[12th Allotted Day]
Order for Third Reading read.—[Queen’s Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.]
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
On Third Reading, it is traditional to recognise the contribution of all sides to the debate on the Bill, and happily, in this case, I have a lot of material to draw on. Since I introduced the Bill on Second Reading nine weeks ago, six Secretaries of State and shadow Secretaries of State have spoken to the House. The scrutiny process in Committee has totalled some 560,000 words—five and a half times the length of the consolidated treaty itself. I hope that the House will allow me to highlight a small number of outstanding contributors to our—
Will the Foreign Secretary give way? [Laughter.]
Will the Foreign Secretary tell me the difference between the Liberals’ full participation in debate and their policy of constructive abstention, as they seem to amount to pretty much the same thing?
There’s only one of them!
Talking of outstanding contributors, I see that my hon. Friend could not resist the temptation to intervene, but I am sure that the quality of the remarks of the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) will make up for the lack of quantity—
Maybe my hon. Friend is not convinced.
I want to pay tribute to some of the hon. Members who have genuinely contributed outstandingly to our proceedings. I start by paying tribute to the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). I believe his approach to Europe to be utterly antediluvian, but he has prosecuted his case in an absolutely brilliant fashion and re-established his reputation as one of the outstanding debaters of our times.
The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) has demonstrated again his long-standing commitment to these issues, tabling 154 amendments and making 209 interventions in our proceedings—[Interruption.]—so far. That is not an invitation for him to intervene now. He has been indefatigable in asserting, first, that he has been consistent every year since 1992, which is correct, and, secondly, that he has always been right in warning that the European superstate is about to gobble us up, about which I believe he is profoundly wrong. He and I rarely see eye to eye on these matters, but he has been active on every day of our scrutiny of the treaty and the Bill, and I pay tribute to his persistence.
Will the Foreign Secretary give way?
I was about to come to my hon. Friend, but I am happy to give way.
I was simply going to ask the Foreign Secretary whether he agrees that one of the most enlightening parts of the debate is that the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) clearly leads for the Conservative party on these matters?
In the spirit of good cheer, I do not want to insult the shadow Foreign Secretary, but I assure my hon. Friend that I will deal with the striking similarities between the hon. Member for Stone and Conservative Front Benchers in due course.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Ms Hewitt) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) have shown the value of reading the treaty, and they made a series of telling speeches and interventions. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, and my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), who chairs the European Scrutiny Committee—they are both in their places, as they have been throughout our proceedings—have informed our debates with their genuine expertise.
I hope that the House will allow me to mention my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, who has shown a wider audience what many of us always knew—namely, that he has patience and humour as well as keen intelligence and deep political skills. My only fear is that he may have talked himself out of the Foreign Office before he gets to go abroad and meet some foreigners. I hope that I am wrong.
Last week, we debated how to pass the treaty into law. Today, we are debating whether to do so. The central question is whether it is a good treaty for the UK and for Europe. The Government and every mainstream political party in Europe believe that the answer is yes, because the reforms make sense. The treaty reforms the foundations of the EU, which have developed since 1958, and the reforms will allow us to move on to the agenda of prosperity, development and climate change, which we all agree is the essence of the EU’s role.
One question has not been answered in our lengthy debate. Where is the mandate for the Government to take the Bill through without seeking the consent of the British people in any form whatsoever?
We debated that at length last week. The House gave its answer by a majority of 63 on that question.
Part of the mandate derives from the fact that there have been 44 Divisions so far on the Bill and the average majority has been 170, which is rather different from what happened when the Maastricht treaty was considered. We have had a two thirds majority on nearly every Division.
My hon. Friend has regularly contributed to the debate, and he makes a good point.
We set out our arguments in favour of the treaty in Committee, but let me summarise them in three main points. First, the treaty creates clear, coherent objectives for EU activity in Europe and globally. We share those objectives and have played a leading role in shaping them.
Secondly, the Lisbon treaty streamlines the institutions and decision-making processes of the EU, so that it can better deliver on the matters that we all agree should be handled at European level.
Thirdly, it makes the EU more accountable to member states and national Parliaments.
I have set out many times the treaty’s contents, from bigger voting weight for the UK to opt-ins on justice and home affairs. Today, I want to make another attempt to convince the Conservative party that it cannot say that it wants a Europe that delivers on open markets, climate change, development, counter-terrorism and post-conflict reconstruction, and at the same time not only oppose the Bill but say that it is the end of Britain as we know it.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm again that, if the treaty is carried and ratified by Europe, we will not have a European constitution? Some people still do not get that.
My hon. Friend makes an important point, as she did in her speech last week. We are considering an amending treaty, which amends, for the fifth time, the institutions of the EU to make the EU work better.
The Foreign Secretary repeats that the treaty will streamline, improve and achieve wonderful things. However, the EU has failed to deliver the Lisbon agenda on competitiveness; its accounts have not been signed off for the past 13 years; and we cannot automatically deport foreign criminals, because of the free movement of people. There are legion problems that the treaty does not tackle; on the contrary, it will make them worse.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good case for getting on with reforming the EU’s institutions. He also makes the case for tackling the genuine problems of delivery in the EU.
The Foreign Secretary has mentioned opt-ins on justice and home affairs. The three major issues are the opt-ins on justice and home affairs, the yellow and orange cards and the operation of the passerelle clauses, if the Government should ever move from veto to qualified majority voting. Will my right hon. Friend indicate the framework in which those arrangements will be discussed and determined by the Government in this House before he finishes his speech?
I will certainly address those three issues. The Government face a challenge, because in the end it is for Parliament to decide its own procedures. There is a balance to be struck between how much the Government want to dictate and how much Parliament should decide.
Will the Foreign Secretary give way?
Let me make some progress. I shall be happy to return to the hon. Gentleman later.
Let me start with the single market. Hon. Members on both sides of the House want to see an effective and open market. The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks has made much of the alleged deletion of the reference to undistorted competition from the list of EU activities. In doing so, he has ignored the new, binding protocol on competition, which confirms that the
“internal market…includes a system ensuring that competition is not distorted”.
He has ignored, too, all the other continuing treaty references to competition, including articles 4, 27, 34, 87 to 89, 96, 98, 105 and 137 in the EC treaty, and the fact that the treaty’s powers on competition remain as strong as ever. He has also ignored the views of the Law Society, the head of the Commission legal service and other distinguished experts that the legal position remains unchanged. In the words of the Law Society:
“A Protocol records that the EU’s internal market includes a system which ensures that competition is undistorted. This does not change the current legal position”.
The Opposition say that they want the single market to work better, and the Lisbon treaty will further that agenda. It will provide a new legal base for the creation of a single EU patent, so that UK companies can have one patent, rather than 27 separate ones, to protect their ideas and inventions across Europe. The treaty will enable the creation of a European research area—a single market in knowledge to make it easier for researchers to take their talents to other countries. The treaty will also allow easier recognition across Europe of professional qualifications, so that professionals can work more freely across borders.
The Foreign Secretary just said that we need the treaty because it will enable us to make further reforms. At the same time, however, I am sure that he will acknowledge that we cannot achieve those reforms if, as my reasoned amendment, which has not been selected, points out, the Bill does not protect our Parliament’s enactments from being struck down by the European Court of Justice and the UK courts. That is what inhibits reform.
I will come to that point directly, because it is important. A similar amendment tabled by the hon. Gentleman was selected last week. It challenged the basis of UK participation in the European Union since 1973, which is that on matters of European competence, European law should have primacy. To argue otherwise is to argue that we should be able to join a club, but not abide by the rules. I will show him in this debate that, contrary to the allegation that we have been led into a European project that no one ever warned about, there was absolute clarity all the way through the debates in the 1970s, from Geoffrey Rippon to Geoffrey Howe, whom I shall quote later, and other former hon. Members—
It is not surprising!
The hon. Gentleman may say that, but they were members of a Conservative Government articulating Conservative Government policy at the time, so the point does not redound to his benefit.
Does the Foreign Secretary understand the unease felt by some Labour Members about the further threat of health services being liberalised? What additional protections are there to ensure that the very basis of the national health service will not be undermined by matters being referred to the ECJ?
I will address the division of competences across the EU, but I assure my hon. Friend not only that nothing in the treaty would allow interference in our national health service, but that it strengthens the UK’s position in deciding on our health provision.
If the Foreign Secretary is so proud of the text, why did the Government table 295 amendments to an almost identical earlier text, of which only 33 were successful, most of which dealt with comparatively trivial matters? The answer to the question that the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) raised is that the Government opposed interference in health matters at the time, albeit without success. Can the Foreign Secretary explain why he is now defending a text that he previously rejected?
We tabled amendments on justice and home affairs, for example, precisely to ensure that our rights to choose on justice and home affairs—[Interruption.] There were not 295 amendments in respect of the health service. A lot of amendments were, rightly, tabled because it was important to secure our position. Let me take the justice and home affairs issue; in a way, it brings out better than any—
What about health?
I have answered the question on health. I assure my hon. Friend that this treaty text confirms a stronger UK position for deciding on our own health services than existed previously.
The Opposition say that they want sensible co-operation on justice and home affairs issues and who could deny our need for that, given that the European arrest warrant brought the 21/7 bomber to justice? There is no doubt that when it comes to tackling terrorism and organised crime, EU action to improve the exchange of information can play an important role.
Let us be clear about what the treaty chapter on justice and home affairs does. It will improve decision making because there is a move to qualified majority voting, and that will prevent one country from blocking an agreement—as happened recently, for example, in respect of allowing member states to transfer foreign national prisoners back to their home member state. The treaty will help make progress in areas of benefit to the UK—not just by combating international crime and terrorism, nor just by ensuring greater legal certainty, but by ensuring that at every stage the United Kingdom is not forced to participate in anything that we do not want to participate in.
Since 1999, we have opted into 42 immigration or asylum measures and 15 civil law measures—the so-called pillar 1—when that has been in our national interests. But we have not opted into 75 immigration or asylum measures and three civil law measures, because we decided that they were not in our interests. The treaty provides the flexibility to ensure that when something is not in our interests, we will be able to stand back. Measure by measure, we retain the right to choose. As the European Scrutiny Committee concluded, it was
“clear from the ‘opt-in’ arrangements that the United Kingdom is free to decide whether or not to take part…and to that extent is able to protect the distinctive features of the legal systems of the UK”.
I am happy to give way on that point.
The Foreign Secretary is entitled to say that in justice and home affairs, the Government can demonstrate flexibility—essentially, by working à la carte with Europe on that matter. Does he not draw the conclusion that that might be the basis on which, across a whole spectrum of EU policy, the United Kingdom could be comfortable in its EU membership in years to come, even if some member states wished to go much further towards integration?
I do not think that à la carte is the right approach when it comes to the single market, for example; I do not think that we can opt into some sectors and not others. However, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying that there should be provision for enhanced co-operation in certain areas rather than others, as is being proposed in the treaty in respect of defence, that is sensible.
Before my right hon. Friend moves off criminal matters, may I remind him of article 82, paragraph 2 of the consolidated texts? It refers to minimum rules on co-operation in the criminal justice system and goes on to say:
“Adoption of the minimum rules referred to in this paragraph shall not prevent Member States from maintaining or introducing a higher level of protection for individuals.”
Is that not precisely what we want—so that our citizens, who may encounter criminal justice systems in any of the other 26 member states, have some minimum protection?
I do not know how that article slipped my mind; my hon. Friend has made an important point.
Just now, the Foreign Secretary said that we had opted into 42 immigration and asylum measures, but had retained a choice. Will he confirm that when we have opted in, we do not retain a choice? We can never opt out; it is a one-way option with no chance of opting out in the light of experience.
