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Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, would the noble Lord give way? Does he agree that just because something has already been sewn into the difficult verbiage of the treaties and we did not understand it, that does not make it all right now? If we reach something that we now realise we do not like, are we free to object to it?
Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, I did not deal in particular with that point; I sought to state factually what is the situation in the draft convention. Obviously, if we were to make changes in that respect, they would be matters for our Minister or Prime
I shall return to my speech. I think the terminology that has been put forward in relation to the legislation is an improvement. I prefer the new classification of legislation into European laws, European framework laws, and implementing and delegated regulations. Of course there is a further provision that would ensure that in some circumstances delegation could be revoked or limited. That also is an advantage.
Thirdly, as regards openness and the democratic element, we know that there are some changes which would go in that directionfor example, the Council, when legislating, would meet in public; decisions would be extended to a further element of co-decision with the European Parliament; and other steps in favour of national parliaments, which do not go as far as we would wish but are none the less a step forward.
I know that I have been very selective and I realise that the greater part of the changes in the convention relate to what were the second and third pillars and to foreign policy. There are quite a number of significant changesfor example, the double-hatted role of the Minister for Foreign Affairsand we need to look at them with extreme care.
In its reports on the convention, the Select Committee pointed out certain issues in these areasfor example, the point about the European Union Ministerwhere it said it could not agree unless there were certain assurances and clarifications. That is what is needed now. I hope that the noble Baroness, no doubt cheered by my welcome for other issues, will comment on those observations of the Select Committee specifically.
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I believe that in our debates about the European Union we sometimes forget that it is a political system that is pointless unless it works. I dare say that some of your Lordships will say that it does not work very well. I would not necessarily dispute thatsometimes I think the miracle is that it works at allbut it is a system that works. With enlargementwhich I consider will be probably the most important political event of the decade that we are now init will have to change the way in which it works. For me, the central question behind the debate is how.
Ever since the earliest days of the European Economic Community there has been a specific mechanism for change embedded in the treaties. It is a mechanism that is not circumscribed in any way. The idea that the European Union is in some way a static entity is simply not true. As your Lordships know, an intergovernmental conference is called, a treaty is drawn up and, if agreed by unanimity, is subsequently ratified according to a member state's own constitutional arrangements.
What is intriguing in the context of today's debate about the European convention is that in strict constitutional terms it has no place. Nor do I believe one can say that it is a Philadelphia. And yet, at the same time, very clearly, politically it is important in the framework of the negotiations in the forthcoming IGC. After all the convention has drawn up its conclusions. For all I know, those conclusions might have been differentpossibly even significantly differenthad the relatively arbitrary composition and balance in that body in turn been different. But that does not gainsay the fact that it is an important political element in the forthcoming debate.
For me, what is really interesting is what happens next. President Giscard recently said that there are basically three possibilities, and I do not disagree with him. First, we could do what is advocated by Signor Frattini, the Italian Foreign Ministersimply take it as drafted and agree to it. Secondly, it could be tinkered with: it may, perhaps, provide a general picture of what the next phase of the European Union may be like. Alternatively, it could be torn up and everyone could start again.
Having just glanced at the Government's White PaperI have not had time to read itI suspect that they do not subscribe to the first of those options. It is important that we hear from the Government how they think other member states will view the problem. After all, this is important; it has already been said that the IGC will be determined by unanimity. Again, we need to know what our own Parliament thinks about this. After all, the Government's authority is derived from Parliament, and Parliament will have to ratify any resulting treaty, with or without any referendum that might be held.
It is important for Parliament to make its position clear in advance of the treaty negotiations. The Government need to know what we think; they also need to know whether they command the confidence of Parliament, to whom it is ultimately answerable.
The difficulty about dealing with treaties is that when they are ratified, the Government of the day introduce legislation to which they are committed in every detail and particular before the Bill is drafted. It is a very different state of affairs from the normal process of legislation with which we deal in this House. If governments are involved in an intergovernmental conference, they must negotiate in good faith with
Anyone fortunate enough to have been a Minister knows that all governments, whatever their political persuasion, always listen. However, the crucial question is whether they pay any attention to what Parliament is saying. It is one thing to report to Parliament what the Government are doing; it is quite another to create a relationship of mutual confidence between Parliament as a whole and the government of the day about the progress of negotiations, so that the Government and those governments with whom they are negotiating can be confident they can deliver.
Realistically, with the Government's majority in the other place, the other place is effectively stitched up, if I can put it like that. But I would not be quite so sure about your Lordships' House. I know, because I have taken advice, that there is no reason why, if circumstances demanded it, the Government could not use the Parliament Act to force through legislation ratifying a treaty. It would be rather a limp process. But would that be the Government's intention if such an eventuality arose? I do not think, from what I gather from the White Paper, that the Government will ask Parliament for a referendum. What will their response be if political pressure in this place or another place proposes that Parliament insert a referendum provision, stipulating a positive outcome before ratification?
One of the clear consequences of the work of the convention has been to highlight various aspects of European politics, even though the reportage of quite a lot of it has been in some cases disingenuous and in others straightforwardly and wilfully inaccurate. One of the problems with the politics of the European Unionand I have discussed this with the noble Baroness on previous occasionshas been a decoupling that seems to have taken place between Brussels and the voter. An ostensible reason for the convention has been to try to bridge that gap. Paradoxically, the arcane complications to the uninitiated of the convention's report may, I suspect, have made the whole thing more, rather than less, mysterious. I hear that the grandchildren of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, will not have that problem. I am sure that if they take after their grandfather, they are prodigies. Nevertheless, I dare say that, for the grandchildren of hereditary Peers, such as myself, who are rather debased currency these days, it may be a little different.
One reason for this alienation that has taken place seems to be the way that governments of both persuasionsand it was true of the government of which I had the privilege to be part as well as of other governmentshave deployed House of Commons procedures and used the might of their Whips Offices to bludgeon legislation through Parliament. But, given the absolute centrality of European Union policy to
For what it is worth, my view of the outcome of the convention is that it is a slightly undefined way of publicly setting an agenda for the forthcoming IGC. My judgment is that it is highly unlikely that the outcome will not be a qualitatively and radically different Europe from that that the convention has delineated, even though I must say that it contains a number of things that I do not like.
Against the background of where we are now, it seems to me that the Government should specifically put their response to the convention formally to the House as a whole, in order to obtain, if they can, an endorsement for their approach to the forthcoming IGC. After all, it is, by any standards, one of the most important aspects of public business currently under consideration. If the Government cannot obtain support for their negotiating position, that negotiating position becomes unsustainable. Conversely, if they can and they do, they will strengthen and reinforce themselves.
Parliament can be an ally or an opponent of the Government, depending on how the Government treat Parliament. There needs to be a closer relationship between the two in the future than has been the case in the past. While, like other speakers, I welcome the establishment of the IGC Joint Standing Committee, I think that we should go further. Parliament in each of its Houses should expressly endorse the Government's "road map"the current buzz wordand their first chapter is the Government's White Paper published today. I suggest that both this House and the other place should vote on the issue; to endorse it to ensure that the Government have a majority for the negotiating position they will take up in the IGC.
