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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 areasjustice and home affairs, and social securitythe 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 EUs 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 states15 of the 27 countriesrepresenting a minimum of 65 per cent. of the EUs population must vote in favour for European legislation to be passed.
Opponents of the Lisbon treaty have claimed that the UKs 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 UKs 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 Unions 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 Societys guide to the Lisbon treaty says:
There are five areas in which the UK and other EU countries have agreed that the EU alone may pass new laws. None of these is new to the Treaty of Lisbon.
It is clearly in the UKs interest that the EUs 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.
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.
There are many international organisations that have international legal personality such as the ECB and Euratom.
I do not see that the conferring of a legal personality on the Union, in so far as it replaces and succeeds the Community, really has any extensive effect at all.
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 childrens rights, the environment and international development, and that is why we welcome clearer objectives for the EU in those areas.
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.
disapproves of the Governments policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of the provisions on the effectiveness of European Union institutions and decision-making because the Treaty expands the power of EU institutions at Member States expense by replacing the rotating presidency of the European Council with a permanent President, giving the EU a single legal personality, abolishing national vetoes in more than fifty areas and entrenching marine biological resources as an exclusive EU competence; notes that these provisions are largely identical to those in the original EU Constitution; further notes that the details of many of the new powers of the EU and its institutions will not be decided until after the Treaty is ratified; and regrets the Governments failure to secure the extensive changes Ministers sought to these provisions in the course of negotiations on this Treaty and its near-identical predecessor..
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. Todays debate concerns some of the treatys 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 Houseincluding the one that was in some difficulty earlierpledged at the last election to hold a referendum.
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?
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
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 partys 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
unacceptable that 50 per cent. or more of regulations come from the European Union
Mr. Hague: I said that the right hon. Gentlemans 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 Unions institutions and decision-making
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 Unionexplicitly in a treaty, for the first timewith 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. 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 clarificationI think that is what the Minister called itof 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
necessary to make the accession work[ Official Report, 14 May 2003; Vol. 405, c. 306.]
The solid weight of testimony that the EUs 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 Governments Better Regulation Commission, Professor Helen Wallace, who has found not only that the picture is of business as usual rather than gridlock but that
non-treaty reforms have played important roles in altering processes and procedures so as to improve the capacity of the institutions to do their work.
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
there have been comments from various quarters that if the European Union cannot get an agreement
there will be a huge crisis and that the EU will no longer be able to function...the last few months have shown that that is not actually so. The EU is functioning and has, indeed, reached some quite far-reaching decisions.
have done more to show the relevance of the European Union than any amount of institutional tinkering,
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 tinkeringand by signing the treaty, the Government are opening the door to that permanent process.
Mr. Hendrick: One of the treatys 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 presidenciesto have this game of musical chairs, as my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe put it?
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 majority71 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 unacceptablethat was what the Foreign Secretary did last week. Yet again, the Governments stated aim in Europe of having less regulation bears no relation to the policy that they are actually pursuing.
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