HL Deb 10 December 2003 vol 655 cc758-828

3.18 p.m.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean

rose to call attention to the European Union Constitution; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister can recall that glad and confident morning in 1997, and then when the Government's first annual report promised, to make Government more responsive and accountable … to bring politics closer to the people… to restore the public's faith in the political process". Six years on, the Government took the country into war and, as we now know, exaggerated the threat from weapons of mass destruction and published information—the so-called "dodgy dossier"—which gave a false impression. Within the same year, the same Government intend to give away this country's right to govern itself while deliberately misleading the electorate about what is at stake.

We now have the Prime Minister's "Big Conversation", and the Lord Chancellor, no less, offering votes for 16 year-olds. But it is the same Government who refuse a big conversation on the European constitution, which will alter everything by taking away the voters' ability to achieve change through the ballot box.

Both Houses of Parliament are heading towards being the decorative part of governance, of more interest to tourists and historians than legislators or aggrieved citizens. That is what is at stake. No party has a right to impose a new and irrevocable constitution on the people of Britain without first seeking their express consent.

The deceit the Government are perpetrating by describing the draft constitution as "no more than a tidying-up exercise" is simply breathtaking. The treaty will create a new union with its own personality. All existing EU treaties will be repealed and our country will be submitting itself to a new external jurisdiction with no obvious benefit to us. At least the single European Act offered the prospect of a single market.

I do not believe that I am being unfair to the Government. At Nice the Government proclaimed their red lines, their lines in the sand, and said that they would not support majority voting on tax, treaty changes, border controls, the EU budget and social policy. That was the Government's position a few short months ago. The new constitution provides for all of these matters to be enacted.

The Government's response to the House's distinguished EU Committee and its recent report on the constitutional treaty has been selectively to quote one rather unfortunately drafted sentence. Both the Prime Minister and Ministers have seized upon the words, it is clear that the balance of power is going to shift from the Commission to the member states". That is palpable nonsense. It is not at all clear. Indeed, the chairman of the committee, at col. 336 of Hansard on 3rd December, explained that it meant the Council. That is altogether different from member states, particularly given the provisions contained within the treaty. I find it astonishing that Ministers should selectively choose that quote and should selectively misrepresent the position in that way.

More importantly, the Minister who is to reply to the debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, gave an explicit undertaking to the House on 9th September— three months ago—to provide an analysis of the draft treaty against existing treaty provisions. She has failed to do so. Why? Voluntary organisations such as the splendid all-party Vote 2004 have been able to do so, as has my right honourable friend David Heathcoat-Amory MP in his tireless campaigning and writing on the subject. With thousands, and increasingly more, civil servants at their beck and call, what is preventing Ministers delivering on a promise given three months ago?

The noble Baroness shakes her head. I shall be very happy to give way if she has an explanation. If she is pretending that she does not know what I am talking about, I should point out that the Government, in their response to the committee's report, referred to that undertaking. They stated: The committee are no doubt referring to the undertaking given on 9th September". In regard to what it wished of Ministers, the committee stated: We would expect this document in analysing every article of the draft treaty, to identify in particular which provisions are new and where there are changes to competences and to provision for QMV it will also be important for the Government to set out their understanding of the interrelationship between the provisions which effect decision making, including the Passerelle, the right of initiative and the flexibility clause. Such analysis should be made available to the public as soon as possible".

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, the noble Lord invited me to explain why I was shaking my head. I did so simply because we do not have a draft treaty yet. I made an undertaking to your Lordships' House that when we have the draft treaty— as we shall have once it has been through the IGC—I shall be able to give the explanations. Your Lordships have fully taken on board that I have already undertaken to do that. That was my sole reason for shaking my head.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean

My Lords, I find that response staggering. The noble Baroness is saying that the reason she has not done what the Select Committee asked of her, and which she said to the House she would do, is because she does not have a draft treaty. What is that I see before me in the hand of my noble friend? The noble Baroness is really saying that the Government are not prepared to tell us what they are signing up to until it is too late and they have signed up to it. That is disgraceful.

As to the failure to provide this information, if the noble Baroness has not had an opportunity to catch up on this I should tell her that there are at least 40 new areas subject to qualified majority voting. It is all part of the Government's plan to pull the wool over the eyes of voters and to proceed by stealth in giving away our right to govern ourselves.

The Europe Minister, Mr Denis MacShane, has claimed that the European convention was, another example of Britain at ease with Europe and influential in Europe". Of 200 amendments tabled by the Government to the document that the noble Baroness states does not exist, only 11 have been accepted. Eleven out of 200. How influential is that?

Among the failures were the following. Article I-11 on increased co-ordination of economic policies. Mr Peter Hain wrote: It is inappropriate here and goes beyond the current treaties". Result? No change.

Article I-15 on developing the common foreign policy. The noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, called for a total redraft. He wrote: The Union acts on behalf of the member states not the reverse". Quite right. What was the result? No change.

Article I-27 on creating the European Foreign Minister. Mr Peter Hain wrote: We do not accept the title Foreign Minister … this is unacceptable". Result? No change.

Article I-40 on creating a mutual defence commitment. Mr Peter Hain wrote on common defence that it was, divisive and a duplication of the guarantees that 19 of the 25 member states will enjoy through NATO". Result? No change.

Article III-167 on border checks and asylum: This is a fundamentally important amendment". Result? No change.

Article III-229 on representation at the UN. Mr Peter Hain wrote that changes are needed, to make clear that member states retain the right to speak in their own right at international organisations". Quite right. Good for him. Result? No change.

As to being at ease with Europe, he should consult his colleague, Gisela Stuart MP, whose European credentials are impeccable. She was quoted in the Sunday Times this week. I do not know whether the Minister found time to read the Sunday Times, but she said: I confess after 16 months at the heart of the process—I was on the 13-strong presidium committee which drew up the draft document"— the one the Minister told us did not exist— I am concerned. I am not convinced the proposed constitution as it stands will meet the needs of a Europe of 25 countries. The Government does not have to accept it, enlargement will continue without it and so will the EU". She also confirmed what everyone knows but the Government deny, when she said: From my experience inside the convention it is clear that the real reason for the constitution is the political deepening of the union". The grotesquely undemocratic nature of the process was underlined by her comments—which are also reflected in the Centre for Policy Studies pamphlet on the European constitution authored by David Heathcoat-Amory—that: consensus was achieved among those deemed to matter who made it plain that the rest would not be allowed to wreck the fragile agreement struck". Revealingly, she went on to state: Not all of us went as far as Giscard who told us on one occasion 'This is what you have to do if you want the people to build statues of you on horseback back in the villages you all came from"'. I will happily raise a statue to Giscard in my village in Scotland in return for his abandoning this shabby and undemocratic project which threatens the whole European ideal.

The three-pillar structure of Maastricht is to be abandoned, with majority voting on justice and home affairs matters. The Council is to be given new powers to ascribe further competences to the EU without a new conference. Under Article I-12, competition law becomes an exclusive competence. Article III-197 creates an EU diplomatic service. Almost all home affairs issues are subject to QMV and interpretation by the European Court of Justice. Article III-168 creates a common immigration policy. It is the end of member states' rights of veto over EU policies on immigration, asylum and border control.

Earl Russell

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that he increasingly reminds me of the English MP who commented on the Union of the Crowns of our two great nations: We are English and so cannot be Britons"?

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean

My Lords, I am delighted that in the tercentenary of the Union of the Crowns, the noble Earl should remind me of the most successful reverse takeover by Scotland in its history, when the Scottish Crown took over the English Crown. What we are discussing is the takeover of our right to govern ourselves by people who will be unaccountable in Brussels. If I have reminded the noble Earl of the importance of these issues, I have achieved half my purpose.

As I was saying, Article III-168 represents the end of member states' right of veto over EU policies on immigration, asylum and border control. It is the creation of a country called Europe, with its own Foreign Minister, foreign policy, flag, motto, diplomatic service, prosecutor, supreme court, anthem and all the trappings of a state except for one— accountability to its people.

The charter of fundamental rights, which another Minister of the Crown, Mr Keith Vaz, told us was no more important than the Beano, is now being incorporated in Part II of the constitution and, as such, is legally binding. This has huge implications for labour market flexibility, on which the Chancellor of the Exchequer writes so eloquently, so belatedly and, I think, so hypocritically, in the Daily Telegraph. It also suggests that Mr Vaz has an affection and regard for the Beano which is somewhat remarkable and deeply worrying.

Denis MacShane, our accident-prone Foreign Minister, told the German Focus magazine on Monday that, the British situation is very clear, we want an agreement this week. Instead of hoping to obtain a 100% perfect EU constitution, we should concentrate again on the pressing problems of employment and economic growth". A further deception by this Government is that there is nothing to worry about. Once it has been agreed, Parliament will have its chance to analyse the treaty line by line, in its final terms—the treaty which Mr MacShane and his colleagues are so anxious to approve, however shambolic. The truth is, of course, that we will not be able to alter a single word or comma of it once the Government have agreed it. We will be able only to reject it.

Perhaps the Minister could at least give us one assurance today that not even this Government would contemplate using the Parliament Acts to prevent the necessary legislation being amended by this House to give the people the right to decide this matter in a referendum. It is to the undying shame of this Administration, who have allowed 34 referendums since 1997—one of which allowed the people of Mr Peter Mandelson's constituency to vote for a monkey as mayor—that they are still refusing to allow a referendum on the most important constitutional issue, certainly of my lifetime.

Both David Heathcoat-Amory MP—Eurosceptic— and Gisela Stuart MP—Europhile—support a referendum and, in the case of Gisela Stuart, a free vote in Parliament. The opposition parties—at least in the House of Commons, for the Liberals: appear to be taking a slightly different line in the House of Lords, which is "wait and see"—support a referendum on the treaty.

The first 10 words of the treaty are, reflecting the will of the citizens and States of Europe". Who, apart from Humpty Dumpty in Alice in Wonderland, who argued that "words mean what I say they mean", could support a Government who propose to proceed without the consent of the British people to such a treaty? The Minister should take care, for we all know what happened to Humpty Dumpty. I beg to move for Papers.

3.35 p.m.

Lord Radice

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, whose speeches in the House of Commons I used to enjoy very much. Indeed, I think he made a House of Commons-style speech today.

According to the noble Lord, the draft constitution is the end of civilisation as we know it. I do not recognise the draft constitution in the words that he used. I shall speak as a supporter of the approach of the draft constitution. I believe it is right to pull together in one document all the various treaties such as the Treaty of Rome, the Single European Act, the Treaty of Maastricht, the Treaty of Amsterdam and the Treaty of Nice, which shape how the EU operates. It is not getting rid of the treaties to put them in one document in words which can be understood by most people.

It is right to set out in clear language for the first time the values and objectives of the European Union, the balance of power—because it is a balance—between the nation states and the European Union and the different types of competences under which the EU is entitled to operate. It is right that, where necessary for UK interests and for the effective working of the European Union, we should take the opportunity to strengthen specific areas of collective action. It is also right that we should equip the European Union to deal with the challenge of enlarging from 15 to 25 members. We never heard anything about that from the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth.

I should add that I also speak as a strong supporter of the European Union and of British membership of the European Union. I make this point—and I will make a few comments about it—only because many people who are most vociferously against the constitution have been vociferously against joining the European Union and, indeed, every treaty that has ever been decided by the European Union.

I believe that the EU has been a force for good in the world. I quote the evidence of the history of the second half of the 20th century compared with the first. I believe that, with NATO, the European Union has underwritten European peace and stability since the Second World War. Indeed, in helping end Franco-German enmity, it has tackled one of the root causes of two world conflicts. We should occasionally remember that.

I agree with the Government White Paper that the EU represents, a model of democracy, tolerance and freedom which, by its rules and examples, has helped underwrite democracy, first in Spain, then in Portugal and Greece, and now in the countries of the former Soviet eastern bloc, which, I am delighted to say, will be joining the EU next year.

In addition, the European Union has brought, for more than 40 years, the trade, growth and employment which have been so necessary and vital to the citizens of the EU member states. In the UK, we owe a great deal of our prosperity and more than 3 million jobs to our membership of the European market. We now export three times as much to the EU as to the US and more to France and Germany than to the whole of the developing world. So let us get this in perspective.

Lord Vinson

My Lords, will the noble Lord give way?

Lord Radice

Yes, my Lords, of course.

Lord Vinson

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that we have this month the biggest balance of trade deficit of £2 billion with Europe? I should have thought that indicated that they need us more than we need them.

Lord Radice

My Lords, I have heard this argument before. There are times when we run deficits with the European Union and times when we run surpluses. It is, de facto, our biggest trading partner, and we will not draw up the drawbridge and get rid of it, even though some Members might like that. I would like to see what the consequences would be for the European Union and the UK if that happened. We are sometimes far too forgetful of the benefits of the European Union, and ignore the costs of withdrawal, which would damage our prosperity, reduce our influence and make us far less effective in the world.

In 2004, we shall carry further the process of democratic change in central and eastern Europe, which began with the fall of the Berlin Wall, by welcoming into the European Union Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the three Baltic states and Slovenia. That is a very good thing indeed. The draft constitution attempts to equip the European Union institutions for that enlargement, in three main ways. First, it proposes to abandon the system of rotating presidencies in favour of a full-time president of the European Council, elected for two and a half years. That will bring far greater coherence and consistency to European Union activity. Secondly, it proposes a weighted system of voting in the Council of Ministers, which ensures that votes are according to population. That is better than the somewhat complicated formula agreed at Nice. I favour the dual majority system by which half of the member states would be needed to support a proposal, representing 60 per cent of the EU's population. That is a sensible way in which to proceed.

The vexed issue of the number of commissioners— not mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, who may not want the European Union to work better—is a difficult one. It has not yet been decided or agreed on. While it is not surprising that every country wishes to have a commissioner, one must ask whether that would be too cumbersome when it came to voting or whether we need a dual banking system. I would be interested to hear the Minister's comments and, indeed, what emerges from the IGC on that matter.

Of the areas in which the draft constitution strengthens the European Union's power to act, I shall consider the justice and home affairs area. The constitution will increase the ability to act on immigration and asylum issues. I should have thought that might be of interest to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. It is strongly in the British interest to have QMV in that area, because it would certainly help to speed up decisions. I also welcome the idea of a Minister for Foreign Affairs, or Union Minister. It is a somewhat overblown title, but the fact is that that is what he will be called anyway. The post would combine the roles of Solana and Patten. It is very important that the European Union Foreign Minister is accountable to the representatives of the member states through the Council of Ministers.

I shall now deal with the Forsyth challenge that the constitution changes everything. It may be sacrilege to quote the Sun in these holy portals, but it said today in its leader that if the EU summit agrees the constitution, it will condemn 450 million EU citizens to become powerless ciphers in an autocratic and largely unelected European superstate… Nation states will lose their right of self-government and law-making", which is roughly the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. In the House of Commons, I once accused the Sun of lying, but I would certainly not do so here. I will just say that that is a grossly inaccurate statement.

Read carefully, the constitution demonstrates that the European Union system is a unique blend of national decision making, intergovernmental decision making and supra-national institutions. Article 1 makes it absolutely clear that the member states by agreement confer competences on the European Union to achieve common objectives that they believe to be necessary. There is a surprisingly small number of cases in which the EU has exclusive competences— four or five of them, or something like that. The competences have to be carried out in accordance with the principles of subsidiarity; that is to say, where they can be better achieved at Union level, and the principle of proportionality, which means that action must be proportionate with what is necessary to achieve European Union objectives. I did not hear the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, mention either of those points.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord. He is right that I did not mention that point, but it would have been a point against him. Perhaps he could confirm that the Government lost the battle on the red card/yellow card position. It will not be member states that decide whether subsidiarity should apply, but the Commission.

Lord Radice

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very useful point, because I am just about to come to that matter. If more than one-third of national parliaments object on grounds of subsidiarity, the Commission is asked to review its activities. The reality is that, if one-third of national parliaments are saying that some activity by the Commission is against the principle of subsidiarity, one may posit that the Commission is going to ignore that, but it is extremely unlikely. Therefore, the yellow card system has a lot to recommend it. We shall see.

There is an extension of qualified majority voting, which I welcome, as it is usually in our national interests, as has been shown time after time. The success of the Single European Act, voted for by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, was based on an extension of qualified majority voting. We do hear quite a lot of nonsense, given that it is meant to be the end of civilisation as we know it when we extend areas of qualified majority voting. The Government are absolutely right, however, to insist that there should be unanimity for treaty changes, tax issues, social security, defence, key areas of criminal procedure and European budget matters relating to own resources. They are also right in saying that a veto should be the general rule for common foreign and security policy.

I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, will welcome my last point. Written into the new constitution is the right for a member state to leave the European Union. Never before have we had that written in, so he will probably welcome it. If not, I should like to hear from those who oppose the constitution their positive proposals and vision of the future, and how they see Britain playing a role inside the European Union.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

My Lords, the noble Lord has kindly invited me to intervene, although I was going to wait until he finished. Would he accept, using his own language, that one can be vociferously critical of key aspects of the draft constitution and vociferously in favour of a referendum and, at the same time, vociferously in favour of the success of the EU and of our membership of it?

Lord Radice

Yes, my Lords, possibly—although I am just about to argue against a referendum. My own view is that, looked at as a whole, the draft constitution treaty shows that the balance has moved away from the Commission towards the representatives of the national governments meeting in the Council of Ministers. The Council of Ministers has been strengthened at the expense of the Commission—that is my view.

Negotiations do not have to be concluded this weekend. We can go on if we are not happy and do not achieve our position—but it would be a good democratic principle if they were concluded before the European elections, so that they could be debated on the doorstep.

I am against a referendum. I do not believe that the new constitution is just a tidying-up exercise, as apparently somebody once said. Frankly, however, it is not nearly as important as the Single European Act or the Maastricht Treaty, against which I do not believe the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, argued when he was in the governments of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, or Mr Major—although he may have done so in private. It is perfectly legitimate to have criticisms of the constitution, but many people who are against it are hoping to use the referendum as a means of opening up the debate about bringing the United Kingdom out of the European Union.

3.50 p.m.

Lord Hurd of Westwell

My Lords, I too am grateful to my noble friend Lord Forsyth for introducing the subject today. We are dealing with a tangled mass of different proposals affecting many parts of our national life and Europe. Some of them are good; some of them are bad; and some of them, as the Minister has already pointed out, are changing all the time as the negotiations continue. The more informed discussion of them there is inside and outside Parliament, the better.

