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House of Lords: EU Scrutiny (EUC Report)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:05 pm on 27th October 2006.

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Photo of Lord Selsdon Lord Selsdon Conservative 1:05 pm, 27th October 2006

My Lords, I suffer from a disadvantage in that for several reasons I am interested in climate change. First, I feel the change in weather. I guess that the barometer pressure has dropped by two points since we entered your Lordships' Chamber today. Secondly, over time things change and we have political change. When my wife gave me the latest modern electronic barometer on my birthday this morning, I realised that I had been in your Lordships' House for almost 44 years. I am now at last in the senior form comprising those above the average age.

Some 32 years ago I served on one of the committees mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. Frankly, I regard the European Union as yesterday's story. In those early days when I was treasurer of the Conservative Group for Europe and later when I worked, at a much lower level than the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Ludgate, in one of the great banking groups, I was suddenly told that I was in charge of the European Union aspect. I was told of the impact that it might have on our great banking group and its customers, clients and others. If you were in the merchant banking world, you had clients. If you were in a clearing bank, you had customers. The difference was that in one the assets went up and down in the lift every day but in the other they remained in the basement and wasted away.

When I was a young Member of your Lordships' House I was selected by great names. I was put on a European committee to discuss the future position of the Conservative Party as we were likely to enter the European Union. I made the mistake of speaking one day. I was told afterwards that I was there to listen, not to speak because this European lark would take such a long time that by the time it happened I would probably be the only one alive. I am repeating some of the things I may have said 30 or 40 years ago. Then I was sent out to speak to the nation. I was very proud. I was asked to speak in draughty village halls. The number of noble Lords present today would have constituted an enormous audience in those days. But I did not realise that I was a stand-in for someone who did not want to drive north in the cold weather. As I travelled around those places I promoted the idea of Europe and the great opportunities that it would present for us. In those days we said that it was Britain's business to be in Europe, that we wanted to get in, have a free market, earn money and that it would be profitable for us. Your Lordships will be aware that at that time the great Labour Party was so totally opposed to any form of European concept that when we had the referendum it practically refused even to participate. When we wanted to send our first delegation to the European Parliament, it refused to send anybody and I had the job of raising money for Peter Kirk and his team because the Treasury could not get a vote on that as it would have meant putting it through Parliament.

Now the political climate has so changed that the Labour Party, realising the great power of the European communion—