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Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con):
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) hardly gave a ringing endorsement of the treaty. He said that it contained parts he did not like, but that on balance he would vote for it. That is an indictment of a treaty that should be at the end of a reform process. Europe should by now have addressed the widely shared concerns about its procedures and policies. It is worth reminding ourselves that the treaty was conceived seven years agoit had a long gestation periodand was launched in the Laeken declaration of 2001, in which the Heads of Government who were meeting in that
Belgian town called for Europe to reform itself and described Europe as being undemocratic, complicated and remote.
The Lisbon treaty is the result of a failed reform process. It is obviously a failure. It runs to nearly 300 pages of appalling Eurojargon, so it is completely inaccessible to the ordinary voter. It is designed to be so, because the people behind it knew that the more complicated they made it, the less likely it was that people would be asked to vote on it. That was admitted by one of the vice-presidents of the Convention on the Future of Europe, Mr. Amato, who conceded that if it was designed to be a popular document, it might be put to a popular voteand they would never risk that.
This reform process has been a failure, because it makes Europe more remote. The very institutions that caused much of the grief have been given more powers. The decisions will be made by more powerful institutions more remote from the ordinary citizen. That not only ignores the instruction given in the Laeken declaration that Europe should be moved closer to the citizen; it defies and contradicts it. How can we do that when decisions on a range of new policy matters are to be taken not in the national Parliaments but in the most remote tier of governmentthe European Union? It is not surprising that this document, or one very much like it, was rejected by the French and Dutch electorates. The problem with the European Union is that no is taken to mean yes.
Another myth is that without the treaty, paralysis would result. We have been told that. It has been said in the debate that the treaty is needed to govern a Europe of 27 countries. I was told during the Convention on the Future of Europe that the constitutional treaty was necessary for enlargement. Indeed, Ministers told me that if I was against the constitutional treaty, I was therefore against enlargement. In the same way, we are now told that if we are against spending more money on the European budgetour contributions will soon go up to £6 billion a yearwe are against enlargement. However, enlargement happened as a result of the Convention on the Future of Europe. Another 10 countries joined, and another two have joined since, and there has been no paralysis.
I ask any hon. Member who believes that there has been paralysis to spend half an hour attending at least part of the European Scrutiny Committees weekly meeting. They can now do that because, in a radical new procedure, hon. Members can actually attend at least part of a Committee of their own House. They will see a torrent of legislation from Brussels. More than 1,000 new instruments a year are being examined. There has been no paralysis even under the existing treaties, so it is a complete Euromyth that we need a new treaty for a Europe of 27 countries.
When the original constitutional treaty was decisively rejected, Europe reverted to its old, familiar method of secrecy. All the negotiations that took place last year to revive the treaty were in secret, and there was only a 48-hour gap between its publication and its agreement at the European Council meeting in Brussels in June. We were told in the run-up to the treatys publication that the public had to be involved and that parliamentary scrutiny was essential. The need for openness and transparency and the publics right to know were reasserted in a series of conclusions from
successive European Councils. They did not mean it, and those things did not happen. It all took place in secret. The public were not supposed to know what was going on or to scrutinise what happened in those negotiations.
The result is a treaty that, in all material respects, is the same as the failed constitutional treaty. The hon. Member for Huddersfield said that the treaty was different because it differed in form. He said that instead of abolishing the existing treaties, it would amend them. I judge treaties and constitutions by their substanceby what is in them and by their legal effect. The hon. Gentleman ignored the clear conclusion of two Select Committees that, in all material respects, the two documents were similar, if not the same. We have a treaty that is the same in substance as the constitutional treaty. I see the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), the Chairman of my Committee, shaking his head, but I remind him of the Committees conclusion:
Taken as a whole, the Reform Treaty produces a general framework which is substantially equivalent to the Constitutional Treaty.
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.
Of course, it is true that the Government did not want the treaty. I listened to day after day of speeches and amendments during the Convention on the Future of Europe. The Government representative tabled 295 amendments in total, which I have in my hand. The Government have refused to publish that list. It is very difficult to get hold of itone has to trawl through European websites and separate out all the amendments tabled by the other 105 delegates to the Convention, but we have done that and there were 295. Of those, 33 were accepted on such epic matters as changing common market to internal market and changing the reference to member states internal law to read national law. On matters of trivia, the Government tended to win, but on substantive matters they lost time and again. The Government are defending a treaty that they did not want. They certainly did not want the substance of it.
The treaty is indisputably constitutional in character. It provides for a division of powers and does so on terms that are entirely favourable to the EU. I agree with what the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) said in his powerful speech about the irreversibility of the process. Once we give away those powers, we will never get them back. British history is a long struggle to get powers under the control of those who are accountable to the people. Many wars have been fought to achieve that, and here we are giving those powers away in a treaty. It defies belief that a free Parliament should do that without losing a war.
