Intergovernmental Meeting: Lisbon

– in the House of Lords at 3:44 pm on 22nd October 2007.

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Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office) 3:44 pm, 22nd October 2007

My Lords, with permission, I shall now repeat a Statement on the European Council made in the other place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr Speaker, I want to make a statement about the outcome of the informal European Council in Lisbon. The new agreed text of the amending treaty to support the enlargement of the EU has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. Alongside the treaty, it was agreed at Lisbon that the priority for the European Union now must be the global challenges that we face: employment, prosperity, competitiveness, climate change and security. Today, in the document Global Europe published this afternoon, the Government are setting out how we will advance these new priorities in the future. "The mandate for the IGC made it clear that:

'The constitutional concept, which consisted in repealing all existing Treaties and replacing them by a single text called "Constitution", is abandoned'.

My intention throughout the summer and autumn of negotiations has also been to ensure that detailed safeguards for the British national interest are written into the text of this treaty. I invite the House to examine in detail both the treaty and the protections that we have secured by our insistence on special treatment for the UK in a range of areas where our national interests demand."First, I will ensure that Parliament has the fullest opportunity to examine the protocol on the Charter of Rights. The protocol, which is legally binding and enshrined in the treaty itself, provides an essential safeguard for the UK. It states that,

'the Charter does not extend the ability of the Court of Justice, or any court or tribunal of the United Kingdom, to find that the laws, regulations or administrative provisions, practices or action of the United Kingdom are inconsistent with the fundamental rights, freedoms and principles that "the Charter" reaffirms'.

"This legally binding protocol ensures that nothing in the Charter of Fundamental Rights challenges or undermines the rights already set out in UK law. The treaty also ensures that nothing in the charter extends the ability of any court—European or national—to strike down UK law. This point is reaffirmed in the protocol, which states:

'In particular, and for the avoidance of doubt, nothing in [Title IV] of the Charter creates justiciable rights applicable to the United Kingdom except in so far as the United Kingdom has provided for such rights in its national law'.

"Secondly, we have secured in detail vital safeguards to our criminal law system and police and judicial processes, while making it possible to co-operate across borders when we choose to do so, when it is right in matters vital to our security. The safeguards are also enshrined in legally binding protocols to the treaty. They prescribe in detail our sovereign right to opt in on individual measures where we consider it in the British interest to do so, but also to remain outside, if that is in our interests. In the past, for example, we have opted in on measures dealing with combating illegal immigration and exchanges of information where these measures are unquestionably in Britain's interests."The new treaty gives us the freedom to protect the fundamentals of our common-law system if we believe that it could be jeopardised, while at the same time it allows us to participate in areas where co-operation is in the national interest. The agreement set out in the details of the text is that it will be in our exclusive power to decide on a measure-by-measure basis. As a result of our recent negotiations, the opt-in now covers all types of measures: completely new ones; amendments to existing ones; and, where measures come forward under the Schengen agreement, we also have the right to opt out. So we can choose to participate in any and every measure, but we cannot be forced to do so. If we choose not to, there is a fair, objective and robust system for consequential changes but no financial or other penalties. So we have secured a comprehensive, legally binding opt-in on all justice and home affairs measures, which will enable the UK to choose whether or not to participate in any justice and home affairs measures in future."I turn to the common foreign and security policy. I welcome further scrutiny by this House of the agreements that we have secured. For again I believe that it is now absolutely clear that the basis of foreign and security policy will remain intergovernmental, a matter for Governments to decide. The intergovernmental basis is unchanged and subject to distinct rules and procedures that protect that position."The declaration that we secured expressly states that nothing in the treaty affects the existing powers of member states to formulate and conduct their foreign policy, including maintaining their own national diplomatic services and membership of the UN Security Council. There is no sole right of initiative for the Commission and there is no role for the European Parliament in decision taking. Voting by unanimity is the rule for all policy decisions. Apart from two specific and limited provisions in foreign policy—appeals against EU sanctions and, as now, any overlap with, for example, international development assistance—there is no jurisdiction for the European Court of Justice."The declaration agreed on Friday made it clear that the European Parliament would have no new role in the appointment to the new post of High Representative, which will be made by the European Council, and there will be no change to the way in which EU foreign policy is decided; it will continue to be governed by unanimity. There is, in addition, a clear declaration that nothing in the treaty, including the Office of the High Representative and the External Action Service will affect in any way,

'the existing legal basis, responsibilities, and powers of each Member State in relation to the formulation and conduct of its foreign policy, its national diplomatic service, relations with third countries and participation in international organisations, including a Member State's membership of the Security Council of the UN'.

