[Relevant document: The Third Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2007-08, on Foreign Policy Aspects of the Lisbon Treaty (House of Commons Paper No. 120-I).]
I must inform the House that Mr. Speaker has decided not to select the reasoned amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Glasgow, South-West (Mr. Davidson) and other hon. Members.
Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second Time.
The Bill will give effect in United Kingdom law to changes agreed last October at the European Council in Lisbon to the treaties establishing the European Communities and the European Union. The Government are convinced that Britain’s membership and full engagement with the European Union is good for Britain and good for Europe; and we believe that the treaty is good for Britain and good for Europe, too.
The treaty is the fifth such treaty since the late Edward Heath negotiated the UK’s entry to the EU in 1973. Lady Thatcher’s Single European Act of 1986 set out the blueprint to complete the single market, provided for co-operation in foreign policy and created the concept of the convergence of economic and monetary policies. John Major’s treaty of Maastricht in 1992 created economic and monetary union, the common foreign and security policy, and co-operation on justice and home affairs. Tony Blair’s 1997 treaty of Amsterdam streamlined decision making and added provisions on social policy and employment, while the treaty of Nice in 2001 adjusted the EU’s institutions to pave the way for enlargement. As I will describe, the treaty will improve the way in which the EU works. It will adapt the EU’s institutions to a Union of 27, and ensure that the voice of Europe’s nations is heard more loudly in foreign policy. It brings national Parliaments into day-to-day decision making to strengthen subsidiarity and focuses the EU on the big external challenges from climate change to migration.
Just let me set out my argument.
This treaty is unique, however, in one regard. It marks the end of a process of institutional reform. That process has gone on too long and taken too much energy, but, if this treaty is ratified around Europe, it will be well and truly over—[Interruption.] Hon. Members ask me to prove it. If they will wait one second while I finish this paragraph, I will do so. As the preamble of the treaty says, its purpose is to complete—to finish and to stop—the institutional reform process started by the Amsterdam and Nice treaties. The European Council concluded in December that the amending treaty
“provides the Union with a stable and lasting institutional framework. We expect no change in the foreseeable future”.
Richard Lambert of the CBI said on 22 November that
“the tide of Euro federalism has turned decisively”.
[Laughter.] Opposition Members can mock the director general of the CBI if they wish; we take his views seriously.
The Foreign Secretary might find himself alone in holding that point of view. May I ask him a simple question? He cited the preamble as though it had the effect of the treaty. Is it not true, however, that in all European legislation a preamble is clearly understood not to have legal status?
Will the Foreign Secretary now cut to the chase and spell out the specific transfers of power in the original constitution that, in the Government’s opinion, justified a referendum, but which are not in this treaty—thus, in the Government’s view, nullifying their promise to hold a referendum? Will he spell out those specific powers?
A number of Committees of this House have reported that there is no substantial difference between what was the constitution and is now the treaty. Apart from those other Governments who do not want to face their electorates to test their views, what bodies of equivalent standing do our Government have on their side saying that this is a treaty and not a constitution?
I take my right hon. Friend’s position on this matter very seriously. If he looks at the minutes of the meetings of the Committees that he refers to, he will see that they have voted decisively on many occasions against having a referendum. The Foreign Affairs Committee and the European Scrutiny Committee have both voted against a referendum. In respect of my right hon. Friend’s question about other authorities, I am happy to cite independent legal authorities, including the Dutch Council of State, and independent investigations from other countries, some of which are governmental, and some of which are not. The issue at hand here is whether this treaty constitutes fundamental constitutional change, and my case to the House tonight is that it does not.
The specialist Committees that reported and did not mention whether there should be a referendum did not do so because it was not within their remit. On a more specific point, the Foreign Secretary has said on a number of occasions that this treaty will bring an end to institutional changes. Does he really mean that the new treaty, if accepted, would no longer require national Parliaments to be involved in such procedures because it allows self-amending mechanisms, which would mean that we would no longer have a say on certain things?
Let me make some progress.
Left of centre parties in all 27 European countries support the treaty; liberal parties—as well as social democratic and socialist parties—in all 27 countries support the treaty; and conservative parties in 26 countries support the treaty. Only in Britain do we have a major party opposed to the contents of the treaty. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has pledged its support for the provisions in the treaty—[Interruption.] Let me make the point.
Order. These are very serious matters and I am sure that the House will bear that in mind as we continue this debate. The Secretary of State is clearly not giving way for the time being and he will no doubt indicate clearly when he is prepared to do so.
I will give way to right hon. and hon. Members after I have made my point.
Environmental organisations support the treaty provisions on sustainable development and even the commission of bishops supports the treaty. This is a coalition not of ideology, but integrity; not of federalism in Europe, but of realism about the modern world. Only in Britain does one of the two main parties place itself outside that coalition and actually oppose the contents of the treaty root and branch.
Would not the Government be in a much stronger position to defend a treaty to which many of us find no objection in general if they had not promised a referendum, yet are now denying it? Is not the real issue that people in Britain who favour the treaty believe that the Government have gone back on their word?
May I ask the Foreign Secretary to answer one simple question? He has listed many people who are for this treaty, but the Governments of Scotland and of Northern Ireland are not for it. Surely they should be listened to in this united Parliament.
My right hon. Friend was absolutely right to point out that voluntary organisations support the treaty. Is it not the case that with this treaty comes a recognition for the first time of the relationship between European institutions and civil society across Europe, in that article 8 provides new opportunities to build on the work we are doing to empower civil society in this country, enabling us to work towards the European compact for civil society?
When all the politics is cut aside, is it not clear that the main difference between the constitution and this treaty, which has been recognised by other EU countries, is that the constitution brought together previous treaties and bound them as a document, which would then have been amendable as the constitution of the EU; whereas this treaty is in exactly the same legal position as previous treaties such as Amsterdam and Nice and has much less of a radical impact than the Maastricht treaty?
When I say, as my hon. Friend does, that the treaty is different in structure, it is because the proposed constitution was legally unprecedented: it abolished all previous European treaties and refounded the European Union. This treaty, like the four previous treaties, amends the original founding document of the European Union.
If this treaty is such a marvellous thing for this country, why will the Secretary of State not have the courage of his convictions and put it to the British people? Does he think that the British public are too thick to understand its benefits, or is he just scared of being rumbled, because they know that it gives away so many powers to the European Union?
The right hon. Gentleman has said now on two occasions that the only basis for a referendum would be that fundamental constitutional changes were proposed. He must be aware that when the former Prime Minister Tony Blair announced a referendum in 2004, at no time did he cite as the basis for his decision the fact that what was before us was a constitution. He said to the House that when Parliament had discussed the matter, we should let the people have their say. If the Foreign Secretary is resting on the opinion of the bench of bishops and the NSPCC, is it not also appropriate that the people have their say?
The former Prime Minister addressed the matter directly in his statement from the Dispatch Box, when he said that the constitution did not constitute fundamental constitutional change. A bit like the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), he had the idea that we should “clear the air”. No doubt historians will debate the wisdom or otherwise of that for many years to come. There was absolute clarity, however, that the constitution did not constitute fundamental constitutional change.
I must make progress, but I shall try to give way to right hon. and hon. Members in due course.
The wide coalition behind the treaty is relevant. The Leader of the Opposition said in 2007 that he wanted to
“create a flexible Europe by building alliances with those who share our interests and our ideas”.
Where does that stand now? We know the truth. His crusade against the treaty is a shared project with Sinn Fein, assorted fringe communist parties and the Dutch Animals party. That is the extent of the shared interests.
The Leader of the Opposition is not leading his party to government, or building an alliance of shared interests. He is leading it into the wilderness, to follow the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash).
The House will understand if I say that that is a matter for debate rather than a matter for the Chair.
Let me go through the clauses of the Bill. [Interruption.] I will be happy to give way later.
Clause 1 defines the Lisbon treaty. Clause 2 amends the European Communities Act 1972, which gives EU treaties legal effect in the UK, to include the Lisbon treaty. We gave effect to the four previous treaties governing our role in the European Union in exactly the same way.
No, I will be happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman later.
Clause 3 clarifies the terminology relating to the European Union. Clause 4 provides for consequential changes in the European Parliament. Clause 5 provides that no future amending treaty is to be ratified by the United Kingdom unless it has been approved by an Act of Parliament. Clause 6, for the first time, gives Parliament the power to veto amending measures, covering any move to qualified majority voting, co-decision and the so-called simplified revision procedure—the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), and which I want to cover. The so-called passerelles are provisions in the treaty allowing for amendment without an intergovernmental conference. They have been around since Margaret Thatcher’s Single European Act. It is not just the case that changes can come into force only if they are agreed by all Governments; this is the first time that Parliament has been given power to veto their use.
Clause 7 is the short title of the Bill. Clause 8 provides for the commencement of its provisions. That creates, as requested by both Select Committees, a parliamentary hook for an amendment calling for a referendum on the treaty and a debate and vote in the House on the issue.
Today’s debate provides an opportunity to discuss the principles and content of the Bill and the treaty, and it is to the details of the treaty that I now wish to turn.
The Foreign Secretary says that there is no fundamental change. How can he claim that there is no fundamental change in the structure of the United Kingdom in relation to the European Union by virtue of the Bill and this treaty? It is absolutely clear from the Government’s own statement that there is a merger of the existing treaties, the abolition of the European Community in favour of a European Union and a legal personality, and that the structure of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union is absolutely and totally changed by virtue of these proposals.
There is simply no credibility in the suggestion that with the continued separate treaty for foreign policy, this treaty abolishes the United Kingdom’s ability to be a sovereign country. I can tell the hon. Gentleman—and I will go through this in detail—that in structure, in content and in consequence, it is certainly not a bigger change in the relationship between Britain and the European Union than was Maastricht or the Single European Act.
I certainly will. In respect of development, energy liberalisation and development aid, this is precisely the sort of change that we need in order to get things done in the European Union. It is in the British national interest, rather than contrary to it.