I shall concentrate strictly on the issues of foreign and security policy, which means that I shall leave out many matters of great importance, but shall be able to go into greater detail on those which particularly interest me. This part of the debate flows from the one that we had in this House exactly a week ago, because we have to look at this aspect of the proposals in the light of our view of the world. The world has changed substantially over the past few years and months and the nature of diplomacy and alliances has changed with it. We should all look again at the some of the ancient arguments about Europe in the light of what is happening in the world today.

My own view of European integration has changed in one respect. After the Treaty of Maastricht, I thought that Europe had roughly reached the wise limit for integration. I was and I remain sceptical about further powers for centralised institutions. I saw, and I see, no overwhelming reason why Britain should quickly join the euro. I was and I remain critical of a good deal of what the European Commission does in poking its nose unnecessarily into the nooks and crannies of our national life. All that is unchanged in my mind.

However, because of what has been happening in the world in recent times, on foreign policy and defence, it is right to press rather further and rather faster, if we can, down the road of European co-operation in those matters. I worry that the Government have put too much weight on the single strand of the Anglo-American alliance, essential though that remains. It is no longer an adequate means of sustaining an effective British foreign policy. I do not blame the Americans in particular for that. It is not their fault that the disproportion between the two partners, Britain and America, has grown to the extent that British influence is no longer, in the light of recent experience, likely to be effective within the alliance.

There is nothing wrong with being a junior partner. After all, we were a junior partner when D-Day was planned; we were a junior partner when the Gulf War of 1991 was fought. However, on neither occasion, were our policy and our Armed Forces subordinated to the extent that they have been in post-Saddam Iraq. I do not know whether our views on post-Saddam Iraq were not sought or whether they were ignored, but we are certainly caught in a muddle now. The position was described in the Financial Times today as a "quagmire" and it was described in a notable speech by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, last week as "ignominious".

Much alarm has been expressed about proposals for European defence. I share some of those anxieties, but nothing that I have seen contemplated, even by the most far-fetched and hot-headed enthusiasts of European defence, approaches the degree of subordination of our own policy that we have accepted in post-Saddam Iraq. This is not the place to go further into that. I say it simply as an illustration of the reason why my own feelings about European foreign policy and defence have shifted. The main aim of British foreign policy in the immediate future should be to create a valid European-US partnership. Neither "valid" nor "partnership" accurately describes the present situation.

Therefore, when I look at that part of the constitutional proposals, I ask: "Do they advance that aim"? On balance, and in some respects, they do. That is not because machinery is all important—it is not. Machinery in those matters is much less important than political will.

I am not in favour of qualified majority voting for the main European decisions on foreign policy, although I do not see any harm in retaining what we have now, which is a degree of QMV, for the implementation of policies that have already been agreed by unanimity. Therefore, the Government should continue to resist the proposal that was popped into the documents in the past week or so by the Italian presidency that would provide for QMV on main foreign policy decisions.

In my experience, it is a mistake to force the pace on those matters. I remember several occasions when one itched to have majority voting because a majority would have enabled us to do things that were clearly sensible. I remember, for example, the obstinate and, we thought, unreasonable opposition of the Greeks to even decent treatment of the new republic of Macedonia. We longed to be able to out-vote the Greeks and to be able to get on with it, but it would have been a mistake, because the Greeks would have taken no notice and we would have been in even further difficulty in the Balkans.

It therefore follows that the common foreign and security policy is not likely in the near future to be comprehensive and to cover every area. It obviously will not, as we have seen with Iraq. If we cannot agree, it is probably better to acknowledge the division rather than to fudge it.

However, machinery is important and it does have some part to play. The noble Lord, Lord Radice, mentioned the proposals for a presidency. There is a presidency now. The trouble with the present arrangements is that they are ineffective to the point of being ludicrous. The six-month rotation means that if one is dealing with some major issue that is likely to last longer than six months, and the Americans, the Japanese or the Russians are involved, they will find after six months that they are dealing with a completely new set of people, who may not know anything much about the matter. That is not a responsible way of behaving if one is serious about trying to have a European voice in those matters.

We have to face the problem that arises at this point—I am surprised that it has not been mentioned already—of a certain anxiety and tension between the big and small states of the European Union. I am glad that it has been increasingly recognised in the past few months that, in the field of foreign policy, the three major powers, Britain, France and Germany, are indispensable and that, quite often, they will want to consult and work together in a way which we always found difficult when I was Foreign Secretary, because the Italians or the Spaniards would make a great row. Europe has to be grown-up about the importance of the role of these three powers and their sometimes acting together. However, we have to recognise that there will be anxiety, and sometimes resentment, among the smaller nations.

If one looks at the proposals, the new president is overwhelmingly likely to be selected from one of the smaller states and not from one of the big three. When I read gossip about our Prime Minister or the German Foreign Minister wanting to hold that position, it strikes me as unreal. The same is true of the Foreign Minister or representative of foreign affairs or whatever he turns out to be called. Those two posts— the President of the Council and the Foreign Minister—will be and should be held normally by competent individuals from states other than Britain, France and Germany. It would then be the case that if we continue to deal as Europeans with the situation in Iran, it would be not only the three Foreign Ministers of France, Germany and Britain who make the next expedition, but those three ministers plus the European Foreign Minister. That would be reasonable.

Another aim of the proposals that has not yet been mentioned in the debate is to end the division or dysfunction between the commissioner who deals with foreign affairs and the position under the Council now held by Mr Solana. We have been wise or lucky enough to have chosen for those positions two people—Chris Patten and Javier Solana, with both of whom I have worked closely—who have been sensible enough to work closely together, even though they probably realise that they are working a fairly dotty piece of machinery. That situation could, should and would be improved by the proposals, and we would have one person in charge of both policy and money. I ask the Minister to throw some light on those relationships. As I see it, that person must be anchored in the Council of Ministers and responsible to it, while also being involved in the Commission, when it discusses trade, aid, sanctions and other matters that fall within its remit. That has been discussed but not fully resolved. I hope that the Minister can say something about it, as it is important.

The principle that Europe should speak with a single voice is not new. It was stated famously by my noble friend Lady Thatcher in her speech in Bruges in 1988. She spent much of her time criticising the centralisation of Europe, but she also said: I am the first to say that on many great issues the countries of Europe should try to speak with a single voice. I want to see us work more closely on the things we can do better together than alone. Europe is stronger when we do so, whether it be in trade, in defence, or in our relations with the rest of the world". That is now an accepted aim—accepted, but not fulfilled. It is accepted by the new states, as well as the old ones.

No one should under-estimate the depth of the division and discord inside the European Union over Iraq, but it has disguised the fact that many things are now done on a European basis in a way that would have been inconceivable even 10 years ago. In the Balkans, for example, European countries fought and intrigued against each other for decades; now we act as Europeans. As Europeans, we say to those countries, "Here are the hurdles. Here are the things that you must do in all kinds of spheres, if you want to join the main European family". As Europeans, we are part authors of the road map on Palestine. I can give another small but topical example: when there was a change of regime in Georgia, the question was not what Britain, France or Germany said but what the Europeans said. More important, we all agree and we agree with the Americans that Iran should not be allowed to have nuclear weapons. Perhaps more by luck than by design, we are operating a "soft cop, hard cop" policy, with the Americans taking the harder line and the Europeans undertaking the diplomacy, with the three Foreign Ministers in Tehran. We have the same objective, and we compare notes all the time about how we are getting on. That must be a sensible way of proceeding.

We are not nearly there yet. I have believed for a long time that it is in the interests of Britain and of the world in general that this country should—to use a phrase rather mysteriously attributed to me—continue to punch above its weight. If we are to do that, we must have, as a main priority of our foreign policy in present circumstances, the creation of a valid partnership with the United States, not a rivalry. The rivalry that the French sometimes in their dreams propose is unreal and would be unwise, even if it were real. A valid partnership should be our main objective.

I do not know what will happen with the constitution. There are many vagaries and difficulties ahead. Whatever happens to it, I hope that the parts that would strengthen our ability to speak with a single voice in partnership with the United States will be retained and put into action.

4.4 p.m.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean for initiating the debate. It is a privilege to follow my noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell, who has so much expertise in foreign affairs.

It has been an interesting two weeks for the Labour Party, which seems, at last, to be waking up to the disaster that might befall it if the Prime Minister signs up to the constitution. Two weeks ago, Clare Short blurted out the truth: the reality is that pro-Europeans are driving a project that leads inevitably to a superstate, which most of us don't want". This week, Miss Gisela Stuart told us of her fears that the constitution could lead to a superstate. She ought to know: she was one of the Labour representatives on the convention.

Up to now, many people have felt that we should be slow to reject a constitution that has been carefully and rigorously hammered out by a body on which the various parliaments of the EU are represented and on which every view has been canvassed and properly debated. Many people thought that that was what had happened and were, therefore, prepared to give the constitution the benefit of the doubt. However, the picture painted by Miss Stuart is not one of careful consideration and debate, with proper regard being paid to the arguments advanced by the representatives of national parliaments—far from it. The picture that she paints is of a constitution, parts of which she describes as utter nonsense, being railroaded through with minimal debate by Giscard d'Estaing and a narrow clique.

I have also read the article to which my noble friend referred. Miss Stuart talks of amendments never being considered, let alone voted on; of large parts of a draft secretly prepared by the president and Sir John Kerr being nodded through without discussion; of revised texts arriving late and only in French; and of a redraft of articles about defence from which all references to NATO has suddenly been deleted. She says that some delegates, herself included, made it clear that the text should be regarded by national parliaments as no more than a basis for discussion, but the president chose to take that as unanimous endorsement of the text. That was that, apart from the reference to statues, which my noble friend mentioned.

The Government say that, in spite of the strange birth of the constitution, the people should have no right to vote on it. They can vote on local mayors and regional assemblies, but, when it comes to something important such as who is to make our laws and determine our rights as free citizens, the people should remember their place and keep their mouths shut. Some ask, "Why should the people have a vote, when they were not given one when other treaties were signed?". For goodness sake, we are not talking this time about whether there should be majority voting on this or that, important as that may be. We are certainly not talking about pulling together existing treaties, as the noble Lord, Lord Radice, suggested. We are talking about a constitution. Constitutions are things that states adopt in order—I use the words of Mr Prodi—to mark the birth of a political entity. That is what we are talking about.

The Government say that the constitution will not change the fundamental relationship between the EU and its member states. That is bunkum. Under the constitution, the EU ceases to be a collection of member states that have chosen to share sovereignty over agreed aspects of their affairs and have agreed, as we did in 1972, that measures agreed by the Council of Ministers should become law in member states. The EU becomes a legal entity in its own right. The constitution says so. Look at Title I, Article I, which states: this Constitution establishes the European Union". Look at Article 6, which states: The Union shall have legal personality". Look at Article 10, which states that this constitution, shall have primacy over the law of the Member States". Let me dwell on that for a moment. This constitution, not those laws agreed by the Council of Ministers, shall have primacy over the law of the member states. I gladly give way to the noble Lord.

Lord Radice

My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Lord remembers that when the previous Conservative government, rightly in my view, took Britain into the European Union, they signed up to European law having primacy over UK law in the areas to which we joined up. Here we have another treaty that puts together existing treaties. It establishes a legal entity, but the European Union already has a legal entity. Perhaps the noble Lord did not know that.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, I am sorry to disagree with the noble Lord but I thought that 1 had explained why he is entirely wrong in what he is saying. There is a world of difference between what we did in 1972, which was to say that when the Council of Ministers agreed on a certain measure that measure should become law in every member state and should have primacy over the existing law of those member states, and creating a constitution which shall have primacy over all the laws of the member states, and, furthermore, as I shall explain in a few moments, a constitution which will be interpreted by what is to all effects and purposes a constitutional court. Who will interpret the often ambiguous words of this constitution? The Court of Justice, of course. Does anyone believe that that Court of Justice will start interpreting words and phrases so as to diminish the powers of the EU? There is no hope whatever of that happening.

One has only to look at the Charter of Fundamental Rights to see the significance of all this. The charter, by guaranteeing the right to asylum in Article 11.18, ensures that the European Court, not our own Parliament, will be the final arbiter of our asylum policy. The Government, after they had stopped comparing it with the Beano, used to say that the charter applied only to EU institutions and did not enlarge the jurisdiction of the court. That is a somewhat difficult argument in the light of the wording of Article 11.51, but that is what they used to say.

Now the Prime Minister has changed tack and seems to admit that the court will have jurisdiction. He tried to calm fears at the CBI by saying that although the court would have jurisdiction, in spite of the plain wording of Title IV of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, he would seek specific assurances that Britain's trade union law would be perfectly all right. However, the point is, if such assurances were obtained, what possible reliance could be placed upon them? Look at what happened over John Major's opt-out from the social chapter. Remember how the response of a devious Commission was to circumvent the opt-out by reintroducing the Working Time Directive under health and safety provisions from which we had not opted out. Look at that and remember that, at the end of the day, what will matter will not be the terms of any assurance but how the court interprets the charter.

Mr Blair talks of red lines. He says that he will retain the British veto on tax, foreign affairs and defence. However, as regards tax, what about Article 14.1, which states: The Union shall adopt measures to ensure coordination of the economic policies of the Member States … [who] shall coordinate their economic policies within the Union"? What about Article 5.2, which states: the Union and the Member States … shall assist each other in carrying out tasks which flow from the Constitution"? I would not put much money on the British veto when the court gets its teeth into those articles.

As to the commitment to keep our veto on foreign affairs and defence, I wonder what will happen when the court comes to interpret Article 15.2. That reads: Member States shall actively and unreservedly support the Union's common foreign and security policy … and shall comply with the acts adopted by the Union in this area. They shall refrain from action contrary to the Union's interests or likely to impair its effectiveness". Will the Government insist on not being bound by Article 15? I hope that the Minister will tell us in her reply. If not, what on earth will happen when the court starts interpreting that?

Of course, I suppose there might have been some attraction in the constitution if it had stated clearly how from now on power is to be divided between the member states and the EU, but far from settling such matters on a permanent basis, it does precisely the opposite. It sets the scene for permanent revolution with member states progressively ceding more and more power to the unelected bureaucracy. One has only to look at the provisions about so-called shared competence, to which the noble Lord referred, to see that that is true.

For competence will only be shared so long as Brussels does not want to exercise the power itself. That is what the constitution says. One has only to look at the infamous Article 24.4, which hands to a temporary European Council power to replace requirements for unanimity with qualified majority voting in any area it wishes. One has only to look at the reference to the principle of subsidiarity—on which the noble Lord again relied—in Article 9, and the way it is rendered as good as meaningless by Article 3, which states: The Union … shall promote … cohesion and solidarity among Member States". That, of course, could mean almost anything.

I end by saying that if the Government sign up to this constitution, which could lead to the end of our independence as a nation, without even giving the people a say in the matter, they will cause not just resentment but burning anger.

4.17 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Salisbury

My Lords, Article 51 of the proposed constitution for Europe commits the Union to maintaining an, open, transparent and regular dialogue with the churches and non-confessional organisations". From these Benches I welcome that commitment and invite the Minister to endorse it.

When the Home Secretary spoke at York at the end of October, he said: Faith can be the building blocks and the glue of community. It plays a vital role in people's lives—even for those of us who are not overtly religious. All of us, our basic values, our sense of right and wrong, are shaped by our community and its religious heritage". No one can deny that the building blocks are lying around. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, in introducing this welcome debate, made it clear that he believes that there are plenty of stones over which we might stumble. But what the Home Secretary reminds us is that how we build, how the building blocks are joined, what is the glue—the glue that holds people together across the boundaries of nation and religion—will fundamentally determine the quality of community that the European Union Constitution will offer.

In the matter of glue—the quality of our relationships—the Churches have some experience to offer, and a significant pattern of existing relationships across both confessional and faith boundaries in Europe as well as, for example, in Africa. In this connection noble Lords need no reminding of the impact of the Churches' contribution historically, but it is also important to recognise the way in which the Christian faith builds bridges today and helps to create that community for which we long.

I could name many leaders of public life and servants of good common living through the diocese of Salisbury who have been formed by the Christian faith that they profess. There are the head teachers, prison governors, healthcare professionals and politicians, too. I could take noble Lords to the villages whose ancient church buildings have remained the focus of community life as all other services, have been withdrawn. There are any number of volunteers working tirelessly to serve local needs in very direct and practical ways.

Those are all people who have a model of community that is more than that which will serve their own particular and local interests. The roots of the Christian faith are embedded deep within our whole corporate consciousness, as the statistics in last year's census reveal. Any authority that claims an interest in the life and health of the nation, and of the community in Europe, would do well to listen to the voice of the faith communities.

That is not just the Churches. The tapestry of modern multicultural Britain is woven with many rich strands. If we care for the whole, we must attend to those individual threads. I think that people do. Hundreds of people—many hundreds—came to the cathedral in Salisbury this Lent to hear a course of lectures entitled "Understanding Islam". An authority that seeks to listen to the different voices of faith will, I believe, find itself better equipped to build up mutual respect and social cohesion among the people whom it serves.

In its recent note, Working with Faith Groups, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: Faith communities can help the FCO to understand the world in all its complexity". The Church of England will want to play its part in interpreting the part of the world that it knows and tries to serve. But I am equally confident that the global faith communities are well placed to introduce different parts of the world to one another, and to sustain and develop relationships.

Let me give an example from the Churches. On the face of it, the Baltic republic of Latvia and the sub-Saharan expanse of the Sudan have little in common. But through our diocesan links—I made the archbishops of both those territories canons at the same moment—I have been able to introduce them and their stories to one another. Much to their surprise, each has discovered that the other's faith was formed in a time of persecution and, as they exchange those quite different histories, they realise that their experience of emerging into the light of day and a new light is not unique. How will they each, in their own communities, help to heal the divisions of the past? Where do the old suspicions continue to handicap public as well as religious life?

In my recent visit to Riga, Archbishop Janis Vanags shared his concerns on whether the Latvian Church's future lies with German evangelicalism, where the ghosts of the Teutonic knights who overran his country many hundreds of years ago still stalk, or with Scandinavian Lutheranism. It is a decision that in some ways mirrors that facing the Latvian state as it approaches membership of the European Union. That is an occasion which the Latvian Church hopes to celebrate by inviting the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury to give a lecture on the contribution of faith to the future of Europe. Where does that future lie? What will the alliances be? With whom will our sympathies reside? The faith communities, I suggest, can indeed help to explain the world to those who seek to govern it.

