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Those points are central to the European constitutional treaty, and of course I see no prospect of their being brought into force, save through the vehicle of a constitutional treaty.[ Official Report, 6 June 2005; Vol. 434, c. 1001.]
Most reasonable people would say that any instrument that would bring into being a president and Foreign Minister would amount to a constitution. For goodness sake, if the local golf club proposed to have a president, it would need a new constitution. We are talking about not only an EU president, but an EU Foreign Minister, and thus a significant change to the EUs structure of foreign affairs. What matters is not the label appliedthe way this is dressed upbut whether any agreement includes the substance of what was originally proposed in the constitutional treaty: the merger of the high representative of the European Union and the foreign affairs Commissioner to create a quite different individual in a different constitutional position. Any reasonable person would regard that as a significant constitutional change in itself, but it is not a change that stands in isolation. It must be seen in conjunction with the other changes proposed in the constitutional treaty, which make it an even more serious constitutional step than merely creating a post. It goes further than that because the EU treaty, the negotiations and the original constitution proposed
giving the European Union a legal personality, as opposed to the treaty institutions created under the treaty of Rome.
That was a significant step because it would enable the president of the European Union and the Foreign Minister of the European Union to go around the world representing Europe, to speak on behalf of a body with a legal personality and to conclude treaties on behalf of a body with a legal personality. That has not been entirely clear up till now, but it would certainly create a very important change.
Mr. Cash: Does my hon. Friend agree that preserving the single legal personality and overcoming the pillar structure, which is also part of the proposals, would bring in the Community method for adopting measures in relation to criminal law and procedure, which at present is done intergovernmentally and by unanimity under the EU treaty? Would it not also involve the Commission having power to bring infraction proceedings against member states in respect of the implementation of criminal measures, with the European Court of Justice being the final arbiter? Can it get worse than that?
Mr. Clappison: My hon. Friend anticipates my next point. I was about to turn to the merging of the third pillar into the first pillar, which would have the effect of bringing judicial and home affairs under qualified majority voting and the Community method, as he described, and giving the European Union a whole new range of competences. That underlines the point that I made a moment ago about my hon. Friends position and that of other people. His comments about the significance of the proposals are shared not just by people who take his view of Europe, but by a considerable number of others.
Mr. Clappison: Before my right hon. Friend intervenesI know that he will make an excellent pointmay I conclude my own point by saying that when the Home Affairs Committee, an all-party Committee of the House, considered the matter, it unanimously reached the conclusion that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) has just set out? In a recent report, the Committee concluded with respect to the criminal law:
The Constitutional Treaty proposed making elements of criminal law subject to qualified majority voting in the Council of Ministers, and the Commission still supports this proposal. The evidence we have seen does not persuade us that, as things stand at present, there are sufficient benefits in terms of tackling crime, either here in the UK or across the EU, to justify such a major transfer of power away from Member States as would be entailed by a switch of criminal law from the third to the first pillar.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) is extremely persuasive and reasoned. He might persuade me to take a different view, but I doubt that he will persuade me away from the view that I took, together with all the members of the Select Committee.
Mr. Gummer: I shall not try to persuade my hon. Friend to change his view on that. I am trying to bring unanimity. The case that he is arguing is that we should not have a referendum at all on these issues, which is my position, or we should have a referendum in either circumstance. The Government have been trying to have a referendum when it is convenient to them and not have one when it is not convenient to them. That is the most intolerable position to uphold. The Government are wholly wrong in both cases.
Mr. Clappison: I am happy to agree entirely and unreservedly with my right hon. Friend. He has expressed an honourable point of view. I was far from convinced by some of the exchanges that we heard across the Dispatch Box earlier today, particularly when my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) was speaking on behalf of the Opposition about the case for a referendum, and the case that the Government made in response.
We were reminded of what had happened over Maastricht, Amsterdam and the original treaty of Rome, and we went back to 1975. It does not matter what happened then; what matters is what this Prime Minister promised this House and the country when he made his commitment in the House, whichI shall be corrected if I am wrongalso appeared in the Labour party manifesto at the last general election. That is an issue of trust here and now for this Prime Minister. He did not stand up and say, I promise you a referendum on the constitutional treaty, but I may change my mind in view of everything that has happened in the past. He made an unequivocal pledge and an issue of trust arises as a result.
These are vital constitutional issues that would amount to a major shift of power and competence to the EU, particularly on the question of criminal law. The criminal law obtains to a nation itself, and a nation should make its own decisions on that. It is a characteristic of a nation that it has the opportunity to make decisions on the criminal law and to decide what types of conduct it wishes to criminalise and which it does not, after debate in individual national Parliaments.
