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It should be a matter of deep regret to Ministers that national Parliaments, which, for all their faults, are the one institution to which the peoples of Europe feel clear attachment and ownership, are the big losers in the renamed EU constitution. The loss of what even the Minister now admits comes to a total of more than 50 national vetoes, the expansion of the EU’s powers over criminal justice, and all the other provisions that we
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have debated in broad outline over the past days, add up to a substantial loss of power for the House. More and more decisions will be made at the EU level over which the House will have little control, leaving our constituents, the voters, with fewer meaningful political levers to pull to secure their views and interests. In a century and a society where people feel that decisions are taken too remotely, it will mean that more of those decisions are taken more remotely still.

All that national Parliaments have in compensation is one very small step to the better monitoring of EU proposals in the so-called orange card on subsidiarity. We welcome the small move that it represents, but we must be realistic about how little it means. The German constitutional court described the provision last week as ineffective and impractical. Given the indifference with which the Government have treated the views and input of Parliament and public in their negotiations on the treaty, and their utter disregard for their election promises, we have every right to be cynical about the Government’s intentions on openness and accountability in the EU and the future use of these powers.

We look forward with interest to the Government’s response to our amendments next week on the ratchet clause, which will ensure that no more national vetoes could be abolished without primary legislation. If they and other parties are at all sincere in their claims to support parliamentary control and scrutiny over the Executive’s actions in the EU, they will support that amendment.

I have touched briefly on the weighted voting procedures as they would affect Turkish accession and I will leave it to my hon. Friends and others to debate those in more detail, as I have already been speaking for half an hour.

When taken as a whole, the treaty is not needed by an EU that is coping with enlargement well enough. It does little to improve the EU’s efficiency or its decision-making processes, while failing to deal with some issues that do need reform. It weakens still further the role of national Parliaments and above all shifts power away from member states to the EU’s central institutions. Its provisions are not in the British interest, nor are they what the Government wanted. Its contents are a testimony to the weakness of the Government’s negotiating skills and their want of vision for Europe. Where Europe needs flexibility, the treaty brings rigidity, and where it needs to change to let power flow from the bottom up, it gathers it to political institutions remote from electorates. It is a document born of a political vision for Europe out of place in the 21st century. The whole European project would benefit from its rejection, but, most importantly, its importance and profound effects on the way that this country is governed merit a decision of the British people in the referendum that they were promised.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I remind the House that Mr. Speaker has placed an eight-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches, which operates from now.

6.16 pm

Ms Patricia Hewitt (Leicester, West) (Lab): It is a real pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) and my hon. Friend the
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Minister for Europe in a debate that has already proved a great deal livelier and more interesting than even those of us who have been following the proceedings very closely had anticipated.

I want to bring the House back to the fundamental reason why we need the European Union and why Britain’s membership of that Union is in our national interest. It is simply the growing interdependence in the world in which we live, and the fact that there are more and more problems that we will only solve together and more and more aspirations that we will only achieve together, whether in regard to climate change, energy security, the trafficking of children and women, or the fight against international terrorism—the many issues that we have been discussing in these debates on the Bill. It is no longer enough, if indeed it ever was, to work simply within the confines of one country. That much at least might be common ground across the House.

Kelvin Hopkins: I have said many times in the House that what many of us really want is an EU of independent democratic states, co-operating voluntarily on matters of mutual interest and benefit, and many Front Benchers have agreed with that. This treaty is not about that; it is about centralising power and taking away that kind of mutual agreement between independent countries, which I have supported, and which also seemed to be supported by Ministers.

Ms Hewitt: My hon. Friend and I have a completely different view of the EU. His description of a purely voluntary co-operation between independent nation states does not represent the European Community as it was originally formulated. There has always been, within the EU and the Communities that preceeded it, a pooling of sovereignty where the member states see real advantage to their own national interest and their own people in doing so. My hon. Friend does not agree with that and I respect his view, but I profoundly disagree with it.

To reinforce the point, I point out that the EU has led the world in shaping a different kind of institution suited to the demands of an interdependent world, which does not represent an end to the nation state, or some kind of new imperial force located in Brussels— the threat that is so often conjured up on the Opposition Benches—but rather is a pooling of sovereignty for specific purposes by nation states, which in my view, and I believe that of the Government, is in our interests. There is a clear dividing line—not so much between my hon. Friend and me, but between the Labour and Conservative parties.

