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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment No. 253, line 12, after 'excluding', insert—
'(i) Article 1, paragraph 24, inserted Article 10B TEU, paragraph 2, on joint proposals to the Council for recommendations to the European Council on the strategic interests and objectives of the Union; and
Amendment No. 156, line 12, after 'excluding', insert—
Amendment No. 254, line 12, after 'excluding', insert—
'(i) Article 2, paragraph 173, inserted Article 188N, TEC (TFEU), on the procedure for international agreements between the European Union and third countries or international organisations; and
Amendment No. 157, line 12, after 'excluding', insert—
'(i) Article 2, paragraph 175, inserted Title VI and Articles 188P and 188Q TEC (TFEU) relating to the European Union's relations with international organisations and third countries and European Union delegations; and
Amendment No. 262, line 12, after 'excluding', insert—
'(i) Article 1, paragraph 175, inserted Article 188Q TEC (TFEU), relating to European Union delegations; and
Amendment No. 93, line 12, leave out 'any' and insert—
'(i) Article 1, paragraph 19, inserted Article 9E TEU relating to the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy; and
(ii) any other'.
Amendment No. 103, line 12, leave out 'any' and insert—
'(i) Article 1, paragraph 30, inserted Article 13a TEU relating to the role of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy; and
(ii) any other'.
Amendment No. 263, line 12, leave out 'any' and insert—
'(i) Article 1, paragraph 30, inserted Article 13a TEU, paragraph 3 relating to the European External Action Service; and
(ii) any other'.
Amendment No. 106, line 12, leave out 'any' and insert—
'(i) Article 1, paragraph 33, inserted Article 15a TEU relating to questions on the Common Foreign and Security Policy; and
(ii) any other'.
Amendment No. 109, line 12, leave out 'any' and insert—
'(i) Article 1, paragraph 37, amendments to Article 18 TEU relating to the role of the Presidency in the Common Foreign and Security Policy; and
(ii) any other'.
Amendment No. 110, line 12, leave out 'any' and insert—
'(i) Article 1, paragraph 38, amendments to Article 19 TEU relating to Member States' coordination of action within the Common Foreign and Security Policy; and
(ii) any other'.
Amendment No. 1, line 12, leave out 'any' and insert—
'(i) Article 1, paragraph 38(b)(iii), relating to Member States which sit on the United Nations Security Council and the presentation of the European Union's position; and
(ii) any other'.
Amendment No. 111, line 12, leave out 'any' and insert—
'(i) Article 1, paragraph 39, amendments to Article 20 TEU relating to diplomatic and consular missions; and
(ii) any other'.
Amendment No. 112, line 12, leave out 'any' and insert—
(ii) any other'.
Amendment No. 264, line 12, leave out 'any' and insert—
'(i) Article 1, paragraph 45, in respect of the repeal of Article 26 TEU relating to the role of the High Representative for the common foreign and security policy; and
(ii) any other'.
New clause 3— Common foreign and security policy—
'The Secretary of State shall, not later than 1st January 2009, lay before both Houses of Parliament a report setting out the role and powers of the High Representative and External Action Service and how they differ from those of the proposed Foreign Minister and External Action Service in the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe.'.
I begin by saying that I hear the entreaty made by my hon. Friend Mr. Jenkin in his point of order. I briefly remind the Committee that when the business motion was debated we pushed strongly for two days of discussion—one for common foreign and security policy, and one for defence. It was unfortunate that, due to the rigged manner in which the Government have allowed the treaty to be debated, when we finished our first three hours of debate, a number of Back Benchers, particularly on the Opposition Benches, were still rising and attempting to catch the eye of the Chair. Mindful of that, I shall do my best to be relatively brief in laying out the position that I wish to advance.
The treaty of Lisbon would have numerous and profound effects on foreign, security and defence policy—effects that would tend to enlarge the powers of the European Union at the expense of member states. Potentially, one of the most powerful agents of that change is the new president of the European Council, so our amendment No. 258 would remove the president's foreign policy role.
The relevant provision in the treaty states:
"The President of the European Council shall, at his" or her—
"level and in that capacity, ensure the external representation of the Union on issues concerning its common foreign and security policy, without prejudice to the powers of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy."
The first fault with that provision is that it is definitely ambiguous. What is
"at his level and in that capacity" to mean? That is nowhere absolutely specified in the treaty. Indeed, it is why it is now reported that the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has been raising queries about what the post might mean in practice. Is it not extraordinary that the man who, as Prime Minister, helped to bring the post into being never bothered to find out what it would mean in detail in reality?
Nevertheless, as my right hon. Friend Mr. Hague showed so memorably last month when we began to debate the treaty, in the hands of a skilful politician, that post could prove powerful indeed. Over time, he or she could be presented as a counterpart to the American or the Russian President. He or she would have the chief role in determining what the European Council discussed, and would presumably have the Council secretariat at his or her disposal, although that is one of the matters that is yet to be finally determined. In contrast, the current system of rotating Heads of Government holding the presidency would end. No more would each member state have a turn at the EU's helm, helping to give each country a vital sense of ownership of the EU's business; instead, we would have this powerful central figure. So—
Let me finish my sentence, then I will be delighted to give way. So because that article in the treaty, in our opinion, represents something of a blank cheque, which is likely to have a large amount written on it, we call for that article to be left out. Now, my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke, as a former Chancellor, knows a lot about large amounts, so I gladly give way to him.
I have great respect for my hon. Friend, although I know we do not agree. He was suggesting to his constituents and mine that there is a danger that the president of the European Council of Ministers will be equated with the President of the United States. Of all his arguments, is that really a sound one, given that all foreign policy will be made by unanimity among the Ministers of the member states and the president of the European Council of Ministers will have no executive or policy-making powers of his own? People sometimes describe the presidency of the United States as a rather weaker institution than is sometimes imagined, but to say that the European presidency is likely to be equivalent to the presidency of the United States is surely to take his otherwise interesting arguments to the lengths of extremism.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his comment. I have two things to say in response. First, he will have noticed that I used the phrase "over time". I was not implying that what I described would happen overnight. Drawing an historical analogy, one can see how in our own country the Prime Minister was originally one of a number of Ministers, but gradually took over the agenda of the Cabinet and began to drive policy. That happened over a period of time and is something that our right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks has written about in great detail in some of his very good books. I am asserting that such a development could take place over time, not overnight. Secondly, my right hon. and learned Friend said that the new president would have no executive authority, but if, in effect, the president controlled the agenda of the European Council, that would be a powerful tool. Perhaps he and I have a different perspective on the matter, but I have tried to answer his point in detail.
I would like to make a little progress, because I promised to try to speak briefly. I shall take two interventions, but I hope that the Committee will forgive me if I then try to press on.
My hon. Friend will recall that when the then Foreign Secretary, Mr. Straw, came to give a rather phlegmatic explanation of why the Government had reversed their position from opposing a referendum to favouring one on the previous treaty, he said that it was because there was going to be a permanent president of the Council. It was clearly a matter of importance to him.
May I pursue this interesting analogy with the Presidents of the United States and Russia? The President of the USA is, I believe, commander in chief of the US military—that was one of his functions right from the start of the formation of the United States. I am not saying that the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the new European president would command some military force at this stage, but that parallel between the US President and the new role now being proposed is absurd. In suggesting that something might happen in future—many, many treaties hence, if it were ever proposed—he is presenting an Aunt Sally. The reality is nothing like what he suggests is in the treaty.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and I am glad to hear that he was not suggesting what he thought I was suggesting. He used the phrase "at this stage". Such points are the reason why we wanted two days, not one, to debate these matters in detail. I repeat, I used the phrase "over time".
Does my hon. Friend agree that there will be a common position in Europe on most of the important issues? Let us say that there is a common position on the middle east. Who would the Prime Minister of Israel or one of the Arab leaders wish to see if both the president of Europe—the custodian of the common position—and the British Prime Minister wanted to visit?
My right hon. Friend's point is well made. He mentioned a common position. If it is true that Tony Blair is going to apply for the job, I would be interested to know whether there would be a common position in the Labour party on whether he ought to get it. We await the answer to that question with genuine anticipation.
Amendments Nos. 262 and 263 deal with the new EU diplomatic service and, in particular, with the high representative's authority over it. The external action service—to give it its technical name—is a new institution in the treaty whose role has yet to be determined. Indeed, a leaked note from the Slovenian presidency makes that explicit. The Government are again asking the House and this country to sign a blank cheque. The post of high representative is a powerful one in itself, but with the diplomatic service at his beck and call, we should be in no doubt that the EU would tend not to supplement member states' foreign policy so much as try to supplant it. Our amendments seek to address that possibility.
Amendment No. 1 is also important because it would amend the crucial clause relating to the high representative's right to speak for the European Union at the United Nations Security Council when a common position is reached. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks said at the beginning of our earlier debate, its provisions—with a superficial change to the Foreign Minister's job title—are identical to those in the EU constitution. As such, they were repeatedly and publicly opposed by the Government's representatives in the negotiations on that document. As they put it at that time:
Yet that is exactly what the Government have agreed to, the change having won the satisfied approval of the wise, eminent and noble Lord Malloch-Brown.
In a moment.
It should be totally unacceptable for any British Government to accept any treaty imposing such an obligation on us at the United Nations Security Council. It is patently obvious to everyone—not just Opposition Members; it was obvious to Ministers only a couple of years ago—that this represents the thin end of the wedge in the move towards an EU seat on the Security Council. That is potentially very damaging to this country's national interests, and it is astonishing that the Government did not seek to change the provision in this measure, the latest guise of the constitution. We therefore oppose it. Having said that, I shall gladly give way to Mr. Henderson, whom I remember from the day on which I made my maiden speech in the House.
The hon. Gentleman's predecessor was my pair, in the days when we had such things in Parliament.
The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the situation at the United Nations. If the European Union is represented by the Council of Ministers in a contribution to either the Security Council or the Assembly, there is absolutely nothing to prevent other members of the Security Council or other members of the Assembly from making an independent contribution. That is the current position, and it will not change.
Amendment No. 264 relates to the role and powers of the EU's high representative, which are identical to those of the Foreign Minister proposed in the original EU constitution—a point that the Foreign Secretary failed to address in his speech a few hours ago. I remind the House that the post was one of two crucial aspects of the treaty, along with the new EU president, that the former Foreign Secretary—the present Lord Chancellor—identified as essential to the last proposed treaty's constitutionality, thus providing the need for a referendum. I told my hon. Friend Mr. Swayne that he had anticipated my making this point; it is definitely a point that is worth reiterating. A senior member of this Government's Cabinet has said that if this provision were in the treaty, we would deserve a referendum. Well, it most certainly is, so what has happened to the referendum that we were promised? On that point, I shall gladly give way to the Liberal Democrats, who, as of today, have not got a clue whether they want a referendum or not.
Can the hon. Gentleman say what the Conservatives object to should the EU high representative make a presentation to the UN Security Council of a position that the UK Government have agreed to, and which in no way would prevent the UK representative at the Security Council from speaking and voting? What possible objection can the hon. Gentleman have to that?
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was listening to what I was saying, but I have already argued that that represents the thin end of a wedge. That is our view— [Interruption.]
Is not the assumption of Mr. Davey wrong when he says that the UK will have agreed to the position? Is it not a fact that, like it or not, the treaty provisions open the door for qualified majority voting under article 32— [Interruption.] Read it, anyone who does not believe me. It opens the door for QMV now and even more QMV in the future as a result of the special passerelle clause. That means that the EU would speak for this country on the Security Council, even if this country disagreed with the stated policy.
My hon. Friend, a member of the European Scrutiny Committee, brings considerable expertise to these matters. I would remind him, Mr. Davey and, indeed, the whole House, that the Committee looked into these matters in detail and came to the conclusion that the red lines, including the foreign policy red line that the Government like to triumph, do not hold up. Indeed, the Labour Chairman of the Committee, Michael Connarty, said on the "Today" programme that those lines would "leak like a sieve".
Does my hon. Friend agree that when a Foreign Minister walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, then he is a duck—and that in this particular context, it is the high representative who is doing it? Does my hon. Friend recall when Javier Solana said on Radio 4 that he was meeting Hamas at a very crucial moment—on the back of existing arrangements that were not then authorised? Is that not the sort of evolving, dynamic and dangerous situation that my hon. Friend is identifying and is exactly what will happen in practice? It is not just a matter of drawing strict legal lines; it is a question of how the whole system will function in practice. That is the larger problem that we are concerned about.
I thank my hon. Friend for that observation. Everyone knows that he reads these documents in very considerable detail. I agree with him, so let us see whether I also agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal.
I just ask my hon. Friend how can it possibly cause a difficulty if a spokesman for a common position of the European Union makes that position clear—in present terms, it would relate to something for which we had voted because of unanimity, irrespective of what is true about the details in the future—and the British representative then makes his points? That seems to me to be an extremely good way of getting the same point said twice. I do not understand the difficulty with that.
