Previous Section Index Home Page

We assured everybody that the zero rates were safe and secure. It was the first time, as I remember telling the House with some relish, the House has ever been required to pass a tax and given no option not to do so since the ship tax introduced by Charles I sparked off the civil war. I am glad to say that the measure did not have the same impact when I introduced it, and I gave my officials instructions that they were to introduce it
11 Mar 2008 : Column 238
in such a way as to raise the minimum amount of revenue possible. It was the first time they had ever been told to introduce a tax with that effect.

Mrs. Villiers: Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the main reasons the treaty is such a significant shift in power is the criminal justice provisions? Criminal justice and the coercive power of Government over individual is one of the fundamental hallmarks of statehood, so transferring more power in that area to Brussels is a significant constitutional shift.

Mr. Lilley: That is perfectly true. It is one of the areas, but by no means the only one, where we are making further shifts the full extent and implications of which we cannot fully judge at this stage but know from experience will be wider, not narrower, than any interpretation that we can put on them at present.

How will all this affect the daily lives of our constituents and the ordinary business of their businesses? There will be ever more of the sort of thing that we already see as the result of existing transfers of competences. Some of that is necessary. I supported our entry into Europe and I still support our membership—I simply want reform, not exit. In that respect I seem to be rather different from several Members who opposed original entry because they thought that it went too far but now want to go infinitely further—a position that I find hard to understand.

People already find it irritating how measure after measure is imposed on them and how they are told, if they ask, that it is because of the European Community. About 20 minutes before this debate, I asked the Library what measures had recently been passed in this House under European legislation. Since last October, there have been some 44 statutory instruments and three primary Acts of Parliament. They covered subjects such as energy and building performance certificates and inspections—the famous home information packs, which increase the cost of buying a house. The Government did not want that measure—it was imposed on us by a statutory instrument that this House had no opportunity to turn down because it came under the transfer of competences and European law. Other subjects include patents, compulsory licensing and supplementary protection certificates, movement restrictions, foot and mouth disease, reinsurance, and radioactive contaminated land in Northern Ireland. Why only Northern Ireland? I do not know. The list goes on, from animals and animal products, to health and social care profession regulations, to asylum procedures and regulations—an issue where we are going to increase the powers of the European Community. Not a single line, clause or amendment on the provisions involving asylum, border controls and immigration was debated in the House, yet the Government are asking us to accept them.

Many measures are already being passed, but for some reason there is a conspiracy of silence when they do come through this House. Ministers pretend that what is happening is of their own volition when it is not. They act as ventriloquists’ dummies for the legislation and the powers that they have transferred to other places. It is time that we revealed to our constituents what powers have already been transferred and why we do not want to transfer any more.

The Foreign Secretary ridiculed the idea that the energy measures in the treaty have any substance, but
11 Mar 2008 : Column 239
they ensure that security of energy supply in the Union can be voted on by qualified majority voting. The Government say that the right of member states to determine the conditions for exploiting their energy resources requires unanimity. So it does, but that is not the same as the allocation of oil and gas once it has been produced, which remains under qualified majority voting. In other words, if there is a worldwide shortage of oil and gas—as happened during the Suez crisis, the OPEC embargo, the Iranian crisis, and on several other occasions—we would be vulnerable to the European Community deciding that oil and gas should be shared fairly across the whole Community. My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) said that the process would be reciprocal. Of course it would—we would share the oil and gas that we have with others and they would share the oil and gas that they do not have with us.

Angus Robertson: A bit like fishing in Scotland.

Mr. Lilley: Very much so, but at least we share that and the money that comes from it. Certainly, we would never prevent the Scottish people from enjoying adequate supplies of oil and gas; I can assure the hon. Gentleman, who has become almost a friend in the course of these debates, of that.

My constituents are worried, too, about the implications for asylum and immigration, which is a significant issue. We were told by the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) that he did not think that the new treaty would have any implications in that regard, but article 77 says:

In the theology of the European Union, “internal borders” includes all our ports of entry through which people come from the continent. If this treaty is implemented and adhered to, we will not have any powers to make checks, even on non-EU nationals, entering our ports and airports, even though it is sensible and practical for an island to take advantage of its nature and operate checks at its borders, rather than waiting until people have got inside to do so.

Why does this treaty arouse more concern in this country—as was the case with previous treaties—than it has in many continental countries? I spend such free time as this House allows me, which is not a great deal, in my home in France. I am a great Europhile, as the Minister for Europe knows. I have worked in a lot of continental countries, and I was the chairman of a German company with interests throughout Europe. When I talk to my friends on the continent, they often ask, “Why are you more concerned about these things than we are?” The simple reason is that the United Kingdom has greater differences and idiosyncrasies than almost any other member does vis- -vis the generality of the Community.

