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28 Jan 2008 : Column 69

Mr. Hague: That illustrates how strongly Members in all parts of the House feel about this. I will not come to any immediate judgment about my hon. Friend’s proposal, certainly not without consulting my Front-Bench colleagues, but I think that if the Government were defeated on their motion they would have to consider all the options, including the House sitting as a Committee of the whole House in the normal way, and including the Opposition’s proposals. They would do well to do so, because many of their own Members are deeply concerned about what they have proposed.

Let me illustrate the importance of additional time in just one or two of the areas where our amendment proposes it. First, we propose two days of debate on justice and home affairs. The Government have allocated one day in their procedure motion, but we believe that two days is the bare minimum for such an important subject. The treaty would introduce wide and profound changes to the EU’s powers in terms of justice and home affairs. The measures on justice and home affairs are these: a common EU policy on asylum, immigration and external border control

in article 61 of the new treaty on the functioning of the EU; in article 61g, measures by qualified majority voting to ensure administrative co-operation between national police and criminal justice authorities and the Commission; and in article 61h, a move to full co-decision on investigating financial links to terrorism—co-decision, I need hardly remind the House, would mean the Commission having the sole right of initiative over legislation and the European Parliament amending or blocking legislation. In article 62, there is a common policy on visas.

Article 63 sets out the common asylum policy in more detail. It includes for the first time the basis for “uniform standards” rather than minimum standards for asylum—a change that was unsuccessfully opposed by the British Government while the constitution was being negotiated. In article 63a, the new common immigration policy is similarly set out, with new powers for the EU on legislation concerning third country nationals and the abolition of national vetoes—again, unsuccessfully opposed by the Government while the negotiations were going on. Article 63b contains the principle of fair sharing of responsibility over asylum, including its financial implications for member states, with potentially far-reaching consequences. These are all meant to be debated in one day—tomorrow.

Articles 65 and 68 deal with civil justice, giving the EU new powers to pass laws on “effective access to justice”,


powers that the Government, during the drafting process, were concerned would compromise judicial independence but have now agreed to.

All that alone would merit at least a day’s debate—one might think much more than that—but it does not stop there. Articles 69a to 69g revolutionise the EU’s role in criminal justice and policing. They give the European Court of Justice full jurisdiction over that area and extend the European Commission’s right to initiate legislation at member states’ expense, as well as widening the EU’s remit in this area to include mutual admissibility
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of evidence, rights of individuals in criminal procedure, and rights of victims of crime—and, of course, national vetoes are abolished. The EU would be able to pass laws establishing minimum definitions of criminal offences and sanctions in eight areas. Needless to say, the Government had objections that were overridden while that was being negotiated.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Hague: Let me just finish the description of what is covered in this one day of debate, as the Government propose it.

Article 69d includes one of the profoundest changes of all—the right of Eurojust to initiate investigations, as well as the legislative basis to expand its role and new powers on cross-border investigations. Article 69e provides for the establishment of a European public prosecutor, despite the Government’s once adamant opposition to any mention of such a post in the treaties. Article 69f expands the powers of Europol.

not my words but the text of the Government’s failed amendments to the constitution text, on which they were defeated and gave in.

Those are just the criminal justice and home affairs issues in the main body of the treaty, notwithstanding the highly questionable protocols that the Government have agreed to. The Minister says that there will be line-by-line scrutiny—he said it again on television only this lunchtime. I looked at the treaty earlier. On my reckoning, there are 13 pages covering the areas that I have described—with 40 lines a page, that is approximately 520 lines. The Government propose 360 minutes for the examination of those lines tomorrow—less than 45 seconds per line. That is the line-by-line scrutiny that the Government propose.

Mr. Cash: My right hon. Friend is giving a most excellent description of what is going on. Does he agree that many of those provisions, if not all, would require an Act of Parliament that had to go through all the procedures in this House and in the other House?

Mr. Hague: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If any British Government proposed to change legislation in almost any of the areas that I have described, that would require a full Act of Parliament going through all the necessary and normal procedures in both Houses of Parliament.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): While I agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s point about time, which he is making very well, is it not the case that on all the issues that he described Britain has an opt-in and is not forced to agree with the other 26 EU member states? Does he think that the opt-in does not work, or does he support it?

