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[Relevant documents: Treaty of Nice, Cm 5090; Seventeenth Report of the European Scrutiny Committee, Session 1999–2000, The 2000 IGC, HC 23-xvii, and the Government's response thereto, HC 803; Sixth Report of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 1999–2000, on Developments at the Intergovernmental Conference 2000, HC 384, and the Government's response thereto, Cm 4893; Fifth Report of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2000–01, European Union Enlargement and Nice Follow-up, HC 318.]
Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill implements the key decisions of the Nice European Council enshrined in the Nice treaty. The treaty was signed on
Few have expressed that context more succinctly than President George W. Bush. Visiting Warsaw last month, he said:
"Our goal is to erase the false lines that have divided Europe for too long".
He echoed his father, who, when in office, talked of building a "Europe whole and free".
Enlarging the European Union to take in the applicant countries of central and southern Europe has been a strategic aim of successive British Governments and our allies for more than a decade. We believe that co-operation in the European Union will bury the memory of cold war divisions just as surely as it has laid to rest the ghost of warfare in northern Europe and the spectre of dictatorship in southern Europe.
That strategic vision carries with it immense practical benefits for Britain and for existing European Union members, as well as for countries that are soon to be new member states. It will make all of us more prosperous, safer and stronger. Enlargement will mean that British companies will be able to benefit from access to the largest single market for trade and investment in the world, with up to half a billion consumers—more than the United States and Japan put together. It will give us more allies to help to counter the cross-border threats that we face: organised crime, drug trafficking and illegal immigration. It will also give us a cleaner environment, because candidate countries are making major improvements in their air and water quality to meet EU standards.
I have described my approach to the European Union as that of a practical European. It is because the Government recognise the practical and strategic benefits that they have been a champion of enlargement since taking office.
We used our presidency of the Council in 1998 to launch negotiations with the first set of six countries. At every European Council since then at which enlargement has been an issue, we have pushed for and secured rapid progress. As a result, 12 countries are now negotiating their accession, and a 13th, Turkey, has been confirmed as a candidate.
Does my right hon. Friend recognise that the one thing that unites political parties across the spectrum in countries such as Romania is their wish to gain accession to the European Union? Those countries consider accession vital to the area to which he refers.
I recognise that. Although there is not complete unanimity on enlargement in every country—nor would one expect that in democratic states—there is overwhelming support for it across central and eastern Europe. In the last two days, I have discussed enlargement with the Foreign Ministers of the Czech Republic and Croatia. While they are at different stages in their relationship with the EU, both recognise powerfully the benefits that association with it will bring, and has already brought, to their countries.
During those discussions, did the Foreign Secretary emphasise not just the economic opportunity that the EU might provide, but the fact that membership would make it much easier for countries that have recently advanced towards democratic institutions to maintain them?
Indeed. Although the EU began as a limited common market for coal and steel, it is important to recognise today the much wider social and cultural benefits of our coming together in a union of nation states. We should also recognise that our history is shared with the countries of eastern, southern and central Europe. They are European nations, as firmly and as surely as France, Germany and the United Kingdom. We have a common heritage and a common culture, as well as a shared interest in securing a single common market for trade in goods and services.
I was talking about the work that we have put in to pursue enlargement. Most recently at the Gothenburg European Council, just three weeks ago, we argued for and secured an affirmation that the EU's commitment to enlargement was "irreversible". Our aim is to complete negotiations by the end of 2002 for candidate countries that are ready, so that they can participate as EU members in the European parliamentary elections in 2004. When I use the word "our" in that context, I am talking in a collective sense of the decisions made by the Heads of Government in the declaration that followed their meeting.
This timetable is bold and ambitious. If we are to achieve it, we must ratify Nice.
Some hon. Members argue that the results of the Irish referendum—which, by coincidence, occurred on the same day as the United Kingdom referendum—
I am glad to hear the hon. Gentleman say that the result in Ireland was much better—from his point of view, that is—than the result in the United Kingdom. I am grateful to him for confirming that the Conservative party made Europe the key issue at the last general election. It was the Conservatives, not us, who said that it was a referendum on Europe—those were their exact words—and I am sorry to say, from their point of view, that their proposition was wholly rejected by the British electorate.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the two contrasting referendums on Europe. One of the key features shared by the Irish referendum and the United Kingdom general election was low turnout. In Ireland, the turnout to decide the country's future within the Nice agreement was as low as 35 per cent. Does that not underline some of the difficulties that we face because Nice has not done enough to make the constitution of Europe clear to the average European citizen? We need further debate on how we can have a written constitution for Europe, and a clearer division of responsibilities and subsidiarity between nation states and emerging nation states in the EU.
I will come to that, but I agree that we must do much more to spread comprehension among the citizens of Europe about what the EU stands for. It is not the responsibility of our citizens to make sure that they understand. It is the responsibility of the EU's member states and central institutions—especially the Commission—to ensure that the project is properly and better understood by our citizens. The EU acts in their name and for their benefit. Ultimately, the future of the EU and of each state is in their hands.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Opposition should be cautious about enthusiastically espousing the result of the Irish referendum? Only 18 per cent. of those who voted there voted against the proposition, and the opposition was led by Sinn Fein—not the most plausible anti-militaristic campaigners. Is not the real lesson for all of us that we must connect with our electorates on European matters?
I agree. The alliance of forces that formed in the Republic of Ireland was interesting. The environmentalist Green party—whose views I respect, although I do not agree with them in totality—joined with Sinn Fein, one of whose objections to the Nice treaty was that it could lead to the "militarisation" of Europe. Of course, Sinn Fein members know far more about militarisation than many of the rest of us.
I shall deal in more detail with the Irish referendum. I have not concealed from the House my disappointment at the result, but we have to respect it. The question of turnout has been raised. In free democracies where voting is not compulsory, people are as free not to vote as they are free to vote. People must make their own choices about that, but everyone—those who do vote and those who do not—must respect the decision that is arrived at.
It would be hopeless if politicians were to say that a vote was not entirely legitimate because the turnout only reached a certain level. As far as I am aware, with the exception of Australia, where voting is compulsory, all western democracies recognise and respect the rule that people are entitled not to vote but that they must respect the decision reached by those who do vote.
It is fundamental to the democratic legitimacy of the EU that changes to the founding treaties do not take place unless and until the constitutional procedures of all 15 member states have been satisfied. However, for all of us the clear lesson of the Irish result is that we cannot afford to take public support for the EU for granted.
The Irish Government have made it clear that they will need to address particular issues with their electorate, just as the Danish Government did when their electorate rejected Maastricht in 1992. The other 14 member states formally resolved at the General Affairs Council three weeks ago that they were ready to help Ireland to find solutions. In the meantime, all 15 member states, including Ireland, have agreed that we should proceed with the enlargement negotiations and our own ratification procedures. Only by doing so will we be ready by the end of next year to admit new members. If, however, Ireland does not ratify, the treaty will not enter into force. The position is as simple as that.
No member state, and least of all the Irish Government, has followed the example of some Conservatives and called for a wholesale renegotiation of the Nice treaty.
Does the Foreign Secretary accept that the Nice treaty transfers a further 39 areas of decision making to the majority vote process, and that 90 per cent. of EU decisions are now made by majority vote? Might not the fact that direct democracy is becoming increasingly irrelevant explain why poll turnouts are declining? Should we not warn the people of eastern Europe that the EU path does not lead to democracy, but away from it?
I accept, of course, that the treaty proposes an extension of qualified majority voting, but I do not accept, with respect, the hon. Gentleman's political arithmetic. There is a big difference between putting a unit of one on maintaining the veto on tax, which we still do, and putting an equal unit of one on accepting qualified majority voting, in place of a veto, on the registrar of the Court of First Instance. The two are not cognate.
If the hon. Gentleman reads the treaty, he will see that a range of bureaucratic issues on which it was ridiculous for the veto to be applied have been transferred to QMV. The other areas that have been moved to QMV concern trade, on which it is in our interests that other people should not exercise a veto. My experience in the Justice and Home Affairs Council, which does everything by unanimity, has been interesting. On some issues, we could, and have, maintained a veto, but a veto blocks change.
We are in the vanguard of change to reform the European Union. The Opposition's reasoned amendment states that they want reform, but they set out no method or process by which they can deliver it. On a range of issues, we need to ensure that we can override the slowest: those with the deepest vested interest in the existing structures, which everyone agrees do not work entirely satisfactorily.
The achievement of my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House, my predecessor as Foreign Secretary, was to ensure that if subjects went to the heart of our status as a nation state—tax, defence, social security and other matters, including the signature of treaties such as the one before us—they should continue to be subject to unanimity. However, in other areas, where we have an interest in progress and reform, the QMV system was sensible.
The Foreign Secretary said that it was agreed by the General Affairs Council that each country should proceed with its ratification proceedings, notwithstanding the Irish referendum vote. Does he recall that in 1992 the shadow Cabinet, of which he was a member, urged strongly, in the similar circumstances of the rejection of the Maastricht treaty by the Danes, that the ratification Bill for that treaty should be postponed? The then Opposition leader urged the then Prime Minister that the Bill should be postponed until the matter was fully resolved. John Major accepted that urging and the Bill was indeed postponed. Why was postponement right then, but not now?
The answer is that life is a learning process, at least for this side of the House. I kept saying in the previous Parliament that Opposition Members should learn from our experience in opposition. I even offered them free seminars throughout the four years that I was Home Secretary, and I would have provided them, because I found it tragic that there were some Opposition Members of considerable talent who could have helped to improve Government by improving themselves as an Opposition, but did nothing about it.
The situation in 1992 was new, but the right hon. Gentleman quotes at me the position of the shadow Cabinet. I could quote back at him the position of the then Cabinet, which took the opposite point of view. The Opposition are now calling for all sorts of responses to the Irish referendum. He was a Minister in 1992. He actually signed the Maastricht treaty and then lost his seat.
The right hon. Gentleman still lost. The General Affairs Council, which included his successor as Minister after the 1992 general election, agreed unanimously that the other 14 member states should proceed with the ratification of Maastricht. After discussion with Denmark, including some accommodation by the EU, and a further referendum, the Danes agreed to continue with the treaty.
The Foreign Secretary inadvertently misrepresents what the then Government did. They listened to the very proper concerns expressed by the shadow Cabinet and others that the Bill should be postponed, and it was. The House did not return to it until the matter was resolved by the Danish public. There was a consensus in the House that it was wrong to proceed with the treaty's ratification while its final form was unresolved because of the Danish referendum decision.
My recollection of the mood around Maastricht in 1992 is that it was anything but consensual. One difference is that there was a Council decision before the Bill was introduced. The sequence of events was that the Council met on
The other difference, if the right hon. Gentleman wants to argue the case, is that Maastricht, on any analysis, involved more significant and fundamental changes to the treaties and the basic constitution of the European Union than does this Bill.
I have given way a great deal and I should like to make some progress. If there is time, I shall take some more interventions.
I spoke earlier of meeting the Foreign Ministers for Croatia and for the Czech Republic over the past two days. The Foreign Minister for the Czech Republic is Jan Kavan, a man whose own life symbolises the huge change that has occurred in Europe in my adult lifetime. I first met Jan Kavan 33 years ago, in the Endsleigh street headquarters of the British National Union of Students. I was then the deputy president of the NUS, an organisation whose own politics had, to some extent, been dominated by the cold war.
Jan was a student leader too, from what was then Czechoslovakia, but he had none of our freedoms. Instead, he was a victim, along with thousands and thousands of others, of the cold war—of the undemocratic authoritarian regimes imposed on one central European country after another. He effectively went into exile in London to muster support after Dubcek's reforms in the Prague spring had been brutally crushed by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.
Today the Czech Republic is one of the most successful of central Europe's new democracies. Jan told me today of the huge efforts that his country and the other applicants have put into preparing to join the European Union. They see accession as putting the seal on their admission to the family of European democracies. Jan told me how important it was for the Czech Republic and for every other applicant that Nice be ratified on schedule.
If the right hon. Gentleman is interested in enlargement which apparently he is, according to the Opposition's reasoned amendment, he owes it to the applicant countries as much as we do to proceed with ratification. There is no basis for us holding up ratification because of the Irish referendum.
Over the coming years, we expect to complete negotiations with up to 12 applicant countries. I invite the House to imagine for a moment what a European Union of 27 member states would look like if we did not make the changes agreed at Nice. The Opposition's so-called reasoned amendment—and if ever there were an oxymoron, that is it—
Ours were very much better—they included reasons. They were not contrary to reason.
The Conservatives' reasoned amendment says that the Bill fails to modernise institutions of the European Union. Yet that is exactly what the Nice treaty does. The Opposition have no policies that I have been able to discern that could conceivably command the support even of two or three other member states, still less of 14, on securing the modernisation inherent in the Nice treaty.
Without the Nice treaty and the changes that it makes, as each small new country joined the European Union, so relatively would the weight and influence of the larger countries diminish. Eventually, countries that together could not muster a majority of the European Union's population could, however, form a majority for the purposes of passing EU legislation. That would plainly be unacceptable.
As the Community grew, so, too, would the European Commission, until it resembled a mass meeting rather than the coherent, delivery-focused body that we want it to be. With 27 vested interests capable of imposing 27 vetoes on much new legislation, many areas of collective decision making that are vital to our interests would slowly grind to a halt. Therefore, at last year's intergovernmental conference, we set out with the explicit purpose of solving those problems. At Nice, we achieved a deal that did just that. Nice is necessary for enlargement.
The deal secured by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my predecessor, my right hon. Friend Mr. Cook, was not only good for Europe but excellent for Britain. I normally refrain from quoting from leaked documents, but the European Commission's internal assessment of Nice is now a matter of public record. It said:
"It was a European Council of strong emotion, with winners (this time the UK and Spain) and losers (Belgium, Portugal, Germany and the Commission)".
There is no question but that the nation state of the United Kingdom achieved what it set out to achieve at Nice.
The Foreign Secretary is certainly making the best fist of a poor case, although his heart does not seem to be in it. As long ago as
Yes, I can. There are plenty of issues on which the Commission and the Council hold back, leaving matters to member states. We are Europeans and a huge amount of our trade depends on our membership of the European Union. [Interruption.] I am being asked to prove negatives, but there are a huge number of examples, when, by definition, if the Commission has not produced a directive, the matter has been left to individual member states. That has happened in a huge number of areas. Of course, such issues do not appear on the agendas of the Council or the Commission because they have not been brought forward as European legislation. Instead, they have been left to individual member states.
The hon. Member for Buckingham asked whether the directives have benefited this country. One set of regulations and directives that has benefited this country is that on the single market. We have tried to extend the single market into sectors—particularly all kinds of services—that are still the subject of unjustified competition. That cannot be achieved by individual legislation by the individual nation states. It requires that there should be legislation for 15 nations to ensure that practices that we regard as unjustifiable and restrictive are eliminated across Europe. Who benefits from that? Our constituents, this country and our economy. They would not benefit if we returned to the environment which the hon. Gentleman imagines we could achieve in a different world that I do not recognise.
A further important point about Nice was that, for the first time since we joined the then Common Market in 1973, we won an increase in the UK's voting weight. Our nominal voting power in the Council will rise from 10 votes to 29 votes, and although the total votes will increase as well, we shall have significantly more influence relative to smaller countries. For example, we used to have three times as many votes as Denmark, but under Nice we shall have four times as many. That also means that France, Germany and the United Kingdom together will still be able to block any proposal that they dislike. Moreover, the UK will retain voting parity with Germany, despite Germany's greater population.
At Nice, we also succeeded in providing for a smaller and better Commission. From 2005, there will be one Commissioner per member state. Once the EU has 27 members, the number of Commissioners will be capped below that figure and there will be a system of equal rotation. As I said in reply to
In Nice, my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and my predecessor secured for Britain all the goals that we had set out in our White Paper in February last year. That was an outstanding result, which was deservedly praised in the national press and media and in most parts of the House.
Will the Foreign Secretary note that, contrary to what he said, Britain's share of the vote has declined substantially, from 11.5 to 8.4 per cent.? Will he, if he is interested, be good enough to reply to the points in a pamphlet that I have produced today, entitled "Constructive Opposition to the Nice Treaty—the Dangers of European Integration"?
Of course, I will do my best to read the document, if the hon. Gentleman sends it to me. I am not sure what time scale he was using for his arithmetic. If he was going back to 1973, when the total number of member states was nine, all I can say is that of course we would have had a larger proportion of any qualified majority voting that happened then or shortly afterwards. There are now 15 member states; in future there will be 25, and eventually, if Turkey joins, there will be 28.
My point, which is incontrovertible, is that Nice gives us a relative increase in our voting strength. [Interruption.] That is a fact. During the Committee proceedings we can, and no doubt will, talk at great length about that aspect of the arithmetic. I have already given the House the comparison that we now have three times as many votes as Denmark, and under the Nice treaty, we shall have four times as many. It is important that the countries with the largest proportion of the population should be able to exercise, roughly speaking, a proportionate vote.
No, I need to make progress because many hon. Members, including no doubt the hon. Gentleman, want to speak.
Having set out what the Nice treaty does for the UK and for Europe, I should now like to set out what it does not do. Despite the warnings of some anti-European commentators, the treaty does not mean the end of the British justice system, a ban on political parties or an end to freedom of thought or religion. Nice is not a recipe for federalism, if by that is meant the creation of a centralised entity. It reinforces the role of national Governments and nation states because it ensures that we can go on making decisions in the Council of Ministers and at European Councils even in a greatly enlarged EU.
Nice does not represent a fundamental alteration in our relationship with the EU or a radical restructuring of the EU. Rather, it preserves and enhances the UK's ability to influence decisions and take initiatives for the benefit of our citizens. For that reason, it would be absurd to break with our tradition that Parliament should decide whether and how to amend treaties, and whether to hold a referendum on Nice—the more so since the Conservative Government did not hold a referendum on Maastricht, which involved much more wide-ranging changes.
No, if the hon. Gentleman will excuse me, I will not.
To revert to the point that I was making about the Irish referendum, we have to find more effective ways of connecting the institutions of the EU to its people. Many activities and services are best carried out at the European rather than the national level, but unless and until the EU institutions become as responsive and accountable to our citizens as their national Governments are, it will always be hard to convince public opinion of that fact.
We need to deal with that democratic deficit. We therefore agreed at Nice that there will be another intergovernmental conference in 2004. It will be different from its predecessors because it will be preceded by a wider and deeper public debate about the purpose and scope of European Union activity.
We need to ask certain questions. Implicit in a question posed by the hon. Member for Buckingham is the important issue of subsidiarity, which has been difficult for the United Kingdom, with a political culture rather different from that of some European countries, to appreciate and accommodate. We have to ask what exactly is the European Union for. What precise purpose does it serve? To get the answer, we need to look at what the EU actually does, and analyse rigorously and frankly the tasks it does well, those it does less well and those that it does badly. Once we have a clear sense of our citizens and constituents' priorities, only then can we sensibly ensure that the EU's institutions are properly organised and equipped to deliver them. The European Union is for Europe's citizenry, not its political elites.
That means focusing discussion not on the process, but on the results of EU co-operation. Only ideologues and specialists are impassioned by esoteric technical issues like the extent of qualified majority voting or the limits of co-decision. People care most about the practical benefits and the added value that they may be able to derive from the EU: more jobs, cleaner streets and less crime. That is where the debate should begin.
The next IGC is an opportunity for us to decide what the EU does best and which decisions are better taken at a national level. It is a chance to simplify the treaties so that they are easier to understand, and to give national Parliaments a more defined role in the EU. We are determined to improve the democratic legitimacy and transparency of the EU.
The first and best way to bring the EU closer to the people is to make sure that they are informed about developments. More than any previous IGC, the Nice negotiations were carried out in full view of the British public and this House. A year before Nice, our White Paper set out the issues at length and outlined our negotiating objectives in detail before the negotiations even got under way. The key documents, including successive redrafts of the draft treaty, were available on the internet at every stage. Members of the Government gave many speeches and took part in debates up and down the country to get the message across and listen to people's views, both before and after Nice. The issues were raised in several debates in Parliament over the past year and a half. Of course, Parliament, as always, will decide whether the UK will ratify the treaty by enacting the Bill and making it law.
No, I will not, because I am coming to the end of my observations.
Conservative Members, too, have played their part. Their wish to deny Europe the benefits of Nice—and hence enlargement—was the main plank of their election manifesto. It was they, not the Government, who said that they wanted the general election to be a referendum on Europe—[Interruption.] I said a moment ago, to approbation from the Opposition, that we should not quibble with the results of democratic votes. The only thing that I heard from the Conservative party throughout the campaign was that the election was a referendum on Europe. As I drew to the attention of the House during debate on the Loyal Address, that has now become non-history, as the whole Conservative manifesto has been wiped off the internet—[Hon. Members: "It has not."] It is true; I tried it myself. If one calls up Conservatives.com and types "manifesto" into the site's own search engine, one gets a blank.
The Opposition must understand what happened at the election; they decided to campaign on Europe—and, by implication, matters like Nice—and they failed. It is not just me saying that; in The Times today, Mr. Maples, the shadow Foreign Secretary's predecessor, made a proclamation. The headline states:
"I will not make the same mistake—Ken Clarke will get my vote this time."
In the article, he said:
"Our position on the Nice treaty became unsustainable."
There we have it; the former shadow Foreign Secretary simply could not stand the contradictions and twists and turns inherent in the Opposition's position.
Passing this Bill is of very great importance. It will give a clear signal to Jan Kavan, Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic, all applicant nations of eastern and central Europe and to Cyprus and Malta that Britain is committed to righting the wrongs of history and to reuniting Europe. It will strengthen Britain's influence at the heart of this Europe of nation states. I therefore have no hesitation in commending the Bill to the House.
I beg to move, to leave out from 'That' to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
'this House declines to give a Second Reading to the European Communities (Amendment) Bill because it fails to modernise the institutions and policies of the European Union to meet the requirements of a diverse, enlarged Union;
takes no account of acknowledgements from Her Majesty's Government and the President of the Commission that ratification of the Treaty of Nice is not a legal or technical prerequisite of enlargement;
works against speedy and successful enlargement by providing for further integration;
fails to address reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, the single most important obstacle to such enlargement;
ignores the wishes of those European Union citizens whose views have been sought in a referendum and fails to offer a similar opportunity to citizens of the United Kingdom;
and diverts attention away from the pressing need for Her Majesty's Government to work with other member states and accession countries for the creation of a modern, flexible, reformed European Union.'
The treaty of Nice was a great opportunity for the European Union. It was an opportunity to put and make the case for the modern, reformed, outward-looking EU that its citizens plainly want and which enlargement will require. It could have been the moment to bid farewell to the old dogma of "one size fits all" political integration. It could have been the time to embrace the need for a decentralised and flexible EU. It could have set deadlines for enlargement, which we, as the Foreign Secretary has been good enough to accept, wholeheartedly support. Sadly, none of that transpired. The Nice treaty, I am afraid, was the triumph of old-think; it was locked in the past.
Eleven and a half years after the fall of the Berlin wall, it is shameful that, with the solitary exception of the German Democratic Republic—East Germany—no central or eastern European country has been admitted to the Union. I remember attending meetings with Foreign Ministers from the region in 1990, at which they were told that enlargement was five years away. Here we are in 2001 and most of them are still five years away. Why has enlargement not been achieved?
I reject the premise of the hon. Gentleman's question—that the treaty is essential to enlargement. He need not rely on my word; the Foreign Secretary himself said at the Dispatch Box during debate on the Loyal Address that he accepted that the Nice treaty is not technically necessary for enlargement.
The point that I suspect the Foreign Secretary wishes to make is that a number of Governments have said that they will not permit enlargement unless the process of deeper integration goes ahead in the meantime. They have of course said that, but it is simply a statement of political preference. The treaty is, in no sense that anyone would recognise, a necessity for enlargement. There is no such legal necessity.
This is extremely tedious for most of our citizens and constituents. We can call for the record if the right hon. Gentleman wants, but the simple fact is that, in debate on the Loyal Address, I was asked whether the treaty was technically required for accession. The answer is that technically and in legal theory we do not need this treaty, but we do need a treaty, which would still have to come before the House.
The second point is that, politically, it would be impossible to conceive of accession without the modernisation and reforms of the Nice treaty. The question that the right hon. Gentleman must answer is: how on earth does he think the EU would work with 15, 20, 25 or 28 member states without such changes?
I shall have something to say about how the European Union would work without these changes. Other changes may be needed, but the idea that the proposed changes are the only possible changes that are needed to make it work is fantasy.
It is correct to say that even if the treaty goes through, another treaty—an accession treaty—will be needed. No one can deny that. It is not only the Foreign Secretary who has said this. The President of the European Commission said that, legally, ratification of the Nice treaty is not necessary for enlargement. That is clearly the case. I hope that we can have an end to the nonsense that the Nice treaty is necessary.
The previous Foreign Secretary made the same point, although he did not know it, in the aftermath of the Amsterdam treaty, when he announced proudly to the House that now that the Amsterdam treaty had been agreed, all the obstacles to enlargement were out of the way. Suddenly we find that there is another obstacle: the Nice treaty. [Interruption.] That is almost exactly what he said. We can call for the record if there is a dispute about it. He said:
"In the aftermath of the Amsterdam treaty, the way is now clear for enlargement to happen."
Funnily enough, it was not clear, according to the present Foreign Secretary and all his hon. Friends. Suddenly there is another obstacle.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. Did he notice that only a few minutes ago the Foreign Secretary conceded that if, in the end, the Irish do not ratify the Nice treaty, that treaty will be dead? Would my right hon. Friend be as interested as I would be to hear what the Foreign Secretary would propose with regard to enlargement if the Nice treaty were not ratified? Presumably, he would propose precisely the alternative treaty to which my right hon. Friend is rightly referring.
The case that my hon. Friend puts in such a measured way is exactly the case that the shadow Cabinet and the then Leader of the Opposition put in 1992, after the Danish referendum result. They argued for postponement of discussion of the Bill, in order that the difficulty with the Maastricht treaty could be properly resolved, so that the House could know what treaty it was being asked to ratify.
For the Foreign Secretary to take refuge in a decision of the General Affairs Council, and to say, "Oh well, the Council decided that matters had to go ahead, so we had no option" is a little feeble, to say the least. As the right hon. Gentleman made clear, without ratification and without a further referendum in Ireland which gives the consent of the Irish public to this treaty or to a treaty, this treaty is dead. It cannot proceed.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman. In the light of his earlier remarks about timetables for enlargement, does he agree that timetables for enlargement would have been folly, given that the Irish have not yet given their consent in a referendum? Furthermore, is it not true that, as in the case of Denmark, there can be as many referendums as the Irish Government want?
That is a lovely idea, is it not? If one does not like the result, one just keeps on having referendums. On the same basis, I could say that I did not like the result of the general election, so let us have another one. Let us carry on having votes until we get the result that we want. The arrogance of that approach is breathtaking.
If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I must make progress.
There was an active debate in Ireland about the merits of the Nice treaty and the Irish people said no. Which part of that answer did the Government not understand? It is a pretty simple, straightforward answer.
On the point made by Mr. Hendrick, by agreeing a rigidly integrationist treaty, which the Nice treaty is, we—I mean we collectively, we the European Union—have set enlargement back, for two reasons. One is that more integration sets up more hurdles for the applicant countries to jump. The second is that, as the Irish referendum result itself confirms, proceeding further with the process of integration generates a degree of political controversy which slows the enlargement process.
There is plenty of evidence that enthusiasm in some of the eastern and central European countries for accession to the EU is dwindling. The central European correspondent of The Times recently observed:
"Some 68 per cent. of Poles now believe that the country should delay enlargement rather than surrender important positions."
