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European Council: 21-22 June 2007

Volume 693: debated on Monday 25 June 2007

My Lords, I should like to repeat a Statement made in the other place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

“With your permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a Statement about the outcome of the European Council in Brussels on 21 and 22 June.

“I congratulate the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, on concluding successfully an exceptionally difficult negotiation; and on an outstanding presidency of the European Union.

“Before the European Council, I made it clear that the concept of a constitutional treaty for Europe had to be abandoned, and that we should agree instead a conventional amending treaty like the Nice, Amsterdam and Maastricht treaties and the Single European Act. I also made it clear that the UK had four central demands which had to be met.

“First, on the Charter of Fundamental Rights, we secured a legally binding protocol, specific to the United Kingdom, and applicable to both the British courts and the European Court of Justice. Let me read the terms. The protocol states that:

‘the Charter does not extend the ability of the Court of Justice, or any court or tribunal of the United Kingdom, to find that the laws, regulations or administrative provisions, practices or action of the United Kingdom are inconsistent with the fundamental rights, freedoms and principles that’,

the charter,


‘In particular, and for the avoidance of doubt, nothing in the Charter creates justiciable rights applicable to the United Kingdom except in so far as the United Kingdom has provided for such rights in its national law’.

“In respect of our criminal law system and police and judicial processes, we obtained an extension of the opt-in rights that we secured in an earlier treaty on migration, asylum and immigration issues. This means that we have the sovereign right to opt in on individual measures where we consider that it would be in the British interest to do so, but also to stay out if we want to. It is precisely the pick-and-choose policy often advocated. It gives us complete freedom to protect our common law system, but also allows us to participate in areas where co-operation advances Britain's interests. In asylum and immigration, for example, we have opted in on measures dealing with illegal immigration, and in measures allowing us to return asylum seekers to other European countries—both unquestionably in Britain’s interests. But it will be within our exclusive power to decide on a case-by-case basis. This is exactly what we wanted.

“In respect of social security, we negotiated a provision which allows us to insist on unanimity in any case where we—Britain—declare that any proposal from the Commission would affect important aspects of our social security system, including its scope, cost or financial structure or balance. Our social security and benefits system is therefore completely protected.

“As for the common foreign and security policy, the basis of this will now remain unchanged in a separate treaty, and a separate pillar, from the first pillar Community method. The essential features of the CFSP remain as they were. Unanimity voting is the rule. There is no sole right of initiative for the Commission. There is no role for the European Parliament in decision-taking. There is no jurisdiction for the European Court of Justice, except in the particular case of safeguarding the rights of individuals subject to EU sanctions. The two jobs of Commissioner for External Relations and high representative, which of course exist already, will be amalgamated in a single job, but this reform does not extend the EU’s substantive powers to act in foreign policy. In particular, the Union representative, when working on common foreign and security policy issues, will operate within a policy framework set by the EU Foreign Ministers, by unanimity.

“All these guarantees not merely remain in the new treaty, but are reinforced in a new ‘overview’ article which reaffirms them and has full legal force. For the avoidance of doubt, we obtained also a declaration which sets out the unanimous view of all member states about the meaning of these guarantees. This declaration, which then informs the detailed negotiation of the IGC, states that the CFSP provisions of the treaty, including in respect of the office of Union representative and the external action service,

‘will not affect the existing legal basis, responsibilities, and powers of each Member State in relation to the formulation and conduct of its foreign policy, its national diplomatic service, relations with third countries, and participation in international organisations, including a Member State’s membership of the Security Council of the UN’.

“There was also a discussion at the Council about competition. The treaties have always made it clear that competition in the internal market should not be distorted. The now defunct constitutional treaty’s objectives would have included new wording about ‘free and undistorted competition’. When the treaty was set aside, that provision was lost, but we agreed on a new and legally binding protocol, to be annexed to the treaties, which reaffirms the commitment to ensuring that competition is not distorted. The other references to competition in the existing treaties will remain—for example, Articles 4, 27, 34, 81 to 89, 96, 98, 105 and 157 from the European Community treaty. The legal position in relation to competition therefore remains unchanged.

