I remind the Committee that we are discussing the following: Amendment: No. 41, in page 1, line 9, after "(i)", insert—
'Article 1 (other than paragraph 2),'.
Amendment No. 42, in page 1, line 9, after "(i)", insert—
'Article 1 (other than paragraph 3),'.
Amendment No. 43, in page 1, line 9, after "(i)", insert—
'Article 1 (other than paragraph 4),'.
Amendment No. 44, in page 1, line 9, after "(i)", insert—
'Article 1 (other than paragraph 5),'.
Amendment No. 45, in page 1, line 9, after "(i)", insert—
'Article 1 (other than paragraph 6),'.
Amendment No. 46, in page 1, line 9, after "(i)", insert—
'Article 1 (other than paragraph 7),'.
Amendment No. 47, in page 1, line 9, after "(i)", insert—
'Article 1 (other than paragraph 8),'.
Amendment No. 48, in page 1, line 9, after "(i)", insert—
'Article 1 (other than paragraph 9),'.
Amendment No. 53, in page 1, line 9, after "(i)", insert—
'Article 1 (other than paragraph 15),'.
Amendment No. 78, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 2, paragraph 47'.
Amendment No. 29, in page 1, line 12, after "occasion", insert—
'except for Article 3, paragraph 1(b) of the Protocol on the Enlargement of the European Union in so far as that relates to the appointment of a special representative in the area of common foreign and security policy'.
New clause 1—Special representative in the area of common foreign and security policy—
'In relation to Article 1, paragraph 3 of the Treaty of Nice, amending Article 23(2) TEU, prior to a vote in the Council on the appointment of a special representative in the area of common foreign and security policy, Her Majesty's Government shall lay a report before Parliament setting out its preferred candidate for the post and shall lay a further report after the Council meeting if that candidate has not been adopted.'.
New clause 2—International agreements under Article 24 TEU—
'In relation to Article 1, paragraph 4 of the Treaty of Nice, amending Article 24 TEU, prior to casting a vote in the Council on any such international agreement, Her Majesty's Government shall lay before Parliament a report setting out the implications for the United Kingdom of such an agreement.'.
'This Act will not come into effect until Her Majesty's Government has laid before Parliament a report showing the implications for the Western European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, for the future functioning of these organisations, and for the United Kingdom's role therein, of Article 1, paragraph 2 of the Nice Treaty, revising Article 17 TEU, and Article 1, paragraph 5 of the Nice Treaty, revising Article 25 TEU.'.
New clause 8—Adoption of decisions under Article 17, paragraph 1, TEU—
'For the purpose of Article 17, paragraph 1 of the Treaty on European Union, as amended by Article 1, paragraph 2 of the Treaty of Nice, the constitutional requirement of the United Kingdom before any decision under that paragraph (common defence) may be adopted by the United Kingdom shall be that the decision shall have been approved by an Act of Parliament.'.
New clause 33—Eurojust—
'This Act shall not come into force until Her Majesty's Government has obtained, and laid before Parliament, legal advice from the Attorney General on the effect on the criminal and judicial processes in the United Kingdom of Article 1, paragraph 8 of the Nice Treaty, revising Article 31 TEU, as they relate to the provisions on Eurojust.'.
As usual, I declare an interest as mentioned in the Register of Members' Interests.
At the end the previous debate, I was speaking about the role of Mr. Solana and I said that before he was appointed, he campaigned against NATO for about seven years. I have to say that that did not fill me with a great deal of encouragement.
Article 23 of the treaty on European Union refers to the appointment of common foreign and security policy special representatives and provides for the extension of qualified majority voting when appointing a special representative, currently the said Javier Solana—who, by some pretty skilful manipulation, jumped from being Secretary-General of NATO to being in charge of the CFSP as the special representative, and has extraordinarily significant powers. I hope that his performance improves on the basis that I have just described. The same extension of qualified majority voting also applies when appointing a deputy. In my judgment, that will further reduce the accountability of the reaction force and reinforce its autonomy.
Article 24 raises a number of problems in relation to international agreements in the CFSP and the JHA—Justice and Home Affairs Committee—with qualified majority voting. In my judgment, the article is phrased in a most unsatisfactory fashion and, probably on purpose, retains veto powers, as I have explained, but not in respect of certain other articles which raise a number of questions that I shall not deal with now, but refer to the Minister in my written submissions to him. Perhaps he will deal with them in writing.
In October 1998, during an informal summit at Poertschach in Austria, the Prime Minister launched the ESDI in a speech of which no transcript is publicly available. No such policy was even hinted at in the strategic defence review published just three months earlier. Indeed, leaked Cabinet papers show that Ministers opposed the plan in 1997. There has been a massive U-turn. The Prime Minister decided at the Helsinki summit to forge ahead in defence by establishing what was then to be a 65,000-strong European defence corps. Apparently, it has now been trimmed to 60,000, as I shall point out in a moment.
Of course, the Prime Minister denied the obvious fact that we have created a European army. As I said in the previous sitting, that army is to be autonomous and subject to majority voting. It will have an international remit, rather than a merely European one. I asked the Prime Minister when he returned from the Helsinki summit what else the words "autonomous" and "international" meant, as used in the presidency conclusions that he signed.
Indeed, and that shows how ambiguous and deceitful the arrangement is. What its inspiration is, and what deals are being struck, are matters for conjecture. No doubt they will be revealed when the Cabinet papers are disclosed in due course, but the gravamen of my charge is that it will be far too late by then.
In March 1998, the Prime Minister issued an unequivocal pledge, on which he has now ratted. He said:
"Britain will never put at risk NATO, the foundation of our security. Britain and France, and many others, insist that there is no European Commission role in military matters. No country will ever yield up control of their own armed forces."
I believe that Britain is giving up that control.
As I predicted some time ago, the Western European Union was abolished earlier this year. By any sane measure, Europe is far from solving the problem of lack of co-ordination that hamstrung its policy and action in the Gulf, Bosnia and Kosovo. It was Germany's unilateral decision to recognise Croatia that contributed to the problems that beset Yugoslavia throughout the 1990s. The Foreign Secretary of the day, who is now my noble Friend Lord Hurd of Westwell, said originally that Britain would not recognise Croatia, but later told the House that we would. I remember that I challenged him about that. In statements made to me in private, I received good and authentic evidence that that reversal stemmed from a deal connected to Britain's opt-out from economic and monetary union.
Germany's Foreign Minister at the time was Mr. Genscher. He described the recognition of Croatia as
"the greatest victory of German foreign policy since 1945."
I do not consider that much of a victory.
My father was killed in 1944, so I am more than happy to say that I believe that the war ended in victory for Britain.
The Franco-German summit contained declarations on the shared military intelligence satellite Syracuse 3, on a rapid deployment corps, and on heavy-lift capacity. I have already referred to the dismal spending levels that have been set, which demonstrate the lack of will to combine proposed functions with the resources that are claimed to be necessary. We are creating a serious foreign policy, diplomatic and military problem. Potential enemies are given a substantial advantage—which they will always exploit—when they see that policies on military capability are not backed up with resources.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the European rapid reaction force will add not a single ounce to Europe's combat power? Not one extra gun, tank, bayonet, aircraft or ship will be added to the strength. The proposals deal with headquarters, communications and sappers only, not with anything directly involved in fighting.
I was going to come to that, but my hon. Friend won a great victory in Newark at the general election and has enormous knowledge of military matters, so I completely agree with what he says.
The rapid reaction force is a nightmare. It is to have a full-time military command structure. In the light of what my hon. Friend says, it is pretty astonishing that there will be additional staff to man the so-called capability when it is a phantom army.
My hon. Friend may have missed hearing the Minister for Europe say on television earlier today that the European Union had already brought to an end the cold war and ensured that there had been no war in western Europe since 1945. If it could do all that without an army, why does it conceivably need one now?
It is a case of a great deal of hot air. It is extremely difficult. We are moving from a cold war to a hot war, at any rate in so far as a vast amount of hot air is being generated. With rotation, the so-called military command structure is even more frightening. The amount of apparent capability supposedly generated will be as many as 240,000 troops, not the 60,000 that have been mentioned. The target date for readiness is 2003. So we have an exponential rise in expectations, a decreasing amount of money and resources to be made available, and no evidence that the force will be able to perform any useful function.
The United Kingdom will contribute 24,000 troops to the new force, who will come from the United Kingdom's NATO reaction force. Eighteen warships and a quarter of the Royal Air Force and the Army will be allocated to it. My hon. Friend Mr. Duncan Smith is engaged in some rather important leadership business at the moment, but I wish that he were here today, because he has led the exposure in the House of Commons, the United States and elsewhere of this absolutely ridiculous situation. We remember only too well all the correspondence and articles in the newspapers demonstrating the incredible weakness of our capacity, whether one refers to our nuclear submarines or inadequate equipment and naval provision.
There is a range of reasons why we need to be deeply worried that, rather than concentrating on an effective force within the United Kingdom for the use of the Alliance, we are merging our thinking into a strategic black hole—a force that is incapable of performance and has not got the money to back it up. There will be a 100-strong military staff committee, which will effectively end NATO's monopoly. That is highly dangerous.
There are contradictions in control and command. If one looks at the nightmare of the legal framework that has been created, one wonders how on earth—as I wrote in a book called "Europe: The Crunch" about eight years ago—it will conceivably be possible to have any control and command in the middle of the night when something crops up. In the case of the enlarged Community, 27 countries with their military staff, generals and the rest of it will all be trying to work out what provisions apply, whether the force will operate under a degree of qualified majority voting or whether there is a direct control and command system. If I was a potential enemy—thank God, if I may say so, that I am exactly the opposite—I would say to myself, "Heavens above, we have really got these people where we want them because they will never be able to deliver any kind of strategic or tactical position." We know that not a single military unit is to be created.
On article 17 of the treaty on European Union, the current moves towards the rapid reaction force require no treaty modifications. They followed the summits at Feira, St. Malo and Cologne, but I believe that Maastricht and Amsterdam together provide a perfectly adequate treaty base, and that is where the problems lie. The declaration, next to the final act of the intergovernmental conference regarding European security and defence policy, makes that abundantly clear. As I have repeatedly argued, the issue of the rapid reaction force is entirely separate from that of Nice. Member states are forced to ride roughshod over their constitutional arrangements. In my judgment, they are forced to act anti-constitutionally.
With regard to article 25 of the treaty on European Union, the Political Committee introduced at Amsterdam with the stated purpose of monitoring international affairs is now renamed the Political and Security Committee. Its power is substantially increased as it takes on a number of strategic and management tasks relating to military operations. In fact, it is intended that it will direct Euro-soldiers in combat.
The declaration added to the end of the article is crucial because it basically states that the existing treaty base is enough to enable the European Union to launch military operations. That has to be taken in the context of the single autonomous structure in which NATO as a whole is not engaged. Indeed, the declaration refers to the lengthy presidency conclusions on military affairs which prove beyond the shadow of a doubt the reality of an autonomous European army, drawing on national armies' personnel, with an independent control centre separate from NATO.
In conclusion, the lesson for this century is not that Europe is, or can in the foreseeable future ever be, the guarantor of Britain's security. The true guarantor of Britain's defence has, rather, lain in her close co-operation with the United States through NATO. As Churchill put it, the supreme fact of the 20th century was that Britain and America marched together. A common European defence would lead Britain to dissolve her national interests into those of others. As Churchill said, we should be associated but not absorbed. For that reason, we must resist common European defence and instead turn our attention to strengthening our own woefully underfunded armed forces.
I will be brief, and I will not follow Mr. Cash in his analysis of what happened at the various conferences that have set up this European defence arrangement, to use a neutral expression.
Some of us may not remember the Werner report in the 1970s which led to the exchange rate mechanism, which then led to the single currency. I suggest that whatever the defects of this arrangement are, its purpose is quite clear. It will take some time but, just as the Euro-area has a single currency, the purpose of this arrangement is eventually to create a European army. The attempts by the Euro-enthusiasts to mask this are not very different from those that have been made with regard to other steps towards integration.
One of the reasons why the population of Europe are so concerned about the European Union is that they have not been told that and are beginning to understand that the European elite has been pretending to them all along. The best course for the Euro-enthusiasts to take would be to admit these things. There is no shame in it—if that is what they want, they should say so. That would be a much better way of opening a clear and informed debate about the European Union and the direction in which it should go.
I should like to return to the more esoteric matters in these treaties. I apologise for doing this after the Minister for Europe wrote in a very interesting article in The Independent that language must be much clearer when considering these matters. I quite agree with him.
I am not questioning the selection of amendments, but I was surprised that we were to debate amendments to the treaty on European Union. The only amendments in the Nice treaty to the treaty on European Union are in article 1. Whereas the long title of the Bill refers to making
"provision consequential on the Treaty signed at Nice . . . amending the Treaty on European Union"— that is stating merely what the Nice treaty did— clause 1, which incorporates the provisions of the treaty of Nice into UK law, refers to the treaties on European Communities and to articles 2 to 10 of the Nice treaty.
None of those articles refers directly to the treaty on European Union—only article 1 does so. I deduce from that—I am not questioning whether we should have a debate—that the treaty on European Union did not create rights and obligations for the purposes of the European Communities Act 1972 in the UK. Perhaps I should not try to make the Minister's speech for him; perhaps he will not say that.
Clause 1(1)(ii) refers to
"the other provisions of the Treaty so far as they relate to those Articles"— articles 2 to 10, which relate to the treaties establishing the European Communities. There may be something in article 1, especially in relation to enhanced co-operation, that follows on from the treaty on European Communities, but perhaps that does not give rise to any rights and obligations on questions of defence under the European Communities Act 1972. It is right that such matters should be debated—although I am not questioning that.
We have a haphazard way in this House—these points have been made in the past—of debating and amending treaties. We cannot amend treaties, but we can pretend to do so only when their provisions affect internal law. I cannot remember what happened in the case of the treaty on European Union. Presumably, it was debated in this House under the Ponsonby rules, which are in some way supposed to ameliorate the effects of the royal prerogative, whereby the Crown does not need to debate such treaties in the House.
I have not looked it up, but I suppose that the treaty on European Union was debated as a treaty. I know that there was no legislation. Presumably, it was not needed because it was felt that the treaty did not affect internal law. I am not even sure whether it is a treaty in international law, but perhaps I will return to that. If it is, notice must be given under the Ponsonby rules and the House must debate it—although it cannot, of course, amend such treaties.
World Trade Organisation agreements and general agreements on tariffs and trade, which are so important but may not have a direct effect on internal law, are not amendable by the House either. Perhaps the Modernisation Committee, which is modernising everything, could look at that.
I am very interested in the right hon. Gentleman's line. In the United States, questions of treaties are dealt with by the Senate. We have just had some interesting debates on the power of this Parliament in respect of Select Committees, so perhaps there are some lessons in that.
Indeed, although I believe that the United States has a fast-track system which it tries to apply to treaties such as the GATT. However, although I do not want to revisit yesterday's Select Committee debate, I have to point out a fundamental difference. The British Executive sit in the legislature, whereas the United States Executive do not. We do not have separation of powers, whereas the United States does.
Even though they may not change internal law, international treaties such as the GATT increasingly impinge. The forthcoming treaty on services, which is likely to be hugely controversial, will come before the House as a single document which there will be no opportunity to amend.
I make this point as an aside to the debate on so-called treaties. If we are concerned about democracy, or even if we are supposed to pretend that we are not worried about the demonstrations in Genoa and Gothenburg, perhaps the Modernisation Committee should consider the matter and recommend that, in future, even if they do not have a direct effect on internal law, we should examine, debate and even attempt to amend the treaties that the international bureaucracy now tends to bring forth at a much faster rate than they were produced in the 18th and 19th centuries.
I see you looking at me, Sir Alan; perhaps you are wondering whether the right hon. Member for Llanelli is straying a little, even though, as I am sure you are aware, he never does. However, to return to the treaty on European Union, I am surprised that debate on it has been allowed. I see you frown, Sir Alan, but I should be interested to learn from the Minister—if he can tell us—which domestic rights and obligations are affected by the treaty on European Union. If none are affected, what on earth are we debating the treaty for? However, if we are debating it, presumably some rights and obligations are incorporated in English, British or United Kingdom law by the 1972 Act. The House should be told what the treaty on European Union puts into internal law.
I hope I do not stray too far, but I should like to say a word or two about treaties and the royal prerogative. The treaty on European Union is called a treaty, but it is not a treaty for the purposes of the Vienna convention definition, which states clearly that a treaty must be governed by international law. Well, perish the thought—the European treaties are not governed by international law.
If someone were to turn up at the European Court of Justice and say that one of the provisions of the European treaties was contrary to fundamental principles of international law, he would get short shrift from the Court. The Court might look at the principles of international law when interpreting the treaty, but the treaties we are debating are certainly not Vienna convention treaties. I do not know whether, ultimately, they come within the scope of the prerogative. The argument will probably lead me up a cul-de-sac.
The right hon. Gentleman makes the interesting and, I fear, accurate comment that we are setting forth on a course that leads towards a European army that we will not directly control. Will he say how long he thinks it will be before a British soldier is sent into battle or a dangerous situation against the will of the British people and there is nothing that we can do about it?
I do not think that I can prophesy on that subject, even though I was a Labour party defence spokesman—perhaps ingloriously—in the 1980s. At least in the 1980s we knew that we had an enemy. These days, I listen to debates about defence and armaments and I wonder where the enemy is. I would not like to be a shadow defence spokesman these days, because that is a difficult job when there is no enemy. I might answer the right hon. Gentleman's question if he tells me who the enemy is. No doubt, the military bureaucracy has made attempts to find enemies everywhere.
Let us suppose that the European rapid reaction force was sent to dangerous territory in the Balkans, and the British people were not happy about the side in the conflict on whose behalf we were engaged. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that that could happen against the will of the British people if we go along the course set out by the Government today?
While I agree with the right hon. Gentleman on many matters, I would be surprised if, at the end of the day, British forces, whatever the legal position on treaties, were sent into battle without a debate and a vote in the House. I would be worried if we were moving towards arrangements whereby that was likely to happen; I hope that we are not and that, whatever the position on legal sovereignty, the will of the House would allow or prevent such action.
Returning to my rather esoteric point—we are debating esoteric matters in these European treaties—it is not satisfactory to debate and amend treaties merely because they affect our internal law. We are now in a difficult area because we do not know how far internal law is affected by the treaty on European Union or what rights and obligations are being created. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will tell me. I know that he has sent me a few letters but, on this occasion, I should like a short, clear, pithy statement about the rights and obligations which, if we allow the measure to go through—
For the second time in a fortnight, I have the great good fortune to follow Denzil Davies, who represents my home town in Parliament, in a debate on the Bill. As usual, his speech was marked by intellectual rigour and distinction; its logic was compelling. I am sure that we all await with great anticipation the appropriately detailed reply that the Minister will doubtless give at the end of our debate.
I begin by congratulating the Minister on the speech, "Plain Speaking on Europe", that we understand he will give elsewhere later today and is directly relevant to the subjects that we are debating. I am not entirely sure whether I have the final version because my copy still includes the annotation from the now famous J. B.:
"would be cautious about criticising the BBC".
When the speech is made, it will be interesting to see whether the Minister has taken J. B.'s cautionary note to heart or whether it includes the criticism of the BBC that was in the draft. The Minister may wish to enlighten us about that during our debate; otherwise, we may have to wait.
The speech is excellent and I commend it to the Committee. In it, the Minister says:
"Despite having voted YES in the 1975 referendum for Britain to be in Europe, within minutes of my appointment last month I was dubbed a 'Eurosceptic'."
I welcome the Minister to the club. I, too, voted yes in the 1975 referendum, and the label has been applied to me. The Minister continues:
"Why should politicians be labelled either Eurosceptic or 'Europhile'? Like most people, I am neither. I am just as opposed to Euro phobia as I am to Euro zealotry."
Again, I agree entirely.
Even more relevant to this afternoon's debate, the Minister says:
"In an era of destiny probably more important for Britain than at any time since we joined the European Common Market in the early 1970s, this is an appeal for plain speaking on Europe. No political spin. No media hype . . . No pejorative prejudices, just an honest straightforward discussion of difficult but momentous issues."
I am sure that we all agree with that.
When the Minister explained the speech on "Today" this morning, he said that it had been cleared by No. 10; I am sure that we were all gratified to hear that, but I wonder whether it is quite enough. It seems not so much that the speech should be cleared by No. 10 but that that address should be its primary, perhaps only, destination. No one is more guilty of the spin, hype and pejorative prejudice that have been introduced to the debate than the Prime Minister. Whenever an Opposition Member makes a point that is mildly critical of any developments that are directly relevant to those that we are debating, the right hon. Gentleman promptly accuses the person making it, from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition down, of wanting to leave the European Union altogether. That is his stock response to any criticism of any such development. I hope that the Minister's speech, which I warmly welcome, was cleared by No. 10 and was read with care by the Prime Minister. I hope also that it may influence his conduct on these matters henceforth.
I am slightly worried in case my right hon. and learned Friend has been uncharacteristically over-generous to the Minister. I wonder whether the Minister is flying under false colours. He is a Minister who wishes to give away all the vetoes in the treaty. He is a Minister who wishes to scrap the pound. He wishes to increase the stranglehold of Brussels on many aspects of our life. How can he possibly say that he is anything other than a Euro-enthusiast?
Do we know what the Minister wishes? I am not entirely sure that we do, and I am not sure that we are entitled to draw the inferences that my right hon. Friend has drawn. We know that the Minister is speaking in favour of the treaty and of the Bill, which may not be entirely the same thing.
I return to what the Minister said when he intervened on my hon. Friend Mr. Cash towards the end of last week's debate. What the Minister said comes near to the nub of the debate on these issues. He posed this question:
"If there is a crisis in the Balkans, for example, and the US is not willing to provide assistance and NATO is not willing to intervene, do we just turn our backs? Is there not a role for a European capability? Is it not the case that a European security and defence policy provides exactly that capability? What would the hon. Gentleman do?"—[Hansard, 11 July 2001; Vol. 3711, c. 889.]
