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EU: Lisbon Treaty

Volume 714: debated on Thursday 5 November 2009

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they will next discuss the Czech President’s stance on the treaty of Lisbon with their counterparts in other European Union member states.

The Czech Government’s stance on the Lisbon treaty was discussed at the October European Council. The Council’s conclusions make clear that the UK protocol on the European Charter of Fundamental Rights shall, at the time of the next accession treaty, apply to the Czech Republic. The Czech constitutional court met on 3 November and ruled that the Lisbon treaty was in line with its constitution. President Klaus signed the Czech Republic’s instrument of ratification on the same day.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. Now that the erratic Mr Klaus has seen the light on the true, deep interests of the Czech Republic, does the Minister agree that Lisbon has now been fully ratified by the 27 sovereign parliaments of the national member states, themselves with deep intrinsic national sovereignty that is not only unimpaired but actually enhanced by the treaty provisions that give collective strength in the future?

Has my noble friend had a chance to consider the remarks of the French Europe Minister about the position of Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition following the circumstances being in place for the ratification of the Lisbon treaty? Is it not a matter of national regret that a party that has pretensions to government is now seen as being so isolated on matters related to Europe?

My Lords, one of my old mum’s maxims was, “Never intrude on private grief”. My only comment here is that if some of the Eurosceptic views that we have heard in the past few days were to become the practised policy of the British Government at any time, they would lead to public grief. Three million jobs are linked directly and indirectly to the EU, and more than half our exports go there. Perhaps more significantly, over the past month Europe has come together to ease the impact of the global economic storm on businesses and families. The co-ordination was truly unprecedented, and that action has helped considerably to bring us from recession. A recent poll shows that almost 80 per cent of the British people agree with the co-ordinated action. I am therefore happy to say that I do not see the substance of the French comments coming to pass, because I do not see a change of Government coming.

My Lords, I thought we would not get far this morning without this kind of vacuous exchange. Does the Minister now understand and accept that it is our intention when in government to make the European Union more democratic and decentralised, as originally intended at the Laeken declaration, and fit for purpose in the 21st century? That is why never again will we allow undemocratic transfers of constitutional power, and why we propose a referendum lock, a legal lock and a sovereignty lock, as our German friends have, to protect the British people. May we at least have an assurance that the Labour Party, in or out of office, will agree to these sensible provisions?

I noted what the noble Lord said about vacuous comments and I appreciate the vacuous comments that he has added.

My Lords, I should declare an interest as someone who used to work with the current French Europe Minister 20-odd years ago when we were both in think tanks. The Czech President has now achieved a fig leaf in the form of a future protocol to satisfy Eurosceptics within the Czech Republic. What similar fig leaf might any future British Government attach as a future protocol to a treaty which would not damage Britain’s interests or relations with other members of the EU27?

I cannot imagine a fig leaf large enough. If what the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, said—it will be read in the press—enunciates the policies of the Conservative Party in relation to Europe, I do not believe that they can be achieved with a fig leaf, however large. It would be a long way along the road to withdrawal from the European Union, which would be disastrous.

Will my noble friend confirm that repatriation of powers would require treaty changes, that treaty changes would require unanimity among all member states and that, therefore, a programme of repatriation is a cynical con on the British people?

That is absolutely true, my Lords. One of the areas where we have heard talk of repatriation is the Social Chapter and the employment protection given by it. The Social Chapter does not exist any more; it is scattered throughout the treaty. To repatriate any of those powers would inevitably require treaty changes. The unanimity which such a proposal would require is highly unlikely.

Is the Minister aware of the damaging effect on the National Health Service of the working time directive and the fact that, the more often cases are handed from one person to another, the more accidents and errors occur and the more patients are at risk?

My Lords, we have discussed the importance of the working time directive before. It is not directly relevant to the Question. As we have said previously, we have put the working time directive in place; we have consulted; and it is working satisfactorily.