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11 Mar 2008 : Column 183

Ms Hewitt: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Like him, I strongly welcome the specific reference to children’s rights in the new treaty.

Let me conclude by addressing my remarks specifically to my right hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench. I do not believe—I say this in a spirit of self-criticism—that we have done enough as a Government over the past 10 years to make the case for Britain in Europe or to challenge the nonsense fed by so much of our press to the British people. I say that in a spirit of genuine self-criticism as someone who was one of the staunchest pro-European members of Tony Blair’s Cabinet. With the ratification of this treaty, however, I believe that we have a great opportunity to open a new chapter in Britain’s membership of the European Union, to explain more effectively to our constituents why we are tackling certain issues through the EU and to strengthen even further the relationships and friendships with our European partners within this Union, which have served us so well over the past 10 years and enabled us to shape so much of European policy in a way that is right not only for our country but for Europe as a whole.

Mr. MacShane rose—

Ms Hewitt: I give way to a very close friend and an excellent former Minister for Europe.

Mr. MacShane: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Does she recall that in the closing part of Mrs. Thatcher’s Government, when Britain was promoting a single market under the so-called “Are EU Ready?” campaign, £25 million of Government money was spent on information to put across a true message about Europe? Does she also recall that when she and I were in government, my budget was cut to £200,000 and that when I came to a distinguished Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and asked for a little more money to help, I was, alas, sent away empty handed?

Ms Hewitt: I am afraid that my right hon. Friend is quite right about that, but he will also remember that I was working with him to champion the cause of Britain in Europe to most of our global business leaders and that I was seeking to prioritise my budget on science and innovation, which I know my right hon. Friend also supports.

At this point, as we look to enactment of the Bill and as we become one of the first member states to ratify this important treaty, I believe that there is an opportunity for our Government. I have no doubt at all that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and his ministerial colleagues will seize that opportunity in a way that will do nothing but good for our country and for the European Union as a whole.

5.28 pm

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): I agree with much of the substance of what the right hon. Member for Leicester, West (Ms Hewitt) has said, but if she is practising for an interview in Brussels, she will need to spice up her style. I hope that I will not ruin her chances of becoming the UK’s next EU Commissioner if I say that we would welcome her appointment, as we would welcome the by-election that followed it.

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Although many of us have complained about the amount of time in which to debate the Bill and the treaty, I was slightly concerned by the exchange between the Foreign Secretary and the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), particularly when they mused on how wonderful these debates are and mentioned the idea of having an annual reunion. Irrespective of whether such a reunion should take place here or in Lisbon, I would not vote for it.

The case for the Lisbon treaty becomes stronger and stronger the more one studies and debates the text. Despite the restrictions on time, it has become crystal clear during our debates that the treaty is sensible and modest, as the right hon. Member for Leicester, West has said. Perhaps most significantly, it contains many reforms of the EU that the critics of Europe have long called for.

With the EU enlarging so successfully—all parties in the House have argued for that over time—it is time to reform how the institutions of the EU work, which is what the treaty does. Such reform does not involve a new, significant transfer of powers, as some have alleged. It simply involves making the existing arrangements work better, so that the EU is fit for purpose and can be ever more successful. That is what the anti-Europeans do not like. Nothing upsets the Europhobes more than the idea that some of the widely acknowledged problems of the EU might be tackled.

Mr. MacNeil: If the hon. Gentleman is so sure of his case, why did he run from giving the people a referendum?

Mr. Davey: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman voted against our proposal to debate and vote on a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. I bet he voted with the Tories and Labour to try to gag that debate.

It is particularly interesting to compare comments on the Lisbon treaty with past criticisms of Europe. Take, for example, the Conservative amendment tabled for the Second Reading debate on the previous European treaty, the treaty of Nice. The Conservatives opposed that treaty because, according to their amendment,

Perhaps that is still some people’s argument, but those who argue that should probably be carted off by the men in white coats. However, if another set of reforms would

we have not heard about that alternative agenda.

Throughout our debates, we have not had a positive alternative set of EU reforms from the Conservatives—not a single idea. Silence on an alternative Conservative approach and silence on whom the Conservatives might talk to elsewhere in Europe about ideas for EU reform, which they do not have. They are bereft of ideas and bereft of allies.

Mr. Cash rose—

Mr. Davey: I give way to the hon. Gentleman, because he has some ideas for reform.

