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If a member of the Council declares that, for vital and stated reasons of national policy, it intends to oppose the adoption of a decision to be taken by qualified majority, a vote shall not be
taken. The High Representative will, in close consultation with the Member State involved, search for a solution acceptable to it. If he does not succeed, the Council may, acting by a qualified majority, request that the matter be referred to the European Council for decision by unanimity.
Mr. Clappison: I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has highlighted that, because I am coming to it. I am following the Foreign Affairs Committees analysis of the treaty provisions. The process that I just described comes under the simplified revision procedure, and it is a different way of introducing QMV to the non-defence parts of the common foreign and security policy. As I described, it includes the safeguard of a form of negative resolution procedure. The procedure that he has just described is a third way of moving from unanimity to QMV in non-defence areas of the CFSP. If he will hear me out, he may try to put me right at the end.
The CFSP already contains QMV. I know that the hon. Gentleman has a bit of difficulty with this, but if he were to read that article 31, he would see that it describes the process. Paragraph 2 of that article in the consolidated treaty states:
By derogation from the provisions of paragraph 1, the Council shall act by qualified majority.
It then sets out four different circumstances in which the Council will act by QMV. If the treaty says that it is talking about QMV, I do not have to make the point. As he correctly pointed out, it is subject to a safeguard in a later provision in the paragraph, which states:
If a member of the Council declares that, for vital and stated reasons of national policy, it intends to oppose the adoption of a decision to be taken by qualified majority, a vote shall not be taken.
It may interest the hon. Gentleman to know that the same safeguard appears in the treaty of Nice, except that the Lisbon treatys safeguard is weaker. The treaty of Nice refers to this process being able to be undertaken by a member state if it has an objection because there is an important reason of national policy. The threshold for the exercise of the emergency brake rises in the Lisbon treaty, because the reason needs to be a vital one. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that that is a further incremental change to make the emergency brake more difficult to use and a signal that there will be more qualified majority voting in future.
The same is the case for the separate provision contained in article 31.3, which states:
The European Council may unanimously adopt a decision stipulating that the Council shall act by qualified majority in cases other than those referred to in paragraph 2.
That provision is not subject to the negative resolution procedure that I have described: it is a straightforward vote by the European Council to move to qualified majority voting. Therefore, under the provisions of the treaty there are two ways of getting from unanimity to qualified majority voting on issues that are not defence, common security and foreign policy matters.
Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Clappison: I shall certainly give way to the hon. Gentleman, who is an expert in these matters.
Mr. Davies: The hon. Gentleman has just referred to the mechanism under which the Council can decide that qualified majority voting should operate in a particular matter, but surely that decision would have to be unanimous and this country would therefore have an effective veto. In other words, that mechanism could never be triggered unless we decided that it was in our interests to allow it to be triggered.
Mr. Clappison: I do not wish to be unkind to the hon. Gentleman, but I do not think that he has followed the whole argument, because that applies to all the provisions that we are talking about. We are talking about the ways in which we can get from unanimity to qualified majority voting. Unless that is provided for in the treaty itself, the only way to way to go from unanimity to qualified majority voting at present is through a treaty process, such as the treaty we are discussing or the treaties of Maastricht, Nice or Amsterdam. That is the only way that it is possible to move from unanimity to qualified majority voting, unless there is specific provision in a treaty to enable member states to do that. The whole point isas everybody has said throughout the debatethat the treaty is making it much easier to move from unanimity to qualified majority voting, although it is not doing away with safeguards completely.
Mr. Davies: As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, it has been a theme throughout his speech that there is something nefarious about a situation in which the Council can decideby unanimityto waive unanimity and allow qualified majority voting in particular cases. What is the possible danger to this country in a situation in which we continue to have that veto? That is what he has failed to say. If we have an interest in the change in question, it can go through more rapidly without the various constitutional procedures in the other member states. If we do not wish it to proceed, we veto it. It is as simple as that. There can be no possible damage to this country, only gain, in a new provision of that kind.
Mr. Clappison: I do not know how much of the debate the hon. Gentleman has heard, but if he had been in his place throughout he would have heard this argument before. He would also have heard that when the provision was debated at the intergovernmental conference, the Government originally opposed it from pillar to post, for the very reasons that I have just given, but then caved in. We might as well have a provision in the Bill to move from unanimity to qualified majority voting on any subject.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman heard the earlier speeches by Labour Members, but his approach will not make them any happier with him [ Interruption. ] It is probably a good moment for the hon. Gentleman to leave his place.
