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16 Jun 2008 : Column 708

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): This weekend, the Government of Kosovo took over responsibility from the United Nations. A few weeks ago, the people of Serbia elected a Government on a pro-European platform. Throughout the western Balkans, the people of the former Yugoslavia are looking to the future enlargement of the European Union. Will the Foreign Secretary reassure the House that this Government and this Parliament will continue to work for future enlargement of the EU to include the whole of the Balkans, and will he do whatever is necessary to make that possible?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend makes an important point. I believed that enlargement had support from hon. Members of all parties, although, to judge from the conference speech of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) in September, there would be a referendum every time there was any treaty change, even enlargement, if his party ever came to power. He shakes his head, but his conference speech states that any increase in central power—in other words, treaty change—will lead to a referendum, even on climate change or enlargement, about which he says that he cares. I agree with my hon. Friend that we must defend enlargement.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and for coming to the House so quickly.

While many in Britain, including the Liberal Democrats, find it difficult to see any way in which to continue with the Lisbon treaty, would not it be wrong to be seen to anticipate discussions with our European partners? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is not in Britain’s national interest to be perceived as prejudging this weekend’s summit?

Will the Foreign Secretary confirm to the House the process whereby the UK ratifies all treaties, including Lisbon, and state whether a treaty is ratified by a Third Reading vote in one House of Parliament or through Crown prerogative? If the Government proceed with Third Reading in the Lords and Royal Assent this week, do they intend to withhold depositing the instrument of ratification in Rome until after the European summit?

The questions that the Irish vote raises are posed to us all, whether we are pro or anti-Lisbon. If the treaty of Lisbon falls, the European Union may well have to manage under the institutional arrangements that have worked adequately for the past seven years. They are bequeathed by the Nice treaty, which the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) said at the time would be “a disaster”. Whether the European Union’s operation is to be based on Nice or Lisbon, is not our immediate challenge to obtain a decision, one way or the other, at the forthcoming summit and thus avoid further delay and uncertainty?

Whatever the frustrations and difficulties caused by the loss of Lisbon, could not the cause of European co-operation be much more seriously damaged by yet another protracted period of member states being distracted by institutional debate or talk of a two or three-speed Europe?

With or without Lisbon, in a world of uncertainty and danger, Britain’s national interest remains in the European Union, playing a positive role. It is time for the European Union to focus all its energy on the
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agenda of economic reform, climate change and tackling terrorism. The Foreign Secretary’s job now is to ensure that Britain plays that constructive role in Europe so that Europe’s benefits become ever clearer to the peoples of Europe.

David Miliband: I will start with the hon. Gentleman’s last point: the way in which the European Union can bridge the gap between politicians and people, whether nationally or at European level, is to ensure that it focuses on the issues that matter to people. International issues such as energy and climate change, migration and terrorism are precisely those that the European Union should address.

The hon. Gentleman asked about prejudging discussions at the weekend. It is important to proceed with ratification because the Lisbon treaty is good for Britain—among other things, it increases our voting weight. I do not believe that he meant ratification when he referred to prejudging the outcome. We should certainly not prejudge what Prime Minister Cowan will report.

The hon. Gentleman asked a technical question. Royal Assent means the enactment of a Bill—the turning of a Bill into an Act. As article 6 of the treaty states, ratification depends on the deposit by all 27 countries of the ratification articles in Rome. Clearly, that will not happen before the European Council this Thursday and Friday.

As for the fast track to institutional debate, as I said earlier, the Nice treaty left the number of commissioners unresolved. That is one of the things that the Lisbon treaty was created to resolve, and it did that. If Lisbon does not come into force, one consequence is that the institutional debate about the number of commissioners will restart.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. It is clear that many hon. Members are hoping to catch my eye. We still have the main business to follow the statement and I therefore ask for short, single questions and brief responses so that more hon. Members may be successful.

Ms Patricia Hewitt (Leicester, West) (Lab): I strongly welcome my right hon. Friend’s assurance that we will proceed with ratification of the Lisbon treaty in Parliament. Will he confirm that he is in discussion with his Cabinet colleagues about how best to take forward some of the most urgent issues of policy substance that face the European Union, especially how to deal with climate change at such a difficult time of rising global energy prices?

