That is certainly what I am about to do. The third MP was my great-grand-uncle, a son of the richest commoner in England. He entered Parliament as Liberal MP for Wakefield. On reaching the Commons, he decided that he much preferred Mr Disraeli to Mr Gladstone, the latter having, of course, formerly been,
“the rising hope of the stern unbending Tories”.
But being a member of our family—and thus, I hope, instinctively—he behaved honourably and never considered crossing the Floor, while being sufficiently practical as to advise his constituency association that it would be prudent to start identifying a new prospective candidate for the next election.
The family’s fourth Liberal MP, the MP for Wakefield’s nephew, was a Unitarian minister who had served as a curate to Phillips Brooks, the great carol-writing American bishop, and who became Member of Parliament for Bethnal Green and Bow—where I was later a constituent of the noble Baroness, Lady King. I have now finished my references to my Liberal ancestors and forebears and will proceed with the relevance and substance of my speech. The last two Members of Parliament were my late noble kinsman and myself.
The reason for this rather long prolegomenon is that the retirement of my family’s final Liberal MP in the East End almost coincided precisely with the retirement of the last Liberal Chancellor of the Exchequer, and so their party has certainly not latterly benefitted from any family contribution of advice. This is why I come back to the virtues of flexibility. I spoke only briefly in Committee on
The deadlock that arose, and which was wholly inflexible at the time, was that Parliament had to have the final say in the budget. In this particular instance, and indeed in others, its budget was, in one sense, a house of cards in that it would take 100% up to the maximum that it was allowed to have. This was secured by a great deal of horse-trading between individual Members of the European Parliament. Let us say for the purposes of this example that, in order to secure the Greek vote, a road through Macedonia, paid for by the EU, was the price. Therefore you could not change the budget in any way because the whole house of cards would collapse if you did.
What the British Government did on that occasion, which resolved the matter not only for that occasion but for any future similar one, was to introduce the concept of a negative reserve. As it was never the case that all the money in the budgets was spent, there was always going to be a surplus of some sort, and enough to take care of any overstatement that we went into when the budget was set.
We earned the good will of our colleagues on the Budget Council by a quite separate intervention that we made when the EU asked us all to pay what we would have paid if the budget had been passed. The amounts for which it asked had no legal or statutory cover, but the fact that we alone challenged them and secured victory in the European court meant that we were extremely popular with our colleagues. Thus, when we came in July to hold the presidency, we were able within two days to get a budget which had been unavailable for the previous six months.
I state that simply to say that I fear the absence of flexibility in a Bill which has been, as I said, brought forward primarily by the Liberal Democrats. Flexibility is so important. It is desirable that anything we can introduce to calm it down is to be looked for.