Order read for the House again resolving itself into a Committee.
I beg to move,
That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the European Union (Amendment) Bill that it have power to make provision in the Bill for the holding of a referendum on the United Kingdom’s continued membership of the European Union.
I am probably not the only Member of the House who is pleased not to have to make points of order on this instruction, but instead to debate it. I guess that you, Mr. Speaker, are also pleased that I am not making points of order.
The purpose of the instruction could not be clearer: it is to put it beyond reasonable doubt that the amendments to the Bill that include a call for a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the European Union are selectable for debate tomorrow.
The hon. Gentleman knows as well as most people in the House what my view is on the European Union. I believe that we should leave it. He is not arguing about the great principle of staying in or leaving the European Union, because he does not want that referendum at all. This instruction is just a weasel tactic to get out of the promise that he made to the electorate at the last general election to hold a referendum on the European treaty. Nobody who shares my opinion will be fooled by this rather disgraceful tactic.
The hon. Gentleman could not be more wrong. Let him debate that matter tomorrow. I and my colleagues believe that our amendments on a referendum are already in order and selectable, but we recognise that not everyone in the House is yet of that opinion. That is why we have sought, from the first day of the Committee’s proceedings, to give the House the opportunity to help the Chair and clarify that such amendments are indeed within the scope of the Bill.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I may be getting very old and my hearing may be going as well as everything else, but did I actually hear the hon. Gentleman say that he was seeking to help the Chair? Is he instructing the Chair?
If the hon. Gentleman had attended all our debates, he would know that we do not believe that the constitutional treaty is the same as the Lisbon treaty. There are many arguments we can have about that, and no doubt we will have them tomorrow. If the hon. Gentleman votes for our instruction, we can have that debate, but if he votes against it he will prevent it from taking place
I want to make some progress, so I shall give way to the right hon. Gentleman later.
Hon. Members may disagree with the Liberal Democrats’ proposition, and they may disagree with the proposal for a referendum. They may disagree with the Question that we wish to put, because it was proposed by the Liberal Democrats—I am afraid that one sometimes hears that opinion from others in the House. However, all such people—all our opponents—can and should vote for the instruction, because to deny debate on an in-out referendum in the context of the Bill would be undemocratic. To restrict tomorrow’s debate to only one referendum Question would limit the freedom of the House of Commons. To vote against the ideas of a significant number of MPs, and to prevent those ideas even being debated, would be to gag those Members of Parliament. The House should be the champion of freedom of speech, so we look to Members on both sides of the House to defend freedom of speech.
If the right hon. Gentleman looks at our amendments, he will see that they are absolutely clear. They have been tabled for some days, and we have made it clear that the in-out referendum would take place after the ratification of the treaty. I know that some hon. Members, like the right hon. Gentleman, do not share our view, but we should have that debate tomorrow on the substance of the issue. By passing the instruction, we would facilitate that debate. Denying the instruction would deny some Members the chance to vote on what they believe they put before the electorate at the election. I simply cannot believe that the Government, the Conservative Opposition or, indeed, MPs from any other party wish to curb open debate in the House.
The Liberal policy on the referendum is apparently encapsulated in early-day motion 1083, which was tabled in the name of the Leader of the Liberal Democrat party. It says that a referendum
“will force off the fence those political parties that seek to obscure from the public their true policy towards Europe”.
I have sought to add the words “including the Liberal Democrat party” to the EDM through my amendment. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the EDM is a bogus, vacuous attempt to obscure what the Liberal Democrat policies towards Europe really are? They are very different at the local level from what they are in Parliament.
Absolutely not. The hon. Gentleman should vote for the instruction, so that he can challenge us in debate tomorrow. What is he afraid of? [Interruption.] We have one convert, and I hope that we will have more. Will they vote for democratic debate in the House of Commons?
Will the hon. Gentleman clarify a simple point? When the constitutional treaty, as he said, was around and his party members looked at it, they said that it transferred more powers than this measure. Why, at that stage, did they go for a referendum on the constitutional treaty, and not an in-out referendum, if it transferred more powers? Why have they suddenly come to this measure now?
We believe that it amounts to the same thing. If the right hon. Gentleman had listened to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), the then Leader of our party, he would know that he said that at the time.
The Government say that through their business motions they wish to promote debate. Ministers have told us that they are keen to find innovative ways to enable the House to debate all aspects of the Bill, and to make our debates more accessible to the public, and we have used a 19th century procedure to help the Government to achieve that. The general public simply do not understand why an elected Member of Parliament should not be allowed to debate and vote on the Question. They want the Government of the day to ensure that such a debate is held.
I recollect that very amendment to the Gracious Speech, because I supported it and voted for it. We have had that debate, and the only way to get a referendum for the people is to vote for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty tomorrow.
I was grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support on 14 November, when he and five other Conservative Members voted with the Liberal Democrats, but that was before the Lisbon treaty was signed. Furthermore, our amendment was not contingent on the ratification of the Lisbon treaty, which is the point of our amendment today.
Turning to the Conservative position, Conservative Members have said in Committee and on many other occasions that they want to promote more open debate and that they do not like guillotines, programme motions and knives. Well, here is a test for them: they should vote for this instruction and for the House to have as many options as possible tomorrow in order to promote an open and wide debate. If they do not do so, we will not be able to take their protestations on future procedural motions in all sincerity, and, more importantly, the country will not be able to take their commitment to freedom of speech seriously.
In response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), the hon. Gentleman said that an in-out referendum would amount to the same thing as a referendum on the constitutional treaty. In that case, he should vote for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty on the basis that it amounts to the same thing as an in-out referendum?
The message is clearly not getting through, which is yet another reason why we should have the debate tomorrow, when we can explain it to again and again to make it absolutely clear. For the hon. Gentleman’s sake, I shall repeat some of the basic arguments. For a start, the constitutional treaty, unlike the Lisbon treaty, contains the treaty of Rome, the treaty of Maastricht, the Single European Act, the treaty of Nice and the treaty of Amsterdam, so a vote on that document would be a vote on all the rules and the whole EU constitution.
In 2006, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) said that the constitutional treaty was a constitution, not simply a treaty, and as such would have revolutionised the European Union. He was right, which is why there was a case for a referendum. The nearest question with which this House can provide the people of Britain is an in-out referendum, which is nearest to the manifesto promises on which most hon. Members stood.
If we are committed to democracy, we can disagree with the rulebook while remaining committed to the overall organisation. When France and Holland said no, their positions were regarded as completely democratic and nobody said that they should leave, which is why we should have a referendum on this particular rulebook. The hon. Gentleman’s proposition is undemocratic blackmail.
The hon. Lady is entitled to her view, but I ask her to back our instruction to allow us to have a full debate tomorrow. Why is she afraid of having a debate? Indeed, what are the other parties afraid of today, and why are they trying to curb debate in the House of Commons?
It will appear to people outside the House that the other parties are afraid of open, public debate. They are afraid of facing the question and will not allow the amendment to be put. Some people might say that they are split down the middle on the issue. I am looking forward to the speeches of hon. Gentlemen and hon. Ladies in this debate; we want to know why they are frightened of open, public debate—
A little while ago, a good friend and colleague came up to me and said, “Andrew, we don’t need to spend too much time on this motion—do we?” I had to say that we did. I am speaking, and I intend to vote for the instruction. I want to explain to the House why.
First, in my own defence I should say that I have been consistent. The last time the House had a debate and vote on this issue, I was in the Division Lobby voting for it and there was not a single Labour Member in the No Lobby voting against it. That was some time ago, but the principle of having a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the European Union has not altered. This instruction would enable such a referendum.
Secondly, I believe that the referendum is the way forward. We have had countless hours of debate on the question of whether the Lisbon treaty is the same as the constitution. Clearly, there is great division on that issue in this House and elsewhere. However, it would be in the interests of good governance, of the current Government and of any future Government in the next quarter of a century if the matter were put to bed and resolved.
It would be cathartic if between now and, say, 2012 it was enshrined in statute that there should be a referendum to reaffirm our membership of the European Union—a political vehicle that has been very good for this country. It has been a vehicle for conflict resolution and conflict minimisation, and it has been politically, economically, and commercially good.
I am prepared and keen to go out and argue for the European Union; the trouble is that the traffic has all been one way. There have been stories about straight bananas and other absurd things; rather than each one of us having to go out to evangelise and argue the case for Europe, stating how positive it has been and what the consequences would be for every constituent were there ever a day on which we withdrew.
I do not say this arrogantly, but I think that the referendum would be won; Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour Members would put in all their energies because they would know that it would be good for Britain. Therefore, the case would be overwhelmingly put. [Interruption.] The members of the flat earth society and all those who have peddled the most God-almighty nonsense about the issue would be quashed. The traffic has been one way, so it is now time that we said this.
In response to a couple of interventions that I have made on the Prime Minister, I have noticed that he has not totally dismissed the idea. He may well be waiting to see what happens tomorrow. However, whatever happens tomorrow, I hope that he will see that committing us by statute to a referendum between now and 2012 would be good for democracy and good for reaffirming Britain’s membership of the European Union. I believe that it would satisfy many constituents who want that opportunity.
It is time that everyone reflected on the fact that the instruction for the House in Committee to consider an amendment along these lines tomorrow is sensible. It would be fair to everyone. It would help many of us who have a dilemma as to whether the Lisbon treaty is the same as the European constitution—there will be arguments about that for ever and a day.
While I have the House’s attention, I would like to point out that in the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs I have tried to move amendments to the effect that we should have such a referendum—it is in the minutes. I have asked for a referendum at every stage. I ask Members to pause and reflect on the matter, particularly those on the Treasury Bench, because it would be good for this Labour Government to do such a thing. I hope that Ministers will think about it over the next 24 hours. Even if the instruction is not passed, a signal from the Prime Minister or the Minister for Europe that we are thinking about it would help us all in the constitutional dilemma presented by the Lisbon treaty.
I am delighted and surprised in equal measure to have the opportunity to debate our instruction today—[Hon. Members: “Your instruction?] The instruction. I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) in his place again. I am delighted to see so many of his hon. and right hon. Friends in their places, too. Last week, most of them only walked in so that they could walk out again. They have stayed a little longer today, and I hope that they will stay for the rest of my remarks. I said on 28 January that we would be flexible about the business motion, and we have been, on no fewer than seven occasions. I do not wish to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but I am going to have to by objecting to his instruction. I shall set out briefly three short reasons why.
First, the House has already come to a view on these matters. On 14 November 2007 the House declared its intention, and it came to a decision very clearly when it voted by 68 votes to 464 against the proposal put forward by the Liberal Democrats. That position is already the settled will of the House.
Secondly, and equally importantly, we have never had a debate on an in-or-out amendment of the nature proposed by the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends on any amending treaty. We did not have an amendment or debate of that nature on the Single European Act, Maastricht, Nice or Amsterdam, and we are not convinced that there is anything different in the nature of the Lisbon treaty that means that we should break that established European precedent.
Thirdly, and finally, the Bill is about the merits of the Lisbon treaty, not whether we should or should not be in the European Union. Some commentators—unfairly, I am sure—have said that this instruction is not so much about the inner detail of the Lisbon treaty, but about the inner dynamic of the Liberal Democrat party.
On the basis of those three considered but brief assessments I encourage the House to reject the instruction.
The Minister has spoken briefly, and I will attempt to do the same. In a way, this gives rise to a happy and rare occasion during these debates: an occasion when I can support some of the things that the Minister has said.
The weaknesses of the instruction are self-evident. The first was mentioned by the Minister: it is unnecessary. The House considered a motion on an in-or-out referendum, as it has been termed, at the end of debates on the Queen’s Speech. An amendment was moved by the Liberal Democrats solely on that subject, to the exclusion of any consideration of education, health, foreign policy or taxation. They moved it solely on that subject in a House that they have just said is afraid of debating the matter, and the amendment was rejected, as the Minister set out, by a vote of 464 to 68.
It seems unlikely that, in the passage of three months in an identical House of Commons, a majority of 400 will be overturned tomorrow. All Opposition parties have Opposition days available to us on which to table any motions that we wish. It is therefore unnecessary to insert the instruction into our Committee proceedings, still less to do that as a deliberate distraction from what is genuinely at stake with the Lisbon treaty.
The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) said that the motion’s purpose could not be clearer. I agree—its purpose is to try to paper over the deep divisions in one party between those who want to fulfil their manifesto pledge and those who wish to break it. I have never heard such a clear parliamentary equivalent of a cry for help. The Liberal Democrats are waving at us but we are not sure whether they are waving or drowning.
The pledge on which all Liberal Democrats stood at the election could not have been clearer, but I shall read it out in case they need reminding:
“We are therefore clear in our support for the constitution, which we believe is in Britain’s interest—but ratification must be subject to a referendum of the British people.”
Their manifesto did not pledge a referendum on membership of the European Union or anything about voting for a treaty identical in all but name to the European constitution without consulting the voters.
The instruction is not a way of giving people their say, as the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton put it, but of denying people their say by letting some Members off the hook of deciding whether to stick to their manifesto commitment or abandon it. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) punctured beautifully the Liberal Democrats’ discredited central argument. If, as they claim, a referendum on the EU constitution is substantially equivalent to a referendum on EU membership, France and the Netherlands would no longer be members of the EU.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Liberal Democrats do not even want a referendum on in-or-out? I would like nothing better than an in-or-out referendum, but, however the Liberal Democrats vote today, it has no relevance to the way in which they should vote tomorrow. Does my right hon. Friend agree that they should still honour the promise that they made at the last election and vote for a referendum on the treaty?
I absolutely agree. The full absurdity of the Liberal Democrat leadership’s position is that it wants a referendum on the possible use of one clause in the treaty, which provides for withdrawal from the European Union. Liberal Democrats do not support the use of that clause, yet they want to deny the British people any say on the hundreds of other clauses in the treaty, the use of which they support. They confidently expect them to be used.
