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The hon. Gentleman has referred to what he described as the Labour-led Foreign Affairs Committee, and has quoted part of our extensive
report published yesterday. May I also refer him to the decisions that were taken in producing that reportone by nine votes to two and the other by eight votes to threeto reject a referendum on the treaty?
is unlikely to be beneficial to the UKs position in the EU.
We recommend that the Government should publicly acknowledge the significance of the foreign policy aspects of the Lisbon Treaty.
The Foreign Secretary has a problem. A whole range of other European Union leaders have an inconvenient tendency to tell their own electorates just how similar the two documents are. Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister, said that they were 90 per cent. the same. The Spanish Foreign Minister said that they were 98 per cent. the same. The Spanish Prime Minister literally went one better, and said that they were 99 per cent. the same. Valery Giscard dEstaingback in November, before someone whispered in his eartold the Today programme that when the two were compared,
its just another presentation and combination of presentations but the text is word to word the same one.
The only thing that has changed is removing the word constitution and references to the flag and anthem, which will clearly remain in place anyway. If our new listening Government does not give us a vote, its credibility will be in tatters.
This is a con to call this a Treaty. Its not, its exactly the same, it is a constitution.
Even the Prime Minister, who seeks to dragoon his Back Benchers through the Lobby tonight in favour of this treatyalthough, because it is Lisbon, he of course will not be hereknows full well that this is the constitution by another name. In fact he has referred to it as such on several occasions, even in the company of Bertie Ahern, who is granting the Irish people the say that the people of Britain are being denied.
Daniel Kawczynski: My hon. Friend mentioned Bob Crow. He will be aware that the TUC has passed resolutions in favour of a referendum on this issue. Labour Members are betraying the TUC through their stance tonight.
The Government have comprehensively lost the argument that the two documents are different. Hardly anyone in the media and less than 10 per cent. of the public believe them on that point. It is, to coin a phrase, patently obvious that the emperor has no clothes, but still the Government have to maintain this desperate pretence; and, crucially, they are asking every member of the House to suspend all independent judgment and become complicit in the deception tonight.
Under pressure, the Government fall back upon their supposed red lineswhich in any case are almost exactly the same as they were in 2005, when we were promised a referendum. However, the European Scrutiny Committee, in two detailed reports, examined the Governments red lines and found them wanting. The Committees Labour Chairman, the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), told the BBCs Today programme that they would leak like a sieveand that at the end of an examination that took some two months.
Not only do the red lines fail to protect our sovereignty; as clause 6 shows, the treaty carries forward from the original constitution the new so-called simplified revision procedure. That is the ratchet clause, which means that in future individual vetoes could be surrendered for ever after a brief debate on a simple House of Commons motion. If the Bill is passed tonight, we will table amendments in Committee to strengthen the protection, so that no veto can be given up under the auspices of the Bill itself without primary legislation being required.
The Governments reaction to all this amounts to crude scare tactics. In the weekend press, the Foreign Secretary described opposition to the treaty as an extreme position, but the people of France and the Netherlands voted against the constitution in 2005, and no one called them extreme as a result. As the polls consistently show that three quarters of the British people want a referendum on this treaty, is the Foreign Secretary calling three quarters of our electorate extreme? If he is, his colleagues in marginal constituencies might not thank him for that judgment.
The trade unions, which voted overwhelmingly for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty at the TUC conference last autumn, might well not thank him either. Let me read out the words of Paul Kenny, the general secretary of the GMB, who proposed the motion. He said:
The GMB is not an anti-European union. The GMB is not an anti-Labour union...If there is disenchantment with Europe, blame the lack of political vision of MPs but dont blame the trade unions for reminding politicians of their promises to the British people.
We will put it to the British people in a referendum and campaign wholeheartedly for a yes vote.
The Prime Minister said just before taking office that he regarded honouring that manifesto as a matter of trust with the British people. Given that, how can any Labour MP who votes to give this Bill a Second Reading go back to their electorateor, indeed, their constituency Labour partyand look people squarely
in the eye when they will have betrayed the manifesto on which they were originally elected to this House?
