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The Prime Minister:
Of course, all the usual legislative scrutiny will take place, as the proposals will require legislation through the House. My hon. Friend is right that the work of both the German presidency
and others to get an agreement is important. I did not pick up this point when the leader of the Conservative party was speaking, but he wrote an article the other day about what Europe should concentrate on, and that it should not be navel gazing. In a sense, that is absolutely right. The important thing, however, is that it did need to change its rules. The move from 15 to 27 countries, particularly when the majority of the new countries are very small, requires us to change our rules to make them effective. Now that the key elements have been agreed, we can put the matter to one side and get on with the more important issues that really affect citizens in Europe.
Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con): Does the Prime Minister agree that, following the successful enlargement of the Union, which was supported by everybody in the House, it was inevitable that the treaties would have to be amended to improve the decision making of a larger Community, and that he has achieved the maximum necessary to do that? Does he realise that he has adopted one of the recommendations of the Conservative partys democracy taskforce in rescuing from the wreckage of the Giscardian constitution the enhanced role for national Parliaments in future legislation? Now that we can put a line under institutional debate and get on with the real business of the Union, however, does he agree that, in addition to the subjects that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and he mentioned, we need to develop on an inter- governmental basis some foreign and security policy that will enable Europe to take a collective line on the problems of the middle east, relations with Russia and our role in the Atlantic alliance, and that we are now clear that we can go ahead with our own sovereign right to participate quite untarnished?
The Prime Minister: I agree entirely with what the right hon. and learned Gentleman says about the efficiency of the European Union and the need for the rules to change. It is important that people understand that the expansion to 27 countries is not just a question of another 12 countries being there. Because some of those countriesno disrespect to themhappen to be small, carrying the burden of a full-time presidency will be difficult for them. The national Parliaments point is absolutely right. I had not realised that it was a Conservative party taskforce recommendation; despite that, I am still in favour of it. His last point is important, because even though I am a very strong supporter of the American alliance, I also believe that it is important that Europe has a common foreign and security policy [Interruption.] Well, I do believe that. I remind Conservative Members that those words were first used in the Single European Act and the Maastricht treaty. They were negotiated originally by Margaret Thatcher, and quite right too. That should not be against the American alliance, but in relation to Iran, Kosovo or how we make progress in the middle east, for example, it should allow us to have a European position. That is sensible and in the interests of this country.
Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) (Lab):
As the Prime Minister will recall, he went to St. Malo in 1998, met President Chirac and set down the basis of a common foreign and security policy. Building on his references
to asylum and immigration, energy policy, enlargement and globalisation, can we add climate change and the environment? With 27 member states and proper institutional arrangements, is it possible for us now to give world leadership on those issues, which will be to the utmost benefit of Europe and the British people.
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Incidentally, at the time that I concluded the St. Malo defence agreement in 1998, Conservative Members in particular said that it would effectively abolish our right to act independently, that, in particular, we would not be able to go into military alliance with America, and that we would end up with a European army superseding the UK Army. All those points have turned out to be nonsense. Europe does some very worthwhile missions in different parts of the world, and co-operating in European defence is entirely sensible. The European Union should definitely work together on climate change. If Europe makes its voice heard on climate change in a collective way, there is no doubt that it will be far stronger than any individual country, including Britain.
Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con): Does the Prime Minister recall that he gave a clear assurance in the House at the beginning of last week that he would not agree to something that displaced the role of British foreign policy? Is it not clear from the declaration to which he referred in his statement that that declaration has no legal binding force whatever? Is it not the case, therefore, that the Prime Minister ended up at the end of last week by conceding the very thing that at the beginning of last week he said he would not?
The Prime Minister: Absolutely not. It is not merely the political declaration, which of course is binding on the IGC political negotiation, but it is also what I described as the overview article. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman sit down and read it, because he will see that there is no question whatever of any country wanting to give up its independent foreign policy. A country like Francequite apart from ourselvesis not going to sign away its right to act independently. However, there are areas where it is important that we co-operate. For example, we are surely stronger as Britain, Germany and France negotiating together in respect of Iran, representing a common European position, than we are individually and on our own. That is why it is sensible for us to do that in certain areas, but nothing obliges us to give up any foreign policy rights or interfere with our own diplomatic service in any way whatever. It does allow us, however, to operate more effectively.
Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab):
Does the Prime Minister think that his successor will be able to maintain his line against a referendum? Let us suppose that the Leader of the Opposition decided to give a pledge that, should he be elected at the next election, he would give the British people a vote on the treaty. As such a move would probably be very popular, particularly among Labour voters, does the Prime Minister believe that his successor would go into a general election leaving this issue for the voters to decide then, rather than in a referendum? In those circumstances, would not his advice to his successor be
that he ought to separate the issues, have a referendum and then separately have a vote at the general election?
