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On the Post Office, the door has been slammed and the horse has not only bolted but is halfway through the paddock. We agreed earlier than everyone else to liberalise our postal services. The French have now realised that they would not be happy with their service being liberalised and have put the whole thing back to 2011; some countries have put it back to 2013. They realise, I think correctly, that we are destroying the Post Office and Royal Mail by what we are doing. We are fundamentally undermining and damaging not just a great icon of the British way of life, but a great service delivered to the people of the UK. Any argument made in Europe now about phasing liberalisation would find it hard to get a hearing, as what is now called economic patriotismreally obstructionism and protectionismis back on the agenda in Europe. We cannot do anything about our postal service, but we are signalling that it is all right for other countries to deny us the right to go into their liberalised markets, which I believe to be the way forward.
Rob Marris: I caution my hon. Friend who, I suggest, is confusing two things: one, the liberalisation of postal delivery, which this country has done prematurely, and two, the sub-post office network, a contentious political issue in the country now. Those two are separate. The former is to do with the European Union; the latter is not.
Michael Connarty: They are actually all tied up. The Post Office used to cross-subsidise the postal network, including the sub-post offices, and made a massive profit that was taken consistently by the last Conservative Government as a premium to the Treasury. It was a profitable organisation and was undermined by technology, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, by the policies encouraged by the then Government and by our Government. They said that it was not valuable enough to have a social institution such as the post office in a community, whether an urban one with deprivation or a rural one with sparsity problems. We turned our face away from the fundamental message that the British Government believed in peoples communities, and not just the services delivered in them.
Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) made a slight mistake in suggesting that it was Europe that caused our postal markets to end up as they have. We have gone far further, far faster than Europe required and Europe is not requiring the rest of the countries to catch up.
I thank my hon. Friend, who has largely stolen my thunder; my speech, if called, will be very short. He knows that what he has said was the basis of the Postal Services Act 2000. I was a member of the Bill Committee and we were given all manner of assurances that what the UK did one day, the rest of Europe would
follow on and do. Quite simply, that has not happened. Good luck to Europeit has learned from our mistakesbut does my hon. Friend agree that we ought to be going back to repair some of the damage we have done to our postal system?
Michael Connarty: I do agree. People will know that despite some difficulties in doing the external work of the European Scrutiny Committee, we do get to debate these matters with our colleagues in COSAC, the committee of all European committees. Significantly, about a year ago a senior senatorprobably the equivalent of Lord Grenfell hereSenator Haenel, talked about the danger to the post offices in his area because he saw what was happening to the villages in our country. Suddenly, someone whom I would have said was a very conservative member of the senate became very protectionist in his attitude. There were some heated debates in COSAC, which led to changes in what is now expected from the final roll-out.
Mr. Cash: The Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee has almost an obligation to give way in such matters. We are both members of the Committee and my point concerns COSAC. It may be a misunderstanding, or he may have omitted to mention it, but I have a report containing 158 pages of comparisons of the different scrutiny systems of each of the member states, prepared through COSAC. Does he agree that that demonstrates that whatever the deficiencies of our systemthey are quite considerablethe fact remains that the sort of thing that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) is proposing is absolutely essential for this country? In many of the other countries, there is not only no level playing field, but no playing field at all.
Michael Connarty: I know of the report that the hon. Gentleman mentions and I was not going to go into the detail of it. The variety of systems reflects the capacity of as well as the interest from those countries in the way they deliver their own scrutiny.
I want to finish by referring to a number of the services that I believe should be considered services of special interest. That is the way Europe is going. I referred earlier to Professor Sir David Edwards, who was a European Court of Justice judge and is now a senior figure in legal and academic circles in Scotland. He made it clearagain, this was a voluntary statement; he was not pressed by a questionon Friday at the British Institute of International and Comparative Law conference that the protocol on services of special interest would, for example, have prevented the forced tender process in which Caledonian MacBrayne had to win the right to deliver a ferry service to the islands of Scotland. He saw many other examples. Health and other services should be argued for strongly by the Government to prevent any attempt to interfere.
Another case was in the Netherlands, where social housing was declared to be against competition policy. That has to be challenged under the protocol on services of special interest. If it was built for a specific social purpose, it should be defended as a social service, like the ferry service to the islands.
On mandating, we have the best system of the non-mandating countries. There is no doubt about that; we talk to people as we go around all 27 member states and those who aspire to come into the EU. We have a good system that is developing and improving. Departments are responding better in terms of reports. We have many suggestions on how we move forward:, possibly by taking evidence in pre-Council scrutiny; possibly by taking evidence from a Minister before they go to the Council. The Prime Minister would be outwith that, but another suggestion would be to use the draft conclusions of the Council that the Prime Minister attends as a public document for scrutiny. We can develop this a long way, but I am not sure that we need to go all the way to mandating. How do we mandate? How would the European Scrutiny Committee be mandated?
