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20 Feb 2008 : Column 436

Yet that is exactly what the Government have agreed to, the change having won the satisfied approval of the wise, eminent and noble Lord Malloch-Brown.

Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Francois: In a moment.

It should be totally unacceptable for any British Government to accept any treaty imposing such an obligation on us at the United Nations Security Council. It is patently obvious to everyone—not just Opposition Members; it was obvious to Ministers only a couple of years ago—that this represents the thin end of the wedge in the move towards an EU seat on the Security Council. That is potentially very damaging to this country’s national interests, and it is astonishing that the Government did not seek to change the provision in this measure, the latest guise of the constitution. We therefore oppose it. Having said that, I shall gladly give way to the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson), whom I remember from the day on which I made my maiden speech in the House.

Mr. Henderson: The hon. Gentleman’s predecessor was my pair, in the days when we had such things in Parliament.

The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the situation at the United Nations. If the European Union is represented by the Council of Ministers in a contribution to either the Security Council or the Assembly, there is absolutely nothing to prevent other members of the Security Council or other members of the Assembly from making an independent contribution. That is the current position, and it will not change.

Mr. Francois: I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. The key word in the treaty is “shall”. When a common position is agreed, the EU “shall” request that the high representative speak for it at the UN Security Council—

Mr. Henderson rose—

Mr. Francois: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I have answered his point. The key word—the difference—is “shall”. That is why we object to the proposal.

Amendment No. 264 will—

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Francois: I should like to get on to amendment No. 264, but I will give way in a moment.

Amendment No. 264 relates to the role and powers of the EU’s high representative, which are identical to those of the Foreign Minister proposed in the original EU constitution—a point that the Foreign Secretary failed to address in his speech a few hours ago. I remind the House that the post was one of two crucial aspects of the treaty, along with the new EU president, that the former Foreign Secretary—the present Lord Chancellor—identified as essential to the last proposed treaty’s constitutionality, thus providing the need for a referendum. I told my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) that he had anticipated my making this
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point; it is definitely a point that is worth reiterating. A senior member of this Government’s Cabinet has said that if this provision were in the treaty, we would deserve a referendum. Well, it most certainly is, so what has happened to the referendum that we were promised? On that point, I shall gladly give way to the Liberal Democrats, who, as of today, have not got a clue whether they want a referendum or not.

Mr. Davey: Can the hon. Gentleman say what the Conservatives object to should the EU high representative make a presentation to the UN Security Council of a position that the UK Government have agreed to, and which in no way would prevent the UK representative at the Security Council from speaking and voting? What possible objection can the hon. Gentleman have to that?

Mr. Francois: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was listening to what I was saying, but I have already argued that that represents the thin end of a wedge. That is our view— [Interruption.]

Mr. Davey rose—

Mr. Francois: Do not ask a question if you do not like the answer!

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Francois: I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison).

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): Is not the assumption of the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) wrong when he says that the UK will have agreed to the position? Is it not a fact that, like it or not, the treaty provisions open the door for qualified majority voting under article 32— [Interruption.] Read it, anyone who does not believe me. It opens the door for QMV now and even more QMV in the future as a result of the special passerelle clause. That means that the EU would speak for this country on the Security Council, even if this country disagreed with the stated policy.

Mr. Francois: My hon. Friend, a member of the European Scrutiny Committee, brings considerable expertise to these matters. I would remind him, the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) and, indeed, the whole House, that the Committee looked into these matters in detail and came to the conclusion that the red lines, including the foreign policy red line that the Government like to triumph, do not hold up. Indeed, the Labour Chairman of the Committee, the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), said on the “Today” programme that those lines would “leak like a sieve”.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con) rose—

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con) rose—

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con) rose—

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Mr. Francois: I am spoilt for choice. I will give way first to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), then to my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) and then to my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard)— [Interruption.] At some point, I will speak briefly and allow some Back Benchers to speak in the debate.

