Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Aside from that, the EU project—before it the EC project and before that the EEC project—has always proceeded by informal understandings and quiet arrangements. Some have condemned these as being by stealth; others have said they are simply moving around the political obstacles that would otherwise have stood in the way. Anyone who has read a very interesting book by Keith Middlemas—his brilliant book subtitled The Informal Politics of the European Union—will know that is what has happened, is happening and will continue to happen. That is the way the European system is going forward. We want it to go forward. in ways that are different from the centralisers and the old guard collectivists who still dominate the thinking of many people outside—and many of your Lordships, I fear—and on the left in European politics.

Parliament really should know what the new president’s powers are and what his position is. There is to be a new Foreign Affairs Council as well as a General Affairs Council. It is very hard to see how that will work out. Will the new president sit on both councils? Will he chair both? Will he share a chair, which would be rather uncomfortable, with the rotating head of government president every six months? If the General Affairs Council is no longer to look at world affairs, what will the heads of government do when they meet if all the foreign policy and world issues are left to the new Foreign Affairs Council? Who will broker and help to resolve the endless differences between member states on external issues—not on all issues but on a great many—and on the EU’s role in the world, which makes so dangerous the reliance on the EU partners to voice and promote our own interests? These are crucial questions for our own affairs, which we must have clarified.

We need proper parliamentary accountability in all this. We want to ensure from the start that Parliament is told and given a proper chance to debate and approve or reject what is likely to happen, and, indeed, what has been already agreed to by the treaties that Parliament has been asked to sign up to.

22 Apr 2008 : Column 1433

We have tabled amendments as proposed by the Lords Constitution Committee. We agree with its view and it agrees with ours. They would ensure that all the opt-in and opt-out activities, whether under previous treaties—I emphasise that—or under this one, are put to Parliament by the Government for approval. This is the first of a series of proposed changes aimed at maintaining and enhancing parliamentary accountability over what is being done in our name. They do not change the treaty but they control part of its impact, or should do so. Therefore, the Government should, frankly, accept them. Indeed, I have written here “So should the Liberal Democrats”, to which I just have to add, “some hope”. I beg to move.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: The noble Lord made a number of important points. It is absolutely correct for him to say that there are a number of blurry edges and unanswered questions. He very properly mentioned a number of them, including the salary, the role of the proposed EU president and of the External Action Service, and defence co-operation.

The noble Lord’s argument for a six-monthly report is rather overtaken by the important points he made that the relationships are in any event in a state of perpetual flux. He talked about the informal politics of the European Union. I am sure that he would agree that in any constitution there is no settled position, like the final struggle in the great “Internationale”. There is no final struggle. All constitutions are by nature dynamic; none are in fact static. We may be interested in parliamentary accountability, but that will not be done in one six-monthly report—it will be a continuous process. That is the important point about this. There will be constant modifications. We will be part of the debate which leads to those modifications. We are part of the European Union. We do not have bilateral relations with the European Union; it is part of ourselves.

Much of the development will depend on matters such as the personalities of the individuals who are there, the external matters that confront Europe and the challenges we face—for example, matters in the External Action Service, such as the pressures on our own budget in terms of the foreign diplomatic service and the extent to which we want to co-operate. That important point has been made in earlier debates by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace. There will be continuous modification. It is therefore impossible to reach an end-point.

It is important that we ensure an active role for national parliaments. I have acknowledged that there are questions about how the proposed role will work out in practice. In conclusion, the key fact is that we must ensure parliamentary accountability. There is a moving target and therefore there should be a continuous form of accountability.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: I preface my remarks on the amendment with a few remarks about how we conduct ourselves in Committee. We are in Committee. I hope that we will now be able to make progress in Committee style. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, is not in his place, but I think that he should have carefully

22 Apr 2008 : Column 1434

read and absorbed the words of Standing Order 33 about asperity of speech. I felt that he was not only making a Second Reading speech in Committee, but raising the level of passion beyond what we should be doing when attempting to follow the words of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and examining the Bill—that is what he said, but it has to be the treaty and its implications—line by line.