Furthermore, I believe that we should do the same for any successor documents. Thereby, we would create a single seamless link tying Parliament and Government together between the days before the IGC gets underway right through to the ratification of any treaty which may be agreed in it.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, some of your Lordships will know that I have always taken the view that adding members to the European Union is a bad thing. I believe that admitting new members automatically causes more centralisation and more bureaucratisation.
Other people have taken a different view. People of my opinion, who are rather sceptical of the whole European Union adventure, say, "Well, of course, the more you have, the looser it will become". But the fact is that history shows that I have been rightI am sorry I am right; I would prefer that it was the other waythat the more members which have joined, the greater
When one looks at the draft convention, one must ask oneself: will it be more democratic? Is it going to induce more democracy? Of course it is not. Everyone knows that. Even its supporters know that. It is a centralising treaty. To begin with, the collapsing of the intergovernmental parts of foreign policy, defence and home affairs into a single treaty means that it is more centralised and takes away the control of national parliaments and national governments. So that in itself shows that it is a centralising constitution.
What about the acquis communautaire? That remains, so that any further powers given at any time to the European Union will be held by it for ever. Those powers will never be restored. Indeed, since 1992, when we were assured that subsidiarity was going to solve the problems of the loss of power to nation states, not one item has been returned to national governments. I cannot see any prospect of it happening; indeed, the reverse will happen. So this is undoubtedly a centralising treaty, and that is most unfortunate. What we want is a decentralising treaty.
Before I go on, I wonder whether the noble Baroness can help us and help the public. It seems that Mr Hain has been reported as saying that Mr Blair believes that the constitution is absolutely fundamental and will last for generations and that the whole businessthe whole constitutionis more important than Iraq. On the other hand, Mr Straw apparently has saidindeed, he said it this morningthat the constitution is important but does not fundamentally change Britain's relationship with Europe. Those are two different views of the proposed constitution, from two of the most senior politicians. I think that this House and the public are entitled to know just exactly which of those opinions is the correct one. I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to help the House.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and others, I believe that it was unfortunate that the White Paper was made available only today. I have not been able to read it closely, but the parts that I have read seem to me to be entirely contentious. I shall not be contentious about it tonight, but, nevertheless, it would have been rather better if we had had a few days to look at it so that we could discuss it properly tonight.
This morning, I also heard Mr Straw on the "Today" programme claim that the Government would not give up control over tax, social security or defence and security to the European Union. However, as others have said, the draft constitution gives power over virtually everything else or a part of everything else, including employment, the economy, transport, health, energy including the control of energy resources, education, agriculture and fisheries, the internal market, justice and home affairs, and some aspects of policing, especially the EU borders. It is all therevirtually everything. Even on defence and
I say to Ministers and to elected representatives that their first loyalty is not to the European Union; it is to the people who elect them to their positions. I just wish that they would remember that and not agree to treaties which divide that loyalty, if not take it away from the electors of this country.
In the face of Mr Straw's attitude it is doubtful whether these debates serve any useful purpose. I hope that I am wrong about that. It seems that little notice is takenI agree here with the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, who has just spokenof anything that is said. There were debates on 7th January and 2nd April and meetings of the House of Commons Standing Committee. I spoke in both debates and attended and spoke at every meeting of the Standing Committee. I asked questions and did my job, as did other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Howell. But all of that seemed to have no discernible effect at all on the final outcome. It seems to me that the draft constitution which we looked at during the first meeting was virtually the same as the one we looked at during the last meeting. I wonder what exactly we were doing with our time.
However, I was encouraged by the speech this afternoon of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. It appears that his committee will put pressure on the Government with regard to many items. I hope that it will succeed. If it does, I hope that the Government will take much more notice of what is said than did the then government in 1991 with regard to the Maastricht Treaty.
Your Lordships will be glad to hear that I have no intention of repeating all the points that I made in previous debates but there are some questions that I should like to raise. First, the German, French and Italian Governments wish to see the constitution adopted unamended. Indeed, in Prague last week Joschka Fischer, the German Foreign Minister, warned smaller countriesand I repeat "warned"against questioning the draft constitution. The Italians want the IGC to agree the constitution unamended by the end of the year. Can we have an assurance from the noble Baroness today that the Government will not allow the IGC to be rushed and that they will not give way on the modest reservations that they have outlined in the White Paper?
Will the noble Baroness also say whether the Charter of Fundamental Rights will be enforceable in the ECJ or by any other court in the United Kingdom or any other member state? I know that the noble Baroness dealt with that matter in her opening speech but if she could say a little more on the matter, I should be most grateful. If it is not enforceable by the ECJ and other courts, what is its status and why is it being incorporated into the constitutional treaty? Will not that incorporation undermine the United Kingdom's unwritten constitution and thereby limit, not increase,
Will the noble Baroness comment on the provisions relating to the criminal justice system, the approximation of criminal laws and penalties, the increased powers of the ECJ and the imposition of a European public prosecutor? All those matters have serious implications for our legal and justice system. Was it to accommodate those encroachments on our judicial system that the proposals to abolish the Lord Chancellorship and the High Court of Parliament were so abruptly, hastily and rudely announced in the reshuffle earlier this year without proper consultation, and is it the reason why Mr Blunkett is so determined to abolish trial by jury? With regard to voluntary withdrawal from the Union in Article 1.59, will that extend to membership of the single currency which is said to be irrevocable? I have asked many questions about that, and I have always received the reply that joining the single currency would be irrevocable.
Can we be given details of how the ratification procedure will be handled? Will Parliamentboth Housesbe able to move amendments to the constitutional treaty, which after all is a completely new entity, or are we to continue with the farcical arrangements previously applying to amending treaties, whereby only negative amendments can be moved? That would be an undemocratic farce, and I hope that the noble Baroness listened very closely to what the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, said earlier this afternoon. It simply is not good enough that Parliament should not be able to amend what is a change to our constitution. Parliament ought to insist that it can treat the constitutional treaty in a proper way and be able to amend it.
In spite of Mr Straw's denial that a superstate is being created, the treaty contains all the trappings of such a superstate. The powers available to the Union embrace every aspect of policy, from defence and foreign affairs to consumers. Indeed, Part IVthe general and final provisionsstates:
Lord Blackwell: My Lords, it is a great pleasure but a daunting task to follow the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, who as always put his arguments with great force and clarity. I welcome the debate and indeed the White Paper, which, if rather belated, was perhaps longer on assertion than it was on analysis. I welcome it nevertheless as setting the stage for the debate.
Like other noble Lords, I very much welcome the work of the European Union Committee, which is addressing many points relevant to those questions. I would like to repeat the request of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, which I have previously made to the Government, for a detailed analysis of how the draft constitution differs from the existing treaties, so that we can be clear about what is new and what is not. On the basis of the information that we have before us and the points that have been contributed so far, I shall summarise my assessment on those issues.
