My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
The Bill will allow the United Kingdom to ratify the treaty of Lisbon, which was signed by heads of state and government on 13 December 2007. The treaty will not enter into force until it has been ratified by all 27 member states of the European Union. The Lisbon treaty is an amending treaty, like the Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice treaties before it. As such, the Government believe that it should be ratified following debate and decision in Parliament. In order to facilitate that debate, the Government have published as Command Papers the full text of the Lisbon treaty and the consolidated treaties as amended by the Lisbon treaty. I expect it is the latter Command Paper, together with the shorter paper explaining the changes from the current treaties, that noble Lords will find most helpful.
The aim of the Lisbon treaty is to reform and streamline the enlarged European Union’s institutions and decision-making. A Europe of 27 countries, with more to come, faces the challenges of globalisation: defending and extending free and fair trade, climate change, energy security, migration and terrorism. The European Union has the potential to deliver for our citizens on these challenges, but to do so it needs strong, effective and accountable institutions. The treaty introduces reforms to help to achieve that. Indeed, that is its primary purpose. As the Law Society guide to the treaty says:
“Institutional change is the key driver behind the Treaty of Lisbon”.
I begin by outlining what the reforms mean in practice and how they help to deliver the UK’s European Union objectives. The benefits of the Lisbon treaty can be summarised in three broad points. First, the treaty sets clearer objectives for the European Union to act within Europe and globally—objectives that we have shaped. Secondly, the treaty streamlines European Union institutions and European Union decision-making, so that the objectives that we share can be more effectively delivered with our EU partners. Finally, the treaty makes the European Union more transparent and accountable to the member states and to national Parliaments.
The case for the Lisbon treaty becomes clearer when we look at the policy agenda that we want to deliver through a reformed and streamlined European Union, so I shall look ahead to how that agenda can be more effectively delivered as a result of the treaty. European Union action can help to tackle terrorism and organised crime. The treaty provides the next step in the evolution of justice and home affairs at European Union level. By making qualified majority voting and co-decisions the norm, the treaty will unblock decision-making, allowing the Council to make greater progress in an area that is of great benefit to UK citizens: combating international crime and terrorism; ensuring greater legal certainty for European Union citizens and for business; and bringing criminals to justice. The justice and home affairs chapter of the treaty reflects these priorities and the importance that we attach to co-operation in this field. My own experience of the Justice and Home Affairs Council reinforces my support for such co-operation. However, the treaty also provides the flexibility to ensure that when something is not in the UK’s interests, we will be able to choose whether to participate. The treaty extends our opt-in right to each and every justice and home affairs proposal.
The European Union is crucial to promoting security and stability in neighbouring countries and beyond, helping us to deliver our foreign policy objectives. We need the European Union not as an alternative to UK foreign policy but as an important means of implementing it. The Lisbon treaty strengthens the framework for co-operation without undermining the role of member states. It does not change the fundamental nature of foreign policy co-operation. Common foreign and security policy continues to be in a separate treaty and agreed through the Council, acting unanimously. The new high representative, appointed by the heads of state and government and linking the Commission and the Council, will enhance the efficiency, effectiveness and coherence of the current arrangements. The Lisbon treaty says that he or she,
“shall conduct the Union’s common foreign and security policy … as mandated by the Council”.
Nor does the treaty change the fundamental nature of defence co-operation. Again, however, there are important improvements to encourage our partners, through what is called permanent structured co-operation, to meet one of the UK’s priorities on defence: to shoulder more of the international security burden. The Lisbon treaty strengthens our ability to deliver on our foreign and defence policy objectives, while maintaining our independence in these areas. It makes the European Union better able to support an effective multilateral security system. That is why it is supported not only by 27 European Union governments but by the United States and NATO.
We also want the European Union to continue to address issues of global poverty and development and to strengthen the protection of human rights through a fresh effort to deliver the millennium development goals. For the first time, the Lisbon treaty will ensure that development aid,
“shall have as its primary objective the reduction and, in the long term, the eradication of poverty”.
That mirrors UK policy.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister, who has given a clear exposition of the treaty. Will she explain how this exposition differs from that on page 87 of the Labour Party’s manifesto, which went on to say that, should the Government be successful in winning the election, they would provide a referendum and campaign for a yes vote in it? I see no distinction between the treaty as described in the manifesto and the treaty as described today.
My Lords, let us be clear. The Companion is very clear about interjections in speeches. I referred to this rather recently on a Friday in your Lordships’ House, as I am sure the noble Lord has read. The purpose of interjections, particularly in opening speeches in a debate of this length, is to ask for clarification of something I have just said. The noble Lord makes a much broader point, which I have no doubt many speakers will make this afternoon and evening. I will certainly respond to it in my closing remarks, which the noble Lord will be here to hear.
Humanitarian principles will also be enshrined in European Union law, ensuring that humanitarian aid is allocated purely on the basis of need; and by cataloguing existing rights for the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, the charter provides an accessible statement of the existing rights and principles which the Union’s institutions should respect when legislating. The UK has secured clear and legally binding guarantees as to the effect of a binding charter, including a legally binding protocol. These safeguards ensure that the legal status quo for the UK remains.
A more effective single market, underpinned by strong social values, is essential to our response to globalisation. Across the European Union, we share the same global economic challenges, and shared action must be part of our response. The Lisbon treaty can help us to do that more effectively by creating new legal bases for the creation of a single European Union patent, allowing British companies to protect their ideas across Europe. It also allows 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.
We also want to act on the challenges of climate change and energy security, which no country can tackle alone. The Lisbon treaty makes tackling climate change an objective of the European Union for action within Europe and around the world. These are the global challenges in the 21st century, and the European Union is crucial to tackling those challenges effectively. That is why the Government have a positive agenda for the European Union, which the Lisbon treaty will help us to deliver for all the reasons that I have set out.
We also need greater accountability and transparency over how we act through the European Union. The Lisbon treaty will help to deliver this. The institutional changes will deliver a simpler, more efficient organisation and will strengthen the ability of member states to set the agenda. A full-time European Council president, appointed by the member states and answerable to them, will bring greater continuity and drive to delivering the agenda that we set in the European Council. A streamlined European Parliament will have to approve European Union legislation in more policy areas. A simplified voting system based on population size will see our share of the vote increase from 8 per cent to 12 per cent. For the first time, national Parliaments will get a direct say in making European Union laws. If the majority of national Parliaments oppose a proposal and national Governments of the European Parliament agree, it falls. Again, for the first time, the Lisbon treaty defines the European Union’s competences, setting out explicitly where the European Union can and cannot act. The treaty explicitly states that the EU has only those competences expressly conferred on it by the member states through the treaties.
I look forward to debating the treaty over the coming weeks. The European Union Select Committee report provides a detailed and thoughtful basis for these debates. I am most grateful for the painstaking work that was undertaken to provide such a comprehensive analysis of the Lisbon treaty. The Government welcome the committee’s thoughtful and forward-looking report and will aim to respond in full to its findings well within the committee’s deadline. I also welcome the report of the Constitution Committee, published on Friday, which makes an important contribution to the debate we will have. Again, the Government aim to respond in full well within the standard deadline.
Some seek to argue that the UK would be better off outside the European Union or would see more benefits from closer co-operation with other partners, such as the United States or the Commonwealth. But our membership of the European Union does not need to be at the expense of co-operation with other countries and other international organisations. These are complementary. I am clear that the UK benefits from its membership of the EU by pooling sovereignty in areas where this is to our advantage. The UK’s relationship with its EU partners has added depth. This unique relationship gives UK businesses access to the single market and UK citizens the freedom to live, work, study and travel across the European Union. It also provides certainty, guaranteeing standards and rights across the European Union. It is of fundamental economic importance to the UK.
This country should be fully involved and should be giving the lead to tackle the challenges of the 21st century, together with our European partners. The Lisbon treaty will help the enlarged European Union to do that more effectively in the future. That is why the other member states support it, why the Government support it and why I urge noble Lords to support this Bill today. I commend the Bill to the House.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)
My Lords, I believe that the whole House will be extremely grateful to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for the characteristically commonsensical way in which she has set out the provisions of this highly complex, very extensive and very controversial Bill.
We now begin the long task of examining the Bill. Although there will be many disagreements ahead of us on how to improve it, I hope that we will at least be agreed on one thing. The Bill deserves the line-by-line scrutiny that the Prime Minister urged at the start but which, for whatever reason, it did not receive in the other place, where debate, sadly, was curtailed. As the Times remarked, we need a “more honest” debate in the Lords. The Liberal Democrat spokesman on foreign affairs in the other place rightly hoped that we would “spell out the safeguards” for Parliament in the Bill, which we will certainly need to do. Those big themed debates in the other place, which excluded more than half the amendments originally tabled, were, as the Spectator rather unkindly remarked, a parliamentary equivalent of a PowerPoint presentation. I do not think that they did justice to our parliamentary system. We can do better and I hope that we will.
We cannot alter the treaty, which was signed up to with a certain display of reluctance by the Government, but we can and ought to make sure that it fits in wisely with our laws, our systems of accountability and the general character and customs of our country, to the greatest benefit of, and the least harm to, the British people. Surely it is our role to ask the other place to think again about certain aspects of such complex legislation—a procedure that we can flatter ourselves we do extremely well.
I come straight to the central issue of our debates in the coming weeks: whether this time this treaty—variously called the reform treaty, the renamed constitutional treaty or the Lisbon treaty—embodied in the Bill is a constitutional document, similar in effect to the last one, which as we all know came to grief; whether it is of constitutional significance, with all its protocols, declarations, individual opt-outs and opt-ins negotiated not only by us but by several other nations and including our own so-called red lines; and, therefore, whether it merits giving, as the last one clearly did, the British people a say in a referendum, as the three parties promised the electorate in good faith—I assume that it was good faith—in 2005. In short, is it mere semantics to deny that this treaty is a near replica of the last one, which called itself a “Constitution for Europe”, or is this one, this time, truly and definitively different?
We can and no doubt will trade endless opinions and quotations either way across the Floor in coming weeks on that question. We each have long lists of authorities; I suspect that my list is even longer than that of the noble Baroness and her colleagues. On the one hand, I have here a string of European Presidents, Prime Ministers and Commissioners, all confirming that this treaty is similar in all but name to the previous constitutional treaty. We have legal experts, politicians and journalists galore who confidently state that it is 90 per cent or more the same. On the other hand, we have the British Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Lord President, in her own charming way, all flatly denying that it is a constitution of any kind.
I do not want to spend too much time trading these different views, but I was particularly struck by the comments of the so-called father of the EU constitution, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who said that not a comma was different from his creation, which had earlier been rejected. There have been all sorts of media comments, from which I pick out those of the ever engaging columnist Simon Jenkins, who said that,
“everyone but a fool (or a minister)”—
he unkindly added—
“knows that the new treaty is the ... constitution in all but name”.
I was quite reassured by the comments made on the treaty in the other place by my right honourable friend Kenneth Clarke—my former parliamentary secretary, as it happens—who urged the Foreign Secretary to,
“stop all this nonsense about its being different from the constitution when it is plainly the same in substance”.—[Official Report, Commons, 5/3/08; col. 1785.]
You could not get more authoritative than that because Kenneth Clarke, as we know, believes that a referendum should never have been promised in the first place and that it was all a ghastly mistake by Tony Blair. I gather that half the Cabinet believe the same thing.
Amid this clouded and confusing situation of opinions and counter-opinions, I have one, I hope not revolutionary, suggestion. Let us try in your Lordships’ House to reach our own judgment. Let us draw on the many reports that we have before us, on the texts, on the accumulated knowledge of this place and on the wisdom that comes down to us from all the jurists and great constitutional authorities of the past who have sought to shape and explain the evolving British constitution, even though, as I think Arthur Balfour once said, it is probably inexplicable. We have everything from Blackstone’s Commentaries to Paley, Dicey, Hayek, Lord Denning and Lord Bridge. We have our own wealth of learning still happily among us, such as the noble Lord, Lord Neill, the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn—incidentally, he told me that unfortunately he could not be here today—and many others.
We also have a hugely rich selection of contemporary documents from which to quarry, including the treaty itself and a vast pile of texts, protocols, declarations and annexes. It does not make things very much easier but, as explained by the amiable Belgian Minister, Karel de Gucht, it has all been deliberately drafted to be unreadable and unclear to protect it from popular understanding—a very frank and candid admission. But there we are.
We have reports from two committees in the other place, the European Scrutiny Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee. We have the enormously thorough report of our own European Union Committee, under the skilled chairmanship of whom I hope I can call my noble friend Lord Grenfell. For understandable reasons, that report makes no overall assessment or comparisons, although in my view it reaches some rather curious conclusions of detail, to which we will return—no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, will comment on them. Perhaps most important of all, we have the very latest report from our own Constitution Committee, to which the noble Baroness referred, which confirms that:
“The treaty and its protocols create arrangements which inevitably have constitutional implications”.
The committee says “inevitably”, so let us have no more dispute about that.
On top of all those, we have the FCO’s publications, the consolidated text of the EU treaties as amended, the comparative tables of the treaties, the superb British Management Data Foundation’s The Treaty of Lisbon in Perspective, the documents from Open Europe and all the rest. I am sure that noble Lords will have read all those documents closely.
Let us get on to the heart of this. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a constitution as,
“the mode in which a state is constituted or organised”.
It is true that the word “constitution” has been dropped from the Lisbon treaty. The noble Baroness the Lord President has just argued that, because it consists of two amending documents, the Treaty of the European Union and the Treaty of the Function of the European Union, which amend a string of previous treaties, and is not a single founding document, it somehow would not have the same effect as a constitution and therefore the Labour referendum promise falls. That seems to be the argument. But the British constitution has no single founding document. We know that it has some important documents, such as Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights, but it comprises a long string of precedents, statutes, court judgments, Bills and Acts of Parliament. I hope that we will not hear that argument again, because it just will not wash. Indeed, perhaps I should say that it is not one of those arguments that is “good enough for their Lordships on a long afternoon”, as I think one Minister found written in his brief. It really will not do. The key question is whether the new treaty, which contains 240 of the 250 measures in the old one, has fundamental constitutional effects. On the basis of all definitions of constitutional issues and the best constitutional minds in this House who have already reported to us, it clearly does.
We are told that this time the red lines will make all the difference because they have somehow drained the treaty of any constitutional traces. But not only are we informed by the other place’s European Scrutiny Committee, under its shrewd Labour chairman, Mr Michael Connarty, that the red lines “leak like a sieve”, and not only does it turn out that we have no opt-out at all from the massive Charter of Fundamental Rights, which the noble Baroness mentioned, and not only are these red lines almost exactly the same as the ones negotiated under the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, for which a referendum was deemed appropriate, but the fact seems to have been overlooked that the interpretation of any supposed protective declarations and protocols will be in other hands, not in ours. It is for the European Court of Justice, now to be renamed the Court of Justice of the European Union—in effect, the new supreme court of the Union—to decide these matters and it will decide them largely according to its own agenda and inclinations.
Case after case in the ECJ, which, as the excellent report of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, reminds us, is already seriously overloaded, confirms that the court is what the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, calls “a creative court”. It will determine all EU matters in its own way. It may or may not give weight to protocols. It may or may not accept or ignore declarations attached to the treaties. We simply do not know. It is true that the doctrine of the primacy of EU law is long established, but this treaty now gives massive new ECJ jurisdictions over the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers, the European Commission and the European Central Bank. It can impose unlimited fines and penalties in many new areas and drag before it bodies such as the Court of Auditors, the Committee of the Regions and many others.
Furthermore, as is now beginning to be realised, under the famous passerelle—or ratchet articles that have been copied and expanded from the previous constitutional treaty—all these powers can be further extended without treaty change unless national parliaments call a halt. We on this side and anyone looking at this objectively doubt very much whether they can be halted unless it is made clear that these self-granted transfers of further powers to the EU, which are in effect new treaty changes, are made subject to a full Act of Parliament rather than just nodded through by a whipped Commons majority. That is an issue, among several others, on which we had the support of the Liberal Democrats in the other place, which was very helpful. I wonder what they will do here. We shall see.
All three major parties promised the British people that they would have a say on a constitutional document. The former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said:
“There is no question of any constitutional treaty going through without the express consent of the British people”.—[Official Report, Commons, 21/6/04; col. 1090.]
Mr Jack Straw, at the time the Foreign Minister and now the Lord Chancellor among other things, said explicitly that a treaty containing such things as the creation of a new long-term President and Foreign Minister, as this one does with a slight name change, would indeed be constitutional. For the Liberal Democrats, there was also the explicit promise of a referendum. Where they stand on that now, frankly I do not know. I have long since learnt that Liberal Democrat policy seems to adjust to the phases of the moon. Indeed, perhaps I had better hurry on with my speech because we all want to hear from the noble Lord, Lord McNally, what this week’s Lib Dem dish of the day turns out to be. They, too, were trusted by the voters when they made that promise and they, too, believe—so their young, dynamic and by all accounts very attractive leader keeps saying—that people should be trusted and consulted much more, although it seems not in this case. In short, whatever the feelings about referendums, we come down to a straightforward question of trust. Are manifesto promises to be trusted? That question lies at the heart of this. That was the clear expectation of individual citizens and they have an absolute right to feel that they have been cheated.
As to the treaty itself, which of course we cannot amend, we will take the opportunities at further stages of this Bill to explore the implications, including some that have not been made at all clear yet. All I would personally observe at this stage is that this patently falls woefully short of the aspiration in the Laeken declaration to bring the Union closer to the people. In fact, it takes it further away.
After the rejection of the last attempt in 2005, HMG had a golden opportunity to set EU reform on a more modern and popular course and thus to bring us effectively to the centre of it. That was the so-called “period of reflection”, but instead we have ended up with an almost incomprehensible goulash of administrative and judicial changes in our legal relationships with our EU partners. It leaves loads of loose ends to be discussed and, in the words of the Economist, “dozens of questions unanswered”, particularly about who will preside over the Union and when, and who will be in charge. A real turf war lies ahead. In short, it is unfinished business, a veritable Terminal 5 of unsorted legal baggage. It is certainly a significant setback in making the EU fit for purpose in the 21st century. Long ago, I had the opportunity to interview Jean Monnet in his apartment in the Avenue Foch. What he said that day convinces me that he would have been absolutely horrified at the confection now before us.
EU reform also appears to have strong centralising tendencies, which seem a bit outdated and move Europe in the wrong direction. For instance, what happened to our hopes that the ever more voluminous acquis communautaire, now running at 98,000 pages, would at last begin to be unwound? There is not a sign of that in the treaty, while the passerelle articles are frankly dangerous and require far tighter parliamentary control than the Bill offers.
Even more important, none of these things is what the Government actually wanted. Ministers have made endless failed attempts to excise many aspects from the previous constitutional treaty, most of which simply reappear in this one. That confirms beyond doubt that this is not what the Government sought but what they have ineptly become stuck with. They certainly wanted the passerelle provision out; they wanted the EU to stay well clear of foreign policy, which it does not do; and they thought it a rotten idea to abolish the third pillar for the EU to intrude in aspects of criminal justice, the treatment of immigrants and so on. They opposed the creation of an EU diplomatic service; they opposed the obligation of the EU Foreign Minister to speak for the EU at the UN; and they opposed making employment, health and consumer protection shared competencies. They have got the lot now and more. We shall be asking what happened to all those good intentions and why the Government lost so many arguments.
Finally, on the future shape of the European region, its governance and how it adapts to totally new world conditions—with the rise of Asian power, of course, none of us can be sure—certainly the proposition that this treaty, even with its self-amending provisions, will settle institutional and structural matters in Europe for all time is absurd and, frankly, ignorant. There will be no last EU Act or settlement; the question of who rules in the Union and at what level laws should be made will continue to be under constant debate between the Community method and the intergovernmental method. We on our side want an effective Union in our region of the world that is democratic in its legitimacy, modern in structure and able to mobilise the best kind of co-operation on practical issues. We want an EU that reflects what Rabbi Jonathan Sacks calls the “dignity of difference” and not the standardising ambitions of the European elite. Big is not necessarily beautiful; the most progressive idea today in Europe may be the nation state itself. I am far from convinced that this treaty carries that kind of Union forward. There are much better ways of being good Europeans than merely ticking all the boxes.
It was the Government’s firm and unequivocal manifesto undertaking to hold a referendum on this kind of document. Our role in this House and the long-established Salisbury convention demand that the Government’s manifestos be upheld. Mr Brown keeps claiming that he wants a new relationship between government and the citizen. He can have it; here is his chance to show that he means it. Our task is surely, therefore, to examine these matters with the utmost care and to return them to the other place where necessary, thus allowing the Government and the Commons to think again in accordance with their promises. We believe that that is the right course and we shall fight during the coming weeks to see it followed. So let the struggle commence.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for warming up the audience for me in that way. Both when I read him and when I listen to him, he always brings to mind a cartoon from the early 1960s which showed the leaders of Europe in a sports dressing room getting ready for a football match. There was de Gaulle putting on his boots, Erhard pulling up his socks and, framed in the doorway, pristine in his whites and his cricket cap and holding a bat, was Sir Alec Douglas-Home. The title of the cartoon was Joining the Game.
These days, whenever I hear the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and Conservative spokesmen, we get the usual finale in the peroration about their commitment to European co-operation, but every twitch of their body language is hostile to the kind of Europe being built. It would be more frank to say that the present Conservative policy is a plea and a bid to anti-European sentiments and an attempt to stave off being undermined by UKIP.
Let me put in context the debate we have today. In some ways, there have been two constant themes over 60 years of British policy. The first has always been too little, too late. We did not go into the coal and steel community because, as it was put at the time, the Durham miners will not have it. There are no Durham miners today. We did not go to Messina because the Foreign Office predicted that the talks would collapse, so we were not in Europe at the beginning. Even as late as the early 1990s, when I was advising the Corporation of London, it was advised not to go to Brussels for talks about a single currency because the Treasury believed that the talks would collapse.
That strain of policy was best termed by my late noble friend Lord Jenkins, who always said that the British were like men on a railway platform waiting to catch a train. They would dither about whether to get on it and then, as the train began to move, with as much dignity as they could assemble, they would get onto the train. Then, as Lord Jenkins always used to say with some passion, when they got on the train they found that all the seats in the dining car were occupied. Those of us who know of Lord Jenkins’s appreciation of a good meal, know the passion with which he gave that example.
The other constant theme that I have experienced is that in the two main political parties there has been a willingness to make Europe work in office and a willingness to play the anti-European game in opposition. To give balance to this speech, perhaps I may remind my former Labour colleagues that when I joined the Labour Party it was hostile to Europe because, in the words of Hugh Gaitskell, “It would give away 1,000 years of history”. When Labour got into government, Harold Wilson and George Brown would not take no for an answer. When we were in opposition again, it was no to Europe on Tory terms. When we got back into government, it was renegotiation and yes in the referendum, as advised by the Cabinet. That pattern has now been repeated by the Conservative Party. As it has gone into opposition, it has gone into anti-Europeanism. That playing of short-term politics by the major parties has done grave damage to Britain’s long-term national interests in Europe. I am proud that these Benches have a 60-year, consistent commitment to Europe.
I have been asked about our attitude to this Bill. First, as with all Bills, at Second Reading we will give our broad views and we will look at amendments as they arise, but let there be no doubt that we on these Benches want to see the Bill passed and the treaty ratified.
On the referendum pledge in the general election manifesto, I know interpretations have been made but that commitment was to the constitution. As the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, in a flash of honesty a few weeks ago, said, unfortunately the Dutch and the French shot our fox. So they did. That commitment to the constitution died with the constitution and, along with 26 out of 27 member states, we have taken the view that this is an amending treaty, as the Leader of the House pointed out, like all the other amending treaties and should be carried through by the parliamentary process.
Let me make one other point about this. The Conservatives have gone on about a referendum, but when my colleagues in the other place offered an in or out referendum, they ran away from it. I have listened carefully to both Mr Cameron and Mr Michael Gove on “News 24” explaining Conservative policy. The policy is that if the Conservatives won a referendum which said no to the treaty, they would continue in Europe on the basis of Maastricht and Nice. I had a look at the spontaneous demonstration that assembled a few weeks ago—it looked like the Countryside Alliance on a day out—but the smartly dressed ladies and gentlemen who were asking for a referendum on the treaty wanted Britain out of Europe. I did not hear any Conservatives going out there and saying, “Look, folks, what we want to do is carry on under old treaties”. It really is dishonest to start whipping up public anticipation. We have seen all the e-mails—
My Lords, I know that noble Lords do not like it, but the real duplicity is by a Conservative Party that longs to wound and fears to strike. I can tell it now that this party and this Bench are not going to fall into any elephant traps set by the Conservative Party. So work it out from that; we will make our judgments on that—and by God you are making a case for the abolition of the hereditaries.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell, mentioned Jean Monnet. I had the honour of working with Jean Monnet 30 years ago on a committee called the Committee for the United States of Europe. I remember going to the Hyde Park Hotel to see him. I said, “So Monsieur Monnet, what was it that motivated you in putting forward this dream of Europe?”. I remember him looking out of the windows over Hyde Park and saying, “I wanted to create something that would make it impossible for Germany or France ever to go to war again”. In that respect, that Europe of atonement has succeeded beyond our wildest dreams and we should be proud of it.
I got into parenting rather late in life—I have three teenage children—and I am well aware that that Europe of atonement is now part of history for them. If I am going to win the argument for Europe in the 21st century, I have to make 21st-century arguments, which are not going to be narrow arguments about treaties on the constitution, line-by-line. They will be arguments about where we want to go within that Europe. As the Lord President said today and as President Sarkozy said with great eloquence last week, that Europe must address the major issues of our day, whether it is energy security, climate change, immigration, organised crime, our relations with our near neighbours or our policy on the major issues of poverty and instability in the world.
My Lords, I can go on for longer, but if you want to break with the Companion, that is fair enough. The Conservatives do not like the fact that they want to make this into a narrow constitutional debate and that I am challenging them to break away from short-term political advantage, stop hitching their wagon to eccentric multi-millionaires with the single objective of getting us out of Europe and start talking like Conservatives who have a proud history on Europe. The best thing that the Conservatives did was in the 1980s, when they gave us the single market. If we are going to have a debate today, let us have it in the broad context of Europe.
If the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, wants to intervene, that is fine—although I am rather surprised that, given the fact that there are three party leaders, he decided to duck out of speaking today. Perhaps he has the same views on Europe as he has on Lords reform, and did not want to give them.
My Lords, I am very pleased that the noble Lord has allowed me to intervene and I do not think that I am breaking any rules of the House by doing so. What I want is some clarification from the noble Lord, who is normally extremely clear. The Liberal Democrats had one position at the election and a second position in the House of Commons. Is the noble Lord telling us today that he is coming up with a third position or is he going to stick to the position that the Liberal Democrats took in the House of Commons?
That is a third position!
My Lords, if it comes as a shock to the Conservative Party, it is even slower thinking than I first thought it was. I assure noble Lords that these Benches, with their record on Europe, are not going to fall into any Conservative elephant traps. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, knows as well as I do that the arithmetic of the Commons and the arithmetic of the Lords are different. A Commons abstention can be perfectly acceptable, and there are several examples of us voting in different ways in the Commons and the Lords, as have the Conservatives. You can throw all the abuse you like, but I am determined—because I am not playing for the short term but believe passionately, as I have believed for 40 years, that the time has come to move on from this constitutional navel-gazing and short-term political opportunism—to put Britain on the road to playing a full part in a Europe relevant to the problems of the 21st century. That is how we will vote and that is how we will work in Committee.
My Lords, after a lot of heat, I shall try to offer a little light. I invite the House to take note of the report of the European Union Committee, entitled The Treaty of Lisbon: An Impact Assessment, which was published on 13 March.
Last October, the Select Committee agreed that we could most usefully assist the House by undertaking a detailed, objective, evidence-based analysis of the treaty, and an assessment of its impact on the institutions of the EU, on the member states, and on the UK. We wanted to explain exactly what the treaty does, by comparing its provisions with the status quo, and thus determine what significant changes it would introduce, if it came into force, relative to where we are now. We were not therefore interested in comparing it with the defunct constitutional treaty or in entering the debate on whether there should be a referendum. Nor did we wish to deliver an overall judgment on the treaty or make any recommendation as to whether the UK should ratify it. That was a matter for Parliament as a whole.
In an unprecedented collaborative effort, the Select Committee and its seven sub-committees worked at it for four months, considering evidence from more than 140 witnesses of all opinions, both here and in Brussels. The committee was able to adopt our final report by consensus, which was gratifying. If we have succeeded in our goal of producing a report that can usefully inform the debate in this House, as I hope we have, the credit goes to the 80 Members of your Lordships’ House, and to our superb staff. As chairman, my gratitude to each and every one of them is unbounded.
Our report looks at every significant provision of the treaty and our conclusions are summarised in chapter 12 of the main report. As this is a complex treaty and it is going to be a long debate, I have no wish to try the patience of the House. I shall therefore be selective in my choice of issues to address, mindful that colleagues on the Select Committee and the sub-committees will also be speaking.
In chapter 2, we deal with the EU’s competences—that is to say, its powers. The treaty sets out for the first time a clear statement that the Union may exercise only such competences as the member states have conferred on it—the principle of conferral. All other competences remain with the member states, which may decide to reduce the EU’s competences. The significance lies in the articulation of those principles, the content of which has always been implicit in the treaties. The treaty also specifies new or extended competences. By the Government’s count there are 17 of them, and in almost all of these areas, as the Minister for Europe reminded us, the EU already takes action under other legal bases. Seven of the competences, by my count, are new.
The EU’s competences are not affected by the conferral of a single legal personality on the Union. The European Community in relation to the first pillar has always had express legal personality, and the European Union has had it implicitly to the extent that it has powers under the current treaty of European Union to enter into international agreements. What the Lisbon treaty does in extending a single legal personality to the whole of the Union is to include the areas currently covered by the second—foreign and security policy—pillar and the third—justice and home affairs—pillar, in the application of the attributes of the status of express legal personality, such as the ability to join international organisations or to take, or be subject to, proceedings in international tribunals.
In our third chapter, we examine the proposals for simplified revision procedures and passerelles or bridges which could be used to alter significantly the provisions on the face of the treaties. Any treaty revision by means of simplified procedures and any changes to decision procedures by means of passerelles will be subject to veto by the Government in the European Council or the Council of Ministers. Further, under the Bill before us today, as the noble Baroness the Leader of the House reminded us, government agreement to any such move will be subject to approval by both Houses of Parliament. In addition, two of the passerelles—the second simplified revision procedure and the passerelle for measures concerning family law with cross-border implications—are subject under the treaty to a direct veto by each national parliament, exercisable within six months. We doubt that it will ever be needed here since both Houses will have this separate veto on government agreement in the Council.
The treaty’s impact on the EU's institutions is examined in chapter 4. It makes highly significant changes to the European Council, aimed at making it work better. The creation of a full-time European Council president, serving a two and a half year, once renewable term in place of the current six-monthly rotation among heads of government, could mean a more active and activist European Council, a consequence which our report recognises as likely to be welcome in some quarters but not in others. The European Council president will have two broad roles—leading the Council and ensuring the external representation of the EU on issues concerning the common foreign and security policy at his or her level without prejudice to the high representative for foreign affairs and security policy.
Concerns have been raised about the relationship between the European Council president and the Union's other senior leaders, in particular the high representative, the rotating presidency of the Council of Ministers, and the president of the Commission. The treaty has little to say about how this will work, and that is understandable. Only practical experience, not to mention the manner in which the various personalities interact, will tell.
The extension of the use of qualified majority voting to more than 40 new areas, including the whole of justice and home affairs, is a significant change for the Council of Ministers. Where there is a move from unanimity to QMV, the UK will have to construct a blocking minority rather than use its veto if it wishes to block legislation. It is marginally helpful that the UK's share of a blocking minority rises from 32 per cent to 35 per cent. As we also note, the extended use of QMV may help to advance UK interests in some cases. The veto can be a double-edged sword, and it is worth recalling that the single market would never have happened without using QMV to achieve common standards and harmonisation, and QMV could lead, for example, to improved decision-making in humanitarian aid. As the noble Baroness the Leader of the House noted, the treaty's new system for calculating a qualified majority is more equitable and takes more account of population. That is a significant revision. We also find important the provision requiring the Council of Ministers to meet in public when it legislates, which is a useful contribution to greater transparency.
The reduction in the size of the College of Commissioners, in the interests of increased effectiveness, to two-thirds of the number of Union members is an important change. From 1 November 2014, the posts will be allocated to member states on a rotation system meaning that each member state will not have a commissioner in the college for five years out of every 15. Commissioners ought not to be regarded as national representatives, but the concern that a member state without a commissioner is disadvantaged will doubtless be raised, whether justified or not. If this new arrangement just does not work, the European Council will be able to rethink. The treaty further states that the European Council will need to take into account the elections to the European Parliament in nominating its candidate for election by the Parliament to the Commission presidency. That does not prevent the Council from coming to its own decision as to its preferred candidate, but it will be unlikely to put forward a candidate who could not command the parliamentary majority necessary for election. In that sense, there is no fundamental change from the present system whereby the Parliament must approve the European Council's nominee.
The European Parliament itself finds its powers considerably increased by the Lisbon treaty, in particular by the extension of co-decision now named “the ordinary legislative procedure” to a substantially larger range of areas including agriculture, fisheries, transport and structural funds, in addition to the whole of the current third pillar of justice and home affairs. This means that the European Parliament will become co-legislator with the Council for most European laws.
Another EU institution whose role is significantly expanded is the European Court of Justice, which will gain jurisdiction over the justice and home affairs area as a result of the merger of the third pillar with the first. But of course the court's jurisdiction in relation to the UK will differ from that in relation to other member states to the extent that the UK uses its opt-in/opt-out from all justice and home affairs legislation. The ECJ's jurisdiction will not be extended to the common foreign and security policy except in two narrow and clearly defined areas.
I come now to the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, with which we deal in chapter 5. We were not persuaded by suggestions that the charter itself creates or contains new rights which differ from those in the underlying national and international instruments and documents from which the charter indicates its provisions are derived. The scope of its rights will ultimately be a matter for the courts. However, the broad rights and the language in which they are expressed in the charter reflect existing national, EU and international obligations, in particular the European Convention on Human Rights. Furthermore, it does not apply to situations involving purely domestic law. For the charter to be directly relevant, there must be a link to Union law. The UK's concern, which led to the drawing of a “red line”, was to ensure that its existing labour and social legislation was protected. We are satisfied that the charter does not create a free-standing right to strike; it is clear that within the Community framework the right to collective action, including the right to strike, is already recognised as a general principle of law. The relevant charter article stipulates that workers and employers have the right to collective bargaining,
“in accordance with Union law and national laws and practices”,
and the European Court of Justice has, in very recent judgments, indicated the significance of those limitations.
It is important to recognise that the protocol on the application of the charter in the UK and Poland, which has the same legal value as the treaties, is not an opt-out from the charter. The charter will apply in the UK, but the protocol reflects the fact that the charter creates no new rights, and appears to put beyond all doubt the fact that nothing in the charter's Title IV on solidarity rights creates justiciable rights applicable to either the UK or Poland, except in so far as such rights are provided for in their national laws.
I now turn to the area of freedom, security and justice, dealt with in chapter 6. The treaty's merger of the first and third pillars brings criminal law and policing within the ordinary legislative procedure, that is to say, QMV and co-decision with the European Parliament. That is clearly a significant change which could speed up decision-making in the Council and prevent legislation being adopted at the level of the lowest common denominator. But it could also increase the volume of legislation in this area. Family law, meanwhile, will continue to be decided by unanimity.
The veto's removal in respect of criminal law and policing means that one member state, or a small group, can no longer block measures supported by the UK. The other side of the coin, of course, is that in some cases the UK could be bound by a measure against its will. But the likelihood of that will be greatly reduced by the general right the UK will have under the amended FSJ and Schengen protocols not to opt in to any proposed measure in the entire freedom, security and justice area. That is the second of the UK's “red lines”. Where the UK has not opted in to a proposal, it can still participate in the discussions. Even though it would have no vote, it could still influence the outcome, witness the case of what is known as Rome I, a measure governing the law of contract.
The opt-in provisions will also apply to amending measures, but other member states are permitted to eject the UK from an existing measure where it declines to participate in a relevant amending measure, though only if UK non-participation in the amending measure would render the system demonstrably inoperable. Such cases should be rare.
Like the amended FSJ protocol, the amended Schengen protocol permits the UK, along with Ireland, freedom to decide whether or not to participate in Schengen measures. It is also clear that the UK will no longer be bound to take part in Schengen-building measures where it participates in the underlying acquis. That is a significant change. What is clear then is that under the FSJ and Schengen protocols, the UK cannot be forced to participate in an FSJ measure against its will. So, if the UK takes the view that a proposed measure has features that cannot be accommodated within a common law system or are otherwise unsuitable for application to the UK, it is free to refuse to opt in and, if it wishes, to play no further part at all in relation to the proposal. A decision not to participate in an amending measure or a Schengen-building measure may have consequences, and if threatened with ejection from an existing measure, the Government will have to decide which course of action best serves UK interests. But we do not expect such cases to arise frequently.
At present, there is no systematic parliamentary scrutiny of UK decisions on whether or not to opt in to particular FSJ measures. The European Scrutiny Committee in another place has drawn attention to this in the context of the Lisbon treaty. We do so too, and we intend to give the matter further consideration. Meanwhile, your Lordships' Constitution Committee, in its excellent report on the treaty's impact on the UK constitution, has made a specific recommendation in this regard, and we shall certainly be examining that carefully.
I come now to the impact of the Lisbon treaty on the EU's foreign, defence and development policies which we discuss in chapter 7. I am happy that the noble Lord, Lord Roper, will be speaking. He chairs our Sub-Committee C, which undertook a thorough examination of the treaty's impact on this area of EU activity. I do not wish to pre-empt. I just want to draw attention to our conclusion that the treaty neither changes the scope of the CFSP nor transfers any additional powers to the EU in this area. The new provisions could lead to a more active role for the EU in the area of CFSP, but much will depend on the degree of consensus among member states regarding such a role. I should also like to emphasise our conclusion that the treaty has preserved the independence of the UK’s foreign and defence policy, subject to the constraints arising when unanimous agreement does prove possible. This was a third red line. On the treaty's significant institutional changes—in particular the changes to the post of high representative and the creation of the External Action Service—the noble Lord, Lord Roper, will, I know, have some interesting things to say.
I come now to social affairs, which we cover in chapter 8. In the area of employment and social affairs, the UK Government drew a fourth red line. In order to maintain member states’ financial autonomy, the UK negotiated an “emergency brake” with regard to social security measures for migrant workers and their dependants, an area which has moved from unanimity to QMV. The emergency brake enables any member state to request that a proposed measure be referred to the European Council should the state believe that it would affect important aspects of its social security system. The Department for Work and Pensions has indicated its belief that the mechanism maintains the UK’s ultimate control over any changes to social security measures for migrant workers. Incidentally, a similar emergency brake arrangement applies in the field of criminal law.
The inclusion among the treaty’s objectives of the protection of children’s rights will, in our view, have an important impact by making future legislative instruments potentially subject to an assessment of their impact on children’s rights. We find it significant that the treaty introduces sport as a new competence, emphasising that the Union must take account of the specificity of sport and its social and educational function, although any harmonisation of the member states’ laws and regulations in this area is specifically excluded. The provision of a legal base for sport is also intended to ensure that EU legislation does not impose unintended consequences on sporting activities. After all, one does not want the popular Clean Bathing Water Directive to prevent the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race from being rowed on the Thames.
Chapter 9 deals with finance and the internal market. We find that the impact of the Lisbon treaty on the internal market will be limited, but there are four points worth briefly making. The treaty gives the EU a clearer and more explicit shared competence in energy policy, and moves it to QMV. With respect to competition, we considered the significance of the exclusion, on the initiative of France, from the TFEU’s list of principles and objectives of a commitment to undistorted competition, as appears in the current TEU. It was agreed instead to include in a protocol on the internal market and competition a reference to,
“ensuring that competition is not distorted”.
We would be concerned if any possible symbolic downgrading were translated into efforts to depart from the principles of free competition which have formed the cornerstone of the internal market. However, since treaty articles and protocol articles have the same legal weight, the change ought not to be significant in reality.
Environment, agriculture and fisheries are dealt with in chapter 10. I am very grateful to my committee colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, for participating in this debate since he is chairman of our Environment and Agriculture Sub-Committee and will be addressing these issues. The fact that climate change is mentioned for the first time in an EU treaty is significant, as is the provision on civil protection in relation to environmentally-related disasters. The move to co-decision in agriculture and fisheries is clearly significant, and equally significant for this area is the abolition of the distinction between compulsory expenditure, which includes agriculture, and non-compulsory expenditure. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, will address these issues.
The final area in which we made an impact assessment was that of the role of national parliaments. Noble Lords will find that in chapter 11. We regard it as settled that the Lisbon treaty places no obligations on national parliaments even if a sense of obligation can be construed from the provisions as translated into some other languages. But in English it is perfectly clear. Though we are asked to ensure the EU institutions’, in particular the Commission’s, compliance with the principle of subsidiarity, and to contribute actively to the good functioning of the EU, it is inconceivable that anyone would seek to enforce these obligations. That said, national parliaments will in our view be under a strong political obligation to take seriously the new opportunities created by the treaty, and in this House I am sure we will want to do so.
The treaty introduces new procedures which have become known as the “yellow” and “orange” cards. Within eight weeks from the date of transmission of a draft legislative Act in all of the Union’s official languages, any parliament or chamber may submit a reasoned opinion stating why it considers that the draft in question does not comply with the principle of subsidiarity A voting system then applies, with two votes for each parliament, one vote for each chamber in a bicameral parliament, operated separately. Chapter 11 of our report details the differences between the two cards, the orange card wielding heavier sanctions but at a higher voting threshold. Suffice it to say that we believe these sanctions will rarely be invoked, but their existence gives scrutiny teeth while making it less likely that the sanction will need to be deployed, which is just as well. Despite the novelty of the card procedures, and their prominence in the treaty, we should not overestimate their importance. Breaches of the subsidiarity principle in draft legislative Acts are quite rare. That said, parliaments will no doubt take the new procedures seriously, but it should not distract attention from the scrutiny of policy, which is crucial.
My final point is that the Lisbon treaty will have consequences for the procedures of this House and for our committee. We have set them out on page 246 and I will not weary the House with a recital of them. If the Bill is passed, we will need to put some of these matters to the Procedure Committee.
Your Lordships have been very patient, and I apologise for the length of my intervention. But, as I said at the start, this is a very complex treaty, and our committee owes it to the House to contribute through our report to a proper understanding of what its impact really is. I therefore commend the report to the House.
My Lords, the Lisbon treaty, whose ratification by the UK we are debating today, is by no means the most significant of the European treaties this House has been called on to endorse. That title probably belongs either to the original decision to join the European Community in 1972, which marked a fundamental choice by this country, albeit one which is still sadly challenged by some in this House; or, alternatively, the title goes to the Single European Act of 1986 which triggered off the most far-reaching process of economic integration in the single market, which has hugely benefited our economy and every citizen in these islands. Or perhaps it should go to the Maastricht treaty establishing the single currency and covering a much wider sweep of policies than does the present treaty.
Nevertheless, this is a treaty of real significance and nothing is to be gained by pretending it is not. Ratification of it should equip the European Union of 27, nearly five times the number of the original members and set to increase in the years ahead, to face future challenges far better than the existing treaty provisions would do. Failure by this country to ratify it would prolong and intensify the already overlong tensions over institutional reform, which have long distracted the European Union from other, higher priorities. It would bring a halt to the process of further enlargement, which has been one of this country’s principal objectives, and it would cast a deep shadow over the UK’s membership.
What this treaty is not is some fundamental shift of powers from the member states to the European institutions, unlike some of the earlier treaties I mentioned. Indeed, it could be argued that the creation of the post of the President of the European Council, the clear primacy given over the EU’s external policies to the High Representative and the subsidiarity controls vested in national parliaments mark a shift away from earlier centralising and federalist trends. What this treaty is also not is the same thing as the constitutional treaty which was rejected in France and the Netherlands. Not only does it lack the latter treaty’s constitutional framework but the removal of the symbols of statehood in that document is of real significance. One has only to imagine what the opponents of this treaty would have been saying today about those symbols if they had been included in this treaty to understand that point.
On the issue of the differences between the two treaties, I can only continue to commend to the House the report drawn up by the Dutch council of state, the only truly impartial study of the matter, which was clear that the two are indeed very different in their thrust. Looking at that council of state’s report is preferable to concentrating, as they did in another place, on the similarities or differences between the DNAs of mice and men.
As the House begins its work on the ratification of the Lisbon treaty I should like to pay tribute to the encyclopaedic report we have received from our own EU Select Committee. I think I can do that without being accused of self-congratulation since the section of that report provided by Sub-Committee C, on which I have the honour to serve, represents a relatively modest part of the whole. Suffice it to say that in terms of clarity, comprehensiveness and objectivity, I do not believe it can be faulted even though some might criticise it as lacking in drama and hyperbole, which no doubt explains why in contrast to other reports on the same subject it has received so little attention in the media. That is in itself a sad commentary on the nature and style of the European debate in this country as mirrored in our press.
Surely the most important thing we have to debate today is whether the changes made in the Lisbon treaty are in the overall interest of this country and of the European Union, on whose efficiency and effectiveness we depend to such an extent in the interdependent, globalised, international community of today. It is really rather hard to gainsay the fact that, in almost every policy field, we are more likely to achieve our national objectives by acting in concert with our European partners than by acting alone and without them. Can we achieve our objectives on climate change acting alone, or on obtaining freer trade and investment, or on stabilising the Balkans, or on ensuring our competitiveness through a deeper and more complete single market, or on defining policies towards Russia and in the Middle East? I could go on, but that would be extremely tedious. The simple point is that, if we can best achieve our objectives in all these fields and more by acting through the European Union, we need a European Union capable of acting decisively and flexibly, not continually reduced to the speed of the slowest ship in the convoy. That is the heart of the case for institutional change, and for accepting moves to the use of qualified majority voting in fields where vital national interests are not at stake. On balance, this country has already gained substantially from the use of qualified majority voting. Now, under the Lisbon treaty, our weight in establishing these majorities is to be increased. If there is any question of using the passerelle clause in the treaty to move further down the road towards qualified majority voting, this Parliament will have the final say on whether it should happen.
Probably the most far-reaching changes in the Lisbon treaty are those which involve the restructuring of the handling of the European Union’s external policies. It is not before time. The Union has been seriously underperforming in its external policy formulation and execution for many years. This is only partly due to divergences between member states, although they have on occasion, as over Iraq, been deep and serious. It has been due also to the dysfunctional nature of the institutional machinery, divided between the Commission, with many of the financial resources and controlling many of the instruments of economic policy, and the Council, with a final say on policy. And then there has been the pantomime horse of the rotating presidency, due to come to us now only once in every 14 or more years. The new structures, with the high representative bringing together all the threads of policy and chairing the Foreign Affairs Council, should be capable of achieving much greater coherence and effectiveness. Important decisions remain to be taken on the relationship between the president of the European Council, the president of the Commission and the high representative, and on the implementation of the treaty provisions establishing the external action service. But the potential is there for a common foreign and security policy capable of furthering and defending our collective interests better than has ever been the case in the past.
Nothing has been more revealing of the basic attitudes of the opponents of this treaty than the way in which they have consistently denigrated the new provisions dealing with subsidiarity and the role of national Parliaments in ensuring that the European Union legislates only where matters cannot better be handled at member state, regional or local level. The creation of new powers in the EU legislative process for national Parliaments is surely something that we should welcome with open arms, not damn with faint praise. It will certainly be a challenge to make those new provisions work effectively, and I hope that, in due course, the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, will give the House the thoughts of his committee on how this process should best be managed. Meanwhile, this marks an important innovation in the European Union’s institutional machinery.
There has been much sound and fury in the other place and in the press over whether this treaty needs to be approved in this country by a referendum. I have no doubt that we shall hear plenty about that, too; indeed; we have already begun to do so. We shall be asked to consider amendments on that issue which I hope we will reject. It is worth remarking that only one member state will hold a referendum on this treaty—Ireland—and that only because its supreme court ruled a considerable time ago that the Irish constitution required any European treaty changes at all to be so submitted. That is to say that the Irish requirement for a referendum is nothing to do with the content of the treaty or with its similarity or lack of it to the constitutional treaty. I have always taken the view from the 1970s onward that the practice of representative parliamentary democracy in this country over many centuries argued strongly against the use of referendums in the context of approving European treaties. I criticised the decision in 2004 to hold a referendum on the constitutional treaty; I spoke in this House immediately after it was announced. I was confirmed in my negative views about referendums in this context not so much by the outcome of the Dutch and French referendums as by the campaigns in those countries, which had little to do with the details of the treaty under consideration and much more to do with the attitude of the electorate to the president and Government of the day. If referendums on European treaties cannot be concentrated on the treaties in question, and I can see no way of ensuring that they are, what on earth is the basis for arguing that they represent a higher form of democratic legitimacy than approval by Parliament? I am sure that we will hear it said that the opposition to a referendum is purely opportunistic, based on the fear of a negative outcome, but can the proponents of a referendum seriously ask us to believe that their motivation is not opportunistic?
The weeks ahead will provide ample opportunity for the House to consider every aspect and detail of the Lisbon treaty, and that is as it should be. It would be nice to think that this will clear the air and pave the way for us to concentrate with greater unity on other aspects of European policy, from climate change to policy towards Russia, from budgetary and agricultural reform to the Union’s further enlargement, including the accession of Turkey. There are few greater ironies than the fact that while most continental Europeans believe that this treaty was tailor-made for the UK—President Sarkozy’s eloquence reflected that when he spoke the other day—its opponents here regard it as a federalist straitjacket. Well, they cannot both be right. I have no doubt where the balance of the argument lies, and that is why I wholeheartedly support the ratification of this treaty.
My Lords, I apologise for making my maiden speech when so many noble Lords wish to speak and thereby taking up their time, but it has the advantage that I have to be concise. Convention also requires me to be non-controversial. Well, I shall endeavour to obey that, although, as President Sarkozy said so clearly last week, this is a sensitive matter. They were very delicate words.
