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21 Jan 2008 : Column 1242

Several hon. Members rose

David Miliband: I am happy to give way to the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer).

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Would not the Government be in a much stronger position to defend a treaty to which many of us find no objection in general if they had not promised a referendum, yet are now denying it? Is not the real issue that people in Britain who favour the treaty believe that the Government have gone back on their word?

David Miliband: The real issue is the content of the treaty; and in its structure and consequence, as well as its content, it is different from the constitution and does not meet the bar of whether it constitutes fundamental constitutional change.

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): May I ask the Foreign Secretary to answer one simple question? He has listed many people who are for this treaty, but the Governments of Scotland and of Northern Ireland are not for it. Surely they should be listened to in this united Parliament.

David Miliband: Every right hon. and hon. Member should be listened to on this issue in this Parliament. This is the United Kingdom Parliament and it is the United Kingdom that negotiates on treaty matters.

Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): My right hon. Friend was absolutely right to point out that voluntary organisations support the treaty. Is it not the case that with this treaty comes a recognition for the first time of the relationship between European institutions and civil society across Europe, in that article 8 provides new opportunities to build on the work we are doing to empower civil society in this country, enabling us to work towards the European compact for civil society?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend makes an important point, which speaks directly to the fact that this treaty brings practical benefits.

Several hon. Members rose

David Miliband: I happily give way to a former Minister for Europe.

Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North) (Lab): When all the politics is cut aside, is it not clear that the main difference between the constitution and this treaty, which has been recognised by other EU countries, is that the constitution brought together previous treaties and bound them as a document, which would then have been amendable as the constitution of the EU; whereas this treaty is in exactly the same legal position as previous treaties such as Amsterdam and Nice and has much less of a radical impact than the Maastricht treaty?

David Miliband: When I say, as my hon. Friend does, that the treaty is different in structure, it is because the proposed constitution was legally unprecedented: it abolished all previous European treaties and refounded
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the European Union. This treaty, like the four previous treaties, amends the original founding document of the European Union.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): If this treaty is such a marvellous thing for this country, why will the Secretary of State not have the courage of his convictions and put it to the British people? Does he think that the British public are too thick to understand its benefits, or is he just scared of being rumbled, because they know that it gives away so many powers to the European Union?

David Miliband: We have heard the authentic voice of the modern Tory party. The hon. Gentleman is a leading member of the Better Off Out campaign, and we know what it wants: to get us out of the European Union totally.

Several hon. Members rose

David Miliband: I shall give way for the last time to the former Foreign Secretary.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman has said now on two occasions that the only basis for a referendum would be that fundamental constitutional changes were proposed. He must be aware that when the former Prime Minister Tony Blair announced a referendum in 2004, at no time did he cite as the basis for his decision the fact that what was before us was a constitution. He said to the House that when Parliament had discussed the matter, we should let the people have their say. If the Foreign Secretary is resting on the opinion of the bench of bishops and the NSPCC, is it not also appropriate that the people have their say?

David Miliband: The former Prime Minister addressed the matter directly in his statement from the Dispatch Box, when he said that the constitution did not constitute fundamental constitutional change. A bit like the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), he had the idea that we should “clear the air”. No doubt historians will debate the wisdom or otherwise of that for many years to come. There was absolute clarity, however, that the constitution did not constitute fundamental constitutional change.

Several hon. Members rose

David Miliband: I must make progress, but I shall try to give way to right hon. and hon. Members in due course.

The wide coalition behind the treaty is relevant. The Leader of the Opposition said in 2007 that he wanted to

Where does that stand now? We know the truth. His crusade against the treaty is a shared project with Sinn Fein, assorted fringe communist parties and the Dutch Animals party. That is the extent of the shared interests.

The Leader of the Opposition is not leading his party to government, or building an alliance of shared
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interests. He is leading it into the wilderness, to follow the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash).

Several hon. Members rose

David Miliband: I will make some progress. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In view of the contempt with which the Foreign Secretary is treating the House with this appalling speech, will you adjourn the House so that he can go and write a proper one?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The House will understand if I say that that is a matter for debate rather than a matter for the Chair.

David Miliband: Let me go through the clauses of the Bill. [Interruption.] I will be happy to give way later.

Clause 1 defines the Lisbon treaty. Clause 2 amends the European Communities Act 1972, which gives EU treaties legal effect in the UK, to include the Lisbon treaty. We gave effect to the four previous treaties governing our role in the European Union in exactly the same way.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): Will the Secretary of State give way?

David Miliband: No, I will be happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman later.