Mr. Speaker, unless—
Yes or no?
It is not as simple as that. The right hon. Gentleman is right in that if the measure was not changed we could not opt out. However, as soon as the measure was amended, we would have the right to look at whether we wanted to opt into it.
On foreign policy, the Opposition have supported the Government’s actions in the western Balkans. As we have seen in the Balkans, Lebanon and Chad, the EU can play a role in promoting security and stability in neighbouring countries. It is not an alternative to UK foreign policy, but a means—and an important one—for its implementation.
As I said on 19 February, although the treaty will not change the fundamental nature of common foreign and security policy co-operation, it will enhance the efficiency, effectiveness and coherence of current arrangements. It will do so first by making the European Council—made up of the member states of the EU—responsible for setting the EU’s strategic priorities for all external action; secondly, by strengthening the coherence of the EU’s external action through a high representative, appointed by and accountable to member states, who replaces the current high representative and the Commissioner for External Affairs; and, thirdly, by bringing together existing Commission and Council officials, together with member state secondees, into a single External Action Service. All of that will bring real benefits.
On development, Europe is the world's biggest aid donor, providing more than 55 per cent. of total aid to more than 160 countries, and the Lisbon treaty will help ensure that, for the first time, that money is allocated in line with UK development policy. It makes it clear that EU development aid must have
“as its primary objective the reduction, and in the long term, the eradication of poverty”.
It will legally enshrine the principles of “impartiality”, “non-discrimination” and “neutrality” for the deployment of humanitarian aid. That will help ensure that humanitarian aid is delivered on the basis of need, not on the basis of politics or of geography.
Does my right hon. Friend believe that it would be particularly apposite if the House were to pass this Bill today, which is the 60th anniversary of the murder by defenestration of the democratic Czechoslovakian Prime Minister, Jan Masaryk, by the communist regime? Supporting the Bill today would be a symbol of the new Europe and the new European Union in which we are all united.
My hon. Friend draws an important link to the past. I did not know that, but I am very happy to agree that it would be apposite to act today as my hon. Friend suggests.
I will give way to my hon. Friend, but then I am going to make some progress.
The Conservative party says that it supports the Government policy that aid should be targeted at poverty alleviation, and the treaty requires all 27 member states to follow that policy. If the Tories vote it down tonight, they will be voting against a policy that they tell the public that they support.
My hon. Friend makes exactly the right point. Conservative Members say that they want to will the ends of a constructive, engaged and forward-looking Europe, but at every opportunity—at Amsterdam, at Nice and now with the Lisbon treaty—they vote against it.
I am going to make some progress.
It is also worth explaining how the treaty will improve the accountability and transparency of EU business. A full-time Council president, appointed by the member states and answerable to them, will bring greater continuity and drive to delivering the agenda. Elected MEPs in the European Parliament have to approve EU legislation in more policy areas and, as was mentioned earlier, for the first time, national Parliaments get a direct say in making EU laws. If a majority of national Parliaments oppose a proposal and national Governments or MEPs agree, it falls.
Again for the first time, the treaty defines the EU’s competences, setting out where the EU can and cannot act and it underlines that the EU has only such competences as are expressly conferred on it by the member states through the treaties. Those are good things—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) says from a sedentary position that there is hardly any power left in the nation state, but I do not know where he has been in the past 10 years. Actually, on further reflection, I do know where he has been—going through the Division Lobby voting against the things that the Government wanted to do.
As I was saying, the measures I have described are good things and they are capped by the agreement at the last European Council that institutional reform would be put on ice “for the foreseeable future”. No wonder that 27 Governments and 26 Oppositions have united to say that the treaty represents a valuable step forward and, above all—
Will the Foreign Secretary give way?
Well, I am in the middle of a sentence, so I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would at least let me finish it. The treaty represents a valuable step forward and, above all, a fair resting place for the institutional reform of the EU. The 26 Oppositions I mentioned excludes only one—the Conservative party opposite, stuck in the past and obsessed with myths about the EU.
The Foreign Secretary is speaking eloquently as usual, so can he explain why he has failed so spectacularly to convince the British people that pushing the treaty through the House is the appropriate way to move forward?
I think that it is at general elections that we convince the British people and Labour has a pretty good record on that—[Interruption.]
Order. We must have calmness.
The Conservative party tried peddling its Europhobia at the 2001 general election, and we all know what happened then.
Will the Foreign Secretary give way?
No, I want to make this point, because— [Interruption.]
Order. Allow the Secretary of State to continue his speech. It does not appear that he is giving way.
I was coming to the obsession with the myths about the EU. Last week, we heard one that I thought had been buried for good. At Prime Minister’s questions, the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), announced that the treaty will bring in a united states of Europe. A united states of Europe means one country, one Government, one currency and every single country of the EU reduced to the status of a county council. Under no circumstances could that be a true description of the Lisbon treaty, which is why no one among the opponents of the treaty believes it—not even the Dutch Party for the Animals, with which the Conservative party is now allied on the issue.
If the right hon. Member for Witney really believes that the treaty means a united states of Europe, he is honour bound to recommend that we leave the EU if the treaty is ratified. I hope that when the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks responds on behalf of the Opposition, he will either disown his leader’s comment or say how he can foresee living in such an EU, because many Labour Members have doubts about what the Conservative party’s real agenda is in respect of the EU.
I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for giving way. I want to take him back to the point that he made a few moments ago, because he cannot be allowed to get away with it. At the last election, the Labour party put the issue on one side by pledging a referendum on a European constitution. The public believe, rightly, that the constitution is pretty much the same as the treaty. They have rumbled the Foreign Secretary and he cannot pretend that he has a democratic mandate to push these measures through.
We will test the democratic mandate at the next general election and see what the result is.
The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks claims that the new high representative
“will in time not merely supplement Members States’ voices in foreign affairs, but replace them”.
That is the claim even though the European Scrutiny Committee has said that
“the largely intergovernmental nature of the CFSP and ESDP will be maintained, with no significant departures from the arrangements which currently apply”.
The hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) claims that
“European integration threatens to tear the....NATO alliance apart”,
but that runs directly against what the US State Department and NATO’s Secretary-General have said about the treaty. The NATO Secretary-General said that
“no one today would still seriously assert that NATO and the EU are rivals whose aim is to drive each other out of business”.
Clearly, he has not met the hon. Member for Woodspring.
The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) speaks on energy for the Conservative party. This is what he said:
“A gas dispute in Bavaria could ultimately lead to gas rationing in Birmingham.”
My hon. Friend says that that is rubbish, and he is absolutely right. The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton continued:
“If there is an interruption in the supplies from the Gulf, the Commission can override our contracts. It can cut off our supplies from Milford Haven and send them to Ingolstadt, or divert our liquefied natural gas from the Isle of Grain to Novo Mesto.”—[Official Report, 30 January 2008; Vol. 471, c. 347.]
It is embarrassing that a serious political party that aspires to government should come up with such claptrap.
As for the issue of qualified majority voting, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks has talked about our national veto being “abolished in sixty areas”, but he glosses over the fact that 16 of the 51 changes do not apply to the UK or apply only if we agree, while 15 are purely procedural. Furthermore, 20 changes will speed up or unblock decision making in areas not just where we want progress, but where the Conservative party says that it wants progress too.
Will the Foreign Secretary give way?
I am going to bring my remarks to a conclusion.
This scaremongering from the Conservative party is not new. Listen to what was said in 2003:
“The critics of Maastricht…”—
the hon. Member for Stone is a good example—
“foretold the imminent death of British self-government. They are no doubt surprised....to find the Queen safe on her throne, British forces occupying Iraq because of a British decision, the Bank of England in charge of interest rates”.
Those words are not mine, but those of Lord Hurd.
Although the argument of the Conservative party is not new, it is dangerous and deluded. The treaty means greater voting weight for the UK, a smaller Commission and additional powers for national Parliaments, yet the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks says that there is not a single thing in the treaty that he can bring himself support.
It is one thing not to support our policies, but I cannot for the life of me understand why he is afraid of supporting policies that he says are his own. He says jobs, poverty and the environment should be prioritised by the EU, but he opposed the last two treaties that got us to this point, and he now opposes this treaty to take progress further.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I am going to conclude.
It is on defence.
The truth is that the Conservative party has drifted so far towards the fringes of the better off out brigade that the hon. Member for Stone can happily declare that they have achieved an increase in
“our sense of uniformity and unity on such central questions.”—[Official Report, 26 February 2008; Vol. 472, c. 993.]
I am pleased to see the hon. Gentleman nod. He has moved from the fringes of his party to the centre. The truth did indeed come out last Wednesday when 37 Tory MPs—
Excellent. So 47 Conservative MPs— in other words, one quarter of the modern Conservative party—supported the hon. Gentleman in voting for an amendment that aimed to reverse 50 years of cross-party support for the EU. The amendment claimed to assert the right of Parliament over European law. In fact, it would have made “a nonsense of the necessity for Community law to have the same effect in every member state if the UK, any more than any other member state, could choose by national law to override what it did not like.” [Hon. Members: “Ah!”] Opposition Members can say “Ah!”, but those were the words of Sir Geoffrey Howe at the Committee stage of the Bill that legislated for Britain’s entry into the EU. People cannot join a club and write their own rules.
What was the position of the official Opposition last week? In the face of an amendment that would have endangered British jobs and British interests, after all the huffing and puffing about courage and convictions, and after all the attacks on the fence-sitting of the Liberal Democrats, they took the tough, principled and forward-looking decision to give Conservative Members a three-line Whip on an abstention that would have set back our national interests by 40 years. They talk about wanting to be constructive in Europe; in fact, they would wreck the national interest.
The truth is that successive Governments have faced a choice: whether to retreat from the world or to engage with the problems and opportunities beyond our borders. It is this Government’s view that we must continue to look outward and to try to shape the world, building alliances to tackle the global problems that we face. That is why we are committed to playing a full role in Europe, driving the European Union’s agenda and making a positive difference to the British people. That is what this treaty is about. That is why I commend the Bill to the House.
I begin on a note of agreement with the Foreign Secretary. Given that there are so many disagreements, it is a happy note on which to start. He paid many warm tributes to those of us who have taken part in the debates over the past couple of months. He was very generous to me—if being called antediluvian is a form of generosity; I suppose in Parliament we are grateful for small compliments. Indeed, he has shown himself to be a vigorous debater throughout all our proceedings, and one of the brightest members of the Cabinet, as he is known to be, although in the current state of the Government that may not be such an extraordinary accolade.
I certainly pay tribute to the Minister for Europe who, as the Foreign Secretary said, has always performed with great patience and humour, and will probably now become the portable lightning conductor for the Government and move from one Department to another. I also pay tribute to many Labour Members. The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) has been quoted by all of us in almost every speech we have given. The hon. Member for Glasgow, South-West (Mr. Davidson) vied with me to persecute the Liberal Democrats and call for a referendum. The right hon. Member for Leicester, West (Ms Hewitt) spoke many times, only to meet in the final hours the tragic news that Peter Mandelson may be offered a second term.
An extraordinary number—84—of my right hon. and hon. Friends have taken part in these proceedings. When one of them has spoken 210 times—it feels to those of us who often talk to him in the No Lobby like 310 times—that is a considerable debating contribution. I join the Secretary of State in the camaraderie that has infused those of us who have participated in the debate. I thought that he was going to propose an annual reunion at one stage, but perhaps we will not go that far.
