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Mr. Hands: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davey: No.

The problem for the Conservatives is that by opposing yet another sensible European treaty, they seem to many foreign observers to be still in the wilderness—a place where Britain’s influence on international affairs simply could not be exercised. That is why the Foreign Secretary was right to make the positive case for the European Union.

Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman makes a number of positive points about the treaty. I support it because it will improve matters. However, what is fuelling the desire for a referendum is the fact that no one under the age of 50 has had a chance to vote on our membership of the EU. People see a continuous progression towards political, economic and social integration, and I do not think that that can be sustained indefinitely without addressing the democratic deficit.

Mr. Davey: I totally agree with the hon. Lady. She has made a case for the Liberal Democrat position on a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.

The case for the EU is there, both in the history books and in the well-known future challenges for our country and our world. Fifty years ago, would anyone have predicted decades of peace in northern Europe, such that the very idea of war between millennial adversaries has become unthinkable? Forty years ago, could we have hoped for the ending of the dictatorships that littered southern Europe? Thirty years ago, would anyone have predicted the reunification of Europe, with communism finished and democracy taking root in central and eastern Europe?

I do not seek to credit the European ideal or Union alone with those achievements, but equally, to deny a central role for the EU in our modern day and in our future peace and prosperity is historically illiterate. When we look ahead to climate change, to the fight against terrorism, to defeating internationally organised crime and to meeting the global economic challenges, I frankly find it inconceivable to believe that we would be better equipped without the EU, and without a strengthened EU.

That is the challenge for our Prime Minister. He talks sensibly about a global Europe. He describes himself as a pro-European realist. He sets out an attractive agenda, beyond Lisbon, of completing the single market and focusing Europe on enterprise, innovation and skills. Yet he seems to go out of his way to lose friends and lose influence in Europe—from snubbing the other 26 EU leaders at the signing of the Lisbon treaty, to the provocation of calling a European economic summit in London at the end of this month to which only France, Germany and Italy have been invited. The Foreign Secretary has been put in an
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impossible position, trying to build alliances and partnerships throughout the EU, while the Prime Minister cuts across him.

It is good to sign new trade deals with China, but when it comes to the crunch, who should be our closest and strongest allies? It is surely those countries that are democracies, that abide by the rule of law and that respect human rights. Indeed, it is through the power of the EU collectively that we are far more likely to influence China on the road to liberal democracy. It is time that the Prime Minister learned to love the EU and see it for what it really is, outside the broken kaleidoscope of Mr. Murdoch’s editorial rooms.

Having made the case for the treaty and for the EU, let me come to the issue of referendums. Do we support a referendum on the Lisbon treaty? As my immediate predecessor as foreign and commonwealth affairs spokesman, my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore), said in this House:

I share his view. Instead, we argue for a different referendum—a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. Let us face it: a referendum on any EU treaty would become a referendum on the UK’s continued membership. Let us not have that debate by proxy on a treaty referendum. Let us have a debate that people want by asking a straightforward in or out question.

Ms Stuart: If the hon. Gentleman believes that the treaty is so good and so incredibly defensible—at one stage he would have put it to the people, but he now feels it should be an in or out question—why does he not take up the offer made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and agree to a referendum with two questions? One would be on the treaty, and the other on continued membership.

Mr. Davey: Because, unlike the hon. Lady, I think that the constitutional treaty is rather more significant than the reform treaty, and that there are differences between the two. There are significant differences between the two treaties in terms of content. Lisbon is not a constitutional treaty; it is an amending treaty, which has profound implications.

Mr. Jenkin: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. We all know why the Liberal Democrats have adopted this position. It is because they want to be able to say in their manifesto at the next election that they voted for a referendum at some juncture, when in fact they are denying themselves the opportunity of voting for the only realistic referendum on offer. That is a mean, grubby, typical Liberal Democrat trick.

Mr. Davey: If the hon. Gentleman had had the guts to vote with his colleagues for our amendment in the debate on the Loyal Address, we might have been able to get the referendum that the British people actually want.

I was talking about the differences between the two treaties.

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Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davey: The biggest difference of detail—

Hon. Members: Give way!

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman clearly is not prepared to give way at this moment.

Mr. Davey: The biggest difference in content undoubtedly concerns justice and home affairs. By securing an opt-in provision in relation to EU co-operation on policing and criminal justice, the Government significantly changed the force of the treaty as it applies to the UK. That ought to be accepted by all parties. I also believe that there is a real difference in how the charter of fundamental rights now applies to the UK, which the protocol, declaration and other treaty amendments have achieved. I know that that is contentious, but I am sure that we will debate it at length in the Committee of the whole House.

