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substantial improvement on the existing treaties
a stable and lasting framework
for the work of the EU. The report endorses the treaty and expresses the hope that all member states will ratify it. It states that the treaty will provide more democratic accountability, including greater scrutiny powers for the European Parliament, and that Council meetings will be in public, the new budgetary process will require Council and European Parliament approval, and that future revision of the treaties will be carried out by a convention. That means, of course, that the passerelle clause will be used in a number of cases. All Governments would have to agree unanimously to pass over to qualified majority voting areas of policy that do not use it at the moment.
The report also mentions more rights and clarity for citizensfor example, through the European institutions being bound by the charter of fundamental rights and the European Union acceding to the European convention on human rights. The latter point is important; the EU would suddenly become controlled by the convention. The EU itself has not been, although Governments have. The report also introduces the idea of a European citizens initiative; I heard that debated at length last Monday and Tuesday but still do not know what it means. How would citizens get together so pressurise that great bureaucracy? Last week, I also heard statements again and againincluding from the rapporteur Richard Corbett, of the Party of European Socialists, and a member of the Labour party. He did not think that the yellow and orange cards would be workable; he said that they would never be used, and many echoed that in last weeks debate. So according to European
parliamentarians, those supposedly great powers given to the national Parliaments would never be triggered. That worries me greatly.
Ms Gisela Stuart: Does my hon. Friend accept that the citizens initiative, which as he rightly says is completely unworkable and gives rights to citizens that we do not even give to Parliament, was introduced so that some countries could avoid the need for a referendum? It could be said that the people had a direct voice, even if it did not amount to anything.
Michael Connarty: The dialogue was interesting. Some members, particularly people from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europeand particularly Mr. Duff, who chaired and steered the sitting every way, as long as it was his waysaid that the national Parliaments should focus on telling the European Parliament what they thought, and that it would then try to tell the Commission and the Council. I do not think that that is the role of national Parliaments, which should focus on making their Governments go to the Council and agree the right thing.
Mr. Davidson: May I seek clarification? If in future 95 per cent. of legislation that comes through Brussels will be consulted on with the European Parliament, what percentage of that legislation will be consulted on with this Parliament?
Michael Connarty: That will depend on the Governments attitude to the role of Parliament. When the Government go to the Council, the European Scrutiny Committee is involved, and European Standing Committees can be involved if they can get the interest of Members of Parliament. However, at the moment I do not think there is a mechanism for Parliament to tell the Government what to do. My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) made exactly that point: if resolutions could be tabled and voted on, we might feel that matters of substance were being debated in the House and its Committees.
Michael Connarty: The fluidity of the British constitution is such that what appears to be a system of persuasion and cajoling can be more effective than the concept of mandating. Governments find ways to get round the mandate; we have seen that on a number of occasions in those rigid forums.
Mandating is attractive to people when they are out of office. I cannot imagine having a telephone conversation with a Minister of another party asking me, Is it all right if we agree this? It is difficult enough to get the ear of my own party; getting the ear of an opposing party might be even more difficult.
Let me add the final analysis of the European Parliament report. It said that there would be greater effectiveness in law making and that the number of areas subject to qualified majority voting would be increased. It is clear about that. It said that having a two and a half year standing President would give more coherence, and I agree. It said that there would be
a reduction in the number of Commission members; I hope that everyone would agree with that. It also said that the EU would be able to act as one in external relations and that the pillar structure would be abandoned. That abandonment leads to some of our deep concerns about civil and criminal justice.
I turn now to the fundamental issues. I hope that people will read what we have said in our reports. As I believe that we have shown in the annex to our 35th report, every provision of the constitutional treaty, apart from the flags, mottos and anthems, is to be found in the reform treaty. We think that they are fundamentally the same, and the Government have not produced a table to contradict our position.
The next issue is that of opting in and additional votes. The concept of the opt-in that we have is an odd trap that the Government have set for themselves. When I asked the previous Prime Minister at the Liaison Committee what the four red lines were, and what we would have to do so that we did not have to have a referendum, he referred to the protection of the UKs labour and social legislation and so on, but he used the words
the control of the UKs civil and criminal legal system
Protection of the UKs common law system and the police and judicial process.
It is much more difficult to protect than to control. If we are controlling, all we need to do is to say, Weve got control of it; well give it up tomorrow, or the day after. If we are protecting, we are saying that we do not give it upthat we do not move away from the position that we have at the moment whereby we have opted in, as the Foreign Secretary said in evidence to us, to 70 or 80 areas. We still have final jurisdiction over how the system is applied in the British courts. It is not controlled by the final jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and the Commission, which can take infraction against any country that does not apply ECJ decisions.
