far from being a minor technical adjustment . . . the excision of the competition principle from the front of the Treaty is likely to have a number of damaging consequences for EC competition law. There is a real danger that in future EC competition law will be cribbed, crabbed and confined.
Mr. Hendrick: I thank the shadow Foreign Secretary for giving way. He has given 101 reasons why he is opposed to the treaty. After the treaty is passed by the House and another place [Interruption.] Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that if or when the treaty is passed by this place and another place, and in the strange circumstances in which he might one day be Foreign Secretary, he would hold a referendum on a treaty already passed by the House?
Mr. Hague: I know that Labour Members are showing ever-increasing interest in what happens under a Conservative Government. After the past couple of months, that is not surprising. It has become a far greater likelihood. The background to our approach is what I set out last month, and I will not go further than that today. The hon. Gentleman is asking me to anticipate the Conservative manifesto at the next election. He will find out about that in due course.
Mr. Davidson: I am grateful. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is an inconsistency in the Conservative position? They were opposed to a referendum on Maastricht, and now they are in favour of a referendum on Lisbon. Does he agree that that inconsistency is mirrored by my own party, which was in favour of a referendum on Maastricht and is now against one on Lisbon? Is it not the case that the only consistency is that whichever party is in government is afraid of the voice of the people, that only a few brave souls like myself have been consistently in favour of a referendum, and that on this issue the Government do not have even a single leg to stand on?
We all wish to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his bravery and on being wiser and more consistent than almost anyone else in the House. That is to be lauded, but the consistency that is required is that
when a party solemnly promises a referendum to the people in a general election campaign, and then wins that general election, it should honour the promise to hold a referendum.
The Foreign Secretary referred to the possibility he thought it was a dark plot of some kind [Interruption.]he thought that I thought it was a dark plotthat the positions of President of the Council and President of the Commission might be combined. As he knows from my recent letter to him, the Governments White Paper on the IGC of July stated that the posts of President of the European Commission and the new post of President of the European Council could not be held by the same person.
The post of the new EU President of the Council is bad enough. Instead of nation states taking it in turns to chair meetings, a single, central powerful figure would be in charge of the EUs agenda. The danger if that were combined with presidency of the Commission is obvious.
The Foreign Secretary wrote back to my recent letter to claim that the article forbidding members of the Commission holding any other occupation would prevent such an outcome. He did not use that exact word in the debate today, but the wording is that they cannot hold another occupation, but of course an occupation is not the same as an office. The Secretary of State for Defence holds another office, but he does not hold another occupation.
It should be noted that the High Representative or Foreign Minister of the Union will be a member of the Commission, so saying that the treaty precludes members of the Commission from holding any other office in the European Union does not seem to hold water. However, if the Foreign Secretary wishes to give the House the categoric view for the future that that is impossible under the treaty, we will be grateful to receive that assurance.
David Miliband: As I said in my speech and in my reply to the right hon. Gentleman, which sadly did not get as much coverage as his original letter to me, despite my request to him to give it such publicity, article 213the number may be changedis categorical that the two posts cannot be combined. A man or woman holding a post in the Commission cannot have another post.
Mr. Hague: What the treaty says is that they cannot hold another occupation. The Foreign Secretary did not quite give the reassurance that I asked for. When I have discussed the matter with Foreign Ministers of some other European nations, their interpretation is not the one that he has given.
It is worth remembering that no one in the House has any democratic mandate from the British people to agree to the treaty. All three main parties stood on manifestos promising the British people a referendum on the constitution. No ones manifesto said that there would be a referendum on the EU constitution, but if another country voted no in their referendum the British referendum would be scrapped, the Constitution would be given a new name and a few tweaks, and the treaty would be shoved through without the British people being given any say on it at all. But that is the extraordinary thing that Ministers are proposing.
The whole story of the treaty has been of the Governments failure of leadership, in Europe and in Britain. If Ministers are to be believed, they never wanted the constitution or the treaty. They were defeated time and again in the negotiations. Of the 275 amendments that the Government tried to make to the original constitution text, only 27 were accepted. Now they have accepted a treaty that practically the whole of Europe agrees is only cosmetically different from the constitution, and which they dare not put to the British people.
Everyone knows what the Government are up to. No one seriously believes that the treaty is significantly different from the constitution. Some, like the constitutions chief draftsman, about whom the Foreign Secretary was rather dismissive earlier, Valéry Giscard dEstaing, cannot stop pointing that out. After the October summit he told European newspapers that
the difference ... is one of approach, rather than content.
you wouldnt be honest to tell the British voters the substance of the text has changed because the substance has not changed.
essential points ... reappear word for word in the new project. Not a comma has changed!
