Exchange of Information Between Court of Auditors and Other Bodies

Orders of the Day — European Communities (Amendment) Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:30 pm on 19th January 1998.

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'.—In accordance with Article 2, paragraph 43c (cmd. 3780, page 38) of the Treaty of Amsterdam, the Secretary of State shall establish a standing mechanism for the exchange of information between the Court of Auditors and, respectively, the National Audit Office and the Northern Ireland Audit Office, and, in respect of funds administered by local government, the Audit Commission and the Commission for Local Authority Accounts in Scotland.'.—[Mr. David Heath.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

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

This is an important new clause. I hope that I shall speak briefly enough to enable the Minister to accept it without question in the short time available to us before 8 o'clock.

Very simply, there is a pressing need to beef up co-operation between the European and the national auditors. As we know, 80 per cent. of European expenditure is administered by national Governments; that is where the bulk of fraud, maladministration and other irregularities are found.

The Court of Auditors is doing a very good job. It seems to me that it is showing up some of the inadequacies in the present system. In its most recent report, for the third year running the Court of Auditors was unable to give formal approval to the spending accounts.

Fraud costs the European Union about £3 billion a year—an amount equal to about 5.4 per cent. of its entire budget. Between 1988 and 1996, VAT fraud alone cost the EU about £750 million.

I believe that the audit systems that are in place in this country are extremely good. I used to be a member of the Audit Commission and I obviously had some interest in the way in which that body worked. If we can link the very good audit systems that we have in this country with that available to the Court of Auditors through Europe, we shall provide a very good example of a seamless system of audit, which will substantially reduce fraud. We can then be much more open in our selling of that process to other member states, in the hope that they will accede to similar arrangements and that we can substantially reduce the fraud bill and redirect the money saved back to member states or into European programmes that need support. Obviously, a standing link would be the most efficacious way to achieve that.

If the Government are serious about cracking down on fraud—as I believe they are—they should take the opportunity to accede to the suggestion in the new clause and to provide that standing link, as an example to other member states. I ask the Minister to support the new clause.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

During the passage of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993, I tabled an amendment regarding fraud and the issue of the relationship between the Court of Auditors and national Parliaments. Although, Sir Alan, I am sure that, you would not want me to impugn your integrity and impartiality during this debate, I am sure that as a former co-member of the Select Committee on European Legislation, you will recall that I have pursued this question diligently for many years.

I intend not to make a long speech but simply to respond to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), so I merely say that I do not believe for a minute that there is the slightest chance of the other member states agreeing to scrutiny arrangements of the type that are available to us in the United Kingdom in the form of the Public Accounts Committee and the Comptroller and Auditor General.

It is unnecessary for me to go into detail, as I have spoken on the subject many times, but I am deeply apprehensive about the proposals in the treaty of Amsterdam, and I do not believe for a minute that the improvements that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome said he hoped for will take place. If there is no improvement, I am afraid that our taxpayers will be taken to the cleaners over and over again. I need not enlarge on that point, although I could easily make a speech of one and a half hours about it. In this case, one and a half minutes will suffice.

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

I cannot accept the new clause. I fear that it could lead to an increase in bureaucracy, which is not what the Government would wish. As I understand it, the National Audit Office is content with the present arrangements for co-operation with the Court of Auditors. It is looking into what improvements can be made to the current system; it has the Government's support in doing so. It would be much better to await its review and to see how improvements can be put in place before establishing any unnecessary additional bureaucracy.

Question put and negatived.

Bill reported, without amendment, pursuant to the Order [17 December].

Order for Third Reading read.

8 pm

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

May I first convey to the House the apologies of the Foreign Secretary—I believe that he has already conveyed them to the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard)—who is on important Government business in China.

We are bringing to a close this stage of the parliamentary scrutiny of the Amsterdam treaty. We have spent many hours in detailed examination of the treaty, and I believe that the scrutiny by the House has been conducted with the thoroughness which this important treaty merits. We have discussed amendments relating to virtually every clause of the treaty, but, thanks to the Government's timetable motion, we have also been able to make reasonable progress.

I cannot agree with Conservative Members' claims that scrutiny has been inadequate. I do not regard a total of about 30 hours' debate in the House as a cursory examination; and compared with the scrutiny given in other EU Parliaments to similar measures, we have done very well.

By passing the Bill, we will be able to bring into UK law the parts of the treaty that give rise to Community rights and obligations, and thus to proceed to formal ratification of the treaty. I hope that progress on the Bill will continue to be as good, and that the United Kingdom will be one of the first member states to ratify the treaty of Amsterdam. With our presidency of the Union, that will send an important signal to our European partners that the new British Government are committed to full engagement in Europe. That contrasts with the Maastricht treaty which, in the hands of the previous Government, we were virtually the last to ratify. The ratification process is well on track in other member states, and we are optimistic that the treaty will come into force early in 1999.

Much has changed since the treaty was agreed in June. In those heady days of summer, the Opposition were strident in their advocacy of an immediate referendum on Amsterdam in the United Kingdom. I am pleased to note that they have now fallen in line with the Government's view that that would not be appropriate. I welcome Conservative Front Benchers' conversion, even if some Tory Back Benchers take a different view.

I pay tribute to hon. Members on both sides for the high quality of the debates on the Bill. The Daily Telegraph, no less, reported on 17 December that these debates had seen some of the most impressive Opposition speeches since the general election. I should add that there have not exactly been many runners in the contest, but I am happy to give credit where it is due. There have been many interventions by Labour Members, too, of great sincerity and quality.

The minority in the House who seem to remain opposed to the Bill have struggled to find any rational reasons for opposing it. The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe has shared with us his nightmare vision of the sanctions clause—our 14 partners will gang up on the UK for no good reason and impose sanctions on us. The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), however, has pointed out that that is so far from reality as to be laughable. Anything that makes Conservative Members laugh is to be commended—they have not had much to laugh about of late.

The shadow Foreign Secretary has repeatedly castigated the Government for signing up to more qualified majority voting. That is somewhat hypocritical, given that the former Government signed up to QMV for a whole raft of single market legislation under the Single European Act; and for 30 other areas under Maastricht. The Tories disregard the fact that it is in our national interest to sign up to majority voting in a number of areas.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has also tried to suggest that allowing British people the same benefits as are enjoyed by their European counterparts, who have incorporated the social chapter already, will bring the British economy crashing to its knees. The truth, as the vast majority of hon. Members recognise, is that this is a good treaty for this country.

The new treaty marks a new direction for the Union as it moves towards the new priorities of enlargement and working better for its citizens. The EU faces a host of new challenges: the need to compete in global markets; to adjust to profound social changes; to respond to external political developments; and to tackle new threats to the EU's security at home and abroad. We are determined that the Union should be in good shape to meet those challenges. As president, we are actively promoting policies to meet those challenges head on.

Agreeing the new treaty of Amsterdam was the first step in this process. We achieved what is widely regarded across Europe as a very British treaty which reflects the British Government's priorities on: employment, fighting crime, protecting the environment, subsidiarity and an increased role for national Parliaments, measures to counter fraud in the Community, greater openness in the Union, fighting discrimination, and animal welfare. To that list could be added foreign policy co-ordination, a recognition of NATO's key role in defence, and retaining the veto for key common foreign and security policy decisions. On all those issues, we went to Amsterdam looking for results—and we got them. We showed at Amsterdam that it is possible to have a constructive relationship with Europe to our mutual benefit.

We will accept no lessons from Conservatives on how to negotiate in Europe or anywhere else. They fail to understand that the EU is not a zero sum game. So we shall continue to play a full and active part in Europe, looking for consensus, not conflict, as the best way of securing the national interest. This treaty shows that that can be done, and the benefits of doing it. I look forward to telling the House about more such success in the future, and I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State 8:07 pm, 19th January 1998

The fact that we are now less than two hours away from the end of debating this Bill is an outrage. It gives effect to a major treaty which provides for the transfer of substantial powers from the Parliament of the United Kingdom to sources of power and authority outside this kingdom. It provides for the surrender of our veto, for an extension of qualified majority voting and for an increase in the powers of the European Parliament. It subjects us to the social chapter. It neuters any substance in the concept of subsidiarity. It will increase the extent to which laws can be made binding on the people of this country without their consent or that of their Parliament or Government.

Yet, as a result of a brutal exercise of the guillotine after only 12 hours' debate in Committee, completely free of filibuster, the whole of the Bill's scrutiny in Committee of the whole House has been confined to just over 20 hours.

Reporting progress a few moments ago, the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones) used the time-honoured phrase when he said: the Committee has gone through the European Communities (Amendment) Bill". Rarely has that been a more hollow claim. The Minister said that scrutiny had been conducted with thoroughness. It is true that we have done what we could in the very limited time available, but the fact that the Government have imposed such a draconian guillotine on the Bill is a disgrace. I hope that, when another place comes to consider it in detail, that will be borne in mind. The best that the Minister could say when he was defending the guillotine was that the scrutiny that the House had given to the Bill compared favourably with that in other Parliaments of the European Union, as though that was supposed to be some consolation to us.

It would be foolish to consider the Bill in isolation. While power is being transferred from Britain to Brussels and Strasbourg, it is also being transferred from Westminster to Edinburgh, to some as yet undesignated seat in Wales, and in due course, no doubt, to the English regions.

It is all of a piece. Those who want to see a Europe of the regions, in which the important decisions in Europe are increasingly taken in Brussels and in the regions of Europe, with less and less being decided in national Parliaments, would applaud that agenda with enthusiasm.

Those of us with reservations about that agenda are not hostile to Europe or to the European Union. We are not anti-Europe or anti-European; on the contrary, we want to see a European Union that works, with Britain as a prominent part of it, but we believe that further and deeper integration, far from contributing to that objective, will have the opposite effect.

We believe that the strains and stresses that will result will undermine and fragment the cohesion of the European Union. We believe that they will increase the resentment felt in this country as more and more decisions are taken without the consent of the Parliament of the United Kingdom

That is why the Bill and the treaty to which it gives effect should have been given proper scrutiny. That is why enough time should have been made available for that scrutiny to take place. That is why the Government's approach to these important matters is such a scandal.