"On social security, we have secured an effective veto power on any proposals for important change. We can insist on taking any proposal to the European Council and, because it will be decided by unanimity, we have a veto where we—Britain—determine that a proposal would impact on important aspects of our social security system including its scope, cost or financial structure. "In justice and home affairs, the amending treaty gives us the right not to participate; in social security, it gives us the right to insist on unanimity. Many qualified majority voting measures—for example, rules for the euro or special state aids for Germany—do not affect the UK. The remaining areas of QMV agreed in June are decisions on emergency humanitarian aid to third countries—manifestly in the UK's national interest—and energy market liberalisation, again in our interest. Others are technical or procedural and simply relate to the efficient functioning of the Union—for example, the internal rules for appointing the Committee of the Regions, judges and the Economic and Social Committee."While there is a two-and-a-half-year presidency of the European Council, the President of the Council has been appointed as the servant of the leaders of the national Governments, and the purpose is to strengthen the council of national Governments in relation to other EU institutions."The new treaty also expressly provides that national security is the sole responsibility of member states. The declaration to the treaty makes it clear that, while the European Union, like the UN, World Trade Organisation and the International Monetary Fund, can sign international agreements, this does not and cannot authorise the Union in any way to legislate or act beyond the powers conferred on it by member states in the treaties. "As a result of our negotiation, we are agreed that the new text will make it clear that national Parliaments have the right, but are not obliged, to contribute to the work of the Union. Under the amending treaty, national Parliaments have a new right to force the EU to reconsider proposals if a third of Parliaments feel that the issue is better dealt with at member-state level. Symbols of statehood that were the characteristic of the rejected constitutional treaty—European flags, anthems or European mottos—have been abandoned in the treaty. "As I have already made clear, the Government will agree the amending treaty in December only if in the final text all the UK's protections I have outlined are included in the detail that we have negotiated. Parliament will have the opportunity to debate this amending treaty in detail and decide whether to ratify it, and the Government will recommend that there is sufficient time for debate on the Floor of the House so that the Bill is examined in the fullest of detail and all points of view can be heard."In addition, we propose to build into the legislation further safeguards. To ensure that no Government can agree without Parliament's approval to any change in European rules that could, in any way, alter the constitutional balance of power between Britain and the European Union, we will make a provision in the Bill that any proposal to activate the mechanisms in the treaty which provide for further moves to qualified majority voting, but which require unanimity, will have to be subject to a prior vote by the House."The amending treaty will not be fully implemented until 2014. Indeed, one section does not have full effect until 2017. I can confirm that not just for this Parliament but also for the next it is the position of the Government to oppose any further institutional change in the relationship between the EU and its member states. In our view, there is also a growing consensus across Europe that there should be no more institutional change for many years. "The December European Council will also consider a declaration proposed by Britain that Europe moves to a new agenda and that the new priorities are a focus on jobs, competitiveness, prosperity, climate change and security so that Europe can play a far stronger part in the competitive economy of the world and be a leader and success story in the new global order. "So because it is right that Europe now focuses not on more institutional change but on the reforms that are needed to meet the challenges of the global era, we are publishing today our agenda for the new priorities that we as the EU must adopt: a renewed focus on completing the single market, with the priority being the liberalisation of the telecoms and energy sectors; a commitment to free trade and openness, with the priority being to ensure a successful outcome to the world trade talks and to promote better European Union/United States trade links; tackling climate change and energy security; combating terrorism and organised crime; reducing global poverty; and reforming the European Union budget."It is by putting in place these changes that we can create a truly outward-looking, globally focused European Union that helps to deliver prosperity, opportunity and security for all—an agenda that is good for Britain and good for Europe. It is an agenda that allows us to continue to benefit from our membership of the European Union and, by working together, to have a greater influence in the world. So the protections that we have negotiated defend the British national interest. "We are putting in place new procedures to lock in our protection of these interests. We will oppose any further proposals for institutional change in the European Union this Parliament and the next. We will lead the debate in Europe to move to a new agenda of new priorities that focus on the economic and social needs of our citizens. I commend this Statement to the House".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of Opposition In the House of Lords, Parliament 3:58 pm, 22nd October 2007

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. As I listened, it became increasingly clear that it is a Statement that goes to the very core of the character of this Government, given the fundamental and unequivocal nature of the manifesto promise that it breaks.