Everyone knows what is really going on. No impartial commentator thinks that the Government are up to anything other than a cynical and calculated manoeuvre to avoid holding a referendum. Ministers have neither the courage to fight an election, nor the courage and honour to keep their own promise of a referendum. Once again they are happy to treat the people of this country like fools, and the British people deserve better than that. Trust and confidence in the Government are draining away. There remains one notable way for the Prime Minister to repair some of the damageto honour his promise of a referendum. We will see if he has the courage to admit that he was wrong, act like a statesman and give the British people the chance to have the say that we all promised them.
Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab):
In one way I am disappointed that we are having another general debate on European affairs and not being given a full debate on the reform treaty. I believe that there is a technical term for thisit is not one that I knew before I came to Parliamentand that is frit. The Government are frit to have a debate on the issue
that really is at this moment at the heart of Europe. We have a term for it in Scotland, which the Minister for Europe will recognise, and that is feart. I cannot understand why the Government are in that position: it is clear that a reform treaty debate would have allowed the Government and people such as myself who have looked at the treaty to talk about its contents and structure, but again to argue on the front foot for a European treaty that takes us where that treaty will take us. We could agree on what the treaty will do, and still debate whether it is a good or a bad thing. But in the context of a general debate on European affairs, it becomes somewhat lost.
However, at least we are having a debate on European affairs, and I make no apology to the House for raising an issue that is not the reform treaty as my first point today. We should have debates such as this on general matters going to the European Council, but we should also have had a formal debate, as the Lords were brave enough to do on the reform treaty.
The issue that I wish to raise first is the working time directive and the temporary agency workers directive, which will be reported to the European Council as a failure. This was a chance for the working people of Europe to see advances in their terms and conditions of employment and for protection to be brought in for the poorest and most exploited workers in Europe. In my analysis as a Labour party member, the UK Government are found wanting on the working time directive. We did not want the abolition of the opt-out after three years, as originally proposed, and we did not want to have an absolute cap on the working week of 55 hours, but negotiations broke down in 2006. The matter came back to the Portuguese presidency on 5 December with the proposal that there be no expiry date for the opt-out, which would have been beneficial to the Government and possibly to the Opposition, who have not been to the fore defending workers rights either when they were in government or in opposition. But there would be an absolute cap on the working week of 60 hours, which is a long week for anyone to work, but is a regular working period for many in the poorest sections of our community, in the hospitality industry and elsewhere in Britain. So there was no agreement on that, and that is disappointing.
With regard to the temporary agency workers directive, the Lisbon agenda said that there would be freedom and liberalisation of the markets and in the private sector, and there would also be liberalisation of labour markets. We have exploited that and used it to our advantage, and we have low unemployment because of it. The problem, however, is that people who work in agencies, not just under gangmasters but for any agency, find that they do not have the same terms and conditions of employment as people working alongside them. The worst example is in the telecoms industry, where members of the union of which I am the secretary in the Housealthough not a member of because I took that interest on from my predecessor who was a postmantells me that people from agencies working alongside its members in call centres have not had a pay rise in five years, whereas those who work on a proper contract with an employer, whether it be an agency, BT or other call centre organisations, have regularly negotiated wage rises and all the other benefits that come with that.
There was a proposal that we should bring the measure in for everyone, and we have seen the negative effect of not doing so. We have seen people coming by invitation, particularly from the A8 countries, to join our work force, and being offered agency work status, and then British workers being told that if they wished to work in a certain place of employment they would be made redundant but could then join the agency under the same terms and conditions of employment as those people coming into the country, without the benefits of organised trade unions. Winston Churchill said that without the minimum wage bad employers undermine good employers, and the worst employers undermine the bad employers. That is what is happening in this country at the moment because we do not have the temporary agency workers directive.
Mr. Cash: Does the hon. Gentleman know that today, in the case of the International Transport Workers Federation, the European Court of Justice has made a ruling which it is said extends or moves into the right to strike? Does he not recognise that that is one of the contentious issues within the charter of fundamental rights, and it demonstrates everything that we have said in the European Scrutiny Committee report, namely that the charter of fundamental rights cannot be guarantee in relation to the ECJ?
Michael Connarty: I will come back to the charter of fundamental rights, because there are lessons there for the trade union movement. I will also have some comments to make that may be read by senior members of the trade unions who appear not to be listening to any other avenue through which I have spoken to them about the charter of fundamental rights, despite my long history of trade union membership, and some leadership positions in trade unions in Scotland.