The phrase used by the plain-speaking Minister in that question was a departure in the debate. He used the formulation
"If . . . the US is not willing to provide assistance and NATO is not willing to intervene".
The Prime Minister usually talks about a situation that will arise if NATO chooses not to be engaged. The Minister raises his hands as though there is no difference: these are matters not of semantics but of great importance. There is nothing in the agreements, in the presidency conclusions in that part of the Nice treaty that deals with these matters or in any of the documents to indicate that the European defence capability would come into play only if NATO chooses not to be engaged.
The phrase "NATO chooses not to be engaged" implies some NATO right to act before the European defence capability is engaged, and that is clearly not the case. For example, the words of the French chief of the defence staff are helpfully quoted on page 40 of the excellent Library document on these matters. In an interview with The Daily Telegraph on
"There is no question of a right of first refusal. If the EU does its work properly, it will be able to start working on crises at a very early stage, well before the situation escalates. Where is the first refusal? NATO has nothing to do with this. At a certain stage the Europeans would decide to conduct a military operation. Either the Americans would come, or not. If they want to come, they will always be welcome. They are powerful. We recognise that there are things that we cannot do without them, today. Later, we must be able to act alone. Europe is an enormous economic power, but not yet a mature military power."
That is at the heart of the debate. I do not think that any hon. Member would demur from the proposition that European countries should do more on defence and co-operate more closely on defence issues. Nobody would deny that circumstances can indeed be easily identified, perhaps in the Balkans, in which the United States might say that it does not wish to become engaged, but that it has no objection whatever to European countries acting in co-operation to deal with the problem. I do not think that any reasonable person would object to that goal.
I am sorry to have to say so soon after mentioning the Minister's devotion to plain speaking that his remarks are completely at variance with the documents that the Government have signed. Everything that I have spoken about and described could and should be done within the framework of NATO. It would be perfectly possible and feasible for the United States to say "We have no wish to send American troops to deal with this problem in the Balkans, but if you Europeans want to go in and sort it out, fine: do so within the framework of NATO, using its planning procedures and assets. We will not come along, but there is absolutely no reason why this should not be done within NATO."
The mischief and danger to which we object is that, for the first time, as has been pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone, the Government have, in contradiction of their previous position, signed up to arrangements that ensure that such actions can be taken outside the framework of NATO.
The House will recognise that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is an exceptionally alert representative of a case. There is a difference, however, between the legal and political arguments. I do not believe that he has considered the political arguments. Has he reflected on the position of European Union countries that are not members of NATO? Does not he recognise that when the Americans take the view that it is better for NATO not to be involved, whether it is because Texans object or whatever else, the wider European community needs a focus to enable it to carry through the policy of European countries? Under the agreement that was struck at Nice, the European Union now provides a forum in which that can happen.
Let me take the hon. Gentleman's two questions in turn. There is no difficulty about involving non-NATO members of the European Union. The easiest way of dealing with these matters would be for them to join NATO, but if they did not want to do so, resort could be made to Western European Union mechanisms, which have existed for a considerable time and which involve non-NATO members of the European Union in any actions that are desirable.
Non-NATO members of the EU are represented on the staff of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe at Mons, as General Ralston reminded those of us who were privileged to listen to him this morning at a meeting of the British-American parliamentary group—I shall return later to what he said—and there is no difficulty whatever about using the NATO planning processes for an operation in which non-NATO members of the EU could participate.
The hon. Gentleman's second question was about whether the United States might wish to participate, which brings us to the nub of the question. When all is said and done, there is only one situation in which the arrangements to which the Government have now agreed will become relevant. It is not a situation in which the United States does not wish to participate but is content for the European members of NATO to go ahead and do whatever they want to do; the only situation in which the arrangements become relevant is one in which the United States does not merely wish not to be engaged but is actually opposed to engagement.
The most remarkable fact, as I have previously pointed out in the House, is that recent history shows that it is not too difficult to identify when we have had differences with our EU partners about such matters. It is not all that long ago that the Belgians refused to sell us bullets that we needed to participate in the Gulf war. As far as I can recall, there has been only one occasion since the second world war when we have been at odds with the United States, and that was Suez. So the Government are, in effect, going to all these lengths to enable a British Government to mount another Suez operation. That is the bottom line. That is what it comes down to. That is the only situation in which these arrangements could become relevant.
Given the attitude of European nations and, in particular, the UK, when the United States chooses to use forces in Panama or elsewhere, it would be inconceivable that the United States would wish to prohibit EU member states from carrying out operations against the likes of those whom we saw in Bosnia, where there was slaughter, mass killings and ethnic cleansing. The right hon. and learned Gentleman's suggestion that, in some way, the United States might oppose our taking action in Europe is like saying that we might oppose what has happened in, for example, Panama.
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood my point. I am inclined to agree with him. This is utterly fanciful. I do not think that, if a situation arose in the Balkans and the Europeans wanted to act without the involvement of the United States, the United States would be remotely likely to suggest—
It is not a red herring. It is the only situation in which the arrangement that the Government have signed up to would have any relevance or make sense. If the United States does not object to any European action, it can all take place within the framework of NATO. That is the point. The United States can say that we should use the NATO processes and assets—that it does not want to send American troops, but that everything can be done through NATO. That was the position of the previous and the present British Governments until agreement was reached at St. Malo, so let us not have any nonsense from Labour Members to the effect that the Opposition's position is in any way outlandish, ludicrous, unreasonable or Europhobic. It is precisely the position that the present British Government held after they took office and it changed only when the agreement was reached at St. Malo.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall that, last November, the then Chief of the Defence Staff, General Guthrie, was asked by a Conservative Defence spokesman why the European rapid reaction force was being created outside rather than inside NATO? He replied:
"I suppose it could have been done within the Nato framework and in some ways it would have been easier."
He went on to say that politicians had decided otherwise:
"It was decided by the EU Governments that this was the way it would be done."
I remember that telling answer, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me of it. I was present at the meeting to which he refers.
I have some questions for the Minister for Europe. Why does not the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe have the right to attend meetings of the European Union military committee, as the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs suggested? It would be an important method of maintaining proper links between the EU and NATO. We have been told more than once, however, including by Foreign Office officials when giving evidence to the Select Committee, that the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe does not have the right to attend military committee meetings.
That may be an example of the authentic voice behind the desire for European defence co-operation outside NATO. We cannot have it both ways. I do not believe that there is any question of an American veto. We are an independent country, and we can make decisions on the disposition of our defence capability. We have decided that our principal alliance is NATO. That should continue, and we should do nothing to put it at risk. I therefore object to the current developments, which put the Alliance in direct peril.
The real danger of the arrangements is not that the Americans would veto a European operation, but that Europeans would go ahead with an operation that involved British troops and find, as so often happens in military operations, that things go wrong, troops are over-extended and at risk. At the critical moment when we needed heavy artillery and large tanks, we would not have the lift capacity to reinforce operations. We would be in a hopeless predicament if we went ahead with major operations anywhere without American support.
I shall read out a sentence:
"The policy of the Union in accordance with this Article shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States and shall respect the obligations of certain Member States, which see their common defence realised in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation".
That is from article 17 of the Nice treaty. As a distinguished lawyer, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain how his arguments fit the phrase "shall not prejudice"?
Will my right hon. and learned Friend take this opportunity to confirm that there has been no change in the military or strategic logic of the situation that could in any way justify the about-turn that the Prime Minister has performed? Does not my right hon. and learned Friend think it probable, in so far as he can penetrate the inner recesses of the Prime Minister's mind, that that change of heart has taken place on the cynical basis that it will be a sop to those in the European Union who think that he is dragging his feet on the euro?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. He makes an important point that is particularly relevant to our plain-speaking Minister, who I am sorry to see finds it so amusing. It is relevant for the following reason. There is no doubt that there has been a change of policy. We have examined the texts in the House on numerous occasions. We can look at what the Prime Minister said when he came back from Amsterdam in 1997. We then find that he agreed at St. Malo to something that he had criticised in absolutely stringent terms on his return from Amsterdam. There is no doubt at all that there has been a volte face—a complete change in policy.
According to the edicts of our plain-speaking Minister, the Prime Minister should have come to the House and said, "We have changed our position. We have reconsidered things. When I said what I did when I came back from Amsterdam, I was wrong. This is our new position, and these are the reasons for it." Of course, we have never heard any such explanation. Instead, we see convoluted attempts to pretend that there has been no change. I cannot believe that those attempts will find any favour with our plain-speaking Minister. Obviously, they do not match up at all with the speech that he is going to make later, so I expect that, when he comes to the Dispatch Box, he will at last provide us with an explanation of this change in the Government's position. "Yes," he will say, "we have changed our position, and these are our reasons for doing so." I look forward to that.
Let me return to my questions. So far, I have asked my first question, which was about the right of DSACEUR to attend meetings of the military committee.
I genuinely hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be able to help me or, if not, that the Minister will answer my question in the wind-up. As I understand it, the true relationship between NATO and the EU force can be assessed only in terms of practicalities. If we had access to annexe 7 and the weapons catalogue attached to the treaty of Nice, which I understand is not in the public domain, we could obtain a true indication of how the relationship would work in practice. Will either the right hon. and learned Gentleman or the Minister address that point?
I am not sure how to respond to the hon. Lady. I would certainly have no objection if the Minister were to respond to her question when he winds up the debate. I do not know to what extent the information to which she refers is secret or sensitive, and therefore ought not to be in the public domain, but whether or not it ought to be in the public domain, it cannot possibly be argued that we should maintain a Trappist silence on these matters simply because certain information relating to military equipment has not been made public. We have to comment, and use our judgment as representatives of those who have sent us here, on the information at our disposal. That is what I am trying to do.
I come to my second question to the Minister. We are constantly assured that it is everyone's intention that the NATO arrangements and the European Union arrangements should be linked at every point and be as close together as possible. Discordant French voices can occasionally be heard pointing out that that is not what has been agreed, but British Government spokesmen constantly say, "No, they are to work hand in glove." If that is the case, will the Minister please explain why the chairman of the European military committee, General Haggland of Finland, and the chairman of the Political and Security Committee, Mr. Anders Bjurner of Sweden, come from non-NATO member states of the European Union? Is the Minister going to tell us that that is pure coincidence? Even a plain-speaking Minister might stretch the Committee's credulity just a little too far if he said that. I would like an answer to that question.
My third question is: why does the presidency report on the European security and defence policy make particular reference to encouraging the involvement of Russia, Ukraine and Canada in European Union-led operations? As the Committee will have observed, there is no mention of the United States. Perhaps there is an entirely innocent explanation for that omission. If so, no doubt our plain-speaking Minister will provide it.
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way a second time. I am listening closely to his argument, but I am still not sure what he is afraid of. Is he arguing that any and every example of European defence co-operation would necessarily undermine NATO, or that there might be a particular instance of European defence co-operation that would, in a given set of circumstances, undermine NATO? If it is the latter, it would be open to the Government not to co-operate—they surely would not—precisely because, in that given set of circumstances, NATO would be undermined.
My argument is that setting up separate military arrangements for the EU that duplicate existing arrangements in NATO is unnecessary and perilous not only for NATO, but for the transatlantic relationship, which has been such a powerful force for good in the world over at least the past 50 years.
This morning, some of us were privileged to listen to General Ralston, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe. He explained very clearly how those dangers and difficulties could be mitigated. He explained how the planning processes could be carried out at his headquarters by those nations that are represented there, including the non-NATO members of the EU. He explained very clearly how those difficulties could be dealt with and overcome.
General Ralston said that he put such a proposal to his political masters and that it has not thus far found acceptance, although it has been on the table for many, many months. He said that he had hoped that it would find acceptance at the Foreign Ministers meeting last December, but it did not. He said that he had hoped that it would find acceptance at the Foreign Ministers meeting in May, but it did not. He said that he thought that the present state of affairs, and I quote him verbatim, is
"close to the edge of going too far".
He said that he is
"very worried about the prospects."
Those are not words to be taken lightly from SACEUR.
At the meeting, General Ralston was asked about intelligence arrangements. Of course, there are limits to what we can say in public about intelligence arrangements. We all understand that, but we all know that one of this country's greatest assets is the closeness of its intelligence relationship with the United States of America.
It does not require any disclosure of damaging information to express a concern that, in view of some of what is widely reported as having happened in recent years, the United States might be a little worried about continuing to share its intelligence with us if it thinks that that intelligence will automatically be passed to every EU member. We asked General Ralston what progress had been made in discussing intelligence sharing in the new world into which the Government are taking us. He said that, so far, there had been no such discussions. I am afraid that the concerns that many of us have been expressing, inside and outside the House, ever since St Malo are more and more justified with every step that is taken down this perilous road.
My right hon. and learned Friend may or may not know that immediately before the House rose for the general election a document was put before the European Scrutiny Committee. We did not have a chance to consider it properly, but it stipulated that a new European satellite surveillance system would be created, which was clearly intended to be in direct competition with the existing arrangements. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend would like to have a look at it later.
I shall. I did not know about the proposal; I hope that the Select Committee will consider it, and that the Minister will tell us something about it when he winds up the debate.
The present situation is fraught with danger, which is enhanced by the United Kingdom Government's tendency to pretend that nothing new has happened, that there has been no departure from previous policy and that nothing has changed. I hope that the plain-speaking Minister will come clean, and at least give us the Government's explanation of why they have changed their position and why we have embarked on such a perilous course.
I am surprised at the degree of what Mr. Howard described as hype and spin. It is supposed to be coming from this side of the House, but it is actually coming from the other side. It is as if the treaty represented the end of the world as we know it—as if it would lay the nation bare and make it defenceless and vulnerable to threats from around the globe. In fact we are talking about an ideal piece of co-operation, aimed at enhancing European security and making it less dependent on American involvement in European problems.
There also seems to be a sheer abhorrence of qualified majority voting. Mr. Cash referred constantly to the appointment of Javier Solana, whom he claimed to have been an opponent of NATO for seven years. For some strange reason, after being an opponent of NATO for seven years, Javier Solana was appointed Secretary-General of NATO. That would indeed seem a strange appointment. I should be interested to hear first what evidence the hon. Gentleman has to support his statement that Javier Solana was an opponent of NATO, and secondly what he did as Secretary-General that put us all at risk.
I can only refer the hon. Gentleman to an article that I contributed to The Times—I cannot remember the precise date, but it was several years ago—which followed a great deal of research into this question. At the time, a petition was presented to President Clinton by some 130 congressmen suggesting that Solana should not be given the post. Furthermore, I had discussions with our then Secretary of State for Defence, and with the Prime Minister by fax, during the weekend before the appointment. All this has quite an interesting little history, but I would be happy for the hon. Gentleman to read the article.
A petition from some American congressmen is hardly convincing evidence that Mr. Solana was not fit to be appointed Secretary-General. Nevertheless, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has his views.
The hon. Gentleman suggested that in some way Mr. Solana was not accountable, or would not be accountable under the new arrangements involving QMV, in respect of his appointment as head of CFSP and our foreign affairs spokesperson in Europe.
Well, the European Union foreign affairs spokesperson. The hon. Gentleman suggested that he was not accountable, when in fact he can be called to the European Council of Ministers whenever it so wishes.
There is further opposition to QMV in the light of the experience with Jacques Santer. As we discussed in a previous debate, his appointment was supported unanimously at the Council of Ministers and he was a disastrous head of the European Commission. He presided over chaos in the European Union and, like his colleagues, was persuaded to resign and stand down. Had unanimity not been used at that time, we would have had a different head of the European Commission: one appointed by a majority of Ministers, one who would have been the highest common denominator and a good head of the European Commission, rather than the lowest common denominator, which Mr. Santer turned out to be.
On decision making through QMV, the Opposition talk about the development of a European superstate and some cumbersome, lumbering superstructure, but qualified majority voting is the very mechanism that will maintain flexibility within the European Union, streamline decision making, and allow a majority of member states that wish to pursue a particular line not to be held up by tiddler nations that may wish to block everything. It is a recipe for flexibility at a time when unanimity is clearly outdated. Opposition Members' comments therefore surprise me.
What also surprises me is the number of contradictions that we hear from Opposition Members. The hon. Member for Stone, who unfortunately is not with us at the moment, referred to the Prime Minister mentioning 65,000 troops in a speech. Then he said that the figure was reduced to 60,000. Now he asserts that it may be anything up to 240,000. Patrick Mercer said that there was no commitment, no weaponry, no personnel—it was a phantom army. Which is the truth? Is it a phantom army? Will it be a European army of 60,000 or 240,000 troops?
The truth is that none of the British troops is dedicated to the task in hand. They are all double or triple-hatted at a time when our defences are already horribly overstretched. No combat power is being added; there are merely staff officers.
That proves my point. It is not a European army, as the Opposition put it. It is not a standing army. No troops are permanently engaged in a particular task. An army will be assembled with the consent of nation states when the need arises. We did not have a force ready and willing to move in when the trouble started in Bosnia, which led to hundreds of thousands of deaths.
Personally, I would not. There is a role for a European force that can act—again I quote from the treaty—on
"humanitarian and rescue tasks, peace-keeping tasks and tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peacemaking".
That is where it differs from, for example, United Nations forces. Often—one or two hon. Members have alluded to it—forces go in to keep the peace, but are not given instructions or the ability to make the peace. They are used in a purely defensive role. We saw, however, how such an arrangement failed in our early attempt in Bosnia, and we would certainly not like a repetition of that. I believe that the treaty and the proposed forces would preclude the possibility of a repetition.
Could the hon. Gentleman perhaps give us an example of an operation that could not be described as peace making? Does he recall that the Suez operation, for example, was described as peace making? It was embarked upon, so we were told, to separate the combatants of the time, the Israelis and the Egyptians. Indeed, the world wars were described as peace making. Can he therefore give us an example of an operation that would be outside the definition of peace making?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned the Suez crisis, during which I was but a twinkle in my mother's eye. Indeed, my father just missed being called up for it. As I was not around at the time of that conflict, I cannot speak about it from personal experience. However, I believe that there is an element of peace making in most conflicts. The problems arise when, for example, troops in blue berets are sent into a situation but are given little direction by the United Nations Security Council on how to engage the opposition and on whether they can effectively conduct offensive operations to force those who are causing the conflict to retreat and cease their action. That type of arrangement is different from the one being proposed.
We have to address the issue of establishing a peacemaking force. We would have liked to have such a force in Bosnia, but we did not have the capability to deploy one. We should be working towards establishing that capability, without having to rely totally on the Americans.
The hon. Gentleman is digging himself into a very deep hole. Is he suggesting that if the European army had been available at the outbreak of hostilities in Bosnia, the right thing to do would have been to send our troops and other troops into that very tense situation, to try to fight to a conclusion that might have produced a transitory peace, without American air cover and American heavy lift? I think that he would endanger our soldiers greatly with such a proposal.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I am not saying that we should have done that. I am saying that it would have been useful to have that option at the time. Moreover, what would have happened if the Americans had not become so involved in that conflict? We would not have had anywhere near the capability necessary to bring about peace. I was in Washington when the Serbs were beginning to lose the war in Bosnia and the Croatian troops were moving forward. I was fed information to the effect that many of the events of that time were occurring because Germany was secretly arming the Serbs, with America providing some of the resources for that armament. Bosnia is a perfect example of how we might in future use the proposed capability.
I was surprised to hear the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe suggest that the United States should have a veto over European operations in Europe. That suggestion is preposterous; it is a little like the European Union objecting to the use of American forces in Panama. Such a veto is simply inconceivable and does not bear thinking about. It is also quite strange to cite a veto as a spanner in the works of implementing and operating the Nice treaty.
The hon. Gentleman persists in misrepresenting the point that I was making. It is precisely because I do not think that there is any realistic prospect of an American veto of the type to which he referred that I think that the arrangements are completely unnecessary. The only situation in which we need to have arrangements outside the NATO framework is one in which we fear an American veto. I do not fear an American veto, which is why I say that the arrangements should take place within NATO.
The Government do not fear an American veto, but we must provide for circumstances in which some European states, particularly those in the European Union, wish to take action but the Americans, who are undoubtedly the most influential member of NATO, do not. That provision is outlined in the treaty. If we do not need it but it is there anyway, I do not know why the Opposition are opposed to it.
Like my hon. Friend I was not around at the time of the Suez crisis—apparently, unlike many Opposition Members—but I am sure that my hon. Friend knows his history. Does he share my sense of irony at the mention of the Suez crisis by Mr. Howard, as the conclusion that the Conservative party under Harold Macmillan drew from the failure of Suez was that Britain could not act alone in the world? It therefore changed its policy on Europe and that led directly to Britain's first application, under a Conservative Prime Minister, to join the European Community.
I agree with my hon. Friend, whose recollection of history is certainly better than mine.
I now turn to the idea of NATO choosing not to be engaged and the areas in which NATO may take action. The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe quoted a French general. Perhaps that was the only example that he could come up with of an issue on which the French and every other member state that signed up to the treaty were at some variance. Throughout the passage of the International Criminal Court Bill, senior British military personnel said that they felt uneasy about it. They are entitled to their opinions, but at the end of the day the decisions are made by politicians with the advice of generals, but not necessarily with their agreement.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way yet again. Does he really suppose that the person whom he describes rather dismissively as a French general and who is in fact the chief of the French defence staff would utter opinions on this topic without the approval and authority of the French Government whom he serves? I was not referring to some French general, but to the chief of the French defence staff.
When I hear the same statement from the French Government, it will have some credibility. In the same way, when British leaders of the armed forces express concerns about the operation of the International Criminal Court Bill we should take them seriously, but we should not take their words as being the words of the Government.