The instruction is patently a fig leaf to cover their embarrassment at their attempt to renege on their manifesto commitment. It is pretty small fig leaf over a pretty huge embarrassment. It does not deserve the support of the House because it is a distraction from the genuine issue before us.
My hon. Friend moves on to the terms of a referendum, which is beyond the scope of our debate on the instruction.
Let me conclude with the words of a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament. Five days ago, the hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley) wrote to a constituent that
“after much thought and consideration I have not been persuaded that the overall effect of the treaty is sufficiently different from the EU Constitution which was proposed prior to the last election. I am mindful of the promise I made at the last election which was to support a referendum on the Constitution. I will not use semantics to wriggle out of a promise so, unless something unforeseen happens, I intend to support the call for a referendum.”
What a pity that not all her colleagues are not prepared to
“use semantics to wriggle out of a promise.”
The House should reject the instruction.
I want to make three brief points. First, I was filled with horror at the prospect of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) being alone in the same Division Lobby as the Liberal Democrats, and for that reason I have decided to join him.
Secondly, I have sat through much of the debate over the past few weeks and have listened with growing alarm to the Conservative arguments that have been deployed. The exchange that just took place between the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) and the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) illustrates my point perfectly, because the right hon. Gentleman evaded the question that was put to him.
The truth, which has become increasingly apparent over the past few weeks, is that the fault line that has run through the Conservative party since the time of the corn laws is as apparent today as it ever was. The truth is that the Conservatives are the ones who are hopelessly divided. What many of them would really like is to come out of the European Union. For once in my life, I think that the Liberal Democrats are right. Let us test the Conservatives on that principle, because the reality is that they are playing semantics on this occasion, not the Liberal Democrats.
There is a smell of fear over this Chamber this afternoon. We know perfectly well what this is about. I am disappointed that the right hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) is going to join the Liberals—I actually vote in the Division Lobby. [Laughter.] I am glad that is clear.
I voted in the notorious Division last November. I believe in referendums as a general proposition. In fact, I moved for a referendum on Maastricht, as some hon. Members present will recall. To try to get support for that, I went to see the then leader of the Liberal Democrats, Lord Ashdown, who gave his support. The Liberal Democrats would have voted for a referendum on Maastricht. I use that example because Maastricht was a treaty.
There is a fear hanging over the House, because each of our parties—those on the Liberal Democrat Benches are not alone in this; the parties include the Conservatives and Labour, as well as the Liberal Democrats—promised a vote on the treaty in their election manifesto. We have now heard all the semantics and the attempts to say, “This isn’t the same, it’s slightly different” or “Its composition is this or that”, but when the public look—and as we have seen in the 19 hours given to clause 2—they see that the transference of power goes on.
When the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) said that there was one-way traffic, I woke up. “Ah, yes! I’ve heard that expression before”, I thought, but normally it is a one-way ratchet. No, the hon. Gentleman has got the traffic direction wrong. He was complaining that other people in this country argue about his proposition—about the divinity of Europe or otherwise.
The issue is controversial: people do criticise the treaties; they do believe that they knock the sovereignty of Parliament; and they do believe that they undermine the relationship between a Member of Parliament and his constituents and between the Government who make the laws and the population of Britain. People do believe that, but the ratchet—the one-way traffic—has been the ever-increasing power of the European Community, now Union. That is what the central issue has always been. However, the promise that the three parties made is what Parliament is all about—the greatest trust of all.
When we stood in front of our electorate and said that there would be a referendum on the treaty, it caused panic.
The hon. Gentleman must forgive me—I quite understand the difficulty of his position. That is why—[Hon. Members: “Give way!”] I am going to finish my sentence, at least. That is why we have seen a construct today. It is a change from the storm in the Commons. Perhaps we will end up on the roof next. But whatever else we do, we know what the Liberal Democrats are about. They made a promise, and they now wish to resile from it—that is as plain as anything—but they still think that the public are fools, and that they will not understand the distinctions involved in what they are doing.
The truth lies in what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) and by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart)—
They said that, if this were a vote on—[Hon. Members: “Give way!”] I have the floor, if the House will forgive me for a moment. I should like to finish a sentence, or two, or three. As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston pointed out, a vote on a treaty would not be about whether we were in or out. I remember the immediately previous leader of the Liberal Democrats standing in Westminster Hall saying that if Britain voted against the constitution in a referendum, it would mean that we had to leave the European Union. He was wrong on that, as France and the Netherlands demonstrated. The House cannot elide the two propositions as though they were one. They are distinct. That is what this proposal is about. It is to deceive the public out there.
While I am finishing this very lengthy sentence, I am also looking at the Government, no less. The Government of my country also promised a referendum on this treaty, and I have watched them trying to resile from that proposition as well. When I go into the Lobby today, it will be to damn—I think that that is a parliamentary term, Mr. Speaker—the Liberal Democrats for their phoney attempt to cover over their own divisions. Now I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I was also extremely grateful that he joined us in the Lobby on this issue in November precisely for the reason that he gave earlier in his speech. I am surprised that he does not recognise that Maastricht was a far more significant treaty than this one. It is precisely because the British people were not consulted—again and again, under the Conservative Administration, over the Maastricht treaty, the Single European Act and all the other changes to the European Union—that we need an in/out referendum. And that is precisely why the Conservatives are so divided.
I can only hope that the hon. Gentleman’s electors out there heard his shouting. They will hear his words. What we stand for is what we undertake to the electors who send us here. Everyone knows that this treaty further disconnects the people of this country from their Government and their representatives in the making of law. It is fundamental to the rule of law that, when we vote, we accept the rule of law because consent has been given by the people. Once we break the link between the sovereignty of Parliament and the rule of law, we are in the kind of really big trouble that we find ourselves in today.
To hear that smug attestation from the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) is not helpful. It is not helpful to his own cause. That is the point. He is saying, “We must have a referendum, on our terms, that we think we can win.” But what he is telling his electorate is that he has resiled from an undertaking that he gave them. I do not accept this referral, and I shall vote against it.
I have some sympathy with the Liberal position—[Hon. Members: “Surely not.] It is not only because I have a natural sympathy with beleaguered minorities who find themselves in a hole of their own making—not least because I have often found myself in that position. I am unhappy about the Liberal proposition because it poses the question of in/out against the question of yes/no, as though people could decide on only one of them. I would be inclined to vote for an in/out referendum if the Liberals were prepared to support the idea that I and others could have the opportunity to vote on a yes/no referendum. I would vote yes to remain in, but vote no to the treaty. Under the Liberal proposals, as I understand them, there would be a referendum only on in/out.
The hon. Gentleman is wrong in his interpretation of this debate. If the instruction is given, tomorrow the House of Commons of the United Kingdom will have the opportunity to decide whether there should be a referendum just on the Lisbon treaty or on the wider range of issues—or, in theory, both. If the hon. Gentleman votes no today, that option tomorrow will be precluded.
I will give the hon. Gentleman the answer. We have made it clear that our preferred option is to vote for the referendum on the package—the whole issue of whether we are in Europe or not. That would be a vote in Committee, which we would hope to win, but we cannot even try to win it if the House will not allow us to have that vote. That is what the instruction is about.
I wish to clarify the implications of accepting the instruction, because I am anxious if I vote for the Liberal proposition that I will be less likely to be successful in a motion that I would like to propose on yes or no. If the Liberals give me an undertaking that they will vote for a yes/no referendum on the treaty, I will vote with them on in/out. If not, I have to assume that they are guilty of hypocrisy.
I would certainly not wish to be a president of any club that that gentleman could join. [Hon. Members: “Ooh!] Last week, we saw an attempt by this shower to bully the Chair. Because they did not succeed in bullying the Chair, we now have this motion before us this afternoon. It comes side by side—and this is the answer to the hon. Member for Glasgow, South-West (Mr. Davidson)—with something that I have never known in all my time in the House: a three-line Whip to abstain. Frankly, the Liberal Democrats ought to be ashamed of themselves. They gave promises to their constituents, on which they are indeed resiling. Other Members have done the same, but for sheer two-faced effrontery, the third-rate biscuit is won by the Liberal Democrats.
Bill immediately considered in Committee.
[10th allotted day]
(Clauses 6 and 7, and any selected amendments to clause 8 other than those making commencement contingent on a referendum.)
[Sir Alan Haselhurst in the Chair.]
Parliamentary control of decisions
I beg to move amendment No. 48, page 2, line 39, leave out subsection (1) and insert—
‘(1A) A Minister of the Crown shall vote against or otherwise reject a proposed decision in the European Council or the Council to be taken by unanimity that would or could create obligations on the United Kingdom, unless Parliamentary approval for the decision has been given in accordance with this section.
(1B) A Minister of the Crown shall vote against or otherwise reject a proposed decision in the European Council or the Council in an area made subject to qualified majority voting by the Treaty of Lisbon, and which would or could create obligations on the United Kingdom, unless Parliamentary approval for the decision has been given in accordance with this section.
(1C) Any decision adopted by the European Council or the Council by unanimity, or in an area made subject to qualified majority voting by the Treaty of Lisbon, shall not create an enforceable European Union right, European Union obligation or an object of the European Union for the purposes of section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972 if Parliamentary approval was not given for a Minister of the Crown to support that decision in accordance with this section.
(1D) This section shall apply notwithstanding section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972.
(1E) In this section, “the European Council” means that European Union institution founded on Article 15 of the Treaty on European Union, and “the Council” means that European Union institution founded on Article 16 of the Treaty on European Union.’.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 286, page 2, line 39, at beginning insert—
‘(A1) The Prime Minister may not attend a meeting of the European Council without having laid before Parliament a statement on their negotiating mandate and receiving Parliamentary approval in accordance with this section.
(A2) A Minister of the Crown may not attend a meeting of any configuration of the Council (within the meaning of Article 9C of the Treaty on European Union) without having laid before Parliament a statement on their negotiating mandate and receiving Parliamentary approval in accordance with this section.
(A3) A Minister of the Crown may not vote in favour of or otherwise support any legislative measure under any article of the Treaty on European Union or the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union that relates to the internal market, if it applies to, or could be applied in relation to, any of the following, unless Parliamentary approval has been given in accordance with this section:
(a) health services provided by any NHS body,
(b) the statutory system of public education,
(c) social housing,
(d) postal services,
(e) public transport.
(A4) A Minister of the Crown may not vote either in favour of or against or otherwise support or oppose any legislative measure under Article 153 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, unless Parliamentary approval has been given in accordance with this section.
(A5) A Minister of the Crown may not authorise any person to represent the United Kingdom at a meeting of the special committee to assist the Commission in negotiating agreements with international organisations or third countries established in Article 188C of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union without having laid before Parliament a statement on their negotiating mandate; and where any person represents the United Kingdom at such a meeting, the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament a statement on the matters discussed at the meeting, the positions taken by all persons representing the United Kingdom and the outcomes of the meeting, within 30 days of the meeting taking place.’.
No. 47, page 2, line 39, leave out ‘may not vote in favour of or otherwise support’ and insert ‘shall vote against or otherwise reject’.
No. 18, page 2, line 40, leave out from ‘following’ to end of line 41.
No. 42, page 3, line 20, at end insert—
‘( ) The provision of Article 82(2)(d) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union that permits the addition of new aspects of criminal procedure to those which may be the subject of directives decided by qualified majority voting.’.
No. 43, page 3, line 20, at end insert—
‘( ) The provision of Article 83(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union that permits the addition of new areas of crime which may be the subject of directives decided by qualified majority voting.’.
No. 44, page 3, line 20, at end insert—
‘( ) The provision of Article 86(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union that permits the creation of a European Public Prosecutor.’.
No. 45, page 3, line 20, at end insert—
‘( ) The provision of Article 86(4) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union that permits the extension of the powers of the European Public Prosecutor.’.
No. 46, page 3, line 20, at end insert—
‘( ) The provision of Article 42(2) of the Treaty on the European Union that permits the establishment of a common European Union defence.’.
No. 49, page 3, line 20, at end insert—
‘(1A) A Minister of the Crown may not commit the United Kingdom to new obligations, or alter the obligations of the United Kingdom, under the following provisions unless Parliamentary approval has been given in accordance with this section—
(a) Article 3 of the Protocol on the Position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice, permitting a notification of the wish to take part in the adoption of an act under the EU’s area of freedom, security and justice,
(b) Article 4 of the Protocol on the Position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice, permitting a notification of the wish to accept an act under the European Union’s area of freedom, security and justice,
(c) Article 329 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, permitting a request to take part in enhanced cooperation,
(d) Article 46 of the Treaty on European Union, permitting a notification of the intention to participate in permanent structured co-operation, and
(e) Article 10(5) of the Protocol on Transitional Provisions, permitting a notification of the wish to participate in police and criminal justice measures with full jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.’.
No. 66, page 3, line 20, at end insert—
‘(1A) A Minister of the Crown may not vote in favour of or otherwise support a decision under any article of the Treaty on European Union or Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union that relates to, or in so far as it relates to or could be applied in relation to, the provision of healthcare services by an NHS body unless Parliamentary approval has been given in accordance with this section.’.
No. 283, page 3, line 20, at end insert—
‘(1A) A Minister of the Crown may not vote in favour of or otherwise support a decision under any article of the Treaty on European Union or Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union that sets a target for reducing carbon dioxide emissions from the European Union if it appears to him that the target is not compatible with preventing global average temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, unless Parliamentary approval has been given in accordance with this section.
(1B) A Minister of the Crown may not vote in favour of or otherwise support a decision under any article of the Treaty on European Union or Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union that sets a target for reducing carbon dioxide emissions from the European Union unless international aviation and shipping are included in the target, unless Parliamentary approval has been granted in accordance with this section.’.