Given the delicacy of the political situation in a number of the countries of eastern Europe—the case that all of us make for enlargement is that it is a way of stabilising those countries and bringing them into the family of democratic free market nations—we should be concerned about that.
The correspondent went on to say:
"Czechs are beginning to think aloud about what would happen if enlargement failed."
Those concerns about enlargement are genuine. They are nothing to do with the Conservative party objecting to the Nice treaty or the result of the Irish referendum. They are due to the fact that the negotiations about enlargement have been extraordinarily protracted and the big issues have simply not begun to be resolved.
We cannot accept the Bill or the treaty in its current form and we will oppose it. We will ask the House to vote for our reasoned amendment. As I said earlier, it would be wrong to proceed with the Bill at present. The Foreign Secretary has clarified for the House that the treaty will fall unless all member states have ratified it.
No, I want to make some progress.
There seems to be some reluctance through much of the rest of the EU to give voice to concerns about the treaty. Ex-President Giscard d'Estaing said in the French Parliament's debate on the treaty that, if the French people were offered a referendum,
"you can bet that the answer would be an Irish song."
That is a lyrical way of putting it, but one sees the point that he makes. The French people came within an ace of defeating the Maastricht treaty in 1992. How can we be at all certain that there is popular support in Britain, France, or any other country for the treaty?
There will be a real problem if we in the EU give the impression that we treat the views of the public on these issues with disdain. A modern Europe cannot treat the views of its citizens as an awkward impediment that has to be overcome. We should be listening to the concerns of our people, particularly those raised in the Irish referendum.
The EU and its leaders have failed to dispel the impression that they propose to bash on regardless of public opinion, and nothing that the Foreign Secretary said today in any way draws back from that. It is sad to see that that is the case.
No, I shall make progress.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that nothing could be more dangerous for public support for the EU, which I agree it is important to promote and sustain, than to treat the referendum result with the kind of contempt that we are hearing from him and from others.
I shall in a moment.
To those who dissent from that, I have to say that the Government's determination to press ahead at full speed with the Bill at this time gives the impression that the views of the Irish public are set at nought. It shows no respect at all for the concerns that have been raised there. It is in that sense that EU leaders are treating the views of the public with contempt.
It is accepted that Giscard d'Estaing said that the French public may well not support this, and I should not be at all surprised. I suspect that the British public would not support the treaty if they were offered the opportunity in a referendum.
Having taken some part in the French and Danish referendums, as well as the recent Irish referendum, may I ask my right hon. Friend why we on this side of the House are not prepared at this juncture to have a referendum on the whole European issue, given that the single currency is certainly not the only issue at stake? There was no referendum when our referendum campaign managed to get 500,000 votes in favour of a vote on Maastricht. With the involvement of defence and foreign policy, we should be considering a broader referendum to obtain the full consent of the British people.
In the broad-ranging policy review upon which I feel the party is about to embark, I am confident that my hon. Friend will want to make that point. I am sure that he will be very active in that respect.
I take the view that the British public should have the opportunity to express their opinion on the treaty in a referendum, in the same way as the public in the Republic of Ireland.
Why does the right hon. Gentleman think it right for the people of the UK to be given a choice in a referendum on the Nice treaty, but not on the Maastricht treaty?
Since the Maastricht treaty was decided upon, we have gone considerably further down the path towards full-scale political integration. There is now a growing gap between what the public and the politicians think about these matters. Unless we make a connection by allowing the public to have a direct say on this specific issue, we will be in danger of allowing a big gulf to develop, which will undermine the very democracy upon which we depend.
In such a referendum, we would be very clear about what we favour. We will support parts of the Nice treaty that may be genuinely useful in enabling enlargement to occur. Protocol A of the treaty, to which the Foreign Secretary referred, deals with the reallocation of seats in the European Parliament and the reweighting of votes in the Council. I do not take as much pleasure as him in the fact that we can now override the wishes of smaller EU countries—a point upon which he dwelt rather gloatingly. His attitude did not seem quite in accord with the spirit of harmonious friendship in which we should be approaching the enterprise. The amendment to the size of the European Commission is also a welcome step and we support it.
We would like the reforms to go further. We would like the Commission to revert to an institution whose nature resembles much more that of an impartial civil service. That was very much the conception of its founding fathers. We would like the balance of power to shift from the European Commission to the Council of Ministers. We would also like moves to be made to strengthen democratic accountability. Each country could place a national Minister at the head of its Brussels delegation, to be directly accountable to national Parliaments. That seems to us the right approach to filling the democratic deficit. I hope that the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues will respond positively to such approaches, which are the right direction for reform of the European Union as an institution and will become more necessary as time passes.
Institutional reform is only a fraction of the final agreement at Nice, whose focus clearly lies elsewhere. Tighter integration is the defining characteristic of the treaty, and qualified majority voting is extended in 31 articles. We believe that this one-way process, in which powers are transferred only in one direction, is not in British interests and is not the right way of creating European harmony. There is a great difference between European integration and European unity, although people have for some time tended to use the two phrases almost interchangeably.
We understand absolutely the desire of our partners in Europe to build structures that make unthinkable the sort of deadly and protracted conflicts that have devastated Europe all too often, but today, surely we could and should be seeking more modern and sophisticated ways of bringing Europe together. If one cares about European harmony, as we do, the very last thing to do is to extend the areas in which the majority can ride roughshod over the wishes of a minority. That is a recipe for discord, not harmony. It is a recipe for division, not unity.
The view from outside the European Union beltway is revealing. The Foreign Secretary referred to the Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic; I shall quote the Speaker of the Czech Parliament, Mr. Václav Klaus. [Interruption.] It is worth listening to the quote because hon. Members may learn something from it. Mr. Klaus said:
"The agreement from Nice was in no way about EU enlargement . . . It was about internal changes within the European Union, which might possibly facilitate" the entry of new members.
However, there was nothing essential about EU enlargement in the agreement. In my opinion, the main thing was that in several hundreds of areas—I mean the regulation of this or that type of business, or the regulation of other matters—a huge shift occurred from a unanimous vote required for these matters until now to a majority vote."
The important part follows:
"This means that the role of an individual country is substantially decreasing while the role of the whole is substantially growing . . . It was yet another distinct step toward unification and toward transferring powers from individual states somewhere to the top."
That is a penetrating analysis with which we agree.
A brief look back at the words of the Government and the previous Foreign Secretary before departing for Nice confirms the accuracy of Mr. Klaus's view of the treaty's emphasis. The previous Foreign Secretary made several statements about what he would do at Nice. He leaves a difficult legacy for his successor. He said that he would not regard a change to qualified majority voting on most of the items on the list of 50 aspects proposed by the French presidency as acceptable. He believed that only a minority would be acceptable. However, he had a change of heart at the negotiating table and agreed to QMV for more than half of them.
The right hon. Gentleman said that extending QMV to anti-discrimination measures would be unacceptable. He had a change of heart at Nice. He said that he was not wildly enthusiastic about the move on European political parties. Again, he had a sudden change of heart in the sunshine of Nice. Perhaps it was not unconnected with the proposal that he would take on the presidency of the European party of socialists. From his first days in office, the current Foreign Secretary knows that agreeing to extend QMV means that we lose influence and power.
The Government agreed to the social chapter in the early days of the previous Parliament. They claimed that it would have no bad effects, and that there was nothing to worry about. However, they had to spend the election campaign trying to cover up the effect of the works council directive. The Government rightly object to it; we support them on that. However, it has gone through despite the Government's opposition because they gave up the veto.
There is clear evidence of the loss of the influence of the House and the British Government through giving up the veto. Perhaps the Foreign Secretary can explain the benefits that accrue from extending QMV to article 13, which applies to anti-discrimination measures. How will it benefit the British public? What are the implications of extending QMV to articles 100(1) and 100(2)? In terms of the article, what does a shortage in the supply of specific products mean? To which products does it apply? What measures can we deploy since the previous Foreign Secretary signed us up to QMV? What great benefits flow to Britain from that?
What would the Government's response be if the Foreign Secretary were outvoted on the choice of a common foreign policy representative? That could arise through a change that his predecessor agreed at Nice. Are the Government happy that, in principle, it is possible for European foreign policy to be run in the name of the British Government, represented by a person whose candidature they did not support?
I have outlined only a handful of the commitments that the Government have signed. It is right to scrutinise them, and we shall do that in Committee. However, surely it is sensible to call a halt to the Bill and broaden the debate on the treaty's implications through a referendum. The public could then participate and express their views on it.
Let us revert to enlargement and the idea that the necessary and desirable—in our view—reopening of the Nice treaty would delay enlargement. I have the direct quote to which I referred from the Foreign Secretary's predecessor, which comes from the debates after the Amsterdam treaty. He said:
"One of the great gains of reaching agreement at Amsterdam is that it has cleared the way forward for enlargement."—-[Hansard, 12 November 1997; Vol. 300, c. 918.]
A year later, the then Foreign Secretary opined that there was no immense enthusiasm on the part either of Europe or of Britain to commence an intergovernmental conference so soon after Amsterdam."
When that enthusiasm suddenly materialised, the right hon. Gentleman needed an excuse to justify the further intergovernmental conference and the further treaty, and he turned again to enlargement. He said:
"Enlargement will not be possible unless we ratify the treaty of Nice in the meantime."—-[Hansard, 23 January 2001; Vol. 361, c. 797.]
That is what he said earlier this year.
We had earlier warned that further integration and further treaty changes that take us further down the path to political, old-fashioned, one-size-fits-all political integration will not expedite enlargement but delay it, as it is doing, by adding to the burden that applicants have to absorb. By generating political controversy, as evidenced in the Irish referendum, enlargement will be delayed.
I said at the time of the Nice treaty:
"This summit had nothing to do with what is needed to allow enlargement to take place. All the extensions of QMV—some major, some minor—go in one direction only, towards further integration."—[Hansard, 11 December 2000; Vol. 359, c. 394.]
We would have been a bit more relaxed if there had been any evidence that at Nice the Government were pressing for there to be a two-way street, with some powers being returned to member states for decision. That is how a modernising European Union should be developing. It should be aiming to decentralise.
When the Minister for Europe was a Back-Bench Member and a strong europe sceptic, he used to make the case for a decentralised EU. As time has passed and the process of globalisation has accelerated, the case for decentralising the EU becomes stronger and stronger. Let us be clear that the Bill is not about enlargement. If anything, it is an impediment to enlargement. That which is necessary for enlargement has not been addressed.
The right hon. Gentleman says that the Bill has nothing to do with enlargement. Surely he remembers that at the time of the Amsterdam treaty there were various matters that were called left-overs. Those matters were dealt with at the Nice treaty, and there was a clear link between them and enlargement.
I do not know whether the right hon. Lady, as Minister for Europe, drafted the then Foreign Secretary's words when he said that agreement at Amsterdam had cleared the way for enlargement. That seems to be fairly unequivocal and fairly unambiguous. He did not say, "By the way, there are all these other things that we must decide in the meantime."
The matters that we are discussing are not needed for enlargement. We know that there is a political desire—this is what really is going on—among some leaders in Europe to take further the process of deeper political integration before enlargement happens. They suspect—for all I know they may be right—that the new candidate countries will be less amenable to proceeding with deepening integration than current members.
It seems an un-European approach to decide to have a tightly closed club where we make our own rules before we open our arms to embrace the entire family of European nations, which is what I regard as the historic destiny of the EU, and which must be done. It seems profoundly wrong to introduce tighter rules and then to say to all candidate countries, "Here is it is, take it or leave it—these are the rules, which we decided while you were waiting outside, and you must accept them as they are." It is wrong that the EU has gone down that path. It is wrong also that the Government have acquiesced in, and in some ways promoted, that approach.
The things that are necessary for enlargement to take place have not been addressed by the Government, and especially radical reform of the common agricultural policy. When I raised the issue during the previous Parliament, the then Foreign Secretary used to sneer and say, "That is completely unnecessary. It has all been dealt with at Berlin. There is nothing to worry about." However, the Prime Minister said—
I must make some progress.
The Prime Minister himself said, as long ago as 1995, in his early days as leader of the Labour party:
"Britain could set the agenda in Europe . . . reforming the CAP both because it is right and"— this is important—
"as a necessary precondition to the enlargement to include the countries of central and eastern Europe."
Then, he was absolutely right: it was a necessary precondition. We know that it still is, because in all the negotiations that are going on there has been no agreement, so far as I am aware, on the chapter concerning agriculture with any of the candidate countries. There are big problems with structural funds as well, but the biggest problem is agriculture.
When one asks someone from one of the Governments in question, "How is it going with the negotiations?", they say, "Oh, it's going splendidly. We've just got agriculture and the structural funds to deal with." Those are the big problems, the really difficult ones. That is why, if Nice had been genuinely a summit to deal with enlargement, it would have addressed those issues. However, it did not, and so far as I am aware, neither the then Foreign Secretary nor the Prime Minister made the slightest effort even to get the reform of the common agricultural policy on the agenda at Nice, let alone tried to get it dealt with. Yet by their own admission—now conveniently forgotten—they have accepted that that reform is essentially necessary to enable enlargement to take place.
This has been the longest-standing problem and it has delayed matters immensely. It took so long because it was necessary to negotiate immensely lengthy transitional proceedings, as there had been no serious reform of the CAP.
Everyone agrees that the European Union has to change. It needs to turn the challenges facing us, which concern many people, into opportunities. The European Union needs to be more relevant and more immediate to its current and future members. The answer is not simply to steam on regardless in the same dogmatic direction. We must require the European Union to re-examine itself. It has already succeeded in building the biggest single market in the world, and I think that the previous Conservative Administration can take some credit for that. I spent two happy years in the late 1980s negotiating a number of the directives that opened up—not in a perfect way, of course—that single market.
The European Union must now adapt to the era of decentralisation and to the network age. At present, too many of its structures are rigid, and too many of its aspirant members are being forced to sign up to the approaches of the past. In the network age, this rigid and centralised model of European power is not only inappropriate and outdated but a recipe for division and fracture. In today's world of global economic integration, the creation of big centralised blocs simply does not make sense any more.
We in the European Union can no longer afford to be impervious to the trend of change across the world and still expect to succeed. Through low turnouts in European elections and falling support in opinion polls, the people of Europe have sent a clear message to their Governments. It is that real unity across Europe cannot be imposed by integrationist treaties or by diktat.
Last September, the Danish people made their views clear in their referendum on the euro. In March, the Swiss rejected early membership of the EU by as many as four to one. Whatever the merits of the case for Swiss membership of the EU, that result ought at least to give us cause to stop and think, "Why did this happen?" Plenty of people might say, "The Swiss have just got to make the necessary changes to allow them to join." But should not we in the European Union, when we consider a stable democracy as prosperous as Switzerland, ask ourselves, "What is it about the European Union that makes a country as successful as Switzerland decide so overwhelmingly that it does not even want to contemplate negotiating to join it?" Of course, if Switzerland were to join the European Union, it would have to make a lot of changes. However, it is worth our while to reflect for a moment on whether the European Union could effect any changes to make itself an attractive place for a country as successful as Switzerland to join.
We need a fresh and more modern approach to Europe. In this electronic age, the EU needs agility, adaptability, flexibility and a light touch from the state if we are to realise the goal of a stable, prosperous, outward looking, free market, democratic Europe. We have a positive vision of an EU of constant change, constant bargaining and constant negotiation. We believe that that vision is true to both the spirit of the goals of Europe's founding fathers and the demands of our age; and that it would free Europe to prosper, rather than bind it with rigid rule and diktat.
A constitution for the EU, which has been proposed by some, would prevent that continual process of renewal, bargaining and change from happening. Far from lumbering from treaty to treaty, as the EU is increasingly prone to do, our vision would achieve a multi-system Europe in which groups of countries—different combinations for different purposes and to differing extents—would proceed to integrate and co-operate in different ways according to their different choices. That vision represents a more modern, more sophisticated, decentralised EU.
We want an open, flexible, free enterprise Europe that is ready to serve the whole of Europe—a Europe that celebrates diversity in culture, ethnic background, language, history, outlook and perspective and which does not try to stifle and submerge that diversity. I am afraid that the Bill and the Nice treaty take Europe in the wrong direction—back to the old world of tightly integrated, centralised regional blocks. That is wrong, and we shall vote against the Bill.
Before I call the next speaker, I should tell the House that Mr. Speaker has placed a 10-minute limit on all Back-Bench speeches. It applies from now on.
Unlike Mr. Maude, who spoke for the Opposition, I welcome the Nice treaty and the fact that we are beginning the ratification process in the House today. I warmly congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench on their appointment and wish them well in building on the work done by the Foreign Secretary's predecessor in the important sphere of European policy.
The Nice treaty is fairly modest, but it makes real improvements, particularly in terms of vote reweighting in the Council of Ministers, sensible changes in the European Parliament and sensible reforms in the European Court of Justice. Overall, the Government promoted and safeguarded British interests in the negotiation and built on both the success of the Berlin settlement, which we debated in the House yesterday, and the gains that they achieved in the Amsterdam treaty.
In all three negotiations, the Government showed that they could successfully negotiate for Britain without being isolated, and there was certainly no repetition of the disastrous policy of non-co-operation which the previous Government tried for a time. Furthermore, I find the Opposition's arguments curious. The treaty is modest, so wanting to hold a referendum on it when no referendum was held on either the Single European Act or the Maastricht treaty, for which they were responsible, defies belief.
Conservative Members often refer to attitudes and arguments in Denmark, where there is a strong degree of Euro-scepticism on occasion. I say to them that the Danish Folketing thought the treaty so modest that it did not represent changes in terms of integration. Therefore, the Folketing recommended that a referendum should not be held, and that recommendation was accepted. Indeed, there was a healthy majority in favour of the Nice treaty when it was voted on in the Danish Parliament.
However, the fact that a referendum on the treaty is not being held in this country should not make us shy of having a public debate on Europe. Indeed, I am pleased that Europe, among many other important matters that were debated, was an issue in the general election campaign. I am glad that the result of the general election seemed to confirm that people believe that the Government have been doing a good negotiating job in Europe, and I strongly agree with that.
We should not be frightened of a big debate on issues such as the euro and enlargement. Enlargement is a tremendously important opportunity for the future of the European Union. Existing member states should prepare for enlargement, just as they prepared for the entry into force of the euro.
I was fortunate recently to have the European Commissioner for Enlargement, Gunter Verheugen, visit my constituency and address a conference of representatives of the private and public sectors from urban and rural parts of the region. He encouraged people in the region to prepare for enlargement, and to build the necessary economic, political and social links with new member countries, so that we make a success of enlargement.
I suggest to the Government—they are likely to do this in any case—that they go out to the people of Britain in the different regions and explain why enlargement is important and why it will bring enormous benefits not just to new member countries but to existing members. They should try to convey a sense of excitement about this historic project.
I am glad that the Government have already highlighted the benefits of enlargement, and have drawn attention to the fact that previous enlargements have brought economic benefits, such as jobs and the expansion of the gross domestic product in both the applicant and existing member countries. Those trends will continue with future enlargements.
I strongly support the provisions in the treaty on the European Parliament and co-decision. I believe that the European Parliament has used its powers responsibly. I also welcome the fact that the European Parliament can influence the decision-making process in the European Union.
However, as a former Minister, I am allowed to be a mild heretic. I think that we should examine the old-fashioned distinction between compulsory and non-compulsory expenditure, which I hope will become increasingly irrelevant with the reform of the common agricultural policy.
Although there is no hope of this, I would also like the European Parliament to be able to decide for itself where it meets, rather than be subject to the unanimous decision of the Council. I know full well the realpolitik behind that: no one will challenge the one or two countries for which this is a vital national interest. None the less, it is a modest power for any organisation to be able to decide where it holds its meetings. Most of the organisations with which Members of Parliament come into contact have that modest power.
Is the right hon. Lady aware that the writing into the treaty of the provisions on where the Parliament sits—thus making it impossible now to change that without a treaty change—was agreed to by the Government under the treaty of Amsterdam?
Indeed, and I am aware of the politics behind that decision. Many years ago, some German social democratic MEPs argued with their then leader, Helmut Schmidt, that he should push for a change of attitude on this matter in the Council. He told them firmly that it was not a vital national interest, and that there were many more important issues for him to promote and pursue. I understand why, in negotiations, Governments promote their most vital national interests, and why some of the other issues which, on a reasonable judgment, may be worth pursuing, are left to one side.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary mentioned some of the changes that have taken place in agriculture. I believe that the time is right to push for agricultural reform. Although it was not part of the Nice treaty, it was certainly part of the Berlin agreement. I believe that—not just because of the pressures of enlargement but because of changes within certain European Governments, particularly the German Government—we now have a chance to build up an alliance for agricultural change and reform, which will itself give us a unique opportunity. I urge my right hon. Friends to push ahead with agricultural reform at this juncture: if we can achieve it, it will make enlargement that much easier to achieve as well.
I think that the Nice treaty is helpful, and represents a positive although modest way forward. I believe that it will help us to build on what we have already achieved. I commend the Government on their attitude in European negotiations on economic reform, and on the social chapter—the job-destroying social chapter that has actually resulted in the creation of extra jobs in our country. I commend them on their positive approach to environmental policy in Europe, and to enlargement.
If these are our priorities post-Nice, we will not only make a success of European Union membership for the British people; we will help to create a European Union that will be to the benefit of all new and existing member countries.
In European matters, Joyce Quin speaks with rare authority and experience. Her speech encapsulated in a most persuasive way the issues with which we ought to be concerned today.
I was not here at the time of the Single European Act, but I was certainly here during the Maastricht treaty proceedings. In comparison with the Maastricht treaty and the proceedings that surrounded it, the Nice treaty is little more than housekeeping. It justifies neither euphoria nor hysteria. It is certainly not a grand plan for the European Union; it is a framework treaty for enlargement. It is also true to say that the housekeeping has done little to bring Europe closer to the citizen. That may create a bond between those who speak in this debate, from whatever part of the House.
The fact is that the decision-making process in Europe remains impenetrable to the ordinary observer, and almost daily makes a powerful case for reform. The patchwork of powers and responsibilities that have grown out of a number of treaties—not all of which are easy to reconcile with each other—still requires a healthy dose of transparency and openness.
I do not believe that the Nice treaty is a great constitutional watershed, as Maastricht was and, indeed, as would be a decision to join the single European currency. Few would dare to suggest that the overall outcome of Nice has contributed much to the quality or efficiency of European governance. Nice represents at best a holding position until such time as the leaders of Europe find the will to adapt the institutions of the European Union to the realities of the kind of Europe of which the shadow Foreign Secretary spoke towards the end of his speech—with a great deal of which I found myself in agreement.
Nice is about providing a framework for enlargement. It is about effecting the institutional reforms that are necessary to allow a union of up to 27 members to function. Of course, 27 members may not be the high water mark of enlargement. There are 13 applicant countries at different stages of the accession process, including Turkey. Reference was made during the debate on the Gracious Speech to the difficulties of accession for Turkey. As the Foreign Secretary noted, we have held out to Balkan countries such as Croatia the possibility of future EU membership because we want to help them move away from a period of political indecision—and, in some cases, chaos—towards a more rational structure. The possibility of EU membership has also helped ensure that the fledgling democratic institutions in those countries are better nurtured and sustained.
The shadow Foreign Secretary prayed in aid a somewhat improbable ally in Mr. Prodi, but he was right to say that, in technical terms, the treaty of Nice is not required for enlargement. In theory, enlargement can happen without the Nice treaty, but what sort of EU would it be if we did not use the framework that that treaty contains?
Moreover, as the Foreign Secretary noted, if we were to put the Nice treaty to one side and say, "We will now consider the question of enlargement," the target date of 2004 simply could not be achieved. Political considerations would mean that enlargement would be delayed for a very long time. That would be poor reward for the countries of eastern Europe, many of which have worked hard to achieve democratic standards and to move towards market economies in anticipation of early EU membership.
We must ask ourselves whether the EU is outward-looking and willing to share the benefits and advantages of membership for the purposes of peace and prosperity across the continent. If the answer to that question is in the affirmative—as it ought to be—we should then ask ourselves how we can allow those benefits to be shared by others quickly and effectively.
I share the Foreign Secretary's view that there can be no enlargement without ratification of the treaty by Ireland. Ireland provides an interesting illustration of the need to make the case for EU membership. Liberal Democrat Members have criticised the Government's timidity when it comes to making the case for Europe, although the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech in the City on the eve of the Gracious Speech foreign affairs debate presented a positive case for Europe—despite the fact that he took what I believe to be an unduly reticent approach to the question of membership of the single currency.
The Irish result is a warning that politicians must make the case for Europe, and it shows that the requirement for unanimity in some matters means that a small country has the power to block, or even derail, the EU's progress. That rather gives the lie to the argument that we are on an unstoppable escalator, on the way to something that some describe as a superstate but rarely define.
For example, the treaty extends qualified majority voting to 31 of the 70 or so articles that require unanimity. However, 17 of those articles refer to technical portions of the treaties dealing with appointments to the European Parliament, European committees and courts, and with those bodies' rules, procedures and management. Four of the other articles to which QMV has been extended cover matters on which Britain has an opt-out. The remaining 10 extensions deal with matters such as anti- discrimination practice, support to industry, priorities for structural funds, and environmental measures. In some areas, we are talking not about enforced harmonisation but about the exchange of information to encourage best practice. I see no case for a referendum on the treaty of Nice, as no issue of fundamental constitutional importance is at stake.
I confess that I have a little difficulty with the Conservative position on the matter. Before the general election, the Conservatives said that a Conservative Government would not ratify the treaty of Nice but, in opposition, they now call for a referendum. It seems to me that that position can be interpreted as, "The people must speak—but not if we're in government, when we'll make sure that we speak for them."
That is a rather confusing and confused position, and I shall make my opinion clear. Referendums should be employed sparingly for principled reasons of constitutional significance. If fundamental constitutional change is involved, as it was in the Maastricht treaty and would be were we to join the single European currency, the approval of the British people should be sought in a referendum. Indeed, it was the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Paddy Ashdown, who was the first to call for a referendum on entry to the single currency.
Where do we find such fundamental constitutional change in the Nice treaty? Where are the marching legions besieging the alleyways of Westminster with their calls for a referendum on Nice? Where are the crowds demanding delay in ratification? People are breaking into Menwith Hill because they feel so strongly about missile defence, but I have not been accosted on my way to the House of Commons by anyone even passingly resembling an ancient mariner wanting to ensure that I did not help to pass legislation to ratify the treaty of Nice. I cannot even remember receiving a single letter on the topic in the past four weeks, except for those from members of parties that are overwhelmingly opposed to any further integration into the European Union.
The Irish vote makes it even more important for the EU to undertake a serious round of reform. We have to reconnect the EU with the citizens of the nation states that make up the Union and move away from that rather remote elitism that can often be detected in the air surrounding Brussels institutions. I happen to think that an overwhelming commitment to, and a determination to press ahead with, enlargement will help to provoke that very discussion. We want a European Union that is more democratic and more liberal, and one that concentrates its energies on doing what it does best, not on interfering in every area of national legislative competence. The EU should stay clear of areas where its writ is unnecessary.
One of the achievements of the former Prime Minister, John Major, is that the principle of subsidiarity is ruthlessly applied by the EU. I have no difficulty with decentralisation—after all, my party argued for decentralisation in the United Kingdom for some time while those who now think that decentralisation in Europe is so important put up bulwarks against the notion that the Welsh should have an Assembly or the Scots a Parliament.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman suggests that nothing of constitutional significance is imperilled by the extension of qualified majority voting, but why will not he accept that the merits of the case against discrimination in general, and the merits or demerits of particular anti-discrimination measures, should pre-eminently be matters for determination by democratically elected Members of the British legislature? Those matters should not fall within the rubric of the European Union.