We have a different history and a different geography. We are an island. We have different institutions. Our institutions and our structure of law have tended to evolve over time, rather than be the result of invasions or revolutions that have swept away past institutions. We have never been occupied. We have not had a revolution for several hundred years. We were not subjected
11 Mar 2008 : Column 240
to Napoleonic laws, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) said. We have a maritime disposition, rather than a continental disposition. We are Anglo-Saxon in character and in a lot of the things that we do, and that includes the Celts.

Angus Robertson: No, it doesn’t.

Mr. Lilley: It does genetically, when one looks into the matter closely.

The continentals often express themselves in antagonism to the Anglo-Saxon. I remember sitting in Council meetings in Europe and being told that we could not do such and such a thing because it was Anglo-Saxon. I had to say, “Is that sort of racialism allowed in Europe? Can you rule me and my policies out on racial grounds?” They more or less said, “Yes it is, and we can.”

There is a difference of attitude, not because what we do is better, but it is simply different. We have different institutions. When it came to negotiating the banking directive, we found that we had discount houses. No one else in Europe had them. The directive, as originally written, would have wiped out our whole system of monetary management and control. Fortunately, we managed to gain an exemption from it. When I became responsible for occupational pensions, I was told that they were not part of a European competence, but we found that they were under a great threat of implications because no other country except Holland had any system of occupational pensions. They fell foul of all sorts of European regulations.

In lots of practical areas, we have developed different ways of doing things, and when we try to harmonise them across Europe, problems are created. I repeat: that is not because what we do is better—it is simply different. Therefore, it is natural that we should want to concede as few powers, and competences, as are necessary to have an open, single internal market and allow the maximum degree of constructive co-operation between our Governments. In my contention, this treaty goes far further than that. It concedes powers, and does so in such a way that we will not readily be able to get them back.

Edmund Burke said:

This place can transfer its powers perhaps for the duration of one Parliament, but it should be wary of trying to abdicate them permanently. It should certainly not do so without a referendum. That referendum was promised; unless and until it is provided, the treaty should not pass.

9.9 pm

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): The closing remarks of the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) illustrate the approach of many Conservatives. They suggest that the EU and its institutions are some sort of behemoth or monster over which we, as a member state, a Parliament and a country have no influence. The extreme example of that position is the right hon.
11 Mar 2008 : Column 241
Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), who, in one of his speeches, described our relationship with the EU as colonial.

The EU and its institutions do not impose things on us about which we have no say. We play an active role in the organisation. We send Ministers to European institutions and the European Council. We nominate members of the European Commission and our citizens can vote for Members of the European Parliament. Member states nominate judges of the European Court by common accord. It is not a foreign organisation but one in which we have the right to play an active part and over which we jointly have control as a member state.

The treaty tries to strengthen the ability of the organisation and the institutions that we have jointly established to pursue more effectively the policies about which we can agree with our partners in Europe. It is in the national interest of all the nations and regions in the UK to make Europe work as effectively as possible. Although I do not have much faith that that is what will happen after our discussions and after the House of Lords—hopefully—agrees to ratification, we should do our best to make the most of our EU membership and reject the semi-detached relationship with the EU that Tory Front Benchers appear to support when they do not go as far as succouring their hard-liners, who want to find some way in which to create a confrontation that takes us out of the European Union.

Playing an active part in Europe does not mean that we should not stand up for our national interests. It does not mean that we should not challenge failings in the European Union or challenge it about revelations regarding the operation of the European Parliament and the expenses of Members of the European Parliament. It certainly does not mean that we should establish a European super-state—I do not support that and, to put it bluntly, it could never happen, given the 27 member states and many nations and cultures that make up the European Union.

However, playing an active part means that our approach to our European partners and to discussing European issues should not always be couched in terms of confrontations with Europe, whereby success is measured by how much we have managed to extract from those cunning people across the channel. I hope that, when we have gone through the reform treaty process here and in the House of Lords, we will concentrate our efforts on making friends and building alliances in Europe. That is the way forward for promoting our national interests and guaranteeing the jobs and prosperity that depend on our links with Europe.

The European Union is a success story. The fact that 27 members states, representing so many nations, cultures and languages, have built up the institution; that regional blocs across the world talk about emulating the European Union; that countries are clamouring to get into the European Union; and that, with one tiny exception, no country wants to leave—all that reflects the success of the European Union. I support the ratification of the treaty. From now on, I hope that we can concentrate more on promoting not only the success of Europe, but an active dialogue with
11 Mar 2008 : Column 242
our European partners and the building of alliances within Europe to promote the interests of the nations and regions of our country.