Mr. Hague: This is exactly why we need to debate these things at considerable length. The hon. Gentleman’s point of view may be that we have an opt-in and that that is satisfactory. On the other hand, other hon.
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Members will wish to point out that the protocol on these matters sets out a transitional period after which the arrangements are changed and after which this country may be faced with financial penalties if it does not decide to opt into many of those arrangements. We may have different views about that, but the point of our discussions today—the hon. Gentleman and I may be united at least in this respect—is that we need plenty of time to discuss such far-reaching measures before they slide through this House.

Mr. Clappison: My right hon. Friend is making an extremely convincing point. Do we not need a very great deal of time to discuss the extent to which the protocol purportedly protects us from the extended jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice—a profound change that extends the jurisdiction of the ECJ to the judicial home affairs arena? Have we not seen, through the work of the European Scrutiny Committee, that the protocol that is supposed to protect us is full of holes?

Mr. Hague: Yes, we have seen that. [ Interruption. ] I thought that the hon. Member for Glasgow, South-West (Mr. Davidson) wished to intervene on me, but he no longer does.

Mr. Jenkin: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hague: I should not have said that. Yes, of course I give way.

Mr. Jenkin: Even from behind, my right hon. Friend looked disappointed not to be getting an intervention from a Labour Member.

We need time to discuss these matters because the opt-in arrangements to which the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) referred amount in every case to a super-Henry VIII clause whereby secondary legislation is to be used to amend primary legislation as the Government choose, if they opt into these arrangements. We are therefore handing huge powers to the Executive just by agreeing to the Bill.

Mr. Hague: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The European Scrutiny Committee has referred to those points. Its report of 27 November states that the measures “considerably increase” the powers of the EU Commission and Court of Justice. It said that

for Britain by the Government, but was not; that the deal on the protocol to which my hon. Friends have referred

and that

Its report of October stated that the opt-in safeguard was weak because Britain could not then opt out and that the “emergency brake” was not as effective as a veto. I hope that the Minister is taking note of the interventions. They illustrate that if time for debate on all those matters is limited to six hours, and if debate is confined on so many extensive new powers for the EU in respect of matters that could not more intimately
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affect our national sovereignty with a direct effect on our citizens’ rights, it is risible to claim that that six hours constitutes a “very detailed discussion” of the provisions.

Mr. Redwood: Would my right hon. Friend confirm that the danger of the opt-in system is that if the Government opt in, we cannot debate the matters in question in a future general election, offer to change a particular view or get powers back because it is a one-way ratchet? That is why we need hours of time to consider this grave step that takes away the people’s right to change their minds and have a better Government.

Mr. Hague: Once again, I agree with my right hon. Friend.

I was going to give several more examples, but in the interests of time I shall pass over some of them. I think that the House is getting the point that when one looks at the scale and detail of what is being put forward in the treaty, six hours of debate—four and a half hours of it a generic Second Reading-style debate—is not adequate to discuss many of the subjects.

Rob Marris: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hague: Well, go on, and then I can get on and conclude my speech.

Rob Marris: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his generosity. In contradistinction to the flavour he is getting from some of the interventions, I am getting the impression that many hon. Members have not looked at the source materials and are basing what they say on rumours and misinformation that is being peddled. For example, the right hon. Gentleman just agreed with the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) about the ratchet mechanism, whereas the treaty enables competences to be transferred back to member states.

Mr. Hague: If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the current Government are on the brink of even asking for large numbers of competences to be returned to nation states, he will be waiting for a very long time.

Let me give another example of what is in this treaty. All the things that I just read out about justice and home affairs are items that are in the actual treaty. Let us look at the provision in the Government’s procedural motion to have one day’s debate on all aspects of foreign policy and defence. In our amendment, we have set out that those should be separated—there should be a day on foreign policy and a day on defence. The treaty establishes a common defence policy; has weighty provisions on arms procurement; allows for structured co-operation that could have the profoundest implications for the future of European defence; and creates a mutual defence guarantee for all member states. Those are changes to which the Government had numerous objections during the negotiations, but objections on which they gave way. To all appearances, we are entering into a new military alliance, and yet that will not even be granted a full day’s debate, or even six hours’ debate, on the Floor of the House.