I believe that the constitution is important. I do not think that much has changed since many of us debated it at the beginning of April on the basis of the draft that we had then. The draft now does not seem substantially different and, like others, I doubt that the proposed treaty as it emerges after the IGC will be fundamentally different either. Most significantly, as the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, made clear, it is important because it replaces an intergovernmental treaty base with a written constitution for an EU legal entity whose institutions and laws will have superior authority to UK institutions and laws in any area where the EU claims competence.
It is strictly true that the EU has only competences that the member states have transferred to it but I am afraid that is a meagre safety blanket. As the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, pointed out, the reality is that under the constitution we will have granted the EU competence of one kind or another, whether exclusive, shared or co-ordinating, over almost every aspect of national life. Indeed, I challenge the Minister to name more than half a dozen areas in which the EU does not have some competence.
Therefore, as opposed to the EU as it has been under the control of member states, once we sign up the table is turned. National laws can then be enacted only in areas allowed by the constitution and in conformity with the principles and objectives it lays down. It is a transformation of the relationship between the member states and the EU.
The consequence of that, with its innovation of a written constitution, is that the written words of the EU constitution under Article 10the "fine print", as Mr Hain describes ithave supremacy not only over any existing common law and constitutional arrangements in the UK, but over almost any law that the UK Parliament might in future wish to enact.
The White Paper describes this as a pooling of sovereignty. In reality, it is an absolute and complete transfer of sovereignty in almost all but a handful of areas that have been reserved for member states. Once
Does that matter? Is it a good deal in Britain's strategic interests? I believe that it does matter. As other noble Lords have said, one reason is the fact that the constitution includes whole paragraphs on the values and objectives of what would become our governing constitution. Those objectives include the creation of a social market economy; full employment; social progress; combating social exclusion; promoting social justice and protection; solidarity between generations; and economic, social and territorial cohesion to name but a few.
It therefore mixes the rules on how governments should operate with fashionable political views on the content of what governments should be doing. One might agree with them; one might disagree with them. But when combined with the Charter of Fundamental Rights, it would create unlimited scope for laws we might wish to pass in this country to be struck down as contravening the objectives of the constitution to which we would then be a party.
How many of the key reforms of the government of my noble friend Lady Thatcherdenationalisation, union reforms, withdrawal of subsidies from loss-making industries, sale of council housesare likely to have passed the test of the European Court's interpretation of market economy or social cohesion? And how many of even this Government's reform measures which built on that legacy would fall equally foul? What freedom would we have to pursue our objectives if they differed from those set out in the introduction to the constitution?
This is fundamental. It is not about trimming words, or refining the fine print, or competences on the margin. We should not sign up to this constitution unless we are prepared to accept the full consequences of subjugating our law-making to that kind of EU oversight. Secondly, it not only constrains our law-making going forward, it also massively extends explicit competences of the EU to legislate over the head of the UK Parliament, as other noble Lords have pointed out. I refer noble Lords to a list of shared competences in Article 13, which includes not only internal market measures of the past but a broad remit of economic and social cohesion, social policy, transport, energy, environment, and the collapse of the previously separate pillar on justice and security.
I remind noble Lords that shared competence as defined in Article 11 means that member states can exercise their competence to the extent that the Union has not exercised its competence. In other words, the EU is free to legislate in any of those areas and states can legislate only in areas which the EU has decided to leave with them.
I further remind noble Lords that Article 22 states that decisions will be made by QMV, except in a few areas which are specifically exempted. Therefore, in all those areas there will be no power of veto. If, for example, the European Union collectively decides that
I have not yet mentioned the further powers of co-ordination on economic policy, foreign policy and defence, where so much attention has been focused and where the Government are rightly concerned about the implications for competence creep progressively to threaten independent tax policy and our ability to manage our own foreign and defence policy.
But even if the Government succeeded in all the red-line objectives that the Minister set out today and succeeded in preserving national vetoes on tax, foreign policy, defence and social security, all the implications that I have set out still stand for the other areas of sovereignty. I must say to your Lordships that, given the history of treaties in the past, I believe it is very questionable whether the red lines now drawn around even these issues will prove watertight.
Some noble Lords may consider that I am interpreting the text of the constitution in the most unfavourable way. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, will take that view. But we need to recognise that we are being asked to sign up to a legal constitution which will represent the highest legal authority on any point of issue. It is not a matter of some informal rules for joining a golf club. There will be no redress for this nation for not reading the fine print on the contract.
In his speech, my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon said that the results of these kinds of negotiation can often be seen as half full or half empty. I believe that, as the noble Lord, Lord Owen, made clear, if one considers this issue as half full, one must be naive not to recognise that the constitution brings about the opportunities to create the powers and apparatus that could evolve into a centralised European state. We have only our view versus the views of others on the Continent as to whether or not that is their intent. But I believe that the capability is there in the wording, as we are being asked to approve it.
None of this transferred sovereignty should be surprising. As the constitution makes clear, the EU sees itself as the successor to nation states as the democratic government of Europe, directly empowered by and answerable to European citizens. I point noble Lords to Article 45, which states:
Therefore, the consequence is that it is these European institutionsthe European Parliament, Council, Commission and Courtto which in future we shall be entrusting the protection and safeguarding of our democratic freedoms and liberties. We shall no longer be able to rely on our own constitutional conventions, our own laws, our own Parliament and our courts to protect our rights and preserve free government according to the will of the British people. Under this constitution, we shall be ceding ultimate power to the European institutions to interpret the constitutionour constitutionin their own way and to override UK laws where we differ.
I believe that we, and the British people, must ask ourselves whether we are ready to trust these European institutions to protect our liberties and whether we are ready to trust the democratic instincts of the European populations, many of which have a far shorter history of democracy than our own nation. Future generations are unlikely to see this as a trivial question, particularly if we make the wrong choice.
So, in conclusion, I argue that it does matter, and that changes it implies are fundamental and will not change as a result of a few drafting changes that the Government will claim to have wrung out of negotiations at the IGC. There is a choice. This is not about being for or against Europe. The White Paper claims that it is essential for enlargement to succeed in order to avoid decision making clogging up. That is only true if you want the EU to have decision-making powers in all these new areas of competence. If you want to keep the EU's primary role as now on a single market and areas of co-operation between states, it has all the QMV that it needs under Nice.
This is not just about extension of the scope of the number of states in the Union; it is about the extension of the powers of the Union. Nor is it right to claim that saying no to the treaty would amount to leaving the European Union. As paragraph 26 of White Paper sets out:
Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, I join with others in congratulating the European Union Committee on the extensive and thorough work that it has carried out in subjecting the proposals of the Convention on the Future of Europe to sustained scrutiny. The committee has been prolific in its output and I very much welcome its 35th report. The report puts key questions to the Government. In my contribution I wish to pose questions not embodied in the committee's report and not addressed in the White Paper.
