I am keen that we have extensive investigation and scrutiny of the mandate and then of the reform treaty when it finally comes forward as a treaty. [ Official Report, 3 July 2007; Vol. 462, c. 801.]
Does the Minister accept that if he does not allow adequate scrutiny as this stage by this national Parliament, he risks undermining one of the key principles of the new treaty before it is even established?
Mr. Murphy: In response to the pretty fair point that the hon. Gentleman makes, the fact is that the treaty envisages a much enhanced role for national Parliamentsinterestingly both for the House of Commons and the other place. So, as he says, it is important that we continue to find ways to maintain that dialogue in Parliament and with Parliaments Select Committees. That is why both the Foreign Secretary and I have accepted the kind invitation of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, to appear before his Committee at a time of its choosing, rather than our choosing. At least some of that will happen during the parliamentary recess. Of course, we remain available to discuss the issues with other Select Committees and we continue to seek opportunities to discuss the issues with Front Benchers and Back Benchers of all parties. I am meeting the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois), who speaks for the Conservatives on this issue, on Wednesday, and the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore), who speaks for the Liberal Democrats on this issue, tomorrow. I look forward to continued opportunities to discuss, bilaterally and with the Select Committees, ways of continuing to inform the House.
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I remind right hon. and hon. Members of the importance of asking single supplementary questions, for short responses. We still have important business: the introduction of new Members and the main business before the House.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): The Minister has confirmed that the constitutional concept has been abandoned, and I welcome that. However, I ask that when he appears before the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, which I hope will be a few days after the meeting on 8 September, he will give us greater clarity about the way in which the strengthening of the foreign policy aspects of the European Union will be taken forward. Will the welcome initiative of our Prime Minister and President Sarkozy be more effective under the new arrangements, so that we can, for example, end the conflict in Darfur?
Mr. Murphy: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I can think of no better way of spending the parliamentary recess than appearing before him and his Committee. My hon. Friend is right to mention the opportunities that result from having a co-operative approach with our European partners on defence, foreign policy and many other matters. I once again reassure my hon. Friend and others that the UK has a veto on foreign policy. That is entirely appropriate. Where we agree with our European partners, we can act together, but where we continue to disagree, we can of course act alone, if we so wish.
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): Will the Minister comment on the notorious new division of competences, or powers, in the draft constitution, whereby the EU gains exclusive power over commercial and competition policy, and whereby most other policy areas are defined in a way that prevents national Parliaments from legislating when the EU decides to do so? That was controversial at the time, and it was in large measure opposed by the Government in unsuccessful amendments, so why has the Minister apparently given up on that matter, and why is he waving it through? Will he attempt to get those powers back through amendments tabled at the intergovernmental conference?
Mr. Murphy: We do not intend to table substantive changes to the IGC treaty agreement. I have already made it clear that European competitiveness and free and unfettered competition will be protected as part of a binding protocol on competition. On the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and the charter of fundamental rights, the UKs position on the protocol aligned with that is clear.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I warmly welcome the statement and thank the Minister and his predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon), for the work that was done on 22 June to secure such a good deal for Britain. Will the Minister ensure that there is full engagement with the British people during the process, so that they can rely on proper information from the Government, rather than on Mark Mardells blog?
Mr. Murphy: It was remiss of me not to pay a warm tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon), the former Minister for Europe, for his work in that role at the outset; it is possibly more important to do so now that he is Government Chief Whip. I also wish to pay my respects to the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), who was also a former Minister for Europe. He did an enormous amount of work in trying to destroy some of the myths around the issue of Europe and the European Union. I do not wish to pick on Mr. Mark Mardell, but any advice that anyone in the House can give to provide an accurate picture of the real benefit of the European Union to the United Kingdom is welcome. For example, it has meant 3 million jobs, co-operation on environmental issues, clean water, cleaner beaches, cleaner airthose are the real and substantive improvements and changes that the EU can deliver.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): The Minister honourably maintains that the treaty is completely different from the constitutional treaty, even though no European Government, and no other sentient being, agrees with his point of view. Nevertheless, for old times sake, will he remind us what the last Labour manifesto said about the European constitution and a referendum?
