|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
There is the possibility of the member states agreeing in due course collectively to implement those aspects, or some of the aspects, of the treaty that can be implemented without treaty change, with other aspects being wrapped up later in the treaty on Croatian accession. That course will have its supporters. There is also the possibility of saying that we drop the whole idea and continue on the basis of Nice. All those courses will have their advocates within the EU, including some courses that are deeply unattractive to the United Kingdom. We are indeed already seeing the advocacy of some of the less attractive options by some other member states.
The debate about these options will be long, difficult and important. Whether we like it or not, that debate has in effect already started. It seems to me essential that the UK should from now play a full and active part in those discussions, starting at the European Council this week. The question is, therefore, whether we are better able to exert our influence in that debate having ratified the treaty of Lisbon or having postponed ratification. That is, as the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said, a matter of judgment.
My judgment, which is based on my experience of negotiations in the European Union over many years, is that we will have more influence by completing the ratification of the treaty now and by taking part as a full member in the debate starting this weekend. If we do not do that and postpone, there is a real risk that the member states that have long hankered after some sort of two-tier European Union, with Britain in the second tier, however unrealistic that may be, will have an excuse to try to discuss matters on their own without us, arguing that here is Britain once again in some semi-detached position. Let us not give them that excuse but engage fully, as from now, in looking for a course of action that will be acceptable to all 27 member states and to Ireland in particular and that respects the integrity of the European Union as a whole. For that reason, I support the Governments position.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: The noble Lord, Lord Jay, has spoken extremely wisely, and I very much endorse what he has said. It would be possible for the expanded European Union to operate effectivelyindeed, more effectively than it has under Maastricht and Niceas a result of certain administrative changes that can be made, as the noble Lord, Lord Jay, has said, without any new treaty. The role of the presidency and the size of the Commission, for example, do not require treaties. They can be agreed intergovernmentally among the member states of the European Union.
However, I share some of the views expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Owen and Lord King, in that I believe that there are other lessons to be garnered from the Irish referendum, and they should be taken extremely seriously. The first lesson is that no political elite must simply assume that people will follow it because it is a political elite. I do not wish to be critical of my Irish neighbours, but they made one great mistake: putting a treaty to their people that they had not read themselves. The second lesson is that the Irish referendum tells us more widely that we badly need to be able to get factual information out to our people to counter some of the extraordinary rumours and stories that have beset the European debate.
I shall not repeat except briefly the extent to which the Irish referendum was affected by completely unproven claims that Irelands neutrality was at risk. Noble Lords who have read the treaty of Lisbon, as a number of us have done word for word, will know that there was specific mention of the absolute right of a country to be neutral and of the absolute obligation of NATO members to carry out their obligations regardless of the obligations of the European Union more generally. It could not have been more precise, but that made no difference to the claims made at the Irish referendum. The same could be said of the ludicrous arguments about abortion, which is entirely a matter for domestic legislation.
There is another conclusion to reach. We are just as guilty as the Irish people may be in that we have never effectively set up systems of information and communication that enable our citizens to find out the factsthe objective truthsabout the European Union. Let me give the House just one example before inevitably I am interrupted. Noble Lords will see on page 17 of todays Daily Mail, under the heading EU LIARS, the following statement:
What is true is that Britains ability to get its own way in the EU will be seriously undermined by the Treaty, as we will be giving up the veto in 61 areas and allowing our voting power to be cut by one third.
That is the exact opposite of the truth. Our voting powers under the Lisbon treaty would have been increased from 8 per cent of the voting total in the Council to 12 per centa substantial increase. Noble Lords who are mathematically inclined will note that the figure is exactly a third upwards, not downwards. That article appeared today. It would not have been difficult for somebody to check the treaty of Lisbon for the truth. Here is a distinguished, widely circulated newspaper repeating the exact opposite of the facts, and nobody rebutting that.
The Government of Mr Blair had a heavy responsibility, not least because they were inclined to support referenda, to ensure that there was an informed and proper debate in which they would take part if necessary. That never happened, with the result that our electorate, like that of Ireland, have been under an illusion for a long time, because they have not had access to objective information. I do not mean information from people like me who are strongly pro-European, I mean getting as close to the truth and the facts as one possibly can. That is the real lesson of the Irish referendum: the need to stop behaving as though we can have a misinformed, poorly understood debate. Unsurprisingly, the largest group of no voters in Ireland said that they did not understand the questions put to them, as my noble friend Lord Goodhart pointed out.
We have to take the European Union more seriously. We have to include information about us as EU citizens in citizenship education. Believe it or not, we are EU citizens, though one would never know it from our school curricula. We have to take the education of ourselves and our people more seriously by improving the process of European scrutiny and extending best practicenot least as exemplified by the European Scrutiny Committee in another placeto our neighbours in Europe. Before I conclude, here is one interesting fact: when the other member states of the European Union believed that the constitution was likely to go through, a large majority set up new scrutiny machinery to protect subsidiarity. Those machineries were dropped when the constitution went. It is vital that they are reinstated so that peoples doubts about where subsidiarity lies can be met properly in whatever we agree after the European Council.
