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Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): The Foreign Secretary mentioned flexibility. One of the "red lines" of which the Government made so much in last year's White Paper was exclusion of the compulsory co-ordination of employment policy. In evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee, the Foreign Secretary described that article as "unacceptable". Why, then, is it unaltered in the final draft, and why does the White Paper that the Foreign Secretary published today make no reference to the red lines? Is it because it is an unfair and incomplete record of what actually happened in the final negotiations?

Mr. Straw: It is an entirely fair record of what happened. What we were able to achieve, which is spelled out in annexe 2 of the White Paper, is a fundamental change in the structure of what was—I
 
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speak from recollection—article I-11, which originally stated that it was for the Union to co-ordinate economic and employment policies. The new treaty says that it is for member states to do so. If the right hon. Gentleman feels quizzical about this, let me say that the Government as a whole were entirely satisfied with the result as a whole.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory rose—

Mr. Straw: I have already given way to the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: On a point of information—

Mr. Straw: No.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely it is against the rules of debate to claim the direct contrary to what is in black and white. Article I-14.2 of the constitution clearly states that employment policies shall be co-ordinated by the Union, not by member states. Does it not breach every rule of this place to mislead the House in such a way?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. I understand what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, but I think that such matters are more for debate than for the Chair.

Mr. Straw: I know what the article says. That part of it must be seen in the context of the rest, which says that member states have the power to co-ordinate. As the right hon. Gentleman is so worried, let me promise him that this will not affect the competences of the European Union, or the balance of powers between it and member states.

The new text delivers on the commitments that we set out in last September's White Paper in respect of certain specific policy areas. We have fulfilled our commitment to maintaining the veto for treaty change, for the system of own resources including the United Kingdom's rebate, and for the areas of vital national interest that we identified in paragraph 66 of that White Paper: tax, social security, defence, and key areas of criminal procedural law.

This time last year the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes was worried about that. He said that it would constitute a key test, deciding whether or not the Conservatives would approve the proposed treaty. The so-called Passerelle clause—I think it was I-24—was completely unacceptable to us. It would have allowed elements of treaty change in part 3, the detailed part, to proceed without the approval of national Parliaments. That has been changed altogether. The treaty also carries over provisions on immigration, asylum and civil justice issues which allow the UK to decide, case by case, whether to opt into individual measures.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): The Foreign Secretary mentioned what used to be clause 24–4 and is now contained in article IV-7(a). It refers to what happens if a national Parliament objects. What if,
 
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in a bicameral Parliament like this, the two Chambers do not agree? There is no mechanism for defining what "Parliament" means in that context.

Mr. Straw: In this case the House of Commons would decide, but I take my hon. Friend's point, which may need to be sorted out. That could be done by means of a detailed declaration by the Council, or EU legislation. I do not foresee any difficulty; all national Parliaments have arrangements for dealing with differences between their two Chambers. Every Parliament has two Chambers. I suspect that there will be no such difficulty as my hon. Friend anticipates, but I shall certainly come back to it if there is.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): It would be a simple matter, would it not, to provide in the legislation which is generally expected that in the circumstances referred to by the hon. Lady, the House of Commons should be the determining Parliament.

Mr. Straw: We intend to make such provision. I thought that my hon. Friend was referring to the position across the EU, but if draft legislation applying to this Parliament and this country is unsatisfactory, she and every other Member will have plenty of opportunities to change it.

On common security and defence policy, the constitution fulfils our objectives by ensuring that co-operation is flexible, inclusive and complementary to NATO, and is focused on the development of military capabilities. It keeps unanimity as the rule for launching operations and determining policy, and—again, as a direct result of changes led by us—states that NATO is

of its members.

The treaty includes safeguards to ensure that the charter of fundamental rights creates no new EU powers, alters no existing powers, and applies to member states only when they are implementing EU law. Given that change, we were content to see the charter incorporated in the treaty text. At the back of Cmnd. 6289, Members can find explanations of the full background of the charter provisions. The changes must now be taken into account by the European Court of Justice, as is set out in full.

Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset) (Con): If, as the Foreign Secretary says, the charter applies only to the relationship between the EU and its member states, and if, as the treaty states, the EU will accede to the convention on human rights—and all the member states are party to the convention—why do we need a separate charter of fundamental rights?

Mr. Straw: That was a matter for debate when it was first proposed, five or six years ago, that a charter of rights should be part of the EU constitution. We accepted the principle in the end, although we had reservations at the beginning, because we thought it sensible to set down in black and white a statement about the rights that anyone in Europe should be entitled to enjoy. I have no difficulty with that, especially
 
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given that most of the statements involved are the most obvious of all. In all cases, if there is a clash between the interpretation of the rather bald statements of rights in the EU charter and the convention on human rights, and the Council of Europe and its jurisprudence, the jurisprudence of the convention will apply.

The hon. Gentleman's question gives me an opportunity to ask a question of the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes. I read "The Truth about the European Constitution" with exceptional care. On page 16, the authors express concern about the new European charter of fundamental rights, saying that some of the key articles have ramifications for business, as shown in the table that follows. The first is equality. Article 23 states—I ask my hon. Friends to listen carefully to these shocking words—

I read that with incredulity. What is the point that the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes is trying to make? Are the Conservatives in favour of this part of the charter or not?

At the bottom of the Conservative pamphlet, it says that, of course, some of the articles are fine, but we know what the Conservatives are up to: they are trying to raise the concern that the charter will somehow undermine Britain as a nation state. If certain elements of it are acceptable, why does the right hon. and learned Gentleman not say, "We believe in the equality of men and women in terms of employment, work and pay. We think that an exceptionally good idea, and it should be proclaimed across Europe, rather than shrunk away from." Why the devil did he not say that? Indeed, there are many other such elements, including health care, and dignity and the right to life.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Straw: I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant).

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary. Is there not also the most extraordinary objection on the part of the Conservatives to the prohibition of child labour and the protection of young people at work?


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