The question in which people are interested is whether there should be a referendum or not. The only excuse that the Foreign Secretary and the Government have for not holding a referendum is that this treaty is in some way fundamentally different from the constitution. However, a report by the European Scrutiny Committee stated
“The Reform Treaty”
“will introduce into the existing Treaties all the ‘innovations’”
that were in the constitution apart from the symbols, referring, I think, to the flag and the “Ode to Joy”. Was the Scrutiny Committee wrong? If it was not, the Foreign Secretary is not being straight with the House.
The hon. Gentleman has quoted a very partial part—[Interruption.] The European Scrutiny Committee did not say that it was only in the matter of symbols that there were differences. In terms of structure, content and consequences, this is a fundamentally different treaty, and it certainly does not meet the bar of fundamental constitutional reform.
May I give the Foreign Secretary a quotation that he may recognise? It comes from the architect of the European Union constitution, Giscard d’Estaing, who said:
“I have compared the new Treaty with the Constitution on the ‘nine essential points’. To tell the truth, to my great satisfaction, these nine points reappear word for word in the new Treaty. Not a comma has changed.”
Was d’Estaing telling lies when he said that?
Listen to what Giscard d’Estaing—the same former president—said five days ago. He said:
“The request for a referendum is not justified, as this is a different text”
from the constitutional treaty. There is no way in which to pray in aid Mr. Giscard d’Estaing.
Does the Foreign Secretary not accept that he could save himself all this theological nonsense of trying to claim that the present treaty is different from the former treaty if he would accept that his own genuine view is that the last Prime Minister made a mistake when he came along and told us all, to our complete surprise, that he was going to have a referendum on the treaty that he then had? The then Prime Minister did not really believe in referendums on such subjects, and I am sure that the present Foreign Secretary was as amazed as I was to hear the Prime Minister’s statement. If he would only admit that the referendum should never have been offered in the first place, he could save himself this arcane and ridiculous argument, rather than trying to demonstrate that this is a different document, in fundamental terms, from the one that we had before.
As one who was a junior Minister toiling in the Department for Education and Skills at the time, I can certainly confirm that it came as a surprise and a shock to me to learn of the new decision. I certainly agree that there was no way on the basis of its constitutional significance that it merited the decision that was taken.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the European Scrutiny Committee report and the original words that Giscard d’Estaing issued did not—as the current Committee has recently reflected—take into account the fact that the opt-outs and protocols have made a significant difference to the decisions that we in this House take on the treaty compared with the 26 other European countries who are seeking to ratify it?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. This is a different treaty for Britain than it is for other countries in Europe. That is why Giscard d’Estaing talks about the “special status” of the treaty in the United Kingdom.
I shall now make some progress, but I may well give way later, depending on how far we get.
I shall certainly try to bring in the right hon. Gentleman later.
The Government want Europe’s nations to set a clearer and more consistent course for the European Union. The treaty will bring in a full-time president of the European Council, ending the six-monthly merry-go-round of the changing presidency, which has too often meant a lack of consistency and follow-through. The president will be appointed by Heads of Government and be accountable to Heads of Government, and it will continue to be the EU’s national leaders, not the president of the Council, who takes final decisions.
The Government believe that security and prosperity within the EU demand more purposeful action beyond Europe’s borders. The answer is not to undermine the foreign policy prerogatives of nation states—and, as the Foreign Affairs Committee states very clearly, that is not the consequence of the Lisbon treaty. The treaty ensures that the decisions of the 27 EU nations, when we all agree, will be carried forward in a more coherent way by the appointment by member states of a single Commissioner, rather than two as at present.
I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman when I reach the end of this section of my speech.
The Government want to ensure that as the EU enlarges the treaty reduces what has become a large and unwieldy Commission, reducing the number of Commissioners from 27 to 18.
The Government believe that national Parliaments should play a bigger role in European affairs, as I described earlier. In addition to the measures I described, for the first time national Parliaments will have a direct say in the EU’s law-making procedures on a day-to-day basis. National Parliaments will now be able to challenge a proposal if, for example, they decide it affects an area they believe is a matter not for the EU but for individual member countries.
I shall give way to Members when I reach the end of this section, and I shall start with the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), who serves on the Foreign Affairs Committee.
The Government also believe that Europe needs to reform its voting system to take account of enlargement. The treaty finally does that. In future, population size as well as the number of states is important to decision making. That will raise the proportion of votes in UK hands from 8 to 12 per cent.
Furthermore—and to pick up on an earlier point—let me set out the facts on qualified majority voting. Sixteen of the changes either do not apply to the UK or apply only if we agree, because they concern economic and monetary union, of which we are not a part, or justice and home affairs, on which we have the ability to opt in or out. [Interruption.] For as long as necessary: as I shall explain in detail, we will have the right to choose on all justice and home affairs measures.
Fourteen of the QMV changes are purely procedural; for example, they address how we appoint members of the EU’s Economic and Social Committee, or provisions relating to the effect of the past division of Germany. In 20 areas, the changes offer faster decision making where that is in the UK’s interests, such as on energy liberalisation, where the chairmen of Centrica and the National Grid Company have said that the Lisbon treaty
“will be a way of circumventing cases of protectionism”;
on aid to disaster zones, where representatives of 350 development non-government organisations have said that the treaty can
“deliver a stronger poverty focus and greater coherence in”
“development and humanitarian work”;
and on strengthening the EU’s research and innovation capability, which will be of benefit to UK universities and research institutes.
I am now happy to give way to the right hon. Member for Wells.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for doing so. Since he has dismissed the European Scrutiny Committee conclusion that the current treaty is substantially the same as the constitution, does he also dismiss the conclusion of the Foreign Affairs Committee published this morning
“that there is no material difference between the provisions on foreign affairs in the Constitutional Treaty which the Government made subject to approval in a referendum and those in the Lisbon Treaty on which a referendum is being denied”?
Was that Labour-dominated Committee also wrong?
The Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee is present, so he will be able to confirm that it said that the treaty was not substantially different for those countries without the protocols and opt-outs that we have secured. The quotation that the right hon. Member for Wells has given is a totally partial representation of what that Committee concluded.
I have addressed one point. The right hon. Gentleman asked me two questions, so I want to address the second one and then we will be able to address others.
The Foreign Affairs Committee report confirms that the Government’s red line of foreign policy being an intergovernmental area remains intact.
That was agreed by the right hon. Gentleman, who voted against a referendum on Maastricht as deputy Chief Whip at the time. The FAC says that the role of the high representative for the common foreign and security policy is a valuable contribution and it dismisses the allegations that we will lose our rights at the Security Council as nonsense. I say to all hon. Members that they should read what the FAC has said, rather than what it is alleged to have said.
Does my right hon. Friend share my surprise that those who demand a referendum as a cover for their wish to withdraw from the European Union never seem to mention the provisions in this treaty, which include provision for competences to be transferred back to member states from the EU and the introduction of a procedure for managing the withdrawal of a member state from the EU? Those are just the sorts of things one would expect those against UK membership of the EU to support.
Order. Even though these are extremely serious matters, we should temper our language when we make contributions to the debate. I think that, on reflection, the hon. Gentleman ought to withdraw that particular remark.
Order. May I say to both sides of the House that hon. Members should treat each other with some courtesy and the House with respect? If one withdraws a remark, there is no need to qualify it after that.
My point was that the Foreign Secretary and all the hon. Members sitting behind him must go back to their constituents at election time. They told their constituents at the previous election that they could have a vote on the constitution. This is the same as the constitution—black is not white—so how will they face their constituents? What will they say next time round?
It is through the elections to this House that people will be able to decide their view on the different stances that different hon. Members take. One thing that we should be able to agree upon above all others is that if the European Union has contributed to anything over the past 50 or 60 years it is to the prevention of war in Europe. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will believe, on reflection, that the language and the imagery that he has conjured up are not worthy of him.
History, if nothing else, teaches us of the importance of a united Europe. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the position outlined by many hon. Members today betrays an isolationist position that risks damaging this country both politically and economically?
I shall make some progress and then, as always, I shall come back to the hon. Gentleman in due course. His relationship with me goes back to his time as advocate for the milk industry, and I hope that he will be patient.
I want to deal with the four red lines that the Government insisted were at the heart of our negotiating approach. In respect of tax and social security, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), who speaks for the Conservative party, admits that we have strengthened our veto power but now he says that it was never under threat.
The right hon. Gentleman alleges an extension of the role of the European Court of Justice on social legislation via the charter of rights, yet the treaty records existing rights rather than creating new ones. A new legally binding protocol guarantees that nothing in the charter extends the ability of any court to strike down UK law. Let us not forget that the Conservative party wants to rip apart Europe’s social legislation by taking away British people’s rights to annual holiday and making them second-class citizens in Europe by withdrawing from the social chapter.
In respect of the third red line, the Opposition say that our legal system is under threat because justice and home affairs co-operation will no longer be separate from other aspects of European Union activity. I say they should listen to Professor Alan Dashwood of Cambridge university, a leading professor of European law, who says that the provisions we have negotiated constitute “a very solid safeguard”.
For every item of justice and home affairs activity, existing or intended, we will have the right to opt in or to opt out. The treaty extends and strengthens our existing opt-in on visas, immigration, asylum and civil law to areas of criminal law and police co-operation—for example, combating international terrorism and organised crime.
The Opposition say they fear dilution of foreign policy power, but foreign policy will remain in a separate treaty, which reinforces its intergovernmental nature. The Foreign Affairs Committee agrees. Unanimity will remain the rule for setting policy. The Foreign Affairs Committee agrees.
I will give way in a moment when I reach the end of this section of my speech.
An explicit treaty provision excludes ECJ jurisdiction over common foreign and security policy. The Foreign Affairs Committee agrees. The accusation that we will lose our seat on the UN Security Council is nonsense.
I promised that I would give way to the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski). I will give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and then I shall of course defer to the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) who has long experience as a distinguished parliamentarian.
I am extremely grateful to the Foreign Secretary for giving way. At the beginning of his speech, he referred to a small number of organisations that back the constitution, which included the bishops. I am rather surprised by that as there is no reference to our Christian faith in the constitution. Does the right hon. Gentleman share my concern that in the whole document there is no reference to our Christian faith?
