I beg to move,
That this House
approves the Government's policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning foreign, security and defence policy.
Today, we have an opportunity to debate the EU's common foreign and security policy and the improvements to its delivery as a result of the Lisbon treaty. The idea of European foreign policy—it was first called "political co-operation"—goes back almost to the foundation of the European Economic Community in the 1950s. It was given new life in the 1980s and then enshrined in the Maastricht treaty of 1992. It was all but broken by the Balkan wars of the 1990s, so I think it appropriate that, as we discuss the foreign policy aspects of the Lisbon treaty, it should again be on the western Balkans that European eyes are fixed. With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will say a little about this particular case, which illustrates the value of the common foreign and security policy, before going on to address the detail of the changes envisaged by the treaty.
On Monday, the Government announced their decision to recognise the Kosovo assembly's declaration of independence. We did so confident that Kosovo's accession to independence in this way is entirely consistent with UN Security Council resolution 1244, which also continues to provide a sound legal basis for the NATO and EU missions in that area.
The situation on the ground in Kosovo remains calm, but yesterday there was an attack on two border posts in the north of the country. NATO forces intervened robustly, dispersing the crowd and taking control of the crossings. Nobody was hurt, but it is important that we all underline that violence by any side is unacceptable. The Government are concerned by suggestions that some in the Serb Government think that the attack was justified. The atmosphere in Serbia is more tense. Demonstrations in Belgrade on Sunday night inflicted serious damage on the Slovenian embassy, but subsequent demonstrations have passed off without trouble. A mass rally is being planned for Thursday and, to their credit, political leaders in Serbia have called for it to be peaceful.
The Government's approach has been to promote discussion and dialogue until it was clear that there was no way to bridge the gap between Belgrade and Pristina and in those circumstances to seek the full implementation of the Ahtisaari plan; and to emphasise the need for a regional approach that offers economic and political support to all the countries of the western Balkans.
May I put it to the Foreign Secretary that, important as these matters are, they are not directly relevant to the scrutiny of the treaties that we are discussing? If he wants to make a statement on these matters, he could do so outwith the time for this debate, instead of taking time from Back Benchers who are limited to making seven-minute speeches because he has designed the timetable of the Bill to grandstand on these occasions for his own benefit instead of replying to points put to him by Back Benchers on matters pertaining to the treaty.
Before the Foreign Secretary replies, I should say that if anything irrelevant to the debate had been heard, the Chair would have intervened earlier.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that in the time that he has just taken, I could have concluded the relevant section of my speech.
Fourteen other European countries have joined the UK in recognising Kosovo, as have the US and six others.
Will my right hon. Friend say something about today's reports that hundreds, if not thousands, of Serbian paramilitary or police officials are being sent into the area around Mitrovica? If that is the case, will he send a positive statement about the future of Serbia and its association with the European Union to try to— [Interruption.] Conservative Members obviously do not think this important, but this is in Europe's heartland and it is important that we in Europe are able to assess the situation and do something to help the people of that region.
I am sorry to have to intervene a second time on the issue of relevance, but if we pursue that line we will be moving away from the main theme of the debate. Enough has been said on that subject, so the Foreign Secretary should proceed with his speech.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I was going on to say that the framework that Sir John Major agreed at Maastricht has, with some improvements, helped the European Union not just in the Balkans, but further afield, too. That is why I am clear that some of the amendments tabled by Opposition Members, which would attack the foundations of common foreign and security policy and European security and defence policy, put ideology before logic. In a world with shared challenges requiring co-ordinated responses, CFSP and ESDP are crucial aspects of our response.
Today, we work with or through the EU on many foreign policy issues. I and the Government believe that we are stronger for it and the world is better for it, too. In the last 12 months, for example, the EU has imposed sanctions on Iran and Zimbabwe beyond those imposed by the UN; mobilised more aid for Palestine than ever before; put 2,000 troops on the ground in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in support of the UN; found €54 million for Iraq; provided financial backing for the African Union mission in Darfur; deployed a stabilisation force to neighbouring Chad to protect refugees from the crisis; delivered emergency aid in Pakistan; and shown genuine solidarity with us over Litvinenko, the closure of British Council offices in Russia and Iran's seizure of UK naval personnel.
The Foreign Secretary referred to a number of amendments and I am happy to admit that I tabled some of them for a very good reason. Would he accept that, although proper co-operation can be achieved within the framework of an organisation such as the European Union, there is a world of difference between that co-operation and the degree of co-ordination being established within a legal framework, which has been accompanied by mistakes such as those seen in the disarray over a whole raft of matters from Iraq and Kosovo's standing to many others, where the EU is demonstrating that it cannot meet the challenges that he mentioned?
I believe that the legal framework is being established to strengthen the co-operation that the hon. Gentleman says he supports. Whatever our different views about Iraq, I do not think that the situation there can be put at the door of the European Union.
For the future, we need a European Union not as an alternative to UK foreign policy, but as one means for its implementation. That is why the Government have set out their vision for a global Europe and why we support aspects of the treaty that seek carefully to enhance the existing common foreign and security policy.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Some specific references have been added in respect of NATO, which give added assurance to those willing to look into the issue with an open mind that the development of European policy can complement NATO rather than rival it.
I agree with the Foreign Secretary that when western European countries genuinely agree with each other on some matter of vital foreign interest, it is highly desirable and beneficial that they should work together. However, will not he agree, on reflection, that his statement yesterday that the cobbled-together EU statement on Kosovo showed "clear political leadership" by the European Union was absurd? The issue of Kosovo showed the deepest division on a common foreign policy issue since the divisions on Iraq. He does no service to the genuine desire for European co-operation when he describes a failure to achieve European agreement as if it were a success.
I am surprised to find myself disagreeing on this point with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. It would only have been a failure if it were for the European Union to recognise the new country of Kosovo. There are divisions within EU countries about whether or not to recognise Kosovo, but it is a matter for individual countries to decide. The matter at hand for the EU is not about recognition and I am sure that he would agree with me that it would be quite wrong to move into a world where the EU starts recognising countries when it is in fact a responsibility of member states. In matters that are the responsibility of the EU—first, the deployment of a European mission; secondly, the partnership arrangements between all the countries of the western Balkans; and thirdly, the ultimate objective of EU membership—there should be and is European cohesion.
Does the Foreign Secretary not realise that he is compounding his own foolishness in this respect? How can he seriously argue that a coherent European policy on Kosovo can be achieved when many EU countries have recognised it as an independent state but the remaining EU countries still consider it to be part of Serbia? How can that provide the basis of a common European foreign policy?
Fifteen countries, including the UK, recognised the new country of Kosovo within 72 hours of its creation. I would be happy to lay a wager with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that in due course many more European countries will recognise it. We will see if one or two do not recognise it, but as I explained, it must be a matter for individual nation states to decide on recognition. He is only compounding his error, if I may say so, by confusing the responsibility of the European Union with the responsibilities of nation states.
I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for giving way to me again, but on that basis, on whose authority did Javier Solana, the high representative of the European Union, visit Kosovo yesterday and announce that it is a good friend of the EU? Of course that does not constitute legal recognition of the independent status of Kosovo, but it is tantamount to it, and demonstrates the dynamic that the high representative gives the foreign policy under which, as he said, 15 states have recognised Kosovo. Is the Foreign Secretary in favour of qualified majority voting on that basis?
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman, who studies these questions carefully, should destroy his own argument in seeking to make it. Mr. Solana's visit was on the back of the agreement of the 27 to the statement made at the European General Affairs and External Relations Council on Monday, and was all the better for that. Whatever one's view of the timing of recognition, the idea that the European Union should not be a friend of Kosovo strikes me as very odd indeed.
Is it not bizarre that Opposition Members should first complain that European Union countries, including ours, are drilled and forced into agreeing with each other on some issue, and then complain that they are not being drilled in that way? Does that not demonstrate a huge absence of consistency and intelligence among that lot over there?
I had the privilege, if that is the right word, of being the Minister responsible for the Balkans for five years. We welcome the presence of European Commissioners, Mr. Solana and everyone else in Pristina and all the related lands, and the idea that there should be any criticism of that strikes me as absurd. However, ever since the treaty of Lisbon has been up for debate, I have been told repeatedly that it meant a common foreign policy that would wipe away the autonomy of the nation states of Europe. Spain has just said "Whoa! We cannot agree to recognise Kosovo." Where is this steamroller telling the nation states of Europe what their policies should be? The Conservative party is in Alice in Wonderland country.
My right hon. Friend is entirely right. Let me proceed with the details to show exactly why that is.
