[7th Allotted Day]
I beg to move,
That this House approves the Government’s policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning the effectiveness of the EU institutions and EU decision-making.
I am happy to introduce the seventh in our series of themed debates on the content of the Lisbon treaty—[Interruption.]
I beg to move Standing Order No. 29.
I suggest that Mr. Jim Murphy gets on with the debate.
Today we are debating the institutional reforms introduced by the Lisbon treaty. These fall into two categories: first, the reforms to the existing EU institutions—[Interruption.]
Order. We are now going to continue with this afternoon’s debate in the way that we should—[Interruption.] Order. Hon. Gentlemen and hon. Ladies must understand that the order of this House is every bit as important as the kind of matters that they are seeking to raise. It is crucial to the good order of this House that they respect the occupant of this Chair. I really do think that the Members in question have gone far enough today to make the points that they wish to make. If they want to continue, there are other ways of doing it—[Hon. Members: “How?”] There are other ways of doing what they seek to do. I call Mr. Jim Murphy.
As I was saying, we are debating the institutional reforms introduced by the Lisbon treaty. Those fall into two categories: first, reforms to the existing EU institutions to allow them to function more effectively—
And secondly, reforms to the way in which the EU takes decisions and the accountability for those decisions—in particular, to national Parliaments.
I just wished to make that point so that I can get further than I did on the last occasion before giving way to the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood).
Does the Minister agree that it is a discourtesy to him and the House that the Liberal Democrats, after synthetic anger about their broken promise, should now have almost entirely removed themselves from the Chamber when those most important issues, in which they say that they are interested, are up for debate? We should now ask: where are they?
That is not an issue for the Government or for any individual Minister. All that I would say in passing is that on the issue of Europe, the Liberal Democrats, in principle, see the benefits of our continued membership and continued involvement in the European Union and support the reforms in the treaty. As to the conduct of individual Members of Parliament, that is an issue for the Speaker or the occupant of the Chair, not for Government Ministers.
Has the Minister noticed that we never had this sort of difficulty when my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, South (Mr. Alexander) was the Europe Minister?
We did not have this sort of difficulty under any of the other eight Europe Ministers who have served during the past 10 years, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) and my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson), who are sitting in front of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South-West (Mr. Davidson). I do not know whether it is down to me or not, but I will try to make some progress.
I apologise to the House, but I would like to take us back to the debate in question. On 20 February, when I asked the Minister to set out the details of the role of the president of the European Council, he said that discussions on these issues have not yet started. How can we be debating the effectiveness of EU institutions when we do not even know what the role of the president will be?
The discussion today has not yet started. Perhaps when we have started a discussion of any substance, I will give way to the hon. Gentleman and we can discuss his specific question.
I hoped to avoid the situation where I am asking the Minister questions after he speaks about something he should have mentioned. He mentioned the role of national Parliaments. Will he tell us today how our national Parliament will adopt procedures, and which specific procedures it will adopt to allow us to have a say on the subsidiarity check—the orange and yellow cards?
My hon. Friend has paid close attention to these matters for a period of months. It would be wrong for me to announce at the Dispatch Box today how we intend to organise Parliament to enable what he asks about to happen. That is a matter for continuing dialogue with members of the European Scrutiny Committee—of which my hon. Friend is the Chair—and perhaps even, in time, members of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and of the Select Committee on the European Union in the other place. It is important that the Government do not announce, without consultation, the most effective way in which improvements to the involvement of national Parliaments will come into effect in the UK arrangements.
I am sure that the Minister does not always produce such a dramatic effect in the Chamber. Can he tell me why there is not some clear demonstration of the sort of machinery that Parliament will have to look at? I have tabled a little amendment to clause 8, which I shall certainly make a scene about when the time comes—I hope that lots of people will walk out then. Frankly, unless we have a clear idea of the machinery we have in this House for scrutinising the directives and regulations that flow out of Brussels, it is rather pointless having the sort of discussion he suggests. We are not asking him to take decisions, but simply to tell us what it is that we have to look at.
There are a range of options to look at with regard to the way in which we organise matters. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), who chairs the European Scrutiny Committee, we have not come to a view on the best way to involve Select Committees, the Chamber and the Members of the other place, or on the exact procedures to follow. It is for the House to develop its own rules in that regard. It is important to say, however, that we will undertake to ensure that those discussions take place and that decisions are put in place in time for ratification. It is crucial that the procedures are in place in time for the ratification across the 27 member states, and the commencement of the treaty—
I will give way to the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) and then to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart).
The Minister has indicated that he will listen to the various interest groups, Members of this House and Members of the House of Lords with regard to the working of the mechanism. He will appreciate, however, that more than half of the powers currently enacted by the European Union relate to devolved matters. Does he agree that the mechanism that operates in this place will take due consideration of the views of devolved legislatures and Governments in the United Kingdom?
The hon. Gentleman and I often cross swords, but he makes a fair point that we have to design our system to ensure that there is an effective way in which to gather views and reach a conclusion. However, I hope that he accepts that making a decision will ultimately be a matter for this place. I agree that it is important to construct a meaningful dialogue.
I appreciate that my hon. Friend said that the mechanisms must be examined, especially in consultation with Select Committees. However, has he decided whether he wants the scrutiny to be similar to that of Select Committees, which scrutinise the Executive’s actions and may reach a different policy view from Government, or whether he wants the Committees to police subsidiarity and proportionality? Those are distinct functions, and I wonder whether my hon. Friend has already formed a view.
We have not yet formed a firm view and we need to discuss such issues with the relevant Select Committees because it is important to get it right. I know that my hon. Friend has strong views on those matters and I look forward to the opportunity of discussing with her and other hon. Members from all parties the best way in which to implement the procedures.
I have not yet got past page 1 of my introductory comments, but I will give way to the hon. Lady and then try to make progress.
Will the Minister confirm that we can debate as much as we like any regulation that has been subject to qualified majority voting in Brussels and then comes to the House, but that we do not have the power to change it?
The hon. Lady knows that I have served on European Standing Committees A, B and C and examined such matters in great detail. Before I became Minister for Europe, my view was—and remains—that we must find more effective ways in which to scrutinise European legislation. The way in which we structure matters is therefore an issue for the House and we can adjust our own rules.
I shall make some progress and then, of course, give way to hon. Members who want to intervene.
I will set out the main changes under each category shortly. However, I first want to remind the House that institutional reform of the EU is not new. Indeed, it is one of the few constants of almost every EU treaty. The European Economic Community started in 1957 with an institutional framework designed to meet the needs of a club of six member states. It had a Commission, a rotating presidency, Community competences and a legal personality. However, at each stage of development, faced with fresh challenges, member states have adapted the EU’s institutions and decision making to address those new challenges. There has therefore been continuing reform of the EU’s institutions and decision making.
In the 1980s, faced with economic underperformance and the challenge of making a reality of the single market, the member states, with this country in the lead, introduced a widespread extension of qualified majority voting. In its effects, that was perhaps the most radical change to European decision making. However, as the Government of Baroness Thatcher recognised at the time, those major moves to QMV were in the UK’s national interest. Without that, the single market could not have been created. As Baroness Thatcher said in a speech in the other place in 1993:
“we would never have got the single market without an extension... of majority voting... we wanted a single market and we had, in fact, to have some majority voting.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 7 June 1993; Vol. 546, c. 562.]
Foreign and security policy, co-operation in justice and home affairs and the process of creating the euro was part of the reform that the Maastricht treaty enabled. That treaty introduced the concept of co-decision with the European Parliament and moved important policy areas to QMV, including education, public health, transport safety, development co-operation and consumer protection.
Some, including Baroness Thatcher, felt that the Maastricht treaty went even further than the Single European Act in transferring decision-making powers to European level. Maastricht, according to Baroness Thatcher, “is much, much wider” than the Single European Act.
Do the Government believe that parliamentary sovereignty persists? Has it been temporarily handed to European institutions and can it brought back by an Act of Parliament, or has it been transferred permanently?
The fact is that the supremacy of European law was established before the UK joined the European Community. It was confirmed in case law in—
The hon. Gentleman is better informed than the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart)—the supremacy of European law was confirmed in a 1964 case. That has been the case since before the United Kingdom joined the European Community. In respect of the extension of qualified majority voting, that was also enabled by the treaty of Rome in 1957. Every subsequent European amending treaty since has extended qualified majority voting, which is important to recognise.
Is the Minister not indicating that the best way of undermining the sovereignty of Parliament is to have a referendum, which is designed to bypass Parliament? However, let me leave that aside. The key point that Baroness Thatcher made in the House when she was Prime Minister in 1989 was that qualified majority voting is an advantage to the United Kingdom, which rarely gets outvoted, in that it enables this country to ensure that the European Union can pass legislation that bypasses the protectionist instincts of any one country. Is that not the reason that this country has always found qualified majority voting an advantage rather than a disadvantage?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right in his analysis of qualified majority voting and of why this Government and previous Conservative Governments have extended it in the careful way that we have. It has ensured that, where protectionist tendencies exist, no one country can block economic reforms, which are so important to the United Kingdom.
The Minister is right that there has been a progressive surrender of powers and a progressive increase in qualified majority voting, but to ensure that the record is accurate, will he confirm that qualified majority voting has been granted in 10 times as many areas since 1997 as were granted by Baroness Thatcher?
The fact was that—[Hon. Members: “Yes.”] No, I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman’s analysis of Europe and, looking at the figures, I disagree with his analysis of qualified majority voting. The Single European Act made 12 such moves and the Maastricht treaty, which he supported, made 32 moves. There were 26 moves under the Amsterdam treaty and 32 under the Nice treaty, while the Lisbon treaty, as we have all discussed, makes 51 extensions.
Does my hon. Friend also agree that it is not a question of giving up sovereignty, but a question of sharing it where issues such as the environment and energy have to be dealt with in common?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the sharing of that sovereignty. The fact is that Parliament remains sovereign. Parliament is free to repeal the European Communities Act 1972, but we would have to leave the European Union as a consequence. That is not an agenda that we on the Government Benches are in any way interested in.
On the important point that my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) raised, and to which the Minister has just begun to give an answer, does he agree that it is well established in case law of the House of Lords that it is possible for the United Kingdom to make provisions that contradict provisions of the 1972 Act and all the Community obligations that flow from it, providing that such legislation is express, consistent and clearly intended to achieve that objective? In those circumstances, courts of the United Kingdom will give effect to the latest Act that complies with those criteria. Does the Minister agree with that?
Where I agree is that the European Communities Act 1972 would be the way to seek the removal, as it were, of the type of proposals in the European Union (Amendment) Bill, which will come before us this evening. Notwithstanding what the hon. Gentleman has said, repealing the 1972 Act would be an invitation by Parliament to remove the United Kingdom from membership of the European Union.
I speak as someone who used to head up the European Parliament side in conciliation negotiations. On the effectiveness of the QMV system, does the Minister not agree that the British Government would be better represented in the Council were they to be represented by Ministers, rather than by civil servants? In most cases, when I was there, there was one Minister from the presidency and the rest of those involved were civil servants.
The make-up of these Committees, in regard to the balance between Ministers and civil servants, is an important established arrangement governing the way in which Governments act. Governments of both parties have acted in a way whereby, at a particular time, it is appropriate for officials to discuss and examine the legal basis of the texts involved, and, at an appropriate time, Ministers become involved. That is the correct way of organising the business.
Does the Minister accept that, for example, the French Conseil d’Etat regularly maintains a conflict between French administrative law and European Community law, and that that is not greeted as an invitation to leave the European Union? On the contrary, it becomes a political matter to be resolved. Were the United Kingdom expressly to create a non-conformity in terms of United Kingdom law with EC law, that would be a matter to be resolved politically, and not necessarily an invitation to leave the European Union.
The fact is that, if we were to repeal the European Communities Act 1972, it would be an invitation to leave the European Union. The hon. Gentleman has me at a slight disadvantage, in that I am not an expert on French legal and constitutional arrangements. Perhaps, however, I shall have to brush up on them as we progress through our proceedings, the second half of which we have reached today.
After 2003, following the collapse of communism and the enlargement involving the central and eastern European countries, the EU reformed its institutional and voting systems. Today, a Europe of 27 countries—with more to come—faces the challenges of globalisation, defending and extending free and fair trade, climate change, energy security, migration and terrorism. The EU has the potential to deliver for our citizens on these challenges but, to do so, it needs strong, effective and accountable institutions. The Lisbon treaty introduces reforms to help to achieve that. As the Law Society guide to the Lisbon treaty says:
“Institutional change is the key driver behind the Treaty of Lisbon. The need for transparency, better democratic accountability and enhanced judicial scrutiny has led to some important improvements in the EU’s make-up”.
I would like to set out the reforms that the treaty actually makes—the facts, rather than the fictions that have been peddled.
There are two sets of reforms. The first involves those that will allow the existing EU institutions to function more effectively and with more accountability to the member states. The new full-time president of the European Council replaces the current system in which presidency of the European Council rotates every 26 weeks. The European Council is the body through which the leaders of member states steer the political direction of the EU, and it is in our national interest to ensure greater continuity.
We have heard allegations from the Opposition that this will mean the creation, over time, of a US-style President. That is a ludicrous assertion. The President of the US is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. All Executive functions are vested in him—or perhaps, shortly, her. The President appoints judges, makes treaties and can veto legislation. The president of the European Council, on the other hand, will do none of those things. He or she will have no legislative or Executive functions.
As so often happens with European issues, my hon. Friend is talking about the changes as though they were the end of the story. The direction of travel is towards stronger and stronger central institutions and a stronger president who will perhaps, in time, become like the American President. That is something with which we would profoundly disagree.
I respect my hon. Friend’s point of view, although we do not agree. The changes will ensure that the European Union can be much more effective. I do not know whether my hon. Friend shares our ambition to deliver on behalf of all our constituents an organisation that could be a great force for good across the globe. Such an organisation should not have within its architecture the inbuilt instability of a change of leadership every 26 months. As I have previously reflected, that is no way to run a bowling club or a golf club in any of our constituencies and it is certainly no way to set out the rules of the largest rules-based market in human history.
