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I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that we want a Europe that looks at competitiveness and is,

That is an extremely good quote, which I shall immediately poach from the noble Lord and use. It is important that we have a modern, competitive Europe, which is able to move forward.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that it is important that the usual channels will have to decide whether there will be a debate. The noble Lord has had the chance to read the document being put forward and to understand that my right honourable friend is very clear. We have now done this part of looking at the institutions. As the noble Lord said, that was generated in large part because we are now 27 member states and how we operate needs to reflect that fact. We need to think about Europe in a globalised world and the opportunities that that gives us in a globalised economy, as well as about Europe being able to act in a cohesive way where that is appropriate in a globalised world.

I would describe the relationship with the press that my right honourable friend seeks as robust. I see no indication thus far that he is ever likely to be turned over or run over by the press. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that Europe has brought us, and continues to bring, peace and prosperity. We look at the nations seeking to join the European Union that, not long ago, were in a war-torn situation, and the opportunities that that will give us to build peace and prosperity right across Europe.

Finally, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that the question that I would like to be answered is: if Parliament does, after great debate, ratify this, will the Conservatives then accept the will of Parliament or will they still seek a referendum?

4.17 pm

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness the Leader of the House would accept my congratulations to the Government on having concluded this negotiation on a basis that seems to me to be very satisfactory for this country. Does she accept that there was a great deal of truth in what the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said? If the treaty is to be ratified, it is essential that the Government state why it is a good treaty, which is full of improvements in how the European Union will be run; namely, in a way that will be more effective and consistent with this Government’s and country’s interests. It is not enough just to set out a large number of red lines and to be very defensive about it. I hope that in future the Government will explain not only as they have in their paper today that there are a lot of other things that Europe needs to get on with, with which I entirely agree, but also that there are things in this treaty that will make the European Union work better for our interest.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, had a bit of fun at the expense of the noble Lord, Lord Jones of Birmingham, but I hope that the House will forgive me for quoting from the Dutch Council of State,

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which is quite important and even conceivably a weightier authority than the noble Lord, Lord Jones of Birmingham. It stated that the purpose of these changes—the changes from the constitutional treaty to the reform treaty—is to rid the proposed reform treaty as far as possible of the elements from the treaty establishing a constitution which could have formed the basis for the development of the EU into a state or federation. That the goals are clearly different is, it stated, apparent from the emphasis on the roles of national parliaments, limits on the competences of the EU, the emergency-brake procedures and the protocol on services of general interest and of general economic interest. All this means, it said, that the proposed reform treaty is substantially different from the treaty establishing a constitution for Europe. That surely is a very clear statement by a body advising a country that does not have the opt-ins and the opt-outs that we have—that is to say, a country that is signing the treaty without any such red lines. If its view is that the treaty is substantially different, I find that fairly authoritative. I do not know whether the Leader of the House does, too.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who brings a great deal of knowledge and expertise to our discussions about Europe. I agree that we will have much to say in the passage of the legislation about the advantages of moving to the reform treaty—not least, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, indicated, because with 27 nation states it is important to be able to function as effectively as possible.

Let me draw the attention of noble Lords to but one part of the agreement; that is, the opportunity for national Parliaments to play a role when the Commission puts forward proposals. National Parliaments will have the opportunity, if they wish, to discuss and debate and to let their views be known. If a third of them recognise that there are issues of concern where they believe that it would be better for member states to tackle such issues themselves, these views can be made known to the Commission and it will have to think again. These are important aspects that we will, indeed, debate.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, does the Leader of the House accept that some of us have noted that the arguments used by the Government for refusing a referendum constantly change? It is surely no use saying that the treaty does not alter the fundamental relationship between the EU and member states, because Mr Blair said that the constitutional treaty, too, did not alter that relationship, yet he still promised a referendum. It is no use the Prime Minister going on about red lines because Mr Blair said that he, too, had secured red lines and opt-outs, yet in spite of having secured the red lines and opt-outs he still promised a referendum. It is no use the Government saying that this treaty is different from the constitutional treaty, because everybody else says that it is exactly the same.

Does not the Leader of the House recognise that the refusal of a referendum will do a great deal of damage to the trust that is normally given by the

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governed to the governors? Why should Members of Parliament be left to deal with these matters? They are elected for four or five years to exercise the powers that are bestowed on Members of Parliament; they are certainly not elected to hand over those powers to others. That is a very good reason why referendums should become an established part of our constitution.

Finally, it is no use going on about Maastricht. Anyone looking back on Maastricht will recognise that it would have been a very good thing if there had been a referendum at that time. It would have dealt with the matter in a sensible fashion and, win or lose, at least the people would have been consulted and the EU would have been accepted by the people of Britain. The Government are taking a great risk by excluding the people from this very important matter.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I disagree with practically everything that the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, said. I am sure that the noble Lord will take time to study the differences between the constitutional treaty and the reform treaty and see the changes that have been made. The substantive difference is the ability of the UK to ensure that it protects its national interests. My right honourable friend, in the negotiations that took place last week, especially on Friday night—these were ongoing discussions through a variety of different forums within the EU—has secured for Britain the appropriate opt-ins and opt-outs. Noble Lords will, I am sure, spend many happy hours discussing the difference between the two, but there they are.

