Constitutional Convention - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:40 pm on 13th December 2018.

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Photo of Lord Dykes Lord Dykes Liberal Democrat 1:40 pm, 13th December 2018

My Lords, I agreed with every single line of what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, but is it not a pity that I could not persuade her to be in favour of the European Union? That is the one thing lacking in her panoply of subjects and issues. I thank both her and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, whom I have never known make anything other than a very wise speech. I agreed with everything he said, too.

I particularly want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, for his remarks. I will embarrass him deliberately by congratulating him on his speech yesterday evening, alongside Timothy Garton Ash, about the future and what we will give up if we foolishly leave the European Union. He spoke about the history of Europe and what it means to everybody. That applies to us, too. Why do people think we are an exception, talking about “wicked foreigners”? We are not like that. I will annoy everybody by mentioning Brexit; I do not know whether anybody else has; I was out of the Chamber for a while.

I will also annoy everybody by saying that although I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, on his interesting suggestion, which I support, none of these attempts will work until we agree to have a written constitution for the United Kingdom. I am glad somebody mentioned that earlier, as I think the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said. I do not know who it was as I was out with visitors; I shall read the Official Report with interest. People still shy away at the mention of a constitution, saying, “Oh no, that’s a foreign invention. We don’t like that”. The middle paragraph of the excellent committee memo says that there is no movement forward because we cannot get it. It is always in the knapsack of the unruly party-political game. Scotland has been a success because it was removed from that, to some extent, but I will be careful about what I say because I do not want to annoy anyone.

We must think about what leaving Europe means, particularly for younger voters. They, and people travelling and working in other European countries, will lose the European citizenship rights courageously brought in by John Major in the Lisbon treaty. If that treaty is abandoned and we lose those European citizenship rights, as well as pride in our national sovereignty, we are doomed to a foolish system where no one will agree. There is no agreement on party funding, which we have been discussing for years. There is no agreement on changing the voting system; again, I agree with previous remarks. The first-past-the-post system is ludicrous and must be changed, but that cannot be done through politicians. The public will shy away from an agreement to have politicians round the table trying to set things up, so enormous is the hatred of and mistrust towards politicians after what has happened in the past few years.

We need an official body in charge to look at these things dispassionately, not in the way of party politicians fighting their corner, furthering their own interests and not agreeing on anything. We have seen the terrible experience of a paralysed country in the past few years. I did not get on very well with Mrs Thatcher when I was a Conservative MP; I think I was the most left-wing one. Somebody said, “You’re almost as left-wing as Harold Macmillan”. I replied, “That’s impossible”. I remember trying to tell her a joke once, which was a disastrous mistake. I had come from a visit to Germany, where I had seen the Bundestag in action; they were working on privatisation after we had done the same. The coalition government spokesman in the Bundestag said, “We’re going to do three very careful privatisations, after six months of discussions with all parties to get an agreement”. In the Division Lobby, I foolishly told Mrs Thatcher this. She said, “What a mistake. They’re so weak”. The joke was the idea of her agreeing with anyone else, although I suppose the Northern Ireland agreement, for which history will thank her, was the exception in the end.

The voting system must be changed and a written constitution introduced. That must be done through a super-high commission of officials and experts—people from universities and so on—to make sure that the politicians are kept under control and not allowed to rampage around with their prejudices and foolish ideas. Why have we not had agreement on party funding after so many years? Cameron said that we would have a £5,000 maximum. Why has that not been done? The crux of what other European member states say when we go to see them is: why are we paralysed? I also live in France, which has a written constitution. That makes its system much more democratic than ours; I am sorry to say it but that is the reality. The more we go on with our pride in our past and our historical empire analogies, the more doomed we will be.