Does the noble Baroness remember the Statement four months ago when the Prime Minister claimed that he would restore trust in politics after 10 years of spin? By contrast, he comes to Parliament today as a man who clearly does not trust the British people, who plans to break his manifesto promise, and who now falls back on spinning lines to the British people. Red lines, his spin doctors call them, but, as a Select Committee in another place, to which your Lordships were sadly forced to turn for guidance on this treaty, found, those red lines are about as durable as lines in the sand. The Prime Minister may believe that those lines will be there in five or 10 years' time, but precious few others do, so can the noble Baroness explain what guarantees exist for the so-called red lines?

The first foreign policy act of this Government in 1997 was to abandon our opt-out from the social chapter, a green light to regulation from which British business has been reeling ever since. At what price a promise to hold to feeble, flimsy red lines when they are struggling to shore up positions that they abandoned 10 years ago? No one believes that the red lines are fixed or effective, and no one believes that this treaty is any different in substance from the constitution on which we were solemnly promised a referendum only two years ago. As the Spanish Foreign Minister put it:

"The wrapping has been changed, but not the content".

As the German Chancellor said this very week:

"The substance of the constitution is preserved. That is a fact".

It is a fact, yet the Prime Minister treats the British people as fools by translating German fact into Scottish fiction.

Does the noble Baroness agree with a top British business leader who told the Economic Research Council only this June:

"It's a con to call this a treaty—it's not. It's exactly the same—it's a constitution"?

Those are the words of a top British business leader who is none other than the noble Baroness's noble friend Lord Jones of Birmingham. "It's all a con", he said. The noble Lord was handpicked to speak for a Labour Government because the Prime Minister did not trust any Labour Peer to do it. When he says it's a con, should we not believe him? Does the noble Baroness? If the Prime Minister can sell the noble Lord as a good Labour man, he can certainly sell 98 per cent of the constitution as something else, and his manifesto promise can be sold down the river.

If the British people, like the noble Lord, Lord Jones, see this as a con, it will reflect on Europe as a whole. That would be damaging for our country. There is much that Europe ought to be doing and that we should be doing together. We should be dismantling the choking acquis of regulation that is holding back European business. Europe should be working to improve competitiveness and enhancing enterprise, not blunting it. It should be looking outside and listening inside. That is the right road for Europe, and one of the sad realities of Lisbon 2007 is that the last Lisbon process still remains stalled. The leaders of Europe were right when they said that too much time was spent on institution building and that it was time to move on, but the public of Europe need to have their stake in that too. That is why my party stands by the promise given by us all at the last general election to hold a referendum on this constitutional treaty.

I respect the integrity of the great parties represented in this House—of Labour and, indeed, the Liberal Democrats. Whatever their leaders say now, I think that when they knocked on the doors, most members of those parties meant what they said in their manifestos. The Labour Party said:

"We will put it to the British people in a referendum".

The Liberal Democrat Party said that,

"ratification must be subject to a referendum of the British people".

It is a question of trust, a question of honour, and whatever our views on this treaty, after that election campaign the British people have a right and an expectation to be consulted. The Government did not say then that there should be no referendum, yet can the noble Baroness confirm that the constitution had essentially the same red lines as we have today? So why is there no referendum now? They did not say that only a parliamentary route is right in any of the 30 referendums we have had in this country since 1997 in creating a new Scottish Parliament or an Assembly in Wales. So shall the British people not have a say in having dozens of vetoes stripped away, powers taken from Parliament, new encroachments on British laws and new institutions to take decisions in their names? I believe that they should, and many in Parliament on both sides of the argument will agree.

Few really want to see this country leave the European Community, and my party would fight that step. On the contrary—

A noble Lord:

Oh!

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of Opposition In the House of Lords, Parliament

My Lords, the noble Lord will have an opportunity to speak in a moment. We believe in a strong, modern, competitive and decentralised Europe, not the old-fashioned, centralised version in this treaty, supported by both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats. Does the noble Baroness not see that, if we do not trust the people on this and if we let the gulf grow between the governed in Europe and a new political class, disenchantment and disillusion with Europe will surely grow? Does the noble Lord, Lord McNally, not see that, too?

The leaders in Lisbon agreed on two things: they agreed that this new treaty is brilliant news for the people of our countries, but that in no circumstances will we allow our people to vote on it. That attitude was a negation of the principle of trust on which open democracy in Britain has been built. That breach of trust is a time bomb ticking at the heart of the European project. The reality cannot be wished away. A referendum, as we found in 1975, should be an occasion to put the case for Europe and the kind of Europe that each of us wants and to ask whether we believe that the integrationist route set out in this treaty is in our national interest, as the Prime Minister claims.