My right hon. Friend may know that there have been one or two occasions in this debate when the same point has been made twice, but I offer him the thought that if there is nothing to worry about, why did the Government oppose the change so adamantly in the negotiations in the Convention?
I am not a conspiracy theorist and I want to be fair to the Government, but might not an unintended consequence of these measures be the de facto abandonment of the UK's permanent seat on the Security Council?
I am not claiming that it would lead to the abandonment of our seat, but I am saying that it could lead over time to the power vested in our seat being compromised because of the EU's role— [Interruption.]
As the Government's speeches and amendments in the Convention are hard to come by, my hon. Friend may not be aware that it is a matter of record that at the time of the Convention the Government also said that the obligation to ask the Union Foreign Minister to speak
"could in certain circumstances contradict the Security Council's Rule of Procedure."
They therefore wanted the obligation to be removed. Does my hon. Friend not think it very unwise to write into a treaty an obligation that would conflict with the standing orders of the United Nations? Is that not another reason for looking at the treaty requirements again, in the light of our more important, wider, global obligations?
Perhaps I can deal with this canard once and for all. Our Committee went into the issue in some detail, and spoke to Dr. Solana about it as well. Paragraph 157 of our report states:
"Dr Solana confirmed that he has spoken at the Security Council in his current capacity, always following an invitation to do so by EU Security Council members. We conclude that the Lisbon Treaty provision for the new High Representative to speak at the EU Security Council will make little difference to current practice. It will not undermine the position of the UK in the United Nations system nor the UK's representation and role as a Permanent Member of the Security Council."
I thank the Chairman of the Committee for that. I also thank him for the Committee's report, which stated that in foreign policy areas the treaty of Lisbon was almost exactly the same as the original constitution, and pointed out that we had been promised a referendum on the first and not on the second. I read the report in some detail, and I am grateful to the Committee for its work, but I have already responded to the hon. Gentleman's point several times, not least when it was put to me by my right hon. Friends. However, I thank the Committee for the report, because it provided us with some great quotations with which to embarrass the Government.
In fact, the intervention by Mike Gapes has helped my hon. Friend. If he thinks about it carefully, he will realise that what the treaty has done is formalise practice that was not necessarily formal or acceptable before. The hon. Gentleman's intervention makes the point about progression in the European Union. What happens is that the EU takes a bit more, the next treaty formalises the position, and it moves on. That is exactly what has happened here.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. A key part of the argument is the question "What is the direction of travel? Where is this all going?", and I think it is fairly clear to the House what the direction of travel is.
If parliamentary scrutiny is to mean anything, it is vital for the role and powers of the new institutions to be subject to the examination and judgment of the House. We have already heard—and the relevant cross-party Committees have reported—how at every turn Ministers have sought to minimise scrutiny of the treaty, and it is not right that the House should allow Ministers to continue to do so in the future. If Ministers mean any of what they say about allowing the legislature to hold the Executive to account, they should support new clause 3.
The new clause would also force Ministers to do something that they have been extremely reluctant to do, and set out in detail how the treaty compares with the constitution. That is something that the Foreign Affairs Committee and the European Scrutiny Committee—both Labour-dominated and both with Labour Chairmen—have felt able to do, and there is no reason why the Foreign Office should not be able to do the same. That would provide the basis for an honest and detailed debate, which is more than we are being allowed in the House owing to the rigged methodology that the Government have imposed on us.
I was unable to take part in the earlier debate because I was chairing a Select Committee meeting and we had an important report to agree. Therefore, while discussing the terms of the amendments, I shall take the opportunity to make some points that I would have made earlier.
In the European Union's dealings with other countries and its foreign policy, it is represented by a so-called troika: a representative of the presidency; the high representative for the common foreign and security policy, who is currently Mr. Solana; and the European Commissioner for External Relations, Mrs. Ferrero-Waldner. The arrangement is wasteful, confusing for our foreign partners and inefficient. The present system also contains the absurd rotation of the presidency every six months. That undermines both the European Union's ability to pursue consistent priorities and positions, and the ability of the individuals involved to build the long-term relationships with other countries necessary for effective diplomacy.
The Lisbon treaty will address both those problems. It will do so first by having the high representative take over the job of the European Commissioner for External Relations—that post will be abolished—leaving both functions united in a single person and reducing the number of people involved in European Union foreign policy making. It will do so secondly by abolishing the rotating presidency in favour of, potentially, a five-year post—it will be a two-and-a-half year post that can be renewed—of president of the European Council. That is the body comprising the Heads of State or Heads of Government.
The Lisbon treaty will therefore streamline and stabilise the EU's external representation and make the Union a much easier and more coherent partner for foreign countries to deal with and have a relationship with. That is long overdue, necessary and, in a European Union of 27 countries, essential if we are to have effective coherence in our role in the world.
In a way, the hon. Gentleman is making the point for my hon. Friend Mr. Francois, because he is saying that the EU's external position is not coherent, and that the changes in the treaty will make it more coherent and easier to represent the EU's view to the outside world. In effect, a position will be built over time—exactly the point that my hon. Friend made—that will become the view of the EU around the world and will undermine our independent foreign policy.
The hon. Gentleman has missed the point. Let me give an example. The German presidency decided to give great emphasis in its presidency document to work in central Asia. That was not the position in the previous presidency and it was not continued afterwards. The Portuguese presidency has taken up something in the British presidency's remit—the priority of Africa—but there was a gap inbetween. We thus need the coherence of the longer-term approach, which is more efficient and more effective. The six-monthly rotation includes the small countries that have very small diplomatic representations. Slovenia has only one embassy in Africa and it uses the French diplomatic service, as it must, for many of its functions as part of its presidency of the European Union. That is absurd.
Unlike me, some Members of this House are somewhat Francophobic. They are opposing a proposal that gets away from the current situation, whereby, as my hon. Friend points out, Slovenia is very much dependent on support from France.
Leaving that point aside, does my hon. Friend agree that the proposal for a coherent five-year term should help Britain's national interest, because it would allow Britain, with its presence in the European institutions in Brussels, its connections and its influence, to have an ongoing relationship with the presidency? By contrast, under the present arrangement, every six months Britain has to build a relationship with whichever country and individual happens to assume the presidency.
I agree with my hon. Friend. The need to develop that coherence is also in the interests of the larger countries in the European Union, because we will then not be dependent on countries with small diplomatic services which may not be able to cope with the sheer volume of contacts. How could the Maltese or the Luxembourgers provide the necessary back-up for engaging with China or the countries in Latin America? We need coherence, which the bigger countries can provide, alongside the European Union's collective institutions.
The hon. Gentleman mentions Africa. Will he condemn the fact that of 53 African nations, 23 no longer have any form of professional British diplomatic representation? That has a real impact on the welfare of British citizens. For instance, the lack of an embassy in Equatorial Guinea has an impact on the case of Mr. Simon Mann.
Will the hon. Gentleman also condemn the fact that, prior to the treaty's ratification, the European Union has set up its first embassy—so-called—in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia?
I will come to the external action service issues in a moment. On the specific point, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the report of the Foreign Affairs Committee on choices made by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to close, for example, the high commissions in Lesotho and Swaziland and to concentrate representation in Pretoria. It is not only in Africa but in some of the Pacific Commonwealth countries where we no longer have diplomatic representation. The Chinese, however, are all over the place.
The Committee has raised that issue consistently in recent years. It is wrong that we no longer have that level of representation, and that is a matter for the Treasury, which needs to provide more resources to the FCO. It also reflects the difficult choice that the FCO has to make on resources to provide greater security and more posts in certain countries. For example, we have a big new embassy in Afghanistan.
The other change is the development of the role of the high representative—now correctly named. The role was never that of a European Union Foreign Minister. That was always an absurdity, because the EU is not a state and it does not need the terminology of a state. We do not have a Foreign Minister or a Foreign Ministry: we have the external action service and a high representative for foreign affairs and security policy. It is important that all hon. Members and people who write about our proceedings use the correct terminology. If those people who oppose the development of a "European super-state" start using the wrong language, they may mislead people into thinking that something exists when it does not. We have, as the Foreign Affairs Committee pointed out clearly in its report, an intergovernmental approach to foreign policy, and it is clearly stated that such matters are dealt with on the basis of agreement between the 27 member states.
We can go further. The Committee concluded that the changes in the Lisbon treaty do not risk undermining the common foreign and security policy's intergovernmental nature. Indeed, there is a greater shift towards the member states, not away from them, in some aspects of foreign policy.
I am listening with interest to the hon. Gentleman's powerful argument for more centralisation of the European Union. Is not the point that the argument that he has just made does not apply to the presidency? If the approach is intergovernmental, why do we need a permanent, fixed president? That is what states have.
For the hon. Gentleman's information, the presidency will not be a permanent post but an agreed post appointed by the 27 countries for a period of two and a half years, subject to a further term, and it will have to be made on the basis of agreement between the member states. It certainly will not be a permanent post, as the hon. Gentleman suggested.
The role of the high representative obviously relates to the work on external policy that is currently done by the External Relations Commissioner, whose role will be abolished. It is therefore important to recognise the way in which it will work. There is currently a division between the aspects of EU external policy that are handled by the European Commission under the so-called Community method, such as aid-trade development, and those that are handled within the common foreign and security policy, such as the diplomatic statements, sanctions and security policy developed in the European Union, including matters that were referred to earlier about the deployment of civilian and military security missions outside the EU.
During the preparation of the Select Committee's report, we heard evidence from witnesses, including EU officials, that that division has bedevilled the effectiveness of the EU's external activities. Mr. Solana told us that the link between his high representative job and the Commission was "loose" and that the separate nature of Council and Commission decision making
"sometimes creates problems and even contradictions."
Work on achieving greater co-ordination between the Council and the Commission, for example on energy security, is already under way. In that sense, the Lisbon treaty brings together aspects of the Council and Commission's external relations functions in a single person, which will be more effective and will move things further in the direction in which they have already begun to try to move. The mere fact that there are two posts at the moment makes it very difficult, even if the individuals get on very well personally. That was the case with former Commissioner Chris Patten, who got on very well with Mr. Solana—he told us that. Nevertheless, the institutional division leads to inefficiency and a lack of coherence. The treaty deals with that problem effectively.
Does the Chairman of the Select Committee agree that he is arguing that a common European position is a lot better than a separate British foreign policy and that he would want a British Foreign Minister to try to accommodate the views of colleagues so that there was always a common foreign policy position? Is not the divide in the House tonight about the fact that some want a common European position on everything while others think that we are better off with a British position?
I take it from that intervention that the right hon. Gentleman wants inefficiency and incoherence between the Commission and the high representative. Frankly, I would agree that he and I have a different view about whether we want an effective European Union that is coherent and efficient. He presumably wants an ineffective European Union—or perhaps no European Union at all. We will no doubt have a chance to debate that in future.
The need to bring together all the possible instruments for action abroad is one of the most important lessons for us to consider internationally. We have had comment in other contexts about the difficulties of co-ordinating all the different agencies that work in Afghanistan. Work in the Balkans—in Serbia and Kosovo, for example—has involved a lot of incoherence, because there are so many different offices, individuals and players. The EU has been trying to co-ordinate the signing of the stabilisation and association agreement with the Government of Serbia in Belgrade, and it has to engage with the European Commission, the European security and defence policy mission to Kosovo and other agencies in the EU family. Having one person, a high representative with overall responsibility for all such matters, would make that co-ordination and effectiveness easier to achieve.
The Lisbon treaty also gives the high representative explicit responsibility for ensuring the consistency of the EU's external action. For the first time, it brings together a single set of principles and objectives that will govern all the EU's external activities, both in Community areas and in its common foreign and security policy. Linked to that is the high representative's role in respect of the European external action service, which will be under the representative's control.
As the FAC noted, many aspects of the new service remain to be worked out in practice. Until it is established, there will naturally be some ambiguities, but it is already clear that it will be made up of officials from existing departments of the Council secretariat and the European Commission, as well as people seconded from national diplomatic services. Moreover, although the treaty does not spell it out explicitly, it is likely that EU representation outside the EU will be integrated into the new service.
Unless a member state wishes the EU to take on the role, the EU missions and representations will not replace individual member states' diplomatic posts abroad. I referred earlier to Slovenia's lack of diplomatic representation in Africa, and that should be compared with the very large diplomatic footprint that countries such as France, the UK or Germany have around the world. However, as was noted in an earlier intervention, that footprint does not extend everywhere.
How can the UK use other countries' diplomatic missions—something that, to an extent, we already do in some parts of the world? There are countries where the British are not present but the Germans or French are, and the EU's external action service might, in time, develop a similar role, but that will not mean that it determines UK foreign policy or that we cease to be an independent state. All the myths to that effect must be laid to rest, one by one: they are scaremongering, and they bear no relation to the reality of the world as it is, or to what it will be after the Lisbon treaty is ratified and comes into effect.