The treaty does not, repeat not, change the fundamental nature of common foreign and security policy co-operation. That continues to be covered in a separate treaty, subject—as is stated in the treaty for the first time—to "specific rules and procedures". The treaty includes an article—again, it appears for the first time—underlining those distinct arrangements: unanimity as the general rule so a veto for all countries, no legislative acts, and a limited role for Community institutions.
What the treaty will do is enhance the efficiency, effectiveness and coherence of the current arrangements.
If the hon. Gentleman will let me make some progress, I shall be happy to allow him to intervene as I go through the details.
The treaty will make the European Council responsible for setting the EU's strategic priorities for all external action, thereby underlining member states' lead responsibility for setting the EU's foreign policy. It will strengthen the coherence of the EU's external action through a high representative, appointed by Heads of State and Heads of Government and straddling the work of the Commission and the CFSP.
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman when I reach the end of this passage.
The treaty will bring together existing Commission and Council officials, augmented by member state secondees, into a single external action service to support the high representative, whose work will be governed by 27 nation states, and it will set clear objectives to guide all areas of external action.
The Foreign Secretary said earlier that the EU's foreign policy would complement that of this country. I know he believes that our relationships with both NATO and the United States are key to our foreign policy, so why does the document presented by the Slovenian presidency and published by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the EU's external relations make no mention of either of those relationships? They were mentioned in the document produced by the last presidency, but have been expunged from this one. That does not sound very complementary to me.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the details in the treaty that have been added precisely in respect of NATO, for example. For the first time, a treaty will be peppered with references to NATO, which I hope will bring a smile to his face as well as to mine.
The Foreign Secretary has listed a number of aspects of security policy in the treaty. Will he tell us what is NATO's take on the ESDP, and also whether he considers European common defence policy or NATO to be the cornerstone of Europe's future defence?
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the Secretary-General of NATO, has made clear his welcome for the increased capability envisaged in the treaty, but also for the EU's ability to complement NATO activity. It is in those areas that we should see progress. Although the cornerstone of our defence is NATO, I believe the development and effect of the ESDP can help us to make that progress.
May I deal with the details of those four areas before I give way? There will be plenty of opportunities for Members to intervene later.
Let me deal first with the establishment of the position of high representative. At present there are two separate roles. The high representative works for the member states, while the External Relations Commissioner works for the Council. In addition, the Foreign Minister of the member state holding the six-month rotating presidency—currently Slovenia, as was pointed out by Mr. Harper—is responsible for chairing the ministerial meetings. That can be confusing, so the Lisbon treaty merges the roles into a new job, which will give the EU a more coherent voice internationally.
Article 13a of the Lisbon treaty sets out the role and responsibilities of the proposed high representative. He or she will chair the Foreign Affairs Council and ensure effective implementation of the decisions made. He or she will also represent the agreed position of the EU on common foreign and security policy matters, conducting political dialogue—again, when there is unanimous agreement on an EU position—with third parties. He or she will also be able to set out the agreed EU position in international organisations and at international conferences.
I will come to the relationship between a specific request from the European Council—the Heads of Government—and an implementing measure presented by the high representative. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will address precisely that point, but this is not quite the right moment to do so.
As for what we said in the Convention, to which the Opposition motion refers, we make no apology for asking searching questions. We were right to do so, and moreover we received answers.
The high representative will be the servant of the Council of Ministers on CFSP matters. He or she will be appointed by national Governments, and will be responsible to them through the Council. The high representative will be able to propose new CFSP initiatives, but in addition to rather than instead of member states, and it will still be the Council—representing the 27 countries of the EU—rather than the high representative that makes decisions. In short, Britain will continue to decide on its own foreign policy, and where we agree with others in the EU, there can be a common European role in helping to deliver it.
Should not the House be given the details of the position taken by the Government in the European Convention on the constitution in respect of clauses that are identical in the Lisbon treaty? When I raised the matter with the Leader of the House during business questions about 10 days ago, she graciously appeared to accept the point. She said that she would contact the Foreign Secretary and ask him to table, for the purpose of future debates, the position taken by the Government in the European Convention on clauses that are now in the Lisbon treaty, which we are about to debate. Has he done that? Has he discussed the matter with the Leader of the House, and if not, why not?
I am sorry if this has not been transmitted to the right hon. Gentleman, but the details of all the Convention discussions are available on the Convention's website. There is no hidden agenda in this respect. I assure him that there is a very clear answer to his question.
The Foreign Secretary is a comparatively new Member of the House. There is a convention that Government documents reflecting Government policy are tabled in this House, so that we do not have to go through the Convention website line by line and download them all.
Although I am extremely new to this House, I know that we table documents that are relevant to the treaty and legislation that we are discussing. We do not table documents to do with historic discussions and treaties that are no longer on the table.
I think that the Foreign Secretary will find that the clear answer to which he just referred is that the Government did not want the two posts to merge. Apart from the change of name, is there any difference in substance between what was envisaged in the original constitution—a Union Minister for foreign affairs—and the high representative envisaged in the Lisbon treaty? What is the substantive difference, apart from the name change?
There are several differences. I hope that I will not bore the hon. Gentleman, but I want to read out two new detailed and important treaty articles that might directly address his fears.
I shall read them very slowly, if that would help my right hon. Friend.
The following two articles are new text. New article 10C states:
"The common foreign and security policy is subject to specific rules and procedures."
That has never been said before. It continues:
"It shall be defined and implemented by the European Council and the Council acting unanimously, except where the Treaties provide otherwise. The adoption of legislative acts shall be excluded...The Court of Justice of the European Union shall not have jurisdiction with respect to these provisions".
New article 240a states:
"The Court of Justice of the European Union shall not have jurisdiction with respect to the provisions relating to the common foreign and security policy nor with respect to acts adopted on the basis of those provisions."
In other words, it is not just a matter of the name of the foreign Minister or otherwise; the treaty differs in a range of ways from the proposed constitution, which was abandoned by the 27 Governments of the European Union last June.
The difference in the posts is that the precision with which the new treaty defines the role of the nation states in governing the Council's decisions addresses very directly some of the concerns about the original proposals that existed on both sides of the House. The hon. Gentleman will see in treaty language, clearly enunciated—
When I say there is something different and the hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position that there is nothing different, I do not understand how we can come to a meeting of minds. The difference is that the treaty is different, and given that we are debating the treaty, I do not know how we can avoid recognising that.
The posts are different. They differ in the relationships in respect of the Council and the Commission. The Foreign Secretary is discussing the narrow treaty provision, so will he just help me a bit in relation to NATO, about which he says the treaty contains special mentions that were not in place before? If the talk about France rejoining NATO fully is correct, some people might be concerned that the new dynamics would be that the EU positioned itself in such a way as to have a right of veto over NATO decisions. Is there anything in the treaty that would allow that to happen?
No. NATO is rightly governed by the rules of NATO and the European Union is governed by the rules of the European Union. Although Conservative Members suggested in a rather mocking tone that I had been foolish to allow my hon. Friend to intervene, I agree with the first part of her remarks about the two posts being different.
Let me move on to qualified majority voting. As has been the case since Amsterdam, there is scope in this treaty to take some secondary and implementing decisions by QMV. In addition, when proposals are explicitly and unanimously requested by the European Council from the high representative, they can be decided by QMV, but the treaty makes it clear that there must be a specific request, by unanimity, from the European Council. It remains to be seen whether any of the provisions for QMV will be used—despite having had QMV for operational purposes in common foreign and security policy for 10 years, it has not been used once. In addition, the emergency brake mechanism can of course be used if the UK's vital interests are affected by a decision that is about to be approved by QMV.
The Foreign Secretary is discussing the general point about CFSP and the views taken by the Union. The Union has a relationship with Russia, which strongly objects to national missile defence being placed in Britain, the Czech Republic and Poland. That clearly has implications for the whole continent. What competence does the European Union have in this regard? Does it have any? Does he expect it to have any if it is to have a common foreign policy?
That goes to the heart of the difference between a European Union foreign policy that is complementary to national policies and one that substitutes for them. The issue of ballistic missile defence is a bilateral rather than multilateral one.
Common foreign and security policy remains intergovernmental and in a separate treaty. Importantly, as I explained to Mr. Clappison, the European Court of Justice's jurisdiction over substantive CFSP policy is clearly and expressly excluded. As agreed at Maastricht, the ECJ will continue to monitor the boundary between CFSP and other EU external action, such as development assistance. But the Lisbon treaty considerably improves the existing position by making it clear that CFSP cannot be affected by other EU policies. It ring-fences CFSP as a distinct, equal area of action.
