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3 Dec 2009 : Column 1334

Mr. Goodwill: Is the hon. Gentleman saying that a Liberal Democrat Government would hold an in-out referendum, and that if the vote were to be no, they would take us out of the European Union? In that case, how can he accuse us of being the most anti-European party?

Mr. Davey: We would of course argue for a yes vote, and we are certain that we would win that. One of the reasons why we have been attracted by this policy is that we actually want to expose the Conservatives, who try to have it both ways. They try to suggest that they are pro-European on some levels and that they want to be part of the European Union, but we all know that many Back Benchers and parliamentary candidates are extremely anti-European and want to pull us out. The Conservatives do not want to face up to that reality.

Keith Vaz rose-

Mr. Harper rose-

Mr. Davey: I give way to the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz).

Keith Vaz: Why is the Conservative party afraid to have an all-singing, all-dancing referendum on whether we stay in the European Union or come out? If they want the public to be engaged in such a debate, that is surely the question that should be put before them.

Mr. Davey: Perhaps the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) will answer that question.

Mr. Harper: I was slightly amused by the hon. Gentleman talking about our being inconsistent and wanting to have things both ways. I remember that during the debates on the Lisbon treaty, we talked about the referendum and I asked him about the Liberal Democrats' 2005 manifesto pledge to support a referendum. He then invented, and explained to the House, the novel concept of constructive abstention, under which they voted one way in this House but could not persuade all their colleagues in the other place to do the same thing. They went back on their promise to have a referendum, which is why the Lisbon treaty has become law. Having a referendum now on the Lisbon treaty would be completely meaningless, because it cannot be unratified. That is the fault of this Government and the hon. Gentleman's party, not ours.

Mr. Davey: Well, there was no definition of "cast- iron" in that, nor did it answer the question asked by the right hon. Member for Leicester, East. The Conservatives know that they have a real problem here. They have reneged on their cast-iron guarantee and they know that their party is split down the middle-

Mr. Francois: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davey: I may give way later, if the hon. Gentleman will be patient. He did not allow me to intervene on him, and I have already allowed him to intervene on me once. I will allow him to intervene a second time shortly-and that is more generous than he was to me.

The Conservatives' present policy has three elements. The first is to have referendums on future treaties, but they have not been clear as to which treaties. If the hon.
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Gentleman intervenes later, perhaps he will clarify that. Will that policy apply to accession treaties? If there are accession treaties for Croatia, Iceland or Turkey, will they require referendums? As far as we know they will, and it would be bizarre if the enlargement of the European Union and the accession of those countries were to be determined by a referendum. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to answer that question when I allow him to intervene. We want know what the test for a referendum will be. Will it be any change in the European treaties, or just a significant constitutional change? What does the referendum pledge amount to? It is not clear at the moment.

The hon. Gentleman also talked about a sovereignty Bill. He needs to go back to his political textbooks and understand constitutional principles. A state either has parliamentary sovereignty as a constitutional principle or a written constitution. He talks about the German constitutional court as his model, but that court can operate in a meaningful way on European matters because Germany has a written constitution. The Bundestag and the Bundesrat do not have parliamentary sovereignty as we know it in this country. If the Conservative position is not only that they want a sovereignty Bill, but that they want a written constitution, that is a consistent policy, although it is also a major change in the Conservative approach to the constitution-and one that we would welcome. We have advocated the introduction of a written constitution for many years, so we could have a sovereignty Bill that had some meaning. The hon. Gentleman's Bill would be meaningless unless he also wanted a written constitution.

Chris Bryant: If a sovereignty Bill meant that the Government could strike down EU legislation, it would be profoundly dangerous because it would effectively mean that Britain was stepping out of the European Union.

Mr. Davey: The Minister makes a fair point. We would be subjugated to the rules of the European Union if the Conservatives were to try to push that policy in the direction that is suggested.

The third element of the new Conservative European policy is the repatriation of powers, and the Conservatives have talked about three such powers. The first relates to the charter of fundamental rights. As I understand it, the Lisbon treaty has a protocol on that and it was debated for many hours on the Floor of the House. After those debates, it was clear that the charter relates to EU institutions, not to the making of law in this House. It is therefore bizarre that the Conservatives want to repatriate the charter of fundamental rights to Britain, because it applies to the EU institutions. That is a weird policy.

The second power relates to employment, and we all know that the Conservatives wanted to opt out of the social chapter. The question is what chance they have of making that policy stick. The Minister eloquently explained how that would need several countries to have an intergovernmental conference and then unanimity to give Britain an opt-out. If the Conservatives are serious about pursuing that in government, they would not only undermine British interests, but be looking backwards,
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and they would be unable to influence future policy in the European Union. It would be highly damaging to British interests.

