Previous Section Index Home Page

in other words, it was too important to hold a referendum on this issue. Despite that, he was soon in favour of exactly such a referendum to resolve “once and for all” where Britain stood in Europe. It was “time to decide” what was “our destiny”, so we should let “the issue be put”.

Yet that vital statement of mission and purpose went the way of every previous statement on this subject. It was as if Nelson had said:

but then said, “On second thoughts, perhaps not, as we might do this in a few years’ time or forget it altogether”. Now, the Prime Minister says, having agreed to the constitution then, that we do not need a constitution after all and that we must “listen to the people”, which apparently means not asking them what they think. We now find that the constitution, which he had described as a “success for Britain” needs four “major changes”, without which Britain will veto the new treaty, although there is no explanation of why these red lines were apparently not a problem when the whole thing was negotiated the first time round.

The Government have had so many positions that they are now recycling the old ones. On Sunday, the Foreign Secretary told the BBC that the whole business was intended to “tidy up the rule book”, taking us back to the position of the Northern Ireland Secretary four years ago. That is the consistency, vision and backbone of a jellyfish. That is what we have had from the Government in recent years.

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Hague: As the Prime Minister’s former chief economic adviser said the last time the constitution was on the table:

and nothing has changed since.


20 Jun 2007 : Column 1399

Mr. Raynsford rose—

Mr. Hague: I really must proceed, but I may give way one or two more times later. It is already becoming a long speech.

Instead of accountability, we have had desperate secrecy. Never before have I known three chairmen of Select Committees, all from the governing party, express such strongly and similarly worded frustration over the Government’s behaviour. The Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee has called it “non-transparency”. The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee has had to write to the Foreign Secretary to complain of the

The Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee has pointed out that the Government have refused to say what position, if any, they have on the vital issue of whether criminal justice should be moved from the intergovernmental third pillar to full Community competence.

Indeed, when the Foreign Secretary told the European Scrutiny Committee last week that

we could not work out whether she had been kept so utterly out of the loop by the Prime Minister that she simply did not know what was going on, or whether she had a completely different understanding of the word “negotiate” from the rest of us. That very day, the French President told reporters how he and the Prime Minister had agreed the basis of a new treaty and the German Foreign Minister informed MEPs in Brussels how near to a conclusion he had brought the talks. Was that position reached without the Foreign Office being involved in any negotiation of any kind? That is an alarming thought, if it is true.

When the Prime Minister set out his so-called red lines on Monday, it was the first time that Parliament or the British public had heard what the Government’s view was. Indeed, it must have come as quite a surprise to the Foreign Secretary, who told the European Scrutiny Committee that nothing was going on at all, and that in any case

The Prime Minister took a different view on Monday. His remarks deserve serious scrutiny, because what he did not mention was more significant than what he did. He said nothing about the proposed permanent EU President, nothing about a single legal personality for the EU, nothing about the proposed primacy of EU law over our laws, and nothing about the hugely important points buried in the small print of the original constitution. He said that there would be no qualified majority voting on any provision that

So would qualified majority voting that had a small say be all right? Will the Minister enlighten us on that when he winds up the debate?

The Prime Minister said that he would not agree to anything that


20 Jun 2007 : Column 1400

So why not put the case earlier that the Foreign Secretary, evidently uncomfortably, had to put to Foreign Ministers a few nights ago? She put the case against qualified majority voting and against an EU Foreign Minister having a diplomatic service in the European Union. The Prime Minister also said that he would not accept a treaty that allowed the charter of fundamental rights to change UK law. But would it be acceptable to give the charter legal standing so that it could change EU law, which would ultimately affect this country? He said that he would not agree to give up our ability to control our common law and judicial and police systems. Does that mean that the veto over criminal justice will be kept and that, crucially, criminal justice will remain in the intergovernmental third pillar?

It has taken weeks, while other Governments have staked out positions, proposed new articles and campaigned for their views, for our Government to set out their so-called red lines, four days before the summit itself. Those red lines turn out not only to be red herrings but, on examination, to prove to be so carefully phrased by the Prime Minister that he could sign up to an EU treaty that transferred substantial powers to the EU and enacted much of the constitution and yet not breach his four red lines. The Prime Minister could give the charter of fundamental rights legal standing, move criminal law to Community control, and agree to a Foreign Minister in all but name with an EU external action service and European embassies, a permanent President of the Council, a common asylum policy, widespread extension of qualified majority voting elsewhere and a broadening of EU competence over employment policy—and still say that his red lines had not been breached. Those so-called red lines in the sand are but chaff thrown up to con the British public that the Government want simply to defend the British national interest, when their central priority is to avoid holding a referendum at all costs.