“Alongside meeting our four essential requirements, we secured a number of further improvements. The new treaty will confirm for the first time, explicitly, that national security is the sole responsibility of member states. The Union already signs international agreements, but the treaty formalises legal personality. However, we have now agreed a declaration by all countries for this IGC confirming that this fact of legal personality does not authorise the Union in any way to legislate or act beyond the powers conferred on it by the member states in the treaties. There are new powers for national Parliaments to object to Commission proposals on subsidiarity grounds.

“There are a number of extensions of qualified majority voting. In the most sensitive areas of QMV—justice and home affairs and social security—we obtained the right either not to participate or to insist on unanimity. In addition, a number of other measures of QMV—for example, those about rules within the euro-zone, or those in JHA—do not apply to us. As for the rest, we have agreed them because qualified majority voting is often in Britain’s interest. The biggest move to qualified majority voting in Europe’s history was the Single European Act, but this allowed the creation of one of Europe’s greatest achievements, the single European market. More recently, we have secured reforms such as the services directive and other liberalising measures through QMV, including the lifting of the beef ban, when they would certainly have been blocked under unanimity. Among the QMV provisions in this treaty is one which provides a new legal base and QMV for energy market liberalisation and another which provides QMV for decisions on emergency humanitarian aid to third countries, which are both manifestly in the UK’s interest.

“The other main reform is the fixed term, two-and-a-half year presidency of the European Council, replacing the current rotating six-monthly arrangements. This is necessary for the Union’s efficiency, but it does not involve any extension of the president’s powers. The president of the European Council will remain the servant of the leaders of the member states.

“The most important aspect of this new treaty is that it allows the European Union to move on to the issues which really matter. For too many years, we have been bogged down in a debate about the institutions. Change is essential, with the increase from 15 to 27 member states, but with this agreement we can now concentrate on the issues that really matter: energy security; organised crime and terrorism; globalisation; further enlargement; and making Europe’s voice more effective internationally.

“This agenda is quintessentially in Britain’s interests. Over the past 10 years, Britain has moved from the margins of European debate to its centre. This is absolutely right for Britain. Whether in defence, economic reform, energy policy, or the environment, and of course most particularly in enlargement and the appointment of the new Commission president, Britain has for a decade been in a leadership position in Europe. That is exactly where we should stay. I commend this agreement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, this is clearly an historic occasion; it is the last Commons Statement by Mr Blair as Prime Minister and perhaps even—although I hope not—the last occasion on which the Leader of the House will, with her invariable courtesy, repeat a Statement. I wish her well in the course of the next few days.

In 2005, the Labour manifesto said of the treaty:

“We will put it to the British people in a referendum”.

Despite the sentence in the conclusions that the constitutional treaty has been abandoned, we still have a major EU constitutional amending treaty on the table which makes massive changes in the relationship between nation states and the EU as a whole. It is a treaty in which Monsieur Giscard d’Estaing, the author of the constitution, says that people are being led,

“to adopt, without knowing it, the proposals that we dare not present to them directly”.

Yet the Prime Minister says now, “We will not put the EU treaty to the British people in a referendum”. The whole Statement is designed to argue that it is a nothing and that a firm promise given to the public into 2005 can be broken.

Playing small-print word games to escape promises has discredited this Government. Let it not now discredit Europe. Winning the endorsement of the British people—if it is so insignificant, the Government must surely feel that they can—would strengthen Europe and, win or lose, lance a boil in our politics. We hear much talk about red lines—red herrings, as my right honourable friend Mr Hague rightly termed them—but beyond the spin, does the noble Baroness accept that the reality is this, in words every one of which has been taken from the presidency conclusions? There will be an IGC before the end of July. The incoming presidency is to draw up a draft treaty text and submit it to the IGC as soon as it opens. The reform treaty will introduce in the existing treaties the innovations resulting from the 2004 IGC that launched the constitutional process. The IGC will complete its work in any case before the end of 2007, so as to allow every country to ratify the resulting treaty before June 2009.