Is it not true that in a dangerous world, which is insecure for many people, it is more important that we have strong international institutions, not just worldwide but at European level? Is it not also true that there are now few areas where Britain can secure its foreign policy interests without co-operating with others, not least on what Russia has been doing to the British Council in the past few days or when we are trying to secure peace in the middle east?
I am extremely grateful to the Foreign Secretary, especially for giving way to me so soon after he gave way to the formerly reverend gentleman.
Why is the Foreign Secretary so diffident? If opinion-forming groups and bodies, such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the bishops, the professors he mentioned and all those other marvellous influential groups, are in favour of the treaty, why cannot the people have the chance to listen to those opinion formers and vote accordingly?
I am surprised to have to say this to the hon. Gentleman: the answer is because it is in the House that we make decisions about how to govern our country. It is in the House that we make the laws of our country and it is to the House that people elect us to make those difficult decisions, not to dodge them.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Foreign Secretary has just referred to the fact that he does not want to grant us a referendum, but is it not the fact that we can have a referendum only if it is passed by Act of Parliament? In other words, it enhances parliamentary authority if we have the humility to give the people their say.
Again, I suspect that is a matter for debate carefully—or not so carefully—disguised as a point of order.
Mr. Deputy Speaker,
“The myth that we are threatened with a European superstate is still nourished in the Conservative cul-de-sac. Certainly there are Continental idealists who bitterly regret that it has faded away, but faded it has, as has been clear since Maastricht.”
[Laughter.] Members may laugh but those are not my words; they are those of Lord Hurd and he is right. It is a myth and we should see it as such.
Rather than setting us on the slippery slope towards a federal Europe, the treaty marks a different point. All 27 member states agreed at the European Council in December:
“We expect no change in the foreseeable future, so that the Union will be able to fully concentrate on addressing the concrete challenges ahead.”
The Institute of Directors supports that, the CBI supports that and I support it; and it is time the Opposition supported it, too.
The Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks have said that if the countries of Europe pass the treaty, in the event of a future Conservative Government they will
“not let the matter rest”.
The Conservative party needs 14 countries to back its drive not to let the matter rest. I hope that in the right hon. Gentleman’s speech he will name one country—just one—that will support his quest to reopen the treaty. [Hon. Members: “Norway.”] Norway is not yet in the European Union. The truth is that there is not even one such country, and what the Conservative commitment means is a further referendum pledge, renegotiation or withdrawal. It is important to look through the consequences.
The consequence of Conservative policy is not to end institutional wrangling, not to help Europe get on with the real business of serving its citizens, but to prolong the institutional debate that we need to end. The Conservatives say they care about UK jobs, UK security, UK influence and the UK’s reputation, but in fact they risk British jobs, British security and British influence to try to control those in their party who brought down John Major’s leadership of the Conservative party. John Major used words to describe those people that I cannot use in the House, but we know who they are.
The Conservatives say they want a Europe that works but in fact they will do everything possible to stop it working. We have had seven years of negotiation and discussion leading to the treaty; the Opposition’s policy would lead to a second decade of institutional inertia that diverts Europe from the real issues that confront it.
Only this weekend, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks said that he thinks that
“there is a fairly settled view in the Conservative Party that we should be campaigning for a Europe that addresses global poverty, global warming, global trade”.
That is what the treaty would do, yet the right hon. Gentleman will speak and vote against its provisions in that regard. This is where we learn about the real divide in the debate. It is not about the details of the high representative for foreign affairs; the real divide is between those who believe that Britain is good for Europe and Europe is good for Britain, and those who do not.
The true heartbeat of the Conservative party is not found in the tradition of lain Macleod, John Major or even Margaret Thatcher. The vision is not Britain at the heart of Europe, but Britain better off out. There is even a group with that name. The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone), who I am sorry not to see in his place, has recently joined—
Here he is.
The hon. Gentleman is in the Chamber. Excellent. I welcome him—he usually sits immediately behind the Front Bench.
The hon. Gentleman recently joined the Better Off Out campaign, which says of the modern Conservative party that many of its MPs, MEPs, peers, prospective candidates, officers and members are Better Off Out supporters. Better off out of a single market with 3 million jobs? Better off out of the European arrest warrant and effective action against terrorism? Better off out of joint action to tackle climate change?
No, Britain is not better off out. If we care about global trade, global poverty and global warming we are better off in—at the heart of Europe, shaping the European Union and making sure it delivers on the issues that matter to us. That is what the treaty offers. That is what the Government offer, and I commend the Bill to the House.
It is all too typical of the Government’s management of our affairs that the House of Commons has been left with less than five hours to debate a measure of far-reaching importance in which there is widespread public interest. It is typical, too, that the reason for that is two statements, both of which derive from the unremitting incompetence of the Government. It is still more typical that the Prime Minister, having signed the treaty without having the courage to turn up for the ceremony, wants to force the Bill through Parliament but lacks the courage to vote for it himself.
I must compliment the Foreign Secretary on his speech. We expected him to put the case for the treaty, but not to do so in such a hugely entertaining way. When the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) asked him about the legal force of preambles, he was not really able to give an effective reply. When the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) asked him about support from House of Commons Committees for his view of the differences between the treaties, he was not able to think of any. When he listed the NSPCC among the supporters of the treaty because of its child protection provisions, he omitted to say that the Government opposed those provisions going into the treaty. It seems like an important omission. They were opposed at the European Convention by the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), when he was the Minister for Europe, on the grounds that they would extend the competencies of the European Union—or perhaps that was just an early incompetence from the right hon. Gentleman. If that is to be the quality of the Foreign Secretary’s argument, it is a good job that he has the committee of bishops on his side, because there will be nothing left for him but to pray.
Is it not fundamentally misleading for the right hon. Gentleman—[Interruption]— and his party to tell the public in Britain that they would renegotiate, when not one single other country and not one single European Commissioner has said that they would be prepared to enter such negotiations?
It is hugely encouraging that Labour Members’ minds are increasingly concentrated on the advent of a Conservative Government. It is not surprising that they want to know some of these things further in advance, but these debates are about the treaty and the case for a referendum on the treaty, and we will be putting that case during these debates.
It is worth noting that there is much on foreign policy on which the Government and the Opposition agree. Even on European matters, the commitments that we have made—in fairness, I must add that the Foreign Secretary did mention them—to work for a European Union concerned with the great challenges of global poverty, global competition and global warming, rather than with the aggrandisement of its own internal institutions, have been echoed to some extent by Ministers.
At the Lisbon summit, the Prime Minister called for a focus on the challenges of jobs, prosperity, the environment and security—we agree with that—but while the aspirations and the language may often seem similar, the trouble with the Bill and the treaty is that they fly in the face of that British aspiration to create an outward-looking rather than an inward-looking Europe. In a Europe that needs greater flexibility, the treaty moves more power to the centre. In a Europe where nations need the freedom to compete, it will narrow those freedoms. In a Europe committed to democracy, it will take more decision making away from democratic control.
I will give way in a moment.
Astonishingly, the treaty will also weaken one of the greatest strengths of the European Union for the past half century: its commitment to undistorted competition in the single market—an outcome that can only have resulted from the supine ineffectiveness of Britain’s negotiators. On top of all that, the treaty creates for the first time sweeping provisions for its own amendment without recourse to further treaties, and it brings about fundamental change in the institutional structure of the European Union—changes that the Government initially opposed, then were happy to define as constitutional in their implications, and now pretend are matters of little importance, about which the people of this country need not be troubled.
The most serious objection to the Bill, irrespective of its merits or lack of them, is that the Government intend to take it through Parliament without any of the consultation of the people that was promised at the last election, brazenly abrogating the commitment made by every party in the House to hold a national referendum in this event. The case for a referendum rests in part on the constitutional significance of what is proposed. When the former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), was asked on 6 June 2005 what were the constitutional aspects of the treaty that merited submission to a referendum, he said they were the creation of a permanent President of the Council of Ministers and a European Foreign Minister. Both of those provisions remain in the treaty today, and the right hon. Gentleman is the Lord Chancellor today. That was his opinion at the time.
That was a difference—something of which Liberal Democrats can only dream—but of course, for the purposes of this argument, the important difference now is that no political party in the 1992 election promised the people of this country a referendum on the Maastricht treaty; in this case, every political party promised the people a referendum. It is therefore a matter of trust in politics and of the honour of our politics that that referendum should be held. The European Foreign Minister has been renamed the high representative of the Union, but as the Foreign Affairs Committee explained in its report only yesterday,
“We conclude that there is no material difference between the provisions on foreign policy in the Constitutional Treaty which the Government made subject to approval in a referendum and those in the Lisbon Treaty on which a referendum is being denied.”
Does my right hon. Friend further remember that during the 2005 election, when some of us said that we needed to debate this huge transfer of powers because it was so important, the Labour party said that there was no need for that debate in the election, because there would be a referendum later? That is why this is such a cheat.
My right hon. Friend makes a powerful point, because the case for the referendum rests above all on the need for the House and the Government to honour commitments solemnly given. How many times have each of us in the House toured schools and colleges saying to young people that they should take an interest in politics, that their vote makes a difference, and that what is said at election time really counts? What are we to say to them in future—that the fact that they elected an entire House of Commons committed to a referendum was of no account, that the Government regarded that commitment as a technicality to be escaped from rather than a promise to be kept, and that the promises made at election time do not really matter at all?
Of course I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman, in a few moments.
Today in our country, the word of Government is less readily believed than at any time in our modern history. Ministers, instead of tackling the apathy and cynicism that that brings, will only add to it with the weasel words with which they try to escape their referendum commitment.
Talking of escaping a referendum commitment, in The Guardian of October 2003 I came across an article with the headlines “We need an EU referendum” and “Nothing will damage the pro-European movement more than appearing to have something to hide”. It was written by a certain N. Clegg, who went on to become the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) and is now the leader of the Liberal Democrats. [Hon. Members: “Where is he?”] We know that he is not on the plane with the Prime Minister, but for all the difference that he makes to the debate, he might as well be. His article said:
“The real reason, of course, why the government does not want to hold a referendum is the fear that it may lose.”
His analysis was right, and it is a pity that the Liberal Democrats do not stand by that analysis today.
