Orders of the Day — European Communities (Amendment) Bill

– in the House of Commons at 3:34 pm on 12 November 1997.

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[Relevant documents: The Minutes of Evidence taken before the Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday 4th November (HC305-i) .]

Order for Second Reading read.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary 3:42, 12 November 1997

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I invite the House to approve the Bill that puts the Amsterdam treaty into legislation with pride. I am proud that we achieved a good deal for Britain, and confident that any open-minded Member will support the Bill and the treaty. I confess that there are probably not many such Members in the House, but I am encouraged by the fact that the Bill and the treaty constitute such a good deal for Britain that I can attempt to persuade even Conservative Members to rise above their prejudices and support it—despite whatever dark suspicions they may have that Amsterdam is in Europe, and probably full of Europeans.

Let us start that attempt by appealing to Conservative Members on the basis of two major gains in Britain's national interests, which even Conservatives must surely applaud.

First, the Amsterdam treaty provides a secure legal basis for Britain to retain its frontier controls—a legal basis that is watertight beyond legal challenge to the European Court of Justice; a legal basis that is without time limit as long as Britain chooses to retain it. It recognises that, because Britain is an island, it is sensible for us to retain controls at the point of entry, and that, because of our long historical and cultural ties with other parts of the world, it is important to retain control of our own immigration policy. Policy on border controls and immigration will be made in Britain, not in Brussels.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

So soon? Of course.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State

Does the Foreign Secretary recognise that that deal was done before the election, at the Foreign Affairs Council in March?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I have heard the right hon. and learned Gentleman assert that before. We have scoured the cupboards of the Home Office and the Foreign Office, but no such deal was anywhere to be found in any of the many draft treaties that we inherited. If he had made that deal, he should have explained it to the other members of the European Union, so that it would not have been necessary for us to continue until 4 o'clock in the morning to get the package. There was certainly nothing in the text about immigration or border controls when we took it over, but there is certainly something of the night about this treaty.

Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Labour/Co-operative, Liverpool, Riverside

Does my right hon. Friend have any confirmation that the statements made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman and by the Leader of the Opposition that they would call for a referendum on the treaty of Amsterdam will lead to an amendment being tabled? If my right hon. Friend has no information on that, would he care to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman if that is the case?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

The right hon. and learned Gentleman will make his speech in his own good time. It is certainly true that he was loud in his demands throughout the summer for a referendum. Indeed, he was demanding a referendum as late as the Conservative party conference on 8 October. He may have read with interest, as I did, in The Daily Telegraph only five days later that his leader had decided quietly to ditch the commitment to a referendum. I can only conclude that the Conservative party is now so weary of being defeated in elections and referendums that it has decided to draw a line under them.

I have shown that we have retained our control over borders and frontiers. There is another national gain that I hope Conservative Members will recognise. We have prevented attempts to subordinate the Western European Union as a defence arm of the European Commission within the European Union. We have reasserted—it is explicitly stated in the treaty—that the defence of western Europe and of Britain will continue to be through the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, not through the European Union. The European Union will not now be a defence organisation.

We have shown in the treaty that it is entirely possible to co-operate with our European partners and to work with them on the prosperity of our economy, on the health of our environment and on the safety against drugs on our streets, without compromising our national identity. I hope, therefore, that the delicate souls in the Press Gallery will not be frightened by Conservative Europhobes parading the ghouls and beasties of federalism that lurk only in the recesses of their subconscious.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

Having said that, does my right hon. Friend think that it is at least wise to talk to the French before there is any question of endorsing military action against Iraq?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I am not entirely sure that that intervention naturally arose from the passage in my speech. However, I assure my hon. Friend that we discussed that matter and many others with the French at last week's very successful Anglo-French summit. The French were wholly in agreement with our position. At this time, it is most important for the United Nations, particularly the five permanent members of the Security Council, which includes Britain and France, to send a united message to Saddam Hussein that he must observe the terms of the United Nations Security Council resolutions.

I was about to remind the shadow Foreign Secretary that, early in the summer, he predicted that the agenda for Amsterdam was so far-reaching that it would call into question our survival as a nation state. Even making generous allowance for the hyperbole that is appropriate to a leadership race, I have to say that that statement is so far out of touch with the reality of the Bill that it qualifies him to be out of orbit from this planet.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Conservative, New Forest East

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to provision F.1 of the treaty, which allows, as he will be aware, for a majority of states, if they deem any state to be guilty of a persistent breach of human rights, to withdraw all voting rights from that state? Will he guarantee that, if, against all our hopes, peace breaks down in Northern Ireland, the situation in Ulster could not be used as an excuse by other European Union members to deny Britain full voting rights?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on making the shadow Foreign Secretary appear to be in touch with reality.

First, the hon. Gentleman is wrong. It is not a majority of states: it is unanimity minus the one state that is under question. Secondly, that provision refers to persistent and serious violations of democracy and of human rights. I give him an undertaking that, so long as the Labour party is in power, it will not be possible to find 14 EU states that will agree that the Government are in serious and persistent violation of democracy or of human rights. If it is lurking in the minds of Conservative Members that their Government may be guilty of persistent and serious violations of human rights, I advise them to disclose that in their manifesto at the next election.

Those interventions reveal more about the invincible prejudice of Conservative Members and of those on their Front Bench—or at any rate those who have not yet resigned from their Front Bench—than they tell us about the treaty.

Border controls and territorial defence are two of the key attributes of the nation state. In relation to both, Britain emerges strengthened by the treaty to pursue our preferred national policy. For good measure, the treaty redresses the balance in favour of the nation state rather than of Brussels. There is a lengthy protocol on subsidiarity in the treaty. It provides that Community action can be justified only where its objective cannot be met by national action by member states.

The new Labour Government attach as much importance to subsidiarity as the Conservative Government ever did. Where we differ is that we believe that subsidiarity does not stop with the transfer of powers from Brussels to Whitehall. We are also prepared to practise subsidiarity at home, not just to preach it abroad; and, in the treaty, we have succeeded in achieving a good, legal and justiciable basis for the subsidiarity principle.

I should have thought that those were gains that Conservative Members would want. In a rational world, when the Division bell rang at 10 o'clock, they would vote to welcome the Bill, not to oppose it. I am told that they cannot do that, because the Bill brings Britain into the social chapter. That is right, and we are proud of it.

We have ended the insult to the British people that they are fit only for the worst rights at work in the whole of Europe. We have ended it, because we understand the modern world. We understand that we will never be competitive on the back of badly paid, poorly treated and badly motivated staff. The key to success is a skilled and committed work force showing initiative at the workplace. The social chapter, which gives the work force the chance to share ownership in the company strategy, is a step towards that more competitive work force, and a committed partnership between management and staff, who help to make an enterprise succeed.

Of course we have signed up to the social chapter. We now have a seat at the table when it is discussed. Indeed, it is not just the Government of Britain who have a seat at the table when it is discussed. Because we have opted in, the Confederation of British Industry now has a seat when European employers discuss the social chapter.

I know that Opposition Members have problems with the CBI at the moment. After all, their leader dismissed as lemmings the great majority of CBI members who disagreed with the Conservative line on Europe. However, for the record, this summer the CBI got its first vote on the social chapter. It voted for the new directive on rights for part-time workers. I hope that, before Opposition Members vote down the Bill on the pretext that it brings in the social chapter and that they would be saving industry from the directives under the social chapter, they will note that, on the one vote so far, industry has voted in favour of the directive.

Photo of Mr Tim Collins Mr Tim Collins Conservative, Westmorland and Lonsdale

In that case, will the Foreign Secretary explain why the latest edition of the CBI's Business Update states: The government has stated that it shares our reservations about works councils but it can be overruled since this is one aspect of Social Chapter legislation which can be covered by QMV"?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

For the hon. Gentleman's guidance, the current directive on the works councils has been rejected by the social partners, and the Commission has invited the social partners to negotiate. Only then will the Commission bring forward a proposal. When it does, we shall take our seat and make sure that the directive is amended in ways that reflect our thinking. We have already—because we have a seat—successfully amended the directive on the burden of proof, to make it wholly consistent with the existing state of British law.

If the shadow Foreign Secretary plans to found his entire vote tonight on the social chapter, I invite him to answer one question. During the general election, the former Prime Minister predicted that, if we joined the social chapter, Britain would have 500,000 more unemployed. In the first weekend after the general election, we said that we would join the social chapter, and my hon. Friend the Minister of State went to Brussels to say so on the Monday after polling day. In the six months since we stated that intention, unemployment has fallen by 190,000.

I invite the shadow Foreign Secretary to name one person who has lost his job through our intention to join the social chapter. [Interruption.] If the right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot answer that question, I can. The only people who have lost their jobs through the social chapter are Tory Members who fought the election telling the people of Britain that what was good enough for the rest of Europe was too good for the people of Britain.

The Opposition must now recognise that, in any case, there is no danger of a flood of prescriptive, unrealistic regulations from Europe. There is a changed tone in Europe. Opposition Members could hear it if they did not always turn a deaf ear to the channel. They can see it in the employment chapter in the treaty. As a result of lobbying by the new Labour Government, that employment chapter now opens with the recognition that the key to employment is the promotion of a skilled, trained and adaptable work force and labour markets responsive to economic change".

For the first time, the treaty recognises that employment and growth result from the flexibility that comes from skills, not the inflexibility that comes from over-regulation. For the first time also, the treaty calls upon the European Union to achieve a high level of employment.

When Opposition Members negotiated Maastricht, they wrote into the treaty of union a list of hard, precise financial and monetary targets. Those targets are now balanced by a commitment on the part of the European Union to achieve the objective of high employment. The employment chapter puts a duty on community institutions to take into account the objective of promoting employment when they formulate any community policy or programme. That is another provision where the Bill improves the European Union. There are many more.

I invite the shadow Foreign Secretary to point out which of those improvements threaten the survival of Britain as a nation. Is it the provision for better scrutiny of European legislation by national Parliaments? Because of the changes in the treaty of Amsterdam, the Commission is now required to produce every draft directive in all the languages of the Union six weeks before it is put on the Council's agenda. The requirement deals with one of the Scrutiny Committee's main complaints throughout the previous Parliament, when its members could not get an English text.

After a directive goes before the Council, any citizen will have a right to the documents and minutes of the Council's decisions and votes, ending the entirely unsatisfactory situation in which the Council of Ministers was the only legislature in Europe that met in secret.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

The right hon. Gentleman asked what in the treaty should concern ordinary people who usually are not actively interested in politics. Will he comment on article 13—formerly known as article 6a—which is of concern to many religious groups? Religious groups representing 1 million members have written to the Prime Minister about the article, which outlaws discrimination.

There is great concern that some schools—such as Anglican and Catholic schools—that currently can insist on being run by a practising member of their denomination, may be banned from doing so by the article. Reassurances—for example, on a unanimity requirement—have been given. In the Grimaldi case, however, the European Court of Justice extended the law. Will the Foreign Secretary reassure all those groups that the Government are aware of the article, and take those worries seriously?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

We take very seriously any worries that people might have that religious schools will be struck by any part of European legislation. However, the Bill and the treaty of Amsterdam do not do that. The treaty provides the basis for the Commission and the Council to legislate on grounds of discrimination wider than simply gender discrimination. It is, however, only an enabling clause; it is not itself a directive or a binding law.

The Council and the Commission would have to make proposals to put into effect any new measure against discrimination. In those debates and in that Council meeting, Britain would have a full voice, as would the many countries of the European Union that have religious schools. Therefore, that anxiety is entirely unfounded, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to reassure his constituents.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

No; I must press on. I have been generous in giving way, and I will give way again shortly.

The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) has pointed out one of the treaty's other improvements: it provides for legislation against discrimination on a Europewide basis. Britain has one of the largest groups of ethnic minorities anywhere in Europe. It is therefore particularly in our national interest to ensure that members of those ethnic minorities should be protected against discrimination when they exercise their rights under the treaty to travel or to work on the continent.

As some hon. Members will know, disability groups within Britain lobbied very hard to obtain that provision. As a result of British lobbying, a specific declaration is attached to the treaty requiring the Community's institutions to take account in any directive of the needs of the disabled, thereby opening the door for them to meaningful consultation.

Photo of Quentin Davies Quentin Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford

I am absolutely astounded by what the right hon. Gentleman said immediately before he answered the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh). It seemed that he was claiming credit for having brought to an end the really quite scandalous situation in which the Council of Ministers is the only closed legislature in the world. He said that, now that the votes will be published, that will no longer be the case. He knows perfectly well that the problem will not be addressed at all by publishing votes, because votes are very rarely taken.

The legislative sessions of the Council of Ministers should be open to the public, and the television cameras should be there—so that the arguments that are adduced can be followed by the public, the changes of position by national representatives can be followed by their electorates, and the deals that are done can be seen through. The Council of Ministers remains closed. Moreover, the right hon. Gentleman's Government, with France, have opposed opening the legislative function of the Council of Ministers. It is disingenuous of him to suggest otherwise.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

The hon. Gentleman in his last point is absolutely wide of the mark. We were pressing throughout the Amsterdam summit for the widest possible opening. I treat the hon. Gentleman with some respect, because he has shown courage and independence of mind on this matter, but if his complaint about this treaty is that it does not go quite far enough in openness, I cannot quite understand why he will fail to vote for it, given that it offers an awful lot more openness than there is at present.

I should like to press on to other areas of improvement.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

We have dealt with the social chapter. I fully understand the pressures applied to the hon. Gentleman, and I will not hold it against him if he votes against the Government tonight. He knows perfectly well that, if the social chapter were the only thing holding together Opposition Members, they could have let the Bill pass, and dealt with that matter perfectly adequately in Committee had they wanted to do so.

There are other improvements of which I understood Opposition Members were in favour. There is a new protocol on animal welfare which defines animals as sentient beings rather than agricultural products. That change has enormous support among animal welfare organisations throughout Britain.

There is another change that improves the Union. The treaty commits the Union to sustainable development, and insists that protection of the environment must be integrated into the formulation of all Community policies. That is a welcome step forward, given the threat to the environment that has sometimes occurred in the past from Community policies, including agricultural policy.

If none of those improvements persuades Opposition Members, if none is welcome on the Opposition Benches, surely there would be a welcome for the provision in the treaty for tougher powers on fraud. The provision empowers the Council to take the necessary measures against any member state that fails to counter fraud against the European Community just as they would fraud against their national budget. The people of Britain want their money used effectively; the people of Britain want Europe to crack down on fraud, and the treaty enables us to do that.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I cannot resist giving way to the hon. Gentleman, but if he will let me, I shall proceed a little further, and then give way.

I can understand why, against all those improvements, the Leader of the Opposition decided that a referendum may not be a great idea. It would be difficult for Conservative Members to campaign against such a collection of improvements to the European Union. I can also understand the right hon. Gentleman's reservation about having a referendum, because, although he may be able to coax all his party into the Lobby tonight, he of course has no idea which side they would support in a referendum when the Whips were safely out of earshot.

Only a month ago, Norman Lamont praised the Leader of the Opposition's latest decision on the single currency, saying: It has already created a more united party. Sadly, Mr. Lamont may be a little out of touch, since he is no longer with us in the House, because history has dealt unkindly with that prediction. One month later, there have been so many expressions of dissent on the Conservative Benches that the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) got headlines for the unusual news story that he was a Tory who was not resigning.

The Tory party has been too busy having its own referendum to have a referendum for the real people of Britain. If it consults the real people of Britain, it will find that the provisions in the treaty that I have outlined are welcome throughout the whole of Britain—except in the Tory party.

I understand, though, that the shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), has one last criticism of the treaty with which I have yet to deal: the treaty extends qualified majority voting. Yes, it does. It extends QMV precisely to 15 areas. That is exactly half the number of areas to which the Maastricht treaty extended QMV during a period in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman sat throughout in the Cabinet.

Moreover, both the Maastricht treaty and this treaty are as nothing in their extension of QMV as the truly massive extension of QMV from the Single European Act 1986.

Photo of Mr Giles Radice Mr Giles Radice Chair, Treasury Committee, Chair, Treasury Committee

The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) was in the Government all the time.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

And voted for it.

Having swallowed whole those two banquets of extensions of qualified majority voting, it is humbug to gag on the bite-sized extensions in the treaty.

In any case, those extensions are sensible. We have talked about the new powers on fraud. They have to operate on qualified majority voting. If they did not, any member state that was being penalised would have a veto. Is that what the shadow Foreign Secretary wants? Does he want countries that milk the budget to have a veto on action against them?

Of course the new provisions on transparency are triggered by qualified majority voting. Otherwise, those countries that wanted to keep a cloak of secrecy could do so by retaining a veto. Is that what the shadow Foreign Secretary wants? Does he not recognise that it is in our interests to ensure that a member state that wants to keep secret something that it does not want to do in public should not be allowed to do so?

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

Will the Foreign Secretary take note of the fact that Mr. Joe Carey, an eminent member of the Court of Auditors, has written an important paper on the way to improve methods of dealing with fraud in the community? In the previous Parliament, there were exchanges on the role of the Public Accounts Committee. The suggestion was made that we should insist on other member states applying the same criteria for determining fraud as we use in our Public Accounts Committee. That would establish a proper network of control over fraud. Is that the Government's intention? Are they pressing for such measures?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

We could not get agreement on applying the British standard in other countries. However, the treaty says that every country has to apply to European spending the same standards and tests that it applies to its domestic spending. We must apply the system we use for our national budget to European spending in Britain. The same steps must be taken in every other European state.

There are sensible, practical reasons for the extensions of qualified majority voting in the treaty. However, there is one other, larger reason—the enlargement of the Union. Within the next decade or so, it is possible that the European Union will have not just 15 members, but 26 members. The Council of Ministers will face paralysis if even a decision on the award of a research contract has to be passed by unanimity, with each of the 26 countries clutching a veto, as the Conservatives apparently want.

The rest of Europe is queuing up to get into the European Union. There are a dozen applicant countries. They want in because they recognise, as the Opposition apparently do not, that membership of the European Union could give them greater prosperity through more trade, greater security through political co-operation with their neighbours, and greater clout in international negotiations than they could have by themselves. The European Union's historic mission is to open its doors and embrace the new democracies of central and eastern Europe.

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor Conservative, Esher and Walton

Many of the aspects of the treaty that the right hon. Gentleman calls advantages are undoubtedly advantages. We were negotiating them when we were in government. The sin of omission in the treaty is the one that he has just put his finger on—its failure to anticipate enlargement. The deficiency in his negotiating position is that, when agreeing to the social chapter, he did not demand a trade-off that the treaty would contain the institutional changes that could have hastened enlargement to the east.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

We signed up to the social chapter not to be nice to the rest of Europe, but because we believe that it is in the interests of the people of Britain. Of course, the hon. Gentleman is right about the reform of institutions on one level. Changes will be necessary before enlargement. Some of them will be tough changes. Applicant countries will need to make changes to their economies, and there will have to be changes in the European Union.

One essential change is a rebalancing of the votes in the Council of Europe to protect the larger countries from being out-voted by a growing number of smaller countries. I am pleased to say that we have had it explicitly written into the treaty that that issue of the rebalancing of the votes in the Council of Ministers must be addressed before any further enlargement takes place.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I am sorry, but I will not give way. I have been generous so far, and I must at some stage allow the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) to make his speech.

One of the great gains of reaching agreement at Amsterdam is that that has cleared the way forward for enlargement. The provision, as hon. Members will know, is that negotiations on enlargement were timed to start six months after the completion of the intergovernmental conference at Amsterdam. If we failed to reach agreement at Amsterdam, it would still be ahead of us at the coming Luxembourg summit. That would have meant that enlargement negotiations could have started only in the latter half of next year. As it is, they will now start during the British presidency.

As a nation, we have a golden opportunity to show the other member states of the European Union that Britain can set a direction for Europe, and we have an opportunity to prove to the applicant countries that they have a reliable ally in Britain. None of that would have been possible if we had failed at Amsterdam.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I have given way for the last time.

We did not fail at Amsterdam—we succeeded, because the Government have transformed Britain's relations with our European partners. Britain is now respected as a constructive partner with which the other countries of Europe can do serious business. It is no longer resented as a persistent opponent which sabotages the business of Europe. Because of that, we got a better deal for Britain than the Conservatives ever could have achieved.

We went to Amsterdam determined to put border controls for Britain on a secure legal foundation. We came back with that agreement. We went to Amsterdam determined to retain a veto on defence and foreign policy and to preserve NATO as the cornerstone of Britain's defence. We came back with that agreement. We went to Amsterdam determined to extend to the British people the same rights at work that are enjoyed by the other peoples of Europe. We came back with that agreement.

We went to Amsterdam determined to put jobs at the top of the agenda of Europe and to bring in an employment chapter that recognises the importance of employability and adaptability. We came back with that agreement. We went to Amsterdam determined to make Europe more accessible and transparent to its citizens, and more committed to protecting those citizens from unemployment, an unhealthy environment and discrimination. We came back with that agreement. Finally, we went to Amsterdam determined to obtain agreement on tougher powers to deal with fraud against the Union—a fraud that cheats the citizens of the Union. We came back with that agreement, also.

More important than any one of those gains—important though they are—is the fact that we demonstrated that Britain is back where it belongs, in the main stream of Europe, and therefore able to negotiate a deal that is better for the people of Britain and better also for the people of Europe. That is the basis on which I commend the Bill to the House. I ask all hon. Members from all parties who want to keep Britain a leading partner in Europe to join us in the Lobby tonight to vote for a Bill that will be good for Europe, and good for Britain.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State 4:18, 12 November 1997

Today, the House has the opportunity to assess the action taken by the Government at Amsterdam on behalf of the British people and to judge whether the Government's rhetoric after the summit matched the action taken at it. Above all, we have the opportunity to vote on the Amsterdam treaty. We should judge that treaty in the light of the challenges facing our nation. We should judge it on its impact on British competitiveness and British jobs, and on its consequences for the people of eastern and central Europe who yearn to join the European Union. We should measure the skill of those ace negotiators on the Government Front Bench by the way in which they protected and enhanced British interests.

On each of those criteria, Labour's performance at Amsterdam was lamentable. The truth is that Labour failed. Of course, one would never get that impression from Ministers' words. The Foreign Secretary returned from the summit claiming a negotiating triumph. But then, he also claimed that his recent tour of India was a great success.

The right hon. Gentleman's first six months as Foreign Secretary have been utterly disastrous. From Washington to Islamabad and from Jakarta to Delhi he has put his foot in it—and his long-suffering officials have been left to pick up the pieces.

The right hon. Gentleman is not the first Labour Foreign Secretary to act in that way. When one of his predecessors upset a distinguished foreign guest, his officials were asked for an explanation. "The trouble with the Foreign Secretary," they replied, "is that he is not very good with foreigners."

At least the current Foreign Secretary appears to recognise his own shortcomings. Eager to avoid another diplomatic incident in a sensitive area, he has, I understand, recently cancelled his planned trip to the middle east. The sad reality is that the best contribution that he can make to peace in that region, or indeed in any region, is to stay well away.

It must be especially galling for the Foreign Secretary that his task today, on his first important appearance at the Dispatch Box since taking office, is to defend the Amsterdam treaty—a treaty designed to deepen the European Union, not to widen it. After all, it was he who said that the European Union would succeed only if it can jettison the dead ballast of the efforts at integration which offend national interest".

At least the right hon. Gentleman appears—not in his speech today, but elsewhere, last week—to have grasped the fact that what his Government signed up to at Amsterdam is not quite the brilliant deal that they originally thought it. Last week he was forced to admit to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs that there had been a "misunderstanding" in the early hours of 18 June. That, he explained, was why he had failed to challenge a late amendment by the Spanish Prime Minister that handed Spain a powerful bargaining chip on Gibraltar.

Of course, the Foreign Secretary was quick to make it clear that that was not his fault, and assured us that he had not, as some had suspected, nodded off during the negotiations. This was one of the areas",

he said, where I have to say that our satisfaction with the note-keeping of the Presidency was not as much as we would have wished it would be".

The right hon. Gentleman did not tell the Select Committee how he proposed to remedy the deficiency. Will the Prime Minister bring a tape recorder to any future discussions that he has with his European colleagues, or will he insist that note-taking at such meetings be added to the responsibilities of the Minister without Portfolio? What is clear is that the Foreign Secretary cannot be trusted either to raise such points at the right time, or even to take a proper note of them.

The point at issue was not an esoteric detail but one of the many so-called triumphs on which the Prime Minister preened himself when he reported back to the House on the outcome of the Amsterdam summit. It relates to the sensitive area of asylum and immigration.

This is what the Prime Minister said about those subjects to the House on 18 June: We have no obligation to be in that at all, but what we have secured, which is important and a better way of going about things, is what I call an opt-in. We have the power within the treaty to go into any of these areas if we want to. If we do not want to, we need not, but if we do, no other country can block us going in."—[Official Report, 18 June 1997: Vol. 296, c. 319.] Strong words—but the Prime Minister was wrong.

As the Foreign Secretary told the Select Committee last Tuesday, each of the other member states will have a veto over a future opt-in. Any one of them can "block us going in". If at any time Britain wanted to opt in, in whole or in part, to those arrangements, Spain, for example, could block us unless we were prepared to make concessions on Gibraltar.

When will the Prime Minister apologise for his and the Foreign Secretary's negligence, and for giving the House a thoroughly misleading account of the outcome?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

As I understood the right hon. and learned Gentleman's complaint, it was that we agreed to too much qualified majority voting. He now seems to be complaining because there is provision for a veto in the Bill. If he reads the evidence that I gave to the Select Committee, he will see that we secured a declaration of the whole Council, which clearly sets out that admission to the Schengen acquis will be on the basis of an opinion of the Commission, and that any member, including Spain or any other country, is obliged to use its best efforts for us to join.

There is no question of our making any concession over Gibraltar to obtain access. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman is making such a fuss, is he really suggesting that a future Conservative Government would want to accede to the articles of the Schengen acquis and thereby give up Britain's border controls?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State

I am dealing with the Prime Minister's claim. Is the Foreign Secretary suggesting that the declaration to which he referred, and by which he now apparently sets so much store, has any legal effect? The amendment that the Spanish Prime Minister secured is part of the treaty; it has binding legal effect. I suggest that the Foreign Secretary is cautious before he claims that the declaration has any legal effect to compare with that of an amendment to the treaty, which is what he failed to prevent.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

The declaration is binding on all members. It is a declaration of the whole Council, to which the whole Council, including Spain, committed itself.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State

The Foreign Secretary did not answer the question, which is whether it is legally binding and has the same legal impact as an amendment to the treaty. If he does not appreciate the importance and significance of that distinction, he is not fit to hold his office. It is no good prattling on about whether it is binding. The question is: does it have the same legal effect as the amendment to the treaty that the right hon. Gentleman failed to prevent?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

The right hon. and learned Gentleman must understand that any accession to Schengen will be a political judgment by the Council. The declaration is binding on all the members that made it, including Spain, which did not object to it.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State

We have the answer: it is not legally binding. The Foreign Secretary was free to confess to the Select Committee last week, and I do not know why he does not confess it to the House now, that, as he said, a misunderstanding took place; a mistake was made. The Spanish Prime Minister's amendment should have been blocked, but was not, as a result of the Foreign Secretary's negligence.

The Government have been quick to claim the credit for what is in fact an opt-out on border controls, even though they do not like to call it an opt-out, because when they were in opposition they said that they were against any permanent opt-outs. That opt-out was secured by the previous Government.

It is not necessary for the Foreign Secretary to scour the cabinets to find out about the opt-out. He need only look at the Financial Times of 12 February 1997, well before the general election. It states: After a decade of battling against pressure to open up the frontiers as part of the EU's single market, the UK now seems certain to be offered an 'opt-out' from a new treaty agreement which is expected to set 2001 as the target for banishing customs and police checks at national ports. Mr Michel Patijn, the minister for European affairs in the Netherlands, said it was now an accepted political fact that the UK's borders would not be given up in the interests of EU integration". The deal was done before the general election. The Foreign Secretary had the task of putting it into the treaty to reflect the agreement that had been reached, and that is what he has done.