The Foreign Secretary gave the game away when she said that any treaty that, in the Government’s judgment, required a referendum would not be signed. The idea is that the great leader will go forward on behalf of the British public, and that we do not have to worry because he would not sign anything—would he?—that would require the people to trouble themselves with casting their vote. That is a patronising attitude towards the electorate and a breach of the Government’s election promise.

Mr. Raynsford: As the right hon. Gentleman has been making a point about the importance of clarity, will he tell the House whether his party would seek any changes to the present framework in Europe and, in particular, whether it would seek a referendum on the proposal made by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) that we should reconsider our membership of the European Union?

Mr. Hague: No, I do not agree with that and will not be proposing a referendum on that subject, either now or at the next general election. We have put forward our preferred model for the development of the European Union—the right hon. Gentleman will be added to the list of Members to whom I must send my seminal
20 Jun 2007 : Column 1401
speeches on these subjects—and I could go on about it at even greater length than I have been doing. However, the immediate issue at hand is what will happen tomorrow and on Friday at the summit.

If we had a Government with a clear vision for a modern Europe, the negotiations at the summit would present not only challenges but opportunities. The Foreign Secretary has mentioned one or two of the relevant points. The Dutch Government have proposed giving national Parliaments the right to block legislation that breaches the principle of subsidiarity. For far too long, and to the deep frustration of many on both sides of this House, this important principle has had no proper enforcement mechanism. The Dutch proposal at least attempts to provide it with an effective one and we urge the Government to support it, and not just to treat it with sympathy, as the Foreign Secretary said a little while ago.

The Czech Government have proposed a flexibility clause that would allow member states to return powers to national control where appropriate. For far too long, the EU has been a one-way ratchet, taking powers from member states but unable to return them. We hope that the Government will support the Czechs on that imaginative proposal. Perhaps they should have put forward the proposal with the Czechs and campaigned for it across Europe.

The Government declare themselves neutral on the question of voting weights, but I am not sure that Ministers have entirely thought the German proposal through. In particular, the new system, with its exact correspondence between population and voting weight, will make it harder to admit large but poor countries into the European Union. Indeed, some suspect that it was devised with that purpose in mind. Given the fundamental importance of the goal of Turkish membership of the EU, that area needs to be considered very carefully indeed.

However, the biggest omission of all by the Government is that they have missed the opportunity to say what I suspect the Foreign Secretary believes, namely, that we do not need a new treaty for Europe’s countries to act together. It is simply not true that a Europe of 27 is not working with the old rules. As the Foreign Secretary has admitted, the EU is coping perfectly well without new rules.

Yes, the Prime Minister should go to the summit saying that no deal is better than a bad deal—but he should also have been saying for a long time that the time for political integration is over, and that the time to look outwards to the great challenges of global warming, global poverty and globalised competition must begin. The EU’s focus should be on practical issues that matter—a point made earlier by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field)—such as success in the world trade round, going further with the single market and improving the emissions trading scheme to create long-term incentives for business to invest in green technology. Those should be the priorities and we do not need a treaty to accomplish them, as the Foreign Secretary has made clear several times.

The Prime Minister should point out those facts to some of his colleagues. He should be advising other
20 Jun 2007 : Column 1402
leaders to respond to the unhappiness in their own countries, rather than choosing to ignore it in his own. He should be saying that Britain does not support a revived constitution. If he did these things, and if he had done them over the past two years, he would at last, in Europe, have something that he could call a legacy.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I must remind the House that Mr. Speaker has placed a 12-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches, and that that operates from now.

1.48 pm

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): I should like to say to the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) that if he wishes to send me any of his writings, he should not send me anything that I can read in Hansard, because I have already read those, and I am not convinced that he is not still just playing the game. If he were ever to become Foreign Secretary, he might take a more positive view of the need for an amending treaty—or a number of amending treaties—to allow Europe to continue to advance.

The right hon. Gentleman talked about the backbone of a jellyfish, and about the need for the Government to be responsive and reflective. As the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, I believe that we have made remarkable strides in the past two years. Perhaps there was not a dialogue or a conversation, but there was certainly one-way traffic from those of us who did not think that the convention would bring in a proposal for a constitution, which was unnecessary, and that what should have been proposed was an amending treaty. That would have taken on the recommendation in the Laeken proposals to get closer to the people of Europe.