In the annex to our third report of Session 2007-08wonderful things, these annexeswe list all the areas that we have already opted into that we were not in originally but we have gradually opted into, but only on condition that our courts will finally judge how they will be applied. We are told in article 10 of protocol 10 that over five years there are 70 or 80 areasI do not know whether they will all be put together in a bundlewhere we will have to make a decision whether to give up the right of the British courts to judge these matters, and opt into them when they are changed into what is now called the Community methodqualified majority voting.
That is a worry that the Government have never clarified. How will it be done? Will some Minister send an explanatory memorandum to our Committee buried in lots of other EMs from the Council, with possibly a debateor 70 or 80 debatesin a European Standing Committee, or will the Government simply go and agree it and then tell us, Sorry, weve done itweve probably broken the scrutiny reserve but we cant do
anything about it because its all signed up to now? I have to say that that does not happen as much now as it used tothe Government are getting better about it.
It is a real worry for us that that process has not been clarified. I asked the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, but we did not get a clear response. Will it be included in the EU reform treaty Bill so that we can decide in Parliament what the procedure would be? The Government are duty bound to give us that right. Every time they want to give up protecting the civil and criminal justice system, as they put it, they must present it to this House. Sometimes I might say that I would like to stay in an area that we have opted intofor example, the European arrest warrant, which worked very well when we got back, within three or four days, one of the people who perpetrated the 7 July bombing.
We have got such people back because we did not have to go through the old process of looking for people to repatriate them to their own countries. That was a very good thing. In that case, we could argue that we should stay in and take the consequences. ECJ jurisdiction will apply, and if anyone breaks that, the Commission will decide to take infraction against them. On other issues, we might decide that we want them to remain within the jurisdiction of the British courts. As we showed, that is also a consequence of articles 62 to 69, which are all new areas that we can choose to opt into. That also applies to every amendment. There have been amendments to previous agreements, and we have had the right to choose whether to opt into them. There are consequences if we do not opt into themmainly that we have to walk away from the agreement altogether.
The Danish Prime Minister decided that it was all right for Denmark because Denmark does not have that problemit is secured. Our third report of the 2007-08 Session shows that the Danish had an agreement whereby if they decided that they did not want to opt in, they would remain with the status quo; the issue would still be under the jurisdiction of the Danish courts and they would not have to walk away. They had an agreement whereby they could keep what they had or choose the new arrangement. We could not understand why our Government did not get the same agreement, and we said so in our report. We are a much bigger country than Denmark, so why did we not have the leverage to say, Well keep what we have, and if we like what you offer well opt into that? I cannot understand that at all; I have never been able to explain it to myself or to my Committee.
The hon. Gentleman is an excellent Chairman of the CommitteeI hope that my saying that does not ruin his progressand he is making some excellent points. Is part of the problem the fact that Ministers do not wish to come to this House for decisions to be made, because they wish to make decisions in smoke-filled rooms so that they can trade off a policy that they wish to see go through against other policies? Did not the former Minister for Europe go as far as saying on the record that they were
even prepared to agree to proposals with a questionable legal basis if they could get something that they wanted in return?
Michael Connarty: That is a factual statement. The previous Minister for Europe, who is now our Chief Whip, has said that that is how deals are done. I do not know whether other Members who were in previous negotiations accepted that that was how Europe worksthat sometimes people give in to something that they are not quite happy with on the basis that they are storing up good will for something coming down the line. That is on the record in one of our evidence sessions, and it was a revelation to me.
The Committee cannot understand why, when the text finally came out following the process of negotiations, it contained the word shall. It said that under article 8, Parliament shall participate in institutions of the European Union. We objected to that and asked why the Government did not negotiate to put in the word may. They said that the French word, contribuant, means that the action is ongoing, but we talked to French Members, who said, No, that means, You will contribute. We understand that France took a strong position on this. They did not want to take out the word shall and put in the word may. The wording now is that Parliaments contribute to or participate in. The legal judgment of our officials is that that will be used by the ECJ to say that the Commission, if it wishes to in future, can take infraction against any Parliament that refuses to participate in any part of the EUs institutions. That is a very negative aspect. We expressed that view to the Government and suggested that they seek that amendment, but they did not secure it. On Monday, I asked President Barroso why we should not insert the word may, and he gave the same interpretation as the Portuguese Foreign Ministerthat the article imposes no obligation on national Parliaments and is purely declaratory in nature. If that is the case, why not put in may?
I apologise for going on for so long, but I want to turn to one final matter before I conclude. When we did not get the agency workers directive, the TUC said that it was a bad day for workers throughout Europe. It was also a bad day when the TUC concluded that the charter of fundamental rights would not be applicable because of the Governments assertion that it was tied up in the agreements, opt-outs and red lines, so working people would not be able to gain in their terms and conditions of employment or in any other matters related to the charter.