If I interpret that intervention correctly, the hon. Gentleman is saying that he does not believe that the European Union should take a position on, for example, the discrimination faced by women. That is precisely the sort of issue on which the EU should take a position. There should also be an EU position on discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity. The hon. Gentleman and I may exist on two different planets on the issue, but the progress of events since we joined the European Coal and Steel Community—to give it its technically correct name—has favoured those who share my view, not those who share his.
One of the more positive aspects of Nice was the pledge of member state Governments to launch a debate about the future of the European Union. That will result in the convening of an intergovernmental conference in 2004, specifically designed to establish a more precise delimitation of competencies between the European Union and the nation states upon which it relies for its legitimacy.
I do not shrink from the notion that there should be a constitution for Europe. The shadow Foreign Secretary set himself against that, but I believe that it is only by being clear and open about structures and aspirations that the European Union can hope to retain the support of the people of Europe. People have to be comfortable with the institutions designed to represent them and they are most comfortable in such circumstances if they understand the limits of the powers of these institutions.
In short, we need to know in clear and simple language what the European Union can and cannot do. The treaty of Nice does not achieve these objectives. It was, as the right hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West pointed out in an intervention, designed to deal with what were rather ungraciously described as the Amsterdam leftovers. However, the treaty of Nice provides a framework for enlargement and in my view it should be supported for that reason.
There is one point to which I hope we shall return in Committee. The enabling provisions in clauses 1(2) and 1(3) are, as I understand it, unprecedented. They raise the possibility of changes of law based on affirmative procedure. We will seek to inquire of the Government what is the justification for that apparent innovation in dealing in this House with matters connected with the European Union.
We should be swift to offer the benefits of European Union membership to those who wish to avail themselves of the opportunity to become members. We should ratify the treaty as soon as possible, which is why Liberal Democrat Members will support the Government in the Lobby this evening.
The Bill seeks to amend the European Communities Act 1972 to incorporate into the laws of the United Kingdom various parts—most parts, it seems—of the treaty of Nice. The 1972 Act has been amended many times over the past 30 years, and some of the amendments to it, especially those made in the 1980s and 1990s, could be said to provide a map of the long march from the Common Market of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s to the centralised European state that is emerging.
It is fair to say that on the scale of integration, the treaty of Nice is not as high as, for example, the Single European Act, the Maastricht treaty or, indeed, the treaty of Amsterdam. Nevertheless, it is a further step in the integration process. That process can be effected and completed only by taking away powers from the Parliaments and peoples of member states and transferring them to the institutions of what I see as the emerging European state.
In the aftermath of the Irish referendum on the Nice treaty, Mr. Michael McDowell, the Attorney-General of Ireland, describes clearly—as one would expect from an Irish Attorney-General—that process of integration. He said in The Daily Telegraph that there is a widespread perception that developments in Europe were taking a turn, or moving in a direction, that caused deep unease. The article continued:
"He said 'a narrow class of activist office-holders, elected and unelected', were charging ahead of public opinion with proposals for a European constitution, a justiciable Bill of Rights, EU direct taxation, a defence arm, a judicial machinery to prosecute and punish citizens, an elected EU president, and an EU government."
He said that few if any of those proposals carry popular significant support and continued:
"While many have been put forward separately, they constitute, in the round, the indiciae of a European state in substance.'"
That is the view of the Irish Attorney-General, whom I should have thought understood these matters very well.
The most integrationist aspect of the Nice treaty is that in about 31 of its articles, the unanimity rule in the Council of Ministers has been replaced by qualified majority voting. We have heard the Government line: "Who cares who becomes the registrar of the European Court? Why should those Poles be allowed to veto the appointment of a registrar?" Perhaps the appointment does not matter, but several articles from which the unanimity requirement has been taken away are quite important. For instance, there are the measures that allow the EC to give financial assistance—the payment of money—to states in "severe difficulties".
Negotiation, completion and conclusion of agreements relating to trade in services, which is very relevant to the GATT negotiations and the World Trade Organisation, are also now subject to qualified majority voting. Health and safety at work, working conditions, social exclusion, industrial policy, economic and social cohesion, certain environmental measures, and economic and financial co-operation with third countries are surely important matters, but we are losing the unanimity rule in respect of those as well.
Unanimity has also been removed from proposals to establish enhanced co-operation, as it is called. In the strange language of this Byzantine organisation, that is known as a "deepening" of the Community. Again, the veto has been taken away. Those matters are not trivial; they are of considerable importance, but a democratically elected British Government can now be outvoted on them.
The case for the veto lies not just with the importance or otherwise of the subject matter of the veto. In any international or supranational institution, the veto protects, and is the badge of, the democracy of the member state. That is why, in most supranational organisations, unanimity is usually the rule. The veto is under pressure not just because of enlargement but because the EU is moving away from what has been described as a supranational body, and is gradually moving towards an emerging state. As we have seen with other treaties, this is the beginning of the end of the supranational phase, and the beginning of the EU as a state in its own right. The veto is simply not compatible with such an arrangement.
Once the veto goes, a democratically elected British Government can be outvoted by a group of states whose Governments are not accountable to the British electorate; those Governments might not be of the political hue or persuasion for which the British electorate would vote. Let us consider France. It grieves me to say so but, from reading the newspapers every day, it is clear that financial corruption has been endemic at the highest levels of French Government for a very long time, regardless of which party is in power. That is a matter for the French electorate—they might like it or they might not care about it. However, I hope that the British electorate would not tolerate such financial corruption from a British Government. Yet a French Government, together with others, will be able to outvote a British Government, even though the other Governments are not responsible for, or in any way accountable to, the British electorate that put their Government into negotiations.
I am sure that the Italians are happy with the Berlusconi Government. However, I venture to suggest that a British electorate would not vote for the policies that Berlusconi stands for and that he has submitted to the Italian electorate. However, the Italian Government, together with other Governments, could outvote a British Government and impose polices on a British electorate that would never countenance supporting a Government such as Berlusconi's. What if—perish the thought—a neo-fascist Government were democratically elected in a European country? Recently, the Austrians had a wobble and perhaps such a Government could be formed again.
Apparently, we are not going to give up any more vetoes—we are going to fight to the death over the next lot. The next time, Ministers will be like the Spartans at the pass of Thermopylae. The corridors of power will be piled high with the corpses of British Ministers, as they fight for the remaining 31-odd vetoes.
Are we really saying that we are prepared to accept the votes of a democratically elected neo-fascist Government in Europe who will then, along with other countries, be able to impose their will on a British electorate, who would, I hope, never countenance the election of such a Government? The issue is not the exercise of the veto in votes on registrars, or even the importance of the veto in itself; the veto is the badge of, and the bulwark and protection for, the democracy of the nation state within a supranational or centralised European state.
To add insult to injury, I note that clause 3 will allow some vetoes to be given to the European Parliament. The Parliament does not call them "vetoes"; a veto is nasty, but a co-decision is wonderful. The Parliament is to be given the power of co-decision. A decision will be made by the Council of Ministers using majority voting and sent to the Parliament for a co-decision. If the Parliament says no, that is not a veto; it is the Parliament failing to exercise its power of co-decision. The Bill takes away our vetoes and gives some of them to the European Parliament. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe will accept a few amendments in Committee to restore those vetoes to this Parliament or, if we do not want to call them "vetoes", to give us the power of co-decision.
My right hon. Friend asks whether we will be giving power to democratically elected Governments with whom we do not agree. My quick calculation shows that to get an agreement on qualified majority voting, we would need about 120 votes, and as even the largest country would have only 29 votes, self-evidently we are not giving power to any one nation.
Not at the moment, but Governments change. I was making a point of principle: we are giving away power because at the moment we can stop things, but in future we will be unable to do so. The British electorate will be unable to have any influence on that process. I was making a democratic point, and if my hon. Friend cannot understand it, we really are in some difficulty over the European Union.
The Bill will lead to further diminution of the powers of this House and of the democracy of the British people. I do not believe that the majority of my constituents, or of the British people, want further integration. The Danes did not want that, and nor did the Irish—
It is always a particular pleasure for me to follow Denzil Davies, who represents my home town, in which I spent the first 18 years of my life and where I went to school. That pleasure is greatly enhanced by the fact that I entirely agree with so much of his speech, and I congratulate him on it.
The treaty that the Bill will enable the Government to ratify is extremely wide ranging and far reaching. In addressing its provisions, it is difficult to know where to start and where to end. It is a treaty without a theme. Ostensibly, it is all about the enlargement of the European Union, and we are all in favour of that, but the most cursory glance at its provisions makes it clear that most of them have little, if anything, to do with enlargement.
Moreover, the important changes that enlargement would involve, such as reform of the common agricultural policy, are completely ignored in the treaty, as was pointed out by my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary. The treaty of Nice is, as treaties go, a great pretender. It purports to lay the ground for enlargement, but fails to do so; it contains many provisions that have nothing to do with enlargement and that we should not embrace.
The declarations that accompany the treaty cover many vital issues, some of which I have addressed before in the House. I shall not touch on them this evening because they are not part of the body of the treaty. There is more than enough in the body of the treaty to occupy the attention of the House, and it is on some of those provisions that I wish to concentrate. Some of them are welcome. They may be unnecessary for enlargement, and do not therefore have to be included in the treaty, but I have no particular difficulty with the provisions relating to the number of Commissioners or the weighting of voting.
I am also an enthusiast for what has come to be called variable geometry and what, in the Euro-jargon to which the right hon. Member for Llanelli referred, is known as enhanced co-operation. It is through variable geometry and enhanced co-operation that the EU can develop a new, essential dimension of flexibility. If those countries that wish to integrate more closely are permitted to do so without it being a requirement that every other member state should join in, we have the beginnings of an imaginative and innovative structure that may well prove to be the model for other parts of the world to follow. It would enable the United Kingdom to say to our partners, "We have no desire to stop you doing what you want to do, so long as you do not make us do what we don't want to do." It would mean that the UK could stop saying "no".
Nevertheless, some aspects of the provisions relating to enhanced co-operation in the treaty of Nice cause concern. The original provisions in the treaty of Amsterdam include what became known as the emergency brake—a kind of veto, as the right hon. Gentleman said—which enables member states to refer contentious proposals for enhanced co-operation to the European Council, where they have to be approved unanimously. That provision is deleted by the treaty of Nice, which is a mistake. Particularly in its early stages, it is important that enhanced co-operation has the blessing of all member states. The treaty of Amsterdam appeared to secure that; the treaty of Nice does not.
The provisions on which I wish to spend most of the short time available this afternoon relate to the extension of qualified majority voting. Two reasons are usually given in support of the proposals. Unfortunately, as is often the case, they are contradictory and mutually inconsistent. First, we are told that an extension of QMV is essential if the EU is to be enlarged. How can important decisions continue to be taken on the basis of unanimity, we are asked, if the union is to include so many new member states? Unanimity, it is said, would lead to paralysis, so an extension of QMV is essential.
The second justification is that, if one examines the areas to which QMV will apply, one finds that they are all technical, narrow and inconsequential. No essential national interest is involved, the areas concerned are of little importance and it is sensible for them to be treated in that way. However, many decisions that need to be taken by an enlarged EU will be important and will involve member states essential interests. If QMV is an essential means of preventing paralysis and enabling the decision-making machinery of the union to work when it is enlarged, why restrict it to technical areas? The flexibility which, indeed, will be essential when the union is enlarged, can be provided much more effectively by enhanced co-operation than by QMV. That is the best way forward; I hope that the EU will follow that path.
Let us examine in a little more detail the proposals for QMV and, in particular, the extent to which they are technical and unimportant. In doing so, let us give at least a passing glance to what has happened in the past. There have been many occasions when QMV has been extended, often under a Conservative Government, to areas where, we thought, it would not give rise to any problems. I shall give one specific example. I was a member of the Government, though not of the Cabinet, who extended QMV to decision making on issues relating to health and safety. I am not for one moment suggesting that I would have opposed that extension had I been in the Cabinet at the time; it seemed a sensible thing to do. Were we not, after all, enthusiastically in favour of proper health and safety provision? And were our provisions not among the best in Europe? Might it not have been the case that some of our partners with less stringent requirements were stealing a competitive march on us by avoiding their proper obligations? From every point of view, was not that measure clearly in our national interest?
I would have answered those questions in the affirmative. As we know, they were answered in the affirmative by the Cabinet and, in particular, by the Minister with responsibility for those matters, who was none other than my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke. I emphasise that I do not criticise him for agreeing to that step, which I supported at the time; I am sure that I would have done the same thing myself. But what happened? Far from restricting the scope of the relevant provision to legitimate questions of health and safety, we discovered, not long afterwards, that the provisions were being used to force through the working time directive, which has only the most tenuous connections with health and safety. Those of us who were concerned with these issues in the previous Conservative Government were outraged; outraged and impotent.
Indeed, I recall a discussion in which my right hon. and learned Friend, just as resolute in his opposition to the working time directive as the rest of us, said that had he known that the health and safety provisions were to be used to impose, by a qualified majority, the working time directive, he would not have supported the extension of QMV. So, in examining what may appear to be technical or innocuous measures in respect of which QMV is to be applied, it is as well to bear in mind the mischief that they may contain.
I shall not give way; I am afraid that I have no time to do so.
I shall mention just one such example of the extension of QMV by the treaty of Nice. Article 100, on which the right hon. Member for Llanelli touched, provides that appropriate measures, including financial assistance, may be agreed to aid member states in severe difficulty. What might that mean? Let us explore hypothetically what it might mean.
We all know that pensions will be a considerable problem for many countries in future. We all know that, in the United Kingdom, we have made better provision for our pension liabilities and obligations than others. What if in future article 100 were used to provide for financial assistance to countries that get themselves into severe difficulties because they cannot meet their pension obligations? There is nothing in article 100 to rule that out.
If I am wrong in my analysis, I hope that the Minister who winds up the debate will point that out. If there is a flaw, I would like it to be identified. If I am right, however, can there be any doubt that it would be seriously and fundamentally contrary to the interests of this country that article 100 of the treaty of Nice should be permitted to go through?
My opposition to article 100 and other similar articles owes nothing to dogma, doctrine or any anti- Europeanism. It is based on the only principle that we should apply to every measure that comes before this House: is it in the interests of this country and the people whom we are here to represent? Any objective application of that principle to this treaty and this Bill would lead to but one conclusion. That is why I hope that the Second Reading of the Bill will be rejected.
The Nice treaty is the latest of a number of treaties on the role and competence of the European Union. The EU has changed its name over the decades. It has evolved, but insufficiently to meet the changing world and even the objectives that it set itself 50 years ago.
For many people like me, the Common Market of the 1970s was a liberator. We could work in member states without work permits—the free movement of labour. The EU of today is too often perceived as an institution that stops people from doing things or tells them what to do.
The recent rejection of the treaty of Nice by the people of Ireland in a referendum should not be brushed aside lightly. The motives of those voting against it were no doubt mixed, but we do not have a right to interpret what voters really meant. "Comrades, there must be no compromise with the electorate", is not an appropriate response.
Three basic questions should be asked of any democratic institution. Does it solve problems? Are those affected by decisions represented? Do those affected by the decisions know who made them? The EU must improve as a democratic institution. If I were to choose just one example of how it could do so, it would be the system of weighted votes, which was one of the most contentious issues at Nice. The qualified majority threshold, the blocking minority combined with the population safeguard, cannot be explained in such a way as to argue that they bring Europe closer to the people by making European decision making clearer.
The current mood towards the EU is in marked contrast to the hopes and enthusiasm that surrounded its birth at the end of the second world war. However, it is fair to say that 50 years ago people would have been astonished by the degree of political and economic integration that has since taken place on our continent. There have been significant changes—most notably the unification of Germany, the end of the cold war and prospects for enlargement to the east. However, there are a number of issues that must be addressed now if the EU is to retain, let alone increase, the confidence of electorates.
In the debates surrounding the EU and the potentially enlarged Union, politics and economics are mixed. That has always been so, ever since the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community. In general, the path of economic integration has been clearer than the political destination of the EU. It is often not clear whether politics or economics is in the driving seat. Indeed, the priority has varied from time to time, but one thing was always clear: monetary union was to follow political union. The order has now been reversed, which has added to people's confusion about where Europe is heading.
I shall deal first with economics. With some justification, Monnet can be seen as the father of the EU. He was certainly a visionary, but he was always a practical man. He believed in the benefits of what might be termed liberal capitalism, and he admired America. We should note both those facts.
While there is much to learn from America, European countries are different and they do not have to become mirrors of the United States. Whatever the framework chosen to reflect different cultural and political traditions, there are certain economic imperatives to be met. In recent years it has been noticeable that the people who were most sure that Europe and its new currency would soon and easily challenge the dollar were often those most hostile to the basis that underpins the dynamism of the US economy and the dollar, particularly the emphasis on the market.
The European Coal and Steel Community was essentially a liberal market solution that could be followed as an example in a broader economic context in the treaty of Rome, the single market programme and subsequent reform agendas. Before embarking on any new economic or social initiatives, Governments in Europe would be better employed in ensuring that labour, product and capital markets function in the way envisaged in the Spaak report.
The report, tabled in April 1956, remains a key document and was the basis of the treaty of Rome. It is the main philosophical antecedent of the approach to economic integration which has been prevalent in the EU ever since, yet if we look at the progress made in the past 45 years, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor might ask their opposite numbers to stand and deliver what has already been promised. That has not been delivered. For example, there is no genuine single market in financial services, and recent German opposition to the take-over directive shows how far we still are from accepting the logic of the Spaak report.
I turn now to politics. Broadly speaking, for most of modern history there have been two alternative ways of organising society—a nation state or an empire. Neither is an attractive model for the EU. The EU is said to be a unique construction. It was a deliberate pooling of national power or sovereignty in a clearly defined area, and the placing of that power under the control of an entity that was common to the member states, but none the less legally independent.
The route followed by the EU—via the original ECSC, the EEC, then the EC—is, we are told, towards ever closer political union, which has never been tried before and which has an unstoppable momentum. It is not always clear where this momentum is taking us, but it is like riding a bike—we cannot stop, and we must keep going forward or we will fall off. That is not my experience of riding a bike. It is possible to stop. We can put the brakes on. We can put our foot down. We do not fall off. We can look around and decide where we want to go.
On the whole, the lack of precision about the political endgame and its institutional framework has not seemed to matter much up till now. At the end of the war, everyone in Europe shared a widespread feeling that things could not go on as before. A new order was needed. If anyone had asked what the EU, in one of its previous incarnations, was for, the answer would have been obvious: to stop Germany and France ever again going to war against each other.
That objective has been achieved and no longer provides a credible basis for taking Europe forward. To the question, "What is Europe for?", we must provide an up-to-date answer that people can support, in language that they understand. To the cognoscenti, posing such a question lacks sophistication and subtlety, but they are wrong. The question must be addressed.
The structure of the ECSE and the function of the high authority followed clearly from the answer in 1951, and I suspect that the same is true today. Providing an answer for present member states will not be easy, but I am certain that one of the purposes of the existing EU is to help to underpin democracy and economic prosperity in central Europe.
Whatever the justification for the Nice treaty and whatever its failings, it has been determined as the channel for moving forward with enlargement. The presidency conclusions of the Gothenburg Council in June 2001 state:
"Enlargement and globalisation present the EU with great opportunities and challenges."
It does. Enlargement will test the hinge of national interest and genuine European solidarity. Often, in Eurospeak, the latter is a cloak for the former.
Enlargement is a challenge for some recent entrants, for example, Spain, Ireland and Portugal, who have been major recipients of European assistance. It is a challenge for France and Germany—perhaps particularly for France, for whom the EU is often seen as an extension of the French state. It is a challenge for us here too. In meeting all those challenges and others it will be essential to be able to state clearly Europe's basic function and purpose.
I might be seen as an example of the forces that shaped modern Europe. I am German by birth, my mother is a refugee from eastern Europe, and I am now a British Member of Parliament representing Neville Chamberlain's old constituency. I hope that no one is in any doubt of my fundamental commitment to Europe.
However, before we move to the intergovernmental conference in 2004 we, as politicians, will have to be able to answer some fundamental questions, such as what the EU does for its citizens, how those are citizens represented, and who can they hold accountable for decisions.
In other words, if we are to engage people in debate and take them with us, we need to be able to state in simple terms the direction, role and competence of the EU. In plain language, the fundamental question that we need to able to answer is: what is the European Union for?
It is a great pleasure to follow Ms Stuart for one very good reason, which is that she asked the right question. The problem is that she came up with the wrong answer. The difficulty is that Europe's purpose is ever greater integration, and whether democracy and accountability can exist in such an environment is the question that we face in the House and throughout Europe. The Irish and Danish referendums clearly demonstrated that, as did I in an intervention on my right hon. Friend Mr. Maude earlier today with respect to the Conservative party's refusal to engage in proper referendums on the question of further integration from Maastricht onwards until the Nice treaty.
I want to deal with a broader question. I speak as one whose father, who received the military cross, was killed in the last war in Normandy. That adds a certain poignancy to the remarks made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston. Those of us who want a peaceful and stable Europe must ask whether that is what the arrangements will provide. Nothing would be worse than for the EU, for which I voted in 1975 in the context of that time, to implode because of the tensions that are created by going down the wrong route towards an undemocratic and unaccountable Europe. We have only to consider the low growth and job difficulties in the eurozone to understand that point.
We have only to look at what went on in Gothenburg to understand the alienation that exists between the electorates of Europe and the elite, and how the EU is embattled and imprisoned by the force of political concern about what is going on. No one who is responsible could possibly ignore that, any more than Romano Prodi could possibly argue with any legitimacy that the Irish people must have another referendum because the original referendum was undemocratic.
The first Danish referendum, in which the Danes voted no, was disgracefully overturned with my Government's connivance. In "German Comments", produced by Konrad Adenaeur Siftung, an editorial at the time said that elections had become a form of protest and must be stopped. It is incredible for such language to persist from those days until Romano Prodi's recent disgraceful remarks in Ireland. We must take the matter seriously. By renegotiating, it is possible to get the whole ramshackle, undemocratic, unaccountable and idiosyncratic kaleidoscope back in focus.
I am arguing not for withdrawal, but for a proper intergovernmental conference at which member states can, instead of making proposals such as the Nice treaty, sit down and ask themselves the question that was rightly put by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston: what is Europe for? How will we have a stable Europe when it is perfectly clear that the direction in which it is going is being rejected by its electorates left, right and centre? I do not believe for one minute that that view is confined to the countries that I have mentioned. It is not confined to the United Kingdom, where the decision would be clear if a referendum were held now.
The same view prevails in central and eastern Europe. I have served on the Select Committee on European Scrutiny for 17 years, so I have visited the countries and met people there. Although the elites have been blackmailed into accepting the acquis communautaire—that is basically what happened—and their parliamentary processes have been absorbed for an entire year in adopting something that the people do not want, they are now signing up to join a European Union that will frustrate and undermine the democratic spirit that gave rise to the enormous burst of freedom that we saw in the springtime of nations. That is why I want enlargement, but not on the basis of crushing out the democratic spirit. Believe me, that is what will happen.
We must also consider a further question: the broader picture that lies behind those circumstances. It is about the balance of power in Europe. Nobody should have any misunderstanding about that. As Bismarck said, it is those who speak about "Europe" who should be most distrusted. The bottom line is that we are now engaged in a tectonic movement in the balance of power in Europe, which is being carried out through the mechanism of institutional change. The reality is the driving force of national interests, based on an apparent political union that will become a legal framework. Through the legal processes of the European Court of Justice and the European Communities Act 1972, that framework will impose upon this country and others a requirement to obey laws that are, for example, passed by majority voting.
I must differ from my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Howard in respect of the variable geometry and flexibility that he advocated. When one engages in the concept of enhanced co-operation, as the treaty does, one should consider what happened under monetary union, which was described by the European Commission as the best form of flexibility yet produced and which led me to table 200-odd amendments to the Bill on the Maastricht treaty. We said that we would accept the framework, but not prevent the other member states from going ahead. That is the implicit basis on which the enhanced co-operation will operate in relation to all areas, including, despite the Government's denials, defence, foreign policy and all the other matters to which the Nice treaty refers, following and based on Maastricht and Amsterdam. It is an accumulative, aggregate process of an undemocratic and unaccountable Europe. Anybody who misunderstands that is missing the target altogether.
I believe that what is happening is the creation of a Europe that is based fundamentally on the predominance of Germany. The German people know and understand that. I have many friends in Germany and they tell me the same thing. The problem is not simple; it is about the aggregate of power, not only in relation to the majority voting increase that Germany has clearly acquired in the treaty, but to the countries that depend on Germany. We must be careful about the direction in which we are moving. Many people may disagree with me, but that is my judgment.
We are moving towards a more deeply taxed Europe. The functions that are being created, including those under flexibility and enhanced co-operation, are increasing exponentially. They must be paid for. That is why Hans Eichel recently said that a much more invasive tax policy is needed in Europe. That is why Romano Prodi has asked for £60 billion. All that will remove the House's ability to resist. Public services in this country are constrained by European Union monetary rules. If we subscribe to the increased functions, the whole process will continue to invade the rights and privileges of the House. We are moving dangerously further down the road of an undemocratic, European Government—that is what we are considering, not a confederation of nation states.
I wish that my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke was here today. I shall be interested to know how he will vote. He said that he supported the Nice treaty. I dedicated my pamphlet to him today, and I hope that he will enjoy a little light reading matter.
We are in danger of taking a one-way ticket on a route to an undemocratic and unsustainable Europe. I shall fight against that with all the heart that I can summon.
I strongly agree with all the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary when he opened the debate, especially those on the negotiations about the Nice accession treaty. Britain has secured most of, if not all, its objectives, and it would be profoundly against the United Kingdom's national interests if enlargement proceeded without ratification of the treaty. Again, the lesson is that it is better to be in there, fighting convincingly and competently for our British national interests, and using alliances and influences, than to stand isolated on the sidelines, as the previous Government did for many years.
The choice for Britain is not between a Europe that we find unacceptable and the Conservative delusion of being in Europe but not run by Europe, whatever that means. It is between being out of Europe—Conservative policies would inevitably lead to that—and playing a proper role in shaping the reformed and changed Europe that we need and want. That is the central point of my remarks.
Nice is essential to bring about reform so as to pave the way for enlargement, but it only gets us to first base in the wider task of EU reform. Pro-Europeans should be the first to recognise and argue that today's Europe, with its institutions, working practices and policy priorities, is not perfectly designed for the challenges ahead. Enlargement will profoundly change the European Union.
The EU's overall direction needs to be clearer, and I sympathise with the remarks of my hon. Friend Ms Stuart. Our objectives for Europe need to be much clearer. There should be a much sharper focus on the core tasks that form the EU's priorities. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, Europe can add value through those tasks. We should also focus on the way in which we secure a proper balance between the responsibilities of the EU and those of member states and national Governments, and between the EU's institutions and those that rightly remain the responsibility of member states.
The EU is facing up to those issues and to the sheer practicalities of the way in which a new EU with 25 and possibly more members will work in practice. It behoves all member states to be brutally realistic about the paralysis that threatens the EU if we do not get enlargement right. When unanimity is required, it will be much more difficult to reach a meaningful agreement with such a large number of members. Even when the EU makes decisions through QMV, it will be much harder for 25 than for 15 member states to reach a good decision. How do we avoid paralysis creeping into the operation?
It is the job of the 2004 intergovernmental conference to grasp the nettle of fundamental reform in the EU. It will be difficult for Britain to grapple with much of it. There will be no easy debates or issues to resolve when we tackle fundamental reform in the EU. However, it will not be so uncomfortable for our country or our Government that we should stand aside and leave others to lead the debate. What are some of the key pointers that we might identify in distilling a British approach?