No. 284, page 3, line 20, at end insert—
‘(1A) A Minister of the Crown may not vote in favour of or otherwise support a decision under any article of the Treaty on European Union or Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union that relates to, or in so far as it relates to or could be applied in relation to, the liberalisation of postal services unless Parliamentary approval has been given in accordance with this section.’.
No. 67, page 3, line 43, at end insert ‘, and
(c) “NHS body” means—
(i) a Strategic Health Authority;
(ii) a Special Health Authority;
(iii) a Local Health Board;
(iv) a Primary Care Trust;
(v) an NHS trust; or
(vi) an NHS foundation trust.’.
No. 287, page 3, line 43, at end insert—
‘(c) “NHS body” means—
(i) a strategic health authority;
(ii) a special health authority;
(iii) a local health board;
(iv) a primary care trust;
(v) an NHS trust; or
(vi) an NHS foundation trust.
(d) “The statutory system of public education” has the meaning defined by the Education Act 1996 (c. 56).
(e) “Social housing” means the provision of accommodation for rent by a local housing authority (within the meaning of section 1 of the Housing Act 1985 (c. 68)), a registered provider of social housing, a county council, or a person controlled by a local housing authority or country council.
(f) “Postal services” means the service of conveying postal packets (within the meaning of the Postal Services Act 2000 (c. 26)) from one place to another by post, the incidental services of receiving, collecting, sorting and delivering such packets and any other service which relates to any of those services and is provided in conjunction with any of them.
(g) “Public transport” means any of the following—
(i) “railway services” as defined by the Railways Act 1993 (c. 43);
(ii) “bus services” as defined by the Transport Act 2000 (c. 38); or
(iii) any service provided by Transport for London.’.
It is a relief to return to the Bill after that excursion into the Liberal Democrats’ embarrassment, because there are substantial clauses ahead of us and a great many amendments to consider.
I have tabled other amendments in the group as well as the lead amendment, and I shall begin by describing their purpose. They cover the so-called passerelle clauses in the treaty. Passerelle means “bridge” or “gangplank” in French; it is, perhaps, an appropriate term, given the one-way nature of this treaty. The clauses allow alterations to the treaty with no intergovernmental conference and, most importantly, no referendum.
The European Union has learned over the past decade or so that it is always dangerous to ask people what they think, as they often vote no. We remember Denmark voting no to the Maastricht treaty and Ireland voting no to the Nice treaty. In both cases, they were not taken as final verdicts. No votes never are: when people vote no, they are considered only to be interim or provisional expressions of opinion. There is a lack of symmetry here: when people vote yes, that is taken to be a ringing endorsement of the European project, but when they vote no, they are asked to try again and try a little harder. In those two cases, those countries did change their minds in subsequent years, and those treaties proceeded.
My right hon. Friend mentioned that when countries vote no in referendums, they are often asked to try again. Will he reflect on the fact that that is precisely what has just happened in this House? Last November, the House made a clear decision not to have a referendum on whether to be in or out of Europe; the majority was 400. The Liberal Democrats have chosen to ask the House again, and it has come up with almost exactly the same answer.
Order. I am sorry to interrupt, but I am at present having some difficulty in seeing these amendments reflected in the opening words of the speech of the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), and certainly in the remarks of the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper). May I direct the right hon. Gentleman to the terms of the amendment and the group?
I will, of course, observe your strictures, Sir Alan, but it is necessary to dwell briefly on the question of referendums because, as I shall demonstrate, the passerelle procedure is an alternative. Therefore, it is relevant briefly to remind ourselves of the history of referendums. I have mentioned the Danish and Irish referendums that were not taken as final, and the same applies to the French and Dutch rejections of the constitutional treaty. In those cases, the electorates were never asked again. They will not be invited to vote on the equivalent treaty of Lisbon.
Will my right hon. Friend reflect on the fact that the only nationwide referendum in this country was held in the 1970s, following Mr. Benn’s campaigning, when an overwhelming majority supported our membership of the European Union? The Eurosceptic element in our political class seems never to have accepted that result and indeed had pointedly ignored it within about two years of the event.
Order. That is certainly taking us outside the scope of the amendments and getting us ever closer to tomorrow’s debate, which we should not seek to anticipate. The right hon. Member for Wells said that he was providing some background. I hope that it will be somewhat closer to the amendments than the one he has painted so far.
Indeed, Sir Alan. I shall observe in response only that the European Union has altered out of all recognition since the 1975 referendum. I am not in favour of continuous or frequent referendums. Only when the rules of politics alter do we need to consult the people—I take that from the writings of Tom Paine. He observed that Governments must not make constitutions because they would be writing their own rules. The rules must be approved by the people and politicians can then fight it out, promoting or opposing policies within those rules. That framework is rightly the subject of occasional referendums, and it is about time that we had a referendum on the European treaty.
The people are trying to say something. In these frequent no votes and judgments they are expressing dissatisfaction with the process of European integration. That was picked up in the Laeken declaration of December 2001, when Heads of Government recognised a need for profound reform. In that declaration they proposed not a constitutional treaty but rather a reformed mechanism to bring the European Union “closer to its citizens”, to simplify the treaties, to stop the European Union interfering in the minutiae of national life and, above all, to make the process more democratic.
The EU has reached a different conclusion—certainly at the top. Its conclusion is to say no to reform and no to asking the people ever again. It certainly does not want to ask the people of the United Kingdom. Democracy is too chancy and too uncertain in its outcome for the EU, but the process of European integration must proceed by other means. That has relevance to the clause and the amendments. The Lisbon treaty thus includes a self-amending process to obviate the need for future intergovernmental conferences and referendums. That process is the passerelle clauses.
Does not my right hon. Friend’s amendment touch on the problem? Are not the passerelle clauses a recipe for continuous incremental change in the EU on a case-by-case basis away from the spotlight of IGCs and well away from the spotlight of a referendum? Do not the supporters of those provisions have to dispel the suspicion that they are accelerators in the process of European integration on a case-by-case basis?
My hon. Friend is right; indeed, he anticipates my next remark. The rest of Europe has not abandoned the project of ever-closer integration. President Sarkozy has set up a group, which exists despite its being disowned by the British Government, to proceed to the next stage. Only the British Government fondly imagine that this is somehow the end of the process. Those of us who were in this place during the Maastricht debates remember Ministers stating from the Dispatch Box that that treaty was the high watermark of European integration. It is a process, not a destination. The moves towards ever closer union proceed. However, those involved have learned not to proceed by means of intergovernmental conferences, which lead to the danger of national referendums.
I had the privilege of speaking at a conference on Friday, attended by several Members of the European Parliament, including Conservatives and representatives of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. It was addressed by Professor Sir David Edward, who is a judge and professor in Scotland and used to be a judge in the European Court of Justice. Without prompting, he described the treaty as a final act in terms of institutional change. He also said that it would draw Europe into a structure more like a United States-style federation than the ambition of those who wanted a constitution.
That may be the view of several commentators, but if one looks at the content of the treaty, one finds that it contains a self-amending process that will take us to the next stage of European integration, without the need—crucially—for the traditional formation of an intergovernmental conference in which the Parliament and public are involved, and leading to a treaty that is then ratified, if necessary, by national referendum. That process had been abandoned in favour of incremental change.
In light of the comment by the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, the point is that we have been told that every treaty is the culmination of the process. That was not done disingenuously, because every British Government have believed each treaty to be the last stage of further major institutional change. Every time, we come back with exactly the same arguments. The passerelle provision is the final step: there will be no need to come back to make more changes, and that is the problem. In Britain, we constantly believe the best of the process and we fail to realise that the direction was set long before we joined.
My right hon. Friend is a shrewd observer of these matters and he is right. It is a fond national myth that each treaty is the last treaty. That entirely underestimates the dynamic that exists in other European countries and, most importantly, in the institutions of the European Union, which always presses us to go further and create, if not a federal Europe—that is not a word I use—but a Europe that takes literally the phrase in the present treaty about “ever closer union”. That mandate drives that tendency forward, and there is no doubt that President Sarkozy belongs to that tendency. He has set up a group, which has already met, to clear the way for more powers to be transferred upwards to the European Union.
Those involved have learned, from bitter experience, not to seek the consent of the public at any stage, because of the danger that they will say no. History is littered with electorates that have said no, but instead of listening to the people, a way of circumventing the obstacle is found and there is always another treaty. The new approach is the passerelle provision.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the great British public have virtually no idea about the effect that the passerelle measures will have on the future sovereignty of our country? They know that something fishy is going on, but they have no idea of the extent to which our sovereignty is being undermined not just now, but for ever.
It is my regret that the instruction to simplify the EU was never carried out. If we had a simpler document in front of us, these matters would be clearer. As Mr. Amato, the former vice-president of the Convention on the Future of Europe, said in a speech in London that I heard, the treaty is designed to be complicated. Those involved have been relieved of the obligation to put the document in front of the people to be understood and debated in a referendum, and so it could build complexity on complexity. It is becoming—indeed, it has already become—a legal document for politicians to be interpreted by other politicians. Of course the public have great difficulty understanding it. It is our job in these debates to try to elucidate what is really happening and to alert people to the true content of the treaty.
I shall not pretend that the passerelle mechanism is entirely new. There are similar measures in the existing treaties, although they have not been used. However, the treaty of Lisbon has 10 new passerelles, which go right across the board and are designed to be used. They are on a much broader scale.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way, and I shall not interrupt him again. He has rightly reminded us that the passerelle mechanism is not new; it has been in force for years and years. Does he recall that in the Maastricht debates people were raising all kinds of fears about the way in which it would be used to take away our sovereignty by stealth? Does he accept that that has not happened? Why does he think that it is suddenly going to happen now? Does he not accept that it turned out to be an unfounded fear when the institution was first attacked by people who hold his views?
I do not recall the passerelle provisions being the object of great fear at the time of Maastricht, because the Maastricht treaty made little provision for additional passerelle clauses. They have not been used because they are essentially peripheral. My point is that the passerelle mechanism is now widened and deepened and will become an essential element of the treaty of Lisbon.
Having taken some part in the Maastricht debates, I can confirm what my right hon. Friend has said. In those days, the mechanism was known as article 235. It was not in any way as pernicious as these provisions, which are associated with changing all the existing treaties and undermining our parliamentary sovereignty by a totally obnoxious and completely unnecessary provision that would allow us to legislate simply by motion.
My hon. Friend is right. Indeed, I have a note of the existing passerelles. They deal with such matters as moving the adoption of EU laws on family law to the ordinary legislative procedure. That is not an earth-shattering change to any system. However, the 10 new passerelles in the treaty of Lisbon include three new simplified revision procedures—that is what they are called—to revise the treaty.
I apologise to my right hon. Friend for intervening again, as I know that he wants to make progress. The answer to our right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) is simply that at Maastricht there was not a major complaint about the passerelles, but the precedent was set by their use in the treaty. They sat there, and have now undergone a massive expansion. They are now ready for use. That is the key. It is a process of moving forward, and the passerelles play their part.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way; he is being extremely generous. Is not the difference between now and Maastricht the fact that, unfortunately, the European people rebelled in the French and Dutch referendums, which led the European elite to learn the hard way? They do not trust the people, therefore, and want to get the treaty through by the back door.
I have made the point that when the EU reaches a roadblock, it never retreats or even stops. It finds a way round. In this case, it has done so by bringing in a way of achieving the same result as under the existing treaty without going through the laborious but democratic procedure of forming an intergovernmental conference, arguing out the proposals in public and putting them to national Parliaments or, when necessary, to referendums.
My hon. Friend is right. All the clauses have a purpose. They are not decorative or descriptive, they are there to be used. They have a serious intention and serious content. I hold that the three separate simplified revision procedures, when taken together, would allow just about any change to how the EU defines and implements its policies to be made using the passerelle clauses. That could include the removal of most of the remaining vetoes, with the exception—I want to be fair about this—of treaty objectives for external policy. There could be sweeping changes to the functions, powers and procedures of the EU, including further extensions of qualified majority voting to matters additional to the 51 already provided for.
The so-called passerelle procedure means that all Governments must give up the veto on policy making so that decisions can be made by qualified majority voting. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the Prime Minister has given a guarantee to the Liaison Committee that a decision to give up the veto can be taken only on the Floor of the House? The House must decide to give up the veto before any representative of this Government can vote to do so in the Council.
I shall turn later in my remarks, and in debates on other groups of amendments that cover the matter, to the exact procedure that the House should follow in agreeing to such measures. Since the hon. Gentleman is the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, I shall remind him of what his report said about the provisions:
“We are concerned that these provisions could allow substantial changes to be made without convening an IGC and so lead to even less transparency in the way the EU is governed”.
I know that he takes the matter seriously, because he believes in openness. So do I, and the best openness is to have treaty revisions made in the traditional way. They should be argued out by member states and the Commission in an intergovernmental conference and then put to Parliament to be debated. That procedure has served us well, and it is being abandoned.
I know the case that the right hon. Gentleman is making, but sadly, he does not admit that the Prime Minister’s assurance to Parliament that any decision to give up the veto will be taken only in a vote on the Floor of the House is a massive improvement. That was not the position after Maastricht or Amsterdam. Will he not admit that this is the first time that a Prime Minister of any party has assured the House that such decisions will be made on the Floor of the House?
I concede that it is a modest advance in the powers of the House that a vote will be required, but I believe that primary legislation is what is needed in those circumstances. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in pursuing the cause of parliamentary democracy and the powers of the House.
It is not good enough to rely on the Prime Minister’s promise that the House will get a vote. He promised the British people a vote on the treaty and has broken that promise, so we should not put any weight on a promise that he has made to a Select Committee.
I know that my right hon. Friend wants to make progress, so I am grateful for his generosity in giving way. Even if we took the assurance of a vote at face value, is it not a question of the signal that the provisions send the rest of the Community about the simplified revision process and further incremental change? What about the political pressure on this country? Do we not have a good example in the treaty itself of the way in which pressure can be brought to bear on the UK by the rest of the Community?
