[Relevant documents: Thirty-fifth Report from the European Scrutiny Committee, Session 2006-07, HC 1014, on the European Union Intergovernmental Conference; and Third Report from the Committee, Session 2007-08, HC 16-iii, European Union Intergovernmental Conference.]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the matter of European affairs.
I am pleased to open this traditional debate on European policy held before each meeting of the European Council. Before I do so, the whole House will expect me to express our shared horror at the two bomb blasts in Algeria today. The latest information is that there were two targets—a student bus and a United Nations mission. Sixty-two people are known to be dead and 13 people, whom we presume to be UN staff, are currently unaccounted for. No one has yet claimed responsibility for this terrible atrocity, but I know that the whole House will want to send deepest condolences to all those concerned and to ensure that we offer to the Government of Algeria any possible help that we can give them, both in pursuing the perpetrators of this terrible crime and in helping them to strengthen any security that they need to strengthen or to develop any security co-operation to prevent this sort of terrible outrage in future.
The meeting of the European Council this week will address some of the most pressing issues facing the European Union. It will set out a globalisation declaration and establish a reflection group on the long-term global context for European action. Leaders will also no doubt bask in the acclamation among the peoples of Europe for the benefits of the Lisbon reform treaty—[Laughter.] I was just checking that hon. Members opposite were listening.
I am happy to have my right hon. Friend’s assurance that no birthright is being signed away. However, one or two rather fundamental points are being agreed in this treaty. Despite the fact that objection to the treaty may be regarded as a purely political ploy on the part of some Members, it might be helpful if we in the House of Commons were to register in some way that there is a great deal in it that causes great worries to many people of all parties.
I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend that all the details of the treaty will be carefully scrutinised. Time will be given for all opinions to be registered and for the detail to be exposed and debated. She will know, as will hon. Members opposite, that the treaty will come into force only when it has been passed by this Parliament and every other country that is party to the treaty.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm for the record that, however lengthy the debate in the House may be, it is not a question of amending even a single comma but of accepting the whole treaty or nothing? Therefore, the whole concept of the House being involved in the drafting and drawing up of the treaty was not realised. We are being given a rather black-and-white choice rather late in the day.
My hon. Friend will know from the exchanges we had in the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs that there are good grounds for looking again at the way in which the period between 19 and 21 June brought into sharp relief the choice faced by the Government and subsequently the House. That is the point at which the bilateral discussions that had been happening were consolidated into a single text. We have had exchanges about that in the Committee. She is right to say that the House will face the question of whether it should pass the treaty in the new year. If the House does not do so, or if the treaty is rejected elsewhere in Europe, it would not come into force.
Just to clarify exactly what the Foreign Secretary said, will he tell me what would happen if a particular amendment tabled by the House went through to amend one part of the treaty? Is he basically saying that we are going to spend months and months discussing it, but that it quite honestly makes no difference whether or not anyone turns anything down because the treaty will go through?
My hon. Friend is right to say that in the end the House has to decide whether to pass the Bill. The Bill will implement the treaty, and the House certainly can amend the Bill. For example, we will have a long debate about a referendum on the treaty. An amendment on that can succeed or fail; if it succeeds, the treaty would go in front of the people for passage or not. The Bill is amendable in the same way as any other—
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the procedures being adopted by the Government in relation to the treaty are exactly the same as those adopted in the past when dealing with the important Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice treaties, which were supported by Conservative Front Benchers? Will he comment on the fact that if amendments were made to the treaty in the 27 countries of the European Union, we would end up with complete anarchy when trying to achieve anything in Europe?
My hon. Friend’s intervention is telling, and so is the response from Opposition Members, because what they want is anarchy in the European Union. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The procedure that the Government will follow will be just as with previous treaties. Previous amending treaties have tried—
With due respect to hon. Members, I said that I would go through the issues being discussed at the European Council and then move on to the European reform treaty. If they will permit me to do so, we can return to their questions about the treaty at the appropriate moment.
For obvious reasons, the situation in Kosovo will be at the forefront of discussion this Friday in Brussels. The responsibilities of the EU, which I discussed with Foreign Ministers in Brussels yesterday, are critical to stability in the western Balkans, and I say the whole of the western Balkans advisedly—Kosovo, Serbia and the other parts of the region together. The written ministerial statement that I laid before the House this morning sets out the Government’s approach. The origins of the problem are ancient. They date right back to the battle of Kosovo Polje in 1389. However, the immediate context is set by the terrible experience of the people of Bosnia in the mid-1990s and of Kosovo at the end of the 1990s. Then, ethnic nationalism overwhelmed the forces of moderation and humanity. This time it needs to be different. Kosovo Albanians and Serbs need to know that restraint and due process will be honoured, and extremism and violence confronted.
There has been an extensive process of mediation over the past two years, first under UN auspices, led by former President Martti Ahtisaari of Finland, and then under an EU-Russia-US umbrella for the past four months. These efforts have been unstinting. I want especially to recognise the efforts of Wolfgang Ischinger, the German ambassador to the UK and the European troika representative over the past four months. I met Ambassador Ischinger again yesterday to hear his latest views. The basic fact is that despite the effort at mediation, there remains a wide gulf between the sides which further mediation will not close; so they have to choose and so do we.
The Kosovars have to choose how they go about pressing their claims for independence, recognising that the status process provided for in UN Security Council resolution 1244 resulted in the Ahtisaari proposal for supervised independence. The signals from Pristina yesterday were encouraging. The Government there said that they would first, stay in step with the international community; secondly, work to minimise violence in Kosovo; and thirdly, honour the undertakings of the Ahtisaari plan, including for minorities.
I presume that the Foreign Secretary has met the Serbian Foreign Minister to discuss this difficult issue. Like many other young people, the current Serbian Foreign Minister fought against Milosevic and put his life at risk opposing the despot, but his position in his own country is being made extremely difficult by the great rush by the United States for an immediate solution. What assurances can the Foreign Secretary give me that the process will not be rushed?
I am happy to confirm to the hon. Gentleman that I have met the Serbian Foreign Minister three times, most recently yesterday. It is important to recognise that there needs to be outreach both to the Kosovars and to the Serbs—the Serbs within Kosovo and the Serbian Government. The political situation is obviously delicate, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are seeking to strengthen the forces of moderation on both sides. He talked about a rush to independence, but the fact that the Kosovan Government are talking about working with the international community and about a period of months, not days, speaks at least in part to the sort of care that he knows is important.
The right hon. Gentleman has indicated on the radio that he is now in favour of independence for Kosovo. He will know that that is very much at variance with the Government’s policy at the time of the bombing of Belgrade, when his predecessor Robin Cook said:
“we do not support independence for Kosovo…we believe that its present status must be enhanced through meaningful autonomy.”
If the Foreign Secretary is arguing that circumstances have changed over the past few years, requiring the Government to adopt a new position, will he at least acknowledge that further changes are required to the current proposals? If the borders of Serbia are not to be seen as sacrosanct, is there any reason why the current borders of Kosovo should be seen as sacrosanct? Will he give further consideration to whether the northern part of Kosovo around Mitrovica, which is dominated by a Serb population, might be left with Serbia as part of a concession that might enable moderates in Belgrade to accept the inevitable?
I should like to address the three or four points that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has raised. First, the French Foreign Minister and I said in September that if the mediation process could not close the gap between the sides, the Ahtisaari plan for supervised independence was on the table and should represent the basis on which to move forward. To answer the third point that the right hon. and learned Gentleman hinted at, we also said that the Ahtisaari plan should be seen as a basis. If there is a way we can add to the guarantees that are offered—to the Serbs in northern Kosovo, for example—we should look to do so within a new constitutional settlement, recognising that Serbs are to be found not only in northern Kosovo but in other parts of Kosovo as well.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked me directly about partition, and I want to address that point directly. We do not support the partition of Kosovo. The mediation team has been talking to both sides over the past four months, and that suggestion has been floated. Both sides have addressed the question, but we have been clear that partition is not the way to create a viable, stable constitutional settlement in Kosovo. We do not support that proposal.
I agree with the Foreign Secretary that self-determination is key in Kosovo, but there cannot be self-determination while we reject any possible partition of Kosovo in favour of the self-determination of the Serb minority in the north. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman two questions. First, what are his plans for the Serb enclaves further south? Secondly, what access can he guarantee for Serbs trying to reach the cultural sites, such as monasteries, that are extremely important for the Serb position?
The situation in Kosovo is unique, as I think the official Opposition have recognised all along. It is unique because Kosovo is the subject of the terrible tragedies of the 1990s; because it has been a UN protectorate within a country for the past eight years, since the 1999 UN Security Council resolution; and because it has been the subject of a political process that emanates directly from a UN Security Council resolution with the attributes that I have described. This unique situation circumscribes the boundaries of a new Kosovo in a very clear way. Any state needs to be viable, to be able to fend for itself and to organise itself, and I do not believe that partition would meet those criteria.
In answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question about protection for Serb minorities outside the north, I would say they need precisely the kind of security presence that the NATO KFOR force provides. There are 16,000 NATO troops there at the moment. That is in start contrast to the situation when the terrible events took place in the 1990s. He also asked a reasonable question about access to religious sites. The precise purpose of a supervised independence—I emphasise the word “supervised”—is to ensure that there is proper respect for minority rights, and that the kind of access he has described is properly organised and policed.
Does the Foreign Secretary accept that there is considerable unhappiness on the Kosovar side, not least because of the long-standing obduracy by Serbians over the handing over of indicted war criminals? There are four still remaining, and Carla del Ponte—the United Nations war crimes prosecutor, who retires in a week’s time—has made it absolutely clear that she is certain that the Government in Belgrade knew exactly where two of them were two years ago. Is it not time that Belgrade did its business in this regard?
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. Carla del Ponte made a presentation to the European Foreign Ministers in October. Of the 36—I think—indictees, 32 have been returned, and it is very important that the last four should be returned as well. It is also important to recognise that the Serbian Government have now put up $1 million as a reward. It is perhaps a little late in the day, but the reward is now there, and we now need to see 100 per cent. conclusion to the process, with all the indictees being returned.
Let me briefly rehearse the position that the UK Government will take over the months ahead. First, resolution 1244 provides a legal base for international activity, and the decision by NATO Foreign Ministers on Friday to confirm the presence of KFOR is vital in that regard. Secondly, the Ahtisaari proposal for supervised independence continues to provide the best basis for moving forward in the absence of agreement between the parties. Thirdly, the EU needs to take responsibility for the problem in its own backyard. Inaction means something worse than continued limbo; it means a festering problem that will become dangerous if there is no way forward. Fourthly, there needs to be a European security and defence policy mission working in close co-ordination with NATO forces. Fifthly, there needs to be the significant outreach that I have described, to the Serbs in Kosovo, to guarantee their rights, and to Serbia. That position can command consensus in the EU in the months ahead.
The second major foreign policy issue for discussion on Friday will be Iran. I hope that there is consensus across the House on that issue. Iran has every right to be a proud, respected member of the international community; it does not have a right to set off a nuclear weapons race in the middle east. Last week’s US national intelligence estimate—the NIE—judged that Iran had a nuclear weapons programme up until 2003, when it halted one aspect of it. If true, that is good.
However, the report does not answer the questions of the international community, which have been expressed in successive UN Security Council resolutions, about Iran’s activities and intentions. That is why it is so important for Iran to come clean on its past activities, including on the nature of any weaponisation programme, past or present, that would be a serious breach of the non-proliferation treaty.
The facts remain stark. Despite demands from the International Atomic Energy Agency and the UN Security Council, Iran is still pursuing an enrichment programme that has no apparent civilian application, but which could produce fissile material for a nuclear weapon. Iran is still denying the IAEA inspectors sufficient access to enable them to verify whether the nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes. The head of the IAEA, Dr. el-Baradei, whom I shall meet on 7 January, has said that the IAEA’s knowledge of Iran’s nuclear programme is actually diminishing. Dr. Solana has reported on behalf of the E3 plus 3 that his talks with Iran’s nuclear negotiator failed to produce a positive outcome. As a result, we will be pressing for further action in the UN Security Council.
At the same time it is vital that the European Council should send a clear and unambiguous message to the regime in Tehran that it has a choice. Either it can co-operate with the IAEA and comply with the demands of the UN Security Council, paving the way for a genuine transformation of its relationship with the whole international community, including the US, or it can continue on its path of confrontation, resulting in further sanctions and isolation.
Can the Foreign Secretary tell us whether, in the UK Government’s assessment, Iran already has the capacity to deliver nuclear weapons? Is it only Iran’s ability to produce them that is the problem, or do we doubt whether it has the ability to deliver, as well as whether it possesses such weapons?
I know that my hon. Friend has recently visited Iran, and I look forward to discussing the visit made by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs with the Committee. As my hon. Friend suggests, there are three aspects to any nuclear weapons programme: the weaponisation—which was addressed by the NIE—the enrichment and the missile. We know that missile tests are being carried out, and I would not want to say more about our judgments on the Iranian programme in respect of its missiles.
We all know that the action that the European Council could take to which the Foreign Secretary refers is the imposition of sanctions to match the American sanctions. He is signing a treaty that elevates the prospect of a European common foreign policy yet further in the EU, but what is the possibility of getting agreement on this vital issue among the member states of the EU—least of all Germany, which seems extremely reluctant to sign up to any sanctions against Iran?
The prospects are reasonably good. The leaders of the EU countries will send a clear message on Friday. Of course, existing EU sanctions involve Germany. I think I am right—and if I am not, I shall be happy to write to the hon. Gentleman to correct myself—to say that EU trade with Iran in the year up until May 2007 fell by 34 per cent. That is one consequence of the sanctions regime, in which Germany is playing a part. I am happy to try to find a breakdown of countries’ contributions to that 34 per cent. reduction. I had a conversation with Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German Foreign Minister and Vice-Chancellor, at last week’s meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers, which also took place in Brussels. From that conversation, I know that there is a strong German commitment to being part of a sanctions package.
