I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the matter of European affairs.
I am delighted to open the traditional pre-European Council debate today. The House will know that my statement on Monday addressed the Irish referendum result— [ Laughter. ] Mr. Bone might not agree with me about much, but I hope that he will at least agree that my statement addressed the result, which is all I am claiming for it at this stage. I am happy to reassure him that he will have plenty of opportunity during this debate, and even during my speech, to re-engage with those arguments. The Irish referendum result, and the view of the Irish Government, will be an important part of this European Council, and I will cover that issue today. However, the Council's agenda is dominated by key global issues, from rising food and oil prices to international development and climate change, and there can be no doubt that the Europe that we need over the coming years must be not only competitive and secure at home but outward-looking and actively engaged on the world stage. We are talking about the new agenda for Europe, which is needed more than ever, and which is at the heart of the Government's approach to the EU.
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Cannot the Secretary of State see that the problem is not Ireland's, but the EU's, and that the peoples of Europe are trying to say, "We don't want more legislation and regulation from this machine, and we don't want this machine to get more efficient at ramming things down our throats"?
The right hon. Gentleman will know from the answer that I gave my hon. Friend Ms Stuart on Monday that I do not describe the Irish decision as a "problem", as he does. I regard it as an Irish referendum decision, and the Irish Government have said that they want to take time to respond to it. It seems reasonable that we should allow that. I have heard people from right across Europe say that they want to respect the Irish decision. Part of that respect is to honour the Irish Government's request that they be given time to decide their next move.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that the date on which the constitution was due to come into force—
I am sorry to be pedantic, but the treaty does not say that the treaty laws will enter into force on
I should like to intervene. The Secretary of State said that other member states respect the Irish decision, but quotes from leading politicians in Europe suggest the opposite. Axel Schäfer, the SPD leader in the Bundestag, said that
"we cannot allow the huge majority of Europe to be duped by a minority of a minority of a minority".
That does not sound like respect to me.
Of course I have to respect the SPD leader in the Bundestag, but I prefer to respect the leaders of the SPD in Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier—the German Foreign Minister—and, of course, the German Chancellor. Looking right across Europe, Spain, which is on the left of politics, and the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, who is on the right, have addressed the issue, as has the Swedish Foreign Minister, who is also on the right. The Czech Republic is governed by what is seen as a centre-right party; the Czech Minister for Europe has been absolutely clear about the need not to draw what he calls dramatic conclusions, and the need for ratification elsewhere to proceed. Today, I looked at the work of the leader of the UMP party in France. On Monday, we heard a lot about a Franco-German plot to bulldoze the Irish decision. If my hon. Friend reads Le Figaro this morning, he will see that the leader of the UMP party—President Sarkozy's party—makes it absolutely clear that he agrees with the consensus around Europe that we should respect the Irish Government's determination to address the issue in their own time.
No. I will come back to the issue later, but it is important that we also address the major international issues that the Council will address. At the top of the agenda will be oil prices. Every British family knows that petrol prices are rising. Demand for energy in the developing world is growing fast. In fact, I think that I am right in saying that demand in the developed world is static, but demand in the developing world is rising; that is what is driving up demand. It is becoming more difficult and costly to access the world's remaining oil reserves. The Prime Minister has set out the steps that we want Europe to take to help
"balance energy supply and energy demand, not just now but in the medium term and long term."
There are two key elements to that. First, more effective and transparent markets are critical to reducing the uncertainty that contributes to high prices. That will be discussed tomorrow at the European Council. We will use the Council to push for European leadership in developing a new global dialogue between oil producers and consumers. That is critical to encouraging market stability and establishing a common understanding of supply and demand trends.
I will give way in a moment; let me just finish the point. A common understanding is vital to ensuring the necessary investment in oil production capacity and to keeping the markets supplied in an appropriate and timely manner.
On gas and electricity, the UK has been a strong advocate of further liberalisation of energy markets across Europe. That is important; it will help to ensure more efficient use of gas and electricity, and it will contribute to ensuring the lower prices that everyone wants.
In the light of the state of the European economy as a whole, will the right hon. Gentleman explain to the House why the Greek, Italian and Spanish economies are in such dire straits? There is 20 per cent. unemployment in eastern Germany. What is so wonderful about this European Union when it is not working?
There we have the authentic voice not just of the rebels in the Conservative party but of the heart of that party. The hon. Gentleman is at least honest about his own agenda, which is that Britain would be better off outside the European Union. His denunciation of all that is European reminds me of what his former heroine, Lady Thatcher, used to say about problems coming from Europe and solutions coming only from here.
Scotland is the largest oil producer in the European Union, so will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that there is no impediment in EU law to the introduction of a fuel price regulator that would offset the increasing costs for motorists here or anywhere else in the EU, and that there is no impediment to the establishment of an oil fund, such as that in Norway, in which oil profits are invested, so that the economy can support the benefits of that win in the natural lottery for ever, and not just for a year or a decade?
I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is arguing for a European regulator of oil prices, but we have not proposed that. I will leave his question about the lottery for another occasion, or for my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe to deal with in his winding-up speech.
Is it not the mother or all ironies that Conservative opposition to the Lisbon treaty has intensified at precisely the moment at which the need for international co-operation over fuel prices, energy efficiency and the fight against climate change has become more obvious?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point, and the Conservative party's true colours have been revealed in this debate. The Conservatives are not defending parliamentary sovereignty but defending an outdated view of the way in which the EU could, and should, work.
The Russian Federation is one of the most important providers of energy to Europe, yet many European companies are anxious about their investments there, because they are nervous that in future the Russian Government might suddenly decide to seize those assets. Is it not important that Europe speaks with a united voice to Russia, to make sure that the security of our energy supply from Russia is guaranteed, and that there is no bullying of the nature that we saw towards Estonia and Ukraine?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Russia is a classic area in which the EU nations are stronger by working together. Europe is the largest energy market for the Russian Federation, and it is right that a common energy policy should be developed. That is how we will get a good deal for all Europeans, as well as ensuring that security of supply issues are addressed.
There is a problem with the liberalisation of energy markets. If we take the comparison between the French and ourselves, we see that the French have gradually moved into the British energy market, and taken over companies. We face the prospect of their becoming the major bidder for our nuclear industry if we are going for a serious rebuild, which I support, yet when the British try to look at how they would enter the French energy market they realise that there is no opportunity whatsoever to do that. It is a one-way street—that is what is wrong with liberalisation.
My hon. Friend makes an important point, which is exactly why we welcome the agreement at last week's Energy Council for significant unbundling requirements in the EU. That is an important step forward. I will obtain the figures, before my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe makes his winding-up speech, on household electricity prices in Britain compared with those in other countries, but we are, in fact, benefiting from foreign investment in this country.
I said that there were two aspects of the debate on oil prices, which are related to the need to reduce demand in the medium to long term. We can make a difference in the short term, whether on white goods or on light bulbs, but in the long term the massive increase in oil prices underlines the need to shift from high-carbon technologies towards low carbon. I am happy to associate myself—and I am happy for the Leader of the Opposition to associate himself with me—with the argument that a time of high oil prices is a good time to go green, not a bad time. In fact, high oil prices demonstrate the need to reduce demand, and we can make a difference, including through the European Union.
Thanks to the commitments that were set out in March 2007, the EU is already leading the way on this agenda. The Commission's 2020 package of climate change commitments was published in January. Negotiations are under way to determine what steps each member states needs to take. The French presidency has, I am pleased to say, pledged to secure political agreement on the package by the end of 2008, which is essential for Europe to be able to show the rest of the world, including a new US Administration, that it is serious about restructuring its economy towards low carbon, including two items that are particularly important across the whole Commission package: first, the commitment to up to 12 carbon capture and storage plants across Europe, which are vital for containing carbon growth; and, secondly, much lower emissions from cars. Both those items have been agreed in the EU.
May I just take the Foreign Secretary back to something that he said on Monday on the Lisbon treaty:
"I do not think that now is the time to start cherry-picking parts of the Lisbon treaty"?—[ Hansard, 16 June 2008; Vol. 477, c. 712.]
May I tell him from the work that I do on the European Scrutiny Committee that that is already happening? The external action service and the external borders agency are coming in, and there is the European armaments agency and so on. Will he guarantee to prevent the stealthy introduction, which is already happening, of parts of the constitution?
I am grateful for the display of Europhobia from the hon. Gentleman, because the truth is that not a single one of the legal items in the European treaty can come into force until the treaty comes into force. I wish that his membership of the European Scrutiny Committee helped him to understand that basic point.
I accept that we cannot implement the treaty without ratification and without the Irish making a decision that allows for ratification in Ireland, but there are areas where we need to co-operate with our EU colleagues, such as the justice and home affairs agenda. We are not going to stop that co-operation just because ratification is a problem. Where we need to co-operate, within EU rules, we will continue to co-operate with our colleagues: we have to do that.
My hon. Friend Mr. Hands made a good point, and it deserves a better answer.
The Foreign Secretary appeared before the Foreign Affairs Committee last week, and he told us that work was going on at official level to set up the European external action service, which is euro-speak for the Foreign Ministry. Will he tell the Council meeting this weekend that work anticipating the Lisbon treaty must stop forthwith, otherwise it is a clear abuse of and insult to the Irish voters who tried to put a stop to it all?
I think that I am right in saying that I gave the Committee the view that there would be a lunch-time discussion at the meeting of Foreign Affairs Ministers on Monday about the external action service. I am happy to tell the right hon. Gentleman that that discussion was cancelled because of the Irish vote. I hope that he takes succour from that fact: far from the bulldozer continuing on its merry way, the discussion of the external action service among Ministers was stopped, precisely for that reason.
As the Foreign Secretary claims that EU leaders will respect the Irish vote, what would he say to European Commissioners and politicians who were reported even today in Brussels as saying:
"The Irish were misled by the 'No Campaign' and did not understand the Treaty and therefore their vote is of no consequence and the European Union should press ahead".
Is that not overriding democracy?
It is better, if there are unnamed quotes, that I refrain from commenting on them, but I will tell the hon. Gentleman what my view is, and what I will say to other Foreign Ministers, and what the Prime Minister will say. The Irish Government's request for more time to consider what they are going to do should be respected.
The second big issue that will be discussed is rising food prices, which have affected consumers throughout Europe. The EU has already taken some sensible steps to moderate the pressure on food prices. It has removed the set-aside requirement for 2008, increased milk quotas and suspended import duties for cereals. The Council will consider what further mid to long-term measures it can adopt to help alleviate the problem. The Prime Minister will make the case for a re-examination of the impact of biofuels on food production, and we will also continue to reiterate our support for a reforming CAP health check over the next six months.
The Council will also address the international impact of rising food prices. We have already witnessed food riots in Haiti, Cameroon, Somalia and Senegal, and in Ethiopia, where 4.5 million people are in dire need of emergency food aid, aid agencies are warning of a new famine. Again, the EU has a responsibility and the opportunity to help to alleviate pressures, not only in the short term—for example, through the donation of more than $515 million to the World Food Programme—but in the long term.
Two aspects of that issue are particularly important. First, the EU needs to ensure fair competition and free trade not just internally but internationally. Securing a global trade deal is more important than ever, because import restrictions, tariffs and trade-distorting subsidies will not ensure affordable prices or adequate supplies in the long term. Secondly, in order to increase productivity for the longer term, the EU must do more to support investment in agriculture in the developing world. That means not just more money on equipment and fertilisers, but more investment in scientific and technological research that could help to ensure higher yields in the future.
I agree with the Foreign Secretary about global trade and free and fair competition, but does he agree that the time has really come for all the countries of the EU to stop set-aside? Too much land in the EU is still being set aside. It is completely crazy, and it runs totally contrary to what he said a moment ago.
I just referred to the CAP health check, and that is precisely the sort of issue that it can address. The budget for 2013-plus is for another—later—day, but the CAP review this year is an opportunity to address precisely this issue, and I agree that we should push forward with it.
On foreign affairs, the priorities for the European Council are Zimbabwe, Burma and the Balkans. Foreign Ministers will also discuss the Iran nuclear issue. On Zimbabwe, given the levels of violence being perpetrated by Mugabe's regime, including the torture and murder of opposition supporters and the cruel ban on humanitarian operations, it is clear that ZANU-PF is determined to intimidate its way to victory, irrespective of the human cost. However, brave people in Zimbabwe are determined to stand up for their rights, and their determination needs to be matched by our own.
In that context, it is worth reflecting on the article by Kofi Annan in today's Financial Times. He makes a very important point about the violence that is being perpetrated, saying:
"Already, there are credible reports that violence and intimidation against certain sections of society, intended to prevent them from exercising their democratic rights, are having the opposite effect. Zimbabweans are determined to have their voices heard and their votes counted."
Over the next week to eight days until the election, it is very important that we are seen to be giving support to those Zimbabweans who seek to exercise their democratic rights.
The hon. Gentleman will know that Mugabe was not arrested for war crimes because to have done that would have been outside the law. The hon. Gentleman may have his own views about war crimes, but I am sure that he will agree that the law needs to be followed in the prosecution of any war crimes case.
There are three immediate priorities for the EU in respect of Zimbabwe. First, we must continue to support all those working for democratic change within Zimbabwe. The priority is to get as many election observers in place as quickly as possible, so that they can witness what is happening on the ground and act as a deterrent to further violence and manipulation.
Secondly, we must continue to work to ensure that states and leaders in the region press Mugabe and ZANU-PF to stop the violence and allow people to vote. There are signs that Africa is increasingly frustrated with Mugabe and his criminal actions. The public letter by 40 prominent Africans, including ex-leaders of Tanzania and Botswana, shows today's African leaders the way forward, and we will urge them to continue to make their voice heard.
Thirdly, we must continue to ensure that the international community as a whole maintains the pressure on those who are responsible for the violence. It is right that we continue to raise that issue at the UN Security Council.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend shares the disgust of Members from all parts of the House at seeing Robert Mugabe living it up in a five-star hotel on the Via Veneto, but the UN gives diplomatic immunity to world leaders who travel to summits, and that overrides the EU's travel ban, so Mugabe was immune from prosecution there. Is not the issue to reform the UN's diplomatic protection for people to ensure that criminals such as Mugabe can be brought to justice?
The Foreign Secretary will know that in the past few years, the European Union has given the Southern African Development Community countries €50 million to support better governance and democracy and so on. Will he ensure that the European Council sends the clear message to SADC that its countries must put pressure on the Mugabe regime both before the election and after it if, as we all fear, Mugabe steals it with his intimidation, violence and vote rigging? SADC countries must stand up to him and not go down the path that Mbeki has taken.
The aid that we are giving to boost democracy in African countries should be maintained, but I certainly agree that we must ensure that southern African countries recognise the strength of feeling that exists in this country about the issue. Of course, the strength of feeling exists in their own countries, too. There are 4 million refugees outside Zimbabwe, which means that there is no chance of a free and fair election because they will not have a chance to vote. Those people are a burden on the rest of southern Africa.
That is one thing that we could do, but now is not the time to play Mugabe's game and make the issue a dispute between him and Britain; now is the time to make the issue the two different visions for the future of Zimbabwe. Obviously, my hon. Friend is right that that recommendation is an option.
The most obvious way is through funding. The EU has pledged to provide funding and we do not want it to stand in the way of the deployment of monitors.
It is also vital that we do not lose sight of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Burma, which has disappeared from the headlines but remains a very real issue. The UK is the largest bilateral donor and aid is now filtering through—albeit very belatedly. We welcome the leadership demonstrated by the UN and the Association of South East Asian Nations in tackling the crisis, but we want the European Council to underline the importance of lifting all remaining obstacles to the flow of aid.
Foreign Ministers will also discuss the situation in the Balkans. Since Kosovo declared its independence on
No. I shall finish this point and then bring in the hon. Gentleman.
Just before the constitution's adoption, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced his intention to reconfigure the UN mission in Kosovo in response to the changed situation on the ground. At the Security Council, the Government will support Ban Ki-moon in taking forward that reconfiguration rapidly, both to reflect the Kosovo Government's new responsibility for administering the country and to create the space for the EU to play a major supporting role.
The European Council will reaffirm the EU's commitment to playing a leading role in assisting Kosovo as it moves forward. The EU has sent a special representative to Kosovo to provide political support and assistance; it is deploying a European security and defence policy mission, EULEX, to assist with policing and justice sector reform—the largest EU deployment of its kind; and, in line with the EU's perspective for the region, it will provide about €400m in financial support over the next three years to Kosovo's political and economic development.
I have one final point, and then I shall come to the hon. Gentleman.
Kosovo's independence is of course an important step for the region—the last piece of the jigsaw from the former Yugoslavia. However, it is worth mentioning the recent progress that Bosnia and Herzegovina has made. It meant that the General Affairs Council was able to sign the country's stabilisation and association agreement on time.
May I remind my right hon. Friend that this debate is on European affairs, not on European Union affairs? Too often in this Chamber, we elide Europe and the European Union, but they are different. Many countries in Europe are not members of the European Union. I hope that later in his speech, having already dealt with the Balkans, he might find time to say a little about the European countries that are not members of the European Union and the relationship between the United Kingdom and such countries.
I fear that I may disappoint my hon. Friend. I think that the western Balkans is the best that I can do as regards the European countries that are not yet in the European Union. Turkey is not on the agenda, and neither is Ukraine or Georgia. However, he will have noted the discussion that we had about Russia. There is an interesting discussion to be had about whether Russia is a European country; perhaps we can have that on another occasion.
In the context of the European security and defence policy, it may be worth noting that yesterday President Sarkozy published an important white paper on French defence and national security policy, which included his very strong commitment that the French
"armed forces are and will remain national. They will not be integrated into any supranational force."
Of course, I am happy to give that commitment on the part of British forces as well. Our forces do not belong to NATO or to the EU—they belong to us, and they always will. However, it is important to state that the Government strongly support the emphasis in the French white paper on capability development across Europe, greater civilian-military co-operation, and the development of modern operational systems for bringing together capabilities right across Europe.
It is important to emphasise in this respect that confusion has arisen in relation to European military operations. There is already a European security and defence policy co-ordination capacity comprising about 100 people in Brussels. It works to a British general. It is not a military operation headquarters and will not become one, but it provides advice to the Political and Security Committee and to the General Affairs and External Relations Council in advance of decisions on European deployments in Chad and elsewhere.
It is significant that the French white paper should commit not only to French membership of NATO—full re-integration into NATO—but to the idea that EU and NATO activities should be complementary. It makes that very clear. I, for one, believe that that is not only consistent with our interests but strikingly consistent with what the US Administration, from the President down, have been saying. President Bush himself said at the NATO summit on
"Building a strong NATO Alliance also requires a strong European defence capacity."
I believe that the French commitments made yesterday can help us in that direction.
Does the Foreign Secretary accept that this is one of the key strategic considerations for the Baltic nations, of which I know Estonia the best? The Estonians consider that their internal security is best served within membership of the European Union, but even though Estonia is a small country, Estonians are willing and eager to be strategic players on the world stage. The only way that they can possibly become that is through a collective approach on the basis of the European Union. Does he agree that that is not only a sensible but an essential element, especially for smaller countries who want to play their part on the world stage?
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that although making individual national decisions to co-operate is undoubtedly the way forward, confusion about whether there is a desire for a united European force is created by having regalia such as European flashes on soldiers' uniforms? Does he agree that it would be much better if there were not an insistence on such joint insignia, which unnecessarily confuse matters and arouse anxieties?
I do not think that there is any confusion, in this Government or elsewhere, about the fact that deployments are made on the basis of our own decisions, or that the question of insignia raises doubts. Whether in Chad or in Palestine, it is a good thing that these forces are working together without any loss of their national identity. The British forces remain proud of having the British flag on their uniforms, but it is reasonable for them to choose to have other insignia as well.
On Iran, on
Has the Foreign Secretary seen the report in The Daily Telegraph on
My hon. Friend makes an important point, which is basically the point that I made in the discussion on Iran after Javier Solana's report to European Foreign Ministers on Monday—that the implementation of resolution 1803 on the Iranian nuclear programme goes forward, as does the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has expressed "serious concern" about the continued Iranian nuclear programme.
Can the Foreign Secretary confirm that the package of incentives for Iran that has been put forward is to be published, and will he ensure that it is placed in this House so that colleagues can have access to it? That is apparently one of the main distinctions between these proposals and those put forward in 2005, which were not placed in the public domain.
The proposals were published in Tehran on Sunday and sent to all members of the UN Security Council, and they are on the Foreign Office website. I will check whether they are in the Library. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The key to this is for people in Iran and in the international community to see that Iran is not the victim of a western vendetta but the author of its own misfortunes. There is a serious offer of collaboration and co-operation with the Iranians if they are willing to abide by international rules. Iran can be treated as a normal country if it behaves like one and accepts the responsibilities of the international community as well as the rights that go with them.
The European Council also has an opportunity to push forward on the millennium development goals, which is an important issue across the House. Huge progress has been made since 2000, but seven years on we are not on track to meet the targets that were set. Last year, the Prime Minister issued his call to action, and the UN Secretary-General has designated 2008 a "year of action". However, rising food and commodity prices are making the task harder. That is why the millennium development goals are a top priority for the UK at Friday's European Council. As the world's largest aid donor, providing close to 60 per cent. of all aid, it is right that the EU plays a leading role on the MDGs. It has set itself a collective target for 0.56 per cent. of gross national income to be used for official development assistance by 2010. That would, in effect, mean a doubling of aid to more than €66 billion. We want the European Council to reaffirm that commitment and to agree how this money can be best used to support the MDGs in an agenda for action that sets out specific milestones, actions and time frames in key areas such as education, health and agriculture.
Finally, this week's European Council meeting of Heads of Government is the chance for a preliminary discussion on the Irish referendum result among Heads of State and Government. [ Interruption. ] I knew that hon. Members were on the edge of their seats waiting for this part of the discussion. I am happy that they have stayed so long to enjoy it. Let me pick up three points from the debate that followed my statement on Monday. First, the question was raised of why the Irish should be given time. The answer is simple—because they have asked for it. The Irish Prime Minister, Brian Cowen, said on Friday that
"we need to pause to absorb what has happened and why, and to consult widely at home and with our European partners".
The Irish Foreign Minister, Micheál Martin, has also made it clear that
"it is far too early for proffering...solutions or proposals".
Does the Foreign Secretary admit to deep concern that in the only three referendums that have taken place on these matters—in France, the Netherlands and Ireland—the peoples of those countries have rejected the further integration proposed in the successive treaties? Will he accept that we have come to a watershed in the history of the European Union? Given that there are many in Europe who want further integration, as well as many who do not, will he recognise not only the desirability but the inevitability of an à la carte Europe? That would mean all member states accepting certain core responsibilities, while for proposals on further integration, there will be not just an opportunity but a right to opt out for any country that believes such proposals to be against its national interest. Is that not the only way in which the peoples of Europe can give genuine democratic consent to continuing involvement in the European Union?
I am happy to associate myself with the first part of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's question about the serious concern that anyone should have about the results—or at least the concern that anyone in favour of the results should have. However, I do not recognise the picture in the second part of his question—that there remains in the European Union or among European countries a drive for integration. That may have been the picture in the mid-1990s, but the exhaustion associated with the Lisbon treaty, and the exhaustion of the integrationist project that he fears, is significant. The Lisbon treaty drew a line, not least in the 10-year moratorium that it posed on further institutional change. The flexibility in the current arrangements for the European Union—people are in the euro area, or in Schengen, but it is their choice whether to be there—and the choices extended to us on justice and home affairs policy give the lie to the idea that there is one centralised model for the future of the European Union, and that it is the only one available.
In the many hours that I listened to the excellent Minister for Europe take us through the Lisbon treaty, he made it absolutely clear that if the House rejected the Lisbon treaty, it would be dead. Why is it that when the Irish reject it, it is not dead?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's very nice words about the Europe Minister; the fact that they mean the end of his political career is obviously a matter of some regret. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will find a way of withdrawing his kind compliments at some stage, although I fear that Labour Members were watching and may have heard his remarks. However, I wholly associate myself with them. I hope that that provides a degree of mitigation for the death sentence that has been handed to my hon. Friend. The hon. Gentleman and I are in agreement, however. Unless all 27 countries pass the treaty, it will not come into force. It is as simple as that.
Should the Foreign Secretary not point out to Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who is a former Foreign Secretary, that he has got his facts wrong? There have not been just three referendums, but five. The most significant one was in Spain, where 77 per cent. were in favour of the treaty going forward. Have not many countries in Europe actually shown extraordinary forbearance throughout this process?
It was an excellent intervention because my hon. Friend puts an important fact on the record. I am not sure about forbearance; I think that those countries showed patience and a determination to bring the institutional wrangling to an end. The way for the European Union to make itself relevant is not through further institutional reform, but through getting on with addressing the main agenda.
Let me just make a couple more points, then I shall be happy to let the hon. Gentleman intervene.
The second issue raised in Monday's debate was a re-emphasis of the fact that there was no question of bulldozing the Irish, and it is not just the UK that is saying that. Throughout the European Union, Heads of Government and Foreign Ministers have promised to respect the Irish vote, and there is simply no way that the EU could ignore the Irish vote. The rules are clear: all 27 member states must ratify the treaty for it to come into force. Ireland cannot be bound by changes that it has not ratified.
National sovereignty means that each nation decides its own position. The Irish no vote is determinant of the Irish position, but it cannot decide the position of other countries. That is not just the UK's view. The Dutch Prime Minister, Balkenende, has said that
"the Irish "No" does not mean that we or other member states should stop our ratification processes".
Just a moment. Listen to the point, then I shall be happy to take interventions.
The Swedish Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, echoed that when he confirmed that Sweden's
"ratification process will of course not be affected."
The Belgian Prime Minister, Leterme, stated that Belgium is
"determined to continue with the ratification process".
The Irish have associated themselves with that position.
The British view is that Parliament should decide. We are due to complete parliamentary scrutiny in another place today. It is not just a matter of democratic principle. If we halt ratification, the UK will be leaving itself in limbo, unable to state its position clearly. To be fair to the Liberal Democrats on the issue, both in this House and the other place, they have realised that to choose limbo would be a crazy way to seek influence in the EU.
I am glad that the Foreign Secretary is talking about Monday's statement, because on re-reading it I found that one of its most interesting aspects was that there was no mention of any activity by our Prime Minister. At a time when we might show some leadership in Europe, it is remarkable that the Prime Minister appears to have done absolutely nothing since the Irish referendum result. At a time when the President of France is in Prague, meeting central European leaders who have problems with the treaty, could the Foreign Secretary say something about what our Prime Minister has been doing?
The Foreign Secretary keeps repeating this line that the Irish no vote cannot be allowed to determine the position of the other member states. Of course the Irish vote does determine the fate of the treaty. Why is it in the interests of the European Union for other member states and the United Kingdom to continue with the process of ratification unless it is a political manoeuvre to put pressure on the Irish people to change their minds? That can be the only reason. It is a political ploy to validate the parts of the Lisbon treaty that are already being implemented, such as the European Defence Agency, against the wishes of probably the vast majority of the people of Europe.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the gracious way in which he yielded the Floor.
It is rather hard to understand how there can be any purpose whatsoever in a country continuing with the ratification process if the treaty can come into effect only by unanimity. If I had £5 for every time I heard, in the past 10 years and more, integrationists saying that the high watermark of integration has been reached and that the sea will now recede, I could retire from this House tomorrow and live very comfortably—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!"] Sadly, Labour Members will have to put up with me for a lot longer than that.
It is clearly becoming fashionable among those on the Conservative Benches to resign one's seat. I hope that I speak on behalf of all my hon. Friends when I say that I hope that the hon. Gentleman is one of the last in the long line of Opposition Members who are about to consult their electorate.