That was not the only make-believe triumph for which the Prime Minister claimed credit when he returned from Amsterdam. He said that real progress had been made on quota hopping. Before the general election, as Leader of the Opposition, he was keen to give the impression that there was no difference between his policy on quota hopping and the then Government's. He told the BBC's "The World at One": we certainly have not ruled out holding up IGC business in order to get the right changes to fishing policy in the British interest. … where Britain's interests are at stake we are perfectly prepared to be isolated. Of course we are. Bold words, but when it came to the summit, the Prime Minister lacked the stomach for a fight.

Terrified of being isolated in Europe, the right hon. Gentleman was too frightened even to back the protocol for treaty change tabled by the previous Government. Instead, he settled for a worthless letter from the President of the Commission restating existing policy. Why? Because, in the Prime Minister's own words, the other member states did not support the proposed treaty changes. So much for being prepared to hold up the intergovernmental conference. So much for being prepared to be isolated.

With that feeble attitude, the previous Government would never have negotiated Britain's opt-out from the single currency, never have won Britain a rebate and never have gained an opt-out from the social chapter. I hope that, at the end of the debate, the Minister of State will tell the House whether the letter from the President of the Commission has any legal authority, and exactly how the provisions set out in that letter differ from the previous arrangements on quota hopping.

The truth is that there has been no progress on quota hopping and, not surprisingly, British fishermen feel betrayed. What will be the attitude this evening of hon. Members on the Government and Liberal Democrat Benches who represent fishing constituencies? Can we expect any of them to stand up for their fishermen tonight and vote against the treaty? I suspect not. I hope that I am wrong, but if I am right, I hope that we shall not see those hon. Members getting up in future to complain that the right to fish in British waters is being lost to our industry and transferred to the fleets of other member states. Unless they vote against the Bill, those hon. Members will be letting down their fishermen and letting themselves down.

So the treaty is as bad for what it omits, as my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) pointed out, as for what it contains. The purpose of the IGC was, after all, to prepare for the enlargement of the European Union, a cause that Conservatives have long put at the top of the European agenda. Nowhere was the disappointment with the outcome of Amsterdam more keenly felt than in the countries of eastern and central Europe.

If the European ideal means anything, it must mean healing the divisions that have scarred our continent. Enlargement is the historic challenge of our generation. Most of the candidates for membership of the European Union come from the eastern part of our continent. They lived under the heel of a cruel tyranny for more than 50 years. They yearned for freedom throughout that period. They see membership of the European Union as setting the seal on that freedom. It is our duty to help them.

However, at Amsterdam, enlargement was sidelined for the sake of deeper integration. None of the reforms necessary for enlargement was tackled. There was no streamlining of European bureaucracy, no decentralisation of decision making, no pan-European liberalisation, no serious constitutional reform. If the European ideal means anything, surely it must mean bringing all the peoples of Europe together. That objective has not been advanced by this treaty.

The treaty contains provisions that are objectionable. Qualified majority voting has been extended to 15 new areas. By definition, that means that we can be forced to accept policies even when they are against Britain's interests.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Labour, Exeter

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain how his party imagines that the European Union can expand without gridlock unless qualified majority voting is extended?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State

If one takes the view that the only way forward for the European Union is to impose some rigid straitjacket of uniformity on every member state in every respect of the treaty provisions from Finland to Greece, the hon. Gentleman is right, but there is a different way forward, which does not require every member state to sign up to absolutely every aspect of every respect of the treaty. If that way forward is taken, it is not necessary to have more qualified majority voting in order for enlargement to take place.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

A moment ago, the right hon. and learned Gentleman was complaining about a veto for Spain; he is now objecting to the extension of qualified majority voting to the research budget. Has he not noticed that Spain is currently blocking and vetoing the research budget, unless it gets a guarantee for its structural funds? If he is so concerned about Spanish vetoes, why does not support us and take that veto away from Spain?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State

Because, as the right hon. Gentleman ought to know, we have used that veto on the research budget to good effect in the past. That is the way forward—to reach a consensus, even though that might take some time. He knows perfectly well that when I was talking earlier about his so-called opt-in, it was the Prime Minister's wrong, false and misleading claim that I was disputing, and it is about time we had an apology for that.

As powers are taken away from national Parliaments, they have been given to the European Parliament. Under the co-decision procedure, the European Parliament is put on almost the same footing as the Council of Ministers. It is given the power to veto proposals put forward by the Council of Ministers, and it is able to use that power to insist that those proposals reflect its views. The treaty extends co-decision to 23 new areas, including such important matters as social policy and transport policy.

The treaty also diminishes the freedom of member states to appoint Commissioners of their choice. In future, the European Parliament will have to approve the appointment of the President of the Commission; and the President of the Commission has been given a new power to veto the appointment of other Commissioners. What on earth was the justification for that change? It takes power away from democratically elected Governments and gives it to an unelected official in Brussels. Why did the Government agree to it? What benefits will that bring to Britain? I hope that the Minister of State will answer those questions when he winds up the debate.

Photo of Mr Roger Casale Mr Roger Casale Labour, Wimbledon

How does the right hon. and learned Gentleman think proper accountability and scrutiny can take place without extending co-decision making to the European Parliament in areas where qualified majority voting applies in the Council of Ministers? Is he suggesting that qualified majority voting, which was greatly extended by the Government of which he was a member, should be abolished?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State

I thought that I had made it clear that I am not in favour of extending qualified majority voting in the treaty, or of extending the co-decision procedure. Accountability comes via national Parliaments, which hold their Governments to account for the way in which they cast their votes in the Council of Ministers. That is proper democratic accountability.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

Forgive me, but I am just a little puzzled about all this. Am I wrong in thinking that the Conservative Members of the European Parliament have expressed themselves in favour of all the things that the right hon. and learned Gentleman says are so terrible?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman consulted the Labour Members of the European Parliament before expressing any view on these issues. Of course, doing so would not have been very profitable, because, as my hon. Friends have pointed out, Labour Members of the European Parliament have been gagged and are not allowed to say anything on these and other matters.

On the changes to the common foreign and security policy, will the Minister of State confirm that, once the member states have agreed to adopt a common strategy, it will be possible to implement decisions by qualified majority voting? Will he tell us what is meant by a common strategy? It is nowhere defined in the treaty, so will he explain that when he winds up the debate?

Next, I come to the treaty's human rights provisions, to which my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) referred. Let us be clear about the fact that we place great importance on human rights; but the provisions in the treaty are wide open to abuse. It will be up to the member states to judge whether a country is guilty of serious and persistent breaches of the treaty's human rights provisions. There will be no independent arbiter and no right of appeal. Once found guilty, the member state concerned will not be expelled, but will instead have all its rights suspended, including all its voting rights, while continuing to be bound by its treaty obligations. If it is felt necessary to deal with the problem, why does not the treaty simply provide a power to expel those member states?

When the Prime Minister returned from Amsterdam, he said that he had put jobs in their rightful place at the top of the European agenda. We whole-heartedly agree that jobs should be at the top of the agenda, but how does the Prime Minister square that pledge with his acceptance of the social chapter and the new employment chapter in the treaty? Despite his pathological reluctance to face inconvenient facts, he must be aware that unemployment in this country is lower than in the rest of Europe. Here it is falling because we have a much more flexible economy and fewer burdens on our businesses. He must also be aware that his fellow socialist Governments seem hellbent on increasing the burdens imposed on business by Europe and that they want those burdens imposed on Britain so that we lose our competitive advantage over their economies.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

Will my right hon. and learned Friend also examine this curious anomaly? If one is reasonably friendly towards the idea of a single currency, one must believe that we need as flexible a labour market as possible in those circumstances. Many of the ways in which we would otherwise deal with matters of distortion from one part of the European Union to another would no longer be in our hands. Is it not therefore surprising that those who want a single currency, or who are even more friendly towards the idea than some of my right hon. and hon. Friends, would proceed to make the European Union less flexible in that area, whereas they should have insisted on the British opt-out, to encourage others to follow them in pressing their case for a single currency?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State

It would be surprising, if one expected any clear thinking or consistency from the Labour party, but we already know, on the basis of the Government's record of the past six months, that it is idle to expect any clarity of thought or consistency from them. I therefore confess that I am somewhat less surprised than my right hon. Friend.

The question is: why on earth have the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister handed to the other countries of Europe the means by which they can impose on this country burdens that will impair our competitive advantage? After all, the Government are perfectly free to adopt any employment and social policy measures that they believe would boost employment in Britain because they have such a big majority. The social chapter, by definition, means that measures can be forced on us even when the Government do not believe that they are good for jobs.

For a long time, the Prime Minister tried to deny that that was so. Before the election, he tried to assure the Confederation of British Industry that he could prevent measures from being foisted on British business as a result of the social chapter, but even he has long since been forced to abandon that pretence. Last week, the Prime Minister was pressed on that by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, and he confirmed that the Government oppose the Commission's latest proposals to extend compulsory works councils. However, because the Government have abandoned our opt-out from the social chapter, and because of the provisions of this treaty and this Bill, the Prime Minister will be powerless to prevent that.

This is a bad treaty. It is bad for Britain and for Europe. The agreement reached by the Labour Government in Amsterdam was very different from that which a Conservative Government would have reached. We stood resolutely against the social chapter, whereas Labour signed up to it. We opposed the new employment chapter, which would expose British businesses to new costs. Labour signed up to a new employment chapter, extending the European Union's role to determining employment policy.

Photo of Mr Giles Radice Mr Giles Radice Chair, Treasury Committee, Chair, Treasury Committee

I have been listening carefully to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech and his arguments against this Bill. Does he still believe that the Amsterdam treaty amounts to a threat to the nation state, as he used to say?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State

What I said in the quotation that the Foreign Secretary used in his speech was that the agenda for the Amsterdam summit posed a serious threat. Some aspects of that threat did not come to pass—no thanks to the British Government. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there were on the agenda even more extensive proposals for qualified majority voting than were implemented at Amsterdam. What was implemented at Amsterdam is bad enough, but the agenda was very much worse. It is no thanks to the Prime Minister or the Government that that agenda was not fulfilled.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I am very interested in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's reply. Does he now think that the treaty does not pose a threat to the national interest or the future of Britain? Has he abandoned that criticism?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State

Of course the treaty poses a threat to the national interest. If the social chapter is used to impose burdens on British business which will damage our competitiveness and destroy jobs, of course that is a threat to British interests. That must be clear to all.

What we were discussing in the earlier exchanges were some of the constitutional implications which were originally on the agenda for Amsterdam, but not all of which have come to pass. Some have, and they are bad enough.

We opposed a new employment chapter that would expose British businesses to new costs. Labour signed up to a new employment chapter extending the role of the European Union into determining employment policy. We were pledged to win Britain an exemption from the damaging effects of the working time directive. Labour did not get a deal; in fact, the Government did not even try.

We opposed further extension of qualified majority voting. Labour signed a treaty that removed the veto of member states by extending QMV to 15 new areas. We said no to giving the European Parliament more power at the expense of Westminster. Labour agreed to give the European Parliament the power of veto in 23 new areas.

We pledged to curtail the excesses of the European Court of Justice. Labour abandoned our attempts to reform the workings of the court, and signed a treaty that does much to extend the remit of the European Court of Justice and nothing to reform it.

We pledged that we would insist on measures to stop quota hopping by foreign fishing vessels, and Labour came back with a worthless letter.

Finally, and perhaps most disappointing of all, we considered enlargement our key priority at Amsterdam; Labour signed a treaty that did nothing at all to further the cause of enlargement.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State

No, I have given way to the hon. Gentleman once.

The treaty is a wasted opportunity. It is also a victory for those who want a deeper, not a wider, Europe. The Government view our Parliament's powers with disdain. Since taking office, they have consistently whittled them away, parcelling them off to assemblies elsewhere in Britain, to Europe, to the Bank of England and to an unelected judiciary.

We Conservatives are proud of our Parliament. We believe that the United Kingdom is immeasurably greater than the sum of its parts; that power should be vested in those who are democratically accountable, not in unelected officials; and above all, that Europe will succeed only as a union of independent nation states.

The Amsterdam treaty further erodes the sovereignty of Parliament. It is a wrong turning for Britain and for Europe. The Bill would incorporate it into British law. I urge the House to decline to give the Bill a Second Reading.

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee 4:47, 12 November 1997

So awful is the treaty which has been described that perhaps the shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), were he still in government, would have vetoed it. Had he done so, he would have kept the United Kingdom in isolation from Europe, with enormous damage to British interests.

Perhaps it would be helpful to the House to descend from the fantasy politics which we have just heard and to examine the realities of the European situation and of the modest treaty before us. The treaty disappointed the aspirations of the Europhiles and the fantastical fears of the Euro-sceptics. I would have feared for our country, had the right hon. and learned Gentleman still been in office, with his worries of "them" ganging up against "us". If the previous Government had vetoed the treaty, that would have postponed for a substantial time the enlargement of the European Union, which he claims to espouse. The treaty is modest, and amounts to a tidying up of the Maastricht inheritance. It realistically reflects the mood of our times.

I turn first to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, whose report is before the House. We had hoped to produce a full report for the benefit of the House, as our predecessors did with the Maastricht treaty. Part of the problem was the Committee's late formation towards the end of July. The Government's decision to hold the Bill's Second Reading so soon meant that we were not able to provide that service to the House. We are not convinced that, if they had willed it, the Government could not have scheduled the Second Reading after the Christmas recess; the House could then have had the benefit of the work of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

In the event, the Committee was able to meet only my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary last Tuesday and the Chief Minister and the Leader of the Opposition of Gibraltar on the following day. The reports of those sittings are now before the House. We met the Chief Minister and Leader of the Opposition of Gibraltar because those senior politicians had expressed concerns on behalf of Gibraltar in their memorandums.

The result in practice is that prima facie there is a veto available to Spain over the extension of the Schengen agreement, which has particular relevance for Gibraltar, and, further, that the British Government might have to choose between our own perceived interests and those of Gibraltar. However, since there is no prospect of any British Government joining the Schengen acquis in the foreseeable future, that dilemma is unlikely to arise in practice. The events of 18 June were most unfortunate. I should add in parenthesis that both the Chief Minister and the Leader of the Opposition of Gibraltar made accusations against both this Government and our predecessors about failing to look after Gibraltar's interests in general. Those allegations must be examined carefully. To understand the significance of the treaty, it must be viewed in context. In his evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said that the treaty demonstrates that the high tide of integrationism in Europe was reached at Maastricht and that high tide is now at something of an ebb. He described that as a "major step forward". By contrast, other commentators, such as Ian Davidson in the Financial Times, remarked with sadness on the same point: the integrationist model of the European Union is approaching the limit of what is politically acceptable to the nation state.

It is not as simple as that: a dynamic debate will continue about the frontiers of the nation state and the supranational entity. Clearly, the mood governing of the post-Maastricht agenda is, in part, a revolt by the people against those elites who went beyond what the people could accept at Maastricht. There is now greater caution and greater pragmatism, which were enshrined in the Amsterdam treaty. The protocol on subsidiarity, to which my right hon. Friend properly alluded, would not have been possible at Maastricht. Similarly, in Amsterdam, even Chancellor Kohl stood against certain extensions of qualified majority voting, partly because of his compact with the Lander over economic and monetary union. That would not have been possible at Maastricht.

In essence, I submit that the treaty was based on modest aims and resulted in modest gains. Clearly, the response of the Conservative party shows that it has learnt nothing from the isolation of the previous years which so damaged our interests in Europe. Indeed, Lord Howe described the Conservatives' stance on EMU as a purpose-free piece of ideological posturing. His preface to a pamphlet issued by the Action Centre for Europe says: A worrying number of Conservatives have become trapped in a damaging mind-set, believing that creating artificial divisions and whipping up synthetic indignation on Europe can deliver political dividends. It cannot.

That is the world of fantasy politics which we have heard from the Opposition today. A good example was their exaggeration in respect of the human rights clause. The clause has a simple aim: to ensure that there is a guarantee that future members of the European Union— there are no anxieties about existing members—continue to respect human rights or face potential sanctions.

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor Conservative, Rochford and Southend East

Could the clause, which provides, of course, for legislation to be made –1 tried to ask the Foreign Secretary this question—be used in the European Court of Justice for actions by groups?

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

No—partly because of unanimity, partly because of the safeguard of the two thirds majority in the European Parliament, and partly, of course, because it would have to go to the European Court of Justice as well. Anyone concerned with human rights should see it as a safeguard, a protection, in respect of the European Union. I hope that anyone who looks at it in a fair-minded way would reach that conclusion. It is indeed fantasy to suggest that it poses a threat in any way to this country.

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor Conservative, Rochford and Southend East

I am so sorry, but I asked a different question. Could it be used by the Court?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State

I thought that I heard the hon. Gentleman say that the European Court of Justice was a safeguard in relation to this clause, but it has absolutely no involvement at all. The decision is taken entirely by other member states.

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

It is one of the hurdles against which actions in respect of sanctions would have to be measured. I should have thought that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would welcome the fact that Europe is based not just on trade and commerce but on a set of values and human rights, which are enshrined, for the first time, in the treaty. It is equally absurd to suggest that within the modest steps on external policy there lurks a future European Foreign Secretary. There is a pragmatic change to meet the needs of the European Union as it develops.

It might properly be argued that, given its modest dimensions, historians will state that the Amsterdam treaty is far less relevant to the future of Europe than the other two engines for change that we now have—monetary union and enlargement. European monetary union is outside the scope of the treaty, and its greatest sin of omission is the failure to prepare for enlargement by re-weighting.

Photo of Mr Giles Radice Mr Giles Radice Chair, Treasury Committee, Chair, Treasury Committee

Is it not the case that negotiations for enlargement could not begin until the treaty of Amsterdam was signed? In a sense, the whole thrust of the arguments of the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), that somehow the treaty of Amsterdam is blocking enlargement, is nonsense, like so much of the rest of his speech.

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

The ending of the intergovernmental conference was the essential prerequisite, six months afterwards, to the start of negotiations on enlargement. In July, the Commission published its Agenda 2000. In many ways, that document deals with issues that are more relevant to enlargement than institutional changes such as re-weighting—issues such as the changes to the common agricultural policy and structural funds. Agenda 2000, which is to be discussed at the Luxembourg summit, is thus perhaps more relevant to enlargement than the institutional changes.

There is a danger of a coalition being formed of those who might be adversely affected by enlargement. They would include the Iberian countries and those who benefit from the cohesion funds, who would stand to lose from the financial adjustment. The important point is that the agricultural and structural funds now account for 85 per cent. of total European Union expenditure. Meanwhile, smaller countries, including the Scandinavian countries, fear that they will have less clout as a result; and there are those who fear the effect of the farming of Poland on their benefits from the common agricultural policy.

I only hope that there is sufficient historical perspective within the Union to allow such concerns to be seen only as negotiating points. The key is to re-create Europe by enlargement, to invest in democracy and to help to build a new zone of stability to the east. In building such a zone, it is also important to ensure that, when the favoured five, plus Cyprus—that is likely to be confirmed in December—are helped in the pre-accession period, the gulf is not deepened between those favoured five and those that are excluded: Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia.

I am worried about the sums available for the pre-accession period. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will consider that at the Luxembourg summit. There is an enormous disparity in the transfer of resources to new members. Over the period in question, for the favoured five the amount is 57.4 billion ecu, but it is only 17.4 billion ecu for the other applicants. That could, at first sight, deepen the divide between those that have aspirations to join the Union but do not as yet qualify, and those that are in the initial basket. In fact, the new countries can act as a bridge for those with aspirations further to the east and south.

Despite the signal failure to prepare for enlargement on the institutional side, Amsterdam will surely be seen by historians as a modest success. The Europe that will emerge will be more realistic, tidier in its procedures and more relevant. In terms of its relevance, I think of the strengthening of Community competence in areas such as health, consumer protection and co-operation in crime prevention—and, of course, the new employment chapter.

In his Dublin speech, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary set out the priorities —the people's priorities—for the presidency. I believe that this is part of the process of rescuing Europe from the elites and bringing it closer to the people. I am delighted that one of the Government's initiatives—taken with the Austrians, who will follow us next into the presidency—is to ensure that those priorities do not die at the end of the six months, and that the baton is then taken up by the Austrians and thereafter by the Germans in helping to re-create Europe in a more popular way.

I fully support the significant steps that have been taken in terms of external policy. The response to Europe's place in the world in the second pillar is a good example of the practical spirit of the treaty. There will be no great thrust towards a European Foreign Minister. There already is much policy co-operation in such areas as the accession treaties, foreign trade policy, the exchange of personnel and the work that is done in our diplomatic posts overseas.

The changes are mainly about mechanisms, but they are important mechanisms. I applaud the compromise on decision-making procedures, with the possibility of a constructive abstention. I also applaud the establishment of a new and continuing body to prepare and deal with implementation of the common foreign and security policy, and the new roles for the EU Secretary-General, the high representative, and the policy planning unit.

The new relationship with the Western European Union is also important, given that the treaty says in clear terms that NATO is and remains the cornerstone of our defence policy. For the Petersburg tasks, such as peacekeeping, the Western European Union will be the arm of the European Union.

On democracy, there is greater transparency in terms of access to European Union documents. There is also greater parliamentary control. I do not worry about the limited extension of qualified majority voting. I know that that triggers the co-decision procedure and a new role for the European Parliament, which is an elected Parliament. If we are serious about democracy, we must ensure that each cluster of power, be it in the European Union, at Westminster or in Scotland and Wales, must be subject to proper parliamentary accountability.

I am extremely pleased about the protocol on the role of national Parliaments, which provides for six weeks' notice. The House's Scrutiny Committee has pressed for that very strongly.

I have spoken about the Europe that will emerge. Europe is unique and sui generis. We should not seek to build a fantasy creation of our own imagination. In the past few months, I have travelled extensively and talked to European colleagues. There is a new spirit abroad following 1 May. No longer do we see doors barred to us: we are perceived to be part of a team working together to achieve common objectives. As Lord Howe has said, it would be "purpose-free ideological posturing" if we did not seek speedily to ratify this measure.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst 5:06, 12 November 1997

This will be the first time that I have been able to speak to the House on this subject as a free spirit since July 1988. I hope that the House will bear with me if I am somewhat rusty, and if I cannot slip as readily as the Foreign Secretary and the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) into the phrases and words of Europe. I used to be able to do so in my dim and distant past, but I cannot any more, and I shall probably not try.

I want to air my worries about the old-fashioned concept of nationhood. My great fear is that we are losing sight of that concept in the developing debate about Europe. I was delighted when the Foreign Secretary picked up that theme in his opening remarks. I was grateful to him for that, although whether it divides him from his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is a matter for some thought. I was encouraged by the fact that he cast his remarks in terms of the nation state. I think that he used the phrase "the survival of the nation state". That gives me some encouragement, because at least it is now on the agenda.

Given the Chancellor's arguments on our possible membership of the single European currency, my fear was that the only factor that would decide whether we went ahead with membership would be a perceived or claimed economic benefit: the narrow claim about whether we would be better off. I think that it was even narrower than that at one point, as a result of the Government's new love affair with the Confederation of British Industry. They seemed to be saying that, if we could show that British membership of a single currency would benefit large firms that are members of the CBI, that would be sufficient justification and the argument would be over.

However, what the Foreign Secretary has said today broadens the debate, and that was proper and necessary. The treaty gives the House an opportunity to do that, and I am sure that, following the remarks of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the House will take that opportunity. We are therefore talking about the incremental effect on our nationhood and national interests of a succession of measures—the treaty of Rome before we joined, the accession treaty and the measures since then. As the Foreign Secretary again rightly pointed out, the Single European Act, the Maastricht treaty and the Amsterdam treaty have, increment by increment, led to our greater involvement in the EU's workings and institutions.

With his typical candour and integrity, the hon. Member for Swansea, East made it clear where he saw that process leading. I picked up an interesting phrase of his. He referred to a "dynamic debate" about the "frontiers of the nation state". To him, the concept of the nation state is a moveable feast. It is negotiable and can be cut and adjusted to what he would no doubt view as the absolute imperative of our EU membership.

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

That is not the import of what I said. There is clearly a frontier, a creative tension, a dynamic, at any one time between the nation state and supranational demands, to many of which we shall accede for environmental and other reasons—it makes sense. The point is that there is no absolute fixture. The juggernaut towards supranationality has faltered. That is clearly shown in the modest accommodation in the Amsterdam treaty.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his elucidation. I suspect that he said "faltered" with a slightly regretful tone. I think that he would rather it had not faltered, but, even if it has, that does not alter the debate that we must have about the extent to which our increasing involvement in the Europe that most of our partners want is in our national interest. In the end, that is the only thing that matters to me.

The argument for us joining the EU in the first place was that it would enhance our national interests. Therefore, we have a duty to the people we represent constantly to revisit that issue and to ask ourselves whether the way in which the EU is developing is in our national interests. It is here that I part company from even some of my senior colleagues, who talk of this in terms of inevitability. They have said for many years that the EU is developing in certain ways, that that is inevitable and that there can therefore be no further argument about our participation either in the debate or in the EU's development. I could not dissent more strongly from that view.

What should be inevitable is that we ask ourselves the question: is the way in which the EU is developing in our national interest? Can it be demonstrated that it will benefit us as a people, not just in a narrow economic sense but in the sense of the overall reality of nationhood? Will that be enhanced or threatened by the way in which the EU is developing?

Let us take a small, but significant, example. The Foreign Secretary made some play of the fact that the extension of qualified majority voting in the treaty was of little consequence. He said that that was a practical measure and perfectly okay, and asked what everyone was getting so excited about. He then challenged us—I hope that I have made an accurate note of what he said—to give an example of where 14 other member states would gang up on us and do us down under extended qualified majority voting.

The interesting thing is that, just this morning, I had the delight and privilege of sitting in European Standing Committee A, where the Minister for the Environment took us carefully, courteously and knowledgably through the landfill issue. He said that he feared that, because we relied more on landfill than on incinerators to dispose of waste, our partners could not understand our problem with their wish to force us to use incineration more and landfill less. The Minister said clearly that he doubted whether he could persuade them to come around to our view.

I leave aside the new chumminess and partnership that are being created in Europe, so we are told, let alone the leadership role that the new Government were supposed to have—until I read yesterday that we were now dropping it quietly. My point is that I suspect that, in that Committee, we had an exact example of what the Foreign Secretary said would probably never happen: "Why should we be afraid?" he asked.

I grant that that is a small example, but that is the sort of thing I am talking about—gradual and incremental encroachment by the institutions and procedures of the EU as it develops and as the Amsterdam treaty seeks to develop it. That example may not be so significant in itself, but, if we add it to what has happened and, even more, to the aspirations of our partner member states, a different picture emerges.

That is what the treaty means to us. It involves more than the narrow focus that the Foreign Secretary gave us, and I know why he did so. Having opened the debate in terms of the nation state and its survival, he wanted to ensure that the House focused narrowly on the treaty's specifics, seeking to reassure us that it was of little or no significance. The significance —the Foreign Secretary will understand this, although I can see why he would not want to admit it to the House—is what lies beyond Amsterdam and what our partners' aspirations are. Do we as a people feel comfortable with those things? I certainly do not feel comfortable with them.

We are approaching a critical point in the development of our relationship as a nation state with the EU. If our partners persist in trying to develop the closer political union that they keep writing into almost every treaty and in posing a threat not just to our national institutions but to our ability to compete in the global marketplace as a nation that is uniquely reliant on trade, that may lead us as a nation state to ask ourselves: does our continued EU membership benefit us? If that happens, the blame will lie at their door.

I cannot understand why our EU partners do not realise that, particularly in view of the proposed enlargement, with which I have always disagreed.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

The almost universal drive towards enlargement could, at worst, threaten the EU's whole existence, which is why I cannot understand why everyone wants it. With that in mind, the EU would be well advised to develop itself in a way that was sufficiently flexible to allow not only countries such as Britain but the new aspirants to feel comfortable with the way in which it worked, allowing us to say to our constituents, "You need not have the fears that are so often expressed to us."

