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6.32 pm

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): I want to confine my remarks entirely to the foreign affairs aspects of the treaty. In the past day, there has been some media comment on the recommendations and conclusions of the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report “Foreign Policy Aspects of the Lisbon Treaty”. I want to place on the record its main recommendations and conclusions, because many of them have not been adequately aired in all the newspaper and other media coverage of the past 24 hours.

The Select Committee’s report is comprehensive and no doubt there will be an opportunity for detailed
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consideration of it when the Bill goes to Committee. However, I want to place on the record the fact that as a Committee we believe that

That is from paragraph 221. Paragraph 118 states:

We also believe that

is there to enact agreed foreign policy and

That comes from paragraph 154.

Daniel Kawczynski: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mike Gapes: No. I have only eight minutes and I want to make some progress.

Paragraph 220 states:

It goes on to say that the new post and service do not


I therefore welcome the fact that today the Foreign Secretary started to make the positive case for the proposals. I personally believe that more should have been done last year, before the intergovernmental conference in June and again before the intergovernmental discussions in October, to explain things to the public and Parliament. The Committee is critical—I do not resile from that—of the fact that we were not in the loop last June, when those issues were under consideration. However, that does not mean that the treaty proposals should be opposed, and I should like to make a number of other points on that.

The Lisbon treaty raises concerns about how the post of high representative for foreign affairs and security policy could work. The Committee wants more information about that as we fear that the relevant individual, whoever they are—whether Mr. Solana or a successor—could face work overload because of the large burdens of foreign policy representation, chairing Council of Ministers meetings and having a role in the Commission. That issue needs to be considered in some detail.

In addition, as has already been mentioned, the Lisbon treaty provides for the high representative to speak at the United Nations Security Council. However, as our report states in paragraph 157, that

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The reshaped role of the President of the European Council has already been mentioned. We believe that that

However, we need more information about how that will work in practice.

There is also the question of how the external action service will work. We believe that it may reduce

and facilitate

We also believe that the service offers the opportunity for

However, we are concerned about how that will work in practice and we want to be sure that British Foreign Office officials seconded to the service see it as a good move in their career development. They should be able to come back to our Foreign and Commonwealth Office and have a proper representative role. We want working for the service to enhance career prospects.

Finally, we believe that

We all want more effective co-operation and co-ordination between the European Union’s 27 member states. However, there has been ambiguity about how the foreign and security policy works because of the role of the Commission. The treaty clarifies that issue: it makes it explicit that the policy is intergovernmental. It moves current Commission staff away from the Commission and puts them under the high representative, who is accountable to the Council of Ministers.

The process is therefore clearly intergovernmental and will work only if very competent people are in those jobs. We need to ensure that high-level people are appointed and that high-level people from our own Foreign and Commonwealth Office play a role in the process. In that way, when the treaty is adopted by the 27 member states next year, and when it begins to come into effect in 2009, we will be sure that British personnel and influence are at the heart of the new European Union foreign and security policy structures—not marginalised as, sadly, they would be if some Members of the House had their way.

6.39 pm

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) and his Committee have given an analysis that confirms that the Lisbon treaty keeps foreign policy on an intergovernmental basis but makes changes to the institutional workings that will enable British foreign policy to be more effective. The hon. Gentleman concentrated on what is actually in the treaty. The Conservatives objected to the speech by the Foreign
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Secretary, who addressed what is actually in the treaty, not the mythical monsters that some Members of this House wish to conjure up. His main argument was that the Lisbon treaty’s prime purpose is to improve how the enlarged European Union works. We agree.

The truth is that the Lisbon treaty is, to quote Lord Howe, “entirely sensible”—so much so that very few political parties in Europe oppose it, besides the rag-bag of parties to which the Foreign Secretary referred. Currently, the Conservatives are in the European People’s party in Strasbourg, but not one other member of the European People’s party agrees with the Conservatives. Perhaps the Conservatives are going to leave the EPP—we do not know; they seem unsure about it—but they have indicated that, if and when they do so, they want to work with the Czech ODS party, which, interestingly, is in favour of the treaty and against a referendum on it.

Mr. Redwood: Will the hon. Gentleman tell us whether his party is going to rat on its promise of a referendum by abstaining or by voting against a referendum? The people should know, and I hope that they turf out all the Liberal MPs who have misled them on this issue.

Mr. Davey: We are proposing a referendum—on Britain’s membership of the European Union. I will deal with the question of the referendum in detail towards the end of my remarks, when I will argue that the Conservatives’ position is the one that is less in keeping with their manifesto promise.

The case made by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague)—that the treaty is unnecessary and somehow threatens the sovereignty of the United Kingdom—is frankly absurd. An EU of 27 member states, and growing, cannot operate on the same basis as one that only just served the needs of an EU of 15 states, so arguments for trimming the bureaucracy and making the institutions less cumbersome should be self-evident.