The world is moving on and the solutions for the 20th century are not solutions for the 21st century. China will continue to become even more dominant, and the US will be seeking to gain advantage through the national missile defence system. Europe should rightly have a defence capability, but not an army.
Thank you, Sir Alan, for calling me to make my maiden speech in this crucial debate concerning the future direction of Britain's relationship with the European Union. For decades, this place, the mother of Parliaments, has seen its powers eroded. The treaty that we are debating today would carry that process further. I believe that it is the duty of every hon. Member to ensure that the House continues its proud traditions and ways. No move to sideline or undermine it should be countenanced. The House must remain sovereign.
My journey to Parliament has been long and eventful. I held my first elected position in 1990, when I became a councillor in the Chase Cross ward of the London borough of Havering. I secured a Conservative gain from the Liberal Democrat party. The Conservative share of the vote was 21 per cent., and in 1998 I increased that to 88 per cent., making Chase Cross the safest Conservative ward in Greater London. It is appropriate to thank those colleagues alongside whom I served on Havering council for their support and encouragement over the past 11 years.
Some of my other forays into electoral politics have been less successful, although no less rewarding. In my first parliamentary campaign in 1992, I contested the constituency of Glasgow, Provan. Despite a 0.1 per cent. swing in my favour, I secured the lowest share of the vote of any Conservative candidate in Great Britain. In 1997, I fought the Thurrock constituency, which is slightly closer to home. A Labour majority there of 1,000 turned into one of 17,000.
At the last election, I am pleased to have fared rather better. A 9.2 per cent. swing in my favour meant that my result in Romford on
For me, there can be no greater privilege and honour than to be elected to serve as the Member of Parliament for my home town of Romford. I should like to pay tribute to those who have preceded me. First and foremost, I thank Sir Michael Neubert, who served my constituency faithfully and assiduously between 1974 and 1997. The advice and friendship that I have received from Sir Michael and Lady Neubert over 20 years has been invaluable. Along with all the people of Romford, I owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude.
I shall always remember Sir Michael for the robust support that he gave to Oldchurch hospital, and for the enormous amount of work he did to help people throughout my constituency. I joined the Conservative party at the age of 14. I never dreamed, as I campaigned for Sir Michael's re-election, that one day I might succeed him as the next Conservative Member of Parliament for Romford.
This speech would not be complete without some mention of Sir Nicholas Bonsor, who represented the Upminster constituency from 1983 to 1997. The Ardleigh Green and Nelmes areas of that constituency are now included in Romford. Sir Michael Neubert and Sir Nicholas Bonsor served the people of my constituency well for a long time. Speaking as a resident of Havering, I place on record my heartfelt thanks to them.
I should also like to thank my immediate predecessor, Mrs. Eileen Gordon, who served my constituency in the previous Parliament. She will be remembered for her commitment to campaigning for improved health services in Havering.
Many friends, organisations and colleagues, as well as my mother and father in particular, have contributed to my being able to stand before the House today. I also extend a special thanks to my hon. Friend Mr. Cash, who provided me with many formative political experiences, including the directorship of Europe's pre-eminent public policy think tank, the European Foundation.
I have also to thank the former Member for Ilford, North, Vivien Bendall, for whom I worked for more than 10 years as a parliamentary researcher. No less deserving of thanks are my fellow members of the International Young Democrat Union, of which I am proud to be chairman, not least because the chairman of the union's parent body, the International Democrat Union, is my right hon. Friend Mr. Hague, the Leader of the Opposition. My work in the IYDU has taken me to almost every country in Europe and to every continent and has been invaluable in helping me build knowledge of international affairs, especially those of Europe.
I also express my immense gratitude to Baroness Thatcher. Her leadership and courage as Prime Minister were my rallying call to the Conservative cause. During her visit to Romford two days prior to the general election—the last of her campaign tour—she rightly received a rapturous reception.
Lastly in this section of my speech, I want to challenge the reports found in the popular press that Spike, my Staffordshire bull terrier, was the real victor of Romford. While I freely admit, Sir Alan, that Spike was a prominent member of my campaign team and that his dogged determination to demonstrate the bulldog spirit proved popular in my constituency, may I reassure you that Spike has no immediate plans to take his seat on these Benches?
I would now like to describe the historic market town of Romford—a place that I am proud to call my birthplace, my home and my constituency. Although it falls within the boundaries of Greater London, being situated in the London borough of Havering, Romford is by its history and geography very much part of the county of Essex. Many families moved to the town from east London in the aftermath of the second world war, and to this day Romford retains close ties with the areas from which they originated. The regular commuter trains passing through the town long ago replaced the horse-drawn carriages for which Romford was for centuries a main stopping-off point.
Romford is today a major office and retail centre for Essex and north-east London and boasts one of the largest and best open-air markets in the country—a market now in its eighth century and very much the beating heart of the town. More than a century after the market first began to trade, the church of St. Edward the Confessor was built in the centre of the market. That is where the present church building stands today, with its imposing spire towering high above the commercial centre. St. Edward's has a special meaning to me, being the church in which I was christened and confirmed, and a little further along the road in the high street is where I spent my early years on Sundays at the Salvation Army citadel.
King Edward the Confessor is the first notable person to have had a connection with Romford, occupying the royal palace at Havering-Atte-Bower, a picturesque village steeped in history situated at the most northerly tip of my constituency. High above the town of Romford, Havering-Atte-Bower overlooks Essex to the east, the River Thames and Kent to the south and Dagenham and London to the west. To the south of Havering village lie the suburbs of Chase Cross, Rise Park, Mawneys and Collier Row, which at one time housed the agricultural suppliers of vegetables and dairy produce and, as the community of north Romford, is now the home to more than a third of my constituents.
Rush Green, the place of my birth, lies to the west of the constituency, along with the London road, the home of Romford's famous greyhound stadium, and the Brooklands area, once the home of Romford football club. I hope that one day in the not-too-distant future Romford will again proudly compete with the greatest clubs in our national game. Today, Romford FC has a Member of Parliament who will fight its corner.
Marshall's Park, where I have lived all my life, lies just north of the town centre. It is also home to my school, which has the same name. Nearby is the garden suburb of Gidea Park, an estate designed by famous architects from the early 20th century. Squirrels Heath and Heath Park comprise the area of the town that borders Hornchurch, a small part of which—Ardleigh Green and Nelmes—falls within the boundaries of the Romford constituency.
The people who live in these areas are deeply patriotic. Last year, for example, when the local Labour council refused to fly the Union flag from the town hall, virtually all the market traders displayed the flag on their stalls in protest. With my support, their successful protest became a symbol of Romford's determination not to turn its back on a sense of national pride. It is that same sense of determination that I bring with me to Parliament.
I want to outline some of the issues that I will emphasise and campaign on during my time in Parliament—issues that were brought up time and again by the voters of Romford during my campaign. We live in the most free and stable democracy in the world, yet our freedom and our democracy are challenged by a relentless slide into a European political union.
The task of redefining Britain's relationship with Europe and thereby re-establishing self-government for our nation is the most fundamental question of our time. Over the past 30 years, successive British Governments have subjected their citizens to a form of higher law, a law determined not simply beyond our shores but beyond our democratic ability to decide. The betrayal of our historic institutions and processes can and must stop. In particular, we must never give away control of our currency.
The treaty of Nice is no exception to the continuing demise of our nation's ability to govern itself. To ratify this treaty would mean yet another attack on our democracy and on our freedom as a nation. The proposed loss of a further 43 vetoes is evidence of that.
I am very enthusiastic about trading links formed and greater co-operation championed with the countries of eastern Europe. My international work on behalf of the Conservative party has brought me into close contact with so many eastern European countries. I know that they want a dynamic, free-trading relationship with Britain and, indeed, the rest of Europe. However, I am concerned that the treaty will do more to damage than to strengthen their economies. It makes no sense, for example, that a treaty proclaiming to be about enlargement to the east fails to make a single provision for reforming the common agricultural policy when eastern European economies are predominantly agricultural. It is clear that this treaty is about deepening as well as enlarging the European Union. However, Europe needs an open, flexible and outward- looking relationship, not ever deeper centralisation of power.
One of the other things that motivated me and, I am sure, many others, to enter politics is the desire to reverse a shameful paradox. Those who have contributed most to our society—the elderly—are among its poorest and most badly treated members. After they have spent their lives working, caring and even fighting for our country, far too many pensioners suffer the daily indignities of low incomes, substandard accommodation and hospital waiting lists. The closure of old people's homes is becoming an all-too-regular occurrence, with several in my borough threatened. I condemn Havering's Labour administration for this heartless and short-sighted policy. Taken together with Labour's shameful disregard and failure to deliver on the health service, with particular reference to Oldchurch hospital in my constituency, it is our old folk who have suffered most.
I also want to help to reinject substance back into what it means to be British. I do not mean a Britishness narrowly defined, but one wide enough to encompass all the people of this great nation. I have arrived in this place because of my beliefs: a belief in our nation and a belief in freedom. With the continued advice and friendship of so many who have helped me during the 35 years of my life, I look forward to serving Romford, Parliament and my country.
I am delighted to follow Mr. Rosindell. A couple of my hon. Friends have mistaken me for him in the Corridors, but I can tell that we shall probably not agree on a huge amount over the next few years. However, I pay tribute to him on his maiden speech for his humour, his conviction in his views and his obvious pride in his birth place and the town that he represents. I am sure that hon. Members will join me in wishing him the best for a successful parliamentary career.
I am extremely grateful to you, Sir Alan, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this debate on Europe. I should like to start by saying a few thank yous: first, to members of the Stalybridge and Hyde Labour party for selecting me as their candidate, and, secondly, to the voters of Stalybridge and Hyde for returning me to Parliament; but most of all, on behalf of both of those groups, I thank Tom Pendry for his service to the constituency over 30 years.
It is common and traditional for Members in my position to pay tribute to their predecessors as good constituency MPs, but I doubt that many have had part of their constituency named after their predecessor. Tom Pendry square in Stalybridge will stand as a reminder of the exceptional work that he did for his constituents, who are now my constituents, and in particular of the leading role that he played in attracting £30 million of investment to the town to bring it back to life.
Members on both sides of the House will remember Tom not just for his humour and love of the good life but for his time as a Whip and as an Under-Secretary of State in the Northern Ireland Office. They will remember him for his dedication to issues associated with sport and tourism and for his participation in debates in the House, but in Stalybridge and Hyde, Tom will be remembered as a friend, an ally and a fighter.
Members will also remember that before coming to the House Tom was the colonial boxing champion, so, at least until the last general election campaign, he could lay claim to having the most famous right hook in the Chamber. Now that that title has passed on, I must report that Tom has also been overshadowed locally by Ricky Hatton from my constituency, who last week successfully defended his light-welterweight world title for the first time. I am sure that the House will join me in congratulating him and in passing on our best wishes to Tom for an active and successful future.
Other than Tom, Stalybridge and Hyde is probably best remembered politically as the venue for Hugh Gaitskell's speech immediately after the 1952 Labour party conference at which Herbert Morrison and Hugh Dalton were voted off the national executive. Last weekend, I was speaking to Councillor Jim Wainwright, who picked Gaitskell up from the station that day. He told me that on the way to the conference he asked Gaitskell what he was going to speak about. Gaitskell replied that he was going to launch a counter-attack against the Bevanites and, in effect, accuse up to a sixth of them of being communist fellow travellers.
Councillor Wainwright stopped the car, turned to Gaitskell and told him in language that I could not possibly repeat in the House that he might as well get straight back on the train and go back to Leeds. Apparently the only way that Gaitskell could persuade Councillor Wainwright to drive on was by saying that he had already released his remarks to the press, so he might as well go ahead and make them. I am afraid that spin was alive even then.
I hope that I shall receive a milder reception this afternoon than Gaitskell received that day. In his diaries, he speaks of the speech being, for him, "unusually violent". He adds:
"At the time, most of my friends were horrified. They thought I would lose a great deal of support."
Most of the Labour party hated it, and hundreds of resolutions were sent in criticising him.
I hope also that my party will remember the lessons of those events. It is vital that in our second term we find a way to allow debate, discussion and even criticism within our party. However, there should be no place in our party for talk of counter-insurrections or coups; nor should we ever forget the importance of the unity of purpose that got us where we are today.
Apparently, after making his speech Gaitskell offered to return to my constituency later to make amends. The offer was politely refused, but if he were to return today he would barely recognise Stalybridge and Hyde. At the peak, there were more than 50 mills in my constituency; today, there are only two. More than a third of the population worked in those mills; today, barely a handful do. Most of the rest of the work force were employed in manufacturing in famous factories throughout the north-west; today, almost all of those factories have gone. The last to go was Gallagher's, which closed in 1997; I think that more than a 1,000 jobs were lost in the chase for Government subsidies in Northern Ireland.
My constituency has known hard times and unemployment, but one thing that Gaitskell would find has not changed since his day is the people of Stalybridge and Hyde. They continue to pride themselves on being blunt, straightforward even; and they pride themselves on their self-reliance and hard work. The people of Stalybridge and Hyde, Dukinfield, Mossley and Longdendale refused to lie down and suffer the closures. They were determined to fight back, community by community, village by village, street by street, family by family, to overcome the closures and to attract new companies and jobs. I am delighted to be able to say that they succeeded. Stalybridge and Hyde are now thriving towns. At barely 3 per cent., the unemployment rate is less than the national average. Firms in my constituency export chemicals, plastics and industrial machinery all over the world. I am extremely proud of the fact that my constituency has one of the highest rates of manufacturing employment in the north-west.
If there is one image I should like to leave hon. Members with this afternoon, it is not of our beautiful countryside, although I believe that Werneth Low, the Longdendale valley and the hills around Mossley rival anywhere in the country; it is the people of Stalybridge and Hyde that I want the House to remember. Jay McLeod, a vicar in Micklehurst, is breathing new life into his community and using basketball to give young people an alternative to crime. The teachers in the sure start project in Hattersley are working to give the children of that neglected council estate at least the chance of an equal start in life. Barry Cooke, the retiring head teacher of Hyde technology school, showed by turning that school around that no matter the deprivation facing the local community, it is still possible to have high expectations of every child and match the results achieved in the rest of the country.
That is why I am so proud to represent Stalybridge and Hyde. The people of my constituency have shown that the best way to respond to change is not to suffer it, nor to resist it, but to welcome it and be in its vanguard so that we can shape it to our ends. We believe that every individual should have the chance to fulfil himself, but people can do so only through an active and enabling state. Those are the people for whom I will fight in my time in Parliament. I will fight for better public services and higher pay. Most of all, I will fight, fight and fight again so that Stalybridge and Hyde is given its fair share of resources, not out of pity or because of the problems we face but as a reward for our role as pioneers of change in the vanguard of Government policy.
I am especially pleased to speak in today's debate on Europe. The most famous of Gaitskell's other speeches was the last he made before his tragically early death. At the Labour party conference he spoke of his fear that going into Europe would mean the end of 1,000 years of history. I can tell from this afternoon's debate that that view still has some supporters among Opposition Members, but during my time here I want to argue that it has been conclusively disproved. To people of my generation, the idea that Britain's interests are fundamentally opposed to Europe's is fanciful. The idea that Germany and France should be considered our enemies strikes them as beyond belief.
I am not unlike many members of my generation in having spent a lot of my life in Europe. When I was two, I moved with my parents to France, where I went to school. As the cliché goes, some of my best friends are French. That has never made me any less patriotic or less proud to be British, but it has made be proud to be European. I am proud that we have lived in peace on this continent for nearly 60 years, and proud that, in the treaty that we are debating, we have the opportunity to let in the states of eastern Europe and lift the iron curtain that descended on our continent after the second world war. Most of all, I am proud that on this continent we have the opportunity to build a society that can stand as an alternative role model to American capitalism, an alternative voice in diplomatic debates and an alternative source of power.
I remember going to Berlin the week that the wall came down. I have one burning memory from that trip of going to a church in east Berlin, which had been a centre of reform and resistance to the East German Government. I walked into the church where, all over the walls, people had pinned up bits of paper—poems, essays and letters—about their hopes for their new country. They were clear that they wanted to be free of authoritarian rule, but they were crystal clear that the acceptance of markets did not mean the acceptance of squalid public services, environmental damage and alienated communities. That is the challenge to which my generation must respond. We must live up to the hopes and aspirations expressed in that church, and build a Europe that is as dedicated to equality as it is to efficiency; a Europe that tries to build competitive markets, but also has successful public services and a fair welfare state to ensure that our prosperity is fairly distributed.
Those are my politics. An activist in my constituency bet me that I would not use the word "socialist" tonight. Well, I just have, although personally I have never been afraid to call myself a socialist. Members who know what I was doing before I came to the House will probably not be surprised if I do not plan to incur the wrath of the Whips regularly. Having said that, I make no apology for tempering my discipline with a dose of idealism. I believe in a politics of hope, courage and opportunity. My Government have a historic chance to show that courage to transform our public services and our relationship with Europe. I thank the voters of Stalybridge and Hyde for giving me a chance to play a part along the way.
I should like to congratulate James Purnell. It is rare to hear such a human and humane speech in this place. His modesty was most pleasing and his reflective speech, which was delivered with humour, was very welcome.
I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this debate. As may be expected, Liberal Democrat Members support the speedy ratification of the treaty of Nice. Without its reforms, it is difficult to see how a union of 28 states can come to an efficient and effective agreement about matters that will affect my constituents.
I have the honour to represent the constituency of Cheadle, where I have lived and brought up my family for the past 27 years. It is in the nature of things that I have replaced Mr. Stephen Day, my predecessor, who represented the area for 14 years. I did not always agree with him, but I found him to be pleasant and civilised on the occasions we met. I know that he worked for his constituents, especially with regard to the Barlow Clowes collapse. They have told me how much they appreciated the compensation that they gained.
The Cheadle constituency is not quite the same in terms of area or population as it once was when my late friend Dr. Michael Winstanley was its representative. However, what he said about the constituency in his maiden speech in 1966 is just as true today:
"It is an area which in many ways reflects the country as a whole."—[Hansard, 12 May 1966; Vol. 728, c. 657.]
Cheadle, which is regarded overall as a prosperous constituency, has suburbs, Manchester city estates and rich residential areas. It has greenbelt areas side by side with light and heavy industry. Incomes range from very high to very low.
Cheadle is a beautiful constituency throughout the year, with tree-lined roads and excellent parks. Bruntwood park holds the prestigious green flag award. Bramall Hall is one of the foremost tourist attractions of the north-west and, indeed, of the country. My constituency has riverside and country walks with views over the Peak district.
Perhaps just as important, we have a wealth of voluntary organisations and faith groups that all contribute to the well-being of the area. I expect that the recent census will demonstrate a significant increase in the ethnic and faith minority population. It is important for us to recognise and meet their wish to play a full part in the life of the wider community.
Nowadays, Cheadle is a constituency that is overburdened with road traffic and suffering from a lack of regular, reliable public transport. It has the questionable distinction of having had a third of a road built by 1995—the central section of the Manchester airport eastern link road. However, the road failed to link the developing Manchester airport with anything. Indeed, the third of the MAELR that has been built serves simply to funnel in traffic through the villages of the constituency, with Woodford, Bramhall and Heald Green being particularly badly affected. They have traffic levels above those that normally trigger a determination in marginal constituencies to build bypasses.
My constituents and I eagerly awaited the detailed proposals of the south-east Manchester multi-modal study—SEMMMS. I understand that it will tell us that the planners of 70 years ago were correct in their assumption that the entire road network needed to be built. The developing Manchester airport has no good transport links to the south-east, and my constituency suffers from car and freight traffic accessing the airport and the motorway network. My constituents' problems are compounded by the lack of regular or, in some parts, any good quality public transport. This is particularly hard on low-income families, those living in rural areas and an increasingly elderly population.
My predecessor brought to the attention of the House the plight of the people of Chesters Croft, a small, idyllic hamlet made up of permanent mobile homes. At the public inquiry into the MAELR 10 years ago, those concerned were led to believe that they would be compensated for noise nuisance in a comparable way to other home owners. Over the past 10 years, there has been an abortive change in the law but still no compensation for my increasingly elderly constituents. They have a moral right to have their case considered and dealt with expeditiously. They believe that they may be forced to take their case to the European Court of Human Rights.
Unfairness is the theme of my speech. Cheadle is one of the three and a half constituencies that make up the local government area of Stockport metropolitan borough council. My hon. Friend Mr. Stunell, with whom I share a boundary, is also a councillor in Stockport. Until recently, I was the deputy leader of Stockport council and its chair of social services.
The problem that I wish to speak of is the unfairness of the Government grant and European funding system. A number of metropolitan authorities are in the same position. Every pensioner, every school child and every person on a low income in my constituency is affected every day by the blunt instrument of European and local government finance and the even blunter instrument that is the council tax.
Stockport is the lowest spending metropolitan borough per head and yet we have a gap of £23 million between standard spending assessment levels and what we must spend to keep our education and social services spending near the average. Students at the Kingsway school in my constituency have funding of almost £1,000 a head less than students who attend a school with a similar catchment area that is located little more than a mile away in a neighbouring authority area. It is possible that the school where I am a governor, Bramhall high school, which has an excellent academic record, has the lowest per pupil spend in the country, despite the fact that a significant number of its students come from very low-income families.
On the assumption that house prices in Stockport have increased at roughly the same rate as those in the region as a whole, Stockport's grant loss since 1990 has been estimated as 16.8 per cent., or some £4.5 million. That loss has occurred because there has been no revaluation. Data losses have amounted to £4 million this year, including £1 million on the area cost adjustment. In terms of that adjustment, it must be right for areas that have to pay salaries that are above the norm to be compensated, but such compensation should be based on actual and not finger-in-the-air costs.