My hon. Friend’s observation is accurate, and it is emphasised by the point I am about to make.
The Government have allowed in the Bill for parliamentary approval of a sort, but clause 6 does not list all the passerelles inserted by the treaty. The modest concessions made by the Government to give some additional power to the House ignore the fact that passerelles in the treaty are not covered by the clause. For example, article 82 of the consolidated treaty can expand the EU competence over criminal procedures. To me, that is a passerelle clause—it is a mechanism in the treaty whereby by a unanimous decision by a temporary and perhaps transient European Council or Council of Ministers can agree to expand the treaty into new areas of criminal procedure. That is not subject to the mechanism of which the Government are so proud.
To give another example, article 83 permits new areas of crime to be subject to qualified majority voting, simply by a decision of the Council of Ministers, without any parliamentary involvement at all. Article 86 can extend the powers of the European public prosecutor, again, without any vote in the House. My amendment adds to the list of passerelles covered by the Government’s procedure the missing passerelle clauses that they do not mention.
Earlier, my right hon. Friend mentioned the external action-specific provisions on the common foreign and security policy. I may have misunderstood him, but is it not right that under article 48(7), which falls into that category, the European Council, although decision making must be unanimous, has the power to decide to authorise the council to act by QMV instead? We therefore have a QMV arrangement for CFSP and external action.
It is perfectly true that there are additional provisions for majority voting in the field of CFSP. The details are complex, and they are not the subject of this group of amendments, but the thrust of my hon. Friend’s intervention is correct.
Amendment No. 44 would subject the setting up of the office of European public prosecutor to the same parliamentary procedure. That is not strictly a passerelle matter, but it should be agreed by the House. The Government have a veto, as they do on all the passerelle clauses, but I contend that a conclave of European Ministers sitting in private should not be able to make treaty amendments, and certainly not without parliamentary approval. However, in the treaty they can agree between themselves to set up the office of European public prosecutor. The Government are against that proposal, and have said:
“We are firmly opposed to establishing a European Public Prosecutor. Unanimity does not mean that this article can be accepted.”
They were right about that. Unanimity is not an adequate safeguard, because once provision is made for a European public prosecutor, the presumption is that one day it will be agreed to. To that extent, the matter is prejudged, which is why the Government wanted all references to the European public prosecutor to be removed from the treaty. As with most of their amendments, they failed, so the provision is in the treaty and can be triggered by unanimity. My modest amendment requires that if the Government give way on their previous adamant objection to a European public prosecutor, the decision should have the consent of both Houses of Parliament.
Amendment No. 46 would do the same on setting up a common European Union defence—in other words, a European army. The treaty is confused. Some articles state that European Union defence policy “may” lead to a common defence, whereas other articles state that it “will” lead to a common defence, if the European Council agrees it unanimously. The Foreign Affairs Committee called those provisions “clumsy and ambiguous”, and it was right. Indeed, the Government agreed with the Committee, because they tabled an amendment to take out the second reference and to make it clear that that “may” lead to common defence. As is so often the case, they lost the argument. Amendment No. 46 would simply add the additional lock that this House and another place should agree by vote or, as I would prefer it, by primary legislation, if a decision is made to move to a common defence and set up a European army with all that that implies.
Amendment No. 47, which has also been tabled in my name and those of my hon. Friends, would rectify another weakness in the Bill. Clause 6 states that Ministers
“may not vote in favour of or otherwise support a”
proposed passerelle clause without “Parliamentary approval”. As it stands, however, they could abstain, and if they were to do so, the matter could be adopted, because matters can be approved by unanimity, even if some member states abstain. That is a loophole, and amendment No. 47 would require the Government actively to vote against any such proposal, rather than not voting in favour of it.
In summary, the passerelle clauses extend the self-amending mechanism, of which we have seen very little in the past, and clearly form a key component of the treaty of Lisbon. My amendments would complete the list of passerelles, which is not complete at the moment—the Government should have corrected that matter. They also add similar elements, such as the setting up of a European public prosecutor and a move to a common European defence, and close the loophole that would allow the Government to make such changes by abstaining.
I shall finish by advancing the case for amendment No. 48, which goes further. It would require parliamentary approval—an affirmative vote in both Houses—before agreement to any measures in the European Council or the Council by unanimity or in an area made subject to qualified majority voting in the treaty. That would establish for the first time real parliamentary control over the obligations imposed on this country from the EU. That approach has been adopted by the Scandinavian Parliaments, which literally mandate their Ministers before decisions are taken.
Scrutiny of European legislation in this House is, by common consent, totally inadequate. That was the conclusion of the Modernisation Committee report of some years ago. The Government have now responded to that—again, very modestly and inadequately. We can all see that, even with the new proposals from the Leader of the House, the House really has no power. We are at the bottom of the food chain; we are subjected—members of the European Scrutiny Committee have weekly experience of this—to a torrent of European Union draft regulations, directives and decisions on which we cannot decide in any real way. We have to accept them; all we can do is take note of them.
Amendment No. 48 would disapply decisions passed by unanimity or under the areas of qualified majority voting introduced by the treaty of Lisbon from having an effect in the United Kingdom. The amendment would do so notwithstanding section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972. As a non-lawyer, I am advised that in the Factortame case it was observed that British courts would allow the 1972 Act to be overridden if another statute made clear that its provisions were notwithstanding section 2 of the 1972 Act.
May I amplify what my right hon. Friend is saying? The cases of Macarthy’s Ltd v. Smith under Lord Denning, of Garland v. British Rail Engineering Ltd under Lord Diplock and of the “metric martyrs” under Lord Justice Laws also make that clear. It is absolutely crystal clear that what my right hon. Friend has just said is right. If, on behalf of voters in general elections, we are to preserve the right of the House to be able to make decisions, it is absolutely imperative that the amendment should be agreed.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is a constitutional lawyer, for his endorsement of what I have said.
To be clear, amendment No. 48 would prevent decisions of the European Union having effect in this country if Parliament had deemed otherwise. In other words, if we explicitly directed Ministers to reject proposals resulting from qualified majority voting introduced by the treaty of Lisbon or from a procedure of unanimity, those decisions would be disapplied in United Kingdom law, notwithstanding section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972.
I have discussed a collection of measures to enhance the power of the House and give it real power and influence over decisions made in our name. National Parliaments are the big losers in this entire process. Other EU institutions gained during the negotiations, despite the fact that they should have been reforming themselves. Indeed, the very institutions that are the source of much of the disillusionment with the European Union get the extra powers under the treaty of Lisbon.
The Parliaments’ loss of powers is shown by the massive switch to qualified majority voting, which practically removes the veto powers of this House over such legislation. The loss is also shown in the loss of control over the making of international agreements, common foreign and security policy, criminal justice, immigration and asylum—powers on all those matters are transferred from this House to the European Union. That loss of control is most marked in the new division of “competences”, Eurospeak for “powers”—the new doctrine of exclusive and shared competence in the treaty.
Amendment No. 48 would re-establish parliamentary control and allow—indeed, encourage—the widest degree of international co-operation when that was required. However, it would do so on the firm foundation of the principle of self-government and the rights of national Parliaments.
I listened carefully to the points made by the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), some of which I agreed with. Amendment No. 286, which is in my name and those of my hon. Friends, addresses similar issues.
I begin with the crisis that seems to be pervading the whole of Europe. It exists between the popular classes—the people of our country and elsewhere—and the political élite. There is clearly a wide-ranging problem, and my amendment attempts to address it. There is a feeling among the electorate that the country is changing somehow, that Parliament does not seem to be able to get a grip on those changes and that the changes are not always favourable to the way in which we live. There is a strong feeling that the House of Commons exists to regulate the affairs of the country and to protect the provisions built up by the people of this country over many years. That belief is to some extent negated, however, by a suspicion that the European Union is, in part at least, contributing to changes that many people feel are unpalatable. I suspect that that point of view is not inaccurate.
As I have remarked in previous debates, two kinds of Europe are struggling to emerge, one of which will impact directly on the kind of country that we inhabit in years to come. I would like to see the kind of country in which social provisions are strong, and where the market may have its place but the conditions of life are safety-netted so that the inequitable consequences of free markets do not damage the social fabric. We see such social provisions at work across a range of public services, such as post offices, the health service, council housing and the other areas mentioned in my amendment. Those social provisions, however, for a reason that remains mysterious to many including myself, have been eroded by European Union developments.
It is the latter Europe—the Europe of free competition, open markets and inequity, with its sweeping cold winds of competition and market-driven change—that is gaining greater momentum in the EU. It is eating away at the social provisions that exist, but no one seems to understand exactly how that came about. We have had a glimpse in the past few weeks of how those processes have developed, and how the market-driven model of Europe has come about. My amendment would ensure that even if we do not control the neo-liberal European Union as it develops, people would at least understand how that process is taking place, why it is taking place and which institutions are responsible for the changes.
I do not want to dismay the hon. Gentleman by agreeing with him, because that might cause him some embarrassment, but I remember saying in the debates on Maastricht, during an exchange with Peter Shore, that I never thought the day would come when I attacked my own Government for deliberately creating unemployment. I understand where the hon. Gentleman is coming from, although I object to over-regulation.
I was not quite sure by the end of that intervention whether the hon. Gentleman agreed with me or not. I would be more comfortable if he was disagreeing with me.
There is a battle between two conceptions of Europe, and it is the latter one—the free market Europe rather than the social one—that is gaining ground. We have had some glimpses of that and my amendments try to tackle some of those problems.
The Bolkestein directive introduced a free market in services, but nobody has bothered to define the services that should be subject to competition; it is simply stated that competition in services should be secured throughout the European Union. The directive was agreed through the Commission and the Council of Ministers and there was no appropriate way in which our Parliament could exercise judgment and issue caution about the way in which the European Court of Justice might employ it.
The European Court of Justice began to interpret services as including those that, we believed, were protected, especially our national health service. The NHS is the pride of our country and embodies British values of fairness. However, the European Court of Justice, working on the basis of the Bolkestein directive, began to rule that health was a tradeable commodity and should fall within the remit of free and open competition principles, which would fundamentally undermine the way in which our NHS works.
There was a famous European Court of Justice judgment in the Watt case, whereby the court decided that people travelling abroad circumvented the normal processes of the NHS for receiving treatment. Consequently, the Commission decided to draw up a directive to extend the principles of competition to cross-border health. There will be further developments. We are witnessing a process whereby one of the most important social protections that our country has constructed—the NHS—gradually succumbs, without parliamentary debate, to the forces of attrition by the free market, which the European Union increasingly represents. Many of my colleagues and I want that process to stop. If a change in health service provision is to be agreed at European Union level, it should not be done by the Bolkestein directive, an ECJ ruling and the Commission subsequently trying to open the wedge further. It should be debated here first.
The amendment would therefore provide that health should be reserved primarily to our Parliament. In so far as the European Union makes any decision relating to the NHS, such a matter should be debated in the House of Commons before it is determined by Ministers in the European Council. That might not necessarily prevent the erosion of the NHS, but it might at least explain to our citizens how our NHS changed.
I would resist any marketisation of the NHS, as would many of my colleagues. However, there is currently no appropriate procedure for this Parliament to debate such matters before a decision is made. That troubles me deeply and begins to explain the gulf between our citizens and our Parliament. Our citizens no longer understand how decisions that affect the social fabric of our country are made.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech and I agree with every word. He has focused on the importance of nation state Parliaments. We are not debating whether Europe should go for a market or a public service model for health services, but deciding—I hope—through the amendment that each member state should choose for itself the direction it wishes to follow. If we want a public service model, we should choose that and if another state wants—in my view, mistakenly—a marketised, privatised health service, it should be able to choose that. However, such choices should be made through democratic decision at nation state level.
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend’s point, although my amendment goes beyond that and says that if any Europe-wide changes are being envisioned, they ought to be discussed here first and be subject to a vote, at least so that the Minister who represents Britain in the European Council can reflect the views of Parliament and so that the people can see that Parliament has debated vital matters that affect the very social fabric of our country.
I am following my hon. Friend’s remarks closely. I, too, agree with everything that he has said about the gap between the public and Parliament on issues such as health. Is the situation not the same on another issue that is close to many millions of people—health supplements? People’s freedom to choose the health supplements that they want will be set by the Commission and by people who have in no way consulted Parliament or the people of this country on what they wish to do.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point and many people in the country will agree with her. They, too, have reservations about how the European Union appears to create legislation that has never been debated in the House of Commons.
I want to speak briefly about the Post Office and the postal service generally. I mentioned the Bolkestein directive, which introduced internal market provisions into services without first ring-fencing public services such as the health service. The same applies to the postal service. Rarely a week passes without some hon. Members or right hon. Members, even on the Treasury Bench, resisting proposals in this regard; I do not see any such Members sitting on the Front Bench now, although it may well be that some have resisted such proposals. I see the Deputy Leader of the House smiling, and I happen to know that the futures of some of the post offices in her area are being considered carefully, but I know, too, that she will defend her constituency’s interests fully.
There are regular such debates in this place. It is widely rumoured—I believe that it may be true—that the Government have decided to gold-plate the European directives on postal services and to introduce them in advance of any other nation in Europe. It is arguable, I suppose, that we should force all the others to go down the same path as we have. Another way of arguing, however, is to say that the Post Office is part of our very social fabric, just like the NHS, and ought not to be subjected to the icy winds of competition that we have been discussing.
As we all know, post offices are the centres of many communities, neighbourhoods, villages and towns. Our Post Office, which is one of the prides of our nation, has been subject to change that is perhaps driven by the Government, but which certainly has the support of the European Union. Rather than debate how post offices should be reconstructed retrospectively, it would be far better to carry an amendment such as mine, so that the House could debate any changes in advance and we could explain to our constituents that we had been party to a series of decisions that had led to the decimation of the postal service. I am arguing that the NHS, postal services and other public services ought to be protected, at least by parliamentary debate, before and not after Ministers go and agree to changes that could damage the social fabric of our country.