The most significant differences between the two treaties lie in the constitutional terms of those treaties. While Lisbon is just another amending treaty making a number of important, if modest, reforms, the constitutional treaty was something quite different. It abolished all past treaties, to replace them with one document: a new constitution. I believe that people have passed over that point and failed to grasp its significance. The Labour Member of the European Parliament, Richard Corbett, has it right when he points out that the DNA of mice and human beings is 90 per cent. the same—it is just that the remaining 10 per cent. is quite important. It is the same with the difference in nature between Lisbon and the constitutional treaty: the 10 per cent. difference moves one from a mouse of an amending treaty through to a fully evolved constitution.

A referendum on the constitutional treaty would therefore effectively have been a referendum on the whole of the EU—Rome, the Single European Act, Maastricht, Nice and Amsterdam. It would have been about the complete constitution.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: Surely treaties should be judged by their practical and legal effect. That is why two Select Committees of this House, which included Liberal Democrat members, concluded that in practical and legal substance the two treaties are the same. Why does the hon. Gentleman not accept that?

Mr. Davey: The right hon. Gentleman failed to deal with my point that the constitutional treaty would have created a completely new constitution. The reform treaty is an amending treaty. If he cannot understand that, I really despair.

I shall quote the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks who said, when talking about the constitutional treaty, in 2006:

For once, he was right. That is why he ought to recognise that what the Liberal Democrats are saying now, in our proposal for a referendum on EU membership, is far closer to a referendum on the constitutional treaty than the Conservatives’ paltry offering.

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We believe that the British people have been denied a say on Europe for too long—on all the treaties and on the cumulative effects of all the changes. Unlike the Conservatives, who denied them a vote on Maastricht, we think that the people should speak. As a party that is strongly committed to the European Union, we want to offer the people the referendum that they really want. I hope that the House will allow a substantive amendment to the Bill to that effect so that we can begin to settle the European question and to draw the poison of anti-European feeling from the British body politic for a generation.

7 pm

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): The process that seems to have been generated tonight has added a number of things to the debate that have not been present so far. One such addition was the overall argument proposed by the Foreign Secretary that, despite all the other arguments, he supports the measure because it will improve the working of the EU. That is echoed again and again when I speak to representatives from other countries. It has certainly, I have no doubt, improved the tenor of the debate in the House of Commons. Not only has it improved the humour, which I have found to be most welcome among the genuine and manufactured emotions that such debates always generate, but we will also have 10 days of debate on the policy areas covered by the treaty and the EU. That means that the UK Government will have the chance to give their view on those policy areas as well as the actions that they want to take. That will be welcome. If that is the sum of the positives that the European Scrutiny Committee generates for the Government, that is reward enough.

The treaty of Lisbon will bring a solution to the institutional problems; there is no doubt about that, because the treaty agreed before that one was inadequate. The treaty of Lisbon will create a smaller Commission, which everyone welcomes, and a more balanced voting pattern in Council, with a better voting balance for the UK. It will bring in double majority voting on the qualified majority vote, which is also welcome.

The treaty will introduce a five-term presidency. People keep calling it a permanent presidency, but it will cover five six-month periods, creating a two-and-a-half-year presidency with a maximum of two terms. I welcome the fact that someone will be appointed who is not a member of the Commission and whose loyalty will be to the European Council and the Governments who sit on that Council.

The treaty will also introduce an EU high representative for foreign and security policy. Unfortunately, that person will also be a Commission vice-president and, oddly enough, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Council. I would have thought that the Foreign Affairs Committee might have said that it was a step too far to give that person, who is really a Commission member, the chairmanship of a Council of Ministers. That person will also be given the right to speak in the UN and to sign on behalf of the EU when all 27 countries are unanimous. I spoke today to people from Hungary and to their Foreign Secretary. It made sense to them, and to the representatives of most of the small countries in the 27, to have such a person who speaks on their behalf and gives them more priority. As my hon. Friend the
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Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) said, that will not take away any power from the two permanent members of the UN Security Council—France and the UK—which was rumoured to be one of the problems that some had with the proposal.

The main aim of the treaty is a final move to what is called the Community method, which people must consider again and again. The preferred Community method of policy making is QMV in the Council with amendment rights and co-decision making by the European Parliament, enforcement by the Commission and final appeal not to the courts in people’s own lands but to the European Court of Justice. That is the new heart of the treaty. It is a new settlement, a more European settlement and a more Eurocentric settlement. That is not to say that I oppose that. We must accept that that is where Europe is going. We must either be there, influencing Europe in that format in the future, or we must walk away. There is no middle ground. We are choosing tonight. I shall vote for this treaty, because I believe that we should be moving into the centre ground.

