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If we complete Third Reading in this House, that becomes impossible. Postponement for a few months is much the wisest course and that is what the Government
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If the Government will not do the democratic thing and postpone Third Reading, we will certainly table a Motion to do so. If we proceed as if nothing has happened on Wednesday, the Government are in effect asking Parliament to plunge into the unknown, leaving the other place defenceless. That would be a foolish and arrogant course.
After the Danish referendum, the process of ratification of the Maastricht treaty was suspended. After other repeated referendums in which countries as diverse as Holland, France and Denmark opposed treaty revisions, there was talk of a pause for a reflection. Why is the order of the day this time not pause for reflection, but rush on blindly? That is very dangerous and will do nothing to enhance the strength and cohesion of Europe or of our European policy.
A dangerous gulf is opening between the elites of Europe and the people of Europe over the direction of the European Union. In an interactive age, when ordinary citizens have been empowered by the internet as never before, the use of imposed, top-down solutions by grandee conventions are no longer practicable or possible. The Governments of Europe have to learn that Europe is for the people and not for its administrators.
Faced with that gulf, revealed in sharp outline in the Irish referendum last week, we can either recognise the new conditions of life or ignore the new realities. We can cling to the past that is done or we can seek to lay out our new, better vision of Europe in which people truly have a say. We can pause for reflection sensibly or we can plunge on regardless. The right routethe positive route, the route for the futureis to listen and reflect and for the Government then to come back to the elected Chamber and to this reflective House with plans to replace, redesign and remedy the obvious weaknesses of the Lisbon treaty.
Many small countries throughout the EU would thank us warmly for doing so. Let us not insult Parliament and the public and close off the options for our country by behaving as if nothing occurred last week. Let us pause with the Bill, not least while the Prime Minister goes to the EU Council, which he is about to do. Let us hear what is said there and then let us join in mature debate about any revisions proposed and whether a new treaty and therefore new legislation is required.
I am personally convinced, and I believe many people in all parties will be convinced, that that is the statesmanlike and sensible course and I beg the noble BaronessI confess without all that much hopeto find the wisdom to embrace it.
Lord McNally: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness the Lord President on the crispness and brevity of the Statementclearly the Prime Minister's hand was not in it. I wonder whether she has heard the American expression that it is very difficult to remember that the idea was to drain the swamp when you find yourself up to the armpits in alligators. I hope that she will resist the crocodile tears shed this afternoon and over the weekend by those who have tried at every stage to derail the Bill.
It is worth wondering what we were trying to do with the Lisbon treaty. It was the treaty that was going to enable the new enlarged Community of 27 to work more efficiently. It was the Conservative Party that had given most support to the idea of enlargement and then worked very hard to deny the way that that enlargement could work. As the Statement recognises, it was the way that Europe could move on from the constitution and navel-gazing to the agenda outlined in the Statement, the relevant agenda for the people of Europe. It is therefore rather odd now to say that we should not continue with the parliamentary process. We welcome the decision in the Statement to go ahead with Third Reading.
As my honourable friend Ed Davey said earlier today in the other place, not to do so could do further damage if we are seen to jettison the treaty just days before the Governments of Europe meet to discuss its future. Each country was asked to process the matter. The fact that the Irish have processed it in a way that we do not like has nothing to do with the fact that we should process it within our parliamentary system. Indeed, doing thiscontrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, was implyingwould greatly strengthen the Prime Ministers hand in the discussions that will take place. It would be a sign of Britains good faith and good intent. Europe cannot be held in suspended animation. I hope that the Prime Minister, when he attends the summit, will impress on his colleagues the need to let the people of Europe know what will happen next. This cannot be done by smoke and mirrors, and it cannot be done by drift. There must be leadership from the summit.
We must also use this time to think carefully about other issues that have come up during this discussion. I hope that, when considering the constitution Bill, we will look at how we handle treaties in our Parliament. We should not take a short-term view. I also think that we need to look carefully at howif at allwe use referendums in our parliamentary democracy. The Conservative Party, for short-term political gain, has fallen in love with referendums and is implying that the parliamentary democracy that has served us well for hundreds of years is somehow inferior to referendumswhich, as we have seen from the Irish experience, are very prone to distortion and to influence. If the Conservative Party really wants to supplant our parliamentary democracy with a system where, whatever the issue is, it is exposed to the interference and intervention of any eccentric millionaire willing to pour his funds into a campaign, it is treading on very dangerous ground.