Personal conviction apart, I have two particular interests in wanting to speak today. Symbolically, the more important is the fact that this year will see the 50th anniversary of the death of one of the greatest Europeans of the last century, who also happened to be my predecessor: George Bell, Bishop of Chichester from 1929 to 1958. This may not be the last time that I mention his name in your Lordships’ House. It has been said that, apart from William Temple, George Bell was the only English churchman of the 20th century of whom everyone had heard. His interests and sympathies were manifold, but it is his specific concern for Europe that I mention today.
Bell was a strong supporter of the confessing church, which stood against Hitler in the 1930s. He took a particular interest in the plight of refugees who fled from Nazi tyranny only to find themselves interned indiscriminately as aliens when they came to this country. His friendship with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the martyr, was legendary. His welcoming spirit is perhaps best exemplified by his patronage of the artist Hans Feibusch, whose work is an important testimony to the moral dimension of aesthetics.
More politically, Bell understood that the concept of the just war applies both to the cause of war, which is why he supported the war against Nazi tyranny, and to the prosecution of war, which is why he spoke in your Lordships’ House against the destruction bombing of Dresden. A notable historian has written that the moral ideas espoused by Bell,
“held the foreground in the early phase of the post-war European movement before it was hijacked by economists”.
If that is controversial, please blame Professor Davies, not me.
I shall share with your Lordships the reaction of some of my European friends and colleagues, particularly in Germany and Scandinavia, to the news of my appointment as Bishop of Chichester. They greeted it with the words, “Ah, the see of Bell: that is an inheritance”. Yes, it is an inheritance, right at the heart of which is a moral vision of the European project, and it is good to see that highlighted in Article 2 of the amended treaty on the European Union.
My second interest is that for most of the 1990s I was the Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, the Church of England diocese covering the whole of mainland Europe, while the Continent was digesting the immediate implications of the collapse of Soviet power. “Europe” from the perspective of the Church of England means all continental Europe together with Morocco, Turkey and the whole of the Asian part of the former Soviet Union. What I found especially fascinating in those years was to oversee the emergence of what had begun as embassy chaplaincies into authentic local churches; to accompany those local communities, particularly in eastern Europe, as they began to reclaim property stolen or appropriated in earlier revolutions; and then to share with local churches and other communities of faith what it means to be both European and a believer and to be both European and a citizen or subject of a particular nation. It is in that context that I support the Lisbon treaty.
Like Pope Benedict and, I suspect, like George Bell, I am sorry that the framers of modern European legislation are so reticent about acknowledging the Christian foundations of European identity, the Christian roots of the Enlightenment and convictions about human rights and, indeed, the Christian motivation of the founders of the current European project. But be all this as it may, this is a venture which deserves our encouragement. As President Sarkozy identified so precisely last week, for too long we have devoted our energies to divisive institutional debates rather than to what unites us. The Lisbon treaty may be imperfect but it may, he suggested, draw a line under the confrontations of the past and invite us to engage in concrete projects.
Although I would love an opportunity to debate robustly with him some of what he went on to identify as those projects, and particularly some that he did not mention, I have no doubt that he is correct in saying that Europe needs the United Kingdom to be thoroughly inside rather than outside those discussions, and that we have a far greater chance to make a powerful and value-laden influence if we are there than if we are or are perceived to be semi-detached critics.
I think this treaty is an improvement on the existing arrangements and am glad to support this Bill.
My Lords, it is a great privilege for me to follow the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester. I see from his record that he was a teacher and then a young priest in a demanding area of south London, but almost the crowning glory is that he was the Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, which meant that he had the care of the flock on the Rock as well as of a much wider part of the Continent. Clearly, from his appearance as well as his speech he falls into the happy category of a muscular priest. I am sure that we will benefit from his wisdom and expertise for a very long time.
In truth, the Bill before the House relates to a reform treaty, no more and no less. That treaty is less radical and less centralising in terms of powers than the Maastricht treaty of 1992 or, indeed, the Single European Act enacted by the Conservative Government in 1986, and it makes more provision for democratic accountability, transparency and pragmatic European co-operation than any previous European Union treaty. I therefore implacably reject the false claims made in this House and elsewhere that the treaty is constitutional, that it will weaken democracy and that it will transfer more powers to the European Union.
The truth is that the treaty is most certainly not constitutional. I have always argued that that term should never have been used because neither it nor its predecessor, the constitutional treaty, can or will change the way this or any other member state is governed. But that term has in any case rightly been abandoned. Even more importantly, the proposal that all previous treaties should be replaced with a gargantuan Giscardian blockbuster has conclusively and comprehensively been withdrawn by the unanimous decision of the Governments of 27 member states.
In the reform treaty there is therefore no Foreign Minister, no official flag and no European Union anthem. However, in this treaty there are opt-outs and special provisions for the United Kingdom on the Charter of Fundamental Rights so that no law will be accepted unless it is consistent with UK law, and there are particular safeguards on common foreign and security policy—which in any case is specified as a common policy in which each initiative and action has to be agreed, and not a single policy which has mandatory status. We are indebted to the European Union Committee of this House under the able chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, for the lucid and convincing analysis and conclusions which it offers on these issues and, indeed, much else.
What, then, of the claim that would transform all of us into opponents of the treaty if it were true—the claim that it will weaken democracy? Frankly, it is the opposite of the truth. First, all European Union legislative proposals will now, because of the treaty, have to be examined first by national parliaments as well as approved by European member states’ Governments and by the directly elected European Parliament. Secondly, when the Commission compiles legislation—incidentally, but vitally, more than 90 per cent of the time at the explicit request of member states—those proposals can be sent back to the Commission if a third of the national parliaments decide that the issue in question is for national, not European Union, legislation. Thirdly, and significantly, for the first time legislative proceedings in the Council will be held in public.
As for the allegation that the treaty will mean the transfer of more powers to the European Union, the truth is that the reform treaty does not create a single new competence for the European Union. Instead, it defines the established competences of the EU with greater clarity, specifies that powers can be returned to member states and adds the substantial new democratic checks and balances that I have listed.
As always, it is elected Governments—not the Commission, not the European Parliament, not the European Court of Justice—which will decide how much and what sovereignty is shared and what is not shared, and this treaty does not alter that 50 year-old reality at all.
When confronted with these truths, opponents of the treaty shift to other spurious slogans. We hear that the European Court of Justice is political and will overrule British law. It is not and it will not. The court adjudicates only on law made by the Council, it does not make law, and this treaty does not change that at all. We hear that the new Council voting system reduces UK power in European law-making. But the new voting system, operational from 2014, is population-related and the UK’s share of the vote in the Council of Ministers therefore increases by 45 per cent from 8.4 per cent to 12.2 per cent, while the UK’s share of the majority needed to block legislation increases from 32 per cent to 35 per cent.
Then there are the other specious scaremongering allegations, the chief among which is the claim that qualified majority voting has been extended to 60 new areas and that the UK loses veto on all those issues. The truth is that there are 49, not 60, new articles where QMV will apply. Thirteen of those relate to the eurozone or to other areas which do not currently apply to the UK because of opt-outs; six articles relate to enhanced citizens’ rights to petition; nine articles relate to the composition of the Committee of the Regions and civil service committee structures. Nine relate to reformulated legal bases where powers already exist, for example, in relation to culture. Two articles relate only to state aid provision in post-reunification East Germany.
The remaining 10 relate to energy liberalisation, which the United Kingdom already has, but has a vested interest in ensuring better application right across the European Union; better protection of intellectual property rights, which the UK, like every other member state, patently needs; and provision of emergency humanitarian aid in times of disaster and crisis, which the UK supports more than most countries in the world or in Europe. In short, the new areas for qualified majority voting are a mixture of the patently beneficial, the innocuously procedural and the non-applicable. They certainly are not the democracy-destroying virus that the Europhobes claim.
The House will now consider this Bill. Throughout the proceedings, there will be repeated rebuttal of the phobic falsehoods and consistent evidence that the new treaty is functionally necessary as a means of improving the conduct of business in the enlarged Union while strengthening democratic scrutiny and accountability. We heard earlier from the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that Jean Monnet would be horrified by certain aspects of what is going on. Without the benefit of acquaintance with Monsieur Monnet, I know that if he now were to contemplate not a Union of six but of 27, which was expected to base itself and its operation on rules enacted to affect six member states or at best 15 member states, truly the word “horrified” could deservedly be used.
I cannot avoid expressing the hope that in the wake of parliamentary deliberations on the Bill our country, including its mainstream political parties and its press, will conclude that after 35 years of membership we are in the Union to stay, that there is weakness not strength in semi-detachment, and that alarmist polemics about a European superstate have and will continue to have no substance in fact.
In place of those disabling distractions, I want the United Kingdom to further insist on the active implementation of the Lisbon agenda for employment and competitiveness. I want the United Kingdom to unrelentingly pursue budgetary reform that moves resources much more substantially from the common agricultural policy to research, innovation and infrastructure. I want the United Kingdom more vigorously to promote European Union action to combat the common menaces of poverty, disease, climate change and crime, which are all areas in which at best there are only partial single-nation answers. The need for all that action certainly exists. The potential for doing it is real, and the will to act must now be much stronger.
My Lords, it must be about a quarter of a century or more since the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, first began making an impact on my perception of him. At that stage, I knew that we shared only one view; that we were both proud to be Welshmen. Hearkening to his tremendously enthusiastic presentation of the case for Europe as it is today, I have to say that he has come a long way in the past quarter of a century. In saying that, I do not wish to present myself as having huge affection for this complex, marathon treaty, but I firmly support the Bill. I do that simply because failure to ratify this treaty now would be a serious blow to the credibility and effectiveness of the United Kingdom in many different ways. It would be seriously damaging to fundamental national interests. In particular, to repudiate the treaty, even if stated to be in search of some hitherto almost wholly undefined alternative, would be a bluntly negative signal of our recurrent recidivist and often continuing incapacity to play the part that we should be playing in the European Union.
Indeed, our lack of will to work in the effective European partnership that is fundamental to our future is sad when it comes at a time when it has never been more necessary. I hold no brief for the marketing of this less than poetic text. It has probably been imperfectly negotiated by a Government that came into office at a time of huge opportunity to present the positive case for a British view of a reinvigorated European Union and to sell that case with the clarity and confidence that they had when they were elected with a huge majority 10 years ago. They have faltered in their management and handling of that case, and we are lucky that they have moved as much as they have now.
It has to be said in their favour that they are by no means the first Government to have faltered in this way. If one goes back to the days of Clement Attlee and Anthony Eden, in the afterglow of victory at a time when, as the late Lord Peyton explained in his memoirs, characteristically entitled Without Benefit of Laundry, we allowed our justifiable pride in our victory, which had carried us through the war, to turn into conceit instead of pride and condescension towards the new Europe that was then emerging. That is why we were so late to join that enterprise and why we still hesitate to play the part that we should.
Fortunately, that negative attitude was overcome increasingly by the view expressed initially by Winston Churchill; it was clear enough when the iron curtain was still in place that Europe had to get its act together as he commended. It was clear enough to successive leaders; Harold Macmillan, Lord Home, Edward Heath, Roy Jenkins, John Smith; and, if I may say so, it was clear to most of us of that generation, as it was in many ways to my noble friend Lady Thatcher, who is not with us at the moment. For all the controversy that emerged from the speech that she made in Bruges in September 1988, she said:
“And let me be quite clear. Britain does not dream of some cosy, isolated existence on the fringes of the European Community. Our destiny is in Europe, as part of the Community”.
In the year that followed that, her view and mine diverged increasingly and uncomfortably, but those propositions were important then.
Those sentiments enabled us to carry through Parliament the European consequences of two well-balanced treaties, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has pointed out; the European Communities Act 1972 and the Single European Act 1986. I had the privilege of being on the Front Bench in the other place for both those Bills, and I recollect that on the first we had 53 working days, I made 91 speeches and we carried our majority in 104 divisions. The Single European Act was completed in six days.
The decades since Bruges have been rather different. As the iron curtain came down and tensions relaxed, despite the successive enlargement, the focus on the importance of Europe has become less clear, and that is why we have, for example, in this treaty absorbed unnecessary things. I never quite understood why the additional fundamental charter needed to be there, but we seem to have been able to disentangle ourselves from that now. Such distractions are to be regretted, particularly at a time as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has emphasised, when the need for European partnership and union, not least in the field of foreign affairs, has never been clearer.
One need only mention not so much the agenda items that the noble Lord mentioned—climate change, energy or trade negotiations—but the changing shape of the world, including the emergence of China and India as new and growing powers, the re-emergence of Russia with its new ambitions to recover the empire that it did not mean to lose, and the increasing unsettlement throughout the Middle East. In all those respects, we need to be more, not less, effective in our partnership with European countries. We need to be so not just for our own sake, but for the sake of the transatlantic alliance with the United States.
This treaty in no way diminishes the way in which British foreign policy can be formulated and presented. It in no way threatens our seat at the United Nations Security Council; but it does enable us, through a new structure that is more manageable and effective, to strengthen our clout as a member of the European Union and to amplify our influence beyond that which we would be able to exercise if we were to continue to operate on an increasingly minority wicket. That has been the message that I have never doubted, with which I have bored the House for decades, since I first wrote a letter to a school friend in 1950. In a world where the relative arithmetic has been changing so fundamentally, Britain’s influence can and should be maximised by continuing increasingly effective participation in the European Union. This treaty, for all its odds and ends and for all its complexities—so lucidly explained by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell—is an important step in that direction for the enhancement of British influence.
What of the referendum? I cannot help grieving at the fact that we are in a Parliament in which at the last election the three major parties committed themselves to a referendum. I believed that it was an unwise commitment at the time. As I have said on previous occasions, the only referenda of which I have approved were those that I suggested in 1962 for Sunday opening of the pubs in Wales. That is an issue that people can understand. It took the Welsh people 35 years to liberate themselves, but in the end they achieved it. Referenda on issues of this kind are, quite frankly, a gamble. The three political parties gambled because they were in competitive confusion with each other. Every referendum commitment of that kind has been entered into not so much because of the importance of the issue, but because of the importance of the conflict taking place at home. Proposing such a referendum has always been high risk, it has done much damage to the credibility of political leadership and I cannot bring myself to say a word in support of one.
I grieve at the fact that all three political parties, including my own, have committed themselves so unwisely. Democracy requires leadership, and often effective and strong political leadership which is not trying to compete in the kind of way that too many of us can recognise as being contrary to the national interest. This Bill should be carried through without being encumbered by a resurrection of a referendum.
My Lords, while we all welcome the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester to this debate, many of us have been here before. We have been the same pieces on the same chessboard since the decision in principle to join the European Community nearly 40 years ago.
In today’s speakers list there are 14 noble Lords who voted in the House of Commons, 10 of whom also spoke, on 28 October 1971 after 180 speeches in a six-day debate designed to settle the future of Britain in Europe. Among the membership of today’s House of Lords as a whole, are more than a dozen Peers of the 69 who, as Labour Members of Parliament, voted for entry despite a three-line whip against it. There may also be a few Tory rebel survivors in this House, and there is one Liberal who voted against Ted Heath’s Commons Motion for joining.
In parenthesis, if I may be allowed an indulgence, I won the House of Commons sweepstake with a forecast of a government overall majority of 111, which turned out to be 112. Altogether, with the help of Ladbrokes, I won £165 that day, which was almost enough to enjoy a modest European holiday.
Of the participants in that debate, the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, had already been “a consistent opponent”, as he put it, since 1962, of what we then called the Common Market; and my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby had been a very persuasive advocate of membership since the 1956 Treaty of Rome. For 40 years, the Labour Party and the Conservatives have been up and down and hot and cold. All parties have had vocal dissidents, both for and against.
I have made no complaint—then and now. Joining Europe was a great historic undertaking, taking risks either way. But the fuss about the Lisbon treaty, although it is significant, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, seems disproportionate and is less about the practical merits of the case than fighting old political battles and future ones. In 1975, Harold Wilson’s Government chose a referendum finally to settle the matter and to heal the wounds of his party. But by 1983, eight years later, Labour was falling apart and its manifesto said:
“British withdrawal from the Community is the right policy ... That is our commitment”.
We should be cautious about referendums and manifestos. The Conservative Party could share Labour's unhappy experience—as could all parties, for that matter.
Clearly, some noble Lords will decide to mention what I see as those extraneous matters and the previous draft constitutional treaty, which is dead. But I hope that they will resist that temptation, only genuflect towards them, and not waste too much time in Committee and, rather, scrutinise the terms of the Bill before the House, in keeping with our usual priorities and practices.
Whether the Lisbon treaty is a mouse or a mountain, our relations with the rest of Europe have been and remain critical. If I am required to define my personal position, I call myself a good European. But I am a pragmatic, step-by-step Fabian—not an ideologue—ready to hold steady or to change and move on as circumstances require. In a familiar newspaper, four years ago, I read,
“Europe celebrates its greatest project as continent’s warring tribes finally unite”.
The article continued:
“The biggest enlargement ... has finally healed the divisions of nearly 70 years of war”.
It added that the European Union was,
“the world's greatest peace project”,
and so on. If that may be a surprise, that was the Times rejoicing and its European correspondent warned that the European Union could splinter or lose its way. I shared his enthusiasm. It seemed to me that enlargement inevitably meant institutional change and that it was in the interest of Britain, as well as the 25 or 27 members, to negotiate the best all-round deal.
I agree that the Lisbon treaty should provide a period of stability in the institutional framework and that there should be no change in the foreseeable future, but I hope that the Government will be careful about calling the reforms “a lasting settlement”. The time may come when the Government of the day will want a change in Britain’s own interest—even in its hard-fought “red lines”.
I am greatly impressed by the 10th report of the European Union Committee, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. It is a model of a report from a House of Lords Select Committee. It is clear, comprehensive and an invaluable concordance to accompany the text of the treaty.
I am also glad that the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, chairman of the Constitution Committee, will be speaking in the debate. The committee’s sixth report was published only last Friday and its scope is properly restricted to the implications of the UK constitution. As a member of it, I shall not pursue its recommendations. Although the committee wants some additional parliamentary safeguards, it has concluded that the Lisbon treaty and the Bill are likely to have no major damaging impact.
At the time of the decisive votes in 1971, there was a flood of hostile letters to both Houses and particularly to the Commons. Now, there is at least a trickle of protest about the Lisbon treaty. Some correspondents build around manifestos and referendums, but others try to get to the heart of the matter, believing that membership of the European Union was, and is, wholly unacceptable.
The language and sentiment addressed to the Lisbon treaty is often the language and sentiment of 40 years ago: membership would bring the inhabitants of Britain under an iron dictatorship; we would be demoted from an independent nation to an impotent, impoverished European province; we would lose Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights, perhaps even cricket and driving on the wrong side of the road; the whole way of life would change. However, it does not feel like that. Britain has not fallen apart. On the contrary, we have enjoyed growing prosperity and many of our freedoms have been enlarged. Of course, there are very serious threats to our lives and liberties, but it is terrorism and its consequences, climate change and intrusive technology that are the real dangers, not the Lisbon treaty.
My Lords, I am a member of the Select Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, and therefore I cannot pay tribute to the quality of his report. I can, however, pay tribute to the quality of his chairmanship, his stamina and his patience with his committee.
I have three other interests to declare and then three points to make. The first interest is that I was a member of the negotiating team on the single market. The team included Nigel Lawson and Geoffrey Howe—now the noble Lord, Lord Lawson of Blaby, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon—and was led by Margaret Thatcher. What a pleasure it was to see the noble Baroness back in her place again earlier today. The single market team was effective partly because it worked with the late Lord Cockfield in the Commission and partly because it united the Government. It was an all-out effort.
Later, I was a member of the teams, led by Prime Ministers Major and Blair, that worked on enlargement. That, too, had been a priority of the Conservative Government. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, referred to the Bruges speech. We should remember the bit of it that is most recalled in eastern Europe—the part where Margaret Thatcher spoke movingly about the great cities and civilisations of central Europe and about how they, too, must be brought into the Union. We believed then, as I do now, that finishing the uncompleted task of achieving free movement of goods, services, capital and labour throughout Europe, from Aberdeen to Athens and from Tallinn to Tyneside, was, and is, a noble cause, in the EU and British interest, and one that demanded the help not just of an effective European Commission, impartial and well organised, but also of an effective European Council. The European Council was the instrument that the three Prime Ministers for whom I worked used so well.
The second interest that I have to declare is that I spent 36 years in the Diplomatic Service, gradually convincing myself that advancing and protecting British values and maintaining the Commonwealth and the transatlantic links that spring from, and are nourished by, these values, is best done when a united European Union acts as a multiplier of British influence. Talk of a choice between an Atlanticist and a continental, European policy, which was the subject of debate in the Foreign Office of my youth, is overtaken now: the dichotomy is a false one. Our global interests and our global reach give our views added weight in debate in Brussels, and we cut far more ice in Washington and do far more good for our Commonwealth friends when we have the backing of a united European Union. Therefore, I declare an interest, and a conviction, that the more cohesive and effective the European Union, the better for the United Kingdom.
The last interest that I have to declare is somewhat personal and probably explains why I am unaccustomedly and briefly promoted to so high a position on the speakers list. I am the Derby County of the day: expect not to see me again so highly placed. When the noble Lords, Lord Maclennan of Rogart and Lord Tomlinson, were speaking for this House with the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland of Asthal, in the European convention in 2002-03, I too was there—not speaking but scribbling. Some of the formulae that we shall be debating in the weeks ahead are mine; surprisingly. They survived the scrutiny not just of the convention but of the intergovernmental conference. Therefore, I declare an interest and am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, recognises that interest. Unlike him, I cannot claim to have sat at Jean Monnet’s feet, but I draw his attention to the importance of reforming the European Council.
First, I want to mention three things that it seems to me might make the European Union work a little better as a result of the treaty. They are all features that emerged from the convention. The European Council was invented by Chancellor Schmidt and President Giscard d’Estaing 30 years ago. In the 1980s and very early 1990s, it was the motor of the European Union; but it is now seizing up. Bringing heads of government together in a small room for direct debate with no audience of officials had worked well. It solved the British budget problem at Fontainebleau and the Spanish budget problem at Edinburgh. It also drove forward Lord Cockfield’s single market plan. However, what worked with nine or 12 in the room worked less well with 15 and works rather badly with 27. Gone is the tradition of the chairman in office making a tour of capitals before each meeting of the European Council. How can he when there are 26 other capitals to visit?
The reform which brings a fixed-term, full-time President of the European Council will make the Council work better, and I profoundly believe that that is in the UK’s interests. It was opposed by the heirs of Monnet: it was opposed by the Belgian and Luxembourg Governments. The grounds of their opposition in the convention was that the new President of the European Council would overshadow the President of the Commission. They may turn out to be right, I do not know—time will tell—but certainly the European Council was never a part of Jean Monnet’s plan and the idea of the President of the European Council being full time and fixed term would have come as a surprise to him. Perhaps that is why it is opposed by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. He may be concerned that the Commission will be overshadowed by the member states in the Council.
My second example is about voting rules. I need say no more, as the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, has drawn attention to the importance of the change in the voting system, which increases the British voting weight in the Council by 50 per cent. That is not the only reason why the reform is the right thing to do; it is important for democratic legitimacy that there should be a closer correlation between population and voting weight. Over time, as more issues move to qualified majority voting—as some do in this treaty, although not nearly as many as in the Single European Act and the treaty of Maastricht—it will be increasingly important that the system of voting should be legitimate. I think that the change effected in this treaty brings that about.
My third example concerns British influence in the wider world. Putting together the posts of Vice-President External Affairs in the Commission and Secretary-General of the Council and giving the high representative the job of chairing the Foreign Affairs Council and being our negotiator abroad, rather than having the rotating presidency try to do the job—a pantomime horse, as my noble friend Lord Hannay called it—is a sensible reform, if you want the show to work and if you want to provide an answer to Dr Kissinger’s perhaps apocryphal question, “When I want to speak to Europe, whom do I call?”. Unless we are complacent about the state of the world or our place in it—or unless we are Luddites and want Europe to become more introspective, more unpopular, less outward looking and less effective—we should welcome the reform and ratify the treaty.
My final point is more fundamental. The Brussels institutions are closer to us than Manchester, thanks to Eurostar. The Brussels institutions now speak English, literally and metaphorically. The agenda of those institutions is one of market opening, liberalisation and enlargement, which has been the bipartisan theme of the two Front Benches over the past 20 to 25 years. Why, then, do so many people in this country purport to see the EU as a threat rather than an opportunity? The question is unanswerable, but the solution may be in the treaty. There is an element of reassurance to be found in it.
As the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, rightly said, the product of the convention was never a constitution. A constitution is an agreement between citizen and state; the Union is not a state and does not claim to be one. It makes no claim to any legitimacy arising directly from the citizens, transcending the member states. There is no “We, the people” in any of the texts that we have been looking at in Brussels for the past six years. The convention produced the draft of a treaty, an agreement between states, defining more clearly than before the extent to which they agree to confer power on the centre. These definitions have survived in the reform treaty; to that extent, the texts are identical.
Crucially, the enunciation of the principle of conferral has survived. It was always implicit that the Union could do only what the member states agreed that it should, but now it is explicit in the treaty. The treaty classifies and categorises the various forms and boundaries of powers as well as the ways in which they may and may not be used. It reinforces the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, makes explicit the member states’ right to take back powers, and spells out the right of an individual member state to leave the Union—the right to secede—if it wants to do so. None of that was in Jean Monnet’s plan either; he would probably have disapproved quite strongly of the secession clause.
The critics need to put away their caricatures and look at the Union of today as it is, and as this treaty would confirm it. They will not, of course. Instead we shall hear again the argument that the reforms are not fundamental enough, that the treaty should not just have confirmed member states’ rights to take back powers but should have taken them back. That was the case made by Conservative Party representatives in the convention in 2002-03; presumably, if there were to be a referendum campaign now, that is the case that would be made again. But there is a problem of which we all need to be aware: in the convention, not a single representative of any of the 27 Governments agreed with the Conservative Party’s representatives’ ideas on repatriation of competences and no EU Governments agree with those ideas now.
If we refuse this reform treaty because we want different reforms, more reforms or repatriation, the effect will be that we will get no reforms and we will, indeed, go back to the Maastricht treaty, the Single European Act, a European Council that works less well, fewer votes for the UK, and incoherent representation to, and in, the outside world. Agreement on treaty revision requires the positive support of every single member state, but every signatory state objects to what the British Luddites want. That is a recipe for humiliating isolation. If they mean what they say about “not letting the matter rest”, the logical course would then be secession, leaving it to others to pursue the open, liberal single market for which previous Conservative Governments fought, and to others to write its rules in ways that might or might not suit us, with no input from us. What a sad betrayal of a proud record of success that would be. I am sure that it will not come to that, or at least I very much hope not. As I trust has become apparent, I favour the Government’s Bill.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, who takes his title from the village where I live in Scotland, although I have never quite worked out why. I guess that this is as close as we are going to be on this subject. I was struck by his speech, which I listened to with great interest. While I was in government he served with great distinction, but I thought that his use of the term “Luddite” today was a little unwise. Luddites were people who went around smashing up machinery that worked perfectly well, and this Parliament is a good example of a machine that has worked very well over the centuries. Looking down the list of speakers, I am struck that today we seem to be creating a new institution. We already have the Chelsea Pensioners, but we can now add the “Brussels Pensioners” to our national institutions.
Given the shortness of time, I shall concentrate on what is not in the Bill rather than on what is in it—that is, the requirement to have a referendum in order to ensure ratification. We have all been dazzled by the prestidigitation of the former Prime Minister and the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. We have been conned into arguing about whether the Bill is the same as the constitution or different from it. That is almost an irrelevance; of course they are the same. If noble Lords think back, they will remember that, when we were dealing with the constitution and Peter Hain was a Member of the Cabinet, he was arguing that the constitution was just a tidying-up exercise, there was nothing in it and there was no need for a referendum because of that. Exactly the same arguments are being used in respect of this treaty. Let us remember that the Government’s position on the constitution before was that it did not do very much and there was no need for a referendum.
The constitution and the treaty are virtually identical. The Labour Party had no intention of having a referendum on either of them because it knew that it did not have the support of the British people for giving away the powers of this Parliament to Europe and enabling Europe to take more power without the consent of national parliaments. Behind all this, the issue is simple; it is dead straightforward. The point is that the previous Prime Minister promised a referendum on the constitution not because it was a constitution but because, he said,
“the people should have their say”.
He did so to the utter astonishment of his colleagues in Parliament and to the dismay of those who wished to see the creation of a federal Europe. Why did he do it? For the same reason as he did it in 1997 on devolution: he wanted to take the issue out of the general election campaign. Why did he want to do that? His focus groups showed him that further European integration was unpopular and that he would lose votes. The Prime Minister proposed the referendum; he put it in the manifesto as an utterly cynical ploy so that when people said, “What about the constitution?”, he was able to say, “That’s for another day. You will have your opportunity to discuss that”. That is why the introduction of the Bill without that commitment is an absolute disgrace. Reading the debates in the other place, I was struck by the fact that even the Foreign Secretary could not bring himself to endorse the decision of the previous Prime Minister, Tony Blair, on constitutional grounds. He said:
“I certainly agree that there was no way on the basis of its constitutional significance that it merited the decision that was taken”.—[Official Report, Commons, 21/1/08; col. 1246.]
That is the decision to have a referendum.
To my mind the issue for the House is absolutely straightforward. Should Members of Parliament keep their promises? At the 2005 general election, as my noble friend has pointed out, every Member of Parliament stood on a platform proposing a separate referendum on the constitution. The Government were elected on a manifesto that enshrined the Prime Minister’s promise to Parliament. The other place is quick to remind us of the Salisbury convention, which holds that this House should not frustrate the delivery of manifesto commitments. Here we have a role to prevent opportunistic politicians—I look to the Liberal Benches—reneging on their promises.
I intervened on the speech of the noble Baroness and was given a real beating up because apparently there is a new doctrine that we are not allowed to seek information. I have looked at what she said—in fact, it was not last Friday but two Fridays ago. I asked her what distinguished her description of this treaty from what was contained in the manifesto. She refused to answer and hid behind procedure, just as the leader of the Liberal Party tried to hide behind procedure when my noble friend Lord Strathclyde asked him how the Liberals were going to vote. It is worth repeating what the Labour Party manifesto says because clearly the noble Baroness has not read it. It describes the treaty and states:
“The new Constitutional Treaty ensures the new Europe can work effectively, and that Britain keeps control of key national interests like foreign policy, taxation, social security and defence. The Treaty sets out what the EU can do and what it cannot. It strengthens the voice of national parliaments and governments in EU affairs. It is a good treaty for Britain and for the new Europe. We will put it to the British people in a referendum and campaign wholeheartedly for a ‘Yes’ vote to keep Britain a leading nation in Europe”.
That sounds familiar. It is exactly how the noble Baroness described this treaty. There is no difference, no distinction. I would argue that it is, to say the least, a misleading description of the treaty, but it is the basis on which the Government won the general election and the basis on which they put themselves before the people.
Only one in five voters voted for the Government in 2005 and double that number refused to vote at all. In England, the Tories actually had more votes than the Government and today both devolved Assemblies favour a referendum. The cynicism about politics and politicians is at an all-time high. Is it any wonder that more and more people do not bother to vote when Governments are capable of reneging on such fundamental promises?
The Liberals are hardly any better, with some honourable exceptions, who are forced by their leadership to resign their jobs for keeping their word to their constituents. They are led by a leader who insisted that their policy was to abstain on this issue. Today we are told that they have yet a third position: they have been in favour, they have abstained and now they are anti. What must those people who were sacked think of the leadership of their party, which seems to be a complete shambles? It is probably worth looking at what the Liberals said in their manifesto. First, there was a homily on, of all subjects, the importance of trust. “Trust” they said,
“because to deliver freedom and fairness, we need to give citizens the power to hold Government to account”.
Then they said:
“But with enlargement to twenty-five member states, the EU needs reform to become more efficient and more accountable. The new constitution helps to achieve this by improving EU coherence, strengthening the powers of the elected European Parliament compared to the Council of Ministers, allowing proper oversight of the unelected Commission, and enhancing the role of national parliaments. It also more clearly defines and limits the powers of the EU, reflecting diversity and preventing over-centralisation. We are therefore clear in our support for the constitution, which we believe is in Britain’s interest—but ratification must be subject to a referendum of the British people”.
Again, there is no difference between how they described it in the manifesto and how they describe it today.
Of course, Charles Kennedy was the leader then, but a certain Mr Nick Clegg, who I believe is now designated the leader, went further than the manifesto:
“Any proposals which involve significant change in the relationship between the Union, the member states and its citizens should be approved in Britain through a referendum”.
It was alleged in the House of Commons that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, threatened to resign. I do not know whether she would like to clarify that. I find it absolutely incomprehensible that she, with her distinguished record, having left the Labour Party when faced with a Bennite group that wanted us to leave the EU without a referendum, could possibly, as an unelected person, force elected Members into reneging on a manifesto commitment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I would not for a moment have thought that it was true, but it was said in the House of Commons and the newspapers. It makes her party’s position even more incomprehensible.
Opinion polls show that more than a two-thirds majority are in favour of a referendum among each of the major parties’ supporters. The private polls organised by the Electoral Reform Society in 10 constituencies were distinguished by the size of the majorities for a referendum—88 per cent—and a turnout higher than for local government elections. Of course, as my noble and learned friend Lord Howe has pointed out, there are powerful arguments against referendums. Indeed, I served as his Parliamentary Private Secretary at the time of the Single European Act, so I am no wide-eyed fanatic. Against the referendum is not least the suggestion that Parliament should decide and debate complex issues. However, the way in which the Government have prevented line-by-line consideration of the Bill—this debate alone is twice as long as was given to Second Reading in the other place—despite the Prime Minister’s promise, makes the deployment of that proposition in this case just derisory.
The Foreign Secretary was asked in the other place how the Government had responded to a letter from the German presidency, anxious to restart the constitution after its setback when two countries had the temerity to vote against it in referendums. The Government were asked:
“How do you assess … the proposal made by some Member States to use different terminology without changing the legal substance for example with regard to the title of the treaty”.
He said that he did not know. Perhaps the Leader of the House could tell us how the Government responded. He did not know whether the British Government would be complicit in a monstrous deceit that the distinguished Giscard d’Estaing openly boasts of having been executed:
“In the Treaty of Lisbon the tools are largely the same. Only the order in which they are arranged in the tool-box has been changed. Why this subtle change? Above all, it is to head off any threat of referenda by avoiding any form of constitutional vocabulary”.
What contemptible arrogance; what deceit.
I love this place, this Parliament. I have watched as ill thought-out, so-called reforms have weakened it and as the Executive have ridden roughshod over conventions and failed to show it the respect that it is due, and as power has steadily leached away, often without accountability, to quangos and regulators, Assemblies and Brussels. As the Government have weakened Parliament, so also have the Government been weakened. What is this House of Lords for? If it has any purpose at all, it must be to stand up for the rights of the people and our democratic system. Now is our moment. I suggest that every Peer, whatever their views on Europe, should consider carefully how they cast their vote on the issue of the referendum. We can prevent this tawdry deceit presented to us on April Fool’s Day and allow the people the say that they were promised. This is our moment. We should seize it and turn the tide against those who hold the people in such contempt and risk everything by doing so.
My Lords, I support the Bill and the treaty. It should be seen as a success story for Britain, as it is so firmly linked with a successful policy championed for a long time by this country: that of enlargement of the European Union to include, in particular, the countries of central and eastern Europe. The treaty’s aim is to ensure that the new, enlarged EU functions efficiently and can tackle some of the important challenges that will face Europe in future: economic reform, climate change and relations with the rest of the world.
The treaty for the most part contains modest and useful provisions. I agree with those who have said that it is less important than the Single European Act or Maastricht, both of which were breakthrough treaties into new areas entirely. For that reason, I reject some of the hype that has been expounded about the treaty, notably by its opponents. However, even supporters of the treaty—although, happily, not so far in this debate—are occasionally guilty of overstating the case, claiming that the enlarged EU will simply not be able to function at all if these provisions do not come into force. The point needs to be made that it is remarkable, given the EU’s current size, that so much of its day-to-day business is agreed harmoniously and that on so many issues in ministerial councils there is consensus without formal votes being taken. This is the day-to-day truth of the way that the EU operates, although it is not the impression given by the press, which always highlights disagreements rather than the much greater areas of agreement. However, I believe that the treaty’s provisions, not least those that give increased voting strength to this country and those which strengthen and enhance the role of national parliaments, are a clear improvement on the current provisions and should be supported.
It is not surprising that the issue of a referendum cropped up early in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, largely talked about that to the exclusion of the treaty. I was not in favour of a referendum on the failed constitution as I did not regard it as a constitution—it was an example of euro hype—but I believe it was a European treaty of the kind we had seen before in the Single European Act and Maastricht. However, although I did not support my own Government in their promise of a referendum, I accept their view that the Lisbon treaty is significantly different in a number of key aspects from the failed constitutional treaty, which my noble friend Lord Kinnock brought out very clearly in his contribution. I believe that Parliament is the place to consider detailed European treaties of this kind which contain so many different provisions, not because I think the public are incapable of reading or understanding long treaties or the issues at stake, but simply because in our representative democracy the people vote in a Parliament and a Government to do the detailed work and at a general election they can vote to remove that Government if they do not approve of their record. Furthermore, I remain uneasy that there are no ground rules for when referendums are held in our country, and I do not think that, whoever does it, calling for a referendum simply because it seems politically convenient to do so on a particular issue is an acceptable way to proceed. If referendums are to continue as part of our democracy, there need to be rules about when and where they should be resorted to. Ideally such rules should emerge from cross-party consensus.
I am a member of the Constitution Committee of the House, and I note that the chairman of the committee, the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, is in his place and intends to speak. I am glad that the committee agreed a report, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, which clearly states that the Lisbon treaty does not have any major damaging consequences for the British constitution. I am also glad that the committee welcomes strongly the provisions in the treaty concerning an enhanced role for national parliaments. In paragraph 113 of the report, the committee calls for a requirement for parliamentary approval to be given if the Government wish to make use of opt-ins or opt-outs available under the treaty. Securing parliamentary approval is recommended in the report, and I prefer that to Parliament being given a veto simply because the word “veto” in the European context so often has a negative, emotive connotation. However, I recognise that this is semantics rather than substance since the requirement to secure parliamentary approval gives Parliament the right to say no as well as yes.
The report from the Constitution Committee also states that the new arrangements governing the European Charter of Fundamental Rights would have no significant impact on the British constitution. I agree, especially as the charter restates existing rights rather than conferring new ones.
The Government have been concerned that British law should not be changed by the back door by inappropriate use of the charter. I understand that, but I urge them to accompany their statements on the charter with a readiness to recognise that it has been an aim of Europe from the time of the ECSC onwards that people working within the single market should have decent living and working conditions. The social dimension in Europe has real achievements to its credit, and we should be prepared to defend them. I vividly remember the Conservative hysteria against the social chapter and the minimum wage in the early 1990s. Rather than those allegedly monstrous policies destroying our economy and creating unemployment, the opposite turned out to be the case.
I also urge the Government, during our debates and when the treaty is ratified, to embark on a positive programme of information about the European Union. That is essential to combat some of the excesses of the Europhobic press, which is doing the British public a disservice by alarming them unnecessarily and unjustifiably with inaccurate reports about threats to our independence and our way of life.
Take the coverage in the press about the proposal in the treaty for the high representative on foreign policy. People would be forgiven for thinking as a result of some of the press coverage that Britain is unable to conduct its own foreign policy. Yet we all know that on the most important foreign policy issue in recent times, the war in Iraq, European countries adopted very different attitudes from each other. We may not all like that, but it is certainly the case. During his visit to the UK last week, President Sarkozy put great store on Britain and France taking initiatives together. I did not get the impression that he was talking about taking initiatives only after being ordered to carry out the policies by some Brussels foreign policy autocrat.
Furthermore, can anyone seriously pretend that our new partners in the European union, the countries of central and eastern Europe, want to submerge their new independence in some centrally run European Union? Those countries did not throw off the Soviet yoke to submit to some new master. They want to be full, equal members of a freely entered-into form of co-operation in Europe, which the EU represents.
I hope—perhaps without much expectation—that the Conservative Official Opposition will modify their views during the passage of the Bill. I certainly wish the distinguished Conservative rebels, including the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, whose speech I greatly enjoyed, well in seeking to persuade their Front-Bench colleagues of their views. Otherwise, the Conservative Party will continue to be poleaxed by Europe and unable to work out co-operative policies in Europe on areas such as the environment. The Opposition’s stance will be a real obstacle to their aim to be seen as a credible alternative Government, although I accept that that is their prime concern, rather than mine.
In conclusion, I firmly believe that this treaty represents not a threat to our country but a real opportunity for us to play a full and constructive part in the European Union of the future. For that reason, I wish the Bill and the treaty a swift and smooth passage through this House.
My Lords, when the so-called European Union constitutional treaty was rejected by the people of France and the Netherlands three years ago, the response of the member Governments was to announce a pause for reflection. It has to be said that the reflection was not particularly profound. The predictable conclusion that they reached was that the people of Europe were wrong and that they should simply be presented with the same treaty with a different form and under a different name.
Nevertheless, the pause has served a useful purpose, for it has demonstrated that the argument that the treaty was necessary to cope with EU enlargement was without foundation. It is now four years since the welcome and very successful enlargement of the European Union to embrace the countries of central Europe. The treaty has been shown to be completely unnecessary, a finding recently endorsed in an important study by Professor Wallace, the distinguished wife of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, whom I am sorry to see is not in his place today. I therefore hope that this reflection may be of some assistance to those noble Lords who, when we come at a later stage to the important question of the referendum on the treaty, will have to make an agonising choice between the value they attach to the treaty and the value they attach to political integrity.
This is not the time to go in any detail into the question of a referendum that constitutional propriety and—I repeat—political integrity both require, although I must say that I reject the argument of my noble and learned friend Lord Howe that constitutional innovation should not be put to the people in a referendum. At this stage, I will make just two points. First, the least we can do is invoke la fraternité franco-anglaise, which President Sarkozy so charmingly called for when he spoke to us last week. In the treaty’s first coming it was the people of France who were given the opportunity to reject it, and in its second coming it is only right that we should take the baton from France and give the British people the same opportunity. Secondly, if the British people were to take that opportunity—I have no idea whether or not they would—it would be an excellent day for Europe. Let me say why.
Unlike many of my colleagues on these Benches, I have long believed that the European Union badly needs a constitution, particularly to set out very clearly, as does the constitution of the United States, which matters are within the competence of the Union and which remain within the competence of the member states. There is obviously room for disagreement as to precisely where the line should be drawn. For my part, I very much agree with the conclusion of the European Union Committee of this House a couple of years ago that the common agricultural policy should go and that the responsibility for farm support, to the extent that it exists at all, should be repatriated to the individual member states. Whether or not that is so, it is essential that that clear line is drawn. That does not mean that any such constitution should be incapable of amendment, but again, as in the case of the United States constitution, amendment needs to be made a deliberately difficult process. Only in this way can the European Union achieve the stability which it so badly needs and for which the peoples of Europe, and not just of this country, yearn.
We have before us today, as we had the first time around, a constitutional treaty in the sense that it makes important constitutional changes, but it is not a constitution; it is its very antithesis—an anti-constitution. In an interesting book of essays, which was published only the other day with a foreword by my noble and learned friend Lord Howe, Dr Henry Kissinger wrote these rather tired words:
“In Europe the nation-state is in the process of being diminished. The European Union is supposed to replace it; but the reality is that Europe is in transition between a past that it has rejected and a future which it has not yet reached”.
This profound misunderstanding lies at the very heart of the present treaty, the main purpose of which is to speed the transition to which Dr Kissinger referred—a transition to an unknown destination of which the people of Europe are rightly deeply suspicious.
Far from entrenching the competence of the Union, and thus the competence of the member states, and erecting proper constitutional hurdles in any future rearrangement, the most important innovation of the present treaty, which needless to say was copied verbatim from the treaty that had earlier bit the dust, is a mechanism for facilitating future constitutional change by bypassing the normal processes of treaty amendment. What is envisaged is largely a one-way street: moving matters from the competence of the member states to the competence of the Union, and from the requirement of unanimity to decision by majority vote.
As the House will be aware, I refer of course to the notorious passerelle clauses, which the Government vainly objected to when they were first proposed but now untruthfully claim are nothing new.
It is true that there has always been a very limited passerelle clause in the treaty—Article 235 of the original Rome treaty and Article 308 of the treaty currently in force—but this was strictly constrained by the need for it to be demonstrated that the transfer was necessary for the operation of the Common Market—dear old-fashioned words—and was eminently justiciable, as at least one judgment of the European Court has demonstrated. It also applied to only the European Economic Community and not to the European Union as such, which was explicit.
By contrast, the new-style passerelle clauses in effect apply to whatever the European Council at any point in time decides it wants to do, with defence and foreign policy alone being excluded. This is a massive change. Of course, if there had not been the intention to make this change, the new clauses would never have been introduced. That is what this treaty is about, which is why it is wholly objectionable.
On a number of occasions recently, my noble and learned friend Lord Howe has eloquently made the case that what we need in this country is not the Maoist-style permanent revolution to which the present Government appear to be addicted, but the essential stability provided by a firm constitutional framework. Precisely the same applies at the European level—indeed, it would be bizarre and self-contradictory were it not to be so. I believe that we can best serve the peoples of Europe by enabling the people of Britain to reject this misguided treaty, just as our good friends and neighbours did three years ago, and by calling on our partners in Europe explicitly—I stress the word “explicitly”—to reject the dream of the United States of Europe, which the peoples of Europe do not want; nor would they feel any sense of allegiance to it were it to arise. We can then set about drawing up a true European constitution to provide the firm constitutional framework that alone can end the debilitating mutual distrust which at present exists between the Union and the peoples of Europe, which this treaty before us manifestly fails to do.
My Lords, I have only one comment to make on the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Lawson of Blaby. Unlike him, I believe that this treaty gives a huge opportunity to this United Kingdom, to this House and to all of us in Parliament to show a new kind of democratic accountability, which the treaty of Lisbon makes possible. I shall say more on that later.
I believe that this complicated Bill has buried within it extraordinary capacities for giving powers to national parliaments, which, if used intelligently and thoughtfully, can substantially enhance the influence of this country and this Parliament. In that context, it is perhaps interesting that the excellent study of the impact of the treaty on this country, and more widely on our policies, put forward by the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, shows yet again how indispensable specifically the House of Lords is to the process of scrutiny and accountability of European legislation. I should like to put on record, as many others have done, the immense gratitude all of us feel towards the excellence of that report and the way in which it may have perhaps ironically given yet more responsibility and even a greater obligation to the European Scrutiny Committee to show how national Parliaments and countries can once again acquire accountability for what goes on in the European Union.
I am endlessly rather surprised at how as a country we fail so often to give due credit to the European Union for the astonishing things it has achieved. I will not say much more about the referendum issue, although I believe—and this may confirm what the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said—that the decision to hold a referendum was inappropriate and that it happened because the former Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, decided for electoral reasons to call for a referendum and the other parties felt, wisely or unwisely, obliged to follow that commitment. I recognise that the commitment was embarrassing and I do not believe that it was in the interests of this country or in a good relationship with the rest of the European Union.
I have referred to my belief that we are incapable of seeing the sheer scale of the achievement of the European Union. The noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, referred to this and I intend to do so as well. Let me make just one comparison. For the past five years we in this country and our allies, the United States, have been waging a hugely expensive war in Iraq. One of its purposes was to bring Iraq to the rule of law and to democracy by overthrowing a dictatorship. During the same period and over the 10 years before it, the European Union has, with no loss of life or use of violence, brought about an extension of the concept of democracy and the rule of law from the 194 million people who were party to the original Treaty of Europe to the 429 million people who now ascribe to the values of the European Union—for the rule of law and for democracy. It is a staggering achievement by any possible criteria and it is one that this country has been very reluctant to recognise. We have seen dictatorships like those of Spain and Portugal, and communist-controlled countries like those of eastern and central Europe, all become part of a European Union which is committed to the Copenhagen principles of democracy, the rule of law and human rights. I repeat that that is an astonishing achievement and one that, if we were less blinded by our extraordinarily prejudiced press—the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, rightly referred to this—we would be much more aware of than we seem to be.
I turn to what I believe is the great potential of this treaty. We now have much clearer statements of competence, of concurrent competence and of specifically national responsibilities than in any earlier statement about the European Union. That was made very clear in a report to this House from the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. We have the capacity, along with one-third of other national parliaments, to resist European legislative proposals and return them for reconsideration. For the first time we have the right for a country to secede legally from the European Union. Incidentally, an “in-and-out” referendum means that there would have to be a referendum to get out. I do not think that my party would necessarily oppose such an idea. We have the important concept of fundamental human rights and those rights being able to be discussed. Among other things, they include a citizens’ initiative which can make a popular position known and have to be considered by the institutions of the European Union.
There are two other extremely significant changes, as those noble Lords who have followed closely the evolution of the scrutiny of European legislation will know. The first, also mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, is the decision to make open for the first time the discussions in the European Council that have a legislative nature. Let me be clear on what that means: Ministers of European Governments, including our own, will no longer be able to hide behind secrecy and to conceal their responsibility for what they have agreed. All those who follow what is done in the European Union have been very conscious of how even our own Ministers, among others, when deciding on something that might be necessary but unpopular, will pretend that it is a decision of the European Union against the interests of their own country when they themselves subscribe to it.
The second important change is that the publication of European decisions and proposals for legislation and directives will no longer be made by way of Governments, but direct to parliaments, and that will include a decision that at least eight weeks’ notice must be given to enable the national parliament to consider the directives and decisions before they are finally passed into law. This key change will enable national parliaments to have a degree of control over their Ministers attending the council of a level that they have not had up to now and which has been assiduously avoided in many cases.
A great deal now depends upon our own Parliament—and not least upon this House—vigorously supporting and encouraging the parliaments of other European countries to follow the examples of scrutiny, monitoring and careful attention given by this House. By strongly developing the powers of COSAC, the committee of the scrutiny committees of all members of the European Union, and bringing them together, national parliaments can have a degree of influence over the Union that they have not begun to imagine they might have. Therefore, an awful lot depends on how we handle this over the next few months.