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Mr. Cash: I make no apology for saying that I would prefer an association of nation states.

Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that to achieve economic competitiveness of the kind that my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), the leader of the Conservative party, is putting forward, we will need to proceed along a line that ensures, through some form of renegotiation, that we get ourselves out of the mess that the Lisbon agenda is in at the moment?

Mr. Davey: That is very interesting, as the Foreign Secretary is saying from a sedentary position. As we know from these debates, the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) is increasingly at the centre of the Conservative party. Perhaps it is now the Conservative party position to renegotiate. We have not heard about that, but, as the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks said of us, I am coming to him later.

Mr. Sheerman: The hon. Gentleman has mentioned the men in white coats. Is it not the case that many people out there have been put off these debates because it is clear to those who observe proceedings in the Chamber—I was able to attend the debates on only three days—that the lunatics have taken over the asylum?

Mr. Davey: I hope that I am not out of order in totally agreeing with the hon. Gentleman.

What about the other criticisms of Europe? Are they dealt with by the Lisbon treaty? Let us look at the 1997 Conservative manifesto. It complained that Europe was doing too much and pledged to incorporate

That meant the treaty of Amsterdam. That treaty put the principle of subsidiarity into a protocol, but the treaty of Lisbon puts it into the text of the treaties. However, we have heard nothing about that from the Conservatives.

For many years, my party and I have had a complaint about the EU on the common agricultural policy. There have been times when pro-Europeans such as me have despaired of the EU with respect to the CAP, but it is worth saying that the CAP of 2008 is far less damaging than the CAP of any previous period in the history of the European Community and the EU.

Let us be clear that more reform is needed, but the process has been going in the right direction. I welcome the Lisbon treaty, because it provides a new dynamic for CAP reform, namely greater democratic accountability and scrutiny, and increases the powers of the European Parliament in its relations with the Council of Ministers over law-making and budget setting. Many more areas of legislation and budget setting will now use the co-decision process, including CAP. For Liberal Democrats such as me who have complained about CAP and, indeed, about Europe’s democratic deficit for many years, the Lisbon treaty addresses that point with real reforms. Interestingly, Conservative Front Benchers are against extra democracy going to the European Parliament. How very telling!

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Let us take another past problem of the European Union—the fact that the Council of Ministers has always met in secret. Liberal Democrats have led the calls for that to be reformed, and the Lisbon treaty marks a big step forward on that, too. For the first time, the Council will meet in public when a new law is debated and approved. Of course, more should be done to tackle secrecy in this House, in Westminster, in Whitehall and in Brussels, but that is a real victory in the Lisbon treaty, and it should be noted.

There are many examples of similar improvements by which the anti-European foxes have been shot by the reforms—I would say that they are being massacred by them. Perhaps that explains why the British Conservatives have turned their backs on 26 other Conservative parties across Europe and taken up with the Dutch Party for the Animals.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: The hon. Gentleman says that the European Parliament is the democratic lever for Europe, and the European Parliament has got more powers in each successive treaty change. How, therefore, does he explain that in every single European Parliament election since 1979, the average turnout throughout Europe has fallen? People do not feel represented at European level. How does he explain that one?

Mr. Davey: I share the concern about falling turnout, but let us be clear: turnout is falling not only in elections to the European Parliament, but in elections to this House and to many local authorities, too. We should all be concerned about that as democrats, but it does not undermine the role of the European Parliament as a democratic forum. I would have thought that the right hon. Gentleman supported that.

Mr. Chaytor: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is profitable to look at the turnout in the municipal elections in France and in the general election in Spain, which were held on Sunday? The turnout on both occasions was significantly higher than the typical turnout in recent elections in the UK. Have we not got something to learn from the way in which other European countries encourage their electorates to participate in elections?

Mr. Davey: I absolutely agree. Liberal Democrats believe that it is useful to talk to and work with colleagues in other countries, because they often have good ideas, whether on elections—proportional representation, for example—the reform of education or health. Engaging with colleagues in Europe is a sensible thing to do for the people whom we come here to serve.

Let me list some of the other key reforms in the Lisbon treaty. For the first time, member states will have the right to leave the EU. For the first time, national Parliaments have been given a mechanism to call a halt to EU legislation. For the first time, ordinary European citizens will be able to petition the Commission to propose a draft law. For the first time, we have a European treaty that creates mechanisms for handing back power from the EU to the member states. Genuine Eurosceptics should be praising the treaty, not burying it. The fact that they do not back the reforms
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that they used to call for reflects the reality that the vast majority of Eurosceptics are not genuinely sceptical but have a closed mind and are predetermined in their opposition to everything European.