I hope that, among all that, Her Majesty's Government will express their unreserved support for Article 51.I look forward to hearing what constructive proposals the Minister brings to us for enabling the, open, transparent and regular dialogue", that they promise between the Churches and the Union, which I take to mean its institutions—the Parliament, the Council and the Commission. The draft constitution deftly employs the three adjectives of open, transparent and regular, which make it clear to me at least that the dialogue will be formal, accessible and accountable, as well as regular. It will not be incidental, covert and apologetic.

Will the Minister please tell us how she, like the Home Secretary, envisages that dialogue being structured? We on these Benches will do what we can to support her turning those lofty aspirations into reality. We are keen on glue: in our minds, it builds a more coherent world.

4.25 p.m.

Lord Howe of Aberavon

My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the right reverend Prelate in this debate, and to arrive on the scene, as it were, at such a moment of ecclesiastical tranquillity after the fierce exchanges to which we have listened from the noble Lords who preceded him. I shall try to strike a happy medium.

I thank all those who have laboured in this vineyard for so long, particularly those who prepared the report that is the background to this discussion under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. I also give special thanks to my noble friend Lord Forsyth, a friend of long standing. It is many years since I first recruited him as one of my parliamentary private secretaries. I did so then because of his formidable zeal and skill as an advocate, in the hope that I might exploit both to my advantage in support of arguments in which I believed. I seem to have left his zeal and skill undimmed and amplified, so in that respect I was right, but in the other respect I must have made some mistake. But he is still my noble friend.

I was struck by my noble friend's drawing on the experience of a Member of the other place, Gisela Stuart, who impresses all of us who have met her because, in a way, she proves one of the strong virtues of the European Union. As she explains herself, her very existence in transplanting herself from Germany to this country and achieving such success here parallels in a way the achievement of the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, who is not with us today. It represents the ideal of the European Union at its highest, which many of us share, including me.

On the other hand, Gisela Stuart has expressed the frustration that overcomes all of us who have to deal with the institution over a long period. There is disillusionment as well, sometimes; one has to recover one's balance after many exposures to that sort of experience. She found herself disconcerted, as I have often done, by the euro-visionaries who have, for example, succeeded in implanting in the draft treaty the charter of fundamental rights. I have said on previous occasions that that is a text for which I have no enthusiasm at all. It mirrors and follows the example of documents such as the Spinelli draft treaty and the Genscher-Colombo final Act, all of which we were able to repel in earlier negotiations.

I confess that I am sorry that the charter of fundamental rights has been added so far, as a kind of fifth wheel to the existing institutions. The committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, has rightly wondered whether the protective devices to keep it at bay are sufficient to withstand the development of case law by the European Court of Justice, and not to make it more important than any of us would wish. That is an example of the impact of euro-visionaries on too large a scale, and I hope that the Government will yet again examine that point. If they are feeling really bold, they could ask what purpose the charter serves at all by its presence in the treaty, when we already have the European Convention on Human Rights.

The second demonstration of the impact of the euro-visionaries is seen in the extension of the powers of the European Parliament provided for in the draft treaty, which certainly goes further than I should have liked and would have thought necessary. The European Parliament is of course a valuable institution, because it embodies the concept for which we are striving—a coming-together of the peoples of the European Union. To that extent, it is aspirational. The danger is that European Union leaders have so often felt obliged to make obeisances in that direction but those do not represent their own private feelings about the matter. I remember hearing Chancellor Kohl and President Mitterrand speaking with less than enthusiasm about the European Parliament while, in public, giving a different picture of their affections.

Therefore, I do not enthuse over those extensions of power but I do enthuse over the extent to which national Parliaments have been given a role to the point described in the so-called "yellow card procedure". I have said previously that I should have preferred it to be on the red rather than the yellow card basis. I underline the importance of the point made by the Grenfell committee, and accepted by the Government, that that should extend to proportionality. All the safeguards recommended by the committee should be put in place as firmly as possible.

That is one group of people who tend to diminish my enthusiasm. However, I am sorry to say that there is another group of a different kind whom I call the "Euro-denouncers"—those who cannot find language strong enough to denounce the whole enterprise. I am sad, indeed, that my noble friend Lord Forsyth has trespassed further than I should have liked in that direction.

It is not sensible to say that this treaty, which is one of a sequence defining the distribution of power necessary for the purposes that we are trying to achieve, gives away the country's right to govern itself in a new and previously unacceptable fashion. If one judges it by that, the one outstandingly new feature in this treaty, as opposed to the previous one, is the right of a country to withdraw from the European Union. That is the novelty and it is expressly set out.

However, the idea of our subjection by agreement to European Community law has been around for a long time. I have here a document published in July 1962 as a supplement to CROSSBOW, then being edited by my noble friend Lord Howell, called The Rome Treaty and the Law, written by Mr Dennis Thompson. It states very clearly: One of the important functions of the Community is to make regulations and to give decisions in the future which are immediately binding on all persons who are within the jurisdiction of the member states. This means that the Community, in addition to the national parliaments, has power to make laws which are binding on the citizens of the member states. The national parliaments therefore give up their right to legislate in these particular fields". Therefore, it is no novelty. It was latterly embodied in the European Communities Act.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble and learned friend. Of course, I have sat at his feet for a number of years and he is a very distinguished lawyer. Perhaps he could help me with my problem, to which my noble friend Lord Waddington referred. Surely the difference is that we are creating a situation where we no longer proceed by amendment of treaty but create a new entity, which is the European Union, and a constitution. Therefore, how can my noble and learned friend say that this is no different from what we have done before?

Lord Howe of Aberavon

My Lords, because this treaty makes specific provisions. Like any other treaty, it is subject to amendment, as are any of the treaties that we signed previously. We can resile from it; we can modify it; we can do what we like. One factor in it that we are criticising is the extent to which that right to amend may not survive. Therefore, it is no different from the other treaties. It is an extension—

Lord Waddington

My Lords—

Lord Howe of Aberavon

My Lords, forgive me. I do not want to yield on a House of Commons scale, particularly to a series of my noble friends. I should rather they sat at my feet than interrupted me from behind. I do not want to be diverted too much by that.

The trouble is also that there is a pattern among some Euro-denouncers of increasing the ferocity of their language the longer they are in opposition to the established order of things. It is notable that the Labour Party moved into a most denunciatory mood in the 1980s. The further away its members seemed to be from regaining office, the more intemperate became their language. I believe I am right in saying that, at one point, the present Prime Minister advocated our withdrawal from the European Community.

A hopeful thing is now happening. Among our party is a regenerating belief that we are in prospect of returning to government sooner than might have been feared. That has led to a welcome development. For example, last week on the "Today" programme, our new leader, Michael Howard, was asked about our attitude to the European Union. Briefly, tersely, robustly and comprehensively he dismissed the idea that we should ever want to leave the European Union. Of course, we want to remain a member of that organisation. That is a very strong reassertion of what is basically common sense.

There is still a tendency, as there was in the Labour Party in the 1970s, to try to trade both ends against the middle and to talk about referendums and renegotiation. We found that, when they came to office in 1974, the Labour government were landed with both those things. They had to go through a process of renegotiation, which achieved nothing, and a referendum, which perhaps achieved the opposite result from that which Mr Tony Benn expected when he first asked for one.

Therefore, I hope that our party will gradually move away from that position and that it will now concentrate on what it should be doing, which is criticising the Government for their shortcomings in what they want to achieve and adding strength to their elbow on the matters on which we agree.

A very important example of that was cited with distinction and clarity by my noble friend Lord Hurd. Two things are manifestly desirable and desired by all of us on both sides of the House. One is the completion of enlargement, extending our European embrace to reach all the countries liberated from the Warsaw Pact. It has been proclaimed by our party time and again that that is an important step for all of us.

The second is an ending of the dangerous tension across the Atlantic, so well summarised by the committee under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Jopling in the report entitled A Fractured Partnership?. I agree with every word said by my noble friend Lord Hurd about the importance of overcoming that problem. For that, we need a successful common foreign and security policy along the lines recommended by the Jopling committee, together with the completion of the establishment of a common defence and security policy. All those matters are set in the context of our continued membership of the European Union and they are of enormous importance.

However, there is another group of whom one must also be wary and rather critical. It is the group which I fear has been represented in the policy of the present Government with a degree of discontinuity and uncertainty in their handling of these important negotiations. I do not say a word to criticise the Minister, who is to sum up this debate. She has been one of the more competent and shining lights in the proceedings.

In that respect, there is a remarkable contrast between the record of this Government and, if I may say so, that of the government of whom my noble friend and I were members. He was Foreign Secretary for six years; I was Foreign Secretary for six years; and there was a brief interval when our friend John Major was between us in that job. However, in each of our spans in office, we had only two successive Ministers of State with responsibility for Europe—Sir Malcolm Rifkind and the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker. Under the present Government, we have had five so-called Ministers for Europe in six years, including Douglas Henderson, Joyce Quin, Keith Vaz, Peter Hain—who had two other day jobs for much of the time—and Denis MacShane. I believe that is one reason that thus far we have not had as satisfactory a result as we would have wished. There are a number of issues on which we still want to see a strengthening of the treaty along the lines that we favour.

I hope very much—again, this is a point made by the Grenfell committee—that the Government will not be bounced into reaching a conclusion and discarding all the further negotiating points that they still have to deal with by being pressed unreasonably to a timetable to be completed within the next few days. I do not imagine that a presidency under an Irish Prime Minister would be significantly less attractive than one under an Italian Prime Minister. Indeed, I believe that others might take a view different from that.

I hope that our Government will take the opportunity to find a way of reconciling the argument about voting weight. I shall not go into detail on that now. However, above all, I hope that they will accept the advice of the Grenfell committee—I consider this to be one of the most important points—on the passerelle provision of the treaty. That is, indeed, something on which my noble friend and I absolutely agree. So long as that remains in place unqualified, it carries a real threat of being able to get round the safeguards of unanimity where we want them to be preserved. The idea that that provision should be accepted would shock me as much as it would shock any of my noble friends.

However, there are many positive reasons why we wish this treaty to be right, effective, completed and adopted. There are so many advantages to be gained from it that I hope the Government will press in every way that they can to achieve a treaty that we can all endorse as a next step towards Europe being able to assist itself not only in trade matters, as we do, but in foreign policy fields, as we must do, along the lines stressed by my noble friend.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, before my noble and learned friend sits down, I heed his cautionary words that we must not behave too much like the House of Commons. Of course he is right when he says that this treaty is like any other treaty. However, surely one should have regard not just to the treaty but to the product of the treaty. This treaty will be different from other treaties in what it brings about, which will be a constitution. Certainly, that is something which none of the other treaties has brought about.

Lord Howe of Aberavon

My Lords, nomenclaturally, if there is such a word, I understand the point that my noble friend makes. However, for decades the European Union has been an organisation with an effective constitution. It is not a super state, a federal state or a confederation. It is a unique creation with the unique equipment of having a community law which applies throughout and a European Court of Justice which adjudicates throughout. All that has been there from the outset and was accepted when we decided to join in 1973. So, it is not a constitution which is any different from that with which we have been living for the past 30 years.

4.41 p.m.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, for initiating this important debate. It is a great pleasure and privilege to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, although he might not agree with everything that I shall have to say.

The first thing I shall say about the European Union draft constitutional treaty is that, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said, it has enormous implications for our national sovereignty. Indeed, unless the draft treaty is radically revised and amended, it is difficult to see how the United Kingdom can possibly accede to it.

Other noble Lords have already dealt with some of the aspects of this problem and others will undoubtedly do so. My own brief intervention is specifically to deal in more detail with defence, a matter on which I might claim to have some knowledge. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, hinted, it is important to approach this matter as calmly, factually and objectively as possible without too much emotion or heated argument about Mr Romano Prodi and the European army.

Perhaps it would be wise to start with that crucial article of the draft constitutional treaty, which is Article 15. The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, has already quoted part of that. With the indulgence of the House, I should like to quote it in full. It is not very long and it is absolutely crucial to the whole argument, The Common Foreign and Security Policy 1. The Union's competence in matters of common foreign and security policy shall cover all areas of foreign policy and all questions relating to the Union's security, including the progressive framing of a common defence policy, which might lead to a common defence". The important part of the article is paragraph 2, which states: Member States shall actively and unreservedly support the Union's common foreign and security policy in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity and shall comply with the acts adopted by the Union in this area. They shall refrain from action contrary to the Union's interests or likely to impair its effectiveness". As the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, said, the important point about that article is that it is justiciable in the European Court of Justice. It is that court which will interpret that article and no one else.

At present, the common foreign and security policy is not dealt with as a Community matter but as part of what is often called a second pillar of the Maastricht Treaty. It is an intergovernmental matter. The European Commission has no right of initiative and there is no role for the European Parliament. If the European Union wants to negotiate international agreements it can do so only by unanimous agreement.

If this treaty is adopted, all that will change. The Union will have a legal personality. It will have a foreign policy, a foreign minister and a European external action service; in other words, a foreign ministry. It will also have, although this is perhaps not too serious, a flag and a national anthem. All that seems to me to be a matter of some importance to this country and I should like to concentrate for a few moments on the defence aspect of it.

The draft treaty has many references to defence. Despite the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Radice, it is difficult to judge the moment at which decisions regarding defence are covered by unanimous decision or qualified majority voting. However, a number of issues of great concern clearly emerge from a close study of the draft treaty.

The common security and defence policy is to be an integral part of the common foreign and security policy. It is designed to provide the European Union with a policy and to confer upon it a military capacity drawing on civilian and military assets. The Union may use those assets on commitments outside the Union in a number of roles and use capabilities provided by member states. A common security and defence policy is to be established. Member states are to make civilian and military capabilities available to the Union in the implementation of that policy. A European armaments, research and military capabilities organisation is to be established.

Member states are required—again, I quote this important requirement—to support the common foreign and security policy actively and unreservedly, in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity". Perhaps most importantly, there is also to be a mutual defence agreement, which requires member states to come to the assistance of any member threatened with aggression. That obviously cuts right across the mutual defence guarantees implicit in the North Atlantic Treaty.

That leads me to our relationship with the United States, which is integral to our membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. The special relationship, as it is sometimes called, with the United States has at its heart the sharing of intelligence in military and strategic matters. The way that the draft constitutional treaty is leading us may cause a certain amount of fear and concern in the United States, especially about the sharing of intelligence.

This matter should at least cause considerable concern in the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence. However, it is also significant that the defence working group, which acted in an advisory capacity to the convention that produced this constitution, produced on 20th December last year a report to the plenary session of the convention, which stated that although there was no consensus among member states with regard to what a European defence capability might look like, a number of principles on European defence matters had been agreed. They included crisis management, counter-terrorism, deployment outside the Union and arms capabilities. There were also proposals to enhance the role of the Union to allow it to take responsibility for co-ordinating defensive action, for creating a special military pool for the joint training of troops and the creation of a Union agency for armaments procurement.

I suggest that at the very least—and without being, I hope, in any way alarmist—these proposals would move us very rapidly towards a situation in which this country will eventually lose its exclusive sovereign control, especially over the deployment, training and operational commitments of its Armed Forces. It can be argued, and indeed 1 would argue, that the defence of the realm is the primary responsibility of any sovereign government. It is no good for a government to provide health, education and other public services for its citizens unless they also have sovereign control over the Armed Forces, which they might need in an emergency to protect those services. The implications of this draft treaty are that we shall take a further step towards a militarised European Union separate from NATO.

It is ludicrous to argue that the proposed constitutional treaty is not of the most profound importance. If the Government are contemplating acceding to it, or to anything like the one represented by this draft constitution, it is surely important that the people of this country should have a say in the matter.

The whole structure of international power has changed since the end of the Cold War, and will certainly change again when the war in Iraq is finally terminated. It would be a brave man who would try to describe what the new world power structure will look like. But one thing is, I think, clear: the focus of power is moving away from Western Europe, where the Franco-German power base has been irreparably damaged by recent developments in the United Nations. If we are to retain our status as a sovereign nation state, the time may have come to make some decisions of fundamental importance. At least we should ensure that there is a referendum of the British people before this new constitutional treaty takes its final shape.

4.54 p.m.

Lord Lang of Monkton

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean on the timeliness and indeed the liveliness of the debate that he has initiated.

I participate as a member of the Select Committee on the constitution, although expressing my own views. Our report on the draft treaty was published in October. It was less comprehensive than the reports of the European Union Committee because it was intended to be read in conjunction with that committee's reports. It was confined to identifying the impact of the draft European Union treaty on our own constitution, although we may comment further if and when a Bill to incorporate a treaty into United Kingdom law is published.

The chairman of the Select Committee on the constitution—my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth—spoke about our report when he took part in the debate on the gracious Speech. I understand that it was an entirely unintentional and inadvertent oversight that caused the Minister not to respond to the points he made, but I am happy to give her the opportunity to do so again today.

One of the points my noble friend made, with which I strongly agree, was about the need to identify the constitutional implications of treaties before we sign them instead of afterwards. That is what our report sought to do.

It seems to me that every treaty we have signed since we joined the Common Market in 1973 has had implications for our constitution that were not understood properly at the time. They only emerged later. So, we have backed defensively into subsequent negotiating rounds, trying to rectify the damage inflicted on us by the one before.

Of course over the years we have had some negotiating successes: the Fontainebleau agreement; the opt-outs of Maastricht; the introduction of the principle of subsidiarity; and the completion of the single market that was so vital to our free trade agenda, but which of course brought with it much more European Union baggage in the single European Act than was appreciated at the time.

Overall, the story has been one of a series of rearguard actions, exacerbated by the fact that our national background and attitudes and our legal traditions are not homogenous with much of Europe's. The agenda of many other members, and of the disembodied Brussels bureaucracy, is different from ours. For example, we saw the single market as a way of making Europe economically strong and competitive, as a prerequisite to opening markets and competing globally. Many of our partners just saw it as a precursor to the single currency. I should have thought that the NAFTA—the North American Free Trade Area—had demolished that particular argument. But each round of negotiations in Europe just seems to carry the centralising agenda further forward.

Furthermore, as we now know, a new treaty is not required as a precursor to the new member states' entry next year, desirable though it would be if it only clarified and consolidated the existing accumulation of treaties. We can only hope that the arrival of those new members may help to rectify the present imbalance between the centralisers and the nation states.