No one who has read the compendious description of the treaty provisions in the present communiqué can have any doubt that it is a huge programme of constitutional change, a major extension of EU competence and a further step towards the more integrated, harmonised, controlling Europe that no one outside the Cabinet makes any pretence of saying is not the overriding objective of the European Union. If the treaty is ratified, Britain will find itself locked into an enormous new entity with a transformed constitutional identity—something that directly affects our national interest. Any opt-out can be given away, as the Prime Minister demonstrated on the social chapter in Amsterdam in 1997, and any red line may not be driven across, but it can certainly be driven around, as Mr Frank Field acutely observed, reinforced by the experience of the history of the Community.

Does the noble Baroness not see this as a major integrationist treaty, a step in the wrong direction, in which many more areas of veto are given away and the aims of harmonisation and centralisation are relentlessly laid out in every line of the presidency conclusions?

Revering, as I do, the contribution of European nations in all their diversity and richness to the development of modern civilisation, I expressed deep sadness at the loss of opportunity that that represents. The summit should have been about free trade, climate change and the agony of Africa in places such as Darfur and, yes, Zimbabwe. It should have been about the modern EU network, which we want, and which the people of Europe want, not about the further centralisation of powers so beloved of bureaucrats and those who put efficiency before democracy.

Again, that opportunity was lost in the obsession with powers, centralisation and control. What happened to all our hopes, all the talk of a return of powers to national Parliaments and of making the EU institutions much more accountable and far closer to the people?

If the Prime Minister was doing anything other than spitting in the wind when he boasted that Europe was coming our way, he has his reality check now. Not even the all-important principle of undistorted competition has survived. Mr Sarkozy has boasted of his victory over the United Kingdom in enabling protectionism. Will the noble Baroness confirm that criminal justice is being moved from intergovernmental control to jurisdiction by the European Court, something that the Foreign Secretary has called a major change? Does she agree that an EU foreign minister by any other name is still an EU foreign minister? Can she not see that we should have been moving to a new, slimmer kind of treaty, a new kind of Europe that swept away elements of the acquis that have proved constricting, that preserved flexibility, diversity and localism while sustaining the enormous benefits of co-operation?

That would have been the right way for Europe. That is precisely what the treaty is not. It surely must have the endorsement of the British people, who will now find Europe changing around them.

For the first time in 10 years the Prime Minister and the Chancellor are united on something. How sad it is that it is to deny the British public a say. Next month our new Prime Minister will have to go to the IGC and fight for Britain and Europe. When he goes to negotiate he will find other EU leaders a lot less naïve and a lot more determined than many of the people with whom he has had discussions in recent weeks. He will need all the support and resolution he can muster. He has said that he would be a servant to the people. How much stronger would be his negotiating hand if he had the resolution of Parliament and people behind him before agreeing to any sea change of this kind? Other countries will have a referendum. Why not here?

My Lords, I thank the Lord President for repeating the Statement. I associate myself with the congratulations that were given at the beginning of it to Chancellor Merkel for her skilful leadership of the European Union over the past six months. I also associate myself with the comment at the very end by the Prime Minister that the most important aspect of the new treaty is that it allows the European Union to move on to the issues that really matter, something that was echoed in the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. The only problem with the noble Lord’s remarks is that—and this was emphasised even more at the other end of the Corridor—they totally ignored the wise advice contained in an article in the Sunday Times by Mr Michael Portillo two Sundays ago, when he said that, whatever else the Conservatives did in reaction to this summit, they should avoid tying themselves to their wild-eyed anti-European members. The danger is, as Mr Ken Clarke has also observed, that a reaction that would have demanded a referendum on the date at the top of the paper does not carry much credibility.

I am still trying to get my head round the idea of a Labour Prime Minister going to Brussels to argue for an opt-out on workers’ rights, but I understand the overall nature of his mission and we on these Benches welcome the reforms, which contribute to a more efficient and functioning EU. It is difficult to identify a single issue—from climate change to terrorism and from organised crime to energy security—that is not dealt with better in Britain’s interests within the EU. We welcome the fact that the European Council has reached agreement; it is critical that it has a proper rule book for 27 member states. It is interesting that a subset of the arguments about enlargement of the Community was that it would collapse for the lack of a good rule book. This Council has headed off that danger, so Europe can get on with the task of delivering on matters of supreme importance to the people of Europe.