I do not recognise my hon. Friend’s description of the European engagement with the Post Office. Does he not recognise that the Post Office is losing millions of customers a day? That is the essential driving force behind the reorganisation. However, the Government, almost alone among national Governments, are providing a substantial subsidy—I believe it is in the region of £160 million—
I look forward to listening to my hon. Friend explaining to the people of his constituency why the post offices in their area are going to close and what the involvement of the European Union was. The fact is that he is almost alone on the Labour Benches in defending the closure programme. Most of us are spending our time trying to resist it, and we know perfectly well that the European Union has played a role in all this.
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point about the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey), whom he described as being almost alone in holding that opinion. Many members of the Government, including members of the Cabinet, are running around the country protesting about the post office closure programme. One might have thought that they would be here supporting the hon. Gentleman’s amendment.
No, I will not give way many more times now.
There are certain public services that no one envisaged being subject to the winds of competition from the European Union when the Bolkestein directive was agreed. Those rules of competition are being driven by the Commission and the European Court of Justice, almost against the will of the House of Commons. When these matters were being debated, the House did not have the opportunity to debate them and to ensure that the will of the people was properly heard.
Our amendment proposes that any decision on public services should be reserved to a vote in this House before a Minister makes a decision—in a mysterious way, as is often the case—in the Council of Ministers. It goes beyond that, however, because we also want to secure proper parliamentary approval before a Minister of the Crown goes to the European Union to agree, or disagree, on fresh legislation on workers’ rights. How and why the decisions on the so-called opt-outs from the charter of fundamental rights were made is a mystery to many people. It might be a mystery that has been deliberately created by the Government. My hon. Friend the Minister for Europe says that they are an opt-in.
We find an even bigger mystery when we ask exactly what the Government’s position is on agency workers. The question of agency workers is an acid eating away at many communities and work places in this country. The Government say that we should wait for European legislation to bring in regulations on workers’ rights relating to agency labour. They are widely reported, however, to be preventing agreement at European level on an agency workers directive, although I do not know whether that is true. The Government should come to the House and explain precisely what they are doing in relation to rights at work before they take a position, either for or against legislation. Our amendment seeks to ensure that that would take place.
I am following the hon. Gentleman’s argument carefully. Is he aware that, under the relevant title of part 3, there is already text relating to some aspects of health policy? Under the treaty, the simplified revision procedure could be applied so as to add to the text and expand the treaty provisions on health. That would then be covered by the ordinary legislative procedure in front of the Council. No matter how this House voted on such health matters, if the proposal were then outvoted in the Council, that would be it: the hon. Gentleman would have the health policy that he is afraid of.
I am concerned that the treaty envisages new competences in certain limited areas of health provision. Health is mentioned once or twice in some other documents: I am worried about it, because we have seen the process and how it works. That is why I want to see health as one of the public services ring-fenced for this House of Commons to debate prior to any decisions being made.
I was talking about workers’ rights and there has been some mystification, or perhaps obfuscation, as to how decisions are made on the regulation of the labour market. Once again, it seems to me that the right place for that to be debated first is this Chamber.
We go on to make other proposals on other matters that are clear in the amendment, so there is no need for me to address them, but the amendment makes one final radical proposal that I want briefly to address.
I have to say to my hon. Friend that I like the last five lines of his amendment at the end of proposed subsection (A5). However, will he clarify—perhaps he was about to do so—the meaning of the phrase
“a statement on their negotiating mandate”,
which appears in proposed subsections (A1), (A2) and (A5)? Is he proposing the sort of situation represented by Lech Walesa in the Gdansk shipyards in 1981 and 1982, when negotiations between management and workers were broadcast through a microphone to mass meetings? That seems to me a difficult way to pursue negotiations. My experience of the trade union movement—I expect it is the experience of my hon. Friend, too—is that we have to be careful how much of the negotiating hand we tip before the negotiations begin. Will my hon. Friend elucidate what the
“statement on their negotiating mandate”
I am familiar with the tactics of my hon. Friend, as I think the House probably is. He is often an expert at tripping up right hon. and hon. Members on the detail of their amendments. However, on this occasion, I think that he has failed adequately to read the amendment, which in no way suggests that the House should mandate Ministers. The phrase refers to the fact that when Ministers go to the Council, they effectively have a negotiating mandate from the Government. If the amendment were agreed, it would be a legal requirement for a Minister to come here first to explain generally his or her negotiating remit. The House may or not choose or even be asked to change that remit, but at least the Minister would be able to proceed in full knowledge of the views expressed in all parts of the House and would be able to take them into account in any debates. Even more importantly, this House of Commons would be able to fulfil its historic role of providing a democratic link between the people and the institutions that take decisions on their conditions of life—often, I have to say, to their detriment, as the social provisions built up mainly by Labour Governments over the last 50 years are rapidly being eaten away by a neo-liberal tide.
Finally—I shall try not to go on speaking for another 10 minutes after saying that—let me deal with the most radical elements of the amendment. I am proposing a new way for the House to relate to the European Union. It seems to me—my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) raised this in his intervention—that there is a mystery as to how decisions are taken. Frequently, decisions give rise to misconceptions; we have all heard many references to straight bananas. The way to avoid those myths and misconceptions is to have the light of day cast upon those areas. [Interruption.] Indeed, transparency is needed. At the moment, nobody quite knows how or where decisions are taken.
The most radical parts of the amendment are precisely those referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West—proposed subsections (A1), (A2) and (A5), which would require Ministers to come to this House in advance of making decisions at the European Council in order to test the views of the House. It does not say how that should be done; it would not have to be done through a Committee of the whole House. I have deliberately left that open for the Government to determine, but the House must regain the right to speak up on behalf of the people of this country on matters that are changing fundamentally—and I would argue often deleteriously—how we live our lives.
By the way, the amendment would not change the treaty in any way, and for its purposes the treaty is accepted. The amendment simply says that the way in which EU decisions relate back to our country should be changed and mediated by the prime democratic institution of our society, which is the House of Commons.
The hon. Gentleman refers to the prime democratic authority, and he is talking about Ministers of the Crown, who obviously would have the lead role in any negotiations, but many of the subjects that he and I are concerned about—social housing, education and health—are fully devolved. How does he foresee the devolved Administrations, with their own Ministers and the separate Acts of the Scottish Parliament, relating to the safeguards that he is proposing?
The fact that the hon. Gentleman is able to raise the point illustrates the ability that Members representing devolved areas have to debate those issues in this House of Commons. The amendment is not proposing that the House of Commons should pass certain legislation. It simply says that the Minister should come to the House to represent how he or she would take forward the country’s interests and explain what he or she intends to do, before agreeing to decisions that begin to unravel many of the social provisions that have made this country a more civilised place.
With those few points—
For the benefit of the microphones, I certainly will.
Has my hon. Friend taken the trouble to look at the Select Committee on European Scrutiny report on the draft conclusions of the European Council, which is the Council to which the Prime Minister goes and which eventually agrees the policies that will go through? We took evidence from a number of people, such as Sir Stephen Wall, the former Cabinet Secretary, that those draft conclusions should be made available, at least to the scrutiny processes of Parliament, which means the scrutiny Committee of this House and that of the House of Lords, as well as any Select Committee relevant to a policy that is being made.
If my hon. Friend had followed that process, he might have supported it as a method of bringing about what he is trying to achieve, which is giving the House a chance to direct the Prime Minister and other Ministers as to how the House feels about the policies that they are about to agree. The report is on the record.
I look forward to the Minister’s reply, and I pay tribute to the work that the Select Committee has done under my hon. Friend’s excellent leadership. This country and Europe as a whole face a political and democratic crisis whereby the separation between the ordinary people of Europe—the working people of Europe—and institutions has never been wider since democratic government was installed. Part of the problem is precisely the fact that a tidal wave of change, involving competition and marketisation, is damaging how people live their lives.
The people suspect and understand—it is true—that, to an extent, this House of Commons has been emasculated in relation to the process of ensuring that those social provisions are properly protected. It is imperative that an amendment of this kind is agreed so that, once again, this House of Commons becomes the mouthpiece of the ordinary people of our country. The severe consequences of that crisis have yet to be felt.
I shall not dwell at length on the detail of the various passerelle measures in the treaty, because my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) dealt with them comprehensively in speaking to the amendment. There are one or two things, though, that are worth putting on the record in relation to the Government’s position. Again, and in relation to this part of the treaty, what the Government signed up to is not what they originally said.
All Members were sent a helpful document from Open Europe—“A guide to the constitutional treaty”. It is helpful to refer to organisations that have been helpful to hon. Members. The document contains some useful quotes from former members of the Government, made about this section when they were preparing the treaty. The right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) told the Standing Committee on the Intergovernmental Conference:
“We think that a self-amending constitutional treaty does not make a lot of sense”.
“There is no enthusiasm for the clause in the European Union.”—[Official Report, Standing Committee on the Intergovernmental Conference, 20 October 2003; c. 21-22.]
Indeed, in 2003 the Government’s own White Paper said:
“There is also a proposal for a clause which would allow the European Council to vote by unanimity to move any Treaty article to QMV.”
It made it clear that the Government opposed anything that would undermine the role of national Parliaments in treaty change.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wells alluded to remarks made by the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, who was then Foreign Secretary. He said that
“what we cannot have is a situation where even though”
“has to be by unanimity, late at night at an ordinary European Council, a decision on one other country’s milk quotas is traded for a concession on moving from unanimity to QMV…that is not acceptable.”
That, however, is exactly the position that the House will authorise if it puts through the treaty and the Bill without seriously considering some of the amendments that have been tabled.
It is worth reminding ourselves of the extent to which Parliament is removing some of its powers. We in the House—Members on both sides—have made the point while debating the Bill and the treaty that the time available has not been adequate, especially that in Committee for discussing detailed amendments. However, the Bill and the treaty, as my right hon. Friend explained in detail, will remove even those provisions that force the House to debate such matters on the Floor, at least in as much detail as we have been able to debate them during our discussions on this treaty. They will be replaced by a simple motion, moved by a Minister, that will be unamendable and no doubt dealt with during a short debate late at night. That position is not acceptable.
Worse, Ministers—certainly outside the House—in referring to clause 6, which is entitled “Parliamentary control of decisions”, have tried to give the impression that what is happening here is a strengthening of parliamentary control. They refer to the fact that the House and the other place will have to vote on a motion to approve some of those changes, neglecting to point out that the status quo is that an Act of Parliament has to be passed to put through treaty changes.
Ministers need to be honest and remind people that the current procedure is that treaty changes have to be agreed at an intergovernmental conference and have to be taken through by primary legislation—an Act of Parliament passed by both Houses. Making it possible for those treaty changes to take place and then be approved by both Houses through a simple motion will weaken the control of Parliament, not strengthen it. A little honesty in that regard would be welcome.
I return to a point that I made in an intervention. The Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), referred to promises that the Prime Minister made to his Select Committee. I drew attention to the fact that I do not think the Prime Minister’s word is worth a great deal since he has broken it over a referendum, but even if we accept his word on that, just to be charitable, he is not able to bind any future Labour Prime Minister. Therefore, the House would be foolish to give away powers, just on the word of a transient Administration who can in no way bind a future Administration. That would be unwise and an unhelpful precedent to set.
I shall not dwell on amendment No. 286, but I want to take up a point made by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris). When he spoke about mandates and negotiating tactics, he referred to the former President of Poland and the approach that he took in his trade union negotiations. Those negotiations appear to have been reasonably successful—albeit after a number of years—in that he was pivotal in bringing down a Communist Administration and becoming President of his country. If that is the kind of success that a mandate has, perhaps British Ministers could adopt it and push forward a British agenda within the European Union.
I am greatly attracted by amendment No. 47, also tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells—I hope he will give us an opportunity to vote on it—by amendment No. 18, tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), and by two amendments in the next group. Those amendments seek to make it mandatory for Ministers to agree to treaty changes only by means of a full Act of Parliament, rather than through parliamentary motions, which I consider to be an unsatisfactory way of controlling what they are able to do. If both Houses had to undertake the full parliamentary procedure we would ensure that we maintained the status quo, and I feel that—notwithstanding the lack of debate in the House and the inadequacy of the time available—that would be preferable to what the Government propose.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells will press amendment No. 47 to a vote, and I look forward to the debate on the next group of amendments.
I am becoming quite accustomed to listening to the speeches of the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper), and to speaking after him. I should point out to him that the Prime Minister appeared before the Liaison Committee, which consists of the Chairs of all the Select Committees. The Prime Minister does not appear before individual Select Committees, although when he was Chancellor he appeared very willingly before the European Scrutiny Committee. He spoke lucidly and, in my opinion, demonstrated an inventive attitude towards some of the European Union’s policies. I am thinking particularly of his ideas about the funding of what were called regional policies when we had a regional policy. I think that if he were ever to implement those ideas, it would be very beneficial to the regions of the United Kingdom They were based on support for innovation rather than the attempts to bolster dying industries that we have seen in the past in many parts of the European Community.
As for the mandate, I am surprised that Members should see a parallel between Lech Walesa and the democratic institutions, and the fall of Soviet communism, but do not see the association between the European Union and the fact that countries wish to join it because they view it as a form of democratic co-operation constituting an alternative to what confronted them under the dominating vertical force of Soviet communism. The European Union is the very thing that helped Lech Walesa to break down the control of the Soviet Union. People speak of the EU as if it were a malicious and malignant organisation, whereas it offers numerous benefits to all those countries—from those that are very near to us, such as Ireland, which was not previously under Soviet domination but was a stagnant economy, to Slovenia, which has 2 million people, currently holds the EU presidency and is doing extremely well in maintaining Europe’s momentum.