Perhaps I should also say a little about the intentions of these Benches. We strongly support continuing scrutiny of our engagement in the European Union. That is what this Parliament should be doing and what this Chamber has been doing rather well, and I hope will continue to do. We are very happy with the detailed work which committees of this House have conducted in examining the implications of this treaty. That is a little different from what we do, sometimes rather more messily, on the Floor of the Chamber.

I feel that the amendments are very unconservative. Conservatism, as I learnt about it, is about practice and pragmatism but accepting that politics flows; it is not about theories, structures and absolutes. It seems to me that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, is asking us to know exactly where we will end up before we have started. He says that what we need from this is proper parliamentary scrutiny. However, I refer him to the very wise words that he used when we discussed the previous amendment, when he said that he knew the intention was there but whether it worked in practice was another matter. I agree strongly with that remark, which he made about parliamentary scrutiny, but it is also true of how these new procedures will work. We do not yet know how the President of the European Council will operate. I think this is a better procedure for an EU of 27, moving from a situation in which for six months the Prime Minister of Malta will chair the European Council and then the Prime Minister of wherever else it may be will chair it.

This is a useful improvement for an enlarged European Union. The United Kingdom is in favour of the enlargement of the European Union and that has implications. Part of the argument for this treaty is precisely to deal with a European Union which has grown in the last decade from 15 to 25 to 27, and some of the adjustments are to allow for that. But how these various new adjustments will work in practice depends on who is appointed and how well they work with others. We do not yet know that. We have to avoid the politics of “stop the world, I want to get off” in this. Britain is involved in the European Union. Through our officials and sometimes through our Ministers, we play an active role in shaping the European Union. I very much hope that we will continue to do so. When this treaty is ratified, I trust that our Government—getting over their great hang-up about what Rupert Murdoch wants us to do—will play a very active role in shaping where we go from here. I hope that the Conservative Opposition will not spend too much time bumping along behind, trying to pull them back at every stage, so that we can continue to have active scrutiny and an open and honest debate at last about Britain’s engagement in the European Union. For those reasons these Benches do not support these amendments.

22 Apr 2008 : Column 1435

Lord Blackwell:I support these important amendments. As a member of your Lordships’ Select Committee on the European Union I was fortunate enough to discuss some of these issues when we visited Brussels. As other noble Lords said, it is clear that there is huge uncertainty and work still to be done on turning some of the institutional arrangements that are described in this treaty in very outline form into practical and settled arrangements. That matters, because the way in which those institutional arrangements develop has a profound impact on the way in which Europe will operate and the kind of constitutional settlement that it puts in place.

I want to dwell in particular on the relationship between the various presidents. We should remember that three presidencies will be concurrent in Europe: the new term-elected President of the European Council and the existing President of the European Commission, and there will still be the rotating presidency of the Council of Ministers. What is not at all clear is how those three concurrent presidencies will interact. One model would maintain that the national presidency—the rotating six-monthly presidency —should still be the predominant presidency as it represents the member states, and that the others should be the servants of the nation states with the president of the Council merely orchestrating the agenda as a kind of chairman of committees and the President of the Commission continuing to manage the legislature. Another view states that what we are creating here is more like the tiers of a presidential state where the president of the Council, who is elected for a longer term, acts like the President of France or the President of the US with a Cabinet around him and sets the agenda, and that the President of the Commission becomes in effect a First Minister or Prime Minister as the head of the Executive, in the same way as the Prime Minister of France relates to the President of France. In that model the rotating national presidency is merely there to arrange the venue and clean the floors.

