EU: Amending Treaty

– in the House of Lords at 2:51 pm on 19 June 2007.

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Photo of Lord Renton of Mount Harry Lord Renton of Mount Harry Conservative 2:51, 19 June 2007

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they intend to support a new treaty modernising European Union institutions and rules at the European Council in June.

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Government Whip

My Lords, these issues were discussed at yesterday's General Affairs and External Relations Council. We have made clear to partners our belief that the EU should return to the model of an amending treaty. The principles behind the Government's approach remain those set out by my right honourable friend the Minister for Europe in his Written Ministerial Statement of 5 December 2006.

Photo of Lord Renton of Mount Harry Lord Renton of Mount Harry Conservative

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. I speak as someone who has been a long-time believer in the importance of Britain being a leading member of the EU. The problem of this week's reform treaty is that it must make the EU clearly more efficient and more comprehensible to the public, but at the same time cannot mark such a shift to deeper integration as to justify a call for a referendum. Does that not require some serious and difficult judgment for both the present and future Prime Ministers?

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Government Whip

My Lords, I agree; it is a complex issue. We have to make the European Union more effective, and the policies that the Government are pursuing mean that that will be done in a way which does not require a referendum.

Photo of Lord Waddington Lord Waddington Conservative

My Lords, does the Minister agree that while the Prime Minister has specified four areas where, at the coming summit, he will not accept qualified majority voting, France and Spain have put forward proposals to remove the veto in, I think, 51 areas? Is it seriously suggested that the veto could be removed in all those areas, that it could be made harder to block measures which are subject to majority voting and that we should accept an EU president and an EU Foreign Minister without the British people having any say in the matter in a referendum?

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Government Whip

My Lords, many issues are still under discussion. These matters will be sorted out on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the European summit. Most people in this Chamber would agree that, to make the European Union work more effectively, it is important that rather than having a rotating presidency we have a presidency that can better order the working procedures of the European Union.

Photo of Lord Tomlinson Lord Tomlinson Labour

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that, even if you take the nightmare scenario put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, the proposals for change this weekend are much less significant than those that were put forward in the Maastricht treaty and that the impact on qualified majority voting is much less significant than in the Maastricht treaty? The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, was a member of a Government—or at least a supporter of a Government—who deemed no such referendum necessary in those circumstances.

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Government Whip

My Lords, as ever, my noble friend is absolutely right.

Photo of Lord Marsh Lord Marsh Crossbench

My Lords, does the Minister have any idea at all what the Lord Chancellor thinks of this?

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Government Whip

My Lords, the noble Lord said "the Lord Chancellor". I imagine that he meant the Chancellor. I can say with certainty and confidence that the Prime Minister will go to Brussels on Thursday and negotiate on behalf of the whole Government of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Lord Dykes Lord Dykes Spokesperson in the Lords (Europe), Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Cap Reform), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

My Lords, should not the Minister, encouraged by the words of the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, ask the Government, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor to be far more bold on this in putting forward the real picture for the British public, not the rubbish that the right-wing press and the Murdoch press, with its two ridiculous newspapers in this country, purvey about Europe? Is the Minister aware that these proposals for a short modernised treaty will increase the real sovereignty and power of this country, not the pretend sovereignty from the past that the old reactionary right-wing Tories nostalgically dream of? Does she not agree that 18 countries have already ratified the old text, and that five countries wanted to do so in the period of reflection? Now that France and Spain are working together and the Dutch have changed their minds, cannot the Government be more bold?

Noble Lords:

Speech!

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Government Whip

My Lords, I am speaking on behalf of a very bold Government, but a Government who are rooted in the practicalities of the European Union. We want the EU to deliver for its citizens, but we must respect the red lines that have been put forward by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs, Deputy Leader, Parliament, Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry asked a very good question when he pointed out that whether there should be a referendum will be a difficult judgment. We were told a while ago that a referendum was off; now we have been told that a referendum may be on after all; now it is being denied somewhere else. What exactly is the Government's view? It seems to be changing from hour to hour. We would like to know who is going to make this fundamental judgment. Will it be independent and genuine, or a fudge?

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Government Whip

My Lords, the position is clear. When the Prime Minister spoke to the Liaison Committee in the other place, he set out the red lines and our clear policies. He then said:

"If we achieve those four objectives I defy people to say what it is that is supposed to be so fundamental that could require a referendum".

If the amending treaty does not have the characteristics of a constitution—which it will not, if we are going to sign up to it—then it does not qualify on the grounds that we agreed in 2004 for a constitutional referendum.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour

My Lords, this morning's press claimed that at yesterday's meeting the Foreign Secretary dismayed and surprised two potential allies, President Sarkozy and Prime Minister Zapatero, by taking a very negative attitude to an increased role for the European Union in foreign affairs. Indeed, he added that as one of our own red lines to the spaghetti junction of red lines that now appear. Can the Minister confirm the position of our Government in respect of a merger of the responsibilities in foreign affairs of the Commission and Council of Representatives?

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Government Whip

My Lords, we will insist, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said, on maintaining our ability to conduct our own independent foreign and defence policy, and we will retain our seat on the Security Council. However, we also want to ensure that the European Union has a more coherent foreign policy. We do not want a single foreign policy of the European Union; we want a common policy wherever that is appropriate.

Noble Lords:

My Lords—