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5.45 pm

Lord Tebbit: Indeed, had the provisions of Maastricht gone through in the sense of this country submitting itself to the euro, that would be just about the point. Does the noble Lord imagine that the French, Germans or Italians are very happy about their degree of autonomy over their economic policy? They are not, to judge by the noises that I hear coming from them.

The noble Lord reminds us that there could be changes in the politics of Europe more broadly under the stress of the economic problems that will be caused by the European single currency until there is one chancellor of the exchequer for Europe. We all know that a currency cannot have more than one chancellor. Those stresses will continue to bear heavily upon various countries in Europe. According to some on the left, Italy is veering towards a neo-fascist style of government again. There is much talk of neo-fascism on the Continent of Europe. I am not very comfortable binding my country and its foreign policy to countries over whose electoral fortunes we have no control.

I still believe that we should be an independent nation, and that there is a place for independent nations in the world. I do not take the view of the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, that that is all silly old stuff that belongs to the past and is sentimentalism. If a country cannot have untrammelled rights over its own foreign policy and to change that policy when it wills, it is not a fully sovereign nation. I support Amendment No. 113 to make that matter plain.

Lord Owen: I hesitate to speak for obvious reasons. I will have a glass of water. I may have to stop, but I am tempted to speak because the issue that underlies this debate is so fundamental. I shall speak about the European External Action Service. We in this House must recognise that in the European Union we are dealing with a very varied grouping of nations. If you come from a very small country, your belief that the European External Action Service can be in your direct national interest is perfectly understandable. It is extraordinarily difficult for small countries such as Estonia to be represented in all the countries of the world—indeed, to be represented in anything more than the member states of the European Union.

When we consider the external aspect and almost all aspects of foreign policy, we must from time to time consider what it means to be a small member of the European Union. In fairness to such member states, they frequently look at what it means to be a large country with a proud, historical record—and in our case a very large empire—and with substantial armed forces. They realise that they will have to accept the recognition inside the European Union that large countries count for more than small countries. Of course that is

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not spelled out, but it is a fact with which people live very sensibly. Moderately sized countries must also accept that.

I well remember how Greece faced many of the issues affecting the Balkans. It disagreed, sometimes in my judgment correctly and with better understanding of the problems of the Balkans than many of the larger states did, but it accepted that it was in a minority. Even though it disapproved of some of the actions over Kosovo, for example, it allowed troops to come up through Thessaloniki and into Macedonia, even though that was difficult for it politically. There are many other examples.

I thereby come to the European External Action Service. As I understand it, this may be the only opportunity that we will have to discuss this question. Crucial to the service is the balance between people being under secondment from national Governments to it and those who come from the European Commission or Community institutions. If we are to keep common foreign policy predominantly intergovernmental, there must be a large element of secondment from the diplomatic services of the larger nations. I hope that this will be championed not just by the larger countries but by smaller ones, who will understand that the way to get the external service accepted is when it has to represent the fundamental elements of a common foreign service policy—not integration, but representation of the member states. It is a mechanism for getting greater measures of agreement and it seems not unreasonable to introduce that at this stage.

A common foreign policy is not a single foreign policy. In the parlance of the European Community, integration means a single foreign policy—and I understand that there are people who want that. If there is genuinely compromise, agreement and consensus then it is preferable to have a united foreign policy, but we are not talking about a single foreign policy, and we have to examine carefully any aspect in this treaty that could lead to one. That is why we will come, in later debates, to what I consider the most important amendment; namely, that we could not have a common foreign policy imposed on this country by moving to qualified majority voting without substantive legislation through this House and through the House of Commons. I believe no other issue lying within our powers and which does not affect the treaty, yet is a fundamental issue for parliamentarians, is more important for us. On that motion, I hope that the Liberal Democrats will be voting as they voted in the House of Commons—in favour of primary legislation, at least on that aspect of the passerelle clause.

I come back to the external service, on which I hope that the Minister will feel able to explain some of the Government’s thinking. Now, the service will of course be discussed inside the European Union; as I understand it, that will be under a qualified majority vote because it will come on a recommendation from the high representative, having discussed it with the Commission. I would prefer that it were a genuine consensus and had to have unanimity.

Noble Lords: It will be unanimous.

Lord Owen: If it will be unanimous, then I am encouraged to hear that and my understanding of the

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treaty is wrong. This treaty is very difficult to understand, but if there will be unanimity on that then I very much welcome it. It means that the British Government can and should argue strongly that the predominant element of an External Action Service should not be as a European Union diplomatic service, but one that will predominantly come from the member states. If that is the case, then the British Government can maintain that position and—since the Minister says that this is unanimous—even if they find themselves in a minority of one I would expect them to hold out.

I have found that in many cases, in negotiating on common foreign and security policy, British Governments had a perfectly sensible negotiating position that was then given up during negotiations. On this position, they must not give up. It is an essential element in keeping a common foreign and security policy predominantly intergovernmental, with some of the serious strength of the member states.

