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I am familiar with the tactics of my hon. Friend, as I think the House probably is. He is often an expert at tripping up right hon. and hon. Members on the detail of their amendments. However, on this occasion, I think that he has failed adequately to read the amendment, which in no way suggests that the House should mandate Ministers. The phrase refers to the fact that when Ministers go to the Council, they effectively have a negotiating mandate from the Government. If the amendment were agreed, it would be a legal requirement for a Minister to come here first to explain generally his or her negotiating remit. The House may or not choose or even be asked to change that remit, but at least the Minister would be able to proceed in full knowledge of the views expressed in all parts of the House and would be able to take them into account in any debates. Even more importantly, this House of Commons would be able to fulfil its historic role of providing a democratic link between the people and the institutions that take decisions on their conditions
of lifeoften, I have to say, to their detriment, as the social provisions built up mainly by Labour Governments over the last 50 years are rapidly being eaten away by a neo-liberal tide.
FinallyI shall try not to go on speaking for another 10 minutes after saying thatlet me deal with the most radical elements of the amendment. I am proposing a new way for the House to relate to the European Union. It seems to memy hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) raised this in his interventionthat there is a mystery as to how decisions are taken. Frequently, decisions give rise to misconceptions; we have all heard many references to straight bananas. The way to avoid those myths and misconceptions is to have the light of day cast upon those areas. [Interruption.] Indeed, transparency is needed. At the moment, nobody quite knows how or where decisions are taken.
The most radical parts of the amendment are precisely those referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-Westproposed subsections (A1), (A2) and (A5), which would require Ministers to come to this House in advance of making decisions at the European Council in order to test the views of the House. It does not say how that should be done; it would not have to be done through a Committee of the whole House. I have deliberately left that open for the Government to determine, but the House must regain the right to speak up on behalf of the people of this country on matters that are changing fundamentallyand I would argue often deleteriouslyhow we live our lives.
By the way, the amendment would not change the treaty in any way, and for its purposes the treaty is accepted. The amendment simply says that the way in which EU decisions relate back to our country should be changed and mediated by the prime democratic institution of our society, which is the House of Commons.
Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Jon Trickett: I was about to finish, but I give way.
Stewart Hosie: The hon. Gentleman refers to the prime democratic authority, and he is talking about Ministers of the Crown, who obviously would have the lead role in any negotiations, but many of the subjects that he and I are concerned aboutsocial housing, education and healthare fully devolved. How does he foresee the devolved Administrations, with their own Ministers and the separate Acts of the Scottish Parliament, relating to the safeguards that he is proposing?
Jon Trickett: The fact that the hon. Gentleman is able to raise the point illustrates the ability that Members representing devolved areas have to debate those issues in this House of Commons. The amendment is not proposing that the House of Commons should pass certain legislation. It simply says that the Minister should come to the House to represent how he or she would take forward the countrys interests and explain what he or she intends to do, before agreeing to decisions that begin to unravel many of the social provisions that have made this country a more civilised place.
Jon Trickett: I shall give way one last time.
Michael Connarty: I understand that people often deal with principles and have those principles to the fore, but do not often follow the EU and the process
The Chairman: Order. Will the hon. Gentleman address the Chair, because that helps the microphone to pick up his words?
Michael Connarty: For the benefit of the microphones, I certainly will.
Has my hon. Friend taken the trouble to look at the Select Committee on European Scrutiny report on the draft conclusions of the European Council, which is the Council to which the Prime Minister goes and which eventually agrees the policies that will go through? We took evidence from a number of people, such as Sir Stephen Wall, the former Cabinet Secretary, that those draft conclusions should be made available, at least to the scrutiny processes of Parliament, which means the scrutiny Committee of this House and that of the House of Lords, as well as any Select Committee relevant to a policy that is being made.
If my hon. Friend had followed that process, he might have supported it as a method of bringing about what he is trying to achieve, which is giving the House a chance to direct the Prime Minister and other Ministers as to how the House feels about the policies that they are about to agree. The report is on the record.
Jon Trickett: I look forward to the Ministers reply, and I pay tribute to the work that the Select Committee has done under my hon. Friends excellent leadership. This country and Europe as a whole face a political and democratic crisis whereby the separation between the ordinary people of Europethe working people of Europeand institutions has never been wider since democratic government was installed. Part of the problem is precisely the fact that a tidal wave of change, involving competition and marketisation, is damaging how people live their lives.
The people suspect and understandit is truethat, to an extent, this House of Commons has been emasculated in relation to the process of ensuring that those social provisions are properly protected. It is imperative that an amendment of this kind is agreed so that, once again, this House of Commons becomes the mouthpiece of the ordinary people of our country. The severe consequences of that crisis have yet to be felt.