Previously I criticised the process by which the draft constitution was produced. The convention was too large to be a proper drafting body and too small to be a fully representative body. The convention working groups produced reports, but the final drafting was the responsibility of the Presidium which met in private. The president has expressed the hope that the draft will form the basis of the final document, with few amendments.
In short, we are being pressed to work within a context set by the draft constitution. Given the significance of what is proposed, I believe that we must resist adopting an approach that is so confined. Discussion must necessarily be reactive, as we have a draft document before us, but it should not be unduly narrow. We have to look beyond the particular provisions of the draft constitution. We have to engage in a much wider discussion for reasons that are particular to the United Kingdom. We have to look at it in the context of the British constitution. We have to do so from two perspectives.
The first perspective is that of our basic constitutional framework. Since the United Kingdom became a member of the European Communities we have not addressed how our membership fits with our existing constitutional arrangements. We have variously changed our domestic law to meet our treaty commitments, but we have not stood back and considered the full implications for the shape of the British constitution. There is some awareness that the legal implications of membership have not been wholly compatible with the basic principles of the British constitution, but we have attempted to live with that incompatibility rather than address the matter directly and seek to resolve it.
I believe that we should grasp the opportunity that this draft constitution presents to us to stand back and to ask some fundamental questions. How does the proposed constitution fit with the basic tenets of our constitution? What are the implications for the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, once described as the cornerstone of the British constitution? What are the basic principles that should dictate our stance in assessing this document as a constitution? It is not
I am conscious of the argument that the draft constitution draws together existing provisions of the treaties and therefore represents no fundamental change to existing constitutional arrangements. Even if that were the case, it does not invalidate the point that I advance. We have not properly assessed the implications of EU membership for the British constitution. The draft constitution before us does not make the case for such an assessment but rather reinforces it. The need pre-dates the drafting of this document, but now that we have a draft constitution the need becomes more urgent.
The second perspective is that of the Government's own approach to constitutional change. They have introduced several measures of constitutional change. Some have been what may be termed first-order reforms to the constitution, including devolution and the Human Rights Act; others have been second order, such as changes to the internal structure of local government. Taken together, they have wrought a major change to the shape of the British constitution.
Given the scale and nature of the change, one must ask: what is the Government's basic approach to constitutional change? I put that question in the debate that I initiated at the end of last year on the constitution. In replying, the then Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, conceded that the Government did not have an overarching definition of the constitution and, by logical inference, an overarching theory. Instead he said that the Government's constitutional reforms were guided by three principles:
It does not take too much reflection to recognise that those principles do not amount to an intellectually coherent approach. The Government have pursued constitutional reform on a disjointed basis. We are today debating the draft constitution, so this is a European debate. We have had debates on devolution, regional government and human rights, but what attempt has been made to consider how they relate to one another? The only attempt at linkage came in the Lord Chancellor's three principles. Given that, can the Minister tell how us the constitutional change before us fits with those principles? We also need to go beyond that. We need to know how the Government view the British constitution. How does the draft constitution fit with the Government's vision of what the British constitution should be?
I was going to make several other points, including one on the Charter of Fundamental Rightsthe noble Baroness, Lady Symons, will not be surprised to hear that. The subject is dealt withrather inadequatelyin the White Paper. However, for reasons of time, and because other speakers have discussed the charter, I will confine myself to brief comments on democracy and the calls for a referendum.
I appreciate that part of the problem is not simply the convention but also national governments. There is also much that national parliaments can do on their own initiative, independent of any formal EU provision. None the less, far more can and should be done to ensure that the representatives of the people in the member states have a greater say in the process of European law-making.
On the call for a referendum, I make one simple point. I have a principled objection to referendums. The problem for the Government is that they do not. They have conceded the case for referendums. They claim to have done so where the issue is one of whether or not one should join, or withdraw from, a particular institution. That particular claim is not sustainable, given that the Government have previously conceded the case for a referendum on the electoral system.
The draft constitution is a measure of constitutional significance. Even if it simply drew together existing provisions, the form in which it does so is itself a constitutional innovation. I engage in a rare disagreement with the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, in asserting that this is a constitution for the reasons touched upon by my noble friend Lord Blackwell. In both form and content, this is much more than a tidying-up exercise.
That point brings me full circle. We need to stand back to have a much fuller understanding of the constitutional implications of what is proposed. Otherwise, we are in danger of walking into something with our eyes closed.
What this draft constitution will bring is the precise opposite: an EU in which ever more power has been handed over to the unelected centre. For example, can the Minister point to a single example in which the constitution proposes to return power from the unelected Brussels bureaucracy to the nation states and their citizens, in line with the Laeken mandate? The trouble in answering that question is that there is not one. In all the 136 pages of the draft that I have here, there is no mention of returning powers to the nation states or their citizens.
Why do the Government think it right or necessary to sign up to a constitution that gives more powers to the unaccountable, inefficient and fraudulent EU institutions? Incidentally, those powers are called "competencies" in the draft document, that is the preferred Eurojargon, although as the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, pointed out, it means powers. Specifically, do the Government intend to sign up to Article 10, which states that:
Will the Minister confirm that it really is the Government's strategic objective to hand over economic, employment and foreign policy to the European Union? Is it one of the Government's objectives to give away the powers in the areas listed in Article 13, which is the article to which the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, referred? It involves an extensive shopping list that includes freedom, security, justice, transport, and so on and so forth, including economic and territorial cohesionlike my noble friend Lord Howell, I am puzzled about what that is. I wonder whether the Minister would care to enlighten us in her winding-up speech.
When sad Euro-anoraks such as myself who have followed the development of the constitution question the need for it, we are told, "Don't worry. It is just setting the limits of European power". Not so. Article 17, the so-called flexibility clause, demolishes that excuse completely. It allows the Union to extend its powers under the constitution at any time in the future without having to go through the tiresome business of having that extension ratified by the parliaments of member states. That is another shining example of bringing Europe closer to its citizens.
Finally, like my noble friend Lord Tugendhat, I ask why we need the Beano, which varies from the plonkingly irrelevant, such as the reference to the right to lifesince when has the right to life been in the gift of Brussels?to the utterly inane, such as the reference to the right of access to a free placement service, which, I think, my noble friend mentioned. Are the Government still against incorporating the Beano in the constitution or are they for it? Are they sitting on the fence? We need some enlightenment on that.
All the articles that I mentioned are central to the draft constitution. In spite of Mr Hain's glib assurances, none of them advances Britain's strategic interests. On the contrary, they are profoundly damaging to them. Is it right that a Parliament voted in by less than 25 per cent of the electorate for a fixed term of five years should be able to impose a permanent and irrevocable constitution on the people of this country, without their consent in a referendum? Surely not.
In his excellent speech, the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, exploded the myth that Parliamentthis House or another placecould have any role in amending the constitutional treaty. The Economist magazine of 21st June asked, after reviewing the constitution at some length, where it should be filed. It came to the conclusion that it should be filed in the waste-paper basket. I agree with that verdict.
