My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that she, having been informed of the purport of the European Union (Amendment) Bill, has consented to place her Prerogative and Interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a third time.—(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)
rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion that this Bill be now read a third time, to leave out from “that” to the end and insert “, notwithstanding the normal practice of the House, this Bill be read a third time no earlier than Monday 20 October 2008 to allow—
(a) Parliament to consider the most appropriate response to the changed circumstances and uncertainties caused by the rejection of the Lisbon treaty in the Irish referendum; and
(b) any amendments to the Bill made necessary by those changed circumstances to be considered in detail by the House, if necessary on recommitment”.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, we have already touched this afternoon in our brief exchanges on the Lisbon treaty and the implications of events that took place over the weekend. I think it is right to say—I hope that it is not controversial—that most authorities recognise that the treaty of Lisbon is and has to be technically dead. It had to be ratified to become alive—to exist—by all 27 of the signatories to it, and one of those signatories has declared that it does not wish to do so and has rejected it. That is the technical position; I do not think it is widely disputed.
One has to be realistic—perhaps in this House it is particularly our duty to be realistic—and recognise that corpses can be resuscitated in certain circumstances and by certain ingenious devices. Anyone who has studied the commentaries in the chancelleries of Europe and in Brussels over the weekend will have heard some of those devices mentioned. One is that explanatory protocols should be somehow attached to the treaty that would not change the text but would make life easier for the Irish to review their situation. Another is that there should be political commitments by the other 26 member states that would again make special exceptions for the Irish and meet some of their obvious worries. There have also been some proposals about the so-called provisional application or disapplication of certain parts of the Lisbon treaty, which would not affect the treaty but somehow become internationally binding in law—our law as well as international law.
That is the position that we face. While the treaty text cannot be changed in any way and has been rejected by the people of the Republic of Ireland, some of the provisions and moves that I describe could take place. I do not know whether they will—none of us does—and we do not know whether they will succeed in keeping Ireland within the European Union, which I think is what most people want. What is crystal clear to me, and I hope to your Lordships, is that Parliament will need to take account of any changes in its legislation and in the Bill. My contention, which seems straightforward, is that the other place—the elected Chamber; we are not the elected Chamber—must be allowed some control in these matters.
That is why, even from the Government’s point of view, completing and signing off this Bill now with a brisk Third Reading would be extremely unwise. Far from pushing the Bill through, it could be argued that it is fortunate for the Government that we are just in time to save the situation and to give the Government and the other place, which is the elected Chamber, the chance to cope with a new situation and the new additions and adjustments that may occur and for which there are precedents.
In a just world we should be thanked for delaying the Third Reading, which is what I am proposing. I know, having been in politics for some time, that there is no gratitude in politics, so I do not expect any thanks whatever. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the prudent course is to wait a few months and see whether further amendments are called for—none of us knows—or whether the Bill is redundant and can be discarded because the treaty cannot be brought into force. This seems to me so obvious that I wondered—it may be pure self-delusion—whether we might have the benefit of the Liberal Democrats’ support for this democratic course. I have two quotes from the Liberal Democrat leadership to give me some hope, although I am the first to recognise that quotes fly off the Liberal Democrats in all directions like sparks from a catherine wheel and others may be found to contradict them.
First, the Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs Spokesman said in the Commons that the Liberal Democrats,
“find it difficult to see any way in which to continue with the Lisbon treaty”.—[Official Report, Commons, 16/6/08; col. 708.]
Secondly, their leader, Mr Clegg, said on the “Andrew Marr Show” on Sunday:
“We should not just somehow airbrush out of history the Irish vote … I really hope that the European elite won’t behave with the arrogance that a lot of people think they should”.
That seems pretty decisive and would indicate that the Liberal Democrats will give me some support, but I live in slender hopes. There is also some Liberal Democrat theory that Third Reading and Royal Assent, which will happen immediately, do not automatically mean ratification, but the Government have made it clear that once the Bill is through—if it gets through—the ratification will happen immediately. That is a distinction without a difference.
Either the treaty is truly dead, and no longer exists, in which case the next stage of Third Reading is pointless and a waste of all our time, or there will be some clever changes to help the Irish to stay on board. In the Government’s language, the treaty is not killed off entirely. In that case, it is our duty in your Lordships’ House to give the elected Chamber the chance to reflect on the new situation and accordingly suggest changes that will be necessary to our legislation. Either way, it is a deep misjudgment to hurry the Bill through its final stage and seal off further discussion of the new situation rather than carefully and prudently delay it until the situation is clearer and Parliament has had a chance to reassess.
Our bright and active Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, who is a very able young man, says that patience is needed in this situation. So it is; and that patience should begin with the Government and with the handling of the Bill. I therefore beg to move.
Moved, as an amendment to the Motion that this Bill be now read a third time, to leave out from “that” to the end and insert “, notwithstanding the normal practice of the House, this Bill be read a third time no earlier than Monday 20 October 2008 to allow—
(a) Parliament to consider the most appropriate response to the changed circumstances and uncertainties caused by the rejection of the Lisbon treaty in the Irish referendum; and
(b) any amendments to the Bill made necessary by those changed circumstances to be considered in detail by the House, if necessary on recommitment”.—(Lord Howell of Guildford.)
My Lords, I want to make three points, and I hope that they may assist the House. Progress on the Bill has been slow and it has been thorough. Let us look at the statistics. Parliament has had 24 days of debate, with 10.5 days in this House; 315 amendments were tabled in the Commons; 266 were tabled in the Lords. There have been no fewer than 57 Divisions: 12 in this House and 45 in another place. The Bill has been scrutinised thoroughly, minutely and in great detail. It is at the final stage of its parliamentary progress. It should now proceed.
It is noteworthy that those who are most in favour of postponing the Bill are the very people who are opposed to the treaty. I am sure that it is a great coincidence, but it is difficult to find, at least in this House, someone who says that he is in favour of the Bill and also in favour of not proceeding with it. I listened to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, with great interest, as I always do. He uses elegant words and flowing phrases. I was reminded of an incident that took place many years ago in the other place when I rather upset the late Lord Hailsham. I cannot remember what the issue was, but he made a great speech in which there was great talk of honour, constitution and principles. I had to follow him, and follow him I did. I accused him of something I called “vintage Hoggery”. I then defined vintage Hoggery as the art of elevating a political motive into a high-flown constitutional principle. He was not very well pleased—your Lordships may not be surprised. Nevertheless, it is good, I suppose, to see that Hoggery still flourishes and exists, at least on the Conservative Front Bench.
The issue here is very simple. It is whether, having got this far, there is any justification for not continuing. We should look first at what the Irish say. They have urged other countries to proceed with their own ratification processes. The Irish Minister for Europe, Mr Roche, said on the BBC on Monday:
“I believe that the Irish people have had their say. I believe that they now want to allow each of the other member states to have its say and then at the end of this process to say, ‘Well where does this leave us? Where are we?’ I mean, the whole genius of Europe is that it has moved together and that it moves together in unison. The idea of a two-tier Europe is not attractive to any member state”.
Mr Roche was then asked by the interviewer, Evan Davis:
“You want the rest of us to continue with the ratification process, do you, because the British are voting on Wednesday?".
“Well, we certainly have said we're not going to intrude on any other member state's ratification process. It's right and proper that each member state deals with this matter in its own constitutional procedures as we did with our process. Our process is respected and we respect everybody else's right to deal with it through their processes”.
If the Irish Government do not think that the process of ratification should be postponed, why on earth should we? Nor do I accept for one moment the argument that somehow or other postponing the Third Reading of this Bill gives the Government more elbow room, latitude and clout in any future negotiations. It seems to me to be exactly the contrary. If we pass this Bill, the British position becomes clear. If we do not, it will remain imprecise and opaque, which seems to me to be what the Opposition want.
I do not accept the arguments that the result of the Irish referendum makes it more difficult for us to play our full part in European affairs or that by passing this Bill we are somehow joining with others in bullying Ireland. I cannot help wondering whether these objections would still be made if we had proceeded on a different form of ratification other than the one we chose. There is nothing wrong with ratifying a treaty by the parliamentary process. That is how Maastricht, Nice and the Single European Act were done. The other form of ratification is by a public referendum. Either one is equally valid in law and produces the same effect. I cannot help thinking that the attitude of the Opposition would hardly be the same if we had chosen to ratify via a referendum. Consider this possibility: if that referendum had been arranged, say, for next Monday, is it seriously contended that it would be postponed because of the difficulties that it is alleged might flow from the Irish vote? I do not think the Opposition would advocate that for an instant, even though the effect of the referendum, if positive, would be precisely the same as the passage of this Bill. Either way, therefore, we would go on with it.
The fact is that the Official Opposition just do not want the treaty; it is that which has motivated their actions. I do not think that this House should pander to them any longer. We have come a very long way in considering the Bill. It would be ludicrous for us now to refrain from completing our job.
My Lords, I support the amendment. The Foreign Secretary said in his Statement the other day:
“The rules of the treaty and of the EU are clear. All 27 member states must ratify the treaty for it to come into force … There is no question of ignoring the Irish vote or of bulldozing Irish opinion. Ireland clearly cannot be bound by changes that it has not ratified”.—[Official Report, Commons, 16/6/08; col. 704.]
He is completely correct in what he said. I hope that I shall be forgiven for reminding your Lordships of some of the relevant legal provisions, as I do not think that we spent any instant of time on them. You have to go to the treaty of Lisbon in its unreadable form, which is in Command Paper 7294—the hunks and not the rewritten version that we have all been working from, which the Government kindly produced. If you toil your way through to page 156 of the treaty as printed, you come to the final provisions. The key provision for today is Article 6:
“This Treaty shall be ratified by the High Contracting Parties in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements. The instruments of ratification shall be deposited with the Government of the Italian Republic … This Treaty shall enter into force on 1 January 2009, provided that all the instruments of ratification have been deposited, or, failing that, on the first day of the month following the deposit of the instrument of ratification by the last signatory State to take this step”.
Those provisions require ratification of this treaty—not some other amended or altered version—by all 27 member states. The treaty will not enter into force until the last of the 27 has deposited the instrument of ratification with Italy. That event, we know, will never happen.
Ireland has duly followed its constitutional requirements and a referendum was held. I have looked at the Constitution of Ireland. Articles 46 and 47 deal with proposals for an amendment of the constitution, which have to be,
“submitted by Referendum to the decision of the people in accordance with the law for the time being in force”.
That law is the next article, which simply says that a proposal for amendment of the constitution should be,
“submitted by Referendum to the decision of the people”.
The proposal will be held to have been approved if a majority cast their votes in favour at such a referendum. I am shortening it, but that is the gist.
That event has not happened. The opposite has happened. The people have refused it; they have rejected it. For the sake of accuracy, I should record that there are two referendum Acts in Ireland—those of 1994 and 1996. As far as I can tell from a textbook summary, they add nothing of relevance to the present debate.
What are the facts as they are today? The best source for me was today’s Irish Times. On page 8, we are told, that the Taoiseach, Mr Brian Cowen, said in the Dail yesterday:
“In my discussions with my colleagues”—
he is talking about discussions that will take place tomorrow—
“I will be stressing that the people have spoken and that the Government accepts the result”.
The Labour leader, Eamon Gilmore, spoke in a similar vein. The Irish Times quoted him as saying that it was important that everyone accepted and respected the decision made last Thursday. The Fine Gael leader, Enda Kenny, joined in, emphasising his disappointment with the result but adding that the decision must be accepted and respected.
Meanwhile, the first page of the Irish Times carried the headline, “EU may offer concessions and opt-outs to win new treaty vote”. We read from the reporter:
“France and Germany are quietly hoping the Government will consider holding another referendum in the spring before the next European elections on the basis of several opt-outs from core EU policies or declarations explaining how the Lisbon Treaty does not affect Irish tax or abortion laws. British diplomats are more cautious, believing a second failed referendum could provoke an EU crisis”.
One understands from that that the discussion has moved on from the text of the Lisbon treaty to some improved version that the Irish—and, we must add, the other 26 member states—will be content with. That will be a new treaty and will lead to a new Bill coming to this House and to the House of Commons for approval.
We must be prepared to face the facts—the legal facts and the facts of the world—which are that the Lisbon treaty is dead and that there is no possibility of the treaty in its existing form ever coming into operation. Ireland, by its own due process, has rejected it. All the political parties in Ireland accept that result. It is inconceivable that the text, without a change, will ever be put before the Irish people again in a referendum. It is possible that there will be something different in a few months’ time, but the Government are planning to ratify a dead treaty. I say “dead”, because the treaty itself so dictates by insisting on unanimous ratification. Nothing in existing law on the Lisbon treaty says that there is some way in which you can deal with it now with less than a 27-member vote.
The other thing that we need to think about and to which the Government have given no consideration, so far as I can see, is the effect on the Bill, of which we are being asked to give a Third Reading, of the Lisbon treaty never coming into effect. I will take your Lordships to that, but I can summarise in advance by saying that the absence of a Lisbon treaty strikes a lethal blow at the Bill as it is. I shall start with the commencement clause, Clause 8, which states:
“Section 3 (and the Schedule) come into force in accordance with provision made by the Secretary of State by order”.
Clause 3(3) says:
“The Table in the Schedule to this Act sets out substitutions required to reflect terminology after the commencement of the Treaty of Lisbon”.
The whole exercise of relabelling and amending existing treaties will not come into operation until the treaty of Lisbon has commenced—an event that I submit to your Lordships will never happen. Clause 8(3) says:
“The other provisions of this Act come into force on Royal Assent”—
that is, in a day or two from now.
Let us look back to see what we have in the rest of the Bill. Clause 1 defines the treaties that we are talking about. They are defined in terms of signature. I make that point in case anyone seizes on it. The clause states:
“In this Act ‘the Treaty of Lisbon’ means the Treaty of Lisbon Amending the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty Establishing the European Community signed at Lisbon on 13th December 2007”.
Clause 2, which is headed, “Addition to the list of treaties”, says:
“At the end of the list of treaties in Clause 1(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 … add—
(s) the Treaty of Lisbon Amending the Treaty’”,
et cetera. That is the language. We are to add to the list of treaties a treaty that will never have any effect. What, precisely, is Parliament doing in telling everybody who writes a textbook or completes a list of up-to-date legislation on the EU that they are to add to the list of relevant EU treaties a treaty that is, at the moment, completely dead? A new one may come along, but we have not got there. In Clause 3, we have the changes in terminology. I am not going to take any more time. I have referred to subsection (3)—
My Lords, correct me if I am wrong, but the same treaty was ultimately put to the Irish population again. The Irish were told to rethink and came up with a different verdict. That is not what we hear from Ireland today. They are not going to do it again and they will not be insulted by the idea that they might do so.
Clause 4 is headed, “Increase of powers of European Parliament”. It states:
“The Treaty of Lisbon is approved for the purposes of … the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2002”.
That is a dead duck. It does not apply at all. There will never be a treaty of Lisbon. We go on to Clause 5, which is headed, “Amendment of founding treaties”. It tells us in subsection (1):
“A treaty which satisfies the following conditions may not be ratified unless approved by Act of Parliament”.
Then there are two conditions, of which the second is:
“Condition 2 is that the Treaty results from the application of Article 48(2) to (5) of the Treaty on European Union (as amended by the Treaty of Lisbon)”.
That condition can never be satisfied, so Clause 5 can never operate.
Clause 6, which is headed, “Parliamentary control of decisions”, gives a whole list of provisions that will need parliamentary approval. All make reference either to the treaty of European Union, covered in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of subsection (1), or to the treaty on the functioning of the European Union, covered in paragraphs (d) to (i). Those treaties are defined as the Lisbon treaty in subsection (4). The effect of that is that no provision other than Clause 1—and possibly the clause on commencement—will ever come into force, or bite on anything, if there is no treaty of Lisbon. For Parliament to be asked to give a Third Reading to a Bill that has nil effect, and submit it for Royal Assent, seems entirely wrong.
Your Lordships may say—and I see the smiles of some noble Lords facing me—that there has been a big win for the proponents of the treaty. So it is. Everybody in the House knows that every vote has been won by the Government and their allies and lost by the Conservatives. We all know that. We know that the Bill is in a position where, if we were asked to put up our hands, a majority would be in favour. I have not the slightest objection to any parliamentary procedure that could be devised for taking the opinion of Parliament on approving the terms of the Lisbon treaty. However, we ought not to be asked to go through what is now a charade of Third Reading of a Bill that, as I have demonstrated, can never achieve its intended result.
It would be different if someone were prepared to stand up and say, “Don’t you worry, it’ll all be put to the Irish population again and they’re going to vote it through, so there is some real substance here”. However, I cannot believe that anybody in the House could sincerely believe that to be a possibility. We ought to do what the Irish have asked for. Let us have some time and space so that we can see what comes up. Let us talk to our colleagues in Brussels tomorrow and on Friday. Then there will be a period—
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. If he is seriously asking us to do what the Irish have asked us to do, would he not reflect that the Irish have asked us to continue and to complete the process of ratification in this country?—[Interruption.]
My Lords, I shall carry on. The last time I had really big support was at a planning inquiry, where I was booed by an entire village. I did not let it put me off then.
