Previous Section Index Home Page

The time restrictions imposed and the introduction of themed debates to which so many in the House objected has meant that of the 227 amendments selected for debate just under half were ever reached. As a result, amendments on asylum, borders, migration and visas, on judicial co-operation and civil matters, on freedom of establishment, free movement of workers, intellectual property, personal data and social policy, and on transport were never debated at all. In addition,
11 Mar 2008 : Column 171
the amendments on defence were never debated, even though the French Government clearly believe that the provisions included in the treaty paved the way for a major change in our defence arrangements.

In his article in yesterday’s International Herald Tribune, the French Foreign Minister said that the French EU presidency, beginning on 1 July, would

He said:

There may be, in the minds of some hon. Members, a case for such a development—there is a case against such a development—but it is beyond argument that such changes are of enormous importance to the defence posture of this country and the performance and future of NATO. A Bill that permits such changes in the area of defence but on which there has been no detailed debate in the House of Commons concerning those provisions is not a Bill that should receive Third Reading.

Mr. Jenkin: The Government have repeatedly said that unanimity is the rule in matters of defence. However, a close reading of the provisions on defence shows that qualified majority voting figures again and again, particularly in the provisions on the European Defence Agency and the setting up and expulsion of members from the permanent structure of co-operation. Those arrangements are clearly designed to pressure member states into accepting a consensus that they might not otherwise accept, because it might not be in their interests.

Mr. Hague: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The importance of those issues should have merited substantial debate on the Floor of the House and defence should have merited a separate day of debate, which is what we argued when the procedural motion was tabled at the end of January. The procedure and timetable adopted by the Government for the examination of the Bill has militated against the detailed discussion of many of its most important provisions. I hope that that will be borne fully in mind when the Bill in debated in another place in the coming weeks.

Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hague: Let me finish another point; otherwise nobody else will ever get into this debate.

I hope, too, that Members of the upper House will examine particularly carefully those issues on which Members from all quarters of this House have expressed concern. The most outstanding example of that, on which—unlike all the other provisions of the Bill—the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) and I saw eye to eye, is clause 6, which continues to provide for the wide-ranging abolition of further national vetoes, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison). It even provides for moving the whole of foreign policy from unanimity to qualified majority voting in the future, without a further treaty and on the basis of approval of an affirmative motion in each House of
11 Mar 2008 : Column 172
Parliament. Intense concern about that matter has been reflected in our debates. The Minister for Europe will recall that not a single Member from any party spoke in support of his position except for him. The only Labour Member to speak spoke against the provisions.

The process unites many of us who have different views about the treaty. I have already mentioned the Liberal Democrat Front-Bench team—or at least its remaining members—in that regard. We are completely at one in finding the procedure inadequate. Until now, changes to European treaties have been a matter for primary legislation. For future changes, which are the equivalent of major treaty changes, to be subject to anything less than primary legislation is another major reduction in the rights and role of our Parliament.

Mr. Hendrick: The right hon. Gentleman has made it plain that he is unhappy about the way in which the treaty has been dealt with in the House, particularly the content. If in the dim and distant future there ever were another Conservative Government, with which party would he renegotiate the treaty?

Mr. Hague: The hon. Gentleman has asked that question so often that by now he should know the answer by heart. I notice that even he does not feel able to support the Government on what I have just been describing—the scrutiny of changes with the ratchet clause and the passerelles. When Members from all parties feel that parliamentary scrutiny of Executive action should be intensified rather than relaxed, whichever party forms the Government of the day, there is much common cause to be made on changing that aspect of the Bill.

Geraldine Smith: Does the right hon. Gentleman not think that the British people have a right to know what his party would do about the treaty if the Conservatives ever came to government? He will not answer that question. If the treaty is so bad for Britain—if it is so bleak—what will he do about it? I happen to think that the right hon. Gentleman and not their current leader may be the next Tory Prime Minister.

Mr. Hague: I can certainly rule out the last part of the hon. Lady’s question, which was a most mischievous thing to come up with—she need never consider that possibility. The answer to the first part of her question is that people know from the vote on the referendum last week how the Conservative party approaches the matter: we are the only party leadership in the House who stayed true to what we stated in our last election manifesto. At the next general election, we will be true to what we state in our manifesto then.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP) rose—

Mr. Hague: I should of course have included the hon. Gentleman, although consideration can be given to what constitutes a major party in the House. However, so that he may correct me, I give way.