The creation of a single EU external action service that will support the high representative and operate alongside national foreign offices and their staff should encourage the development of a more unified EU approach to foreign policy. It should also reduce the amount of duplication in the European Council and European Commission bureaucracies in Brussels. For those reasons, I believe that it is very important that we support the foreign policy elements of the Lisbon treaty, and that we reject the amendments before us today.
The best way to protect our national interests is to have high-quality British people from our diplomatic service working at all levels in the EU's institutions, including the external action service. That should be regarded in our Foreign Office as a good career move for the people involved, who should be able to improve their promotion prospects by putting their EU work on their CVs. As happens with officials from other EU countries, our people will be able to have an input into the EU system and to influence the policies that are adopted collectively. The result will be that the EU will be more effective and coherent, and that it will work more in Britain's interests.
I rise to speak primarily because the Liberal Democrats have concerns with every amendment in this group. In that regard, we have something in common with Conservative Front Benchers. They confirmed today that they are against every single measure in the common foreign and security policy; I can confirm that we are against every single one of their amendments. They would undermine a sensible and modest package of proposals.
Amendment No. 258 would delete the proposal relating to the president of the Council. Mr. Francois seemed to think that that would become a powerful position; he suggested that it would be akin to the presidency of the United States in due course, and that the proposal was a stalking horse for a new presidential element to the European Union. He skirted some of the facts, such as that the president of the Council will be accountable to all the Ministers from all 27 states and will be able to act only when all 27 states have agreed and given the president a remit, as well as that the president will not have a vote. If he really thinks that such a position is equivalent to the presidency of the United States, he is living in cloud cuckoo land.
A long time ago, the British people were asked to vote on whether they wanted a Common Market, and they voted yes. They have never been asked whether they want a common defence, foreign and security policy; why would the hon. Gentleman not put that to the British people?
I believe that the British people should have a referendum on the whole European Union to encompass that matter and many others. It is time to have an in/out referendum so that the British people can put the anti-Europeans to flight. I believe that the vast majority of the British people do not share the Euroscepticism clearly evident in some Conservative Back-Bench Members—
The hon. Gentleman should be a bit careful about the issue. The House is elected by the British people to make decisions as a Parliament. That is the basis of the British constitution. There is no question but that we have that job and that duty. People know how we voted, and we must stand by our votes. Referendums are always the refuge of those who are not prepared to stand up for what they believe and vote as they should. The fault of this Government is to have promised a referendum and not delivered it, but their fault is double. They should not have promised it in the first place, and having promised it, they should have delivered it.
The right hon. Gentleman's position on the matter has been consistent; I do not disagree that he fought on that position during the last election. I fought on the position that there should be a referendum on a constitutional treaty. The best way to honour that pledge is to have an in/out referendum, because it is the question closest to that of a constitutional treaty.
I am pleased to hear views being expressed by the Liberal Democrats in the House. When my local paper wished to know where all the political parties stood on the issue, I was the only one who responded. There was a resounding "no comment" from the Liberal Democrat and Labour parliamentary candidates. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman shares my view—I should like his comments on it—that people would like to engage in the debate. That debate is stifled not only within the Chamber but outside it, and that is part of the problem. People cannot debate the arguments, because they are not being put.
I am certainly happy to abide by your ruling, Mrs. Heal, and to talk to the hon. Lady outside. I know the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for St. Albans, and I am sure that he will want to comment; he is not normally a quiet candidate.
Amendment No. 1 deals with the United Nations Security Council. When challenged on it, the hon. Member for Rayleigh had absolutely no answer. He must accept that the treaty proposes the most timid, modest, small change that could possibly be made to the relationship between the European Union and the United Nations Security Council. The idea that the British Government or a serious political party should be against the European Union speaking with all the authority of 27 member states and backing a policy that we have agreed is absurd.
Amendment No. 156, which I believe was tabled by the hon. Gentleman or his colleagues, would prevent the European Union from signing any international agreement. The EU would not be able to sign a trade agreement, an agreement on climate change or any agreement that was in the interests of our people. That shows what an absurd position he is adopting.
I refer to amendments Nos. 1 and 258. I am slightly unfamiliar with Committee stage discussions these days, and I am not sure whether the Opposition intend their amendments as probing amendments or whether they have a more serious purpose. Perhaps Mr. Francois could clarify that.
I am not sure whether amendment No. 258 deletes the concept of a president of the Council from the treaty or whether it prevents a president of the Council from having a view on external affairs. I suspect that it deletes any reference to the president, which implies that the current situation would continue, whereby there are potentially three different spokespeople for the European Union on external affairs matters.
Those who have been in regular contact with the European Union know that the current position is untenable with 27 members. With six members of the original Community it may have been possible, as the presidency came round every three years and there could be some degree of continuity. With 27 members it becomes almost impossible to conduct business in the long term. Particularly in relations with outside bodies and other international bodies, there is a need for administrative consistency so that people know whom they are speaking to, what kind of person they are and whether they can trust them. That is crucial in international negotiations, which is why a presidency is needed.
That brings me back to the question whether the amendment was intended as a probing amendment. Was it meant to probe whether the presidency would be like the President of the United States? Clearly, that is not the case. The president of the European Council would have very limited powers and would have to be extremely careful to stick closely to the mandate that that person was given. There would not be a huge amount of discretion, if I anticipate correctly the future relationship between the president and the Council. That may be a point that Tony Blair is examining. I do not know whether he is a candidate or not, but he would be wise to work out what the job description was if he wanted to put his hat in the ring.
With regard to amendment No. 1, there is a myth that must be killed off. There are many legitimate and credible reasons to argue against the treaty and the foreign affairs and defence aspects of it, but the idea that it will in any way deny Britain access to the United Nations at the Security Council, the Assembly or any of the intermediary committees is just not realistic. The president will be there to represent a common position of the European Union in whatever is being discussed. If there is no common position, the president will not be there; the president could not be there unless originally there was unanimity—or, as my European friends say, consensus—on the issue under consideration.
I agree with my hon. Friend's description of the situation. Does he agree that there is no downside? If there is no consensus, the United Kingdom will go alone to the United Nations, as would happen if there were no treaty or arrangements. If there is consensus, the United Kingdom will go with 26 allies—in its pocket, as it were, via the high representative—to the United Nations.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If there is a common position, the United Kingdom or any other of the 27 can decide how loquacious to be in reinforcing that position at whatever United Nations committee it happens to be. If there is no such position—that will happen on occasions; it would have happened in the original debates on Iraq, for instance—the United Kingdom will have the same access to the United Nations as at the moment. If the Opposition's amendments are more than probing ones, their arguments will have to be better than those put forward by their Front Benchers.
Why do we need the complication of a possible right of audience at the United Nations for a representative of the EU? If there was a common position, surely the French and British representatives, who have seats, could pray that in aid as part of their case if we thought that that would help.
I do not understand the right hon. Gentleman's point. The European position will be stated if there is one. If any nation wanted to reinforce it, they could do so. If there were no European position, any nation that wished to express a view could do so. That is the framework.
The right hon. Gentleman and I go back a long way on these matters. He knows about some of the issues. I would have thought that he would recognise that if there is a common European position it will be more influential in UN committees if it is put forward as such, and not by the French or British or whoever happened to have the presidency in a 27-unit cycle. In the larger committees, the position would be far more effective coming from the European presidency—normally from the president himself. That would not prevent any other nation making a point if it wished to. If there were no common position, any nation wishing to make a point could do so. We cannot get away from that; that is the position of the UN. It will not change its constitution to accommodate the EU or its member nations. The Conservatives need to have another look at the issue.
Mr. Redwood raised a point in response to my hon. Friend Mike Gapes; he said that it was better to have a British than a European position. That is a matter of horses for courses. In some circumstances—for example, the situation in the Congo or Chad in respect of external affairs—it is better for Britain to express its view alone, knowing that it does not have to have a lead-nation role, but that it can still very much influence the direction of the EU. In other situations, however, Britain would have a direct role. For instance, because of our history we have a closer and deeper interest in the diplomatic discussions on Zimbabwe than some other European Union countries. It is a matter of considering the issues and dealing with them as they come forward.
The amendments bear on the common foreign and security policy, which I have always supported as an aspect of the European Union; it is very much in British interests that it should develop further. So I look at the amendments and ask whether they will enable us to make better progress than we have made already in developing a common foreign and security policy on issues for which it is in British interests to do so. Those are issues on which our interests coincide with those of other member states and on which we can reach unanimous positions on matters of great importance to us all. In the earlier debate, Members referred to our relationships with the Russian Federation. I can think of no more important area where the European Union should make faster progress towards having a coherent common foreign policy that enables us to establish good, but proper, relationships with the very important superpower that is almost a near neighbour of ours to the east.
The structure on which the amendments bear is fairly long-standing. There is no great substantial change in this treaty from the Maastricht treaty, which we debated at considerable length in the past. Unfortunately, I was divided then from some of the colleagues who are present now, who still do not agree with me. A lot of these arguments are extremely familiar. At that time, we debated amendments claiming that the proposals would be the end of British foreign policy, that we would be handing over to a new European superpower, that we would lose all our power to represent ourselves abroad, and so on. None of that ever happened. Unfortunately, since the Thatcher Government led on the whole idea of a common foreign and security policy and the Major Government supported that, we have not gone far enough in the direction towards what we need—a union of nation states collectively being able effectively to put into practice representations on their mutual behalf in the areas that matter to them.
I agree with, and will not repeat at length, the arguments in favour of a single presidency for a period and an end to the rotating presidency. I am surprised that my party has tabled amendments challenging the idea of the new presidency. The Conservative party was always unanimous on the question of enlarging the Union—apart from my right hon. Friend Mr. Redwood; I am sorry that I have attributed to him a moment of deviation from his very firm position on these matters. Certainly, the official policy was all in favour of enlargement. Indeed, most of us view it as a triumph that the Union has succeeded in enlarging and taking democratic and liberal values across into central and eastern Europe. I always gained the impression that it was assumed that once we had enlargement, certain treaty amendments would be required, including getting rid of the rotating presidency. I will not labour the argument, but Mike Gapes was entirely correct in what he said.
There are two arguments about the presidency that must be refuted: first, that it is, as my hon. Friend Mr. Francois suggested, a tremendously powerful position that could eventually, over time, rival the presidency of the United States as a position in world affairs. I have to tell my hon. Friend that I do not see how that can be seriously argued while keeping a straight face. One thing that is retained in this treaty is the idea of unanimity in forming foreign policy—unanimity, that is, of Ministers in the Council of Ministers, each of whom comes from their democratically elected Government in each member state and is individually answerable to his Parliament and the electorate to whom his Government answer. The president will represent the Union once a common policy has been arrived at, and only then. The president of the European Council of Ministers—that is the best way of describing him, rather than the president of Europe—will not be the commander-in-chief of the forces of Europe. When we discuss later amendments, we will no doubt hear the old Maastricht stuff about European armies and so on, which have always been phantoms. The president will not have any policy-making power—that will reside with the Ministers drawn from the member states, and his duty is to represent a common position when they have arrived at it.
Secondly, it is argued that the presidency will somehow threaten our position in the United Nations. Again, I will not labour the arguments that have already been made, other than to say that we are continuing a practice that has already become well established, and that has not yet happened. The fact that the president of the Council can sometimes go to address the United Nations does not mean that the United Kingdom will lose its place on the UN Security Council, any more than the French will. I strongly believe that the British should retain their position on the Security Council for as long as possible. We are a very valuable influence there, and it is obviously in our interest that we stay there.
We have had difficulty in maintaining that presence in modern times because the permanent members of the present Security Council were the victorious allies in the second world war. As the world steadily changes, that situation is getting quite difficult to defend. It is not the best defence of the British position to say that we will rely on that historical case, or even to bar the quite harmless practice, which has become quite well established, of the president of the European Council addressing the Security Council when there is a common position.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham, with his usual sensitivity to the political world of Europe, says that the other 25 countries should put up with being represented by either the British or the French. He asks why there is a need for the European president to be able to turn up and put their views. Quite apart from the generally undiplomatic nature of that suggestion, such an approach is not the best way of defending the United Kingdom's seat on the UN Security Council in the longer term. With the greatest respect to my right hon. Friend, such near xenophobia about the desire of other powerful countries to be able to put forward a collective European view in the UN will simply arouse more pressure for reform, and most proposals for reform suggest that there should not be so many European countries individually represented on the Security Council. I resist that view, but we have to be sensible and flexible, and we should not raise such extraordinary fears about what has been a successful practice since Maastricht.