I would be grateful if the Foreign Secretary could give a little more clarification about how the new way in which policy will be defined links to the ideas put forward by the Oxford Research Group about sustainable security and the need to move from a paradigm of defence and control to one where we examine the issues of international development and, specifically, climate change. Will he tell us how that will be examined in the new Lisbon treaty arrangements?
Perhaps my hon. Friend and I can both read the publication and then compare notes.
My hon. Friend Joan Walley will know that debates have taken place in this House about the changes introduced by the treaty in respect of sustainable development. She will also be reassured when the national security strategy is published, because it will take a broad look at these issues, rather than a narrow one.
The Foreign Secretary referred to the exceptions where the ECJ has a role, and I accept, as the European Scrutiny Committee said, that the role is limited. Under the Bill he is excluding the CFSP from implementation into English law. How will he reconcile that with the fact that, in those limited circumstances, the ECJ will, through the European Communities Act 1972, have an impact on British law? Can he reconcile the two positions?
I want to do so. The hon. Gentleman caught me halfway through my explanation of the ECJ's role. The ECJ has a consequential role in respect of two aspects. It will monitor the boundary between CFSP and other EU external action, such as development assistance. As I was saying, the Lisbon treaty considerably improves the position by ring-fencing CFSP.
There is a judicial gap in a second area; it exists in respect of sanctions on individuals. Individuals subject to economic sanctions can already challenge them in court if they believe that their rights have not been respected. The treaty extends that provision to CFSP sanctions measures. That is an important part of ensuring that EU sanctions regimes are robust and credible. That consequential role of the ECJ does not infringe on our country's laws in the sort of way that the hon. Gentleman fears.
I do not accept that those things are impossible to reconcile because they are doing different tasks. The treaty is clear about the limits on the ECJ's role, not least in respect of policy, but it recognises that the ECJ must have a consequential role in the two areas that I described. I am happy to correspond with the hon. Gentleman further about the issue— [ Interruption. ] It is suggested that I do not correspond with him further, but I would be happy to do so.
The Lisbon treaty also establishes an external action service to support the high representative. It does not alter the responsibility of member states or the nature of CFSP decision making, but it will reorganise Commission and Council secretariat staff and include seconded staff from member states. All of this can deliver benefits in terms of more effective co-ordination. It will improve the policy advice to the Council by aligning EU external spending with the political priorities set by the member states in the Council. In post-conflict situations, it offers the chance to improve the EU's ability to deliver coherently by improving co-ordination of a range of conflict prevention, crisis management and stabilisation tools.
Since 1973, under successive Governments, Britain has sent some of its best brains from different Departments—not just the Foreign Office—to work in Brussels, and they have done a good job for Britain. I know that my right hon. Friend is under huge budgetary pressures, but I urge him to see what he can do to ensure that as the external action service develops Brits help to shape it, in both Europe's interest and British interest, which I believe genuinely coincide.
We are happy to send people of any political stripe to the EAS, although I do not know whether Tories would want to go. We can address that question another time.
I am happy to confirm the Government's continued commitment to UK presence on the United Nations Security Council. Like every hon. Member, I support that presence: we argued for clarity in the Convention and the treaty to safeguard that position, and nothing in the treaty will undermine it. Only sovereign states can hold seats at the Security Council and the EU is not a state, and will not become one. Under current arrangements, the President of the EU and the high representative sometimes already address the Security Council, if they are invited to do so, but that does not make them members nor negate our membership. As the Foreign Affairs Committee has said, the treaty
"will not undermine the position of the UK in the United Nations system nor the UK's representation and role as a Permanent Member".
For the sake of completeness, let me now turn to three aspects of European security and defence policy, on which we asked searching questions in the Convention to defend our position. The first is permanent structured co-operation. One of the UK's priorities on defence—in both the EU and NATO—is to get our partners to shoulder more of the international security burden and to get them to develop the right capabilities and provide the right sort of forces so that they can help to tackle the security challenges that we face. The treaty includes a new provision—permanent structured co-operation—focused solely on developing EU member state capability in line with those aims. To become a member of permanent structured co-operation, EU member states will need to commit to a higher level of capability development. The prospect of membership will, we hope, encourage member states to develop the sort of deployable, flexible and sustainable forces for which we have been calling.
Many of us who have served in the armed forces, including myself, are concerned about the development of a European defence force and how that would work in conjunction with NATO. Can the Secretary of State give an example of when NATO might be used or when a future European defence force might be used? In all the conflicts and theatres in which I was involved, there was no unanimous agreement on action in Europe. I can see a situation in which there is a call for a European force that cannot be answered, partly because the forces are double-hatting in NATO, but also because unanimity will never be achieved.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, but inherent in it is a significant correction to what some of his hon. Friends were saying earlier. He used the word "unanimously", and the troops would be deployed only on the basis of unanimous agreement. He raised the spectre that the EU would not be able to perform an important task because unanimous agreement would be required before any forces could be deployed under PSC. It is a significant point, but it is right that unanimous agreement should be achieved before forces are deployed, and I think that he would agree with that.
I do not wish to anticipate future conflicts, but the ESDP is involved in 13 missions at the moment, which gives some indication of where it is going. I know of the hon. Gentleman's service in the armed forces and it is, of course, respected on both sides of the House.
If I may illustrate my point from my own experience, the problem is the one that we had in Bosnia. The EU was there for peacekeeping and monitoring, but when things got tough no one was willing to do the fighting. My worry is that if unanimous agreement is required, we will not send troops anywhere, because the member states will discuss the issue and never come to a resolution. We will have to fall back on the United States as a back-up, which leads to the conclusion that we should retain NATO as the structure and not even try to play around with an EU defence force.
The hon. Gentleman will agree that the first step is to build up capabilities. The purpose of permanent structured co-operation is to incentivise capability development. When the capabilities are in place, the decision on how to deploy them can be made. I do not disagree that NATO should be the first resort for the sort of missions that he describes, but I disagree that we should not even try to develop a European capacity to complement the work of NATO.
Is not the reality that there are some circumstances in which it will be far more appropriate for NATO to become involved, usually when there is a north American influence or interest? In other circumstances, where there is still a serious issue to be faced and with a specific European interest, as in Chad, for example—[Hon. Members: "Chad?"] There is a serious situation in Chad that needs to be addressed and there are many European Union interests involved. It would be better for the EU to provide a combination of forces for that situation, rather than NATO.
I am in favour of European co-operation on these matters, where possible, but will the Foreign Secretary acknowledge that whatever people may think is the case, the truth is that outside the NATO structures there is little capability for peacekeeping, almost no capability for peacemaking and no capability whatever for war fighting?
I think that the hon. Gentleman would agree that, beyond France—and we could debate exactly where it fits in his schema, although it does have those capabilities—which is outside NATO for these purposes, capabilities are severely limited.
I shall move to a conclusion with two final points about defence. There are changes to the mandate because the treaty expands the list of tasks that ESDP can undertake. The treaty also commits member states to offer assistance in the event that another member state is the
"victim of armed aggression on its territory".
That means that EU member states that are not members of NATO are now committed to the defence of their European partners.
The treaty is in Britain's interest because it will make the EU's common foreign and security policy much more efficient, and it will give greater coherence to our actions and those of our partners on the global stage. In short, it will make the EU a more serious foreign policy player, not to the detriment of British foreign policy, but to our advantage. I say to Opposition Members that it is no good supporting European action around the world and then tabling amendments that would make it more difficult. The European Union is vital to tackling the global issues we face today. A more effective European Union is in our interest, not contrary to it. The treaty acknowledges that, and gives us the tools to create a vital and effective common foreign and security policy. I commend it to the House.
I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to end and to insert instead thereof:
"disapproves of the Government's policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning foreign, security and defence policy;
notes that those provisions are in large part identical to those in the European Union Constitution;
further notes that the Government publicly opposed many of those provisions at the Convention on the Future of Europe;
believes that the Government was right to oppose those provisions;
regrets the Government's change of policy;
and believes that the consequent increase of the European Union's powers over foreign, security and defence policy at member states' expense is not in the national interest.".
It was our contention, when the timetable for debating this Bill was discussed three weeks ago, that the vital areas of foreign policy and defence merited at least two separate days of debate, and I suspect that it will be clear, both from the uncertainty surrounding these issues and their importance, that far more time should have been given to them.
At the outset, let us be clear that the foreign, security and defence provisions of the EU treaty provide a classic illustration of how closely the treaty now before us mirrors the EU constitution, usually down to the smallest detail. The Foreign Affairs Committee, which has, of course, a Labour majority, concluded in its report that
"there is no material difference between the provisions on Foreign Policy in the Constitutional Treaty which the government made subject to approval in a referendum and those in the Lisbon Treaty on which a referendum is being denied."