My concern is that the treaty sends out a clear signal by making it much easier to move from unanimity to qualified majority voting in foreign policy. Why? Also, why is the emergency brake provision being weakened? The answer can only be that the Union foresees more and more foreign policy decisions being taken at a European Union level, rather than a national level. We are moving incrementally towards a European Union foreign policy, and the world will look to the new high representative or EU Foreign Minister, rather than to national Ministers, as foreign policy issues crop up day by day.
It is a step-by-step process that the treaty will speed up, both in foreign policy and in all the other areas of policy occupied or coveted by the Union. Change will be so much easier under this treaty. The treaty of Lisbon will dispense with the lengthy requirements of the existing process. No longer will change be under the spotlight of the treaty process. Change can be made increment by increment and slipped through at any time.
Let us not imagine that that is a change without cost. The power that European Union institutions gain comes at a loss to this House. There is no underground storage facility in the House containing power that is unexercised or undistributed for us to hand out to other member states or to the European Union institutions. Power is exercised either in this House or elsewhere. In this case, more and more power will be exercised elsewhere rather than in this House, where we are answerable to our constituents. We will be the losers, and so will our constituents. They will lose their right to use their vote to change policy and laws that they do not want by changing their Government. On their behalf, we should be ever vigilant about the powers that we pass over to Europe. The more I consider these clauses, the more I am driven to the conclusion that more and more power will move to Europe
Rob Marris: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Clappison: I am about to finish my speech. The hon. Gentleman will have a chance to make his own contribution.
We have been less than vigilant on behalf of our constituents not only in scrutinising this treaty, but in spotting how it will make change much easier to achieve. We have not done our job and we cannot look our constituents in the eye.
Mr. Drew: I tabled amendment No. 284 and I also support amendments Nos. 286, 66, 283, 67 and 287. It is disappointing that my right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher) is not in his place, because he has tabled a good amendment that would require the EU to stiffen its resolve with regard to climate change.
I tabled amendment No. 284 because post offices, for various reasons, are at the forefront of our minds at the moment. It is good to see the Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs in his place and I hope that he was not mauled too much by Lancashire Members this morning. It is important that we consider the context of the closures of sub-post offices, although my hon. Friends the Members for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) and for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) have stolen my thunder somewhat. I do not mind that because it means that I can say less, but it is important that we put on record that some Labour Back Benchers do not sign up to the liberalisation agenda. That is why we have considerable problems with the EU and the whole basis of the internal market.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth made the point clearly that the Bolkestein directive allowed services to be subject to almost any form of liberalisation, regardless of whether they were national in delivery or otherwise important to a nation state. In particular, the way in which the European Court of Justice can draw matters into its orbit means that nothing is sacrosanct or safe from that threat.
Obviously, I rise to speak about amendment No. 284. There will be those who, as we have already heard, will say that it is too late. The UK has led the agenda, sadly. I mentioned the Postal Services Act 2000I was a member of the Committee that considered itwhen I intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk. The basis for introducing the Act was, under the ideals of new Labour, the idea that modernisation would give us a head start over our European competitors and that we would be in a much stronger position because, although the British Post Office would go through death by 1,000 cuts, we would be able to go out into wider Europe and to make a difference there. It has been an unmitigated disaster. All we have seen is TNT and DHLthat is, the Dutch and German post officescoming in and taking more and more of our better services by cherry-picking. We have made no impact whatsoever in Europe. In fact we have come back with our tail between our legs. We have had to try to restore what is left of the British Post Office, but those of us who are fighting the 2,500 closuresnine are proposed in Stroudseem to be fighting with one hand tied behind our backs because of the inevitability of what we have to do.
Let me make some points about why that is so, why it should not be so and what we might be able to do to stop this madness. No issue is more of a core issue for those of us who represent constituencies that elect a Labour MP, and the subject also unites the whole House. I do not think that anyone who has faced the closure of a post office has been able to go out and feel any confidence in the arguments that have been put forward. I think that I speak the unanimous view of the British public when I say that they wish it was some other way. Even though it may be difficult, it is not impossible.
Let me turn to amendment No. 284 and the subject of postal services and the EU. Of course, the Commissions stated aim is to establish a single market for postal services while ensuring a universal service. That is to be achieved by opening up the sector to competition based on the regulatory framework of the postal services liberalisation packages. A series of directives have been put in place that supposedly make it a fair and level playing field. Of course, as my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk rightly said, it is about asymmetric competition. For good reason, rather than foul, the French have no intention of allowing their postal market to be opened up in the way in which the British postal market has been opened up. We can rant about that. We can say that it is wrong and that we ought to be taking them to various courts in the Community, but in reality they are doing what we should be doing. They are protecting a unique service. We are elected to this place to try to protect and to improve such services, yet we have seen our postal service cut to ribbons.