The Opposition’s case on the Bill’s Third Reading is simple: its effect is to ratify a treaty that is overwhelmingly the same in its content as the rejected EU constitution. Its scrutiny by the House has not been as extensive or as detailed as it should have been, or indeed as was promised. Amendments supported by Members in all parts of the House that would have made improvements to the future scrutiny of changes to our relations with the European Union have been rejected. Above all, it continues to be the case that the Bill would come into force without ever being submitted for the consent of the British people in either a general election or a referendum. For all those reasons, we shall have no hesitation in voting against Third Reading tonight.
We have, of course, had many exchanges across the Floor of the House about whether the Lisbon treaty, on which a referendum is being denied, is essentially the same as the EU constitution on which a referendum was promised in the House. Mr. Giscard d’Estaing has probably been quoted more often in this Parliament during the last couple of months than he has been in the French Parliament in the last couple of decades. His well-known view that
“all the earlier proposals will be in the new text, but will be hidden and disguised in some way”
is shared overwhelmingly by the Governments and institutions of the European Union other than our own.
The resolution of the European Parliament on the matter welcomed
“the fact that the mandate safeguards the substance of the Constitutional treaty.”
The Slovenian Prime Minister, who currently holds the European Union presidency, said that in the new treaty, the EU was given
“content that is not essentially different from the constitutional treaty…All key institutional solutions remain…Some symbolic elements will be cleared up and some formulations toned down.”
That is the truth of the matter, but such disarming honesty and, indeed, enthusiasm for the similarity between the two documents has not extended to the British Government. They have maintained that the constitutional nature of the first document is not replicated in the second, despite the fact that the elements of the constitution identified by the current Lord Chancellor as fundamentally constitutional, such as the creation of an EU president and Foreign Minister, are present in the new treaty just as much as they were in the old one. This has been their case: that the first treaty was constitutional in nature and the second one is not, so there is no need for a referendum.
Will my right hon. Friend give way on that point?
On that point, yes.
Does it concern my right hon. Friend that we are being asked to ratify a treaty whose full extent and powers we do not yet know? The powers and duties of the president, for instance, have not even been discussed so far.
That is a good point, which has been raised during our debates. According to some of the documents leaked from the Slovenian presidency, many matters such as the precise demarcation of the roles of the EU president and the EU high representative have not been resolved. The stage is set for a turf war in the European Union.
As I was saying, the Government’s case has been that the first document was constitutional and the second was not—or at least, that was the argument until the Foreign Secretary opined on the matter last Wednesday, when he made one or two statements on the subject that were rather revealing. He argued that manifesto promises were basically irrelevant to the question of a referendum. He argued that the decision on whether to hold a referendum should be made on the basis of the content of the treaty, irrespective of the manifesto commitments given—in contradistinction to my argument that it is not just the content of a treaty that counts, and that the overriding issue of principle is the manifesto promises that should be upheld whenever possible.
The Foreign Secretary said that what he called the “constitutional practice” in this country was to hold a referendum when there was
“a fundamental shift in the balance of power”.—[Official Report, 5 March 2008; Vol. 472, c. 1777.]
To talk of constitutional practice when only one United Kingdom-wide referendum has ever been held is probably a little premature. When questioned on whether a referendum on the EU constitution was promised in 2004 because it represented a fundamental shift in the balance of power, the right hon. Gentleman said that that was not the reason. The reason a referendum was promised on that occasion, and therefore was in the Labour party’s election manifesto, was apparently to “clear the air” on the European issue. So after all the talk of constitutional practice and the necessity for a declaration of the contents of the treaty to be decisive in determining whether a referendum was held, it turned out that in the Foreign Secretary’s own view, the Government of whom he was part promised a referendum not because of any constitutional practice or any particular contents of the previous treaty, but because they wanted to clear the air.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
I will give way in due course.
The constitutional doctrine now appears to be that a referendum is held when the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister—who were both in the Government when a referendum was promised—want to clear the air.
The potential for holding referendums when there is a need to clear the air is probably limitless, given the number of issues at any one time on which the air needs to be cleared. Whether it be the closure of thousands of post offices at the hands of an incompetent Government or the release ahead of time of thousands of prisoners, which is even more incompetent, there are many issues on which people would love to clear the air. If a national ballot is to be held every time we need to clear the air, how about having a general election, so that we can clear out the Government as well?
As the Foreign Secretary is perhaps the brightest member of the Cabinet, the confusion into which he entered by making this argument is a sure sign of the intellectual incoherence to which the Government have been reduced. The reason this is so revealing is that it confirms a truth that has been put to the Government several times during the course of our debates by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who is not present today. I have always respected his support for the treaty and opposition to a referendum, because he has always been so clear about that, even in general election campaigns. He has called on the Foreign Secretary to stop the nonsense of pretending that the two treaties are fundamentally different, and to admit that the early commitment to a referendum was entirely for short-term party motives, for which the term “clear the air” is the shorthand.
For the truth is that the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister now believe that the former Prime Minister made a serious error in promising a referendum, and that that error has reduced them to arguing that something that is 90 per cent. the same is fundamentally different. The Government promised a referendum in 2004 because they were approaching a general election and the former Prime Minister thought he might even win a referendum, whereas today we are probably somewhat further from an election and the current Prime Minister thinks that winning a referendum is beyond him. That is the truth of the matter.
I shall give way first to the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) because he was the first to rise earlier.
If I am following the right hon. Gentleman’s logic correctly, he is saying that the treaty that we are debating now is the same as the old constitution, and that a pledge was given to have a referendum on that constitution, which must be honoured. Is he therefore saying that if we pass into law tonight the treaty that he avers is the same as the old constitution, the position of his party will be to have a referendum on that? We need to know; the nation needs to know.
The right hon. Gentleman says that the nation needs to know. I am saying that a referendum should be held on this treaty; that is the clear implication of everything I am saying. As I have frequently explained, quite a lot of water has to pass under the bridge before there will be any possibility of moving on to the question raised by the right hon. Gentleman, to whom I should also have paid tribute for his many interventions in these debates, including the most memorable one, when he said that the Prime Minister had been wrong about the weight of European regulation—which means that we look forward to his interventions from the Back Benches for many years to come; we have all that to look forward to.
I hope that the Foreign Secretary will spare us the lectures about constitutional practice. The promising of a referendum and then the refusal to give one are nothing to do with constitutional practice or Ministers weighing matters in the balance, but are everything to do with the sharp practice of Ministers focused solely on what they could or could not get away with. Thus they have found themselves not only denying a referendum when a commitment to hold one was given, but denying it for different reasons from those that they usually give in public. On any assessment of transparency and integrity in politics, their sequence of arguments has been about as low down the scale as it is possible to get.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to chide the Labour Government for the confusion they got themselves into, but does he accept that some Conservative Members have seen in both the constitution and the treaty positive benefits for the United Kingdom? Indeed, in many cases the treaty was rejected by the French because it was seen as too Anglo-Saxon. I also ask my right hon. Friend to accept my apologies for not staying through the whole debate, as I shall this evening be chairing a meeting of a vibrant but small body, the Conservative Group for Europe.
As my hon. Friend and I have discussed these matters for a decade and more, he knows that I entirely respect his view on the merits of European political integration, although it is different from mine in many respects. I bracket him with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe in never having said there should be a referendum, and in always having advocated the European constitution. That is a straightforward approach—although I believe in many respects a wrong one—which is in stark contrast with the approach of the Government Front Bench.
I shall give way first to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash).
I am particularly grateful to my right hon. Friend for fumigating the Government’s speeches on the whole question of the treaty and the referendum. Does he accept the importance of stating, in line with my reasoned amendment, which was not selected, that we will defend and protect this Parliament’s supremacy to ensure that we are not overridden by the European Court of Justice, or by our own courts, and that we have a sound constitutional position for any further renegotiations?
Given the growth of the EU’s powers, British sovereignty and the ultimate supremacy of Parliament need a constitutional safeguard, but I also say to my hon. Friend that the legal implications of any such provision must be absolutely clear. More work would need to be done in the future on the context and formula by which it is achieved, but I have great sympathy with the constitutional safeguard of ultimate supremacy.
I clearly understand the difference between the right hon. Gentleman’s view and that of the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor), but what is the difference between his view and that of the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash)?
My hon. Friend the Member for Stone could easily take the hon. Gentleman aside for several hours to explain the difference. That may be the best option. If he would like to meet my hon. Friend in the Tea Room afterwards, he would be happily occupied for the evening.
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I was a Member of the European Parliament for five years. One of the things that was apparent was that the Conservative group was profoundly uncomfortable with other nationalities—indeed, some of its natural allies did not want to be its allies, because they considered it to be too extreme. When Peter Sutherland, the chairman of BP, was asked by the Financial Times whether Britain wanted to be in or out, he said:
“Those demanding a vote on the EU reform treaty should have the courage to state where they truly wish to end up”.
Where does the right hon. Gentleman wish to end up?
I wish to end up in the European Union but not with this treaty. That is why there should be, and should have been, a referendum. That is in no way an illogical position to take, because many of us have maintained for many years that we should be in the European Union but we should not increasingly be taken over by it. It is the majority view of the people of this country, and it gains additional authority as a result.
I have not yet come to the Liberal Democrats. I shall do so later, but I give way to the hon. Gentleman now.
The right hon. Gentleman seems to be extolling a new potential Conservative policy when, in response to the hon. Member for Stone, he talked about a new constitutional safeguard. Does he mean the possibility of using article 49A, which, as he knows, gives member states a right to secede from the Union, or does he have something else in mind—possibly something that he might wish to renegotiate with our colleagues if he were to pull out of this treaty?
I mean none of those things. Only the Liberal Democrats have gone on about the article that allows a withdrawal from the European Union. It is one of the least likely treaty articles to be employed, which is why our consideration in these debates must be on the many other articles that will be employed. I am simply saying what I said a few moments ago: given the steady growth in the EU’s powers, I can see the case for a constitutional safeguard. I would have thought that many Members across the House would also be able to see that.
The Government have also been engaged in promoting as largely innocuous a treaty that was of sufficient concern to them for them to have opposed large parts of its content for some years. As I pointed out on Second Reading, they opposed the EU high representative chairing a meeting of Foreign Ministers; they also opposed the obligation to ask the high representative to speak for the EU at the UN Security Council when there is a common position. They
opposed the creation of an EU diplomatic service and said that they could not agree to the self-amending nature of the treaty. They opposed the election of the President of the Commission by the European Parliament. They tried to prevent employment, public health, consumer protection and transport networks from becoming shared competences with the EU. They objected to the article on a common defence policy, and they opposed the collapsing of the third pillar on justice and home affairs, but they eventually settled for those and many other things that they had maintained were wrong or unacceptable.
Many of the objections that right hon. and hon. Members have made to the treaty in these proceedings were objections that Ministers made themselves until recently, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) pointed out. Once again, the Government have not been straight with the country. They have taken to arguing that such things are now of little importance, but the truth is that they decided to give way on them rather than not have an agreement.
What is worse is that the Government have also taken to arguing that certain concepts introduced in the treaty have been knocking around for a long time. The Foreign Secretary argued last Wednesday that
“the provisions on legal personality have been around since Maastricht, which was pioneered through the House by the Conservative party.”—[Official Report, 5 March 2008; Vol. 472, c. 1778.]
Again, the implication is that nothing much is going on. In fact, the Lisbon treaty’s provisions on the EU’s legal personality, which are identical to those of the EU constitution, are a major change to the current situation. Since Maastricht, the EC has had legal personality, but the EU has not, hence the three-pillar structure. That is why the proposal at Amsterdam to give the EU a single legal personality merited this remark from Tony Blair at the Dispatch Box:
“We have also ruled out other potentially damaging proposals. For example, others wanted to give the European Union explicit legal personality across all the pillars of the treaty. At our insistence, that was removed.”—[Official Report, 18 June 1997; Vol. 296, c. 314.]