The Foreign Secretary is a bit like King Canute, who is much maligned, because he set out to demonstrate that the tide could not be held back. My right hon. Friend has shown today that he, too, believes that the tide cannot be held back. Unfortunately, I believe that the ebb tide—people must accept this—will take the centre of power away from this Parliament to Brussels. There is no doubt about that. At present, before the Lisbon treaty goes through, the balance of power is held between the Commission, the UK Government in Council and that derived from the scrutiny of the UK Parliament. That balance is similar in each member state. Eventually, because of unanimity, it is possible to appeal to the UK courts to judge how the power should be applied. After the treaty is up and running, and after the five years that it will take to erode—or to leak—the red lines that we have set on all the areas that we have opted into, the balance will be between the Commission, national Governments in Council and the European Parliament.

The role of national Parliaments will be massively diminished. In fact, as recently as December it was suggested by European parliamentarians from a number of parties at a Future of Europe conference, that our Parliaments’ role will be to try to influence the European Parliament, so that it can make the appropriate amendments to what comes out of the Council. As Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, I am not prepared to accept that.

Angus Robertson: As a fellow member of the European Scrutiny Committee, I am grateful to the Chairman for allowing an intervention. I want to raise the question of member state Parliaments and the role that they might play in a subsidiarity early-warning mechanism. He knows as well as I do that it is almost impossible to hold Governments to account within an eight-week window, which is how the mechanism is supposed to work. How does he imagine that that will ever be made to work across 27 member states, many with two parliamentary Chambers? It is not merely a question of one initiating the process.

Michael Connarty: I shall come to that. It is part of the main points with which I want to conclude. Those are interesting matters, which should be taken seriously
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by Parliament. Much has been said tonight, not only by the Foreign Secretary but by others, that suggests that there will be more influence for civic society—that was the plea—or a citizens’ referendum. The reality is that at the Future of Europe conference a colleague of the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey), who sits with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, said, “Just accept it. The orange and yellow cards are worthless. They will never work.”. The Commission, I have to say, had been saying similar things for some time.

It is worth mentioning that although Maastricht made greater changes, the Lisbon treaty represents a more significant point in our relationship with Europe. Its significance might not be as great as that of Maastricht—and especially of the social chapter—but this treaty is the tipping point. It is the point at which we will begin to adopt the European Community method on most matters, apart from tax and social security, and in a number of respects—perhaps most of them—in common foreign and security policy. In most other things, we will move into a situation where we will have QMV, where the Commission will administrate and where the European Court of Justice will judge.

Many comments have been made about the passerelle clause. Some people have said that if we mention that clause, people will go to sleep, but let us tell people what it is about. We have defined it as a gangplank. I coined the phrase because it is a bit like walking the plank. When a passerelle clause has been passed over—when it has been voted that the Council should go from a veto to QMV—it is like walking off a plank. There is no way back: the veto has been given away, and it cannot be got back. The Council has moved to a new way of working.

There are passerelle clauses in respect of common foreign and security policy—many of them are in the treaty sections that we have signed. We will have to decide whether we will move to the new method of decision making or try to hold on to what we have. We have to do that by withdrawing from our agreements.

On the involvement of the national Parliaments and passerelle clauses, I want the Government to make it clear how we are given the powers that the Prime Minister said that we would have. He said in the Liaison Committee, in reply to me, that the clauses that change the decision-making process in European Council meetings of the Heads of Government from unanimity to qualified majority voting would only be enacted after a vote on the Floor of the House of Commons. I want to see that clearly spelled out at some time during these debates.

Let me turn to the subject of the opt-outs—or opt-ins.

Ms Gisela Stuart: Will my hon. Friend give way on that point?

Michael Connarty: No. I shall not take another intervention, as I am conscious that people want to speak.

I have asked the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary several times to explain how the opt-out arrangements will happen under protocol 10. The Foreign Secretary told us in his evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee that there are 70 to 80 areas that we have opted into already where we will need to make a decision
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at some time to opt out or opt in under the Community method. The point is, will it be done by stealth in the Council or will it be referred to this Chamber at all? That must be clarified in order for us to have any sense that that Government are keeping faith with us.

My last point is about the operation of the trigger mechanism. For the yellow card, 33 per cent. of countries are required to object and for the orange card 55 per cent. of countries must object. How do we signal our view? We believe that the European Scrutiny Committee or some other Committee of the House should have the right to trigger the process immediately, in consultation with the devolved Assemblies and Administrations. Are the Government prepared to give us that power and some control over subsidiarity?

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