The Prime Minister: Obviously, I cannot agree with my right hon. Friend on that. We have never, on conventional amending treaties, had referendums. We did not on the Single European Act; we did not on Maastricht; we did not on Amsterdam; we did not on Nice. We accepted that the constitutional treaty was in a different bracket precisely because it purported to be a constitution that governed all the various items in Europe. As a result of the changes that we have made, it is impossible to say that. This treaty transfers less power than any of the four previous treaties in the past 20 years. In respect of the politics of itI say this as much to the Conservative party as I do to my right hon. Friend, for whom, as he knows, I have a lot of respectthe Conservative party has fought three elections on Euroscepticism: a fat lot of good it did them.
Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (LD): In welcoming the good and, overall, constructive outcome to the summit, with a view to the future, and in terms of his own engagement in these issues, will the Prime Minister use whatever career opportunities are open to him to put the pro-European case here in Britain, persuasively and constructively, as it has been seen over the past weekend? That would be much welcomed.
The Prime Minister: First, let me return that compliment to the right hon. Gentleman, with whom I always had a very courteous and friendly relationship. Even when we disagreed, I found him someone of tremendous integrity. I thank him for that.
Of course it is important that we carry on putting the case for Europe. That is partly because it is important simply to understand that in the early 21st centuryparticularly with China becoming the dominant power in 15 or 20 years, with a population double that of the whole of the European Union and America put togethera country the size of Britain makes its weight and influence felt in alliance with others. That is why I believe in the American alliance, but it is also why I believe that we have to be key players in Europe.
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): On the subject of further enlargement, can my right hon. Friend tell us about the new tougher criteria that applicant countries will be expected to meet before they can accede to the European Union? Does he agree that although most of us would welcome Turkey into the EU, that can only be after it has improved its human rights record towards the Kurds? Until that happens, people will continue to have doubts about Turkeys accession.
The Prime Minister:
The provisions for the enlargement criteria are more about making it clear that the existing criteriathe Copenhagen criteriawill be properly adhered to. One has to be practical about it, and when a small country is coming into the European Union, the criteria are still important and
legally enforceable, but it is not the same as when a very large country is joining. What Europe is signalling is that after a period of very rapid enlargement, in which 12 new countries joined, it wants to ensure that the essential criteria are kept in future. I happen to be a supporter of Turkeys membership of the EU and I will continue to support it, but it knows very well that in order for it to join the EU those criteria will have to be met.
Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): Whenever the Prime Minister tries disingenuously to point out our positions in the past, I remind him that both he and his successor as Prime Minister were elected to this House on a manifesto to withdraw from the European Union. If he is so satisfied with and proud of the treaty of last week, why is he so frightened to ask the British people if they agree with his assessment of what he achieved last week?
The Prime Minister: On the right hon. and learned Gentlemans first point: yes, and we lost, tooso that rather makes my point for me. I say to the Conservative party: for goodness sake get your act together in this area. The Conservatives fought the 1979 and 1983 elections, rightly, as a pro-Europe party. It is since they abandoned that and got this virus in their system that they have been out of power. I am not saying that the two things are completely on the same line, but the fact of the matter is that it has done them no good at all. As for a referendum, it is a bit of a cheek for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to make that point about a referendum on this treaty. He remembers Maastricht, does he not? Which way did he vote on that? He voted against a referendum.
Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby) (Lab): I wonder whether my right hon. Friend can help me. Surely we are talking not about a treaty but about a discussion in the Council of Ministers, which is a treaty organisation and therefore cannot negotiate its own treaties. In fact, a new treaty is the responsibility of the IGC, and that works on the basis of unanimity, not the simple majority voting of the Council of Ministers. So we now have a situation in which we can, and in my view should, still veto the whole unnecessary business. More importantly, can my right hon. Friend tell us how, assuming that the treaty pops up in October, we in this House can discuss it and decide on it before the IGC?
The Prime Minister: There will of course be ample opportunity, through the ratification process, to have a full debate on it. Why would we want to veto this treaty? It provides the means for a more effective working of the European Union. Let us be clear about this: my hon. Friend, and some Opposition Members, would call for a referendum even if we added a comma to the constitutional treaty, because what they really want is to take us out of Europe, and they might as well be honest about it.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con):
The Prime Minister knows that we have heard all this before. The last time, on the constitutional treaty, he argued that there should not be a referendum, and then eventually
changed his mind, with a little bit of help from his friendswho are now sitting next to himand one or two other people. He had to recognise that in the transitional provisions it was clear that there was fundamental change, and he knows that
Mr. Cash: He shakes his head, but the Chancellor and the Leader of the House, who are sitting next to him, know perfectly well that that was true. Will the Prime Minister not accept that the presidency conclusions in his statement are misleading? Under these proposals, all the existing treaties will be consolidated and amended, and there will be thereby a collapse of all the pillars, into a union. The consequence of that is a fundamental constitutional change. Even on the Prime Ministers own terms, therefore, a referendum is essential. He made that decision before; he should do so againand so should his successor.
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is simply wrong about the common foreign and security policy. It remains intergovernmental: that is made absolutely clear in the overview article that I described earlier. He says that he has heard it all from me before but frankly, I have heard it all from him before. [ Interruption. ] It is probably greatly to the benefit of both of us that neither of us will have to hear the other again.
