Tuesday, 26 June 2007

European Union Matters in the House of Lords

Yesterday the House of Lords heard the statement made in the House of Commons about the European Council by the Prime Minister repeated by Baroness Amos. Some were not happy. I sat just a few feet away from Lady Thatcher. She and her eurosceptic collegues did not like it.

Lord Strathclyde asked for the main Opposition "Does the noble Baroness not see this as a major integrationist treaty, a step in the wrong direction, in which many more areas of veto are given away and the aims of harmonisation and centralisation are relentlessly laid out in every line of the presidency conclusions?". There were calls for a referendum.

Baroness Amos replied "The call for a referendum on what is another amending treaty is interesting, given that we did not have a referendum with the Single European Act, Maastricht or subsequently with Amsterdam and Nice. It is also interesting that the majority of Members opposite who spoke in a recent debate on European issues argued against a referendum. Other members of that party have made interesting comments about referendums. The noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, said: “I mean the big steps into Europe consolidating British position in Europe, far more important than this particular treaty, were all taken by Conservative governments, and none of them felt it was necessary to have a referendum”.

Kenneth Clarke said: “I disapprove of a referendum. I do think it is a serious blow to the sovereignty of Parliament”.

Another Conservative, the noble Lord, Lord Patten, said: “This Tory notes that the intellectually honest position of many of those in the forefront of the present campaign for a referendum is complete British withdrawal from the European Union”.

I can only suggest to the House that this is about political opportunism. This is about a Conservative Party that has nothing to offer in terms of a strong Britain in Europe and whose leader could not even be bothered to go to the meeting called by Angela Merkel for EPP colleagues in advance of the European Council because he was too busy. How will we ensure a strong Britain in Europe when we have an Opposition who are not even prepared to engage in the debate and on the issues?

Lady Thatcher did not like that. Her closest neighbour in the Chamber asked "Does the Minister not realise that governments have to carry consent? What will people conclude if governments behave in this way? Will we not see more and more people refusing to turn out to cast their votes at elections and on other occasions if governments treat their manifesto promises with such contempt?"

He was met by a quick reposte from Baroness Amos "My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, is right about the importance of governments having to carry consent. I can well remember what happened not only in Parliament but also elsewhere when there were proposals for a poll tax in this country." He shook his head vigorously and Lady Thatcher looked at the Government fronch bench with disgust.