The third important issue for the Council concerns international development, about which there is now helpful agreement across the House. Since the UN millennium summit in 2000, the world has repeatedly promised to “spare no effort” to free men, women and children from extreme poverty, but we are not moving fast enough.
The EU is the world’s biggest aid donor. If the millennium development goal targets are to be met, it needs to act as a driving force. Following his call for action in July, the Prime Minister is determined to use this and future Councils to push forward EU action to achieve the millennium development goals. We want the Commission to produce a full account of progress so far, and to make recommendations on how the EU can accelerate its efforts. If that work begins now, the EU will be able to lead the rest of the world by example.
Any strategy will be incomplete without trade and trade deals. The EU-Africa summit agreed an action plan with trade at its heart. We are working hard for a conclusion to the Doha trade round, and economic partnership agreements have an important role to play. A significant number of African countries have signed EPAs, and I hope others will follow before the end of the year, providing better access to EU markets and helping Africa trade its way out of poverty.
Would the Foreign Secretary agree that much of the poverty in Africa is caused by EU trade barriers? He talks about setting an example, but would not this country be able to set a much better example if we had control over our trade policy? We could set an example to the other European countries if we had that, whereas at present we have Peter Mandelson determining our trade policy for us.
We know that the hon. Gentleman speaks with passion as a member of the “Better Off Out” campaign, but we would not be better off out of the EU. Indeed, we would be worse off—as would African countries, since it is Britain’s liberalising instincts in the EU that make sure that we have a progressive trade policy.
The Council will also address key issues where European and wider global issues come together.
Before the Foreign Secretary moves on to other matters, will he say whether the Council will discuss the EU-African summit, and Zimbabwe in particular? Why was the sanction lifted, allowing Mugabe to strut into Lisbon and swan around listening to one or two mild criticisms when the media were not present? He was able to laugh at this country and the other EU nations. Does he think that the Council at the very least should discuss the nonsense that was the lifting of that ban, and that all the leaders should have followed the example set by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—that is, stayed away and called Africa’s bluff?
I completely understand the passion that my hon. Friend feels about the matter, and it is shared by the Government and the whole House. I am sure that we will reflect on the lessons of the EU-Africa summit. Like her, I think that the Prime Minister was right not to attend, as his absence highlighted what is happening in Zimbabwe. The extensive discussion of Zimbabwe, including the contributions made by Baroness Amos, and the extensive media coverage did not represent the political triumph that Robert Mugabe sought.
I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for giving way; he is being most generous. At the Council, will he raise the question of the European gendarmerie force? Will he confirm that the force is now heavily armed and can recruit personnel from any EU member or candidate country, including countries such as Turkey? Will he give an undertaking that it will never be allowed to operate on British soil?
On the question of economic partnership agreements, is the Minister aware that both Namibia and South Africa have refused to sign an EPA with the EU, on the grounds that the agreements are unbalanced? What action should Britain take to make sure that both countries continue to have access to European markets?
My hon. Friend knows that if EPAs are not signed by 1 January 2007, the current regime lapses and the benefits that countries such as Namibia and South Africa receive are lost. That is why we are pushing hard for EPAs to be signed on a fair basis, and why the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), was with me at the European Council yesterday, discussing how to make progress with the Trade Commissioner. I shall be happy to get an update on any further developments for my hon. Friend during the debate.
We will get to the treaty soon. If the hon. Gentleman stops interrupting me, we will get there sooner.
The Council will also address key matters on which European and wider global issues come together. Britain has benefited enormously from the single market and freer international trade. The Lisbon agenda from 2000 was designed to boost momentum on that, and the Council will take stock of progress.
It is right for the EU to take a lead on climate change. The Council will take place at the same time as the conclusion of the Bali conference, and will seek to respond as appropriate to any developments.
In respect of migration, on which the UK has an opt-in to all measures, the EU needs to work with countries beyond our borders to tackle illegal migration, manage legal migration and strengthen border control.
On enlargement, the General Affairs and External Relations Council agreed yesterday to continue to pursue policies in line with its enlargement strategy. There will be an accession conference with Turkey and Croatia next week. In the case of Turkey, it will open two new chapters in the accession negotiations.
The new focus on those important matters is a stark contrast with the enduring debate at successive European Councils in the past few years on institutional reform. Two further initiatives later this week will consolidate that new forward-looking agenda.
First, the EU will adopt a “globalisation declaration”. That will make it clear that the agenda for the future is: jobs; climate change and energy; economic stability; trade; and migration and development—not institutional tinkering.
Secondly, a “reflection group” will be established to examine the long-term challenges that face the Union. One thing will be clear in the terms of reference: it is not about institutional reform.
I share the Foreign Secretary’s views about institutional reform, but he has not mentioned one of the disasters of the past couple of months: the failure to put together the EU force to go to Chad. If that will not be discussed, as he appears to imply, what will be the future for the European security and defence policy, given the embarrassment caused in connection with it by through European nations’ failure to stump up?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, which he has raised in the House before. Yesterday, an extensive discussion took place in the margins and round the table at the General Affairs and External Relations Council about getting the helicopters that are needed. I share the hon. Gentleman’s feelings of urgency. The links to Darfur and the position of the comprehensive peace agreement are also important. I therefore assure him that the matter is being addressed.
I said that a reflection group would be established to take a long-term look at the challenges that face the Union, and that its focus would clearly not be institutional reform. The contents of the treaty are being closely studied in the House, and I am happy to recognise the work of the European Scrutiny Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee on the detail.
As the treaty is studied in detail, the myths are being exploded. For example, there is the myth that we will lose control of our foreign policy. That will not happen. As the European Scrutiny Committee says,
“the largely intergovernmental nature of the CFSP and ESDP will be maintained, with no significant departures from the arrangements which currently apply in the EU Treaty”.
The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) peddles the myth that there is a hidden plot for the position of President of the European Commission to be merged with that of the new President of the European Council—
No, the hon. Gentleman must let me finish the point; I was in the middle of a great rhetorical flourish and he interrupted me.
The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks peddles the myth that there is hidden plot to merge the position of President of the European Commission with that of the new President of the European Council, thereby creating some sort of tsar of Europe. That is nonsense. The treaty specifically states that members of the Commission cannot have another job in the manner that the right hon. Gentleman suggests.
There is the myth that we have lost control of our criminal justice system. However, as the European Scrutiny Committee says,
“we accept that the UK retains the final right to choose”
on justice and home affairs matters. There is also the myth that we have lost control of our courts and police. However, the European Scrutiny Committee states:
“We accept that provision is made for the UK to exercise a right to ‘opt in’ in relation to measures which amend or replace existing EU measures, to measures which amend existing Title IV EC measures and to those which build upon the Schengen acquis”.
Bless the very young Foreign Secretary. However, he has not mentioned the greatest myth of all—the Labour party’s pledge to hold a referendum on the constitution. What happened to that? We still substantially have the constitution. Among all the myths that the right hon. Gentleman has found, where are the British people invited to express a view on something that is profoundly important to their future and well-being?
It is the constitution that has been abandoned, and it is because it has been abandoned that we are not having a referendum. The referendums in France and Holland in May 2005 led to a process, and to the constitution being “abandoned”. That is not my word; it is the word of 27 heads of Government. Today, the newly elected Conservative Prime Minister of Denmark—a country that has a more far-reaching version of the treaty than we do—said:
“The Lisbon Treaty does not transfer new powers to the EU, and is an amending treaty that is fundamentally different”—
[Interruption.] Members can laugh at the newly elected Conservative Prime Minister of Denmark, but I would have thought that they would try to learn some lessons from him. He says that it
“is an amending treaty that is fundamentally different to the Constitutional Treaty. The Government does not, therefore, find it necessary to put the Treaty to a referendum”.
[Interruption.] A Member asks from a sedentary position, “What does Giscard say?” I would have thought that the position of today’s Prime Minister of Denmark is more relevant than that of Giscard D’Estaing, who for all his distinction is very much a former President of France.
I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for giving way. I want to test his remarks about there being a myth about us losing control of foreign policy, because it seems to me that that is exactly what will happen. It is my understanding that article 19 of the treaty gives the EU high representative the right to represent the EU on the Security Council when it discusses, for instance, Zimbabwe—a subject that we have talked about before—and also that the UK’s representative cannot attend that meeting or take part in it. Can the Foreign Secretary tell me why that is not the case? Most experts tell me that it is.
I want the names of those “experts”, because their advice is, frankly, embarrassing. Any expert who tells us that Britain’s seat on the UN Security Council—whether it is filled by me as Foreign Secretary or by our permanent representative at the UN—is threatened by the fact that the new high representative will be able to address the Security Council is not living in the real world, because the EU is already able to address the Security Council. In fact, under the German six-month presidency in 2006, it did so eight times without any threat at all to the position of either myself, the UK vote or the UK permanent representative.
My right hon. Friend mentioned the contribution of the new Conservative Prime Minister of Denmark just today. Given the position of the new Danish Government, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is highly unlikely that that political party will join the Leader of the Opposition in the absurd new grouping that he proposes to create in the European Parliament?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point, because the truth is that the Conservative party is not just isolated in this House; it is isolated from all the other Conservative parties across Europe, which should give it pause for thought, as some of them have been decidedly more successful.
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, that is another issue close to my heart. I understand why he has raised the issue of the Conservative Danish Prime Minister, but he is not comparing apples with apples. Denmark is a very small European country; it is not the fourth largest economy in the world, with a huge military presence. The Secretary of State must not compare Denmark with the United Kingdom; we are a far more important country and we must protect our constitution.
Some people would like us to have a constitution, but whether we have a constitution or not is a separate matter: there is no European constitution. The hon. Gentleman’s point about Denmark being small has no relevance at all to how important the treaty is.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. Does he not find it peculiar that Opposition Members, and a few on our own side, wish to bypass the decision-making powers of this Parliament, which they were elected to make decisions in, and back-heel a decision about the European reform treaty to the general public?
As I pointed out when we last debated the subject, every single member of the current shadow Cabinet who was a Member in the House in 1992 fought tooth and nail against a referendum on the Maastricht treaty, which transferred far more powers than this treaty. In 1998, furthermore, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) was warning of the dangers to our democracy from referendums—[Interruption.]
The reality is that the treaty gives greater voting weight not to Denmark but to the UK. The treaty reduces the size of the Commission, it ends the rotating presidency of the European Council in favour of a chair chosen by the nation states—[Interruption.] Why Opposition Members think that that is a threat to life in Britain I simply do not know. This country is stronger than that.
I have the greatest respect for the Foreign Secretary, but when he says that the greater voting weight is significant, will he also concede that as we are giving away a considerable number of decisions where qualified majority voting has been introduced, we now have a greater share of what is in fact much less and actually quite insignificant?
I reciprocate, in spades, my respect for the hon. Lady—[Interruption.]—I mean my hon. Friend, my dear friend, but let us go through the moves to QMV. Sixteen of the alleged changes do not apply to the UK, or apply only if we choose to opt in. Twenty offer faster decision-making where the UK wants to see better systems. Let us reflect on them: aid to disaster zones, ending protectionism in transport, protecting British business ideas, strengthening the EU’s research and innovation capability. Those are not threats to our constitutional settlement. That leaves 14 purely procedural changes: for example, the operating rules for the judicial appointments panel, how we appoint members of the European Economic and Social Committee, or how we adjust the rules for technical implementation in committees. [Interruption.] They are not shaking their heads, but nodding—not nodding off, I hasten to add. We will have plenty of time to discuss these issues in future.
I was saying that for the first time there is a formal role for national parliaments in the work of the EU. Above all, the European Union will, through this treaty, put to bed institutional restructuring in favour of working to deliver on the priorities of the people of Europe. It is right that we shall look at these matters in detail in the new year. It is right that my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe should spend an awful lot of time answering detailed questions, and that I should do that as well, as we go through the details of the Bill. It is right to check all the finer points, but it is also right to expose the central choice—[Interruption.]
No. Should we engage and be influential, or disengage and be marginalised? On the Government side of the House, we are absolutely clear about the right choice.
This week, the European Council will be dealing with the realities, not the myths, facing our countries. From Kosovo to climate change, from economic reform to Iran, the European Union faces important choices. The Government will be playing a leading role in those debates, and the Prime Minister will report back to the House on Monday on the progress made.
I begin by joining the Foreign Secretary in condemning the bomb attacks in Algeria that we have heard about in recent hours. I also echo what he said about our thoughts being with those who have lost their lives or been injured in those attacks. It may be too early to know who caused them, but the manner and choice of the targets seem to be compatible with the north African branch of al-Qaeda. We will no doubt know more in due course, but I hope that the Foreign Secretary will keep the House informed, particularly about any British citizens who may have been caught up in the events.
I also support what the right hon. Gentleman said about Iran and the importance of discussing it at this weekend’s Council meeting. There is a need for increased European pressure on Iran over its continuing defiance of UN Security Council resolutions and its enrichment of uranium. Britain and France have called for a stronger European approach and tighter sanctions. That summit is surely an opportunity to try to secure agreement on that.
I also hope—like the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey)—that European leaders will reflect on what happened last weekend in relation to Zimbabwe and Robert Mugabe’s attendance at the European Union-African Union summit. It did the European Union no good at all, and has done nothing to lessen the desperate plight of the people of Zimbabwe. I hope, too, that the long list of foreign affairs—global affairs—that need to be discussed this week will include the never-ending tragedy of the people of Darfur. The Prime Minister and the President of France have attached great importance to major progress there, but progress is not materialising on the scale that was hoped for earlier this year, and new momentum is required.