In 18 years in government, the Conservatives never once had a referendum on Europe. The last time there was a referendum on the European Union I was in primary school, and some Members of the House were not even born. The leader of the Liberal Democrats favours a referendum on whether we are, or are not, in Europe. Why does not the Conservative party back that promise?
That is apparently the Liberal Democrats’ position, and they tried to put it in a reasoned amendment for tonight’s debate—but it turned out that it is so crashingly irrelevant to the issue that the amendment was not in order. They therefore have the distinction of having adopted a policy so irrelevant to the debate that they will at no stage have the opportunity to vote for it. Even those in primary school could have worked that one out.
There was a vote on that question, through an amendment to the Queen’s Speech, but the Conservative party, including the right hon. Gentleman, voted against the opportunity to give the British people a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. Does he want to change the position now?
The fact that the Conservative party voted in line with its policy at the end of debate on the Queen’s Speech can hardly be an astonishing event. It was noticeable that very few Members in other parties voted with the Liberal Democrats on that matter.
To return to the case against the Bill—
The right hon. Gentleman referred to promises made in general elections. Does he remember that he led his party into the 2001 election on the slogan, “X days to save the pound,” and is it not a fact that the pound remains safe today—[Hon. Members: “It worked!”]
I am sure that we will work out that question in the end. Yes, the Conservative Government did enter the ERM, but I seem to remember that the Labour Opposition and the shadow Cabinet, of which the right hon. Gentleman was a member, were solidly in favour of doing so, so he must not be too abusive about the ERM.
Perhaps it will help the Liberals to nail their colours to the mast if I say that their proposal is rather a good idea. Voters in my area are certainly able to take a referendum with two questions. The first would be on whether they wanted to leave the European Union, and my guess is that overwhelmingly, they would, say no. The second would be on whether they wanted the treaty or constitution, and my guess is that they would say no to that, too.
It will be hugely cheering for the Liberal Democrat party that somebody somewhere agrees with part of its approach, but that is not a sufficient reason for allowing their policy to be pursued in our proceedings on the treaty. It is certainly our position—and, I think, the right hon. Gentleman’s position—that we want to be in the European Union, but we do not want to be taken over by its institutions.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for a very entertaining speech, but surely any Opposition party that aspires to government must answer the following question: given the change that took place following the defeat of the constitution by the French and Dutch voters, and the subsequent return to the table, which led to the protocols and opt-outs negotiated by the Government, what is it that the right hon. Gentleman believes he could achieve through the defeat of the treaty in a referendum, which would lead to our turning to the other 26 European Governments and asking them for something that he has not identified?
The right hon. Gentleman gives me the cue to carry on with my analysis of the treaty and the Bill, because I want to consider the question of what was changed after the defeat in the French and Dutch referendums. On that occasion, there was one friend of the people of France and Holland who was not given an opportunity to say no, if it wished to do so: Britain should have been given its opportunity to say yes or no.
The Foreign Secretary regularly parrots the only defence available to the Government, which is that the constitutional concept has been abandoned, and that there has been fundamental change. However, he omitted to mention that paragraphs 1, 4 and 18 of the mandate for the treaty set out how almost the entire contents of the draft constitution are to be brought about by changes to existing treaties.
No, I must proceed, in fairness to the rest of the House, at least for a little while.
It is surprising that Ministers continue to repeat that line, when the European Scrutiny Committee told them in its report:
“we do not consider that references to abandoning a ‘constitutional concept’…are helpful and consider that they are even likely to be misleading in so far as they might suggest the Reform Treaty is of lesser significance than the Constitutional Treaty.”
As Giscard d'Estaing, who has already been quoted, put it in June,
“public opinion will be led to adopt, without knowing it, the proposals that we dare not present to them ‘directly’.”
He went on to say:
“all the earlier proposals will be in the new text, but will be hidden and disguised in some way.”
Perhaps the most disarmingly honest description of what had happened came in that same month from the Belgian Foreign Minister, who said:
“The aim of the Constitutional treaty was to be more readable; the aim of this treaty is to be unreadable…The Constitution aimed to be clear, whereas this treaty had to be unclear. It is a success.”
Dishonest as the process has been, other European Governments have at least been honest about the outcome. Not so the Government of the United Kingdom, who have persisted in the argument that the treaty is fundamentally different from the constitution. How could an impartial observer assess whether they are fundamentally different or substantially the same? The obvious way is to read the articles of the reform treaty and compare them to those of the constitution—a process undertaken by both the European Scrutiny Committee and the pressure group Open Europe. Both studies demonstrate that the vast majority of the provisions of the constitution are replicated, often word for word, in the reform treaty. According to one count, 240 of the 250 provisions of the constitution are repeated and restored.
All along, the Government have been unwilling to be frank with Parliament about the process and the outcome. Ministers maintained until the middle of June that
“nothing that you could really call negotiations have taken place”,
even though we now know that the negotiating sherpas met on 24 January, 2 May and 15 May. Perhaps the Foreign Office officials who went along were just there as tourists. For all the effect they had on the outcome, they might as well have been.
The criticism levelled at the Government’s handling of Parliament has been exceptional. The Foreign Affairs Committee found that the 2007 intergovernmental conference mandate was agreed with little scope for UK public or parliamentary debate and engagement. That sets an unfortunate precedent, and is damaging to the credibility of the institutional reform process. The European Scrutiny Committee—we are talking about Committees with a Labour majority—reported that the
“process could not have been better designed to marginalise the role of national parliaments and to curtail public debate.”
The story of the Government in the evolution of the treaty has been one of dissembling and deceit. They set out deliberately to break a firm election promise, denied Parliament and the public information about negotiations that were taking place, and refused to publish information that would help Parliament to come to an informed decision.
Would my right hon. Friend be interested to know that, as I understand it, the legal adviser to the Foreign Office who gave evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee only last month has apparently now been appointed legal adviser to the European Union Committee in the House of Lords?
That just shows that the Government have a case to answer. The implications of what my hon. Friend says will be far-reaching.
The process of sustained deception has left us with a treaty with three principal failings. The first is that it is not necessary. A recent study by the London School of Economics concluded that
“the ‘business as usual’ picture”
of the EU
“is more convincing than the ‘gridlock’ picture”.
The French Europe Minister recently admitted that
“the thing that has most struck me since I took up this job seven months ago is precisely the capacity of an EU of 27 members, and more one day, to take decisions”.
The expansion of the EU to 27 members seems to have resulted in a greater readiness to reach consensus, and a decline in the use of the veto. The wholly welcome agreement on climate change last spring is an outstanding example. That the European Union can achieve a great deal by working together on such issues, and by pushing forward a free and genuine single market, is not in doubt. That makes it all the more extraordinary that one of the first aspects of the treaty agreed last June was the downgrading of the EU’s long-standing commitment to undistorted competition. That change was secured by the French Government, with British Ministers apparently asleep at the wheel, although a protocol was hastily added to the treaty reaffirming the objective of free competition.
European lawyers have been in no doubt about the implications, saying that
“the excision of the competition principle from the front of the Treaty is a likely to have a number of damaging consequences for EC competition law.”
As far as we know, no effort has been made by the Government to restore “undistorted competition” to its rightful position in the objectives of the Union. It is a sad hallmark of the treaty that its provisions result from British Ministers having things done to them, rather than driven by them. The Foreign Secretary has said that the Conservative party is almost alone, apart from the Dutch Animals party, in its opposition to the treaty. We are not: vast tracts of provisions in the treaty have for many years been opposed by the Government themselves. As recently as June, they fought desperately to stop the EU high representative taking the chair at meetings of EU Foreign Ministers, but a provision for such chairmanship is in the treaty.
When it was first proposed that EU member states on the UN Security Council should be obliged to ask the high representative to speak for the whole EU when there is a common position, the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), when he was the Foreign Office Minister representing the Government, asked for the entire provision to be struck out. However, it is in the treaty. Ministers argued against the creation of an EU diplomatic service, but now it is there. They argued against the self-amending nature of the treaty, but then gave in; they opposed the election of the President of the Commission by the European Parliament, but then capitulated; they tried to prevent employment, public health, consumer protection and transport networks becoming shared competencies with the EU, but they failed. They said they were
“firmly opposed to establishing an European Public Prosecutor”,
but that function is now in the treaty; they insisted that the EU not be given an explicit legal personality, but it is now to be given such a personality; they said that qualified majority voting on proposals made by the European Foreign Minister was “simply unacceptable”, but QMV is now there. They objected to the article on the common Union defence policy, but then agreed to it; they opposed the EU having the power to set minimum criminal penalties, but then gave in; they said they would not accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice over the third pillar area of justice and home affairs, but they capitulated on that as well. That is not even an exhaustive list. The Government’s motto as the treaty has been created is, “Anything for a quiet life, and never mind the national interest.”
Because of the nature of interventions, I cannot pick out more than one of the right hon. Gentleman’s examples—but why is he so opposed to the single legal identity? It is not a badge of statehood—even the Universal Postal Union has a single legal identity, and the EU already has such an identity—so what is the nature of his complaint?
The former Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, stood at the Dispatch Box and told the House of Commons that at his insistence, the question of a legal personality for the EU had been removed from earlier negotiations. He felt so strongly about the issue that the Government eventually went with the flow of the argument in Europe, rather than stick up for their view.
Let me move on, given the passage of time. Our next principal objection to the treaty is that it damages the British national interest and weakens democracy by setting up a process of continuing integration beyond the control of the electorate. When Ministers say they are happy to sign the treaty but are opposed to any further political integration after that, they are merely continuing the habit of deception that I detailed earlier. The whole point of the treaty is to create a process of further integration, not to bring a stop to it. As the Italian Prime Minister, Romano Prodi, put it:
“As long as we have more or less a European Prime Minister and a European Foreign Minister then we can give them almost any title”.
That is how many other countries see the treaty, but it is not how it is described by the Government. The creation of a permanent President of the European Council, elected for two and a half years at a time by majority voting, is a major constitutional innovation in the European Union, and is intended as such. We are all conscious in this Parliament, or we should be, of the way in which the job of First Lord of the Treasury evolved in Britain, steadily developing a grip over Cabinet Departments previously independent of it, and developing into the post of Prime Minister.
