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Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): The Foreign Secretary said that the House would have far more power to refer matters under subsidiarity, but when I asked the Leader of the House a question just a couple of weeks ago, I was told that no such proposals are yet in place and that the Government do not have any idea about the way in which that would operate. The Foreign Secretary is trying to suggest that we have new procedures and would have more power, but the Leader of the House made it clear that that is not the case.
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is misinformed. First, the Bill makes provision for a new
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procedure and, secondly, I have already made proposals to the House, the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and the European Scrutiny Committee about ways in which the House can better improve scrutiny arrangements. It is not for the Government to tell the House how it should exercise its scrutiny responsibilities. That is a matter for the House, and I look forward to receiving its recommendations. I simply say to the hon. Gentleman that he is pushing at an open door.
On immigration, asylum and frontier controls, the new treaty sets out effective provisions for working together across borders, but it gives Britain the choice to opt in to those measures in which we want to participate and to stay out of those in which we do not. The new treaty extends the application of qualified majority voting in the EU in that area and others to ensure effective decision making where it is in our interests. I am unapologetic about that extension, and I hope that that is the case, too, for the whole House, including Members who served as Ministers in previous Governments such as the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram). It was Baroness Thatcher who, as Prime Minister, spelled out the case for qualified majority voting when it is in our interest. Majority voting stops individual countries blocking vital reform. If the status quo is against us, we must be at the head of reform. That is exactly what we have done with reform to the common agricultural policy, which we could never have achieved if countries with a vested interest in the status quo were able to veto any changes.
There are about 50 so-called improvement changes resulting from the change from veto to majority voting. Most are frankly trivial. They extend from procedures for repealing measures relating to the past division of Germany to the appointment of the executive board of the European Central Bank, neither of which affects the United Kingdom. At the end of the documents that have been laid before the House there is a complete table of such changes. Changes have also been made on asylum and immigration, although most of those were made under the Amsterdam treaty, and on criminal procedural law, but we have an emergency brake in certain areas and an opt-out in others.
Crucially, the new treaty sets limits on the European Union's powers and, for the first time, they are listed clearly. The powers of the EU are limited to those given freely by its members. Again, for the first time, there is a procedure to modify or reduce the exercise of those powers. The treaty guarantees that the national veto is maintained on crucial issues on which we need it, such as tax, social security, fundamental aspects of criminal law, the financing of the EU, treaty changes, foreign policy and defence. By incorporating the charter of fundamental rights, the treaty includes a consolidation of existing rights, freedoms and principles, thus limiting the scope of the EU institutions. The charter makes it clear that the EU must respect the fundamental liberties of our citizens whenever it acts. The treaty itself spells out the fact that the charter is not, and cannot, be used
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as a source of new human rights in this country. My right hon. and noble Friend the Attorney-General put it well when he described the charter in a speech last year as
Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire) (Con): The Foreign Secretary is suggesting that increased national powers are involved. Surely, however, the whole point of the new constitution is that it will remove Parliament as the root of our legal system.
Mr. Straw: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised that, and I invite him to look at the treaty, the White Papers that I have produced, the evidence that I have given and the detailed commentary. There is absolutely no provenance for his statement. Remarks by hon. Members sitting next to him and by his Front-Bench team show that part of the Conservative party is trying to pretend that the proposed treaty changes the position of the primacy of European law in relation to the United Kingdom. It does not. The primacy of obligations laid out in international treaties arises in principle not from the treaty or previous EU treaties but from article 27 of the Vienna convention on the law of treaties. I urge hon. Members on both sides of the House to consider this: if a country entered into solemn treaty obligations but could then ignore them, there would never be any point in agreeing international treaties. Some countries have to incorporate every single part of international treaties directly into their domestic lawthat is the case in the United Statesbut other countries, including the United Kingdom, take a dualist approach. The issue of primacy is present in international obligations. It was present when we joined the European Union, and it was at the heart of the argument during the 1975 referendum campaign. The position has not changed, and as one of the first articles in the treaty makes clear, European law, in respect of European competences but nothing else, has primacy. It is made clear that that is simply a restatement of the existing jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice.
Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab): Does not this exchange reveal that in practice the proposed referendum will not be about the terms of the constitution but will be a vote about whether or not we want to be a member of the European Union? In that sense, it will be a defining moment for this country and our relationship with Europe.
Mr. Straw: One can never tell exactly the basis on which individuals vote in the privacy of the ballot box. I hope very much that the vote will be about the merits of the treaty. I am confident about its merits, and the fact that it works for Britain and makes a European Union that is much more in the image that we seek. My hon. Friend is right to imply that some in the Conservative partyby no means all of themwish to use a no vote in the referendum on the treaty as a Trojan horse to drive the United Kingdom towards withdrawing from the European Union altogether.
The new treaty fulfils every one of the commitments that I set out in the Government's White Paper in advance of the negotiations. All the institutional changes are beneficial to Britain and to the British people: a limit on the
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European Union's powers, a better-managed European Union, greater say for national Governments and Parliaments, and flexible arrangements to allow some members to go at a different speed from others. All those changes are proposals for which the Conservatives have called separately, but to which they now, incredibly, object, as illustrated in the rambling, rather oxymoronic reasoned amendment that they have tabled. That is why we have heard a litany of distortion and inaccuracy from them about what is in the text.
Let me be clear about what the new treaty will not do. It does not change the United Kingdom's position with respect to joining the euro. It does not hand control of our borders, foreign policy or armed forces to the European Union. It does not take away our seat at the United Nations, and norperhaps the most absurd claim of alldoes it replace Her Majesty the Queen as Head of State. I can understand that the British public are concerned when they hear such claims about the treaty, but as discussion has gone on, so the myths and distortions have been exposed. People can increasingly see the reality, which is that the treaty will set a stable, predictable and limiting framework for the European Union.
Let me now turn to the second purpose of the Bill: a referendum in the UK and in Gibraltar to decide whether to ratify the constitutional treaty. I should point out to the House one of the many manifest absurdities of the so-called reasoned amendment tabled by the official Opposition. It asks that we decline to give the Bill a Second Reading. If there is no Second Reading, there is no Bill, and if there is no Bill, there will be no referendum. Having called for a referendum for months and months, the Conservatives have manoeuvred themselves into the extraordinary position of deciding to vote against it the moment they are actually offered one.
The provisions in part 2 fall under the general framework of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, which many hon. Members will recall. I recall it in every particular because I was a sponsor of that excellent Bill as Home Secretary. The European Union Bill sets out who will be entitled to vote in the referendum, the terms for any legal challenges to its result, and provisions on the conduct of the referendum. It also includes the question to be posed, which is a simple and straightforward one:
In addition to the legislative provisions in the 2000 Act, we shall publish and make available to the House guidance on Government conduct, which will apply throughout the referendum period. It will take account of the requirements of the ministerial code, the civil service code, the special advisers code of conduct and guidance on the work of the Government information system.
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