May I pursue the Foreign Secretary on this point? Does he accept that it is not just a time for reflection for Ireland, but for the other member states as well? This problem is not solely an Irish one; it is a problem of legitimacy for the EU as a whole. Will he guarantee that the lesson the European leaderships learn from what happened in Ireland will not be that they should never again give the people a say on such matters? They should not try to introduce the treaty by stealth. It is worth while for the Foreign Secretary to give an assurance on those two points. I shall repeat this point: the treaty should not be introduced by stealth, piece by piece. There should be no cherry-picking.
There are good examples in the areas of qualified majority voting where Britain is blocked from making changes that are in our interests, whether on overseas development or on other areas. To be fair, the right hon. Gentleman was a regular attendee at our debates on the treaty. If he consults Hansard, he will be clear that there are key areas where, across the House, there was a determination to make progress but the current structures of the EU made that impossible.
Britain needs an effective EU more than ever. We need its clout as the world's biggest single market if we want green-product markets, as with high polluting cars. We need the collective weight of all 27 member states if we are to secure a new global trade deal. If we are to ensure the EU's huge aid budget is used effectively, we need all 27 countries on board.
It was clear from Monday's General Affairs Council that there is little appetite for a return to years of institutional negotiation. Issues such as climate change and energy security, migration and terrorism will not stand still while we wring our hands about the EU's internal structures. This is why the Slovene presidency is right to keep the focus of the European Council meeting firmly on the big global questions of the day, from rising food and oil prices to global poverty. This is why this Government are determined that the UK should be leading and shaping European policy and driving the organisation forward. That will be our strategy at the European Council on Friday and beyond.
The Foreign Secretary has quite rightly covered a wide range of subjects, and it is to be hoped that the European Council will address those subjects. I want to follow him into the detail of many of them in a few moments' time. His speech did not quite capture the drama of what happened at the end of last week; no doubt he was not too interested in capturing that drama. The drama was made by a group that seldom has a chance to speak directly to the corridors of Brussels—the voters of at least one nation of the EU.
After the French and the Dutch voters so rudely interrupted the passage of the European constitution, there was a mood in the subsequent meetings of Europe's Governments that referendums were to be avoided, encouraged by a British Government determined to break the promise that they made at the last general election. That Ireland does not allow referendums to be avoided on issues of such importance is a model on which we can usefully draw here in the future.
Now that the Irish people have been consulted and have delivered their verdict, the truth is that the political preoccupation of this week's European Council has changed, important as it is that the other subjects that the Foreign Secretary has mentioned must be discussed. It ought to be a time for a clear lead from the British Government on that subject. There was indeed a lead when France and the Netherlands rejected the constitution in 2005. The Labour Cabinet of three years ago seized ratification of the constitution at that time—something the current Cabinet seem to have neither the leadership nor the decisiveness to do.
The people of Ireland have been rightly praised for their commitment to participation in the democratic process with a very high turnout, for their courage in facing down the consequences with which they were threatened and for persevering in their judgment that the treaty was not in their best interests and would bring about a degree of integration in which they did not want to participate. I continue that praise of them today.
I will of course return to that subject in more detail, but the Foreign Secretary mentioned, quite rightly, the importance of oil prices, which indeed should be addressed at the summit, and of climate change. As he knows, there is near-unanimity in the House in support of the agreement made in the EU last year—an agreement which of course did not require any additional powers to bring it about or to pursue it. On food prices—he mentioned reform of the common agricultural policy—the problem exposes even more clearly what an error it was to give away £7 billion of the British rebate without a clear commitment to reform of the CAP, as happened under the Government two years ago.
Did my right hon. Friend catch from the Foreign Secretary—I certainly did not—any answer to the offer from the Saudis that they would pump more oil if western Governments would cut their tax? When on a litre of petrol 70p goes to the Government and 45p to the oil producer, it would seem only fair that the Government should contribute as well as the oil producer.
I did not catch any response from the Foreign Secretary to that. My right hon. Friend has made a fair point but, if he will forgive me, I want to press the Foreign Secretary on one or two other subjects that he did mention, and on which I and the House would welcome some further enlightenment or response.
The Foreign Secretary quite rightly mentioned the situation with Iran, and that he chaired the meeting of the E3 plus 3 Foreign Ministers at the beginning of May. We welcome the initiative taken to strengthen both the incentives and the sanctions, and the delivery of those incentives to Iran. But I want to ask Ministers about sanctions on Iran, given the possibly alarming sequence of events since the Prime Minister's statement at his news conference with President Bush on Monday this week. The Prime Minister announced with a degree of confidence:
"Today, Britain will urge Europe and Europe will agree to take further sanctions against Iran...We will take action today that will freeze the overseas assets of the biggest bank in Iran, the Melli bank. And secondly action will start today for a new phase of sanctions on oil and gas."
This was no doubt intended to show solidarity with President Bush and to please him, and those of us who met President Bush immediately afterwards know that he was pleased with that announcement.
It does now seem that these steps were not agreed and this action was not taken. Furthermore, according to press reports, Javier Solana explicitly denied that any such agreement had been reached. The Financial Times today quotes a US diplomat who said that the Prime Minister
"'was wrong'. He made an incorrect statement. The problem is that the US delegation and the US press believed him. On the scale of diplomatic blunders, one delegation member put it as a 'seven out of 10'." The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesmen quoted in the Iranian press today have said: "The European officials have rejected Brown's statements and have announced that there is no new decision for intensifying sanctions against Iran."
Can Ministers enlighten us as to what has happened here? According to today's Financial Times ,
"Bank Melli is working in exactly the same way today as it worked yesterday. It can use its assets in whatever way it likes. (Indeed, one imagines they will now be moving a lot of them to Dubai.) Its offices in London are open."
There may be some explanation of this of which the House is unaware, but this is one of the most important issues facing the world; there ought to be proper co-ordination of the statements of the British Prime Minister with the actions of the rest of the European Union and the statements of the EU high representative. If the Foreign Secretary or the Minister for Europe wishes to intervene to give any further explanation of this now, I would very much welcome that. As things stand, the Prime Minister committed this country to a course of action that has not been taken, and did so on Monday in a way that seems to have disillusioned the US, annoyed other Europeans and given a propaganda coup to the Iranian Government. If that is the case, it takes the conduct of our nation's affairs to a whole new level of blundering incompetence, and we expect an explanation from the Government.
My right hon. Friend is making an extremely important point, but will he consider that part of the problem is the fact that we have the high representative who, effectively, can go around the world speaking on behalf of Europe? Nobody really knows what he is being told, on what terms he says things or how he is to conduct the affairs of Europe as a whole. Is it not far more important that we should ensure that the foreign policy of this country is in fact conducted through our own Foreign Secretary?
That is a slightly different debate, if my hon. Friend will forgive me. Of course there is a wholly legitimate debate about the control of foreign policy, but my particular point is that, given the existence of the EU high representative and his responsibilities, it is enormously disturbing in one of the most sensitive situations in the world, relating to the future control of nuclear weapons, for the British Prime Minister to say something on Monday, and then for Javier Solana, the EU high representative, to be quoted in the next day's newspapers as denying that any such agreement has been reached, and for the Iranian Government to be able to make capital out of it. I know that the Foreign Secretary is looking mystified, but I hope that he will accept that that is a wholly legitimate thing for the Opposition to ask about in the House.
Without an adequate explanation, the conclusion that we can draw is that the Prime Minister does not know what he is doing. He was prepared to make an announcement with President Bush, but the Americans are now extremely angry that it did not turn out to mean what it said. However, I would certainly welcome an explanation from the Foreign Secretary.
I am very happy to give an explanation that completely rebuts the central allegation that the right hon. Gentleman is making. There is political agreement across the European Union on the measures that we have set out. The allegation is that Javier Solana said—I think that the right hon. Gentleman said that this was in a newspaper report—that there had been no discussion of the announcement on Monday. I certainly spoke about it; other Foreign Ministers spoke about it. There are now technical implementing measures being taken, to ensure that it comes into effect in an appropriate way. The right hon. Gentleman and I are, I think I am right in saying, both in support of the dual-track policy of incentives and sanctions. The difference between us is that he wants to attack the Prime Minister and I want to defend him. On the substance of the issue, I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the European Union is working cohesively, using the office of the high representative.
Just to go a step further, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Stone that, as well as Javier Solana in Tehran, those represented there included our country, through our political director, and four of the other five countries. Obviously the position of the United States is slightly different in terms of delegations to Iran, but I assure the right hon. Gentleman that both the European high representative and the representative of the British Government were in Tehran for the meetings and for the delivery of the package.
I am grateful for that, but hon. Members will realise, if they are listening, that that is not an answer to the question that I am raising. I very much agree with the right hon. Gentleman on the policy of incentives and sanctions, and I have no reason whatever to doubt that those representatives were all there together. What I am questioning is the Prime Minister saying on Monday that action would be taken "today"—Monday—to
"freeze the overseas assets of the biggest bank in Iran"
and that action would start "today" for a
"new phase of sanctions on oil and gas."
There has been no evidence over the past 48 hours that any of those things have happened. Therefore, the credibility of British policy on the matter will have been reduced, with consequent effects in the Iranian newspapers.
That is a disturbing state of affairs. I do not want to take up all the time today asking about it, but we shall have many further questions to ask in the House about that matter and about the future conduct of the policy. I hope that ensuring that there is real European Union agreement among Heads of Government will come up at the European Council.
I have much less to quarrel with the Foreign Secretary about on Zimbabwe. I very much agree with the thrust of his remarks, and there is a great degree of unity in the House, much of which was expressed in Prime Minister's Question Time. The Southern African Development Community and the African Union have a crucial role and a responsibility to continue their engagement to try to resolve the crisis. However, we must not shy away from our responsibility towards the long-suffering people of Zimbabwe.
Of course we hope that Britain continues to take a lead in ensuring that the EU explores further options for increasing pressure on those who have directed and engaged in state-sponsored violence and who are destroying Zimbabwe. We want the Foreign Secretary, or the Minister for Europe when he winds up, to confirm that Britain is seeking agreement now, ahead of what looks like a deeply unfair election on
The Foreign Secretary referred to raising the matter at the Security Council, which we very much support. However, we hope that he will endorse the idea of a Security Council commission of inquiry to investigate reports of torture, murder and human rights violations. We hope that Ministers believe, as we do, that there is a strong case for the International Criminal Court to examine the situation in Zimbabwe closely, given what has happened in recent months. It is, of course, also vital that African nations should withhold recognition of any flawed result and that the EU should approach African nations to encourage them to withhold recognition. Indeed, that should be one of the outcomes of the forthcoming Council meeting.
On the other matters that the Foreign Secretary mentioned, I strongly support what he said about the progress in Bosnia and agree with him that the progress made in Kosovo is welcome, including the new constitution. I want to return at the end of my remarks to some of the wider, forward-looking issues that he raised, but he will forgive me for now saying a little more about the Lisbon treaty and the result of the vote in Ireland.
The crisis that the European Union faces this week—and it is a crisis—is one of its own making. The crisis has not been brought about by external factors or agents and has not arisen over a fundamental disagreement over any substantive matter of policy; rather, it is a democratic crisis. The question before the EU now is whether it is the kind of organisation that respects democracy or even understands the importance of popular consent in building successful, lasting institutions.
The crisis is also totally unnecessary. The EU faces no institutional obstacle in pursuing its agreed goals, and daily business goes on as normal. In its own terms, the EU is working perfectly well. As one recent academic study on decision making in the EU found, "business as usual" rather than "gridlock" has been the norm since enlargement. The whole purpose of the original constitution and the Lisbon treaty, which are so much the same, was to move more power from Europe's nation states to the EU, to create new institutional structures.
The Foreign Secretary has often spoken of the need to bring an end to the institutional debate. It is a pity that the Government did not say that before the Lisbon treaty, rather than after it.
I thank the former Secretary of State for Wales. He attended a number of summit meetings when he was in the Cabinet and when he was a junior Minister. How can it be possible for the 27 members of the EU to conduct their business properly with the rules that were created for 15?
That question may reveal the fact that the right hon. Gentleman is a little out of date on what has been happening in the European Union in the past few years. There seems to have been a change in the atmosphere. It seems to be true that countries are less likely to wield or threaten the veto in a Union of 27 nations. There has been a willingness to work together. The study that I quoted is by people who have no axe to grind from what one might call a Eurosceptic point of view, but simply set out dispassionately to see how the European Union was working. To change that in a massive institutional way requires a degree of popular consent. Indeed, it requires majority popular consent in the countries of the European Union. However, it is clear now that that consent is not forthcoming.
Following the question that my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz asked, would it not be easy, with a much larger Union, to devolve more power back to member states' Parliaments and for the EU to try to do less? Would that not solve the problem of having a larger Union?
The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely powerful point, and there is indeed a strong case. We have heard so much about subsidiarity over the years, yet we have not seen decision-making powers in any respect returned to the nation states. If that was to happen, even in some areas, it would change the dynamics of the debate. However, there has been a one-way ratchet for a long time, and that is what the people of Ireland, France and the Netherlands have reacted against.
Is it not altogether inconsistent for the former Minister for Europe to support the treaty, which gives more power to the institutions of the European Union and takes power away from the member states, given that he told the European Reform Forum back in 2005 that the European Union
"is not a country, so it cannot be a democracy"?
Every time we take power away from member states and give it to the European Union, we are taking power away from democracy and giving it to something that is not a democracy.
Well, that is a good one, but I do not want to pick on the former Minister for Europe; when we really want to pick on him, we have even juicer things to go at him with. After all, although he supports the Lisbon treaty, which brings the charter of fundamental rights into legal force, he was the Minister who said that the charter would have the legal force of The Beano. So now we have The Beano enshrined in the Lisbon treaty. Whenever we want to pick on him, we have that to resort to, but I do not want to do that any further today.
My right hon. Friend is making a very powerful critique of the Government, but before he finishes his speech will he turn his attention to the Liberal Democrats, who have behaved in an extraordinary way over this whole process—abstaining in this House, but refusing in the other place to support the referendum?
My hon. Friend can be assured that, in line with all debates on Europe over the past six months, I am coming to the Liberal Democrats. I am only a few pages away, although I might even skip a few pages to bring that moment on a little earlier.
I wanted to make the observation that the accusation is flung at the Irish that they perhaps rejected the Lisbon treaty because they did not understand it. Indeed, some of them said in television interviews and opinion polls that they did not understand it. If they did not understand it, however, whose fault was that? There is something wholly appropriate about people voting against this treaty because it was incomprehensible, since its incomprehensibility was a calculated and deliberate decision. Let us remind ourselves that Giuliano Amato, one of the drafters of the treaty, said that they had
"decided that the document should be unreadable. If it is unreadable, it is not constitutional".
Valéry Giscard d'Estaing said that
"although the British, Dutch and French have insisted we eliminate all reference to the word 'constitution'... all the earlier proposals will be in the new text, but hidden and disguised in some way".
I have already quoted a Belgian Foreign Minister, who said:
"The Constitution aimed to be clear, whereas this treaty had to be unclear. It is a success".
Well, his joy was premature, because this result poses a Morton's fork for supporters of the constitution in any of its guises. If people cannot understand the substance of the treaty, they reject it, but if they can, as the French and Dutch voters did in its earlier more comprehensible form, they dislike it just as much. That makes the refusal to draw the obvious conclusion and drop the whole thing more puzzling and it makes the Government's determination to avoid letting the British people have their say in a referendum more comprehensible, if deeply cynical, which is what that decision has been.
Is not the right hon. Gentleman being a little narrow and unfair to the Irish people? Even their own politicians acknowledged that they had not read or fully understood the document—not unlike, it has to be said, what Mr. Clarke said in a similar debate in a different era.
I thought that I was defending the Irish people and, indeed, their politicians and their EU Commissioner, Charlie McCreevy, who said yesterday:
"We should not apologise for the democratic process we went through. Many other electorates in Europe would like to have gone through the same process."
Well, he can say that again.
One aspect of the treaty that most people did understand was that if it had gone through—or if, heaven forbid, it still does—it would have been the last time that any question would have arisen of anybody having to have a referendum before making any further constitutional changes. That was the ratchet effect that it had. May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the very interesting early-day motion 1828, tabled by Mr. Davidson, which quotes the German Interior Minister as saying that
"a few million Irish cannot decide on behalf of 495 million Europeans"?
It looks as if some people thought that the treaty had already gone through, when, of course, that was the objective of putting the treaty through—to make sure that it could never happen again.
Once again, my hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Early-day motions from Mr. Davidson are, when they are on this subject, full of wisdom. Indeed, I was going to make the same point—that it has been said that a country of 4 million cannot hold up a continent of 500 million, which is an extraordinarily revealing argument. The EU is a union of sovereign and independent nation states; it is not a sovereign polity in its own right, in which a single state's objections can be overridden by the majority of a federation. The fact that that argument was made—it was made in this House in response to the Foreign Secretary's statement on Monday—is indicative of a mindset that sees such a polity as the ultimate goal of the processes of the EU. That argument is not only wrong conceptually; it ignores the most salient fact that only those few million have had the chance to vote on the treaty—on this version of it—and that if others were offered the chance to vote, many more would reject it as well. Among those many, there is every indication that the vast majority of voters in this country would be included.
I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that, because of the nature of the treaty, it has to go through on the basis of unanimity among all countries, so the statement that 4 million people cannot hold up the other 480 million or whatever cannot be relevant to the treaty. Perhaps that quote is more relevant to the idea of a two-speed Europe, in which the rest of Europe goes ahead without the countries that want to lag behind.
What I think is meant by those who say that a few million cannot hold up several hundred million is that they hope that a process of ratification will be completed in the other 26 countries, following which the Irish can be told that they have no real option other than to vote again. That is why, despite the fact that the Government say that there is to be no bullying or bulldozing of the Irish, the completion of the ratification process after the Irish referendum result is part and parcel of a fully intended bullying and bulldozing process.
I shall give way to the hon. Lady, but then I want to make some progress, as I promised to come on to the Liberal Democrats and I have not yet reached that point in my speech.
The right hon. Gentleman's argument is supported by the fact that, in earlier discussions when the original constitution was drawn up, there was a very strong move to insert a clause to invite a country that failed to ratify to leave the European Union. At the time, it was excluded only because it was thought that Britain would be the problem.
That is another powerful point, which underlines how those who believe that there is an inevitable process of political centralisation to be pushed forward in Brussels have been surprised by the reaction of the peoples of Europe. The people of the Netherlands are not raging Eurosceptics and the people of Ireland are not anti-European. The votes cast in those countries and in France show how ridiculous it is to accuse anyone opposed to the Lisbon treaty or the EU constitution of being anti-European. Those who are against those texts now know that millions of people are on our side across many different countries of Europe.
We live in a democracy—
Let me proceed; I have already taken many interventions and taken up nearly half an hour. I will take some more interventions later.
We live in a democracy. Our Government draw their mandate from the British people to whom they put a manifesto setting out what they would do. The Labour party's manifesto said that it would put the constitution to a referendum, but said nothing about signing up to another EU treaty without a referendum, let alone a treaty that just about every other European Government agree is almost identical to the EU constitution. The Government have no democratic mandate to go ahead with ratification.
There is a question that the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and anyone else who has denied the British people their say cannot answer. If they want to put forward the "British view", as the Foreign Secretary mentioned last Friday, why do they not find out what the British view is in a referendum or a general election? They know the answer, but they dare not say it. If they sought the opinion of the British people in a referendum, the treaty would be rejected. This is cynical and calculating behaviour, which is an abuse of the voters' trust. One way that this declining Government could renew the voters' trust would be to take the bold step of having a referendum, but there seems to be no prospect of the Prime Minister doing that. Instead, the Government are left to explain why the Irish people should have their say on this treaty, but the British people should not. It seems that the Irish people may have to vote twice before the British people have voted even once.
The Foreign Secretary needs to think very carefully about all this. I should have noted earlier that this is our first debate since his leadership campaign began in the ranks of the Labour party. He is meant to be going on a tour of Britain in the autumn—a meet-the-country roadshow, as it was described in the Daily Mirror. The paper says that the Foreign Secretary
"is preparing for a possible Labour Party leadership battle by going on a tour of the country".
Most Foreign Secretaries go on tours of other countries, but for some suspicious reason, he is going on a tour of this country.
Let me finish the point. The Foreign Secretary is going on a tour of this country. One senior Minister commented:
"'It's so blatant...This is obviously all about David positioning himself for a future contest.' A spokesman for Mr. Brown said the PM would be 'relaxed' about"
this. That should concern the Foreign Secretary, because that was the official line of the Prime Minister when he was Chancellor and Tony Blair hung on to office for several extra years—he was meant to be relaxed about it.
The Foreign Secretary has received the endorsement of Mr. Prescott, the former Deputy Prime Minister, who says he is a "brilliant" man and a future leader of the Labour party. The right hon. Gentleman asked for the Foreign Secretary to be one of his junior Ministers. How the Foreign Secretary must regret that that did not happen, as all the right hon. Gentleman's administrative skills would have rubbed off on him.
I raise that point only because I want to suggest where the Foreign Secretary should go on his tour of the country. I thought he might like to go—
The right hon. Gentleman once had a roadshow. It did not get very far. It made two stops, conked out and was never heard of again.
The Foreign Secretary should go to Bury, Southampton and Nuneaton. He might call in at Crewe and Nantwich. He could take a trip down river to city hall. He will find the British view, which is that the country at large does not think that the Government have a very good idea of the British view and wants a different Government instead. If he really wants to be leader of the Labour party, he would do better to stand up for the British view that Lisbon should not be ratified and that European political integration has gone far enough. Instead of opposing in government the settled will of the British people, he should support the settled will of the British.
I am most grateful to the shadow Foreign Secretary for giving way a second time. Does he recall his roadshow, which was launched in 1999 on the back of a lorry? I think it lasted about a month.
It lasted, to my huge inconvenience, a lot more than a month and took me all over the country, including to places held at the time by the Labour party. I recommend that the Foreign Secretary do the same and I look forward to his embarking on it.
Now we face the position—
No, I really must continue. I have already been speaking for half an hour.
We face the position of ratification being decided in the other place—indeed, during this afternoon. It is out of the hands of the House. Of course, the casting votes down in the other place belong to the Liberal Democrats. That is why I have to say a word.
I have written twice—
No, let me discuss this point. I have written twice to Mr. Clegg, asking for an explanation of the position taken by the Liberal Democrats in the other place, and in particular why they differ in almost every respect from the position taken by the Liberal Democrats here. I have yet to receive a reply. I am looking forward to Mr. Davey setting those matters out in his speech.
Future students of our politics will be intrigued by some of these questions, such as why Liberal Democrat peers abstained on a vote on an in-out EU referendum when Liberal Democrat Members here were so angry at not getting such a vote that they stormed out of the House in great fury at the decision of Mr. Speaker. The Liberal Democrats said at the time that that was the "real debate" the country wanted, yet when the debate took place in the other place, they decided to abstain.
The Liberal Democrats also voted in this House to increase parliamentary control of what we call the ratchet clauses, yet in the other place the Liberal Democrats voted against increasing parliamentary control. Otherwise, the amendment would have been carried. In this House, an amendment on parliamentary scrutiny of the internal market was tabled in the name of Dr. Cable. When an identical amendment was tabled in the other place, the Liberal Democrats voted against it.
Those future students will be intrigued to see that Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords voted against a referendum on a three-line Whip, although Liberal Democrats in this House were on a three-line Whip to abstain. Several leading Liberal Democrat Members had to resign over it. Those future students will also be intrigued as to whether it was worth having a Liberal Democrat leadership election or whether the Liberal Democrats should just have left the post vacant, because there is no sign of any decisiveness.
On Sunday, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, said that
"we should not just somehow airbrush out of history the Irish vote. I really hope that the European elites won't behave with the arrogance that a lot of people think they should",
but then the Liberal Democrats proposed to vote to ratify the treaty. It is the height of arrogance to disregard the Irish vote and ram the treaty through Parliament.
On Sunday, the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton was quoted as saying that
"the Government should not proceed with the final stage of ratification".
Of course, if they win this afternoon's vote in the House of Lords they will be able to proceed with the final stage of ratification and they will do so only on the back of Liberal Democrat votes.
We have previously discussed the sad journey of the cojones that were thrust into view by the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam in his article of some time ago, and we concluded that they had been impaled on a distant fence. It now appears, after what the Liberal Democrats have been doing in the Commons and in the Lords, that those cojones have been separated from each other. This is the new agony in which the Liberal Democrats have been placed. No doubt everything will become clear in a few minutes.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who is being generous in giving way.
I get the impression that the right hon. Gentleman does not really like the treaty of Lisbon, that he is quite happy with the Irish decision and that he hopes that it will lead to the killing of the treaty. I think I have that right. Now, to take it on from there, will he tell us what he wants to happen? Is he content with the EU carrying on with the Nice treaty? Would he like to unpick that or would he like to have Nice plus, or very Nice, as it is sometimes called?
I shall conclude my speech, if I am able to get to the conclusion, with what I think the EU should focus on now. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his perceptiveness in realising, after all these debates, that I am opposed to the Lisbon treaty and am glad that the Irish have indeed rejected it.
I will come to that point, but before I do I should say that we share the view of the Czech Prime Minister that it would be wrong to consider the
"Irish 'no'... less serious than the previous French and Dutch 'noes'",
after which the EU at least decided to drop the constitutional treaty in its original form. To do otherwise would send the clearest message that the views of small countries do not count in the EU and that when their voters object to a treaty the EU's preferred answer is to bully them into voting again until they get the answer right.
I want to raise the point relating to recognition of the views of small countries. I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the excellent early-day motion 1828, which quotes the Polish Prime Minister, who said that
"irrespective of the results of the referendum in Ireland... Europe will find a way of implementing this treaty".
Does the right hon. Gentleman not feel that that demonstrates clear contempt for the Irish vote? Indeed, to show that it is not only right wingers who take that view, Axel Schäfer, leader of the SPD in the Bundestag, said that
"with all respect for the Irish vote, we cannot allow the huge majority of Europe to be duped by the minority of a minority of a minority".
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that that is not acceptable?
I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman. Of course, those remarks are not in accordance with the position expressed by our own Government, who say that the result should be respected, even though they have not taken any action to respect it. We have heard a lot about respecting the Irish referendum result, although those comments are wholly in conflict with that.
I want to pick up on a point that was made earlier to the Foreign Secretary by one of my hon. Friends, which is that respecting the result should mean not only dropping, or at least suspending, ratification here, but ceasing preparatory work on implementing the treaty, because to carry on with that would be disrespectful to Irish voters. It should mean ending the work on the European external action service, including on which Commission departments are to be transferred to the service, how the Commission's directorates-general relate to it and so on. It should mean ensuring that the Fundamental Rights Agency works on the basis that the charter of fundamental rights is still only a political declaration and not legally binding. It should mean that preparations for the establishment of the new permanent post of President of the Council are stopped, which should at least save some money. It should mean that all legislative proposals are strictly based on current treaty provisions. We could have much firmer guarantees from the Government on those points than anything we have heard so far in the debate.
There is so much for the EU to do. The Foreign Secretary rightly spoke about a broader agenda, and Rob Marris asked what the agenda of the EU should be. I think that the EU could quite happily drop the treaty and get on with the job in hand of getting the EU to deliver on the proper priorities of global warming, global competitiveness, global poverty and, as the Foreign Secretary rightly mentioned, the millennium development goals.