In practice, as a result of the merging of the third pillar into the first pillar, qualified majority voting and the acquisition of existing community law, criminal procedure and substantive criminal law could be decided not in this House but in Europe, where we may find ourselves in the minority, and as a result of qualified majority voting the criminal law of this country could be changed even though there was a majority in the House and in the country against such a change. That is a fundamental line to cross.
Mr. Cash: I agree with my hon. Friend. If one builds into that the European arrest and evidence warrants, one finds that not only is the criminal law being changed against the wishes of the majority of the British people, but they would then find themselves being subjected to arrest warrants from other countries because of the abolition by the Government of the dual criminality safeguard.
My hon. Friend makes another important point. I am not critical of the co-operation that has taken place between Governments on criminal matters, and I am more than happy for Governments
to work together, as I am for police forces to work together across borders, but this is eminently a matter that should be in the domain of individual Governments. It should be kept on the basis of intergovernmental co-operation.
Mr. Clappison: I am happy with the basis of co-operation between Governments. This is something different. It is a major change. I do not have time to deal with the charter of fundamental rights, which also carries huge implications.
There is a danger on the subject of Europe of saying yes to everything or no to everything, but I happen to believe that the constitutional changes that the treaty contains are so significant and so fundamental that they should give everybody pause for thought. They should be given long consideration, and our country should in time be called on to decide whether such constitutional changes should take place.
Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): I am particularly pleased to have an opportunity to participate in the debate, because as a former Member of the European Parliament between 1999 and 2004 European policy was my life for that period. I am pleased that a number of Tory Members were elected when my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) was leading the party. Dare I say that it was possibly his finest hour when not only did we win the European election in the country, but we gained more votes in Yorkshire and the Humber than the Labour party, and that resulted in my election? I agree with every word of my right hon. Friends opening remarks.
The Minister for Europe, who is on the Front Bench, is also a former Member of the European Parliament. Furthermore, not many people know that the Deputy Prime Ministerwe enjoyed his swan-song at the Dispatch Box todaywas a Member of the European Parliament.
I have listened with interest to the views expressed about the effectiveness of the rotating presidency and the question whether we should have a full-time president of the European Union. It would be a big mistake to opt for a full-time president, but the rotating presidency does not necessarily serve our needs. Small countries often surprise us by how well they perform in the chair when they have the presidency. Equally, some of the big countriesI am thinking of the last French presidencyhave disappointed us by trying to push through an ambitious agenda. It is not the job of the presidency to try to push things through.
We often view with dismay the amount of European Union legislation. It is little surprise that so much legislation is instigated, when every six months a new presidency arrives with a shopping list for legislation almost as long as that with which my children present me before Christmas. Such legislation never reaches the statute book during the six-month presidency, but the
Commissions wheels are put in motion, which results in sausage-machine legislation. That is beneficial in some casesfor example, the environmentbut in other cases it means that our businesses are wrapped in bureaucracy and red tape, which prevents them from generating the wealth that we need.
The European Parliament has come of age. When it was first formed, it was a talking shop that tended to attract people who were enthusiastic about the European project. In recent years, Members of the European Parliament have served our nation with a more pragmatic view. Many of them can be described as Eurosceptic, and I am proud that that soubriquet was attached to me.
The co-decision process has helped the peoples of Europe to have their voices heard. In a Parliament such as the European Parliament, where no party is in overall control, the co-decision process works very well. I was environment deputy co-ordinator for the European Peoples party and European Democrats group, and we achieved a lot through the co-decision process. I was often telephoned on a Monday morning by Ministers from UK, who said, We are having no luck with our Socialist group. They are all toeing the line. Will you try to push things in our direction? I am pleased to say that we spent a lot of time working with Transport Ministers on trying to make the legislation on vehicle emissions have less of an impact.
Mr. Gummer: Does my hon. Friend agree that our membership of the EPP was important in allowing us to do that and that working in a bloc, of which he has given us some excellent examples, is an important part of the European Union?
Mr. Goodwill: In a Parliament with no overall majority, the smaller groups often have a disproportionate impact and influence on legislation. Compromises are often struck not in meetings, but in coffee bars. Although it is true that if the Socialist group and the EPP were to get together they would have a majority, in many cases smaller groups such as the Greens or the Liberals have a lot of influence. I look forward to the formation of our new group in the European Parliament. We can work with our former colleagues in the EPP on matters on which we agree, but it is important when we disagree that we can put a man on the front row of the European Parliament to argue the case for the UK. I look forward to the formation of a group involving Czechs and other colleagues and hope that it will contribute to our voice being better represented in the European Parliament and the British interest being better represented generally.