No rational person could come to any other conclusion. The similarities are overwhelming: the existence of the high representative, the renamed Foreign Minister, and the simultaneous membership of the European Commission for the person holding that post; the appointment of the high representative by qualified majority voting; the extension of QMV to proposals made by the high representative and the design of the EU diplomatic service; the creation of the new EU foreign policy fund; the requirement on Britain and France to invite the high representative to present the EU's case at the UN Security Council when a common position has been determined; the creation of a single legal personality for the EU; and a series of defence commitments, including a mutual defence commitment and so-called permanent structured co-operation.
All those points, which are the subject of our six-hour debate today, were in the EU constitution and are in the EU treaty. Indeed, some were among the aspects of the treaty that made it a constitutional treaty in the opinion of the former Foreign Secretary, who is now the Lord Chancellor, Mr. Straw. He told the House that the creation of an EU Foreign Minister, as well as an EU president, were points that were
"central to the European constitutional treaty, and of course I see no prospect of their being brought into force, save through the vehicle of a constitutional treaty."—[ Hansard, 6 June 2005; Vol. 434, c. 1001.]
It is as clear in foreign policy as it is in any aspect of the treaty that if the Government were possessed of any honour or honesty in living up to their manifesto commitments, the people of this country would be permitted the referendum that they want and deserve.
On that point, is the right hon. Gentleman still of the same opinion that he was in 1998, which was that referendums eroded the democratic process in the UK?
I am of the opinion that when all the parties in the House have committed themselves to a referendum, that referendum should be granted. That makes this case wholly different from any previous case from 1998, 1992 or whenever else. In the general elections that preceded those occasions, no party had committed itself to a referendum on the European treaty. In this Parliament, every party committed itself to a referendum on a European treaty. The Government cannot therefore mount any credible argument that a difference in the provisions in the treaty from the provisions in the constitution absolves them from their referendum commitment. They can argue instead only that the provisions are relatively unimportant or are small improvements—that would seem to be the gist of the Foreign Secretary's case—that would not merit a referendum in any case.
That argument, however, comes up against three major problems. The first is that it is generally agreed by observers who set out to be impartial that in this area the treaty makes important changes. The Foreign Affairs Committee of our own House noted that
"the Government risks underestimating, and certainly is downplaying in public, the importance and potential of the new foreign policy institutions established by the Lisbon Treaty, namely the new High Representative and the European External Action Service."
Last week, Mr. Andrew Duff, who is the leader of the Liberal Democrat MEPs, said:
"The Treaty has large potential and a dramatic impact in the field of common foreign and security policy."
Secondly, it has emerged that important decisions about how exactly the foreign and defence provisions will be implemented are being held back until ratification in this country, in particular, has been completed. The decisions, for instance, about the role of the president of the European Council in foreign policy and the roll-out of the EU diplomatic service, as well as those about the nature of the all-important structured co-operation in defence, will only be taken later, according to the leaked memo from the Slovenian presidency written on
The third difficulty for the Government in making their case is that the changes on foreign policy and defence brought in by the treaty were important enough for the vast majority of them to have been strongly opposed by the Government. The background to that is that for many years there has been instinctive agreement across the House about the relationship of the European Union to foreign policy. The Foreign Secretary gave voice to some of this in his speech. We have all been in favour of member states of the EU working together on foreign policy issues on an intergovernmental and consensus basis. The need to do so in the years to come—for instance, hopefully, in relation to the Balkans and in dealing with the foreign policy challenges presented by Russia—is clear. In common with the Government, we wish that there was a more effective and forceful unity of foreign policy approach from EU members.
Let me complete this point first. An intervention from the right hon. Gentleman is always something to savour and look forward to, so I shall come to him in a moment.
Across the House, we wish that the approach to foreign policy of EU members had a more forceful unity in facing up to Iran's development of nuclear weapons capability and the crimes of regimes such as those in Zimbabwe and Burma. There is no hostility to the co-operation of member states as nation states on a wide range of important issues. As the Foreign Secretary rightly said, that can be a means of implementing our foreign policy here in Britain. The vast majority of us in this House, including the Government, have always opposed the introduction of treaty changes that increase the role of the EU at the expense of member states and of institutions that go beyond supplementing co-operation and supplant it with supranational decision making.
Indeed, there is almost British consensus that institutional change is not only irrelevant to an effective common foreign and security policy but can even be a substitute for it or a distraction from it. That was clear from the evidence given to the Foreign Affairs Committee on this subject, some of which makes interesting reading.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who stressed the importance of unity on the question of Russia. Will he explain to the House why the Conservative party and right hon. and hon. Members colluded with Mr. Putin and the Kremlin to try to install one of Mr. Putin's henchmen as president of the Council of Europe against the wish of all the other centre-right parties in Europe?
The right hon. Gentleman is making an extraordinary accusation when he says that we have been colluding with Mr. Putin, whom we have never met. I have to tell him that it was provided for in the arrangements for the presidency of the Council of Europe that the position would be taken by a socialist. One of the people who argued that the Russians should take the presidency was, as I understand it, the leader of the Labour delegation and former Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Prescott. The right hon. Gentleman's accusations against the Conservative party are rather misplaced.
The right hon. Gentleman says that he is in favour of co-operation within the European Union on foreign policy, and that is clearly welcome. Does he propose any measures to ensure that co-operation is easier and that the potential for co-operation is enhanced?
That brings me exactly to the points that I wanted to make about the evidence given to the Foreign Affairs Committee. It is an interesting set of evidence for the House.
Professor Hill of Cambridge's centre of international studies told the Committee that
"institutional change has too often been a substitute for change at the level of policy and a willingness to grasp the nettle of difficult decisions...Whenever there is a problem in European Union foreign policy, the instinct is to say, 'Let's invent some new procedure'."
Professor Whitman of the university of Bath similarly said that
"historically a lot of effort has gone into the procedure rather than the policy."
He went on to tell the Committee that he thought that
"the CFSP could carry on working quite happily without the changes that are in that treaty."
A dazzling array of Labour Foreign Secretaries—past and present—drove that point home to the Committee. The noble Lord Owen expressed the view that the EU spent too much time on institutional development and press relations, whereas the best way to strengthen EU foreign policy was
"practical success on the ground."
The Foreign Secretary's predecessor, Margaret Beckett, dealt briskly with the argument that, as she put it,
"if the European Union cannot get an agreement"— on the treaty—
"there will be a huge crisis and...the EU will no longer be able to function".
Not so, she said:
"the last few months have shown that that is not actually so. The EU is functioning and has, indeed, reached some quite far-reaching decisions".
I rather agree with those Labour Foreign Secretaries and academic experts that the concentration of EU and foreign policy should be on practical agreement and grasping difficult issues rather than trying to change the rules.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way again. Does he agree that the treaty's changes on common foreign and security policy are so modest for the very reasons that he has just set out?
The hon. Gentleman had better take that up with his colleague Mr. Andrew Duff. As I mentioned a moment ago, he said that the treaty would have a "dramatic impact" in the field of common foreign and security policy. I know that the Liberal Democrats are having some disagreements about how to vote on some of these matters, so perhaps they can resolve that one at the same time as they resolve the others.
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman agrees that some changes need to be made. The history of the Iraq invasion shows that the Council of Ministers never talked about that country, which thus shows that there is a flaw in how the EU discusses foreign policy issues. Does he think that any of the proposed changes would be positive?
I do not think it would have been necessary to pass this treaty for the Council of Ministers to be able to discuss the situation in Iraq. I suspect that the Council did not discuss Iraq because it would have been too difficult for its members to reach any agreement on it. I recommend that the Council take the advice of the Labour party's illustrious former Foreign Secretaries and concentrate on reaching practical agreement rather than on changing the rules.
In fact, the present Foreign Secretary has said that the EU's actions on climate change have done more to show the relevance of the EU than any amount of institutional tinkering. I agree with him on that as well, and indeed the Opposition are in full agreement with that view. There is probably near unanimity in the House about it, so it is even less defensible that the Government, from the Prime Minister down, instead of standing up in the negotiations for their well-founded preference for practical delivery over increasing the EU's powers through institutional change, should have rolled over and agreed to the profound changes and increases in the EU's powers that we are discussing today.
That is why there was complete agreement in this country when the Government said that they had a "red line" and that there must be no intrusion into Britain's right to an independent foreign policy. The fact that Ministers have secured a "declaration" attached to the treaty that makes clear our rights in foreign policy shows both the importance that they attach to foreign policy and their belief that the treaty intrudes in that area. It as a pity, to say the least, that the legal adviser to the European Scrutiny Committee should consider the existence of that declaration, as opposed to a protocol, to be legally meaningless, but it is instructive that Ministers felt that a declaration had to be made.