I want to raise a relatively small matter that has not yet been addressed. Each member state that hosts the presidency currently bankrolls it for the six-month period, which must be extraordinarily expensive. How will the costs now be met not just for the job of the president, but for the additional functions whose costs were hitherto picked up by the host national state?
As we end the process of diplomatic musical chairs and travelling around the 27 European capitals, the expectation is that rationalisation will bring an end to what I think was an indefensible process and lead to some savings. As to how it is then funded, it would no longer be the responsibility of the rotating presidency to pick up that bill, but of Europe as a whole.
Still on the first group of reforms, the treaty reduces the size of the European Commission with the aim of ensuring that it can work more effectively as the EU enlarges.
I wanted to raise this matter as I was not sure whether the Minister was going to expand on the point. One part of the structure is for vice-presidencies during the six-month period, but has any thought been given to that role? There is certainly a sense of engagement in the present system—though I would also have to say that there are inefficiencies when the individual countries take up their six-month duties—but the promise made in the Convention, and after, was that countries would still be engaged in some sort of rotating vice-presidential role. Will the Minister elaborate further on that?
Time does not allow me to elaborate in much detail, apart from saying that the expectation was that rotating sectoral councils would continue under the auspices of the six-month rotating period. That might provide the opportunity that my hon. Friend alluded to, but, significantly, the office of president of the Council would no longer rotate.
From 2014, the number of commissioners will be reduced so that two thirds of member states provide a commissioner at any one time, with every country taking equal turns. The members of the Commission will still, as now, be decided by national Governments, acting on qualified majority voting, and by the European Parliament. The treaty also reduces the size of the European Parliament, with the number of MEPs capped at 751—down from the current 785.
The second group of reforms largely relates to better decision making and accountability.
The Minister makes no mention of the Economic and Social Committee or the Committee of the Regions, which are both very expensive and, in my opinion, superfluous. Will the Minister tell me what those two bodies bring to the picnic and can he defend their continuation?
I believe that the Committee of the Regions is important, because it provides a significant opportunity for those who do not live with or practise the politics of civic society in the capital cities of sovereign member states to become involved in consultations and offer their views. It is an important dynamic, showing the multi-layered nature of the EU, and I believe that removing it would be a weakness.
Let me make some progress and I will happily give way to the hon. Gentleman later.
The second group of changes relates to better decision making and accountability. This group of reforms alters the way in which the EU takes decisions and the means of accountability for them. It provides new powers for national Parliaments; more effective decision making where it is in the UK’s interests; and explicitly sets out the EU’s competences—and where those competences end—for the first time.
Has the Minister seen the authoritative report published this week about the operation of the artist’s resale right directive? The Government voted against it, but it was passed by a majority vote. The Government opposed it on the grounds that it would damage the British art market, which is much the biggest in Europe. The report confirms that that damage has occurred. Does the Minister think it wise to extend majority voting to a further 51 areas? Will that not ensure that in future the views and priorities of this Government and this Parliament will be overridden, to the detriment of British interests?
I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s assertion. The areas in which we have agreed to the extension of qualified majority voting are those in which we want quicker decision making, and want to remove the power of any one member state to block that decision making.
Two groups of amendments to the European Union (Amendment) Bill have been tabled in my name. Will the Minister be good enough to explain exactly what would be left to the United Kingdom in terms of sovereignty, given that, as he well knows, the notions of shared competence and exclusive competence mean that we would no longer be able to legislate in certain areas? On what does he believe we would still be able to legislate, comprehensively?
The hon. Gentleman has been uncharacteristically unfair on himself. He has, in fact, tabled 67 amendments to the Bill.
As I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, the setting out of competences does not change the position in any legal sense; it simply clarifies it. Article 1(6) of the Lisbon treaty—article 5.2 on page 6 of the consolidated treaty—states that
“the Union shall act only within the limits of the competences conferred upon it by the Member States in the Treaties to attain the objectives set out therein. Competences not conferred upon the Union in the Treaties remain with the Member States.”
I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I will tell him what is left. The United Kingdom Government set this out in great detail. It has been made very clear that on issues of defence and international policy, social security, justice and home affairs—all the big national issues in relation to which it makes sense for national Parliaments and national Governments to act in unanimity—they reserve that right.
Can the Minister confirm that 99 per cent. of European Union national income stays in the hands of member states, and that of the 1 per cent. that goes to Brussels, 85 per cent. is sent back to them for disbursement? Moreover, according to the House of Commons Library, fewer than 10 per cent. of the laws that we pass here emanate from Europe and more than 90 per cent. are our laws, made in this House.
My right hon. Friend is right, as usual.
He was sacked as Minister for Europe.
I cannot see anyone leading a walk-out as a result of that intervention.
Does the Minister agree that there is one area in which we should have moved to qualified majority voting, but have not done so? I refer to the vote that determines the seat of the European Parliament. I think that we should have removed the French veto and moved to qualified majority voting, and that the European Parliament should have sat only in Brussels.
My hon. Friend has argued that case for some time. It is an established arrangement for the European Parliament to sit in Strasbourg for one week, although I am sure that that arrangement can and will be examined as part of the continuing reform of the European Parliament.
Will the Minister give us an indication—perhaps later in the debate, if not now—of how frequently the United Kingdom is on the losing side of a QMV vote, and how frequently we are on the winning side? I suspect that we are on the winning side on the overwhelming majority of occasions, and that the United Kingdom is able to persuade other European Union members to agree with us on what we think is right for this country. There is give and take in all negotiations. We need to assess how often we lose and how often we win under QMV to gain some sense of proportion, and to determine whether QMV is worth engaging in.
It is absolutely clear that in the vast majority of cases—I will happily put what is available on the public record and into the public domain—the UK is effective in achieving a blocking minority where we seek to do so, and that will be protected even further under the new arrangements that will be put in place by 2017 and the double majority voting changes.
Will the Minister give way?
After I have given way to the hon. Gentleman, it might be helpful if I make a little progress.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He has just said that he is happy with all the concessions made on qualified majority voting, but let us take just one example, although an important one: the QMV that the treaty introduces for proposals made by the new high representative. When this matter first came before the intergovernmental conference, the Minister’s predecessor, now the Secretary of State for Justice, opposed it, saying it was “simply unacceptable”. Why did the Government at that time find it to be “simply unacceptable”?
We made it absolutely clear that we wanted clarity and precision in the relationship between the high representative and the Commission more generally, and we achieved that.
The Lisbon treaty gives national Parliaments a direct say in making European laws for the first time. Every national Parliament will receive proposals for new EU legislation directly. They may judge whether the proposal conforms to the principles of “subsidiarity”. If one third of national Parliaments object, the proposal will be sent back for review by the Commission. If a majority of national Parliaments oppose a Commission proposal, and national Governments or MEPs agree, it can be struck down.
Each national Parliament gets two votes, so for the UK this House and another place will each have a yellow and orange card to play. As I suggested to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, how that is exercised will be a matter for Parliament to decide. We will work with both Houses to ensure that an effective mechanism is in place to allow Parliament to exercise its new rights from the date of entry into force of the Lisbon treaty.
Will the Minister give way?
I shall make a little progress, if I may.
This is an opportunity, not any kind of threat. However, the original House of Commons ESC report on the IGC of 9 October 2007—on which my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk did sterling work—said:
“We wish to emphasise that the proposals in the Reform Treaty raise a serious difficulty of a constitutional order in as much as they appear to impose, whether by accident or design, a legal duty on national parliaments ‘to contribute actively to the good functioning of the Union’ by taking part in various described activities.”
Although we did not share the ESC’s view, we listened to the concerns raised and secured changes to the text to make it clear that national Parliaments have the right to contribute to the work of the Union but are not obliged to do so. We are sure that the text is now unambiguous and that there is no question of any obligation on national Parliaments. All member states and the EU institutions are clear that the final text confers rights on national Parliaments, but does not impose obligations.
I do not think the Minister intended to do so, but he has slightly misconstrued—so to speak—what the ESC said in its follow-up report, where we made it crystal clear in the concluding provision that it would be intolerable for there to be any ambiguity in respect of any suggestion that an EU obligation should be imposed on our Parliament, and that that would, of course, be inconsistent with the whole of our constitutional arrangements. That is what the ESC said, and it is backed by the most learned opinions—by Queen’s counsel and many others. I know that the Minister did not mean to mislead the House.
I did no such thing, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman will see if he checks Hansard. I was quoting verbatim from the ESC report, which is publicly available.
As I have said, although we did not share the concerns expressed, we nevertheless acted to secure changes to the text. The House of Lords EU Select Committee stated in its report of 1 November 2007 that while it accepted the reassurances that the treaty was not intended to impose obligations on national Parliaments,
“we considered it necessary to ensure that the phraseology was correct while the interests of national parliaments were appropriately presented in the text...We were accordingly pleased to have heard that the word ‘shall’ has been eliminated from the English text.”
Will my hon. Friend confirm that the treaty protocol on the role of national Parliaments explicitly spells out that
“the way in which national Parliaments scrutinise their governments in relation to the activities of the European Union is a matter for the particular constitutional organisation and practice of each Member State”?
Of course that must be the case, and it is clearly recognised in the treaty. Will he confirm that?
My right hon. Friend is correct. She amplifies the point that I was making in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, who is Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, and my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody)—it is for national Parliaments to resolve the way in which they structure the new rights offered to them.
We went slightly off at a tangent on the question whether a Parliament could decide how it would scrutinise or not scrutinise its Government. The treaty ended up reading:
“National Parliaments contribute…to the good functioning of the Union”.
The word “shall” was taken out. Paragraph 16 of the European Scrutiny Committee’s third report of Session 2007-08 suggested that the word “may” should have replaced the word “shall”. May I inform the Minister that at the conference of the Chairs of European Committees on 18 February, a representative of another Parliament said clearly that Parliaments shall contribute? When we questioned that, we were told, “They must contribute. It says so in the treaty.” Clearly the interpretation outside this House is that removing the word “shall” has not diminished the compulsion to contribute seen by others.
I believe that my hon. Friend was attending a COSAC meeting, where he has an opportunity to discuss these issues with his equivalents—the Chairs of the Scrutiny Committees in the other 26 national Parliaments. The second Chambers of those national Parliaments are also involved in such meetings. It is clear—we are precise about this—that we responded to concerns that he raised. He has been fair enough to observe that in another place. [Interruption.] He has acknowledged from a sedentary position that he agrees with that. As to how we persuade other European Parliaments, as the treaty is ratified across the European Union it will be clear that other national Parliaments will have to adjust their rules and the way in which they operate. I would not seek to interfere in how another national Parliament organised its business.
Hon. Members on both sides wish to make their contributions, so I shall now make some progress. The treaty extends qualified majority voting, and that will offer faster decision making where the UK wants to see more effective EU action. I cannot accept the view of some hon. Members that in respect of this new treaty alone there is no case for moves to QMV. I believe, the Government believe and the rest of the European Union believes that the case is a strong one.
I take it that the Minister is referring to the very important provision—I believe it is article 48—that enables the European Council to move from unanimity to QMV in a wide area of decision making. The Government originally opposed that at the time of their 2003 White Paper, saying that it would undermine the role of national Parliaments. Why have they changed their mind?
In response to that fair point, may I say that there is clearly a triple lock on any of these changes? It is a triple lock of the European Parliament, the European Council and any national Parliament. Alone in the European Union, this Government have proposed—the provision is in clause 6 of the Bill—that any move from unanimity to QMV would require the assent of this place and the other place before it was to happen. As far as I can ascertain, we are the only Government who have taken the opportunity to provide that additional protection and power to a national Parliament.
If there is a move towards greater use of qualified majority voting, the introduction of double majority voting from 2014 will mean that the UK’s share of votes in the Council will rise to 12 per cent., from 8 per cent., giving us that much more power.
My hon. Friend has great experience of these issues and he is absolutely correct. Our share in the Council of Ministers will go from 8 to 12 per cent. and our share of a blocking minority will go from 32 to 35 per cent.
On the QMV point raised by the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), who is no longer in his place, could the Minister—when he has finished furnishing the House with the interesting data about the votes in which we were not outvoted—put on record whether the Government calculate whether they could win a vote before deciding what position to take?
What an innovative idea! I cannot go further than putting on the record those votes in which we were outvoted. I can only assume that if we force an issue to a vote, we anticipate winning that vote. The two lists are probably one and the same thing.
In terms of extensions to QMV—
It was obvious in the last Conservative Government that good Ministers rarely had problems with voting, as they could dominate what happened in the Council of Ministers. Given that there are extra blocking minority powers now, I am sure that even Labour Ministers can keep up that record.
I was with the hon. Gentleman right up to his last few syllables. Thus far, in the vast majority of cases under Governments of both parties, effective Ministers supported by first class civil servants have enabled the UK to achieve its objectives. The institutions have been structured in a way that will strengthen the UK’s hand in the future, not weaken it.
I wish to raise a technical point. QMV will be introduced for areas in which it is not used at the moment. One of them is the famous passerelle clause, which the Prime Minister has said will be dealt with on the Floor of the House. There are all the other opt-in areas, and I understand that there are 70 or 80 of them. When they are transposed into the new Community method under the treaty, they will be subject to QMV. Has the Minister given any further thought to the point that I made on Second Reading about the procedure for that? I am concerned that that should not be decided under the statutory instrument procedure, off the Floor of the House, because those issues are the business of this Chamber.
My hon. Friend talks with great authority on these issues. Alone in the EU, this Government have provided the protection enabled in clause 4 of the Bill which means that any moves from unanimity to QMV could be vetoed by the House. The exact way we configure that will be an issue for dialogue and the decisions that we need to have in place in time for the commencement of the treaty across the European Union.
I wish to make some progress. Hon. Members will accept that I have taken a substantial number of interventions, and others wish to speak. In terms of the extensions to QMV, 20 of the changes offer faster decision making where the UK wants to see better systems in place, such as protecting British business ideas across Europe and decision making on energy.
