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26 Feb 2008 : Column 940

I wish to make some progress. Hon. Members will accept that I have taken a substantial number of interventions, and others wish to speak. In terms of the extensions to QMV, 20 of the changes offer faster decision making where the UK wants to see better systems in place, such as protecting British business ideas across Europe and decision making on energy.

The UK has always insisted on maintaining ultimate national control in the key areas of social security, tax, foreign policy and defence, as I have already mentioned. The Lisbon treaty makes it clear that we have secured that for the UK. In the most sensitive areas—justice and home affairs, and social security—the UK has the right either not to participate or to insist on unanimity. Many of the other QMV measures, such as those that concern rules about the eurozone, simply do not apply to us. In fact, 16 changes either do not apply to the UK or apply only if we choose to opt in. That leaves 15 purely procedural changes, such as the operating rules for the judicial appointments panel and how we appoint members to the EU’s Economic and Social Committee. Overall, the impact of QMV under the reform treaty will be significantly less than under the Single European Act, for example.

The treaty makes the system of majority voting more transparent and democratic. Under the new double majority voting system, which I have mentioned, a minimum of 55 per cent. of the member states—15 of the 27 countries—representing a minimum of 65 per cent. of the EU’s population must vote in favour for European legislation to be passed.

Opponents of the Lisbon treaty have claimed that the UK’s blocking power in the Council of Ministers will be reduced by double majority voting. I have already made it clear that that will not be the case. Opponents of the treaty have pointed to research from the London School of Economics to bolster their argument. In fact, the claim is based on research by Professor Moshe Machover of the LSE, who has since made it clear that, in his view, the UK’s relative position will actually improve substantially under the new voting system. It is important to put that on the record.

The treaty will also improve transparency and defines the Union’s competences for the first time, as I have mentioned. The categories of the competences simply reflect existing law. They provide greater clarity than before about what the EU can and cannot do. As the Law Society’s guide to the Lisbon treaty says:

It is clearly in the UK’s interest that the EU’s powers and where it can and cannot act are set out explicitly, as they are. The Lisbon treaty expressly provides for the EU to have legal personality. Legal personality for the EC and the EU is not new. The European Community has concluded hundreds of international agreements covering all fields of Community activity since it gained legal personality.

Mr. Cash: We had an exchange on this point this morning. Will the Minister be kind enough to tell me why he alleges that that legal personality is not new, when he must know that specific provisions demonstrate that it is? Admittedly, it is not new in respect of trade, but there is a range of other areas where it is. He must know that; surely he can concede that point.

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Mr. Murphy: I do not know whether I concede it, but I certainly congratulate the hon. Gentleman on ensuring we had an opportunity to discuss these issues in relation to the matter of support for Kosovo in an Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall this morning, when he managed to make an argument about legal personality. I enjoyed the advance warning of the comments that he will make this afternoon.

The fact is that the European Union already has legal personality, to the extent that it now has the power to conclude agreements in its own name. The EU has concluded nearly 100 such agreements in its own right, and we benefit from them. They include the World Trade Organisation agreements; the Cotonou agreement with African, Pacific and Caribbean countries, which allows them access to the EU market; and agreements on development and trade with countries all over the world. None of that is unusual. Legal personality is a standard characteristic of international organisations ranging from the United Nations, the WTO and the International Criminal Court to the Universal Postal Union.

Mr. Jenkin: At the moment, for example, the European Union cannot conclude a military agreement with third countries. Once the EU has legal personality, it will be able to conclude full-blown military treaties with third countries.

Mr. Murphy: I usually respect the points made by the hon. Gentleman, but in this case he is absolutely wrong. Issues of national defence and foreign policy are matters of unanimity decided by national Governments. The EU does not have competence from treaties to conclude the types of agreements that have been mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. For the first time, the competences are set out explicitly, and where they are not transferred they will still be exercised by national Governments. That is very clear.

