Previous Section Index Home Page

11 Mar 2008 : Column 195

The British people are worried not about legal immigration but about illegal immigration. Like other right hon. and hon. Members, I have seen pictures and read stories about how people are exploited by those who bring them in gangs from places such as Moldova. I recently saw a DVD about someone who was brought here from the Punjab and told that they would have a better life in the UK. They were brought from the Punjab to Bucharest, then to Moldova, Moscow, Albania and Amsterdam, and then to the UK. The only way that we can combat the illegal movement of people is through co-operation with our European partners.

Mr. Lilley rose—

Keith Vaz: Surely the right hon. Gentleman is not against that.

Mr. Lilley: The right hon. Gentleman is making a cogent and coherent argument; such arguments have been rare from the Labour Benches. Does he accept that although it is always difficult to stop illegal immigration, it is less difficult for an island? The treaty says that we cannot have any internal border controls or any controls on movement through our ports and airports, and that we have to rely instead on the much more porous borders at the other edge of Europe. Does that not make it more difficult, rather than easier, to control illegal immigration?

Keith Vaz: I am not sure that that is actually what the treaty says. However, if people are determined to travel all the way from Amritsar to Amersham via all those other countries, we need the co-operation of our European partners in order to prevent that from happening. It is no good for us to feel that because we are an island we should let the rest of Europe get on and do what they are doing. We need the co-operation of the French in particular if we are to stop illegal immigration. That is why the treaty is so important and why it is so important that we should look at the mechanisms through which the EU operates.

I agree with right hon. and hon. Members from both sides of the House when they say that it is really important that Europe can grow up with its population—its population has been running ahead of it. People are concerned about the way in which some aspects of the bureaucracy in Brussels operate. Anyone who has served as a Minister, whether they were a Conservative Minister or a Labour Minister, will know how difficult it is sometimes to deal with that. The treaty seeks to give more power to those countries that can co-operate, for example on QMV. Maastricht extended QMV. If hon. Members look at the figures on the application of QMV, they will find that when it is used in the European Council, the UK is on the winning side 90 per cent. of the time. That means that the rest of Europe is following our agenda.

When Labour first came into power in 1997, we were on the fringes of Europe. Because of the actions of this Government over the past 10 years, we lead the agenda in Europe. People listen to and have enormous respect for what the British Government say when they speak at European Council meetings. If we reject the treaty, we will throw that respect and influence away, and that would be totally wrong.

11 Mar 2008 : Column 196

Mr. MacNeil: I hear what the right hon. Gentleman is saying about respect and leadership, but is he seriously telling us that since we went into Iraq five years ago respect in the EU for the UK has been enhanced?

Keith Vaz: Absolutely. In 1997, this country was on the fringes of Europe. We were not even consulted on issues. We were put on the sidelines because of the strong relationship between France and Germany. It is simply not possible in a Europe of 27 for France and Germany to run the EU. Many of the countries that have come in, such as Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria—all the eastern and central European countries—look to the UK as their champion. We are the champion of enlargement and we led the enlargement process.

Mr. Clappison: The right hon. Gentleman is making a sincere and well-argued speech. However, is not the credibility of what he says shot down on both counts—on the transparency of the EU and on the Franco-German relationship—by the way in which the treaty came into being? It was railroaded through by the German presidency and all the other countries were kept in the dark, allegedly until 48 hours before the convening of the intergovernmental conference?

Keith Vaz: I have huge respect for the hon. Gentleman as a fellow member of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. I know that he thinks very carefully about these issues. We cannot sit on the sidelines. We have to influence what is happening. We cannot allow this huge, monolithic body, which has 27 members and affects 500 million people, to be run by rules and regulations that were invented 30 years ago. The whole thing would grind to a halt. Enlargement has meant that we need the treaty.

As for the charter of fundamental rights, let me tell Opposition Members that it was negotiated for our country by Lord Goldsmith. At the start of the negotiations, he was on his own, but by the end of the negotiations, he had convinced all the other European countries that the agenda proposed by the UK was the one that needed to be followed. As we all know, the charter does not extend the laws of this country one iota. What is the fear about having such a statement of the values to which we as members of the European Community need to subscribe?

Europe is changing. An example of that is the Lisbon agenda, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Stone—although it might have been a slip of the tongue. The Lisbon agenda was supported, I think, by Members on both sides of the House. In 2000, for the first time, economic progress and the operation of the single European market was benchmarked—

Mr. Cash: It was a failure.

Keith Vaz: It was not a failure. It set benchmarks for the first time, so the Eurocrats do not just make decisions and hope that everything will work. For the first time, sovereign states came together, sat in the European Council and said that they would benchmark their achievements. We have done extremely well as far as the Lisbon agenda is concerned. Of course, we have had a mid-term report. When it has been 10 years since Lisbon was agreed, which it will be in only two years’ time, we will see whether we have reached those benchmarks that were set out.

