Previous Section Index Home Page

5 Mar 2008 : Column 1784

David Miliband: That is an important point and one to which I shall return at the end of my speech, although I do not think that the allegation can be made of all Conservative Members.

Gordon Banks: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

David Miliband: No. I want to make some progress.

The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks talked a great deal about the passerelles, which he said introduced a new “ratchet” clause. Such clauses have been around for 22 years, and have been used on one occasion. They were first introduced by the Single European Act, and have been extended in every subsequent treaty. Far from being novel or an innovation, they are an established part of the EU machinery. Contrary to what the right hon. Gentleman alleged on the radio this morning, there are new powers for nation states. Not only must every Government agree to them, but every Parliament has new rights as well. Furthermore, it is not true that the treaty extends qualified majority voting in a way that undermines the British national interest.

Gordon Banks: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

David Miliband: No. I want to make some progress.

Sixteen changes do not affect us, because we are not in economic and monetary union and we have opt-ins on justice and home affairs. Fifteen are purely procedural—for instance, the procedures on the Comitology Committee, and the internal rules for appointing the Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Committee. Those are not threats to the constitutional balance in this country. Twenty changes break down barriers to action in areas where that is clearly in the UK interest, from energy to development and disaster assistance.

Today the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks announced that he opposed all those changes. So he is abandoning the UK interest in key areas. That means no strengthening of EU research capacity, no swift route to protecting British business ideas and no new impetus for the promotion of energy security, let alone disaster aid. That is not defending the national interest; it is abandoning it.

As for the foreign policy high representative, is it true that the treaty subverts the power of national Foreign Ministers under the auspices of the EU? No, it is not. The high representative will answer to Foreign Ministers, and foreign and defence policy is retained in a separate treaty.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Has the Foreign Secretary had time to read a short but very compact biography of Edward Heath which I wrote last year? In it he will see references to all the previous EU treaty debates going back to the 1960s. The arguments have not changed, save that then the League of Empire Loyalists, the national executive committee of the Labour party, the Communist party and the Monday Club opposed Europe, whereas now it is the mainstream Conservative party that opposes it.

5 Mar 2008 : Column 1785

David Miliband: My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. I hope he will send me a signed copy of his book for me to take away on my summer holidays. Perhaps he would also like to provide an executive summary to help me through the more detailed aspects.

Chris Bryant: I hate to say this, but I agree with the shadow Foreign Secretary. He said:

That is why I have never supported the idea of a referendum, particularly a referendum on a treaty. It seems to me that if the people of Britain were to say yes or no, we would not know precisely to what elements of the treaty they were saying yes or no. We would not know whether they were agreeing with the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), with the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), or with Labour Members who would like to see very different changes to the treaty.

David Miliband: My hon. Friend makes an important and good point. The record of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks in opposing referendums in the 1990s, both in practice during the Maastricht debates and in theory in his writings, is well known.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): I think that when the arguments about the referendum die down people will understand that the mainstream Conservative party is, quite simply, flatly opposed to our continued membership of Europe.

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that he has been intervened on three times by former Secretaries of State who voted for the paving Bill that preceded opposition to the Greater London council? I do not recall any reference to any democratic process or any manifesto during that procedure. Does my right hon. Friend not find their selective memory somewhat astonishing?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend has used his own very good memory to good effect in exposing the hypocrisy of the Conservative party on this issue.

Gordon Banks:: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

David Miliband: I will, for the last time.

Gordon Banks: The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) said that, while he thought he could support the Government in tonight’s vote, he did not think he could support much of the Foreign Secretary’s argument. May I play matchmaker, and give the Foreign Secretary and the right hon. and learned Gentleman an opportunity to agree on something—that failure to ratify the treaty would plunge the United Kingdom into crisis, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman was reported as saying on television this morning?

David Miliband: I certainly believe that it would send us to the margins of Europe, which would be very damaging to the national interest.

