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Road Safety (Pillion Passengers)

Mr. Nigel Waterson accordingly presented a Bill to make provision about protective helmets for children riding on motor cycles as pillion passengers; to make further provision about motor cycle construction and use in relation to pillion passengers; to make it an offence to carry a child as a pillion passenger without parental consent; and for connected purposes. And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 18 March, and to be printed [Bill 59].

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Orders of the Day

European Union Bill

Order for Second Reading read.—[Queen's consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I should inform the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. He has also placed a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.

1.54 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

In view of the time limit that Mr. Speaker has placed on speeches, and in view of informal representations that I have received from both sides of the House, I will, if I may, not take the usual number of interventions. I do my best in all debates to take as many as possible, and I make myself available, as I did yesterday, to the European Scrutiny Committee for interrogation by Members on both sides of the House.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I should explain to the right hon. Gentleman and the House that Mr. Speaker's decision was perhaps related in part to the well-known generosity of the Foreign Secretary in that regard.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Some of us feel that as Parliament has not gone through the European constitution line by line on the Floor of the House, the Bill lacks the legitimacy that it would have, had that process been enabled. I hope the Foreign Secretary will not allow us to miss some of the gems of explanation that he would otherwise have put before us.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: That is a case of special pleading.

Mr. Straw: I thought I was helping the Chair a moment ago, but obviously one can be wrong.

The Bill has two linked purposes: to enable the United Kingdom to ratify the European Union constitutional treaty, and to decide that ratification can take place only if there is a positive vote in a United Kingdom referendum.

Before coming to the Bill itself, let me first put it in context and explain why the new treaty is needed. The European Union's institutions and rules were designed some 50 years ago, for just six members. Since then, a succession of amendments in overlapping treaties has been agreed by the EU's member nations. But with the EU's biggest enlargement last year taking its membership to 25, and with the prospect of further expansion, it was clear that those successive treaties had
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to be consolidated and clarified. In addition, there was a need for reform of the European Union to make it more effective, efficient and accountable.

When the first draft of the treaty was produced in the Convention, I published a detailed White Paper setting out the changes that would be required by the Government and the House if we were to sign up to the treaty. Over the following 10 months of intensive negotiations, we achieved every one of our negotiating objectives—a success that was widely recognised across Europe. The French newspaper Le Monde called the treaty "a British victory". Corriere della Sera in Italy declared that

Laurent Fabius, leader of the French "No" campaign, said that

Those comments reflect the nature of the new constitutional treaty—a framework for our kind of Europe, which gives us a strong role in a Union of free and sovereign nations.

The new treaty spells out in clearer terms than before that this is an organisation of freely co-operating nations—free to decide where to work together, free to stop doing so if they agree that it no longer makes sense, and free to take at any time a sovereign decision to pull out of the EU entirely. The constitutional treaty puts Europe's members firmly in control. It replaces the current system of six-monthly rotating presidencies of the European Council, the body in which the EU's member countries set the organisation's priorities, with a full-time Chair to ensure that it is we, the nations, who set the EU's agenda and get it implemented. That is a widely supported reform, and its supporters include, I am pleased to say, the new leader of the Conservative party in the European Parliament. The only opposition to the reform appears to have been led by the former European Commission, not the present one, and the British Conservative party.

The new treaty slims down the size of the European Commission. It states that the EU's common foreign and security policy will remain fully under the control of Europe's nations, who can agree a common approach only when every one of those nations wishes to do so. One person, accountable to the EU's members and taking orders only from them, will implement this policy, replacing the disjointed system that we have today involving a high representative and a member of the Commission whose loyalties are ambiguous and are to the Commission, not to the European Foreign Ministers of nations.

The new treaty ensures that national Parliaments must ratify any future changes to the EU's arrangements. The Bill gives that statutory effect in clause 2. For the first time, the treaty gives national Parliaments the power to send draft EU legislation back for review if one third of national Parliaments believe that the draft law infringes the principle that the EU should act only where it adds value—the so-called subsidiarity principle. That is an important and welcome reform, to which the Bill gives further statutory effect. It is not directly reflected in the treaty, but in the Bill I have added to the provisions of the treaty so as better to assist Parliament in that task. Under clause 3, the relevant Minister will have a statutory duty to lodge
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a written statement with Parliament certifying whether or not a given draft EU law, in the Government's view, complies with the subsidiarity principle.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): We have that power at present, as we can object on subsidiarity grounds. I am a member of the European Scrutiny Committee. The Commission can ignore our objections, and that will also happen under the constitution. The Commission already has to justify its proposals on subsidiarity grounds. It can overrule our objections, and it will be able to do so under the draft constitution. What, therefore, is the advance?

Mr. Straw: There is a big advance, because there was a power on paper in the Maastricht treaty, but it did not have any procedure behind it. As every lawyer in the House knows, if we do not have procedure, we cannot access rights. By making provision for one third of national Parliaments to raise a yellow card to a proposal, the treaty ensures that in future there will be a proper procedure. Moreover, with help from Members from all parts of the House, I have sought to strengthen the role of the House and Parliament in scrutinising EU legislation. In my judgment, legislation is always improved if there is effective scrutiny, and that is as true of EU legislation as it is of domestic legislation. I wanted to introduce a duty on Ministers, and therefore officials and Departments, to check EU draft legislation to see whether or not it accorded with the subsidiarity principle. That is what we will have under the Bill, but we do not have it at the moment.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con) rose—

Mr. Straw: I shall give way later to the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow).

The treaty provides Europe with a fairer and clearer voting system for making decisions, giving the larger member states relatively more power. One of the many improvements that we achieved during the intergovernmental conference was the raising of the thresholds for qualified majority voting from 50 per cent. of EU member states and 60 per cent. of the EU population to 55 per cent. of member states and 65 per cent. of population, which helps this country. The treaty sets out arrangements known as "enhanced co-operation" to allow groups of member states within Europe to work together more closely in certain areas without everyone having to take part, but it ensures that there is a level playing field. Such co-operation is allowed only if it does not harm the interests of those nations not choosing to participate. Last year, that policy was advocated by the Leader of the Opposition.

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