The creation of that job took many years—and the present Prime Minister probably feels that it took almost as long to get round to his turn to hold it. To see how the post of a permanent President of the European Council could evolve is not difficult even for the humblest student of politics, and it is, of course, rumoured that one Tony Blair may be interested in the job. If that prospect makes us uncomfortable on the Conservative Benches, just imagine how it will be viewed in Downing street! I must warn Ministers that having tangled with Tony Blair across the Dispatch Box on hundreds of occasions, I know his mind almost as well as they do. I can tell them that when he goes off to a major political conference of a centre-right party and refers to himself as a socialist, he is on manoeuvres, and is busily building coalitions as only he can.
We can all picture the scene at a European Council sometime next year. Picture the face of our poor Prime Minister as the name “Blair” is nominated by one President and Prime Minister after another: the look of utter gloom on his face at the nauseating, glutinous praise oozing from every Head of Government, the rapid revelation of a majority view, agreed behind closed doors when he, as usual, was excluded. Never would he more regret no longer being in possession of a veto: the famous dropped jaw almost hitting the table, as he realises there is no option but to join in. Then the awful moment when the motorcade of the President of Europe sweeps into Downing street. The gritted teeth and bitten nails: the Prime Minister emerges from his door with a smile of intolerable anguish; the choking sensation as the words, “Mr President”, are forced from his mouth. And then, once in the Cabinet room, the melodrama of, “When will you hand over to me?” all over again.
There is, of course, a serious point to be made. Occupied by someone with the political skill of our former Prime Minister, that post would become, in not so many years, a far more substantial one than the Government pretend. The President would be seen as the president of Europe by the rest of the world, with the role of national Governments steadily reduced and the role of national democracy and accountability steadily weakened. The naivety of Ministers, who think that by signing the treaty they are agreeing to a static constitutional position, is alarming in people with such senior responsibilities. “Ah,” they say, “look at the enhanced role of national Parliaments set out in the treaty.” If a majority in half the Parliaments in the EU object to an EU measure, they might be able to block it.
Again, it does not take much political analysis to work out that the chances of that mechanism being employed on any regular basis are vanishingly small. It could be used only if 14 different national Parliaments, nearly all of which have a Government majority, defeated an EU proposal, and did so within an eight-week period. We have only to consider that for a moment, as Members of Parliament, to begin to laugh about it. Given the difficulty of Oppositions winning a vote in their Parliaments, the odds against doing so in 14 countries around Europe with different parliamentary recesses—lasting up to 10 weeks in our own case—are such that even if the European Commission proposed the slaughter of the first-born it would be difficult to achieve such a remarkable conjunction of parliamentary votes.
The last defence of Ministers on the treaty is that they have achieved the defence of their red lines. As the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, has judged, the red lines “leak like a sieve”. The red lines will be much debated over the coming weeks, but the central fact to remember about them is that the Government claimed to have achieved exactly the same red lines when they signed the European constitution and proposed a referendum.
That brings me back to our strongest objection of all to the Bill. The Government’s contention that the treaty is so different from the European constitution that they are relieved of their promise to hold a referendum is shared by few independent observers, and not even by the members of their own party who have given the most time and commitment to the process. As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) explained to the Prime Minister—I hope that I shall not embarrass her by quoting her:
“sticking to your guns in defence of a patently dishonest position is not leadership, but the soft option, and a cop-out from a specific promise made to voters.”
Whatever the niceties of the argument, by no stretch of the imagination is the treaty so different from the constitution as to relieve the Government of their promise. Every survey on the subject has shown that the vast majority in our country would like to have their say. In the words of the Belgian Foreign Minister, the Government are banking on the treaty being too unreadable for people to worry about it. However, the treaty’s constitutional innovations are sufficiently sweeping, and its erosion of our national democracy sufficiently serious, that many of us will have no hesitation not only in voting against it, but in voting for a referendum at every opportunity.
No, I shall not give way any more; I am coming to the end of my speech.
All of us must remember that we have no democratic mandate from the voters to agree to the treaty without their approval. None of us told voters that we would agree to a treaty nearly identical to the constitution and ram it through without their being allowed to have their say on it in an election or a referendum.
If the House voted for such a referendum, it would be a magnificent assertion of honour in politics and trust in the nation. If it fails to do so—if it passes the Bill without a referendum—it will have connived in the actions of a deceitful and cowardly Government whose actions will have further stained the name and reputation of our politics.
I want to confine my remarks entirely to the foreign affairs aspects of the treaty. In the past day, there has been some media comment on the recommendations and conclusions of the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report “Foreign Policy Aspects of the Lisbon Treaty”. I want to place on the record its main recommendations and conclusions, because many of them have not been adequately aired in all the newspaper and other media coverage of the past 24 hours.
The Select Committee’s report is comprehensive and no doubt there will be an opportunity for detailed consideration of it when the Bill goes to Committee. However, I want to place on the record the fact that as a Committee we believe that
“the new institutional arrangements for EU foreign policy created by the Lisbon Treaty have the potential to encourage more coherent and effective foreign policy-making and representation.”
That is from paragraph 221. Paragraph 118 states:
“the Common Foreign and Security Policy will remain an intergovernmental area, driven by the Member States. We welcome this.”
We also believe that
“the new post of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy”
is there to enact agreed foreign policy and
“has the potential to give the EU a more streamlined international presence and to contribute to the more coherent development and implementation of external policy.”
That comes from paragraph 154.
No. I have only eight minutes and I want to make some progress.
Paragraph 220 states:
“the creation of the post of High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and of the European External Action Service, represent major innovations in the EU's foreign policy-making machinery.”
It goes on to say that the new post and service do not
“risk undermining the Common Foreign and Security Policy’s intergovernmental nature”.
“the Government is underestimating, and certainly downplaying in public, the significance of their creation.”
I therefore welcome the fact that today the Foreign Secretary started to make the positive case for the proposals. I personally believe that more should have been done last year, before the intergovernmental conference in June and again before the intergovernmental discussions in October, to explain things to the public and Parliament. The Committee is critical—I do not resile from that—of the fact that we were not in the loop last June, when those issues were under consideration. However, that does not mean that the treaty proposals should be opposed, and I should like to make a number of other points on that.
The Lisbon treaty raises concerns about how the post of high representative for foreign affairs and security policy could work. The Committee wants more information about that as we fear that the relevant individual, whoever they are—whether Mr. Solana or a successor—could face work overload because of the large burdens of foreign policy representation, chairing Council of Ministers meetings and having a role in the Commission. That issue needs to be considered in some detail.
In addition, as has already been mentioned, the Lisbon treaty provides for the high representative to speak at the United Nations Security Council. However, as our report states in paragraph 157, that
“will make little difference to current practice. It will not undermine the position of the UK in the United Nations system nor the UK’s representation and role as a Permanent Member of the Security Council.”
The reshaped role of the President of the European Council has already been mentioned. We believe that that
“could help to generate consensus among EU leaders and lead to greater continuity in the chairing of the European Council. However, we are concerned by the current degree of uncertainty which surrounds the role and by the potential for conflict with the High Representative in representing the EU externally.”
However, we need more information about how that will work in practice.
There is also the question of how the external action service will work. We believe that it may reduce
“duplication between the Council Secretariat and the Commission”
“the development of more effective EU external policies, operating in parallel with rather than as a substitute for national diplomatic services.”
We also believe that the service offers the opportunity for
“a greater intermingling of national and EU personnel and careers.”
However, we are concerned about how that will work in practice and we want to be sure that British Foreign Office officials seconded to the service see it as a good move in their career development. They should be able to come back to our Foreign and Commonwealth Office and have a proper representative role. We want working for the service to enhance career prospects.
Finally, we believe that
“the Commission's loss of the right to make Common Foreign and Security Policy proposals is welcome because it represents an important assertion of the intergovernmental nature of the Common Foreign and Security Policy.”
We all want more effective co-operation and co-ordination between the European Union’s 27 member states. However, there has been ambiguity about how the foreign and security policy works because of the role of the Commission. The treaty clarifies that issue: it makes it explicit that the policy is intergovernmental. It moves current Commission staff away from the Commission and puts them under the high representative, who is accountable to the Council of Ministers.
The process is therefore clearly intergovernmental and will work only if very competent people are in those jobs. We need to ensure that high-level people are appointed and that high-level people from our own Foreign and Commonwealth Office play a role in the process. In that way, when the treaty is adopted by the 27 member states next year, and when it begins to come into effect in 2009, we will be sure that British personnel and influence are at the heart of the new European Union foreign and security policy structures—not marginalised as, sadly, they would be if some Members of the House had their way.
The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) and his Committee have given an analysis that confirms that the Lisbon treaty keeps foreign policy on an intergovernmental basis but makes changes to the institutional workings that will enable British foreign policy to be more effective. The hon. Gentleman concentrated on what is actually in the treaty. The Conservatives objected to the speech by the Foreign Secretary, who addressed what is actually in the treaty, not the mythical monsters that some Members of this House wish to conjure up. His main argument was that the Lisbon treaty’s prime purpose is to improve how the enlarged European Union works. We agree.
The truth is that the Lisbon treaty is, to quote Lord Howe, “entirely sensible”—so much so that very few political parties in Europe oppose it, besides the rag-bag of parties to which the Foreign Secretary referred. Currently, the Conservatives are in the European People’s party in Strasbourg, but not one other member of the European People’s party agrees with the Conservatives. Perhaps the Conservatives are going to leave the EPP—we do not know; they seem unsure about it—but they have indicated that, if and when they do so, they want to work with the Czech ODS party, which, interestingly, is in favour of the treaty and against a referendum on it.
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us whether his party is going to rat on its promise of a referendum by abstaining or by voting against a referendum? The people should know, and I hope that they turf out all the Liberal MPs who have misled them on this issue.
We are proposing a referendum—on Britain’s membership of the European Union. I will deal with the question of the referendum in detail towards the end of my remarks, when I will argue that the Conservatives’ position is the one that is less in keeping with their manifesto promise.