Perhaps the Lord President will clarify the question of competition policy. A worry has been expressed by the CBI—and, I note, by the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, in an article in the Observer—that there was a danger over that. I was reminded by the Statement that, in dealing with the single market, we are preserving one of the most hard-fought and most successful achievements of the Administration of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher.

We also welcome the new powers for national parliaments and wonder whether the Government have any initiatives to look at our own structures on how we deal with European legislation.

One concern, which was echoed at Question Time, is the trumpeting about opting out of areas in home affairs. On counterterrorism, drugs, people trafficking and immigration, the logic is that we need more European co-operation, not less. It seems odd that we make a virtue of making things more difficult for ourselves in those areas.

We support the treaty because it allows Europe to get on with the real business, such as the initiative to get a successful conclusion of the Doha round, a special European initiative to help in Gaza and giving impetus to the Portuguese initiative on Africa. The problem is that this country has been stuck in an “in or out” debate that is over 30 years old. Everything we have heard from the Conservative Party seems to take us back to that “in or out” debate. Europe and the British people need to move on, on the basis of this constitution, to address the issues that are at the top of the people’s agenda, not those on the agenda of people who, as Mr Portillo quietly warned, have that wild-eyed commitment to anti-Europeanism that has done so much damage to their party in recent years.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for his good wishes for my future. I have noticed that as soon as people think that you might be moving elsewhere, they become terribly nice to you. I shall read the noble Lord’s comments in a positive, not negative, way. My noble friend Lord Grocott—who is not in his place—whispered to me, “What about the Chief Whip?”, so perhaps the noble Lord would like to send him his good wishes on another occasion.

I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that the outcome of these negotiations is a nothing. I would not dream of arguing that, nor would the Government. We wanted institutional change and we got it. The Prime Minister made it clear—not only in his Statement, but also in the run-up to these negotiations—that part of the reason why institutional change is so important is so that we can move on to Europe playing its rightful part in tackling some of the big issues, such as the environment, energy security, climate change and some of the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord McNally. It is important that the European Union grasps these issues and considers them. Institutional change is important because it allows us to move on. We also wanted to secure Britain’s interests and we did so. That is important, too.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, talked about the draft treaty and the timetable. The mandate annexed to the conclusions is clear. I shall read one sentence from it:

“The constitutional concept, which consisted in repealing all existing Treaties and replacing them by a single text called ‘Constitution’, is abandoned”.

That is the wording for the draft IGC mandate. We will publish a White Paper in advance of the IGC. There will be consultation, and Parliament will then have an opportunity to have a further say when it considers the legislation that will come before both Houses.

The call for a referendum on what is another amending treaty is interesting, given that we did not have a referendum with the Single European Act, Maastricht or subsequently with Amsterdam and Nice. It is also interesting that the majority of Members opposite who spoke in a recent debate on European issues argued against a referendum. Other members of that party have made interesting comments about referendums. The noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, said:

“I mean the big steps into Europe consolidating British position in Europe, far more important than this particular treaty, were all taken by Conservative governments, and none of them felt it was necessary to have a referendum”.

Kenneth Clarke said:

“I disapprove of a referendum. I do think it is a serious blow to the sovereignty of Parliament”.

Another Conservative, the noble Lord, Lord Patten, said:

“This Tory notes that the intellectually honest position of many of those in the forefront of the present campaign for a referendum is complete British withdrawal from the European Union”.

I can only suggest to the House that this is about political opportunism. This is about a Conservative Party that has nothing to offer in terms of a strong Britain in Europe and whose leader could not even be bothered to go to the meeting called by Angela Merkel for EPP colleagues in advance of the European Council because he was too busy. How will we ensure a strong Britain in Europe when we have an Opposition who are not even prepared to engage in the debate and on the issues?

It is not true that every other country within the European Union will have a referendum. The only country in the European Union that is constitutionally obliged to have a referendum is Ireland. No other country so far has indicated that it feels that it will have to have a referendum on these issues.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, asked me questions on a number of areas. Perhaps I may clarify the competition policy. The treaty will provide legal certainty on EU powers to continue to regulate cartels, mergers and anti-trust violations. It includes specific language on the need to ensure that competition within the EU is not distorted. The individual articles of the treaty, which lay down the specific powers to ensure competition in the single market and to regulate state aid and mergers, are unaffected.