The waste disposal levy applied in Greater Manchester is apportioned on the council tax base and not in respect of tonnage. To put it crudely, the more that my constituents recycle while Manchester fails to do so, the more that they pay. Many of them are avid recyclers, so I am sure that they are happy that they are doing the right thing by the planet, but I am equally certain that they would be furious to know that they are paying more than they should, to make up for the less environmentally friendly habits of neighbouring authorities in Greater Manchester.
Stockport metropolitan borough council is on a crusade to improve its services. It wishes to demonstrate that it can meet challenging improvement targets. The interests of consumers and citizens are at the heart of its vision to put people first, but the unfairness in the system of allocating grants from central Government and from Europe is making it extremely difficult to deliver the improvements. To put it bluntly, the grant is too low and the council tax is too high in my constituency. The averages of whole wards and boroughs that are used in formulae for national and European funding do not recognise extremes of wealth or poverty.
The level of need that is acknowledged by social services in my constituency and in Stockport metropolitan borough as a whole far exceeds the funding allocated under the Government formula. Our schools produce excellent results on a shoestring. The majority of my constituents already pay more in income taxes than people in most other places. It should not be necessary for people on low incomes to pay extra for their council tax because Government and European grant aid is unfairly distributed. Those on low incomes should be remembered first by a Government who put social inclusion high on their agenda.
I am grateful to the House for its attention. The Liberal Democrats do not regard the agreements reached at Nice as perfect or as the final word on the reform of European Union structures or policies. There is an agenda for reform in Europe which Britain can lead. We believe that the Government have a duty to galvanise debate among the citizens of the country.
I welcome Patsy Calton to the House. I am certain that she will be a formidable fighter for Cheadle. I remember from my youth that the area has a long Liberal tradition. One of the Members of Parliament for Cheadle to whom she referred, Dr. Michael Winstanley, was extremely well known. I am sure that it is a great honour for her to follow in his footsteps and in those of the other predecessors whom she mentioned. She spoke about the unfairness and blunt instruments of European Union and local authority finance. I might add that those matters are not entirely the responsibility of a Foreign Office Minister, but I am nevertheless sure that the Government will take note of her concerns and seek to redress them as she continues to speak for her constituents.
I hope that you, Sir Michael, will not mind if I express condolences to those on the Opposition Front Bench who, to a man and woman, backed the losing candidate in the Conservative leadership election, with the right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke coming top, Mr. Duncan Smith second, and Mr. Portillo third. Long may the saga continue.
I shall happily give way to the hon. Gentleman later.
Mr. Rosindell spoke confidently. I am sure that the town of Romford will be proud that one of its sons has spoken so strongly and movingly about his constituency. He engagingly gave us an electoral tour de force, taking in Glasgow, Provan, where he succeeded in getting the lowest Tory vote in the country, and going right the way through to his present constituency and home town of Romford, where his party saw its largest swing. He spoke about Mr. Cash having provided him with many formative political experiences, which will have given him a unique insight into the world. I am sure that he will benefit from that. At that point perhaps I should give way to the hon. Member for Stone.
If and when the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green wins the leadership of the Conservative party, as the hon. Gentleman, who is a fervent fan, wishes, he will see his arguments on this issue, as on many others, demolished day after day in the House, and we look forward to that.
I have rarely seen a new Member speak with such confidence and poise in a maiden speech as my hon. Friend James Purnell. He spoke almost without a note in the best traditions of the House, exemplified by the more senior right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). He appropriately paid tribute to his predecessor, Tom Pendry, and his boxing prowess, which seems to be catching these days. He spoke poignantly about Hugh Gaitskell's speech and displaying unity of purpose, and promised to fight, fight and fight again for his constituents. I was pleased that he called himself a socialist in his maiden speech, which, as a Labour Minister, I am also proud to do.
I do not want to detain the House too long because there are many issues to cover before 10 o'clock. My right hon. Friend Denzil Davies required me to seek enlightenment from officials—I always have to do so when he speaks—on a series of points about the treaty and the question of rights and obligations under the EU treaties that need to be given effect in UK law. The amendments to the EU treaty made by the treaty of Nice are, as he says, set out in article 1. They are not referred to in clause 1 as they do not give rise to community rights and obligations. As my right hon. Friend says, they amount to rights and obligations in international law. They are intergovernmental rather than Community in nature.
Clause 1 refers not only to provisions in the Nice treaty that do not amend the Community treaties but to matters with which they deal, including amendments to the treaty on European Union. The provisions relate to matters covered by the Community—for example, the amendments to the provisions on enhanced co-operation. They are subject to the Ponsonby rule; accordingly, an explanatory memorandum has been provided to Parliament. The submission of the treaty to Parliament as a Command Paper and the debates on the Bill cover the requirement to give Parliament an opportunity to debate treaties before their ratification.
I do not want to be uncharitable to the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe, but his congratulations on my excellent speech make me wonder whether I should have got J. B. to redraft it or give me further advice. Whoever J. B. may be, he is an estimable member of the Foreign Office staff. My full speech is available on www.fco. gov.uk., but I do not believe that J. B.'s comments are on the Foreign Office website for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to inspect.
If I have time, I shall be happy to deal with the points made by the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe in more detail, but they were Exoceted by my hon. Friends the Members for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) and for Preston (Mr. Hendrick). His speech bore little resemblance to the reality of the common security and defence policy in the European Union or the Bill.
The comments of the hon. Member for Stone on Javier Solana were badly informed and misdirected. Javier Solana is a respected representative of the EU. On the EU's behalf, he played an important role, which was welcomed by the Israelis, Palestinians and Americans, in the middle east peace process and in many other areas, not least the Balkans. The hon. Gentleman should inform himself better.
The first group of amendments deals with the second and third pillars of the Maastricht treaty, or the treaty on European Union. They are: foreign affairs, defence, justice and home affairs. There is much confusion about defence and the Nice treaty; that was evident from the debates this afternoon and last week. Much misinformation has been circulated. As my hon. Friend the Member for Preston said, a great deal of rubbish is talked. Some of it has been talked in large doses by Conservative Members. Let me set out the position once more in plain, ministerial English.
The arrangements for the European security and defence policy are not in the Nice treaty. A declaration that is attached to the treaty makes it clear that it does not need to be effected for defence arrangements that have been agreed by EU member states to become operational.
I shall continue to explain the position. I clearly need to do that for the hon. Gentleman.
Before doing that, I shall respond to the points made by the hon. Members for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) and for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) about Turkey. They search in vain for a false alibi from the USA when they oppose the modest EU initiative on developing a capability for peacekeeping and humanitarian intervention.
Turkey has supported the development of the European security and defence policy. At the NATO ministerial meeting in December 2000, Turkey and other allies reaffirmed NATO's readiness to support ESDP and EU operations. Turkey also supported that policy at NATO's Foreign Ministers' meeting in Budapest two months ago in May. With other NATO allies, Turkey reaffirmed its commitment to a genuine strategic partnership between NATO and the EU on crisis management.
Of course, Turkey has concerns about the policy, but the European Union's openness to the involvement of non-EU European NATO members such as Turkey is an important step towards addressing those concerns, some of which are legitimate. We shall continue to engage with Turkey to demonstrate that developing a strong EU-NATO relationship will strengthen the alliance and ensure that Turkish security interests are fully respected.
The hon. Members for West Suffolk and for Stone asked about references to the Western European Union being removed from the treaty. The relationship with WEU has changed since the Maastricht treaty was agreed, and the deletion of references to WEU simply reflects reality. The hon. Member for West Suffolk will note that the reference in paragraph 4 of article 17 has been retained because it refers to political frameworks in which WEU is still involved, as opposed to operational issues in which it is not.
The other new element in the treaty is a reference to the new Political and Security Committee, which is already up and running and to which the Council will now be able to delegate the running of a crisis management operation on instructions from capitals. I say to the hon. Member for West Suffolk that that does not—to use his term—duplicate NATO structures at all; the contrary is the case.
It is hard to imagine from all the hot air that has been spoken that there is not an article somewhere in the treaty setting up a permanent Euro-army under the control of foreign generals who will frog-march our armed forces into campaigns of which neither we nor NATO want to be part. That is absolutely not the case. As my hon. Friend Dr. Palmer so convincingly argued, the European security and defence policy is about improving the military capabilities of European nations to conduct certain EU-led military operations—humanitarian, peacekeeping, crisis management—where NATO chooses not to be engaged. That answers virtually all the points made by the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe.
My hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe was also correct about the lessons of the Balkans. To be fair, Conservative Members have referred to that matter as well. The Balkans provide many insights into why this capability is needed.
That runs right through the whole initiative. It is what the initiative is all about. I shall quote from the text in a minute. It is repeatedly made absolutely clear that this initiative is complementary to, and welcomed by, NATO.
Right hon. and hon. Members have made long contributions and I need an opportunity to answer them briefly.
I have some more plain speaking for the Conservative party: NATO is and will remain the cornerstone of Europe's collective defence. That is a fact. NATO is and will remain our first choice for managing crises: that is also a fact—more plain speaking. However hard Conservative Members scan the newspapers for sceptical quotes, the fact remains that NATO has long wanted Europe to take more responsibility and to improve its capability. That is what we are now doing, and NATO as a whole strongly supports it. Mr. Campbell made some very telling points on that matter in last week's debate.
For the avoidance of doubt, let me quote again—for Opposition Members such as the hon. Member for Stone who do not seem to want to hear it—what the European Council agreed at Nice, not in the treaty, but in the report on European security and defence policy that was approved by all the Heads of State and Government at Nice:
"This does not involve the establishment of a European army. The commitment of national resources by Member States to such operations will be based on their sovereign decisions. As regards the Member States concerned, NATO remains the basis of the collective defence of its members . . . The development of the ESDP will contribute to the vitality of a renewed transatlantic link. This development will also lead to a genuine strategic partnership between the EU and NATO in the management of crises, with due regard for the two organisations' decision-making autonomy."
It is important to place that quote on record, because one would not have imagined that to be true from the comments bearing no resemblance to reality that have sallied forth from the Opposition.
The Minister has to answer just two simple questions. In this context, what does "autonomous" mean? It is clearly stated in the declarations and conclusions to which the Minister has referred, as well as in previous treaties. Secondly, why did Romano Prodi say that it did not matter whether we called it Margaret or Mary-Anne, it would still be a European army? Will the Minister answer those two simple questions now?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has exhaustively answered these questions in long debates on the matter. I read the text of treaties and of statements agreed at the inter-governmental conference, rather than random comments made by this or that European leadership figure.
The hon. Member for West Suffolk asked about parliamentary scrutiny of European security and defence policy initiatives. Of course we want to involve Parliament, and I will reflect on his arguments to see in what way they can sensibly be addressed.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about article 7 and the sanctions clause. The article was amended to introduce an early-warning mechanism. Surely it makes sense to establish that there is a risk of a breach of fundamental rights. This will give other member states the opportunity to make recommendations and, one would hope, avoid any breaches occurring.
The hon. Gentleman also asked how we would assess whether a breach had occurred. That would be established by the European Council after it had considered the observations of the member state concerned.
Finally, the rights that we are talking about are those in article 6.1 of the treaty on European Union—the Maastricht treaty, as amended by the Amsterdam treaty. The charter of fundamental rights has no legal status and is not referred to in article 6.1. The hon. Member for West Suffolk need, therefore, have no worries on that count.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way at last. If he is serious about wanting to provide opportunities for Members to scrutinise the Bill, will he now answer the simple question that he said he would answer five minutes ago? Will he identify where in any of the texts to be agreed there is any reference to NATO's choosing not to be engaged—the phrase used by the Minister in his speech—before the European Union becomes engaged? Where in the texts does that language appear?
I have answered this point, and it has been repeatedly answered in the House. So long as the right hon. and learned Gentleman chooses not to study the record of the debates in the House, I cannot help him further.
The hon. Member for West Suffolk asked about an update on Eurojust. The Tampere European Council in October 1999 agreed to set up Eurojust to improve co-operation between national prosecutors, aiding national criminal investigations into serious organised crime. Organised crime stopped respecting national boundaries long ago. We strongly support Eurojust and the benefits that it will bring in tackling organised crime more effectively. Improving judicial co-operation across the European Union will also help to ensure that serious organised crime is properly investigated and prosecuted.
Eurojust will not involve, as the hon. Member for West Suffolk implied, interference by the EU in national investigations and prosecutions. It will not mean an end to British legal traditions. It will not be a body that investigates and prosecutes in its own right. It will not involve a centralised European public prosecutor. Investigations will continue to be conducted by national authorities. The role of Eurojust will be to aid cross-border investigations by ensuring the co-operation of national authorities. Eurojust is designed to crack down on international organised crime, to help to put an end to the misery caused by traffickers in drugs and human beings and to bring money launderers to book. I hope that we all support that.
I should answer several other points that were raised by the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe. He asked why a person from a non-member of NATO—a Finn—is at the head of the European military committee. General Haggland was elected because of his extensive military experience and his competence. Simply put, he was the best person for the job. The right hon. and learned Gentleman also asked why the presidency report mentions co-operation with Russia, Ukraine and Canada, but not the United States. That represents recognition of the fact that the countries mentioned might want to join EU-led operations. Were the United States involved, an operation would of course effectively be a NATO operation.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about the practical arrangements between the EU and NATO. As I have said before, the EU will not set up rival military structures to duplicate what already exists. The EU will use existing operational planning staff from NATO for EU operations using NATO assets. In addition, the NATO North Atlantic Council and the new EU Political and Security Committee will meet regularly to discuss co-operation and are already doing so. Four groups have been formed to consider detailed areas of co-operation and work is continuing to ensure EU access to NATO assets in an agreed fashion.
The Government reject all the amendments and I commend the Government's position to the Committee.
There is much to discuss further this evening, and although I thank the Minister for responding to the points that I made, I must tell him that we want to examine his responses with some care before returning to them.
We have heard excellent speeches from a number of new Members. First, I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Rosindell, who discussed the snakes and ladders of political life in terms of majorities in local government, parliamentary elections and the recent and most impressive swing in his constituency. He spoke with affection of his predecessors, who overlapped in his constituency: Sir Michael Neubert and Sir Nicholas Bonsor, who were held in high regard in this place, and his immediate predecessor, Eileen Gordon, who spoke with great conviction on health matters.
My hon. Friend referred to the bulldog spirit, and I hope and believe that he will show that spirit in his membership of the House of Commons. He described his constituency with great affection and talked about flying the Union flag. Romford clearly has an articulate Member of Parliament who will fly the flag for the constituency in the years to come.
I warmly congratulate James Purnell. I fought the neighbouring seat of Ashton-under-Lyne some years ago, so I know the area to which he referred. I also pay tribute to Tom Pendry, who was a friend of mine. He was highly regarded in the House and he had a particular knowledge of sport, so the whole Committee will be pleased at the hon. Gentleman's comments about Tom.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned Gaitskell's links to the constituency and the change in the area's economic base. I certainly know of that from my own experience there—the number of mills has changed tremendously—but he also referred to the new businesses that are transforming the economy. He made a remark that struck me. In discussing his ideals, he used the word "socialism". He sits as a Government Member, so I very much hope that he will be able to sustain those ideals in this place in the years to come.
I am grateful to Patsy Calton for her kind words about her predecessor, Stephen Day, with whom I shared an office when I first became a Member of Parliament. She described the great diversity of the constituency, which contains both affluent and poorer areas, and the congestion problems at Manchester airport, which affect her constituency. She showed clear affection for and knowledge of her area, and she is a fluent and competent speaker. I hope that she will make many more contributions in the House as Member for Cheadle.
We have heard much about parliamentary accountability; no matter how one considers the role for the European rapid reaction force arising from the Nice treaty, we must consider pressing new clause 7 to a Division. We want to highlight the implications for the Western European Union, NATO and the future organisations as well as the UK's role therein. We believe that what was agreed at Nice poses serious threats to NATO, which is the organisation that has secured our peace and stability for more than 50 years. We tamper with it at our peril.
A number of excellent speeches have been made, but I must allude to the brilliantly incisive contribution of my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Howard. The fact of the matter is that what was achieved at Nice has nothing to do with enhanced defence capability or burden sharing or co-operation on defence procurement. It is about politics—the politics of the integration process of the European Union.
I had wanted to press my amendment to a Division, because the matters that we have discussed are fundamental to the peace and security not only of the United Kingdom, but of Europe as a whole. Furthermore, for the reasons that I have given, which were elaborated on by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Howard, we have effectively dealt with the Minister's arguments, and I have absolutely no doubt that we shall continue to do so during our proceedings. However, although I do not want to avoid a Division, we have practical problems this evening to do with the result of the leadership election, which means that people are scattered in various places. No doubt some are rather happier than others.
It is sensible and practical to deal with these matters when we debate clause stand part so that we can tackle the Minister's arguments in one fell swoop. I shall not press the matter to a Division now, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
The Second Deputy Chairman:
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment No. 50, in page 1, line 9, after "(i)", insert—
'Article 1 (other than paragraph 12),'.
Amendment No. 51, in page 1, line 9, after "(i)", insert—
'Article 1 (other than paragraph 13),'.
Amendment No. 52, in page 1, line 9, after "(i)", insert—
'Article 1 (other than paragraph 14),'.
Amendment No. 234, in page 1, line 9, after "(i)", insert—
'Article 1 (other than paragraph 11, sub-paragraphs (b) and (c))'.
Amendment No. 56, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 2 paragraph 1'.
New clause 9—Enhanced cooperation (No. 1)—
'Her Majesty's Government shall lay before Parliament a report showing the implication for the United Kingdom of Article 2, paragraph 1 of the Nice Treaty, amending Article 11 TEC, incorporating the effects of related Articles on enhanced co–operation in the TEC and TEU, including Article 1, paragraph 11 of the Nice Treaty, revising Article 43 TEU.'.
New clause 10—Enhanced cooperation (No. 2)—
'The Government shall not take steps to participate in any proposals agreed under Article 1, paragraph 11 of the Nice Treaty, revising Article 43 TEU, or related Articles in the Nice Treaty on enhanced co-operation in the TEC and TEU, including Article 2, paragraph 1 amending Article 11 TEC, without first having obtained the approval of each House of Parliament by resolution.'.
And the following amendment thereto: (a), in line 1, leave out "take steps to".
Enhanced co-operation, otherwise known as flexibility, is an important and fateful ingredient in the development of European Union politics. As with so many of these issues, it is a matter of lego-political power play and, as I said earlier and on Second Reading, it cannot be separated from qualified majority voting. Unfortunately, that is the mechanism whereby the eight member states that congregate at the centre of the proposed EU in relation to the functions arrogated to them will themselves operate in the framework of a QMV system. Therefore, as with economic and monetary union and the arrangements that led me to oppose the Maastricht treaty with such vigour, the locomotives are parallel to one another.
The arrangement is as simple as this: the creation of an acquis communautaire in a legal framework will be sought and the process of enhanced co-operation or flexibility will work in that framework. In the example of monetary union, the centre point is created and a eurozone established. Then all the others are effectively dragged along with it. An example of that is the creation of the coins and notes. Thereafter everybody is conditioned to the idea. Those who are reluctant and are found to be outside the system are then, by a gravitational process, drawn into having to comply with the arrangements.
I believe that the third protocol to the Maastricht treaty provided that no member state should prevent the others from going ahead. For practical purposes, that is reflected by the removal of what is known as the emergency brake. I am interested to know whether Mr. Davies intends to speak, because I wish that this were not such an incredibly complex question—one that is given to lawyers and others to play around with. I refer to the question of enhanced co-operation, which constitutes a mixture of the use of law and the deepest and most sophisticated form of power politics that I have witnessed in all my dealings with the European Community and the European Union.
I believe that many people are being gravely misled. A number of my colleagues, including the shadow Foreign Secretary, are being misled into believing that the notion of flexibility is somehow a good one. As I pointed out in a pamphlet that I wrote about a year ago—it was called "Associated But Not Absorbed", and called for an associated European area—the trend that has been established has done enormous damage to the democracy of other member states, especially in central and eastern Europe. Those states are being drawn into the acquis communautaire, while knowing all about the politics of it.
As I said in an earlier speech on the Bill, the centre of gravity—indeed, I now go further and say "the domination of the entire European Union"—will be created by Germany's having a preponderant influence. That will be the case not just because of qualified majority voting—the countries dependent on Germany politically and economically will inevitably, in the real world, vote with her—but because the concept of flexibility is a driving force, a rocket thrust, in that direction.
Enhanced co-operation stems, in fact, from the Amsterdam treaty. It is no excuse saying that it was not used on that occasion, because it is really a fancy new name for a two-speed Europe. Jacques Chirac summarised the proposal neatly:
"A certain number of countries will have to get together to show the others the way."
A sub-set of member states that wishes to proceed with further integration and to create an inner core will be allowed to do so.
An obscure but very interesting paper was produced by Michael Mertes, who became Chancellor Kohl's chief policy adviser. He and I have had many discussions about these questions. The paper, written in 1988 or 1989, created a template for the idea of an inner and outer core of Europe. I pay tribute to Mr. Mertes and also to a gentleman by the name of Mr. Prill, who wrote the paper with him.
The plan was a "concentric circles" plan, transparently intended to produce the kind of Europe that the flexibility arrangement in the Nice treaty actually represents. Hon. Members must grasp exactly what is going on, and not be taken in by a lot of the Euro-propaganda. The facts are all set out. At least those concerned had the honesty to do that, although many of their articles and papers appear in rather obscure journals. The other countries will be relegated to an outer core, and reverse integration is ruled out, because reversing the process would mean passing amendments that have themselves been described, effectively, as ruled out because this, like economic and monetary union, is regarded as an irreversible process. We are increasingly being locked in.
Let me say this to Labour Members, with great respect. If they do not like aspects of these treaties, and if they do not want to be taken on a long train journey leading, in my view, to increasing chaos and uncertainty, they ought to speak out. They spoke out yesterday; I think they should speak out against this as well, because it will have serious consequences for many of the policies that they hold dear.