I know that others want to go on to the subject of the European army, so I shall conclude by relating something to my hon. Friends in a way that is in order. These debates, which I have attended quite regularly, largely seem to involve an extraordinary series of exchanges about what the treaty means. In my opinion, although I respect the views of my colleagues, there has been an attempt to extract from the wording of the treaty extraordinary meanings that I simply cannot see there. It is exactly like Maastricht. Everybody said that similar things would happen after Maastricht. We debated it at interminable length then because we were not confined by such a dreadful timetable as we are now—despite our best efforts to get one. All those fears were raised, none of them were realised, and now everyone is coming back to say exactly the same thing.
My right hon. and learned Friend referred to the Maastricht treaty and to the meanings that people gave to the words in that treaty, and are giving to the words in this one. Can I get rid of a canard, one way or another? I think that he once said that he did not actually read the Maastricht treaty. I have the greatest difficulty in understanding how he could put a meaning on words that he had not read.
I am sorry, Mrs. Heal. I shall therefore not rehearse my claim that I understood the Maastricht treaty and knew more about it than the Maastricht rebels at the time. I shall leave that for another occasion. The canard has been repeated, and will one day be properly put to rest.
If today's debate includes assertions about the president of the European Council of Ministers becoming like the President of the United States, our loss of our seat on the Security Council, a loss of our ability to have an independent foreign policy, and—in a few moments—our Army being subordinated to a European army, I cannot see how a referendum can be sensibly conducted. My opposition to a referendum is the same as that of my right hon. Friend Mr. Gummer. The effect of this process on the public is bewildering. People say that they do not understand the treaty, and having listened to this debate, I am hardly surprised. There is not even the faintest agreement among Members about what the treaty means.
I am afraid my response to the amendments is that they raise fanciful fears, no doubt genuinely held by my right hon. and right hon. Friends, that are based on an interpretation of the language of the treaty that it simply will not bear. For that reason, I continue to hold the views I did when we debated Maastricht. I will vote against any of the amendments that are pressed, and I will try to persuade my constituents that the fears raised in support of the amendments are delusions. The experience of our membership of the European Union so far, particularly since Maastricht, has shown that they were delusions then and they are delusions now. They do not reflect the way that anyone sensible in the EU, in any member state, intends to travel in future.
Like many others, I want to discuss amendments Nos. 258 and 1. I do not know whether those who tabled amendment No. 258 intended it to be a probing amendment or whether they wish to press it to a Division, but they have overblown the consolidated text resulting from the treaty. Article 15(6) states:
"The President of the European Council shall, at his or her level and in that capacity, ensure the external representation of the Union on issues concerning its common foreign and security policy, without prejudice to the powers of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy."
Those in the Chamber could hear the inflexion of my voice, so for the benefit of Hansard, I point out that I stressed the word "common". The president of the European Council will be involved in the common foreign and security policy and
"ensure the external representation of the Union".
Other hon. Members may interpret that wording differently, but to me, ensuring the external representation does not mean being the external representative. That interpretation is confirmed when the article goes on to refer specifically to the high representative of the Union for foreign affairs and security policy.
The president of the European Council will be elected by the European Council, which can finish the term of office before the end of the two and a half years in
"the event of an impediment or serious misconduct".
I am not sure what "impediment" means, but in lay terms, I think it means that someone who is naughty or falls out with their mates will be voted out by the Heads of State and Heads of Government of the 27 member states in those circumstances. The president of the European Council is therefore on some sort of leash, albeit that it depends on the interpretation of "impediment or serious misconduct".
The president will not make foreign and security policy for the European Union; the European Council will do that, and it will be a common foreign and security policy. I stand to be corrected, but I understand that that would be done by unanimity; that is where the word "common" comes in. If the United Kingdom took a fundamentally different position on an issue of interest to the European Union, such as on Zimbabwe, which my hon. Friend Mr. Henderson mentioned, there would be no common foreign policy and the UK could properly pursue its own path.
I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument, but what would happen if the United Kingdom were in a minority of one in its view of a foreign matter? What would the high representative do? Would he do nothing and simply sit around in his office?
Strictly speaking, the high representative would have to do that. In practice, he or she would make matters clear to his or her interlocutors. I do not expect the European Union to fall out over Zimbabwe, but let us take it as an example. If 26 member states took one position and the UK took another, the high representative would have to say, "My hands are tied. I am the high representative for a common foreign policy and, as I've indicated to you, my interlocutor, there is no common foreign policy because one member state doesn't agree with the others." That is what a common foreign policy means. As I said in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North, in such circumstances, standing up for what we believe in as a single country would not put the UK in a weaker position than we would have occupied if we had never joined the Common Market and then the European Union.
Before we joined the Common Market on those terms—we were, of course, in the European Free Trade Association, but in foreign policy we were alone—if we were in a minority of one on what would otherwise be a common foreign policy of the European Union, we would again be on our own, so we would not be in a weaker position. However, we would potentially be in a much stronger position if 27 member states were taking their lead from the United Kingdom on, for example, Zimbabwe, which is a more likely scenario, but not a definite one, because of our history with that country and our knowledge of it, as has been mentioned. On the one hand, we might be alone, which is not a weaker position than we would have been in, were we not involved. On the other hand, the upside is that we could be in a considerably stronger position. That seems to me a pretty good each-way bet.
There is a slight inconsistency between the hon. Gentleman's position and that of the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. The Chairman was arguing that the development of having a president who served a term would improve the external representation of the European Union's common policy, but the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the president would be constrained in the policy that they represented and would have to follow narrowly the instructions of the European Council. However, I am at a loss to see why a president serving for a period of two and a half years would be any more capable of representing that narrowly constrained common policy than the Prime Minister, President or Foreign Minister of one of our European partners.
The president of the European Council will not be representing that policy—that is the point that I am trying to make. The president of the European Council's role is to
"ensure the external representation of the Union on issues concerning its common foreign and security policy".
I see no inconsistency between my position and that of my hon. Friend Mike Gapes, and no doubt he will intervene on me if he thinks that there is one. What I was referring to, in the vernacular, is an each-way bet—sometimes we will be alone, sometimes we will be stronger. That is good.
I entirely agree with the comments that Mr. Clarke made about the United Kingdom's position at the United Nations. Historically, we are in a somewhat anomalous position, whereby our country is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, but has a round population of 60 million, albeit with a fantastic history and the goods and bads of the British empire. At the other end of the spectrum is India, which has a population of 1.1 billion, but is not a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
The point about membership of the Security Council is that it is held by the major military powers of the world that are prepared to commit men, women and treasure to United Nations expeditions when force is needed to back up policy. We have more than earned our keep around the table. We are assured that there will be no European army, so how could there be a European Union seat?
I do not want to get diverted too far down that path, but the right hon. Gentleman is not quite right. The five permanent Security Council members are in fact the original declared nuclear powers. That is where it comes from.
Canada, for example—a country of which I am a citizen and for which I have a great deal of affection—was one of the victors in the second world war. It has a long and proud history of contributing to UN security forces throughout the world; indeed, it argues with some justification that it has the proudest history, in terms of proportional contributions. In fact, the Canadian losses in Afghanistan per capita are far higher than the United Kingdom's. However, Canada is not a permanent member of the UN Security Council and, as far I know, neither Mike Pearson nor anyone else ever suggested that it should be. However, as I was saying, we are in the strange and historically anomalous position of having two countries of 60 million people—the United Kingdom and France—that are permanent members of the Security Council, whereas India, which has a population of 1.1 billion or whatever it is today, is not a permanent member. Membership comes from history, and, quite understandably, that history is being questioned, not least by countries such as India.
If we wish the United Kingdom to remain a member of the UN Security Council, as I am sure all hon. Members would wish, we have to look at how we interact with it. The changes brought about by the treaty include reinforcing the way in which the United Kingdom, as a member of the European Union and a permanent member of the UN Security Council, interacts with the United Nations, at both the General Assembly and the Security Council level. The treaty and the changes that it would effect are helpful, in respect of preserving this country's position as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Paragraph 2 of article 34, on page 25 of the consolidated text, says:
"Member States which are also members of the United Nations Security Council will concert and keep the other Member States and the High Representative fully informed. Member States which are members of the Security Council will, in the execution of their functions, defend the positions and the interests of the Union, without prejudice to their responsibilities under the provisions of the United Nations Charter.
When the Union has defined a position on a subject which is on the United Nations 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."
I think that that strengthens the position, principally of the United Kingdom and France, although—again, I stand to be corrected—at a given time, another EU member state could be a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, so the EU, with 27 member states and a population of about 400 million people, might have three members of the Security Council, two permanent and one elected on rotation.
The EU is a body of 400 million people, so it seems to me reasonable for the high representative to be invited to the UN. The member states, under the treaty, would be beholden to request that the high representative be invited to present the Union's position—again, if there were a Union common position. If there is no common position, quite properly and in the interests of our country, our position could be presented to the Security Council, of which we are a permanent member.
The provisions of the treaty seem to me an each-way bet. We might be alone at the UN Security Council—there would be no change there, then, if we had never been in the Common Market and in the EU—but we might not be alone; we might have the strength of being able to say that, at the UN Security Council, we have a common foreign policy on a particular issue, which might be Darfur or whatever, and that it is supported by the UK. Perforce that common position would be supported at the UN by France, which is an EU member state. Another EU member state might also be present as a rotating member of the Security Council.
May I add a point to my hon. Friend's argument? There have been occasions over recent years on which the high representative, representing the EU or negotiating on its behalf, has been closely involved in trying to resolve some issue of conflict. Iran is the obvious example, but there are others. Mr. Solana has played that role, and it would surely be helpful to the collective influence of the UK and the EU within the UN system if someone who had been engaged day to day in trying to resolve some of the most difficult international issues could appear before the Security Council and give it his take on those issues.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. That issue is to do with expertise, but also many hands make light work. We should get more hands on the pump.
If a delicate issue were being considered by the Security Council and if it were clear that the EU had a common position, as evidenced by the fact that the member states that were members of the Security Council at the time were asking for the high representative to be invited, and if that invitation were extended and the high representative attended, other UN member states around the world would know of the solidity of the common position of the EU, of which we are a member. Therefore, our bargaining power would, in a sense, be given leverage, and the treaty helps in that respect.
The proposal is an each-way bet, as I have termed it. That is why I oppose amendments Nos. 258 and 1. They would strip out things that are advantageous to us. Were we to strip out those things, there would be a serious downside, whereas if we leave them in there will be an upside but no downside.
I shall be as brief as I can, because I hope that the Committee gets on to the other groups of amendments. It is one of the major scandals of this entire procedure that not only does the Committee not have the opportunity to go through the treaty line by line, but that often, owing to the short time allotted, we do not even have an opportunity to debate whole groups of amendments. That is particularly important given the significance of the subject before us tonight.
This policy area contains some of the worst drafting, and it is one in which the Government sustained some of the heaviest defeats in the negotiations leading up to the drafting of the text. My right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke, who spoke before me from the Opposition Benches, put the most optimistic complexion on the treaty provisions. I disagree with him, but we have always managed to conduct our disagreements at a fairly genial level. In this case, however, he is at variance with the Government's position. We know that the Government do not like the text, so we have the odd situation whereby my right hon. and learned Friend is defending a text which was rejected by the Government. We know that because of the many amendments that the Government tabled during the Convention on the Future of Europe.
I had the honour of representing this House and I witnessed the Government's then representative, Mr. Hain, tabling and speaking to scores of amendments, very few of which were successful. It is difficult for hon. Members and this Committee to find out exactly what those amendments were; we have to trawl through a Commission website. There is no consolidated version of those amendments, but they do exist and I have a copy. There is no doubt that the Government talked tough in advance about their position, but caved in under pressure; they were not successful in amending the text and are now making the best of a bad job.
The problems were compounded by the procedures in the first half of last year when, following the defeat of the constitution, it was resurrected by the German presidency and the resulting negotiations did not even take place in public. At least in the Convention on the Future of Europe, there was parliamentary and public input; in the early part of last year, the negotiations were conducted entirely by officials in secret. Member states were shown the text only 48 hours before it was all agreed in the June European Council. That is one of the reasons why we have a treaty that is virtually incomprehensible. My right hon. and learned Friend said it would be inappropriate now to put the treaty to a referendum because no one would understand it, but the reason no one can understand it is that it was negotiated by officials, without any parliamentary or public involvement. There being no obligation to make it comprehensible, of course we have a text that is ambiguous, contradictory and misleading. The situation has not been helped by the partial and selective way in which Ministers have presented the outcome to this House.
Our amendments are designed to reinstate the position that the Government wanted during the early negotiations, or at least to make the treaty better. Earlier today, we heard a lot from the Foreign Secretary about the role of the European Council and how that will now be the intergovernmental body that will direct, at least strategically, common foreign and security policy. It is true that the European Council's role has been enhanced to some extent, but the treaty does not strengthen the intergovernmental nature of the process. Instead of being led by a serving Head of Government of a member state, the Council is now to have a full-time, permanent president who will be supranational.