First, we should not get hung up on semantics and words such as federal or federalism. They mean different things to different people. Federalism means decentralisation to the Germans but centralisation to the British. The EU is a confederation of nation states; it is a hybrid, which is part intergovernmental and part supranational. Sovereignty is pooled but not lost. That will remain the permanent basis for the EU, and we should not therefore go up hill and down dale in pursuit of semantic argument.
Secondly, an EU constitution is already set out in its treaties. It needs greater clarity and it needs to be fastened down. We need to work hard to derive some basic rules from it. However, we should do that instead of starting to rewrite an EU constitution from scratch.
Thirdly, the Commission fulfils an essential role. It is the motor of the EU, for example, in policing the single market and competition policy. However, the Commission should not have carte blanche to exercise its competence as it chooses simply because it has such competence in specific matters. It should conform to EU priorities that have been set out by the European Council. It should respect subsidiarity in our arrangements.
Fourthly, the European Parliament plays an important legislative and scrutiny role, and I want it to be effective. However, it lacks the legitimacy to set the strategy for Europe. It has been suggested that the European Parliament should be given the power to elect the President of the Commission. I believe that that would confuse the Commission's primary accountability, which is to the Council, not the Parliament.
Fifthly, the Council needs radical reform to be effective. It needs a fewer number of councils. It should have four or five instead of the current 17. It needs a co-ordinating group of senior Ministers to meet regularly to prepare and follow up Council meetings. The rotating six-month presidency should be replaced, and the way should be opened for the European Council to decide when it is willing to accept more QMV for specific decisions.
Sixthly, like others who have spoken, I support enhanced co-operation in an enlarged Europe. However, there should be no permanent inner group or presiding core, for which the French Government are canvassing. It would exclude Britain while we are not members of the eurozone.
Seventhly, in a larger Europe, there is already growing concern about the reach and accountability of the EU in terms of people's everyday lives and its relationship with the general public. We need to reassure Europe's citizens that their rights are respected and that democratic values are being entrenched. Perhaps we need, therefore, to reconsider the status of the charter of rights, as revised so as not to conflict with the European Court of Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998.
There is no doubt about the challenging and extensive agenda that the points that I have raised—and many others—represent in the coming months and year: an agenda which we must all address. There is much to confront. There is an enormous amount on which to find agreement among some disparate member states.
The future-of-Europe debate is vital. I sympathise with the remarks of my right hon. Friend Joyce Quin. Irrespective of any issue to do with the single currency, the debate on the future of Europe should pre-empt or go alongside any separate consideration of Britain's membership of the single currency.
I suggest that the public will be much more likely to engage in any future debate about the single currency if they see that we are facing and fully debating the wider questions that are of great concern to them with the maximum transparency and frankness in the coming months and years. I hope and trust that that is what the Government will be doing.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my maiden speech today. I am conscious of the great honour that my constituents conferred on me in voting for me to be their Member. Some Members may have been slightly surprised at the result at Guildford, but it is important to remember that the people of Guildford are a thoughtful bunch with a wide range of backgrounds and experiences.
When I decided to apply for selection by a constituency, Guildford was definitely my first preference. We who come from Yorkshire are hard to please. Nowhere else seems as beautiful as Yorkshire. However, in the Guildford constituency, there are lovely Surrey hills, beautiful villages such as Shalford, which is my home, Bramley, and Cranleigh, where there is a lovely food market. There are many nice shops, and little pubs and coffee shops to visit after the shopping has been done. It is a wonderful area in which to live.
We are about to have our own brand of locally produced food, bearing the name Surrey Hills. Look out for it when it comes. Like other farming communities, we have had to delay things this year. We will welcome support when we finally go to market.
There are other good things about Surrey and Guildford. As a Yorkshire woman, I think that I finally have a dispensation from the home camp to support Surrey cricket, and very welcome it is too. It is a fabulous cricket team to support. The Benson and Hedges cup is coming up, and Surrey won the county championship last year. The club is the mainstay of the British team, especially on its winning days. Surrey is a wonderful place.
Surrey cricket club does not represent our only champions. We have an ice hockey team too. I can tell right hon. and hon. Members who have not been to an ice hockey match that it is a lovely family sport which many Guildford families attend. The Guildford team won the British national league championship and the play-offs last year.
Guildford is more than a pretty town and a shopping centre. It is a thriving cultural, academic and social hub. It is dominated by its cathedral. The arts play a strong role in the community, and all right hon. and hon. Members will have heard of the Yvonne Arnaud theatre, which is much in need of support. It is a centre for commercial theatre in the south-east. For those who are still learning their skills in the performing arts, we have the school of acting and the academy of contemporary music.
Guildford has been home to famous mathematicians. We all know of Charles Dodgson, or Lewis Carroll. It was also home to Alan Turing, one of the most important mathematicians of the 20th century. He was born and brought up in Guildford.
The university leads the way in technological advances. There is strong expertise in space technology, human biology and medical sciences. We lead the field in many areas. We have one of the most successful business parks in Europe. Situated between two airports, Guildford is ideally placed for those going backwards and forwards to Europe. Many people are based in Guildford to do just that.
We have a law college that has trained many people to become lawyers. Guildford college has received awards for the quality of its further education and for its vision for teenagers and old people with all skills and all backgrounds.
More important than the lovely surroundings are the people. We are a diverse community. Guildford is not just full of stockbrokers, which is its image. Many residents are on high incomes, but many others can scarcely afford to live in the area, and they are as an important part of the community as anyone else.
Guildford was last represented by a Liberal Member in 1906. It has taken us a long time to recover the seat, and we shall not give it up easily. I know that my predecessor, Nick St. Aubyn, is sad to have lost the seat after only one term, and understandably so. Times change, and so do loyalties. However, Nick worked assiduously in the representation of Guildford, and I share many of the concerns that he had, for which he fought on behalf of the constituency. In some respects we differed as to approach, but we were equally committed on issues such as education and the environment.
Nick cared deeply about human rights and was passionate about his desire for peace in the middle east and the problems faced by refugees. I wish him well for the future, whatever it holds.
In particular, Mr. St. Aubyn strongly supported his constituents in their opposition to the proposals for a large incinerator that would be the same size as Guildford cathedral, which stands on a hill and dominates the town. The incinerator, too, would dominate the town. It is a source of great worry and concern to the entire constituency. Nick put in much work on behalf of his constituents and I shall certainly be taking up the fight. My constituents expect no less.
We need more sustainable approaches to environmental matters, and especially waste management. In Cologne, it is illegal to put empty bottles in dustbins. They have to be sorted and taken to the bottle bank. Perhaps we can learn much more from best practice elsewhere in Europe, which our membership of the EU allows us to do. Austria already recycles more than 60 per cent. of its household waste. Germany manages 48 per cent. and France only 12 per cent., but in Britain we manage to recycle only 9 per cent. of our household waste. We have a long way to go, and much to learn from Europe, before we can compete.
On the doorsteps, I took various questions about Europe. Interestingly, no one disagreed about environmental issues and the fact that we should be looking to Europe to co-ordinate environmental approaches. We will be anticipating and welcoming the electrical and electronic waste directive, which would reduce the number of large items that go into our rubbish. The biodegradable waste directive would promote home and community composting. The packaging directive would require manufacturers to collect and recycle a significant proportion of their packaging. If we could work together in Europe to anticipate these directives rather than wait for enforcement, we would not need a large incinerator in Guildford. We must work with Europe much more closely on these matters, and we need much more Government encouragement for councils, so we can start to become much more sustainable in our approach to waste management.
Guildford is one of the most important commercial centres in the south of England, and has one of the most successful shopping centres. It also has one of the most vibrant economies. However, my constituents are worried about the threats to their health that an incinerator would bring, particularly to local schools and employees. They have strong concerns about that. We must bear in mind the fact that, wherever one looks in Guildford, one sees the surrounding hills, and wherever one would look in future, such a building would have an unacceptable impact.
We need to move forward in Guildford. It contributes enormously to business in Europe, and Europe contributes enormously to business in Guildford. I look forward, as its MP, to working in a much stronger area and, I hope, to bringing forward some of the European directives that will really help us. I started my political campaign in Newbury, opposing the mountains of rubbish there. The people of Newbury eventually saw the light and elected a Liberal Democrat council and a Liberal Democrat MP. I hope that Guildford will adopt a similar position and continue to return its Liberal Democrat MP.
That is not the first time that there has been such a misunderstanding. My right hon. Friend and I have often received mail intended for the other because of the similarity of our names.
I congratulate Sue Doughty on her excellent maiden speech. She said that the people of Guildford were a thoughtful bunch. They obviously have a thoughtful representative to look after their interests for the next four or five years. She also said that Guildford had last been a Liberal seat in 1906, and had returned to the fold at this election. My own seat was a Liberal seat in 1906 but, thankfully, it did not return to that colour this time. She told us all about her wonderful constituency and expressed an interest in cricket. May I say to her that if Yorkshire does not let her go back, she will be very welcome to join me at the Riverside as a guest of County Durham if she ever needs to return to the northern reaches of English cricket?
This has been a refreshing debate about the bigger pictures involved in the European issue and the way in which the Nice treaty impacts on them. It is highly desirable that we should not miss the big picture by getting embroiled in all the details of the bits and pieces of the Bill. That is not to say that those bits and pieces are unimportant, and I am sure that we shall devote the necessary time to them in Committee. However, I fear that, too often, we get embroiled in the details and the public then fail to recognise what the European Union is about, why it has to change and what its priorities are.
This is a forum for discussion of policy among the British people, and I do not for a minute complain that Mr. Cash, Mr. Howard or my right hon. Friend Denzil Davies take a different view from my own. It is important that we have a healthy debate. However, I fear that too many of my colleagues who share my view on Europe have been too quiescent in their support of that view. It is high time that those of us who believe in the European ideal—and who believe that the EU is a crucial part of the future economic, political and social stability of the existing EU and of a much wider area in Europe and in spheres of influence beyond that in parts of the former Soviet Union and north Africa, which must develop to reflect the priorities of the day—acted on our responsibility to make that case more loudly.
I do not know what the position of Conservative Front-Bench Members is on this issue. I know that it is difficult for them to draw up a resolution on foreign policy at this time, particularly in relation to the European issue. Perhaps it will be easier next week, or by the end of July, or perhaps we shall have to wait until September.
Perhaps we should give them a year; perhaps even longer.
The Opposition amendment is extremely negative and damaging to Britain's standing and interests in the European Union and to Britain's contribution to building and rebuilding the stability of Europe in the EU. It is not enough to argue about whether we shall have a few more votes here or a bit more influence there, although those matters are important and, as I said, we should examine them in detail in Committee.
We must consider how we can guarantee the future of the European Union. Some hon. Members may have been fortunate enough to travel to applicant countries such as Slovakia and Latvia; I think that I have probably travelled to them all. If Conservative Members realised what the response of people in those countries would be to their amendment, I do not believe that they would pursue their stated position. If the Conservative party believes in the enlargement of the European Union, it cannot have the luxury of being negative every time a European issue is placed before the House.
I am not saying that Opposition parties should not be critical, or that they should not be able to dispute with the Government when there are genuine differences. However, we heard from Mr. Maude that he was in favour of enlargement but against the Nice treaty. That is a completely untenable position. If the British nation does not endorse the Nice treaty, the treaty will run into serious difficulties.
Important parts of the Amsterdam treaty had to be carried over; not everything could be agreed there. Numerous issues were agreed, many of which were much more far reaching than the provisions in the Nice treaty. However, it was not possible to achieve everything at Amsterdam. The proposals on the reform of the Commission, among others, were referred on from the Amsterdam negotiations to the Nice negotiations.
It is also not enough for the Conservatives to say, "Oh, but if the Irish do not accept the treaty, the whole thing will fall." If the treaty falls, we shall be back the next day, and every provision from the Nice treaty will have to be included in any subsequent treaty if we are to make progress on enlargement. Everyone in Europe knows that. The Conservative position is ridiculous. All the nations in the European Union are backing the treaty. Okay, the Irish have rejected it in a referendum, but the Conservatives' position is tantamount to saying that they know better than all the other parties in government throughout the European Union, including other Conservative parties.
The Conservatives do not recognise that, in countries such as Slovakia and Latvia, change will not take place towards a market economy or a reinforcement of democracy to build on the achievements of 1989 and 1990 unless there is a belief that they can accede to the European Union. Those countries know that there is no future for democracy and a market economy unless they are part of the general regulatory system in Europe. If they do not have the opportunity to join because the Nice treaty or subsequent treaties fall, those countries will not know which way to turn. They will not be allowed to turn towards the European Union, which will have rejected them. The only option will be to look somewhere else. We can be absolutely sure that in Slovakia, for example, members of the previous leadership—which, under Meciar, was strongly totalitarian—will be saying, "Our way was the only way. You can forget the gypsies. We are going back to the system that we had before. That is the only way forward." That would be extremely damaging for the security and stability of Europe.
Before the Conservatives vote this evening, they should think more clearly about those issues. They should forget the bickering in their party. Surely the stability of Europe and of this country is a much bigger issue than their bickering over the nuances of the extent to which they are for or against Europe. That is my plea to Conservative Members. In most other European countries with which I have had dealings, there is a pretty good consensus about the nation's interests in all these issues, and about the contribution that the nation should make to Europe. However, in this country we are perceived as bickering and nit-picking all the time. It is no surprise that the electorate feels remote and excluded from European issues.
I believe that we have a responsibility to rebuild that connection so that people understand that their security is achieved not only through the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, important as it is, but through membership and development of the European Union. Enlargement is important to that development and to the economic prospects of our nation, as it will give British exporters a better opportunity to penetrate larger markets, although I am not saying that that is the main argument for enlargement.
The main argument for enlargement is providing stability and security in the European context and, as my hon. Friend Ms Stuart said, building on what has been achieved over the past 50 years. We must ensure that we look ahead to the prospect of security and prosperity, and that is the main purpose of the Nice treaty.
As colleagues have said, there is an awful lot of work to do and many issues to resolve. When the EU has 25 or more members, it will be much more difficult to reach decisions, to operate the Commission, to decide who will provide and who will receive structural funds and to reform agricultural policy, but without the Nice treaty we will not even get near those issues. I hope that the House overwhelmingly supports the Bill.
I begin by congratulating Sue Doughty on her maiden speech and thanking her for her kind remarks about her predecessor. It is a particular pleasure to follow Mr. Henderson, who was my predecessor's pair in this place for many years.
It was Benjamin Disraeli who once said that the greatest opportunity that can be offered to an Englishman is a seat in the House of Commons. Having been a Member for only a few weeks, I am beginning to understand what he meant. I have been immensely impressed by the courtesy and helpfulness of all the staff in this place, and, as an ex-Territorial Army officer, it is particularly welcoming to see the Doorkeepers each and every day. I learned in the Army that those who want to know what is going on ask the senior non-commissioned officers. That seems to be as true here as anywhere else.
I do not, however, intend to follow the example of a young cadet at Sandhurst several years ago, who was taken aside by a Guards sergeant major to be told that his performance on the drill square had been "distinctly sub-optimal". The sergeant major thrust his pace stick roughly into the ribs of the poor unfortunate and bellowed at him, "There is a complete idiot at the end of this pace stick." The cadet replied, "Not at this end, sergeant major."
I am delighted and honoured to have been elected to the House as the new Member for Rayleigh. Unlike some hon. Members, I do not claim that my constituency is the most beautiful in the country, but I would humbly nominate it for a place in the top 10. The Rayleigh constituency is named after its largest town, which numbers some 35,000 people and stands roughly in the centre of the seat, just north of Southend.
The historic town of Rayleigh was first recorded in the Domesday Book as belonging to Sweyne of Essex and it boasts the oldest castle in the county—indeed, one of the oldest in the country. West of Rayleigh lies Hanningfield reservoir, which supplies much of the county of Essex, and a series of picturesque villages that surround it, including East, West and South Hanningfield, Downham, Ramsden Heath and Rettendon as well as the slightly larger community of Runwell.
North-west of Rayleigh, close to the beautiful River Crouch, lies South Woodham Ferrers, a town of some 20,000 souls, which is fighting a battle with Chelmsford borough council against unwelcome overdevelopment. I pledge to assist the residents of the town in that fight. East of Rayleigh lie a number of popular communities, such as Hockley, which has its ancient royal hunting forest, Hawkwell, Hullbridge and the smaller rural villages of Ashingdon, the Pagelshams, Stambridge and Canewdon, whose 15th century church tower was erected by Henry V in thanksgiving for his rather impressive "away win" at Agincourt.
Until 1997, the constituency included the town of Rochford, from which it previously took its name, but it was removed in the previous parliamentary boundary review. That has led to some confusion about the revised boundaries. At the general election, a commuter from my constituency got off the train at Rochford station to be met by my hon. Friend
It is an honour to follow in the footsteps of my predecessors, Dr. Michael Clark and, before him, Sir Bernard Braine, who was Father of the House. Dr. Michael Clark is a man of principle who served the constituencies of Rochford and Rayleigh with distinction for more than 18 years. In addition to his duties as a constituency MP, which he carried out diligently, he made a career in this place as Chairman of the Science and Technology Committee and a member of the Speaker's Chairmen's Panel.
While canvassing during the general election, I was genuinely struck by how many people know Dr. Clark personally and by how well they speak of him. I am conscious that I am being asked to step into a very large pair of shoes indeed, although I discovered one person in the constituency who is even better known than Michael Clark—his wife, Valerie. She served in local government in her own right and was a tireless worker for local charities and good causes. For that, she is well loved. Michael and Valerie Clark are an immensely popular couple and everyone in Rayleigh wishes them every success for their new life together down in the west country.
I am in favour of enlargement of the European Union in principle, but not at any price. I have an affection for the Republic of Ireland; I proposed to my wife Karen while overlooking Galway bay. The next time I visit, I would like to congratulate the people of that country on their sagacious decision to vote against the Nice treaty, and by such a clear margin.
Whatever the views of any of Member of the House on the European issue, when a country as traditionally pro-European as the Irish Republic votes against a European treaty, that should, at the very least, give us all pause for thought. I confess that I was not quite old enough to vote in the British referendum in 1975, but I believe there was no real practical discussion of a federal Europe or of abandoning our currency.
The British people were essentially told that they were assenting to a free trade area—a common market—and that is what they endorsed in 1975. The further we move from that position, the greater the risk that we shall exhaust their patience on all things European. We are an historically tolerant people, and we are willing to negotiate and co-operate, but we will not be subsumed by a foreign superstate that ignores our traditions and undermines our laws.
My father, Reginald Francois, who died when I was a boy, fought in the second world war on the Murmansk convoys so that we could continue to live in a free and democratic county. That point is not lost on his son.
It was Dr. Johnson who said, "Though we cannot outvote them tonight, we will outargue them." That seems to me to be a reasonable motto for an Opposition, and, from what I have seen so far, we are not doing such a bad job. Over the months ahead, I, too, hope to play some small part in helping to win the argument. I am deeply grateful to the electors of Rayleigh for returning me and giving me that chance.
I congratulate Mr. Francois on his maiden speech. He may not be in the same moderate mould as his predecessor, but I am sure that he speaks for a substantial number of his constituents. I also congratulate Sue Doughty. She said that she was somewhat surprised by her election. I understand that Conservative central office was just as surprised, and sent a note of congratulation to Nick St. Aubyn, whom we miss, as he was a highly popular Member. The hon. Members for Rayleigh and for Guildford have at least learned that their electorates will be far more interested in Rayleigh market and Guildford market than in the Common Market. If they continue to speak for their constituents in that way, they will do well.
The Nice conference was only seven months ago, but it now seems an age away. We have had a general election since then. We should ask ourselves what lessons we have learned from the election, which some people have claimed was a referendum on Europe. Some hon. Members have asked for a clear perception of where Europe is going and what Europe is for. I do not think that that is possible. In the 1950s, we could talk about the historic ending of the enmity between France and Germany, but now Europe is a far more muddled and complex. We are taking part in a great debate, and the conception of this and many northern European countries is somewhat different from that of other states.
I urge those who argue that the Nice treaty is a giant step forward to a federalist state to consider who exulted and who was miserable at the outcome of the summit. I can tell Mr. Cash that, shortly after the Nice treaty was agreed, I was attending the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee when Mr. Moscovici, the French European Minister, was mauled mercilessly by the federalists in the European Parliament. The hon. Gentleman would have noticed the tears of Mr. Prodi. Neither those in the European Parliament nor Mr. Prodi would share the picture of Nice that the hon. Gentleman and some of his colleagues painted. Few were satisfied. That is the nature of a package deal. None of the great treaties agreed in the past 15 years have been acclaimed—all have been rejected as failures in the days following agreement. The issues addressed—taxation, structural funds, justice and home affairs—are highly politically sensitive and wrangling is inevitable and hardly surprising.
We should consider carefully how decisions were reached in those all-night sessions. I think that we all agree with the Prime Minister's stricture that something must be done to avoid a repetition of those nights in Nice. Tired politicians make tired decisions. Some leaders did not know the details of what had been decided in the far reaches of the night.
The outcome is complex, and I am a little wary of the calls for referendums. In a poll conducted in March and April this year, 41 per cent. of European Union citizens said that they did not see, read or hear anything about the Nice summit last December. We must respect the Irish referendum result, but the 18 per cent. who rejected the treaty were an interesting rag bag. We must respect that decision, although the matter will no doubt be revisited. The decision was made in the context of the beef destruction scheme, and leaders of the European Community made some arrogant speeches. Sinn Fein grossly misrepresented the position by arguing that Nice equals NATO. The lesson that we must all learn is that Europe needs to reconnect with its citizenry.
The key part of the Nice treaty is the historic step towards enlargement. We may have wanted enlargement to come about in a different way, but Nice is the only treaty in town and it is the essential platform for enlargement. It was built on very successfully at Gothenburg in June during the Swedish presidency. We now have a set timetable for the first wave of enlargement in 2004. I was sceptical about artificial time scales because they reduce the pressure on countries such as Poland to reform their agricultural sector. The giant step on enlargement taken at Gothenburg was possible only as a result of what happened at Nice.
Was Nice essential? According to the Amsterdam treaty, only five new members could join the EU under the old structures. Who would choose those five members? It would have been impossible to decide whether to choose the Czech Republic as against Hungary, or Hungary as against Estonia.
The Foreign Affairs Committee met the former Foreign Secretary and his colleagues. We read the White Paper at the beginning of last year, and we saw the aims that the British Government had set themselves. No objective observer could deny that those aims were substantially achieved. We came out of the summit having achieved what we set out to achieve. Mr. Prodi has been quoted, and we have heard the Commission's view of who were the winners and who were the leaders. The Financial Times commented that Britain
"made the biggest strategic gains at the smallest cost. The outcome furthers its long-term aim of becoming an influential member of a wider union, rather than a latecomer to what once seemed a Franco-German club."
That was achieved as a result of the constructive engagement that the Government have pursued with our European allies.
As we prepare for enlargement, we must ask ourselves whether we accept that this is an historic opportunity, or whether we should replay the debates that we had before the Nice treaty and the frenzied discussions we had before the election. In a recent speech in Hamburg, Lord Hurd referred to the exaggerations of that time, such as the idea that our European allies are enemies and that we have to win the game against them. I heard an echo of that in the speech by the hon. Member for Rayleigh. We have heard Conservative Members talk about strides being taken towards a wicked, federal superstate or an evil framework. That would isolate us and be bad for Britain. There would be serious repercussions if we were not to press forward.
Looking ahead, there is a major debate on the future of Europe, with the new intergovernmental conference in 2004. Mr. Maude made rather a good speech in Berlin, in which he set out his vision. It is not one that I share and, alas, it is not shared by any other serious party in the European Union. That should lend a certain humility to the Conservative Opposition as they approach this debate. They should realise that they are on their own in Europe.
We shall listen carefully to the debate on the implementation of the Nice treaty to discover whether the Opposition will play their proper role in providing a critical analysis of the treaty, or whether they will exaggerate and produce scare stories, as Lord Hurd suggested. If they pander to an anti-European theme, like latter-day Bourbons they will have forgotten nothing and learned nothing.
We all need a certain humility in our approach to the European question. I sometimes shudder when I hear our continental colleagues talking airily about European construction, but I reject the view that the referendum was merely about a minor European getting together. Written into the treaty was "ever closer".
I welcome the Minister for Europe, Peter Hain, to his new position. I sincerely hope that he will last longer in this post than he did in his last—although I know that that was not his fault. I also pay tribute to the two maiden speeches that we have heard. Let me say in passing that both reminded me of the diversity that we have in this United Kingdom, as well as the diversity that we have in Europe. We were taken on a gallop around the two constituencies, and the place names that we heard were as foreign to my ears as Pontrhydfendigaid and Penybontrhydybeddau would doubtless be to theirs.
I am very pleased to be able to speak in support of the Bill, and also to speak for the first time on behalf of the Plaid Cymru-Scottish National party group in describing our joint approach to the Nice treaty. We naturally have a different perspective from that which has mainly been outlined today. Our initial premise is a fundamental belief that the people of Wales and Scotland must decide the future of those countries. Our view may lead some Members to suspect that we are Eurosceptics, but, although we want the future of Wales and Scotland to be decided by the people of those countries, we want to go into Europe with full national status within it.
We also think it important to issue a plea for the sovereignty of the people of Wales and Scotland when it comes to deciding their future, and a plea for subsidiarity, which has already been mentioned.
I am afraid not. The hon. Gentleman has not been present for the whole debate.
In the context of the alienation that people sense between European institutions and themselves, it is important for us to try to make subsidiarity work, and try to make a relevant relationship work. We in Wales and Scotland feel that strengthening the powers of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, and strengthening the institutions in those countries—which have an indirect relationship with Europe—is a viable and realistic way of improving relations between people in the United Kingdom and European institutions. I agree with many earlier speakers that those relations have been weakened.
We do not believe that the Nice treaty is perfect, but we welcome its broad aims. We accept that it is necessary if enlargement is to go ahead, and we are very much in favour of that. The treaty also presents an opportunity for us to restate and reinvigorate our arguments about the reasons for Europe. Ms Stuart made a perceptive speech, although I do not think that we have heard any answers yet: we seem to be stumbling around in the dark looking for them.
This is a time to re-emphasise that we are building peace and co-operation in Europe. If we want just one example of why we need to do that at European level, we should look to Kyoto. We should consider climate change, and the need for European countries to work together. It was put to the Deputy Prime Minister that we had not yet ratified Kyoto, even though we were complaining that President Bush would not do so. The reason is, of course, that we want to ratify it as a European Union, with all the power, resources and expertise that we have behind us and all our extra ability to speak as a large and important bloc—albeit a large polluting bloc—in the climate change negotiations.
What we also see in the Nice treaty is a retreat from any vision—I must admit that our party Plaid Cymru, the Party of Wales, once had such a vision—of the development of a different kind of Europe: a Europe of smaller regions, nation states, autonomous regions and so forth. The treaty has, in fact, re-emphasised the central role of the nation state. I do not agree with the criticisms of Conservative Members in that regard. We have heard a great deal about the fact that Britain's interests are observed in the treaty, and I have some sympathy with Ministers who say that they set out to secure a certain amount of the UK interest in it—and achieved that, according to their own lights.
What Nice has not done is review or change the structure. It has rearranged the present structure in order to accommodate more members, rather than creating a new structure that could have been viable for the future.
I am not entirely sure whether the hon. Gentleman, who is speaking on behalf of the Welsh and Scottish nationalist parties, would therefore argue in favour of independence for Wales. The parallel view would obviously be held by Scottish nationalists.