David Miliband: Yes. Given your demand for brevity, Madam Deputy Speaker, I can answer that question clearly. My right hon. Friend will be pleased to know that one of the French presidency’s top priorities over the next six months is precisely to make progress on energy and climate change.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): If the Irish people had been deliriously happy with the way in which the European Union operates, they would have
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given a more favourable opinion of the Lisbon treaty. Perhaps the lesson for those who operate in Brussels is that they cannot afford to let any democracy into the European Union at all, otherwise the wheels start coming off.

David Miliband: That is ironic, given that the Bill increases the democratic influence of both national Parliaments and the European Parliament. As for the position of the Irish people, the hon. Gentleman will have seen, as I have, that even those parties that urged a no vote in the referendum proclaimed themselves pro-European parties.

Mr. Jenkin: I’m pro-European.

David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman may point to himself and say that, but that is not generally the way he is seen in the House—and, from his smile, perhaps he understands why. The truth is that all the opinion polls make it clear that 80-plus per cent. of people in Ireland support Irish participation in the European Union, including in the euro.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): The Irish no is a problem for the European Union and its political elite, not for Ireland, and it needs to be resolved at the EU level. Given that the Queen’s Speech will not be until 4 December, there is no rush for us to proceed to Third Reading. We should not take part in bullying Ireland into a decision by rushing the Bill through.

David Miliband: I wholeheartedly agree—I do not think that I could have made this clearer—that there is no question of anyone bullying the Irish.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): You are!

David Miliband: The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that I am bullying the Irish, but I do not see how I could conceivably be bullying them, since I have gone out of my way to emphasise that the treaty cannot come into force unless it is ratified in Ireland. We are absolutely clear on that point, and he can talk to Irish politicians on any side of the divide. He will know— [ Interruption. ] Hon. Members suggest that Ireland has been ostracised. The fact that leaders from all over Europe have said that Ireland must be given time to decide on its next move— [ Interruption. ] No, the Irish Prime Minister has asked for time and every European leader has agreed. On previous occasions, the Opposition have condemned Governments throughout Europe for making snap judgments. No Government have done so in this case; they are giving Ireland the chance to figure out its next move.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): Will the Foreign Secretary just for once rise to the occasion and realise that the problem lies not in Ireland or with the Irish Government, but with the European Union, which is widely regarded as centralised, remote, undemocratic, wasteful and inefficient? Will he take a lead, by going back to the Laeken declaration of 2001 and reconvening that conference, but this time designing a Europe that is properly democratic, respects self-government and is
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based on the consent of the peoples of Europe, freely expressed in national referendums, including one in this country?

David Miliband: The right hon. Gentleman participated in the Laeken convention with diligence and seriousness of purpose, but the last thing that Europe needs is another seven years of wrangling about its institutions. This is not the issue that the people of Europe want us to address. If one message has come out of the Irish referendum, it is a command for the leaders of Europe to embrace the agenda of real issues, such as the economy, social policy— [ Interruption. ] The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks says, “Exactly.” The Lisbon treaty drew a line under institutional reform, and rightly so in my view. It said that there would be no further institutional reform until 2017. That is the approach that has been rejected in the Irish referendum. If the treaty is not ratified in Ireland, it cannot come into force across the European Union. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) said, that issue needs to be addressed—I have not described it as a problem, because it would be wrong to do so and would imply that the Irish were somehow doing something that was beyond their rights. They have not. They have made their views clear. Their constitution requires them to have referendums. That is perfectly legitimate, and we should defend their right, because that is their constitutional system.

Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): Does my right hon. Friend remember that the Laeken declaration of December 2001 set out a process that would result in the EU becoming more democratic, transparent and efficient and having social and economic objectives? Given the Irish referendum, will he work as hard as he can with the other 26 member states to see that those objectives are met?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend raises an important point, as the Laeken declaration did address the social, economic and environmental agenda, as well as the political agenda, that Europe’s leaders needed to address. I think that it is incumbent on us to complete this process of institutional reform—what I call the old agenda of the European Union—and embrace the new agenda, which is about the policy issues that the people of Europe want to see properly addressed.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton) (Con): As one of the regrettably few people who voted for the Lisbon treaty when it came before the House, I am obviously very sad about the outcome of the Irish referendum. It is going to be difficult for the Taoiseach to work out exactly what issues the Irish are most concerned about on the basis of this confused referendum. It has happened, however, and I am sad that the treaty cannot legally come into place. Will the Foreign Secretary nevertheless work to do what he can to safeguard the best things in the Lisbon treaty, many of which might be applied practically, and will he have a closer look at the accession treaty for Croatia, which may well provide the Irish with an opportunity to put forward some proposals to get them off the hook?