There is also the situation in the Balkans, to which the Foreign Secretary referred in some detail both in his speech and in his written statement to the House today. Tension is again high in the area. The Foreign Secretary has indicated, rightly in my view, that Britain will recognise an independent Kosovo, but I hope he will also ensure that any future recognition of Kosovo’s independence by our Government will be based on a commitment by the Kosovo-Albanian leadership to implement all relevant provisions of the Ahtisaari plan—he now indicates his assent to that—particularly the provisions relating to the status of ethnic minorities in Kosovo.
My right hon. Friend mentioned Darfur. When I visited the province last week, we were informed by the United Nations peacekeeping forces that they had not been paid since August. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vital for the European Union to try to ensure that payment is made as quickly as possible?
It may well be necessary to raise that issue, and I suspect that the United Nations and the African Union will need to address it, but I think that the prospective size of the peacekeeping force is of greater concern. It was meant to be 26,000-strong, but nothing like that number have come forward so far.
Let me return for a moment to the subject of the western Balkans. In his written statement today, the Foreign Secretary said
“There is a compelling strategic case for enlargement”
of the EU
“to the Western Balkans”.
I agree with that, but I hope—this relates to the point raised by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant)—that the Foreign Secretary will agree with the outgoing war crimes prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, who stated yesterday in her final report that Serbia’s full co-operation with The Hague tribunal, which means the arrest and transfer of Mladic, should be a condition in the EU pre-accession and accession process.
As for the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which could be affected by developments in Kosovo, we have called for elements of NATO’s operational reserve force to be sent to Bosnia as a preventive measure against any spill-over or challenge to the Dayton peace accords. I hope the Government will agree with us that beyond that initial step of shoring it up during these testing times, Bosnia will need international support for much longer, and that the office of the high representative in Sarajevo should not be closed before Bosnia is safely on the path of EU candidacy.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that now that there has at last been agreement about the policing reform in Bosnia, it is important for everyone to try to minimise attempts to unravel the Dayton process, and for there to be as much stability as possible during this difficult time?
Indeed. I believe that guiding our thoughts on Bosnia and Kosovo should be an absolute determination not to allow the unravelling of what was agreed at Dayton. There can be no going back to what happened in the Balkans in the 1990s. A measure of firmness is required on the part of European nations, and I hope that that will continue.
Alongside all those compelling global questions, the House’s main preoccupation is, of course, the European treaty that is to be signed this weekend. This debate is traditional, but it is disappointing that the Government have offered no separate debate on the recent report of the European Scrutiny Committee, which resulted in the Committee’s exceptional decision to exercise its scrutiny reserve on a treaty and to call for a debate specifically on the document before it was signed. The response of Ministers to that request has been to ignore it.
There has been a pattern in the Government’s behaviour this year of minimising parliamentary scrutiny on the issue whenever possible. In June, only days before the treaty was agreed in principle, the Foreign Secretary’s predecessor was saying that she was not aware of any negotiations, even between other countries—as if the vast document that then emerged came literally out of nowhere, handed down by some great deity of European affairs with no prior discussion with any human beings.
I am sorry for interrupting the right hon. Gentleman’s flow, but I must correct him on an important point. The document under scrutiny was the Commission’s opinion on the intergovernmental conference, which was then added to by the Government’s White Paper on the Commission’s opinion. The reform treaty, even in draft, has never been presented to us in this House, which is disappointing. We are not scrutinising that, because we have never been given it to look at.
I am sure that that is correct, because it comes from the Chairman of the Committee. It is also correct that the Committee called for a debate in this House specifically on its report before the treaty is signed. That, of course, is the point that I was seeking to make.
The situation is a bit worse than my right hon. Friend described. In May, the Foreign Affairs Committee wrote a public letter to the Foreign Office stating:
“The Committee regards the refusal of the FCO to provide a Minister to give oral evidence during this crucial phase of the discussions on the future of Europe as a failure of accountability to Parliament.”
Is he aware of any other instance when a Select Committee of the House has reprimanded the Government in those terms?
My right hon. Friend makes a good point, because that is highly unusual language from a Select Committee to the Government. It was used against the background to which I was just referring, whereby the Foreign Secretary’s predecessor said that no negotiations were taking place. Her actual words when she gave evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee on 7 June were
“that nothing that you could really call negotiations have taken place”.
Everyone knew that Sherpas were going around Europe and that discussions were taking place between European capitals.
The question put to the Foreign Secretary’s predecessor was put by me, and she was clear that no negotiations or discussions had taken place. Under pressure from the Committee it was later confirmed—this Foreign Secretary has confirmed it—that the Sherpas did meet on 24 January, 2 May and 15 May. The right hon. Lady was clearly trying to avoid any questioning about what might have been discussed at those meetings.
Far be it for us to think that the Foreign Secretary’s predecessor was trying to avoid questioning about what was going on at those meetings. There are only two possible explanations: either she was trying to avoid questioning or she was not aware that the meetings were taking place. I suspect that the former is correct.
I might be able to help my right hon. Friend on this point. It might have been quite truthful for the previous Foreign Secretary to have told the House that no negotiations were taking place because the document that emerged has almost entirely the same effect as the one that we are told has been abandoned. So, no negotiations needed to take place because the Government just agreed to everything as it was before.
There is a large element of truth in what my hon. Friend says. The sad truth is that the Government agreed to nearly everything that was there before, although negotiations were also taking place. I want to make the point that they were trying to prevent some of the things that have now been encapsulated in the treaty.
On that very point, would my right hon. Friend also take into account the fact that not only have these proceedings and this process been conducted in a deceitful manner, but the European Scrutiny Committee said, after we had seen the Foreign Secretary, that
“we reiterate our earlier comment that the process could not have been better designed to marginalise the role of national parliaments and to curtail public debate”?
In other words, the whole thing has been a charade.
I was going to cite that very passage from that report. It is marvellous of my hon. Friend to provide the service of reading out parts of my speech before I have arrived at them. [Interruption.] It is also quite unusual.
That is not the only example of such treatment of Parliament. On 25 June, when the former Prime Minister came back to sell the treaty in his last two days in office, he managed some remarkably selective quoting. Reading from the protocol on the charter of fundamental rights, to show—as he hoped—that there would be no effect on British law, he actually missed out the words “Title IV” from an otherwise verbatim passage, so as not to betray the fact that the Government’s clarification on the charter, whatever that may turn out to be worth, can apply in only one of the areas that it covers.
The Foreign Secretary himself has set a doubtful example in such matters by refusing to list, in response to my written questions, the areas in which the constitution and the reform treaty are exactly the same—even though other authorities have been willing to do so—presumably because he does not want to concede with his own pen what is a fact: that vast tracts of the constitution have been incorporated as they stood into the reform treaty.
The Foreign Secretary is not wrong about everything. He said on BBC “Question Time” on 8 February:
“I predict that when I come back on this programme…people will be saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have that Blair back because we can’t stand Gordon Brown?’”
That does make him one of the most far-sighted forecasters in British politics in 2007. The Prime Minister has just spent days dithering over whether to go to the signing ceremony in Lisbon, finally arriving at the bold move of attending the signing but not the photograph. It is no wonder that the Foreign Secretary formed that early opinion of the Prime Minister.
On the Government’s approach to frank discussion of the treaty, the Foreign Secretary and his predecessor were at fault. I shall not quote again the passage that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) has already quoted, but I believe it to be true. Even now it is unclear just how much debate there will be in the House of this far-ranging treaty. Ministers have told the press that there will be 20 days of debate, although it would not be difficult to fill far more than that. However, they have not so far been forthcoming on the matter in the House and we look forward to hearing how many days of debate there will be.
The treaty will bring about a profound change in the EU’s structures and powers, with major consequences for Britain. One way to illustrate to the House the scale of what is proposed is to look at the wide range of proposals in the treaty to which the Government were themselves opposed in recent years, and even in recent months. As recently as June this year, the Government argued that the high representative or Foreign Minister should not be able to chair the regular meetings of Foreign Ministers or take over the resources of the European Commissioner responsible for external affairs, but both of those things are to happen.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the Government have negotiated such a marvellous deal they have nothing to fear from putting it to a referendum of the British people? Is not the only conclusion that can be drawn that they think either that the public are far too thick to decide such matters for themselves or that the Government would be caught with their trousers down?
Well, let me put it in a different way. The Government dare not put the treaty to a referendum of the people because they are not confident of the arguments that they have marshalled in favour of it.
The ability of the high representative or Foreign Minister to speak for the whole EU at the UN Security Council was emphatically opposed by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the Government’s representative on the European convention when it started its deliberations. He tried to water down the provision to the Foreign Minister being able only to request to speak for the Union, but the original proposal is in the treaty.
The self-amending nature of the treaty was also opposed by the Government, with the White Paper in 2003 firmly opposing any further moves to qualified majority voting without a fresh treaty. But today, the ability to abolish further national vetoes without a new treaty is there in black and white.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that it was Margaret Thatcher in 1984 who first called for the European Community to develop an integrated foreign policy? She took the lead in that, and in the Single European Act in 1986 she also supported the idea of self-amendment when supported by unanimity. Why does the right hon. Gentleman sound like a ranting Labour Europhobe of the 1980s?
Well, what a revelation! I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman concedes the point. When he was Minister for Europe, he said:
“It may help the Committee”—
that is, the Standing Committee—
“to know that, when I discussed the matter with my French opposite number, she thought that the so-called passerelle clause would need amendment before it would be acceptable to France.”—[Official Report, Standing Committee on the Intergovernmental Conference, 20 October 2003; c. 20.]
That was the right hon. Gentleman, rather than Thatcherites of the 1980s, stating his opposition. If he would like to intervene in an equally helpful way at any other point in my speech, he is most welcome to do so. The ability to abolish further national vetoes without a new treaty—something that he himself opposed—is now there in black and white.
I thoroughly agree with the right hon. Gentleman: the passerelle clause was bad and unacceptable. However, may I have his view on a different proposal? What if the British Government said no to a further extension of qualified majority voting unless prior primary legislation came before the House? Would Conservative Members support that?
The issue very much requires that kind of commitment. The Government said that they would hold a parliamentary vote, but they have not said that primary legislation will be required. Of course, the hon. Lady must understand that we are opposed to the treaty, and we call for a referendum, but if the Government are in any way trying to mitigate what they have signed up to, they should at minimum be offering full legislation, and not simply a parliamentary vote. We could go on with the list of all the things that the Government opposed, but to which they have now agreed.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I do not intend to keep him long. Is he aware that we do not need any kind of change, because as we have recently seen with Galileo, it does not matter what the House of Commons thinks about particular items, if our views are to be totally ignored through the use of qualified majority voting?
On the particular matter that we are discussing, unanimity is required to abolish further vetoes, and I suppose that it would be possible to build into the procedures of the House further safeguards on that. However, in respect of many other matters, what the hon. Lady says is quite right.
The Government opposed many proposals: the election of the Commission President by the European Parliament, the setting-up of a European public prosecutor without a right of veto over it, the enshrining of competition policy as an exclusive competence of the EU, the definition given to employment, public health, transport networks and consumer protection as shared competences, the articles on the EU’s power to co-ordinate employment and economic policies, the establishment of QMV on proposals made by the EU Foreign Minister, the references to a common defence policy, and the definition of policy on foreign direct investment as an exclusive competence of the EU. All those measures are in the treaty that the Government are about to sign, but all of them were opposed by the Government.
The right hon. Gentleman has been very generous. He talked about enshrining policy areas as exclusive competences. Among them is the common fisheries policy. Can he think of a single positive reason why that change should take place, and does he agree that it is bad for Scotland, and that it effectively precludes the likes of Norway and Iceland ever joining the European Union?
The fisheries policy has been a catastrophe in many ways. It has been an environmental and economic catastrophe for this country and many others. It would greatly extend my speech if I were to go into more detail on it today, but criticisms of it are well founded.
Above all, the Government were adamant in 2000 that no European Court of Justice jurisdiction over justice and home affairs could be accepted; they said that it would
“raise sensitive issues relating to national sovereignty”,
yet now they maintain that all those things, which they opposed, can be signed away without any damaging impact on national sovereignty. That is even before we come to what Ministers say are their red lines. It is clear that they spent so much time retreating over so many lines in the sand that they can no longer even remember where or what they were.
One by one, the Government’s arguments on the treaty have been knocked down. First, they said that it was quite different from the constitution, and they made reassuring noises. The Foreign Secretary talked about the Conservative Prime Minister of Denmark. He should know that the Danish Prime Minister belongs to a party that is in the Liberal group in the European Parliament, so it is a doubtful proposition that he will persuade Conservative Members to agree with his argument, on the basis that they would be agreeing with the Liberals.
Secondly, the Government said that the treaty is different from the constitution, because
“the constitutional concept…has been abandoned”.
The European Scrutiny Committee pointed out in an earlier report that it considered that
“references to abandoning a ‘constitutional concept’…are…likely to be misleading in so far as they might suggest the Reform Treaty is of lesser significance than the Constitutional Treaty.”
Yesterday, another of the Government’s arguments—that we desperately a need a new treaty to avoid institutional standstill after EU enlargement—was knocked down by yet another study, this time by the London School of Economics, which found that
“the ‘business as usual’ picture in the EU is more convincing than the ‘gridlock’ picture as regards practice in and output from the EU institutions since May 2004.”
The truth about the treaty is that it is not actually necessary. The Government have therefore been forced to say that it does not pose a problem, because all their negotiating objectives have been reached.
I think that I have made the position clear. I do not say things and not mean them.
