EU Constitutional Treaty

– in the House of Lords at 4:00 pm on 6 June 2005.

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Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 4:00, 6 June 2005

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made by the Foreign Secretary in another place. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a Statement on the EU constitutional treaty, following the "No" votes in the referenda in France and the Netherlands last week. I shall be explaining why we have decided to postpone the Second Reading of the European Union Bill.

"At the end of 2001, European leaders met at Laeken in Belgium to consider the future of the EU. Just three months before, the world's sense of order had been shattered by the atrocity of 11 September.

"Reviewing the progress made within the EU over previous decades, European leaders said that the Union,

"stands at a crossroads, facing twin challenges, one within and the other beyond its borders . . . Within the Union, European institutions must be brought closer to its citizens; beyond its borders, the Union is confronted with a fast changing, globalised world".

"It was this Laeken declaration which led to the Convention on the Future of Europe and to the intergovernmental conference which followed it. Negotiations in the IGC were hard fought, but the United Kingdom achieved all its key objectives. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister and I therefore had no hesitation in recommending the new treaty to Parliament and to the country. We did so, not least, because the EU's organisation plainly needed reform better to cope with the new challenges set out at Laeken and with the enlargement to 25 member states.

"So, the treaty includes: a reduction in the size of the European Commission; a much better voting system which benefits the United Kingdom; an end to the six-month rotating presidency, with replacement by a full-time president of the Council and team presidencies; better arrangements for involving national Parliaments in EU legislation; and greater flexibility through "enhanced co-operation", to allow groups of member states to co-operate more intensively while others go at their own pace. And we kept our national veto in all key areas of concern.

"The Prime Minister and I signed the constitutional treaty in Rome on 29 October last. But like any other EU treaty it requires ratification by every one of the EU's member states—now 25—before it can come into force. As of a week ago, nine countries had approved the treaty through their parliamentary processes and one, Spain, by referendum. In the last week, however, as the House and the country are very well aware, in referenda the electors in France voted "No" by 55 per cent to 45 per cent and in the Netherlands by 62 per cent to 38 per cent.

"The constitutional treaty is the property of the European Union as a whole. It is now for European leaders to reach conclusions on how to deal with the situation.

"To give effect to the UK's commitment to ratify the treaty by referendum, we introduced the European Union Bill in the last Parliament and it was given a Second Reading by this House by a majority of 215 on 9 February. The Bill fell on the calling of the general election. It was reintroduced in this new Parliament on 24 May—before either the French or Dutch referenda—and it would, in normal circumstances, have been scheduled for its Second Reading very shortly.

"However, until the consequences of France and the Netherlands being unable to ratify the treaty are clarified, it would not, in our judgment, now be sensible to set a date for Second Reading. There is also the need for further discussions with EU partners and further decisions from EU governments. The first opportunity for collective discussion within the EU will take place at the end of next week when the heads of state and government meet in the European Council.

"We shall of course keep the situation under review and ensure that the House is kept fully informed. I should emphasise that it is not for the UK alone to decide the future of the treaty and it remains our view that it represents a sensible new set of rules for the enlarged European Union. We reserve completely the right to bring back the Bill providing for a UK referendum should circumstances change. But we see no point in proceeding at this moment.

"As I commented during last week, these referendum results raise profound questions about the future direction of Europe. The EU has to come to terms with the forces of globalisation in a way which maximises prosperity, employment and social welfare. There are other larger questions: how we can strengthen the force for good of the EU in foreign policy, along with aid to poorer countries and trade. How can we ensure value for money for our citizens and better regulation? How can we make a reality of the widely agreed concept of subsidiarity, ensuring that decisions are made at the lowest level possible?

"All these issues have long been central to the United Kingdom's priorities for the European Union and will be so for our EU presidency which begins on 1 July. The continuing issues of enlargement and future financing will also be on our agenda. At the start of the presidency, I will publish the latest in our series of White Papers on the EU and make an accompanying Statement to set out our priorities in more detail.