I have two final thoughts. First, when I was the director for eight years of a body called Project Liberty, which came into existence at Harvard University in 1991 after the fall of the Berlin Wall, we worked consistently with the leaders of the central and eastern European countries, in that process of dialogue known as the community method, to discuss all aspects of making Governments responsible to the people and not to the party, and to carry out the concepts of the Copenhagen criteria in great detail. The transformed countries of central and eastern Europe are now stable democracies precisely because, wishing to join the European Union, they engaged in such a dialogue and changed their whole natures and the way in which they understood power and the responsibility that power has for the people of a country.
Finally, when I was a member of the board of Britain in Europe, which throughout the period of Mr Blair’s governance tried to mount a campaign to inform and educate the people of Britain in what had happened within the European Union, on every occasion when such a campaign was proposed, arguments were advanced to show that it was impossible to carry out—even arguments that involved the then Prime Minister, who was in his own eyes a pro-European. Consequently, never in Britain has there been an objective attempt to explain the European Union to our people, who have been subjected to the most astonishing propaganda, not least from major influence and interests in the printed press. We all know about this and it is time it was challenged. I strongly support the Bill and the treaty, but what needs to go along with it is not a sigh of relief because it has been passed but an absolute commitment by, and obligation on, all of us to begin to put the truth about Europe among our people.
Adlai Stevenson, the presidential candidate, once said that a lie runs around the world while the truth is pulling on its boots. I strongly recommend to those who favour the treaty that it is high time we began to pull on our boots and ensure that the truth begins to prevail.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, but, as we are at the start of a long journey on the Bill today, I should make clear at the outset that I do not share her assessment. I believe that this is a bad Bill for Britain and a bad treaty for Europe. This is not because I do not value our relationship with Europe but because I believe that this treaty takes us further in the direction of previous treaties towards a more centralised, more inward-looking and more bureaucratic Europe, rather than towards the more flexible, outward-looking Europe that we need for the 21st century.
Following the powerful speech by my noble friend Lord Forsyth, I shall not dwell on the issues around a referendum. However, like him I am sad that we still have to address the fundamental question being raised of whether the treaty of Lisbon is or is not the same as the constitution in form. In my left hand, I have a copy of the constitutional treaty, published by the Government in 2004, whose introduction by the then Foreign Secretary sets out in clear terms that most of the treaty is the existing treaties reformulated, with the changes from the constitutional convention incorporated. In my right hand, I have the Government’s published consolidated treaties post-Lisbon, which makes it clear that most of it is existing treaties with the changes from the Lisbon treaty incorporated. The two texts are virtually identical; in fact, if I put them side by side, as the Government have studiously avoided doing, I can find only two articles in the constitutional treaty that have not been translated in whole or part into the Lisbon treaty’s consolidated text. One of those deals with the anthem and the flag and the other is the article—wholly unnecessary, as it turns out—asserting the primacy of European law. So these documents are the same in form and substance, and the arguments that we should treat them as different just because one treaty only set out the changes whereas the other incorporated and printed the whole text, or because one still leaves two treaties whereas the other renumbered the pages and put them in one treaty, would not stand up in a school debating society and are unworthy of this House.
I move on to address the substance of the treaty. Like other noble Lords, I will draw on the work of the House of Lords committee under the patient chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, of which I was privileged to be a member. Like the noble Lord, I shall draw selectively on some of the conclusions—and like him I should make it clear that the committee as a whole reached no overall conclusion either on the treaty or on any of the red lines or other issues of debate.
Let me start with the extension of the EU competency in the area of freedom, security and justice, where the report notes:
“The merging of the Pillars”—
that is, the first and third pillars—
“will have the effect of bringing criminal law and policing within the new … framework. This is clearly a significant change”.
It also concludes that the move to QMV in all areas of freedom, security and justice is a significant change. The UK has the right not to opt in to new measures, but we will not have a veto on amendments to existing legislation to which we are already a party. Hence the report notes:
“In some areas of criminal law and policing, a dramatic change during negotiations may permit the UK to use the emergency brake … In other cases, the UK may end up bound by a measure with which it does not fully agree; this is the nature of QMV”.
If we do chose to opt out of existing areas to which we have previously signed up, we could be faced with a range of overt and covert pressures under the treaty to keep us in line, including the imposition of financial penalties. In addition, the House of Lords report notes that the increase in jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice is a significant development. It says:
“For the first time, Member States will be able to be taken to the Court for failure to implement properly EU legislation in the area of criminal law and policing”.
These are significant changes to our constitutional practice and our democratic control of UK criminal justice.
On foreign policy, the treaty also envisages a much increased role for the European Union, with the employment of an EU Foreign Minister, the creation of an external action service and the clear intent to adopt common EU policies wherever possible. As a result, the Government’s freedom of action will inevitably be constrained. The report notes that that need not always be by unanimity. It says:
“This new procedure allows for decisions defining an EU action or position on a proposal from the High Representative to be adopted by qualified majority voting”.
Although the European Council must unanimously agree to request such a proposal, it would be remarkable if we were always completely satisfied with the proposal that emerges. In many cases, as is often the case at European Councils, we will find ourselves bound into a compromise text with which we grudgingly agree but whose presentation is in someone else’s hands.
Under this treaty, once a common position has been agreed, we are duty-bound to support it. I am not sure—perhaps the noble Baroness the Leader of the House can respond to this in her summing up—where that would leave a new UK Government who might come in with a fundamentally different view of foreign policy from its predecessor. Furthermore, the report notes that at the United Nations, where the European Union has a common position,
“the UK will be required to request that the High Representative present that position”.
He will be required to request. While that, as the report makes clear, does not displace the UK's right to speak and vote, in practice we must recognise that it would be very difficult for the UK then to represent a different emphasis or to decide to change its own position as a result of the debate at the United Nations.
Overall, therefore, while we have obviously retained an independent foreign policy in those areas where the EU has no common position, as the House of Lords report acknowledges, our freedom will be constrained in the increasing number of areas where the EU does define a common policy.
I now turn briefly to other areas. The Charter of Fundamental Rights, as we have heard, is now given legal status equivalent to the treaties. The House of Lords report notes:
“The [UK] protocol is not an opt-out from the Charter”.
“The Protocol should not lead to a different application of the Charter in the United Kingdom and Poland when compared with the rest of the Member States”.
More generally, the report also notes that:
“The extension of the use of qualified majority voting (QMV) to more than 40 new areas is a significant change. Qualified majority voting becomes the default voting method in the Council of Ministers”.
That is not just streamlining. One such critical area moved to QMV is decisions on energy policy, which could hardly be closer to our vital national interests, in addition to those areas I have already referred to in foreign policy and justice and home affairs. We need to look beyond these individual additions to EU powers and competences to understand the full impact of this treaty.
Despite assurances from the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, under this treaty the balance of power shifts significantly from the nation states to the EU institutions. The Commission gains an increased role in both criminal justice and foreign affairs, where the high representative is a member of the Commission. The president of the Council, instead of being a rotating representative of the nation states, becomes a full-time paid EU leader, which the House of Lords report notes is a “significant move”, and one that is likely to result in more active EU agenda.
As for the European Parliament, the report notes:
“The Lisbon Treaty considerably increases the powers of the European Parliament … to the extent that the European Parliament will become co-legislator for most European laws”.
That reflects the sentiment and statements in the treaty that the Union is founded no longer on nation states but on, representative democracy, where EU citizens,
“are directly represented at Union level in the European Parliament”.
Finally, the House of Lords report notes that:
“The Treaty significantly expands the role of the ECJ”,
including, as we have seen, its new jurisdiction in criminal justice and policing. By contrast, the role of member states in the Council of Ministers is downgraded from an intergovernmental gathering to an EU institution that, like the states in the US Senate, can express their views on most issues only through majority voting, which, as I have said, becomes the default decision-making process. The European Council moves from being the guiding voice of the nation states sitting above the European Union to become just another part of the EU's formal institutional framework and expressly subject for the first time to the jurisdiction of the European Court—something that the House of Lords report describes as “highly significant”.
It is difficult to imagine a set of proposals that is a clearer description of a constitutional shift from a Europe of nation states to a European Union which claims its own direct and independent democratic mandate from the European citizens. That is why it was originally and correctly termed, a Constitution for Europe. Noble Lords in this House may applaud that and many of the constitution’s architects on the continent certainly do. I disagree because I believe that this attempt to build a large, centralised pan-European power block is out of step with the decentralised, networked and fast moving world of the 21st century. We need a looser relationship with Europe and not one that locks us in to a central bureaucracy. But what no one should be allowed to say to the British people is that this treaty is not important or that the decision on it is not important. That is why in its passage through this House, as other noble Lords have said, whatever our views on the treaty, we must come together to insist that the Government honour their pledge to give the people of this country their say in a referendum.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a former head of the European secretariat in the Cabinet Office in London and as a former official and a pension holder of the European Commission.
I come to this Second Reading debate basing myself on the very simple principle that we need to decide whether the treaty of Lisbon improves the situation for our citizens and for the United Kingdom as a whole by comparison with the present EU treaties that apply to us now. In short, do we benefit from the treaty of Lisbon? Surely that is the proper test. If the treaty passes that test, I shall vote for it.
Looking carefully at the treaty—I am sure the examination in Committee will be mega-thorough based on the discussion so far; perhaps there is something even higher than mega-thorough—we have to keep in mind that our Government have judged that the treaty benefits Britain. Our Prime Minister has signed it. In addition, the House of Commons has already approved the treaty by agreeing to the Bill. Thus at the national and parliamentary level we do not come to this treaty with the arguments for and against it evenly balanced. No, the arguments in favour of the treaty have prevailed in government and in Parliament in the House of Commons.
The Bill is clear and mercifully short. However, the treaty itself has been drawn up as an amending treaty, and in consequence it is a rather unlovely document because it makes changes by adding to, deleting or amending treaty provisions. That does not make it easy to read, even to an old Eurohack like me. In due course, if as I expect the treaty is ratified, there will be a consolidated text which will make a much better read. The Government have already provided us with a copy.
In the mean time, the European Union Committee of this House has been the saviour of hard-worked Peers and has produced the truly excellent document entitled The Treaty of Lisbon: An Impact Assessment. Of the many documents I have read and sometimes contributed to in the European Union Committee in my nine years in the House, this is the best and I have taken it much to heart.
It seems to me very relevant to ask ourselves why 27 sovereign states have thought it right to have this treaty, and to judge how far it responds to some of the objectives that were advanced or debated in earlier discussions. First, there is the presumed need to adapt the European Union’s working to the effects of the very significant enlargement of the Union to 27 countries. The United Kingdom has been strongly in favour of this enlargement. It reflects the wish of the people of so many new member states to share in the success of the Union. We should certainly follow this through by improving where possible the working of the Community institutions.
The treaty does respond to that in a number of ways. First, of course, it reduces from 2014 the number of European Commissioners, consequently making the Commission more manageable. Secondly, it brings together the roles of a vice-president of the Commission and the high representative of the Union for foreign affairs. In my view that will improve co-ordination and effectiveness. Thirdly, it tackles the question of the voting weights of the member states, which was left in a rather unsatisfactory state after the treaty of Nice. As the EU Committee points out, the new system for calculating a qualified majority is more equitable and more favourable to the United Kingdom because it takes more account of population. The practical effect is that the UK’s voting weight increases from about 8 per cent to about 12 per cent.
There is an extension of qualified majority voting to more areas, some of which are of almost no importance but others are significant. Those who take a purely defensive line may not approve, but the change increases our opportunity to achieve those objectives which we want for ourselves within the Union. In reality, of course, important issues, including primary legislation, are seldom voted in the Union. When I was in Brussels, I used to call for the summary of who was outvoted, and the results were probably the exact opposite of what many people in this House would think. But the existence of unanimity or qualified majority can influence the conduct of a debate.
Fourthly, the treaty changes the current six-monthly rotating presidency of the European Council in the interests of greater continuity of purpose and action to a longer term of two and a half years, renewable once, elected by the European Council. I think that I am one of the two or three people in the world who were present in the European Council for a full period for every meeting for 10 years. I have a great attachment to the efficiency of the European Council, which I found to be extremely good. Nowadays, things have changed a bit and I am strongly in favour of an increased period for the presidency so that it can continue the great tradition which I observed in the past. I have no difficulty with the proposal, but, as is mentioned in some of the reports that have been put before us, the relationship with the high representative will need to be handled carefully. I note that the wording of the treaty is careful in stating that:
“The President of the European Council shall, at his level and in that capacity, ensure the external representation of the Union on issues concerning its common foreign and security policy, without prejudice to the powers of the High Representative”.
There are other areas where the treaty provides changes which go towards efficiency. On balance, it responds well to the line that we ought to take to achieve that greater efficiency in the enlarged Union.
The second area that we should look at is the extent to which the treaty improves the action of the national parliaments in their relationship with the European Union. It was an objective in the earlier discussions to improve the accountability of the EU to the peoples and the national parliaments. In this treaty, the role of the European Parliament continues to increase—I support that—with almost all important legislative matters now dealt with by co-decision between the directly elected Parliament and the Council of Ministers representing the member states. In addition, a change in the budget rules means that important areas of expenditure such as that on agriculture are no longer classified as obligatory and become part of the normal procedure.
I would not wish to overstate the importance of the provisions relating to the increased role for national parliaments, but they are substantially new. The new protocol gives more time for national parliaments to examine a whole range of legislative proposals, Council agendas and so on which have to be sent to them directly by the Commission. The Commission has to justify proposals on grounds of proportionality and subsidiarity, and a sufficient majority of national parliaments can require a review of proposals which do not in their view respect subsidiarity.
Overall, it is reasonable to assume that the Lisbon treaty and its protocols will increase co-operation between national parliaments, on both draft EU legislation and other instruments of legislative planning, including the annual legislative programme. We know from opinion polls that the British public have many things which they consider much more important than the European Union, but all the same the Parliament here needs to maximise its role in dealing with these issues in the interests of the public.
Finally, I stress the importance of the explicit treaty provision that,
“the Union shall act only within the limits of the competences conferred upon it by the Member States in the Treaties to attain the objectives set out therein”.
I do not think that anyone has yet mentioned my next point although I anticipated that most of the 71 speeches would cover every point that I was likely to mention. However, I draw attention to the statements on the values and objectives of the European Union which are, to a considerable extent, new in this treaty by comparison with earlier texts. I am a world-weary ex-civil servant but I find these statements on values and objectives moving and, indeed, inspiring. It is to me a source of pride and confidence that 27 sovereign states can pledge themselves to the Union’s aim to,
“promote peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples”,
and inter alia,
“combat social exclusion and discrimination, and ... promote social justice and protection, equality between women and men, solidarity between generations and protection of the rights of the child”.
This is certainly in my view a Union with objectives and values that we should support.
My Lords, I speak in support of the Lisbon treaty and, as a member of the Select Committee, I commend to your Lordships the report of the European Union Committee on the treaty.
I start by congratulating the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester on his maiden speech and particularly on his masterly steering round controversy in a European Union debate. He may find that is not so easy to do in future but I am very pleased that he supports the treaty.
I spent too long in government, and perhaps too long working at pretty close quarters with some of our colleagues in the EU, not to recognise its faults. My experiences, particularly in the fields of trade, defence and foreign policy, left me at times frustrated, often irritated and, on occasions, frankly, pretty indignant. But none of those experiences leads me to doubt that our membership and our growing involvement in and commitment to the European Union are anything but right. I cannot help reflecting that in decades to come succeeding generations will find it hard to believe that we have made such a song and dance about our relationship with our closest neighbours. Today I want to concentrate particularly on the way in which this latest treaty impacts on European Union foreign policy and to say something about the referendum issue, particularly the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, who I am very sorry is not in his place.
At this stage in our relationship with Europe, we, the British, must maintain control of decision-taking on the major issues of our foreign policy. It is doubtful whether we shall ever be ready for a European institution to assume that responsibility for us but we certainly are not ready for it now. The framework for decisions on EU foreign policy will continue to be the member states, and the Lisbon treaty ensures that the principle of unanimity for decisions in this respect will be maintained. That is not to say that the treaty proposes no changes on CFSP issues—it clearly does—but these do not undermine our ability to take our own decisions. On the contrary, the changes should improve the effectiveness and coherence of the EU’s foreign policy when we decide that we need to act together. This is very important because it is not simply a question of holding a red-line position—a “thus far and no further” doctrine. We need to get on to the front foot and, when there is a commonality of view between Governments, to pursue European policies more effectively. I think particularly of the Middle East peace process, where a more proactive Europe could play a far more positive role. Another change is that the high representative will be able to suggest to the European Council that he should be tasked with preparing a proposal but, for that to happen, the request to him must be unanimous.
The overwhelming weight of evidence presented to our Select Committee was that the treaty has preserved the independence of our foreign and defence policy and that the fundamental principles of the CFSP will not change. In particular, we concluded that the principle of unanimity and the search for consensus in decision-making will continue to apply to the CFSP.
There has been a great deal of comment on the strengthening of the position of the high representative as provided for in the treaty. The renamed post will bring together three functions that already exist: the Council presidency, the commissioner for external affairs and the high representative. At this stage, it is of course very difficult to assess how this will work in practice, but the objective is to bring about more effective and coherent EU external action. Obviously, a great deal will depend on the working relationships within the EU with the president of the Council and the president of the Commission, but most importantly with the member states, particularly as the high representative will chair the Foreign Affairs Council, which is a real innovation that will undoubtedly give the incumbent a great deal more clout.
In a practical sense, the less ambitiously framed role of the current incumbent is already far more influential than it used to be. His current functions may not be as extensive as those laid out in the treaty, but his influence is already very considerable. The influence of the new role is really nothing to fear. It will develop, and it may vary from incumbent to incumbent. Frankly, we above all people should recognise that. It is not so unlike Parliament’s relationship with Ministers. Some Ministers are very influential and others are less so. Much depends on the man or woman concerned.
Lastly, there is the impact of the treaty on our position at the United Nations. Concerns and myths have proliferated about this. If one believes some parts of the popular press, we shall lose our seat on the Security Council and our right to speak; we shall lose our very veto. Whatever such rabble-rousers are prepared to try to persuade the British public to believe about their own Government, do they really think that they can persuade anyone, however naive, that the French would give up any of those?
There is a change that provides for member states on the Security Council to request that the high representative be invited to speak to present the EU’s position, where that position is unanimously agreed. The request must be made; that is all. The Security Council may agree or not agree. There is nothing so extraordinary in that; diplomats and others are already regularly invited to speak to the Security Council. Our right to speak, our right to vote and our veto remain unaffected, and we made that very clear in paragraph 7.82 of our report.
We have heard today and no doubt we will hear a great deal more about the referendum on the treaty. Put boldly, the accusation is that the Government have acted in bad faith, and that will be repeated. Both sides of the argument will accuse each other of putting party before national interest and of trying to obscure the real argument. Both sides will quote their supporters, and both sides will attempt to trump each other in the importance of those whom they quote. It is all pretty predictable stuff. We shall no doubt have every opportunity to go over it in detail. Perhaps I may make one or two points in opening on our side on some of the points made by the noble Lord, who I am glad to see has now returned to his place.
As I understood it, the IGC mandate records that the agreement of all 27 heads that the constitutional concept that consisted in repealing all existing treaties and replacing them by a single text called a constitution is abandoned. I understood that that was what had been agreed.
The constitutional treaty, as I understood it—but maybe the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, can tell me that I am wrong—was legally unprecedented. It would have abolished the EU and refounded it under a single constitutional order. The Lisbon treaty, by contrast, amends the existing treaties in no way differently from the Single European Act and the treaties of Maastricht, Nice and Amsterdam—a pretty important difference between the original constitutional treaty and the treaty before us today.
By dropping the name of the Foreign Minister, getting rid of the treaty’s references to flags, anthems, currency and mottos, and removing the charter from the body of the treaty, the so-called constitutional trappings have all gone. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, may think that that is paltry stuff, but I prefer to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who, after all, is not part of this political scrap, that these are not trivia but hugely important issues for all nations and we attach great significance to them.
The really important point was what was negotiated after the original treaty—the so-called red lines, which really do mean that Britain is in a different position from that of other signatories to the treaty. The red lines include a legally binding protocol that is specific to the United Kingdom in the Charter of Fundamental Rights—I make that point particularly for the noble Lord on the Front Bench opposite, who is looking sceptical—is applicable in both the UK courts and the European Court of Justice, and confirms that the binding charter will have no impact on UK domestic law and will create no powers for the EU to legislate. That is pretty significant.
I turn to the criminal law and police and judicial process, regarding which the Government secured an extension of our existing opt-in rights on migration, asylum and immigration issues. My goodness, if we had not, we would be hearing all about that today from the other side, who believe it is a very significant point. On social security, the Government secured a provision allowing us to insist on unanimous voting by EU member states if we were concerned that a proposal would affect important aspects of our social security system. That is the third point. The fourth red line is, of course, where we secured an agreement on common foreign and security policy whereby it will continue to be intergovernmental and on which there would, again, be voting unanimity by EU member states.
The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, may think that that does not count at all and that those red lines, negotiated after the original constitutional treaty, do not count. I beg to differ, and most sensible people would, too. The noble Lord was allowed to finish his remarks without being interrupted. Perhaps he would extend the same courtesy to me. In the mean time, nothing can take the place of detailed analysis of what this treaty changes in respect of our current treaty and our treaty obligations in the EU. We have to look at what the treaty actually says, not what some people would like it to say.
When the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, held a press conference on the publication of our report a couple of weeks ago, a number of journalists—in fact, quite a few journalists—turned up. They searched desperately through the report for the condemnations, for the criticisms and for the sensational conclusions. They searched in vain. What they found were the considered judgments to which 80 of your Lordships had contributed—measured, sensible and accurate judgments. Of course, nothing appeared in the press. That is what we call “balanced reporting” on the European Union in this country. I left the press conference with a number of journalists, one of whom said very sadly to another, “I thought that the Lords was full of Eurosceptics”. One of his colleagues replied, “They are, they are—like Lord Pearson of Rannoch”. I allowed a brief pause and said, “No. Believe me, there is no one in the House of Lords quite like Lord Pearson of Rannoch”. I trust that the noble Lord will not disappoint us today when he rises to give us his version of events.
My Lords, first, I apologise to the House for the fact that a very long-standing commitment means that I shall not be able to be present for the concluding stages of the debate. I want to use the time available to speak about the treaty and not about the referendum. However, I should make it clear that I am not only very much in favour of approving the treaty but I am also strongly opposed to a referendum on this issue.
In my view, the treaty is useful and necessary but it is not a radical transformation of the European Union or of our relations with our European Union partners. It does not constitute a constitution in the sense of a document that creates a system and the rules under which the system is to operate. The mistake was to call the previous lapsed treaty a constitution. The mistake was made because, whereas that description made many people in this country suspicious of it, in much of the European Union the creation of a constitution was considered politically attractive. That may have been a misjudgment; it probably was, but that misjudgment does not make the previous treaty a constitution or the present one anything like a constitution.
This treaty is, in fact, one of a long series of treaties, each of which alters in some respects the way in which the European Union is governed. However, it is incremental in character, not transformational—it does not amount to a significant transfer of power from the member states to the institutions of the European Union. In that respect, the comparison that has been made between this treaty and the Single European Act or the Maastricht treaty is fair, but this one is much narrower in scope and more limited in effect.
I would add that in my view the treaty should be supported—not because the clever Government have saved us from the wiles of Brussels or the machinations of continental federalists but for positive reasons. It provides two positive benefits—benefits for us and benefits for the European Union as a whole. I think that it is a positive achievement, not a lucky escape.
First, the treaty makes the changes that are necessary to enable the European Union to function more efficiently and effectively after the recent huge increase in the number of member states through the admission of the countries of central and eastern Europe. When I was in the Commission, I saw successive enlargements making the machinery more and more cumbersome, with very few changes to take account of that. Now, at last, it is catch-up time, and one of the more entertaining features—some might say one of the few entertaining features—of the discussions about the treaty is that suddenly long-standing opponents and fierce critics of the European Union are saying, “It’s all working well. Why change it? Why do we need to have this treaty?” That seems to me to miss the point. There was never any question of the European Union suddenly collapsing under the weight of the new members; it has just got steadily more cumbersome and more difficult in its operation, and it is time to put that right.
As the United Kingdom has, on a cross-party basis, rightly been a strong supporter of enlargement, it would be wrong to the point of perversity for us now to oppose the institutional changes that are needed as a result. Apart from all else, it would have a devastating effect on our relations with the countries of central and eastern Europe which we have taken such pains to foster—and to very good effect—for our benefit and for the benefit of Europe as a whole.
What are the institutional changes? At this stage of the debate, they have already been referred to. They include the reduction in the size of the Commission to make it more manageable and the capping of the size of the European Parliament. The reduction in the number of issues requiring unanimity means that a single country can no longer block legislation in the areas concerned; and of course it is surely a statistical probability that that use of a single country’s veto is more likely to occur the more member states there are in the European Union. As it happens, much of the increase in qualified majority voting is in areas such as energy, intellectual property, transport and research where the United Kingdom has always supported EU activity and promoted it. The veto is retained in the really sensitive areas such as taxation and social security. In addition, as has been mentioned frequently, the opt-in, opt-out arrangements are extended in areas relating to criminal law, police and judicial process, and there is the special protocol protecting the Charter of Fundamental Rights, itself creating justiciable rights in the UK; that is quite a formidable package.
You also have to look at the other side of the coin—the benefits as well as the features needed to deal with the changes brought about by enlargement, such as a substantial increase in UK voting power or the totally new powers for the national parliaments. Looked at as a whole, which is surely the right and fair thing to do, the features show a balance of power moving from the Commission to the member states. Let us not forget that the European Council sounds like, and is written up in the treaty as, a European institution—but what is it? It is the Heads of Government of the member states. It is a governmental, not a Commission-type, institution.
The second main benefit of the treaty, apart from the changes to take account of enlargement, is the strengthening of the European Union’s ability to operate globally in the area of foreign policy. That is achieved by the creation of a more permanent President of the European Council and the merger of the Commissioner for External Relations with the high representative for foreign and security policy. That provides for greater continuity and clarity, but it is extremely important for the debate in this country to underline that it does not confer new powers on either of those two people. It does not impose agreement on the member states if they are disinclined to reach such agreement, nor does it enable the European Union through those new institutions to act as a single unit where there is no agreement by the member states—and by “member states”, I mean all the member states.
On the other hand, by creating a clearer structure and greater continuity, it will be easier to build consensus from the bottom up and will make it more likely that the European Union will be able to speak with a single voice on the world stage more often and more coherently. It does not guarantee that, but it makes it more probable. When you consider the great issues today—climate change, security of energy supply and the environment—you realise that no one country can solve those problems on its own. The European Union acting where there is agreement, and achieving a greater possibility of securing such agreement, can make a significant contribution. Increasing the chances of the European Union being able to act collectively is in the interests of us all in handling the great issues on the world stage. That is what the Lisbon treaty will achieve and is why it should be supported.
My Lords, it is a great honour for my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke and me to speak in this debate on behalf of the UK Independence Party. It is the only respectable political party that is telling the British people the truth about the colossal folly of our EU membership.
My Lords, the truth is still valuable to the British people, even if it is not valuable to some noble Lords opposite. The other main parties have misled and lied to them for some 36 years, and have thus brought this country to its present predicament. That predicament can be simply put: EU membership is ruinously expensive and has deprived us of most of our right to govern ourselves. The Lisbon treaty will complete the job and should, therefore, be rejected by this House at Second Reading.
Of course, our political establishment, so richly represented in your Lordships’ House, will not agree with me. It cannot face up honestly to either of those accusations, just as it dare not admit to how low it has brought this country in every other area of our national life. What do I mean by “our political establishment”? I mean the Members of the House of Commons and this place, the bureaucracy which supports us and the Government of the day and, a point often missed, the political media which feed off us. It is that political class, politely referred to as the Westminster village, which is becoming increasingly despised by the real people who earn the money to pay the taxes to keep it afloat. If those real people are denied a referendum on this Lisbon treaty, which they were clearly promised, our whole political system will rightly be held in even greater contempt.
To take the accusation that our EU membership is ruinously expensive, I can but refer your Lordships and future students of our national demise to my debate in your Lordships’ House on 8 June last year, calling for an official cost-benefit analysis into the benefits or disbenefits of our EU membership. I held similar debates on 27 June 2003 and 17 March 2000. No one can say I have not tried. The response from the Government and the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Benches has always been wearisomely the same. Like propaganda machines the world over, they parrot that the benefits of our EU membership are so wondrous and obvious that any objective government analysis would be a waste of taxpayers’ money—note the beauty of that.
As I have mentioned before, there have been several responsible private academic studies over recent years which put the economic cost of our EU membership conservatively at around 8 to 10 per cent of GDP, or £80 billion to £100 billion per annum. That sort of cost is supported by no less a personage than the EU’s Competition Commissioner himself, Günter Verheugen, who has put the cost of EU regulation alone at some 6.5 per cent of GDP.
The most successful piece of Europhile propaganda is that we cannot afford to leave the EU because 3.5 million jobs depend on our membership, with the implication that they would be lost if we left. It is that obvious nonsense, constantly repeated by Prime Ministers downwards, for many years, that has gone into the subconscious of the British people and made many of them fearful of leaving the EU. To be charitable, I can only hope that our political leaders mouth this fantasy because they do not understand much about international trade or commerce. Perhaps they really do not understand that if we left the political construct of our EU membership, our trade with our clients and suppliers in Europe would continue and so would the jobs which depend on it.
In the background, there is also the killer point that the EU sells us more than we sell them. We are the EU’s largest client. So if we left the EU, it would need to continue in free trade with us and none of our jobs would be in danger. There are at least two other killer points in the Eurosceptics’ economic locker. The first is that EU membership forces us to remain below decks on the “Titanic” of the EU’s over-regulated and sclerotic economy, now starting to sink fast after coming up against the iceberg of the free economies of the east. The second is that only about 9 per cent of our economy trades in the EU at all; about 11 per cent with the rest of the world; and 80 per cent stays right here in our domestic economy. Yet Brussels’s job-destroying over-regulation hits the whole 100 per cent of GDP of our economy. So the truth is the reverse of the Europhile propaganda; leaving the EU would create jobs—millions of them.
My second principal reason for suggesting that your Lordships should reject the Bill at Second Reading is that our present EU membership has already deprived the British people of most of their right to govern themselves; that is their right to elect and dismiss those who make their laws; and that the Lisbon treaty will deprive them of the rest. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, and my noble friends Lord Forsyth and Lord Blackwell have made the unanswerable case that the Lisbon treaty is indeed the same as the rejected constitution, give or take the flag and the anthem, which will continue to be used anyway.
So I will content myself with reminding your Lordships that most of our national law is now made in Brussels and then imposed on this Parliament and our people. The German Government have put the proportion of their national law made in Brussels at 84 per cent. Even our own Government have been forced to admit that the majority of law affecting our commerce and industry is now imposed by the Brussels system. That is bad enough, since our commerce and industry are the lifeblood of this nation.
In this important debate it is worth reminding your Lordships just what the Brussels law-making system is, and how it is the very antithesis of democracy. EU law, which is superior to British law, is proposed in secret by the unelected Commission. It is then negotiated in secret in COREPER or by bureaucrats from the nation states, and then it is passed in the Council of Ministers, where the UK Government are reduced to some 8 per cent of the vote and where they propose, under Lisbon, to throw away nearly all of their remaining rights to a veto. The resulting laws must then be rubber-stamped by this Parliament—if we get to see them at all—and executed by the self-same unelected Commission, aided and abetted by that engine of EU integration, the Luxembourg Court of Justice.
Two other features of the quagmire in which we find ourselves are that powers, once passed to Brussels, cannot be returned to national parliaments, and the treaties can only be changed by unanimity in the Council. That is why we in the UK Independence Party say that renegotiation of the treaties is not realistic. The only way out is the door.
Against all of that, the Europhile propagandists pretend that this brave new system of law-making is somehow rendered democratically respectable by the process of scrutiny in both Houses of Parliament. My noble friend Lord Vinson may have more to say in this regard, so I will content myself by pointing out that our EU scrutiny committees can do only that: they can scrutinise, report and debate, but they cannot change anything. I fear that I have come to wonder what the point of them is at all. They have certainly done nothing over the years to stem the steady handover of our once-proud sovereignty to Brussels, from the Single European Act in 1986 to Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice. There should have been a referendum on all of those, of course, but five wrongs will not make a right if we do not have a referendum on Lisbon.
It is somewhat devious of the Europhiles to pretend that Lisbon reverses this trend by giving real power to national parliaments. It is true that if, in eight weeks, one-third of national parliaments can get their act together and get the parliamentary time from their Governments to disagree with a new legislative proposal with which most of those Governments will already have agreed, then Brussels must think again. However, the Commission can go ahead unless the Council and the Parliament—which will also have agreed with the proposal—change their minds and agree with the one third of national parliaments which do not want it. Even then, 54 per cent of the votes in the Council and 49 per cent of votes in the Parliament can agree with the national parliaments and be overridden. Some democracy, that.
Likewise, it is very naughty to pretend that Lisbon makes it easier for us to leave the EU. It would subject us to a two-year period of negotiation controlled by Brussels, whereas, at present, we could repeal the Single European Act tomorrow and walk free from this prison into the fresh air of free trade and sovereignty regained.
To all this the Europhiles reply that our membership of the EU is justified because it makes us more useful in standing up to international terrorism and combating climate change—which is a waste of time anyway—and dealing with immigration and so on. I predict that the idea of the EU doing any good in any of these areas will prove to be the triumph of hope over experience. How can an organisation responsible for the common agricultural and fisheries policies—the first killing untold numbers of people in the developing world and the second dumping 30,000 articulated lorries-worth of dead fish into the sea every year—be trusted to improve the planet’s environment? What hypocrisy.
On immigration, surely our membership of the EU has produced millions of immigrants about whom we can do nothing and the usefulness of whom your Lordships’ Economic Affairs Committee has now rightly queried. I remind the Government and your Europhile Lordships that we are an island. We should control our own borders to suit our own needs, while continuing our long-standing tradition of compassion towards those who really need it. We do not need our asylum policy to be controlled by Brussels of all places.
However, our political classes love the EU gravy train, the nubile translators, the endless committees and conferences, the travel to Bali and other agreeable places, the feeling that they are maintaining peace in the world—rather unsuccessfully, I submit—and generally doing good, while being very well paid by the rest of us for that luxury. The prospects for all that are greatly enhanced by the Lisbon treaty. That is why they like it and real people hate it. Real people are already very frustrated, to the extent that many of them no longer see the point of voting in general elections. They want our democracy back so that they can sack the people who make their laws. Real people will get more and more angry until they get it.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my very old friend, the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, and to listen to his lectures on the practice of democracy. I am sure that what he said will, as always, be taken extremely seriously by noble Lords and by those in another place who have put themselves to the inconvenience of being elected. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House referred to the report of your Lordships’ Select Committee on the Constitution, as did my noble and learned friend Lord Howe and others. We heard contributions from the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, who is a member of the committee, and the noble Baroness, Lady Quin. I shall not repeat what they said. However, I shall share with your Lordships some of the conclusions that were reached in the report published last week and I shall highlight some of them. Even the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, may find some comfort in them.
The report is complementary to that of the European Union Committee, which is chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, and we are greatly indebted to the Government, all those who gave evidence and the specialist advisers who helped us with our report. The approach of your Lordships’ Constitution Committee to the Lisbon treaty is quite different from that of other committees because it is charged by your Lordships to concern itself exclusively with changes that may be brought about to the workings of the British constitution rather than the operation of the European Union’s institutions and processes. We have made comments and recommendations on Parliament’s control of amendments to the treaties governing the EU. We welcome the requirement created by Clause 5 that the Government must seek parliamentary approval before ratifying any future amendments to the founding treaties made under the ordinary revision procedures but we call on the Government to explain and resolve the relationship between the new requirements created by Clause 5 and the existing requirements under Section 12 of the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2002 for parliamentary approval of treaty amendments that enlarge the powers of the European Parliament.
We have also welcomed the provisions in the Bill that establish parliamentary control over government decisions under the passerelle mechanisms but we believe that there are two ways in which the procedure should be strengthened to ensure proper scrutiny. We recommend that the Government should lay an Explanatory Memorandum or a Written Statement when tabling a Motion seeking approval for support of a specified draft decision and we also recommend that the Bill be amended to ensure that Parliament is given enough time to scrutinise the proposals in respect of passerelles. Some passerelle mechanisms existed in earlier EU treaties but we are not convinced that that alone provides justification for the Bill’s omission of a comprehensive list of passerelle and similar enabling provisions in the Lisbon treaty and in previous treaties. We therefore ask the Government to provide a list enumerating all those provisions in order to allow Parliament to consider during the passage of the Bill whether each one should such be subject to parliamentary control under Clause 6.
Constitutional stability is a desirable objective. The Government view the reforms that will be brought about by the treaty as providing a lasting settlement. Your Lordships’ committee therefore hopes that, if ratified, the treaty will provide a period of stability in which the Government can use their influence to ensure that such is the case.
On the European Union’s competences, questions of distribution of power are complex. In the UK, devolution and membership of the European Union have the combined consequence that the UK Government and Parliament operate under a system of multi-level governance. For practical purposes, they have such powers as have not been conferred on the devolved Administrations and legislatures or the European Union. The committee therefore welcomes the treaty's attempt to set out with greater clarity the demarcations of responsibility between member states and the European Union. Those demarcations will continue to be open to interpretation by the European Court of Justice.
Your Lordships' committee therefore welcomes the enhanced role of national Parliaments proposed by the Lisbon treaty. We have proposed that both Houses should work together to develop complementary scrutiny procedures, particularly in respect of the role of Select Committees. It would also be helpful for Parliament to seek involvement in the policy-making procedures of the European Community.
On nations and regions, it is obviously necessary to develop enhanced co-operation between the Government and the devolved Administrations on those aspects of European Union policy that are devolved or have implications for the devolutionary settlement. To that end, meetings of the Joint Ministerial Committee should be more frequent and more open to public scrutiny. We also believe that there is a need for co-operation between the UK Parliament and the devolved legislatures on European Union matters, particularly the yellow card procedure for policing the principle of subsidiarity. We therefore suggest that the respective legislatures give further consideration to a formal mechanism for improved co-operation on those issues.
Perhaps most important is the area of freedom, security and justice. Your Lordships’ committee concluded that the importance of how the opt-ins and opt-outs are used is such that Parliament must be fully involved in their use. We have therefore recommended that the Bill be amended so as to require that the Government obtain approval from both Houses of Parliament before using opt-ins or opt-outs in any policy area. That would be consistent with the Bill’s policy, so declared, of requiring parliamentary approval for the use of the simplified revision procedure and the passarellles.
Finally, many of the issues examined in our report, including the competencies of the EU, the interpretation and application of the charter and the detailed working out of the consequences of the UK's opt-outs and opt-ins, particularly in relation to the area of freedom, security and justice, will be shaped by the European Court of Justice’s adjudications in future years. For Parliament and the people we serve to be fully informed of the European Court of Justice's interpretation and application of the Lisbon treaty's provisions, your Lordships’ committee recommends that the Government lay before Parliament an annual report on their assessment of the impact of the court’s rulings on the United Kingdom. In interpreting and applying the charter, the European Court of Justice will increasingly refer to the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and so the relevant rulings of that court ought also to be covered in the Government's annual report.
The provision of such an annual report would complement Parliament’s efforts in recent years to seek greater information about the operation of the United Kingdom’s courts through, for example, the requirement of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 for the Supreme Court to make an annual report and the Lord Chief Justice’s proposed regular reports on the courts system in England and Wales.
I hope that these proposals, which in some ways are more pedestrian than some of the more high-flown proposals that have been part of our debate this afternoon but are none the less fairly radical, will commend themselves to your Lordships’ House in the subsequent proceedings on the Bill. Your Lordships’ committee, like that chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, did not think it appropriate to form a view on the desirability or otherwise of a referendum. Although as a former participant in the discussions of the usual channels, of whom I see a number of representatives here, it pains me to say so, I fear that the decision will have to rest on consideration of the merits of the arguments.
My Lords, it is a particular pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad. I much appreciated his committee’s report when I had an opportunity to read it over the weekend, and I am sure that we will come back to a number of the points that he covered and which were also covered in the report of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, on parliamentary control of the opt-ins in the areas of freedom, justice and home affairs. Like my noble friends on these Benches who have already spoken, I believe that the Lisbon treaty contains useful improvements to the machinery of government of the European Union, and I will therefore support the Bill. Having been opposed to the use of referenda on European matters since 1972, I shall not change my mind on this occasion.
As the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, mentioned in his very useful introduction to the report and to our debate, I serve as chairman of Sub-Committee C of your Lordships’ European Union Committee. Two members of the sub-committee, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, have already dealt with a certain number of the things that came out of our committee and which appear as chapter 7 of the European Union Committee’s report. Indeed, I much appreciated the remarks by the noble Lords, Lord Kerr and Lord Brittan, on this.
The treaty does not change the basis on which the Union carries out its external actions, but maintains the intergovernmental nature of the development of foreign and defence policy. It does however, as we have heard, introduce a number of institutional innovations designed to improve the effectiveness and coherence of the external actions of the European Union. The present treaties do not provide arrangements for co-ordination, because the external policies developed and implemented by the Commission—including international trade policy, development and other economic assistance and the policy of enlargement on the one hand, and the foreign and defence policies developed by member states and High Representative Javier Solana under the CFSP arrangements of the present Second Pillar on the other—are quite separate.
One manifestation of this division is the external representation of the European Union. The Commission has 128 missions, with about 4,000 staff, dealing with trade and development matters, but the CFSP matters—the Second Pillar matters—are formally dealt with by the embassies of the member state holding the rotating presidency of the Council, together, where they are, with the special representatives of the high representatives. This, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, leads to a dysfunctional arrangement, which means that the various instruments that the Union has to deal with foreign countries cannot be used as effectively as they should be.
We have reached this situation because, until the end of the Cold War, the European Union did not have a significant foreign policy, let alone a defence policy. It did, of course, from its outset as the European Economic Community have trade and development policies. Indeed, the Community’s successes in GATT and the World Trade Organisation have often been cited as examples of the effectiveness of operating as part of a larger group.
From 1970, there was a very slow development of European political co-operation, but it was only lightly organised by the member state holding the presidency. The Community’s relative lack of success in the Balkans in the early 1990s led to the formalisation of a Second Pillar in the Maastricht treaty of 1992, with the so-called common foreign and security policy. I find the title misleading. At first sight, the use of the word “common” gives the impression that it is a replacement for the foreign policies of the member states as “common” is used in the case of the common commercial policy and the common agriculture policy.
It is not a total policy. It is a series of policies on specific items which are reached by member states when they feel that they can usefully do something together within the European Union. The Amsterdam Treaty 1997 made the important institutional change of making the Secretary-General of the European Council the high representative for the common foreign and security policy. The Nice treaty created a committee of senior diplomats, known as the political and security community. Although the appointment of Javier Solana as high representative in 1999 has somewhat helped the development of the CFSP, the fact is that too often in foreign policy matters, such as meetings of the Middle East quartet, the Union is represented by three people and not one; that is, the country holding the rotating presidency, the high representative and the Commission. That shows why the provisions in the Lisbon treaty to bring these three together make a great deal of sense.
The most important innovation is to separate the post of high representative from that of Secretary-General, to allow him to take over the six-monthly rotating presidency of the Foreign Affairs Council, and, importantly, to represent the Union on foreign and security policy, including speaking on behalf of the Union in international organisations, to which I shall return. In addition, the same person will be appointed a vice-president of the Commission with responsibility for external relations to ensure the consistency of the Union’s external action. This unprecedented link between the two players was widely welcomed by those who came to give us evidence.
The second innovation is the creation of a European external action service to support the high representative in his expanded role and to represent the EU in the rest of the world. Bringing together the bureaucracies of the Commission and the Council in Brussels, and having a single representation in dealing with other countries and international organisations, will increase the coherence of the Union’s external actions. While these innovations have the potential to deal with some of the problems faced by the Union, another development, to which the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, has already referred, may cause some problems; that is, the role of the semi-permanent President of the European Council who will have a responsibility for common foreign and security policy at his own level.
Some of our witnesses told us of potential problems of co-ordination. For instance, when the European Union has a summit with a partner country, there are likely to be three people present—the President of the European Council, the President of the Commission and the high representative. The treaty probably inevitably does not spell out the relationship between the three. If possible, after ratification and before the appointment, it would be useful to draw up job descriptions, but that would be difficult. This is an important institutional innovation, but the new high representative will be accountable in various directions and it will be a challenging job to get right.
The noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, referred to the obligation on member states serving on the Security Council to request that, when the European Union has defined a position which is on the agenda of the UN Security Council, the high representative should be invited to present the European Union’s position. We were told in the sub-committee—it appears in our report—that that is true for the presentation before the full Security Council. But, of course, a great deal of the negotiation in the Security Council takes place before that among the permanent members, of which the European Union is not part. Therefore, it is merely to ensure that the Union has an opportunity, as it does from time to time, to present its position that there is this innovation. As the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, rightly said, this does not displace in any way the UK’s right to speak and vote.
On a final point, the Lisbon treaty contains a mutual assistance clause. Some people have suggested that this turns the European Union into a form of collective defence organisation. That is not the case because it does not provide for collective defence, but is an obligation comparable to that in Article 51 of the United Nations treaty on individual member states. The article recognises that NATO remains the foundation of the collective defence of those member states which are members of it and the forum for its implementation. It makes clear that commitments under the European Union’s common security and defence policy shall be consistent with commitments under NATO. This new language makes explicit the fact that the European Union is in no way a competitor with NATO. Perhaps in the light of developments in France and Cyprus, we may soon be able to improve relations between those two organisations. They ought to be working together better.
In foreign affairs and defence, the treaty removes some of the obstacles to the Union developing and implementing effective policy. It does not, as the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, has said, guarantee that member states will use it, but the arrangements are an improvement on the present situation and deserve our support.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Roper, but he will forgive me if I do not follow his argument. There are a few so wedded to the European project that they would rather say that black is white than say anything that they think might imperil its progress. The vast majority of people concede that the constitutional treaty and the Lisbon treaty have, to all intents and purposes, the same effect. In so far as there are differences, they are there for one specific purpose: to give Governments such as ours an excuse to go back on their undertaking to hold a referendum. That is not the product of my imaginings or a tale that I have made up. As my noble friend Lord Forsyth indicated, the president of Germany actually explained in a letter how, in order to help countries such as Britain, she was going to bring back the rejected constitution under a new name and use,
“different terminology without changing the … substance”.
Of course, she was as good as her word.
Our Prime Minister says that other countries may have signed up to what is the constitutional treaty in a new wrapping but that we have not done so because of all the opt-ins, opt-outs, red lines and so forth. That will not wash for a moment. Not only, says the Commons European Scrutiny Committee, do the opt-outs “leak like a sieve”, but they are substantially the same opt-outs as those negotiated at the time of the constitutional treaty. Contrary to what the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, said, the opt-outs were negotiated before the referendum promise was made. There is no doubt of that at all. Respect for Parliament will continue to decline so long as our leaders do not play straight with the British public. I cannot match the eloquence of my noble friend Lord Forsyth, but I agree with him that it is our plain duty to hold the Government to their promise. If we are not prepared to do that, quite frankly we might as well pack up and go home. What is the point of this House if we are not prepared to do that?
The Government like to say that the Conservatives are almost alone in disagreeing with the terms of the treaty, but my right honourable friend William Hague pointed out on 21 January in the other place that that is far from correct. Why is that? It is because the Government themselves, at one time or another, have expressed their opposition to almost all its contents. Eventually, they gave way, conceded or surrendered—use whichever word you want—but when we go through the history of this matter from the time of the convention we find that the Government themselves objected to 90 per cent of the proposals in this treaty.
The European Council is to be chaired by a full-time President and will become a formal EU institution subject to the jurisdiction of the ECJ. It is absurd to describe that as only a modest step to ensure more efficient working, which seems to be the line taken by my noble friend Lord Brittan. At the moment, meetings of the Council are chaired by a head of government, who, quite obviously, has a vested interest in protecting the rights of member states. Instead of that, we are to have a new-style Council presided over by someone barred from holding a national office, an unelected paid official like the President of the Commission. Surely this unelected official, like the President of the Commission, will consider it his prime duty to drive forward the interests of the Union whether or not they are at the expense of member states. I consider that a matter of great constitutional significance.
We have not heard much about it now being possible to merge the posts of Council President and Commission President. Tony Blair opposed it, but it is in the treaty. On 4 February, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, pooh-poohed the idea of any such merger coming about—he took me up on the point—but I invite your Lordships to turn to page 46 of the EU Committee report. There we find that the Commission, far from ruling it out, said that while it was not a current issue it could well return. We should all heed that warning of another constitutional change of immense importance in the offing.
On the EU high representative, Mr Blair said that he was not going to have an EU Foreign Minister at any costs, but that is what we have in all but name. Furthermore, against Mr Blair’s express wishes, this person, although a member of the Commission, is going to take the chair at meetings of EU Foreign Ministers. Is it really a matter of little account that a bureaucrat, a civil servant, an official, is going to preside when the democratically elected representatives of the member states meet? I do not think so. Nor do I, like Mr Blair, think it of little account that where the EU has agreed a common position the UK will be under an obligation to ask the high representative to present the EU position in the Security Council.
Incidentally, the former Prime Minister thought it “simply unacceptable” that there should be majority voting on proposals made by the high representative, but that is what we have. We also have an EU diplomatic service, which—surprise, surprise—Tony Blair said he was totally against. Noble Lords may remember that Mr Blair was also against the European Parliament electing the President of the Commission; he was against a treaty being amendable without a formal treaty negotiation; and he was against the ECJ being given jurisdiction over justice and home affairs matters, over the criminal law and policing. But, in the end, he signed up to it all, and that is a matter of constitutional significance.
As for the EU getting explicit legal personality, it can already sign up to agreements in so-called first pillar areas such as trade, but surely it is not a mere formality, a trivial tidying-up, that it will now be able to sign treaties covering every aspect of foreign policy and defence and even crime and judicial matters. By the treaty, the EU has acquired another of the attributes of statehood; it is another constitutional step.