Mr. Cash: Does my hon. Friend agree that when a Foreign Minister walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, then he is a duck—and that in this particular context, it is the high representative who is doing it? Does my hon. Friend recall when Javier Solana said on Radio 4 that he was meeting Hamas at a very crucial moment—on the back of existing arrangements that were not then authorised? Is that not the sort of evolving, dynamic and dangerous situation that my hon. Friend is identifying and is exactly what will happen in practice? It is not just a matter of drawing strict legal lines; it is a question of how the whole system will function in practice. That is the larger problem that we are concerned about.

Mr. Francois: I thank my hon. Friend for that observation. Everyone knows that he reads these documents in very considerable detail. I agree with him, so let us see whether I also agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal.

Mr. Gummer: I just ask my hon. Friend how can it possibly cause a difficulty if a spokesman for a common position of the European Union makes that position clear—in present terms, it would relate to something for which we had voted because of unanimity, irrespective of what is true about the details in the future—and the British representative then makes his points? That seems to me to be an extremely good way of getting the same point said twice. I do not understand the difficulty with that.

Mr. Francois: My right hon. Friend may know that there have been one or two occasions in this debate when the same point has been made twice, but I offer him the thought that if there is nothing to worry about, why did the Government oppose the change so adamantly in the negotiations in the Convention?

Mr. Gummer: They got it wrong!

Mr. Francois: Well, they argued vehemently against that change and then, as with so much else in this treaty, they rolled over.

Mark Pritchard: I am not a conspiracy theorist and I want to be fair to the Government, but might not an unintended consequence of these measures be the de facto abandonment of the UK’s permanent seat on the Security Council?

Mr. Gummer: No, it would not.

Mr. Francois: I am not claiming that it would lead to the abandonment of our seat, but I am saying that it could lead over time to the power vested in our seat being compromised because of the EU’s role— [Interruption.]

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Mr. Gummer: How?

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

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op) rose—

Mr. Francois: I shall give way to my right hon. Friend first, then to the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Perhaps I can then be allowed to make a little progress.

5.15 pm

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: As the Government’s speeches and amendments in the Convention are hard to come by, my hon. Friend may not be aware that it is a matter of record that at the time of the Convention the Government also said that the obligation to ask the Union Foreign Minister to speak

They therefore wanted the obligation to be removed. Does my hon. Friend not think it very unwise to write into a treaty an obligation that would conflict with the standing orders of the United Nations? Is that not another reason for looking at the treaty requirements again, in the light of our more important, wider, global obligations?

Mr. Francois: My right hon. Friend, who also serves on the European Scrutiny Committee, makes a valid point. It has already become apparent, after a few minutes of debate on the amendments, that this is a contentious issue.

Mike Gapes rose—

Mr. Francois: I will give way in a moment. Clearly the Government cannot sweep this under the carpet. I repeat: if there is nothing to worry about, why did the Government object so vehemently?

I will now give way to the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. I thank him for his patience.

Mike Gapes: Perhaps I can deal with this canard once and for all. Our Committee went into the issue in some detail, and spoke to Dr. Solana about it as well. Paragraph 157 of our report states:

Mr. Francois: I thank the Chairman of the Committee for that. I also thank him for the Committee’s report, which stated that in foreign policy areas the treaty of Lisbon was almost exactly the same as the original constitution, and pointed out that we had been promised a referendum on the first and not on the second. I read the report in some detail, and I am grateful to the Committee for its work, but I have already responded to the hon. Gentleman’s point several times, not least when it was put to me by my right hon. Friends.
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However, I thank the Committee for the report, because it provided us with some great quotations with which to embarrass the Government.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Francois: I will certainly give way to a former leader of my party.

Mr. Duncan Smith: In fact, the intervention by the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) has helped my hon. Friend. If he thinks about it carefully, he will realise that what the treaty has done is formalise practice that was not necessarily formal or acceptable before. The hon. Gentleman’s intervention makes the point about progression in the European Union. What happens is that the EU takes a bit more, the next treaty formalises the position, and it moves on. That is exactly what has happened here.