"Let me conclude by saying this. The European Union remains a unique and valuable achievement, central to the United Kingdom's prosperity and well-being. The world's largest single market has enabled the businesses and people of this country to earn new prosperity by trading freely across borders. European co-operation has broken down barriers to travel, work and leisure. And the EU remains a vital engine of peace, democracy and reform.

"The EU does now face a period of difficulty. In working in our interests and the Union's interests, we must not act in a way which undermines the EU's strengths and the achievements of five decades".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Spokespersons In the Lords, Foreign Affairs, Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 4:07, 6 June 2005

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, for repeating the Statement. I confess that I am a little surprised that in the other place the Prime Minister did not himself make the Statement, because, as the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, has reminded us, it is at the heart of government strategy and raises questions of the utmost profundity.

However, even if the Prime Minister had made the Statement, I would still be answering, because my noble friend Lord Strathclyde is in Huntingdon for the sad occasion of the funeral of my noble friend Lady Blatch. I know that all your Lordships will share our sorrow at the passing of this remarkable and redoubtable Member of our House. Her robustness and deep conviction were a lesson to us all—and she was a very, very close friend.

Regarding the Statement, last week was momentous in the history and development of modern Europe. My hope is that the Government have learnt the right lessons, or are, at least learning, from the events across the Channel. From the tone of the Statement, it does not sound like they have learnt those lessons one little bit.

The Government have left us and themselves in the worst of all worlds. They refuse to acknowledge the obvious, that the constitution, as drafted, is now a corpse. I can understand their grief and indecision, since the constitution, which the Government have already signed—as the Statement reminded us—was very much their creature. It certainly was not ours. Those of us who urged opposition and warned that the treaty would damage Europe and the Union were repeatedly dismissed as xenophobes, anti-Europeans and isolationists—and there were other abusive statements. We were shrilly asked who our allies in Europe were, with the implication that we had none. Now we have the answer. It turns out that the people of Europe, or a large chunk of them, are the good Europeans and it is the governments, or some of them, who have been going in the wrong direction.

Voters in France and Holland may have had widely varied reasons for voting the constitution down, but there was a common theme and it was clear, as it is here. People fear excessive centralisation of remote power. They do not reject Europe or the European Union, but they want more say in keeping their own models, arrangements and systems under their own laws. Some people may be to the left on the economic spectrum, some to the free market right and some may have completely different purposes and concerns.

The constitution, imposed as it was by a convention from on high, with all the overblown references to the USA, the Philadelphia convention and so on, went, and obviously goes, too far in favour of centralisation and central institutions. It upsets the balance with which the European Union has made great progress in the decades since it was founded. In a sense, it is like the game "grandmother's footsteps" where, after all the success, the fatal step goes too far and wrecks everything.

On these Benches, we see this as an opportunity. We greatly favour enlargement, and we favour sensible rules for organising a growing Europe. By the way, we want an assurance that the accession arrangements for Bulgaria and Romania remain a priority, even after the débâcle of last week, with other countries, including Turkey, to follow. We support all of that and want to see it.

But what is the Government's position and response? The question remains open, even after this Statement. It appears to be to stab at the pause button, as recommended by Mr Mandelson, the commissioner from Brussels. But to put everything on hold is the worst option of all. To say that we should muddle on as before is the second worst option. Much the best option would be to seize the moment and bring forward clear proposals for a more flexible, modest, network Europe with powers returned to nation states and absurd ambitions for world stage foreign policy dominance curbed.

The current Bill before Parliament, which provides for a referendum on the constitution, should not just be shelved, as I understand is proposed, but should be taken away altogether. Of course, if there is any attempt to introduce a revised constitution by the back door, we would naturally insist on a referendum on that and on any moves that change the powers of this Parliament under our constitution.

Later, in the resumed debate, I shall be commenting on the excellent report on EU finance by the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Radice, and on the economic aspects of this farrago. Of course, I shall also be making a comment on the most interesting and expert maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. I shall be saying something on the rebate and the net contribution to the budget. Suffice it to say that the euro, which we were lambasted in intemperate terms for not wanting to join, and which was always a political construct, now looks distinctly shaky after the events of last week. Withdrawal is a headline issue in the newspapers in Italy, where I was yesterday, and has even been muttered about in Germany.