I am perfectly prepared to accept that the present Polish Government have views about the European Union and the extent to which it is helpful to Poland’s economic development—that is a matter for them—but I cannot leave unchallenged the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that the Soviet domination of Europe was brought down by the EU. I think it should be put on record that the strength of the Reagan Administration and NATO had quite a lot to do with it.
As I pointed out yesterday, the defence protocols are very clear. They maintain people’s right to work within NATO, and envisage it as a bulwark for what is happening in the EU and the countries within it. I did not say that it was the EU that brought down Soviet domination. People were attracted and motivated by the force of the democratic arrangements in the EU, as has been demonstrated by the succession of revolutions that have taken place throughout Europe since then.
The right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), who always makes thoughtful contributions, quoted—as I did yesterday—from paragraph 42 of our Committee’s 35th report. It was published on 9 October 2007, before Ministers returned to Europe, under pressure—or encouraged by those who had taken part in evidence sessions and discussions with the—to find a way of protecting the United Kingdom from a simplified revision procedure. They did not bring back an intergovernmental conference mandate because they clearly did not consider that useful, but they did bring back conditions for opting in, along with article 10 to protocol 10 and firm commitments to unanimity of common foreign and security, defence and tax policy. They also brought back the agreement that if we departed from unanimity, we would move to qualified majority voting only through the procedure that we now know as the passerelle.
I see no contradiction between those approaches. I think we should focus on how best we can satisfy Parliament that the Government are being scrutinised. Given that a mandating system will eventually be introduced, presumably it will be negotiated by all the parties in the House. The question of what the consultation arrangements will be for the devolved Administrations exercises my Committee frequently, and we must find a solution. Difficulties tend to be caused by the time scale and the capacity of the devolved Administrations, rather than by the House’s willingness to take consultation on board. At present, the capacity does not seem to be there or to be developing.
Let me now deal with the relationship between this Parliament and decisions made in the European Union. Some say that “passerelle” can be translated as “gangway”. They may be imagining a ship in the modern sense: a fancy big ship, with a large structure that people walk up and down. I prefer to think of the old-fashioned wooden ship which had a gang plank. In the old pirate days people were made to walk the plank, and that seems much more appropriate. When people walked down the plank they would not walk up again, whereas it is obviously possible to walk up and down a gangway. The passerelle is a one-way system. If a country gives up unanimity and adopts qualified majority voting, it is not possible for it to return to unanimity, which is why it was so important for the Liaison Committee to hear the Prime Minister’s assurance.
The Prime Minister could have completed his contributions to the Committee without referring specifically to the passerelle, leaving it hanging in the air. However, during his final observations about the way in which the Bill would be presented to Parliament, he said this:
“Can I add for the passerelles, however—you did raise the question of the passerelles and this is a very important issue— you can only decide by unanimity, of course, to move in a passerelle to a different position from where you have been, but I do believe that is a matter that has got to come before the House of Commons.”
That was a voluntary statement. The Prime Minister had clearly thought about it earlier, and wanted to put it on record before what is probably the most senior Committee of the House, consisting of the Chairs of all the Select Committees. That was a fundamental statement by the Prime Minister; if we move forward to QMV, we cannot go back, and that move can be made only by a decision on the Floor of the House. That gives the House a say and a chance to debate.
When the Minister is finished with the trials of putting the Bill through the House, I hope that Foreign Office officials will have brought forward proposals—our Committee will certainly have thought about it and made some suggestions—for a structure. The hon. Member for Forest of Dean talked about not taking the word of the Prime Minister; I am sure he was not implying that he would not be sincere. However, we would be putting in place a regulation—a set of rules—that would be voted on by this House, binding future Governments unless they wished to propose other regulations and get them voted through in the House. That would not bind a Government who wished to overturn the regulations, but it would set down a principle that, for me, would say that a future Labour Government would be bound by the same set of regulations as the present one. I take some comfort from that.
On the Post Office, the door has been slammed and the horse has not only bolted but is halfway through the paddock. We agreed earlier than everyone else to liberalise our postal services. The French have now realised that they would not be happy with their service being liberalised and have put the whole thing back to 2011; some countries have put it back to 2013. They realise, I think correctly, that we are destroying the Post Office and Royal Mail by what we are doing. We are fundamentally undermining and damaging not just a great icon of the British way of life, but a great service delivered to the people of the UK. Any argument made in Europe now about phasing liberalisation would find it hard to get a hearing, as what is now called economic patriotism—really obstructionism and protectionism—is back on the agenda in Europe. We cannot do anything about our postal service, but we are signalling that it is all right for other countries to deny us the right to go into their liberalised markets, which I believe to be the way forward.
I caution my hon. Friend who, I suggest, is confusing two things: one, the liberalisation of postal delivery, which this country has done prematurely, and two, the sub-post office network, a contentious political issue in the country now. Those two are separate. The former is to do with the European Union; the latter is not.
They are actually all tied up. The Post Office used to cross-subsidise the postal network, including the sub-post offices, and made a massive profit that was taken consistently by the last Conservative Government as a premium to the Treasury. It was a profitable organisation and was undermined by technology, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, by the policies encouraged by the then Government and by our Government. They said that it was not valuable enough to have a social institution such as the post office in a community, whether an urban one with deprivation or a rural one with sparsity problems. We turned our face away from the fundamental message that the British Government believed in people’s communities, and not just the services delivered in them.
The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) made a slight mistake in suggesting that it was Europe that caused our postal markets to end up as they have. We have gone far further, far faster than Europe required and Europe is not requiring the rest of the countries to catch up.
I thank my hon. Friend, who has largely stolen my thunder; my speech, if called, will be very short. He knows that what he has said was the basis of the Postal Services Act 2000. I was a member of the Bill Committee and we were given all manner of assurances that what the UK did one day, the rest of Europe would follow on and do. Quite simply, that has not happened. Good luck to Europe—it has learned from our mistakes—but does my hon. Friend agree that we ought to be going back to repair some of the damage we have done to our postal system?
I do agree. People will know that despite some difficulties in doing the external work of the European Scrutiny Committee, we do get to debate these matters with our colleagues in COSAC, the committee of all European committees. Significantly, about a year ago a senior senator—probably the equivalent of Lord Grenfell here—Senator Haenel, talked about the danger to the post offices in his area because he saw what was happening to the villages in our country. Suddenly, someone whom I would have said was a very conservative member of the senate became very protectionist in his attitude. There were some heated debates in COSAC, which led to changes in what is now expected from the final roll-out.
The Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee has almost an obligation to give way in such matters. We are both members of the Committee and my point concerns COSAC. It may be a misunderstanding, or he may have omitted to mention it, but I have a report containing 158 pages of comparisons of the different scrutiny systems of each of the member states, prepared through COSAC. Does he agree that that demonstrates that whatever the deficiencies of our system—they are quite considerable—the fact remains that the sort of thing that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) is proposing is absolutely essential for this country? In many of the other countries, there is not only no level playing field, but no playing field at all.
I know of the report that the hon. Gentleman mentions and I was not going to go into the detail of it. The variety of systems reflects the capacity of as well as the interest from those countries in the way they deliver their own scrutiny.
I want to finish by referring to a number of the services that I believe should be considered services of special interest. That is the way Europe is going. I referred earlier to Professor Sir David Edwards, who was a European Court of Justice judge and is now a senior figure in legal and academic circles in Scotland. He made it clear—again, this was a voluntary statement; he was not pressed by a question—on Friday at the British Institute of International and Comparative Law conference that the protocol on services of special interest would, for example, have prevented the forced tender process in which Caledonian MacBrayne had to win the right to deliver a ferry service to the islands of Scotland. He saw many other examples. Health and other services should be argued for strongly by the Government to prevent any attempt to interfere.
Another case was in the Netherlands, where social housing was declared to be against competition policy. That has to be challenged under the protocol on services of special interest. If it was built for a specific social purpose, it should be defended as a social service, like the ferry service to the islands.
On mandating, we have the best system of the non-mandating countries. There is no doubt about that; we talk to people as we go around all 27 member states and those who aspire to come into the EU. We have a good system that is developing and improving. Departments are responding better in terms of reports. We have many suggestions on how we move forward:, possibly by taking evidence in pre-Council scrutiny; possibly by taking evidence from a Minister before they go to the Council. The Prime Minister would be outwith that, but another suggestion would be to use the draft conclusions of the Council that the Prime Minister attends as a public document for scrutiny. We can develop this a long way, but I am not sure that we need to go all the way to mandating. How do we mandate? How would the European Scrutiny Committee be mandated?
Finland gives its Grand Committee the right to discuss with the Prime Minister what he will discuss in the Council, using the draft conclusions. It does not do that publicly; it does not tell the rest of Parliament—it is trusted to do that. I do not know whether any member of a future Government—that is not a Labour Government—will pick up the telephone and say to the Chairman of the ESC, “Something has come up in the Council; do you mind if I vote for it?” I understand, however, that at one point in the Nice treaty negotiations the Finnish Prime Minister was on the phone at 3 am to the Chair of the Grand Committee of the Finnish Parliament to ask, “Can we agree to this or that as they are different from what we discussed in the Grand Committee?” What would happen in such circumstances? Suspicion would fall on the ESC; some would think that, because of pressure applied by various means through the usual channels, the ESC was letting the Government get away with murder, and there would be disquiet in the House. Therefore, as the ESC is currently getting so many accolades, I am not attracted to the mandating system.
I am sure that the usual channels will put that to the Prime Minister. If he has looked at my performances recently, as I have been supporting the Government all the way through our debates against the forces of darkness, he will probably now be more attracted to the idea of doing that than he might have been before they began eight days ago. However, I still do not think that the mandating system is proven enough that it would not be a retrograde step to involve the ESC in it.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), who is Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee; I know that he does his work conscientiously and independently. I will not follow him down the route that he has led us along, however. He mentioned the passerelle and said that the word meant a gangplank. That is not quite right. It is a French word, and I have consulted my trusty Oxford French mini-dictionary, which tells me that a passerelle is a footbridge or gangway. I usually use a footbridge or gangway as a means of getting quickly and easily from one place to another. That is exactly what we are being invited to do with the provisions of the treaty.
I support the underlying propositions in the amendments that there should be a higher level of vigilance and a greater degree of parliamentary control over how we use these passerelle clauses. I especially support amendment No. 47 and the propositions advanced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), who made a most careful analysis of the passerelles in the treaty. He also gave us a brief historical exposition of passerelles. It was, I think, a fair exposition: there have been passerelles before, but not on the scale that they appear in this treaty. Perhaps the best known example of a passerelle was one introduced by the treaty of Amsterdam, which revised the treaty of Maastricht; it made it possible for some parts of the justice and home affairs pillar to be moved to the Community pillar—the first pillar. There was talk of the passerelle being used to do exactly that; that talk came to an end only when it was apparent that this treaty process was under way and it was likely to happen anyway—which it did. It is fair to say that there has been a great deal of incremental change through treaty processes.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) drew attention to a much narrower set of passerelles in an earlier treaty, and said they had hardly been used. However, does my hon. Friend not agree that, even if that had been the case in the past, this House should be very jealous of giving away its powers, particularly when those who are urging us to give them away argue that they will never be used?
I will go away and refer to some dusty tomes and study passerelles, but I remember in the Maastricht process our being told that the justice and home affairs pillar would be quite separate and independent and there for all time, and that it was a safeguard against those matters ever being subsumed within the general Community provisions of the first pillar, which related to the market, fisheries policy and other aspects that were already part of the Community method and were under the supervision of the European Court of Justice and the authority of the European Commission.
There has been a great deal of incremental change through treaty methods—through the conclusion of a treaty—and there are a significant number of incremental changes in this treaty. I believe that we have been less than vigilant in scrutinising them—in respect of defence, to take one example from many. The Government must take responsibility for that as they put in place the process for scrutinising the Bill. That is, however, an argument of the past and for another day.
We need to look carefully into how the treaty opens the door to new possibilities for incremental change on a quite different basis and in a quite different way from the already substantial incremental change that we have seen. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells said, if these provisions are unamended the Bill will be dispensing with the need for the procedure and paraphernalia of intergovernmental conferences and treaties conducted in the full spotlight of public attention before treaty changes can take place. Under the Lisbon treaty, it will in future be possible to have change without a treaty and all the accompanying paraphernalia—the intergovernmental mandate, the intergovernmental conference and the treaty ratification going before individual member states. All that will go out of the window; in future, we will have change without a treaty, and change brought about on a case-by-case basis.
As a fellow member of the ESC, my hon. Friend will recall the recommendation we made in the 35th report. We said that we were concerned that the provisions would bypass the need for IGCs and lead to less transparency and less accountability to national Parliaments. We then asked the Government if they would outline what safeguards they had put in place. The ESC Chairman, the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), has indicated that some progress has been made. Does my hon. Friend wish to illustrate by reference to the Bill’s provisions just how little progress was made?
My hon. Friend is tempting me down not a passerelle, but a cul-de-sac. I am happy to go down it, however, as it is highly relevant to my points. I heard what the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk said, and he was right to an extent, but we must remember this: there was no change—or very little change, and only change that was adverse to this country—between the intergovernmental mandate in June and the intergovernmental conference in November. No Community-wide change was brought about in the form of additional safeguards in the treaty itself; there was nothing like that. All that the Government have offered us is what they have put forward as a safeguard before making decisions with which the treaty deals. The Government have not had any negotiating success in building more safeguards into the treaty of Lisbon itself.
The hon. Gentleman and I obviously have different views on this issue. When the Government negotiate a treaty, they do so in the interests of this country, and not necessarily to make changes for every other country—although some of the changes that we brought forward were followed by Ireland and Poland. Is it not a fundamental safeguard that when there is a veto on something we get an agreement that it can be given away only when this Parliament decides that it approves of doing so? That is a fundamental change. Although the passerelle clauses are in place, if the Government retain the veto, that is the most important safeguard of all. We do not give anything up that we do not want to give up.
