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Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, perhaps I can tempt the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, a little further and ask whether he feels that the United Kingdom should also withdraw from the European Convention on Human rights. It has much the same effect on domestic law.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, of course the United Kingdom could withdraw from the convention. Also, that is now being entrenched not only into the law of the United Kingdom, but also the law of the European Union. That is the key point. That is the point which we should be discussing. We should be taking the bold view and choosing between the view of the noble Lord, Lord Russell-Johnston and the view of the noble Lord, Lord Tombs, instead of pretending that we are not taking any radical decisions at all and are simply engaged in improving the organisation of the European Economic Community.
Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, it has been a privilege to sit by the side of my noble friend Lord Russell- Johnston and listen to his maiden speech. I congratulate him on it. I did not find that the description of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, as regards one part of my noble friend's speech, related to what I heard. If my noble friend has a weakness, it is not in being economical with the truth; it is in being generous about the processes that he himself went through as someone who has believed deeply for many years in creating a European Union.
I always listen to the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, with great interest because I know how deep his convictions are on these matters. However, speaking for myself, from the time that I first became a deep believer in the benefits for Britain, Europe and the human race generally of creating an "ever-closer Union"--to use the language of the treaty--I have always put forward the argument for the pooling of sovereignty. It is my recollection--I may be at fault because I never followed the speeches of the Conservative leader too closely--that Sir Edward Heath also continually emphasised the argument that going in for European integration was a process of pooling sovereignty and that the advantages for the future lay in pooling sovereignty rather than standing absolutely pat on what was becoming an increasingly out-of-date concept of national sovereignty.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. I do not want to prolong my speech, nor indeed his. I say only this: sovereignty cannot be pooled; it lies in one place or another. It cannot be pooled.
Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, in view of the time I do not wish to continue this argument at any length. But, for example, the collective security in which we took part in NATO did more than anything else to
I want to deal briefly with one specific British aspect of our approach to the Treaty of Amsterdam. I share my noble friend's view that it is a rather disappointing treaty. But it is a modest treaty. It is consequential on Maastricht and certainly contains many things that will need close examination in the Committee stage of the Bill to obtain clarification from the Government as to how they mean to implement its provisions. My noble friend Lady Williams described some of those in some detail, for example, in the field of human rights.
For my part, I believe the advantage of the Treaty of Amsterdam is that it represents the first step in the reconciliation between the United Kingdom and its European partners. The new Labour Government, after 1st May, were faced with the difficult task of going into the Treaty of Amsterdam discussions after a long period of total sterility in the IGC brought about by the attitude of the previous Conservative government.
I want to draw attention to the fact that this debate on the ratification of the Treaty of Amsterdam coincides not only with the British presidency of the European Union, but also with the 25th anniversary of British membership of the Community. It is a sobering thought, certainly for someone who has held the beliefs that I have held over these years, when one looks over the 25 years to find that 23 of the 25 years saw Britain with a reluctant or sometimes hostile government towards the Community. It was only in the first year of membership, in 1973 under the prime ministership of Sir Edward Heath and now in 1998 under the prime ministership of Tony Blair, that we have a Britain that at government level is showing itself to be enthusiastic for British membership of the European Union, making a success both of that membership and the Union itself.
Against the sobering perspective of 23 out of 25 years when we have been the odd man out, I draw two main lessons for the Government in conducting their presidency of the European Union. The first lesson is that we should not become too self-congratulatory about the welcome the new Government are presently enjoying from the rest of the members of the European Union. Sir Edward Heath had the same experience in 1973 and neither he nor indeed the welcome lasted very long.
Our present Prime Minister, with his massive majority, is fortunately immune from the domestic political problems which forced Sir Edward out of Downing Street after only one year of British membership of the Community. But since then we have a lot of leeway to make up. First, there was the Labour government's largely cosmetic renegotiation in 1974, ending with a decisive referendum of the British people in favour of remaining in the Community. Then there were the long years of the hostility of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, the then Prime Minister followed by John Major's ambiguities as Prime Minister in the face of a rising floodtide of Tory Euro-scepticism. No wonder that
The residual distrust of Britain as a full-hearted member of the European Union has deep historical roots. When I was a young MP at the Council of Europe in the 1950s, I found a bruised sense of disillusion on the mainland of Europe over the attitude of Winston Churchill, who had just returned as Prime Minister. In opposition, as older Members of your Lordships' House will remember, he made a famous speech at Zurich in which he proclaimed his vision of a United States of Europe. His oratory converted, among others, the young Helmut Kohl, who will be with us in the City later this week and will perhaps make some mention of that as one of his formative influences. Then, when the Coal and Steel Community was converted at Messina into the EEC, with its aim of an ever-closer political union, Britain dismissed it out of hand as totally misguided and absolutely bound to fail. It took a long climb back during the 1960s by both Conservative and Labour governments over two de Gaulle vetoes to make Britain a member, only to be followed, as I have said, by almost a quarter of a century of dismal confrontation which has diminished seriously our capital of good will.
The British presidency offers a chance to put that history behind us. This brings me to the second lesson I draw from my memories of the British arrival in Brussels in 1973. We found the biggest obstacle we had to face in making a success of British membership lay in the fact that all new members had to accept the administrative and other arrangements the rest had made to meet their own needs in their own interests over the years since the Community was formed. This was the formidable acquis communautaire.