I wish the Prime Minister and the Government well, but I hope we will take into account the necessary humility that we should show as a country that has demanded referenda but failed to produce the necessary basis on which decisions can be made. That was a failure of the previous Government and is one that we, like our Irish neighbours, need to rectify as quickly as possible. The Council should look much more closely than it recently has at how we communicate with our citizens, and give them the opportunity to communicate with us.
Lord Leach of Fairford: My Lords, as we speak, I believe the Czechs are putting out a statement postponing ratification until the court has delivered a judgment in the autumn. If that is the case, noble Lords certainly ought to know. The real reason why we should respond to the Irish vote is not that 1 per cent of Europes population should decide the fate of the other 99 per cent, as has recently been said in Berlin, but that that 1 per cent is a proxy for the 400 million citizens of voting age in the European Union who have not been given a voice. That is why I support this amendment.
The French and the Dutch, as we know, voted against the constitution. Britain would reject this treaty by an impressive majority. Even Germany, the polls suggest, would vote against it; so, probably, would Scandinavian and east European countries. These are not marginal countries; they are Europes founders, success stories and oldest democracies. We have heard
18 Jun 2008 : Column 1056
I spent many hours on Monday with Mr Declan Ganley, who ran the Libertas campaign for a no vote in Ireland. Your Lordships should know that he is a very serious businessman and very strong pro-European and has studied every word of the treaty. He will not be rolled over easily by modifications. Libertas campaigned on greater democracy, transparency and accountability in Europe. Where the campaign was supported by Sinn Fein it invariably lost votes. It won with a high turnout against the entire Irish political establishment, which outspent it by 15:1. Yet, more than 80 per cent of those who voted no were supporters of the mainstream, pro-treaty political parties.
When the French and the Dutch rejected the constitution, the Government stopped trying to ratify it. If the same thing does not happen when a little country rejects a treaty, what will the public think? Their worst suspicions will be confirmed, that when the Government can get away with it they push ahead, and only when they face certain defeat in a referendum do they reluctantly do the right thing. The Irish vote will now be analysedthat is what they call itwhich is code for a concerted effort to explain the vote away and to persuade the Irish to change their mind. But the unpalatable truth is that the affection for the Community that once used to exist is undermined, as my noble friend Lord King said, by just this sort of cynical manoeuvring by the political class.
We do not know what will happen next and whether Ireland will stand on the rule of law. I believe that it will. The rule of law was established by the treaty of Rome as a community of nation statesin which case this treaty is dead. Possibly, but very much less likely, modifications will be offered which require a modified response by this country. By closing off our options today, we would help those who wish to do so to put pressure on Ireland, but we would gain absolutely nothing and would sacrifice far too much standing with the people whose assent is indispensable to democracy in this country and in Europe.
Lord Armstrong of Ilminster: My Lords, this is an ingenious amendment in response to the situation created by the decision of the Irish people to vote against Irish ratification of the treaty of Lisbon. I do not attempt to predict what the eventual outcome will be. The issue will be discussed at the forthcoming meeting of the European Council and I do not propose to try to advise it on what conclusions it should reach.
The treaty of Lisbon is not dead. It sleepeth. The text has been agreed by the Governments of all the member countries. As things are, it cannot now come
18 Jun 2008 : Column 1057
The process of obtaining parliamentary approval for the Bill which would enable the Government to ratify the treaty of Lisbon is, after many laborious days of parliamentary debate, nearly completed. We have it in our power to complete it today. We would lose nothing by completing it. In real life we know that there is not going to be a referendum. The Government have decided not to propose a referendum on the treaty of Lisbon and Parliament has accepted that decision. A fortiori the Government will not propose a referendum on a revised treaty which would be almost by definition less far-reaching than the treaty of Lisbon.
We close no options by completing the parliamentary process today. If the treaty survives and is able to be put into effect in its present form, we shall not have to spend another series of parliamentary days debating its ratification. If it does not survive and a revised treaty is agreed by Governments, we shall have to start again; but the parliamentary process should then be less time-consuming if, before that, we have passed the Bill now before us.
So it seems to me that the most sensible course is the straightforward one: give the Bill a Third Reading this afternoon, join the ranks of the countries that have ratified the treaty, and give the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary a clear foundation for contributing to the discussions in the forthcoming meeting of the European Council.
One of the most remarkable things I have heard in this afternoons debate came, to my surprise, from the sagacious lips of the noble Lord, Lord Owenthat we should do everything we could to help the Irish. It does not seem to me that the Irish need any help. It seems to me that they are doing very well on their own, thank you very much. The idea that they need help from us is really quite extraordinary. In my view, it is the rest of us who may need help.
I come now to the next most extraordinary omission. We heard from a former head of the Foreign Office a list of the options that might confront us. It never occurred to him that one of the possibilities is that the Czechs might throw this out. Has it not reached the Foreign Office yet that the Czech constitutional court is sitting on this and that the President of the Czech Republic has said that it is dead? My noble friend Lord Anderson alluded to that, and I am much in debt to him for doing so.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, as my noble friend knows, President Klaus is a longstanding opponent of the European Union. Prime Minister Topolanek,
18 Jun 2008 : Column 1058
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, perhaps I may help the House in this exchange. An official statement from Prague this afternoon, from the Prime Minister, Mr Topolanek, said that the Czech ratification has been suspended until the official decision of the constitutional court. He added: That leaves us time for further debate inside the Czech Republic as well as in the European Union. That is possibly quite a useful text for our debates this afternoon.