If that was a “potentially damaging” change in the view of the then Prime Minister in 1997, it cannot now, in 2008, have been around since Maastricht. Part of the case against the Third Reading of the Bill is that a Government who have been through so many contortions, inversions of principle and twists of logic have emerged with a case in favour of the treaty so peppered with holes that they have shot themselves, and so accompanied by unsubstantiated assertions that the treaty should not be passed without the holding of the referendum that these Ministers promised.
My right hon. Friend mentioned the self-amending treaty. Does he think that it takes a bit of cheek for the Foreign Secretary to say that institutional change is not on the agenda for the foreseeable future, when the Government have signed up to a whole range of passerelle clauses that will make institutional change, which would at the moment need intergovernmental conferences, possible without such conferences and with little ado?
My hon. Friend, who has played a frequent and excellent part in these debates, once again makes his point very well. He took part in the debate on the passerelle—or ratchet—clauses, about which I shall say more in a moment. They will open the door to further institutional change.
I give way to the hon. Gentleman, who has also played a frequent part.
What evidence can the right hon. Gentleman adduce that a better deal for the United Kingdom than that in the treaty would be possible—or would he prefer no deal?
I believe that the Government should have put the case for their own vision of the future of Europe in the past two or three years, between the rejection of the constitution in 2005 and the agreement on the Lisbon treaty in 2007. Instead, they sat immobile, saying that the constitution was dead, that it was a parrot that had died and that no negotiations were taking place. They allowed the negotiations to happen to them, rather than influence the negotiations and put forward their own vision of the future. Tragically, the opportunity was missed.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is curious that we were not allowed line-by-line analysis and scrutiny of the Bill, but that we spent a whole day on one line of it, on climate change?
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. The six words on climate change, which involved no new procedures and powers, were debated for several hours under the Government’s procedural motion, which meant that some five minutes were spent on each letter. The 13 pages on justice and home affairs, however, had the same amount of time for debate, which worked out at 45 seconds per line.
My hon. Friend brings me to the next part of my case against Third Reading. The line-by-line scrutiny that a Bill of this nature should receive and that the Government promised, partly as a response to the demand for a referendum, has not taken place in the way that the nation had every right to expect. The media were informed by the Government last autumn that 20 full days of debate would take place in this House, but today we come to the end of those debates after 14 days, compared with 29 days of debate on the treaty of Maastricht. The Bill has only eight clauses yet clause 4, on the increase of the powers of the European Parliament, was debated for less than 15 minutes and clause 5, on the amendment of the founding treaties, was not debated at all.
The time restrictions imposed and the introduction of themed debates to which so many in the House objected has meant that of the 227 amendments selected for debate just under half were ever reached. As a result, amendments on asylum, borders, migration and visas, on judicial co-operation and civil matters, on freedom of establishment, free movement of workers, intellectual property, personal data and social policy, and on transport were never debated at all. In addition, the amendments on defence were never debated, even though the French Government clearly believe that the provisions included in the treaty paved the way for a major change in our defence arrangements.
In his article in yesterday’s International Herald Tribune, the French Foreign Minister said that the French EU presidency, beginning on 1 July, would
“prepare the implementation of permanent structured cooperation”.
“The European Security and Defence Policy inscribed in the Lisbon Treaty is finally allowing…the EU…to fully assume its role on the international scene.”
There may be, in the minds of some hon. Members, a case for such a development—there is a case against such a development—but it is beyond argument that such changes are of enormous importance to the defence posture of this country and the performance and future of NATO. A Bill that permits such changes in the area of defence but on which there has been no detailed debate in the House of Commons concerning those provisions is not a Bill that should receive Third Reading.
The Government have repeatedly said that unanimity is the rule in matters of defence. However, a close reading of the provisions on defence shows that qualified majority voting figures again and again, particularly in the provisions on the European Defence Agency and the setting up and expulsion of members from the permanent structure of co-operation. Those arrangements are clearly designed to pressure member states into accepting a consensus that they might not otherwise accept, because it might not be in their interests.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The importance of those issues should have merited substantial debate on the Floor of the House and defence should have merited a separate day of debate, which is what we argued when the procedural motion was tabled at the end of January. The procedure and timetable adopted by the Government for the examination of the Bill has militated against the detailed discussion of many of its most important provisions. I hope that that will be borne fully in mind when the Bill in debated in another place in the coming weeks.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Let me finish another point; otherwise nobody else will ever get into this debate.
I hope, too, that Members of the upper House will examine particularly carefully those issues on which Members from all quarters of this House have expressed concern. The most outstanding example of that, on which—unlike all the other provisions of the Bill—the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) and I saw eye to eye, is clause 6, which continues to provide for the wide-ranging abolition of further national vetoes, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison). It even provides for moving the whole of foreign policy from unanimity to qualified majority voting in the future, without a further treaty and on the basis of approval of an affirmative motion in each House of Parliament. Intense concern about that matter has been reflected in our debates. The Minister for Europe will recall that not a single Member from any party spoke in support of his position except for him. The only Labour Member to speak spoke against the provisions.
The process unites many of us who have different views about the treaty. I have already mentioned the Liberal Democrat Front-Bench team—or at least its remaining members—in that regard. We are completely at one in finding the procedure inadequate. Until now, changes to European treaties have been a matter for primary legislation. For future changes, which are the equivalent of major treaty changes, to be subject to anything less than primary legislation is another major reduction in the rights and role of our Parliament.
The right hon. Gentleman has made it plain that he is unhappy about the way in which the treaty has been dealt with in the House, particularly the content. If in the dim and distant future there ever were another Conservative Government, with which party would he renegotiate the treaty?
The hon. Gentleman has asked that question so often that by now he should know the answer by heart. I notice that even he does not feel able to support the Government on what I have just been describing—the scrutiny of changes with the ratchet clause and the passerelles. When Members from all parties feel that parliamentary scrutiny of Executive action should be intensified rather than relaxed, whichever party forms the Government of the day, there is much common cause to be made on changing that aspect of the Bill.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not think that the British people have a right to know what his party would do about the treaty if the Conservatives ever came to government? He will not answer that question. If the treaty is so bad for Britain—if it is so bleak—what will he do about it? I happen to think that the right hon. Gentleman and not their current leader may be the next Tory Prime Minister.
I can certainly rule out the last part of the hon. Lady’s question, which was a most mischievous thing to come up with—she need never consider that possibility. The answer to the first part of her question is that people know from the vote on the referendum last week how the Conservative party approaches the matter: we are the only party leadership in the House who stayed true to what we stated in our last election manifesto. At the next general election, we will be true to what we state in our manifesto then.
I should of course have included the hon. Gentleman, although consideration can be given to what constitutes a major party in the House. However, so that he may correct me, I give way.
For the record, will the right hon. Gentleman concede that the first party in this House that called for a referendum on the constitution and the treaty was the Scottish National party?
I honestly cannot remember who called for one first, but I shall happily bracket the hon. Gentleman with parties that have stood by the commitment they made to the voters during the last general election campaign.
I said that I would have a friendly word of advice for the Liberal Democrats. On the subject of the proceedings to come in the upper House, I put it to them that it is not too late to learn lessons from the resignation of three senior members of their Front-Bench team and to honour the commitment to vote for a referendum that they and the rest of us made. The votes last Wednesday demonstrated that with their support the move for a referendum on the treaty could have been carried in the House. At the next general election, everything they say about a referendum will be against the backdrop of the fact that they could have brought about a referendum on this treaty had they so wished.
As I have quoted the Liberal Democrat leader, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg), in almost all my speeches on the Bill I do not want him to feel left out today. In his speech in Liverpool on Sunday, he said:
“No wonder people are tired of politics…let’s give people the say they deserve.”
The contortions of two party leaderships about a referendum are exactly why people are tired of politics; the people should indeed be given the say they deserve. In his leadership acceptance speech on 18 December, the right hon. Gentleman said:
“We want to change politics.”
I congratulate him on doing so, because he has invented a new concept of collective responsibility, in which some people who vote against the party leadership have to resign while others can merrily stay put. Although three members of the Liberal Democrat Front-Bench team voted with us on a referendum and resigned, there are eight others who voted with us on a referendum whom the leader of the Liberal Democrats did not have the courage to sack. I can tell him that that is no way to run a Government, if that is something that has ever entered his head. We may be seeing not only a new version of collective responsibility, but a new form of extended abstention, in which a party abstains from voting on something to which it was committed, and its leader abstains from doing anything about colleagues whom he told to abstain but who did not do so. It is abstention as a way of life, but it is not exactly the change in politics that people had in mind. The result is that the Bill still lacks the requirement for a referendum that should so obviously be included in it.
The withholding of a referendum is obviously opposed by those of us who oppose the treaty, but given that it was promised in a document so overwhelmingly similar, its absence damages our politics as a whole. We call for a referendum not just so that people can say no to the treaty, but so that they can have their say—yes or no—on the many profound changes in it. Our debates have proved that the changes are fundamental to our relationship with the EU. To name but four of the changes, there is: the movement of criminal justice and policing from intergovernmental to supranational control; the end of the rotating presidency, shared between Europe’s countries, and its replacement with a new EU president who is meant to drive forward the EU’s agenda; the creation of the EU Foreign Minister in all but name, with the diplomatic service that the Government opposed; and the endowment of the charter of fundamental rights with full legal force. Those changes together represent a major shift of power from Europe’s nation states to the EU’s central institutions, and all are reproduced from the EU constitution.
As for the pathetic fig leaf that the Government have cited so often—the idea that the constitutional concept has been abandoned—we all know that the European Scrutiny Committee was right on that point. I must quote it, as I say that we quote it in every debate. I quote not partially, but in full:
“Taken as a whole, the Reform Treaty produces a general framework which is substantially equivalent to the Constitutional Treaty.”
The Committee went on to say:
“Even with the ‘opt-in’ provisions on police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, and the Protocol on the Charter, we are not convinced that the same conclusion does not apply to the position of the UK under the Reform Treaty.”
“Accordingly, we do not consider that references to abandoning a ‘constitutional concept’…are helpful and consider that they are even likely to be misleading in so far as they might suggest the Reform Treaty is of lesser significance than the Constitutional Treaty.”
The whole course of events was set out clearly in the German presidency’s official report of 14 June last year, which stated:
“A certain number of Member States underlined the importance of avoiding the impression which might be given by the symbolism and the title ‘Constitution’ that the nature of the Union is undergoing radical change. For them this also implies a return to the traditional method of treaty change through an amending treaty, as well as a number of changes of terminology, not least the dropping of the title ‘Constitution’.”
“Such an approach is not incompatible with the demand from those Member States which have already ratified, that as much of the substance of the Constitutional Treaty as possible should be preserved. They are ready to consider the alternative method of treaty change.”
So the strategy was clear: it was to change the name and title, but to keep the substance of the treaty. That is exactly what happened. The process was designed to bring back the constitution, disguised just enough for the Government to have a fighting chance of hoodwinking voters into thinking that the referendum promise could be forgotten. [Interruption.] I must now try to close my remarks.
The way in which the treaty is being rammed through without a referendum is as clear a breach of an election promise to voters as one could get, and the inescapable reality of the whole process is that the Government have no democratic mandate to sign up to the treaty. The plain fact of the matter is that the Government are attempting to make fundamental changes without letting the voters have any say at all, either in a general election or in a referendum.