We ought not to be doing this. There should not be a ratification or a Third Reading of a Bill that is so crippled by a shot that has gone through it. On whether we should help our Irish friends, I do not know which way they are turning. They are shot to pieces. They say very nicely in a very nice accent to all the other member states, “You carry on with ratification”. But earlier I heard people saying, “This Parliament is sovereign. We take our own decisions here”. It is a total irrelevance. The view expressed by the Irish on what other member states should do does not weigh with me in the slightest. We are in London in the Westminster Parliament. We make our own decisions.
My Lords, many of us have been reading the Irish Times and the Irish Independent during the past two or three days. A great many things are being said in Ireland. It is not at all clear yet what the Irish response will be. We must respect the Irish decision and the debate which follows from it. We await the response of the Irish Government and the leaders of the Irish “no” campaign on what they propose to do next.
Sinn Fein has already come up with a list of specific guarantees that Gerry Adams says would satisfy it. They include guarantees against any privatisation of public services, the entrenchment of workers’ rights and Irish neutrality. I am not sure whether the Conservative Front Bench is happy about that list or about the strengthening of Sinn Fein’s position in Irish politics to which the “no” campaign has contributed through its unlikely alliance between socialists, nationalists and free market libertarians.
But, I say to he noble Lord, Lord Neill, the British decision is for us to make as a sovereign Parliament and a sovereign country, and not to hand over to the Irish to make on our behalf. It is the particular responsibility of our House as the revising Chamber to frame our decision in terms of what we think is best for Britain’s national interests; that is, our long-term national interests, not the immediate fears and passions of today. To complete the passage of this Bill to which both Houses have devoted exhaustive scrutiny will strengthen our Prime Minister’s position in this weekend’s European Council. We, as a responsible opposition party, will support that. I hope that Cross-Benchers, as responsible Cross-Benchers in a revising Chamber, will do the same.
For many years, the Conservative Party was a responsible Government. When the Danes voted against the Maastricht treaty, in a Statement to both Houses, the Prime Minister, John Major, said:
“The ratification and implementation of the treaty is in our national interest”.
He went on to say:
“My right hon. friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Foreign Secretary and I believed that this was the right treaty when we negotiated it. The treaty itself has not changed, nor has my view of the treaty”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/6/92; col. 827-834.]
We now have an irresponsible Conservative Opposition. I note that the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, has now been taken over by the Front Bench, in the same way that so many amendments put down by Bill Cash in the other place were taken over by the Conservative Front Bench in this House.
We find it difficult to grasp exactly the way that the Conservative Party now feels on this. William Hague said of the Amsterdam treaty:
“Amsterdam was a bad treaty; bad for Europe and bad for Britain”,
even though it was negotiated largely by John Major’s Government. On the Nice treaty, he said:
“Is not the truth, when we cut through the spin, that the agreement represents three more major steps to a European superstate?”.
Now the Conservatives are saying that the Nice and Amsterdam treaties are fine; it is just the Lisbon treaty that takes us one step two far.
I read with interest Daniel Finkelstein’s article in today’s Times, arguing that the Conservatives will do much better to fight the next election while obscuring their policies, hoping that if they win, they can then spell out their policies. So the suggestion is to fight without a coherent foreign policy which has to include a coherent European policy. That is slick marketing but it is also irresponsible populism.
Last Wednesday, many of us wanted to be at the Tim Garden memorial lecture but had to be here because of the debate that day. I read last night the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, in that lecture. He said:
“So many of today’s threats to our comfortable existence, to our taken for granted safety and security, are rooted in the ongoing process of globalisation”.
He talked about climate change, immigration, threats to employment, and rising food and fuel prices.
The popular mistrust of globalisation in Britain is focused on the European Union. In the United States, it is focused on the United Nations and on international law; in France, it is focused on the United States, which is blamed for Americanisation—the same thing as globalisation. We recognise how large a problem we all face in democratic politics in all democratic countries, but what is common to all those countries is a popular mistrust of government above the level of the nation state, of negotiations behind closed doors by people who are seen to be out of touch with the common man, and a fear of change imposed by outside forces.
The European Union is, however, the least undemocratic, most visible and transparent institution that we have. Compare, for example, the World Trade Organisation. It is much blamed by Irish farmers—I was following the debate as well—because Peter Mandelson was seen as giving away Irish rights on the beef trade within the World Trade Organisation. The WTO is an international institution which carries direct impact on national policies. There is a WTO assembly—I saw an ITU document asking whether some of us would like to join it. It is completely impotent compared to the European Parliament.
On the OECD, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, who is very keen on the Commonwealth, might like to know that last weekend I was reading the Commonwealth Secretariat paper on co-operation in tax information exchange. The paper attacks the “democratic deficit” within the OECD. It refers to a very interesting paper by Joseph Nye for the Trilateral Commission on the democracy deficit in the IMF and G8.
We all face a large number of problems of managing to co-operate in a globalised world. I pick up today’s newspapers and I see the Sun and the Daily Mail deliberately distorting the French Government’s decisions on their security strategy paper by saying that in future the Royal Navy is going to be commanded for some purposes from Brussels. They do not actually mention that, for some purposes, the British Royal Navy is already commanded from Brussels; that is where the NATO headquarters are. NATO is an organisation rather less transparent and less held to account than the European Union. Drifting to the fringes of the European Union will not spare us from the management of globalisation; it will simply reduce our influence over its management on climate change, energy, international security, foreign policy—the noble Lord, Lord Howell, has said on several occasions in our debates that we need stronger co-operation on our foreign policy towards Russia and the Middle East—or on containing trans-national crime and terrorism. The Lisbon treaty contains useful measures to strengthen our joint capabilities in managing these issues. We need some of those changes in order to be able to cope more effectively.
Noble Lords should recognise that there is a real danger of giving way to populism, or following media campaigns with all their slickly obscured internal contradictions, rather than providing a lead—which is what politicians must do in a democracy—explaining political challenges and their choices to our citizens. We failed to do that on the European and international issues from Margaret Thatcher’s prime ministership on. That has been one of the greatest failures of the current Government.
May I just compare that with the drift to populism in crime and punishment, which I know many people in this House are horrified by? Again starting under the previous Conservative Government and then under this Labour Government, there has been a bidding up by the popular press of the need for tougher measures against crime and more people in prison, as a result of which we now have more than twice as many people in prison as there were 15 years ago and more young people being locked up—and still the press demand more.
The question that we have to consider today is where British national interests lie. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, referred to certain ingenious devices. This is yet another ingenious device in an attempt to block the passage of this Bill and the implementation of this treaty and to weaken Britain’s commitment to European co-operation. Our choice as a revising House should be taken in the light of Britain’s long-term national interests.
My Lords, I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, that I was not quite sure how much of his contribution actually addressed the amendment moved by my noble friend. However, I want to make clear my own personal position before I say anything more on the amendment, because many of us on these Benches have been misrepresented.
I have always been a strong supporter of Europe. In the world in which we live, there is undoubtedly an importance in being an effective partner in a grouping of nations. It was important enough when we first agreed to join; in the present world climate, with security issues, the energy crisis and the food crisis, global warming and the prospect of possibly mass migration, and with the seismic shift of wealth out of European developed countries into oil-producing countries, there never was a more important time for us to have the strength of collective action in these areas. It is because I care about that, and because I have supported Europe over the years, that I am deeply concerned about the great gulf now emerging between that concept, which is honourable and persuadable, and the great public disaffection with Europe.
I say to those who are the most passionate supporters—and there are many others here, among them distinguished former Commissioners—that the defence on these issues may imperil the very existence of Britain in Europe, if we do not address that public concern. I say to those on the Liberal Benches who have addressed this issue that I was not surprised that my parliamentary neighbour David Heath, as he was when I had the neighbouring constituency, decided to resign from the Front Bench and vote against the Liberal Whip. It was not totally unconnected with the fact that in his own, Liberal-held constituency, they took a poll on whether there should be a referendum and 87 per cent voted in favour. He understood that perhaps—and increasingly the elected Members next door and the Government with their declining popularity may be able to appreciate this as well—that the public are getting more and more concerned about how they appear to be disregarded in these issues and how other, grander people are supposed to know better.
I sat through the whole of last Wednesday’s debate and I have considerable respect for those who have the integrity to say that they are opposed to a referendum. I understand their position entirely. It is embarrassing for them—it is embarrassing for everybody—that all political parties undertook that there would be a referendum on the constitution. To noble Lords who have tried to make this argument, I have to say that I have no real respect for those who try to pretend that the treaty is significantly and manifestly different from the constitution. The trouble is that the public believe that, too; they believe that there is a subterfuge here.
The noble Lord, Lord Neill, spoke most interestingly, and I look forward with great interest to what the noble Baroness the Leader of the House is going to say in reply to his very interesting points. I have the honour still to be a member of what was the Nolan committee, which the noble Lord took over as chairman. Originally, I had the honour to serve under the late Lord Nolan. I remember that in looking at the standards of conduct in public life, we set out the seven principles that we thought were key. They are repeated in the latest report that the noble Lord will have received. The two key ones were honesty and integrity. I have to say that the way that these issues have been handled—the issue of whether there should be a referendum; the situation we face after the Irish referendum; and people outside looking to build and reinforce public support for the concept of Europe—has been catastrophic. It has done absolutely nothing to improve public attitudes.
I appreciate that the referendum was last week and that now we have a new situation. On the Irish referendum, leaving aside the fact that there is no quick and easy answer to what I thought were pretty powerful points made by the noble Lord, Lord Neill, it is quite clear that all honest people recognise it is all now a bit of a muddle. We do not know what is going to happen. Can anybody in the Chamber tell me what is going to come out of the meetings of the head of states and the Prime Ministers on Thursday and Friday—the next two days? I do not imagine that the Prime Minister knows what is going to come out of them.
It seems to me to be quite incredible that we do not know what is actually going to happen—my noble friend has put down an amendment proposing late in October for the Third Reading, but somebody might like to table another amendment proposing that we wait until the end of next week, the day before heads of state are due to start considering what we do about this. Is the noble Lord, Lord Neill, right: are we dealing with a corpse? Are we meant to carry on the farce of a Third Reading on a corpse? It seems to me to be an insult to Parliament. People actually care about parliamentary sovereignty and the respect of Parliament. That seems to me to make no contribution to it at all. So I have to say quite simply that it is extraordinary that we should be here today. I think that the only way in which Parliament can recover some honour out of this—and the House of Lords can truly conduct its revising, amending and warning process to the elected House—is that we should pass my noble friend’s amendment tonight.
My Lords, I should like to concentrate on the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford. He put his case to defer Third Reading very reasonably and with quite a lot of good humour. This morning, he also put his case on Radio 4’s “Today” programme, when he said that he was “a bit” surprised that his amendment was being opposed. Actually, I think that the noble Lord knew jolly well that his amendment would be opposed and why. It was because of the point that he reluctantly admitted to in answer to a question about whether the amendment to the Motion is a pretext. The noble Lord who is, as we all know, a very honest man, accepted that point, saying:
“Well, it—accept it is; it’s maybe a pretext”.
That is what he said. Of course he went on to say that,
“it is the reality as well”.
That much we knew already; his amendment had been tabled, and so we are here debating the reality. It is a debate to delay a Third Reading, and that has not happened in your Lordships’ House for more than 30 years.
The noble Lord was of course right: this amendment is indeed a pretext. It is a last-ditch attempt to block or delay the Bill. The noble Lord and his party have freely admitted that they do not like the treaty. Now he and they are using the Irish vote to try to block a Bill which has been thoroughly debated in both Houses. He is trying to do so as a pretext. He is trying to do so to delay the properly considered legislative process of Parliament.
This is the third European treaty that I have debated in this House since I joined your Lordships in 1996. In all that time, the party opposite has upheld the rights, the powers and the legitimate law-making capacity of this Parliament here in this House and in another place. The party opposite has often rightly questioned anything that might lead to this Parliament’s decision-taking responsibilities and powers being in any way compromised. Now, however, the party opposite asks us to set all that to one side to put on hold—to delay—the results of 24 days’ debate, 266 tabled amendments and 57 Divisions.
I simply do not believe that the argument that it is because of the Irish vote is the real one. I believe it is because, in all that debate and after all those discussions, the Opposition failed to land a single punch or pass a single amendment to the Bill. They now look to the Irish vote to deliver for them what they so conspicuously failed to deliver for themselves: to override the legitimate legislative process in which we have been engaged, to put this Parliament’s considered view to one side and to use the Irish vote as an excuse to try all over again.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, in citing the Irish vote, made another very telling observation this morning. He was asked whether he would have voted for the Bill if Ireland had voted in favour of the treaty. He said: “Well, frankly, I wouldn’t”. Again, he was very straightforward and honest. However, in this context, the argument that the Irish voted against the treaty in the only referendum held and that they must therefore be listened to, falls completely. If the Irish had voted for the treaty, the noble Lord’s party would not have listened. We know that. They would not have said, “It is the only referendum and they have voted yes”. They would have not have said that at all. They would have said, “We want a British decision, taken in a British Parliament”. That is the point. This is a British decision and we as British parliamentarians must take it. We cannot duck that duty.
There are two issues. First, do we complete the British business of whether to give this Bill a Third Reading in the British Parliament? Our answer to that as parliamentarians must be yes; it is our duty after 26 days of debate properly conducted and 57 votes properly taken. Secondly, our Government must join the debate on how the Irish position is to be dealt with. I do not know what the outcome of that will be; none of us does. Maybe the treaty will fall. Maybe a compromise is available. We can all speculate but, to be frank, it is utterly pointless to do so now.
I do not want this Parliament’s right to reach a view on this treaty overridden by any decision elsewhere. After all our debates and decisions we cannot be overridden by any outside power: not by the European Union, not by the Commission or the European Parliament and not by the Irish referendum. As parliamentarians it is our right and duty to take our own decision in this Parliament. I urge your Lordships to do it at Third Reading.
My Lords, like the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, I believe that this House should decide how we proceed in the rather remarkable circumstances that face us following the Irish referendum. I agree with them that this has been a very thorough debate, and I have been through most of these debates. Given our procedures, it has been a rather more detailed and considered debate than that in another House. Therefore, I have no complaints about the procedures. I was expecting a vote from which I would have abstained. I admit that that is not a marvellous position to adopt, but I am not prepared to vote against a treaty under which I may well want to live. But then the Irish vote came. In the referendum debate I said that if the Irish voted yes, I would support the treaty and campaign for it in a referendum.
In the circumstances we face today, however, we have to make a much trickier and more difficult political decision. I believe that it is our role to help the Irish. Ireland is a country with which we have very close affiliations. We know that a lot of our people would have voted in exactly the same way and in probably rather larger proportions if they had had a referendum. The noble Lord made a good debating point when he asked whether we would have cancelled a referendum. He said that we would not have done so. However, exactly the same situation has occurred. The former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, told the country that there would be a referendum on the constitutional treaty regardless of whether the French or the Dutch voted against it in their referendums. When they did vote against it, he very sensibly changed his mind. We had not undertaken all the elaborate procedures to get a referendum going and he saw that it would be pretty pointless to have one in the circumstances of their rejection. I think that that is the answer to the noble Lord—that if a referendum were cancellable, we would have cancelled it; if it were not cancellable because it was due to take place in the next three or four days, we would have gone through with it. We are pragmatic people trying to make practical decisions.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, who is in her place, wrote an article in today’s Guardian addressing this complex situation. The article explains her long record of pro-Europeanism and asks:
“So what is to be done? The European Council, meeting later this week, should launch two working groups with a remit to report back by the end of the year, one to see what elements of the Lisbon treaty that were needed to make the enlarged union function efficiently could be introduced by cooperation between governments”.
She suggested that a lot could be done and cited the Maastricht treaty, and I agree with that. She continued:
“The second working group would propose steps to reduce the volume of EU legislation, simplify contorted language and provide explanatory memoranda”,
and went on to talk about the need to involve our citizens and to learn from this experience of failing to carry conviction with our people if the European Union is to remain rooted in democracy. Those are the practical ways to do it.
Now comes the question. Some people argue that the Prime Minister would be in a better position on Thursday and Friday if the treaty had been ratified. I note that the noble Lord who follows these things agrees with that. That is a serious argument and we should not disparage it. However, we now know pretty comprehensively that a number of countries want to force the Irish to have a second referendum. That is very clear from what the French and German Ministers have said and from a very good report in Monday’s Financial Times from a correspondent who follows these things very closely. There is a very strong element, supported by France and Germany, which wants to muscle the Irish and either put them into a state of undefined limbo for a year or more until the Croatian accession treaty comes along, and proceed with 26 countries, or force them to have a second referendum before that. Those seem to be the only two options. That is unacceptable for many people in this country, and I believe it would be unacceptable to our Prime Minister. It is much better for this House to take this unique opportunity to exercise its judgment and simply say, “Let us wait a few days—maybe no more than a week”.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. He is motivated decently by concern for the Irish position as it stands now and as it will transpire over coming days and coming months. I share that concern completely. I put to him the dilemma that many face regarding how best the United Kingdom can assist our neighbour in the current situation. Is it not better that the treaty is ratified by the United Kingdom Parliament, so putting us in a very strong position to safeguard the interests of Ireland, rather than to put ourselves on the sidelines and thereby add nothing to the strength of Irish arguments?