The Economic and Social Committee is well past its sell-by date. It is only a talking shop, and we should scrap it. Similarly, on the Committee of the Regions, how many hon. Members can tell me that they get good feedback from that committee or that views expressed in their region are being represented and are having an effect in Europe? That Committee is also past its sell-by date. It is interesting that an amendment that I proposed in the European Parliament calling for the regions themselves to co-fund the Committee was roundly thrown out because people realised that if that happened the regions would not wish that talking shop
to perpetuate itself. The European Parliament has come of age. It can speak for the people of our country and our regions; we do not need the Economic and Social Committee or the Committee of the Regions.
Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): It is a genuine pleasure to sum up this debate for Her Majestys Opposition. It is also a pleasure to see my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) in his place. As he will know, I have always had considerable time for him, and since I was appointed to this new job I understand that he has put aside considerable time for me. I look forward to spending some of that time with him.
I will not attempt to compete with my hon. Friends the Members for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands) and for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) in terms of their pan-European credentials. I can claim a French surname and the fact that my late mother was Italian, but having heard their speeches they could probably beat me hands down.
Several themes have been touched on. For instance, several right hon. and hon. Members mentioned Kosovo, including the Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), who, as usual, spoke very knowledgeably on the subject; his speech bears further reading.
However, the topic that has dominated todays discussion has been the proposed attempts to revive the European constitution, which was so clearly rejected by the French and Dutch people back in 2005. Although the debate was sometimes eloquent, unfortunately it has left us none the wiser about exactly which powers the Government propose to cede to the European Union on our behalf as a result of this process. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), in a typically passionate speech, said that all treaties are important. He is right; and this one could be especially important.
That being the case, I ask why at some points during the debate not a single Labour Back Bencher was sitting in the Chamber. We had one loyal Parliamentary Private SecretaryI hope that her Whips have noted itand the duty Whip, but for long periods not a single authentic Labour Back Bencher was here to debate the matter or to support their Governments position. In contrast, 13 Conservative Back Benchers spoke on this important issue. I will attempt in the time that I have to refer to at least some of those speeches.
As we know, following a period of what was obviously very thorough reflection, the German presidency, in particular, began moves to seek to revive a treaty that many of us had genuinely been led to believe was already dead. The Prime Minister himself stated:
What you cannot do is have a situation where you get a rejection of the treaty and bring it back with a few amendments and say: have another go. You cannot do that.
a different terminology, without changing the legal substance.
Since that time, and despite protestations to the contrary by Ministers, discussions have clearly taken place between European capitals on how the treaty might be revived, while our own Parliament has, until very recently, been kept deliberately in the dark. For instance, when the Foreign Secretary appeared before the European Scrutiny Committee last Thursday, she amazingly insisted that
nothing you could really call negotiations have taken place.
Tony Blair and I have just agreed on what might be the framework for a simplified treaty. That is quite something.
Indeed it is. The Foreign Secretary was at it again yesterday when, after a long delay, she finally gave evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee. I note that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) serves on that Committee. He spoke well today and we should acknowledge the valuable role that he played on behalf of this House in the detailed negotiations on the original constitution.
I do not wish to be ungallant to the Foreign Secretary, but perhaps she will allow me, to use the phrase of my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks, a little tease. Her performance before the Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday was not the strongest evidence session that I have witnessed from a Secretary of State. She still tried to insist that serious negotiations were not under way, when the President of France had already told us that much has been agreed. She denied at one stage that any sherpas had been involved in the treaty process, only to correct herself as she knew that those sherpas had already met several times. She even had to be corrected in public by her officials on the single legal personality for the European Union.
Conversely, on Monday at the Liaison Committee, our negotiator in chief, the Prime Ministerwho is running the show, as most people realiselaid out four so-called red lines, and was adamant that he would not allow them to be breached. He declared that if they were adhered to, there would be no need for a referendum. My right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks effectively demolished that claim in his opening speech and showed that the so-called red lines have been carefully drafted to give the appearance of maintaining key powers while potentially surrendering significant powers. I shall give one example rather than go through the entire list again.
we will not agree to anything that moves to qualified majority voting something that can have a big say in our own tax and benefits system.
That means that we might accept QMV on something that constitutes a small say in that vital policy, but of course, the difference is not defined. The so-called red lines have been carefully worded and are effectively red herrings, which are designed principally to distract attention from what is being given up without the need for the Government to keep their word and hold a referendum.
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