It is important to put on the record that what the Scottish National party wants is independence in Europe. We have a core, central approach, as the hon. Gentleman would know if—as I hope—he listened to my opening remarks. Our approach is that the people of Wales and Scotland will decide their future. As Mr. Mandelson said in regard to federalism, the word is not important, and means different things to different people; what is important is what the people are working for.
As for relationships, the Nice treaty is rearranging the deckchairs on the supertanker, if not yet the superstate. We are not changing the direction of the supertanker: we are still steaming ahead in Europe, but perhaps not taking enough cognisance of public disquiet and alienation among some European institutions and people within European countries.
There is, I think, some good news relating to institutional reforms for smaller and emerging nation states in Europe, such as Wales and Scotland. Let us consider parliamentary reform. Latvia and Slovenia will have eight and seven members respectively in the new, reformed Parliament, whereas Wales and Scotland expect to lose members. Anyone who believes strongly in the unionist tradition, whichever side of the House they may represent, should ask how new structures that are emerging in the new Europe could strengthen the UK's voice. If Wales and Scotland had their own voice in Europe, the United Kingdom level would indeed have a stronger voice in European processes.
A look at what is happening in the Council of Ministers and the changes relating to qualified majority voting is even more revealing. The United Kingdom is currently expected to have around 29 of the 345 votes that will exist on full accession—that is, the accession of 27 countries. I do not count Turkey, because I do not think it will be ready for some time: I certainly hope it will not. On a similar scale, Latvia and Slovenia will have four and seven votes respectively. England on its own could not fall below 27, which is what Spain has now. There is a UK block—consisting of Wales, Scotland and England—amounting to some 38 votes.
There is a question here for anyone who does not believe that Wales and Scotland should not be fully represented in Europe. What do they want for the United Kingdom? We are, in fact, weakening the United Kingdom by not allowing the full expression of the views of Wales and Scotland in Europe. Moreover—this may be a more important question in the context of today's debate—we are weakening the ability of communities and local people to relate more directly to European institutions.
No wonder The Economist considered that, when the agreement was eventually reached, it was as hard to understand as it had been to achieve. I do not think that we have changed the position significantly in regard to qualified majority voting. I considered the speech of Denzil Davies to be misplaced, although it was scintillating intellectually. It failed to recognise current developments in Europe, and it failed to recognise that a new relationship between nation states must be built. We cannot have a veto in the case of issues that are of interest to all of us, such as the environment. We cannot hold out for ever, or we will never proceed to a stronger Europe.
I am glad that the Committee of the Regions is more recognised in the treaty, and welcome the emphatic requirement that its members must hold elected office in local and regional government. That constitutes acceptance of the political legitimacy of the committee, and its relevance to the citizens of Europe.
We welcome the common foreign and defence policy, particularly as it relates to the rapid reaction force. We should recognise Europe's failure to deal with what happened in the Balkans, and our need to appeal to America to sort out Europe's problems. I thought that the reason for our establishing a European Community in the first place was our wish to move away from all that. We really need a rapid reaction force to deal with such matters.
Some of what we are discussing today relates to what must happen after Nice: we must look at the post-Nice scenario. It is essential for us to reform the common agricultural policy, although the treaty does not refer to such reform. The World Trade Organisation must also be involved. There is no clear role for the charter of fundamental rights, which needs to be part of a treaty. We cannot allow the 2004 intergovernmental conference to take place as the Nice process did; we must involve other nations and regions in Europe, and we must involve the people. Nation states on their own will not be enough.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech in this important and fascinating debate. I should like to add my congratulations to the hon. Members for Guildford (Sue Doughty) and for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois), whose accomplished maiden speeches forced me rapidly to rewrite my rather poorer effort.
Although my constituency has been served extremely well by many accomplished individuals, I have the honour to be the first Member for Greenock and Inverclyde to come from Greenock and Inverclyde. I am also the first for almost 50 years not to possess a doctorate, although whether that is an advantage only time will tell.
My two immediate predecessors in a seat that has changed boundaries often have been Dr. Dickson Mabon and Dr. Norman Godman. Dr. Mabon is remembered for defecting from the Labour party to the Social Democratic party—an event that took place a week after he gave me a prize at school, although the two events may not be linked. I am pleased to report that he has since returned to the Labour party. The seat went back to Labour at the election following his defection, when Dr. Norman Godman was returned to Westminster.
Dr. Godman served in the House for 18 years. His great hard work and enduring commitment to the peace process in Northern Ireland earned him a great deal of respect and admiration among hon. Members of all parties and—perhaps uniquely—from all sides in Northern Ireland.
It is appropriate for me to thank the House itself for allowing me to take up my seat. As a former cleric, I was until recently barred for life from membership of the House. I say from the heart that I am extremely grateful that the House saw fit to amend the ancient statute and to allow people in my position to be chosen by the electorate to serve in the House.
I should also like to say a word of thanks to those who helped to bring about that change. I am most grateful to my hon. Friend Mr. O'Brien for expertly steering through the House a Bill dealing with the most obscure statutes, from the time of the reformation and before. I owe thanks also to Professor Robert Blackburn of King's college, London, who is a leading expert on our constitutional law. He was a great source of knowledge and precedent as well as personal support.
The Bill was passed with support from hon. Members of all parties, and I am grateful for the commitment of my party, locally and nationally. In particular, I am indebted to the unwavering support of the Labour party's outstanding general secretary, who will be sorely missed when she moves on to pastures new.
Above all, however, I want to offer my deepest thanks to my hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh. Acting as my constituency Member of Parliament, she did more than anyone to highlight the absurdity of the previous law. With her characteristic persistence, she made sure that the case for reform was unanswerable. If I can serve my constituents half as well as she serves hers, I shall be doing all right.
At that point, I wanted to leave the subject of the House of Commons (Removal of Clergy Disqualification) Act 2001, but the presence of Mr. Bercow compels me to mention two outstanding speeches that he made at the Dispatch Box in favour of reform. They were rendered all the more outstanding by the presence beside him of his boss, the shadow Home Secretary. She opposed reform, and sat well within handbagging distance of the hon. Gentleman, who is to be commended for his display of intellectual clarity and courage.
Greenock and Inverclyde is often described as an urban seat in a rural setting. That about sums it up. The constituency is composed of the towns of Greenock and Gourock, as well as the villages of Inverkip and Wemyss Bay. We are surrounded by some of Scotland's most glorious natural beauty. From atop the Lyle hill in Greenock, one can look down to Gourock's Cardwell bay and watch the ferries head off to Argyll. Across the Clyde, one can see the Gare loch, the Holy loch and Loch Long. Beyond the Roseneath peninsula lies Ben Lomond and the majestic Lomond range. To the west, there is the unmistakeable figure of the Sleeping Warrior of Argyll, and to the south lies the Burns country of Ayrshire.
Throughout our history the river Clyde has been the life blood of my constituency. We are a maritime people, either seafarers or shipbuilders, and our two most famous sons are connected in that way. One of them, the great inventor and scientist James Watt, captured the power of steam; the other, the pirate Captain Kidd, captured rather a lot of Spanish gold.
We built the finest ships ever to set sail, but—sadly—those days are long gone, thanks in part to the shortsighted and ignorant policies that failed to see that shipbuilding is a modern industry which, around the world, is growing, not shrinking. Be that as it may, it took us a long while to recover from the devastation of the closure of our shipyards. Our population went into a sort of freefall that is only now showing signs of levelling off.
However, recover we have, and these days Inverclyde proudly boasts the title of "export capital of Scotland", thanks in the main to our thriving electronics sector. We were recently honoured with a visit by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, to mark the 50th anniversary of the arrival of IBM at Greenock. Over the years, that company has been joined by National Semiconductor, FCI and many others.
The Greenock and Inverclyde constituency relies on exports, so Europe matters to us. We have done well out of our membership of the European Community. I therefore welcome this Bill, which paves the way for important new markets to open up for us, and the greater prosperity that they will bring.
Despite the best efforts of some, the issue of Europe did not figure prominently during the recent general election, which in some ways was a shame. In my constituency, it arose as an issue only once during our campaign. I was leafleting outside the Oak Mall shopping centre in Greenock when I was joined by my Conservative opponent. He was carrying a large pile of "Save the Pound" leaflets. He proceeded to brandish them above his head, calling out "Save the pound, save the pound." To my considerable consternation, he was quickly mobbed by people keen to get their hands on his leaflets. However, it transpired—to my relief—that the canny shoppers of Greenock and Inverclyde thought that they were being offered a "pound off" coupon, and were duly horrified once they realised the true nature of what they were being handed.
A maiden speech is no place for the minutiae of the treaty of Nice, but I hope that it is not too glib a point to make that, in all the entirely necessary and detailed examination of qualified majority voting and the precise composition of the European Parliament, we can hold on to the great vision of a Europe that is both prosperous and at peace. That vision crosses party lines—or it used to—and the goal has been striven for by great parliamentarians, such as Healey and Heath, Grimmond and Ewing.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend Mr. Henderson that, even with all its compromises, frustrations and Euro-fudge, the Nice treaty not only keeps alive the great European vision but extends it to all those nations who wish to share in our union. As such, it represents a wonderful opportunity to extend prosperity and enhance democracy and freedom. It is a great prize, and one that I wholeheartedly endorse.
There is for me a certain piquancy in following the maiden speech of David Cairns. It was a model of its kind—witty, incisive and thought provoking—and I congratulate him warmly on it. He told us, with justifiable pride and no little eloquence, about his constituency and its beauties, about his predecessors and their strengths, and about the principles and values that will inform what I hope will be the many more distinguished contributions that he will make, long into the future.
When I looked at the Bill that became the House of Commons (Removal of Clergy Disqualification) Act 2001, it seemed eminently sensible. There was no good reason to deny the hon. Gentleman his legitimate entitlement to sit in this House, if he were able—as he was—to secure the support of the people of his constituency. I wish him well here, and I hope that from time to time we might break bread together.
We have also heard two other outstanding maiden contributions in the course of the debate. I have not met Sue Doughty and I doubt that we will agree about much, but she made a measured, sincere and thoughtful contribution. She is obviously a dedicated and committed person who understands the interests of her constituents. On a personal note, I especially appreciated the generosity and appropriateness of her tribute to my former hon. Friend, Nick St. Aubyn, who was indeed an assiduous and effective representative of his constituents. I trust that she will be, and I wish her success.
I hope that neither of the hon. Members to whom I have just referred will think the less of me or take offence if I say that above all it is a pleasure for me this evening to be able to pay tribute to my hon. Friend Mr. Francois. He and I have known each other for 16 years. I knew that he would eventually get into this place and it is to his enduring credit that he has now done so. He delivered a brilliant maiden speech—eloquent, authoritative, passionate and sincere. Rarely is it that one hears a maiden speech delivered with the self-assurance that he brought to bear.
I trust that my hon. Friend will forgive me one other banal but, I hope, valid observation. I have always been supremely untroubled by my 5 ft 6¼ in. It has never bothered me in the remotest instance. Nevertheless, it is no bad thing to have a little company and he is probably the only Member of this House, certainly on the Conservative Benches, who is even more vertically challenged than I am. Size is not everything—I know that he will immediately concur with that observation—and he has enormous principle, reserves of energy and outstanding dedication. He will be a brilliant representative of the people of Rayleigh and a formidable addition to these Benches.
In my judgment, the Foreign Secretary was unwise to invoke the result of the general election on
The Government were successful in relegating Europe down the list of political issues, not least by the offer of a referendum. Whatever we thought about the likely terms of the question in the referendum or the disproportionate advantage that the forces of europhilia would enjoy by virtue of the legislation on the funding of referendum campaigns, the public did not want to determine the election on that basis. They talked about health, education, crime and transport. However, we would be unwise to ignore the significance of Europe as an issue.
I shall focus on one aspect of Europe that is notably absent from the treaty of Nice, and that is subsidiarity, to which several hon. Members have already animadverted today. The famous, or perhaps I should say infamous, article 3b of the Maastricht treaty defined subsidiarity. What did it say? It said:
"In areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Community shall take action, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States and can therefore, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved by the Community."
That was, of course, a model of the linguistic clarity that we have come to expect from our rulers in the European Union. It was widely and popularly supposed to signify an intention to ensure that decisions were taken at the lowest possible level. In fact, it meant nothing of the kind. It pre-supposed, as it continues to pre-suppose, the existence of a central authority that will decide in its wisdom what crumbs from the table it is prepared to flick in the direction of the autonomy of nation states. The reality is, notwithstanding the support of that principle and the inclusion of article 3b in the treaty of Maastricht, not a single directive or regulation has subsequently been repealed as a direct consequence of the inclusion of that article.
The debate moved on to the treaty of Amsterdam. The Government boldly asserted that they could do much better. As a result of the efforts of the former Foreign Secretary and his Minister for Europe, Mr. Henderson, from whom we heard earlier, a protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality was included in the treaty of Amsterdam, which stated:
"the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality shall respect the general provisions and objectives of the Treaty, particularly as regards the maintaining in full of the acquis communautaire and the institutional balance; it shall not affect the principles developed by the Court of Justice regarding the relationship between national and Community law, and it should take into account Article F4 of the Treaty on European Union, according to which the Union shall provide itself with the means necessary to attain its objectives and carry through its policies."
If one strips away the verbiage of the protocol, what emerges with crystal clarity is that that protocol was not intended to divert attention from the continued pursuit of an ever greater arrogation of powers to the European Union. That arrogation of powers, in the case of nation states, will be from institutions that we elect and can remove to institutions that we do not elect and cannot remove.
Since 1992, we have seen a constant, remorseless and inexorable ratchet of European integration. Between 1992 and 1997, after the passage of Maastricht, there have been 20,564 directives, regulations and decisions from the European Union that impact on this country, and since 1998, and the passage of the treaty of Amsterdam—for which many, but unjustified claims were made—a further 4,995 such directives, regulations and decisions have impacted on this country. That process cannot continue indefinitely without the most massive protest and resentment on the part of the people of the United Kingdom.
The power of self-government, the right to hire and fire our rulers, and the capacity freely to chart our own destiny as an independent nation are the inalienable birthrights of every citizen. They should not be traded in, now or at any time, for a mess of pottage, otherwise known as a back-row seat at a show called the heart of Europe. That ratchet must be arrested and reversed, because too much power has been taken from too many people over too long a period. That is wrong in itself, it is undemocratic and it diverts attention from the proper priorities of the European Union: to reform agriculture and fisheries, to cut fraud and to re-establish the primacy in independent nation states of national self-government. 7.9 pm
I wish to add my own warm tribute to the three hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches tonight and to take up some of the points that they made. It was wonderful to hear the warmth and affection that they all have for their constituencies and the generosity with which they described their predecessors. However, their most important contributions were their visions for the future of Europe.
Sue Doughty referred to diversity, and Mr. Francois spoke of respect for the Irish. I am relieved that when he conducted his own referendum proposal over the bay of Galway, he did not meet with the same "No" from his wife that the Irish population gave to their Government. Finally, I am pleased that my hon. Friend David Cairns is here and is comfortable about representing both Church and state in the House. However, I am sure that there will be times when he will ask himself who exactly was responsible for saving his soul for Parliament.
The issue about the European democratic agenda—the vision to which my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde referred—is the fundamental test of what we are seeking to sign up to. The tragedy is that although I share that vision and want to sign up to that expanded vision of a pluralist, inclusive Europe that is at peace with itself, nothing in the treaty of Nice will deliver that.
I will not be supporting the Conservative amendment, because I have never signed up to the Conservative vision of Europe, which I believe to be underpinned by presumptions about an economic free-for-all against a backcloth of social insecurity in a Europe never at ease with itself. That is not the Europe that I want to construct, but the one that I want to construct will be fatally flawed if it is pursued according to the Nice treaty.
I want to address three key failings about which we must be honest tonight and as we take the arguments around the country. First, the process of economic decision making is fatally compromised in the proposals enshrined in the Nice treaty. Secondly, we must consider the economic implications of political expansion. Thirdly, we must accept the real cost that we will have to pay for the democratic contraction that will follow from the treaty.
I was pleased that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was robust in his dismissal of the comments of Romano Prodi following the Irish referendum. A country has the right to hold a referendum, and the outcome must be respected. It is arrogant and outrageous to say, "We don't like the outcome. The public had their say; we had better get rid of the public and find a better one." If the Irish do not endorse the Nice treaty, it will not and cannot proceed. We will be forced to think in wider terms about the basis on which we wish to build a broader and inclusive Europe. I want us to address that; I do not want to retreat from it.
One of the issues confronting the House is why we will not offer a referendum on the same treaty. We have already embraced the notion of referendums—we held them on the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and we are considering holding one on regional assemblies. There is even a referendum in my constituency about whether people want a parish council. Citizens' organisations that gather outside every meeting of the European elite do so to challenge it fundamentally because it presumes to have the right to make decisions from which citizens are excluded. We cut ourselves off at our peril from our lines of democratic accountability to the public who put us here. I would not support the Bill in its final stages unless a condition were included that its final form is subject to the test of a referendum requiring the approval of the British public.
Following German unification, the West Germans acknowledged that the wealth gap between east and west was unbridgeable. It was no partnership of equals—it was a unification of the soul. That unification had a price that the Germans, to their enduring credit, were willing to pay. We ought to be honest about that price. It was a self-imposed tax surcharge of 7.5 per cent.—7.5p in the pound went on personal and corporate income tax. In 1997, it was revised to 5.5 per cent.
The report at the end of June was significant because the richest states in Germany—Bavaria, Baden- Wurttemberg and Hesse—challenged that tax because they had grown tired of the costs of carrying the poor. They felt that it was unfair for the burden of that solidarity tax to fall on the rich, and wanted it renegotiated. The German constitutional court made a decision that shifted the burden away from those states in favour of a greater contribution by the German Government as a whole.
Let us be clear about the figures; they are very simple. Over the next 19 years, Germany has agreed to transfer a further £100 billion from west to east to pay for the solidarity and inclusion that is so precious to it. The total bill will come to £250 billion—the price of unification between rich and poor.
That is important because the gross domestic product per capita of the former East Germany is almost exactly the same as that of people in the Czech Republic, which is in the first wave of would-be entrants into the expanded Europe. The Czech Republic is twice—in some cases three times—as wealthy as many of the other applicant countries that we wish to join the EU. Yet they are all seeking entry without the rest of us signing up to a single penny of fiscal transfer that remotely equates to the scale of support and transfers made from West to East Germany as the price of sustainable unification.
We kid ourselves if we believe that a sustainable, stable, broader European economy and society can be underpinned without one of two things happening. There must be huge fiscal transfers from the rich to the poor to make life viable in the poorer parts. If not, we will go back 200 years to a Europe driven by a view of monetarism based on the gold standard in which people moved in pursuit of cash. Are we prepared for the 105 million people in the entrant states who want to have the right to the same sort of economic prosperity that we wish to share? No, we are not even talking about that.
My final point is about democratic loss. There was a huge debate in the European Union following the Uruguay round of negotiations with the World Trade Organisation. European Commissioners were hacked off because they thought that they had the right to negotiate on our behalf and that individual nation states had no right to a say. The European Court of Justice ruled that those nations had the right to negotiate over trade in goods but that trade in commercial services, including health and education, is subject to universal agreement among the member states.
The transfer from unanimity obligations to majority voting will remove that right first from member states and then from the Council of Ministers and give it to the European Commissioners. They are the architects of a new European autocracy. They are the agents of corporate control, which will take Europe into a corporate feudalism, in which we will all act—
I congratulate the hon. Members who have made their maiden speech in this debate. I refer in particular to David Cairns—as a veteran of many sermons, I commend him to go back to his former colleagues and tell them about the merits of the 10-minute rule from which we have benefited tonight.
Before I address the Bill before us, let me pay tribute to my predecessor, Sir Peter Lloyd. He served Fareham as its Member of Parliament for more than 22 years. He is widely respected in the constituency for his decency and his unceasing diligence on behalf of his constituents. At a time when politicians are only too eager to criticise this Department or that agency in the media to raise their own profiles, Sir Peter preferred his work for his constituents to speak for itself rather than use it to promote himself.
In the House, in spite of serving as a Whip, Peter demonstrated independence of spirit. In the previous Parliament, following his interest in home affairs—which developed when he was a Minister of State at the Home Office—he was very involved in the rehabilitation of young offenders and, just before Dissolution, completed a report on the work of prison visitors—subjects of great importance in the justice system that perhaps rub against the grain of current concerns.
Peter told me that, when he was a new Member in 1979, he was admonished for being far too much of a Eurosceptic—a caution that those of us newly elected to sit on the Conservative Benches are unlikely to receive as we progress in our careers.
Peter and his wife, Hilary, have given my wife and me tremendous support. They have offered wise counsel based on great experience, and their advice has been readily accepted by us both. I echo the words of so many people in the House and in the constituency when I say that he is a hard act to follow.
I remind the House of another Member of Parliament for Fareham, Arthur Lee—Lord Lee of Fareham—who gave Chequers to the nation. Sadly, he did not leave his successors in Fareham a country house to retire to at the weekends. Indeed, the only house in the constituency that bears his name is a public house.
I cannot let this opportunity pass without saying a little about my constituency. Fareham sits between Portsmouth and Southampton on the south Hampshire coast. Part of its eastern boundary is Portsmouth harbour and to the west are the Solent and the Hamble. In his guide to the buildings of England, Pevsner highlights the impact that its location has had on Fareham. He said:
"Senior naval officers found it favourable for retirement in Georgian times."
That tradition remains strong today.
Pevsner also said:
High street is not the constituency's only architectural gem. There is a fine castle in Portchester that dates back to Roman times, when it was built to protect the coast from invasion by the Saxons. Palmerston, another MP who represented a seat in south Hampshire, built fortifications on Portsdown hill above Fareham to protect us from the French. From Portsdown hill today, one can see the great naval base of Portsmouth that continues to protect our nation.
The constituency is formed of strong, local communities each with its own very clear identity. I have mentioned one already, Portchester, but there are others too, including Titchfield, Warsash and Fareham itself.
The constituency has grown rapidly in recent years. The west of the constituency, where I have the pleasure of living, once consisted of strawberry fields and nurseries but it is now home to about a third of my constituents. Rapid development here and on the other side of the motorway in Whiteley, part of which is also in my constituency, has caused great strains on the local infrastructure. Roads are congested and children cannot attend the nearest school. The Government's policy of imposing housing quotas on this area is making the situation worse, as is their demand that the density of new housing developments should be increased. More housing means more car journeys, more children for already overcrowded schools and fewer green fields. This madness cannot be allowed to continue.
Fareham has a diverse business base. Although many of the strawberry fields and nurseries have been built on, there is still a thriving horticulture industry. It is a great pleasure when in the constituency to buy strawberries picked in the fields around Titchfield. However, Fareham also acts as host to high-tech businesses, particularly in the information technology and defence sectors.
Although it is outside my constituency, many of my constituents work for Vosper Thornycroft, which has an excellent reputation for building warships. It is currently bidding to build a type 45 destroyer alongside BAE Systems Marine so that the work is shared between the two companies. However, BAE Systems Marine has also submitted a unsolicited bid to build the entire programme and, if successful, that would create a monopoly. I therefore ask the Government to think very carefully about accepting that bid, because I cannot believe that it is right for there to be a monopoly supplier of destroyers to the Royal Navy. No competition would mean poor value for money for taxpayers.
Local businesses also benefit from good internet connection links because Fareham hosts the Merlin teleport, which through a satellite links it and the rest of Britain with the world in fractions of a second.
With such an array of businesses, it is not surprising that Fareham enjoys a low rate of unemployment, making recruitment an issue for both business and the vital public services that we need to serve such a growing constituency.
I am very honoured to have been elected to represent Fareham and I hope that it continues its long tradition of returning Conservative Members of Parliament for a long time to come.
During the election campaign, many of my constituents expressed concern about the development of the European Union. They see it taking more and more powers away from national Governments, moving away from being simply a common market for goods and services. They sense that is becoming distant and remote and beyond their control. However, their concern does not mean that they are insular or little Englanders. For many, their service in the Navy means that their horizons are not limited to Europe, let alone to the United Kingdom's shores. They have a global and international perspective on life.
My constituents do not see Britain's role as simply being part of an increasingly introspective and insular European Union, but they see Britain as part of a network of nations, using our historical links and current trading patterns as a guide to how we should develop our relations with other nation states in the future. I share their perspective and their concerns.
There is little in the treaty of Nice to allay my constituents' fears. The treaty is said to be about enlargement and, indeed, it claims to make certain provisions about that, but it fails to tackle key issues such as reform of the common agricultural policy. However, the treaty is principally about deepening the European Union. It extends qualified majority voting to many more articles of the treaty and it facilitates easier co-operation between member states in certain areas of policy. The deepening of the European Union rather than enlargement causes my constituents most concern. They support the enlargement of the EU, which is long overdue, but they object to the deepening of the EU.
The concern about deepening is not restricted to the people of this country. The referendum in Ireland demonstrated that; the treaty was rejected because the development of the EU has gone too far. Let us not forget either the Danish referendum. In spite of a concerted campaign by the business and political establishment, the Danish people stood up and said no to a single currency.
If the European Union is to enjoy the support of the people of its members states, it must develop in line with their aspirations. The Commission and member states cannot simply dismiss the result of the Irish referendum and ask the Irish people to vote time and time again until they get the right answer. That approach will cause dissent and alienation and undermine the EU. The demonstrations that we saw at Gothenburg could become the norm if the EU continues to develop at a faster pace than is acceptable to its people. Let us develop the EU in line with the aspirations of its people, who elect us, rather than in line with the aspirations of the political elite who seem to rule in Brussels.
I congratulate Mr. Hoban on his maiden speech, and Fareham on its new representative, because he made a powerful invocation of the constituency's needs and problems. A debate that I expected to be a Cook's tour of Europe has turned out, in five maiden speeches, to be a very charming Cook's tour of several interesting constituencies in this country. I congratulate all who made those excellent speeches. It has been a pleasure to sit here and listen to them.
As I sat here, I mused about whether it would be possible for me to share the naive but utterly enduring enthusiasm for Europe that characterises my party. I wondered whether my inability to do so might be the barrier between me and the long overdue promotion that I have been waiting for. As I sat by the telephone in the days after the election, waiting for the call from Downing street, I thought that when the Prime Minister offered me the post that I most coveted—Parliamentary Under- Secretary in the ministry of fisheries—I would in gratitude issue a statement saying, "Tony, perhaps the Nice treaty isn't so bad after all." I felt that it would be a bold move to put myself in line with the mood of the party. I have to tell the House that the call did not come, and this is a lousy treaty. It is time to tell the truth and to abandon the hopes of promotion which have kept me going until now. I am even wearing a Euro-tie because I thought that I had better wear something cheap and trashy to celebrate my conversion.
It is infuriating that a messy treaty is being rushed through the House at such speed. We do not even have a copy of the treaty on European Union as it will read when fully amended, although I asked for one at the end of the previous Session and the then Foreign Secretary refused. We cannot tell what shape that treaty will take once the amendments arising from the Nice treaty have been made. I have been trying to find out. I have here my copy of the treaty of Amsterdam, which consolidates the amended treaties to date.
Article 1 of the Nice treaty replaces article 7 of the treaty on European Union. I looked it up in the Amsterdam treaty and found that article 6 on simplification says:
"Article 7 shall be repealed."
I then turned to the tables of equivalences referred to in article 12 of the Amsterdam treaty, which is the treaty that we are really debating. We are discussing a one-clause Bill and a 16-clause treaty, but that involves many other matters.
The table of equivalences told me that article 7 is article F.1, not F.0. I turned to article F.1 and found that it is a provision for penalising EU states that have been naughty, such as Austria. The new paragraph suspends the states' voting rights on the Council, but it does not tell us which Council. Is it the European Council or the Council of Ministers? I ended up as puzzled as I began.