Last Thursday, to add insult to injury, we had the bizarre spectacle of the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes), who is not in his place, taking up time with the apparent intention of protecting the Minister from the need to reply to the debate, and then blaming Opposition Members. It was the hon. Member for Ilford, South and the Minister who voted for the guillotine. They were responsible for the fact that the amount of time available was so limited, and they had the gall to point the finger at us.

During the debates that we have had, we have done the best we could to give the Bill due scrutiny, to identify its many shortcomings and to ask the questions that need answering. We have done that in a responsible way, as was shown by our attitude to the last amendment that we pressed to a Division. We do not make unnecessary points. We do not vote for unnecessary amendments. There is enough in the Bill to warrant justified opprobrium to make that unnecessary.

The Minister, to give him credit where credit is due, has made a brave effort, especially in the earlier part of our scrutiny, to answer our questions. It is not his fault that he could not, for the most part, give satisfactory answers or proper assurances. The fault is in the treaty and the Bill, and with the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister for signing up to the treaty.

The Government claim to want to create jobs. By signing up, in the treaty, to the social chapter, they will destroy jobs. The Government claim to want to lead Europe. By signing up, in the treaty, to more qualified majority voting, they will ensure that they can be ignored on major issues. The Government claim to want to improve democracy. By signing up, in the treaty, to measures that will weaken Westminster, they will undermine the basis of our democracy. In almost every area, the measures to which the Government have signed up in the treaty will achieve the opposite of what they intend.

The treaty is at least as bad for what it omits as for what it contains. It will bring about no progress on enlargement or on quota-hopping, and will do nothing to justify the Prime Minister's bold words before the election. The Prime Minister went to Amsterdam seeking to decentralise power within the Union. He failed. He went to Amsterdam promising to prepare the way for enlargement. He failed. He went to Amsterdam having given an explicit pledge to our fishing communities that he would secure a better deal for them. He failed.

For the reasons that we have given in our debates, and for the reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) in his excellent article in The Times this morning, the treaty is a bad treaty—bad for Britain and bad for Europe. That is why Conservative Members will have no hesitation in voting against the Bill tonight.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 8:14 pm, 19th January 1998

At this stage in the Bill's progress, it is unlikely that any minds will be moved to take up a different viewpoint from that with which they began. Much of what the shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), just said echoes what he said on Second Reading and, if my memory serves me correctly, what he said when we debated the guillotine motion.

This is not so much a game of two halves as a debate of two irreconcilable viewpoints. It has been clear from the beginning that the Conservative party would vote against the Bill at this stage, as at every other stage. Some who have spoken would have voted against any Bill and any treaty that had come out of the IGC. If one analyses the speeches made over the days on which we have considered the Bill, one sees clearly that a large part of the present parliamentary representation of the Conservative party is opposed not just to further European integration, but to Europe itself.

The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor), who is in his place, indefatigable as ever, honourable, consistent in his opposition, has made no secret, even during a long period of Conservative government, of his opposition to any further integration in Europe.

I cannot help thinking that we and the country would have a much more productive debate if all those who genuinely want Britain to come out of the European Union would declare themselves, and if those who want to row back would tell us to what point they wish to row back—before Maastricht, before the single European Act? Their position is clothed in ambiguity.

Surely those who want to come out of Europe and those who want to row back have an obligation to offer a coherent alternative to the course on which successive British Governments have set themselves, and of which the Bill, following the Amsterdam treaty, is a logical and, in my view, not particularly significant extension.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman believe that those who are in favour of a federal Europe owe it to the House to come clean and tell us that? Do not those who are in favour of the Bill and the treaty have a duty to tell the House what they see as the ultimate destination of the European Union that they want?

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

I have no complaint about the notion of a federal Europe. Federalism, as properly defined, is a system of government that devolves power, rather than aggregating it. [Interruption.] I know that some hon. Members find it difficult to control themselves or to conceal their true feelings. I offer them the Oxford English dictionary if they are looking for a definition. I have no quarrel with the notion that the economic integration of Europe was bound to be followed by increased political integration.

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

I have argued that case in the House, and so has my party, for a long time. I have no quarrel with the notion that we should have something approaching a federal United Kingdom. That is why I have argued for home rule throughout my adult political life.

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

Federalism allows one to define clearly and unambiguously the powers of the respective Parliaments. In my view it is a proper solution to the government of the United Kingdom, and in due course, if the peoples of Europe want to bring it about, it may be a proper solution to the way in which Europe should organise itself. However, a model of federalism is a long, long way in the distance from what we are considering in the treaty.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

In his enthusiasm for home rule, does the hon. and learned Gentleman accept that there will come a moment when people will be as anxious to ensure that we retain our legislative independence in this place as Parnell was determined to obtain it for the Irish people in his time? The home rule argument is totally at variance with the democracy of the United Kingdom.

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

I certainly do not accept that. Let us consider the history of the last part of the 19th century. If the arguments then in relation to Irish home rule had succeeded, perhaps we would not be experiencing some of the current difficulties in our relationship with Ireland. It is worth pointing out that another effort was made just before the outbreak of the first world war—if my memory serves me correctly, legislation seeking to bring home rule to both Ireland and Scotland received a Second Reading—but it failed because of the assassination at Sarajevo.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that, when the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) was leader of the Conservative party, he came to Perth and issued what was called the declaration of Perth. He argued the case for a Scottish Parliament extremely persuasively—to the extent that the late Sir Alec Douglas-Home, later Lord Home, told the people of Scotland in 1979 that they should vote against the proposals of the then Labour Government because the Conservatives had promised them something better: an assembly with tax-raising powers. I think that I have given enough history lessons to some of those less well-informed Opposition Members.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way so generously. To Opposition Members, he appears to resemble nothing so much as a shifting goal post. Let us try to pin him down. Some years ago, Jacques Delors expressed the hope and the expectation that, ultimately, 80 per cent. of laws affecting the citizens of the United Kingdom would originate in Brussels. Is that acceptable to the hon. and learned Gentleman? If it is not, will he tell the House at what point he would draw a line in the sand and say, "Thus far and no further"?

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

I do not think that it is possible to conduct such matters in that way. I find it rather amusing to hear references to Mr. Delors and federalism. Hon. Members may remember that Mr. Dehaene offered to play an important role in Europe but was turned down by the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), the former Conservative Prime Minister, on the grounds that he was thought to be too federal. Mr. Santer was chosen instead. The right hon. Gentleman described him as "the right man in the right place at the right time". However, in his first important contribution to the debate on Europe, Mr. Santer said that he thought that federalism was the direction that Europe should take. I do not believe that Conservative Members are in a position to preach to the rest of us about such matters.

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

No. I think that I have given way rather generously, and now I must continue. I am sure that some of those Opposition Members who wish to intervene will seek to catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The Tory consensus that was a rallying point on Second Reading—opposition to the social chapter—will no doubt have survived to Third Reading. However, it is a pretty fragile basis upon which to build a lasting consensus in the Conservative party on the issue of Europe. That consensus was fractured even in the course of this Bill by the 12 angry men who wrote to The Independent in support of a single currency. If today's reports are to be believed, the former Deputy Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), is willing to engage in cross-party efforts to inform the public of the benefits of Europe, and particularly the advantages of a single currency.

Those people have been dismissed as yesterday's men—particularly the former Deputy Prime Minister. That is rather cavalier treatment. I wonder how many of those who are now anxious to join that chorus were eager to welcome him to the diet of liebfraumilch and overdone chicken which I believe is the fare at the annual dinner of most Conservative associations.

The social chapter is no threat to the economy of the United Kingdom or to inward investment. Inward investment is more at risk from the present economic difficulties of investing countries, such as those in Asia, than from any risk associated with adopting the social chapter. The United Kingdom needs a work force that is educated, motivated and confident—not one that feels exploited. By way of illustration, we are talking about what is essentially best practice: some 57 blue chip United Kingdom companies, such as BP and British Airways, already have works councils.

The treaty establishes several principles. Environmental protection and sustainable development must be fundamental priorities and qualified majority voting can be extended to areas such as fraud. Two months ago, the European Union Court of Auditors reported that, in the previous year, £3 billion had been wasted through fraud. That figure is about £9 billion for the past year. If ever there were an argument for introducing qualified majority voting to deal with a problem, it lies in those bald figures.

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

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will excuse me, but I must make progress. The treaty opens the way to enlargement—although not as much as it should as there is no proper consideration of the institutional changes that will be required when enlargement takes place. There will have to be some other consideration of that in another intergovernmental conference or another forum of that kind.

The treaty states the primacy of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. However, those who remember the detail of the Maastricht treaty will recall that the proposition for a common foreign and security policy was without prejudice to any existing treaty obligations of EU members. The treaty allows closer co-operation through the Western European Union regarding humanitarian and peacekeeping tasks.

Viewed objectively in relation to common foreign and security policy, the treaty amounts to no more than a consolidation. However, I believe that the policy will continue to develop. There is a current practical example of that. A troika has gone to Algeria, under the leadership of the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett), to put forward proposals on behalf of the European Union in the interests of the people of the European Union. I believe that that kind of arrangement is likely to be repeated on many future occasions.

On Second Reading, the Foreign Secretary described the Bill as a triumph, and his shadow, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), described it as a disaster. As I said then, they cannot both be right, but they can both be wrong. We have reached the concluding stages of the Bill. I believe that it marks modest progress in Europe and modest progress in the interests of the United Kingdom. That is why I and my right hon. and hon. Friends will support it in the Lobby tonight.

Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Labour, Great Grimsby 8:27 pm, 19th January 1998

I feel rather like a late guest at a funeral who sweeps in at the conclusion of the sermon and announces that the dear departed was a bit of a creep. In this case, the dear departed is the Bill, and that is a pretty accurate description of it and the Amsterdam treaty. We must find another way of implementing such measures in this place. It is ludicrous to push legislation through on a Government majority—that will always happen because the Government have negotiated the legislation—supported by the Liberal Democrats, who will support anything from Europe because they are Euro-daft. The hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), who has just spoken, has demonstrated that.

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

As the hon. Gentleman said, he has come late to the wedding feast. [HON. MEMBERS: "Funeral."] He has come late to the celebration. If he had been in the Chamber only an hour ago, he would have heard us take issue with the Government about part of the treaty. The hon. Gentleman is, by and large, a sensible individual who adopts a sensible view. I do not always agree with him, but it does not do him or his argument much good to indulge in that sort of sweeping generalisation.

Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Labour, Great Grimsby

I agree that the Liberals always try to get the best of both worlds. I agree also with some of the sensible amendments that were tabled on openness and the production of reports. However, it remains the case that the Liberals will accept anything that comes from Europe because they accept the ultimate destination of a federal Europe; the rest of the House does not. The Liberals are alone in that respect. They are out of touch with public opinion, but people do not notice because the Liberals are not particularly important politically.

The stand of the Liberals is characterised by my recollection of the then Grimsby by-election, during which I was fighting on a platform of taking British control of British fishing waters. The Liberals were passionate enthusiasts for and supporters of Europe. During the very period of the by-election, a Liberal Member introduced a private Member's Bill that would have had the effect of the British taking control of a 50-mile limit. In other words, the Liberals believe in a common fisheries policy that precludes such a limit, but they are prepared to act in that fashion for opportunist, populist reasons. They whip up populist complaints while accepting the principle that has given rise to them.

I was saying, in effect, that we are engaged in a bad way of doing business. We are pushing through legislation when we cannot even consider the treaty to which it relates because we are considering the implementation of the treaty in British law and not the provisions of the treaty. We have had no influence on it. It would be far better—this would give us coherent options—if we could discuss what our proposals are and come to decisions for which Ministers could bargain, rather than have posthumously to accept whatever is determined.

I must make a shocking confession: I voted for the Bill's Second Reading. Since then I have received much friendly mail from fellow Euro-sceptics throughout the country inviting me to go forth and multiply, to drop dead or to do other things that I am not especially inclined to do. Tonight, however, I intend to kneel down for my principles by abstaining. That is real courage on my part, because I am a nervous rebel. I have never seen myself as a natural born rebel.

I believe that I am justified in abstaining on Third Reading. The Bill has not improved, despite the amendments that were tabled—some of which I supported—on openness, reports and clarity. I still adhere to my view that the Bill relates to a pretty futile treaty. In effect, it is the first treaty for the Labour party.

The original negotiations took place under the Conservatives. The negotiations on a single market took place through the Conservatives. The Maastricht treaty was carried through by the Conservatives. Here we are, new Labour, with a new and sensible approach. Surely it is sensible to say, "Let us work with Europe to see what we can get by working together rather than taking a confrontational approach." That is eminently sensible, and I went along with it.

The Labour party is not naturally a Euro-enthusiastic organisation, because we represent the people, and the people are pretty cool and sceptical about the whole business. We are concerned primarily with jobs and economic growth, which makes us worry about the economic consequences of Europe. At the same time, it is right to introduce a new spirit, to end isolation and to end the us-and-them situation in Europe, just as we are dedicated to ending the us-and-them approach in British society.

We testified as a new Government to a desire for change and co-operation by accepting the social chapter. It is not something with the horrendous consequences that the Opposition spokesman, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), sought to put before the House. In fact, it is a piece of sublime mysticism and nonsense that in practice means very little. However, we testified to it by saying that in principle we were in favour of monetary union.

I accept that big concessions have been made towards Europe, but what have we secured in return? The answer is the usual European approach of never giving a sucker an even break. We have got nothing. We were bamboozled by a mess of Amsterdam potage. Some say that we are engaged in—I think that it is probably the right interpretation—tying up the loose ends of Maastricht, but others see it as supercharging Maastricht. In so far as it does that, the process is covert and threatening.

I am concerned by some of the Bill's consequences. For example, I am concerned to see Europe becoming an entity in respect of foreign, security and defence policy. I am concerned also that the Western European Union accepted that. Indeed, its acceptance is embodied in the treaty. This is potentially disastrous. It has been specifically accepted that the WEU will develop its role as the European political and military body for crisis management.

There will be further development of its own operational role. There is reference to "crisis management mechanisms" and Preliminary Conclusions on the Formulation of a Common European Defence Policy. We read of the definition of principles for the use of armed forces". Here we have a defence entity emerging. There is the potential for enormous conflict between the role of NATO and that of the WEU along with the European Union. The seeds of confusion are planted in that tension.

I think that we are seeing the undermining of subsidiarity through the treaty. I think also that The Daily Telegraph was right to argue last week that, once accepted, the principle that I have outlined would make the EU legally a federation. Its jurisdiction would derive not from the authority of member states but would come directly from the European treaties as interpreted by the European Court. I think that that is right. We are accepting that as our principle and, therefore, we are accepting that form of federalism—something both major parties committed themselves in their manifestos to opposing. We committed ourselves to opposing the emergence of a European federation yet such a federation is implicit in the position that has been taken on subsidiarity.

The real worry is that we are not advancing democracy. The people's Europe is an attractive concept that is much talked about. If it could be a people's Europe I might reconsider my attitude, but at present, and I think for the future—I stand to be converted—the nation state is the only form of government in which we have been able to give people control over their own destinies and is a framework that enriches people of the particular nation. The nation state has done that successfully since the second world war.

It is no coincidence that Britain's growth slowed and that unemployment quadrupled after we joined the European Union. The nation state is the only way that we have found, yet it is undermined by the treaty because we are building on a legalistic entity called Europe that is not government of the people for the people by the people but essentially government of the treaty by the treaty for the treaty—and for those who wrote the treaty and will interpret it.

The people do not figure in that legalistic morass. We have a constitution that, thanks to the reordering that is implicit in the treaty, is spread over 314 articles and more than 50 protocols. The original concept of Europe, when it was the common market, was to try to build a palace on a cowshed because it stemmed from the common agricultural policy. We are trying now to build a vision on a legal morass.

The process is self-defeating, because the people cannot identify with the tangled complex of interpretations and qualifications that Europe is emerging as. Europe is bogged down in argument, legalism and interpretation. This is happening at a time when the real battle over the economy is still to be fought in terms of economic and monetary union. We are faced with an abhorrent concept and it is not one the people can view with any enthusiasm. It is a self-defeating approach. I hope very much that it is, and I cannot support it.

What can I do? Well, I can be cowardly—new Labour, new rules on dissent. If we vote against Government policy en masse, we are more or less all right; vote against it alone—I do not see myself conspicuously supported in the Chamber—and it is rather like "Beyond the Fringe". At this stage in the conflict, do we need a futile gesture? Various Euro-enthusiastic friends have been encouraging me to make that futile gesture by saying, "You must stand up for your principles tonight, Austin." Instead, I shall abstain for them.

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor Conservative, Rochford and Southend East 8:38 pm, 19th January 1998

The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) deserves congratulations for being willing to abstain. I know that life is tough under new Labour, and I can assure him that, if he gets into trouble, I shall be glad to make a contribution to his welfare and that of his family.

I dissagreed with the hon. Gentleman only on the dangers of a federal Europe. I wish that people would stop talking about a federal Europe because when one considers the current state of the European constitution, a federal Europe may be infinitely better than what we have under the treaty. A federal Europe would be democratic; the European Union is not. A federal Europe would set out the lines of responsibility between the centre and the small regions or nation states; the present structure does not. I certainly do not support a federal Europe, but people should accept that what we now have is well beyond a federal Europe and that we are kidding ourselves, as we have done so often, by describing it as a danger.

You were very kind to call me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as I have spoken on all previous European treaties, so I shall be brief. I wish to make three simple points that I hope the Minister will consider. First, although there has been some disagreement on the extent to which power has been passed over, I hope that he will accept the basic point that, once again, we are handing over power from our democratic Parliaments and getting nothing back. All previous European treaties, including the treaty of Rome, have passed power to the centre away from democracies to a new form of indirect democracy controlled by the single European state.

The hon. Member for Great Grimsby spoke about sitting round the table and being positive. Every Prime Minister has done that. All Governments start out in the same way. They are always enthusiastic. They say, "We shall do things differently. We shall be positive and sit around the table and do things sensibly. We are not like the idiots who came before us, and we shall do sensible things." The previous Prime Minister was anxious to be at the heart of Europe. He meant that sincerely, but it all went wrong, as it did for the Prime Minister before him, and it will happen again. I hope that the Minister will accept the simple fact that a great deal of power has gone and nothing has come back. Is it not time for us to approach the European conferences to propose that some powers should return to democracy?

Secondly, the Minister has presented the treaty as a victory, as though it is in some way better than the other treaties. If he looks back at the speeches made on previous treaties, he will find that the same argument has been put in every case.

I recall the debate on the Second Reading of the Bill relating to the Maastricht treaty. I felt very guilty about it, because the then Prime Minister was a very nice person, but what he said was ridiculous. Other Ministers—in the Foreign Office and in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—said the same thing. They said, "We are not giving anything away. There is a balance. First, we have the opt-out on the single currency."

I would love to show today's Ministers the paper issued by the Bank of England on the so-called opt-out. It states: As the UK has opted out, the article 109(4) regulation will not apply directly in the UK. However, most of the relevant provisions will most certainly apply indirectly because they are part of the monetary law governing the Euro and will therefore be recognised by the English courts. That was page 86 of the excellent document issued by Eddie George which tells the truth. Those who think otherwise are kidding themselves.

We then had the social chapter opt-out, which was also a joke, because, when it came to the 48-hour week, we found to our horror that all the social chapter measures could be brought in under other majority vote proceedings. We then had all the great celebrations about subsidiarity. They were also a joke. Although some people think that there is some danger under the Amsterdam treaty, basically they think that it is okay.

The Government are now claiming a new concession, which I understand was achieved by the previous Government, although that may be a wild political rumour, guaranteeing our frontiers. I wish that they would look at what is happening in the European Court as it affects some of my constituents. The Government may think that we have control of our borders, but in practical terms they are being undermined by the European Court.

The speech by the hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) illustrated the undue optimism to which I have referred. He referred to the terrible business of fraud in Europe. He said that we now think in terms of £3 billion, £4 billion or £5 billion being lost through fraud. He said that we needed a majority vote to deal with the problem. I know that he is an optimist and a very kindly person and I am sure that he is kind to children and dogs, but what difference will majority voting make?