My Lords, the Irish Government have asked people to use their own ratification procedures; they are not really in a position to do anything else. They have used theirs, so to speak, and they are not going to dictate to any of us which ones we should use. I agree with the noble Lord that that is effectively the choice we face about the best way to help the Irish.
I think it would be better to make the decision in this House when we know what the Prime Minister feels after spending two days in the European Council on Thursday and Friday. This debate should be resumed, if he wants, in a week’s time. After all, the Government can bring this debate back. Third Reading can be resumed at any stage on a Motion from the Government, as I understand the Conservative amendment. If the situation is not clear after the Heads of Government meeting, then it could come back at a later stage. I do not want to speak for any longer. My judgment, for what little it is worth, is that it would be better for us to postpone this debate and take a decision on Third Reading either next week, next month or next year.
My Lords, does the noble Lord not think that the Prime Minister would be in a much better position if he went to this meeting after securing a decision by this Parliament rather than going there and listening to what others have to say, when he could be influential? Is that not the position?
My Lords, the Prime Minister’s judgment is better heard in this House before we make the final decision on Third Reading. That can only come when he has made up his own mind having talked to his fellow Heads of Government and perhaps taken a few more weeks to reflect.
My Lords, the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Howell, says,
“notwithstanding the normal practice of the House”.
I am one of those who would rather follow the normal practice. I do not want this House to know what the Prime Minister may want us to do, because the processes come from the other House to this one. The moment you begin to invite those other views we as a revising Chamber are in a precarious position.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell, said that we must give the elected Members a chance. In paragraph (a) of the Motion he says that Parliament should,
“consider the most appropriate response to the changed circumstances and uncertainties caused by the rejection … any amendments made to the bill made necessary by those changed circumstances to be considered in detail by the House”.
We do not know whether there will be any amendments. Amendments cannot be started by us; they have to be started by the member states. We should not luxuriate in powers that are not ours. Our powers are to revise the legislation and have a Third Reading. I do not believe we have any other choice.
The problem now is that some people will use it as a precedent. Decisions of this House have sometimes been frustrated by the other place using the Parliament Acts, but this House has always said that it will revise legislation and send it on as it believes it should be adopted. For that reason and for historicity, we really should not push the point because we are frightened of what will happen. The noble Lord, Lord Neill, is absolutely right that nothing in the Bill will be implemented, because the Irish have not agreed with it and because all member states are required to ratify it. However, we have a duty to ratify the treaty or not to ratify it, regardless of what someone else has done.
Suppose the Irish were voting today and suppose the results were known on Friday, would we have ratified it or not? The answer is that we would have ratified it. We would not have waited to see what the Irish were going to do. I also do not buy the idea that the Irish are going to be bullied by anyone else. It is a sovereign state. No one should bully it. If it is bullied, then the British Government will have a duty to say, within the Council of Europe, that that is not on. That is what we should be doing and not fighting about something that will not happen.
I want to tell the House something from my past which noble Lords may find uncomfortable. I was trying four cases, supposedly of stealing, brutality and lawlessness in the northern part of Uganda. Over two weeks I listened to the evidence but there was not really any evidence against the seven accused. Before I gave my verdict, I looked around and I could see Amin’s killing squad in the court. I knew that if I did not find the defendants guilty, as soon as they left the court they would be killed. I knew that the rule of law said that these men were not guilty, so I had better release them. But I found myself doing something that someone who abides by the rule of law would find quite difficult. All I could do was to say, “I am going to send you to prison for a fortnight and then you will come back and I shall make my decision”. I knew that according to the penal code that was not on, but the people listening did not know that. The seven men were sent to prison and they came back in a fortnight. I looked around and Amin’s men were not there, so I said to them, “There is no evidence against you. You have served the past two weeks, so you can now leave the court”. Afterwards I asked my interpreter to tell them to get out of the country, and they did.
We are not in that kind of Ugandan situation. The Irish situation must not hang like the sword of Damocles over our parliamentary process, forcing us to say, “We will not ratify it because of what will happen”. We do what we believe is right. I believe that we should carry on and ratify the treaty.
My Lords, unlike the noble Baroness who spoke from below the gangway, I am not prepared to believe that my noble friends who tabled this amendment are doing so as some kind of political stunt. Nor am I prepared to believe that they are doing so as simply another way of expressing their opposition to the treaty, which I respect but do not share. Therefore, the question which has to be asked is: is any practical benefit to be achieved by deferring Third Reading and ratification, as proposed from the Opposition Front Bench?
I can think of only one circumstance in which it would be useful to do that—if the deliberations in Brussels were to lead to a conclusion that there should be an amendment to the treaty which we are proposing to ratify, which would necessitate an amendment to the legislation currently before the House. In my judgment, that is the least likely outcome. There is absolutely no stomach in any country in Europe for renegotiating this treaty and changing its text—none whatever. Therefore, we do not need to consider that option.
The noble Lord, Lord Neill, is right to say, as he did with clarity, that the current treaty cannot become the law of the European Union and the law of this country unless it is ratified by all 27 countries. However, I must depart from his view that because Ireland voted as it did, this is a dead duck—that ratification serves no useful purpose and is a pointless formality. In order to make good that statement, one has to look at what is actually happening, or likely to happen, in the European Union.
It is correct that we do not know what the outcome will be. However, it is not correct that there is no possibility of ratifying this treaty. Broadly speaking, there are two schools of thought in the European Union and infinite gradation between them. There are those with powerful voices who would like to advance further in the integrative process, whether through this treaty or in some other way, and leave behind Ireland and anyone else who does not want to join them. It is profoundly in the national interest that that school of thought does not prevail in the European Union. It is not bound to prevail but it is sufficiently powerful for it to be worth our exerting every nerve and using whatever procedures are open to us to prevent that happening.
The alternative school of thought says that the Irish have a problem and we share it. We want to help. We are respectful of what has been done in Ireland and the way to handle that is ultimately a matter for the Irish people. We want, in discussion with them, to see whether anything can be formally decided, short of amending the treaty, which would give sufficient reassurance to the Irish people for them to think again and decide to ratify the treaty. This is not just a vain hope. It has happened in the past with regard to the same country, so you cannot say that it is impossible.
Of course it will be for the Irish Government to decide, by Irish procedures, whether what is ultimately offered by the member states is acceptable to them, whether through a further referendum, as has happened in the past, or through some parliamentary procedure. If it is not acceptable to them and the no remains a no, then and only then, this treaty will die. It is possible that something will come up which is acceptable to the Irish people. The overriding interest of this country and of this House is to make that more probable rather than less. It is to strengthen the hand of our Government—I do not believe that this will be resolved in the next few days, the next few weeks or the next few months—so that it is possible to devise something which rescues Ireland, rescues the treaty, rescues the European Union, and prevents us being marginalised and put in a box while others forge ahead, as some have always wished would happen.
I have no doubt that the completion of Third Reading and the ratification of this treaty strengthen the hand of our Government and of the British people in seeking to bring about a solution which is acceptable all round. There is no way of guaranteeing that that will be the case, but there is a way of maximising the possibility that it will happen, not by showing that we never liked the treaty and are glad to have the first opportunity of being shot of it, but rather to say that we have considered it fully and have completed our deliberation. That is our view. We are going to go forward with our partners to find a political solution to the problem posed by the result of the Irish referendum—and more strength to the Prime Minister’s elbow if he can achieve that. Let us help him in that task, not in a partisan way, but in a national way.
My Lords, I propose to speak in favour of ratification as soon as possible, so I hope that any person in the Gallery who proposes to shout about that will do it now and get it over with.
We have heard many voices including, just a few minutes ago, the powerful voice of the noble Lord, Lord King, telling us that the lesson to be learnt from the Irish referendum is that we should have had a referendum in this country as well. The lesson is precisely the opposite—that the Irish referendum has proved that any such referendum was totally inappropriate. I realise that the Irish Government had no option because of the Irish constitution, but I find it almost impossible to imagine any issue in recent years less suitable for decision by referendum than this one. For a referendum, you need an issue that is big and simple. That was true of the 1975 referendum on whether we should stay in or get out of the European Community, as it then was. It was true of the 1997 referendums in Scotland and Wales on devolution. It is emphatically not true of the Lisbon treaty. There is no single big issue—it is a collection of small ones. Few of them are simple. Some are comprehensible only to experts. Taken together, the changes are mainly administrative ones which need to be made following the enlargement of the EU and which will make the EU more democratic.
Why then did the Irish referendum fail? I do not criticise the Irish electorate. There is a simple principle which applies to all of us. If we are asked to vote yes or no to a proposed change and we do not understand it or know what the impact of that change will be, most of us will vote no, as did the Irish.
My Lords, would the noble Lord care to explain how the treaty makes us more democratic? Surely the Irish vote indicated that, though you can give away a certain amount of sovereignty to the United Nations and others, to give away so much that every nook and cranny of the country’s life is controlled by some form of EU regulation that you cannot put right is not democracy. Surely that denial of democracy that the treaty brings is the root cause of why people are so anxious to have a referendum to express their views.
My Lords, around 40 per cent of the voters in the Irish referendum, when asked why they had voted no, said that they had done so because they did not understand it. Some of the blame must rest on the Irish Government and the main political parties in Ireland for failing to provide a much fuller and better explanation of a treaty which they supported. However, much of the trouble rests on the unsuitability of the treaty itself for a decision by referendum. How can you expect hard-working people to spend time learning about the operation of the passerelle clause, the consequences of merging the Third Pillar into the First, or the powers assigned to the proposed President of the Council?
The voters were never given adequate reasons for voting “yes”, or for seeing through the smokescreen of misinformation spewed out by the “no” campaign. That is why, when the “no” voters were asked for their reasons by the media, so many of them came up with irrelevant or mistaken reasons, such as: concerns about the recent increases in the cost of food and fuel, which were far beyond the control of the EU; the idea that the treaty would deprive Ireland of its right to neutrality, or force its young men into a European army; the idea that the treaty would require the legalisation of abortion; and the idea, put forward by the leader of a small left-wing party, that the treaty would somehow limit workers' rights, which it does so much to protect.
So Ireland has proved the absurdity of a referendum on this treaty. I would go further and say that this applied also to the so-called constitution, which was to a large extent no more than what we in Parliament would call a consolidation Act, putting what was previously in several documents into one. I believe that Tony Blair as Prime Minister, and Charles Kennedy as leader of my party at the time, were wrong from the start in supporting a referendum.
It is difficult to see a way forward. But I have no doubt that the right course for those of us who believe that the Lisbon treaty will make the EU both more efficient and more democratic is to vote for a Third Reading now. The enactment of the Bill will make ratification of the treaty possible. It will not in itself amount to ratification. Ratification, as the law now stands, is an exercise of the royal prerogative and it will be for the Government to decide when that happens. But I believe it is important, and will be helpful in the negotiations which will now commence, for those countries which support the treaty to make their position clear by ratifying it as soon as possible. I will vote accordingly.
My Lords, I have not felt sufficiently expert to speak on the Bill before, but I would like to express my view on the proposed postponement until October. The referendum issue is over and we are concerned with Third Reading. Not every Bill that has been passed through Parliament and become law has been implemented. I could give the House a number of examples of Bills that became law and never passed anything. I can remember one in particular where it was obvious within days of Royal Assent that it was never going to be more than a dead letter. So it is not extraordinary for this House to pass a Bill that may not necessarily be implemented. One has to look at the reality. This is a reality of the past as well as one that we are discussing today.
The proposal to postpone until October does not seem a particularly useful exercise. We should make our own decision today. Not to do so will send an unhappy message to the other member states of the Union, of which we are a member. Whatever anyone in the House says, everyone—apart from two or three Members of the House—is in favour of us remaining members of the European Union. As has been said several times, the Irish Government have not asked us not to ratify. They have left it entirely to us. They have not asked us to hold our horses. We should take a decision and complete the process of Third Reading today.
My Lords, as in most things, one chooses one’s lawyer. I much prefer the legal opinion of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, to that of the noble Lord, Lord Neill. The people of Ireland may not have understood the complexities of what they have done, but they spoke clearly and decisively. That is a fact. We have to ask ourselves what the vote tells us and how we in this Parliament should respond. Certainly—the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said this well—the vote tells us about the disconnect between the European Union and its citizens. It is a fact that in the past three referendums the people of France, the Netherlands and Ireland have said no.
It is perhaps an irony that the Lisbon treaty tried to deal with part of that disconnect by increasing the powers of national parliaments in respect of the Union. Euro-cynicism, which some bewail, arises in part because of the success of the European Union. We take so much of that success for granted. The vote also tells us something about referendums and their usefulness in our democracies. It is clearly easier to mobilise opinion to opposition than support with a complex proposition.
It is difficult to interpret the reasons for the Irish rejection. The reasons that motivated the Irish citizenry last week might be different from the reasons if the referendum were to be run next week, so how can one interpret it? Should one have opt-outs? Should one, for example, satisfy the church by some opt-out saying that abortion is not part of the treaty? Well, it never was. Should one try to satisfy Sinn Fein by saying that neutrality is not part of the treaty? It is not, and never was. That is part of the problem that we face. I note that, in despair, one cartoonist suggested that the only way of getting over the problem is to rename the treaty “the treaty of Dublin”.
So how do we proceed? Chancellor Merkel struck the right note in Gdansk on Monday. She said that we can find only a common solution with Ireland and all the signatories of the treaty. Our partners have asked us to proceed. Certainly the Irish Government have asked us to proceed with our process. We should respect that, but also respect the 18 other member countries who have already proceeded to ratification and the others who, pace the Czech Republic and Poland, will, after certain hesitations, almost certainly continue and ratify by November. Therefore, by November, Ireland is likely to be in a minority of one and will certainly need all the friends that it can muster, including this country, as we proceed to those discussions.
The call for a postponement is plausible and I think that the noble Lord made a strong case for it. I do not question his motives in putting it forward, although some have suggested that this is, in effect, the last gasp of those who are opposed to the treaty. It is a call for a postponement, but a postponement to when? Monday? A month? Three months? The ides of March? Indefinitely? The call for a postponement comes essentially from those who have opposed the treaty root and branch from the start.
Ireland has made its decision and we should make ours, to strengthen our weight tomorrow and the day after in the Council and in the discussions to come. It is obviously too early to see the solution to this. There may or may not be opt-outs. As some have suggested, there could be some sort of bilateral treaty between Ireland and the 26. The status quo is unattractive, but we could continue with the Nice treaty until we come to a treaty to include Croatia, which will be in 2009 or 2010. However, the postponement of Lisbon would come at a cost and would mean that the European Union would function less smoothly for the benefit of all its citizens.
Finally, I was saddened by the tone of some of the contributions to the rather lengthy debates that we have had and by the negative, indeed, hostile view of the European Union taken by some noble Lords. Some noble Lords appear to want a European Union that stagnates and is less relevant to the major challenges of today’s world. On the contrary, many of us want to see greater strength through co-operation with our European partners to meet the great challenges of climate change, immigration and terrorism, on all of which we, in our national interest, will have a much stronger voice as part of a stronger and more coherent Union. In my judgment, the passage of the Lisbon treaty will streamline and make the Union more ready to function in the interests of us all.
My Lords, I support the amendment to the Motion, although my moratorium amendment will not be moved if this amendment commends itself to the House. There is little that I have to say, therefore, other than this: the reasons why I support the amendment are those voiced by my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford on the Statement and today. The fact of the matter is—as stated by the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen, whose analysis has not been questioned, and I suggest is wholly right—that the question of ratification simply cannot arise because the engine has stalled itself already. We remain on the rails as members of the European Union, which is what most of us want, but we have now a period of negotiation. Nobody has the slightest idea where it will end up, so how on earth can we sit in this Chamber and discuss something when we do not know what we are discussing? I support this amendment, which avoids that rather awkward situation. If the amendment were to be rejected by the House, however, there is quite a bit on the moratorium amendment that seeks the same result by other means.
My Lords, I would like to address the specific question raised by the noble Lords, Lord Owen and Lord Brittan, about the tactical arguments in the debate. It seems to me, as other noble Lords have said, that the European Union now faces an extraordinarily difficult situation. All the options in front of us are difficult and many of them are unpalatable. There is the option that 26 member states ratify and implement or try to reach some sort of accommodation with a semi-detached Ireland, which I think all Members of the House would find unacceptable. There is the possibility that the Irish might have a second referendum and say yes after Irish concerns have been met. That was the model for Denmark—with which I was much concerned—which allowed the Maastricht treaty to come into effect. The Irish concerns, however, are unspecific. The no vote was more substantial than in Denmark and the Irish Government at the moment do not seem to want to take that course.
There is the possibility of the member states agreeing in due course collectively to implement those aspects, or some of the aspects, of the treaty that can be implemented without treaty change, with other aspects being wrapped up later in the treaty on Croatian accession. That course will have its supporters. There is also the possibility of saying that we drop the whole idea and continue on the basis of Nice. All those courses will have their advocates within the EU, including some courses that are deeply unattractive to the United Kingdom. We are indeed already seeing the advocacy of some of the less attractive options by some other member states.
The debate about these options will be long, difficult and important. Whether we like it or not, that debate has in effect already started. It seems to me essential that the UK should from now play a full and active part in those discussions, starting at the European Council this week. The question is, therefore, whether we are better able to exert our influence in that debate having ratified the treaty of Lisbon or having postponed ratification. That is, as the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said, a matter of judgment.
