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Its been a shabby affair. Low, dishonest and shabby.
This treaty strategy is Gordon Browns personal creation, this is his specified treatment of Parliament, and visible to all is his definition of politics as cynicism in action.
Despite all the protestations about allowing ample time for debate and facilitating line-by-line scrutiny, when it actually came to it, the debate was deliberately rigged to make that almost impossible. The Government just could not abandon their control-freak tendencies and had to restrict debate on the treatyan important point, which I sincerely hope will not be missed in the other place.
Crucially, as the Bill goes to the other place, it still carries within it, in clause 6, provisions to implement article 48(6) of the treatythe new simplified revision procedure. That is the ratchet clause, which means that in future individual vetoes could be surrendered for ever, after only a brief debate on a simple Commons motion. On Second Reading, we said that we would table amendments during the Committee stage to strengthen parliamentary control over that procedure, so that giving up any veto could not be done through a simple motion, but only via a specific Act of Parliament.
Although our amendment No. 20 to that effect was not successful, on the night it did enjoy support from Members of virtually all parties in the House, including Labour, the Scottish nationalists, Plaid Cymru, the Democratic Unionist party, ably represented tonight by the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson)and even, on that occasion, the Liberal Democrats. I hope that the other place will consider the content of the amendment especially carefully. Perhaps it will be minded to implement the amendment, particularly given that it would not wreck the treaty itself, but would strengthen control over how the ratchet clause might be used in future.
Mr. Cash: I congratulate my hon. Friend on his speech. May I also express the hope that maximum pressure will be exerted through the Whip in the other place to guarantee that we fight the battle in the House of Lords every bit as effectively as we have in the House of Commons, without coming to any shabby compromises?
Mr. Francois: I thank my hon. Friend for his acknowledgement that our battle here has been effective. I think that the key question has to be what the Liberal Democrats will do in the upper House. We wait to find out the answer to that question.
We also debated the referendum last Wednesday, and I do not propose, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to reprise the whole debate again. However, the Foreign Secretarys case against the referendum veered from one position
to another with all the consistency of a series of Liberal Democrat Focus leaflets. He was finally reduced to arguing that a referendum was originally promised in order, as he put it that night, to clear the air. Well, I put it to him that if it was appropriate to clear the air then, why can we not clear the air now, and give the people the referendum they were promised?
That brings me on to a fundamental weakness in the Governments whole argument throughout the passage of the Bill. If they are so confident in the treaty and believe that it is such a good deal for the people of this country, and if they contend that it is so markedly to our advantage, why do not they not have the courage of their convictions and go the people of this country to argue the case in a referendum debatenot least because they promised it in the first place?
As my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary previously indicated, we shall table a referendum amendment in the other place, where the battle to give the people the say that they were promised will continueand continue vigorously. Even ardent pro-Europeans must realise that the way in which this whole process has been conducted has done little, if anything, to advance their cause. In fact, it has done quite the reverse. The public may not have followed all the intricacies of the debate, which is exactly what the Government hoped, but they do know that they were promised a referendum, which they have so far been denied.
There was considerable press comment in the aftermath of last weeks vote, but I was particularly struck by an article by Camilla Cavendish in The Times on 7 March. It was entitled A squalid exercise in dishonesty, and she noted:
The powers that our politicians are giving away are powers that they hold in trust for the people. Some of those who voted on Wednesday sincerely believe the EU and were voting on principle. But many more simply found it expedient not to know too much.
Historians may relish the irony that so much now rests with Irish voters in their referendum and with unelected Lords. Let us hope that the Lords debate is more honest.
If the House grants the Bill a Third Reading tonight, it will fall to the other place to apply what my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks has previously described as the Salisbury convention in reverse. It will fall to the unelected peers to hold elected Commons Members to the promise on which they were elected to Parliament in the first place!
I have sat through every single debate on this treaty, and I have contributed to just about every one of them. Having done so, and seen this process in action, I believe that the only type of victory that the Government can hope to win tonight is a pyrrhic one. I believe that this remains a treaty without a democratic mandate; it lacks public support, and it lacks any endorsement by the people. When people were given a chance to vote in 10 constituency referendums, 88 per cent. argued for a referendum on the constitution. There is now only one way for the Government to
legitimise this treaty in the eyes of the peoplefinally to have the courage of their convictions, to abide by their own manifesto, and to let the people decide.