Can the noble Baroness shed any light on the timing of the ratification Bill, and on when this House should expect to deliberate on it? Does she agree that, when the time comes, this House will have to think long and hard about where its responsibilities lie in upholding the integrity of our politics, the trust in our politics, and the British people's right to have their say on one of the greatest questions facing our nation's future?

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords, Ministry of Justice, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 4:06 pm, 22nd October 2007

My Lords, I thank the Lord President for repeating the Statement, and I congratulate the Prime Minister on successfully concluding these negotiations. I hope that we can have a debate very soon on this document on global Europe, which of course none of us has had a chance to read, and on the new agenda set out in the Statement. I realise that that will be a matter for the usual channels, but I sincerely hope that we will have that debate soon. The Statement has about one page of positive statements and a lot of defence in it. I understand the reason for that balance, but is the Lord President aware that we on these Benches agree with the Commons European Scrutiny Committee, which was referred to, that the changes and opt-outs negotiated by Britain make this a different proposition for this country from those proposed earlier in the constitution?

As for the question put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about trusting the British people, my personal view is that Parliament should be wary of going too often to referendums to solve its problems. We are a parliamentary democracy, and these great decisions should be debated and discussed in Parliament, as they have been for the past 700 years. I wonder whether the crocodile tears being shed by the Conservative Party on this matter about the need for a referendum would have more validity if the previous three Conservative Prime Ministers—Mr Heath, Mrs Thatcher and Mr Major—had not carried through far more fundamental changes to our relations with Europe by means of the parliamentary process.

Are not most of the amendments being proposed a direct result of the enlargement of the European Union to 27 states—an enlargement which the Conservative Party enthusiastically supported? Having willed the ends, they wish to throw a spanner into the work of achieving those ends. Anyone who saw Mr Hague on television over the weekend saw the real problem at the heart of the Conservative Party when he was asked about the Early Day Motion that had been tabled by, among others, Mr Bill Cash, Mr Iain Duncan-Smith and Mr John Redwood. The flat Earth society is alive and well in the Conservative Party, and the Conservative leadership must yet work out how it deals with it.

Is the Lord President aware that there was some concern that one of Mr. Brown's first weekend guests at Chequers was Mr. Rupert Murdoch? Can we be assured that the Government will not be bullied, intimidated and threatened by Mr. Murdoch on this matter? When reading the editorials of synthetic outrage about there being no referendum, will the Prime Minister remember that all Mr Murdoch's esteemed editors would stand on their heads tomorrow at one click of their proprietor's fingers? Mr Brown should remember that the two Prime Ministers best remembered for their dealings with the press are Stanley Baldwin, who memorably accused the press barons of his day of practising power without responsibility, and Mr Attlee, who read only the Times and then only for the cricket scores. A similarly robust attitude in the face of self-interested hysteria would do the Prime Minister's reputation no harm.

Finally, in giving this responsibility to Parliament, can we be assured that the Prime Minister and the Government will present their case not in terms of saving Britain from some Brussels monster? For 30 years, successive British governments have given succour to Euro-scepticism by treating every positive outcome as a domestic triumph and every difficult decision as an imposition from Europe. By all means, let us have a robust agenda for reform of the CAP, the democratic deficit or a realistic approach to subsidiarity. However, the Government must use the debate ahead of us to remind the British people of the peace and prosperity that the European Union has delivered. They should also remind the public that none of the global challenges facing us—on the Lisbon agenda, trade, climate change, the fight against terrorism and organised crime, energy supply or our current contribution to peace and stability in the world's trouble spots—is not better made by a Britain working at the heart of a successful Europe.

This is a defensive Statement and, as I said, I understand why, but it is now time for the Government to move on to the front foot in this argument. Given that kind of lead, the Conservative opposition will be seen for what it is: a piece of shoddy opportunism to paper over its own divisions on Europe. If the Government give such a lead, I can assure them that they can rely on the votes of these Benches in seeing this amending treaty through this House.

A

" wonder whether the crocodile tears being shed by the Conservative Party on this matter about the need for a referendum would have more validity if the previous three Conservative Prime Ministers—Mr Heath, Mrs Thatcher and Mr Major—had not carried through far more fundamental changes to our relations with Europe by means of the parliamentary process"

But the treaties signed by the tories, whilst abhorant did not bring into play a ratchet clause, that means no more treaties are needed, no need to go to national parliaments, no say for the public YET again.