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am obliged to help from any quarter. My noble friend Lord Anderson is also the only one I have heard so far this afternoon who averted to the position of Poland. I know how far the Polish process has gone. However, it seems that the President of Poland has lost his fountain pen, because he has not signed off on this treaty for several weeks now and there is no sign that he is in a hurry to do so. That deals with those two points.
I think that our Prime Minister is probably quite happy with what has happened, rather as his predecessor was. We have to recognise that our Prime Minister kept us out of the eurozone, did he not? Yes, he did. Two-speed Europe? We are not at the heart of things, are we? The noble Lord has left the Chamber. We are not in Schengen, are we? How happy are we with the idea of a common corporation tax base? How happy are we with French ideas on competition policy when their frozen yoghurt business is vital to the national interest? What a shower. A common defence policy? Unfortunately, my noble friend Lord Tomlinson is not in his place. The other day he got up and said how all the NATO powers are not pulling their weight in Afghanistan. My noble friend the Minister on the Front Bench did not go so far as to correct him; she merely said that the European powers were not pulling their weight in Afghanistan. We know that the Spaniards, the French and the Germans do not send their troops anywhere very dangerous in Afghanistanand we are supposed to consider a common defence and security policy with people like that. Frankly, I do not want influence with that crowd; I really do not. I wish that my noble friend would smile a little bit; she looks so unhappy.
I have no desire whatever to make the European Union more efficient, because the way that it is behaving in its inefficient way is thoroughly distasteful in many directions. I shall not elaborate on those, as my views are well known. One thing that seems absolutely clear is that this treaty is dead. Something else may replace it. I have never been one to whom necrophilia has appealed as a form of activity and I do not intend to engage in an act of political necrophilia this afternoon.
Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: My Lords, this has been an exceptional debate and I have been privileged to take part in it. Perhaps in that spirit, I could start off by agreeing with two points made from the Conservative Front Bench, reinforced by my noble friend Lady Williams. The first point is that there must be no question of dealing with the Irish sovereign decision through their referendum other than with respect. It is extremely important that we understand the importance of that vote and that voice. Secondly, it is going to be pretty difficult to decide what to do next. I personally believe that it is difficult to find a way forward now on the basis of the Lisbon treaty. I do not think that there is an appetite in Europe for going back and thinking of institutional reform, although I shall argue in a minute how important that is.
We are bound to do two things. First, we are bound to consider the present situation carefully. We need time for that consideration and we need some facts that we do not currently have. One of those facts is how the other nations of Europe feel about this treaty. When we come to decide what happens next, we need to know whether others agree with the Irish view that we have heard, because that will have an influence on what happens next. If it is important, as the noble Lord who has just spoken said, to hear and note what the voice of the Czech Government might bebecause we do not know that yetit is equally important to know what the voices of Germany and France will be. Therefore, it is important that we allow the process of parliamentary consideration to continue so that, at the end of that process, we will be able to make a rational judgment, based on who stands where, on what we should do next. That is the rational approach to this, which is why it is so important today that the British Parliament should say what it feels, so that that is part of the consideration. To abandon that process now and say that we are not going to go through the parliamentary process would be to abandon the process of rational reconsideration in favour of pandering to the anti-European prejudices of the Conservative Front Bench.
I listened with great respect, as I always do, to the noble Lord, Lord King, my neighbour in Somerset. I have always admired him for the position that he has taken, which has been unequivocal and sincere. Howeverand I hope that he does not mind me saying thisI feel rather sorry for him, because he knows and I know that he and other clear and proud pro-Europeans in the Conservative Party are now living in a party whose centre of gravity has massively changed. This is not anti-Lisbon; it is now becoming anti-Europe. That is where the centre of gravity of the Conservative Party now lies. It will destroy the Conservatives if they get into government as surely in future as it has done in the past. I have heard it in the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and in the contortions of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, pretending, after some of the things that he has said reiterating the voice of Bill Cash in the other place, that he is somehow a pro-European. Frankly, I feel sorry for the noble Lord. There is no doubt whatever that this amendment has been tabled as a wrecking
18 Jun 2008 : Column 1060
Lord Higgins: My Lords, we are not saying that we should abandon the parliamentary process. The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, was wrong about that. We are saying that we should wait until we find out what is happening.
Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: My Lords, we are considering whether to go forward to complete the parliamentary process on this Bill today. Why should we delay? We need to know not only where this country stands but where other countries stand when in due course we consider what to do next. This is an important procedure and there is no purpose in delaying it.
I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Owen, for whom I have great respect. He made the important point, with which I agree, that we need to take a decision based on what we can do to help the Irish. Surely the best people to judge how to help the Irish are the Irish. They have made it perfectly clear to us and other European nations that they wish this ratification process to proceed. That should weigh heavily in our judgments.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|