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more needs to be done to better manage and protect our seas,
Just 0.001 per cent. of UK seas benefit from the highest level of protection, namely the 3.3 sq km Lundy marine nature reserve. That is an area equivalent to the size of Kensington gardens. Sir David Attenborough has stated:
As an island nation, I find it astonishing that we have protected less than a thousandth of one per cent of our seas from fishing and all damaging activities.
It is indeed ridiculous. At present, there are two types of protected marine area for nature conservation. The first are the marine nature reserves, of which there are just threeLundy, Skomer and Strangford loughand the Government have no intention of designating any more. If the plan envisaged in the treaty goes ahead, I doubt that they would be able to do so, either. The second are the European marine sites, of which there are more than 100 in the UK, but they cover a very limited range of habitats, such as
sandbanks which are slightly covered by sea water all the time,
The public want to see more of our seas protected. A survey last year found that 78 per cent. of the public thought the UKs seas were important, and that 94 per cent. rated as important the health of the marine environment. We have to ask why the Government did not use the Lisbon treaty as an opportunity to bring powers back to the UK for environmental benefits, and to strengthen out ability to protect our seas. We need to ensure that our forthcoming marine Bill can actually offer the protection that we all want it to provide.
Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): We have heard a number of pleas from the heart about defence policy, for transport and, now, for fishermen. I recently met someone from the former fishing community of Great Yarmouth, who told me that there was now only one boat in the harbour where there used to be a thousand. That should worry us all.
I welcome the Minister for Europes earlier response to my questions on subsidiarity and other matters. I do not criticise his caution on the structures of procedures, or on the relationship, involvement and consultation between the House and the other devolved Administrations. That caution signals that it is part of a deep process that is trying to reassess our relationship with the devolved Administrations in the other parts of the UK, and the relationship between the Government in the Council and this Parliament. That reassessment will be beneficial. If that caution is just a smokescreen, however, and this all ends up being rushed through in a way that we cannot influence, I shall be deeply disappointed.
I am surprised that those on the Opposition Front Bench are expressing so much anxiety about the
institutional changes, because the one thing that I would have thought that the Convention required was a change to the institutions. Those changes should be welcomed by the people of the UK and by Members of the House, if only for the simple reason that the European Parliament will now elect a president of the Commission. That in itself is a great innovation. It will involve a parliamentary vote, which is important and the process will be separate from the Council. That means that the presidency will become part of the democratic institutions for which my constituents have been asking for years along the lines of When are we going to have a democratic institution in the European Parliament, and not just the Council and the Commission?
As for the role of the president of the Council under article 15 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union, it is quite clear who the president will be and what he will do. It is equally clear that that person will not be a member of the Commission, but a member of the Council, but I have to say that there is still some mystery about the source of the candidate, because it does not say that a president will be appointed, which suggests someone from outside, but that he will be elected, which suggests someone from inside. It might be someone who is a Prime Minister. If that person then becomes the president does it mean that the country in question will have to find another person to take up the role of Prime Minister? The wording of article 15 remains quite confusing.
Under the proposed process, the president is elected by the Council through qualified majority voting. It was established through some of our interventions that the presidency will be based in Brussels, whereas the vice-presidencyand the people who will chair the sectoral councils dealing with the business of the departments of governmentwill be taken on by a new country every six months. I welcome that. I was worried at the idea of the entire Council meeting continually in Brussels and being sucked into the machine of the Commission and the bureaucracy. Moving it around will help to engage Parliament after Parliament and Government and after Government, which will maintain a sense of continuity. If that were to be lost, it would indeed be a significant loss for usand not just when it became our turn every 27th time it came roundbecause that change and flexibility affects our ability to engage with people in their Parliaments and influence them as they influence us.
The European Parliament will be much strengthened by the new arrangements, which must be welcomed. Let us look at part six of the consolidated treaty, particularly articles 223 to 234 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union, under which co-decision making becomes the ordinary legislative process. It has got to be a good thing that an elected Parliamentnot necessarily the present one, but one that should have more and more respect and strengthwill have a real say in the final stages of legislation, which will then need to be implemented at the local level. That Parliament will also have extra budgetary powers over both budgetary processes and laws.