The UK has always insisted on maintaining ultimate national control in the key areas of social security, tax, foreign policy and defence, as I have already mentioned. The Lisbon treaty makes it clear that we have secured that for the UK. In the most sensitive areas—justice and home affairs, and social security—the UK has the right either not to participate or to insist on unanimity. Many of the other QMV measures, such as those that concern rules about the eurozone, simply do not apply to us. In fact, 16 changes either do not apply to the UK or apply only if we choose to opt in. That leaves 15 purely procedural changes, such as the operating rules for the judicial appointments panel and how we appoint members to the EU’s Economic and Social Committee. Overall, the impact of QMV under the reform treaty will be significantly less than under the Single European Act, for example.
The treaty makes the system of majority voting more transparent and democratic. Under the new double majority voting system, which I have mentioned, a minimum of 55 per cent. of the member states—15 of the 27 countries—representing a minimum of 65 per cent. of the EU’s population must vote in favour for European legislation to be passed.
Opponents of the Lisbon treaty have claimed that the UK’s blocking power in the Council of Ministers will be reduced by double majority voting. I have already made it clear that that will not be the case. Opponents of the treaty have pointed to research from the London School of Economics to bolster their argument. In fact, the claim is based on research by Professor Moshe Machover of the LSE, who has since made it clear that, in his view, the UK’s relative position will actually improve substantially under the new voting system. It is important to put that on the record.
The treaty will also improve transparency and defines the Union’s competences for the first time, as I have mentioned. The categories of the competences simply reflect existing law. They provide greater clarity than before about what the EU can and cannot do. As the Law Society’s guide to the Lisbon treaty says:
“There are five areas in which the UK and other EU countries have agreed that the EU alone may pass new laws. None of these is new to the Treaty of Lisbon.”
It is clearly in the UK’s interest that the EU’s powers and where it can and cannot act are set out explicitly, as they are. The Lisbon treaty expressly provides for the EU to have legal personality. Legal personality for the EC and the EU is not new. The European Community has concluded hundreds of international agreements covering all fields of Community activity since it gained legal personality.
We had an exchange on this point this morning. Will the Minister be kind enough to tell me why he alleges that that legal personality is not new, when he must know that specific provisions demonstrate that it is? Admittedly, it is not new in respect of trade, but there is a range of other areas where it is. He must know that; surely he can concede that point.
I do not know whether I concede it, but I certainly congratulate the hon. Gentleman on ensuring we had an opportunity to discuss these issues in relation to the matter of support for Kosovo in an Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall this morning, when he managed to make an argument about legal personality. I enjoyed the advance warning of the comments that he will make this afternoon.
The fact is that the European Union already has legal personality, to the extent that it now has the power to conclude agreements in its own name. The EU has concluded nearly 100 such agreements in its own right, and we benefit from them. They include the World Trade Organisation agreements; the Cotonou agreement with African, Pacific and Caribbean countries, which allows them access to the EU market; and agreements on development and trade with countries all over the world. None of that is unusual. Legal personality is a standard characteristic of international organisations ranging from the United Nations, the WTO and the International Criminal Court to the Universal Postal Union.
At the moment, for example, the European Union cannot conclude a military agreement with third countries. Once the EU has legal personality, it will be able to conclude full-blown military treaties with third countries.
I usually respect the points made by the hon. Gentleman, but in this case he is absolutely wrong. Issues of national defence and foreign policy are matters of unanimity decided by national Governments. The EU does not have competence from treaties to conclude the types of agreements that have been mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. For the first time, the competences are set out explicitly, and where they are not transferred they will still be exercised by national Governments. That is very clear.
Various Opposition Members have spoken about the question of legal personality before. Alan Dashwood, professor of European law at Cambridge university, told the House of Lords Committee in evidence:
“There are many international organisations that have international legal personality such as the ECB and Euratom”.
He added that the EU’s possession of a legal personality did not make it a state. Judge Sir David Edward, a former UK judge at the European Court of Justice, said:
“I do not see that the conferring of a legal personality on the Union, in so far as it replaces and succeeds the Community, really has any extensive effect at all.”
The Lisbon treaty introduces reformed institutions that will allow an enlarged EU to work effectively. It provides for reformed decision making with greater transparency and accountability. We want the EU to focus on where it can add value in a globalised world, and that is why we welcome a full-time president of the European Council. We want national parliaments to have a greater say in EU affairs on the issues that matter, and that is why we welcome more powers for national parliaments. We want British consumers and businesses to benefit from a completed single market, and that is why we welcome more streamlined decision making in the Council. We want more co-operation on children’s rights, the environment and international development, and that is why we welcome clearer objectives for the EU in those areas.
Finally, we want the EU to engage more effectively internationally, in respect of Burma, Zimbabwe, Iran and many other places around the globe. That is why we welcome the creation of the post of high representative for foreign affairs, who will be answerable, ultimately, to member states.
Will my hon. Friend the Minister give way?
I was about to conclude, and my hon. Friend will have an opportunity a little later to contribute to the debate. My final sentence is that I commend the motion to the House.
I beg to move amendment (b), in line 1, leave out from ‘House’ to end and add
“disapproves of the Government’s policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of the provisions on the effectiveness of European Union institutions and decision-making because the Treaty expands the power of EU institutions at Member States’ expense by replacing the rotating presidency of the European Council with a permanent President, giving the EU a single legal personality, abolishing national vetoes in more than fifty areas and entrenching marine biological resources as an exclusive EU competence; notes that these provisions are largely identical to those in the original EU Constitution; further notes that the details of many of the new powers of the EU and its institutions will not be decided until after the Treaty is ratified; and regrets the Government’s failure to secure the extensive changes Ministers sought to these provisions in the course of negotiations on this Treaty and its near-identical predecessor.”.
It tells us something about the shortage of time in which we can debate these matters that we are already more than one third of the way through the period set aside for these motions on the effectiveness of EU institutions. Today’s debate concerns some of the treaty’s most important elements and they are notable not least because once again they mirror almost exactly the proposals of the EU constitution, on which all parties in the House—including the one that was in some difficulty earlier—pledged at the last election to hold a referendum.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
It is very early, but I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.
The right hon. Gentleman is making the predictable point about the shortage of time, but he has also mentioned the referendum. If he and his colleagues had not spent so much time in every debate banging on about the referendum issue, would not there have been more time to discuss the substance of the proposals in the treaty?
The hon. Gentleman was elected on a manifesto that banged on about holding a referendum, so it is no surprise if the Opposition remind the House of that.
However, I wanted to congratulate the Minister on starting his speech in the presence of so many Liberal Democrat MPs. It is the greatest number that I have ever seen gathered together when a by-election was not in prospect. When I saw them come in, it made me think that one of us might be ill. They have had some difficulty with getting their amendments selected for debate, but they would have no such problem if their amendment fulfilled their party’s pledge to hold a referendum on the European treaty. If they tabled such an amendment, they would be rescued from the contortions in which they have become involved.
There have been a number of developments in the debate already, and I want to take issue with one or two hon. Members. The right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), who I see is just returning to his place, informed us that only 10 per cent. of laws affecting the UK came through the EU. However, I have to tell him that the person who said that it was
“unacceptable that 50 per cent. or more of regulations come from the European Union”
was the Prime Minister. That is unfortunate, because falling out with the Prime Minister might not shorten his long and arduous journey back to the Front Bench.
Does the right hon. Gentleman—who, like me, has a close connection to Rotherham—accept that the Prime Minister, like him, can be wrong?
I said that the right hon. Gentleman’s journey back to the Front Bench was long and arduous, but I think that it just became of infinite length. However, we will all enjoy his utterances from the Back Benches in the many decades to come.
I must also take issue with the Minister for Europe, who, when asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) to list the remaining exclusive competences of the nation state, came up with a rather short list of what is left of the nation states, underlining the dramatic nature of what is in the treaty. He was pressed by some of his hon. Friends about the role of national Parliaments, and about how we in the House of Commons exercise our powers, or the powers that we have in this Chamber, to affect the decisions of Governments of either party about European decision making. He said that the Government would come up with further proposals on the subject, but they already had an opportunity to do so.
The matter was debated only three weeks ago on the Floor of the House, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), the shadow Leader of the House, made clear and substantive proposals: for instance, for a statutory scrutiny reserve, so that Ministers would have to gain parliamentary approval before negotiating in the Council of Ministers, as well as new powers for the European Scrutiny Committee to force a debate and vote in the House of Commons. It was only in response to Opposition pressure that the Government agreed to support the decision that produced the one substantive thing that happened in that debate: the decision to hold public meetings of the European Scrutiny Committee. The Government have had one opportunity to come up with substantive proposals for improving parliamentary scrutiny, and if they are really going to do so again, they should do it with great urgency, because there is enormous interest in the matter throughout the House.
The treaty will introduce changes of great importance to the European Union’s institutions and decision-making processes. The Minister mentioned most of them. They include, but are not limited to, the creation of a new president of the European Council; the endowment of the European Union—explicitly in a treaty, for the first time—with a single legal personality; the renamed EU Foreign Minister; the new delineation of competences between the EU and member states; the establishment of qualified majority voting with co-decision by the European Parliament as the ordinary legislative procedure; the various other increases in the powers of the European Parliament; the new vote-weighting system for the Council of the European Union; and, of course, the ratchet clause, by which further vetoes can be abolished in future without recourse to further treaties.
If the question of legal personality for the European Union as a whole makes absolutely no difference, it prompts the question, why on earth are they bothering to put it in, then?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, which could be made about so many aspects of the treaty that we are assured will make no difference, including the clarification—I think that is what the Minister called it—of the competences of the EU and the nation states. If that is of no importance and only a clarification, why did the Government oppose the statement of so many of those competences? I shall come to that point in the course of my speech, which I will truncate in deference to the time and other hon. Members’ need to speak.
There is one argument that advocates of the treaty like to return to in this matter of decision making: that is that without the treaty, an enlarged EU would not really be able to function. Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister, told the House that the constitution was
“necessary to make the accession work”—[Official Report, 14 May 2003; Vol. 405, c. 306.]
but it has been more than three years since the great enlargement of the EU to 25 and subsequently 27 member states, and the EU is working perfectly well.
The solid weight of testimony that the EU’s existing structures have dealt more than adequately with enlargement is supplied partly by academic studies. The latest is a study by the distinguished member of the Government’s Better Regulation Commission, Professor Helen Wallace, who has found not only that the picture is of business as usual rather than gridlock but that
“non-treaty reforms have played important roles in altering processes and procedures so as to improve the capacity of the institutions to do their work”.
Current and former Foreign Secretaries, in unguarded moments of frankness, seem to agree. I remind the House of the words of the former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Margaret Beckett), which I have mentioned in earlier debates on the Bill. Last year, she told the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs that
“there have been comments from various quarters that if the European Union cannot get an agreement”
on treaty reform
“there will be a huge crisis and that the EU will no longer be able to function…the last few months have shown that that is not actually so. The EU is functioning and has, indeed, reached some quite far-reaching decisions”.
If people do not listen to the previous Foreign Secretary, I hope that they will at least listen to the current one, who said that the EU’s agreements on climate change
“have done more to show the relevance of the European Union than any amount of institutional tinkering”,
and I fully agree with him on that.
I am following what the right hon. Gentleman is saying with interest and enjoyment. If there was no treaty at all, and we just stopped where we are, would the skies fall in? Would it be the end of civilisation as we know it? Would the European Union collapse, or would it just carry on?
I think that the European Union would carry on rather well, as I think the hon. Gentleman is suggesting. If the EU was faced with the situation that he describes, it would force it to concentrate on the great issues, including climate change, rather than on the permanent process of institutional tinkering—and by signing the treaty, the Government are opening the door to that permanent process.
One of the treaty’s many proposals for improving the European Union is the proposal to move away from six-month presidencies. As there are 27 member states, and as it is likely that there will be more in future, does the right hon. Gentleman think that it makes sense to have six-month presidencies—to have this game of musical chairs, as my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe put it?
I want to come to that point in a moment, if the hon. Gentleman will allow me to finish my argument.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Of course I will give way again to the hon. Gentleman, but let me just finish my point; otherwise, my speech will become as long as that made by the Minister, who generously gave way many times.
It has been said that the treaty will make it easier for new legislation to be passed in the EU, but people in businesses up and down the land are not protesting about the lack of EU regulations and directives. Indeed, the latest British Chambers of Commerce burdens barometer, published less than a fortnight ago, shows that the vast majority—71 per cent.—of new burdens on business since 1997 have their origin in the EU. The Prime Minister, if not the right hon. Member for Rotherham, might agree with that figure. As those burdens have cost British businesses nearly £47 billion, making it easier for the EU to create more regulations should not really be high on our list of national priorities. The Prime Minister stated that it was “unacceptable” that 50 per cent. or more of regulations come from the European Union, although the Government have got into the habit of saying that they were merely asking a searching question whenever there is reference to anything that they said was unacceptable—that was what the Foreign Secretary did last week. Yet again, the Government’s stated aim in Europe of having less regulation bears no relation to the policy that they are actually pursuing.
One of the fundamental changes that the treaty makes was referred to by the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick): the change to the work of the European Council and the Council of Ministers. The rotating presidency has been a permanent feature of the EU since its inception as the European Economic Community. It has survived thus far because it has helped to root the EU in the member states—each country has had its chance at the helm to highlight its priorities—and it has helped to give people some sense of ownership of what is going on in Europe. It is fair to say that the EU’s enlargement means that the system would benefit from some reform; I can agree with the hon. Gentleman to that extent. Not every member state has the capacity to manage a presidency by itself, and the gap between presidencies has become very long. We support the sensible reform of introducing team presidencies for Council formations; the treaty allows for that. In my view, that should have been the pattern for the presidency of the Council itself.