I think that the TUC did everyone a great disservice there. I have to ask people in the great unions, such as Tony Woodley of the Transport and General Workers Union or Derek Simpson of Amicusboth sections of Unite, the union of which I am a memberor Mr. Kenny of the GMB, why they did not realise that if they campaigned against the treaty and called for a referendum that led to its defeat, it would be denied to 26 other countries, whose working people and civil society wanted the charter of fundamental rights. I cannot understand a movement of working class solidarity that uses such a technique, and says, If I cant have it, Im taking their ball and going off the park, and you cant play.
I accept what my hon. Friend says, and I understand the thrust of his arguments. However, would he not agree that, just as the Labour party could have
argued for the social chapter even if it was not going to sign up to Maastricht, a country retaining control of what it wants to do could bring in such legislation without having to do so through the mechanisms of the bureaucracy of the European Union, if it needed to?
Michael Connarty: Possibly, because I am not a Eurosceptic. I voted yes in the original referendum on Europe. I had more insight than the Minister for Europe who did not vote. [ Interruption. ] He was too young. On his behalf, and on behalf of future generations, I voted yes, because I believedand still believethat the European project brings more for the people of this country, alongside the other peoples of Europe than it loses. I have absolutely no doubt about that, and I cannot understand a labour and trade union movement so churlish that it spitefully decides it will turn its back on solidarity across Europe because it wants a scrap with the Government,. That was a great disservice to the people, partly because the unions in question did not wait for our report.
The report points out that the charter of fundamental rights will be used again and againI presume that Conservative Members do not like thatby civil society and by working people. They will use other things, such as the agency workers directivewhen we get itand the fully implemented working time directive. The charter will be used alongside those directives to challenge any Government, including this one, or any future Government, who deny people the same rights across Europe.
We are clear in our analysis. The Government have said that this is not an opt-out from the charter of fundamental rights. I hope that the trade unions will realise the great benefits to be gained and will campaign in support of the implementation of the treaty. Even though I have differences of opinion about implementation and about the impact of each section of the red lines, I have no doubt that the treaty should go through the parliamentary process. It is a difficult treaty. It has 150 clauses and it will have a deep and fundamental impact on the people of Britain. We are elected to represent those people, and it is our job to ratify it. I hope that the Government bring forward a full Bill so that we can argue, line by line, for the implementation of the treaty.
Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): First of all, I associate myself with the remarks made by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs at the start of proceedings with regard to the tragedy in Algeria earlier today. Although details are still emerging, it is obvious that it was a very bad incident, and as the right hon. Gentleman said, our thoughts must be with everyonethe families and friends of all those who were killed or injured.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak from the Front Bench in this debate on European affairs, but the House should be aware that my partys shadow Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore), has written to the Foreign Secretary and the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) to explain his absence from his usual place today.
As a proud advocate of internationalism and the European Union, I believe that the UKs role in the EU is vital in securing a stable and successful future for our country and for our prosperity. Self-evidently, we face a world in which more and more challenges have an international dimension. Climate change, terrorism and the international drug trade are just a few of the major international issues that affect the everyday lives of people in the UK. To resolve such problems requires co-operation between nations, and that must be our watchword for the future.
The European Union plays a critical role in combating those evils, as well as in improving the lives of many of our constituents. Unlike some hon. Members, who seem to be avoiding the issue of Europe like the plague at the moment, and others who are unashamed in their hostility toward anything European, I speak for a party that is proudly internationalist and pro-European.
Ms Gisela Stuart: Given that the hon. Gentleman is so proudly internationalist and so proud of his party, is he trying to tell me that all his MPs, including those in the south-east, completely agree with their MEPs, such as Andrew Duff?
Mr. Davidson: As I understand it, the hon. Gentleman is telling us that the Liberal party is supportive of the European Union. Well, hold the front page. May I ask him what the Liberals position is on the question of a referendum? As I understand it, they do not like the idea of a referendum on the constitution or the treaty; they want one on something entirely different. If that idea falls, however, and there is a motion before the House on the question of a referendum on the constitution, or the constitutional treaty, what will the position of the Liberal Democrats be?
As I was saying, I am keen to take a moment or two to look at some of the benefits the EU has brought to Britain over the years. Let us not forget that UK membership of the EU has given us the opportunity to co-operate on tackling cross-border crime, helped to provide strong economic growth and prosperity, helped to make our air cleaner, offered a co-ordinated approach to providing aid to the developing world, helped to make our beaches and rivers cleaner and provided regional development funds for deprived areas in the UK.
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