Mr. Francois: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. A key part of the argument is the question “What is the direction of travel? Where is this all going?”, and I think it is fairly clear to the House what the direction of travel is.

If parliamentary scrutiny is to mean anything, it is vital for the role and powers of the new institutions to be subject to the examination and judgment of the House. We have already heard—and the relevant cross-party Committees have reported—how at every turn Ministers have sought to minimise scrutiny of the treaty, and it is not right that the House should allow Ministers to continue to do so in the future. If Ministers mean any of what they say about allowing the legislature to hold the Executive to account, they should support new clause 3.

The new clause would also force Ministers to do something that they have been extremely reluctant to do, and set out in detail how the treaty compares with the constitution. That is something that the Foreign Affairs Committee and the European Scrutiny Committee—both Labour-dominated and both with Labour Chairmen—have felt able to do, and there is no reason why the Foreign Office should not be able to do the same. That would provide the basis for an honest and detailed debate, which is more than we are being allowed in the House owing to the rigged methodology that the Government have imposed on us.

Mike Gapes: I was unable to take part in the earlier debate because I was chairing a Select Committee meeting and we had an important report to agree. Therefore, while discussing the terms of the amendments, I shall take the opportunity to make some points that I would have made earlier.

In the European Union’s dealings with other countries and its foreign policy, it is represented by a so-called troika: a representative of the presidency; the high representative for the common foreign and security policy, who is currently Mr. Solana; and the European Commissioner for External Relations, Mrs. Ferrero-Waldner. The arrangement is wasteful, confusing for our foreign partners and inefficient. The present system also contains the absurd rotation of the presidency every six months. That undermines both the European
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Union’s ability to pursue consistent priorities and positions, and the ability of the individuals involved to build the long-term relationships with other countries necessary for effective diplomacy.

The Lisbon treaty will address both those problems. It will do so first by having the high representative take over the job of the European Commissioner for External Relations—that post will be abolished—leaving both functions united in a single person and reducing the number of people involved in European Union foreign policy making. It will do so secondly by abolishing the rotating presidency in favour of, potentially, a five-year post—it will be a two-and-a-half year post that can be renewed—of president of the European Council. That is the body comprising the Heads of State or Heads of Government.

The Lisbon treaty will therefore streamline and stabilise the EU’s external representation and make the Union a much easier and more coherent partner for foreign countries to deal with and have a relationship with. That is long overdue, necessary and, in a European Union of 27 countries, essential if we are to have effective coherence in our role in the world.

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): In a way, the hon. Gentleman is making the point for my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois), because he is saying that the EU’s external position is not coherent, and that the changes in the treaty will make it more coherent and easier to represent the EU’s view to the outside world. In effect, a position will be built over time—exactly the point that my hon. Friend made—that will become the view of the EU around the world and will undermine our independent foreign policy.

Mike Gapes: The hon. Gentleman has missed the point. Let me give an example. The German presidency decided to give great emphasis in its presidency document to work in central Asia. That was not the position in the previous presidency and it was not continued afterwards. The Portuguese presidency has taken up something in the British presidency’s remit—the priority of Africa—but there was a gap inbetween. We thus need the coherence of the longer-term approach, which is more efficient and more effective. The six-monthly rotation includes the small countries that have very small diplomatic representations. Slovenia has only one embassy in Africa and it uses the French diplomatic service, as it must, for many of its functions as part of its presidency of the European Union. That is absurd.

Mark Lazarowicz: Unlike me, some Members of this House are somewhat Francophobic. They are opposing a proposal that gets away from the current situation, whereby, as my hon. Friend points out, Slovenia is very much dependent on support from France.

Leaving that point aside, does my hon. Friend agree that the proposal for a coherent five-year term should help Britain’s national interest, because it would allow Britain, with its presence in the European institutions in Brussels, its connections and its influence, to have an ongoing relationship with the presidency? By contrast, under the present arrangement, every six months Britain has to build a relationship with whichever country and individual happens to assume the presidency.

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