On the Charter of Fundamental Rights, I know that it looks as though the Government were seeking to opt out of issues. The charter ensures that the institutions, bodies and agencies of the Union will be bound to recognise rights in exercising any of their powers. The charter should help to ensure that citizens’ basic rights and liberties are protected at EU level, as they are in their own countries. However, we feel absolutely certain that, with our human rights legislation, employment protection legislation and other legislation, we have already secured those rights within current UK domestic law.

The important thing on justice and home affairs is that we have secured an opt-in. Therefore, we will opt into those areas where it is important that we work together, of which the noble Lord, Lord McNally, mentioned a number. We saw important successes relatively recently on counterterrorism and on drugs. The European arrest warrant, too, has been important to us in working constructively with our European Union colleagues. However, where we feel that these justice and home affairs issues are not in Britain’s best interests, we will not opt into them.

Yes, we have been debating these issues for a very long time. We will continue to have to raise the British people’s awareness not only of the importance of our membership of the European Union, but of the benefits. I am heartened by the new powers for national parliaments, which the noble Lord, Lord McNally, mentioned. We have no specific initiatives in mind yet, but any suggestions or proposals from this House or another place will be very welcome.

Finally, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that looking at issues that are at the top of people’s agendas is very important, and I hope that we can now move on from the European Union looking inwardly at institutional change to our looking outwardly at the global issues that affect our world.

My Lords, on any fair analysis, the treaty is very different from the constitutional treaty that was originally negotiated. It is in no sense integrationist. Does the Minister agree that the creation of the office of High Representative, in place of the two existing offices that exercise such functions, and the creation of a longer-serving President of the Council, confers no new powers on the holders of offices and so transfers no power at all from this country to the European institutions? On the other hand, on competition policy, even if the protocol that has been agreed reaffirms the legal position, does the Minister agree that the failure to include the reference to free and undistorted competition in the objectives of the European Union means that that does not have the primacy that it has had and that it should retain?

My Lords, first, I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, on his point about the High Representative and the President of the Council. No new powers are conferred on the holders of those offices; they will work at the direction of the Council of Ministers. Secondly, on competition, there is a protocol, which is legally binding and which makes it clear that the internal market includes,

“a system to ensure that competition is not distorted”,

and to empower the European Union to take the necessary steps to ensure this. Given the range of references to competition in the conclusions, it is clear that the primacy of competition is not being eroded. That is the Government’s very strong view.

My Lords, how could any Government be taken seriously and secure the essentials of agreement if, like the Opposition, we are seen to be moving inexorably towards the scuttling of any European deal, purely for opportunistic and somewhat unrealistic reasons? Do we not have to be positive and constructive to gain any influence whatever?

My Lords, we must not only be positive and constructive, but show leadership. I have to agree that the Conservative Party has shown no leadership on this issue.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that if—I stress if—the Members of this House conclude that the provisions of this treaty, regardless of their merits, come within the substance of a manifesto commitment to hold a referendum, it would be wholly within the powers of the House, and wholly proper, to reject a Bill that implemented the treaty until the manifesto was honoured and the referendum held? I emphasise that I am interested not in what past Governments did to past treaties, but in how this treaty ties up with what was said in the manifesto.

My Lords, we made it absolutely clear at the time that the constitutional treaty was published that we would go out and defend what was in that treaty. The landscape then changed. We are now in a different place and I do not accept the terms laid down by the noble Viscount.

My Lords, while not expecting the noble Baroness to agree with those who regard the signing of this treaty as a terrible betrayal, particularly when there is going to be denial of a referendum, does she acknowledge that the Irish Prime Minister has said that it contains 90 per cent of the constitution that was rejected by the electors of Holland and France? Does she further agree that it will certainly turn out to be a great betrayal if the opt-out from the charter and the political declaration regarding foreign and security policy are found to be valueless in the face of the determination of the European Court to further an ever-closer union? Is not the charter already being given effect to? Does not the Government realise that the European Union some time ago issued an edict, DOC COM(2005) 172, requiring the charter to be enshrined in all European legislation? Does the noble Baroness not realise that the British Government have agreed to the setting up of an agency to monitor the operations of this charter, which the Prime Minister says that he has managed to opt out of? Has not the Prime Minister signed up to supporting actively and unreservedly in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity the common foreign and security policy? How can a non-legally binding declaration exempt us from that obligation so far as foreign policy is concerned, to which the Prime Minister has signed up?