Under article 229, the European Parliament will have the power, on a vote of 25 per cent. of its members, to set up a committee of inquiry. Would not that be a wonderful innovation for our own Parliament
if 25 per cent. of Members could set up a special committee of inquiry into how laws are being carried out by Departments of Government? That might well be something to bring back home for use here. The European Parliament is also able to elect a European ombudsman, to whom people can refer cases of EU maladministration, which is another great innovation. Article 234, furthermore, provides for the ability to sack the Commissionnot just the president, but the Commission, separately, on a two-thirds majority. That is very attractive to me, as it moves democracy forward. I would have thought people would welcome that; I had hoped that people would focus on those positive aspects of institutional change.
We have heard much talk about qualified majority voting and I certainly accept that QMV has been more beneficial to the UK than to any other Government and it will become ever more essential for us to use it to get things through in the face of growing national obstruction to the single market. We will need to use that mechanism again and again. When we have a double majority vote, I do not understand why that cannot be not welcomed throughout the House. It is the case that 55 per cent. of members of the Council, representing at least 65 per cent. of the populations, will be able to vote to carry something on double majority voting. Under article 238, where the Council is not acting on a proposal from the Commissioner or the high representative on foreign affairs, 72 per cent. of the votes under QMV are required before it can be carried. That represents 65 per cent. of the population. All those provisions are very beneficial. Furthermore, 35 per cent. of the populations voting through their representative in Council can act as a blocking minority, which makes me wonder how many safeguards the Opposition want before they realise that such QMV will be beneficial to us.
I have some concerns about a matter that I have seriously examined, as it has been raised by members of the European Scrutiny Committee, which relates to the aims of EU institutions as provided for in article 13(2). It states:
The institutions shall practise mutual sincere cooperation.
The Union shall have an institutional framework which shall aim to promote its values, advance its objectives, serve its interests, those of its citizens and those of the Member States, and ensure the consistency, effectiveness and continuity of its policies and actions.
I view that as a counter-conspiracy clause, because it stresses that the interests of member states must be at the heart before anything further is added by any other part of the treaty. I would hope that we all commend that.
Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con):
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee. As usual, he spoke with considerable authority on these matters. He knows that I like to quote him from time to time, particularly when he said on the Today programme of the Governments red lines that they would leak like a
sievea very important quote, which bears frequent repetition when we are debating the treaty of Lisbon.
I will refer briefly to the amateur dramatics that we saw earlier from the Liberal Democrats. They are making great play of this in-out referendum. All I will say, and very briefly, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is that there was no reference in their manifesto to an in-out referendum; indeed, they argued for a referendum on the EU constitution, so they have no democratic mandate for the stunt that they pulled in the House this afternoon.
Todays debate has considered some of the core issues of the treaty: the new EU president, the new definition and distribution of the EUs powers, the single legal personality, the abolition of more than 50 vetoes, the expansion of the European Parliaments powers and the ratchet clause. Yet the debate has had a slightly surreal quality because many of the decisions about how the new institutions will work in practice have yet to be taken.
The House has been asked to discuss and scrutinise what amounts to a pig in a poke. To take one example, the European external action service is one of the most important institutional innovations in the treaty, but we are in ignorance of answers to crucial questions. As one former German ambassador to the EU put it:
What will be the share of member states
I dont know. These are all open questions.
Those are, in fact, vital questions, to which Ministers do not have answers. I think that that is a shame and the fact that the Government have allowed such a position to arise provides an example of how little they care about their duty to be accountable to Parliament, let alone the British people.
There can be little doubt that, taken as a whole, the treaty is the most fundamental change to the EUs structure since its foundation. The intergovernmental nature of decision making on criminal justice and policing, where direct national democratic accountability is vital, is fully absorbed into the Community system, the Commission having the main right of initiative, co-decision with the European Parliament and full jurisdiction by the European Court of Justice. That is a fundamental change, as the chairman of the European Scrutiny Committeeif he can bear me quoting him twice has previously said. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) has also explained, the new president of the European Council will transform the way in which the European Council is run. This process is also an example of how the treaty does not end institutional debate in the EU, but sets new dynamics in train.
As we repeatedly mention, because it bears repetition, the relationship between the proposed president and the new high representativethe Foreign Minister under another namehas not been worked out. As Brian Crowe, deputy director of Chatham House and former director general for external and politico-military affairs in the Council of the European Union, argued in a recent article and parliamentary brief, the president
is to represent the EU at his or her level, which is one thing for attendance at EU summits with third countries, quite another if (as will always be the temptation for former heads of government who are likely to get the job) he seeks to cut a figure on the world stage competitively with the EU High Representative.
