The Lisbon Treaty, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs & Marine Biology
Debate on the European Union reform Treaty Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab):
It is with great pleasure that I debate the EU reform treaty, now known as the Lisbon treaty, for the third time in three months in Government debating time. That said, I find it extremely odd that, although the Government has found time for us to repeat the arguments on the treaty not once, but twice, it has not found time for a single health debate.

We know what the debate is all about: once again, the SNP and the Tories have come together in an unholy alliance for opportunistic political reasons. In this case, they have come together to demand a referendum—one that the chairman of the Conservative party's commission for democracy said would be "crackpot", "dotty" and "frankly absurd".

We have seen the alliance at work so many times over the past eight months that it is fair to describe it as Parliament's auld alliance. Never has it been more ridiculous or incongruous than it is today. On one hand, we have the Tories, with their exaggerated and distorting denunciation of everything to do with the treaty and, on the other hand, we have the First Minister praising enthusiastically the totality of the treaty, with the sole exception of a single line.

For once, Alex Salmond is worth quoting. In a lecture last week, he said:

"The proposed Treaty will bring many benefits ... a more efficient decision making process, greater openness and democratic accountability and a stronger sense of direction."

He could have been quoting from the Labour amendment.

The First Minister went on:

"importantly for Scotland, it will advance the principle of subsidiarity and the role of national Parliaments in the legislative process. We welcome these and many other reforms".

I could not have put it better myself.

Margo MacDonald: Does the member welcome the proposal for a foreign minister to represent all of Europe, who will be able to initiate policy and sign treaties on behalf of Europe?

Malcolm Chisholm: It is untrue for Margo MacDonald to say that the high representative for foreign affairs will be able to initiate policy — all that that person will do is implement the EU's agreed policy, and that has to be on the basis of unanimity. I am afraid that that is one of the many scare stories, which I did not expect to hear from Margo MacDonald.

To return to Alex Salmond, why such sensible remarks on the treaty as a whole should be combined with a totally disproportionate and wrong-headed response to a single line about marine biological resources is one of the great unsolved mysteries of recent debates on Europe in Parliament. The Government has never explained that in any detail, either in Parliament—today or in other debates—in the European and External Relations Committee, or in response to specific written requests from that committee. Everyone except the SNP seems to be absolutely clear that the conservation of marine biological resources has been an exclusive EU competence for decades. I could quote many statements to that effect, but perhaps it is best to go back to the UK accession treaty of 1972, which was negotiated by the Conservative Government of the time and which states:

"From the sixth year after Accession at the latest, the Council, acting on a proposal from the Commission, shall determine conditions for fishing with a view to ensuring protection of the fishing grounds and conservation of the biological resources of the sea."

The Minister for Environment (Michael Russell): Will the member give way?

Malcolm Chisholm: I will not just now, because I am way behind time. The matter is absolutely clear and the European Court of Justice has spelled out the matter for anyone who doubts it. There is treaty change in the move to co-decision making, with new powers for the European Parliament to influence the broad guidelines of fisheries policy. I would have expected the SNP to welcome that as a step forward, rather than to imagine that the exclusive competence line is a step backward. We can speculate on motives, but it would be helpful to get some answers for a change.

I have some points to make about the common fisheries policy but, because speeches must be shorter than was envisaged, I will move to Linda Fabiani's central point, which was about a referendum. She had the gall to contrast the UK Government's alleged change of position with the SNP's "logical and appropriate" view. Let us see how the SNP's view has changed in the past three months. The first I read about the matter was from a senior SNP source in The Herald newspaper on 7 September, who said:

"The party is not sure whether it wants a referendum, and if there is one, it is not sure which way it would campaign."

That perhaps explains why there was no mention of a referendum by the Scottish Government in the debate on the treaty on 19 September.

Linda Fabiani: Will the member give way?

Malcolm Chisholm: I have no time. I am already having to miss out bits of my speech. In a debate on 8 November, Linda Fabiani connected the issue of a referendum with change to the marine biological resources line. She said that the SNP would demand a referendum,

"Unless or until it is changed".—[Official Report, 8 November 2007; c 3283.]

By 26 November, the policy had evolved yet again. In a letter to the European and External Relations Committee, Linda Fabiani wrote:

"It is our opinion that, in view of the ... identity of effect between the Constitutional Treaty of 2004 and the current Reform Treaty, the UK Government ought to fulfil its own manifesto commitment to hold a referendum on the Treaty."