We have a series of policies, such as the common agricultural policy, that are an invitation to fraud. Even if all the Ministers sit round trying to take decisions by majority vote, it will not make any difference. The hon. and learned Gentleman will remember all the pledges made by the previous Government—and, indeed, the present Government—about reforming the CAP. It is so pathetic. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) shares my outrage at the amount of money we spend on agriculture. Last time they said that they would reduce spending by cutting prices, and introduced area payments as compensation. They paid out the compensation, but sadly the prices did not fall, and the CAP is more expensive than ever.

My third and final point relates to the tragic lack of public interest in the whole business. A relatively large number of Conservative Members are present tonight. I have been most encouraged by the new intake of Back Benchers. In previous Governments, some of the Back Benchers on both sides of the House have been absolute rubbish. This time, we have a wonderful intake of people who are committed and concerned. However, there are very few Labour Members present tonight. They should not think that I am attacking them, as they usually have far more Members present than we do, given the limited number of Opposition Members. It is clear that there is no great interest in the subject.

When Referendum party candidates stood at the election, many people thought that they would wake everyone up and that people would either shout at them and say that it was rubbish or vote for them, but they made hardly any difference—although there was a serious marginal impact on the Conservative party.

I hope that the Government will accept that, when we pass multitudes of democratic power to non-democratic institutions, we have to get people interested, so that we either support it and wave a flag or oppose it. The plain fact is that people are not agitated, and nor is the House of Commons. In my view, that is because they are not being told what is happening to them, their families and their futures.

Although it is dangerous to ask the Government to spend money—I always try to avoid asking Governments to spend money—perhaps they should consider setting up a European truth campaign. I am not asking for a great deal of expenditure as I would not want to get involved in all the nonsense of agriculture. I would simply like the Government to place a little advertisement—perhaps it could be sponsored by politicians or people who want to promote European truth. I understand that a former deputy leader of the Conservative party was interested in promoting European truth.

We need to tell people what is actually happening—how much the European Community costs the average family in Britain. It is an awful lot of money. I have the figure here, but I would not think of trying to spread propaganda. I would like the Government, the Opposition and the Liberal Democrats—who also say that they believe in truth—to agree to tell people what it has actually cost them.

I remember the former Prime Minister, Lady Thatcher, quite rightly jumping up and down with rage at the possibility of an annual cost of £1,000 million, or £20 per person. She said that it was a ridiculous amount of money. It is far more now. I should like the Government to tell us what our net contribution is costing the average family.

The Confederation of British Industry is desperately enthusiastic about the EC, perhaps because the big firms would much prefer to deal with the Commission than with a democratic Government. I also understand that a great deal of money comes to the CBI from the EC, although that would not influence anything. The business community should tell people what has happened to our trade. I have the impression that most people think that the EU is good for trade, but of course it has been a disaster. The figures that I have seen, which may be wholly inaccurate, say that we now have a total deficit of £100,000 million.

I should also like people to know about the volume of legislation. How many laws are introduced under European rules that we cannot control? What is the truth? I should also like to ask about fraud. It is important that we should tell people the truth.

The great sadness is that we have negotiated another great treaty that will pass a huge amount of power to Europe at a time when Europe is getting into a deeper and deeper mess. If hon. Members are interested, they should look at tonight's Evening Standard, where they will see that the pound has gone up again, not because people like Britain or have confidence in it, but because they are looking for somewhere to put their currency to get it out of Europe because they are terrified about what may happen with the single currency.

It is desperately sad that we are ratifying another treaty to hand over more power. It is desperately sad that the Government, like previous Governments, are optimistic about what will happen. The greatest tragedy is that the public are not greatly motivated by this huge subject that we are debating. Like most Members of Parliament, I get a huge number of letters every week. I cannot recall one—this is tragic—about the Amsterdam treaty. I had some a few weeks ago on a tiny issue—I mentioned it to the Minister—relating to the transfer of power to Europe to discuss issues such as sexual orientation. Apart from that, I have had nothing.

The public should be concerned. It would be great if the Government, the Opposition and the Liberal Democrats agreed that people should be told what is happening. People should be told the truth. Then they might wake up and might not be presented with any more desperately worrying, undemocratic treaties like this one and all those that have gone before.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone 8:50 pm, 19th January 1998

What are we going to do about this treaty? The short answer is that no doubt we shall vote against it as a party, but despite the huge number of amendments that have been tabled to the Bill, the guillotine has been imposed. I tabled more than 100 amendments with some of my hon. Friends. They have all been voted down by the massive majority that the Government enjoy for the time being. Here we are, on Third Reading, with three Labour Back Benchers present. One of them has said that he will abstain; another, a member of the European Legislation Committee, is preparing to make what I imagine will be a short speech before the Minister replies; one other is sitting there in a Rodin-like posture, thinking about what he might do next.

There is no interest in the Bill or the treaty. There are about six people in the Strangers Gallery and one in the Press Gallery.

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

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not make any reference to outside the Chamber.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

I accept your strictures on that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but the reality is that there is no interest in the treaty or in the Bill. That is a disgrace for democracy in the United Kingdom.

The Opposition have played their part. A significant number—there may not be many—of Conservative Members have made exceptional speeches, attempting, within the constraints of the guillotine that has been imposed, to delve into the issues involved in the treaty and bring them out. Even if the media—the radio, the television and even the press—are not remotely interested in the future of the United Kingdom, Conservative Members have demonstrated their concern with some exceptional speeches, showing brilliant analysis and research.

Debates on the Maastricht treaty took about 60 days. It is astonishing that this Bill has been given no more than 20 or so hours of debate. It is a disgrace and an indictment of the Government that they have allowed that. There has been no filibuster from the Conservatives on any amendment. If there were any justification for a guillotine, the Government would have to point to some attempt to extend the debate beyond reasonable parameters. That has not happened.

The treaty contains a protocol—not merely a declaration, but a protocol—on scrutiny by national Parliaments. If the Government were even remotely interested in proper analysis and scrutiny, they would have allowed a decent amount of time to discuss the fundamental questions facing the future of the United Kingdom. Scarcely any time was given to qualified majority voting, for example. Other issues include the role of the Court of Justice, the relationship between the common foreign and security policy and NATO, or unemployment, to which the Government appear to give so much attention.

The Minister made simple, uninformed comments about fraud. He assumed that there will be a diminution in fraud as a result of these arrangements, but he gave no reasons. He knows perfectly well that the other member states are scarcely interested in the subject. We have discussed subsidiarity today. There are also discussions to be had about the social chapter and the employment prospects of our constituents.

The treaty of Amsterdam is no more than a finger in the dyke. In fact, it is even less than that. There is no intention to bring about the necessary reversal in the process of European integration, which is the object of those who are driving the federal goal forward. We should identify the main architects of the process to which the Government have given in by acquiescence and appeasement. Chancellor Kohl has made it abundantly clear that his objective is political union. There has been no attempt to trim that back. No negotiating position has been adopted that would have any effect on the fundamental movement towards European integration.

As Chancellor Kohl has said, European integration and German unity are two sides of the same coin. That is the name of the game. Through qualified majority voting, with countries that are economically and politically dependent on Germany, they will create the kind of Europe that they want. That is not the Europe that the British people want. It is not even the Europe that the German people want. That is the irony of the situation. The Bill is fundamentally un-European and undemocratic.

At a recent meeting with members of the Nordic Council, I asked many Ministers and distinguished Members of Parliament from those countries what would happen if a question on Amsterdam and political integration were put to their people. They all agreed that they would not get it through. "So what are you doing about it?" I asked. They replied, "Oh, our countries are too small. We have no option. We have to go along with it."

The process is being driven by fears and concerns and by the manipulation of the French and German Governments, who are determined to achieve their aims at all costs. The Government stand indicted of having appeased and acquiesced in that movement. The Minister ought to reply to these points. As far as I can judge, he has not replied to one question that was put to him on Second Reading or in Committee; I doubt whether he will answer any on Third Reading.

As I look at the treaty, I see that Minister for Foreign Affairs after Minister for Foreign Affairs has signed it, including Dr. Klaus Kinkel, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs and Deputy Federal Chancellor. The list goes on to include Mr. Douglas Henderson, Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office". I mean no disrespect to the Minister, but where is the Foreign Secretary's name? Why did not he sign the treaty? That is what I would like to know. The treaty is a cop-out and a sell-out by the Labour Government.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

My hon. Friend is being slightly unfair to the Minister, who gave lengthy consideration in Committee to the points that we raised. In fact, he took an hour to go through all the points that were raised by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, which I think members of the Committee appreciated. However, since the guillotine motion was imposed, his approach has become necessarily slapdash to an appalling degree.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

I am perfectly prepared to accept that the Minister is a decent and—although it is difficult for me to say—nice chap, but that is not enough.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

There is no room for sentiment on this matter.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

As my hon. Friend reminds me, it is pretty difficult for me to say something like that about members of the Government.

We are dealing with fundamental questions. We are not simply going through the motions of debating transport or environment policy. This Bill is about the United Kingdom's constitution. It is more important than the Scotland Bill. The Scotland Bill might be very important—indeed, I tabled 62 amendments to it—but this Bill is about the future government of the United Kingdom, and the difficulties that it will create for future generations cannot possibly be underestimated.

The hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) spoke about his desire for home rule, and said that the treaty was no more than modest progress. There has been no serious opposition to the proposals from the establishment in the United Kingdom—nothing from the media to speak of, no reporting, no firm action, as I believe has been necessary. There is only one way through the morass, and it goes back to Maastricht itself. We must renegotiate the treaties. There is no other way forward.

To be against the idea of a single currency as it evolves—even for 10 years—presupposes that the previous Government could not have adopted such a position. It is therefore incumbent on the Conservative party to give the kind of consideration to renegotiation that would lead us to a new horizon, a truly European horizon, which would be in the interests of the people not only of this country but of Europe as a whole. There is no doubt that the Conservatives have won the argument. When historians come to read these debates, they will judge for themselves, but I believe that we have won the argument hands down. No reply has been given, and hardly any Labour Members have spoken.