I have three points. First, historians will have an interesting time analysing the processes by which the intergovernmental mandate came into being at the end of the previous Prime Minister’s time in office. Secondly, the Government have had a veto on many of the provisions that now appear in the treaty. There is a long list of examples of the Government’s opposing what has gone into the treaty, but such things have gone into the treaty none the less. That happened even though the Government did, in effect, have a veto; they had the arguments, but lost them as part of the overall process.
That has happened time and again, including with the provisions I referred to which took place between the IGC mandate being agreed in June and the IGC in November. The only changes made to the treaty were ones that could only be adverse to this country, because they included penalty clauses on what would otherwise have been an exercise of free will by this country—that is a triumph of negotiation. If any businessman were to bring back only a series of penalty clauses from a negotiation, he would soon be looking for another job. That illustrates the level of failure.
The final and most important point to make in response to the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk builds on one of my earlier interventions. He needs to recognise the overall change that is taking place in how the European Union does business, because it sends a signal throughout the European Union about how business will be done in future. We will simply have to get used to the approach. He knows as well as I do how often Ministers come back to the European Scrutiny Committee saying, “We had to reach an agreement on this to make a compromise on the other.” That is the way in which business is done in the European Union.
Are not decisions taken on a vast range of matters by the United Kingdom representatives? In other words, the proposal says that the Minister “may not vote”, but something on the A-list will not be voted on anyway because it will be decided by the Committee of Permanent Representatives. Furthermore, the regulations do not require legislation in this House.
My hon. Friend is right. The wider point is that we shall simply have to get used to the fact that this is how the European Union will do business in future. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk for his integrity and independence, and for the way in which he tries to scrutinise this matter, but we will have to get used to this approach.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wells mentioned the treaty’s wide range of passerelle provisions. I want to focus on three particularly important ones which relate to safeguards in the amendments. Three important additions made by way of passerelle provisions in the treaty will open the door for future incremental change. The first and most important one is the simplified revision procedure, which dispenses with intergovernmental conferences and treaties. It enables changes to be made to certain treaty provisions by a vote in the European Council, following consultation with the Commission—that is a tough provision—and the European Parliament, and approval by member states, in accordance with their constitutions.
That procedure contains a number of safeguards, but it must be beyond peradventure that it is an easier way of making change and that the safeguards put in place are less significant and substantial than the existing ones. I hope that we will not hear the familiar argument, made by the Liberal Democrats in particular, that because some safeguards are still in place, we can overlook the fact that more substantial safeguards are being dispensed with.
I hope that the Minister will admit that the procedure is an easier one for revising treaties. If we wanted to make the same treaty changes under the present arrangements we would have to go through the whole paraphernalia of an IGC at a Council, the agreement of a mandate, the signing of a treaty ratification and so on. The Minister has been fair throughout these proceedings, and I think he is acknowledging that the treaty’s procedure is easier.
The much easier procedure covers the whole of part three of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union, and that is the backbone of the treaty from a policy point of view, because it covers a wide range of areas, including health, which Labour Members were most exercised about. They will have to face up to the possibility of decisions on health and changes in the treaty text to enlarge the sphere of the Union’s competence in health being made by majority voting in the Council—the health measures are currently decided by the ordinary procedure—and all that that would mean for this country. That is my first example of the operation of a passerelle clause.
A second way in which incremental change can be brought about under the simplified revision procedure is a separate provision that enables the Union to move from unanimity to qualified majority voting in any part of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union, including part three, and in the non-defence parts of the common foreign and security policy, which are contained in the treaty on European Union as opposed to the treaty on the functioning of the European Union. That provision is a still easier way of making incremental change, whereby the move to QMV follows a vote by the European Council, which must be by unanimity, but there is no requirement for constitutional approval in individual states. Instead, a form of negative resolution procedure is provided for under which a change to QMV can be halted if an individual Parliament objects.
My next point might interest the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, because it shows how effective the British Government’s vetoes have been in the past. In a former role—I think he was discharging his functions as Foreign Secretary—the Secretary of State for Justice specifically told the Standing Committee on the Intergovernmental Conference at the time that the procedure was “unacceptable and illogical”. He was talking about the specific procedure embodied in the Bill. A Government White Paper in 2003 also said that the Government were opposed in principle to the provision, yet the clause is in the Bill.
If I have misunderstood the hon. Gentleman, I hope he will correct me. He was talking about QMV provisions in the treaty on European Union. Article 31 of that treaty contains what I have referred to in previous debates as a joker—he will remember that, because he has been an assiduous attender. Paragraph 2 of that article, which is on page 23 of the consolidated treaties, states:
“If a member of the Council declares that, for vital and stated reasons of national policy, it intends to oppose the adoption of a decision to be taken by qualified majority, a vote shall not be taken. The High Representative will, in close consultation with the Member State involved, search for a solution acceptable to it. If he does not succeed, the Council may, acting by a qualified majority, request that the matter be referred to the European Council for decision by unanimity.”
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has highlighted that, because I am coming to it. I am following the Foreign Affairs Committee’s analysis of the treaty provisions. The process that I just described comes under the simplified revision procedure, and it is a different way of introducing QMV to the non-defence parts of the common foreign and security policy. As I described, it includes the safeguard of a form of negative resolution procedure. The procedure that he has just described is a third way of moving from unanimity to QMV in non-defence areas of the CFSP. If he will hear me out, he may try to put me right at the end.
The CFSP already contains QMV. I know that the hon. Gentleman has a bit of difficulty with this, but if he were to read that article 31, he would see that it describes the process. Paragraph 2 of that article in the consolidated treaty states:
“By derogation from the provisions of paragraph 1, the Council shall act by qualified majority”.
It then sets out four different circumstances in which the Council will act by QMV. If the treaty says that it is talking about QMV, I do not have to make the point. As he correctly pointed out, it is subject to a safeguard in a later provision in the paragraph, which states:
“If a member of the Council declares that, for vital and stated reasons of national policy, it intends to oppose the adoption of a decision to be taken by qualified majority, a vote shall not be taken.”
It may interest the hon. Gentleman to know that the same safeguard appears in the treaty of Nice, except that the Lisbon treaty’s safeguard is weaker. The treaty of Nice refers to this process being able to be undertaken by a member state if it has an objection because there is an “important” reason of national policy. The threshold for the exercise of the emergency brake rises in the Lisbon treaty, because the reason needs to be a “vital” one. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that that is a further incremental change to make the emergency brake more difficult to use and a signal that there will be more qualified majority voting in future.
The same is the case for the separate provision contained in article 31.3, which states:
“The European Council may unanimously adopt a decision stipulating that the Council shall act by qualified majority in cases other than those referred to in paragraph 2.”
That provision is not subject to the negative resolution procedure that I have described: it is a straightforward vote by the European Council to move to qualified majority voting. Therefore, under the provisions of the treaty there are two ways of getting from unanimity to qualified majority voting on issues that are not defence, common security and foreign policy matters.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
The hon. Gentleman has just referred to the mechanism under which the Council can decide that qualified majority voting should operate in a particular matter, but surely that decision would have to be unanimous and this country would therefore have an effective veto. In other words, that mechanism could never be triggered unless we decided that it was in our interests to allow it to be triggered.
I do not wish to be unkind to the hon. Gentleman, but I do not think that he has followed the whole argument, because that applies to all the provisions that we are talking about. We are talking about the ways in which we can get from unanimity to qualified majority voting. Unless that is provided for in the treaty itself, the only way to way to go from unanimity to qualified majority voting at present is through a treaty process, such as the treaty we are discussing or the treaties of Maastricht, Nice or Amsterdam. That is the only way that it is possible to move from unanimity to qualified majority voting, unless there is specific provision in a treaty to enable member states to do that. The whole point is—as everybody has said throughout the debate—that the treaty is making it much easier to move from unanimity to qualified majority voting, although it is not doing away with safeguards completely.
As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, it has been a theme throughout his speech that there is something nefarious about a situation in which the Council can decide—by unanimity—to waive unanimity and allow qualified majority voting in particular cases. What is the possible danger to this country in a situation in which we continue to have that veto? That is what he has failed to say. If we have an interest in the change in question, it can go through more rapidly without the various constitutional procedures in the other member states. If we do not wish it to proceed, we veto it. It is as simple as that. There can be no possible damage to this country, only gain, in a new provision of that kind.
I do not know how much of the debate the hon. Gentleman has heard, but if he had been in his place throughout he would have heard this argument before. He would also have heard that when the provision was debated at the intergovernmental conference, the Government originally opposed it from pillar to post, for the very reasons that I have just given, but then caved in. We might as well have a provision in the Bill to move from unanimity to qualified majority voting on any subject.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman heard the earlier speeches by Labour Members, but his approach will not make them any happier with him—[Interruption.] It is probably a good moment for the hon. Gentleman to leave his place.
My concern is that the treaty sends out a clear signal by making it much easier to move from unanimity to qualified majority voting in foreign policy. Why? Also, why is the emergency brake provision being weakened? The answer can only be that the Union foresees more and more foreign policy decisions being taken at a European Union level, rather than a national level. We are moving incrementally towards a European Union foreign policy, and the world will look to the new high representative or EU Foreign Minister, rather than to national Ministers, as foreign policy issues crop up day by day.
It is a step-by-step process that the treaty will speed up, both in foreign policy and in all the other areas of policy occupied or coveted by the Union. Change will be so much easier under this treaty. The treaty of Lisbon will dispense with the lengthy requirements of the existing process. No longer will change be under the spotlight of the treaty process. Change can be made increment by increment and slipped through at any time.
Let us not imagine that that is a change without cost. The power that European Union institutions gain comes at a loss to this House. There is no underground storage facility in the House containing power that is unexercised or undistributed for us to hand out to other member states or to the European Union institutions. Power is exercised either in this House or elsewhere. In this case, more and more power will be exercised elsewhere rather than in this House, where we are answerable to our constituents. We will be the losers, and so will our constituents. They will lose their right to use their vote to change policy and laws that they do not want by changing their Government. On their behalf, we should be ever vigilant about the powers that we pass over to Europe. The more I consider these clauses, the more I am driven to the conclusion that more and more power will move to Europe—
I am about to finish my speech. The hon. Gentleman will have a chance to make his own contribution.
We have been less than vigilant on behalf of our constituents not only in scrutinising this treaty, but in spotting how it will make change much easier to achieve. We have not done our job and we cannot look our constituents in the eye.
I tabled amendment No. 284 and I also support amendments Nos. 286, 66, 283, 67 and 287. It is disappointing that my right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher) is not in his place, because he has tabled a good amendment that would require the EU to stiffen its resolve with regard to climate change.
I tabled amendment No. 284 because post offices, for various reasons, are at the forefront of our minds at the moment. It is good to see the Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs in his place and I hope that he was not mauled too much by Lancashire Members this morning. It is important that we consider the context of the closures of sub-post offices, although my hon. Friends the Members for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) and for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) have stolen my thunder somewhat. I do not mind that because it means that I can say less, but it is important that we put on record that some Labour Back Benchers do not sign up to the liberalisation agenda. That is why we have considerable problems with the EU and the whole basis of the internal market.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth made the point clearly that the Bolkestein directive allowed services to be subject to almost any form of liberalisation, regardless of whether they were national in delivery or otherwise important to a nation state. In particular, the way in which the European Court of Justice can draw matters into its orbit means that nothing is sacrosanct or safe from that threat.
Obviously, I rise to speak about amendment No. 284. There will be those who, as we have already heard, will say that it is too late. The UK has led the agenda, sadly. I mentioned the Postal Services Act 2000—I was a member of the Committee that considered it—when I intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk. The basis for introducing the Act was, under the ideals of new Labour, the idea that modernisation would give us a head start over our European competitors and that we would be in a much stronger position because, although the British Post Office would go through death by 1,000 cuts, we would be able to go out into wider Europe and to make a difference there. It has been an unmitigated disaster. All we have seen is TNT and DHL—that is, the Dutch and German post offices—coming in and taking more and more of our better services by cherry-picking. We have made no impact whatsoever in Europe. In fact we have come back with our tail between our legs. We have had to try to restore what is left of the British Post Office, but those of us who are fighting the 2,500 closures—nine are proposed in Stroud—seem to be fighting with one hand tied behind our backs because of the inevitability of what we have to do.
Let me make some points about why that is so, why it should not be so and what we might be able to do to stop this madness. No issue is more of a core issue for those of us who represent constituencies that elect a Labour MP, and the subject also unites the whole House. I do not think that anyone who has faced the closure of a post office has been able to go out and feel any confidence in the arguments that have been put forward. I think that I speak the unanimous view of the British public when I say that they wish it was some other way. Even though it may be difficult, it is not impossible.
Let me turn to amendment No. 284 and the subject of postal services and the EU. Of course, the Commission’s stated aim is to establish a single market for postal services while ensuring a universal service. That is to be achieved by opening up the sector to competition based on the regulatory framework of the postal services liberalisation packages. A series of directives have been put in place that supposedly make it a fair and level playing field. Of course, as my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk rightly said, it is about asymmetric competition. For good reason, rather than foul, the French have no intention of allowing their postal market to be opened up in the way in which the British postal market has been opened up. We can rant about that. We can say that it is wrong and that we ought to be taking them to various courts in the Community, but in reality they are doing what we should be doing. They are protecting a unique service. We are elected to this place to try to protect and to improve such services, yet we have seen our postal service cut to ribbons.
I know that there are arguments that there is no connection between the delivery mechanism of our postal service and the service from post office counters in branch offices—one of my colleagues made that point earlier. Of course, the strength of the Post Office is its universality and its ability to offer that service across the length and breadth of our country, including across the devolved areas. We know that the strength of the footprint of the organisation is what makes it different.