Flexibility is the antithesis of what some so-called Eurosceptics hoped it would come to mean. In an Adjournment debate on the subject that I initiated as long ago as—I think—1995, I explained the dangers of what I described as a Heath Robinson system. I said that disconnected parts were being put together in a single system, which would create chaotic arrangements. I believe that we are heading for an increasingly dangerous and tense European Union.
What should happen, of course, is this: individual nation states should be enabled to make their own decisions, but to work in co-operation rather than being put in the compression chamber of the acquis communautaire, as is now being proposed. Like subsidiarity, this whole process will promote ever deeper political centralisation. It will do nothing for diversity and decentralisation—although many claim that it might—because, like subsidiarity, it is a con trick. Individual nation states will possess no emergency brake or veto to prevent other member states from going ahead with further integration.
I look forward to the remarks that I trust will be made, in due course, by my hon. Friend Mr. Spring. My hon. Friend's shoulders are now heaving in a Heath-like fashion. He knows perfectly well that the removal of the emergency brake presents something of a problem for those who have previously advocated the notion of flexibility—a problem that will not disappear simply because we wish things were otherwise.
For the first time, it has been clearly stated that the whole purpose of enhanced co-operation is to reinforce the process of integration. That is an entirely new mission statement. Article 1 itself talks of ever closer union, and so forth. The minimum number of participants is eight, regardless of enlargement. The process will depend on eight member states making decisions relating to a range of policies and functions. The potential for chaos must be obvious to anyone. If there are 27 members in an enlarged Community and eight are driving the system, how on earth will it be possible—I return for a moment to our debate on defence and foreign policy—to secure the degree of consistency that is claimed for the proposed, and proclaimed, European political union? It is inherent in the arrangements that they will not achieve that objective: they will defeat the object of their own exercise, and at the same time create chaos. I fear for the European Community, or Union, for reasons like that.
Can the hon. Gentleman tell me how eight member states wishing to co-operate in dealing with, say, drugs and cross-border crime might affect the rest of the European Union if it did not wish to participate? The example is particularly pertinent. Clearly, if the case involved the single market, the single market would be distorted, but a minimum of eight states are taking action that does not affect any other member states in the European Union.
I dealt with the single market in the context of enlargement in a previous debate and I do not think that you, Sir Michael, would want me to go back over that. The real point is that the potential for chaotic policy making, with 27 member states all having different ideas as to the direction in which to go but knowing that inner-core policy is being directed by eight member states, must be obvious to anyone. I do not need to repeat myself: the permutations are horrific.
Some say that they welcome the move because it will destroy the European Union. I want a renegotiated Union with reduced functions in all areas of European government, which can be achieved without withdrawal if the Government are prepared to listen. The corollary is that the movement in the other direction, which is embedded in the proposals for enhanced co-operation, will produce a completely unworkable situation. If the whole European Union implodes as a result of the mistakes that are being made, I will accuse the Government—much as I like the Minister. The danger is that the move will cause serious damage and difficulty for the United Kingdom. We are embarked on a policy that is bound to cause chaos and damage to the British national interest.
It is outrageous that we should be faced with these proposals. I am fascinated to know what the practical arguments are on which the Government seem to depend. I would like to know the philosophy that lies behind their decision to go along this route, because they could have vetoed the arrangements. They could even have stuck with Amsterdam, for heaven's sake, although I would have rejected that, too. In the blue paper that I wrote in response to the then Government's White Paper on the subject, I cut at the roots of the arguments, as I have sought to do for many years. There are some distinguished but misguided colleagues on the Conservative Benches who believe that variable geometry is the right way to go.
As I pointed out in the pamphlet "Associated But Not Absorbed", it would be fine if flexibility were dissociated from the acquis communautaire, but once one assumes that the acquis communautaire will bite on the whole system, one is trapped. Indeed, that very White Paper—produced by the then Foreign Secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, and the Minister with responsibility for Europe—said that we must not be trapped into a two-speed Europe. That is exactly what this move has led to. The Government have fallen for it hook, line and sinker. I am deeply concerned about it for all those reasons.
If we think of the range of matters covered in the vast corpus of law that is being created—the treaties, the European Union single institutional framework within which the British parliamentary system and the voters, the people who matter, are being subsumed—it is enough to cause anyone sleepless nights. If the Government are going to say that they are going into a federal system, get on with it and say it. All the halfway-house proceeding by stealth is creating more and more uncertainty. For heaven's sake, let the Government come out of the closet and say, "We want a federal Europe." [Interruption.] The Minister shakes his head, but the ingredients have developed since 1970.
The Minister opposed such developments at the time; I am sure of it because of our discussions in the past. Indeed, I confess to having voted yes in 1975, but I did so on the basis of what was then on offer. The problem was and remains that each treaty is a separate, cumulative series of laws. Enactment of the treaties via Bills such as this one serves to implement the arrangements in our domestic law. One was entitled to say as the thing developed, "I think that this is acceptable." To the chagrin of many of my Eurosceptic friends, I did accept, on the balance of judgment but with warnings, the Single European Act and the qualified majority voting that went with it.
I know that the Minister will be good enough to respond to my amendment No. 233, which deals with child abduction. I may or may not press that to a Division in due course. It will depend on the response that he gives, but I am interested in the effect that all these arrangements will have on the voters: my constituents and the constituents whom we represent in the House. They should not be put in the position the arrangements will put them in.
Enhanced co-operation covers such a vast range. For example, it will lead to some difficult questions in the run-up to 2004. A White Paper will be published in the next couple of days. I dare say the Minister has a copy already. It will contain, no doubt, a lot of hogwash about European government and European governance. In the past 18 months, I have asked the Prime Minister three times on the Floor of the House to answer a simple question: will he give the British people, in this Parliament, a White Paper to explain the constitutional and political implications of the issues involved: not only the single currency, but the whole European issue. As a new clause in my name underlines, such a response should not be confined to the single currency alone.
There are serious questions that the Government have to grapple with. As we move towards European government, I would like a straight answer from the Minister. He has the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Mr. MacShane, his bag carrier, next to him at the moment, and I understand that he must have a little word with him, but at the same time, would he be kind enough to answer this question? I would like to engage the attention of the Minister for a brief second: will the arrangements for enhanced co-operation be employed, or could they be employed—that is the operative word—to move us towards a European constitution? There are many reasons why I object to enhanced co-operation, but if the centre of gravity, which is the European constitution, is to be obtained by movement through these provisions, and the Government say that they do not want a European constitution, I would like them to answer that question clearly.
Enhanced co-operation is said not to undermine the single market. I am not sure what that means. Perhaps the Minister will be good enough to explain. Nor is it supposed to undermine economic and social cohesion. The arrangements for so-called social cohesion offer a blank cheque book. As Mr. Field pointed out only yesterday, whether the Government run out of money for public expenditure in the last two years of this Parliament will have a lot to do with what the arrangements for social cohesion, and the charter of rights to go with it, will cost. The blank cheque that those arrangements represent will cause very great difficulty for the Government in achieving their objectives.
It is said that the policy on enhanced co-operation must not violate the obligations, rights and competencies of member states that are not participants in it. In the previous debate, we had a dissertation on the issue of the neutral countries. However, one can appreciate the chaos that the arrangements are bound to create. The arrangements also have to respect the acquis communautaire, particularly in relation to Schengen. Nevertheless, clause 1 is described as a "last resort" clause to be used only when it is not possible to achieve integration by using "traditional" methods. As those traditional methods are to try to get everyone to agree to arrangements that they do not want, the arrangements are, in fact, "don't want" arrangements.
The euro itself is not part of enhanced co-operation. As I said, however, that pass was sold by John Major and the previous Government, who said that they would not prevent other members from going ahead with it. It was thus just a bit of waffle by the previous Government.
Fundamentally, the problem with enhanced co-operation is similar to the one that we have with economic and monetary union. Although we have an opt-out, we are still subject to European economic government. The British Government wish to join economic and monetary union one day, despite the fact that, as I said in my general election address, that will take us into the exchange rate mechanism for two years.
I wish that the official Opposition had made that point during the general election campaign. However, for reasons that completely escape me—such as the fact that we had signed up to EMU by accepting the Maastricht criteria—we did not do so. Some Opposition Members may therefore have felt that it was not advantageous to raise that issue. Some of them may also have discovered that that fact did not help them today.
In operating many macro-economic rules, the Chancellor of the Exchequer acts as if he were already a member of EMU. The same will happen with policies under enhanced co-operation. We would all be bound within that general legal framework. National Governments who are constrained by sceptical electorates—those of Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom, not to mention all the others who are fed up with being driven by their elites and blackmailed into accepting money in return for the subordination of their democratic arrangements—will rue the day when the truth finally emerges.
One could say much more on the subject, but I shall conclude—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I am delighted that Labour Members have been such an attentive audience. The matters that we are discussing are important, and they are set out in the treaties. They are extremely dangerous to the future of this country. They are also very dangerous to the European Union. I look forward with interest to hearing the Minister's reply.
Thank you, Sir Michael, for calling me to make my speech during our consideration of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill.
Enhanced co-operation between European countries is absolutely essential if there is to be a truly flexible European Union. I have become aware of some of those issues because of my membership of the Labour party's policy commission "Britain in the World". Being a pro-European myself, I cannot see how the amendments proposed by the Tories would do anything but restrict the Government's ability to negotiate. To exclude and not include seems quite daft.
My predecessor in the House was John Home Robertson, a diligent and hard-working Member who will continue to represent the people of East Lothian in the Scottish Parliament. He was first elected to the House in 1978, after the unexpected and untimely death of Professor John P. Mackintosh. He was also elected during a period, unlike now, when the then Labour Government had had difficulty holding marginal or even safe seats at by-elections. John served his constituency well, especially during the miners strike, when he raised more issues than most hon. Members.
As a Member of this place, it will be a great pleasure to work closely with John Home Robertson, a Member of the Scottish Parliament, and with Provost Pat O'Brien and the Labour-controlled East Lothian council. That combination will ensure that the people of East Lothian continue to receive the high standard of representation that they enjoy and expect from the Labour party.
I have already mentioned John P. Mackintosh, whose achievements in life as a professor of politics and campaigner for a Scottish Parliament are very well known. Perhaps less well known is that he twice gained the constituency from the Conservative party, and that on the second such occasion the defeated Tory Member was none other than Mr. Ancram. Suffice it to say that, like many other invaders in history, and similar to his bid for leadership of the Tory party, his sojourn to East Lothian was brief.
East Lothian is a stunningly beautiful part of Scotland. It is situated east of Edinburgh, north of the Lammermuir hills and adjacent to the Firth of Forth and North sea. It is therefore a community with natural boundaries. Talking about the Firth of Forth, I was fortunate enough to be brought up on the north side of the Forth, with a majestic view to the south. I now represent and bide in a constituency on the south side of the Forth with a monumental view to the north. All that—and now I discover that occasionally in this place I have yet another view, of Mr. Forth, albeit not so prepossessing.
East Lothian did have, and still does have, its troublesome times. Located where it is, so close to the English border, it was inevitable that it would become a route for, and battleground between, the military forces of Scotland and England. Many famous battles were fought on East Lothian soil. Mary Queen of Scots lost her cause in Scotland, at Carberry hill, in 1567. In the following century, at the battle of Dunbar, Oliver Cromwell's new model army decisively defeated Scottish forces sympathetic to the monarchy. The battle of Prestonpans was memorable, when Bonnie Prince Charlie's Jacobites were victorious against the Government forces led by General Johnnie Cope. Thankfully, the Government forces were much more successful in securing a victory on
Speaking of battles and Government forces, in the general election campaign I was lucky enough to be supported by the Deputy Prime Minister. He was due to visit Prestonpans Labour club. The night before the auspicious visit, I was decorating the club and blowing up balloons, as one does, when the news came in that my right hon. Friend had an altercation with one of the British electorate, so I had no idea what to expect. We did not know what type of reception he would receive, whether it would be hostile or supportive. In the event, it was massive. It was a media circus. It was like a night at the Oscars, cameras and flashlights everywhere.
My right hon. Friend received a hero's welcome. The majority of constituents made measured comments about the incident, such as:
"It's terrible that politicians and their staff should be attacked and abused in such a way."
There were also, however, more down-to-earth, frank and forthright quotes from some of the locals. Margaret Jones, from Dunbar, said:
"We breed men not mice in the Labour Party".
Sandra Stalker, from Port Seton, felt that my right hon. Friend
"didn't hit him hard enough".
The history of East Lothian has not been one only of battles and wars. One of the less well known incidents occurred at Tranent, in 1797, when miners and their families, led by the redoubtable Jackie Crookston, beating her drum, were mercilessly crushed and massacred by troops when they objected to the unfair imposition of military service.
Although there have been revolutions as well in East Lothian, they have been relatively peaceful ones. Coal, the fuel of industrialisation, was mined in East Lothian from at least the 13th century. The conditions were extremely cruel, and for those people serfdom was not abolished until 1799. For many years later, until well into the l9th century, large numbers of women and girls—some as young as six—were forced to work in the mines. Indeed, a parliamentary commission reported in 1842 that conditions in East Lothian were
"worse than anywhere else in Great Britain".
Things did improve thanks to the work of the miners themselves, their unions and the Labour party, but sadly there are no mines left in East Lothian. History, heritage, the legacy of human pain, suffering, hard work, pride and even death over the centuries was callously decimated by the Conservative party, without an ounce of compassion.
I felt that I could not or should not make my maiden speech without mentioning my maiden name and paying tribute to my family, some of whom are here today. I was born Anne Moffat of the famous dynasty of Moffats who are steeped in the history of the Scottish miners trade union movement and who hailed from Fife and East Lothian. It is fitting that a Fifer is representing the good people of East Lothian.
Before I had the honour of being elected to the House, I was a nurse in the national health service and was privileged to be elected national president of the UK's largest trade union, UNISON. The NHS is a unique and wonderful British institution; it is also at a crossroads. To hear the contenders for the Tory crown of thorns is to listen and marvel. They criticise the state of the health service, but how do they think it got to that position? I worked in the unfashionable mental health services, as successive Tory Governments ripped the heart out of the service by deep cuts in spending and pernicious neglect. There is no doubt that this Government's prescription of massive extra funding is the way forward.
The NHS plan agreed last year sets the right path for investment and reform. I have seen the Government's proposals for the next 10 years and I utterly refute the suggestion that they represent a privatisation agenda. Everything now being proposed was in that plan and the service bought into it. I have to be honest and say that I do not believe that in an ideal world the PFI would be the way to build hospitals. It is a fact, however, that the investment programme is based on harnessing private capital for public good. The question is whether the price is too high.
Nevertheless, I welcome the new pilot schemes which are designed to enable ancillary staff to remain part of the NHS team. Securing this change will make a major difference to staff attitudes. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health shares my view that the support and commitment of the staff in the health service who subscribe to the unfashionable belief in the public service ethos are crucial to the success of the Government's plans.
I lived and worked in Northern Ireland in the early 1980s. It was a time of mass riots, hunger strikes and the killing of innocents. Bombs, bullets and mindless violence were an accepted part of everyone's life. I nursed, and I saw at first hand the sheer devastation. A return to those days for the good people of Northern Ireland would be a travesty. They are the warmest, kindest people one could ever hope to meet. I wish my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Prime Minister—and, indeed, all those who are part of the process—all the very best in their endeavours to maintain peace.
Before I conclude, it would be appropriate for me to mention that East Lothian crossed a threshold on
I congratulate Anne Picking on delivering an excellent maiden speech, full of eloquence and obvious feeling for her constituency. She and I have in common a background in health and constituencies with strong martial traditions. I am hugely privileged to represent the Wiltshire county constituency of Westbury.
As hon. Members might expect, Europe features prominently among the concerns of my constituents. In particular, the prospect of an autonomous European military capability that was championed by the Prime Minister at St. Malo and fleshed out at Nice is viewed with unease. The threat that the proposed Euro force might pose to one of the most successful post-war organisations, NATO, and to our symbiotic relationship with the United States has surely not been adequately explored. Still less light has been shed on the intended geographic scope of the initiative, or indeed on the arrangements for parliamentary scrutiny of the European security and defence policy en bloc.
I am sure that hon. Members are looking forward to the end of term and to the opportunity of taking a summer break during the recess. The Prime Minister's announcement that he intends to flout tradition and spend at least some of his vacation in Britain is really welcome. Our benighted tourist industry in the south-west has been badly affected by foot and mouth and it needs all the support it can get. I genuinely hope that the right hon. Gentleman will bear Wiltshire in mind when drawing up his holiday plans—as a tourist he can be sure of a warm welcome.
The "Anglo Saxon Chronicle" records that in 878, at a high point near Edington in my constituency, King Alfred finally defeated the Danes and in so doing founded the kingdom of Wessex. Therefore, I have a legitimate claim that my constituency is the crucible of England, and in representing this giant among parliamentary divisions I am more honoured than I can possibly express.
My constituency straddles much of the territory that lies between Bath and Salisbury. It is an area of handsome small towns, attractive villages and deep verdant countryside. To the north lie the thriving county town of Trowbridge and the outrageously beautiful small town of Bradford-on-Avon. Nestling under the escarpment of Salisbury plain is the ancient settlement of Westbury with its famous chalk white horse. Further south still lie the attractive market and garrison town of Warminster and the undiscovered little gem of Mere, close to the border with Dorset. It is truly a diverse constituency. Indeed, to misquote Dr Samuel Johnson, when a man is tired of Westbury he is tired of life, for there is in Westbury all that life can afford.
West Wiltshire's very obvious physical charm conceals real problems that I suggest would match those faced by the constituencies of many Labour Members. Hon. Members should never for a moment suppose that the English shire counties are untroubled by relative poverty, for that is not so. My constituents have all been victims in one way or another of changes to the formula used in the standard spending assessment. Wiltshire's schoolchildren, road users and social services are suffering badly. Please may we now have fair funding for Wiltshire?
It is most agreeable to have another doctor in the House. Dr. Taylor and I well understand the importance to our patients and our constituents of health care delivered close to home. One of the salient features of the NHS in west Wiltshire is the presence of four excellent community hospitals, but recent bed closures have resulted in considerable hardship, particularly among my elderly constituents. The villains are not just politicians, but those who advise them—health service planners and those in health professions, with their ingrained centralist tendencies. In designing secondary, intermediate and primary health care we must listen to what the paymasters—our constituents—want and be less driven by the needs and aspirations of the medical establishment.
My predecessor was David Faber. As the grandson of Harold Macmillan, he had an impossible act to follow. Nevertheless, he developed a high reputation in this place and in Westbury. His departure is a loss to the House and his cerebral contribution to culture, media and sport will, I think, be especially missed.
Not so keenly missed was our predecessor, the colourful Sir Mannaseh Lopes, Baronet. Sir Mannaseh was convicted in 1819 at Exeter assizes for distributing £2,000 in brown paper envelopes while out canvassing. Shortly after his release from jail, this 19th century political comeback kid resurfaced as the Member of Parliament for Westbury, but he proved unpopular with the upright citizens of the town. Somewhat ironically, in 1826 he was replaced by Sir Robert Peel, founder inter alia of the Metropolitan police force.
Last week, two soldiers lost their lives in a Challenger 2 tank in my constituency. It was a dreadful reminder of the hazards faced by our service men in both peace and war, and of the debt of gratitude that we owe our armed forces.
When I left the medical branch of the Royal Navy in October last year, I was likened by one of my more thoughtful colleagues to a rat leaving a sinking ship. The analogy was a little unkind, but the point was well made. Our armed forces are in a truly parlous state that contrasts sharply with that enjoyed by many of our allies.
There are 29 anaesthetists on the books, and there should be 120. There are eight orthopaedic surgeons, and there should be 28. There are three casualty doctors, and there should be 23. It is ironic that one of the least moribund specialties in the defence medical services is pathology. It is small wonder that nearly 10 per cent. of the Army is currently medically downgraded. Nearly one soldier in 10 is not fighting fit.
What is surprising is the remedy—the closure of the Royal hospital, Haslar, which serves many of my constituents. My hon. Friend Mr. Viggers has fought a tireless campaign against the closure, and I pay tribute to his sterling work.
If the closure of our last military hospital were not bad enough, we are now faced with the removal of the royal defence medical college from its location near Portsmouth to a new centre for defence medicine in Birmingham.
Birmingham is a truly wonderful city, but most people join the defence medical service to serve the front line—which is billeted in Hampshire and Wiltshire, not in the middle of Birmingham. It is little wonder that esprit de corps and retention are at an all-time low.
Military medicine, European or otherwise, is an integral part of the defence effort, yet we are allowing the already fibrillating heart of Britain's defence medical services to drift irrevocably towards asystole. If we allow that to happen, our ability to prosecute even the sort of conflict in which NATO, according to many Labour Members, might reasonably be involved—but not directly—will be severely limited. If I may issue a cry from the heart: may we please think again?
We have just heard two excellent maiden speeches. They, and the other such speeches that we have heard, caused me to cast my mind back to my own halting and nervous first contribution. I made my maiden speech in the early hours of the morning some time in June 1970, when not many hon. Members were around to hear it. By contrast, Dr. Murrison and my hon. Friend Anne Picking, and others, have spoken with a fluency that fills me with admiration. The hon. Member for Westbury mentioned his predecessor, David Faber. Many Labour Members may not have known Mr. Faber as well as the hon. Gentleman, although I do not mean that as a criticism, but we all knew John Home Robertson, the predecessor of my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian.
