|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Frank Field:
Perhaps it will help the Liberals to nail their colours to the mast if I say that their proposal is rather a good idea. Voters in my area are certainly able to take a referendum with two questions. The first would be on whether they wanted to leave the European Union, and my guess is that overwhelmingly, they would,
say no. The second would be on whether they wanted the treaty or constitution, and my guess is that they would say no to that, too.
Mr. Hague: It will be hugely cheering for the Liberal Democrat party that somebody somewhere agrees with part of its approach, but that is not a sufficient reason for allowing their policy to be pursued in our proceedings on the treaty. It is certainly our positionand, I think, the right hon. Gentlemans positionthat we want to be in the European Union, but we do not want to be taken over by its institutions.
Mr. Blunkett: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Hague: I must make some progress in a minute, but of course I give way to the right hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Blunkett: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for a very entertaining speech, but surely any Opposition party that aspires to government must answer the following question: given the change that took place following the defeat of the constitution by the French and Dutch voters, and the subsequent return to the table, which led to the protocols and opt-outs negotiated by the Government, what is it that the right hon. Gentleman believes he could achieve through the defeat of the treaty in a referendum, which would lead to our turning to the other 26 European Governments and asking them for something that he has not identified?
Mr. Hague: The right hon. Gentleman gives me the cue to carry on with my analysis of the treaty and the Bill, because I want to consider the question of what was changed after the defeat in the French and Dutch referendums. On that occasion, there was one friend of the people of France and Holland who was not given an opportunity to say no, if it wished to do so: Britain should have been given its opportunity to say yes or no.
The Foreign Secretary regularly parrots the only defence available to the Government, which is that the constitutional concept has been abandoned, and that there has been fundamental change. However, he omitted to mention that paragraphs 1, 4 and 18 of the mandate for the treaty set out how almost the entire contents of the draft constitution are to be brought about by changes to existing treaties.
Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Hague: No, I must proceed, in fairness to the rest of the House, at least for a little while.
It is surprising that Ministers continue to repeat that line, when the European Scrutiny Committee told them in its report:
we do not consider that references to abandoning a constitutional concept...are helpful and consider that they are even likely to be misleading in so far as they might suggest the Reform Treaty is of lesser significance than the Constitutional Treaty.
As Giscard d'Estaing, who has already been quoted, put it in June,
public opinion will be led to adopt, without knowing it, the proposals that we dare not present to them directly.
all the earlier proposals will be in the new text, but will be hidden and disguised in some way.
Perhaps the most disarmingly honest description of what had happened came in that same month from the Belgian Foreign Minister, who said:
The aim of the Constitutional treaty was to be more readable; the aim of this treaty is to be unreadable...The Constitution aimed to be clear, whereas this treaty had to be unclear. It is a success.
Dishonest as the process has been, other European Governments have at least been honest about the outcome. Not so the Government of the United Kingdom, who have persisted in the argument that the treaty is fundamentally different from the constitution. How could an impartial observer assess whether they are fundamentally different or substantially the same? The obvious way is to read the articles of the reform treaty and compare them to those of the constitutiona process undertaken by both the European Scrutiny Committee and the pressure group Open Europe. Both studies demonstrate that the vast majority of the provisions of the constitution are replicated, often word for word, in the reform treaty. According to one count, 240 of the 250 provisions of the constitution are repeated and restored.
All along, the Government have been unwilling to be frank with Parliament about the process and the outcome. Ministers maintained until the middle of June that
nothing that you could really call negotiations have taken place,
even though we now know that the negotiating sherpas met on 24 January, 2 May and 15 May. Perhaps the Foreign Office officials who went along were just there as tourists. For all the effect they had on the outcome, they might as well have been.
The criticism levelled at the Governments handling of Parliament has been exceptional. The Foreign Affairs Committee found that the 2007 intergovernmental conference mandate was agreed with little scope for UK public or parliamentary debate and engagement. That sets an unfortunate precedent, and is damaging to the credibility of the institutional reform process. The European Scrutiny Committeewe are talking about Committees with a Labour majorityreported that the
process could not have been better designed to marginalise the role of national parliaments and to curtail public debate.
The story of the Government in the evolution of the treaty has been one of dissembling and deceit. They set out deliberately to break a firm election promise, denied Parliament and the public information about negotiations that were taking place, and refused to publish information that would help Parliament to come to an informed decision.
Mr. Cash: Would my right hon. Friend be interested to know that, as I understand it, the legal adviser to the Foreign Office who gave evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee only last month has apparently now been appointed legal adviser to the European Union Committee in the House of Lords?