What we have done in the treaty is create more presidents—that is really what happened during the Convention. Not only are we to have a full-time president of the European Council, but we will still have a President of the Council of Ministers—in some respects, that role will continue to circulate among member states—as well as the President of the Commission, the President of the European Parliament, the President of the European Court of Justice, the President of the European Central Bank and the President of the European Court of Auditors. We have a Europe of presidents, but what we were seeking in the Convention was a popular Europe—a Europe for the people. That was the instruction given to those involved in the reform process, and we failed. If one adds together all the presidents and the vice-presidents enumerated in the treaty, one has something that is even more remote from the lives and concerns of ordinary people.
Of course, what we did not know at the time was that the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was actually writing his own job description. However, to repeat a point that has already been made this evening, he might have looked a little more deeply into exactly what the job entails. One of the conclusions of the European Scrutiny Committee was that there are ambiguities surrounding all the jobs of most of these presidents. The search for clarity and certainty in the text has failed.
Another defect has been identified. If we are to have a more powerful, strategic European Council, why are its proceedings still to take place in secret, with no written minutes of any kind? This was the subject of a recent report by the European Scrutiny Committee, which rightly pointed out:
"The Conclusions of the European Council have an important influence—sometimes, a decisive one—on the future of the EU and the 500 million people who live in it."
The Committee points out that no one knows what goes on. There is apparently a recording of the proceedings, although that was denied by the previous Foreign Secretary. It was confirmed, however, by Sir Stephen Wall, who was an ambassador to the EU. If there is an accurate recording, though, it is certainly not presented to Parliament or to the outside world.
The Committee recommended that
"the Government discuss with other Member States the options for improving the process and removing its present inefficiencies and eccentricities; and, in particular, whether a clear, definitive and accessible record of the proceedings of the European Council should be made as a matter of course."
I strongly agree with that. If we are to have a supreme decision-making body that is going to set the strategic direction of the foreign policy of 27 member states, we are entitled to know what it is discussing, and who agrees and disagrees when a vote is taken. We need to know what is going on. All we have at the moment are the conclusions, which are circulated before the European Council meets but are never discussed as minutes. A statement is made to the House by the Prime Minister afterwards to tell us what has happened, but there is no clear, definitive record of what actually took place.
If the treaty goes through, this provision will have big implications for the democratic right of this House to scrutinise foreign policy. There is nothing in the treaty to reform those secretive proceedings. Amendments were tabled in the Convention to correct that, but there was no appetite for such reform. There was a desire to keep these matters at European Union level, deliberately to avoid the tiresome habit of member states' Parliaments inquiring exactly what their Ministers are doing on their behalf.
We can add to that the fact that there is confusion over the roles of the president of the European Council and of the high representative. It has been mentioned several times today that the high representative will be entitled to speak at the United Nations on behalf of the European Union when there is a common position. This is not what the United Kingdom Government wanted at the time, however. The Minister who is going to respond to the debate does not appear to be in the Chamber at the moment, but if he would kindly return before the debate concludes, I should like to ask him whether it is still the Government's position that the obligation on permanent members to request the high representative to speak on our behalf contradicts the rules of procedure of the United Nations. We are entitled to an opinion on that. That is certainly what was asserted at the Convention on the Future of Europe, and it would be wrong to write into a treaty something that conflicts with the rules of procedure of an international organisation of which we are a member.
The Foreign Affairs Committee carried out a comprehensive study of the roles of these various posts, and concluded that it was
"concerned by the current degree of uncertainty which surrounds the role"— that is, that of the president of the European Council—
"and by the potential for conflict with the High Representative in representing the EU externally".
We are being invited to agree to a text—the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, whom I see in his place, did not mention this in his very good report—when we are entitled to an explanation of whether the Government believe that these ambiguities have been sorted out before we pass the Bill.
The high representative will have at his disposal not just what amounts in most respects to a foreign ministry—although it is to be called an external action service—but more than 100 delegations, which to all intents and purposes are embassies. It has been calculated that more than 7,000 members of staff are working for these overseas delegations and for the Commission in Brussels on foreign and security policy and external matters. It is certainly clear to me that the new high representative's staff and the ministry at his disposal, as well as the overseas delegations, will be heavily dominated by the Commission. Yet the exact role of the Commission is another ambiguity in the treaty, so one of my amendments is designed to remove from it the quite unnecessary confusion over whether the high representative or the Commission can table proposals on foreign policy matters.
The Commission's role is further enhanced by the fact that the high representative will also be a vice-president of the Commission. Such double-hatting was a matter brought up in the Convention and subsequently as something that the Government did not want. In trying to clarify and simplify the roles of EU institutions, it makes no sense to leave such ambiguities in the text.
Another problem relating to the Commission's role and how it will interact with that of the high representative is the fact that the European Council and its president will have to practise "mutual sincere cooperation" with the Commission, as written into the text in article 9. If the UK or any other state seeks to assert its independence in foreign policy, it will run up against the problem that the European Council—the decision-making body—and its president will be obliged mutually to co-operate not with member states or the UK but with the Commission. I find that to be a distortion—once again, the Government did not like it in the negotiations—and it should have been removed.
The melancholy fact remains that, regardless of the text, the momentum and the internal dynamic of the EU will sweep away the Government's red line defences in any case. The clearest example of that are the numerous loyalty and solidarity clauses in the text. Even if we manage to take out some of the specifics through the amendments, we are still left with member states' obligation to seek an "ever-increasing degree of convergence" of their actions, as in article 11. That is an echo of the existing treaty obligation for member states to seek "ever closer union". At great political cost, the Government managed to get some of that taken out of the existing text, only for it to re-emerge in the new form of seeking an increasing degree of convergence in foreign policy.
Moreover, it is the high representative who will have a new power to ensure compliance with the obligation—again, a new obligation—for member states to support the European Union action. If there is a change of Government after a general election and the new Government seek to take a new angle on foreign policy and form some new alliances, they will not be able to do so if the policy is the subject of a pre-existing position to which the previous Government signed up.
It is slightly worse than that, is it not? A Government may have agreed a common position on a foreign issue to start with, but foreign issues change. We might take a different view from the rest of Europe after agreeing initially to a common approach. Will the high representative say, "I will not say any more about that now"? I fear that he will continue to side with the majority view in the European Union.
Yes, These developments are, to all intents and purposes, irreversible, and undermine one of the basic constitutional tenets by which we live: that no Parliament can bind its successor.
I hesitate to advertise some of the demons whose existence some of our colleagues refuse to accept, but if the Council invited the high representative to formulate a proposal on the basis of a resolution of the Council, that proposal would be subject to qualified majority voting. It is possible that a newly elected Government who did not even agree to the initial invitation for the high representative to make a proposal would be stuck with qualified majority voting on its implementation.
My hon. Friend rightly mentions a new provision in the treaty which extends qualified majority voting in the way that he has described. It means that once the high representative has been invited to present proposals, qualified majority voting will apply. Any member states must veto at a very early stage even the proposal to request a proposal from the high representative. That is a significant extension of qualified majority voting. Again, the lack of clarity in the relevant clause was criticised by the Foreign Affairs Committee, but to no avail.
The right hon. Gentleman seems to be reading the provisions in a very different way from the way in which I am reading them. The second paragraph of article 24 (1) on page 19 of the consolidated texts states:
"The common foreign and security policy... shall be defined and implemented by the European Council and the Council acting unanimously"
—end of quotation. [Interruption.] I will complete the quotation if Members want me to. After "unanimously", it continues
"except where the Treaties provide otherwise."
End of quotation. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman could tell us where the treaties provide otherwise. It seems to me that what I have read out suggests it is a question of implementation as well as defining.
That was a good answer from my hon. Friend. It is true that a new provision in the texts extends qualified majority voting if the European Council, acting on the basis of unanimity, requests a proposal from the high representative. Once that request has been made, qualified majority voting applies, even when the proposals are not implementing measures. That is a significant advance in qualified majority voting.
Let me end by referring to a solidarity clause that I do not think has been sufficiently ventilated. It gives the European Union the ability to require member states to make available military resources to prevent a terrorist attack. Hon. Members who wish to look it up will find the reference in article 188R, which is a new provision in the treaty. As far as I can tell, it is judiciable by the European Court of Justice. In other words, there is no voluntary spirit involved. If a request is made, member states, including Britain, would have to give military assistance or make military assets available. That would be done not in response to an actual attack, but possibly to prevent a terrorist attack. That is a significant extension of European Union power and a restriction on the freedom of action of all member states. How it can be asserted that British independence of thought, policy and action is uninhibited by this treaty is mystifying.
Perhaps the best demonstration of that point is the fact that, yet again, the provision was opposed by the Government in the negotiations. I hope that the Minister for Europe, who has now returned to his place, will spend less time arguing against amendments that the Government promoted at an earlier stage of the negotiations. Instead, I hope he will start to find the spirit that the Government at least partly found during the Convention—standing up for British interests in complex negotiations, although there was a failed outcome.
My amendments and those of my hon. Friends will help to rescue this treaty from where it has ended up, although they will not do so comprehensively because of the solidarity and loyalty clauses, which have an overarching effect. In my view, they will erode British independence in foreign policy to the stage where we will become exclusively a continental power, whereas we are partly continental and partly what General de Gaulle called "maritime". We must retain the ability to choose in foreign policy. Sometimes we have chosen the continent—sometimes we have had to rescue the continent—but at other times we have chosen a global role, a maritime role and a role that perhaps associates us more closely with the Anglosphere. If the treaty and these provisions go through in their current form, that choice and destiny will be denied us.
The right hon. Gentleman's contribution, with respect, seems to exemplify the type of approach that Mr. Clarke described, whereby the Conservative Front-Bench team and the majority of Conservative Back Benchers present choose to read into the treaty proposals the most alarmist outcomes possible. Such outcomes could only possibly come about after further treaty changes had been agreed upon by all the member states and, in any event, they could not in any sense be regarded as inevitable. Certainly such outcomes are not at all comprehended in the proposals.
I am sure that some Conservative Back Benchers from the Eurosceptic majority—that is what it now appears to be—believe that the treaty will bring about such consequences, but I have difficulty in believing that the Conservative Front-Bench team really believes that such things could happen. Nevertheless, its approach to the amendments and to the substantive policy debates on the issue since we began our consideration a couple of weeks ago has been to set up a series of Aunt Sallies and to try to frighten the public with scenarios that, when pressed, Mr. Francois has had to concede, even today, were only theoretical possibilities rather than inevitable consequences of the treaty proposals.
One example, which we discussed earlier, was the attempt to parallel the new president post with that of the Presidents of the US and Russia. I do not want to make too much of it, but it is quite instructive that Conservative Front Benchers have chosen to make that parallel. The purpose of trying to suggest, entirely erroneously, that the five-year presidency was in any sense parallel to the US presidency could only be to put into the public's mind the suggestion that an EU president would be akin to President Bush or other American Presidents and that the treaty brings in that sort of constitutional change. Anyone who reads the proposals knows that that is not the situation, but it is an example of how the Conservatives are trying to frighten the public.
Another example is the way in which the high representative—an important and welcome reform—is being promoted as being, in effect, an EU Foreign Minister, when the proposal has in fact been hedged about with many restrictions and limitations. Indeed, the proposal could be criticised for not going far enough. If anyone is in any doubt about that, they need only refer to the words of former French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, who said that in the revised proposals Britain has already weakened all attempts at further European integration, including rejecting the title of Minister for Foreign Affairs. The reality is that the high representative will be nothing like the EU Foreign Minister that the Conservatives suggest is being created.
Those are two examples of the fairly extreme, but at least rational criticisms of the proposals that we have heard from some members of the Conservative party. There are even more extreme proposals from some sections of the party represented in this House. I had the great fortune last night of being here until 2 am in support of the Government's proposals for local government changes in Shropshire. I had some time on my hands, as one does at the time in the morning, so I had a closer look at my e-mails than I might do earlier in the day. I was interested to receive an e-mail from the office of Philip Davies—I have told him that I would raise this point if I had the opportunity to speak today. It was an invitation from the hon. Gentleman to attend an event launching the FreeNations website, presenting
"The Totalitarians who founded the European Union and their impending triumph.".
I had a quick look at the website, which contains a list of Eurofederalists—a list of conspirators that makes the conspiracy recently outlined by Mohammed al-Fayed seem modest in comparison. That list includes not only, as one might expect, Mr. Clarke, Mr. Gummer and my hon. Friend Mr. Davies, but Mr. Galloway and even my hon. Friend Mr. Mitchell. For him to be denounced as a Eurofederalist is an indication of the outer reaches of reality that are occupied by some members of the Conservative party.