The right hon. Gentleman seems to think that enlargement has not made it necessary to make the reforms in question. Will he confirm for the record that he and his party are still in favour of enlargement of the European Union to include Turkey and the Balkans? Such enlargement would result in the European Union having 34 or 35 member states, rather than its current 27. In those circumstances, would he still be against the institutional reforms set out in the treaty?
I was just dealing with that point; I acknowledged the need for some changes, but along the lines of the team presidencies that I mentioned, not along the lines of a permanent president of the European Council. To answer the hon. Gentleman’s question fully, I can confirm that we are certainly in favour of enlargement of the EU to include the Balkans—we think that that is vital—and, indeed, Turkey. I think that there is agreement among the Front Benchers on that point.
It is worth noting that the reform of voting weights set out in the treaty means that after 2014, voting weights will be in proportion to population. Looking to the medium and long term and the need for Turkish accession, it would be difficult to come up with a system that makes Turkish accession more difficult, because it will be harder for other countries to accept a heavily populated but relatively poor country when the proposed system for voting weights is in place in the European Council. Turkey would of course have the largest single block vote in the Council of Ministers. Much as I agree with the hon. Gentleman, I do not think that the structures set up by the treaty help the cause of Turkish accession.
Well, the hon. Gentleman says that, but most of us in the House are, I think, in favour of Turkish accession, and the measures will not help.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that capping countries’ number of seats in the European Parliament, and guaranteeing small member states a minimum of six seats, would mean that Turkey’s accession could not take place under the Lisbon treaty, because large countries would be so disproportionately disadvantaged that they would not put up with it?
I had not thought of that point, but I am grateful to the hon. Lady for adding to my argument. Those hon. Members who think that the treaty is the way to bring about enlargement will find that it actually puts in place great obstacles to enlargement, particularly for Turkey.
The hon. Gentleman will say that Scotland needs accession to the EU, too.
No, my intention is to draw the right hon. Gentleman’s attention to the fact that many people in our neighbouring Nordic countries that are not part of the EU, such as Norway, Iceland and the Faroe islands, believe that in time they might want to join the European Union. Does he think that it is more or less likely that those countries will ever join if the common fisheries policy is enshrined as an exclusive competence of the EU?
That does of course make joining more difficult for those countries; I think that I can make common cause with the hon. Gentleman on that. Under the treaty, the management of marine biological resources is made an exclusive competence of the EU under the common fisheries policy, which as he and I both know, has been an economic and ecological disaster for the United Kingdom. One would think that the way forward for fisheries policy would be a more decentralised approach, to say the least. We may differ about how that might be achieved, but a more decentralised approach is likely to be more successful. To enshrine in the treaty the management of marine resources as an exclusive competence of the European Union seems to be going in absolutely the wrong direction. That is another major problem with the treaty.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for stiffening yet further my resolve to vote in favour of the Lisbon treaty, if he is right that it will make the accession of Turkey more difficult. Turkey has been messing the European Union around for 20 years. We have been saying, “Clean up your human rights act and we’ll let you in the European Union,” but it has done almost nothing in 20 years. We should tell it to get lost.
We may be getting away from the effectiveness of EU decision making, but I strongly disagree with the hon. Gentleman. He is not being fair to some of the efforts made in Turkey in recent years, although of course it has a long way to go. It is of huge geopolitical importance that the European Union should be able to welcome Turkish membership in the coming years. Obviously, the hon. Gentleman and I will have to disagree on that, but I think that there is agreement in various parts of the House that the treaty will not help with Turkish accession, much though that might fortify the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm for the treaty.
Before those interventions, I was speaking about possible ways of reforming the presidencies of the European Council. The choice that has been made in the treaty is the creation of a permanent president. That is a mistake. If Ministers are sincere in their apparent belief that that will strengthen the role of member states in the EU, their naiveté about how political institutions work is rather alarming.
A central institution will necessarily develop different goals and interests from the member states. To claim, as the Minister for Europe did last week, that that is nothing to worry about because there is already a president of the European Council is unconvincing. Having a national Head of Government preside over meetings for six months is not at all the same thing as having an EU figure separate from national Governments in place for at least two and a half years, nor does it convey the ambitious role that the presidency is set to play.
One explanatory memorandum submitted to the European Union Committee in another place helpfully set out the president’s role in some detail. It is worth taking note of the memorandum as it came from the Government, in the form of the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain). First, it said, the president is to chair and take forward the European Council’s work. That is fairly obvious, but anyone with the slightest familiarity with the way in which political institutions work, which surely includes all of us in the House, knows that whoever chairs a meeting and manages its agenda is, in effect, in charge of it. The chairing of the Cabinet, for instance, is fundamental to the power of the Prime Minister of this country and was part of the development of the power of the Prime Minister.
When that meeting is as important as the European Council, it makes its president in his capacity as chairman a very significant figure indeed. As the memorandum goes on, the president would provide
“a much more serious co-ordinating role than can be done by a job that changes every six months”
and would co-ordinate and prepare the work of the General Affairs Council. Taken together, the president would take the lead in setting and running the EU’s whole work programme from the Council’s side—a crucial role that would play a huge part in deciding what the EU actually does.
As we have pointed out before, in the hands of a skilful politician—it would be bizarre to think that future presidents would not be exactly that—the post-holder could use his or her powers to become the leading figure in the European Union. To take the role out of—[Interruption.] If the Government think they will ever succeed in nominating me for that, they have another thing coming. To take the role out of the hands of national Governments holding it by rotation and place it in the hands of a single figure sitting at the Council table not as the representative of a nation state, but in his own right, is a fundamental change to how the EU works and it is one further illustration why there should be a referendum.
The presidency is set to play an ambitious role. According to the Government’s memorandum, the president’s job is
“to increase Europe’s global influence”
and to be the person
“to whom the foreign Presidents pick up the phone”.
On this, the Government are in happy agreement with the European Commission which, in a briefing paper, explains explicitly that the president is designed to answer Kissinger’s famous question, “Who do I call if I want to call Europe?”
The Government know full well that there are others in Europe putting the case for, eventually, direct election to that position, who believe that the establishment of the position in the treaty will open the way to that in another 10 or 15 years. That would mean a huge shift of political authority away from national Governments, and in the treaty the Government are opening the door to that. Given the importance of the post, it is extraordinary that crucial questions about how it would work in practice, what staff or secretariat would be at its service, and how, given its foreign policy role, it would interact with the high representative, have yet to be decided after the scrutiny of the treaty has been completed and after we have lost any opportunity to have a further say about it.
It was noteworthy that of all witnesses that the Foreign Affairs Committee asked about how the two posts would relate to each other, only the current high representative thought there would be no problem—an interesting pre-emptive strike in the bureaucratic turf war that the treaty will set in play.
It is not helpful to the Government’s newly favoured candidate, Mr. Tony Blair, who, it is reported, is interested in the job only if it is sufficiently important, that even his ardent advocate, the Minister for Europe, is unable to tell him whether it is worth his while because its powers have not been defined. The former Prime Minister agreed to create a post whose powers had not been set, but which someone of his abilities could very easily expand.
Although the EU’s institutions are working, there is no doubt that they could work better. One or two improvements are even in the treaty. We welcome the provision for open voting in the Council of the European Union, and I am pleased that after supporting this move and then opposing it, the Government reverted to their original position. The reduction in the number of Commissioners is also welcome, although it would be naive to represent that as taking some great scythe to European bureaucracy. It is not a cost-free reform, because there would be times when some nations with tens of millions of citizens would have no representative on the European Commission. I suspect that when we come to 2014, that will not be the end of the story.
In the light of these modest but welcome changes that were secured, it is particularly regrettable that the reactive way that the Government have approached the matter from the beginning left them unable to secure highly desirable reforms. It is astonishing that the Government made such vast concessions on so many subjects to which they attached great importance in the strongest possible terms, but they were unable to obtain even mild concessions commanding wide-ranging support in the EU, such as the establishment of a single seat for the European Parliament which, by ending the current nonsense of the endless procession between Brussels and Strasbourg, would have saved the European taxpayer €200 million a year.
Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that the decision on the matter should no longer require unanimity and that the veto on the seat of the European Parliament should be given up?
No. I am saying that that should have been one of the Government’s negotiating objectives, but they never raised a whisper about that in the treaty negotiations, while giving up many other points that they had tried initially to defend.
To illustrate the point further, we do not tire of pointing out that the Government objected in the strongest terms to much of the content of the treaty. The delineation of competences, to which I have already referred briefly, is yet another example. The Government’s chief negotiator described the article on shared competences as the “worst of all worlds”. There were repeated failed attempts to have the wording changed from what the right hon. Member for Neath described as an “illustrative but not exhaustive” list. Far from providing certainty as to what powers are the EU’s and what powers are member states’, the treaty, reproducing the Commission’s text word for word, allows a vagueness that can only tend to allow the EU’s institutions to enlarge their competence at member states’ expense.
It was not just how the EU’s competences were delineated that the Government objected to, but their distribution. In repeated failed amendments the Government objected at the Convention to making competition an exclusive EU competence. It should be a shared competence, they insisted. They said that if the Community had exclusive competence in that area,
“the Member States would have no power to . . . establish rules to promote competition.”
All those objections apply equally today, but it is in the treaty.
The Government also strongly and repeatedly objected to what is now proposed new article 2B(2) of the treaty, which provides for the EU to have exclusive competence to conclude international agreements under a range of circumstances. They rightly called for the deletion of that article, pointing out on this doctrine of implied competence:
“This is currently case law. Attempting to codify it in this way results in oversimplification. So best left for case law. All the caveats that would be required to make this accurate would also make it far too complex for a Constitution”,
yet it remains in the text. Absent, too, is the caveat that the Government called for on the common commercial policy.
This is an extremely serious part of the treaty. Under the doctrine of exclusive competence, member states will not be able to legislate or to make bilateral agreements with other member states if the subject matter touches in any way on an internal competence of the Union, which is a very long list. How does my right hon. Friend think that this will affect the ability of the United Kingdom to conduct an independent foreign policy, given our extensive bilateral agreements with a host of other countries and organisations throughout the world as a result of our global legacy?
We discussed foreign policy last week, and we must acknowledge that the definitions set out in the table of competences are predominantly not about foreign policy, but they do create an exclusive list. For instance, in competition, which I have just mentioned, it undoubtedly reduces the sovereign power of the nation states. So it is not adequate for the Minister to say that this is simply a clarification. There is a change going on here in the powers of the nation states.
As ever, my right hon. Friend makes an extremely good case. Does he agree that although “competence” sounds rather bureaucratic, it really means power, because it is the ability to legislate in that field that is the right of this House and of the British voters? That is the real problem, and it is draining away under the Government.
Yes, my hon. Friend is right. Of course it means power. Competence here is a euphemism for power, because it is an attempt to convey to people that the recipients of this competence might also be competent at it, which is not always the case. It means a shift of power. It means exclusive power over some of these areas. I had intended to list many more, but in the interests of time, I will not.
On shared competence, the Government attempted to have trans-European networks and consumer protection kept as supplementary competences, which they are now, but again they gave way on this extension of EU power. This is equally true of the single legal personality. For the first time, the EU is explicitly endowed by treaty with its own legal personality—something that Tony Blair boasted of blocking as a potentially damaging proposal when the Amsterdam treaty was agreed.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
I have given way to the hon. Gentleman twice, and half of the debate has gone by, so I want to skip through much of what I was going to say.
If we take these matters together—this movement of competences, the creation of the single legal personality, the creation of the presidency, the abolition of intergovernmental safeguards on criminal justice and policing, and the EU’s new powers and role in foreign policy and defence, which we discussed last week—this paves the way for a more powerful role for the EU at the expense of nation states across the board.
This enhancement of the EU’s powers should be of particular concern to the House, because for the first time an EU treaty seems to impose—the Minister discussed this in his speech and it can be argued in different directions—a legal duty on national Parliaments to the EU. He partly had that debate earlier with the Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee, so I will not go further into that now.
It should be a matter of deep regret to Ministers that national Parliaments, which, for all their faults, are the one institution to which the peoples of Europe feel clear attachment and ownership, are the big losers in the renamed EU constitution. The loss of what even the Minister now admits comes to a total of more than 50 national vetoes, the expansion of the EU’s powers over criminal justice, and all the other provisions that we have debated in broad outline over the past days, add up to a substantial loss of power for the House. More and more decisions will be made at the EU level over which the House will have little control, leaving our constituents, the voters, with fewer meaningful political levers to pull to secure their views and interests. In a century and a society where people feel that decisions are taken too remotely, it will mean that more of those decisions are taken more remotely still.
All that national Parliaments have in compensation is one very small step to the better monitoring of EU proposals in the so-called orange card on subsidiarity. We welcome the small move that it represents, but we must be realistic about how little it means. The German constitutional court described the provision last week as ineffective and impractical. Given the indifference with which the Government have treated the views and input of Parliament and public in their negotiations on the treaty, and their utter disregard for their election promises, we have every right to be cynical about the Government’s intentions on openness and accountability in the EU and the future use of these powers.
We look forward with interest to the Government’s response to our amendments next week on the ratchet clause, which will ensure that no more national vetoes could be abolished without primary legislation. If they and other parties are at all sincere in their claims to support parliamentary control and scrutiny over the Executive’s actions in the EU, they will support that amendment.
I have touched briefly on the weighted voting procedures as they would affect Turkish accession and I will leave it to my hon. Friends and others to debate those in more detail, as I have already been speaking for half an hour.
When taken as a whole, the treaty is not needed by an EU that is coping with enlargement well enough. It does little to improve the EU’s efficiency or its decision-making processes, while failing to deal with some issues that do need reform. It weakens still further the role of national Parliaments and above all shifts power away from member states to the EU’s central institutions. Its provisions are not in the British interest, nor are they what the Government wanted. Its contents are a testimony to the weakness of the Government’s negotiating skills and their want of vision for Europe. Where Europe needs flexibility, the treaty brings rigidity, and where it needs to change to let power flow from the bottom up, it gathers it to political institutions remote from electorates. It is a document born of a political vision for Europe out of place in the 21st century. The whole European project would benefit from its rejection, but, most importantly, its importance and profound effects on the way that this country is governed merit a decision of the British people in the referendum that they were promised.