Ultimately, a foreign policy relies on your capacity to back your words up with actions. That is why defence is secondary to foreign policy, which has to be able to call on defence and on the sacrifice of the citizens of an individual country who are ready to risk their life for what their country believes to be an essential element in its foreign policy. Take that away, and you have nothing that means seriousness in foreign policy. Without the capacity to threaten military action, as we have seen so often in the past, foreign policy ends up as mere words. Therefore, that stiffening of EU foreign policy requires a number of member states’ capacity to put their troops on the line for it. For that reason, each aspect of developing a common foreign and security policy has to reflect that it is predominantly intergovernmental.

Lord Blackwell: I would like to add my support to the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Howell and to explain the thinking behind Amendments Nos. 111 and 113, which are in my name. As we have heard, these amendments drive to the heart of the contradiction between, on the one hand, saying that we want to be part of an increasingly common European policy and, on the other, declaring that we have retained UK independence. It is not a question, as some have said, of whether we want to co-operate with other countries, for of course we want to do that. It is a question of whether we want to be bound into the particular form of treaty clauses and restrictions introduced by the treaty of Lisbon.

The noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, set out a powerful analysis of how the world is changing. I, for one, would disagree with little of what he said about the sound of the drum telling us that the world has changed, but I completely disagree with the conclusion he draws there. In my view, that changing world makes it ever more important that we retain the flexibility to respond to countries around the world and to form alliances with them—not to be bound into an outdated, centralist and inward-looking club designed for the world of the past century. That is why we have different views on how we should respond, not on the underlying issues with which we are trying to deal.

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The core question here is the extent to which we can retain our independence. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, quoted the House of Lords report effectively saying that the UK had retained its independence except in those areas where the EU had formed a common position. In the tortuous language of a consensus report, that is effectively what that sentence said; of course, if it is turned around the other way—in a more common-sense way—it actually says that the UK is constrained in its foreign policy, except in those areas where no common policy has been agreed by the European Union. The question then becomes: how much of our policy will be in the areas of common agreement, where we are constrained and no longer have the ability to pursue an independent policy?

Lord Anderson of Swansea: Surely the essence of that is that the UK agrees that its policy will be constrained when it so agrees.

Lord Blackwell: Indeed, and so the question comes down to how much of our policy we choose and how much we allow to be moved into a common position. Whether it is a single or common foreign policy in that position, as I will go on to describe, we no longer have a level of freedom and independence. The other questions are how that position is determined and how it evolves over time.

The Government would like us to believe that these areas of common foreign policy are few and far—that they would be constrained to the peripheries and minor issues. As others have said, that is not the impression one gains from the treaty. The phrasing quoted about achieving an ever increasing degree of convergence in member states’ actions, and references to the ambitions of the External Action Service, make it clear that the intentions behind this treaty are that the European Union should increasingly command the major areas of policy issues in both foreign affairs and defence. The Government also stress that those areas where we will be part of a common foreign policy will largely be agreed by unanimity.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: It seems to me that the noble Lord has failed to take the excellent advice from my noble friend Lord Owen to distinguish rather clearly between a single foreign policy and a common foreign policy. By my count, it was one hour and five minutes before anybody in the Committee faced up to the difference between those two; now that my noble friend has set it out, I would hope that the debate can follow down that path. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, could start where we are now. Could he tell me which existing aspect of common foreign policy—in the Balkans, to Iran, and so on—he is dissatisfied with? If he is happy with them all, he can take comfort from the fact that that is how the European Union makes policy—bit by bit and common element by common element.

6 pm

Lord Blackwell: We are not talking about past policies of the European Union. We are talking about how the policies of the European Union will be set under this treaty. When the common foreign policy becomes a single foreign policy the degree of discretion that individual members have will be constrained by

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that common policy, which, I believe, is exactly what this treaty brings to the European scene. As the noble Lord well knows, those policies will not always be agreed by consensus. Article 31.2 of the consolidated text makes it very clear that once the Council has agreed a general strategic interest or objective, the specific decisions on actions and positions that follow from that will be taken by qualified majority voting.

The agreement of a general strategic interest or objective in the Council of Europe late at night will be the subject of consensus drafting in order to reach agreement that will need many countries to sign up to statements about which, inevitably, they have some discomfort or doubt. But those statements emerge at the end of conferences as common positions. Under this treaty, once those statements have been put on the stocks as a common position, there will be freedom for the European Union to take actions or positions that extend those positions by qualified majority voting. That is the fact of the treaty. As my noble friend Lord Lamont pointed out, once the Council has asked the high representative to set out a position on an area, whatever he comes back to the Council with will be voted on by qualified majority voting.

In a number of areas we have a ratchet built in—a continual creep. The pressure will be for the UK to be a good citizen and to sign up to a general statement, not necessarily immediately, but perhaps one, two or three years down the road. It will form the base from which a decision can be taken by qualified majority voting. The problem—and the reason why I insist that a common position can become a single position—is that this treaty contains all the language which we have heard in the past requiring countries to abide by common policies once they are agreed. They would not be able to take any action, not to speak against them or to register any dissent once a common position has been stated. That is a very significant development in the extent to which these treaties bind us to a position where, ultimately, we may be constrained by countries with very different strategic and tactical interests from our own.