We need a detailed and early analysis of the progress of the draft text from her Majesty's Government. Here I echo the comments of my noble friend Lord Forsyth, to which, I have to say, I thought the Minister's reaction was a little disingenuous.

I gather that the Government intend to produce such an analysis of the final text. But that is too late. It should be easy to share with us sooner the continuous scrutiny and interpretation of the developing text that must be going on within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and other departments, and to publish regular updates as well as a final appraisal of the final text, which may not appear until next summer.

There may well be much that is useful and worth while in this treaty, as in its predecessors, if only we could take it at face value and separate the benign aspects from the underlying agenda.

One of the central purposes of this treaty—entirely laudable and necessary—was stated to be, a simplification of the Treaties with a view to making them clearer and better understood, without changing their meaning". Those are my italics.

In that objective, the draft treaty clearly fails. It is not a mere consolidation measure of the kind that rattles quickly through our Parliament as we "tidy up" our own laws. Our all-party committee's report reached the view that if the draft treaty was implemented in United Kingdom law it would have a constitutional impact on the United Kingdom. We identified no fewer than 15 areas where that could happen; and we list them in the report. I shall spare the House the full list. My noble friend Lord Norton gave a flavour of those areas in his speech last week, grouping them, perhaps ominously, under the heading, "Confusion, limitation and omission".

We also published the written evidence we received from several distinguished academics. Professor McEldowney of Warwick University pointed out that there was, plenty of room for interpretation". There was "unnecessary vagueness" and there was ambiguity. Vagueness and ambiguity are the hallmarks and the weapons of the Brussels bureaucracy and the fuel of the European courts. They create a centralising vortex.

As is normal, our committee wrote to the Government, to the Lord Privy Seal, Mr Peter Hain, asking him to comment on how the proposed European constitution would affect the constitution of the United Kingdom. We wrote: In particular it would be helpful if you would state: which of the articles in the draft Treaty have potentially significant constitutional implications for the United Kingdom; what the constitutional effect of the implementation of those articles would be; how the Government have set about evaluating the effect of any constitutional changes; and whether the Government have any plans to seek to amend any of these articles during the forthcoming Inter-Governmental Conference". We received in reply several bland paragraphs. I shall quote what I believe to be the essence of the Minister's reply. He said: The draft Treaty does make some changes to the existing EU Treaties. These are designed to improve the EU's efficiency and effectiveness. The Treaty proposes making co-decision the normal legislative procedure, thus giving the European Parliament a greater say in decision-making. It also proposes the extension of Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) into some new policy areas. But, overall, the draft text does not change the fundamental relationship between the EU and the Member States". I must say that I find that reply absolutely startling in its complacency. In some minds, clearly, the legend of the mere tidying-up exercise persists.

The Minister continued by stating that other, earlier treaties have introduced more profound changes than this draft proposal. Certainly the original treaty signed in the early 1970s by Edward Heath, about which we long remained largely in the dark, fell into that category, but that hardly strengthens the Government's argument about the quality and nature of the treaty that we are debating today. Indeed, that is a rather puerile response.

Finally, the Minister's reply rests on the argument that the Government will insist on unanimity for treaty change and in the other areas with which the House will be familiar: tax, social security, defence, and so on. But where is the value of unanimity if, at the last ditch, the Government give in? The Government's negotiating posture of so-called red lines is simplistic and wrong. Their red lines will turn to Maginot lines, because the other side will simply go round them and, with weasel words, both sides will claim victory.

This is not a box-ticking exercise; it is about how to advance the broad, long-term, strategic objectives of this country within an open, positive Europe of nation states against the ranks of those who want to submerge us in a centralised, inward-looking, denationalised superstate. They do not even bother to disguise that now.

Is not Europe's written constitution, drafted on a centralising agenda, bound to trample on our unwritten constitution? Their courts will override and displace ours and their governance will override the primacy of our parliamentary democracy unless we and other like-minded nations stop them.

As Professor McEldowney pointed out, although the draft constitution stops short of creating a sovereign state, many of the attributes granted to the European Union—he cited, inter alia, conferral of legal personality; the notion of citizenship of the EU … changes in the way decisions may be made without the national vote; the creation of a President and Foreign Minister; and through the proposed document itself a written constitution"— are analogous to a wholly sovereign state.

It could not be clearer. The draft constitution threatens us with a major step in the wrong direction. It is part of an organic process. As the professor concludes, it "initiates a process". So there is much to fight for. I hope that the Government will indeed fight. There has been loose, spinning talk of the use of the veto in recent days. We shall see. Whatever the final outcome, the implications of this treaty are such that if it is ever to be accepted by the people of this country, it must be put to them to decide on. If it could be worth a veto, it is certainly worth a referendum.

5.4 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, I, too, am grateful for the opportunity to draw attention to aspects of the proposed treaty that should continue to give us grave concern. I have spoken in earlier debates about the provision in the treaty that will enable our defence—and, indeed, our foreign affairs—vetoes to be nullified and a decision taken by qualified majority voting if it can be argued, as it will be, that the action involves the implementation of a common strategy.

Common strategies are generally broad statements of policy and principles on the lines of, "Let us help Russia with her economy" or, "Let us advance peace in the Middle East", which are very worthy. Then, some time later, the Council of Ministers could decide to implement that by sending troops to keep the peace in Abkhazia or Palestine. That could happen, and only British troops and some professional French troops could probably perform that dangerous and skilled kind of peacemaking. Our troops are overstretched and the Government are already considering how much easier and cheaper it would be just to have drones instead of aircraft and technology instead of human beings. That will not work in the Congo or in Abkhazia.

We are not prepared, it seems, to spend money on defence. We should therefore be correspondingly careful to ensure that the treaty does not expose us—as do at least two of its clauses—to the danger of a bland foreign policy decision leading to a defence commitment that we shall not be able to veto. It is disquieting that in their response to our report, the Government felt that to exclude CFSP specifically from the flexibility clause, Article I.17, all that they need to do is to, ensure the status of CFSP is clear", without any specific change in the text. They state: Revision of the text's wording would not in fact be necessary to achieve this". I was struck on reading Mrs Gisela Stuart's admirable, courageous and devastating article on the conduct of the convention's proceedings to learn that it was only in the final months that simultaneous translation was available or that delegates could be accompanied by an assistant to give legal advice; that it was a struggle to get documents in English; and that on at least one occasion the English version of a defence document was reproduced in French with the original references to NATO omitted from the text.

In those circumstances, I am not much encouraged to read the Government's response to our report, in which at paragraph 35 we stated that there is a need for clarification of whether matters of CFSP fall within the scope of Article 10. The Government reply that they have, sought clarification that this article does indeed, as intended, strongly reflect existing case law". If it does, we should get it changed, but the point that concerns me is that it is Jean-Claude Piris, the director-general of the Council's legal service, who has confirmed that that is the case. Did we consult our own legal advisers?

I am not reassured, either, by paragraph 50 of the Government's response to our report, which no longer expressly includes foreign policy—although it specifies treaty change—as a vital area to which QMV should not be extended. Foreign policy decisions can lead to defence decisions and decisions about trade, development and relations with other countries. We cannot afford to be so ready to yield or to be so flexible on the point of unanimity in foreign affairs. I hope that it is true that, as was reported this morning, we are after all to insist on the veto in that area.

It is far from reassuring to find that Article I.12.2 on exclusive competences gives the Union the power to amend the list of those competences in the case of concluding international agreements and lists competition as an exclusive competence on the grounds that it may from time be time be necessary, for the functioning of the internal market or because it affects an internal Union act". Does the legal entity that the Union is taking to itself and the, exclusive competence for the conclusion of an international agreement when it is necessary to enable the Union to exercise its internal competence", mean that we can no longer sign international treaties in our own right, but must see ourselves subsumed within the Union's decision?

What does that do to our national status in the Security Council, or, indeed, in such bodies as the World Trade Organisation? How will it affect our international agreements on, for instance, aviation or in the area of justice? The conferring of a legal entity on the Union must surely lead to limitation or constriction of our own powers to conclude international agreements, which in turn will limit our freedom of action in the much wider world outside Europe—in the Commonwealth, in the UN and in our relations with the Americans and with China.

The answers that we have received from the Government seem always to prefer not to confront the awkward fact that we are being relentlessly propelled along the path laid out by the French, the Belgians and the Germans—the old hands in the EU—to more Brussels bureaucracy and less national independence. What makes it worse is that we are to be part of a grand European strategy, the Solana strategy, warmly welcomed by the Government for its coherent approach to the EU's actions and policies. The Government hope that it will develop more robust positions to tackle global security threats. It is soon to be endorsed and implemented, and—here we go again—the political decisions will be by QMV because they will be part of a common strategy, and the robust action will begin.

It is no surprise that we are told that resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict is a strategic priority for Europe—that is quite right. But, the strategy states that we need to develop a culture that sponsors early, rapid and when necessary robust intervention. Furthermore, it says: As a union of 25 members, spending a total of 160 billion Euros on defence, we should, if required, be able to sustain several operations simultaneously". I hope that the Treasury hears those words but that it remembers that Europe's defence budget probably includes the money spent on conscript forces for normal national defence rather than the ambitious plans for EU intervention. Our own forces already sustain several operations simultaneously— Afghanistan, Iraq, Northern Ireland, Kosovo and such regular commitments as Cyprus and the Falklands. Many more members of our Armed Forces serve outside their own country than any other EU member state. It seems that they can expect more employment under ESDP, but the decision to do so will be a European decision because it will implement foreign policy decisions taken by the EU.

We are often told that articles in the new draft treaty are harmless and that no action is needed to change them because they already figured in some earlier treaty and we lived with them then. If they are against our interests, now is surely the time to change them. The Select Committee stressed at the very beginning of the report that discussion of issues raised by the draft treaty, has to be during the IGC, as the subsequent ratification process by national parliaments does not allow an opportunity for amendment of the Treaty, only for its approval or rejection". The Government, in their reply, agree that Parliament must discuss the draft treaty before it is finalised and signed so that the Government may be guided by Parliament's views, which in turn are supposed to be the views of the country. They remind us that they have attended eight committee sessions on the IGC this autumn, including three of the new Standing Committee on the IGC. They claim that they have given many opportunities to debate the treaty in both Houses.

In the first place, speaking to committees is not the same as a discussion on the Floor of the House. In any case, the claim that we have been able to debate the treaty is simply not true. Apart from a debate in this House on the Government's White Paper in September, well before the Select Committee's report was made available on 10th October—the report was indispensable in beginning to understand the draft of such an arcane convention document—neither House has had a chance to debate the draft in full knowledge of its contents and their implications for the future of our country. I do not count one or two speeches among 52 last Wednesday.

Ministers are apparently prepared to decide all those grave issues under pressure, all to get things settled by the end of this year to meet the demands of the Italians and those of the architects of the treaty— the French, the Germans and the Belgians. Why? Why can we not say now that the decision will be taken in the next five months? That would still be before June 2004, when enlargement takes place. Why are we not giving a lead to the Poles, the Spaniards, the Danes and all those countries who have rights but are being bullied and bulldozed into agreeing a deeply tortuous and complex set of rules that will bind them for ever? At the moment they have no voice. Are they not Europeans too? What is the point of their escaping from the Warsaw Pact only to lose their sovereignty without even having the chance to argue? What sort of a Europe is it where the Germans threaten the smaller countries and advise them strongly not to try to hold up the treaty?

If we reject the treaty—and I hope that we shall— we can always negotiate further improvements to the existing treaty in the light of, say, five years' experience of enlargement. Surely that would be both reasonable and practical. I urge the Government to face the fact that if they bind us now to unacceptable conditions there will be no choice but to reject the treaty in toto and start again after a period of learning how the enlarged community needs to be managed.

The alternative, which would be responsible behaviour, is to hold out now for proper negotiations over several months. That would give Parliament time to debate the issue in detail on the Floor of both Houses. On balance, I hope that the Government will decide to stop now and start again, perhaps in 2010, in the light of experience, but that is perhaps too much to hope for. One thing is certain: the country will not forgive Ministers who give in to pressure and accept a potentially dangerous treaty, now that the conditions under which the draft was created are known.

Those of us who argue this point are not thinking in terms of leaving the Union; we are thinking of making it work, in the light of the further experience that enlargement will bring.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Park, particularly on this occasion. When I re-read yesterday the excellent speech that the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, made in your Lordships' House exactly a week ago, reinforced by the powerful contributions from the noble Lords, Lord Norton of Louth and Lord Howell of Guildford, I wondered whether I ought to scratch, since they had said most of what I wanted to say and said it much better than I could.

I decided to press ahead for two reasons only. First, the excellent contributions that I have mentioned were scattered at random throughout a long debate covering every sort of defence and foreign policy issue—Iraq, the terrorist atrocities in Istanbul, the problems of Africa, the World Trade Organisation and so on—so they may not have received the attention that they deserved. That is inevitable in Queen's Speech debates encompassing so many important subjects.

Secondly, much has happened on the EU front in the past week; notably, the courageous expose by the admirable Gisela Stuart, who was rightly held up to us six and a half years ago as the very model of what an intelligent young new Labour MP should be—"new" in both senses. Moreover, she is indisputably from the heart of Europe in so far as she is Bavarian-born. I shall return to her revelations later.

It has been pointed out that the draft constitution is nothing like a conventional constitution on the lines of the American one, but more like an unusually pretentious party political manifesto written by a large and disparate committee. But style is its least important aspect; it is the content that should worry us. It is not easy to single out what is most objectionable. For me, it is probably Article 10(1) asserting the primacy of EU constitutional law over the laws of member states. That is not just a clarification of the status quo, as is sometimes claimed, certainly not so far as concerns the UK or Germany, but a giant leap forward. If you are standing on the edge of a cliff, a giant leap forward is not always a good idea.

Hard on the heels of that article comes Article 13(2), which provides for the innocuous-sounding "shared competencies", a real Trojan horse, as the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, has reminded us. Not far behind come the passerelle proposals, criticised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, even by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, last week and the Select Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, which, it is safe to say, is largely Euro-enthusiastic. I suspect that the passerelle will soon be dropped to a fanfare of trumpets, with Mr Blair claiming a great negotiating victory in the hope that that will divert the nation's attention from all the dangerous stuff that remains in the document.

Article 9(3) contains the subsidiarity proposals. I have always disliked the principle of subsidiarity since it implies that the European Union is the fount of all legitimate power and authority, although it may graciously decide to devolve a fraction of that power from time to time to the ancient nation states of Europe. Those states have ended up enjoying less autonomy in certain fields than Rhode Island, Wyoming, New South Wales or Manitoba. Nevertheless, had subsidiarity worked in practice, one might have swallowed the principle. But it has not worked in practice, and the current proposals do little to improve matters—a small wonder, perhaps, when one reads that only 11 out of the 200 amendments tabled by our Government have been accepted.

Is there anything good in the proposed constitution? Is there an up side? Well, it has dropped all references to "ever-closer union"; but, as many of us suspected, that is mere window dressing. Behind the scenes, the integrationists are harder at work than ever. As Gisela Stuart wrote: The convention was riddled with imperfections and moulded by a largely unaccountable political elite set on a particular outcome from the very start. Any representative who took issue with the fundamental goal of deeper integration was sidelined. Anti-Americanism remains one of the less edifying driving forces in the process of European integration. The Convention brought together a self-selected group of the European political elite, many of whom see national parliaments as an obstacle". She continued: This constitution initiates processes for future development with the end of deeper integration. Where the political climate means certain ideas for future integration are not yet acceptable, the draft Constitution creates a structure for a process to develop later". Always remember, my Lords, nobody could possibly accuse Ms Stuart of being a little Englander.

Indeed, no less distinguished an individual than Mr Denis MacShane declared only two days ago that, there is no end station for Europe", which takes us back to trains, buses and bicycles and this unstable edifice that will topple over unless one keeps pedalling frantically. An individual who cannot stand back for a while and relax is neurotic. The same applies to institutions.

The irony is that, as the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, who is no longer in his place, has told us on past occasions, ever-closer union was originally meant to apply to peoples not governments. Ever-closer union between peoples is an excellent idea, provided it is spontaneous and voluntary and not pushed too far. However, even that aspiration is now in jeopardy. Apparent affection for the EU in so many existing member states and those that will join us in four and a half months' time, is only skin deep, inspired mainly by fear—of Russia, Turkey or an unstable and overpopulated north Africa, depending on one's location—combined with a perfectly natural disinclination to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Now that so many former net beneficiaries of the EU have become net contributors, however, coupled with anger at the one-size-fits-all interest rate policy arising from the adoption of the euro and at the selective application of the stability pact—the Portuguese are furious and so are the Dutch, formerly among the Benelux true believers—it is clear that the veneer of affection is wearing away fast. Coupled with a fierce reluctance in the EU institutions to stop interfering in the nooks and crannies of everyday life— in the immortal words of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell—and a refusal to roll back the acquis communautaire in any meaningful way, this disaffection will surely grow. Many of the eastern European countries joining in May next year will become disillusioned after the inevitable honeymoon period. Certainly there will be champagne and fireworks to start with, but the mood after four or five years may be very different.

As I said at the outset, a lot has happened in the week since we last debated this subject. There were Gisela Stuart's revelations, and Denis MacShane's calls for "surrender" according to the Sun or the "unfurling of the white flag" according to The Times. However, it was also revealed in the Independent that a Liberal Democrat MEP no less, Nick Clegg, had written of, the myth of a European demos". He went on to say that, there is clearly no … pan-European democratic culture which brings all European voters together … the evidence suggests that, far from converging, the European electorates are in many respects diverging from each other. The Government should take that on board and not agree to any new constitution that does not go with the grain of human nature rather than against it.

5.25 p.m.

Lord Vinson

My Lords, I am also very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, for introducing this debate, which may well turn out to be an historic one.

The point has already been well made that signing up to the new EU convention in anything like its present form would lead to a massive shift from Westminster to Brussels in the control of our own affairs. Like many of your Lordships, I spent many months of my life encouraging fellow citizens that joining the EU would be beneficial to this country. Like many, I was attracted by the vision of the whole concept.

Over the years, however, I have realised that dreams and reality mostly work out differently and I am no longer convinced that our present, let alone deeper membership of the EU, is beneficial. We should not just be interested in having greater influence over our EU partners; we should be solely interested in what is ultimately for the benefit of the British people.

