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I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Carrington: a four-month suspension achieves nothing. All it will do is to send the wrong signal to the Irish Government and prevent our Prime Minister going to the European Council with the full knowledge of our views on the content of this treaty. I hope noble Lords will reject the Motion and that we will see this Bill safely on its way.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I thank the Lord President for her patience and endurance during recent weeks in coming to this point in the handling of the Bill and in accepting the admitted novelty of my Motion. On the issue of postponementit is postponement and not abandonmentuntil no earlier than 20 October, it is for the Government to decide after that date when it would be sensible to revisit and recommit. That is what the Motion says.
It would be wrong for me to disguise the fact that I dislike aspects of the Bill. I have made no secret of that throughout our discussions on it and I have made no secret of my view that it is contrary to many people's assertionswhat about Maastricht, what about Nice and so on?that this is a different Bill. First, textually, it obviously is the constitution. We have had long debates on that and people in good faith just disagree. I find it difficult to understand that disagreement because the text is the same. Most people outside this House and in Europe, except one or two, believe that it is the same.
Secondly, it is of constitutional significance. People may have missed that the reason our Irish friends had a referendum is not because it is in their constitution to do so, but because the High Court judges in Dublin looked at it and ruled that it was a constitution and, therefore, a referendum was necessary.
Thirdly, this is a Bill unlike any previous EU Bill before this House, including the European Communities Act 1972. It is more open-ended, with more facilities and provisions for self-expansion and continuation of the expansion of powers than any previous treaty. For all those reasons, I do not disguise my dislike of the Bill. It is full of things that the Government did not want and fought vigorously to reject and failed. Therefore, one has to conclude that the negotiation was not a rip-roaring success. If one reads the details of negotiation, both of the constitutional treaty and the Lisbon treaty, it is fairly clear that Ministers were less deftor, as one cruel observer said, inexperiencedand as a result did not get the treaty they wanted.
However, our job as an amending Chamber is to improve the Bill and seek to amend it, which, so far in our proceedings, we have not done. We know that we cannot change the treaty; the treaty is now in limbo as the noble Lord, Lord Neill, and others have made clear beyond all doubt. Yet it must be all the more our duty when conditions and facts have changed. A lot of the discussion has been as though we are moving smoothly through a process which we ought now to bring to a conclusion, without accepting that the context has changed radically.
The Irish decision not to ratify means that this treaty is now in a very difficult state. Almost, not entirely, killed, says our Foreign Minister and our Prime Minister; In a coma, says somebody else; Asleep, says somebody else. Certainly, the treaty is not in a state where it is ready to be brought into force. Now that other Parliamentsthe Czechs in Praguehave said with authority that they will not proceed and have postponed ratification pending further constitution examinations by their justices, we cannot just say that it does not matter.
I do not carry in my head, but others do, how many more countries have yet to ratify or how many will have second thoughts and have a pause. These are changed conditions. Surely we need to be flexible enough in our approach not to abandon things, not to wipe out any further legislationthat would be absurdbut to pause and reflect and take into account, particularly in the elected Chamber but also in this one, the new conditions which we now face.
It has to be said, too, although I understand the worries about populism and following opinion polls, that what is being done is thoroughly unpopular. We have the guidance of the excellent poll by YouGov, which I know the noble Baroness the Lord President follows very closely, too. This tells us that, in the very latest tests, 54 per cent of those polled want the legislation dropped. They want us to halt the process and think again. Sixty-eight per cent say that the EU is out of touch with normal people. I think that is cruel, but that is what many people throughout Europe believe. That is the sort of attitude that produces the result we have seen in the Republic of Ireland. There is
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I fear that, behind all these arguments about the treaty and the worry as to whether we have got the right negotiated bargain over the constitutional treatyor this one, nearly the same textlies a legacy of uncertain and often mishandled foreign policy over 10 years or more. We often debated the issues in this House in a very thorough way and pointed to some of the many difficulties we are in today. We have tried, as everyone knows, to please Washington and Brussels. Frankly, we have succeeded with neither. We have greatly weakened ourselves in our position in the world as a result.
Now we are told by the foreign policy experts that the way to strengthen it is to ratify this treaty, so that we allow the Prime Minister to arrive at the Council of Europe in the next few days in a strong position, enabled to repair things. I find that a very puzzling piece of Foreign Office advice. If the possibility is there to rescue the treaty, as my noble friend Lord Brittan said in a stentorian and tremendous orationmaybe it is; who is to say as there are all sorts of ingenious minds at work?then far from the Prime Minister arriving with the whole of our legislative process tied up in a bag, finished, concreted over, and settled, he would be in a far more flexible and stronger position if he could say that our legislative process is open and that we have yet to have in the House of Commons, our elected House, the prospect of discussing a new approach and taking on board new developments. Let us at least be wise enough to delay the Bill and ensure that we and the elected Chamber can have a pause for reflection on the new situation.