How this turns out is a matter of substantial importance in the model of Europe that we are building. It is no accident that it is not clear, because there are differing views on what model different members of the European Union and different members within each delegation might want, as was made clear in the Select Committee’s discussions. It is fundamentally significant that this House knows whether what is envisaged is indeed a French-type model of a president of Europe and a Prime Minister, with the rotating presidency kicked into the sidelines, because it has an impact on the constitutional settlement that we have just been discussing. In saying that this amendment does not go far enough, my reservation is that I think we ought to have this settled before the House and the country are asked to agree to this treaty. That ought to be one of the things we consider as we go through this debate. We should as a minimum ask for a report-back six months later to ensure that we have clarity on this.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: The noble Lord talks of the matter being settled, but does he agree that much will depend on the personalities who appear? For example, if the President of the Commission were a Delors and the other president were a former Prime

22 Apr 2008 : Column 1436

Minister of Luxembourg—I have great respect for Luxembourg—there would be a certain dynamic between those two and the situation could be reversed. So how can it be settled? How can we know ultimately what that relationship will be?

Lord Blackwell: The noble Lord’s intervention illustrates exactly the danger of not having it settled. The relationship between the President of France and the Prime Minister of France does not depend on which individual is elected to which office. Those offices are settled. If we have a Europe where the individuals who take those places can land-grab and turn the European Union constitution to their advantage, that is a very dangerous constitution for us to sign up to.

6.15 pm

Lord Owen: I seek clarification. I am afraid that I am not up to date with the procedures, but a report on European affairs used to be made to Parliament every six months. It seems to me that that vehicle would incorporate all this. More than most previous ones, this treaty has a very large area of important unclarified material. It is perfectly possible to take the view which has been argued, particularly by the noble Lord who served a very useful purpose as chairman of the foreign policy Select Committee in the House of Commons. However, you cannot narrow these things down; they are matters of practice.

This is a view with which I have a good deal of sympathy but, when looking at amendments to this legislation, the real problem, apart from these general well-meaning reports back to Parliament, is how to clarify the actual meaning of these words. This relates to a later amendment that I have tabled.

When she replied at Second Reading, the noble Baroness was very clear that there was no problem with the commitment to allow the European Court of Justice to adopt a new role in the European Council. In my view that is quite a big step and we cannot change it. But there is also a commitment in the legislation that the European Court of Justice will not involve itself in foreign affairs. However, the President of the European Council is definitely involved in foreign policy. The noble Baroness has the best of intentions as regards these commitments but I assume she means that, when dealing with foreign affairs, the President of the European Council will not be subject to the European Court of Justice and that will still be an area in which he will effectively be exempt. These wordings are very important. I hope that the Minister will put on record exactly the limitations on the European Court of Justice. In listening to the earlier debate, this is the issue that worries many people; the capacity of the European Court of Justice to expand the role of the European Union powers beyond that which the House of Commons and the House of Lords at various times under different Governments have fought to be the limits.

It is therefore really the main focus of parliamentary scrutiny and debate to set limits. I am sure that the honourable gentleman agrees—sorry, I mean the noble Lord; I am used to the other place, and seeing the same face makes it even harder—that it is important if

22 Apr 2008 : Column 1437

we can to nail down these areas, and I particularly draw attention to the European Court of Justice. I ask the noble Baroness in preparing for these debates if she could be as precise as possible about the Government’s understanding of the role of the European Court of Justice and where it is constrained and where it is not constrained. That would be very helpful.

Lord Tomlinson: I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Owen, because he raised some interesting questions; but they are so interesting that they would not be covered by the amendment. The amendment is headed:

but it does not clarify most of the important questions that were just raised by the noble Lord, Lord Owen. We have just agreed that Clause 1—a very simple clause of three lines—should stand part of the Bill, and we now have “clarifying arrangements” adding a further 21 lines after Clause 1, the total effect of which is to create more confusion, because those lines will raise more questions than they answer.

The situation is very clear—that we as Parliament hold our Ministers to account when they come back from Council meetings, and we will have the opportunity to ask every one of the questions that are listed in the so-called clarifying arrangements, plus any others that we have the ingenuity to think up. The amendment is unhelpful, and I will not support it.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I—

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: The noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, has just epitomised the project of European Union; it is all right if we ask these questions when Ministers have come back from Council meetings after matters have been decided and there is nothing that this Parliament can do about it. That is one of the central complaints of the growing number of people in this country who do not want to continue with this project.