The case made by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague)—that the treaty is unnecessary and somehow threatens the sovereignty of the United Kingdom—is frankly absurd. An EU of 27 member states, and growing, cannot operate on the same basis as one that only just served the needs of an EU of 15 states, so arguments for trimming the bureaucracy and making the institutions less cumbersome should be self-evident.
I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman could help me, because I am getting slightly confused. We used to be told that we needed this in order to enlarge from 15 to 24, and then even further, but now that we have had a few years of 27 working quite well, where is his argument that we need this for the EU’s further working?
Many people in the EU and in this House believe that we need a treaty to try to ensure that the enlarged Union continues to work better, because there are areas that have not worked so well in the past. I am interested in the hon. Lady’s position on many of these issues, because in March 2004 she was against a referendum on the constitutional treaty, whereas now she is in favour.
No, I want to make a little progress.
Liberal Democrats argued during the parliamentary scrutiny of the Amsterdam and Nice treaties that those treaties did not go far enough to prepare the EU for enlargement because they failed to streamline the EU’s institutions and to make the EU more accountable and transparent. We therefore naturally welcome the treaty and will vote for the Bill’s Second Reading.
To be fair to the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, the main intellectual thrust of his speech was that the treaty was unnecessary, and he deserves an answer on that point. He argued that the EU has worked quite well since the 2004 enlargement—the point made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston—and seemed to be relying on some academic work that has been released recently. I have to tell him that I have read that work and spoken to the authors, and they do not draw the conclusions that he claims.
Let us take Professor Helen Wallace. She does say in her paper that the EU has not suffered from gridlock owing to enlargement, and she does say that non-treaty reforms have helped, yet she is absolutely clear that the treaty reforms are needed to develop the EU in areas that have long proved difficult, including foreign policy co-operation and immigration, and that reforms making the EU more accountable and transparent are good in themselves and ever more necessary in an enlarged and growing EU. Moreover, the right hon. Gentleman is in no position to say that enlargement does not need Lisbon given that he led the opposition to Amsterdam and Nice, without which enlargement would not have been possible. The Conservatives remain in the most ludicrous position of any political party in Europe—always willing the enlargement end and always opposing the enlargement means.
Members wanting to vote against Second Reading have a tough case to make, based on what is actually in the Bill and in the treaty, for they are, in my view, voting against the national interest. A treaty that increases the UK’s voting power in the Council of Ministers is in the national interest. A treaty that allows this Parliament, working with other Parliaments, to have EU proposals reviewed and, indeed, stopped is in our interests. A treaty that, for the first time, sets out the right and the process for a member state to secede from the EU can hardly be said by Eurosceptics to be against the national interest. More positively, a treaty that, for the first time, explicitly makes one of the EU’s objectives tackling climate change must be in all our interests. A treaty that makes the EU more accountable and responsive to citizens, voluntary groups and civil society as a whole, with citizens’ initiatives and a new requirement for the EU’s institutions to engage with the public, must be in the interests of the public.
The Conservatives are in the faintly ridiculous position of voting against a reduction in the number of EU Commissioners, against the EU being able to dispatch aid more effectively to parts of the world devastated by natural catastrophe, and against making it easier for countries to co-operate on the exchange of information about sex offenders. Is that what they are against?
If the hon. Gentleman is so confident about the arguments that he advances, why does he not get confirmation from the people by pursuing the proper course that his party promised—that there would be a referendum on these matters?
The hon. Gentleman has been true to his word throughout, because he has voted with the Liberal Democrats for our proposal for a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. I agree that that is what we should really be doing if we are going to be true to the previous policy of a referendum on the constitutional treaty.
What all those examples illustrate is the continuing problem of the modern Conservative party—sensible measures rejected because the word “European” is associated with them. The speech by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks was an attempt to make his party’s viscerally anti-European position seem presentable, but while he and his party leader are unable to say publicly that they are happy to remain in long-term working with German and French colleagues in the European People’s party—the party of Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy—few in Europe will take them seriously. Republican presidential candidate, Senator John McCain, observed about the Conservatives that he hoped
“they would appreciate the support they received from the EPP”—
Let us remember that the hon. Gentleman voted against a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, and denied his constituents that vote. I was quoting the presidential candidate for the Republicans, Senator John McCain, who was observing—[Interruption.]
The problem for the Conservatives is that by opposing yet another sensible European treaty, they seem to many foreign observers to be still in the wilderness—a place where Britain’s influence on international affairs simply could not be exercised. That is why the Foreign Secretary was right to make the positive case for the European Union.
The hon. Gentleman makes a number of positive points about the treaty. I support it because it will improve matters. However, what is fuelling the desire for a referendum is the fact that no one under the age of 50 has had a chance to vote on our membership of the EU. People see a continuous progression towards political, economic and social integration, and I do not think that that can be sustained indefinitely without addressing the democratic deficit.
I totally agree with the hon. Lady. She has made a case for the Liberal Democrat position on a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.
The case for the EU is there, both in the history books and in the well-known future challenges for our country and our world. Fifty years ago, would anyone have predicted decades of peace in northern Europe, such that the very idea of war between millennial adversaries has become unthinkable? Forty years ago, could we have hoped for the ending of the dictatorships that littered southern Europe? Thirty years ago, would anyone have predicted the reunification of Europe, with communism finished and democracy taking root in central and eastern Europe?
I do not seek to credit the European ideal or Union alone with those achievements, but equally, to deny a central role for the EU in our modern day and in our future peace and prosperity is historically illiterate. When we look ahead to climate change, to the fight against terrorism, to defeating internationally organised crime and to meeting the global economic challenges, I frankly find it inconceivable to believe that we would be better equipped without the EU, and without a strengthened EU.
That is the challenge for our Prime Minister. He talks sensibly about a global Europe. He describes himself as a pro-European realist. He sets out an attractive agenda, beyond Lisbon, of completing the single market and focusing Europe on enterprise, innovation and skills. Yet he seems to go out of his way to lose friends and lose influence in Europe—from snubbing the other 26 EU leaders at the signing of the Lisbon treaty, to the provocation of calling a European economic summit in London at the end of this month to which only France, Germany and Italy have been invited. The Foreign Secretary has been put in an impossible position, trying to build alliances and partnerships throughout the EU, while the Prime Minister cuts across him.
It is good to sign new trade deals with China, but when it comes to the crunch, who should be our closest and strongest allies? It is surely those countries that are democracies, that abide by the rule of law and that respect human rights. Indeed, it is through the power of the EU collectively that we are far more likely to influence China on the road to liberal democracy. It is time that the Prime Minister learned to love the EU and see it for what it really is, outside the broken kaleidoscope of Mr. Murdoch’s editorial rooms.
Having made the case for the treaty and for the EU, let me come to the issue of referendums. Do we support a referendum on the Lisbon treaty? As my immediate predecessor as foreign and commonwealth affairs spokesman, my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore), said in this House:
“In our judgment, the changes made to create this amending treaty have altered its constitutional significance, so we should not hold a referendum on it.”—[Official Report, 12 November 2007; Vol. 467, c. 430.]
I share his view. Instead, we argue for a different referendum—a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. Let us face it: a referendum on any EU treaty would become a referendum on the UK’s continued membership. Let us not have that debate by proxy on a treaty referendum. Let us have a debate that people want by asking a straightforward in or out question.
If the hon. Gentleman believes that the treaty is so good and so incredibly defensible—at one stage he would have put it to the people, but he now feels it should be an in or out question—why does he not take up the offer made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and agree to a referendum with two questions? One would be on the treaty, and the other on continued membership.
Because, unlike the hon. Lady, I think that the constitutional treaty is rather more significant than the reform treaty, and that there are differences between the two. There are significant differences between the two treaties in terms of content. Lisbon is not a constitutional treaty; it is an amending treaty, which has profound implications.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. We all know why the Liberal Democrats have adopted this position. It is because they want to be able to say in their manifesto at the next election that they voted for a referendum at some juncture, when in fact they are denying themselves the opportunity of voting for the only realistic referendum on offer. That is a mean, grubby, typical Liberal Democrat trick.
If the hon. Gentleman had had the guts to vote with his colleagues for our amendment in the debate on the Loyal Address, we might have been able to get the referendum that the British people actually want.
I was talking about the differences between the two treaties.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
The biggest difference in content undoubtedly concerns justice and home affairs. By securing an opt-in provision in relation to EU co-operation on policing and criminal justice, the Government significantly changed the force of the treaty as it applies to the UK. That ought to be accepted by all parties. I also believe that there is a real difference in how the charter of fundamental rights now applies to the UK, which the protocol, declaration and other treaty amendments have achieved. I know that that is contentious, but I am sure that we will debate it at length in the Committee of the whole House.
The most significant differences between the two treaties lie in the constitutional terms of those treaties. While Lisbon is just another amending treaty making a number of important, if modest, reforms, the constitutional treaty was something quite different. It abolished all past treaties, to replace them with one document: a new constitution. I believe that people have passed over that point and failed to grasp its significance. The Labour Member of the European Parliament, Richard Corbett, has it right when he points out that the DNA of mice and human beings is 90 per cent. the same—it is just that the remaining 10 per cent. is quite important. It is the same with the difference in nature between Lisbon and the constitutional treaty: the 10 per cent. difference moves one from a mouse of an amending treaty through to a fully evolved constitution.
A referendum on the constitutional treaty would therefore effectively have been a referendum on the whole of the EU—Rome, the Single European Act, Maastricht, Nice and Amsterdam. It would have been about the complete constitution.
Surely treaties should be judged by their practical and legal effect. That is why two Select Committees of this House, which included Liberal Democrat members, concluded that in practical and legal substance the two treaties are the same. Why does the hon. Gentleman not accept that?
The right hon. Gentleman failed to deal with my point that the constitutional treaty would have created a completely new constitution. The reform treaty is an amending treaty. If he cannot understand that, I really despair.
I shall quote the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks who said, when talking about the constitutional treaty, in 2006:
“the fact that it was a constitution, not simply a treaty—would have revolutionised the EU.”
For once, he was right. That is why he ought to recognise that what the Liberal Democrats are saying now, in our proposal for a referendum on EU membership, is far closer to a referendum on the constitutional treaty than the Conservatives’ paltry offering.