If the Government get their way, and next year the new EU president stands up and claims to speak for all Europe, this country included, voters may well ask, “When did we give permission for this person to speak for us?” and the Government’s honest answer would have to be, “Never.” As the charter of fundamental rights becomes legally binding, and as the European Court of Justice begins to change EU laws in light of the charter, as it inevitably will in time, people will ask when they agreed that the document should have legal force, and Ministers will have to answer, “We thought you should have no say on the matter.” When Eurojust initiates some investigation, or the European Court of Justice, with its new full jurisdiction over criminal justice agreements, changes some part of our criminal justice system, or when the Government opt into an EU law on criminal proceedings and are then outvoted, people will ask when they were consulted about that. Those Members here who voted against a referendum will have to say, “I voted to stop you having a say when that went through.”
If the treaty goes through, the EU will hold powers that the British people never gave it permission to hold. It will work by new methods that the British people never endorsed. If Ministers and Liberal Democrat leaders had as their real intent the undermining of the European Union’s democratic legitimacy in this country, they could have chosen no better way. Despite the EU’s many profound faults and follies, I believe that the EU has benefited Britain and the rest of Europe, and that is yet another powerful reason to oppose the Government’s arrogant determination to ram the treaty through against the British people’s wishes. They will in the long term find that they have been false friends to the European Union.
Everything about the ratification of this repackaged constitution has been marked by cynicism and calculation. The voters who put us here already have a low opinion of this place, yet the Government have done everything they can to confirm it by treating people like fools. Why should they believe manifesto promises when those are so shamelessly ignored? How can they believe a Prime Minister who claims to want to listen to the people, when he does everything in his power to stop them having their voice heard? Why should voters trust politicians when politicians will not trust them?
The treaty is not just damaging to our national interest. It will not only give the EU unwarranted power over our national life. It marks the point when the arrogance of power made a Government forget that nothing lasting can be built in a democracy without the people’s consent.
I am delighted to support the Third Reading of this important Bill, particularly after participating in so many hours of debate on the Bill, which have proved so immensely instructive and in many ways so enjoyable.
I start by adding my own tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, who has been a consistently well informed and good natured companion through the highways and byways of the Lisbon treaty, in a debate that has also been marked by the intellectual weight and the vision of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.
The debate has on so many occasions been enlivened by the great wit of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague)—a brilliant wit that sometimes disguises the vacuousness of his party’s position on the central issue of our country’s relationships with our partners in the European Union. We have also heard on many, many occasions the arguments, the fears and the conspiracy theories from Opposition Members who oppose more or less openly Britain’s membership of the European Union, as do a few of my hon. Friends.
Listening to those contributions over these many days, I was constantly reminded of why and when I became a pro-European.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the assiduous way in which she has participated in the debates. Does she agree that from the point of view of the Opposition, this has been a missed opportunity to talk about the future of Europe? All they are concerned about is the past, and being as negative as they can be about the European Union.
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend, and that is a point that I shall elaborate on in a moment. What we have seen in the debate is a Conservative party that is increasingly talking to itself, not to the British people and certainly not to our partners in the European Union.
Will the right hon. Lady give way?
I shall give way shortly, but I want to take a few moments to recall, if I may, a little of my personal history and to revert briefly to the early 1970s. I had come from Australia as a student, as many hon. Members know, and had only recently made my home in this country. I was an enthusiastic young member of the Labour party, and I went, as enthusiastic members do, to the Labour party conference. In search of enlightenment, I went to the fringe meeting of the Labour Common Market safeguards committee, no less—and fringe indeed it was. I had the opportunity to listen to two gentlemen who were then Members of this House—Bryan Gould and the late Peter Shore. As an expatriate Australian, I had some sympathy with Bryan Gould’s position. He was particularly worried about New Zealand butter, and distressed that the United Kingdom, by joining the Common Market, as it then was, would turn its back on the Commonwealth, with its system of Commonwealth trading preferences, and abandon the farmers of Australia and New Zealand. The more I listened to him and to Peter Shore, the more horrified I became by the chauvinism, protectionism and sheer little Englandism of it all, and I decided there and then that I would have no truck with that.
How can the right hon. Lady say that wanting to have a good relationship and engage properly with the Commonwealth—an organisation that encompasses a significant proportion of the human population, particularly in many of the poorer countries—is being xenophobic and not wanting to reach out to people in the world?
I think the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that that is not what I was saying. Indeed, I have consistently argued that it is part of the unique position and weight that our country has in the world that we simultaneously are a leading member of the European Union, play a huge role within the British Commonwealth, and have an important and close relationship with the United States of America.
Like my right hon. Friend, I remember that period. What Conservative Members are not telling us is that another alternative to the Commonwealth was being considered at that time—the Scandinavian dimension. Furthermore, what is being missed in all these debates is the fact that everybody knew, when they signed up to the treaty of Rome, that all things would flow from that. We cannot turn the clock back. If we should ever have had a referendum, it was on the single market, because everything—the Bank and the whole lot—flowed from that, and that is not being faced up to in these debates.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right.
I want to make a further point about the Conservative party. In those days, when I was forming my own, very strongly pro-European views, the Conservatives were the party of Britain in Europe, and proud to be so—led of course by Ted Heath, who negotiated Britain’s entry into the Common Market—and the party that two decades later negotiated and agreed the Maastricht treaty and took that Bill through this House, with no referendum at all. We have heard many right hon. and hon. Members who have served in this House for far longer than I have say that these debates have often felt like a “Groundhog Day”-style re-run of the Maastricht debates nearly 16 years ago.
I am reluctant to interrupt this fascinating journey through the right hon. Lady’s CV. Nevertheless, if she wants a straightforward debate on these matters, it would benefit the House if she would be straightforward about whether she sees the European Union as an intergovernmental organisation or supports the supranational elements in this treaty, which for many of us fly in the face of the intergovernmental approach that she says she admires, for example in the Commonwealth.
I strongly support the treaty, in all its aspects. I strongly support the European Union as an organisation—I have argued this point before—in which Governments share sovereignty on issues where they believe that by pooling sovereignty we can do better together than we can do alone. The Union is quite different in its nature from the British Commonwealth, which has its own strengths but is a completely different kind of association. Although many of the arguments and, I suspect, the speeches that we have heard in the past few weeks are similar—perhaps identical—to those that the House heard during the Maastricht debates, the hon. Gentleman confirms that the position of the Conservative party as a whole is very different from what it was 16 years ago.
Let me remind the House of what the then Prime Minister, John Major, said in November 1992 about the European Communities (Amendment) Bill:
“The motion before us is about the treaty agreed at Maastricht, but the substance is about Britain’s priorities in Europe, and the essential question there is quite simple: in this country, are we or are we not to play a central role in Europe’s future development? I believe that the answer that this House gives to that question is fundamental to our future well-being—both economic and political. I have no doubt about the answer to that question. The answer, in our own national self-interest, must be yes—we will play a central part in the future of the European Community.”—[Official Report, 4 November 1992; Vol. 213, c. 284.]
What a contrast with the views we have heard—with a few exceptions—from Conservative Front Benchers and Back Benchers.
Does the right hon. Lady not accept that the reason the Conservative party has shifted its position is that the European Union has shifted its position? The British people have found out that the pooling of sovereignty to which she refers has proceeded to such an extent that we, the elected representatives of the people of this country, are no longer able to decide on a whole raft of issues on their behalf because powers have been progressively handed over to Brussels. That is why this party is changing. At least this party is standing up for the people of this country, which is more than she has ever done.
We have heard arguments along those lines from the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members during these debates, and he refers to Brussels and to Europe as if they were a foreign occupying power—some alien force imposing its laws upon us—instead of an association of which we are willing and leading members. One reason I support the treaty, and wish that he did, is that far from advancing us inexorably to a united states of Europe or an imagined federalist superstate nightmare, it strengthens the role of member states, national Governments and, specifically, the voting power of the United Kingdom.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that part of the difficulty with the position of many Conservative MPs is that they think power is a zero-sum game? They think that either we have got it, Brussels has got it, the UN has it, or the Commonwealth has it, rather than acknowledging the concept of leverage, through which on occasion, by sharing power, the United Kingdom increases our power.
My hon. Friend, who has been such an assiduous contributor to these debates, makes a point that is profound and important in this increasingly interdependent world.
Pursuing the point about the Conservatives’ reaction, does my right hon. Friend agree that there is almost a collective sense of denial in their party, given that a Conservative Government made the three key decisions that took Britain into the European Union, and strengthened our relationship with it? Are they not trying to conceal their responsibility for the very policies that they now oppose?
My hon. Friend is right and psychologists would doubtless have an interesting time analysing the reasons. His point is confirmed by the fact, that 16 years ago, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) and the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor), who have all spoken eloquently in our debates, were members of the Government who argued for Britain’s place in Europe and for a treaty that deepened and strengthened our relationship in Europe. Today, they are part of the small handful of pro-Europeans left on the Conservative Benches. Indeed, as the hon. Member for Esher and Walton said, rather ruefully, during the speech from the Conservative Front Bench, they have been so depressed by what they have heard from their party that they have given up the ghost this afternoon.
Treaties have a cumulative effect. During the debates on Maastricht, the Government of the time argued for a Europe des patries, which was emphasised by the pillar arrangement. That was then. We now face the collapse of the pillars and not a Europe des patries but a European Union. That is why the argument progresses and the essential flame of our concept of liberty will not be extinguished by all the Foreign Secretary’s patronising.
The treaty does not extinguish the great British flame of liberty. With respect, we have heard that sort of nonsense from Eurosceptics since before the United Kingdom joined the Common Market. The hon. Gentleman and other Conservative Members should recall that, on the eve of Britain’s entry into the Common Market, Ted Heath signed not a secret piece of paper but a public declaration that members of the Common Market intended to move progressively towards a deeper political and economic union.
The right hon. Lady has given us the history of her journey to becoming a pro-European and taken us back to the 1970s. May we take her back to 1983? Did she share the platform of wanting to get out of Europe, which was no doubt then a manifesto commitment of the current Prime Minister?
I did indeed. I stood for the constituency that is now represented so ably by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), and did so on the manifesto on which we all fought that election. I learned an enormous amount from the voters to whom I listened during the campaign. I learned that my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) was correct to describe our manifesto as
“the longest suicide note in history”.
It was not a manifesto that any party that was serious about forming a Government should have written. The British people formed their judgment on us, and after that election I went to work for Neil Kinnock when he became leader of the Labour party and began the long march back to reconnecting us with the British people and enabling us to form a Government again.
Having revealed the way in which she turned her coat, will the right hon. Lady now show a little respect for some of us who were elected in 1983 in the belief that we should be part of the European Community, who retain that belief but do not want to hand over further powers, and who would like to regain some powers for this country? Will she show some respect for that position, even though I do not have much respect for her constant abandonment of pledges—she has abandoned another—that she makes to the electors?
My difficulty with the right hon. Gentleman’s position is that he and many Conservative Members persistently refuse to recognise that the treaty secures so many of the objectives that they claim to support. As was concluded by the senior expert group, of which Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, who I understand advises the right hon. Gentleman’s Front-Bench team on national security, is a member, the Lisbon treaty strengthens the position of member states in a number of respects— including the fact that the president of the European Council will serve more than six months, so that it is more than a rotating position.
To make a further point, 16 years ago the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), with whom I have had so many happy exchanges in these debates and who has spoken so eloquently on the matter, was one of only 22 rebels on his party’s Back Benches—I think that I am right in recalling that John Major had a rather less flattering name for him and the other rebels. Now, however, the hon. Gentleman is tabling amendments that are virtually identical to the amendment tabled by those on his Front Bench. The debate over the past three weeks has confirmed that the centre of gravity in the Conservative party has fundamentally moved against Britain’s membership of the European Union.
The Leader of the Opposition has promised—and not changed his promise—to take his MEPs out of the European People’s party, isolating himself from centre-right Governments in the European Union and leaving his party with barely a single ally among the Governments or mainstream political parties of the enlarged Union. Indeed, Daniel Hannan, one of the Conservative MEPs, likened the European Parliament’s president—a German Christian Democrat—to Adolf Hitler, causing immense offence to conservative colleagues—[Interruption.]