I mentioned earlier that I was the Labour party's defence spokesman in the 1980s. It was an exciting time both for the party and for defence spokesmen. Many members of our armed forces were stationed in Wiltshire, and I remember visiting the county. I was struck by the remark by the hon. Member for Westbury that not all parts of Wiltshire are as affluent as people—especially people from the Celtic fringes—tend to believe. Even in the 1980s, parts of the hon. Gentleman's constituency were notably less affluent than some expected.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian mentioned John Home Robertson, who was known, liked and admired by all hon. Members. She also mentioned Mr. John P. Mackintosh, about whom I have mixed feelings. I admired him greatly as a constitutional expert and writer of well-known and excellent books, but I was a junior Treasury Minister between 1975 and 1979, in a Government which, between 1977 and 1979, had no majority. Trying to see a Finance Bill through Standing Committee without a majority is quite an experience, and not one through which I should like to put today's Ministers.
Such an experience hones one's advocacy skills. If one wanted John P. Mackintosh's vote, one had to be pretty skilful. He and his friend Mr. Brian Walden used to go about together sometimes, and they were quite likely to end up in a different Lobby from other Labour Members when a Division was called. However, Mr. Mackintosh was a distinguished Member of Parliament.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian also mentioned the Jacobites. I was 15 years old when, as a grammar school pupil in Wales, I had to study the Jacobite rebellion for the old O-level exam. I pity our history teacher now, as it must have been an impossible task to explain the reasons for that rebellion to 15-year-old boys in west Wales. I congratulate my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Westbury on their excellent maiden speeches.
I turn now to enhanced co-operation. Everyone is in favour of better co-operation—even Mr. Cash, in certain areas at least. It is an important matter, and is addressed by amendment No. 56 in particular, which deals with article 2 of the treaty.
It appears to me that, if Britain entered an enhanced co-operation arrangement with eight, nine or 10 states, our democracy would be diminished. Such arrangements cannot be changed. I have read the articles, and I believe that it would not be possible to withdraw from enhanced co-operation arrangements without securing a qualified majority.
The acquis communautaire means that the arrangements would not prejudice the assumption that all member states must accept the pre-existing legal framework. That framework would not be altered.
The hon. Gentleman probably understands these matters better than some other hon. Members, although I am not sure that I understand that explanation completely. I suspect that it would not be possible simply to withdraw from an arrangement without securing some kind of qualified majority, which would take the matter out of Britain's democratic and political grasp.
For example, no party could enter a general election saying that it would pull out of an enhanced co-operation agreement on agriculture, just as no party now can say that it wants to come out of the common agricultural policy. Since about 1979, all parties—without telling the public—have wanted to leave the CAP, but that is impossible because all other member states would have to agree.
Enhanced co-operation, like qualified majority voting, would represent another diminution of our democracy. Choice at the polls would also be diminished, as the number of areas that could not be changed by the normal democratic processes of the nation state grew.
Why does my right hon. Friend feel that it would be necessary to withdraw from an agreement? One enters an agreement with a view to carrying on that agreement.
Circumstances change. I well remember the arguments for the common agricultural policy during the debate on the European Communities Act 1972. One of the reasonable arguments made was that Europe needed a common agricultural policy to protect its food production so that it would always have a supply within that tariff area. Many people accepted that argument. Well, the world has changed; there is no shortage of food. It is perfectly possible now to import food at much lower prices from other parts of the world. I should think that many people, whether they are Euro-enthusiasts, Eurosceptics or whatever, would argue that the CAP has outlived its purpose and should be changed. So my hon. Friend should not believe that once one has entered into an enhanced co-operation agreement, it is right and good for all time. There is no democratic mechanism as far as I can see for the nation state to withdraw from such an agreement without the agreement of all the other EU members. That diminishes our democracy, and it is one of the real problems of the EU. That democracy is not really replaced, unless we go to a fully federal state, by any of the new arrangements. To that extent, the new arrangements are anti-democratic for the nation state.
I do not know whether the British Government wish to enter into enhanced co-operation on taxation, but I believe that it will happen. This week I had sent to me a paper dated
The paper is called "Tax policy in the European Union—Priorities for the years ahead." It was sent by Mr. Zepter to Mr. Javier Solana. Unlike the hon. Member for Stone, who seems to dislike the gentleman, I have nothing against Mr. Solana. Mr. Solana describes himself as as a secretary-general but also as a high representative. May I make a slight plea to the Minister for Europe, the Minister for plain speaking, who is represented by an equally plain speaker in the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend Mr. MacShane? I can see that my hon. Friend assents to that. Could they please stop calling themselves high representatives? It has a Gilbertian ring about it. They have been doing it certainly since I have been involved. I think that it goes back to the European Coal and Steel Community. No doubt it is a diplomatic phrase that keeps the diplomatic corps happy.
I did not like to digress, Sir Michael, or you might have said that I was out of order.
"Secretary-General" I do not mind. "Secretary" would be all right, but everyone is a secretary-general these days. But not "high representative" please. If we are getting rid of flummery and diplomatic language and adopting plain speaking, let us drop these rather silly titles. That is a small and perhaps frivolous point.
I refer the Committee to paragraph 4.4 of the document. I accept that Foreign Office Ministers have not seen it, at least for the purposes of this debate. It relates to enhanced co-operation in the field of taxation. The paper is about taxation and ways of getting round the veto. It is not put in such plain language, but in effect it tells the high representative how the Commission would like to find ways to get round the veto on taxation, especially direct taxation, because the Commission rightly believes that it hampers the development of the internal market. I believe that it affects the euro as well.
Many ideas are put forward in the document, including something called soft legislation, which is not in fact legislation but guidelines. We will leave that for another occasion. One area that the Commissioners hit on—they are very clever, these people—was enhanced co-operation. I shall quote paragraph 4.4, as probably no one else but me has a copy. The Deputy Secretary-General writes:
"The possibilities introduced by the Amsterdam Treaty and developed by the Nice Treaty for closer co-operation between sub-groups of like-minded Member States could also be envisaged in certain cases. In particular, this could be used in tax policy areas where, even in the long term, decisions in the Council are taken by unanimity. . . . The decision at Nice will enable the Commission to propose to the Council that as small a group as eight Member States may co-operate more closely, after approval within the Council by qualified majority."
That does not give the steps correctly. The eight member states obviously have to get together first. Then, as new article 11 states, the eight member states tell the Commission, the Commission puts a proposal back to the eight member states and they pass it by qualified majority.
The document continues:
"However, in line with the principles agreed at Nice, this approach"— enhanced co-operation in both direct and indirect taxation—
"must not, among other things, undermine the Internal Market".
Clearly, it would not undermine the internal market. In the view of the Commission, it could probably be said to enhance the internal market if eight, nine or 10 states harmonised their tax rates or certainly their tax structures, gradually moving towards harmonisation of rates, as is happening with VAT.
The document also says that the arrangement must not
"constitute a barrier to or a discrimination of trade".
Well, it would not in taxation cases. It says that the arrangement must not
"distort the conditions of competition".
I should not have thought it would; again, it could be argued by the proponents that it would enhance co-operation, given that different tax rates and structures distort competition. Similarly, the arrangement must not
"affect the competences, rights and obligations of the non-participating Member States."
It would not do that either.
It is clearly the view of the Commission that the ideas in the document are a pretty good wheeze to get round the awful veto by member states of changes in direct or indirect taxation. This interesting document continues:
"In the field of direct taxation, co-operation between Member States has been organised mainly through bilateral tax treaties."
That is correct. There are not only international tax treaties; I believe that certain countries within the EU have their own tax treaties, mainly to regulate cross-border transactions. The document continues:
"The enhanced co-operation could be targeted so as to produce such benefits for the participating countries"— this comes back to a point that was buried in the speech of the hon. Member for Stone—
"that non-participants"— this is the sting in the tail—
"would be motivated to become involved."
Of course they would be, if eight, nine or 10 states decided to enter into enhanced co-operation on direct or indirect taxation. The document goes on to deal with indirect taxation. VAT is already practically harmonised, so there is not much room for enhanced co-operation there.
The right hon. Gentleman has legal qualifications that far exceed mine. Article 44 says:
"Member States which do not participate in such cooperation shall not impede the implementation thereof by the participating Member States."
Therefore, the same principle applies in the second paragraph of article 44 as applied to economic and monetary union. So the gravitational pull is exactly as the right hon. Gentleman has described it.
That is the object of the arrangements. I should not have thought that non-participating states would wish to interfere and impede. They could not do so, anyway.
On indirect taxation, the document states:
"the possibility of enhanced co-operation could provide a way forward in the area of environmental and energy taxation. A majority of Member States have indicated their strong desire to make progress in this area"— presumably in relation to enhanced co-operation. Perhaps the Under–Secretary will tell us in his winding-up speech whether the British Government are included in that majority in relation to indirect taxation. I hope that we will be told at the end of this debate, in the interests of plain speaking and transparency.
My right hon. Friend seems to be saying that what we are talking about is a ruse to get round something that is currently protected by unanimity. What evidence can he give us that there could be a change in taxation policy by a group of countries that did not require unanimous support from the rest of the European Union? I have seen nothing in the treaty saying that.
The speculation or writings of a member of the Commission do not constitute a treaty or a change in the law. I am asking for a specific reference to a change in the law that would allow unanimity to be knocked aside by this arrangement for co-operation.
I am giving my hon. Friend a specific reference, although I am sure that he will get a better answer from the hon. Member for Stone. The answer is quite simple—enhanced co-operation is allowed in all the areas covered by these treaties.
We do not have much time. The Commission has been pretty fast—this document, its priority for the future, was produced on
Why are these matters of such concern to my right hon. Friend? Clearly, the terms are not binding on member states that do not wish to take part in enhanced co-operation. If a member state chooses to set an income tax rate of 15 per cent. and other member states wish to follow suit, why is that of such concern to my right hon. Friend? It will not be binding on this nation state to co-operate in that fashion.
I never said that it would be, but I think that it is. My hon. Friend should not dismiss enhanced co-operation so lightly. It enables a group of states to move ahead, and we must address ourselves to the effect that that would have on other states outside. The Deputy Secretary-General of the Commission makes the point clearly that if benefits were produced for participating countries, non-participants would be motivated to become involved.
The right hon. Gentleman is, as ever, plumbing the depths of the matter. The concentric circles plan, which applies across the board to all areas affected by enhanced co-operation, is the master strategy for this purpose. I refer Mr. Hendrick to article 44 on page 14 of the treaty of Nice:
"Unanimity shall be constituted by only those Council members concerned."
Therefore, by definition, the others are excluded. It continues:
"Such acts and decisions shall not form part of the Union acquis."
There are hidden traps in that statement as well, because of course the acquis applies to all the other states. 7.15 pm
The hon. Gentleman speaks about traps. However, on my hon. Friend's point, let us suppose that Germany, France, Italy, Spain and four other countries decide to harmonise their direct taxation and rates, starting by harmonising structures. In fact, let us suppose that they start harmonising corporation tax, which is of great importance and concern to British companies trading in Europe. Is my hon. Friend saying that we can forget about that? Is he saying that Britain would not be under any pressure to join? Of course Britain would be under commercial and economic pressure to join those eight countries.
In a moment. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and other Ministers said that they fought a great battle in Nice and preserved the veto on taxation. I am not sure how much of a battle there was, frankly. Clearly, Ministers were fighting some battle and were determined to assure us of it. I suspect that there was not much of a battle in Nice about taxation. I also suspect that quite a few member states, including France and Germany, would not be unhappy about moving towards some kind of harmonisation of direct taxation.
I will give way to my hon. Friend in a moment; I will try to develop my argument first. Many states may wish to harmonise corporation tax and its structures and then move to harmonising rates, in order, as they see it, to foster and enhance the single market.
I also believe that the movement towards enhanced co-operation in taxation will come partly—perhaps mainly—because of the real problems of the euro. I do not want to introduce the euro to this debate, but there is something fundamentally wrong with it at the moment. Whenever it falls, we are told that it is because of this poor fellow who is the governor of the European central bank, who has been much maligned, or that it is to do with American corporations bringing money back from America. All sorts of different reasons are given and when they are dispelled, others must be found for why the euro is not looking the dollar in the eye. The euro will not look the dollar in the eye until the split between monetary and fiscal policy in the euro area is repaired. That can be achieved only with more rules on expenditure and a move towards the harmonisation and unification of taxation. It makes no sense to have a currency to which certain elements of fiscal policy relate, just as deficit spending and borrowing relate to some extent. The other area of fiscal policy—taxation—is completely outside the ambit of the euro area and the euro. Therefore, I have no doubt that pressure will be brought to bear. European Ministers have said so, and I think that they are right.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way again. He talks about members co-operating and says that they will take advantage of any benefits from such co-operation. Is that not the case with the euro? The eurozone has been created; the euro exists. Member states joined the euro with the view that it would benefit their economy and nation. What is wrong with that? We can choose whether to join or not but we are under no pressure to do so. It will be a decision of this nation state. Whether member states wish to co-operate in other areas is a matter for them.
We are not, as my hon. Friend seems to think, living in a totally isolated world. The very existence of the euro puts pressure on us to decide whether to join. At the end of the day, the decision will, of course, be taken by the British people and the House, but the economic pressures are considerable and they have been for some time. The Government have tried to resist those pressures as much as they can because they want to ensure that the conditions, whatever we may say about them, are fulfilled.
As far as I can see, my right hon. Friend's argument leads him down anti-democratic byways. He seems to be arguing that because the euro might be of benefit to others and that that somehow creates a gravitational pull in any of the areas of enhanced co-operation to which reference has been made, we should therefore exercise a veto over what others do. That seems to be fundamentally anti- democratic.
I was not even arguing that. I was merely explaining, as does the gentlemen who wrote the paper on future priorities in taxation, that it will be possible for certain countries to get together and create a euro-area in taxation. The point that I was then trying to make—my hon. Friends do not seem to believe it—is that the pressures on a British Government as a result of the market and of commerce to join such a euro-area of enhanced co-operation in taxation will be considerable. That is the only point that I am trying to make. If my hon. Friends do not believe that, it is a matter for them. The Commission has spotted—it will have thought about it beforehand—a way of outflanking the national veto on taxation.
The right hon. Gentleman might even have said that the Commission plotted—rather than spotted—to achieve these objectives. Mr. Bryant should remember that we are debating a treaty, which is therefore dealt with in this country by royal prerogative. Our system is to implement the treaty by enacting a Bill, but that means that we, as a Parliament, endorse these wide-ranging arrangements, which have consequences for the electors. That is what is undemocratic. Proceedings on the Bill are guillotined and the public are unaware of what is going on.
The point that I am making is that enhanced co-operation is not trivial, affecting only a few areas. Although Ministers have said that the giving up of a veto, which is, in effect, what we are doing, is just a technical matter, it is certainly not in relation to enhanced co-operation. The matter is central. Pressure on member states such as France, Germany, Italy and Spain from the Commission will be greater and greater. This is the first shot.
Will my right hon. Friend consider the example of Ireland? Ireland took part in a regime of corporation tax which resulted in a lower rate than in many other European member states. The Commission accepts that tax competition is healthy and allows it throughout Europe. Lower taxes in Britain than in some of those taking part in my right hon. Friend's so-called enhanced co-operation on taxation would be to our benefit. Why is there pressure for us to join if we can have lower taxes?
My hon. Friend mentions the low rates of corporation tax in Ireland, which would have had beneficial effects on the Irish economy. However, when is tax competition harmful tax competition? That would be a good essay for the hon. Member for Stone.
The hon. Gentleman has written about that already. Perhaps he has written a book on the subject—I do not know. The question of when tax competition becomes harmful is entirely subjective.
I have given way often to my hon. Friend. I am sure that he has some very good points to make and perhaps he will make them later.
Tax competition of the kind that we have seen in the Irish Republic is frowned on. If there is a transitional period, which I think there will be when the Irish lower rate runs out, it will not occur again. The less euro-enthusiasts say about Ireland, the better. The Irish people, who as far as Prodi is concerned are all stupid, are not stupid, and I suspect that they are spotting what is happening. That is one reason—not the only reason—why they voted as they did on the treaty of Nice.
We are not discussing trivial matters. I can understand why France and Germany might want to keep to an inner core of a Europe of six, seven or eight. They do not want to lose that central or federalising impetus, which they felt they had when there were fewer countries, when the Poles and the unhistorical nations of Europe, as Marx described them, enter the European Union. I can understand them wanting to maintain a core, but that core must involve taxation, which is central to economic and monetary union, economic policy and the currency. The pressures will be considerable.
I ask my hon. Friend the Under–Secretary, who will undoubtedly convey this faithfully to my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe when he returns from making the speech to which he referred, to assure us—we have an assurance on the veto—that the Government will never consider entering into an enhanced co-operation agreement in respect of direct or indirect taxation. In the interests of plain speaking, we must be sure that our veto will not be outflanked by the nefarious wheezes dreamed up by those clever people in the Commission.
As Denzil Davies said, we have had the benefit of some cracking maiden speeches. In particular, I should like to mention the two that have been made in this part of the debate.
Dr. Murrison made a speech that one could describe as of a fairly traditional nature. He will clearly be an effective advocate for his constituency. He brought a smile and a certain ironic recollection to some of us when he talked about brown envelopes. They have featured in recent political history; let us all hope that they do not do so again.
The hon. Gentleman made several cogent and effective points on defence medical services. I have taken an interest in that area in the past, and just as Mr. Cash threatens everyone that he will send them a copy of a pamphlet, I shall send the hon. Member for Westbury a copy of a document that I was able to produce along with some others. He will find that it is of some interest on the issue of defence medical services. As someone with direct experience, he will clearly be able to give us an inside view of many of the problems that attach to the present standard of provision of medical care for our armed services. I am sure that the House will be the better for that.
Anne Picking has left her place. It would be fair to say that hers was a non-traditional maiden speech. However, if she is a scion of the Moffat family of Fife, that is hardly surprising. She made some witty observations and spoke with real affection about her constituency. I shall hold her to account to a certain extent because she now represents several members of my family and I want to ensure that they receive the proper standard of representation to which they are entitled.
The hon. Lady referred with affection, which we all share, to her predecessor, John Home Robertson. Under the conventions of the House, I was never able to call him my hon. Friend, but he was and remains a very good friend of mine. He was, of course, one of those who championed the cause of home rule for Scotland with great effectiveness. It is right that he is now a Member of the Scottish Parliament.
John Home Robertson's predecessor was John Mackintosh, to whom the right hon. Member for Llanelli also referred. John Mackintosh was a great champion of the cause of home rule. He may have been difficult in proceedings on the Finance Bill, but he was a very strong pro-European. There are those who would think that his legacy is best remembered not by the definitive book that he wrote on Cabinet Government, but by his tireless advocacy of the cause of Britain's membership of what was then the European Community.
My text is taken from the Conservative party manifesto in the last election, wherein it is said:
"we are willing to support the principle of 'reinforced co-operation' in Europe".
I imagine that the hon. Member for Stone had some sort of derogation, or perhaps he claimed that, for reasons of national policy, in Stone he did not have to adhere to that statement, but that is the position of the Conservative party. We also have the authority of the shadow Foreign Secretary, who is not with us this evening, who last year said:
"we should not, in principle, exclude others from proceeding with schemes of closer integration which we would not wish to join ourselves."—[Hansard, 15 June 2000; Vol. 351, c. 1145.]
I am doubly grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, first, for drawing attention to that provision, which I put on the front page of the blue paper which I wrote in response to the White Paper produced by the then Foreign Secretary, because I thought that those words amounted to an act of appeasement. Secondly, on the question of my election address, I can assure him that I stated emphatically that we should renegotiate the treaties—indeed, I went further and said that if the other countries did not listen we would have to steer our own course.
I am doubly glad that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman, who has effectively attacked his own party. However, I do not want to intrude on private grief: these matters are ones that the Conservatives will have to resolve themselves, and whoever emerges through the pall of white smoke to become the leader of the party will have to deal with them.
Let me say a word or two about enhanced co-operation. The Nice treaty endeavours to free up procedures first established at Amsterdam. It is worth reminding ourselves why some EU members felt that a mechanism for enhanced co-operation was necessary. To a large extent, it was the result of the attitude adopted by, among other countries, the UK under the Conservative Government. Their attitude was interpreted, rightly or wrongly, as one of wanting to act as a brake on the pace of further integration and they were considered likely to use the veto if any question of integration were to arise. Those apprehensions were justified to some extent when the profligate use of the veto in a misguided attempt to get the beef ban lifted exposed the inadequacy of such an approach. Many member states came to believe that enhanced co-operation was necessary if the EU was to make progress.
It is true that the Amsterdam procedures, which were pretty cautious, have never been tested. It is worth reminding the hon. Member for Stone, who has moved his physical position in the Chamber albeit not his political position, of the existing requirements. They were that enhanced co-operation should not affect the acquis communautaire, nor the interests of participating states; it should be used only as a last resort; it must be within the limits of EU competence; and it should not distort competition between member states. That was established at Amsterdam. The Nice treaty would add to that the requirement that enhanced co-operation should respect the single institutional framework and that it should not undermine the internal market or economic and social cohesion, nor prejudice the provisions of the protocol integrating the Schengen acquis into the EU framework, nor affect the competencies, rights and obligations of non-participating states. It strikes me that when that set of criteria is made to form the basis, the test, the context against which we test enhanced co-operation, the anxiety expressed by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the Committee is not justified.
The right hon. Member for Llanelli, when referring to a document prepared by a member of the Commission, said that it represented an effort to outflank. He might have used the words "stealth" or "ruse"—both were certainly offered to him during an intervention. I understand his position to be that, if within the EU a group of countries came together and agreed a common position on taxation—whether income tax or corporate taxation—the UK would have to take some account of that in its own taxation policy. I think that the right hon. Gentleman is right about that, but the UK's position would be the same if it was outside the EU—an EU in which several countries determined that in respect of, for example, corporate taxation, they would on a co-operative basis, operate a regime that was common to those countries in a combined effort to attract external investment. The consequences are the same whether we are inside the EU where enhanced co-operation produces the results he says are possible, or outside the EU where several countries have decided to combine.
