HL Deb 12 April 2000 vol 612 cc190-2

3.1 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have received any representations from the newly-formed Conservatives Against a Federal Europe (CAFE) and, if so, what has been their response.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, we have not recently received any representations from the Conservatives Against a Federal Europe—CAFE— organisation and have not, therefore, made a formal response.

Lord Clinton-Davies

My Lords, is it usual for Front Benchers of the Conservative Party, or any party, to join an organisation which directly targets Opposition Front Bench policy? Is the main element of its approach not simply rejection of the euro but withdrawal from the European Union? Where do the Government stand on that?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, your Lordships will know that the Government are very clear that our interests are best met by staying within Europe. We share the concern expressed by my noble friend that many senior members of the party opposite appear to have a contrary view in relation to CAFE. The Government are absolutely clear that we are in Europe. We are staying at the heart of Europe. Europe is acting and behaving to our advantage, not to our disadvantage.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, taking, for example, the federal system as in Germany, Australia and the United States, are the Government in favour of a federal Europe?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the Government are not in favour of a change in the European status. Europe is doing us very well at the moment and it stays exactly as it is.

Lord Marsh

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that if a multiplicity of countries come together with a single currency and a single interest rate, controlled by a central bank, and with a central parliament, there is no argument about it: a federal system is inevitable? Does she not agree that it is what the Fabians would call the inevitability of gradualness?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I would not.

Lord Taverne

My Lords, surely the evidence is becoming overwhelming that those in the Conservative Party who wish to isolate Britain from the mainstream developments of Europe are now in control of the Conservative Party. They are gaining in confidence and numbers all the time. Indeed, they number some of the closest advisers of Mr Hague. In the circumstances, is it not regrettable that those pro-Europeans who are still in the Conservative Party, unlike their counterparts in the Labour Party in the early 1970s, and with the noble exception of Mr Kenneth Clarke, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, and a tiny band of brave colleagues, prefer to sit on their hands and keep mum for the sake of party unity rather than speak out in the interests of this country?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, we are absolutely clear that the Labour Party's view is endorsed by the great majority of those who sit on these Benches. We have always welcomed freedom of speech. There are those on all Benches who exercise that with great facility, and long may they do so.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, is the Minister aware that last week the Home Secretary wrote me a letter in which he said that he was as clearly committed to the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty as I am? Under those circumstances, can we take it that the Home Secretary will resign from the Government rather than consent to handing over the management of our monetary affairs to a foreign bank based in Frankfurt, or was he telling me fibs?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the Home Secretary was being frank. He always is. We have not surrendered parliamentary sovereignty. We did not do so yesterday. And shall not do so today, or tomorrow. What the noble Lord does, of course, is a matter for him.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, is the Minister's right honourable friend the Home Secretary able to explain how it is possible therefore for directives to be imposed from Brussels on the British people without any opportunity for Parliament to amend or refuse them?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the noble Viscount knows that that is not true. We ate playing a very full part in relation to fashioning such regulations. We shall continue to do so. The attempts now being made to bring about reform will inure to the benefit of all European states, including ourselves.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that before Britain joins the European Central Bank, if it does, there will be a referendum of the British people; that the British people will decide one way or the other in the light of that campaign; and that that is the highest sovereignty of all and one which many of us respect? Will she confirm that that is the basis on which we should wish to see Britain eventually join the central bank?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I absolutely and unreservedly agree with the noble Baroness. The British people will have their opportunity to speak in relation to this matter, and this Government, although I cannot speak for any other, will listen to them.