None of this is doing Europe, or Britain, any good at all. It is no use blaming the people for not understanding or governments for not explaining the alleged wonders of the constitution adequately. We must ask what the British Government are so tremulously waiting for. They ought to be grateful that they have momentarily escaped the referendum axe. Are they now waiting for a lead from Luxembourg or the Scandinavian countries? What is the change of circumstances mentioned in the Statement in which the Bill would apparently be brought back? We are left wondering.

This should be a time not for dithering but for creative ideas and leadership from London to help Europe prosper once more, which it is not doing at the moment, and to help Britain benefit as part of a reformed Union, as our presidency of the EU comes along in the next few weeks. Yet the Statement shows no clarity, no contrition for past crass errors and no awareness of the heavy duty on the shoulders of the British to refresh, revitalise and democratise this Europe of ours, which we have saved in the past more than once, and which we should now save again by our exertions and example.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs 4:15, 6 June 2005

My Lords, I must also say how much we will miss Emily Blatch. I had many enjoyable conversations with her about higher education, which was one of her great concerns. I can also remember many long, late evenings in Committees on Bills as she fought amendment after amendment from the Conservative Front Bench.

Unlike the Conservatives, we very much welcome the constructive and multilateral approach that the Government have taken in this Statement and the surprising and welcome emphasis on co-operation and consultation with our European partners, which is appropriate in the circumstances. The results in these two referendums, in particular in the Netherlands, were a massive rejection of the current proposals. As it happens, I was in The Hague on Wednesday afternoon and evening and, from the comments of my Dutch hosts, was well aware of how unexpected and decisive a rejection it was.

We are more aware than we were of the extent to which Brussels institutions appear remote, not just to our own population but to the populations of all other member states, and of the failure of political elites throughout the European Union, certainly throughout the original west European member states, to explain and justify the development of common policies and institutions. We on these Benches believe that it has been a particular failure of the leadership in all four major states: in France most of all, but also in Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom.

We believe that one of the greatest failures of the government over the past eight years is the failure to make a positive case at home for multilateral European co-operation and in domestic political debates in the European Union to make the case for the economic policy reforms to which we are committed. The last thing that we think is desirable in these circumstances is for the British, yet again, to suggest that we are going to lead Europe, save these poor benighted continentals from themselves and tell them all what to say, as we heard from the Conservative Front Bench. That will not help anyone, least of all ourselves.

The constitutional treaty, as the Statement said, was a necessary compromise. I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, that I regard the treaty as a curate's egg. I would happily have done without Part 3. Parts 1 and 2 would have been quite sufficient. Nevertheless, there are a number of useful steps forward. The achievement of a European Union of 25, to be extended to Bulgaria, Romania and the Balkans, and, in time, to Turkey, is a consolidation of European security, democracy and prosperity of which we should be proud and which I regret that the Government have made so little of so far.

Can the Minister tell us whether the Government will now pursue some of the useful steps forward proposed in the constitutional treaty that do not require treaty amendment? The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, has referred to some of them, for example, the Council meeting in public in its legislative capacity, the strengthening of national scrutiny and so on. Do the Government accept that the most important thing to do now, in the pause that we rightly say we have to have, is to discuss the balance of policy priorities that we need for a European Union of 25? That has been the most massive failure of Chancellor Schroeder and President Chirac. After all, institutions exist to serve policy objectives, not simply for themselves. This crisis—which is not the first crisis that the European Union has had and will certainly not be the last—is also an opportunity to debate strategic priorities.

We also ask Her Majesty's Government to do their best to combat the dreadful and negative Gaullist attempt to go back to the old stereotypes of Anglo-Saxon capitalism versus the European social model. There is no single European social model. The French model is not that which governs in the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark or Ireland. The British economy is by no means the same as the American. It is perhaps an Anglo-Irish model, but followed to some extent by the Swedes, the Danes, the Finns and possibly even the Portuguese.

