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3 Jun 2010 : Column 623

Many of our European partners will be looking forward to the appearance of the Prime Minister at the new European Council. They will be scratching their heads about some of the policies that the new Government will develop. It is not that they find coalition Governments alien-there are, of course, coalition Governments all over Europe-but they often assume that members of the Government will agree with each other on key foreign policy issues. The other leaders will know that the Conservative party has spent a large part of the last decade campaigning to "save the pound", as they would put it, and that the Liberal Democrats have been campaigning for the last 10 years to ditch the pound. That is why the Foreign Secretary said that there was no more "fanatically federalist party" in Britain than the Liberal Democrats. That was before his new-found enthusiasm for their support on the Government Benches.

Simon Hughes rose-

David Miliband: No, I have taken enough interventions. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman can make a speech later rather than intervene on mine.

We say to the Foreign Secretary that the one person he should listen to is the former Member for Bath and commissioner, Lord Patten, who was both a mentor to the current Prime Minister and also, I think, an employer of the current Deputy Prime Minister when he was a commissioner. Lord Patten said recently that the sensible thing would be for the Conservative party to move back to centre where big players sit around the table and make the big decisions affecting Europe. We do not want the British Prime Minister going to the European Council to represent the whole of the UK and be sitting in the corridor while the European Peoples party and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats Heads of Government make the real decisions and invite him-the only Head of Government not to attend either of those meetings-along afterwards only for a toast. There are big decisions to be made in Europe: they need leadership and good judgment. That is the basis on which we will hold the Government to account.

Several hon. Members rose -

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. I remind the House that the 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches will come into operation from now.

2.4 pm

Mr Robert Walter (North Dorset) (Con): I welcome the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe to the Front Bench. I think that I speak for the whole House-or certainly for this side of the House-in saying that we now have a very strong team at the Foreign Office which will stand up for the United Kingdom's interest in Europe as well as the UK's interest in the wider world. It is with some sadness that I say I am speaking probably for the last time with you in the Chair, Sir Alan. We will miss you in that particular position, but I am sure that we will none the less see a lot of you around the House, which we look forward to in the future.

The Foreign Secretary spoke at some length about democracy and what could be described as a democratic deficit in European affairs, particularly in the European Union. I want to speak a little about what I see as a
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democratic deficit in common security and defence policy in the EU. There are a lot of good words on the role of national Parliaments in the Lisbon treaty, but there is little substance or structure on that subject. Sadly, one of the last dying acts of the previous Government-on the last day that this House sat before the general election was declared-was the announcement that they were signing the death warrant of an organisation called the Western European Union, and with it parliamentary scrutiny of European security and defence policy and common foreign and security policy.

Let me take a few moments to explain to colleagues what the Western European Union was, as it was the forerunner of the European Union. Its history dates back to 1948. The Brussels treaty was modified in 1954 to make the WEU an effective defence pact, and it participated in the early stages of the Balkans and Gulf wars. Then, 10 years ago, the European Union decided that it would transfer the functions of the WEU to the European Union, including the transfer of its military staff and its satellite centre, and the Western European Armaments Group effectively became the European Defence Agency. That is not what I want to talk about, however.

Michael Connarty: I thought that the hon. Gentleman might move on to make the simple suggestion that the scrutiny process carried out by the Western European Union should be remitted to the European Scrutiny Committee of this House, because at this moment decisions on those matters are not subject to scrutiny by that Committee.

Mr Walter: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and I shall come on to the role of European scrutiny committees in that respect. He may know that his colleagues in the French Parliament have already suggested that something similar to COSAC-the Conference of European Affairs Committees-of which the hon. Gentleman has been a member, should be involved in the process.

The Assembly of the WEU has brought together members of national Parliaments from across the European Union and also involved the non-European Union NATO members. Two years ago, the Assembly formally changed its charter to make all 27 national Parliaments and the now five non-EU members of NATO members of its Assembly. The WEU has been providing parliamentary oversight of European security and defence policy as well as wider European defence issues and, more particularly, the use of taxpayers' money on European collective defence procurement.

As I said, in a written statement on 30 March, the former Foreign Secretary announced that the UK was intending to give 12 months' notice that it wanted to withdraw from the organisation. The following day, all the other signatory states to treaty announced that they would do likewise on the basis of what can only be described as a cost-cutting exercise. We all want to save money, of course, but there is a danger when it comes to democracy of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

As seen in the Government's statement, the statement of the WEU Permanent Council-the ambassadors in Brussels-and the recent motion in the French Parliament, to which I referred in my response to the intervention, and at the recent meeting of EU Speakers and at the
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EU Foreign Affairs Council in April, scrutiny is a role for national Parliaments and not for the European Parliament. They all made that clear.