If people do not take any notice of what we say, if argument, persuasion and reason mean nothing any more in the House of Commons, and if the media will take no interest in what we say, we shall, as I have hinted before, have to take more direct action. If the measures require it—and I believe they do—we will take action to ensure that the British people understand what is going on. The question is not one of ameliorating a minor measure; it is about fundamental changes in the UK's future. Therefore, as I said earlier, just as Parnell fought to ensure that people in Ireland obtained legislative independence, so in this country are we bound to take the necessary action to ensure that we retain—indeed, regain—the legislative independence that is required for the United Kingdom.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough 9:03 pm, 19th January 1998

It is a great pleasure to follow such veterans of these debates as my hon. Friends the Members for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) and for Stone (Mr. Cash), and particularly my Lincolnshire neighbour the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), who made a number of interesting points, all of which I agreed with.

A feature of the debate has been that every speaker has bemoaned the lack of public interest. Why is that? I think it is because the treaty—indeed, the language of Europe—is dressed up in such a beguiling way. To an ordinary member of the public, the social chapter sounds so reasonable. Of course we want to protect people in the workplace. To a member of the ordinary public, subsidiarity sounds so reasonable—as do concerns about the protection of the environment. Despite the noble efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone and others, it has been difficult to stir up public interest.

The devil lies in the detail in these treaties, and, in the few minutes vouchsafed to me, I shall deal with one issue which has not been dealt with so far—the clause on discrimination. Again, it seems so very sensible. How could anyone object to an article which says: within the limits of the powers conferred by it upon the Community, the Council, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission and after consulting the European Parliament, may take appropriate action to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation"? Nobody in our country could, at first sight, possibly argue with such a provision.

Once the Bill has been passed—as it will be, with a massive majority—and once the treaty is ratified by this country, the clause could have many unintended effects. Its application and its wording are unpredictable. The Government have assured us—and will go on doing so, if they bother to reply to this point—that the Council must legislate under this clause. As we well know—it has been argued effectively by many of my hon. Friends in the debate—the European Court of Justice will seek, under those words, to extend the effect of the clause. Paradoxically, that could have an unintended but serious impact on religious liberties in the United Kingdom.

The United Kingdom has an enviable record in European history of protecting religious and other liberties. This difficult issue is best left to member states. Whatever one's views on the European convention on human rights and its incorporation into UK law—something that the Government are now doing; it is being dealt with in the other place—it is a sounder basis for dealing with the protection of liberties than the article that I have just quoted.

Specific EU legislation in specific areas can deal with specific problems, but if we ratify such a general clause without thinking it through, it could have a serious impact on religious liberties. Of course the European Court of Human Rights has a human rights agenda. That is fair enough, although many of us have expressed concerns about that court over the years. The problem with the European Court of Justice is that it will have a concern with human rights in the context of closer European integration. What was intended to be, fundamentally, an essentially economic court will now start wandering into very sensitive areas.

We have seen how that can cause major problems: for instance, in the Grogan case, where Irish abortion law—decided after a referendum and incorporated in the Irish constitution—was overturned by the court. The Irish Government had to get a special provision in the Maastricht treaty to determine their own affairs on an issue about which the Irish people feet strongly. This county has an advanced corpus of legislation on race and discrimination, and there is general support for that legislation. There might be problems with religious or other discrimination in certain countries in the EU, such as Greece—I know not. However, those issues should be addressed directly.

What we have here is a catch-all clause. Surely it is a question of balancing the right not to be discriminated against with the right to practise a religion or hold views freely and associate with others with common ideas. One of those rights should not undermine the other. I contend that that is what the treaty will do.

During the past 50 years, we have built up a great corpus of legislation. For example, in state education, discrimination against teachers on the basis of their religious opinions has been outlawed for more than 50 years. In Northern Ireland, legislation bars discrimination on the grounds of religion. Those provisions are already in our law. What need has this country for the treaty?

All our laws contain common-sense exceptions. One has to apply common sense in this matter. I shall give a few examples of discrimination in the public sector. Are there to be court cases about those issues? Many women object to mixed-sex wards in hospitals; should such wards close? Should the magistracy be open to adults under the age of 27? Should doctors be able to refuse fertility treatment to women in their late 40s? Should Sikh pupils be forbidden from carrying metal knives around their necks? Should the institution of marriage be restricted to heterosexual couples? Will the Church of England be able to keep control over who is married in its churches? Should Church schools be allowed to require head teachers to be practising Christians? Should they be able to insist that teachers of sex education personally adhere to that church's teaching on chastity outside of marriage?

Those are all difficult questions of conscience about which various religions and groups may feel strongly, but other people may have no concern. Are people who want to practise their faith in their own way to find themselves in a court of law because of the treaty that we are passing tonight in a Chamber that is three-quarters empty? This is not merely some arid debate about treaties or laws. It concerns everyday life and is therefore important. So the rights of one group have to be balanced with the rights of the majority.

I mentioned the example of Sikh boys, who are indeed refused the right to wear metal knives in school, but may, for instance, be permitted to wear plastic knives. Sometimes, United Kingdom law is based on Christian principles, which can require discrimination. For centuries we have required the courts to discriminate in many areas. For example, bigamous marriages are legitimate in some religions, countries and sects, but are not legal in the United Kingdom.

In conclusion, we have no written constitution in this country, but our religious freedoms have developed over centuries. Within Europe, we have a reputation that is second to none for protecting people's right to speak their mind and to practise their religion and faith in the way that they want. That record has not necessarily enjoyed by every European country. The greatest evils that have befallen the continent have resulted from discrimination based on race or religion. We know that, but in this country, despite the fact that we have not adhered to this type of treaty before and that we have no written constitution, we have a truly enviable record.

Are we entitled to take the risk of undermining the tolerance and progress that have taken centuries to build up through the common law? We are not, so we should have serious doubts about that aspect of the treaty.

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Labour, Harlow 9:13 pm, 19th January 1998

I am happy to give the treaty and the Government's negotiation of it my whole-hearted support. I fundamentally and passionately believe that it is a good treaty and a good deal for Britain. Despite the self-congratulation on the Opposition Benches, they have not put their arguments forcefully and no arguments have been won.

Conservative Members constantly draw attention to the absence of Labour Members in the Chamber. Perhaps they are absent because they have not been wholly convinced by the arguments advanced consistently here and elsewhere by Conservative Members in the past five years. They have not convinced their own party, let alone the House as a whole.

My hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for Europe rightly drew attention to the bizarre call by the Leader of the Opposition, in October or November, I think, for a referendum on the outcome of the Amsterdam treaty, and said that it had apparently been ditched. There was a shaking of heads among Conservative Members when he said that, so I would be interested to hear whether that policy—clearly a policy of opposition rather than of government—has indeed been ditched.

The shadow Foreign Secretary evinced much anger—fabricated, I believe—about the use of the guillotine. I say fabricated, because the whole House knows that the guillotine was used with impunity by the previous Tory Government over 18 years, on many Bills dealing with many different issues. His criticisms ring somewhat hollow.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

If the hon. Gentleman examines the history of the use of the guillotine in the past 18 years, he will not find a single example that is worse, in terms of curtailing debate, than the one introduced on this legislation. When the guillotine was introduced on the Single European Act, it was in the face of a deliberate filibuster, with spurious points of order and other delaying tactics. None of that existed in the discussion of the current Bill.

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Labour, Harlow

One Government's filibuster is another Opposition's reasoned argument; or the other way round. The guillotine was used on the Single European Act and on a host of other legislation. That justifies the point, and undermines Conservative criticisms.

I was intrigued to hear the shadow Foreign Secretary imploring the House of Lords to disrupt the Bill. That does not accord with Conservative Members' passionate defence of democracy and the sovereignty of the House. They are willing to undermine the actions and views of the House through the actions of a wholly undemocratic second Chamber. For Conservative Members, British nationalism, not democracy, is paramount in British institutions. That is a wholly different matter, and members of the public will be aware of that.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the process of European federalism that is under way can claim popular support, when elections to the European Parliament—one of the Community's institutions—consistently bring a turnout of under 40 per cent? Is he seriously arguing that, in the light of the continued resistance of many member states to referendums on crucial constitutional questions, the process that he so favours has anything remotely resembling majority popular support? If so, I do not think that he inhabits this planet.

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Labour, Harlow

Conservative Members have often based their argument against the European Parliament on the turnout for elections. They think that it is a clinching argument, undermining the democratic legitimacy of the European Parliament. It would be interesting to know whether they took a similar view on local government, in which the turnout for elections is of a similar order.

The turnout for elections to the European Parliament is as low as it is, first because people do not understand decision making in the European Union and the contribution that the Parliament makes to it; and secondly because the Parliament's powers are limited and they accord it the respect that they believe that it to deserve in relation to the power that they perceive it to hold. That is why the turnout for the elections is as low as it is and, over time, we must address that issue and change the situation.

The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) lamented the fact that the public have no interest in the treaty or the Bill. There are two reasons why the House and the public do not take sufficient interest in those issue. The first is a lack of clarity about the way in which Europe reaches decisions and effects results. The second is the extreme nature of the views put forward by some Conservative Members who exaggerate and distort the treaties and everything else that comes from Europe.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

The reason is not the extreme views put forward by Conservative Members but the extreme views that are not put forward by those who are pursuing a European agenda that they know does not enjoy popular support.

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Labour, Harlow

I shall give an example of what I mean by exaggeration for effect and the distortion of what is proposed. When we discussed the provision in the treaty that clearly addresses discrimination on the basis of sex, race, disability and sexuality, we heard supposedly reasonable Conservative Members refer to paedophilia and bigamy, both of which are outlawed in every country of the European Union and have nothing to do with the anti-discrimination measure. Such tactics underline the way in which people's understanding of, and confidence in, Europe are blurred by the extreme views advanced by some Conservative Members.

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

The hon. Gentleman has now said three times that the public in this country and elsewhere in Europe do not understand European decision making. If that is so, why does he want more decisions governing their lives to be taken by that process?

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Labour, Harlow

I want the decision-making process in Europe to be opened up. That is why I believe that Council of Ministers meetings should be opened up and why I welcome the fact that the treaty will provide a six-week delay on the scrutiny reserve. I also welcome the increased powers that will be given to the Conference of European Affairs Committees, recognising its role in opening up the decision-making process on behalf of national Parliaments. What is flawed is not necessarily the nature of European institutions but the way that decisions are made.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I am pleased to learn of the hon. Gentleman's interest in public opinion. The inference could be drawn from what he has just said to my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) that he would favour a referendum in all member states of the European Union on the Amsterdam treaty. The hon. Gentleman signals that he is not in favour of that level of democracy—we should know what level of democracy he does favour. Does he wish to take this opportunity to tell the House that, unless the people of Germany are given a referendum on whether to participate in the European single currency, German participation should not be allowed to proceed and the single currency should not go ahead in the expectation of German involvement?