I make that point because it illustrates the position of an increasing number of Conservative Members. They actually believe some of that stuff. They believe that there is some plot, as the website helpfully sets out, to do through the European Union what Hitler attempted to do between 1939 and 1945. That illustrates the problem for Conservative Front Benchers: they have to try to bridge the gap between some contact with reality and the extreme views on the Conservative Back Benches, which are gaining a higher and higher profile in their party.
My view is very simple. I want to see the EU working more effectively. I believe that the situation in the EU institutions does not allow the member states of Europe to work together as effectively as they could. The proposals for the presidency and the high representative are sensible measures that will allow the Union to work more effectively to meet the challenges of our time, and that is why I oppose the Conservative amendments, which would reduce the improvements in efficiency and efficacy that I want to see brought about.
I shall try to be relatively brief, as I know that one or two Members still want to speak and that many Members want to get on to the next group of amendments. I shall limit my remarks more narrowly than I had intended.
I speak in favour of amendment No. 258, tabled by my hon. Friend Mr. Francois and our right hon. and hon. Friends, which concerns the role of the president. My hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh was careful and, despite what Labour Members have said, he was in no way alarmist. He made it clear that he was suggesting not that there should be instantaneous changes but rather that there should be changes over time. He was right to warn us of that.
It is worth remembering that one of the powers of the presidency of the US, other than the President's specific powers as commander-in-chief, is the use of the office as a bully pulpit. That is a phrase that is often used in America and means a forum in which the President can argue diplomatically with other states, as well as arguing through the media to persuade citizens to influence the legislature—sometimes going over the heads of Congress. That is exactly what it would be reasonable to anticipate that the role of the permanent president of the Council might turn into, particularly if the person appointed is a character like Tony Blair. I do not necessarily mean him specifically, but he is someone whom we know, to our cost on these Benches, has some formidable skills when it comes to arguing and articulating positions. Many Labour Members were persuaded by him to do things that they perhaps would rather not have done.
The case put forward by a number of my hon. Friends seems perfectly reasonable. If a character such as Tony Blair were to take the position of president and use it as a platform and an opportunity to speak to the media around the world and to speak in diplomatic council, it is perfectly reasonable to suggest that it would develop over time into the sort of powerful position that my hon. Friends have described.
The hon. Gentleman's point is without substance. There is no way that the French, the Germans or the Spanish—or anyone else—will allow a president of the Council to dictate everything in Europe because they will require that person to stick strictly to the mandate. Until the treaty changes that, I do not think that such fears are in any way justified. The hon. Gentleman should be a bit more objective.
If what the hon. Gentleman says is true, then, contrary to what the Chairman of the Select Committee has argued, the president will not transform the effectiveness of the EU's position abroad. Such a transformation will occur only if the changes to the roles of the high representative and the president make that position more effective. If those changes are modest and do not have the effect that I have suggested, I do not see how the transformation argued for by the Chairman of the Select Committee will occur.
If the hon. Gentleman checks the record, he will see that I did not use the word "transformation". I talked about how it would make the system more effective and coherent. I stand by that. We are talking not about transformation, but about incremental improvements, which are contained in this relatively modest treaty.
I thank the Chairman for that intervention. My hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh was not arguing that there would be instantaneous changes. Part of the argument is that those changes will be incremental, but, over time, enough incremental changes have significant effects. That is all we have said. I do not see how such comments merit the charge of being alarmist or of scaremongering, which were among the phrases used by Labour and Liberal Democrat Members. I shall conclude my remarks on that subject, because I do not want to take up any more time than is entirely necessary.
Let me speak briefly about amendment No. 1, which concerns the UN Security Council. Rob Marris seemed to be arguing quite forcefully that the position of a country on the Security Council should be relative to its population.
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but he kept saying that the fact that Britain has a population of only 60 million meant that we were lucky to be on the Security Council. He suggested that it was outrageous that India was not a member, given that it has a population of 1.1 billion.
If an EU spokesman habitually addresses the UN Security Council, it will not be long before other members—or countries in the General Assembly that want a place on the Council—will suggest that the EU spokesman should take the place of Britain and France. That seems to be the logical consequence of the argument, and it is something that would weaken rather than strengthen our negotiating position on the Security Council.
I am sorry that I did not make myself clear, although I stressed that I wanted the UK to remain a permanent member of the UN Security Council. I said more than once in my speech that it was arguably a historical anomaly that a country with a population of 60 million should be a permanent member. I still wish us to be a permanent member, but we are susceptible to countries such as India arguing that that representation is wholly disproportionate. I expressed the view—the hon. Gentleman may disagree—that the provisions effected by the treaty would strengthen our position on the Security Council and make it more likely that we would be able to remain a permanent member. The treaty means that we would rotate membership with France and perhaps one other country, and that we would represent not 60 million people but, in matters governed by a common policy, more than 400 million.
In a way, that seems to be the same argument as the one advanced by my right hon. Friend Mr. Redwood. He said that, when there was a common policy, Britain and France—the two members with a permanent place on the UN Security Council—could make it clear that they were enunciating the EU position. My right hon. Friend said that that could be perfectly satisfactory, but the hon. Gentleman's assertion that the EU representative would outline the common EU position seems to render the case that Britain and France should be there much weaker. I see that as a danger, and I do not believe that it is a possibility that we should raise.
I am not being especially alarmist, and I do not think that things will change instantly if the treaty is passed. However, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh, who said from the Front Bench that that is a risk that we should avoid.
The more significant point was alluded to by my right hon. Friend Mr. Heathcoat-Amory and my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke, who noted that it had been argued that a common EU position could be reached only through unanimity. Although the initial position can be reached only in that way, my right hon. Friends pointed out that a new provision in the treaty would insert QMV into the implementation of such proposals.
The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West read out the first part of the relevant article. I do not think that what it proposes is a good thing, as it could be used in such a wide way that what is said to be the EU's common position could be something that Britain does not agree with. As a result, there is also a danger that the EU representative could put forward a position that is at variance with the one advanced by Britain. That would be very damaging.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells said, the Government were opposed to any move to QMV on foreign policy matters. My right hon. Friend Mr. Hague told the House that the current Secretary of State for Justice had made it clear that that would be "simply unacceptable", but we now have QMV in 11 areas that affect foreign policy.
It is not so long since the Government were arguing that QMV in those areas would be "simply unacceptable". However, they lost the argument, and that is why they are now trying to present a brave face and put the best possible gloss on matters. I believe that it would be very damaging for the high representative and the president to argue for positions that Britain does not support, given that, as my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Malcolm Rifkind said, it is essential that common EU foreign policy is decided by unanimity. That goes to the heart of the matter. I agree, and I think that the treaty sets us on a road that leads to the common foreign and security position being decided not through unanimity, but through qualified majority voting.
My final point is on language. The words that we use are important. The high representative may not be called a Foreign Minister, the external action service may not be called a diplomatic service, and the missions may not be called embassies, but it does not mean that they are not effectively those very things. The outside world will treat the high representative as a Foreign Minister, missions will be treated as embassies, and the external action service will be treated as a diplomatic service. That is the reality, although the language may be different.
A connoisseur of conspiracy theories would have a lovely time if they attended the debates on European constitutional issues that we have in the House from time to time. I have been to a great many such debates, starting off with the Maastricht debate, and including the Amsterdam and Nice debates. On every occasion, I can recall Mr. Heathcoat-Amory, Mr. Cash and others arguing that national sovereignty was about to come to an end, and that if we passed the legislation in question it would bring to an end centuries of British constitutional history. Today they are still arguing that if we pass the Bill before us the same effects will ensue. They always do their homework and are always extremely interesting to listen to, and I do not wish to run down their sincere convictions on the subject, which I have known about for a very long time, and which I thoroughly respect. However, their predictions are in danger of running out of credibility.
The treaty's provisions for a European common foreign and security policy are extremely desirable, sensible, and pragmatic—and, I shall argue, extremely modest in their effect when we consider what might have been called for given the circumstances in which we find ourselves in the modern world. The provisions include important reforms that are desirable for two reasons. First, it has been clear to a great many people for a long time that, in the modern world, a platform of 60 million people with single-nation status is simply not sufficient to solve some of the problems that we face. That goes for the economy, climate change and the environment, and many other matters, and certainly for foreign and defence policy.
If we wish to have an effective, positive influence on the stability of the world, we need to join forces, pool our resources and join our voice to those of like-minded countries. We need to put structures in place, so that if we come up with a common initiative or make a common démarche on a particular matter, we are taken seriously and it is not regarded as a temporary coming together of a group of nations whose opinions might diverge again the very next day; we should instead be seen as a major world force that has coherence, conviction and sustainability. Many of us have been making that analysis for a long time. It is of course the basis of the development of the European defence and security policy initiative, which has come to fruition in the treaty.
The second important aspect of the treaty is that it brings to an end a lack of coherence, a potential contradiction. Until now, the European Union has had a distinct untidiness—it is worse than untidiness; it is a serious administrative handicap—in the division of responsibility between the Commission in its external affairs function and the high representative on one hand, and the country holding the presidency of the Council on the other. Until a few months ago, I sat on the Select Committee on International Development—I lost that position for reasons that I shall not go into now—and I frequently saw at first hand how frustrating and almost incomprehensible it was to third-world countries to have to deal with two different representatives of the European Union. In matters of foreign policy, human rights and security, they had to deal with the high representative, Javier Solana. On matters of trade and aid, which are enormously important to a large number of developing countries, they had to deal with the External Relations Commissioner.
It is always difficult to get two or perhaps three extremely busy people such as Peter Mandelson, Mrs. Ferrero-Waldner and Javier Solana all in the same room at the same time in Beijing, Delhi, Abuja or wherever it might be. That is virtually impossible, but in order to have a coherent, meaningful and fruitful discussion between the European Union and the third-world country concerned about the range of issues of interest to both sides, it would be necessary to get those three individuals into the same room. That is absurd. All those individuals have their own staffs, their own briefing and so forth. No doubt those staffs have their own bureaucratic interests and agendas. That cannot be avoided in any bureaucracy, even in one as effective and as relatively lean as the European Commission. It is a highly undesirable situation.
Anyone coming from a private sector background—the right hon. Member for Wells, like myself, comes from that background and understands these things—would be horrified at such administrative muddle, duplication and possibility of creating misunderstandings all round.
The situation is even more complex when the Foreign Minister of the country holding the presidency is involved in those discussions, because as well as being the President of the Council, the Foreign Minister will have responsibilities in his member state, and will no doubt have to attend his own Parliament and perhaps deal with constituency matters in his member state. That is another reason why the arrangements proposed in the treaty are sensible for the efficient working of the institutions.
Indeed. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, who set out clearly and lucidly the reason for another major reform enshrined in the treaty—the replacement of the rotating country presidency by a personal president with a two-and-a-half-year tenure. That would be another enormous advantage.
Against that background, the proposal under discussion is not only a timely move, but one that should have been made a long time ago. I thought that the Conservative party, of which I used to be a member, was a pragmatic party which considered the practical costs and advantages of any move and whether a particular change had a reasonable chance of achieving some practical and desirable outcomes. I find that in many cases hon. Members on the Opposition Benches, not for the first time in some cases, take an essentially dogmatic view of these matters. They get caught up in the treaties, sub-clauses and so on, and are reluctant to consider the practical consequences of any decision that we take in the House about further constitutional amendments to the European treaty.
I emphasise the point that I made at the outset: that the proposal is a pretty modest way forward. A plausible and convincing argument could have been made—although I do not want to make it at the present juncture—that the treaty does not go far enough, and that there should have been qualified majority voting on ESDP matters.
There was a case earlier this week—the matter of the recognition of Kosovo—about which the European Union was all over the place. That was obviously an undesirable situation. If the European Union splits three ways, as it has done on Kosovo, with some member states such as Spain refusing ever to recognise an independent Kosovo, some such as the United Kingdom jumping in to recognise Kosovo at the earliest opportunity, and some preferring to wait and see, it is sending not one signal or message to the world or to Belgrade or Kosovo, but three, and those three are likely to be in conflict.
The net effect of all those foreign ministries, which cost a lot of taxpayers' money in all our countries, and of all those Foreign Ministers giving press conferences and making speeches, is to negate each other. That is, on pragmatic grounds, a rather undesirable waste of resources and it shows a regrettable lack of effectiveness in foreign policy. One might well have made a coherent case for going the whole hog and having qualified majority voting; in that way, the Council of the European Union would have got together last week on a QMV basis and decided whether to recognise Kosovo, to make a declaration that it would never do so or to wait and see. Had it done so, it would have mobilised the full force of the considerable influence that it can bring to bear—political influence, and influence in respect of economic back-up and potential defence capabilities.
We have not gone down that road, although we could have. I am surprised that people have not said that we should go further. As far as I can see, the Opposition amendments have come from those who say that we have gone far too far, that it is all terrible and that British and parliamentary sovereignty and the traditions of our constitutional history are coming to an end. As I have said, we have heard that rhetoric so many times before.
