EU: Lisbon Treaty

– in the House of Lords at 6:33 pm on 16th June 2008.

Alert me about debates like this

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) 6:33 pm, 16th June 2008

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary in another place.

"With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a Statement about the Irish referendum on the Lisbon treaty held last Thursday. The 'no' vote on the treaty in the referendum is important because of our strong national interest in an effective European Union, and it needs to be respected.

"The next step is for the Irish Government to give their views on how to proceed from here, consistent with their aims for Ireland's role in the European Union. They have made clear that they need time to absorb and analyse the result and its implications, and to consult widely at home and abroad. The Irish Prime Minister has said he is disappointed by the result but wants Ireland to continue to play a full part in the life of the European Union.

"I have just returned from a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Luxembourg and that message was reiterated by the Irish Foreign Minister. He emphasised the diverse nature of the Irish debate and the overlap in the debate between issues affected by the treaty and those not. He also expressed his appreciation that around Europe leaders had committed themselves to work co-operatively with Ireland. He committed Ireland to work for a common European approach with Ireland at the heart of Europe. There will be further discussion among Heads of State and Government and Foreign Ministers at the European Council this Thursday and Friday—not to take final decisions but to hear a preliminary report from the Irish Government and preliminary thoughts on the next steps.

"The rules of the treaty and the European Union are clear. All 27 member states must ratify the treaty for it to come into force. There is no question of ignoring the Irish vote or bulldozing Irish opinion. Ireland clearly cannot be bound by changes which it has not ratified. Equally, there is no appetite for a return to years of institutional negotiation. The EU as a whole needs to find a way forward for all countries that allows it to focus on the big policy issues that confront us.

"Eighteen countries have approved the Lisbon treaty. The Irish Government have set out clearly their respect for the right of other countries to complete their ratification processes. My conversations with other Foreign Ministers, representing all shades of political opinion across the European Union, show this to be a very strong view. The reason for this approach is simple: an Irish vote is determinant of an Irish position but cannot determine the ratification decision of other countries. The British view is for this Parliament to determine.

"In this House and the other place there have been 24 days of debate, and both Houses have voted strongly in favour of the European Union (Amendment) Bill at each stage. The final stage is the Third Reading in the other place on Wednesday. The Government believe that ratification should proceed as planned. It must be right that every country takes its own view on the treaty in accordance with its democratic traditions. That is right according to democratic principle; it is right in terms of our negotiating position in the European Union; and it is right in terms of our national interest.

"Our national interest is a strong Britain in a strong European Union. The EU now consists of 27 countries and more than 490 million people. Reform of EU institutions and working practices is important to ensure that the EU can function more effectively and cohesively, and also to ensure that it embraces an outward-looking agenda that tackles in an effective way international issues such as migration, climate change, security and defence policy, and counterterrorism. But treaty change rightly requires unanimity across all countries. That is why it is right that we take the time to allow the Irish Government to make proposals on what to do next; right that we assert Britain's national interest in an effective European Union that addresses the problems of the modern world; and right that we work to maintain the cohesion of the European Union. That is what the Government will be doing in the weeks and months ahead, and I commend this approach to the House".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs, Deputy Shadow Leader, Parliament, Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 6:38 pm, 16th June 2008

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating this Statement by the Foreign Secretary, who has just returned from meeting his fellow Ministers, although I heard much of what he said and what she repeated with incredulity. That approach may commend itself to the other place—I am not sure whether it does—but it certainly should not commend itself to your Lordships' House. The objective facts of this whole situation are absolutely clear. The treaty was negotiated and required the common consent of all EU member countries to come into effect. In the words of the Foreign Secretary, the rules are absolutely clear: unless all 27 member states pass the Lisbon treaty, it cannot pass into law—he repeats something to that effect in the Statement.

The British Government had many reservations about the treaty—we all know that. They tried and failed to resist many of the features in the final treaty text and attempted to hedge them around with so-called red lines, significant numbers of which were breached, with others having to be protected by various devices and defences, which our discussions on the enacting Bill in recent weeks have shown to be of dubious worth.