We have tried to protect such services. My colleague, the Labour MEP Richard Howitt, tried to safeguard existing legal guarantees for free post for blind people, due to the high cost of sending out Braille books and related documents. That measure was defeated, as it was seen as anti-competitive. The European Internal Market and Services Commissioner, Charlie McCreevy, said that the amendment did
“not bring added value to postal users”.
It certainly brought value to those with impaired eyesight and those who are blind. That is a negation of service; it is about market madness and liberalisation come what may.
That is the danger, and it is why a number of us have tabled amendments such as amendments Nos. 284 and 286. We want to bring attention to the fact that this House ought to be making the decisions before Ministers go out and agree to what they might have to agree in due course. We are making it clear that there are ways in which we should stiffen our resolve and begin to turn the community away from market liberalisation towards the social economy about which my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth waxed lyrical.
That is no more clearly demonstrated than in the area of postal services. That is why my amendment is a key amendment. It will be interesting to know what the two parties on the Opposition Benches think about it. Some of us have sought to see the strength of their arguments and we have voted on numerous occasions to try to protect this country from the worst inadequacies of this treatment. It would be good to see if those two parties might consider supporting these amendments. They could then hold their heads up high when they went back to their constituents, who would, I am sure, be in favour of what we are trying to do. We are trying to protect those key services.
I sympathise with my hon. Friend’s points. We have a directive that said that postal services would be liberalised across the EU. We decided to go early, but the French and others have pushed it back by a couple of years. They have not cancelled the directive. Some have pushed it back to 2013, but they have not cancelled it. The logical conclusion of the argument is that we cannot reverse the process—that appears not to be the policy of the Government or of the main Opposition party. Is my hon. Friend arguing that we should send our Minister to Europe to condone the refusal by other countries of Europe to liberalise their markets, thereby denying us the level playing field that we said that we would get?
If the horse has bolted—if we have liberalised, and if this country will not reverse that process—why should we allow other countries to deny us access to their markets? The French did that by refusing us access to their domestic electricity markets until they were threatened with infraction proceedings by the Commission, when they had—
Order. That is a very lengthy intervention.
That was a telling intervention. I tell my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk that the answer is yes. I am happy for those countries to do what we should be doing, which principally is protecting their key services. One does not have to be completely against the single market—although I am, in principle—to see that health services, post offices and other key national services should not be part of the wider European competition.
By saying that we understand why such countries want to protect their services, we put ourselves in a much stronger position to argue without fear or favour—and certainly with no threat of legal action—that we should see such services as different and worthy of particular protection. Otherwise, where will it all end?
The process will inevitably undermine the national health service, which will become the European health service. Our health service is very different from those that operate in most of the rest of Europe, so it is inevitable that ours will have to follow the European model. We already face that problem with postal services.
So if our postal workers, the members of the Communication Workers Union, are to be denied access to services protected against free competition, and if attacks from state-subsidised alternatives in the rest of Europe take away their jobs, does my hon. Friend conclude that he wants us to sign up to an approval of those barriers being retained in the rest of Europe, just for his pride, despite the effect on jobs in this country?
More than anyone, my hon. Friend is a great advocate of the importance of the CWU and how it operates. I am happy to go before the CWU and put my arguments. He can put his, and we shall see whose arguments hold greater credibility for the work force. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth said, there is a huge gap between what the people of this country think about the EU and what the political classes think.
I am bit surprised by the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, having heard his earlier point about the need to recognise that postal services are different. We are, in a sense, reinventing the logic that the complete liberalisation of services is inevitable, but we have seen that what has happened in our country has been an unmitigated disaster. People realise that, including those who work in the industry. I therefore see even more reason why the amendments in my name and the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth and others deserve to be debated and thought through, so that we can seek to change the EU’s mind. For too long, market liberalisation has been seen as the only way in which the EU can develop, but to many of us, it is the wrong way.
I support the excellent amendment No. 48, tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory). The issue is extremely important, and we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) about it. I wish to add simply that we are greatly extending the EU’s opportunity to legislate without proper analysis. Furthermore, we are extending its ability to make legislation to matters that would otherwise require a specific treaty, and fast-tracking such legislation without the consent of the people of this country.
The Lisbon treaty is like a Russian doll and has within it the genesis of its own continuation. It is part of the self-amending text that we have discussed, and it is paralleled by the passerelle, to use an alliteration. It is another example of the incubus that undermines the House’s ability to legislate on its own terms, and I say to every Member of the House that it is therefore another attack on the voters of this country. Members of the Government are engaged in a direct assault on their own constituents. I have said several times to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) that bypassing the voters by allowing decisions to be taken that, under our parliamentary system, properly belong to them at the time of general elections, is the ultimate affront.
Clause 6 is a reason for a referendum in itself. There are many reasons why a referendum is required, and we shall go into them tomorrow, but the clause is certainly one of them. It provides an internal mechanism for undermining our democracy. I therefore ask myself what goes on in other countries when matters of scrutiny affect their voters. I do not have time to go into the details, but the bottom line is that the arrangements in other countries are set out in a report produced by COSAC, which shows in 158 pages exactly how other member states legislate in relation to the EU. Those 158 pages give more than ample evidence that they do not examine European legislation properly.
We in this House—[Interruption.] I am saying this to the Labour Members who are conducting a conversation. I had the good manners to listen to them—will they have the good manners to listen to me? The Council of Ministers makes its decisions by QMV, and when we are outvoted there on matters that will be of concern to members of the Labour party as much as to us—if we scrutinise those matters properly according to our constitutional requirements, that is; but I think that our European scrutiny reforms should bring about an improvement—we are having imposed on us legislation that, because of QMV, is not being properly considered in the other member states.
I pointed out in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere that the statement in the clause that:
“A Minister of the Crown may not vote in favour of or otherwise support a decision…unless Parliamentary approval has been given in accordance with this section”
is complete nonsense with respect to decisions taken in the EU, which have legal effect without having to go through any parliamentary process. The same applies to regulations that come from the European Commission. I want the Minister to listen to this because, as Minister for Europe, he knows well the number of measures that are put on the A-list in UKRep and COREPER day by day and week by week, and introduced without his being involved in any meaningful sense. The provision that:
“A Minister may not vote in favour of or otherwise support a decision”
is therefore meaningless, because Ministers are not involved anyway. The entire clause is a total fraud against the electorate and an attack on our democracy, and it bypasses the process of amending treaties by convening an intergovernmental conference under article 48 of the existing treaty on European Union.
The clause is a fraud, and when we examine the nine or 10 provisions mentioned in it and ask ourselves what they will involve, we see that they include social policy, the environment, EU finance, enhanced co-operation and common foreign and security policy—things that the Government had to put in the clause because they knew the importance of them. The next question is to what extent they have provided a satisfactory safeguard for the British people in respect of the disgraceful and fraudulent procedure that has been followed in those arrangements. The short answer appears in clause 6(2):
“Parliamentary approval is given”—
in other words, the Minister is relieved of the fact, otherwise he would not be able to vote—
“if…in each House of Parliament a Minister of the Crown moves a motion that the House approves Her Majesty’s Government’s intention to support the adoption of a specified draft decision, and…each House agrees to the motion without amendment.”
We therefore cannot amend a decision once it has been made. The provision is a complete fraud, because one cannot amend decisions without transgressing sections 2 and 3 of the European Communities Act 1972. The measure would be implemented regardless—and I can see the Minister shaking his head—so I would like to know whether it is supposed to override the 1972 Act. The Minister may wish to intervene to say whether it does so or not. [Interruption.] He suggests that I should make quicker progress, but I will not let him off—not a chance.
In addition, an Act of Parliament would be needed or, in the case of a treaty proposal, an intergovernmental conference plus, in my opinion, a referendum if one was merited by the inclusion of constitutional requirements. For all those reasons, the fraud that lies within the proposal includes the fact that a motion would simply be whipped through. How often do we deal with motions in the House that are simply at the mercy of the Whips? There is no internal constitutional mechanism in the provision to prevent anything from happening, so it is a fraud. The very least that we should be offered is a free vote—and I do not mean just on this provision, as I want the whole thing to be thrown out. To provide a reasonable safeguard on the use of the mechanism in clause 6, I would expect a free vote to take place before approval was given to any such motion.
I produced a report for the shadow Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), when she was writing a pamphlet about the European scrutiny process. To some extent, we debated this the other day, but I said that we ought to have, in cases where 150 MPs decided—
Of course I defer to your judgment, Mrs. Heal. However, clause 6(1) includes the phrase,
“unless Parliamentary approval has been given in accordance with this section”.
When I discuss the question of how that parliamentary approval is given, it is difficult not to deal with the mechanisms that have been provided. However, I think that I have said enough, Mrs. Heal, so I am happy to abide by what you said.
Basically, my concern about the provision is as follows. The Government and the European Union have yet again sought to bypass the arrangements that should properly be followed according to our constitutional principles and voters’ wishes to ensure that, rather than an élite arrangement, we have a proper system that we can understand and with which voters can go along.
We cannot debate it, but hopefully we will vote on it. I will simply say that the provision is an override of the 1972 Act in accordance with established case law. That is all I need to say. It needs to be precise, clear, express and consistent, so it has to refer to that Act.
May I repeat one last time that under arrangements made under the proposals, other countries will seek through qualified majority voting to impose legislation on us? They operate by decree and/or by a system that is not subject to their parliamentary processes. It is therefore a total farce to talk about this being done according to the constitutional requirements of each member state, as they do not even consider such a process. That is a typical example of the lack of democracy at the heart of the measure. I was disgusted to hear the Liberal Democrats suggest that their proposals for an instruction were based on democracy, as they do not have a clue what the word means.
I wish to make two brief points, the first of which relates to something that the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) discussed. He gave a rather graphic illustration, and used words to the effect that there is no reservoir of power in the House of Commons on which we can draw. He is absolutely right, but I disagree with him and with his hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash)—and I said this in the Chamber yesterday or last week—about the notion that power is a zero-sum game. I am individual, and I am a member of a political party. My political power is lessened by my agreeing to certain basic rules of the party to which I belong. However, my power is enhanced by my belonging to that political party, as is the power of my constituents, because it makes it more likely that the values for which their representative stands can pass through Parliament. Power is therefore not a zero-sum game: when we enter into agreements, as the UK has done with the European Union, we can gain what I have previously termed leverage. We can have more power overall in the big picture by giving up—and we are doing so in some cases—power. However, it is not simply a zero-sum game.
May I tell my hon. Friend the Minister that I wish principally to speak to amendment No. 286? I am attracted to the spirit of parts of that amendment. If it is pressed to a vote, I will not vote for it, as I will explain, no doubt to the disappointment of my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett).
I am, however, attracted to the flavour of my hon. Friend’s amendment, which would insert additional provisions after clause 6(1), and is connected to Parliament’s power and the scrutiny that Parliament can, or cannot, bring to bear on matters relating to the EU, particularly the timing of any such scrutiny or parliamentary oversight, whatever word we use, and whether it takes place before or after a decision by the Heads of State and Heads of Government in the European Council, or by Ministers, or by list A UKReps. I think that we have a deficit in both regards in the House, despite the valiant efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) and his European Scrutiny Committee. We do not scrutinise nearly as much as we ought to beforehand, and the flavour of amendment No. 286 would take us some way towards remedying that. Proposed new subsection (A3) addresses health services, public education, social housing, postal services and public transport; proposed new subsection (A5) refers to a special committee, which would deal with tariff and trade agreements; and proposed new subsection (A4) deals with the provisions of the treaty relating to workers’ rights.
As I said earlier in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth, one cannot conduct negotiations in a meaningful way that is helpful to our country by tipping one’s hand completely before those negotiations start. That is why the wording in proposed new subsections (A1), (A2) and (A5), namely
“a statement on their negotiating mandate”,
is not helpful. The wording would have been better—I suspect that this is what my hon. Friend meant—if it had been, for example, “a statement on the issues to be discussed”.
The thrust of my hon. Friend’s remarks earlier today was right. We need better scrutiny and a better idea in advance of the general things that our Ministers, on behalf of the Government and answerable to the legislature, will be saying in negotiations and discussions with representatives of the other 26 member states of the European Union. We do not have enough of that under the current system in the United Kingdom. That does not concern this Government or previous Governments hiding things, although the conspiracy theorists think that it might.
Over the years, matters relating to the European Union have not commanded a great deal of attention in the United Kingdom, apart from, as we have seen in the case of this Bill, among a small group of assiduous hon. Members. With that in mind, we should consider what goes on not only in this House, but in society at large. I studied law in the United Kingdom between 1982 and 1984. That was 10 years after we joined the Common Market and the European Communities, which is now the European Union, but there was no mandatory education on the European Communities—there was a little bit in the course on the UK constitution. Ten years after we joined, lawyers in training, as I then was, were not taught about the European Communities, despite the power of the European Court of Justice, which undoubtedly existed then—I am sure that the hon. Member for Stone would argue that it has grown in the ensuing years. Not enough attention was paid to the impact, much of which was positive, of the European Union in the United Kingdom, and that lack of attention to parliamentary procedures, which amendment No. 286 seeks to address, has continued. That is not to say that there is no attention, so perhaps “insufficient attention” is an accurate description.
If the Minister opposes amendment No. 286 tonight, I will be with him, because the wording is wrong and it includes one or two points with which I might take issue, but its general tenor and flavour are commendable.
My hon. Friend is making a thoughtful speech—hon. Members would expect me to say that, given that I tabled amendment No. 286—but I want to tempt him to take another small step towards us. In my earlier contribution, I referred to agency labour. Does he know either precisely or in general terms what the relevant Minister is negotiating behind closed doors in relation to the agency workers directive in Europe? If he does not know—I am sure that he does not know, because none of us really knows—would it not be a good idea for the Government to lay out their general position and allow it to be subject to scrutiny and debate in this House?