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We do not know whether there will be any amendments. Amendments cannot be started by us; they have to be started by the member states. We should not luxuriate in powers that are not ours. Our powers are to revise the legislation and have a Third Reading. I do not believe we have any other choice.
The problem now is that some people will use it as a precedent. Decisions of this House have sometimes been frustrated by the other place using the Parliament Acts, but this House has always said that it will revise legislation and send it on as it believes it should be adopted. For that reason and for historicity, we really should not push the point because we are frightened of what will happen. The noble Lord, Lord Neill, is absolutely right that nothing in the Bill will be implemented, because the Irish have not agreed with it and because all member states are required to ratify it. However, we have a duty to ratify the treaty or not to ratify it, regardless of what someone else has done.
Suppose the Irish were voting today and suppose the results were known on Friday, would we have ratified it or not? The answer is that we would have ratified it. We would not have waited to see what the Irish were going to do. I also do not buy the idea that the Irish are going to be bullied by anyone else. It is a sovereign state. No one should bully it. If it is bullied, then the British Government will have a duty to say, within the Council of Europe, that that is not on. That is what we should be doing and not fighting about something that will not happen.
I want to tell the House something from my past which noble Lords may find uncomfortable. I was trying four cases, supposedly of stealing, brutality and lawlessness in the northern part of Uganda. Over two weeks I listened to the evidence but there was not really any evidence against the seven accused. Before I gave my verdict, I looked around and I could see Amins killing squad in the court. I knew that if I did not find the defendants guilty, as soon as they left the court they would be killed. I knew that the rule of law said that these men were not guilty, so I had better release them. But I found myself doing something that someone who abides by the rule of law would find quite difficult. All I could do was to say, I am going to send you to prison for a fortnight and then you will come back and I shall make my decision. I knew that according to the penal code that was not on, but the people listening did not know that. The seven men were sent to prison and they came back in a fortnight. I looked around and Amins men were not there, so I said to them, There is no evidence against you. You have served the past two weeks, so you can now leave the court. Afterwards I asked my interpreter to tell them to get out of the country, and they did.
We are not in that kind of Ugandan situation. The Irish situation must not hang like the sword of Damocles over our parliamentary process, forcing us to say, We will not ratify it because of what will happen. We do what we believe is right. I believe that we should carry on and ratify the treaty.
Lord Brittan of Spennithorne: My Lords, unlike the noble Baroness who spoke from below the gangway, I am not prepared to believe that my noble friends who tabled this amendment are doing so as some kind of political stunt. Nor am I prepared to believe that they are doing so as simply another way of expressing their opposition to the treaty, which I respect but do not share. Therefore, the question which has to be asked is: is any practical benefit to be achieved by deferring Third Reading and ratification, as proposed from the Opposition Front Bench?
I can think of only one circumstance in which it would be useful to do thatif the deliberations in Brussels were to lead to a conclusion that there should be an amendment to the treaty which we are proposing to ratify, which would necessitate an amendment to the legislation currently before the House. In my judgment, that is the least likely outcome. There is absolutely no stomach in any country in Europe for renegotiating this treaty and changing its textnone whatever. Therefore, we do not need to consider that option.
The noble Lord, Lord Neill, is right to say, as he did with clarity, that the current treaty cannot become the law of the European Union and the law of this country unless it is ratified by all 27 countries. However, I must depart from his view that because Ireland voted as it did, this is a dead duckthat ratification serves no useful purpose and is a pointless formality. In order to make good that statement, one has to look at what is actually happening, or likely to happen, in the European Union.
It is correct that we do not know what the outcome will be. However, it is not correct that there is no possibility of ratifying this treaty. Broadly speaking, there are two schools of thought in the European Union and infinite gradation between them. There are those with powerful voices who would like to advance further in the integrative process, whether through this treaty or in some other way, and leave behind Ireland and anyone else who does not want to join them. It is profoundly in the national interest that that school of thought does not prevail in the European Union. It is not bound to prevail but it is sufficiently powerful for it to be worth our exerting every nerve and using whatever procedures are open to us to prevent that happening.
The alternative school of thought says that the Irish have a problem and we share it. We want to help. We are respectful of what has been done in Ireland and the way to handle that is ultimately a matter for the Irish people. We want, in discussion with them, to see whether anything can be formally decided, short of amending the treaty, which would give sufficient reassurance to the Irish people for them to think again and decide to ratify the treaty. This is not just a vain hope. It has happened in the past with regard to the same country, so you cannot say that it is impossible.
Of course it will be for the Irish Government to decide, by Irish procedures, whether what is ultimately offered by the member states is acceptable to them, whether through a further referendum, as has happened in the past, or through some parliamentary procedure. If it is not acceptable to them and the no remains a no, then and only then, this treaty will die. It is possible that something will come up which is acceptable to the Irish people. The overriding interest of this country and of this House is to make that more probable rather than less. It is to strengthen the hand of our GovernmentI do not believe that this will be resolved in the next few days, the next few weeks or the next few monthsso that it is possible to devise something which rescues Ireland, rescues the treaty, rescues the European Union, and prevents us being marginalised and put in a box while others forge ahead, as some have always wished would happen.
