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I very much hope that the EU, given its determination and its track record on climate change, will work even more closelyand can do sowith a new US Administration to ensure success in Copenhagen. As we know very well from the latest international discussions
on climate change under the existing Administration in Washington, the US will not act unless China and other emerging economies act and they, in turn, will not act unless the US does so. With the change of Administration in Washington, we have an opportunity globally to cut through that bind and get the global action that is desperately required. As part of that, I have no doubt that we will rapidly see the emergency of a transatlantic trading system that will build, on the US side, on the trading systems that have been put in place in California and adjoining states, and that will link with the growing European emissions trading scheme and, in turn, both will link with the clean development mechanism and the global trading that that makes possible.
Ms Hewitt: I did not realise that that was painful for some hon. Members to the extent that one of them cannot bear to hear again about the extent of his partys isolation in Europe. It is quite extraordinary, however, that the official Opposition still persist with their commitment to withdraw from the European Peoples party in the European Parliament, to withdraw from the social chapter, and to renegotiate the Lisbon treaty, even if it is ratified by every member state at the point at which the Conservativesif indeed they doform a Government.
Mr. Evans: The right hon. Lady has talked about the isolation of the Conservative party in Europe, but what about the isolation of the Labour party in this country? It offered the country a referendum on the constitution, and it was taken from the people. Does she not recognise that the Labour party will pay a price for that at the general electionbring it on?
Ms Hewitt: That is something that we debated at considerable length in the House when we went through many days and weeks of proceedings on the Lisbon treaty. Many Members and I made a point about the significant differences between the Lisbon treaty and the constitution, but I must tell the hon. Gentleman that the position that his party persists in maintaining on the treaty, the social chapter and on the EPP in particular, make complete nonsense of its claims to have moved to the centre ground of British politics and, furthermore, to be a party committed to green policies. Both claims are completely absurd and, indeed, the isolation of any Conservative Government in the EU would make it quite impossible for them to exercise the kind of influence that they claim that they would like to have over environmental matters.
The position, however, is even worse than that. It is clear that the real view of the British Conservative party and of its leader is that the EU is some kind of historic dead end, and that the new American Administration should focus on their relationship with the United Kingdom, not on their relationship with the EU. I have no doubt whatsoever that there will be an
excellent relationship between President-elect Obamas Administration, the President-elect himself and the UK, at least as long as we have a Labour Government. I have no doubt at all that the relationship between the Prime Minister and the new President will be close and highly effective but, equally, I have no doubt at all that President-elect Obama, as he made clear in his election campaign, gives a high priority, and quite rightly so, to the much larger relationship between the United States and the EU as a whole. Whether on issues of climate change or on global trade and the need both to combat protectionism and to secure the Doha development round, the relationship between the US and the EU as a whole is absolutely critical. Any future Conservative Government would therefore find themselves not simply isolated in Europe, but isolated from the United States, and they would lack real influence with both.
Issues such as climate change will be important at this European summit, and the Government, with the few caveats that I have mentioned, are in exactly the right position. I wish the Prime Minister and the Government well at the summit. It would be a disaster for the interests of our country and our people if this Government were replaced by the Conservative party.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): The Foreign Secretary referred to several matters, and I will start with the Irish question. We are intimately bound up with where Europe as a whole goes, and whether that involves the European Union as devised by the Lisbon treaty or by its godfather, the constitutional treaty, is another question.
Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, we have had an intimate relationship over an extremely long period of time with the Irish. My grandmother, for example, was an Irish lady from County Cork. There are intimate family and commercial relationships that go back over many hundreds of years. One of my forebears was responsible for the petition for Ireland in the 19th century, and another was the Member for County Meath in the 1840s and 1850s, and was responsible for setting up the tenant rights association. Many hon. Members have intimate relationships with the Irish people.
The Irish people voted by a substantial majority against endorsing the Lisbon treaty. We have heard in this debate and formerly that the French and the Dutch both turned down the original constitutional treaty. Surprise, surprise, when countries of that size turn down a treaty, the treaty is abandoned and a new one is devised. In this caseI choose my words carefullythe Irish are effectively, as they were with the Nice treaty, being put through the wringer, despite the fact that the draft conclusions leave that issue blank at the moment. There has been a concerted attempt, in which this Government have joined, to their eternal shame, to bully the Irish people, but the Irish people are not prone to being bullied.