Alone among the European nations, the Irish Government, because they had to, allowed their people a referendum on the treaty. The Irish people have rejected it decisively, and the treaty to be enacted in the Bill before your Lordships' House therefore, if not completely dead, as the Liberal Democrat spokesman was saying earlier this afternoon in the other place, is at least in a deep coma—until and unless the Irish people are told to vote and vote again until they give a different answer, which they are not going to do and which we should not expect them to do.

Giving the Bill a Third Reading here this Wednesday, which is the implication of what the noble Baroness said—doing it in haste—is absolutely pointless. A new negotiation now obviously has to begin, perhaps after a considerable pause to respond to the Irish concerns. Although there are many interpretations of what those concerns are, we know that a large number of them are shared by a huge number of people in our country and other European states.

Whether one is for or against the treaty—I know that there are deep divisions in your Lordships' House—the worst tactic in such negotiation would be to pass this wounded and dire Bill in this House on Wednesday next. What would that be saying to the rest of the EU? I do not know why the Foreign Secretary cannot see this. It would be saying, "We, the British Government, are entirely satisfied with the Lisbon treaty as now written. We would not amend one comma of it or change the way we handle it here in the UK. We wish to be included out of any discussions and are entirely content for Mr Barroso to settle with the mischievous people of Ireland on the basis of the present text". In fact, we would be saying that we approve the "isolate Ireland" strategy, which seems to be going the rounds, and will join the bullying camp. I hope that that is not so—I know that the Foreign Secretary has said that it is not so—but that is what we will be doing if we push through Third Reading of a near-dead Bill. To proceed in that way would be folly. It would be giving away our negotiating room, just as the Government gave away our rebate for nothing except castles in the air on the common agricultural policy.

I confess—I do not have to hide—that I have consistently argued that this is a bad treaty, the wrong treaty, and that we could have done and could do much better for modern Europe, old and new, by moving in more democratic directions, as the Laeken declaration originally required. Wherever you stand, the common-sense approach must be not to proceed further with the Bill at present. If the leaders of the EU attempt to devise some method of proceeding about which Parliament, the British people and, probably, the Government, know nothing, at least the Bill's discussion provides a forum for delivering some parliamentary control of that process, if we keep it alive.

Although we know that the treaty cannot be amended, the Bill could be brought back later with any new aspects that might come out of any intergovernmental conference or Council, such as new protocols and other adjustments of that kind. The Government could table amendments not to the treaty but to the Bill and they could be fully discussed and debated in both Houses.

If we complete Third Reading in this House, that becomes impossible. Postponement for a few months is much the wisest course and that is what the Government should now do. At the very least, the Bill must be returned by your Lordships' House to the other place, the elected Chamber, to give the necessary opportunity for the situation to be reassessed. That is our absolute and clear duty. In a way, one could say that it is the Government's good fortune that we are here and can stop the process just in time to give them the chance to act. We can stop the train just before it hits the buffers. That is exactly what we should now do. I cannot believe that any of your Lordships would want otherwise at this stage in our proceedings.

If the Government will not do the democratic thing and postpone Third Reading, we will certainly table a Motion to do so. If we proceed as if nothing has happened on Wednesday, the Government are in effect asking Parliament to plunge into the unknown, leaving the other place defenceless. That would be a foolish and arrogant course.

After the Danish referendum, the process of ratification of the Maastricht treaty was suspended. After other repeated referendums in which countries as diverse as Holland, France and Denmark opposed treaty revisions, there was talk of a pause for a reflection. Why is the order of the day this time not "pause for reflection", but "rush on blindly"? That is very dangerous and will do nothing to enhance the strength and cohesion of Europe or of our European policy.

A dangerous gulf is opening between the elites of Europe and the people of Europe over the direction of the European Union. In an interactive age, when ordinary citizens have been empowered by the internet as never before, the use of imposed, top-down solutions by grandee conventions are no longer practicable or possible. The Governments of Europe have to learn that Europe is for the people and not for its administrators.