Mr. Harper: I shall not dwell at length on the detail of the various passerelle measures in the treaty, because my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) dealt with them comprehensively in speaking to the amendment. There are one or two things, though, that are worth putting on the record in relation to the Governments position. Again, and in relation to this part of the treaty, what the Government signed up to is not what they originally said.
All Members were sent a helpful document from Open EuropeA guide to the constitutional treaty. It is helpful to refer to organisations that have been helpful to hon. Members. The document contains some
useful quotes from former members of the Government, made about this section when they were preparing the treaty. The right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) told the Standing Committee on the Intergovernmental Conference:
We think that a self-amending constitutional treaty does not make a lot of sense.
There is no enthusiasm for the clause in the European Union.[ Official Report, Standing Committee on the Intergovernmental Conference, 20 October 2003; c. 21-22.]
Indeed, in 2003 the Governments own White Paper said:
There is also a proposal for a clause which would allow the European Council to vote by unanimity to move any Treaty article to QMV.
It made it clear that the Government opposed anything that would undermine the role of national Parliaments in treaty change.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wells alluded to remarks made by the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, who was then Foreign Secretary. He said that
what we cannot have is a situation where even though
has to be by unanimity, late at night at an ordinary European Council, a decision on one other countrys milk quotas is traded for a concession on moving from unanimity to QMV...that is not acceptable.
That, however, is exactly the position that the House will authorise if it puts through the treaty and the Bill without seriously considering some of the amendments that have been tabled.
It is worth reminding ourselves of the extent to which Parliament is removing some of its powers. We in the HouseMembers on both sideshave made the point while debating the Bill and the treaty that the time available has not been adequate, especially that in Committee for discussing detailed amendments. However, the Bill and the treaty, as my right hon. Friend explained in detail, will remove even those provisions that force the House to debate such matters on the Floor, at least in as much detail as we have been able to debate them during our discussions on this treaty. They will be replaced by a simple motion, moved by a Minister, that will be unamendable and no doubt dealt with during a short debate late at night. That position is not acceptable.
Worse, Ministerscertainly outside the Housein referring to clause 6, which is entitled Parliamentary control of decisions, have tried to give the impression that what is happening here is a strengthening of parliamentary control. They refer to the fact that the House and the other place will have to vote on a motion to approve some of those changes, neglecting to point out that the status quo is that an Act of Parliament has to be passed to put through treaty changes.
Ministers need to be honest and remind people that the current procedure is that treaty changes have to be agreed at an intergovernmental conference and have to be taken through by primary legislationan Act of Parliament passed by both Houses. Making it possible for those treaty changes to take place and then be approved by both Houses through a simple motion will weaken the control of Parliament, not strengthen it. A little honesty in that regard would be welcome.
I return to a point that I made in an intervention. The Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), referred to promises that the Prime Minister made to his Select Committee. I drew attention to the fact that I do not think the Prime Ministers word is worth a great deal since he has broken it over a referendum, but even if we accept his word on that, just to be charitable, he is not able to bind any future Labour Prime Minister. Therefore, the House would be foolish to give away powers, just on the word of a transient Administration who can in no way bind a future Administration. That would be unwise and an unhelpful precedent to set.
I shall not dwell on amendment No. 286, but I want to take up a point made by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris). When he spoke about mandates and negotiating tactics, he referred to the former President of Poland and the approach that he took in his trade union negotiations. Those negotiations appear to have been reasonably successfulalbeit after a number of yearsin that he was pivotal in bringing down a Communist Administration and becoming President of his country. If that is the kind of success that a mandate has, perhaps British Ministers could adopt it and push forward a British agenda within the European Union.
I am greatly attracted by amendment No. 47, also tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for WellsI hope he will give us an opportunity to vote on itby amendment No. 18, tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), and by two amendments in the next group. Those amendments seek to make it mandatory for Ministers to agree to treaty changes only by means of a full Act of Parliament, rather than through parliamentary motions, which I consider to be an unsatisfactory way of controlling what they are able to do. If both Houses had to undertake the full parliamentary procedure we would ensure that we maintained the status quo, and I feel thatnotwithstanding the lack of debate in the House and the inadequacy of the time availablethat would be preferable to what the Government propose.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells will press amendment No. 47 to a vote, and I look forward to the debate on the next group of amendments.
I am becoming quite accustomed to listening to the speeches of the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper), and to speaking after him. I should point out to him that the Prime Minister appeared before the Liaison Committee, which consists of the Chairs of all the Select Committees. The Prime Minister does not appear before individual Select Committees, although when he was Chancellor he appeared very willingly before the European Scrutiny Committee. He spoke lucidly and, in my opinion, demonstrated an inventive attitude towards some of the European Unions policies. I am thinking particularly of his ideas about the funding of what were called regional policies when we had a regional policy. I think that if he were ever to
implement those ideas, it would be very beneficial to the regions of the United Kingdom They were based on support for innovation rather than the attempts to bolster dying industries that we have seen in the past in many parts of the European Community.