"Identity of effect" had never been mentioned before, but political opportunism had triumphed once again and the ground was prepared for today's unholy alliance.

There is, of course, no "identity of effect". The fact is that the treaty does not embody a far-reaching European constitution, but is a traditional amending treaty that is extremely modest in comparison with the changes that were negotiated by the last Conservative Government through the Maastricht treaty and the Single European Act.

Linda Fabiani: Will the member give way?

Malcolm Chisholm:
I am having to miss out bits of my speech: clearly, I cannot take interventions. Basically, the Lisbon treaty introduces pragmatic evolutionary changes that will streamline decision making, improve efficiency and increase democratic accountability through providing an enhanced role for the parliaments of member states. We will hear quotes today about how 90 per cent of the treaty is the same as the original proposed constitution, but the fact is that the other 10 per cent makes an enormous difference. The measures that have been dropped in that 10 per cent are precisely the most controversial points that gave rise to calls for a referendum in the first place. As someone said, mice and human beings are 90 per cent identical, but the 10 per cent makes one heck of a difference.

Of course, several European politicians who are most upset about the changes will strive to emphasise the parts that have not changed, but many Europeans have given a more accurate and balanced assessment. For example, the Italian interior minister Giuliano Amato, has reflected on the substantial differences between the constitutional treaty and the reform treaty.

As another example, the Dutch Council of State—a group of independent legal experts—has made it clear that there are real and substantial differences between the original constitutional treaty and the reform treaty. The New Federalist magazine has expressed its profound disappointment. It states:

"The result, full of compromises, opt-out opportunities and special texts for certain countries is not going to give rise to a treaty that wins any federalist awards. Indeed, the result is extremely disappointing for anyone who had been campaigning for a Constitution for Europe, and in particular for a Constitutional Treaty."

As that quotation makes clear, the treaty is a defeat for the integrationists and provides a way for an enlarged union of nation states to work together for mutual benefit.
The mandate for the intergovernmental conference also made it clear that

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

It is therefore not surprising that not one country in the EU proposes to hold a referendum, with the exception of Ireland, which is constitutionally bound to have one.

The UK has never ratified an international treaty of any kind by a referendum. There were certainly no greater opponents of doing so than the previous Conservative Government. In 1992, John Major stated:

"The Government do not intend to hold a referendum on the outcome of the Maastricht negotiations. ... we are a parliamentary democracy and I see no need for a referendum." —[Official Report, House of Commons, 21 November 1991; Vol 199, c 415.]

The truth is that there were many Eurosceptics in the Tory part then, but John Major was prepared to take them on. The Eurosceptics have now taken over the Conservative party. As Ken Clarke put it, they would have

"demanded a referendum just about the date on the top of the piece of paper".

As our amendment makes clear, we recognise the enormous advantages that membership of the European Union has brought to Scotland and the UK more generally. We also recognise, in the exciting next phase of the EU, what further advantages it can bring to the rest of the world. I was particularly pleased by the amendment to article 174, which refers to

"promoting measures at international level to deal with regional or worldwide environmental problems, and in particular combating climate change."

I was also pleased that it was agreed last week at the European Council that a key part of the EU's external agenda is how, by working together, we can maximise our influence in tackling global poverty. To that end, the Commission will report on how the EU is meeting its commitments to the 2015 millennium goals and how progress can be accelerated.

The contrast in today's debate is between, on one hand, an amendment that is both positive about Europe and realistic about the treaty and, on the other hand, an opportunistic motion that is unable to say anything explicit about either Europe or the treaty, but which is implicitly negative and misleading for supposed political advantage. I see no sign that the people of Scotland are clamouring for a referendum on the issue: I believe that they are much more positive and realistic about Europe than those who lodged the motion presume.

I move amendment S3M-1053.1, to leave out from "the UK Government" to end and insert:

"membership of the European Union has been hugely positive for Scotland and Britain, delivering more jobs, a single market, freedom to work and live abroad, environmental protection, security and an enhanced place for Scotland and Britain in the world; believes that the European Union needs to become more efficient, more effective and more accountable and welcomes the signing of the European Reform Treaty as a significant step towards tackling these concerns, and believes that the treaty will allow the European Union to move on from debates about institutions to concentrating on the fundamental challenges of climate change, globalisation, terrorism and international development."
December 19th 2007, (Column 4569-73)