We are going to have to debate the Bill quickly, finalising its passage next week, without having a full copy of the amended treaty or being able to understand it. Each article of the Nice treaty is a huge container packed with clauses that make amendments. Article 1 amends 23 articles in earlier treaties. It cannot be possible even to understand it. This is a messy way of implementing a messy treaty arrived at by messy procedures.
European Council meetings are rather like the "Big Brother" house in reverse. Everyone is crammed together in the big Europe house and kept up, well fed, all night. There is a bidding frenzy because they have all come along with demands and offers, and they are pressured by the Commission into botching something together. As the Prime Minister said, it is a stupid way to make decisions. It is infuriating for him because he has a managerial mind and this is chaos.
The small states rebel against the pressure—I note that they were led in this case by Belgium and Portugal—and say, "We are not having this. We demand more." They are told to think again. People are voted out of the "Big Brother" house. By contrast, they are forced to stay in the big Europe house and accept whatever emerges from the shambles. At the end, whatever has been agreed is written up, and then rewritten over several weeks, to tell the countries what they should have agreed if they had been compos mentis at the time, instead of exhausted and half-asleep. It is folly. We cannot, in that fashion, build a workable democratic structure or a pristine constitution that people will accept. We could not even build a garden shed in that fashion, let alone a European superstructure.
Those methods are also inherently undemocratic. People do not understand them. The small states are steamrollered and bullied by the bigger states. It is a pointless and messy procedure. Each time pressure is applied, less is gained. Amsterdam is pathetic compared with previous treaties, and the Nice treaty is pathetic compared with Amsterdam. The next agreement will be made in 2004.
The whole process, including the Nice treaty, is based on a lie. Europe is a culture of half-truths that have corrupted our politics. Damage has to be portrayed as gain; failure has to be portrayed as success, and at every Council meeting everyone is a winner. They all go back to their countries saying, "Game, set and match to us." It cannot all be true.
The biggest half-truth is this treaty. We have been told several times tonight, as we are continually being told by the Commission and everyone else concerned, that this process is about enlargement, but it is not. It is about strengthening the central institutions and weakening the nation states and the power and control of Parliament. We have rushed through the process in the hope of facilitating enlargement, and we have surrendered vetoes that we should never have given up. They are negotiating counters that we should not abandon. They would enable us to stop this rush towards enhanced co-operation, in which the richer states will get together to dominate and shape Europe according to their wishes. That is unsatisfactory to every participant; it is incomprehensible to the public; and it has nothing to do with enlargement.
Enlargement comprises two key issues. The first is the common agricultural policy, which is unreformed. We cannot apply it to Poland, for example, because Poland has more farmers than the rest of Europe combined. How can Poland be included in the CAP without the scheme going bankrupt? Yet how can it be deprived of the CAP's benefits and still be a full member?
As my hon. Friend Mr. Simpson said, nothing has been decided about financing. His point about Germany was very telling. To unite Germany, so that kith and kin could come together, will cost £250 billion by 2004. That is the cost of including in the EU the 15 million people in east Germany. The new entrants have seven times that number of people—105 million. Who will pay for the help and support that those countries will need to sustain their fledging democracies?
Germany is already restive about paying for Europe. We too pay over the odds. Our net contribution is £4 billion, which is the second highest after Germany's. No one else will increase their contribution. Nothing has been decided. Instead, we are fiddling with structures and with the powers of the Commission and the Council of Ministers. That, we are told, is all that will be done to prepare for enlargement.
We are now being asked to bully Ireland, but Denmark was not bullied. We held up proceedings on the Bill on Maastricht for some time while a deal was worked out with the Danes. The Irish, however, have to lump it and vote again. The process is a shambles and the outcome is a treaty that I cannot support. This mess has nothing to do with enlargement, which I support. We are living in a Europe that no one particularly wants, according to processes that no one understands and by methods that have been rejected as totally unacceptable by the people in the only country which has consulted its people.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech. I congratulate my hon. Friend Sue Doughty, the hon. Members for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) and for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois), and my near neighbour, David Cairns, on their excellent speeches. I will do my best to live up to the high standards that they have set.
I should also like to thank the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde for pointing out the magnificent scenery in my constituency of Argyll and Bute. I shall return the compliment by pointing out that a magnificent view in my constituency is the one from Innellan across the firth of Clyde to the beautiful hills in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, behind Inverkip.
I wish to pay tribute to my predecessor, Ray Michie, who represented Argyll and Bute in Parliament for 14 years and was held in tremendous regard by her constituents. That was evident when I went from doorstep to doorstep during the election; the high regard in which she was held came across loud and clear. Time and again, I was told that if I was successful in being elected to Parliament, I would have a hard act to follow. I met person after person whose case Ray had taken up successfully. To her credit, she has a long list of successful campaigns—for a new hospital, road improvements and new bridges. She was also a robust defender of the Gaelic culture in Argyll—a campaign that I, too, shall champion.
Argyll and Bute is a huge constituency, full of magnificent scenery. I have no doubt that it is the most beautiful in the United Kingdom. It stretches from the Mull of Kintyre in the south to the shores of Loch Linnhe in the north, a distance of almost 100 miles. It extends from the firth of Clyde in the east to the Atlantic coast in the west, and includes the island of Bute in the firth of Clyde, as well as many islands of the inner Hebrides; and there is a total of 26 inhabited islands.
Many hon. Members have told me that they have spent enjoyable holidays in Argyll and Bute, and I would recommend it to anyone who has not been; the scenery is unrivalled. Whether Members want an activity holiday—climbing, sailing or walking—or to relax on one of the many unspoilt golden beaches, it is an unbeatable holiday destination. A variety of holidays can be enjoyed there—for example, at the traditional seaside resorts of Dunoon and Rothesay on the Clyde coast. From those resorts, people can take a cruise through the magnificent waterway of the Kyles of Bute. Part of the Cowal peninsula in Argyll will soon become part of Scotland's first national park, to which Dunoon will be the gateway. Inveraray, with its beautiful picture postcard white buildings, is an early example of town planning. Many tourists have their photo taken outside the historic jail, although that was one photo opportunity that I was advised to avoid at the start of the campaign.
The long drive to Campbeltown and the Mull of Kintyre is well worth it for the magnificent scenery on the way. In the north of the constituency is the magnificent seaport of Oban, with its splendid harbour; it is a base for touring the islands, which are well worth a visit. There is no time to list them all tonight, but they include Islay and Jura, which are world famous for their many whisky distilleries. However, the local economy is in difficulties; the Chancellor could help, and make himself popular, by reducing the duty on whisky and ending the unfair tax regime that discriminates against spirits in favour of imported wines.
The islands of Tiree and Coll are famous for their miles of golden sandy beaches. Indeed, Tiree gets more sunshine than anywhere else in the United Kingdom, and is the perfect place for relaxing on a sunny, golden, unspoilt and empty beach. Iona has an historic abbey and is the burial place of many kings of Scotland.
Despite all its beauty, Argyll and Bute, like all rural communities, has suffered economic hardship in recent years. Because of the vast size of my constituency and the sparsity of its population, many rural economic problems that affect other areas are magnified. Thankfully, there have been no cases of foot and mouth in my constituency; nevertheless, the knock-on effects have been damaging for both the tourism and farming industries. We need Government policies that will help the traditional rural industries of farming, fishing and forestry, promote tourism and encourage new investment.
The highlands were largely depopulated by the clearances in earlier centuries. If the free market is allowed to operate without Government intervention, there will be further depopulation; I do not believe that there is a single hon. Member who thinks it is beneficial to have such depopulation and more population movement to the south-east of England. Unemployment in the remote Kintyre peninsula and on many of the islands is a cause for concern. Europe has been a tremendous help, both for the markets that it has provided and the great financial assistance brought about by objective 1 status. Europe appreciates the difficulties of running a business and delivering services in remote islands. Indeed, it has done so to a much greater extent than many British Governments. Not joining the euro at the outset has been a financial disaster for many businesses in Argyll and Bute.
Our farmers, fishermen and tourism industry must sell to other Europeans and they are finding it difficult to compete at the present exchange rate. Prawn fishermen sell much of their product abroad, to countries like Spain and Italy, but are finding it hard to compete against fishermen in those countries because of the high rate of the pound against the euro. European tourists continually complain about our high prices. Joining the euro at a favourable exchange rate is essential if businesses in the highlands and islands of Scotland are to avoid financial disaster. I therefore urge the Government to hold a referendum at the earliest possible opportunity.
As I have said, Europe has invested much in the highlands and islands. We have recently succeeded in attracting a Danish wind turbine factory to Kintyre. That is an exciting new technology and an industry of the future, but sadly, I must relate that all the other agencies involved in the project are unanimous in their view that the Ministry of Defence, on whose former Machrihanish base the factory will be built, has been most unhelpful. I urge the Ministry to realise that it has social responsibilities when it closes bases in remote rural areas; extracting every last drop of public money from other Government agencies that are trying to bring jobs to a remote peninsula is not an achievement of which to be proud.
St. Columba sailed from Ireland to Iona 1,400 years ago and brought Christianity to Argyll. In those days, people and goods regularly travelled back and forth between Argyll and Ulster. Today, sadly, there is no direct link. To travel the eight miles from the Mull of Kintyre to County Antrim involves no fewer than three ferry journeys and miles of driving. A ferry link is essential; it would mean that Kintyre would become part of a European highway, and would not be a cul-de-sac. Efforts to reinstate the ferry link from Campbeltown to Ballycastle must therefore succeed. There is a dire situation in Argyll and Bute; Government assistance is needed and joining the euro is essential.
I congratulate Mr. Reid on an excellent maiden speech. Indeed, it is one of a quintet of excellent maiden speeches that we have heard this evening. I was especially pleased that history and geography were strongly to the fore in all areas of those speeches. When the five speakers finally leave the House, they will all have excellent third-age careers as authors of guidebooks and gazetteers.
I make no apology for focusing on EU enlargement and the implications of the Nice treaty. Despite what has been said tonight, enlargement is enshrined in the protocol of the treaty. With Milosevic in court at The Hague today, we should be starkly reminded of the need to embed the present fragile stability in eastern and central Europe in the EU. Enlargement is a key part of that process, but it will work properly only with the structural reforms proposed at Nice.
In his article today in The Daily Telegraph, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary referred to a 30-year link with Jan Kavan, whom he met in 1969 when they were both students. I do not have the same length of pedigree, but my interest and involvement in eastern Europe likewise goes back to human rights battles of student days. In the late 1970s, when I was a postgraduate at London university, I got involved in the east European solidarity campaign and met Jan Kavan. Subsequently, I saw the impact of the testimony of many of the dissidents at the hearings into Carter's human rights policies in Washington. As co-chairman of the future of Europe trust in this place, over the past three and a half years I have been able to meet many politicians from central and eastern Europe, and to hear about their concerns and their vital need for the enlargement process.
Historically, the United Kingdom has had a strong commitment to enlargement and to the countries of central and eastern Europe. That commitment has been shared by both major parties in the House. I am happy to pay tribute to the support that Mr. Major and his Foreign Office team gave in the early days to that process. It is sad, therefore, that the Conservatives now seem to want to jeopardise the process by unpicking Nice, as the Opposition amendment proposes.
The treaty of Nice is not perfect. Some have said that it is a minimalist settlement, some have said that it goes too far, and the European Parliament has expressed doubt. That probably means that the treaty is just about right. The process is one of give and take, and it is important that we understand that. However, it is also crucial to establish new institutional and decision-making arrangements to prepare the European Union for 27 members. That has to be done.
The Opposition have tried to twist the issue by claiming that, technically, accession does not require a treaty. That is at best disingenuous and naive, and at worst, if persisted with, would endanger the process and momentum. With 26 or 27 EU members, we simply cannot make up structures as we go along. I agreed wholeheartedly with
The interests of applicant countries in joining an enlarged EU cannot be wholly divorced from their interests in an enlarged NATO. The amended article 25 of the treaty of Nice provides for an enhanced role for the EU Political and Security Committee. That is right and just. The status of the European security and defence force in relation to NATO is also dealt with in annexe 6 to the presidency conclusions from the Council. The Political and Security Committee will liaise with NATO and is not a threat to it. What was agreed at Nice will preserve the character of NATO and the front-line position of both applicant countries and existing members.
That balance is important because there is a need to respect Russian sensitivities, especially in the Baltic concerning Kaliningrad. At the same time, Romania and other states that wish to join the EU must not be blocked, particularly if they are not likely to be in the first wave of accession.
There are key questions to be answered about expansion, and they are hard ones. They must not just be ignored in a process of good will and positive rhetoric. Last week, in the Financial Times, Charles Grant, the director of the Centre for European Reform, rightly drew attention to such key questions when he said that the EU should insist that applicants meet the highest standards of human rights and civil society, and that enlargement will leave those outside the Union at a disadvantage. New members, he said, will have to impose visa requirements on their eastern neighbours and the EU cannot ignore developments in regions which become unstable or suffer economic crises that will directly affect the Union through migration, for example. Human rights and the building up of civil societies are key elements of the chapters to be completed, but so are those other knotty issues.
I want to give two examples of the issues that we need to address. There was considerable tension between Hungary and Romania during the 20th century over the issue of Transylvania. That is beginning to be resolved through much better relations between those countries, and must not be jeopardised by a disregard for transitional arrangements for migration and visas. The issue of migration is also likely to arise between Poland and Ukraine, as Poland is to enter the EU early and Ukraine's entry is a very long way off.
The Nice treaty is not set in stone; nor should we see it as such. However, it is crucial to embed the applicant states in the process. That is why the Opposition's amendment risks missing the boat. In his speech in Warsaw in October, the Prime Minister rightly recognised the other side of the coin. If we do not embed applicant countries in the EU, we shall face all the issues and concerns over migration and asylum that have so preoccupied debate in this country over the past 12 months.
Our commitment, NATO's achievements in Kosovo and our difficult engagement in Macedonia are possible only because they have been underpinned by logistical, diplomatic and other support and consensus among applicant countries such as Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and the Czech Republic, many of which took considerable domestic risks in moving away from long-standing doubts, ethnic hostilities and shibboleths. We should recognise that, not jeopardise their position in allowing right-wing nationalists to hold up the enlargement process.
That is why I welcome the recent initiative by the Swedish presidency to bring second-tier candidates into the first wave, with a sense of give and take over the free movement of labour. There is give and take; this is a modern, flexible and reformed EU. That makes a nonsense of the Opposition's scaremongering over insensitive integration. Their dog-in-the-manger approach shames their party, which has acquitted itself so honourably in previous times.
Enlargement is of course not just about altruism. An enlarged EU will bring significant financial benefits to this country—and the statistics are there for people to see. We need to engage our people and explain those benefits to them. That is why there is a warning in the Irish referendum result. I agree with the Foreign Secretary that we cannot just ignore it and plough on like arrogant bureaucrats. We need a process of persuasion and dialogue to bring people round. That is why it is necessary to pay some attention to the social and cultural contribution to our common European inheritance that the applicant countries have made.
Enlargement will banish for ever the views of Bismarck, who said that the Balkans were not worth the bones of a Pomeranian grenadier, and the infamous remarks of Chamberlain in Munich about the far-away country of whose people we know nothing. Today, in a globalised, interdependent world, that is not true. There are city breaks to Tallinn, Krakow and Budapest. We recognise the immense cultural contributions of such countries. One thinks of the contributions during the last century of composers such as Dvorak, Janacek, Bartok and Gorecki. One thinks of writers such as Kafka and Horvath. One thinks of Mitteleuropa and the Hapsburg multiethnic and multinational union, which was viable. One thinks even of Mr. Rubik, with his cube—an apt image for the delivery and finesse with which we shall have to operate in enlarged EU institutions.
The momentum of enlargement will be maintained only by telling our peoples about common heritage, interest and hope. Nice and its ratification is a vital refuelling point in that momentum. That is why this House should give it and the enlargement process that it guarantees its fullest support.
I congratulate my fellow maiden speakers the hon. Members for Guildford (Sue Doughty), for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) and for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid), and my hon. Friends the Members for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) and for Fareham (Mr. Hoban), who in their own way all gave very informative, lucid and erudite speeches.
It is a great honour and a privilege to deliver my maiden speech as the new Member for Boston and Skegness. I am in fact only the third Member of Parliament to represent the Boston end of the constituency in 64 years. My immediate predecessor was Sir Richard Body. He made Whips nervous, but represented the people and the surrounding areas of Boston for 35 years and, prior to that, the people of Billericay. Amazingly, he made his maiden speech on
Sir Richard was a great parliamentarian—a man of great vision, tenacity and expertise, particularly on the issues of Europe and agriculture. The great thing about him was that he was never afraid to voice his views, however unfashionable, awkward or unpopular they were at the time. He has invariably been proved right. Let us hope that in this Parliament we have more hon. Members willing to speak their minds than in the last. Sir Richard is held in great affection in the constituency. He always stood up for working men and women. It will be an enormous challenge to follow a man of such integrity and conviction.
Since the boundary changes of 1995, Boston is now linked in a new constituency with Skegness, which my hon. Friend
There are pockets of severe rural poverty and deprivation, the likes of which I have never seen before. I will, with all the necessary and appropriate local and national bodies, endeavour to assist those who have been left behind by economic growth. I shall be an assiduous advocate on behalf of farmers, packhouse owners and their employees, to create a level playing field allowing them to compete on equal terms with both their European and global competitors. There is great nervousness about the enlargement of the European Union and potential cheap imports of agricultural produce, with associated concerns about quality control and standards.
However, the constituency is not only agricultural. There is a thriving and hard-working fishing fleet, a successful port and many manufacturing businesses. There is also a plethora of small, dynamic entrepreneurial businesses exemplified by the razzmatazz of Skegness. Many of those small businesses are in tourism and the holiday trade and employ no more than one or two people. We must ensure that the resilience of the business men and entrepreneurs is not undermined by excessive regulation from home and abroad. There are also some very large, high profile and successful tourist businesses in Skegness, such as Fantasy Island and Butlins, which are well-known and cater all year round for a vibrant and lively tourist trade.
Underlying this energetic and vigorous business atmosphere is a real sense of community. Nothing assists people more as they go through life's vicissitudes than a sense of community. The best example of this is the Skegness lifeboat, whose brave crew, when called to do so, risk their lives to save others.
During my campaign in Skegness, I encountered a little old lady in a little old bungalow who, when asked how she would vote, informed me that she had always voted Labour, but oh no, not this time. She was going to vote for that good-looking young man and vote Conservative. I straightened my tie, puffed out my chest slightly and with great pleasure informed her that I was that good-looking young man. She replied without hesitation, "No, no, not you, I mean William Hague". So, if my right hon. Friend Mr. Hague is ever looking for female company, I know a little old lady in a little old bungalow.
There are 70 to 75 villages and hamlets in my constituency. Some of the larger ones, such as Burgh Le Marsh, Friskney and Wrangle, may be familiar to those who know Lincolnshire, but one of them has a particular history—Wainfleet. William of Wainfleet was not only Bishop of Winchester, but Lord Chancellor to Henry IV. He also founded Magdalen college, Oxford. In the spirit of European co-operation, Wainfleet provided in 1359 two warships for the invasion of Brittany. Today Wainfleet contains one of the few highly successful family-run breweries that are remain. It is called Batemans and real ale aficionados will be familiar with the name. It is a local business that I am delighted to support.
In the constituency we have many dedicated and long-suffering education professionals who support an extremely successful grammar school system and also work energetically to drive up standards in primary and secondary modern schools. I will provide any support and encouragement to improve educational provision in Boston and Skegness, and there is much room for improvement.
My constituency has historically benefited greatly from European assistance. Indeed, much of it would still be under the sea if it was not for the land reclamation expertise exported from Holland. However, some of the contents of the treaty are not in the interests of my constituents or the country. I shall, of course, endeavour to follow the traditions of the maiden speech and not traverse the avenue of controversy. There are, however, several key issues that I must highlight.
There is an ever-increasing democratic deficit. All of us in the House are democrats, of whatever political persuasion. However, the deficiency is exacerbated by the treaty and is increasingly prevalent in the European Union. Not only has Ireland recently voted no in its referendum, but it seems that the democratic desire of the Irish people will at best be circumvented and at worst ignored. Such an attitude seems to contradict entirely the charter of fundamental human rights, which was also discussed at Nice. It appears that the EU wishes to give powers with one hand, and with the other to ride roughshod over people when they exercise those powers in an allegedly disagreeable manner.
I do not see what the charter can do for the United Kingdom, as we have a constitution that has evolved through history and served us well for the last thousand years. The charter must not be annexed to future treaties or made legally enforceable. The treaty is supposed to be fundamentally about enlargement, but instead it is integrationist, making it more complicated and difficult for countries to accede. I do not see anywhere in the treaty the necessary reforms to enable that to happen efficiently and effectively.
There seems to be a general acceptance in the House that the CAP requires fundamental and far-reaching reform, but I find no mention of it. Are we going to subsidise east European agriculture in the same way we have our own over the past 30 or 40 years? Instead, the treaty contains 31 new areas that will be subject to qualified majority voting. What do pension rights for judges have to do with enlargement? The extension of QMV allows no opportunity to stop any policy in those areas, irrespective of whether it is in the national interest.
There is a direct causal link between the ratification of treaties such as Nice and the poor voter turnout. It is not until we address this fundamental issue that the electorate will believe that they have an impact through the democratic process. I am not advocating withdrawal, but arguing forcefully that if Europe is to survive and succeed in the forthcoming years, it must become more democratically accountable—
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. I congratulate Mr. Simmonds on a self-assured maiden speech full of passion and conviction, and all the maiden speakers so far on the high standard that they have set.
Today's debate is about the new Europe, but I hope that a view from one of its oldest industrial heartlands will bring a useful perspective to our proceedings. I grew up in the Leigh area and it is with great pride that I take my seat as its fifth Labour Member of Parliament. I aim to give the House an authentic voice from my home area in the years to come.
For someone making his maiden speech, I am in the unusual position of already having made history in the House. On
"The mobile phone has finally breached the last bastion of low-tech tranquillity: the House of Commons."
I have always kept quiet about that, but today I own up as the naive researcher who made that historic call. I am relieved to say that it has not harmed the career of the right hon. Member on the receiving end, and I can only hope that my future contributions to the House will be less irritating than that one.
Many people of my generation in the north-west feel proud of their regional roots, but also feel part of Europe. They want Britain to play a positive part in creating a strong and united Europe and to enjoy the benefits that that would bring. The Bill will help that process. But I make a strong and heartfelt plea today that, in the drive to assist the emerging economies of Europe, we do not overlook the real need in the communities that were the cradle of the industrial revolution in Europe.
The spinning jenny was invented in Leigh by a poor weaver called Thomas Highs, but we were denied our place in the history books by an entrepreneur from Blackburn who quickly patented it. I shall fight for what Leigh deserves—although on reflection it would perhaps not be a good idea to annoy the Foreign Secretary in my maiden speech.
Our area is renowned for its strong tradition in engineering and coal mining. The towns that make up my constituency—Leigh, Atherton, Hindley, Hindley Green, Lowton, Golborne and Bickershaw—grew up around the coal and textile industries, the decline of which has caused real need in those communities.
For 22 years, those communities have been loyally represented by my predecessor, Lawrence Cunliffe. Lawrence worked in the local mining industry and knew the area and its people well. He entered the House in 1979 and, while national developments made the following years bleak for Leigh, Lawrence always fought our case, and I know that I speak for many people in thanking him for his work on our behalf.
Only days into the job, I have been made painfully aware of the challenges that we face to stay competitive in the new Europe. Ingersoll-Rand has announced that it is considering relocating its manufacturing operation for portable compressors from Hindley Green to the Czech Republic, resulting in the loss of 250 jobs.
I am worried that an air of inevitability is growing around the loss of manufacturing jobs from Britain, with the use of vague terms such as market forces and globalisation. That is dangerous. As a country we need to work hard to keep jobs that are desperately needed.
Today, with other Labour Members, I met union representatives from Hindley Green. The work force is doing all it can to give the company positive reasons to stay, and I urge the Government to bring all relevant parties together to see if more can be done to keep those jobs in my constituency.
People in the Leigh area can be forgiven for having little confidence in this place. Until recently, it has delivered only bad news. Dr. Beeching put Leigh on the map—sadly, for making it the largest town in England without a railway station. Next came the closure of the mills and mines in the 1980s and 1990s, tearing the heart out of the communities based around them, and Leigh infirmary's accident and emergency unit was closed in the 1990s. The challenge I face is to restore people's faith in politics and show that Parliament does listen and deliver good news as well as bad.
The Leigh area now has its best opportunity for many years to make real progress. On
The Leigh constituency has perhaps benefited more than most from the working families tax credit and the national minimum wage. Parts of my constituency have objective 2 status and I want to ensure that funds begin to flow to help our local economy to compete in a new age. We are not stuck in the past, but understand the need to look to the emerging sectors of the service economy to bring jobs and prosperity.
One of the proposals driven forward by Wigan borough council is the Xanadu project, a major leisure and retail development close to the site of a former colliery. At no cost to the public purse, it will create thousands of new jobs and bring a new railway station to the Leigh area. The proposal has been the subject of a planning inquiry and the inspector's report is with the Government. It is argued that such large developments should follow the country's population centres, its major towns and cities, but that logic precludes an area such as ours, made up of small townships and communities, from ever benefiting from a major regeneration project. But that is exactly what we need—a catalyst for change. Xanadu would give this deprived former coalfield hope of a better future, and I urge the Government to bear that in mind when reaching their decision.
Some things in Leigh will never change. Leigh Centurions rugby league club has a proud history and will continue to be a strong source of civic pride and identity. After troubled times, the club is thriving again and on Sunday completed the Northern Ford premiership season as league champions. I hope that the House will join me in congratulating it and allow me to thank one of Leigh's greatest ever players, the former Great Britain star Mick Martyn, who did so much to help me to serve Leigh in Parliament. Like our town, Leigh Centurions have come back the hard way and earned the right to be promoted to the Super League, but that decision is out of their hands. I make a direct plea to the Super League to accept Leigh. Such is the importance of the club to our area that it would give it a real boost and instil renewed optimism for the future.
I joined the Labour party at the age of 15 to fight for a better deal for the working people of Leigh among whom I grew up. It will be with a great sense of personal fulfilment that I will work with the Government during the next few years to continue the improvements that they have started and to right some of the wrongs that we have suffered. 8.16 pm
I thank my hon. Friend Andy Burnham for such an excellent maiden speech, and congratulate all those others who have made excellent speeches today. It was a particular privilege for me as a relatively new Member, not having heard a maiden speech before.
The Nice treaty brings together the wider nations of Europe on the basis of free trade, international agreement and co-operation, founded on democratic institutions, and it paves the way for European security. It is a recipe for a strong Britain in a greater Europe. Enlargement will mean a bigger Europe capable of looking after our interests in a global context. It means a bigger trading area to create even more prosperity and jobs. That is why the Government have negotiated the treaty on behalf of the British people.
In the last century, Europe was for the most part divided. There were two world wars, millions of people killed and nations living in fear of one another. What has been achieved in the past 50 years is astonishing and, in its significance, outweighs the achievements of the past 2,000 years. National barriers to the movement of goods, people and services have been swept away by the development of international road, air, rail, energy and information networks, and those networks are the arteries of the European economy, the health of which is dependent on the ability of goods, capital and services to flow freely around Europe.
Where problems exist within the European economy, European institutions support and restructure development so that ailing parts of the economy are remedied. In my region, more than 400,000 jobs are linked to membership of the EU and in the next five years the area will receive more than £1.5 billion in EU structural funds. It is essential that all the nations of Europe benefit in that way. The alternative of division and isolation will only lead to the conflicts that plagued the last century and continue to fester in this century.