I hope that Third Reading proceeds, because I believe that it is in Britains national interest. It is also in Britains national interest, as we have argued constantly from these Benches, that the Government use the opportunity to move to a real debate about Europe that puts the positives of Europe to the British people and allows us to move to centre stage. That has been the aim and argument of this party throughout this process.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords, who set out their positions extremely succinctly and to no great surprise on these Benches. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that his was a nice try. However, we have had, in your Lordships House and another place, one of the best series of debates that this Parliament has been fortunate enough to experience. I will not go over all the statistics. We have had 24 days of debate; 10.5 in your Lordships House, plus the time on this Statement and no doubt time on Wednesday. Three hundred and fifteen amendments were tabled in the Commons and 266 in the Lords. There have been 57 divisions; 12 in your Lordships House and 45 in another place. I believe that the noble Lord is incorrect to say that we are acting in haste by moving to Third Reading. This has been long scheduled in your Lordships House and long looked forward to by those of us who have spent many hours in considerable debates. I reject the assertion that this is an in-haste response. I reject the assertion that Parliament has not done its job properly and succinctly in debating the detail of the treaty and the detail of the legislation. I hope that noble Lords will accept the Governments position that we have thought carefully about what should be done and determined that we should finish the process.
The reason is simple. Each member state undertook to take the issues raised by the treaty to its country and, through the processes available to it, to consider them carefully and to reach a conclusion. We are 96 per cent of the way to reaching that conclusion. Noble Lords will put down what amendments they wish for Third Reading, will determine whether they wish to divide your Lordships House and will make their decisions accordingly. We on the Government Benches are very clear that we should continue.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, that it is not a question of the British Government being satisfied; it is a question of Parliament being satisfied. Parliament, having had the benefit of so much debate and deliberation, is saying very strongly what it feels about this treaty and about this legislation. We should make our decisions on Wednesday, send the Bill on its way and see our Prime Minister going to the European Council knowing what the position of the British Parliament is. That would place this country at the heart of Europe and in the best position to discuss and debate with our colleagues across the European Unionand especially with our colleagues in Irelandwhat needs to happen next.
There is no question of bullying or isolating Ireland; that would be completely wrong, completely against what my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary
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Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, is it not the case that with regard to the relationship between the United Kingdom and the treaty, and the relationship between this House and the treaty, what happened in Ireland makes no difference whatever? The merits and the demerits of the treaty remain the same as when we discussed this matter last week. We are a sovereign Parliament. The United Kingdom has a responsibility in relation to a treaty that it has agreed to place before Parliament and allow to pass through all its processes.
Twenty-six countries will not take no for an answer. One country will not take yes for an answer. I respect the Irish people for the decision that they have come to, after facing up to the blandishments and advice of three major parties. They were entitled to do exactly that. That is what freedom and sovereignty really mean. There are, however, immense difficulties. Under Articles 46 and 47 of the Irish constitution, there is no way that they can ratify the treaty save by a referendum. In respect of that referendum, I believe that I am right in saying that, in so far as concerns unanimity, it has to take place before 31 December this year. I ask the Minister: is it possible for the treaty to be extended? If that were to be done, would it of necessity be on a basis of total acceptance by all 27 members; and would even that provision still have to go before the Irish Dáil?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am grateful for the points made by the noble Lord about the sovereign nature of the role of Parliament and I hope that I have expressed the view of the Government that that is precisely what we ought to do. On the issue of the date of 31 December, we have agreed that countries will deposit as far as possible their ratifications, but ratification does not have to have taken place by that date; it is more that European nations said that they would try to deposit them. It is the physical provision of a document, and nothing in the treaty states that it has to be done by 31 December.
Lord Radice: My Lords, the result of the referendum in Ireland is a severe setback for the EU, but is it not the case that what happens next is a matter for the
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Lord Howe of Aberavon: My Lords, was the noble Baroness as astonished as I was to hear the tone used by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, to denounce my party for our deep affection for referenda, as though we are leading the chase in this? It was his own party, certainly at the outset, that was the most enthusiastic in its pursuit of that solution, one which I regard as unacceptable? But to hear him denouncing my party in that way is to hear him exceeding even his own most astonishing performances. Beyond that, while I hesitate to join my noble friend Lord Howell in introducing the locomotive metaphor that so often confuses these arguments, surely the purpose which has been common to all parties in this House has been to secure enlargement of the European Union and to embrace the democracies which have been brought about by the example of the Union. Is not the greater part of this treaty, which certainly is not perfect in my eyes, destined to secure the steps that are necessary for the European Union to advance with its enlarged membership? Is it not also the case that if there are any doubts about the position of my party, the leader and the spokesman for foreign affairs have both made it very clear that Britains place should be as part of the European Union? If that is kept in mind while the Council of Ministers and the Irish Government grapple with the extremely difficult problems they are facing, as long as it is clear that the locomotive that started God knows how long ago is intended to be kept on the rails in working condition, is that not the best approach?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am not going to get involved in an argument between the Opposition parties, and the noble and learned Lord probably would not expect me to do so. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, is very important. Both he and the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said that it is important that Europe should move forward and not stand still at this point. Issues need to be discussed, and as I have indicated, the treaty cannot come into effect without the agreement of all 27 nations. Enlargement is something that I trust all noble Lords agree is of great importance and it is vital both that countries work together effectively and that Europe remains a central aspect of our approach in foreign policy. So I agree strongly with what the noble and learned Lord has said.
Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, can my noble friend help me by explaining how we would show respect for the Irish vote by denying ourselves the opportunity to make our own decision? Furthermore, can she assure
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Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am always mindful of language in your Lordships House, and we have heard some interesting examples of the use of the vernacular along the way. People speak with enormous passion, and I can live with that. But I agree completely with my noble friend that it does no service to this country, to the people of Ireland or to the people of the European Union not to complete that which we have started, and for the British to determine the British position. We should not have that position determined elsewhere. The British Parliament has debated it at great length; the British Parliament should finish its deliberations, and send our Prime Minister to the Council with that knowledge.
Lord Hamilton of Epsom: My Lords, is the Minister not seriously concerned about the widening gulf between the views of the people of Europe and those of the people in Brussels who purport to represent them? Does she not accept that if there had been referenda in all the 27 nations, there would have been a lot more no votes than just that of Ireland?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I cannot predict what the votes would or would not have been in referenda in any country of the European Union, nor would I seek to do so. Where I agree with the noble Lord is the underlying point I think he makes, which is that it is important to make sure that the people of this country and of every other nation in Europe understand the benefits of being part of the European Union, and of those benefits to them whether they live, work, study or travel across the Union that have been brought about by being a member. It is important to tackle some of the issues we face today across the 27 nations rather than try to be isolationist in our approach. I agree with all of that, but what I would say simply to the noble Lord is that we should complete our processes and then decide how best to take forward these important issues in the European Council.
Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, will the noble Baroness try to cast some light on the statement of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that somehow our lives would all be made easier if we suspended consideration of this legislation because if some change took place in Brussels, we would be better placed to take account of it? Surely the situation legally is rather simple: if the Lisbon treaty is in any way renegotiated or changed, it will not be this House but this Parliament which will have to start the process again, and that will not be helped by suspending our deliberations this week. Further, if nothing is done to change the Lisbon treaty, there will not be a case for ourselves being helped by not having passed this legislation.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right to say that we gain nothing by suspension other than sending a rather bizarre message to another place, to the country and to Europe. We should complete the process. If a new treaty were to be negotiated, it would begin its process through another place and your Lordships House all over again. That would be the way of it.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I love Europe, but I never had the opportunity to be an MEP so I did not have the chance to go native. I simply look at the situation from the point of view of the people of this country and of Europe. Does not the noble Baroness appreciate that the people of Ireland have given us an opportunity to get the European Union to look at certain things again which we would very much like to be improved in this treaty? She is missing an opportunity by not agreeing to suspending consideration of this Bill, which the timing now gives us the chance to do. We have still not finished the Bill and we have had the Irish referendum.
I hope that the Liberal Democrats will do what they did before and change their minds. They abstained in the Commons on the issue of a referendum, they supported the Government here, and I understand that if they had not done so, this country would have recommended by a minute majority a referendum. I may be wrong, but I understand that to be the case. I hope that they will change their minds between now and next week. Again, does not the Minister accept that we have a marvellous opportunity, one that we are throwing away, to get a little more of what we want out of this treaty? It seems to me that she is letting the people of this country down.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am sorry if the noble Baroness thinks I am doing that, but she is simply incorrect. If we were to suspend the treaty, then as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has just said, we would have to begin with a new treaty and consider it all over again. I fail to see what evidence there is for what the noble Baroness has said. We have had 57 votes on the treaty in this Parliament. The Government put forward a treaty that they believed was a good deal for this country and a good deal for Europe. We stand by that. We have voted on every issue that Members in another place and noble Lords here have chosen to vote on, and we have made our position very clear. We are at the final stage, so there is nothing to suggest that it would be appropriate at this point to stop. Rather, we should complete the process. If a new treaty were to be brought forward in the future, as the noble Baroness suggests, we would go through the processes properly in both Houses. It is not something we can stop and amend. In my view, that would be completely wrong.
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