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Could we avoid suggesting that anyone who has worked for the European institutions and draws a pension from them is a traitor, bound by the money they receive to sell Britain short? I happily receive a pension from a university, but I do not feel bound to support Universities UK. The implication is that the European Union is a hostile power and that no patriotic Englishman could accept his money or its authority, rather as Protestant unionists used to assert that no patriotic Englishman could accept the authority of a foreign Pope.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, as the noble Lord has been good enough to mention me in a context that I do not recall, perhaps I may point out to him that his pension from a British university is not put in jeopardy if he ceases to support the interest of that university, whereas a pension from the European Union is. That is the difference.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, we can listen to the tape of the radio programme again. I am sure that the noble Lord will recall those many people who would claim that you cannot be a patriotic Englishman and a papist. There are those—not too far from this House—who have in their youth expressed such sentiments.

Could we also move away from the false dichotomy between European co-operation and independent foreign policy? Britain has not had an independent foreign policy for decades. We have co-operated with others through NATO, the UN, the European Union and many other multilateral organisations within which we negotiate and advance our shared interests. The choice we face is between closer co-operation with our European partners, increased dependence on the United States or marginalisation as a player in world politics—to become a greater Norway or an offshore Switzerland.

The treaty that the Lisbon European Council will send to us for ratification is, like all previous treaties, a compromise. It does not give Britain everything we want, but neither does it give France, Germany or Poland everything that they want. That is what happens in multilateral diplomacy. Across the board, British Ministers negotiate the terms of our engagement in the global economy, pursue answers to the threat of climate change, try to combat the smuggling of people and drugs across the world, promote international

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stability and economic development, and protect citizens at home and abroad through the European Union, the OECD, NATO, G8 and the United Nations. In all of those endeavours we gain influence by combining our efforts with our European neighbours, whose interests on almost all of these issues are closer to ours than those of any other state or group of states, including the United States.

We will discuss proposals to strengthen European co-operation in foreign policy and defence as we scrutinise the treaty. As Ministers repeatedly argue that Europe should be more outward-looking, that European co-operation matters above all in meeting the challenges of globalisation, such strengthening, I hope the House will agree, is strongly in Britain’s interests. Our Foreign Secretary even wanted to argue in his Bruges speech that the EU needed a capabilities charter, until the No. 10 press office told him it might upset the press to admit that. But the press is full of reports of overstretch in Britain’s Armed Forces, of troops and airmen sent into operations with elderly and worn-out weapons systems, of the wide gap between the defence budget and the future equipment programme. As my late friend Lord Garden used to argue, the UK has a choice: we can either sharply raise our defence spending over the next 10 years or we have to pursue closer co-operation with our European partners. There is, as Mrs Thatcher would have said, no other alternative.

We will also examine proposals for an EU External Action Service, against a chorus of charges from the sceptic press that it is a step towards a European foreign ministry and the loss of our permanent seat at the UN. But look what is happening to the UK’s diplomatic representation abroad, as another round of Treasury cuts presses in on our foreign service. The UK is already unrepresented in 20 African states and has fewer posts in Latin America than France, Germany or Italy. So, sharing posts with other European Governments in distant states would raise Britain’s visibility. We could perhaps defend our independence by raising our FCO budget sharply, as well as our defence budget, but then the Conservatives are supposed to be in favour of cutting spending and taxes, not raising them, are they not?

We will discuss closer co-operation in the pursuit of international crime, the protection of ordinary citizens outside their own state boundaries, the control of illegal immigration and the prevention of terrorism. The Government’s defensive stance on the changes proposed in the reform treaty focuses here on many red lines and the protection of British sovereignty, but, as I understand it, many senior British policemen want to be more closely engaged than we are and think it mistaken to hamper the pursuit of crime by clinging too tightly to territorial boundaries that criminals so easily pass through. Both the previous Conservative Government and the current Labour Government have been disingenuous over the growth of co-operation in justice and home affairs. The UK has formally opted out of the Schengen agreement, to the applause of the Daily Mail, and then informally opted in to as much of the data exchange, police and customs networks and links among prosecution lawyers as possible.