11 Mar 2008 : Column 197

I am confident about the treaty. I believe that it was the right thing for the Government to do and I congratulate them on the way in which they have progressed. Let me end with a point that was made by the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton and my dear friend, the right hon. Member for Leicester, West. It is not sufficient for the Government merely to say that they are in favour of the EU and that they are campaigning on all the great aspects of the treaty. They have to go out and make the case; otherwise, it is left to the editor of The Sun—great person though she is—and the editor of the Daily Mail to run the agenda for Europe. That would be wrong. We have tried this in various ways in the past. I know that the Minister for Europe has been very busy at the Dispatch Box, but when he finishes his tour of duty in putting the Bill through Parliament, I hope that he will have the time to go to the towns and cities of this country to explain the benefits of being in the EU. The Government are committed to explaining not only the concept but our practical relationship and the real benefits that we enjoy.

Millions of British citizens go to mainland Europe every single year. To say suddenly that they should not do that because Europe is bad is the wrong approach. I do not know why Opposition Members do not join us in our crusade to go out to the British people and to talk positively and constructively about the benefits. Even Opposition Members must understand that there have been benefits from our joining the EU. Surely one of them must understand; surely they must feel that at least one thing has benefited the British people. Perhaps that one thing is the 3 million jobs that have been created, the fact that we have peace and security in Europe, or the fact that we can co-operate on a range of issues to tackle the justice and home affairs agenda. Those are just three examples; I can think of hundreds more.

In the quiet of the night, after hon. Members have gone home and realised that all their posturing has not stopped the Bill from going through the House of Commons, they will realise how much the EU has benefited Britain. I am happy to have spoken in this debate, and I hope that the Bill will be carried with a huge majority tonight.

6.19 pm

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): I am glad to follow the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), because for many years he and I have carried on conversation, dialogue and argument on this subject. As I pointed out in an intervention, he took part in the European forum, which we set up, chaired by Lord Waddington. The right hon. Member for Leicester, East gave evidence to us, as did the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) and Will Hutton. People from all sides of the political debate discussed as objectively as possible the question of where we were going on Europe. The proceedings were published and have been acknowledged as a significant contribution to trying to find common ground on the direction of European reform. The problem is this treaty.

The treaty is the product not of the people who came to the European reform forum but of people in the unelected enclaves of the European Commission—the
11 Mar 2008 : Column 198
people who are not listening. They are not listening to the vote in France and Holland or to the people in this country. They are breaking promises. They have produced a treaty deliberately written, we are told, by “a leader” so that it is unreadable.

The treaty is not merely unreadable, it is undecipherable, which is where the problem lies for those of us who are not intimately connected with this matter. I pay tribute again to the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), the excellent Chairman of our European Scrutiny Committee. Anybody who has tried to read the dense material in the treaty should ask themselves whether the man in the street—given the impact of the document on his daily life—could possibly be expected to understand what it is all about. Passerelles, subsidiarity, constitutional concepts: it is unbelievable that such a document should be the ruling document of the people of this country for the indefinite future.

Let us compare the treaty to the simple language of the American constitution. In far less space and with far fewer words—far less verbiage—it encapsulates ideas that have managed to carry that country from the day the constitution was signed. There have been some amendments, but not to the integral part of the constitution. In this country, we have had to revise treaties from time to time. Over the last 200 or 300 years, we have produced some immensely important treaties, and because we do not believe that they have to be set in concrete—indeed, we believe that they must not be—we have mechanisms in our constitutional arrangements for changing them.

In effect, the treaty encapsulated in the Bill and under the European Communities Act 1972 is set in concrete. It is meant to be in concrete, with the acquis communautaire and all those laws—the enormous tsunami invading our legal system and the principles of our constitutional Government and of the House of Commons—which superimpose on our system a Court of Justice with no right of appeal. Setting all those rules in concrete with no real renegotiation process is, in essence, undemocratic.

Mr. MacShane: From the hon. Gentleman’s Jesuit education he will recall the tag, “Pacta sunt servanda”—treaties must be obeyed. I can give him one example of a treaty which, thank goodness, we have never sought to renegotiate, or allowed any other signatory to renegotiate—the treaty of Utrecht, which gives us sovereignty over Gibraltar. The hon. Gentleman should be careful; treaties need every signatory either to quit the treaty fully or to agree renegotiation. Treaties cannot be renegotiated unilaterally.

