European Union (Amendment) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 6th May 2008.

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Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords, Home Affairs 4:45 pm, 6th May 2008

I welcome this group of amendments. The whole element of common foreign policy is an important part of the amending treaty. There are some useful steps forward, and this Chamber needs to devote a certain amount of time to this group of amendments and the other things that come with it.

The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, referred to one amendment as a wrecking amendment. I thought that most of the amendments to the Bill were intended to be wrecking amendments. Certainly I take Amendments Nos. 113 and 165 in the group as being wrecking amendments to the treaty; that is part of the game we are all playing.

Since I expect that our UKIP friends will quote a whole range of obscure documents which they say prove various consequences and so on, I have checked since our last Committee day one or two things that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, said. He quoted from an LSE paper. It took some time to trace it because it had only the loosest possible association with the LSE. It was actually written by two retired Israeli mathematicians, one of whom taught at King's College, London, until 20 years ago, but is loosely associated with the LSE voting power and procedures project. I will quote from it—and I have discussed this with Professor Machover, one of the authors. In the first page of the paper published by a small Brussels think tank four years ago, it says that the new voting rules will be,

"to the advantage of the four largest states", and disadvantage the smaller states below that. Britain is one of the four largest states, so that does not seem to me to support the arguments made.

I have not only read the other paper but have discussed it in e-mails with members of the research team at Sciences Po. It is true that selective statistics will take you a long way; the paper says that the speed of decision-making has increased since enlargement but the number of legislative Acts—the quantity of legislation—has substantially declined. You can prove or disprove a certain amount with statistics. One has to congratulate Open Europe and all those organisations with the immense care they take to trawl through all this academic work.

Underlying differences on European co-operation on foreign policy lie behind these amendments. These Benches see closer co-operation with France and Germany as central to British foreign policy, and the European Union as the most useful framework through which to work. The Conservatives, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, have made clear, see close co-operation with China as more important to British interests, and the Commonwealth as the most useful multilateral framework. Perhaps in his wind up he will explain whether a future Conservative Government will invite China to join the Commonwealth as a basis for closer co-operation between Britain and China in Africa, on which our interests are so clearly closely aligned.

I am puzzled by the Conservative Party's foreign policy in this respect. I recall a number of Conservative Foreign Ministers working extremely constructively for closer European co-operation in foreign policy. I refer, for example, to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who in the British presidency sponsored in 1990-91 a report on closer foreign policy co-operation; I also refer to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, and the noble Lord, Lord Hurd. The Conservative Party at that point recognised that the intergovernmental procedures for concerting European foreign policies were very clearly in Britain's national interest. I am sorry that in opposition since 1997 the Conservatives seem to have forgotten that.

Some of these amendments go further than that. Amendment No. 113 of the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, has echoes of the unilateralism of the Bush Administration—the reputation of commitments made in the national interest by a previous Government. Those most unilateralist in the Bush Administration—Vice-President Cheney and others—would wish to repudiate most international obligations to which the United States has been subject, including many obligations to the United Nations, the Geneva Convention and so on. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, does not wish for a Conservative Government to go quite that far in that direction.

Amendment No. 165 seems to me—again this is a Front-Bench Conservative amendment—to be a defence of absolute sovereignty. As the noble Lord, Lord Howell, made clear, that involves no permanent allowances for Britain and balance of power politics—we shift from one set of temporary alliances to another, as good old England did in the 18th century. That is a very long way from where we are now. Closer co-operation for all countries is what we need to manage an increasingly complex and interdependent world, networked or not. The European security strategy—produced, as it happens, by a British author some years ago—was a useful focus on the ground on which we can build closer European co-operation. The institution of a higher representative for common foreign and security policy has provided us, particularly in the Middle East, with the ability to have a stronger European voice on a range of multilateral matters. The European Union External Action Service will also be of interest to Britain. The Daily Telegraphthat journal of record for Eurosceptics—noted on Saturday that Britain currently has resident UK representation in 139 of the 192 member states of the United Nations; that is, 53 states in which we do not currently have resident British missions. The European Union External Action Service will be very helpful in providing some resident missions in those additional 50 states.

The paranoia of Conservatives might be increased if I admit to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that Alex Stubb is a former student of mine—and, even worse, a former student of my wife. He received his PhD from the London School of Economics. Before that he was a student in the United States. He is an extremely bright young man who has a very clear idea about how European and Atlantic co-operation work and how closer collaboration is what we all need to be moving towards. Co-operation between European states on Iran has been highly constructive. The record in the Western Balkans—in very different circumstances—has been good. Common actions in Africa have been effective. We need now to develop further co-operative foreign policy towards Russia and—pace the noble Lord , Lord Howell—towards China. It is in Britain's national interests. The Conservative Party does not seem to understand that these are in Britain's national interests, but I would suggest that the Conservative Party does not, at present, have a coherent foreign policy or a coherent European policy. We therefore resist these amendments.