Faced with that gulf, revealed in sharp outline in the Irish referendum last week, we can either recognise the new conditions of life or ignore the new realities. We can cling to the past that is done or we can seek to lay out our new, better vision of Europe in which people truly have a say. We can pause for reflection sensibly or we can plunge on regardless. The right route—the positive route, the route for the future—is to listen and reflect and for the Government then to come back to the elected Chamber and to this reflective House with plans to replace, redesign and remedy the obvious weaknesses of the Lisbon treaty.

Many small countries throughout the EU would thank us warmly for doing so. Let us not insult Parliament and the public and close off the options for our country by behaving as if nothing occurred last week. Let us pause with the Bill, not least while the Prime Minister goes to the EU Council, which he is about to do. Let us hear what is said there and then let us join in mature debate about any revisions proposed and whether a new treaty and therefore new legislation is required.

I am personally convinced, and I believe many people in all parties will be convinced, that that is the statesmanlike and sensible course and I beg the noble Baroness—I confess without all that much hope—to find the wisdom to embrace it.

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 6:47 pm, 16th June 2008

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness the Lord President on the crispness and brevity of the Statement—clearly the Prime Minister's hand was not in it. I wonder whether she has heard the American expression that it is very difficult to remember that the idea was to drain the swamp when you find yourself up to the armpits in alligators. I hope that she will resist the crocodile tears shed this afternoon and over the weekend by those who have tried at every stage to derail the Bill.

It is worth wondering what we were trying to do with the Lisbon treaty. It was the treaty that was going to enable the new enlarged Community of 27 to work more efficiently. It was the Conservative Party that had given most support to the idea of enlargement and then worked very hard to deny the way that that enlargement could work. As the Statement recognises, it was the way that Europe could move on from the constitution and navel-gazing to the agenda outlined in the Statement, the relevant agenda for the people of Europe. It is therefore rather odd now to say that we should not continue with the parliamentary process. We welcome the decision in the Statement to go ahead with Third Reading.

As my honourable friend Ed Davey said earlier today in the other place, not to do so could do further damage if we are seen to jettison the treaty just days before the Governments of Europe meet to discuss its future. Each country was asked to process the matter. The fact that the Irish have processed it in a way that we do not like has nothing to do with the fact that we should process it within our parliamentary system. Indeed, doing this—contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, was implying—would greatly strengthen the Prime Minister's hand in the discussions that will take place. It would be a sign of Britain's good faith and good intent. Europe cannot be held in suspended animation. I hope that the Prime Minister, when he attends the summit, will impress on his colleagues the need to let the people of Europe know what will happen next. This cannot be done by smoke and mirrors, and it cannot be done by drift. There must be leadership from the summit.

We must also use this time to think carefully about other issues that have come up during this discussion. I hope that, when considering the constitution Bill, we will look at how we handle treaties in our Parliament. We should not take a short-term view. I also think that we need to look carefully at how—if at all—we use referendums in our parliamentary democracy. The Conservative Party, for short-term political gain, has fallen in love with referendums and is implying that the parliamentary democracy that has served us well for hundreds of years is somehow inferior to referendums—which, as we have seen from the Irish experience, are very prone to distortion and to influence. If the Conservative Party really wants to supplant our parliamentary democracy with a system where, whatever the issue is, it is exposed to the interference and intervention of any eccentric millionaire willing to pour his funds into a campaign, it is treading on very dangerous ground.

I hope that Third Reading proceeds, because I believe that it is in Britain's national interest. It is also in Britain's national interest, as we have argued constantly from these Benches, that the Government use the opportunity to move to a real debate about Europe that puts the positives of Europe to the British people and allows us to move to centre stage. That has been the aim and argument of this party throughout this process.

