Intergovernmental Meeting: Lisbon

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:06 pm on 22 October 2007.

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Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords, Ministry of Justice, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 4:06, 22 October 2007

My Lords, I thank the Lord President for repeating the Statement, and I congratulate the Prime Minister on successfully concluding these negotiations. I hope that we can have a debate very soon on this document on global Europe, which of course none of us has had a chance to read, and on the new agenda set out in the Statement. I realise that that will be a matter for the usual channels, but I sincerely hope that we will have that debate soon. The Statement has about one page of positive statements and a lot of defence in it. I understand the reason for that balance, but is the Lord President aware that we on these Benches agree with the Commons European Scrutiny Committee, which was referred to, that the changes and opt-outs negotiated by Britain make this a different proposition for this country from those proposed earlier in the constitution?

As for the question put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about trusting the British people, my personal view is that Parliament should be wary of going too often to referendums to solve its problems. We are a parliamentary democracy, and these great decisions should be debated and discussed in Parliament, as they have been for the past 700 years. I wonder whether the crocodile tears being shed by the Conservative Party on this matter about the need for a referendum would have more validity if the previous three Conservative Prime Ministers—Mr Heath, Mrs Thatcher and Mr Major—had not carried through far more fundamental changes to our relations with Europe by means of the parliamentary process.

Are not most of the amendments being proposed a direct result of the enlargement of the European Union to 27 states—an enlargement which the Conservative Party enthusiastically supported? Having willed the ends, they wish to throw a spanner into the work of achieving those ends. Anyone who saw Mr Hague on television over the weekend saw the real problem at the heart of the Conservative Party when he was asked about the Early Day Motion that had been tabled by, among others, Mr Bill Cash, Mr Iain Duncan-Smith and Mr John Redwood. The flat Earth society is alive and well in the Conservative Party, and the Conservative leadership must yet work out how it deals with it.

Is the Lord President aware that there was some concern that one of Mr. Brown's first weekend guests at Chequers was Mr. Rupert Murdoch? Can we be assured that the Government will not be bullied, intimidated and threatened by Mr. Murdoch on this matter? When reading the editorials of synthetic outrage about there being no referendum, will the Prime Minister remember that all Mr Murdoch's esteemed editors would stand on their heads tomorrow at one click of their proprietor's fingers? Mr Brown should remember that the two Prime Ministers best remembered for their dealings with the press are Stanley Baldwin, who memorably accused the press barons of his day of practising power without responsibility, and Mr Attlee, who read only the Times and then only for the cricket scores. A similarly robust attitude in the face of self-interested hysteria would do the Prime Minister's reputation no harm.

Finally, in giving this responsibility to Parliament, can we be assured that the Prime Minister and the Government will present their case not in terms of saving Britain from some Brussels monster? For 30 years, successive British governments have given succour to Euro-scepticism by treating every positive outcome as a domestic triumph and every difficult decision as an imposition from Europe. By all means, let us have a robust agenda for reform of the CAP, the democratic deficit or a realistic approach to subsidiarity. However, the Government must use the debate ahead of us to remind the British people of the peace and prosperity that the European Union has delivered. They should also remind the public that none of the global challenges facing us—on the Lisbon agenda, trade, climate change, the fight against terrorism and organised crime, energy supply or our current contribution to peace and stability in the world's trouble spots—is not better made by a Britain working at the heart of a successful Europe.

This is a defensive Statement and, as I said, I understand why, but it is now time for the Government to move on to the front foot in this argument. Given that kind of lead, the Conservative opposition will be seen for what it is: a piece of shoddy opportunism to paper over its own divisions on Europe. If the Government give such a lead, I can assure them that they can rely on the votes of these Benches in seeing this amending treaty through this House.

Annotations

Alan Connor
Posted on 23 Oct 2007 11:35 pm (Report this annotation)

" wonder whether the crocodile tears being shed by the Conservative Party on this matter about the need for a referendum would have more validity if the previous three Conservative Prime Ministers—Mr Heath, Mrs Thatcher and Mr Major—had not carried through far more fundamental changes to our relations with Europe by means of the parliamentary process"

But the treaties signed by the tories, whilst abhorant did not bring into play a ratchet clause, that means no more treaties are needed, no need to go to national parliaments, no say for the public YET again.

Remember the rights that Labour party is trying to give away, are not theirs to give! Parliament is NOT SOVEREIGN, the people are! We loan our rights so the government in office can enact laws to our advantage. These rights are recalled at every general election, when we have the right to get rid, dismiss or sack any government we wish to!

This government does not have a mandate to give any powers away without going to the people, for to do so, will guarantee blood will be shed by the political classes, when the public exact their retribution! Make no mistake gentlemen, be warned the lion is stirring!

Alan Connor
Posted on 23 Oct 2007 11:39 pm (Report this annotation)

This treaty has been agreed by a government with no mandate, no permission, no authority, no consent, transferring the powers of our government to an alien entity in Brussels. Thus, to paraphrase Rainsborough, "we hath not had a voice to put ourselves under".

That being the case, we "are not bound in a strict sense" to this government. It is not our government. It acts without our consent. To it we owe no loyalty, no obligations and no duties, only those which it can extort from us by dint of the brutal force which underwrites the power of the State. But that which we give is not given willingly, or at all, other than under the threat of force.

Roger Osborn
Posted on 24 Oct 2007 7:51 am (Report this annotation)

His Lordship misses the point.

We were promised a referendum. That promise played a material role in labour's re-election manifesto. Without it they may not even be in power and in the position now to go back on their word.
The government believed in a referendum when it was part of their ticket to office, but apparently not since.

For me the real question now is whether the deceit is limited to the party leadership, or does it include every Labour MP who votes it through. Is Kate Hoey the last person of principle left in the Party?