Angus Robertson: For the record, will the right hon. Gentleman concede that the first party in this House that called for a referendum on the constitution and the treaty was the Scottish National party?

11 Mar 2008 : Column 173

Mr. Hague: I honestly cannot remember who called for one first, but I shall happily bracket the hon. Gentleman with parties that have stood by the commitment they made to the voters during the last general election campaign.

I said that I would have a friendly word of advice for the Liberal Democrats. On the subject of the proceedings to come in the upper House, I put it to them that it is not too late to learn lessons from the resignation of three senior members of their Front-Bench team and to honour the commitment to vote for a referendum that they and the rest of us made. The votes last Wednesday demonstrated that with their support the move for a referendum on the treaty could have been carried in the House. At the next general election, everything they say about a referendum will be against the backdrop of the fact that they could have brought about a referendum on this treaty had they so wished.

As I have quoted the Liberal Democrat leader, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg), in almost all my speeches on the Bill I do not want him to feel left out today. In his speech in Liverpool on Sunday, he said:

The contortions of two party leaderships about a referendum are exactly why people are tired of politics; the people should indeed be given the say they deserve. In his leadership acceptance speech on 18 December, the right hon. Gentleman said:

I congratulate him on doing so, because he has invented a new concept of collective responsibility, in which some people who vote against the party leadership have to resign while others can merrily stay put. Although three members of the Liberal Democrat Front-Bench team voted with us on a referendum and resigned, there are eight others who voted with us on a referendum whom the leader of the Liberal Democrats did not have the courage to sack. I can tell him that that is no way to run a Government, if that is something that has ever entered his head. We may be seeing not only a new version of collective responsibility, but a new form of extended abstention, in which a party abstains from voting on something to which it was committed, and its leader abstains from doing anything about colleagues whom he told to abstain but who did not do so. It is abstention as a way of life, but it is not exactly the change in politics that people had in mind. The result is that the Bill still lacks the requirement for a referendum that should so obviously be included in it.

The withholding of a referendum is obviously opposed by those of us who oppose the treaty, but given that it was promised in a document so overwhelmingly similar, its absence damages our politics as a whole. We call for a referendum not just so that people can say no to the treaty, but so that they can have their say—yes or no—on the many profound changes in it. Our debates have proved that the changes are fundamental to our relationship with the EU. To name but four of the changes, there is: the movement of criminal justice and policing from intergovernmental to supranational control; the end of the rotating presidency, shared between Europe’s countries, and its replacement with a new EU
11 Mar 2008 : Column 174
president who is meant to drive forward the EU’s agenda; the creation of the EU Foreign Minister in all but name, with the diplomatic service that the Government opposed; and the endowment of the charter of fundamental rights with full legal force. Those changes together represent a major shift of power from Europe’s nation states to the EU’s central institutions, and all are reproduced from the EU constitution.

As for the pathetic fig leaf that the Government have cited so often—the idea that the constitutional concept has been abandoned—we all know that the European Scrutiny Committee was right on that point. I must quote it, as I say that we quote it in every debate. I quote not partially, but in full:

The Committee went on to say:

It continued:

The whole course of events was set out clearly in the German presidency’s official report of 14 June last year, which stated:

It said:

So the strategy was clear: it was to change the name and title, but to keep the substance of the treaty. That is exactly what happened. The process was designed to bring back the constitution, disguised just enough for the Government to have a fighting chance of hoodwinking voters into thinking that the referendum promise could be forgotten. [Interruption.] I must now try to close my remarks.

The way in which the treaty is being rammed through without a referendum is as clear a breach of an election promise to voters as one could get, and the inescapable reality of the whole process is that the Government have no democratic mandate to sign up to the treaty. The plain fact of the matter is that the Government are attempting to make fundamental changes without letting the voters have any say at all, either in a general election or in a referendum.