Just today, two constituents have been expressing their fears about Europe, the way in which it is developing and the effect that it might have on things that they prize and are important to them. Whether we call them way of life or nationhood does not matter particularly, but we all know what we are talking about—or we should know what we are talking about.

I want to repeat my gratitude to the Foreign Secretary for widening the debate. My fear was that the Chancellor was going to try to ensure that, over the next few crucial years, the European debate would be focused ever more narrowly, so that the basis on which we were persuaded to commit ourselves more and more to the way in which Europe was going was ever narrower and therefore easier to justify. In this debate and with the words of the Foreign Secretary, we have a welcome opportunity to consider the issue on a broader front and in greater context, and to pose the question to ourselves and, ultimately, to the electorate: do we believe that the way in which the European Union is developing benefits us as a nation and as a people? Our relationship with the other EU member states and our future in the EU will depend on the answers that we give to that question from time to time.

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Labour, Ealing North 5:19, 12 November 1997

I am new to the ways of the House, so I am not sure whether it is appropriate or acceptable for me to say that I found the speech of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) extremely helpful and illuminating and I was pleased to have heard it. I do not intend to be disrespectful, but it contrasted with the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), who seemed to concentrate his fire entirely on my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, on whom he made an unjustified personal attack, rather than address the issues.

Although the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst rather extended the ambit of the debate beyond Amsterdam back to Maastricht and almost to the treaty of Rome—I suspect that that was not unintentional—he raised some important and percipient points.

As I said, I am new to the ways of the House, so I evaluate new legislation by limited criteria. The first is whether it is in Britain's interests. The Amsterdam treaty is overwhelmingly and demonstrably in Britain's interests, not just in respect of border controls, defence and the social chapter, but throughout. It certainly passes my first test.

We have heard a great deal about concepts of nationhood and nationality—those debates can be abstruse, but there may be a place for them—but Amsterdam also covered issues that affect my constituency in west London. One of the key developments that was covered in Amsterdam is the co-ordinated trans-European approach to crime. Europol was set up at Maastricht and it has been vastly strengthened by articles K.2 and K.9 of the Amsterdam treaty.

Like many others, my constituency in west London suffers the scourge of drug dealing. Although I would like to spend night after night debating definitions of nationality and nationhood, I spend a great deal of my time dealing with the debris and the crises caused by drug dealing on the streets of my constituency. The problem has to be addressed on the widest possible scale. The support for Europol in the Amsterdam treaty is the first chink of light, the first ray of hope for a co-ordinated attack.

Crime does not respect national boundaries and nor do criminals. Crime fighters must have the power to attack trans-national and international criminals. The progress made at Amsterdam on that important issue is one of the main reasons why I support the Bill.

People who are as old as I am and many who are not so old can remember the days of "Dixon of Dock Green" when crime was a local issue. The good, honest local criminal burgled only the next street. Then criminals got bicycles or Minis, and inter-city gangs sped up the M1. [Interruption.] I am in no way implying that Lord Tebbit's father had any responsibility for that.

Nowadays the police have to respond to a new pattern of criminal behaviour that is having disastrous consequences for many of our constituents. It involves drugs, money laundering and the trade in nuclear materials—something that I find astonishing. We cannot address international crime by withdrawing into our island state. Crime involves drugs, fraud and car theft, and has to be fought on a continental and international basis.

As a result of Amsterdam, Europol will be able to act in support of national police agencies. That makes the greatest sense, but Europol will have no operational role without the agreement of all member states. I suggest that article K.2 of the treaty is a pragmatic and sensible response to a modern pattern of criminal activity that cannot be addressed in any other way. People may say that if we were not part of the EU we could still have an FBI for Europe. I do not consider that to be a remote possibility. It simply could not happen. We could not refuse to participate in all the links and exchanges of information through the documentation and the joint computer systems that Europol is working on.

I apologise for concentrating on one sector, but having heard the quality of many of the earlier speeches, I know that a great many hon. Members can speak with far greater authority and knowledge on other specific subjects. I have concentrated on an issue that matters a great deal to me personally and to others who represent urban and inner-city constituencies.

Our participation in Europol is yet another demonstration—if one were needed—of the benefits to the United Kingdom of our continued and deepening membership of the European Union.

We have heard much about national sovereignty. What defines a nation is something far stronger than the subject we are debating today. A nation cannot be defined by a treaty, an Act or any of the issues that we have discussed today. It represents far more. I cannot believe that any of us here who speak for our nation feel in any way diminished as Britons, Scots or Welsh by the Amsterdam treaty. If we did, we would have a pretty weak nationalism.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that what defines a nation will rarely, if ever, be found in a treaty. My concern is that what threatens the nation may well be contained in a succession of treaties, and that we must be ever vigilant about that.

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Labour, Ealing North

What threatens the nation has been addressed by the Amsterdam treaty specifically and not hypothetically. I cannot comment on what may happen further down the line. Today we are under threat, and in many ways Amsterdam addresses and responds to that threat. What happens in future will be discussed then. The Government have returned from Amsterdam with the best possible deal for Britain in Europe and the best deal for Britain and Europe.

I am no slavish lickspittle of the Front Bench; I am far too new to the job to have acquired such habits. I would be prepared to make the effort, but at the moment I simply try to speak my mind.

Earlier on, I was accused of trying to incorporate the Petersburg tasks into a somewhat unfortunate incident that occurred at Ealing town hall yesterday morning when a rocket was fired at the end of the two minutes' silence. It soared into the air and then fell to earth and ignited five cars in the car park. That is not why I am speaking today. I hasten to add that Ealing town hall is just outside my constituency.

The British Government have returned from Amsterdam as victor. They have secured an excellent deal for Britain. I do not know whether it is appropriate for me to commend it to the House, but if it is I do so, not just for myself as an individual but for us as a country. It is good for Britain and for Europe.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 5:28, 12 November 1997

I cannot help thinking that the independence of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) may be modulated by membership of the Foreign Affairs Committee or participation in the annual trip to the United Nations; this institution has many remarkable ways of ensuring loyalty to the Front Bench. Indeed, there will be a demonstration later this evening from the official Opposition of how loyalty to the Front Bench can be assured.

If we are to believe the Foreign Secretary, the Amsterdam summit was a triumph; if we are to believe the shadow Foreign Secretary, it was a disaster. They cannot both be right, but they can both be wrong—and they are.

The Amsterdam treaty is really a rather mild-mannered document that does not justify the apocalyptic consequences attached to it a moment or two ago by the shadow Foreign Secretary. He was right when he said that the treaty is more notable for what it omits than for what it contains.

The shadow Foreign Secretary told hon. Members who represent constituencies with fishing interests that, unless we go into the same Lobby as him today, we will be betraying the fishermen we represent. If he wants a sense of betrayal, he should come with me and talk to fishermen in my constituency, who feel a very deep sense of betrayal about the 18-year stewardship of British fishing interests by the Government of which he was a member.

As we are dealing with the European Union, I should mention the sense of betrayal about the continued and entirely unjustified refusal of the Conservative Government to provide adequate funds to match the money that was available from Brussels to decommission fishing vessels. Some of the problems of too much fishing effort—which hon. Members with fishing interests in their constituencies know about—could have been ameliorated if the Government of which the shadow Foreign Secretary was a member had taken a much more active role in promoting decommissioning by using the funds that were available.

It is quite right that all hon. Members are opposed to quota hopping, but we should remind ourselves that that practice has arisen because of the sale by British fishermen of licences, particularly to Spanish fishermen. Nothing was ever done by the previous Government to prevent those sales. Time after time, the Fisheries Council's December meetings were foreshadowed by statements that there would be no deal unless the issue of quota hopping was dealt with. Time after time, however, there was a deal; and time after time quota hopping was not dealt with.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman concede that the previous Government tried to do something about quota hopping but that our hands were tied by court judgments such as that in the Factortame case? It was not a matter of our lacking will. The will was certainly there for the intergovernmental conference—when the Foreign Secretary singularly failed to win any agreement.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

It is difficult to blame a Government who had been in office for perhaps six weeks when the Amsterdam treaty was negotiated for problems that were not capable of being dealt with by the Government that had responsibility for them for an entire 18 years.

One Fishing Council after another, we were told—the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) may attempt to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because he had responsibility for fishing at the time—that there would be no deal in December unless quota hopping was resolved, but it never was.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

No, I shall make some progress.

A moment ago, I said that the Amsterdam treaty is more notable for what it omits than for what it contains. What is certainly true is that the challenge of enlargement has not been properly met. Specifically in the context of Amsterdam, there was no effort at common agricultural policy reform, without which enlargement will be financially impossible.

As hon. Members have already observed, no effort had been made to deal with the institutional implications of enlargement. How will larger member states be compensated for losing their second Commissioner? How will voting rights be rebalanced within the Union? If the European Parliament is capped at 700 Members, how many Members will be allocated to each member state? How will Commission portfolios—which are sometimes matters of great controversy —be allocated among Commissioners if there are more than 20 of them? Such functional issues demand early resolution if enlargement is to proceed. The treaty contains modest progress on common foreign and security policy, with protection of the United Kingdom veto. It provides limited extension of qualified majority voting. It accepts closer co-operation with the Western European Union but recognises the primacy of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. It creates greater clarity on subsidiarity and allows the United Kingdom to have some say on the social chapter.

Those are pretty modest achievements. They can be only modest achievements, or the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke)—who takes an interest in these matters —would not be justified in describing Amsterdam as a "mouse of a treaty." He might have been a little more restrained in his metaphor if he had known that his support for a single currency would later cause the leader of the Conservative party to describe him, at least by implication, as a lemming. One has only to look at the right hon. and learned Gentleman to realise that neither his physical nor his intellectual bulk entitles one to describe him as a lemming.

Perhaps the mere use of such language—lemming is a silly description—tells us quite a lot about the Conservative party leadership's intentions towards the European Union. Such language sits particularly uneasily with a professed and much published desire to have an informed debate on a single currency.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that it is not relevant for the House simply to be invited to examine each treaty or measure in isolation, having been reassured that, "There is not much in it—so don't worry"? Does he agree that hon. Members are entitled to consider the totality of treaties and measures and the cumulative effect that they will have on our country and on our relationship with the European Union? At what point will he allow us such broad consideration?

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

To echo something that was said earlier in the debate, I do not know whether my next comment will damage me more than it will damage the right hon. Gentleman. I thought that he made an honest speech. I have absolutely no difficulty with the totality of legislation currently directing the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union, and the Liberal Democrats have never had such a difficulty.

In 1961, my party was the first to force a Division in the House on the matter. There were only six Liberal Members, but they forced a Division on the question of Britain's application to join what was then the European Community. They were defeated by several hundred votes to four—because they had to provide two Tellers and only four Members were able to go through the Lobby. We were proved correct on the matter very soon thereafter. Britain should have applied, and Britain did apply. I think that our membership has been entirely to the benefit of the people of the United Kingdom.

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) made an honest speech in which he argued that matters have to be considered in the totality. I do not believe that Amsterdam represents any great leap forward that will destroy the values of the nation state, to which he and others obviously attach great importance. The rhetoric of the Conservative party leadership now seems to suggest that it has embarked on an anti-European pilgrimage of rather uncertain destination.

Never before—I am assuming that Conservative Members will vote according to the comments made in this debate by the shadow Foreign Secretary—has the Conservative party voted against a European treaty as a whole; this will be the first time. Moreover, it will be no selective cull of offending provisions but a launch into a systematic anti-Europeanism that has only one logical conclusion: advocacy of withdrawal.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

No, I have given way already.

It will take brave spirits among Conservative Members to reverse that drift of opposition. To preserve even a flaccid unity on Europe, the Conservative party will require rather more than the temporary stimulus of opposition to the social chapter. Conservative Members may go into the same Lobby today—with one or two notable exceptions—but I predict that opposition to the social chapter will not sustain them very long after 10 o'clock tonight.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I am enjoying the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech. He said that, today, the Conservative party will for the first time vote against a European treaty. Is he aware that it is the first European treaty that has not been negotiated by a Conservative Government? Had we negotiated it, it would have been a better treaty and we would have been able to support it.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I suppose that there is a lot to be said for self-confidence, particularly after 1 May 1997. It seems that that bonding down on the south coast had some effect and created such an aura of self-confidence that the only treaties that can ever be in the interest of the people of the United Kingdom are those that have been negotiated by Conservative Members. It is quite remarkable. I therefore wonder why Conservative Members attach such importance to the treaty establishing the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation—the principal bulwark of British defence—which was negotiated and entered into by a Labour Government.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Ah, I see. It is not a European treaty; it has Americans in it. I suppose that the logic of that is that one can trust only the Labour party with the Americans.

What is in the treaty that should cause such offence? In my respectful submission, nothing at all. Much of what is in the treaty ought to be welcomed by the Conservative party. The United Kingdom keeps control over its borders, as we have heard. The primacy of NATO in European defence has been reasserted. The more ambitious plans for a common European defence policy outlined in the Maastricht treaty have been postponed—at least for some time. Even France has recognised NATO's vital role in continental defence and security.

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor Conservative, Esher and Walton

The hon. and learned Gentleman is going through aspects of the treaty of Amsterdam of which I am heartily in favour, but that is not the issue before the House. We are discussing the Bill to introduce into United Kingdom law certain aspects of the treaty of Amsterdam—not the treaty of Amsterdam itself. Included among the aspects that we are debating and which the Bill would bring into UK law is the social chapter.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I shall come to the social chapter in due course, but it is worth putting into context the contents of the treaty, against which we must test whether we are willing to support the Bill.

As I said, foreign and security policy as a whole remains intergovernmental. There has been no move to incorporate it into the first pillar. There is some provision for the use of QMV in issues of common foreign and security policy, but member states will be entitled to reject such decisions for important and stated reasons of national policy". Any decision with military or defence implications cannot be taken by QMV.

Efforts to improve—as I would see it—co-ordination and leadership of foreign policy have also been watered down. There is to be no independent foreign policy supremo.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

No, I intend to try to make some progress.

The Secretary-General of the Council is to pass through some limited form of mutation to turn himself into a high representative under the Council's firm control in foreign policy matters.

Majority voting—it is true—has been extended. It will apply to such dangerous, damaging issues as compensatory aid for the import of raw materials and the adoption of the research framework programme. It is to be applied to issues of fraud. The Foreign Secretary's justification for that should have persuaded anyone in the House who has any anxiety about ensuring that value for money is obtained by the British taxpayer for any sums that go from this country to the European Union. It is to be applied in transparency. It is also to be applied—I do not believe that this has been referred to—to protection of individuals in relation to the use or processing of personal data about them. In such areas, QMV is clearly in the interests of the United Kingdom and in the interests of individual citizens of the United Kingdom.

QMV will not be extended to the right of free movement or to industry matters. As has already been pointed out, there is now a proper definition of subsidiarity, which shifts the burden of proof on to those who would support European Union action. A long list of criteria and provisos has to be satisfied before the EU can proceed. The Commission has to justify itself whenever it proposes a new measure.

The hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) pointed to the fact that the social chapter is one of the issues with which the Bill is concerned. If that is the basis on which the whole of the official Opposition are invited to oppose the Bill's Second Reading, it is a pretty flimsy basis indeed.

The social chapter has resulted so far in two particular measures. First, there is an obligation on large companies to establish works councils—something that more than 57 United Kingdom blue chip companies have already done, including BP, British Airways and many others. It is precisely the kind of industrial relations in successful companies which the whole House should support.

The other measure is a minimum requirement for parental leave. The qualifying conditions for parental leave are to be set by domestic Governments. So, in effect, a domestic Government can nullify the provisions by hedging them around in any way in which they choose.

Under the opt-out, which the official Opposition regard with such importance and significance, measures agreed by other member states would have applied to British firms operating in Europe without the British Government having had any influence on their contents. Serious opposition to the Bill cannot be sustained on such a flimsy basis.

Sir Leon Brittan, who I doubt very much will be invited to support his former parliamentary private secretary in the pending by-election in Winchester, argues today in a national newspaper: it is necessary to take a view of the treaty as a whole". That is exactly right. Just as the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst wants us to take a view of the totality of legislation in relation to Europe, it is right to take a view of the Bill as a whole. We on the Liberal Democrat Benches take such a view and, like Sir Leon, we have no doubt that its acceptance is in Britain's national interest.

We all know that the House will not reject this Bill; what I hope it will reject is the blinkered opposition of the Conservative leadership.

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay Labour, Thurrock 5:45, 12 November 1997

I shall try to be brief and to emulate the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath)—another pro-European—in two respects: I shall speak without notes if I can, and I shall endorse the treaty. Nevertheless, I have one or two reservations about the final text.

I understand that the Patronage Secretary—the Chief Whip—receives each day a report about what is said by Labour Members. I hope that it will be reported that I support Parliament endorsing the Bill.

Before I come to the implications of the treaty for Gibraltar, I turn to the European Parliament. I notice—and regret—that the treaty enshrines in perpetuity Strasbourg as the seat of the European Parliament. Although that is not something about which people in Tilbury lie awake at night worrying, it is a pity that it should be in the treaty. The European Parliament should definitely be able to decide where it sits. It is illogical that it should have to sit in Strasbourg. Similarly, Europol's headquarters has been fixed at The Hague.

My main reason for speaking is to express concern at the way in which successive British Governments have treated the people of Gibraltar—a fact that is highlighted by the Amsterdam treaty, in which Gibraltar is referred to as a "territory" and never as "Gibraltar". Article 4 substantially disadvantages that colony for the future.

We have heard that there is no immediate prospect of the United Kingdom wishing to opt into the Schengen acquis. It may be some decades before we do so, but inevitably a Government, of whatever party, will wish to do so at some stage. Unanimity is required among the other member states for Great Britain—and Ireland—to go into Schengen. That puts a powerful tool at the disposal of the Spanish Foreign Ministry. The Spanish can say that the United Kingdom can come in minus Gibraltar. If there is no change in Spain's historic attitude to Gibraltar, I think that they will exercise that option.

A useful report appeared in The Irish Times of 7 July, which I suggest hon. Members may want to find in the Library. It sets out in considerable detail the final hours of the Amsterdam negotiations. I hope that the Minister will be able to deal with that. I understand that the Spanish proposal on article 4, relating to opting in to Schengen, was not challenged. When it was subsequently discovered that the treaty text required unanimity for opting in, the Dutch presidency replayed the tapes—of which it was the custodian—which showed that the proposal had not been challenged. Some explanation of what happened is required.

That episode also illustrates how not to conduct negotiations. Under the United Kingdom presidency, I hope that we shall ensure that any future negotiations are not time limited. All states should have good time to ensure that there is clarity and precision on what has been debated. That is fair to all parties involved.

I visited Gibraltar, with other hon. Members and the Foreign Secretary's Parliamentary Private Secretary, in the summer at the invitation of the Gibraltar Government. It was made clear to us, time and again, that they are left out of negotiations. Reference has been made to British interests. This is the Parliament of Gibraltar; there is no other. It is true that there is a local legislature, but there is a democratic deficit, because the people of Gibraltar are not represented here. Their Foreign Secretary is the Foreign Secretary who is answerable to this place.

If Ministers answerable to a Scottish Parliament may, in future, accompany Westminster Ministers to discussions and councils in Europe, that principle should be extended to the elected representatives of Gibraltar for matters that directly affect the interests of Gibraltar. I implore the Minister to think about that and also to ask his colleagues in the Government to reflect on it. Many international discussions affect the people of Gibraltar. Their interests should not be excluded.

The Government are no different from the previous Government in that respect. The Conservative Government of recent years consistently neglected the interests of the people of Gibraltar. It has now become endemic in Foreign Office thinking—not the Ministers'—that the people of Gibraltar are just also-rans and do not need to be worried about. That is wrong. It is time that we stood up and said that that cannot be tolerated. Other territories of other countries are taken into account by their negotiators. That is necessary for Gibraltar, too.

The article in The Irish Times makes it clear that the episode was not the fault of Mr. Bruton or of our Prime Minister. The speed and timing of the negotiations were unsatisfactory. I hope that the British presidency will mark a new standard in the conduct of negotiations.

I endorse the opening comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson). As well as making similar comments to mine on Gibraltar, he said that the Foreign Affairs Committee, of which he is the Chairman, should have had more time to consider the treaty. Labour Members were elected with a mandate and a desire to improve the status and influence of Select Committees. I am proud of that. Even if it is inconvenient for the Government, Ministers must meet the needs of the independent scrutiny Committees. I use the word "independent" deliberately. It is not easy to make the comments that I have made, but as long as I am in the House, I intend to guard jealously the right to scrutinise the Executive—Labour, Conservative or any other party. There is always a danger of that being eroded.

I endorse the treaty, and I hope that the Bill will be passed, but I also hope that we can amend it in Committee to ensure that, if Britain ever wishes to enter Schengen, it goes in with Gibraltar, or that the people of Gibraltar have a say in—

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay Labour, Thurrock

My hon. Friend says that the treaty cannot be amended. I know that, but we can amend the Bill that brings it into effect. I understand that the amendment that I have canvassed with the Clerks may well be within the terms set out in "Erskine May". I have anticipated the point that my hon. Friend, who has been here many years, has raised. I am well aware of what can and cannot be done to a treaty and a Bill.

Photo of David Curry David Curry Conservative, Skipton and Ripon 5:56, 12 November 1997

I regard the treaty of Amsterdam rather as I regard many of the young men who pursue my twin daughters. I have nothing much to say against them and not a great deal to say in favour of them. It is a nondescript document, noteworthy largely for what is not in it rather than what is.

I welcome the remarks of my right hon. and learned Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary, again largely for what was not in them. I welcome the absence of any reference to a referendum or to renegotiation. I am sure that my hon. Friend who winds up will wish to sustain such admirable reticence in his comments.

To our mutual surprise, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and I will be in the same Lobby tonight. I should like to point out what is good about the treaty, within its great limitations. It maintains a clear distinction between what is done on an intergovernmental basis and what is done on an integrated basis—the so-called pillared approach, in the dreadful jargon that has overtaken European institutions and many others.

A more pragmatic attitude is beginning to develop in the European Union. That is a welcome reinforcement of the idea that differential integration within a clear framework is compatible with the way in which the European Union can develop. That is evident in the provisions relating to Schengen, with the rider that the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) and others have mentioned about the Gibraltar glitch. It is evident in the provisions for the incorporation of the asylum and immigration controls, within the integrated framework from the original pillar. Those who have decided not to be part of it can decide to opt in. It is also evident in the terms for foreign policy collaboration, the status of which can be transformed within the union.

That is sensible, permitting member states to remain outside and giving them a differential means to opt back in. There is a two-way differentiation in the way in which co-operation is envisaged. That is a welcome change from the monolithic dirigisme and integrationist imperative that has been too dominant in the European Union.

I welcome also the human rights clauses, and I do not think that they are a threat. The European Union has to be seen not only as an economic opportunity for aspirant member states, but to some extent as a civic and democratic guarantor. If it is not that, it does not deserve to be anything.

That role is especially necessary with the new states of eastern Europe, which do not have rooted democratic cultures. If the treaty included a provision to expel, and one of those member states found itself under an inimical and anti-democratic Government, its expulsion would do nothing to give it an incentive to change its ways and return to a democratic system. The treaty is sensible in putting the sanctions at the current level.

I also welcome, in general, the extension of qualified majority voting, because it has been the mechanism that has delivered British objectives in Europe more comprehensively than any other measure in the treaty. The single market, which was an outstanding British objective, would not have been delivered without qualified majority voting. How often did I hear Mrs. Thatcher, who was a distinguished Prime Minister, say that we wanted a real common market. Qualified majority voting delivered a significant part of that real common market, and I hope that it will continue to do so.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Can my right hon. Friend envisage circumstances in which qualified majority voting might operate against the British national interest?

Photo of David Curry David Curry Conservative, Skipton and Ripon

In all qualified majority votes, some get what they want and others do not. Europe is a kaleidoscope of shifting alliances in which nobody is ever dominant and nobody is ever oppressed, and that is the key to it. If my right hon. Friend checked the history of United Kingdom demands and requirements against the occasions on which we lost, he would find that Britain did not usually lose. Indeed, I remember how, when the French did not seem to know what they wanted from the European Union, they lost year after year in the Council of Ministers, because nobody knew whether it was worth negotiating with them.

I accept that qualified majority voting inevitably raises issues of accountability. Therefore—I realise that many of my hon. Friends do not agree with me, but I shall say it unrepentantly—I welcome the modest improvement and simplification of the powers of the European Parliament. We must avoid a geometric concept of power in the European Union that suggests that anything that goes there must necessarily come from here, because that dynamic does not represent the true circumstances in the European Union. The question is how we attain accountability for functions and decision taking that are already federalised, if I may use that word. I do not believe that the House can achieve that, because qualified majority voting makes it difficult for any legislature to bind a Minister who has to take part in negotiations in the Council of Ministers.

If a Minister has any sense, he will seek to participate in a qualified majority in the Council of Ministers, rather than being locked out. That means that he has to negotiate. He will not be easily bound by injunctions placed on him by his national Parliament. A Government are likely to look over their shoulder at their Parliament only when their majority is precarious. If, for example, there is a multi-party coalition, their majority will be at risk if they come back with something that the Parliament does not like. But even if a Minister is subject to sanction by a Parliament, it does not alter the decision that he has taken. The mere fact that he is subject to sanction may render him incompetent, in the real sense of the word, at negotiating in the Council of Ministers, and less able to defend his national interest than would otherwise be the case.

I have no great enthusiasm for the European Parliament per se, although my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst and I spent some years as Members of it. However, I have concluded from watching the European Union as a journalist, as a member of the Council of Ministers, as a Member of the European Parliament and as a Member of Parliament, that the effective way to achieve accountability must be for an institution to enjoy the same sort of supranational status as the Council, if it is to work in practice. That is a pragmatic conclusion, not a principled or ideological one.

I come to what is wrong with the treaty—again, it is the omissions. One could argue that the human rights clause anticipates enlargement. I accept that enlargement negotiations may now begin because the treaty has been agreed. However, the truth is that the reform of the institutions, which we all agree is urgently needed, has not yet started. We talk endlessly about reform—including reform of the voting in the Council of Ministers, of the way in which the presidency is held and of the way in which the Commission is constituted. Those issues sound tedious and bureaucratic, but they go to the heart of the ability of member states to influence the European Union and the ease with which its business can be dispatched effectively. That will require another treaty, and, indeed, the Heads of Government have admitted that that is inevitable.

Europe has a long and melancholy history of failing to take decisions in good time and thus having to improvise or go beyond what might have cured the problem had it been dealt with earlier. The reform of the common agricultural policy is a classic example. However, I caution people about talking too glibly about the reform of the CAP, because I have never yet come across a reform that did not cost more than the original it replaced.

I am also hostile—for the reasons that many of my hon. Friends have explained—to the incorporation of the social chapter. I do not like it and I do not like the introduction of the employment chapter. When the Foreign Secretary was boasting about the employment chapter, he neglected to remark that it was a platonic addition to the treaty. He also did not say that the British Government had worked with the Germans, with enormous enthusiasm, to denude of any real purpose the proposals made by France, Italy and Sweden. The Foreign Secretary rejoiced in the chapter, and I gather that he also rejoices in the fact that it means practically nothing in reality.

The way forward for employment is through supply-side measures, such as the liberalisation and deregulation of sectors such as transport and telecommunications, and not through intervention. We must look out lest employment policies are used to counter the strong anti-inflationary policies of a central bank which will eventually manage the single currency. Europe should be about politics, not religion. If every time Europe is mentioned, the so-called Europhiles are supposed to apply uncritical acclaim while singing the "Ode to Joy" and the Euro-sceptics are supposed to leap to the barricades while belting out "Land of Hope and Glory", we are condemned to the politics of immature polemics. I hope that we can avoid that in the House.