I remind the House that Mr. Speaker has placed an eight-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches, which operates from now.
It is a real pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) and my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe in a debate that has already proved a great deal livelier and more interesting than even those of us who have been following the proceedings very closely had anticipated.
I want to bring the House back to the fundamental reason why we need the European Union and why Britain’s membership of that Union is in our national interest. It is simply the growing interdependence in the world in which we live, and the fact that there are more and more problems that we will only solve together and more and more aspirations that we will only achieve together, whether in regard to climate change, energy security, the trafficking of children and women, or the fight against international terrorism—the many issues that we have been discussing in these debates on the Bill. It is no longer enough, if indeed it ever was, to work simply within the confines of one country. That much at least might be common ground across the House.
I have said many times in the House that what many of us really want is an EU of independent democratic states, co-operating voluntarily on matters of mutual interest and benefit, and many Front Benchers have agreed with that. This treaty is not about that; it is about centralising power and taking away that kind of mutual agreement between independent countries, which I have supported, and which also seemed to be supported by Ministers.
My hon. Friend and I have a completely different view of the EU. His description of a purely voluntary co-operation between independent nation states does not represent the European Community as it was originally formulated. There has always been, within the EU and the Communities that preceeded it, a pooling of sovereignty where the member states see real advantage to their own national interest and their own people in doing so. My hon. Friend does not agree with that and I respect his view, but I profoundly disagree with it.
To reinforce the point, I point out that the EU has led the world in shaping a different kind of institution suited to the demands of an interdependent world, which does not represent an end to the nation state, or some kind of new imperial force located in Brussels— the threat that is so often conjured up on the Opposition Benches—but rather is a pooling of sovereignty for specific purposes by nation states, which in my view, and I believe that of the Government, is in our interests. There is a clear dividing line—not so much between my hon. Friend and me, but between the Labour and Conservative parties.
The institutions of the European Union have to evolve with its changing nature and, particularly, its changing size. I was surprised by the vehemence with which the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks attacked what I have always seen as an immensely commonsensical proposal for a European Council president whose term would last two and a half years rather than six months. It seemed to me and most commentators that that was essential as the European Union enlarged.
Let me, for once, pay tribute to Margaret Thatcher, who as Prime Minister championed the enlargement of the European Union to include the countries of central and eastern Europe that had so recently escaped from the dominance of the Soviet Union. I have no doubt that all of us who supported that enlargement should now be supporting the changes in the workings of the EU, in particular the creation of a new Council president, that so many of us believe are essential if an enlarged EU is to work effectively.
A further point is that the creation of that presidency is not only essential in respect of enlargement, but will enhance the power of member states by enhancing the power and effectiveness of the Council itself. I prefer not the view taken by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, but that taken by one of the very eminent advisers appointed by the leader of the Conservative party. I refer, of course, to Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, a member of the senior expert group, which has concluded:
“The creation of the post of the President of the European Council, making the European Council an institution in its own right”
“to an increase in the power of the Member States within the EU’s structures.”
That view is also shared by a former Conservative Foreign Secretary, Lord Howe.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that given the economic, political and military rise of countries such as China, India, Russia and Brazil, having a Council president and a Europe that speak with one voice is that much more important if we are to enhance our influence in the world?
I entirely agree. My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. Whether on climate change or on a whole range of economic issues, the largest single market in the world needs to be able to operate effectively—and, when there is agreement, to speak with a single voice—if we are to have the influence that we need, not only on the United States but on China, India and other emerging countries.
In this debate, much has already been made about the extension of qualified majority voting. It is absurd for the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks to complain that we have not secured an end to the rotation of the European Parliament between Brussels and Strasbourg—I entirely agree on that point; we should get rid of the nonsense of the Strasbourg sittings—while opposing the extension of qualified majority voting. Applying QMV to the location of the Parliament would be the only way in which we could get rid of the sittings in Strasbourg.
When I was Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, I spent many happy hours representing the United Kingdom within the World Trade Organisation; there are national representations as well as the EU’s at the WTO. I am not proposing that the WTO should be reformed along the lines of the European Union—it is a different organisation with different purposes, although its reform is clearly needed. However, an organisation that operates on the basis that no decision can be made except through the unanimous decision of every single one of its members finds it increasingly difficult to arrive at any decisions at all. We are finding that out, to the great detriment of developing countries, in relation to the Doha development round.
I entirely agree with the point made by the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor), who is no longer in his place. Qualified majority voting forces member states to rely on argument and persuasion rather than on veto, and in practice it enables us to overcome the protectionist instincts that, unfortunately, still exist among some of our European colleagues. Frankly, overcoming those would be greatly in all our interests. In most cases, the treaty’s extension of qualified majority voting relates to procedural, bureaucratic and technical matters, but it also relates to important issues such as energy policy. Given that, under the reformed voting procedure, the United Kingdom will have a greater share of the votes within the Council of Ministers, the treaty’s provisions are wholly in our national interest.
I should like to make a brief point about national Parliaments. The treaty’s requirement that the Commission submit its proposals directly to Parliaments when they are submitted to the European Parliament and the Council is immensely helpful, and I look forward to the debates in this House that will make full use of that provision. The treaty gives more power to national Parliaments, member states, the United Kingdom and—through the power for petitions—to the public of our own country and of the rest of the European Union. The Conservative party opposes all that, confirming that it is irredeemably the party of the past and not the future. If that was not bad enough, it compounds that grave error by threatening to reopen the treaty even if or when it is ratified by every EU member state. It calls for a completely different treaty on which it has no support across the European Union.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Given how difficult your job is and how important it is to the workings of the House that the House should operate in order, will you give me guidance on whether it is in order for a right hon. Member to question decisions of the Chair—indeed, to call them an outrage—outside this place?
I am not sure what immediate relevance that has to our proceedings, but any question or criticism of the Chair can be done only on a substantive motion.
I am delighted to follow the right hon. Member for Leicester, West (Ms Hewitt), who has been a frequent attender of these debates. She outlined well the bigger picture of what we are discussing and the successes of the European Union in the past 60 years or so.
I am a pro-European, but the European Union is certainly not without its faults. For too long, power has been concentrated—
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I should like to make a little progress, but then I am sure that I will not want to miss out on an intervention from the hon. Gentleman.
For too long, power in the EU has been concentrated among those who are appointed, not elected. The structures of the EU have often proved cumbersome to say the least, at times even making this House look modern and streamlined by comparison, which is no easy task. I therefore welcome the opportunity to discuss the Lisbon treaty’s proposed changes to the institutions of the EU.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
In one or two minutes, I certainly will.
I was pleased to be here for what surely must be a first in one of these debates. I refer, of course, to that elusive thing: finding a bit of the treaty that the Conservatives agree with—the provisions on the Council of Ministers team presidencies and fewer Commissioners. It is a shame that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) was not here to hear that, because he might think that I am joking when I tell him later, but at least I will be able to prove it to him in Hansard.
On the subject of agreeing with colleagues, can the hon. Lady tell the House whether she agrees with the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) that the Speaker’s decision not to select the amendment for debate was an outrage?
I certainly find it incredibly disappointing that we are not able to debate the amendment that stands in the name of my right hon. Friend. We feel very passionately about this, as is evidenced. However, I must return to the amendment that has been selected.
Does the fact that the Liberal Democrats were unable to have their amendment debated mean that they will vote for the other amendment, which asks for a two-question referendum?
I am sorry to have to disappoint the hon. Lady. Fortunately, we have had at least one occasion on which to test the House on this matter; it is just a shame that so many hon. Members, particularly those who would like us to leave the EU, decided not to vote for a referendum that would enable us to do that, no doubt disappointing many of their constituents.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I will give way again shortly; I should like to make some progress.
The current six-month rotating presidency is clearly not a sensible system for the European Council. It means that the body lacks direction and consistency. Like many Members, I was pleased to see the focus that the UK Government gave to the Make Poverty History campaign during the last UK presidency of the European Council. While some progress was made on that front, I believe that much more could and should have been achieved. A longer presidency with proper time to set an agenda and follow through on issues is therefore a good idea. In the context of the extension of the term for this role, we were all very entertained on Second Reading, and then a little again today, by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) and his imagery of a supreme president Blair—perish the thought. Although he paints a very memorable picture, away from fantasy land the reality is that the president of the European Council proposed in the treaty does not gain additional powers and the role will remain the same as it is now, but with a slightly less frantic turnover of occupants.
There are genuine concerns about how the president of the European Council, the President of the Commission and the new expanded high representative role will interact. I understand those concerns and would like to hear more from the Minister about how those roles will be clearly defined and made to be complementary to one another rather than in constant conflict.
Let me turn to the Council of Ministers. The moves towards qualified majority voting in this respect are arguably less significant than in the Maastricht treaty. As we have heard, 16 areas will not apply to the UK or are areas for which we have negotiated opt-ins, 14 are purely procedural, and the rest are clearly in the UK national interest. We have heard in previous debates about the British entrepreneurs who will be helped by facilitating self-employment in other member states, the British businesses that will benefit from better co-ordination of intellectual property rights, the advantages in making EU humanitarian aid operations more streamlined, and the energy liberalisation aspect. In those cases, the move to QMV helps the UK by reducing the likelihood of such welcome measures being blocked by states that are perhaps less enlightened and less committed to market liberalisation. As we heard from the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick), the changes to the way in which QMV is calculated in the Council are also clearly in the national interest because the power of the UK’s vote will go up from 8 to 12 per cent. Given the general dislike on the Tory Benches of anything being decided in Brussels, even on clearly trans-national issues such as climate change or cross-border crime, I wonder why they do not welcome that stronger voice for the UK in these discussions.
The hon. Lady is making a valiant performance in the course of her somewhat lonely vigil on her Benches. On cross-border crime, can we take it, then, that it is Liberal party policy to opt into the justice and home affairs provisions?
We certainly want to ensure that cross-border crime is dealt with swiftly, and in measures relating to that the UK must examine any of the proposals that come forward and decide on them on their merits—it is as simple as that. To take the opposite view and say that there is never any point in co-ordinating with our international colleagues could place us in a situation whereby we were unable to tackle drug trafficking, people trafficking and the horrendous crimes that need to be tackled.
On the European Commission, there is an old maxim, with which I am sure Members are familiar, that a camel is a horse designed by committee. I am sure that those of us with experience in politics know that that can be true and that the larger the committee, the more unwieldy it becomes. With 27 member states, the Commission faced that very problem, and it is eminently sensible to move to reduce its size. Indeed, even the Conservatives have agreed that that is a welcome move. This morning, I attended a debate about the western Balkans where many Members said that it would be welcome to see other Balkan states gaining accession to the EU. That issue will clearly become more important as the number of member states increases.
The hon. Lady seems to be an erstwhile expert on the Conservative party’s policy on Europe. Does she agree or disagree—a straight answer is what I require—with the position taken by the hon. Members for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock), for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) and for North Devon (Nick Harvey), who have implored their constituents and their own party to vote for a referendum, which was agreed in the hon. Lady’s manifesto in 2005? Are they right or wrong?
I think that the hon. Gentleman is putting words into the mouths of my hon. Friends, but I certainly do not agree with the position that has been outlined in some cases, and I make no apologies for that.
On the European Parliament, one of the biggest criticisms of the European Union has been that the balance of power is weighted in favour of those parts of it that are appointed instead of directly elected, such as the Commission and the Council of Ministers. More co-decision between the Parliament and the Council is therefore welcome, as is the stronger role that the Parliament will have in appointing the President of the Commission. We would like major reform in areas such as the common fisheries policy, which we have heard about from Scottish nationalist Members, and the common agricultural policy, and they will benefit from the additional parliamentary scrutiny that will result. It is not easy for the European Parliament to be seen as close to voters, particularly with MEPs covering such large constituencies. Indeed, I do not envy my colleagues who are MEPs in Scotland and whose constituency is the entirety of Scotland. As a Member of this House, I find it enough of a challenge to ensure that I represent 65,000 electors. Nevertheless, the European Parliament is closer to voters than the alternatives, which are unelected and therefore less accountable, so these moves are welcome.
I also welcome the idea of the citizen’s initiative, enabling 1 million people to petition the Commission to take action on a specific issue. Time will tell how much that is used—
Given that the hon. Lady is so keen on citizens’ initiatives, does she think that it would be an initiative to give citizens in her own constituency a referendum on the treaty, as she promised?
As we saw earlier—other people in the Chamber may not have been asleep when it happened—the Liberal Democrats would like to have a referendum on the major issue of whether we are in or out of Europe. I also say to the hon. Gentleman that I have had a total of nine representations from my constituents on this, so it is clearly not the top issue in my mailbag. In fact, I consult my constituents on a wide range of matters, and I welcome the fact that the House is doing so by trialling lots of new modernisation procedures such as more e-democracy, petitioning and the excellent work of the education unit.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I have been very generous—[Interruption.] I will give way to the hon. Gentleman because he was on a Select Committee trip with me—that is the only reason.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady, who is, as ever, most gracious.
The hon. Lady has explained why she thinks that her constituents should be given an opportunity to vote in a referendum on whether we are in or out of Europe and why that is, in her party’s view, the substantive question. However, given that that has not found support in this House, she has not explained why she none the less wants to remove her constituents’ right to vote in a referendum on the treaty—the policy of her party on which she stood when she was elected to this House.
Order. There is a limited amount of time for this debate. I suspect that the hon. Lady is being sidetracked into issues that are not strictly relevant to the motion that is before the House, so I hope that she will not be tempted too much by the hon. Gentleman.
I will certainly try to resist that temptation, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I will just say that the two things are very different for the following reason. The constitution would have abolished all the preceding treaties: Rome, Nice, Amsterdam, Maastricht and the Single European Act. Therefore, a vote on the constitution would have been a de facto vote on in or out, so an in-or-out referendum would actually be on the substantive issue. We support such a referendum; we will continue to campaign for it and hope that it will find favour in this House. I also welcome the citizens initiative idea, which may need to be developed or changed. Time will tell how much it is used, but the principle of trying to connect better with the electorate is a good one.