Finland gives its Grand Committee the right to discuss with the Prime Minister what he will discuss in the Council, using the draft conclusions. It does not do that publicly; it does not tell the rest of Parliamentit is trusted to do that. I do not know whether any member of a future Governmentthat is not a Labour Governmentwill pick up the telephone and say to the Chairman of the ESC, Something has come up in the Council; do you mind if I vote for it? I understand, however, that at one point in the Nice treaty negotiations the Finnish Prime Minister was on the phone at 3 am to the Chair of the Grand Committee of the Finnish Parliament to ask, Can we agree to this or that as they are different from what we discussed in the Grand Committee? What would happen in such circumstances? Suspicion would fall on the ESC; some would think that, because of pressure applied by various means through the usual channels, the ESC was letting the Government get away with murder, and there would be disquiet in the House. Therefore, as the ESC is currently getting so many accolades, I am not attracted to the mandating system.
Michael Connarty: I am sure that the usual channels will put that to the Prime Minister. If he has looked at my performances recently, as I have been supporting the Government all the way through our debates against the forces of darkness, he will probably now be more attracted to the idea of doing that than he might have been before they began eight days ago. However, I still do not think that the mandating system is proven enough that it would not be a retrograde step to involve the ESC in it.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), who is Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee; I know that he does his work conscientiously and independently. I will not follow him down the route that he has led us along, however. He mentioned the
passerelle and said that the word meant a gangplank. That is not quite right. It is a French word, and I have consulted my trusty Oxford French mini-dictionary, which tells me that a passerelle is a footbridge or gangway. I usually use a footbridge or gangway as a means of getting quickly and easily from one place to another. That is exactly what we are being invited to do with the provisions of the treaty.
I support the underlying propositions in the amendments that there should be a higher level of vigilance and a greater degree of parliamentary control over how we use these passerelle clauses. I especially support amendment No. 47 and the propositions advanced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), who made a most careful analysis of the passerelles in the treaty. He also gave us a brief historical exposition of passerelles. It was, I think, a fair exposition: there have been passerelles before, but not on the scale that they appear in this treaty. Perhaps the best known example of a passerelle was one introduced by the treaty of Amsterdam, which revised the treaty of Maastricht; it made it possible for some parts of the justice and home affairs pillar to be moved to the Community pillarthe first pillar. There was talk of the passerelle being used to do exactly that; that talk came to an end only when it was apparent that this treaty process was under way and it was likely to happen anywaywhich it did. It is fair to say that there has been a great deal of incremental change through treaty processes.
Mr. Harper: My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) drew attention to a much narrower set of passerelles in an earlier treaty, and said they had hardly been used. However, does my hon. Friend not agree that, even if that had been the case in the past, this House should be very jealous of giving away its powers, particularly when those who are urging us to give them away argue that they will never be used?
Mr. Clappison: I will go away and refer to some dusty tomes and study passerelles, but I remember in the Maastricht process our being told that the justice and home affairs pillar would be quite separate and independent and there for all time, and that it was a safeguard against those matters ever being subsumed within the general Community provisions of the first pillar, which related to the market, fisheries policy and other aspects that were already part of the Community method and were under the supervision of the European Court of Justice and the authority of the European Commission.
There has been a great deal of incremental change through treaty methodsthrough the conclusion of a treatyand there are a significant number of incremental changes in this treaty. I believe that we have been less than vigilant in scrutinising themin respect of defence, to take one example from many. The Government must take responsibility for that as they put in place the process for scrutinising the Bill. That is, however, an argument of the past and for another day.
We need to look carefully into how the treaty opens the door to new possibilities for incremental change on a quite different basis and in a quite different way from the already substantial incremental change that we have seen. As my right hon. Friend the Member for
Wells said, if these provisions are unamended the Bill will be dispensing with the need for the procedure and paraphernalia of intergovernmental conferences and treaties conducted in the full spotlight of public attention before treaty changes can take place. Under the Lisbon treaty, it will in future be possible to have change without a treaty and all the accompanying paraphernaliathe intergovernmental mandate, the intergovernmental conference and the treaty ratification going before individual member states. All that will go out of the window; in future, we will have change without a treaty, and change brought about on a case-by-case basis.
Mr. Cash: As a fellow member of the ESC, my hon. Friend will recall the recommendation we made in the 35th report. We said that we were concerned that the provisions would bypass the need for IGCs and lead to less transparency and less accountability to national Parliaments. We then asked the Government if they would outline what safeguards they had put in place. The ESC Chairman, the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), has indicated that some progress has been made. Does my hon. Friend wish to illustrate by reference to the Bills provisions just how little progress was made?
Mr. Clappison: My hon. Friend is tempting me down not a passerelle, but a cul-de-sac. I am happy to go down it, however, as it is highly relevant to my points. I heard what the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk said, and he was right to an extent, but we must remember this: there was no changeor very little change, and only change that was adverse to this countrybetween the intergovernmental mandate in June and the intergovernmental conference in November. No Community-wide change was brought about in the form of additional safeguards in the treaty itself; there was nothing like that. All that the Government have offered us is what they have put forward as a safeguard before making decisions with which the treaty deals. The Government have not had any negotiating success in building more safeguards into the treaty of Lisbon itself.