The Committee found that control of tax and social security was never seriously threatened, confirming our view that the whole purpose of that red line was just a bit of spin. On foreign policy, it found that the treaty
“extensively modifies the existing EU Treaty provisions on CFSP and adds almost all of the proposals in the Constitutional Treaty,”
as well as
“an ever increasing degree of convergence of Member States’ actions.”
The Government’s declaration on foreign policy has already been exposed as legally meaningless, and the Committee has confirmed that the EU’s powers in foreign policy will be expanded. Given that expert witnesses have confirmed to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs that the only changes in foreign policy between the EU constitution and the treaty are a change in job title for the EU Foreign Minister and the existence of a new declaration that is not legally binding, that red line is thoroughly discredited.
Ministers’ claims that they won an opt-out from the charter have been dropped, to be followed by an admission that it is merely a clarification of how the charter would apply to Britain and that the charter will be legally binding. The European Scrutiny Committee said:
“It…seems doubtful to us that the Protocol has the effect that the courts of this country will not be bound by interpretations of measures of Union law given by the ECJ and based on the Charter.”
If the hon. Gentleman behaves, I will give him a chance to intervene towards the end of my contribution. [Interruption.] We will make a deal.
In other words, the charter can be circumvented. Once again, another Government red line is exposed as more cosmetic than effective. On justice and home affairs, the Committee reiterates the important point that
“the powers of the Commission and the ECJ are considerably increased when matters move from the Third Pillar to the First”.
It gives more details and, doubtless, other hon. Members will deal with that subject at greater length. In the interests of time, I will desist from doing so, but it is a fundamental point. It was one of the most important features of the original Constitution that criminal and civil justice and policing would no longer be intergovernmental matters, and the red line does not change that effect in any way. The Foreign Secretary will be aware of the Committee’s stringent criticisms of the Government’s failure to ensure that, unlike Denmark, our position vis-à-vis existing agreed measures is secure. The Committee concludes that
“under the system to be established by the Reform Treaty, a Member State will lose the ability finally to determine its own law”
on justice and home affairs—
“to the extent that measures are adopted at Union level”.
These conclusions must be taken seriously. They come from a Committee that has a majority of the governing party in the House. Each of the Government’s red lines is in turn exposed as weak or worthless. The last of Ministers’ arguments that the treaty is significantly different from the EU constitution has been demolished.
In any other field of policy, it would be thought perverse to hand more responsibilities to a body that cannot properly manage those that it already possesses, yet that is what Ministers propose to do. This is the 13th year that the Court of Auditors has refused to sign off the EU’s accounts. Year after year, the European Union fails to look after taxpayers’ money to the standard that taxpayers have every right to expect. It is time Ministers took more action over that than they have in recent years.
The abolition of national vetoes—69 by one account, and 50 by the Government’s latest tally—is another important issue. It is astonishing that Ministers are so blithe about it when they are even now fighting a desperate rearguard action on the temporary workers directive, whose red tape would, according to the CBI, endanger 250,000 jobs. The Government are finding it very hard to keep a blocking minority together, but they need a blocking minority only because this area is an EU competence and subject to qualified majority voting, both of which are a direct consequence of the abandonment of our opt-out from the social chapter in 1997.
On the single market, the reform treaty—in this context, surely an ironic name—is not just a step back from the current treaties, but even a step back from the constitution as it was drafted. The EU has some great achievements to its name. Enlargement is one, and the success of its competition laws is another. But by allowing the French Government to downgrade, for the first time, undistorted competition in the internal market from one of the EU’s chief objectives to a mere protocol must be one of the most remarkable examples of a British Government being asleep on the job at a summit since we joined the European Union.
As a report by the Centre for European Policy Studies, which is hardly a Eurosceptic outfit, states,
“far from being a minor technical adjustment . . . the excision of the competition principle from the front of the Treaty is likely to have a number of damaging consequences for EC competition law. There is a real danger that in future EC competition law will be cribbed, crabbed and confined.”
That is not a proud achievement by the British Government.
I give way to the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick).
I thank the shadow Foreign Secretary for giving way. He has given 101 reasons why he is opposed to the treaty. After the treaty is passed by the House and another place—[Interruption.] Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that if or when the treaty is passed by this place and another place, and in the strange circumstances in which he might one day be Foreign Secretary, he would hold a referendum on a treaty already passed by the House?
I know that Labour Members are showing ever-increasing interest in what happens under a Conservative Government. After the past couple of months, that is not surprising. It has become a far greater likelihood. The background to our approach is what I set out last month, and I will not go further than that today. The hon. Gentleman is asking me to anticipate the Conservative manifesto at the next election. He will find out about that in due course.
Not just Britain’s but the whole European Union’s economic competitiveness will suffer as a result of the incompetent handling of the negotiations about competition policy.
I am grateful. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is an inconsistency in the Conservative position? They were opposed to a referendum on Maastricht, and now they are in favour of a referendum on Lisbon. Does he agree that that inconsistency is mirrored by my own party, which was in favour of a referendum on Maastricht and is now against one on Lisbon? Is it not the case that the only consistency is that whichever party is in government is afraid of the voice of the people, that only a few brave souls like myself have been consistently in favour of a referendum, and that on this issue the Government do not have even a single leg to stand on?
We all wish to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his bravery and on being wiser and more consistent than almost anyone else in the House. That is to be lauded, but the consistency that is required is that when a party solemnly promises a referendum to the people in a general election campaign, and then wins that general election, it should honour the promise to hold a referendum.
I must conclude my speech. I have been speaking for more than half an hour. I want to deal with one point that the Foreign Secretary made, and then conclude my remarks.
The Foreign Secretary referred to the possibility— he thought it was a dark plot of some kind—[Interruption.]—he thought that I thought it was a dark plot—that the positions of President of the Council and President of the Commission might be combined. As he knows from my recent letter to him, the Government’s White Paper on the IGC of July stated that the posts of President of the European Commission and the new post of President of the European Council could not be held by the same person.
The post of the new EU President of the Council is bad enough. Instead of nation states taking it in turns to chair meetings, a single, central powerful figure would be in charge of the EU’s agenda. The danger if that were combined with presidency of the Commission is obvious.
The Foreign Secretary wrote back to my recent letter to claim that the article forbidding members of the Commission holding any other occupation would prevent such an outcome. He did not use that exact word in the debate today, but the wording is that they cannot hold another occupation, but of course an occupation is not the same as an office. The Secretary of State for Defence holds another office, but he does not hold another occupation.
It should be noted that the High Representative or Foreign Minister of the Union will be a member of the Commission, so saying that the treaty precludes members of the Commission from holding any other office in the European Union does not seem to hold water. However, if the Foreign Secretary wishes to give the House the categoric view for the future that that is impossible under the treaty, we will be grateful to receive that assurance.
As I said in my speech and in my reply to the right hon. Gentleman, which sadly did not get as much coverage as his original letter to me, despite my request to him to give it such publicity, article 213—the number may be changed—is categorical that the two posts cannot be combined. A man or woman holding a post in the Commission cannot have another post.
What the treaty says is that they cannot hold another occupation. The Foreign Secretary did not quite give the reassurance that I asked for. When I have discussed the matter with Foreign Ministers of some other European nations, their interpretation is not the one that he has given.
I do not want to dampen their relations with the Foreign Secretary by revealing their names.
It is worth remembering that no one in the House has any democratic mandate from the British people to agree to the treaty. All three main parties stood on manifestos promising the British people a referendum on the constitution. No one’s manifesto said that there would be a referendum on the EU constitution, but if another country voted no in their referendum the British referendum would be scrapped, the Constitution would be given a new name and a few tweaks, and the treaty would be shoved through without the British people being given any say on it at all. But that is the extraordinary thing that Ministers are proposing.
The whole story of the treaty has been of the Government’s failure of leadership, in Europe and in Britain. If Ministers are to be believed, they never wanted the constitution or the treaty. They were defeated time and again in the negotiations. Of the 275 amendments that the Government tried to make to the original constitution text, only 27 were accepted. Now they have accepted a treaty that practically the whole of Europe agrees is only cosmetically different from the constitution, and which they dare not put to the British people.
Everyone knows what the Government are up to. No one seriously believes that the treaty is significantly different from the constitution. Some, like the constitution’s chief draftsman, about whom the Foreign Secretary was rather dismissive earlier, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, cannot stop pointing that out. After the October summit he told European newspapers that
“the difference ... is one of approach, rather than content”.
Last month he told the BBC that
“you wouldn’t be honest to tell the British voters the substance of the text has changed— because the substance has not changed”.
He has written with satisfaction in his blog that the constitution’s
“essential points ... reappear word for word in the new project. Not a comma has changed!”
Everyone knows what is really going on. No impartial commentator thinks that the Government are up to anything other than a cynical and calculated manoeuvre to avoid holding a referendum. Ministers have neither the courage to fight an election, nor the courage and honour to keep their own promise of a referendum. Once again they are happy to treat the people of this country like fools, and the British people deserve better than that. Trust and confidence in the Government are draining away. There remains one notable way for the Prime Minister to repair some of the damage—to honour his promise of a referendum. We will see if he has the courage to admit that he was wrong, act like a statesman and give the British people the chance to have the say that we all promised them.
In one way I am disappointed that we are having another general debate on European affairs and not being given a full debate on the reform treaty. I believe that there is a technical term for this—it is not one that I knew before I came to Parliament—and that is “frit”. The Government are frit to have a debate on the issue that really is at this moment at the heart of Europe. We have a term for it in Scotland, which the Minister for Europe will recognise, and that is “feart”. I cannot understand why the Government are in that position: it is clear that a reform treaty debate would have allowed the Government and people such as myself who have looked at the treaty to talk about its contents and structure, but again to argue on the front foot for a European treaty that takes us where that treaty will take us. We could agree on what the treaty will do, and still debate whether it is a good or a bad thing. But in the context of a general debate on European affairs, it becomes somewhat lost.
However, at least we are having a debate on European affairs, and I make no apology to the House for raising an issue that is not the reform treaty as my first point today. We should have debates such as this on general matters going to the European Council, but we should also have had a formal debate, as the Lords were brave enough to do on the reform treaty.
The issue that I wish to raise first is the working time directive and the temporary agency workers directive, which will be reported to the European Council as a failure. This was a chance for the working people of Europe to see advances in their terms and conditions of employment and for protection to be brought in for the poorest and most exploited workers in Europe. In my analysis as a Labour party member, the UK Government are found wanting on the working time directive. We did not want the abolition of the opt-out after three years, as originally proposed, and we did not want to have an absolute cap on the working week of 55 hours, but negotiations broke down in 2006. The matter came back to the Portuguese presidency on 5 December with the proposal that there be no expiry date for the opt-out, which would have been beneficial to the Government and possibly to the Opposition, who have not been to the fore defending workers’ rights either when they were in government or in opposition. But there would be an absolute cap on the working week of 60 hours, which is a long week for anyone to work, but is a regular working period for many in the poorest sections of our community, in the hospitality industry and elsewhere in Britain. So there was no agreement on that, and that is disappointing.
With regard to the temporary agency workers directive, the Lisbon agenda said that there would be freedom and liberalisation of the markets and in the private sector, and there would also be liberalisation of labour markets. We have exploited that and used it to our advantage, and we have low unemployment because of it. The problem, however, is that people who work in agencies, not just under gangmasters but for any agency, find that they do not have the same terms and conditions of employment as people working alongside them. The worst example is in the telecoms industry, where members of the union of which I am the secretary in the House—although not a member of because I took that interest on from my predecessor who was a postman—tells me that people from agencies working alongside its members in call centres have not had a pay rise in five years, whereas those who work on a proper contract with an employer, whether it be an agency, BT or other call centre organisations, have regularly negotiated wage rises and all the other benefits that come with that.
There was a proposal that we should bring the measure in for everyone, and we have seen the negative effect of not doing so. We have seen people coming by invitation, particularly from the A8 countries, to join our work force, and being offered agency work status, and then British workers being told that if they wished to work in a certain place of employment they would be made redundant but could then join the agency under the same terms and conditions of employment as those people coming into the country, without the benefits of organised trade unions. Winston Churchill said that without the minimum wage bad employers undermine good employers, and the worst employers undermine the bad employers. That is what is happening in this country at the moment because we do not have the temporary agency workers directive.
Does the hon. Gentleman know that today, in the case of the International Transport Workers Federation, the European Court of Justice has made a ruling which it is said extends or moves into the right to strike? Does he not recognise that that is one of the contentious issues within the charter of fundamental rights, and it demonstrates everything that we have said in the European Scrutiny Committee report, namely that the charter of fundamental rights cannot be guarantee in relation to the ECJ?
I will come back to the charter of fundamental rights, because there are lessons there for the trade union movement. I will also have some comments to make that may be read by senior members of the trade unions who appear not to be listening to any other avenue through which I have spoken to them about the charter of fundamental rights, despite my long history of trade union membership, and some leadership positions in trade unions in Scotland.
The temporary agency workers directive would have required employers to give agency workers equal treatment and created a framework for the use of temporary workers that would be conducive to job creation and contribute to the development of flexible working. That is what the Lisbon agenda said about the need for such a directive.
The great problem was how long it would take for the EU Governments to implement the directive. The derogation asked for by the UK Government was five years. The UK also wanted one of the longest periods for a sunrise clause. Temporary agency workers would have to work for 12 months before they had these rights. Other proposals, including that of the Portuguese Government, whose people have been exploited on entering the EU, were for six weeks.
Instead of a compromise on those two directives, which were taken together, both being for the good of workers, no agreement could be reached. I believe that there was a blocking minority of the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Ireland—all countries on the plus side of employment—the ones with booming economies whose people do not have to travel outside their own countries for employment. That was a great disappointment to me. The TUC said:
“This is a bad day for working people throughout Europe.”