The third area in which the Conservatives wish to repatriate powers is in respect of the whole justice and home affairs agenda, including criminal law. We should take that seriously, because they might be able to do it. The Lisbon treaty subjects all aspects of justice and home affairs to an opt-in. Over the next five years, starting from 1 December this year, the clock will be ticking. After five years, everything in that sphere will become an EU-wide competence and the Government would have to decide whether they wanted to opt in or not. Any future Government would therefore have the power to exclude us from all justice and home affairs matters, but that is not just for five years. Over the next few years, as aspects of the European justice and home affairs legislation are amended-as it certainly will be before the five-year cut-off point-the Government will be able to decide on those specific aspects whether to opt in or not.

That might sound like a technical point, but let us think about what it means in practice. The European arrest warrant, about which we talked earlier, is likely to be amended in the next two years because there have been imperfections and it has not worked perfectly. I am sure that that will have to happen. The next Government will therefore have to take a decision when the amendments are proposed to opt in to, or out of, the EAW.

We have heard from Conservatives in the European Parliament and the House that they are fundamentally against the EAW. We have heard from the shadow Home Secretary that he is minded to be against it, and when the leader of the Conservative party was interviewed on the "Andrew Marr Show", he said that he was very much against it too. He told Andrew Marr:

Given that the Conservative policy is to repatriate powers on those areas- [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rayleigh says that he did not say anything about the EAW, but it is slap bang in the middle of the justice and home affairs agenda. If he wants to tell the House what the Conservative position will be on the EAW and whether it will opt back in when given the chance, it would be very helpful. I am sure that Conservative Back Benchers and Conservatives in the European Parliament, who voted against the EAW and believe that it infringes our sovereignty, would be interested to hear about that position. I would welcome it too, because it would move the Conservative party towards a pro-European position and in a sensible direction for the conduct of justice and home affairs. However, I doubt that we will get an answer, because the hon. Gentleman and his party want to sit on the fence.

It is not just about the EAW; it is about Europol and Eurojust and all the other things that, as I said in an intervention, are bringing serious criminals to justice. We will be interested to hear whether the hon. Gentleman has an answer to that.

Mr. Francois rose-

Mr. Davey: I am happy to take the hon. Gentleman's intervention, but I hope that he has some answers to those questions.

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Mr. Francois: The hon. Gentleman knows that we have a number of concerns about how the EAW has operated in practice, as does, indeed, the Liberal Democrats' Home Affairs spokesman, the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne), who gave a speech recently in which he expressed a number of concerns. Will the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) explain why, if the Liberal Democrats are so in favour of the EAW, as seems to be evident from the line that he has taken this afternoon, they abstained in 2003 when the House voted on whether Britain should sign up?

Mr. Davey: The hon. Gentleman is talking about an Act of Parliament, part of which covered was the EAW. If he reads the proceedings of the House, he will see that my colleagues and I were very much in favour of the EAW, but we were against other parts of the legislation. We made that clear in the proceedings. We are very different from him and his party because he opposed the EAW. The Conservatives voted against it in the House and the European Parliament, and not because of one or two imperfections; they were against it in principle, just as the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) is in principle against justice and home affairs being taken at the European level. They have a lot of explaining to do. Between now and polling day, we will push them to make themselves clear to the British people: will they give British people the protection of the EAW, Europol and Eurojust?

Mr. Goodwill: The hon. Gentleman talks about serious crime, but is he not aware that in cases such as the one a couple years ago in which some British people were arrested in Greece for spotting aeroplanes, British citizens might be extradited to countries with legal systems in which we have less confidence than we have in our own? The crimes might not be serious; they could be more spurious and difficult-to-understand cases.

Mr. Davey: The hon. Gentleman is right. I could give him three or four examples from different countries, such as the Töben case in Germany and several others in Poland-I believe that the Poles will have a particular constitutional issue to sort out when we consider reforming the EAW.

The Liberal Democrats have argued, in this House and the European Parliament, and against the Conservatives, for measures linked to the EAW at the European level to ensure that British people in court in other EU countries-not just because of the EAW, but perhaps having been arrested while on holiday, working or living in those countries-have better protections and the minimum guarantees of legal rights that do not exist in the EU at the moment. We want to push that case.