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Large numbers of British policemen are attached to Europol in The Hague and as national liaison officers to embassies in capitals throughout the European Union. I was told the other week that the UK Border and Immigration Agency now has nearly 1,000 staff working in France. That is all very necessary and desirable in maintaining our border checks, and we must be grateful to the French for co-operating and accepting it. Imagine the outcry from the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, and Bill Cash MP if 1,000 French officials were stationed in the UK. There are well over 1,000 US intelligence officers stationed in the UK, in Menwith Hill, Alconbury and elsewhere, unreported to Parliament, but that invasion of British sovereignty is, of course, another matter.

I understand that the word has gone out across Whitehall that as little as possible should be said about European initiatives over the next six months until the treaty is ratified, to avoid arousing public interest or stirring the dragons of the press. Preliminary discussions are beginning on the External Action Service, but the British participants will be instructed to say little for fear of leaks. President Sarkozy’s Government are discussing with the US Administration a rebalancing of the relationship between NATO and the EU, intending to push the agenda forward under the French EU presidency, which starts in July next year. The British are less enthusiastic about that even than Washington.

There has been no leadership in British foreign policy and no leadership in British European policy even after 10 years in which the Government have failed to challenge the sceptical narrative of the British press; and no real debate on the underlying advantages of British membership of the EU, let alone an active strategy for persuading our EU partners to move further towards policies that suit Britain’s interests.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. On the issue of the need for a debate, I ask him to help me by explaining why the Liberals have reneged on the promise in their manifesto to provide for a referendum. If he wants a debate, would a referendum not be a great opportunity?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, my noble friend Lord McNally assures me that he will cover that in his closing speech.

Lord McNally: Stick around.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, we have been entirely clear in our statements that if we are to debate the issue publicly, we need to debate the underlying issues I am talking about—that is, the advantages of Britain being in the European Union—not the scare stories that revolve around the details of this treaty.

Some noble Lords are, no doubt, avid readers of the Spectator. I direct those who are not to an article in that magazine from 24 November for a partial answer to why Gordon Brown’s Government, like Tony Blair’s, is so mealy-mouthed on the European issue. The article is by Irwin Stelzer, memorably described by Andrew Neil as Rupert Murdoch’s representative

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on earth, and a regular visitor to No. 10 and Chequers—as of course is Rupert Murdoch himself. It criticises the Prime Minister’s recent Mansion House speech for being insufficiently pro-American and for calling for a special relationship between Europe and America, rather than between America and Britain. The Brown Government, Stelzer argues, are outsourcing foreign policy to,

such as the European Union and the UN. Of course, the Murdoch press hates the UN as passionately as it hates the EU.

Oddly enough, since News International has not yet given up hope that Gordon Brown will follow its lead, Stelzer then goes out of his way to add:

This unwelcome shift from subservience to a right-wing US Administration is apparently due to the influence of an evil genius mistakenly invited into the heart of the Government:


This diatribe, we should remember, comes from the same organisation whose “fair and balanced” Fox News has given air space to allegations that Senator Barack Obama is a secret Muslim. So, it is possible that not all of these charges may be entirely accurate.

We believe that Britain’s best interests are served by active participation in European co-operation. We will scrutinise the reform treaty from that perspective. We urge the Government to rediscover some courage in leading public opinion on the issue and in particular to stand up to the Eurosceptic press. We welcome the positive and constructive speech with which the noble Baroness the Lord President opened the debate and hope that her colleagues will begin to discover the same degree of courage. Britain has drifted into semi-detachment from European co-operation for far too long. It is time to re-engage.

5.23 pm

Lord Grenfell: My Lords, I thank the Lord President for introducing this Motion to Take Note. As the noble Baroness has just mentioned, the Select Committee on the European Union and its seven sub-committees are currently engaged in a detailed analysis of the text of the reform treaty on which the heads of state and government reached agreement at the informal summit on 18 October in Lisbon. Our purpose, as I have mentioned before in your Lordships’ House, is to provide the House, in advance of the arrival here of the ratification Bill, with an objective assessment of the impact of the treaty on the United Kingdom in the event that it is ratified by the member states and comes into force.