We believe that the British people have been denied a say on Europe for too long—on all the treaties and on the cumulative effects of all the changes. Unlike the Conservatives, who denied them a vote on Maastricht, we think that the people should speak. As a party that is strongly committed to the European Union, we want to offer the people the referendum that they really want. I hope that the House will allow a substantive amendment to the Bill to that effect so that we can begin to settle the European question and to draw the poison of anti-European feeling from the British body politic for a generation.
The process that seems to have been generated tonight has added a number of things to the debate that have not been present so far. One such addition was the overall argument proposed by the Foreign Secretary that, despite all the other arguments, he supports the measure because it will improve the working of the EU. That is echoed again and again when I speak to representatives from other countries. It has certainly, I have no doubt, improved the tenor of the debate in the House of Commons. Not only has it improved the humour, which I have found to be most welcome among the genuine and manufactured emotions that such debates always generate, but we will also have 10 days of debate on the policy areas covered by the treaty and the EU. That means that the UK Government will have the chance to give their view on those policy areas as well as the actions that they want to take. That will be welcome. If that is the sum of the positives that the European Scrutiny Committee generates for the Government, that is reward enough.
The treaty of Lisbon will bring a solution to the institutional problems; there is no doubt about that, because the treaty agreed before that one was inadequate. The treaty of Lisbon will create a smaller Commission, which everyone welcomes, and a more balanced voting pattern in Council, with a better voting balance for the UK. It will bring in double majority voting on the qualified majority vote, which is also welcome.
The treaty will introduce a five-term presidency. People keep calling it a permanent presidency, but it will cover five six-month periods, creating a two-and-a-half-year presidency with a maximum of two terms. I welcome the fact that someone will be appointed who is not a member of the Commission and whose loyalty will be to the European Council and the Governments who sit on that Council.
The treaty will also introduce an EU high representative for foreign and security policy. Unfortunately, that person will also be a Commission vice-president and, oddly enough, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Council. I would have thought that the Foreign Affairs Committee might have said that it was a step too far to give that person, who is really a Commission member, the chairmanship of a Council of Ministers. That person will also be given the right to speak in the UN and to sign on behalf of the EU when all 27 countries are unanimous. I spoke today to people from Hungary and to their Foreign Secretary. It made sense to them, and to the representatives of most of the small countries in the 27, to have such a person who speaks on their behalf and gives them more priority. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) said, that will not take away any power from the two permanent members of the UN Security Council—France and the UK—which was rumoured to be one of the problems that some had with the proposal.
The main aim of the treaty is a final move to what is called the Community method, which people must consider again and again. The preferred Community method of policy making is QMV in the Council with amendment rights and co-decision making by the European Parliament, enforcement by the Commission and final appeal not to the courts in people’s own lands but to the European Court of Justice. That is the new heart of the treaty. It is a new settlement, a more European settlement and a more Eurocentric settlement. That is not to say that I oppose that. We must accept that that is where Europe is going. We must either be there, influencing Europe in that format in the future, or we must walk away. There is no middle ground. We are choosing tonight. I shall vote for this treaty, because I believe that we should be moving into the centre ground.
The Foreign Secretary is a bit like King Canute, who is much maligned, because he set out to demonstrate that the tide could not be held back. My right hon. Friend has shown today that he, too, believes that the tide cannot be held back. Unfortunately, I believe that the ebb tide—people must accept this—will take the centre of power away from this Parliament to Brussels. There is no doubt about that. At present, before the Lisbon treaty goes through, the balance of power is held between the Commission, the UK Government in Council and that derived from the scrutiny of the UK Parliament. That balance is similar in each member state. Eventually, because of unanimity, it is possible to appeal to the UK courts to judge how the power should be applied. After the treaty is up and running, and after the five years that it will take to erode—or to leak—the red lines that we have set on all the areas that we have opted into, the balance will be between the Commission, national Governments in Council and the European Parliament.
The role of national Parliaments will be massively diminished. In fact, as recently as December it was suggested by European parliamentarians from a number of parties at a Future of Europe conference, that our Parliaments’ role will be to try to influence the European Parliament, so that it can make the appropriate amendments to what comes out of the Council. As Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, I am not prepared to accept that.
As a fellow member of the European Scrutiny Committee, I am grateful to the Chairman for allowing an intervention. I want to raise the question of member state Parliaments and the role that they might play in a subsidiarity early-warning mechanism. He knows as well as I do that it is almost impossible to hold Governments to account within an eight-week window, which is how the mechanism is supposed to work. How does he imagine that that will ever be made to work across 27 member states, many with two parliamentary Chambers? It is not merely a question of one initiating the process.
I shall come to that. It is part of the main points with which I want to conclude. Those are interesting matters, which should be taken seriously by Parliament. Much has been said tonight, not only by the Foreign Secretary but by others, that suggests that there will be more influence for civic society—that was the plea—or a citizens’ referendum. The reality is that at the Future of Europe conference a colleague of the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey), who sits with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, said, “Just accept it. The orange and yellow cards are worthless. They will never work.”. The Commission, I have to say, had been saying similar things for some time.
It is worth mentioning that although Maastricht made greater changes, the Lisbon treaty represents a more significant point in our relationship with Europe. Its significance might not be as great as that of Maastricht—and especially of the social chapter—but this treaty is the tipping point. It is the point at which we will begin to adopt the European Community method on most matters, apart from tax and social security, and in a number of respects—perhaps most of them—in common foreign and security policy. In most other things, we will move into a situation where we will have QMV, where the Commission will administrate and where the European Court of Justice will judge.
Many comments have been made about the passerelle clause. Some people have said that if we mention that clause, people will go to sleep, but let us tell people what it is about. We have defined it as a gangplank. I coined the phrase because it is a bit like walking the plank. When a passerelle clause has been passed over—when it has been voted that the Council should go from a veto to QMV—it is like walking off a plank. There is no way back: the veto has been given away, and it cannot be got back. The Council has moved to a new way of working.
There are passerelle clauses in respect of common foreign and security policy—many of them are in the treaty sections that we have signed. We will have to decide whether we will move to the new method of decision making or try to hold on to what we have. We have to do that by withdrawing from our agreements.
On the involvement of the national Parliaments and passerelle clauses, I want the Government to make it clear how we are given the powers that the Prime Minister said that we would have. He said in the Liaison Committee, in reply to me, that the clauses that change the decision-making process in European Council meetings of the Heads of Government from unanimity to qualified majority voting would only be enacted after a vote on the Floor of the House of Commons. I want to see that clearly spelled out at some time during these debates.
Let me turn to the subject of the opt-outs—or opt-ins.
No. I shall not take another intervention, as I am conscious that people want to speak.
I have asked the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary several times to explain how the opt-out arrangements will happen under protocol 10. The Foreign Secretary told us in his evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee that there are 70 to 80 areas that we have opted into already where we will need to make a decision at some time to opt out or opt in under the Community method. The point is, will it be done by stealth in the Council or will it be referred to this Chamber at all? That must be clarified in order for us to have any sense that that Government are keeping faith with us.
My last point is about the operation of the trigger mechanism. For the yellow card, 33 per cent. of countries are required to object and for the orange card 55 per cent. of countries must object. How do we signal our view? We believe that the European Scrutiny Committee or some other Committee of the House should have the right to trigger the process immediately, in consultation with the devolved Assemblies and Administrations. Are the Government prepared to give us that power and some control over subsidiarity?
It is right that there should be great passion in the House about Europe because Europe and Britain’s role in it is one of the great issues, for not only us but the rest of our continent. The question is not whether we should be in the European Union but the sort of Europe that we wish to develop and whether Britain can be comfortable in it.
The House is being asked to determine two matters today. The first is the referendum and the second is whether the treaty, regardless of the referendum, deserves the House’s support. The Foreign Secretary’s attempt to create a new explanation for why the Government committed themselves to a referendum is unconvincing. The former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, made it clear that he believed that the people should have their say on such an important matter. The Government’s fear of losing such a referendum has made them change their position. It is not a question of the legitimacy of the treaty if there is no referendum, but of severe damage and erosion to the public’s faith in Government.
However, the second matter is far more difficult—indeed, more difficult than some of the speeches have suggested. The question whether a treaty deserves our support is usually expressed in absolute terms. Many hon. Members are happy to describe themselves as hard-line Eurosceptics, who would be content for the country to leave the European Union and would oppose any treaty, whatever its terms. Others are instinctively sympathetic to whatever emanates from the EU and want to be positive towards it. For what it is worth, I describe myself as a moderate Eurosceptic. I am against the single currency and many of the EU’s aspirations. I have therefore tried to consider the matter objectively and ascertain whether the criticisms of the treaty have substance or are exaggerated.
The criticisms have some substance, but not as much as is often suggested. If, for example, one considers whether there is significance in going from a treaty to a constitution or a constitution to a treaty, the critics are right that 95 per cent. of the documents are exactly the same. However, I am delighted that the treaty is no longer described as a constitution. Although calling it a constitution did not make the EU a state, it nevertheless disclosed a state of mind that wished to move Europe in that direction. When the document was called a constitution, included a proposal for “a Foreign Minister” and referred to flags and anthems, it contained all the paraphernalia of a state or state in the making. Although the treaty is not substantively different, I welcome the change in terminology.
To those who disagree, let me say that I remember debates in the House when the European Assembly was becoming a Parliament. It was argued that the word “Parliament” was significant, regardless of any other change of powers. It is important to make such distinctions. The European Court of Justice may have to interpret the significance of the document one day. If it is a constitution, the court could grant it the same significance in overruling other legislation as the Supreme Court in the United States would grant to the US constitution.
The proposal for a president is unnecessary. It is not an absolute requirement and I would be happy if it was not there. However, I refuse to accept that it has the sinister implications that are sometimes suggested. The person concerned will be a President of the European Council and his powers will be substantively the same as those that the President of the European Council has held for several years. He will be appointed for two and a half years, and therefore undoubtedly have more influence. However, he will be more like a President of Switzerland than a President of the United States. He will be an ambassador. Perhaps Tony Blair would be an adequate choice because, as with his current job in the middle east, the President of the European Council will argue the views of other people. In the case of the European Union, that would be the view of Governments in the organisation.