One does not know whether to laugh or cry on the subject of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. First it had no more significance than the Beano; then it was merely declaratory; and then it was very dangerous and on no account was it to get into the treaty. However, it is in it and the protocol, which is so much boasted of, ensures that British people get the worst of all worlds. British citizens cannot go to court if they think that their rights under the charter have been infringed but they will be bound by decisions of the court in proceedings brought by citizens of other countries. There is no mystery about this and I hope that it is said plainly by a few other speakers. The interpretation of the charter from the European Court of Justice will become part of European law and, as European law has primacy over our law, our courts will follow the European Court’s rulings in cases brought by citizens of other states. That is why I say—and it really is as plain as a pikestaff—that as a result of the protocol we will get the worst of all worlds.
Then there is the alleged significant increase in powers of national parliaments. On examination, that proves to be nothing more than mere window dressing. We will get notice of draft EU legislation, but for what purpose? What is the use of that if there is no real possibility of parliaments being able to reject such legislation? What possibility is there of nine national parliaments in an eight-week period all voting to claim a breach of subsidiarity? The answer to that is precisely nil. If a miracle were to happen, the Commission could reconsider and then proceed anyhow. How dare anybody boast that the treaty is about giving power to Parliament, when Parliament is being shorn of power through a vast increase in majority voting in areas such as internal security and criminal law—areas central to national sovereignty?
The Government could have done so much. They could have fought to prise from the Commission its almost total monopoly of the right to initiate legislation and reminded the other heads of government that the whole object of the exercise, according to the Laeken declaration, was to bring the EU closer to its citizens, not to grab more power for the bureaucrats. They could have demanded a clear division of power between member states and Brussels to stop the relentless drift of power from member states to the EU, which the Laeken declaration suggested had to be stopped, but they have done precisely the opposite. They have given up the veto in anything between 40 and 60 new areas, depending on interpretation, as page 49 of the report says—and 26 of those extensions of majority voting were opposed strongly by our Government. They have agreed to it being made much more difficult for Britain to block legislation under QMV and agreed to most powers being shared, which is a ludicrous and insulting description of national Governments being allowed to do only what the Commission has graciously decided not to do.
If the Government had rejected this treaty, they might well have triggered a genuine rethink about the future of Europe, but we proceed as if we had no option but to surrender on every point and to go along with the majority. That has always been the view of the Europhiles: one has to agree with the majority, as failure to do so could precipitate a crisis or, even worse, show a lack of commitment to the project, which would mean that we were isolated. We hear that sort of nonsense spoken every day. What it means is that, although everybody is supposed to agree to a new treaty or to a change to a treaty, we must always agree because if we do not we will be isolated. As a result, surrender has become a habit and, through surrender, we have robbed our citizens of the right to hold to account and sack those who make most of our laws. The Government have signed up to a treaty that is bad for Britain and bad for democracy and they have ratted on their promise to give the people a say in a referendum. They have behaved disgracefully.
My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, will forgive me if I do not follow precisely the lines of his intervention. There will be opportunities in Committee to go into the details of the treaty and the Bill. At this stage, I would like to explain briefly and in broader terms why I support the treaty and the Bill and oppose a referendum.
There is a rather curious tendency at the moment to want to set on one side the achievements of the European Union over the years as being somehow out of date or irrelevant to today's debate. That is a bad mistake because the past has lessons for the future. Let us briefly recall that the EU was instrumental, alongside NATO, in cementing peace and security in western Europe. The EU was instrumental in ensuring democracy in southern Europe in Spain, Portugal and Greece, which was not at all evident some 20 or 25 years ago. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, argued so powerfully just now, the EU was also instrumental in bringing democracy and market economies to the countries of east and central Europe, although of course there is still unfinished business there.
Let us also recall that the EU has been instrumental in creating a market of more than 400 million people, in which the increasingly free movement of goods, services, capital and people has contributed greatly to Europe's prosperity. There, too, there is unfinished business. In my view, the United Kingdom has benefited greatly from these developments. However—and this is the point that I really want to stress—the United Kingdom has contributed greatly to those developments as well, under both Conservative and Labour Governments. I join my noble friend Lord Kerr in saying how glad I was to see the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, in her place this afternoon, for whom I worked for many years.
As I said, the UK has contributed greatly to these developments under both Conservative and Labour Governments. It has contributed greatly to the creation today of a European Union of 27 variegated nation states—I stress that—governed by an increasingly flexible set of arrangements. I would argue that that set of arrangements reflects what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, referred to in his opening speech as the “dignity of difference” among the member states. That is indeed what the European Union of today is increasingly about.
Today’s European Union of 27 variegated nation states is light years away from the centralised, homogeneous Union that was the dream of many people in the EU’s earlier years. That is simply not on the agenda any more. Nobody wants it; certainly not the east and central European countries who have recently joined the European Union having escaped the Soviet yoke—a point powerfully made by the noble Baroness, Lady Quin.
The lesson from all that is surely that engagement by Britain in the development of the EU—even engagement that has, at times over the years, been a little grudging—has been in Britain’s as well as the European Union's interest and that we should have the confidence to recognise that the more that we engage, the more we will get the European Union that we want and that we are comfortable with. At a time when the challenges that the European Union faces are so great, a policy of disengagement or even partial disengagement would be a huge mistake.
Those challenges are indeed, as other noble Lords have mentioned, great. They are: to complete the single market, particularly in energy, so that the European Union is better able to meet the challenges of China, India and other emerging economies; to take a lead on the big global issues and notably on climate change—unlike some other noble Lords, I really do think that that is an important role for the European Union and one in which it can play a leading role; to strengthen the European Union's external policy so that it can play a bigger role in fighting poverty and helping to meet the millennium development goals; to deliver humanitarian aid, as the EU is a major deliverer of humanitarian aid after conflict and natural disasters; and to strengthen its foreign and security policy—for example in Iran, in the Middle East, in Africa’s conflict zones, and towards Russia, where the incoherence of the EU’s approach is now so damaging. If ever there was a case for a stronger European foreign and security policy it is to ensure a more coherent policy towards Russia.
Will the Lisbon treaty help the European Union meet those challenges? I share the view of noble Lords who have said that it will. Like all treaties it is imperfect; at times it is incoherent, and at times it is incomprehensible. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, it is certainly not a great leap forward towards some centralised European state. As I have argued just now, I truly believe that that is now a mirage. The Lisbon treaty is rather a series of changes that will make the EU more coherent, for example in its external policy and in replacing the now outmoded six-month presidency. It will strengthen national parliaments’ role in the conduct of EU affairs—not automatically; parliaments will have to make that work, but there is an opportunity. It will strengthen the UK’s voting weight in decisions taken by majority voting. Let us not forget that majority voting stops others vetoing things we want and not just the other way round.
Those seem entirely sensible changes which I suspect will, when the treaty is in force, seem far less dramatic than they seem now in prospect. Surely the right thing to do now is to ratify the treaty and for the United Kingdom to work hard in its implementation so that we have the arrangements in place that can ensure the EU can more effectively meet the challenges which I believe all of us see as important for the future.
Finally, on the referendum, perhaps I am a little gullible or naïve. I have been a member of your Lordships’ House for less than two years but I had been increasingly persuaded in that time of the need for a stronger role for parliaments in our parliamentary democracy. Against that background, it seems rather odd that there are such strong voices arguing for the cession of parliamentary authority to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, described as the gamble of referendums. I accept that referendums have a role in our constitutional settlement if there is a genuine transfer of authority and genuine change in the constitutional arrangements—as would have been the case, say, if we were genuinely ceding responsibility for our foreign policy—but I do not believe that we are, as the Select Committee report made clear and the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, and the noble Lord, Lord Roper, argued. I cannot imagine any future Foreign Secretary of any Government, and certainly not any Foreign Secretary for whom I have worked, being prepared to give up Britain’s independent foreign policy. I find that simply inconceivable.
I do not believe that the original constitutional treaty would have justified a referendum, and I believe that the Government were wrong in promising one. But all the more so would it be wrong to offer one now on the Lisbon treaty, not least because with the special provisions negotiated for the UK it really does differ from the original, now defunct constitutional treaty. My conclusions are that it is in Britain’s interests as well as those of the European Union to ratify this treaty and to put its provisions into force and that we should oppose a referendum.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Jay, because it gives me the perfect alibi for not following the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. But I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, will catch my eye on one or two occasions during my intervention and I might have a word to address to him. The only thing that I would say to him immediately is that it is a complete fiction to say that the Government objected to 90 per cent of the outcome of the Convention on the Future of Europe. With the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, I had the privilege of representing your Lordships’ House on that convention. We regularly met the then Prime Minister and he was largely in agreement with the main thrust of the outcome of the convention. There was one point of disagreement with him, however, because all the way through that period, the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, assured us that there would never be a referendum on the outcome. When he changed his mind, I said at the earliest opportunity in your Lordships’ House that he was as right in his earlier assurances to the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, and me as he was wrong in his change of mind.
I welcome the European Union (Amendment) Bill; I welcome the EU Select Committee report; and I welcome the Constitution Committee report. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, on the exemplary way in which he has taken us through that extremely complex document. It was his usual tour de force. I concur with him on the excellence of the report’s analysis.
I shall briefly refer, however, to the much less examined—though it has been discussed frequently in our debate today—report of the Constitution Committee, which has made several clear and unambiguous statements, the first of which is:
“The House of Lords Constitution Committee has concluded that the Lisbon Treaty and the European Union (Amendment) Bill are likely to have no major damaging impact on the constitution of the UK”.
It is a clear conclusion, and I concur with it.
The report goes on to state:
“The Committee concludes that the Treaty would make no alteration to the relationship between the principles of primacy of EU law and parliamentary sovereignty; and would have no constitutional implications for UK citizenship”.
That is equally clear, and I equally concur with it.
The report then states:
“The Committee also reports that the new arrangements with respect to the European Convention on Human Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights would have no significant impact”.
The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, should take note of that.
The final points that the report cogently makes is that the introduction of a,
“provision explicitly confirming Member States’ right to withdraw from the European Union underlines the point that the United Kingdom only remains bound by European Union law as long as Parliament chooses to remain in the Union”.
That has now been made explicitly clear, and I would hope that people such as the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, welcomed that clarity. I commend the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, and his committee for their excellent work.
I was reading the minutes of evidence of the report of the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, in a period when I did not have a great deal to do. I came across the evidence of my old friend, John Palmer, the political director of the European Policy Centre. He said to the committee that he thought that debate on the treaty was,
“much ado about not a great deal”.
I even thought that that might have been a good title for the report by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. John Palmer went on to say that,
“it is the modesty and maybe the adequacy in some respects of this Treaty, rather than its ambitions that strikes me as important”.
He was followed shortly afterwards in giving evidence by Professor Damian Chalmers, Professor of European Union Law at the London School of Economics and Political Science, who gave us the benefit of his view that,
“it is probably the most limited reform, with the exception of the Treaty of Nice, that we have seen in the last 20 years”.
I concur with that judgment. Let us look at the previous reforms. The Single European Act—tribute has been paid to the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, for her role in that—set out the blueprint not only for completing the single market but for providing for co-operation in foreign policy, and it created the concept of the convergence of economic and monetary policies. It was fundamentally and politically important in a way with which it is hard to find exact parallel in the treaty of Lisbon. There was no discussion of, or serious commitment to, a referendum on the treaty of Maastricht, but it created economic and monetary union, the common foreign and security policy and the beginnings of co-operation on justice and home affairs. If ever there was major constitutional change, it was there. The treaty of Lisbon pales into relative insignificance by comparison and the same applies to the other treaties with the exception of the treaty of Nice. I remind noble Lords that if some got their wish and the treaty of Lisbon and the European Union (Amendment) Bill fell, we would be stuck with the treaty of Nice, which constitutes the most inadequate of all the treaty changes that we have had.
The amendment Bill is very clear and simple. It sets out to do four major things. It will adapt our structures and the key institutions of the European Union to a Union of 27 member states with other countries, particularly in the Balkans, being encouraged to have the ambition to join us and enlarge that number even further. It will ensure that the voice of EU member states is heard more prominently in foreign affairs. It will bring national parliaments into a closer day-to-day relationship with European Union decision-making, and it will focus the EU on big external changes. So the objectives are very clear. The British Government’s preoccupation right the way through has been with those so-called four “red line” areas. These important areas comprise the Charter of Fundamental Rights; the whole question of criminal law and police and judicial co-operation; social security; and common, foreign and security policy. As we have heard frequently in this debate, in all areas our major national interest has been defended and protected and the red lines round it have been fully secured.
All sorts of other advantages were mentioned earlier. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Kinnock for not concentrating just on the loss of our so-called veto on the extension of qualified majority voting but rather on the other aspect of the voting system which is of major benefit to the United Kingdom in terms of the weighting of votes giving proportional interest to size of population in a country.
I am positive about the treaty and therefore about the European Union (Amendment) Bill for a number of reasons. It necessarily streamlines the European Union and usefully clarifies the EU powers. It sensibly gives the EU a more powerful voice in the world. It fundamentally enhances the accountability of the European Union both to national parliaments and the Governments of the member states, and clearly improves its capacity to enhance Europe’s competitiveness. It achieves all that while fully respecting all the rights and privileges not only of the UK but of all other member states. That is a substantial achievement and a substantial list of benefits. I support the Bill.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, as I agree very much with everything that he said. But the two speeches that I particularly wish to refer to in passing before getting on to my own are those by the noble Lord, Lord Jay, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. The point they made about the European Union being the most effective vehicle for the spread of democracy and human rights in today’s world is of absolutely critical importance. That is a great achievement and shows the up-to-date relevance of the European Union to world affairs. I am proud of the contribution that Britain has made to the expansion of the EU and to the spread of human rights and democracy to many countries which have never enjoyed them as well as to some which had them once and then lost them. This achievement is widely recognised in the United States, not least by those to whom my party feels particularly close.
The point that I want to make is that I firmly believe that this treaty is very much in the interests of the United Kingdom. It furthers British interests, and it will make the European Union work better; which in itself is a British interest. I deeply regret that in saying that I find myself at odds with so many in my party; indeed, I find myself at odds with the party line. That is not a thing that I like to do. Sadly, I believe that the Conservative Party’s present position on the treaty is not only contrary to the national interest but to its own interest. I will revert to that point in a few moments.
However, I do not want that position to be misconstrued as support for the way in which the Government have handled this matter. If I may say so, I thought that the speech by the noble Baroness the Lord President was an exemplary defence of the treaty. I very much wish that the way in which she put it had been put earlier by other Ministers. The Government’s position was exemplified by the Prime Minister’s deplorable behaviour in Lisbon. Instead of promoting the treaty, the Government have basically apologised for it and, instead of drawing attention to the virtues of the treaty, they have presented it as a threat, saying that they have saved Britain from various threats worse than death by the red lines and all the rest of it. It is no wonder that there is so much suspicion of it, and no one has done more to fan that suspicion than this Government. I find myself supporting them on the treaty on this occasion because I believe that the treaty is in Britain’s best interests, but I feel unhappy to be at odds with my party and even more unhappy to find myself in the same Lobby as some members of the Government, though not the noble Baroness the Lord President.
The treaty is in our interests. It introduces a whole raft of innovations that we have promoted for many years. The noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Kerr, enumerated a number of them. In the interests of brevity, I will almost just tick them off. There is the replacement of the rotating six-monthly presidency, which is an improvement and is something that Britain has always wanted. The merger of the high representative with the external affairs commissioner, with the holder of that post chairing the foreign affairs council, will also improve the workings of the European Union, and it is something for which we have campaigned for a long time. There is also the smaller Commission, the capping of the numbers in the European Parliament, the Council meeting in public when it is legislating, the reinforcement of the big countries’ position in qualified majority voting and the increase in the voting weight of the United Kingdom. Britain has campaigned for all those things and, although some have poured scorn on the treaty because they do not like to see virtue in a treaty that they are so much against, the innovation in relation to national parliaments is an important step in the right direction, and I hope that it may be carried further in the future. I could go on.
The Conservative Party could be the biggest beneficiary of all this because, on present trends, it looks very much as if a new Conservative Government will enter office at just about the time that the new system incorporated in the treaty will come into play. It looks as if, at the moment when a Conservative Government take office, the European Union will be better placed to deal with substantive issues than it has been for a very long time. The institutional debates about treaties of one sort of another, which have been so arid and divisive, will be behind us.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Howell that there will be a good deal of jockeying for position between the new president of the European Council, the high representative and the president of the Commission. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and my noble friend Lord Brittan that the most likely outcome of that is that power will move rather towards the intergovernmental aspects of the European Union and rather away from the institutional aspects. I think that they are right, but we will have to see.
So there will be a great opportunity to drive forward progress on the big substantive issues on which many Conservative spokesmen have often said that the European Union ought to concentrate, rather than on the institutional debates. These issues have been enumerated by a number of noble Lords but are worth a word of repetition. There is climate change, which the noble Lord, Lord Jay, mentioned, and that links to environmental policy. There is the whole question of Russia that my noble friend Lord Brittan mentioned, and that, too, is linked to energy, which is linked to climate change and the environment. There is the question of immigration; there are the issues facing world financial markets, including how best to adapt to the phenomenon of sovereign wealth funds; there is the alleviation of world poverty. There is the tackling of threats to peace in neighbouring areas, notably the Balkans. There is, perhaps, also the issue of playing a more constructive and substantial role in the whole question of Israel and Palestine. I could go on, but all those issues have an important place in the British agenda and on which Britain is more likely to be able to influence the outcome to the better by co-operating with its European allies in a framework that enables decisions to be taken more easily than was the case in the past.
Thanks to this treaty, the British Government who will come into office in 2009 or 2010 will have an unprecedented opportunity to pursue the national interest through the European Union and enable the EU to pursue its aims more effectively. I very much hope that, when that happens, it will be an incoming Conservative Government who will be able to take advantage of all this and that they will avoid the terrible errors of Mr Wilson’s Government. Noble Lords in this House will remember how the first two years of the Wilson Administration were wasted in the barren and empty exercise of renegotiation and the referendum, which put British policy in Europe and British foreign policy in general into baulk, and used up goodwill that could have been used to much greater effect during the subsequent difficulties on the European budget.
It would be a terrible and most awful waste if the opportunities presented by this treaty were not taken full advantage of by the British Government of whatever party. Above all, I hope that it will be a Conservative Government.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, who was of course a most distinguished Commissioner of the European Union. I think that I agree with everything that he said, as he agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, before him. At any rate, there is a degree of consensus among all three parties. I declare a couple of interests. I am currently the chairman of Justice and was, until the end of last year, a trustee of Fair Trials International. Both those organisations submitted evidence to the EU Committee.
The magazine The Week has a column that lists some events of the past week under the heading, “Boring but important”. That is an appropriate heading for the treaty of Lisbon. It is boring because it consists mainly of tweaks to the existing treaties, few of which are of any real importance in themselves or are readily comprehensible to non-experts. But the treaty is important as a whole because it makes changes that are necessary or at least highly desirable for a European Union that has increased its membership since the treaty of Nice from 15 to 27 and now finds itself in an increasingly globalised world community.
As a lawyer, I will concentrate on one aspect of the treaty: law and justice, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The importance of these issues is demonstrated by the amount of space given to them by the extremely valuable EU Committee report on the treaty, which has been praised by many other speakers. The report takes up 261 pages. Chapter 6, which covers broad legal issues, is by far the longest, with 69 pages. If you add Chapter 5 on the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, which takes up another 26 pages, legal matters take up more than a third of the report. At present, legal matters—co-operation in the fields of justice and home affairs—are divided between the first and third pillars. The first pillar is of course the mainstream element of the EU, involving institutions such as the Commission, the European Court of Justice and the European Parliament. Decisions, unless otherwise expressly provided for, are taken by QMV.
The third pillar, on the other hand, is intergovernmental. Decisions are taken by the member states without the involvement of the EU institutions. Decisions must be unanimous but, if there is dissent, those states that wish to do so can in some circumstances enter into agreements binding themselves but not the other states—a formula known as “enhanced co-operation”. The best-known agreement entered into under the third pillar is probably the European arrest warrant, which enabled the United Kingdom to secure the immediate extradition from Italy of one of the perpetrators of the failed bombing in London of 21 July 2005 and thereby showed its value.
The main effect of the Lisbon treaty is to absorb the third pillar into the first, so that police and judicial co-operation, which are now in the third pillar, will be brought into this mainstream and rejoin immigration and asylum, border controls and civil and family law, which have already been transferred to the first pillar, under the name “area of freedom, security and justice”, or FSJ.
This is an important change and I believe that it is a real improvement. In an age of international terrorist threats and cross-border organised crime, we need collective schemes of cross-border co-operation between the police and the judiciary in different member states in order to counter those things. However, changes in the case of the UK and Ireland will be minimised because of the opt-ins included in the course of negotiating the Lisbon treaty. This means that, while other countries will be subject to QMV when future legislation is proposed, the United Kingdom can just refuse to join in. Of course, it cannot then veto the change by the other states. In fact, the United Kingdom will be in a stronger position than it is now because it will be able to opt out of some legislation in which it was previously, or is now, bound by QMV.
In the case of judicial co-operation in criminal matters, further protection for individual states is provided by a new process, the emergency brake, which enables a member to secede from draft legislation that it considers,
“would affect fundamental aspects of its criminal justice system”.
It would be impossible to go into the details of the many relatively minor changes to the FSJ area without overrunning my time. I recognise that some provisions of UK legal systems—mainly in the field of criminal procedure—are sacrosanct. These include the right to jury trial for serious offences. I am satisfied that these provisions are more than adequately protected by the opt-in provisions in the treaty and by the emergency brake.
In other fields, however, co-operation or harmonisation is often desirable. For example, where commercial law comes within the single market laws governing trade, it should apply throughout the market. Quite a lot of progress has been made, although it needs to continue. There is a similar need for the harmonisation of patent or intellectual property law. During the time that I served on Sub-Committee E of the European Union Committee, we considered several matters where harmonisation was desirable, such as having a simple small claims procedure operating throughout the whole of the EU.
As a trustee of Fair Trials International, I became aware that several member states had wholly inadequate procedures for ensuring fair trial for foreigners, particularly as a result of defects in their legal aid and translation systems. Those procedures need to be brought up to the standards of the United Kingdom and other EU member states that have equally good systems, and that can surely be done only by QMV. This problem needs to be dealt with; the Lisbon treaty will, if ratified, make that easier to do. To move from unanimity to QMV would make it possible to adopt obviously sensible procedures, such as the mutual recognition of driving disqualifications or of the disqualification of sex offenders from working with children. Unanimity will, rightly, continue to apply to any EU legislation concerning family law. Some controversial proposals, such as the creation of a European public prosecutor, will continue to require unanimity and will therefore not affect the UK without its consent.
The whole point of QMV, as the noble Lord, Lord Jay, said, is that some decisions will be taken that the United Kingdom dislikes, but there will in all probability be far more decisions that the UK welcomes but which would have been blocked but for QMV. Without QMV, Malta, Slovakia or any other small state would be able to block something that was agreed by all other member states.
My conclusions on the new FSJ provisions are that the changes to the existing treaties are undoubtedly important, but the only change of real importance on its own is the incorporation of the provisions remaining in the third pillar into the mainstream of EU legislative competence.
Any potential adverse impact on the United Kingdom is almost entirely eliminated by the opt-in. In fact, the UK has the best of both worlds. If it welcomes proposed legislation—as more often than not it will—it can opt in and take the advantage of QMV to override objections from a non-blocking minority of other states. If it does not welcome proposed legislation, it has no need to opt in.
I turn to the Charter of Fundamental Rights for the remaining time available. Although the charter does not at present have legally binding force, it already has a good deal of influence—for example, with the European Court of Justice. Under the Lisbon treaty, the charter will become legally binding. That is of course an important change. The charter contains some controversial rights, such as some of the economic and social rights. However, the EU Committee, at paragraph 5.56 of its report, was not persuaded that the charter creates new rights that differ from those in the underlying national and international documents from which the charter was derived. Respectfully, I agree with its conclusion.
In any event, the charter binds the institutions of the EU but binds member states only when implementing EU law. Thus, its scope is far narrower than that of the European Convention on Human Rights, which under the Human Rights Act is binding for all purposes on all public authorities in this country except Parliament. At present, the ECHR does not apply to EU legislation because the EU is not a member of the Council of Europe and therefore cannot be bound by the ECHR. This creates a human rights black hole, which the charter will eliminate.
The treaty has a protocol that limits the application of the charter to the UK and Poland. The protocol falls short of being an opt-out but it specifically states that the rights in Title 4 of the charter—the so-called solidarity rights—do not create justiciable rights applicable to the UK or Poland that are not already incorporated in their national law.
Finally, the treaty provides for the accession of the EU to the ECHR. This will require the agreement of the member states of the Council of Europe, which includes all the member states of the EU. This will be a highly desirable step and will reduce the risk of conflicting judicial decisions on the interpretation of the charter and the ECHR. However, that may take a long time to achieve.
I have to say that, if it was certain that the EU would be able to accede shortly to the ECHR, I would regard the benefit of the charter as being fairly marginal, as the ECHR would apply to the EU in the same way as it already applies to member states. However, in the absence of certainty about accession and the likelihood of long delays, I believe that the charter’s legal status will serve a useful purpose.
I therefore believe that both the charter and the new FSJ provisions will work to the benefit of the UK and that they are an important part of the argument for ratification of the treaty.
My Lords, I should declare an interest as chairman of Open Europe, which from time to time has submitted evidence to Parliament on European affairs.
The Government say that the constitutional concept has been abandoned with the Lisbon treaty. It is an impressive phrase, but I am unable to attach much meaning to it, as almost everyone who has studied the treaty has concluded that in substance it is the same as the constitution. The authors of the constitution, Giscard and Giuliano Amato, have both been astonishingly frank: they have told us in terms that the treaty’s unreadability is nothing more than a device to disguise the identity of the two documents.
The Government’s fallback argument is that our “red lines” make the treaty different for us, but that does not stand up to scrutiny either. Those safeguards are little changed from the ones that we had already on the constitution. Some of them have even been weakened. They are, I am afraid, also destined to be ineffective. In John Major’s day, the European Court got around our working time directive opt-out by using health and safety law instead. Exactly the same will happen to our partial and curiously worded opt-out from bits of the Charter of Fundamental Rights; it is wide open to judicial circumvention.
There are Members of Parliament in Westminster who would not be there but for the promise of a referendum in their party manifesto. That promise has now become inconvenient, but it is a bit late to take a high moral tone about the virtues of representative democracy. It is no use claiming that the public’s frustration is all based on myths got up by Rupert Murdoch; he did not write the Liberal Party manifesto and the two-thirds of voters in the other 26 member states who tell pollsters that they, too, want their say on Europe’s future have never read one word of the Sun.
Only one thing has changed since the referendum promises were made: Tony Blair thought that he could talk the people into supporting the constitution but Gordon Brown does not. The irony is that they may both be right about their own persuasive powers. A freely offered vote might indeed have been won by the “yes” side, but the fear of losing a painfully extracted vote is not by any stretch of the imagination a moral justification for going back on the pledge that got you elected.
It is said—I have heard it here—that Lisbon is just a streamlining treaty; Maastricht was more important, and we were not given a referendum on that. Well, perhaps we should have held one. Our failure to do so may be one of the reasons why the public feel so alienated and so impotent on Europe. Instead, we got something else: an opt-out on its main feature, the single currency. This later developed into a promise of a referendum, a promise that holds good today. I hope that it has a better fate than other promises.
The other outstanding feature of Maastricht was the division of powers between nation states and the European Union, the co-called pillars. Defence and foreign affairs were to be matters of co-operation but essentially left to national Governments, as were justice and home affairs. Trade, which needs an international legal and administrative system to resolve disputes and function properly, would of course remain under European law. The public at the time were suspicious about whether that division of powers was for real and whether it was as reliable as it seemed. They were told that it was the high watermark of integration, but they wondered. If it was genuine, they approved of it. Criminal law, social policy, security and defence affect their lives directly in a very personal way. If these are determined in languages that they do not understand by remote judges and unelected bureaucrats or by unknown politicians behind locked doors, citizens lose the sense of ownership; they no longer feel that they belong.
So, on the surface, Maastricht reflected the British preference for a liberal unified trading Europe and a co-operating, rather than unified, political Europe. There was a lot of talk at the time about subsidiarity, with the suggestion, which was later repeated in the Laeken declaration, that some powers might even be returned, in the name of subsidiarity, to member states. That, too, was reassuring for the public. Unfortunately, it did not work out as the optimists expected. It was the suspicious ones who were right; they had understood better the incremental nature of European treaties. What started in Paris in 1951 as a treaty to reconcile France and Germany and to control the war industries became an economic community six years later at Rome and in 1983 turned into the single market. Eight years after that, it took an openly political dimension with Maastricht. Since then, we have had two more modestly centralising treaties. Now, with the Lisbon treaty, just as with the constitution, the formal division of powers that Britain has always championed is to be completely dismantled.
When people ask for a referendum on this treaty, it is not so much because of its specific individual content but because it is the cumulation of seven major treaties, each marking a further uncertain step towards an elitist political Europe—a process completely different from the transparent, measured and democratic process that gave rise to the American constitution. In Britain, we inherited from the 17th century a balance of constitutional power between the monarch, the Lords and the Commons. Democracy has now replaced kingship as the ultimate source of political legitimacy. What is new and different today is that, through the internet and other 21st-century technology, voters can obtain information and exchange ideas on a previously unheard-of scale. It would be possible to engage them regularly in political dialogue if we wanted to.
The evidence of referendums elsewhere from the past 50 years shows them to be a remarkably thoughtful and productive way of resolving difficult issues. In practice, however, under our system the British people’s ability to exercise their balancing power is limited to once every four or five years. With the diminished role left to us in this House, we have a special responsibility to defend the people’s known will between elections, otherwise we will effectively be condoning, or accepting, the fact that the sole trustee of the nation’s deepest purpose and settled intent is the Government of the day—in this case, a Government put in power by less than 25 per cent of the electorate.
With all the deference of a relative newcomer to your Lordships’ House, I suggest that, as we go through the Bill line by line, we should not hesitate, if we think fit, to send back constructive amendments to the other place for it to think again about clauses that the Government once swore that they would never sign and to revisit the pledge of a referendum made by all three parties. Parliament’s reputation with voters is not high; that would go a long way towards restoring it.
My Lords, we saw the publication today of your Lordships’ Economic Affairs Committee’s report on migration policy in the United Kingdom and its effects on our economy, itself a consequence of our membership of the European Union. The report was trumpeted all morning in the media as a rebuttal of Her Majesty’s Government’s current migration policy. I will get the opportunity to read it later on, but what a contrast with the publication of the European Union Select Committee’s analysis of the Lisbon treaty under the astute and measured chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. Despite a rare press conference to launch that comprehensive analysis of the implications for the United Kingdom of the implementation of the Lisbon treaty, we had no such fanfare. I suspect that the lack of reference to a referendum, or indeed to a decision about the now defunct constitutional treaty, meant that the media, with their usual short attention span, passed over this major contribution to our debate. I think that is a shame.
I believe our report is well constructed. Noble Lords of all party persuasions and none—each of them eminent in European Union matters—produced a factual and dispassionate look at the treaty’s complexities. The report was agreed by all noble Lords and its central task was to assess whether the effect on Britain of life under the Lisbon treaty was worthwhile, compared with the status quo. I believe that it represented the genius of the House of Lords, which has always been a Chamber of sharp policy analysis. We complement the House of Commons, the Chamber of sharp political debate.
In our report the former defunct constitutional treaty did not feature. Why? Like Monty Python's parrot, the constitutional treaty is a dead treaty, deceased, expired and has fallen off its perch. Why then do the Eurosceptic taxidermists continue to stuff the wrong bird? If it could reasonably be shown that HMG had reneged on their promise to hold a referendum on the treaty, which it cannot, the only political question is whether it is in the interest of the United Kingdom to accept the treaty before us. The truth is that the Eurosceptics prefer flak and flannel rather than a fundamental approach to the treaty.
Incidentally, the current treaty is markedly different from the constitutional essay. My belief is that the ambition that we originally had to simplify the many treaties, about which the noble Lord, Lord Leach, spoke, has been lost. We could have presented a simplified version, which would have been readable, even to Giscard d’Estaing, but that is a loss attributable to the Eurosceptics.
Today, I want to excite people—not fears—about the treaty, whose central ambition is to give to a union of 27 countries—not six—the means by which the big challenges of globalisation, climate change, stable financial markets, jobs and prosperity can be tackled. I want to explore, in the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, some of the nooks and crannies of the European Union. Incidentally, my own malapropism is that the single market, which constitutes the European Union, gives free rein to the crooks and nannies of the European Union in the way in which we promote the free movement of workers such as nannies, nurses, doctors and so on, but we have to dissuade others who can take advantage of the single market, the crooks, the terrorists and the traffickers. That is why we need to work together as parties in the European Union, something which is foreign, I believe, to the Eurosceptics.
Some of the new powers include the right of a nation to secede from the Union, which I would have thought the Eurosceptics would have enjoyed; an increase in the United Kingdom’s weighted voting, reflecting our size and population; a right of national parliaments, including your Lordships' House, to put in the sin bin unwanted proposals from EU legislation by waving the yellow and orange cards—is that not a good idea?—rectifying the democratic deficit by making the European Parliament co-decision-makers with the council; and giving Britain the right to wrest from other member states the veto to block positive legislation within the single market, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jay.
Just look at some of the extensions to the single market competences now under QMV: competition policy; energy policy; intellectual property rights; the tourism industry—Europe's biggest employer; and a handle on fisheries and CAP reform. Are those not all items that are of benefit to the United Kingdom? There is also formal recognition of EU anti-fraud offices, like OLAF. Perhaps I may remind noble Lords that the United Kingdom Government secured the red lines. If ever a country was given the benefit of having its cake and eating it, it is the United Kingdom within the European Union. Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Leach, cites Giscard d’Estaing and others. I ask him to consult my former German colleague, Elmar Brok, in the European Parliament, who is incandescent with the rage at how well the United Kingdom Government succeeded in negotiating the red lines and the treaty that has emerged. Why do the Eurosceptics resent these sensible changes which so clearly benefit Britain?
There are other, smaller areas which are still significant and that I want to mention because I fear that they will not be mentioned in today's debate. On social affairs, the concept of children’s rights and the protection of children are now enshrined in the treaty, something that many of us have thought about for a long time. The protection of sports is also enshrined in the treaty, which is a hugely important and dynamic area of the European Union. So we avoid some of the unintended consequences of EU legislation. Those who are soccer fans will recall the Bosman legislation which many of us thought was not the proper way forward when employing the free movement of workers. We will now have the appropriate impact assessments and be able to say, “Hold on, let’s just temper what we are planning to do”. On public health, we delimit the areas where public health can be extended, but there are common areas, and mental health is singled out in the treaty. Mental health is an affliction across the European Union and prevents people from having gainful employment throughout the Union. How much better it is to try to work together with colleagues to rectify that. On young people, we had a European Parliament meeting in Liverpool for young people to encourage them to meet with colleagues. Of course, Liverpool is currently enjoying its year as European Capital of Culture.
The European Union is strongest when it highlights its pulsating diversity and yet underpins its firm, common base of shared and civilised values. I have one final, domestic question to my noble friend and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, will reflect on this. The treaty of Lisbon will come in. As the House of Lords, and a House of Parliament, we need to shape up and respond to the responsibilities which have been vested in this House. We need to be athletic in responding to the legislation that comes from the European Union by the use of the yellow and orange cards, and so on. Parliament can no longer have a three and a half months layoff when the activities of the European Union continue. We must change, as I hope the Leader of the House understands. We must now begin to think how to respond to our new duties under the treaty of Lisbon.
My Lords, it is always a delight to follow my noble friend Lord Harrison, partly because of his direct personal experience of the European Parliament, but more importantly because of his graphic turn of phrase. Looking at the speakers' list I see that the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, that well-known Eurosceptic taxidermist, speaks after me, although I doubt that he will follow me. Let us wait and see.
We are reaching the stage in the debate when Members of your Lordships’ House tend to start their speeches by observing that much of what they wanted to say has already been said. However, that never inhibits them from ploughing on and saying exactly what they were going to say in the first place. I want to avoid that trap and focus on a relatively narrow, but important, issue of how the treaty affects agriculture and whether the treaty makes reform of agriculture more or less likely. I make no apology for doing that. After all, the common agriculture policy was one of the founding policies. Although agricultural expenditure is set to decline as a proportion of the overall budget, it will remain the largest single element within the budget. I also have the privilege of chairing Sub-Committee D of the Select Committee of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, which is specifically charged with looking at agriculture, fisheries and the environment; the most distinguished member of that sub-committee, the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, is due to speak later.
The present way of dealing with agriculture through the Brussels institutions is, frankly, less than satisfactory. Currently, decision-making lies wholly with the Council, where agriculture Ministers act as members of something akin to a closed, cosy club with little accountability. Members of your Lordships’ House will not be too surprised to know that the vast majority of European agriculture Ministers see their primary task as securing bigger and better incomes for their farmers. Pursuing reform, getting agriculture closer to the market and looking after the interests of consumers come somewhat lower down the list of priorities, if they figure at all.
At the level of the European Parliament, things are even worse. At present, the European Parliament is merely consulted on agricultural policy, and the effect of that has been twofold. First, the agricultural committee of the Parliament does not enjoy a high level of prestige or esteem within the Parliament itself. It has been effectively captured by producer interests and pretty much ignored by the Council. On agricultural expenditure, the current classification of agricultural spend as compulsory expenditure means that the Parliament only has an advisory role, so there is little oversight and scrutiny of agricultural policy within the European institutions. Everything is centred on the cosy club of the Council.
What will the treaty do? It makes two important changes. First, agriculture will be subject to co-decision. The cosy monopoly of the Council will be broken; it will disappear. Secondly, on expenditure, the abolition of the distinction between compulsory and non-compulsory expenditure will mean that the Parliament and the Council will have to come to a final agreement on the whole budget, including agricultural spend.
Those are the proposals in the treaty. What are the likely effects? Again, the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, helps us with that. It says:
“The move to co-decision in agriculture and fisheries is significant. It will bring more transparency and accountability to the policy-making process, allowing third parties to raise concerns more easily with policy makers and facilitating national parliamentary scrutiny of agriculture and fisheries decision-making”.
“the weight of evidence suggests that agriculture and fisheries committees of the European Parliament will in future represent and be closely overseen by a wider range of interests than the narrow producer interests that have historically dominated those committees. For these reasons, we expect that the change is likely to assist rather than impede further reform of the common agricultural and fisheries policies”.
I join with all those who say that both the common agricultural and common fisheries policies are in great and urgent need of further reform. Some progress has been made, but more needs to be done.
I do not want to overstate the likely effects of the Lisbon changes in these two areas of policy but, overall, they are significant, helpful to the process of reform and ought to be supported. In the end they will be beneficial to efficient and effective farmers, who are closer to the market, and to the process of decision-making, with greater openness and accountability. They will be good for European citizens as a whole. For these reasons I support the treaty and commend it to the House.
My Lords, I do not know what I have done to deserve being singled out by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who, in his opening remarks, accused me of shooting a fox. The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, has said that I am a taxidermist or a bird-stuffer. Of the two I would probably choose to be a bird-stuffer. I do not know; I will ask the noble Lord, Lord McNally, about that.
During Madame Sarkozy’s successful visit a couple of weeks ago, her husband was interviewed on the “Today” programme about the implications of the reform treaty for Britain. He said:
“No one is asking Britain to change its real identity. Keep your language, your culture, your interests”.
That is very big of him, is it not? He conspicuously did not say, “Keep your parliamentary democracy and powers”. Of course he did not say that, because he knew that it would not be true. It simply cannot happen. In the very next breath in that interview, he said:
“Thanks to the … treaty we are going to have a common immigration policy … the very first thing I am going to do”—
presumably he is talking about the French presidency of the EU—
“is tackle the European migration pact”.
There we go. We can keep our language and customs, yes, but we cannot keep our parliamentary democracy. That will be elsewhere.
I am sorry to say that the powers of Parliament have been substantially surrendered to Brussels. I remind your Lordships of one or two of those areas. Immigration, as has been mentioned this afternoon, is already largely an EU competence. None of the 27 members states has powers to control immigration. Indeed—referring to the “crooks and nannies” of the noble Lord, Lord Harrison—we have no power to deport any crooks from the 27 members states. Witness the sad inability to return the murderer of Philip Lawrence to Italy where he was born. We are unable to do that because of EU law to which we have signed up. Crooks and nannies, nooks and crannies; we cannot do anything about it.
Our trade policy is decided in Brussels, negotiated on our behalf by the European Commissioner for Trade, currently none other than our very own Peter Mandelson. We have lost control of our fishing industry. That has been wrecked by the common fisheries policy, which is repeatedly condemned by the Select Committees of this House. I served on Sub-Committee D at one stage, and eventually got tired of standing up and saying how awful the common fisheries policy was. Actually, nothing has changed; the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, was honest enough to admit that. Equally, agriculture and environmental policy is still dictated by Brussels. We have just heard that nothing has changed, or is likely to change. There is a pious hope that things may change, but it remains just a hope. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, whether it would not be better if we repatriated agricultural policy and decided for ourselves what it would be, rather than let it be done in the dark, misty corridors of the Brussels comitology.
We have managed to lock ourselves into the absurd EU biofuels policy, notably the renewable fuels transport obligation. I saw that that was criticised as “insane” by none other than Defra’s chief scientific adviser, Professor Bob Watson, last week. Even the Commission is starting to think that, but we cannot do anything about it because we must rely on the Commission to change it: we have already signed up to it. We have no say whatever in that field. Perhaps that is no more insane than our aspiration to meet the EU-imposed renewable energy obligations which the Government’s own advisers have already said are almost entirely unattainable. We just will not get there: 20 per cent of our energy from renewables by 2020 is not going to happen. However, we cannot decide that for ourselves. This Parliament—our House and the other place—has no say whatever in our own achievements or what we want to attain in renewables and biofuels. We cannot touch it. It is not there. So Parliament seems to have already contracted out much of its power to the Brussels bureaucracy and the Lisbon treaty just moves a little bit—a great deal—more away from Parliament to Brussels.
For years we have heard the soothing mood music from the Europhiles: “Don’t be alarmed, there is nothing much happening. There has been no loss of sovereignty. The treaty simply aims to make the European Union more efficient. There will be no significant transfer of powers”. That is what we have been told for years. Who here remembers that the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, called the Maastricht treaty the high water mark of European integration? I wonder whether he still believes that and could say it now with a straight face. I do not think he could.
In today’s Times we have more cooing from the Europhile doves. The noble Lord, Lord Brittan, has written an article headed,
“How piquant if unelected Lords impose a referendum”.
He repeats the soft soap stuff; the canard that the,
“purpose of the treaty is to make the EU function more efficiently”.
We have heard that a lot this afternoon. The fact is that without this treaty the EU is already producing a mass of legislation. Thousands of regulations and directives are produced every year that this House and the other place simply cannot touch. We have to rubber stamp. We cannot alter a single comma of it. We all know that, do we not? Yes, we do. Thousands of directives and regulations go through without being scrutinised. Well, we can scrutinise and debate, but we cannot change them, even if we disagree with them. Nothing can be changed.
In his article, the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, goes on:
“In the sensitive areas such as taxation and social security Britain will retain its veto”.
In fact, tax is not mentioned in the treaty, so there is no point throwing that up in the air and then shooting it down. It is not even mentioned. As for social security, the treaty is quite clear in, I think, Article 150 or 160. It states that:
“The union may take initiatives to ensure coordination of Member States’ social polices”,
so social policy is not safe either. The noble Lord, Lord Brittan, goes on to pray in aid the protocol preventing the European Charter of Fundamental Rights being justiciable in the UK. My noble friend Lord Howell dealt with that in his opening remarks. He is quite right that it will not be up to this House or the other place to decide. Our Parliament cannot do that. It is going to be up to the European Court of Justice to decide exactly where, when and how the European Charter of Fundamental Rights is to be justiciable. The noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, quoted Professor Damian Chalmers. I will quote him again in the context of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.
“The protocol does not say the Court cannot apply the Charter to the UK: it just says it cannot extend it … People who think we have some sort of opt-out are going to be in for a surprise in that regard”.
That is what will happen. It will be extended. That is what he says. The opt-out is simply not secure. Let us not dream about that.
The noble Lord, Lord Brittan, then tells us that new powers are granted to national parliaments. I like the word “granted”. Just who is granting powers to national parliaments? I thought national parliaments were sovereign. Who is granting us powers from the EU or EU treaties? It is completely absurd. Under the treaty, national parliaments will be significantly weakened, not strengthened. Half the national parliaments must object to a proposal even to begin the process of turning back or refusing a Commission directive or proposal. That is assuming that half the national parliaments—14—will be given the time by their Governments in the eight-week window which is allowed to scrutinise draft legislation. Then they can return their objections to the Commission which—surprise, surprise—can overrule them. That does not give national Parliaments any further powers; it reduces them considerably.
I do not get any confidence or comfort from getting our voting weight up in the Council of Ministers. After all, under the treaty it becomes an EU institution in its own right, so going up from 8 per cent to 12 per cent is neither here nor there. In my view, the Council of Ministers is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Then the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, in his article, moves on to the question of referendums. He is opposed to them,
“as they are incompatible with representative parliamentary government, the true hallmark of the British constitutional system”.
That sounds wonderfully statesman-like and unarguable as a principle, but it falls because, as my noble friend Lord Leach said so cogently in his speech, the British people have not been asked and they have therefore never given their consent for their representative parliamentary government, as the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, has it, to hand over permanently to an unelected bureaucracy in Brussels powers that were only lent to them temporarily for the term of a five-year Parliament. However, that is what has been happening over the years; over the treaties, Parliament has been giving away powers that were not its to give away. That is why people are so furious, so disillusioned with the whole EU process.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, tells us that,
“it would be piquant … for an unelected House to seek to impose a referendum, the ultimate manifestation of populist democracy, where the elected House has declined to do so”.
I am not quite sure about what the difference between populist democracy and democracy is. It is probably that populist democracy is when you lose the argument and democracy is when you win it. My view is that it would be piquant, to put it very mildly, for the British people to be denied a referendum when they have been explicitly promised one by all three main political parties.
My Lords, one of the vagaries of the changes that the Government have made to the structure of Parliament was their decision to give some of the work of the Home Office to the new Ministry of Justice as a separate department. That does not accord with the terms of the Lisbon treaty, which combines justice and home affairs. In the few moments I have, therefore, I will try to untangle the Home Office from the Ministry of Justice as far as the treaty is concerned, thus leaving myself with the opportunity to speak on border control, immigration, policing and the other Home Office aspects.
At this relatively late stage of the debate—although it is only halfway through in reality—one does not want to worry the House by overstressing the generalities. However, I need to provide a reminder that at present most European Union powers relating to migration, visas, borders and asylum are carried out within the First Pillar—that is, on the basis of majority voting—while those relating to criminal justice and policing are held within the Third Pillar, the inter-governmental method that gives each member state a veto. Under the new treaty, they will be moved to the First Pillar, taking them into the area of qualified majority voting, thus increasing the powers of the European Commission to legislate.
As regards asylum and immigration, the new treaty provides a framework and a legal basis for the further development of a common asylum system and a common immigration policy. There is an end to the national veto over legal migration issues—despite the Government’s reservations about this, they failed to have it changed—and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice is extended into immigration and asylum, an area in which, under current treaties, it has very little role. This is again an area that the Government twice tried to have changed, but again they failed. While asylum measures are already decided by majority voting, the new changes mean that the EU will be able to set uniform standards on how asylum applicants are received and processed and what rights they should have.
In Article 61, the treaty also calls for the European Union to,
“frame a common policy on asylum immigration and external border control, based on solidarity between Member States which is fair towards third-country nationals”.
In Article 61g, a new wide-ranging power is introduced for the Council to pass measures by majority voting to ensure administrative co-operation between national police and criminal justice authorities and the Commission.
Articles 62 and 63 state that the Union shall develop a common policy on asylum, with a view to offering appropriate status to any third-country national requiring international protection. Article 63a states the aim of the common immigration policy for the EU. Worryingly, it repeals the provision that EU immigration policy will not prevent member states from having their own compatible national policy and replaces it with a provision that simply states that member states can determine volumes of entrants to their countries—a considerable change of emphasis.
There are significant elements to the treaty that could affect our ability to control and manage our own immigration policies. Mind you, having just read the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs report on the impact of immigration in this country, I am not sure that it could be said that the Government are managing any aspect of it, but perhaps that is a debate for another day.
Although the noble Baroness the Leader of House did not make much play about the opt-ins and red lines that the Home Secretary cited in the other place as being the protection that this country had negotiated to prevent it having to accept EU legislation to which it was not wedded, as many noble Lords have said, in reality, even under the current treaty, that is not an effective safeguard, as a decision to opt in has to be taken at the start of negotiations. At the start, it is clearly not possible to know what the outcome is likely to be once the negotiations are completed. At that stage, there is no further opportunity to opt out if the final result is not to our benefit or liking.
However, that gets worse under Lisbon. A new provision to the opt-in procedure would mean that if the UK decided not to support unwelcome changes to legislation on asylum, immigration or police co-operation, it could be barred from the existing measures to which it has agreed. For example, that could result in our not being able to participate in the Dublin II agreement on the return of asylum seekers to their country of origin, to which we have already signed up. One might say that the force of the thumbscrew would ensure that the Government backed down, as the outcome would be unsatisfactory, but that would mean that they would have to accept something that was clearly not in this country's interests in order to sustain something that was.
So we can see that the implications of the changes to the treaty in the area of asylum and immigration are far-reaching. Although no one would deny that co-operation and, indeed, co-ordination, in these matters across Europe is likely to be of value—we do not—the ability for this country to maintain its own measures and controls, not harmonised if that is what it would prefer, has effectively been jettisoned.
Border controls remain a very sensitive issue. We have had a number of interesting times on this matter from the UK Borders Bill onwards. The announcements due today or tomorrow from the Home Secretary on the make-up of the new borders force are likely to give us room for more timely debates. However, the control of our borders in the control of immigration is one of the most fundamental.