If we were outside the EU, we would be outside the Euro-taxation area. In theory, after the treaty is accepted, it will be possible for 14 countries to accede to enhanced co-operation on taxation and the United Kingdom's veto will be of no avail. Without enhanced co-operation, if 14 countries declare their determination to harmonise taxes, the United Kingdom would in theory—it might be difficult to exercise in practice—have a veto that would stop that happening. In future, we could not stop 14 of 15 countries harmonising their taxation regimes.
No more than we could stop 14 of 15 countries harmonising their taxation regimes if there were no European Union. Sometimes, I get concerned: once upon a time people looked for reds under the beds, now it appears that they are anxious about finding tax inspectors wearing European colours.
I say this with great respect—as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, I have in the past agreed with several points that he has made on the treaty—but the fact is that he is missing the point. In the current context, we are dealing with a legal framework. It is not simply a question of people wanting to co-operate with each other; we are talking about a single institutional structure, as I am sure he is aware. He should reflect on the comment he has just made. It is not merely a question of people deciding that they might come together; it is all part of the drift towards one single framework and one autonomous structure. I am sure he understands that.
I do not accept that. I pray in aid not a member of the Commission but Mr. Bolkestein, who is the Commissioner with responsibility for taxation. During the general election campaign, he made it perfectly clear that as far as he is concerned there is no question of harmonisation of either income tax or corporate taxation. The hon. Member for Stone says that, by virtue of enhanced co-operation, circumstances will be created in which the UK gives up its veto—but that applies to every other country that is currently in the same position as the UK. The suggestion that we are dealing with a matter of stealth, foolishness or deception does not stand up.
We should be far more concerned with the terms of the treaty than with some illusion of gravitational pull.
For the reasons that I have given, I regret to say that I cannot support the amendment.
I, too, commend those who have made maiden speeches in this part of today's debate. The speech of my hon. Friend Anne Picking was exactly in the tradition that I expected from a member of Abe Moffat's family—Abe was a famous miners' leader from Fife—although she also paid all the normal courtesies to her constituency and the Members of Parliament who represented it formerly.
To Dr. Murrison I confess that my only connection with Wiltshire is that of having been on the parliamentary armed forces scheme with the other Wiltshire MP, Mr. Gray. We went to Northern Ireland with the combined battalion that contains the old Wiltshire Regiment, whose members were most hospitable. I am sure that we shall learn more about the medical side of the Army from the hon. Member for Westbury. He painted such a wonderful picture of his constituency that I was going to find out where it was and book a few days' holiday there. I wish him well in the House.
I must be starved of the experience of listening to Mr. Cash rail against the European Union. We have served on the European Scrutiny Committee together, and I have had the joy, pleasure and great entertainment of going round applicant countries with him, hearing him rail against the EU saying, "Don't do it." It is like going round with a Free Kirk minister who says, "You're doomed, you're all doomed." It is a joy to realise that he is still on the same theme and I look forward to the next few years on the European Scrutiny Committee with him, hearing him go on about his one theme which, basically, is that it is all a conspiracy.
I thought to myself, "What is that about? Is it against co-operation?" My right hon. Friend Denzil Davies, who in some ways spoke in support of the hon. Member for Stone, said that no one was against co-operation, which was a good thing. So, was the hon. Member for Stone against integration? All that co-operation is plainly laid out in paragraph 11 of article 1, which the amendments aim to remove and which reinforces the process of integration. However, the hon. Gentleman told us that he was against fragmentation. I just do not understand; he is against integration and fragmentation. I realise from one or two of his interventions that he thinks there is a conspiracy; that is what it is all about.
I am always grateful for the opportunity to spar with the hon. Gentleman, as we have often done in debate for many years. The real problem is that I am against political union, and I am particularly against political union that is going to implode, which is bad for everybody, including those who are in favour of it. That is my simple answer.
The Wee Free minister image comes to mind again; we are all doomed because the Union is going to implode. However, I do not see any evidence of implosion; I do not think that other EU members do either. In fact, they see prosperity brought about by co-operation, which is what those provisions in the Nice treaty are about. The amendments are designed to remove paragraphs 11 to 15 of article 1 from the provisions incorporated under clause 1 and to remove paragraph 1 of article 2, which is the framework that provides a belt and braces safeguard for those who may be concerned that some co-operation is unnecessary in small groups and can be achieved across the EU.
In fact, as has been pointed out, the amendments would remove the ability of any group of eight countries or more to co-operate on any issue, to analyse, structure and put together the mechanisms for co-operation on areas such as those mentioned by my hon. Friend Mr. Hendrick, including drugs and crime. Clearly, if enhanced economic mechanisms are involved, that may well be welcomed by a number of member states. If the treaty becomes workable and is appropriately structured so as not to cause the great chaos and problems that certain states may have feared and which may have caused them not to join the original eight, they can join later at any time under article 1, paragraph 12. A state can therefore join if it sees that the treaty is working.
What is wrong with that? If, at the end of the day, the United Kingdom sees 14 member states put together an enhanced commercial arrangement but stays outside, that is entirely its decision; no one will force or drag it in. As we have seen with the hon. Member for Stone, nothing seems to be a sufficiently strong magnet to draw him to join what he sees as a political conspiracy. Something similar applies to countries: if a country does not want to join, it is not required to do so. Paragraph 12, which would be removed by the amendment, says that enhanced co-operation will be undertaken
"only as a last resort" after it has been decided, following the normal procedures adopted by the EU's full membership, that it would take too long to set in train arrangements acceptable to a country wanting to make progress on any issues.
That will have to be tested. Is enhanced co-operation a last resort? It is not a first resort; the provision is not saying that, as from day one, everyone will go off, get into little groups of eight countries and get on with their own little schemes. It will be subject to great consideration.
To reply briefly to the hon. Gentleman, the example that Denzil Davies has already given about tax regimes is extremely apposite. An enhancement of so-called single market arrangements for tax under the enhanced co-operation provisions, which will create a congregation of tax regimes, is bound to have an adverse impact on those countries in the single market that do not have the advantages, or disadvantages, of other tax regimes. The fact is, enhanced co-operation will have an impact, which is why so many of us object to it.
I shall talk a little later about article 2, paragraph 1 which, of course, would be removed by the amendments. When arrangements are considered by the Council following a recommendation by the Commission, qualified majority voting by the full Council will clearly be required. A majority on the Council must therefore consider the arrangements necessary before a group can go ahead. We in the UK should not be afraid of that. If we stopped being frightened of the EU—this Government are probably not as frightened of it as the previous one—and took a lead, we might find that some arrangements are to our advantage.
My hon. Friend mentioned that those arrangements can be carried out only as a last resort. That is correct—it is what the treaty says—but if the UK is to maintain its veto and announce that it is maintaining its veto on direct taxation changes, the case rapidly becomes one of last resort for other member states. Because there are vetoes on taxation changes, the Commission has produced a paper and sent it to the Council. The situation with taxation is getting close to last resort, which is why enhanced co-operation between as many countries as possible is desirable.
I think that my right hon. Friend is wrong. He mentioned direct taxation; perhaps he meant indirect taxation. There are serious discussions about indirect taxation, but I have not heard of any attempt to harmonise direct taxation across the EU. If he can give me examples other than a paper from the Commission which may or may not turn into something useful for the discussion, I would accept his point. However, I have not heard of any treaty or Act relating to the EU that says that we would not be able to use our veto on direct taxation.
I was referring to direct taxation. The so-called "paper" is a legal document that was sent by the Commission to the Council of Ministers and Mr. Solana. It is not just a paper, but a proposal on taxation for the next few years. My hon. Friend may agree with its proposals, but he should not denigrate an extremely important document that has to be addressed by the members of the Council because it has been sent to their higher representatives.
I take my right hon. Friend's point. I am sure that when I read the document I will treat it more seriously than I have just done. I hope that we can agree to differ; the case has not been proven by my right hon. Friend's speech or intervention.
Article 1, paragraph 13, which would be removed by the amendments, is not binding on any group other than those who wish to be involved. Under paragraph 13, it is clear that no cost arising from co-operation will be borne by any countries other than those who participate, which seems like a good deal. If someone wants to go ahead, look at certain topics, work out a structure and demonstrate the advantages of a scheme that others may wish to join, that seems sensible. Paragraph 14, which would also be removed by the amendments, makes it clear that everything should be consistent with EU policy. The intervention of my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli comes in here: is there any capacity to do something that would be contrary to the many provisions listed in the treaty, including the fundamental conditions of entry to the EU? There will be quite a substantial debate on that.
Amendment No. 56 would remove article 2, paragraph 1, which says that, to commence co-operation, the Commission has to submit the matter for discussion to the European Parliament which, clearly, would air many questions and problems and would possibly suggest other routes. The matter would then have to go to the Council and would have to be approved by QMV, which seems sensible. In some policy areas it is necessary to have the assent of the European Parliament before matters can proceed. I happen to have some faith in the double belt and braces approach.
The proposals in the new clauses are typical of an Opposition who have nothing to say about the substance. The proposals are obstructive.
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is a signatory to the new clauses. If they were agreed to, a report would have to be placed before Parliament. That would relate to anything that was ever done about the effects of co-operation and does not relate to anything that I have ever seen during the nine years that I have been in the House of Commons. No attempt has been made to assess the result of a proposed policy, but it is then demanded that an affirmative resolution should be passed by both Houses. We are faced with obstructive nonsense that adds nothing to the debate and therefore should be rejected. In the same way, the conspiracy theories of the hon. Member for Stone should be rejected. We are faced with attempts to obstruct the process of sensible co-operation between nation states that want to build an economic and political union of which we want to be part.
The hon. Gentleman is expressing a fascinating view of what Parliament is for. Is he saying that Parliament should not consider something as important as the issue before us? If he thinks that parliamentary scrutiny and consideration are somehow obstruction, that says something about an attitude of mind that explains precisely why the EU is so rapidly disconnecting with the peoples of Europe.
The idea that the EU is disconnecting with the peoples of Europe is not borne out by any of the surveys. I believe that the EU is becoming more and more embedded in the processes whereby we make our wealth and people get their work. I believe also that it is an area in which we might learn some lessons on social, employment and other relationships that were not enhanced by the previous Government, of which the hon. Gentleman was probably a member.
The hon. Gentleman's ignorance is compounded by the fact that he makes a point and then turns to talk to a Member who is sitting behind him; that tells us much about his attitude to Parliament. My simple point is that the new clauses are obstructive. They have nothing to do with anything that the last Government ever used. No reports were made on speculative legislation that might relate to the EU and might be determined by resolutions of the House of Commons, although Labour Members asked for that on several occasions.
Does my hon. Friend agree that if the recommendations of the Conservative party are implemented, and other EU member states implemented them as well, in the sense that individual nation state Parliaments could amend treaties, there would be potential in an enlarged European Union of 28 member states to have 28 different versions of a treaty, none of which would be workable and none of which could be resolved? Is it not better to have a treaty that has been negotiated and can be passed by Parliament?
I think that the issue is more serious than that. It is not about a treaty. The new clauses provide that the Government
"shall lay before Parliament a report showing the implication . . . incorporating the effects of related Articles on enhanced co-operation".
In other words, if any other eight countries wished to have an enhanced co-operation treaty, the UK Government would have to bring forward an analysis of the effects on the UK, a debate and then a vote. It would be ludicrous to debate decisions by other countries that were designed to be co-operative for the benefit of those other countries. It would be nonsensical to discuss motions of that nature, which would be trivia.
I am grateful again to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. The entire point is that the veto was given up on this issue. The issue would never have arisen had the veto been maintained. The responsibility of this Parliament is to try to preserve the national interest on behalf of the people of the United Kingdom. I am horrified that the hon. Gentleman does not understand that.
That false horror is not too difficult to see through. The Opposition are trying to score points when they have nothing of substance to say. I am happy to reject the amendments and new clauses. I hope that the House of Commons will see through the obsession of the hon. Member for Stone. I know that he holds his view with great sincerity, but it is an obsession. We are faced with the paucity of the Opposition's proposals.
The hon. Gentleman skips over the fact that there are new arrangements for voting powers. We have the double majority voting in the European Parliament. For reasons that I cannot go into now but which I dealt with when discussing a previous group of amendments, the arrangements will have a serious adverse impact on the influence of the United Kingdom in matters affecting European law and politics. The bottom line is that it is absurd for the hon. Gentleman to talk about people being obsessive or having conspiracy theories. We are demonstrating that the effects of the treaty that the Government have brought before the House of Commons must be exposed. The hon. Gentleman seems to object to the democratic process. It is weird. In addition, a guillotine motion has been opposed so that we cannot discuss matters in the depth that is required.
I am not debating the guillotine motion. I sat through the hon. Gentleman's contribution to the debate, I listened to earlier contributions and I am making a contribution. I am rejecting his analysis, his conspiracy theories and his worries. We are dealing with essential parts of the framework that is required to allow the EU to go forward. We should not hold back and be the last in line. If others think that they can take us forward in different areas of policy, or if the UK thinks that it can take others forward, that should be allowed through co-operation. If that is attractive to others, they can join in. There is no compulsion. The clauses are excellent and should not be removed from the treaty.
The improved procedures for enhanced co-operation will do a great deal to oil the wheels of the European Union. It is essential that an enlarged EU should have such flexible procedures in place. Member states that wish to co-operate more closely on specific projects will benefit greatly from the proposals. It is bizarre that some Members feel that it is all right for an individual nation state to move in a particular policy direction, but view as a threat or as objectionable a group of member states wishing to move in the same direction together.
The treaty does much to kill the notion that we are developing a European superstate—a lumbering superstate. Member states may wish to co-operate on different issues and different topics, for which the treaty provides a great deal of flexibility. The treaty also kills the idea of a core set of nation states, because any eight of a possible 28 EU member states could take action on any specific project. The notion of a conspiracy involving France, Germany and Italy in every enhanced co-operation agreement has also been killed.
The process could be used in the fight against organised crime, including drugs, which is an international industry or business. Crime is an international business. An excellent mechanism is being proposed to allow EU members collectively to take action and to co-operate. Europol shares information on crime, including drug trafficking. An enhanced co-operation agreement would be able to use Europol to share information and to take action against drugs and other forms of cross-border crime.
I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument carefully, and I think that he is becoming slightly confused. Is he arguing that individual nation states are unable to co-operate on these important matters without the treaty, and therefore that the treaty is unnecessary?
I am saying that the mechanisms will make any such co-operation more effective. If two countries wish to co-operate on an individual project, they will be free to do so. When eight or more member states wish to contribute on an important issue, the proposed mechanism will be extremely useful. Co-operative action should not prejudice the fight against crime and drugs in non-participating countries.
A number of hon. Members have threatened us with the spectre of the treaty acting as a back-door mechanism for killing the veto on taxation or on energy taxes in particular. In fact, the changes affect only the countries that want to participate and will have no other effect on other countries, except indirectly, that want to alter their policies as a result of the co-operation that is taking place. There is nothing to be frightened of. I must re-emphasise the fact that non-participating countries are under no obligation to become involved.
Mr. Cash, who unfortunately is not in the Chamber, said that, with the exception of child abduction, he opposed extensions of qualified majority voting. He also opposes the treaty's new mechanisms for enhanced co-operation. I have a simple question: how can the 28-member European Union that we envisage make decisions if we do not use QMV in more instances and do not introduce a mechanism of enhanced co-operation? Without those changes, the European Union would be unworkable and it would be impossible to make decisions: refusal to accept them would cause a sclerosis, would make the European Union inoperable and would be a recipe for disaster. That is why Labour Members and some hon. Members from other parties will support the treaty.
The mechanisms proposed by my right hon. Friend Denzil Davies to enable this Parliament to amend the treaty would also be a recipe for disaster. If each of the 28 national Parliaments—assuming that we achieve an enlarged European Union—could amend the treaty, we would end up with 28 different versions that could not be resolved into a single treaty. The Opposition have sought to achieve such a recipe for disaster by tabling their amendments, which aim to throw a spanner in the works of the European Union so that member states feel that it is better to give up their membership rather than continue down our current route.
We have also heard the old chestnut that the treaty is all about Germany and is a German conspiracy. Under the procedures agreed at Nice the UK now has 29 votes in the Council of Ministers; Germany has the same number, although it has a population of 82 million compared with our population of only 57 million. At least 258 votes in favour would be needed for the adoption of a Council agreement, so the fact that Germany has only 28 votes demonstrates the ridiculousness of the argument that the treaty is about Germany taking over Europe.
We know that a minimum of eight states will be involved. If eight states want to proceed with an agreement or project, who are we to stop them? If we want to go ahead on a project with seven other members of the European Union, why should other member states prevent us from doing so? Opposition Members spoke of spin and hype, and the hon. Member for Stone used words such as "unworkable", "implosion", "damage", "difficulty", "chaos" and "outrageous". All those words are obviously meant to scare the British public and to frighten them away from a measure that is modest, workable and likely to bring great benefit to members of the European Union.
I also find it strange that Opposition Members argue that a single member state should be able to do as it wishes, but that a number of member states should not be allowed to get together and reach an agreement through enhanced co-operation. That argument seems very strange and anti-democratic, as the Governments of those member states were elected by their people. If they want to act through enhanced co-operation, they should be free to do so.
We have a recipe for flexibility and a European Union that works. I believe that the amendments should be rejected on that basis.
First, I want to pay tribute to two hon. Members who made their maiden speeches today. Anne Picking generously paid tribute to her predecessor, John Home Robertson, whom we all remember as a formidable parliamentary champion of Scotland and home rule. She spoke about the many battles in her constituency and recalled the Deputy Prime Minister's visit on the day after the famous punch. She also spoke about her career as a nurse; she was, of course, president of Unison. In addition, she praised the people of Northern Ireland; all hon. Members would join her in doing that. I congratulate her on her speech and wish her well in her parliamentary career, in which I am sure she will make many more speeches. She is the first woman MP for East Lothian, which is another basis for congratulations.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Dr. Murrison. I thank him for his kind tribute to David Faber, who made an important contribution in the House in many aspects of parliamentary life. He expressed doubts—I think that they are widely shared not only this country, but in many parts of the European Union—about the wisdom and development of a future European army. He spoke about the beauty of his constituency. His desire to do so is understandable, as it is one of the most beautiful parts of England. He welcomed the Prime Minister's decision to spend some of the summer in England. I hope that he is right and that the Prime Minister will visit Westbury as part of his holiday. Finally, he spoke about defence medical services with considerable knowledge. I am sure that, after making such a competent maiden speech, he will make such first-rate contributions while representing his constituents in this House. I applaud him and the hon. Member for East Lothian for their speeches.
The amendments apply to general provisions on enhanced co-operation and to specific provisions on the Community pillar. We are also considering two new clauses tabled by Opposition Front Benchers. One of them concerns effective enhanced co-operation in the UK, while the other relates to UK participation in any enhanced co-operation measure.
Conservative Front Benchers take a relaxed approach to the principle of enhanced co-operation—the procedure under which groups of countries can integrate more closely if they wish to do so without taking everyone with them. Indeed, we called for a flexible Europe well in advance of the Government. As my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary observed in his speech in Berlin in June, we believe that the way forward for Europe is the gradual development of a Europe of interlocking and overlapping groupings and relationships, and of nations combining in different combinations and purposes to different extents: a multi-system Europe. Europe has already edged in that direction with the Maastricht opt-outs, Schengen and the single currency.
I fully appreciate that some of my hon. Friends may fear that such opt-outs have a tendency to be given up and that enhanced co-operation will therefore drive forward uniform integration, but there is nothing inevitable about opt-outs being given up. The Danish people showed that in their single currency referendum, and I trust that the British people will continue to share that attitude to the single currency.
In a European Union—especially a substantially enlarged one—where the needs and wishes of member states differ, the development of a more flexible, multi-system Union is natural. We should respect the desire of other countries to integrate more closely in certain areas, just as they should respect our desire not to do so if we so choose. Without such mutual respect, the logical consequence will be endless tension, as different countries try to pull everyone else in different directions.
Foreign Office Ministers had appeared to be extremely sceptical of flexibility, fearing that Britain would be left behind, kept out of the guard's van, missing the boat, and all the other mixed metaphors that tend to be used in this context. The notions of an inner circle and an outer tier, of concentric rings and of first and second-class members belong to yesterday. Some may fear that accepting enhanced co-operation for ever condemns Britain to being on the edge, excluded from this elusive heart of Europe. But that misses the point. As The Economist said,
"The old argument of the Foreign Office that flexibility is to be resisted because it will lose Britain influence—'a place at the top table'—is no longer convincing."
That old argument continues to be used, however. Ministers doubted the need for any substantial change at all at the IGC.
The White Paper of February 2000 on the IGC said:
"Some member states have suggested that, in an enlarged EU, there will be more occasions where a core of Member States want to move ahead with an activity, whilst others stay out. They argue that the procedures currently in the Treaty are too difficult to use and should be changed. In particular some feel that the emergency brake should be removed. The Government feels that a stronger case will have to be made in order to justify changing procedures that were agreed only in 1997 and which have not yet been put to the test, or indeed used at all. The conditions governing the use of closer co-operation were intended to ensure that too much flexibility did not undermine the Single Market, or could not be used against the interests of a minority of Member States. Those remain important objectives."
At that time, the then Foreign Secretary said:
"The flexibility that other member states propose means the enhanced co-operation of a tighter group. We agreed to such a model at Amsterdam. It has never been used. It is hard to understand why a provision that has not been used already needs amendment."—[Hansard, 15 February 2000; Vol. 344, c. 780.]
As late as October last year he said:
"We are happy to discuss options for change. But we remain cautious about any substantial change to the political and legal safeguards introduced at Amsterdam . . . If we alter the current safeguards too much, the danger is that closer co-operation will become the norm rather than the exception. That could damage both the coherence of the Union and send the wrong signal to the new Member States. We do not want them to appear second-class members before they even join."