It is an illustration of the consensus that has existed in the House for many years that almost every provision in the treaty that concerns foreign policy has been opposed by Ministers at one time or another. It is now the Foreign Secretary's job to put a positive gloss on everything that his predecessors opposed in the Government's name. He now says that they were asking "searching questions"—a phrase that recurred throughout his speech this afternoon—so let us look at some of the "searching questions" that they asked.
In the first place, the Government were opposed to the EU Foreign Minister or high representative also being a member of the European Commission. As the former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Blackburn, who is now the Secretary of State for Justice, said:
"We would have preferred to have explicit separation of those two posts."
That is a bit more than a question, although perhaps not very searching. At the same time, Ministers were trenchantly opposed to the idea that the proposals made by the EU Foreign Minister should be agreed by QMV. In December 2003, when he was still Foreign Secretary, the present Secretary of State for Justice also said:
"QMV on proposals made by the Union's Minister for Foreign Affairs is simply unacceptable".
Is "simply unacceptable" the tone of a searching question? I do not know what things are like in the former Foreign Secretary's house, but when my wife tells me that something is "simply unacceptable" it is not a searching question but something much more emphatic. The right hon. Gentleman also said:
"We made it clear that common foreign and security policy is an inter-governmental matter, and must be established unanimously."
Yet that "searching question" was cast aside. The article to which he was objecting is in the treaty, and it was in the constitution. The difficulty with it is obvious, as is the reason that the Government opposed it. The Council could unanimously ask the EU Foreign Minister to present a proposal, with Britain's agreement; but if the proposal was unsatisfactory to the British Foreign Secretary, the EU Foreign Minister would then find that that unsatisfactory proposal was subject to QMV. The Government evidently shared our fears about that, but they capitulated.
The Government capitulated again over the creation of the European diplomatic service, or external action service. When that service was proposed, the then Minister for Europe, Mr. MacShane, said in a written answer:
"We believe that it remains for EU member states to organise their respective bilateral diplomatic services at the national level."—[ Hansard, 23 January 2003; Vol. 398, c. 226W.]
I am delighted that he is present to be reminded of his version of a "searching question". It clearly stated the Government's policy that they were not in favour of a European external action service.
Yes, although it is right that British nominees should take part if the service is established. When the right hon. Member for Rotherham referred to the "best brains" being sent, he was rather giving a hint that he would like to sent as one of the service's ambassadors, as the phrase is one that he would certainly like to apply to himself. However, my hon. Friend makes a good point. The EU is sometimes in the habit of setting up institutions before it has the full legal authority to do so. The service should not be established or recruited to before the treaty has been ratified by Parliament.
Yet the Government have now agreed to the creation of such a service and to its rules on diplomatic and consular protection being determined by QMV, even though they used to be opposed to all of that. The Government's opposition was deep and long standing: as recently as last June, only days before the treaty was signed, the Foreign Secretary's immediate predecessor, the right hon. Member for Derby, South, fought a spectacularly unsuccessful last-minute rearguard action against the creation of the external action service. She reportedly said that the creation of such a service could be seen as "state building" and that Britain was opposed to it.
How can it be that the creation of the service was sufficiently alarming to the Foreign Office for the Foreign Secretary of our country to make every effort to stop it even at the final hour but, when the Government caved in and agreed to it, it became something that was no threat at all and a matter that Parliament did not need to worry about?
At the same dinner in Brussels, at the Foreign Affairs Council that preceded the Lisbon summit, the right hon. Lady the former Foreign Secretary also made a last-ditch effort to prevent the EU Foreign Minister or high representative from becoming the permanent chairman of the meetings of Foreign Ministers. Again, if that is of no account, why did the Government go to such lengths to try to prevent it? Is it the present Foreign Secretary's position that his predecessor was wrong to try to prevent those things? Was she only asking "searching questions" when she declared her opposition at the last minute?
Then there is the matter of representation at the UN Security Council. Once again, the treaty carries the exact language of the constitution, saying:
"When the Union has defined a position on a subject which is on the UN Security Council agenda, those Member States which sit on the Security Council shall request that the High Representative be invited to present the Union's position."
The Government's approach to that was unambiguous. When Mr. Hain put forward the Government's views to the European Convention drafting the constitution, he argued that that entire paragraph should be struck out altogether. He said:
"The UK cannot accept any language which implies that it would not retain the right to speak in a national capacity on the UN Security Council."
Another "searching question": the UK could not accept the paragraph and wanted it struck out. Having got nowhere with that argument, however, the Government instead proposed another amendment that suggested that the EU Foreign Minister could only make a request to speak on behalf of the EU. Overruled on that "searching question" as well, the Government simply gave in completely.
To be fair, the Foreign Affairs Committee has said that the provision allowing the EU high representative to speak at the UN Security Council would make little difference to current practice, and the Government of course have stated their agreement with that view. However, if they were confident that it made no difference to current practice, why was their initial hostility to the idea so emphatic and repeated? Presumably it is because they saw it as the thin end of a wedge.
Subsequently, of course, it has turned out that, while the Government have been resisting that wedge, the Prime Minister has appointed to the Foreign Office a Minister who is the wedge himself. The noble Lord Malloch-Brown said on
"I think it will go in stages...It's not going to happen with a flash and a bang", but
"as quickly as possible."
That is not the Government's policy, but it is the policy of one of their members. As Lord Malloch-Brown sees himself, to use his own words, as
"the older figure, the wise eminence behind the young Foreign Secretary", and as the Prime Minister saw fit to make him the Minister with responsibility for UN reform, who knows where it might lead?
My right hon. Friend is giving a brilliant exposition of the position. Does he agree that the context is legal personality? In the case of trade, the mechanics of trading arrangements are effectively made over to the EU. That is exactly the intention behind the arrangements with regard to foreign policy and the high representative.
I think that that is the intention of many of the drafters of the constitution that has become the treaty. It may not be the intention of members of the Government, although it is certainly the intention of one.
That brings me to paragraph 3 of article 48 of the treaty, which allows the Council to move to qualified majority voting in any of the remaining areas covered by unanimity, including foreign policy. That means that the extension of QMV to foreign policy embodied in the treaty could be taken much further without any other treaty having to be negotiated or ratified. It is almost needless to say that that provision, too, was opposed by the Government. The right hon. Member for Rotherham, if I may mention him again, said:
but it turns out that that is now part of the treaty.
"On the continent, the Conservatives now have a bad reputation (rapidly getting worse) for crass and offensive behaviour".
That is not true of the right hon. Gentleman in the House, although it is true of the Conservatives on the continent. Does he not agree that in the treaty, any move to the so-called passerelle depends, again, on unanimity? He is cherry-picking bits of the treaty but not reading them across. He is a great speaker, but a poor lawyer.
I am only pointing out that there are many aspects of the treaty to which the right hon. Gentleman was opposed. If I am picking cherries, they are cherries at which he took aim in the past and which he was happy to try to rip from the tree himself. He says that extension is subject to unanimity. Of course it is, and the Government have said that they will submit any such extension to a vote in Parliament, but the Foreign Affairs Committee drew attention to the inadequacy of that commitment, saying:
"We further recommend that all amendments to the Treaty, including extensions of qualified majority voting, should be done by primary legislation and not simply by a vote of the House."
That is right because the only restraint on Governments of either party in the agreement of European treaties has been the need to pass primary legislation through Parliament. That must apply to the amendment of treaties, too, unless the rights of the House are to be reduced yet again, in this case by reducing debate on changes in the governance of Britain to a matter of a few hours, instead of requiring the passage of legislation through all stages.
Yes, absolutely, although I hope that the hon. Lady will join Conservative Members in the Lobby to try to insert such a provision in this Bill, so that it is not for a future Conservative Government to carry that out.
It will be apparent from what I have said that the treaty's impact on foreign policy making is more substantial than the Government have conceded, and its potential impact dramatically so. I am conscious of the time, but let me give a final illustration of that—the creation of the new EU foreign policy fund under paragraph 47 of article 1 of the Lisbon treaty. The Government demanded that decisions about the fund should be taken by unanimity but, believe it or not, that was only a searching question. They capitulated, and such decisions will now be made by qualified majority voting, including decisions on what amounts will be contributed by member states. The matter links foreign policy with defence, as the new fund is seen by some to be the first step towards a common defence budget for the EU. My hon. Friend Dr. Fox will of course wish to refer to the defence provisions when he winds up the debate, but I want to make clear now our concern about the extent, nature and implication of those provisions.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way; he is being very generous. Can he point to any common foreign and security policy proposals in the treaty that the Conservatives support, or are they against every single one?