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Labour, Harlow

We constantly hear from Conservative Members that we should not develop a federal Europe—that we should be a Europe of nation states. I agree, and if that is so, it would be unwarranted for me or any other elected politician in this country to preach to another country about its decision-making process on Europe.

The hon. Member for Stone is not in his place, but I was fascinated by the insight he gave into Tory party politics on European monetary union. I understood him to say—perhaps he will be able to clarify his remarks on another occasion—that the Tory policy of putting off the decision on EMU for 10 years could not have been carried out in government and could be adopted only in opposition. I agree. Had the Tory party won the general election on 1 May, it would have taken a different view in government. Conservative Members shake their heads, but they should consult Hansard, because that was implicit in what he said.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman is courteous and it is not like him to insult another hon. Gentleman without having warned him. Is it in order for him so to refer to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) when he is not in the Chamber and has not been forewarned of the attack?

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

The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) has played a full part in this debate. It is entirely a matter for him whether he is in the Chamber at any given moment. I have heard nothing out of order.

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Labour, Harlow

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure that the hon. Member for Stone will be able to pursue his arguments. I understood him to be saying what I suggested. That gives us an insight into the politics of the Tory party on the single currency.

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Labour, Harlow

I shall give way just once more—I know that Opposition Members want to speak.

Photo of Mr Christopher Gill Mr Christopher Gill Conservative, Ludlow

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the unanswered questions of this debate is that of the effect of fixed exchange rates on unemployment? Neither the Minister nor Labour Members have been able to explain away the fact that, whenever Britain has taken part in fixed exchange rates, unemployment has gone up exponentially. Can he explain that to the satisfaction of Conservative Members and of some of his colleagues?

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Labour, Harlow

The Amsterdam treaty does not refer specifically to economic and monetary union or fixed exchange rates, but I shall happily answer the question. If a single currency works, as I believe that it will, it will tackle currency speculation and lead to more stable exchange rates and therefore, in the long run, lower interest rates and higher growth, which would lead to greater job creation. I ask the hon. Gentleman to think back to September 1992, when the pound was forced out of the exchange rate mechanism by international currency speculation.

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Labour, Harlow

No, I have given way several times and other hon. Members want to speak.

The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) talked about a European truth campaign. I am not sure what that means, but I favour ensuring that people understand the arguments about Europe. However, when it was suggested that the Government should use European Union funds to run a balanced information campaign on the pros and cons of a single currency, Conservative Members vehemently opposed the idea. I see that the hon. Gentleman agrees with me. That undermines his argument.

Barring a few minor details, and the key issue of the social chapter, the treaty and the Bill are the ones that a Conservative Government would have brought back from Amsterdam had they been re-elected on 1 May. That wholly undermines the arguments of Tory Front-Bench spokesmen.

The Euro-sceptics, who are, as usual, heavily represented, have a more important question to answer. They have made it abundantly clear, tonight and on other occasions, that they are opposed, root and branch, to the European Union and its development. They would have opposed any treaty that any conceivable Government could have brought back. They must explain whether such views are compatible with continued membership of the European Union. The hon. Member for Stone came close to addressing that question. If, as I believe, their views are not compatible with continued membership of the European Union, we should have an honest and open debate, and they should openly advocate the case for withdrawal.

When the Euro-sceptics honestly and openly go into that campaign, I ask them to reflect on the fact that there have been two occasions since the second world war when British political parties have honestly and openly campaigned with a hostile attitude to Europe and a negative attitude to the European Community or Union. It happened once in 1983 under the Labour party and once in 1997 under the Conservative party. On both occasions, those political parties suffered the biggest defeats in their political history. The fundamental reason for that is that British nationalism and British chauvinism is skin deep. The stance adopted by the Conservative party on European issues has forced people to confront the reality of what life would be like if we withdrew from Europe. That is why I fundamentally believe that, given your current views, you are unelectable.

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

Order. The hon. Gentleman is addressing the Chair.

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Labour, Harlow

I believe that, given their views, Conservative Members are unelectable. I welcome that, partly because it means that the Labour Government will be in office for many years to come, but I am realistic enough to realise that, at some stage in the future, it is possible that the Conservative party will come back to power. If and when that happens, I hope for the sake of the country that wiser counsels will have prevailed within the Conservative party and caused it to abandon the dangerous route down which it is currently attempting to go.

Photo of Mr Christopher Gill Mr Christopher Gill Conservative, Ludlow 9:30 pm, 19th January 1998

Hon. Members will not be surprised to hear that I regard this as a sad day for the House, the country and the British people. It is also an extremely sad day for the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and others like him who find themselves having to abstain on tonight's vote.

The hon. Gentleman and others have fought long and hard against many aspects of European integration. By their determination to articulate their views so well, they have obviously attracted a following among the British people, who will be extremely let down by their actions tonight.

We understand the pressures on hon. Members to obey their party Whips. We understand why certain Members, instead of voting against something that they have opposed for almost their entire political careers, will fail to do so tonight. We understand the reasons only too well, but people outside will never understand it. I fear for the credibility of those hon. Members who know in their heart of hearts that they should vote against the Bill for all the reasons that they have articulated consistently year after year.

That lack of action does not just destroy the credibility of those hon. Members who are seen to be reneging on all the promises they have made over the years, but reflects on the credibility of us all. It reflects on the credibility of the House. Several times during the debate, hon. Members have questioned the lack of interest shown by the public in what is going on in Parliament tonight. Is it any wonder that the people should become so apathetic about the affairs of the House when they see not just one, but one after another, hon. Member peel away from the strongly held views that they have articulated for so long and which they have led the people to believe that they will continue to articulate and vote for?

Apart from the fact that, on this occasion, Government rebels will not vote against this particular European Bill, there is a sense of deja vu about our proceedings. In Committee, we have witnessed Ministers standing at the Dispatch Box offering inadequate explanations or answers to questions put to them. I understand why that is. I understand as well as they do that the treaty has to go through and that, if they accept but one of the arguments deployed in Committee, the treaty falls, so Ministers simply cannot accept any amendment.

Ministers are on quite sound ground with some of the amendments, and can argue and tell the movers of the amendments why they are wrong and the Government are right, but that does not apply to all the amendments tabled in Committee. Some of the answers given by the Government are totally inadequate, just as during the last Parliament Conservative Ministers at the Dispatch Box were unable to give satisfactory answers to the reasonable questions put to them. Once again in the House of Commons, the argument has been lost, but the Government will inevitably win the vote.

As I said in an intervention on the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell), there has been no answer to the question of how we are to reconcile ourselves to fixed exchange rates and unemployment—that is too difficult a question to be answered, so we skate around it. When I put that question to the Foreign Secretary a few weeks ago, he said that I must understand that, when we had fixed exchange rates previously, we had a Conservative Government—as if that explained everything, as if that was a satisfactory answer and as if that made the Government's views absolutely right when in fact they were absolutely wrong.

There has been some talk in the debate about obfuscation; that is the polite way of referring to half-truths, deceptions and downright lies. I agree with my hon. Friends the Members for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) and for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), who have ventured to suggest that, had the British people been told the truth about European and had it been explained to them that we are talking not about a new form of democracy but about the integration of our country into a European Union, they would not have voted yes in the 1975 referendum; nor would they have been as tolerant with their politicians as they have been thus far.

I have no complaint against the Commission: generally speaking, what the European Commission says is what it intends to do and what it intends should happen; and what is written in the treaties is what is intended should happen. Where I depart is from those politicians who pretend that, once it is written and we have entered into a legal and binding contract as per these treaties, it can then somehow and miraculously all be altered.

We are not entering a democracy, and I invite hon. Members to consider that there can be no democracy in any nation or any group of nations when it is not possible for the electorate of that nation or group of nations to remove the people by whom they are governed. I know of no means by which we in this country can remove the European Government, and I invite the Minister to tell us how, under the great scheme of things, it is possible to remove those who, in future, will be charge of our destiny in the European Union.

The European Union is not a democracy—it is a collective, and one need only look at what is happening in our farming and fishing industries to know that. Worse is to follow, because that collectivism is to be applied to our economy and, as a result of the treaties, Europe will have a collective economy. The Government will say that they are going to achieve reform in Europe, but the question they must answer is how they are to achieve that reform. They know as well as I do that to achieve any dramatic or radical reform in the European Community requires unanimity.

It is all very well for Ministers to say that we will get reform of the agricultural policy, the fisheries policy, or any other policy, but that is just a cop-out. It sounds good, it fobs people off and it buys a little breathing space, but I invite the Minister to tell us how he will get unanimity to change, for example, the fundamentals of the common fisheries policy. How will he get unanimity to change the fundamentals of the common agricultural policy, and so on? Those are the real questions, the unanswered questions, and I invite the Minister to come to the Dispatch Box tonight and answer them.

More than anything else, I fear that we are creating a situation in which hon. Members are effectively to be neutered. In an earlier speech at the beginning of the Committee stage, I warned of the effect of neutering Members. I have a serious warning for anyone who will listen to it about the long-term effects of neutering Members and depriving them of the ability to give satisfaction to the people who put them here: this country and all the other countries that do it will descend into anarchy.

The European Union is promoted by a political elite. One of my hon. Friends referred to the attitude of the Nordic Council, which illustrates that point. The Government have said that there is no constitutional bar to the single currency, but there is a constitutional bar to completing a total integration of the European nations in the European Union, which is what we are doing. It is a constitutional bar because it removes from the people who put us here the right to get rid of us or to get rid of the people who make the decisions that affect their lives.

I have been consistent throughout my time in the House on matters of the European Union. I believe that I am right, and I shall go on saying what I believe to be the truth. It behoves all of us, regardless of whether we are in government or in opposition, to tell the truth. Only in that way will we get the British people back on the side of their Parliament and back on the side of the people whom they sent to represent them.

