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EU: Reform Treaty

Volume 696: debated on Tuesday 20 November 2007

My Lords, following the enthusiasm of the Leader of the House, I beg leave to answer, or rather ask, the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether Parliament will be able to amend the new European Union Treaty.

My Lords, if the noble Lord wishes to answer it, too, that will be fine. The Government will publish a Bill setting out the way in which the treaty will be given effect in UK law. Parliament can vote to amend the Bill, although some of its provisions will be necessary for the UK to ratify the treaty. Parliament cannot unilaterally amend the treaty, which in this case will have 26 other signatories beside the UK.

My Lords, does it not follow that the function of the debate on the Bill, which cannot alter jot or tittle in the treaty, is to inform the general public about the Bill’s contents? When the public are informed, will they not then be in a position to come to their own conclusion about its desirability by means of a referendum?

My Lords, the noble Lord knows very well that the Government do not support a referendum in these circumstances. We are following the long established good practice that the amendment of a treaty of this kind should be handled by your Lordships' House and another place. That is what we intend to do.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the persuasive logic of the noble Lord’s Question is that we should allow plenty of time for debate of the Bill in this Chamber and then, when we have analysed it exhaustively, there should be no need for anybody at that stage to want to amend it?

My Lords, I have no doubt that our debates will be exhaustive, and possibly exhausting, and that noble Lords will want to spend time ensuring that they understand completely what is in the reform treaty and the red lines that the UK Government have been able to achieve.

My Lords, does the Leader of the House agree that the Eurosceptics do not need to worry about this provided there is the substantial discussion referred to earlier on, because 18 plus seven countries have now improved the original text? According to Mr Tony Blair, that was indispensable to this country. They have modernised and shortened it, and have agreed everything that the sovereign member states wanted. They are happy to let the Commission powers be expressed in that way.

My Lords, in looking at what has happened to the reform treaty, it is important that we are clear about the difference between the Constitution and the reform treaty. Noble Lords will wish to spend time looking at that. But I am also clear that the role of Parliament is to take the ratification through the necessary process—to spend time debating and discussing it—in order for Parliament to reach its conclusion.

My Lords, what would happen if the provisions of the Bill, which the Leader of the House said were essential for the treaty to come into force in the UK, were negatived by Parliament?

My Lords, surely the real challenge is to ensure that there is as much parliamentary involvement as possible, not only over this treaty but in future treaties. Is not one important component of the Bill that there will be a much greater role for national parliaments in respect of European matters?

My Lords, indeed, it is interesting to see the proposals coming forward for the UK and parliaments of all the 27 nations to have the opportunity to look at proposals in the context of subsidiarity and be sure that those proposals do not adversely affect the system that we have in place.

My Lords, the arithmetic is simple: we have had two Conservative, two Labour and one Liberal speaker, so it is the turn of the Liberals.

My Lords, we win on numbers. Will the Leader of the House read the proceedings that took place in this House during the referendum debate on the Maastricht treaty, in which the largest vote ever to take place in this House was overwhelmingly against a referendum? The leadership of the main opposition party led the charge through those Division Lobbies.

My Lords, will the Leader of the House at least assure us that any attempt to amend the treaty in the future by the so-called self-amending clause—Clause 33(3)—will be exposed to proper national parliamentary control and not just pushed through without any parliamentary intervention at all?

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has been clear in the statements that he has made. We will debate elements of this before the Council—we will have a debate in your Lordships' House and another place—to look at exactly how we take forward any future proposals. My right honourable friend has been very clear that he sees this as a process in which we have now made the necessary amendments. As noble Lords will be aware, he is very keen that the European Union now concentrates on its role economically in terms of what it does for social justice and so forth and its role in the global economy.

My Lords, I have a simple question for my noble friend. When will an authoritative English text of the treaty be provided to Members of the House?

My Lords, I believe that the texts are being worked on at the present time. The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, has asked us to put the texts before the EU Committee for information. That will be done very soon. I cannot say exactly when, but I am told that it will be very soon.

My Lords, this is a very short question. Is the noble Baroness aware that debates in either House of Parliament and assurances given by this Government or any Ministers about what will happen on ratification of the treaty are matters within the sole competence of the European Court of Justice?

My Lords, I am sure that one aspect of our debates as we bring forward the reform treaty and of debates in your Lordships' House will be the role of the European Court of Justice. I very much look forward to those debates. Noble Lords who have had, as I have, the privilege of reading the deliberations of the Select Committee in another place will know that this is one issue that is relevant and important and worthy of greater debate.