We think that there is no need for a treaty, particularly when it comes to foreign policy, as I pointed out earlier. The European Council should concentrate on making foreign policy work more effectively, not on changing the rules. The fact that we are against the treaty is clearly the foundation of our position.
Article 1, paragraph 49, of the Lisbon treaty states:
"The common security and defence policy shall include the progressive framing of a common Union defence policy. This will lead to a common defence".
It goes on to establish a new, mutual defence commitment quite separate from that of the NATO alliance. Mr. Deputy Speaker, by now you may not be surprised to hear that the Government opposed all those provisions, with the right hon. Member for Neath arguing:
"Common defence, including as a form of enhanced cooperation, is divisive and a duplication of the guarantees that 19 of the 25 Member States will enjoy through NATO."
It is serious enough to sign a treaty on common defence and a mutual defence commitment in an organisation that does not have the means to fulfil such a commitment, but it is more serious still to sign a treaty that could change the nature of the western alliance without sufficient national debate or forethought. The French Defence Minister has been perfectly frank about that; he said on
"will permit reinforced cooperation, notably in the area of defence, since defence" in
"Europe will move forward by using a hard core of countries which want to take on their own Security."
The reinforced co-operation to which he refers is the "permanent structured cooperation" referred to in the treaty, designed to allow an inner core of EU members interested in taking forward military integration to do so without the rest.
Yet again, the Government initially opposed structured co-operation, saying that they could not accept the proposal and that it would undermine the inclusive, flexible model of European security and defence policy. Their reasons for being against it were good ones, since permanent structured co-operation would leave those European countries not included in it with even less incentive to improve their military capabilities. By creating what some would see as a European pillar of NATO, structured co-operation could change the nature of the NATO alliance in a way that, in the longer term, would weaken its essential transatlantic character.
Added to that is the introduction of qualified majority voting on the statute, seat and operational rules of the European Defence Agency, an institution already established but on a shaky legal basis—the basis that we discussed earlier. Article 2 of the relevant protocol requires participating member states to co-operate to
"bring their defence apparatus into line with each other" and to achieve
"approved objectives concerning the level of investment expenditure on defence equipment", among other things. It is surely part of our role as a nation to make our own decisions on our security needs and defence equipment, and to work in co-operation with European allies, the United States or others as we see fit. If such decisions begin to be circumscribed by the introduction of QMV into the affairs of the European Defence Agency, which will be headed by the EU high representative, who is also a member of the European Commission, there may one day be important consequences, including once again for transatlantic co-operation.
The eventual consequences of such changes will not become apparent until after the treaty has been ratified. The Government appear to be saying as little as possible about British participation in structured defence co-operation until after the treaty has been passed. They have done nothing to inform the nation of the consequences of the changes, or their future intentions. However, we are not talking about small matters. If there is a case for approaching something as vital as the defence of the nation in a different way, that case should be made openly and honestly. The former French Foreign Minister, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, has said:
Romano Prodi has said something similar, yet there has been no such frank assessment from the Government of that or any other aspect of the treaty.
The French Government have said that European defence will be one of the priorities of their forthcoming presidency, so will the Foreign Secretary—or the Minister for Europe, when he winds up the debate—come clean on whether it is the Government's policy to participate in permanent structured co-operation on European defence? They should make that clear before Parliament passes the treaty.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a difference between peacekeeping and war fighting, and that we heard it confirmed by the Foreign Secretary today that there is unlikely to be any agreement in the European Union on a European force that would be able to undertake either?
My hon. Friend is probably right about that. He made that point earlier in the debate to good effect.
Let me summarise the position. The provisions of the Lisbon treaty on foreign, security and defence policy are therefore not difficult to characterise. They are, by common agreement across the House, more substantial than the Government have acknowledged. Although they are described as limited in their implications, even a short analysis suggests that their future implications could be far-reaching. For that reason, they have been, almost without exception, opposed by Ministers during the negotiations on the treaty, and for the same reasons they are opposed by the Opposition today.
Yet the Government have at every opportunity tried to keep Parliament and the public in the dark about the treaty in general, and its provisions on foreign policy and defence in particular. They negotiated in secret. They have tried to cover up the importance of those provisions. Now they are delaying the crucial decisions about how they will work in practice until it is too late for MPs and voters to have any say on the matter at all.
If the treaty is ratified, only the passage of months and years will inform us whether the assurances of the Foreign Secretary today were to be relied upon, but I suspect that the judgment of time on Ministers, whose complacent advocacy of these proposals has replaced their virulent opposition to them in the recent past, will be very harsh indeed.
It is a great pleasure to follow Mr. Hague, who demonstrated again today his ability to present a bad case well and with humour. We all listened carefully to what he said, but ultimately the case was not proven.
I begin with an act of apostasy. I am pleased to see that my hon. Friend Mr. O'Hara is present. In 1975 I campaigned as part of the Huyton Says No campaign, which advocated coming out of the Common Market, as it was then. I arrived in the House in 1986, just after the single European market had been created. The Act had just gone through Parliament. Had I been able to vote on it, I would have voted against it. During the debates on the Maastricht treaty, for the most part I voted against the treaty, mainly on the grounds that it excluded the social chapter. I thought it was wrong to go along with all the treaty's provisions without including the social chapter. However—this is the act of apostasy—I am now minded to support the Government on the Lisbon treaty, and I shall give some of the reasons for that.
The first is that the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks and others on the Opposition Benches make a great deal about the similarities between the content of the treaty and the content of what was the constitution. I have no doubt that a large amount of the text was duplicated, but they repeatedly neglect to spell out the difference between a treaty and a constitution. Those are entirely different. A treaty is essentially a formal written agreement between sovereign states, whereas a constitution is a fundamental law—one that determines the fundamental political principles of a Government and the relationship between the branches of Government and individuals. The Lisbon document cannot be a constitution because it does not relate to a specific state. A treaty is an entirely different thing.
The right hon. Gentleman chose his words carefully when he spoke about the Community foreign and security policy. He said that some see it as a retreat from the protection of that under the pillar of the past, but no pillar has collapsed. The Opposition keep repeating their arguments as though they were true, but the truth is different. The right hon. Gentleman and those on the Opposition Benches may not do that deliberately. They probably genuinely believe their arguments, but they have convinced themselves of something that is not so.
The right hon. Gentleman made great play of the high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, but the holder of that position will not be a Union Minister for Foreign Affairs. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made that clear in his opening speech. Such an office is another fear that is being paraded around which does not exist in reality. It is strongly the case that common foreign and security policy remains the responsibility of member states.
I shall deal briefly with qualified majority voting. With a European Union of 27 member states, the use of QMV is necessary in order to make quicker decisions. Nobody disagrees with that. I do not see that any change that is about to take place in that is a bad thing. It simply reflects changes—
The right hon. Gentleman thinks that no one disagrees with that. Is he aware of the ICM poll which shows that 80 per cent. of British people feel that Britain should retain total control of its defence policy, and only 15 per cent. think the EU should be allowed to dabble in that? Does he think those people are deluded or just stupid?
If I have time, I intend to speak about what we can learn from opinion polls.
I welcome the eventual introduction of double majority voting by 2014, which is based on population size and will be much fairer.
I shall deal briefly with the topic that the hon. Gentleman raised. Opinion polls tell us a great deal. An interesting poll was commissioned by The Sun and carried out by MORI in September. The poll showed that a majority of people were unhappy about the treaty. Over 40 per cent. of the population were opposed to Britain's continued membership of the European Union. But when one analyses the breakdown by age ranges, those under 55 are less Eurosceptic, and the lower the age range, the less Eurosceptic they prove and the more enthusiastic Europeans they become. The Conservatives have some public support for their position, but they are playing to a segment of the population that is growing older, and younger members of the population do not agree with them at all.
My final point— [Interruption.]
It is always a pleasure to be disturbed by the hon. Member for Macclesfield.
My final point is that what those polls demonstrate is that instead of this debate, which for the most part has been exaggerated and prone to hyperbole, not least on the part of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, the debate that we ought to have is the one that the Liberal Democrats suggest. We need a national debate about whether we want to stay in Europe. I think we do. Once we have concluded that debate, the sort of argument taking place in the House will not need to take place on a regular basis.
Mr. Howarth began by parading his history of Euroscepticism; he then explained that he was going to support the Lisbon treaty. It would be better if we saw such open-mindedness in all parties in the House. He has made a judgment on the facts, not on the fantasy.
