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EU Intergovernmental Conference

Volume 464: debated on Tuesday 9 October 2007

The legal group producing the draft treaty finished its work on 3 October. The United Kingdom has set out our red lines and we are determined that they will be delivered. We will continue to press, right up until the December European Council, to ensure that they are met.

The Government’s case relies almost entirely on the effectiveness of the red lines, but today’s report from the European Scrutiny Committee makes it clear that there may well be an argument that the charter of fundamental rights will apply to the UK. In those circumstances, and if there were a dispute—the report makes it clear that there might well be—can the Minister confirm that it would be the European Court of Justice, not Parliament, that would decide whether the charter applied in the UK?

The Foreign Secretary has already made it clear today that the constitutional approach has been abandoned. On the hon. Gentleman’s specific point about the legally binding protocol and the charter of fundamental rights, it is absolutely clear that the protocol has the same legal force as European treaties. That is a very strong legal protection indeed.

Why has the Minister not responded to my point of order yesterday—it appears at column 57 and was supported by the Deputy Speaker—in which I complained that the documents—

Sorry about that, but my point of order related to the fact that the documents to which I referred were not in the Vote Office yesterday, and they were not there before Prayers today. They should be available so that we can quiz the Foreign Secretary tomorrow afternoon, not only in the Chamber but in the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. Will the Minister ensure that the legislation on this is not so narrowly drawn and crafted that we cannot table an amendment that is acceptable to the Table Office relating to the ability to have a referendum? We want an assurance that the legislation will be drafted so as to leave that scope open to Parliament. What say you?

On the specific point about publications and paperwork being available, it is certainly my understanding, and that of the Foreign Secretary, that that material was placed in the Libraries of the House of Commons and the House of Lords on Friday last week, when it became available. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that, throughout this process in recent months, we have shared with his Committee and others all the material as it became available. On his wider point about the breadth of the Bill, the House has a long tradition of enabling European Bills to be amended in relation to calls for a referendum. After all, one third of those currently on the Conservative Front Bench voted against such a referendum on Maastricht. As I have said before, and am happy to say again, it would certainly be our intention—with your permission, of course, Mr. Speaker; it is entirely a matter for your discretion—to craft the Bill widely enough so that an amendment calling for a referendum on the reform treaty could take place.

The Minister has clearly looked at the scrutiny report and will have read its paragraph 71, where the Committee characterises the drafting process as

“essentially secret…conducted by the Presidency, with texts produced at the last moment”.

It goes on to say:

“The compressed timetable now proposed, having regard to the sitting terms of national parliaments, could not have been better designed to marginalise their role.”

Do the Government agree with that view?

Not at all. At every opportunity, the Foreign Secretary and I have sought to be available to the Select Committees of this House. I believe that I have given evidence on five separate occasions to such Committees, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has also spoken in glowing terms of his anticipation of appearing before Select Committees. The fact is that the reform treaty gives greater powers to national Parliaments, and it remains the case that it is this House and the other place that will ultimately take a view on whether or not to ratify that reform treaty.

The Foreign Secretary seemed to suggest in an earlier answer that the draft of the document now available since 3 October is so different that it invalidates the findings and some of the conclusions of the European Scrutiny Committee. He suggested that the conclusions were drawn before the Committee had sight of the 3 October document, which implies that there have been significant changes. Will the Minister for Europe indicate just two or three changes in the document of 3 October that were not present in the earlier version?

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was recording a statement of fact. The Select Committee report was drafted and went to publication before the legal text was available. That was my right hon. Friend’s point. The differences between the old constitutional treaty and the reform treaty are very clear. Every member state has moved away from the old constitutional approach and it is quite clear that it is the end for those who had a federalist dream or a federalist vision for Europe. It is equally clear that of all the member states of the European Union, the United Kingdom has moved furthest away from the old constitution.

What is clear is that it has hardly changed at all. Yesterday’s press release on the Downing street website said that if the red lines were not met

“there will either be a veto or there will be a referendum”.

Given that the European Scrutiny Committee has now cast very serious doubt about the Government’s red lines and its Chairman told the BBC this morning that they would “leak like a sieve”, will Ministers now admit that they are morally bound to offer the British people the referendum that they themselves promised them in the first place?

Not at all. It is absolutely clear that the legally binding protocol and the charter of fundamental rights offer very strong protection indeed. That is acknowledged by other member states and other prominent politicians. As the president of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pöttering—[Interruption.] The shadow Minister for Europe, the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois), scoffs at him, but the president of the European Parliament is a gentleman and a Conservative. In other places, those things are not mutually exclusive. The president said:

“Since making the Charter legally binding and extending Community competence to JHA were two of the most important features of the original constitution, the deal struck by Tony Blair in June means that—for better or worse—much of its substance will simply not apply in Britain.”