Lord Cavendish of Furness: My Lords, it has been my great good fortune to have had the opportunity to serve as a member of the Select Committee on the European Union for the past few months. As I have, for the most part, escaped the greatest burden of work entailed in keeping your Lordships informed on the progress of the convention, I feel free to pay tribute to the noble Lords who have given so freely of their time, experience and knowledge. I also pay tribute to Mr Simon Burton and his staff on the Committee Floor for the heroic achievement of keeping abreast of such a complex and ever-changing constitutional landscape. Finally, I welcome the chance to acknowledge gratefully the energy, commitment and leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. Enormously valuable work has emerged under his chairmanship, and more will follow.
I should declare an interest of a sort. Along with, I think, an overwhelming majority of the members of my party, I do not believe that it would be in the country's interest to leave the European Union. I am proud of the prominent contribution that my party has made over the years to the development of the European Union, especially in the sphere of the single market. As my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford said, the Foreign Secretary is, quite simply, wrong to speak of dogmatic hatred on the part of the Conservative Party towards the European Union.
Perhaps, the Foreign Secretary confused a general dislike with what we do indeed dislike. I can speak only for myself, but I am sure that others will join me in hating the features of the European Union that, for instance, encourage and condone fraud, add to the troubles and woes of the developing world or needlessly curtail freedom. There are actions that stifle enterprise and growth and things that condemn millions of fellow Europeans to unemployment and dependency.
The noble Lord, Lord Williamson, with his colossal knowledge and loyalty to the European Union, must acknowledge that there are faults as well as good points. There is a tendency in the European Union to forge ahead with new and exciting ventures without ever doing any house-cleaning in terms of some of the intractable problems that remain.
But, of course, most Conservatives wish the European enterprise well, as they should, and there is no doubt much good in the draft document. But my disappointment, having read and re-read it, is that little or nothing is offered to address the real and intractable problems that exist now, and are acknowledged to exist. On the eve of enlargement, it seems that a real opportunity has been missed.
From this constitution, huge consequences will flow for the future of this country and its people. I implore the Government to abandon the deceit of concealing from the British people the true scale of this undertaking. As the hour is late, I shall refer to just two aspects of the draft document on which I hope the Minister may shed some light. My questions relate to criminal justice and to the charter of fundamental rights.
Provision is made in the draft constitution for the control of significant areas of our criminal law to be handed over to Brussels. Has the Minister read, and does she accept, the opinion of the European Scrutiny Committee in another place as set out in Volume 1 of its 26th Report, for the Session 2002-03; namely, that in matters of criminal justice,
It comes as no surprise to me that, in another placethat most ancient body of representational governmentit is well understood that a diluted demos in the end becomes no demos at all; and by that means democratic government is compromised and ultimately destroyed.
Secondly, will the Minister confirm that the charter of fundamental rights as set out in the proposed constitutionin spite of the reference to subsidiaritywill affect large areas of our law? Am I right in my understanding that interpretation and enforcement of the terms of the charter are intended to rest with the European Court of Justice? I appreciate that the Minister mentioned this in her opening remarks, but rather like the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, I was not quite clear as to what she was saying. Perhaps she will enlarge on it.
I suspect that the Government will deal with the difficult points of this afternoon's debate by telling us not to worry, as this is just a draft and everything is for negotiation. But the truth is that even the concept of what we are discussing has an enormity about it, as the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said. By way of illustration, I remember being greatly struck by a powerful speech in this House on 25th January 1995 by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington, on the subject of human rights. I do not have his permission, and I hope that he will not mind my quoting him. The noble and learned Lord said:
I echo my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke and others who asked: what place has this charter got in this constitution? I believe that it has none. It is a self-evident case that the British people are owed the chance to decide on their destiny through the means of
But, as my noble friend Lord Norton and others have pointed out, this Government have changed all that. They have changed the method by which we make decisions in this country. Referenda have become a much-used constitutional device. It now becomes increasingly absurd for them to pick and choose what issues should be determined through referenda and what issues should not. I understand that in my native Cumbria I shall have a vote as to the nature of future government in my region. It is a vote which I intend to use. But are the Government seriously suggesting that a European constitution, with the huge consequences discussed by so many noble Lords, is somehow less important than how my refuse is collected in Cumbria?
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I, too, should like to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, for the work which he and his committee have done and are doing, and for the perceptive and relevant questions that they are asking on this great subject. The whole of the debate illustrates the remarkable capability which your Lordships' House has in addressing this very big issue. It would be interesting to know which other parliaments in the EU also have such a capability.
I should like to pay tribute to the Prime Minister. Like the most ambitious circus performer, for six years he has been riding four different horses at the same time; that is, Anglo/American relations, relations with Europe, Thatcherite economic policies and the Labour Party. None of them is an easy ride as they tend to pull in different directions. So it is quite a feat to stay mounted. The Labour Party, which ought to be the best school for this particular rider, seems not to be behaving too well. Indeed, in Brighton this week, the TUC is looking more and more like "Jurassic Park".
But today we are discussing the European mount. I should like to suggest a context in which we should look at the convention that is on offer today. First, I have always been uneasy at the idea of a French-designed convention. Its architects like to refer to the analogy with Philadelphia. The convention of 1787 produced the United States constitution, which is short, clear and brilliantly drafted. It has had 24 amendments only10 of which were the first, in the Bill of Rights in 1791in the past 200 years. France has had far more attempts than the United States at getting itself a constitution.
The present French constitution dating from 1958 is called, I think, the Fifth Republicand that is after a couple of empires and a short-lived restoration of the monarchy. Indeed, we should bear in mind that five years after the successful American convention, another European convention was held in France. It was established in September 1792. It at once abolished the monarchy. In January of the following year it executed the king, in February it declared war on England, in May it introduced draconian economic controls and in September it launched the Terror as a method of governance. It was eventually wound up in October 1795, Robespierre having been disposed of the year before.
History fully justifies us in expressing caution at the prospects raised by this latest French convention. We must remember too that for some 700 years, a thread though French history has been the struggle to establish or to maintain French hegemony in Europe, in particular through frequent conflictssometimes military and sometimes politicalwith England. In this, since 1945, France has increasingly been able to enlist Germany as an ally.
We must remember, too, that for Europe to survive economically within a free trade world, where manufacturing will be increasingly dominated by Chinese manufacturers, it is crucial that France and Germany should reform their economic and social structures. They show little sign of doing this. Euroland's economy is in bad shape. Germany is likely to end up with zero economic growth this year, and France with only 0.7 per cent, compared with 1.8 per cent for Britain and 2.4 per cent for the USA. One of my worries is that the proposed constitution will be used to avoid this restructuring by requiring relatively efficient countries such as Britain to adjust down to a level playing field at the Franco-German level. After that, there would be pressures for protectionism, which would make the outlook for the EU bleak indeed.