My judgment, which is based on my experience of negotiations in the European Union over many years, is that we will have more influence by completing the ratification of the treaty now and by taking part as a full member in the debate starting this weekend. If we do not do that and postpone, there is a real risk that the member states that have long hankered after some sort of two-tier European Union, with Britain in the second tier, however unrealistic that may be, will have an excuse to try to discuss matters on their own without us, arguing that here is Britain once again in some semi-detached position. Let us not give them that excuse but engage fully, as from now, in looking for a course of action that will be acceptable to all 27 member states and to Ireland in particular and that respects the integrity of the European Union as a whole. For that reason, I support the Government’s position.
The noble Lord, Lord Jay, has spoken extremely wisely, and I very much endorse what he has said. It would be possible for the expanded European Union to operate effectively—indeed, more effectively than it has under Maastricht and Nice—as a result of certain administrative changes that can be made, as the noble Lord, Lord Jay, has said, without any new treaty. The role of the presidency and the size of the Commission, for example, do not require treaties. They can be agreed intergovernmentally among the member states of the European Union.
However, I share some of the views expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Owen and Lord King, in that I believe that there are other lessons to be garnered from the Irish referendum, and they should be taken extremely seriously. The first lesson is that no political elite must simply assume that people will follow it because it is a political elite. I do not wish to be critical of my Irish neighbours, but they made one great mistake: putting a treaty to their people that they had not read themselves. The second lesson is that the Irish referendum tells us more widely that we badly need to be able to get factual information out to our people to counter some of the extraordinary rumours and stories that have beset the European debate.
I shall not repeat except briefly the extent to which the Irish referendum was affected by completely unproven claims that Ireland’s neutrality was at risk. Noble Lords who have read the treaty of Lisbon, as a number of us have done word for word, will know that there was specific mention of the absolute right of a country to be neutral and of the absolute obligation of NATO members to carry out their obligations regardless of the obligations of the European Union more generally. It could not have been more precise, but that made no difference to the claims made at the Irish referendum. The same could be said of the ludicrous arguments about abortion, which is entirely a matter for domestic legislation.
There is another conclusion to reach. We are just as guilty as the Irish people may be in that we have never effectively set up systems of information and communication that enable our citizens to find out the facts—the objective truths—about the European Union. Let me give the House just one example before inevitably I am interrupted. Noble Lords will see on page 17 of today’s Daily Mail, under the heading “EU LIARS”, the following statement:
“What is true is that Britain’s ability to get its own way in the EU will be seriously undermined by the Treaty, as we will be giving up the veto in 61 areas and allowing our voting power to be cut by one third”.
That is the exact opposite of the truth. Our voting powers under the Lisbon treaty would have been increased from 8 per cent of the voting total in the Council to 12 per cent—a substantial increase. Noble Lords who are mathematically inclined will note that the figure is exactly a third upwards, not downwards. That article appeared today. It would not have been difficult for somebody to check the treaty of Lisbon for the truth. Here is a distinguished, widely circulated newspaper repeating the exact opposite of the facts, and nobody rebutting that.
The Government of Mr Blair had a heavy responsibility, not least because they were inclined to support referenda, to ensure that there was an informed and proper debate in which they would take part if necessary. That never happened, with the result that our electorate, like that of Ireland, have been under an illusion for a long time, because they have not had access to objective information. I do not mean information from people like me who are strongly pro-European, I mean getting as close to the truth and the facts as one possibly can. That is the real lesson of the Irish referendum: the need to stop behaving as though we can have a misinformed, poorly understood debate. Unsurprisingly, the largest group of “no” voters in Ireland said that they did not understand the questions put to them, as my noble friend Lord Goodhart pointed out.
We have to take the European Union more seriously. We have to include information about us as EU citizens in citizenship education. Believe it or not, we are EU citizens, though one would never know it from our school curricula. We have to take the education of ourselves and our people more seriously by improving the process of European scrutiny and extending best practice—not least as exemplified by the European Scrutiny Committee in another place—to our neighbours in Europe. Before I conclude, here is one interesting fact: when the other member states of the European Union believed that the constitution was likely to go through, a large majority set up new scrutiny machinery to protect subsidiarity. Those machineries were dropped when the constitution went. It is vital that they are reinstated so that people’s doubts about where subsidiarity lies can be met properly in whatever we agree after the European Council.
I wish the Prime Minister and the Government well, but I hope we will take into account the necessary humility that we should show as a country that has demanded referenda but failed to produce the necessary basis on which decisions can be made. That was a failure of the previous Government and is one that we, like our Irish neighbours, need to rectify as quickly as possible. The Council should look much more closely than it recently has at how we communicate with our citizens, and give them the opportunity to communicate with us.
My Lords, as we speak, I believe the Czechs are putting out a statement postponing ratification until the court has delivered a judgment in the autumn. If that is the case, noble Lords certainly ought to know. The real reason why we should respond to the Irish vote is not that 1 per cent of Europe’s population should decide the fate of the other 99 per cent, as has recently been said in Berlin, but that that 1 per cent is a proxy for the 400 million citizens of voting age in the European Union who have not been given a voice. That is why I support this amendment.
The French and the Dutch, as we know, voted against the constitution. Britain would reject this treaty by an impressive majority. Even Germany, the polls suggest, would vote against it; so, probably, would Scandinavian and east European countries. These are not marginal countries; they are Europe’s founders, success stories and oldest democracies. We have heard many disobliging comments about referendums. We are told that in referendums—though apparently not in general elections—the public vote for the wrong reasons. Resentment of Chirac, the Daily Mail, Rupert Murdoch, incitement by Pim Fortuyn and potential political extremism have all been blamed at different times for the growing number of no votes—12 in all—that the peoples of Europe have registered. We do not hear these excuses when the people vote yes. Such votes are just pocketed and the people become illustrations of Europe’s respect for democracy.
I spent many hours on Monday with Mr Declan Ganley, who ran the Libertas campaign for a no vote in Ireland. Your Lordships should know that he is a very serious businessman and very strong pro-European and has studied every word of the treaty. He will not be rolled over easily by modifications. Libertas campaigned on greater democracy, transparency and accountability in Europe. Where the campaign was supported by Sinn Fein it invariably lost votes. It won with a high turnout against the entire Irish political establishment, which outspent it by 15:1. Yet, more than 80 per cent of those who voted no were supporters of the mainstream, pro-treaty political parties.
When the French and the Dutch rejected the constitution, the Government stopped trying to ratify it. If the same thing does not happen when a little country rejects a treaty, what will the public think? Their worst suspicions will be confirmed, that when the Government can get away with it they push ahead, and only when they face certain defeat in a referendum do they reluctantly do the right thing. The Irish vote will now be “analysed”—that is what they call it—which is code for a concerted effort to explain the vote away and to persuade the Irish to change their mind. But the unpalatable truth is that the affection for the Community that once used to exist is undermined, as my noble friend Lord King said, by just this sort of cynical manoeuvring by the political class.
We do not know what will happen next and whether Ireland will stand on the rule of law. I believe that it will. The rule of law was established by the treaty of Rome as a community of nation states—in which case this treaty is dead. Possibly, but very much less likely, modifications will be offered which require a modified response by this country. By closing off our options today, we would help those who wish to do so to put pressure on Ireland, but we would gain absolutely nothing and would sacrifice far too much standing with the people whose assent is indispensable to democracy in this country and in Europe.
My Lords, this is an ingenious amendment in response to the situation created by the decision of the Irish people to vote against Irish ratification of the treaty of Lisbon. I do not attempt to predict what the eventual outcome will be. The issue will be discussed at the forthcoming meeting of the European Council and I do not propose to try to advise it on what conclusions it should reach.
The treaty of Lisbon is not dead. It sleepeth. The text has been agreed by the Governments of all the member countries. As things are, it cannot now come into effect. History tells us that one possible outcome is that all the other member states will ratify the treaty and that the Irish people will be invited to reconsider their decision, as a number of noble Lords have suggested. If that option is not pursued, Governments will have to try to agree the text of a revised treaty which gives effect to changes in the organisation of the European Union to enable it to operate effectively with 27 members instead of 15.
The process of obtaining parliamentary approval for the Bill which would enable the Government to ratify the treaty of Lisbon is, after many laborious days of parliamentary debate, nearly completed. We have it in our power to complete it today. We would lose nothing by completing it. In real life we know that there is not going to be a referendum. The Government have decided not to propose a referendum on the treaty of Lisbon and Parliament has accepted that decision. A fortiori the Government will not propose a referendum on a revised treaty which would be almost by definition less far-reaching than the treaty of Lisbon.
We close no options by completing the parliamentary process today. If the treaty survives and is able to be put into effect in its present form, we shall not have to spend another series of parliamentary days debating its ratification. If it does not survive and a revised treaty is agreed by Governments, we shall have to start again; but the parliamentary process should then be less time-consuming if, before that, we have passed the Bill now before us.
So it seems to me that the most sensible course is the straightforward one: give the Bill a Third Reading this afternoon, join the ranks of the countries that have ratified the treaty, and give the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary a clear foundation for contributing to the discussions in the forthcoming meeting of the European Council.
My Lords, I hope I will be forgiven if I make a Third Reading speech on this amendment. I think that many of your Lordships have done so already.
One of the most remarkable things I have heard in this afternoon’s debate came, to my surprise, from the sagacious lips of the noble Lord, Lord Owen—that we should do everything we could to help the Irish. It does not seem to me that the Irish need any help. It seems to me that they are doing very well on their own, thank you very much. The idea that they need help from us is really quite extraordinary. In my view, it is the rest of us who may need help.
I come now to the next most extraordinary omission. We heard from a former head of the Foreign Office a list of the options that might confront us. It never occurred to him that one of the possibilities is that the Czechs might throw this out. Has it not reached the Foreign Office yet that the Czech constitutional court is sitting on this and that the President of the Czech Republic has said that it is dead? My noble friend Lord Anderson alluded to that, and I am much in debt to him for doing so.
My Lords, as my noble friend knows, President Klaus is a longstanding opponent of the European Union. Prime Minister Topolanek, who will actually preside over the six-monthly semester of the European Union from January, is very likely to move. The better view from my sources is that the Czech Republic will, after the review of its constitutional court, ratify in October or November.
My Lords, perhaps I may help the House in this exchange. An official statement from Prague this afternoon, from the Prime Minister, Mr Topolanek, said that the Czech ratification has been suspended until the official decision of the constitutional court. He added: “That leaves us time for further debate inside the Czech Republic as well as in the European Union”. That is possibly quite a useful text for our debates this afternoon.
My Lords, I am obliged to help from any quarter. My noble friend Lord Anderson is also the only one I have heard so far this afternoon who averted to the position of Poland. I know how far the Polish process has gone. However, it seems that the President of Poland has lost his fountain pen, because he has not signed off on this treaty for several weeks now and there is no sign that he is in a hurry to do so. That deals with those two points.
I think that our Prime Minister is probably quite happy with what has happened, rather as his predecessor was. We have to recognise that our Prime Minister kept us out of the eurozone, did he not? Yes, he did. Two-speed Europe? We are not at the heart of things, are we? The noble Lord has left the Chamber. We are not in Schengen, are we? How happy are we with the idea of a common corporation tax base? How happy are we with French ideas on competition policy when their frozen yoghurt business is vital to the national interest? What a shower. A common defence policy? Unfortunately, my noble friend Lord Tomlinson is not in his place. The other day he got up and said how all the NATO powers are not pulling their weight in Afghanistan. My noble friend the Minister on the Front Bench did not go so far as to correct him; she merely said that the European powers were not pulling their weight in Afghanistan. We know that the Spaniards, the French and the Germans do not send their troops anywhere very dangerous in Afghanistan—and we are supposed to consider a common defence and security policy with people like that. Frankly, I do not want influence with that crowd; I really do not. I wish that my noble friend would smile a little bit; she looks so unhappy.
I have no desire whatever to make the European Union more efficient, because the way that it is behaving in its inefficient way is thoroughly distasteful in many directions. I shall not elaborate on those, as my views are well known. One thing that seems absolutely clear is that this treaty is dead. Something else may replace it. I have never been one to whom necrophilia has appealed as a form of activity and I do not intend to engage in an act of political necrophilia this afternoon.
My Lords, this has been an exceptional debate and I have been privileged to take part in it. Perhaps in that spirit, I could start off by agreeing with two points made from the Conservative Front Bench, reinforced by my noble friend Lady Williams. The first point is that there must be no question of dealing with the Irish sovereign decision through their referendum other than with respect. It is extremely important that we understand the importance of that vote and that voice. Secondly, it is going to be pretty difficult to decide what to do next. I personally believe that it is difficult to find a way forward now on the basis of the Lisbon treaty. I do not think that there is an appetite in Europe for going back and thinking of institutional reform, although I shall argue in a minute how important that is.
We are bound to do two things. First, we are bound to consider the present situation carefully. We need time for that consideration and we need some facts that we do not currently have. One of those facts is how the other nations of Europe feel about this treaty. When we come to decide what happens next, we need to know whether others agree with the Irish view that we have heard, because that will have an influence on what happens next. If it is important, as the noble Lord who has just spoken said, to hear and note what the voice of the Czech Government might be—because we do not know that yet—it is equally important to know what the voices of Germany and France will be. Therefore, it is important that we allow the process of parliamentary consideration to continue so that, at the end of that process, we will be able to make a rational judgment, based on who stands where, on what we should do next. That is the rational approach to this, which is why it is so important today that the British Parliament should say what it feels, so that that is part of the consideration. To abandon that process now and say that we are not going to go through the parliamentary process would be to abandon the process of rational reconsideration in favour of pandering to the anti-European prejudices of the Conservative Front Bench.
I listened with great respect, as I always do, to the noble Lord, Lord King, my neighbour in Somerset. I have always admired him for the position that he has taken, which has been unequivocal and sincere. However—and I hope that he does not mind me saying this—I feel rather sorry for him, because he knows and I know that he and other clear and proud pro-Europeans in the Conservative Party are now living in a party whose centre of gravity has massively changed. This is not anti-Lisbon; it is now becoming anti-Europe. That is where the centre of gravity of the Conservative Party now lies. It will destroy the Conservatives if they get into government as surely in future as it has done in the past. I have heard it in the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and in the contortions of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, pretending, after some of the things that he has said reiterating the voice of Bill Cash in the other place, that he is somehow a pro-European. Frankly, I feel sorry for the noble Lord. There is no doubt whatever that this amendment has been tabled as a wrecking amendment to do tonight what the Conservative Party has completely failed to do throughout this parliamentary process.
My Lords, we are considering whether to go forward to complete the parliamentary process on this Bill today. Why should we delay? We need to know not only where this country stands but where other countries stand when in due course we consider what to do next. This is an important procedure and there is no purpose in delaying it.
I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Owen, for whom I have great respect. He made the important point, with which I agree, that we need to take a decision based on what we can do to help the Irish. Surely the best people to judge how to help the Irish are the Irish. They have made it perfectly clear to us and other European nations that they wish this ratification process to proceed. That should weigh heavily in our judgments.
Finally, I have heard tonight, and it has been echoed in the words of William Hague in the other place, that somehow we do not need this and that the European Union works perfectly happily as it is. I have been at the other end of a European foreign policy lever as European special representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I was often told that Bosnia was dysfunctional, but I can tell your Lordships that it was far less dysfunctional than Brussels has been. Europe now operates with two heads in places such as Bosnia. We have put into Bosnia and Kosovo more money than the United States, but because we cannot speak with a single voice as between the Council and the Commission, if a Bosnian or a Kosovar wants to get something done, they knock on the door of the United States, which speaks with a single voice, responds quickly and provides the resources needed in the time available.
We cannot do that in Europe. We are wasting our resources and influence even in areas that matter to us gravely. Those who say that we should continue as we have done and that it is all working perfectly okay are saying that we should continue to have a split and divided voice on the key issue of Kosovo, which is so essential to our future, and that we should continue to be content with the idea that we provide differential inputs as Europe within NATO in Afghanistan. I do not think—here I agree so much with the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater—that we have understood the new world in which Europe is now moving. It will be a much chillier world.
Let me give your Lordships some facts. In the early 1990s, Europe had about 35 to 36 per cent of the total global wealth; today, the figure is 20 per cent. At the same time, in the early 1990s, the Far East had 17 per cent of total global wealth; today, the figure is over 30 per cent. We are seeing a massive shift of power and the development of a multipolar world in which it will be no longer good enough for us to have a foreign policy that says that we shall simply hang on to the apron strings of our friendly neighbourhood superpower. We will have to work with much more subtlety and intelligence to get what is best for this country and our citizens in such a world.
We are seeing a retrenching United States, a rising Russia, a rising China and the development of global problems. If anyone in this House believes that we can best serve the interests of our citizens by condemning ourselves to being a series of corks bobbing along in the wake of other people’s ocean liners, they are living in cloud-cuckoo-land. If Europe does not deepen its integration on matters of defence and foreign affairs, we will waste money, influence and time and the decade that we see ahead of us will be much more turbulent, dangerous and difficult.