The British response to developments in Europe follows a pattern. We start by saying that whatever is proposed is not necessary. We then say that it will not happen. We then say that it will happen, but only later. We then say that it will happen, but it will not work. We then say that we need not join, and then we say, "Help!" The result of that syndrome is that we tend to decide to join late, grudgingly and when the framework has been set.

I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst that we have to decide whether we will be full-hearted members of the organisation or whether we will get out. Do we want to be in or out? As matters stand, with our late, grudging accession, we have neither independence nor leadership. That is a sad situation that is not worthy of the traditions and history of this country.

I also say to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst that there is no eternal or immutable concept of a nation state. The nation state that Gladstone or Palmerston managed is wholly different to the nation state that is feasible in today's world. Economic interdependence and the movement of money and technologies have changed the practical reality of the concept of the nation state. If we are to defend the nation state, we must realise that the concept does not have an eternal verity. We must judge it in the light of the realities of changing circumstances, as I am sure my right hon. Friend would agree.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Of course my right hon. Friend is right, but does he accept that a time may come when what one might regard as the irreducible elements of a true nation state—which the members of a nation state feel comfortable with and believe to be necessary—might be threatened by unwanted developments in the European Union? Is that a possibility?

Photo of David Curry David Curry Conservative, Skipton and Ripon

The concept that my right hon. Friend suggests might be threatened. Equally, I would argue that a Europe without a European Union in it would feel infinitely more threatened by the developments that would have taken place in the post-war world—notably the absence of restraints on the development of Germany, an economic powerhouse with its 80 million people, and the probable preferred partner of the United States—than what threatens us within that framework. But that is a wider debate, which I should be delighted to continue with my right hon. Friend.

Photo of David Curry David Curry Conservative, Skipton and Ripon

I promised to be brief, and I am on my last paragraph. I want to give other hon. Members a chance.

I believe that the treaty is a poor one, which fails in its central task. It is not a wicked treaty; it just does not do the job. That is why, with an absolutely clear conscience, I can vote against it tonight.

Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South 6:09, 12 November 1997

It is a real pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry); 97 per cent. of the contents of his speech would be warmly endorsed by most Labour Members. It is a pity that we did not hear such speeches from him when he was a member of the Conservative Government. Nevertheless, it was good to hear one today.

I spoke in European debates several times in the previous Parliament, and I am struck by the difference in tone today, compared with those interminable hours in Committee on the Maastricht treaty. The heart seems to have gone out of the Europhobes. They have not got the enthusiasm—

Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South

That is an interesting question. The Europhobes do not seem to have the same enthusiasm for their cause any more. I suppose that, when people have fought a general election in which most of their colleagues were wiped out, although the previous Government said that they would stop the show—let us remember all those "show stoppers" that the former Foreign Secretary told the Foreign Affairs Select Committee about when he came before us to give evidence during the previous Parliament—and when people see that, despite Mr. Sykes's millions, their party went down to humiliating defeat, that leads to some reassessment of the situation.

The tone has changed, but there are still a few individuals who, as the shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), showed us, are still capable of artificial hysteria about this modest treaty. That was the description used by the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell).

The Amsterdam treaty is modest, but it represents a major achievement—[Laughter.] Oh yes, it does. It is a major achievement, because the Conservative party told us that there would be no treaty—that they would lay down lots of clauses and conditions to stop the treaty, and make sure that it did not emerge.

The Tory press and the Europhobes in general also told us that the new Labour Government would not be capable of signing any treaty that was in Britain's interests, because our continental partners would walk all over us. On the contrary, as the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon has just revealed, the treaty contains some important achievements, which are in the interests of our country.

Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South

The treaty is modest, but it is positive, too, and only a change of Government made it possible to achieve it. [Interruption.]

Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I think I am capable of looking after myself.

The treaty was achieved by a Government who did not say, "We will reject everything that comes from across the Channel," but who said instead, "We will engage positively with our partners, build alliances and work together for a better European Union, to prepare the basis for future developments that will come with the British presidency from January, and for the future enlargement negotiations which the treaty makes possible."

I always fail to understand how, if the Conservative party was really in favour of enlargement, it could adopt the strategy of saying that there would be no agreement. Agreement was necessary to unlock the process of enlargement. Moreover, if Conservatives were in favour of enlargement, why on earth did they oppose the extension of qualified majority voting in any area? That is a palpable absurdity. It is impossible to have any enlargement of the European Union without extending QMV to make the Union work effectively.

I think that the treaty has done enough to enable the enlargement process to begin, but not enough to make it possible to conclude that process successfully. Therefore, we shall have to return to the issue in the discussions that will result from the enlargement negotiations over the next few years.

I hope that, by that time, the Opposition will have had another think. If they really want enlargement to succeed, and the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, and perhaps in time the Baltic states and other states, to come into the EU, they will have to recognise that an EU with 25 or 26 members cannot be the same as it is today,

In that process, we also need to examine the financing of the Union. That will involve difficult issues. Over the next few years, countries such as the Irish Republic, which are now net recipients from the European Union, will have to face the fact that, partly because of their own economic growth and partly because poorer countries will come into the Union, they will cease to be net recipients from Community funds.

Other countries will face similar problems on regional aid policy. It is important that we all recognise that some of the wealthier countries will have to make a contribution for enlargement to succeed. Part of what we need will come from common agricultural policy reform, which is so necessary. But that will not provide it all, and we shall have to face the fact that enlargement, which in political and security terms—and even in economic terms, in the long run—will be of great benefit to us, will have a short-term cost.

I was pleased with the statement a few weeks ago by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which for the first time showed us the possibility of having a Government who said that in principle this country should be part of the European single currency.

In his important document, in which he set out the five economic conditions that must be satisfied to comply with the requirements of the single currency, the Chancellor also made it clear that in the meantime we would work positively to achieve greater co-ordination in ECOFIN among Finance Ministers within the European Union.

I believe that that development, too—building on the work in the Amsterdam treaty —will be of great benefit to us in the years to come. Clearly, the Government's statement a few weeks ago that there was no constitutional bar to British membership of EMU is of great significance, and most welcome. However, the longer we stay out of EMU, the more likely it is that the consequences will be politically damaging to this country. In signing the Amsterdam treaty, we have begun to put Britain's relations with the rest of the EU on an even keel. We have begun to repair the damage caused by 18 years of anti-European rhetoric and policies.

Although the Labour Government's positive developments have prepared the ground for a successful British presidency, there are some worrying signs. The meeting of the French, German and Russian Governments in Strasbourg was a sign that we have to be careful to build on our positive relationships, both bilaterally and in a co-ordinated way with groups of other European Union member states.

It is not enough for us to wait for eventual membership of economic and monetary union, because in the meantime staying out of the process might have politically damaging consequences. We need to work at all levels to build relationships with our partners.

We need a strong European Union, both for the future of Europe and on the global stage. The way in which the United States Administration has used the World Trade Organisation to damage the interests of Caribbean banana producers in favour of the large multinationals that produce cheaper bananas in Latin America is cause for great concern. We need to have a strong collective European Union voice for those occasions when America pursues its self-interest, to the detriment of poorer countries.

In international trade negotiations, the European Union must be outward-looking, and consider the future not only of our continent but of many countries elsewhere, including many small island economies that have an historic association with us as part of the Commonwealth.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Why does the hon. Gentleman assume that, if the United States, with its size and influence, pursues only its narrow self-interest, at the expense of others, the European Union would not be equally prone to doing exactly the same, with or without us?

Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South

There is a big difference between the international relationships of the United States and those of the European Union. African, Caribbean and Pacific countries have historic links with us, and through the Lomé negotiation process, we have always tried to take account of their interests. I believe that Britain and France in particular have a duty, because of international links with their former colonies in Africa and the Caribbean, to look to those wider interests.

There is a tradition, here and in other European Union countries, of contributing much more to international aid than the United States, which spends a far lower percentage of gross domestic product per head on aid than many European countries, including the Nordic countries, the Dutch and Britain. It is important for Europe to work collectively, because only in our collective strength can we act as a counterweight to American power. I refer not to military power but to economic weight and the political influence that goes with it.

The common foreign and security policy is one of the most important parts of the Amsterdam treaty. I was one of those who, in the previous Parliament, despite being strongly identified with being in favour of the European ideal, had strong reservations about some of the ideas emanating from France in particular about the role of the Western European Union in relation to the European Union. I am very pleased that the Amsterdam treaty does not in essence go much further in that matter than the original Maastricht treaty. We are saying that there may be development of a common defence policy, but not of European Union common defence. The emphasis is still firmly on NATO, and I believe that that is right for European security and in relation to enlargement. There is no way, in my opinion, in which we could have an easy enlargement of the European Union to include countries of the former Warsaw pact if we mixed up defence in the process.

We have witnessed the controversies about NATO enlargement and the signals that the idea sends to the Russians. It would not be in our interests, and would cause great difficulties for those countries with a tradition of neutrality, such as Austria, Ireland, Finland and Sweden. Therefore, the outcome of the treaty is sensible.

The Governments of the European Union have to some extent recognised in the treaty the concern that we were discussing institutional arrangements but not connecting with the general public. More needs to be done on that. Some countries will hold referendums to ratify the treaty, and it is important that all countries endorse it as quickly as possible, so that we can tackle the more important issues of the future financing and enlargement of the European Union. I am confident that the Labour presidency in the first six months of 1998 will set us in a good direction towards that goal.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment) 6:26, 12 November 1997

To echo my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), I am pleased to contribute to the debate as another free spirit in the Conservative party, and to put on record my views and concerns about the treaty.

I begin with these words: Our vision of Europe is of an alliance of independent nations". Those are the words of the Labour party manifesto for the general election. It seems to me, from comments by both Opposition and Government Members, that, in considering the ways in which the Bill affects us as a nation state—as it affects our sovereignty—we cannot take the Amsterdam treaty in isolation.

As Conservative Members have said, the danger for the House and the nation is that what may, as an individual treaty or a small piece of legislation, seem innocuous, may develop a pattern over the years that shows us that there are those in the European Union who have a different agenda—some hon. Members who have spoken tonight might well agree with them—from the concept of Europe as an alliance of independent nations.

From now on, we must measure against that background every treaty we sign, and every substantial negotiation in which we engage, because that is how we can decide whether we end up with an alliance or—as is clearly the ambition of many of our European partners —with a country called Europe. That is very different from an alliance of nation states.

As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) said, this was the first test of the Government's negotiating skill. The Prime Minister told the House when he announced the outcome of the European Council at Amsterdam: We … promised to bring a fresh and constructive approach to Europe and to the negotiations."—[0fficial Report, 18 June 1997; Vol. 296, c. 313.] That bears more careful scrutiny when we consider some of the announcements that have been made, and some of the issues that have been completely neglected.

The Labour party's manifesto flagged up its agenda. It said: We will seek a thorough overhaul of the Common Fisheries Policy to conserve our fish stocks". During the election campaign, the Prime Minister told "The World at One": We certainly have not ruled out holding up 1GC business in order to get the right changes on fishing policy in the British interest". Labour Members have suggested tonight that the Conservatives were somehow wrong to flag up well before the Amsterdam conference their concerns about quota hopping and the fisheries policy. We considered it high on our agenda. However, even during the election campaign, the Labour party thought that the issue was sufficiently important for the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) to refer to it on prime time radio. That all dissipated quickly after 1 May.

I represent a seat in the west country. It is not a coastal seat, but fishing is of importance not only to the people who go out to sea but to the much wider community. Communities in the south-west of England are dependent on the fishing industry. The hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) said that the previous Government had failed to deal with the problem of quota hoppers. This very House introduced the Merchant Shipping Act 1988, which sought to give it powers to interpret the fishing rules, as applied by the treaty of accession. The Act sought to ensure that we had something to which the Labour party should give recognition.

Labour Members use the words "fairness" and "justice" a lot. Fairness and justice in British fishing policy is non-existent, as a result of the way in which the common fisheries policy has turned out. That is contrary to what the British Government believed they were negotiating in the treaty of accession.

The European Court of Justice did not find in our favour. It overturned legislation passed by the House to protect our fishing interests in a fair and just way. That was why the previous Government took such a robust stand. They saw the treaty of Amsterdam as an opportunity to correct that injustice, and bring back some fairness for our fishermen. Yet we have heard that fisheries were not even debated at Amsterdam.

The Foreign Secretary did not explain today why the Labour Government ditched their policy. I hope that the Minister who is to reply to the debate will explain why quota hoppers are no longer a matter of importance to the Government.

What were the fishermen expecting? They had every expectation that Amsterdam would resolve the problem of quota hopping. All that the Foreign Secretary came back from Europe with was a piece of paper which simply reiterated the law as we understood it.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

Peace in our time, as my right hon. Friend says. That was the outcome of the Government's negotiations on fishing. The Spanish were able to take advantage of the Government in the small hours of the morning, when the British seat was unoccupied because people had gone home thinking that Europe kept normal hours. Whatever the reason, the Government were not represented when Gibraltar was discussed. The Spanish must have gone home from the negotiations thinking that they had had a pretty good outing. They got our fish, and now there is a big question mark over our powers to negotiate on and protect Gibraltar.

The measures on fishing and on Gibraltar clearly show that there is more to the treaty of Amsterdam than the large issues to which the Foreign Secretary tried to restrict us in his opening remarks. He admitted that the mix-up over Gibraltar was a misunderstanding.

The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) gave the House some extremely important news about tapes in the possession of the Dutch presidency. I ask those on the Treasury Bench to ensure that, in the reply to the debate tonight, we hear exactly what action the Government intend to take to apprise the House of the situation, now that the hon. Gentleman has brought it to the Floor of the House.

I have some concern about the views expressed by the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) in respect of that part of the treaty which refers to the merging of the European Union and the Western European Union. I have spoken about the agenda that others are following. It may not be the agenda that all of us in the House wish to follow, but it exists. The agenda of some countries is not a pragmatic division between NATO and the EU in defence matters.

The Foreign Secretary admitted to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee on 4 November: The ambition of some of the countries at Amsterdam was to absorb the WEU in order to bring European security and defence identity within the EU. So it is clear that an agenda different from the Amsterdam treaty is running. We should not be cavalier and disregard that.

One of the points raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst worries many of us. If the policy changes with each treaty and each piece of legislation, the EU could end up absorbing the WEU. I am sure that those who seek that outcome will continue to move towards it step by step. The hon. Member for Ilford, South is smiling. He has a knowing look on his face. I think that he is about to tell me, "You've cracked it. You've got it right. That is what they are up to."

Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South

I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Lady: I am about to tell her that she has misunderstood what I said. I said that I was pleased that the Government had succeeded in stopping precisely the development about which she has expressed concern.

If she looks closely at the wording of the Amsterdam treaty, she will find that, in all its essential respects, the part dealing with common foreign and security policy is remarkably similar to that signed by the Conservative Government in 1991, when, under a joint British-Italian initiative, they produced a form of words similar to the wording in the treaty. I quoted those words.

While I accept that there are differences, the hon. Lady should accept that the Labour Government have succeeded with others in ensuring that the Amsterdam treaty does not go the way that she is worried about.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

I am not so convinced as the hon. Gentleman obviously is, simply because other aspects of that element of the policy give me cause for concern—not least the incompatibility of those nation states he mentioned, which for a long time have refused to join NATO even though they have been invited to do so. They have sought instead to protect their neutrality. We must ensure that there is no equalisation between EU nations and long-established members of NATO. Some people wish to bring them together, or perhaps even work towards a position in which Europe eventually takes control of its own foreign and defence policy. That gives me cause for concern.

Although I believe that Europe should pay its fair share and be responsible for its own defence policy, and that each nation state should do so, I do not believe that destroying the NATO alliance between America and Europe would be a good move for the peace of the world. It is a dangerous option. We know that some people have an agenda to work towards that outcome.

Labour has accepted more majority voting in the operation of the CFSP—to implement joint actions, common positions and common strategies. I appreciate that a qualified veto is maintained, for important stated reasons of national policy. However, the concept of constructive abstention has been introduced. A country may opt out of a CFSP decision but allow others to go ahead.

That marks another move away from common decision making. Action will still be taken in the name of the European Union, and the treaty proposes: When abstaining in a vote, any member of the Council may qualify its abstention by making a formal declaration under the present subparagraph. In that case, it shall not be obliged to apply the decision, but shall accept that the decision commits the Union. In the spirit of mutual solidarity, the Member State concerned shall refrain from any action likely to conflict with or impede Union action based on that decision".

That suggests that the EU may prevent a member state from acting in its national interests, if it goes against the view of the majority. That is the salami-slicing tactic: innocuous because the step appears small, but, from successive treaties and documents over the years, we can see that it moves us even further towards that nation called Europe.

I would disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst—

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

Yes, I am going to disappoint my right hon. Friend, and disagree with him on one small point.

I do not think that the time is right, or that it would be proper, to say that we should come out of Europe; but, as my right hon. Friend rightly identified, Parliament should examine the changes in Europe over the years and in the foreseeable future, and measure those against that statement in the Labour party manifesto. If we find that, through sleight of hand or small step by small step, we are close to becoming part of that nation called Europe, we should measure it against Labour's own benchmark— Our vision of Europe is of an alliance of independent nations.

That has to be the key test, and it causes many hon. Members great concern. I say that as someone who was a member of the previous Government, and who was here and voted for the Maastricht treaty—[Interruption.] Hon. Members make a joke of that, but some of us look with great concern at the way in which the pattern has developed and is developing, whoever was or is in government.

I am not saying that whatever was done by the Conservatives was a good thing and whatever was done by other Administrations was a bad thing; I am saying that, if Labour wants its pledge to be taken seriously–1 hope that it is to be taken seriously—the House must call the Government to account on behalf of the people.

The Government are now the people sitting at the negotiating table, and it is by Labour's own benchmark that we must judge what we put our signature to as a nation. We must judge whether we remain a sovereign nation state, or whether we are moving towards that country called Europe. If the latter, the points made this evening by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst bear closer examination and questioning.

Attention has been drawn to the extension of qualified majority voting. Some hon. Members have said that that is a good thing, but, as Conservative Members have asked, what does qualified majority voting mean in practice to Parliament, and to our right to make our own decisions?

As someone who served for three years in the Ministry of Agriculture, where qualified majority voting applied to 95 per cent. of all the decisions taken in Europe, I have had a great deal of first-hand experience of what qualified majority voting means. It means that, as a Minister, I appeared before hon. Members in the Scrutiny Committee and had to explain why a cartel was running in the negotiations.

I hope that this does not sound pompous, because it is not intended that way, but I warn Ministers that, when they sit through many European negotiations—especially those involving departmental Ministers with a year or more of experience in negotiating the fine points of individual pieces of legislation—they will quickly learn that it is all about horse trading, as countries such as the southern European countries come together.

To get a satisfactory outcome requires more than having right on one's side, or having the national interest on one's side—one needs something in the bag to give in exchange. That is why it is appalling that, at Amsterdam, the Government gave so much without getting much back. I hope that the Government will quickly learn that, whether we like it or not, that is the way the game is played over there. It is no good their taking the high moral ground and saying, "Of course we will do what is in the British interest." Ministers must go into every negotiation knowing what they are prepared to concede, and exactly what they intend to win.

I have to admit that it is an excruciating experience to appear, as a Minister, before a Committee of this democratically elected House—with hon. Members on both sides asking probing questions on the issue involved—and having to tell the Committee how negotiations are going and what we are seeking to gain, while knowing all the time that, if we are out-voted under qualified majority voting, the concerns of the Committee will not matter a fig. We have no power: power has gone from this Parliament, and power is going from this Parliament, because that is how qualified majority voting works in practice.

In the spirit of friendship, I will give a word of advice to Ministers: as time goes by, there will be times when they know that they are unable to win one, and there will be a clear temptation to look for the virtues in the defeat, so as to be able to sell it back home. That is not a good thing. It leaves a nasty taste. Those of us who have had to do it know that there is nothing democratic about it, and it has nothing to do with a sovereign parliament.

When we have to look for the good in something that is not in the national interest, we know that we have already gone too far. In his speech to the Conservative party conference, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was right to say that he felt that, in his view, we had probably gone as far as we wanted to go on integration.

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Labour, Harlow 6:46, 12 November 1997

I am interested to follow two former Conservative Ministers, one of whom said that Britain should reconsider its membership of the European Union, while the other said that the time was not right, but, by implication, it could well be in the near future. Given that lukewarm adherence to and support for the European Union, it is hardly surprising that we have lacked influence in the councils of Europe over the past 18 years.

I am happy to speak tonight, because we are at an historic and significant turning point in terms of Britain's relationship with Europe. I say that for three reasons: first, in the past two weeks, we have heard the most positive statement about support for economic and monetary union ever heard from a British Government. We want it to succeed and, if it does, we want to be part of it. Secondly, with today's Second Reading debate, the Government are clearly positively endorsing the results of the Amsterdam treaty; and, thirdly, as Britain prepares to take on the presidency of the European Union, it is clear that we want to play a leading and constructive role at the heart of the Union. From those three facts, it is clear that Britain has come in from the cold and we are witnessing the most positive, pro-European stance by a British Government for 20 years. That is to be welcomed.

The Amsterdam treaty is, in large part, good for Europe, and it is a good deal for Britain. Seen in the context of the general election campaign, it puts into sharp relief some of the comments by Conservative candidates who tried to claim that the only person who could be trusted to negotiate for Britain at Amsterdam was the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major). It is ironic that, when the Conservative party seeks to attack its political opponents, it focuses on an area—leadership and negotiating skills in Europe—that serves to highlight its own weakness and divisions.

The treaty is to be welcomed, because it is based on the recognition that the European Union will enlarge and that, once it has 21 or nearly 30 member countries, the idea that it can continue with a decision-making structure that was originally designed for only six countries is unsustainable—we would be dictated to by the nation that wanted to proceed at the slowest pace, and constantly prey to the threat of blackmail.

That is why I welcome the extension of qualified majority voting encapsulated within the treaty. Why should one country on its own be able to block moves towards combating fraud or opening up European decision-making procedures, to make them more transparent?

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Conservative, Tewkesbury

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is simple. At the 1975 referendum, when two out of three people endorsed our continued membership of the European Community, the booklet, "Britain's new deal in Europe", which was issued by the Labour Government, specifically guaranteed that, if a British Minister objected to any legislation within Europe, that would be the end of the legislation. If the Government are to take us down a different road, they should at least have the courtesy to revisit the British electorate.

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Labour, Harlow

Why, then, did not the former Prime Minister, Baroness Thatcher, take a similar route when she signed up to the Single European Act 1985? Clearly, we are dealing with a very different Conservative party today from the one in the 1980s.

Qualified majority voting will help us on the issues that I highlighted. It would be foolish to pretend that we would always win every argument in Europe, but I am certain that the pros will outweigh the cons. That is life. Whether it is in the workplace, business, government or politics, one sometimes wins and one sometimes loses. Sometimes one must negotiate and trade to proceed on the matters that are more important than others. That is how one makes progress in life, and it is how we shall make progress in Europe.

The treaty enshrines the concept of subsidiarity more clearly than ever before. After Amsterdam, Community action will be justified only when more can be achieved together than alone, but also when action cannot be achieved by a member state acting alone. That is not federalism; it retains sovereignty where it can be effective and pools it where significantly more can be achieved together than alone.

The treaty also improves the scrutiny process, so that national Parliaments and the people they represent can better understand and influence what the European Union does. I welcome the protocol setting out the six-week delay between the tabling of proposed legislation and its being placed on the Council agenda for decision. I also welcome the fact that Council decisions will now be published.

I hope that Britain will use its European Union presidency to take a lead and change the way in which the House scrutinises European legislation and makes decisions. Although improvements have been made, we need faster depositing of European documents in Parliament. We also need to extend the practice of Ministers appearing before Select Committees in advance of Council of Ministers meetings, and, in some cases, giving written reports on their return. The system should also be reformed so that pillars 2 and 3 come under the scrutiny process. Furthermore, if votes at Council meetings are to be made public, the overall proceedings should be made public and televised. In that respect, I agree with the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies).

All those moves are designed to open up Europe and to open up the decision-making process. They will be widely welcomed, because the reason why people are sometimes suspicious and fearful of Europe is not that they are intrinsically anti-European but that they simply do not understand what is happening and how decisions are made. Post-Amsterdam, the solution to that problem is in our hands.

I welcome the fact that the treaty makes it clear that the European Union, post-Amsterdam, is not just a financial or business union; it is a people's union. The priority given to job creation within the treaty is long overdue. The co-ordination of employment strategies, the dissemination of best job-creating practices and the small incentive programmes that go with that are to be welcomed. That should not be simply a fig leaf, but this country should give practical support, through our Government and in the Councils of Europe, to that job-creating process.

Flexibility within the labour market will be part of the solution, but not the whole solution. Growth is already returning across the European Union, yet it is not matched by rising employment. Employment flexibility without higher employment levels is not sustainable in the long run and will not be supported by people in this country and elsewhere.

I am pleased that the treaty addresses the quality of employment as well as the number of jobs. I am delighted and proud that this Government have at long last signed the European social chapter. Arguments against the social chapter have always been exaggerated, and our arguments in its favour should not simply be defensive. In a global economy, the opportunity for unscrupulous exploitation of working people should be resisted, and we should do everything possible, through the social chapter and other mechanisms, to create minimum employment standards and fairness.

On the down side, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and others have said, a significant concern is the treaty's failure fully to face up to the need for institutional reform before enlargement. The Commission cannot continue to grow whenever a new nation applies for membership. The weighting of Council votes to represent population size more effectively must be addressed. As the Foreign Secretary said, it is absurd and unsustainable that, under the current rules—certainly under qualified majority voting— countries that represent a majority of the European population could not mount enough votes to block a proposal.

If Europe is to enlarge, that cannot be allowed to continue. While I recognise the negotiating constraints in that respect, I urge the Government to make the problem a high priority for urgent and early resolution, otherwise that factor will be used by those who oppose enlargement to block enlargement unfairly and unnecessarily.

I also welcome other measures in the treaty, such as the fact that our veto on the key issues of changes to the treaty, the budget, foreign and security policy, taxation and social security has been maintained. I say loudly and clearly to the Euro-sceptic siren voices that persistently and misleadingly claim that, after Amsterdam, the European Union will take taxation policies out of our hands: nothing in the treaty sustains that argument.

I shall now deal with some of the attacks on the treaty by Conservative Members. First, the shadow Foreign Secretary attacked my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary for his supposed lack of diplomacy and for offending officials. That was certainly amusing, but given his stewardship of the Prison Service and his relationship with some of its officials, those comments lacked credibility, to say the least.

Although I disagreed with the comments of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), who said that it was not simply a question of what happened in Amsterdam but that one needed to judge the whole train and flow of summits, treaties and decision making within Europe, I could respect the manner in which he put forward the argument. It was in stark contrast to the comments of some Conservative Members, both today and previously, who talk apocalyptically about the future of the nation state. That serves neither our debate nor the public debate, which, as we move towards a debate on the single currency, will be absolutely necessary to get to the heart of the issue, so that people are properly informed about what is at stake.

I was interested to hear the concern expressed about the penalties that can be used against nations involved in serious and persistent violations of human rights. As a democratically elected politician, I should be appalled to conceive of circumstances in which all 14 other member states of the EU believed Britain to be involved in serious and persistent violations of human rights, and we did not recognise that fact.

The Conservative approach to that scenario almost seems to be that we should be able to behave in whatever way we wish. That is neither helpful nor constructive. The new rules on their own may not have made a difference, but if their existence in the future and the pressure that they would bring to bear made it less likely, for example, that trade unions would be banned at GCHQ, or that section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 would be imposed, that should be welcomed.