There is much to do on global warming, such as putting a real price on carbon to get the emissions trading scheme working properly. On global poverty, we should do the one thing that would do most to empower the poorest people in the world and reach a successful conclusion on the Doha trade round, or we should sort out the severe failures in EU aid programmes caused by bureaucracy and administrative shortcomings. On global competitiveness, we need to keep working at the nuts and bolts of success: the timely transposition of internal market directives, the completion of public procurement rules and the need to ensure the free movement of goods by mutual recognition of standards.
Those are not glamorous or far-reaching political institutional projects, but they are indispensable to success, including success in the full liberalisation of EU energy markets and improving the valuable but compromised services directive. The EU should be leading the fight in the world to ensure that we do not heed the sirens calling for protectionism—voices that Lisbon would make it harder for the European Court of Justice to ignore by downgrading the importance of undistorted competition in the treaties.
The Government should be urging such an agenda at this week's summit and on the forthcoming French presidency. It is such an agenda that the people of this country want to stand for. It is a tragedy that we do not have a Government who are prepared to speak for Britain, to say, "Forget these institutional changes," and to adopt the agenda of which I have just spoken. The Government's approach is to muddle along, never challenging a conventional wisdom or a prevailing orthodoxy, striking a brave posture for The Sun or The Sunday Times and then shuffling off to Brussels to betray anything that they said that they would stand for.
There is also the possible fiasco—I call it that for the moment, because I await further responses from the Government—shown by the Iranian sanctions on Monday. The Government do not even have the excuse that their approach with other European nations is, when the Prime Minister comes out to speak, competent, efficient or effective. His Administration have had an undistinguished role in European affairs over the past year, conniving in every attempt to frustrate the people of Europe's having their say—from breaking the commitment to a referendum in Britain to helping to bully other countries, such as Portugal, into not having one either. The Government have been caught out and exposed by one country, which has rightly consulted its own people.
Faced with the logical choice between abandoning the treaty and saying so and conniving in some way in getting the Irish to vote again, the Government are going along with what is necessary for the latter while denying that they are doing so rather than showing the merest sign of courage. It is a miserable spectacle which only adds to the sins of a now discredited Government. I believe that it will elevate our politics and our country when these Ministers are removed from office by the very British people whom they have been determined to ignore.
It is always a pleasure to listen to Mr. Hague, even though I have heard many of the things that he said before. However, that does not mean that they are not still amusing.
I wish to begin by saying a few things about the reasons the Irish voted as they did. The commentator Tony Kinsella wrote an interesting piece the other day—he is a strong advocate of the Lisbon treaty—in which he referred to the Irish people retreating under their comfort blanket. He referred to the impact of globalisation, migration and other changes in the world—issues that were not specifically part of the Lisbon treaty.
For whatever reason, Ireland has voted and has rejected ratification of the treaty. Personally, I regret that because I believe that some important proposals in the Lisbon treaty would have made the EU's international presence and action more effective and would have been of benefit to member states—particularly to some of the larger member states, including us—and to co-operation with other international organisations.
In the report published by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs in January, we said that the foreign policy changes in the treaty had
"the potential to encourage more coherent and effective foreign policy-making and representation"
without in any way undermining the intergovernmental nature of common foreign and security policy or the UK's position in the United Nations. Given that, I suggest that as part of the process of considering the options following the Irish vote the Government should ensure that consideration is given to whether any elements of the Lisbon treaty's foreign policy provisions could be put into effect by means other than treaty change, as long as that is done completely transparently and with full explanation to the public of the benefits of those relevant steps. It might be that those elements are few or that it will not be possible to do that, and I shall come on to the implications of that.
More important than the actual implementation of changes is something else that we said in our report. We concluded that the Government were
"correct to argue that political positions and political will among the Member States are more important than institutional changes in determining the quality of EU foreign policy."
It is really important that we do not get back into several interminable years of obsessive institutionalism, but instead talk about how the EU collectively can work more effectively in practice.
There are several cases where the EU has taken a coherent and effective position or has chosen not to do so for reasons that are entirely unconnected with its formal structures and are entirely to do with the political positions adopted by member states rather than the institutional framework. For example, both the Foreign Secretary and the shadow Foreign Secretary referred to what we are doing with regard to Iran. The EU effort, led by High Representative Solana and operating with the EU3—or the EU3 plus 3, as it is now called—is defined according to the current treaty provisions and has been effective. That will continue regardless of whether the Lisbon treaty is ratified.
Russia has also been mentioned. The EU took 18 months to agree a common view on the opening up of the new partnership and co-operation agreement discussions with the Russians. Individual member states—Poland, Lithuania and our country—had serious issues about relations with Russia and were able to stop effective EU progress. That will continue under the existing treaties.
We could, of course, say that progress has been made on Kosovo, although at the same time there are divisions within the EU. Some countries, including Cyprus, have objected via what they call a constructive abstention. Even though the majority in the EU recognises the independence of Kosovo and even though there has been an important development regarding EU-led forces going into Kosovo, individual member states have the right not to participate in those forces and have decided not to do so. They have even publicly registered their reservations or opposition to it. That could continue, too.
Foreign policy will not, therefore, necessarily be hamstrung. I would go further. I urge the Government to try to minimise the extent to which any of our EU partners get distracted from these practical issues by discussions about the institutional framework. I strongly agree with the Foreign Secretary that we do not need to bully or press. First, as he said, we need to give the Irish time to decide how they should cope with what this means. Secondly, the European Union needs to discuss the practical issues with which it must deal, many of which relate to foreign policy matters. I hope that means that, in the context of climate change, the opening of negotiations with Russia and the ongoing deployment of the European Union mission in Kosovo, most of the energies of Foreign Ministers and officials will be devoted to practicalities rather than discussion of possible blueprints, constitutional changes or measures of the kind that we have seen over recent years.
Again, I would go further, and suggest that uncertainty over the institutional framework of European Union treaties is no barrier to enlargement. In the past few days, some rather worrying remarks have been made. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has said that the European Union needs the Lisbon treaty in order to "think about further enlargement". On Monday, President Sarkozy told the central European Governments in Prague that the treaty was needed for any opening to Croatia and the rest of the western Balkans.
That is not true. It is not legally true, and it is not politically true either. It is not legally true because all enlargements involve at least some minimal institutional adjustments to accommodate new member states in EU bodies, which are always agreed in the relevant accession treaty. It does not matter which EU treaty is in force for that to take place. Indeed, accession treaties can accommodate uncertainty over which treaty is to be applied. We have seen that happen in the past. The accession discussions that would lead to an EU with 15, then 25 and then 27 members took place in the context of a pre-existing treaty arrangement that subsequently changed. There is no legal reason why accession negotiations cannot be continued, or launched, on all technical policy areas apart from the final institutional matters: institutional issues are traditionally left until the end, and at that point there will be an accession treaty.
I strongly believe that enlargement of the European Union to include Croatia should continue without delay. The process should be maintained, and positive signals should be sent to the other countries in the western Balkans, including Bosnia and Herzegovina—which has just signed stability and accession agreements—and Macedonia, provided that the name issue is resolved with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The discussions with Greece are proving very difficult, as I know from a meeting that took place in the European Parliament a few weeks ago. Every single Greek representative appeared to have been born in Thessaloniki, which, as the Greeks pointed out, was in Macedonia.
Does the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee believe that Greece has the right to prevent Macedonia from being a member of the EU with the name "Macedonia"?
If there is to be enlargement of the European Union in future it must clearly be agreed by all member states, and if Greece chooses to operate a veto, that will be impossible. However, I understand that at this moment representatives of the two Governments are discussing ways of resolving the issue. I hope that it will be resolved, because instability on the Greek borders and in the Balkans is not in the interests of either Greece or the EU in general, and I think that instability will result if there is no further enlargement to bring the western Balkans as a whole into the European Union.
Having dealt with the legal objections to the arguments of the German Chancellor and the French President, I should add that I consider the argument that further enlargement requires further institutional reform to be wrong on political grounds. Since the Nice treaty, to which reference has been made, the European Union has had several years in which to adjust to the enlargement that has already taken place. A number of people thought that gridlock would result if the EU did not bring about massive institutional change, but—although the process has been difficult, and has not always worked smoothly—there have been incremental adjustments in the way in which the EU has worked over recent years.
Academic reports and debates have been mentioned. Professor Helen Wallace of the London School of Economics concluded that
"the 'business as usual' picture is more convincing than the 'gridlock' picture as regards practice in and output from the EU institutions since May 2004."
According to Professor Anand Menon of Birmingham university,
"Even under the procedures of the Nice Treaty, the enlarged European Union is functioning fine... there isn't an institutional crisis that is more serious than what existed prior to enlargement."
On that basis, there are grounds for thinking that even the EU's existing institutional arrangements would be able to accommodate further member states, although it would not be very easy and the resulting structure would not be very efficient. We would have too many commissioners, the European Parliament would be a bit of a mess—but then, what's new?—and there would of course be inefficiencies, as there are today. However, I do not think it impossible for the European Union to proceed with further enlargement even without the Lisbon treaty, although the treaty would make it work better. The ability to be more efficient than it is at present would clearly be important to the way in which it functions.
No, I am not suggesting that at all. I believe it is right for this country to ratify the treaty, and I believe it is right for all countries to conclude the ratification process. I also recognise that, as has been made very clear, unless all 27 member states ratify the treaty it will not come into effect. I am arguing both that incremental steps should be taken to establish what can be done practically without the treaty, pending its coming into effect, and that, if it does not come into effect, we must try to cope with the situation as we find it. I do not think that we should halt the process and embark on a so-called period of reflection lasting for one, two or however many years, becoming obsessed with institutional structures and not dealing with the real issues.
I hope that Croatia will conclude its accession negotiations with the EU next year. I also hope that following the political progress that has been made in Serbia, it too will eventually join the EU. I have already referred to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and to Macedonia. The future of Kosovo will be complicated, but it is essential to the overall stability. If we are to deal with such issues as people smuggling, migration and secure borders, it is vital that there are no non-legal holes in the Balkans where a framework is absent. The best solution is for all those countries to come into the European Union.
Turkey has also been mentioned, and I strongly support its membership of the European Union. There are political difficulties there, but we hope that the democratic forces will eventually triumph over the revanchist authoritarianism that exists in the military. It will be a few years before Turkey is ready to consider coming into the European Union in any practical way because many changes and reforms are necessary. However, importantly, the prospect of those reforms will be strengthened if Turkey's joining the European Union is still on the horizon. If we, because of our institutional failures, block off the future enlargement of the European Union, we will do a disservice to the democratisation and reform process in not only the Balkans but Turkey.
I will conclude by making a few remarks about what is going on in the structures of the European Union. I strongly agree with Enlargement Commissioner, Olli Rehn, that the Irish vote means that the European Union
"cannot take time out from its...accession policy."
Mr. Rupel, the Slovenian Foreign Minister, who holds the presidency of the Council of Ministers—I am wearing the Slovenian presidency tie to show solidarity with his remarks—was absolutely right to say:
"Croatia could become a member regardless of the Lisbon Treaty".
Slovenia has done a very good job of being a presidency country. The Slovenians were not responsible for the result in Dublin, and they must be congratulated on what they have done over the past six months.
I urge the Government and the Minister for Europe, who is in the Chamber, to reinforce the line that is being taken by Commissioner Rehn and the Slovenian presidency. In their discussions with the French and German Governments—I understand that the Prime Minister will meet President Sarkozy soon—I urge them to emphasise that we believe that this is the time not to put barriers in the way of enlargement, but to send out positive signals to countries that have not yet joined the enlarged European Union.
The forthcoming Brussels summit is important for many reasons. It is incredibly important that the EU take the opportunity to try to deal collectively with the problems of rising oil and food prices, given the impact that those problems are having on the living standards of our constituents, the people of Europe and the world as a whole. The summit is also important because it gives us the chance to hear from the Irish Government how they view the future of the Lisbon treaty. It will allow the discussion of many foreign policy issues raised by the Foreign Secretary, such as Zimbabwe, Iran, Burma and the western Balkans. I will come to all those in turn.
Let me pick up the theme of the Slovenian presidency from the speech made by Mike Gapes. Slovenia has done a good job, and I hope that all Front Benchers will put on record our admiration for, and thanks to, the Slovenians. Slovenia is a small country and a relatively new member of the European Union. It represents one of the success stories of the EU and points the way to the future.
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of the enlargement process not being stopped whatever happens to the Lisbon treaty. Enlargement is critical to the EU's future and there is broad consensus on the policy in the House. However, the process has caused great consternation among the peoples of Europe. Some would argue that part of the message from the referendums in France, Holland and Ireland was concern about the effects of enlargement, because in a European Union that is about the free movement of people, enlargement means that foreigners might migrate to different parts of the EU to work, to live and to set up businesses. I support that, as a liberal, and I think that many hon. Members support it. However, we, the European Union and its member states must recognise that the process causes tensions.
Hon. Members who knocked on doors during the recent Crewe and Nantwich by-election know that there were concerns about the increase in the Polish population in that constituency. We must tackle those concerns head-on and argue for an enlarged European Union that sees the benefits of the free movement of people. Anyone who supports enlargement should be prepared to do that, and that should be a key message in response to several of the problems before us.
It is worth focusing on the benefits of enlargement with regard to the Slovenian presidency. The treaties of Amsterdam, Nice and Lisbon were partly designed to try to deal with tensions and difficulties involved with enlargement, albeit with greater focus on the institutional issues. To put our different positions on the Lisbon treaty to one side, if, as we seem to do, we all believe in the continuation of the enlargement process—if we want Croatia and countries in the western Balkans to come in, and if we want to contemplate Turkey becoming a member—we must deal with the tensions and concerns that enlargement causes among the peoples of Europe and the strains and stresses that it puts on the way the European Union operates.
If the hon. Gentleman's real concern is that we should get grass-roots support for enlargement, and thus acceptance that membership of the European Union is a good thing, why did he not take the opportunity to make his case to the people of Britain in a referendum on the Lisbon treaty?
The hon. Lady wants to take us back to something that we have debated many times in the House. Such tensions existed before the Lisbon treaty. The accessions that took place before the Lisbon treaty involved issues surrounding immigration and migration that were not addressed in that treaty, as she knows.
Surprisingly, I agree with the hon. Gentleman on one point: we must be careful in what we say about EU immigrants coming to this country because that could stir up tensions and additional concerns about the European Union. I spent a great deal of time helping during the Crewe and Nantwich by-election. The Labour party was very guilty of whipping up resentment towards, and fear about, the Polish people living in Crewe. That was an absolute disgrace, and the Compass group of Labour MPs says the same thing.
I will not comment on that, although Labour Members may do so if they wish. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on recently arguing in public that people should welcome the Polish people who come over here because they benefit our country.
Many of us believe in enlargement, but the enlargement of what? I put it to the hon. Gentleman that the enlargement of the present undemocratic European Union, which, for example, does not recognise the Irish vote, gives us an indication of why the Irish took the position they did and why there is so much resentment among the ordinary people of this country that they have not been given a vote—thanks to the Liberal Democrats.
One of the ironies of the position taken by those such as the hon. Gentleman is that one of the major ideas behind the Lisbon treaty was improving the democratic accountability of EU institutions— [ Interruption. ] The hon. Gentleman might not agree, but that was our analysis and that of many others.
I never understand the hon. Gentleman's vision of a Europe in which the European Union has been dissolved. Let me take him through some of the practical matters with which a Union of co-operating countries must deal. Mr. Hague talked about the importance of trading standards and international trade and prosperity. If there is to be effective trade, there must be an international body to deal with trading standards and health and safety issues for consumer goods and food. One of the advantages of the European Union since the Single European Act, which I think Mr. Cash probably opposed, is that it has been able to do that in a proper way with due process.
Let me point the hon. Gentleman toward measures in the Lisbon treaty that would have helped us to ensure that we can manage some of the problems that come from enlargement. For example, on justice and home affairs it would have made it easier to deal with the problems caused by convicted sex offenders who have served their sentence and are now able to travel round the European Union and apply for jobs in this country. One of the ideas behind some of those policy areas was to have a proper, due legal process to enable countries to share information about convicted sex offenders who have been released. At the moment, we do that very imperfectly. If we can take that path, we can ensure that the free movement of people does not put our people—those whom we are sent here to represent—at risk. There are many such issues, including drug trafficking and the illegal importing of guns and knives. Those are key law and order issues, and we have to have a process for dealing with the potential problems that come from allowing the free movement of people, which I believe the hon. Gentleman supports. That is why some of us thought that the Lisbon treaty actually had many benefits.
I did in fact vote for the Single European Act, although I did suggest in an amendment that we should absolutely guarantee the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament, which I still hold to. In essence, my argument is that we should renegotiate these treaties, and it should be "European trade, yes; European government, no." That is the difference that I have with the Liberal Democrats.
It is always interesting when people go on this flight of fantasy. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the history of the union of the United States of America, he will see that it came together because of the way that trade regulations and trade were managed throughout the states. That is how the federal Government in the United States evolved and developed. I am not suggesting, by the way, before the hon. Gentleman intervenes, that we should have that model for Europe. I do not want the European Union to become like the United States of America because, he may be surprised to know, I believe in individual sovereign member states co-operating through the European Union. However, that still requires an international form of government operating through due process to deal with all the issues thrown up by trade. The fact that he seeks to deny that undermines his case. I am delighted that he voted for the Single European Act, as that is the cause of many of the regulations that he says he opposes.
While the hon. Gentleman is on the Lisbon treaty, may I point out that he and I had many disagreements, of course, during the passage of the European Union (Amendment) Bill through this House? However, the one thing that we were absolutely united on was the passerelle or ratchet clauses. We both argued in our speeches in this House that they should be subject to primary legislative control in Parliament, and our parties both voted that way together in this House. He can imagine my surprise when, on the matter coming before the other place and a similar proposition being put forward, the Liberal Democrat peers all voted against it. Can he explain why that was the case?
I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman was surprised, and for this reason. If he had read the Lords Hansard of the debate on those issues, he would know that the Liberal Democrat peers achieved a serious victory, having worked with colleagues in all parties, including his own, in Committees such as the European Union Committee and the Constitution Committee. We ensured that Baroness Ashton of Upholland was able to tell peers in the other place about a whole series of measures that would ensure that the accountability procedures—not just those in the other place but in this House—would be significantly increased, with annual reports at the beginning and end of each parliamentary Session on what was planned in the European Union and what had actually happened, with extra information—
In a second; I am answering the point made by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks. Those reports would have provided extra information in the form of memorandums, and ministerial scrutiny through extra debates and votes. The accountability procedure that we ensured through our negotiations in the other place is so much greater than any accountability procedure that any past Conservative Government allowed. The fact that the right hon. Gentleman failed to acknowledge that does not do him any favours.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. On Liberal Democrat behaviour in the Lords, I clearly remember his walking out of this Chamber when he was not allowed to have a vote on in or out. Could he take a moment to explain why his colleagues in the Lords abstained on the very same question?
I was going to come to that, but I am very happy to deal with it now. The hon. Gentleman ought to apologise, because he and his friends prevented us from having such a debate in the elected House. If we had had one—if he had allowed it—he might have had a stronger point. He failed to allow that vote here, so he really does not have much of a leg to stand on.
Absolutely not, and the hon. Gentleman knows that because he knows our position on the issue. If he and his friends had allowed the democratic Chamber to have a vote, he would have a strong case, but he failed to do that, so we will take no lessons from him on this point.
One of the major issues at the European summit will be oil and food prices, which are affecting our constituents seriously. When they go the pump to fill up their car and go to the supermarket, they see prices rising horrendously, and that is affecting our economy overall and many businesses. Some of the problems affecting our economy are home-grown, such as the many problems caused by the Government's incoherent tax policy, but to be fair to them, some of the causes of our economic problems are international. If there is to be any possible solution to or mitigation of them, that will be found through working with international partners.
The biggest global economic challenges—the huge rises in energy and food prices, and oil touching $140 a barrel—are going to require major international attention over the next few months. The international community needs a shared understanding of the dynamics of commodity price inflation, and of which factors are short term and will pass, which are cyclical and which are long term and structural. If we can get a shared understanding, I hope that we can agree a shared policy response—be it on agricultural policy, oil and energy supply and demand, influencing the destabilising speculative investment in commodities, or whatever we collectively decide the cause is.
Such international co-operation will be at different levels. The recent UN summit on food in Rome was an important initiative. We saw the limitations—the problems with Argentina vetoing some of the better proposals for tariff reductions—and heard the discussions with and between the countries of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Saudi Arabia was very important in that regard, and we welcomed its announcement on increasing oil production. However, it is not really clear whether that will go far enough even to test one of the theories on the causes of these oil price rises—that they are connected to all the speculative money coming into oil. All these arenas are important in trying to deal with these problems, but the question for this House today and for the summit is how best to maximise the UK's and the EU's influence on these damaging price rises.
Within the EU, we have a much better chance of being heard—whether it is at the G8 or the UN, within the OECD and so on—because we have the potential to speak as one. If we can persuade other EU countries to adopt better responses to the situation—if we can push for better EU-wide frameworks, be they in energy or agricultural policies—collectively, we can have a much bigger impact. I say in passing that if we can persuade the EU to focus its aid budget on the poorest, who are hit hardest by some of these price rises, again, collectively we can do more good than by acting in isolation.
The question for the summit is: if that is the theory of EU co-operation, can the summit deliver? It has not been mentioned in the debate so far, but the Commission has prepared two papers for the European Council to consider: one on the rise in food prices, and the other on the rise in oil prices. I have studied them, and they make a great deal of sense, although they do not say a lot that is new; the Foreign Secretary touched on the health check for the CAP, which I shall come to in a second, but they largely confirm the existing direction of EU policy. In their analysis of the problem, both papers argue that the price rises have short-term elements, but they focus on the worrying thing for us all, which is the fact that underlying structural changes are not just evident but strong, and they will demand major changes in how we in this country, and people elsewhere, do things.
The volatility of food prices is a phenomenon that has been known for decades in economic analysis. Clearly, some of that volatility comes from the short-term effects of the droughts in Australia and the lack of investment in recent years because of rather low food prices historically, but there is much more to it than that. The longer-term trend of increased global demand, because the populations in China and India are becoming wealthier, changing their food habits and so on, will have a major impact on food supply and food demand. What we are beginning to see is only the first signs of that.
As I said, the CAP health check is welcome. The European documents claim that it will lead to further reductions in the link between direct payments to farmers and production, so that market signals are stronger, and we hope that that will raise production. Liberal Democrats, having long argued for CAP reform in that direction, support the measure. I hope that the Minister can respond on this matter, because there have been reports of some EU countries wishing to use the food price crisis to reverse the reform direction of the CAP and argue that we should increase subsidies, rather than trying to phase them out. I hope that he can assure the House that our Government will be firm in opposing such moves, as they go in completely the wrong direction. Will he also say whether the EU's position ahead of the next meetings for world trade talks will also take that into account, because if we are to encourage the smaller farmers around the world to increase their production and productivity, surely the case for reduced EU agricultural subsidies in the Doha round is even stronger?
My only query on the Commission's communication to the summit on food prices is that it does not engage with some of the even deeper, more alarming challenges for world food supply. One keeps hearing from the UN that we must raise production and productivity, and that is obvious, but the issue is that the production must be sustainable, as must increases in it. People refer to the green revolution that has taken place in recent decades, which has enabled food supply to increase. When one begins to examine that in detail, it is worryingly fragile—that is true even in respect of the increases in production in past decades—primarily because of the poor use of water around the world. I do not know whether the Minister is aware of estimates that 200 million Indians are surviving on food production made possible by the unsustainable use of underground water aquifers. In the next decade or two, those aquifers will be exhausted and the food supply that is feeding 200 million Indians today will no longer be there. When we start taking account of such things—even before we have taken account of global population growth—we can begin to see the huge strategic challenges that face the world. I do not believe that either the UN food summit or the Commission's document faces up to those more strategic issues.
On oil and energy, the Commission's document is more concrete on the medium term, despite the fact that it is slightly wishful about what can be done in the short term. That is a significant positive sign for the European Union, because the document shows that the EU has been doing a lot in this area. It has been ahead of the curve, rather than behind it, as it needs to be because of the increasing dependency on imports to the European Union, including, of course, imports to the UK, of fossil fuels—oil, gas, and so on.
The European response has focused on increasing renewables and on the energy efficiency action plan, and, if anything, its proposals have been too modest. People in this House and in this Government have said that the EU is perhaps being too demanding in wanting both a big increase in renewables and a big improvement in energy efficiency. However, given higher oil and energy prices—leaving aside climate change—the need for these programmes is ever greater.
What I would say—perhaps the Conservative Front-Bench team will echo this—is that we need to ensure that other countries take those plans seriously and implement them. It is all very well having the summit, signing up to the plans and having great schemes, but what happens if we are the only ones who are serious about increasing our renewable supply and improving energy efficiency? Will the Minister tell us about progress on the second round of the emissions trading scheme? The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks touched on that important European initiative. Can the Minister say whether the European Union is trying to export it? I hope that we can move it outside the European Union members and include other countries and some of the states in the United States, be it California or elsewhere, as that would be a step forward. The Slovenian presidency was right to make oil and food prices its top priority for this summit, and I hope that the meeting can ensure that Europe plays a strong role in both the immediate and medium term to find ways through the current crisis.
I am sure that colleagues on the Conservative Benches will be pleased to hear that I wish to discuss the challenges posed by the Irish no vote in the recent referendum, which was clearly a setback for those of us who support the treaty. I shall explain, as I began to do in earlier remarks, some of the benefits that will be lost if the Lisbon treaty falls. I repeat other colleagues' comments that we have to respect the Irish, and that the EU must not bully them. Those should not just be words; they should be facts. We cannot push the Irish to a solution that we want but they do not. It is plain, given the rules of the game, which we must respect—in this, again I agree with the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks—that nobody can say that just because Ireland is a small country, it cannot veto the process. It can veto the process; that is called due process and the rule of law.
The treaty's future, assuming that the other 26 member states ratify, lies in the hands of the Irish Government—no other conclusion can be reached—so we have to listen to them at the forthcoming summit. I make one request of the UK Government, which I believe to be legitimate, as they listen to the Irish Government and then respond on behalf of the country. Although we, of course, need to listen to the Irish, our Government should ask them for a decision relatively soon. Without saying what the decision should be, it is legitimate for another member state to say, "You haven't got years and years on this, because you are part of the European Union that has to work out how it will go forward." It is legitimate to ask the Irish when they are going to make a decision. Hon. Members: They have just made a decision! The Irish Government need to tell us how they wish to proceed; that is the point that I wish to make.
The hon. Gentleman may wish to know that article 29 of the Irish constitution makes provision for the authorisation of this treaty through a referendum, which is direct, binding legislation by the people of Ireland under their constitution, and it cannot be changed by the Government or even by the Dail. That is a provision in the constitution itself, so the whole thing is not only as dead as a parrot; it is as dead as a Dido.
The hon. Gentleman normally educates this House with his detailed knowledge of European matters, but let me educate him about pop music. Dido is a singer, and she is very much alive; I think that he meant to refer to the dodo.
Let me answer the point made by the hon. Member for Stone. I agree with his interpretation of the Irish constitution, and I think that there are only two possible wordings of the communiqué that will come out of the summit. The first is that the Irish Government are not going to make any further moves, and are going to say that the treaty is dead. Alternatively, the Irish will come up with their own plan—I stress that it will be their own plan. That would have to have a clear, defined and limited timetable. The European Union cannot have uncertainty in the coming months, and that is a fair request to make of the Irish Government.
Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I do not purport to speak for the Irish Government. They will report to the European Council, and that is one reason why the Liberal Democrats believe that it is right for Third Reading to proceed today in the other place. We have our procedures in this country and this Parliament, and they are different from those of the Irish. We have embarked on them and had months of debate, so there is no reason why we should not continue with them today. However, as I said on Monday when the Foreign Secretary made his statement—and as he confirmed in his response—the final stage of ratification, which is the deposit of the instrument of ratification in Rome, should await the European summit and hearing the Irish Government's view.
The Conservatives say that they do not want to hear about the Irish Government. Their view of diplomacy is to prejudge and anticipate the meeting with 26 other Governments, but that is not the right way to conduct foreign policy. If we are to have a meeting with our partners, we should wait to hear what they have to say. Pulling stunts as the Conservatives want to do would undermine British influence, not just at this European summit but beyond, and it would play into the hands of the larger states who do not want to respect the smaller states. The approach that the Government have taken, and that we are taking in the other place, is the right one.
May I gently suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he is causing himself unnecessary confusion? The one reason why he is right to say that we should wait for the Irish Government is that they do have one option open to them, which is to say that at some future date there may be a second referendum. That is the only way in which Ireland's constitution will allow them to ratify. It is a matter for domestic Irish politics whether a second referendum is a practical option, but until the Irish Government have made it clear whether it is on their agenda, it is not possible to say that the treaty is dead.
I agree, but while we should respect the Irish opinion and wait for the Irish Government to come up with a plan, we need a timetable. If the Irish Government say to the Council this weekend that they will not have a plan until the October summit, that will be their last chance. They will have to have a serious plan by the October summit, because it would be unacceptable for the issue to drift into next year. It would be bad for the European Union and, ultimately, for Ireland.
I would not support that, because it would be bullying. The message from the Irish voters and their Government is not that they want to leave the European Union. It is difficult to interpret what the message is, but it is not that they want to pull out.
The hon. Gentleman has sought to draw a distinction between Third Reading in the other place today and depositing the instruments of ratification in Rome. Is it the view of the Liberal Democrats that, assuming that the Irish Government do not give a clear steer on their intentions at the forthcoming summit and if the other place gives the Bill a Third Reading later today, Britain should not deposit our articles of ratification in Rome?
If we do not get a clear, timetabled approach from the Irish Government, finishing by October, there will be serious questions about the whole process of ratification, whether by the UK or beyond. The Irish Government must come forward with a clear timetable. I say that as a pro-European, because the pro-European cause would be seriously undermined if we had months and years of procrastination and delay. Whether one takes the Conservative interpretation of the Dutch, Irish and French referendums or other interpretations, there are clearly concerns about the treaty. Unless the Irish make their intentions clear in a relatively short period, it is probably right for the Lisbon treaty not to go ahead.
I say that as someone who supports the Lisbon treaty. I think that it has many benefits, but I have always argued that it is a modest treaty. Unlike some Conservatives, who thought that it was an earth-shattering major treaty, we have always argued that it was about sensible improved democratic accountability and the efficiency of the institutions, and included some welcome measures on issues such as energy policy. Were the treaty to fall, therefore, it would not be a disaster for the European Union. Indeed, the EU could operate on the Nice treaty. That is not something that we—unlike those on the Conservative Front Bench—seek, but it is true.
We have heard reference—implicit by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks and direct by the hon. Member for Ilford, South—to some of the academic work on how the EU has functioned since the Nice treaty, especially that by Professor Helen Wallace. That shows that member states have managed to get through. I have spoken to Helen Wallace about her work. She does not necessarily accept the right hon. Gentleman's full conclusions, because she believes that the Lisbon treaty would improve the situation further and would have many other benefits. Nevertheless, the European Union can go on without the Lisbon treaty if that is what transpires.
The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks has been very negative about the Nice treaty in the past. He now seems to be rather less worried about it, but he did say of it:
"Is not the truth, when we cut through the spin, that the agreement"—
the Nice treaty—
"represents three more major steps to a European superstate?"—[ Hansard, 11 December 2000; Vol. 359, c. 351.]
Perhaps he can remind the House what those three steps were, and whether he has any intention of opposing them in future, should he ever come to office.
In fact, it was the Conservative party's official position at the time of the Nice treaty that there should be a referendum on it. It paints itself as a party that supports enlargement, but it sought to block it by having a referendum.
I am troubled by the hon. Gentleman's speech, because the public appear to have no role. Why cannot he simply rejoice in what the Irish people have done? Putting the burden on the Government of Ireland is neither here nor there. We have not had any popular endorsements of this wretched treaty, but he seems indifferent to that. He suggests that it is more important that Heads of Government agree among themselves, even though they have no popular mandate for their actions.
That is not my position. I believe that every member state has its own constitutional process for ratifying the treaty, and the Irish Government are accountable to the Irish people. They have to reach their own conclusions. As the hon. Member for Stone rightly said, Ireland's constitutional position is that if the Irish Government wish to proceed, they will have to have a second referendum.
The Foreign Secretary touched on various other issues, to do with Zimbabwe, Burma and Iran. However, as other hon. Members wish to speak, I shall not go into detail about them, except to say that we support the Government's overall approach.
On Zimbabwe, the Government must persuade other EU members that a stolen election with all the killing, violence and intimidation that have been reported will move the EU, working with allies around the world, to take serious action. We must not simply look away: if what we all fear actually happens, this is one matter on which, at long last, the international community has to stand up and be counted.
The question of the western Balkans has not been mentioned much so far in this debate, but again we support the Government's overall approach. However, I hope that the Minister for Europe will say something on the record about Serbia's place in the European perspective on the western Balkans. Will he confirm that the stabilisation and association agreement that has been signed with Serbia will go no further until the Serbian Government ensure that war criminals like Mladic are offered up to the International Criminal Court?
This European summit is historic, as rising food and oil prices mean that it will have to deal with some of the most difficult economic and social problems for a generation. We have to hope that the EU can make a positive contribution to that work. The summit is also historic because it will have to take some difficult decisions about the EU's future institutional framework. Yet whatever decision the Irish Government reach, Britain's national interest remains with the EU, with or without the Lisbon treaty. We need to move on from institutional rancour and deal with the EU's policy agenda, which is so important for dealing with international crime, terrorism and climate change and for restoring prosperity to the countries of the EU.
For the EU to be effective, it must engage with the issues that matter to the people who live in it. The issues that affect my constituents in Wakefield are the same as those that worry people in Warsaw, and Wicklow. People in Wakefield are worried about rising food and fuel prices. They write to me urging me to do more about the dangers of climate change, and they care about the plight of people, both at home and abroad, who are less fortunate than they are. My answer is that there is much that we can do, but that such problems cannot be solved by the UK acting alone. We are much better able to act when we co-operate and work with our friends in Europe.
Global rises in the cost of food and fuel are hitting people in their pockets across Europe. The UK and Europe face two long-term energy challenges. The first is the need to deliver a secure supply of clean energy at prices that people can afford, and the second is climate change, which requires reductions in damaging carbon emissions that put our children's future at risk.
Fuel policy is now at the centre of European thinking. Europe imports half its gas from Russia, and 80 per cent. of that gas comes through Ukraine. In 2006, Russia interrupted the gas supply. During that time, I visited Brotherton's, a chemicals company in Wakefield. Its managing director described vividly the impact that a 50 per cent. increase in gas costs was having on the business's profit margin. When Russia turns off the tap, workers and businesses in Wakefield suffer.
Europe offers a clear route to cheaper, cleaner energy. Other hon. Members have described how the Heads of Government agreed in 2007 to a binding target of 20 per cent. of fuel from renewable sources by 2020. They also agreed to copy the UK model and further liberalise energy supplies by splitting supply and production from distribution activities. That should lead to lower prices for continental consumers, more competition and a level playing field on continental Europe, as well as to a level playing field for British companies that wish to distribute energy.
A functioning internal market and a common EU infrastructure in energy would lead to significant advantages for the UK and Europe, such as extra jobs, new technology, and, most importantly, cheaper prices for consumers. The EU will also increase by at least 50 per cent. its spending on energy research for the next seven years. That is great news for those British universities that are world leaders in certain areas of renewables research. That is the story that we need to tell our voters about the EU—how the single market and co-operation in Europe will lead to lower gas bills on their doormats.
On climate change, it is vital that we work with our EU partners to create an agreement to replace Kyoto when it runs out in 2012. Last year, the EU spoke with one voice at the UN climate change conference in Bali, and that unity gives us the basis for further negotiations to make large cuts in carbon emissions. Only a united Europe— with Britain at its centre, not skulking at the edges—can deliver the action that we need on climate change.
In March this year, the European Council agreed an ambitious schedule for adopting a package of measures to cut EU emissions by 20 per cent. by 2020, or by 30 per cent. as part of an international agreement. If one is pro-environment, one has to be pro-Europe. The EU emissions trading scheme is the biggest environment policy in the world and it is likely to be at the heart of, and perhaps the blueprint for, a future global carbon trading scheme.
Meeting the EU's climate change target requires not just action to reduce carbon emissions from energy suppliers and industry, but incentives to change individual behaviour as well. The European Commission is currently looking at how economic incentives, including VAT rates, can increase the use of energy-efficient goods and energy-saving materials in the home.
An EU that delivers cheaper insulation materials, cheaper energy-saving light bulbs, and cheaper green energy is an EU that speaks a language that everyone in Europe can understand. Tackling rising fuel prices and climate change can best be done through Governments working together, and that is why it is so baffling that Mr. Cameron is so determined to pull the Tories out of mainstream European politics. One of the few concrete pledges that he has made, in a stream of vague hints and sales pitches, is that he will remove the Tory MEPs from the European People's party, so putting them firmly on the fringes of the European political scene.
The Lisbon treaty allows the EU to tackle climate change at an international level. It is vital that we press on with it so that we can take action in that area. Labour has led on climate change both at home and abroad. We were pivotal in securing the Kyoto protocol, and with our European neighbours we launched the international emissions trading scheme. Further work is being done with the recently introduced Climate Change Bill.
Meanwhile, however, Mr. Redwood—who headed the Opposition's economic competitiveness policy review—believes that climate change is a "swindle". It is no wonder that people are starting to realise that the Opposition's claim to care about the environment is nothing but a photo opportunity and a scam—a reptilian green skin that will be shed in favour of true-blue tax cuts and Europe-bashing at the first opportunity.
Yesterday, the Governor of the Bank of England announced inflation figures showing that people in the UK are spending 8 per cent. more on food this year compared to last. Global food prices have risen by 83 per cent. over the last three years, and rice, maize and wheat prices have all reached record highs this year. There are no magic bullets or simple solutions to the problems of rising food prices. They concern us all, and they affect the poorest in every society. I am especially concerned about the effect that the price rises will have on children, not just in EU member states but—and particularly—in the developing world. They are making food unaffordable for many of the poorest people in the world's poorest countries. It is an international problem, and it requires an international response.
The UK is just one voice among those of 240 countries in the world, but when we stand with our European partners we are part of an institution that speaks for almost 500 million people and generates almost a third of the world's wealth. When the EU speaks, the world listens.
The Prime Minister has made it clear that the world is not making progress on the eight millennium development goals agreed by world leaders in 2000. The first of those goals is supposed to be achieved by 2015 and it is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. We are halfway through the time scale allocated for achieving the millennium development goals, and we are absolutely nowhere near reaching the target.
Hon. Members have talked in this debate about the situation in Zimbabwe, where 45 per cent. of the population is dependent on food aid. Even now, the international humanitarian response is in jeopardy, as Mugabe uses the food supply as a tool of oppression and a political instrument.
In Burma, the natural disaster caused by Cyclone Nargis was compounded by the generals' indifference to their suffering population. Burma might now have faded from the news headlines, and it might be incredibly difficult for journalists to report from there, but, as we speak, probably thousands if not tens of thousands of people are dying a slow, lingering death from diseases that are preventable by vaccines and good hygiene—because of the generals' difficulties in allowing foreign aid agencies in. There are people in this House who believe that such indifference on a mass scale, compounding the devastation caused by the cyclone, constitutes a crime against humanity.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which I visited in 2006, there is an infant mortality rate of 20 per cent. in children under five. That means that one in five children dies before their fifth birthday. In the east of the country, in north and south Kivu, there is also widespread sexual violence against women. While I was in the DRC, in Bukavu, I visited the Panzi hospital, which treats some of the 4,000 rape victims each year, whose ages range from four to 75. Those women and children have not only been raped with violence by the militias of the Interahamwe, who are still hiding in the jungle and in the bush; they have been abused and tortured with bottles, guns and pieces of wood. The doctors there spend an incredible amount of time and effort trying to put those women's lives back together.
That hospital is funded by the European Union's programme. The irony was that the hospital received funding while war was raging in eastern Congo between 1998 and 2004, but as soon as peace was declared in the region, the European Community decided that it no longer merited emergency funding, because the situation in that province was no longer classed as an emergency. The funding therefore ended. I am delighted that the Department for International Development has made up some of the shortfall in that funding, which has allowed the hospital to create a second ward in which women can wait for their operations. They often need a series of operations.
It is important to look at how European assistance is given and to ensure that there are better controls over that process. Every year, we see conflicts, droughts and earthquakes triggering humanitarian responses in different parts of the world, and every year millions of people, be they in the DRC, Afghanistan or Darfur, find themselves without shelter, food, water or medical care. The European Union provides emergency relief to those people. The EU is the world's biggest aid spender, with a combined budget of $34 billion in 2004, of which $8 billion is administered by the EU directly. I believe that the EU must follow the UK's lead in decoupling trade from aid. That is another provision that the Lisbon treaty would allow. We are halfway through the target time frame for the millennium development goals, yet we are nowhere near achieving many of them.
I want to conclude by mentioning the Irish referendum. The Irish have spoken, but there are 26 other member states whose opinions matter as well. The fact that one country has said no to the package as it stands is no reason for us to forget the reasons why we need reform, and no reason for us to stick with the current system. All member states agree on the need for reform. Even Conservative Members are agreed on that, and the various groups that campaigned for a no vote in Ireland claimed that they wanted a better settlement. We need to allow the Irish a period of reflection and space to identify what they do not like about the Lisbon treaty. Presumably, it is not the extra democratic powers for Parliaments, or the clearer focus on combating climate change. It must be some other aspects that they do not like. If they can identify those aspects, perhaps their concerns can be addressed.
I should also like to caution hon. Members that public hostility and indifference to the process of EU institutional reform are nothing new. I remember standing outside the James Joyce pub in Brussels when the Danes rejected the Maastricht treaty in 1992. It was an interesting evening, and one that I remember well. The Danes said to the rest of Europe that they did not want to destroy the entire edifice, and that they would come back with constructive proposals that would provide a way out of the impasse. They had looked at the parts of the Maastricht package that they did not like, and the UK and other member states were able to meet their concerns without making huge changes to the treaty. The treaty was then approved by a comfortable majority in a new referendum.
Some of the fears raised during the Irish debate were unjustified. The treaty does not affect Ireland's abortion laws. It does not affect Ireland's ability to set tax rates or its neutrality. Nor does it force its armed services to become part of a European army. Those fears can be assuaged without fundamentally changing the treaty, perhaps through clarifying declarations or additional protocols.
The UK Government are right to give the Irish a breathing space. Whatever the issues may be, it should not be impossible to address them. I do not think that we should pay any attention to the howling of Eurosceptics that holding a new referendum would in some way be undemocratic. It is perfectly reasonable to address differences in the positions of the 27 EU countries by asking a minority of one to think again, especially after working together to address the concerns involved.
Mr. Hague is no longer in his place. We talked a lot about cojones when he was ribbing the Liberal Democrats earlier. I wonder whether it is a demonstration of cojones on the part of his leader not to reject Alun Cairns as a Welsh Tory prospective parliamentary candidate for saying that he would not support the Italian football team because they were a bunch of "greasy wops". I wonder why the Conservative party has not expelled someone who expounds such racist and xenophobic views— [ Interruption. ]
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I think that it is a matter of European concern when a party has members who express such xenophobic sentiments.
Returning to the Lisbon treaty, I do not believe that anyone wants yet more debate and negotiation on the minutiae of the composition of the EU institutions. I am sure that that prospect sends shivers down the spines of Members on both sides of the House— [ Interruption. ] Except the spineless, indeed. Achieving a solution acceptable to all 27 countries is never easy, but an even worse solution would be to abandon all hope of reform and have a poorly functioning EU that would be incapable of further expansion. We need to ensure that the EU expands eastwards to Croatia and to the nascent, fledgling states of the Balkans.
I should like to make a final point about the Irish. There are 1.6 million Irish people living in the UK at the moment, many of them pensioners. Two of them are my parents. The reason that they can draw pensions in this country—based on the work that they did in Ireland, and as residents of the United Kingdom—is that Ireland and the UK joined the EEC, as it then was, in 1972, and that the provisions of joining gave citizens of both countries the right to draw pensions in another member state. Those Irish citizens and pensioners living in the UK did not have a chance to express their views in the referendum, but I am sure that if they had, the response would have been very different.
I conclude my remarks with a quotation from a person who led this country into the EEC:
"Europe does not exist for the sake of Ministers and Members of Parliament, the ambassadors and experts. Europe exists for the peoples of Europe".
That was what Ted Heath said as he took this country into Europe, and I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House would do well to remember that as we go forward in Europe.
Mary Creagh ended her speech with a quotation; perhaps I may begin with one from many years ago. G. K. Chesterton said:
"The golden age of the good European is...a place where people will love each other; not...a place where they will be each other."
Although he was clearly not envisaging the European Union, there is a resonance between his words and the debate here and throughout Europe on the kind of Europe that we are trying to create. Is it a Europe of close co-operation, close friendship and close amity with the wider world, or a Europe that is constantly seeking further integration with some distant aspiration and ideal? Debates in Britain and elsewhere in Europe increasingly show that the wider public simply do not give their consent to the more integrated type of Europe that many of its founding fathers assumed would be Europe's destiny, and to which many in Europe, particularly continental Europe, still aspire.
Let me comment on some of the conclusions and implications that we ought to draw from the referendum in Ireland. My first point is potentially of domestic significance. If the Irish Government were to propose holding a second referendum at some future date, it would, at the very least, mean a major delay before final implementation of the new treaty; that would be an unavoidable consequence of the Irish saying that they wished to hold a second referendum. It would be perhaps another year, a year and a half, or even two years before all countries could ratify. Before then, there will almost certainly be a United Kingdom general election. If that led to a change of Government, one consequence would be that even if the treaty had been ratified in the United Kingdom, if it had not come into effect because an Irish referendum had not yet taken place, an incoming Conservative Government could reopen the whole issue by calling a referendum. That was not true until last week. Even if we had ratified, we could de-ratify if the treaty had not yet come into effect.
I have made clear my view that it would be absurd for a future Conservative Government to hold a referendum if the treaty had already come into effect; that would be a pointless exercise, and would be wrought with great difficulties. If, however, the treaty had not come into effect because the Irish had not ratified, my Front-Bench colleagues would be perfectly entitled to say, "The United Kingdom made a commitment that the British would have a choice", and that the matter should not simply be up to the Government." That is a profound consequence of what happened last week.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes an important point, and his colleague, Mr. Hague, was, I think, nodding in agreement. To put the matter on the record, are we saying that if the House of Commons ratifies the treaty and Her Majesty gives Royal Assent, but the treaty does not come into force, a new Government would, before the British people, Europe and the world, hold a referendum to undo that work?
I cannot speak for the Conservative party; I can only express my view of what would be legally possible and appropriate. If a treaty is being— [Interruption.] If the right hon. Gentleman wishes me to give way to him again, I do not mind doing so, but if he wishes to have a private conversation with my right hon. Friend Mr. Hague, he might like to do it elsewhere. The simple fact is that once a treaty has come into effect, one cannot reverse it. If a country ratifies a treaty before it comes into effect, but wishes to change its mind and go through constitutional procedures to do so, of course that must be an option available to it.
I follow what my right hon. and learned Friend says, and agree with his principal point. It is, of course, one of the reasons I proposed a post-ratification referendum some months ago. I ask him to confirm that it is at any time open to Parliament, and to Government, to seek parliamentary authority for a referendum, irrespective of whether a treaty is effective or not.
Not for the first—or, I am sure, last—time, I do not agree with my hon. Friend. If the treaty comes into effect before there is a change of Government in this country, it would be pointless, absurd and wholly damaging to the country's interests to go through with a referendum on a matter that had already been addressed. Other processes could be initiated, and other policies could be taken forward, but in the circumstances that I outlined, a referendum would be ludicrous.
I now come to the second consequence of the Irish decision to which we ought to be alert. My hon. Friend Mr. Hands and other hon. Friends asked the Secretary of State about it, saying, "Okay, the treaty cannot come into effect without ratification by every country, but will there be various ways in which aspects of the treaty are taken forward, in the coming weeks and months, by those in Brussels who have responsibility for such affairs?" We have seen how, in other areas, that sometimes happens. I have to say to the Government—I hope that the Foreign Secretary, in particular, will bear this in mind—that if hard evidence emerged to show that matters subject to the implementation of the treaty were being taken forward substantively in advance of the treaty being ratified, it would not only be controversial and outrageous in itself but would considerably devalue the Government's assurances on the various opt-outs that had been negotiated over the years. If, in practice, opt-outs can be ignored or circumscribed as a result of other measures taken in Europe, that would be very serious for the United Kingdom's relationship with the European Union.
The third point that I want to make on the Irish referendum—here I may slightly differ from some of my right hon. and hon. Friends—is that I do not believe that the treaty is dead. It is not for the Irish public formally to decide on ratification. The position is that the Irish Government cannot ratify unless the proposal is endorsed by the Irish electorate. It is a matter of domestic Irish politics whether the Irish Government believe that it is possible or desirable for them to go back to the Irish electorate at some time and ask them whether they are willing to reconsider. It is not realistic to believe that everything in Europe will stop as an immediate consequence of the vote in the Republic of Ireland. It is of course much more likely that if the Irish Government do not rule out a second referendum, there will be attempts to develop various assurances and protocols that are not in conflict with the treaty, in the hope that the Irish will come to a different judgment. We will have to wait and see whether that is appropriate, but it is not in itself an unreasonable way for the European Union to respond at this stage, if it is advised by the Irish Government that the matter has not been determined once and for all.
My right hon. and learned Friend makes the point that once the treaty has been ratified by all the countries, a future Conservative Government would not, in his view, be able to start renegotiating it, but surely at some stage in future such a Government might be able to try to renegotiate aspects of the treaty, just as the American constitution is constantly changed and modernised.
It is possible for any Government in Europe to open any issue that they wish, and to try to persuade their colleagues to make changes; that, of course, is right. What I am saying is that holding a referendum in this country on whether the Lisbon treaty should be implemented would be absurd if the treaty had already been ratified by every country and had come into effect. That would be a pointless exercise. Of course, there may be other initiatives that a future British Government, or any other Government, might wish to take; that is entirely within their control and discretion.
I want to move on from the Irish vote and consider the wider implications of what is happening in Europe. Increasingly, in cases where the peoples of Europe are invited to give their judgment, they are saying no to proposals put to them by their Government. That has happened not in Denmark, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Poland or any other countries that are thought to be sceptical; what is most significant and disturbing to those who believe in the European concept is that that has happened in France, the Netherlands and Ireland—countries that were overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the European Union and still profess to be so. At the very least, the conclusion that we must draw if we are honest with ourselves is that, in those countries, and doubtless in other continental European countries, there is a developing mismatch between the political elites, who remain committed to the European Union and perhaps to further integration, and their populations, who do not, when given the choice, choose to give their consent.
The question must therefore be addressed, whether one is a Europhile or a Eurosceptic: what is the future of the EU, if it is not based on the genuine, whole-hearted, democratic consent of the people of the countries concerned? It is not good enough for political elites simply to say that they have found a clever way to implement a change that they are trying to achieve. They may succeed—in the short term, they may be remarkably successful, and be very pleased with themselves. If they increasingly use such methods, and if they make clear their contempt for their electorate's views, they will come to rue the day, because ultimately they will destroy the belief of the vast majority of people—not just Eurosceptics, politicians and people who take part in our debates but the public as a whole in Britain and throughout continental Europe. That is a crucial point.
The question is therefore: how do we try to square the circle? In Europe, many people—not just politicians but many members of the general public—still want the process of integration to be taken further. There are many people, perhaps millions of them, who genuinely want that, particularly in Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and elsewhere. How do we reconcile that with something that is equally apparent: the fact that there are millions of people who take a different view? They are not anti-European: they want close European co-operation, and they want the EU to survive. They are not trying to dismantle the edifice, but they want to reconcile that with their own belief about what is possible and desirable in the modern world.
I think that it can be reconciled, which is why I come back to the question of what is often referred to as "Europe à la carte". That is not some artificial concept—it is not an attempt to achieve the impossible, but a recognition that Europe is totally different from the United States or sovereign states around the world. It is a unique construct, as nothing like it has existed before: so many nation states have never before agreed to share certain degrees of national sovereignty. How do we reconcile that with the strong differences, which are increasingly evident, and unwillingness to go further by tens of millions of people?
The Europe à la carte concept is important. It is not simply about opt-outs. There are opt-outs for various countries on the single currency, Schengen, home affairs, and a range and other matters. It is not just the United Kingdom that has opt-outs: Sweden, Poland and other countries claim and exercise such rights, which is important. Two fundamental changes, however, need to be made to achieve what I am talking about, which could be the basis for a more consensual Europe. First, we have to recognise that those opt-outs and others that may emerge are not temporary; they are permanent, or will be so in many cases. A phrase that has been used in the past week is "a two-speed Europe". I do not believe in a two-speed Europe, because it implies that we will all end up at the same destination, except that some will get there a bit later than others. It is simply a transitional arrangement for countries to have opt-outs—as if the UK will one day join the single currency. I do not believe that it will do so, although I cannot prove that—it is simply my judgment.
It is not a two-speed Europe that we are discussing. It must be recognised that many countries—perhaps an increasing number—are not prepared to join parts of the European construct or acquis. That is a permanent factor, and it should be recognised. The second point, which is equally important, is that that must not be a matter for haggling, negotiation, bitterness and controversy. A dual right should exist in the EU. First, any country that wants to opt out of future integration proposals should not have to negotiate—it should have the right to do so. Equally, countries that wish to go further have the right to do so, and those who do not believe in that do not have the power to veto it. In both cases, that is not the situation today. At the moment, people haggle and negotiate. It is bitter and horrid, and eventually they achieve some sort of opt-out. That is not good enough. Equally, there is potential for enhanced co-operation to allow some groups of countries to go further. They have never been able to use that, as it is not a practical proposition at the moment.
Finally, I accept that anyone who wants to be a member of the European Union has to accept certain core responsibilities that go with membership. They have to accept the single market and the common agricultural policy. There are a range of other issues that it is necessary to accept if a country wants to be a member at all, but I am referring to what it does beyond that.
I am trying to follow the logic of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's argument about how we achieve deeper integration and his thoughts about opt-outs. Would he therefore advise the Danish Government against pursuing their proposal to hold a referendum on opt-outs, which they have been discussing over the summer?
I would not presume to advise the Danish Government at all. That is entirely a matter for domestic Danish politics, and it is for Denmark to decide the appropriate way to pursue those views. It is a debate that must take place within Denmark and, as long as the conclusion satisfies the Danish people, far be it from me to exercise or offer any different view.
Europe must recognise that there are certain core activities to which, if we are to have a European Union, all member states must sign up. But, if we wish to go beyond that, and many still do, it is crucial that we have a system that is flexible enough to recognise that fact.