I, too, find the argument about a referendum particularly difficult. Given that under the Royal Prerogative the British Government have full authority to agree a new Treaty of Rome or wherever, the only formal role for Parliament is to enact the consequential legislation. I think that this arrangement needs to be
However, my main worry about a referendum in the present situation in this country is that it would be seen as a referendum to quit the European Union. Very few of usthere may be one or two, but I am certainly not onewould dream of voting for that. In itself that could mean that an unacceptable new constitution would not be rejected in such a referendumas it should be. However, clear red lines from which the Government would not budge, with the prospect of a referendum, could help their negotiating hand.
There is something of a precedent for such an approach in the negotiations which took place in 198384 on the future of Hong Kong. At the start, the line taken by the Foreign Office was that we want the best agreement possible, but we must have an agreement. That was not a strong negotiating position. It was only at a late stage when Mrs Thatcher sent her Minister of State, now the noble Lord, Lord Luce, and her then Secretary of State, my noble and learned friend Lord Howe, to Beijing to make it clear that she would not recommend to the House of Commons an agreement which was unacceptable to the people of Hong Kong, that the Chinese started to make some pretty crucial concessions. We ended up with a rather good agreement.
We will no doubt be told that all this is too late. I do not agree. The IGC does indeed start quite soon on 4th October, but, as a number of noble Lordsincluding my noble friend Lord Howell, my noble and learned friend Lord Howe and the noble Lord, Lord Owenhave said, the negotiations should go on for as long as it takes. That will be well beyond the end of the present year.
I believe that Europe should move forward on the basis of variable geometry. The original precedent for this of course was in January 1966 when France insisted on the Luxembourg compromise to allow the use of the veto on matters of crucial national interest. The more recent precedent was of course the Maastricht Treaty of 1991 when we and others secured the opt-out from EMU. Even now it is the practice. After all, when in June this year the first fumbling footsteps were taken, through the mid-term review, to reform the CAP, special concessions were agreed for the French.
I do not have time to go through all the particularly objectionable clauses, but I would certainly go along with all of those who emphasised the total unacceptability of Section 4 of Article 24. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us that that part at least has double red lines around it.
I should like to make two points. Like the noble Lords, Lord Harris of High Cross and Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, I hate the sloppy transliteration of the French word "competence" into "competence". The correct translation is of course "powers". That would make the implication of the present proposals much clearer, at least to the public. I would not go quite as far as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, and say that the whole thing is frightfully badly drafted, but I am reminded that one of the first things that Winston Churchill did when he became Prime Minister in 1940 was to change the name of the LDVthe Local Defence Volunteersto the Home Guard.
My other worry is the way in which the Single European Act has already been used to undermine the application of subsidiarity. I imagine that your Lordships know that even the British system of hallmarking precious metals, which dates from Edward I in 1300, is under threat from a new draft directive.
Finally, I must say to the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, that I was a little surprised at the relish with which she mentioned the additional £1.9 billion to our GDP as the prize for a successful conclusion of this great enterprise. That is less than 0.2 per cent of GDPmuch less than the error that even the best economic forecasters expect in their estimates of GDP. If that is really the juiciest apple that Eve can offer, I am not sure that I shall be tempted to take a bite.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, as responsibility passes to the Government to take forward the reshaping of Europe's governance to take into account the demands of enlargement, I hope that Ministers will have found the debate helpful. Certainly the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, speaking on behalf of the Select Committee of the House, was properly questioning although not at all querulous. He and his committee have provided a great service both to the convention directly and to the House. The prospect of his continuing scrutiny of the forthcoming inter-governmental debates gives encouragement to us all.
Speaking as the only participant in the debate who has had the very great privilege of serving on the convention, I can say that the debate itself reflects some of the difficulties of seeking to represent the House, there being a spectrum of views which is quite broad, although, as the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, said, the debate has been constructive throughout.
We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, how suspiciousperhaps even contemptuoushe is of the thought of having any protection for children's freedom of speech. By contrast, we heard from my noble friend Lord Watson of Richmond how, out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, came forth the wisdom of the European Union's proposed motto "United in Diversity".
The debate has also indicated what extraordinary diversities of expectation of the convention there have been in this House. I have to express some dissent from one which was expressed in a number of quarters that we should at least aspire to the work of the founding fathers of the United States. It seems to me that one can have too romantic a view of that constitution. Although my children carry American passports, I cannot forget that the United States constitution did not prevent the bloodiest civil war in the 19th century. Nor, more recently, can I overlook the fact that the choice of the United States Presidentits chief executivewas decided not by the United States citizens but by the Supreme Court. That constitution may have some attractiveness, but it is certainly not a model to be followed.
The difficulties of serving on this convention and meeting the task set by the Laeken council were certainly daunting. How could some 200 representatives of 25 countries of widely differing political persuasions sit down together and reach consensual conclusions on how to improve the governance of the European Union? That this was achieved with a mere handful of dissenters owes much, I believe, to the statesmanlike guidance of the convention's chairman from France, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, supported by the high professionalism of the convention's Secretary-General, Sir John Kerr.
The conclusions of the convention also owe a great deal, I believe, to the well judged readiness of its members to give and take in the interests of achieving the shared purposes. The result was, as Giscard put it, not a series of compromises so much as a synthesis of the members' views. No one achieved everything, but I believe that the end product provides an acceptable framework for future Union action.
I was greatly heartened by the words of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton. He, almost alone in the debateperhaps because he, almost alone in the debate, had read the relevant sections completelypraised the first part of the convention for its clarity, simplicity and brevity.
As the convention has now to pass over its work to the IGC, it is proper to consider whether it has contributed to the achievement of the two necessities which dominated our consideration throughout. Will it allow the European Union to act more effectively across a wider front, and will it allow it to act more democratically? I use the word "allow" advisedly. The constitution of a polity cannot ensure effectiveness of action any more than it can ensure democracy against wilful neglect, but it can make more likely the attainment of the agreed policy goals by providing suitable instrumentalities to devise, to revise and to execute these policies. It can offer systems of accountability which give the members of that polityits citizenssome confidence that their views, their priorities, are informing the decisions of those whom they have entrusted with power to act on their behalf.
How significant are these proposed constitutional changes? I think that of all today's contributions the nearest to the mark was that of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, in expressing the view that the proposed constitution is more fundamental than Amsterdam and Nice, but less significant than Maastricht and the Single European Act. It is in part a consolidation of existing Union law. Those who, for example, represent the clause embodying the supremacy of European law over our own domestic law as a remarkable departure are simply unhistorical, for that was decided by the European Court of Justice seven years before this country had a referendum on whether we should remain in the Union.
