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Lord Bruce of Donington: It is always a pleasure to follow the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, with regard to convergence. Although I propose to touch on that matter lightly at a later stage, it is already clear--and I trust that my noble friend Lord Peston has taken note of it--that some rather creative accounting has been adopted by some of the member states in order to attain the required convergence criteria as laid down in the Maastricht treaty.
Be that as it may, I observed at an earlier stage in the debate that my noble friend Lord Randall suggested that this debate was redundant anyway; that there was no point in holding it; that the matter had been resolved already by the signature of the treaty itself; and he could not see what all the fuss was about. Perhaps after he has been in the House a little longer he will be aware of the traditional purpose of this House, which is, among other things, to give the other place the opportunity to think again about certain controversial matters.
Perhaps a little unusually I propose to adopt the advice which this House very often gives to another place; to suggest that everybody thinks again about this, nothing more and nothing less. Matters are not quite as clear as they sometimes appear from the utterances of the more forthright advocates. This is one of those cases. I must plead guilty to not being backward in stating my views with some frankness. I believe that that is all to the good of Parliament.
Indeed, this discussion that we are holding this afternoon is not taking place in a vacuum. It is taking place within a current climate of opinion in our country. The matters that we are discussing receive the attention occasionally of the BBC and sometimes of the various broadsheets, yea even unto the Sun. Therefore, we are not talking about the whole question within a vacuum.
I venture to suggest to the Committee that perhaps there are some delusions about. They have been due mainly to people talking in terms of generalities. Such picturesque terms have been used as "missing the bus", "being late for the train", "being not at the core of Europe" and other such quite meaningless observations that have no relevance at all to what is in fact happening in the real world.
I suggest that by a combination of those factors and the massive propaganda that has been forthcoming, not entirely without the financial aid provided by the European Commission itself, there are three illusions or delusions that are current. The first delusion is the nature of the present European system, the EEC system itself. The second delusion is that it can work. The third delusion is that it is bound to work in the future because it could not possibly be a failure. Those views are expressed in very general terms.
I should like to examine each of them as impartially as I can--and there is some doubt about that, I am well aware. But what is the EEC system at the moment? Let us consider its characteristics. It is, of course, a competitive economy in general terms throughout the various countries in Europe and in varying degrees. But there is substantial deviation from that in the CAP itself, which propounds an economic method of conducting our farming affairs which is totally at variance with the basic concept of competition. Indeed, ever since 1975, when I first joined the European Parliament, its total reform has been under discussion. It is nearly a quarter of a century since everyone who articulated on it agreed that the CAP was a complete disaster.
What then is the system? It is simply that. But the other characteristic of the system is that its component parts, in terms of its institutions, are not accountable to anyone. The European Commission is not accountable to anyone. I have no doubt that it has many admirable people working in it; and, indeed, some of them are known to me. Some of them are distinguished; some of them are less distinguished. I would not presume to try to differentiate between any of them personally.
However, I invite Members of the Committee to consider that those organisations are not necessarily the last word in economic, financial or business affairs. I have not heard anyone say that they have any special claim to our affections on that ground. They are not accountable to anyone. Yet they are the principal engine of the policies. They are the principal authors and instigators of the various treaties that we are considering. But what special qualifications do they have for that? To whom are they accountable? Where is democracy?
I am a little old fashioned in that in my earlier political days, from 1935 onwards, I was a great believer in democracy--I still am. However, I do not see anything democratic there. I can see bureaucracy and it is clear that the bureaucracy has become enormously powerful. Nor can the possibility be excluded--I put it at its mildest--that they may possibly be considering their own interests, their own futures and their own professions rather than of necessity the welfare of the people whom they are seeking to influence.
The same applies to the European Central Bank. It is appointed; it is not responsible to anyone. There is no democracy there. The same also applies to the other institutions. There is the European Parliament itself. What claim do those involved have to be democratic other than having one Member of Parliament per half a million electors, most of whom they will never see? Certainly they have no claim in the ordinary sense to be "representative" as we understand the term. So there is a democratic deficit right from the beginning.
Lest it be said that the Council of Ministers is democratic, I should point out that it has no opportunity to be so. It can act only on the proposals coming from the Commission. That is enshrined in every presidential declaration. Every meeting of Ministers issues a communique afterwards. The democratic viability and the accountability of these very powerful organisations does not seem to be called into account.
I respectfully suggest to the Committee that you cannot try to determine policy downwards, without any consultation with people. Ultimately, policies in organisations must always be determined bottom upwards. What has been sought to be done is to impose from above a system to which we are required to conform. I do not believe that that is a very good precedent to follow. You cannot hurt institutions; you cannot even hurt countries: you can only hurt people or benefit them.
What has been happening? Has the system worked? From what I have heard this afternoon it seems that the policies which have been introduced throughout Europe over the past five to 10 years have produced a situation where we now have 20 million unemployed, and that figure is still rising. Since when has that been equated with economic success? I am a little surprised sometimes to note a sudden conversion, not least among those with whom I would normally regard myself to be politically associated, to the view that unemployment is at tolerable levels in this country; whereas the policy in the past has definitely been that unemployment is a price well worth paying. Yet, at present, we seem to be
Therefore, even on those grounds, the deflationary policies (that have been elaborated, once again, under the same auspices as the Treaty of Maastricht and the Treaty of Amsterdam) which we are now required to follow, not merely by argument but actually in a treaty, have proved to be completely disastrous for a large proportion of the population, not only of our country but of Europe as a whole.
It has not succeeded; on the contrary, it has failed. Yet the Euro-speak on the subject claims that it has all been a wonderful success. I hope that my Government will be able to convince me that the formal incorporation into the treaty and its confirmation under Amsterdam, subject to certain penal conditions, is the state of affairs that we should not only tolerate but also support. As noble Lords have pointed out, we live in a competitive society. Yet, when it comes to action in the monetary field, we find suddenly that competition is going to disappear.
Economic and monetary union--so far as Europe is concerned--is the financial form of the common agricultural policy. It tries to fix things by convergence; on what intellectual basis I do not have the remotest idea. I have always thought that competition, subject to restraints affecting the difference between capital and consumer goods, is a good thing. But now we propose to try to abolish it over 15 member states, and possibly even more. This surely is not the way to secure optimal results in the financial services field, any more than it is in the agricultural field which has once again turned out to be--as is well known--an abysmal failure.
I suggest that we have to think about these things again. We often hear observations from this non-accountable body on the effectiveness of the regulations that it brings forth from time to time and which are of course incorporated--now almost automatically--into English law. What sometimes it forgets is that the regulations have brought havoc to large numbers of small businesses that have proved quite incapable of dealing with the regulations as they are translated into action by our own civil servants here and by our own bureaucracy. Scores of small businesses have been ruined because of the meticulous enforcement of regulations issued from Brussels. Incidentally, when those regulations are received by other countries, there seems to be a curious reluctance to enforce them whenever that suits the particular country concerned.
I do not need to remind the Committee of the gendarmerie looking on in France while British sheep are slaughtered and burnt. There are many other cases. It is well known on the Continent that there is a general tendency to obey regulations only when it suits. We of course are brought up in an entirely different way. We are all law-abiding citizens--at least I hope so. I venture to suggest that my noble friend Lord Grenfell may have some illusions about the stability pact--the text of the resolutions of which I read carefully last night--together
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