The Irish may say, Ratify it, but they also say, Pause. They give both messages very loudly indeed. As the noble Lord, Lord Owen, says, the best way to help the Irish would be to pause and reflect, as the Czechs are doing. We ignore at our peril some of the very fine voices of liberty and freedom that come from Prague. That must be the democratic routenot to abandon but to postponeand we should take that route this evening. Therefore, I seek to test the opinion of the House on that choice.
For the avoidance of doubt, until the Treaty of Lisbon has been ratified by all Member States of the European Union, Her Majestys Government shall continue to act in accordance with the provisions of the existing Treaties and within the institutional arrangements established by those Treaties.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, it was apparent in the debate on the Statement that the Government would oppose the Motion. It was not apparent that it would be opposed by such a great margin, but it was opposed to assert ratification of the reform treaty on Third Reading. The reform treaty stalled on the Irish referendum. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, said that the best approach was to keep the train on the road pending renegotiation, the conduct of which negotiation continues and acknowledges continued membership of the EU. Such is the purpose of this amendment.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt, but Hansard is finding it difficult to hear. Will the noble Lord pause while the Chamber clears and then perhaps recap what was said for the benefit of all noble Lords?
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, if this amendment were to commend itself to your Lordships it could afford another place an opportunity to consider what should be done, and at all events that would give time for reflection. The reform treaty, in the wake of the Irish referendum, is unenforceable; no one met or queried the analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen. It is as if it were a dead albatross that in some form or other is hanging around the necks of each Government of all member states of the EU unless and until it can be revived by a form of consent acceptable to us in the United Kingdom if it is other than by unanimous consent. We do not have the slightest idea of what is going on and will happen with these negotiations. We cannot rewrite a treaty to accommodate the interests of the political convenience of Governments without the unanimous consent of the Governments who have imposed the treatys revision, as before, on the electeda treaty which is devised to be unintelligible.
If a revised reform treaty were to be agreed, an approach to the electorate should be sought before ratification, at all events by our Parliament. We should tread steadily and warily around the debris of a Prime Minister in a china shop before picking up the pieces. Our electorate are distressed at what they see as a broken promise for a referendum, on which the substance of this amendment could have been supported and the nation would appear to be substantially divided, as my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford has described.
To concludeand I was asked if I would keep it shortin these circumstances, is it not the acknowledged function of your Lordships House, established by convention, to exercise the entitlement to delay the Bill in the nations interests, subject to the Governments
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Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I support this amendment but fear that it may prove to be of little practical value because for years the Government have failed to veto powers passing to Brussels that were clearly not envisaged by the existing treaties, and I do not suppose that they will start doing so now. Examples are too many to mention, but a particularly good one appeared in a letter dated 30 March 2006 from Mr Barroso to the admirable Daniel Hannan MEP, who had asked what was the legal basis for the new External Action Service. Mr Barroso replied that it was Article III-296(3) of the proposed constitution, which had been killed off by the French and Dutch nine months before. When Mr Hannan pointed that out, Mr Barroso agreed, but the project went ahead anyway in a legal vacuum. When I raised this in an Oral Question on 4 May 2006, the Government supported Mr Barroso. Perhaps the Government have been at their most spineless in their refusal to veto the consistent abuse of Article 308 to extend Brussels powers in areas that were not covered by the treaties. Your Lordships debated this abuse late in the evening last Monday, 9 June, when I regret I could not be present. I have raised it several times in the past few years in Oral and Written Questions.
By way of a tidying-up exercise, as we are now at Third Reading, I feel I should place the text of the clause on the record in your Lordships proceedings as the full infamy of its misuse cannot be grasped without knowing what it says. It was Article 235 in the original 1957 Rome treaty and was designed to allow Brussels to make minor tariff adjustments and so on in the then Common Market. It goes as follows:
If action by the Community should prove necessary to attain, in the course of the operation of the common market, one of the objectives of the Community, and this Treaty has not provided the necessary powers, the Council shall, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission and after consulting the European Parliament, take the appropriate measures.
One does not have to be a legal genius to see that Brussels can take power under this clause only in the course of the operation of the Common Market, but over the years, and especially since the collapse of the original constitution, Brussels has been put in charge of such initiatives as the grant of food aid to the least developed countries.
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