I do not believe that a high representative is necessary, but most people should welcome the combination of two jobs—that of the External Affairs Commissioner and that of the high representative.
I set myself a fundamental test. If the proposals are accepted, would the British Government—whoever are the Government—be prevented from initiating British policy in the most crucial matters, which affect our national interest? If the terms had been in effect some years ago, would we have been unable—for good or ill—to go to war in Iraq against the wishes of most of the other countries of Europe? Would we have been able to defend our interests in the Falkland Islands or pursue our policy on other aspects of foreign policy? Only if the answer to those questions is no can we pass the rather dramatic judgment that is sometimes expressed. I am not keen on some aspects of the powers, but we should get them into proper perspective if we are not to do ourselves a disservice.
However, the most significant aspect is the opt-outs that the Government have negotiated, if they are watertight. The Government have a long way to go to prove that they are watertight. If they can do so, the facts that the charter of fundamental rights will not be justiciable and that we will not be bound by justice and home affairs matters unless we so wish, are important.
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman refers to the evidence that the Foreign Secretary gave to our Committee, he will realise that my right hon. Friend made it clear that there is no opt-out from the charter of fundamental rights. It was never claimed to be an opt-out.
I accept that it is an opt-in, but that has—or is claimed to have—the same practical effect on the fundamentals.
My point is wider than the importance of such measures for justice, home affairs and the charter of fundamental rights. If we are to have a long-term future in the new EU, it can be only on the basis of a EU that accepts what is often described as variable geometry: different member states determining for themselves the amount of integration that they are prepared to accept. I can live with our membership of the EU because we are moving in that direction, not because I have a naive belief that many in the EU will not continue to strive for a federal outcome—I have no doubt that they will. As long as we in the UK are not forced to follow them, I can live with our membership.
We are not in the single currency and we are not in Schengen. If it can be demonstrated that the charter of fundamental rights will not be justiciable and cannot, therefore, overturn our national law; if we can make decisions about justice and home affairs; and if member states have a similar right to decide for themselves the parts of future proposals for integration that they are prepared to accept, we should find that sort of EU acceptable and be prepared to live with it.
I make this sober point to my colleagues: we are a party that remains committed to our membership of the EU. That means that, if one is a member of a European Union with 27 member states, conclusions will occasionally be reached that we do not like. Compromise is required because that is the nature of any international organisation. That should be acceptable to us in the context of our sovereignty and national interest, if we can opt out and decline to be part of the process on issues to which we attach great importance. That is the way that the EU is evolving. If—it is a big “if”—the treaty will move us further in that direction because of the opt-outs or opt-ins, we should welcome it.
The Government are acting in bad faith on the referendum. Regardless of the merits of the treaty, they made a promise to the British public and it is foolish and against their interests to deny that. They make themselves look petty, mean and unconvincing by doing that.
On the wider question of the treaty, we should be critical of those aspects that we do not like—I have not had time to refer to many elements that I personally do not like—but we do ourselves no service and do nothing to support our interests if we exaggerate the problem. The Government have much work to do.
I am pleased to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) because he started with the important point about the labels that we give people for their attitude towards Europe. We do not have the language to describe those of us who broadly agree with co-operation between European Union member states that goes beyond pure trade relationships but also make critical assessments. We immediately jump to calling people Europhobes or Europhiles or Eurosceptics. Just for the record, I find fault with the treaty and with the organisation, but I absolutely refuse to be labelled as a bad European or a Eurosceptic by anyone for that reason. I will take no lessons from anyone about that.
That leads me on to why we need to consider the substance of the treaty. I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), because he started to describe the consequences of some of the provisions in the treaty and to explain what will happen. People might like it or not like it, but we need to start saying what is within the treaty.
I suggest that those on our Front Bench should look a little at the history of how we ended up with this piece of legislation, which started life with the Laeken declaration. The treaty started because there were perceived to be two problems in the European Union. One was to do with its bureaucratic efficiency—at that stage, by the way, a review was needed for enlargement, so let us park that one for the moment, because enlargement happened. The second and much more fundamental problem was a disengagement from the institutions by the people of Europe and the loss of the kind of democratic legitimacy that people had hoped for when we started direct elections to the European Parliament. In reality, all that happened was that fewer and fewer people either turned up for elections or related to the institutions.
Someone then came up with an answer—a constitution. That treaty—the constitution—was continuously changed. The French rejected it, and we started giving it different names, but we should waste no time today asking whether the treaty is the same as the constitution. It is a bit like Heinz baked beans: with more than 57 varieties, we know what the thing is in essence, and in essence it requires democratic legitimacy from all the people in the member states of the European Union.
I agree with what my hon. Friend has been saying. Does she agree that that disengagement is potentially dangerous, as was illustrated strongly by the French and Dutch referendums, where the elites and the political parties all recommended a yes vote and the people voted no? That disengagement could undermine democracy in Europe.
Indeed, and that leads on to the referendum. When our then Prime Minister promised a referendum in 2004 on the new package of changes to the European Union, he did not do so for constitutional reasons; he did so because it was the right thing to do. The second point about that is that this Labour Government, more than any other Government, have used referendums to settle certain questions—we used one in Scotland and Wales, and we even used one to decide whether Birmingham should have an elected mayor. The notion that using referendums undermines parliamentary democracy therefore does not sit easily with those on our Treasury Bench. Given that we had a promise about the use of a referendum, and given that one of the most fundamental problems in the European Union is a disengagement and a lack of democratic legitimacy, I cannot for the life of me understand why our side is reneging on its promise.
Even though I am not surprised, neither can I understand what the Lib Dems are doing. They are the most pro-European party when they are here at Westminster, but when they go back to their constituencies, especially to some seats with fishing communities, they might as well be to the right of the UK Independence party. Now, rather than honouring what is a question on the treaty, they are asking, “In or out?” To me, that is using blackmailing, bully-boy tactics, which for a mature democracy is a sign of real intellectual and political poverty. If the Lib Dems really think that we should be asked, “In or out?” please let them go and ask that question, which is a perfectly legitimate question.
That takes me back to my opening remarks. It is perfectly possible to wish to be a member of the European Union, but to find significant fault with the treaty, which may be sufficient for people to say no. However, the fundamental argument about democratic engagement is this. Our Parliament and other national Parliaments are not being given more real powers; we are simply being given more information. We are being given a mechanism that, as any Committee that has considered it or anyone who really thinks about it will know, is completely and utterly ineffective. This mechanism requires two thirds of a national Parliament to arrive at a view opposing that of their own Government. However, this House, for example, has no tradition of being given a mechanism for arriving at a view opposing the Government. The Government can always whip anything through.
For that reason, if those on the Treasury Bench are serious about some of the changes, I urge them to consider, for example, one of the Foreign Affairs Committee’s recommendations, which was that rather than having a vote, should there be further extensions to qualified majority voting, there should be primary legislation, which would be required to pass through both Houses. Let those on the Treasury Bench look at how this House could scrutinise things with much greater power or at what the European Scrutiny Committee said about who should trigger the mechanisms.
At the end of the day, however, if we are really serious about restoring democratic accountability and faith in the political process, about bringing people closer to the European Union and about what the Foreign Secretary said in his opening remarks—I wrote this down; he said, “This is good for Europe and it is good for Britain”—when he prayed in aid the NSPCC, the bishops and so on, how about praying in aid the people of this country? If the treaty is good, let us go out and ask them. Then the Foreign Secretary will have a mandate and an endorsement, which could not be undermined by any successive Government, of whatever shade. Let us ask the people and have faith in them.
I am in favour of the ratification of the treaty of Lisbon, so I shall be supporting the Second Reading of the Bill. I am also totally opposed to the whole idea of a referendum on this or similar treaties. Referendums are not part of our British constitution, and I regret the fact that they are in constant danger of becoming such.
My views should come as no surprise to anybody—I am sure that they do not—as I spoke and voted accordingly on the 2004 treaty that was originally put forward. I am astonished to find, three years later, that we are having such an agitated debate. As we have had a general election since, I am one of the few Members of the House who fought the last election on the basis that I am now putting forward. It is true that my party’s manifesto said differently, but no person who follows politics in my constituency can conceivably have imagined that I supported that part of the manifesto. Indeed, I was quite clear about that to the very few people who bothered to raise the subject with me—I have received six or seven letters on the subject in the past five years. I therefore feel no sense of a lack of democratic legitimacy in putting forward my view.
Surely my right hon. and learned Friend can have no principled objection to a referendum, because he was a member of a Government who agreed to have one if Britain should ever join the single currency. Indeed, that is now the established position of all the political parties. If it is right to have a referendum when we export monetary policy, surely it is also right to have one if we are contemplating exporting our political powers.
I can reassure my right hon. Friend that I personally regard myself as bound by the commitment, which I was persuaded by the then Prime Minister to enter into, that we would have a referendum on the single currency. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) took part in persuading me and the now Lord Heseltine to agree to that, but I have frequently said, and I repeat now, that it is the biggest mistake I have ever made in my political career.
I have consistently argued and voted against referendums on the European Communities Acts, the Single European Act, the Maastricht treaty, and the treaty of Amsterdam and so on. I am quite sure that had a Conservative Government remained in office after 1997 and had we negotiated a treaty of the kind that eventually came to pass in Lisbon, we would not even have contemplated having a referendum. We were always consistent in the past, and I remain consistent now.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend not agree that, had the Lisbon treaty been negotiated by the right hon. Baroness Thatcher as she negotiated the Single European Act, she would have come back to the House and claimed it as the kind of treaty for which we ought to vote? There would have been no referendum on the matter, and we would have marched into the Lobby at her side.
I regret having to turn my back on one of my oldest personal friends in the House. I agree with him entirely: we would have wished to have negotiated this treaty following the enlargement of the Community. Mrs. Thatcher always regarded referendums as instruments that were useful to dictators and others who wished to get round Parliament.
I want to ask myself how we got into this situation. I now find myself in the Chamber surrounded by people who are wildly agitated about the question of a referendum when actually a majority of them went through the last election saying that they wanted a referendum on this subject. I am afraid that I blame the previous Prime Mini