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3.28 pm

Lord Blackwell: My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, but, as we are at the start of a long journey on the Bill today, I should make clear at the outset that I do not share her assessment. I believe that this is a bad Bill for Britain and a bad treaty for Europe. This is not because I do not value our relationship with Europe but because I believe that this treaty takes us further in the direction of previous treaties towards a more centralised, more inward-looking and more bureaucratic Europe, rather than towards the more flexible, outward-looking Europe that we need for the 21st century.

Following the powerful speech by my noble friend Lord Forsyth, I shall not dwell on the issues around a referendum. However, like him I am sad that we still have to address the fundamental question being raised of whether the treaty of Lisbon is or is not the same as

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the constitution in form. In my left hand, I have a copy of the constitutional treaty, published by the Government in 2004, whose introduction by the then Foreign Secretary sets out in clear terms that most of the treaty is the existing treaties reformulated, with the changes from the constitutional convention incorporated. In my right hand, I have the Government’s published consolidated treaties post-Lisbon, which makes it clear that most of it is existing treaties with the changes from the Lisbon treaty incorporated. The two texts are virtually identical; in fact, if I put them side by side, as the Government have studiously avoided doing, I can find only two articles in the constitutional treaty that have not been translated in whole or part into the Lisbon treaty’s consolidated text. One of those deals with the anthem and the flag and the other is the article—wholly unnecessary, as it turns out—asserting the primacy of European law. So these documents are the same in form and substance, and the arguments that we should treat them as different just because one treaty only set out the changes whereas the other incorporated and printed the whole text, or because one still leaves two treaties whereas the other renumbered the pages and put them in one treaty, would not stand up in a school debating society and are unworthy of this House.

I move on to address the substance of the treaty. Like other noble Lords, I will draw on the work of the House of Lords committee under the patient chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, of which I was privileged to be a member. Like the noble Lord, I shall draw selectively on some of the conclusions—and like him I should make it clear that the committee as a whole reached no overall conclusion either on the treaty or on any of the red lines or other issues of debate.

Let me start with the extension of the EU competency in the area of freedom, security and justice, where the report notes:

that is, the first and third pillars—

It also concludes that the move to QMV in all areas of freedom, security and justice is a significant change. The UK has the right not to opt in to new measures, but we will not have a veto on amendments to existing legislation to which we are already a party. Hence the report notes:

If we do chose to opt out of existing areas to which we have previously signed up, we could be faced with a range of overt and covert pressures under the treaty to keep us in line, including the imposition of financial penalties. In addition, the House of Lords report notes that the increase in jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice is a significant development. It says:

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These are significant changes to our constitutional practice and our democratic control of UK criminal justice.

On foreign policy, the treaty also envisages a much increased role for the European Union, with the employment of an EU Foreign Minister, the creation of an external action service and the clear intent to adopt common EU policies wherever possible. As a result, the Government’s freedom of action will inevitably be constrained. The report notes that that need not always be by unanimity. It says:

Although the European Council must unanimously agree to request such a proposal, it would be remarkable if we were always completely satisfied with the proposal that emerges. In many cases, as is often the case at European Councils, we will find ourselves bound into a compromise text with which we grudgingly agree but whose presentation is in someone else’s hands.

Under this treaty, once a common position has been agreed, we are duty-bound to support it. I am not sure—perhaps the noble Baroness the Leader of the House can respond to this in her summing up—where that would leave a new UK Government who might come in with a fundamentally different view of foreign policy from its predecessor. Furthermore, the report notes that at the United Nations, where the European Union has a common position,

He will be required to request. While that, as the report makes clear, does not displace the UK's right to speak and vote, in practice we must recognise that it would be very difficult for the UK then to represent a different emphasis or to decide to change its own position as a result of the debate at the United Nations.

Overall, therefore, while we have obviously retained an independent foreign policy in those areas where the EU has no common position, as the House of Lords report acknowledges, our freedom will be constrained in the increasing number of areas where the EU does define a common policy.

I now turn briefly to other areas. The Charter of Fundamental Rights, as we have heard, is now given legal status equivalent to the treaties. The House of Lords report notes:

It continues,

More generally, the report also notes that:

That is not just streamlining. One such critical area moved to QMV is decisions on energy policy, which could hardly be closer to our vital national interests, in addition to those areas I have already referred to in foreign policy and justice and home affairs. We need to

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look beyond these individual additions to EU powers and competences to understand the full impact of this treaty.

Despite assurances from the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, under this treaty the balance of power shifts significantly from the nation states to the EU institutions. The Commission gains an increased role in both criminal justice and foreign affairs, where the high representative is a member of the Commission. The president of the Council, instead of being a rotating representative of the nation states, becomes a full-time paid EU leader, which the House of Lords report notes is a “significant move”, and one that is likely to result in more active EU agenda.