Ms Gisela Stuart: I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman could help me, because I am getting slightly confused. We used to be told that we needed this in order to enlarge from 15 to 24, and then even further, but now that we have had a few years of 27 working quite well, where is his argument that we need this for the EU’s further working?

Mr. Davey: Many people in the EU and in this House believe that we need a treaty to try to ensure that the enlarged Union continues to work better, because there are areas that have not worked so well in the past. I am interested in the hon. Lady’s position on many of these issues, because in March 2004 she was against a referendum on the constitutional treaty, whereas now she is in favour.

Ms Stuart rose—

Mr. Davey: The hon. Lady has voted in this House against a referendum on the constitutional treaty.

Ms Stuart: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. If a Member is accused of having taken a particular position, is it not incumbent on the accuser to provide the evidence for that?

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Madam Deputy Speaker: The point in question is a matter for debate rather than a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Davey: If the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) checks the voting record on 30 March 2004, she will find that she voted against a referendum on the constitution.

Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davey: No, I want to make a little progress.

Liberal Democrats argued during the parliamentary scrutiny of the Amsterdam and Nice treaties that those treaties did not go far enough to prepare the EU for enlargement because they failed to streamline the EU’s institutions and to make the EU more accountable and transparent. We therefore naturally welcome the treaty and will vote for the Bill’s Second Reading.

To be fair to the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, the main intellectual thrust of his speech was that the treaty was unnecessary, and he deserves an answer on that point. He argued that the EU has worked quite well since the 2004 enlargement—the point made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston—and seemed to be relying on some academic work that has been released recently. I have to tell him that I have read that work and spoken to the authors, and they do not draw the conclusions that he claims.

Let us take Professor Helen Wallace. She does say in her paper that the EU has not suffered from gridlock owing to enlargement, and she does say that non-treaty reforms have helped, yet she is absolutely clear that the treaty reforms are needed to develop the EU in areas that have long proved difficult, including foreign policy co-operation and immigration, and that reforms making the EU more accountable and transparent are good in themselves and ever more necessary in an enlarged and growing EU. Moreover, the right hon. Gentleman is in no position to say that enlargement does not need Lisbon given that he led the opposition to Amsterdam and Nice, without which enlargement would not have been possible. The Conservatives remain in the most ludicrous position of any political party in Europe—always willing the enlargement end and always opposing the enlargement means.

Members wanting to vote against Second Reading have a tough case to make, based on what is actually in the Bill and in the treaty, for they are, in my view, voting against the national interest. A treaty that increases the UK’s voting power in the Council of Ministers is in the national interest. A treaty that allows this Parliament, working with other Parliaments, to have EU proposals reviewed and, indeed, stopped is in our interests. A treaty that, for the first time, sets out the right and the process for a member state to secede from the EU can hardly be said by Eurosceptics to be against the national interest. More positively, a treaty that, for the first time, explicitly makes one of the EU’s objectives tackling climate change must be in all our interests. A treaty that makes the EU more accountable and responsive to citizens, voluntary groups and civil society as a whole, with citizens’ initiatives and a new requirement for the EU’s institutions to engage with the public, must be in the interests of the public.

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The Conservatives are in the faintly ridiculous position of voting against a reduction in the number of EU Commissioners, against the EU being able to dispatch aid more effectively to parts of the world devastated by natural catastrophe, and against making it easier for countries to co-operate on the exchange of information about sex offenders. Is that what they are against?

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): If the hon. Gentleman is so confident about the arguments that he advances, why does he not get confirmation from the people by pursuing the proper course that his party promised—that there would be a referendum on these matters?

Mr. Davey: The hon. Gentleman has been true to his word throughout, because he has voted with the Liberal Democrats for our proposal for a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. I agree that that is what we should really be doing if we are going to be true to the previous policy of a referendum on the constitutional treaty.

Daniel Kawczynski: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davey: No.

What all those examples illustrate is the continuing problem of the modern Conservative party—sensible measures rejected because the word “European” is associated with them. The speech by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks was an attempt to make his party’s viscerally anti-European position seem presentable, but while he and his party leader are unable to say publicly that they are happy to remain in long-term working with German and French colleagues in the European People’s party—the party of Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy—few in Europe will take them seriously. Republican presidential candidate, Senator John McCain, observed about the Conservatives that he hoped

Daniel Kawczynski: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The role of Opposition parties is clearly to oppose the Government and to—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. That is not a point of order for the Chair. The hon. Gentleman may well have the opportunity to put his point later in the debate.

Mr. Davey: Let us remember that the hon. Gentleman voted against a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, and denied his constituents that vote. I was quoting the presidential candidate for the Republicans, Senator John McCain, who was observing— [Interruption.]

Mr. Jeremy Browne: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) to describe my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) as a traitor?

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I did not hear the hon. Gentleman use that expression, but there is a considerable undercurrent of conversation going on in this Chamber. If that word was used, he would have been out of order.

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Mr. Davey: For the third time, I will try to quote Senator John McCain. He observed that he hoped the Conservatives

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