Extending the time for national Parliaments to consider legislation is obviously a good idea. There are many practical difficulties, such as different parliamentary timetables, recess dates and so on, that make six weeks inadequate. Is eight weeks enough? We will have to see, but it is certainly a step in the right direction, and it could be the subject of further review. We also heard about the yellow card, which is an important innovation for the protection of subsidiarity, and one that Conservative Front Benchers felt minded to agree with.
Last Wednesday, during the foreign policy debate, we discussed in more detail the role of the high representative, and without going over that ground again, let me just say that it is sensible to have one set of offices, rather than two, working on the EU’s external relations, with one individual responsible. That removes confusion and strengthens the voice of the EU where there is unanimity, and it therefore amplifies the view of the UK on such issues.
A legal personality for the EU is not the huge move that the Tories would have us believe. Many organisations have legal personality, from the United Nations to the Universal Postal Union, and indeed the European Community that preceded the European Union also had such status.
Despite the scaremongering we have seen on the passerelle clause, there is a secure triple lock that will, importantly, enable the reduction of EU powers. In any case, before any change is made to voting arrangements, the European Parliament, Council and national Parliaments must all agree, so this House will retain the final say.
Finally, new article 49(a) in the Maastrict treaty, or the treaty on European Union, explicitly sets out how a member state would go about withdrawing from the EU. For most of our constituents, this article gets to the nub of the debate they are having about Europe—to the extent that they are engaged in such a debate at all. What is Britain’s future? Is it as a strong voice in the EU, with more global influence, or is it outside, weak and isolated? It would be welcome to have such a debate in the country, and as you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am disappointed that we will not be voting on that issue today.
I know that there are many members on the Conservative Benches who subscribe to the Better Off Out campaign, and as much as I disagree with them, they are entitled to their views. I find it only a little strange that they are by and large opposing moves in the treaty that set an explicit framework for countries to be able to leave the EU should they wish. That seems a bit of a strange position.
The changes will help the EU to work better. Although the Union will still obviously be far from perfect, they are a step in the right direction. Therefore, we will not support the amendment that has been selected. It is a shame, however, that we will not have the opportunity to vote on the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg).
It is a great pleasure to follow the Lib Dems, who I am sure will still be basking in the glory of getting the headline that they were thrown out of the Chamber for demanding a referendum. I just wish that they had demanded one on the real question, which is whether we agree with this treaty.
I want to confine my comments to national Parliaments. I went to Brussels in February 2002 and rather foolishly agreed to represent national Parliaments at the Convention on the Future of Europe. I confess that if I had imagined I would still be talking about it six years on, I would have chosen a different job, but there we are. I want people to think back to the debates we had on the role of national Parliaments. Front Benchers keep saying that the treaty gives more power to national Parliaments, but that is based on an interesting definition of what amounts to power.
There are three different strands to the debate. Do I argue that national Parliaments should become a separate institution within the institutional framework of the European Union? No, I do not. We should have the Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers representing Governments. I am not an advocate of a system whereby national Parliaments—ours or any other—habitually arrive at a different view from their own Governments. That does not mean that such an outcome should be precluded, but a system in which it is seen to be the function of Parliaments to oppose their own Governments would seem rather absurd.
There is, however, a role for national Parliaments to scrutinise and to monitor a principle that seems extraordinarily important: the principle of subsidiarity and proportionality. When the working group on national Parliaments was first set up, and the issue of subsidiarity was brought up, an old hand who was a legal adviser during the Maastricht negotiations muttered to me, “Oh, that’s the dud they sold to Major.” John Major returned from the Maastricht negotiations saying, “We have negotiated a protocol on subsidiarity and proportionality; we should keep the two together. This will mean that Brussels will never have any influence on anything that is not appropriate at EU level.” He confidently predicted that 25 per cent. of the legislation coming from Brussels would be rescinded because it breached that principle. Whitehall looked at the matter, but nothing happened. I thought something similar was going on when the two working groups were split so that one considered only subsidiarity. That group came back with the idea of the yellow and orange card, but rejected our proposals on the red card, which would have had some significance. National Parliaments were dealt with by a separate group, so there was a division.
During the negotiations, the Commission started saying that subsidiarity is very important and, mysteriously, the figure of 25 per cent. came up again. Again, nothing happened. When we inquired whether the Commission could come up with a single example of when it had withdrawn a proposal because it breached the principle of subsidiarity, it could come up with only one—in 10 years. It was one of the bright ideas put forward during a UK presidency, when we proposed an EU zoo directive, which would have regulated the water temperature for sealions. Even the rest of Europe thought that that was slightly wacky, and it was thrown out. One example in 10 years does not suggest to me that this is an important, meaningful or effective mechanism.
I was present during the Maastricht debates, and I did not believe any of that at the time, which is why I voted against—and why I voted for a referendum, by the way. The key point is that the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), who loves all this stuff, was absolutely right earlier on. From the outset, the institutions were set up with one purpose in mind, which was centralisation, and taking powers from the nation state. It is impossible to reverse that process at any stage.
I am not quite so gloomy. If the Commission were to take the principle of subsidiarity and proportionality seriously, it would change the way in which it legislates. Currently, we put a statement on our Bills saying that they comply with the Human Rights Act, for example. I would like every Commission proposal to start with a preamble, saying, “The following measures cannot be achieved at the nation state level because. . .” I would change the presumption. Rather than national Parliaments having to say that there were breaches of subsidiarity, the Commission would have to prove its observation of subsidiarity.
Does my hon. Friend accept that what she proposes is exactly what is set out in the protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality? Article 5 of the protocol says:
“Draft legislative acts shall be justified with regard to the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. Any draft legislative act should contain a detailed statement making it possible to appraise compliance…The reasons for concluding that a Union objective can be better achieved at Union level shall be substantiated by qualitative and, wherever possible, quantitative indicators.”
It seems to me that she achieved exactly what she wanted, albeit not at the Convention, but in the treaty.
With the greatest respect, I disagree with my right hon. Friend. At the moment, the treaty tells us that something can be achieved at Union level without breaching the principle. I would like it to be the other way round. I would like it to determine whether something cannot be achieved at national level. The presumption would be changed, and when it is proved that something has to be done at European level, such as in the case of the environment and certain other things, I would be perfectly content to give the Union more power and say that something must be done at that level because we cannot do it. But the presumption is the wrong way round.
Similarly, as we are talking about institutional arrangements, the Commission should, like Parliament, follow a five-year mandate, and anything that has not been achieved within the lifetime of one Commission should fall, instead of having negotiations that drag on for five or 20 years, when things get negotiated to death.
My hon. Friend will know about the German Reinheitsgebot, which states that one cannot brew beer unless it contains water and pure ingredients. Under that law, every other beer is illegal and unacceptable in Germany. That is a clear breach of the single market. If her proposal had been included on the front of every directive, the Bundestag would never have voted to do away with the Reinheitsgebot. Consequently, no beer from outside Germany would be on sale in that country.
That is a genuine problem for me. As a Bavarian brewer’s granddaughter, I would be happy to drink only German beer. However, that is not the point. I was making a wider point, as hon. Members know. With some matters, such as the single market, we have different rules, but as we expand we should change the presumption, whether we are dealing with health or shared competences and so on. If the single market is so important, why have not we fully implemented it? However, I am digressing.
I want to consider the role of national Parliaments. I do not want them to be completely separate institutions, but proper guardians of subsidiarity. The current system does not work. I know that through chairing meetings of 27 countries, which sent representatives of their national Parliaments to Brussels. The only thing about which we could agree was that, if it was Tuesday, we were in Brussels. We could sometimes agree about whether it was raining. However, trying to get two thirds of representatives to agree on a matter in eight weeks is impossible. Everything is out of synchronisation.
If we are serious about the role of national Parliaments, the House must change the way in which it operates. It is not a matter of strengthening the European Scrutiny Committee or providing more information, which would simply cause even more confusion. The role of the Minister for Europe needs to be changed. We need a Minister for Europe who is not based in the Foreign Office and who comes to the Dispatch Box regularly to answer questions about negotiations in Brussels and the deals we have made—whether on health, trade and so on. That person needs to fulfil the political function that UKRep currently performs. It is incredibly powerful and not accountable at the Dispatch Box. If that were changed, hon. Members would routinely come here and ask questions.
I object to the provision in the treaty on the people’s petition. It was included deliberately to keep the Germans happy. They felt that, without that provision, the Green party, which was a coalition partner at that point, would demand a referendum. The provision was included because their constitution allows for a referendum. I object to it because national Parliaments do not have the power to petition the Commission. Everybody furiously protects the Commission’s right to be the only initiator of legislation. Yet we say that a significant number of people should have the right of initiation. That is wrong and undermines this place even more.
When the Minister talks about more power for national Parliaments, will he please not only focus on more information but take note—that also applies to the Deputy Leader of the House, who is sitting next to him—that the House is currently failing in its duty to make European decisions accountable? Even outside the treaty, we can make significant changes that give genuine power to national Parliaments. So far, we have not done that.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), who is the best sort of Eurosceptic. Not only is she genuinely European, but she approached the process, which started six years ago, in good faith. Her frustration with, for example, subsidiarity, is purely the result of her experience, not of any prejudice that she brought to the matter. I made a special study of subsidiarity when the Maastricht treaty was considered in the House. The problem with it is that it does not attack the doctrine of the occupied field or question the powers and competences that the European Union should have. It was always a charade and if she worries at the question for much longer, she will prove to herself that one cannot push water up a hill.
I intend to speak about EU institutions and EU decision making about defence, and the impact that the decision-making arrangements are likely to have on the EU’s relations with NATO and on the defence policies of member states. It is typical of Ministers to say that defence is entirely governed by unanimity. That is not true and I will demonstrate how qualified majority voting now permeates decision making in EU defence, and will ultimately compromise the independence of the defence policies of member states and undermine NATO primacy in the defence policies of EU members of NATO.
First, the European Defence Agency becomes an institution of the Union. That has a wide-ranging remit including not least,
“defining a European capabilities and armaments policy”.
Such a policy will inevitably become a general obligation of EU membership. I will remind hon. Members of what those obligations entail. The treaty spells them out. Article 3(a)(3) states that the Union and member states shall
“assist each other in carrying out tasks which flow from the Treaties.”
Article 11 mentions
“the achievement of an ever-increasing degree of convergence of Member States’ actions.
The Member States shall support the Union’s external and security policy actively and unreservedly in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity and shall comply with the Union’s action in this area... They shall refrain from any action which is contrary to the interests of the Union or likely to impair its effectiveness as a cohesive force in international relations.”
Those are far more burdensome obligations than membership of NATO requires of us.
Does my hon. Friend realise that his drawing attention to the important incremental change in the wording of the treaty about convergence of actions constitutes the first time that that serious change has been discussed in the House, and that the time for debate on security policy has passed?
My hon. Friend is right. The change is significant and represents a general obligation that has entered into the treaty without qualification.
There is no obligation for a member state to participate in the European Defence Agency, but the EDA’s statute, seat and operational rules are subject to QMV in the Council. According to the EDA’s statute, the steering board also makes decisions by QMV. If a member state participates, it does not have a veto. Obviously, if it does not participate, it does not have a veto. The policies that flow from the EDA are policies of the European Union that must be observed “actively and unreservedly”.
How does my hon. Friend think that the EU would react to a member state that sought to flout the suggestion that it should support EU policy unreservedly?
That member state would be in breach of the treaty. Let us be clear: there is no remit for the court in those matters—at least, that is the way in which I currently interpret the treaty—but that member state would be in breach of international law, which would be a serious matter. If we think that that is likely to happen, we should not sign the treaty.
Let us consider the other major innovation in defence in the Lisbon treaty. It is called “permanent structured co-operation”. Again, I submit that, over time, it will become the framework in which all member states have to conduct their defence policies.
Article 42(6) of the consolidated treaty states:
“Those Member States whose military capabilities fulfil higher criteria and which have made more binding commitments to one another in this area with a view to the most demanding missions shall establish permanent structured cooperation within the Union framework.”
That refers to a small group of states that gets together to go further and faster than their counterparts.
Article 46(2) makes it clear that
“the Council shall adopt a decision establishing permanent structured cooperation…by qualified majority voting”.
Permanent structured co-operation is therefore established by QMV. The obligations on member states are shown in the second protocol to the treaty. They are onerous. The protocol refers to a member state undertaking
“to develop its defence capacities through the development of its national contributions and participation, where appropriate, in multinational forces”.
Let us be clear: the commitment of forces is a matter for unanimity, which is what the Government keep stating. However, paragraph 4 of article 46 of the consolidated texts says:
“If a participating Member State no longer fulfils the criteria or is no longer able to meet the commitments referred to in Articles 1 and 2 of the Protocol…the Council may…act by a qualified majority”
to remove that member from the structured co-operation. With the conjunction of those double qualified majority votes, the European Union’s policy is effectively removed from the scope of a single member state’s veto. It is therefore completely untrue that unanimity is the rule in defence, as the Government keep insisting.
Let us step back from the detail for a minute. From defence being barely mentioned as a possibility at Maastricht, there is now a clear direction, with the introduction of the new decision-making mechanisms and institutions in the Lisbon treaty. First we had the St. Malo agreement. The then Prime Minister insisted at Amsterdam that the Western European Union should not become another EU institution, but he allowed that to happen at Nice. The Government opposed the whole principle of permanent structured co-operation because, as the then Minister, the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), said, it would
“undermine the inclusive, flexible, model of ESDP that the EU has agreed”;
but here it is in the treaty, and it is easy to see the risks of allowing such an institution into the EU treaties.
Permanent structured co-operation is the new defence decision-making mechanism in the Lisbon treaty, which, to quote from the protocol, claims to herald
“a new stage in the development of the European security and defence policy”.