I am listening very carefully to my right hon. and learned Friend's presentation, but the European Commission's own Sapir report, for example, recommended the common agricultural policy as an area that might be re-delegated or even returned to the sovereignty of member states. I do not think that there are any complete—untouchable—shibboleths that should prevent two-way traffic. On the existing treaty, the question is how we prevent the institutions—particularly the European Court of Justice—from constantly extending the meaning and import of what we have already signed. The precise problem already exists, because what we thought was an effective opt-out from the social chapter turned out not to be so with regard to the working time directive.
I entirely agree. If one wanted to move towards what I call an à la carte Europe, there would have to be an intense debate about the irreducible core that that membership implied.
I do not want to take up too much time. We can each have views on that subject. My own view is that the single market has to be a part of that irreducible core. I could give several other, personal, views, but that is a separate debate that will have to be held.
I also agree with my hon. Friend Mr. Jenkin that it is very dangerous if the European Court is given too much power, because unlike all other courts, including national courts, the European Court cannot be overruled by national Parliaments. A European Court judgment can be overruled only by a treaty amendment ratified by all 27 countries, and for all practical purposes that is non-deliverable. The whole issue of democratic consent comes to the fore again.
When the Government—possibly successive Governments—have looked at the question of Europe à la carte, they have always shied away from it. It is not just the people in Brussels who do not like it; the Government also tell us that the concept is unattractive, because if there were a two-speed or à la carte Europe, Britain would lose influence in Europe, we would be in the outer core and it would be dreadful. I acknowledge that if we do not go the whole way with other member states in new areas of integration, we lose some influence. By not being part of the single currency, we have lost some influence compared with what we might otherwise have had. But people who make that argument seem to ignore a fundamental part of the issue: influence is not an end in itself; it is normally the best means by which one protects and advances one's national interest. One is obliged to one's electorate to protect one's interests, not one's influence. Influence is simply one means to an end, so one should never give up one's interest in order to maximise one's influence. However, the opposite may occasionally be true: sometimes it is worth accepting a reduction in influence if that is the only way to protect one's interests, which are much more fundamental.
A reference was made earlier to the French Government's decision on NATO and joining the integrated military structure. Fifty years ago, General de Gaulle decided—rightly or wrongly; I pass no judgment—that it was in France's national interest to opt out of the integrated structure of NATO. As a consequence, for the past 50 years, France has lost influence in NATO. De Gaulle knew that that would happen, and indeed, it did. Over many matters, France has had less influence than it would otherwise have had, but, until President Sarkozy, successive French Governments concluded that, nevertheless, the national interest justified the decision. If they come to a different view now, it is again a matter for the French to decide in terms of their own perception of their national interest today.
Let us not therefore hear that the argument against an à la carte Europe is that if the United Kingdom were not in the inner core and part of a two-speed—or some other phrase that may be used—Europe, it would lose influence, as though that were somehow the end of the debate. We must identify our interests, but the public will ultimately tell us what they are, and we must respect that.
Those of us who are not diehard Eurosceptics trying to get Britain out of the European Union either directly or indirectly as quickly as possible must do some fundamental thinking. I say to my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary and to his shadow Cabinet colleagues that in the weeks and months that lead up to what may be the next Conservative Government, we must ensure that we not only give very careful thought to what we will do in the first few days, weeks or even couple of months after we have come to power, but make a very careful judgment about how we can be respected members of the European Union—not by abandoning our principles and beliefs, but by giving much greater and more careful thought to the kind of Europe that we are trying to construct.
We must not spend the next couple of years merely saying what we dislike about the present European Union and about the way in which the Government are carrying out their responsibilities—although those criticisms are justified, and I share them. It is precisely because there is, for the first time in 10 years, a serious prospect of our becoming the Government of the United Kingdom, and because we say that we remain committed to our membership of the European Union, that we must, I humbly suggest, do even more work to articulate the kind of Europe that we wish to see—not merely in terms of aspirations but of how it will function and how it will, if we are successful, enable the people of the United Kingdom to be content with our membership of the European Union so that we do not have more generations of this kind of discussion and debate and this kind of alienation. It is painful and disturbing if British membership of the European Union has become so dysfunctional. It must be articulated and progressed in a way that can make us be at peace with our membership of the European Union, or the whole operation will be hardly worth having.
I believe that there is a solution. It is not more integration or the giving up of national sovereignty but a flexible European Union that respects the right of each member state, not only the United Kingdom, to determine the degree of integration that it is comfortable with. I hope that the Conservative party can take the lead in articulating in some detail what that means and why it is a practical, realistic and attractive option for this country and for Europe as a whole.
Whenever we prepare for European Council meetings, I am reminded of an old Jewish proverb—"If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans." We think about what is going to happen, and it is then overtaken by events that completely dominate the discussions. This time, the unexpected event was the Irish no vote. Typically, the result of that vote was declared not only on Friday 13 but on the saint's day of St. Anthony of Lisbon, who is the patron saint of lost causes. I am tempted to think that God was laughing on that day.
However, perhaps the result was really a narrow escape. We should remind ourselves that the Lisbon treaty process started in 2001 with the Laeken declaration, which posited 64 extremely sensible questions that went to the heart of saying that the people of Europe were no longer connected to their institutions. We made the first mistake by suggesting that a constitution would be the answer to that disconnection. When the constitution was eventually produced, the people of France agreed with my laptop: whenever I typed in the word, "Giscard", it suggested replacing it with "discard", which is clearly what the French people did. However, we did not take enough note of that, and ended up with the treaty of Lisbon. We were given several reasons why we needed it, and people genuinely thought that we did, whether for enlargement, for greater efficiency, or because otherwise we would grind to a halt, but none of those things happened. We are now in great danger of expending even more political capital on trying to push through something that will not be in the long-term interests of the European Union.
The Lisbon treaty has always contained three fundamental tensions that will come back to bite us in the long term. The first—this is not about an à la carte Europe or one of two speeds—concerns those countries that are in the eurozone and those that are not. Despite appearing to be a success, if we compare the development of the euro with that of the dollar, it is clear that it is not yet an effective single currency. We will see over the next few years what happens to the property market in Spain, in Greece, in Italy and even in Ireland. If the countries that are in the euro are to have a proper functioning currency, they will sooner or later require deeper political integration.
The first example of what Lisbon did not address, which needs to be addressed at some stage, is the tension involved in those two levels of economic integration. The second is that we never really addressed—even though it was touched on—the fact that the countries coming into the European Union were mostly smaller ones. The western Balkans were mentioned earlier, and the former Yugoslavia has to be included in some shape or another, if we look at the map of Europe. The disproportionate rights of smaller countries compared with those of larger countries has led to tensions increasing in the case of unanimous votes.
When we go to the next stage—and I want Turkey to come in—in which we have voting systems with an element of population weighting, we will have one very big problem. In other words, even for the most committed pro-Europeans who wish to see further enlargement, Lisbon would have run into the buffers. If Lisbon is driven through against the wishes of large sections of the population, we will not be able to come back to make further required changes, while obtaining consent. The problem is that for a long time, the European Union operated on the basis of implied consent, and when it asked for explicit consent, it did not get it.
We have to address most of those problems in national Parliaments, and we have to change the way in which we do business. I do not want to go into that point today, because Ministers are going to a meeting at the weekend at which extremely important issues will have to be dealt with. One of them is defence. The most significant announcement has been France's declaration that it will fully rejoin NATO. I urge the British Government to welcome that and to take a close look at the French defence paper. It states that it wants to address what it calls the rather modest defence spending in the EU. We have to face up to the fact that it is no good wanting new defence structures, or saying that we need procurement agencies and so on, if countries keep cutting their investment, or more to the point, if they are not prepared to produce combat troops. It is futile to keep talking about peacekeeping commitments when we do not have troops to deploy to create the conditions where peacekeeping is required.
I hope that another issue will be addressed at the meeting, or that Ministers will engage the House on the matter. I understand that the European Commission has approved two policy documents calling for greater co-ordination of immigration policy between member states. There is a suggestion that a European support office on asylum will be set up, and that there will be greater co-ordination in dealing with unexpected inflows of asylum seekers on a Europe-wide level. That is, politically, an extremely sensitive matter. Such proposals are essential in some areas, such as dealing with our borders, but I say to Ministers that we need to debate the issue in this House—not in some obscure Standing Committee or sub-Committee—and engage the population at large. Such decisions require the consent of the House, and I hope that Ministers come back to the House on that point.
In the debate so far, quite apart from what was said about Ireland, we have heard a whole lot of platitudes. We are all terribly concerned that food prices should be cheaper and that energy prices should be cheaper. I find that particularly when I listen to the Lib Dem speeches. I know that English is not my first language, but I did not think that I needed comprehension lessons. I have no idea what they are saying—it is full of motherhood and apple pie, and I have no idea of where they stand. Their language is all about "making it better", "making it more significant" or "going further", but I never have any idea of where they are going, or what those things precisely mean. We can dismiss their comments for the moment.
I will finish because I have become rather tired of speaking in these debates, and the Minister has probably become tired of listening to me over the years.
I will— [ Laughter. ] We could unite the House along those lines.
I want to respect the Irish decision, which includes not bullying them into saying that the Irish Government have to come back by October with a timetable. If we respect the Irish decision, we have to say that it is back to the drawing board. That was the essence of the Dutch no and the French no. The Irish no is the same as those two.
The hon. Lady and I may have had different views about how good the Lisbon treaty was for Britain and for the rest of Europe, but does she agree that what we need this weekend is some kind of decision on whether the treaty is dead—if that is what the Irish Government say—or whether there is a clear plan for what they intend to do next? What Europe needs least of all is months and months of more uncertainty and institutional navel-gazing, which is not helping to achieve any of the objectives that we want to achieve within Europe.
I am very grateful for that intervention, which could have been made—and has been made—in this House for the last three years. It has usually been accompanied by, "Unless we have a decision, Europe will grind to a halt. We will not be able to do any of the things that we want to do." Actually, we can. On defence, all the great progress has been made when Britain and France have come together and made the significant decisions, completely outside the European mechanism. Europe has gone on working. The big decisions are not concerned with institutional problems. Mainland Europeans think that if we create the institution, we will create the political will. Actually it is the other way round. The reason things do not work is often that we do not have the political consensus.
We have had a decision and certainty. Whether we shed tears about the fact that the treaty is dead or not is neither here nor there. We have a decision and we can go on focusing on all the things that are important. I could not see a single thing that the Foreign Secretary said was important that under the current institutional arrangements within the EU, provided we create the political will—separate from the institutional arrangements—we could not do. Let us stop talking about it and start delivering.
It is a familiar pleasure to follow Ms Stuart, just as we followed each other round Europe for 18 months in the fruitless attempt to find a way forward for Europe in the Convention on the Future of Europe. I agree with much of what she said, as I did then. From our different party perspectives, we concluded that that effort was doomed, simply because it was replicating the old Community method of top-down. That has now met its destiny with the Irish electorate.
For many decades, even centuries, the Irish question has haunted British politics, and successive British Governments through the 19th and 20th centuries had to grapple with it. Now it is Europe that has the Irish question, and the institutions of the EU have shown themselves to be quite unable even to comprehend the shock that has hit them. Those of us who have been to Brussels in an official capacity can understand this because the official mind is largely untroubled by questions of accountability and democratic control. The whole Brussels machine really can only go forwards.
The Irish are quite clearly signalling something different, and it is disgraceful that the British Government are colluding with others and with the Brussels elite to find a way round this, rather than respecting it. All the comment—we heard this from the Foreign Secretary earlier, and in his statement on Monday—has been about what the Irish have got to do next, but for an Irish voter there is no next step on the treaty. Irish voters have said that they do not want it. The Irish Government have suffered a defeat, too, so it is not for them to second-guess their people, either.
I find it rather chilling that people are now making excuses. Again, we have heard that in this debate. Mary Creagh, who has now left the Chamber, said that the Irish were really voting on something different, and that many of them were deluded and mistaken, thinking that it was all about Irish neutrality and Irish abortion. I find that intensely patronising. We just have to respect the fact that people do not like what they were given.
What people were given was bafflingly complex. That relates to another excuse offered—that the issue was all too complicated to put to a popular vote—but whose fault was that? It was not the fault of the Irish; it was the fault of the people who drew up the document. Let us remember that the Laeken declaration of 2001, which started this failed reform process, instructed the Convention to simplify—that was not a suggestion; it was an instruction—instead of which it made the process more complicated.
I am sure that a lot of Irish voters—perhaps most of them—did not read the whole text. But then, did every hon. Member read all 290 pages of the Lisbon treaty? The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston and I had to read it—we drafted the wretched thing—but sane people do not read hundreds of pages of Euro-jargon. The Irish perhaps should have been given the opportunity to read the treaty. Indeed, the no campaign asked that every Irish household or voter should be sent a copy. However, that idea was turned down by the Irish Government, because they knew perfectly well that the more people saw of the treaty, the less they would like it.
I sympathise with my hon. Friend for having to read the treaty in French, because it was probably a worse read than in English. What he says is true: the House was treated with systematic contempt, through the failure of the authorities to produce and publish a document in our own language. He therefore makes another telling point. If the problem of politics is complexity, which renders the people unable to express an opinion, perhaps we ought to abolish general elections, too, because they are quite complicated political matters.
The essential message in the treaty is actually quite simple. The Lisbon treaty was about transferring more powers from people who are elected and can be removed to people who are not elected and cannot be removed. I discussed the matter with those connected with the Irish referendum after the event, and they told me that that was the general theme running through people's concerns. There was a feeling among the Irish electorate that in future, if the treaty was enacted, their choices, in general elections or otherwise, would not be reflected in the decisions that affect their lives. That is ultimately a matter for democracy, which must be respected. The Government are in bad company in proceeding with ratification.
We were all entertained again by the Liberal Democrats trying to explain their lack of principle over this whole episode. It is almost comic that amendments that they not only supported but promoted in this House were rejected by their colleagues in another place. The Liberal Democrats do not even have the consistency of their lack of principle. Perhaps I can therefore consign them to the sidelines, which they are always doomed to occupy.
What concerns me rather more is that the Government are apparently colluding with some bad company abroad, in other member states. Senior politicians, Heads of Government and Foreign Ministers have already been quoted in the debate as saying effectively that the Irish decision should be ignored. We heard from Mr. Barroso, the President of the European Commission, that the treaty is still alive. I am reminded of President de Gaulle's description of the Commission as a
"conclave of technocrats without a country, responsible to nobody",
so perhaps we should not be too surprised. Of much greater concern is the President of France saying that Europe now needs a "special legal agreement" to try to get around the problem, and a number of German politicians, including the Foreign Minister, Mr. Steinmeier, saying that the way forward is somehow to get the Irish to withdraw from the process of integration, at least temporarily, so that the rest of Europe can go ahead.
I find it very worrying when German politicians suggest that treaties should be broken. Europe has seen a lot of that in the past. If we have learned anything, it is perhaps that we have the glimmerings of a rule of law in Europe that all countries respect. It is, I think, intolerable when senior Ministers even suggest that the clear requirement in article 48—that all treaties require unanimity—should somehow be ignored or forgotten.
If I were to make a prediction, it would be that the attempt to get the Irish to vote again will fail, but that Brussels and a number of member states will segment and disaggregate the treaty of Lisbon into smaller parts in order to get it through in a series of smaller measures. They will meet first to see what can be done without treaty change; they will then see what can be done to get as much as possible through with treaty change, but without triggering another Irish referendum; then they will try to get the residue through, possibly triggering an Irish referendum, but attaching it to an enlargement treaty, defying the Irish to vote no to such a treaty, which on many other grounds they would probably support. In other words, they will do everything possible never again to allow the peoples and electorate of Europe to vote on a full treaty change. I think it terrible that the European Union, which likes to lecture other people about democracy, is so contemptuous of democracy in its own territory.
There is an opportunity for the Government, and I want to be a little more positive about that. The Government have an opportunity, if only they could take a lead. The first thing they must do, apart from respecting the Irish result and not proceeding with ratification here, is to stop all the preparatory work. During the Foreign Secretary's speech, I asked him whether he would stop the work that we know is being done on setting up the European foreign ministry—what is now called, in Euro-speak, the external action service. We know that such work has been going on for two months, as we discussed it last week in the Foreign Affairs Committee. In answer to my intervention, the Foreign Secretary said that the lunchtime discussion on Monday had been cancelled. That is not a full answer to my demand that all work anticipating the treaty must now stop. The Government have an opportunity to do that at the Council meeting at the weekend. Will the Minister for Europe give the House an assurance in his concluding statement that on this, as on other matters, the anticipatory work going on at the official level will stop forthwith? Otherwise, the suspicion will persist, in Ireland and elsewhere, that whatever people do or however they vote, the treaty and its provisions will go forward.
As for the future, we must recognise quite candidly that the seven-year reform process has failed because it was never tried. The Laeken declaration, which I have mentioned, was quite a radical document. It accepted that the Europe that existed then was too interfering and too complicated, and that it lacked democracy. It said, portentously, that Europe was at a crossroads and had to choose. It indicated that democracy was at least as important as efficiency, but that was entirely forgotten when the Convention started to meet. I know, because I was there.
There was never the slightest effort to simplify or, as the Laeken declaration said, to create a Europe closer to its citizens. Instead, decisions were to be taken further away from the citizen, because more powers in more policy areas were given to yet more powerful institutions in Europe, which had created the problem in the first place. The Government are now fond of saying that they are against too much institutional tinkering, but that is exactly what they were doing in the Convention—very unsuccessfully, of course. They tabled more than 200 amendments to the draft constitution, of which less than 10 per cent. were successful, so we know that they did not agree with the outcome. However, they had to make the best of that, and with full help from the Liberal Democrats they are denying the people of this country a vote on it.
We must now accept that that botched reform is over and we need to try something entirely different. There is another Europe trying to get out—a Europe of co-operation and joint working. It is quite wrong to suppose that the EU is the only way that Europe can work together. I am an internationalist. I believe in the fullest measure of international co-operation to tackle common problems— not just with our European neighbours, but with the rest of the world. I am not a narrow-minded little Englander or nationalist. I will leave the "little European" attitude to those who believe that the EU has a monopoly of international co-operation in Europe.
During the passage of the Lisbon treaty Bill through the House, the Government were fond of pretending that the treaty was all about tackling climate change. There are only six words about climate change in that treaty. All the measures now being taken on climate change are being taken on the basis of the existing treaty, and I happen to believe that a lot of that is quite damaging. The absurdly unrealistic target on renewable energy will create fuel poverty in this country, because we have discovered a way to transfer money from poor people in towns, who are having their fuel bills increased, to quite well-off farmers who are having wind farms put up on their land. That is all given momentum by European directives. I also believe that we are making an error on biofuels.
I do not think that the EU is wise on those matters, but the point is that any co-operation that we need to undertake can be done under existing treaty powers. The same is true of enlargement. One of the lies we were told during the Convention process was that the European constitution was essential for enlargement to take place. I was accused of being against enlargement because I was against the European constitution. We were told that Europe faced paralysis and that it was quite impossible for Europe to get any larger and accept new members under the existing treaty powers, but we then had two large waves of enlargement and there has certainly been no paralysis.
Today, the European Scrutiny Committee met. I am a member of that Committee. Thanks to the usual genius of the House authorities, all the foreign affairs and European Committees meet on the very day that we debate Europe, so we cannot attend. However, I can tell the House that the European Scrutiny Committee would have looked at—and probably did look at, if it had a quorum—42 new measures, proposals, and draft directives and regulations from the EU. That is not paralysis. We could do with a bit of paralysis, actually. It might slow down the rate of European legislation. The fantasy that was peddled to us all as fact, which was that we somehow needed all the institutional changes in order to admit new members, has been shown up.
We need to get away from the old top-down, regulatory, legalistic EU. The EU is fantastically old-fashioned. No other trade bloc in the world has followed the EU model. I was interested in the reform plan advanced by my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Malcolm Rifkind. It is exactly that kind of creative thinking that the EU now needs. His idea is for a flexible EU in which countries can opt in and out of specific measures in accordance with their national interest and the priorities of their Governments and electorates. That might be a way forward, but I personally am cautious about assigning a core area of responsibility, because that would prompt a number of important questions.
For instance, I believe that my right hon. and learned Friend said that it was essential to retain the single market. I am not so sure. I am a free marketeer. I believe in the free exchange of goods, services and capital. I believe in free trade as one of the great dynamic enrichments of the modern world, but the single market in the EU has become an excuse not for free trade but for over-regulation. Indeed, the single market articles in the existing treaty—articles 94 and 95—have been used to expand the EU's jurisdiction into areas such as health in ways that were not foreseen by those who were trying to promote free trade. Again, the customs union model that has been followed by the EU has not been replicated elsewhere.
I am ashamed that this country does not have a trade policy that might do much to conquer or alleviate world poverty. It is illegal for this country to make trade reduction agreements with poor countries. It has not been illegal for North American Free Trade Agreement members to do that, but it is in Europe because we have a customs union so all our trade negotiations must take place in Brussels via the European Commission. The unique structure that we have created and called the single market, which has its own rules and over-regulation, is a model that we need to re-examine. I would certainly prefer a free trade agreement in Europe to the existing free market.
Not only does the imposition of the economic partnership agreements on some of the poorest countries in the world guarantee to make them poorer and less advantaged than they are under the existing trading arrangements, but we also lose influence by pooling our trade negotiations with the EU. Norway and Iceland have more influence directly over the world trade negotiations than we do, because we have to agree our position in advance with France, Germany and all the other member states. Is that not an example of how an international institution can add up to less than the sum of its parts, so that Europe as a whole has less influence and less of a voice than if we were negotiating severally, and perhaps in co-operation, rather than through one institution?
I agree with what my hon. Friend has said about trade. It is disgraceful that the fifth biggest economy in the world does not have its own trade policy, when we could be an influence for good. I also agree that if we were nationally represented at some of the meetings, we might have more direct influence. In fact, Mr. Hain, who was the British Government's representative on the Convention on the Future of Europe, said at the Convention, countering the idea of a single UN voice for Europe, that he could not see why one voice attempting to represent all members was somehow better than having 15 country voices at such international negotiations. I agreed with him, but the Government gave way on that, as on so much else.
We need some fresh and creative thinking. We need to return to Laeken. If the Government picked this up, they would be in the lead. What we need is a different, democratic European Union, and if Ministers argue for that at the weekend, they will be speaking not only for us but for the Irish people.
It is always a pleasure to speak after Mr. Heathcoat-Amory in a debate on European affairs just before a European summit meeting. I know that he has been following my hon. Friend Ms Stuart around Europe on this subject for many years. I was surprised that he did not show his delight at the Irish referendum result even more than he did: in fact, I am surprised that both he and my hon. Friend did not simply say "I told you so" and sit down. As the result was exactly what they had predicted, they must take great joy in the news. I do not, and I shall explain why.
This is the usual debate before a European summit meeting, involving the usual suspects. I was very impressed by the Foreign Secretary's speech: I thought that he spoke extremely well. In only 10 days he will celebrate the end of his first year as Foreign Secretary. He has the second best job in the Government—after, of course, the job of Minister for Europe, held with such distinction by the right hon. Member for Wells on the Opposition Benches and by my hon. Friend Mr. Murphy in the Government.
Mr. Hague also made his usual speech. It included some cracking jokes, but I had hoped that the biographer of Pitt the Younger would try to be more of a statesman than a comedian. It would be nice during one of these debates to hear something of substance from the right hon. Gentleman, who I know has a pretty large intellect and has made many contributions to debates on Europe outside the House, but who somehow fails to put that across on occasions such as this.
How wonderful, though, to hear the former Foreign Secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, deliver his heavyweight speech on what Europe is really all about. The right hon. Member for Wells thought that he was directing his comments at the House, but I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was primarily directing his comments at the Conservative Front Bench. He expressed the view—with which, obviously, I disagree—that the Conservative party was on its way to government, and said that it was therefore important to think deeply about the European issue rather than to oppose for the sake of opposing. His comments will be well worth reading in Hansard, because they illustrate the importance of a substantial debate on the European Union—which, sadly, the House never has, partly because some event always overtakes us, such as the result of the Irish referendum.
I think that the Government's position on the Irish referendum is absolutely right. It must be up to the Irish people to decide what is in their best interests. They have elected a Government, who will make their position very clear this weekend at the summit in Brussels. That is the right time, and the right opportunity, to find out exactly where the Irish Government's policy on the issue is going.
Of course the wishes of the Irish people cannot be ignored. It is important for us to be able to test public opinion on the wider European issue, but specifically, as the Irish have decided to do, on this particular issue. The result has to be respected, and it is now up to the Irish Government to decide how to proceed. It would be complete madness to stop the ratification of the treaty in the House. How and why should a result in Ireland halt democratic processes in the British House of Commons and House of Lords?
Regarding that, I use as my text a comment made by the right hon. Member for Wells—albeit a few years ago—on the "Today" programme:
"we've got everything to gain by an open debate, to assure the public that Parliamentary powers are being respected in this matter...It's absolutely right that that should be discussed and thrashed out in the House of Commons which is ultimately the guardian of our liberties."
He was right, and I am right to cite his statement, because surely it must be up to the House to take such a decision.
I do not quite understand why it would be outrageous not to proceed with ratification here, given that after the decisions of the French and Dutch, such action was, to use the right hon. Gentleman's words, an absolutely sensible course. Surely he is just a man for all seasons.
I did not say that after the French and Dutch referendums. We have chosen a course of action on ratification, and other countries will choose what they wish to do. As the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea said, it is up to countries to decide what is best for them, but this process is best for us. There cannot be a situation in which everything stops until each of the 27 countries has taken its decision in turn, because that would paralyse the operation of the European Union.
The right hon. Gentleman misunderstands me. The fact is that, after the French referendum, although some countries had ratified but others had not, ratification proceedings were stopped across Europe while a way forward was sought. He proposes that continuing with ratification is now more appropriate. As he knows, there is a fear—is it not genuine?—that the process is merely a device to intimidate the Irish electorate.
I have enormous respect for the hon. Gentleman, but I do not agree with him. None of the steps taken by any member state since the announcement of the result of the Irish referendum represents an attempt to bully or intimidate the people of Ireland. I do not believe that the rest of Europe would expect the Irish people to keep voting until they say yes. We should await the outcome of the deliberations of the Irish Government, who will report to the European summit at the weekend, and then a decision can be made on the course of action that is best for Ireland. What is best for the United Kingdom is what the Government have set out: ratification. The European Union (Amendment) Bill will receive its Third Reading in the House of Lords today. Of course, as the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea said, that does not mean that there will be implementation—of course that cannot happen—but people will have the opportunity to discuss the matter further.
The right hon. Gentleman is eloquently and deliberately trying to avoid answering the question asked by my hon. Friend Mr. Shepherd, so I shall put it to him again. What is the difference between the Dutch saying no and the Irish saying no, given that when the Dutch refused the treaty, the process was stopped?
There is a fundamental difference. Since the treaty was rejected on the previous occasion, each sovereign EU member state decided how it wished to proceed. This is the second time around, and we cannot keep doing this time and time again. Given Ireland's constitution, the decision was taken that it should have a referendum. Everyone else, including the French and the Dutch, decided that they would not have a referendum. This result must be explained by the Irish Government and they must take a decision. We must listen to their views on how to take things forward.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a mistake by trying to draw a technical distinction between the matters. There is a simple reason for the difference cited by my hon. Friend Daniel Kawczynski: a political judgment was taken. When the French and Dutch electorates rejected the original treaty, it was perceived—probably rightly—as a far more dramatic political event than the Irish result. The difference is not constitutional, but entirely due to a political judgment about significance.
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his interpretation of that result. I would prefer my words, but I of course defer to his knowledge in these matters. I think that it is up to us to decide—we cannot allow the Irish people to decide what is best for the British people, and he would be the first to complain if we did. It must be up to this Parliament, this sovereign country, to make those decisions.