Various Opposition Members have spoken about the question of legal personality before. Alan Dashwood, professor of European law at Cambridge university, told the House of Lords Committee in evidence:

He added that the EU’s possession of a legal personality did not make it a state. Judge Sir David Edward, a former UK judge at the European Court of Justice, said:

The Lisbon treaty introduces reformed institutions that will allow an enlarged EU to work effectively. It provides for reformed decision making with greater transparency and accountability. We want the EU to focus on where it can add value in a globalised world, and that is why we welcome a full-time president of the European Council. We want national parliaments to have a greater say in EU affairs on the issues that matter, and that is why we welcome more powers for national parliaments. We want British consumers and businesses to benefit from a completed single market, and that is why we welcome more streamlined decision making in the Council. We want more co-operation on children’s rights, the environment and international development, and that is why we welcome clearer objectives for the EU in those areas.

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Finally, we want the EU to engage more effectively internationally, in respect of Burma, Zimbabwe, Iran and many other places around the globe. That is why we welcome the creation of the post of high representative for foreign affairs, who will be answerable, ultimately, to member states.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): Will my hon. Friend the Minister give way?

Mr. Murphy: I was about to conclude, and my hon. Friend will have an opportunity a little later to contribute to the debate. My final sentence is that I commend the motion to the House.

5.42 pm

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): I beg to move amendment (b), in line 1, leave out from ‘House’ to end and add

It tells us something about the shortage of time in which we can debate these matters that we are already more than one third of the way through the period set aside for these motions on the effectiveness of EU institutions. Today’s debate concerns some of the treaty’s most important elements and they are notable not least because once again they mirror almost exactly the proposals of the EU constitution, on which all parties in the House—including the one that was in some difficulty earlier—pledged at the last election to hold a referendum.

Mike Gapes: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hague: It is very early, but I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mike Gapes: The right hon. Gentleman is making the predictable point about the shortage of time, but he has also mentioned the referendum. If he and his colleagues had not spent so much time in every debate banging on about the referendum issue, would not there have been more time to discuss the substance of the proposals in the treaty?

Mr. Hague: The hon. Gentleman was elected on a manifesto that banged on about holding a referendum, so it is no surprise if the Opposition remind the House of that.

However, I wanted to congratulate the Minister on starting his speech in the presence of so many Liberal Democrat MPs. It is the greatest number that I have
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ever seen gathered together when a by-election was not in prospect. When I saw them come in, it made me think that one of us might be ill. They have had some difficulty with getting their amendments selected for debate, but they would have no such problem if their amendment fulfilled their party’s pledge to hold a referendum on the European treaty. If they tabled such an amendment, they would be rescued from the contortions in which they have become involved.

There have been a number of developments in the debate already, and I want to take issue with one or two hon. Members. The right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), who I see is just returning to his place, informed us that only 10 per cent. of laws affecting the UK came through the EU. However, I have to tell him that the person who said that it was

was the Prime Minister. That is unfortunate, because falling out with the Prime Minister might not shorten his long and arduous journey back to the Front Bench.

Mr. MacShane: Does the right hon. Gentleman—who, like me, has a close connection to Rotherham—accept that the Prime Minister, like him, can be wrong?

Mr. Hague: I said that the right hon. Gentleman’s journey back to the Front Bench was long and arduous, but I think that it just became of infinite length. However, we will all enjoy his utterances from the Back Benches in the many decades to come.

I must also take issue with the Minister for Europe, who, when asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) to list the remaining exclusive competences of the nation state, came up with a rather short list of what is left of the nation states, underlining the dramatic nature of what is in the treaty. He was pressed by some of his hon. Friends about the role of national Parliaments, and about how we in the House of Commons exercise our powers, or the powers that we have in this Chamber, to affect the decisions of Governments of either party about European decision making. He said that the Government would come up with further proposals on the subject, but they already had an opportunity to do so.

The matter was debated only three weeks ago on the Floor of the House, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), the shadow Leader of the House, made clear and substantive proposals: for instance, for a statutory scrutiny reserve, so that Ministers would have to gain parliamentary approval before negotiating in the Council of Ministers, as well as new powers for the European Scrutiny Committee to force a debate and vote in the House of Commons. It was only in response to Opposition pressure that the Government agreed to support the decision that produced the one substantive thing that happened in that debate: the decision to hold public meetings of the European Scrutiny Committee. The Government have had one opportunity to come up with substantive proposals for improving parliamentary scrutiny, and if they are really going to do so again, they should do it with great urgency, because there is enormous interest in the matter throughout the House.