David Miliband: In respect of the second part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, which was about Croatia, I do not think that the Irish are on a hook. We are clear
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that an important signal must be sent to Croatia that there are no new blockages in its way to accession as a result of what has happened. It is important for its accession process to continue. In respect of the first part of the question, I do not think that now is the time to start cherry-picking parts of the Lisbon treaty. The rules are clear—that the treaty comes into force if all 27 member states ratify it—and we should rest there at the moment. We should allow the ratification process to continue in all countries; we should then see what the Irish decide to do and plan our next moves after that.

Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East) (Lab/Co-op): The Foreign Secretary is being exceedingly kind to the Irish in wanting to give as much time as possible in order to reach some sort of solution to what I can only call a Milliganesque situation resulting from the referendum. It may be necessary at some stage to find ways in which we can proceed, with or without the Irish. Together with his colleagues in Europe, he should now be thinking seriously about we might move forward—unfortunately, perhaps as a two-speed Europe—and ensure that all the advantages that Britain has seen over the years are not dissipated by this particular vote, which represents a very small percentage of the total votes in Ireland.

David Miliband: I have a lot of respect for my hon. Friend’s commitment to the EU, which we have discussed through his membership of the Foreign Affairs Committee. I have to tell him, however, that I do not support a two-speed Europe, which I think would be a step backwards—if it were possible. I say “if it were possible” because Ireland is, of course, a member of the euro. The idea that we will be able to design one set of institutions for 26 member states and another set for Ireland is neither possible nor right. When we and the Irish talk about finding a common European approach, I believe that that is the right thing to do. My hon. Friend is right that the search for consensus can cause delay, but it also increases legitimacy. It is important that we continue that search. If there is a treaty rule requiring 27 member states to sign before a treaty can come into force, it is important that we follow it.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): As someone who voted for the treaty, does the Foreign Secretary agree with me that when the German and French Governments said that the Irish verdict could be overridden or ignored, it was both arrogant and unacceptable? Has he communicated that feeling to them?

David Miliband: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will send me those quotations. I have talked to the French and German Foreign Ministers about this and I have read the statements of Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy, and the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion does not accord with what I have read or heard from those two countries. In fact, since Friday, the European debate has been notable for the absence of any rush to judgment and for the fact that leaders—whether they be from France or anywhere else, including this country—are not saying that Ireland should be bulldozed. I would like to see the quotations on which he has based his assertion.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): I believe that the Foreign Secretary is absolutely right to refer to the large majorities in this Chamber—a two-thirds majority on
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every single vote—and in the other House, where a majority of 62 was helped by two bishops, the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of Chester, who are people I do not normally agree with.

Is it not the truth of the matter that our constituents are probably less interested in institutional change in Europe and far more interested in their energy bills? Without proceeding with ratification of the treaty, how can we ensure that the people of Britain can own French energy companies just as French people can own British energy companies?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend makes two important points. The Bill has passed with large majorities, including large numbers of Conservative Members. The hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) spoke about the small band of brothers that he was with in the House of Commons, but I assure him that if he looks at the House of Lords voting lists he will find a far larger number of brothers and sisters who supported him on that— [Interruption.] No, far more than eight, hon. Members will find.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that a common energy policy is one way to address both the economics of the energy industry and the politics of the relationship with Russia and other energy suppliers. That is actively being worked on, and I hope that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform will soon be able to report progress on the energy issues.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Can the Foreign Secretary not see that if he wishes to build a bridge between the peoples of Europe and the political elite, this country must stop ratifying this dead treaty, and the Irish Government, instead of trying to find a fiddle to overcome and get round the result, should resign because they lost their main recommendation and they no longer speak for the Irish people?

David Miliband: It is a welcome change when the right hon. Gentleman is asking the Government of Ireland to resign, rather than the British Government. I will take that as a large vote of confidence in how we are handling the issue.

We know the right hon. Gentleman’s view. His view was that the 1997 Amsterdam treaty meant the abolition of Britain. As far as I can see, Britain is alive and kicking, contrary to his assertions. It would do nothing for British democracy if an Irish vote meant that this Parliament did not carry on with its workings. Surely we should be defending the right of this Parliament to make its own decisions.

Ms Angela C. Smith (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): My right hon. Friend has stated that the development of a two-tier Europe would be the wrong response to the events of the last few days. Will he give a commitment to the House today that he will stand firm against any attempt by any other member country to force such a solution to the current situation?

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