The Government of Ireland are deeply unpopular. Under their tutelage, the Irish economy is showing signs of being in desperate straits. The attempts to bribe the Irish electorate by giving them a free vote on issues relating to abortion, providing flexibility within the treaty arrangements or obtaining an extra commissioner, who would, of course, only be a minor voice in EU affairs, will get nowhere. President Clintons comment,
Its the economy, stupid, may meanthis is quite apart from the Irish peoples patriotic view, as expressed in a recent opinion poll, that they will defend their positionthat the Irish people continue to vote no; we will see, but that is my judgment.
Only a couple of days ago, the Irish had yet another poll. Far from the position getting better from the Irish Governments point of view, it is getting worseopposition is now up to 57 per cent. The Government are not on a good wicket in joining the rest of the EU to bully our friends, comrades and colleagues in the Irish Republic.
Mr. Evans: Does that not reinforce the argument as to why we should have had a referendum in this country? If the Irish no vote has opened up those aspects of the treaty that are not in Irelands best interests and allowed it to make some advances, then people there have shown how strong they are. We did not like aspects of this particular treaty, but we have succumbed to them, and now we do not have a leg to stand on. If we had had a referendum and Britain had said no, what would the EU throw at us in order for us to say yes in a second referendum, if we were to have one?
Mr. Cash: I could not agree more. My hon. Friend, who has been a great ally in these matters over a long period, has put his finger on it. He also represents an excellent constituency, Ribble Valley, where I went to school.
I listened with dismay to the views of the Liberal Democrats, who are all over the place. The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) has said that he would be in favour of a yes vote, if there were a vote on the Lisbon treaty, but that is not the position of the party as a whole, and he would be in favour of a yes vote on the euro. [ Interruption. ] There is a disturbance on the Liberal Front Bench. [ Interruption. ] Liberal Democrat Members are all in favour; what a marvellous admission. Now we are getting down to it, and I am glad that I have been able to stir them up. Their position has been mildly, if not entirely, contradictory on almost every aspect of their approach to a referendum over the past few years.
Jo Swinson: Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman has completely misrepresented my partys position, which is that we support the Lisbon treaty. There may not be entire unanimity on that issue down to every single member of the party, but if he were to look within his own party, he would find the same thing.
Mr. Cash: As far as Conservative Members are concerned, no more than four people were prepared to vote in favour of the treaty and against a referendum. The degrees of division within our respective parties favour our side rather than the hon. Ladys.
An interesting exchange of views recently took place between the President of the Czech Republic, who is about to assume the presidency of the European Union, and the Irish Government. The Irish Government invited the President of the Czech Republic to make a state visit. The President is as honest as the day is long, and he rightly expressed his views, which are well known, about the treaty.
Mr. Cash: Absolutely. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I was recently in Prague, where I had the opportunity to visit the castle to participate in certain discussions about those questions. [ Interruption. ] That long-standing friendship goes back about 20 years.
There was a so-called diplomatic row about that exchange of views with the Irish Government. Having followed the press cuttings and the exchanges that took place, I think that the views of the President were more than justified, although he came in for a lot of criticism, which often happens when people trespass on the sacrosanct territory of the Lisbon treaty, or for that matter any other treaty, and run up against the establishment.
The Czech President is a man of great honesty and determination, and I imagine that he will not agree to approve the outcome of the current discussions in the Czech Republic until after the Irish vote. I simply want to get on to the record my serious concerns about the fact that the Irish are being bullied and that our own Government are party to that bullying. That needs to be put clearly on the record.
We have been dealing with another important matter in the past few days, and I want to make glancing reference to it. Yesterdays debate may seem to have been abortive, in the event; we shall see whether it was in due course. However, there is another aspect to the question of arrest. Without going into the details, I simply want to place it on the record that if the arrest in question had taken place under a European arrest warrant, important additional constitutional questions could have arisen.
Under the terms of the European arrest warrant, apparently the European Court of Justice would ultimately make the decision. For example, if somebody from this country happened to be abroad and offended a law of the country that they were in, and if, within the parameters of the European arrest warrant, that led to a warrant being issued against them which was exercisable in this country, we could get into equally importantI do not say more importantconstitutional difficulties. As yet, the issue has not been resolved, although no doubt it will be in due course.