If the Government get their way, and next year the new EU president stands up and claims to speak for all Europe, this country included, voters may well ask, “When did we give permission for this person to speak for us?” and the Government’s honest answer would
11 Mar 2008 : Column 175
have to be, “Never.” As the charter of fundamental rights becomes legally binding, and as the European Court of Justice begins to change EU laws in light of the charter, as it inevitably will in time, people will ask when they agreed that the document should have legal force, and Ministers will have to answer, “We thought you should have no say on the matter.” When Eurojust initiates some investigation, or the European Court of Justice, with its new full jurisdiction over criminal justice agreements, changes some part of our criminal justice system, or when the Government opt into an EU law on criminal proceedings and are then outvoted, people will ask when they were consulted about that. Those Members here who voted against a referendum will have to say, “I voted to stop you having a say when that went through.”

If the treaty goes through, the EU will hold powers that the British people never gave it permission to hold. It will work by new methods that the British people never endorsed. If Ministers and Liberal Democrat leaders had as their real intent the undermining of the European Union’s democratic legitimacy in this country, they could have chosen no better way. Despite the EU’s many profound faults and follies, I believe that the EU has benefited Britain and the rest of Europe, and that is yet another powerful reason to oppose the Government’s arrogant determination to ram the treaty through against the British people’s wishes. They will in the long term find that they have been false friends to the European Union.

Everything about the ratification of this repackaged constitution has been marked by cynicism and calculation. The voters who put us here already have a low opinion of this place, yet the Government have done everything they can to confirm it by treating people like fools. Why should they believe manifesto promises when those are so shamelessly ignored? How can they believe a Prime Minister who claims to want to listen to the people, when he does everything in his power to stop them having their voice heard? Why should voters trust politicians when politicians will not trust them?

The treaty is not just damaging to our national interest. It will not only give the EU unwarranted power over our national life. It marks the point when the arrogance of power made a Government forget that nothing lasting can be built in a democracy without the people’s consent.

4.56 pm

Ms Patricia Hewitt (Leicester, West) (Lab): I am delighted to support the Third Reading of this important Bill, particularly after participating in so many hours of debate on the Bill, which have proved so immensely instructive and in many ways so enjoyable.

I start by adding my own tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, who has been a consistently well informed and good natured companion through the highways and byways of the Lisbon treaty, in a debate that has also been marked by the intellectual weight and the vision of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

The debate has on so many occasions been enlivened by the great wit of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague)—a brilliant wit that
11 Mar 2008 : Column 176
sometimes disguises the vacuousness of his party’s position on the central issue of our country’s relationships with our partners in the European Union. We have also heard on many, many occasions the arguments, the fears and the conspiracy theories from Opposition Members who oppose more or less openly Britain’s membership of the European Union, as do a few of my hon. Friends.

Listening to those contributions over these many days, I was constantly reminded of why and when I became a pro-European.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the assiduous way in which she has participated in the debates. Does she agree that from the point of view of the Opposition, this has been a missed opportunity to talk about the future of Europe? All they are concerned about is the past, and being as negative as they can be about the European Union.

Ms Hewitt: I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend, and that is a point that I shall elaborate on in a moment. What we have seen in the debate is a Conservative party that is increasingly talking to itself, not to the British people and certainly not to our partners in the European Union.

Mr. Graham Stuart: Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Ms Hewitt: I shall give way shortly, but I want to take a few moments to recall, if I may, a little of my personal history and to revert briefly to the early 1970s. I had come from Australia as a student, as many hon. Members know, and had only recently made my home in this country. I was an enthusiastic young member of the Labour party, and I went, as enthusiastic members do, to the Labour party conference. In search of enlightenment, I went to the fringe meeting of the Labour Common Market safeguards committee, no less—and fringe indeed it was. I had the opportunity to listen to two gentlemen who were then Members of this House—Bryan Gould and the late Peter Shore. As an expatriate Australian, I had some sympathy with Bryan Gould’s position. He was particularly worried about New Zealand butter, and distressed that the United Kingdom, by joining the Common Market, as it then was, would turn its back on the Commonwealth, with its system of Commonwealth trading preferences, and abandon the farmers of Australia and New Zealand. The more I listened to him and to Peter Shore, the more horrified I became by the chauvinism, protectionism and sheer little Englandism of it all, and I decided there and then that I would have no truck with that.

Mr. Harper: How can the right hon. Lady say that wanting to have a good relationship and engage properly with the Commonwealth—an organisation that encompasses a significant proportion of the human population, particularly in many of the poorer countries—is being xenophobic and not wanting to reach out to people in the world?

Next Section Index Home Page