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) 6:53 pm, 16th June 2008

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords, who set out their positions extremely succinctly and to no great surprise on these Benches. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that his was a nice try. However, we have had, in your Lordships' House and another place, one of the best series of debates that this Parliament has been fortunate enough to experience. I will not go over all the statistics. We have had 24 days of debate; 10.5 in your Lordships' House, plus the time on this Statement and no doubt time on Wednesday. Three hundred and fifteen amendments were tabled in the Commons and 266 in the Lords. There have been 57 divisions; 12 in your Lordships' House and 45 in another place. I believe that the noble Lord is incorrect to say that we are acting in haste by moving to Third Reading. This has been long scheduled in your Lordships' House and long looked forward to by those of us who have spent many hours in considerable debates. I reject the assertion that this is an in-haste response. I reject the assertion that Parliament has not done its job properly and succinctly in debating the detail of the treaty and the detail of the legislation. I hope that noble Lords will accept the Government's position that we have thought carefully about what should be done and determined that we should finish the process.

The reason is simple. Each member state undertook to take the issues raised by the treaty to its country and, through the processes available to it, to consider them carefully and to reach a conclusion. We are 96 per cent of the way to reaching that conclusion. Noble Lords will put down what amendments they wish for Third Reading, will determine whether they wish to divide your Lordships' House and will make their decisions accordingly. We on the Government Benches are very clear that we should continue.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, that it is not a question of the British Government being satisfied; it is a question of Parliament being satisfied. Parliament, having had the benefit of so much debate and deliberation, is saying very strongly what it feels about this treaty and about this legislation. We should make our decisions on Wednesday, send the Bill on its way and see our Prime Minister going to the European Council knowing what the position of the British Parliament is. That would place this country at the heart of Europe and in the best position to discuss and debate with our colleagues across the European Union—and especially with our colleagues in Ireland—what needs to happen next.

There is no question of bullying or isolating Ireland; that would be completely wrong, completely against what my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has already said in another place and in the media, and completely wrong from your Lordships' perspective. That would be inconceivable. What is right is that we are able to participate in those discussions as effectively as possible—not rushing in blindly, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, said, but deliberating properly, knowing what the British Parliament has said, being clear from all the debates and discussions where this nation stands, and being able to discuss effectively with colleagues what should happen next. I hope that we will continue with Third Reading. As has been suggested, that is how our parliamentary democracy will work at its best. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that we can then move on to stage the debates about the future of Europe that we have described over these past weeks in the context of the issues that we all face, and that we face far more effectively when we work together.

Photo of Lord Elystan-Morgan Lord Elystan-Morgan Crossbench 6:57 pm, 16th June 2008

My Lords, is it not the case that with regard to the relationship between the United Kingdom and the treaty, and the relationship between this House and the treaty, what happened in Ireland makes no difference whatever? The merits and the demerits of the treaty remain the same as when we discussed this matter last week. We are a sovereign Parliament. The United Kingdom has a responsibility in relation to a treaty that it has agreed to place before Parliament and allow to pass through all its processes.

Twenty-six countries will not take no for an answer. One country will not take yes for an answer. I respect the Irish people for the decision that they have come to, after facing up to the blandishments and advice of three major parties. They were entitled to do exactly that. That is what freedom and sovereignty really mean. There are, however, immense difficulties. Under Articles 46 and 47 of the Irish constitution, there is no way that they can ratify the treaty save by a referendum. In respect of that referendum, I believe that I am right in saying that, in so far as concerns unanimity, it has to take place before 31 December this year. I ask the Minister: is it possible for the treaty to be extended? If that were to be done, would it of necessity be on a basis of total acceptance by all 27 members; and would even that provision still have to go before the Irish Dáil?

M

You are not a "sovereign Parliament". You have given away practically all your sovereignty to the officials in Brussels. And you are continuing to give them further powers in this failed treaty.