I will come back later to why I think the TUC’s decision on the treaty, particularly based upon its analysis of the charter of fundamental rights, was also a bad day for working people throughout Europe.
I do not speak today as the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee; I hope to take a wider view. Of the EU reform treaty Bill referred to in the Queen’s Speech, it has been said that Parliament would have full opportunity to scrutinise the treaty in detail—not yet, it would appear, but that was the promise—that the treaty would move the European debate on from inward-looking institutional questions to focus on real issues that actually matter to the people who live in the member states, and that the treaty would set in place a series of sensible institutional changes to help make the EU of 27 member states work more effectively.
The treaty will do a number of those things. It was important to get an institutional change that allowed us to move from pre-Nice to post-Nice to the position where we had 27 Members. That is encapsulated in the treaty; it is fundamental, and I do not think that anyone would disagree about it. Whether it had to be contained in this treaty is probably a major issue. Will it move us to the point where we will focus on real issues?
Every week the European Scrutiny Committee deals with matters that the Minister for Europe is discussing with his colleagues, and matters that other Ministers—Transport Ministers and Environment Ministers—are discussing with their colleagues. Every week we produce a hard-bound report of all the briefs that we consider, although I am sorry to say that those reports do not get much attention. Sometimes we send them for debate; we are trying to sort out the structure for the European Standing Committees so that the debates are back on the agendas of the private sector and civil society of this country. Just last week I spoke to a group of business people through the Industry and Parliament Trust. They said, “We no longer know who to write to. We no longer know who is on the Committees or who we should send our briefs to, because of the collapse of the scrutiny process.”
The problem with the treaty is that it will be a festering sore until the Government lance the boil. They could have started that process with a debate on the reform treaty. We could have got beyond the institutional structures and argued, as I may later, that having some of the changes opposed by the Opposition, such as qualified majority voting on different areas, and accepting that the European Court of Justice and the Commission will be given final jurisdiction over the implementation of European laws, will have the benefit of those laws being implemented throughout Europe—not being denied by any part of Europe, but being available to all our businesses and citizens and all citizens of Europe when they come to this country. However, we will never get beyond certain issues because the Government appear to be hiding among a maze of red lines and superstructures that they have constructed above them. That is a great disappointment.
If my hon. Friend’s Committee had the power to table an amendment to the papers that it considered and to have that voted on to get a resolution capable of being referred to the Floor of the House, that would solve a great many problems—not only from his point of view, but in respect of monitoring what happens in our name in the European Union.
I cannot think of a stronger advocate for more powers for the Committee. At the moment, the Government and their Ministers just see us as a bit of an annoyance. We have been crawling all over them and doing our job properly and that can sometimes be tedious. Someone said to me recently, “I’m fed up with writing you letters.” I should say that it was said jovially, but underneath it there was a bit of truth. We do not apologise for that or anything that enhances scrutiny. I shall come later to questions of how to deal with the opting-in process; that must be discussed on the Floor of the House if the process is to have any credibility.
Let us look at the Lisbon treaty from the perspective of the European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee’s report on it. First, there was the statement made at the conference on the future of Europe that I attended last week: let us accept the fact that 95 per cent. of European laws and decisions will be made under the European co-decision making process. That will give the European Parliament a say and the power to amend in 95 per cent. of cases. That is a fundamental, massive change, and I might argue positively for it. The one thing that used to worry me about Europe was that it involved a Commission and a group of bureaucrats and that there was no democratic say. The Parliament had the right to speak but no right to change, amend and have any power. If the conference statement is a good thing, it should be argued for.
The European Parliament report says that the Treaty of Lisbon is a
“substantial improvement on the existing treaties”
and that it will provide
“a stable and lasting framework”
for the work of the EU. The report endorses the treaty and expresses the hope that all member states will ratify it. It states that the treaty will provide more democratic accountability, including greater scrutiny powers for the European Parliament, and that Council meetings will be in public, the new budgetary process will require Council and European Parliament approval, and that future revision of the treaties will be carried out by a convention. That means, of course, that the passerelle clause will be used in a number of cases. All Governments would have to agree unanimously to pass over to qualified majority voting areas of policy that do not use it at the moment.
The report also mentions more rights and clarity for citizens—for example, through the European institutions being bound by the charter of fundamental rights and the European Union acceding to the European convention on human rights. The latter point is important; the EU would suddenly become controlled by the convention. The EU itself has not been, although Governments have. The report also introduces the idea of a European citizens initiative; I heard that debated at length last Monday and Tuesday but still do not know what it means. How would citizens get together so pressurise that great bureaucracy? Last week, I also heard statements again and again—including from the rapporteur Richard Corbett, of the Party of European Socialists, and a member of the Labour party. He did not think that the yellow and orange cards would be workable; he said that they would never be used, and many echoed that in last week’s debate. So according to European parliamentarians, those supposedly great powers given to the national Parliaments would never be triggered. That worries me greatly.
Does my hon. Friend accept that the citizens initiative, which as he rightly says is completely unworkable and gives rights to citizens that we do not even give to Parliament, was introduced so that some countries could avoid the need for a referendum? It could be said that the people had a direct voice, even if it did not amount to anything.
The dialogue was interesting. Some members, particularly people from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe—and particularly Mr. Duff, who chaired and steered the sitting every way, as long as it was his way—said that the national Parliaments should focus on telling the European Parliament what they thought, and that it would then try to tell the Commission and the Council. I do not think that that is the role of national Parliaments, which should focus on making their Governments go to the Council and agree the right thing.
We have arrived at a new place, which may be interesting, although I am not sure how it will work.
That will depend on the Government’s attitude to the role of Parliament. When the Government go to the Council, the European Scrutiny Committee is involved, and European Standing Committees can be involved if they can get the interest of Members of Parliament. However, at the moment I do not think there is a mechanism for Parliament to tell the Government what to do. My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) made exactly that point: if resolutions could be tabled and voted on, we might feel that matters of substance were being debated in the House and its Committees.
The fluidity of the British constitution is such that what appears to be a system of persuasion and cajoling can be more effective than the concept of mandating. Governments find ways to get round the mandate; we have seen that on a number of occasions in those rigid forums.
Mandating is attractive to people when they are out of office. I cannot imagine having a telephone conversation with a Minister of another party asking me, “Is it all right if we agree this?” It is difficult enough to get the ear of my own party; getting the ear of an opposing party might be even more difficult.
Let me add the final analysis of the European Parliament report. It said that there would be greater effectiveness in law making and that the number of areas subject to qualified majority voting would be increased. It is clear about that. It said that having a two and a half year standing President would give more coherence, and I agree. It said that there would be a reduction in the number of Commission members; I hope that everyone would agree with that. It also said that the EU would be able to act as one in external relations and that the pillar structure would be abandoned. That abandonment leads to some of our deep concerns about civil and criminal justice.
I turn now to the fundamental issues. I hope that people will read what we have said in our reports. As I believe that we have shown in the annex to our 35th report, every provision of the constitutional treaty, apart from the flags, mottos and anthems, is to be found in the reform treaty. We think that they are fundamentally the same, and the Government have not produced a table to contradict our position.
The next issue is that of opting in and additional votes. The concept of the opt-in that we have is an odd trap that the Government have set for themselves. When I asked the previous Prime Minister at the Liaison Committee what the four red lines were, and what we would have to do so that we did not have to have a referendum, he referred to the protection of the UK’s labour and social legislation and so on, but he used the words
“the control of the UK’s civil and criminal legal system”—
the common-law system of police and judicial processes. The White Paper responding to the Commission’s report on the intergovernmental conference changed that to:
“Protection of the UK’s common law system and the police and judicial process”.
It is much more difficult to protect than to control. If we are controlling, all we need to do is to say, “We’ve got control of it; we’ll give it up tomorrow, or the day after.” If we are protecting, we are saying that we do not give it up—that we do not move away from the position that we have at the moment whereby we have opted in, as the Foreign Secretary said in evidence to us, to 70 or 80 areas. We still have final jurisdiction over how the system is applied in the British courts. It is not controlled by the final jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and the Commission, which can take infraction against any country that does not apply ECJ decisions.
In the annex to our third report of Session 2007-08—wonderful things, these annexes—we list all the areas that we have already opted into that we were not in originally but we have gradually opted into, but only on condition that our courts will finally judge how they will be applied. We are told in article 10 of protocol 10 that over five years there are 70 or 80 areas—I do not know whether they will all be put together in a bundle—where we will have to make a decision whether to give up the right of the British courts to judge these matters, and opt into them when they are changed into what is now called the Community method—qualified majority voting.
That is a worry that the Government have never clarified. How will it be done? Will some Minister send an explanatory memorandum to our Committee buried in lots of other EMs from the Council, with possibly a debate—or 70 or 80 debates—in a European Standing Committee, or will the Government simply go and agree it and then tell us, “Sorry, we’ve done it—we’ve probably broken the scrutiny reserve but we can’t do anything about it because it’s all signed up to now”? I have to say that that does not happen as much now as it used to—the Government are getting better about it.
It is a real worry for us that that process has not been clarified. I asked the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, but we did not get a clear response. Will it be included in the EU reform treaty Bill so that we can decide in Parliament what the procedure would be? The Government are duty bound to give us that right. Every time they want to give up protecting the civil and criminal justice system, as they put it, they must present it to this House. Sometimes I might say that I would like to stay in an area that we have opted into—for example, the European arrest warrant, which worked very well when we got back, within three or four days, one of the people who perpetrated the 7 July bombing.
We have got such people back because we did not have to go through the old process of looking for people to repatriate them to their own countries. That was a very good thing. In that case, we could argue that we should stay in and take the consequences. ECJ jurisdiction will apply, and if anyone breaks that, the Commission will decide to take infraction against them. On other issues, we might decide that we want them to remain within the jurisdiction of the British courts. As we showed, that is also a consequence of articles 62 to 69, which are all new areas that we can choose to opt into. That also applies to every amendment. There have been amendments to previous agreements, and we have had the right to choose whether to opt into them. There are consequences if we do not opt into them—mainly that we have to walk away from the agreement altogether.
I am going to finish this point before I take an intervention.
The Danish Prime Minister decided that it was all right for Denmark because Denmark does not have that problem—it is secured. Our third report of the 2007-08 Session shows that the Danish had an agreement whereby if they decided that they did not want to opt in, they would remain with the status quo; the issue would still be under the jurisdiction of the Danish courts and they would not have to walk away. They had an agreement whereby they could keep what they had or choose the new arrangement. We could not understand why our Government did not get the same agreement, and we said so in our report. We are a much bigger country than Denmark, so why did we not have the leverage to say, “We’ll keep what we have, and if we like what you offer we’ll opt into that”? I cannot understand that at all; I have never been able to explain it to myself or to my Committee.
The hon. Gentleman is an excellent Chairman of the Committee—I hope that my saying that does not ruin his progress—and he is making some excellent points. Is part of the problem the fact that Ministers do not wish to come to this House for decisions to be made, because they wish to make decisions in smoke-filled rooms so that they can trade off a policy that they wish to see go through against other policies? Did not the former Minister for Europe go as far as saying on the record that they were even prepared to agree to proposals with a questionable legal basis if they could get something that they wanted in return?
That is a factual statement. The previous Minister for Europe, who is now our Chief Whip, has said that that is how deals are done. I do not know whether other Members who were in previous negotiations accepted that that was how Europe works—that sometimes people give in to something that they are not quite happy with on the basis that they are storing up good will for something coming down the line. That is on the record in one of our evidence sessions, and it was a revelation to me.
The Committee cannot understand why, when the text finally came out following the process of negotiations, it contained the word “shall”. It said that under article 8, Parliament “shall” participate in institutions of the European Union. We objected to that and asked why the Government did not negotiate to put in the word “may”. They said that the French word, “contribuant”, means that the action is ongoing, but we talked to French Members, who said, “No, that means, ‘You will contribute’”. We understand that France took a strong position on this. They did not want to take out the word “shall” and put in the word “may”. The wording now is that Parliaments “contribute to” or “participate in”. The legal judgment of our officials is that that will be used by the ECJ to say that the Commission, if it wishes to in future, can take infraction against any Parliament that refuses to participate in any part of the EU’s institutions. That is a very negative aspect. We expressed that view to the Government and suggested that they seek that amendment, but they did not secure it. On Monday, I asked President Barroso why we should not insert the word “may”, and he gave the same interpretation as the Portuguese Foreign Minister—that the article imposes no obligation on national Parliaments and is purely declaratory in nature. If that is the case, why not put in “may”?
I apologise for going on for so long, but I want to turn to one final matter before I conclude. When we did not get the agency workers directive, the TUC said that it was a bad day for workers throughout Europe. It was also a bad day when the TUC concluded that the charter of fundamental rights would not be applicable because of the Government’s assertion that it was tied up in the agreements, opt-outs and red lines, so working people would not be able to gain in their terms and conditions of employment or in any other matters related to the charter.
I think that the TUC did everyone a great disservice there. I have to ask people in the great unions, such as Tony Woodley of the Transport and General Workers Union or Derek Simpson of Amicus—both sections of Unite, the union of which I am a member—or Mr. Kenny of the GMB, why they did not realise that if they campaigned against the treaty and called for a referendum that led to its defeat, it would be denied to 26 other countries, whose working people and civil society wanted the charter of fundamental rights. I cannot understand a movement of working class solidarity that uses such a technique, and says, “If I can’t have it, I’m taking their ball and going off the park, and you can’t play.”
I accept what my hon. Friend says, and I understand the thrust of his arguments. However, would he not agree that, just as the Labour party could have argued for the social chapter even if it was not going to sign up to Maastricht, a country retaining control of what it wants to do could bring in such legislation without having to do so through the mechanisms of the bureaucracy of the European Union, if it needed to?
