|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
My right hon. Friend makes an important point, because the truth is that the Conservative party is not just isolated in this House; it is isolated
from all the other Conservative parties across Europe, which should give it pause for thought, as some of them have been decidedly more successful.
David Miliband: Because the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) championed the milk industry when I was Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, I shall give way to him.
Daniel Kawczynski: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, that is another issue close to my heart. I understand why he has raised the issue of the Conservative Danish Prime Minister, but he is not comparing apples with apples. Denmark is a very small European country; it is not the fourth largest economy in the world, with a huge military presence. The Secretary of State must not compare Denmark with the United Kingdom; we are a far more important country and we must protect our constitution.
David Miliband: Some people would like us to have a constitution, but whether we have a constitution or not is a separate matter: there is no European constitution. The hon. Gentlemans point about Denmark being small has no relevance at all to how important the treaty is.
Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. Does he not find it peculiar that Opposition Members, and a few on our own side, wish to bypass the decision-making powers of this Parliament, which they were elected to make decisions in, and back-heel a decision about the European reform treaty to the general public?
David Miliband: As I pointed out when we last debated the subject, every single member of the current shadow Cabinet who was a Member in the House in 1992 fought tooth and nail against a referendum on the Maastricht treaty, which transferred far more powers than this treaty. In 1998, furthermore, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) was warning of the dangers to our democracy from referendums [Interruption.]
The reality is that the treaty gives greater voting weight not to Denmark but to the UK. The treaty reduces the size of the Commission, it ends
the rotating presidency of the European Council in favour of a chair chosen by the nation states [Interruption.] Why Opposition Members think that that is a threat to life in Britain I simply do not know. This country is stronger than that.
Ms Gisela Stuart: I have the greatest respect for the Foreign Secretary, but when he says that the greater voting weight is significant, will he also concede that as we are giving away a considerable number of decisions where qualified majority voting has been introduced, we now have a greater share of what is in fact much less and actually quite insignificant?
David Miliband: I reciprocate, in spades, my respect for the hon. Lady [Interruption.]I mean my hon. Friend, my dear friend, but let us go through the moves to QMV. Sixteen of the alleged changes do not apply to the UK, or apply only if we choose to opt in. Twenty offer faster decision-making where the UK wants to see better systems. Let us reflect on them: aid to disaster zones, ending protectionism in transport, protecting British business ideas, strengthening the EUs research and innovation capability. Those are not threats to our constitutional settlement. That leaves 14 purely procedural changes: for example, the operating rules for the judicial appointments panel, how we appoint members of the European Economic and Social Committee, or how we adjust the rules for technical implementation in committees. [Interruption.] They are not shaking their heads, but noddingnot nodding off, I hasten to add. We will have plenty of time to discuss these issues in future.
I was saying that for the first time there is a formal role for national parliaments in the work of the EU. Above all, the European Union will, through this treaty, put to bed institutional restructuring in favour of working to deliver on the priorities of the people of Europe. It is right that we shall look at these matters in detail in the new year. It is right that my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe should spend an awful lot of time answering detailed questions, and that I should do that as well, as we go through the details of the Bill. It is right to check all the finer points, but it is also right to expose the central choice [Interruption.]
This week, the European Council will be dealing with the realities, not the myths, facing our countries. From Kosovo to climate change, from economic reform to Iran, the European Union faces important choices. The Government will be playing a leading role in those debates, and the Prime Minister will report back to the House on Monday on the progress made.
Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): I begin by joining the Foreign Secretary in condemning the bomb attacks in Algeria that we have heard about in recent hours. I also echo what he said about our thoughts being with those who have lost their lives or been injured in those attacks. It may be too early to know who caused them, but the manner and choice of the targets seem to be compatible with the north African branch of al-Qaeda. We will no doubt know more in due course, but I hope that the Foreign Secretary will keep the House informed, particularly about any British citizens who may have been caught up in the events.
I also support what the right hon. Gentleman said about Iran and the importance of discussing it at this weekends Council meeting. There is a need for increased European pressure on Iran over its continuing defiance of UN Security Council resolutions and its enrichment of uranium. Britain and France have called for a stronger European approach and tighter sanctions. That summit is surely an opportunity to try to secure agreement on that.
I also hopelike the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey)that European leaders will reflect on what happened last weekend in relation to Zimbabwe and Robert Mugabes attendance at the European Union-African Union summit. It did the European Union no good at all, and has done nothing to lessen the desperate plight of the people of Zimbabwe. I hope, too, that the long list of foreign affairsglobal affairsthat need to be discussed this week will include the never-ending tragedy of the people of Darfur. The Prime Minister and the President of France have attached great importance to major progress there, but progress is not materialising on the scale that was hoped for earlier this year, and new momentum is required.
There is also the situation in the Balkans, to which the Foreign Secretary referred in some detail both in his speech and in his written statement to the House today. Tension is again high in the area. The Foreign Secretary has indicated, rightly in my view, that Britain will recognise an independent Kosovo, but I hope he will also ensure that any future recognition of Kosovos independence by our Government will be based on a commitment by the Kosovo-Albanian leadership to implement all relevant provisions of the Ahtisaari planhe now indicates his assent to thatparticularly the provisions relating to the status of ethnic minorities in Kosovo.
Daniel Kawczynski: My right hon. Friend mentioned Darfur. When I visited the province last week, we were informed by the United Nations peacekeeping forces that they had not been paid since August. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vital for the European Union to try to ensure that payment is made as quickly as possible?
Mr. Hague: It may well be necessary to raise that issue, and I suspect that the United Nations and the African Union will need to address it, but I think that the prospective size of the peacekeeping force is of greater concern. It was meant to be 26,000-strong, but nothing like that number have come forward so far.