My Lords, I say to the House and to the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, that I have absolutely no problem with the guaranteeing of fundamental rights, freedoms and principles for the British people. We have done that through the Human Rights Act. I hope that the noble Lord will agree that, over many years, these rights are already enshrined in British law and we should be very proud of that. Fundamental rights, freedoms and principles are guaranteed by the Governments of the member states in accordance with national law. That is what we, the British Government, have done. Successive British Governments have felt that that is important. But there was no statement of rights binding the European Union. The charter is a statement for the Union. There is a UK-specific protocol which will clarify the application of the charter in relation to UK laws and measures. I am very proud of the rights already enshrined in British legislation. We have the UK-specific protocol because we already have those rights of which I am proud.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that one of the remarkable things about the Charter of Fundamental Rights is that it will now apply, as she has said, with reservations in the United Kingdom case, to all the countries of eastern and central Europe which have now joined the community and which have lived through a long period of dictatorship under communist control? Does she agree that their own fundamental rights and liberties will now, for the first time in a long time, be protected and that we in this country should be very proud of that? Does the noble Baroness also share with me a sense of an extraordinary inconsistency on the part of the Conservative Party, which never held a referendum over Maastricht or the much more significant Single European Act, and now claims that it needs a referendum on this much less significant change?

My Lords, I should clarify for the noble Baroness that the charter applies to European Union institutions rather than to individual countries. But I take the spirit of what she is referring to with respect to the issues around eastern and central Europe. I also agree entirely with the noble Baroness that there seems to be a kind of collective amnesia on the Conservative Benches this afternoon.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness clarify a couple of points? The first relates to the position on competition policy. Can she confirm that the legal force of the proposed amending treaty and the legal force of the protocol to that treaty on competition policy are identical? In the light of the somewhat alarming and misleading statements made about weakening competition policy and increasing protection, is it not extraordinarily important that the Government should make clear their continuing support for a rigorous and vigorous application by the Commission of its powers as the competition watchdog? Secondly, on the issue of the charter, can she confirm that the new provisions relating to the UK for the Charter of Fundamental Rights represent a legally more secure situation for us than that which has prevailed under the existing provisions of the Treaty of Nice?

My Lords, the important point about the charter is that it puts the position beyond doubt. That is absolutely right. Further, I can confirm that the legal force with respect to the amending treaty is identical. On the competition proposals, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, is quite right to stress the importance of the competition watchdog exercising its powers.

My Lords, did not the Government describe the previous version of the treaty as a “tidying-up exercise” and, in common with the Liberals, promised a referendum for the British people? Can the Minister spell out for the likes of me what precisely has changed in this document that has made the Government renege on that promise? Does the Minister not realise that Governments have to carry consent? What will people conclude if Governments behave in this way? Will we not see more and more people refusing to turn out to cast their votes at elections and on other occasions if Governments treat their manifesto promises with such contempt?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, is right about the importance of Governments having to carry consent. I can well remember what happened not only in Parliament but also elsewhere when there were proposals for a poll tax in this country. At the same time, Governments also have to show leadership in the international arena, and that is precisely what we are doing. I accept that we have a responsibility to ensure that the British people appreciate and understand why our membership of the European Union remains important, as well as the benefits of that membership. They also need to appreciate and understand precisely why this amending treaty is so important: it allows us to move on to the territory where, working with our European Union partners, we will be able to deal with the issues which are at the front of people’s minds rather than focusing on institutional change.

My Lords, the noble Lord asked about the difference between this treaty and the constitution. Perhaps he should be invited to have a quiet word with the noble Lord sitting not two places from him, who is a considerable expert on this. Surely there is such a fundamental difference, and I imagine that he together with others voted strongly against a referendum both on the Single European Act and Maastricht. Together they amounted to a far greater transfer of qualified majority voting. If not then, why now? Surely we should all rejoice that there is now an opportunity for the Union to move forward to those areas which we consider to be of great importance, be it Darfur, economic security or Doha. On the parliamentary aspect, noble Lords will recall the substantial and detailed provisions in the constitution relating to greater accountability for national parliaments. How much of that has been retained in this new treaty?