Mr. Hague: That just shows that the Government have a case to answer. The implications of what my hon. Friend says will be far-reaching.
The process of sustained deception has left us with a treaty with three principal failings. The first is that it is not necessary. A recent study by the London School of Economics concluded that
the business as usual picture
is more convincing than the gridlock picture.
The French Europe Minister recently admitted that
the thing that has most struck me since I took up this job seven months ago is precisely the capacity of an EU of 27 members, and more one day, to take decisions.
The expansion of the EU to 27 members seems to have resulted in a greater readiness to reach consensus, and a decline in the use of the veto. The wholly welcome agreement on climate change last spring is an outstanding example. That the European Union can achieve a great deal by working together on such issues, and by pushing forward a free and genuine single market, is not in doubt. That makes it all the more extraordinary that one of the first aspects of the treaty agreed last June was the downgrading of the EUs long-standing commitment to undistorted competition. That change was secured by the French Government, with British Ministers apparently asleep at the wheel, although a protocol was hastily added to the treaty reaffirming the objective of free competition.
European lawyers have been in no doubt about the implications, saying that
the excision of the competition principle from the front of the Treaty is a likely to have a number of damaging consequences for EC competition law.
As far as we know, no effort has been made by the Government to restore undistorted competition to its rightful position in the objectives of the Union. It is a sad hallmark of the treaty that its provisions result from British Ministers having things done to them, rather than driven by them. The Foreign Secretary has said that the Conservative party is almost alone, apart from the Dutch Animals party, in its opposition to the treaty. We are not: vast tracts of provisions in the treaty have for many years been opposed by the Government themselves. As recently as June, they fought desperately to stop the EU high representative taking the chair at meetings of EU Foreign Ministers, but a provision for such chairmanship is in the treaty.
When it was first proposed that EU member states on the UN Security Council should be obliged to ask the high representative to speak for the whole EU when there is a common position, the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), when he was the Foreign Office Minister representing the Government, asked for the entire provision to be struck out. However, it is in the treaty. Ministers argued against the creation of an EU diplomatic service, but now it is there. They argued against the self-amending nature of the treaty, but then gave in; they opposed the election of the President of the Commission by the European Parliament, but then capitulated; they tried to prevent employment, public health, consumer protection and transport networks becoming shared competencies with the EU, but they failed. They said they were
firmly opposed to establishing an European Public Prosecutor,
but that function is now in the treaty; they insisted that the EU not be given an explicit legal personality, but it is now to be given such a personality; they said that qualified majority voting on proposals made by the European Foreign Minister was simply unacceptable, but QMV is now there. They objected to the article on the common Union defence policy, but then agreed to it; they opposed the EU having the power to set minimum criminal penalties, but then gave in; they said they would not accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice over the third pillar area of justice and home affairs, but they capitulated on that as well. That is not even an exhaustive list. The Governments motto as the treaty has been created is, Anything for a quiet life, and never mind the national interest.
Hugh Bayley: Because of the nature of interventions, I cannot pick out more than one of the right hon. Gentlemans examplesbut why is he so opposed to the single legal identity? It is not a badge of statehoodeven the Universal Postal Union has a single legal identity, and the EU already has such an identityso what is the nature of his complaint?
Mr. Hague: The former Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, stood at the Dispatch Box and told the House of Commons that at his insistence, the question of a legal personality for the EU had been removed from earlier negotiations. He felt so strongly about the issue that the Government eventually went with the flow of the argument in Europe, rather than stick up for their view.
Let me move on, given the passage of time. Our next principal objection to the treaty is that it damages the British national interest and weakens democracy by setting up a process of continuing integration beyond the control of the electorate. When Ministers say they are happy to sign the treaty but are opposed to any further political integration after that, they are merely continuing the habit of deception that I detailed earlier. The whole point of the treaty is to create a process of further integration, not to bring a stop to it. As the Italian Prime Minister, Romano Prodi, put it:
As long as we have more or less a European Prime Minister and a European Foreign Minister then we can give them almost any title.
That is how many other countries see the treaty, but it is not how it is described by the Government. The creation of a permanent President of the European Council, elected for two and a half years at a time by majority voting, is a major constitutional innovation in the European Union, and is intended as such. We are all conscious in this Parliament, or we should be, of the way in which the job of First Lord of the Treasury evolved in Britain, steadily developing a grip over Cabinet Departments previously independent of it, and developing into the post of Prime Minister.
