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Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, noble Lords will remember that one of the most endearing characters of Evelyn Waugh's satirical novels was a Prime Minister who rejoiced in the name of Outrage. Members of your Lordships' House will be as aware as I am that that name was bestowed in the spirit, perhaps, of exasperated irony. Synthetic outrage has long been one of the less effective weapons of professional politicians in every part of the body politic of this country. The noble Lord, Lord Shore, has never been prone to synthetic outrage. I am sure that your Lordships will be aware that the speech to which we have just listened was prompted not only by a typically genuine sense of the sentiments which he expressed but, beyond peradventure, given the arguments the noble Lord deployed, it was a speech that was very difficult to view in terms other than those he used.
We are considering here a genuinely outrageous piece of special pleading by what we are assured is not a superstate, as the noble Lord said, but possibly a superpower. Perhaps the noble Lord can define the difference between those two terms. I find it rather difficult.
I am honoured to be able to add my name to the amendments so ably proposed by the noble Lord. I shall not repeat the arguments that he set before us with such passion and clarity. I agreed with every single word. But I would ask your Lordships to remember that we are constantly assured by the proponents of the development of increasing European unity that we live in some form of association of nation states, that any sovereignty that we have lost has been pooled and, indeed, that were we to feel at any time that we had given away too much, theoretically at least this Parliament remains sovereign.
But let us keep to this fiction. We know that if it is true, in the end this Parliament must have the independence and authority to do what we are assured it still can do. If it is going to exert that independence and authority, I would suggest that the means by which we reach either House of Parliament and the rules which apply must be wholly within the control of the authorities which govern such matters. That authority must ultimately remain within the Palace of Westminster and nowhere else.
If that is so, then surely it is very peculiar that in a Bill that purports to do some very necessary things in order to make sure that our electoral system is not only fair and clean but is seen to be fair and clean--I applaud, as I think I have made clear during the passage of the Bill through the House, the objectives of the Bill although I quarrel with some of the means the Government have chosen to use to achieve them--the only two exceptions that are allowed as far as concerns foreign funding are, first, the potential foreign funding of the United Kingdom's parties by potential terrorists or active terrorists and, secondly, funding from other countries within the European Union and not countries within the Commonwealth or any other association of which we are a member. As the noble Lord said, the inconsistency is so glaring as to make the Government's position laughable.
I am so pleased that the noble Lord quoted his honourable friend Mr Tipping whose words are set out as clearly as may be in the Official Report of another place. The Government themselves accept in principle that it is a bad idea, so there is nothing between us here. But what we have is something completely different. The Government accept in principle that it is a bad idea, that it is inconsistent and that it goes against what they promised in their party manifesto and what they intend to put into operation through the Bill, yet they meekly accept the interpretation they have been given of Articles 43 and 46. I find that utterly astonishing.
I may not have been a very forceful Minister. When I first became a Minister I was a very callow one. But I hope noble Lords will accept that if I profoundly disagreed with the effects of a piece of technical advice that I was given I would do my best to ensure that the advice was in effect bomb-proof. From his quotation of that French opinion, the noble Lord, Lord Shore, has made it clear that this is anything but bomb-proof.
That may be one interpretation. There is another more sinister one which I could not believe would be possible in respect of someone so honourable and charming as the noble Lord, Lord Bassam. But one has to ask oneself, cui bono? Who will benefit from the funding that will come pouring in under this loophole from our friends in our great European home? It will be interesting to see who would be prepared to finance the general election in May. People will be interested. I have to make a confession to the House. Some years ago I had a friend--a business associate of mine--who was much interested in the results of some close-fought Greek elections. He suggested to me that because of the Greek electoral regulations, with which I was not familiar and did not wish to be familiar, I should make a personal donation to his party which would change the result of a key constituency on, if I remember correctly, the island of Lesbos. I hope your Lordships would approve of the fact that I rejected the opportunity of having such a splendid influence on the future of one of our European partners, as perhaps at that stage the Republic of Greece had just become.
It is a two-way street. If you are a businessman in one country, it is easy to realise that it is to your advantage to influence the political outcome of what happens in another. If it was true of my Greek friend, it would certainly be true in what is now the fourth biggest economy in the world that it would be to the advantage of people outside to influence what happens here. The problem is even more apparent--in this respect the second of the two amendments is more important--when it comes to the matter of referendums. After all, we know that vast sums of our money are already being spent on trying to ensure that we take a favourable view, rightly or wrongly--I happen to think, wrongly--of what is happening in our great European home. It is clear that that skews the amount of propaganda pouring down on to the British people, just as the funding rules set out in the Bill for the funding limits on referendums skew it further. If the amendments of my noble friend Lord Shore--I must call him my noble friend despite the conventions of the House--are not accepted, we shall find ourselves the subject not only of those first two distortions to the equity of any referendum but we shall find ourselves saddled with a third.
The Government know that they are wrong. Mr Tipping has said so. They know that they have been feeble. I hope that the Minister will be able to give a good example to his colleagues down the corridor of how Ministers should behave in matters of this kind.