Michael Connarty: The hon. Gentleman and I obviously have different views on this issue. When the Government negotiate a treaty, they do so in the interests of this country, and not necessarily to make changes for every other countryalthough some of the changes that we brought forward were followed by Ireland and Poland. Is it not a fundamental safeguard that when there is a veto on something we get an agreement that it can be given away only when this Parliament decides that it approves of doing so? That is a fundamental change. Although the passerelle clauses are in place, if the Government retain the veto, that is the most important safeguard of all. We do not give anything up that we do not want to give up.
I have three points. First, historians will have an interesting time analysing the processes by which the intergovernmental mandate came into being at the end of the previous Prime Ministers time in office. Secondly, the Government have had a veto on many of the provisions that now appear in the treaty. There is a long list of examples of the Governments
opposing what has gone into the treaty, but such things have gone into the treaty none the less. That happened even though the Government did, in effect, have a veto; they had the arguments, but lost them as part of the overall process.
That has happened time and again, including with the provisions I referred to which took place between the IGC mandate being agreed in June and the IGC in November. The only changes made to the treaty were ones that could only be adverse to this country, because they included penalty clauses on what would otherwise have been an exercise of free will by this countrythat is a triumph of negotiation. If any businessman were to bring back only a series of penalty clauses from a negotiation, he would soon be looking for another job. That illustrates the level of failure.
The final and most important point to make in response to the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk builds on one of my earlier interventions. He needs to recognise the overall change that is taking place in how the European Union does business, because it sends a signal throughout the European Union about how business will be done in future. We will simply have to get used to the approach. He knows as well as I do how often Ministers come back to the European Scrutiny Committee saying, We had to reach an agreement on this to make a compromise on the other. That is the way in which business is done in the European Union.
Mr. Cash: Are not decisions taken on a vast range of matters by the United Kingdom representatives? In other words, the proposal says that the Minister may not vote, but something on the A-list will not be voted on anyway because it will be decided by the Committee of Permanent Representatives. Furthermore, the regulations do not require legislation in this House.
Mr. Clappison: My hon. Friend is right. The wider point is that we shall simply have to get used to the fact that this is how the European Union will do business in future. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk for his integrity and independence, and for the way in which he tries to scrutinise this matter, but we will have to get used to this approach.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wells mentioned the treatys wide range of passerelle provisions. I want to focus on three particularly important ones which relate to safeguards in the amendments. Three important additions made by way of passerelle provisions in the treaty will open the door for future incremental change. The first and most important one is the simplified revision procedure, which dispenses with intergovernmental conferences and treaties. It enables changes to be made to certain treaty provisions by a vote in the European Council, following consultation with the Commissionthat is a tough provisionand the European Parliament, and approval by member states, in accordance with their constitutions.
That procedure contains a number of safeguards, but it must be beyond peradventure that it is an easier way of making change and that the safeguards put in place are less significant and substantial than the existing ones. I hope that we will not hear the familiar argument,
made by the Liberal Democrats in particular, that because some safeguards are still in place, we can overlook the fact that more substantial safeguards are being dispensed with.
I hope that the Minister will admit that the procedure is an easier one for revising treaties. If we wanted to make the same treaty changes under the present arrangements we would have to go through the whole paraphernalia of an IGC at a Council, the agreement of a mandate, the signing of a treaty ratification and so on. The Minister has been fair throughout these proceedings, and I think he is acknowledging that the treatys procedure is easier.
The much easier procedure covers the whole of part three of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union, and that is the backbone of the treaty from a policy point of view, because it covers a wide range of areas, including health, which Labour Members were most exercised about. They will have to face up to the possibility of decisions on health and changes in the treaty text to enlarge the sphere of the Unions competence in health being made by majority voting in the Councilthe health measures are currently decided by the ordinary procedureand all that that would mean for this country. That is my first example of the operation of a passerelle clause.
A second way in which incremental change can be brought about under the simplified revision procedure is a separate provision that enables the Union to move from unanimity to qualified majority voting in any part of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union, including part three, and in the non-defence parts of the common foreign and security policy, which are contained in the treaty on European Union as opposed to the treaty on the functioning of the European Union. That provision is a still easier way of making incremental change, whereby the move to QMV follows a vote by the European Council, which must be by unanimity, but there is no requirement for constitutional approval in individual states. Instead, a form of negative resolution procedure is provided for under which a change to QMV can be halted if an individual Parliament objects.
My next point might interest the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, because it shows how effective the British Governments vetoes have been in the past. In a former roleI think he was discharging his functions as Foreign Secretarythe Secretary of State for Justice specifically told the Standing Committee on the Intergovernmental Conference at the time that the procedure was unacceptable and illogical. He was talking about the specific procedure embodied in the Bill. A Government White Paper in 2003 also said that the Government were opposed in principle to the provision, yet the clause is in the Bill.
Rob Marris: If I have misunderstood the hon. Gentleman, I hope he will correct me. He was talking about QMV provisions in the treaty on European Union. Article 31 of that treaty contains what I have referred to in previous debates as a jokerhe will remember that, because he has been an assiduous attender. Paragraph 2 of that article, which is on page 23 of the consolidated treaties, states:
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