We have heard from the shadow Foreign Secretary and others their concern about the extension of qualified majority voting. Before the debate, I looked through copies of Hansard from around the time of the Single European Act 1985. That represented a significant advance in QMV. I was intrigued to discover that in the six months following that treaty, not once in Prime Minister's questions was the issue of QMV raised. That is a strong indication that the argument against QMV is a cloak for the arguments of Euro-scepticism. It shows that the present Conservative party is very different from the one that existed in the 1980s and earlier.

The Opposition say that they will vote against the Bill. No reasonable person, having listened to the debate, read the treaty and considered what is at stake, would vote against the treaty. Had the present Opposition been re-elected at the general election, they would have brought back from Amsterdam broadly the same deal as we brought back. Their tactics were aptly summed up by the former Chancellor, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke). Asked recently about his attitude to the prospect of the Conservative party voting against the Amsterdam treaty, he said: I don't think anybody would take us seriously.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman was right. No reasonable person would take Conservative Members seriously, having seen their tactics in the debate. It is not what they would have done, were they still in government. The treaty is good for Britain and good for Europe, and should be supported.

Photo of Mr Richard Body Mr Richard Body Conservative, Boston and Skegness 7:07, 12 November 1997

I thought I heard the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell) say that no reasonable person could oppose the treaty. If that is so, perhaps he would agree that no reasonable person would speak of a European Community—still less of Europe—unless the institutions being established in its name were trying sincerely to embrace the whole of Europe.

The hon. Gentleman would agree that Europe consists of some 40 states. It is my dream that the European Community should one day be able to embrace them all, but surely the hon. Gentleman would agree that the treaty will not do that. We should judge this treaty or any other concerning the European Community according to whether it will make it easier or harder to enlarge the Community, so that it can truly speak of Europe and unite all Europe.

The vision began a long time ago, and at that time I shared the vision and supported the European Community in the hope that it would bring the countries of western Europe together so that there should never be another war. Surely the task now should be to bring east and western Europe together, so that we can be a truly united continent, and not suffer the consequences that might follow if any kind of cold war should re-emerge.

When we debated—as we did at great length—the Maastricht treaty, we heard much about the principle of subsidiarity. Those of us who were a little sceptical about it were told to wait and see. We were assured that everything would be all right, and that we would be able to claw back many of the powers that had gone to Brussels. We were even assured that about 25 per cent. of the Community law would be repealed or could be amended.

I stand to be corrected, but I do not think that in the past few years any of the Community law has been repealed or amended as a result of the Maastricht treaty. It has been a disappointment to us. Some of us hoped that, when negotiations took place on the Amsterdam treaty, we could put teeth into the principle of subsidiarity. Surely it is self-evident that there can be no hope of a true European Community unless the principle of subsidiarity is made to work.

Instead of the principle being made to work at Amsterdam, we have a protocol, and paragraph 2 invokes the doctrine of acquis communautaire, which, as we all know, means that competence once given to Brussels cannot be taken away from Brussels. It means that all the powers that we handed over at Maastricht, in addition to all those that we handed over in the original treaty of Rome, and now further powers in the treaty of Amsterdam, cannot come back. I ask the hon. Member for Harlow to consider the effect that that will have on the countries of eastern Europe that sincerely wish to join the European Community. It will not make it easier for them; it will make it much more difficult. I beg the hon. Gentleman to look again at the Maastricht treaty and see how far it goes and the extent to which it could impinge on the policies that so many eastern European countries are trying to pursue. He will see that those cannot be reconciled.

The protocol is bad enough, but declaration 43 contains some sort of definition of subsidiarity.

Photo of Mr Roger Casale Mr Roger Casale Labour, Wimbledon

Does the hon. Gentleman know of a single country in eastern Europe that is opposed to the Amsterdam treaty?

Photo of Mr Richard Body Mr Richard Body Conservative, Boston and Skegness

I doubt whether the Governments of those countries have got round to reading the treaty, but when they do, I have no doubt—if it is not presumptuous to say so—that they will agree with what I said. We shall see.

Declaration 43 gives a definition of subsidiarity. It states that member states will be responsible for administering Community law. That is a kind of subsidiarity, but not the kind that we argued about in the Maastricht debates, which we thought meant that individual countries could do those things that they are best able to do.

Let me give an example: fishing, which was discussed at Amsterdam. If anyone believes that the fishermen on the east coast of England and Scotland who go out to fish in the North sea are not capable of agreeing to a policy laid down by our own Government, as was the case in the past, to preserve the fish stocks, the fishermen in my constituency could explain that, if the present common fisheries policy goes on, they have few prospects of being able to earn a livelihood in a few years.

I was glad that the hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), who spoke for the Liberal Democrats and who has fishermen in his constituency, went so far as to say that he agrees with all European Community legislation. That includes all the regulations that constitute the common fisheries policy—I hope that the fishermen in his constituency will appreciate that view. The next time the hon. and learned Gentleman meets those fishermen, he will no doubt explain what an excellent idea the common fisheries policy is.

The declaration superimposed on the protocol is not only a denial of the principle of subsidiarity that we hoped to see, but strikes at the federal principle. Federalists will agree that we cannot have a federal system without meaningful subsidiarity. The Amsterdam treaty has resulted in a move towards a unitary state. That is much more dangerous than a federal system, and I think that we should be alert to that movement. Unless a subsequent treaty enshrines the principle of subsidiarity, makes it a working principle and puts some force behind it, there can be no hope of achieving the kind of European Community that Conservative Members wish to see: a Community that embraces many more countries in Europe and truly speaks for Europe.

Photo of Mr Roger Casale Mr Roger Casale Labour, Wimbledon 7:11, 12 November 1997

On Monday, I had the pleasure of addressing the House in my maiden speech as a Londoner, and today I make no apologies for speaking as both a British patriot and a European. I listened carefully to the speech by the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), who referred in one breath to "Europe" and, in the next, to "over there". I do not wish to give geography lessons in the House, but I must point out that, although Europe is over there, it is over here also. We are part of Europe, and I am happy to identify myself with Europe and with the European continent.

My point is that those three identities—being a Londoner, a Briton and a European—are not incompatible, but complement each other. That reflects today's reality: we are citizens of our locality, of our region, our country and of Europe as a whole. That reality is also reflected in the Amsterdam treaty itself.

British interests—those of the British people and of Britain as a whole—are protected by the treaty. The end of the opt-out on social policy secures the interests of British working people by guaranteeing them basic minimum rights and freedoms at their place of work. As a condition of access to the wider European market, the treaty also sets in motion a process by which those freedoms and rights can be enhanced progressively. As it does so, in partnership not only with our European neighbours at a national level but through the process of a social dialogue between employers' federations and trade unions, we can be sure that social progress will not be bought at the cost of our competitiveness—indeed, our competitiveness will be enhanced. That is why I believe Commissioner Leon Brittan who, in an article in The Daily Telegraph today, said: I therefore consider that the social chapter no longer poses the serious threat"— implicitly to jobs— that it once did. Through the social dialogue, Britain is anchored to a rolling democratic debate about the future of Europe's economy and society. That debate will explore what kind of Europe we want to live in: a Europe of low-value, low-paid, low-skilled jobs or a Europe that develops the resourcefulness and potential of its people to the full.

Anchoring it in the Amsterdam treaty means that the social dialogue will be extended to atypical workers—part-time and temporary workers—who will also feel the benefit of those rights and freedoms. That will improve the quality of life of thousands of people in my constituency, especially many of those who have young families and who are in temporary or part-time work. They will benefit from the social dialogue and from the right to parental leave that is enshrined in the social chapter. Those are some of the first fruits of Britain's accession to the social chapter.

Those Conservative Members who believe that what is in the interests of British working people automatically cannot be in the interests of Britain as a whole should ask themselves whether they are failing in their representative function in some way. Perhaps they should reflect on the results of the 1 May election, which demonstrate that point quite well.

Photo of Keith Simpson Keith Simpson Conservative, Mid Norfolk

I do not wish to be rude to the hon. Gentleman or to use unparliamentary language. However, when we narrow it down to factual cases, there is a degree of claptrap in his comments—particularly those concerning the social chapter.

Firstly, many constituencies, particularly my constituency of Mid-Norfolk, include dozens of very small businesses: those employing fewer than five people. The imposition of bureaucracy across the board from national Governments—I admit that that occurs—and from European legislation will mean ultimately that many companies will have to employ fewer people or go bankrupt. There is much generalisation about this issue, but we are talking about an imposition on dozens of small firms who must fight to retain employment. I am sorry that, when we get down to specifics rather than broad generalisations, the hon. Gentleman is in error.


Photo of Mr Roger Casale Mr Roger Casale Labour, Wimbledon

I share the hon. Gentleman's desire to see debate being conducted politely, and I assure him that "claptrap" is not a term that I would use. Numerous studies have highlighted the benefits of social dialogue. They have identified it as a means of providing the important rights which I have described—including security for working people—and as a route to higher productivity through good relations in the workplace.

I welcome the emphasis on jobs and employment in the Amsterdam treaty. The Government are committed to creating employment for young people—and there is a high level of commitment to that goal in my constituency also. It seems right and proper to establish mechanisms and a framework that enable us to work with our European partners to increase employment in Europe.

The Amsterdam treaty reaffirms that the European Union must create jobs for the peoples of Europe. It also reaffirms the priority of employment creation which was set at the Essen summit in 1994. It anchors that commitment to employment in a new employment chapter and to a rolling debate in the Council of Europe. The jobs summit to be held this month will take that process further forward.

It is in the interests of the British people to build a people's Europe and, to that extent, I welcome the Amsterdam treaty's emphasis on openness and transparency. I welcome also the increased accountability of European bureaucrats and of decisions taken by qualified majority voting in the Council which is reflected in the increased powers given to the European Parliament in the area of co-decision making. I refer again to the comments of Commissioner Brittan, who, in his article this morning, said that this extension of co-decision making was the right way to go.

I welcome the renewed emphasis on European citizenship and remind the House that, as a result of the single market and the freedom of movement that it allows, a very large number of European nationals live in Britain today. I welcome the fact that they will be able to participate fully as citizens in the local elections and in the London referendum next May. When talking about European citizenship, it is important to emphasise that, although the treaty states that European citizenship is important and that it should complement national citizenship, perhaps more can be done to enforce the rights of European citizens, in particular with regard to voting in local and European elections. Perhaps it would be wise for the Government to see whether there is some possibility of a national campaign to make those rights more widely known to the large community of European nationals in this country, so that those rights can be exercised to the full.

Sir Leon Brittan recognises that Europe needs to be outward-looking. It needs to be a major player on the world stage—an objective which we must all keep in mind at the present time. That objective was taken forward by the Amsterdam treaty, while setting a benchmark for standards and values that must be shared by the countries of eastern and central Europe that are seeking to join the European Union at a later date. The treaty emphasises once again the important continuing role that the European Union plays in ensuring stability and international peace.

In many ways—culturally, historically and geographically—despite the comments of the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton, we are part of Europe.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

I represent a Devon seat. It is not uncommon for those of us who live close to the English channel to refer to the other side as "over there".

Photo of Mr Roger Casale Mr Roger Casale Labour, Wimbledon

It is also not uncommon for many people to complain about the people living over there, and then in the summertime to jump on a ferry at Plymouth and go off to France or other places in Europe to enjoy their holidays.

We must recognise that we are part of Europe, that we must work with Europe constructively, and the Amsterdam treaty—I congratulate and applaud the Government on the way in which they negotiated it—is a vital part of that process.

It is time that we sent a positive signal from this place to our European partners—one that says that we want to work together to construct a strong and stable Europe. a Europe fit for the peoples of Europe with their proud and diverse traditions, a Europe based on shared values, decent standards in the workplace, a Europe actively working to create jobs.

We have to negotiate hard in Europe, and the Government have shown that they will not fail in that respect. However, to negotiate, we have to speak the same language as those with whom we are negotiating. As a Londoner and a Brit, I say to our Italian colleagues, "Facciamo l'Europa insieme"—let us construct Europe together. To our German counterparts, I say, "Wir machen mit"—we want to work with you. I applaud the substantial achievements of the new Government in securing British interests in the Amsterdam treaty. I commend the treaty to the House.

Photo of Mr Ieuan Wyn Jones Mr Ieuan Wyn Jones Plaid Cymru, Ynys Môn 7:23, 12 November 1997

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate. Like other hon. Members, I have detected a difference in the tone of the speeches being made today. Those of us who still bear the scars of the passage of the Maastricht treaty realise that, although we have heard some pretty sceptical comments from hon. Opposition Members, they cannot summon up the same passion against the Amsterdam treaty. That perhaps explains why many hon. Members have argued tonight that the Amsterdam treaty is a fairly modest step on the European road.

Two former Ministers have argued passionately against the Amsterdam treaty, saying that it is another incremental approach on the road to greater European Union, but they sat in a Government who passed the Maastricht treaty. We can value their speeches, but bearing in mind that Maastricht took us further down the road to European integration than Amsterdam ever could, how could they have sat in that Government with a quiet conscience?

I shall go further: those of us who have followed our European debates will have recognised that Maastricht was a significant milestone on the road to greater European Union. I fully supported that approach. We had many vigorous debates in the House about it.

It is good to remind ourselves that Maastricht happened at a particular time in European history: at the end of the cold war and when the Berlin wall came down. We recognised that the European Union, as it became, needed to consider some of the political implications of greater European co-operation—an issue that Europe had largely forgotten since the catastrophic failure to come together in the 1950s. A draft of a common European defence policy came before the treaty of Rome. We all understand why it was such a catastrophic failure.

After the cold war, after the opening of new relationships in Europe, it was right that the European Community considered what that new partnership should be. Maastricht was a first attempt to look at some of the political implications, with the creation of the two pillars—foreign affairs and defence, and home affairs and justice.

Some of us argued, even during the Maastricht debates, that the creation of those pillars would set up bodies that would be difficult to organise. The common foreign and defence policy had no permanent secretariat, so when Ministers from each member state met to discuss foreign policy, the meetings would often have no coherence and no focus, and a subsequent meeting would often go over the same ground as the previous one.

One of the issues that brought home to me the failure of the intergovernmental approach was our experience during the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. We can argue why Europe failed to deal properly with that conflict, but because of a lack of a common approach on foreign policy, individual member states recognised parts of the former Yugoslavia unilaterally. Germany recognised some states. The United Kingdom and France disagreed with that and later considered other forms of recognition.

While Europe was standing idly by, watching the conflict develop, the awful phrase ethnic cleansing entered the dictionary and our consciousness. The failure of the European Union to deal with that conflict properly is a stain on our collective conscience. Europe failed the people of the former Yugoslavia because we had no collective, coherent approach.

Although I disagree with many of the points that have been made tonight by hon. Members who will oppose the treaty—I do not believe that we should be looking for a common defence policy in the traditional sense—there are areas in which we can co-operate. It was a mistake not to take at Amsterdam that little step further in terms of the Petersburg tasks in the European Union. I believe that it would have been perfectly possible, within the treaty, to accept the European tasks as the only basis on which we should have European co-operation under the collective NATO umbrella. In my view, the experience of the former Yugoslavia is a lesson that we failed to learn in Amsterdam.

Photo of Keith Simpson Keith Simpson Conservative, Mid Norfolk

Can the hon. Gentleman explain how, if there had been some form of common foreign policy, we would, in practical terms, have squared the very different but heartfelt approaches of the German Government and our Government?

Photo of Mr Ieuan Wyn Jones Mr Ieuan Wyn Jones Plaid Cymru, Ynys Môn

The real problem was that there was no concerted European action at the outset. The message driven home to the conflicting parties in the former Yugoslavia was that Europe could take no concerted action. The problem then was that conflict spilled from region to region in the former Yugoslavia because those involved knew that there would be no concerted European action against them.

I believe that it was a mistake for the Germans to recognise one part of the former Yugoslavia so quickly. That, too, gave them the feeling that there would be no European intervention. 1 believe that it is necessary for us, on occasion, to come together to deal with conflict on our own borders. I also believe that it is very important for us to recognise that the people of Europe are now demanding greater democracy, greater openness and greater accountability in the institutions of the European Union.

We must recognise that elements of the Maastricht treaty went ahead of public opinion in Europe. We needed to take stock in Amsterdam; the problem with the Amsterdam treaty is that it failed to tackle the fundamental issue—the fact that, while we have democratic institutions in the European Union, there is a failure to give it democratic accountability and legitimacy.

The difficulty is that, although Members of Parliament and people elsewhere argue that power is being transferred to unelected bureaucrats and unaccountable bankers in Europe, people using what amount to the same argument say that we should not give more powers to the European Parliament. They cannot have it both ways. If we believe in democracy and accountability, the European Parliament is the vehicle to deliver that—in part.

We should welcome the fact that the European Parliament is given more powers of co-decision. We are streamlining the legislative process there and making it easier for decisions to be reached between the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. I consider that a worthwhile measure in the Amsterdam treaty.

I also believe that the argument about qualified majority voting is being used politically by the opponents of further European integration. I understand the frustration of Ministers who must go to the European Union to argue the case—points are being argued in a different way in the House—but, in international negotiations, it is always a question of a trade-off. It is a question of reaching alliances with other people. It is not always a case of sticking to a veto, of standing isolated and thinking that that will confer benefits; we must always consider ways of reaching an accommodation with those with whom we are negotiating. I live on the island of Anglesey, which is very close to the Republic of Ireland. I know the way in which the people of the Republic have negotiated their way into the European Union—to their immense benefit. When I look today at the gross domestic product per head of people in Southern Ireland and that of people in west Wales, I know who has had the best deal out of the European Union and the negotiations during the past 20 years or so. It certainly is not the people of west Wales: it is the people of Ireland, who have negotiated considerable benefits for themselves.

My final point is very important. At any rate, it is important for me—representing Plaid Cymru in the debate—to mention subsidiarity. I listened carefully to what Conservative Members said about the need for subsidiarity to be meaningful. I could sympathise more with that line of argument if they accepted subsidiarity in its true European sense, which is that there are different levels of decision-making for different purposes. There is, of course, the European Union level; there is the level of the member state; and there is the level of the regions and nations of Europe.

I recognise that this Government have broken with that traditional Conservative view of subsidiarity and recognised that subsidiarity must drive decisions below the level of the member state. I very much welcome the fact that the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament will be a living embodiment of subsidiarity in the new Europe. I also recognise the importance of the regional dimension in the European Union. That is why I am pleased that the Committee of the Regions is to be given more responsibility under the treaty—although, obviously, I would have preferred it to have more powers.

Amsterdam represented a very small step along the European road. Some benefits will accrue. I do not think that the treaty went far enough, especially in opening up and reforming the institutions; but I will vote in favour of it tonight because I think that it should be recognised that, without this movement along the road, enlargement cannot happen. Certainly the treaty does not pave the way for enlargement to be completed, but I think that it opens an important door.

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor Conservative, Rochford and Southend East 7:36, 12 November 1997

As with all the past debates on treaties such as this, it is interesting to note—or would be, if we were allowed to look—that the Public Gallery is largely empty and the Press Gallery totally empty.

Let me say—particularly to the new Labour Member who has just spoken, the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Casale)—that I hope that it will be borne in mind that all these treaties have gone through with the same assurances and the same optimism on the part of those on the Front Bench. The one thing that encourages Conservative Members is seeing the large range of new, talented, able and patriotic Conservative Members who have just arrived in the House, and who, I think, will for the first time win a new and stimulating battle for democracy and patriotism.

Let me say this to those who have doubts about the optimism expressed by the Government. I wish that they would look through the assurances that were given about all the earlier treaties. I well remember the treaty of Rome, many years ago: sadly, I had to resign from Mr. Heath's Government, weakening it amazingly by so doing. We were told at that time that all that the treaty achieved was free trade and friendship. There was no question of taking away our liberty, no question of taking away our freedom, no question of its costing us—and, at least if we sat around the table like sensible and adult people, we would be able to change some of the small problems that Europe had, such as the common agricultural policy. We were told to be positive and optimistic, as the Foreign Secretary is always telling us to be; but, in fact, the arrangement turned out to be something wholly different.

Then we had the Single European Act. Again, we were told that the Act was not like the treaty of Rome at all. It was accepted at that time that the treaty of Rome had been a big thing, but a former Prime Minister, who I think is now in the House of Lords—a delightful lady—assured me in her own office that I should not worry about the majority voting powers, which she said could be used only for free trade. I remember her pointing at me—as she often did—and saying, "Now, Teddy, you are in favour of free trade." I said, "Yes." She said, "I am in favour of free trade, and the only thing that the majority voting powers do is facilitate free trade in Europe." That did not entirely prove to be the case, because the Single European Act constituted a massive transfer of power.

Then we had the Maastricht treaty. I am afraid that some of our older colleagues, who are not here tonight, voted for it—through a misunderstanding, no doubt. The plain fact is that we now know that the Maastricht treaty was a substantial treaty, although we were told that it was not. At that time, a Cabinet Minister kindly explained it to me in the Tea Room. He said, "Teddy, there are good things and bad things in the Maastricht treaty," and added that the good things applied to us whereas, because of the determination and courage of the then Prime Minister, we were exempt from the bad things. Sadly, it did not work out that way.

I caution the Minister, who is obviously optimistic and patriotic at the same time. I ask him please to remember that the same things have been said about all the treaties. We are always told that there is nothing much in them: "There are some nice things, so for goodness' sake let's be positive and constructive."

The Minister is obviously a person of ability and will be around for a long time. He should realise that every Prime Minister has started in the same way. They say, "Unlike my predecessor, I will be positive. I will sit round the table and co-operate with our European friends and will get the bad things changed." After they find out that that does not work, they become Euro-sceptic. I do not want to bash the Government, but I am scared that we are going through the same process again. Every time we have a new Prime Minister, we give another load of power and responsibility to Europe, and we all suffer as a consequence.

We were told that the treaty of Rome was vital for the improvement of Britain's trade. With the help of the staff in the Library, who are more truthful than party politicians tend to be, I obtained detailed figures on what has happened since we began signing these treaties. Has our trade with Europe greatly improved? The official figures may horrify some new Members, although most of them will be aware of them already. The deficit in our trade with Europe since we joined that organisation has been more than £100 billion. Before we joined the EEC, we often had a positive balance of trade, but since we have joined we have had the horrendous loss of more than £100 billion.

We were told that the contributions were being sorted out; that we were to get big repayments; that things would be better. I asked the Library for the official figures. They may shock people with a number of children. We have had to pay into Europe £1,500 each. I happen to be a normal person with a delightful wife and three children, so for us the figure is £7,500. We have handed that money to Europe, and some of it has come back largely to be used for silly things such as the destruction of food. More money is wasted, while we pour a great deal of cash into Europe.

We also have the common agricultural policy. Although I would never question anyone's integrity, I sometimes worry when Ministers—inadvertently, I am sure—give figures for what the CAP is costing expressed in ecu when the pound is weak and in pounds when the pound is strong.

Photo of Denis MacShane Denis MacShane Labour, Rotherham

It will be the euro soon.

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor Conservative, Rochford and Southend East

The hon. Gentleman should not laugh. I am sure that many poor people in his constituency need help from the Government, whether Tory or Labour. What do they think about the fact that, because of the mad Euro-policies that have been adopted this year, £1,200 million has been spent on growing high-class tobacco in Greece, which has then been dumped on the third world or destroyed. That is an awful lot of money. With £1,200 million I could do an awful lot for the hon. Gentleman's constituents and others. The arrogant way in which he deals with these matters, smiling and laughing at stories of spending, is shameful democracy. I would say the same to any Conservative Member. It is not funny. We should all be ashamed of the fact that hundreds of millions of pounds are wasted on the destruction of food simply to maintain high prices.

We should be careful about spreading more power under the treaties. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary would accept that the Amsterdam treaty contains less than the Commission sought. The difficulty that Governments face every time is that many proposals are made and we battle hard to get some of them removed, so there are fewer than we started with. In view of the amount of unemployment, misery, waste, extravagance and fraud in Europe, at some stage a United Kingdom Government should say, "Not one more treaty. Not one more addition of power to this ridiculous enterprise". We must simply say no. If the consequence is that other member countries say that they do not want Britain any more, we shall have to put up with it.

The Government have decided to adopt the social chapter. That has been referred to as giving people additional rights. I appeal to hon. Members to think about what will happen if it goes wrong. What will happen if we pass laws that turn out to destroy and not safeguard jobs? What the blazes could we do about it? The answer is nothing. We have seen the death of democracy, because laws have been passed about which we can do nothing. The basic flaw is that, if we hand over powers and they are used in Europe, we cannot undo them.

There is also the employment charter. Given the misery and massive unemployment in almost all the other countries of the European Union, why on earth should we add to our problems by inflicting on this country the policies that they have inflicted on themselves?

Many decisions taken by majority voting will be damaging. The Foreign Secretary referred to just one: it is tiny. Article 13, formerly article 6a, on page 138 of the treaty, worries the Christian Church, employers and many other people. The Foreign Secretary said that it would allow the Council to introduce new policies to combat discrimination based on racial and ethnic origin and disability, and that that was important. He did not complete the article because of the shortage of time. It refers to discrimination based on sex, racial origin, religion, disability, age or sexual orientation. What the blazes does "sexual orientation" mean? I do not know, and the Foreign Secretary obviously does not know. The only people who know are the people in the European Court of Justice. Could the European Court of Justice make decisions on this matter?

Christian Action, Research and Education wrote to the Government to express its concern. It appreciated that these powers are new, but it wanted to know what would happen in the meantime, and whether the article could be used for actions in the European Court of Justice. It received a lovely letter from the Foreign Office dated 7 July 1997, saying that, although the writer would not expect litigation to arise", one could never rule it out.

We have previously been told that nothing would happen and that no cases would emerge, but we have had some appalling decisions. The Grogan judgment in 1991 had a devastating effect on the Republic of Ireland, and the decision on Cornwall in 1994 concerned someone who had changed sex. If the European Court of Justice wants, as I believe it does, to change the decisions we make in the employment of people in our Church schools, in churches and elsewhere, our law will be thrown out of the window and there will be nothing that we can do about it.

The Government should have tried to do something about the European Court of Justice. Everyone can understand the need for a court to interpret the law, but that is totally different from a court that seems to be concerned only with extending the powers of the European Union and its institutions. It is a political court, although not biased towards one party or another. Its sole objective seems to be to extend the powers of the European Union.

We should have done something about the agricultural policy, which is the biggest protection racket ever invented by man. It creates the most appalling surpluses and the most dreadful expenditure. The agricultural community, which forms a large part of my new constituency, is rather embarrassed about it, because it appreciates that, if we put all the money on a British-made aeroplane and dropped £10 notes at random, people would be much better off. Why could not the Government do something about it, given that new powers are being created?

The previous Government and the new Government have told us repeatedly that reforms are coming, and that there will be cuts in spending. I remember the last cuts and reductions that were coming. We had to give compensation in lieu, and area payments were introduced. Those payments were enormous and, in two cases, the prices never fell, but increased. It has become the largest protection racket ever invented. Someone must have the courage to face up to it. We know that there is no agreement in Europe to do that, because all our democratic institutions are terrified of the agricultural community. Most hon. Members would rather sweep European business aside, not talk about it and not attend debates, but we have got to do something. We do something when Europe wants either more powers or more cash.

My biggest worry is that, because of the ever-increasing power that we are giving to Europe and because of the Government's new determination on the single currency, people are not thinking through where we are going. There is not the slightest doubt that, in view of this further significant transfer of sovereignty, and if we enter a single market, it will be the effective death of democracy, in this country and in others. What should worry us most is that, around the world, not one artificial federation without democracy has survived. They always break up, usually with violence. In addition, no independent country that I am aware of exists without its own currency or the control of its economy.

We often try to reassure ourselves with slogans. The slogan of the previous Government was that they were opposed to a federal Europe. It was the silliest slogan that I had ever heard, because a federal Europe would have been infinitely stronger, better and more democratic than what we have now. At least there would be some guarantee for member states' powers. We are rapidly going towards a single European state without democracy, which, on the basis of every previous experiment with the harmonisation of currencies, will create unemployment and misery.