There is much more that I could say on this all-important issue. To my Conservative colleagues I simply say in conclusion that there is only one game left in town, and that is to defeat the single currency and to defend the freedom of the pound sterling.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate 9:41 pm, 19th January 1998

In moving the Third Reading, the Minister said that this was a good treaty. I do not think that anyone can legitimately make that claim for the treaty, which is unintelligible to and unapproachable by ordinary members of the public. It is why the public and the media have displayed an almost complete lack of interest in the debate. A number of hon. Members, from both sides of the House, have made that point eloquently.

The treaty has failed in its central objectives for the UK. It has failed to advance, even at the most basic level, the interests of the bigger countries in promoting democracy by weighting their influence through weighting the number of their votes in the Council and the Commission. It has made no progress on the issues of enlargement. We shall wait to see the other parts of the European Union that do not have an interest in enlargement—the farming lobby and Club Med—begin to obstruct the process of enlargement.

Today, the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Hungary addressed a joint meeting of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Select Committees. They will be sadly disappointed at the conduct of enlargement negotiations, as they are put off year after year.

In Committee, we have heard many sedentary interventions from the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), who, sadly, is not in his place now. Such interventions go to the heart of the problem involving the construction of Europe: the future of the European project is beginning to lack democratic legitimacy.

My experience of South Yorkshire as a soldier in a South Yorkshire Regiment tells me that it is beyond belief that the hon. Member for Rotherham represents the views of the people of Rotherham. From my experience of the people of South Yorkshire, I know that the opinions that he expresses in this place about the future of Europe are completely at odds with the instincts of the British people.

A sort of schizophrenia affects the Conservative party as much, in a sense, as it does the Government—and indeed the whole country—about our approach to Europe, and the treaty goes nowhere near beginning to address those issues for the United Kingdom. The time is coming when we must make up our minds whether we are honestly going to commit to, in effect, a united states of Europe.

We nearly heard such language from the Liberal Benches during the debate. The hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) spoke about his wish for a federal United Kingdom. He then spoke about a federal Europe. He should have gone on to say a federal united states of Europe—a federal state in which authority is delegated down from the centre. If he expressed what he believes in those clear terms, we would understand exactly where the Liberals were coming from.

However, even the greatest enthusiasts for European integration on the Liberal Benches haver around with language, and are not prepared to state their position clearly to the British people. The enthusiasts for Europe on both sides of the House should not treat the people of the United Kingdom with contempt, by obfuscating their true objectives; they should make the position clear.

The treaty of Amsterdam has served to undermine the competitive advantages that the Conservative Government carved out for the United Kingdom at Maastricht. The Labour Government have given way on the social chapter. Our competitive position as a country will be undermined. Therefore, all Conservative Members, regardless of their position on Europe, can unite to vote against a Third Reading of the Bill.

Within every political party, a decision must be taken about our whole approach to Europe. The treaty does not remotely address those key issues. It is about time that we started to debate in this place, honestly and objectively, what the European Union should be and what it should not be. Then we should invite our country to reach a decision.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset 9:46 pm, 19th January 1998

I shall be extraordinarily brief. I just wish say that in Committee, I—in parallel with many other Conservative Members—raised three points, each of which, if they were right, were important.

First, I alleged that the powers of the European Court of Justice were being vastly enhanced—specifically, that the basis was being laid for the eventual intervention of the European Court of Justice in British criminal law.

Secondly, I alleged that the presidency of the Commission was being given political direction of the Commission, with the intent of laying the basis for the eventual elevation of the presidency of the Commission to a role similar to that of the President of the United States—the role of president of Europe in the sense understood by Mr. Delors.

Thirdly, I alleged that protocol No. 7, by its definitions of subsidiarity, permitted the European Union to adopt any objective in any specific action and to legitimise that action—be it a directive, a regulation or a decision—as conforming with subsidiarity merely by virtue of the fact that it conformed with the objective adopted by the European Union.

Those are three serious allegations. It is an extraordinary state of affairs when, throughout the proceedings in Committee, the Minister ostensibly responsible for Europe has not denied, referred to or refuted any of those allegations, but has merely passed them over in silence.

Those allegations may be false. I am but a new Member of this House, earnestly striving for truth, but—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It does not seem to me a disgraceful thing for a Member of Parliament to try to do. It does seem to me disgraceful that the Minister for Europe should not answer—should not think that it matters whether he answers—in a debate, however curtailed, on this treaty and this Bill. He should have answered those points and many others like them made by Conservative Members. Either he should answer our points, or he should desist from being the Minister for Europe and take up a lowlier post, leaving his job to someone who is willing to take on the argument.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 9:49 pm, 19th January 1998

It is no surprise that the Government have chosen to crush proper scrutiny of the treaty. Throughout our deliberations, the extent to which the Government failed at Amsterdam has become abundantly clear. Through a mixture of bad judgment and incompetence, the Government made many concessions to others but received nothing in return. The treaty is good news for the European institutions and bad news for the nation state.

First and foremost, the treaty is unacceptable because it imposes on us the burden of the social chapter. It is no coincidence that, when they took office, the Government inherited the strongest economy in Europe, an economy which prospered under a Conservative Government who were prepared to defend the national interest in Europe and to guarantee jobs and prosperity for the British people.

That hard-won advantage was given away at Amsterdam. The Government talk about reducing the burden on business; then they do the very reverse. All that is doubly ironic, as the treaty adds the promotion of employment to the list of Community objectives. That led to the so-called employment summit at Luxembourg. Will the Minister tell us how many jobs were created in Europe as a result of that summit? When will Labour realise that Governments do not create jobs? It is businesses, entrepreneurs and risk takers who, free from bureaucratic burdens, create jobs: not Governments, not summits, not more meetings.

Britain's competitive advantage has been surrendered, and if for no other reason than that, the treaty should not be ratified. That is why we will oppose it tonight.

On their return from Amsterdam, Ministers sought to present the treaty as innocuous—a technical treaty that did no more than make common-sense improvements to the operation of Europe. As our debates have shown, that is simply not true. Ministers have failed to understand the long-term implications of what they have signed. Nowhere is that ministerial incompetence more obvious than in respect of the opt-in to border controls. The Foreign Secretary thought that he had agreed to one arrangement—opt-in by QMV—only to discover that he had agreed to something completely different—opt-in by unanimity. Explanations for that blunder have changed almost weekly. We still await a clear explanation; the House still awaits an apology.

Changes made to the institutional arrangements of the Union are not merely technical. They are significant changes in the nature and powers of key European institutions. Time and again, the treaty takes powers from member states and passes them to the European institutions—all for nothing in return. Perhaps the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), a Labour Member, put it best earlier when he talked of big concessions for nothing in return. That sums up the Amsterdam treaty.

We are told that Britain is to be compensated for the loss of our second Commissioner by a re-weighting of votes in the Council of Ministers. But there is no commitment in the treaty to re-weighting. It provides either for a re-weighting of votes or for the use of dual majority. Does the Minister accept that the latter is of no use whatever to Britain, and that it may sometimes act against our interests?

The Minister has insisted that he would not agree to our second Commissioner being removed without re-weighting. Why, then, did he agree to the inclusion of the alternative in the treaty? The Government have also given away our unfettered right to choose the British Commissioner for as long as we have one. Currently, member states must consult, but can ignore the opinion of, the Commission president on whom to nominate. Now the president is to have an unlimited veto over member states' nominees to the Commission.

The Minister also said that it was unthinkable that that power would ever be used. Why, then, was it written into the treaty? I assure the Minister that there are plenty of people in Brussels to whom the use of the veto is far from unthinkable. Does not history suggest that European institutions, especially the Parliament, find ways of using to the full every new power that they are given? What power the treaty gives them. Take the president of the Commission. Henceforth, all members are to work under his political guidance. When combined with the existing provisions of article 160, that effectively gives the president the power to hire and fire. For that reason, we object to the power.

The new power has nothing to do with good management, and everything to do with transforming the Commission into an overtly political body led by an overtly political president—one man, total power, surrounded by placemen depending on patronage: a new Labour solution, if ever there was one.

Unlike Labour, successive Conservative Governments have a record of success in European negotiations. Conservative Ministers ensured that when Britain agreed to the extensions of QMV in 1986, we guaranteed the creation of the single market—a reform which has brought more benefits to Britain than to any other country. We accepted QMV in limited areas for a specific purpose and got a real benefit in return. There were no such successes for Britain at Amsterdam. Britain's veto was just given away, with nothing in return.

As a result of Labour's failures at Amsterdam, the European Parliament has, among other new powers, a right of veto in no fewer than 23 new areas of policy. That, in a nutshell, is the result of the treaty: less power for member states, more power for the institutions; less power for the House to resist measures harmful to Britain, more power for the institutions to pursue their interventionist agenda.

The Conservative party is not anti-European. We want Europe to work for us and for every member state. We are in favour of co-operation. We are pro-European, but we are against shoddy negotiation. We are against damaging treaties. This treaty fails Britain. It will destroy British jobs. It falls short of what could and should have been achieved. It gives away so much for so little in return. We will oppose it.

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

I am sorry, Madam Speaker. I beg your pardon.

The hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) said that the Conservative party was not anti-European. He and his colleagues must have confused me over the seven days that we have dealt with the various stages of the Bill. They will also confuse the country about what Parliament should be doing about an issue of importance to the nation.

As was acknowledged by many of those who spoke in our debates, the issues before us are far more important than party political interests. They are crucial to the nation's interests. The Conservative party does the nation a disservice because of its divisions on Europe. Within the Conservative party there is clearly a core of opposition to Europe. Incidentally, I think that it is destroying the Conservative party, although I shed no tears about that. I am worried, however, that it threatens to destroy the integrity of our nation.

Some of the opposition is principled. I recognise the contributions made by Opposition Members with long-standing views against many issues relating to the European Union, but a different core of Conservative opposition seems to be emerging, which is focused far more on the internal politics of the Conservative party and the possibility of progress within the party. That is extremely damaging.

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

I am not giving way. There are only two minutes left.

There is overwhelming support on the Labour and Liberal Democrat Benches for the EU and the provisions of the treaty—and I believe that there is some support on the Conservative Benches, which has been muted during these debates. Some Conservative Members have dissociated themselves publicly from the backward-looking old-fashioned anti-Europeanism of the Conservative Front Bench.