Mr. Francois: I think that the former Prime Minister has enough problems wondering whether he can secure the support of the current Prime Minister, let alone the Chancellor of Germany, but the hon. Ladys point has been put firmly on the record.
One would have thought that after so many years of careful consideration, the new treaty produced by the Convention on the Future of Europe and mulled over numerous time by Europes Heads of State and Heads of Government would be a seamless web, clear in its outcomes and bringing new rationality to the EUs structures. The fact that, after all that, the document gives us unknown outcomes and inter-institutional strife is surely a strong case for the argument that it is fundamentally flawed.
In his opening speech, the Minister for Europe claimed that this countrys voting weight would increase as a result of the treaty. In purely simple terms that is true, but in practice the countrys ability to influence European legislation would be diminished, because it would become harder to form blocking minorities. That is the key point. Of course in some circumstances it could work in our favour, but given the difficulty that the Government have had in holding together a sufficient blocking minority on the working time and agency workers directives, it would be foolish to underestimate the damage that the shrinking of our voting weight might do to our ability to protect vital national interests such as the preservation of a flexible labour market.
Mr. Henderson: I shall be very brief. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that what he has just said is at the nub of the Conservative position, which is always that Britain should be outside, that Britain is better on its own, and that Britain should not co-operate with others, rather than that Britain should use the new reforms to bring British views into line with those of others and form majorities? As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is the reality in European Council meetings.
Mr. Francois: If that is the case, why have the Government been struggling so hard to retain blocking minorities on those two directives? I am afraid that is a question that he has not been able to answer.
In relation to qualified majority voting, the treaty marks a major shift in the EUs way of working. For the first time, the system whereby the Commission proposes legislation and the Council votes on it in co-decision with the European Parliament becomes, in the words of
the treaty, the ordinary legislative procedure. As the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee has also saidI follow his words very closelythe fact that co-decision with the European Parliament under the treaty will now apply in some 95 per cent. of cases represents another fundamental, massive change. He is right, and it is because of such fundamental changes that the treaty has an importance that merits the referendum we were promised.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks referred to the language in which the treaty sets out the EUs competences, which is copied almost word for word from the EU constitution. Let me develop one point further. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) observed, it is an innovation for the conservation of marine biological resources to be set out as an exclusive competence in the treaties. Such an entrenchment of case law is, in this instance, an illustration of the failure of what is described as the EU reform treaty to tackle areas in which the EU needs to undertake real reform. So far, the common fisheries policy has been less an area of EU competence than one of EU incompetence. Far from conserving marine biological resourcesor fish, as they are usually called in Englishthe common fisheries policy means that our seas have fewer of them. The direction of policy travel should be the opposite direction.
Let me end by making some observations about the passerelle or ratchet clauses. We shall have further opportunities to discuss them next week, but the new, almost all-embracing simplified revision procedure marks one of the treatys most important innovations. I think it is a sign of the draftsmens intent that it makes it so easy for the EU to get rid of remaining vetoes in this way. It must be a matter of regret that there is no comparable simplified revision procedure to reverse the ratchet. There is such a provision, incidentally, in the new ordinary revision procedure, for which we have the Czech Government to thankwhich I dobut the hurdle is very high. If the House is to exercise any real control over the development of Britains future in Europe, it is therefore vital for us to have the safeguard that the simplified revision procedure, or ratchet clause, cannot be used without primary legislation. Important Committees of the House have argued for that in examining the treaty, and we support their contention wholeheartedly.
The treaty does not make the EU more efficient, or improve the quality of decision making. It sets institution against institution, and diminishes the role of member states. It fails to respond to the EUs crisis of the democratic deficitthe crisis which, as those with long memories will recall, the whole treaty process was launched to address at the Laeken European council meeting in December 2001. Throughout that process the Governments approach has been reactive, not proactive, favouring damage limitation over strategic vision. How often the Government have tabled amendments that have been defeated, and then described them to the House as searching questions. Why did they not search further, and insist that those amendments be made?
Instead of real change, we are offered an intensification of existing centralising tendencies. It is for those reasons that the treaty should be rejected and, ultimately, put to the British people in the referendum that they were so solemnly promised in the first place.
The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Helen Goodman): We have had an excellent debate on matters that are central to the Lisbon treaty. It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois), who gave his usual robust performance.
to complete the process started by the Treaty of Amsterdam and by the Treaty of Nice with a view to enhancing the efficiency and democratic legitimacy of the Union and to improving the coherence of its action.
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