Finally, I should like to make an elementary, logical point. What is the difference between what would happen if we and the other place passed this legislation and if we did not? If we pass it, and have unanimity on ESDP decisions, we can count on being part of a body that will, effectively, exercise a superpower's power in the world and will therefore be much more likely to resolve any problem. That is a plus; we will have a mechanism that we can use if we want to—although we do not have to, because there must be unanimity. We will have an additional asset, resource and source of leverage on events. If, however, we or others decide not to agree to the unanimous decision of principle that needs to be taken before any action under ESDP is triggered, then we will be where we are now. Nothing will have changed. Bringing in the treaty will result, at worst, in our being in the same position as before. However, it could result in our being in a better one.
I do not know whether elementary logic looks different on the Labour side of the House, but it seems to me that my proposition would be immediately understandable to any member of the human race. If we have a choice between A, the current state of affairs, and B, a future state of affairs—and if B cannot be worse than A, but could be better—then logically we should go for B. The Conservative party does not appear to do logic these days; if it did, it could have saved us an awful lot of time. We could have put the whole measure through on the basis of unanimity in the House.
Anybody who considers these matters in the House should, as I do, ask what is in Britain's interests and how Britain should use what is in front of us to spread her influence. This is the question that I have to ask—is the treaty, in the respects that we are discussing today, a way for Britain to have greater influence in the world or will it limit our influence?
I say to the Government that it is a scandal that one should feel rushed at this point because we have not the time to talk about the rest. It is not sensible to ask us to discuss two hugely important matters—foreign affairs and defence—in the circumstances given to us. From a Government who promised us line-by-line debate, that is an outrage. Frankly, it makes things difficult, even in respect of issues on which some of us on the Conservative Benches feel that the Government are closer to the truth than are others on our side. That is why I am sorry that the Minister has had to defend what has been an intolerable timetable throughout, but is on this occasion worse than usual.
However, this is too important a subject to allow the opportunity to go by. Let me deal first with a well-known argument—the thin end of the wedge. If one does not like something and does not have a good argument to oppose it, one argues that it is the thin end of the wedge. I have used that argument with my wife from time to time when I could not think of a good reason why we should do something that I did not want to do.
I have great respect for my hon. Friend Mr. Francois, who has made the best possible case for the argument that he is advancing. However, the thin end of the wedge argument, which I have heard in this House in all the many years that I have been here, is almost always wrong, because people who use it wish to avoid the fundamental question, "What is actually before us?"
We hear about the slippery slope and so on, but we should simply ask what is before us. [ Interruption. ] Let me explain to my right hon. Friend Mr. Duncan Smith, who I think is fundamentally mistaken on this issue: at the moment, we have a presidency of the Council of Ministers and a mechanism whereby the Council is able to express its view on what we would call foreign affairs. We are not suddenly deciding that it should express its view on foreign affairs but discussing whether the way that we do it at the moment is a satisfactory one that is of maximum use to the United Kingdom or an unsatisfactory one. The treaty of Lisbon says that it is an unsatisfactory one. We want a system that is more effective and efficient—one that is not hugely different but that makes an incremental improvement.
If we do something that does not increase the European Union's power but increases its ability to do what we are doing already, some people who do not like the European Union feel that that is an unhappy circumstance, because they would really like it to be less efficient. I happen not to be one of those people. I want the European Union to be better because I want Britain to have more influence in the world, and it cannot unless the European Union of which it is a member is better able to influence the world and we are better able to influence the European Union. It is clearly better to have somebody who has gained some experience in these matters, who is elected by all the Ministers, and who has a limited period but a long enough period to get used to it than to ask the representative of Slovenia, for example, to become the sort of person in six months whom it would be difficult for many of us to become with a great deal more experience and much more back-up.
We have been trying to find ways round this for a long time. Although the UK did not hold the presidency at the time, I represented the European Agriculture Ministers in the Uruguay round discussions simply because my successor in the presidency was the Luxembourg Minister, who was also Minister of Defence and several other things, and it was generally felt that perhaps my experience as an Agriculture Minister would be better served elsewhere, so I went off to Chicago and did that job. I did not mention that to some of my Eurosceptic friends because I might have been in trouble. However, I did my best to represent Britain's interests because we had the presidency of the European Union and therefore had a voice and could say something. Of course, it was about a common interest, but we would not have been listened to had it not been in the context of the European Union.
That is why the EU voice is important. Although some of us would like to be back in the days of empire when people listened to us because we were Britain ruling a quarter of the world, they do not do that any longer. They are more likely to listen to 27 nations coming to a common position. Having a structure that enables us to come to a common position and that needs that common position before the president can represent us is a sensible step. I say to my hon. Friend Mr. Clappison—a very great friend and long-standing colleague—that we need thereafter to have some system of majority voting because it is not possible to work out the details unless we do. That is an excellent balance. It is a balance between the principle of deciding in common—if we are frightened about the process, we can stop at that point—and trying to work something out together when a certain amount of give and take is necessary to achieve a sensible end.
It is very simple; Britain must decide. Can it risk the give and take of 27 nations, and believe itself strong enough to produce the answer that is best for the British people, or is it so frightened, so uncourageous—
I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman has given way. Earlier in the debate, Mr. Clappison directed me, when we were talking about qualified majority voting and European Union foreign policy, to article 31, on page 23 of the consolidated text, which I can assure him I have been reading. In paragraph 2, after the bits about qualified majority voting as implementation of a common policy decided unanimously, it says:
"If a member of the Council declares that, for vital and stated reasons of national policy, it intends to oppose the adoption of a decision to be taken by qualified majority, a vote shall not be taken. The High Representative will, in close consultation with the Member State involved, search for a solution acceptable to it. If he does not succeed, the Council may, acting by a qualified majority, request that the matter be referred to the European Council for decision by unanimity."
That is where a nation state, such as France or the United Kingdom, plays its joker, as it were, and says, "These are vital and stated reasons of national policy."
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and he underlines the degree to which the treaty goes out of its way to protect the fundamental fact that foreign policy is a matter for each individual nation. However, my concern is that if foreign policy is kept as a matter for each individual nation, a mechanism is needed whereby nations can operate together so that what they produce jointly gives greater strength to the issue with which they are concerned. That is why the treaty of Lisbon is such an excellent one with regard to this precise matter. It properly balances national interests, which are crucial and sacrosanct, with the need of every nation in a world such as ours to get together with its nearest neighbours to provide answers.
No; I ought to try to go on.
The second issue, which I find extremely difficult to deal with logically because it seems so illogical, is that saying that the changes are the thin end of the wedge means reinterpreting the treaty of Lisbon in the most apocalyptic terms. It is just not true that, because the word "president" is used in both cases, there is a connection between the president of the European Council and the President of the United States of America. There is a president of the National Farmers Union, but people do not compare him with the President of Russia. That is not a sensible argument. We have to consider what powers that person has, and compare them with the powers of others.
I contrast the moderate way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh moved the amendment and my hon. Friend Mr. Harper spoke—they presented the reasonable position, with which I happen to disagree, that the treaty is a slippery slope—with some of the more extreme views, which suggest that we will wake up tomorrow to find ourselves with no sovereignty. We heard exactly the same prediction during the Maastricht debate and it did not happen. Indeed, the opposite has happened. It is a rare occasion on which I agree with the previous speaker, Mr. Davies, with whom I disagree deeply on all subjects and about whom I am sad. However, I agree with him that it could be argued that we still do not have sufficient methods for reaching a common view and getting the influence that Britain needs. It is in Britain's interest to make the European Union stronger in the matters that we are discussing simply because we need to be stronger. For example, those of us who voted against the Iraq war, and have now been shown to be right, would have liked to perceive a willingness in this country to realise that there are occasions when it is important to stand up for an alternative position.
I want to consider pragmatism. I am a Tory largely because I want to achieve things. I would not like to live in the never-never world of the Liberal Democrats or the dogmatic world that new Labour patently hides in. I want to live in a world that delivers. If I am to deliver, I must ask myself about the mechanisms whereby I can do that. It is no good saying that I can deliver the important international agenda that this country has or should have if I am determinedly independent, in the sense that I do not want to associate with anyone else.
Most hon. Members on this side of the House belong to a party and recognise that that involves some co-operation. They could sit, if they got people to vote for them, as independents. However, we know that the independent who eschews all permanent links cannot achieve the many things that he or she wishes. In the end, I am the person who decides how I shall vote and I am the only representative of my constituency. However, I join people of like mind so that, if we can produce a common answer, I am more likely to achieve my end. If I have to do that in politics, I must do it in greater things.
The greater thing is how to achieve the end that Britain wants in international affairs. I do not want Britain to be a backwater or to cease to have power in the world. If she is to have that power, it must be through alliance and permanent relationships. Our permanent relationship must be, first and foremost, with the European Union. However, that does not stop us having other friends. I understand, although I missed the contribution, that a colleague suggested that we cannot have more than one friend. That is not true. I myself have more than one friend. If there is someone in the House with only one friend, that is sad.
The proposals are moderate and modest and will not lead to the terrible apocalyptic ends that some fear. They will give Britain the opportunity to exert greater influence in the world without losing any influence that she already has. What could be better? Why cannot we be as one, at least on the issue that we are discussing?
It is a great pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend Mr. Gummer. I agree unreservedly with his comments about the time available. If he were still representing this country in international discussions, I would have no worries; I would be at home either tucked up in bed or on my way to bed. However, that is not the case.
The problem is that we do not have sufficient time to debate the treaty. The intervention by Rob Marris brought that point home clearly. I would like more time to go into the detail, in the way that he suggested, but we do not have time, because it is important that we get on to the next group of amendments, on security policy. What he said completely illustrated the inadequacy of our proceedings and the farce in which we are now involved.
Let me briefly tell the hon. Gentleman that he was quite right in his analysis. However, the provisions do establish qualified majority voting, subject to a purported safeguard, but safeguards do not have a very good history in the European Union. The pillar structure of the European Union was supposed to be the ultimate safeguard, to keep foreign and security policy separate from what was then the rest of the Community and to keep the Commission out of foreign and security policy. What have we got today? If I have not been the victim of a conspiracy theory, as Mr. Davies would have it, we have got a member of the Commission not only chairing the Council of Ministers when it deliberates on foreign and security policy, but representing the Union's foreign and security policy, dealing with third parties and negotiating. All that will be on a foreign and security policy that can be determined by qualified majority voting in some circumstances, subject to the provisions to which the hon. Gentleman referred, with the undoubted prospect of more qualified majority voting determining our foreign policy in future.
We know that we are not going to get on to the next set of amendments. Let me remind those who were not here during the debates on Maastricht—just to get this one clear, I was here and I opposed it—that the then Foreign Secretary, our former colleague Douglas Hurd, assured my hon. Friend and me that we would have the pillar system, a wonderful construct, and that it was set in concrete that it could never be affected by the Commission. My hon. Friend has just made the exact point that that has changed in the period since, so all the assurances given by Ministers are worthless when it comes to the European Union treaties.
I am tempted to say that I went home to bed after hearing assurances such as that one, but the problem is that I did not go to bed during the Maastricht debates. However, those assurances were indeed given.
We talk about British interests, but what is the greatest interest for our constituents? They want a foreign policy that is determined in this country by their elected representatives, whom they can change if they disagree with the Government's policy. That is something of which we are increasingly depriving our constituents for the future, and that is the most important British national interest of all.
It is now quite obvious that we will not be able to debate the second set of amendments, which is what we really wanted to debate. I had stepped out in case we got on to them, but with a vote that will not now be possible. Once again, it is extremely difficult for the House when important and weighty issues such as the defence of the country cannot be debated, because another important group of amendments on foreign policy still need to be disposed of.
Earlier in this debate, the Government's position lacked clarity. It is quite possible for the Government to come to the House and say that they really think it better to have a common European foreign policy on all the main issues, rather than a British foreign policy. That is not a proposition with which I agree, but it is a perfectly respectable and understandable position. If that is the Government's position, they will of course want Britain to make compromises and to work more with our partners. They will also want that common foreign policy to be expressed by a single president, high representative or Foreign Minister of Europe and they will want that policy to be represented around the table of the UN Security Council.
As the United Nations begins to understand that that is perhaps the way in which the Government wish to operate, other member states of the United Nations will ask, "Why should these people have three representatives around the table, when there is effectively only one country from the foreign policy point of view and when they've tried to get an extra seat by the back door?" The Americans, the Chinese or the Russians might ask, "Wouldn't it be neater and more sensible to have just the one representative representing the common European policy, rather than the French and British view as well, which should be the same on these occasions?"
