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EU: Lisbon Treaty

Volume 712: debated on Wednesday 1 July 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have held with the government of the Republic of Ireland on a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

My Lords, the June European Council discussed and agreed the guarantees that the Irish Government wanted in order to address the concerns of the Irish people about the Lisbon treaty. The European Council conclusions say that the decision,

“gives legal guarantee that certain matters of concern to the Irish people will be unaffected by the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon”.

Those guarantees do not change the Lisbon treaty; the European Council conclusions are very clear on them. The Lisbon treaty, as debated and decided by our Parliament, will not be changed and, on the basis of these guarantees, Ireland will proceed to have a second referendum in October.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Again, I greet her and warmly welcome her to her role as Minister for Europe after her excellent maiden speech last night. I should like to ask her about the guarantees. She says that they are legal, but in fact they have no legal force at the moment. They would have to be incorporated into some future treaty if they are not to be incorporated into the Lisbon treaty. Can she explain how that process is going to work? Which treaty will they be put into and when will this occur? That information would help us a great deal.

My Lords, what we have in the guarantees will become binding in international law when the guarantees are translated into a protocol at the time of the next accession, which presumably will be when Croatia or Iceland comes in. Before that protocol can be ratified by the UK, Parliament must pass a Bill. As I said, Parliament will rightly have the final say.

My Lords, I welcome my noble friend to her new role and ask her a simple question. Does she agree that the role of the United Kingdom in relation to an Irish second referendum is to keep its nose right out of it and let the Irish people make their decision?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that helpful question and of course I can only agree. The point is that we have not pushed or pressed or bullied the Irish into this referendum, as some have suggested. They decided that it was a process that they wished to go through. They consulted and are consulting and, as I said, a referendum is to be held in October.

My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell us when this Parliament will have an opportunity to debate and vote on the arrangements being made for the Republic of Ireland, which clearly have an effect on this kingdom?

My Lords, of course Parliament will have the opportunity to debate all the issues and the guarantees that I mentioned earlier. There is nothing in the guarantees that was not debated and discussed by Parliament. The guarantees that we have on taxation, on the rights of defence, in particular, and on the right to life were the key concerns and were discussed by Parliament and by others who have ratified the treaty.

My Lords, I endorse the warm welcome for the Minister in this, her first Question Time, and wish her well for the future. Is not this absolutely and totally a matter for the Irish people, unlike last time when there was huge outside interference from British and other Eurosceptics? Does she agree with me and an article in the Irish Times of 17 June that last time none of the consequences of rejecting the treaty was properly debated,

“but they have been dramatically brought home to voters since then … there has been a substantial shift … to the Yes side since last autumn”?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his important intervention. The European Union has listened carefully to the Irish people and has respected the position of the Governments and the parliaments of the countries that have ratified, too. That is an important point to make.

My Lords, I give a warm croeso to my noble friend, who seems totally at home in your Lordships’ House already. Will she confirm that there was in no way some sinister manoeuvre on the part of the European Union, but that this was a specific request by a sovereign Government—the Government of the Republic of Ireland—to which the Council of Ministers responded positively?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend. We were giving the Irish Government what they wanted, which was to address the concerns that people had about the Lisbon treaty. It is another important step towards bringing the treaty into force.

My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness to her new position and, indeed, commiserate with it, but will she tell your Lordships, and through your Lordships’ House the Irish people, what happens if there is not another accession treaty for Croatia, Iceland or any other country? What then is the position of what she calls the binding guarantees if they cannot be turned into protocols? Would she also be good enough to answer the question put by my noble friend Lord Tebbit, who asked whether your Lordships’ House and the other place would be able not only to debate these binding arrangements and/or protocols, or whatever they come to be called, but to vote on them?

My Lords, it will remain as I said: the binding guarantees will be in place until such time as they are transferred and become part of the protocol. That is likely to be in the reasonably near future and the Irish are agreed that they are comfortable with it.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness accept from these Benches, too, our congratulations on her first appearance at Question Time? Does she not agree that it is slightly baffling that such a fuss is being made about this matter when—I think that I am right in saying this, but perhaps she will confirm it—the obligations that this House endorsed in the Lisbon treaty are not being changed by one iota? Also, as every one of the guarantees and clarifications given to the Irish are either neutral for us or beneficial to us by entrenching subsidiarity and by making it clear that the European Union does not have the right to alter company taxation, is it not a little odd that there is not more cheerfulness around?

My Lords, I agree very much with the noble Lord and thank him for his comments. What he says is true: there is nothing at all contained in the guarantees that we have not seen. As I understand it, noble Lords debated and discussed these issues for 25 days in Parliament, so they will be much more aware than I am of the detail that was gone into. I am surprised that some Members are not aware that everything in the guarantees has been agreed by the Parliament of this country.

My Lords, if and when the Irish people accept these new arrangements, does my noble friend agree that the logical advice for the Conservative Party to take, not to mention UKIP, is that often given by Denis Healey: when you are in a hole, stop digging?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. Again, I can only reiterate that there are issues that have been resolved by the summit undertaken by the Council of Ministers, at which our own Prime Minister was present, and all these matters were discussed and resolved on the basis of ensuring that the Irish Government felt that the concerns of the people of that country could be addressed. Nothing in the treaty will change and nothing in the guarantees will change the treaty as your Lordships agreed it.

My Lords, I, too, welcome the noble Baroness to this House and congratulate her on her ministerial appointment. I never thought, when I first met her in 1970, that at any time I would be addressing her as “the noble Baroness the Minister”, but I am proud to be able to do so. To get back to the question—

My Lords, would it not have been better if the Commission and the Council had accepted the Irish no and renegotiated the Lisbon treaty so that the guarantees that are now being given to the Irish could have been given to all of us?

My Lords, I did not expect to be addressing the noble Lord as a “noble Lord”, either. I reiterate that no one in the other member states of the European Union undertook any bullying or cajoling of the Irish on this matter. It was decided that it was in the interests of Ireland to try to pursue the concerns that the Irish have about their position in the EU and that is exactly what they have done. Other member states have facilitated that in whichever way they can, but again I say that it is the business of the Irish; it is their concern, not that of anyone here. I am certainly not saying that it is our business to tell them what they think is good for them.