The provisions are therefore not just a tidying exercise; they are a big step forward. We know that the French intend to make defence a major priority of their presidency. The Government say that the provisions of title V remain intergovernmental in character, but the House must be aware that the term “intergovernmental” is not a precise term. NATO represents classic intergovernmentalism, but EU intergovernmentalism involves an altogether more fluid and dynamic structure, reflected in the mechanisms for decision making that I have described. The all-important relationship between NATO and European security and defence policy remains, however, ill defined and paralysed by technical disputes, with no certainty about who does what in the event of an international crisis, as the Secretary-General of NATO himself said just a year ago.
The Lisbon treaty institutions and decision making will relegate NATO primacy to the status of a constitutional monarch: largely ceremonial and largely irrelevant to the day-to-day functioning of defence policy in the European Union. We would do well to recall Bismarck’s adage:
“I have always found the word ‘Europe’ on the lips of those…who wanted something from others…which they dared not demand in their own names”.
The real security threats to the European Union that European militaries should address lie far from our shores. Afghanistan is the most immediately pressing security issue currently facing the European Union. If the new EU institutions and decision-making mechanisms were seriously going to help Europe in, to quote the treaty,
“fully assuming its responsibilities within the international community”,
its members would be actively fulfilling the combined joint statement of requirements for the NATO mission in Afghanistan and not leaving the bulk of the fighting to NATO’s Anglophone members.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I am not going to give way, as I am just concluding my remarks.
While Europe fiddles with the ESDP, NATO burns in Afghanistan. While the Government scratch their head over how to persuade other NATO members to widen burden sharing, the EU continues to support EU defence institutions and decision making, which has reinforced the idea among most European nations that somehow Europe will provide the defence that they are not willing to pay for themselves.
The interesting thing about the speech that the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) just made is that he highlighted an aspect of the discussion that is in danger of being lost. When people want to take over power, they do not just change the institutions and the voting patterns; they extend the work of those who are in control of the Secretariat and, over and above that, look for other reasons to extend their power. In many ways, the institutions of the EC are not so much confrontational as made up of oozing material that gently finds its way into the cracks.
What we should do is very simple: follow the money. Politicians, particularly those of us in democracies, are always wise to follow the money. Where is it going? How is it being used? What is its purpose? Over the past 10 years, there has been a clear and material programme of removing powers, particularly in transport, from the House of Commons to European institutions. Let us not think that we are talking about something unimportant. The annual budget in 2008 for major transport policy areas, projects and agencies is £22 million for the European Aviation Safety Agency, which we never felt the need for before, £33 million for the European Maritime Safety Agency and £7.91 million for transport safety.
The list goes on, and includes the ubiquitous Galileo, which we are told is not needed by a European institution; indeed, we certainly must not have Galileo, because—heaven help us—we might have a defence use for it in a European army. Nevertheless, we must continue to follow its development, which includes a programme of £670 million in the next year and a supervisory authority costing another £7.9 million, which contribute to a total budget of £803.82 billion.
Why is that important? It is important because, no matter which aspect of transport we consider, we see how European regulations are increasingly taking over control. We find that we have packages in railways, for example. We have four packages in railways—we are launching forth on the fifth—although the contents of the first package have not been put into operation. We see the movement in European aviation from British institutions, whether they are for checking the safety of aircraft in the air or the training of engineers in the aviation industry, to European institutions.
We also see the changes in the “grands projets” such as Galileo, which are taking many hundreds of thousands of pounds from our transport budgets. Let us be quite clear: if we contribute at the rate of 17 per cent. of that budget, on the basis of transport alone, we are giving up the right practically to fulfil a whole list of projects that are desperately needed in the United Kingdom. However, we are constantly told that we should not be arguing about that, because we influence such matters only through joint co-operation.
What we are debating today is, in a sense, a done deal. We are talking about powers that have already been leached away and powers that will continue to be leached away. When we talk about national Parliaments, we should accept that if we in the House are not very careful, we will give up even more powers to those who will take decisions not on the political grounds that are acceptable to our electorate, but on the grounds of a spurious European general interest.
When someone enters politics, the first important concept that they come across is the concept of “them”. Whether a person starts at the council, county or Government level, “they” are of concern to their constituents. “They” take the decisions, “they” are responsible and “they” are spending our money. Every elected member of a body has to take account of that concept and explain not only who “they” are, but when “they” are “we”. The difficulty with the Bill is that “they” are not “we”. “They” are not elected and not representative, and “they” are creating a highly complex set of machinery that is moving further and further away from elected representatives and basic national Parliaments. The result, in all circumstances, will be disastrous for the future of the United Kingdom.
I should like to talk about competences, and about marine biological resources in particular. Instead of having a debate about the levels at which marine biological resources and the marine environment are best managed, and clarifying those responsibilities in a directive or treaty that would hand more powers back to the UK, we are being forced to accept EU “exclusive competence”. I fear that, once this power grab—which is codified in articles 2B and 2C of the Lisbon treaty, and is identical to the provisions in the EU constitution—has taken place, it will be difficult ever to reverse or amend the problem in the future. Most importantly of all, however, the measures will not materially benefit our marine environment, and will damage our conservation efforts.
In the past, we have seen the EU frustrate our efforts to protect the marine environment, which in the UK includes more than 44,000 animal and plant species. French pair trawlers are able to operate up to six nautical miles from our coast, crushing, wounding, drowning and killing porpoises and dolphins, which are supposed to be protected under EU law. The Government banned our fishermen from using this harmful practice, but the European Commission rejected their proposal to make this ban effective for all vessels fishing within the 12 nautical mile limit.
The Fisheries Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw), said:
“We banned pair trawling in the western channel. We do not have the ability to ban French vessels…We presented our argument in Europe and we took unilateral action to ban pair trawling—that constitutes taking an effective measure.”
Now, he is not a bad chap and he had the decency to blush a sort of salmon pink on the top of his head as he went on:
“We argued our case and we were unable to persuade others, but we are taking action ourselves.”—[Official Report, 31 January 2008; Vol. 471, c. 456.]
Well, I say tell that to the families who might have the misfortune to find a dead cetacean washed up on the beach. That really is not good enough at all. Given the Government’s admission that the EU has already blocked our domestic efforts to protect our marine mammals, can it really be trusted with exercising “exclusive competence” in this matter?
I strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman. Is not the only real solution to withdraw from the common fisheries policy and re-establish larger limits for our own fisheries?
Tempting though that proposal might be, that is absolutely not what I am going on to conclude, so I am afraid that I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman.
We should be seeking to ensure that we can take action to protect our marine environment—action that can make a real difference and that my opponent, the Fisheries Minister, can say has worked, rather than leaving him blushing and admitting that once again the Government have been thwarted by the EU.
What explanation can the hon. Gentleman give for the fact that the fisheries sectors of Norway, Iceland and the Faroe islands are vibrant and successful, while fishing within the European Union is a complete disaster? Why is that the case?
It would be so simple to put that down to the fact that they are single-species fisheries, but I believe that they also manage their fisheries very well. We have a separate set of problems with mixed fisheries such as the North sea. Now I really must hurry on.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs says that it has appointed itself the
“UK policy custodian for the marine and aquatic environment”,
committed to delivering
“clean, safe, healthy, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas.”
Well, not any more. How can it be the “policy custodian” for our seas when the Government are surrendering all powers in this area to Brussels? The Lisbon treaty refers to
“marine biological resources under the common fisheries policy”,
but it is uncertain whether that provision could extend to covering most of the marine environment.
The Government have already admitted—for example, in the 2004 strategy unit report “Net Benefits”, and in the discussions over the marine strategy directive—that the present marine management arrangements between the EU and the UK are unclear. However, they have refused to take action to elucidate them. If given “exclusive competence”, what action could the EU take to protect the pink sea fans in Lyme bay, where there is a conflict between conservationists and scallop dredgers, or to protect the sea bed that is so important to those corals?
During the marine Bill consultation, more than 90 per cent. of respondents believed that existing measures to protect marine species were not adequate. What a damning indictment of EU and Government policies. This year, the draft marine Bill is expected to be published, but Ministers have already conceded that any marine conservation zones and protected areas implemented under the Bill would have no legal force over vessels with historical fishing rights between our 6 and 12 nautical mile limits. There could be many more occasions like the discussion on the pair trawling ban, when Ministers stroll down to Brussels, make their case and desperately plead with the Commission’s pen-pushing bureaucrats, only to have their ambitions torn apart and thrown out, and then return to Britain defeated and without the necessary protection for our marine environment.
The development of marine spatial plans could be affected by discord between Brussels and the UK. Brussels could also interfere in sea-bed mining and dredging, in the interests of upholding
“the conservation of marine biological resources.”
Before the much-promised marine Bill has even been presented to Parliament in draft form, the Government have already acted to dilute the Bill’s contents and benefits by accepting the Lisbon treaty. They have accepted that
“more needs to be done to better manage and protect our seas”,
but they can hardly take decisive action if they need to run off to get permission from Brussels.
Just 0.001 per cent. of UK seas benefit from the highest level of protection, namely the 3.3 sq km Lundy marine nature reserve. That is an area equivalent to the size of Kensington gardens. Sir David Attenborough has stated:
“As an island nation, I find it astonishing that we have protected less than a thousandth of one per cent of our seas from fishing and all damaging activities.”
It is indeed ridiculous. At present, there are two types of protected marine area for nature conservation. The first are the marine nature reserves, of which there are just three—Lundy, Skomer and Strangford lough—and the Government have no intention of designating any more. If the plan envisaged in the treaty goes ahead, I doubt that they would be able to do so, either. The second are the European marine sites, of which there are more than 100 in the UK, but they cover a very limited range of habitats, such as
“sandbanks which are slightly covered by sea water all the time”,
where fishing, dredging and other activities continue. For example, the Fal estuary, a protected European site, is being damaged by scallop dredging.
The public want to see more of our seas protected. A survey last year found that 78 per cent. of the public thought the UK’s seas were important, and that 94 per cent. rated as important the health of the marine environment. We have to ask why the Government did not use the Lisbon treaty as an opportunity to bring powers back to the UK for environmental benefits, and to strengthen out ability to protect our seas. We need to ensure that our forthcoming marine Bill can actually offer the protection that we all want it to provide.
We have heard a number of pleas from the heart about defence policy, for transport and, now, for fishermen. I recently met someone from the former fishing community of Great Yarmouth, who told me that there was now only one boat in the harbour where there used to be a thousand. That should worry us all.
I welcome the Minister for Europe’s earlier response to my questions on subsidiarity and other matters. I do not criticise his caution on the structures of procedures, or on the relationship, involvement and consultation between the House and the other devolved Administrations. That caution signals that it is part of a deep process that is trying to reassess our relationship with the devolved Administrations in the other parts of the UK, and the relationship between the Government in the Council and this Parliament. That reassessment will be beneficial. If that caution is just a smokescreen, however, and this all ends up being rushed through in a way that we cannot influence, I shall be deeply disappointed.
I am surprised that those on the Opposition Front Bench are expressing so much anxiety about the institutional changes, because the one thing that I would have thought that the Convention required was a change to the institutions. Those changes should be welcomed by the people of the UK and by Members of the House, if only for the simple reason that the European Parliament will now elect a president of the Commission. That in itself is a great innovation. It will involve a parliamentary vote, which is important and the process will be separate from the Council. That means that the presidency will become part of the democratic institutions for which my constituents have been asking for years along the lines of “When are we going to have a democratic institution in the European Parliament, and not just the Council and the Commission?”
As for the role of the president of the Council under article 15 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union, it is quite clear who the president will be and what he will do. It is equally clear that that person will not be a member of the Commission, but a member of the Council, but I have to say that there is still some mystery about the source of the candidate, because it does not say that a president will be appointed, which suggests someone from outside, but that he will be elected, which suggests someone from inside. It might be someone who is a Prime Minister. If that person then becomes the president does it mean that the country in question will have to find another person to take up the role of Prime Minister? The wording of article 15 remains quite confusing.
Under the proposed process, the president is elected by the Council through qualified majority voting. It was established through some of our interventions that the presidency will be based in Brussels, whereas the vice-presidency—and the people who will chair the sectoral councils dealing with the business of the departments of government—will be taken on by a new country every six months. I welcome that. I was worried at the idea of the entire Council meeting continually in Brussels and being sucked into the machine of the Commission and the bureaucracy. Moving it around will help to engage Parliament after Parliament and Government and after Government, which will maintain a sense of continuity. If that were to be lost, it would indeed be a significant loss for us—and not just when it became our turn every 27th time it came round—because that change and flexibility affects our ability to engage with people in their Parliaments and influence them as they influence us.
The European Parliament will be much strengthened by the new arrangements, which must be welcomed. Let us look at part six of the consolidated treaty, particularly articles 223 to 234 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union, under which co-decision making becomes the “ordinary legislative process”. It has got to be a good thing that an elected Parliament—not necessarily the present one, but one that should have more and more respect and strength—will have a real say in the final stages of legislation, which will then need to be implemented at the local level. That Parliament will also have extra budgetary powers over both budgetary processes and laws.
Under article 229, the European Parliament will have the power, on a vote of 25 per cent. of its members, to set up a committee of inquiry. Would not that be a wonderful innovation for our own Parliament if 25 per cent. of Members could set up a special committee of inquiry into how laws are being carried out by Departments of Government? That might well be something to bring back home for use here. The European Parliament is also able to elect a European ombudsman, to whom people can refer cases of EU maladministration, which is another great innovation. Article 234, furthermore, provides for the ability to sack the Commission—not just the president, but the Commission, separately, on a two-thirds majority. That is very attractive to me, as it moves democracy forward. I would have thought people would welcome that; I had hoped that people would focus on those positive aspects of institutional change.