Mr. Murphy: As I said at the outset, the constitutional concept has been abandoned. There is a radical difference between the reform treaty and the prior constitutional treaty. The real test, as we look around Europe, is how many of the other 27 member states of the European Union are even contemplating holding a referendumjust one, our great friends, the Irish, simply because of their specific constitutional arrangement and the nature of their Parliament. In the United Kingdom we have a different parliamentary and constitutional arrangement from that of our good friends in Ireland.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): My hon. Friend will know that because of a number of imposed majority votes within the Community and particularly within the Commission, Britain is losing control over its safety audit in aviation and engineering, and in relation to our ports and to single skies. Will he therefore propose that the House creates a safety audit to look closely at any aspect of European institutions, however they are framed and however they are imposed?
Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend raises important points, and I look forward to discussing them with her, if she so wishes. There is an extension of qualified majority voting but much of it is minor and technical, and much of it is to re-establish existing practicefor example, qualified majority voting on the technicalities of German reunification. That is important. There are other examples of qualified majority voting on international aid and humanitarian support, but on the specific issue that my hon. Friend raises, I am happy to meet her and other hon. Friends before the parliamentary recess, if time in her diary allows.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con):
Does the Minister accept that he has a fight on his hands, and that this dishonest treaty is one of constitutional change? It may not be exactly the same as the constitutional treaty that
came before, but it is equivalent, and that is the important fact. When he next comes before the European Scrutiny Committee, will he bring the Foreign Office legal adviser so that we can ask him questions that the Minister cannot answer?
Mr. Murphy: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind and gallant comments, which are never knowingly understated. I can put my response no more clearly than by quoting the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who chairs the Conservatives democracy taskforce, who said:
The idea we have a referendum is frankly absurd.
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): I warmly welcome the Conservatives approach, because their obsessive Europhobia is a guarantee of third place results in elections to come. Does my hon. Friend agree that the proposed reform treaty creates a president of the European council of nations which the European Commission opposed because it gives more power to the nations of Europe, that foreign policy remains under the control of the nations of Europe, and that the Parliaments of the nations of Europe will have more power, so the treaty is one of the weakest since 1957? We might as well have a referendum on the results in Ealing, Southall and in Sedgefield, which were good for the country. Holding a referendum on the treaty is a plain absurdity.
Mr. Murphy: My right hon. Friend is right. The treaty transfers much less power than the Single European Act or the treaty of Maastricht. Of course, all the Opposition Members who were in government at the time voted against a referendum on Maastricht, which was much more significant in its transfer of powers. It seems to many objective observers that the Conservative party of today is captured by a rabid anti-Euro fanaticism that is fantastic in its proportion and out of touch with reality.
Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): The Minister cannot but be aware of the growing disenchantment that exists regarding the ever-expanding EU. He declares that the treaty is not a revised constitution. Others beg to differ. Is not the simplest way to resolve that conflict to let the people of the United Kingdom decide by way of referendum?
Mr. Murphy: Europe plays an enormous role in supporting the economy of Northern Ireland. Although the issue of cross-border co-operation is, of course, part of the constitutional settlement between north and south, we are not attracted to the level of co-operation to which the hon. Gentleman has alluded by following the Republic of Ireland in being the only other member state of the EU to sign up to having a referendum.
Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) (Lab): Will the Minister eschew the seductive suggestion of the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) to remove the word shall from provisions on democratic principles and replace it with the word may? He will be aware that the particular provision covers subsidiarity, proportionality, freedom, security, justice, treaty revision and inter-parliamentary co-operation, all subjects that are of some interest to every Member of this House.
Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend is right. That is why we are not reopening the issues of great substance in conversation with our European colleagues. Nevertheless, we continue to examine the precise wording of draft treaties, and I will return to the House and to my hon. Friend with the specifics in the weeks and months ahead.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Do Her Majestys Government support the inclusion in the reform treaty of a new mechanism for withdrawal from the European Union, and how would that mechanism work?
Mr. Murphy: We support the inclusion of that specific clause in the treaty. The way to bring about that outcome is to vote for either the Conservative party or the UK Independence party at the next general election. On Europe, it is sometimes difficult to work out the difference between those two parties.
Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (LD): I welcome the general direction outlined by the Minister and hope that the IGC meets with success. Does he agree that whether or not there is a referendum in due coursein the past 10 years under the previous premiership, the pro-European forces across parties and outside politics have on more than one occasion been marched up to the top of the hill in anticipation of something only to be marched down againthe Government need to get on the front foot, to take a broadly based proactive stance about constructive, sensible engagement in Europe and to isolate the extremist voices for what they are?
Mr. Murphy: The right hon. Gentleman is correct. Europe is an enormous influence for good in the United Kingdom. In terms of economics, 3 million jobs rely on trade with the European Union. On co-operation and trying to create a stronger force positively to put the case for Europe, I look forward to any ideas that the right hon. Gentleman may have on the specifics.
Sandra Osborne (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Lab): How confident is the Minister that a line can be drawn under constant institutional change once the reform treaty is agreed, given that some of our European partners are far more passionate about continual institutional change than the UK?
We live in hope that the endless cycle of conversation about continuous structural change can come to an end as a consequence of the agreement of this treaty. Enormous issues and challenges lie ahead for the European Union, and I am determinedthe
Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary are absolutely determinedto move Europe away from the constant introversion of looking at the important detail of structures and on to the issues that really matter to my hon. Friends constituents in Ayrshire and people across the United Kingdom.
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House welcome the Ministers support for the extension of the powers of national Parliaments. Will the Minister take that one stage further and explain throughout the country that parliamentary sovereignty means that we vote in this House about these matters, as the noble Baroness Thatcher said in debating the whole issue of the single market, and that in this country we do not take the foreign concept of a referendum?
Mr. Murphy: Although I rarely agree with the noble Baroness Thatcher, I nevertheless agree with the right hon. Gentlemans observation. I hope that Conservative Front Benchers and Conservative Members around himhe is in a minority of perhaps two or threelisten to his wise and candid advice.
protection of the UKs common law system,
which is a sloppy and embarrassing drafting error that will find no friends in the Scots legal system. May I draw the Ministers attention to concerns in Scotland about the previous draft constitution and the inclusion of the common fisheries policy as an exclusive competence? Will he continue the recent discussions between the UK and Scottish Governments to ensure the appropriate IGC conclusions for all the nations of the UK and the European Union?
Mr. Murphy: I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has raised that point, because, as he knows, we have signed a memorandum of understanding with the devolved Administrations to ensure that, where possible, we have a coherent approach across the United Kingdom. I look forward to discussing the precise details with him.
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): I shall be campaigning strongly for a referendum and believe that my view is shared by millions of Labour supporters and trade unionists throughout Britain. My hon. Friend has talked about making the European Union more transparent and more democratic, yet the European Council meets in secret, has no minutes and simply adopts conclusions drawn up by bureaucrats. Is my hon. Friend going to try to make the European Council more democratic?
Mr. Murphy: I could not hear every detail of my hon. Friends comments, such is the attraction of our conversation about the European treatythis statement is so popular, that the House is becoming busier with every passing question. I look forward to continuing the dialogue and have not given up all hope of convincing my hon. Friend of the error of his ways.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Given the importance of the red lines to the whole country, will this different Government go to the IGC and say that this country must have an unambiguous veto written in on all those issues, because, as the Minister knows, that is the only way in which to protect those positions?
Mr. Murphy: As I have said, we will not accept any important transfer of sovereignty away from the United Kingdom. The right hon. Gentleman voted against a referendum on Maastricht, which was much more substantial than this treaty. I can do no more than quote him:
If we sign the Amsterdam Treaty, we will abolish our country.
Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): May I ask the Minister again about the charter of fundamental rights? Ten days ago, Margot Wallström, the vice-president of the European Commission, appeared before the European Scrutiny Committee, where on our opt-out on the charter of fundamental rights she said:
normally the opt-outs are respectedbut I will not prejudge or speculate on what the Court of Justice will decide on fundamental rights and how this is applied throughout the European Union.
the Charter does not extend the ability of the Court of Justice, or any court or tribunal of the United Kingdom, to find that the laws, regulations or administrative provisions, practices or action of the United Kingdom are inconsistent with the fundamental rights, freedoms and principles that it reaffirms.
In my three weeks in this job, I have learned an entirely new vocabularysome would say a different languagebut the important protections and rights that the UK enjoys are very clear in any language.