My Lords, it was challenging to hear the most reverend Primate’s intervention this morning. So what are the strategic issues facing the UK, Europe and the world? Overridingly, they are those of the environment and climate change: not only the need for effective control of pollution but the need to face up to the vast movement of people which will be an inevitable consequence of what is happening.
We are constantly preoccupied here in the UK with immigration, but that is part of the wider challenge of migration in the world as a whole. As we debate here today, let us remember that there are in the real world more than 20 million refugees and 39 million displaced people. How will we have any kind of stable future unless we have effective strategic policies to meet that reality? What about international terrorism? There is no way in which we can solve that and the issues that stem from it and lie behind it on an insular basis. There has to be co-operation. I had the privilege of serving on the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee when it was taking this issue very seriously. I hardly heard a front-line practitioner working in this area who did not say that to be leaving the European Union would make the work more difficult and less effective.
There are also the issues of international crime and corruption, which similarly require collective action. Among the economic issues are non-renewables and human resources. Nearer home, in our immediate situation, we have heard a good deal in the debate so far about Ireland, where it is crucial that preserving the stability which has been won through Good Friday agreement is high in our priorities.
There are other issues which are global. We need a well-educated population, certainly in our own country but across the world, to meet these challenges. Education that is relevant in our present context requires an international dimension. That means movement of people. If we are to fulfil the creative potential of our society, freedom of movement is crucial, because we want informed and creative activity, with people from different backgrounds working closely together.
What is the European story against all this? On the European Coal and Steel Community and the story of the evolution of the European institutions since, there is a tendency in this country, and certainly in this House, to talk about the European story simply in economic terms and say, “We didn’t want to get involved in all this political stuff; we thought it was an economic arrangement”. That is simply naive. The whole European story has been political from the start. Of course, the European Economic Community and the European Coal and Steel Community were economically important, but they were a means for moving towards a stable, collaborative, strong Europe.
Under successive Administrations, we have never imaginatively embraced this. I was Minister for Europe in the early years of our confirmed membership. I can remember recognising that we had an imaginative, visionary battle to be won. We have been dominated by what is in it for us.
I find that, against this background, a general election is crucial. I am sad to find myself differing strongly from the Liberals on this point, because I so often find myself almost inspired by what they have to say on the Europe issue. This is not a separate issue. It is intimately connected to all the political issues that face us. We have to evaluate the relevance and effectiveness of the institutions against how far they help or hinder our response to all the issues I have been listing.
We have got to be very careful here in Parliament. The young, the professionals, the business community, the trade unions, much of the leadership in the services—as real players in the real world, they understand how much we are dependent upon the world and how much, therefore, our involvement with Europe is crucial to us playing our full part in serving the purposes of our own people and the people of other nations in facing up to what confronts us.
I think these are dangerous times. I think that political leadership has been badly lagging behind and that so many of the key people in our society have run far ahead in their imagination and thinking of where the political community here in Britain finds itself. Without vision, we are lost. That means being sure that what is before us faces up to the magnitude of the challenge. I do not believe that what is before us begins to suggest that these huge, overarching issues are at the centre of government thinking. We need a general election desperately. If we cannot have that, with all its flaws and inadequacies there must be renewed authority and that means another referendum.