M Chelk

Submitted by Michael Chelk Read 1 more annotation

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 for the points made by the noble Lord about the sovereign nature of the role of Parliament and I hope that I have expressed the view of the Government that that is precisely what we ought to do. On the issue of the date of 31 December, we have agreed that countries will deposit as far as possible their ratifications, but ratification does not have to have taken place by that date; it is more that European nations said that they would try to deposit them. It is the physical provision of a document, and nothing in the treaty states that it has to be done by 31 December.

Photo of Lord Radice Lord Radice Labour

My Lords, the result of the referendum in Ireland is a severe setback for the EU, but is it not the case that what happens next is a matter for the Republic of Ireland and the European Council? As far as the UK Parliament is concerned, has not the European Union (Amendment) Bill, which we have been discussing in this House, gone through all stages except for Third Reading? The only sensible course, therefore—and, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has said, the only one that will give us a say in what happens next—is for us to proceed with Third Reading.

Photo of Lord Howe of Aberavon Lord Howe of Aberavon Conservative

My Lords, was the noble Baroness as astonished as I was to hear the tone used by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, to denounce my party for our deep affection for referenda, as though we are leading the chase in this? It was his own party, certainly at the outset, that was the most enthusiastic in its pursuit of that solution, one which I regard as unacceptable? But to hear him denouncing my party in that way is to hear him exceeding even his own most astonishing performances. Beyond that, while I hesitate to join my noble friend Lord Howell in introducing the locomotive metaphor that so often confuses these arguments, surely the purpose which has been common to all parties in this House has been to secure enlargement of the European Union and to embrace the democracies which have been brought about by the example of the Union. Is not the greater part of this treaty, which certainly is not perfect in my eyes, destined to secure the steps that are necessary for the European Union to advance with its enlarged membership? Is it not also the case that if there are any doubts about the position of my party, the leader and the spokesman for foreign affairs have both made it very clear that Britain's place should be as part of the European Union? If that is kept in mind while the Council of Ministers and the Irish Government grapple with the extremely difficult problems they are facing, as long as it is clear that the locomotive that started God knows how long ago is intended to be kept on the rails in working condition, is that not the best approach?

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 not going to get involved in an argument between the Opposition parties, and the noble and learned Lord probably would not expect me to do so. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, is very important. Both he and the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said that it is important that Europe should move forward and not stand still at this point. Issues need to be discussed, and as I have indicated, the treaty cannot come into effect without the agreement of all 27 nations. Enlargement is something that I trust all noble Lords agree is of great importance and it is vital both that countries work together effectively and that Europe remains a central aspect of our approach in foreign policy. So I agree strongly with what the noble and learned Lord has said.

Photo of Lord Tomlinson Lord Tomlinson Labour

My Lords, can my noble friend help me by explaining how we would show respect for the Irish vote by denying ourselves the opportunity to make our own decision? Furthermore, can she assure me that she will not be put off by the hectoring language that so ill suits the noble Lord, Lord Howell, when he talks about "this wounded Bill", giving away our "negotiating room", "bullying", and "plunging" ourselves into the unknown? It is totally unhelpful language that does not sound like any sort of objective advice to Her Majesty's Government.

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 always mindful of language in your Lordships' House, and we have heard some interesting examples of the use of the vernacular along the way. People speak with enormous passion, and I can live with that. But I agree completely with my noble friend that it does no service to this country, to the people of Ireland or to the people of the European Union not to complete that which we have started, and for the British to determine the British position. We should not have that position determined elsewhere. The British Parliament has debated it at great length; the British Parliament should finish its deliberations, and send our Prime Minister to the Council with that knowledge.

Photo of Lord Hamilton of Epsom Lord Hamilton of Epsom Conservative

My Lords, is the Minister not seriously concerned about the widening gulf between the views of the people of Europe and those of the people in Brussels who purport to represent them? Does she not accept that if there had been referenda in all the 27 nations, there would have been a lot more "no" votes than just that of Ireland?