As for the mandate, I am surprised that Members should see a parallel between Lech Walesa and the democratic institutions, and the fall of Soviet communism, but do not see the association between the European Union and the fact that countries wish to join it because they view it as a form of democratic co-operation constituting an alternative to what confronted them under the dominating vertical force of Soviet communism. The European Union is the very thing that helped Lech Walesa to break down the control of the Soviet Union. People speak of the EU as if it were a malicious and malignant organisation, whereas it offers numerous benefits to all those countriesfrom those that are very near to us, such as Ireland, which was not previously under Soviet domination but was a stagnant economy, to Slovenia, which has 2 million people, currently holds the EU presidency and is doing extremely well in maintaining Europes momentum.
Mr. Harper: I am perfectly prepared to accept that the present Polish Government have views about the European Union and the extent to which it is helpful to Polands economic developmentthat is a matter for thembut I cannot leave unchallenged the hon. Gentlemans suggestion that the Soviet domination of Europe was brought down by the EU. I think it should be put on record that the strength of the Reagan Administration and NATO had quite a lot to do with it.
Michael Connarty: As I pointed out yesterday, the defence protocols are very clear. They maintain peoples right to work within NATO, and envisage it as a bulwark for what is happening in the EU and the countries within it. I did not say that it was the EU that brought down Soviet domination. People were attracted and motivated by the force of the democratic arrangements in the EU, as has been demonstrated by the succession of revolutions that have taken place throughout Europe since then.
The right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), who always makes thoughtful contributions, quotedas I did yesterdayfrom paragraph 42 of our Committees 35th report. It was published on 9 October 2007, before Ministers returned to Europe, under pressureor encouraged by those who had taken part in evidence sessions and discussions with theto find a way of protecting the United Kingdom from a simplified revision procedure. They did not bring back an intergovernmental conference mandate because they clearly did not consider that useful, but they did bring back conditions for opting in, along with article 10 to protocol 10 and firm commitments to unanimity of common foreign and security, defence and tax policy. They also brought back the agreement that if we departed from unanimity, we would move to qualified majority voting only through the procedure that we now know as the passerelle.
Stewart Hosie: Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that he prefers the approach he has just described, in some detail, to the negotiating mandate position that was described earlier?
Michael Connarty: I see no contradiction between those approaches. I think we should focus on how best we can satisfy Parliament that the Government are being scrutinised. Given that a mandating system will eventually be introduced, presumably it will be negotiated by all the parties in the House. The question of what the consultation arrangements will be for the devolved Administrations exercises my Committee frequently, and we must find a solution. Difficulties tend to be caused by the time scale and the capacity of the devolved Administrations, rather than by the Houses willingness to take consultation on board. At present, the capacity does not seem to be there or to be developing.
Let me now deal with the relationship between this Parliament and decisions made in the European Union. Some say that passerelle can be translated as gangway. They may be imagining a ship in the modern sense: a fancy big ship, with a large structure that people walk up and down. I prefer to think of the old-fashioned wooden ship which had a gang plank. In the old pirate days people were made to walk the plank, and that seems much more appropriate. When people walked down the plank they would not walk up again, whereas it is obviously possible to walk up and down a gangway. The passerelle is a one-way system. If a country gives up unanimity and adopts qualified majority voting, it is not possible for it to return to unanimity, which is why it was so important for the Liaison Committee to hear the Prime Ministers assurance.
The Prime Minister could have completed his contributions to the Committee without referring specifically to the passerelle, leaving it hanging in the air. However, during his final observations about the way in which the Bill would be presented to Parliament, he said this:
Can I add for the passerelles, howeveryou did raise the question of the passerelles and this is a very important issue you can only decide by unanimity, of course, to move in a passerelle to a different position from where you have been, but I do believe that is a matter that has got to come before the House of Commons.
That was a voluntary statement. The Prime Minister had clearly thought about it earlier, and wanted to put it on record before what is probably the most senior Committee of the House, consisting of the Chairs of all the Select Committees. That was a fundamental statement by the Prime Minister; if we move forward to QMV, we cannot go back, and that move can be made only by a decision on the Floor of the House. That gives the House a say and a chance to debate.
When the Minister is finished with the trials of putting the Bill through the House, I hope that Foreign Office officials will have brought forward proposalsour Committee will certainly have thought about it and made some suggestionsfor a structure. The hon. Member for Forest of Dean talked about not taking the word of the Prime Minister; I am sure he was not implying that he would not be sincere. However, we would be putting in place a regulationa set of rulesthat would be voted on by this House, binding future Governments unless they wished to propose other regulations and get them voted through in the House. That would not bind a Government who wished to overturn the regulations, but it would set down a principle that, for me, would say that a future Labour Government would be bound by the same set of regulations as the present one. I take some comfort from that.
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