European Union (Amendment) Bill

- Tuesday, 11th March 2008

 

Debate
Date of Proceeding: 11.03.2008
Reference: 473 c235-8
Member: Lilley, Peter
Title: European Union (Amendment) Bill
Description: For me, the key issue raised by the Bill is not Europe, but integrity. I took part in the debates because I was shocked at the suggestion that Members should betray the pledge and promise that they made to their electors in their manifesto, and I wanted to know what they had to hide. I moved from shock to concern, and then to anger and shame. I have never been so ashamed of this place as when I saw 300 Members of Parliament betray a pledge on which they were elected.

The pledge for a referendum may have been unwise, unnecessary, or unmerited by the substance of the treaty. The proposed referendum may have been on the wrong question. However, the pledge was given, and I am old-fashioned enough to believe that when one makes a pledge, one should keep it. Comparisons between the Lisbon treaty on the one hand, and the treaties of Nice, Amsterdam and Maastricht and the Single European Act on the other, are irrelevant. The only comparison that matters is that between the European reform treaty before us and the constitutional treaty in respect of which the pledge for a referendum was given.

The author of the constitution says that the constitutional treaty is substantially the same as the Lisbon treaty, but we are told that we must not believe him. The Chancellor of Germany, Mrs. Merkel, says:"“The substance of the constitution is preserved. That is a fact.”"

We are told that we must not believe her. The Prime Ministers of Spain, Belgium and Ireland say as much, but apparently they are lying, too. Ministers of Denmark, Italy and the Czech Republic have said the same, but Members on the Government Front Bench tell us that they are not to be believed. How the Government get on with their partners in Europe I do not know. Lithuania, Slovenia and other countries have said the same, too; all of them are apparently not to be trusted. We are to hand power to them, but we are not to believe them.

I prefer to believe those who have no particular reason to lie than those who have every reason to mislead. Even the European Parliament passed a motion that"“welcomes the fact that the mandate safeguards the substance of the Constitutional Treaty”."

The European Commission, which the right hon. Member for Leicester, West (Ms Hewitt) hopes to join-she gave us her job application earlier today-said that the treaty was essentially the same as the old constitution. I am not surprised that she is walking out of the Chamber. I understand that she intends to leave this place for another. No one has offered any coherent explanation why all the people, Heads of Government, and institutions that I have mentioned should want to deceive us, so we must assume that they are telling the truth.

The British voters must put their faith in another place to force this House to think again. The Salisbury convention states that their lordships will not reject legislation implementing a clear manifesto commitment. By the same token, they surely must not accept legislation that fails to implement a clear manifesto pledge. I appeal to their lordships, not least those on the Cross Benches and the Bishops Benches, and to the people of great integrity on the Labour side and on the Lib Dem Benches to think whether it is not their duty to uphold the integrity of Parliament and give this House the chance to think again.

Those in that House may think the pledge should never have been given. They may think it unnecessary or unwise. That is not the issue. It was given and it was in everybody's manifesto. Surely they should refer it back so that we can at last uphold the promises that we made.

Referendums apart, is the treaty necessary or desirable? The Government say that it is essential for the smooth working of the EU. That is patently not true. The EU has worked smoothly since the accession four years ago. A study by Sciences Po in Paris show that the EU is adopting new rules and regulations 25 per cent. more quickly since enlargement than it was doing before. Rejection would simply leave us with the status quo, and the status quo shows every sign of working perfectly reasonably. Moreover, we would not have to concede further competences to the EU.

The Government and their Lib Dem lackeys say that rejection would be tantamount to leaving the European Union. If we rejected the treaty, we would be throwing ourselves out. Again, that is patently not true. The French and the Dutch people rejected the constitution, which the Government and the Lib Dems pretend was far more substantial than the treaty, and no one suggested that they should leave the Union. It would simply result in another round of negotiation if our partners in Europe really wanted to push ahead with the treaty.