The European Parliament, however, is ready, willing and able to step into the gap. In a resolution passed back in March, it claimed that the Assembly of the WEU-the European security and defence Assembly-had misappropriated its role in acting on behalf of national Parliaments, and that the European Parliament was the only competent body. That flies in the face of the Lisbon treaty, which states that this area of policy is intergovernmental and should remain so, and that there will be no further competences for the European Parliament.

It is national Parliaments and national Governments who authorise the use of our armed forces, whether it takes place on a European Union mission or on any other type of collective mission. It is national Parliaments and national Governments who pay for those deployments. It is national Parliaments and national Governments who pay for the equipment used by those armed forces, and it is national Parliaments and national Governments who decide on the terms of engagement.

The House of Commons Library contains an excellent research paper, which is currently sitting in the international affairs section, entitled "Parliamentary approval for deploying the armed forces: an introduction to the Issues". Nowhere does that document, which makes very good reading, mention that the European Parliament has any armed forces whatsoever to deploy, or that it should in any way be involved in decisions about the deployment of our armed forces.

The decision made by the last Government-who have now been joined by other Governments-to abolish the Western European Union and wind up the treaty of Brussels abolishes parliamentary democracy, and nothing has been provided to replace that parliamentary democracy and oversight. Those Governments have provided no mechanism to implement all the rhetoric that they have produced in the Foreign Affairs Council and in their own statements by creating a new structure that would bring together national Parliaments to perform that role.

There are a number of options on the table. The simplest is for the current Assembly to transfer itself in order to become a European Union body. Plenty of precedents are provided by previous structures. The Foreign Affairs Council, which will meet in a week or so and which the Foreign Secretary will attend, may have an opportunity to move the discussion forward. What is proposed is a steering group that could draw up plans over the next six months or so, so that before the end of the life of the WEU and its Assembly we would have a structure that could exercise parliamentary democracy on behalf of all our national Parliaments and Governments.

I believe there is a real danger that if there is inactivity-if we all say that that is a good idea, but do nothing about it-the European Parliament will move into the void immediately. It has the money, the resources and the time to act in that way. We must now look to that Foreign Affairs Council meeting, and hopefully even the European Council meeting, to put some meat on the bones of the declaration of the last Foreign Affairs Council and start to create the structures that can take this form of parliamentary democracy
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forward. Otherwise, I fear that there will be another centralising drift in the European Union, which none of us wants.

2.14 pm

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr Walter), and to make some comments that are relevant to what he had to say. First, however, let me welcome the Foreign Secretary to his post. He need not stay; he can do a Member for Glasgow South West on me if he wishes. I welcome the Minister for Europe to his post as well.

Let me begin with a quotation from an article in yesterday's Financial Times by Charles Kupchan, professor of international affairs at Georgetown university. It is entitled "Britain is no longer America's bridge to Europe". Professor Kupchan writes that the present Government

In his view, that would

He gives three reasons. The first is that the United States does not require us to do that any more. The second is that the United States has shifted its focus from the Atlantic zone to the middle east and Asia,

The third is that

I entirely agree with that analysis.

The United Kingdom needs a strong eurozone. Members should be deeply concerned by the concerted attacks on the euro by the speculators in the money markets, who make nothing but trouble. As the Foreign Secretary generously pointed out, all that that does is weaken our market-the important market that is the European Union.

The process of fiscal consolidation and deficit reduction is very important. It is nonsensical for some Members in other parties, and the public press, to compare the situation in Greece to that in the United Kingdom, or to compare the troubles of Portugal and Spain to the situation facing the UK. The UK concentrated on building its supply side, and on education, training and research and development. As Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee for the past four years, I went to Portugal and Spain, and noted that they concentrated on major infrastructure projects rather than building up the talents of their young people or their manufacturing bases. Unemployment in Spain is nearly 40% among those aged 25 and under, and its national unemployment is 18%. We do not have those problems.

I welcome the paper by Mario Monti. It is important to focus on the new Lisbon 2020 strategy. It is true that growth is anaemic in the European Union, and it is not helped by currency speculation. We should recall the damage done repeatedly to our country and to sterling in past decades by currency speculators, and realise that what the eurozone countries have-whether they wanted it or not-is a commitment to stand together or fall together. Sadly, if we were attacked alone again, we
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would have to turn to those countries for support, because we do not have the strength that they have through their unanimity.