I know that there are arguments that there is no connection between the delivery mechanism of our postal service and the service from post office counters in branch officesone of my colleagues made that point earlier. Of course, the strength of the Post Office is its universality and its ability to offer that service across the length and breadth of our country, including across the devolved areas. We know that the strength of the footprint of the organisation is what makes it different.
We have tried to protect such services. My colleague, the Labour MEP Richard Howitt, tried to safeguard existing legal guarantees for free post for blind people, due to the high cost of sending out Braille books and related documents. That measure was defeated, as it was seen as anti-competitive. The European Internal Market and Services Commissioner, Charlie McCreevy, said that the amendment did
not bring added value to postal users.
It certainly brought value to those with impaired eyesight and those who are blind. That is a negation of service; it is about market madness and liberalisation come what may.
That is the danger, and it is why a number of us have tabled amendments such as amendments Nos. 284 and 286. We want to bring attention to the fact that this House ought to be making the decisions before Ministers go out and agree to what they might have to agree in due course. We are making it clear that there are ways in which we should stiffen our resolve and begin to turn the community away from market liberalisation towards the social economy about which my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth waxed lyrical.
That is no more clearly demonstrated than in the area of postal services. That is why my amendment is a key amendment. It will be interesting to know what the two parties on the Opposition Benches think about it. Some of us have sought to see the strength of their arguments and we have voted on numerous occasions to try to protect this country from the worst inadequacies of this treatment. It would be good to see if those two parties might consider supporting these amendments. They could then hold their heads up high when they went back to their constituents, who would, I am sure, be in favour of what we are trying to do. We are trying to protect those key services.
Michael Connarty: I sympathise with my hon. Friends points. We have a directive that said that postal services would be liberalised across the EU. We decided to go early, but the French and others have pushed it back by a couple of years. They have not cancelled the directive. Some have pushed it back to 2013, but they have not cancelled it. The logical conclusion of the argument is that we cannot reverse the processthat appears not to be the policy of the Government or of the main Opposition party. Is my hon. Friend arguing that we should send our Minister to Europe to condone the refusal by other countries of Europe to liberalise their markets, thereby denying us the level playing field that we said that we would get?
If the horse has boltedif we have liberalised, and if this country will not reverse that processwhy should we allow other countries to deny us access to their markets? The French did that by refusing us access to their domestic electricity markets until they were threatened with infraction proceedings by the Commission, when they had
The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Sylvia Heal): Order. That is a very lengthy intervention.
That was a telling intervention. I tell my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk that the answer is yes. I am happy for those countries to do what we should be doing, which principally is protecting their key services. One does not have to be completely
against the single marketalthough I am, in principleto see that health services, post offices and other key national services should not be part of the wider European competition.
By saying that we understand why such countries want to protect their services, we put ourselves in a much stronger position to argue without fear or favourand certainly with no threat of legal actionthat we should see such services as different and worthy of particular protection. Otherwise, where will it all end?
The process will inevitably undermine the national health service, which will become the European health service. Our health service is very different from those that operate in most of the rest of Europe, so it is inevitable that ours will have to follow the European model. We already face that problem with postal services.
Mr. Drew: I shall give way one last time.
Michael Connarty: So if our postal workers, the members of the Communication Workers Union, are to be denied access to services protected against free competition, and if attacks from state-subsidised alternatives in the rest of Europe take away their jobs, does my hon. Friend conclude that he wants us to sign up to an approval of those barriers being retained in the rest of Europe, just for his pride, despite the effect on jobs in this country?
Mr. Drew: More than anyone, my hon. Friend is a great advocate of the importance of the CWU and how it operates. I am happy to go before the CWU and put my arguments. He can put his, and we shall see whose arguments hold greater credibility for the work force. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth said, there is a huge gap between what the people of this country think about the EU and what the political classes think.
I am bit surprised by the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, having heard his earlier point about the need to recognise that postal services are different. We are, in a sense, reinventing the logic that the complete liberalisation of services is inevitable, but we have seen that what has happened in our country has been an unmitigated disaster. People realise that, including those who work in the industry. I therefore see even more reason why the amendments in my name and the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth and others deserve to be debated and thought through, so that we can seek to change the EUs mind. For too long, market liberalisation has been seen as the only way in which the EU can develop, but to many of us, it is the wrong way.
Mr. Cash: I support the excellent amendment No. 48, tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory). The issue is extremely important, and we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) about it. I wish to add simply that we are greatly extending the EUs opportunity to legislate without proper analysis. Furthermore, we are extending its ability to make legislation to matters that would otherwise require a specific treaty, and fast-tracking such legislation without the consent of the people of this country.
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