As the Prime Minister comes empty-handed back from Washington later this week, perhaps the Government will admit that the only way for Britain to deal with such issues as climate change, global development, terrorism, international security and the management of the world economy is to work constructively, conscientiously and multilaterally with our European partners to maximise our influence in the world. We therefore welcome the Statement.

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 4:21, 6 June 2005

My Lords, I also start by paying tribute to Lady Blatch. I agree with everything that has been said about her. I share with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, the experience of having come to the House—in those days, representing higher education lecturers—and having some very robust arguments with her, which she invariably won. She was a doughty fighter; she had friends and admirers on all sides of the House; and I join with all others in expressing our sympathy for her family and friends in this House and way beyond it.

I shall try to do my best to answer the comments made from the two Front Benches. As the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said, the Prime Minister is in Washington—which I imagine is one reason why he was unable to make the Statement in the House of Commons—dealing with preparations for the G8 conference. Incidentally, I have no reason to believe that he will come back empty-handed and I take that to have been a light-hearted comment, rather than a serious one.

I want to dwell on some points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. In many ways, I find it hard to understand the thrust of the argument that he put to the House. I think that he said that putting matters on hold is the worst option—I hope that I cite him accurately. Rather, he invited us to declare that the constitution is dead here and now. Most interestingly to me, he pleaded in aid the sentiments of French voters. I was in France last week and had a great deal of enjoyment from being cut off from English media and just watching French television and reading French newspapers.

One thing was absolutely clear to me: the potential for a more liberalised market struck most of the French Left and large voting blocs within it as an erosion of arrangements that they wanted and a setback for what they called social Europe. I do not think that I have ever heard that model advocated with any great passion from the opposition Benches in this House, but it appears to have been advocated, at least to some extent, today. The question of enlargement to include Romania, Bulgaria and potentially Turkey was a significant issue in the poll in the Netherlands, where enlargement towards Turkey was thought to be a significant problem.

The issue is really this: the treaty is plainly in serious difficulty. No one could possibly deny that. It is a moment to look at the implications in a very calm and measured way and to recognise as we do so that it is not the property of any one nation. It was agreed as a mode of moving forward by 25 member states and 10 of them have approved the treaty. I will not run through the list of those 10, but it includes Austria, Germany and Greece. For us to declare that we are going to stop the process before any of them have had the opportunity to discuss it or to reflect on the reasons that may have led to the defeats in the two referendums would create a division in Europe that would take decades to overcome, rather than being a route back to a semblance of health.

However, I can give the noble Lord an assurance that he sought, which is that the treaty will not come back by the back door, as some newspapers have described the process. There will be a referendum on any constitution. That remains the Government's commitment; we repeat it. I know that my right honourable friend Jack Straw has repeated it today.

We most certainly do not blame the people. I probably ought not to admit it, but if other noble Lords had been sitting in a small bar in a French village which, curiously enough for a rural area, voted yes—almost uniquely, I think—they would have heard and taken part in a rigorous discussion about many of the key features of the constitution, not some of the things that people in the media here have said were talked about. It was clear that decisions were taken by the peoples of those countries. Those decisions have to be understood and respected. That is why we need a period in which to consider them very carefully and ensure that we have understood what has been said—not least from the political representatives of those people.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, of course some useful steps may be taken, as long as we avoid the possibility that anyone should say that we are reintroducing the treaty by the back door. The issue about working in public is extremely strong. I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, for his maiden speech. I know that that is not strictly a matter for this Statement, but he raised such tremendously important questions. I cannot believe that the European Council would not feel that it might be right for national governments to scrutinise legislation rather more carefully in advance. There are things that could be done in the present circumstances to considerable benefit in Europe.

We must discuss the balance of EU priorities and we need sound processes by which to do that; I confirm that. We most certainly should try to avoid the temptation on the part of anyone anywhere in Europe to see the process of liberalisation, the Lisbon process, as being in some sense hostile to traditions across Europe. The success of Europe economically will be dependent on being able to create economies with Lisbon process characteristics. If we do that, the prosperity of previous decades will be carried forward and, with it, if I may dare to suggest it, the sense of peace in Europe that we have enjoyed in a way that my parents and grandparents certainly never did.