We should pay tribute in this debate to the Slovenian Government for the way in which they have conducted their presidency. We are coming to the end of the first presidency by one of the A8 countries, and they have done it superbly. That is also a tribute to the work that this Government have done over the past 10 years. The enlargement of the European Union has enormously benefited the EU. As we can see from the Slovenian presidency, it has been possible for one of the A8—one of the very small countries—to run Europe in the manner that it has with the co-operation of all the other 26 member states, to ensure that many of the most important decisions that we have faced in the past six months have been properly implemented. I hope that when the Minister accompanies the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary to the summit meeting, as I am sure he will, the meeting acknowledges what Slovenia has done. We look forward to the other new member states, as we still sometimes call them, being part of that.
Daniel Kawczynski gave a very good speech a couple of weeks ago on the importance of the Polish community in the United Kingdom. I supported his ten-minute Bill and I wish him well with its success. The arrival of the A8 and the importance of enlargement is very clear to this House, even though for some time, of course, the Conservatives opposed enlargement of the EU by asking for— [ Interruption. ] I am glad that Mr. Hands is sitting next to the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham, because he, too, has supported eastern European communities coming into his constituency. I think that he was the only Opposition Member who supported the lifting of restrictions on the Romanians and Bulgarians. Well done to him, and I give way to him for that.
My particular point of objection, however, is related to the charge that the Conservatives were not in favour of enlargement. May I take the right hon. Gentleman back to the very first debate held in this House after the fall of the Berlin wall in November 1989? The first person to speak out in favour of enlargement was actually my right hon. Friend Mr. Maude, in his then capacity as, I believe, Minister for Europe. It is actually the Conservatives who called first in this House for enlargement into eastern Europe.
It is good that the hon. Gentleman reminds us of those words, because the words are very different from the deeds. Yes, the Conservative party has said that it is in favour of enlargement, but it also sought a referendum on the Nice treaty in an attempt to block enlargement of the European Union. I was the then Minister for Europe, and I remember clearly being at the Dispatch Box when the Opposition spokesperson time and again called for a referendum on Nice. The purpose was to go to the country to try to block the Nice treaty. If we had done so—if the hon. Gentleman's party had had its way—all those wonderful eastern Europeans who have settled in Hammersmith and Fulham would not be here.
A very important differentiation to make is that only three European Union countries allowed eastern Europeans to come in straight away, and the United Kingdom was one of them. The problem, of course, is that the then Labour Government should have worked harder to ensure that all the European Union countries opened their borders to the eastern Europeans, not just those three, because that obviously created a huge desire to go to only those three. It is the fault of a Labour Government, not of the Conservative party.
I have a great deal of time for the hon. Gentleman, but I am surprised at him, the promoter of a Bill to give a public holiday in support of the contribution of the Polish community to our country. It was a Labour Government who allowed, rightly, the A8 citizens to come here. It is not our job to tell the Germans and the French what to do, and they lost out because the presence of so many people from those central and eastern European countries has hugely benefited our country. I am glad that the Germans and the French did not raise the restrictions and that we were one of only three countries that did so, because we have benefited so much from the Polish, Hungarian, Czech and Romanian citizens who have come to this country. In the end, those countries will all lift their restrictions, because they will realise that that is the right thing to do.
I apologise for missing the beginning of my right hon. Friend's speech. I was at the annual general meeting of the all-party group on Poland, and I am happy to inform Daniel Kawczynski that he was duly re-elected as its treasurer. If he follows the logic of his position, he should surely argue for qualified majority voting on immigration policy across the European Union. Does not the fact that he is not arguing for that indicate the internal contradictions in Conservative party policy on this issue, as on so many others when it comes to Europe?
That is the first time that an announcement on an office in the all-party group has been made on the Floor of the House in a debate of this kind. No doubt, it was because of the unique position that the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham holds in the affections of this House that the announcement had to be made then. I do not think that either he or his Conservative colleagues would be in favour of qualified majority voting on immigration—no Conservative Members are rising to support that view. They like the fact that we have kept an opt-out on that area, so that it is under our absolute control.
Although not many Labour Members wish to speak—I do not know whether my hon. Friend Mark Lazarowicz will speak—because we agree so passionately with the Government's policy and we do not really dissent from what the Foreign Secretary said earlier, I know that many Conservative Members wish to speak, so I shall make just two final points.
It is important that our Government make the case for Europe, although not because of what has happened in Ireland, as the Irish people have rejected the treaty. I, like other Members of this House and, indeed, like Europe itself, was surprised that the Irish people did so, because Ireland is one of the countries that has most benefited from the European Union. It is a wake-up call for this Government, in order to remind them of their responsibility constantly to make the case for being part of the European Union.
I did not know whether the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks was being cheeky when he suggested that the Foreign Secretary was off on a roadshow around the country or whether he just used that as an opportunity to talk about my previous roadshow, allowing me to make fun of his previous roadshow—the one designed to save the pound, whereby he sat on the back of a lorry. It was rather like "Wacky Races" going round the country. I do not know whether that suggestion was true—perhaps the Minister for Europe could tell us in the wind-ups—but I would welcome the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe taking part in a roadshow around the United Kingdom. Perhaps one of them could travel on the top deck of the bus and the other on the bottom deck. Why do we not want to go to make the case for Europe to the British people? [Interruption.] I am glad that Mr. Shepherd remembers my roadshow. I did not visit his constituency, but I hope that the Foreign Secretary will, because it is important that we make that case to the British people.
As far as I can gather, there is common ground on Britain's remaining in the European Union. That is the position of Conservative Members, with the exception of a few—we have heard from them today, although they have not spoken in this debate—who want Britain to come out of the European Union. I think that it is still Conservative party policy that we remain part of the European Union. Perhaps the shadow Minister for Europe will remind us of Conservative policy in his winding-up speech. The shadow Minister for Europe and the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks should therefore also be part of the roadshow—it should be an all-party roadshow; perhaps we can save a seat for the Liberal Democrats, too.
As a united Parliament, we can remind people of the benefits of being in the European Union, and we must not forget to do so. When we forget to do so, those who peddle myths try to convince the British people that they get no benefit from being in the EU—so we constantly need to make that case. My hon. Friend the Minister for Europe worked extraordinarily hard during the passage of the treaty Bill through the House and I am sure that he is exhausted and would like to go back to Scotland for the weekends to spend time in his constituency and with his family, whom he has no doubt not seen for many months. However, this is an important role for him. He has to be at the summits, but it is also important to talk to the British people about the benefits of Europe.
In this debate, where we have the usual suspects, I have made my usual speech about the necessity for the Government to keep on making the case. To do so would mean that at some time in the future, when we decide to put the European question in one form or another to the British people, they could reach their judgment on the proper information, rather than after a three-week campaign that can easily be defeated by the tabloid media, which—with one or two notable exceptions—are very opposed to our even being in the European Union. We should not waste the opportunity of the next two or three years before we have to decide on other crucial issues. Let us go out to the British people and tell them how important the European Union has been for this country and how vital is our role in Europe.
Although we could not convince the Germans and the French to do what the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham suggested, we are still a hugely influential voice in the European Union. Many of the A8 countries have a great affinity with what Britain has done, because they recognise the role that we played in the enlargement process. We must always be vigilant in ensuring that our key role in the European Union remains, so that we are an influence for good and can advance the British agenda to the rest of Europe.
During the course of this debate on Europe, no one has so far mentioned Members of the European Parliament, who are obviously an important factor. I start most public meetings in my constituency, whether they are about the EU or other matters, by telling the audience that I will give £100 to anyone who can name all seven MEPs for the west midlands. So far, in three years, I have not lost a penny.
That is the major problem. If the Minister wants to convince people of the cause of the constitution and the European Union, he needs to address how MEPs interact with their constituencies. As chairman of the all-party group for the promotion of first past the post, I think that one of the major problems is that MEPs are elected by proportional representation and represent huge regions, so they are further away from the electors and therefore less accountable than Members of Parliament. None of the MEPs for the west midlands lives, works or has offices in Shropshire. The Conservatives ones are very good, but the Labour ones never come to Shropshire. Mr. Bushill-Matthews, Mr. Bradbourn and Mr. Harbour are very good MEPs— [ Interruption. ] I can name them all. I will not do so now, but I can. The Labour MEPs—certainly during my tenure in office—have never been to Shropshire, and that is a shame.
I am pleased that the Foreign Secretary has confirmed that the constitution cannot go ahead on
I applaud the Irish people for the way in which they voted. Through their actions, they have given a chink of light to those of us who want the constitution to be renegotiated. I applaud them for their courage and fortitude, and we must not forget how negative the yes campaign in Dublin was at times. All sorts of scaremongering tactics were used: it was alleged that Ireland would lose out massively, in influence and funding. It was really scary stuff, yet the Irish people—who are instinctively pro-European—decided not to listen to those siren voices. Very bravely, they said, "No, we are not convinced by the European constitution and by its implications for our country. We are not going to support it."
For the sake of consistency, the hon. Gentleman should at least concede that members of the no campaign were guilty of stating that voting yes would mean that abortion would have to be legalised in Ireland, or that Ireland would lose its neutrality. Does he accept that elements of the no campaign were guilty of distorting the European treaty?
No, the no campaign was absolutely scrupulous and honest throughout.
We in the UK have many heroes who are also trying to do all that they can, and I must pay tribute to Stewart Wheeler, who has done a great deal to force the matter before the courts. I pay tribute as well to my hon. Friend Mr. Cash, and I was extremely heartened to hear today that he is making probing advances about securing a judicial review of the matter in the High Court as a result of the Irish no vote. I applaud him for that: I think that history will be kind to him and to others like him, and that the roles they have played in scrutinising the Government will be remembered.
All countries are equal, under the rules of the treaty and the process of ratifying the constitution. Ireland has said no, and that is just as important as any German rejection of the treaty would be. Therefore, the process of ratification must stop immediately.
On Monday, the Foreign Secretary faced repeated calls to stop ratification. We asked him to respect the views of the Irish people, but he refused point blank to stop the ratification process. I think that the Government's conduct is deeply damaging and flawed, as they have not acknowledged that one of our closest neighbours and allies has expressed its reservations about the constitution in no uncertain terms. That has not caused even a flicker in our Government's determination to proceed with ratification.
In his statement, the Foreign Secretary said repeatedly that he did not want to bully Ireland, but that is exactly what is happening. Immediately after the Irish no vote, our Prime Minister, President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel were no doubt on the phone to one another to see what they should do. Sarkozy went off to Poland to try to put pressure on the Poles, and Merkel did the same with the Czechs. Our own Prime Minister is allowing them to do that, because they want a scenario in which 26 countries are on one side of the fence, and one country—Ireland—is on the other. That is classic schoolyard, bully-boy tactics: a large group of countries is saying, "Look, you are just one small country, and we are not prepared to have you veto this treaty." I very much regret that.
The constitution is another step in the ongoing and perpetual process of power grab. I feel passionately about that. Just as a locomotive's furnace needs coal continuously, so the EU needs to grab more power from individual states. That gives it more power, but it also gives it relevance, which is important. If it were just to sit back and carry on with all its administrative work, it would not hit the headlines or move its aspirations forward. That is why the treaty is yet another attempt to take more power from our own sovereign Parliament, and why it must be challenged.
We have had crumbs of comfort in the past when taking on the federalist agenda of the European Union. I remember fondly two such occasions, although I was not a Member of Parliament at the time. The first was when Margaret Thatcher secured the rebate at Fontainebleau in 1984. I remember cheering her on—admittedly, I was only a child, but I was extremely happy that she managed to secure a rebate for the United Kingdom. The second time I remember being extremely happy was when John Major managed to block the appointment of Jean-Luc Dehaene, the Belgian Prime Minister, to the post of EU President. That gave some comfort although, regrettably, we got the even more federalist Mr. Juncker from Luxembourg instead. At the time, however, it was a crumb of comfort.
We need new leadership in order to be strong in the face of the European Union's federalist agenda. We need to be strong, yet diplomatic, and I believe that our next Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron—forgive me; my right hon. Friend Mr. Cameron—will be exactly that. He will be polite, diplomatic and measured but, unlike the present Prime Minister, he will stand up to the federalist agenda of the European Union, and he will battle and fight for British interests.
My next point goes back to the argument made by my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Malcolm Rifkind about national interest and influence. I listened to his words extremely carefully and intently, and I have never heard such a poignant, important statement about European Union affairs in this Chamber. Our country's interests are far more important than the influence that we have in the European Union, and I am sure that our next Prime Minister—the present Leader of the Opposition—will take on board the comments that my right hon. and learned Friend made today.
I should like to make a few points about the Liberal Democrats. During the debate today, we have all had fun scrutinising their extraordinary position. They abstained in the vote in this Chamber on the referendum, yet they voted against the referendum in another place. That is quite extraordinary and deeply flawed behaviour. I intend to say as much as I possibly can to my own electorate in Shrewsbury to highlight the conduct of the Liberal Democrats on this matter, because it is thanks to the Liberal Democrats that the people of Shrewsbury will not get a referendum on this very important issue. I am convinced of that, and I feel passionately about it. Some of my constituents want federalism, and some want to come out of Europe, but they are overwhelmingly united in wanting a referendum. They want the people of this country to have a referendum, and it is the Liberal Democrats who have prevented my constituents in Shrewsbury, and all the men and women of our country, from having the same say as the people of Ireland.
I want the European Union to focus on the issues that are important to my constituents. Last week and the week before, people came to my surgery to talk about petrol prices. I met a delegation of 50 hauliers last week, and they are extremely worried about what is happening to the Shropshire haulage industry. They want the European Union and our own Parliament to focus on that issue.
As chairman of the all-party group on Saudi Arabia, I have met King Abdullah and put our concerns directly to him. I am leading a delegation out to Saudi Arabia again in November, and we will continue to ask the Saudi authorities to increase oil production to ensure that costs come down.
Those are the sorts of issues that my constituents expect the European Union to work on; they want it to try to work, as a powerful, united bloc, with our Saudi allies and other allies from the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries to help them out. They do not want technical constitutions that are extremely difficult to understand, and that nobody wants.
I saw the Minister for Europe nodding when we talked about reading the constitution. This is how sad I am: I read the EU constitution from cover to cover in French. It was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life, not only because I do not use the language that often nowadays, although I studied French at university, but because it was very difficult. The more I read, even in French, the more alarmed I was. Of course, at that stage the Government had not deemed it necessary to get us an English version.
I am conscious that others want to speak, so I shall wrap up my comments. I feel passionately about working for my constituents on the things that matter to them. As I have said to the Minister, my constituency of Shrewsbury is extremely agricultural. He knows about my interests in the agriculture sector. I am the chairman of the all-party group on dairy farmers. This country is undergoing one of the most extraordinary dairy farming crises imaginable. Ten years ago, 47 cattle were slaughtered in Shropshire as a result of bovine tuberculosis; the figure now is 1,000 and rising. Interestingly, the French have managed totally to eradicate bovine TB. Less than 0.004 per cent. of herds in France have bovine TB. I intend to table an early-day motion encouraging the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to work in unison with his counterpart in France, so that we can learn from the French experience, and find out what the French have done completely to eradicate bovine TB. I urge the Minister for Europe to focus on those things—the things that matter to farmers and hauliers in Shropshire—and not constitutions, which are not what my constituents want.
I am pleased to follow my hon. Friend Daniel Kawczynski, whom I find engaging, candid and rather open on the subject—much more so than some of us who have perhaps battled longer in the field. When Disraeli was asked, in an election campaign, what the Conservative party's theme was, he answered, "The constitution." Of course, that part of the 19th century saw Britain's long journey towards something that was key to our development—the extension of the franchise. The Government should be subject to the popular will. That was the beginning of what we call a democratic age—a term that is used in spades. Government should ultimately be obedient to the needs and judgment of the people. That is what we call accountable government. I repeat that, because that is now such an archaic dream or ideal and is seen to be of less significance in the wider world.
Clearly the European Council meeting will in truth be dominated by the result of the Irish referendum. The Sherpas, as I think they are called, may have already sorted out positions on all the great themes that the Foreign Secretary mentioned, so the Council will have a position on some of the issues, and the arguments will be more restricted. Central to any movement within the European Union—that is how it defines itself—is some sort of resolution of the Irish question, to use another 19th century expression. I am well disposed towards the Irish; I was born in Aberdeen, on the Celtic fringes, and I know that Britain could not be Britain without all the peoples who have been a part of these islands for a very long time. I have a special regard for the outcome determined by the 1.5 million or so people who voted in the referendum.
I was going to analyse the Foreign Secretary's statement, "No, we must not bully Ireland. No one has any intention of doing so." The Prime Minister took up the theme today and said that it was not for us to tell the Irish what to do. He said it was for the Irish to tell us, "what they want to do".
I notice that the arguments have become conflated. The Prime Minister did not mean the Irish people, because they have spoken, and they have said no. What he meant was the Irish political system or political class. On that extraordinary Friday, we were told that the referendum result would be announced at about midday but, in fact, there was a long delay. I watched "Sky News"—that is an advertisement—for a long time. The first thing we heard was not the Irish returning officer announcing to the Irish people the outcome of the referendum but Mr. Barroso—another President, only of the European Commission, but a President none the less—who was giving a press conference in Brussels, telling the EU, or the citizens of Europe, the result of the Irish referendum. How curious that the first port of call for democratic trust with people should be to tell the European Union.
I suspect that that was all pre-cooked—that is the truth of the matter. Mr. Barroso said that we must respect the outcome. In fact, it was even more ambiguous. Clearly, there was shock: how dare the Irish do that? After all, were they not the beneficiaries of a great deal of money? Was their progress not dependent on the EU? That is partly true—there were large transfers of cash, which continue to be made—but I do not think that the Irish, or the British, are bought just by cash. The revolutionary change in Ireland's prospects came about because of the Irish people themselves and the decisions that their Government made, on education and on opening their society. The change has been dramatic. Europea can take some credit for the transfer of money but, ultimately, it was the triumph of the Irish themselves. When they made a decision, the result was pre-empted by the President of the European Commission—we will have a plethora of presidents under the new constitution—who announced it first in Brussels, which makes me think that it was an attempt to subvert what the Irish said.
Some 53 per cent. of the Irish electorate voted. We are not remotely near that figure in our European elections, and it is not the case across Europe as a whole. There must be some country where the voting figures are higher, but that shows how disengaged the people— [ Interruption. ] With such a Prime Minister, there is almost no alternative. He is perpetually clear in what he wants for Europe, and his electorate is even smaller than the Irish electorate. There is a great anxiety. We have been told by the two former members of the Convention in the Chamber—Ms Stuart and my right hon. Friend Mr. Heathcoat-Amory—that it was meant to bring the people of Europe closer together. The Convention took place a long time ago, and as with much of my time, it will feature when I look back at what I have done in Parliament. The European question has shadowed all my time in Parliament, and it has not been settled.
I was interested to learn that the Foreign Secretary was going to tour Britain. That must be one of the tough decisions to launch something—I am not sure what—that, as the Prime Minister tells us, is in the long-term interests of the British people. Does it show us that the Foreign Secretary and the Foreign Office regard Britain as a foreign country and that it is necessary to tour to tell it about the benefits of EU leadership? I am distressed by the British Government's response to the outcome of the vote in Ireland.
Britain, if it is anything, is about a democratic and accountable form of government. Could it not be that the Irish people, in their own way, have come to a conclusion that many, I think, throughout Europe—we know, certainly in the Netherlands and in France—have come to, namely that the treaty process cedes too much not just of national power but of character? They want to remain Irish, as I want to remain British. The French, who are also anxious, think the same, too, and they voted no. But what we are faced with is popular revolt and Bourbon leadership.
During the Lisbon debates, we heard from Chris Huhne who is now Liberal Democrats' home affairs spokesman. He told us that unanimity and consensus are one and the same thing. I ridiculed that at the time. We have a language, and there are distinctions, shadings and therefore different purposes for the use of words. However, in the minds of many Europeans, dissent cannot exist, so even if I say, "I don't agree with this at all, but if you want to go ahead, I could just about live with it," they call it unanimity. I do not consider it to be unanimity, and—I suspect like many millions throughout Europe—I know that the measures are no longer connected with accountability to anyone.
How can the president of a bureaucracy—no less—in Brussels announce the most intimate of political judgments by a nation? Let us just ask the question. It was inappropriate. But what he went on to say was even more inappropriate. He is trying to fix up unanimous acceptance by all the other leaders of Europe's constituent parts, including the subordinate constituent parts, with the British, the French and the Germans leading. This constitutional necessity of Ireland's could be the saving of the process. If the process were to falter and fail, I should care to think—however unlikely this is—that the people themselves might come into play. One cannot cede power.
Incidentally, despite what the Government say, the world now knows that we had only 19 hours in this Chamber to debate clause 2 of the Bill in respect of the treaty. I hear the propaganda roll, because this is a world of spin. It says that between the two Chambers, we have had 30 days, but we know how the guillotine was constructed. There was no opportunity to analyse, argue or develop a theme on Report for the legislation that went through this place. It denied the process legitimacy, and legitimacy was what the Government were seeking. The Irish vote also denies it legitimacy.
We are now being governed—it is intolerable, and we must have a new system—by a bureaucracy in Brussels which, effectively, has no check on it. The European Parliament has no check on it. Therefore, one thinks, "What is the problem?" Essentially, the problem is that that bureaucracy is trying to form a new political dream. We had that debate in spades with the curious proceedings during the treaty process. We discussed the legislation but 19 hours, yet we heard endless repetition of how we did not appreciate the value of the new world.
All the way through is a link that the Government shied away from. Even Ms Hewitt, perhaps dreaming of her ticket to Brussels, could not understand that democracy had anything to do with it. "This is intergovernmental", they say, "We great leaders determine this matter for our people."
May I just finish this point?
I think of the different electoral systems in Europe. I think of Herr Kohl, then Chancellor of Germany, who was defeated in his own constituency but remained a Member of the Bundestag. That is unthinkable in what I call the British Isles political settlement.
The Minister for Europe makes a useful and cheering contribution. It does happen in Scotland, unfortunately. His Government brought in that unfortunate process, and the current Justice Secretary brought in the d'Hondt formula whereby we elect unaccountable MEPs to an unaccountable Parliament. To whom is anyone accountable? There is no national unity or national identity for Europe. Each of us is proud of who we are, and we want to defend that. We want to work in co-operation and comity, but we do not wish to be governed by what we cannot change.
Tempting though it would be to follow the diversion of the situation in Scotland, you would not allow me down that road, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so I will revert to the point on which I originally sought to intervene on the hon. Gentleman. It is about the powers of the European Parliament. Will he at least accept that one of the effects of the treaty, if it is finally implemented, will be to give the European Parliament more powers to scrutinise and control the Commission and the Council. Is not that to be welcomed?
This is about democracy. The European Parliament is accountable not to the British people but to many diffuse electorates. The point was well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham. Who knows who these people are, given the d'Hondt formula that the Government foisted on us? The whole point is that the European Parliament is not accountable. No one can sack it.
There is no European common public opinion. There are no common European newspapers or common European political parties. We do not identify with the national institutions of France or Italy. We may admire them or respect them—we may even love them—but they are not ours and they are not accountable to us. We have therefore constructed for Europe an abomination—something that is unaccountable, and now arrogantly unaccountable. Who elected Mr. Barroso? Not the people of Europe. It was another stitch-up between these consensual people.
This is a very important debate because it tells us everything about the weakness of our Government in their declining and last days. It tells us everything about how they cheated their way through the House of Commons and are dependent on the ridiculous position of the Liberal Democrats to thrust the conclusions of Mr. Barroso, the German Chancellor and the French President on to our on-the-back-foot—let me put it no more strongly than that—Prime Minister. The tide has gone out on this Government. We see that as we go round the country. If there is one thing that the Foreign Secretary will learn so that he does not give performances such as today's or his statement on Monday, it is just how disconnected this Government are from the people of Britain. That is very important in itself. We cannot operate in isolation without carrying the people with us, and the Government are not interested in what the people have to say on these matters.
That is why we in this House should send a powerful message that we believe profoundly in democracy, even if this Government do not. They talk about the parliamentary processes when the very thing that got us into Europe in the first place was a referendum. There has been no popular expression on the question of whether the way that this has developed is appropriate for us. Deceiving and cheating on the question of a referendum will come back to haunt both the Labour Members who put it in their electoral manifestos.
Goodness knows what will happen with the Liberal Democrats; they will presumably present three candidates representing all views in each constituency. That should square matters. They have even deserted the Chamber now, although a Liberal Democrat is sitting there, pretending to read an important document, so that they can claim that they were represented in the Chamber.
I shall bring my remarks to a close because others wish to speak. This has gone too far. It is not good enough to have a Foreign Secretary who thinks it necessary to travel around Britain. He has a constituency, after all. Does he not meet his constituents? Are they so different from those in the rest of Britain? The same thing applies to the Minister for Europe. We heard from the former Europe Minister, and I must not work myself up about him. I was sitting here quietly in the Chamber, and he started his speech, referring to the usual suspects. This man did the first tour—do we remember that? He is the only man in Britain to say that he had met only two Eurosceptics. I can understand why. I was sitting here quietly and I should know that every time he comes into the Chamber, I will be drowned in treacle, or grease, or something, as he declares his unstinting adoration for his masters in office. That is Keith Vaz, the suspect Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee who got there by a device that required a suspension of the Standing Orders of the House.
That is the system of Government we are living under now. I am smiling, but most of us think that it is corrupt, denigrating and it belittles the country that we are sent to represent. The Government need to state clearly, "We cannot proceed with ratification. We will not proceed with ratification until such moment as there has been a referendum, which we promised."
Until the last few lines of the speech of Mr. Shepherd, which I felt were an unnecessary personal attack on my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz, I would have recognised the sincerity and passion with which the hon. Gentleman presented his case. I hope that he will understand that if I were even to attempt to respond directly to the points that he has made, I would not be able to deliver the contribution that I have prepared for any reasonable length of time— [ Interruption. ] Maybe even longer, indeed.
I restrict myself to the observation that in the case that the hon. Gentleman has always made with passion in these debates, he paints a picture of a European Union that none of us recognises as existing. He paints a picture of a superstate—some kind of creature or creation that is imposing its will on the British people and the British state. The fact is that we are active and full members of the European Union. We play a role in formulating its decisions, and I want us to strengthen our ability to play an active role in it, which is why I hope that at the end of the process, the Lisbon treaty will come into force, although I recognise that that is much less likely following the decision of the Irish people last week.
I mentioned earlier that I had missed part of a speech because I was at an all-party group meeting. I was also present for some of the discussions of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. There is a delegation here at the moment, and interestingly, as part of its study of the governance of this country, and the influences on our Parliament, it paid a visit to the EU. When I speak to parliamentarians and others from parts of the world that are not part of the EU, I find that they almost invariably admire what the EU has done. They recognise it as a success story, and it is only within the EU, particularly within the ranks of the Conservative party in this country, that a picture is painted of an EU that is not a success story. It is regrettable that we continually hear that sort of negativity towards the EU from the Conservative party and others.
As others have said, we certainly must not seek to impose our views on the people of Ireland after their referendum. But it is also the case that the decision of the Irish people should not pre-empt our decision in the UK, or pre-empt how we approach the EU and the Lisbon treaty.
The Eurosceptics on the other side of the House and elsewhere who are now celebrating the no vote in Ireland—along with the unholy coalition, ranging from the extreme right to Sinn Fein, that got that vote—are saying that as a result we should immediately cease our ratification process. I note that when the Spanish people voted in favour of a previous treaty a couple of years ago, the same Eurosceptics did not immediately drop their Euroscepticism or suggest that all their hostility towards the EU should now be dropped. No; they continued to argue their position, just as those who want to see the Lisbon treaty ratified are perfectly right to argue for our position within our democratic processes here in the UK. The Government are absolutely right to proceed with ratification.