Let us consider the gold standard, the poor countries in south-east Asia that have benefited in some way by linking their currencies to the dollar and now find themselves in a terrible mess, and our experience with the exchange rate mechanism, when all the clever people—such as the bankers, the lawyers and the stupid Confederation of British Industry—said that there would be growth and stability. The plain fact is that they were totally wrong.

1 hope, therefore, that the Government will think carefully. To achieve a small move in the right direction, the best action that we can take is to reject this treaty and then, when our friends in Europe say, "What shall we do now?", give them some good suggestions. I hope that the House will remember that every previous treaty has turned out to be much worse than we thought. I hope also that, at some stage, we will have the courage, first, to attend these debates, secondly, to think about Europe and, thirdly, to say no, as we should have done a long time ago.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 7:51, 12 November 1997

I am a little disappointed—not by the quality of the speeches, of course, but by the lack of passion, in the debate. I had been led to believe that European issues in the House tended to generate more interest and excitement than has been displayed by hon. Members on both sides of the House so far. I wonder whether Labour Members are taking part in a subtle process of de-escalation on the subject of the Amsterdam treaty.

In the advance billing, and after the Prime Minister's triumphant return from Amsterdam, we were led to believe that this was a triumph for British diplomacy—we had a deal with which the Government were exceptionally pleased, which had fulfilled their wildest dreams, and of which the country should be proud. The contributions from Labour Members so far have given the overwhelming sense that nothing could be further from the truth. They are almost falling over themselves to explain how modest the proposals are—it is the apotheosis of modesty in some ways. I wonder why that should be.

Equally, I hear the comments from the shadow Foreign Secretary and his colleagues. Again, in earlier exchanges on the Amsterdam treaty, we were led to believe that it was of earth-shattering importance, that it would have a disastrous effect on Britain and would lead to the end of the British state as we know it, and that crazed Belgians would be running in our streets, unfettered by British law and order; yet this evening we have not heard those blood-chilling tales from Conservative Members. We have heard nothing about the referendum, which was promised as a necessary part of the process. The shadow Foreign Secretary is normally good at chilling the blood. Why has he not performed in that way this evening?

We have had the spectacle of Conservative Members saying what was good about the Amsterdam treaty and how much they agreed with so many of its provisions, working themselves up to what could be their only conclusion—that they support the Bill—but, when they got to their last sentence, remembering that it included the social chapter and saying that they would vote against it. It has not been an entirely convincing performance.

The reality is that this is an ordinary treaty, with modest consequences. It moves us slightly in a direction in which many hon. Members would wish us to move. It was a largely workmanlike performance by the Government in Amsterdam, until perhaps about 3 o'clock in the morning, when it seems to have fallen apart a little. Perhaps the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, will shed yet more light on how that happened. Perhaps even an apology to the House may be forthcoming, I do not know. On the whole, however, this is a modest Bill, with modest intentions, modestly achieved—a Bill that we can modestly support.

The tragedy is what is not there. As a result of the negotiations, the new agenda for Europe that some of us would argue now needs to be put in place has not been pursued. That agenda would take us towards a genuine democratisation of Europe, genuine transparency and genuine accountability for Europe. The agenda would enable those countries seeking accession to have some chance of success, because they cannot accede without major reforms to the CAP and to structural policies.

The fact that that process has not even begun means that further intergovernmental conferences and treaties are ahead. That process cannot start soon enough. The common fisheries policy has been mentioned. I think that it is fairly well known that Liberal Democrats believe that it must be not just reformed, but replaced with a more acceptable alternative.

There is an agenda that talks about a recognition of cultural diversity throughout Europe, about genuine subsidiarity and about the elimination of duplication and waste, and that gets rid of some of the nonsense within the EU and its institutions. None of that agenda has been addressed by the Amsterdam process.

If I say those things, I run the risk of what happened to me last week, when we were debating the test ban treaty. After I had said how much I agreed with the Government and with the Bill, and after I had congratulated him on bringing the matter before the House so promptly, the Minister of State said that I had been churlish. I did not feel that I had been churlish. I do not know how much one has to congratulate the Government before one is not accused of being churlish.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Conservative, New Forest West

The hon. Gentleman has to join them.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Perhaps that is so, but even that may not be enough.

Let us therefore talk about some of the positive aspects of the Bill and the treaty that have not yet been addressed. There is a commitment to environmental objectives, which no one has yet mentioned. To have got that into the European framework is welcome, and I congratulate the negotiators. There is the commitment to remove discrimination against people with disabilities. I understand that that was largely a British initiative. That being the case, I congratulate Ministers on having achieved that welcome recognition. It raises the question: what happens next, and how that measure will improve the lives of people with disabilities. How will it be incorporated into British policy, and how do we see the next step forward? It must be accepted, however, that welcome steps have been taken.

Some specific items need to be considered as we move towards consideration of the Bill in Committee, and thereafter during its later stages. The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) talked about co-operation on security and policing. I speak with some interest in the subject, because I used to be a member of the standing committee of the national criminal intelligence service. It was an area that needed some co-operation if there were to be an effective fight against international crime, including stopping drug peddling across international frontiers and dealing with international fraud. There had to be a level of co-operation, and Europol provides us with an appropriate apparatus.

The measures in the treaty that will establish a better method of co-operation are welcome, but there is suspicion that the improvement in police co-operation will not be equalled by a new series of safeguards against abuse. I questioned the Foreign Secretary carefully on this issue, and it is still not clear to me that, when Europol officers are acting in support of national police forces, and within the territory of the United Kingdom in a supporting role, they are subject to any of the legal constraints that one would expect to be in place.

It is not clear to me also where the judicial control of the actions of Europol officers will be tested when it comes to liberty and proportionality. Why is that not a matter for the European Court of Justice? I did not hear a satisfactory reply to that question. Why is Britain not yet a signatory to the protocol on Europol?

It has been suggested outside the United Kingdom—I have heard it repeated—that Europol officers may have some immunity. I was told in answer to my questions that such immunity would be resisted by the Government. I hope that that is so. It would be improper for police officers engaged to Europol to have any immunity when dealing with matters of justice on United Kingdom territory. It is an area of concern, because there is a lack of clarity.

It may be said that police officers engaged to Europol cannot act in operational roles. Much depends, of course, on the definition of "operational". Such officers will be active in providing information, and in co-ordinating roles. They will be active in ways that could put British subjects at risk following the adverse consequences of their actions.

The new protocol on subsidiarity is a welcome addition to the acquis but—it is a big "but"—it remains to be seen how effective the protocol will be when implemented. It remains to be seen also whether there is any significance to be attached to the protocol when we move beyond the interface between the European Union as an entity and national Governments.

I believe that the Government espouse the principle—it is something that I should like to hear—that protocols should extend beyond the nation state, to regional and local levels, so that we have proper subsidiarity, thereby ensuring that matters are always dealt with at the lowest appropriate level unless there are overwhelming reasons for them to be taken at a higher level. That is the genuine meaning of subsidiarity, and one that is not often applied within the European Union or within Britain. It is a principle to which my colleagues and I subscribe, and one that we would wish to see made much more effective.

Oblique reference has been made to strengthening the powers of the Court of Auditors. It would surely be a welcome process. I imagine that the entire House feels that fraud within the Community should be reduced. It would be extraordinary if anyone in this place took a different view. The mechanisms must be provided, however, if that is to happen. I am worried because there is still a disconnection between actions taken by the Court of Auditors and national audit officers within member states. There is a connection that should be much more explicit, so that there is an audit trail that takes us from the origination of the sums involved to the proper destination.

At present, there is no such trail. Instead, there is a reliance on rather uneven audit arrangements between member states. I know that the issue is not easily negotiable within a summit, and will not find its way easily into a treaty. The Minister will probably say, "Look at what we have, which is much better than what we had before." That is true, but that does not stop us aspiring to a better and more complete system.

I agree with those who say that the Maastricht treaty was effectively the end of a process, and that the Amsterdam treaty is possibly the start of a new one. That remains to be seen. The days of the top-down elitist view of a Europe that decides what will happen and presents it as a fait accompli before the people of Europe is at an end.

People throughout the countries of Europe are becoming more questioning, and holding their Governments to account to a greater extent. When the people do not like what they hear, they are throwing out the proposals, and that is only right. We must reflect that attitude in the House and argue in support of it within the institutions of Europe. We must argue for greater accountability, more transparency and more democracy. That will lead to the informed consent of the peoples of Europe, and it must be achieved before we see further moves in whatever direction. That which the European project has lacked so far is honesty about where we are, where we are going and where we expect to end up.

I hope that the Amsterdam treaty will represent a tiny step in the right direction. If that is what it proves to be, there is not the slightest reason why any Member of this place should not vote for the Bill, in the hope of a better system of government throughout the European Union in future years.

Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Labour, Great Grimsby 8:08, 12 November 1997

I apologise for arriving in the Chamber somewhat late. I apologise also for not taking up the remarks of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath). I think that the hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm must be much diminished by the qualifications that he imposed on his endorsement of the treaty. He told us that it would have modest consequences and that it is largely workmanlike—I do not know which parts cannot be placed in that category. He told us also that we can modestly support it. The hon. Gentleman could have added that it is a modestly attended debate.

The Liberal Democrat party would accept whatever comes from Europe with gibbering gratitude, because that is its position. Europe for the Liberal Democrats is a religion rather than a matter of national interest or economic well-being. I am reminded of Lord Randolph Churchill's attack on Mr. Gladstone. There was a huge crowd of Liberal supporters watching the great statesman chop down trees on his estate at Hawarden. Those present watched him fell the trees in a frenzy of exertion. They were all given a chip of wood by the great man himself before they were led away. Lord Randolph said, "Here they come with major problems, but what about the Balkans? Chips. What about the economic situation? Chips. What about all the other problems? Chips." The Liberal party now has chips for Amsterdam. Presumably the Liberal party is grateful for the treaty, as the 19th-century Liberals were grateful for what they received.

The treaty is a curious document—all dressed up in a formal document, integrated with the previous treaties, but with nothing to say. It is an amazing document, putting me in two minds on what to say about it. It does things that I do not like, such as advancing federalism just a little bit along the road and fiddling various points. Some of those fiddles and fudges—especially those made late at night—deal with matters that should have been debated. Conversely, the treaty does not have much in it, and what it does contain is petty stuff.

The main indictment of the treaty is that it turns a quick blind eye to every problem. We have major problems with the common agricultural policy, and with what will happen with enlargement. We have major problems also with monetary union and with how to make any monetary union sensible. We shall have to consider in the convergence process some rational factors such as employment and growth. The treaty turns a blind eye to such matters.

So what does one do in considering the treaty? Does one consider the slight federal advance that the treaty provides, or the problems that it leaves unsolved? One must merely say that it is a pathetic treaty, which shows that the federal tide—which has concerned many hon. Members, and certainly me—is turning. That tide reached its height at Amsterdam, but the federalists cannot push it much further because they cannot reach agreement on any of the points that Amsterdam was supposed to deal with. The treaty treads water, being neither a new impetus to federalism nor, as we were told, the 3,000-mile or 5,000-mile service for the Maastricht treaty.

The treaty and its pathetic achievement makes it clear that there are increasing difficulties in reaching agreement and that forward movement has stalled. Currently the only dynamic is an old man in a hurry, which is a description not of Gladstone—the serried ranks of the Liberal Democrat party will be glad to hear—but of Chancellor Kohl.

Essentially, we are now waiting not for Godot but for the euro—which is the only game in town and the only way in which to progress a federal union. With the euro, federalists are trying to build a federal union from the top down. As they cannot get the consent of electorates in referendums or the consent of Governments—because Governments never agree; if they did, and one built something by Government agreement, one would build a camel—to build a federal union, they will build it by the back door. We shall agree on monetary union, and institutions to manage monetary union will follow. Institutions of a nation will follow.

The process of building a federal union is the opposite of what every other nation has done. The process will be disastrous, because it will use the currency and exchange rates as weapons of nation building. The process takes economic instruments and uses them as political instruments to build Europe, thus distorting the instruments' real purpose and function. That is, however, all that the federalists can do, because it is the only way forward. We are waiting to see whether they can move down that road, but I do not think that they can. The results will be messy, and possibly disastrous. Meanwhile, as we wait for the euro, everything else must tread water.

The Amsterdam treaty does not do very much. It does, however, shift various functions from the intergovernmental pillar to the central pillar of the Maastricht treaty. Justice and home affairs policy, for example, will move to the main pillar, and the Maastricht treaty's defence and security content will be extended by tying in the European Union and the Western European Union. In July—for some reason that I cannot understand—the WEU accepted that subordination.

In those senses, the Amsterdam treaty deepens the Union just a little bit—effectively establishing a European Foreign Office and diluting the importance of the Western European Union. As the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome said, it also strengthens Europol—which is a type of Euro-FBI. An Elliot Ness character will probably arrive, tracking down fraud in the common agricultural policy. He will be serialised in some European drama, subsidised by the Commission and put on our screens. He could probably be called Elliot Mess if he was dealing with the CAP. The logical outcome must be "Europol versus the cows", offering all sorts of exciting prospects. The treaty does not do much. One aspect that I do not like at all is that it allows states to merge specified functions—allowing a type of variable geometry. Moreover, any state that joins late must accept the agreements that have been concocted before it enters the new arrangement. I am very suspicious of that facet of the treaty, and I do not know what will come of it. I do not like it—primarily because it will extend the role of qualified majority voting, which we should not have accepted. It is important not to accept qualified majority voting.

The treaty therefore advances the processes of union without consent, which is the dilemma facing Europe. There is a drive among Europe's elite to build an ever closer union, and a total reluctance among electorates to go down that road. A great gulf is opening in Europe, which is apparent in all the polls. The elites decide something, but the electorates, when they are asked to vote on it, say no, thereby laying the elites a stymie.

Amsterdam is a part of the process of bamboozlement and deceit by European elites, and it is a bit of a shame that it was swung on us. Our new Government, of whom I am very proud—I am speaking in a supportive role today, because I do not want them to get into a constant, nagging battle with Europe, as the previous Government did—went to Amsterdam, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and bicycling, to offer Europe something quite important: our adhesion to the social chapter, mish-mash as it is. We offered something. In return, we got an attempt to fiddle past us the developments that I mentioned.

It would have been sensible and decent of European leaders to welcome our arrival, adhesion and new mood. They should have said, "We shall stop the process of bamboozlement," and not tried to foist upon us the treaty's very minor developments.

Those are, however, minor worries. Today's attempt at debate by the House shows how unimportant the treaty is and the triviality of most of its proposals. It is supposed to be a foundation for future advance—according to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome—but it is not a foundation on which anything can be built. It is merely a series of complicated little knots to try to tie up ends left loose at Maastricht. It is a complex mess that is being foisted on electorates because they do not understand it or what is going on. The detail is too trivial for people to pay attention to.

There is not enough in the treaty to frighten me—devout Euro-sceptic and, I hope, defender of the national interest that I am. The treaty does not make me particularly anxious or nervous. It is not worth voting against. The question that I have to resolve in the one hour and 40 minutes that remains is whether there is anything in it worth voting for.

Photo of Mr Tim Collins Mr Tim Collins Conservative, Westmorland and Lonsdale 8:19, 12 November 1997

We have had an excellent debate. I commend the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) on an excellent speech. I endorse much of his analysis.

I have been surprised that we Opposition Members have been lectured by Labour Members and Liberal Democrats about the fact that we do not take Europe in general and the treaty in particular sufficiently seriously when, out of 419 Government Members who could have turned up, there have rarely been as many as a dozen here; when, out of 46 Liberal Democrats, there has usually been only one here; and when, for the bulk of the debate, there have been more Conservatives present than there are members of either of the other two parties. That shows that we take these matters a little more seriously than they do.

About an hour ago, it was interesting that there was no one on the Government Benches who wished to take part in the debate. One could see urgent consultation going on. The Whips were sent forth to scour the Lobby and empty the Library. Who did they find? They found the hon. Member for Great Grimsby. I know that it has been a bad day for Government Front Benchers; finding him was perhaps not exactly according to plan.

As other Opposition Members have already said, there are some elements of the treaty—relatively minor, but none the less important—which I welcome. I of course welcome any toughening of provisions against fraud and a legal guarantee concerning our borders—although I regret that the Government have not paid tribute to the fact that political agreement on that was secured as long ago as March. I also regret that our legal position is only as a result of an opt-out of a much greater strengthening of the Schengen agreement, and indeed its incorporation in the treaty of Rome.

I welcome the provisions relating to animal welfare. As someone who represents a heavily rural and agricultural constituency, I very much share the hope of many of my constituents that that provision will not be enforced in a way that results in British farmers being expected to meet and enforce higher standards than elsewhere.

One of the central arguments in this debate has been the one advanced by the hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) and the Foreign Secretary: if one were pro-European, even pro-membership of the European Union, and certainly if one had ever supported any European treaty in the past, one had to support the Amsterdam treaty. It was said that one could not treat the Amsterdam treaty separately from the way in which one had regarded any other treaty. Much was made of the fact that, if the Conservative party voted against the Bill and the treaty, it would demonstrate that it had finally broken any connection whatever with the EU, had become an anti-European party and was on the road towards withdrawal.

I found all that a little difficult to reconcile with the Labour party's attitude toward ratification of the Maastricht treaty when in opposition. Under its previous leader, who was a convinced and committed pro-European, Labour Members fought tooth and nail to resist ratification of the Maastricht treaty.

I pay tribute to the Liberal Democrats because they, unlike the Labour party, supported the Conservative party's paving motion five years ago almost to the day. Even the Liberal Democrats at various stages during the passage of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill on the Maastricht treaty made it clear that they were in opposition and were trying to maximise difficulty for the Government of the day.

What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If it is all right for the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats to attack, undermine and seek to impede ratification of an EU treaty and not thereby expect to be accused of being anti-European, the same applies to us. As Labour Members and Liberal Democrats said five years ago, it was their duty to oppose. It is now our duty to oppose. We do not need to be lectured on being anti-European by parties that played the same game when the boot was on the other foot.

Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Labour, Great Grimsby

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's interpretation of what happened during debate on the Maastricht treaty was quite correct. It was my experience that the opposition was left to some 30 Conservative Members, who were then on the Government Benches, and about 60 Labour Members on the Opposition Benches. There was collusion between those on the two Front Benches to smuggle a treaty through that neither of them particularly wanted but wanted to pass.

Photo of Mr Tim Collins Mr Tim Collins Conservative, Westmorland and Lonsdale

The hon. Gentleman was a Member of the previous Parliament and I was not, but he will know that, in the vote on the paving motion—I repeat that that paving motion, which was necessary to ensure that the process of ratification of the Maastricht treaty could continue, took place five years ago almost to the day—the entire Labour party, including its most Europhile members and those who have lectured us today continually about how, if we oppose the Amsterdam treaty, we must be against membership of the EU, voted against the motion. They knew that, if they had prevailed in that vote, ratification of the Maastricht treaty could not have proceeded.

Photo of Mr Tim Collins Mr Tim Collins Conservative, Westmorland and Lonsdale

The hon. Gentleman is nodding, so perhaps he will accept that point.

I turn to what is not in the Amsterdam treaty. It was notable that the Foreign Secretary made no reference whatever to fish. The subject was mentioned by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and others. What the Foreign Secretary did instead was shake his head vigorously when my right hon. and learned Friend described the exchange of correspondence between the Prime Minister and the President of the Commission as "worthless" and pointed out that that correspondence had no legal status and was therefore not as good as modifying the treaty.

In my capacity as a member of the Select Committee on Agriculture, I asked a question and was told this morning by the most senior official dealing with fisheries in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that that exchange of letters had no legal status whatever. Frankly, the clear statement that we were given in advance of the general election that the Labour party would fight at least as hard as the previous Conservative Government on behalf of British fishermen has been shown to be worthless.

What else is not in the treaty? Notably, there is no exchange for the United Kingdom for us having signed up to the social chapter. The Foreign Secretary was quite explicit about that. He said that it was not a concession for us to sign the social chapter, that it was not something that we were giving to our partners, that it was not giving them an advantage in comparison with the previous position. That is a most extraordinary position to take.

Even if one is persuaded that, on balance, it is better to be party to the social chapter, it was clear that signing it gave our partners some control and influence over working practices in this country which they did not have before and in return for which any half-decent negotiator would have wanted some form of concession. None was found; none was sought.

A few years ago, I had the great honour of being an adviser to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe, the shadow Foreign Secretary, when he was Secretary of State for Employment at the time the social chapter was initially considered as possibly being part of the Maastricht treaty. I cannot believe that the advice that we received from officials then has changed since. That advice was that, if qualified majority voting were granted under the social chapter to what I believe are called "working conditions", anything could go through under that; the European Court and the Commission would hold that virtually anything relating to strikes, industrial relations or any other measures in the social chapter could take place under "working conditions".

I see some Government Members shaking their heads. No doubt they are thinking that there is language in the social chapter that specifically exempts strikes and industrial relations, but the legal advice six or seven years ago from officials in the Department of Employment was that, if we signed the social chapter, QMV on working conditions meant QMV on everything.

The only argument in defence of our signature to the social chapter that the Foreign Secretary could advance was that the Confederation of British Industry was in favour of it in some way. He gave the direct implication that the CBI was in favour of signing the social chapter and that it had gained something because it was now, as part of the COREPERCommittee of Permanent Representatives—process, part of the European social process. But the CBI is against a British signature to the social chapter.

We on the Conservative Benches have regularly been lectured in the past two or three weeks about why we should listen to the CBI on Europe. Again, that rule does not seem to apply to Labour when in government. As I pointed out to the Foreign Secretary—a point that he was not able to answer—as recently as the end of last week, the CBI's business briefing said that the Government's guarantees on works councils did not hold water, because the issue would be dealt with by QMV under the social chapter.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

Is my hon. Friend aware that the CBI has described the social chapter as an empty revolver, saying that once the Government had signed up to it, anything could be put in? It would be simply an empty chamber from which they could fire as much as they liked.

Photo of Mr Tim Collins Mr Tim Collins Conservative, Westmorland and Lonsdale

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The Government should not pretend that their signature on the social chapter has the support of British businesses. It does not. To say otherwise would be to mislead the House—no doubt inadvertently.

We should consider some of the provisions in the Bill. We have already heard a detailed examination of the provisions relating to subsidiarity. The Foreign Secretary laid great stress on those provisions, but it could be argued that the new provisions are worse than the old ones in the Maastricht treaty. The new subsidiarity provisions are explicitly made subject to the acquis communautaire, which means that the hope that we once held that subsidiarity would allow the repeal of existing European regulations cannot be fulfilled. There will be no change to any powers, directives or measures that have already been passed to Brussels or by Brussels.

What else is in the treaty? We have heard about measures on common foreign and security policy. There are some dangers in the move—albeit limited—towards qualified majority voting on foreign and security policy. It may relate only, as the treaty now says, to the implementation of policy areas in which unanimous agreement had previously been established, but let us think what that might mean. Reaching a unanimous agreement among the Foreign Ministers that Saddam Hussein should be dealt with, that there should be peace in eastern Europe or that stability in certain parts of Africa is desirable would be easy, but the devil is in the detail of how such specific and important objectives should be achieved. We should not accept, even in a limited way, that a nation's foreign policy can be dictated by other nations.

At the beginning of his speech, the Foreign Secretary said that one of the great triumphs of the treaty of Amsterdam was that it had secured two of the great aspects of the nation—borders and defence policy, because of the reference to NATO. Surely foreign policy and decisions on taxes, spending and interest rates are equally important, if not more important, in defining the core of a nation. The treaty makes it possible for the first time for aspects of foreign policy to be decided against the will of a European Union Government. The Government also say that there is no constitutional bar to membership of a single currency. That is bizarre.

The Government are pretending to stand up for the British nation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) pointed out, they have a manifesto pledge to work for a Europe of independent nation states, but step by step, quiver by quiver, they are giving more power to Europe in a way that ultimately can only be incompatible with a system of independent nation states.

I find it disturbing that the Government seem to have no sense of an end point to European integration. It has been put to Conservative Members that, because we have signed up to previous extensions of qualified majority voting, to transfers of sovereignty to Brussels and to greater pooling, we must be in favour of it for ever and a day. That is rather like the unedifying spectacle of the delinquent child down the centuries caught committing an offence in the playground and saying to the teacher, "But please, sir, he did it first." Saying that someone else has done it first is not a sufficient justification for any action. An action has to stand on its own merits.

We accept that there may be a case for some matters being determined by qualified majority voting, but it does not necessarily follow that all matters must be determined in that way. There must be a point at which we stop. The Conservatives have been clear about that. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said in his speech to the party conference that he believed that there were limits to European integration and that we were close to those limits. We have stood out in favour of extensions to qualified majority voting in the past, but we are not in favour of any more. That is why we have drawn a line in the sand with the position that we stated in our manifesto—a position that we shall be pursuing consistently later tonight. We are not in favour of any more extensions of qualified majority voting.

The Government clearly favour some more extensions. They favour those in the treaty of Amsterdam. How many other extensions are they in favour of? We know that the treaty will result in yet another intergovernmental conference in a few years. How much further does the ratchet go? How much more salami slicing will there be? Is there a point at which the Government will say that there might be a few things left that should be reserved for the British Parliament and the British nation—perhaps organising tiddlywinks tournaments?

That is the biggest gap in the Bill and the treaty, because the Government have no end point and no sense that the process of European integration cannot continue indefinitely and unstoppably. They said in their manifesto that their aim was to preserve a Europe of nation states.

The treaty and the Bill are typical of a Government whose representatives on the international stage are the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for International Development, who might be described as the fifth Teletubby and the sixth Spice Girl—perhaps Hairy Tubby and Bolshie Spice. The country is not best represented abroad in that way. The treaty is not what the country needs, and the House should not endorse the Bill.

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Labour, East Renfrewshire 8:36, 12 November 1997

Contrary to what we have heard from the Conservatives, the treaty is good news for Britain. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on his tough negotiation and excellent bicycle riding, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who has proved himself a strong negotiator for British interests in his short time in office.

Let us contrast what we are debating with what would have been before us if the Conservatives had won the general election. We would have had a view of the United Kingdom belonging to an age gone by. We would have had policies that were out of touch with the people of the United Kingdom and more in touch with the views of the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor). Instead. we are discussing a people's agenda. [Interruption.] Opposition Members may sneer at the idea of a people's agenda, but I suspect that the people of the United Kingdom sneered at them on 1 May—perhaps that is one of the reasons for their defeat.

The people's agenda includes being in touch and open. It includes working on the environment, jobs, the economy and anti-discrimination measures. Tonight, we are discussing a series of sensible measures that will improve the United Kingdom and our continent.

On the subject of openness, I will not take issue with some of the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), who is now leaving the Chamber. I do not wish to delay his departure. I agree with him that some aspects of European institutions are not perfect and need reform. The treaty will go some way towards that. We need greater access to information and more accountability in the European Union and there is scope for a radical reappraisal. Only through reform can we make the European Union even more popular.

Once we have reformed, I believe that the concerns of my hon. Friend will be met, but so will the more cynical concerns expressed by the Opposition today. They are false concerns, and we have had false tears and false pronouncements from the Opposition. They fear the idea of reformed, modern and representative European institutions, and that is why their opposition has been so forceful today.

On anti-discrimination measures, the treaty lays down a clear marker that our continent will not tolerate any form of discrimination. Our Government have nobly intervened to ensure protection for those who suffer disabilities, and we have led the way in that important sphere. Other aspects of discrimination are crucial, including discrimination on grounds of age, gender, sexual orientation and race. I am pleased that we are considering the issues of xenophobia and anti-semitism and measures to outlaw and reduce their occurrence throughout Europe.

The treaty also covers details of foreign policy. I did not understand many of the comments made by Opposition Members tonight about foreign policy and co-operation, because the Amsterdam treaty clearly states that NATO will remain the cornerstone of our defence policy. It mentions the involvement of the Western European Union, but it does not foresee—contrary to what we have heard from the Opposition today—a single armed force under a unified European command.