5 Mar 2008 : Column 1786

At every stage the Lisbon treaty amends existing treaties instead of replacing them, contrary to what was done by the constitutional treaty. The constitutional treaty restarted the EU from scratch. It abolished previous treaties, and created a new one. The constitutional treaty did not make special provision for Britain in respect of justice and home affairs. The reform treaty does, in inordinate detail and in respect of all JHA measures. The constitutional treaty left open the opportunity for the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks to advance specious arguments about a European superstate.

Those are the reasons why the Law Society of England and Wales says that this treaty

It is why eight European Governments who promised a referendum on the constitution no longer consider it necessary. It is why the Conservative Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mr. Balkenende, has said:

It is why Giuliano Amato, who was prayed in aid by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, says that what was agreed was “a cluster of amendments”, not “a new constitution”. It is why Professor Damian Chalmers, a leading authority at the London School of Economics, says that this is

So the content of the treaty does not justify a referendum, and the comparison to other treaties does not either.

The Single European Act—which was piloted through the House by the Conservative party—set out the terms for the creation of a single market, created the concept of the convergence of economic and monetary policies, and provided for co-operation on foreign policy. No referendum was required; I wonder why. [Hon. Members: “Why?”] The reason why is that it did not shift the balance of power in this country.

The treaty of Maastricht—

Mr. Harper: Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

David Miliband: No. I must make some progress.

The treaty of Maastricht provided the blueprint for economic and monetary union, and added common foreign and security policy. As the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) has said, it was a

but still we had no referendum. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks voted against a referendum on the issue, along with all other members of the current shadow Cabinet.

Mr. Harper rose—

David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman has been so polite and persistent that I am happy to give way to him.

Mr. Harper: I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary. Will he acknowledge that this is the key difference? Not only was a promise to hold a referendum on the
5 Mar 2008 : Column 1787
Maastricht treaty not given, but in the manifesto before the election there was a pledge to ratify it if the Conservative Government were re-elected. This case is completely different. The simple point is that the Foreign Secretary’s Government promised a referendum, and are breaking that promise today.

David Miliband: I do not know how many times I must say this before the hon. Gentleman recognises that it has been said. The constitution is not what is before us today. Before us is a Lisbon treaty which is not the constitution.

Jeremy Wright (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con) rose—

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con) rose—

David Miliband: I want to bring my speech to a close.

On day five of the debate, on foreign affairs, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, who speaks for the Opposition—[Hon. Members: “ Brilliantly.”] He is a very good after-dinner speaker, although I am not sure about the content. The right hon. Gentleman let the cat out of the bag. He could not think of one change in the treaty that he supported—not a single one. He wants to rely on the previous arrangements agreed at Nice, but what did he say about the Nice treaty? He opposed that, too. He claimed that the European security and defence policy provisions were a step towards “a superstate” and that they would progressively “move away from NATO.” So he does not support the Nice treaty.

2 pm

What about arrangements before that, such as the treaty agreed at Amsterdam? The right hon. Gentleman opposed that, too. He said:

There is a pattern here. The right hon. Gentleman opposes every single treaty that comes before us: no to the Lisbon treaty, no to the Nice treaty, and no to the Amsterdam Treaty. No, no, no: we have heard that before from the Dispatch Box.

That makes the key point that the Conservative party has a fundamental problem: 18 years after Mrs. Thatcher’s departure from office, it is still haunted by the Thatcherite policy on Europe, and 16 years after Maastricht, the rebels on the fringes of the party are now calling the shots. It is no wonder one of the Conservative party’s MEPs has described its Europe policy as a poisonous fungus eating away at the heart of the party.

The question before us is simple: do the contents of the treaty constitute a fundamental shift in the balance of power? The answer is no. The responsibility is ours, as Members of Parliament; I say, vote down the amendments and let us do what we are paid for.

Mr. Davey: It is already clear from the debate that the key question is whether the Lisbon treaty is the same as the constitutional treaty. There is a strong case that Members who promised a treaty referendum at the general election and who agree with the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) that the
5 Mar 2008 : Column 1788
treaties are the same should back the Conservative amendment, and that those who do not agree with him should not support it. However, Members who are in favour of a referendum on the principle, as the Liberal Democrats are, but not on one on Lisbon on the grounds that it is different from the old constitutional treaty, should abstain tonight, as we will.