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Jim Murphy): We have had a fascinating debate, not least because of the contributions made by my hon. Friends the Members for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) and for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Ms Hewitt) and my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz).
I have to say that I have been looking forward to this evening since the afternoon that I became Minister for Europe. As I left No. 10, the Prime Minister said to me, As Minister for Europe, you will have some legislation to take through Parliament. Little did I know what he had in mind for me.
We have enjoyed the contributions from and the detail provided by the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois). We have disagreed in almost every debate throughout our proceedings, but we have done soI hope he does not mind my saying thisin a comradely fashion. The hon. Gentleman introduced Bob Crow to our proceedings on Second Reading, so a comradely fashion it is.
We have also enjoyed the contributions from the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), the shadow Foreign Secretary. I have said before that he is the best after-dinner speaker in Parliament. After listening to him, I have come to the forlorn conclusion half a dozen times during this process that I will have to get an invitation to one of his after-dinner speeches to hear the detail of his policies.
I would also like to thank my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary for his leadership and the way he has led the debate on each big parliamentary occasion. We have also heard forensic contributions from my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, West, whoapart from me and the hon. Member for Rayleighare about the only constant attendees of our proceedings.
We have had the opportunity to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), who chairs the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, and my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, who chairs the Select Committee on European Scrutiny. Typically, both are in their places tonight. I have also had support from an excellent teamParliamentary Private Secretaries, Whips and the Bill team.
Mr. Murphy: I have heard it all before, but not today. The hon. Member for Stone has made a fifth of all interventions and speeches in our proceedings. That is testament to his dedication; it just seemed like many more than a fifth, on occasion. Earlier this afternoon, I missed what I think was his 214th intervention. Although there are only about 13 minutes to go, I am certain that there will be a 215th.
Mr. Murphy: We also heard from the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), who made a passionate speech and has paid great attention to our proceedings throughout. He spoke about the fact that he has only an occasional affection for referendums, which is obviously the case on examination of his record as Deputy Chief Whip during the Maastricht processbut I do not want to dwell on that this evening. Following the Maastricht treaty process, and unbeknown to me until this afternoon, someone with a delicious sense of political irony gave the right hon. Gentleman his next Government job: Europe Minister. The ghost of his Euro-enthusiasm and Euro-optimism still haunts the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
We also heard from the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley). Again, the trend of remarkable ingenuity in our debates was followed. As I said some days ago during our proceedings, the hon. Member for Stone quoted an historic parliamentary debate and a speechby himselfas a source of reference. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk did the same thing by proxy, quoting the right hon. Member for Wells quoting him. This evening we had another passionate speech by the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden, who went one step further in our proceedings. Not only did he quote himself, which has become the new fashiona fashion that I have not yet bought intobut, in a remarkable innovation, to make his specific point he did not quote himself from an earlier speech, saying,
I can demonstrate that by referring to a speech that I did not give[ Official Report, 6 February 2008; Vol. 471, c. 1074.]
when he was Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. A remarkable constitutional innovation! It is a first, and perhaps many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House will take their lead from it in future debates.
On the specifics in the treaty and therefore the Bill[Hon. Members: No!] I know. The treaty and the Bill increase the UKs share of the vote in the European Union; reduce the size of the European Commission; give greater say for national Parliaments; end the utterly ludicrous rotating presidency; improve decision making; end the external duplication; and enshrine for the first time childrens rights in a European treaty. In a topsy-turvy sense of priorities, previous treaties, for whatever reason, enshrined animal rights, but not childrens rights. This treaty puts that anomaly right. It also marks significant improvements in climate change and international development.
The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton led with his chin on every occasion and showed that he had a great sense of the detail of the treaty. He also made a point this afternoon that I agree with fundamentally: that Europe is in our national interest. That is because it is not just about the projection of power on the international stage, but about effective influence when it comes to our relations with Russia, China, India and the wider world. Importantly, the treaty brings to an end the circular conversation about European structures and gives us the opportunity to refocus on European delivery on employment, when millions of Europeans are still out of work; on international development, when tens of millions of people are still without basic foodstuffs and basic medicines; and on climate change, which is, after all, the biggest strategic threat to our security and prosperity.