The institutions of the European Union have to evolve with its changing nature and, particularly, its changing size. I was surprised by the vehemence with which the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks attacked what I have always seen as an immensely commonsensical proposal for a European Council president whose term would last two and a half years rather than six months. It seemed to me and most commentators that that was essential as the European Union enlarged.

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Let me, for once, pay tribute to Margaret Thatcher, who as Prime Minister championed the enlargement of the European Union to include the countries of central and eastern Europe that had so recently escaped from the dominance of the Soviet Union. I have no doubt that all of us who supported that enlargement should now be supporting the changes in the workings of the EU, in particular the creation of a new Council president, that so many of us believe are essential if an enlarged EU is to work effectively.

A further point is that the creation of that presidency is not only essential in respect of enlargement, but will enhance the power of member states by enhancing the power and effectiveness of the Council itself. I prefer not the view taken by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, but that taken by one of the very eminent advisers appointed by the leader of the Conservative party. I refer, of course, to Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, a member of the senior expert group, which has concluded:


That view is also shared by a former Conservative Foreign Secretary, Lord Howe.

Mr. Hendrick: Does my right hon. Friend agree that given the economic, political and military rise of countries such as China, India, Russia and Brazil, having a Council president and a Europe that speak with one voice is that much more important if we are to enhance our influence in the world?

Ms Hewitt: I entirely agree. My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. Whether on climate change or on a whole range of economic issues, the largest single market in the world needs to be able to operate effectively—and, when there is agreement, to speak with a single voice—if we are to have the influence that we need, not only on the United States but on China, India and other emerging countries.

In this debate, much has already been made about the extension of qualified majority voting. It is absurd for the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks to complain that we have not secured an end to the rotation of the European Parliament between Brussels and Strasbourg—I entirely agree on that point; we should get rid of the nonsense of the Strasbourg sittings—while opposing the extension of qualified majority voting. Applying QMV to the location of the Parliament would be the only way in which we could get rid of the sittings in Strasbourg.

When I was Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, I spent many happy hours representing the United Kingdom within the World Trade Organisation; there are national representations as well as the EU’s at the WTO. I am not proposing that the WTO should be reformed along the lines of the European Union—it is a different organisation with different purposes, although its reform is clearly needed. However, an organisation that operates on the basis that no decision can be made except through the unanimous decision of every single one of its members finds it increasingly
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difficult to arrive at any decisions at all. We are finding that out, to the great detriment of developing countries, in relation to the Doha development round.

I entirely agree with the point made by the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor), who is no longer in his place. Qualified majority voting forces member states to rely on argument and persuasion rather than on veto, and in practice it enables us to overcome the protectionist instincts that, unfortunately, still exist among some of our European colleagues. Frankly, overcoming those would be greatly in all our interests. In most cases, the treaty’s extension of qualified majority voting relates to procedural, bureaucratic and technical matters, but it also relates to important issues such as energy policy. Given that, under the reformed voting procedure, the United Kingdom will have a greater share of the votes within the Council of Ministers, the treaty’s provisions are wholly in our national interest.

I should like to make a brief point about national Parliaments. The treaty’s requirement that the Commission submit its proposals directly to Parliaments when they are submitted to the European Parliament and the Council is immensely helpful, and I look forward to the debates in this House that will make full use of that provision. The treaty gives more power to national Parliaments, member states, the United Kingdom and—through the power for petitions—to the public of our own country and of the rest of the European Union. The Conservative party opposes all that, confirming that it is irredeemably the party of the past and not the future. If that was not bad enough, it compounds that grave error by threatening to reopen the treaty even if or when it is ratified by every EU member state. It calls for a completely different treaty on which it has no support across the European Union.

Mr. Harper: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Given how difficult your job is and how important it is to the workings of the House that the House should operate in order, will you give me guidance on whether it is in order for a right hon. Member to question decisions of the Chair—indeed, to call them an outrage—outside this place?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I am not sure what immediate relevance that has to our proceedings, but any question or criticism of the Chair can be done only on a substantive motion.

6.28 pm

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): I am delighted to follow the right hon. Member for Leicester, West (Ms Hewitt), who has been a frequent attender of these debates. She outlined well the bigger picture of what we are discussing and the successes of the European Union in the past 60 years or so.

I am a pro-European, but the European Union is certainly not without its faults. For too long, power has been concentrated—

Mr. Harper: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Jo Swinson: I should like to make a little progress, but then I am sure that I will not want to miss out on an intervention from the hon. Gentleman.