Structurally, the treaty radically changes the structure and legal status of the EU. The intergovernmental third pillar is abolished; the European Community loses its
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separate identity; the EU gains its own legal personality—a move the last Prime Minister described as “potentially damaging”; and we see the establishment of a single President of Europe, about whom we spoke last week, whose appointment is already causing tremors in Downing Street. I notice that in the meantime it was reported in today’s newspapers that one friend of the Prime Minister said:

The tremors are travelling further through Downing street as we speak.

All those provisions are in the treaty. It sets out for the first time all of the EU’s competences vis- -vis the member states and does so in a way that changes the balance between them, with subtle but important implications. It is our firm view that the balance of powers between member states and the EU merits at least a day’s debate, as proposed in our amendment. On national Parliaments, a point raised earlier, this treaty for the first time may impose an obligation on this House in relation to an external institution—a profound constitutional innovation and one about which the European Scrutiny Committee has raised serious concerns. The Committee has said that it remains

Clearly, that issue needs to be debated and, given that the Government think that such ambiguity on the matter is acceptable, the least they can do is explain why during several hours of debate on such a constitutional innovation.

It is also extraordinary that the Government do not wish to discuss the new protocol on national Parliaments and subsidiarity, a point to which the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) just referred. Many of us believe that it is probably unworkable, but I am surprised that Ministers do not want to take the opportunity to extol its potential benefits to the House.

I am skipping over some of the things that my amendment provides for because I think that the House is getting the flavour of what I am trying to do, but it makes clear that the charter of fundamental rights should be debated—an omission from the Government’s programme that could not be a clearer admission that there are many things in this treaty that Ministers would rather pass over in silence.

Bob Spink: Just so this House does not pass over the matter, is my right hon. Friend aware and concerned that article 3 transfers exclusive competence on the common fisheries policy to the European Union? Is he concerned about that and about the fact that nowhere in the Government programme motion is there an opportunity for that important matter to be debated?

Mr. Hague: I have always been concerned about the common fisheries policy, which has been a disaster for this country in every environmental and economic sense. There certainly ought be opportunities for us to debate that, along with the other matters that I have mentioned, and if the Government were to withdraw the motion and respond to the views of the House, I am sure that that would allow us to do so.

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We are, of course, in favour of debating such topics as energy and international development, but it has to be said, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) pointed out, that the relevant treaty provisions are thin. Let us debate them, but the Government should not pretend that the provisions relating to them require more parliamentary scrutiny than the highly controversial implications of the charter of fundamental rights, the future role of national Parliaments or the distribution of competences between nation states and the European Union.

So why are the Government proposing to give less time to those matters either than was previously advertised or than is genuinely required? Is it because they have a vital, heavy and ambitious legislative programme that will be disrupted by an extra six days of debate on this treaty? Of course not. Is it because they are worried that any more sitting days will increase the workload of Parliament to an intolerable extent? No. Is it because they do not want certain parts of the treaty to have an entire day of debate in their own right because people inside and outside Parliament might notice what is being done in their name? That is nearer the mark.

The more detailed consideration there is, the more clearly the treaty will be exposed as the almost identical copy of the constitution on which the people of Britain were promised a referendum. Every detailed examination of what is in the treaty has failed to support the Government’s arguments that it is fundamentally different, as the reports from the European Scrutiny Committee and Foreign Affairs Committee have shown. Further proof of another reason has emerged over the weekend. As we have repeatedly said from this Dispatch Box, this treaty’s importance relies not just in the clear-cut extension of the EU’s powers or abolition of national vetoes but in the processes it sets in train. The document leaked at the weekend shows that EU leaders plan to make a series of important decisions—on subjects such as the role of the EU President; the structure, operation and field of action of Europol; the new powers of Eurojust; the rules governing the European public prosecutor; the powers of the new operational committee on internal security; the nature of structured co-operation in defence; the role and power of the EU Foreign Minister; the organisation and functioning of the EU diplomatic service; and other subjects, too—only after the ratification of the treaty in those countries that are called difficult countries, such as the United Kingdom.

Ministers, it seems, are engaged in trying to hide from Parliament not only the extent of the measures to which they have agreed, but the extent of the measures to which they have not agreed and to which they intend to sign up once these debates are out of the way. There could not be a more cynical approach to the conduct of Government policy, deeply lacking in openness, transparency or honesty. The Government’s concern throughout has not been to listen to the public or Parliament but to do their best to exclude both from any decision making about the European Union.

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