Photo of Lord Brittan of Spennithorne Lord Brittan of Spennithorne Conservative 4:27, 6 June 2005

My Lords, does the Minister accept that many of us who share the view that the constitutional treaty would be good for Europe and good for Britain none the less think that, in current circumstances, to proceed with the referendum would be not only futile but counter-productive? Does he further accept that the right focus of the British presidency, about to start, should be to seek to persuade our partners to move away from constitutional and institutional issues and to focus on the problems of Europe and to persuade them to adopt the liberalising agenda and economic reform process that he mentioned? Does he also accept that the best chance of having any success in persuading them to do that would be to avoid the triumphalist tone that has characterised some of the debate in this country in recent days?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, if I may say so, those are very wise observations. There is no place for triumphalism—least of all when the peoples of countries have expressed their views. They are their views and we should not, to paraphrase Bertolt Brecht, say that this is the moment to change the electorate. Those sentiments are genuine. We can and, I am sure, will use our presidency to further the wider debates mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, which are vital to Europe's advancement and should lead to greater liberalisation and a greater understanding of what makes for a prosperous economy. That must be the direction in which we try to take Europe during our presidency. I use the words "try to take Europe" not in the sense that I believe that we have a monopoly of wisdom but, rather, in the sense that a good presidency should provide guidance through difficult debates.

Photo of Lord Williamson of Horton Lord Williamson of Horton Convenor of the Crossbench Peers

My Lords, I welcome the key phrase in the Statement that,

"we see no point in proceeding at this moment".

Does not the Minister agree that, as it is a fundamental principle of a union of sovereign states that all must ratify a treaty, there is absolutely no purpose in passing the parcel on the responsibility for the present situation? Evidently, the responsibility rests with the citizens of France and the Netherlands. They are absolutely entitled to take that view. So it is really back to basics for us. Our duty with our presidency is to carry forward the business of the Union on those matters which do not depend on the constitutional treaty; and that is a big enough task.

Finally, I should like from these Benches to join noble Lords in expressing our sadness at the death of Lady Blatch and our appreciation of her contribution to the House.

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, those comments in every respect are quite right. Let us make sure that we all understand the basic facts about the position we are in. It is true that all 25 states must ratify the treaty if it were to come into force; and the treaty specifically refers to ratification by all the high contracting parties, to enter into force only after all have ratified.

That is plainly not the present position. Two of the founder members have decided not to ratify. I think that there is every reason to pause and to hear what their governments have to say in a full meeting of all those who own this treaty process; to hear the views of those 10 who have ratified, including one—Spain—through a referendum; and to make sure that we understand the entire dynamic before we plunge ahead. It would be very easy for almost any one of the 25 so to aggravate the others that any further progress was almost impossible. What on earth would be the merit in that?

Photo of The Bishop of Chelmsford The Bishop of Chelmsford Bishop

My Lords, perhaps we on these Benches may also be associated with the remarks about Emily Blatch. The whole House not only had huge respect for her skill in the contributions she made to this House but I am sure also carried a great deal of affection for her as a human being. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends today.

Will the Minister accept that there is at least one piece of good news in all of this? That is, the people of Europe want a say. Will he note that a higher percentage of people turned out for the referendums in France and Holland than bothered to vote in the general election in this country? I am told that up to 10 per cent of the people of France had read the whole of the constitution. Given that we all accept that having a referendum may not be the most sensible thing to do in the present context, how do the Government propose to help the people of this country to get their minds around the choices and issues that face us in Europe today? Will he accept that, at a moment of difficulty and even division, reaffirming the common values and vision that hold us together and which have brought us together in European life is very important from those who exercise leadership in our country?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, I agree with the right reverend Prelate. The Government have perhaps done a little more than he allowed in his comments. There have been two documents—one rather long and one relatively short—both of them very readable and one of which even won a prize for being in readable English, which is worth noting on the occasions it happens. It is also quite right to point out that a great deal of attention was given, certainly in France as I can say from firsthand experience, to the treaty. It was either the second or the third best selling book in France during the whole of the run up period. That is not the same as saying that everybody read it, but it is very interesting to note just how much attention was given to it.