Under Amendment No. 111, I should like particularly to draw attention to how that affects our position at the United Nations. As the treaty makes clear, when we have a common position, the UK must request that the European high representative presents that position to the United Nations. Again, the House of Lords report is very clear. It is not an option, a nice thing to do. If we have a common EU position, the UK must require that the EU representative presents that position at the United Nations. Where the EU has a common position, it is clear that when the EU representative addresses the United Nations he will be taken as speaking for Europe. That is his status and how he will be seen, not just in isolated areas, but increasingly in all the main topics where the EU, as we can see from this treaty, will seek to occupy the ground of representing a common position of Europe in the world as one of the superpowers.

Yes, the UK can speak and has its own vote. But once the European representative has declared the European position to the United Nations, under these treaties the UK is bound not to dissent, not to oppose,

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not to vote against and not to disagree even with the interpretation that the EU representative has given to the United Nations, even if, when that original common position was defined, the UK voted against under QMV, or if it were a decision taken by unanimity where the UK had abstained. As I see it, that is the threat to our ability to maintain an independent position to side with those countries with which in the long run we may have a different interest on the world stage than the narrow interests of the European continent.

If the Government believe that my concerns are unfounded, as I am sure that the noble Baroness will argue, my Amendment No. 111 offers them a clear way out. Unlike earlier amendments, my amendment does not require changes to the treaty or any change in anything that the Government have signed up to. I distinguish it from Amendment No. 112 on those grounds. It is purely a statement that the UK Parliament retains sovereignty over independence of UK foreign policy. If the Government can assure us that the UK has that independence, I am sure that the noble Baroness will be delighted to accept my amendment to make that clear to the Chamber.

Amendment No. 113 addresses the related and very serious point made by my noble friend Lord Tebbit on the danger of a Government under these treaties binding a successor. The treaty appears to be a one-way street. Once a common policy has been defined, there is nothing that I can find in this treaty that allows a Government to dissent or to undo that common policy. As my noble friend has described, if a Government are elected who disagree with a number of policy positions taken by their predecessor and where they have had those endorsed at an election, there is no way that they can repudiate that position unilaterally. It is not like a country entering into its own treaties or agreements where a Government, if they so choose—they may not wish to do that very often—can change them. We will be bound into a common position by the European Union treaties where we have no facility under that treaty for a Government to change their mind. Any change would require the same legislative processes as we have described for introducing the change, which would largely be by unanimity, but, in many cases, by QMV. But we would not have the ability unilaterally to change our policy. These treaties undermine the important principle of no Government holding their successor in a straitjacket. There may even be Governments who of their own volition change their mind or find that circumstances have changed, but are not able to make that clear once they have signed up to a common European policy.

I would welcome the noble Baroness the Lord President allaying my fears by saying where in the treaties it is explained how this situation would be dealt with. Assuming that she can do so, I am sure that she would be delighted to accept my amendment, which simply makes clear, as my noble friend Lord Tebbit said, that these treaties do not require one Government to be bound by another. I hope that the Government will allay all my fears by accepting Amendments Nos. 111 and 113. If the noble Baroness does not accept my amendments, I hope she will make clear how the Government can allay my fears.

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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: I am startled by the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell. He was among that group of people who slogged through the chapter of the report from your Lordships’ European Union Committee on these issues, which agreed the position that we thought we had reached—or at least I thought we had reached—unanimously. The noble Lord says that he fears that this—I repeat, this—treaty compromises the independence of the United Kingdom in common foreign and security policy. I remind him that has put his name to paragraph 7.20, which says:

The section is clearly marked:

That is not a qualified statement; it is a sentence standing as it is which the noble Lord put his name to. The noble Lord has asked my noble friend the Leader of the House to assure him of independence. A moment of two ago from his Benches it was claimed that assurances of this nature, which actually appear in Declaration 13, are only evidence that the Government were not sure of their position. We have a very clear declaration in Declaration 13, which states:

and here we come to the point—

that is, the United Nations. Here is an unequivocal statement, agreed by all the members of the EU, which is not quite good enough for the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, and he wants my noble friend from the Dispatch Box to repeat it. She is very welcome to repeat it but I am not sure why, if he was not convinced by this in the first place, my noble friend is going to have any greater success and on his Benches some will claim that my noble friend doing that is only evidence of not being sure of the position in the first place.

Let us turn to the UN. The noble Lord said that where the EU has a unanimous common position, the UK will be required to request that the High Representative present that position. That is what we said in our report but the noble Lord left out the opening sentence, which he put his name to, where we said:

We went on to say that although we can invite the High Representative, that possibility does not displace the UK’s right to speak or vote. The noble Lord could not have forgotten about those passages because he was there when we slogged out that wording. I am afraid he was very partial in forgetting what he put his name to.

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