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, I deeply sympathise with the Government's dilemma which is expressed at some length in the Bill before us today. As my noble friend Lord Shore pointed out, both parties
Those of us who have spent our lives in politics as such and in party politics as such and in arguing the various political philosophies to the people at large fancy that we can change the destiny of our country. We assume subconsciously that people are persuaded by rational argument put forward under completely fair conditions and that ultimately the people, thinking deeply, make up their own minds as to which course of action they will take and therefore how they will use their ballot papers. We know that that is not true.
The real power in politics is money. Even though it may not buy individual MPs, money has the power to create the climate within which people think. Money is able to buy editors and newspapers. It is able to control the entire climate of opinion in the country except for a few dissenters--like me and some of my colleagues who are occasionally prone to dissent when it suits us. We refuse to acknowledge that money is the problem we have to tackle. No matter what rules are set out in the Bill--I admire the diligent way in which it has been put together--money power can wipe them away in a fortnight. It is money that buys the means by which the public get to know what is really happening.
The public is already subject to considerable constraints. The amount of time for thinking that even dedicated politicians can set aside per day is extremely limited--and then look at what they get. Even democrats like us--what do we get? We are given stories, handed down by those who do not necessarily base their contributions on fact but who give the impression that they are the ones who really know what is happening. We are told of leaked minutes which allege what has taken place in Cabinet meetings. We are given the individual views of spin doctors as regards where certain politicians stand in the esteem of their fellows; what rows are taking place between them; and progress reports on the ebb and flow of power in the upper circles. We do not know whether any of it is true. Generally, it is this kind of information which forms the climate of public opinion.
In the ordinary way, we could wage the battle between democracy and money--it has been waged for many years--very much better than we are without any great personal effort. The first thing we could do would be to limit the powers of the bureaucracy. One of the main sources of power nowadays, suitably supplied by money, is in fact the members of the international bureaucracy. I do not refer to all of them--I am quite prepared to accept that they are honourable men--but it is in their nature to want to rule. Where there is an intellectual vacuum, which I
The Council of Ministers in Europe has been referred to by my noble friend and by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. That body does not rule at all. The Commission rules and it is composed of bureaucrats. Most of the material that comes from the Commission never alights on the desk of any parliamentarian. We pretend that everything is subject to scrutiny, but we all know that that is not the case. Most of the proposals, important or otherwise, pass straight into law under the provisions of Article 2 of the original treaty. We are not even in control of that. Furthermore, these are the people to whom we are to give way again.
Perhaps I may offer a simple illustration. The budget of the European Community, to which, noble Lords will note, we contribute £3.5 billion net every year, is finally determined by the European Parliament. We are given the impression that it is under democratic control, whereas of course it is not. The individual distribution of the European budget is subject to a system of qualified majority voting. The qualified majority system means that the money goes exactly where the Commission wants it to go. As we know well from the Maastricht Treaty, the Commission does not hesitate to play one member state against another as regards its budget allocation. Indeed, Maastricht only went through as a result of heavy bribery. I do not refer to normal, political bribery, but to the bribing of Spain and the Republic of Ireland to ensure that they did exactly what was wanted.
We can easily move away from this situation by ensuring that we, as politicians on whichever side of this House or the other place, begin to take control of our own affairs. We must ensure that our domestic affairs are not constantly led by bureaucrats, who are in fact responsible to us. In other words, it is not possible to get rid of the evils--those which my noble friend and his friends in the Government wish to do away with--or of winning the battle for democracy except by dint of hard resolve. We need to study our own part in it. We need to do our best and to argue as best we can. Furthermore, we should take nothing for granted.
Here, I am afraid, is where we are short on the ground. However much the Bill may seek to achieve--I hope sincerely that it is effective--unless we win the battle against the power of money and the power to buy and sell newspaper editors and journalists, we shall lose.
I have spoken for rather too long. Perhaps I may leave this thought with noble Lords: we have a country, to which we all owe an allegiance and of which we are all members. Unless we are prepared to face down the faceless people, who purport to act in good faith on our behalf, and begin to do our own thinking and then conduct matters exactly as we want--subject to the ordinary intercourse of politics--we shall fail. I pray to God that we shall not fail.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, by a curious coincidence, a day or so ago I received a letter from Mr Geoffrey Martin, the head of representations at the European Commission in London. I shall read the letter to noble Lords:
However, if we do not win, then we shall see some amusing consequences; or at least, they would be amusing if they were not so extraordinary. Let us consider the argument which must lie behind this arrangement; namely, if a company in Hungary or Poland were to send a donation today to a political party over here, that would be a wicked and monstrous act of interference in our democratic affairs. But as soon as those countries sign the Treaty of Rome, it would become an agreeable, pleasant and proper way for them to behave. I find that incredible.
Indeed, perhaps some Members of this House are looking forward to the accession of Cyprus to the European Union. After all, from then on, Mr Asil Nadir will be free to contribute to political parties in this country--if he so wishes after the somewhat unpleasant experiences he has had in recent years--all by courtesy of the 15 Ministers who take such decisions in Brussels. As Mr Martin points out, they are not our masters in Brussels; they are our very own friends, taking decisions among themselves.
I cannot see what is the problem for Ministers. They should accept the amendment. They should buy a ticket to Brussels--which will not cost them a penny; it is our money--and go over there and sort it out. It should not take more than an afternoon, if Mr Martin is right.
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