Although we are not full members of the Schengen group—we take part in the majority of measures on police co-operation but not on measures on border controls—the expansion of the Schengen agreement and its borders as a result of the recent accession states has made it of fundamental importance to us. It is therefore bizarre that, because we are not members of that group, we are denied input into Frontex, the European organisation set up to manage co-operation between member states and the external borders. An application by the United Kingdom to join Frontex was denied in December 2007 by the European Court of Justice. As an island nation that, it is apparent, is the aspiration of many immigrants, legal or otherwise, to reach, we must retain control of our national frontiers, but it is clear that we have interests further afield and our inability to host Frontex operations on UK territory has implications for Europe itself, which is now being denied that capacity.
We believe that this country should retain control of its own borders. I therefore very much hope that, in replying, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House will be able to provide evidence—she may, if she will listen—that under the new treaty, we will be able effectively to do so.
The Government's decision that this was an amending treaty that did not require them to adhere to their manifesto commitment to have a referendum is at the heart of the discussions today. I have not touched at all on the justice aspect of this part of the treaty, but, even taking the Home Office elements, which I have tried to demonstrate today, the people of this country have a right to say whether or not they believe that the Lisbon treaty, or the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union—which trips lightly off the lips—is what they believe to be in their interests. The Government's refusal to test that out is a manifest cop-out.
My Lords, earlier in this debate, in a notable speech, the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, testified to my interest in this subject. I, too, was a member of the Convention on the Future of Europe, which prepared the draft constitutional treaty. It will therefore not surprise noble Lords that I have considerable interest in the outcome of this ratification debate.
My interest goes back a great deal further than that. I can bear personal testimony to the fluidity—shall we say?—of party opinion on the subject of the European Union, having experienced the switchback ride under the Wilson Government, which forced me in 1971 into the slightly quixotic position of resigning from the Front Bench after we lost office having been the only member of the Front Bench not to have held office. Subsequently, in the post-1979 period when, again, the Labour Party lost office, and espoused the doctrine of withdrawal from the European Union, I found that my loyalties had been tested to destruction.
I entirely support the view of my leader, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that it is time that political parties stopped enthusing—or at least trying to make the Union work—when in government and denouncing it and its works in the popular press when out of government. Consistency of British vision might have been thought to have been something that the Conservative Party would be prepared to align itself to.
The importance of this ratification is that if we as a country fail to pass the Bill, the treaty itself will come apart. Despite the implications set out by some speakers from the independence party representing the allies of the Conservative Party, that would not alter our position fundamentally. We would have to rely on the inadequacies of the existing treaty basis of decision-making. Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice will remain. Despite the fact that we have a much enlarged Union of 27 member states for which that framework of decision-making is wholly inappropriate, the immediate consequence of not ratifying the treaty would not be disintegration, but it would lead to great doubt about the effectiveness of the Union in tackling the global challenges that face us.
It has been suggested in some of the blogs that I have received—and I have had many—from members of the public that Parliament is not the right place to decide this issue. I beg to differ, and profoundly, for British reasons. We in this country have a long tradition of considering our treaties in this manner if they result in or require changes in the law to make our law conform to the decisions taken by our popularly elected Government in negotiations on treaties. We are acting entirely according to British constitutional practice in proceeding as we are, and the Government are entirely right to do it this way.
The circumstances that gave rise to the proposed alternative of a referendum and that preceded the treaty of Lisbon were quite different, not only because Britain’s position has been altered by the Government’s so-called red lines, which brought in opt-ins and opt-outs and were not in the constitutional treaty, but because this is a treaty of great complexity that has no aspirations to be produced by the founding fathers of a new generation. It is a complicated and difficult treaty to follow, but it is an amending treaty and no more. Does it have constitutional implications? Of course it does. It has significant constitutional implications, and it is my judgment that the proper place to deal with those is Parliament.
If we do not ratify the treaty, we in this country and in the Union at large face the problem of potential impotence. This is not, as the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, said, a question of regaining control. It is pure fantasy to suggest that this country has control over climate change and can pursue an immigration policy in the modern world entirely on its own. It is also pure fantasy to think that we can, through our lone voice in the councils of the world, influence trade policy to protect our citizenry without aligning others in support. These notions of self-control are 100 years out of date. They reflect back to the thinking of the pre-First World War Concert of Europe, to which the answer was 1914. When are we going to realise the reality and the limits of British power and the necessity of our country concerting its policies within the legal framework that the Union provides?
As to the competency of Parliament to scrutinise, which some of the bloggers doubted, I can only draw their attention, if they have the patience and stamina, to the report, which I had some part in writing, from the EU Select Committee. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, on a fine job of marshalling the detailed arguments that we will consider during the debates that are planned on the Bill. It is highly objective, and it is a remarkable achievement to have had it signed by Members of this House, regardless of whether they were for or against the European Union.
It has also been said by some of the opponents that this measure is a step towards diminishing our democracy. That is to overlook entirely the strengthening of democracy encompassed in this treaty—the provisions extending the powers of the European Parliament to co-decide with the Council legislation on agriculture, fisheries, transport, structural funds, justice and home affairs. It overlooks the parity that is now enjoyed by the European Parliament and the Council over budgetary matters and which has abolished the distinction between compulsory and non-compulsory CAP expenditure and has made the multi-annual financial framework subject to European parliamentary assent. That is an important democratic advance. It also provides that the presidency of the Commission can be influenced by the European political parties indicating to the electorate who their choice for president would be if they were successful in the parliamentary elections. That would make that so-called bureaucracy much more obviously a body influenced by the British public and by other electors throughout the European Union. It also enhances the powers of the national Parliaments. Others have addressed that issue, and no doubt we will again.
I conclude by referring to the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester. It was very affecting, referring as it did to George Bell, the right reverend Prelate’s predecessor, who was one of those to whom Germans rebelling against Hitler appealed—Adam von Trott was another—to act as a channel of communication for the democracy and the rule of law in which they believed. The right reverend Prelate spoke of the moral core of the Union. How right he was to emphasise that. I remind some of the Conservative noble Lords who are playing footsie with insularity and dressing it up as national interest of the vision expressed by Winston Churchill at The Hague in May 1948, when he spoke of the moral core of the Union. He said that we must proclaim,
“the aim and the design of a United Europe, whose moral conceptions will win the respect and gratitude of mankind and whose physical strength will be such that none will dare molest her tranquil sway … We hope to see a Europe where men of every country will think of being a European as of belonging to their native land, and ... wherever they go in this wide domain ... will truly feel, ‘Here I am at home’”.
Those were Conservative words. Let them be remembered during the passage of the Bill.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, who finished with some wise words that many of us have heard many times over a period of years. I note that we are half way through the list of speakers. The speeches might get a little shorter as the evening wears on, but this has been an intriguing debate in which we hear from those on all sides of the House the rights and wrongs, and consideration, of a treaty that replaces a number of treaties. As the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, just said, it is an amending treaty, which amends many that have gone before.
I feel privileged to have been able to serve on the EU Select Committee under the able chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, and I support his report, which he gave us today. It was an excellent report that did not go one way or the other, as he rightly said, but sets the scene adequately so that it gives us the background for a debate. The debate that we are having today augurs well for the Committee work that we face in the next few weeks.
I was also privileged to serve on Sub-Committee D under the equally able chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Sewel. This fascinating report dealt with the common agricultural policy, now including fisheries. Many wry smiles broadened as we spent some months dealing with a report on wine, which was a little different from what many people perhaps think. I, and anyone who sat in on those committees, could not help but be impressed at the depth of scrutiny into European affairs by the members of the committee, particularly on the impact assessment of the Lisbon treaty. Who knows, and we shall see, what will happen following our Committee stage and before we come to a final vote.
Being a Member of the European Parliament for 20 years and being President for two and a half years did not make me any less British. I am as British as anyone in this Chamber, but I am nevertheless committed, as I have been over many years, to the European cause. I have witnessed the treaties which have governed the change from Rome to Lisbon. The single market is the most significant advance from which we have all benefited over time—although not as much as perhaps we might have done—when people, goods, services and capital were able to move freely through the frontiers.
The Lisbon treaty, as we read it, adds a fifth freedom; that is, the free movement of knowledge. I hope that that will mean an increased sharing of research and development and taking advantage of a competitive edge in international trade through technology, which of course is becoming very tough for those involved in the manufacturing industry, in particular. Above all, we should see greater knowledge spread throughout the 27 countries on the real issues with which we are concerned in Europe.
When I was a Member of the European Parliament, I used to be very proud to say that I was a Member of the youngest and the oldest Parliaments in the world. It is characteristic of what is happening. It is new and, therefore, has to be built and to be recognised. If we are members of the club, let us play our cards as members of the club and not always try to be different, as so often we are.
We recognise that a judgment on the reform treaty, defining the powers of decision, has to satisfy the needs of the people. But it has to satisfy them by controlling regulations, by the better implementation of existing legislation, and by creating more liberalisation and fair competition. Anyone who manufactures anything will say that all legislation adds a burden to their business.
The main question posed by this treaty is whether political, economic and social policies can be the more easily fulfilled at a European or a national level. I have been involved in such policies over some years. First, on the European Development Fund, I believe that there is one convincing instrument where a donor community can deliver on development policy much more effectively than nation states. I speak from experience. During my last five years at the European Parliament, I was President of the Joint Parliamentary Assembly of the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. I saw the genocide at first hand in Rwanda, Burundi, Zaire and the Congo. I also visited many parts of Africa where the people we met at least recognised Europe. All the camps of perhaps 80,000 people had tents with the EU sign over the top of them. They saw me—I am proud to say—as Mr Europe, because I represented the peoples of Europe in trying to help them. I hope that the treaty will see that development go much further.
Secondly, on agriculture, the chairman of Sub-Committee D has given a full report of our findings. Despite the many changes embedded in the reform treaty, the objectives and the rationale for a common agricultural policy remain unchanged, but in a totally different form, which is market-led as opposed to product subsidies. Europe’s concern today differs from that of a few years ago when surpluses of this and that had to be dumped into the world market and did more harm in developing countries than anywhere else. The situation today is of food security, rather than that of surpluses. As we learnt from a debate in this House only recently, world food stocks are decreasing. Consumption is outstripping supply.
Thirdly, environmental protection is very much a European issue. It can be argued that there is a need to ensure that environmental constraints on agriculture through cross-compliance are broadly equal throughout Europe to avoid competitive distortions. As we have already heard from several noble Lords, including agriculture and budgets in the design of agricultural policy through the extension of co-decision procedure further strengthens the role and responsibility—I emphasise the word “responsibility”—of the European Parliament and the national Parliaments. Together, they have the same role and responsibility for making decisions on agricultural policy. The reform treaty gives national Parliaments a voice in making European laws and in ensuring that the Community acts only in areas where it adds value. So we have the challenges of CAP reform, globalisation and climate change all facing Europe in the years ahead.
Finally, tied to agriculture is the major issue facing the immediate future; that is, not only climate change, but also the drive for lower carbon emissions. Above all, this requires collaboration in research and development, and the demonstration of new energy alternatives if we are to match the United States and Japan. Without this it may be cheaper to burn more coal, which would be market failure, as indicated in the Stern report. A determined European Union-wide campaign is the practical way to cope with these issues, as well as making people understand what they are about. I believe that this treaty merits and requires a rigorous political debate in order to enable the people of this country better to identify the advantages and disadvantages of the treaty from a United Kingdom perspective. We need to identify those areas of progress, the issues on which it would find it difficult or expensive to go it alone and determine the local issues where subsidiarity is a principle which should apply.
My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, in that my position in the speakers list marks the beginning of the latter half of this debate. In the brief time allotted to us, I would like to make only two points. Does this Bill amount to a constitution and should the treaty that it embodies be ratified without a referendum of the British public? I may fail to persuade noble Lords of the correct answer—not that your Lordships do not have open minds on this—because both of the questions may be viewed from two perspectives: political or legal; head or heart.
There is no set definition of a constitution in British law because unlike virtually all other countries, we have never had one as such, and our jurisprudence has not had to get to grips with the particular forms and effects that a constitution may take. The written constitution is alien to us for our British constitution is a natural state of things, sometimes made by statute. It involves the union of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland; it is enhanced by human rights, membership of the United Nations, and by age-old custom and convention such as the position of the Crown and your Lordships’ own House. In other words, a constitution can be a cumulative affair and may take many forms that come together.
A constitution is normally national, presupposing a state, a populace or a common identity. In the alternative, the seeds of these national requirements are present, and the constitution is to cement them. In the case of Europe, these conditions beg the question: is Europe to be a new state with one population and one identity? This Bill, whatever the nomenclature to be adopted, undoubtedly builds on the progressive integration that started some 50 years ago. It is part of a wider process and, arguably, less ground-breaking than the Treaty of Maastricht, although in the end they have to be read together.
Cumulatively, in my view, the states of Europe have reached a position where they have a constitution, even if not in one document and even without that name. All the elements are there. The treaty of Lisbon gives the European Community a new foundation and a new name. It increases the powers of the parliament, establishes legal personality, changes the voting system, and draws in justice and home affairs, as did the abandoned European constitution of 2004. It also makes provision for a president. This treaty and the earlier ones can function only if the states of Europe pool some sovereignty. Its constitutional nature is also evident in the provisions dealing with foreign policy. A high representative for foreign affairs and security, regardless of the name, complete with diplomatic missions to fortify the European Union presence on the world stage, is equivalent to a foreign policy. This risks a conflict of views if the British and French representatives on the Security Council were to express views differing from their European high representative, and member states are now to be duty bound to come to each other’s aid if attacked. Nothing could be more like a constitution than these provisions, and they are coupled with a loss of UK power by reduced influence in the Commission and in voting.
There is provision in the treaty for increased European intrusion into our legal system as the European Court may gain jurisdiction over criminal matters, justice and home affairs, and additional rights for individuals to seek redress outside of national courts. There will be new jurisdiction for the European Court of Justice over states’ failure to implement European legislation in the areas of criminal law and policing, subject to opt-outs.
New European laws that will require transposition into English law are of great concern to me as a member of the Committee on the Merits of Statutory Instruments of this House. Already so many statutory instruments based on European requirements are rushed through that there is no chance to reflect on the principle of subsidiarity and to ask whether they are really necessary. Nor is there time to follow them up, and there is no mechanism to check that they are doing what they were intended to. A new legal order has been created by the treaty, filling in such gaps as had previously been left in subjecting British law to European legislation.
In my view, the legal answer is that yes, this is a constitution by accumulation. The political answer is that it is not, and this conclusion must reflect the unwillingness to hold the referendum that was promised by all parties’ manifestos at the last election, even if some have now changed their minds. After all, there is no lack of willingness on the part of this Government to make other constitutional laws and to describe them as such. Witness the Human Rights Act, the abolition of the post of Lord Chancellor, the institution of the Supreme Court and the plans to strip away the royal prerogative, which are under debate at the moment.
We have to ask ourselves whether we should pass this legislation without that promised referendum when it is apparent that the substantive effect is close to that of the European constitution of 2004—not that that is the crucial factor in my analysis. In answering the question about the referendum, we may find ourselves giving one answer from the head and another from the heart. A referendum is likely to be held only when the Government are split on an issue and there is no other way out. We have had too few in this country to be able to state with confidence that there is any “usually” or “normally” about the issue. The referendum question, if put, needs to be one that the public can understand and fairly reflects the issue to be decided. Let there be no doubt: I do believe that the public understand very well what is in the treaty and what is at stake.
The head, however, says no to a referendum. It says that this House and the other place are the ones charged with taking this decision. The head says that gradual accretion of power to the European Union is only to be expected because any such institution has a life of its own and a momentum of growth. It says no because Ireland is the only one of 27 states planning a referendum. It says no because the manifesto promise is, sadly, unenforceable. I speak in generalities about the law, being well aware of the sub judice rule, but one could argue in a case that the Government made a promise to hold a referendum which they broke, and that that was a breach of contract with at least the Labour voters in the 2005 general election.
One could argue from a legal point of view that the promise created a legitimate expectation, which is a term of legal art, that a referendum would be held. No doubt the Government would argue that a manifesto promise is incapable of giving rise to a legally binding contract with the electorate. This is sad but apparently true at the moment, although the noble and learned Lords of your Lordships’ House might find the argument odd if they remember the case that every new law student studies of Carlill and the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company. That case upheld the enforceability of a promise made in an advertisement, which I compare with a manifesto. The advertisement said that the carbolic smoke ball would fend off colds, and that if it did not, a sum of money would be paid. A lady consumer acted on the promise by buying the product, but succumbing to flu. She won her case on the ground that a promise was not just a puff, it was a promise on which she had relied, even though it was a promise made at large to the general public. She was the one who relied on it, so she had an enforceable right.
Legally I may be wrong, but the heart tells me otherwise. It is a question of accountability. The structure of the European Union, the nature of its decision-making process and the legislation make full democratic accountability difficult to achieve. The Commission cannot properly be held to account by a national parliament, and our Parliament is overwhelmed, I believe, by the volume of EU legislation. Somewhere in all of this the public—the people—must be allowed to question the changes being made in their name and to them.
At the end of my few minutes, I would like to give a simple message to your Lordships. The law does not prescribe a referendum, but there will be no accountability, a concept much lauded in the other place last week as a constitutional essential, and no trust until a referendum is held. There will be no going forward in Europe, let alone to the centre, without the wholehearted consent of the British people, and I have no sense that this has been given. If in doubt, your Lordships’ House should be guided by the practice of upholding that which was promised in the manifesto of the governing party. So my heart goes with a referendum.
My Lords, at this stage of a very long debate the best things come in small packages, and that is what I would like to offer—neatly gift-wrapped, of course. I shall make three points and, unlike some other noble Lords who have said that, three points only.
My first point is that the basic premise, the basic supposition, of Euroscepticism—that being members of the European Union or specifically signing-up to the Lisbon treaty marks a diminution in our sovereignty—is false. Something close to the opposite is true. Sovereignty today—certainly in the areas of the academic world where I work—quite rightly and properly, does not mean a legal fiction or an empty formula; it means the capability of a country to shape its own future and to influence the wider world around it. Those influences are, for us, much stronger as members of the European Union than they would be outside. We are a nation of 60 million people in a world of 6 billion people where, as other noble Lords have said, there are massive dynamic forces which no nation can adequately confront on its own. I would call this sovereignty plus and argue, contrary to the Eurosceptics, that our membership of the European Union and our signing-up to the Lisbon treaty, which I wholeheartedly endorse, will deliver sovereignty plus for us.
Secondly, I am a pro-European but I was pleased that the constitutional treaty went down as I was not a believer in a single constitution for Europe. I was happy also that some of the more jingoistic phrases associated with that constitutional integration had been removed from the Lisbon treaty version. With them have gone the last lingering hopes of some who believe that Europe could be a federal super-state, that it could be the United States of Europe, something akin to the US on the European continent. In its place we have a Europe which not only acknowledges national identity but which actively supports it; which not only acknowledges diversity but encourages it; but which allows us to come together as a common agency to deal with common problems that we must face. Euro-federalism is dead and the Lisbon treaty wrote “RIP” on its coffin.
Thirdly, it is extraordinary how much dust has been kicked up around the Lisbon treaty by critics because, surely, it supplies the UK with more or less everything it asked for and the model of Europe for which successive Governments of this country have pushed. We wanted a Europe which was open and flexible; we have a Europe which is open and flexible. We pushed for enlargement; we got enlargement. As other noble Lords have said, there is a tremendous difference when an EU of 15 nations becomes an EU of 27 nations. It is obvious—everyone has to accept this—that the mechanisms which allowed one to achieve effective governance for an EU of 15 cannot work in an EU of 27. We wanted the European Union as an open and competitive market; the European Union is an open and competitive market. It therefore seems odd to create a firestorm around a treaty which delivers the kind of Europe we should all endorse.
The French Parliament has just wholeheartedly endorsed the Lisbon treaty; it is almost certain that the Dutch Parliament will do the same. The two countries which voted down the previous form of the treaty will endorse the current one and I am quite clear that we should follow in their path.
I can have some sympathy with those who are against us being in Europe, the full-blown Eurosceptics. It is a consistent case which can be argued even though I radically disagree with it. However, I cannot see the possibility of some kind of half-way position which the Tory party seems to advocate. It is not possible to live in a house somewhere out in the suburbs when everyone else is living in a community in a completely different neighbourhood on the other side of town.
My Lords, my concerns relate to that part of the Lisbon treaty that the draftsmen call the “external action” of the Union—matters that we think of as foreign policy and defence, security in the most important sense of the term, and controlled military action in support of those policies as required by our national interest. That it is right for us to consider these with some care is underlined by the fact that the procedure followed by Her Majesty’s Government in the other place meant that the amendments on these concerns were not debated. The tests that I believe it is right to apply to the treaty in relation to these matters are: first, what do the countries of Europe need to do to be able to work together more effectively on these matters; and, secondly, how far will the provisions in the treaty advance useful answers to these needs?
By common consent, the nations of Europe need to strengthen their military capabilities, make better use of their defence budgets and so organise themselves that they can act together more decisively when intervening in conflicts, conflict prevention and the response to threats and attacks in the several insidious forms that they can take in the world today. So how does the treaty come out when tested by these objectives? At first sight, it gets a middling grade at best. It says a number of the right things and appears to hold back from some of the more objectionable changes that it might have entrenched. But, when it is examined more closely, it can be seen to point in dangerously wrong directions.
Over and beyond the wish and the decision to act, there is the all important matter of the perceived readiness to act and the capability to do so. As the recently published Command Paper The National Security Strategy of the United Kingdom: Security in an Interdependent World correctly puts it,
“our demonstrable political will to deploy”,
our Armed Forces is of the essence. In this—the development by the countries of Europe of improved and more effective capabilities, force generation and the deployment of that force—the European Defence Agency is designated by the treaty as having considerable importance.
In debating the Bill, we have the benefit of the thorough examination of the treaty undertaken by our European Union Committee and, in particular, Sub-Committee C, working under the well informed chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Roper. Today we are invited to take note of that report, The Treaty of Lisbon: An Impact Assessment. Considering this necessarily substantial document will help us to understand how important, and how potentially damaging to our national interest, this treaty is.
I commend to the House another recent report by the Defence Committee of the other place, The Future of NATO and European Defence. While the scope of the report extends well beyond the difficult—indeed, contentious—issue of NATO-EU relations, it emphasises in relation to the Lisbon treaty how important it is that the treaty should not undermine the fundamental, leading role of NATO in the security and collective defence of Europe and its member nations. The report gives a carefully considered, unanimous, all-party view. I believe that the continuing leading of NATO is of the highest priority. The report refers to NATO as,
“the essential embodiment of the transatlantic relationship”—
a relationship that I enthusiastically support. I am therefore pleased to find that in their national security paper the Government state:
“The partnership with the United States remains our most important bilateral relationship, and central to our national security”.
These words from the heart of government caution us, if words mean anything, to move only very carefully, if at all, in the direction of European defence as envisaged by the draftsmen of the Lisbon treaty.
On the NATO-EU relationship, I differ emphatically from Her Majesty’s Government, who, as the Defence Committee points out with concern, have not included an improvement of that working relationship as a key British objective at the forthcoming NATO summit in Bucharest. In this I stand absolutely with the committee and its views, developed over two years of careful and extensive inquiry, and against the Government with their basically dismissive attitude. If the Lisbon treaty may exacerbate rather than ease that relationship, that is of itself a sufficient reason for the United Kingdom to reject the Lisbon treaty.
In this connection, I invite noble Lords to consider section 6 of the Defence Committee report, which discusses NATO and the European security and defence policy and recounts the evolution of the ESDP since it was launched by the former Prime Minister and President Chirac in 1998 at St Malo. The section begins by pointing out that the Lisbon treaty enshrines,
“the ESDP in a Treaty for the first time”,
“a series of innovations in the policy”.
So much for the Government’s contention that the Lisbon treaty changes nothing and that therefore it does not merit a referendum.
I turn from issues of procedure to the substance of the treaty. I shall highlight briefly five points that roused my anxieties, as they point away from responsible co-operation between the nations, which I welcome, towards a single, centrally controlled system, disconnected from direct responsibility to the public.
First, on the role and powers of the high representative, that appointment confuses the important distinction between the role of the Commission and the responsibilities of the Council of Ministers, strengthening the former at the expense of the latter. The high representative, by also being Vice-President of the Commission and head of the European Defence Agency and by having a right of initiative to propose EU military operations, will for the first time blur the line between what is intergovernmental and what is supranational in EU defence planning.
My second concern relates to the diversion of scarce defence resources into structures that duplicate those of NATO and add nothing to sharp-end capabilities. Thirdly, and directly linked to the previous point, I point to the apparent determination in planning EU operations to sidestep the Berlin-plus arrangements with NATO. This illustrates all too clearly how a sensible and reasonable declared arrangement can be negated in practice by those working to a different agenda.
Fourthly, I refer to the concept of permanent structured co-operation in defence. At first sight, the headline is thoroughly attractive, but an examination of a list of ingredients shows quite the opposite. Direct, one-to-one bilateral arrangements between nations that are willing and able have everything to commend them, as between ourselves and France over the aircraft carriers, but that is not what the permanent structured co-operation means in the treaty. It means multilateral arrangements allowed only when subject to detailed preconditions and when sanctioned and organised through Brussels.
My final point brings me back to the European Defence Agency. Similar considerations and objections apply to the treaty provisions for this as apply to permanent structured co-operation. What started off as an acceptable measure of intergovernmental international co-operation is converted by the treaty into a device substituting for that co-operation and mandatory centrally directed Community action.
The Title VI provisions of the Lisbon treaty are in substantially the same terms as those of the rejected constitutional treaty. They make significant changes in the arrangements of shared defence and security. Thus, quite apart from anything else in the treaty, these provisions merit—indeed, they properly require—a referendum in accordance with the election manifesto on which this Government were returned to office.
My Lords, the debate has been lengthy and several noble Lords are waiting their turn, so I shall be brief and concentrate on referendums. I have always opposed referendums, believing that they sit uneasily in our well established parliamentary democracy. However, I am clear that arguments, especially in Parliament, on the principle and desirability of referendums have been inadequate. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, is right in that respect: the political classes, as the late Hugo Young argued in his book This Blessed Plot: Britain and Europe from Churchill to Blair, have not emerged without blemish from the conduct of our deliberations over the past 60 years.
Many of your Lordships will recognise that promises of national referendums by political leaders are seldom issued for reasons of conviction, as noble designs to consult the public—or, least of all, because abstract principles demand them. Rather, referendum pledges tend to be used as devices or hard-nosed calculations forged by some leaders for tactical purposes when they are cornered or feel under pressure. I share the view expressed by my noble and learned friend Lord Howe that Tony Blair’s 2005 promise fell into this category. It was unwise—he need not and should not have made it, but he did. Surely it should be an article of faith that if a solemn undertaking on that scale, as the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, contended, is set out in a manifesto, it must remain sacrosanct; if it does not, the electorate are entitled to regard such commitments as charades and they are entitled to complain about the brazenness of political leaders.
Arthur Balfour was, notwithstanding the reference to him by my noble friend Lord Howell, the first political leader to seek comfort in referendums when, 100 years ago, he flirted with one on home rule and bound his troops to another on tariff reform in a manifesto, solely in an attempt to unite his fractured party. The party remained divided and Balfour lost the election. Harold Wilson, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, reminded us, was deeply hostile to referendums on constitutional grounds until, as Lord Callaghan admitted, the Labour Party required a lifeboat to rescue it from divisions in 1974.
Then again, as your Lordships will recall, in 1997 Tony Blair promised a referendum on electoral reform in the Labour manifesto—a pledge tendered in the same document in which he declared that,
“broken promises taint all politics”.
Of course, as we know, the commitment was included to court his potential coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats—and, of course, like the adept romancer that he is, he failed to honour his word once it became clear that the Liberal Democrats were not needed as partners. So there was nothing noble about the 1997 pledge, any more than there was in 2005 when, under apparent pressure from segments of the media and overanxious about an auction of promises, he reluctantly agreed to a referendum on the European constitution. The 1997 and 2005 covenants, designed for political purposes and devoid of conviction, were shelved when surely it was the duty of the Government to stand fast to their promises. Now Parliament is entitled to invite the Government to meet the obligations that they set out in good faith.
I have always held the view that national referendums are at variance with the constitutional and legal principles of Parliament as we know them. I reached that judgment because political leaders have seldom put the case for referendums with personal conviction and because, more important, Parliament has never engaged in full or effective debates over the principle of referendums replacing its sovereignty, even in 1975. There may be a logic for referendums as substitutes for parliamentary sovereignty. The balance between the two Houses and the nature of our democracy may be changing. If so, it is incumbent on us to answer the questions first posed in outline by the distinguished constitutionalist AV Dicey 100 years ago. What subjects should they cover? What are their parameters? Precisely how, by whom and in what circumstances can they be proposed and triggered? There is also the post-Dicey question of to what extent they should be retrospective.
I am disappointed, though not surprised, that the Government’s Governance of Britain Green and White Papers failed to address the relationship between parliamentary sovereignty and referendums. That was a missed opportunity. So, too, was the Prime Minister’s major speech on liberty last October. He swept through British history with references to or quotes from Milton, Bolingbroke and Locke, among a galaxy of others. Yet he, too, failed to address the relationship between parliamentary sovereignty and referendums and the constitutional consequences of such referendums. If political leaders persist with populist pledges over referendums without first confronting the deeper arguments of principle or squaring the circle, they will continue to promise referendums for the wrong reasons based more on convenience than conviction. Who knows, in a few years’ time, we may be debating this question again with the roles and attitudes reversed between Government and Opposition. Many of your Lordships have witnessed history repeating itself before. I hope that it does not do so again.
My Lords, having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Ryder, I wonder whether he uttered the same conclusions when we considered the Single European Act, Maastricht or Amsterdam. I think that he was silent then.
I listened to, among others, the powerful speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, but both my heart and my head guide me to the opposite conclusion. I am a former member of the European Commission. I was proud to do that job: it was a very uplifting experience. We also heard from former Members of the European Parliament and of the Commission. They probably all share my view that neither is a dictatorial body. Members of both bodies listen carefully to voices that are not wholly Europhile. They visit their own countries and are not sheltered from the hostile views that are often expressed. But at the same time, there is no doubt, having experienced that position, that the UK has no alternative but to be members of the European Commission.
There is a vast difference between the two sides in this debate. There are members of UKIP and their allies, including some Conservatives who view our involvement with the EU as pernicious and undesirable. They are supported by those who use the issue as opportunists, perceiving that the majority of British people are suspicious of anything that emanates from the Continent. Paying tribute to Britain's long-term interests is vital and that is often ignored.
There are those, like me, who contend that there is no alternative to an ever-deeper relationship with the European Union. It may change its form, but the European Union is likely to be a major player in global affairs. Already, enlargement has been a remarkable success. Of course, as in all relationships, there will be disappointments and setbacks, but there will also be huge successes that will enable the European Union to function more effectively and to flourish.
Some submit that because a referendum was promised at a general election, it has to take place now, but they ignore the fact that fundamental changes were effected in the Lisbon treaty. Among others, there is to be a full-time president of the European Council. That did not happen before. We had a president who was replaced every six months, which was utterly undesirable. The European Foreign Minister will assume wider duties as the European Union’s high representative. The European Commission is likely to be reduced to 18-plus members instead of the present 27. Qualified majority voting, as the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, pointed out, is to be multiplied. There is to be new thinking about energy in all its facets. There is to be a mounting assault on third-world poverty. Children's rights are to be more paramount than they are today. New opt-outs and protocols are to be negotiated. Above all, there are to be new objectives to combat climate change. My earnest wish is that many more countries share that ambition.
In view of all that, how can it be seriously argued that this treaty represents no change from the past? It is no small wonder that 26 out of 27 members of the European Commission have come to the conclusion that this treaty means substantial change. The issue of Ireland is rather different, and that has been touched on previously. Two Committees in the House of Commons—the Foreign Affairs Committee and the European Scrutiny Committee have voted against a referendum. Most international NGOs dealing with poverty and the environment would be bitterly opposed to any possibility of a referendum. Most significantly, it would be absolutely wrong, save in a very small number of cases—and this does not fall into that particular category—to hold a referendum at all.
Accordingly, if a majority vote in a misconceived referendum were to result in a no vote, most members could and probably would conclude that the United Kingdom no longer had its heart in the European Union and should therefore be evicted. Thus the fundamentalists, mostly in the Conservative Party, would have won. They would relish the idea, hopeless though it may be, of Britain standing alone. These people are prepared to ignore the fact that the countries in the European Union have created 18 million new jobs, expanded their exports, strengthened their underlying economies, and hence that the European Union, fortified by the United Kingdom, could be a major force for good in world affairs. Could we, standing alone, achieve any of that?
The charge that Tony Blair had offered a referendum to which we would be bound is negated by what really happened, as I have sought to demonstrate. It is not the first time that the majority of the Conservative Party have played ducks and drakes over Europe—having entered the ERM, thus flying in the face of the then Conservative Government’s policies, and having campaigned in the 2001 general election on the slogan “X days to save the pound”. Well, the pound is still here, but many of the Conservative Party’s European credentials are now in tatters.
In my view, a referendum would suffer the same fate as capital punishment, where parliamentarians, who could be backed or sacked by the electors, were prepared to make their own choice. The route prescribed by the Opposition is misconceived and would be highly damaging to this country. The Government instead seek to foster the view that Europe can be a truly dynamic, positive and benign force in both European and global affairs.
My Lords, my old Chief Whip, the late Lord Harris of Greenwich, when I was his deputy, used to say to me when a difficult vote was in the offing: “Do stop them listening to the debate”. My natural tendency in your Lordships’ House, probably appropriate for a generalist and hereditary Peer, is to listen to debates. I have listened to this debate with great care, and I have to say something which I have never admitted in the House before, because it has never happened to me before. Without having had, as it were, a Pauline conversion, my views are substantially different now from what they were at this time yesterday. Four speeches have impressed me to such an extent that it is not certain whether I shall be supporting, as I originally intended, a referendum on the treaty. I could have torn up my speech and gone home, but I was reported in the Daily Telegraph as seemingly at odds with those on my Benches in what I intended to do. I made a jocular remark to them about avoiding the dark looks of my colleagues, but I said that I intended to vote for a referendum and that I would speak if I felt brave enough. I have been brave enough. Actually I do not know whether it is bravery, but I have been moved. I should like to explain which speeches gave me the most reason to change my view.
The first speech was that of my old friend Lord Hannay, and I say old friend because we have known each other for many years. As one would expect from a diplomat of his eminence and his knowledge of Europe, with which he has been connected, he made a balanced and moderate speech. He exploded many of my fears especially about the apparently likely transfer of powers from this country to Europe. More importantly, I was affected by his comments on referendums. I have never liked referendums. I think that I share that view with most of my colleagues—who are now actually smiling at me. In a representative democracy such as ours, why elect MPs and so on if we are to have referendums, and why even consider a referendum except on a vital issue? The noble Lord’s point was that other treaties were perhaps more deserving of a referendum, but he does not agree that it would have been appropriate in those cases either. I shall follow the debate very closely in Committee and contribute where I think it useful and appropriate, but I shall do so from a different position.
The other speech was that of the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock. He explained to me as no one has before exactly what the treaty entails and why it does not present the danger that I and many others felt it did. I wish that he was able to speak to the nation in the same vein. Another speech which I admired was that of my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby. As she pointed out, one of the problems is that the British public have never really understood what Europe is about. Why should they? People live busy lives, often obsessed with a shortage of money and their work, and things have not been simple to understand.
I sat next to Christopher Bland once at a lunch when he was in charge of the BBC; he was talking to parliamentarians at that time. I said, “As a public service broadcaster, surely you will now be able to give to the British public a series of debates that will allow them to understand more than just the economic interests of our country but the political and social interests or concerns which we may have in the developments in Europe, because it is a social, political and economic community”. He assured me that that was indeed his plan and that he intended to go about it fairly promptly. It never happened. I learnt that only today from someone who shall remain nameless. He said that it was quite simple. The BBC certainly planned to do it but, such was the difficulty of balance—a problem for the BBC, with the sword of Damocles hanging above it—that it was too much. The BBC felt there would be so much difficulty in balancing between the Eurosceptics and the Europhiles that it was best to drop it. That is one of the reasons why the nation is in the current position and why it is not an appropriate country to have a vote before it in a referendum anyway. My noble friend's speech was telling, as one would expect from her. I found many of the points she made reassuring.
The fourth speech was that of my noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank. He is one of the reasons why I am on these Benches, where I am surrounded by people with moderate views which they express with great experience and great common sense. I am not making any gibes here at my noble friend the leader of my party. He made a magnificent speech but unfortunately he was provoked, as I would have been; like me, he is sometimes of a fiery temper. But it was unfortunate because the debate needed to be put on an even keel, as indeed it has been. It has been a magnificent debate and I shall be closely following all the proceedings all the way through.
I have never been a Eurosceptic. I have been called from time to time “unsound” on Europe. Perhaps people will be able to tell me what “unsound” means in that context. I remember speaking at an eve-of-poll address at the election before last. The Liberal Democrat candidate said to me politely, “We’re looking forward to your speech. It is unlikely that anybody will say anything about Europe, but we understand that you are a little bit unsound on Europe. I have got two councillors. In the unlikely event you should have a question on Europe, they will deal with it, so if you’d kindly step aside”. I made my speech. The first person to stand up was a woman in the front row, who said, “What is the party going to do about Europe?” Being an agreeable sort of chap, I gave way to the two councillors. They never looked at the woman who asked the question; they had a friendly conversation between themselves on the platform about the merits of European cars and the position of the British motor car industry, and what happened at Dunkirk in 1940. After that, I had to say to the candidate, “I would have been like Jacques Delors compared to your councillors”. So I will not take it from anybody that I am a Eurosceptic. I do not expect be invited by the Liberal Democrats to speak about Europe at any local meetings. In any case, I am getting too long in the tooth to make those journeys into the deep rural parts of Britain.
On a serious note, there are things about which we should be concerned. In my original speech, which I tore up—I made a few notes in the Royal Gallery—I had intended to deal with an area which still concerns me slightly, which is the legal personality of Europe. However, I am told that my fears on that can be allayed and that it has a legal personality, but that it is, as it were, being codified. It is not being as dangerously codified as in the original constitution, which stated that the legal personality would be superior to that of the member nations; the treaty says just that there is a legal personality. It is a worrying matter, and I hope that we will deal with it during your Lordships’ debates. I hope that it will be dealt with so satisfactorily that I will not be drawn again towards the temptation to go with those voting for a referendum. The net result of a referendum would not be to the advantage of anybody. The decision to put a commitment to a referendum into the manifestos of the three major parties was cynical opportunism of the worst kind and the worst public relations in the body politic that I have known.
My Lords, it is always fun to listen to the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland. He is always a cheerful speaker, and was so this evening. Not many of your Lordships would admit to having changed their mind on such a fundamental matter as a referendum within 24 hours, particularly as a result of four speakers. But I should warn the noble Viscount that we are only halfway through, and there is plenty of time for the pendulum to switch the other way. I doubt that my speech will have such a cataclysmic effect on him.
There cannot have been many Bills which have had such a major impact on the country as this one. The number of your Lordships taking part is a witness to that. People on all sides feel strongly about this matter, and points have been made with great clarity and courtesy. I am afraid that my observations will not rise to the pinnacles of erudition that have been obvious in the various points that other noble Lords have made.
I thought that I had better find out about the Bill, so I went to the Printed Paper Office and obtained a copy of the European Union (Amendment) Bill, which consists of a modest four pages and schedules. I read it; I did not understand a word of it. But then I do not have the advantage of being a lawyer. I then asked whether I could have a copy of the treaty of Lisbon. I was given The Treaty of Lisbon: An Impact Assessment, Volume I. It was an inch thick; it weighed two pounds, four ounces and consisted of 300 pages. Then I was given The Treaty of Lisbon, Volume II. That was seven-eighths of an inch thick. It weighed two pounds, four ounces and consisted of 479 pages. I was then given The Treaty of Lisbon, amending the Treaty establishing the European Union and the treaty establishing the European Community, Command Paper 7294. That was three-quarters of an inch thick, weighing two pounds, seven ounces, and consisting of 294 pages. I was also given the Consolidated Texts of the European Union Treaties as amended by the Treaty of Lisbon, Command Paper 7310. That was seven-eighths of an inch thick, and it weighed three pounds, eight ounces and consisted of 328 pages. In all, those books were four and a half inches thick; they weighed 10 pounds, seven ounces; they consisted of 1,401 pages. The total cost if they had been bought by a member of the public would have been £112.55. This is wheelbarrow stuff. It is alarming. I thought, “Well, what does it all mean?” and had a look. It was enough to flatten anyone’s curiosity, but, oddly enough, not mine. I looked at random at the document called The Treaty of Lisbon, amending the Treaty establishing the European Union and the treaty establishing the European Community. On page 142, I found under “The Union’s Annual Budget” the following:
“262) A Chapter 3 “THE UNION'S ANNUAL BUDGET” shall be inserted after Article 270a.
263) An Article 270b shall be inserted, with the wording of Article 272(1).
264) Article 271 shall become the new Article 273a; it shall be amended as set out below in point 267.
265) Article 272(1) shall become Article 270b and paragraphs 2 to 10 of Article 272 shall be replaced by the following:”
Then, on page 151, the document states under “General and Final Provisions”:
“279) Part Six shall be renumbered "PART SEVEN".
280) Articles 281, 293, 305 and 314 shall be repealed. Article 286 shall be replaced by Article 16 B.
281) In Article 282, the following sentence shall be added at the end: “However, the Union shall be represented by each of the institutions, by virtue of their administrative autonomy, in matters relating to their respective operation.” …
286) Article 294 shall become Article 48a.
287) Article 299 shall be amended as follows:
(a) paragraph 1 shall be deleted. The first subparagraph of paragraph 2 and paragraphs 3 to 6 shall become Article 311a; they shall be amended as set out below in point 293”.
And then we are supposed to know what it is all about. I find it quite astonishing. In the normal course of events, I would almost consider it an insult. I defy anyone who is not a lawyer, and a constitutional lawyer at that, to understand what on earth is going on, or to understand what it is that we are being asked to accept. And yet it is this extraordinary document, which the Prime Minister signed in that somewhat inglorious ceremony the other day, which one is now being asked to ratify and to approve.
I know that everyone was fearful of the previous constitution, believing that we were giving away to another body—namely, the European Union—some of our constitutional and sovereign rights. At the previous election, as everyone knows, every party—Labour, Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats—gave an undertaking that if the constitution were to re-emerge, the country would have to have a referendum on it. Even the Prime Minister, Mr Blair, said that,
“we will have a referendum on the constitution in any event and that is a government promise”.
My noble friend Lord Ryder said that he need not have made that promise—indeed, should not have made it—but as he said, he did make it, and that must be respected.
The Government obviously do not want a referendum because they are frightened that they would lose it. What appears now after the treaty of Lisbon is virtually the same as the previous constitution, without the flag, the national anthem and the foreign Minister, but we now have a high representative—a sort of Pooh-Bah. The Prime Minister said that it is not the same and that the,
“constitutional project, as the document states, was abandoned”.
But that was not the view of his colleagues in Europe. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, said:
“The substance of the constitution is preserved. That is a fact”.
The Spanish Prime Minister went further and said:
“A great part of the content of the European Constitution is captured in the new treaties … We have not let a single substantial point of the constitutional treaty go … It is, without a doubt, much more than a treaty. This is a project of foundational character, a treaty for a new Europe”.
Margot Wallström, the European Commissioner, said:
“It’s essentially the same proposal as the old Constitution”.
The Czech President said:
“Only cosmetic changes have been made and the basic document remains the same”.
What about Giscard d’Estaing, the author of the European constitution, who said—and I find this astonishing:
“Public opinion will be led to adopt, without knowing it, the proposals that we dare not present to them directly. All the earlier proposals will be in the new text, but will be hidden and disguised in some way. What was”—
“difficult to understand will become utterly incomprehensible”?
He can say that again. He continued:
“But the substance has been retained … Why not have a single text? The only reason is that this would look too much like the constitutional treaty. Making cosmetic changes would make the text more easy to swallow”.
Can you believe it? Yet this is what we are being asked to approve.
Karel de Gucht, the Belgian foreign Minister, said, with a candidness which was stark:
“The aim of the Constitutional treaty was to be more readable; the aim of this treaty is to be unreadable … The Constitution aimed to be clear, whereas this Treaty had to be unclear. It is a success”.
Then there is the withering comment of Jean-Claude Juncker, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, who said:
“Britain is different. Of course there will be transfers of sovereignty. But would I be intelligent to draw the attention of public opinion to this fact?”
If this is what his colleagues in Europe think about the treaty, how can the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister say that is not the same as the old constitution but under a different name? It is all shrouded in total mystery in these documents.
Some years ago, when I was in the Ministry of Agriculture, I had the privilege of going to the Council of Ministers. I was deeply impressed with all those countries—France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the United Kingdom and so forth—which 30 years earlier had been blasting each other’s countries to pieces and killing their citizens, but which were now sitting round a table arguing about the price of a pat of butter. It was very moving and I became a great advocate of the European Economic Community. But in my judgment things have gone wrong since then and I blame it on the leaders of the Community. The European Economic Community transmogrified into the European Community and then into the European Union. The leaders have gone ahead with their inflammatory and glorious ideas of making everyone coalesce into one Union, whether they like it or not, and about which the people were never consulted.
Like a military battle, the advancing troops have gone ahead too fast and have become out of touch with their main body of people and their lines of communication have broken. The leaders of thought—or those wishing to make an impression during their lives—have gone way beyond what people think and what people want, and for which they have no mandate.
People have been invited, unwittingly, to give up their sovereignty—yes, their laws, their judgments, their parliamentary procedures which have stood the test of time and which have been ingrained into their lives and in which they have found solace, contentment and trust—and to pour it all into the pot of the European Union which is untried, untested and from which, once committed, there is no redress, and where laws and regulations are made for which there is no democratic accountability and whose accounts are so suspect that the Court of Auditors has not felt able to sign them off for 14 years. I do not think that this is what the people of this country want.
On principle I do not like referendums. It is the job of Parliament to decide. But the pass was sold in 1975 when there was a referendum on the European Economic Community. The reason why people in this country want one now is that they do not believe that Parliament has the right or the obligation or the responsibility to hand over sovereignty—nothing less than that—to an outside body.
The fact is that the verbiage of this treaty, and all which surrounds it, is the re-encapsulation of the constitution, but in a way which no one can understand. All parties agreed that there should be a referendum on this, and that is what I think there should be. If I may say so, it is disingenuous of the Prime Minister to try to refuse it.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the wise humour of my noble friend Lord Ferrers.
When the history of our times comes to be written, this momentous Bill will be recorded as surely one of the most cynical and deceitful proposals ever made to Parliament and the people of this country.
Other noble Lords have illustrated how both the Government and the Liberal party promised a referendum on the constitutional treaty, realised that they would probably lose it and have continued to hide behind the fig leaf of an excuse that somehow the Lisbon treaty is different. Old true Liberals must be spinning in their tombs.
But a referendum is needed not just because it was promised but because the British public, most of whom are not aware of the effect of the proposals, have never been consulted, let alone properly informed—a point well made by my noble friend Lord Ferrers.
This Bill is not just about Europe’s constitution but the effect on our own constitution and the ultimate transfer of power and sovereignty which has been salami sliced from us over the last 30 years. The end of sovereignty is the end of democracy. This is the theme of my speech. It is important to look at what the Lisbon treaty does. It abolishes the European Union and replaces it with an entity which is actually a new body and, unlike the old, has an international legal personality. It can sign treaties and be represented on international organisations. This is the key that creates a political entity and the basis of statehood. In this respect it is totally different from previous treaties and it is a lie to say otherwise. It is a road that leads this country to be a province of the republic of Europe. National parliaments and foreign policy become subordinate. We become citizens of Europe and the position of the Queen is deeply compromised. We in Westminster may continue to strut the stage like peacocks but real power will have passed to the EU where every Community law takes primacy over our national laws. Foreign policy moves from our hands.
I find it difficult to understand why so many Members of this House and the other place want to diminish the very powers they were elected to administer. They, of course, live the eternal dream that somehow tucking ourselves under a huge EU umbrella will lead to better government and a more stable world. But they fail to take into consideration the major unintended consequence of their intentions—the destruction of our democratic framework. Democracy is a very frail plant. It is difficult to establish and very easy to uproot. It has, over the centuries, given this country a social cohesion on which our economic prosperity has been built.
However imperfect the present system, people tolerate their Government, even as of today elected on a minority poll, because they know they stand a chance every five years or so of effecting change. They can sack the Administration.
The whole relationship between people and the state is changing because consent given to the Government today is based on a residual belief in the democratic process. That democratic process meant that one could vote to change laws and the people who made them lived in the same country.
Today it is virtually impossible to rectify European legislation once enacted. Noble Lords will need no reminding that the American War of Independence triggered on the expression, “No taxation without representation”. Today we have its successor, “Regulation without rectification”, and the same frustrations are leading to the growing dislike of the EU and all its works and a burning sense of resentment which we in this House should not ignore.
When we ran our own affairs, if a citizen had a justifiable complaint, his MP would arrange to see the Minister and talk the problem through. Laws got amended, regulations got adapted and there was a democratic safety valve. That has all gone. Now how easy is it to get, through a maze of EU committees, the unanimous agreement of 13 other members to effect change? It is near impossible. We are assured that the Lisbon treaty will hand more power back to Governments; but if we believe that, we will believe anything. What happened to the promise of subsidiarity last time around? It has been neither seen nor heard. The EU is unreformable.
Meanwhile, we are informed that our scrutiny committees in both Houses are where we influence EU legislation before it is enacted. That is where the democratic deficit is meant to be rectified and will be rectified in future. Noble Lords may have seen the Parliamentary Questions that I have asked recently as to how often the European Union has altered legislation as a result of recommendations from Select Committees of either House of Parliament. Each time, the relevant Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, who is not in his place, has given the same Written Answer:
“The information requested cannot be provided without incurring disproportionate public cost”.