On the remarkably imprecise comments by Opposition Members, the fact is that the treaty enshrines important and fundamental changes to things on which previous treaties were silentchildrens rights, human rights, climate change and international developmentensuring that those issues are, for the first time, strategic objectives for the European Union which give us the opportunity to deliver in a way that our citizens expect us to do.
The hon. Member for Rayleigh and his hon. Friends have been remarkably imprecise about what not letting the matter rest means. What does it mean? Wait and see is what not letting the matter rest encapsulates. Not letting the matter rest is a Eurosceptic slogan of a permanent opposition; it is not a European strategy of an aspiring Government.
We had a stark reminder of that yesterday. The Foreign Secretary and I had the opportunity to travel to Brussels for one of our regular meetings of all the Foreign Secretaries and European Ministers across the 27 member states of the EU. Among the issues that we discussed were Zimbabwe, climate change and how to deliver on jobs and economic growthsome of the big issues contained within the treaty and enabled by the Bill. Gathered in that European meeting were the great democracies of Europethe 27 Governments on the left, right and centre of European politicsall of which are committed to more effective European delivery, seized by the importance of climate change, and aware of the pressing need to deliver further for those Europeans who are currently out of work. Each and every one of those Governments was committed to the details and the principles of the Lisbon treaty.
Rob Marris: I have twice asked the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) what the Conservative partys plan would be if the Bill were lost tonight. What is their plan B for what the United Kingdom should do if the treaty of Lisbon is lost tonight? Does my hon. Friend know what the position is?
Mr. Murphy: At the minimum, the approach would thrust the European Union back into a period of introspection that would jeopardise stability and jobs across the European Union. Never mind plan B; we are not even clear about what the Conservatives plan A is.
Mr. MacShane: Can my hon. Friend confirm that the Governments of Germany, France, Sweden, Poland, the Netherlands, Greece and other European countries are all run by conservative parties with which the Opposition have pledged to break all relations? Is this the new definition of the purpose of Her Majestys loyal Oppositionnot to oppose, but to oppose all relationships with Europe?
I said on Second Reading that every conservative Government in Europe and every major conservative opposition party in Europe supported the Lisbon treaty. I asked then, as I do now, which other conservative party in Europe supports the British Conservative partys opposition to the Lisbon treaty and its recipe for isolation. I will give way to any Conservative Member who wishes to answer that question.
Mr. Francois: Can the Minister explain why Mr. Peter Gauweiler of the CSU recently referred the Lisbon treaty to the German constitutional court on the grounds of his belief that it might be unconstitutional?
Mr. Murphy: A month of preparation, a month in gestation, a month of research, and that is all that the hon. Gentleman could come up with. The fact is that the great democracy of Germany and its centre-right Government are endorsing the treaty, the French Parliament has already ratified it, and the new Spanish Government are committed to it.
What would this great not letting the matter rest coalition look like? It has a new member: I discovered only yesterday, when I was in Brussels, that the French hunting party has now come out against the treaty. Given Sinn Fein, Marianne Thiemewho, as we all know, leads the Dutch party for the animals in its opposition to the treatyand the now infamous Philippe de Villiers, part of the leadership of the French hunting party, we have three allies to fill this great chamber of Europe. That still leaves 23 empty seats for the great European coalition of international Governments.
Michael Connarty: I was enthralled by my hon. Friends list of supporters of the Conservative position, but he forgot to mention the Democratic Unionist party. The hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) seemed tonight not just to argue against the treaty, but to suggest that his party would vote for withdrawal from the European Union.
So there are still 23 unfilled European isolationist chairs in this great chamber. There are not enough unreconstructed communist parties in Europe to fill them all. Let us leave the isolationism of the Dutch animals, the French huntsmen and the British Conservatives to one side. After all, it is a victory of ideology over our national interest. I urge my hon. Friends to reject it, and I commend the Bill to the House.
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