How does the hon. Gentleman answer the point that it requires only one country to say no to veto the introduction of the treaty? Even if everybody else agreed, the absence of agreement on the part of one would mean that it could not proceed. That is the relevance and importance of the vote in the Republic of Ireland.
I fully understand the position, although I believe, as would most impartial and dispassionate observers of the Irish referendum—if there are any such—that the reasons why the Irish people voted no were numerous. Some were related to domestic politics, although I am not disputing for a moment that the Irish people, for whatever reason, did say no to the European reform treaty. That cannot be got round. Equally it is fair to analyse the various reasons why they chose to reject that treaty. If in the negotiations that are to follow it is possible to address those concerns, that seems the reasonable type of negotiation that should take place between the member states of the European Union to try to get an outcome, which at the end of the day requires unanimity. If Ireland or any other state does not ratify the treaty, clearly it cannot proceed. No one is disputing that anywhere in the House; I certainly do not dispute it.
Undoubtedly the motivation for that rejection in Ireland was one that had its source in many different places. Whether the Lisbon treaty is eventually ratified or not, it is important that the undoubted scepticism that was expressed clearly by the Irish people, and has been expressed here in the Chamber and in other countries, be addressed and, where possible, addressed in such a way as to persuade people of the merits of our active engagement in the EU.
It is particularly important for those of us on this side of the House and elsewhere who want to see Britain playing an enthusiastic role in the EU to address the defects of the European system if we are to create greater confidence within the British people, as well as in other countries, in the EU and its institutions. That is why I shall spend most of the limited time available to me on areas that the EU, whatever happens, must address if it is to have a chance of gaining the confidence of the European people.
The first issue is that the EU must address the way in which it operates. Part of the motivation of the Lisbon treaty was to simplify the decision-making process to allow the citizens to be reached more quickly and effectively in a number of areas, for the betterment not just of Europe but of our national interest. Even without the Lisbon treaty—if it does not go ahead—Members across the Chamber, whatever their position. will have to accept that the EU is not always a model of effective political decision making. It is not always a place where the big issues are prioritised over the smaller ones. That is partly because of the institutional structure, but I must say bluntly that it is also because of political failures—not failures by any one country, but failures over a number of years to concentrate on the key issues that Europe should be concerned about. Whatever happens after the ratification process is completed—or alternatively, if it is not completed—the political leaders of Europe must ensure that they turn their attention to the key priorities for Europe and do not become deeply immersed in the minutiae of European internal politics. I suspect that there is agreement across the Chamber on that.
A second area that Europe must address much more coherently and consistently is the challenge presented to the older EU members by migration from the new member states. The suggestion from some of the reports of the campaign in Ireland is that one concern was the effect on Ireland of migration from the new EU member states. Everyone in the Chamber knows that the issue comes up at the grass roots in communities in our country, too. There are people who try to make political capital out of such concerns, but they are real concerns and they must be addressed, not just in Britain but at European level.
I would like the European Union to play a much more active role in ensuring that people's concerns about the realities of the challenge posed to older EU member states by migration in the European Union are addressed. I would like a greater concentration on tackling racism in Europe and on working towards social cohesion among the different populations in member states, to try to reduce some of the potential for conflict, which undoubtedly could arise if migration in Europe is seized upon by various political forces for their own extreme reasons. That is something that we have seen happen in some countries, as many hon. Members will be aware.
A third issue that must be addressed is the relationship between the Members of the European Parliament, and the British people and Members of this Parliament. The issue is not just about addressing the relationship between MEPs, and the British Parliament and people, as well as the other constituent member states of the European Union; rather, we must be blunt and recognise that one of the biggest factors leading to cynicism towards the European institutions stems from the revelations about the behaviour of some MEPs in relation to their personal lives and their parliamentary expenses.
It is obviously rather dangerous to venture on to that territory, when we in this House rightly come under scrutiny in connection with our expenses. We all know that we have to put our house in order. However, there have been many reports of what some European parliamentarians have been doing. It would appear that hundreds of thousands of pounds in expenses from some Conservative MEPs have gone into family companies. I even understand from press reports that one Liberal Democrat MEP—it may even have been the leader of the Liberal Democrat MEPs, and I am sure that his claims may be right—has said that for years it was common practice for parliamentary expenses for travel to be claimed at the full price, even though he had to pay a lower rate, and for the difference to be donated to the party. That has not been challenged. That kind of behaviour, whether by a Liberal Democrat or any other MEP, is not only wrong in itself, but understandably leads to public cynicism about how those institutions operate.
I was about to say that the Prime Minister and others have made it clear that Labour MEPs are expected to have their accounts audited. The point I am developing is that there is every reason to believe that across the political framework of Europe as a whole—I will not go beyond that—there are issues about the behaviour of MEPs that have to be addressed, as they challenge the credibility of European institutions. We all know that this is one of the factors that feeds into the general public disillusionment with politicians, whether at UK or European level. That is a symptom of a much wider issue, mentioned by Mr. Shepherd, which is the disconnect between MEPs and the British public and Parliament. That does not lead to the conclusion that MEPs should have no role at all, but that they should be more closely involved not just with their own electorate but with Parliament. We need to build up more institutional means of allowing us to hold MEPs to account here in Parliament, so that they are involved in the scrutiny process that we try to implement to ensure that the European decisions in which we participate are genuinely in the best interests of our country. The Government need to be held to account in what they do in that respect.
I now come to my final point. Too often in British politics, debates about our involvement with Europe and how we negotiate with Europe are framed in such a way that British interests are always presented as being best served if we can extract concessions from Europe. Our Ministers are portrayed as going over to Brussels, waving a handbag or whatever else they want to wave to fight off the evil Europeans, and extracting concessions that they can bring back to the UK. It is always framed in terms of a conflict between us and the evil European superstate, which is trying to do us down. That has been a theme from time to time under both Conservative and Labour Governments, but we need to move away from that kind of negative approach towards our participation in Europe. I give credit to the Minister for Europe as well as the Foreign Secretary for not adopting that approach, as I see it, in their dealings with Europe. I believe that they have played a very constructive role in putting forward Britain's case in Europe, and I hope that that model will continue for the future.
I end where I began, by saying that I want to see positive engagement by Britain in Europe, and to see us getting away from year after year of conflict with Europe. Yes, we stand up and fight hard to defend our national interest, but we should also try to promote it in a spirit of co-operation in order to achieve objectives on which we should all agree—energy security, tackling climate change, effective security within Europe and meeting the challenges of globalisation. Those are the priorities we need for Europe, rather than the sort of internal debate that has dominated discussion about Europe in the UK for far too long.
It is always a pleasure to take part in European debates. My constituency was mentioned a few speeches ago by Keith Vaz, who talked about the large number of EU citizens coming into Hammersmith and Fulham. May I say that he is absolutely correct in describing that process? In fact, one in 11 of my population—or certainly of my electorate—is an EU citizen. That is true if we count the total electorate for a local or a European election. It is the second highest proportion anywhere in the UK—second only to my next-door constituency of Kensington and Chelsea. The most recent figures estimate that in Hammersmith and Fulham 6 per cent. of the population are Polish.
We have the largest French community, and we are also the centre of the Romanian community in London. However, it is not obvious that all that is down to the EU or, as the right hon. Member for Leicester, East said, down to the Nice treaty, as we also have the largest Australian community in the UK, as well as a large American community. The EU has played a role, but it would be simplistic to say that everything is down to the Nice treaty.
The five days since Ireland said no to the Lisbon treaty will turn out to be a tremendous missed opportunity for the UK. The UK should be taking a lead in the discussions that are now going on and in declaring the treaty dead while at the same time calling for immediate action radically to reform the EU. We may disagree on what direction that could come from, but my right hon. Friend Mr. Heathcoat-Amory touched on something important when he referred to going back to the 2001 Laeken declaration, and there may be merit in the proposals made by my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Malcolm Rifkind for an à la carte Europe.
We need to go back a little to Laeken and start the process again, but, unfortunately, UK Government policy was made pretty clear on Monday by the Foreign Secretary, who told us:
"We should allow the ratification process to continue in all countries; we should then see what the Irish decide to do and plan our next moves after that."—[ Hansard, 16 June 2008; Vol. 477, c. 712.]
That sounds like the wait-and-see of the 1990s when the UK could be taking the initiative in Europe and trying to find a workable solution.
Our position could be very strong at the moment and we have considerable leverage. First, to state the obvious, we are uniquely close to Ireland. I am delighted to hear that the Prime Minister had a meeting with the Irish Prime Minister, but that is getting towards the heart of the problem: our Prime Minister met only the Irish, which implies that our official view is that the Irish are the problem, whereas in my view Brussels is providing the problem, not Dublin.
Secondly, the fact that we have not yet ratified the treaty—at least until later today—gives us considerable leverage in discussions on where to go from now. Thirdly, our people would certainly vote the same way as the Irish if they were given the chance. Again, that gives our Government, potentially, a lot of leverage. The contributions that we heard earlier and in previous debates suggest that there could be some cross-party consensus in the House on what the EU could and should be doing and the direction that it could and should be taking.
There seems to be, or there could be, a consensus. Remarkably similar speeches on EU reform have been made in the last year by, first, my right hon. Friend Mr. Cameron, the Leader of the Opposition, and, some time later, by the Prime Minister. I was in Brussels last February for a speech given by my right hon. Friend in which he talked about a 3G Europe: global poverty, globalisation and global warming. He said that we do not need more integration, more centralisation and more powers. It was a compelling speech.
Let us compare that with the Prime Minister's comment in the House on
"the priority for the European Union must now be the global challenges that we face in relation to employment, prosperity, competitiveness, climate change and security."—[ Hansard, 22 October 2007; Vol. 465, c. 19.]
Occasionally, we hear Liberal Democrat spokesmen, assuming that anybody can find out what Liberal Democrat policy is, sounding rather similar. Those should be the priorities for the EU.
There could be—I stress, could be—a consensus of some kind on the reformed direction that the EU could be taking. Obviously, there are strong disagreements here on the merits of the treaty, and certainly on the process for pushing it through, but there might, nevertheless, be a UK consensus on EU reform.
Returning to what has been going on in the past five days, I believe that time is of the essence. We should be active in European diplomacy. We should be convincing our partners that Lisbon is dead. More importantly, we should be discussing a new way forward for Europe, but we cannot, which is part of our problem. At present, our Government are as hobbled as the European Union. They are deeply divided and, in my view, are experiencing too many domestic problems—not least in their own party—to be able to fight the corner for British interests in Brussels.
I have seen the Prime Minister showing no leadership at all over the past five days, and barely playing a role in the process. Part of the reason, I think, is that he is fundamentally uncomfortable with foreign affairs. He is not willing to engage and is deeply uncomfortable with some of the arrangements, although he made a fleeting appearance in the monastery to sign the treaty in December. He talks of British jobs for British workers and so on, and he strikes me as someone who is not engaging with our partners.
We have very few friends in Europe, and almost no influence. It is very difficult for us to take the initiative. At a time when our Prime Minister is almost mute, President Sarkozy is meeting four central European premiers in Prague in an attempt to shore up support for the treaty. This is a great and unique opportunity, but I do not think we are going to grab it with the current Prime Minister in power. The opportunity may not present itself at such a convenient time for years, and I think history will record that this was a very unfortunate time at which to be leaderless and rudderless in Europe.
What is the immediate future of the Lisbon treaty? I believe that the worst thing that could happen would be a second Irish referendum. What is more, Irish politicians appear to agree with me. Back in March, the Irish European Affairs Minister Dick Roche made this interesting comment on his website:
"there will only be one referendum held in Ireland on the provisions of the EU Reform Treaty... There is no plan B and there is absolutely no possibility of this Treaty being subject to a further renegotiation. The idea that we can reject this Treaty and have another Referendum as happened with the Nice Treaty is a delusion. That cannot and will not happen... Without Irish ratification, this Treaty 'is dead'."
A strong message has been sent, not only by the Irish people last week but by the Irish Government, that the Lisbon treaty is dead and it is time to move on.
There are also problems in the Czech Republic. Václav Klaus, its President, welcomed the Irish referendum result, calling it a
"victory of freedom and reason"
by the common people over
"artificial elitist projects and European bureaucracy."
The chairman of the Czech senate called for EU ratification of the treaty to be halted. We await the decision of the Czech constitutional court. It should be borne in mind that the decision was referred to the court by the ruling ODS party in the senate, which voted 48 to four in favour of the referral. My main point is that we need leadership from Britain, and we need it desperately now, when this opportunity has been presented to us.
I want to say a little about another issue that is unconnected with the European Union: our relations with Russia. Let me raise two points briefly. First, there is continuing concern about the interruption of the BBC World Service Russian language service. The World Service teamed up with various local FM partners a couple of years ago. Unfortunately—some would say predictably—the FM partners have dropped us. A couple of years ago, the eastern European language services of the World Service were generally closed down. A few of us thought that that was a pity, but that it was somewhat understandable that we should no longer subsidise broadcasts in Polish, Czech and Romanian. However, I think there is a compelling reason for us to subsidise broadcasts in the Russian language. Our local partners let us down, and while it was almost predictable that pressure would be put on them, I think it very regrettable.
I am sure that Members in all parts of the House will agree with the hon. Gentleman's comments about the situation in Russia and the pressure placed on the BBC World Service. As for the relationship between Russia and the European Union, does he not at least accept that the EU would be able to speak much more firmly to Russia if there were a permanent President and a high representative, rather than the rotating presidency with which the current position leaves us?
I am afraid to say that I strongly disagree with that statement. We are much stronger with Russia when we are a collection of strong voices, rather than a single strong voice. It is deeply regrettable that the direction in which the EU is heading is forcing us to give up our independent voice.
I do not want to stray too far off the topic of Russia, but the European Scrutiny Committee considered something last week that would mean that Britain no longer had an independent position on whaling, because a common EU position would be agreed before each meeting of the International Whaling Commission. It was argued that all our EU partners share our view on whaling—they happen to be rather anti-whaling. I have no particular axe to grind on whaling, but the UK should be able to have an independent policy on whaling, and it is absurd to have a common European position on it.
Returning to Russia, I want to mention briefly the desperate need to bring about justice for the family of Alexander Litvinenko. I recently met his widow, Marina Litvinenko, who is a very brave lady who is visiting as many capitals as possible to publicise the case of her late husband. She recently went to the US Senate and she has met the all-party group on Russia. She has also held extensive meetings with her Member of Parliament, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea.
It is a year and a half since the deed happened and we might be in danger—I very much hope not—of forgetting what a terrible act took place in late 2006. A British subject was assassinated—murdered in cold blood—somewhere on the streets of London. I cannot remember whether it was entirely clear whether that happened in a sushi bar or in a hotel. I am not sure whether it happened with the connivance of a current foreign Government, but a foreign Government must have been involved in providing the polonium-210 isotope in the first place. I urge all colleagues to sign early-day motion 1601.
When the Prime Minister meets the Russian President at the G8 this summer, I urge him to press again for the extradition of those whom we want to question about the assassination. Since the deed took place in late 2006, there has been a new Prime Minister of this country and a new President of Russia, and I fear that either or both will seek to brush this unfortunate incident under the carpet instead of confronting it and ensuring that justice is done. I hope that our Prime Minister will show strength on that issue when he meets the Russian President, because it would be a great tragedy if the Litvinenko family did not see justice.
I do not know whether the lack of Members in the Chamber is any reflection on the circumstances relating to the Irish vote. However, speaking for myself, I am a very angry politician, because it is outrageous that, after an electorate have a referendum, the rest of Europe—I will not mince my words—gangs up on them, which is basically what is going on, even though that referendum was held under article 29 of the Irish constitution of 1937. That electorate were entitled to make a choice, and they did so by a substantial majority and on a 51 per cent. turnout, although some say that it was slightly higher.
The actions of the British Government now are unlike their actions on the European constitutional treaty. Under the former Prime Minister, when the Government realised that the French and Dutch were no longer prepared to go ahead with that treaty, they abandoned their Bill on it, even though that Bill had received its Second Reading. I tabled 400 amendments after Second Reading and I would have been interested to hear Ministers' responses to them.
That Bill was dropped at the end of that Session and reintroduced in the second Session. Nothing was done about it—it never had a Second Reading: the Government recognised that the Bill could not proceed because the treaty could not be ratified. Now, we have a similar situation, despite the fact that the Bill in question has been through this House and through many of its stages in the upper House. Today, as I speak, the matter is being debated in the House of Lords on Third Reading, but the principle remains the same: there is no basis on which this can be legitimately validated.
I went to the High Court yesterday and made an application for judicial review. It has been turned down, and I do not complain about the fact that there is a difference of opinion on this issue, but what I do say is that there is no political basis—and, I believe, no legal basis—on which the Government can proceed to ratification.
I described as disreputable the statement that the Secretary of State the made the other day and I regard it as disreputable that the Irish people should be pushed around in this way. That is basically what is going on and I, for one, in common with many other people in this country, am baffled and angry. This is symptomatic of the overall attitude, the culture, of the European Union.
My right hon. and learned Friend Sir Malcolm Rifkind has argued for an à la carte Europe. I am not quite sure what its core functions would be under his prescription. I personally have always argued for a Europe of co-operation—as I put it, European trade, yes, European government, no. As I have argued for as long as I can remember, I do not believe that we should let the supremacy of this House be subsumed by the will of other nations where our vital national interests are involved. I am in favour of European co-operation and of European trade, but I do not believe that we should voluntarily so neuter ourselves as to preclude our passing enactments that are inconsistent with the European Union when it is in our vital national interests to do so.
I know that the leader of our own party, my right hon. Friend Mr. Cameron, has said repeatedly that we will repatriate powers in respect of economic competitiveness. I take him at his word, because it is absolutely essential and in our vital national interests that we do so where we need to achieve economic competitiveness. I would go further. I believe that there is a whole range of matters on which we need to renegotiate. My right hon. Friend Mr. Heathcoat-Amory spoke of renegotiation. I agree with that entirely and have argued for it for many years.
We also need to revisit the treaties that this Lisbon treaty would have given us the opportunity to revisit. The Lisbon treaty amalgamates all existing treaties under an arrangement, as the European Scrutiny Committee said, substantially equivalent to the previous constitutional treaty. It affects all the treaties, and this was the moment when we should have reasserted our supremacy.
My hon. Friend has indicated this evening, as he has done on other occasions, that his objective is a renegotiation of the treaty. He does not explicitly say that he calls for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, but he must know as well as the rest of us that if he wishes in any form—even after a renegotiation—for the United Kingdom to remain in a European Union, the Union must at least have some element of supranational identity. He has indicated that he would not support any supranational dimension to the EU. Have I misunderstood him, because if I have not, he is talking not about a renegotiation but about withdrawal?
No, I am not talking specifically about withdrawal. That has never been one of my objectives, but it may happen for the reasons I have just given. If there is not a proper renegotiation, we are moving, particularly in the light of the Irish vote, the French and Dutch votes and, previously, the Danish vote, into very dangerous waters. We are moving towards a situation where it is in the interests of all member states to sit round the table to renegotiate these arrangements.
I remain slightly confused by my hon. Friend's position. In the kind of European Union that might be renegotiated, is he willing to accept some element of supranational responsibility, whereby the United Kingdom shared at least an element—perhaps a much smaller one than at the moment—of sovereignty? Alternatively, is he saying that no such supranational dimension would ever be acceptable?
No, I have said many times that I can recognise the idea of having a European Court of Justice, which, in a way, encapsulates the question of supranationality, in relation to those functions conferred on the European Union. I am saying that the European Union does not require more than very limited functions, primarily on matters relating to trade, although I think that the Single European Act, for which I voted, needs radical reform. My right hon. Friend the Member for Witney is right to argue for economic competitiveness. I think that the Maastricht treaty was a terrible mistake, but I could say the same of the Amsterdam treaty, which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea negotiated, before it was taken over by the Labour party, and of the Nice treaty.
My hon. Friend will be aware that the Conservative party is committed to a renegotiation, because it is party policy to seek to repatriate employment and social legislation—that has been repeated by the shadow Foreign Secretary and by the leader of our party. Does he agree that that in itself entails an examination of the role of certain surpranational institutions, such as the European Court, because otherwise there is a danger of an activist Court seeking to reintroduce obligations through the back door by using other treaty articles? Therefore, we are already committed to this profound renegotiation.
I believe not only that we are committed to the renegotiation, but that it is a thoroughly laudable process. I know that my right hon. Friend agrees with me on that subject. Fundamentally, this European Union is not working. It is not working in relation to the economy—in an earlier intervention on the Foreign Secretary, I cited the examples of Italy, Greece and Spain in that regard. The European Union is not working in many of the eastern European countries, and it is clear that the Irish people have concluded that it is not working for them either. It is not working on the questions of agriculture and foreign policy. We hear all this talk of a European army, but where are the Germans and where are the French in respect of the front line in Afghanistan? Their grand talk about a European army is outrageous.
The same applies to the question of stability in Europe for the business community. Mr. Verheugen tells us that there is £600 billion a year of excessive regulation, and the Better Regulation Commission tells us that there is £100 billion a year of over-regulation in this country alone. Such matters require renegotiation.
We cannot escape the fact that this system is not working. That is why the French, the Dutch and the Irish are taking the positions that they are. This dangerous situation could lead to civil disorder in the countries of Europe as food prices increase, as there is a degree of pressure on commodity prices and as we feel the impact of the fuel situation and all these other matters that are being discussed today in a broad context, some of which the Foreign Secretary addressed. When such issues start to bite, it is a prescription for disorder in a system that is inherently undemocratic—and which overturns decisions legitimately arrived at by the people—and which has a landscape that could be renegotiated and changed, but those in power do nothing about it. People will take power into their own hands if they are treated in that arrogant way.
Those of us who have argued that case are winning the argument. A book was recently published called "The Making of Eurosceptic Britain". Some people would even argue that the Labour Government have come to a certain degree of reality, although that is denied by their attitude to the Lisbon treaty. We need to recognise, however, that although we are winning the argument, we are not winning the battle of the establishment—be that the Whips, the establishment of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the courts or the diplomatic service. There is no recognition that Europe as it stands is not a working proposition.
The hon. Gentleman talks about the Government's Euroscepticism, and I agree that there is a degree of it, although it is somewhat hidden. The sighs of relief from Downing street were almost audible when the French and Dutch voted no in their referendums and when the previous attempt was defeated by Spain and Poland. If the Czechs reinforce the Irish decision, there will also be sighs of relief in Downing street, and I hope that that is the case.
Indeed, and I was delighted when my good friend Vàclav Klaus made a powerful statement as soon as the Irish result came through. People recognise that this is not working. They know that in Downing street, in the Foreign Office and all over Europe, but nobody will do anything about it. That is why I am angry. I am frustrated by seeing something that is going so badly wrong and so obviously calls out for proper remedy. There is a need for renegotiation, but also for alliances and co-operation. There is no need for this stubborn, arrogant European Government. As far as the UK is concerned, Mr. Barroso is the President of the European Union by courtesy of the European Communities Act 1972. He is appointed and he does not have any legitimacy, in the sense in which our Prime Minister, Ministers and Government do. Governments can be turned out, and this Government will be turned out in part because of their attitude on these matters.
The way in which the Government have supinely accepted the Euro establishment attitude to the Irish vote is in itself a demonstration of what is going badly wrong. The Irish people's attitude is like the old aphorism:
"I do not like thee, Doctor Fell,
The reason why I cannot tell;
But this I know, and know full well,
I do not like thee, Doctor Fell."
People can make their political analyses time after time, but the plain fact is that the project is not working. The Irish people have examined it and they have said that they do not like it. The same goes for the other countries that voted in the same way. This is a dead treaty. It needs renegotiation and democracy.
To my right hon. Friend Mr. Hague I say that we do need a post-ratification referendum if we cannot get one any other way, because it is vitally in our national interest to make certain we get the kind of Europe that suits this country. It is not enough to say that Europe has gone far enough. It has gone far too far, and it is time for my party and this House of Commons to insist on the supremacy of Parliament. That supremacy is based on the election of Members of Parliament in general elections: it does not come by virtue of laws passed by other countries with which we do not necessarily agree.
I shall conclude by pointing out that the latest opinion polls demonstrate that the arguments that I put are right, and that the people of this country want renegotiation. This treaty should have been binned as soon as the Irish vote was known. That is exactly what happened with the European constitutional treaty, and it is a disgrace that this Government have done almost nothing about it.
Although many important subjects have been raised in the debate, especially by the Foreign Secretary, I wish to concentrate on the consequences of the Irish no vote. I also want to set out the nature of the crisis facing the EU as a consequence, the deeper economic crisis that lies behind that, and the opportunity that the Irish no vote represents for the UK.
I listened with great interest to my hon. Friend Mr. Cash. I have listened to a great many of his speeches in my short time in the House, and I share many of his views on these matters, but I listened too to my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Malcolm Rifkind. He made a very interesting contribution that represented a development in his outlook, but many of us have developed our views as the EU has developed and—dare I say it?—lurched from crisis to crisis.
We have been here before—in 1992, when the Danes voted no to the Maastricht treaty, and later when the Irish voted no to the Nice treaty. This time, however, things are different, and my hon. Friend Mr. Hands was correct when he quoted a member of the Irish Government as saying that there is simply no question of going to the Irish people for a second time. That technique of wearing down the patience of the peoples of Europe has run its course, and I do not share the view expressed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea that there is a possibility that the referendum in Ireland could be rerun.
The hon. Gentleman may have read a letter in today's Financial Times from Professor Simon Hix, who was speaking this afternoon to the European Scrutiny Committee. He is professor of comparative politics at the London School of Economics and he said that
"the majority on the No side was much bigger this time and there was a much higher turnout. Also, the sentiment of the public has changed since last time".
He added that there would be no second vote, as it would be lost by a bigger majority.
That is absolutely right, and I am grateful for that intervention.
I remind the Minister for Europe, however, of what the previous Prime Minister said after the last referendum. On
"The people are blowing the trumpets round the city walls. Are we listening?"
Sadly, the answer obviously was that the people to whom he was speaking were not listening, as they did exactly what he said that they should not do—they brought back a revamped version of the constitution, pretending that it was a completely different treaty.
The crisis that the EU faces is considerable, although its leaders believe that they will be able to get past it, just as they did with the previous crises. However, that will not mask the very deep crisis of democracy and legitimacy that now exists in the EU. There is no possibility of the EU working in its current form unless it completely denies democracy and separates itself from the normal mechanisms of consent that law making in democracies usually requires. That is not acceptable.
I want to look more closely at the crisis facing the EU. The disillusion in Ireland partly reflects the fact that the EU has not kept up with the pace of change or the trend towards globalisation that have been evident over the past 15 or 20 years. The EU has used the four freedoms of movement—of goods, services, people and capital—not as great liberating principles but as a licence to create an unaccountable law-making bureaucracy.
According to the Heritage Foundation, the UK has the freest economy in Europe—and the sixth freest in the world—whereas the economy of the eurozone is rated as merely the 27th freest. A MORI poll of 1,000 British business chiefs in 2006 revealed that 54 per cent. of British businesses felt that EU over-regulation outweighed the benefits of membership of the single market. The EU Commission itself admits that the annual cost to business of implementing single market regulations is about €600 billion. That is far more than it estimates that the single market adds to the EU's gross domestic product each year—a mere €225 billion. So the costs and benefits of the single market versus the regulation are out of kilter.