Remember the rights that Labour party is trying to give away, are not theirs to give! Parliament is NOT SOVEREIGN, the people are! We loan our rights so the government in office can enact laws to our advantage. These rights are recalled at every general election, when we have the right to get rid, dismiss or sack any government we wish to!

This government does not have a mandate to give any powers away without going to the people, for to do so, will guarantee blood will be shed by the political classes, when the public exact their retribution! Make no mistake gentlemen, be warned the lion is stirring!

Submitted by Alan Connor Read 2 more annotations

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office) 4:11 pm, 22nd October 2007

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for setting out their views so succinctly and especially grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for the commitment that he gave to support the Government in this matter. The noble Lord is right: in many senses we rely on precedents. We have looked at the treaties that have gone through your Lordships' House and another place over the years and, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has heard many times already, the precedents of his predecessors are there for all to see. That, above all else, should give succour to noble Lords in understanding precisely what the Government are doing.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of Opposition In the House of Lords, Parliament

My Lords, on that question, the Minister will readily agree that, between Mr Major signing up to the Maastricht treaty and its ratification in Parliament, there was a general election, which there may have been if the Prime Minister had gone ahead with what he was going to do only a few weeks ago.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, indeed, but that is not relevant to the precedent that I am putting forward. Let us be clear that it is important to look at the detail of what is being put forward in the reform treaty, to compare it with what is proposed in the constitutional treaty and for noble Lords to make their judgments on what is before us.

I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that we are a parliamentary democracy. The different elements of this treaty are worthy of substantial debate in your Lordships' House and another place. In the Statement, my right honourable friend made a commitment that the Government would ensure that there was time to do that, and we will do so in your Lordships' House. That is the way to ensure that we deliver on what we set out last weekend in Lisbon and in the formal signing of the treaty later. That is how we should proceed. It is a much better proposition to look at all of these issues in detail than simply to say that they can be condensed into what could be seen as a discussion about whether we are in or out of Europe, which is precisely what some noble Lords and Members of another place want.

The trust of the British people is important not only to this Government but to both Houses of Parliament. It is essential that in our deliberations the British people are able to see parliamentary democracy at its best. We said that if we were ratifying the constitutional treaty we would seek a referendum. We are not. The reform treaty is substantially different. In another place, it was made absolutely clear in the report of the Select Committee at paragraph 72 that because we have—I quote it more or less from memory—the opt-ins, opt-outs and derogations, there is no need for us to seek such a referendum. Nowhere in the report, as I have read, does it recommend a referendum. Noble Lords should be clear of what is being proposed.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, had a number of quotes. I have as many quotes as the noble Lord, although I will not take too much of your Lordships' time. One important quote is from the Dutch Council of State, which says:

"The changes are aimed, as far as possible, at purging the Constitutional Treaty of those elements which could have formed starting points for the development of the EU in a more explicitly centralised or federal direction".

The right honourable Mr Kenneth Clarke said that,

"the nuts and bolts are obviously quite essential ... What we have now is far less important than Maastricht ... I think the idea we have a referendum ... is frankly absurd".

I could go on. Alan Dashwood, professor of European law at Cambridge University, said about the red lines on justice and home affairs:

"They provide a very solid safeguard".

I assure the noble Lord that my noble friend Lord Jones of Birmingham is full-square behind the Government in this and is working with us to make sure that business is able to add its voice of support, as my noble friend is sure it will.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that we want a Europe that looks at competitiveness and is,

"looking outside and listening inside".

That is an extremely good quote, which I shall immediately poach from the noble Lord and use. It is important that we have a modern, competitive Europe, which is able to move forward.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that it is important that the usual channels will have to decide whether there will be a debate. The noble Lord has had the chance to read the document being put forward and to understand that my right honourable friend is very clear. We have now done this part of looking at the institutions. As the noble Lord said, that was generated in large part because we are now 27 member states and how we operate needs to reflect that fact. We need to think about Europe in a globalised world and the opportunities that that gives us in a globalised economy, as well as about Europe being able to act in a cohesive way where that is appropriate in a globalised world.

I would describe the relationship with the press that my right honourable friend seeks as robust. I see no indication thus far that he is ever likely to be turned over or run over by the press. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that Europe has brought us, and continues to bring, peace and prosperity. We look at the nations seeking to join the European Union that, not long ago, were in a war-torn situation, and the opportunities that that will give us to build peace and prosperity right across Europe.

Finally, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that the question that I would like to be answered is: if Parliament does, after great debate, ratify this, will the Conservatives then accept the will of Parliament or will they still seek a referendum?