There is a compelling strategic case for enlargement
to the Western Balkans.
I agree with that, but I hopethis relates to the point raised by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant)that the Foreign Secretary will agree with the outgoing war crimes prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, who stated yesterday in her final report that Serbias full co-operation with The Hague tribunal, which means the arrest and transfer of Mladic, should be a condition in the EU pre-accession and accession process.
As for the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which could be affected by developments in Kosovo, we have called for elements of NATOs operational reserve force to be sent to Bosnia as a preventive measure against any spill-over or challenge to the Dayton peace accords. I hope the Government will agree with us that beyond that initial step of shoring it up during these testing times, Bosnia will need international support for much longer, and that the office of the high representative in Sarajevo should not be closed before Bosnia is safely on the path of EU candidacy.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that now that there has at last been agreement about the policing reform in Bosnia, it is important for everyone to try to minimise attempts to unravel the Dayton process, and for there to be as much stability as possible during this difficult time?
Mr. Hague: Indeed. I believe that guiding our thoughts on Bosnia and Kosovo should be an absolute determination not to allow the unravelling of what was agreed at Dayton. There can be no going back to what happened in the Balkans in the 1990s. A measure of firmness is required on the part of European nations, and I hope that that will continue.
Alongside all those compelling global questions, the Houses main preoccupation is, of course, the European treaty that is to be signed this weekend. This debate is traditional, but it is disappointing that the Government have offered no separate debate on the recent report of the European Scrutiny Committee, which resulted in the Committees exceptional decision to exercise its scrutiny reserve on a treaty and to call for a debate specifically on the document before it was signed. The response of Ministers to that request has been to ignore it.
There has been a pattern in the Governments behaviour this year of minimising parliamentary scrutiny on the issue whenever possible. In June, only days before the treaty was agreed in principle, the Foreign Secretarys predecessor was saying that she was not aware of any negotiations, even between other countriesas if the vast document that then emerged came literally out of nowhere, handed down by some great deity of European affairs with no prior discussion with any human beings.
Michael Connarty: I am sorry for interrupting the right hon. Gentlemans flow, but I must correct him on an important point. The document under scrutiny was the Commissions opinion on the intergovernmental conference, which was then added to by the Governments White Paper on the Commissions opinion. The reform treaty, even in draft, has never been presented to us in this House, which is disappointing. We are not scrutinising that, because we have never been given it to look at.
Mr. Hague: I am sure that that is correct, because it comes from the Chairman of the Committee. It is also correct that the Committee called for a debate in this House specifically on its report before the treaty is signed. That, of course, is the point that I was seeking to make.
The Committee regards the refusal of the FCO to provide a Minister to give oral evidence during this crucial phase of the discussions on the future of Europe as a failure of accountability to Parliament.
Mr. Hague: My right hon. Friend makes a good point, because that is highly unusual language from a Select Committee to the Government. It was used against the background to which I was just referring, whereby the Foreign Secretarys predecessor said that no negotiations were taking place. Her actual words when she gave evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee on 7 June were
that nothing that you could really call negotiations have taken place.
Richard Younger-Ross: The question put to the Foreign Secretarys predecessor was put by me, and she was clear that no negotiations or discussions had taken place. Under pressure from the Committee it was later confirmedthis Foreign Secretary has confirmed itthat the Sherpas did meet on 24 January, 2 May and 15 May. The right hon. Lady was clearly trying to avoid any questioning about what might have been discussed at those meetings.
Mr. Hague: Far be it for us to think that the Foreign Secretarys predecessor was trying to avoid questioning about what was going on at those meetings. There are only two possible explanations: either she was trying to avoid questioning or she was not aware that the meetings were taking place. I suspect that the former is correct.
I might be able to help my right hon. Friend on this point. It might have been quite truthful for the previous Foreign Secretary to have told the
House that no negotiations were taking place because the document that emerged has almost entirely the same effect as the one that we are told has been abandoned. So, no negotiations needed to take place because the Government just agreed to everything as it was before.
Mr. Hague: There is a large element of truth in what my hon. Friend says. The sad truth is that the Government agreed to nearly everything that was there before, although negotiations were also taking place. I want to make the point that they were trying to prevent some of the things that have now been encapsulated in the treaty.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): On that very point, would my right hon. Friend also take into account the fact that not only have these proceedings and this process been conducted in a deceitful manner, but the European Scrutiny Committee said, after we had seen the Foreign Secretary, that
we reiterate our earlier comment that the process could not have been better designed to marginalise the role of national parliaments and to curtail public debate?
Mr. Hague: I was going to cite that very passage from that report. It is marvellous of my hon. Friend to provide the service of reading out parts of my speech before I have arrived at them. [Interruption.] It is also quite unusual.
That is not the only example of such treatment of Parliament. On 25 June, when the former Prime Minister came back to sell the treaty in his last two days in office, he managed some remarkably selective quoting. Reading from the protocol on the charter of fundamental rights, to showas he hopedthat there would be no effect on British law, he actually missed out the words Title IV from an otherwise verbatim passage, so as not to betray the fact that the Governments clarification on the charter, whatever that may turn out to be worth, can apply in only one of the areas that it covers.
The Foreign Secretary himself has set a doubtful example in such matters by refusing to list, in response to my written questions, the areas in which the constitution and the reform treaty are exactly the sameeven though other authorities have been willing to do sopresumably because he does not want to concede with his own pen what is a fact: that vast tracts of the constitution have been incorporated as they stood into the reform treaty.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|