As I talk to people at all levels, I find that many like myself are beginning to seethe with anger at the tidal flow of pernicious and often wholly unnecessary regulation that is beginning to dominate our working lives. In the past, when a citizen felt that there was some regulatory injustice, he could approach his MP who, in turn, wrote to the department concerned, probably went to see the Minister, and, if a good enough case had been made, the regulation was abandoned or corrected. The reason that citizens now seethe is because it is virtually impossible to right a regulatory wrong. One MP could and can just about deal with the problems of his 65,000 constituents. A Euro MP is swamped by the problems of having well over 600,000 constituents—a figure now likely to rise as the European Parliament is adjusted to suit incoming nations. Regulation without rectification is as bad as taxation without representation. Both are slow time bombs on the political front.

The safety valve of representative democracy is reaching breaking point and every poll indicates that the public is increasingly Euro-sceptic as the vision of a single Europe turns into a nightmare. So, before we sign up for further integration, we should assess where we have come from, where we are, and what economic and social benefits—if any—further integration would give us. That is why I and 50 other Members of the House of Lords have been pressing for a parliamentary inquiry into the advantages and disadvantages of Britain's continuing EU membership. Among those Members are: the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, a former Prime Minister; the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, a former Speaker; the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, a former Labour spokesman on legal affairs; and many influential Cross-Benchers such as the noble Lord, Lord Moran.

The House of Lords Liaison Committee turned down our request on 1lth November on the grounds that it was inopportune and might indirectly prejudice the negotiations currently going on. However, we believe that the issues are so important and momentous that we are most unwilling to take no for an answer. The timing of the intergovernmental conference on the draft constitution for Europe makes an assessment of EU costs and benefits a matter of compelling urgency. The Prime Minister repeatedly asserts that there are huge benefits to be derived from our membership, but does not provide the factual basis for that assertion. Soon, however, the Government must make a formal decision on whether to ratify the text of the proposed new constitution of Europe. It will lay the foundations of political and legal authority in this country for decades. Given that the Government are holding out against a referendum on the issue, it is truly astonishing that Parliament should be asked to approve such a hugely significant step without being provided with objective information on the benefits of EU membership.

As I wrote to the committee at the time: Such a report could clearly show that withdrawal would be unrealistic, impractical and economically and politically damaging. Alternatively it might indicate that, as with Norway and other countries—an associate relationship with the EU would be both achievable and advantageous". It would also be particularly appropriate at a time when, as I pointed out earlier, our trading deficit with the EU has reached an all-time record high, at £2 billion per month in the negative. That shows that, at least in trading terms, our EC partners need us more than we need them.

Even if the Government succeed at the forthcoming convention in defending the red lines, it will be at the expense of seemingly endless concessions such as the momentously important defence deal under which a group of European military planners will operate outside NATO, greatly to the latter's detriment and to the detriment of our relationship with the United States.

It cannot be repeated enough that if we do not sign up to the convention, we are not condemned to a second-tier relationship with Europe. France and Germany can continue on their own way breaking the rules as they choose and taking with them some of the countries that may want to join them. We—to quote the Sunday Times of the week before last—can, stay cheerfully in the slow lane: there lies a faster route to economic growth and certainly to greater freedom". Indeed, the very brave Gisela Stuart, who has been mentioned more than once tonight, has also been reported as saying: Britain should take action now to start 'repatriating powers' from Brussels". She argues that the EU, will not collapse in a heap if Britain vetoes the blueprint. She says that the new constitution is, not essential for European enlargement"— a point that needs very well making.

If we look across the Atlantic we can see Canada, which keeps its own constitution and currency and yet trades openly with the USA. It is a shining example of the relationship that we could have with Europe. Indeed, many of us thought that that was the type of relationship that we were going to have with Europe.

I believe that it is essential to have a referendum on the new EU constitution. To do so, it is essential to have a top-level inquiry that reveals the economic benefits and disbenefits associated with staying as we are or of further integration.

The Government have a tendency to brush aside debate on the constitutional issues of this country, but these things run very deep in both the human and national psyche. I lost a brother in the last war who gave his life so that this great country, the birthplace of democracy, should continue to govern itself. I for one am not prepared to see us increasingly hand the governance of this country to unaccountable and often corrupt strangers. Without the full facts and without a referendum on the matter, no government could sign up to the new convention with democratic legitimacy. The British people must be asked whether they wish to cross this bridge or whether it is one bridge too far.

5.33 p.m.

Lord Williamson of Horton

My Lords, it has been said that the people have not been sufficiently informed about the new draft treaty. If that is true, it certainly does not apply to me. I have been informed and informed. This is the third time that I have spoken in your Lordships' House on this subject:. Of course I am outdone about 10 to one by the Minister, but to me it seems a lot all the same. None the less, I welcome this debate. I think that the timing is good. We are coming to what could be a decisive meeting at the weekend. We do not know if it will be. However, if it is a decisive meeting, then it is very important that arguments should once again be put forward before that event.

It would certainly be a very important decision to scrap a whole series of treaties defining the roles and responsibilities of the European Union and to replace them with this single draft treaty. Although there are certainly points in the draft treaty which need the most careful attention and possibly amendment, it is none the less worth reflecting that all, or at least a large majority of the representatives of all the national parliaments and all the governments in the convention must have thought that this draft treaty is an advantage for the people and the member states, existing and those shortly to join, of the European Union.

I do not myself find it helpful to discuss the draft treaty in general terms as a "good" or a "bad" treaty, as a blueprint for tyranny, according to the Daily Mail, or as a tidying up exercise, according to a Minister. I take that view because it seems to me that there are big differences in the way in which the draft deals with the different areas—in particular, first, the traditional responsibilities and competences of the Union; secondly, the charter of fundamental rights; and, thirdly, those areas, foreign and security policy and issues of justice and home affairs, which are now in the separate intergovernmental pillars 2 and 3 but are brought within a new treaty form in the draft treaty. In short, some changes are marginal and some are significant, but it is not all change.

The first group of issues is in my view the easiest. That is because the short first 16 articles of the draft treaty dealing with the European Union's values, objectives and competences, relations between the European Union and the member states and the rights and freedoms within the European Union are evidently so much clearer and better than what we have now in the much amended Treaty of Rome.

I select just one or two examples from these articles. Article 2 states: The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights". Those are indeed the values which have attracted hundreds of millions of people to join the community established about 50 years ago by the original six members.

Then again, these articles state: The Union shall respect the national identities of the Member States, inherent in their fundamental structures, political and constitutional, inclusive of regional and local self-government''. I think that this article is new, but certainly welcome for a country as fiercely independent as the United Kingdom, especially as we have taken important steps recently on the path of devolution.

Then again, Article 9—it has already been quoted, but I think that it is an important article—states: the Union shall act within the limits of the competences conferred upon it by the Member States in the Constitution to attain the objectives set out in the Constitution. Competences not conferred upon the Union in the Constitution remain with the Member States". That also is new. Although implicit before, it is now explicit. I think that that helps to avoid misunderstanding.

In the first part of the treaty, we have also for the first time in a simple form the list of Union competences: exclusive competences—they are very short—such as the common commercial policy; shared competences, such as environment and agriculture; and areas of supporting, co-ordinating or complementary action such as vocational training. I find that much clearer although in substance it is predominantly a restatement of the present position. But I think that that is good.

There is one addition here about which I have heard little comment; namely, energy as a shared competence. That is matched in Part III by a new Section 10, Article III–157, on energy. Is the Minister content with this text? Is she confident that we shall remain 100 per cent in control of the UK's natural oil and gas production? I should like to hear that confirmed. It is an important point which has not been discussed. It is a new competence. We have a lot of old competences, but we here have a new competence.

There are a number of other improvements in Part I of the treaty and the protocols. For example, there is a greater democratic element through more co-decision between Council and European Parliament. There is a more transparent system of law making through opening up the legislative sessions of the Council to the media and the public. I was in favour of that 10 or perhaps 20 years ago and usually was laughed out of court, though it seems now to be coming into effect. I am glad about that. There is a better definition of EU legislation as regards EU laws, EU framework laws and EU regulations. There is a modestly improved role for this House and other national parliaments in the monitoring of the application of the principle of subsidiarity.

I turn now to the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. The United Kingdom has accepted this before, but not in a treaty; there is a pretty big difference. It is important that the charter, which stems from the best of motives, does not have unintended consequences. I understand that it is for that reason that we have new articles—in particular, Article II–51—governing the interpretation and application of the charter. I suppose that the key text is that which states: This Charter does not extend the field of application of Union law beyond the powers of the Union or establish any new power or task for the Union, or modify powers and tasks defined in the other Parts of the Constitution". That sounds very firm. Will the noble Baroness confirm that the Government consider that this is a copper-bottomed guarantee against unintended consequences from the inclusion of the charter in a treaty? Although it is in a protocol, it has treaty force.

I turn now to foreign and security policy and justice and home affairs; their treatment is quite different from the basically conservative treatment of traditional competencies. We are invited to take a view on changes and new proposals that would include, in particular, the creation of an enhanced role for a European Union Minister of foreign affairs and the creation of a European armaments and strategic research agency. There is explicit reference to the creation of a common European asylum system and, if it has not already been dropped, the creation of a possible European public prosecutor.

I look forward to hearing what the noble Baroness has to say about foreign and security policy, especially as regards the double-hatted role of the EU Minister of foreign affairs. That is important because he will chair the General Affairs Council; he will contribute towards the preparation of the common foreign and security policy; and he will ensure implementation of European decisions adopted by the heads of state and government in the European Council or by the Council of Ministers. That is the text in Article 27 and Article III–197. However, in my version the words are not exactly the same in the two articles, which is an interesting point. He would also have quite a powerful army, including more than 4,000 staff in foreign missions or delegations, a budget of perhaps £5 billion and 130 missions, which is rather more than many of the member states. The EU Minister of foreign affairs would be a powerful post on which I would like further comment.

It could be argued that this would be a more effective system, which I think that the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, suggested. But the Government need to be satisfied that the control by member states guards, in practice, against the risk of over-ambition in European Union foreign policy. We may have had under-ambition in European Union foreign policy—we probably did in the past—but we must watch out for the danger of going in the opposite direction. I hope that we can be quite sure that the Government and other friendly states will ditch the reintroduced Italian proposal under which a proposal from the European Union Minister to the council will automatically have qualified majority voting. That would be quite unacceptable.

Finally, in the debate on the gracious Speech and possibly again today, in the time available, the Minister could not reply to all the questions, except perhaps by recording her replies on a tape recorder and playing it on fast forward. None the less, I recall my question on the passerelle clause. It is a serious point, although I light-heartedly say that the Minister would be well advised to look suspiciously at any clause that has a French name. But I am referring to the passerelle clause in Article 24.4. A number of people have objected to it; I object to it; and the Select Committee has objected to it. That is not surprising because although subject itself to unanimity, it would bypass national parliaments. It would make it possible to transfer areas from unanimity to qualifying majority while bypassing national parliaments. In my view, it is sufficiently important to have a comment from the Government. I hope that we shall have that when the noble Baroness replies.

5.44 p.m.

Lord Willoughby de Broke

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lord Forsyth for introducing this important debate at this timely moment. I hope that he will not be upset by the criticism that his speech may have been over robust; I do not believe that it was. He should draw comfort from the latest Euro barometer poll published yesterday, which showed that fewer than half of the EU's population—48 per cent to be exact—now support the EU project.

I am pleased but not surprised to note that support for the EU in Britain has slumped to 28 per cent of people polled. In fact, I am surprised that it was that high. Despite that emphatic thumbs down from the public, we are now promised more EU—more of the same—in a constitution that will hand ever more power from member states to the institutions of an EU, which is now disliked and distrusted by the majority of people who live in it.

The means by which the constitution was produced is the perfect example of what has gone so badly wrong with the great EU dream. The Laeken Declaration aimed to bring the EU closer to its citizens and to create more democracy, transparency and efficiency, with particular reference to the role of national parliaments. A constitution was mentioned only peripherally in the Laeken Declaration, which stated that, in the long run this might lead to the adoption of a constitutional text in the Union". I repeat, "in the long run". But only 20 months, some two years later, we are presented with a full-blown constitution, which fundamentally changes the relationship between the EU and its member states.

The process was flawed from the start. It always was top down, with a presidency of the three wise (if rather shop-soiled) federalists, led by Monsieur Giscard d'Estaing, who was such a friend to the late Emperor Bokassa. The two British MPs selected as representatives from our Parliament were Gisela Stuart and David Heathcoat-Amory. Noble Lords have mentioned Gisela Stuart: she is a Labour MP and. as my noble friend Lord Forsyth said, of impeccable Euro credentials. David Heathcoat-Amory is a Conservative MP and I would describe him as being broadly Euro-realist. They have both produced a pamphlet summing up their experiences and opinions of the convention process. I am afraid that they make deeply depressing reading for anyone who believes that decisions in the convention were taken in an open and democratic way.

What is so striking is the similarity of their views, even though they are, so to speak, coming from opposite sides of the hill. Gisela Stuart was a member of the 13-member strong Praesidium. In her paper she states: In all the proceedings of the Praesidium there was an unspoken assumption that the acquis communautaire was untouchable. The debates focused solely on where we could do more at European level. Any representative who took issue with the fundamental goal of deeper integration was sidelined. And yet the concerted efforts by the Commission and the EP to enhance their influence were not seen as power-grabbing but as being good Europeans". David Heathcoat-Amory again summed that up in his paper and supports Gisela Stuart. He states: The Secretariat of the Convention was drawn from the officials of the Council of Ministers, augmented by the Commission and the EP… To them, criticising the integration process is like calling into question the entire enterprise. The mindset of the Convention was therefore firmly integrationist and instinctively hostile to suggestions that EU powers should be devolved or limited". These were two of our representatives who spent 16 hard months in the convention working on the coal-face. We should take note of what they had to say about the procedures therein. They both served on working groups and both give telling examples of how conclusions reached by the working groups were either overturned or completely ignored by the presidency.

Gisela Stuart, who—I remind your Lordships—was a member of the Praesidium states in her paper that the agenda in Praesidium meetings was merely indicative and that the mass of paper produced meant that large parts of the text were agreed without adequate debate. She gives numerous examples of important documents, which have already been mentioned, that were produced too late to be properly scrutinised. One example in particular is Article 17 of the flexibility clause. According to Gisela Stuart, this was driven through the Praesidium by presenting to the convention a text which did not fully reflect what had been agreed. Is that really what the Government want to sign up to?

So it goes on: a relentless drive from the top to give more power to the unelected centre. Nowhere in the sorry document that is the constitution is there a single proposal to return powers to member states. It is one-way traffic, the EU élites giving themselves more power. In spite of what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Radice, national parliaments are weakened rather than strengthened, while the whole concept of subsidiarity is, I am afraid, fraudulent. It has never worked, no one really knows what it means and the term "subsidiarity" does not even appear in the index of judgments of the European Court of Justice.

It is clear that many new competences have been given to the EU institutions. The noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, just mentioned one of the most important of those, the energy competence, which so far as I know was not mentioned in any of the previous treaties, yet which is proposed as a shared competence in the current constitution. Like the noble Lord, I look forward to the Minister making clear what is the Government's position on that when she comes to wind up the debate.

If the report in today's Telegraph is true, then new and damaging clauses have been added to the constitution during the IGC process, but of course I look forward to the Foreign Office telling us "not to worry" and that "it will never happen". Further, with irony-rich brazenness, France has called on member states not to place national interests above the European cause. The words "pot" and "kettle" come to mind. Before we listen to Mr Chirac's moving appeal, we must ask ourselves: how will Britain benefit from the constitution? The short answer is that we will not. We are ceding power, that much is certain, but in return for what? What will we gain?

We will gain nothing. The EU model is a failure that means low growth, high unemployment, high taxes and pervasive over-regulation. If this is where the so-called "EU fast lane" is leading us, then we should have none of it.

5.53 p.m.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, for introducing a subject which will affect all of us, our children and our grandchildren for the next 100 years. I have seven British grandchildren and two French grandchildren who live in France. This constitution will affect them all for the rest of their lives.

I can assure noble Lords that my speech will be almost subliminal as so many noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Waddington, Lord Lang, Lord Willoughby de Broke and Lord Vinson, the noble Baroness, Lady Park, and my noble friends Lord Chalfont, Lord Monson and Lord Williamson have already said much of what I should have liked to say, and have said it very much better. Therefore I shall be brief.

When I was 10 years old, a very long time ago now, just before the start of the Second World War, I had a dream in my mind about Europe. It seemed to me that so many nations with long histories and traditions, all living so close together, should combine to make themselves the united nations of Europe. They all had different languages, legal systems, currencies, sovereigns and different ways of doing things, yet they all had a great deal in common. Like a family, I felt that they should share those things which they had in common and respect each other's differences. That dream is not happening; it is turning fast into a nightmare in which the individual essences of each country—along with much of their finances—are being sucked into an internal, undemocratic vacuum over which no one has any control.

When a dream becomes a nightmare, there is only one way to stop it and that is to wake up. Gradually, as you wake up, you manage to gain control of the nightmare, to restore sense to it, so that it can return again to being the dream that it once was. We are separate countries and we can never share a foreign policy. Perhaps it might be right one day to share a common currency. We might all have dollars, roubles or yen, but at the moment it would severely damage our economy and might do so for ever. To attempt to share a common defence force is only to split ourselves from NATO, which both the Minister who is to reply to the debate and I believe is something that one should never do. That is because not only has NATO kept us all from war for almost 60 years, and not only because it is backed by the power and strength of our American allies, but because it works. You tamper with anything that works at your peril.

Nor should our judiciary be "harmonised"—which is rather a weasel word—to conform to the practices of other legal systems. Before we knew where we were, the dread Code Napoléon might be back and we would be forced to have 10 months in the year. The Rubicon is lying in wait for us and we must be very careful indeed not to cross it.

Let us wake up from the shades of the European nightmare which can only explode in our faces. Let us start again and rebuild our European dream.

5.56 p.m.

The Duke of Montrose

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my kinswoman the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, in this debate, and I thank my noble friend Lord Forsyth for initiating it. Perhaps noble Lords will forgive me if I express some of my delight at his introduction into the debate of the matter of the 300th anniversary of the Union of Crowns. My direct ancestor, the third Earl of Montrose, had the sword of his ancestor, who had lived 300 years earlier, specially refurbished, along with all his other accoutrements, in order to accompany the King of Scotland in attendance at the new Palace of Whitehall.