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 cannot predict what the votes would or would not have been in referenda in any country of the European Union, nor would I seek to do so. Where I agree with the noble Lord is the underlying point I think he makes, which is that it is important to make sure that the people of this country and of every other nation in Europe understand the benefits of being part of the European Union, and of those benefits to them whether they live, work, study or travel across the Union that have been brought about by being a member. It is important to tackle some of the issues we face today across the 27 nations rather than try to be isolationist in our approach. I agree with all of that, but what I would say simply to the noble Lord is that we should complete our processes and then decide how best to take forward these important issues in the European Council.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

My Lords, will the noble Baroness try to cast some light on the statement of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that somehow our lives would all be made easier if we suspended consideration of this legislation because if some change took place in Brussels, we would be better placed to take account of it? Surely the situation legally is rather simple: if the Lisbon treaty is in any way renegotiated or changed, it will not be this House but this Parliament which will have to start the process again, and that will not be helped by suspending our deliberations this week. Further, if nothing is done to change the Lisbon treaty, there will not be a case for ourselves being helped by not having passed this legislation.

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 to say that we gain nothing by suspension other than sending a rather bizarre message to another place, to the country and to Europe. We should complete the process. If a new treaty were to be negotiated, it would begin its process through another place and your Lordships' House all over again. That would be the way of it.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip (technically a Lord in Waiting, HM Household), Lords in Waiting (HM Household)

My Lords, we have plenty to time to hear from both sides. We have heard from equal numbers except for the Liberal Democrats.

Photo of Baroness Carnegy of Lour Baroness Carnegy of Lour Conservative

My Lords, I love Europe, but I never had the opportunity to be an MEP so I did not have the chance to go native. I simply look at the situation from the point of view of the people of this country and of Europe. Does not the noble Baroness appreciate that the people of Ireland have given us an opportunity to get the European Union to look at certain things again which we would very much like to be improved in this treaty? She is missing an opportunity by not agreeing to suspending consideration of this Bill, which the timing now gives us the chance to do. We have still not finished the Bill and we have had the Irish referendum.

I hope that the Liberal Democrats will do what they did before and change their minds. They abstained in the Commons on the issue of a referendum, they supported the Government here, and I understand that if they had not done so, this country would have recommended by a minute majority a referendum. I may be wrong, but I understand that to be the case. I hope that they will change their minds between now and next week. Again, does not the Minister accept that we have a marvellous opportunity, one that we are throwing away, to get a little more of what we want out of this treaty? It seems to me that she is letting the people of this country down.

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 sorry if the noble Baroness thinks I am doing that, but she is simply incorrect. If we were to suspend the treaty, then as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has just said, we would have to begin with a new treaty and consider it all over again. I fail to see what evidence there is for what the noble Baroness has said. We have had 57 votes on the treaty in this Parliament. The Government put forward a treaty that they believed was a good deal for this country and a good deal for Europe. We stand by that. We have voted on every issue that Members in another place and noble Lords here have chosen to vote on, and we have made our position very clear. We are at the final stage, so there is nothing to suggest that it would be appropriate at this point to stop. Rather, we should complete the process. If a new treaty were to be brought forward in the future, as the noble Baroness suggests, we would go through the processes properly in both Houses. It is not something we can stop and amend. In my view, that would be completely wrong.

Photo of Lord Richard Lord Richard Labour

My Lords, my noble friend has, in making this Statement to the House, expressed the view that we must respect the decision of the Irish people. She is absolutely right: we must respect their decision. The Irish Government, as I understand it, have asked for time to consider what should be done. Can my noble friend help me to this extent? Do the Irish Government have any view as to whether the ratification processes in those other member states that have not yet ratified the treaty should be postponed, held up or completed; or have they—as I suppose they sensibly have—remained silent on this point? The issue, for us, is very simple. Having got this far with this Bill, is it seriously suggested that, because one member state has produced a view on the Bill that does not fit in with the views of other countries that have so far expressed views on it, the whole procedure of this House—and this Parliament—should be negated? It is a fanciful argument. To put it in the quasi-democratic terms of the noble Baroness, it is really a travesty of the position.