We need a strong EU climate change and energy programme. The UK's 2% contribution can make little difference to the carbon footprint of the world without an EU programme. We-the UK and the world-need a focused EU international aid strategy. I pay tribute to Lady Kinnock for working so hard in the EU, when she was a Member of the European Parliament, to secure a strategy that focused on countries and Governments rather than project-by-project commitments. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), the former Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, it is all too easy for national Governments to cut their international development budgets, and it is important that the stability and growth pact is not used by countries to abandon the poor of the world.

Let me now turn to a matter that concerns me particularly. Members have mentioned the European Council that will take place in two weeks' time, but some may not be aware that five European subject Councils have taken place since the Government came to office. Those who take an interest in what is happening in Europe should note that the activities of two of them were reported in yesterday's Hansard. There was a meeting of ECOFIN on 9 May, after the Government had come to power but before the current Parliament was formed, but there has been no scrutiny of that or of the subject Councils, because no European Scrutiny Committee is up and running. There has been no written ministerial statement on the 9 May ECOFIN meeting, to which there was a reference in the ECOFIN statement of 18 May, although it dealt with some extremely important matters. There has been a press release from the European Council and a communication from the European Commission, but nothing from our own Government. Very important matters that we should be concerned about were discussed. Those are to do with the consolidation of the financial markets, but there was no scrutiny of that, and no report. The follow-up report

and the role of credit rating agencies, and went on to discuss the excessive deficit procedure for Spain and Portugal. That was widely reported in the press, but nothing came through the processes of this Parliament.

On the Government's approach and commitments, in what is now the coalition agreement there is the clear statement that

I stress "or powers"-

We have heard from the Foreign Secretary about the methods by which that can be done. One of them, obviously, is treaties, but if I heard the Foreign Secretary correctly-perhaps the Minister for Europe can confirm this-he said that that excluded accession treaties: they would not be subject to a referendum, therefore. People will be concerned about the accession of other countries, and we know that there will be amendments attached to those accession treaties clarifying matters in respect of the Lisbon treaty, yet we have just been told that there will be no referendums on them. There is already smoke
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and mirrors from the Government, therefore. I do not know whether that is because they are influenced by their new Liberal Democrat partners, or perhaps the major Government party have chosen to do that themselves.

We have been told about the use of the passerelle clause, which can change the voting method on any issue from unanimity to qualified majority voting. If the UK Government decide in Council to give up their veto, the passerelle clause will be subject to a referendum or primary legislation, but the Government have to decide in the Council to give that up, because they already have a veto in Council. Therefore, the idea that we will be asked about that after the event is very worrying, as the Government will already have decided-and, I presume, will have discussed the matter with the coalition partners-that they will give up the veto before they put it to the House. They will then, of course, whip in Members in order to effect the dumping of the veto. Again, therefore, this is smoke and mirrors.

I asked about the opt-ins. We currently have opt-outs in many areas. If measures are amended, we can decide to opt in or opt out completely. In the European Scrutiny Committee, there was in the past unanimous concern that this process was not open enough for Parliament to have a say, and that many things were going through because that was suitable to the Government of the time. That is not what the Government that is now in power promised us. There has been mention of the issue of sovereignty or powers being transferred, and I wish to hear how they will deal with that.

Although its publications are not usually my favourite reading, Open Europe has a very good briefing on these subjects, which people might want to take a look at. I see that the former shadow Minister for Europe, the hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois), is smiling from the Government Front Bench. It is important that I pay tribute to him for the role he played on the Opposition Benches during the last Government's term in office. I have always said I am not a Eurosceptic, but I am a Government sceptic, regardless of which Government.

Many parts of the Lisbon treaty are now being interpreted as denying the right of scrutiny to Parliaments-this Parliament and other Parliaments. We must try to deal with these matters sensibly. There are many articles in the Lisbon treaty that say they are not legislative Acts, and therefore, as such, the European institutions have said they are not subject to protocol 1, which gives Parliaments eight weeks in which to look at them, and protocol 2, under which they can be challenged using the orange and yellow cards or challenged in the courts. It is also very important that the draft conclusion of the Council is tabled, so that it can be dealt with in the ESC before going on to the Council. I hope the Government will allow that to happen.

2.24 pm

Mark Garnier (Wyre Forest) (Con): I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for this opportunity to make my maiden speech as the new MP for Wyre Forest, and I also thank the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) for his contribution.

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