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench 4:17 pm, 22nd October 2007

My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness the Leader of the House would accept my congratulations to the Government on having concluded this negotiation on a basis that seems to me to be very satisfactory for this country. Does she accept that there was a great deal of truth in what the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said? If the treaty is to be ratified, it is essential that the Government state why it is a good treaty, which is full of improvements in how the European Union will be run; namely, in a way that will be more effective and consistent with this Government's and country's interests. It is not enough just to set out a large number of red lines and to be very defensive about it. I hope that in future the Government will explain not only as they have in their paper today that there are a lot of other things that Europe needs to get on with, with which I entirely agree, but also that there are things in this treaty that will make the European Union work better for our interest.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, had a bit of fun at the expense of the noble Lord, Lord Jones of Birmingham, but I hope that the House will forgive me for quoting from the Dutch Council of State, which is quite important and even conceivably a weightier authority than the noble Lord, Lord Jones of Birmingham. It stated that the purpose of these changes—the changes from the constitutional treaty to the reform treaty—is to rid the proposed reform treaty as far as possible of the elements from the treaty establishing a constitution which could have formed the basis for the development of the EU into a state or federation. That the goals are clearly different is, it stated, apparent from the emphasis on the roles of national Parliaments, limits on the competences of the EU, the emergency-brake procedures and the protocol on services of general interest and of general economic interest. All this means, it said, that the proposed reform treaty is substantially different from the treaty establishing a constitution for Europe. That surely is a very clear statement by a body advising a country that does not have the opt-ins and the opt-outs that we have—that is to say, a country that is signing the treaty without any such red lines. If its view is that the treaty is substantially different, I find that fairly authoritative. I do not know whether the Leader of the House does, too.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who brings a great deal of knowledge and expertise to our discussions about Europe. I agree that we will have much to say in the passage of the legislation about the advantages of moving to the reform treaty—not least, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, indicated, because with 27 nation states it is important to be able to function as effectively as possible.

Let me draw the attention of noble Lords to but one part of the agreement; that is, the opportunity for national Parliaments to play a role when the Commission puts forward proposals. National Parliaments will have the opportunity, if they wish, to discuss and debate and to let their views be known. If a third of them recognise that there are issues of concern where they believe that it would be better for member states to tackle such issues themselves, these views can be made known to the Commission and it will have to think again. These are important aspects that we will, indeed, debate.

Photo of Lord Waddington Lord Waddington Conservative

My Lords, does the Leader of the House accept that some of us have noted that the arguments used by the Government for refusing a referendum constantly change? It is surely no use saying that the treaty does not alter the fundamental relationship between the EU and member states, because Mr Blair said that the constitutional treaty, too, did not alter that relationship, yet he still promised a referendum. It is no use the Prime Minister going on about red lines because Mr Blair said that he, too, had secured red lines and opt-outs, yet in spite of having secured the red lines and opt-outs he still promised a referendum. It is no use the Government saying that this treaty is different from the constitutional treaty, because everybody else says that it is exactly the same.

Does not the Leader of the House recognise that the refusal of a referendum will do a great deal of damage to the trust that is normally given by the governed to the governors? Why should Members of Parliament be left to deal with these matters? They are elected for four or five years to exercise the powers that are bestowed on Members of Parliament; they are certainly not elected to hand over those powers to others. That is a very good reason why referendums should become an established part of our constitution.

Finally, it is no use going on about Maastricht. Anyone looking back on Maastricht will recognise that it would have been a very good thing if there had been a referendum at that time. It would have dealt with the matter in a sensible fashion and, win or lose, at least the people would have been consulted and the EU would have been accepted by the people of Britain. The Government are taking a great risk by excluding the people from this very important matter.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I disagree with practically everything that the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, said. I am sure that the noble Lord will take time to study the differences between the constitutional treaty and the reform treaty and see the changes that have been made. The substantive difference is the ability of the UK to ensure that it protects its national interests. My right honourable friend, in the negotiations that took place last week, especially on Friday night—these were ongoing discussions through a variety of different forums within the EU—has secured for Britain the appropriate opt-ins and opt-outs. Noble Lords will, I am sure, spend many happy hours discussing the difference between the two, but there they are.