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 Irish Government have made it clear that they believe that other member states should continue with their processes. Indeed, as I have indicated, that is what I believe we should do. This is about parliamentary sovereignty and the rights of each member state. We have had many discussions, in the course of our debates, about the desire of noble Lords, on both sides of the House, to ensure that we take our own decisions. This is a decision for us to complete. It is for our Prime Minister to attend the European Council, being clear about what that decision is.

Photo of Lord Roper Lord Roper Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, with whom I have been debating these issues in this House and another place for something like 36 years, will accept that there have, at various times, been divisions in all political parties on the issue of referenda, but that my noble friends on these Benches have been fairly adamant in opposing referenda. Does the Minister accept that a certain amount of clarity is needed on these issues as soon as possible? While, in the Statement, she said that the meeting of the European Council on Thursday and Friday would not be able to take final decisions on the matter, it would be of great advantage if it could give some sort of timetable for the process by which the matter could be taken forward.

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 cannot pre-empt the discussions that will take place at the European Council. Suffice to say that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will make a Statement, as always after a European Council meeting. If noble Lords wish to hear that Statement—which I sincerely hope noble Lords do—it will be repeated by me next week.

Photo of Lord Rowlands Lord Rowlands Labour

My Lords, will my noble friend assure the House that the Government will oppose most strongly any attempts to introduce some of the provisions of the treaty through non-treaty means?

M

Too late. They are implementing it already although they have no legal power to do so. The EU does not believe in the...

Submitted by Michael Chelk Continue reading (and 1 more annotation)

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 will not pre-empt the discussions that will take place. I understand my noble friend's point that European Union members need to respect what has happened with the Irish vote, and therefore respect the implications for the treaty. I am sure, however, that they will want to discuss some of the issues; for example, the effectiveness of meetings, and so on. We will have to see what they come back with. My noble friend is right: as the treaty will not become law, anything requiring law to make sure that it happens will not happen.

Photo of Lord Lawson of Blaby Lord Lawson of Blaby Conservative

My Lords, is it not the case that what has happened is much more important than just one country deciding to be out of line? It is the one country that has consulted its people. That has immense significance. If noble Lords do not realise this, they do not begin to get at the problem. Remarkably, the people of Ireland voted against the clearly expressed wishes of all the major political parties in Ireland. It was very similar in France. I was in France a few years ago for the referendum on what was virtually the same treaty. Again, the French people voted "no". They, again, showed that they do not trust their leaders on this issue. There is a serious failure of trust. One way to begin to redeem that—and I know that this is a radical suggestion—would be for politicians around the Union to start telling people the truth. It is not being told at present.

I give one example and ask the noble Baroness to comment on it. We have heard a lot about the treaty being necessary as a consequence of enlargement. Nobody could have been more in favour of the enlargement of the European Union than me, and it has been an enormous success. The idea that the constitution, or the Lisbon treaty, contains nothing more than what is necessary to cope with the enlargement of the Union is manifest nonsense. There are fundamental provisions in that treaty which have nothing to do with enlargement. That is the sort of thing that people do not like. Is it not the case that, if people are not told the truth, the European adventure is going to come to much harder times than it has already been through?

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 went through a series of different issues there. The first was to do with whether the leadership should do more to talk about what the European Union is all about, and what the benefits of enlargement are. I agree with the noble Lord about that. There is a job to be done; it is something that I have been taken to task for, not least by the Liberal Democrats, many times over the course of debates. We need to make sure that people understand Europe better. I agree with the noble Lord.

Then the noble Lord switched his argument to say that it is all about what is in the treaty, and that people do not realise what is hidden away. We have to assume that the Irish people, in making their decision, considered carefully what is in the treaty, and decided on that basis. It takes nothing away from the fact that in this country, in our parliamentary democracy, 1,300 legislators have had the opportunity to deliberate in great detail over what is in this treaty, and to reach a conclusion. Thus far, they have reached the conclusions.