Mr. Cash: I am sorry to disappoint the right hon. Gentleman, because I am not about to give a dissertation on the Vienna convention. We have been obliged to abrogate hosts of treaties by force of circumstance. If a treaty is turned into a legal entity—an entity incapable of being reversed, according to the assertions of the Court of Justice, which is given the right of overall jurisdiction—we are caught and trapped in the past.

Mr. MacShane rose—

Mr. Cash: I cannot give way to the right hon. Gentleman again, as other people want to speak.

11 Mar 2008 : Column 199

The point is that treaties have to be reversed from time to time, in whole or in part. The decision of Lord Denning, in McCarthy v. Smith, followed by Lord Diplock in Garland v. British Rail Engineering Ltd, clearly states the British Parliament’s continuing right: it is unassailable constitutional law. With respect to the European Communities Act 1972 and the European treaty that is part of the treaty of Lisbon—the treaty of Rome and following treaties are all amalgamated with consolidation and amendments in the treaty of Lisbon—the British Parliament has the continuing right to override those provisions in whole or in part. The crucial words are

meaning the treaty. As and when we decide that we want to renegotiate we have an unassailable right to do so as a matter of constitutional law and the case law that is at the very apex of our judicial system.

It is essential for us to understand that point, which is why my new clause 9, supported by 47 Members, and the reasoned amendment that I tabled for today, supported by a new set of Members, are so important. I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) say, in response to my intervention, that we needed a constitutional safeguard. I shall not go through all the arguments we made the other day, but it is imperative that we come up with clear, legally watertight wording that reflects those decisions, or we shall be unable to renegotiate, although we know we must—for example, on over-regulation. By Commissioner Verheugen’s own admission, over-regulation costs European economies £100 billion a year—many billions to the British economy. We shall have to renegotiate the provisions, so we need a sound constitutional basis in our domestic law to enable us, where negotiations fail or falter, to tell other member states that we have reserved our position. The House should be in a position to tell other member states that we will renegotiate because we have retained the right to do so.

Without going through all the arguments again, I say only that the consequence of acceptance of the treaty is that the European Court of Justice and our courts will be determined to apply case law, because that is what declaration 17 says. It may be only a declaration but it will still be used, just like the working time provisions that were meant to be only a declaration. The courts will say, “You have accepted the constitutional assumptions on which the European Court has made its determinations.” Those assumptions include—unequivocally, as is shown in cases such as Costa and Handelgesellschaft—the fact that national Parliaments and national constitutions are subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. All the legislating we do in this place will be reduced—pulverised—by the significance of the case law of the ECJ where it chooses to exercise it. Because we have given away so many powers by handing over competences, we are reducing and draining away the powers of the House, but they are not ours to give away. It is not our House. It is not our Parliament. It belongs to the voters.

Churchill, speaking on this subject, said that Members’ first duty was to their country, their second was to their constituents, and only in third place was their duty to their party’s policy and programme. We
11 Mar 2008 : Column 200
Conservatives believe in that. I personally would like always to obey the Whip, and I have no problem whatever doing so in relation to the Bill. We have acted together. There have been one or two blips—the other night, for example—but that is not as important as the fact that we work together.

Michael Connarty: I will not take us back to Churchill, but the hon. Gentleman will recall that recently the European Court of Justice issued a judgment on a case in which a journalist’s house was ransacked—

Mr. Cash: Tillack.

Michael Connarty: Tillack is the man, yes. He went to the European Court of Justice looking for justice, saying that his right to privacy had been breached, and he lost his case. He then went to the European Court of Human Rights, which awarded him €30,000 and expenses. The hon. Gentleman says that there is no appeal, but in such cases human rights are safeguarded by the European Court of Human Rights. If our citizens find that their rights have been breached by the European Court of Justice, they have recourse to another court.

Mr. Cash: That is a very interesting point. I do not want to spend the whole debate on this issue, but it is a fact that the European Court of Justice cannot be appealed against. Tillack went to a separate court. As it happens, we endorse in law the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, but we retain the House’s sovereignty over the Human Rights Act 1998. I do not want to go right into the Tillack case, but I simply make those points.

The treaty was conceived and born out of deceit. We know that because we members of the European Scrutiny Committee heard how it was bounced on our Foreign Secretary. On the way in which the treaty was conceived, and born out of the German Government’s presidency, I say:

“Treason doth never prosper: what’s the reason?

The fact is that the treaty is being ratified, and if the Bill is successfully enacted, nobody will be able to turn around and claim that it is treason, because we, as citizens, will all be bound under the treaty. It is not merely a question of whether our constituents will be adversely affected, although I believe that they will be. We are talking about much more than that; we will be made citizens of the European Union, with knobs on. That is another matter that ought to be of grave concern, but it has barely been touched on in our debates.

Next Section Index Home Page