It is absolutely clear that the reform treaty is a different animal from the constitutional treaty. Indeed, there were debates as to whether the constitutional treaty should warrant a referendum. The noble Lord is right: the Government promised one on the constitutional treaty, but the constitutional treaty is abandoned. We now have something entirely different, on which it is right for Parliament’ for Members of another place and Members of your Lordships’ House’ to do their duty and take their responsibilities seriously. They should debate it and choose whether to ratify.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I congratulate the Government on achieving this treaty, which is eminently the kind of thing that should come before the careful consideration of the two Chambers of Parliament. It is exactly this sort of detailed, difficult and complex treaty that should be Parliament’s responsibility. It would be almost impossible to embody this in a referendum. It is reasonable to have a referendum on whether Britain should be in or out of the European Union, but it is utterly beside the point to have one on something as complex and detailed as this.

Two areas of the Statement are matters of some concern. First, the Government state that the Commission will not have the sole responsibility for an initiative. It is not clear from the wording, but does that imply that the Commission will have a responsibility for the initiative but that responsibility will also rest with member Governments? There is a reference to the initiative power; when the Statement says that it will

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not be the sole responsibility of the Commission, it implies that there will be shared responsibility between national Governments and the Commission.

On the other point that I want to raise, which is very important and which troubles me, there is some indication of what I can only describe as unfortunate pressure from the great press magnates who interest themselves in it, one at least of whom is a citizen neither of this country nor of the European Union. When the Government have committed themselves to making no further changes in this Parliament or the next, can the noble Baroness the Leader of the House make it plain that, if there were to be evidence that in respect of national security, global terrorism or climate change such changes were absolutely essential to make the European Union’s response effective, she would not regard that as falling inside the vetoes mentioned in this Statement, which run disturbingly far in terms of a future that we cannot possibly predict in any precise way?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness and agree with her that it will be of great value to the public not only that we debate this treaty but that we ensure that we promote those discussions so that members of the public can hear, see and discuss this. I fear that at the moment many members of the public, like some Members of your Lordships' House, may be unaware of the implications of the treaty—and, unfortunately, the language of opt-in and opt-out does not necessarily invite ready understanding, even before we get to passerelle, qualified majority voting and so on.

I understand that the particular reference to the Commission to which the noble Baroness referred means that the Commission does not have a role in foreign and security policy at all. I think that that is the right reference, but I shall confirm that—and, of course, confirm if it is not the case.

As for future changes, what I think my right honourable friend is trying to say is that we have had a long time of debating institutional structure—appropriately so with 27 member states. Noble Lords will recall that I sat on the Justice and Home Affairs Council for nearly three years and watched the growth and saw the difficulty—which, in a sense, in having 27 nations, we created for ourselves—in trying to deliberate on matters. So it is important to think about how we do that and about whether, for example, with a constantly changing presidency every six months, things do not change just when you are getting used to doing it. There are real benefits and advantages, but my right honourable friend is saying that now we must concentrate on the issues. I think that he would agree with the noble Baroness that the issues that she indicated of national security, climate change and so on must be very high on the agenda and that we must ensure that the way in which the European Union works enables us to tackle them effectively.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, Article 1 of the treaty says that the Union shall repeal and succeed the European Community. Therefore,

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intergovernmentalism is dead. Together with the article that gives the European Union a legal personality, does that not really alter the whole situation?

The Prime Minister said that he wanted the best and widest possible discussion in the House of Commons and in this House. However, discussion is different from being able to amend a Bill. Will amendments be allowed when the Bill is discussed in the House of Commons and in this House, and what status will they have in relation to the treaty? Will the discussions and decisions take place on the basis of free votes? If they do not and if the Government use their majority, they, not Parliament, will ratify the treaty. So will the Government allow a free vote?

Finally, are the Government able, and do they intend, to use the Parliament Act if this House makes amendments and perhaps agrees on a referendum? Are the Government able to use the Parliament Act, and will they do so, or will this House have a real role in deciding the outcome of the treaty?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I trust that your Lordships’ House will have a role in determining the basis of the legislation and the treaty, but I believe that it will agree with the Government and ratify the treaty as well. I say that on the basis that I expect there to be a lengthy and full debate. As I understand it, the legislation will be short. However, I expect a large number of amendments to it. Therefore, our deliberations may be long. Noble Lords will have opportunities to discuss amendments and to vote as usual, if I can describe it as such. That will also be the case in another place. It is the Government’s policy. We have agreed with the ratification process and determined our red lines. We are comfortable with the position in the context of the UK interest. Therefore, the vote will be on the Government’s proposition that we ratify the treaty.