I would like to see the introduction of a red card. Such a card would be held not by the Government using the Whip, but by Parliament, where we could have a free vote on whether to demand that something be taken back by the Commission. There is now talk of an orange card being added to the yellow card. Anything better than a white card will suit me. The role of Parliaments should be strengthened with regard to the decisions that should be taken at this level under subsidiarity. I do not mind whether that involves repatriation on an item-by-item basis or a method of preventing the Commission from creeping—a term I use often—even further along with its proposals.

I am concerned that those who are demanding a referendum are not really debating the constitution proposals, but are trying to portray the European Union, as it currently stands, as a malevolent force. I do not see the European Union as a malevolent force, and I am sure that the shadow Foreign Secretary does not, although some of his Back-Bench colleagues might. I see it as a positive arrangement. It does need amendment, and he is wrong to think that an amending treaty is unnecessary. It is clear that the Commission is too large, and that the proposal to bring a series of presidencies into one consistent presidency title and process works. Recently, we went to Germany
20 Jun 2007 : Column 1403
and then Portugal to see the informal troika arrangement. Rather than distinct changes from presidency to presidency, a consistent synergy and purposefulness can be achieved from one presidency to the next over five presidencies. The proposal is similar to that whereby the European Parliament renews its officers after a two-and-a-half-year term.

Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Michael Connarty: I will not take interventions at the moment.

We need to consider seriously whether we would accept an amending treaty if the constitution is not introduced.

I agree that those who spend time in either the European Parliament or the European Commission have a tendency to go native. Perhaps those who get tied up in European Council meetings also move increasingly close to the Commission’s view. We must find a way of countering that, and the concept of a stronger card than a yellow card would deal with that. Clearly people went native on the convention, which was taken over by Giscard d’Estaing and other powerful figures and members of the Commission. They produced a treaty for a constitution, which was not what we thought they were setting out to produce. That has since been repudiated by the members of the convention from this Parliament—both the member representing the Opposition, who signed up to an amended treaty, and the member representing the Labour Benches. Questions have also been raised about whether the then Minister for Europe has doubts about what he signed up for. I could not necessarily be accused of undergoing that process, either at the time or afterwards. Last week, in a speech on the future of Europe, I said:

both Parliament and people—

into signing a treaty detrimental to the people of the UK.

We should pause to consider some facts. Many people outside do not necessarily understand the matter being discussed, and they are confused by the language that we use. People might want to read a good note in the Library about the concept of treaties. There is only really one treaty—the treaty of Rome. Every other treaty has merely amended the treaty of Rome. Even the treaty of Amsterdam—which changed all the numbering of the original treaty of Rome—and the Maastricht treaty were amending treaties. The treaty proposed by the convention, however, would have been different. It would have been a new treaty, because it collapsed all other treaties and proposed a constitution. People reacted against that more than anything else.

Even the shadow Foreign Secretary talked about EU law, but my understanding is that there is no EU law; there is EC—European Community—law. All the directives and regulations are EC directives, not EU directives. If the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash)—he has left the Chamber quickly, probably to attend my Committee—is correct that the EC is to be changed to the EU, that would be a significant and
20 Jun 2007 : Column 1404
fundamental matter, which I have not heard addressed by those on our Front Bench or anyone with whom I have debated the issue over the past couple of years. I would like that to be clarified.

What made the constitutional treaty a constitution were the fundamental points addressed by the Prime Minister. It is irritating that we have not been able to have an open dialogue during the period of reflection of the past couple of years. At the Liaison Committee, the Prime Minister made clear what he believed those points were. I am sorry that the shadow Foreign Secretary did not think that that changed the nature of what is proposed from Europe. Those with whom I have debated the issue in the European Parliament, COSAC meetings and future of Europe debates are certainly of the opinion that if the four points referred to by the Prime Minister are taken out, it will not be the constitution that they voted for. They do not want us to take those points out, but they should be taken out.

The Prime Minister made the position clear:

He continued:

Other countries want that and have spoken strongly in favour of it. If UK law is not affected, we should not stand in the way of those countries, because, as I think the shadow Foreign Secretary was saying, other countries have the right to make their decisions independently and to sign up to them.

The Prime Minister went on:


Next Section Index Home Page