The treaty will introduce changes of great importance to the European Union’s institutions and decision-making
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processes. The Minister mentioned most of them. They include, but are not limited to, the creation of a new president of the European Council; the endowment of the European Union—explicitly in a treaty, for the first time—with a single legal personality; the renamed EU Foreign Minister; the new delineation of competences between the EU and member states; the establishment of qualified majority voting with co-decision by the European Parliament as the ordinary legislative procedure; the various other increases in the powers of the European Parliament; the new vote-weighting system for the Council of the European Union; and, of course, the ratchet clause, by which further vetoes can be abolished in future without recourse to further treaties.

Mr. Jenkin: If the question of legal personality for the European Union as a whole makes absolutely no difference, it prompts the question, why on earth are they bothering to put it in, then?

Mr. Hague: My hon. Friend makes a good point, which could be made about so many aspects of the treaty that we are assured will make no difference, including the clarification—I think that is what the Minister called it—of the competences of the EU and the nation states. If that is of no importance and only a clarification, why did the Government oppose the statement of so many of those competences? I shall come to that point in the course of my speech, which I will truncate in deference to the time and other hon. Members’ need to speak.

There is one argument that advocates of the treaty like to return to in this matter of decision making: that is that without the treaty, an enlarged EU would not really be able to function. Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister, told the House that the constitution was

but it has been more than three years since the great enlargement of the EU to 25 and subsequently 27 member states, and the EU is working perfectly well.

The solid weight of testimony that the EU’s existing structures have dealt more than adequately with enlargement is supplied partly by academic studies. The latest is a study by the distinguished member of the Government’s Better Regulation Commission, Professor Helen Wallace, who has found not only that the picture is of business as usual rather than gridlock but that

Current and former Foreign Secretaries, in unguarded moments of frankness, seem to agree. I remind the House of the words of the former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Margaret Beckett), which I have mentioned in earlier debates on the Bill. Last year, she told the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs that

on treaty reform

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If people do not listen to the previous Foreign Secretary, I hope that they will at least listen to the current one, who said that the EU’s agreements on climate change

and I fully agree with him on that.

Kelvin Hopkins: I am following what the right hon. Gentleman is saying with interest and enjoyment. If there was no treaty at all, and we just stopped where we are, would the skies fall in? Would it be the end of civilisation as we know it? Would the European Union collapse, or would it just carry on?

Mr. Hague: I think that the European Union would carry on rather well, as I think the hon. Gentleman is suggesting. If the EU was faced with the situation that he describes, it would force it to concentrate on the great issues, including climate change, rather than on the permanent process of institutional tinkering—and by signing the treaty, the Government are opening the door to that permanent process.

Mr. Hendrick: One of the treaty’s many proposals for improving the European Union is the proposal to move away from six-month presidencies. As there are 27 member states, and as it is likely that there will be more in future, does the right hon. Gentleman think that it makes sense to have six-month presidencies—to have this game of musical chairs, as my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe put it?

Mr. Hague: I want to come to that point in a moment, if the hon. Gentleman will allow me to finish my argument.

Mike Gapes: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hague: Of course I will give way again to the hon. Gentleman, but let me just finish my point; otherwise, my speech will become as long as that made by the Minister, who generously gave way many times.

It has been said that the treaty will make it easier for new legislation to be passed in the EU, but people in businesses up and down the land are not protesting about the lack of EU regulations and directives. Indeed, the latest British Chambers of Commerce burdens barometer, published less than a fortnight ago, shows that the vast majority—71 per cent.—of new burdens on business since 1997 have their origin in the EU. The Prime Minister, if not the right hon. Member for Rotherham, might agree with that figure. As those burdens have cost British businesses nearly £47 billion, making it easier for the EU to create more regulations should not really be high on our list of national priorities. The Prime Minister stated that it was “unacceptable” that 50 per cent. or more of regulations come from the European Union, although the Government have got into the habit of saying that they were merely asking a searching question whenever there is reference to anything that they said was unacceptable—that was what the Foreign Secretary did last week. Yet again, the Government’s stated aim in Europe of having less regulation bears no relation to the policy that they are actually pursuing.

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