I do not know what we do next. I am in a quandary. This is a tragic moment and it was a tragic decision, but we must treat it with respect—of course we must. When we come to consider what should happen in the new world that is now developing, knowing where our colleagues in Europe stand on the Lisbon treaty will be the best mechanism by which we can decide what to do next. That process starts in this House and it starts tonight. We should not delay; we must make sure that the voice of this House on this treaty is heard not in five or six months’ time but tonight. That is the best way to move forward into what is a difficult and potentially very tricky situation.
My Lords, I will deal with two arguments, one raised by the noble Lord, Lord King, and one raised by the noble Lord, Lord Owen. The argument of the noble Lord, Lord Owen, was that we should give it a week; the situation will be clearer next week. The argument of the noble Lord, Lord King, was that proceeding and completing Third Reading would be an affront. I do not really understand either argument, but I would like to make two factual points.
Ireland last said no to a European treaty, the Nice treaty, in June 2001. The result was 53 per cent no, the same score as this time. In June 2002, the European Council issued the Seville declaration on Irish neutrality. In October 2002, Ireland said yes to the package of the treaty plus the Seville declaration on Irish neutrality by a majority of 63 per cent to 37 per cent. The parliamentary timetable here was as follows. The Irish said no the first time around on 7 June 2001. On 4 July, the ratification procedures began in the House of Commons. They were completed here on 28 January 2002. In other words, the whole procedure of examining and ratifying the Nice treaty took place after Ireland had said no and before the Irish had identified what they wanted to happen, and before the European Council in March 2002 had heard what they wanted to happen and had agreed what should happen in June 2002.
I draw two morals from that. First, nobody should be in a great hurry. Nobody should expect anything to happen at the European Council this weekend or by October. The Irish have made a legitimate point. The European Union has to consider it and to think about it. There will be a discussion and it will be for the Irish Government to tell the European Council—and they will not know as of this weekend, as they will not have decided—during the next year or so what they think should be done. This is a wrecking amendment. By October nothing will have become clear in Brussels as to the fate of the treaty.
Secondly, I shall deal with whether this is an affront to parliamentary procedures. If, in 2001-02, we could start, carry out and complete, both in this place and in the other place, the full process of ratification after Ireland had said no and before the answer was secured for Ireland in Seville that enabled Ireland to say yes, how could it be unprecedented or an affront for us to complete the very last stage of what has been an extremely full analysis now? As for whether it would help the Irish if we did stop—the other argument advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Owen—it would certainly baffle the Irish. It would baffle all our partners in Europe. The noble Lord, Lord Jay, has explained the reasons why he feels that it would be a serious mistake for us to delay. All his reasons were correct. It would baffle the Irish and weaken our ability to assist them in what will be a long, slow, complex and serious debate. So we should complete our job today and give the Bill a Third Reading.
My Lords, I will speak briefly at this late stage. To avoid adding to the confusion in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, as to the state of mind in my party, I say to him that I speak as a pro-European.
The vote on the amendment to the Motion will send a signal. It will signal either that Britain sides with the big battalions against the lone voice of a small country—with the message that the sooner the Irish can be persuaded by some means or other to recant, the better—or that we respect and take full account of the view so clearly expressed by the Irish people. On the basis of both constitutional principle and political pragmatism, it is in the interests of Britain, the Government, my own party and, not least, this House that we should vote for the amendment tonight.
Europe, however united within the EU, will always be divided in some ways, not least between the so-called Anglo-Saxon model of a vibrant, entrepreneurial, flexible, free-trade Europe and a social Europe that seeks in vain to preserve an unsustainable economic model of subsidy and privilege protected by whatever tariffs or state intervention may be needed to do that. Let us remember what happened when President Chirac told the Baltic states that, if they sought to maintain their low, flat-rate taxes, they would be denied structural funds for their development. That threat meant that the Baltic states, along with the majority of those that joined the EU in 2004, decided to follow the Anglo-Saxon model. Britain is the de facto leader of that Anglo-Saxon persuasion in Europe. If we want to remain, as I do, at the heart of Europe, we must maintain that leadership.
The noble Lord, Lord Jay, says that we must not be out of step. Many of the proudest hours in Britain’s history have been when we have stood alone or nearly alone. That is why I shall support my noble friend.
My Lords, I was not able to be in the European Parliament in Strasbourg this morning, as I wanted to be in your Lordships’ House. One of the many reforms that has not been made, and is not in the treaty of Lisbon, is for the European Parliament to be able to save €200 million a year by deciding its own seat, which would of course be in Brussels. I had to come back last night because Air France is not very co-operative. However, had I been in Strasbourg, I would have heard my Irish MEP colleague Marian Harkin say:
“It is only possible to defend Irish sovereignty if you also recognise the sovereignty of other member states”.
She said that in urging continuation of the parliamentary and ratification procedures in other member states.
At the risk of sounding pedantic, I believe that there is confusion between parliamentary approval through the passing of the Bill and ratification, which is the deposit of the instrument of ratification. We are not ratifying as such but empowering the Government to ratify if that is appropriate in the future. I agree with those who say that it would strengthen the Prime Minister this weekend if we had the certainty of knowing where we stand. I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord King, that we should postpone because of the uncertainty; it is precisely because we do not know what is going to happen that we should hold fast to what we do know.
As has been said on the Benches opposite, this Parliament has had 24 days of debate and has considered hundreds of amendments. The treaty is in the national interest. We all agree that we should respect the voices coming out of Ireland. However, I suggest that we should actually listen to them and to people such as my Irish MEP colleague and the Prime Minister of Ireland, who ask us to continue following our procedures and doing what is in Britain’s national interest. That means passing the Bill.
My Lords, I have consistently opposed this treaty because I believe that it fossilises an outdated structure for Europe rather than introduces a structure fit for the 21st century. However, this is not the time for those debates.
I support the amendment on the ground of trust. Listening to this debate, I am tempted to think that the expedient way forward for people like me who have opposed the treaty is to support the Government—and, indeed, even the noble Lord, Lord Wallace—and vote for the Third Reading because, as the noble Lord, Lord Neill, set out, the Bill refers specifically to the treaty as signed on 13 December 2007. It refers to no other treaty and to no treaty as amended. By passing this Bill, we would effectively put the nails in the coffin of this treaty. One could argue that for people like me, that is a sensible way forward.
However, there is a question of trust. My noble friend Lord Howell set out very sensible reasons why, given how much uncertainty there is, it would be sensible for this House and, indeed, Parliament to know what the circumstances might be if the treaty were ever to come into force. However, I am afraid that I also have an issue of trust as regards the Government—as I believe have the people of the country—which concerns what they might do if we pass the Bill tonight. Suggestions have been made—we do not know how they will evolve—about protocols being developed for Ireland, implementing parts of the treaty without full ratification and even coming up with a two-speed Europe that puts Ireland in a different position. None of those outcomes ought to be possible without amending this Bill to reflect amendments to the treaty. If we pass this Bill tonight, and the treaty is ratified by the UK, I fear that the Government will argue that they can do those things without coming back to this House. For that reason it is incumbent on us to hold the Government to account and ensure that in the autumn, when we know better what the situation will be, they are able to come back and explain why they want to proceed with the ratification of the treaty, whether there have been changes and whether those need amendments. I might live to regret it if those amendments enabled the Bill and the treaty to survive, but nevertheless it would be the right thing to do.
Finally, I say to those who dismiss the voices of the Irish people and of others across Europe that, even if they have not read the fine detail, people understand what lies behind this treaty better than some noble Lords think they do. A democratic Government may be able to defy the will of the people for so long, but eventually the will of the people will prevail.
My Lords, when I intervened at this stage last Wednesday and spoke for only two minutes I received so many congratulatory letters and phone calls that I decided that that was the way forward for me to gain popularity in the House. We have had yet another extraordinarily good and varied debate but I think that we have reached the stage in our deliberations when the House would like to hear from the Lord President and the noble Lord, Lord Howell. Then if the noble Lord wishes to press his amendment, the House can come to a decision.
My Lords, this has been yet another interesting and high-quality discussion. I have sat through some 75 hours of discussion in your Lordships' House and I hope noble Lords will believe me when I say that it has been a great privilege to do so. I have heard speeches with which I agreed wholeheartedly and speeches with which I agreed with not a word, but all of them were delivered with great passion, knowledge and experience. I pay tribute to everyone who spoke in this evening’s debate.
I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, for the ingenuity with which he came up with his amendment to the Third Reading procedure. There will probably have been much scratching of heads as those with responsibility for our procedures looked back over precedents. The previous occasion on which such a precedent was used, but with no vote, was in 1984. The previous occasion on which a vote was taken on such a Motion was in 1976. Therefore, we are in territory that is way before my time in the House. But, inevitably, as I reread the speeches in the relevant Hansard of 1976, I recognised some noble Lords’ voices.
I shall be relatively brief because much of what I wanted to say has been said. Having sat through many interesting hours of debate, noble Lords will know where the Government, and I on behalf of the Government, stand on the issues before us. I want to focus on three points. The first is parliamentary sovereignty. Noble Lords have spoken across the House about the importance of parliamentary sovereignty. Indeed, in the Question that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, asked just before we began this debate, that issue was raised again. I stand firm by what I said then and what I have said before: it is important that we act as a sovereign Parliament on behalf of this country and do things which are appropriate for that parliamentary sovereignty, not least in determining the position that this Parliament holds on a treaty of this importance. I recognise the importance that my noble friend Lady Symons attaches to that and the relevance of what the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said about the importance of passing legislation even if it were not to be implemented. It is not that unusual for that to happen. It is completely within the abilities and propriety of your Lordships’ House to do so. We are 96 per cent of the way through our deliberations. It is important that we should ratify.
The Czech Republic is reiterating the position it has been stating since April—that its constitutional court, because of the way it operates, must deliberate. I have now read the entire statement of the Prime Minister and yesterday it was reiterating that position. It will come to a conclusion later in the year, and I respect that. Its constitutional court will make a decision and the Czech Republic will move forward on that basis. It is for each member state to make its decision. Some 18 countries have so far done so. It is our turn to decide what we wish to do.
The second point has not much featured in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, came closest to covering it. Why are we doing this? What is this treaty about? Why do I think it is a good thing for this country? Noble Lords have touched on issues of, for example, reducing the size of the Commission and making sure that Europe can work more effectively. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and others talked about that. That is important because Europhobe and Europhile alike have said for a long time that Brussels needs to work more effectively, as does the Commission. How much money is spent has featured in discussions, as far as I can remember, over the past 20 to 30 years.
The treaty also gives national Parliaments a greater say in making European Union laws. That is an important aspect of our deliberations in the past 24 days across your Lordships’ House and another place. It is important to recognise that that makes a difference. The treaty also sets out what the European Union can and cannot do—the competences, on which we spent a great deal of time in our earlier discussions. It deals with some of the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, in his life and work in Bosnia-Herzegovina when he dealt with the problems of a European Union with two heads. These are resolved by the treaty. Perhaps more important than anything, it sets overarching priorities for eradicating poverty and introduces children’s rights for the first time into the European Union’s objectives.
Part of our deliberations—perhaps the most important part of the scrutiny in your Lordships’ House—has been looking line by line at what this treaty actually does and agreeing or disagreeing about it. Those who have participated know what it is trying to do. Deliberating on the content of this treaty is important. Making a decision on what we think about the content is important. Whether this treaty ever becomes law across Europe, sending a signal that children’s rights are important or that the eradication of poverty matters makes a difference to our representatives—our Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary—at the discussions. We should not lose sight of what this is all about or what it is for.
I was also taken by a message in the Evening Standard today from some business leaders who said that this was a “positive step” for Britain, that we should do more to support the treaty and that we in this House should make sure we ratify it. The article says,
“the European Commission is a force for free markets, and one of the best friends British business could hope for”.
That comes not from me, but from eminent business leaders. Noble Lords can look at the Evening Standard website to see what they have said. The content matters and the messages that we send about our views on the content matter hugely when our representatives are in Brussels, deliberating with their colleagues on what should happen next.
The third and final point is whether a delay would help the process. Does it help the Irish in what they have to do next and will it enable us to amend the treaty? There is no appetite, as has already been said, for trying to find ways to amend treaties or to find new treaties. In the Statement last night, it was made clear that should we want another treaty, it would have to come back to your Lordships’ House and to the other place and go through the process again. Would it help the Irish to say, “We will give you four months and then come back to this issue”? I do not think so. Considering everything that noble Lords have said about not wanting to put the Irish in a difficult position and not wanting to bully them, with which I wholeheartedly agree, we should let the Irish have time, but setting some arbitrary four-month timetable does not make any sense. In my view, it sends the opposite signal to the Irish. It says, “You have only four months and then we shall come back to the subject”.
We can look at what has happened on previous occasions. In 1992, it was 17 months before we came back with a solution when the Danish voters rejected the Maastricht treaty; and in 2001, it was 19 months before we came back to the subject when the Irish rejected that in a referendum. The four-month period makes no sense at all, but that is what the noble Lord has proposed. It is inconceivable that in four months’ time the Irish Government and colleagues across Europe will have had time to work this through. I do not wish to put any pressure on Ireland that would make the Irish feel that one of their closest friends and allies is insisting that they do so. That would be bullying and that I will not do.
For those three reasons it is very important that tonight we make our decision. The noble Lord has found a procedure from 1976 which, I presume, he wishes to test in your Lordships' House. This is a very good opportunity for us, once again, to deliberate and to discuss, but we have done that. It is now time to decide that this treaty should receive Royal Assent and that our Prime Minister should go to the European Council tomorrow with our views on what is in the treaty and the ideas behind it in order to participate fully—not in a semi-detached way—in the European Union and be able to ensure that, in doing so, he supports the Irish people who have to think through their next steps.
I want to end by quoting the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, from a 1976 debate on the same subject. The then Leader of the Opposition said that,
“what does not seem to me very sensible, if I may say so, is to spend a very long time and a great deal of energy—we on this side, at any rate—in trying to improve and alter the Bill, and then to say that, in spite of all that, we are going to reject it; because if we do that I really do not know what on earth we have been doing all this time”.—[Official Report, 8/11/76; col. 21.]
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Carrington: a four-month suspension achieves nothing. All it will do is to send the wrong signal to the Irish Government and prevent our Prime Minister going to the European Council with the full knowledge of our views on the content of this treaty. I hope noble Lords will reject the Motion and that we will see this Bill safely on its way.
My Lords, I thank the Lord President for her patience and endurance during recent weeks in coming to this point in the handling of the Bill and in accepting the admitted novelty of my Motion. On the issue of postponement—it is postponement and not abandonment—until no earlier than 20 October, it is for the Government to decide after that date when it would be sensible to revisit and recommit. That is what the Motion says.
It would be wrong for me to disguise the fact that I dislike aspects of the Bill. I have made no secret of that throughout our discussions on it and I have made no secret of my view that it is contrary to many people's assertions—what about Maastricht, what about Nice and so on?—that this is a different Bill. First, textually, it obviously is the constitution. We have had long debates on that and people in good faith just disagree. I find it difficult to understand that disagreement because the text is the same. Most people outside this House and in Europe, except one or two, believe that it is the same.
Secondly, it is of constitutional significance. People may have missed that the reason our Irish friends had a referendum is not because it is in their constitution to do so, but because the High Court judges in Dublin looked at it and ruled that it was a constitution and, therefore, a referendum was necessary.
Thirdly, this is a Bill unlike any previous EU Bill before this House, including the European Communities Act 1972. It is more open-ended, with more facilities and provisions for self-expansion and continuation of the expansion of powers than any previous treaty. For all those reasons, I do not disguise my dislike of the Bill. It is full of things that the Government did not want and fought vigorously to reject and failed. Therefore, one has to conclude that the negotiation was not a rip-roaring success. If one reads the details of negotiation, both of the constitutional treaty and the Lisbon treaty, it is fairly clear that Ministers were less deft—or, as one cruel observer said, inexperienced—and as a result did not get the treaty they wanted.
However, our job as an amending Chamber is to improve the Bill and seek to amend it, which, so far in our proceedings, we have not done. We know that we cannot change the treaty; the treaty is now in limbo as the noble Lord, Lord Neill, and others have made clear beyond all doubt. Yet it must be all the more our duty when conditions and facts have changed. A lot of the discussion has been as though we are moving smoothly through a process which we ought now to bring to a conclusion, without accepting that the context has changed radically.
The Irish decision not to ratify means that this treaty is now in a very difficult state. “Almost, not entirely, killed”, says our Foreign Minister and our Prime Minister; “In a coma”, says somebody else; “Asleep”, says somebody else. Certainly, the treaty is not in a state where it is ready to be brought into force. Now that other Parliaments—the Czechs in Prague—have said with authority that they will not proceed and have postponed ratification pending further constitution examinations by their justices, we cannot just say that it does not matter.
I do not carry in my head, but others do, how many more countries have yet to ratify or how many will have second thoughts and have a pause. These are changed conditions. Surely we need to be flexible enough in our approach not to abandon things, not to wipe out any further legislation—that would be absurd—but to pause and reflect and take into account, particularly in the elected Chamber but also in this one, the new conditions which we now face.