Our methodology is to compare the provisions of the draft treaty with the provisions of the treaties that preceded it, which it amends. Put simply, what difference

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will the treaty make to the European Union—and, by extension, to us—compared with where we were under the preceding treaties, the most recent of which was the treaty of Nice? Her Majesty’s Government have assured us that they will present the reform treaty to Parliament after the European Council with an Explanatory Memorandum and provide the Select Committee with a comparison of the reform treaty with the existing treaties, with supporting analysis, after Christmas. We anxiously await that. Meanwhile, given that any amendments to the text will be minimal, we are pursuing our inquiry on the basis of the text currently available. We are taking considerable expert evidence.

Your Lordships will understand why, at this stage, I cannot share any emerging conclusions based on work still in progress. The only conclusions so far reached by the Select Committee—that is to say, on the intergovernmental conference process that produced the text of 18 October and some preliminary conclusions on the general role envisaged in the treaty for national parliaments—were published on 1 November in our report with evidence, The EU Reform Treaty: Work in Progress. Perhaps I may remind the House of what we concluded.

Your Lordships will recall that June’s European Council, under the German presidency, presented the IGC with a clear and tight mandate, so that its work was mainly technical and its goal was to ensure that a text was prepared that delivered on the mandate. As the Portuguese presidency intended, this mandate was by and large adhered to. The giving of such a precise and detailed mandate to an IGC is unusual and the tightness of the timetable was equally unusual. Your Lordships’ Select Committee therefore recommended in its report that,

and such a tight timeframe.

As the Lord President mentioned, the role of national parliaments is for the first time recognised in an article of a European Union treaty. Previous reference was made only in protocols, such as that attached to the Amsterdam treaty. That protocol, Protocol 9, stated a desire to encourage the greater involvement of national parliaments in the activities of the Union and provided for information, including Commission proposals, to be provided to national parliaments, plus a six-week period during which parliamentary scrutiny could be applied. In the new reform treaty, the early version of the text of the article dealing with national parliaments stated:

The Select Committee in this House, like our sister European Scrutiny Committee in another place, was concerned that the use of the word “shall” might imply that the EU could prescribe functions and impose obligations on sovereign national parliaments, which would be quite unacceptable.

We drew this matter to the attention of the Minister for Europe, who agreed with us that the wording was inappropriate and assured us that it would be raised in

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the IGC. It was, and the word “shall” was removed from the English text. National parliaments cannot, of course, contribute actively to the good functioning of the Union without being fully informed. Well before the new treaty was drafted, the European Commission had set up a system of direct transmission of documents to national parliaments. This means that our Select Committee receives these documents, many of them draft legislative Acts, a little in advance of the Government’s own delivery to us of the same documents, numbering about 1,200 a year, accompanied by Explanatory Memoranda prepared by the departmental ministries. That is the grist for the scrutiny mill operated by the Select Committee and its seven sub-committees.

The need for ensuring that national parliaments are properly informed is set out, with detailed provisions, in Protocol 1 to the treaty. This should, in principle, contribute to transparency and allow direct engagement by national parliaments in EU matters. We would like the Government to ensure that not only the Commission but all the EU institutions and others covered by the protocol, such as groups of member states, fulfil their obligations under these provisions. The period between documents being made available to national parliaments in the official languages of the EU and their consideration by the Council is extended by the reform treaty from the six weeks allowed under the treaty of Amsterdam to eight weeks. That is good news, but we hope that the Government can clarify that the clock begins only when a document is available in all those languages.

The protocol makes no mention of the system agreed by the Commission and noted in the European Council conclusions of June 2006, whereby national parliaments are encouraged to correspond directly with the Commission on any legislative matter, in particular, but not limited to, subsidiarity and proportionality. Your Lordships’ Committee attaches high importance to this process, as do our sister European affairs committees right across the European Union. There is an as yet modest, but growing, flow of Select Committee correspondence with the Commission, initiated by us. It is usually related to recommendations for Commission actions featured in our reports to this House. At a tripartite meeting yesterday in the European Parliament with the national parliaments and the Commission, I thanked President Barroso for his Commission’s prompt and thoughtful responses to our comments and recommendations. We hope that that will continue.

Our Select Committee has asked the Government why this important commitment, often known as the Barroso initiative, was not enshrined in the treaty. The Minister for Europe agreed that the system was working well and that there was no reason why it should not continue. That opinion, coupled with the Commission’s assurance that it remains strongly committed to the initiative—President Barroso confirmed that yesterday—is welcome, but we must remain vigilant.