Finally, I asked whether any example could be given of where we had influenced EU legislation. After some weeks, I was told that we had managed to alter the EU audio media directive. The scrutiny committees labour and toil, but they bring forth a mouse. By deeds, not words, should they be judged. The scrutiny committees, like much of the EU, are one big exercise in democratic self-delusion. The democratic safety valve is near non-existent, the process is a sham, and this treaty will not change it.
This is what the debate about the European constitution is all about. What control do we have over our destiny and how do we call those who govern us to account? No one denies that membership of the EU has transferred sovereignty from Westminster and Whitehall, but it is easy to lose sight of how substantial that transfer has been and of its effect on our constitutional arrangements. How ironic that the Government want to embark on a programme of radical constitutional reform, as though they and we had any real control over matters here any more. Meanwhile, our membership costs us some £10 billion a year; enough to halve the rate of council tax. We receive back the lowest of any member state and half as much per capita as France. We have lost control of our borders. We have a negative balance of trade with the EU.
The strength of the old unwritten British constitution was that, by and large, the governed believed that they had some control over the Government through the ballot box. Now they feel powerless. Why else has election participation fallen so dramatically? It has little to do with the difficulties of voting, but it is to do with the fact that our most fundamental right has been surrendered; the right to hold those who govern us to account.
Those who dream the dream of Europe will ultimately pay the consequences of failure to recognise this fact; it is so much easier to be idealistic than realistic. Those who believe that we can reverse the ongoing process of the transfer of power to Brussels should remember how the so-called Social Chapter opt-out was rapidly undermined by the abuse of health and safety powers under the treaty. That point was well made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. That abuse was, of course, sanctioned by the courts. We should never fail to remember the passerelle clause, which gives overriding legal precedence to the interests of the EU; a clause that the Government have never challenged.
The inescapable fact is that we are subject to Community law and to the European Court’s interpretation of treaties. No red line or agreements limiting the powers of Europe can be safely relied on, because they will be reinterpreted by the EU courts over time to expand those powers again. The average man in the street may not know of these legal niceties, but he is in the front line of the endless costly EU regulatory stupidities. He increasingly does not recognise the Britain he knew, and he does not like it. Every survey shows that the British public want a referendum. If they do not get it, far from this constitutional treaty binding Europe in harmony, it will, by weakening the European Union’s democratic legitimacy, accelerate its disintegration.
That should not divert us from the need to look beyond the treaty to the more fundamental issues of the right relationship for Britain with the EU in the 21st century. The Government should welcome a referendum, should abide by its results, and should use the outcome to renegotiate a new relationship based on trade and co-operation; a relationship that would be right for this country, popular with the British people and politically feasible. That would be a positive path to the future. The alternative, if this treaty is ratified without a referendum is, I fear, that we will have to learn the oldest and most basic of lessons; that power does not give legitimacy, that might does not confer wisdom and that an organisation based without common consent can never survive. We need a referendum.
My Lords, it is a challenge to follow the noble Lord, Lord Vinson, in this debate. His vision of this country reduced to being the province of a European republic is, of course, horrendous and entirely inaccurate. I was encouraged when looking up his entry in Dods just before the debate to find that there is one element of good Europeanism in his approach; his chief interest is listed as being objets d’art, so that gives us some encouragement.
At the beginning of the debate, my noble friend Lord McNally identified two aspects of Britain’s political relationship with European integration. First, there is a tendency in opposition for the two larger parties to be anti-Europe and in government in practice to be somewhat pro-Europe and, secondly, there is a predilection to be late in terms of European developments. That has been consistent, from the Coal and Steel Community to the former Prime Minister, John Major, famously describing the euro as a rain dance. The pattern has been initial hostility, then hesitancy, then half-hearted support and above all miscalculation. Both those unfortunate tendencies have etched themselves in this debate, and I am sure that they will do so again in the days ahead.
There is another tendency which, frankly, has always puzzled me. It is the fundamental timidity and lack of self-confidence that appears to motivate so much Euroscepticism. Why do we need to protect ourselves from Europe when we have such proven significant influence in it? Why are we shy of debates that we win and have won? Why do we insist on distancing ourselves from dialogue from which we benefit? I was particularly struck earlier in the debate by the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, and the way in which he described issue after issue and development after development where the British case or perspective had substantially carried the day. I also liked his phrase “super sovereignty”, which I had not encountered previously. That is a better term than “shared sovereignty”, because it enables us to reach to sovereignty in common action that would otherwise simply not be available to this country.
When I worked for the late and great Lord Jenkins in Brussels in the late 1970s, the European Community, as it then was, was dominated by a Franco-German axis. Its langue de travail was French. Many of its instincts were deeply suspicious of alliance with the United States. Last week in the Royal Gallery, just a few yards away, we listened to a fascinating speech by President Sarkozy of France. Although there were elements of passionate wooing involved, I do not believe that it was about Gallic charm. That speech really represented a significant shift and a tonality of great importance for the future. First, there was the President’s moving acknowledgement of the standing, status and continuing contemporary relevance of this Parliament and this democracy. Secondly, there was a moving acknowledgement of the debt that France owes Britain for what we did in the First World War, that mixing of blood in Flanders, and what we did in the Second World War, specifically the welcome to General de Gaulle and to Free France.
There was a specific and, in many ways, surprising acknowledgement that the outcome of the Battle of Britain was vital to the existence of the Europe that we have today. He made another fascinating and important assertion in which he actually spelt out that the special relationship, in which I believe and which exists, between us and the United States based on language and history is of enormous value, not just to us—he said, it is “part of you”—but to Europe and the European Union. Equally, he recognised our relationship with the Commonwealth and the worldwide role of the English language as a major asset of the European Union. In summary, the President was saying, “Europe needs you and you need Europe. Can you conceive of having the same degree of influence and of winning the same arguments if you were not part of the project?”. How right he was.
Why is this so relevant to this debate and to the treaty’s ratification? It is because, given the degree of agreement now about the nature of Europe—a Europe built on the nation states and which respects difference—we can move to having two clear priorities. The first is to ensure that the Europe of 27—and, later, more—really works and can work with efficiency and speed. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, was absolutely right from a practical perspective to say that the sort of negotiation that could take place in a room with six or with nine is simply not conceivable with 27. We have to find new and better ways of working.
The second priority on which President Sarkozy was absolutely specific was that this treaty enables us to move on. It enables the European Union to move on to the agenda for this century—climate change, energy, immigration, development, security and defence. Of course there is substantial similarity between the content of the Lisbon treaty and the defunct European constitutional treaty, but the intent is significantly different. I was not in favour of the original European constitution and that project, because there were people who saw a European constitution as defining the finalité européenne. A definition of the end point of the process of an ever closer union was somehow wanted. That seemed quite unnecessary and was something upon which there could, almost self-evidently, not be agreement. I see the European Union as not only idealistic, but essentially pragmatic and that point of view did not seem to be appropriate. The intent of this treaty is simply to make sure that the thing can work well in an enlarged context of 27 and later, perhaps, more.
I want to conclude by focusing on the achievement and the challenge of enlargement. The European Union Committee’s report on the impact of Lisbon clearly states at paragraph 2.60 that:
“To a considerable extent, the Lisbon Treaty is a response to the enlargement of the EU”.
Indeed it is. The enlargement, as has been pointed out many times in this debate, is an extraordinary achievement—the transformation of eastern central Europe towards the sort of societies and economies that they are now, and will increasingly become.
I wish to share a personal experience regarding that transformational process in Romania. I was involved with the early stages of that country’s negotiations on becoming full members of the EU. A Member of this House, my noble friend Lady Nicholson, has significantly contributed to the development of rights for children and the conditions in orphanages in Romania. I was at a meeting where there was a discussion between a representative of the Commission, a representative of the then Romanian Government and my noble friend. When the representative of the then Romanian Government said, “We are perfectly happy to discuss with you, the European Commission, what we do with the steel industry and the development of transport and so on, but we are not going to sit here and discuss the future of our children”, the representative of the Commission said, “In that case, we are not discussing your future membership”. The Copenhagen criteria—the so-called soft power of Europe—were immensely civilising within the context of those talks. We should be proud of that power and it must continue. Lisbon will help it to continue.
If we reject this Bill, we will be voting against developing the functionality and credibility of the European Union. We will be voting fundamentally against its future and, above all, we will be voting against ourselves. We will prove to be timid before opportunity, scared of shadows and unaware of substance. This has been an interesting debate and I conclude by pointing out three fascinating matters.
First, I am not uncritical, as this Bench knows, of the way in which the Government have pursued their European policies, but the noble Baroness the Lord President of the Council’s speech was a fine example of what I sense is a strengthening of the European commitment of this Government. Secondly, no one should doubt the resolution of the European commitment of these Benches. Thirdly, it is for the Tories to decide where they stand, not least when the Bill passes. It has been a fascinating feature of this debate that even until this point, we have had six strong, authoritative, creditable and absolutely pro-European Conservative speeches. I am sure that by the end of the evening there will be more. Something is moving—and it is positive. What we have to do is vote on ourselves and vote on our future.
My Lords, for nearly 40 years, this country of ours has been grappling with how to create wholehearted consent behind British membership of the European Union; that remains a fundamental objective of those of us who support our membership. It is a deeply unsatisfactory reality that in those 38 years there have been substantial periods of division between the parties, with considerable public dissent and often a lack of enthusiasm for the European Union.
The noble Baroness the Leader of the House has a very heavy responsibility, but she started off extremely well by agreeing to start this debate and wind it up, and by trying to show that this House can substantially improve the legislation before us and—more importantly—the acceptability of the Lisbon treaty to the people of this country. I hope that she will be supported in this by the Prime Minister, who has a good record on this issue. There is no doubt that he is a strong European, and I welcome that. But he has also been ready to understand—and he is often quite unfairly criticised for this—that it was not necessary to support membership of the eurozone to be a committed European. Now we hear very few people arguing that Britain should be a member of the eurozone. That was not the situation eight years ago.
It is profoundly important in facing the problems of this country to recognise that we will see a devaluation of our currency. If we were in the eurozone, that would have been impossible. I say that only because the Prime Minister will, I hope, pay attention to this debate and will recognise that the debate that took place in the House of Commons was in many respects deeply unsatisfactory. I hope that he and the noble Lord the Leader of the Liberal Democrats in this House will look with great favour at doing something to strengthen the parliamentary brake. When the noble Lord was advising Lord Callaghan—then Jim Callaghan—as Prime Minister, he and I worked very hard on the European Assembly Elections Act and introduced the brake whereby an Act of Parliament had to be passed before there could be any increases in the powers of the European Parliament. Many people, as he knows, told us that it was impossible to do that. We were able to do it and we could do it again.
The Government have come some way to meet the passerelle or ratchet clause—whatever one wishes to call it—by saying that there has to be a parliamentary decision in both Houses. However, we all know—particularly people who were previously in the House of Commons—that that is not a serious brake. Why do we have full legislation and due process and take weeks and months over it? We do so because we know that it provides a real democratic safeguard. I beg the Prime Minister, in particular, to look again at this issue and to allow a full parliamentary legislative Act if we are to increase qualified majority voting in other aspects of the passerelle clause. That is of fundamental importance and it would show a measure of confidence. It would take time but it could be reciprocated as people understood that the Government were trying to carry them with them over this process. It is particularly important in relation to, say, Clause 6(3), that part of the Bill that involves qualified majority voting in foreign policy. That is by any standard a major constitutional issue. The Government say that they will not do that, but they should not ask this Parliament to give that power and not be prepared to come back with a full Act of Parliament. I hope that the Liberal Democrat party will be with us on that amendment, as it was in the House of Commons.
Secondly, the interpretation of the words of the Lisbon treaty presents a serious problem. That is not just my view. The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, which published a very good report on aspects of the Lisbon treaty, concluded that,
“it is regrettable that the Lisbon Treaty does not state explicitly that the new European Council President may not simultaneously hold any other office”.
I have raised that matter repeatedly and I make no exception today. If the European Council President were to be double-hatted with the high representative or the President of the Commission, that would be a massive step. The noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, shakes her head and I hope that tonight she reaffirms the Government’s position that it will not be possible to do that. However, the Dutch Government do not hold to that agreement. They have told their Parliament that such a move is possible. The Paris correspondent of the Independent said in an article on 18 March:
“The obvious solution would be to appoint the same person as council President and EC President, with the High Representative as his or her sidekick and ‘foreign minister’. There is nothing in the EU treaties, as amended by the reform treaty, to prevent this from happening. You would then have a genuine ‘President for Europe’ with real scope and power. For this reason alone, it will not happen”.
He may or may not be right but there is already a blog on this very subject.
What will happen if, on a qualified majority vote, the European Council proposes that there should be such a merger? The British Government will oppose it and it will then go to the European Court of Justice. What will happen if that court says that the Dutch Government were right all along and the British Government were wrong? Tomorrow, I shall table a new clause to try to ensure that we have an appeal mechanism on the interpretation of the wording that, if necessary, goes right up to the Supreme Court. I have no reason to believe that the wording will be right but anyone—preferably the Government—can take it on because I, as a mere Cross-Bencher, cannot propose it. Such a mechanism is, after all, open to us in relation to all other legislation. If, during the passage of this legislation, we were assured that a merger of this kind could not happen but then it did happen, we could at least appeal to the Supreme Court. Politically, the Government’s position would be greatly strengthened by saying that up with this they could not put.
Because of the way in which the wording of the treaty has emerged, aspects of it have great dubiety. Let us take another example. It is said that the European Court of Justice cannot be involved in matters of common foreign and security policy. However, under the Lisbon treaty, for the first time the European Council is subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. In the CFSP parts of the treaty, the Council is not subject to the Court, yet we are told that in the European Council one of the roles of the new President—about which I have views but that does not matter; we have it here and now—will be ensuring the external representation of the Union on issues concerning the CFSP. Again, what happens if the European Court of Justice uses that role or that mention of the CFSP to come in on the whole role of the CFSP? People may say that that is far-fetched but we have seen it happen. The noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, has called it a creative Court. In the past, it has made some very strange judgments—I put it no higher than that—and I think that we need the safeguard of being able to appeal to our new Supreme Court on the interpretation of the treaty’s wording. That would have great value.
I want to be able to support a referendum on this treaty—I do not want to vote against it. Personally, I think that there should be a referendum, if for no other reason than that the then Prime Minister told the people of this country that there would be one. However, I am afraid that we could very well find the situation that was hinted at earlier—that is, in, say, 2010-11 there will be a rerun of the situation that we faced in 1974-75. People say that referendums have had no value but I believe that their value has been substantial. The 1975 referendum began to win back people’s confidence in our European membership. Furthermore, when the then Labour Party, regrettably, for a time committed itself to coming out of the EU without even a referendum, the fact that there had previously been a referendum was a substantial factor in getting the party to come round to being fully committed again to membership of the European Union—a fact that I greatly welcomed. Therefore, referendums have had substantial value.
The former Foreign Secretary, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, said something with which I strongly agreed. He warned about the danger of not ratifying the treaty. We may not like where we are. I do not like this treaty. There are many problems with it, although it is a great deal better than the constitutional treaty that came out of the Giscard d’Estaing convention, which was a perfect disgrace; in my view, it has been improved. Nevertheless, for us to reject it would have profound political implications in Europe. None of us should lightly cast this off.
I can see a situation where a new Government, were they to be elected in 2009 or 2010, might well, if they were a Conservative Government, have to come back to the people of this county and argue for a referendum that we should stay—having made some of these changes to strengthen the case, I hope, if they had not been made by the present Government. Therefore, in the next few months we have to address the important issue of improving the treaty and making it more acceptable to the people of this country.
My Lords, in my few remarks this evening I shall address three aspects of the Bill: first, whether we should ratify the treaty; secondly, how the decision on whether it should be ratified should be taken; and, finally, leading on slightly from the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Owen, some of the implications of Clause 6, the most interesting part of the Bill.
Today we have had many hours of interesting debate about the meaning and implications of the treaty. For weeks and months we have had interesting debates about the implications of different bits of the treaty, but we are moving to the point where those discussions come to an end. We have to decide whether we in this county actually ratify it. We cannot reverse engineer it; it is a package. We have to take it or reject it in its entirety.
In my view, the treaty contains good parts, bad bits and bits that I am not sure about. Some parts I think that I understand; others, I am not so sure. But it is no good me standing here like some doubting Thomas. Like everyone else, I have to take a view about the whole. On balance, I say, “Yes, we should ratify it”.
Against that background, and in the context of the world and the circumstances that we all find ourselves in, how as a nation should we take that decision? In particular, should there be a referendum? Looking at the strict constitutional position, I think that there is no stipulation that there should be a referendum. One problem with referenda in this country is that their use has been contaminated by the deliberate and cynical obfuscation of the first perpetrator, Harold Wilson, between high principle and low politics. Essentially, the referendum has become, at least on one level, a device used by besieged Governments to save their skins. It is always said that you will use a referendum on only the most important topics. From a Government’s point of view, the great—and cynical—advantage of that is that, if they happen to lose the referendum, they just go on as before, as if nothing had happened. That is not right.
There is an indissoluble link between the Government’s ability to implement their programme, their majority in the House of Commons and their continued existence. If it is decided that in certain ways our constitutional arrangements should be changed so that important constitutional and public policy matters are decided not by Parliament but by referendum, it follows as night follows day that the loss of a referendum on such topics should be treated as a vote of no confidence and a general election should ensue. Indeed, if we as Parliament do anything other than that, we are becoming a patsy of the Executive. That would be very wrong.
The problem now is that current politics seems to have been completely destabilised by the muddle bequeathed to us by Harold Wilson and the ensuing invocation of the mantra “referendum”. No one knows, as is clear from the debate today, quite where they stand. Contrary to the proposition at the time that the referendum would bring closure, it is becoming increasingly clear—I speak as an ex-MEP who has spoken at countless meetings about EU matters—that the effect of the referendum was to give those who disliked the result the view that, if only they could somehow get another referendum, with one leap they would be free. It would be just the same had the result of that referendum gone the other way. We cannot go on like this, somehow trying to deal with the question of EU membership by surrogate.
We have been in the European Union for a longer period than that between the death of Queen Anne and the battle of Culloden. While it is sometimes difficult, we have to work in the European Union from the inside. That is precisely what my noble friend Lady Thatcher did, when she was Prime Minister, at Fontainebleau. She got what we wanted.
We need clarity about the rules and principles. I do not disguise the fact that I am a long-standing believer in representative parliamentary democracy. If we are to have a referendum—I am not necessarily against that, although my instincts are to the contrary—let us enshrine the principles in statute, just as certain matters have been enshrined in Clause 6 of the Bill, so that everyone knows where we stand.
Given that there is no constitutional requirement for a referendum, should there be one? I am a Conservative, for which I make no apology, and I start from the Conservative proposition that, if there is to be a change from normal and established constitutional practice, the case must be made for change. In the present circumstances, I do not think that the case has been made.
It has been said frequently this evening that many people want a referendum, but it is equally true that a lot of people do not want a referendum. They think that we are here to decide what is, by any measure, a difficult issue. Perhaps I may quote from the report of the European Union Committee, which says at paragraph 2.6:
“The Lisbon Treaty itself is, however, a complex document, not easily accessible to the people whom it affects, and this is likely to be an obstacle to informed debate as to the merits of the Treaty”.
Many people think that this is a very important issue. It is a very difficult issue and they do not want to be treated as if it were “Celebrity Big Brother”. I believe that people in this country are entitled to expect that significant legislation will not be dealt with capriciously by our system and that it will be carried out in accordance with ordinary constitutional arrangements, unless and until procedures are changed. I do not support, and I do not believe that the British people support, a kind of Harold Wilsonian dodging and weaving to see a way through the muddle. It is also said that the Government pledged a referendum on a different treaty, albeit a somewhat similar one. This may come as no surprise to some noble Lords, but I do not consider myself to be bound in any way by a Labour Party manifesto pledge.
In conclusion, I find myself at variance with my party on this issue; I very much regret that, but I am afraid that it is so. However, as I intimated in my opening remarks, I think that in many ways the most interesting aspect of the debate in the other place and of the Bill concerns Clause 6, which introduces binding provisions in statute, constraining the way in which any future Government will deal with certain opt-outs and possible changes to the way in which the European Union works. That is a very important development.
I have some sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Owen, and believe that we might move from using a resolution of both Houses, which has the one, supreme advantage that the Parliament Act does not apply, to effecting those changes by Acts of Parliament. As no Parliament can bind its successor, I see no reason why one should not opt out of the Parliament Act in those circumstances. We all know that one of the great problems in this country about our membership of the European Union is that many of our citizens feel alienated from it and many of our national institutions, not least the national Parliament itself, feel that there is a division, wider than that between Dives and Lazarus, between them and the European Union institutions. If the kind of provisions contained in Clause 6 can be developed further, there is a real chance that we might be able to reduce that divide, lessen the alienation and bring them together.
Clearly, we cannot have a system where Parliament binds the Government to a voting mandate, but in certain circumstances we can have a relatively simple process that gives Parliament a quick and accessible lock over what the Government are doing in the Council of Ministers. I would like that aspect to be examined in a little more detail to see whether it has wider application. If we could do that, I believe that there is a real chance of increasing the acceptability of the way in which the European Union works in this country. The great magic of that would be that we could effect those changes without in any way affecting our relationship with the Union itself, so it could be carried out in a completely separate and solely domestic piece of legislation.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to participate in this important debate. I start from the basis that I am pro-Europe. I believe that the EU and our membership of it have been of considerable benefit and I am generally in favour of closer involvement. However, some questions arise that I think require explanation from the Government, at least as regards the Lisbon treaty. Our debate takes place against the background that all the major political parties promised a referendum. It is now claimed that the new Lisbon treaty is not a constitution and that the referendum promise related to a constitution that has been abandoned.
We are told that the treaty is fundamentally different and that therefore a referendum is not necessary. On the other hand, many voices have been raised, including some very expert voices, to the effect that the new treaty covers much the same ground as the constitution and that the substance is not much different, except perhaps the wording. Moreover, the Government claim that they have negotiated protocols and opt-outs, or opt-ins, representing a system of red lines that allow the UK to exempt itself from certain provisions. In this way, it is apparently believed that the treaty will become more acceptable to those who are sceptical. I would like to speak about those red lines.
The Charter of Fundamental Rights was proclaimed in 2000. It is given legal status in the Lisbon treaty and in content is almost the same as in the draft constitution. Trade unionists have always seen in the charter a declaration of the right to bargain collectively on behalf of members and to take industrial action, although the latter right is somewhat constrained by the requirement that such action be proportionate and undertaken only as a last resort. It appears that the UK and Poland, albeit on a different basis and in a different context, have negotiated not an opt-out, as some have suggested, but a protocol. The intention of the protocol was to maintain the primacy of domestic law in this sphere. However, according to the report of the House of Lords European Union Committee, the protocol is simply interpretive; in other words, the courts will ultimately decide.
In view of the greater powers allotted to the European Court of Justice in the treaty, the final decision may well lie with the ECJ despite the protocol, but this is by no means clear. Nevertheless, the question arises: why did the Government think it necessary and then declare it as one of the red lines specifically covering UK interests? This could have an unfortunate symbolic effect. Why are UK citizens to be denied rights that would otherwise be available under the charter?
The TUC raised this issue sharply in its evidence to the House of Lords European Union Committee. The TUC welcomed the charter, but was concerned that the existence of the protocol might hinder access to existing EU-based workers’ rights and that, in the future, it could restrict the ability of UK citizens to claim rights through the ECJ, thus eventually leading to a widening difference between the rights of EU and UK citizens. The TUC therefore raised sharply the issue of why the Government had thought it necessary or desirable to negotiate the protocol.
I hope that the Government’s argument is not, yet again, the need to preserve our wonderful flexible labour market, which tends to be flexible for employers rather than workers. Our economy relies, perhaps far too much, on financial services and we are already beginning to see rising unemployment in that area. Manufacturing jobs have been lost in the last decade. Rights for workers are necessary to achieve and maintain a stable workforce, no matter what the proponents of the free market may maintain. Why should a Labour Government seek to undermine such rights, or at least appear to be doing so?
Another negotiation undertaken by the UK Government resulted in the provision of an emergency brake for social security measures for migrant workers and their families. At the same time, there is provision in the treaty promoting the rights of the child. I wonder, therefore, how the emergency brake that the UK negotiated is likely to affect the children of migrant workers. What is the purpose of the brake? If migrant workers are here legitimately, why restrict their rights? What is the purpose of that?
It may well be that the red lines are not expected to have much of an impact but are there simply to deal with some of the questions raised by those who otherwise might oppose the treaty, but I doubt whether they will have that effect. Indeed, the more I study the material that has become available, the closer I come to the view that very considerable changes of a constitutional nature are intended in the Lisbon treaty. There will be a full-time President and a high representative on foreign affairs, with what appears to be much more co-ordination on foreign policy. A President and a Foreign Secretary? That sounds very much like a constitution.
The European Court of Justice is to have much greater power. It is to have massive jurisdiction over the European Parliament, the European Council, the Commission and the European Bank, as well as over member states, and it will be able to take them to task for improper acts or even failure to act in ways prescribed by the treaties. Penalties and fines can be levied to enforce its orders. These are constitutional issues. For the reference to the ECJ and its powers, I am indebted to my noble friend Lord Wedderburn and the pamphlet that he has written for the Institute of Employment Rights, of which I am a member; the pamphlet is to be published on Friday. I regret that he has been unable to attend the House today to put his views before your Lordships.
The treaty covers an enormous range of issues on which changes may be envisaged in the future, including energy, the environment, agriculture, fisheries, social affairs, migration, security, foreign affairs and criminal law. Then there is the procedure for the revision of the treaties—known as the passerelles, or bridges—enabling procedural requirements or adjustments to be made without formal treaty provision. Currently, such decisions require unanimity. Under the treaty, qualified majority voting will take its place, so the UK could lose its veto. Indeed, I think that there are at least 40 instances where QMV will replace unanimity.
The House of Lords European Union Committee itself envisages that substantial changes will be necessary in its own procedures should the Bill be passed. I therefore feel that claiming that this is a treaty without far-reaching constitutional changes will not be acceptable to many people. Indeed, despite my commitment to the European idea and a belief that closer involvement should be embarked on, I feel unhappy that the Government continue to claim, via this Bill, that a referendum is unnecessary.
My Lords, I am a firm believer in continued British membership of the EU. I want us to be on the inside at the informal top table of Europe. I suggest that that table should be an E8 rather than an unmanageable E27. We would be with France, Germany, Italy and Spain, to which I would add Portugal, Holland and Poland. That would give us a QMV weight of 56 per cent. However, we must recognise that in Britain, public support for, or even acceptance of, the EU is very fragile, and increasingly so. The point the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, made about the reassuring abandonment of the symbols of sovereignty will not fool the British people. In this, as in so many other matters, my party is now closer to what the British people feel than are the other two parties. That is why I believe that the Government, having been foolish enough to offer a referendum, would have been wise to agree to hold one, but probably with two questions so that there could have been a strong British vote for remaining inside the EU whatever the decision on the treaty. I am afraid that this is another example of the Prime Minister’s dithering leadership of our country. The Government are en prise and so there will be no referendum. I see little point in going on about it.
There is much that is good in the Lisbon treaty, but to me the most objectionable section of the treaty is Article 48 which encompasses the notorious passerelle, or self-regulating nature, of the treaty. Without that article, I would have backed the treaty. Sovereignty is the basis of a state, and sovereignty must be underwritten by the people for it to be a democratic state. My noble friend Lord Lawson referred to the American constitution. He used it as an example of the virtue of a constitution. I agree with him on that. It is a magnificent document that has lasted almost intact for 200 years. The 28 words of the 10th amendment to the American constitution, which forms part of the famous Bill of Rights that dates from 1791, puts so clearly and concisely the need to draw a line between a federation and its components that it is worth quoting in full:
“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people”.
What beautiful language. If only the drafters of the Lisbon treaty had had the literary and jurisprudence skills of James Madison. To change any part of the American constitution is no simple matter, which is why there have been so few changes. I think there is probably merit in the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Lawson for a simple limiting EU constitution that enshrines the concept of national sovereignty.
The way in which the Lisbon treaty was agreed, that hurried decision in Brussels on 23 June during the last days of Mr Blair's premiership, is suspect. What deal was done with Mrs Merkel? Was it return for Mr Blair’s plea for Germany to send troops to Afghanistan, troops who turned out to be largely non-combatant? If so, it was not a good deal for Britain.
To me, to abrogate from direct parliamentary control any further loss of sovereignty is simply unacceptable. The Government have of course offered in Clause 6(2) that Parliament has to approve any use of the passerelle. But it is only a simple vote, not a full piece of legislation, which is why I support the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Owen, of primary legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, referred to both Houses having a veto over any use of the passerelle. I doubt whether that is what the Prime Minister has in mind; he normally refers only to the House of Commons having a vote.
How real will that consultation be? We all know that the House of Lords has a crucial role in scrutinising on behalf of Parliament legislative proposals from the Commission. Indeed, the EU Select Committee and its sub-committees have a considerable reputation in Brussels for the quality of their scrutiny. But let us be frank, all of us who serve on those committees—until the end of the previous Session I was on the EU Select Committee, and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, on the committee’s most useful impact assessment—are aware that it can be a struggle against Whitehall to carry out that scrutiny properly.
I was particularly struck by the powerful speech of my noble friend Lady Hanham about EU border controls. I shall suggest to my colleagues on EU Sub-Committee F that we study it carefully. I hope that the Leader of the House will deal with some of the points that my noble friend raised.
Whitehall likes to manage its affairs in Brussels on its own. It does not welcome parliamentary interference. That is demonstrated time and again by delays in producing Explanatory Memoranda, the non-availability of Ministers to appear in front of the committees and often, especially with the Home Office, long delays—and I mean months rather than weeks—in replying to letters. The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, wrote to the Home Secretary herself on 17 January complaining about the delay in responses to Select Committee inquiries and in answering parliamentary Written Questions and responding to letters. We have not yet had a reply to that letter.
What is decided in Brussels is a product of horse-trading. It always has been and always will be. Deals are made, with the Foreign Office acting as broker. The Foreign Office will always try to get the best overall deal for Britain, but the problem is that the negotiations are often like a game of poker and the Foreign Office, although quite a good poker player, is always playing with other peoples' chips.
We know, too, that when it suits the Government, there can be scrutiny override. Overrides are the product of collusion between arrogant civil servants and weak Ministers. Each is a replay of “Yes Minister”. In the most recent 12 months for which figures are available, up to June 2007, there have been 31 scrutiny overrides. That is a greater number than the 27 amendments that there have been to the United States Constitution since it was signed in 1789.
If all that is required for the use of the passerelle is a vote in both Houses, I foresee that, over a period, that will be less and less satisfactory. It will start fine, with nothing controversial. Then will come along something that really matters and the notice will be minimal. Quite apart from the whipping, which we expect, we will be told that for raisons d’état it is crucial that Parliament does not hold up the process of ratification.
The main basis for my fears is the way in which this new Labour Government—this is my biggest single criticism of them since they have been in power—have treated the House of Commons in the legislative process. I refer, of course, to the abominable constitutional aberration of having a timetable, a guillotine, on every Bill. That cuts short inconvenient scrutiny of legislation. Fortunately, for the present, the House of Lords is there as a back-up for proper scrutiny. That treatment of Parliament, and the meek compliance of the House of Commons, is one of the reasons for the growing mistrust of politicians. I hope only that we shall never decline to the level in France, where all too often the mob, rather than their Parliament, is seen as the defender of the people.
I am neither a Eurosceptic nor a Euro-enthusiast. I am a Euro-challenger, because I do not believe that we should lightly put the habits—good or bad—of our people in the hands of the Eurocrats. Brussels must be closely monitored, and the House of Lords is the best, and, at present, the only body capable of doing it.
My Lords, I hesitate to contribute to this debate, given the long experience, expertise and record of campaigning on the EU that marks out participants today.
For me, the EU has been part of the landscape just about all my life. For my mother, who had been endlessly evacuated from London during the war with the primary school children she sought to teach, the Common Market meant a reduction in the knee-jerk nationalism that she felt had contributed to what her father suffered in the First World War and what she, her family and friends suffered in the Second World War. She saw it as a remarkable, positive development. We must always remember the bigger picture, as my noble friend Lady Williams, the noble Lords, Lord Jay and Lord Tugendhat, and others have so strongly reminded us. President Sarkozy was surely right when he described the EU as,
“an unprecedented adventure in the history of mankind”.
There seems to be greater acceptance of the EU among the younger generation. My own children, who are used to travelling to the Continent and who are, most importantly, avid supporters of Arsenal, do not see national boundaries quite as the older generation did. One of my sons, watching England versus France last week, supported France because there were more Arsenal players on the French side than on the English. He would have switched sides had Fabio Capello put on Arsenal’s Theo Walcott. Things are much more fluid than they used to be.
My noble friend Lord McNally said in his passionate speech that we need to appeal to the younger generation. My noble friend Lady Williams put it beautifully, contrasting the two methods of attempting to spread democracy: to eastern European countries via the EU or to Iraq via invasion. Kids, many of whom are opposed to the Iraq war, will understand that. Younger people are often the ones who sense that globalisation means that we have to be part of a larger whole and that we are not an imperial power. Indeed, they cannot even remember those all-pink maps. We must be part of that larger whole if we are to tackle major problems such as climate change. A recent Guardian poll made this clear when it showed that 76 per cent of 18 to 24 year-olds think the EU is good for Britain, against only 50 per cent of pensioners. Those of us who are pro-EU should take heart from that.
One area that concerns the younger generation is worldwide poverty, on which I shall focus. The EU has already been a force for good, and with better streamlining it can be even more effective in the future. The EU used to look particularly to its near neighbours and its foreign policy objectives when delivering aid. That was unsurprising in a Cold War era when stability and prosperity on its borders were of key importance. That contributed, as we have heard, to the collapse of the Soviet Union and to the expansion of the EU, so it is not insignificant. The noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, in particular can be credited with doing much to make EU aid more poverty-focused—something that is increasingly important in our globalising age generally. We cannot say that poor impoverished states such as Somalia or Afghanistan do not in the end affect us, even if we are looking only at self-interest. The Lisbon treaty takes this forward. It states:
“Union development cooperation policy shall have as its primary objective the reduction and, in the long term, the eradication of poverty. The Union shall take account of the objectives of development cooperation in the policies that it implements which are likely to affect developing countries”.
For the first time, the EU takes the relief of poverty as its aim in giving aid, rather than seeing it as tangled with its foreign policy objectives. It also recognises that as the world’s largest trading bloc—it is surely through trade that the poorest countries will come out of poverty—other measures that it takes are also crucial.
In the 1960s, the development of Asia was despaired of. It would never develop, not least because it had the wrong religions. It did not have Calvinism, it seemed. How wrong we were. Africa often causes despair, yet we see hopeful signs of development. The EU has a major part to play, just as it must in assisting the peaceful development of areas such as the Middle East. Having a world-wide poverty focus and ensuring that we assist fragile states wherever they are is important for stability everywhere.
Collectively, Europe is the world’s largest aid donor. Members of the European Union together provided more than half of total global development assistance. One quarter of the UK’s aid is channelled through the EU. Some say that we should offer aid only bilaterally, but then we lose our influence over the biggest aid giver, we no longer encourage other countries to come up to our levels and we risk duplicating effort. The need to streamline aid giving is urgent. Forty years ago, most poor nations had an average of about one dozen donors. Now it is three times that number and the poorest countries may receive about two donor missions every day, for which they must prepare and must meet different targets. No wonder they spend so much time simply on that. It makes sense therefore to have fewer, not more, donors, and improvements in the way that the EU gives aid are very encouraging. The Lisbon treaty's statement on the EU’s new poverty focus is a further move in the right direction.
The EU's strength in human rights, democracy and freedom, which we have heard about, is also critical for developing countries. We certainly heard about that in relation to eastern Europe. I would also add that equality for women is fundamental, especially in northern European countries, from which we draw strength in the United Kingdom, but it is also of vital importance for developing countries. HIV/AIDS will never be adequately combated without addressing gender inequality.
When I first came to your Lordships’ House we were voting on Section 28. As we went down in flames on those first votes, my late lamented friend, Lord Russell, said to me, “Time is on your side”. How right he was on that. My sense is that time is on our side in debates over the EU. To think of the nation state as the natural base for global action seems simply out of date. To those who are younger than me, as they surf the world on the internet, that must seem even more so. The fact that we now have 27 nations linked together does not seem for me so startling. As so many other noble Lords have said, if the rules need to be updated so that those 27 can work more effectively together, what is so frightening about that?
My Lords, some of my remarks will have echoes of contributions made earlier by, among others, my noble friends Lord Howell, Lord Forsyth and Lord Blackwell, but I shall try to get there by a slightly different route. Recently, a booklet entitled, The Work of the House of Lords, helpfully was circulated to noble Lords by the noble Baroness the Lord President. It includes an important chapter, entitled, “Holding government to account”, which forms a vital part of our unwritten constitution and, I believe, is a timely reminder to us all.
The simple fact is—it has been said repeatedly today—that at the last election all three parties clearly stated that they would hold a referendum on the EU constitution. There is no credible argument for saying that the treaty of Lisbon is somehow not the constitution. That myth has been exploded by, among others, Open Europe. It is an independent organisation, which has done a great service by printing side by side the treaty and the constitution. With one or two minor exceptions they are the same.
The author of the constitution, Giscard d’Estaing, has already been extensively quoted in this debate. I thought that I had unearthed a new quote, but, unfortunately, my noble friend Lord Ferrers shot my fox. But it is a good one and so I shall repeat it. He said:
“Public opinion will be led to adopt, without knowing it, the proposals that we do not dare to present to them directly”.
He went on to say:
“All the earlier proposals will be in the new text, but will be hidden and disguised in some way”.
Those words could easily have been lifted straight from the pages of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, and it is worth reminding ourselves that George Orwell was the pen name of Eric Arthur Blair. Perhaps that should have set some alarm bells ringing.
I should like also to quote the Minister for business and enterprise, the noble Lord, Lord Jones of Birmingham, who said:
“This is a con to call this a treaty—it’s not. It is exactly the same—it’s a Constitution”.
I am sorry that the noble Lord is not in his place because I was hoping to ask him whether he stands by his words, and if so, whether he will vote for a referendum if and when the opportunity arises.
The Government say that they have secured their red lines, but sadly I believe that that is delusional. We all know that sooner or later the pressure will become intolerable and they will be inexorably eroded and eventually revoked. In this regard I pray in aid the forfeit of our rebate last year in return for, as far as I can see, precisely nothing. The result of that, as disclosed by the Government in footnotes to recent Budget documents, is that the net cost of EU membership, which was £3.3 billion in 2006-07, will rise to £4.1 billion in 2008 and £6.1 billion in 2010. In other words, it will practically double over three years.
I am afraid that it gets worse. In Article 3.4 of the treaty the following words are to be found:
“The Union shall establish an economic and monetary union whose currency is the euro”.
Perhaps this is an early example of the ratchet or passerelle because these words were not in the original proposed constitution. Those 14 words are, I believe, of crucial importance. If this treaty is passed unamended, we the British public will yet again be denied a referendum as and when the euro is foisted upon us because we will be told that it was all agreed in this treaty. A number of noble Lords have already referred to the ratchet provision in the treaty which guarantees that power will be steadily transferred to Brussels, and it is worth remembering that ratchets have no reverse gear.
I am very sorry to say that our politicians are not held in high esteem at the present time. Part of the reason for that is that there is a perceived lack of trust. If ever your Lordships’ House had an important job to do, it is during the passage of this Bill. The future of your Lordships’ House is uncertain as we await a further White Paper later this year, but if anything this should increase our resolve to hold the Government to account and give the people of our country the referendum they were promised in the manifesto and by the last Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair.
The Eurocrats should have nothing to fear because they have powerful advocates. I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, who certainly had the wind in his sails and was very persuasive. They have powerful advocates in Parliament and elsewhere, and I believe that the British people would be interested to hear those arguments as they seek to reach a decision. The restoration of political integrity is a prize we should strive for. I should have thought all sides of the argument would agree with that.
My Lords, we have in this House an extraordinary array of expertise on this matter, including most of those who were involved on our behalf in the principal negotiations in Europe over the past 30 years, in my own case the Fontainebleau agreement correcting the British budgetary contribution and the Single European Act, which was intended to put an end to all the barriers to free trade in goods and services across Europe by 1992.
There are two main issues before the House—of substance and of procedure. We can all recall the many occasions on which your Lordships have been most solemnly advised that it is not for us unelected representatives to challenge the sanctity of manifesto commitments; instead we must bow down before them. What a delicious irony, therefore, it is that there now rests with this House the only remaining chance of insisting that the Government and other parties should honour their manifesto commitments. Whatever we may think about the substance of this treaty and whether or not it is in this country’s interests for it to be adopted, the indisputable fact is that a referendum was promised on this matter and no amount of special pleading will suffice to prove that it was not.
The House of Commons Select Committee has pronounced that this document is “substantially equivalent” to the European constitution. The same has been said by every other European Government. It has been left only to ours to pretend that it is not. Every Member of the House, wherever they sit and however they propose to vote on this constitutional treaty, knows perfectly well why the manifesto commitment is being ignored and a referendum denied. It is because the Government believe they would lose it. This is not a course of action likely to enhance their reputation or prospects of electoral success. How do we explain this volte-face? We can only do so by concluding, in the words of Bertolt Brecht, that the people have lost the confidence of the Government.
This is not a situation of the noble Baroness’s making and we all have some sympathy with her, but could she reassure us that if the Government were to suffer a rush of blood to the head and propose that we should join the euro, the manifesto commitment would not be set aside in that regard as well, thereby helping us to understand what is the difference in quality between these two manifesto commitments?
As to the substance of the Bill, does this represent a further stage in European integration? Self-evidently it does and we should not pretend otherwise. There will in future be a President of the European Council serving for two and a half years. It will be interesting to see how national Governments co-exist with such a figure. The conflation of the High Commissioner for Foreign and Security Policy and the External Relations Commissioner in a post which is supposed to be that of European Foreign Minister—the title having been changed, according to Chancellor Merkel, purely in order to appease the British—represents a potentially dangerous elimination of the distinction between community competence and intergovernmental co-operation. The new External Action Service clearly is intended to be a more than embryonic European Foreign Service.
Other Members of the House have pointed out the extensions of competence in other areas, in particular in justice and home affairs, with potentially unpredictable consequences. Meanwhile, President Sarkozy was successful in insisting on the removal from the treaty of the commitment to “undistorted competition”.
The most fragile of all the arguments advanced in favour of the Bill is that the document represents the end of European institutional reform. The Government cannot possibly believe this. Every previous institutional treaty has been followed by a renewed attempt to take the integrationist vision to the next stage, and this one will be no exception.
Of course important points have been won by our negotiators and they should be congratulated on that. I am not a root and branch opponent of the treaty, but let me try to explain why an ungrateful nation is not more appreciative of those efforts. There are many aspects of the EU today which must cause the most reasonable of people a great deal of concern. The reaction of the Commission to an audit report setting out the vast scale of corruption in Community finances was to fire the auditor, an action for which the director of any publicly listed company here might expect to go to gaol. We are now in the 15th successive year in which the auditors have declined to sign off the accounts.
In this country, public resistance to further integration and to more government from Brussels is not foolish or misguided. These sentiments are shared by a large proportion of the business community and the financial services industry. The reason for this is not far to seek. For 47 years after the entry into force of the treaty of Rome, and 22 years after the signature of the Single European Act, it is hard to find a single British business leader who believes that there is anything approaching a level playing field for British business in Europe.
Instead of further market-opening measures, we have had a truly spectacular market-closing measure, in the form of the takeover directive, denounced by the Competition Commissioner as intended to entrench the power of national Governments to prevent takeovers when it suits them to do so. While it is common practice for French, German and Spanish utilities to acquire utility companies here, no one can seriously imagine that British companies would be permitted to do the same in France, Spain or Germany. The French Government recently declared nearly all their industries strategic, including the leading manufacturer of chocolates and fizzy drinks. The Greek, Portuguese and until recently the Italian Governments have continued to bail out their airlines annually, regardless of the prohibitions on state aid under the treaty of Rome.
In the financial services sector, efforts have been made to erode the competitive advantages of the City of London through regulation from Brussels. The reason given by the Bank of England for its failure to take action to assist Northern Rock was the fear that this might run counter to EU competition rules. Does anyone believe that the French would have failed to act to save one of their financial institutions on those grounds? In fact, a €15 billion bail-out of Credit Lyonnais was engineered without any protest from the Commission at all.
I conclude with a very practical suggestion, which I hope will be taken seriously by this Government and by any future Government. When the suggestion is made, as it most certainly will be, that the Union needs another round of institutional reform and further amendments to its constitution, we, the British, should make it clear that we will not be prepared to sign any new treaty until the existing treaties, including the treaty of Rome and the Single European Act, have actually been implemented and a genuine common market has been established, which manifestly it has not been yet. What position could be more communautaire than that? If we had the resolution to stick to it, we could hardly fail to exert more effective pressure on the Commission and other member states to actually carry out the treaty obligations that they have long since assumed but, in many cases, have continued to be remarkably successful in ignoring. If successful in that endeavour, we might then be successful in changing the attitude of the British people as well, which no amount of institutional tinkering will do.
My Lords, this debate, while it is an essential parliamentary process of ratification, is nevertheless a demonstration of the ambivalence at best and outright hostility at worst that some still feel towards the European Union, of which I remind your Lordships we are part, in which we play our part in the decision making and of which, as with our partners, our democratically elected Governments have thought fit to take us into membership and to maintain that membership. Those Governments also played a part in the evolution of the original EEC into the Union of today, the most recent chapter of which is the treaty of Lisbon. So let no one say that this has all happened without our knowledge or because of the unelected Commission. Too often—and the debate about the Lisbon treaty in the press clearly demonstrates this—the relationship between the UK and the EU is expressed as one in which the two are competing or opposed to each other rather than complementary. We are a world away, however much we applauded last week, from the obvious pride in France and the European Union demonstrated last week by the President of France in his address to both Houses.
I find myself very much in agreement with the opening remarks of my noble friend Lord Tugendhat. I am sorry if it sounds churlish towards the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, given her introduction of the Bill, but the Government’s role in all this has hardly been a striking example of dynamic leadership or commitment. Was it not the then Foreign Secretary who commented that the abandoned constitutional treaty was not a constitution for a European state and that it was a tidying-up exercise and who, ignoring the important changes that it contained, said that the name was of no significance and that even golf clubs have constitutions?
The then Prime Minister Mr Blair bowed to pressure and conceded a referendum—perhaps the time when all our problems began. France followed suit and, as they say, the rest is history. The Government then hailed what became the Lisbon treaty as a replacement for the doomed constitution but quite different, with all the constitution elements having been dropped. However, before the capitulation over the referendum, they maintained, correctly in my view, that the original treaty had not been a real constitution.
The Government now tell us how superior the Lisbon treaty is with all our opt-outs, opt-ins, emergency brakes and protocols. People ask, “Why did we agree the first treaty if there was so much wrong with it that we had to negotiate a new one?”. Of course the public are confused and feel that the Government are trying to pull the wool over their eyes. They cannot be sure whether the treaty is good or bad. The Opposition say that it is different and the Government say that it is only good because we have managed to achieve opt-outs, protocols and brakes, which will enable us to be a bit player in some of the most important areas. By and large, the press perpetuates the myths and largely goes unanswered. If the people who negotiate this on our behalf cannot be more enthusiastic, how do we expect the public so to be?
There is nothing to be gained from comparing the treaty of Lisbon with the abandoned constitutional treaty. What matters is how the Lisbon treaty changes the position of the United Kingdom compared with the position under the existing treaties. I submit to your Lordships that the European Union Committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, whose excellent report we have before us tonight, was correct in adopting its approach to prepare an impact assessment. It is worth noting that, had the original treaty been proceeded with, it would have been much clearer, replacing as it would have done all the existing text.
Of course, provisions in Lisbon were proposed in the constitutional treaty, but to pretend that it is totally different is just to add to the confusion. Lisbon is an amending treaty and has to be read as such. Actual amendments are clear, but some that appear new often repeat important elements of replaced, as opposed to amended, articles.
The treaty contains important changes that I welcome, such as the end of the rotating presidency, to be replaced not with a president of Europe or a head of state, as per the Daily Telegraph, and not with a mere Eurocrat, but with someone elected by the elected heads of government. Is anyone really against steps to try to ensure a more effective CFSP? Is anyone against a reduction in the number of Commissioners? Indeed, some people are against more majority voting but, before we cite the number of instances to which that will apply, perhaps we should note the words of the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, and his breakdown of the changes that are actually involved. Do we need unanimity to approve the appointment of a member state’s nominee to the Committee of the Regions? Anyway, are we always going to find ourselves in the minority? Perhaps we should note the matters of importance where unanimity has been retained in foreign policy and defence. Are we not in favour of the involvement of national parliaments?
There are considerable changes in the areas of freedom, security and justice. The law and institutions EU sub-committee, of which I am a member, looked at that under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Mance. In many instances, the new treaty is more specific and open to less doubt than the provisions of the existing one. I draw your Lordships’ attention to paragraph 6.140 of the Select Committee report, which says:
“The power under the current Article … to adopt measures of judicial cooperation in civil matters is … potentially broad, since the list of areas of potential action … is non-exclusive”.
The new article,
“contains a more extensive list of … of potential action. However, these in practice are areas in which cooperation has already been undertaken under the current Article, and the list given is exhaustive”.
Similar statements are made on page 141 about judicial co-operation in criminal matters, but I will not delay your Lordships by reading that now. Notwithstanding all that, myths are already growing about the threat to common law and about foreign police stamping over England’s green and pleasant land.
We also looked at the Charter of Fundamental Rights together with the protocol. Contrary to some statements, the protocol will have the force of law if the treaty comes into force. The recommendation makes it clear, however, that the protocol will make little or no difference. Before those who are totally opposed to it cheer, I should point out that the charter draws on the European Convention on Human Rights and other instruments by which the United Kingdom is already bound.
I must confess not to understand the hostility towards the European Court of Justice, as if it were a law maker rather than an adjudicator. We have to recognise that independent courts sometimes give rise to decisions uncomfortable to Governments. I should have thought that Governments of all persuasions in this country would have learnt that from their encounters with our own domestic courts.