The Lisbon treaty is not simply about calling the bluff of the anti-Europeans and exposing the shallowness of their position, beneficial though that is. The treaty also has many practical benefits for Britain and for Europe, as various experienced UK politicians have said:

Those are the words of a distinguished former Foreign Secretary, Lord Howe. Other experienced Conservatives have discussed qualified majority voting, the issue that has so incensed some Conservative Members.

That was said by the former Conservative Cabinet Minister Lord Brittan. According to another former Conservative Foreign Secretary,

Those are the words of the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind). There are many other benefits for Britain to which those experienced Conservatives could have drawn attention.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): This is probably the last speech that the hon. Gentleman will make during this marathon debate on Europe. I congratulate him on the consistency and powerful energy that he has displayed in supporting a centralised European superstate with closer integration, but does it not concern him a little that when it came to a Division the Liberal Democrat party was so hopelessly divided?

Mr. Davey: I have been grateful to the hon. Gentleman throughout our debates, because he was one of the plucky six who voted against the Conservative line with us on 14 November and in favour of our proposal for an in-out referendum. However, his reading of the Lisbon treaty, which suggests that power is more centralised, is completely and utterly wrong. This is the first time that the principle of subsidiarity has appeared in the treaty wording.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): My hon. Friend is right—the treaty makes important advances in terms of subsidiarity and the role of national Parliaments—but does he share my dismay at the fact that there is still not the slightest clarity about how the process will be translated into British parliamentary practice, and about how the House will be given the safeguards that the treaty affords it?

Mr. Davey: I agree, and I think it incumbent on the Government to spell out those safeguards, perhaps in the other place, and to work with other legislatures and Governments. That is the only way in which those powers can be given effect.

I want to discuss the other benefits of the Lisbon treaty for Britain. They include Britain’s increased
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ability to protect our children from sex offenders—Lisbon allows member states to share information about convicted paedophiles—Britain’s increased ability to tackle gun crime on our streets thanks to Lisbon’s provision for closer co-operation in stopping gun trafficking and Britain’s increased ability to counter drug trafficking and the exploitation of women by people traffickers thanks to other Lisbon provisions. Yet while experienced Conservatives welcome such measures, Conservative Front Benchers oppose them. They should be in no doubt that we will remind voters that the Conservatives voted against measures to catch sex offenders, to curb the illegal importation of drugs and guns and to tackle terrorism, which is how out of touch they have become with the modern world.

Mr. Harper: Will the hon. Gentleman tell us what measures currently exist that prohibit European Governments from sharing information on convicted sex offenders?

Mr. Davey: If the hon. Gentleman had read the treaty, he would know that some of the issues that I have described are currently dealt with through qualified majority voting, which means that one member state can prevent the adoption of sensible measures to tackle them. If he has not grasped that yet, he has not grasped a point that is fundamental to how the European Union works and some of the problems with which the treaty deals.

What has really struck me during our debates has been the utter failure of the treaty’s Conservative opponents to give any example of the transfer by the treaty of significant powers and competences from the United Kingdom to Brussels. Despite all the usual guff about the surrender of British sovereignty, concrete examples have come there none. There are examples that the Conservatives could have given, but they have not drawn our attention to them, because those examples do not really help their case.

Although there are absolutely no new transfers of power to the EU whereby the EU would have exclusive competence, there are two areas of power transfer where there will be shared competence between member states and the EU—energy and space. It makes sense for EU member states to have the ability to work together closely on energy policy, given the need to liberalise energy markets, to protect energy supply and to work together on new technologies such as renewables. I cannot believe that the Conservatives want a UK-only space policy so badly that they would oppose joint EU working on space.

Mr. Lilley: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the treaty gives the power to make energy policy under majority voting except in matters affecting conditions of exploitation, so it gives power to the EU on majority voting over the allocation of energy resources. Does he think that that is a good deal, given that we are the only country with energy resources to be allocated?

Mr. Davey: That argument was completely destroyed in our debates in this House on energy, and the Foreign Secretary has dealt with it in his response, so the right hon. Gentleman is completely wrong.

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