We have become choked by excessive regulation, and the EU's economic growth has become anaemic compared with that of its international competitors. Since the Lisbon agenda in 2000 proclaimed the ambitious target of achieving 3 per cent. annual growth in GDP over the next decade, which would make the EU
"the most competitive economy in the world",
it has barely managed half that level and its growth now lags well behind that in the United States, let alone that in China and India. When US unemployment recently hit 5 per cent., stocks on Wall street started to crash in reaction. In the EU, however, more than 7 per cent. unemployment is regarded as a cause for celebration.
The problem for competitiveness is essentially one of over-regulation, but even under the existing arrangements, that will continue to be a problem for the EU. Colleagues have already referred to the fact that my right hon. Friend Mr. Cameron has stated:
"I do not believe it is appropriate for social and employment legislation to be dealt with at the European level"—
and a Conservative Government will—
"restore social and employment legislation to national control."
It is not only the Conservatives who are saying that. Labour's own Trade Minister, Lord Jones of Birmingham, has said:
"If we allow Britain's economy to become hidebound in this way"—
by introducing excessive new regulation—
"emerging economies like China and India will walk all over us."
But the EU Commission is still wedded to regulation as an abiding principle of the EU's very existence. Indeed, the EU Trade Commissioner, Peter Mandelson, told an audience in June last year:
"Remember that it is the basic rules of the single market which have allowed European integration to progress...In short, no single market, no European project and no Europe puissance".
What a powerful statement he was making about the very nature of the EU.
The main attraction of the single market is not the extent of regulation, but the fact that it is a tariff-free trade area with rules on competition and state subsidies. Even the Prime Minister admits that the EU now accounts for 50 per cent. of all regulation in the UK, yet there is nothing intrinsic to a customs union that requires it to carry such a large body of regulation on matters ranging from the noise emitted by lawn mowers to the rules governing the employment of part-time workers.
Listening to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea, I reflected on the question: what is the single market? I do not believe that the single market has to be represented by the huge body of regulation that is imposed upon us today, but I put it to my right hon. and learned Friend that, if we are to change that, we must necessarily commit ourselves to some form of renegotiation. The logic of his position is that he is now in favour of renegotiation, although there might be different means by which that could be achieved. I entirely agree with him that we need to escape from the unbearably adversarial tone that has dominated the relations between British Governments and the European Union over the past 20 or 30 years. We want a genuinely respectful, co-operative relationship, in which our mutual needs are understood.
I reflect on what Valéry Giscard d'Estaing said last summer when contemplating the revival of the Lisbon treaty, although I point out that I do not agree with all of it. He said that
"integration is vital for our Continent. And if the UK doesn't continue with us in this process of integration, conclusions must be drawn...we must find a 'special status' for Great Britain. If the British want to be apart, well, then we must be able to offer them that, and they must be able to accept."
I have no idea whether such special status could be negotiated with our European counterparts. I think that it could be, if we had the will. The fact that a dedicated, dyed-in-the-wool European federalist such as Giscard d'Estaing is perhaps saying the same thing as my Friend the Member for Stone shows that different views can be accommodated in the European Union, and would allow us to move to a different kind of Europe.
The obstacle to achieving some kind of special status might be that we would not be the only country seeking such status, as demonstrated by the referendums in the Netherlands, Ireland and even France. Many countries might want special status within the European Union. Perhaps that is the kind of à la carte Europe that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea talked about, but it would mean having to address the existing treaties.
As for the current position, our Government are missing out on the opportunity to start a new debate about the sort of Europe that we want. The Prime Minister is cowering behind the institutionalised consensus in order to curry favour with Governments. That is influence without power. Labour is failing to take the lead in Europe. That kind of policy does not put the UK at the heart of Europe. We are just followers going with the flow, without influence over events. Instead of using our leverage in Europe to change the direction of the EU, the Government seek simply to polarise a spurious debate in our country. They say that it is not possible to renegotiate without leaving. I have heard a Minister say that it is not possible to go into McDonald's and order a lobster thermidor—a clever quip, but the EU is not McDonald's. In reality, the UK is in an unassailable negotiating position to achieve change in Europe.
The present constitutional direction of the EU has clearly run its course, as was demonstrated by the latest referendum in Ireland, and our EU partners enjoy a £38 billion trade surplus in goods with us. Germany alone has a trade surplus with us of £15 billion. The Prime Minister is fond of declaring, as he did yesterday, that 3 million jobs in Britain depend on our membership of the EU, as though it were we who were economically vulnerable. In fact, 6.4 million jobs in continental Europe depend on trade with the United Kingdom. Germany exports more goods and services to the UK than we do to it. Some 3.2 per cent. of German gross domestic product is exported to the United Kingdom. In France, the figure is 3.3 per cent; in Spain, it is 3.6 per cent.; in the Netherlands it is 7.4 per cent.; in Belgium it is 8.4 per cent.; and in Ireland it is 11.6 per cent. Imports from the EU 27 to the UK have grown by an average of 13 per cent. over the past two years.
Given the strength and extent of trading relations between the UK and the EU, it is clearly ridiculous to suggest that we will somehow be drawn into a trade war with our European partners simply because we want to negotiate in our own interests in the European Union, instead of carrying on along the present trajectory. It simply would not be in any nation's interests to start a trade war between the United Kingdom and the rest of the European Union just because we insist on rolling back some of the acquis and seek opt-outs from some of its more damaging aspects.
Failure to change direction would not only damage our national interest but fail to address the interests of Europe as a whole. By failing to seize this latest chance to exercise leverage, the Government are failing to settle the issue of the European relationship, which has dogged Governments of both parties and exasperated our continental partners. The Government have failed to restore voters' faith that something can be done about an issue about which they complain so much.
May I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for not being able to attend the full debate? I was in the Chamber to hear the opening speeches, and I have listened with great interest to what has been said, and agreed with much of it.
The Irish referendum result was a breath of fresh air. It was a tremendous victory for ordinary people standing up against the bureaucracy and the elites of Europe who think that they know best, and what is good for us. The Irish have shown that ordinary people know what is best, and what is good for them. I have the privilege of representing the largest Irish community in the eastern region of England, so I have a large Irish community in my constituency. Last Saturday I went to the Luton Irish forum, and congratulated many of my Irish constituents on a splendid result. We were all very happy about it, and there was a certain amount of justified pride.
There has been much suggestion that because Ireland is a small country, the vote is not significant. However, it was almost the only country given the chance to vote. If other countries were given the chance they, too, would vote no. That is not just my view but that of Simon Hix, professor of European and comparative politics at the London School of Economics, who spoke to the European Scrutiny Committee this afternoon. In the Financial Times he wrote:
"The EU has lost three referendums in a row, and most other publics would have voted No if they had been given the chance."
I defer to his better knowledge, and I am sure that he is absolutely right. It would have been the case in Britain—there would be a large majority for a no vote in Britain, if we had the opportunity to hold a referendum. I hope that at some point there will be some kind of referendum.
I want to explain why the Irish voted no, because it has been suggested that people did not know what the referendum was about. We are told that there was confusion, so they voted negatively because they were a bit nervous. There have even been suggestions that when those referendums took place the vote was all about xenophobia and obscurantism. In fact, on my terms at least, the vote is often won for the no campaign because working people and trade unionists think that the EU is not on their side. Indeed, recent decisions by the European Court of Justice, including on the Viking Line case, suggest that the rights of employees, workers and trade unionists have been overridden by the interests of the corporate world, business and employers, which is worrying.
Fifteen years ago, the trade union movement thought that social Europe was what it was all about, which is why some trade unionists were enthusiastic about the EU. It was always clear to me that that was not the case, and Europe has turned against trade unionists and workers in recent times. The European Court of Justice decisions are very significant indeed. Yesterday I was at the headquarters of the International Transport Workers Federation in London, and I saw some of the posters that had been used. They were about the crushing of workers' rights, and they were no doubt displayed all over Ireland. They had a big impact on working people, who thought that the treaty was not a treaty for ordinary people but a treaty for business and the market. It was not a treaty to protect their interests.
Looking back to the French and Dutch referendums and, before them, the Swedish referendum, we see that it was the left that voted no in large numbers, because those people thought that the European Union was for business and employers, not for working people. For a long time, we have been sold the idea that there was an element of social protection, but it was not true.
I heard another anecdote from an MEP who stumbled into a meeting in Brussels three or four years ago, and was shocked to find a discussion going on between MEPs and officials about whom they would appoint to the social affairs commission. They were openly saying that they wanted someone who was popular but weak; someone who would not fight the corner of working people and trade unionists very strongly; someone who was acceptable but not very effective. They chose a small eastern European country—I will not be so unkind as to suggest which one—and a very nice but rather ineffectual man as the Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities. It was a way of having a token workers' representative who was not very powerful. He was not a strong socialist from a large country, but a rather feeble Commissioner from a small eastern European country that was a recent entrant to the EU.
There has been a cynical attempt to shift the European Union in the direction of business and the global corporate world—against the interests of working people. That message is getting across. I spoke at a trade union conference yesterday, and the people there clearly thought that was happening.
The forced privatisations of the railway industry are breaking up the large public sector organisations, which are strongly unionised, into many fragmented parts, and weakening the trade unions' influence and their power to protect their members inside such industries. That is what is happening in at least a majority of the railway privatisations that are being forced through in Europe. Those privatisations are not about simply selling shares in large organisations, but about fragmenting them. That is the key to the issue, and workers are getting that message.
On the economy, we have heard a number of attempts to suggest that the European Union is successful economically. That is not the case, because its growth has been slower than that in many other parts of the developed world. We in this country are very fortunate: we are able to choose our own economic strategy because we are outside the eurozone, and we have wisely adjusted our exchange rate downwards because we have a massive balance of trade deficit with the rest of the European Union. Clearly, we were structurally in error when we had a high exchange rate. We can also choose our own fiscal, taxation and public spending policies—and quite right, too. Other countries would like to, and in future they may want to.
Some three or four years ago, there was a hint that Italian politicians were talking about the possibility of withdrawing from the eurozone. In the eurozone there was a certain amount of panic at the possibility of such talk being abroad. Last weekend, there was even more talk about the Italians being unable to sell Government bonds. If countries cannot sell their Government bonds, they want to be able to adjust their interest rates.
No. I am informed by the hon. Gentleman, and that is certainly a possibility.
If a country cannot sell its Government bonds, it has to do something about it. The logical thing to do might be to change interest or exchange rates, but the macroeconomic fundamentals should certainly be adjusted so that it can sell, so that its economy looks stronger, and so that people will buy Government bonds. The situation is very worrying. The tensions and stresses inside the eurozone still exist, and they are likely to get worse because the world is having serious problems with rising oil and food prices and rising inflation. The next few years are going to be much more difficult economically, and the recent relatively benign conditions will not obtain in a year or two. That will be when the eurozone comes under strain, and member countries will envy what Britain has: its independence on macroeconomic policies.
I look forward to the changes. The eurozone story is not over yet. I hope that the Lisbon treaty story is over, however, because it is finished. It is clearly dead, and if the Czechs confirm what the Irish have said, there will be no question of the treaty coming back. I urge every Member to read the letter in today's Financial Times from Professor Hix, because it was very wise. I have probably spoken for longer than I should, but I am grateful for having had the opportunity.
I am genuinely pleased to have the opportunity to sum up for Her Majesty's Opposition, after what has been an important and often very interesting debate. It has been enlivened by a number of good contributions from my right hon. and hon. Friends. They include my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Malcolm Rifkind, my right hon. Friend Mr. Heathcoat-Amory, and my hon. Friends the Members for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands), for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) and, of course, my hon. Friend Mr. Cash.
I also particularly enjoyed the contributions from the Labour Benches by the hon. Members for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) and for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins). I was particularly struck by the remarks of Mike Gapes, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, who confirmed something that Conservative Members have long argued—that we do not need the treaty of Lisbon to bring about further enlargement of the European Union. It was great to hear that damascene conversion.
We have touched on several important issues, including rising food prices, Russia, Zimbabwe and Iran. On Iran, the points raised by my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary about how the Prime Minister appears to have mismanaged the situation were not adequately answered by the Foreign Secretary. That is a subject that Conservative Members certainly intend to pursue.
I think that the House will not be completely surprised if, given the events in Ireland last Thursday, I concentrate the bulk of my remarks on the referendum and its implications for the Lisbon treaty. I would like personally to congratulate the Irish people on a brave and wise decision in rejecting the treaty of Lisbon in a free and fair national referendum.
It should be remembered that this vote follows on from the rejections of the original European constitution in 2005 by the voters of France and the Netherlands. Given that, as Bertie Ahern, the previous Irish Taoiseach, argued, the two documents are at least 90 per cent. the same, more than 21 million Europeans, and a clear majority in three member states, have voted to reject this over-centralising project. Ireland's own Commissioner, Charlie McCreevy, admitted after the vote:
"I somehow suspect that if many other member states of the EU had to put it before their people, the result would be the same".
If our own Government only had the courage to grant the referendum in Britain that they promised all along, I am confident that we could prove Mr. McCreevy absolutely right.
It is important to appreciate the scale of the rejection in Ireland. The no camp won by 53.4 per cent. to 46.6 per cent.—a clear margin of almost 7 percentage points, and over 100,000 votes. In addition, the turnout, at over 53 per cent., was higher than in Nice 1 and in Nice 2, and involved well over 1.5 million people participating in the ballot. Any attempt to portray the result as in any way unrepresentative or illegitimate does not stand up to close scrutiny.
Does my hon. Friend agree that a no vote was against the odds given that every broadcasting outlet, every respectable newspaper and every respectable political party was in the yes campaign, as was the Commission, with its money, and business, which was all lined up as well. It was a very one-sided campaign, yet the no vote won.
All those people made a fundamental mistake: they took the people for granted, and they paid for it.
Hugo Brady from the Centre for European Reform—a think-tank that is not usually noted for its Eurosceptic attitude—described the result in Ireland as
"a substantial no vote on a substantial turnout"
"It may be that forcing European integration through grand treaties has lost its impetus."
We certainly agree.
Given the scale of the defeat, Irish politicians, even those who were originally in favour of the treaty, have begun to concede the settled view of their electorate. The Irish Labour leader, Eamon Gilmore, said:
"The decision of the Irish electorate has to be fully respected and there can certainly be no question of putting the same Treaty back to another referendum."
The Fine Gael leader, Enda Kenny, said:
"the Irish people have made a clear-cut decision on the matter".
It is incumbent on politicians across the European Union to respect the decision made by the people of Ireland.
It has become almost a Commons tradition over the past few months that whenever we debate Europe we quote from the architect of the original constitution, Mr. Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. In order to comply with that emerging tradition, I remind the House of his prediction:
"Public opinion will be led to adopt, without knowing it, the proposals that we dare not present to them directly".
The Irish refusal to adopt those proposals nevertheless presents the European Union with a major challenge, in terms not only of Lisbon but of the future credibility of the organisation itself. That point was touched on by several of my right hon. and hon. Friends.
The whole anti-democratic nature of the ratification process in this country—the breaking of the solemn promise on a referendum, the curtailed and rigged debate in the Commons and the knowledge that the Government seem set on trying to press ahead with the treaty regardless—has not exactly increased support for the European Union and its institutions among the British electorate. If anything, it has done quite the reverse. If the European constitution was plan A and Lisbon was plan B, any attempt to coerce the Irish to vote again, perhaps on some slightly modified basis, for what we might characterise as plan C, is only likely to increase resentment against the EU even further.
In fact, that resentment is already growing. A YouGov poll published only yesterday revealed that by a margin of nearly four to one, British people think that the Lisbon treaty should be dropped, while 65 per cent. of respondents agreed with the proposition that the EU is out of touch with normal people. When even newspapers such as the Financial Times are running editorials entitled "Time to put the EU Treaty on ice", the Government ought to take notice and give Lisbon up as a bad job.
In the light of developments, we are entitled to ask exactly what the Government's position is. At the weekend, No. 10 clearly briefed the press that it wanted the treaty killed off. The Sunday Times published a story under the forthright front page headline, "No. 10 admits EU Treaty is finished". The Foreign Secretary was at it, too. There was an article in The Sun on Monday entitled, "Give EU Treaty 'The Last Rites'", with the sub-heading "It's dead, says Miliband". That briefing was made to the press by the Labour party in private, but once we heard the Foreign Secretary's statement on Monday, and read his blog—although with my hon. Friend Mrs. Dorries in the Chamber, I have to say to him that if he wants to get into blogging, he has a lot to learn from her—it became evident that they were desperately trying to keep the treaty alive behind the scenes. We have a position where the Government, under pressure, have yet again resorted to spin. They tell the press that they want the treaty gone, but they work behind the scenes to do everything they can to save it. When it comes to the future of our country, and indeed our continent, why can Ministers not be straight with the House of Commons just for once?
If the Government's position is confused, it is an absolute model of clarity compared to that of the Liberal Democrats. Trying to pin them down on this issue over the past few months has been like trying to nail jelly to a fence—with a large number of Liberal Democrats sitting on it while one is doing the nailing. My right hon. Friend Mr. Hague went through a list of their crimes in this regard, and the Liberal Democrat spokesman's speech this afternoon was so full of obfuscations that I feel compelled to repeat some of them.
In the Commons, the Liberals argued against their own manifesto commitment to a referendum on the constitution and in favour of an in-out referendum instead. We were then treated to the sixth-form stunt of an orchestrated walkout because they were not allowed to vote on an in-out referendum, even though that does not appear anywhere in their 2005 general election manifesto. With a few honourable exceptions, they eventually abstained on a referendum on Lisbon in the Commons, although they supported our amendment to prevent the ratchet clause giving up further national vetoes without an Act of Parliament; we give them credit for that.
When the Bill on the treaty reached the other place, the Liberals were given a chance to vote on an in-out referendum—something that they had longed for in the Commons—and when it came to that vote, they abstained again. When it came to the alternative option of a vote on the treaty of Lisbon, rather than abstain, as they had in the Commons, they voted against. They voted for the passerelle amendment in the Commons, but voted against it in the Lords. When he was asked to defend his position, the Liberal spokesman said that it was our fault that they had voted that way. This is an entirely new system of politics in this country. The Liberal Democrats can vote any way they want and then blame other parties for their voting record in the Lobby.
What does the Liberal spokesman have to say to his colleagues in this House who had to resign their Front-Bench positions because they had the honour to stand by their manifesto on which they were elected? Indeed, what does he say to those colleagues who wanted to vote for a referendum, but were ordered to abstain by their leader on a three-line Whip, only to see their peers abstain on an in-out referendum in the other place and vote against the treaty of Lisbon a few weeks later? We would like to have questioned the leader of the Liberal Democrats directly on this matter tonight—but unfortunately Baroness Williams of Crosby does not sit in the House of Commons but in the House of Lords. It is perfectly evident that for the last couple of months she, and not the leader of the Liberal Democrats, has been running Liberal policy on the treaty.
I hope that that point is not lost on the voters of Henley or on the people of this country. It certainly has not been lost on Chris Huhne or Dr. Cable. In summary, the Liberal position on the treaty of Lisbon has been a calamity from start to finish.
In theory, the purpose of the debate today is to inform the Government's negotiating position at the forthcoming European summit tomorrow and Friday, so let me conclude by offering the Government some frank advice. The treaty of Lisbon can come into force only if ratified by all 27 member states, a point readily conceded by the Foreign Secretary. In Ireland, ratification can take place only via a referendum. It has just had a referendum that produced an emphatic no vote on a record turnout. Rather than trying to bully the brave Irish people into voting again, our Government should admit that they have got this wrong, respect the democratic decision of the Irish people—and those of France and the Netherlands before them—go back to the drawing board and start again.
I offer a warning. The more EU leaders continue to try to push Lisbon through in the face of democratically expressed public opinion, the weaker their support among the peoples of Europe will become. No means no, and European Governments, including our own, should simply respect that.
I am delighted to wind up at the end of today's fascinating debate, in which we have had 14 Back-Bench speeches, including from my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz), for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) and for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), and others to whom I will refer. We also heard from my old sparring partner Mr. Francois. I am delighted to hear from him again, although I missed the part of his speech to do with climate change, the Balkans and many of the other big and challenging issues facing Europe. Perhaps they will be for another speech on another day.
We also heard from two former Ministers for Europe. The spirit of relentless optimism of Mr. Heathcoat-Amory still haunts my office at the Foreign Office. We heard, too, from my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz. There was a symbolic contrast between the different approaches of the two parties to the issue of Europe. Unfortunately, I will have to disappoint my right hon. Friend. I have to confirm that there are currently no plans whatever to go on a road tour in the UK or Europe with or without the shadow Foreign Secretary and the shadow Minister for Europe jointly in the caravan. I say so simply out of experience. I once spent a month living on a bus with the late and brilliant Donald Dewar. Despite his wonderful company, I resolved at that point that that was an experience never to be repeated. The stories of that are perhaps for another day.
We also heard as usual from my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary a thoughtful and all-encompassing speech, addressing so many of the big issues facing Europe that will be discussed at the European Council. We also heard a narrower but, as is normal, humorous speech from Mr. Hague. We were treated again to the image of Liberal Democrat cojones. I hope that this is the last time that I have to sit and listen to that slightly homoerotic speech from the right hon. Gentleman.
I was delighted to hear again from Mr. Cash, whom I have missed over the past few weeks. In the middle of one of his interventions, he rather bizarrely announced—I think it was this—the death of Dido. Hansard will of course record properly what he said, but his comments, although not often humorous, nevertheless brought a wry smile to the face of the hon. Member for Aldridge-Wells—[Hon. Members: "Aldridge-Brownhills."]
No, but there is a slight difference. That smile disappeared when my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East described the post of Minister for Europe as the most enjoyable job in Government—certainly I used to think that, until last Friday.
Daniel Kawczynski again spoke with characteristic commitment. On behalf of those of us on the Government Benches, let me congratulate him on his re-election as treasurer of the all-party Poland group. He reminds us of the contribution made by those from eastern Europe to our economy and society, not just now but in previous generations. Tomorrow I will have the opportunity to visit my old school in Glasgow—St. Louise school—which is probably the first school in the United Kingdom where the majority of the pupils are from Poland. That is an occasion that I am looking forward to.
I will try. I also thank the hon. Gentleman for his customary courtesy, in inviting me to join his first-past-the-post group. I look forward to responding to him on that matter.
Many issues were raised in our debate, and I think that every country in the European Union was mentioned. Sixteen countries outside the European Union were mentioned. [Interruption.] Liechtenstein is now the 17th: I had the honour of meeting the Foreign Minister of Liechtenstein last week, and we had an enjoyable conversation. Nevertheless, I want to talk about a country in the European Union that will remain a proud and equal member, and that country, of course, is Ireland.
I do not pretend to speak for the Irish Government. I have never taken up my entitlement to Irish citizenship and I have no intention of doing so. However, the Irish people have the fundamental right to come to their own decision, as guaranteed by their constitutional settlement. That constitutional settlement reflects Ireland's unique history, in the same way that our constitutional position, like those in all the member states of the European Union and beyond, is a reflection of our democratic traditions, arrived at through our unique experiences.
However, we have to be clear—indeed, Her Majesty's Government are crystal clear on this matter—that the European Union is, and should continue to be, a Union of 27 equal member states. There is no question of the treaty coming into effect or being implemented in any member state unless it is ratified by all 27 member states. We wish to be absolutely clear about that again.
Could the Minister explain to me and others what led the Government to decide to proceed with ratification under the current Bill, which they did not do with the European constitutional treaty, when the previous Prime Minister abandoned the proceedings? What was the reason for that and what is the distinction?
The precedent on Maastricht, Nice and the old constitution plays both ways, as the Foreign Secretary said earlier in the week. With Maastricht, the then Conservative Government were determined to continue. When it came to Nice, we had not even had the First Reading of the Bill giving effect to the treaty when the Irish held their referendum, but we had all subsequent stages of that Bill after the Irish referendum. In the present case, we are 96 per cent. of the way towards ratification—indeed, the House of Lords is reflecting on the matter at the moment.
After the referendums on the old constitution, it was clear that those countries were not going to ratify. That is not the position at the moment, and we await the determination and decision of the Irish Government on how they now wish to proceed. After the referendums on the older constitutions, it was clear that France and the Netherlands were not going to ratify.
I shall give way in few moments.
The Irish Europe Minister said on BBC television just today that Ireland was
"not going to intrude on any other member state's ratification process. It's right and proper that each member state deals with this matter in its own constitutional procedures as we did with our process".
Having cited that comment from the Irish Europe Minister, I give way to the hon. Gentleman.
The Minister has kindly spoken about what was said during our debate, but has he taken the time to talk to Back-Bench Labour MPs to hear their views about whether they support the continuation of the ratification process? Surely some of them must now have second thoughts because of what has happened in Ireland. Is the Minister taking those soundings himself?
I have those conversations every day. However, with respect to my right hon. and hon. Friends, it is for the Irish Government and not them to decide the way ahead there—in the same way that neither we nor any country in the EU should bully the Irish, Ireland should not determine the UK Parliament's process. The Irish referendum determines the Irish position; the UK Parliament decides the UK position.
The hon. Member for Stone and I have had some lonely debates over recent months about the nature of UK parliamentary sovereignty. We have talked in detail about the Vienna convention and the law of treaties, and he has invented—or spoken about—previous constitutional novelties. In the last couple of days, I believe that he has invented two further constitutional novelties. The first is that the sovereignty of the UK Parliament, which he so passionately defends, should be conditional on article 46 of the Irish constitution. There is no such sense of national sovereignty. We should defend absolutely our right as a Parliament to come to our sovereign decision on this matter; it should not be conditional on one article of the Irish constitution.
Secondly, the hon. Member for Stone has gone so far as to seek judicial review at the High Court to defend the right of the Irish constitution to supersede the UK Parliament on this issue of ratification. He sought to do that in the High Court of Justice this very week in the Queen's bench division of the administrative court, presided over by the hon. Mr. Justice Collins in the case of Mr. William Cash—forgive me for putting it that way, Mr. Deputy Speaker— v. the Secretary of State of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The conclusion was that there was no reason why the Government should not ask Parliament to continue to deal with the European Union (Amendment) Bill despite the refusal of Ireland to ratify the Lisbon treaty, and that it will be for Parliament, not the court, to decide whether the Bill should be passed, having regard for the Irish decision. It is, as it has always been and as it always should be, for this Parliament to decide the processes and procedures for ratifying a treaty in the UK. It is for the Irish, through their own domestic constitutional arrangements, to make their decision.
What we have heard this afternoon is the traditional call from the Front Bench of the Conservative party, saying "This is a dreadful treaty; we have to rely on Nice." Let us think back to what happened with the Nice treaty. We heard the overblown hyperbole from the shadow Foreign Secretary, saying that it was three steps to a European superstate, so they had tried to delay it by introducing a referendum clause.
We should also recall the fact that Conservative Members voted against the Third Reading of the Bill on the treaty of Nice. What was the great clarion call during debate of that treaty? It was, "Fall back on Amsterdam, because Nice was so dangerous"—overblown hyperbole again. We were told from the Front Bench of the Conservative party—not by some "better off out" person from the Back Benches—that the Amsterdam treaty would destroy Britain. Amsterdam would destroy the UK, we were told, and the Conservatives wanted a referendum on that treaty. They voted against it, as I said, on Third Reading. There is at least a pattern of consistency on some matters: overblown hyperbole; fiction repeated as fact; calling for referendums in opposition that are never supported when in government; voting against Third Reading on each and every one of the Bills that were so important to the reform and modernisation of the European Union. They claim to support that, but they should be judged on their actions, which have been to block every improvement in the EU over the past decade or more.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the matter of European affairs.