Nationalism in Europe has been swept away by those economic forces because the nation states of Europe recognise that future economic prosperity and security require membership of the EU and commitment to its further development. However, with anything up to 28 nations as members, there is clearly a need for the reform of European institutions such as the Commission, Parliament and Council of Ministers. That is what happened at Nice. Anyone who says that reform is still needed obviously has not read the treaty.
The Government have achieved that while acquiring more power for Britain through the reweighting of votes in the Council of Ministers. They have agreed a limit to the size of the European Commission and more majority voting where that will promote Britain's interests in areas such as trade liberalisation and improved financial controls. On vote reweighting, Labour has secured a substantial increase in the strength of Britain's vote in the Council of Ministers—the first increase since Britain joined the European Union.
Many hon. Members will know that, as smaller states have joined the EU in each successive round of enlargement, the voting strength of the larger member states has declined disproportionately. In an EU of 28 countries, it would have been possible for member states representing a minority of the population to achieve a qualified majority. The treaty of Nice prevents that from happening by reweighting the votes of all member states to reflect more accurately the population size. The Government have also agreed with other member states that, from 2005, all member states should have only one Commissioner, which will limit increases in the size of the Commission after enlargement.
The historic treaty of Nice introduces improved procedures for enhanced co-operation. It is essential for an enlarged European Union to be flexible enough to enable groups of member states to co-operate more closely on specific projects. This is not a lumbering superstate, as the Opposition would suggest, but a flexible union which can act, for example, in the fight against crime and drugs, where closer co-operation is essential, but which would not prejudice the fight against these problems in non-participating countries. The interests of member states will be preserved and the use of enhanced co-operation can be referred to the European Council. Enhanced co-operation cannot be used to undermine the single market or other common European Union policies. It will be open to all member states, which will provide a guarantee against the creation of an inner core of member states that operate as a block vote.
The next intergovernmental conference, in 2004, will discuss a delimitation of competencies between the European Union and the member states to prevent unnecessary centralisation. There will be a debate about how to involve national Parliaments in European decision making, and the conference will also consider the means of putting the treaties into plain language so that they are easier to understand for the people of Europe.
Europe needs strong member states, and the development process will explode the Conservative myth that the European Union is becoming a superstate. The extension of qualified majority voting will contribute to the reform that Britain wants: further trade liberalisation, improved financial controls and European Commission appointments being made on the basis of merit. QMV is an opportunity, not a threat. It is the oil of the European Union, and the huge benefits that it has brought, such as the European single market, are a testament to that fact. Labour has ensured that the national veto is retained in key areas such as treaty change, taxation, border controls, social security, defence and the revenue-raising mechanisms.
Although one would not have thought it when listening to some Opposition Members, the Conservative party agreed to 42 extensions of QMV when it was in government. Twelve extensions were made in the Single European Act 1985 and 30 were made in the Maastricht treaty. Yet Opposition Members have the cheek to argue against the treaty in its current form. QMV has always worked in Britain's interests.
Let us consider what is good about the treaty in terms of QMV. Obviously, there are improvements in trade and services. Changes have been made in respect of structural and cohesion funds, to prevent net recipients from blocking efficiency and cost savings. There is also help on environmental issues, financial regulation, appointments and industrial policy. The treaty will enhance stability and security in Europe, as well as many other aspects.
We live in a world that is shrinking because of new means of travel and communications. The world of the 21st century should be about peace, freedom and security for all. If we can bring together the whole of Europe in this manner, who knows what we can achieve on a global scale? It is my firm belief that, later this century, we can bring together a global union with all the values and types of institution that we have created here in Europe. That needs reform of the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation, and a willingness in the world—and the G8 nations in particular—to recognise that peace and prosperity can be achieved only by co-operation and by sharing the world's resources. The enlargement of Europe is an important step towards that goal, and I only hope that I will live long enough to see it achieved.
I want to confine my remarks to the European security and defence policy aspects of the treaty. Before I begin, I should like to add my congratulations to new hon. Members on their maiden speeches. I remember that there was an empty Chamber when I made my maiden speech on a Friday morning in 1992, while the Queen's Speech was being debated. It must be far more difficult to make such a speech to a House that is relatively full, at least on the Labour Benches. The Conservative Benches are rather empty at this moment.
I wish to concentrate on the defence aspects of the treaty because it is important for us to recognise that there has been a shift in recent weeks in the attitudes of the United States in respect of European security and defence policy. I was in Washington last week, meeting members of Congress and of the Administration, with a British-American parliamentary group delegation. Significantly, the previous rhetoric of the Republican party, which was whipped up by the shadow Secretary of State for Defence, has died down. We were told by officials in the new Administration that the US had been astonished by the developments at St. Malo and had been concerned about what had happened since, but was now far more relaxed. We were also told that the European developments that were foreshadowed in the Helsinki statement of 1999 and that are set out in the Nice proposals and the comprehensive presidency report appendix were seen as complementary to NATO. One person to whom I spoke said that it would be worse for European security and defence policy to fail because of lack of resources than for it to be autonomous. The key is how to work out the day-to-day relationships of NATO and the European Union.
That attitude is welcome, and follows a further shift in the position of the American Administration, who have been in office for only a few months and have not formed all their posts, in relation to policy on the Balkans. Secretary of State Colin Powell has now said that we went in together, so we should go out together. That position is diametrically different from the Republican party's election platform of cutting forces from the Balkans and withdrawing unilaterally. That is welcome as Europeans try to cope with the legacy of the conflict in the Balkans and in view of the dangerous situation in Macedonia.
I visited Kosovo a few months ago with the Select Committee on Defence. We stood on the so-called chicken leg, looking down on the Presevo valley in Serbia. On the other side, in Macedonia, we saw the area of conflict, which has been shown so graphically on our television screens in recent weeks. British forces were there, working with a NATO ally, Norway, and two other European Union states, Sweden and Finland. We were also working in the zone that is allocated to the Americans. That is a sign of European partners in the EU working with their European and north American NATO partners for the common good.
Nonsensical rhetoric was used in the general election campaign about, for example, Euro armies.
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. However, I am now on my feet, so I shall say that he can speak for himself, but not all hon. Members agree that there is no such thing as a European army, especially in view of developments in the past six months. He can hold his opinion and we can hold ours, but he should not pretend that ours is nonsense. There are two views.
Those views were presented during the election campaign. My Conservative opponent fought the campaign with a megaphone in Ilford town centre. All he seemed able to say was, "Save the pound. Keep the pound." People in my constituency had a clear choice and the Conservative vote decreased from a little more than 30 per cent. to approximately 25 per cent.—a resounding vote of confidence in the Opposition's policies. It was a rejection of sectarianism, to which I referred in Westminster Hall this morning.
There is clearly a need to work out the detail of the arrangements for armed forces. The headline goal of 60,000 troops to be deployed for a year with rotation is, unfortunately, ambitious for some European countries. It must be achieved, and we should begin to argue more forcefully, especially with Germany, about the need for stronger, more effective contributions from their forces. It is no good the British, French and Dutch taking the lead because of the shape of our armed forces and the way in which we have worked in the past.
Other European partners must change the structure of their forces and the way in which they co-operate and are deployed. That will be difficult and painful for those who have concepts of territorial defence and have no expeditionary strategy or tradition of deployment in other countries. That also applies to those who, for long-understood historical reasons, have political aversion to that or face adverse public opinion. However, such change is essential if we are to achieve the headline goals that were set out in Helsinki and reaffirmed in Nice.
Enlargement of the EU is desirable and essential, and it will happen. However, there is a parallel debate about the enlargement of NATO. We need to start making some distinctions. From information that I picked up in the United States, I am worried by the strength of the well organised lobby, which is linked through the Administration to Democrats and Republicans in Congress and key staffers, in favour of early, rapid enlargement to include all three Baltic states. We need to think that through.
The argument for including the Baltic states in the European Union if they meet the economic criteria is unassailable. However, we should express our anxieties about the political consequences for the relationship with Russia and the stability of Europe of precipitate early NATO enlargement to include all applicant countries. In Warsaw, President Bush referred to those matters obliquely. He talked about the Baltic states joining European institutions. Some of us in Europe should express more strongly to the United States our anxiety to ensure that there is no automatic conveyor belt for all states to join the hard security organisation of NATO, which will remain pre-eminent in defence and security matters.
It is a pleasure to participate in a debate that has included so many eloquent and confident maiden speeches. They came from my hon. Friends the Members for Leigh (Andy Burnham) and for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) and the hon. Members for Boston and Skegness (Mr. Simmonds), for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid), for Fareham (Mr. Hoban), for Guildford (Sue Doughty) and for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois). I apologise if I have missed anyone off the list. They all painted such delightful visions of their constituencies that if it were not for the fact that I am lucky enough to have the one constituency that is even more delightful, I would be planning immediately after the debate to move my house and family to one of their constituencies. I congratulate them all.
I have been impressed by the maiden speeches, but with the greatest respect, I was less than impressed by the speech of the shadow Foreign Secretary, Mr. Maude. He, like most Opposition Members, did not paint a coherent vision of Europe. He claimed that the Opposition supported Europe, could see the benefits of Europe and wanted Europe enlarged. However, he painted no vision of how that could be achieved. Similarly, he painted no vision of what he wanted Europe to do if it were not doing what he wanted it to do.
I commend to the right hon. Gentleman a document entitled "One Europe". I do not know whether he has read it, but if he has, I suggest that he re-reads it. It was written by a former an aide to Margaret Thatcher, who subsequently became one of her most trusted Cabinet Ministers. It painted a clear vision of Europe that grew out of the vision that the Conservatives had of Europe throughout the 1960s and 1970s. It was a vision that clearly informed their actions over the 18 years that they were in government from 1979.
I commend the document to the right hon. Member for Horsham because, first, it said that we should not be scared about economic union and that we should face the desirable need for political union and not be afraid of monetary union and even military union. Secondly, he should read the document because one of its publishers was his father. He could well be enlightened by its contents. At least it painted a coherent vision of Europe.
After we give the Bill a Second Reading, as I hope that we will, let us start speaking up for Europe. Let those of us who believe in Europe start to proselytise for Europe. Let us start trying to explain to the people of the United Kingdom what it is that we believe that Europe offers.
A theme of the debate is the need to reconnect people with Europe. If we are to achieve that, we must explain to people what Europe has achieved for them. In my constituency, that is relatively easy. We receive European objective 2 funding. I can take people to the road to which Europe contributed, which is a vital part of the economic infrastructure. I can take them to the new university campus that has been built on a business park that was serviced as a result of funding from Europe. I can take them also to the promenade, which similarly was funded by Europe. Two weeks ago, we all enjoyed the United Kingdom power boat grand prix in Ramsgate, which was paid for by Europe. I can show people what Europe is doing for them.
It is not so easy to do so in some constituencies because the benefits of Europe are slightly less tangible. Nevertheless, they are there. Factories have been built in the UK because people want to invest in Europe. There are jobs that exist only because we are in Europe. In the south-east of England, 495,000 jobs are linked directly to trade with Europe. Many tens of thousands of those jobs are in east Kent, the area that includes my constituency.
I can explain to people the security that has come from the peaceful co-existence of nations since the second world war as a result of Europe. Protection comes from human rights legislation, and there is freedom of movement. Those are all benefits that we get from Europe. We should start explaining to people that they are receiving them from Europe. When they understand that, they will understand the benefits of enlargement that are made possible by the treaty. They will understand why we say that enlargement could create 300,000 more jobs across Europe. They will also understand when we say that enlargement will increase the security of Europe.
We can also show people the benefits of common working in the treaty of Union. One of the few issues in the political process that really inspires people is that of the environment. The treaty of Union sets out the need to work together on environmental issues—which are of fundamental importance to us—on drugs, on combating organised crime and on organising asylum better than we do at the moment. All those things come with being members of the European Union and they can all be improved by enlargement. The EU works. We might want it to work better and to be more transparent, and we might want its decision-making process to be more efficient and rational sometimes, but it works.
The treaty makes enlargement possible. As other hon. Members have said, it does not, in itself, bring about enlargement. However, without modernisation we cannot have enlargement. Conservative Members who pointed out that we need modernisation of the Union and its institutions would deny it the means to carry out that modernisation if they denied it this treaty.
Qualified majority voting is an important concept. My right hon. Friend Denzil Davies claimed that there would be a democratic deficit because we are to lose our veto on certain matters, that totalitarianism was about to rule, and that we were in danger of handing over power to minority parties and extremist Governments in other countries. In reality, there are, by my calculations, 237 qualified majority votes under the new structure. That means that a majority would be achieved by 119 votes. The minimum number of nations that would need to vote together to achieve that majority would be five, although only if they were the five biggest nations, which command the support of some 300 million people. That is not a recipe for allowing small nations to dominate the union, or for giving away our democracy. If we were not among those five nations, it would require six nations to outvote us in any such decision.
We must not overlook what happened in Ireland. Clearly, we must respect the view of the Irish people. We have to convince them that changes have been made to facilitate their views and concerns; we cannot ride roughshod over them. However, hon. Members who say that the Union lacks democratic legitimacy should remember that the opinions of only half a million people in that referendum will hold up a treaty that affects the lives of half a billion people. Surely that demonstrates that the Union is taking account of minority views and is focused on their needs and opinions.
The European Union costs only about 1 per cent. of the annual gross domestic product of the member states. For that, we get more jobs, more trade, more security, more protection for our rights, and better controls on the environment, on monopolies, on drug traffickers and on asylum. That is a good bargain. The treaty, if we ratify it, will give us the power to make further improvements to the Union and to carry out the enlargements that we all know are necessary, and will be of benefit to every one of our constituents in the long run.
Many thanks, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me. I am particularly grateful as I lost my maidenhood only some 10 days ago. I apologise in case I miss anyone out, but it has been wonderful to hear excellent maiden speeches from Members representing Boston and Skegness, Guildford, Rayleigh, Greenock and Inverclyde, Argyll and Bute and Fareham. That sounds like the shipping forecast.
I am particularly delighted to have heard the maiden speech of my hon. Friend David Cairns, who has been a personal friend for many years. I hope that further legislation will make it possible for all anti-Catholic parts of the constitution that still remain to be removed. I also welcome the maiden speech of my hon. Friend Andy Burnham, as I have been told by my Whip that he and I will be in adjacent offices from next Monday.
I should tell my hon. Friend that I stole a Tory fan earlier today. There are not many Tory fans these days, but I know that it is a Tory fan because it was in the room that says "Tories" on the door. There were no Tories inside, however, and the fan will be in the office on Monday. I note that we are to share the rooms that were occupied until recently by the former Member for Billericay, Mrs. Teresa Gorman. I doubt whether we can fill the space that she occupied.
I have not had the tuck and I am not fibbing about my age either.
I am delighted to speak in the debate on the treaty of Nice for the simple reason that it relates to substantial issues that are significant to my constituents in the Rhondda. The first is enlargement, which matters, and we sometimes have to remind ourselves why: every time the European Union has gained new members, Britain has gained trade. Look at what happened after Spain and Portugal joined—Britain significantly increased its trade with those countries. When Greece joined, again we significantly increased our trade.
I know that such an increase will be good for businesses in the Rhondda, whether they be newer industries or more traditional firms such as Burberrys, and I am pleased that we are extending the market in which the businesses of the Rhondda can trade. I am also pleased because enlargement will provide us with the opportunity to achieve greater political stability not just in the countries that we hope will join the EU, but across the world. We have a chance to establish long-term peace.
Enlargement will also give many of our constituents the opportunity to share and extend benefits that we have known in our own country when they go abroad for trade or leisure purposes. For example, following Spain's accession to the EU, water quality off beaches around Spain improved significantly. That is of great importance to many of my constituents. For my own part, I suffered from meningitis in Spain several years ago and, unfortunately, had to go to hospital. However, thanks to Spain having acceded to the treaty, I received prompt help from the Spanish health services.
It is good that we are discussing enlargement, but it is also good that we are talking about reform, and the Government are absolutely right to say that the treaty of Nice must involve the two coming together. Again, there are proposals that are of great value to our constituents, above all those on the battle against crime. The treaty gives us a chance to make a better fist of it by providing more opportunities to work together with other member states.
I am pleased that there will be a new system for appointing the President of the Commission, which is far better than either the previous version or the version before that. However, I am slightly nervous about the role that will be played by the European Parliament. It is important that the directly elected Members of the European Parliament have the chance to quiz everybody who is appointed to the Commission.
I am glad that the reforms in the treaty of Nice make it clear that it will be easier for the United Kingdom to get its way. We shall gain not only an increased share of the vote in the Council for the first time ever, but the ability to combine with others to create blocking minorities. We may get together with France and Germany or other members to achieve that and it represents a significant move forward, even for those who say that they are patriots who argue only for the benefit of the United Kingdom.
I am anxious about a few issues that will have to be considered in the future. My first concern is about the workings of the Commission after more members have joined but before we get to EU 27. EU 27 is fine and clear: it is all arranged. We know how many members of the Commission there will be. There may be a lengthy period, however, when there are 25 or 26 members of the EU, and a Commission of 26, 25 or even 24 members will be completely unworkable, and will lead to more problems than we have already.
My second concern is about the retention of the veto in areas of trade. It has been removed from intellectual property, which is right, but it still applies to audio-visual services and cultural services. This issue was pushed by the French, and we need to be careful about how they use the veto in the future, because we should not harm our audio-visual trade opportunities around the world.
I am also concerned about the culture of the Commission. Too many people working in the Commission believe that their role is to meddle in the affairs of others. I am prepared to accept that the European Union will be better if countries work together more, but the Commission should think very hard before it intervenes. In the past, the Commission's Competition Directorate has tried to define the parameters of public service broadcasting, which is the subject about which I know the most. I firmly believe that it is for the member states to decide what is public service broadcasting, and no one else. It may be acceptable in Spain to have bullfighting on Spanish television on a Sunday afternoon paid for out of state funds, but that would not be acceptable in this country, and that is right and proper.
My final concern is about the rotating presidency. It is crazy that offices in both Strasbourg and Brussels are used at an inordinate cost to the European Union. It would be good to look into that in the future, and we should also consider that mechanism to find an efficient way of doing business.
There is a vacuum at the centre of the two Conservative amendments. The Conservatives' argument has always been that we must not surrender sovereignty to anyone else. The two amendments make the point that the Irish have already said that they do not want to go forward, so we cannot go forward. I am sorry, but to my mind that means that we should surrender our sovereignty to Dublin, never mind Brussels or Strasbourg—the Irish have decided, so that is the end of the story. I do not agree. I do not believe that the Irish should decide for us.
Mr. Maude said that if the treaty is not ratified by the United Kingdom, it will not slow up enlargement. By golly, it would. If the United Kingdom did not ratify the treaty, the European Union would be in terrible difficulty and the enlargement process would be delayed by many years. That would be terrible for the United Kingdom, and especially for my constituents in the Rhondda.
I am delighted to contribute briefly to the debate, although I am sorry that I am unable to be in my constituency of Wimbledon with the hundreds of thousands of British tennis fans who are celebrating the outstanding victory of Mr. Tim Henman. We all send our congratulations to him, and wish him well in the semi-final. However, my absence from Wimbledon is more than made up for by my being here as the Labour Member of Parliament for Wimbledon working with the Government and winning so convincingly the argument on Europe—so convincingly in fact that many Conservative Members are no longer present.
In the last Parliament I was a member of the Select Committee on European Scrutiny, whose 17th report, published during the 1999-2000 Session, is one of the relevant documents listed on the Order Paper. During that Session, the Committee conducted, on behalf of the House, an extensive investigation of the intergovernmental conference that led to the Nice treaty, and of the way in which the British Government had conducted themselves during the negotiations. Our conclusions appear in the report.
I want to challenge—I think the report will back up my challenge—the view expressed by many Opposition Members, notably the shadow Foreign Secretary, that the institutional reforms decided at Nice were not a necessary precursor of EU enlargement. Those who study the report—I urge Members to do so, although it seems that the shadow Foreign Secretary has not—will note our recommendation that the scope of the IGC that led to the treaty should be restricted to the practical reforms that we considered necessary to pave the way for enlargement. We did so exactly because we saw those changes as a precondition of enlargement, and we wanted enlargement to take place. We argued, successfully, that the Government should resist pressure from the European Commission and the European Parliament to widen the IGC's scope, in order not to jeopardise the chance of achieving the real, practical reforms that would allow enlargement.
The shadow Foreign Secretary suggested that the EU was pursuing some starry-eyed federalist agenda through the IGC, but if he reads our report he will see that the Government's focus was firmly on the ground beneath our feet, and on the practical steps that were necessary for the widening of EU membership.
Let us remember what constituted those limited but significant changes to the mechanics of the EU decision-making processes. There were changes to the size of the Commission: it was right for us to drop one of our two Commissioners if other countries that would join the EU in future were not to have a Commissioner at all. There were also changes to the weighting of votes. Now that those changes have been accepted, the three largest states, if opposed, can constitute a blocking majority. A further safeguard—an important democratic safeguard—was established, in the form of a supplementary condition that the member states constituting a majority should represent 62 per cent. of the population of the EU.
Those changes may be technical, and they may not be easily understood by those who are not aficionados of the EU and its evolving institutional architecture; but, notwithstanding what we have heard from those on the Opposition Front Bench, they were essential if we were to prepare for a potential membership of 27 rather than the present 15 EU states.
Behind the rather bald statement of Mr. Maude, which flies in the face of the facts—behind the stubborn refusal to acknowledge the reality of what was achieved and decided at Nice—lies a vision of Europe, and Britain's relationship with Europe, that would take the country back half a century or more. I must tell Opposition Members who will oppose ratification tonight that European integration has always been about much more than the creation of a free-trade area or a common market for goods and services, and it is about much more than that today.
The Union of which we are a member has never been devoid of political content; nor does the European marketplace lack a social foundation. Not a single existing member of the European Union would want that to be the case, and certainly no applicant would wish to join the kind of Union that the right hon. Member for Horsham and his hon. Friends wish to create. Nor do I believe that any European member state or applicant state would believe that the EU described by Opposition Members could deliver the sort of practical improvements on which continued public confidence in the EU depends. However, the Conservative party has moved so far to the right on Europe that it has put itself well outside the mainstream of European Christian democracy. It would be difficult to name another party, let alone another Government, in the EU that would agree with the vision of Europe, and of its future, that the Conservative party is trying to put forward.
We know that the vision put forward by the Tories was flatly rejected by the British people on
"At present, the Tories are a truly sad old bunch: a kind of cabinet of horrors, made up of religious fundamentalists, Euro-sceptics, nationalists and people hostile to foreigners . . . Germanophobes are particularly widespread".
The Conservative party must understand that its ideas about Europe and about Britain's relationship with Europe have been rejected not just by the British people. Labour Members and others must take on those ideas and propose a more confident and positive vision of Europe; otherwise, we risk appearing ridiculous in the eyes of European public opinion and of those European partner nations that we want to influence and with which we want to co-operate.
However, the Tory election manifesto boasted:
"The next Conservative Government will secure our independence and use Britain's great strength to help create a flexible European Union"— as if a Conservative Government were going to twist the arms of 14 other European nations and take them in a direction that none of them wanted to go.
How were the Tories going to do that? They would do it be refusing to ratify the treaty of Nice. The manifesto stated:
"We will not ratify the treaty of Nice, but will renegotiate it so that Britain does not lose its veto"— a veto that Britain had already lost as a result of the Maastricht treaty and other treaties to which the previous Conservative Government had signed up.
The right hon. Member for Horsham is not in his seat. However, although it is all very well for him to say that globalisation requires co-operation but not integration, it is not acceptable then to argue that Britain should fail to co-operate when the means for such co-operation exist. The right hon. Gentleman said that he wanted an EU that is stable, prosperous, outward-looking and democratic. He should therefore support the ratification of the treaty of Nice.
The right hon. Member for Horsham said that the French referendum on Maastricht nearly plunged Europe into chaos, but he wants to plunge the EU into chaos by refusing to ratify the treaty of Nice tonight. He should remember that the near-failure of the French to ratify the treaty of Maastricht also catapulted Britain out of the European monetary system.
The Tory party must learn the lessons of the election on Europe. It is fantasy to believe that we can reverse 50 years of European development. It is not credible to claim that we can influence the future of Europe by carping from the sidelines. Before they vote to oppose ratification of the treaty of Nice tonight, Tory Members must take a moment to reflect on the fact that the Nice treaty is a limited treaty that makes the practical reforms necessary for enlargement. To oppose the treaty of Nice would give the impression that the Opposition want little more than to see the EU paralysed by lack of reform, or to block this historic opportunity to unite the two halves of Europe—
I, too, am delighted to have this opportunity to speak in the debate. In 1979, I was a student in Strasbourg for a year. My newly directly-elected MEP came to the city for the first time while I was there. It was summer, and my grant being somewhat non-existent, I was pleased to have the opportunity to meet him. That MEP is now my right hon. Friend Mr. Caborn and the Minister for Sport, and he made sure that I had two good meals that day. That evening, we went to a restaurant and met some Danish MEPs. I am sure that my hon. Friend will not mind my telling this story now—I have never told it before—but some anti-European British MEPs were meeting their Danish counterparts to discuss how they might pull out of Europe.
The views of many Labours Members have changed—not all of them, as we have heard today—and one reason for that is that Europe has gone further in what it does. At that time, Labour party members thought that the Common Market was purely for trading purposes. It was viewed as another way for capitalism to grow bigger and bigger, without doing much good for the workers. More than 20 years on, I am pleased to say that the situation is completely different. We now see a recognition by Labour party members of the significance of globalisation and the importance of European and worldwide markets. We also have a Europe with a social conscience, which is concerned about the environment and which can be of benefit to ordinary people.
The approach taken by the Conservatives is disappointing but predictable. Last weekend, as one of my first duties as a new Member of Parliament, I was invited to a conference on town twinning in Sheffield. It was organised to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the first visit of some young people from Sheffield's twin town, Bochum in the Ruhr valley. The origin of that link is similar to the origin of the development of what is now the European Union and has its roots in the fundamental desire for peace that followed the second world war. Town twinning was seen as a way for ordinary people to get to know each other, so that we would never again experience the horrors of that war.
Three politicians attended the conference—I, Mr. Allan for the Liberal Democrats, and a local Conservative who had been a lord mayor. The Conservative spoke of how important the link between the towns had been and how it had brought alive for members of his group the things we have in common as Europeans. He talked of taking a busload of members from Sheffield council over to Bochum. Unfortunately for the Conservatives, the trip would now need only a moped, because there is only one Conservative councillor left on Sheffield city council.
Sheffield has also developed other links, especially with Donetsk in the Ukraine, which has also developed a link with Bochum. It is interesting to note that Bochum and Donetsk have developed trading links. It perhaps says something about Britain that we have not used those strong links to develop ways to trade better together. Time and again, our reluctance fully to participate and engage in Europe holds us back. When I talk to friends from Germany and France, they are often puzzled by our seeming half-heartedness. If we want to be a strong voice in Europe, we must stop that nonsense. We will only be seen as a nation that can influence what goes on if we are properly committed to the process.
The benefits of the European Union appear to me to be threefold—stability, security and economic prosperity. Importantly, the economic prosperity is achieved in a socially responsible way. The Nice treaty offers us a process for enlargement, and I welcome that.
Economic prosperity is important. I am staying with my sister while I am in London, and this morning we were discussing what I would be doing today, and I said that I was hoping to speak in this debate. We were looking at the list of applicant countries, and she made an important point. She works for a small specialist software company which exports its product throughout the world. She said that, because the product is so specialised—not unusual in computer technology these days—we need those markets. If companies are to survive and be at the cutting edge in Britain, they need to know that they can export to those markets. She looked down the list of applicants and it was surprising how many countries she had already visited on business. Other companies in the same position will also see this as a positive step.
