain individual sovereign countries as well, a small number of witless-I am sorry to use that word-Tory MPs, scared of the euro and of UKIP in equal measure, have forced a foolish PM to abandon his own exhortation five years ago for his party to stop banging on about Europe all the time.
Struggling, therefore, to contain the atavistic forces that he has now unleashed, Mr Cameron will henceforth lead a country teetering on the brink of resolving its incoherent European policies in favour of either long-term half-membership or perhaps complete separation. The others are by now getting so fed up with the antics coming from Britain from one of the parties in the coalition that the bad member of the club is now
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I am very glad to see, in contrast, that the Deputy Prime Minister is not going along with all this nonsense about an in-out referendum, to be promulgated many years before any real negotiations begin. The public must by now be thoroughly bemused by the twists and turns of the superficial referendumitis arguments by all politicians of all parties, with the dubious exception of Mr Nigel Farage and his colleagues.
My right honourable friendhas clarified the latest position in asserting that it makes sense to wait before suggesting such a drastic step, since, sadly, we still have the very unappetising EU Act of 2011 on the statute book. After all, even a dubiously worded referendum at some stage in the future would be dealing, presumably, with powers returning to the UK rather than going away, were such a negotiation to be feasible, which is, as Ken Clarke said in the launch yesterday, a big "if".
Parliament is constantly undermined. Our Conservative colleagues always say that they admire and respect history. Why do they undermine it by always talking about referendums when we made all the major decisions in British history without establishing Parliament's authority again and again. That is what we need to do in this country.
Finally, why is it that myopic Tory politicians strongly approve of British companies being international, even to the extent sometimes of being slack on paying national taxes, but believe that countries have to be national only? This is a peculiar division and we need more clarification.
Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, I suggest that the Prime Minister's speech is a curate's egg-some good some bad. I include among the bad elements, the commitment to a referendum on a fixed timetable many years ahead on what may well turn out to be a false premise; namely, that wholesale treaty reform will be called for by others in a federating sense. That is not likely. They are more likely to go for rather modest changes to meet the requirements of the eurozone, so I regard that as unwise.
In one speech, the Prime Minister created a whole string of known unknowns. He should not have been playing Russian roulette with major national assets such as membership. I entirely see what the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes-I welcome her initiative in choosing this debate-said was not the end of the world. But nothing done by politicians has ever been the end of the world, yet. That does not mean that they have not done some damn stupid things.
It was wise of the Prime Minister not to choose a long laundry list of things that he wanted changed. Much more careful thought is needed as to how to approach this. I suggest three criteria are needed to be applied to any such changes. The first is: are the changes necessary for Britain's national interest and are they, at the same time, good for the EU as a whole? If the second condition cannot be met, they will not be
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However, we do need a positive agenda and we need that now. We do not need it in 2015 or 2016. We should be pursuing that now and be prepared to go outside the normal British comfort zone of single market completion, enlargement and freer world trade, although those are excellent things that we should be pursuing. But why are we not thinking more actively and intelligently about defence? The effect of austerity on defence budgets is surely pushing us all closer together.
Lord Sheikh: My Lords, as a man who conducts business and addresses conferences overseas, many of the arguments on European integration resonate very strongly with me. The European Union was established as a way of preserving peace and stability between its member states. It was what was needed then, and in the same way we must now react to internal and external changes that are happening in Europe and the world.
This is not about the interests of the United Kingdom versus the interests of other member states; it is about achieving large-scale reform to change the relationship between member states and the rest of the world in everyone's interests. Europe needs to serve its member states better and help them to get the most out of the benefits that such a union provides.
The Prime Minister was very clear that he wants Europe to be a success and as such wants us to be a part of that success, and I share that sentiment. Europe itself is changing and we must push to make sure that it properly adapts. The completion of the single market was one of the key aims to which the Prime Minister referred, and rightfully so. This provides a strong foundational framework on which member states can build their economies.