I did not believe that the constitutional treaty amounted to a constitution despite its name, and I have always been against a referendum, even before Mr Blair’s surrender. I regret that this puts me at odds with my noble friends on the Front Bench and others on the Back Benches, but I cannot change my view just because of a manifesto commitment to which I did not agree and to which I personally did not sign up. I have to ask what the alternative is to ratification. Is it to remain with the existing treaties, or do we believe that they should be renegotiated? That indeed would be a recipe for years of dissent, which would make the years of the convention and the years of reflection seem like a brief interlude.
As for the issue of passerelles, the noble Lord, Lord Owen, makes a persuasive case for primary legislation. In my view, however, the provisions of the treaty and the provisions of the Bill combine to provide significant safeguards, not least because they will require the agreement of both Houses of Parliament—and this House, appointed for life, is a rather greater safeguard than a House predominantly elected from lists drawn up by the parties that some would prefer to see us replaced by. Do we really want proposals for primary legislation that will lead us into long debates and discussions about the merits or otherwise of the European Union and our membership? I personally believe that not to be good for the United Kingdom or for the European Union.
Of course the treaty of Lisbon is a compromise, but it is not the end of constitutional and parliamentary life as we know it. We should bear in mind the fact that our partners are also proud nations, some of which have regained freedom in relatively recent times. To suggest that Lisbon threatens their national sovereignty is to suggest that they have colluded and in some way been careless with that recently regained freedom. We have our opt-outs, our opt-ins, our protocols, our emergency brakes. Let us accept with good grace that these are compromises by our partners as much as by ourselves and, of course after proper scrutiny, let us get on and ratify and pass this treaty.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bowness. We have the privilege of serving together on European Union Sub-Committee E of this House. We take rather different views on this treaty, and it is ironic that he should have been selected to speak just before me. Nevertheless it is one of the many pleasant paradoxes of this place that not only do we remain on the most cordial terms, but he also kindly drew my attention a few days ago to the fact that this Second Reading debate was scheduled for today. I do not know whether my colleagues will share that gratitude.
In their respective manifestos at the last general election, all three major parties committed themselves to a referendum on the constitution. I campaigned on this at the last election for my putative successor and for others in other constituencies. I had also given this commitment on a referendum to many of my constituents, both orally and in correspondence, leading up to the 2005 general election. I could reiterate at length quotations from the German Chancellor, the Spanish Prime Minister, the Irish Taoiseach and many others. Mr Valery Giscard d’Estaing has been quoted often this afternoon and evening. The author of the European constitution stated that,
“the text is, in fact, a re-run of a great part of the substance of the Constitutional Treaty”.
Michael Connarty MP, the Labour chairman of the Commons European Scrutiny Committee, has noted that,
“every provision of the Constitutional Treaty, apart from the flags, mottos and anthems, is to be found in the Referendum Treaty. We think they are fundamentally the same, and the Government have not produced a table to contradict our position”.
I acknowledge that, for every individual Member of this place and the other place, the comparison between the constitution and this treaty is a matter of personal judgment. It is my judgment on this treaty that we should have a referendum. Furthermore, the public believe that they are entitled to a referendum on the treaty. Great cynicism of politicians and the political process is fuelled by politicians failing to live up to the commitments that they make to the people.
It is a sad fact that individuals are pigeon-holed as anti- or pro-European Union. I support a referendum, but I also support our membership of the European Union. It should be a partnership of independent nation states which work together for the common good. I welcomed enlargement of the Union. The enlarged Union has worked perfectly well without this treaty. It is obvious that an organisation such as the EU is bound to evolve, but I maintain that Europe is seeking to evolve too fast and too far away from the democratic control of national parliaments. This frustrates and alienates the public. Europe should concentrate on doing less and trying to do that much better. During the past 15 years, we have had a series of treaties—Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice—in which more and more powers have been ceded to the European Union by the nation states. The European Union appears disdainful of the public and public opinion. Whenever the public are consulted and endeavour to put the brakes on further integration—for example, the French and Dutch in their referendums on the constitution—the reaction of the EU elite is to make a few changes and then have a rerun of the same thing, but this time without consulting the public. This disdain for the public is, in the long run, deeply damaging to Europe. The European Union should endeavour to involve the public far more accountably and democratically in its affairs. The public’s distrust of the European Union sows the seeds of major problems in the future.
It would be open and honest for the European Union and the nation states to agree and commit to its ultimate constitutional destination. Is it to be a federal, integrated Union, or is it to be a more loose association of nation states?
As to the treaty, I have concerns about the effect of the collapse of the pillars, about wider powers for the European Court of Justice, about the effectiveness of the opt-outs and particularly the self-amending provisions—the passerelle provisions. I was pleased to note that, when the Conservative amendments on these provisions were debated in the other place on 4 March, my party supported them. Parliament must retain the crucial role in these matters.
There will be time to debate the treaty in detail later. However, the fact that the European Union will have its own separate legal personality will have far-reaching and controversial effects.
This will not be the last EU treaty; as always, there will be more, each claiming that greater power should be ceded to the centralised institutions of the EU. In the mean time, I acknowledge that our future lies in Europe, but let us play fair with the people of Britain and the people of Europe. Let us together discuss and agree the ultimate constitutional settlement that is to be achieved.
My Lords, I congratulate the European Union Committee and my noble friend the chairman on a wonderful report. It is a great encyclopaedia of the facts of the treaty of Lisbon on which I hope we shall all draw over the next few weeks. I also congratulate the Constitution Committee and its chairman on its report. I noted its conclusion that the reform treaty is hardly a threat to our democracy.
This has been a most impressive debate with notable speeches, especially from pro-European Conservatives, who made very good speeches indeed. I congratulate noble Lords on their contributions. Listening to those who oppose the reform treaty it is clear that apart from the question of a referendum, to which I shall return later, their main sticking-point is sovereignty. They argue that the treaty involves an unacceptable loss of sovereignty. I am writing a book on the Attlee Administration and over the weekend I studied the British Labour Cabinet’s reaction in 1950 to the Schuman plan—the scheme to pool the coal and steel resources of France and Germany. Other European countries were able to join, including the United Kingdom, if they wished. The scheme was to be organised under a common authority. It was the brainchild of Jean Monnet, who has played a walk-on part in this debate, although he might be surprised to find that he was doing so. Noble Lords will remember Herbert Morrison’s off-the-cuff response, “The Durham miners won’t wear it”. But the Cabinet papers show that the main reason the then British Labour Cabinet was not prepared to participate even in the negotiations over the European Coal and Steel Community was that the plan involved what it saw as a loss of sovereignty, which it thought could lead to a federal state. We have heard it all before. The Cabinet turned it down flat and from that moment we lost the leadership of Europe, which was ours for the asking. As we now see, the Cabinet’s fears were grossly exaggerated. The so-called high authority in the end turned out to be mainly advisory. The effective power rested with the member states. As to the idea of a federal state, 60 years later the European Union, with the bureaucracy of a medium-sized British ministry and a budget of under 1 per cent of the European GNP, has hardly the structure of a federal state.
As the Lisbon treaty underlines, the power in the EU is derived from its members, who can leave the Union if they wish. Competences are governed by the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. Provision is also made for competences to be transferred back to the member states. Indeed, the really significant changes in the treaty involve strengthening not the centre and not the Commission but the Council of Ministers, which remains, as it always has been, the powerhouse of the European Union. The same is true of the main changes. Who will the European Council President be appointed by? The Heads of Government. To whom will he or she be accountable? The European Council. The high representative of the common, foreign and security policy and the External Relations Commissioner will be combined into one post which will be chosen by, and accountable to, the Council of Ministers. The greater role of national parliaments—the yellow and orange card procedure—is not only good for accountability, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, pointed out, but will strengthen the role of the member states in the running of the EU. But of course opponents of the treaty point to the extension of qualified majority voting and claim that, because it is going to be extended in a number of instances, it will lead to a major erosion of national sovereignty. That can be their only argument.
Of course, let us not exaggerate. My noble friend Lord Kinnock made an analysis of the instances of the extension of qualified majority voting: the 16 changes that do not apply to the UK or do only if we agree; the 14 that are purely procedural and the 20 that are in areas that are important, but they are important for us, and that is why we would like to extend qualified majority voting to aid to disaster areas, the strengthening of research and innovation, the protection of intellectual property rights and above all energy policy. All those are in the UK interest, and we retain the veto on vital nation state issues such as tax, social security, foreign policy and defence policy. For most other issues, QMV is almost always in the UK interest, because it enables us—we never hear this point put by the opponents of the treaty—to get other countries to do things that we want them to do. In other words, by pooling our sovereignty we acquire additional power; what I think my noble friend called “super sovereignty”.
If Members opposite doubt that, I invite them to consider the situation if the CAP was not subject to QMV. Without QMV, do they really believe that there would ever be any CAP reform? There has been some, and there will be more in the future. The noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, one of the architects of the single market, to whom we have paid tribute today, introduced QMV on an unprecedented scale, and she well understood the point. I quote from her memoirs:
“British businesses would be among those most likely to benefit from an opening-up of other countries’ markets. For example, we were more or less effectively excluded from the important German insurance and financial services markets. The price which we would have to pay to achieve a Single Market with all its economic benefits, though, was more majority voting in the Community”.
She understood the point; I beg Members opposite to understand the point as well. The United Kingdom benefits from QMV, and we should never forget that.
Under QMV, the UK has proved extremely good at assembling majorities, and the enlargement has provided us with a larger pool of potential allies. Again, we should not forget that. The reforms of the QMV voting system are helpful to the UK, because under the treaty of Nice, which noble Lords clearly want to go back to, the biggest members, including the UK, did not receive their fair share of voting power. The double majority system ensures that measures can only be passed with 55 per cent of membership and 65 per cent of the population. We benefit from an increase in voting power, as my noble friend said, from 8.4 per cent to 12.2 per cent, which means that our share of the blocking minority goes up from 32 per cent to 35 per cent. Again, it is helpful to us.
Finally, there is the referendum. I am on the record in this House as saying that because, unlike with the Single European Act or the Maastricht treaty, there was no major shift in powers between the nation states and the EU, it was not necessary to hold a referendum on the constitutional treaty. If a referendum was not necessary for a constitutional treaty, as it was then, it certainly is not necessary for the Lisbon reform treaty. Of course, in content there are similarities between the two treaties, but the Dutch Council of State, which incidentally is one of the few bodies that has made a study of the two treaties from this point of view, said that,
“the proposed Reform Treaty is substantially different from the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe”.
It said that because the structure and conception of the Bill is different. The Brussels European Council of 21 and 22 June stated that:
“The constitutional concept, which consisted in repealing all existing treaties and replacing them by a single text … is abandoned”.
Instead, the treaty of Lisbon amends the EU treaties.
In one sense, symbols may be thought to be trivial and they have been swept aside by those who are against them as being trivial. In the end, symbols are not trivial, because they lead towards a federal state. Above all, the reform treaty does not set up signposts for a gradual expansion towards a federal state. The Brussels Council stated that the amending treaty,
“provides the Union with a stable and lasting institutional framework. We expect no change in the foreseeable future”.
That has never been said before by a European Council.
Now we should move on from institutional change and turn to the future agenda, about which there is a consensus in this House. We should do that by supporting the ratification of the reform treaty. I look forward to debating and voting for it during the next few weeks.
My Lords, if the noble Lord has sat down, it is my turn. There are those who are against the treaty and who want a referendum because they think that they can win. There are a few who want a referendum because they are pro the treaty and think that they can win. One side is for the treaty and one side is against the treaty. The only thing they have in common is that they rarely listen to each other’s arguments. Today may have been an exception to that rule. Then there are those who are pro the treaty, but clearly do not want a referendum, as they think they are going to lose. They do not seem to have the confidence in their own arguments; nor do the Government. Gordon Brown did not even want to be seen with his fellow premiers signing the agreement at Lisbon.
Some noble Lords are against referendums in principle. I respect that stance, but the problem with their argument is that the Labour Party in its 2005 manifesto promised a referendum on the treaty—so did the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, said, it was an “embarrassing” commitment by her party. I believe that it is really important that political parties keep to their manifesto commitments. We, as a revising Chamber, should ensure that Governments do so.
I believe that the vast majority of people in this country are pro-European in principle. They want to stay in the EU, but are concerned by what they see as the surreptitious transfer of powers to Europe. It not that people are necessarily against the transfers, but they do not understand the details. This Government have not been open and honest about the process and have muddled the issues. In many ways, that is the Government’s own fault. Most people do not want a European superstate or a European constitution. That does not make them anti-European. The Conservative Party has always been pro-Europe. We still are. In my time in this House the only party that has been in favour of withdrawal from the EU is the Labour Party. I wonder how many noble Lords opposite, here today, were Members of another place when that was their party’s policy. They seem to be rather quiet on looking back at their history.
One must feel really sorry for the Liberal Democrats. They are impaled on a policy that makes no sense. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, in an uncharacteristic and intemperate speech, prayed in aid the Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. If the late noble Lord had listened to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, he might even have immediately rejoined the Labour Party.
The question that we have to answer is whether this Bill brings into force a treaty that is the same or largely similar to that proposed in the EU constitution. The answer seems to be yes. Key European leaders think so; the Irish Government think so; and the all-party House of Commons Select Committee thought so.
The Government claim that there are new red lines, special protocols and opt-outs. They may be welcome but it is clear that they are not new; they are the same red lines as before. This House will have to come to a view when we debate those issues. However, unlike another place, we will be able to come to a view after a full debate, without a guillotine. The Government promised line-by-line scrutiny of the treaty in another place but it never happened. Large areas of the treaty relating to transport, defence, social issues and border controls were ignored. They were never debated. I shall not go into all the issues now—they are for a later stage—but I believe that one policy area is crucial if the EU is to thrive.
In the countries that have recently joined—many free from the shackles of the iron curtain—we have seen the importance of democratic government, and the Government must prove that this treaty promotes national democratic government.
It is claimed that the treaty taken as a whole does not amount to a significant transfer of power to EU institutions. I think that we will have to examine what “significant” really means.
We can improve the Bill by accepting the recommendations of the House of Lords Constitution Committee: first, to amend the Bill to ensure that Parliament is given sufficient time to scrutinise the proposal in respect of passerelles; and, secondly, to amend the Bill to require the Government to obtain approval from both Houses of Parliament before using opt-ins or opt-outs in any policy area. We will be able to debate what benefits the Lisbon treaty brings to this country. Does it improve our access to European markets? Does it involve more power going to Brussels, or does it give more power to the European Parliament or national Parliaments? It may do both. Finally, does it create greater transparency and better understanding of the functions of the EU?
This treaty amends the treaty that established the European Union. It is important, and the Government should not shirk a referendum. It was promised in their election manifesto and we must ensure that they keep that manifesto promise. It is a matter of trust and, as my noble friend Lord Lawson said, a matter of political integrity. The Government should have the confidence to trust the people to listen to the arguments and make up their own minds. My noble friend Lord Brittan, who is not in his place, wrote in the Times that,
“it would be piquant, to put it very mildly, for an unelected House to seek to impose a referendum”.
Only a former EU Commissioner could use a French word to describe what an English Parliament should do. I looked up the word “piquant” in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary. Its definition is “pleasantly stimulating”. That is something we should all vote for.
My Lords, as one who believes in European integration and co-operation, I welcome the Lisbon treaty and very much support its aims. For me, narrow national boundaries are increasingly outdated and irrelevant in the global age. Today’s opportunities are global—in trade, tourism, education and sport—and today’s threats are global: terrorism, climate change, epidemics and famine. Thus, bodies such as the EU have to be progressive and outward-looking, and I see that in the Lisbon treaty.
Inevitably in a debate such as this with so many speakers, there is considerable duplication of argument, but I have to say that, although I personally bade farewell to the Conservative Party in the mid-1990s, primarily because of its anti-European stance, an encouraging feature of today’s debate has been the number of pro-European Conservative speakers. My calculation is that at the moment it is running at about 50:50, and I very much look forward to the winding-up speech from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, a little later.
I intend briefly to focus my remarks on defence issues and, more specifically, on the opportunities for defence co-operation between Britain and France. That was referred to a little earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Astor. Looking back, the decision in 1966 by a de Gaulle-led France to withdraw from NATO’s military structure was a tragedy for that organisation—for cohesive western security, for multinational peacekeeping operations and, of course, for France herself, as she has had to shoulder the cost burden, in every sense, of maintaining sizeable armed forces complete with her own nuclear deterrent. French military deployment overseas was predominantly in Africa, post the colonial legacy, although she participated in the Balkans operations, in the first Gulf War and, of course, is currently engaged in the Lebanon and Afghanistan. Over the years, co-operation on military equipment relative to total military expenditure has been very limited. We have had some successes in aircraft such as the Jaguar, in helicopters such as the Puma, the Gazelle and the Lynx, and some success in the missile field, but little success with joint naval developments.
I shall not go through the history of European military agreements and declarations, but the Lisbon treaty extends enhanced co-operation to defence by proposing, as a main innovation, permanent structured co-operation, harmonising military needs in defence equipment and co-operation in training and logistics and improving the capability of EU-led operations. Additionally, the Petersburg missions are extended to humanitarian intervention and peacekeeping, counterterrorism, military assistance and disarmament. The European Defence Agency is introduced into the EU treaty, and its mandate is broadened to encourage greater, more co-ordinated defence capability, particularly in equipment programmes.
The Lisbon treaty reaffirms the Amsterdam commitment on the progressive framing of a common Union defence policy. I emphasise, though, that in European defence, primacy lies with NATO. As the House of Lords impact assessment makes clear—my noble friend Lord Roper, referred to this earlier—NATO remains the foundation of the collective defence of member states.
This debate takes place relatively soon after Nicolas Sarkozy won the French presidency; indeed, only days after his Royal Gallery address. He is of a different generation and background from previous French leaders and represents a real opportunity for change from France’s relative isolationism and protectionism. At present France has her own defence review under way, due to be published in the spring. The hard truth is that for second-rank powers like Britain and France, it is simply no longer affordable to sustain comprehensive independent defence capabilities. Of course Europe’s prime defence alliance, via NATO, has to be with the United States, as the world’s current superpower. But as President Sarkozy said recently, and was quoted in the Economist:
“we must not put common European defence in opposition to the Atlantic alliance—we need both, because they are complementary”.
Already in France changes are under way. It is to cut its airborne nuclear arsenal by one-third and wants to put its relationship with Africa on to a different footing; too often it has been seen as neo-colonial interference. There is every indication that Sarkozy wants to bring France back into NATO’s integrated military structure. Hopefully, at Bucharest he will announce an increased deployment of French forces in Afghanistan.
Given the broadly comparable sizes of UK and French forces and our respective defence budgets, there has to be a great prize in a much closer military relationship. How do the Government intend to respond to President Sarkozy’s overtures? It is in our national interest, and in the interests of the EU, to respond favourably and positively, perhaps with a symbolic gesture. We have a number of US airbases in the UK. Could we not exchange an airbase here for one perhaps in France, or a least offer the French an enclave on our shores? Or would it be possible to fly a small number of Rafale aircraft from our new carriers in due course?
Let us acknowledge our commitment to the Lisbon treaty, and all that it represents, in a practical way with tangible military co-operation between Britain and France, and end the years of unfortunate separation.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lee, has eloquently supported military co-operation with France. I agree with every single word he has said on that—but he does not need the Lisbon treaty to do it. This is the trouble.
I voted enthusiastically in this House—when I was 32, 33 or something like that—for the accession treaty to the European Common Market, as it was then called. In 1975, I spoke, from about this position in the Chamber, on the Labour Party's proposals for a referendum, which was its very clever way of avoiding an outward split and keeping the second Viscount Stansgate in his place. At the time, I said, quoting Burke—unfortunately, I cannot remember the exact quotation—that this was a constitutional innovation and constitutional innovations can lead people down roads which are confusing and wrong. I think I also said that Napoleon was confirmed in power by referenda. Referenda are easily manipulable—referenda also confirmed Hitler in power. Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, I am suspicious of referenda, but—this is an enormous “but”—if someone says, “I am going to have a referendum”, that someone should do as they say. It is called breaking one’s word if one does not; it is called reneging on what one promised to do; and some could say that honour is lacking.
I also speak as a Euro-fanatic. I claim, not totally unreasonably, to know a little about European history. I know about the Treaty of Verdun and Charlemagne’s grandsons; I know that the Crown Prince of Prussia complained that France had invaded Germany 30 times in the previous 200 years after France had declared war on Prussia for such footling reasons to do with the Ems telegram; and I think I know a little about the Reformation and the Renaissance. I say that not to show off, but to show how deeply I am a lover of European civilisation and I see the absolute essentialness of Europe co-operating and continuing on its way.
I also say that because I do not want the European Community to fail. It will fail if it tries to do too much. What interest do the Lithuanians have in Surrey landfill sites? That is nothing to do with them. The people of Aberdeen have a greater interest in North Sea fisheries than do the burgesses of Salonika. That is the problem and eventually, as night follows day, the concentration will increase more and more, regulation will increase more and more and it will try to do more and more. To pretend, as several noble Lords have, that this is the last piece of European integration is a flight of fancy. To pretend that this treaty is not an empowerment treaty of the European Union is, I suggest, simply cloud-cuckoo-land. If we want Europe to succeed, we want the people of England, of France, of Germany, of Scotland to be enthusiastic for what it does.
I want to be able to walk without let or hindrance on the Continent; I want to be able to walk into a shop; I want to be able to buy anything or sell anything; I want to be able to visit Prague, or Vienna or Paris—we have a flat in Paris. I want Europe to be those things, but it is no business of mine how the French run their tourist industry; that is for the French. Surely we should concentrate on ensuring that Europe's trade is as free as possible, not only internally—as we know there are still some barriers—but also externally so that Europe can trade and get its act together and become rich. That is important. We should leave the French to say when or how or what entrance fee they charge at the Louvre. It is nothing to do with us. Why should tourism be anything to do with the European Community? It is to do with the National Trust when their houses are open. It is to do with the abbaye de Cîteaux when tourists should go.
As things are, we cannot get things like the fisheries policy right. There have been two serious Select Committee inquiries into the common fisheries policy in your Lordships’ House. They have been intelligent, well put together and learned. After the debate on the first one, we were told, “Oh yes, it will all be put right”. Ten years later, along comes the second: “Oh yes, it will all be put right”. We are still discarding something like two-thirds of the fish caught. They still have not made the net shape square, which would enable the vast majority of discards not to be caught.
Things like this are vital for Europe’s future. Unless we get these broad issues right, the whole of the rest of the thing will produce antagonism from the people of Europe. That antagonism could eventually force Parliament—which still has the power to do it—to say, “We are under such pressure because it is becoming so unpopular that we will pass an Act of Parliament repealing the 1971 accession Act”. Parliament has the power to do that, because it is ultimately sovereign and no Parliament can bind its successor.
I do not want it to do that. I want Europe to work. I do not want it to foul up. I do not want it to become constipated. I suggest that this treaty will increase constipation to the disadvantage of us all.
My Lords, I am most obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, who earlier set out very succinctly indeed my position on the European Union and the Common Market. I was not in favour of going into the Common Market, and I still believe that we should leave the European Union. For that I have been called a “little Englander”, a “nutter” and all that sort of thing. Today, however, we had a new one from the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, who described people like me as “Luddites”. We had better put that on the record as being not very diplomatic from a former diplomat. I hope that he will think very carefully before he hands out further epithets.
Like other noble Lords, I am concerned that the Government have reneged on their promise of a referendum. It is not good politics to fail to honour an election pledge and to accept the plaudits of Mr Sarkozy rather than gain the respect of the British people. That is what seems to be happening to our Prime Minister. The way that the Bill was whipped through the House of Commons is against all parliamentary principle. The Prime Minister himself promised that there would be a full and proper debate on and examination of the treaty in the House of Commons, clause by clause, line by line, for at least 21 days. They got 12 days. They did not examine the Bill clause by clause and line by line. A new procedure was introduced under a guillotine and, in fact, the Bill was hardly examined at all. I believe that the House of Commons failed to stand up to the Government, and for that I have great regret.
Today, we have heard lots of arguments about why this treaty is not going to alter the relationship between this country and the EU. Bearing in mind that there is an opposing view and that a promise was made, what is the matter with the Government? Why have they no political nous? Why do they not go to the country? That would be the sensible thing to do. That would be good politics because in that way they win under any circumstances. They win both ways because if they won the referendum, it would be a great victory that would settle the European question for a long time, and if they failed to win, they would at least get the credit for having kept their promise. By refusing a referendum, they lose both ways. That is very foolish indeed. They ought to consider the politics of the situation if they want to win the next election. I am glad that this House is to have the opportunity to have a vote on a referendum, and I hope it will be supported across the House.
We have already heard what this treaty does. It creates a powerful new institution, a full-time president of the council, which itself becomes an institution of the EU. We know what happens when you appoint chairmen; they want more power and influence. That is exactly what will happen. There is to be a new EU foreign minister in charge of an EU diplomatic service who will make recommendations and act for the EU in negotiations and on EU matters in the United Nations. There is to be an EU public prosecutor. The treaty also gives the European Parliament new powers, scraps 51 vetoes, takes further steps towards a European army and lays the foundations of a European police force and judicial system, not to mention the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Some of us saw this in 1985. During the debates on the Single European Act, the late Lord Bruce of Donington and I sat on the Opposition Front Bench and opposed it on behalf of the then Labour Opposition. Times have, of course, changed since then when the Labour Party was all in favour of coming out of the Common Market and the EEC. That has changed now, and it wants to stay in under any circumstances. Lord Bruce and I opposed the Single European Act from the Labour Party Front Bench. We predicated that the SEA was taking a big step towards a federal or unitary state, but we were ridiculed and given assurances that all would be well, that a lot of it was intergovernmental and that we did not need to worry about the loss of sovereignty. Now, in this treaty, we find that intergovernmentalism is dead and has collapsed into a single European treaty with a single legal personality. I have been around this for a very long time, and will, no doubt, be around it for a lot more time yet, God willing.
I turn to a couple of other matters. Together with many other people, I am concerned about the position of Her Majesty the Queen. What will be the effect on her precedence when in the presence of the President of the European Council—in a country of the EU or in this country itself? That is important, and I think we should be told exactly what her position will be. I should also like to know what will be her position vis-a-vis the Commonwealth. Will she still take precedence in the Commonwealth? Will the Commonwealth still want her to be its head, bearing in mind that we have virtually immersed ourselves into the European Union? Are we quite sure that, by asking her to sign the Bill, she will not be in breach of her coronation oath? Those are questions that need to be answered. They have not been answered previously and they ought to be answered now.
Last week, we had a visit from the French President, Mr Sarkozy. He had the effrontery to urge the Prime Minister to get rid of all his red lines, give up our rebate, agree to a European army, stop moaning about the CAP and scrap the pound in favour of the euro.
It was a great speech.
My Lords, I would expect the Liberals to think that that was a great speech. They would sell this country down the river tomorrow if they could, so that is quite expected. However, I sincerely trust that Mr Brown will tell or has told Mr Sarkozy in no uncertain terms that he has no intention of agreeing to any of those demands.
At this point, like the noble Lord, Lord Renwick, I ask for a firm assurance that the promise to hold a referendum on the scrapping of the pound is sacrosanct, that there will be no trickery or backsliding on that promise—a promise made by all Governments so far—and that we shall, before joining another currency, have that referendum.
Finally, the Select Committee report rightly says that Parliament will have to look at its procedures following the implementation of the Lisbon treaty. I agree, but the only way in which Parliament can have any real influence is if it is able to mandate Ministers before they cast their votes on legislative proposals in Brussels. I hope that the Select Committee will pursue that political line.
I shall of course oppose the treaty, as noble Lords would expect, and vote for a referendum.
My Lords, it is always refreshing to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. He speaks clearly and he is not pessimistic like so many Eurosceptics in the corners of this House. He speaks with great confidence and originality. But they have nothing to fear. This is not an ambush from Brussels; it is a realistic response to the more complicated needs of a growing community. It is certainly not a matter for a referendum. That would be absurd. That is a political football, mainly in the Conservative Party. I look forward to hearing how the noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones, receives the ball in a moment.
However, we should be proud that our country owes thanks to those on both sides of this House, to both Administrations, because it has been able to retain its influence in Europe without subscribing to all the rules, which is surely the overriding consideration. The noble Lords, Lord Watson and Lord Tugendhat, and my noble friend Lord Jay of Ewelme all demonstrated what this country has done for Europe. Mr Sarkozy has come and done that again.
This Government also take credit for placing international development firmly on Europe's agenda. That is why I am standing here now and is partly why poverty eradication is so well enshrined in the new treaty, as the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, mentioned. As the noble Baroness said, more than half of all aid to the developing world—some £32 billion—comes from Europe. Our Prime Minister has a particular interest after years of advocacy, and with his recommitment in Davos and his determination to raise aid nearer to the UN target, I expect him to outshine Tony Blair in taking Africa and the millennium development goals even more seriously. I therefore welcome in principle new Article 208, which sets out the EU’s new legal framework for development policy, and the admittedly ambitious concept of the coherence of all EU policies with development objectives. We should, however, face the fact that much of the treaty is rhetoric. We must be realistic and recognise that the poorest are not the first to be invited to the European feast. They are well down the table, and sometimes they are not even invited.
When it comes to foreign policy, security, trade or the continuing demands of eastern Europe, the EU’s priorities will not necessarily coincide with those of Ghana or even India. It is therefore unsurprising that the development agencies are expressing concern at the downgrading of development in some areas of the treaty which the Leader of the House may not be able to sweep away at a stroke. Some of the concern centres around the new post of high representative. He or she has what the EU Select Committee describes as,
“a very wide policy remit”.
In the words of BOND, the group in Brussels that represents the NGOs, the new post,
“may be an opportunity to strengthen EU external action and strategic vision, but it must not lead to sidelining commitments on development”.
There is genuine concern that the high representative will be an advocate for foreign affairs and security and not for international development, which will be in second or third place. Mr Tony Baldry knows a bit about foreign affairs and development. He says that it will be “subsumed” into other priorities. In the Commission, there will not be the same division of responsibility or the creative tension that exist in our Cabinet and which allow for healthy debate and even disagreement where something like Iraq is concerned. Incorporating a whole range of external actions, including development, and therefore the entire budget and staff into one External Action Service will surely blur the lines further and put aid programmes at risk of politicisation. The Select Committee report noted this rather dryly in paragraph 7.57:
“The implementation of the Lisbon Treaty might have implications for the internal organisation of the Commission services dealing with these policy areas and their corresponding budget lines, as well as for the overall coherence of the EU’s aid policy”.
That is putting it mildly.
I should be grateful if the Leader of the House could at least acknowledge the NGOs’ concerns, or better still, convey them to the Prime Minister, who may well share them. The Foreign Affairs Committee must be right that it is unclear how the new arrangements will work in practice, and the Government’s response appears to accept that. Will the Leader of the House therefore say what will happen to EuropeAid and ECHO, which have been among the most successful EU aid programmes? I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, who spoke very warmly from his experience of the EU’s humanitarian work, and my noble friend Lord Renwick was quite right to mention much firmer auditing. This applies especially to larger aid programmes such as the European Development Fund, although the Commission has its regular independent evaluations.
Aid agencies broadly welcome the fact that the treaty will identify humanitarian assistance as a specific competence of the Commission for the first time, ensuring that humanitarian aid is independent and not used for political purposes. They are not, however, keen on the introduction of a European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps as set out in Chapter III of Title III. Only experienced professionals should take part in a humanitarian response in situations of conflict. This is not a theatre for volunteers, although they are active in many other areas of development.
Finally, on trade, Article 208 speaks of coherence. Yet, other articles dealing with trade policy and the customs union emphasise liberalisation over other objectives. The principle of reciprocity in European partnership agreements, for example, inevitably exposes the weaker partner, especially among the least developed countries, to the free market. The treaty glosses over such nuances. Yet I am sure that these articles neither reflect coherence nor conform to the long-established principles of the Cotonou agreement. Despite that, I support the treaty and I congratulate the EU Select Committee on its excellent scrutiny.
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for, in his own words, passing such a clean ball to me. My principal points have been more than adequately made by my noble and learned friend Lord Howe, my noble friends Lord Brittan, Lord Tugendhat, Lord Plumb and others. At this late hour I do not intend to burden the House by repeating them.
We have here an interesting spectacle. Her Majesty’s Government are doing the right thing, for reasons that are reprehensible. Her Majesty’s Opposition are doing the wrong thing, for reasons that are, in general, sincerely held. Sadly, this spectacle has almost become a tradition in British politics for EU matters. The rule seems to be, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, observed, that the Official Opposition, with varying degrees of sincerity, do the wrong thing, while British Governments, with varying degrees of ducking and weaving, generally do the right thing.
I thought that the intervention made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, was rather “Euroer than thou”, to coin a phrase. With respect, I say to him and to those who sit on the Benches with him that the difficulties and compromises of being the Government or the Official Opposition are unlikely to trouble the Liberal Party in the near future. My hope is that today’s Opposition, fulfilling as they are their traditional role in these matters, will not give sufficient hostages to fortune as to inhibit their ability to take the right decisions in the national interest when in government.
This places those of us who served in previous Administrations in a rather awkward position. I served as a minor functionary in the Governments led by my noble friend Lady Thatcher and Sir John Major. We offered no referendum on the Single European Act or on Maastricht, which were the right decisions. Referenda, pace purely local issues such as licensing in Wales, to which my noble and learned friend Lord Howe referred, are always something of a challenge to the principle of representative parliamentary democracy. I am opposed to them on principle.
In this case, whatever quibbles there may be about whether the Lisbon treaty is or is not substantially the same as the originally proposed constitution, the fact is that the Government gave an undertaking to hold a referendum. They are reneging on that simply because they think that they would lose. I am not sure that they would lose, but I am sure that their performance on this matter will seriously damage their reputation. Others favour a referendum because they think that they would win and, in doing so, would advance a position that is at best hostile to the Union and is frequently a flimsy cover for an eventual move to withdrawal.
On the parliamentary process, I am pleased to note that the Government in another place follow the example of previous Conservative Administrations; they use a strong three-line Whip. In your Lordships’ House, such matters are dealt with in a more restrained manner. Traditional loyalties notwithstanding, in this House, as my noble friend Lord Howell pointed out in his opening remarks, each of us has a duty to do what we personally believe to be right. I propose to do just that.
My Lords, one of the things that saddens me about this treaty is that we end the life of a body called the European Community. I always thought that that name was a good description of what Europe was. It was not a state, a federation or a confederation but a community of nations and a community of citizens. “Union” is a word that sometimes suggests unity and sometimes uniformity, which is clearly not and never will be the intention of the European Union. However, I regret the passing of the word “Community”.
I was interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Renwick of Clifton, said about all the problems in relation to Britain and the single market and the things that have not happened in the other member states. I was a Member of the European Parliament when there were only 15 member states. Early on in my mandate, someone very wise said to me, “There is one thing that all the 15 member states agree on, which is that the other 14 states always cheat”. Not just the United Kingdom but every member state perceives the others as not implementing the burdens that they have to take on. I recall the European Court of Justice and the Commission having to take the then Conservative Government to task for not having implemented a number of water directives. At the time we were one of the lacklustre members in environmental matters and we did not implement legislation that had been activated elsewhere. One of the outcomes of that was that the costs of raising our environmental standards were so high that the Government had to privatise the water industry. I am sure that that is why Devon and Cornwall now have the highest water rates not just in the UK but across Europe.
I want to look in particular at the democratic deficit in Europe and whether this treaty will make it better or worse. It is a legitimate area to consider. Sometimes we conveniently forget that, even when we first joined not the Common Market but the European Economic Community in 1973, we did so knowing that it was a legislative organisation. It produced directives and regulations, and laws were passed that Britain had to implement. We understood that; that was how it was. But the democratic deficit was huge and, as someone who is very concerned about citizens’ rights and democracy—as I am sure every noble Lord is—I wanted to test these proposals against that.
We can see a number of improvements in relation to the European Parliament. A fundamental of democracy is an ability to understand the organisation that makes laws and expects its citizens to adhere to them. Anyone trying to comprehend the European Union has a great deal of difficulty with it. One of the major problems arose from the Maastricht treaty and the three-pillar organisation. As an MEP I found it amazingly difficult to understand and I am sure that it is almost impossible for citizens. But at least in this treaty we take out the third pillar and as a part of that ensure that co-decision, the ordinary legislative procedure which is now widespread, is applied. That means that we have directly elected Members of the European Parliament becoming involved in those areas for the first time.
Noble Lords have already mentioned budgets. It is quite unacceptable under the principles that we accept in this Parliament—no taxation without representation—that elected Members of the European Parliament have little control over around half the EU budget, that relating to agriculture and fisheries. At last the problem has been dealt with and we can move forward to where we shall have full accountability in budgetary control.
As to whether national parliaments will be in a better position under this reform treaty, it is up to them to take responsibility for controlling their Ministers in the Council of Ministers. That is a key way in which national parliaments can control the European Union and it is a very powerful way if they do it properly. If they are subservient to their Executives, that is their problem to a large degree. In this country we are somewhere in the middle—way behind Scandinavian parliaments and a long way ahead of some of the southern members. The yellow and orange card procedures are incorporated into the treaty. They do not make me feel excited about parliamentary control in European institutions but, again, it is up to national parliaments to make of them what they will and to use them. I see them as a plus.
It is often repeated in this House and in the newspapers that the Commission is an area of ultimate secrecy. However, as a Member of the European Parliament, I could phone up members of the Commission and I could go and see them. I had easy access to some Members of this House and I was helped by other Members through their cabinets. It worked very well. My business constituents who had problems could get on the phone directly to Commission staff to sort out their problem. There is not a chance of doing that with Whitehall.
One area that was a fortress of secrecy was the Council of Ministers, a legislative chamber that, with the European Parliament, formed a bicameral system within Europe. I am delighted to see that, at last, the treaty demands that when the Council of Ministers is in legislative mode it has to operate in public. I hope that there will be an equivalent of Hansard and that we can bring it to account.
It is to be hoped that citizen issues will be improved through the European Parliament. However, I have a suspicion that citizens initiatives are more about spin than substance but, again, it is something that will, over the years, become significant.
I would like to have seen a right for the European Parliament to initiate legislation. It is strange that the Commission should have a monopoly on that, even more so now that the third pillar is to disappear. However, in Westminster, does either the House of Lords or the House of Commons really initiate successful legislation? They do not. Ninety-nine per cent of successful legislation comes from the Executive, not from Members of Parliament.
The referendum has been the big issue in today’s debate. I have a different take on it. To me, if an organisation such as the EU or the intergovernmental conference is so arrogant as to call a treaty a “constitution for a continent”, it is right that there should be a referendum. But that is not what this treaty is. Certainly we should have had a referendum if it had been called a constitution, but it is clearly a treaty of far less importance than Maastricht or the Single European Act. Under those circumstances, therefore, it would be quite inconsistent to have a referendum.
My noble friend Lord Burnett wants European citizens to play a much greater part in Europe. When the European constitution was debated, there should have been one referendum of all European citizens, in which they could have said whether the decisions that their heads of government within the European Council had come to were right or wrong. I believe that the people of Europe would have rejected that constitution. There would have been a crisis, which would have meant that Europe would have had to go down the route of seriously consulting its citizens for the first time in its history.
My Lords, the hour is late and nearly everything has been said, so I shall not detain your Lordships very long. I think that we should proceed with this Bill in our usual, careful way, ratify the treaty, and then move on to other important work that is waiting for us in Europe. There are substantive points and it is an amending treaty, but not one that requires a referendum.
I shall deal with the matter of the referendum. I am speaker number 60 and my conclusion after listening to the early speakers is that the dispute with some noble Lords over a referendum is a separate matter. Some noble Lords are asking for it either for party-political purposes or to diminish the EU. In the end, it will do none of us any good. In reaching this conclusion, I was strongly influenced by the European Union Committee’s report, and I join other noble Lords in congratulating the committee on its impact assessment. I am not the only person who finds the treaty document difficult to follow and the committee’s report is a very useful guide. The opening section on objectives and values reflects the objectives and values that inspired me 30 years ago. As the committee points out, the treaty codifies current practice in finance and trade policy as well as foreign, defence and development policies—and all this is very helpful.
As other noble Lords have pointed out, the EU has increased its membership from 15 countries in 2004 to 27 today. Any organisation would undergo a process of internal reform after such an increase. Does the Bill result in the EU becoming more efficient and effective, more fit for purpose? Do we still retain our freedoms? This is what we are here to decide. Yes, there are interesting innovations to try to involve EU citizens at a more national level—innovations such as the yellow and orange cards—and I welcome that, because the EU’s legitimacy depends less on European politics and more on politics in the member states.
Many noble Lords are concerned, quite rightly, about the public. The logic is simple: we live in an interconnected world and at this dangerous time who knows what the unexpected consequences will be? The message that I am getting is that this is a time not for legal minutiae but for more engagement with Europe, not less. It is a time when our membership matters socially and economically to our population, to help them to secure the consistency and stability that we need as hard and difficult times approach—especially as at this time it looks as if Europe will withstand the credit crunch in much better shape than the United States. We need to be part of Europe’s capacity to hold things together. I agree with the Foreign Secretary that the United States may be our most important ally but we are part of Europe and, as such, Europe is an indispensable ally in facing up to the challenges about which many noble Lords have spoken, such as globalisation, terrorism, climate change, conflict prevention, and the need for strong international institutions. All those demand a co-operation within the EU, and these are the concerns of the people as I understand them. If I may mix my metaphors, with these storms approaching this is not a time to rock the boat—so let us proceed with this Bill, ratify the treaty and move on.
My Lords, it is very late and I shall not detain you very long. I want to discuss two linked subjects, one of which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. I refer to the Laeken declaration and Europe’s democratic deficit. The Lisbon treaty is the fruit of the Laeken process. If the Lisbon treaty is not effective in carrying out the policy that the heads of government adopted at Laeken, it is not likely to work for any purpose.
The noble Lord, Lord Leach of Fairford, referred to Laeken in his excellent speech as the starting point of the whole process. He also discussed it in his evidence to the European Union Committee. Other than that, it has received rather less attention in this debate—interesting as though it has been—than it properly deserves.
The Laeken meeting took place in 2001, as your Lordships will remember. It was a meeting of Heads of Government. It led to the convention being formed, which produced the constitution, which was rejected, which morphed into the reform treaty, which was eventually renamed the treaty of Lisbon. The Laeken meeting was a reflection of widely felt anxieties about the European democratic deficit. Laeken called for the convention to draft a more democratic structure “closer to the people”. The constitutional treaty did not in fact move in that direction. It was rightly rejected on the grounds that it was a centralising treaty, and not a treaty that would move Europe closer to the people, with the benefits that that might be expected to have.
The democratic deficit itself is not a single object. It is not only about democracy: it is also a failure of European liberalism. There are a lot of legal questions arising out of the Lisbon treaty itself that I am not competent to take a view on. Much of the competence is on the Liberal Democrat Benches. There is also a failure to adopt the principles of subsidiarity. Subsidiarity is often spoken of, but progress towards it either inside or outside the Lisbon treaty has been extremely disappointing.
The heads of government were rightly disturbed by Europe's relative lack of competitiveness, with much slower growth rates than the Asian countries. The question now is whether the Lisbon treaty has addressed the deficits successfully. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, believes that it has. I regret that it has not. I am sure that the European Union needs to have substantial reforms if it is to flourish—perhaps if it is to survive. In particular, Lisbon has extended qualified majority voting to some 40 areas of competence of the European Union, but has not returned any powers to the individual nations, so the process of negotiation in Lisbon has been regrettably lopsided.
The whole of the acquis communautaire, which is itself such an obstacle to reform of the European system, is still not only in place but growing steadily. When the eastern European countries joined the European Union, they were faced with accepting willy-nilly some 85,000 pages of the acquis communautaire. We are now told in this debate that that has risen to 98,000 pages. The acquis communautaire will undoubtedly in a few months’ time have reached 100,000 pages. But it will go on from there, occupying larger and larger areas of regulation.
The Lisbon negotiation failed to tackle fairly obvious abuses. The most worrying thing is that although everyone knows that the common agricultural policy is a European abuse which needs major amendment, no one can manage to get any amendment through. That is as true of the Lisbon treaty as it is of previous negotiations on the CAP. All institutions have to be repeatedly reformed if they are to remain vital or even serviceable. I fear that the European Union needs further major new reforms. This was a point on which I did not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, who looked forward to a period of stability. I am not sure that a period of stability rather than reform is what is really needed.
The situation has been made worse by the question of the referendum. I have heard all the arguments on both sides on a referendum, but what I think is certain is that the British people believe that a promise was made to them and that they now believe that the promise has been broken. One of the major problems of Britain’s relationship with Europe is indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said, that the British people do not trust the European Union. Nothing is more unfortunate than the British Government taking a step, repudiating a promise, that makes the ordinary voter trust the European Union still less. It is not just the Government who will be blamed, though they will be blamed; the Union itself will be blamed.
Looking at the referendum as the final issue, and the relationship between British public opinion and the European Union as an essential part of the future reform of the European Union, I shall vote for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, just as I had the good fortune to vote for a referendum on the Maastricht treaty 14 years ago.
My Lords, the hour is indeed late. On the other hand, a number of my noble colleagues of a broadly sceptic disposition have had to scratch, notably my noble friend Lord Neill of Bladen, so perhaps I may be allowed to speak for a few minutes. First I gladly join others in paying tribute to my noble friend Lord Grenfell and his colleagues for an excellent and very well set-out report. I cannot claim by a long shot to have read every word of it, but I sense that the conclusions do not entirely vindicate all of the Government’s reassuring claims.
My thanks also go to the noble Baroness the Lord President for her very useful briefing, even if many noble Lords, I fear, are likely to remain unconvinced by her seductive reassurance that the treaty embodies the best of all possible worlds for the United Kingdom. For some months now, the Government have claimed that the treaty is quite different from the draft constitution, thereby implying that Mr Giscard d’Estaing, Angela Merkel and other senior European statesmen and politicians are either liars or fantasists. But let us suppose for a moment that the Government are right, despite 96 per cent of the treaty being identical to the draft constitution, and despite the truly alarming proposal to give the European Court of Justice a much greater role in criminal justice and home affairs; right that, overall, the changes are fewer than those imposed by the Single European Act and the Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice treaties; and right that, theoretically, there is therefore no need for a referendum.
My quarrel with that contention is based primarily not on the doctrine of the sanctity of a manifesto commitment, important though that undoubtedly is, not least to maintain public confidence in Parliament and our institutions, but on the fact that, even if the proposed changes are less far reaching than those in earlier treaties, and assuming our opt-outs or red lines can be made to stick—which is a very big “if”—the changes, in particular the extension of QMV, represent the last straw that breaks the long-suffering British camel’s back. I refer to the remorseless erosion of our powers of self-government.
I voted no in 1975 and in a minor and wholly ineffectual way campaigned for a no vote, sensing the way in which things were likely to evolve, despite assurances to the contrary. Most but not all of my family, friends and acquaintances thought my stance rather eccentric, even subversive—indeed, Bennite. It is difficult to remember it now, but enormous numbers of people at that time were in total fear of Mr Anthony Wedgwood Benn and the supposed cohorts of Maoist subversives lurking in the shadows, waiting only for his command to unleash mayhem. It seems ridiculous now, but that is how millions of people thought in those days. These friends and acquaintances happily accepted the assurances of Messrs Wilson and Heath that joining the EEC, as it then was, would be essentially liberating, with no adverse consequences, notwithstanding some unease about the treatment of our allies and kinsmen in New Zealand. The idea that the EEC and its successors would gradually but remorselessly extend their powers so as to push their way into the nooks and crannies of our everyday lives was at that time quite inconceivable.
The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, has given us a few examples of the way in which the EU has interfered in the internal affairs of various countries, not only our own but other countries as well—we must be vigilant to protect the rights of the citizens of other countries as well as our own. Let us look at what has come to light in the past 10 days alone in this country. First, rural bus networks are being crippled by an EU directive obliging bus drivers to be given 45 hours’ time off after driving a mere 31 miles. It would take no more than an hour and a half to drive that distance on a rural road in a remote area. Secondly, a small manufacturer of alcoholic fruit cordials is told that he must switch from 37.5cl bottles to 35cl bottles at enormous cost to his business, even though he does not sell these cordials in the EU as far as I know and his customers benefit from the slightly larger bottles in which they buy the stuff. Thirdly, a couple have been told that they cannot live in a rather splendid-looking house, judging by the newspaper photographs, but must live in a caravan in the garden for several months because some rare newts have been found adjacent to the house. To the EU, newts are apparently more important than human beings. Fourthly, pub landlords have been told that they could be hit with a massive financial penalty if customers chat up barmaids. This sort of thing—and things that are far important than that—has been happening month after month, year after year without the democratic consent of the British people. Subsidiarity has turned out to be a total farce.
The moral case for a referendum is this: for almost 33 years the British people have experienced the consequences of the 1975 referendum vote. They have seen the powers of national parliaments gradually whittled away and felt the tentacles of the EU force their way into the nooks and crannies of their everyday lives, rather than the EU confining its intrusions to matters with a genuine cross-border dimension such as the single market, to which I have no objection.
Foreign affairs excepted, the proud, ancient nation-states of Europe are now left with far less autonomy than the princely states of India pre-1947, and in many respects with less than Rhode Island, Delaware, South Dakota, Alabama, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island, New South Wales and Queensland, to name but a few. Of course, these states and provinces share our individualistic, democratic, Anglo-Saxon heritage, where the tradition is “trust the people”, however unpredictable and often awkward they may turn out to be.
Continental elitists have never really “trusted the people” whom they regard as volatile and often tending towards a narrow Poujadism, and who accordingly cannot be trusted to follow the right advice or think along the right lines. Hence the Euro-zealots vastly prefer a genuinely benevolent paternalism exercised by a dispassionate Olympian enarque such as Monsieur Giscard d’Estaing, or the equivalent of the enarque in other continental countries, which they believe to be a far safer and tidier arrangement. Such people equate uniformity with stability and order and shudder, for example, at the idea of each American or Australian state or Canadian province deciding on its own traffic laws, let alone its own criminal law, including, for example, the application of capital punishment. “How untidy, cher collègue, how anarchic”, I can hear them say.