The Governments wriggling on this issue has been matched only by that of the Liberal Democrats, whose Members are present in force tonightall three of them. Their 2005 manifesto commitment was equally clear. It stated:
We are clear in our support for the EU constitution, which we believe is in Britains interestbut ratification must be subject to a referendum of the British people.
Liberal Democrat support for such a referendum goes back even further than that, however. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks pointed out, when the new leader of the Liberal Democratswhom I congratulate on his forthcoming promotion to the Privy Councilwas still an MEP he wrote an article for The Guardian in which he argued forcefully for a referendum on the EU constitution. He saidand I hope I get the pronunciation rightthat:
Nothing will do more damage to the pro-European movement than giving room to the suspicion that we have something to hide, that we do not have the cojones to carry our argument to the people.
I am afraid that the Liberal Democrat spokesman this evening was rather confused. At one point, he argued that what we needed was an in-out referendum on Europe, and then, a few minutes later, he said we could not have a referendum on the EU constitutionon the Lisbon treatybecause he claimed that that would represent, effectively, an in-out referendum on Europe. That was the argument he put to the House. I say to him and his colleagues, when the Division bell rings in a few minutes time, let us see exactly what cojones the Liberal Democrats have and which Lobby they go through.
That brings me to one further argument against giving the Bill a Second Reading. Leaving aside all the technicalities of the treatythe ratchet clause, the red lines, the collapse of the third pillarevery Member knows from their postbag that, despite the work we all put in every week, support for politics and politicians is diminishing. Will voting for this Bill improve that situation or make it worse? Will it bolster or weaken our authority as an institution in the eyes of an increasingly sceptical public if we surrender even more of our remaining powers without public consent and on the basis of a con that is plain for all to see? Even if the Government were somehow to force the Bill through the Commons on a three-line Whip, I believe the best they can hope for is a pyrrhic victory. They might regard that as a short-term advance, but it could turn out to be something of a strategic defeat in respect of the long-term attitude of the British people towards the European Union; and because of the way it had been done, it could only serve to undermine the credibility of the House in the eyes of the people who sent us here.
Every Member is ultimately accountable to their electors for how they cast their vote. We shall ensure that voters in every Labour and Liberal Democrat constituency are made well aware of how their Member votes on this treaty. Members on both sides of the House should consider that the Government have completely failed to convince the media and the British
people that this treaty is anything other than the constitution under another namethey have also failed to convince the majority of Labour Back Benchers deep down in their heart of hearts.
We are the guardians of the peoples liberties [Laughter.] Labour Members may laugh, but we are. The powers vested in this House belong ultimately to the people. In a sense, they are not ours to give awaycertainly not without a democratic mandate and definitely not on the basis of a false premise. Let us reject this Bill and defend the interests of the British people, unless and until they are allowed to decide the matter.
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Jim Murphy): Todays proceedings have been the start of a long debate. I am looking forward to spending more time with the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) than with my wife, although that enthusiasm was dimmed when he quoted Bob Crow at me. The day when this Government take policy advice from Bob Crow is the day when we are unquestionably destined for opposition. The evening when the hon. Gentleman cites Bob Crow as a policy adviser is the evening when he confirms that his party is destined to stay in opposition.
We have listened to almost two dozen speakers. We heard different views from different sides of the House. We heard contributions from the eminent Chairmen of the European Scrutiny Committee and the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, my hon. Friends the Members for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) and for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes). Both Chairmen eloquently and in detail explained to the House yet again that both those Committees rejected the proposition that the reform treaty should be put to a referendum of this countrythat is clear indeed.
The analysis underpinning so many of this evenings speeches is that the world is changing, and continues to change, at an incredible pace, and that Europe has changed for ever. Across the world the pace of economic, cultural and political globalisation is unsurpassed in our history. In Europe, we are no longer a front line in the old balance of power politics. We celebrated the collapse of the Berlin wall, whose destruction helped to build a stronger Europe.
The treaty, which we will discuss for the weeks ahead, reflects the fact that Europes structures have not kept pace with that global and European transformation. Britain joined a European Community of six members. Europes rules were subsequently adjusted to take account of a membership of 10, then 12 and then 17 member states, but they are inadequate for a European Union of 27 countries. This treaty makes some sensible improvements.