It has to be said, too, although I understand the worries about populism and following opinion polls, that what is being done is thoroughly unpopular. We have the guidance of the excellent poll by YouGov, which I know the noble Baroness the Lord President follows very closely, too. This tells us that, in the very latest tests, 54 per cent of those polled want the legislation dropped. They want us to halt the process and think again. Sixty-eight per cent say that the EU is out of touch with normal people. I think that is cruel, but that is what many people throughout Europe believe. That is the sort of attitude that produces the result we have seen in the Republic of Ireland. There is one more statistic that I cannot resist, and that is that 88 per cent cannot name their Members of the European Parliament. Of those attempting, the majority choice was Neil Kinnock. That is thoroughly well-deserved. He has most assiduously attended all these debates and I congratulate him.
I fear that, behind all these arguments about the treaty and the worry as to whether we have got the right negotiated bargain over the constitutional treaty—or this one, nearly the same text—lies a legacy of uncertain and often mishandled foreign policy over 10 years or more. We often debated the issues in this House in a very thorough way and pointed to some of the many difficulties we are in today. We have tried, as everyone knows, to please Washington and Brussels. Frankly, we have succeeded with neither. We have greatly weakened ourselves in our position in the world as a result.
Now we are told by the foreign policy experts that the way to strengthen it is to ratify this treaty, so that we allow the Prime Minister to arrive at the Council of Europe in the next few days in a strong position, enabled to repair things. I find that a very puzzling piece of Foreign Office advice. If the possibility is there to rescue the treaty, as my noble friend Lord Brittan said in a stentorian and tremendous oration—maybe it is; who is to say as there are all sorts of ingenious minds at work?—then far from the Prime Minister arriving with the whole of our legislative process tied up in a bag, finished, concreted over, and settled, he would be in a far more flexible and stronger position if he could say that our legislative process is open and that we have yet to have in the House of Commons, our elected House, the prospect of discussing a new approach and taking on board new developments. Let us at least be wise enough to delay the Bill and ensure that we and the elected Chamber can have a pause for reflection on the new situation.
The Irish may say, “Ratify it”, but they also say, “Pause”. They give both messages very loudly indeed. As the noble Lord, Lord Owen, says, the best way to help the Irish would be to pause and reflect, as the Czechs are doing. We ignore at our peril some of the very fine voices of liberty and freedom that come from Prague. That must be the democratic route—not to abandon but to postpone—and we should take that route this evening. Therefore, I seek to test the opinion of the House on that choice.
On Question, Bill read a third time.
1: After Clause 6, insert the following new Clause—
“Consequences of non-ratification by other Member States
For the avoidance of doubt, until the Treaty of Lisbon has been ratified by all Member States of the European Union, Her Majesty’s Government shall continue to act in accordance with the provisions of the existing Treaties and within the institutional arrangements established by those Treaties.”
The noble Lord said: My Lords, it was apparent in the debate on the Statement that the Government would oppose the Motion. It was not apparent that it would be opposed by such a great margin, but it was opposed to assert ratification of the reform treaty on Third Reading. The reform treaty stalled on the Irish referendum. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, said that the best approach was to keep the train on the road pending renegotiation, the conduct of which negotiation continues and acknowledges continued membership of the EU. Such is the purpose of this amendment.
My Lords, if this amendment were to commend itself to your Lordships it could afford another place an opportunity to consider what should be done, and at all events that would give time for reflection. The reform treaty, in the wake of the Irish referendum, is unenforceable; no one met or queried the analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen. It is as if it were a dead albatross that in some form or other is hanging around the necks of each Government of all member states of the EU unless and until it can be revived by a form of consent acceptable to us in the United Kingdom if it is other than by unanimous consent. We do not have the slightest idea of what is going on and will happen with these negotiations. We cannot rewrite a treaty to accommodate the interests of the political convenience of Governments without the unanimous consent of the Governments who have imposed the treaty’s revision, as before, on the elected—a treaty which is devised to be unintelligible.
If a revised reform treaty were to be agreed, an approach to the electorate should be sought before ratification, at all events by our Parliament. We should tread steadily and warily around the debris of a Prime Minister in a china shop before picking up the pieces. Our electorate are distressed at what they see as a broken promise for a referendum, on which the substance of this amendment could have been supported and the nation would appear to be substantially divided, as my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford has described.
To conclude—and I was asked if I would keep it short—in these circumstances, is it not the acknowledged function of your Lordships’ House, established by convention, to exercise the entitlement to delay the Bill in the nation’s interests, subject to the Government’s entitlement to seek Royal Assent under the Parliament Acts? It is our entitlement to delay the Bill. Could it be that noble Lords from all sides of the House could give the pride of precedence to the interests of our people of any political affiliation or none and not to the interests of the Government? Looking at the last vote, that would appear to be a vain hope, but I put it forward as a proper suggestion. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support this amendment but fear that it may prove to be of little practical value because for years the Government have failed to veto powers passing to Brussels that were clearly not envisaged by the existing treaties, and I do not suppose that they will start doing so now. Examples are too many to mention, but a particularly good one appeared in a letter dated 30 March 2006 from Mr Barroso to the admirable Daniel Hannan MEP, who had asked what was the legal basis for the new External Action Service. Mr Barroso replied that it was Article III-296(3) of the proposed constitution, which had been killed off by the French and Dutch nine months before. When Mr Hannan pointed that out, Mr Barroso agreed, but the project went ahead anyway in a legal vacuum. When I raised this in an Oral Question on 4 May 2006, the Government supported Mr Barroso. Perhaps the Government have been at their most spineless in their refusal to veto the consistent abuse of Article 308 to extend Brussels’ powers in areas that were not covered by the treaties. Your Lordships debated this abuse late in the evening last Monday, 9 June, when I regret I could not be present. I have raised it several times in the past few years in Oral and Written Questions.
By way of a tidying-up exercise, as we are now at Third Reading, I feel I should place the text of the clause on the record in your Lordships’ proceedings as the full infamy of its misuse cannot be grasped without knowing what it says. It was Article 235 in the original 1957 Rome treaty and was designed to allow Brussels to make minor tariff adjustments and so on in the then Common Market. It goes as follows:
“If action by the Community should prove necessary to attain, in the course of the operation of the common market, one of the objectives of the Community, and this Treaty has not provided the necessary powers, the Council shall, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission and after consulting the European Parliament, take the appropriate measures”.
One does not have to be a legal genius to see that Brussels can take power under this clause only in the course of the operation of the Common Market, but over the years, and especially since the collapse of the original constitution, Brussels has been put in charge of such initiatives as the grant of food aid to the least developed countries.
My Lords, more precisely, it is on proposals advanced in secret by the unelected Commission, passed in secret by the bureaucrats from the nation states in the shape of COREPER and passed, again in secret, in the Council of Ministers, who are the Ministers from the national states. The point that the noble Lord so eloquently makes for me is that that bypasses our democracy—your Lordships’ House and the House of Commons—completely. That is the method to which some of us object.
I was about to regale your Lordships with the uses to which this clause has been put. I think I started by saying that one of them was the grant of food aid to the least developed countries. Then there is the promotion of urban renewal in Northern Ireland, the provision of assistance to economic reform in Mongolia, a new translation centre for EU bodies, the co-ordination of our social security systems, the prevention and aftercare of terrorism and establishing the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights—the agency that will carry out the charter, which will only be made legal by the now-defunct Lisbon treaty. There is also a new €235 million information campaign, which some of us would call propaganda. That will certainly be needed after the Irish people have spoken and the way they are about to behave. Then there is the regulation of glucose and lactose and the control of civil emergencies inside and outside the EU.
My Lords, I am fascinated to discover that the Commission has allocated exactly €235 million for this information campaign under the original Article 235, now subtly renumbered Article 352. This is clearly a very deep conspiracy. I think it sounds rather like the Da Vinci Code.
My Lords, I refer the noble Lord to the House of Commons Select Committee’s report on this matter. It was passed under Article 308, which is what I am talking about, if the noble Lord had listened with appropriate fascination to my opening remarks.
My Lords, if I understand it, by his own admission the noble Lord is giving us the speech that he should have given us last week when he was not in his place to give it. Now he is abusing the procedures of this House and giving us a speech on something that is nothing whatever to do with the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. Could he perhaps come to the amendment and explain what his position on it is?
My Lords, I think I am entirely within the rules, which are to tidy up what has been said before. This is a new amendment in view of new circumstances that were not there when this subject was originally debated. I trust it is helpful to your Lordships. In any case, I have only got about another two minutes.
The House of Commons scrutiny committee—I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that none of what I am saying now was said on 9 June—was overridden in its opposition to several of these initiatives. Indeed, it has produced excellent reports to confirm that. Some of those reports would be really quite funny if they were not so serious. For instance, only two years ago the Government started by agreeing with the committee that Article 308 could not be used to pass the control of civil contingencies to Brussels. The Government replied, in time-honoured fashion, that there was nothing to worry about because the other member states did not want it either. However, when they discovered that they were alone in COREPER they wrote saying that they did not dare to veto the proposal and wanted to abstain, but they did not dare to do that either because they thought an extension counted as a veto. The Government did not even understand the veto procedure. They believed that unanimity required every country to vote for a proposal, whereas in fact an abstention is just that, and always has been since 1957. The committee wrote back putting the Government straight and pointing out that just because they were alone did not mean that they were wrong. It was too late; the Government had already voted for it.
That is the sort of thing that has been going on, away from public scrutiny of course. It is supported by the judicial activism of the Luxemborg court. As long ago as 1996 the court gave a judgment on the use of Article 308 that simply ignored the requirement that the clause could be used only in the course of the operation of the Common Market. The court did not even mention it but ruled that what mattered was to obtain a Community objective that was not covered elsewhere in the treaties; in other words an illegal Community objective. I might add that that sanctioned the use to which this clause has been put. There is no appeal against such rampant dishonesty in the court. That is why I fear the amendment will not make much difference to the juggernaut’s process, but I support it none the less.
My Lords, for the past 33 years I have had the privilege of being a guest of the Irish nation, and I was present for 12 days of the referendum campaign and read their literature. I notice from the two speeches that we have just heard that the Irish referendum is prayed in aid for this amendment. Reference was made to the way that the Irish have spoken and to the idea that their referendum is more democratic than what we do in our two Houses of Parliament. I want to make only one point—I think it is a new one—and then say a sentence or two about the particular amendment.
The point is that the Irish nation was not asked in the referendum question, “Do you agree with the proposal to ratify the treaty of Lisbon?”. That would have been a complicated enough question given the appalling drafting and opaque language of much of the treaty. This is the question they were asked:
“Do you approve of the proposal to amend the Constitution contained in the undermentioned Bill?”;
that is, the:
“Twenty-third Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2001”.
There was then an official press pack which explained the proposal to insert various provisions in Article 29 of the constitution, referring to articles of the Lisbon treaty with a promise to the voters that they could obtain a copy of the Bill in the post office but not a copy of the treaty. It was literally impossible even for a legal genius to understand the question unless they had the Lisbon treaty next to them.
Therefore, when noble Lords say that this is some new event which gives a new opportunity and that our procedures are less democratic, I disagree. So far as this amendment is concerned, it says nothing at all, because the Government have no more power than is given by the law of the land, and the law of the land will restrict them in any way that the law of the land so provides. We do not need an amendment of this kind.
My Lords, we have had a long discussion and noble Lords will bear with me for a moment if I touch on a matter that has not yet been touched on. Some people have always been in a state of denial and, as far as I can see, always will be in a state of denial. Most people, however, recognise that the Irish vote almost certainly was not a manifestation of Irish eccentricity but an expression of opinion that very likely reflects the opinion of people throughout Europe. Certainly every time that people have been asked to express an opinion in a referendum, they have answered the question in a way that seems to show their concern about the way in which things are going in Europe and about the pace of change. I defy anybody in this House to say that there is not now a serious disconnection between public opinion and the opinions of the elite in Europe. That is a dangerous situation. I am using this amendment to make this simple point. I hope that the elite will show some humility and, as a result of what has happened in Ireland, go away and seriously consider what has gone wrong.
My Lords, the noble Lord says that every time there has been a consultation, this view has been expressed. I assume, therefore, that he is referring to the referendums on the previous treaty as well as on this one. If that is the case, he ought to remember that on the previous treaty there were four referendums: two were in favour and two were against.
My Lords, before the noble Lord continues—and I hope that noble Lords will recognise that I have been patient in listening to what has been said—let me just remind the House that we are considering an amendment. We had a long debate on the amendment to the Motion tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, during which we dealt with these issues. At this hour and at this stage of the Bill, we should confine ourselves to the words of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway; we should deal with that and not other issues, important though they be, which have been debated at enormous length. I hope that the House will indulge me in so doing.
My Lords, I do not wish to delay noble Lords another moment, but I defy anybody in this House to seriously argue that there is not a disconnection between the opinion of ordinary people and those who pontificate about what is happening in the citadels of power in Brussels. That is a dangerous situation and I hope that in the next month or two some people will, instead of smirking and suggesting that the Irish people have just made a mess of it, go away and seriously consider what has gone wrong.
My Lords, I believe that the amendment is unnecessary. It simply says that, in the absence of progress on the Lisbon treaty, the existing treaties should be adhered to. However, as I understand it, that is already the clear position and the way in which the Government have said that they are going to proceed.
In various debates, noble Lords have stressed their strong views either for or against the Lisbon treaty, but it has always been my view that, although the Lisbon treaty is important and has a lot of useful provisions, if it does not proceed the European Union will still be in a position to make a lot of important day-to-day decisions. One thing that always struck me when I was a Minister in various councils was that for the most part the European Union proceeds by consensus without votes and in a purposeful way. I would like my noble friend the Minister, when she replies to this debate, to confirm that there is absolutely no reason why Governments should not continue to pursue with all the energy that they can muster such issues as tackling climate change or the worrying situation regarding rising food prices in the world, or indeed any of the other challenges that the European Union faces. It is true that the treaty of Lisbon would have improved the decision-making procedures; none the less, if the European Union has the will, it can tackle a lot of these important subjects.
Although it is a blow that, unfortunately, as a result of the Irish vote we are now again thinking of how to improve the European Union’s institutions, that should not become the sole focus of the European Union, which has a great deal of important business to conduct on a day-to-day basis, as I hope it will do purposefully in the months ahead. For that reason, the amendment is completely unnecessary. The countries of the European Union, whatever their views on the Irish result and on the future institutional framework of the European Union, should get on with tackling the real issues—those issues that are capable of engaging the public’s interest and closing the gap between the elites and the electorates in Europe.
My Lords, we shall not know how necessary this amendment is until we hear from the Minister. The noble Baroness, Lady Quin, may be absolutely right that the amendment is completely unnecessary because this is the way in which things will happen. However, we need to hear from the Minister, which is why I warmly welcome the amendment—indeed, I put my name to it—as this is an important opportunity for the Government clearly to set out the position.
I could not agree more with the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, when he described the wording of the treaty as “opaque language” and “appalling drafting”. If he had attended all our debates, that is the message that he would have heard from this side of the House as we sought to improve the way in which this European Union (Amendment) Bill proceeds.
We have heard a lot of versions of why the Irish voted as they did. The answer lies with the Irish people. They have expressed a view. We cannot start surmising why they did it in this particular way. However, I say to the noble Lord that this is not a problem for the Republic of Ireland alone. The plain fact is that this is a problem for the entire European Union and, consequently, any solution must involve the entire European Union.
My Lords, no blow-in in west Cork would ever dream of saying other than that we must respect the treaty rights of the Irish. The Irish problem is a British problem and a European problem. All I was trying to do, as I am sure the noble Lord understands, was to explain why suggesting that there was more democracy in that referendum than in these Houses of Parliament is completely failing to understand that referendum and what it meant. I do not disagree at all with him about the unsatisfactory drafting, but how can he put his name to an amendment that, as a competent lawyer, he must know perfectly well says something ridiculous? I say that with great respect. It is perfectly plain that this Government can act only according to their lawful powers, so why on earth does one need to table this amendment?
My Lords, I always defer to the noble Lord because I am very proud to have been listed alongside him as one of the 100 most powerful lawyers in the United Kingdom. That company is a heady mix. I just feel that the amendment is an ideal opportunity for the Government to reaffirm that they will comply with what he accepts is normal, standard procedure. In some of our debates, we have asked whether this will in fact happen. In the treaty of Lisbon, there is a huge constitutional change: the collapse of the Third Pillar. That dominated the debate in the Irish Republic.
The presence of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York suggests an analogy to me. When Samson started to collapse the last pillar, he brought the entire edifice crashing down on top of him and wiped out a load of Philistines at the same time. I will not carry the analogy any further. Suffice it to say that, when you collapse a pillar, you have a major impact. That is the message that we have tried to put across.
Finally, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, that of course the Irish referendum has a place in this debate. I did not agree with the noble Baroness when she sought to curtail the debate, because the amendment refers to a situation in which the treaty,
“has been ratified by all Member States of the European Union”.
The decision reached by the Irish people is therefore very relevant to this debate. However, the noble Baroness has it in her hands to render any further debate superfluous by saying that she accepts the amendment.
My Lords, I was not trying to curtail the debate; I was trying more to feed it into the debate on the amendment. I make no apologies for that, but I hope to allay the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, and those of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, which he expressed in his earlier speech in particular.
Let me be very clear so that it is on the record and everyone understands exactly what I mean. When I read out the Foreign Secretary’s Statement on Monday night, I said:
“The rules of the treaty and the European Union are clear. All 27 member states must ratify the treaty for it to come into force”.—[Official Report, 16/6/08; col. 853.]