As a newly elected Member of Parliament, I have joined the armed forces parliamentary scheme. Only last week I travelled to discuss strategic defence issues with representatives of NATO. They accepted the need for reform, which is also reflected in the Amsterdam treaty. Europe must have a greater say and involvement in NATO, and its priorities must more clearly represent the concerns, fears and aspirations of Europe. I believe that that is happening. It was brought home to me as I received my briefing from a member of the Dutch Navy, who talked of the need to reform NATO to make it more Euro-centred.

I have already mentioned the idea of a people's Europe; the social chapter—which covers aspects of social justice—is crucial to that. The Amsterdam treaty mentions job creation, but instead of suggesting a pan-European training scheme it envisages job creation through a dynamic and effective European economy and accepts that job creation is not solely or primarily the responsibility of nation states. It accepts that Europe and the United Kingdom will succeed not by becoming a sweatshop, but by competing at an equal level of high skills. Leon Brittan wrote in today's The Daily Telegraph: the Social Chapter no longer poses a serious threat to the United Kingdom. For once I agree with him. I wonder whether Opposition Members agree.

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Labour, Harlow

Opposition Members have suggested that the British Government should have traded our support for the social chapter for some other gain. Given our vigorous opposition of the previous Government's opt-out on the social chapter and given that we have been lectured about negotiating skills, does my hon. Friend agree that such a stance would have been wholly incredible?

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Labour, East Renfrewshire

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments; those are important points. If we had been left with the previous Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary negotiating on our behalf, the European Union—and the United Kingdom—would have been diminished. We would have been further isolated, with a parochial, backward-looking, short-termist approach and ideology that would have weakened rather than strengthened Europe, because the United Kingdom would not have been centrally involved. It would have weakened this country too, not only in the eyes of other European countries but in those of our own citizens.

There is one other issue involving Europe that is close to my heart, and I do not believe that it has yet been discussed in great detail this evening. I apologise if some hon. Members have alluded to it and I have not heard them—I could not be here for the full debate. The Amsterdam treaty is concerned with sport, of which I am a fervent practitioner and for which I am a keen enthusiast. The talk is of learning from other nations. We may learn from other nations, in terms of football teams, during France 98, but I sincerely hope not.

It is now a quarter to 9, and I believe that there are only 15 or 20 minutes to go in the Scotland v. France football game.

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Labour, East Renfrewshire

I have no idea what the latest score is, but if someone wishes to offer that information from a sedentary position I shall be glad to receive it.

Some aspects of co-operation in sport are important, such as the idea of training mechanisms, that ensure that young people are imbued from an early age with the concepts of competition, achievement and skills. I believe that Amsterdam could make an important contribution in that respect.

The last major subject on which I shall comment is police and judicial co-operation. I hope that such co-operation will be supported in the House tonight. It is a consensus-building measure. Tough action on terrorism and on trafficking of drugs or arms, and tougher action on offences against children, should be welcomed on both sides of the House.

Finally, I shall comment on some aspects of the Opposition, especially the Conservative party. Again I invite Conservative Members who speak from now on to identify which members of their party they agree with, which members of the shadow Cabinet they are in tune with and whose wing of the party they are on.

The Conservative Member who spoke before me—I apologise for my poor manners in not knowing your constituency—talked about how many Conservative Members were on the Opposition Benches this evening. It would have been more appropriate to talk about how many Conservative parties there are on the Opposition Benches when we talk about Europe.

Although he is not now in attendance, we have already heard the shadow Foreign Secretary who, only 40 hours before the general election, said that Amsterdam would put our survival as a nation in question". Then there is the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) who said, rather profoundly in comparison with his usual comments, that if we signed up to Amsterdam we would "abolish our country". Conservative Members may wish to tell us later whether they agree with those sentiments or wish to disown them.

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Labour, East Renfrewshire

Yes, and perhaps in your comments you can identify your constituency and I can—

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. The hon. Gentleman must resume his seat. I must remind the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Murphy) that he has been slipping into direct address. He should address all his remarks to the Chair and refer to Opposition Members in the third person.

Photo of Mr Tim Collins Mr Tim Collins Conservative, Westmorland and Lonsdale

As the hon. Member for Eastwood is on the subject of two parties and talking about who agrees with whom, does he agree with the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), who is so clearly against a single currency? For that matter, earlier in the debate when the hon. Member for Eastwood was not here, the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) made it clear that he thought that the Government had made a complete pig's ear of the negotiations on border controls for Gibraltar.

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Labour, East Renfrewshire

I thank the hon. Gentleman for those comments, and I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for using the incorrect personal pronoun.

In response to the hon. Gentleman, I could refer him to the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) who in response to the comments of the right hon. Member for Wokingham, said: Trying to claim that Amsterdam is some great threat to the nation state is not very sustainable at all.

Perhaps Conservative Members can tell me whether they agree with or disown the comments of the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) who, in an honourable act, removed himself from the Front Bench and said: I do hope that we do not take a bull-headed view of the Amsterdam treaty.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

Had the hon. Gentleman been in the Chamber earlier, he would have heard my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) say that he vote with the Opposition tonight.

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Labour, East Renfrewshire

I thank the hon. Lady for her comments, but thus far we have indeed had a bull-headed approach from Conservative Members. The hon. Member for Esher and Walton may vote with the Opposition tonight, but that will be in direct contradiction to his previous pronouncements.

I believe that Amsterdam will advance our nation's interests because it will strengthen both the United Kingdom and the European Union. The United Kingdom will progress through co-operation with our European partners, in a forceful way, for years to come. Contrast that with the agenda that we could have had if the Conservatives were still in power: we would have had an isolationist, reactionary, jingoistic, little-Englander approach that is absolutely out of touch with the people of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Robert Walter Robert Walter Conservative, North Dorset 8:51, 12 November 1997

I am not sure that I recognise the people's Europe or new Europe about which the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Murphy) was talking. I hope that I can convince him that there will be only one Conservative party voting tonight.

I have always regarded myself as absolutely positive on our role in the European Union, and I believe that we should be an active member of it. During the general election campaign, the Referendum party claimed that a vote for me was a vote for Brussels, but I hope that everyone will be disabused of that this evening and will not find it strange that I intend to oppose the Bill and the treaty, for three very good reasons.

First, it is a mean treaty. It does nothing to adjust the institutions to cater for an enlarged European Union. Enlargement is hardly addressed, so we will need another intergovernmental conference and another treaty.

Secondly, the social chapter and employment chapter, of which little mention has been made today, will do nothing to create a single new job in my constituency, and I believe that the resulting loss of competitiveness may well lead to job losses and bankruptcies among small and medium-sized businesses.

Thirdly, the Government's failure to use the unanimity that is required in treaty negotiations to secure any concessions on fishing quotas or the working time directive is a disgrace to whatever negotiating skills they thought they might have.

I call the treaty mean because it is not a striking document and lacks the simple focus of the Single European Act with its creation of the single market. It lacks the purpose of the Maastricht treaty, which dealt with economic and monetary union—whatever one's view of that might be—and set up the pillars of intergovernmental co-operation on foreign affairs, justice and home affairs.

The treaty should have been bold—a blueprint for the enlargement of the Union. It has clearly failed in that. Conservative Members have asked about the changes in qualified majority voting and the powers of the European Parliament. In terms of the great leap forward that the Community is about to take in incorporating the formerly oppressed and destitute nations of eastern Europe, the treaty is merely tinkering. It does not deal with the problem at all.

If we are to incorporate states in central and eastern Europe, we must tackle the complex web of institutional questions, including the voting weights in the Council, the presidency of the Council and the way in which it rotates, and the size of the Commission. As we take in smaller and weaker nations, the whole question of big versus small nations must be tackled. The strains are not only institutional but financial. Neither the Amsterdam treaty nor the Commission's agenda 2000 go any way to tackling the financial problems or genuinely reforming the common agricultural policy. It is in that respect that the treaty is a failure, and the blame for that lies collectively with all the nation states that negotiated at Amsterdam. However, the blame for incorporation of the social chapter lies firmly with the Government and their adherence to outdated and uncompetitive dogma. There are those who would protest that, at the time of the signing of the Amsterdam treaty, the social chapter was an empty box. It contained just two provisions—one on works councils and one on parental leave. But for how long?

The United Kingdom has business practices that do not follow the European social model. The United Kingdom is seen on the continent as more competitive and, as a result, a threat. Already, the Commission proposes to make the works council directive, which originally applied to firms with 1,000 employees or more, apply to firms with just 50 employees. That would make a great difference to the implications of the directive.

How many new jobs will be created as a result of the Government's signing the social chapter? Perhaps more pertinent, how many jobs will be destroyed by it and by the associated introduction of a statutory minimum wage?

Photo of Anne McGuire Anne McGuire Labour, Stirling

Will the hon. Gentleman explain how a level playing field is uncompetitive? If he is into statistical analysis, will he advise us how many people's working lives will be improved by the social chapter?

Photo of Robert Walter Robert Walter Conservative, North Dorset

I suggest that those who are unemployed on the continent of Europe would welcome the employment opportunities that exist in Britain as a result of the previous Government's policies. We are talking about a Europe that is able to compete in the modern world.

I regard myself as a good European, but I have no problem in opposing the social chapter and the employment chapter that goes with it because they are bad for Britain and bad for Europe. The treaty is a missed opportunity for Europe and for Britain—the opportunity has been missed to right some of the wrongs of the past, such as the abuse of fishing quotas. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) has left the Chamber. We could have righted a wrong that had been imposed on the fishermen of Britain. There is also a wrong in the back-door provisions of the working time directive. The Government failed. It was only to be expected that they would not do anything about the working time directive, but on fishing there was a unique opportunity to do something.

Nothing is achieved in treaty negotiations without unanimity. We could have said, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) was prepared to say if he had been at the negotiating table, that if there was no deal on fishing there would be no treaty. The Government failed to do that and, as others have said, they came back with a worthless piece of paper. The Government continue to fail to stand up for Britain.

For my hon. Friends and me, a vote against the Bill tonight is a vote against a Bill that brings in the provisions of a treaty that fails to meet the real challenge of Europe. I am absolutely convinced that the Bill is not good for Europe, or for Britain. The social chapter does not cause harmony and prosperity on the continent, and nor will it do so in Britain. I shall oppose the Bill.

Photo of Rudi Vis Rudi Vis Labour, Finchley and Golders Green 8:59, 12 November 1997

Amsterdam is my home town, so I must be a raving Europhile in the eyes of most people, but I have to admit that, as a Dutch-born person, I have found this a very amusing debate.

I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), who has now left the Chamber, saying that what is before us is more or less empty. I heard the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor), who has also now gone, saying that he will fight every letter, every word and every sentence because it is all wrong. Finally, I heard the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter), who is trying a new tack for a Conservative, saying that he was a good European but that he could not possibly sign up to anything that Europe might put to him.

It is a pity that he has gone, because I also listened carefully to the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins). With my Dutch background, I know one or two things that might lift the veil a little between those Conservative Members who are so upset about Europe and my own position, which might not be the position of the Labour Government. The hon. Gentleman said two things that I found very interesting and they stand out for me. First, he said the devil is the detail and, secondly, he said that there must be an end point.

If the devil is in the detail, we will never get anywhere and that is a difficulty. That is not Dutch thinking—I am not standing here as a Dutch person—but the Dutch have always said that Europe is a journey. It is not about detail—we sit around a table and negotiate and we have to put ourselves in the driving seat if we want to say anything about the direction in which this country wants Europe to go. As for the contention that there must be an end point, how can one argue in general that it must be good for Britain to go no further with Europe? How can one determine an end point if one cannot determine beforehand whether that end point is or is not good for Britain?

Am I a raving Europhile? Let us check a few points. I believe that something went wrong when this country first considered joining the European Economic Community, which really started not in 1958, but—as most people would accept—in 1951, with the treaty of Paris. It was a shame that Britain did not join at that time. It was the Dutch who argued strongly that Britain should come in, because they foresaw the difficulties arising from an alliance between France and West Germany, as it then was; but the decision was no. The second chance came in 1955 in Messina, but again the answer was no, despite the fact that the Dutch, the Italians and the Belgians wanted this country to join. It was not until 1958 that the treaty was signed to establish the European Economic Community.

Much has been said about the awful aspects of being a member of the European Union and playing a strong role in Europe. I suggest that Conservative Members should go to the Library and ask what was the gross domestic product of the United Kingdom and of France in 1958; they should then compare those figures to the GDP of the UK and France when this country finally joined the EEC—they will see how we have missed the boat. If Conservative Members look at the development of the European Coal and Steel Community, which was established in 1951, they will see—more than 40 years later—that, if this nation had joined in 1951, it would have suffered far fewer problems.

The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East—I listened to his speech on the monitor—talked about the CAP. I am aware that the CAP is not necessarily a good policy now. It was added in 1961—it was written by Mr. Mansholt, a friend of my family—when aspects of the CAP were necessary. The fact that we cannot get rid of it now that we have gluts is a design fault, not a fault of the intention of the CAP. Like many other people, I was very much in favour of the British agricultural policy, but in 1973 we had no chance to insist that the CAP he changed to the British agricultural policy. Had we had such a chance, I would have applauded Mr. Mansholt and argued the case for adopting the British agricultural policy rather than the CAP, which is basically the French agricultural policy. Those matters are easily forgotten by Conservative Members.

A few days before the signing of the Amsterdam treaty, I was in Amsterdam asking Dutch people, on behalf of a television company, what they thought the treaty would do. As I said before—I was able to make one hon. Member leave the Chamber when I did so—the Dutch see Europe as a journey. It is an agenda of thought and of contribution, in which one plays a role. That is a good agenda.

When I look at the Amsterdam treaty, I see part of that journey. Only a few weeks before Amsterdam, the Prime Minister went to Noordwijk. When one looks at those meetings, one sees the phenomenal influence that this country has had on the nature of the debate in Europe. The Prime Minister said in Noordwijk, "You cannot do this and you cannot do that because unemployment in many nations is much higher than it should be." That issue suddenly became a priority, because we regard good working conditions, health and a variety of issues as important. The social chapter is excellent, and the fact that we have not been party to it is a shame on this country.

The UK in the EU is not good enough, and the UK outside or on the periphery of the EU is unthinkable. The UK should be in the middle of the EU, making and defending propositions and fighting for them.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Conservative, New Forest West 9:07, 12 November 1997

I shall be extremely brief. We have heard a great deal this evening about the increased powers that the European Parliament has received. The treaty undoubtedly gives the European Parliament new powers, but I draw the House's attention to a matter that has not hitherto been drawn to our attention: the shift in the balance of power between the EU institutions.

My perception of the treaty is that the European Court of Justice wins in the shift in the balance of power. We seem to be moving towards an American constitutional model for the European Union—perhaps an extreme form of the US model—where unelected judges can strike down law and make law. The Government may regard that tendency as desirable. It would certainly be in keeping with their decision to incorporate the European convention on human rights into United Kingdom domestic law, but such a constitutional model has not been debated. What strikes me as incredible about the process of constitution-building is that there has been no discussion, no debate and no constitutional convention about the constitutional model that we want for the European Union.

It is extraordinary that there has been such a significant shift in the balance of power of the European institutions without anyone drawing attention to it or discussing it. I fear that there has deliberately been no discussion of the constitution of the European Union. If there was, people would quickly discover what it was about. They do not want a constitution for it at all. They are strongly opposed to it. That alone is sufficient reason for voting against the Bill.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Conservative, Tewkesbury 9:09, 12 November 1997

I have no problem opposing the Bill. My first reason concerns the wider constitutional implications, which have been discussed with great eloquence. I was sent by my constituency to oppose Bills such as this. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) about the drip, drip, drip process. We are constantly told that there will be no more transfer of power from this country to Brussels, but what do we find? More transfer of power from Britain to Brussels.

Secondly, I object to some of the items in the treaty. We must question why a level playing field is desirable. How will that benefit Britain? In terms of inward investment, will foreign countries invest in Britain if we are the same as all the other countries in Europe? What is the point of investing on the edge of Europe if we are the same as the rest of Europe? If the costs of employment in the United Kingdom are the same as in the rest of Europe, countries such as Japan will invest in the centre of Europe, which is Germany, not in this country.

What benefits will the social chapter bring British workers? We must look across the continent of Europe to see the benefits that the social chapter and similar legislation have brought people there. Levels of unemployment across Europe are shameful. I do not want Britain to go down that road.

The treaty has many constitutional implications, some of which have been mentioned tonight. I shall deal with one or two. Article 13 is against any discrimination on grounds of religion or belief. What implications does that have for Church schools, for example? Has that been thought through? Article 13 also rules out discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. Although we in the Conservative party are extremely tolerant, what implications does that have for national law in respect of gay marriage, for example? Will such proposals be decided in Brussels rather than in our own Parliament?

I am glad to go into the Lobby tonight with the Conservative party united. For Labour Members to criticise Conservative Members for inconsistency is a bit rich. Labour Members should question how many times they have changed their minds on whether we should be a member of the European Union.

Photo of Mr Howard Flight Mr Howard Flight Conservative, Arundel and South Downs 9:12, 12 November 1997

I shall confine my remarks to the disastrous employment situation in Europe, which has resulted from the labour and welfare laws associated with the social chapter. If, as the treaty requires, Britain signs up to the social chapter and gives up its opt-out, any laws in relevant areas could be imposed on us. Over the past 25 years, America has created 30 million new jobs; Europe has lost 20 million. Few people realise that, as the economic cycles have gone round in Europe, unemployment has risen at every trough but unemployment has not fallen at every peak. In Germany, there are now 83 million citizens of whom only 28 million have employment; in the UK, 27 million out of a population of 58 million have employment.

Europe needs drastic reform of its employment and welfare laws. It is not facing up to what is happening in the rest of the world. Competition from the emerging economies and Asia is increasing. Some 20 million people have been priced out of work in the past 20 years. I find it extraordinary that a Government who have pledged to create jobs—we have heard all that pious stuff about jobs for young people—should glibly and callously lock us into the biggest job-destroying measure that Europe has ever seen.

I believe that the Government will rue this day. Unemployment in this country will rise dramatically in the next two years. You will regret the fact that you—the party that is supposed to represent the ordinary working man—will price those people out of work.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. The hon. Gentleman must remember that he is addressing the Chair.

Photo of Mr Howard Flight Mr Howard Flight Conservative, Arundel and South Downs

My apologies, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The Government will live to regret the fact that they have ratted on the very people who voted for them in the last election.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Conservative, North Shropshire 9:15, 12 November 1997

I shall be brief. During my business career, I have travelled widely throughout Europe. I should declare an interest in that I am president of the European Tanning Confederation, I speak a couple of European languages, and I struggle by in English.

I draw the attention of smug, complacent Labour Members to the people of Europe. I have been in the Chamber for most of the evening and I have been astonished by the debate's lack of touch with the real businesses and the real people who are trying to make a living in a sclerotic Europe, struggling under burdens such as the social chapter and over-regulation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight) spoke eloquently about the social chapter. I point out that Professor Patrick Minford of Liverpool university has calculated that the social chapter and other burdens could reduce gross domestic product by 20 per cent. They had such a devastating impact on the unemployment figures that the computer could not handle them.

I remind hon. Members that, the last time the people of Britain were consulted, they voted to join a free trade area. They believed that they were joining a club of independent sovereign states that would work together in the interests of free trade. We are here for only a short time: power and sovereignty should rest with the people. Smug Labour Members should reflect upon who has sent them here and to whom they are handing powers.

Qualified majority voting is increasing in 16 areas. The gentleman from Amsterdam, the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Dr. Vis), attended today's hearing of European Standing Committee A, at which hon. Members considered landfill. He saw how qualified majority voting will clobber many British businesses whose waste goes to landfill. Incineration—which is proposed by the directive—is not suitable for this country.

Photo of Rudi Vis Rudi Vis Labour, Finchley and Golders Green

I must admit that Amsterdam is not my constituency. I represent the constituency of Finchley and Golders Green.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Conservative, North Shropshire

I apologise, but that was the only geographical reference that the hon. Gentleman gave.

In the dying two minutes, I draw Labour Members' attention to the people of Europe. It is horrendous to see powers being taken from them and given to institutions. The people of Europe cannot vote for the removal of those who decide matters that govern their lives. I was in France last year during the by-election at Gardanne, the run-off for which was contested by the Communist party and the National Front.

Photo of Denis MacShane Denis MacShane Labour, Rotherham

Who did the hon. Gentleman support?

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Conservative, North Shropshire

I am sorry, but I am making a desperately serious point.

The vote is going increasingly to undemocratic parties that support the sovereignty of nations. The Vlaams Blok is a deeply unpleasant group that has taken 25 per cent. of the vote in Antwerp. Herr Haider in Austria is also attracting a substantial vote. I believe—as does everyone on the Opposition Benches—in a club of independent states going further into eastern Europe. We should be bringing in the newly free countries. The Amsterdam treaty does nothing for that; it increases the power of an unelected European elite and does down the people of Europe. The consequences will be serious.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 9:19, 12 November 1997

This has been an excellent debate. From right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, we have heard a cross-section of views about the Amsterdam treaty and our relationship with Europe generally. That is how it should be, because there is, across the country, a whole spectrum of views about our relationship with Europe. Those views have been replicated on the Floor of the House today. We are discussing perhaps the most important issue that faces the nation. There have been genuine differences of opinion, and the House is wise to hear them all. Today we have seen the House of Commons at its best.

I even enjoyed some of the speeches by hon. Members on the Government Benches. The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) made some important points about cross-border co-operation on crime and drugs. I would make the point that preventing the movement of criminals and drugs across borders is much harder if border controls are given up.

The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) did the House a great service in probing the Executive very effectively. He revealed the poor performance of our negotiating team at Amsterdam—a point to which I shall return. The hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) thought that the treaty should have gone further. He made some interesting points, but did not understand our objection to the social chapter. He said that just two directives have emerged so far under existing social chapter provisions, but he does not understand that future unwelcome directives can come from Brussels through the social chapter, and that under qualified majority voting there is nothing we can do to block them. That is the point about which we are most concerned.

The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) spoke knowledgeably on his favourite subject. He introduced a new concept, claiming that Labour's negotiating performance at Amsterdam was a modest, major achievement. He has coined a new phrase, proclaiming this a modest triumph.

The hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) thought that the tide of integration had gone past its high water mark. Some of us are less certain than he is about that.

The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) made a sparkling speech, as usual. He said that the treaty was all dressed up with nothing to say and described it as pathetic. He rightly pointed out that it did not offer any solutions to the real problems facing Europe today. He said that it was a complex mess of a treaty. I could not have put it better myself.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House, including the hon. Members for Harlow (Mr. Rammell), for Wimbledon (Mr. Casale), for Ynys Mon (Mr. Jones), for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) and for Eastwood (Mr. Murphy), made telling and interesting speeches to contribute to the full and frank exchange of views that the House has enjoyed today.

The hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Dr. Vis)—not Amsterdam, we are told—said that Europe was on a journey, that Europe itself is a journey, but, he says, apparently with no destination, which suggests that we shall be going round in circles.

From my right hon. and hon. Friends we heard some excellent and thought-provoking speeches. My recently liberated right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) was at his philosophical best this afternoon. He spoke of the incremental impact of the treaties and questioned the inevitability of future integration. He was right to remind us that the test should always be: what is in the national interest?

My right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) delivered a typically intelligent speech. He pointed out some of the positive aspects of the Amsterdam treaty. We must respect the fact that he speaks for a significant body of people. However, he also powerfully drew our attention to omissions from the treaty, such as the absence of reform of institutions in preparing for enlargement, and to the social chapter, which he described as so harmful to British interests. The discussion between him and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst on the evolving nature of the nation state was extremely stimulating, and will be well worth a read tomorrow in Hansard.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) treated the House to her personal experience as a Minister battling within the corridors of power in Europe. She made some wise and telling points about the dangers of a developing pattern leading to a country called Europe, and spoke with clarity about the agenda of some member states leading to a common defence policy. The House and the Government would be wise to heed her words carefully.

My hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Sir R. Body) spoke of the importance of pursuing a positive agenda for enlargement. He told us how important the member states of central and eastern Europe consider the enlargement of the European Union and their future membership of it. He was right to point out that, at the Amsterdam summit, the Government failed miserably to deal with any of the issues standing in the way of the enlargement of the European Union.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) spoke with his usual passion and detailed knowledge about the cost of the European Union and the dangers of European integration, and made points that I hope the new Government will consider very carefully.

My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins)—without a stitch of a note in his hands—rightly drew attention to Labour's cynicism in the previous Parliament over Maastricht, which now renders it impossible for the party to take the high moral ground on the Amsterdam treaty. He made it clear that the letter from the Commissioner on quota hopping had no legal status whatever. He rightly pointed out that this Labour Government received nothing in return for their concession on the social chapter—demonstrating, once again, the appalling negotiating tactics of the new Front Bench. He expounded on the hollowness of Labour's claim that its wording on subsidiarity is superior to ours—which it patently is not—and emphasised that Labour has no end point on European integration.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) drew attention to the many shortcomings of the treaty. He mentioned the failings of Labour's negotiating team in Amsterdam, and rightly highlighted the negative impact of the social chapter.

We heard four sparkling, if rather brief, speeches from other Conservative Members. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) drew attention to the lack of a proper debate on the constitution of the European institutions. My hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) spoke of the importance of considering the benefits of the decisions we make in respect of British workers and British interests. My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight) rightly drew attention to the job-destroying character of the social chapter. My hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) spoke up for British business men, on the basis of a lifetime's experience. It has been a first-class debate, and, as usual, the Conservative party has led the way.

As we listened to the debate, it struck me that there were some dogs that did not bark. Where are all the Labour Euro-sceptics? With the exception of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby, we heard nothing from them, although they were very active in the previous Parliament and many of them are still here. I hope that they have not been gagged. We know that socialist Members of the European Parliament have been gagged, and we now seek an assurance from the Foreign Secretary that his Back Benchers have not been gagged on the vital issue of Europe.

Let me say to the Foreign Secretary that this issue is too important for debate on it to be stifled. It is vital for us to hear from hon. Members in all parts of the House, and to hear all the reflections of attitudes to Europe. Perhaps the new Labour Back Benchers' motto is this: "We are all poodles now." I hope that the Minister can assure me that the disgraceful gagging of socialist Members of the European Parliament has not been replicated here in the Westminster Parliament.

In considering the treaty, the House is entitled to ask itself a question: was this the best deal that Britain could get? The answer is a resounding no. Let us be frank: Labour's negotiating team failed at Amsterdam.

Let me set out some of the reasons why we cannot support the treaty that the team brought back. First, it signed the social chapter. Conservatives have always opposed the social chapter, and we shall continue to do so. To sign the social chapter is to lower our legal defences and to invite into our law, into our marketplace and into our culture rules and regulations that are strangers to us. They impose unnecessary burdens on business, which stifles growth and destroys jobs.

We are concerned not only about what is in the social chapter now, but about the malign rules and regulations that may bear down on us at any time in the future. As many of the social chapter provisions are decided by qualified majority voting, we shall have no veto. There is nothing that the Minister, the House or you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, with all your power, can do to prevent those new burdens from becoming law in this country.

Unwelcome directives are already on their way. Only last week, the Commission proposed yet more burdens for small and medium-sized businesses in this country, such as works councils for all businesses employing 50 or more people. There are 3.7 million small businesses in this country, many of which are run by self-employed entrepreneurs who have put their homes on the line to back their businesses, who work all hours and who create jobs through their ideas, energy and risk-taking. They do not have the resources to fund personnel departments or compliance officers. How will they be able to find their way through the jungle of new regulations that Brussels will impose?

The Foreign Secretary said that he would ensure that the Commission's proposal is amended. He cannot do that: that is the whole point. There is no guarantee that this country can resist it.