Mr. Redwood: The one thing that we are told is different about the treaty as opposed to the constitution is that the flag and the anthem have been dropped. Can the Minister promise us that we will no longer see the flag and hear the anthem?
The right hon. Gentleman had his opportunity earlier this evening, when he forgot to explain to the House that he voted against a referendum on the Maastricht treaty and that he said
from those Benches that the Amsterdam treaty would abolish Britain. Britain is still with us. He was wrong then, he is wrong now and he will be wrong again.
Mr. Murphy: I wish to make a bit of progress. The treaty makes some sensible improvements, such as bringing an end to the diplomatic merry-go-round of the rotating presidency. It is ludicrous that Europe changes its leadership in that way, whereby every 26 weeks a new leadership is appointed. No effective organisation should have such a provision built into its inherent structure. It is certainly no way to organise the largest rules-based market in human history.
On a practical basis, let us consider two of the big challenges we face internationally. There is the pressing issue of Kosovo in our continent. Since we made our international commitments to Kosovo in 1999 Europe has had no fewer than 16 rotating presidencies and we have seen momentum ebb and flow. The second example relates to the UKs relationship with Russia. One of the complications of the UKs and Europes relationship with Russia is that every time there is a diplomatic issue and a need for a common European positiona policy celebrated on both sides of the HouseEurope has a different presidency. The treaty offers a sensible, moderate improvement in the way that Europe operates its rules.
Mr. Hands: May I ask the Minister a question about the charter of fundamental rights? He may recall that Tony Blair, the previous Prime Minister, said that the charter would not apply in the UK at all, thanks to the protocol, yet when the Minister for Europe appeared before the European Scrutiny Committee he told us that the protocol is
a statement of how the Charter provisions will apply in the UK.
Mr. Murphy: The charter records existing rights; it does not create new rights. It is clear that the UK does not have an opt-out on the charter of fundamental rights, which binds European institutions and is an important, progressive move.
Mr. Baron: During the debate, it was suggested that the treaty contains provisions to allow powers to be repatriated to member states. Can the Minister tell the House which top three powers he would like repatriated to the UK and give us the timetable for achieving that, or is European integration just a one-way process?
Mr. Murphy: What is clear is that we have an opportunity this evening to vote for a Bill that gives more powers to this place. In voting for the treaty, we are giving the power to recognise the important rights of national Parliaments across the European Union. Again, that is an important, moderate improvement in the rules of the EU.
Mr. Hayes: The Minister makes an holistic if unconvincing case for pan-European government. His argument so far could just as easily have been made for a constitution. Why was a referendum right for a constitution in 2005 but wrong now?
Mr. Murphy: The treaty is different in legal consequence, legal substance and legal structure. Across Europe, nine countriesnine separate sovereign countrieshad committed to a referendum on the old constitution. There are no longer nine, but one; only our good friends in the Republic of Ireland, who are bound by their domestic constitutional arrangements to hold a referendum, currently plan to hold one. Eight separate Governments, in eight separate countries, of different political persuasions, have come to the independent conclusion that the old constitution has been abandoned. There will be no European constitution.
Under the treaty, there are improvements and changes in the way we organise qualified majority voting. Again, they are to be welcomed in our national interest. The liberalisation of our energy markets across Europe is an important change and improvement. Millions of UK citizens have their energy supplied by French companies. By opening up the energy market through the introduction of qualified majority voting UK companies will have the opportunity to compete across European markets.
Ms Stuart: Could it be that the eight countries that promised a referendum on the constitution but will not hold a referendum on the treaty did so not because the document was different but because they were terrified about what happened in France and the Netherlands and did not want to risk the same thing in their country?
Mr. Murphy: That is not the case at all. The fact is that the Dutch Council of State, for examplean independent bodyvery clearly, precisely and legalistically came to that conclusion. In Denmark, an independent, objective opinion was reached on whether there should be a referendum. The fact is that all the countries of the European Union have declared that the constitutional approach has been abandoned.
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