For me, developing the European Union further promotes the security and stability that the people of my parents' generation saw as so important to the future of the whole of Europe. Enlargement is in our interests; the principles that brought together a smaller number of countries must hold true now.
The prospect of enlargement has already made a difference to political stability and international security in central and eastern Europe. We do not have to look very far to see some of the horrors that have taken place. People of my generation believed that we would never see such horrors again, but unfortunately we have. The European Union is fundamental to ensuring stability and is an important way forward for us and for those countries. If countries that border the EU suffer from poverty or division, we cannot all enjoy the security and stability that we want for ourselves and our families. We know that, without that prospect, neighbouring countries have suffered from instability and war, at great human and financial cost.
I want the treaty to be ratified. Yes, there are many small things to discuss, but overall, this must be the way forward. My hon. Friends the Members for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant) and for Wimbledon (Mr. Casale) made it clear how difficult things would be in the European Union if we did not ratify the treaty. I see it as very important; I want us to sign up to it wholeheartedly. It is time we stopped dithering, because that is how it appears to our European neighbours. Let us get on with it and be the strong voice in Europe that we are in a position to offer.
In his absentia, may I warmly congratulate the Foreign Secretary on his appointment and welcome the new Ministers to the Front Bench, most particularly the Minister for Europe, Peter Hain? Double congratulations are due.
This has been a tremendous parliamentary debate. We have heard some outstanding speeches on both sides of the House from all the various viewpoints. What has come through above all is an underlying concern and anxiety, genuinely expressed, about the future of the European Union and the disconnection that is taking place between the peoples of Europe and the structures and institutions of the European Union. Those points were powerfully made by my hon. Friends the Members for Stone (Mr. Cash) and for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow).
Among the excellent speeches were some memorable maiden speeches. I congratulate in particular Sue Doughty, who spoke warmly of her constituency and its many activities, including ice hockey, new businesses and cultural activities. I also wish to express my appreciation of the very kind comments she made about my friend Nick St. Aubyn. I hope that she will make many more such competent contributions to debates in the House in her parliamentary career.
I should also like to congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Francois who, in a parliamentary sense, is truly to the manner born. As a parliamentary speaker, he already shows remarkable force and ability. He said that his constituency is not particularly beautiful, but he said so with great good humour and affection. We will all agree that his tributes to Dr. Michael Clark, who was a senior and respected parliamentarian, were extremely appropriate. I know that my hon. Friend will make excellent speeches in the House in the future.
David Cairns paid warm tribute to his predecessors. He talked about the history of his constituency and its fine maritime traditions, and said that it is moving towards modern industries such as updated electronics industries. He was very witty, and he has staked his claim to a position in history. He is a former cleric who has taken his place in the House, but he has yet to see as much as some of us of the vicar of St. Albion—a well known figure who is far less likely than the hon. Gentleman to appear frequently in the House. I congratulate him on his excellent speech and look forward to hearing frequent contributions from him in future.
My hon. Friend Mr. Hoban made generous remarks about a highly intelligent and independent former parliamentary colleague, Sir Peter Lloyd. He talked with warmth and affection about his constituency, mentioned its naval history and said that new business is being attracted to the area. I took particular note of his reference to the pressure on housing in the south of England, which is a tremendous problem that we must deal with as the population tilts ever southward. I know from listening to him today that he will make an outstanding contribution to Parliament through his speeches in this Chamber.
Mr. Reid spoke with warmth about Ray Michie, who was an impressive constituency representative. He made his constituency sound extremely attractive, and all who have visited it will know that that is the case. It is certainly one of the most beautiful parts of the British Isles, and he made it seem so tempting that he might just get a rash of visits from parliamentarians in the next few years. Apart from the stunningly beautiful aspects of his constituency, he also talked about worries that many of us share about rural Britain. I feel sure that he will be an eloquent spokesman for his constituency in his time in Parliament.
My hon. Friend Mr. Simmonds paid tribute to Sir Richard Body, who was a great parliamentary individualist and a very assiduous constituency MP. My hon. Friend was right to bring powerfully to our attention the terrible problems currently experienced by British agriculture. Of course, Lincolnshire is a great farming county—one of the greatest in England. He talked about the welcome diversification in his constituency by small businesses and the tourist industry. Boston and Skegness has a fine representative in the House, and certainly a powerful orator.
Finally, I should like to pay tribute to Andy Burnham. Unfortunately, I was not present to hear him, but my hon. Friend Mrs. Gillan tells me that it was a fine speech. He talked about his predecessor, Lawrence Cunliffe, a long-standing parliamentarian. He discussed his worries about the manufacturing industry, which I think we all share. Of course, many parts of manufacturing are in recession. He spoke of the need to revitalise his constituency, of the Beeching cuts and of the coal mine closures of the past. His was a fine maiden speech and I wish him well in his career.
The salutary effect of the Irish referendum was to make all of us stop and think about the future of the European Union, its democratic underpinnings and enlargement. Nice simply failed to address some of the most vital questions that the European Union faces, thereby making enlargement more difficult and adding to the increasing disconnection between the European Union's institutions and the citizens of its member states. Many hon. Members have made that point today, and we have repeatedly warned that that is precisely what would happen.
The previous Foreign Secretary frequently told the House that Nice was essential for enlargement to proceed. He tried to tell us that, in not supporting Nice, we could not support enlargement. That was simply incorrect. My right hon. Friend Mr. Maude accurately warned that, in practice, Nice would actually slow down enlargement.
I shall deal with the matter straight away. Conservative Members believe that enlargement is right both economically and politically, but it is a moral issue too. In government, we Conservatives played our part in fighting the totalitarianism that blighted the lives of millions of our fellow Europeans. We must now embrace them to help to secure their democratic status and prosperity—it is as simple as that. We will take no lessons on that score from any Labour politician.
Both the Foreign Secretary and the Commission President have indicated that enlargement could go ahead without the Nice treaty, so let us consider all the extraneous baggage surrounding Nice which we believe to be so unnecessary. My right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham and other hon. Members spoke about the implications of the move to increase qualified majority voting. That point was ably and directly taken up by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Howard.
None of that baggage is essential for enlargement, and we see, throughout Europe, people's growing alienation from EU institutions and structures; but has there been even one example of powers being returned to national Governments to deal with that problem? Did our Government argue for the return of such powers? By contrast, we would have drawn a clear line to begin the process of reversing the remorseless centralisation and harmonisation, which is crucial if the EU is to connect with its people again. That is why we want to give the British people a voice in this matter.
Outside the treaty, but endorsed at Nice, is the charter of fundamental rights, described idiotically by the former Minister for Europe as being on a par with the Beano. That is not the view of learned counsel. The charter is being held up as the basis for a future written EU constitution, and even if that does not come about, the Commission has stated:
"It can reasonably be expected that the Charter will become mandatory through the Court's interpretation of it as belonging to the general principles of Community law".
Our long traditions of evolving case law and of the clear divide between the judiciary and the legislature will be undermined by the charter and the inevitable growth of judge-led law in this country.
Does my hon. Friend accept that the charter gives rise to a substantial problem? It is effectively a blank cheque for enormously increased taxation on the people of Europe, because the provisions of the social agenda, which are entrenched by the charter, will be enforced by the judicial activism of the court.
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the various dangers of the charter. If it is to serve as the basis of a written European constitution, the implications are very serious for a country such as ours, which has no written constitution.
The foundation of the European rapid reaction force had little to do with the ability of Europeans to carry out important defence-related roles, and everything to do with the process of political integration in the EU. We want, and have always argued for, enhanced pan-European defence co-operation; the Americans want greater burden sharing. The EU plays this game with the future of NATO at our peril. It will test the one organisation that has secured peace and stability in Europe for over 50 years. At Nice, we saw measures to allow European-level political parties to be funded, and for the EU to involve itself in individual countries' affairs merely on the basis of speculation about what may happen in future.
Setting aside enlargement, however important, what are the great issues facing the EU, and are the Government dealing with them? Did they highlight them at Nice? There can be little controversy about the projected demographic trends of the EU over the next 40 years, with declining birth rates. Can our welfare structures survive in the face of that? How do we generate the wealth to sustain an ever-growing ageing population?
The Prime Minister sought to address that at Lisbon; it was heady stuff. We heard much about benchmarking, the knowledge-based economy and the information society. Harold Wilson would have loved it; white heat had nothing on that Lisbon speech. Afterwards, the Prime Minister said:
"The Council marks a sea change in European economic thinking. It points Europe in a new direction—away from heavy-handed intervention and regulation, towards a new approach based on enterprise, innovation and competition."—[Hansard, 27 March 2000; Vol. 347, c. 21.]
A week later, Lionel Jospin rejected that change outright, reaffirming the European social model. We were told that change was a prerequisite for Europe's economic success, but the Prime Minister's speech was viewed by many as vacuous techno-babble, and was cast into the out-tray at Stockholm a year later. So much for the Prime Minister's influence in Europe.
At Nice, the outline for the 2004 IGC was set, mainly in response to European peoples' increasing disillusion with the EU. What have the Government done to address that democratic deficit? Last October, the Prime Minister made a speech in Warsaw about trying to achieve democratic accountability; at the heart of it was a proposal for a second chamber. It almost defies belief that that is the UK's main and substantial contribution to the comprehensive and lively debate about the future of the EU. Perhaps the Prime Minister was inspired by the fabled and huge success of his reform of the House of Lords. That is almost incredible, as he himself told us last week in the Chamber that he wanted no rival second Chamber to the Commons. He wants, however, to foist such a body on Europe; that is monumental irrelevance, and must be set against the genuine need for enhanced powers for national parliaments themselves.
Again at Nice, it was agreed that there should be work towards involving Europe's citizens in the European project. What have the Government done about that in Britain? We have had the taxpayer-funded "Your Britain, Your Europe" campaign, the most visible manifestation of which was the former Minister for Europe travelling around the country in a bus, visiting our towns and cities. One simply could not have written the script; the enterprise was farcical and embarrassing. On those bus trips, Mr. Vaz distributed items of literature paid for by the taxpayer. They included "Your Britain, Your Europe: Want to Know More?" which, under the heading, "The Treaty of Nice Explained", poses the question:
"But I thought it was about creating a superstate?"
"Not at all. That was just another EU myth."
Then we get two wonderful new Labour Aunt Sallies. The document states:
"There is nothing in the Treaty about a European police force or an elected European President. And there was never going to be. Nice was about preparing for enlargement, pure and simple."
What a load of inaccurate and patronising drivel! Will the Foreign Secretary reconsider the campaign and its challenge to the intelligence of the British people? I urge him to end it forthwith.
Nice was a failed opportunity. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham indicated, there can be no enlargement without reform of the common agricultural policy. This afternoon, there was an astonishing intervention by Dr. Starkey, who signed the Foreign Affairs Committee report on Nice but was not familiar with its contents. No applicant country has closed the agriculture chapter.
If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the Berlin summit did anything radical about the funding of the common agricultural policy, he is completely ignorant of the actual situation.
The Prime Minister ducks and weaves whenever the matter of agriculture is raised. I truly hope that the Foreign Secretary will grasp the nettle and try to find a way forward with our European partners, which will both save the EU from bankruptcy and protect the larger-scale farms in this country.
Leading to the IGC from Nice, there is a lively and serious debate about the future of an enlarged EU. Every major European leader has presented a vision of what it should be. Only one sits on the sidelines, parroting "constructive engagement", but failing to come up with clear parameters and policies for the future. Sadly, that is the United Kingdom under Labour.
There is a terrible danger that the EU will become ossified in a time warp of thinking that was appropriate to the 1950s and 1960s. The idea that a "one size fits all" policy, based on a social agenda that is totally out of place in the globalised network that we inhabit, can possibly succeed defies all common sense.
We on the Conservative Benches want an enlarged EU that will meet the problem of alienation and disconnection and the demographic challenges of enlargement and of a globally competitive marketplace. Just as we were right about Nice, by contrast with a Government whose thinking is now frozen in time, we are now looking to the future. Our view is of a modern, outward-looking and democratically supported EU which Britain can help to shape.
By contrast, at Nice, yet another opportunity—[Interruption.] Labour Members do not like to hear this because they know that they have lost the argument. They know that their attitudes towards the EU are totally inappropriate in a modern world and an enlarged Community. At Nice, that was manifest.
The Government failed at Nice to raise all the crucial and important issues relevant to the survival and prosperity of the EU. We want a European Community that will be prosperous and outward-going. All that was passed up at Nice by this Government, whose thinking is outmoded and irrelevant to the real needs of the people of Europe, and of the people of Britain in particular.
I begin by thanking Mr. Spring for graciously welcoming me to my post. He gave a very accomplished response to the debate. I am glad that he is improving his education by reading excellent Foreign Office leaflets. I hope that he continues to do so.
This has been an extremely thoughtful debate on Europe. Indeed, it has probably been the highest quality debate that I have heard since becoming a Member 10 years ago. It has been unrecognisable compared with the general tone of such debates in this House over that period. What has distinguished it for me has been the fact that there have been five times as many Labour speakers as Conservative contributors—and the debate has been five times the better for it.
It is invidious to select a number of the best speeches, but perhaps I could refer to my hon. Friend Ms Stuart and my right hon. Friend Mr. Mandelson, who both spoke very interestingly. Their speeches will repay reading in the context of the future reform programme of the EU leading up to the intergovernmental conference in 2004. My hon. Friends the Members for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) and for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) made extremely interesting speeches, too.
We heard excellent maiden speeches to which I want to pay fulsome tribute. Sue Doughty made her constituency sound almost as attractive as Neath. I very much welcomed her victory when I saw it come up on the television screen on the night, although Nick St. Aubyn was a very valued Member of the House. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] Wait for it—he might come back to the House to replace some of the less valued hon. Members whom I see staring at me.
We heard a very good speech from Mr. Reid, another Liberal replacement in the House. Listening to the tour of his constituency, I was reminded of all the malt whiskies from that part of Scotland which are so excellent to taste. He replaced a Liberal stalwart, Ray Michie, who was held in great affection in the House.
The hon. Members for Boston and Skegness (Mr. Simmonds) and for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) paid fine tributes to their predecessors. Along with Mr. Francois, they showed remarkable confidence in their maiden speeches and will no doubt prove formidable adversaries for the Government in years to come.
Another who showed remarkable confidence was my hon. Friend David Cairns, who brought an excellent touch of pulpit oratory to the House, and in doing so paid a well-received tribute to his predecessor, Norman Godman, who was an excellent and diligent member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. My hon. Friend spoke about the importance of companies in a constituency such as his being able to export to Europe. He argued convincingly that there were enormous benefits from enlargement for constituencies such as his and the companies in them, deriving from the extra trade and opportunity that would come from up to 200 million more people coming into the European Union. That is one of the aspects of the Nice treaty that we commend to the House.
My hon. Friend Andy Burnham made an eloquent maiden speech, especially about the industrial tradition which is at the root of his constituency and from which his predecessor, Lawrence Cunliffe, sprang. He was a valued Member and is much missed on the Labour Benches.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh has a dispute with my boss, the Foreign Secretary, about where the spinning ferry was invented—[Hon. Members: "Spinning jenny."] I am sorry; I was thinking of Argyll and Bute for a moment. I am sure that the dispute will be resolved peacefully outside the Chamber.
Mr. Thomas has made a valuable contribution during his time in the House, especially on renewable energy matters, for which we had a common enthusiasm when I was in my previous Government post. However, he is hopelessly confused in his desire for nationalism—independence for Wales and Scotland—in a united Europe. He does not want a united Europe where nations of Britain such as Scotland and Wales can become prominent regions with a serious voice in Europe, for which the existing arrangements provide. He wants to fragment Europe into little nationalistic enclaves, which would defeat the purpose of enlargement and be parochial and dangerous.
My right hon. Friend Donald Anderson spoke with his usual authority, derived from years of experience and expertise in foreign affairs. We enjoyed his speech.
I always enjoy the speeches of Mr. Bercow even though I never agree with him. It is interesting that he omitted to repeat the words that he used in 1998, which go to the heart of Conservative opposition to the treaty and their flawed position on Europe. The hon. Gentleman stated in 1998:
"We should seek a renegotiation of our relationship with the EU. That renegotiation should start from the premise that we will stay in the EU if we can strike a deal that is in our interests and pull out if we cannot."
That is the hidden agenda of the Conservative position—at least, the Conservative position that the hon. Gentleman advocates and which was put forward in the last general election and roundly defeated
The Minister should know that the run-up to every treaty represents a renegotiation. But let the Minister now answer the question that was ducked by the Foreign Secretary. Following the passage of the protocol on subsidiarity and proportionality in the Amsterdam treaty, can the Minister identify one directive or regulation that was repealed in consequence?
My right hon. Friend answered that question very directly. The difference between this Government negotiating a new treaty or an amendment to an existing one is that we go in to try to obtain the best deal for Britain, not with an excuse to try to pull out, which is what the Conservative position amounts to.
When I considered the absence from the debate and from the Chamber for most of the past few days of those rather embittered serried ranks of Conservative Eurosceptics, I wondered what they had been up to. What they had been up to was canvassing for the different candidates for the coming leadership of the Tory party.
I have a revealing quote from the distinguished political commentator, Peter Oborne. He referred to his conversations with Conservative Members when they come back from consulting their constituents on the leadership election. He said:
"I have been party to these conversations and they have something of the flavour of the exchanges that must have gone on at the Royal Society between Victorian explorers just back from the African interior. They tell each other of horrible customs, quaint beliefs and a strange, primitive mindset entirely alien to modern, sophisticated, metropolitan man."
We have also had a revealing set of confusions in the different statements on Europe and on the Nice treaty from the leadership candidates. I have been indulging in an exercise in political masochism in reading their statements.
Mr. Clarke, a well-known advocate of entry to the single currency and a supporter of the Nice treaty, said:
"Our official policy at the general election was . . . difficult to reconcile with Britain's continued membership of the European Union. When I am leader, these will not be the official policies of the party."
Mr. Portillo said that he would be "friendly" to pro-Euro Tories on the Conservative Benches. That is a welcome change.
Mr. Ancram did not say much about Europe in his statement, but he did say that he had
"much to learn from Tory MEPs", which is comforting.
Mr. Duncan Smith, another Conservative leadership candidate, interestingly said that, during the debate on the euro, and indeed during any possible referendum campaign, he would "temporarily stand down" all those pro-Euro Tories in leading positions.
There we have it. Iain would put Ken in the sin bin, David would not be obsessed with him being there, Spanish Michael would be friendly, and noble Michael had much to learn from him—and Ken actually wants to lead that lot. Instead of 14 pints a day, he would need 20 pints a day to keep sane.
In a minute.
The hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green made an extraordinary statement yesterday, and it was backed by Mr. Cash, who spoke with his usual force tonight. I recognise his principled commitment on the European question. We have often debated it together and sometimes we have been on the same side of the argument in the past, but on different sides of the Chamber.
The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green want a referendum now, but even the most fervently pro-euro person knows that it is not in Britain's interests to rush into the euro now. The hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green, a potential leader of the Conservative party, wants a referendum when nobody wants to go in. What if he lost such a referendum? He would be catapulted into the single currency, whether or not he liked it and whether or not it was in Britain's interests—and it would not be. It may be in the Conservative party's interests to call for a referendum now, but it is not in the country's interests. The Tories want to use the electorate to solve a problem for them, which is a cynical and fraudulent use of the referendum issue.
I have discussed European matters with the Minister many times, including in Papua New Guinea, where we agreed on a considerable number of issues. There is one thing on which I think all the Conservative leadership candidates, with perhaps one exception, would agree. As Disraeli said, the Tory party is a national party or it is nothing. That is not to say that it is nationalistic, but it is patriotic, unlike the Government.
I spent a happy couple of days head hunting in Papua New Guinea with the hon. Gentleman, who looked very striking in his swimming suit.
The Conservative position on the Nice treaty, as annunciated by both Front-Bench speakers, is essentially politically dishonest. They say they want enlargement, but they deny us the vehicle for achieving it and making it possible. If they got their way on Nice, Britain would lose the increased share of votes in European decision making that we secured—a point made by my hon. Friend Mr. Hendrick. We would also block the much-needed European modernisation that is necessary to speed up decisions and to increase efficiency, as my hon. Friend Dr. Ladyman pointed out. Furthermore, we would lose the enormous opportunities for increased prosperity and jobs that will be provided when 200 million extra people join the single trading market, free of border tariffs and controls.
As my hon. Friend Mr. Bryant said in an excellent contribution, the British share of trade has increased and British companies have done more business as every new country has joined the European Union. That will continue to happen through enlargement. If the Tories got their way on blocking the Nice treaty, we would insult our friends and allies, including the Cypriots, Maltese, Czechs, Lithuanians, Poles and others, many of whom my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have been meeting in recent weeks and days. They desperately hope to join and want us to sign up to Neath—[Hon. Members: "Neath?"] I would like us to sign up to Neath as well.
If the Tories got their way, they would deny Britain the increased stability and security that will be created when more countries are absorbed under the banner of European democracy and peace—a point made by my hon. Friend Ms Munn. They made the last election a referendum on Europe, to use their leader's words, and they lost it. As my hon. Friend Roger Casale said, they are stuck in the past. Labour is part of the future, driving forward economic and political reform in Europe to make Britain more prosperous and secure and to make Europe more economically competitive, just, democratically accountable and peaceful.
As the Minister knows, the Opposition amendment seeks a referendum on the Nice treaty. Has he been able to identify an essential constitutional component in the treaty that would justify a referendum, but which was absent from the Maastricht treaty? The previous Conservative Government did not think that that treaty required a referendum of the people of the United Kingdom.
I was coming to that point, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman made very well in his speech. For all the treaty's importance in respect of enlargement, it is far less important and momentous—to use his words—than the Maastricht treaty. The Conservatives denied people the opportunity for a referendum on the Maastricht treaty, yet they want one on a treaty that is far less complicated and momentous. They employ double standards, but we have got used to that. I am sorry that my hon. Friend Mr. Simpson, whom I greatly respect, joined the Conservatives in requesting a referendum on Nice.
It is important to take heed of the point made by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife and my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda that if we delay ratification, we delay the whole programme of enlargement. In that case, the goals of 2004 could not be achieved and many countries would be denied the opportunities and security which they crave and which we are trying to provide.
My right hon. Friend Denzil Davies, who always makes eloquent and expert speeches on Europe, made several points about qualified majority voting. It is important to answer them in detail. We shall agree to QMV when it is in Britain's interests; when it is not, we shall not agree to it. It is as simple as that. The Opposition agreed to move from unanimity to QMV, and they gave away the veto, as they call it, in the Single European Act 1985, to which Margaret Thatcher signed up, and in the Maastricht treaty, which John Major signed, on some fundamental articles. They include all general single market legislation and almost all the environment provisions. Good. I supported that. It has clearly been in Britain's interest to facilitate cleaning up the environment and implementing the single market.
We do not therefore oppose QMV in principle. Now that we have established that, Conservative Members should explain why they oppose QMV on such measures in the Nice treaty as appointments of common foreign and security policy special representatives. Unanimity could clearly delay important work, such as that done by envoys, or allow one member state to hold out against the best candidate for the job. Why do the Conservatives oppose QMV for the salary and pension of the registrar of the Court of First Instance? What is so earth-shattering for our national interest that a British veto is required for that?
Why do Conservative Members oppose QMV for the rules of procedure of the European Court of Justice? In that case, QMV would facilitate introducing changes to improve efficiency so that justice will no longer be delayed or denied to British companies that seek redress. Those questions are important and Conservative Members need to answer them.
At Nice, we agreed to extend QMV when it would have genuine benefits for Britain's interests and increase the efficiency of European Union institutions. We said that we would not agree to QMV on tax, social security and the European Union's budget. As before, we would insist on Britain's agreement before any EU action was taken on those issues. Qualified majority voting has delivered for Britain. When more QMV would deliver for Britain, we backed it at Nice; when it would not deliver, we opposed it.
I support the Minister's position on QMV. However, I want to ask about giving constitutional regions and nations the right to direct access to the European Court of Justice. The UK delegation blocked that in December, yet, only a month ago, the Scottish Executive, led by the Labour party, signed a declaration describing such access as vital. The Belgian Government have tabled the measure again. Will the Government support the Scottish Executive?
We shall consider any representations from the Scottish Executive. However, we are currently considering the union of nation states. For those purposes, Scotland and Wales are part of the United Kingdom and are represented in that context.
Let me answer the question of Mr. Howard about the common agricultural policy. He said that the treaty ignored it, but he and the Conservative party did not pursue an energetic programme of CAP reform in their 18 years in office. They got nowhere. We are reforming the CAP; the Prime Minister secured an important package of reforms at the Berlin Council in 1999, when it was decided to cut CAP spending in real terms by next year. That will deliver a net economic benefit to European Union consumers and taxpayers of 7.5 billion euro by 2006. However, we need go further towards comprehensive reform of the CAP. My hon. Friend Mr. Henderson, one of my predecessors and a good Minister for Europe, made a good speech in which he said that Nice was not about CAP reform but about treaty change: it was about making the necessary institutional changes for the EU to welcome new members. We do not need treaty change to reform the CAP. We are already doing that.
The use of QMV in article 100 does not undermine the no-bail-out rule set out in article 103. Article 103 makes it clear that there will be no bailing out of member states, whether of Britain or of any other state. That applies as much to pension liabilities as it does to Government liabilities. That is the answer to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's question. If he wants me to write to him in more detail, I shall be happy to do so.
My right hon. Friend Joyce Quin is one of my distinguished predecessors. I take much to heart the importance that she attaches to taking the message to the regions of Britain. With 3.5 million jobs being retained and advanced through EU membership, the benefits of EU membership are felt in the regions and nations of Britain.
An historic move is contained in the Nice treaty—to enlarge Europe, to reunite Europe and to bring together all the nations that were divided from western Europe by either the second world war or the cold war.
Enlargement represents an historic opportunity to end the cold war division of Europe and to reunite our continent. Bringing in the countries of central and eastern Europe will consolidate democracy and consolidate good governance, the rule of law and respect for human rights and minority rights. It will contribute to peace in Europe, because EU member states settle their differences through discussion, not confrontation. A larger European Union will be a stronger and safer Europe. Crime, terrorism, drugs and pollution can be addressed only through joint action across the continent.
Without enlargement, western Europe would always face the threat of instability, conflicts and mass migration on its borders. Enlargement will make new and existing member states richer, bringing long-term prosperity and employment. Accession of the central Europeans will create the largest single market in the world, with nearly 500 million people, opening new opportunities for British companies. Independent research suggests that the accession of the seven largest central European candidates could increase British gross domestic product by £1.75 billion.
Nice is necessary for enlargement, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon said. The enlarged EU that we want cannot work effectively without the changes that the Nice treaty makes to the EU's institutions and procedures. That is why all the member states, including Ireland, have agreed that the ratification of the Nice treaty should proceed to the agreed timetable, so that the EU can be ready by the end of 2002 to begin to welcome new members.
It would theoretically be possible to admit new member states on the basis of the existing EU treaties, a point made in argument against the Government during the debate. However, that is not practical or politically possible. The present treaties do not include the institutional changes that are required for an enlarged EU to work. Member states are clear that the changes that Nice makes are necessary for the accession of new member states.
As we said all along, Nice is necessary for enlargement. Nice in that context is indeed nice. Nice is not only necessary for enlargement, but it is desirable. With Nice, we won a good deal for Britain. The treaty increases the relative weight of Britain's vote in the Council of Ministers for the first time. That is why I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The House proceeded to a Division.