The creation of that job took many yearsand the present Prime Minister probably feels that it took almost as long to get round to his turn to hold it. To see how the post of a permanent President of the European Council could evolve is not difficult even for the humblest student of politics, and it is, of course, rumoured that one Tony Blair may be interested in the job. If that prospect makes us uncomfortable on the Conservative Benches, just imagine how it will be viewed in Downing street! I must warn Ministers that having tangled with
Tony Blair across the Dispatch Box on hundreds of occasions, I know his mind almost as well as they do. I can tell them that when he goes off to a major political conference of a centre-right party and refers to himself as a socialist, he is on manoeuvres, and is busily building coalitions as only he can.
We can all picture the scene at a European Council sometime next year. Picture the face of our poor Prime Minister as the name Blair is nominated by one President and Prime Minister after another: the look of utter gloom on his face at the nauseating, glutinous praise oozing from every Head of Government, the rapid revelation of a majority view, agreed behind closed doors when he, as usual, was excluded. Never would he more regret no longer being in possession of a veto: the famous dropped jaw almost hitting the table, as he realises there is no option but to join in. Then the awful moment when the motorcade of the President of Europe sweeps into Downing street. The gritted teeth and bitten nails: the Prime Minister emerges from his door with a smile of intolerable anguish; the choking sensation as the words, Mr President, are forced from his mouth. And then, once in the Cabinet room, the melodrama of, When will you hand over to me? all over again.
There is, of course, a serious point to be made. Occupied by someone with the political skill of our former Prime Minister, that post would become, in not so many years, a far more substantial one than the Government pretend. The President would be seen as the president of Europe by the rest of the world, with the role of national Governments steadily reduced and the role of national democracy and accountability steadily weakened. The naivety of Ministers, who think that by signing the treaty they are agreeing to a static constitutional position, is alarming in people with such senior responsibilities. Ah, they say, look at the enhanced role of national Parliaments set out in the treaty. If a majority in half the Parliaments in the EU object to an EU measure, they might be able to block it.
Again, it does not take much political analysis to work out that the chances of that mechanism being employed on any regular basis are vanishingly small. It could be used only if 14 different national Parliaments, nearly all of which have a Government majority, defeated an EU proposal, and did so within an eight-week period. We have only to consider that for a moment, as Members of Parliament, to begin to laugh about it. Given the difficulty of Oppositions winning a vote in their Parliaments, the odds against doing so in 14 countries around Europe with different parliamentary recesseslasting up to 10 weeks in our own caseare such that even if the European Commission proposed the slaughter of the first-born it would be difficult to achieve such a remarkable conjunction of parliamentary votes.
The last defence of Ministers on the treaty is that they have achieved the defence of their red lines. As the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, has judged, the red lines leak like a sieve. The red lines will be much debated over the coming weeks, but the central fact to remember about them is that the Government claimed to have achieved exactly the same red lines when they signed the European constitution and proposed a referendum.
That brings me back to our strongest objection of all to the Bill. The Governments contention that the treaty is so different from the European constitution that they are relieved of their promise to hold a referendum is shared by few independent observers, and not even by the members of their own party who have given the most time and commitment to the process. As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) explained to the Prime MinisterI hope that I shall not embarrass her by quoting her:
sticking to your guns in defence of a patently dishonest position is not leadership, but the soft option, and a cop-out from a specific promise made to voters.
Whatever the niceties of the argument, by no stretch of the imagination is the treaty so different from the constitution as to relieve the Government of their promise. Every survey on the subject has shown that the vast majority in our country would like to have their say. In the words of the Belgian Foreign Minister, the Government are banking on the treaty being too unreadable for people to worry about it. However, the treatys constitutional innovations are sufficiently sweeping, and its erosion of our national democracy sufficiently serious, that many of us will have no hesitation not only in voting against it, but in voting for a referendum at every opportunity.
Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Hague: No, I shall not give way any more; I am coming to the end of my speech.
All of us must remember that we have no democratic mandate from the voters to agree to the treaty without their approval. None of us told voters that we would agree to a treaty nearly identical to the constitution and ram it through without their being allowed to have their say on it in an election or a referendum.
If the House voted for such a referendum, it would be a magnificent assertion of honour in politics and trust in the nation. If it fails to do soif it passes the Bill without a referendumit will have connived in the actions of a deceitful and cowardly Government whose actions will have further stained the name and reputation of our politics.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. I remind all right hon. and hon. Members that Mr. Speaker has imposed an eight-minute limit on all Back-Bench speeches.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|