Possibly, because I am not a Eurosceptic. I voted yes in the original referendum on Europe. I had more insight than the Minister for Europe who did not vote. [Interruption.] He was too young. On his behalf, and on behalf of future generations, I voted yes, because I believed—and still believe—that the European project brings more for the people of this country, alongside the other peoples of Europe than it loses. I have absolutely no doubt about that, and I cannot understand a labour and trade union movement so churlish that it spitefully decides it will turn its back on solidarity across Europe because it wants a scrap with the Government,. That was a great disservice to the people, partly because the unions in question did not wait for our report.
The report points out that the charter of fundamental rights will be used again and again—I presume that Conservative Members do not like that—by civil society and by working people. They will use other things, such as the agency workers directive—when we get it—and the fully implemented working time directive. The charter will be used alongside those directives to challenge any Government, including this one, or any future Government, who deny people the same rights across Europe.
We are clear in our analysis. The Government have said that this is not an opt-out from the charter of fundamental rights. I hope that the trade unions will realise the great benefits to be gained and will campaign in support of the implementation of the treaty. Even though I have differences of opinion about implementation and about the impact of each section of the red lines, I have no doubt that the treaty should go through the parliamentary process. It is a difficult treaty. It has 150 clauses and it will have a deep and fundamental impact on the people of Britain. We are elected to represent those people, and it is our job to ratify it. I hope that the Government bring forward a full Bill so that we can argue, line by line, for the implementation of the treaty.
First of all, I associate myself with the remarks made by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs at the start of proceedings with regard to the tragedy in Algeria earlier today. Although details are still emerging, it is obvious that it was a very bad incident, and as the right hon. Gentleman said, our thoughts must be with everyone—the families and friends of all those who were killed or injured.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak from the Front Bench in this debate on European affairs, but the House should be aware that my party’s shadow Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore), has written to the Foreign Secretary and the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) to explain his absence from his usual place today.
As a proud advocate of internationalism and the European Union, I believe that the UK’s role in the EU is vital in securing a stable and successful future for our country and for our prosperity. Self-evidently, we face a world in which more and more challenges have an international dimension. Climate change, terrorism and the international drug trade are just a few of the major international issues that affect the everyday lives of people in the UK. To resolve such problems requires co-operation between nations, and that must be our watchword for the future.
The European Union plays a critical role in combating those evils, as well as in improving the lives of many of our constituents. Unlike some hon. Members, who seem to be avoiding the issue of Europe like the plague at the moment, and others who are unashamed in their hostility toward anything European, I speak for a party that is proudly internationalist and pro-European.
As I understand it, the hon. Gentleman is telling us that the Liberal party is supportive of the European Union. Well, hold the front page. May I ask him what the Liberals’ position is on the question of a referendum? As I understand it, they do not like the idea of a referendum on the constitution or the treaty; they want one on something entirely different. If that idea falls, however, and there is a motion before the House on the question of a referendum on the constitution, or the constitutional treaty, what will the position of the Liberal Democrats be?
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
As I was saying, I am keen to take a moment or two to look at some of the benefits the EU has brought to Britain over the years. Let us not forget that UK membership of the EU has given us the opportunity to co-operate on tackling cross-border crime, helped to provide strong economic growth and prosperity, helped to make our air cleaner, offered a co-ordinated approach to providing aid to the developing world, helped to make our beaches and rivers cleaner and provided regional development funds for deprived areas in the UK.
That does not mean that we claim the EU is perfect. We are certainly not blind to its faults; we simply believe that we are better off in than out. All too often, the positive benefits that the EU has delivered go unmentioned by politicians and unnoticed by the public. For too long, the Eurosceptics have controlled the agenda on Europe. Those of us in this House who are pro-European, whether present today or not, need to reassert our arguments and make the positive case for Europe. In that context, the recent relaunch of the European Movement under the presidency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr. Kennedy) is a very good thing indeed.
With the accession of Bulgaria and Romania, the EU now has 27 member states, and we can all agree that the institutional arrangements derived from its original six members cannot function properly in such a union, which will no doubt have more members in the future. Although I do not intend to spend too long on this issue, because I am sure that it will be discussed at great length in January and I hope to be part of that debate—reshuffle aside—I want to say a few words about the institutional changes proposed in the EU reform treaty.
I have no doubt that the proposals in the reform treaty will make the EU a more effective and efficient institution. The reduction in the number of commissioners and reform of the EU presidency will make co-ordination on a variety of policies both quicker and more decisive, improving the EU’s standing and power in the international arena.
We know that the hon. Gentleman’s party is actively and devotedly supportive of the European Union. Indeed, it said so in its 2005 manifesto:
“We are therefore clear in our support for the constitution, which we believe is in Britain’s interest”.
He therefore need not spend too long on that; however, the manifesto continued:
“but ratification must be subject to a referendum of the British people.”
Now can we hear his answer?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. If he will be patient for a tiny bit longer, I am about to come to that part of my speech. It may not be convenient to him or other hon. Members who have intervened that I should keep to the order in which I wish to present the arguments, but I will not be deflected—either by that hon. Gentleman or any other.
The reform treaty also achieves what we have wanted for a long time: to make the EU more accountable to UK citizens, through the involvement of national Parliaments and their ability to object to EU policies on the basis of subsidiarity. The EU’s policies will be fully discussed and scrutinised in Parliament, which I hope we would all agree is a welcome development for the UK. That said, we on the Liberal Democrat Benches will, as we have indicated previously, seek to table an amendment to the Bill when it is put before Parliament next year calling for a referendum, albeit not on the dry, technical detail of the treaty, but on the real issue, namely whether it is a good idea for the UK to stay in Europe or not. In or out—it is time that we sort it out.
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us what has changed between the general election, when it was pertinent to have a referendum on this “technical issue”, and now, when it is not?
I am delighted to answer the hon. Gentleman’s question. I will mention just three things that have gone from the constitutional treaty. The first is the constitutional concept. The European Council has stated that the constitutional concept has been “abandoned” and that, rather than replacing previous treaties, the reform treaty will amend previous treaties, principally the treaties establishing the European Community and the European Union. That is the first thing that is different.
The second thing that is different is that there will be no symbols of the European Union. There will be no article in the amended treaty mentioning—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman asked a question, but does not seem prepared to listen to the answer. There will be
“no article in the amended Treaties mentioning the symbols of the EU such as the flag, the anthem or the motto.”
That is the second thing that is different, off the top of my head. The third thing that is different—I will move on after this—is that there is no explicit mention of the primacy of EU law. At UK insistence, mention of the primacy of EU law will be relegated to a declaration noting the case law of the European Court of Justice. That will, in effect, recognise that the principle has been upheld.
Does the hon. Gentleman therefore agree with the former leader of his MEPs, Mr. Chris Davies, who wrote on 6 August:
“The EU Constitutional Treaty is dead. The EU Reform Treaty is very much alive. I think we should be honest in admitting that the difference between the two is minimal”?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. The answer to his question is no.
If we are to be honest with ourselves and the public, whether we are in or out is what the debate is really all about. In fact, we have already received some support from the blue side of the argument for our in/out referendum proposal. Iain Dale, the blogger extraordinaire and Conservative party activist, has advised the Leader of the Opposition on The Daily Telegraph’s website to steal the Lib Dems’ policy on the issue, arguing that it would
“settle the issue once and for all”.
I am happy that at least one prominent Conservative has come to a sensible conclusion on the matter. I have no doubt that others will follow in time.
I assure the House that if and when such a referendum is called, we on the Liberal Democrat Benches will be the first on the streets, pounding the pavements to explain to our constituents not only why Europe is good for the future of the UK, but why it is necessary if we are not to become a marginalised irrelevance on the international stage.
For those of us who remain a bit confused about exactly where the Lib Dems stand on the issue, will the hon. Gentleman state categorically that the Lib Dem policy is now not to have a referendum on the treaty—that they may want referendums on all sorts of other things, but they do not want a referendum on the treaty?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I am not quite sure what he is referring to when he says that we want referendums on many other things, but I have articulated our position as clear as clear could be. When the Bill comes before Parliament in the early part of next year, we will table an amendment to call for a referendum on what we believe is the central question: whether we stay in Europe or whether we come out. No amount of flannelling from Opposition Members who want the Liberal Democrats to take a different view will change our position, which has been set out many times by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) and other spokesmen. We are all well aware of the position.
I apologise—I have done it again. Will the hon. Gentleman answer the question that the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) asked—whether it is the Liberal Democrats’ policy definitely to reject a referendum on the treaty? It is quite possible to have a view on an in/out referendum, but one can also have a view on the treaty. Will the hon. Gentleman state categorically whether the Liberal Democrats are now against it?
Is the question not whether the other parties will support the Liberal Democrats’ amendment? If we were to have that referendum on whether we should be in or out, I am certain that our party would vote 100 per cent. for staying in and that the other parties would vote every which way.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. As ever, it is a helpful one. He is absolutely right that when the debate comes to that issue, hon. Members in other parties will have to take a view on the central question, which we are putting forward: do we want to stay in Europe or do we want to come out?
I would be very happy to spend the entirety of my speech on that one subject, but this European affairs debate allows us the opportunity to talk on many other subjects that are important, and I intend to do that.
The forthcoming summit will, I am sure, be a busy one, with the EU foreign policy high on the agenda. I am also certain that the issue of Kosovo will again be discussed, and rightly so. It is now eight years since NATO intervened there, and the “transitional” arrangements are beginning to look more permanent than they should. The Kosovars promise that they will eventually declare independence unilaterally—indeed, much earlier than next May. That is a clear indication of the tension in that region, which will not stay buried for too long. The EU needs to pre-empt a new crisis and act now.
Can the hon. Gentleman clear up one issue that is confusing the House, with a straight yes or no answer? When the legislation comes before the House, if there is an amendment to call a referendum on the constitutional treaty, will the Liberal Democrats vote yes or no, or abstain?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but he is not going to distract me from the issue that I am talking about, which is Kosovo—[Interruption.] I am sorry if Conservative Members do not think that Kosovo is worth the attention of the House. I beg to differ; I think that it is, and I intend to proceed with my remarks on the subject.
In our opinion, the only solution to the crisis in Kosovo is the supervised independence plan proposed by Martti Ahtisaari. His proposal envisages that the EU will play an oversight role while Kosovo develops the institutions and stable economy that it needs to enable full independence. We welcome today’s written statement from the Foreign Secretary on his desire for rapid discussions on a new Security Council resolution before the end of the year. His statement also recognises the slim prospects of securing a deal, however. If Russia remains the sole obstacle to achieving a new resolution at the Security Council, the EU and the US must swiftly take the lead in recognising Kosovo under the terms of the Ahtisaari plan.
This issue cannot be circumvented or ignored for much longer. We believe that Kosovo should eventually obtain its independence, but it must do so peacefully and under EU supervision. The Ahtisaari plan would facilitate that, and the EU should do all that it can to ensure that it is adopted as soon as possible. We have known that this day was coming for some time, and the EU must now come to a common position if it is to remain a credible player in the process. I hope that the Government will do all that they can to ensure that they get an EU agreement on this issue during the summit.
I am pleased to see that the European Union initialled a stabilisation and association agreement with Bosnia and Herzegovina last Wednesday. I was also pleased to note the almost instantaneous injection of stability that that brought to the country. These are indeed positive developments. The promise of EU accession for the western Balkan countries is, as ever, an inspiring one. Just last week, I met Government representatives from Bosnia and Herzegovina who impressed on me in the strongest language the importance of the possibility of EU membership and the positive effect that such membership would bring. The former high representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, my friend and colleague the noble Lord Ashdown, has rightly said that the prospect of joining Europe and NATO is the glue that holds the Balkan states on the path to reform. While I would not suggest that they would immediately revert to conflict if we took that glue away, they would certainly retreat into dissolution and the black hole of lawlessness. Sadly, recent events in Bosnia and Herzegovina have proved that to be all too true.
I am still unclear about the hon. Gentleman’s party’s position on the issue of a referendum. As I understand it, the Liberal Democrats wish to have a referendum on the in or out question. If the proposal for such a referendum were successfully passed by the House, I would have no difficulty in saying that I would campaign for Britain to remain in the European Union. However, that need not preclude the holding of a referendum on the European reform treaty. It is entirely possible for lots of people to adopt my position—namely, to support Britain’s remaining in the EU while voting against the reform treaty. Where do the Liberals stand on the question of the treaty? Whether they win or lose on the in or out question, what is their position on the reform treaty? Surely we can have honesty from the Liberals on that question—
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I also thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but I believe that I was talking about Bosnia when he rose to his feet.
To help countries such as Bosnia along the road to greater institutional, economic, political and social stability—[Interruption.]
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
To help countries such as Bosnia along the road to greater institutional, economic, political and social stability, the EU must be prepared not only to offer the prospect of EU accession to those countries but to be proactive in helping them to fulfil the accession criteria. It is no longer enough for us to sit on the sidelines watching and waiting for them to catch up with us. While we must ensure that the accession criteria are stringent and are fulfilled, we must also be prepared to devote real time and resources to the process. Widening EU membership will not only bring peace and security to eastern Europe; it will also be beneficial to the UK, create greater prosperity for the region as a whole and allow greater co-operation on key issues such as combating organised crime and illegal immigration.
The EU also has a key role to play in co-ordinating defence and foreign policy. I hope that, during the summit, time will be given to a discussion on the situation in the middle east and, in particular, on what role the EU can play in the wake of the Annapolis conference and how it can help the parties involved to reach a conclusion before the end of 2008. The process will not be easy, and I am sure that there will be moments when negotiations will stall. However, it is the only hope for the region. It is also essential that the EU explore ways to ensure that the aid to the region really does reach the innocent civilians who need it, both in the west bank and in Gaza.