Protocol 2, annexed to the reform treaty, deals with applying the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality on which the Commission is required to consult and justify its actions, which, on the whole, it does. The existing protocol introduced by the Amsterdam treaty

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did little more than encourage COSAC, the body that brings together the European affairs committees of the member states’ parliamentary chambers, to look at subsidiarity issues. The scrutiny committees of our two Houses took that as an invitation to get proactive in monitoring draft EU legislation for compliance with those two principles—as did other parliaments, particularly the two French chambers. An EU-wide mechanism was set up and pilot projects jointly launched and completed. That is why the reform treaty takes parliamentary monitoring very seriously.

Under Protocol 2, national parliaments now have eight weeks in which to send, if they wish, a reasoned opinion why a draft piece of legislation does not comply with the subsidiarity principle. If a third of the chambers raise concerns, the EU institution—usually the Commission—will have to review its proposal. It could decide to maintain it, amend it or withdraw the draft, giving its reasons in each case. That is known as the yellow card.

However, the treaty, as the Lord President observed, goes further in favour of national parliaments, introducing an additional and stronger mechanism triggered at a higher threshold of votes. I make no apology for repeating this, because it is significant. In the case of draft legislative Acts subject to co-decision by the Council and the European Parliament, where the reasoned opinions for objection on subsidiarity grounds represent a simple majority of the votes allocated to national parliaments, the Commission must first justify its reasons if it wishes to maintain the proposal. It is then for the Council and the European Parliament to consider the Commission’s justification and the national parliaments’ objections. If 55 per cent of Council members or a majority of votes cast in the European Parliament are against the Commission, the proposal must be dropped. That is known as the orange card, it being the brainchild of the Dutch Parliament.

We see no problem in there being two systems; together, the yellow and orange cards enhance the direct involvement of national parliaments in EU legislative procedures. However, in our preliminary report, which is already published, we identified a number of detailed questions to be asked about implementing the orange card. We suggest that the Government find the means to consult both Houses to ensure that the operation of these procedures is agreed between the Government and Parliament.

The final issue for national parliaments that I will raise is the simplified procedure provided for treaty revision by the reform treaty, which the noble Lord, Lord Howell, mentioned. This is extremely important for your Lordships’ House. The so-called passerelle or bridging provisions allow certain changes to the treaties without formal treaty amendment involving the convening of an intergovernmental conference. Under an article in the new treaty, any national parliament would have the right of veto over any proposed use of the simplified revision procedure, which may be applied to provisions of Part 3 of the treaty on the functioning of the Union, on Union policies and on internal actions. This is in line with earlier recommendations from the Select Committee to provide safeguards over the use of the passerelle.

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There are, however, still uncertainties over the precise extent and operation of the treaty’s various passerelle provisions, although the principles are clear. In particular, it is not clear whether any national parliamentary veto will operate separately for two chambers in a bicameral parliament. The Select Committee objected strongly to the Government’s previous proposal in relation to the aborted constitutional treaty that the parliamentary veto would be a matter for the other place, with this House merely allowed to express an opinion within 20 days. Our objection stands and we need to hear from the Government whether this discriminatory practice will apply under the new treaty. We sincerely hope not.

I have spoken at some length about the reform treaty’s impact on the role of national parliaments because we in the Select Committee and the sub-committees feel very strongly that the role of national parliaments in the conduct of the European Union’s affairs is of the highest importance. I venture to suggest that that may be a view shared on all sides of the House, regardless of differing opinions on the merits of the reform treaty. The Select Committee will revisit the conclusions on the role of national parliaments reflected in our recent preliminary report of work in progress in light of the evidence that we are now taking on the broader report. I am sorry that I cannot say more about those emerging conclusions at this stage.

Finally, I take this opportunity once again to express my sincere thanks to the nearly 80 members of your Lordships’ House and the excellent staff supporting them in their arduous and continuing task of ensuring that this House will have at its disposal a comprehensive and thoroughly objective assessment of the reform treaty before the Bill to ratify the treaty reaches your Lordships’ House.

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