Mr. Cash: A European arrest warrant was not involved, but the fact is that such warrants are now part of the law of this country. I happen to think that they were a very bad idea and have argued against them on many occasions, but the fact is that they are part of the law of this land. Allowing that to happen was a great mistake, and it has meant that another constitutional issue could arise in certain circumstances. That is a possibility for the future.
I move on to the other questions. The Foreign Secretary said that the European Union was now constructed as a grouping of nation states. I wonder whether he realises what he was saying; the EU is not so much a grouping of nation states as a consolidation through the legal framework of the European Union which needs to be renegotiated into an association of nation states. I have made that case before and I do not need to make it again. I just want to put it on the record.
For the benefit of my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) and his distinguished colleague the shadow Foreign Secretary, I shall repeat a point that I have made before. I shall deal with it just once, to get it out in the open: I strongly believe that we should have agreed to my amendment about the supremacy of Parliament which I tabled for the debates on the Lisbon treaty. My hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh knows that, but it does no harm in a debate such as this to say that that should have happened, without going into why. I trust that when the time comes we will make sure that it does happen. Otherwise, we will get into problems of sovereignty, of which the European arrest warrant could turn out to be an unfortunate example. We have to assert the supremacy of the United Kingdom Parliament and require the judiciary to obey our laws.
I am therefore extremely glad to have read the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) on the repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998. As I said to him, he set out the case extremely well, and it is well worth reading his speech. It left out the point that I have just made about the supremacy issue, however. Within the framework of the 1998 Act, it is open to us, in the exercise of our sovereignty here in Westminster, to override, amend or repeal the Act as and when we choose to do so. The sovereignty issue is implicit in that. We will come to the matter in due course, and I hope that it will feature in our manifesto in the run-up to the European elections. This may be the last opportunity for us to debate the issue in any detail before the manifesto is completed. I call on my party leadership to ensure that we deal with the issue emphatically and in the correct terms, as I have described them in relation to the supremacy of Parliament and the sovereignty of the House in all the matters to which I referred in that amendment.
Richard Younger-Ross: Earlier, the hon. Gentleman seemed slightly confused about the Lib Dem position on the Lisbon treaty; I should tell him that all Liberal Democrat Members, bar two, voted for the treaty. Percentage-wise, that is not much different from the Conservative position in reverse.
On the European arrest warrant, does the hon. Gentleman not see that, if a criminal gang from one of the new member states committed offences in this country and we had difficulty in bringing its members to trial because the judicial system was not yet sufficiently robust in that new member country, the European arrest warrant would be a useful tool for the constabulary of this country?
Mr. Cash: I understand that co-operation between police forces throughout Europe and beyond is a good idea. However, we could just as well apply the hon. Gentlemans argument to the United States, Canada or Australia, in respect of which similar situations could arise. That does not mean that we would have to come within the legislative competence of the courts in those countries.
I am saying that we could and should have co-operation; it may be possible to improve extradition arrangements to make things easier, along the lines that the hon. Gentleman has suggested. I do not want to be entirely negative about his intervention. However, it is unnecessary to extrapolate an assumption that we should be party to the European arrest warrant. There are a lot of problems with that.
Richard Younger-Ross: The hon. Gentleman may remember the costa del crimeextradition agreements sometimes work and sometimes do not. The reality is that there is a joint legislative structure in Europe; as far as I am aware, we do not have a joint legislative structure with the United States or any other countries.
There have been quite a number of comments about the economic package, and I do not need to spend more than a few seconds on that. As I said in an intervention, the economic package has failed. The attitude adopted by the Conservative party leadership is right, and the German Government have clearly taken a similar line. It is a question of a stitch in time; by borrowing more, we will get into a position of facing intolerable taxation.
I am afraid that there are the issues of the private finance initiative, nuclear decommissioning, public sector pensions in relation to Network Rail and a number of other issues, and they are all relevant to the money that the Government are to borrow. On pages 91 and 98 of their own pre-Budget report, the Government clearly indicated that they would include those as contingent liabilities in their report for next year. If we add in the contingent liabilities that the Government themselves have already accepted, and include the Maastricht arrangements to which I referred in my exchange with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, we see that the correct figure is not £1 trillion but £1.258 trillion. We are getting into astronomical figures of a kind that should truly concern any Member of this House. I have not heard anybody challenge those figures, although I have heard people chuckle at the idea that anybody might actually read a pre-Budget report and quote back to the Government what they have set out in it.
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