National differences and idiosyncrasies can be permitted by this reasoning provided they are confined to matters which the French term “folklorique”. At one time one hoped that the eastern and central European countries, liberated from tyrannical uniformity less than 20 years ago, might join with us in fighting to preserve individuality and resist obsessive harmonisation and the nanny super-state. Alas, with the possible exception of the Czech Republic, they are too preoccupied with financial problems at present. I readily concede that there are one or two desirable aspects to this treaty but believe that they are heavily outweighed by the less desirable ones. We are not, of course, permitted to pick and choose so I shall most certainly join those noble Lords pressing for a referendum.
My Lords, noble Lords are not witnessing attempted identity theft. The noble Lord, Lord Denham, is down on the original list of speakers but has regretfully withdrawn. He is far more fastidious than I. I am not, however, speaking in the gap because my name should have been on the list and is on a revised list. I apologise and will not detain your Lordships very long.
I make it absolutely clear from the beginning where I stand on this. I voted no in the last referendum and I am against ever closer union. It is not an objective that I hold dear for reasons to which I shall come in a moment. I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, is present. I never thought that I would take one of his phrases as my text but he is one of the most sensible and—if I may say so without sounding patronising—balanced and well informed Members of this House. He told us that we should not look too closely at what is in the treaty or the constitution but rather that we should be infused by the spirit behind it, which is very beautiful and moving. I am sure that he was genuine about that. However, my problem with that approach is that I find the general manifesto of the Communist Party very moving. As I understand it, its objectives are from each according to his ability and unto each according to his needs, which has an almost biblical simplicity about it and I should have thought would have appealed to the author of the sermon on the mount. But when you look at what the Communist Party has done and the gap between its aspirations and achievements, you are reminded of the gap between the aspirations of the European Community and what it has done.
I heard the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, say that you can reform the common agricultural policy. How much reform has there been of the common agricultural policy in the past 40 years? It is evil, it is selfish, it is expensive and the effect that it has impoverishing poor people around the world is wicked. There is no other word for it. I can remember very well one of my former colleagues in the other House—he is not in his place here at the moment—saying that we had to join the Common Market because that was the only way that we could change the common agricultural policy. Good luck to him.
The common fisheries policy, which has been mentioned, is not so much wicked as absolutely disgusting. What it does is disgusting, and we all know it. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, appreciates that. I am only sorry that I am not in a position to compliment the noble Lord, Lord Renwick of Clifton, who gave one of the best speeches that I have ever heard on the Common Market, as I prefer to call it. It was factual, it was without hyperbole and there was hardly an adjective in it from one end to another. Unlike other Members from the Foreign Office who grace our Benches, he took a very cold-headed and realistic view of the Common Market.
The problem with those who join us from the Foreign Office is that they remind me so much of a telephone call that I had in New York when Charles de Gaulle vetoed us. That afternoon I was working in a bank. I was living in New York at the time. I got a telephone call saying, “Isn’t it marvellous news? Have you heard? De Gaulle has just vetoed us”. I said, “I think it is marvellous news; I am damned if I see why you do, Richard”. He was a Foreign Office official up in the consulate-general office. He said, “Don’t you see? Within six months, they will be bringing us the crown of Europe on a platter”. He believed it, that is what the Foreign Office believes, and that is where it is so wrong. It will always go on believing it, because it is very deeply imbued in it.
There is that delightful man, the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Richmond, with whom I have jousted a couple of times about European aircraft. Unfortunately, the noble Lord, Lord Lee, is not in his place. His grasp on reality seems to have deserted him since he joined the Liberal Democrats. The noble Lord, Lord Watson, talked about not our giving up sovereignty but sharing sovereignty. I tried to explain that concept once to my constituents in Dudley many years ago. I said: “Shared sovereignty is quite simple. We get together in a room with a lot of other people, and we have a piece in telling them what to do and they have a piece in telling us what to do”. That is what shared sovereignty means. If anyone wishes to dispute that interpretation, I will gladly give way. My constituents said, “Oh. We do not actually want to share in telling other people what to do and we are damned if we want them telling us what to do”. So I am afraid to say to the noble Lord, Lord Watson, that demonstrates that the concept of shared sovereignty did not have much appeal to my constituents.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, I think, spoke on this point, although I was not in the Chamber; I was listening to the debate in my room. The European Union has some very good things in its record for which we should be very grateful, particularly the civilising influence that it has had on the countries of eastern Europe and the fact that it has eliminated the death penalty from the statute book of many countries. We should be very grateful to our friends in Europe that it has accomplished that.
However, it is very easy to over-egg the cake with respect to the European Union. I regard the idea that it is only because we have a European Union that there has not been a third world war in Europe as absolute poppycock. In my view, there are three reasons why there has never been a war since 1945. One is that the vast majority of Germans today are ashamed of what their fathers and grandfathers did. Of those who are not ashamed of what their grandfathers did, many do not want to have visited upon them again what was visited upon them between 1939 and 1945. If anyone does not fall into those two groups, they are influenced by the fact that we have the bomb. The French have the bomb and the Russians have the bomb. The Germans do not have the bomb and we are not going to allow them to have it. That is why there will not be third world war in Europe. Anyone who thinks that if the bomb did not exist, another Hitler in 25 or 50 years’ time would be deterred from advancing into France just because his country was a member of the European Coal and Steel Community is completely out of touch with reality.
There is one last matter that I wish to touch on. I said that I voted no, like the noble Lord, Lord Monson, but I actually walked through the streets of Birmingham at the front row of a parade in which Mr Benn was also a participant. From that time on, my father-in-law was absolutely convinced that I was a communist. I never succeeded in dissuading him from that conviction. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, prayed in aid some remarks of Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. I, too, thought that some of Lord Jenkins’s remarks were overwhelmingly persuasive.
I remember in 1975 that the Parliamentary Labour Party held a debate on how we should vote in a referendum. The debate went on for five days. I was a fairly new boy in the PLP—even more diffident than I am today—and I did not participate in that debate, to my eternal regret. Roy Jenkins said two things in that debate. First, he said that he had never had much time for kith and kin in politics. We all knew what he was referring to. He was trying to get people to recall Ian Smith, UDI and Rhodesia and to persuade members of the Labour Party that we should vote for membership of the Common Market. When he said that, my mind went back to when I was learning to be a chartered accountant in Canada, when I once took part in an audit commission at an engine company. There was a fellow with us called Doug Neil, who was a Canadian. The other fellows on the audit commission said to me, “Do you know about Doug?”. I said, “No, what is there to know about Doug?”. They said that Doug had lost three brothers on the same day at Dieppe. Therefore, I have a lot of time for kith and kin in politics.
The second thing, which I shall never forget, that Roy Jenkins said in that debate was his description of his visits to Washington for meetings with the governors of the International Monetary Fund. He bemoaned his fate. He said, “Do you know what used to happen to me? All the European Finance Ministers”—there were only six of them then—“used to get together in a room to agree a position, and I was excluded from those meetings. All that I could do was to sit in another room alone with the US Treasury Secretary”. I thought, “How lucky could you be?”. When I heard Roy Jenkins make those two remarks, I realised that I did not share his values or those of people who thought like him; nor did I share his political judgment. It is for those reasons that I am not in favour of ever closer union.
My Lords, I must apologise for not being here for the earlier part of the debate but, having a damaged leg, I found that my place in the speakers list clashed with appointments at two hospitals. I thank the government Whips for allowing me now to speak briefly in the gap.
Late last year, Mr Michael Portillo said that on a number of central issues, including Europe and immigration, the electorate have effectively been disfranchised. British democracy, he continued, has been diminished and weakened, not only because most of our laws are devised by an arrogant, self-regarding and unaccountable elite in Brussels but because this situation cannot be changed as the result of a tacit consensus among an arrogant and self-regarding domestic elite. That is surely true. I wonder how long our Government can go on disregarding public opinion on issue after issue, building up hostility in so many areas and behaving at times as though they need not bother about the country outside Westminster. Not for ever, I think.
Numerous polls have shown that most of the electorate understand that the treaty is essentially the same as the rejected constitution. A few of them also know that Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the devisor of the original constitution, has said:
“Public opinion will be led to adopt, without knowing it, the proposals that we dare not present to them directly ... All the earlier proposals will be in the new text, but will be hidden and disguised in some way”.
Those are hardly the words of a democrat but are said by a leading light of the EU.
The new treaty, like the earlier constitution, introduced radical changes in the nature of the EU and in our relationship with it—changes that will go far towards establishing a single European state. The whole structure of the EU is being centralised and strengthened. We are to lose a great many of our vetoes, and the EU is in future to deal as far as possible directly with European citizens, bypassing national Governments. It is to assume a legal personality, giving it the status and powers of a full-blown state.
A not unreasonable need for change to cope with the expansion of the EU has been transformed into a great leap forward towards an integrated Europe. This has been done without any consultation with the peoples of the EU, among them the British, who were promised a referendum by all three of our main political parties but are now being denied it.
Those who are expert in these matters—not least the European Scrutiny Committee of the other place—say that the Government’s red lines and protocols, which are supposed to protect Britain’s interests, will not give us effective protection. The public understand that we are being asked to agree to a massive transfer of powers to Brussels. More of what is still left of our sovereignty as a nation is to be surrendered. Before too long, there will be no need for deliberation in Westminster on important matters.
I have for a long time believed that we should have a much looser relationship with the EU. I remember the debates on Maastricht, when I worked on amendments with the late Lord Tonypandy on matters that concerned us, such as the provision that the Queen should become a citizen of Europe. Those debates included the late Lord Blake’s call for a referendum on Maastricht, which was defeated by the then Conservative Government, who organised a massive vote against it. Now, we again face widespread calls for a referendum but this time it is a Labour Government who oppose consultation with the people. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, quoted in this House on 25 March a speech in which the Prime Minister said:
“The right of all the British people to have their voice heard is fundamental to our democracy”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/7/07; col. 818.]
Those are fine words, but Gordon Brown now denies the British people that right.
Before we go, it would surely be right for this House to vote to give the people of this country the opportunity to say whether Britain should agree to the Lisbon treaty, with all the consequences that flow from it. In doing so, we should go some way to restore genuine democracy to this country—something that our people surely deserve.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, has been so praised tonight that I am sure that, if he were a lesser man, it would go to his head. However, I add my words of thanks for what he and our committee—I am a member of it so I suppose that I should not praise it too much—achieved in the report. In fact, it is so stupendous and such a blockbuster of a report that it reminds me of the Cecil B DeMille definition of the ideal film, which is that you start with an earthquake and then you build up to a real climax. The report’s conclusions go from page 247 to page 276, and good luck to anyone who has time to read not merely the conclusions but the rest of the report as well.
This has been a momentous debate of high quality. I am sure that we all appreciate the usual channels and the noble Baronesses the Lord President and the Chief Whip on the government Benches providing an intelligent amount of extra time on an exceptionally long day and night. Everyone has been accommodated on a fair basis, with ample time to speak. The only exception we were beginning to worry about was the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, at the beginning of the gap. Because of the various confusions that arose in the other place as the Bill proceeded through the Committee of the whole House and the atavistic and bizarre nature of most of the Tory contributions to both the debate and the amendments, I feel that a much better lead has now been given in your Lordships’ House on what the public need to decide, with their parliamentarians advising them on their own conclusion, about this crucial Bill.
As others have done, I deliberately pay tribute tonight to the speeches made by eight or nine of the more enthusiastic Members of the Tory Benches about membership of the European Union. They were remarkable contributions, not least from the two ex-Commissioners. Although they may be described malevolently by others as “pensioners of the European Commission”, the work they did as Commissioners for Europe as a whole—as well as for their own country directly, although that is not the main purpose of their oath—was outstanding in both their cases. That applies too to the two Labour ex-Commissioners we have heard from tonight, the noble Lords, Lord Kinnock and Lord Clinton-Davis, and to the work that they did. The difference in their case, however, was that it was nice to see how those who originally had been quite Eurosceptic, in the old days of Labour Party history that we remember so vividly, had gone native very soon after getting to Brussels—
Thank you, my Lords, I accept the correction. That is understandable, bearing in mind the rational nature of this modest project we are all trying to construct in Europe. Why people on the Eurosceptic side of the argument get so incensed about it is beyond all rational thinking.
Logically, treaty Bills have to be accepted in toto. That is inevitable because a national Government—the sovereign Government—of each member state have already negotiated the clauses and are therefore entitled to seek ratification with the majority they manage to secure in the one or two chambers of each parliament. It is two chambers in most countries, but only one chamber in Denmark and some other countries.
The opponents forget that 19 member states had already ratified the original text of the old constitution and were, to put it mildly, frustrated by what was going on. If we are in a community, we have to occasionally pay attention to what the other member states want and need. The sovereign member Governments had to return to the exercise and re-present a modernised, non-constitutional type of text to the Union’s public. I am delighted that this whole exercise has restored the powers of the sovereign parliaments of each member country, which were increasingly being pushed aside by this ridiculous referendumitis, which is actually of the street—more and more, in fact, of the street of the extreme thinker—and of the gutter press in this county, as we know so well. Sadly, that is true more in the UK than elsewhere. That is one of the great dangers facing us all.
Sovereign Governments and parliaments are very important concepts that we treasure in this country and elsewhere. We are all proud, patriotic British people—but also, I hope, increasingly and enthusiastically Europeans as well. We have re-established the rights of the sovereign Governments and parliaments over demagogic, crude, primitive and sinister populism. The Irish are the only ones who have to do it the other way because of their constitution, but every other parliament, including the European Parliament, has seen the dangers emerging from the anti-European street and an isolationist press. That is particularly so in Britain but is also the case, to some extent, elsewhere.
I see from history that we had the Second World War and the atom bomb without a referendum. We joined NATO without a referendum, a much bigger so-called loss of intrinsic national so-called sovereignty. We outlawed capital punishment without a referendum, for obvious reasons. This Government launched an illegal war in Iraq without a referendum, and 10 years earlier the then Tory Government, quite rightly, flatly refused a referendum on the Maastricht treaty Bill. That must have been the biggest piece of this so-called loss of pretend sovereignty that I and others have ever witnessed, not least with the subsequent creation of European citizenship for the first time, a profound step that will develop later on alongside national citizenship, although it will not replace it.
On 21 January, the Foreign Secretary reminded us that left-wing parties in all 27 member states supported the treaty of Lisbon, as did liberal and social democratic-type parties, but strangely only 26 conservative parties in the Union supported it. There is no prize for guessing which was the exception. I say for the benefit of noble Lords who do not remember that it was the British Tory party, denounced in the process by the right honourable Kenneth Clarke.
I found that, for part of the time, I was sitting masochistically in the Committee stage in the House of Commons—a process that went on for several weeks—until I could stand the boring tones of Mr William Cash no more. He was there every day and I think made 275 interventions and about 80 or 85 speeches. I have never before witnessed such root and branch hostility by the Tory Front Bench and by the people on the Back Benches—some of them rather peculiar people—not just to the treaty and the Bill but to almost every aspect of the European Union. I never expected to witness that.
I agreed with the right honourable Member for Rushcliffe, Mr Kenneth Clarke, when he reminded us that Mr Tony Blair’s volte-face on the need for a referendum on the previous treaty text was at the root of this absurd chaos and Sturm und Drang in Britain. What a contrast between the ludicrous antics in the so-called sovereign parliamentary scene at the other end of the building and the dignified and mature behaviour of the German, French, Italian, Spanish and indeed Danish parliaments, to name just a few.
I am sure that noble Lords have appreciated the wiser aspects of this debate on a sensible Bill that we have witnessed today, with some interesting contributions from the Eurosceptics. I pay tribute to some of the interesting suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Lawson. A number of speakers brought out the essential points of this legislation. The constitutional approach of the previous text has definitely been abandoned and the amending treaty has taken its place. That is gaining more and more support in this country—in the business community, in the trade unions and in all sorts of NGOs. The NSPCC and even the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds are supportive.
My Lords, I know that that causes a frisson, because the RSPB has more members than any political party. That is understandable.
The European Union (Amendment) Bill covers a treaty text that quite spectacularly enhances the role of national parliaments in any wished-for scrutiny of EU legislation and policy formation. Indeed, scrutiny includes actual participation in these processes from now on. The treaty brings in improvements to the functioning of majority voting, which the Conservative Government in the mid-1980s quite rightly demanded and secured in relation to the single market, as mentioned by many speakers in the debate. Energy markets will be opened up by qualified majority voting to the benefit of consumers, and the UK share of the national votes also improves. Clause 6 of the Bill gives Parliament a major say in these processes in future.
Despite the fact that the main opposition spokesman on Europe in the other place, Mr Mark Francois, sports an enticingly French surname, his sad speeches in the Commons revealed Essex man in a pathetic coalition of hatred towards Europe that is unique among all respectable parties in any of the member states. However, I note that he is at least strongly supported by the Dutch animal party, by Sinn Fein for some bizarre, difficult-to-explain reason, by many communist parties and by the French Front National. Not even the nine conservative-type parties in Italy were able to support Mr Francois’s suggestions.
On the day of the flypast to commemorate 90 years of the RAF, some among the brave pilots who survived remembered how, after the war, gradually, painfully and slowly, friendships developed with members of the Luftwaffe when conditions returned to normality. That was part of developing Europe as well. We made a note in this debate of what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, suggested. This needs closer examination and we shall see how the debates proceed at later stages.
My noble friend Lord McNally made a passionate plea for us and the UK to move on. That is what we now need to do with Europe and the rest of the argument as the Bill proceeds. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, for giving the example of what he achieved and what Europe means in a modern context—the new Europe, post-Lisbon ratification, if the treaty is ratified.
A succession of speeches this evening has underscored the growing antipathy among parliamentarians of all parties to Mr William Hague’s foolish obsession in the other place with referendums—supported by Mr Murdoch’s press—as a device for maximising atavistic hatred towards all things foreign, which of course means European. That is a sad state of affairs, which must be corrected in the other place by the politicians there, as well as by people here giving them sound advice.
I quote from Mr Kenneth Clarke’s speech in the debate in the other place about a referendum. Reminding us that Ted Heath and John Major, as well as Margaret Thatcher, fully overruled demands for referenda, he added:
“I am astonished to find the atmosphere so completely changed now. In fact, it worries me that members of the political ruling class of this country have now lost their self-confidence and their ability to rely on their legitimacy as parliamentarians to such an extent that no one among them dares defy the media, the hard-line Eurosceptics or any other people who demand a referendum”.—[Official Report, Commons, 5/3/08; col. 1820.]
I finish by paraphrasing—“because they want to overturn a natural parliamentary majority against the gutter press”.
Anyway, far from this Lisbon treaty being a massive loss of national power, or a massive transfer of power, it is merely and self-evidently a sensible, totally unsinister modernisation of the functioning of the system of, now, 27 member states. These are sovereign countries, all working together with agreed integrated institutions to achieve sensible decisions on how the Union moves forward in a way that increasingly impresses the rest of the world. Witness, for example, how the Chinese fulsomely praised the creation of the euro as a unique and successful currency.
I am not too keen on the red lines to which the Government refer from time to time in a slightly embarrassed way but, again, we shall see what happens in the future. They irritate our partners in the Union so much because they show that, once again, we are too often a half-hearted member state. That is not because the UK public want to be like that; I do not believe that they do. They appreciate European matters more and more, particularly the younger generation, who are natural back-packers, travel all over Europe and are getting used to being European as well as British.
There is a strange, unique disease in this country whereby the opposition party becomes anti-European. Parliamentarians of both Houses and all parties must exorcise that from our political society. I noticed in the Spanish election campaign that, despite there being fierce competition between the two major parties, not a single politician from either sought to invoke Europe as a domestic political matter to embarrass the other side.
I pay tribute to the Foreign Secretary and the excellent and highly competent Europe Minister, Mr Jim Murphy, for sending the Bill unamended to us for our own Second Reading. I also pay tribute to the noble Baroness the Lord President for her wise and positive words of explanation at the beginning of the debate. Let us hope that in Britain the dark days of our nauseating chauvinism are over. As I said before, the younger generation feel both British and European. They want, as do other older citizens, to enjoy their European citizenship, by travelling, studying, working and living in one of the greatest continents on the planet, where peace has taken over from war and strife. The European Union reform treaty and this Bill help us to ensure that that can happen.
We Liberal Democrats believe that Europe will be of huge benefit to this country and to the world. We on these Benches are ready to take on all comers to defend Britain’s true and deep national interest, which is to be at the heart of the unique and increasingly rational and important European Union.
My Lords, my first important and pleasant task is to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester on an exceedingly good maiden speech. We were delighted to hear about his distinguished predecessor, George Bell. How apposite it was that he should have made his maiden speech in a debate on Europe, when he was himself Bishop of the Diocese in Europe and Bishop of Gibraltar. As I understand it, he was responsible for Anglican congregations in over 30 different countries. We enjoyed his contribution and look forward to many similar speeches in future.
I do not think that there can be anywhere else in Europe where we could have had a debate of this quality. I pay tribute to all those who participated. I have struggled to find the necessary collective nouns to describe those who have contributed and to picture the full expertise and eminence on which this House has been drawing. We have heard from a red box of former Ministers and from a gang not of four but of five of the original Labour rebels who defied the Whips in October 1971 to endorse the EEC application. It has been like a journey to the past. Looking to the future, we have also had a bureau of former European commissioners, and I pay tribute to the excellent contributions of my noble friends Lord Tugendhat and Lord Brittan and to those of the noble Lords, Lord Kinnock and Lord Clinton-Davis. We have also had former civil servants and MEPs. This strength in depth is what makes this House so special. It also enables us to perform our crucial constitutional role.
I pay particular tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, and all his colleagues on the European Union Committee, to my noble friend Lord Goodlad and his colleagues on the Constitution Committee and to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, and his colleagues on the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. They supplied us with some detailed reports that will be enormously useful to us as we proceed to the Committee stage.
In his outstanding speech, my noble friend Lord Howell set the agenda for the debate. He staked out the intellectual and political ground not only for this debate but for the debates that will follow in Committee and on Report on this legislation. As my noble friend rightly observed in what seems, at this late hour, to have been several lifetimes ago, it is the function of this Chamber to scrutinise and improve legislation and, in the context of this Bill, to ensure that an intergovernmental treaty is imported into our domestic law sensitively, appropriately and with as many parliamentary safeguards built into it as possible.
It is a well worn canard and a travesty of the truth to describe the Conservative Party as being in any sense anti-European. It is not true now, and it is certainly not true historically, despite what the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said at the outset of the debate about how the Conservatives were whipping up anti-European sentiment. I did not like the way he looked at me when he said “Every twitch of his body is hostile”. It is not; of course it is not, and he should know that. I have a solid record of being a Euro-enthusiast. I never deviate from that, and I will not.
The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, said that the Conservative Party blew hot and cold. The noble Baroness, Lady Quin, said that the Conservatives were not a credible alternative Government, as if in some way we could not be trusted on Europe. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said that the Conservatives had played ducks and drakes with Europe, and the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Richmond, said that the Tories must decide where they stand.
We stand on our record. It was Sir Winston Churchill who first called for European unity; it was Harold Macmillan who first applied to join the EEC; and it was Ted Heath who signed the treaty of accession. All the party’s senior figures in opposition—Ted Heath himself, my noble friend Lady Thatcher, Willie Whitelaw and Reggie Maudling—put their shoulders to the wheel on behalf of the “Yes” campaign in 1975, and both the previous amending treaties—the Single European Act and Maastricht—were carried through by Conservative Governments. As my noble friend Lord Astor pointed out, the only major party ever to call for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union was the Labour Party, back in its dark days of the 1980s. I happily and readily describe myself as a pro-European, and I know that that goes for many of my colleagues both here and in another place.
The question now is not: in or out? The question is: what sort of Europe do we want, and how do we best engage with it in pursuit of our national best interest? For better or for worse, this treaty has been negotiated and signed. As my noble friend Lord Howell pointed out, this House does not have the power to change the terms of the treaty. What we can and must do is ensure that the treaty of Lisbon is embodied in UK law in the best possible way. That means that we must avoid any gold-plating. We must also ensure that every possible device for accountability is put in place. That is of particular concern to this House.
We had some important contributions on aid programmes, including that from the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich; and my good friend, the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, made a stirring speech about how Europe could help the third world through those programmes.
How right my noble friend Lady Hanham was to seek to disentangle the Home Office from the Ministry of Justice. My noble friend Lord Astor of Hever raised crucial issues on defence. We must also reflect on some ideas put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford.
Important contributions have also been made on some vital provisions that we must now spend time considering in Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, gave a fascinating analysis of the charter, and the noble Lord, Lord Jay, made a thoughtful speech including a lot of points about which we need to think carefully, as did the noble Lords, Lord Kerr and Lord Hannay. With all their experience, what they said merits closer scrutiny.
As the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said, we can in this House substantially improve the legislation. Like him, I sincerely hope that Ministers will approach the amendments to be tabled in the House with an open mind, particularly on the passerelle provisions, especially in the light of the persuasive comments of my noble friend Lord Goodlad.
I have worked with the Minister on several occasions, and I hope that I do not again blight her career by saying that I have always found her to be constructive, open-minded and fair-minded when a convincing and honest argument is made for improving legislation. Unless we are very much on our guard, this legislation will make it possible for changes in European law to be imported into UK statute without any requirement for primary legislation. Perhaps more to the point, there would be no opportunity for debate in this House. That would be unacceptable and, arguably, against the spirit of how we have traditionally conducted ourselves in this country within the rule of law and within a bicameral system.
As Peter Riddell pointed out in an article in the Times this morning, your Lordships’,
“treaty amendments make sense. Ministers should take note”.
Well, we have amendments to make. I do not know how Peter Riddell heard about them, but we will be tabling them. The point is not about being pro-European or anti-European, it is all about accountability, due process and the rule of law.
The one issue that has overhung this debate is the question of a referendum. I cannot avoid dealing with that, especially as the noble Baroness the Lord President said that she was going to deal with it in her speech when she was interrupted—rightly, I think—for clarification by my noble friend Lord Forsyth.
As I said, this has been a marvellous debate, drawing on that breadth and depth of experience and wisdom that could not be bettered anywhere. That is all very well, but this should be a debate for everyone, not just for the sage heads who populate the Benches in this House.
The referendum is certainly no longer an abstruse constitutional question. I particularly commend the speeches of my noble friends, Lord Forsyth, Lord Leach of Fairford and Lord Waddington. My noble friend Lord Leach had it right when he said that surely the Government could not go back on a pledge that helped to win them the election. In essence, it is a matter of trust. The outstanding speech for me was that made by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, who pointed out why it was a question of trust. I just say to the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, that that was the speech that should have motivated and moved him. I found it very persuasive.
Sir Winston Churchill famously said, “Trust the people”. As ever, he was highly prescient. My noble friend Lord Howell may grieve, but, as my noble friend Lord Liverpool and others pointed out, all the parties at the last election promised a referendum on a document that was substantially similar to the treaty of Lisbon, a document that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said in the debate was a treaty of real significance. What matters is that it is surely sophistry, as my noble friend Lord Marlesford said, to claim that differences between this treaty and the former constitutional treaty are so great that its constitutional significance has somehow been stripped away. The analysis of my noble friend Lord Blackwell proved that.
This is the treaty formerly known as the constitutional treaty. As the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, said, it should never have been called a constitutional treaty, a point echoed by my noble friend Lord Brittan of Spennithorne. The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, called it a dead parrot—I am still trying to work out the significance of that remark—and my noble friend Lord Bowness said that it never was a constitution. As my noble friend Lord Ryder said, it was a populist pledge. It was this Government who let the referendum genie well and truly out of the bottle, and what an unworthy and demeaning sight it is now as the very same Ministers try to coax it back inside the bottle.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said that this was all Tony Blair’s fault. This was a surprising theme in the debate: that it was somehow all the fault of one person called Tony Blair who somehow thought up the idea of a referendum. It was not Tony Blair; it was someone called Mr Clegg. According to the Guardian in 2003, the present leader of the Liberal party said that if there were to be changes as a result of the discussions in Europe, Tony Blair should stop refusing a referendum and embrace it. It was Mr Nick Clegg who thought up the idea and persuaded Tony Blair, so how the noble Baroness can now turn on Tony Blair and blame him for what her own party did, I simply cannot understand. Anyway, that is the Liberal party. It was all over the place in this debate. Having pledged a referendum and then abstained in the other place, it decided to adopt the third way—to oppose a referendum. My goodness, we are still trying to work out exactly where it stands.
This latest breach of trust will be significant indeed for the Labour Party. As my noble friend Lord Lawson said, it is a question of political integrity. What a telling question was posed by the noble Lord, Lord Renwick of Clifton: whether the Government’s commitment to hold a referendum, if they were to recommend entry into the eurozone and the adoption of the euro, still stands. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, also asked that question. I hope that the Lord President will answer it.
It is alas too characteristic of this Government that they should choose to arrogate to themselves every decision possible. Everything must be micro-managed and controlled from the centre. They seem to say, “Don’t let the voters trouble their little heads about matters that are far too complicated for them”. The Government constantly ask the people to trust them. On this crucially important issue, why will they not trust the people? If they do not, the people will never trust them again.
My Lords, first, may I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, how much I have missed him? For what may be the only time in our deliberations, I agree with him that the array of knowledge, experience and talent that has come together demonstrates again that your Lordships know very well how to have an 11-hour debate, end up quite exhausted, but end up very determined. I look around at so many noble Lords who have contributed and think that this is a debate par excellence.
I feel very privileged to be here. I took on this responsibility very willingly and I am delighted that I did so. In the time that I think I can safely allocate myself without causing too many concerns, I shall try to deal with some of the comments that have been made, with the inevitable apology that I shall do little justice to our deliberations at this stage, but that I hope to make up for that as we progress with this Bill through your Lordships’ House.
The award for passionate contributions goes to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, with close seconds to the noble Lords, Lord Maclennan of Rogart and Lord Forsyth, and my noble friend Lady Symons. We would have been poorer without their contributions for sure. Early on in his contribution, I think that I heard the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, say that I dazzled him. I am very impressed with that. I of course agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, on the maiden speech. I give the award for the maiden speech made in a highly controversial debate, but made extremely well, to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester. He followed admirably in the footsteps of his predecessor George Bell. I agree with him, and the quoted President Sarkozy, that it is time to move on from institutional change to doing what is needed. I agree wholeheartedly with the right reverend Prelate and I thank him for his support. I enjoyed the speech made by the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland. I am pleased to see that the power of speeches to make effective change still exists. As the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said, I hope that the second half of the debate did not change his mind back again.
On opening this debate, I paid tribute to the work of the members of the European Union Committee, but I clearly was not alone. To the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, I say, “Feel the love”. As every noble Lord who has commented on the report has said, this was a remarkable piece of work. Sadly, as my noble friend Lady Symons said, it was not picked up by the media, for the reasons that she gave.
The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, asked particularly about the comments on page 246 of the report on how your Lordships’ House would deal with the consequences of the treaty in terms of procedure. I very much look forward to talking with the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, and to my noble friend Lord Harrison, who made a great speech. I also would be grateful for the views of other members of the committee. Perhaps we can begin those dialogues very soon, for I appreciate that that is important.
To the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, I offer many accolades for the work of the Constitution Committee. We will look carefully at its report and at the comments made by the noble Lord today. I shall try really hard not to trade quotes with the noble Lord, Lord Howell. I have here the quotes that perhaps I could have used. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, although I know that he was pained when he made the comment that we should rest on the merits of the argument. I appreciate that point and agree that that is what we should do.
I ask noble Lords who have not yet had the chance to look carefully at the reports in this House and another place to rely on them in their entirety and not necessarily on the selectivity of individual quotes. It is very important that we do that, particularly because I was struck as I watched my honourable friend Mr Connarty talk about what had happened to some of the quotes from the committee’s report in the other place. He was particularly concerned about how the report was used, which is relevant to some of the comments made by the noble Lords, Lord Renwick, Lord Burnett and Lord Moran. He was worried about halves or quarters of sentences being used.
The relevant example that he gave—noble Lords have raised this—was that the Scrutiny Committee had said that the reform treaty was substantially equivalent to the EU constitution. That is not what was said in the report: what was actually said was completely different. What matters is whether the new treaty produces an effect which is substantially equivalent to the constitutional treaty. Those who took the last part of the sentence and presented it as fact should note that the report went on to say that for countries that did not have opt-outs and derogations, the treaty was substantially the same, but that was not the case for the UK.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Gilbert about the noble Lord, Lord Williamson. He made a balanced, sensible speech and one that was right. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his contribution. I was worried that my noble friend Lord Gilbert might go a little over the top, but thankfully he did not. I agree with what he said, particularly about the death penalty, and of course about the importance of European Union enlargement into eastern Europe. When I was a justice Minister I had the pleasure of meeting colleagues in Romania, Bulgaria, Poland and Lithuania, where I travelled on a number of occasions to work with them and support what they were doing both prior to accession in the case of Romania and Bulgaria, and post-accession in the case of all four countries. It was a deeply privileging experience and extremely important as we began to work together on areas of justice.
I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Monson, that the bus driver directive he mentioned is completely untrue, and I shall have to look at all the others he cited. At one point I thought that the banana directive would rear its head, but I am pleased to say that it did not.
In response to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, I will try to demonstrate that not everything that is important needs to be boring, something my children tell me I have pretty much failed at for the whole of my life. My noble friend Lord Giddens was right to say that what we have is where successive governments have sought to get us: to an open, flexible and enlarged European Union. We are at a very important point in our history as a part of Europe.
The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and my noble friend Lord Kinnock said that the purpose of this treaty lay in having to think about how to deal with a European Union that was no longer made up of six, 12 or 15 nations, but 27. Its institutions and modus operandi needed to reflect that. Some of the frustrations described by my noble friend Lady Symons when she was a Minister working in Europe I shared on the Justice and Home Affairs Council, and I believe, as I know she does, that changes are important. But changes are needed, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, pointed out, in order to enhance British influence, or as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said, to have a cohesive and coherent European Council with influence in the wider world.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, about how differently the next generation views the world it has grown up in, and I appreciate the sporting analogy she made. But I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, that I think it has been more Arsenal than Derby County tonight, which is the highest accolade I can give when living in an Arsenal household and being a Liverpool supporter. We need to make changes while protecting British interests and enhancing British prosperity. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, that the EU has been good for our prosperity. The free market of capital and the measures on competition mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Jay, will make a big difference. I leave both noble Lords to try to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, about employment. I have failed completely every time I have answered Questions on this subject, but perhaps with the help of the noble Lords, Lord Jay and Lord Rodgers, we may be able to achieve more. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, shakes his head, and that is probably the way it is.
The noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, said to nods of agreement from some noble Lords, particularly on the Liberal Democrat Benches, and support from the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, that he feared that the Government had been defensive rather than positive in promoting the treaty. I have thought about it quite a lot over these hours, so as I turn to the issues that have been raised, let me see if I can truly defend and promote this Bill to the noble Lord’s satisfaction. I agree again with the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, that there is nothing frightening in what we want to achieve here.
I turn to the relationship between the treaty and the constitution. I have said already on a number of occasions in your Lordships’ House that they are not the same, and I shall quote from a document:
“One of the most important aspects of the Constitutional process and the one that fundamentally differentiates the Treaty of Lisbon from the Draft Constitution is that the Constitution repealed the existing Treaties and replaced them with a single text. In so doing the Constitution would have created a new European Union that would have replaced and succeeded the existing Union”.
I am quoting from The Treaty of Lisbon in Perspective, my new blue book. I want to thank the noble Lords, Lord Pearson, Lord Stoddart and Lord Willoughby de Broke, who bought it for me saying that I might find it useful; indeed, they have inscribed it for me. I have found it useful because I have just quoted from it.
Noble Lords know that there are other differences between the constitution and the treaty. The primacy of European Union law is removed from the main text and included as a declaration, and the symbols are removed; the Charter of Fundamental Rights is removed from the text to a separate document and the changes are highlighted; the Protocol on the charter with nothing extended; the ability of any court, European or domestic, to strike down UK law; the common foreign and security policy in a separate treaty, nothing affecting the existing powers of member states; opt-ins additionally in criminal law and police co-operation; the strengthen, break and veto power in social security; for the first time confirming that national security is the responsibility of member states—which is an important aspect, as noble Lords will appreciate; and, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, moving away from the centralising tendencies of the past.
Am I going to convince some noble Lords opposite and on other Benches about this? I am not. Although I have learnt much about fishing from the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, I fear I will never convince him on this. The debate about differences is, in a sense, the debate about the referendum, and that owes much to party politics. Whatever the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, says, I believe that the once great Conservative Party is in a difficult position in Europe, isolated as it is from those with whom it should naturally be in concert as it moves forward in Europe.
On the referendum, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, said that referenda are a gamble on issues like this. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, with his £165 win, knows much about gambling. I will begin my comments by citing a remarkable speech in 1975 when the question of a referendum was being considered. Making points about parliamentary strength and collective responsibility, the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher—then Mrs Thatcher—said:
“The third point I want to make is the effect of a referendum on representative Government … our system, which has been copied all over the world, is one of representative Government under which those who do not have the time to look into every detail of this or that Bill choose people who are honourable and with whose opinions they are in harmony to discuss these matters. That has been our system of Government for many years, representative Government in which the representatives consider and discuss all the points in detail”.
I was thinking of that when the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, described his concerns about the weight, literally, of the documentation and the detail with which he felt he could not get to grips without being a lawyer. There are real issues when one considers the use of referenda. We are trying in this Parliament and through the deliberations in your Lordships’ House to give the level of detail that representative Governments and Parliaments should do to make sure that the people of this country can trust, to go back to the word of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, this Parliament to make those decisions.
I do not expect an answer tonight, but a question that has been around for some time is what would happen if the Conservative Party were to come back into power. What would it do if the Bill is ratified, as I trust it will be? What would be its position? It is very important not only for this Parliament to know but for Europe to know.
Again I go back to the words of the then Mrs Thatcher. She describes the situation thus. She said:
“The treaty has been in operation for over two years. I know of no country in the Western World in which a referendum has been used to override a treaty obligation which had been through all its parliamentary stages and had been in operation for two years. Such a step would have a damaging effect on Britain’s standing in the world”.—[Official Report, Commons, 11/3/75; cols. 313-14.]
I therefore hope that during the course of our discussions and deliberations, just as the noble Lords opposite expect me to deal with all of these issues, I expect them to tell us what they plan to do should the treaty be ratified, placed on the statute book and they, at some time in the future, come back into power.
Noble Lords referred also to some of the local referenda and the figures that have been given by that campaign. I dealt with this in another debate. The figures from the We Want a Referendum campaign—not my figures—show that 62 per cent of the electorate in each area were given a ballot paper; 23 per cent of the electorate sent it back. Those in favour of a referendum, therefore, represented 19.8 per cent of the electorate. That is the figure we need to look at, not at what was the percentage of those who bothered to return the ballot paper because that does not tell us anything. What matters is what percentage of the electorate who had been given a ballot paper responded. We have to be very clear about that.
The noble Lord, Lord Leach, asked whether the pledge of a referendum would have had any effect on candidates. I bothered to ring up a person who might know about the information from polling. We cannot see any effect that it would have on Labour or Liberal Democrat candidates, so I do not accept the assertion.
We are clear that the treaty is not a constitution. The Government believe that, as in all previous treaties, it is for Parliament to decide. As the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, said, we are acting entirely appropriately. For some noble Lords, the issue is not about a referendum; it is about the European Union itself and its future. Noble Lords were frank, open and honest about that and I respect them enormously. Some noble Lords would be supportive should there be a referendum. Others would argue not to sign up to the treaty and some would argue further than that, that we should not continue in Europe.
We have to consider the implications of that very carefully. My noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis said that the route being prescribed is misconceived and could be damaging. My noble friend Lord Tomlinson asked what happens if this Bill falls. Is what is being sought the status quo or is it a retreat? How would we deal with the issues of an enlarged European Union and the institutional changes that are necessary? As any noble Lord knows who has ever been involved in an organisation that grows, one has to decide the rules to make sure that they are appropriate for the organisation.
The noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones, said that the Government backed off from a referendum because we thought we would lose it. There is no evidence from referendums anywhere that Governments lose because they do not put their energy into it. Our record on referendums suggests that the chances are very high that the Government would win it, not least because the constitution, had we gone down that route, was what we believed in. As I said, there is a substantive and important difference between what was proposed then and what is proposed now. There was no fear of that on this side of the House.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, suggested that we could have a Europe-wide referendum. That was rather a brave thought, but I am not sure that any of us is ready to go down that road.
The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, asked particularly about the UK and the Commonwealth. Noble Lords also asked about the euro. Government policy is that we would not go into the euro without a referendum. The Government continue to believe very strongly in the importance to the UK of the Commonwealth. Membership of the European Union is not to the detriment of membership of the Commonwealth. It is not an either/or issue. The Commonwealth is an extraordinary network of countries, big and small, rich and poor, that represent more than a quarter of the world’s population. It has great potential, as many noble Lords will know. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, is a passionate advocate of our relationship with the Commonwealth. We are by far the largest contributor to it. I can also say that the Queen’s position is completely unchanged by the treaty.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell, was worried about the parliamentary scrutiny in another place. We gave 11 full days in Committee in the Commons. Noble Lords might not have liked the fact that we discussed issues of justice and home affairs, energy, human rights, the single market, foreign policy and defence, but these are substantive and very important parts of what we are seeking to achieve and why Europe and this treaty are so important. There were 45 Divisions, with healthy majorities on each. The majority in favour of the Bill on Third Reading was 140. There were 315 amendments, of which 279 were Conservative amendments—Mr Cash had 154 of them. There were 20 Labour amendments, 14 Liberal Democrat and two SNP. There will now, quite rightly, be proper, detailed scrutiny in your Lordships’ House. We will no doubt deliberate the Bill properly and appropriately, as your Lordships would wish to do.
The noble Lord, Lord Lawson, asked about the competencies. It is very important that the treaty sets out for the first time what the competencies are. Articles 2, 3 and 4 talk about what is exclusive, what is shared and where the role of the European Union is to support and co-ordinate member states. This is the first time that that appears and I think it is important.
The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, to whom I pay tribute for his work on the Delegated Powers Committee and with Justice, described admirably what we call pillar collapse. I am grateful to him. I shall not comment further because he did it so well.
I wanted to clarify to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, about the opt-in. The current system, which is replicated but extended in terms of what we can do, says that opt-in is available at the beginning and the end of the process. I know that because there were a number of civil justice issues where I did not opt in at the beginning, but we participated throughout. The working groups got our views across and we ended up in one particular case with a position where we felt so comfortable with what we had achieved that we were able to opt in. That is an important element of this. It is not a question of not being able to opt in at the beginning; therefore you cannot opt in at all.
Paragraph 5 of Article 63A, which the noble Baroness quoted, states that individual states control the admission to their country, not the European Union. I hope that the noble Baroness would welcome that. She also asked me about control over our borders. The existing frontiers protocol, which makes it clear that the UK has the right to maintain its own border controls, is indeed carried over to the Lisbon treaty. She asked about Frontex. It is a Schengen-building measure. Only the countries who participate in Schengen and in the acquis can be part of Frontex. However, the UK has chosen not to participate in the underlying Schengen acquis. That is why we are not participating at this point in Schengen.
The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, asked when the opt-outs were negotiated. The four red lines were agreed in principle at the June 2007 European Council meeting where all 27 member states agreed a mandate, and the detail was agreed later at the intergovernmental conference and concluded in December 2007.
The noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, asked about fines; that word is not used anywhere in the treaty. Where the UK decides that it will not participate and where that non-participation—and this is important—renders the measure inoperable, the European Union can decide that it does not want the UK to be involved because it does not work. Where it does not work and therefore everything has to be redone, there is a provision that says that we will pay the consequential costs. That is a reasonable measure to have in place bearing in mind what we would be asking them to do, which is to move out of something, make it inoperable and for them to have to put it together again.
I want to talk about the common foreign and security policy briefly. I begin with the EU Committee report which says:
“The Treaty will not change the scope of the CFSP or transfer any additional powers to the EU in this area”.
My noble friend Lady Symons and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, pointed to the importance of the high representative who will be selected by the Council and answerable to member states. The noble Lord, Lord Astor, was worried about that. It is an important role in our view, but there is a clear responsibility as well.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, and my noble friend Lady Symons said that British foreign policy is not diminished. I completely agree. This is not about the EU getting a seat at the Security Council and we will certainly not give up ours, whatever the French decide to do.
The noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Roper, referred to the External Action Service formed from the relevant Council secretariat and the Commission services with secondees, we trust, from national diplomatic services. It does not replace the Diplomatic Service of the UK. It will co-operate but not replace. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Roper, that there are 133, I am told, not 128 Commission delegations covering all the countries where the UK has important relationships, not least in providing support on development. The noble Lord, Lord Plumb, spoke very movingly about what he saw in war-torn countries such as Rwanda. Like him, I am proud when I see on my television screen—as opposed to what the noble Lord saw in person—EU tents.
The noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, was worried about the role of NATO. As the treaty says, NATO,
“remains the foundation of their collective defence and the forum for its implementation”—
that refers to member states. It retains the current language and the character of security and defence policy. The Lisbon treaty is supported by the United States of America and other NATO members, as I indicated in my opening remarks.
The noble Lord, Lord Owen, was particularly concerned about whether the President of the European Council could be the high representative, so let me be clear. The treaty of Lisbon creates a full-time President for two and a half years as opposed to a rotating President every six months. Those of us who have been involved in the presidency—noble Lords who have been there themselves will remember—know that just as one gets into chairing the committee it is gone and you have to move on. There is logic in 27 countries having this appointment for a longer term, but working for and at the behest of the member states. The treaty says that the postholder could not be President of the European Commission. The Lisbon treaty makes it clear that members of the Commission may not, during their term of office, engage in any other occupation and shall neither seek nor take instructions from any Government or from any other bodies. Of course the high representative is a vice-chair of the Commission, so they will be covered by the same thing. I hope that allays the noble Lord’s concern.
The noble Lord was concerned, too, about the role of the European Court of Justice asserting jurisdiction over the common foreign and security policy. Now, the Lisbon treaty contains, for the first time, explicit exclusion of the Court’s jurisdiction over the foreign and security policy. That is important.
I say to the noble Lords, Lord Howell and Lord Waddington, that the European Court of Justice is an important aspect of the European Union. The European Union is a rules-based organisation, which is what makes it successful. Without an effective European Court you cannot enforce the rules. It is in our interests. As my noble friend Lord Kinnock said, its role is to ensure that in the interpretation and application of EU treaties European law is observed. Member states make the rules through the treaties, not through the European Court of Justice. There are lots of examples where the European Court of Justice has ruled in favour of the UK.
Passerelle clauses have been described as ratchet clauses. Passerelle does not mean ratchet; it means footbridge. As the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, will know, passerelles are not new; the concept was first introduced by the Single European Act when he was a Cabinet Minister, and the new provisions have been introduced in every amending treaty. But for the first time since the passerelles allowed moves to qualified majority voting, which was introduced in 1986, Parliament will have the final say over their use. I hope the noble Lord will welcome that. As the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, said, qualified majority voting can be a positive force. As my noble friend Lord Radice said, if you are ever going to change the common agricultural policy, the route may well be through qualified majority voting. I say to my noble friend Lady Turner that I hope she will be able to look at what has been said by my noble friend Lord Kinnock and others and find that her issues have been addressed appropriately.
I go back to the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, and her speech in 1993. We would never have got the single market without an extension of majority voting. We wanted a single market and we had to have some majority voting. That is right. But my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made perfectly clear his commitment:
“To ensure that no Government can agree without Parliament’s approval to any change in European rules that could, in any way, alter the constitutional balance of power between Britain and the European Union, we will make a provision in the Bill that any proposal to activate the mechanisms in the treaty that provide for further moves to QMV, but which require unanimity of member states, will have to be subject to a prior vote by this House”.—[Official Report, Commons, 22/10/07; col. 22.]
I cannot be clearer than that. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, was worried about whether we should have an Act of Parliament for these. I think that a resolution in both Houses is the way to go forward.
My noble friend Lady Turner worried about what happened in terms of UK citizens and rights. There is no question of fewer rights. All the social and labour provisions are either existing rights in United Kingdom law or are guiding principles. We are bound by the same rules on working conditions as other European Union states. There is no effect on the current rights of children in the Bill. My noble friend was worried about migrant children.
As for new powers for Parliament, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, talked about the importance of national parliaments having a direct say in making European laws. Although the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, was not enthusiastic about yellow and orange cards, I think they are very important. My noble friend Lord Haskel welcomed them.
The real issue is what we do together as part of the European Union. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and the noble Lord, Lord Jay, talked about the spread of human rights and democracy. My noble friend Lady Quin talked about the relevance and importance for new member states; the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, about justice and home affairs; my noble friend Lord Harrison about mental health and the benefits to Liverpool, for example, as the City of Culture this year; the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, about climate change and trade; the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, about environmental protection; and my noble friend Lord Sewel about agriculture. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said that if we act alone we cannot solve our problems. I agree, and I agree with my noble friend Lord Kinnock that the Bill will strengthen democracy, and I agree on the importance of competition in so doing.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, made a very important speech about development. It is not about downgrading through the high representative the role of international development. It will be his responsibility to ensure that there is coherence of action. It makes clear through the Lisbon treaty that, for the first time, the primary objective of development is poverty reduction. I will respond in more detail to the noble Earl but I can say that I know he is worried about EuropeAid. There have not been further discussions about it yet. Of course, trade and the links that the noble Earl referred to are important as well. The CBI has said how important it believes this is, but, more importantly, that we need to get on with the differences that will be made. I agree with those noble Lords, including my noble friend Lady Quin, on the need to think about information.
“Our duty is to be resolute, to hold on to our red lines, to engage and participate, standing together in Europe, otherwise we shall in the end hang separately”.—[Official Report, 5/12/07; col. 1794.]
That was the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, who sadly is not in his place this evening. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, said that democracy requires leadership. We have to lead on this: we have to lead as a Parliament and as a Government. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones, that we should do the right thing, which is to ratify the treaty in the right way—that is by Parliament—and for the right reasons. That is because it matters to the citizens of this country that we do so, in order that they have their opportunities enhanced. I hope that the House will agree to give the Bill a second reading.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.