Order. Perhaps we could now get back to the Third Reading of the Bill.
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The point I am seeking to make is that the argument that we have heard throughout the debates in Committee, and which we have begun to hear from the Opposition in this debate, confirms a profound shift towards Euroscepticism and views that were regarded as minority and extremist views less than two decades ago. It is no wonder that Caroline Jackson, also a Conservative MEP, has described her party’s position on Europe as
“a very nasty patch of poisonous fungus”.
The right hon. Lady has told us that she U-turned on her position of 25 years. Has she U-turned on her position of three years ago, and is she for or against a referendum now?
That issue was dealt with fully in our debate last week. Although I supported a referendum on the constitutional treaty, for all the reasons that have been given in the House and outside, I do not support a referendum on the treaty. Nor would I support for a moment the position that the Opposition have taken of threatening to renegotiate the treaty after it has been ratified by Parliament and by each of the 26 other members of the European Union. Rather like with the Labour party manifesto of 1983, that policy position simply could not be advanced by any party that was serious about forming a Government.
Does not my right hon. Friend’s point about the Conservatives leaving the EPP in 2009 show why the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) could not say who they would negotiate with? There would be nobody to negotiate with, because the Conservatives have no friends in the European Union.
My hon. Friend is right. The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, who speaks for the Conservative party on these matters, has completely refused to answer that point.
In her perambulation through the U-turns of the Labour party, would the right hon. Lady be kind enough to remind us what happened in the referendum in 1975? I think she said that nobody in their right mind would go down the route of a referendum, but it was Harold Wilson’s Government who introduced the Referendum Act 1975.
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is wrong; I did not say that. I said that I had supported a referendum on the constitution, but that, for all the reasons given both inside and outside the House, I do not support a referendum on this treaty. I believe that the hon. Gentleman recently said that the campaign in favour of a referendum, in which he was so prominent,
“failed to rouse anything more than a minor public interest in the impact that this treaty will have…The effective opposition to this treaty does not look good”.
If the hon. Gentleman did say that, he was certainly right. Despite his efforts and those of the rest of the Conservative party, including its Front Benchers, and despite the concerted day-in, day-out efforts of Telegraph Group newspapers and others, the number of signatories to the petition calling for a referendum on the treaty has been woefully low—considerably lower than the number on the petition for a referendum on the Maastricht treaty, in which the hon. Gentleman was also involved.
We got more than 500,000 signatures on the petition for a Maastricht referendum. A great deal of the problem with this petition has been that these debates and the arguments have not been fully reported by the media, including the BBC—[Interruption.] That is absolutely true. There has been a lot of talk in here, but very little of it has been reported outside.
That is a pretty desperate argument, given that for months on end Telegraph Group newspapers have misreported what has been going on in the European Union; that is also true of many other newspapers. I remind the hon. Gentleman of the fact that when The Sun published pages of anti-European diatribe during last year’s Labour party conference, its readership fell dramatically.
Is not the real issue the fact that after 12 days of debate on the treaty, the official Opposition have not been able to explain how the reduction in the number of Commissioners, the changes to the rotating presidency or any other of the organisational changes are in any way constitutional issues more important than the decision to promote the single currency, establish the single market or join the European Union in the first place? That is why there are so few signatures on the petition; that is why the Conservative party has lost the argument.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I listened to the concluding remarks of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, I felt that they were the comments of someone who knows that he has lost not only the vote in this House but the argument as well. The reality is that the British Conservative party is now more isolated and isolationist than it has ever been. That is not what the British people want.
The majority who believe that membership of the European Union is good for Britain is even larger—significantly larger—than seven years ago. That is true among young people in particular. Three quarters of them support Britain’s membership of the EU. They take our membership increasingly for granted, just as they take for granted all the benefits that flow from membership—particularly the fact that, as European citizens, we can all travel, study, work, live or retire in any part of the European Union.
As the Bill goes to another place, we—the majority of the House who so strongly support it—can look beyond the ratification of this treaty and look forward to a different kind of debate on Europe. I am thinking of a debate dominated not by questions of institutional reform, but by the real challenges that face our world. As we have heard so often in these debates, those can be tackled effectively only if we work with our partners in the EU.
The challenges include climate change, international terrorism and international crime. They include our global competitiveness on the one hand and how we end global poverty on the other. The immense challenge is how different nations, tribes and faiths can live together safely and sustainably on our planet. Those are the issues that our constituents care about; they expect us to deal with them—in this Parliament, internationally and through our membership of the European Union.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of how many letters I, as Chairman of the Children, Schools and Families Committee, have received from leading members of major children’s charities, saying that it is only our membership of the European Union and the changes in the Lisbon treaty that will enable them to fight child poverty across Europe?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Like him, I strongly welcome the specific reference to children’s rights in the new treaty.
Let me conclude by addressing my remarks specifically to my right hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench. I do not believe—I say this in a spirit of self-criticism—that we have done enough as a Government over the past 10 years to make the case for Britain in Europe or to challenge the nonsense fed by so much of our press to the British people. I say that in a spirit of genuine self-criticism as someone who was one of the staunchest pro-European members of Tony Blair’s Cabinet. With the ratification of this treaty, however, I believe that we have a great opportunity to open a new chapter in Britain’s membership of the European Union, to explain more effectively to our constituents why we are tackling certain issues through the EU and to strengthen even further the relationships and friendships with our European partners within this Union, which have served us so well over the past 10 years and enabled us to shape so much of European policy in a way that is right not only for our country but for Europe as a whole.
I give way to a very close friend and an excellent former Minister for Europe.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Does she recall that in the closing part of Mrs. Thatcher’s Government, when Britain was promoting a single market under the so-called “Are EU Ready?” campaign, £25 million of Government money was spent on information to put across a true message about Europe? Does she also recall that when she and I were in government, my budget was cut to £200,000 and that when I came to a distinguished Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and asked for a little more money to help, I was, alas, sent away empty handed?
I am afraid that my right hon. Friend is quite right about that, but he will also remember that I was working with him to champion the cause of Britain in Europe to most of our global business leaders and that I was seeking to prioritise my budget on science and innovation, which I know my right hon. Friend also supports.
At this point, as we look to enactment of the Bill and as we become one of the first member states to ratify this important treaty, I believe that there is an opportunity for our Government. I have no doubt at all that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and his ministerial colleagues will seize that opportunity in a way that will do nothing but good for our country and for the European Union as a whole.
I agree with much of the substance of what the right hon. Member for Leicester, West (Ms Hewitt) has said, but if she is practising for an interview in Brussels, she will need to spice up her style. I hope that I will not ruin her chances of becoming the UK’s next EU Commissioner if I say that we would welcome her appointment, as we would welcome the by-election that followed it.
Although many of us have complained about the amount of time in which to debate the Bill and the treaty, I was slightly concerned by the exchange between the Foreign Secretary and the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), particularly when they mused on how wonderful these debates are and mentioned the idea of having an annual reunion. Irrespective of whether such a reunion should take place here or in Lisbon, I would not vote for it.
The case for the Lisbon treaty becomes stronger and stronger the more one studies and debates the text. Despite the restrictions on time, it has become crystal clear during our debates that the treaty is sensible and modest, as the right hon. Member for Leicester, West has said. Perhaps most significantly, it contains many reforms of the EU that the critics of Europe have long called for.
With the EU enlarging so successfully—all parties in the House have argued for that over time—it is time to reform how the institutions of the EU work, which is what the treaty does. Such reform does not involve a new, significant transfer of powers, as some have alleged. It simply involves making the existing arrangements work better, so that the EU is fit for purpose and can be ever more successful. That is what the anti-Europeans do not like. Nothing upsets the Europhobes more than the idea that some of the widely acknowledged problems of the EU might be tackled.
If the hon. Gentleman is so sure of his case, why did he run from giving the people a referendum?
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman voted against our proposal to debate and vote on a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. I bet he voted with the Tories and Labour to try to gag that debate.
It is particularly interesting to compare comments on the Lisbon treaty with past criticisms of Europe. Take, for example, the Conservative amendment tabled for the Second Reading debate on the previous European treaty, the treaty of Nice. The Conservatives opposed that treaty because, according to their amendment,
“it fails to modernise the institutions and policies of the European Union to meet the requirements of a diverse, enlarged Union”.—[Official Report, 4 July 2001; Vol. 371, c. 273.]
Perhaps that is still some people’s argument, but those who argue that should probably be carted off by the men in white coats. However, if another set of reforms would
“modernise the institutions and policies of the European Union”,
we have not heard about that alternative agenda.
Throughout our debates, we have not had a positive alternative set of EU reforms from the Conservatives—not a single idea. Silence on an alternative Conservative approach and silence on whom the Conservatives might talk to elsewhere in Europe about ideas for EU reform, which they do not have. They are bereft of ideas and bereft of allies.
I give way to the hon. Gentleman, because he has some ideas for reform.
I make no apology for saying that I would prefer an association of nation states.
Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that to achieve economic competitiveness of the kind that my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), the leader of the Conservative party, is putting forward, we will need to proceed along a line that ensures, through some form of renegotiation, that we get ourselves out of the mess that the Lisbon agenda is in at the moment?
That is very interesting, as the Foreign Secretary is saying from a sedentary position. As we know from these debates, the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) is increasingly at the centre of the Conservative party. Perhaps it is now the Conservative party position to renegotiate. We have not heard about that, but, as the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks said of us, I am coming to him later.
The hon. Gentleman has mentioned the men in white coats. Is it not the case that many people out there have been put off these debates because it is clear to those who observe proceedings in the Chamber—I was able to attend the debates on only three days—that the lunatics have taken over the asylum?
I hope that I am not out of order in totally agreeing with the hon. Gentleman.
What about the other criticisms of Europe? Are they dealt with by the Lisbon treaty? Let us look at the 1997 Conservative manifesto. It complained that Europe was doing too much and pledged to incorporate
“the principle of subsidiarity into the Treaty.”
That meant the treaty of Amsterdam. That treaty put the principle of subsidiarity into a protocol, but the treaty of Lisbon puts it into the text of the treaties. However, we have heard nothing about that from the Conservatives.
For many years, my party and I have had a complaint about the EU on the common agricultural policy. There have been times when pro-Europeans such as me have despaired of the EU with respect to the CAP, but it is worth saying that the CAP of 2008 is far less damaging than the CAP of any previous period in the history of the European Community and the EU.
Let us be clear that more reform is needed, but the process has been going in the right direction. I welcome the Lisbon treaty, because it provides a new dynamic for CAP reform, namely greater democratic accountability and scrutiny, and increases the powers of the European Parliament in its relations with the Council of Ministers over law-making and budget setting. Many more areas of legislation and budget setting will now use the co-decision process, including CAP. For Liberal Democrats such as me who have complained about CAP and, indeed, about Europe’s democratic deficit for many years, the Lisbon treaty addresses that point with real reforms. Interestingly, Conservative Front Benchers are against extra democracy going to the European Parliament. How very telling!
Let us take another past problem of the European Union—the fact that the Council of Ministers has always met in secret. Liberal Democrats have led the calls for that to be reformed, and the Lisbon treaty marks a big step forward on that, too. For the first time, the Council will meet in public when a new law is debated and approved. Of course, more should be done to tackle secrecy in this House, in Westminster, in Whitehall and in Brussels, but that is a real victory in the Lisbon treaty, and it should be noted.
There are many examples of similar improvements by which the anti-European foxes have been shot by the reforms—I would say that they are being massacred by them. Perhaps that explains why the British Conservatives have turned their backs on 26 other Conservative parties across Europe and taken up with the Dutch Party for the Animals.