That is clearly set out in the treaty. It is unambiguous. For the record, Article 6.2 of the final provisions of the Lisbon treaty is clear on this. It says:
“This Treaty shall enter into force on 1 January 2009, provided that all the instruments of ratification have been deposited, or, failing that, on the first day of the month following the deposit of the instrument of ratification by the last signatory State to take this step”.
Article 48 of the current EU treaty, under which the Lisbon treaty was negotiated, also makes it absolutely clear that amendments to the current treaties can enter into force only,
“after being ratified by all Member States”.
The Foreign Secretary and I have already made it clear in our discussions that there is no question whatever of ignoring the vote of the Irish people or of bullying them. The Irish Government have set out clearly their respect for the right of other countries to complete their ratification process. We have discussed that at great length this afternoon in your Lordships’ House. The legal position is absolutely clear as a matter of international and EU law and it is not necessary for it to be reflected in an amendment to the Bill. For further clarification, noble Lords will be keen to hear that we understand that treaty preparations will no longer feature on the European Council agenda.
My Lords, I indicated that those discussions were among officials and that such discussions take place in any deliberations on any legislation, both domestic and international. I say that just to clarify the matter. The noble Lord knows this, although I notice that he sprang to his feet rather like a tiger. Therefore, I cannot indicate whether there has been any further discussion. I imagine that there will be discussions on the back of the discussions this weekend on where to go next. I will report back to your Lordships’ House, because my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will make a Statement on his return from the European Council. With the leave of the House, I will make a Statement on that, as I am sure noble Lords will wish me to, and ensure that I have an answer to that question, if indeed the matter was discussed. I hope that that will satisfy the noble Lord.
To make absolutely certain, I checked with parliamentary counsel, which has allowed me to quote it on the question of whether the amendment is necessary. In effect, it said that for clarification to be effective, there needs to be some doubt about the position. There is no doubt about the position, so this clarification is not only unnecessary but unhelpful. I hope that I have answered at least what I sense to be the probing part of the amendment in making the current position perfectly clear. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I prefer not to withdraw the amendment. It is quite apparent that it has served more than one constructive purpose, the last of which was spoken to by the Leader of the House. It is also apparent that we have no idea which way we are going. In those circumstances, it is not prudent or sensible to ratify or to assert that it is right to ratify the treaty.
The amendment was also constructive in that it gave my noble friend Lord Waddington a chance to pick up one of its crucial aspects and the justification for it, which I put to the House: would noble Lords give pride of precedence to the interests of the people and not to the interests of government? My noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral also made an encouraging contribution, which helped the validity of this exercise. The fundamental reason why I seek the opinion of the House—in doing so, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken both for and against—is that I believe that it is fundamentally wrong to assert ratification of something that has to be worked out when one has not the slightest idea how it will be done. For those reasons, I seek the opinion of the House.
2: After Clause 6, insert the following new Clause—
“Parliamentary control of decisions consequent upon any EU member state’s failure to ratify the Treaty
(1) The Secretary of State shall report at least quarterly to Parliament on any negotiations in the Council of Ministers or the European Council, or with EU partners, designed to secure ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon by all EU member states in the event of any member state failing to ratify the Treaty.
(2) A Minister of the Crown may not commit the United Kingdom to new obligations, or alter the obligations of the United Kingdom, or agree in the Council of Ministers or the European Council or informally to any non-Treaty proposal, undertaking or document designed to secure ratification of the Treaty by an EU member state that had previously failed to ratify the Treaty, unless Parliamentary approval has been given in accordance with this section.
(3) Parliamentary approval is given if—
(a) in each House of Parliament a Minister of the Crown moves a motion that the House approves of Her Majesty’s government’s intention to commit the United Kingdom to new obligations, or to alter the obligation of the United Kingdom, and(b) each House agrees to the motion without amendment.”
The noble Lord said: My Lords, we have now decided to endorse a leap into the unknown. What do I mean by that? During our debates, the Minister has paid tribute to the extent to which we have probed and have had discussions. But the theme running through many of our debates has been the known unknowns. What is going to happen has been the question dominating so many of our debates. That has reached a crescendo with the decisions that the House has taken today.
This amendment standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford seeks to establish parliamentary control over events which will now take place. We have heard from the Minister that the Prime Minister will come to the elected House, the other place—she believes on Monday, but whenever the discussions have concluded—and will report. This amendment seeks to make it clear that Parliament will decide on the future course of action. Subsection (2) of the new clause in Amendment No. 2 states:
“A Minister of the Crown may not commit the United Kingdom to new obligations, or alter the obligations of the United Kingdom, or agree”,
to anything, in effect,
“unless Parliamentary approval has been given”.
As we do not know what will happen, we should entrench the view, which I think came from all sides of the House, that this is not a problem just for one country. It is a problem for the European Union.
I know that we have a new Prime Minister. We have not heard much about what Tony Blair said when he made a speech following the French referendum result. I recall that he said:
“As the problems of the citizen grew ever more pressing, instead of bold policy reform and decisive change, we locked ourselves in a room at the top of the tower and debated things no ordinary citizen could understand … there became a growing mood amongst European people, that Europe, unable to solve its actual problems, took to solving imaginary ones … This finally took grip … The evening of the French result, I remember being in Italy with friends, and someone saying, in despair at the vote: ‘what's wrong with them?’ meaning those who voted ‘no’. I said ‘I'm afraid the question is: ‘what's wrong with us?’ meaning ‘us’ the collective political leadership of Europe”.
In many ways, there is now an opportunity to lift people’s minds above the minutiae, whether it is the collapse of the Third Pillar, or the streamlining or tidying up of certain procedures. Can we not now embark on a debate, for which I argued in one of the amendments that I proposed, to lift the hearts and minds of the people of this country and the peoples of Europe with a new vision, which entrenches for a lifetime to come the vision that we have all held of a peaceful and prosperous Europe? But it must be a Europe with which the people of Europe are comfortable, a Europe where its people are at ease with whatever is proposed.
As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, when I quoted his foreword to that excellent analysis of the negotiations at the start, in many ways ill luck has bedevilled the history of the development of the European Union. It is about time that we got on to the front foot and became much more positive about what Europe means. It means so much to so many of us. It means a great deal to me that my party is the party of Europe and believes in the United Kingdom being at the heart of Europe. That is where I stand. But it can be achieved only if we persuade people.
Tony Blair had that very much in mind. He was talking about the need after the constitution to lift the hearts and minds, and it has not happened. I recall that to the European Parliament he said:
“It is time to give ourselves a reality check. To receive the wake-up call. The people are blowing the trumpets round the city walls. Are we listening? Have we the political will to go out and meet them so that they regard our leadership as part of the solution not the problem?”.
That went down very well indeed at the European Parliament. Let us try to revive some of that language, listen to the people of Europe and make sure that when the Prime Minister returns with, I hope, the way ahead, it will be up to this House and the other place to debate and approve what further steps are to be taken. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support this amendment. It now is the sheet anchor, the Motion and the first amendment having been rejected. Those do not matter so much so long as this amendment is accepted by the House. It is perfectly plain that no one knows what will happen. It is very much open to question whether, if one merely ratifies, that gives one Government or another Government or all Governments a greater pull. It is all right perhaps as a pull for the Governments but is it a pull for their electorates?
My noble friend raised the crucial point: in the long run, account has to be taken, not only by us, but by every member state. If this institution is going to operate, it has to operate with the approval of the electorate, who have to understand what is going on. Before it can get to the electorate, the member states have to understand what is going on. It is not a question of hurrying the matter. This amendment makes it perfectly plain that in these circumstances our position is protected. We cannot commit the United Kingdom, we cannot alter our obligations or agree to give an undertaking unless our Parliament has approved. That may appear to be a somewhat cumbersome mechanism, but it is wholly right. It cannot be just cast aside.
If the whole venture is to hold the approval of the people, then this is a crucial amendment. I know that I have spoken for too long so I shall say no more.
My Lords, the purpose of the Bill before us is to ratify the treaty. If that is the case, to then say, “If there is a failure of ratification then this will not happen” in the same Bill that ratifies the treaty, seems to speak with a double tongue. We either ratify or we do not.
This proposed new clause is therefore very confusing. I can understand its intention; it is designed to secure ratification of the treaty of Lisbon by all EU member states. But the Irish have rejected it. We have been told by the Benches opposite that it is dead. But if it is dead, what is the reason for this proposed new clause?
The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, was really not about the amendment—it was about what we should do to educate all our people to be more positive about Europe. I agree with that, but this amendment is to a Bill which is supposed to be ratifying the treaty.
I suggest that the House rejects the amendment. The noble Lord has made a wonderful speech on what we should do about the positive aspects of Europe; perhaps he will, after hearing a few other speeches, withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, the amendment seems extremely injudicious and to cut absolutely across almost the sole point on which everyone agreed in our long debate earlier—that the Irish were not to be bullied, subjected to fait accompli, pushed into a minority of one and subjected to pressure. Yet, if it were accepted, the amendment would do all those things. It would mean that before a British Minister could go to the Council and agree with his Irish colleague and his 25 other colleagues on some,
“non-Treaty proposal, undertaking or document designed to secure ratification of the Treaty by any EU member state”,
he would have had to have votes in both Houses of Parliament. If anybody with any knowledge of Anglo-Irish history believes that the Irish would be more likely to vote “yes” in a referendum if the text that they were being offered had first to be approved by the British Parliament and had then been presented to them as a fait accompli in Brussels, they have not been reading the same history books as me.
I am sure that the intention behind the amendment is entirely benign and helpful. The introduction of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, was full of good will but the consequences would be absolutely disastrous. If we passed the amendment, we would not have to wait 24 hours before the sound of keening from somewhere west of here—around Dublin—would be clearly audible.
My Lords, I look forward to the next election in which the Conservative Party campaigns as the party of Europe and seeing exactly how it puts this to the electors.
In so far as the amendment is concerned, I express my agreement with the two previous speakers. I should like to add one simple point: we have better scrutiny functions of EU matters in this House and indeed in the other place than we do for any other kind of treaty or international agreement. We also have a clear provision that you cannot alter the rights and duties of the people of this country in any way unless authorised to do so under the European Communities Act 1972, as amended. There is therefore no question of the need to obtain prior consent.
This amendment is a kind of super “Bricker” amendment. Those of us with American interests, who remember the effect of Senator Bricker’s amendment in seeking to fetter the ability of the Executive branch in the United States to enter into treaties or other international agreements, and the way in which petty party interests have prevented the United States from, on occasion, being able to negotiate properly, will realise that what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, rightly described as a “cumbersome mechanism” is actually a mechanism for complete stalemate.
My Lords, I do not think that petty party considerations are behind this amendment. It is a great anxiety that many people have—I am one of them—that those who lead the European Union are getting out of touch with the electorate, which is a very bad thing. Everyone knows that for this European Union to move effectively, it has to have people’s backing. Leaders cannot get themselves so divorced from what people think that they operate in a world of their own.
We all know that the Government do not want a referendum—and one can understand it—because they know they will lose it. Therefore it is not being allowed. The thinking behind the amendment is, “We have given a certain amount away to Brussels. We cannot give more away without parliamentary approval”. I think that is perfectly reasonable and I hope that the noble Baroness will give it consideration. I am sure that the diktats from on high have said, “On no account must you accept any amendments from the House of Lords”. However, despite that, I hope that the Minister will consider it.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, has put forward a most superficially attractive argument in his usually engaging way. However, I am afraid that I cannot agree with it because it seems to me that those who have come to the conclusion that this amendment, if carried, would be unduly restrictive—I would go further and say emasculative—of the Government’s scope of manoeuvre are correct.
I do not believe that there is anything other than sincerity behind the noble Lord’s attitude in this matter. It is an institutional objection on the part of the Conservative Party to the treaty itself. The party has been utterly consistent from the start. It has rejected, almost in the words of the Book of Common Prayer, the treaty and all its works. It seems to me that the one thing that the Conservative Party, with great respect, is incapable of doing is saying one word that is benign, charitable and laudatory in relation to the treaty.
It reminds one of the story of Napoleon going to a village in the Vendée in about 1810, when there were doubts as to the loyalty of the people of that locality to his administration. No guns had been fired by way of salute and the mayor ran out and said, “The powder is damp and we would not have been able to fire the guns. Furthermore, the countryside is very dry and had we done so it would have caused fires. Thirdly, Emperor, we have no cannons”. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of the Conservative Party in this matter; it has no intention whatever of giving any support to this treaty.
I raise one matter by way of a request for information, because it has some bearing on the matters that we are now considering and will have to consider over the next few months.
My Lords, of course, I am not the Conservative Party, but I am surprised at what the noble Lord has said. I certainly do not take that view. In my speeches today and on other occasions, I have always said that it was essential that we retain our membership of the European Union but I have objected to certain aspects of the treaty. I do not speak for my party but I do not think that the noble Lord is being fair in any way to me.
My Lords, I hope that I have not been unfair either to the noble Lord or to the Conservative Party. I did not say that the Conservative Party objected to the Union; I said that it objected to the treaty. It seems to me that it has been thoroughly consistent and absolute in its attitudes in that regard.
The simple matter that I would like to test is this. Adverting to the argument made by the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen, which he put forward with immense articulation, as one would expect, that the treaty is dead and is not resurrectable, I wonder whether in fact that is so. I have been told by eminent Chancery lawyers—I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, would agree with this, from his experience over the years—that, if you want to crack a trust or any other disposition of property, you can do so provided that two conditions obtain. The first is that the parties represent the totality of the beneficial interest and the second is that they are all sui generis and have full capacity to act in that regard.
I appreciate that under the treaty of Lisbon it is necessary that there should be total unanimity. However, if a very short treaty was passed by all 27 members, accepting that the treaty of Lisbon should apply only to the 26—or to the 25 if the Czechs dissent—it seems that that would be entirely lawful. It would, of course, be necessary for there to be a referendum in Ireland or, possibly, in the Czech Republic on that account, but if that were so, that second treaty would have amended the treaty of Lisbon in a perfectly valid way. If I am wrong about that, I am glad to be told so. I put the question not only to the Leader of the House but to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, in the hope that there will be a unanimous verdict on the matter.
My Lords, although quite rightly the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, has posed that as a question, in a way he provides a part answer himself in his remarks. Already in the Union, including in Ireland, people are beginning to think about just those points, which will emerge later without any transgression at all, to my mind, of the sacred sovereignty of the Irish referendum decision. The decision is their right and entitlement; it was the only country that had to have a referendum and the result is clear, with a margin that was substantial. That has to be honoured, observed and watched with patience, without any rush at all. On these Benches, we support that entirely.
I intervene just very quickly to thank a number of speakers in this debate, in random order. I should mention the right reverend Primate—
My Lords, thank you, I accept the correction—especially that of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who is very well versed in these matters as well as in many other matters, including Europe in general. I mention the most reverend Primate not only because of his traditional sacerdotal leadership, for which he is famous—not only in York but elsewhere—but also because he is political. I do not mean that he is party political, but he is political in the wider sense of being logical; indeed, he showed the illogic of the amendment, which was moved very ably by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, too, for his remarks. I shall not say who it was but, a while back, I asked a previous ambassador of Ireland in London, now retired, when the note of condescension had disappeared from English or British voices when they were addressing Irish people. He said that it was 15 years ago, when Irish incomes per capita overtook those in the United Kingdom, which I thought was a very practical answer. The idea that we would go back with a textual intervention in Irish affairs, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, of the nature suggested by this amendment, is unwise.
I also thank my noble friend Lord Lester for his remarks. I would welcome the Minister putting aside the amendment as one to be furthered and pressed, which would be most unwise. However, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for his remarks. There was a lot of support for his thoughts about ensuring that the European Union once again connects strongly with the people. I personally think, and on these Benches the general view is, that the Lisbon treaty actually does that. People complain about the textual complications, but I think that they exaggerate their objections.
I feel strongly that the Lisbon treaty is partly a substantial answer from the European institutions and the sovereign member states, working together to meet the problem, after the Dutch and French referenda results, that the public were, quite rightly, grumbling about being out of touch—and, more important, that the Union was out of touch with the public. But then again, in national politics, many members of the public in Britain and other countries say that they are out of touch with their own Government and that it has all become too complex—or that, in the case of Britain, the political parties are too close together so no one can understand the substantial differences in their programmes, one to another.
There are all sorts of objections like that, but none gainsays the reality of building the European Union as a modern union of 27 sovereign countries—deeply sovereign, with no reduction in any net sovereignty at the margin of any kind whatever; I cannot understand why the Conservative Party continues to fret about that matter—working together to make this a Union of the European peoples. The people themselves, with their diasporas spreading all over Europe and their mobility, with the 10 or now 12 member states coming in, too, with their mobility, and the younger generation, being practical Europeans, find these abstruse arguments about some pretend, so-called loss of sovereignty as very much living in the past.
I think that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, moved this amendment not with the intention of seeing it pressed but to leave his little testament, at Third Reading, to remind us again that he is really a genuinely good European and that he feels very embarrassed sitting alongside some of his colleagues, who are not. There is an awkwardness in the Conservative Party, which will come out again and again, particularly if it is aided and abetted by the ministerial reply tonight.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow that debate. I shall end in a sense by referring to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, to which the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, has just referred. I shall deal with the substance of the amendment first, so that I can put it on the record.