I cannot see the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) in his place[Hon. Members: There he is!] I am sorry, his suit was camouflaging him on the Opposition Benches. About the Amsterdam treaty, the right hon. Gentleman said:
If we sign the Amsterdam Treaty, we will abolish our country.
The Prime Minister: I know that the hon. Gentleman would never say anything so extreme, but we need a realistic debate. The truth is that he wants us out of the EU whereas I want us at its centre, and in the end, that is the difference between us.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): May I join the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and others in congratulating the Prime Minister on the outcome of the reform summit? As it is his last summit, it is worth remembering that 10 years ago, we were right out on the margins of Europe, whereas today we are right at the centre of the decision making. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that nothing in the clauses concerning competition will affect Britains pursuit of the Lisbon agenda? That was very much the initiative of the British Government, and it has been pursued by the Chancellor and successive Foreign Secretaries, to make Europe the most competitive single market in the world.
The Prime Minister:
Yes, it is essential that the Lisbon agenda is maintained. Although the new words from the constitutional treaty were removed, it is important to remember that all the articles relating to the Single European Act remain in place, as do the
Commissions powers to act. Of course, that is the other reason why it is important for us to have a strong European Commission. We are lucky, I think, in that the President of the European Commission basically supports our agenda. We will not get the Single European Act completed unless the Commission is able to use the qualified majority voting provisions to complete it.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): During his 10 years in office, and despite his undoubted instincts, the Prime Minister has been forced to keep Britain out of the single currency and the Schengen agreement. He has negotiated, with some pride, opt-outs on immigration and asylum, and he has now reported to the House his satisfaction at securing further opt-outs for the UK. Does he now accept that it is clear that an Ã la carte Europe is, and will continue to be, in the UKs interests?
The Prime Minister: Of course, the reinforced co-operation provisions give countries a chance to decide whether to integrate further, but I shall tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman what has changed in the 10 years between 2007 and 1997, when he was in office. When I first came to negotiate the Amsterdam treaty we had been through the beef war, and the absurd thing was that we ended up turning up to meetings and voting against directives that we had proposed. Of course it is important that we are able to protect our own interests. We have done that in respect of the charter and of judicial and home affairs, but it is also important that we protect our interests in a way that allows us to offer leadership on things like climate change, economic reform, defence and enlargement. As a result of what this Government have done over the past 10 years, we have made huge strides forward in those areas.
John McFall (West Dunbartonshire) (Lab/Co-op): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the legal position regarding free and undistorted competition must remain unchanged if we are to achieve the Lisbon agenda? However, does he accept that it is free trade that is beneficial to countries in the longer term, and that a reduction in trade barriers, especially for developing countries, is essential if societies are going to accept the merits of globalisation?
The Prime Minister: I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. We still have some time in which to make sure that the World Trade Organisation talks succeed. The positions of Europe and America are closer now: there is not a great gap between the main players in the talks, and it is essential that we use the next period of time to get the negotiations completed. I also think there is a big argument to be mounted in Europe as a wholeto show that globalisation is in the end beneficial for European economies and that the right way of protecting people in respect of globalisation today is not over-heavy labour market regulation, but investment in things such as education and skills.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC):
The Prime Minister will know that much of the proposed reform treaty, and therefore the work before the IGC, will be devolved matters, so will he assure
the House that the UK Government will meet the Administrations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland before any ultimate treaty is signed off by the IGC?
Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): I wonder whether the Prime Minister can help me, as I am having trouble understanding something. Back in April 2004, the reasons for granting a referendum and making a manifesto commitment were not about constitutional change but because we should let the people have a say. The Prime Ministers Foreign Secretary and Minister for Europe now argue that one of the main reasons why we should not have a referendum is that we are a parliamentary democracyyet the document to which the Prime Minister signed up at the weekend grants the people of Europe a right that neither national Parliaments nor Governments have, which is to petition the Commission for legislative proposals. I find it difficult to reconcile, on the one hand, giving the people of Europe a right that we do not give our Parliament, yet on the other hand, not asking our own people.
The Prime Minister: I was in favour of the constitutional treaty, and said at the time that I did not believe that it involved fundamental transfer of power, but I obviously had to accept that it is called a constitutional treaty and brings everything together in one place; indeed, it purports to be a constitution for the whole of Europe. Other countries were holding referendums on that basis. The two things that are different are, first, that we have abandoned that position and gone back to a conventional amending treatyand I know that my hon. Friend would not say that Nice, Amsterdam and so on should have been subject to referendum. Secondly, in respect of the four areas, we have secured real changes. The right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) was talking earlier about what the Irish Prime Minister said, but for Britain, justice and home affairs and the charter of fundamental human rights were the two main issues. As ever with the EuroscepticsI do not include my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) among thosewe give them one thing, but they just move on to the next. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that we were making those arguments, but in two main areas we now have a position that is completely differentand protected.
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): Under these proposals, the existing European community of member states is formally replaced by a new and separate Union with its own legal personality, and with much greater powers. Can the Prime Minister not see that denying people a vote on that not only breaks his own promise but also devalues politics? The powers we have here are lent to us by the people, but he is giving them away without the peoples consent, so will he, as his last act, keep his promise on that matter?
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