Clause 3 clarifies the terminology relating to the European Union. Clause 4 provides for consequential changes in the European Parliament. Clause 5 provides that no future amending treaty is to be ratified by the United Kingdom unless it has been approved by an Act of Parliament. Clause 6, for the first time, gives Parliament the power to veto amending measures, covering any move to qualified majority voting, co-decision and the so-called simplified revision procedure—the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), and which I want to cover. The so-called passerelles are provisions in the treaty allowing for amendment without an intergovernmental conference. They have been around since Margaret Thatcher’s Single European Act. It is not just the case that changes can come into force only if they are agreed by all Governments; this is the first time that Parliament has been given power to veto their use.

Clause 7 is the short title of the Bill. Clause 8 provides for the commencement of its provisions. That creates, as requested by both Select Committees, a parliamentary hook for an amendment calling for a referendum on the treaty and a debate and vote in the House on the issue.

Today’s debate provides an opportunity to discuss the principles and content of the Bill and the treaty, and it is to the details of the treaty that I now wish to turn.

Several hon. Members rose

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David Miliband: I said that I would give way to the hon. Member for Stone, and I am happy to do so.

Mr. Cash: The Foreign Secretary says that there is no fundamental change. How can he claim that there is no fundamental change in the structure of the United Kingdom in relation to the European Union by virtue of the Bill and this treaty? It is absolutely clear from the Government’s own statement that there is a merger of the existing treaties, the abolition of the European Community in favour of a European Union and a legal personality, and that the structure of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union is absolutely and totally changed by virtue of these proposals.

David Miliband: There is simply no credibility in the suggestion that with the continued separate treaty for foreign policy, this treaty abolishes the United Kingdom’s ability to be a sovereign country. I can tell the hon. Gentleman—and I will go through this in detail—that in structure, in content and in consequence, it is certainly not a bigger change in the relationship between Britain and the European Union than was Maastricht or the Single European Act.

Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab): A moment ago, the Foreign Secretary mentioned the changes to qualified majority voting in the treaty. Will he tell us whether he considers those changes to be in the United Kingdom’s national interests?

David Miliband: I certainly will. In respect of development, energy liberalisation and development aid, this is precisely the sort of change that we need in order to get things done in the European Union. It is in the British national interest, rather than contrary to it.

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

David Miliband: I will give way to the former foreign affairs spokesman.

Mr. Maples: The question in which people are interested is whether there should be a referendum or not. The only excuse that the Foreign Secretary and the Government have for not holding a referendum is that this treaty is in some way fundamentally different from the constitution. However, a report by the European Scrutiny Committee stated

—this one—

that were in the constitution apart from the symbols, referring, I think, to the flag and the “Ode to Joy”. Was the Scrutiny Committee wrong? If it was not, the Foreign Secretary is not being straight with the House.

David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman has quoted a very partial part— [Interruption.] The European Scrutiny Committee did not say that it was only in the matter of symbols that there were differences. In terms of structure, content and consequences, this is a fundamentally different treaty, and it certainly does not meet the bar of fundamental constitutional reform.

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Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): May I give the Foreign Secretary a quotation that he may recognise? It comes from the architect of the European Union constitution, Giscard d’Estaing, who said:

Was d’Estaing telling lies when he said that?

David Miliband: Listen to what Giscard d’Estaing—the same former president—said five days ago. He said:

from the constitutional treaty. There is no way in which to pray in aid Mr. Giscard d’Estaing.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con): Does the Foreign Secretary not accept that he could save himself all this theological nonsense of trying to claim that the present treaty is different from the former treaty if he would accept that his own genuine view is that the last Prime Minister made a mistake when he came along and told us all, to our complete surprise, that he was going to have a referendum on the treaty that he then had? The then Prime Minister did not really believe in referendums on such subjects, and I am sure that the present Foreign Secretary was as amazed as I was to hear the Prime Minister’s statement. If he would only admit that the referendum should never have been offered in the first place, he could save himself this arcane and ridiculous argument, rather than trying to demonstrate that this is a different document, in fundamental terms, from the one that we had before.

David Miliband: As one who was a junior Minister toiling in the Department for Education and Skills at the time, I can certainly confirm that it came as a surprise and a shock to me to learn of the new decision. I certainly agree that there was no way on the basis of its constitutional significance that it merited the decision that was taken.

Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend accept that the European Scrutiny Committee report and the original words that Giscard d’Estaing issued did not—as the current Committee has recently reflected—take into account the fact that the opt-outs and protocols have made a significant difference to the decisions that we in this House take on the treaty compared with the 26 other European countries who are seeking to ratify it?

David Miliband: My right hon. Friend makes an important point. This is a different treaty for Britain than it is for other countries in Europe. That is why Giscard d’Estaing talks about the “special status” of the treaty in the United Kingdom.

I shall now make some progress, but I may well give way later, depending on how far we get.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con) rose—

David Miliband: I shall certainly try to bring in the right hon. Gentleman later.

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