For those who wish to see the position clearly, the difference in House is quite simple. There are those who think that having most of this country's major foreign affairs policy positions agreed with our partners by compromise is the right answer. There are others of us who think that, while we can do that on some things, there are enough differences between our country and the other member states that it is much better to keep things intergovernmental, not to assume that there is nearly always going to be a common foreign policy, not to put Britain under constant pressure not to be the odd voice out or to be different, and to allow the British Prime Minister and the British Foreign Secretary, on all those issues where we have a different view or we have an interest and the other member states do not have a strong interest, to be able to carry on doing what we have always done and to be a senior country in world affairs, because of our history and, most importantly, because ours is one of the few countries that systematically stands up for freedom, decent rights and democracy, and is prepared to back that up with the lives of its young men and women, and with the money of its taxpayers.
We make a large contribution in world affairs, along with our American allies, our French allies and some others who sit around the UN table.
Does my right hon. Friend agree, as I suspect that he would, that there is something utterly pathetic about the situation we have arrived at in this debate? The question whether our young men are to be sent off to war really should be debated. The question of how a common foreign and security policy is being developed is being ignored by the Committee thanks to the means that the Government have employed to frustrate debate—
On a point of order, Mrs. Heal. Is this not a suitable moment for the Government to announce that they will introduce an extra day of consideration on which we may deal with the second part of the debate?
Thank you for those wise words, Mrs. Heal.
Part of the argument on this group of amendments is whether there should be at the UN Security Council table a representative of the EU view. For the life of me, I cannot understand why the other UN member states would want that, unless that high representative or that president of the EU was backed by some effective European force. The whole point of the UN Security Council is the main powers—those countries that can use their diplomacy and influence with other countries—trying to form a common view that the General Assembly will accept. More importantly, the main powers form the most important part of any force that might have to be used by and in the name of the UN to enforce such a common strategy, if one or two other states in the world do not agree and force is unfortunately essential.
In this debate, we have not had enough clarity on the important issue of how on earth the EU could expect to be taken seriously in that seat without having such a force, which we are told would not exist as, we are told, there will be no common army. At the same time, I find it difficult to understand how we could avoid other UN member states making the perfectly reasonable point that, as we were moving towards that common position, and therefore the common use of our military forces, there should be only the one representative around the Security Council table.
There is a perfectly good solution to the problem whereby we will sometimes have a common policy and at other times not—that is, the current situation. If there is a common policy, we have France and Britain with seats. For some time, Germany has held a seat under the elected system. In relation to the position that they are adopting at the Security Council, those countries can pray in aid the additional strength that lots of other European countries agree with them. It is even better if we can join with a big country such as India.
There has been a lot of discussion about India. I happen to think that India is getting close to the point where it should have a seat on the UN Security Council. I hope that there will be discussions and negotiations, and if India wants to assume the responsibilities of a big world power—it is becoming a formidable economic power—I would be happy for Britain to see that take place. I am not happy to see this double banking and double-hatting through the EU, with all the muddle that that implies.
There needs to be a clear decision about whether these matters remain intergovernmental, in which case France and Britain would retain their seats, or whether we are in transit towards a world with a country called Europe that has a single foreign policy on all the things that matter. Then, of course, the balance of arguments would switch heavily and other UN member states would probably take a rather different view.
I hope that the Government will be more honest with the public and with Parliament about just how far the pressures will build for a common foreign policy under the Lisbon treaty as drafted. It is all very well for Ministers to say that the main decisions will remain subject to unanimity; that is true under the text that we are being asked to approve. But we all know what will happen: because the treaty also says that we have to show solidarity and loyalty and form common positions, there will be remorseless pressure on every major foreign policy issue to produce a common position. If it is not in Britain's interest to agree with the rest, we will be put under pressure and made to feel bad until we agree.
There are four different types of issue. There are ones where we naturally agree with our leading allies in Europe, in which case we can have a common position. There are ones where we care a lot and they do not, where we should be able to do what we want. There are ones where they care a lot and we do not, where they should be able to do what they want without us stopping them, as long as they do not do it in the name of the European Union. Finally, there will be areas where we disagree; in those areas, Britain must retain her independence, and that is not compatible with having a president and a European seat on the Security Council.
I am delighted to have the opportunity again to respond to a debate. We have heard a number of interesting speeches and interventions, particularly from my hon. Friend Mike Gapes, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and my hon. Friends the Members for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson), for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) and for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies). We also had the opportunity to listen to Mr. Francois, who will no doubt speak again later. As is his custom in the House, he argued his case entirely reasonably; I disagree with him, but it is a case that he makes with great thought and care.
We also heard speeches from several other right hon. and hon. Members, which I might respond to later, but I shall start with the comments made by Mr. Redwood about our general approach to common foreign and security policy. Our approach is that where we can find common cause and agree with our European allies and partners, it makes sense that we then articulate that as a common position. It makes absolutely clear sense that that should happen.
In a little moment.
However, to argue as the right hon. Gentleman did that, when that happens, we should be bound to argue that position at the United Nations, instead of having the high representative as an alternative, turns the UK seat into a European seat at the United Nations, and we want nothing to do with that.
That is, of course, what the treaty says. I said something different. I said that where the UK thought that it was right to argue the European position, we would choose to do so.
The Minister will know that under the provisions that are supposedly before us now, but which we will be unable to debate properly because of the disgraceful way in which this business has been handled, there is a provision that links the common position to article 51 of the United Nations treaty. The plain fact—the Minister knows it, the Prime Minister knows it, and the Foreign Secretary knows it—is that there is often no common position on matters such as Kosovo and Iraq. Such matters go to the very heart of whether or not we fight and our young men are sent out there. The Government will not even give the House the time to discuss those matters properly. It is a thorough disgrace.
To turn to the substance of the business before us this evening, the fact is that the position of president of the European Council already exists. The Maastricht treaty explicitly stated that the European Council is chaired by the Head of State or Head of Government of the country holding the Council presidency.
Mr. Harper said, fairly, that language is important. He, or one of his hon. Friends, went on to talk about the de facto abandonment of the UK seat on the Security Council. That is complete and utter nonsense and the Opposition know it. The fact is that the full-time president will replace the current, ridiculous system of a rotating six-month presidency of the European Council. The twice-yearly rotation causes problems with continuity and reduces the effective time each presidency has to deliver the shared agenda. As I said earlier, in the Balkans we made a commitment to the people of Kosovo to stand by them, but in the period since then we have had, I think, no fewer than 17 presidencies, and despite the best intentions, momentum in the EU has ebbed and flowed throughout that period.
The hon. Member for Rayleigh was on very thin ice when he put forward his arguments about the thin end of the wedge and about trapdoors. He also argued that the president of the European Council would in some way be the equivalent of the President of the United States of America. That assertion does not stand up even to superficial examination. The US constitution vests executive powers in the President of the United States of America; the president of the European Council will have no such powers. The US President is the commander in chief of the US armed forces; there will be no such role for the president of the European Council. The US President can make treaties; there will be no such power for the president of the European Council. The US President can appoint Supreme Court judges and grant pardons; there will be no such power for the president of the European Council. The President of the US can veto Bills passed by Congress; there will be no legislative role for the president of the European Council. We must all be careful about the terminology that we use. To argue, as the hon. Gentleman did, that this measure was tantamount to the creation of an all-powerful president akin to the President of the United States of America showed a kind of Europhobia gone rampant on the Conservative Benches.
I am sorry, but I must make some progress.
The full-time president will have an external representative role, as has already been discussed.
The issue of the high representative was covered by amendments Nos. 93 and 110. There has been a Commissioner responsible for external relations since 1958, the year after the original treaty was drawn up. The establishment of the high representative is an important reform that is being introduced by this treaty. The proposed new high representative will combine two existing roles: the EU high representative for the common foreign and security policy introduced at Amsterdam, and the position that was created more than 50 years ago. They will be appointed by national Governments in the European Council to conduct CFSP on their behalf.
Will the Minister accept from me that it is essential that he give the House an undertaking that a discussion on the matters relating to defence will take place, even though those matters have not been able to be discussed during this debate? We all need to have that discussion.
The right hon. Gentleman knows that that is a matter for the usual channels, in the context of the programme motion.
The treaty will pass the task of organising the co-ordination from the rotating presidency to the high representative for foreign affairs and security policy. It will not change the nature or substance of that co-ordination. The treaty will also allow the high representative to present agreed EU petitions at the United Nations Security Council. I have already alluded to the fact that the German presidency spoke at the UN Security Council on eight separate occasions. Furthermore, the UK spoke not once, not twice but on each of those occasions. When Javier Solana spoke on, I think, five occasions since 2002, the United Kingdom spoke on each of those occasions. It is therefore clear that the high representative will be there in addition to the UK, France and any rotating member state of the European Union. They will not be there instead of us, or to replace or undermine us. The Foreign Affairs Committee made that point very clearly.
On a point of order, Mrs. Heal. It was clear that the Prime Minister promised line-by-line scrutiny of the Bill. We are now not going to reach either the second or the third group of amendments, so the whole question of the common foreign and defence policy will not be discussed at all. Is it in your power to enable a proper debate and line-by-line scrutiny to take place? The Government are presiding over an utter farce, so far as scrutiny is concerned.
On a point of order, Mrs. Heal. Although international women's day is a very important subject indeed, given the importance of security and foreign policy issues to the whole House and everyone in the country outside it, I submit that next week's topical debate should be on foreign policy and security issues, not on—
As I was saying, amendments Nos. 156 and 254 would prevent the EU from concluding international agreements. The EU has had the ability to conclude such agreements since the treaty of Amsterdam and has done so in some 100 cases. The Lisbon treaty simply summarises the existing powers to conclude international agreements with one or more third countries or international organisations. If we were to agree to such amendments this evening, the EU would not be able to enter into any agreements on behalf of its 27 member states. That would include agreements on world trade; agreements on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees; agreements with Latin America on combating the drugs trade; and agreements on EU crisis management operations in Bosnia and Kosovo. That shows what would be the impact of those amendments tabled by Conservative Members.
Despite the rhetoric and the assertions, the fact remains that no other member state and no other conservative party in any other member state opposes the proposals in the treaty on common foreign and security policy. We have already heard from the shadow Foreign Secretary that the Conservatives oppose not just one of the proposals, but each and every one of them. As Mr. Gummer said, we have to do what is in Britain's national interest, and this treaty helps to deliver that. The opposition to our proposals that can be seen in each and every one of the amendments tabled this evening is a victory for an isolationist ideology over our national interest.
We argued from the outset that we needed two days to debate defence and foreign policy, and the Government denied that. Yet again tonight, we have been able to debate only one group of amendments and we have not been able to debate defence in detail at all. The defence of the realm is the first duty of governance and this Government have rigged the debate so that that subject could not be debated in detail for one minute. The Prime Minister promised this House, instead of a referendum, "line by line scrutiny" of the treaty, but the debate has been completely rigged to prevent that. We will protest ever more vigorously about the deception of the House by the Prime Minister and his Government.
There were a number of references in the Foreign Affairs Committee report, but the key one was this:
"We conclude that there is no material difference between the provisions on foreign affairs 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".
Mark Lazarowicz made a mistake in quoting Valéry Giscard d'Estaing on this issue, because Giscard also said of the differences between the documents, which are supposed to be so minor, that
"all the tools in the toolbox are still there".
So where is the referendum that we were promised?
I will give the Liberal Democrats 30 seconds, because that is all that I have and all that they deserve. Their spokesman— [Interruption.]
Thank you, Mrs. Heal. The Liberal Democrats now have 20 seconds. Their spokesman said that essentially we had nothing to fear from the changes in the treaty that relate to foreign policy. Why, then, has the leader of the Liberal Democrat Members of the European Parliament said that those changes will have a dramatic impact? This is yet another Liberal Democrat split on the treaty, in what is becoming an increasingly long list.
We must also bear in mind that the treaty is self-amending. It contains powers to allow the abandoning of further vetoes, including vetoes relating to foreign policy, without any requirement for another treaty or an intergovernmental conference. I refer to the so-called ratchet clause. When the Minister was challenged to give a commitment that no vetoes would be abandoned without primary legislation, as the Foreign Affairs Committee had recommended, he ducked the question. We will hold the Government to account for that as the Bill proceeds.
With regard to—
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I think that this is by common consent one of the most important measures to come before this House in many years, and it strikes at the heart of our constitutional arrangements. You will be aware that we have had no time this evening to debate in detail amendments relating to defence that arise out of the Lisbon treaty. That is an extremely important issue for our country, yet no Defence Minister made any contribution to the debate. Indeed, the Minister of State was here for only a short time himself— [ Interruption. ]
Order. [ Interruption. ] Will the House come to order?
I think the main point that the hon. Gentleman is trying to get across to the House has already been raised with the Chair and expresses the concern at the lack of debate on matters to do with defence. They have been raised on the Floor and I have already suggested that the usual business channels would perhaps be the most appropriate way to raise that concern. The matters are on the record and have been heard.