On the subject of fantasy, I should say that the speech made by Mr. Hague reminded me of my old scout leader—
No. My old scout leader had a great capacity for telling scary ghost stories around the camp fire, frightening the naive younger cubs, but amusing the informed and experienced. The right hon. Gentleman's speech fooled no one, especially when he was forced to admit that the Conservatives oppose every single measure on common foreign and security policy in the treaty.
A feature of our debates on the treaty has been that the Conservatives have sounded their opposition to everything with great tales of alarm. They have given warnings of doom, like a Dad's Army made up only of Private Frazers. Given our current position on European and foreign defence policies, the Conservatives are about as relevant and useful as Dad's Army—out of touch, not only with Europe, but with NATO and the United States of America.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will reconsider his remarks about people, some of whom are still alive, who did this country a very good service during the second world war.
The hon. Lady has shown how out of touch she is; I was clearly talking about the programme "Dad's Army", which is a comedy.
As I will show, the Conservatives' position is far worse than merely outdated—it is astonishingly inconsistent and incoherent, as was manifestly obvious when one listened to the gaps between the jokes made by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks. I am happy to make it crystal clear that the Liberal Democrats broadly welcome the treaty's modest changes on common foreign and security policy. Unlike the right hon. Gentleman, I stress the word "modest". Despite the hysteria being whipped up by some, the changes wrought by the treaty involve no new powers for Brussels, but a simple and sensible reallocation of powers between those responsible for that area of policy in Brussels.
Foreign and security policy remains in the control of member states, as it always has been. Britain retains its veto on all key decisions—that is how radical the treaty is on that point.
I urge the hon. Gentleman to be cautious when using the word "modest"; "modest" proposals have a rather strange history. He has talked about the coherence of policy. Will he confirm whether the Lib Dems in Westminster agree with the Lib Dems in Brussels, or whether there is a divergence of opinion?
We certainly agree with most of our colleagues in the Brussels Parliament. I am sure that there are members of the Conservative party in the Brussels Parliament who do not agree with those in the Westminster Parliament. However, we will come to that.
The modest changes see the abolition of one foreign policy bureaucrat, a change in the chairing arrangements of one committee and the rationalisation of the management of existing policy levers and staff—real harum-scarum stuff. That is not to say that the changes are not useful and necessary; they certainly are. Why? Because the EU has rightly been criticised, and not only within Europe, for having confusing, inefficient and sometimes even chaotic foreign policy and defence structures. The organisational changes are long overdue and we must hope that they address the problems.
On the subject of clarifying confusing matters, can the hon. Gentleman confirm what the leader of the Liberal Democrats has been reported as saying on Fraser Nelson's "Coffee House" blog? He apparently said that he has decided after all to allow his 65 MPs to abstain on the issue of a referendum. Is that true, or will they all be whipped to oppose it?
The hon. Gentleman will have to wait and see how we vote on the night. However, what is interesting— [Interruption.] One of the interesting things in the treaty in respect of EU developments and procedures is the proposal for constructive abstention; I think that that is a very good idea.
Let us look at the problems of EU foreign and security policy and at the reforms and their benefits more closely. First, there has been the problem that responsibility for driving the EU debates on foreign policy was divided between three people—the holder of the current post of high representative, the Commissioner for External Relations and the six-monthly rotating presidency of the Council of Ministers. Does anyone seriously wish to defend that system? It was confusing enough for Europeans, let alone others from the US or China who wanted to talk to a genuine voice.
The new arrangement is not without its problems; the new president of the Council may try to usurp some status from the newly titled EU high representative, for example. However, when member states collectively and unanimously decide a position, they can now at least entrust the implementation of that decision to a more permanent, professional and coherent bureaucracy—and therefore hold it to account far more effectively.
There was the crazy problem that the policy levers of sticks and carrots—mainly through aid and trade arrangements—were under the Commission and not readily available to the high representative. That created delays even when there was strong political will and consensus. Quick, effective decision making can be essential during crises and the new arrangements give EU Ministers, acting unanimously, the sporting chance of achieving that more easily.
There was also the bizarre situation of the high representative not controlling the Commission's delegations to non-member states, often having to rely on the embassies of whichever country held the presidency for that six months. It was a real hit and miss affair. The European external action service, although largely a rebranding of existing EU delegations and offices, once again has the potential to assist the new EU high representative and ensure that the operations are fit for purpose for an integrated EU foreign policy.
We could, of course, talk about many other changes, although I believe that they are even less controversial or substantial. Other speakers have touched on them. I am thinking, for example, of the extension of the operational remit of the EU in common security and defence policy, to take on all the so-called Petersberg tasks—for example, humanitarian and rescue tasks and crisis management, including peacekeeping and conflict prevention. There is also the extension of qualified majority voting in some aspects of the implementation of foreign and common security policy decisions, themselves taken by unanimity. However, as the Foreign Secretary said, that is not in itself novel to the treaties.
Then there is the new article on the United Nations Security Council, which so perturbed the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks. The dramatic, the amazing, the quite extraordinary change that that treaty amendment makes is to ensure that when France and Britain have already agreed with our other 25 partners in the EU on a common position, we should, as a matter of course, always ask the Security Council whether the high representative can present the EU's common position. Does that "revolution" mean that Britain will have to stay silent? No. Will it mean that we forfeit our right to vote? No. Will we be excluded from all the back-room, corridor dealings that inevitably precede a meeting of the Security Council? No. It simply means that a policy position that we support gets presented again, with the force of a spokesman who represents 27 member states—only modern-day Conservatives would oppose that minor change that is in our national interest.
If all the changes are so minor and modest, why is the hon. Gentleman breaking his pledge, made to his constituents at the last election, on a referendum? Why does he think some of his colleagues will not join him in abstaining or voting against a referendum, but will join the Conservatives to get a referendum?
I am not breaking my pledge, because I will be backing a referendum on whether we are in or out. That is the closest question to a referendum on a constitutional treaty.
The constitutional treaty will contain the treaties from Maastricht, from Rome, from Nice, from Amsterdam and from the Single European Act. A referendum on that treaty was in effect an in-or-out referendum, as we said at the time. We are keeping our pledge; the problem is that the Conservatives are trying to pretend that a pledge for a referendum on the reform treaty—a minor amending treaty—in any way meets their proposal. That is because the Conservatives are totally split on Europe. They would not be prepared to go to the people on the question whether Britain should be in or out.
Could the hon. Gentleman just for once, and uncharacteristically as a Liberal Democrat, be honest? In his election literature in 2005, did he say to his electorate that he would campaign for a referendum on whether to be in or out of Europe, or did he campaign for a referendum on the constitutional changes, which is a completely different thing?
I am not saying that they are exactly the same, and I did not say that. I campaigned for a referendum on the constitutional treaty, which is not the Lisbon reform treaty. Let us be clear about this. The two treaties are 90 per cent. the same. The genetic structures of a mouse and a human being are 90 per cent. the same, but the 10 per cent. difference is significant. If the hon. Gentleman cannot see that, he does himself a real injustice.
Was the hon. Gentleman in the House when the shadow Defence Secretary, who was for about six months the shadow Foreign Secretary, said that, as a doctor, he recognised death when he saw it, and that after the French and Dutch no, the constitutional treaty, as then written, was dead? Now we have the miracle of Lazarus in front of us saying that it has been brought back to life and must be voted on again.
The right hon. Gentleman's interventions are always very amusing.
We broadly welcome the Lisbon treaty and the changes in it, but there are inevitably a number of unresolved issues that raise legitimate questions, and I hope that the Foreign Secretary—or his colleague, the Minister for Europe—can address them as they respond to the debate. In seeking those answers, he should not think that Liberal Democrat Members suspect some dark conspiracy is afoot—we just ask him in the spirit of genuine inquiry.
Perhaps the least clear element of the package before us is how the European external action service will work. I hope we can get some clarity on that, as I believe that it has the potential for delivering tangible benefits for UK citizens by increasing the availability of consular assistance while reducing costs to the taxpayer. What chance will this House have to scrutinise proposals for taking forward the European external action service? How will it be monitored in the future? For example, will the European Parliament, or this Parliament, have a role in the overview of its budget? What specific steps are Her Majesty's Government taking to ensure that our own diplomatic service—and the rest of Whitehall, from the Department for International Development to the Ministry of Defence, and so on—can engage fully with the newly structured European external action service, so that UK civil servants play their usual starring roles?
In terms of policy development in the UK now, how will the UK national security strategy be assisted by the new apparatus? Will the European security strategy, which received such a broad welcome, feature in whatever new domestic ideas are under consideration?