As for the European Parliament, the report notes:

That reflects the sentiment and statements in the treaty that the Union is founded no longer on nation states but on, representative democracy, where EU citizens,

Finally, the House of Lords report notes that:

including, as we have seen, its new jurisdiction in criminal justice and policing. By contrast, the role of member states in the Council of Ministers is downgraded from an intergovernmental gathering to an EU institution that, like the states in the US Senate, can express their views on most issues only through majority voting, which, as I have said, becomes the default decision-making process. The European Council moves from being the guiding voice of the nation states sitting above the European Union to become just another part of the EU's formal institutional framework and expressly subject for the first time to the jurisdiction of the European Court—something that the House of Lords report describes as “highly significant”.

It is difficult to imagine a set of proposals that is a clearer description of a constitutional shift from a Europe of nation states to a European Union which claims its own direct and independent democratic mandate from the European citizens. That is why it was originally and correctly termed, a Constitution for Europe. Noble Lords in this House may applaud that and many of the constitution’s architects on the continent certainly do. I disagree because I believe that this attempt to build a large, centralised pan-European power block is out of step with the decentralised, networked and fast moving world of the 21st century. We need a looser relationship with Europe and not one that locks us in to a central bureaucracy. But what no one should be allowed to say to the British people is that this treaty is not important or that the decision on it is not important. That is why in its passage through this House, as other noble Lords have said, whatever our views on the treaty, we must come together to insist that the Government honour their pledge to give the people of this country their say in a referendum.

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3.40 pm

Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, I declare an interest as a former head of the European secretariat in the Cabinet Office in London and as a former official and a pension holder of the European Commission.

I come to this Second Reading debate basing myself on the very simple principle that we need to decide whether the treaty of Lisbon improves the situation for our citizens and for the United Kingdom as a whole by comparison with the present EU treaties that apply to us now. In short, do we benefit from the treaty of Lisbon? Surely that is the proper test. If the treaty passes that test, I shall vote for it.

Looking carefully at the treaty—I am sure the examination in Committee will be mega-thorough based on the discussion so far; perhaps there is something even higher than mega-thorough—we have to keep in mind that our Government have judged that the treaty benefits Britain. Our Prime Minister has signed it. In addition, the House of Commons has already approved the treaty by agreeing to the Bill. Thus at the national and parliamentary level we do not come to this treaty with the arguments for and against it evenly balanced. No, the arguments in favour of the treaty have prevailed in government and in Parliament in the House of Commons.

The Bill is clear and mercifully short. However, the treaty itself has been drawn up as an amending treaty, and in consequence it is a rather unlovely document because it makes changes by adding to, deleting or amending treaty provisions. That does not make it easy to read, even to an old Eurohack like me. In due course, if as I expect the treaty is ratified, there will be a consolidated text which will make a much better read. The Government have already provided us with a copy.

In the mean time, the European Union Committee of this House has been the saviour of hard-worked Peers and has produced the truly excellent document entitled The Treaty of Lisbon: An Impact Assessment. Of the many documents I have read and sometimes contributed to in the European Union Committee in my nine years in the House, this is the best and I have taken it much to heart.

It seems to me very relevant to ask ourselves why 27 sovereign states have thought it right to have this treaty, and to judge how far it responds to some of the objectives that were advanced or debated in earlier discussions. First, there is the presumed need to adapt the European Union’s working to the effects of the very significant enlargement of the Union to 27 countries. The United Kingdom has been strongly in favour of this enlargement. It reflects the wish of the people of so many new member states to share in the success of the Union. We should certainly follow this through by improving where possible the working of the Community institutions.

The treaty does respond to that in a number of ways. First, of course, it reduces from 2014 the number of European Commissioners, consequently making the Commission more manageable. Secondly, it brings together the roles of a vice-president of the Commission

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and the high representative of the Union for foreign affairs. In my view that will improve co-ordination and effectiveness. Thirdly, it tackles the question of the voting weights of the member states, which was left in a rather unsatisfactory state after the treaty of Nice. As the EU Committee points out, the new system for calculating a qualified majority is more equitable and more favourable to the United Kingdom because it takes more account of population. The practical effect is that the UK’s voting weight increases from about 8 per cent to about 12 per cent.

There is an extension of qualified majority voting to more areas, some of which are of almost no importance but others are significant. Those who take a purely defensive line may not approve, but the change increases our opportunity to achieve those objectives which we want for ourselves within the Union. In reality, of course, important issues, including primary legislation, are seldom voted in the Union. When I was in Brussels, I used to call for the summary of who was outvoted, and the results were probably the exact opposite of what many people in this House would think. But the existence of unanimity or qualified majority can influence the conduct of a debate.