My own responsibility, as one of the Commissioners in Brussels at that time, was to supervise the setting up of the Community's first regional development fund. I do not wish to make too much of that role except to point out that this was a new policy and that the final shape of that major new institution took full account of the needs of all the new members. But a dominating old institution like the common agricultural policy still reflects the vested interests of the original members and has so far defied radical reform over the whole 25 years of British membership.
Now a new major policy is being born--the single currency--to enhance the existing achievement of the single market. Once again, the British Government will not be there at the beginning. Last year the Labour Party refused--I understand it very well as a working politician--to risk losing votes in the general election by making at that time a declaration of principle in favour of trying to join the single currency in the first wave, if all the criteria had been fulfilled. Now, although the Government have a massive majority, their hands are tied and time has run out on being among the founders.
The publicity surrounding the UK presidency is a priceless opportunity to create a positive climate of opinion about EMU in Britain and to speed up the practical preparations for joining. In my view, a referendum could then still be held during the lifetime of the present parliament. As recent statements by senior Conservatives have shown, this is, as it has been over many years, a national matter, transcending party political divisions. It is not an appropriate general election issue.
A clear referendum decision in favour of joining, which I believe would be once again obtained as it was back in 1975, before the next general election would have the advantage of rescuing Mr. William Hague from what is really the nonsense of his compromise policy of "not for 10 years". I can understand a policy of "never" as a matter of principle; I can understand a policy of "as soon as possible"; but a policy of "not for 10 years" seems a very odd one indeed. However, if a referendum were to be held before the general election and the issue were to be out of the way, it is just possible that, after 25 years, at last the issue of continued full-hearted membership of the European Union for Britain might be taken out of the mainstream of British politics.
I say this in conclusion. There is a good deal of talk going around about a single currency being something special and being the end of hundreds of years of British history. I take a different view of this matter. I think we would be deserting hundreds of years of British history if we were to continue opting out of a single currency and of economic and monetary union. We would become a marginalised member of the European Union while the other members went ahead with these great policy developments. Over our history we have always been there helping to shape developments in European diplomacy. The new framework for that is the European Union. We shall cease to be a central member of that greatly at our peril.
Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, the debate we are having on the Second Reading of the Bill is appropriately going wide of the actual contents both of the Bill itself, which we know are negligible, and of the Treaty of Amsterdam. I find no reason to object to that. On the contrary, I welcome it. We will have time enough to look at the details of the Amsterdam Treaty and to weigh up the different claims of "we have no reason for concern or worry" and the opposite anxieties that have been expressed about the further erosion of our own self-government that is entailed in the extension of competence in the treaty.
I am glad that my noble friend who opened the debate encouraged this rather wider scrutiny. He said that we should set the treaty--he tried to do so himself--in the wider context. That is absolutely essential if we are to understand what has happened to Britain and to Europe
No one should doubt that even from the beginning, from the High Authority set up in the European Coal and Steel Community in 1948 and the European Defence Community and European Political Union which were aborted in the 1950s, this thrust towards a new state was there. If anyone has any lingering doubt then please go and read the admirable memoirs of Jean Monnet. In many ways he was the intellectual architect of the whole enterprise. He himself quite openly spoke about and set up the action committee for a United States of Europe as long ago as 1956.
In those earlier years there were quite powerful counter-forces. Above all, there was the opposite vision of a Europe des patries. That was pushed forward by General de Gaulle. For a considerable period of time, although the competence of the European Community and its institutions gradually spread, the countervailing forces of a Europe of nation states--the desire to maintain national independence on many matters--prevented, as it were, the thrust towards a European state from becoming the dominant force. Indeed, I would say that it was recessive until that fatal year 1989. We all know what changed then. There was a change in Community terms in the form of the Maastricht Treaty. But what preceded that and what gave a particular thrust to it was the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the reunification of Germany and the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
Then there was that remarkable, historic change in, above all, French policy on Europe. It was the total abandonment by Mitterrand of the Gaullist concept of a Europe des patries and a passionate thrust by the French to embrace as much as they could of a new Germany, 80 million strong, in the meshes of a new, larger and more embracing European treaty. Was it coincidence or good fortune, because at the same time they had the most powerful president of the Commission--which had an openly federal agenda--working alongside them in the person of Jacques Delors, who was by far the most
Let us just consider for a moment what it embraces. I am quite entitled to talk about Maastricht because the Amsterdam Treaty is simply a minor adaptation of what is in the Maastricht Treaty. That treaty establishes a European citizenship. We know a little about its rights and we shall hear more as the years go by about the obligations of that citizenship. It established economic and monetary union and the commitment to a single currency. It created the two new treaty pillars to encompass both internal domestic legislation, including civil law, immigration and aspects of policing, and external, foreign, security and defence policies.
This marked a major tilt in the balance of forces within the European Community. From that moment onwards it is impossible for any serious student of European affairs to deny that the reality of Europe is now its programme towards a single state. In a sense, the preamble to the treaty itself marks it. It says,
They very nearly actually stated something which was even firmer. The final Dutch draft of the Maastricht Treaty, which was considered in Maastricht by the Council of Ministers on 8th November 1991, just before signing, had these words in Article A, which is the opening article of the Maastricht Treaty:
That dreadful "federal" word was used again in Article W which said that there would have to be an IGC within two years of the signing of the treaty so that further progress could be made in the direction of integrating the European Union.
My understanding is that it was only a desperate, last-minute plea by British representatives in Maastricht which secured the removal of that dread word "federal".
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