The hon. Gentleman says that the European Parliament is the democratic lever for Europe, and the European Parliament has got more powers in each successive treaty change. How, therefore, does he explain that in every single European Parliament election since 1979, the average turnout throughout Europe has fallen? People do not feel represented at European level. How does he explain that one?
I share the concern about falling turnout, but let us be clear: turnout is falling not only in elections to the European Parliament, but in elections to this House and to many local authorities, too. We should all be concerned about that as democrats, but it does not undermine the role of the European Parliament as a democratic forum. I would have thought that the right hon. Gentleman supported that.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is profitable to look at the turnout in the municipal elections in France and in the general election in Spain, which were held on Sunday? The turnout on both occasions was significantly higher than the typical turnout in recent elections in the UK. Have we not got something to learn from the way in which other European countries encourage their electorates to participate in elections?
I absolutely agree. Liberal Democrats believe that it is useful to talk to and work with colleagues in other countries, because they often have good ideas, whether on elections—proportional representation, for example—the reform of education or health. Engaging with colleagues in Europe is a sensible thing to do for the people whom we come here to serve.
Let me list some of the other key reforms in the Lisbon treaty. For the first time, member states will have the right to leave the EU. For the first time, national Parliaments have been given a mechanism to call a halt to EU legislation. For the first time, ordinary European citizens will be able to petition the Commission to propose a draft law. For the first time, we have a European treaty that creates mechanisms for handing back power from the EU to the member states. Genuine Eurosceptics should be praising the treaty, not burying it. The fact that they do not back the reforms that they used to call for reflects the reality that the vast majority of Eurosceptics are not genuinely sceptical but have a closed mind and are predetermined in their opposition to everything European.
The Lisbon treaty is not simply about calling the bluff of the anti-Europeans and exposing the shallowness of their position, beneficial though that is. The treaty also has many practical benefits for Britain and for Europe, as various experienced UK politicians have said:
“It contains measures which are essential to the operation of our foreign policy if it is to be amplified by partnership in the kind of world in which we live.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 7 November 2007; Vol. 696, c. 60.]
Those are the words of a distinguished former Foreign Secretary, Lord Howe. Other experienced Conservatives have discussed qualified majority voting, the issue that has so incensed some Conservative Members.
“As to the changes in voting rights, I hope people will realise that this amounts to an increase in the UK’s share from 8.4 per cent. to 12.2 per cent. of the total vote. That is a matter of considerable significance and a wholly positive factor.”
That was said by the former Conservative Cabinet Minister Lord Brittan. According to another former Conservative Foreign Secretary,
“the facts that the charter of fundamental rights will not be justiciable and that we will not be bound by justice and home affairs matters unless we so wish, are important.”
Those are the words of the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind). There are many other benefits for Britain to which those experienced Conservatives could have drawn attention.
This is probably the last speech that the hon. Gentleman will make during this marathon debate on Europe. I congratulate him on the consistency and powerful energy that he has displayed in supporting a centralised European superstate with closer integration, but does it not concern him a little that when it came to a Division the Liberal Democrat party was so hopelessly divided?
I have been grateful to the hon. Gentleman throughout our debates, because he was one of the plucky six who voted against the Conservative line with us on 14 November and in favour of our proposal for an in-out referendum. However, his reading of the Lisbon treaty, which suggests that power is more centralised, is completely and utterly wrong. This is the first time that the principle of subsidiarity has appeared in the treaty wording.
My hon. Friend is right—the treaty makes important advances in terms of subsidiarity and the role of national Parliaments—but does he share my dismay at the fact that there is still not the slightest clarity about how the process will be translated into British parliamentary practice, and about how the House will be given the safeguards that the treaty affords it?
I agree, and I think it incumbent on the Government to spell out those safeguards, perhaps in the other place, and to work with other legislatures and Governments. That is the only way in which those powers can be given effect.
I want to discuss the other benefits of the Lisbon treaty for Britain. They include Britain’s increased ability to protect our children from sex offenders—Lisbon allows member states to share information about convicted paedophiles—Britain’s increased ability to tackle gun crime on our streets thanks to Lisbon’s provision for closer co-operation in stopping gun trafficking and Britain’s increased ability to counter drug trafficking and the exploitation of women by people traffickers thanks to other Lisbon provisions. Yet while experienced Conservatives welcome such measures, Conservative Front Benchers oppose them. They should be in no doubt that we will remind voters that the Conservatives voted against measures to catch sex offenders, to curb the illegal importation of drugs and guns and to tackle terrorism, which is how out of touch they have become with the modern world.
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us what measures currently exist that prohibit European Governments from sharing information on convicted sex offenders?
If the hon. Gentleman had read the treaty, he would know that some of the issues that I have described are currently dealt with through qualified majority voting, which means that one member state can prevent the adoption of sensible measures to tackle them. If he has not grasped that yet, he has not grasped a point that is fundamental to how the European Union works and some of the problems with which the treaty deals.
What has really struck me during our debates has been the utter failure of the treaty’s Conservative opponents to give any example of the transfer by the treaty of significant powers and competences from the United Kingdom to Brussels. Despite all the usual guff about the surrender of British sovereignty, concrete examples have come there none. There are examples that the Conservatives could have given, but they have not drawn our attention to them, because those examples do not really help their case.
Although there are absolutely no new transfers of power to the EU whereby the EU would have exclusive competence, there are two areas of power transfer where there will be shared competence between member states and the EU—energy and space. It makes sense for EU member states to have the ability to work together closely on energy policy, given the need to liberalise energy markets, to protect energy supply and to work together on new technologies such as renewables. I cannot believe that the Conservatives want a UK-only space policy so badly that they would oppose joint EU working on space.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the treaty gives the power to make energy policy under majority voting except in matters affecting conditions of exploitation, so it gives power to the EU on majority voting over the allocation of energy resources. Does he think that that is a good deal, given that we are the only country with energy resources to be allocated?
That argument was completely destroyed in our debates in this House on energy, and the Foreign Secretary has dealt with it in his response, so the right hon. Gentleman is completely wrong.
There are other areas where Lisbon allows the EU for the first time to provide support and co-ordination in respect of member states’ own policies, but prevents the EU from leading. What areas will face that new EU onslaught, which will involve EU support for and co-operation with our own domestic policy? The answer is tourism and sport. That is what is so terrifying.
Is my hon. Friend aware that one of the additional provisions of the Lisbon treaty is that the EU institutions will become subject to the European convention on human rights? While Britain and many other member states are subject to that, the EU and its institutions are not, but under the Lisbon treaty they will be.
My hon. Friend is right, and that is another example why the Lisbon treaty is a good thing. The EU institutions should be subject to control, checks and accountability. Interestingly, Conservative Members do not like that.
To be fair to Conservative Members, however, the biggest misrepresentation of the Lisbon treaty has come from the misnamed Democracy Movement—the leaflet that it has been sending out contains so few facts that it should be entered for the Man Booker prize for fiction. The leaflet focuses on five areas in its attempt to alarm and mislead people. Its first charge is that Britain’s voting strength will be cut by a third. As I have said, our voting share will increase by almost 50 per cent. The Democracy Movement also says that the control of Brussels is being extended over our criminal justice system. There is no mention of the UK opt-ins—our ability to veto any extension of joint working to tackle crime, if we so choose—and there is no mention that co-operation on criminal justice is restricted to cross-border issues, such as beating international organised crime and tackling the international trade in drugs, guns and people, which one would have thought supporters of the Democracy Movement would favour.
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that all those words are in very small print, whereas the picture of myself is rather large and handsome? Many of my constituents in Rotherham have asked me how much it cost under the Commons communications allowance to distribute my picture all over my constituency.
I have not been to Rotherham recently, but I would be happy to receive a copy of that leaflet and to comment on it. What I am commenting on now, however, is the fine detail.
The third charge made by the Democracy Movement in the leaflet is that Lisbon creates a president and a Foreign Minister for the EU. As our debates have shown, that is also untrue. The proposal that the existing presidency of the European Council should change from a six-month rotation to a more permanent two-and-a-half year position means that such a president will not be created and that there will be no president of the EU who is akin to a US President. As for the lie that a Foreign Minister is being created, the fact that the EU has no foreign policy on anything unless and until 27 real Foreign Ministers from all member states unanimously agree shows what nonsense that charge is.
The fourth myth is that the legal personality provision is a threat to sovereignty. Such a provision exists for the European Community and has done for years, just as it exists for many organisations, from golf clubs to the Universal Postal Union.
The Democracy Movement’s final argument to scare voters is on the so-called passerelle clauses and the provision for future treaty amendments. Once again, it does not mention the triple lock of the Council, the European Parliament and national Parliaments or the fact that under the proposals the UK can veto any proposed treaty amendment at any time. I, like the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, think that we could have gone further, but the Democracy Movement did not mention the triple lock.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sure that the Democracy Movement would be extremely glad to know that it is getting so much free publicity, but how can that matter possibly be applicable to this debate, particularly given that the stream of assertions being made does not relate to any political party? I am completely mystified as to what the hon. Gentleman thinks that he is up to.
The hon. Gentleman’s comments are, in fact, a matter for debate.
What ought to be most shocking for the Democracy Movement’s supporters, who have supported a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union in the past, is that its leaflet makes no mention of the Liberal Democrats’ support for such a referendum and the fact that we have been opposed and gagged by the Conservative and Labour parties.
Once we strip away the myths about the treaty and examine its real benefits, there is no other credible position to take tonight than to vote for it. Of course, the Conservatives will vote against it, as we have heard, but their position raises interesting questions about their future European policy. As the Foreign Secretary has asked, what will they do once the Lisbon treaty is ratified? That question could dominate the 2009 European elections, by which time the Lisbon treaty will have been ratified. I cannot imagine the UK Independence party missing a trick; UKIP will harry every Conservative European parliamentary candidate, probably armed with white handkerchiefs, accusing the Conservatives of surrender.
The Conservatives’ position on their future referendum policy is delphic. Let us remind ourselves of it. The line from the right hon. Members for Witney (Mr. Cameron) and for Richmond, Yorks is:
“We will not let matters rest”.
That is stirring stuff for an election fight with UKIP—
Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman really ought to be relating his remarks—perhaps his concluding remarks—to the Third Reading.
I want to talk about what we will do following ratification and the process of this Bill. I am concerned for the Conservatives, because their position is not clear. It is important to examine that position.
As I have said, a number of hon. Members want to contribute to this debate, so perhaps the hon. Gentleman’s remarks can be related rather more to the treaty and the Bill.
I shall certainly relate my remarks to the Bill. I hope that the Conservatives will tell us what “not letting matters rest” actually means. The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks warned about the euro when he was their commander-in-chief before the 2001 election, but I cannot imagine his saying, “Ten days to save matters from resting”.
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman will, in a sense, invert his comments. In the unlikely event that the Conservatives get their way tonight, it would be the end of the Lisbon treaty. The United Kingdom and the other 26 member states would have no Lisbon treaty, and there would have to be either a renegotiation or the status quo ante. The Conservative party cannot provide any evidence to suggest that if we were to kybosh the Lisbon treaty tonight, we could get a better deal, yet it says that the status quo ante is unacceptable. Does he agree that that is a hollow position and that the House should not follow it tonight?
I agree absolutely. We have had debates about a referendum, but let us imagine what would happen if the country were to vote no in a referendum. What would a fantasy Conservative Government do in that situation? They would doubtless sit down with parties that think like they do—Sinn Fein, the Dutch Party for the Animals and the Italian Northern League—to hammer out an alternative vision and put it to European Governments. They would then try to work out whether they could hammer out a renegotiated settlement, but other Ministers and Governments in Europe would look on that approach with disdain. A policy of renegotiation would unsettle British business, the City and investment, and it would make a future Conservative Government a laughing stock not only in Europe’s capitals, but in Washington, Moscow, Tokyo and Beijing.
