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Mr. Duncan Smith:
Not that long [ Laughter. ] Well, not as long as some of my colleagues. I am a little confused about the Foreign Secretarys position. He
said that the reason for granting a referendum was that there was a fundamental shift in power. He then went on to say that he did not think that there was a fundamental shift in power from the constitution, and that the reason for granting a referendum was that it would clear the air. Do we have it now that the principle behind granting a referendum is that, whenever the air is not clear, we should clear it by holding a referendum?
David Miliband: We do not. We have it very clear that there should be a referendum when there is a shift in the fundamental balance of power. I want to go [ Interruption. ] I am sorry, but that is a very clear point, and it is important that I address the case at hand.
Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman is creating an entirely new constitutional principlenamely, that we hold United Kingdom referendums when there is a shift of power. We held no United Kingdom referendums on Scottish or Welsh devolution, and the reason that we did not was that the Government were not sure that they would win. They would certainly have found a lot of English MPseven on their own sideopposing the proposals. We have no doctrine of referendums in our constitution. He is inventing the doctrine simply to get out of this extremely unwise election promise. He knows perfectly well that the previous Prime Minister should never have cynically promised a referendum in the first place.
David Miliband: The important issue is that we have experience of one referendum on the European Union, of referendums in respect of Scotland and Wales, and of referendums in respect of local government. Those referendums were all called because of the issue of the balance of power.
David Miliband: There is no power in the treaty for new tax-raising powers for the European Union. There is no replacement of the UK seat on the UN Security Council. There is no danger of French police stalking the streets of London. There is no risk of unwanted changes to our social security system. All those allegations have been made in the course of these debates. The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan), who speaks for the Conservative party on energy issues, said that there was a proposal to allow the European Commission to cut off gas supplies from Milford Haven and send them to Ingolstadt. There is no such proposal in the treaty. There is no provision to prevent the UK from supplying oil to another non-EU NATO member at a time of crisis.
Those are some of the absurd claims that have been made. They have been alleged again and again, and, just like the claims that the Amsterdam treaty would mean the abolition of Britain and that the Nice treaty would mean the end of NATO, none of them is true.
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Would not the right hon. Gentleman find his case much easier to make, without any of this persiflage, if a promise had not been made that there would be a referendum? Those of us who are opposed to referendums in principle did not support that promise, but he did. The problem for the House is that we have a Government who gave in to Mr. Murdochs pressure for a referendum in order to safeguard the support of The Sun before the election.
David Miliband: Until I heard the second half of the right hon. Gentlemans intervention, I was going to say that I was about to come to the issue that he had raised on the difference between the constitutional treaty and the Lisbon treaty.
Absurd claims have been made about what the treaty does, but there are also some important changes in the treaty. We support them, but the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks and the Conservative party do not. The details are worth clarifying because they show conclusively that the treaty does not constitute a fundamental shift in the balance of power.
The treaty will increase British voting weight in the Council of Ministers. It will replace the rotating presidency of the EU with a nominated President of the European Council. It will reduce the number of Commissioners, so that they can become a more coherent group. It will increase the power of national Parliaments, in a way that I shall detail in a moment. It will merge Commission posts and allow Commission and Council officials to work more closely together on foreign policy.
Nothing in the treaty affects the existing powers of EU member states to run their own foreign policy, including at the UN. The treaty, in law, excludes the European Court of Justice from having substantive jurisdiction over foreign policy. This is what the treaty says:
The Court of Justice of the European Union shall not have jurisdiction with respect to these provisions.
it seems highly likely that, under the Lisbon Treaty, the Common Foreign and Security Policy will remain
Mr. Cash: On a point of order, Sir Michael. The Foreign Secretary said that he was dealing with important matters of constitutional change and the balance of power. He is now reciting a number of matters that have come out of the treaty but that have nothing whatever to do with constitutional change.
David Miliband: The issue of what the treaty does in respect of foreign policy, justice, home affairs and other matters is central to the question of whether it shifts the balance of power in this country.
it seems highly likely that, under the Lisbon Treaty, the Common Foreign and Security Policy will remain an intergovernmental area, driven by the Member States.
Mr. Field: While it is important for the Foreign Secretary to set out what he thinks are the differences, are we not as a party up against one fundamental factthat the voters out there think that they were promised a vote on what we are discussing? Given that four out of 10 voters decided not to vote at the last election and that we were returned by only 21 per cent. of the total electorate, does he think that what we are proposing will help to push up the turnout or not?
David Miliband: I think that many factors will drive up the turnout at the next general election [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend says that the passage and contents of the Bill will play into that, and I am sure that that is the case, but I think that we would all agree that it is in our interest to drive turnout up not down. I would say back to him that we are honour bound to recognise that there are big differences between the constitutional treaty and the Lisbon treaty, and part of our job in politics is to explain those differences.
Michael Connarty: I heard the Foreign Secretary pray in aid the comments of the Foreign Affairs Committee, so it might be useful to put on the record the full and correct quote, which has been much abused, from the European Scrutiny Committee. The question is whether the new treaty produces the same substantial effect as the constitutional treaty. We said that that is the case only
for those countries which have not requested derogations or opt-outs from the full range of agreements in the Treaty,
and we then referred readers to the table and the annexe in the report. In praying in aid for his case, my right hon. Friend might reflect on the wording of a defeated amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), which referred to the proposition that the reform treaty was
substantially equivalent to the Constitutional Treaty, even if it is not the same.