My Lords, I could not agree more with my noble friend on the difference between the constitutional treaty and the amending treaty, and the importance of moving on to policy issues. On the question of national parliaments, for the first time, when over half the national parliaments object to a new measure on subsidiarity grounds, the measure has to be considered. That is a considerable strengthening of the role of national parliaments.

My Lords, as the southern Irish Prime Minister has confirmed that this treaty involves 90 per cent of the original European constitution—in which he was very much involved, and he certainly knows what he is talking about—can the Minister confirm that this treaty does not involve the transfer of any powers from the United Kingdom to any European Community institution?

My Lords, I am not entirely sure what the noble Lord is asking me, because he will know that there is a move to qualified majority voting in some areas, which is precisely why, in areas where the UK Government were concerned about UK interests, we either negotiated the opt-in, as we did in the area of justice and home affairs, or we strengthened the emergency brake procedure, as we did in the area of social security.

My Lords, first, in the spirit of reshuffle bonhomie, would the noble Baroness accept our best wishes and pass them on to her colleagues on the Front Bench? More seriously, I wish the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, well as he leaves the Government.

We have heard fragments of what Kenneth Clarke has said. If I may say so, he has had considerably more experience in government than some of those who have spoken for the Conservatives today. It is worth mentioning all his comments. He said that some of the Euro-sceptics would,

“have demanded a referendum just about the date on the top of the piece of paper, but they are flogging … a dead horse”.

He said:

“What we have now is far less important than Maastricht … I think the idea we have a referendum … is frankly absurd”.

Would the noble Baroness accept that many of us on these Benches believe that he is absolutely right?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his best wishes and I will certainly pass them on to my colleagues who were not here to hear him. I entirely agree with the noble Lord regarding the comments on a referendum. We all know that this debate and argument are about going back over old ground and we have moved to a situation in which a group of people on the Benches opposite oppose even our membership of the European Union, will not acknowledge the benefits of it, and will not recognise that if you have a Union of 27, together with an enlargement agenda, you must look at practical ways of making that Union work effectively. We think we have done that and that we can now move on to talking about some of the big issues that face us in our ever-changing world.

My Lords, would my noble friend agree that the logical reason why the Conservative Party is demanding a referendum, as opposed to relying on parliamentary democracy, is that a referendum would open the door to an alarmist campaign to vote “no”, run by that notable John Bull, Mr Rupert Murdoch?

My Lords, there has always been a great deal of alarmism around issues relating to our membership of the European Union. We all have a responsibility to deal with the facts, rather than with the myths. Perhaps it is about time that we began to address these myths in a responsible way, rather than to feed that alarmist agenda.

My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Brittan in deploring the removal of the words referring to,

“an internal market where competition is free and undistorted”.

Surely, the point embodied in those words has been of great importance to this country since we joined the Common Market. Am I right in thinking that they were removed on the urging of President Sarkozy of France, because they would oblige him to have a referendum? If they are so important, surely they oblige us to have a referendum.

My Lords, competition policy is a strength of the European Union. It ensures a level playing field for business and protection for consumers from price fixing and market rigging. We continue to support the rigorous application of competition policy in an independent manner. The treaty will provide legal certainty on EU powers to continue to regulate cartels, mergers and anti-trust violations, which I have mentioned before. There is language within the communiqué on the need to ensure that competition within the European Union is not distorted. Competition policy continues to be important.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harrison. I am delighted that the Minister welcomes, as do the Government, the new powers conferred on national parliaments to check what the Commission is doing in relation to subsidiarity, but does she recall that the President of the Commission last year, with the full agreement of the Commission, conferred on the national parliaments the right to expect the Commission to respond to comments made by national parliaments on any document whether or not it referred to subsidiarity? That is a very important step forward. Does she agree that it would be a great pity if in the IGC that fact was lost and the assumption was made that national parliaments can only comment on matters relating to subsidiarity?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. I sincerely hope that that point will be made not only by this House but by other parliaments during the consultation process between now and the end of the IGC period in December.