What is the real meaning of “not let matters rest”. I believe it to mean that the Conservatives will let matters rest, keep quiet and hope that no one has noticed. That is almost certainly what they will do. I confidently predict that after this Bill goes through the House, the Conservatives will abandon their commitment to a treaty referendum as soon as they think it safe to do so, just as they did over the Amsterdam and Nice treaties—so much for their principles and pledges.
The truth on Europe is that there are three Conservative parties—the party of the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), the party of the hon. Member for Stone and somewhere keeping their heads down the massed ranks of the party of the right hon. Member for Witney. The policy of not letting matters rest is about the only thing on which they agree.
The Liberal Democrats will not let matters rest, but, unlike the Conservatives, we have moved on and have a clear future policy, which is to give the people a vote on whether Britain should remain in the EU based on the treaties, including the Lisbon treaty.
Order. May I remind the hon. Gentleman that on Third Reading we are debating what is in the Bill?
You will be pleased to learn that I am about to finish, Madam Deputy Speaker. [Interruption.] I am not surprised that Conservative Members are glad that I am about to finish, because we have been giving them as good as we get. Liberal Democrats believe that the European Union has been, is and will be of huge benefit to this country and to our world. In voting for the Bill tonight, we are ready to take on all comers in the cause of defending Britain’s national interest—being in Europe.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey). I could say that I agreed with everything he said and just sit down, but I have been waiting to participate in these debates for some time and I am pleased to be able to contribute on Third Reading.
I want to begin by paying tribute to the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe for their work over the past three weeks. I served in the latter post in the early part of the Administration, so I know how difficult it is to ensure that enough time is available to do the serious job that my hon. Friend must do of going to Europe to build up relationships with our partners in the EU and beyond. The last three weeks must have played havoc with his diary, but he has been here, he has been assiduous and he has answered all the points that have been raised. We all ought to thank him for what he has done.
We should also thank the Foreign Secretary, who has been placed in a similar position. He has just left the Chamber to talk to the shadow Foreign Secretary, but he, too, has been present during these debates. When the House thinks of the huge number of current international issues that are important to our interests, my right hon. Friend’s participation in these debates over the past three weeks has been extremely welcome. I thank both Ministers for what they have done.
The shadow Foreign Secretary has just left the Chamber, but the Liberal Democrats’ shadow Foreign Secretary raised a number of points about Conservative party policy. I have to say that, a few months ago, I was very much in favour of having a referendum on whether we should be in or out of Europe. I went on record as saying so last summer. I was in favour of an all-singing, all-dancing referendum on our membership of the European Union because I was fed up with the drip, drip of Euroscepticism. I felt that it was the only way in which we could properly explore the issue of being in the European Union. Then I met and spoke to the Foreign Secretary, who convinced me that—[Laughter.] It was not in a darkened corner, it was a proper discussion. I was concerned and felt that we as a Government were in danger of losing our moral high ground on European issues. I felt that the only way to re-energise us was to have an all-singing, all-dancing referendum.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would have taken part.
Will the right hon. Gentleman reflect on the fact that he played a good part in the European reform forum discussions, and is on record as having said that the EU needs reform? There was enormous agreement on the basic principles among those on all sides of that debate. Will he be a little more careful about what he says about Euroscepticism? We are not anti-European, we are actually pro-European.
I am delighted to hear that the hon. Gentleman, whose beliefs on Europe are sincere, is so much in favour of the reform of the EU, because that is precisely what the Lisbon treaty will do. It will help the reform process in a most important way.
I was convinced by the Foreign Secretary, who said that a much better course of action than having a referendum was to be able to come to the Floor of the House day after day and debate the crucial matters that will affect the future of Europe and of this country. Having listened to the debates in the past three weeks, I must say that he was absolutely right. I know what would have happened in a referendum campaign: it would have been totally hijacked, not just by those who do not support the basis of our membership of the EU but by the Eurosceptic media, which would have destroyed the nature of the referendum campaign.
I am glad that I was convinced by the Foreign Secretary and that we have had three splendid weeks to discuss the relevant issues. Where else would I have heard the early life history of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Ms Hewitt), a woman whom I have known for 25 years? There have been times when I have thought that she was genetically modified, because she has been such a perfect Minister and Member of Parliament. Then I heard about her previous life and found that she is just as human as the rest of us. It was great to hear about her early career. She, too, has been assiduous in these debates. In response to a couple of Opposition Members, if she is to be our next European Commissioner, I say hooray for that. She would be an absolutely perfect person for the job, although she would be missed greatly in Leicester, West, and of course there is no vacancy.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that over the years, we have learned not to believe most of what we read in the British press?
Absolutely. My right hon. Friend and I both know that to be the case. I am pleased that there is no vacancy, that she is still here and that we will meet each other on Friday when we go back to Leicester.
Why is the Lisbon treaty important? It is because we cannot have the rules and regulations for a Europe of 15 for a Europe of 27. That is absolutely impossible. The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton is right that Opposition Members call for referendums on every treaty. It is their mantra. They wanted a referendum on Nice, even though that would have blocked the enlargement of the EU, which has been essential to the success of the European project.
I am sorry to break up the right hon. Gentleman’s love-in with his constituency neighbour, the right hon. Member for Leicester, West (Ms Hewitt). I am sure that he would not want the House to infer from his comments that when he told the voters of Leicester, East, in May 2005 that a referendum was very important to decide our European destiny, they were intelligent enough to understand the issues involved, but that two and a half years on, they are too stupid and would be too influenced by the wicked print and broadcast media, and that he is therefore reneging on the solemn promise that he made to his electors in May 2005.
I did not say that to the electors. What was proposed then was a referendum on the constitution. What the House is discussing is not a constitution but a treaty, and it contains the very reforms that the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) correctly said that I spoke about when I addressed his forum as Minister for Europe. It is essential that a dynamic institution such as the EU should develop. Its enlargement means that there must be changes to how it operates, to make it more efficient and effective. That is why we have the treaty.
Given the Foreign Secretary’s clearly masterful powers of persuasion—we know that it is difficult to persuade the right hon. Gentleman to change course—why does he think the Foreign Secretary has not been able to persuade the British public that the constitution and the Lisbon treaty are different? About 90 per cent. of them think that they are broadly the same.
That is an important point. The Foreign Secretary has probably not been able to convince the tabloids that there is a difference between the constitution and the treaty, but I think that he has convinced the British people. The problem that we have in the debate about Europe is the tabloids. The Daily Mail, The Sun and the other tabloid newspapers, apart from the Daily Mirror, are absolutely against anything European. It is therefore vital that we have a debate with the British people, as we have been able to.
Maybe the right hon. Gentleman gives too much credence to the power of the tabloids. He should think back to May 2007 when, without the support of any newspaper, the Scottish National party won the election in Scotland.
That is very helpful. I hope that, if there is a debate, we will have the support of the SNP’s spin doctors. Perhaps they will be able to assist. For the time being, we have a treaty that will make a real difference to how the EU operates. I shall give two examples of that, the first of which relates to justice and home affairs.
I had the privilege of being at the initial Tampere negotiations, which took place in Finland under the Finnish presidency in 1999. When we began the Tampere process, which became the Hague 2 process, we decided that the only way that we could combat major crime problems such as serious organised crime and human trafficking was to co-operate with our European partners. That co-operation is essential. Without co-operation through organisations such as Europol and Eurojust, we will never be able to deal with the people who perpetrate organised crime or with the real problems of immigration.
The British people are worried not about legal immigration but about illegal immigration. Like other right hon. and hon. Members, I have seen pictures and read stories about how people are exploited by those who bring them in gangs from places such as Moldova. I recently saw a DVD about someone who was brought here from the Punjab and told that they would have a better life in the UK. They were brought from the Punjab to Bucharest, then to Moldova, Moscow, Albania and Amsterdam, and then to the UK. The only way that we can combat the illegal movement of people is through co-operation with our European partners.
Surely the right hon. Gentleman is not against that.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a cogent and coherent argument; such arguments have been rare from the Labour Benches. Does he accept that although it is always difficult to stop illegal immigration, it is less difficult for an island? The treaty says that we cannot have any internal border controls or any controls on movement through our ports and airports, and that we have to rely instead on the much more porous borders at the other edge of Europe. Does that not make it more difficult, rather than easier, to control illegal immigration?
I am not sure that that is actually what the treaty says. However, if people are determined to travel all the way from Amritsar to Amersham via all those other countries, we need the co-operation of our European partners in order to prevent that from happening. It is no good for us to feel that because we are an island we should let the rest of Europe get on and do what they are doing. We need the co-operation of the French in particular if we are to stop illegal immigration. That is why the treaty is so important and why it is so important that we should look at the mechanisms through which the EU operates.
I agree with right hon. and hon. Members from both sides of the House when they say that it is really important that Europe can grow up with its population—its population has been running ahead of it. People are concerned about the way in which some aspects of the bureaucracy in Brussels operate. Anyone who has served as a Minister, whether they were a Conservative Minister or a Labour Minister, will know how difficult it is sometimes to deal with that. The treaty seeks to give more power to those countries that can co-operate, for example on QMV. Maastricht extended QMV. If hon. Members look at the figures on the application of QMV, they will find that when it is used in the European Council, the UK is on the winning side 90 per cent. of the time. That means that the rest of Europe is following our agenda.
When Labour first came into power in 1997, we were on the fringes of Europe. Because of the actions of this Government over the past 10 years, we lead the agenda in Europe. People listen to and have enormous respect for what the British Government say when they speak at European Council meetings. If we reject the treaty, we will throw that respect and influence away, and that would be totally wrong.
I hear what the right hon. Gentleman is saying about respect and leadership, but is he seriously telling us that since we went into Iraq five years ago respect in the EU for the UK has been enhanced?
Absolutely. In 1997, this country was on the fringes of Europe. We were not even consulted on issues. We were put on the sidelines because of the strong relationship between France and Germany. It is simply not possible in a Europe of 27 for France and Germany to run the EU. Many of the countries that have come in, such as Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria—all the eastern and central European countries—look to the UK as their champion. We are the champion of enlargement and we led the enlargement process.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a sincere and well-argued speech. However, is not the credibility of what he says shot down on both counts—on the transparency of the EU and on the Franco-German relationship—by the way in which the treaty came into being? It was railroaded through by the German presidency and all the other countries were kept in the dark, allegedly until 48 hours before the convening of the intergovernmental conference?
I have huge respect for the hon. Gentleman as a fellow member of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. I know that he thinks very carefully about these issues. We cannot sit on the sidelines. We have to influence what is happening. We cannot allow this huge, monolithic body, which has 27 members and affects 500 million people, to be run by rules and regulations that were invented 30 years ago. The whole thing would grind to a halt. Enlargement has meant that we need the treaty.
As for the charter of fundamental rights, let me tell Opposition Members that it was negotiated for our country by Lord Goldsmith. At the start of the negotiations, he was on his own, but by the end of the negotiations, he had convinced all the other European countries that the agenda proposed by the UK was the one that needed to be followed. As we all know, the charter does not extend the laws of this country one iota. What is the fear about having such a statement of the values to which we as members of the European Community need to subscribe?
Europe is changing. An example of that is the Lisbon agenda, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Stone—although it might have been a slip of the tongue. The Lisbon agenda was supported, I think, by Members on both sides of the House. In 2000, for the first time, economic progress and the operation of the single European market was benchmarked—