Nonetheless, it seems that there is a major problem which faces the Union and which contributes to some extent to the lack of acceptance, not only in this country but in a number of others. Although it was not the centre point of his speech, my noble friend Lord Dahrendorf referred to it. In the 10 years which have elapsed since the entry into force of the Maastricht Treaty the critics of the Unionand they are to be found in all member countrieshave made their strongest point when they have highlighted the great gaps between the Union's promise and performance. Notwithstanding the developments of the single market and the widespread entry into force of monetary union, itself of historic significance, the perception has grown that the Union is long on rhetoric and short on delivery. European citizenship was proclaimed at Maastricht, but its attributes remained undefined; a charter of rights was declared but given no legal effect; an area of justice, freedom and security was announced; but, in terms of limiting cross-border crime, in checking of illegal immigration, in arresting the trafficking in people across the Union, the consequences of these new spheres of Union activity seemed exiguous.
As for the proposed common foreign and security policy, the presence of 120 troops in Macedonia and some contribution to the concept of the quartet to advance the Middle East peace process seems scarcely to justify the grandiloquent claims of the advocates of the Union's second pillar.
If the Union will not do more to give effect to these proclaimed purposes, doubts will give way to disbelief. That, in turn, could even erode public support for the very institutions, all of which have delivered so much of benefit in the economic sphere to this country and to the other members of the Union.
There was no conspiracy within the convention to enlarge the scope of the Union's powers at the expense of the member states. There was a widespread perception of the need to strengthen the Union's ability to do what its members have long agreed that it should do. That concern explains such proposed
The concern about a gap between achievement and rhetoric also underlies the proposed simplification of the Union's procedures as well as the reduction in the number of members of the Commission. That concern prompted the redefinition of qualified majority votingwhich does indeed reflect to a truer extent the greater weight of the larger countries and will no doubt have to be defended against criticism from some of the smaller countries. That concern led to the adoption in Article 43 of the proposals for enhanced co-operation between member states to further the objectives of the Union. It is not the best way of proceeding, but it is the way that will be followed if there cannot be wider agreement unanimously arrived at.
Ultimately, the Union's effectiveness must depend upon the will of Europe's citizens to support it. That will, along with that of the member states, is recognised in the first article of the proposed treaty as the foundation of the Union's legitimacy. The Union is primarily for its own citizens. That is why the convention sought better to define their rights and obligations as citizens by incorporating the charter of rights as the second part of the treaty. On that point, I thought that the words of the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, were compelling and persuasive. I hope that that is the view that is adopted by Her Majesty's Government at the IGC.
Recognition that the will of the citizen must be sustained underlines the steps proposed to strengthen the democratic workings of the Union. That recognition led to recommendations to fortify the powers and responsibilities of the European Parliamentthe citizens' Parliament. It also explains the insistence on greater openness, particularly of the Council in lawmaking. It also explains steps taken to clarify and simplify the legislative processes. It is the reason for enabling national parliaments to work more closely with the European institutions and for strengthening the procedures to secure recognition of subsidiarity in all the institutions.
Earlier I spoke of the constitution "allowing" the Union to act more democratically. I would choose two issues to illustrate the point. Our citizens will feel less disconnected if they have some influence over the choice of Europe's leaders. That is why I hope that the proposals for the election of the European Commission will encourage political parties standing for election to the European Parliament across Europe to indicate to their electors who if elected their preferred choice would be for the presidency of the Commission. Similarly, while leaving responsibility for devising policy proposals to the Union's executive bodies, the Council and the Commission, I would hope
I conclude by briefly addressing what might be called the "British problem". Every European debate in this country seems to be contained within a wider questiondo we want to go forward within a more integrated Europe? It seems probable that the 21st century will be the century of continental powers. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, was right in envisaging multi-polarity as our future, with China, South Asia, America and Europe as the great poles. We could choose to hold ourselves at arm's length from that, but to do so we should have to be willing to be less the masters of our own destiny. To be uncommitted is not the historic role of Britain. I hope that with the adoption of the proposed constitution broadly as it has been advanced, although certainly there will be some changes, my Government and my country will cast their uncertainty aside for good.
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, for introducing this very important, long-awaited government White Paper so clearly, and for the opportunity to debate the questioning report of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. We look forward to the noble Baroness's answers. It is always a privilege to contribute to these impressive debates. I feel very humble replying to the debate from our side after such a long list of distinguished speakers.
This debate is important as the constitutional treaty will be stupendous in its effect, as my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford said. It will inevitably have a far-reaching effect on the lives of everyone in this country as well as throughout Europe. I am saddened, though, at the show of disrespect to your Lordships by the Government in that we received a document of such great importance at 9.30 this morning. Perhaps with a great team of researchers it could have been scrutinised properly. However, I do not consider that to be a serious way of conducting business, as many of your Lordships have said. Alas, I am not the speed reader mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay.
As my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford so rightly said at the beginning, there may not be enormous public interest at the moment but what interests the public and the media is not the same as what is in the public interest. I feel that the real debate that we hope to have before a referendum will come too late when all will have been decided. We may well end up with not a debate, but just a mobilisation of prejudices.
At this late stage I shall try to be brief. We are enormously grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, chairman of the European Union Committee, for the knowledge and expertise he brings to this House, and for his committee's 14 reports. We welcome the
From studying the speeches in previous debates on this subject I must confess to being not at all surprised at the way in which the debate developed today. The chairman, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, had the discernment to refer to the constitution-making at Philadelphia in 1787. He stated from the beginning that the one main objective was to shorten and simplify the treaty to make it a more comprehensible document and to bring it nearer to the people. I am afraid that that is an old mantra that we have all heard for years. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, is right that with each enlargement there has been more centralisation. But enlargement is agreed by most people to be the right way forward for too many reasons to go into this evening.
I fully agree with my noble friend Lord Inglewood; I often wonder whether we have lost sight of the original aim of the treaty. It was not to centralise further the European Union but to create a workable framework for the enlargement to take place. One does not preclude the other.
I was deeply involved with the applicant nations, from the great moment when each one elected for the first time for years a democratic government of their own. The freedoms that they subsequently enjoyed mean more than words can say. They do not want to join a European Union to be dominated all over again.
Fifteen of the 25 nations of the enlarged Union met in Prague last week to plead for changes in the constitutional treaty, to make it more democratic, so that they could join a decentralised democratic institution for their future stability. That is the aspiration for the new member states. Countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic, as well as the applicant countries such as Bulgaria, are all still full of the dynamism and hope for those ideals.
As my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford said so eloquently, if this constitutional treaty of the European Union overrides our own unwritten one and is to be approved in a broadly unaltered state, it is almost certain that a national referendum is really necessary. It is the people who have given their Parliament and the executive certain powers, and it is from the people that any approval for a radical transfer in those powers, as now proposed, must come. I hope that the Minister can answer the question from my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding and the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, on the possible use of the Parliament Act if an amendment were voted through in this House.
I am not at all surprised at the widely divergent opinions from the debate. Many noble Lords have welcomed the constitutional shift. Others have feared the subjugation of Britain's sovereignty and the creation of a less accountable bureaucracy.