This is a very good amendment, except that I am afraid that, like the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, it shuts the stable door after the horse has bolted. It is not helpful to have a report in six months’ time detailing these matters. We want the answer to all these questions before your Lordships reach a decision on the referendum and before the people are invited to vote on a referendum, if we reach that happy conclusion.

When the noble Baroness replies, could she answer some of the rumours, doubts and questions that are surrounding the Eurosceptic community in this country? One of those important rumours is that quite a lot of initiatives have already been agreed, or nearly agreed, and they have been put in the drawer of the Council in Brussels and hidden away from the people, particularly the British and the Irish people, who will have a referendum on this new treaty, until the treaty has gone through. Is there any truth in that?

Also, has an understanding or agreement been reached that no fewer than 10,000 British troops will in due course be committed to the new European

22 Apr 2008 : Column 1438

army with its independent command centre in Brussels? It would be very good to have that completely denied. If not, have any troops been agreed?

Another interesting suggestion—

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: That is an interesting statement. Could the noble Lord, before we discuss the CFSP and defence dimension, provide noble Lords with the exact source of the statement that he has just made?

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: Of course. At the moment, I was merely posing a question. When we come to that, I will be happy to provide the noble Lord with my source.

Another rumour is going around of borderless healthcare. Has that been agreed and put in the drawer? Is there any prospect of this treaty leading to that? The first of those suggestions is something of an anathema to what the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, would call the right wing in this country. The second suggestion of borderless healthcare, where we could all wander over the health systems of Europe checking in as we wished to avoid the appalling state of the National Health Service in this country, might appeal to this country’s middle classes, but I understand it is fiercely opposed by the trade unions.

The other question that I wish to put to the noble Baroness is on tax. Indirect tax is covered by the treaties of Rome, but direct tax is not covered in the present treaties as they stand. That has not stopped the Court invading corporation tax or reaching over 120 judgments in favour of national companies—

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I just want to help the noble Lord. I can give the source; it is the Open Europe briefings. I have them all, and they include the point about the contribution of 10,000 troops. It is completely untrue, but it is in that briefing.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: At the moment, I cannot remember whether that was my sole source, but I will come back to it. That rings a bell. We would like to know, more than that, what further arrangements there are for military integration and the advance of the French dream in that area.

I think I was dealing with tax. Indirect tax is in the treaties; direct tax is not. I think I was saying that the Court has already invaded corporation tax to the detriment of national exchequers and to the benefit of finance directors and shareholders of international companies. I gather that Mr Barroso has been in Ireland recently, assuring the Irish that they need not worry that this treaty will lead to any change in their tax system, which has done so much to improve the state of their economy.

Those are the sort of specific questions that we would like answered now. I put it to the mover of the amendment that it would be very helpful to have the answers to all these questions before we vote on a referendum and before the people vote on it. While I am on the subject of the noble Baroness answering questions, I was remiss when she finished her answer

22 Apr 2008 : Column 1439

to the previous amendment in not pressing her on the legal status of the flag and the anthem, what areas of our national life Brussels cannot negotiate on and—most importantly, and I hope a question that finds sympathy with other noble Lords—an index to the treaty of Lisbon.

Baroness Ludford: Perhaps I can help to answer one of the questions that has been asked about the powers of the European Court of Justice over common foreign and security policy. I draw noble Lords’ attention to Article 275 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It states:

I add for the sake of completeness:

I think that is the one that says that what is done under CFSP should not impinge on Community competence—

I think that that refers to the rules on the blacklisting of terrorist organisations, where the Court of Justice does have competence, which it is increasingly exercising. That very restricted competence in the second pillar of the CFSP for judicial review by the Court of Justice is spelt out in Article 275 and is very limited.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page