The Conservatives have said throughout our proceedings that the old and new treaties are more or less the same. They are wrong. The truth is that the treaties are different in nature—different in the very essence of what they mean—and that for the UK especially there are key differences in substantive detail. The fact that the Conservatives try to ignore that does them absolutely no credit—and neither does their shabby complicity with the Government yesterday, when they conspired to restrict choice and curb free speech in this House. They have gagged open debate on Europe in this House, and we will make sure the voters know that.

Mr. Duncan Smith: I am fascinated by what the hon. Gentleman is saying. I must ask him a very simple question. Alongside the Government, he has consistently made a strong case that the treaty is not the same as the constitution—that they are very different. That is the substance of his case. We think that the Government are reneging on their position, but they are voting against the amendments to hold a referendum. Why is it that, with his strong case, the hon. Gentleman cannot bring himself to vote either against the referendum or for it, but instead just sits on the fence?

Mr. Davey: It is a shame that the right hon. Gentleman, who is a distinguished Member of this House, is not listening to what I am saying, and what we have been saying day in, day out. We have strongly argued that our pledge at the last election would be best honoured by an in/out vote; that is the nearest we can get to honouring it now that the constitutional treaty is dead.

Let me return to the differences between the treaties.

Mr. Harper: Let me just ask the hon. Gentleman this: my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), the shadow Foreign Secretary, made it clear that not only have we tabled amendments today, but the hon. Member for Glasgow, South-West (Mr. Davidson) has tabled one too, and it gives the option of having a referendum not only on the Lisbon treaty but on the in/out question that the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) asks for. Why then are the Liberal Democrats not going to support that amendment, which could, of course, be amended in the other place, and instead are just going to sit on their hands? Is that because they are going to adopt the principle of constructive abstention—a new concept in this House—or is it because they are too frightened of their constituents?

Mr. Davey: I do not know if the hon. Gentleman has actually read the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Glasgow, South-West (Mr. Davidson). It is an amendment that does not pose a question. Its tabler—we are looking forward to hearing from him
5 Mar 2008 : Column 1789
shortly—has said that if the amendment were agreed to, his Government would put the question that we Liberal Democrats have been asking for. Yesterday, however, his colleagues voted against that; they voted against even allowing us to debate it. So why on earth does he think that we are going to vote for an amendment that offers those on his Front Bench the possibility of posing a question that they have refused to debate? It is an absurdity; it is one of the most ludicrous amendments ever to come before the House.

Chris Bryant: I have never read a Liberal Democrat manifesto, and I have no intention of doing so in the near future. For all I know, the hon. Gentleman might be right to say that the best representation of his party’s case would be to have a referendum on whether Britain should be in or out of the European Union. However, there is a serious point to today’s debate, which is this: surely the Liberal Democrats can make their mind up whether there should be a referendum on the treaty itself? I know what the hon. Gentleman really thinks; he thinks there should not be. He should therefore join us in the Lobby tonight.

Mr. Davey: Let me try once again, for the hon. Gentleman’s benefit. We have made it absolutely clear that we are in favour of the principle of a referendum on the European question, because we want to honour our pledge at the last election. We are not going to vote against the principle of a referendum tonight, which is why we are abstaining. We wanted the chance to debate our referendum question, but the hon. Gentleman, working with the Conservative party, conspired to prevent that. He should be ashamed of that position.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Davey: I want to make some progress; I will give way again later.

Let me return to the differences between the treaties, and in particular the different natures of the treaties. One treaty was of supreme constitutional significance; the other treaty simply makes modest reforms. One treaty replaced all the past EU treaties with one document; the other is merely an amending treaty. One treaty would, effectively, have given the people a chance to vote on the principle of Britain’s membership of the EU, and the other would give the people a chance to vote on whether they wanted to cut the number of EU Commissioners by a third.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davey: I will give way later.

Next Section Index Home Page