We surely would also be able to obtain the concessions-the very substantial concessions, we are assured by the Government and the Lib Dems-that the French and the Dutch obtained as a result of their rejection of the original constitution Now Ministers and a number of hon. Members who have spoken in the debate allege that we on this side of the debate-not on this side of the House, because Members in all parts of the House argue the points that I am making-exaggerate the implications of the treaty and have exaggerated the implications of previous treaties. I wish that were so, but the reverse is true.

We-including Governments of whom I have been a member-always underestimate the implications of treaties that we agree to, because we can never foresee how the European Court of Justice will interpret a treaty that we pass. All we know from experience is that it will always expand competences more widely than originally anticipated. My own experience confirms that. My first role in Government was as Economic Secretary, and the first thing I had to do was implement a decision of the European Court of Justice that we had to apply VAT to building, electricity, water, homes and spectacles. It was an interpretation of the sixth VAT directive, passed in all good faith by the Labour Government back in the 1970s, which none of us had foreseen would extend VAT into previously zero-rated areas.

We assured everybody that the zero rates were safe and secure. It was the first time, as I remember telling the House with some relish, the House has ever been required to pass a tax and given no option not to do so since the ship tax introduced by Charles I sparked off the civil war. I am glad to say that the measure did not have the same impact when I introduced it, and I gave my officials instructions that they were to introduce it in such a way as to raise the minimum amount of revenue possible. It was the first time they had ever been told to introduce a tax with that effect.

 

Mrs. Villiers: Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the main reasons the treaty is such a significant shift in power is the criminal justice provisions? Criminal justice and the coercive power of Government over individual is one of the fundamental hallmarks of statehood, so transferring more power in that area to Brussels is a significant constitutional shift.

Mr. Lilley: That is perfectly true. It is one of the areas, but by no means the only one, where we are making further shifts the full extent and implications of which we cannot fully judge at this stage but know from experience will be wider, not narrower, than any interpretation that we can put on them at present.

How will all this affect the daily lives of our constituents and the ordinary business of their businesses? There will be ever more of the sort of thing that we already see as the result of existing transfers of competences. Some of that is necessary. I supported our entry into Europe and I still support our membership-I simply want reform, not exit. In that respect I seem to be rather different from several Members who opposed original entry because they thought that it went too far but now want to go infinitely further-a position that I find hard to understand.

People already find it irritating how measure after measure is imposed on them and how they are told, if they ask, that it is because of the European Community. About 20 minutes before this debate, I asked the Library what measures had recently been passed in this House under European legislation. Since last October, there have been some 44 statutory instruments and three primary Acts of Parliament. They covered subjects such as energy and building performance certificates and inspections-the famous home information packs, which increase the cost of buying a house. The Government did not want that measure-it was imposed on us by a statutory instrument that this House had no opportunity to turn down because it came under the transfer of competences and European law. Other subjects include patents, compulsory licensing and supplementary protection certificates, movement restrictions, foot and mouth disease, reinsurance, and radioactive contaminated land in Northern Ireland. Why only Northern Ireland? I do not know. The list goes on, from animals and animal products, to health and social care profession regulations, to asylum procedures and regulations-an issue where we are going to increase the powers of the European Community. Not a single line, clause or amendment on the provisions involving asylum, border controls and immigration was debated in the House, yet the Government are asking us to accept them.

Many measures are already being passed, but for some reason there is a conspiracy of silence when they do come through this House. Ministers pretend that what is happening is of their own volition when it is not. They act as ventriloquists’ dummies for the legislation and the powers that they have transferred to other places. It is time that we revealed to our constituents what powers have already been transferred and why we do not want to transfer any more.