I believe that it is a good treaty. This is a good Bill that would have been unattainable under the Conservatives. It is strong on foreign policy, border controls, employment and the single market and strong against crime and fraud. They are major achievements and priorities of the British presidency. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 370, Noes 145.

Division No. 133][9.59 pm
AYES
Abbott, Ms DianeClark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Ainger, NickClark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Alexander, Douglas
Allan, RichardClarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Allen, GrahamClarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)Clwyd, Ann
Armstrong, Ms HilaryCoaker, Vernon
Ashton, JoeCoffey, Ms Ann
Atkins, CharlotteColeman, Iain
Baker, NormanColman, Tony
Ballard, Mrs JackieConnarty, Michael
Banks, TonyCook, Frank (Stockton N)
Barnes, HarryCooper, Yvette
Barron, KevinCorbett, Robin
Battle, JohnCorston, Ms Jean
Bayley, HughCotter, Brian
Beard, NigelCousins, Jim
Beith, Rt Hon A JCox, Tom
Bennett, Andrew FCrausby, David
Bermingham, GeraldCryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Berry, RogerCummings, John
Best, HaroldCunliffe, Lawrence
Betts, CliveCunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Blears, Ms HazelCunningham, Ms Roseanna (Perth)
Blizzard, Bob
Borrow, DavidDafis, Cynog
Bradley, Keith (Withington)Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Brake, TomDavey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Brand, Dr PeterDavidson, Ian
Breed, ColinDavies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Brinton, Mrs HelenDavies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)Dean, Mrs Janet
Browne, DesmondDismore, Andrew
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Dobbin, Jim
Buck, Ms KarenDobson, Rt Hon Frank
Burden, RichardDonohoe, Brian H
Burgon, ColinDoran, Frank
Burnett, JohnDowd, Jim
Burstow, PaulDrew, David
Butler, Mrs ChristineEagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Byers, StephenEagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Cable, Dr VincentEdwards, Huw
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)Ellman, Mrs Louise
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Ennis, Jeff
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)Etherington, Bill
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Fearn, Ronnie
Campbell-Savours, DaleField, Rt Hon Frank
Canavan, DennisFitzpatrick, Jim
Cann, JamieFitzsimons, Lorna
Caplin, IvorFlint, Caroline
Casale, RogerFlynn, Paul
Cawsey, IanFollett, Barbara
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Chaytor, DavidFoster, Don (Bath)
Chidgey, DavidFoster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Chisholm, MalcolmFoster, Michael J (Worcester)
Clapham, MichaelFoulkes, George
Fyfe, MariaKemp, Fraser
Galloway, GeorgeKennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)
Gapes, MikeKennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Gardiner, BarryKhabra, Piara S
George, Andrew (St Ives)Kidney, David
George, Bruce (Walsall S)Kilfoyle, Peter
Gerrard, NeilKing, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Gibson, Dr IanKing, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Gilroy, Mrs LindaKumar, Dr Ashok
Godman, Norman ALadyman, Dr Stephen
Godsiff, RogerLawrence, Ms Jackie
Golding, Mrs LlinLaxton, Bob
Gordon, Mrs EileenLeslie, Christopher
Grant, BernieLevitt, Tom
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Linton, Martin
Grocott, BruceLivingstone, Ken
Grogan, JohnLloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Gunnell, JohnLlwyd, Elfyn
Hain, PeterLock, David
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)Love, Andrew
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)McAllion, John
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)McAvoy, Thomas
Hancock, MikeMcCafferty, Ms Chris
Hanson, DavidMcCartney, Ian (Makerfield)
Harman, Rt Hon Ms HarrietMcDonagh, Siobhain
Harris, Dr EvanMcDonnell, John
Harvey, NickMcFall, John
Heal, Mrs SylviaMcGuire, Mrs Anne
Healey, JohnMcIsaac, Shona
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)Mackinlay, Andrew
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert
Hepburn, StephenMcNulty, Tony
Heppell, JohnMacShane, Denis
Hesford, StephenMactaggart, Fiona
Hewitt, Ms PatriciaMcWalter, Tony
Hill, KeithMcWilliam, John
Hinchliffe, DavidMahon, Mrs Alice
Hodge, Ms MargaretMallaber, Judy
Hoey, KateMandelson, Peter
Home Robertson, JohnMarsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Hoon, GeoffreyMarshall, David (Shettleston)
Hope, PhilMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Hopkins, KelvinMarshall-Andrews, Robert
Howarth, Alan (Newport E)Martlew, Eric
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)Maxton, John
Howells, Dr KimMeacher, Rt Hon Michael
Hoyle, LindsayMeale, Alan
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)Merron, Gillian
Hughes, Simon (Southward N)Michael, Alun
Humble, Mrs JoanMichie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Hurst, AlanMichie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Hutton, JohnMilburn, Alan
Iddon, Dr BrianMiller, Andrew
Illsley, EricMoffatt, Laura
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)Moran, Ms Margaret
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Jamieson, DavidMorgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Jenkins, BrianMorley, Elliot
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Mountford, Kali
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)Mudie, George
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)Mullin, Chris
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Naysmith, Dr Doug
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)Oaten, Mark
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Jowell, Ms TessaO'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Keeble, Ms SallyOlner, Bill
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)O'Neill, Martin
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)Organ, Mrs Diana
Keetch, PaulOsborne, Ms Sandra
Kelly, Ms RuthPalmer, Dr Nick
Pearson, IanSpellar, John
Perham, Ms LindaSquire, Ms Rachel
Pickthall, ColinStarkey, Dr Phyllis
Pike, Peter LStewart, David (Inverness E)
Plaskitt, JamesStewart, Ian (Eccles)
Pollard, KerryStinchcombe, Paul
Pond, ChrisStoate, Dr Howard
Pope, GregStrang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Pound, StephenStringer, Graham
Powell, Sir RaymondStuart, Ms Gisela
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)Stunell, Andrew
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)Sutcliffe, Gerry
Primarolo, DawnTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, KenTaylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Rammell, BillTaylor, David (NW Leics)
Rapson, SydTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)Temple-Morris, Peter
Reid, Dr John (Hamilton N)Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Rendel, DavidTimms, Stephen
Robertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S)Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mark
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)Tonge, Dr Jenny
Rogers, AllanTruswell, Paul
Rooker, JeffTurner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Rooney, TerryTurner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Ross Ernie (Dundee W)Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Rowlands, TedTwigg, Derek (Halton)
Roy, FrankTyler, Paul
Vaz, Keith
Ruane, ChrisVis, Dr Rudi
Ruddock, Ms JoanWalley, Ms Joan
Russell, Bob (Colchester)Ward, Ms Claire
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)Wareing, Robert N
Ryan, Ms JoanWatts, David
Salter, MartinWebb, Steve
Sanders, AdrianWhite, Brian
Savidge, MalcolmWicks, Malcolm
Sawford, PhilWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Sedgemore, Brian
Shaw, JonathanWilliams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Sheerman, BarryWillis, Phil
Sheldon, Rt Hon RobertWilson, Brian
Shipley, Ms DebraWinnick, David
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Skinner, DennisWise, Audrey
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)Wood, Mike
Smith, Angela (Basildon)Woolas, Phil
Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)Worthington, Tony
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Smith, John (Glamorgan)Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Snape, PeterTellers for the Ayes:
Soley, CliveMr. Robert Ainsworth and
Southworth, Ms HelenMr. Kevin Hughes.
NOES
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Cash, William
Amess, DavidChapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)
Arbuthnot, James
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)Chope, Christopher
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Clappison, James
Baldry, TonyClark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington)
Bercow, JohnClark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)
Beresford, Sir PaulClarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Blunt, Crispin
Body, Sir RichardClifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Boswell, TimCollins, Tim
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Colvin, Michael
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs VirginiaCran, James
Brady, GrahamCurry, Rt Hon David
Brazier, JulianDavies, Quentin (Grantham)
Browning, Mrs AngelaDavis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Day, Stephen
Burns, SimonDorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Butterfill, JohnDuncan, Alan
Duncan Smith, IainMcLoughlin, Patrick
Evans, NigelMadel, Sir David
Faber, DavidMalins, Humfrey
Fabricant, MichaelMaude, Rt Hon Francis
Fallon, MichaelMawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Flight, HowardMay, Mrs Theresa
Forth, Rt Hon EricMoss, Malcolm
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir NormanNicholls, Patrick
Fox, Dr LiamNorman, Archie
Fraser, ChristopherOttaway, Richard
Gale, RogerPage, Richard
Garnier, EdwardPaice, James
Gibb, NickPickles, Eric
Gill, ChristopherPrior, David
Gillan, Mrs CherylRandall, John
Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir AlastairRedwood, Rt Hon John
Gorman, Mrs TeresaRobathan, Andrew
Gray, JamesRobertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Green, DamianRoe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Greenway, JohnRoss, William (E Lond'y)
Grieve, DominicRowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Hague, Rt Hon WilliamRuffley, David
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir ArchieSt Aubyn, Nick
Hammond, PhilipSayeed, Jonathan
Hawkins, NickShephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Hayes, JohnShepherd, Richard
Heald, OliverSimpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon DavidSoames, Nicholas
Heseltine, Rt Hon MichaelSpelman, Mrs Caroline
Hogg, Rt Hon DouglasSpicer, Sir Michael
Horam, JohnSpring, Richard
Howard, Rt Hon MichaelStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)Steen, Anthony
Hunter, AndrewStreeter, Gary
Jack, Rt Hon MichaelSwayne, Desmond
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)Syms, Robert
Jenkin, BernardTapsell, Sir Peter
Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyTaylor, Sir Teddy
Townend, John
Key, RobertTrend, Michael
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)Tyrie, Andrew
Kirkbride, Miss JulieWalter, Robert
Laing, Mrs EleanorWardle, Charles
Lait, Mrs JacquiWaterson, Nigel
Lansley, AndrewWiddecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Leigh, EdwardWilkinson, John
Letwin, OliverWilletts, David
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)Wilshire, David
Lidington, DavidWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Lilley, Rt Hon PeterWinterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)Woodward, Shaun
Loughton, TimYeo, Tim
Luff, PeterYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
MacGregor, Rt Hon JohnTellers for the Noes:
MacKay, AndrewMr. John M. Taylor and
Maclean, Rt Hon DavidMr. John Whittingdale.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.