It is absolutely clear that the reform treaty is a different animal from the constitutional treaty. Indeed, there were debates as to whether the constitutional treaty should warrant a referendum. The noble Lord is right: the Government promised one on the constitutional treaty, but the constitutional treaty is abandoned. We now have something entirely different, on which it is right for Parliament—for Members of another place and Members of your Lordships' House—to do their duty and take their responsibilities seriously. They should debate it and choose whether to ratify.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on achieving this treaty, which is eminently the kind of thing that should come before the careful consideration of the two Chambers of Parliament. It is exactly this sort of detailed, difficult and complex treaty that should be Parliament's responsibility. It would be almost impossible to embody this in a referendum. It is reasonable to have a referendum on whether Britain should be in or out of the European Union, but it is utterly beside the point to have one on something as complex and detailed as this.

Two areas of the Statement are matters of some concern. First, the Government state that the Commission will not have the sole responsibility for an initiative. It is not clear from the wording, but does that imply that the Commission will have a responsibility for the imitative but that responsibility will also rest with member Governments? There is a reference to the initiative power; when the Statement says that it will not be the sole responsibility of the Commission, it implies that there will be shared responsibility between national Governments and the Commission.

On the other point that I want to raise, which is very important and which troubles me, there is some indication of what I can only describe as unfortunate pressure from the great press magnates who interest themselves in it, one at least of whom is a citizen neither of this country nor of the European Union. When the Government have committed themselves to making no further changes in this Parliament or the next, can the noble Baroness the Leader of the House make it plain that, if there were to be evidence that in respect of national security, global terrorism or climate change such changes were absolutely essential to make the European Union's response effective, she would not regard that as falling inside the vetoes mentioned in this Statement, which run disturbingly far in terms of a future that we cannot possibly predict in any precise way?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness and agree with her that it will be of great value to the public not only that we debate this treaty but that we ensure that we promote those discussions so that members of the public can hear, see and discuss this. I fear that at the moment many members of the public, like some Members of your Lordships' House, may be unaware of the implications of the treaty—and, unfortunately, the language of opt-in and opt-out does not necessarily invite ready understanding, even before we get to passerelle, qualified majority voting and so on.

I understand that the particular reference to the Commission to which the noble Baroness referred means that the Commission does not have a role in foreign and security policy at all. I think that that is the right reference, but I shall confirm that—and, of course, confirm if it is not the case.

As for future changes, what I think my right honourable friend is trying to say is that we have had a long time of debating institutional structure—appropriately so with 27 member states. Noble Lords will recall that I sat on the Justice and Home Affairs Council for nearly three years and watched the growth and saw the difficulty—which, in a sense, in having 27 nations, we created for ourselves—in trying to deliberate on matters. So it is important to think about how we do that and about whether, for example, with a constantly changing presidency every six months, things do not change just when you are getting used to doing it. There are real benefits and advantages, but my right honourable friend is saying that now we must concentrate on the issues. I think that he would agree with the noble Baroness that the issues that she indicated, of national security, climate change and so on, must be very high on the agenda and that we must ensure that the way in which the European Union works enables us to tackle them effectively.

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

My Lords, Article 1 of the treaty says that the Union shall repeal and succeed the European Community. Therefore, intergovernmentalism is dead. Together with the article that gives the European Union a legal personality, does that not really alter the whole situation?

The Prime Minister said that he wanted the best and widest possible discussion in the House of Commons and in this House. However, discussion is different from being able to amend a Bill. Will amendments be allowed when the Bill is discussed in the House of Commons and in this House, and what status will they have in relation to the treaty? Will the discussions and decisions take place on the basis of free votes? If they do not and if the Government use their majority, they, not Parliament, will ratify the treaty. So will the Government allow a free vote?

Finally, are the Government able, and do they intend, to use the Parliament Act if this House makes amendments and perhaps agrees on a referendum? Are the Government able to use the Parliament Act, and will they do so, or will this House have a real role in deciding the outcome of the treaty?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I trust that your Lordships' House will have a role in determining the basis of the legislation and the treaty, but I believe that it will agree with the Government and ratify the treaty as well. I say that on the basis that I expect there to be a lengthy and full debate. As I understand it, the legislation will be short. However, I expect a large number of amendments to it. Therefore, our deliberations may be long. Noble Lords will have opportunities to discuss amendments and to vote as usual, if I can describe it as such. That will also be the case in another place. It is the Government's policy. We have agreed with the ratification process and determined our red lines. We are comfortable with the position in the context of the UK interest. Therefore, the vote will be on the Government's proposition that we ratify the treaty.