Similarly, I hope that there will be a discussion on how the EU can improve its collective impact in Afghanistan. EU member states play a critical role in strengthening governance, delivering aid and, in some cases, fighting to improve security in Afghanistan as part of the NATO ISAF mission. Too often, however, effectiveness is hampered by poor co-ordination and caveats on military engagement. I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree with us that a stable, peaceful and secure Afghanistan is in the European as well as the British interest.
We welcome the fact that the Secretary of State turned his attention to EU defence capabilities in his recent speech at Bruges. The Liberal Democrats have long called for a European defence review to assess the military needs and capabilities of European nations. I shall be interested to know whether he will be advocating this agenda at the forthcoming summit.
The EU also plays a crucial function in providing aid and trade to the developing world. Africa and most of the European Union agree that decisions about the future of the EU-Africa relationship need to be Africa-centred. It would be folly to imagine that we should be imposing solutions on Africa from our positions of post-colonial comfort, and I hope that the change in direction that the EU-Africa summit was meant to bring will be borne out in practice. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that, when brutal dictators such as Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe wilfully mistreat and abuse their own people on such a massive scale, we have a right and a duty to speak out. That is why we urged the Portuguese not to invite him to the EU-Africa summit, and why we supported the Prime Minister’s position of boycotting the summit once it became clear that Mugabe would attend in person.
During the summit, discussions will take place on the economic partnership agreements. Along with many others, we have real concerns about the practicalities of those agreements and about their effect on the developing economies in Africa. We fully support proposals to remove restrictions on goods and services coming into the EU from Africa. Indeed, allowing greater trade from African countries and businesses will undoubtedly do more to change the trajectory of development than a generation of aid hand-outs. However, Africa nations must be allowed reasonably to protect themselves against the influx of imports from the EU countries, which is likely to have a devastating effect on the least developed economies over a short period. The conditions imposed in the agreements cannot solely be for the benefit of western and European countries.
The worst scenario would be that no conclusion were reached before the World Trade Organisation deadline of 31 December. The result of that would be an increase in tariffs and severe damage to the fledgling economies of Africa. I therefore hope that the Secretary of State will agree that discussion of these issues needs to be a top priority for the forthcoming summit. The EU has a responsibility as a global power to do all that it can to work with the developing world and to help those countries to achieve their full potential.
The EU has a vital role to play in our society, in our nation, in our continent and throughout the world. Together, we have greater strength and influence on the international stage than we could ever have apart. Co-operation and cross-border issues have proved to be beneficial for the citizens of all EU member states and all benefit from EU policies in a variety of areas. We need to carry on working to ensure that the EU is doing what is right and is doing it well. Only by playing a central role in shaping the future of the EU can the UK ensure that that is the case. Now that the discussions about the future structure have been progressed and are being dealt with nationally, the upcoming summit will give the UK the opportunity to set the agenda for EU policies for the future, so that the EU can continue to be an active player on the international stage and maintain a strong economic presence for the benefit of all EU member states.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter). I should like to pursue one point that he raised.
I find the idea of calling for a referendum on the question of being in or out of the EU rather curious. It is like having a general election, but on the question whether we should have a Government or not. It is perfectly honourable to say, “I wish to have a Government, but not this one. I would like a different one.” That is what the democratic process is all about. If a referendum on the question of being in or out should ever be put to the people, I could just about envisage a scenario in which two questions were posed and people were asked whether they wanted the treaty or not. To deny them that opportunity causes a real difficulty.
This debate is always held among the same group of people. If anybody ventures to Germany between Christmas and New Year, they discover that a short British comedy film with Freddie Frinton called “Dinner for One” is shown—the Germans think that the whole of Britain watches it. It portrays a situation that repeats—every year, the same people say the same thing. That is what EU debates tend to be like, with the same people trying to say something different.
The problem is that the EU does not fall along party lines and, as political parties, we all hate divisions within parties. Parties do not like to talk about the EU in case it opens up divisions within them.
My hon. Friend is being rather unkind about Freddie Frinton, who was not only a well-known seaside artist but had a long career in which he played precisely the same act for at least 45 years, to my certain knowledge, with great success. We should be grateful that at least Germany acknowledges the superb quality of UK variety artists.
Just to be serious for a brief moment, my hon. Friend was right to say that we want a choice. Does she not think that we, as parliamentarians, could propose some serious practical alternatives for Europe—not for this Europe, but for a much better Europe?
Indeed. Let me return to the treaty. I ask the House to bear with me for a few moments, because one problem with most of these debates is that we do not pick up one issue and think it through logically to its conclusion. We tend to switch from institutions to policies and to make one case by using the other argument.
I want to remind everybody of the difference between EFTA, the European Free Trade Association, and the EEC, the European Economic Community. EFTA was a free trading area—something for which I think the Conservatives still hanker. The EEC, as it then was, introduced the freedom of movement of labour, which was very important, because the minute that people are moved between countries, the mechanisms are created that will eventually lead to deeper political integration.
The original institutions of the then EEC—the legal mechanisms of directives, the European Court of Justice, which had a mandate for achieving deeper political integration, judicial interventions or qualified majority voting, which came in later—have led to an EU with a range of tools, all of which were designed in one way or another to further political integration. The argument about the use of QMV, for example, is always, “We cannot hold up progress by allowing Malta to stop us.” I am afraid that if we are to have a union of nation states, there will be issues on which one member can say no. The minute we remove that right, we become federal states. If that is what people want, that is fine. I am one of those few people who are utterly agnostic about that because, having spent half my life in a federal state, I do not mind what people want, I just think that they need to know what they are getting, and it is no good pretending otherwise.
The UK likes QMV occasionally, but I want to draw attention to something very different, because not only was the movement of labour significant, but there was another tool—the internal market. Although the rest of Europe, by and large, always prayed the internal market in aid of deeper political integration and was little concerned with whether it was fulfilled or not, Britain always liked the internal market as an end in itself rather than a tool. We were therefore much more focused on that notion, but those are the type of tools that the Germans put on the negotiating table that cause us a problem.
The next problem is the time span during which things happen. The working time directive began to be debated in the early 1990s, but did not start to cause us political problems in this country until 18 years later when we realised that allowing the training of junior doctors to comply with the directive meant that many of our increased number of doctors were used up. As for the voters, they could no longer hold anybody responsible because they had all gone from office. People said, “The pass has been sold.”
At this point, I want to consider something that is currently on the table. When I became a Health Minister in 1999, one of the first things that I had to do was to go to Europe—I was the foreigner on the team, so they said, “She can do abroad.” There was a Health Ministers’ lunch, at which we all got together. A junior official came up and said, “There’s a case which you may want to raise over lunch. It does not really bother anybody apart from us, but the Dutch are sympathetic to us.” The case was called Kohll v. Decker and it related to a Luxembourg national who went to Germany for dental treatment, and it was asked whether that was part of the internal market.
I remember that the position taken at that lunch was quite eccentric. Only the Dutch Health Minister, who had been around for a long time, realised that there might be a problem, but the case was seen as a peculiarly British obsession. At that stage, we were waiting for another court ruling on the costs related to that case. To argue that, three or four court rulings down the road, we would have a problem with running the national health service, because we were the only country whose health system was completely funded by taxation and based on residency, with no controls—unlike other countries—was seen as the product of an eccentric lawyer’s imagination running wild. It was argued that I did not have to worry because health was not an EU competence. Health is now becoming an EU competence, albeit only on the public health side.
This is not a debate on the EU health directive or the court cases, but we had a succession of court cases that ended with a British case in 2006, where the ECJ pushed it to the limit and applied the internal market as a mechanism to allow people to travel from one country to another and claim health expenses without prior authorisation. We reached the point where Ministers were saying, “Thus far and no further. We now want a political input.”
That political input is now in a draft EU directive on health, to be published, I understand, on 19 December— politically, an extremely active date. I know exactly what will happen. We will get the directive and will be told not to be paranoid, as it is all perfectly all right. An early-day motion has been tabled that states that the logical conclusion of that directive is that it will undermine the way in which we run the NHS. What is so sad is that almost the only mechanism open to Members to raise that issue is an early-day motion. If we are honest, we all know the political significance of early-day motions. We might as well spray graffiti outside Big Ben—it would probably have more effect, because at least the cameras would catch it.
If we pass the treaty, whatever it is called, we will create a situation in which, step by step, over the past 30 years—through legislation, court intervention or QMV—we will have completely recalibrated the presumption of who is in charge of legislation. This House is no longer in charge of all our legislation, so we must now find the areas in which we remain supreme. It can be argued that even matters to do with defence and foreign affairs can be circumvented. Over the decades, and step by step, the presumption as to where legislative power lies has moved away from this place. The problem with health legislation, for instance, is even worse, because that is something that we have devolved to Scotland and Wales. The result is that this House has become even less relevant.
The British people may well be entirely content with that, but it is something that they need to think about. We need to explain what has happened, and that is why this debate is so important.
Three things need to happen when the treaty is considered. First, given that the passerelle clause in its present state is not sufficient, the Government must make a clear commitment to bring in primary legislation, and not just to allow the House to have a vote, before there is any further erosion of our legislative power as a result of QMV. Secondly, the political parties must stop playing silly games about matters such as the new health directive—which incidentally looks suspiciously like the Tory policy on patients’ rights—and be more open about what they believe.
Thirdly, and most fundamentally, all three main political parties promised in their election manifestos that the treaty was so significant that the British people needed to be asked their opinion. If Labour, as the governing party, is so confident that the treaty represents a good deal for Britain, we should have the courage to ask the people about it, as well as subjecting it to 20-odd days debate in this House.
Does my hon. Friend accept that the call for a referendum is to a certain extent emotional and simplistic? She will have read most of the documents on the reform treaty, although she may not have seen the final draft, and I am sure that she has read with interest the reports from the European Scrutiny Committee. Does she agree that any referendum would not be on the reform treaty but would refer to populist and emotional matters such as straight bananas and immigrants stealing our jobs? Does she really want to reduce such an important matter to a travesty like that?
I agree that there are dangers associated with referendums. Some countries have banned them, for very good reasons, but two points are worth making. First, in mature democracies, referendums are part of the democratic process. Secondly, when people in Wales and Scotland voted in referendums in the way that we wanted, I did not hear anyone on this side of the House say, “They voted on devolution but they did not know what it was about.” The Labour party has used referendums more than any other, and I must repeat that we promised one on the treaty in our election manifesto. Therefore, there must have been a time when we thought that holding one was the right thing to do.
As I said at the very start of my speech, our relationship with the EU is a constitutional matter. Opinions about it do not fall comfortably along party lines, so I do not entirely agree that it is an issue that can be decided as part of a general election. The fact that the previous Conservative Government did not offer a referendum on Maastricht—in fairness, they never said that they would—only strengthens the case that I am making.
Thirty years have passed since 1975 when, as I remind my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), the Labour Government under Harold Wilson gave the country a referendum on European Community membership. Given what I said earlier about the shift in the presumption about where power lies and the changes in how this place deals with European affairs, I think that it is appropriate that we ask the people of this country for their opinion.
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), for the very good reason that I share her conclusions about the necessity for a referendum. It is not unknown that I was very much in favour of a referendum on the Maastricht treaty. If we had had one, we would not be debating this matter now, as I am sure that we would have secured a no vote.
In a moment. Intriguingly, the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, said that he voted yes in 1975. I presume that he was pleased with the outcome of that vote, as it confirmed our membership of what we now call the EU. At least the then Labour Government offered that referendum, whereas most of the present Government’s arguments against holding one now are completely absurd. I do not understand why the Government today cannot retain their stated position of 1975.
The hon. Gentleman was in favour of a referendum in 1975, and so was I. May I draw to his attention the fact that the Liberals were also in favour of a referendum at that time? In contrast, we do not really know what they think now. They may be waiting for a reshuffle or something. Does he anticipate that the time will come when the Liberals will be able to decide whether they are in favour of a referendum on this matter?
I have the gravest doubts as to whether the Liberal party has any clear idea about where it is going with any policy, but an important point about the in or out question is being overlooked: that the proposed treaty is in fact a merger, through binding mandate, of all the treaties on the European Community and the European Union. It is also substantially equivalent to the original constitutional treaty, and that combination means that any referendum on a yes or no question would effectively come down to asking whether or not the British people wanted all those treaties. That is as close as I can get to asking whether we should be in or out, and I believe that some people may be underestimating the extent to which any referendum on the reform treaty would turn out to be one on all the treaties, as a whole.
Like the hon. Gentleman, I am in favour of a referendum. If one were to be held, it would be very popular and might well result in a no vote. Does he believe that many citizens in the rest of Europe might be very grateful to have a chance to think again about a treaty that has been imposed on them by their leaders?
I do, especially given what happened with the referendums in France and the Netherlands, and before those in Ireland and Denmark. We could have a referendum on this treaty, or on its ratification; I do not mind, and my motion on that subject has received strong support from members of my party. As I said earlier—and my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) suggested the same thing—I agree with the report from the European Scrutiny Committee stating that Parliament has been bypassed in a deceitful manner. That process was quite intentional, and our cross-examination of the Foreign Secretary has given us a more than sound reason for holding a post-ratification referendum.
We were taken into the EU in 1972 on what has turned out to be a misleading basis. In the same way, this treaty has brought together all existing treaties and now presents us with a similar problem. That is a not a proper way for this Parliament to behave. In my opinion, the Government’s approach has been dishonest and lacking in integrity. The most recent opinion poll was conducted in the past few days by Global Vision, and it found that 82 per cent. of people would like there to be movement towards an association of nation states through renegotiation—something that I have long advocated. If those negotiations failed because the other member states simply refused to accept them, the question of whether to withdraw from the European Union would arise.