The Government inherited an economy free from the social chapter. They inherited the healthiest economy in living memory. Unemployment is low and falling. We learned today of yet another fall. That has not happened by accident. Our economic success flows from the Conservative Government's supply-side reforms, and from their ability to resist the European social model. Labour gave away all those benefits in Amsterdam at the stroke of a pen.

There are 18 million unemployed people across Europe. In the past 20 years, America has created 36 million new jobs, 31 million of which are in the private sector. In that time, the whole of the European Union created only 5 million new jobs, of which only 1 million are in the private sector. Again, that is no accident. Flexible labour markets create jobs.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) made a telling intervention when he emphasised the importance of flexible labour markets, especially if we join the single currency. That flexibility is why Britain has created more jobs in the past four years under the Conservative Government than all the other major countries of Europe put together. It is why one third of all inward investment into the European Union flows into the United Kingdom. The European social model to which the new Government aspire can result only in more burdens, less flexibility and fewer jobs.

In this new age, the social chapter may sound fair and fashionable. It sounds attractive on the surface. It sounds very new Labour, but like new Labour, it is a fraud. We could pass legislation to make it harder for a company to reduce its work force, to make a company take longer to make decisions and consult more widely, but if reducing the work force is required for the company to survive and if decisions must be taken quickly to match the competition, such legislation will merely jeopardise the jobs of the entire work force. We must never forget that British companies must compete not just in Europe, but globally.

The Conservative Government's refusal to sign up to the social chapter acted as a brake on its development. Now that that brake has been removed by the Amsterdam treaty, new legislation will pile up fast. It is already under way. It comes from Directorate-General V, which is the breeding ground of much interventionist theology, and it has not finished yet. It is too late to man the barricades. Our legal defences are down, so new rules and regulations can enter at will, and the British worker will pay the price.

As long as it contains the social chapter, the Opposition cannot support the Amsterdam treaty. We oppose the results of the sloppy negotiation at Amsterdam. Before they left, Labour Ministers announced to the world's media that they were prepared to make concessions at Amsterdam on QMV, on major extensions of power for the European Parliament and on the social chapter. We heard precious little about what they wanted for Britain in return, and now we know why. They failed on enlargement, on reform of the voting system to give Britain more votes under QMV, and on protection for our fishermen. At Amsterdam, Labour Ministers dutifully made all their concessions, but failed to achieve a single thing in return.

What sort of negotiation is that—to give everything away with one hand and to take nothing back with the other? Is that what the Prime Minister meant when he announced the arrival of the new age of giving? Of course we recognise that Europe is about compromise and give and take—it always has been—but there is a difference between being positive towards Europe and immediately giving in to every demand. At Amsterdam, it was all give and no take.

Just the other day, the Foreign Secretary issued a press release saying that new Labour would give Europe back to the people, but we are entitled to ask: which people did he have in mind? He has now admitted that, in respect even of the opt-out on border controls that we had negotiated, he blundered. He thought that he had agreed that Britain could opt into those arrangements by QMV, only to discover that the Spanish and others had put through a last-minute amendment.

How did that happen? Had the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister and the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office left the meeting early? The hon. Member for Thurrock, who did the House such a service earlier, clearly revealed that the Spanish amendment was not challenged. Why not? Where were the Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister? Had the Prime Minister already started to walk back across the channel? What were they doing? Why did they give the Spanish a free run? The House requires an answer to those questions.

That was a gross dereliction of duty by our negotiating team. It failed and, as a result, our opt-in is governed by unanimity. The Spanish can therefore block it, and they have said that they will do so unless we make concessions on Gibraltar. Among the things that it forgot, Labour forgot to stay until the end of the meeting. Conservative Members cannot condone such sloppy negotiation.

We cannot support Labour's efforts at Amsterdam, because it wasted the opportunity to make progress on enlargement. In its manifesto, Labour said that enlargement was its highest priority, yet it failed to make any progress. Here was an historic opportunity to bring the central and eastern European states in from the cold and to take steps to underpin democracy and capitalism in those former communist countries for the sake of peace, stability and prosperity, but none of the reforms necessary for enlargement was progressed.

Labour has put off until tomorrow what it should have done at Amsterdam. It was more interested in pursuing an agenda of a deeper Europe rather than a wider Europe. It said that enlargement was its priority, but it did not mean it and it did not achieve it—proof, if proof were needed, that Labour still cannot take tough decisions. Through its inexperience and bad judgment, new Labour has missed that historic opportunity, and that, in time, may prove to be its greatest failure.

We cannot support the Amsterdam treaty because it does nothing to help the 18 million people who are unemployed throughout Europe. Of course, it contains some new Labour doublespeak on employment schemes, but when will the Government learn that Government-run schemes do not create jobs? Entrepreneurs and flexible labour markets create jobs. The Amsterdam treaty does nothing to create jobs. It seeks simply to create in Britain the European social model that has failed elsewhere.

Amsterdam paves the way for a new summit on employment—another expensive and ineffective talking shop. How many jobs for British people will the new summit create? Each country has been asked to bring to the summit details of three schemes that have created jobs in that country. May I commend to the Minister as his three schemes flexible labour markets, supply-side reforms and Conservative policies? I wonder which schemes the Minister will bring back from Italy or Belgium to foist on British workers.

All those questions are left unanswered by Amsterdam.

New Labour's efforts in Amsterdam do not deserve our support. Labour has brought back a treaty that is riddled with negotiating errors. It does not spell out a clear way forward for Europe, it incorporates a social chapter that will destroy British jobs and it gives away our interests for nothing in return. It misses an historic opportunity to move forward on enlargement. It is the product of bad judgment and sloppy negotiation. It is the product also of a Government who act without principles and values, and we will oppose it.

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office 9:39, 12 November 1997

After the general election result and the thumping that the Conservative party received, I thought that we might hear from the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) something slightly more reflective, signalling a little more thinking and a little more pursuit of objectivity. But no, we heard the same old rhetoric and the same old pursuit of narrow political party advantage.

We have had, however, an interesting and varied debate. We heard, predictably, dire warnings from those who see the treaty of Amsterdam as another step toward the end of our national independence. That view is wrong. As many of those who have contributed to the debate have said, the Amsterdam treaty is sensible and good, for Britain and good for Europe. It does not provide massive strides towards greater integration, but it advances the cause of a European Union that works in the interests of its citizens and fully secures the national interests of the United Kingdom.

All that was made possible by the Government's willingness to engage in meaningful dialogue. Since coming to power, we have been determined to pursue a relationship with our European partners that is constructive yet robust in defence of national interests. The Amsterdam treaty shows that that approach can, and will, bear fruit. The public will judge whether this positive, constructive and inclusive approach to Europe works. They will be able to compare it with the sterile, rigid and isolationist approach of the previous Government. We shall continue to be positive in our relations with the European Union.

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Conservative, Woodspring

Since 1990, only Britain and Italy have held their share of world trade, while every other European member country has seen a slip. Why should we want to tie ourselves into working practices that have resulted in that?

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I had the misfortune to study economics for four years. That experience taught me never to believe statistics. We can select any years of comparison and obtain any result we want. The real truth about the British economy is what the CBI, the Trades Union Congress and the small business community know, which is that, until we get employability higher up the agenda, there will be no permanent success for the United Kingdom.

There have been some predictable contributions to the debate this evening, and I have enjoyed several of them. I enjoyed the contribution of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). I am told that he is a philosopher, and on that basis I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's reincarnation. I am not so sure that we would follow all the arguments that he advanced this evening, and certainly not his conclusions. Nevertheless, it was an interesting speech.

The right hon. Gentleman's speech was only to be topped by that of the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor), who took the concept of opposition to Europe to greater heights, describing the CBI on the way as stupid. I do not think any right hon. Member had any doubt about the hon. Gentleman's vision.

The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East was joined later in the debate by the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Sir R. Body), who thinks that all l applicants to the European Union agree with him that the Amsterdam treaty should not be ratified. I have been Member for a bit more than 10 years and have heard many bold assertions. That assertion, however, was one of the most challenging that I have heard in that time.

My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) is a good friend of mine on many political issues. I did not expect huge support from him in this debate, and I was not disappointed. There were other sound speeches—[Interruption.] There is plenty more to come.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) made a sound speech. He is most knowledgeable about European matters and helped the House with his assessments of public opinion.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) made his maiden speech yesterday and an excellent speech today. He focused on the importance of international action against crime, which is one important aspect of the treaty.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Murphy) spoke of the people's agenda, and of the important changes that must be made in economic and social policy and in citizens' rights.

My hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Dr. Vis) made a distinctive speech and said that Europe was a journey. After the past six months, I cannot but agree with him on that score. Unfortunately, it is the same ticket each time—but it is something that must be done.

There were many other very good speeches by hon. Members from both sides of the House, but time does not permit me to deal with them in more detail.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

The hon. Gentleman has 15 minutes.

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Yes, and I should like to reply to some of the major political points made by Opposition Front Benchers.

The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and the hon. Members for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) and for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) claimed that a Conservative Government negotiating the Amsterdam treaty would have resolved the fishing crisis. That was a rich claim coming from a Government who were in power for 18 years trying to deal with the issue. Now, six months after they lost power, they say that they have the solution to the fishing problem.

The protocol published last spring by the Conservative Government had no support among our European partners. The matter was raised at a meeting in Bonn between Mr. Kinkel, Germany's Minister of Foreign Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and me, but Mr. Kinkel was not even aware that a protocol has been issued. It was pointless to ask whether he had been asked for his support.

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

No, I will not give way now.

The truth is that Opposition Front Benchers know that there was only one way to go if, in 18 years, they could not resolve the fishing issue. They should have taken the course adopted by this Government: to examine and identify the details and basis for Commission action. We have adopted that course, and we will make some progress on the issue. As the hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) said, if people who work in fishing in his constituency—which I know is overwhelmingly a fishing constituency—have formed but one judgment on the Conservative Government of the past 18 years, it is that people in the fishing industry were betrayed. That judgment has been replicated by fishing communities across the United Kingdom.

Photo of Mr Christopher Gill Mr Christopher Gill Conservative, Ludlow

Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House what he will do about the problem? Will he reform the common fisheries policy?

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I thought that the hon. Gentleman knew the details of European legislation. If he did, he would know that there will be no opportunity to revise that fishing policy for some years. He is stuck with the policy that was agreed unanimously by those who are now Opposition Front Benchers.

One cannot, however, resolve fishing problems by declaration. One must examine the detail, and make proposals that the fishing industry know will have some effect. The House should not take lessons on fishing policy from the Conservative party.

The important issue of enlargement was raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), for Harlow (Mr. Rammell) and for Wimbledon (Mr. Casale) and by the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry). The Government believe that it is a top priority of the future direction of Europe that enlargement of the EU takes place at the earliest possible date. That was the approach that we adopted during the Amsterdam treaty negotiations.

It is true that we would have wanted to have been able to deal with institutional questions in June. One or two other nations at the negotiating table were prepared to do that, but at that time, there was not the necessary support to be able to carry through reforms that would have been acceptable to the House. I assure the House that not dealing with such an issue was not in any way due to the Government's reluctance to face up to it. We shall continue to pursue it—indeed, we are already through bilateral contact with our European partners. It is one of the issues that will be taken forward from the conclusions which will—we hope—be reached at the Luxembourg summit in December.

It should be borne in mind that it is again rich for Opposition Members to complain that no progress has been made on enlargement issues by the Labour Government—which, incidentally, is not true—when, at the same time, they are saying that they would have vetoed the whole treaty because they could not correct the mess that they had made in the fishing industry over the past 18 years.

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

I warmly commend the Government's initiative to hold a conference on enlargement in spring next year, keeping all the applicant countries in play. Consistent with the view of a people's Europe, will the Minister consider a parliamentary dimension to that conference?

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

That is an interesting suggestion. It would have been preferable if my hon. Friend had given me some time to reflect on it. I shall come back to him on that. He must understand, however, that the European conference that we propose should take place in February in Britain is for Heads of State and Foreign Ministers. It would send the wrong signals to our European partners and the nations that wish to accede to the EU if we were to dilute the conference. There is a case for fertilisation of parliamentary ideas, for a coming together. If my hon. Friend has specific proposals on that, I would be happy to examine them.

The real issue concerning the Amsterdam treaty is the complete confusion in the public's mind about the Opposition's position—an Opposition who had 18 years to reflect on European issues. The public do not know where the Opposition stand. One minute they are to have a referendum to decide whether the treaty is acceptable to the British people, and then the Leader of the Opposition goes to the Scottish Conservative party conference and the little line on the referendum in the draft press release is dropped for the speech. The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe has lost his argument on a referendum, and the public are confused.

The public are confused about whether the nation state is in question, as the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe claims. They are confused about what the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) said. He said: If we sign the present draft of the Amsterdam Treaty, we will abolish our country". I do not know how one abolishes a country.

That view is in complete contrast to that taken by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who says: Like most European Treaties, it has some good bits and some less good, but overall it's a balanced document. It simply does not involve some fundamental transfer of power to Brussels". The Conservative party cannot have it both ways. Either the treaty involves a transfer of power or it does not.

I am not surprised at the confusion in the public's mind, considering, as the House will remember, what they were told in the Conservative manifesto on 1 May: You can be sure with the Conservatives". What one can be sure about with the Conservatives is that one is sure to be confused, sure that they will be looking at their own political navels and sure that they will put party advantage before the nation's interest. That is what the people of this country are sure about regarding the Conservatives.

Two myths have emanated from the Opposition Front Bench today. One, which the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe was trying to establish, was that the country would have got a better deal if the treaty had been negotiated by the Conservatives. The House knows that that is pure post-electoral fantasy. For six months before we entered into negotiations on 4 May, no progress was made in the intergovernmental conference, because our partner countries had no confidence that the then Government knew what they stood for, could deliver it or were in a position to negotiate.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Apart from anything else, I am concerned about his health. I think that he is going to have a seizure in a moment. Will he tell us, without becoming too excited, whether there is any increase in qualified majority voting to which he would object in principle? If so, will he specify it to the House?

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

If the hon. Gentleman is worried about my health, he is welcome to come with me for 10,000 m around Hyde park tomorrow lunchtime. We can talk about it while we are running.

There are areas in which qualified majority voting is not appropriate. It is not appropriate for foreign policy decisions, by and large. [HON. MEMBERS: "By and large!"] Those on the Conservative Front Bench know what I mean. I shall give them credit for having read the treaty, although perhaps I should not. They know that there is a difference between a strategy and a common action. The main point is a strategy. Even if there is a disagreement on a common action, which is the means of implementing a decision, any nation can raise that at the full Council, effectively providing them with a veto.

Since taking office, the Government have been determined to adopt a constructive but robust approach in Europe, protecting the national interest. The Amsterdam treaty shows that that approach can, and does, deliver results. At Amsterdam, all the United Kingdom's major negotiating priorities were achieved. [HON. MEMBERS: "By and large."] We were able to secure for the first time—not by and large—explicit legal security for our border controls and to protect essential interests on immigration and asylum policies. That was a major achievement.

We have agreed measures to improve police and judicial co-operation in the fight against crime. We have agreed measures that will improve the effectiveness of common foreign and security policy. [HON. MEMBERS: "By and large."] We managed—[Interruption.]

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I am having some difficulty hearing the Minister. Could we please conduct the rest of the debate in good order?

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

We managed for the first time to secure explicit recognition that NATO is the cornerstone of defence for most member states. The previous Government never achieved that. We supported a new focus on issues that really mattered to the citizens of Europe—an employment charter to put jobs at the top of the European Union's agenda, stronger provisions to protect the environment and measures to combat discrimination on the grounds of gender, race or disability.

We have signed up to the social chapter so that British workers will enjoy the same protection as their European counterparts. We have promoted measures to combat fraud in the Union and to promote transparency. We have achieved a legally binding protocol setting out rules for the application of subsidiarity. We have agreed to—indeed, promoted—the extension of qualified majority voting in limited areas, while maintaining the veto where we said that we would. We have ensured that the European Parliament has an effective role in overseeing the work of the Commission, alongside the Council. We have ensured that the questions of reforming the Commission and re-weighting votes will be settled in advance of the next enlargement of the Union. Taken together, those changes are good for Britain and good for Europe. They mark an appreciable step towards our goal of a European Union that works in the interests of citizens. I commend them to the House.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:

The House divided: Ayes 392, Noes 162.

Division No. 87][9.59 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane(Dunfermline E)
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)
Ainger, NickBrown, Russell (Dumfries)
Allan, RichardBrowne, Desmond
Allen, GrahamBruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Burden, Richard
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)Burgon, Colin
Armstrong, Ms HilaryBurnett, John
Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyBurstow, Paul
Ashton, JoeButler, Mrs Christine
Atherton, Ms CandyByers, Stephen
Atkins, CharlotteCable, Dr Vincent
Austin, JohnCaborn, Richard
Baker, NormanCampbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Ballard, Mrs JackieCampbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Banks, TonyCampbell, Menzies (NE Fife)
Barnes, HarryCampbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Barron, KevinCampbell-Savours, Dale
Battle, JohnCanavan, Dennis
Bayley, HughCann, Jamie
Begg, Miss AnneCasale, Roger
Beith, Rt Hon A JCaton, Martin
Bennett, Andrew FCawsey, Ian
Benton, JoeChapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Bermingham, GeraldChaytor, David
Berry, RogerChidgey, David
Best, HaroldChisholm, Malcolm
Betts, CliveChurch, Ms Judith
Blizzard, BobClapham, Michael
Borrow, DavidClark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Bradley, Keith (Withington)Clark, Dr Lynda
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)(Edinburgh Pentlands)
Bradshaw, BenClark, Paul (Gillingham)
Brake, TomClarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Brand, Dr PeterClarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Brinton, Mrs HelenClelland, David
Brown, Rt Hon GordonClwyd, Ann
Coaker, VernonGunnell, John
Coffey, Ms AnnHain, Peter
Cohen, HarryHall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Coleman, IainHall, Patrick (Bedford)
Colman, TonyHamilton, Fabian(Leeds NE)
Connarty, MichaelHancock, Mike
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Hanson, David
Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston)Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Cooper, YvetteHarris, Dr Evan
Corbett, RobinHarvey, Nick
Corbyn, JeremyHeal, Mrs Sylvia
Corston, Ms JeanHealey, John
Cotter, BrianHeath, David(Somerton & Frome)
Cousins, JimHenderson, Doug(Newcastle N)
Cox, TomHenderson, Ivan(Harwich)
Cranston, RossHepburn, Stephen
Crausby, DavidHeppell, John
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)Hesford, Stephen
Cummings, JohnHill, Keith
Cunliffe, LawrenceHinchliffe, David
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr JohnHodge, Ms Margaret
(Copeland)Hoey, Kate
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)Home Robertson, John
Cunningham, Ms RoseannaHoon, Geoffrey
(Perth)Hope, Phil
Dafis, CynogHopkins, Kelvin
Dalyell, TamHowarth, Alan (Newport E)
Darling, Rt Hon AlistairHowarth, George(Knowsley N)
Darvill, KeithHowells, Dr Kim
Davey, Edward (Kingston)Hoyle, Lindsay
Davidson, IanHughes, Ms Beverley(Stretford)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)Hurst, Alan
Dawson, HiltonHutton, John
Dean, Mrs JanetIddon, Dr Brian
Dewar, Rt Hon DonaldIllsley, Eric
Dismore, AndrewIngram, Adam
Dobson, Rt Hon FrankJackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Donohoe, Brian HJackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Dowd, JimJamieson, David
Drew, DavidJenkins, Brian
Drown, Ms JuliaJohnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)Johnson, Miss Melanie
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)Welwyn Hatfield)
Edwards, HuwJones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Efford, CliveJones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Ellman, Mrs LouiseJones, Helen (Warrington N)
Ennis, JeffJones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Etherington, BillJones, Ms Jennifer
Fearn, Ronnie(Wolverh'ton SW)
Fitzpatrick, JimJones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Fitzsimons, LornaJones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Flynn, PaulJowell, Ms Tessa
Follett, BarbaraKaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Foster, Don (Bath)Keeble, Ms Sally
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Foster, Michael J (Worcester)Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Foulkes, GeorgeKeetch, Paul
Fyfe, MariaKemp, Fraser
Galbraith, SamKennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)
Galloway, GeorgeKennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Gapes, MikeKidney, David
George, Andrew (St Ives)Kilfoyle, Peter
George, Bruce (Walsall S)King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Gerrard, NeilKing, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Gibson, Dr IanKingham, Ms Tess
Gilroy, Mrs LindaKirkwood, Archy
Godsiff, RogerKumar, Dr Ashok
Goggins, PaulLawrence, Ms Jackie
Gordon, Mrs EileenLaxton, Bob
Gorrie, DonaldLepper, David
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)Leslie, Christopher
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Levitt, Tom
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Grocott, BruceLewis, Terry (Worsley)
Liddell, Mrs HelenPrentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Linton, MartinPrentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Livingstone, KenPrimarolo, Dawn
Livsey, RichardPurchase, Ken
Llwyd, ElfynQuin, Ms Joyce
Lock, DavidQuinn, Lawrie
McAllion, JohnRadice, Giles
McAvoy, ThomasRammell, Bill
McCabe, SteveRaynsford, Nick
McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
McDonagh, SiobhainReid, Dr John (Hamilton N)
Macdonald, CalumRendel, David
McDonnell, JohnRobertson, Rt Hon George
McFall, John(Hamilton S)
McGuire, Mrs AnneRobinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
McIsaac, ShonaRoche, Mrs Barbara
McKenna, Mrs RosemaryRogers, Allan
Mackinlay, AndrewRooker, Jeff
McLeish, HenryRooney, Terry
Maclennan, RobertRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
McNamara, KevinRowlands, Ted
McNulty, TonyRoy, Frank
MacShane, DenisRuane, Chris
Mactaggart, FionaRussell, Bob (Colchester)
McWilliam, JohnRussell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Mahon, Mrs AliceRyan, Ms Joan
Mallaber, JudySalter, Martin
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)Sanders, Adrian
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)Savidge, Malcolm
Marshall, David (Shettleston)Sedgemore, Brian
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Sheerman, Barry
Marshall—Andrews, RobertSheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Martlew, EricShipley, Ms Debra
Maxton, JohnShort, Rt Hon Clare
Meacher, Rt Hon MichaelSingh, Marsha
Meale, AlanSmith, Angela (Basildon)
Merron, GillianSmith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Michael, AlunSmith, Miss Geraldine
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)(Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Milburn, AlanSmith, John(Glamorgan)
Miller, AndrewSmith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Mitchell, AustinSmith, Sir Robert(W Ab'd'ns)
Moffatt, LauraSnape, Peter
Moonie, Dr LewisSoley, Clive
Moore, MichaelSouthworth, Ms Helen
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)Spellar, John
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)Squire, Ms Rachel
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)Steinberg, Gerry
Mountford, KaliStewart, David(Inverness E)
Mudie, GeorgeStinchcombe, Paul
Mullin, ChrisStoate, Dr Howard
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)Stott, Roger
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Murphy, Paul (Torfaen)Stringer, Graham
Naysmith, Dr DougStuart, Ms Gisela
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)Stunell, Andrew
O'Brien, Mike (N Walks)Sutcliffe, Gerry
O'Hara, EddieSwinney, John
Olner, BillTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
O'Neill, Martin(Dewsbury)
Öpik, LembitTaylor, David (NW Leics)
Organ, Mrs DianaTaylor, Matthew(Truro)
Osborne, Ms SandraThomas, Gareth(Clwyd W)
Palmer, Dr NickThomas, Gareth R(Harrow W)
Pearson, IanTimms, Stephen
Pendry, TomTipping, Paddy
Perham, Ms LindaTodd, Mark
Pickthall, ColinTonge, Dr Jenny
Pike, Peter LTouhig, Don
Plaskitt, JamesTrickett, Jon
Pollard, KerryTruswell, Paul
Pond, ChrisTurner, Dennis(Wolverh'ton SE)
Pope, GregTurner, Desmond(Kemptown)
Pound, StephenTurner, Dr George(KW Norfolk)
Powell, Sir RaymondTyler, Paul
Vaz, KeithWillis, Phil
Vis, Dr RudiWills, Michael
Wallace, JamesWinnick, David
Walley, Ms JoanWinterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Ward, Ms ClaireWood, Mike
Watts, DavidWorthington, Tony
Webb, SteveWray, James
Welsh, AndrewWright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Wicks, MalcolmWright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Wigley, DafyddWyatt, Derek
Williams, Rt Hon Alan
(Swansea W)Tellers for the Ayes:
Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)Mr. Jon Owen Jones and
Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)Mr. Robert Ainsworth)
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Green, Damian
Amess, DavidGreenway, John
Ancram, Rt Hon MichaelGrieve, Dominic
Arbuthnot, JamesGummer, Rt Hon John
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)Hague, Rt Hon William
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Baldry, TonyHammond, Philip
Beggs, RoyHawkins, Nick
Bercow, JohnHayes, John
Beresford, Sir PaulHeald, Oliver
Blunt, CrispinHeathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Body, Sir RichardHeseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Boswell, TimHogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Horam, John
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs VirginiaHoward, Rt Hon Michael
Brady, GrahamHowarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Brazier, JulianHunter, Andrew
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterJack, Rt Hon Michael
Browning, Mrs AngelaJackson, Robert(Wantage)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Jenkin, Bernard
Burns, SimonJohnson Smith,
Butterfill, JohnRt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Cash, WilliamKey, Robert
Chapman, Sir SydneyKing, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
(Chipping Barnet)Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Chope, ChristopherLaing, Mrs Eleanor
Clappison, JamesLansley, Andrew
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington)Leigh, Edward
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)Letwin, Oliver
Clarke, Rt Hon KennethLewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
(Rushcliffe)Lidington, David
Clifton—Brown, GeoffreyLilley, Rt Hon Peter
Collins, TimLloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Colvin, MichaelLoughton, Tim
Cormack, Sir PatrickLuff, Peter
Curry, Rt Hon DavidLyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Davies, Quentin (Grantham)MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)McIntosh, Miss Anne
Day, StephenMackay, Andrew
Dorrell, Rt Hon StephenMaclean, Rt Hon David
Duncan, AlanMcLoughlin, Patrick
Duncan Smith, IainMadel, Sir David
Emery, Rt Hon Sir PeterMagginnis, Ken
Evans, NigelMajor, Rt Hon John
Faber, DavidMalins, Humfrey
Fabricant, MichaelMaples, John
Fallon, MichaelMates, Michael
Flight, HowardMaude, Rt Hon Francis
Forth, Rt Hon EricMawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir NormanMay, Mrs Theresa
Fox, Dr LiamMoss, Malcolm
Fraser, ChristopherNicholls, Patrick
Gale, RogerNorman, Archie
Garnier, EdwardOttaway, Richard
Gibb, NickPage, Richard
Gill, ChristopherPaterson, Owen
Gillan, Mrs CherylPickles, Eric
Goodlad, Rt Hon AlastairPrior, David
Gorman, Mrs TeresaRandall, John
Gray, JamesRedwood, Rt Hon John
Robathan, AndrewTemple-Morris, Peter
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)Townend, John
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)Tredinnick, David
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)Trend, Michael
Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)Trimble, David
Ruffley, DavidTyrie, Andrew
St Aubyn, NickViggers, Peter
Sayeed, JonathanWalter, Robert
Shepherd, RichardWardle, Charles
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)Waterson, Nigel
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)Wells, Bowen
Soames, NicholasWhitney, Sir Raymond
Spelman, Mrs CarolineWiddecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Spicer, Sir MichaelWilkinson, John
Spring, RichardWilletts, David
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir JohnWilshire, David
Steen, AnthonyWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Streeter, GaryWinterton, Nicholas(Macclesfield)
Swayne, DesmondWoodward, Shaun
Syms, RobertYeo, Tim
Tapsell, Sir PeterYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)Tellers for the Noes:
Taylor, John (Solihull)Mr. James Cran and
Taylor, Sir TeddyMr. John Whittingdale

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63(2) (Committal of Bills),

That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Doug Henderson.]

Question agreed to.

Committee tomorrow.