If there were any amendments to the Lisbon treaty, they would have to be laid before Parliament. To answer the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, if we get to the point of having a new treaty, it would have to go all the way through your Lordships’ House and another place. I am very cautious, however, about pre-empting the discussions and debates that will go on, not only in the next two or three days but I believe for some months to come. I think that we are all agreed about allowing the Irish Government the space and time to consider and deliberate properly. Nor should we tie our own hands so completely as not to be able to have those discussions, albeit within the context of what would have to happen should that require a change in the law.
I was keen to be invited to offer the 25th report in the course of our deliberations—that is, it is the 25th time that a report has been called for in an amendment. I was thrilled that we got to 25, because it is a nice, round number in many ways.
It is not round.
My Lords, I have been at this a long time—do me a favour.
I was surprised at the report part of the amendment because, in a sense, it would require less of the Government. There are four prime ministerial Statements a year. I have been told that 23 June is the date for the Statement, should your Lordships’ House wish me to repeat it—somehow I think that your Lordships might. Last year, there were nine ministerial Statements from the Minister for Europe before the GAERC meeting, and my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary appears before the Select Committee as and when required. I would argue that a lot already goes on to make sure that we keep Parliament informed. I accept that we should keep that under review, but it happens effectively at present.
I will be resisting the amendment because we do more and the position is clear. The point that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, began with warmed my heart as I know that he is well regarded in the European Union—I may be killing his career now—for his pro-European stance. I know that he has made some extraordinarily well received speeches about Europe and that he is not easily taken in on issues when he wants to consider them carefully. I believe that he and I easily could stand on a platform together—I suspect with the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, too—and make positive speeches on behalf of Europe. I hope that he will look again at the treaty and at the points my noble friend Lady Quin, who is not in her seat at present, raised about the importance of moving forward on the international agenda and the relevance and importance of Europe. I believe that we could make common cause, which is a lovely note on which to ask him to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to everyone who has participated in the debate. I just want to say to the noble Lords, Lord Elystan-Morgan and Lord Hannay, that implicit in what they are saying is that the people of the Republic of Ireland should have two referenda. I ask them to explain—not now, of course—why the Irish should be consulted twice when the views of the UK public are not to be solicited even once. That is part of the disconnect that has featured in some of our debates.
There has been far too much talk of putting Lisbon back on track, and I agreed with much of what the noble Earl—my good friend—Lord Ferrers said. There has been too much talk of getting round the Irish result or, as it has been called, “the wrong result”. As I pointed out by quoting Tony Blair, I do not think that this crisis can be resolved by mere sleight of hand. The legendary legerdemain of the European political class will not provide an answer because it has long been a major part of the problem.
As well as thanking the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, for his contribution, I should say to the most reverend Primate that I respect him so much—he knows that. I regard him as a man of great courage and bravery in his views. Although I disagreed with almost everything he said, I shall follow his advice and ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
My Lords, I have agreed not to divide the House on the passage of this Bill, as I did for Maastricht, so I thought that I would touch on some of the highlights of our proceedings—or rather, on some of the most depressing facts about our EU membership as revealed in our debates.
The first is that, despite two Written Questions and further questions in debate, the Lord President has been unable to identify any areas of our national life not now controlled, or capable of being controlled, by Brussels. That is not what the British people voted for in 1975, and they do not like it now.
Then we discovered that only eight out of the 27 member states support the UK in reforming the common fisheries policy and the common agricultural policy. The reform of the latter is blocked until 2013 anyway, and with that line-up in the Council there does not seem to be any prospect of reform in the foreseeable future. The noble Lord, Lord Bach, promised me a Written Answer on how many of the 25,000 children whom he said are dying every year from malnutrition and associated disease owe their deaths to the CAP, and on the level of other suffering. On the CFP, we are also waiting for an answer on whether any research has been done on the damage to the seabed caused by the 50,000 articulated lorries-worth of dead fish being thrown back every year.
One chink of light in our proceedings was that the Government assured those of us who dared to criticise the EU that we will never become guilty of the European crime of xenophobia, even after the EU becomes a state, with its new legal personality. I fear that over the years, as the EU gets more and more powerful and arrogant, that guarantee will prove worthless, but it will have to do for now.
However, we failed to extract a promise from the Government that the EU’s developing riot police—its gendarmerie force—will not be deployed on British soil. If it ever is, that would cause the people’s disdain for the whole project of European integration to rise and to turn rapidly to hatred. We also failed to get any guarantee that the EU will not intrude further into our direct tax affairs. That will not endear the project to our people either. And, of course, we failed yet again to get the Government to set up an unbiased cost-benefit analysis of our EU membership. Yet again, it was perfectly clear that the Government shied away from such a project because they know that the result would be unacceptable to our people and would lead to our speedy withdrawal.
Perhaps the most surprising and depressing highlight for me was when a former Foreign Secretary, supported by a former High Court judge, moved two amendments that would have given our British courts superiority over the Luxembourg Court of Justice’s jurisdiction in two areas covered by the treaties. I found it difficult to believe my ears that such noble Lords had not understood the most basic legal mechanism by which this project proceeds: that the Luxembourg Court is the final arbiter in all EU matters, and that there is no appeal against it. That was very surprising.
I turn to perhaps the brightest moment for me in our proceedings, which was when the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland—my noble friend, if I may refer to him as that—
My Lords, he destroyed the Government’s red lines, which they pretend have been drawn in the matter of our justice and home affairs, in a brilliant speech of great legal clarity.
I cannot disguise my disappointment that noble Lords in receipt of an EU pension did not, with the notable and honourable exception of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, see fit to declare that interest in all our debates. I refer your Lordships to our debate on 19 July 2007 when we debated why they should have done so. In summary, the reason why I and my Eurosceptic friends believe that noble EU pensioners should declare that interest in our debates is that EU pensions are perhaps unique in that holders can lose them if they fail to uphold the EU’s interests or bring the EU into disrepute. Our case was unanimously supported by your Lordships’ Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests, chaired by no less a personage than the former Lord Chief Justice, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. Then, again I think uniquely, that sub-committee was overruled by our Privileges Committee consisting of party leaders and various prefects of your Lordships’ House for largely spurious reasons.
It is against that background that no fewer than 12 noble EU pensioners have between them played a leading role in our proceedings.
My Lords, is it your Lordships’ pleasure that I should name them? I was not going to because a number of them are not in their seats, but if I am called to name them I will. We obviously have plenty of time. If we look at former members of the European Parliament, we have the noble Lords, Lord Dykes, Lord Inglewood, Lord Harrison and Lord Teverson, the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, and the noble Lord who asked the question, the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson.
My Lords, the noble Lord should realise that Members of the European Parliament are paid a salary by Her Majesty’s Treasury and that it is Her Majesty’s Treasury that pays my pension for service in the European Parliament. That is true for pensions of all Members of the European Parliament. I think that the noble Lord should be a little more circumspect before he throws around allegations. If he is then going to say that there is a supplementary pension scheme, he should also acknowledge that that supplementary pension scheme is run by a non- profit making organisation, ASBL, which is registered under Luxembourg law. It is not a pension from the European Union.
My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, the treaties themselves and the European staff guidelines make it possible for the Commission and the Court to remove an EU pension.
I had better complete the ex-Commissioners now, because I have got that far.
My Lords, of course I apologise to the noble Lord if he, of all those I am now being called on to name, does not receive a pension. One reason why I did not want to name them all—because there are others—is that the certainty of some of these conditions can, in particular cases, be difficult to discern. But there is not much doubt about it when we come to the ex-Commissioners and ex-Commission employees: the noble Lords, Lord Brittan, Lord Clinton-Davis, Lord Kinnock, Lord Patten of Barnes, Lord Richard and Lord Tugendhat. As I say, I would not have named those people, but I think it will help students who read Hansard in future to know that our debates have been influenced to that extent. There can be no doubt that this unseen hand has distorted the quality of our deliberations. I very much regret that.
I conclude with a word of advice to my erstwhile political friends in the Conservative Party.
My Lords, before the noble Lord does so, perhaps I may ask him as a point of honour, since I have been listening to him from beyond the Bar, that when he expresses a desire to ensure that future students have an accurate understanding of what is going on, it is necessary to record, first, that I thought that he was a man of honour and would not give himself to sentiments such as those he has just expressed; and, secondly, that there is nothing that I have ever taken from anyone that would begin to influence the judgment that I exercise as a parliamentarian.
My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Lord is aware of it but he used the phrase “unclean hands”, which is a translation from the Italian and relates to corruption. I really do think we are reaching the limits of what is possible. The noble Lord would do himself a lot of good if he withdrew some of these remarks.
If you did, would you withdraw it?
My Lords, I have about another two minutes, and I have saved your Lordships at least 12 minutes in a Division. So I do not think that I am ahead of that time yet.
I was concluding with some advice to my former friends in the Conservative Party. Throughout our proceedings they have consistently told us that they want our country to stay at the heart of the project for European integration and that they want it to apply light-touch regulation and to become a dynamic and free country in the wider and richer world beyond. In other words, they want to reform the European Union. They also say that the Lisbon treaty is legally dead because that is what EU law clearly states. As the noble Lord, Lord Neill, points out, that is clearly correct, and they are right about that.
By the same token, indeed by the same clauses in the treaties, any reform to change a single comma, let alone to repatriate even the smallest of powers, will require unanimity in the Council of 27 Ministers. If any of Brussels’ massive powers are to be repatriated—or, in Euro-speak, if the acquis communautaire is to be reversed—that could be done only on a proposal from the Commission with an agreement from COREPER and, again, unanimity in the Council. Any treaty changes also require unanimity in the Council.
I submit to my erstwhile friends that that unanimity will simply not be attainable. Many of them know that truth but dare not confess it. That is why I joined the UK Independence Party, which is the only respectable party telling the truth in this great matter—that the only way out is the door. One word of truth outweighs the whole world; the only question is when.
Finally, I would like to join with what I am sure other noble Lords are going to say—and if they do not, perhaps I may do it on their behalf—which is to thank the noble Baroness the Lord President for her extraordinarily courteous behaviour throughout our sometimes exhausting procedures and congratulate her on the great stamina she has displayed. I would also include the noble Lord, Lord Bach, in those sentiments. Like the noble Baroness the Lord President, he had to defend the indefensible. But they did it very well. I cannot, on the other hand, congratulate them or the Government on what they have done in passing this fateful Bill. I fear they have made a terrible mistake which will give rise to growing anger among our people and the peoples of other European nations, until eventually the whole project falls apart. By their fruits shall ye know them.
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may ask a question. When allegations, accusations and innuendos are made in this honourable House, does it not undermine the estimate of Parliament in the public realm? Would the noble Lord be prepared to make those allegations outside this House?
Yes, of course, my Lords; I have done so on many occasions. I am merely repeating the opinion of a former Lord Chief Justice that noble Lords in receipt of an EU pension should declare it in your Lordships’ debates. They are not like any other pension. They are not like a pension that you keep for life. You can lose them under the treaty and under the staff guidelines. That is my answer to the most reverend Primate.
My Lords, the great problem with the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, is that he has some charming qualities that make me think he is not such a bad chap after all, but then he makes a quite disgraceful intervention such as the one he has just made. I know what he is up to, because he has half confessed it. He is not talking to us, he is talking to Hansard. It is therefore probably just as well that people who read Hansard will also see the rebuke of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York so that those remarks can be put into context.
I will not go through all those whom the noble Lord named. But I have known the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, since we were students together. I know that what he said is absolutely true. An iron rod of integrity has run through all his political life. That is why if the noble Lord had continued I would have divided the House on the Question that he no longer be heard. It is a pity that a debate that has ranged long and wide should have ended on that sour intervention.
I have only three things to say. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, and I fell out only once, which is pretty good going by McNally standards over such a long process. It has been a tour de force for him, ably advised by his local solicitor.
I hope the Prime Minister occasionally reads Lords Hansard. I have been around this place in various guises for nearly 40 years and the performance of the noble Baroness the Lord President has been one of the most impressive I have seen from a Front Bench. Her command of her brief, her eye for detail and—my god—her patience have been a credit.
I conclude with something that I quoted at Second Reading: a message from the grave. I said then that I had had the honour in the 1970s to work for Jean Monnet in his old age. I had a look at his memoirs, and I think he sent us a message. Talking about the future of Europe, he said:
“It has to overcome the inertia that hinders movement and the habits that resist change. We have to reckon with time. Where this necessity will lead and towards what kind of Europe I cannot say. It is impossible to foresee today the decisions that could be taken in a new context tomorrow. The essential thing is to hold fast to the few fixed principles that have guided us since the beginning: gradually to create among Europeans the broadest common interest, served by common democratic institutions to which”—
I emphasise this—
“the necessary sovereignty has been delegated”.
That is what this debate has been about. I am proud of and grateful to my own Benches—my noble friends Lord Wallace and Lord Dykes and, as I often say, that galaxy of talent behind me.
My Lords, I agree with one sentence only of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, when he thanked those who have taken part in the marathon undertaking of handling the Bill. I join with him, and go further, in thanking the noble Baroness the Lord President for her fantastic performance, which included a quick flight to Peru and back in the middle, as I keep reminding people. I still find that amazing, having taken two weeks to recover when I went to Peru. That has been remarkable, and the noble Baroness has covered all these vast issues. Bills such as this cover every aspect of our national life, and she has dealt with them in masterly fashion.
As we saw it on these Benches, our job was to amend and improve the Bill, and give Parliament the full opportunity to adjust to the enormous changes that have clearly taken place while we have legislated. In that, we have clearly failed. We tested the view of the House on many occasions and got a number of votes—but not quite enough because there was, to my right, an army whose jovial leader, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has just said some generous things about me. I nearly always enjoyed almost everything he said; there were just one or two jarring observations, and I am still sore from being called a “barrack-room lawyer”. For the rest, he and his party have followed a consistent line; it is not one I like at all, and it has enabled the Government to win and my party to be defeated on almost every occasion.
If there is a message that we have tried to purvey at a higher level than the mere winning of amendments, it is to the Olympians—the Olympians here in this House, in Brussels and elsewhere, who talk about our European destiny, the need for more integration, and so on. These people must face the fact that the world has changed. I do not say that there is arrogance in the super-Europhile line; it is not arrogance at all. It is just that they are completely out of touch with the new realities of an empowered citizenry in an interactive age. That is the message that came bouncing back to us from Ireland, and we will hear more of it. There will presumably be more Bills and statutory orders on the way before this treaty business can be settled, either with a new treaty, which will require new legislation, or with adjustments of some kind to the present arrangement.
Now the Bill goes on to Royal Assent and embraces a treaty which is currently, at best, in limbo and may be altogether deceased. It leaves many knowns and unknowns, and I fear that we will return to this subject often in the future. For the moment, we have done our best. We have soldiered on from all sides. All who have taken part have performed in good faith, and with a determination to put their view in a way consistent with the best and highest standards of your Lordships’ House. I thank all noble Lords.
My Lords, I begin by saying that the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, was inevitable. I say no more than that.
Noble Lords have conducted themselves with enormous integrity and passion. I have been deeply privileged to be part of the passage of the Bill, and to have led for the Government. I am extremely grateful to everyone who has participated, from whatever side of the argument. I am, of course, especially grateful to my happy band, sitting behind me now, which has participated and brought enormous experience, knowledge and wisdom to our discussions, not to mention the odd joke from a sedentary position from my noble friend Lord Tomlinson.
I am extremely grateful to the Liberal Democrat Party for its support for the Bill; it has a long tradition of support for Europe. I understand that noble Lords on those Benches did so in the knowledge that they were clear about their own position and about pushing the Government to ensure that we do more to promote our role and work in Europe. I take that very seriously.
We also had support from the Cross Benches, particularly the noble Lords, Lord Hannay, Lord Kerr and Lord Jay, but many others as well. I pay tribute again to the committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, and the Constitution Committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, for their work, which has been quite extraordinary. I thank them enormously on behalf of everyone in your Lordships’ House.
I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Bach, who sat beside me throughout this. He has handled some difficult issues and helped me consume vast amounts of Polos; that is very important. I thank the Bill team, particularly Elin, who is sitting in the Box. All noble Lords who have dealt with my office know that she has been truly magnificent, having arrived 24 hours before we began this process. I fear that, sadly, she will leave me at the end of the week to go on to greater and higher things in the Foreign Office. The Bill team has been magnificent, and has kept me on the straight and narrow.
I conclude by reading a short paragraph from an Irish document written by Jason O’Mahony, whom I have never met. It takes us right back to the beginning of Europe.
“Europe isn’t easy. It permeates day-to-day life, and like the Galway water system, is ignored unless it vanishes. It is boring. But it works. Imagine if one were to step through a tear in time, and appear in front of some prisoners in Auschwitz or Belsen. Imagine telling them of a Europe at peace, and democratic from Talinn to Galway … an elected parliament and a guarantee that a Pole in Germany or a German in Malta or a Maltese in Sweden can stand up and say ‘I am an EU citizen, and I will be treated as an equal’… A Europe in which French and German … ministers sit in joint cabinet session, elected in free elections … They would call it a fantasy. Yet everyday, 490 million people call it home”.
On Question, Bill passed.