The Prime Minister alleged the other day that I had said we must withdraw from the European Union. I have never said that that is my explicit objective. However, I believe that we have passed thresholds. In my opinion, we did that on Maastricht and then on Nice and Amsterdam. I tabled hundreds of amendments to all those treaties. Indeed, on the European Union constitutional treaty, I think that I managed to reach 400. However, the bottom line is that we should have a referendum, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston said. I echo others’ comments that we must preserve the right to legislate in this House for the electorate who elected us to represent them.
The matter is simple; it is about simple democracy and simple freedom. As the Chairman of the Select Committee said, it is inconceivable that we should be confronted with ambiguity about whether we, as a national, sovereign Parliament, which has developed democracy over the past 400 years and passed it on to much of the rest of the world, could possibly face the legal obligation that is enforceable by infraction proceedings. I demand to know why the Government have not made the wording crystal clear so that there could be no question of a legal obligation on this Parliament. That raises the question of what lies at the heart of the European Communities Act 1972. Sections 2 and 3, on which everything else depends, state that we must obey all European laws that are passed in the Council of Ministers and that we must comply with all European Court decisions. That is the root of the authority, and what we must tackle during the series of debates in January.
Our debates will be about the right of the British Parliament, when necessary—I believe that it has already become necessary—to demand an endorsement of our supremacy. That remains the key issue; our entire democracy depends on it. People fought and died for it over the centuries and especially in the past 60 or so years. We are considering matters that are far deeper than what the Foreign Secretary described as navel gazing about institutional matters. Our debate is about fundamental questions on which the British people have a right to have their say.
Curiously, a referendum would enhance, not diminish, Parliament’s authority because referendums cannot be held without an Act of Parliament or a provision in a measure to effect them. There are moments when—with some humility, I hope—Members of Parliament do not presume to know what the people of this country should do when they are confronted with a life-changing impact on their daily lives.
It is almost impossible to think of a single subject, including tax—for a variety of technical and legal reasons that I do not need to discuss—that is not affected by the juggernaut and the labyrinth of the European system that the European Court of Justice can enforce. That applies to the question of a constitutional relationship between us and Europe because of a case called Frankovich. The constitutional position of the European Court of Justice is that we are under an obligation to give effect to whatever emerges from the European Union, whether it affects our constitution or not. The remedy therefore lies with us:
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
Have we not the humility to hand decisions back to the people for their determination? I believe that it is our right and duty to do that. We should also acknowledge the sheer impact of the morass of legislation, which I have observed for the past 23 years since I first served on the European Scrutiny Committee. It has been an interesting experience. I watched the whole process and, yes, fought aspects of it. In my own mind, I am not anti-European. It is pro-European to be pro-democracy. I believe that so-called anti-Europeans often present the best arguments to prevent this country from losing its right to govern itself.
I could not agree more. The hon. Gentleman’s comments go back to my earlier point about the second world war. We fought for freedom and for Europe. That was right. In doing that, we prevented this country from being taken over by a dreadful tyranny.
Let us consider the charter of fundamental rights. It does not simply comprise a few isolated legal points that can be produced by the odd lawyer from university. It is about the way in which people will be expected to live in future. It affects every aspect of human life. After intense analysis of the position and listening to the Foreign Secretary and the legal adviser, who discussed the issue with us, the European Scrutiny Committee concluded:
“We express doubts on the effectiveness of the Protocol on the Charter of Fundamental Rights and do not consider that it guarantees that the Charter can have no effect on the law of the United Kingdom when it is combined with consideration of the implementation of Union law.”
In other words, we do not buy the argument that the Government have effectively excluded us from invasions by the European Court of Justice of our legal system in respect of matters that arise under the charter. That is a profound criticism and a profound indictment of the Government’s position.
Leaving aside the indictment of the Government’s position, does the hon. Gentleman concur that the TUC was wrong to oppose the treaty on the ground that the Government’s red lines barred the charter of fundamental rights from doing the things that he suggests? That conclusion led the TUC to oppose the treaty.
The trade union position has been somewhat variable. As I said to the hon. Gentleman earlier, a European Court of Justice decision has come out today, which, I am informed, extends the right to strike. That should make the Government apprehensive. If the court is already saying that, how much will it say about the charter of fundamental rights as and when it comes up for interpretation?
There is only one answer, which goes back to my point about intrinsic sovereignty. That is not a theoretical abstract; we are dealing with a decision about whether we legislate properly on behalf of the people whom we represent. The answer is simple: it is my “notwithstanding formula”. If we include in our own legislation the words “notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972” as a prelude to legislation that emanates from the European Union when we enact it in this place, that would require the judiciary to obey the latest, inconsistent, expressly stated measure from Westminster. They have no option. I think that we have reached that point, and I think specifically—although I would take this on a far more general footing—with regard to the Government claiming that they do not want the charter to apply to this country in the legally binding way I have described, the fact that, according to the ESC, they cannot guarantee that leaves them with only one option: to apply the “notwithstanding formula” in their proposals for the Bill to make certain that it does not apply. I am deeply disappointed and disturbed by the clap-trap put forward by the Foreign Secretary in the Government’s replies to the ESC report, because they know that that was not only a threadbare but a non-existent argument. This is a serious issue because the charter extends into so many areas of our national life.
I said at the beginning of my speech that I think this treaty is more important than Maastricht. Why do I believe that? I believe it because although Maastricht was about the shift to European government—that is why I opposed the treaty, causing some pain and concern to some, or most, of my colleagues—since then there has been an accumulation of other functions, which have been all-pervasive in that they have gone into almost every other field. Members might or might not know about the so-called doctrine of the occupied field. I do not wish to explain it in detail other than to say that according to that doctrine if the EU has been granted competence in a particular field, a country could not legislate in its own Parliament. Furthermore, with the self-amending text point, which has already been discussed, the reality is that neither can it have any referendums in respect of those areas; a national Government would not be in a position to say that they were able to go to the people because they would have already made the textual changes internally within the framework of existing competences. Huge issues arise in relation to the treaty, which need to be not only carefully considered, but rejected.
The Prime Minister has been talking about the governance of Britain and the fact that he thinks treaties should be approved by Parliament. This debate should have been on a substantive motion. The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, Chairman of the ESC, made that point. Although the debate is taking place on the Floor of the House, it should also be subject to a vote. Not many Members are here but there are a variety of reasons for that, and I think the Government stand condemned by virtue of their failure to have a proper debate on a substantive motion before the treaty is signed.
There have been deceitful circumstances, and also obscure and opaque circumstances, as we discovered from our cross-examination; some of them have not been entirely resolved even today. At some point between about 15 and 23 June—I cannot be exact—things were going on. The German presidency produced papers; it bounced people, and papers emerged. There are also question marks over whether there was more discussion than was being disclosed. I simply make this point: against that background, it is fundamental to the integrity of this House that we make certain that the Government are forced into a position in which during the course of the debates that take place next year, not only do we have a referendum—that is entirely justified in the interests of the British people—but they are made to explain how it was that the poisoned chalice of the reform treaty was passed by the former Prime Minister within what appears to have been a period of approximately just one week before he gave up office and the new Prime Minister came in. I cannot believe that the new Prime Minister did not know exactly what he was taking on. Therefore, in the light of what I saw when I watched the former Prime Minister in “The Blair Years” on television, I was bound to conclude that in fact the incoming Prime Minister in part took on his job on an understanding that he would not disrupt the smooth passage of that poisoned chalice which he received from the outgoing Prime Minister. I think that that is the real reason we are not being given a referendum; I cannot prove it, but I believe it is the case.
Some issues are so important to our constituents that we have to step up to the plate. I believe that this debate should have been on a substantive motion and that it should be subjected to a vote, simply as a protest and in defiance of the way in which the Government have behaved in betraying the British people and giving them a treaty they have no business inflicting on them.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), and I agree that the debate should have been on a substantive motion. However, it does not help that Members of his party are, I think, on only a one-line Whip. I am not sure what that tells us, but I too am disappointed by it.
I spent a little time over the weekend reading through the Third Reading debate on the Maastricht Bill—or Maastricht treaty, as it became. It is interesting to note how many of the Members involved in that debate are also involved in today’s debate. The major parties now occupy Benches on the opposite sides of the House from those that they occupied then, but looking through some of the points made in that earlier debate revealed that when it comes to treaties such as this one, Governments of different political persuasions seem to take similar positions; it appears that when Oppositions get into government and go to Europe, something happens to them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) spoke about her experiences as a Minister in Europe. I too went to Europe as a Minister—to the justice and home affairs section—when I had a year in the Home Office as a Minister. We clearly saw there how everything that happens in Europe is built on deals and stitch-ups and people saying, “You give me that, and I’ll give you that.” The current Secretary of State for Justice was Home Secretary at the time, and even though he wielded a tough bat in the justice and home affairs area there were still times when, having gone there absolutely determined that we were not going to give an inch, word would come through after a while that the powers that be back at home in Downing street wanted something changed, because if we gave in on that, we might get something else somewhere else. I am elected to Parliament to represent my constituents, and I do not think that we should be involved in such deals, which ultimately end up in a kind of compromise whereby sometimes we get the worst of all possible worlds.
I am particularly sorry about the current situation, as my party had a manifesto commitment that they would put the treaty to the vote, and I personally put that in my election address. I am clear that I will not be breaking any promises that I made in the election. I will still do whatever I can to urge my Government to change their view on this issue. A commitment was given, and despite all the words that have been said, if the Minister is honest—I know he is an honest Minister—although he will not say so here and now, he will know deep down, as we all do, that this constitutional treaty, as I think it should still be called, is almost entirely the same document as the one that was rejected by the French and the Dutch, and the one that we offered a referendum on such a short time ago.
The transactional relationship that the hon. Lady describes in European dealings is, of course, a feature of intergovernmental relationships too, but does she agree that the difference is that, because of the EU’s supranational reality and further ambitions, those transactions are not accountable to this House and are therefore entirely detached from the will of the British people?
I think that that is the case. The reality is that absolutely nothing going on within the European Union is transparent. We need only look into the situation with the accounts. Is it not absolutely shocking that, 13 years on, no one has signed off the EU accounts? Where else would that be allowed to happen? If that were a company the directors would be up on charges, and even the smallest voluntary organisation has to have its accounts monitored, yet the reform treaty does nothing about that, and will make no change to it.
All the millions of pounds that this country puts into the EU are often subject to the sort of fraudulent behaviour or misappropriation of money that we all know goes on. Why should my constituents in Vauxhall, many of them very poor indeed, pay their taxes towards the EU fund without knowing at the end of the process exactly where their money has gone, especially when they know how little of it comes back to them or to this country? I sometimes open events where the European Union plaque is displayed—some insist on putting it up at every little project, even when only a very small amount of money is involved—and people are always grovelling around to say nice things about the EU. They thank the EU for their money, but they should not be thanking the EU: it is our money coming back—and there is a lot less of it than we jolly well put in! I find the whole situation with fraud and the accounts quite disgraceful. It may be nothing to do with the treaty, but if we sign it, things will certainly get a lot worse.
Does the hon. Lady agree with me that in respect of the EU rebate, which the Government have abandoned—20 per cent. of it has been lost, which is equivalent to about £10 billion—all that money is pouring into eastern Europe, some of which they cannot spend quickly enough, while at the same time our own Government are borrowing £40 billion just to balance the books this year alone?
The hon. Gentleman knows that this was quite fully debated just a couple of weeks ago. The Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee says that the amount is £7 billion, so perhaps we could work out the difference between £7 billion and £10 billion—still a huge amount of money.
The Government have tried to argue that because the red lines were maintained, this is not a constitutional issue, so all the opt-ins and opt-outs that we have negotiated will prevent any further erosion of our powers to Brussels. The reality and the fact is—again, we all know it, but some people, including the Government, do not like to admit it—that the vast bureaucracy in Brussels is a self-perpetuating system, which will continue to take powers from us, whatever we do, wherever and whenever it can. It wants to push for more, and the only way in which it will be constrained is by allowing democratically elected parliaments, and then the people themselves, to vote.
The constitution was stopped—initially by the referendums in France and the Netherlands—only when people stopped it. Remember—the votes came through and everyone in the European Commission said, “The people of France and the Netherlands have sent us a message. We’re going too fast. The people do not like this, that or the other.” They said that they would reflect and come back with a more acceptable treaty. What did they actually do? They went away—there was a long period of silence; negotiations may have been going on, but certainly no one in this Chamber was involved—and came back with a very similar constitution.
Given that the Government and all three political parties promised a referendum, reneging on it now will, in my view, deeply damage the relationship between the public and Parliament, and between the public and the Government. It is not good enough for a manifesto commitment to be just discarded like that. I was amazed that the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter), who speaks for the Liberal Democrats, could not answer this simple question: if an amendment calling for a referendum were passed here, what would the Liberal Democrats do? [Interruption.] I see the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Willie Rennie)—presumably a new Liberal Democrat Front-Bench spokesman—in his place, so perhaps he can answer that question. I will not push him, though, because there is talk of a reshuffle and he might be involved in it. It does seem absolutely amazing that the day before the Prime Minister is going to sign the treaty, without a photograph—[Interruption]—or not. It is amazing that the Liberal Democrats still cannot tell us what they would do if there were an amendment calling for a referendum.
As I understand the Liberal Democrat position, they do not know what kind of Whip they are on. I sought that information from their spokesman and the answer came back that he did not know. That clearly demonstrates the decisiveness with which the Liberals are approaching these European matters.