Finally, on defence aspects, do Her Majesty's Government have any plans to launch any particular initiatives under the permanent structured co-operation arrangements when the Lisbon treaty comes into force?
I partly single out those arrangements because I have been astonished by how hostile the Conservatives seem to be towards them. Their party argues for a multi-speed Europe; it invented the idea of opting out in Europe. Its defence spokesman has had the brass neck to attack the proposals for permanent structured co-operation, saying that it
"will allow countries to 'opt-out' of any further defence integration and will create an 'inner-core' of Member-States interested in furthering military integration."
I thought that that was the Conservatives' approach to the European Union. It is simply breath-taking.
Then we come to the inconsistency of the position adopted by the shadow Foreign Secretary. I have been fascinated to see how often he demands or supports action by the EU on one day, but on the next opposes anything and everything that increases the EU's ability to act—he is always willing the ends, and never willing the means. So, on one day, he says, on Russia and the Litvinenko affair:
"We welcome the news that the Government have received strong support for their stance from European Union partners".
Then he says, in opposition to the proposed EU high representative in the Lisbon treaty:
"Our own voice in the world will be less important".
On another day, he says, on Darfur, that Britain
"should also seek to do more through stronger EU action" but then on another occasion says that an EU diplomatic service is "unacceptable". On Iraq, on one day he will say,
"I am referring to the European Union, alongside the United States, taking measures that go beyond the measures agreed at the UN Security Council. It is time for EU nations to do more."
Yet back in his leadership days, he complained that the then Prime Minister had signed up at Nice
"to an independent and autonomous European identity, with only ad hoc arrangements linking it to NATO...Is it not the case that duplicate and conflicting structures are being set up?"
I am afraid that he is wriggling, writhing and, above all, wrong on those issues.
Perhaps it has something to do with the right hon. Gentleman having three former Conservative Foreign Secretaries sitting with him in Parliament, with 14 years of office between them, who support the Lisbon treaty's foreign and defence policy proposals, and having to reconcile their views with those of his Back Benchers and, often, his Front-Bench spokespeople.
On the question of inconsistency, what does the hon. Gentleman say to his senior colleagues, and some junior ones, who perhaps do not have the luxury of a leafy suburb constituency in London but represent seats in the south-west, and who may not be going into the same Lobby as him on a referendum on whether the treaty should be enacted?
I would say to them that they should ignore everything that the hon. Gentleman ever says.
It is interesting to read what the Conservative Member of the European Parliament, Caroline Jackson, said this week in the Financial Times, when she called the Conservatives' attitude to Europe a "poisonous fungus". She said that they are getting a reputation for bad manners towards their continental allies, and that the time warp of the party's European attitudes has two damaging effects, one being that the right-wing, "nasty" and dogmatic aspects of the party—so off-putting to voters from 1997 to 2005—are still alive; and she makes it clear that she thinks the Conservatives are unelectable until they sort this out.
We are sometimes told that Mr. Cameron has been searching for his clause IV moment. Some said that he found it, then bottled it, over grammar schools. Yet the truth is that the Conservatives' real clause IV is Europe, and the fact that so few of them realise that shows how far away they are from power. When Lisbon is ratified, as it will be, the debate on EU foreign and defence policy will move on, leaving the Tories beached once more. Yet that debate is crucial. Take Kosovo. Whisper it for now, but the EU may be the secret that unlocks sustainable peace in the western Balkans, with many nations acting together—yes, with their differences, but still able to act together peacefully to help other people on our shared continent through the largest civilian European security and defence policy mission to date.
Take the relationship between the EU's defence initiatives and NATO—one of the Conservatives' bêtes noires. Here President Sarkozy, with his rapprochement with Washington and his clear desire to return France to NATO's structures, is showing leadership that Britain should surely respond to and encourage. The choice that the Conservatives say that we must make in defence policy—either the US and NATO or the EU—has always been a false one, but the new incumbent at the Élysée palace is making that ever clearer. Then take what is perhaps the EU's most significant new strategic relationship for this century—that with China. There is now a steady stream of works attempting to divine what the Chinese think of Europe. Inevitably, it is hardly conclusive, nor should it determine our policy. However, from the perspective of a country the size of China, with the diversity of China, the view that Europe needs to get its act together and speak and act more coherently comes across loud and clear.
In the debates on the amendments, I hope to say more about defence, particularly missile defence, but let me now touch on the most crucial EU relationship of all—that with the US. When we look at the rapidly reducing field of candidates for US President, we can clearly see that the days of a White House full of unilateralist neo-cons have gone. The next US Administration will not seek to conscript a coalition of the willing—it will seek to coax a co-operation of colleagues. Europe must prepare for that.
The many failings of Europe in foreign, security and defence policies in the past need to be addressed, so that we can renew and strengthen Europe's relationship with the US. Yes, that does mean challenging others about their investment in military capacity, but it also means building trust, commitment and structures, so that Europe can be a better partnership. Of course, NATO is essential to that process, but the experience of Afghanistan must surely make those who thought NATO was the unique answer to an EU-US partnership want to review their position. An EU that can agree common positions on foreign and defence policy will be a bulwark and a bolster to NATO.
Indeed, it is through close relationships developed throughout the policy arena within the EU that the chances of building more effective and sustainable alliances will be made stronger, not weaker. The most anti-American thing one could do is to reject the proposals before us, and retreat into a balkanised bilateralism that has often failed us in the past.
It is a pleasure to share in the poignancy of the act of apostasy of my right hon. Friend Mr. Howarth—a poignancy that perhaps only two lads from Huyton could fully appreciate. I shall do two simple things in this short address: set out what I see as necessary and beneficial developments in European foreign, security and defence policy in the past decade or two, and then move on to the difference that the Lisbon treaty makes.
Even bitter opponents of the European Union will recognise the advantages of being part of the Common Market. What opponents do not always recognise is the corollary: the extent of the commonality of interest that that implies. It extends to responsibility for the protection of those at risk within our sphere of influence and to the defence of common interests.
The Balkan wars of the 1990s demonstrated how weak European Governments were when acting alone, and so the need for a common European foreign policy was perceived, in order to address future crises better. Following the St. Malo agreement of 1998, we saw the agreement of European defence policies at Helsinki in 1999 to support the common foreign policy, particularly through the development of the rapid deployment capability. That is why Europe was able to take over responsibilities from NATO in Bosnia, and to continue work in Congo, Sudan, and the other places in that impressive list of interventions for good cited by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in his opening address.
In December 2003, the agreement on European security strategy spelled out the main threats to European security, which were terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, regional conflicts, failed states and organised crime. None of those issues is purely military. They all require more than a military response, and they demand a complete rethink of how we deploy civil and military resources to address future threats. Also, importantly, they require maximum collaborative effort, because such threats do not confine themselves to national frontiers.
Such matters give rise to the consideration of defence procurement, rationalisation of the European Union defence industry base and, importantly, interoperability between our forces—hence the formation of the European Defence Agency to break down barriers, to encourage cross-border trade in military equipment and to harmonise the process of research, development and production of weapons and equipment. Such considerations have been made all the more necessary by reductions in defence budgets following the end of the cold war. As previous speakers have pointed out, the divergence of interests between the EU and the USA meant that we could not continue to depend entirely on NATO for European defence and security needs.
We are witnessing a transformation of European forces in terms of their purpose, their equipment and their operation. I was at a conference on this transformation of European forces in Paris about a fortnight ago, and much high praise was given to the European Defence Agency by European defence procurement Ministers and by high-ranking military officers. Indeed, much praise is due to Nick Witney, a Brit—the director who got the EDA off the ground.
What does all this have to do with the Lisbon treaty? Quite a lot. I am one of those who says that the treaty is emphatically not constitutional. It reforms institutions that need reform, specifically in the context of today's debate. The current EU institutions for making foreign policy are inadequate for the collaborative approach. The rotating presidency means a lack of continuity and expertise, which frustrates our American colleagues, for example. The institutional split between the Council of Ministers, which is diplomatic, and the Commission, which is economic, is counter-productive and inhibits partnership work. The reform treaty will improve the situation in a number of ways to allow for positive, more effective action, such as the merging of the jobs of the high representative and the Commissioner for External Relations, and the downgrading of the rotating presidency. It is a myth that the rotating presidency will take away powers from the UK. As was said by a previous contributor to the debate, if that were so, how could Spain and Greece go their own way on Kosovo?
I put the case that collaborative effort is needed to promote and defend common and individual interests arising out of the successful development of the EU, which we all share. I commend the treaty to the House.