Fourthly, the treaty changes the current six-monthly rotating presidency of the European Council in the interests of greater continuity of purpose and action to a longer term of two and a half years, renewable once, elected by the European Council. I think that I am one of the two or three people in the world who were present in the European Council for a full period for every meeting for 10 years. I have a great attachment to the efficiency of the European Council, which I found to be extremely good. Nowadays, things have changed a bit and I am strongly in favour of an increased period for the presidency so that it can continue the great tradition which I observed in the past. I have no difficulty with the proposal, but, as is mentioned in some of the reports that have been put before us, the relationship with the high representative will need to be handled carefully. I note that the wording of the treaty is careful in stating that:

There are other areas where the treaty provides changes which go towards efficiency. On balance, it responds well to the line that we ought to take to achieve that greater efficiency in the enlarged Union.

The second area that we should look at is the extent to which the treaty improves the action of the national parliaments in their relationship with the European Union. It was an objective in the earlier discussions to improve the accountability of the EU to the peoples and the national parliaments. In this treaty, the role of the European Parliament continues to increase—I support that—with almost all important legislative matters now dealt with by co-decision between the directly elected Parliament and the Council of Ministers representing the member states. In addition, a change in the budget rules means that important areas of expenditure such as that on agriculture are no longer classified as obligatory and become part of the normal procedure.

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I would not wish to overstate the importance of the provisions relating to the increased role for national parliaments, but they are substantially new. The new protocol gives more time for national parliaments to examine a whole range of legislative proposals, Council agendas and so on which have to be sent to them directly by the Commission. The Commission has to justify proposals on grounds of proportionality and subsidiarity, and a sufficient majority of national parliaments can require a review of proposals which do not in their view respect subsidiarity.

Overall, it is reasonable to assume that the Lisbon treaty and its protocols will increase co-operation between national parliaments, on both draft EU legislation and other instruments of legislative planning, including the annual legislative programme. We know from opinion polls that the British public have many things which they consider much more important than the European Union, but all the same the Parliament here needs to maximise its role in dealing with these issues in the interests of the public.

Finally, I stress the importance of the explicit treaty provision that,

I do not think that anyone has yet mentioned my next point although I anticipated that most of the 71 speeches would cover every point that I was likely to mention. However, I draw attention to the statements on the values and objectives of the European Union which are, to a considerable extent, new in this treaty by comparison with earlier texts. I am a world-weary ex-civil servant but I find these statements on values and objectives moving and, indeed, inspiring. It is to me a source of pride and confidence that 27 sovereign states can pledge themselves to the Union’s aim to,

and inter alia,

This is certainly in my view a Union with objectives and values that we should support.

3.51 pm

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I speak in support of the Lisbon treaty and, as a member of the Select Committee, I commend to your Lordships the report of the European Union Committee on the treaty.

I start by congratulating the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester on his maiden speech and particularly on his masterly steering round controversy in a European Union debate. He may find that is not so easy to do in future but I am very pleased that he supports the treaty.

I spent too long in government, and perhaps too long working at pretty close quarters with some of our colleagues in the EU, not to recognise its faults. My experiences, particularly in the fields of trade, defence and foreign policy, left me at times frustrated, often irritated and, on occasions, frankly, pretty

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indignant. But none of those experiences leads me to doubt that our membership and our growing involvement in and commitment to the European Union are anything but right. I cannot help reflecting that in decades to come succeeding generations will find it hard to believe that we have made such a song and dance about our relationship with our closest neighbours. Today I want to concentrate particularly on the way in which this latest treaty impacts on European Union foreign policy and to say something about the referendum issue, particularly the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, who I am very sorry is not in his place.

At this stage in our relationship with Europe, we, the British, must maintain control of decision-taking on the major issues of our foreign policy. It is doubtful whether we shall ever be ready for a European institution to assume that responsibility for us but we certainly are not ready for it now. The framework for decisions on EU foreign policy will continue to be the member states, and the Lisbon treaty ensures that the principle of unanimity for decisions in this respect will be maintained. That is not to say that the treaty proposes no changes on CFSP issues—it clearly does—but these do not undermine our ability to take our own decisions. On the contrary, the changes should improve the effectiveness and coherence of the EU’s foreign policy when we decide that we need to act together. This is very important because it is not simply a question of holding a red-line position—a “thus far and no further” doctrine. We need to get on to the front foot and, when there is a commonality of view between Governments, to pursue European policies more effectively. I think particularly of the Middle East peace process, where a more proactive Europe could play a far more positive role. Another change is that the high representative will be able to suggest to the European Council that he should be tasked with preparing a proposal but, for that to happen, the request to him must be unanimous.

The overwhelming weight of evidence presented to our Select Committee was that the treaty has preserved the independence of our foreign and defence policy and that the fundamental principles of the CFSP will not change. In particular, we concluded that the principle of unanimity and the search for consensus in decision-making will continue to apply to the CFSP.

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