Mr. Baron: Is not the Foreign Secretary trying to create a smokescreen by addressing some of the more absurd claims about the treaty? Why does he not address the fundamental questions put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), one of which is that many European leaders have stated that there is very little difference between the constitution and the treaty? Why does the right hon. Gentleman think that that is the case?
David Miliband: I am coming on to that, but every single European leader and every single Head of Government said that the constitutional treaty had been abandonedtheir word, not mine; it had not been diluted or reformed, but abandoned.
Nothing in this treaty will reduce the UKs sovereignty over immigration, asylum, visas, police co-operation or civil law. Why? Because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) said, we have secured an extension of the UKs current opt-in arrangements. The UK has a right to choose when it wants to share power by joining EU arrangements in those areas. Let me quote what the European Scrutiny Committee said on the subject. It concluded that it was
clear from the opt-in arrangements that the UK is free to decide whether or not to take part, and to that extent is able to protect the distinctive features of the legal systems of the UK.
Similarly, nothing in the charter of fundamental rights extends the ability of any courtEuropean or nationalto strike down UK law. Professor Alan Dashwood of Cambridge university, a leading expert in this area, concluded that
the Charter is not, in itself, a source of rights but simply provides a record of rights that receive protection within the Union, from one source or another.
Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): Is it not the case that one of the core changes is that the treaty not only extends competences, but means that many new policy areas will now become shared competences? Over time, disputes in those policy areas will be determined by the European Court of Justice. As declaration 17 annexed to the treaty shows, that takes primacy over this House, which is a huge shift of power.
David Miliband: In respect of article 17, that has been the fundamental issue regarding Britains membership of the treaty of Rome since 1957. If the hon. Lady objects to that, she should have an objection to our membership of the whole of the European Union.
We conclude that there is no material difference between the provisions on foreign affairs in the Constitutional Treaty which the Government made subject to approval in a referendum and those in the Lisbon Treaty on which a referendum is being denied?
Is that an absurd claim? As far as I am concerned, my constituents in Aldershot want a referendum. The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) is absolutely right that the Labour party will pay a big price for denying the people the right to have their voice heard on this matter.
David Miliband: I would never describe the Foreign Affairs Committees conclusions as absurd. However, to give just one example, under the constitutional treaty all foreign policy activity was merged into a single treaty pillar. Under the Lisbon treaty, there is a wholly separate area of European affairs dedicated to foreign policy. If ever the hon. Gentleman wanted a guarantee about the continuing intergovernmental nature of foreign policy, there it is.
ensures the new Europe can work effectively, and that Britain keeps control of key national interests like foreign policy, taxation, social security and defence. The Treaty sets out what the EU can do and what it cannot. It strengthens the voice of national parliaments and governments in EU affairs?
That, I think, is the essence of what my right hon. Friend has been saying. Fortunately, it comes from our manifesto of 2005, which defines the constitutional treaty. Can he tell us the difference between that definition and his definition of the Lisbon treaty?
David Miliband: There are big differences. First, the structure of the constitution abandoned all previous treaties that governed the EU. This treaty does not do that. Secondly, in respect of a range of policiesnotably on justice and home affairs, but also on other areasthe content is different. Thirdly, in respect of the consequences, the constitutional treaty was alleged by many Conservative Members to be a slipway to a superstate. Under the Lisbon treaty and the conclusions of last months European Council, there is an agreement that there shall be no further institutional reform for the foreseeable future. So in structure, in content and in consequence, this is different.
Mr. Duncan Smith: When the votes were held in France and the Netherlands and the constitutional treaty as it stood was stopped, the Germans decided under their presidency to hold all these discussions again and sent round a letterits existence was denied, but it did existto all the Governments, including the British Government, asking how best to resuscitate the process. One question asked was:
How do you assess the proposal made by some member states
using different terminology without changing the legal substance, for example with regard to the title of the treaty?
David Miliband: I would be happy to write to the right hon. Gentleman on that particular issue, but I would say that there are important differences between the constitutional treaty [Interruption.] I do not have in my briefing pack the letter we sent back to the German presidency in June 2005, but I am happy to find out for the right hon. Gentleman. What is important, however, is the fact that the constitutional treaty has important differences from the Lisbon treaty.
Mr. Lilley: On a point of order, Sir Michael. Is it not a convention that when this House debates important matters, papers emanating from the Government spelling out policies are placed on the Table? The Foreign Secretary has finally admitted that the Government replied to the German letter. [Interruption.] The answer is there in the hands of [Interruption.]
The Second Deputy Chairman: Order. The right hon. Gentleman is right in some circumstances, but his point applies only when Ministers are quoting from state papers. In any case, it would appear that the situation has now been resolved.
Mr. Kenneth Clarke: I think that I am likely to be voting with the right hon. Gentleman tonight, but I am not sure that I shall be able to agree with any of his arguments in favour of that proposition.
Given that the right hon. Gentlemans Government negotiated this treaty, will he explain why it is in Britains interest to ratify it, and what improvements it makes to the operation of the Union? Will he stop all this nonsense about its being different from the constitution when it is plainly the same in substance, and explain why it is better not to hold a referendum but have the issue decided in Parliament? He is getting into trouble because of the deviousness and, at times, the ridiculousness of the arguments he is using, which are far removed from the main points.
David Miliband: As I said a few moments ago, the increase in British voting weight in the European Council and the changes in respect of foreign policy are important and useful changes that will help British work in the European Union.
Ms Angela C. Smith: The numerous interventions from Conservative Members demonstrate their inability to understand the difference between the Lisbon treaty which we are discussing now, and the earlier abandoned constitution. Does that not indicate that Eurosceptic thinking has taken over mainstream policy in the Conservative party?
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