Photo of Lord Hurd of Westwell Lord Hurd of Westwell Conservative

My Lords, will the noble Baroness develop a little what she said about the foreign policy aspect of the treaty? Am I right in saying that common European action on foreign policy can get under way under the treaty as now only when there is a unanimous decision that it should do so? Is it right that the main change in this sphere, and I am not talking about other spheres, is that instead of having two spokesmen, one in the Commission and one outside—Solana—the European Union will have one better equipped to do the job, which will be to act after the unanimous decision of member Governments? Is it not right that since the Iraq debacle, when Europe split to the credit of nobody, we have been increasingly acting as Europeans, almost always in partnership with the United States, whether in the Balkans, Palestine, Iran or Darfur? On the basis that I think the noble Baroness was describing for the future, is this something not to be dreaded but actively encouraged?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. Under the reform treaty, member states and the Council will set the policy; decision-making will indeed be by unanimity. The noble Lord is also right that the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy combines the previous roles of the High Representative for the CFSP, Mr Solana, and the External Relations Commissioner, Ms Ferrero-Waldner. Therefore, the noble Lord is entirely right.

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, does the noble Baroness the Leader of the House agree that the British public are much more European minded than the Sun newspaper would have us believe and that they are much more mobile in Europe, as a lot of British people live in continental countries? The whole scene now means that the Government must catch up with the general sensible public opinion in this country. Will the Leader of the House promise solemnly to accede—not just acknowledge today—to the earnest request of my noble friend the leader of the Liberal Democrats that the Government cease to be on the defensive as these lengthy debates take place, because the danger is that they will encourage insurrection at the margin if they go on talking about red lines and all the negative and defensive aspects? Now is the time to sell Europe. Mr Murdoch pays only a very modest proportion of corporation tax in this country.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, all I can say is that when I was in charge of civil justice measures I used constantly to talk about the need to look at how people live, work, travel and study in the European Union, and the increasing numbers of people who do so. I talked about how all our efforts should be on making it possible for our citizens to operate in Europe as easily as possible and on making sure that the legal framework in which they operated worked for them, whether purchasing goods or claiming money back and so on. In a civil justice sense, I feel very strongly that it is important to do that. The noble Lord is right that it is important that, as well as dealing with the issues that noble Lords are rightly concerned about, we are making it clear that this is good for the UK, for the UK economy and for our ability to tackle some of the big issues that confront us. We have to think about this in the context not only of ourselves but of ourselves within Europe and of Europe in a globalised economy.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch UKIP

My Lords, can I press the noble Baroness on an answer that she gave to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart? It concerns the basic ground rule against which our debates and the debates in the other place will take place. She said that we will be able to look at this treaty in detail. The Statement welcomes the opportunity to examine the protocol and the Charter of Fundamental Rights. It welcomes further scrutiny by the House of the foreign and security policy and of the treaty as a whole. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, implied that we would be able to change the detail of the treaty on those matters. Can the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, confirm that we cannot change anything? We can debate it for as long as we like, and we can discuss it at all hours of the night, but, in the end, we will either have to accept the whole thing or send it back for renegotiation in Brussels.

Finally, I do not hold it against the noble Baroness, whom, as I think she knows, I hold in great affection, but this Statement is a masterpiece of slippery EU deception. Entirely missing from the Statement—I hope that she will agree—is the fact that from now on the Council must put the interests of the European Union first. That is a huge change, and it is new. It is not in the Statement. I want to ask her about the passerelle clause. From now on, the treaty can be changed by unanimity in the Council, but no further changes need ever come back to national Parliaments, so what is the value of the embargo on future changes? I would be grateful for answers to those points, because that would set out where we are starting from.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch UKIP

My Lords, the noble Baroness can have more than a minute in answering my questions.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, the noble Lord is extremely kind, but there is other business to be completed in your Lordships' House today. I, too, hold the noble Lord in great affection, but we will leave that there for now.

First, it is very important to recognise that this legislation will be put forward by the Government to ratify the treaty. The legislation, as I understand it, will be quite short, but there will be the opportunity to table amendments, which will enable noble Lords to look at every aspect of the proposed treaty, and I know that noble Lords will do so. It is government legislation, and the Government are putting forward the legislation to ratify the treaty. If your Lordships' House and another place choose to amend the legislation, the noble Lord is correct in saying that it would then need to go back, because the ratification would be contained in agreeing the legislation before your Lordships' House. That is probably not that unusual, and that will be the system.

As for the passerelle clauses, passerelle is a construct by which you can move from unanimity to qualified majority voting. It is a technical change. You can move to it only if there is unanimous agreement on the Council that that all 27 member states agree that a measure should now be taken forward by qualified majority voting. That is a technical ability for which safeguards are already built in. We will debate this at greater length, but that is what a passerelle is.