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For too long, power in the EU has been concentrated among those who are appointed, not elected. The structures of the EU have often proved cumbersome to say the least, at times even making this House look modern and streamlined by comparison, which is no easy task. I therefore welcome the opportunity to discuss the Lisbon treaty’s proposed changes to the institutions of the EU.

Mr. Harper: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Jo Swinson: In one or two minutes, I certainly will.

I was pleased to be here for what surely must be a first in one of these debates. I refer, of course, to that elusive thing: finding a bit of the treaty that the Conservatives agree with—the provisions on the Council of Ministers team presidencies and fewer Commissioners. It is a shame that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) was not here to hear that, because he might think that I am joking when I tell him later, but at least I will be able to prove it to him in Hansard.

Mr. Harper: On the subject of agreeing with colleagues, can the hon. Lady tell the House whether she agrees with the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) that the Speaker’s decision not to select the amendment for debate was an outrage?

Jo Swinson: I certainly find it incredibly disappointing that we are not able to debate the amendment that stands in the name of my right hon. Friend. We feel very passionately about this, as is evidenced. However, I must return to the amendment that has been selected.

Ms Gisela Stuart: Does the fact that the Liberal Democrats were unable to have their amendment debated mean that they will vote for the other amendment, which asks for a two-question referendum?

Jo Swinson: I am sorry to have to disappoint the hon. Lady. Fortunately, we have had at least one occasion on which to test the House on this matter; it is just a shame that so many hon. Members, particularly those who would like us to leave the EU, decided not to vote for a referendum that would enable us to do that, no doubt disappointing many of their constituents.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Jo Swinson: I will give way again shortly; I should like to make some progress.

The current six-month rotating presidency is clearly not a sensible system for the European Council. It means that the body lacks direction and consistency. Like many Members, I was pleased to see the focus that the UK Government gave to the Make Poverty History campaign during the last UK presidency of the European Council. While some progress was made on that front, I believe that much more could and should have been achieved. A longer presidency with proper time to set an agenda and follow through on issues is therefore a good idea. In the context of the extension of the term for this role, we were all very entertained on
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Second Reading, and then a little again today, by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) and his imagery of a supreme president Blair—perish the thought. Although he paints a very memorable picture, away from fantasy land the reality is that the president of the European Council proposed in the treaty does not gain additional powers and the role will remain the same as it is now, but with a slightly less frantic turnover of occupants.

There are genuine concerns about how the president of the European Council, the President of the Commission and the new expanded high representative role will interact. I understand those concerns and would like to hear more from the Minister about how those roles will be clearly defined and made to be complementary to one another rather than in constant conflict.

Let me turn to the Council of Ministers. The moves towards qualified majority voting in this respect are arguably less significant than in the Maastricht treaty. As we have heard, 16 areas will not apply to the UK or are areas for which we have negotiated opt-ins, 14 are purely procedural, and the rest are clearly in the UK national interest. We have heard in previous debates about the British entrepreneurs who will be helped by facilitating self-employment in other member states, the British businesses that will benefit from better co-ordination of intellectual property rights, the advantages in making EU humanitarian aid operations more streamlined, and the energy liberalisation aspect. In those cases, the move to QMV helps the UK by reducing the likelihood of such welcome measures being blocked by states that are perhaps less enlightened and less committed to market liberalisation. As we heard from the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick), the changes to the way in which QMV is calculated in the Council are also clearly in the national interest because the power of the UK’s vote will go up from 8 to 12 per cent. Given the general dislike on the Tory Benches of anything being decided in Brussels, even on clearly trans-national issues such as climate change or cross-border crime, I wonder why they do not welcome that stronger voice for the UK in these discussions.

Mr. Clappison: The hon. Lady is making a valiant performance in the course of her somewhat lonely vigil on her Benches. On cross-border crime, can we take it, then, that it is Liberal party policy to opt into the justice and home affairs provisions?

Jo Swinson: We certainly want to ensure that cross-border crime is dealt with swiftly, and in measures relating to that the UK must examine any of the proposals that come forward and decide on them on their merits—it is as simple as that. To take the opposite view and say that there is never any point in co-ordinating with our international colleagues could place us in a situation whereby we were unable to tackle drug trafficking, people trafficking and the horrendous crimes that need to be tackled.

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