The Foreign Secretary ridiculed the idea that the energy measures in the treaty have any substance, but
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they ensure that security of energy supply in the Union can be voted on by qualified majority voting. The Government say that the right of member states to determine the conditions for exploiting their energy resources requires unanimity. So it does, but that is not the same as the allocation of oil and gas once it has been produced, which remains under qualified majority voting. In other words, if there is a worldwide shortage of oil and gas-as happened during the Suez crisis, the OPEC embargo, the Iranian crisis, and on several other occasions-we would be vulnerable to the European Community deciding that oil and gas should be shared fairly across the whole Community. My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) said that the process would be reciprocal. Of course it would-we would share the oil and gas that we have with others and they would share the oil and gas that they do not have with us.

Angus Robertson: A bit like fishing in Scotland.

Mr. Lilley: Very much so, but at least we share that and the money that comes from it. Certainly, we would never prevent the Scottish people from enjoying adequate supplies of oil and gas; I can assure the hon. Gentleman, who has become almost a friend in the course of these debates, of that.

My constituents are worried, too, about the implications for asylum and immigration, which is a significant issue. We were told by the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) that he did not think that the new treaty would have any implications in that regard, but article 77 says:

“The Union shall develop a policy with a view to:

(a) ensuring the absence of any controls on persons, whatever their nationality, when crossing internal borders”.

In the theology of the European Union, “internal borders” includes all our ports of entry through which people come from the continent. If this treaty is implemented and adhered to, we will not have any powers to make checks, even on non-EU nationals, entering our ports and airports, even though it is sensible and practical for an island to take advantage of its nature and operate checks at its borders, rather than waiting until people have got inside to do so.

Why does this treaty arouse more concern in this country-as was the case with previous treaties-than it has in many continental countries? I spend such free time as this House allows me, which is not a great deal, in my home in France. I am a great Europhile, as the Minister for Europe knows. I have worked in a lot of continental countries, and I was the chairman of a German company with interests throughout Europe. When I talk to my friends on the continent, they often ask, “Why are you more concerned about these things than we are?” The simple reason is that the United Kingdom has greater differences and idiosyncrasies than almost any other member does vis-à-vis the generality of the Community.

We have a different history and a different geography. We are an island. We have different institutions. Our institutions and our structure of law have tended to evolve over time, rather than be the result of invasions or revolutions that have swept away past institutions. We have never been occupied. We have not had a revolution for several hundred years. We were not subjected
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to Napoleonic laws, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) said. We have a maritime disposition, rather than a continental disposition. We are Anglo-Saxon in character and in a lot of the things that we do, and that includes the Celts.

Angus Robertson: No, it doesn’t.

Mr. Lilley: It does genetically, when one looks into the matter closely.

The continentals often express themselves in antagonism to the Anglo-Saxon. I remember sitting in Council meetings in Europe and being told that we could not do such and such a thing because it was Anglo-Saxon. I had to say, “Is that sort of racialism allowed in Europe? Can you rule me and my policies out on racial grounds?” They more or less said, “Yes it is, and we can.”

There is a difference of attitude, not because what we do is better, but it is simply different. We have different institutions. When it came to negotiating the banking directive, we found that we had discount houses. No one else in Europe had them. The directive, as originally written, would have wiped out our whole system of monetary management and control. Fortunately, we managed to gain an exemption from it. When I became responsible for occupational pensions, I was told that they were not part of a European competence, but we found that they were under a great threat of implications because no other country except Holland had any system of occupational pensions. They fell foul of all sorts of European regulations.

In lots of practical areas, we have developed different ways of doing things, and when we try to harmonise them across Europe, problems are created. I repeat: that is not because what we do is better-it is simply different. Therefore, it is natural that we should want to concede as few powers, and competences, as are necessary to have an open, single internal market and allow the maximum degree of constructive co-operation between our Governments. In my contention, this treaty goes far further than that. It concedes powers, and does so in such a way that we will not readily be able to get them back.

Edmund Burke said:

“Though a king can abdicate for his own person, he cannot abdicate for the monarchy.”

This place can transfer its powers perhaps for the duration of one Parliament, but it should be wary of trying to abdicate them permanently. It should certainly not do so without a referendum. That referendum was promised; unless and until it is provided, the treaty should not pass.


 

 

 

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