The Conservatives, however, have always opposed that approach. I am afraid that their position is completely inconsistent: they complain about the EAW because it does not guarantee those minimum legal rights, but when those rights are proposed, they oppose them. They are in a tricky position. Any future Government will have to answer such questions, not the spurious, theoretical questions about some mythical idea that a future British Government could renegotiate social employment legislation.

Finally, what worries me particularly about the Conservatives' position on Europe is their view on defence policy. I regret the fact that we did not have
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enough time to debate defence in full in our debates on the Lisbon treaty. Indeed, Conservative colleagues and I complained about that at the time. However, the Conservative defence spokesman, the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), has attacked much of the co-operation on defence, particularly the European Defence Agency. My concern about his attacks is that they are factually incorrect. He talks about the European Defence Agency as having a

He clearly does not understand how the European Defence Agency works. Its whole remit and the framework within which it works are based on unanimity. Even the workings of the board of the European Defence Agency mean that day-to-day matters are decided on the basis of qualified majority voting. However, if a member state objects to them, they can be referred back, so that they are decided on a unanimous vote. That ought to be in the British interest. The idea that the European Defence Agency is a supranational body to which we have surrendered control is simply wrong.

What worries me in practice is that the Conservatives oppose some of the excellent work currently done, albeit on a small scale, by the European Defence Agency. For example, work is being done on something called the helicopter initiative. The Conservatives have rightly criticised the Government's record on helicopters in Afghanistan and other theatres. One of the advantages of the European Defence Agency's helicopter initiative is that it will ensure that some citizens of other member states are properly trained so that they can fly helicopters in theatres such as Afghanistan. The Conservatives' opposition to the European Defence Agency would stop that initiative taking place and thereby prevent us from securing a much needed supply of trained helicopter pilots into Afghanistan from other member states when, interestingly, at other times the Conservatives complain about other member states not pulling their weight. The European Defence Agency and our co-operation on defence are ways to ensure that other member states begin to play a proper role. I am afraid that the Conservative position is completely unfathomable.

Britain gets short-changed in Europe when it fights straw men such as the European Defence Agency, co-operation on crime and so on, which is not in the interests of the British people. I hope that between now and the election the Conservatives will think again, change their position on some of those key issues, and face up to the Eurosceptics in their party and the press. If they do not and if they then take power, as either a majority or a minority Government, with the same approach, that will be hugely damaging to British interests, whether in co-operation on crime, co-operation on the environment or co-operation on the economy. That is a matter of huge significance to this country's future. Let us hope that the Conservatives think again.

2.38 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) in a debate on European policy. I agree with almost everything that he said about the issues that confront the European Union.

It is important that we move on from the great debate about who got which job. Of course there was a lot of lobbying off camera, by political parties, Members of
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this House and others, but the issue has now been settled. It is important that we move on and give our new High Representative-our former British Commissioner and new vice-president of the Commission, Cathy Ashton-our full support. I believe that she will do a terrific job. It is important that we should have women in positions of genuine responsibility as public faces of the European Union. I wish her well, and I hope that the whole House does too. Indeed, I take the comments made by the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois), as being positive. He wants to work with her and ensure that she will be a success.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): Will my right hon. Friend also confirm that Baroness Ashton is not there because she is a woman? She is there because she is an extremely competent Commissioner and politician and because she will do an excellent job on that basis.

Keith Vaz: I am happy to confirm that, although I think that all the Commissioners whom we have sent to the European Union, Conservative and Labour, have been excellent. We have done very well in the choice of people whom we have sent.

I also want to pay tribute to the Minister for Europe for the work that he has done. Reference has been made to the large number of Ministers for Europe that we have had-I was one of them-but I cannot think of anyone better prepared for the job than him. He has a passion for Europe, he has an intelligence and an understanding, and I think that he will do an absolutely terrific job. I also hope that he stays in the job for as long as I did, which was about two years.

I am also pleased that my next-door neighbour in Leicester, my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby), has been promoted to become the Minister for Europe's Parliamentary Private Secretary. He has had a very distinguished career in Leicester. In fact, he probably knows more about Europe-I have to say this-than the Minister or me. Before either of us entered the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South was a member of the Committee of the Regions. The Minister has thus chosen an able person to assist him as part of his team. I am sure that they will do very well in Europe.

I am with the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton on the issue of the referendum. I think it is important for us to be in a position in which the British people can once and for all deal with the myths put about by the Eurosceptics. I am quite certain that if a referendum comes-it is not, of course, Labour party policy-we will find that the leader of the Conservative party and the shadow Minister for Europe will be on the side of the angels and will support the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton and others in saying that Britain should remain in the European Union. That is why it is important to put it on the line and give people the opportunity to have those discussions.

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