We have heard a few exchanges today about the contributions made by Scots in the Chambers of this Parliament, but this is a very good example of an area in which the Scots can participate well. If nothing else, that can be seen in this debate. Some five noble Lords resident in Scotland are taking part.

Many noble Lords have shone a light on the big national issues that are contained in our present, as well as our future, relations with Europe. Perhaps I may take one point detailed in the report produced by the committee of which my noble friend Lord Lang is a member.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean

My Lords, I apologise for interrupting my noble friend. I believe that I did my sums wrongly. In case my noble friend gets into trouble on my account, it is the 400th anniversary of the Union of Crowns. He followed my arithmetic, but in fact it is the 400th anniversary.

The Duke of Montrose

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that correction. I picked up the date wrongly, but 100 years is neither here nor there.

I want to raise the profile of a small but probably very difficult issue: how will the proposals in the draft constitution affect relationships as regards the European Union between our central and devolved administrations? Taking only one aspect of the constitution, if it was adopted, it would be easy to say that because the proportion of UK votes in the Council of Ministers will fall, we should feel a little worse off. But I think that the devolved administrations will look at those proposals with a certain delight because their presence is to be formally recognised in a number of ways. From what I have been able to read, it would appear that the EU will have to become considerably more familiar with the competences of the devolved authorities.

The most contentious issues appear to lie in the sphere of subsidiarity. The definitions surrounding the "subsidiarity protocol" obviously require to be clarified. No doubt other noble Lords will also have received the briefing from the Law Society in which it points out that the definitions which presently exist are not included in the new treaty. If the EU opens up the sphere where subsidiarity comes into play, it will have to produce a "subsidiarity impact assessment". That is going to have to take account of its impact on regional legislation, which is really quite an interesting point when one considers the many forms of devolved administration to which we are subjecting ourselves in this country.

Noble Lords will be aware that the first requirement of the subsidiarity protocol is a wide consultation to include the regional and local dimensions of the proposed action. Under the present proposals, the EU's only requirement is that it is communicated to the national parliament. The issue then arises that, if the national parliament is not particularly friendly with the devolved administration, what powers will the EU assume to ensure that this requirement is carried out? How can it ensure that there is wide consultation?

Then again, if the national parliament has only six weeks to send its "reasoned opinion" to all the EU bodies and there is a delay in forwarding the proposal, will it be able to ensure that an extension is given in order that the devolved administrations have the same six-week time-scale? This is particularly important as it would appear that the devolved administrations are to have a role in deciding whether a particular function in which they have competence should be subject to subsidiarity.

A problem arises in that there is nothing to say that a national parliament may decide that its "reserved opinion" is more valid than the devolved one. Will parliaments have any say in these matters and how will this be possible?

Perhaps the Minister can answer this question: are we getting into a sphere where some new clauses will have to be dreamed up in the concordats that exist between the devolved UK administrations? The devolved administrations will certainly feel that their presence is strengthened by the advancement of the Committee of the Regions to a formal advisory body to the Union as a whole, with the ability to issue its own opinions.

But considering that the Committee of the Regions will now have access to the European Court of Justice, can the Minister tell the House whether a devolved administration aggrieved over a ruling on subsidiarity—probably together with other EU administrations—could use the Committee of the Regions to take the UK Government to court to try to have the ruling overturned?

The two committees of your Lordships' House have certainly done sterling work in drawing our attention to areas where the present proposals will affect life in this country. There can be no doubt that, as a country without a written constitution, as other noble Lords have pointed out, the consolidation of all these treaties into a so-called "constitution", with its implied authority, will be a bigger change for us than for almost any other European country.

It is a pity that the debate is taking place so close to the Prime Minister's final negotiations at the IGC. It is hard to know whether he will take any notice of what we say.

6.2 p.m.

Lord Grenfell

My Lords, it seems as if it was only yesterday—in fact it was a week ago—that I was on my feet testing your Lordships' patience with a 17-minute discourse on what our report on the draft treaty was all about and what conclusions it reached. I promise that I shall not repeat that now. But there were one or two issues in that speech that I need to raise again, more as points of emphasis than making the rash assumption that your Lordships have not read the report.

Perhaps I may take up the point made by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, as to whether it is too late for the Government to take into consideration the proposals and misgivings expressed in the debate so close to the IGC. I share some of his concerns. However, many of the proposals made in the debate have already fallen on the ears of the Government. I mean no discourtesy, but nothing very new has been said. I hope that the Government have already taken on board—perhaps as a result of last week's debate— the essentials of the concerns of your Lordships' House.

I should like to pick up on one or two points that have been made in the course of this often very lively debate. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, made a very lively speech when introducing the debate. I enjoyed listening to it. I hope that I shall enjoy replying to some of the points he made. I feel that I have to comment on the fact that he is clearly uncomfortable—as I know is the noble Lord, Lord Howell, who raised the point in last week's debate—with the fact that the committee came to the conclusion that power would be shifting from the Commission to the member states. It is important to make absolutely clear why we said that.

The problem may lie in the fact that we have different definitions and conceptions of the Council of Ministers. In the debate last week I said: The balance of power is shifting to the Council, the sovereign representatives of the member states of the European Union".— [Official Report, 3/12/03; col. 336.] So when we say that it is shifting from the Commission to the states, it is perfectly proper to identify the Council as the place in which the member states represent their governments and their nations. I make no excuse for that.

But it is not only that. We were referring, in particular, to the strengthening of the role of the Council through a reform of the six-monthly presidency, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, rightly said, is nonsense and needs to be corrected. We were also saying that clearly a Council president for a once-renewable two-and-a-half year term would add greater coherence. The Government picked this up in their White Paper and said that the reforms to the Council will, bring coherence and consistency to the EU's actions, and thereby give the Member States through the Council"— that is, through the member states— much greater capacity to give direction and momentum to the EU's agenda, for example on the Lisbon Process". That point of view was endorsed by a very large majority of our committee.

Other noble Lords have mentioned that the right to withdraw is an important new departure. I would add only that it is not only a right to withdraw; it is also a right to rejoin afterwards if you wish. That point is occasionally forgotten.

I turn now to the question of the outstanding major issues in the IGC and the views that have been expressed on that. On the voting rights issue, it appears that we are at something of an impasse unless the Italian presidency can come up with a reasonable compromise. We are stuck with the Nice formula. I say "stuck" advisedly because I do not like the Nice formula, which is far too complex and complicated. I do not believe that Spain and Poland will be able to make a terribly good case for insisting on the weighting of their votes under the Nice treaty. But we are stuck with it until 2009 and therefore there is probably a case for waiting a little longer to see how the problem is resolved.

As to the size of the Commission, it would appear that we are going to be stuck—I use the word again— with one commissioner per state and, for heaven's sake, even two for some states. That would involve the awful prospect of arriving at a Council of 31—which would be absolutely unmanageable—if the larger states were to insist on having two as the price of everyone else having one. I pray that that will not be the case.

The important point is that it is still not too late to find a reasonable comprise. Our committee concluded that the so-called 60/50 formula was a sensible way forward. It was at the time the only sensible one on the table. Since then it has become clear that there are alternatives—you could have 50/50 or 60/60—both of which would allow the smaller countries to create their blocking minorities, which is what they seriously want to have.

This raises the question of the timing of the IGC. In our report, we expressed the view that of course it would be very nice if it could be wrapped up by the end of the Italian presidency. We all like to feel that we have come out at the end of these things with a good result. However, it is essential, in my view, that we do not rush to get a result next weekend. There are major issues outstanding, and it is extraordinarily important that we do not rush them or, worse still, cobble together the kind of fudges that some of us have had experience of in the past. We really should not have such a result on this issue.

We have time; as every noble Lord who has spoken in this debate knows, we have until May 2004 before the new countries accede to the European Union and until June 2004 before the European parliamentary elections take place. That leaves us time in the Irish presidency to work a little more on some issues and ensure that we do not rush next weekend, stopping the clock at midnight or even spilling over into two more days, into making a bad compromise which we will then live to regret. That point was well made by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Park. We must not rush these matters.

My third point concerns the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, who, in his usual elegant, terrier-like way, went after many of the points made in the report and the draft treaty. I should like to take him up on the question of legal entity. He intimated that this changed everything, but I do not think that it does. It does not change the fact that competences can be conferred only by the member states. It does not change the fact that member states in the Council still ultimately make the decisions. This is a Union in which the member states have the last word. Article 6 is just one line, stating that the European Union will be a legal entity. It does not go further than that and does not need to, because it has not actually changed anything very much. It has certainly not changed the conferral of powers on the Union or the fact that the member states are ultimately in control.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, surely what the noble Lord says begs the question about whether new competences will be found to exist in the rather obscure phraseology of the treaty. That is the whole trouble. The European Court may well conclude that new competences have in fact been conferred on the Union as a result of our signing up to this constitution.

Lord Grenfell

My Lords, I am afraid I do not really share the noble Lord's concern. I thought one of the clearest points in the draft was the setting out and description of those competences and who had the right to confer them—that is, the member states. If that happens, the European Court of Justice is there to take that point, and I hope that it would do so with vigour. Since the noble Lord has mentioned the European Court of Justice, I hope he will correct me if I have misinterpreted his remarks. I had the impression that he was saying it would have jurisdiction over common foreign and security policy. That is simply not the case, as Article III-282 clearly states: The Court of Justice shall not have jurisdiction with respect to Articles I-39 and I-40 and the provisions of Chapter II of Title V of Part III concerning the common foreign and security policy". Of course, Articles I-39 and I-40 refer to the specific provisions for implementing the common foreign and security policy and the common security and defence policy. We need to be quite clear on that point.

Next, is this a constitution? Our committee always found it a problem whether to refer to it as a constitution. It is called a constitutional treaty, but it does not, in fact, make any claim—

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, will the noble Lord give way?

Lord Grenfell

My Lords, I was developing my point, but I will.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, so that the noble Lord does not go any further down that route, the draft treaty establishes a constitution for Europe. That is the wording.

Lord Grenfell

My Lords, it is said to be establishing a constitution for Europe, but it does not have many of the features of what we normally know as a constitution. The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, quoted the first 10 words of the draft treaty. It is important to note that the draft treaty does not start with the words, "We, the people". It makes no claim whatever to grass roots legitimacy. In our view, and certainly in my view, it is different.

Giscard had absolutely no mandate to lay the foundations of a state. It was a draft treaty between sovereign states to simplify and replace the confusion of existing treaties and to set out clearly the rules of the conduct of the European Union's business in a European Union of 25 states. You may call that a constitution if you like, but it is nothing like a state constitution. It is certainly more than simply tidying up—I will concede that right away—but it is not the kind of constitution that would be a bottom-up process, starting with the words, "We, the people".

I should like to say a word or two about the subsidiarity and proportionality items in the draft treaty. I do not think that we lost a battle over the red card—it was not really a battle. A proposal was made, and I think it is right that it did not go any further. I believe that a red card would ultimately devalue the yellow card. People reckon that they can go further and further until they hit the red card and will pay no attention to the yellow card. I would much rather we had a much strengthened yellow card than both a red and yellow card.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, said in relation to this point that the draft treaty will weaken national parliaments. I really do not see how you can read that into this draft treaty. I will give just one example, apart from the fact that the subsidiarity mechanism immensely improves the ability of national parliaments to have a say in how the European Union conducts its business. There is something else worth mentioning, and perhaps the Minister could enlighten us.

This morning I received through the Internet a copy of a redrafting of Article IV-7(b) which relates to simplified procedures for revising the constitution; amendment to internal policies. I am afraid I only have the French text—that was all I could get hold of, and I certainly will not impose my French on your Lordships. I will therefore give my own translation of the important part of it. I hope that I translate accurately and not too freely. It says that all initiatives taken by the European Council on the basis of paragraphs 1 and 2—that refers to simplified procedures— is transmitted to national parliaments of member states. In the case of the opposition of a national parliament notified within a delay of six months after its transmission, the European decision foreseen in those paragraphs is not adopted. That is a new power for national parliaments. This is just one example of national parliaments finding that their own powers and influence in running the EU will be improved.

I conclude simply by saying that I do not wish to see a rushed treaty emerging from the weekend's discussions in Brussels. I want time to be taken over it. I believe that the draft treaty was a good starting point—not a blueprint—for governments to seize hold of what was said and knock that into the kind of shape that all of us could accept. In the end, what really matters is that the European Union should have methods of working, guidelines and rules that make a Union of 25, and perhaps more, workable and to the benefit of all the people in Europe.

6.20 p.m.

Lord Stevens of Ludgate

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, who has done so much work on this subject. We are here today to debate the European Union constitution, which has been predicted and wished for by many European leaders for nearly 50 years, in one form or another. We may call it European integration or a federal Europe, but it is heading in the same direction.

If that is the wish of the majority of countries and of the UK people, so be it, but it is not my wish—nor do I believe it to be desirable, necessary or workable.

In the briefing paper from earlier this year on the Convention on the Future of Europe was a quote from Mr Hain, now Leader of the House of Commons, which is worth repeating. He said: A lot of representatives are wondering whether the people who drew up this document have been going to a different convention". In spite of this, he told the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Union that the treaty was, a good deal for Britain". Obviously, therefore, it appears not to matter that the comments of the UK and some other countries were largely ignored. The Government state that the draft treaty meets key UK goals, because it consolidates the existing EU treaties into a single logically ordered text. They also state that the EU must change because the, EU works. But it could work better". I certainly agree that it could work better. As noble Lords have said, it could start by getting its accounts signed off. In some countries, inaccurate accounts are a criminal offence.

The Government's White Paper states that the draft treaty meets UK goals as, among other things, it provides for a more efficient EU. One of the ways in which it could become more efficient would be to delegate more decision making to its members. However, as pointed out by the Select Committee, not a single competence has been, or will be, returned to member states. Indeed, many new competences are proposed.

I shall concentrate my speech on the economic situation in the EU. The EU, we are told, shall work for the sustainable development of Europe based on balanced economic growth a social market economy"— whatever that is— highly competitive and aiming at full employment"— and so on. That is basically, in my opinion, a load of old waffle. They are worthy objectives, but how on earth are they going to be judged? They are not being fulfilled anyway, even on a loose definition. Growth is not balanced, and France and Germany have unemployment levels approaching 10 per cent.

Let us look at euro-zone trade for a moment. Recent figures from the Bank of France and the Bundesbank show that France and Germany are becoming more reliant on the USA, the UK and other markets for their exports. In the last four years and since the euro was launched, German exports to France grew at less than half the rate of those of the UK—7 per cent versus 13 per cent for the UK. Its exports to the USA grew by 12 per cent. In fact, German exports outside the euro-zone grew at twice the rate within it, and the same is true for France. German exports to non-EU countries now account for 45 percent of its total exports against 43 per cent when the euro was launched. That hardly tallies with the claims made by many, that monetary union leads to an increase in trade between them. The Treasury argument, that UK trade within the euro-zone would substantially increase, does not agree with the French and German experience.

Let us turn to old age and pensions. I suppose that I should declare an interest, in that I am a pensioner. The EU population is forecast to drop by the year 2050 from 377 million to 370 million. Germany will lose more than 10 million workers, with the number of workers falling from 50 million to 40 million. Italy will lose 15 million, with the number falling from 35 million to 20 million. The figures were produced by the United Nations this year. In contrast, the UK's working-age population over the same period is forecast to rise modestly to 35 million.

In the USA, there are forecast to be 410 million citizens in 2050, which represents a 43 per cent increase on today's figure. Between now and then, the US working-age population will increase by more than the present working-age population of Germany. In Germany, for every 100 workers, the statistics office forecasts that in 2050 there will be 80 people over 60, compared with the current figure of 43. The German Finance Minister in June this year said that, in 1960, 14 per cent of the federal budget went on funding the state pension programme. The figure is now 29 per cent and, if things remain unchanged, will rise to 80 per cent of the federal budget in 2050. He says that there is, no way that can function". France, Germany, Spain and Italy have pay-as-you-go state pension schemes, and the number of pensioners is set to double over the next 30 years. The UK state scheme is small by comparison, partly because it is pegged to inflation rather than increases in average wages. The state pension scheme in Germany takes 11 per cent of GDP compared with 5 per cent in the UK. The European Commission recently forecast that the share of world GDP of the existing members would collapse from 18 per cent now to 10 per cent in 2050.

Let us now consider overseas investment. Foreign companies' investment in the EU dropped by twice as much as that in the UK in 2002, according to Ernst & Young. The UK's share rose to 30 per cent in 2002.I should mention that those figures conflict with the EU figures, but that the EU figures include mergers and acquisitions. Even on EU figures last year, the UK's share of inward investment is still higher than the inflow into France and double that of Germany.

What about the stability pact—"one size fits all"? It was put in place to limit budget deficits to 3 per cent of GDP and backed up by fines and sanctions. France and Germany have breached it, with no fines, no sanctions, no penalties and no assurance that the latest plan will be adhered to. It was a poor pact. It made no allowance for countries' different economies or for structural changes. The circumstances of its collapse by France and Germany has blown the credibility of all formal pacts, including the draft constitution, for the articles of the stability pact are built into the draft constitution. How much sense does it make to discuss a draft when its rules are already breached?

If the large members cannot behave, what chance is there for the small? There is now a risk that interest rates will have to be raised earlier and higher than otherwise would have been the case. A replacement stability pact has yet to be agreed. If it collapses when it does not suit its largest members, what hope is there for a new constitution? So much for the EU's desire to achieve greater economic integration.

The present draft treaty has no coherent framework for economic policy. A revised draft must take account of a country's specific economic circumstances and an economic reform programme. The collapse of the stability pact will mean that the new countries in the next wave of monetary union have no budgetary or fiscal rules to meet. What a shambles—or, as the Finnish Prime Minister said, "It is a sin".

So for many reasons, including trade, population trends, overseas investment and the stability pact, the European constitution from the UK's point of view needs a radical and total rethink. Given the UK's relatively bright demographic prospects, it would be bizarre to lock our economy into the EU, which is in relentless decline, by agreeing to a constitution that is out of touch with what is going on. Let us not be afraid of the consequences, since we can remain in a European free trade area. Some strange figures have been circulated by the Government of 3 million unemployed if we leave the EU. I have never seen any proper justification for those figures but, as noble Lords have said, the relevant fact is that year in and year out we have a trade deficit with the EU. Is the EU really going to cut that off, and what about the effect on its employment?