Lord Hurd of Westwell: My Lords, will the noble Baroness develop a little what she said about the foreign policy aspect of the treaty? Am I right in saying that common European action on foreign policy can get under way under the treaty as now only when there is a unanimous decision that it should do so? Is it right that the main change in this sphere, and I am not talking about other spheres, is that instead of having two spokesmen, one in the Commission and one outside—Solana—the European Union will have one better equipped to do the job, which will be to act after the unanimous decision of member Governments? Is it not right that since the Iraq debacle, when Europe split to the credit of nobody, we have been increasingly acting as Europeans, almost always in partnership with the United States, whether in the Balkans, Palestine, Iran or Darfur? On the basis that I think the noble Baroness was describing for the future, is this something not to be dreaded but actively encouraged?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. Under the reform treaty, member states and the Council will set the policy; decision-making will indeed be by unanimity. The

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noble Lord is also right that the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy combines the previous roles of the High Representative for the CFSP, Mr Solana, and the External Relations Commissioner, Ms Ferrero-Waldner. Therefore, the noble Lord is entirely right.

Lord Dykes: My Lords, does the noble Baroness the Leader of the House agree that the British public are much more European minded than the Sun newspaper would have us believe and that they are much more mobile in Europe, as a lot of British people live in continental countries? The whole scene now means that the Government must catch up with the general sensible public opinion in this country. Will the Leader of the House promise solemnly to accede—not just acknowledge today—to the earnest request of my noble friend the leader of the Liberal Democrats that the Government cease to be on the defensive as these lengthy debates take place, because the danger is that they will encourage insurrection at the margin if they go on talking about red lines and all the negative and defensive aspects? Now is the time to sell Europe. Mr Murdoch pays only a very modest proportion of corporation tax in this country.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, all I can say is that when I was in charge of civil justice measures I used constantly to talk about the need to look at how people live, work, travel and study in the European Union, and the increasing numbers of people who do so. I talked about how all our efforts should be on making it possible for our citizens to operate in Europe as easily as possible and on making sure that the legal framework in which they operated worked for them, whether purchasing goods or claiming money back and so on. In a civil justice sense, I feel very strongly that it is important to do that. The noble Lord is right that it is important that, as well as dealing with the issues that noble Lords are rightly concerned about, we are making it clear that this is good for the UK, for the UK economy and for our ability to tackle some of the big issues that confront us. We have to think about this in the context not only of ourselves but of ourselves within Europe and of Europe in a globalised economy.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, can I press the noble Baroness on an answer that she gave to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart? It concerns the basic ground rule against which our debates and the debates in the other place will take place. She said that we will be able to look at this treaty in detail. The Statement welcomes the opportunity to examine the protocol and the Charter of Fundamental Rights. It welcomes further scrutiny by the House of the foreign and security policy and of the treaty as a whole. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, implied that we would be able to change the detail of the treaty on those matters. Can the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, confirm that we cannot change anything? We can debate it for as long as we like, and we can discuss it at all hours of the night, but, in the end, we will either have to accept the whole thing or send it back for renegotiation in Brussels.

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Finally, I do not hold it against the noble Baroness, whom, as I think she knows, I hold in great affection, but this Statement is a masterpiece of slippery EU deception. Entirely missing from the Statement—I hope that she will agree—is the fact that from now on the Council must put the interests of the European Union first. That is a huge change, and it is new. It is not in the Statement. I want to ask her about the passerelle clause. From now on, the treaty can be changed by unanimity in the Council, but no further changes need ever come back to national Parliaments, so what is the value of the embargo on future changes? I would be grateful for answers to those points, because that would set out where we are starting from.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am not sure that I can do so in a minute, which is what I have left.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, the noble Baroness can have more than a minute in answering my questions.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the noble Lord is extremely kind, but there is other business to be completed in your Lordships’ House today. I, too, hold the noble Lord in great affection, but we will leave that there for now.

First, it is very important to recognise that this legislation will be put forward by the Government to ratify the treaty. The legislation, as I understand it, will be quite short, but there will be the opportunity to table amendments, which will enable noble Lords to look at every aspect of the proposed treaty, and I know that noble Lords will do so. It is government legislation, and the Government are putting forward the legislation to ratify the treaty. If your Lordships’ House and another place choose to amend the legislation, the noble Lord is correct in saying that it would then need to go back, because the ratification would be contained in agreeing the legislation before your Lordships’ House. That is probably not that unusual, and that will be the system.

As for the passerelle clauses, passerelle is a construct by which you can move from unanimity to qualified majority voting. It is a technical change. You can move to it only if there is unanimous agreement on the Council all 27 member states agree that a measure should now be taken forward by qualified majority voting. That is a technical ability for which safeguards are already built in. We will debate this at greater length, but that is what a passerelle is.

Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill

4.39 pm

Proceedings after Third Reading resumed.

Clause 56 [Electoral Commission and Boundary Committee: reviews and recommendations]:

Lord Greaves moved Amendment No. 5:

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The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 5 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 6, which is grouped with it and is effectively part of the same amendment. The amendments address a fairly small issue which has not yet been sorted out satisfactorily—a constitutional matter, though one which is perhaps rather less weighty than those which the House has been discussing in the past hour. It is about the arrangements for electing councillors in a relatively small number of, usually, small authorities. The Bill sets out the background to the way in which the Boundary Committee and the Electoral Commission will look at whether councils elected by thirds or by halves can have single-member wards or, if the councils are elected by thirds, two-member wards. However, this is really about single-member wards in rural areas.

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