We have heard much talk about qualified majority voting and I certainly accept that QMV has been more beneficial to the UK than to any other Government and it will become ever more essential for us to use it to get things through in the face of growing national obstruction to the single market. We will need to use that mechanism again and again. When we have a double majority vote, I do not understand why that cannot be not welcomed throughout the House. It is the case that 55 per cent. of members of the Council, representing at least 65 per cent. of the populations, will be able to vote to carry something on double majority voting. Under article 238, where the Council is not acting on a proposal from the Commissioner or the high representative on foreign affairs, 72 per cent. of the votes under QMV are required before it can be carried. That represents 65 per cent. of the population. All those provisions are very beneficial. Furthermore, 35 per cent. of the populations voting through their representative in Council can act as a blocking minority, which makes me wonder how many safeguards the Opposition want before they realise that such QMV will be beneficial to us.
I have some concerns about a matter that I have seriously examined, as it has been raised by members of the European Scrutiny Committee, which relates to the aims of EU institutions as provided for in article 13(2). It states:
“The institutions shall practise mutual sincere cooperation”.
That has been cited as if it were some sort of conspiracy. However, if we look at article 13(1), we find that it states, and it is worth reading into the record:
“The Union shall have an institutional framework which shall aim to promote its values, advance its objectives, serve its interests, those of its citizens and those of the Member States, and ensure the consistency, effectiveness and continuity of its policies and actions.”
I view that as a counter-conspiracy clause, because it stresses that the interests of member states must be at the heart before anything further is added by any other part of the treaty. I would hope that we all commend that.
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee. As usual, he spoke with considerable authority on these matters. He knows that I like to quote him from time to time, particularly when he said on the “Today” programme of the Government’s red lines that they would “leak like a sieve”—a very important quote, which bears frequent repetition when we are debating the treaty of Lisbon.
I will refer briefly to the amateur dramatics that we saw earlier from the Liberal Democrats. They are making great play of this “in-out” referendum. All I will say, and very briefly, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is that there was no reference in their manifesto to an in-out referendum; indeed, they argued for a referendum on the EU constitution, so they have no democratic mandate for the stunt that they pulled in the House this afternoon.
Today’s debate has considered some of the core issues of the treaty: the new EU president, the new definition and distribution of the EU’s powers, the single legal personality, the abolition of more than 50 vetoes, the expansion of the European Parliament’s powers and the ratchet clause. Yet the debate has had a slightly surreal quality because many of the decisions about how the new institutions will work in practice have yet to be taken.
The House has been asked to discuss and scrutinise what amounts to a pig in a poke. To take one example, the European external action service is one of the most important institutional innovations in the treaty, but we are in ignorance of answers to crucial questions. As one former German ambassador to the EU put it:
“What will be the share of member states”
within the EEAS,
“I don’t know. These are all open questions”.
Those are, in fact, vital questions, to which Ministers do not have answers. I think that that is a shame and the fact that the Government have allowed such a position to arise provides an example of how little they care about their duty to be accountable to Parliament, let alone the British people.
There can be little doubt that, taken as a whole, the treaty is the most fundamental change to the EU’s structure since its foundation. The intergovernmental nature of decision making on criminal justice and policing, where direct national democratic accountability is vital, is fully absorbed into the Community system, the Commission having the main right of initiative, co-decision with the European Parliament and full jurisdiction by the European Court of Justice. That is a fundamental change, as the chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee—if he can bear me quoting him twice— has previously said. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) has also explained, the new president of the European Council will transform the way in which the European Council is run. This process is also an example of how the treaty does not end institutional debate in the EU, but sets new dynamics in train.
As we repeatedly mention, because it bears repetition, the relationship between the proposed president and the new high representative—the Foreign Minister under another name—has not been worked out. As Brian Crowe, deputy director of Chatham House and former director general for external and politico-military affairs in the Council of the European Union, argued in a recent article and parliamentary brief, the president
“is to represent the EU ‘at his or her level’, which is one thing for attendance at EU summits with third countries, quite another if (as will always be the temptation for former heads of government who are likely to get the job) he seeks to cut a figure on the world stage competitively with the EU High Representative.”
Who could he have been referring to, we wonder, when he made that comment? It is exactly right.
He alleged that Angela Merkel had said “Of course, it could not be a Briton in charge.”
I think that the former Prime Minister has enough problems wondering whether he can secure the support of the current Prime Minister, let alone the Chancellor of Germany, but the hon. Lady’s point has been put firmly on the record.
One would have thought that after so many years of careful consideration, the new treaty produced by the Convention on the Future of Europe and mulled over numerous time by Europe’s Heads of State and Heads of Government would be a seamless web, clear in its outcomes and bringing new rationality to the EU’s structures. The fact that, after all that, the document gives us unknown outcomes and inter-institutional strife is surely a strong case for the argument that it is fundamentally flawed.
In his opening speech, the Minister for Europe claimed that this country’s voting weight would increase as a result of the treaty. In purely simple terms that is true, but in practice the country’s ability to influence European legislation would be diminished, because it would become harder to form blocking minorities. That is the key point. Of course in some circumstances it could work in our favour, but given the difficulty that the Government have had in holding together a sufficient blocking minority on the working time and agency workers directives, it would be foolish to underestimate the damage that the shrinking of our voting weight might do to our ability to protect vital national interests such as the preservation of a flexible labour market.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I am short of time, but I will allow the hon. Gentleman to intervene briefly.
I shall be very brief. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that what he has just said is at the nub of the Conservative position, which is always that Britain should be outside, that Britain is better on its own, and that Britain should not co-operate with others, rather than that Britain should use the new reforms to bring British views into line with those of others and form majorities? As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is the reality in European Council meetings.
If that is the case, why have the Government been struggling so hard to retain blocking minorities on those two directives? I am afraid that is a question that he has not been able to answer.
In relation to qualified majority voting, the treaty marks a major shift in the EU’s way of working. For the first time, the system whereby the Commission proposes legislation and the Council votes on it in co-decision with the European Parliament becomes, in the words of the treaty, the “ordinary legislative procedure”. As the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee has also said—I follow his words very closely—the fact that co-decision with the European Parliament under the treaty will now apply in some 95 per cent. of cases represents another “fundamental, massive change”. He is right, and it is because of such fundamental changes that the treaty has an importance that merits the referendum we were promised.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks referred to the language in which the treaty sets out the EU’s competences, which is copied almost word for word from the EU constitution. Let me develop one point further. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) observed, it is an innovation for the conservation of marine biological resources to be set out as an exclusive competence in the treaties. Such an entrenchment of case law is, in this instance, an illustration of the failure of what is described as the “EU reform treaty” to tackle areas in which the EU needs to undertake real reform. So far, the common fisheries policy has been less an area of EU competence than one of EU incompetence. Far from conserving marine biological resources—or fish, as they are usually called in English—the common fisheries policy means that our seas have fewer of them. The direction of policy travel should be the opposite direction.
Let me end by making some observations about the passerelle or ratchet clauses. We shall have further opportunities to discuss them next week, but the new, almost all-embracing simplified revision procedure marks one of the treaty’s most important innovations. I think it is a sign of the draftsmen’s intent that it makes it so easy for the EU to get rid of remaining vetoes in this way. It must be a matter of regret that there is no comparable simplified revision procedure to reverse the ratchet. There is such a provision, incidentally, in the new ordinary revision procedure, for which we have the Czech Government to thank—which I do—but the hurdle is very high. If the House is to exercise any real control over the development of Britain’s future in Europe, it is therefore vital for us to have the safeguard that the simplified revision procedure, or ratchet clause, cannot be used without primary legislation. Important Committees of the House have argued for that in examining the treaty, and we support their contention wholeheartedly.
The treaty does not make the EU more efficient, or improve the quality of decision making. It sets institution against institution, and diminishes the role of member states. It fails to respond to the EU’s crisis of the democratic deficit—the crisis which, as those with long memories will recall, the whole treaty process was launched to address at the Laeken European council meeting in December 2001. Throughout that process the Government’s approach has been reactive, not proactive, favouring damage limitation over strategic vision. How often the Government have tabled amendments that have been defeated, and then described them to the House as searching questions. Why did they not search further, and insist that those amendments be made?
Instead of real change, we are offered an intensification of existing centralising tendencies. It is for those reasons that the treaty should be rejected and, ultimately, put to the British people in the referendum that they were so solemnly promised in the first place.
We have had an excellent debate on matters that are central to the Lisbon treaty. It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois), who gave his usual robust performance.
The aim of the treaty is to reform and streamline the enlarged EU’s institutions and decision making. The preamble to the treaty states that the 27 member states drew it up
“to complete the process started by the Treaty of Amsterdam and by the Treaty of Nice with a view to enhancing the efficiency and democratic legitimacy of the Union and to improving the coherence of its action”.
The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) began by speaking to the Conservative amendment, which purports to criticise the expansion of the
“power of EU institutions at Member States’ expense”.
That proposition is fundamentally mistaken. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Ms Hewitt) pointed out, the United Kingdom is stronger in a strong European Union. The United Kingdom can influence global issues for the better as a major player in the Union, and effective decision making in the EU enables us to pursue our agenda in Europe.
The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks criticised the proposal to introduce a president of the European Council. He suggested that a comparison could be made between that new permanent, or semi-permanent, presidential role and the role of the Prime Minister in this country. Of course, he omitted to refer to some very significant differences. For example, the Prime Minister makes appointments to the rest of the Government, whereas the president of the European Council will be appointed by the Council. Furthermore, the president of the European Council will have no vote when it comes to making decisions in the Council, and will operate on a mandate. There is no discussion in the Lisbon treaty, or in any of the surrounding documentation, of direct elections for the position. The right hon. Gentleman has put up a straw man and knocked him down.
We were given a far more realistic and positive picture of the president’s role by the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty). They both understood that the role of the full-time president broadly reflects the functions that the presidency already performs. The full-time president will chair the European Council, drive forward its work, ensure its preparation and continuity on the basis of the work of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, and facilitate cohesion and consensus. The current twice-yearly rotation causes problems with continuity, as anyone who has ever been involved with Europe will know.
The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire asked about the interrelationship between the president of the European Council and the new high representative. The treaty makes it clear that the full-time president will perform his or her representational responsibilities at his or her level, and without prejudice to the powers of the high representative of the Union for foreign affairs and security policy. There is provision for two quite distinct roles. The high representative will chair meetings of the Foreign Affairs Council.
Will the Deputy Leader of the House give way?
The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks made much of changes that he would have liked to see since 2004.
I thank the Deputy Leader for giving way. She has referred to many references in the treaty to the various powers and how the institutions work. Has she actually read the treaty in detail?
Yes, of course I have.
The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks made much of changes he would have liked to see since 2004, but he omitted to refer to the successes this Government have had in their negotiations over the last three years, such as in inserting the yellow card and in removing obligations on national Parliaments.
Many Members have mentioned national Parliaments. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) spoke with the benefit of her long experience and asked why we did not have regular question sessions on European matters. The answer to that was given in the debate we had on European scrutiny three weeks ago, when I explained to the House that we would be perfectly prepared to have questions on European matters in Westminster Hall after every significant European Council—[Interruption.]—but, as is evidenced to my hon. Friend, Opposition Members rejected that.
National Parliaments will for the first time have a right to challenge a draft legislative Act if they believe that it does not comply with the principle of subsidiarity, and if one third of national Parliaments prepare a reasoned opinion they can raise the yellow card. Under the orange card procedure, if a majority of national Parliaments contest the draft measure, the Commission can maintain, amend or withdraw the proposal; but if it maintains it, the Commission’s reasons as well as the reasoned opinions of the objecting Parliaments must be sent to the Council and the European Parliament. Either institution may kill off the measure, by a majority of 55 per cent. of the members of the Council.
Opposition Members asked what structures would be set up to operate the orange and yellow cards. It will be for Parliament to decide how these powers are exercised. We will work with both Houses to ensure that there is an effective mechanism, and we will also ensure that there is an opportunity for a decision before the Lisbon treaty comes into force. It will probably make most sense if we look at this at the same time as we review the new scrutiny arrangements that we established last month.
Opposition Members have also not taken account of the other significant powers that national Parliaments get: a specific power to monitor Eurojust and Europol; another specific power to veto Council decisions proposing a move to QMV and co-decision for aspects of family law; and the significant new power for our Parliament, set out in clause 6, which will give Parliament prior control over whether to move to unanimity in any further areas.
Opposition Members spoke about the move to QMV. The maintenance of unanimity—of which Members have made so much this evening—does not, of course, apply only to the United Kingdom; it applies to all member states, and with 27 diverse members it is a recipe for dither and delay. Under the new QMV system of double majority voting, not only must 55 per cent. of member states agree, but so must 65 per cent. of the populations represented. That puts larger countries such as the UK in a stronger position. The hon. Member for Rayleigh suggested that it was more difficult for us to achieve a blocking minority. That is absolutely untrue. In addition to the increase in our votes from 8 to 12 per cent., our share of the blocking minority will rise from 32 to 35 per cent.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and the hon. Members for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) and for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) spoke of their concerns about the changes in competence. The Lisbon treaty expressly classifies these for the first time. In every case Members raised, the competence was already well established either in earlier treaties or in case law. As the Law Society has said of the five areas where the Commission has exclusive competence:
“None of these is new to the Treaty of Lisbon.”
Our aim is to secure Britain’s national interest. Britain is a modern European country, so we do best through having an effective EU. The Lisbon treaty provides the Union with a stable and lasting institutional framework and completes the process of institutional reform. So many issues affecting Britain are global in nature and we can best influence them as a major player in Europe. It is therefore absurd for Opposition Members to argue for weak European institutions. The EU and Britain need this treaty. It allows the EU to move on to focus on issues that truly matter: energy security, climate change, and tackling terrorism and organised crime. The Lisbon treaty will allow us to do that, and I commend the motion to the House.
It being three hours after the commencement of proceedings, Mr. Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [28 January and this day].
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
26 February 2008
The House divided:
Question accordingly negatived.View Details
Main Question put forthwith:—
26 February 2008
The House divided:
Question accordingly agreed to.View Details
That this House approves the Government’s policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning the effectiveness of the EU institutions and EU decision-making.