Tariffs are much less of a threat to world trade than they were, thanks to GATT, and the USA and steel is a recent example of sanctions being removed.

To conclude, Gisela Stuart, who several noble Lords have mentioned, said this week that, the draft is based on a structure reflecting the political and economical attitudes of 50 years ago. The real issue is whether this model for Europe is the most suitable". Mr Giscard d'Estaing called the draft a great leap forward. Majority voting will be more than doubled, despite Mr Blair's claims that it is a tidying-up exercise. The EU is a byword for bureaucracy. The US constitution is 16 pages long. The draft EU constitution is 246 pages. Even those who have drafted it have little confidence in it. I know that some noble Lords will probably disagree with that comment. They have little confidence in it, but they have put in an opt-out clause. I read in the Daily Telegraph today that a new clause was slipped without debate into the EU constitution two weeks ago that would effectively abolish the veto in broad areas of foreign policy. How on earth can one negotiate on those terms?

The constitution should be rejected and if, after a decent pause, the rest of the EU want to go back to the drawing board, so be it. However, for the reasons that I have outlined, the UK should not. If necessary, let us have a two-speed Europe.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart

My Lords, in seeking to wind up the debate on behalf of these Benches, perhaps I may join those who have thanked the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, for choosing to initiate it on the eve of what is unquestionably an important meeting of the heads of government to consider the draft constitution. I suppose that it is unlikely that the debate will catch the headlines tomorrow, because certain other discussions on the Chancellor's pre-Budget report will undoubtedly grab more notice. Nevertheless, it is important that this House, which has given great and detailed attention to the proposals for the constitution, should have its own opportunity to formulate proposals and suggestions and generally to enhance the enlightenment of the public.

However, as the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, pointed out, we have to admit in retrospect that not many new points have been made. Perhaps that is not surprising, because the very open process of the draft constitution's compilation by the convention on which I had the honour to serve as an alternate member has allowed a running commentary on what has been happening. That is not to say that no new points have been made or new emphases given. I draw attention to the remarks of the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, for example, who spoke of a matter that has received perhaps less consideration than it should; namely, the effect of the proposed constitution on second-tier government within our own and other countries or perhaps the lack of consideration given by the constitution to that.

The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, spoke about not being in a hurry. While I broadly agree that diplomatic negotiations should never be hurried, per contra, the advantages of postponement are hard to see at this time. The issues have been well deliberated in the nation states and canvassed in the earlier meetings of council of the IGC. If the forthcoming meeting does not reach agreement on the package of the constitutional draft treaty as a whole, there is a risk that those areas of disagreement will be elevated in importance to the detriment of the recognition of how much of value has already been agreed. That will make the process of agreement a little more difficult, which would be unfortunate.

The whole tenor of our debate has been to question whether the European Union, in considering the draft constitution, is advancing too far and too fast along an integrationist path. It is reasonable to raise the possibility that it is scarcely moving fast enough to keep abreast of the changes in the global society in which the Union is operating. It is surely the case that when the Union does manage in some way to concert its views and take a clear stand—for example, over the imposition of steel tariffs by the United States—it can do much more to protect the national interest of this country than can any single member country on its own.

I listened with great interest to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Vinson, and to the description given by the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, of her nightmare before the last world war. Both of them spoke of their experiences and of thinking about the meaning of that war. I too am old enough to have recollections of it. As a child, I heard the bomb drop which killed 14 people in my street. However, I do not draw from that experience the view that the coming together of the countries that twice initiated a global war in the previous century constitutes a comparable threat to my family, my offspring and, I hope, my descendants. Rather, the reverse is true. One can inject into the debate at this stage just a little passion on behalf of the other point of view to that which has characterised the discussion as a whole.

I am bound to say that if Europe does not accept the challenge of coming together in the way that is proposed, there is no prospect of our standing still with an enlarged European Union and a more awkward method of reaching agreement than is proposed. It is probable that we shall return to the post-Congress of Berlin arrangement, attempting to concert the power of the European countries in the face of attempts by individuals aggressively to wrong-foot each other.

Those efforts to concert failed spectacularly in 1914. What has been done in the post-Second World War period is without parallel in the history of Europe. Notwithstanding the detail of the issues and the importance of the detail, that is a massive achievement to which successive governments in this country have subscribed—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, who have participated in the debate, were notable members of one of them. In the light of that historical record, Europe is not a suitable subject for partisan divisions. I was so pleased to hear the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, remind us of that too-little-remembered passage of the famous Bruges speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, where she spoke of the virtue of Europe speaking with a single voice in matters which could not be decided by individual nations seeking to flex their own muscles.

I have not chosen to use the limited amount of time that is available to me to raise the particular points that still fall to be considered. There is not enough time to do it and there have been other opportunities. I think it is the fourth time that I have had the chance to speak about the subject in this House. In any event, it would, to some extent, be a work of super-arrogation. The work that has been done by and on behalf of the House by the Select Committee on the European Union, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, has, together with the Government's response in detail, provided a clear statement of where the balance of concerns in the House lies and of where the Government stand in their response to those concerns. I do not doubt that the report got it just about right, and I embrace most of the views that it expresses, as I understand most of the Government's responses.

Deliberation on these matters has, throughout the two years of discussion, been unusually open. No one can complain about secret agreements secretly arrived at in this case. Representatives of the European Parliament have attended meetings of Ministers. We have had the fullest briefings that any government have ever given on every step of the game. We had the opportunity to consider matters such as were raised in this debate by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury relating to Article 51 and the role of the Churches. There is scarcely anyone who can complain about the manner in which the process has been advanced.

That leads me to touch lightly on the remarks made by two of my fellow members of the convention: Ms Gisela Stuart and Mr Heathcoat-Amory. I feel no need to speak about the latter; his expositions have been clear from the beginning. However, some people will have been a little surprised by Ms Stuart's démarche. I am one of them. I never heard her make such complaints during the process, when we shared platforms and joined in discussions on what we considered to be the way ahead. I cannot honestly say that I recognise what she described.

We tabled thousands of amendments. They were not all given equal weight, but we considered a remarkably large number of them, and many were accepted, even at the last minute of the process. I recall an amendment moved by representatives of the national parliaments, the European Parliament and several political parties to provide for a procedure that would allow the citizens of Europe to petition the European Union on matters of significance. That was accepted on almost the last day of the convention's operation. I do not share the sense that an elite was excluding common folk such as myself, a mere alternate from a minority party. I never found a body that was more open to listening and, if one had a good case, to adopting one's views.

Several hares have, once again, been started during the debate. We have seen them run round the course before. I had thought that they had been suitably disposed of—but, alas, no. We heard again that it was a draft agreement that created a new single legal personality. Since the signing of the treaties establishing the European Communities, there has explicitly been a single legal personality. The Treaty on European Union did not spell that out so specifically, but every lawyer in this country who advised those of us who were present—they were drawn from a wide spectrum of backgrounds—took the view that it had always been the case that the Union had a single legal personality. In setting the position out clearly in print, we are simply conforming to the Laeken requirement that we should make more clear what has been less clear.

The same might be said of the supremacy of European Union law. Those who have suggested that the constitution was in some way different from the treaties that preceded it are, to some extent, entering into the metaphysical empyrean, and I am reluctant to follow. I think that those who have advanced that theory, including such distinguished lawyers as the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, would acknowledge that the constitution is intended to be a legal document, not a political document without legal effect. If we are to have that kind of document, we must allow it to be interpreted by the highest legal authority in the European Union, the European Court of Justice.

I commend the work that has been done on the constitution that we are discussing today. I hope that it will be seen not only as a point of departure for the next phase of the European Union, in the dangerous world in which we live, but as the matrix of a new, more effective and democratic means by which the Union can reach its decisions and speak with one voice on behalf of its citizens.

6.46 p.m.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, it has been an excellent debate, with good Scots and Welsh participation, which always provides spice and vigour in our discussions in this kingdom. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, with his characteristically thoughtful words. I do not agree with the noble Lord, but he gives great thought to such things. It was nice to hear a speech from the Liberal Democrat Benches. It is surprising that we heard only one, given that the Liberal Democrats usually get so excited and worked up about such matters, but there it is. There was one very good speech, which we have just heard.

Above all, everyone has strongly expressed their thanks to my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean for such a timely debate. I qualify that only by saying frankly that I am staggered and astonished that it had to be a Back-Bencher who provided the time for issues of such enormous importance, two days before the Government tackle the decisive issues and, possibly— maybe not—solidify matters in concrete. It is deplorable that we did not have a full government-allocated day—I am not talking about the Queen's Speech debate—to examine the matters, before they begin to be signed and sealed by governments and Ministers. However, that is the way it is, so we must be thankful that my noble friend stepped into the breach.

Over the discussion hangs the constantly repeated government mantra that the treaty involves no fundamental change in the relationship between the European Union and the member states. That was said twice in the White Paper, and it has been said again and again by Ministers. The reason why our debate has been so good is that it has made me wonder whether we have reached the point at which the Government must face a few realities.

One of those realities is that the rock on which they have rested their case has begun to crumble and has turned out to be not rock but some kind of substance like polyfilla. The Government cannot go on ignoring the enormous volume of highly informed criticism, questioning the view that the treaty does not amount to much and that we can safely leave it to the parliamentary process to do a little tidying up.

The remarkable Gisela Stuart has been the patron saint of this and many other debates. Practically every speaker has quoted her, and rightly so, because she adds her reflections to a long list of enormously independent legal authority. Having been right at the heart of the matter, she rightly says that the constitution reflects the needs of 50 years ago—a backward looking constitution—that it is riddled with imperfections, put together by a self-selected group of the European elite, the Praesidium, and that it raises the most important political issue facing Europe today. She adds for good measure that it is not about democracy and accountability, alas, but all about political deepening of the Union. She questions whether there is any evidence that the people of Europe want that at the moment.

In the face of that kind of comment, I do not see that the Government can just go on calmly holding to their current position. I do not see how they can dismiss the very learned report from the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, which my noble friend Lord Lang mentioned—a document that raised 15 points of a principle nature regarding the constitution of this country. In the face of that, how can it be said that the constitution is not a vast matter that does not change very much or make very much difference?

In the debate we had a week ago I said that the comments about tidying-up were being greeted with ridicule. The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, asked whether I was also ridiculing the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Grenfell, whom she called in aid in support of her general case. I would not dare for a moment extend anything but admiration—it would be impertinent not to do so—in the direction of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who is one of the most excellent independent adornments of this House. However, in the debate a week ago the noble Lord had a dig at me, which was quite unfair. He said that my views tended towards the negative and exclusive about everything to do with the European Union. That is quite untrue. I have always put forward a vision of a more flexible, subtly articulated European Union network—a truly up-to-date version. I have backed it up, as have my honourable friends in another place, with detailed proposals about going forward to a genuine, not a forced, kind of unity and with the proposition that, on the odd occasions, a single voice is more powerful than the individual voices of the separate European countries, so long as it is the right voice and does not just turn out to be a Franco-German dominance ignoring the views of other countries.

When the noble Lord, Lord Radice, asks what is the vision, I say that we have put forward a very strong vision. We see now the opportunity to build that vision and to keep Europe on the mainstream towards unity and away from this diversion that is threatened by a flawed and ill-formed constitution. The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, is an old friend, literally, of one of my oldest friends in this House. I certainly do not presume in any way to ridicule the enormously thorough work of the committee chaired by the noble Lord. However, the fact remains that the report contains a key sentence which is wrong. The key sentence that we have all mentioned is that the balance of power will shift from the Commission to the member states. I note that my noble friend Lord Lamont tried vainly to remove that sentence from the report. When I first read the sentence, a phrase from Disraeli came to mind. Like a fly trapped in amber, I wondered how the devil the sentence had got there. I studied the report closely to try to understand the sentence.

The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, explained with his usual good humour, clarity and independence what the sentence meant. It meant that in some respects power would be shifted from the Commission to the Council of Ministers, and that as the Council of Ministers is made up of member states, that meant that the relevant power would be shifted to the member states. I understand that, but it is not quite the same thing, frankly. The Council of Ministers cannot just be described in terms of shifting power to the member states because what is decided in the Council of Ministers is modified by qualified majority voting and many other things. However, I see now what the noble Lord was getting at. The trouble is that the sentence in his hands is understandable, but if it falls into less scrupulous hands, it gets distorted—and that is what has happened. The phrase has been waved around by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the noble Baroness and many other Ministers as some kind of bogus evidence that we are all worrying about nothing and that the movement of power is not affected.

It is a pity that that is the case. It is even more of a pity because, when one reads the rest of the committee's report, one discovers that it is full of excellent details which do not support that conclusion at all; in fact, they go quite the other way. I made a list of them. Paragraph 67 states: There is, however, no evidence that any competence has been or will be returned to Member States". That is quite right. In paragraph 73 the committee, would welcome further explanation of where the boundaries of shared competences will be set". That is quite right as no one knows, so I do not know how one can reach conclusions regarding powers. In paragraph 83 the committee wanted to be satisfied that new provisions, are not so open-ended that they could lead to a considerable expansion of European Union activity". You bet! Paragraph 263 states that intergovernmental elements on justice and home affairs will be "reduced to a minimum", and that qualified majority voting marks, a significant departure from the current arrangements". The same paragraph refers to, a significant increase in the powers of the European Parliament". On the rights of initiative, it points out that the powers of member states have been further limited, and that the jurisdiction of the ECJ has been significantly extended. The report goes on and on. It reminds us— perhaps it should remind the Government also as they do not seem to have read those parts of the report— that the measure permits the extension of EU competence in criminal law and proposes very significant changes to the Union's security policy. The report states at paragraph 332 that national Parliaments will lose competence over a whole range of areas. How that matches with the conclusion that the Government draw from the report, that somehow it validates their case that nothing much has happened, stretches credulity well beyond breaking point.

Lord Grenfell

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. However, does he accept that I stand by everything that he has read out? He quoted from the committee's report. I do not dispute those quotations. However, the noble Lord puts the weights on to one side of the balance. If he also quoted those parts of the draft treaty where there is a very definite shift towards the member states in terms of greater authority being given to national parliaments and the Council—I dispute what the noble Lord said about the Council—he would see that we were not wrong in saying that the shift is towards the member states.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, we may have to differ on that. The noble Lord always has been passionate about balance. The report is balanced but when you take the sentence that I mentioned out of context—as the Government have had no scruples in doing—the balance is destroyed. That is what happens if one does not keep these sentences carefully locked up and one allows them to run around without a lead.

The debate moved on to the central question of the significance of the shift of power the other way—to the European institutions. That is a key matter in terms of the Government's argument. My noble friend Lord Waddington made an unanswerable case that although Community law always had superior authority from 1972 onwards, it is now embodied in a constitutional document which is not just another treaty. It is a legal writ, a legal form. What is written down in it carries powers and will be judged in the courts. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, that many of these points were in the Maastricht Treaty and other treaties, but never before have they been enshrined and embedded in a higher law—in a constitution. That is why the case is unanswerable for having a referendum; it is not just a parliamentary matter. That is why we want a referendum. On that there was a deathly silence from the Liberal Democrats.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way so that I can inject another moment of Liberal Democrat intervention. I shall do so briefly, because he is near the end of his speech. The reality is that nothing in the document suggests that it is in any way different in kind from the previous constitutional treaties of Maastricht, Amsterdam, Nice and so forth. Nothing declares that the document is superior in a different way from earlier treaties that have been the foundation of the rule book for the European Union.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, as the late Ernest Bevin was fond of saying, "I've heard different". In our view, the document is constitutional. It enshrines such matters; they become justiciable in the European Court of Justice, which becomes a higher court. I must move on, because the debate has been very full.

The defence issues, which were not looked at very deeply in the European Union Committee's report, were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. They have been raised by the neutrals in recent days, who have reminded us that they are not prepared to go along with mutual defence pacts or clauses that automatically and inevitably incorporate them in defence of the Union not by willing decision—many neutral-country soldiers are involved in present operations—but by law. The committee expressed the hope that no operational EU command structure would emerge, and urged that it should not be encouraged in paragraph 284, which quotes a witness as saying that, none of these structures pretends to provide an operational EU military command structure either at the strategic or the tactical levels. There are no standing EU headquarters … Any such EU operational command structure would duplicate existing NATO and national assets". I am terribly sorry, but what the committee says should not happen has happened. We now have an operational command structure proposed that is to be reinforced in the treaty, greatly to the dismay of the Americans, who are deeply worried at structured co-operation, and, again, to the dismay of the small countries.

I was glad that my noble friend Lord Hurd, in a very distinguished speech, spoke about the smaller countries. That is an enormously important issue. I favour another vision, that of a more equal Europe, yet it seems to be a vision fading in the welter of arguments about the weighting of votes, a Commission that excludes the smaller countries, a president who may perpetuate differences if he is the wrong president at the wrong time, a stability pact that apparently applies to only the small fry and not the big boys, being told to shut up over Iraq, and a general sense of domination by the bigger powers in a Union that is supposed to be one of equal countries. The UK should be far more vigorous in championing the smaller nations, as my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth rightly suggested.

I shall mention the issue that apparently worries the Prime Minister now; namely, that if he sticks to the red lines on tax, defence, foreign affairs and energy—let us hear a little more about that this evening—he will somehow get out of line with the French and the Germans, and that a two-speed Europe will develop. That appears to be his worry according to this morning's newspapers. It is not my worry. If there are to be two speeds, the fast lane will run round the edge of the European Union. It will be Poland, Estonia, Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, Portugal and Italy. That will be the peripherique on which wise statesmen and policy makers will keep their national vehicles. It is the slow centre that will move forward, as it is perfectly entitled to do, in a more ponderous way.

We should bend our efforts to support and bring out that newer Europe and reject the antique and backward-looking constitution project, which is bad for us and bad for Europe. According to the Foreign Secretary, it is now anyway not apparently necessary. Going back to Gisela Stuart for a moment, I should say that she tells us that when she puts "Giscard" into her laptop computer, it insists on printing out "discard". There may be a lesson for us all in that.

In that marvellous speech at the beginning, my noble friend Lord Forsyth rather brutally compared Ministers to Humpty Dumpty and the unhappy events that he encountered. 1 read this morning that, given good counselling, proper medical technology and sensible treatment, it would have been possible to save Humpty Dumpty and put him together again. That is indeed the treatment that we now offer. Rejection of our offer will be greatly regretted. It will leave not just Ministers, but higher and more valuable issues such as European unity itself in pieces on the ground, instead of being put together again.