I believe that during our presidency we will continue to try to provide a great deal of information, not least to accomplish one of the goals that the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, described of making sure that some of the most fundamental debates are aired properly. It is essential that that happens.

Photo of Lord Dykes Lord Dykes Spokesperson in the Lords (Europe), Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs

My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister to make sure that this time it is not just lip service to the main arguments for our membership of the European Union. Does he not agree that we are now in the aftermath of 26 years of neglect about untruths, distortions, not telling the facts about Europe and our membership of the Community? That is one of the reasons we are in this plight, with the colourful right-wing comics that masquerade as newspapers having a field day of triumph saying that Europe should stop completely.

The Government therefore have a very strong obligation not just to say that they will do things up to the summit and afterwards, but to have a formal programme of information and explanation for the British public about all these complex issues for when the time comes to make whatever revised decision is necessary. We have, after all, to respect those two votes that have just occurred in the two referendums. When that time comes the British public will know the full facts and not just the terror propaganda in the British newspapers.

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, I said a few moments ago—and I hope the point was thought at least reasonably sensible—that we have published two significant documents. Over the years politicians of all parties with European interests at heart have done their best to make sure that there was a debate about substantive issues and not about straight bananas. We should continue to do that. I am strongly committed and the Government are strongly committed to ensuring that there is very thorough debate.

Perhaps I may observe that debates on European questions—and this Statement is an interruption of a debate on European questions—do that. We all have a lot more to do in making sure that we try to engage the media. The media are the media we have got and we will have to try to engage them more thoroughly in these vital issues.

Photo of Lord Clinton-Davis Lord Clinton-Davis Labour

My Lords, does my noble friend agree—I am sure he does—that Lady Blatch was a lovely person? Does he also agree that as a consequence of what has happened in France and Holland over the past few days there is a risk of going back to the bitter schisms and rivalries which scarred Europe for so long?

Therefore, is it not vital that we should stress the reasons for bringing Europe together in a way that we have neglected over the past few years? I stress, as one who was engaged in the European Year of the Environment, that young and old people were brought together in a way they understood. It is vital when we talk about climate change and all those other areas which have been stressed today. I think that if we go back to fundamentals the case for Europe is stronger than ever.

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, I would hope that the processes that have gone on in Europe over the better part of five decades have drawn us together as nations in a sufficiently strong way to make unlikely the kind of very deep and bitter schisms that have scarred European history.

However, of course it is always right to try to make sure that differences do not become deep scar tissue. In order to do that, we will need to look at the areas in which we have been able to co-operate and work effectively and to make sure that in areas where reform is necessary and where deep debate is necessary we face those deeper debates as friends and work on them as well rather than wishing that those differences were not there.

On economic reform, institutional reform and most certainly environmental policy reform, we have to be realistic. But we must surely have a basis for that on the grounds of the history that we have managed to achieve together in five decades.

Photo of Lord Kilclooney Lord Kilclooney Crossbench

My Lords, now that the referendum has been put on hold and there is a gap in our political programme, may we have another referendum instead, on joining the euro?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, no. The referendum commitment—were we to think of joining the euro—comprised the five tests that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has set out to be met. Were they to have been met, that would be the appropriate moment for that question.

Photo of Lord Waddington Lord Waddington Conservative

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord for a clarification of the assurance that he has already given? Can he give us an assurance that the Government will not agree to the implementation of any part of the constitution unless and until the treaty establishing this constitution is ratified?

In particular, will the Minister give an assurance that the Government will not agree to the establishment of a full-time European Council president, will not agree to a Union minister for foreign affairs and that there will be no nodding through at a European summit of the various extensions of majority voting provided for in the constitution? If they were to agree to any of those matters, they would certainly not be observing their promise that there will be a referendum, if any part of the constitution is to be implemented.