The treaty explicitly asserts the supremacy of EU law. That cannot be found in the existing treaties. This treaty repeats and writes down the self-interested case law of the European Court of Justice. It is a major
advance for the ECJ to have in a treaty what it has up to now only asserted in its own case law.
The treaty also creates a self-amending procedure through the so-called ratchet or passerelle clauses so that in future it can transfer more powers away from national Parliaments and member states up to the EU without the need for the traditional intergovernmental conference, parliamentary legislation or referendums. Those at the top of the EU in Brussels have decided that they will never again ask the people what they think. They have dismissed the people and given those powers to themselves.
The treaty creates a Union that is all-powerful but politically weak. It is a hollow institution because it lacks popular allegiance and legitimacy. The reason for that is fundamental. Europe is not a single political entity on which democracy can operate. There is no European public opinion, as such. There is no single European electorate and no language of Europe. There is no shared political experience. In short, there is no demos on which democracy can operate. People obstinately identify with their own country where voting is concerned. Of course, we can build upwards on that: if we have a vibrant national democracy in Europe, we can co-operate on that solid foundation to tackle common problems.
We on the Conservative Benches are the internationalists. We believe in countries, Governments and people getting together to tackle common scourges and the problems of the world, but the process must be built on a solid foundation: it must arise from below, whereas the EU method is top-down. The EU wants to be the dominant law-maker and we have to accept it. That has happened despite all the effort and money spent on trying to create a European political identity.
The failure to do so is shown by the fact that the loss of democracy at national level, hollowed out by the relentless upward transfer of powers, is not being replaced by democracy at European Union level. The attitude of voters towards the European Parliament, which frequently boasts that it is the repository of the democratic impulse in Europe, shows that the reverse is happening. The Parliament has demanded and been given more powers in every treaty. It says, Give us the powers and people will see that we are important. Theyll come out to vote and we shall express the popular will of the peoples of Europe. It has not happened. In 1979, an average of 69 per cent. of the EU electorate voted in the first European election. In the next election, the figure dropped to 65 per cent. and thereafter to 64, 58 and 53 per cent. In the most recent European Parliament election, the percentage of the people of Europe who voted dropped to 48 per cent.
The electorate either say no in referendums or We couldnt care less in elections. They certainly never regard themselves as democratically represented, in any real sense of the word, in the European Parliament. In the treaty, we are suppressing democracy at national level without replacing it at EU level. The democratic deficit, which is already yawning, is set to grow worse.
The treaty does something else, and it does it specifically to the UK. It locks us into a continental system that is in defiance of our historical experience, outlook and pattern of trade. The UK is of course in part a European continental country; we are anchored offshore but we are geographically part of Europe. That
is a magnetic force that operates on us, and much of our history has been bound up with what happened elsewhere in Europe, but we are more than that. We are what General de Gaulle called a maritime country. That other magnetic field operating on us is a result of our historical experience as part of the Commonwealth, part of the English-speaking worldsometimes called the Anglosphereand part of areas of the world that are showing greater dynamism and higher economic growth.
The treaty tries to switch off that maritime global magnetic field and suck us irreversibly into a continental destiny. That is doing grave damage not only to us but to people all over the world to whom we have responsibilities. Like many Members, I am interested in development policy, in helping the poorest people of the world through aid and trade, but the process is hindered, not helped, by the fact that we have no trade policy. There is much to do with aid in the treaty, which states that aid is to be made part of the foreign policy of the EU. However, the provision that until now explicitly required the EU to give most of its attention to the most deprived is removed from the treaty. Rather than gaining power to help the poorest in the world, we are losing it.
African countries that want to trade with the UK have to go in supplication not to us, because we no longer have a trade Department, but to the European Union with its protectionist attitudes. It is a disgrace that the worlds fifth biggest economy cannot set its own trade policy even when we want to help the poorest people in the poorest countries.
As I have said, the treaty is not reforming; it is constitutional. Although it is complex, it can be reduced to a simple fact: it is about transferring powers from those whom people have elected and can get rid of, to those whom they have not elected and cannot get rid of. Our global role is our strength, but we are being forced to choose a low-growth continental system that is old-fashioned, centralised and regulatory.
There is only one final conclusion: regardless of whether I am right or wrong, it must not be me, or the House, that makes the final decision, because ultimately it is not our powers that we are dealing with, but those of the people who send us here. I am not one for regular or continuous referendums, as I believe in a representative democracy, but when the rules of the game are altered, and big decisions are made about who governs us and where we are governed from they must be made not by politicians but by the people. The rules are now altering. We are exporting powers of unprecedented scope on an unprecedented scale. That is why all of us must keep our promise to ask the people what they think in a national referendum.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. There is limited time before the wind-ups, and there are five hon. Members seeking to catch my eye. I shall have some regard to whether hon. Members have been here for the entire debate.
Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con):
For me, the key issue raised by the Bill is not Europe, but integrity. I took part in the debates because I was shocked at the suggestion that Members should betray
the pledge and promise that they made to their electors in their manifesto, and I wanted to know what they had to hide. I moved from shock to concern, and then to anger and shame. I have never been so ashamed of this place as when I saw 300 Members of Parliament betray a pledge on which they were elected.
The pledge for a referendum may have been unwise, unnecessary, or unmerited by the substance of the treaty. The proposed referendum may have been on the wrong question. However, the pledge was given, and I am old-fashioned enough to believe that when one makes a pledge, one should keep it. Comparisons between the Lisbon treaty on the one hand, and the treaties of Nice, Amsterdam and Maastricht and the Single European Act on the other, are irrelevant. The only comparison that matters is that between the European reform treaty before us and the constitutional treaty in respect of which the pledge for a referendum was given.
The author of the constitution says that the constitutional treaty is substantially the same as the Lisbon treaty, but we are told that we must not believe him. The Chancellor of Germany, Mrs. Merkel, says:
The substance of the constitution is preserved. That is a fact.
We are told that we must not believe her. The Prime Ministers of Spain, Belgium and Ireland say as much, but apparently they are lying, too. Ministers of Denmark, Italy and the Czech Republic have said the same, but Members on the Government Front Bench tell us that they are not to be believed. How the Government get on with their partners in Europe I do not know. Lithuania, Slovenia and other countries have said the same, too; all of them are apparently not to be trusted. We are to hand power to them, but we are not to believe them.
welcomes the fact that the mandate safeguards the substance of the Constitutional Treaty.
The European Commission, which the right hon. Member for Leicester, West (Ms Hewitt) hopes to joinshe gave us her job application earlier todaysaid that the treaty was essentially the same as the old constitution. I am not surprised that she is walking out of the Chamber. I understand that she intends to leave this place for another. No one has offered any coherent explanation why all the people, Heads of Government, and institutions that I have mentioned should want to deceive us, so we must assume that they are telling the truth.
The British voters must put their faith in another place to force this House to think again. The Salisbury convention states that their lordships will not reject legislation implementing a clear manifesto commitment. By the same token, they surely must not accept legislation that fails to implement a clear manifesto pledge. I appeal to their lordships, not least those on the Cross Benches and the Bishops Benches, and to the people of great integrity on the Labour side and on the Lib Dem Benches to think whether it is not their duty to uphold the integrity of Parliament and give this House the chance to think again.
Those in that House may think the pledge should never have been given. They may think it unnecessary or unwise. That is not the issue. It was given and it was in everybodys manifesto. Surely they should refer it back so that we can at last uphold the promises that we made.
Referendums apart, is the treaty necessary or desirable? The Government say that it is essential for the smooth working of the EU. That is patently not true. The EU has worked smoothly since the accession four years ago. A study by Sciences Po in Paris shows that the EU is adopting new rules and regulations 25 per cent. more quickly since enlargement than it was before. Rejection would simply leave us with the status quo, and the status quo shows every sign of working perfectly reasonably. Moreover, we would not have to concede further competences to the EU.
The Government and their Lib Dem lackeys say that rejection would be tantamount to leaving the European Union. If we rejected the treaty, we would be throwing ourselves out. Again, that is patently not true. The French and the Dutch people rejected the constitution, which the Government and the Lib Dems pretend was far more substantial than the treaty, and no one suggested that they should leave the Union. It would simply result in another round of negotiation if our partners in Europe really wanted to push ahead with the treaty.
We surely would also be able to obtain the concessionsthe very substantial concessions, we are assured by the Government and the Lib Demsthat the French and the Dutch obtained as a result of their rejection of the original constitution. Ministers and a number of hon. Members who have spoken in the debate allege that we on this side of the debatenot on this side of the House, because Members in all parts of the House argue the points that I am makingexaggerate the implications of the treaty and have exaggerated the implications of previous treaties. I wish that were so, but the reverse is true.
Weincluding Governments of whom I have been a memberalways underestimate the implications of treaties that we agree to, because we can never foresee how the European Court of Justice will interpret a treaty that we pass. All we know from experience is that it will always expand competences more widely than originally anticipated. My own experience confirms that. My first role in Government was as Economic Secretary, and the first thing I had to do was implement a decision of the European Court of Justice that we had to apply VAT to building, electricity, water, homes and spectacles. It was an interpretation of the sixth VAT directive, passed in all good faith by the Labour Government back in the 1970s, which none of us had foreseen would extend VAT into previously zero-rated areas.
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