9.15 pm

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): I am pleased to have the opportunity to sum up for Her Majesty’s Opposition on this important Bill. It may surprise hon. Members to hear that I am going to miss this process. I will miss listening to the Foreign Secretary’s speeches. In particular, I will miss further contributions from my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), the shadow Foreign Secretary. He has led us very ably throughout the process. He has combined precision, determination and good humour. It was the Foreign Secretary who generously said at the beginning of this Third Reading debate that my right hon. Friend was one the best debaters in the House of Commons. On that point, I agree with the Foreign Secretary, even if I have agreed with him on virtually nothing else.

I will also miss sparring with my opposite number, the Minister for Europe. Even though we have disagreed strongly on a number of occasions about the implications of the Bill and the treaty that it would enact, I accept that he has acted throughout with courtesy and good humour. He has loyally stuck to the Government’s hackneyed line that the constitutional concept has been abandoned, even after the Prime Minister referred to the Lisbon treaty last Wednesday at Prime Minister’s questions as “the constitutional treaty”. When even one’s ultimate boss admits that something is a constitution, it is difficult to plough on, but the Minister has stuck loyally to his brief.

I will also miss the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee and his oft-quoted report, which has become almost the standard text for our debates. That report reminded the House that the EU constitution and the Lisbon treaty are “substantially equivalent” and that to argue otherwise is, in the words of the Committee—a Labour-dominated Committee—“misleading”. The Committee also highlighted how whole swathes of the original EU constitution were brought forward into what is now the treaty of Lisbon. That case was argued so strongly that The Economist subsequently described the Government’s case—that the two documents are really quite different—as “a farce”.

I am also grateful to Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee for reminding the House so eloquently on the “Today” programme that the Government’s much-vaunted red lines would “leak like a sieve”. That bears repetition because it was so accurate.

Michael Connarty: The quotation that the hon. Gentleman is always using came at the end of a long contribution about the red lines. Did he subsequently read that the Government’s argument was that by getting protocol 10 to article 10, the red lines would not leak like a sieve, but would be transposed and given away, as they opted in again and again? There would not be a process of accidental filtration, but a process controlled by the Government and, I hope, by the House.

Mr. Francois: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but the moral of the story is, “Be very careful what you say on the “Today” programme, in case it comes back to bite you.”

11 Mar 2008 : Column 243

I would also like to pay tribute to a number of stalwarts on the Conservative Benches who have held the Government to account night after night. Of course I must mention my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), but I also include my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), my hon. Friends the Members for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) and for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper), and others who have been in the House so frequently to press the Government on what they are trying to do.

I must also pay tribute to Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who has played such a frequent part in our proceedings that at one point I started to believe that he had been elected to the House. So that we do not leave him out of this Third Reading debate, I should like to remind the House of what he said so candidly in Le Monde about the similarity between the original EU constitution and what is now the treaty of Lisbon. He predicted:

I am particularly indebted to the former President, as that is an excellent summary of the Government’s whole strategy on this benighted Bill.

In lieu of the referendum that they solemnly promised in their manifesto, the Government promised the House detailed line-by-line scrutiny of the Bill and the treaty—but having done that, they deliberately set out to make that practically impossible. To begin with, they briefed the media that there would be 20 days of debate in the Commons, then restricted the debate to 14 days instead. Although they like to compare that to the time allocated to debate the treaties of Amsterdam and Nice, they somehow always forget to mention that the Maastricht treaty was debated for 29 days in the House of Commons—more than double the time allocated to the debate on this treaty. And as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who has also spoken powerfully, pointed out again and again, at the time of Maastricht, the parliamentary day was often much longer than it is now.

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Jim Murphy) indicated dissent.

Mr. Francois: The Minister does not have to take my word for it; he can ask my hon. Friend the Member for Stone, who I am sure will remind him.

Just in case the days that did remain might be used to their disadvantage, the Government then invented a new way to debate treaties of this nature, with special “themed” debates, designed to restrict the time available at the end of each day for detailed scrutiny of specific amendments. Under to that methodology, clause 4 was debated for fewer than 15 minutes and clause 5 was never debated in detail at all. Similarly, more than half the groups of amendments selected for debate during the Committee stage—15 groups out of 29—were never even reached.

I have here a leaked copy of the Government’s briefing for tonight’s debate. It states:


11 Mar 2008 : Column 244

Amendments may have been tabled, and some may have been selected—but they were not debated, because the debates were rigged to prevent that. The detailed amendments on borders, visas, asylum, migration, defence, the free movement of workers, freedom of association, personal data and social policy were never even debated at all. That is why Mr. Simon Carr of The Independent, who has followed this issue closely, said of the whole process:

Next Section Index Home Page