7.6 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, for initiating the debate and getting us off to such a very energetic start. It has been described as lively by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, and even fierce by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe. It has certainly prompted quite a number of contributions that have been as different in their content as in their presentation, and the debate has been wide-ranging, so I shall do my best to answer as many of the points and arguments as I can. There has been good Scots participation, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said, but perhaps I can do my bit to boost the Welsh side.

Today marks the 12th occasion since May that Members of this House or another place have had the opportunity to debate the draft treaty. Ministers have appeared eight times before different parliamentary committees. The sittings of the Standing Committee on the TGC have given a full opportunity to Members of both Houses to question Ministers on the progress of negotiations. In addition, the Government have responded to 16 reports of committees of both Houses, most lately to the full and comprehensive report of the European Union Committee at the end of October, following the contribution of the Constitution Committee.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, for his measured reflections on the opportunities that we have had for those debates. I say very gently to the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, that the Government initiated a debate on 9th September, in very good time for the IGC. It was remarked on at the time, and it lasted some eight hours. We have also produced what I hope that noble Lords can agree have been full and speedy responses to all the reports, showing the importance that we attach to the work of the European Union Committee and the contribution of the parliamentary committees towards informing our stance on the negotiations.

As the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, said on 20th November: My Lords, is it not almost unprecedented to have repeated sittings of joint committees of the two Houses during IGCs? The Government have introduced that novel procedure, which is welcome".—[Official Report, 20/11/03; col. 2049.] As he remarked today, I think agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, we have had a running commentary, which for our part the Government have very much welcomed. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, and his committee again. I also thank very particularly the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth— sadly, I do not see him in his place—for his committee's contributions to the debate on the IGC. We greatly appreciated the 41st report of the European Union Committee and the 9th report of the Constitution Committee. I know that the Foreign Secretary has written to both noble Lords to thank them very much and give them his personal appreciation of the hard work that has gone into those reports.

I was a little sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, chose to call into question my sincerity in saying that analysis of the draft would be forthcoming. Another Member of the Opposition was a little more courteous in putting the same point. I gave that undertaking, and analysis will be forthcoming once the final draft is ready. It is still under negotiations, as the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, was kind and fair enough to acknowledge. It is not really possible to give a day-by-day account of negotiation. The process of trying to reach agreement is an arduous and complex one in which my friends in another place have been very heavily engaged.

I turn to the prospects for the IGC. Many of your Lordships have been quite stern in urging the Government not to risk agreement if that agreement would go against our national interests. The Italian presidency plans to conclude the intergovernmental conference negotiations on the draft EU constitutional treaty at this European Council. The Government support the aim of concluding the IGC in December this year rather than continuing into the Irish presidency. However, I assure your Lordships—I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Park, in particular, will take note of this—that we shall support that aim only if we see our fundamental concerns properly addressed in a final package.

As my noble friend Lord Radice made clear, our concerns include our insistence that unanimity should remain in areas of vital national interest, such as taxation, social security, defence, key areas of criminal procedural law and the system of own resources. The Government set out their position on those issues very clearly in the White Paper.

The Government are satisfied with progress in the IGC so far. Recent discussions—most lately at the IGC of 8th December—were based on a paper circulated by the presidency. It contained a series of proposals for amendments to the draft EU constitutional treaty drawn up by the Convention on the Future of Europe. Unfortunately, they did not meet all our concerns, and I wish to be clear on that point. However, we are considering revised proposals which are being tabled.

I remind the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, that there has been no formal agreement on any single point of the draft treaty. That is for heads of state or governments by common accord at the European Council. The Government will only sign up to a treaty that serves this country's interests—a point upon which the noble Lord, Lord Howell, laid great emphasis. It was a point also emphasised in the very well argued contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Lang, and of course by the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth.

I listened very carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, said on that point. I concur with his assertion that we do not have to reach an agreement this weekend. We should not reach a bad compromise which we shall live to regret. The noble Lord was right. I shall draw his remarks and those of other noble Lords who have been very forceful on this point to the attention of my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary.

However, I remind the noble Lord, Lord Vinson, that, as we said in the White Paper, if a new treaty cannot be agreed or ratified, the EU would continue under its current arrangements. It would have the same functions as it has today. It would not collapse. But the failure to reform would, indeed, undermine the existing institutional balance within the EU, and it is that which we seek to address.

I assure noble Lords that we shall continue our dialogue with Parliament. That is very important. Tomorrow, the Foreign Secretary will go before the Foreign Affairs Committee. Following the European Council, on 17th December the Minister for Europe will appear before the European Scrutiny Committee, and next month he intends to accept an invitation from the Lords EU Select Committee.

The noble Lords, Lord Forsyth, Lord Waddington and Lord Vinson, and many others spoke about their desire for a referendum on this subject. As is the custom in this country, the Government intend that the treaty should be ratified through the parliamentary process and that Parliament should have the opportunity to scrutinise the treaty in full. That was the way in which this Government dealt with the Treaty of Nice; it was the way in which we dealt with the Treaty of Amsterdam; and, indeed, it was the way in which the Conservative government dealt with the Single European Act and the Treaty of Maastricht.

Again, I believe that the Opposition have fallen into the trap of telling the Government, "Don't do as we did when we were in power. Do as we tell you now". They have attempted to make this somewhat opportunistic argument respectable by cloaking it as a claim that the treaty represents a fundamental change in constitutional terms. Perhaps inevitably in addressing a debate where opinions are so strongly held, those contributing tend to stress the overwhelmingly persuasive nature of their own argument and the inadequacy of that of their opponents. The Opposition claim that the new treaty is a fundamental shift in the constitutional position; others claim that the treaty contains nothing new. The truth, as is so often the case, lies somewhere in between and is probably a great deal more prosaic.

A constitutional treaty for the EU would consolidate what already exists and what has already been agreed. In that respect, the consolidation does not in and of itself change the constitutional relationship between members and the EU. It brings together a plethora of measures. It makes them more easily understood and more accessible to individuals. That must be welcomed, as I believe the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, welcomed it. However, in addition, there are new elements, such as the early-warning mechanism for national parliaments. For the first time, we have a draft treaty which makes clear that any powers not conferred upon the Union by member states remain with them. However, that does not amount to a fundamental and significant change in the relationship between the EU and member states. That is my view.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way. If what she says is correct and this is simply a consolidation, why are so many other member states, which are not required by their constitutions to have referendums, putting this matter to their people in a referendum?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I want to be absolutely clear in my response to the noble Lord. I am not saying that this is simply a consolidation. I am emphatically not saying that. I said that there is an element of consolidation. If the noble Lord had been a little more patient, he would have heard me say that there are new elements, and those are very important. The question is whether they constitute a fundamental shift in the relationship. The noble Lord contends that they do; others in your Lordships' House say that they do not. We have different systems from those of other member states.

This matter will be a question of judgment. Other member states wish to make that judgment, but many agree with the view of the United Kingdom Government that it is not an issue upon which a referendum should be held. I believe that at present the balance is in favour of those who are not holding a referendum. However, the noble Lord is right to say that many remain undecided on this issue.

I recognise that many noble Lords will be sceptical on this point, as is, no doubt, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, was a little concerned about citing the Lords committee, which said that a considerable range of matters had already become the subject of EU law in earlier treaties. The extension of EU law seems relatively limited by comparison, and we repeat our earlier conclusion that it is clear that the balance of power will shift from the Commission to member states.

I considered the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, on this issue during the debate on the gracious Speech to be thoughtful and thorough. We emphasised the position and he did so again today. It is very different from the analysis of the noble Lords, Lord Vinson and Lord Willoughby de Broke. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, accused the Government of seizing upon the quote. However, I might equally have quoted, as I did last week, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who is very independent. He said on 9th September that this would not be the most significant or far-reaching of European treaties. I also quote the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, who said: I hope very much that my own party will consider carefully the wisdom of committing ourselves in advance to a referendum on this issue before we know what is going to emerge".—[Official Report, 9/9/03; col. 180.] I recognise that it is discomfiting for Members of the party opposite for our Lords committee not to agree with them on that point. However, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that he gave the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, an adequate opportunity to reply to the points that he made, and he received the answer as, indeed, we all did.

I shall draw this matter, too, to the attention of my right honourable friend. But I have to tell your Lordships that today I have not heard any compelling reason to change the way in which this country ratifies treaties. We in this country have a very strong parliamentary democracy. I believe that that provides the best way to ensure that there will be detailed scrutiny and accountability.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, raised the issue of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. We supported that charter at Nice nearly three years ago as a political declaration. However, we did not consider it to be clear enough for legal use. We and other member states have worked very hard in the Convention on the Future of Europe to obtain greater clarity and greater legal certainty. As your Lordships will know, my noble friend Lady Scotland has been particularly involved in that work.

The convention text makes clear in Article II-51 that the charter, does not extend the field of application of Union Law beyond the powers of the Union", or establish any new power or task for the Union or modify powers and tasks defined in other parts of the constitution. Therefore, the Government will make a final decision on incorporation of the charter into the draft constitutional treaty only in the light of the overall picture that emerges at the IGC.

The noble Lords, Lord Howell, Lord Williamson of Horton, Lord Grenfell and Lord Radice, all concentrated some of their remarks on the role of national parliaments. The Government have been a leading advocate of the convention for strengthening the role of national parliaments in Europe and also for strengthening subsidiarity, meaning that the EU does only what it cannot leave to national governments to do for themselves. On previous occasions I have been a little disappointed that your Lordships have not paid that aspect of the draft treaty more attention. However, I was very pleased to hear today the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Radice.

Parliament will have a mechanism to send back proposals for EU laws if those laws do not add value. Some may remain dissatisfied with the role accorded to national parliaments, but what we have is an important step forward. It will be the first time that national parliaments have been given a formal role at EU level. It is a powerful role: it requires the Commission to maintain, amend or withdraw a proposal that is opposed by one-third of national parliaments. In practice, that indicates a blocking minority. As stated in paragraph 123 of the 41st report of the Select Committee on the European Union, the mechanism, if made to work effectively would, represent an important development of democracy in the Union and … would help to confirm that the European Union is a union of Member States". I know that committees of both Houses have begun to consider how Parliament can make best use of the mechanism. Certainly, I hope that all noble Lords and others will take the opportunity it offers to demonstrate the extensive knowledge of and interest in these affairs.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, and other noble Lords, asked about the passerelle clause. The passerelle clause is unacceptable as it stands in the draft treaty. The presidency proposals submitted last week have an alternative wording in annex 30, but that does not meet our concerns. We have made clear all along during negotiations that we would find acceptable a situation in which the Council could, by unanimity, agree to a shift of powers from unanimity to QMV in respect of a particular dossier or area of activity. We could do so provided—this is the important part—that there was a lock that required every national parliament to endorse that decision. I hope that that deals with the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Vinson and Lord Grenfell.

Finally, as regards the importance constitutionally of what we are considering, we all heard the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, say gently to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, that it is not sensible to say that this draft treaty takes away our right to govern ourselves in a new and unacceptable fashion. I hope that those of your Lordships who have come to the conclusion that it does will carefully reflect on the comments of the noble and learned Lord and, indeed, those of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. Perhaps they were not quite as fierce as those of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, but I, for one, found him very much more persuasive.

I turn to the question of primacy as raised by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, answered him convincingly. The primacy issues are not new. Parliament knew in 1972— I refer to the European Communities Act—that there were these consequences. Indeed, Parliament has known every time it has supported a treaty since. On the question of the legal personality raised by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, and answered very well by the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan—we have discussed this on a number of occasions—we already have a legal personality in the European Union. A Question on that issue was raised earlier this year. I believe there have been two Questions on this issue and it is one that your Lordships' committee dealt with very effectively when it gave its judgment that there was nothing new in this particular aspect.

The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, and the noble Lords, Lord Williamson of Horton and Lord Howell of Guildford, raised the issue of CFSP. Strong CFSP is good for Europe, good for Britain and, I believe, good for the world. It has been a goal of successive governments, both Conservative and Labour. Back at the 1984 Fontainebleu Council, the then government called for the progressive attainment of a common external policy. To hear some noble Lords on the Benches opposite, one would not have thought that was the case. We want to improve the coherence of EU external action and CFSP to make them more effective and efficient. Of course we will not agree on everything—Iraq showed that earlier this year—but where we can have one voice we are more influential because of it. I agree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, in his excellent contribution on this point. We should try to create a valid EU-US relationship. I hope that we shall have the opportunity to debate that in greater depth next Monday.

We believe that the draft treaty can provide us with that. It can be done by instituting a full-time chair of the European Council who would increase Europe's global influence and enhance the EU's ability to deliver. By merging the roles of Messrs Patten and Solana it would tend to improve the coherence between the Commission and the Council's external action and create a European external action service to assist this new post. We welcome the fact that such a person will be accountable to the Council for CFSP. It is very important to have that accountability. It would ensure that foreign policy co-operation will remain subject to its own distinct procedures just as it has since a common foreign policy was set up 10 years ago in the Maastricht Treaty. That will be key to its success.

The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, raised particular questions on this issue. I shall write to him about the relationships and how we hope they will work. To answer the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and the noble Baroness, Lady Park, CFSP was introduced under the Maastricht Treaty. It was the Amsterdam Treaty which defined how the policy should be settled and how implementation should be taken forward. But the important issue is that under this draft treaty CFSP remains in the hands of member states, so unanimity remains the general voting rule for CFSP issues.

ESDP is slightly different, and I welcome the discussion we had on future developments. It is no secret that, like many other member states, the Government did not support the convention proposals on structured co-operation and mutual defence. Our objections, and the principles from which they derived, were made very public in the White Paper. It is also well known that we have been working with our partners to find a constructive way forward. However, I reiterate as I have done on many occasions that NATO remains the cornerstone of our security. The NATO Article V guarantee remains the basis for the mutual defence of all members.

Ultimately, it is on the ability to conduct operations that ESDP will be judged. We believe that the IGC ESDP package which is now on the table, by refining the scope of the ESDP operations and focusing on qualitative and quantitative improvement in capabilities will increase our ability to deliver. On the specific point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Park, on whether we can still sign international treaties in our own right, the answer is yes, we can. The Government would not agree to a position where we could not make our own policy decisions on matters of foreign policy as we did in Iraq. We shall continue to make those decisions in the interests of this country.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, spoke of what he described as the apparent affection that people have for Europe and said that such affection in many countries was prompted by fear, which was a sharper spur. I am sorry he should think that, particularly when 10 states have recently demonstrated their enthusiasm through lengthy negotiation and an unprecedented desire to join us. We shall be welcoming them wholeheartedly in April next year. Turkey, too, wants to start negotiations with us.

Important questions on energy were raised by the noble Lords, Lord Williamson and Lord Willoughby de Broke. We are working with presidency legal experts and our allies to clarify precisely the meaning of the articles and to tighten the text. I emphasise to noble Lords that these are very important points. They have been raised by the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister. We have raised them together with our friends in the Dutch Government. We shall sign up only when we are satisfied that the concerns we have raised on this issue will be met.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury raised questions on Article 51. We welcome the reference to Article 51. In the United Kingdom we are increasingly including dialogue with the faith communities in policy development, for example on the outreach programme organised by the Foreign Office. I should be delighted to talk to the faith communities in this country about how we might take forward under the auspices of Article 51 the kind of issues in which the right reverend Prelate was so interested.

The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, raised interesting questions on the regions. We believe that this is a major advance, one that is most welcome and which the Government supported in the draft treaty. The subsidiarity protocol, in which the noble Duke was particularly interested, provides for the national parliaments to consult regional and local authorities. We are very glad that the scrutiny committee has already begun to consider ways of implementing the mechanism in full consultation with the devolved Assemblies. I hope that the noble Duke is pleased to hear that and if he has any ideas of his own I should be pleased to discuss those with him.

The noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Ludgate, asked questions not strictly on issues under the constitution. But I assure him that economic growth is being discussed at the IGC this week when heads of government will be asked to endorse the European action for growth. Member states have welcomed that initiative. We shall see how those discussions go.

I welcomed the reports of the EU Select Committee and the Constitution Committee. We have considered them in great detail. No one is brushing any of these issues aside. I hope that my full answers today and on previous occasions give some substance to that claim. I was very glad that the EU Committee report acknowledged that the Government, has continued in the open spirit of the Convention". As I have said, the opportunities for parliamentary scrutiny of the proposed draft treaty have been, we believe, unprecedented. Those opportunities have enabled our approach to the negotiations to be informed by the views of parliamentarians. Of course it is right that we should do so, as the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, argued.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, is a thoughtful and thorough man and, if I may say so, I thoroughly respect him, but I felt for him today because he is a fair man too. The noble Lord tried very hard, particularly in his argument on the Lords report, but I think he had his answer—and he had it more than once.

The European Council may mark the end of the IGC negotiations. Whether it does or does not, further meetings may prove necessary. The Government will sign up to a treaty only if we believe that it advances this country's interests. The Italian Prime Minister and Council president, Silvio Berlusconi, said at the weekend that, an agreement at any price would be a serious mistake". The many noble Lords who have argued that are not alone in doing so.

Furthermore, we will not ratify any treaty that emerges without Parliament first giving its approval. But if we get this treaty right, tomorrow's EU will not only be bigger than today's, but it will be a great deal more effective. We would have a treaty that, in the judgment of this House's EU Select Committee, sets out for the citizen what the EU is"; has measures such as the subsidiarity mechanism which, enhance democracy in the Union", and others such as the European Council chair which increase, the efficiency of the Union", and would lead to a shift of power from the Commission to the member states. There is a great deal to play for here. I hope your Lordships will give their full support to the Government in doing our best to bat for Britain on this. Like next year's enlargement of the Union, that would be good for Britain and good for Europe.

7.32 p.m.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean

My Lords, we have had a very interesting debate. I thank the Minister for the way she has answered the debate and the points that have arisen and all noble Lords who contributed to it. I must say that I do not think that she should look for a statue of her on horseback to be raised in her village immediately, but she certainly made a good fist of putting the Government's case.

I should like to congratulate the noble Baroness on speaking for 25 minutes without mentioning Gisela Stuart. Given the tenor of the debate that was quite an achievement because most noble Lords found it necessary to mention her. I am sure that the House will understand why the noble Baroness could not bring herself to do so.

The hour is late. We shall see how things turn out in the days to come. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at twenty-seven minutes before eight o'clock.