We must allow the diversity of the different EU economies to flourish to increase competitiveness and achieve growth. Bureaucratic red-tape policies must be returned to the UK so that we can make our own judgments based on what works best for business here at home. I also agree with strengthening the role of national parliaments within the EU, as they are without a doubt the most democratically accountable and legitimate form of governance to their people.
Laws and regulations have been heaped on to British families and businesses from a foreign land, in a Parliament that they did not elect, and with a one-size-fits-all mentality. That is why I support the decision to hold a referendum in the next Parliament. People can then decide for themselves what will be in the best interests of their own country, and the integrity of the resulting decision cannot be questioned.
I also believe that the vast majority of people in this country would like us to remain in a union that helps us when we need it, allowing us to take good things from it but without inflicting unwanted repressive policies on its member states.
It is the job of the Government to get the best deal for their people, and this is exactly what the Prime Minister wants to do in negotiating a new settlement. It also makes sense to wait until the current turbulent waters have calmed before deciding what the future would hold for us in the union. Allowing member states the autonomy and liberty to do what is best for their people and their economies will enable us to contribute that much more and, I believe, form an even stronger bond of shared values and co-operation. I say this as a Conservative and ultimately as a supporter of the future of the European Union.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, I have three short minutes, and I will make three brief reflections. The first is that I have an overwhelming sense that this is where I came in. In 1960, I joined the Foreign Office as a desk officer responsible for Europe-political. At that time, after the failure to join the Rome treaty in 1957, the Conservative Government realised the danger of isolation and thrashed around trying to construct alternatives, hence the EFTA cul-de-sac, trying to build a relationship with a new Europe-for example by constructing an enhanced role for the Western European Union. In time, the Government and the people acknowledged that other alternatives were pipe dreams and that our future lay with our European partners.
The second is that Mrs Thatcher never threatened to leave the Community, however hard she fought her corner. Now, her political children, egged on by a nationalist press, seek to take events a stage further. They see little or no good in the current European Union and seek vainly for false alternatives. What is certain is that, outside the European Union, we would be a lesser attraction for foreign investment. We would have less clout in trade negotiations, and the best deals are possible when we work with our partners inside the Union.
Finally, I come to the Prime Minister's speech on behalf of the Conservative part of the coalition. I have some sympathy for him as he has the impossible task of reconciling our partners and his party. He fails to recognise that international relations are essentially human relations. Some critics may well say that the Conservatives in opposition were too busy with their outside interests to build valuable personal relations with their natural partners: hence the Prime Minister's absurd decision to leave the EPP, the family of the centre right, which led only to a mutual misunderstanding.
The EU is a club, and we are unlikely to persuade sympathetic club members if we threaten to leave. Suddenly and belatedly, the Conservative Party is beginning to appreciate the need for friends, particularly Germany, where 74% of the population supports the UK remaining within the EU. Thus, for the first time, the Foreign Secretary will participate in the Königswinter conference in May. However, let us look at the German
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Lord Blair of Boughton: My Lords, it is a privilege to listen to so many excellent speeches. I am neither a constitutional expert, nor a political expert on Europe, but I know a little about criminal justice and I want to use this occasion to draw some comparisons and to make some observations about the Government's indication that they might wish to opt out of the European justice and home affairs provisions. A committee of your Lordships' House, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, is examining this. Here is a flavour of some of the answers they are receiving to that question.
Of course, the opt-out on criminal justice is not the subject of this debate. I just want to use it as a way of looking at what would happen if you extended away from dealing with an important but minor part of the third pillar of some part of the European conventions to attempt to renegotiate our entire relationship with Europe. I draw your Lordships' attention to an excellent article by Hugo Brady of the Centre for European Reform, entitled: Britain's 2014 Justice Opt-out: Why it Bodes Ill for Cameron's EU Strategy. He lists five reasons, but I am only going to talk about two. The first is Scotland. Policing and criminal justice are devolved powers, so it seems ill-advised for the Westminster Government to announce that they want to give up something that the Scots clearly want to keep in the same year as the referendum on independence.
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