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, I had hoped that I had answered that question directly earlier. I do not believe that any of the measures that the noble Lord has just mentioned could possibly come in without ratification of the treaty. They are all specific and new requirements of the treaty.

I wonder if I could pose a rhetorical question. Were it to be the case that the Council of Ministers concluded that its business should be conducted with television cameras in the room, or other fundamental discussions were to take place in a spirit of openness and transparency, my assumption would be—given what has been said so frequently in the House—that we would say, "Quite right", and we would welcome it. We would not require a referendum before the electric plug was put into the camera.

I put that point not in a particularly light-hearted way, but because some of those improvements are exactly the kinds of improvements needed to bring the people of Europe and the institutions of Europe closer together. I would think, given the traditions in the House, that they would be welcome.

Noble Lords:


Photo of Lord Stoddart of Swindon Lord Stoddart of Swindon Independent Labour

My Lords, it seems, having listened to the debate so far, that we want to change the rules mid-stream.

What this Statement should have said was that the constitutional treaty requires ratification by every one of the member states, now 25, before it can come into force. In the last week, however, as the House and country are well aware, in referenda the electors in France voted "No" by 55 per cent to 45 per cent and in the Netherlands by 62 per cent to 38 per cent. The treaty is therefore dead. It is dead. The European Union Bill will be withdrawn and will not be reintroduced. That is what the Statement should have said under the existing rules and the law of the European Union. Since it has not said that, could I ask the Government whether they will now seek the opinion of the British people by immediately introducing a simple Bill to have a referendum, certainly by October, so that the views of the British people can be tested and they can give their opinion, which will help the Government in their further negotiations?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, no, we will not be introducing any such Bill, for the reasons that I gave in the Statement.

Noble Lords:


Photo of Lord Howe of Aberavon Lord Howe of Aberavon Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord.

Is the Minister aware that I am probably not the only Member of this House who has some admiration for the moderate and balanced way in which he has been presenting the matters he has been dealing with this afternoon? Many of us share the anxiety about the triumphalist note, which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Morris, in the opening Statement.

Likewise, is he aware that I certainly would repudiate the idea that we should now all be making absolutist statements, such as the one we have just heard from the noble Lord opposite and, indeed, with great respect, some of those heard from my real and noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford?

Is it not important to follow some of the objectives identified by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr? He showed himself able to prepare a much better speech for himself than he often succeeded in preparing for me. That, I may say, is intended as a tribute. He has excelled all his earlier performances.

If I may give an example for the noble Lord, as long ago as 1985 my noble friend Lady Thatcher and I succeeded in implanting in Part III of the Single European Act the initial proposals for enhanced political co-operation in the European Union. Since then, successive Councils and governments have succeeded in making further progress in the same direction. My noble friend Lord Patten, in concert with Mr Solana, has been making some headway with that in recent years. Is it not important that we should recognise that, although the people of France and the Netherlands have, understandably, reacted to the arrogant overconfidence with which the elite are sometimes perceived, we do not mistake that for a signal to repudiate all the efforts that we have made in the past for closer European co-operation—not just in the field of foreign policy, but in other fields as well?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, I welcome those comments. Until a few moments ago I was going to ask the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, whether he would mind writing any of my speeches, but given that that was apparently such an unusual one—no, I do not mean that at all. It was an exceptional speech.

The process by which the European Union has opened up its political institutions may have been slow and, on occasions, may have been painful. It certainly went past some important milestones, of which 1985 was one. I think—most seriously—that some of the elements that the Council could adopt, which would open processes still further, would give national parliaments clearer rights, and in the right sequence in the legislative process, and can only be of huge benefit. They will carry the dynamics that have been exhibited over the years forward, in the right direction.

Photo of Lord Willoughby de Broke Lord Willoughby de Broke Conservative Independent

My Lords, will the Minister please answer the question—

Noble Lords:

Time is up.

Photo of Lord Willoughby de Broke Lord Willoughby de Broke Conservative Independent

Time is up, my Lords, so I will ask in the debate instead.