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("( ) two shall be nominated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as persons appearing to him to hold no opinion as to whether the United Kingdom should stay in or leave the European Union,").
I put forward this amendment because a number of noble Lords, including my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon, at col. 1819 of the report of our Second Reading proceedings, suggested that 1st November this year is too tight a timetable. I had originally thought of 1st November this year because that would have allowed some public attention and debate before the Government's final negotiations at the proposed intergovernmental conference in Nice in December and before they take the drastic step of agreeing to the proposed European defence initiative, the charter of fundamental rights, corpus juris and elements of tax harmonisation, if that is what they will eventually be persuaded to do, as I fear they will be. However, if that timetable is too tight, the new date of 1st February next year should allow the committee's report to see the light of the day before the next General Election, which is, perhaps, a greater priority.
So if the Government have signed up to all the further surrenders of our national sovereignty to Brussels, to which I have referred, and, I fear, maybe others, then at least the electorate would be able to consider these further surrenders in the context of our membership of the European Union generally and have the chance of delivering their verdict at the ballot box.
I am painfully aware that none of our main political parties seems at present likely to fight the next General Election on a manifesto which includes leaving the European Union. Indeed, I spend quite a bit of my time trying to persuade my Conservative colleagues to get ready to do just that, but so far without success.
However, the next election is perhaps a year away, perhaps more, and a year is a very long time in politics. By the time the manifestos are drawn up, we shall probably know what has happened at the Nice IGC in December and what has happened to the other initiatives to which I have referred. We shall also know rather more about the progress, or lack of it, of the euro than we do at the moment. And if this Bill has been enacted, there will be a balanced report before the people and available to the political classes.
Of course, I believe that the report will come down strongly in favour of leaving the European Union and hope that even the Conservative Party would then see the goal which already stands open in front of it. But I could be wrong. I could be wrong because, if it continues in its present frame of mind, I fear that the Conservative Party may, even then, fail to see the open goal.
If that happens, I imagine that the UK Independence Party will give the people the chance to express their feelings about our membership of the European Union and that UKIP will therefore do even better than it did at last year's European elections. But at least the people will have been able to express their view about this most important issue of our time in a General Election which, I may say, they have never been able to do until now or in the past.
The ratchet of ever-closer union of the peoples of Europe, ordained in the Treaty of Rome, has never been reversed. The slices have never been picked up off the floor and put back on the salami. And I do not see why our friends in Brussels should abandon their obvious plans to complete their superstate just to please the United Kingdom, which is getting a little difficult for them--a bit of a bother-boy, even under the present Government.
Finally, I hope that Members of the Committee will not advance the objection that the subject of the inquiry is too vast and complex for it to complete its report, even by 1st February. As I said on Second Reading, much of the economic, constitutional and defence work has already been done. There is a solid body of serious academic study which reveals the true state of our relationship with the European Union. The debate which we have just heard in your Lordships' House no doubt would also be required reading for the proposed committee of inquiry on defence matters.
It is just that no British government have dared to confront all this evidence and draw the obvious conclusions. My fellow Conservatives do not dare to do so because they got us into the mess in the first place; they led us into this quicksand; and, being politicians, they are not very good at confession.
As far as I can tell, the Liberal Democrats have always supported the venture, but it is often difficult to know exactly what they think, especially when they do not pay full attention to debates on the subject in your Lordships' House.
Presumably the Labour Government support Europe because the Prime Minister wants to be emperor of Europe. I can think of no other reason why they want to carry on down the European road. I am not sure how well the Prime Minister's ambitions go down now with the French and the Germans.
Baroness Rawlings: The Committee is grateful for that explanation. I understand the noble Lord wanting more time, as the progress of his Bill may not be as rapid as he would desire. Timing is all important.
However, I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, in explaining one of the reasons why he was extending the timescale, quoted a comment by his noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon, as is his privilege. I prefer another quotation from the noble and learned Lord which I believe sums up the spirit of his intervention at Second Reading. He said:
Of course, I accept that the Minister prefers other parts of the speech of my noble and learned friend Lord Howe at Second Reading. The part that I quoted is just about the only part with which I could bring myself to agree. I believe that my noble and learned friend was Foreign Secretary at the time that he advised my noble friend Lady Thatcher to sign the Single European Act 1985. Alas, she is not with us today, although she was at Second Reading. In retrospect that Act perhaps has done more damage to our independence than anything else.