As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, asked, what purpose does the charter of human rights serve? It casts doubts in the minds of many noble Lords, understandably when they read pieces such as that on the rights of the child, with the demand for children expressing their views. Those are important subjects, but surely not for this document.
Many noble Lords were unhappy about the QMV changes. My noble friend Lord Saatchi, in a fascinating speech, mentioned the weighting of the votes. I am worried about the references to changes in weights. I remember clearly when I was in the European Parliament that the agreement with Germany at the time of reunification was that it would receive more MEPs, raising its number to 99, but that it would never increase its votes in Council. Can the Minister shed light on that?
I was pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and others touched on development assistance. He wondered, rightly, if insensitive trade policies were to be addressed. The trade policies towards future applicant countries such as Albania, Bulgaria and Romania are of the utmost importance as they approach membership.
We could have debated few more important subjects this afternoon and evening for the future of this country. Contrary to this White Paper's assertionsassertions that would not be believed elsewhere in Europe and are not believed herethis constitution will fundamentally change the nature of the European Union and all member states, including our own, and our relationship with it. No one can doubt that our relationship with the European Union is vital for our future. Our shared cultural heritage and attachment to democracy is far greater than all the differences. We cannot forget that the European Union forms part of the bedrock of the western alliances.
At the IGC, the European Union will be endowed with a written constitution, a single legal personality, a permanent President of the European Council, a legally binding Charter of Fundamental Rights and a Foreign Minister served by a diplomatic service. Its powers may well be extended in competences from economic management, through energy policy, to justice and home affairs. Let no one doubt that this will have a direct impact on people's everyday lives.
Many noble Lords have stressed that the European Union's institutions are losing touch with the peoples of Europe. Laeken recognised that. Yet this constitutional treaty does little to rectify this disconnection between Europe's elites and its voters. More centralisation will certainly not be the answer.
The Conservative Party wants the European Union to succeed in the 21st century and it is vital for Britain that it should do so. That is why we have urged that we should start building Europe from bottom up, not from top down; that national parliaments should have increased powers in the EU; and that the Union should develop flexibly, not through a tight uniformity for an EU of 25 nation states.
But since this constitutional treaty is the answer that was given to the questions posed at Laeken, should it now be for the people to judge whether they are satisfied with it? Finally, as we cannot amend this document and will be reliant on the Government to carry out the changes needed at the IGC, I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that she has taken on board and will use the interesting suggestions delivered so eloquently and passionately by noble Lords today for the Government's negotiating position.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we have had a good debate. The intergovernmental conference, considering the draft constitutional treaty, will consider many important issues in an effort to mould a Union that will serve us well for years to come. I say to the noble Baroness who has just wound up for her party that I am very pleased that Her Majesty's Government will have the collective wisdom of your Lordships to inform the views that we take and will draw upon them in discussions at the IGC.
As always, the subject of Europe has excited some of the most articulate contributors in your Lordships' House. It has also brought out some strongly held views, expressed with passion not often seen on other subjects which your Lordships consider. So in the time available I shall do my best to respond to the many comments and questions that have been raised. If I am not able to respond to everything, I shall do so in writing in the next few days.
I start with the noble Lord, Lord Howell, who attacked the view expressed by my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary that the proposals would not change the fundamental relationship between the European Union and the member states. The challenge was reiterated particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont of Lerwick, and the point was made again by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings. I again direct your Lordships' attention to the House of Lords European Union Committee, which concluded that if the proposals were followed the balance of power in the
Again, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, feared that some in the European Union are motivated towards the proposals in the document because of a desire to balance American power. Perhaps I may say emphatically that that is not the position of the British Government. We believe that these reforms are necessary for the proper working of the European Union itself. But the noble Lord must surely accept that the EU needs to reform, built as it is at present on procedures which were appropriate for a Union of six countries rather than the 25 which we hope to be during the course of next year.
Therefore, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, was right: changes are needed if we are to operate effectively. That point was also emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood. However, although I heard the noble Lord, Lord Howell, say that one of his main objectives was, indeed, reform, I did not hear him tell us how reform of the EU could take place so that the Union would operate effectively with 25 members orperhaps just as pertinentlyhow to persuade other EU states to accept his way of thinking.
I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, was right. A Union of 25 nation states simply will not work without changes to the voting procedures. I agree strongly with the argument put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey of Talgarth, concerning the importance of seizing the opportunity now to set our own house in order. I believe that the three points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, were broadly right, particularly, if I may say so, on the question of the competencies. However, I must confess that I am a little ambivalent about his reference to the notion of "competence creep", of which I am sure we shall hear more in the coming weeks.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell, then went on to doubt what he described as the Government's "red lines". For as long as I can remember, speaking from this Dispatch Box, the Government have been consistent: unanimity must remain on taxation, on social security, on key areas of criminal law and on policy in terms of what we decide in relation to common and foreign security. Neither the noble Lord, Lord Howell, nor the noble Lord, Lord Eden of Winton, have reason to doubt the Government's intentions. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, was not sure whether there were red lines, as opposed to the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Richmond, who was very sure that they existed but he was sorry about it.
They do exist and I believe it is right that they do. I also believe that they are well understood, not only in your Lordships' House but, if I may say so, on a broader basis. They are the embodiment of the straightforward position urged upon us so eloquently by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. The noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, said that he did not know whether or not they existed but it did not really matter because he
I turn to the subject of the White Paper. I am not sure what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and, indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, were criticisingwhether it was the time available to read the White Paper or the brevity of the White Paper. I am bound to say that if it had been published earlier, I could just hear the cries of the parties opposite that it had been released to the press before being presented to Parliament. If it had been longer, the criticisms would be that it was over-lengthy, over-complex and impenetrable and a document that no one really wanted to read. It is 59 pages long. I believe that, for most of us, 59 pages was probably not too much to read during the course of six hours.
However, I understand the powerfully argued points of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, concerning further opportunities to discuss the White Paper on the IGC issues. I listened very carefully to the noble Lord's points about procedural matters and the engagement of Ministers with both Houses of Parliament. I know that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will want to be as helpful as possible to the noble Lord and his committee, and I undertake to draw the noble Lord's points to his attention as quickly as possible.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell, wanted more powers for national parliaments, as, indeed, did the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. That was an issue on which the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, my noble friend Lord Judd and the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, also concentrated. The convention strengthens the role of national parliaments in shaping EU decisions. Parliament will have a mechanism to send back proposals for EU laws if those laws do not add value.
Some noble Lords clearly remain dissatisfied with the role accorded by the convention to the national parliaments. The noble Lords, Lord Jenkin of Roding and Lord Blackwell, made their dissatisfaction in that respect very clear indeed. But this has been a significant achievement; it has been an important step forward as the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, said. I hope that your Lordships will take advantage of that new mechanism, if it is brought in, to demonstrate your extensive knowledge and interest in European affairs in the scrutiny process that is proposed and to make maximum use of the powers accorded to national parliaments exactly in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, suggested.