The temporary agency workers directive would have required employers to give agency workers equal treatment and created a framework for the use of temporary workers that would be conducive to job creation and contribute to the development of flexible working. That is what the Lisbon agenda said about the need for such a directive.
The great problem was how long it would take for the EU Governments to implement the directive. The derogation asked for by the UK Government was five years. The UK also wanted one of the longest periods for a sunrise clause. Temporary agency workers would have to work for 12 months before they had these rights. Other proposals, including that of the Portuguese Government, whose people have been exploited on entering the EU, were for six weeks.
Instead of a compromise on those two directives, which were taken together, both being for the good of workers, no agreement could be reached. I believe that there was a blocking minority of the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Irelandall countries on the plus side of employmentthe ones with booming economies whose people do not have to travel outside their own countries for employment. That was a great disappointment to me. The TUC said:
This is a bad day for working people throughout Europe.
I will come back later to why I think the TUCs decision on the treaty, particularly based upon its analysis of the charter of fundamental rights, was also a bad day for working people throughout Europe.
I do not speak today as the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee; I hope to take a wider view. Of the EU reform treaty Bill referred to in the Queens Speech, it has been said that Parliament would have full opportunity to scrutinise the treaty in detailnot yet, it would appear, but that was the promisethat the treaty would move the European debate on from inward-looking institutional questions to focus on real issues that actually matter to the people who live in the member states, and that the treaty would set in place a series of sensible institutional changes to help make the EU of 27 member states work more effectively.
The treaty will do a number of those things. It was important to get an institutional change that allowed us to move from pre-Nice to post-Nice to the position where we had 27 Members. That is encapsulated in the treaty; it is fundamental, and I do not think that anyone would disagree about it. Whether it had to be contained in this treaty is probably a major issue. Will it move us to the point where we will focus on real issues?
Every week the European Scrutiny Committee deals with matters that the Minister for Europe is discussing with his colleagues, and matters that other MinistersTransport Ministers and Environment Ministersare discussing with their colleagues. Every week we produce a hard-bound report of all the briefs that we consider, although I am sorry to say that those reports do not get much attention. Sometimes we send them for debate; we are trying to sort out the structure for the European Standing Committees so that the debates are back on the agendas of the private sector and civil society of this country. Just last week I spoke to a group of business people through the Industry and Parliament Trust. They said, We no longer know who to write to. We no longer know who is on the Committees or who we should send our briefs to, because of the collapse of the scrutiny process.
The problem with the treaty is that it will be a festering sore until the Government lance the boil. They could have started that process with a debate on the reform treaty. We could have got beyond the institutional structures and argued, as I may later, that having some of the changes opposed by the Opposition, such as qualified majority voting on different areas, and accepting that the European Court of Justice and the Commission will be given final jurisdiction over the implementation of European laws, will have the benefit of those laws being implemented throughout Europenot being denied by any part of Europe, but being available to all our businesses and citizens and all citizens of Europe when they come to this country. However, we will never get beyond certain issues because the Government appear to be hiding among a maze of red lines and superstructures that they have constructed above them. That is a great disappointment.
Mrs. Dunwoody: If my hon. Friends Committee had the power to table an amendment to the papers that it considered and to have that voted on to get a resolution capable of being referred to the Floor of the House, that would solve a great many problemsnot only from his point of view, but in respect of monitoring what happens in our name in the European Union.
Michael Connarty: I cannot think of a stronger advocate for more powers for the Committee. At the moment, the Government and their Ministers just see us as a bit of an annoyance. We have been crawling all over them and doing our job properly and that can sometimes be tedious. Someone said to me recently, Im fed up with writing you letters. I should say that it was said jovially, but underneath it there was a bit of truth. We do not apologise for that or anything that enhances scrutiny. I shall come later to questions of how to deal with the opting-in process; that must be discussed on the Floor of the House if the process is to have any credibility.
Let us look at the Lisbon treaty from the perspective of the European Parliaments Constitutional Affairs Committees report on it. First, there was the statement made at the conference on the future of Europe that I attended last week: let us accept the fact that 95 per cent. of European laws and decisions will be made under the European co-decision making process. That will give the European Parliament a say and the power to amend in 95 per cent. of cases. That is a fundamental, massive change, and I might argue positively for it. The one thing that used to worry me about Europe was that it involved a Commission and a group of bureaucrats and that there was no democratic say. The Parliament had the right to speak but no right to change, amend and have any power. If the conference statement is a good thing, it should be argued for.