I have no doubt that the completion of Third Reading and the ratification of this treaty strengthen the hand of our Government and of the British people in seeking to bring about a solution which is acceptable all round. There is no way of guaranteeing that that will be the case, but there is a way of maximising the possibility that it will happen, not by showing that we never liked the treaty and are glad to have the first opportunity of being shot of it, but rather to say that we have considered it fully and have completed our
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Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I propose to speak in favour of ratification as soon as possible, so I hope that any person in the Gallery who proposes to shout about that will do it now and get it over with.
We have heard many voices including, just a few minutes ago, the powerful voice of the noble Lord, Lord King, telling us that the lesson to be learnt from the Irish referendum is that we should have had a referendum in this country as well. The lesson is precisely the oppositethat the Irish referendum has proved that any such referendum was totally inappropriate. I realise that the Irish Government had no option because of the Irish constitution, but I find it almost impossible to imagine any issue in recent years less suitable for decision by referendum than this one. For a referendum, you need an issue that is big and simple. That was true of the 1975 referendum on whether we should stay in or get out of the European Community, as it then was. It was true of the 1997 referendums in Scotland and Wales on devolution. It is emphatically not true of the Lisbon treaty. There is no single big issueit is a collection of small ones. Few of them are simple. Some are comprehensible only to experts. Taken together, the changes are mainly administrative ones which need to be made following the enlargement of the EU and which will make the EU more democratic.
Why then did the Irish referendum fail? I do not criticise the Irish electorate. There is a simple principle which applies to all of us. If we are asked to vote yes or no to a proposed change and we do not understand it or know what the impact of that change will be, most of us will vote no, as did the Irish.
Lord Vinson: My Lords, would the noble Lord care to explain how the treaty makes us more democratic? Surely the Irish vote indicated that, though you can give away a certain amount of sovereignty to the United Nations and others, to give away so much that every nook and cranny of the countrys life is controlled by some form of EU regulation that you cannot put right is not democracy. Surely that denial of democracy that the treaty brings is the root cause of why people are so anxious to have a referendum to express their views.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, the noble Lord seems to understand the treaty no more than most of the Irish voters. Two of the things that the treaty does are to increase the powers of the European Parliament and to give more power to national parliaments.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I have never heard anything so patronising about people in my life. The great Liberal party, which raised itself in historys greatness by looking after people, now decides to patronise themwell done.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, around 40 per cent of the voters in the Irish referendum, when asked why they had voted no, said that they had done so because they did not understand it. Some of the blame must rest on the Irish Government and the main political parties in Ireland for failing to provide a much fuller and better explanation of a treaty which they supported. However, much of the trouble rests on the unsuitability of the treaty itself for a decision by referendum. How can you expect hard-working people to spend time learning about the operation of the passerelle clause, the consequences of merging the Third Pillar into the First, or the powers assigned to the proposed President of the Council?
The voters were never given adequate reasons for voting yes, or for seeing through the smokescreen of misinformation spewed out by the no campaign. That is why, when the no voters were asked for their reasons by the media, so many of them came up with irrelevant or mistaken reasons, such as: concerns about the recent increases in the cost of food and fuel, which were far beyond the control of the EU; the idea that the treaty would deprive Ireland of its right to neutrality, or force its young men into a European army; the idea that the treaty would require the legalisation of abortion; and the idea, put forward by the leader of a small left-wing party, that the treaty would somehow limit workers' rights, which it does so much to protect.
So Ireland has proved the absurdity of a referendum on this treaty. I would go further and say that this applied also to the so-called constitution, which was to a large extent no more than what we in Parliament would call a consolidation Act, putting what was previously in several documents into one. I believe that Tony Blair as Prime Minister, and Charles Kennedy as leader of my party at the time, were wrong from the start in supporting a referendum.
It is difficult to see a way forward. But I have no doubt that the right course for those of us who believe that the Lisbon treaty will make the EU both more efficient and more democratic is to vote for a Third Reading now. The enactment of the Bill will make ratification of the treaty possible. It will not in itself amount to ratification. Ratification, as the law now stands, is an exercise of the royal prerogative and it will be for the Government to decide when that happens. But I believe it is important, and will be helpful in the negotiations which will now commence, for those countries which support the treaty to make their position clear by ratifying it as soon as possible. I will vote accordingly.
Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, I have not felt sufficiently expert to speak on the Bill before, but I would like to express my view on the proposed postponement until October. The referendum issue is over and we are concerned with Third Reading. Not every Bill that has been passed through Parliament and become law has been implemented. I could give
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The proposal to postpone until October does not seem a particularly useful exercise. We should make our own decision today. Not to do so will send an unhappy message to the other member states of the Union, of which we are a member. Whatever anyone in the House says, everyoneapart from two or three Members of the Houseis in favour of us remaining members of the European Union. As has been said several times, the Irish Government have not asked us not to ratify. They have left it entirely to us. They have not asked us to hold our horses. We should take a decision and complete the process of Third Reading today.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, as in most things, one chooses ones lawyer. I much prefer the legal opinion of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, to that of the noble Lord, Lord Neill. The people of Ireland may not have understood the complexities of what they have done, but they spoke clearly and decisively. That is a fact. We have to ask ourselves what the vote tells us and how we in this Parliament should respond. Certainlythe noble Lord, Lord Howell, said this wellthe vote tells us about the disconnect between the European Union and its citizens. It is a fact that in the past three referendums the people of France, the Netherlands and Ireland have said no.
It is perhaps an irony that the Lisbon treaty tried to deal with part of that disconnect by increasing the powers of national parliaments in respect of the Union. Euro-cynicism, which some bewail, arises in part because of the success of the European Union. We take so much of that success for granted. The vote also tells us something about referendums and their usefulness in our democracies. It is clearly easier to mobilise opinion to opposition than support with a complex proposition.
It is difficult to interpret the reasons for the Irish rejection. The reasons that motivated the Irish citizenry last week might be different from the reasons if the referendum were to be run next week, so how can one interpret it? Should one have opt-outs? Should one, for example, satisfy the church by some opt-out saying that abortion is not part of the treaty? Well, it never was. Should one try to satisfy Sinn Fein by saying that neutrality is not part of the treaty? It is not, and never was. That is part of the problem that we face. I note that, in despair, one cartoonist suggested that the only way of getting over the problem is to rename the treaty the treaty of Dublin.
So how do we proceed? Chancellor Merkel struck the right note in Gdansk on Monday. She said that we can find only a common solution with Ireland and all the signatories of the treaty. Our partners have asked us to proceed. Certainly the Irish Government have asked us to proceed with our process. We should respect that, but also respect the 18 other member
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The call for a postponement is plausible and I think that the noble Lord made a strong case for it. I do not question his motives in putting it forward, although some have suggested that this is, in effect, the last gasp of those who are opposed to the treaty. It is a call for a postponement, but a postponement to when? Monday? A month? Three months? The ides of March? Indefinitely? The call for a postponement comes essentially from those who have opposed the treaty root and branch from the start.
Ireland has made its decision and we should make ours, to strengthen our weight tomorrow and the day after in the Council and in the discussions to come. It is obviously too early to see the solution to this. There may or may not be opt-outs. As some have suggested, there could be some sort of bilateral treaty between Ireland and the 26. The status quo is unattractive, but we could continue with the Nice treaty until we come to a treaty to include Croatia, which will be in 2009 or 2010. However, the postponement of Lisbon would come at a cost and would mean that the European Union would function less smoothly for the benefit of all its citizens.
Finally, I was saddened by the tone of some of the contributions to the rather lengthy debates that we have had and by the negative, indeed, hostile view of the European Union taken by some noble Lords. Some noble Lords appear to want a European Union that stagnates and is less relevant to the major challenges of todays world. On the contrary, many of us want to see greater strength through co-operation with our European partners to meet the great challenges of climate change, immigration and terrorism, on all of which we, in our national interest, will have a much stronger voice as part of a stronger and more coherent Union. In my judgment, the passage of the Lisbon treaty will streamline and make the Union more ready to function in the interests of us all.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I support the amendment to the Motion, although my moratorium amendment will not be moved if this amendment commends itself to the House. There is little that I have to say, therefore, other than this: the reasons why I support the amendment are those voiced by my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford on the Statement and today. The fact of the matter isas stated by the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen, whose analysis has not been questioned, and I suggest is wholly rightthat the question of ratification simply cannot arise because the engine has stalled itself already. We remain on the rails as members of the European Union, which is what most of us want, but we have now a period of negotiation. Nobody has the slightest idea where it will end up, so how on earth can we sit in this Chamber and discuss something when we do not know what we are discussing? I support this amendment, which avoids that rather awkward situation. If the amendment were
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Lord Jay of Ewelme: My Lords, I would like to address the specific question raised by the noble Lords, Lord Owen and Lord Brittan, about the tactical arguments in the debate. It seems to me, as other noble Lords have said, that the European Union now faces an extraordinarily difficult situation. All the options in front of us are difficult and many of them are unpalatable. There is the option that 26 member states ratify and implement or try to reach some sort of accommodation with a semi-detached Ireland, which I think all Members of the House would find unacceptable. There is the possibility that the Irish might have a second referendum and say yes after Irish concerns have been met. That was the model for Denmarkwith which I was much concernedwhich allowed the Maastricht treaty to come into effect. The Irish concerns, however, are unspecific. The no vote was more substantial than in Denmark and the Irish Government at the moment do not seem to want to take that course.
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