One can only imagine the surprise of Foreign Office Ministers when the Prime Minister announced in his Warsaw speech that he was now going to support the principle of enhanced co-operation. He said:
"Efficient decision making in an enlarged Union will also mean enhanced co-operation."
He also said:
"I have no problem with greater flexibility or groups of member states going forward together. But that must not lead to a hard core; a Europe in which some member states create their own set of shared policies and institutions from which others are in practice excluded. Such groups must at every stage be open to others who wish to join."
He went on to say:
"That is why enhanced co-operation must not be used to undermine the single market or other common policies. In particular, we must not invite new members to come into the European Union and then consign them to second-class membership."
It seems that later that year the Government showed as much pathetic lack of leadership on that issue as they have on all the other issues surrounding the Nice treaty. Having been told by the Prime Minister to support the principle of enhanced co-operation, Ministers not only cast aside all their previous reservations but, in their haste to agree to anything put before them, signed away essential safeguards as well. It is the usual story.
It would be interesting to hear from the Minister where, if anywhere, the Government stand on the matter. Do Foreign Office Ministers still have their previous reservations about the concept of enhanced co-operation, or do they share the Prime Minister's seeming enthusiasm? Did they reverse direction out of principle, or in order to get through the negotiations? Perhaps we shall have an answer from the plain-speaking Minister.
The Opposition have been willing to support some changes to make the enhanced co-operation procedure easier to use—for example, a reduction in the number of states that want to be involved in a measure before it can go ahead from a majority to eight. That makes sense in an enlarged Europe of 27 or 28 countries: but at Nice the Government went much further. They abolished the national veto, the so-called emergency brake, in two of the three pillars. A right of reference to the European Council remained, but not a veto. In the case of the first pillar, that is covered by amendment No. 56.
Under the existing provisions of article 11.2 of the European Community treaty, a member state can declare that
"for important and stated reasons of national policy" it will oppose the granting of authorisation by QMV. The matter may then be referred to the European Council for a decision by unanimity. Under Nice, that unanimity provision is abolished.
The extent of the ministerial U-turn on the issue is illustrated by what was said at the time of the Amsterdam treaty. The then Minister with responsibility for Europe, Mr. Henderson, said that
"critically, although flexibility proposals can be agreed by majority voting, the Government ensured in the Amsterdam negotiations that the clauses will be subject to the emergency brake—the veto mechanism—that allows any member state that opposes a specific flexibility proposal to veto it by bringing it back to the Council."—[Hansard, 15 January 1998; Vol. 304, c. 543.]
Yet that so-called "critical" safeguard, which the Government apparently single-handedly secured at Amsterdam, was jettisoned at the very next IGC—so much for consistency, and for what? What did the Government receive in return for that major concession, and for sacrificing a huge negotiating counter should any country wish to use those procedures in future? Did they even ask for anything in giving up the veto on enhanced co-operation?
We have grave concerns. We have always made it clear that we would expect to use the veto only sparingly where our national interests were genuinely challenged, but it is absolutely right that we should have preserved that right to veto. It remains an essential safeguard and the Government should not be signing it away. It means that in future Governments will be unable to block integration by others even if our interests were being damaged.
Issues also arise under the remaining pillar—common foreign and security policy. The Government have made clear their view that the emergency brake veto remains in place for this pillar. In so far as the existing article 23(2) provides for that, the Government may be correct in that interpretation, but the House of Commons Library—I hope that the Minister will take this on board—points to what it describes as an ambiguity, in that articles 43 to 45 do not provide for an emergency brake. Perhaps the Minister will clarify that point today.
Furthermore, other changes to enhanced co-operation measures were agreed at Nice about which we also have concerns. For example, article 43 of the European Union treaty, as amended by paragraph 11 of article 1 of the Nice treaty, sets out a new condition of such co-operation, namely that it must be aimed at
"reinforcing the process of integration".
In addition, measures must not affect the "competencies, rights and obligations" of member states not participating in them, rather than
"competencies, rights, obligations and interests", as at present. That is an important point. Again, perhaps the Minister will explain why those changes were made, the basis of the changes and what the advantage to Britain was in giving way in that respect.
Surely it is time for a proper and considered debate on enhanced co-operation as EU enlargement occurs. Policies on the central issue should be determined according to the requirements of a modern, enlarged Europe, not those of Ministers who seek seemingly cost-free concessions during late-night haggling at Nice for no apparent advantage.
New clause 9 would provide for such a debate, and I hope that hon. Members accept our genuine anxiety about the need for it. New clause 10 would provide for additional safeguards should Britain wish to participate in measures that were agreed under enhanced co-operation procedures. We have given up the veto on that crucial issue, and it is important to gain some clarification. I therefore look forward to hearing the Minister's opinion of our balanced new clauses. I commend them to the House.
We have had an enjoyable debate, which was enhanced by two remarkable maiden speeches. I believe that the 2001 intake will prove one of the strongest additions to Parliament for several decades. I suspect that the new Members in question have long, strong parliamentary careers ahead and a chance to contribute to our national life. The maiden speeches that were made this evening prove that assertion.
My hon. Friend Anne Picking made a remarkable and polished maiden speech. Like her, I was a former trade union president, but I did not manage quite the same turn of phrase. She paid tribute to her two predecessors, whose membership of the House totalled more than 30 years. I recall John P. Mackintosh speaking on the radio when I was a young man. He was articulate and had a great command of ideas. He was followed by John Home Robertson, whom I was proud to call a personal friend. We went skiing—that great and noble parliamentary sport—together, and I invite my hon. Friend to take her place in the parliamentary ski team. Scots are always much better at the sport than those who live south of the border. My hon. Friend referred to the centrality of public service. I believe that all Labour Members would agree with her about that.
Dr. Murrison also made a strong maiden speech. He referred to a predecessor with a Spanish-sounding name, who represented the constituency at the end of the 19th century and came to a sticky end. Those who know their Trollope remember Mr. Ortiz, the Conservative Member of Parliament who came to a terrible end. Perhaps bearing a Spanish name does not enhance a Conservative career. Given that all the shadow spokespeople for Foreign Affairs supported the loser in tonight's great election, I look forward to a freshening up of the Front Bench for future Foreign Affairs debate.
Was that the Prime Minister's view when he sacked all the Foreign Office Ministers before the hon. Gentleman arrived on the Front Bench? The Minister for Europe has returned to glory, but perhaps the sackings summed up the Prime Minister's view of the Ministers who served the Foreign Office in the last Parliament.
I am glad that my hon. Friend effected his recycling policy when he changed from being Minister for Energy to Minister for Europe. I should prefer to dwell on the Prime Minister's appointments than on his dismissals.
We have held a good debate. I believe that the enhanced co-operation provisions of the Nice treaty strongly contribute to promoting British and European interests in the next stage of constructing the European Union.
The EU's ability to develop and change—its flexibility—has made it a success throughout the years. That flexibility is tested every time more member states join. In a European Union that stretches from Lisbon to Tallinn, it will be increasingly difficult to get agreement to move ahead on all subjects with all member states unless we have flexibility.
Flexibility in the EU has been called many names. For example, it has been described as differentiated integration, which sounds like the Eurobabble that my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe denounced in a speech outside the House in past few minutes. It has also been called variable geometry. I believe that that phrase was first used by the former Prime Minister, John Major.
The treaties have settled on the term "enhanced co-operation". Perhaps that is inelegant, but it neatly encapsulates the wish behind the provisions. In plain English, it means that the EU member states do not have to do everything together. It allows smaller groups of member states to take action together on subjects that the EU treaties cover without requiring every other member state to join in.
That was close to being a triple negative. The other day, the hon. Gentleman called not only for enhanced co-operation but for the abolition of the veto on family law. He did that with great passion, and I believe that he was right. Perhaps enhanced co-operation could be used to effect what the hon. Gentleman wishes.
The provisions for enhanced co-operation already exist; they were introduced in the Amsterdam treaty. However, they have never been used. The Nice treaty makes them easier to use for those who want to do that while strengthening the safeguards for those who do not. That is a sensible move to prepare for the enlarged European Union that we want, and we welcome it.
However, the Bill is not about building a two-speed Europe, or a hard core of states that prevent others from joining in. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in his speech in Warsaw last year:
"Enhanced co-operation is an instrument to strengthen the Union from within, not an instrument of exclusion."
The safeguards that we built in at Nice will prevent that. Those provisions are important. Enhanced co-operation must be a last resort, not the rule. As many member states as possible will be encouraged to join in. Those that want to join an existing enhanced co-operation action later should be given every opportunity to do so.
Enhanced co-operation may not harm the rights of those that do not participate. Actions under enhanced co-operation will not form part of the acquis or basic rules of the EU, so neither existing nor new member states will be required to take part.
It was right to strengthen the safeguards. It was also right to amend the procedures, as we did at Nice, so that, provided the safeguards are respected, no single state can veto a proposal for enhanced co-operation. The so-called emergency brake has gone.
The Opposition have made much of this change, but we are clear that it is not reasonable in an enlarged EU for one member state to hold up those wishing to proceed with enhanced co-operation, provided that the rigorous conditions have been met. Therefore, while we have rightly removed the veto on enhanced co-operation for action in the community field, we have built in a further safeguard: the right of appeal to the European Council. Any member state that strongly objects to a proposal for enhanced co-operation can make its case to the elected Heads of State and Governments in the European Council, and if the Council so decides, the proposal will not go forward. There will still be a veto on proposals for enhanced co-operation under the common foreign and security policy pillar, because decisions are taken on a basis of unanimity in that area.
The Opposition cannot have it all ways. They cannot be in favour of more flexibility in Europe, as they said that they were in their manifesto, while demanding that the emergency brake be retained.
Well, I am trying not to follow the hon. Gentleman's example in these debates.
The Opposition cannot support the principle of enhanced co-operation—
The thought of stringing up any Member in this debate might appeal to some but not to me. I am a pacifist kind of person. I shall make these remarks as short as possible, to leave more time for the hon. Gentleman to contribute to the next section of the debate. I would not deprive the House of that pleasure.
As the Minister is making his remarks so brief, I am sure he will not mind if I intervene on him. It is a little unclear to me what point he is making. He said that there was never any difficulty and, in practice, nothing happened on enhanced co-operation after Amsterdam. Nevertheless, the United Kingdom Government were willing to give up the veto based on the theoretical idea that, somehow, a member state would hold up that process. There has been no evidence of that happening so far, yet our national interests, which are obviously vital, have been given up. Some very confused thinking is coming from the Minister, in relation to practice and to theory. Will he clarify the Government's thinking on this matter?
It is very clear that we are preparing for an enlarged EU. We want the great democracies of Europe to come home to join the European Union. Since the treaty of Nice, the Conservatives have said consistently that they wish to oppose that process. That is the huge difference between many Opposition Members and Members on this side of the House—and, I suspect, the man who emerged as winner of the poll whose result has just been announced. I hope that the House as a whole will now revert to where I think British interests lie, and call for the enlargement of the European Union, rather than seeking to put barriers in the path of that process, as some Opposition Members are doing.
I do not understand the Minister's difficulty in answering the question. Enlargement is one issue; enhanced co-operation is another, separate issue dealing with a more limited group of countries, which in no way impairs enlargement. I would like an explanation of the Government's thinking. I have not received one so far, and I am disappointed in the Minister. Will he please explain what has happened since Amsterdam to make the Government change their mind in this way?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the safeguards on enhanced co-operation have now been built more strongly into the Nice treaty by the reference to the Council, constituted by the elected Governments responsible to this and the other Parliaments of the European Union. The basic principle remains: one cannot support the principle of enhanced co-operation, as the Conservative party did in its manifesto, while demanding that the Nice provisions that will allow it to work be struck down. Unlike the Opposition, on their showing today, we see enhanced co-operation as an opportunity, not a threat.
There are a number of scenarios in which Britain might want actively to join in areas of enhanced co-operation, and it is right that I should put those to the House. In the community pillar, for example, the UK might want to join an initiative on scientific research while some other member states might not, or to participate in an initiative to improve transport links between the UK and neighbouring member states.
In the common foreign and security pillar, the UK might want to join other interested member states in implementing a common EU policy in Africa, such as managing election monitors. In justice and home affairs, it is possible to imagine the UK joining a group of member states to agree tough action on an issue that directly affected only a small group of countries, such as drug trafficking across the North sea. All in all, the improved enhanced co-operation arrangements are a valuable feature of the treaty. We strongly support them and, for that reason, we reject the amendments tabled on these issues.
By making such a brief and ineffective speech, the Minister has opened up an opportunity, which I shall not miss, to give a proper explanation of the implications of enhanced co-operation. I can do so in a manner that will undoubtedly illuminate the Government as well as, I hope, people outside who are interested in learning more about its operation.
We have already discussed the fact that enhanced co-operation can be undertaken only as a last resort when no further progress can be made in the Council of Ministers under the existing rules. Thus it can be seen from the provisions that countries with misgivings, such as the United Kingdom, apparently had the satisfaction of having many of their demands met. That is easier said than done.
The question is, who decides whether the provisions are satisfied or not? We see that, in the voting rules, enhanced co-operation in all areas can be decided with a qualified majority in the Council of Ministers. That means 62 of 87 votes at present, or 169 of 237 votes from 2005, or 258 of 345 in an EU of 27 countries. In an enlarged EU, the 13 smallest countries could be voted down by the 14 largest. In theory, the 14 largest countries could also introduce enhanced co-operation between themselves, or between eight of them, an arrangement with which 13 other countries would not be happy.
Conversely, three large countries, including Germany, could prevent enhanced co-operation, which might be desired by 24 other member states. Now that we have got down to a proper analysis of what is going on, hon. Members are perhaps beginning to see what a mess all this is. I shall continue until I finish explaining to the Committee for the record exactly what it is all about.
The qualified majority itself decides what is possible. The blocking minority can prevent the decision. If the opponents do not have a blocking minority of 26 of 87 votes, or the corresponding number after 2005, enhanced co-operation can be established. It may be possible to avert clear breaches of the agreed conditions with the aid of the Court of Justice, but as we all know, the Court of Justice, with its judicial activism, has been the most powerful engine of integration. It considers its task and its objective to be extending European integration, not bringing it to an end.
I move to a question that I regard as of great importance: the weakening of the small countries' negotiating position. There is something pretty disgusting about the manner in which people pontificate about this European Union as if it benefits everybody in equal measure. Let us cut the cackle and get down to the facts. [Interruption.] It is all very well for Mr. Hendrick to laugh, but does he think it a good thing to bulldoze and blackmail the smaller countries?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for inviting me to intervene. The debate is about countries that want to get on with it, not bulldozing or blackmailing. Those who do not want to get involved can stay out. I would be grateful if he said what enhanced co-operation is about, instead of making up his own fiction.
I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman would include as a little bit of fiction the vote by the Irish in their recent referendum. Ireland is a small country, which is one reason why its people took such exception to being bulldozed. That was a main argument made by the no campaign and it is proof of what I am saying. The same goes for the Danes.
If we are to start trotting out remarks on what happens when the Danes hold a referendum, I should say that I was in Denmark when they voted on the Maastricht treaty. I campaigned for and with the Danish people with their consent, and enthusiastic consent at that. The bottom line is that we won that debate. And what happened afterwards? The Konrad Adenauer Siftung, in its journal "German Comments", said in an editorial—I paraphrase, but this is what it came down to—"Something very dangerous is going on in Europe today. Elections are being used as a means of protest. This must be stopped."
That is the kind of language that we are hearing. That is the kind of blackmailing and bulldozing that I am talking about. The British people must be told about it, and this forum—this House of Commons—gives me an opportunity to explain it.
There is a gentleman across the way who is shaking his head. I do not know his constituency, but if he wants to shake his head, let him rise to his feet and dispute what I have just said—or does he not have the nerve to do so?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for enticing me to my feet, but his argument is completely fallacious. He seems to be saying that the people of Ireland should be allowed to make a decision on behalf of the whole of the rest of the European Union, which is fundamentally anti-democratic. A similar point was made by my right hon. Friend Denzil Davies.
It is all important that, in any consideration of the use of enhanced co-operation, we take account of the views of smaller member states that might indeed constitute eight states wanting to co-operate. It would be profoundly anti-democratic of us to decide that we should be able to create a veto to prevent them from doing so.
Let me quote from the no campaign literature, which represents the successful side in the debate in Ireland.
"Very Basic Facts on the Nice Treaty.
1. Nice is about shifting power in the EU from the Small States to the Big States. 2. Nice divides Europe into first-class and second-class Members, breaking up the EU partnership of legal equals. It provides the necessary legal path to making possible German Chancellor Schroder's plan to turn the EU Commission into a European Government, with harmonised company taxes . . . ".
I pay tribute to the perception of my right hon. Friend—in this case—the Member for Llanelli, who, in a brilliant speech, exposed exactly how enhanced co-operation would achieve that objective.
The campaign literature continues:
" . . . an end to the basis of our 'Celtic Tiger' economy—and a Constitution that would give the EU Court the final say on our human rights. 3. Nice is about abolishing the national veto in 30 areas and centralising more power in Brussels. It trebles the votes of the Big States in making EU laws"—
No, I will not. It goes on:
" . . . while only doubling the votes of the Small States. This happens automatically in January 2005, even if not a single new Member has joined the EU by then."
The reason I will not give way is this: I think it at least helpful to try to get across just exactly, for example, what the Irish people did vote on. Both the hon. Member for Preston and the hon. Gentleman whom I enticed to intervene—
If the Irish people are as perspicacious as the hon. Gentleman suggests, why does he think that they voted to join the single European currency?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman should cast his mind back to that particular referendum and debate, which took place some time ago. He should bear it in mind that the Irish Government clearly did not think the Irish people would vote the way they did. It was precisely because of the compelling nature of the arguments that they did so.
I have here a paper published by the Referendum Commission, entitled "An Insight into the Treaty of Nice: Your Voice, Your Choice. Treaty of Nice 2001". It is a formal publication by the Referendum Commission. It is on the web at www.refcom.ie. Anyone who wants to read it can visit the site, rather than me reading it all out today.
I find the hon. Gentleman's comments slightly disingenuous. A number of my relatives live in Ireland. They told me that the biggest argument in their area was that, if Ireland agreed to enlargement, it would lose the grants it received from the EU: they would go to places such as Poland and other parts of the eastern bloc. That is what influenced a lot of people to whom I have spoken in Ireland to vote in that way. Believe it or not, other people do not read the esoteric documents that so delight the hon. Gentleman.
It so happens that the document to which I have referred was sent to every person in the Irish Republic, so the hon. Gentleman cannot get away with that one. The Irish no campaign made the point that Nice is not primarily about EU enlargement. It argued that it is about dividing Europe along the lines that many of us have described today.
On the grants, to answer that question directly, long before the Irish referendum came up, everyone knew that the Irish grants were going to disappear by 2006 at the latest. The Irish have known that for the best part of eight years, so there is nothing new in it. I do not see what the hon. Gentleman's point is. They knew it before they even voted on the treaty.
I shall carry on a little because I would like to develop the point about the weakening of small countries' negotiating positions.
We have seen the rules of play for new enhanced co-operation. If a country says no to an extension of EU co-operation—for example, because it has been rejected in a referendum—the countries that want it can simply go ahead on their own and use the Union's institutions for a purpose that voters may have expressly rejected. That procedure can be used for proposals on which a large majority of the European electorate, according to public opinion surveys, agree with the nation that rejected the proposals in a referendum. The fact that a scheme of enhanced co-operation can be voted through by majority decision—that takes us back to the group of amendments that we considered at the beginning of these debates—limits the capacity of Government to negotiate in the EU.
As I said earlier and on Second Reading, two parallel operations are running together. One is enhanced co-operation and the other is qualified majority voting. They interweave to achieve the objectives. It is all part of a seamless operation to take us further and deeper into European integration. Indeed, during the negotiations on the treaty of Nice, the Danish negotiator, Mr. Cristofferson, often said that if this or that wording were adopted there would be a referendum in Denmark—heaven forbid. Hence there would be a risk of the entire treaty being rejected. For those reasons, they were frightened sick of another referendum in Denmark. In every single instance it is the elite that is heeded, not the people, because they have common sense: the Swiss people, the Danes, the Irish and for that matter the people of the United Kingdom, particularly under the potential new leadership of the Conservative party.
I fail to understand how the hon. Gentleman can argue that small countries are being bulldozed when each one of them has an absolute veto over the treaty. Unless every one of those countries agrees to the treaty, there will be no treaty. How can that be bulldozing them? They should make the decision in their interest. We should be debating what is in our interest, not going over the Irish interest, as the hon. Gentleman is.
Not so. The fact is that we are all affected by what goes on in the other countries. The difficulty is that there is a referendum only in a limited number of countries. That is the point that I am making.
One cannot say that the people of any particular country have consented to the invasion of their right to decide who governs them—which is what the process is all about—if they have not been given a referendum. That is why I argued for a referendum from the very earliest days after Maastricht. I ran the Maastricht referendum campaign, for which I obtained 500,000 signatures, and have consistently campaigned for a referendum ever since.
We are heading that way.
The consent of the people would be gained in referendums. The issue of whether a small country's negotiating position would be adversely affected and weakened is directly related to the issue of consent.
Our country has just had the ultimate referendum, a general election. Conservative Members said that the general election would be a referendum on Europe and European matters. Labour Members made clear our position on those matters and on the treaty of Nice and we won that general election. How therefore can the hon. Gentleman say that the United Kingdom has not been consulted?
I do indeed say that. First, in the last general election, the Government made absolutely no attempt to address the European issue. Secondly, the Conservative party failed in that election to address the issue properly. All we did was to talk about not being run by Europe without explaining the impact of, for example, the European monetary rules on public expenditure. Nor did we point out the fact that we achieved a stable economy, which the current Government have inherited, only because we were out of the exchange rate mechanism. The Government now intend to re-enter the ERM. However, I am digressing and shall not pursue that point.
The bottom line is that there are very important issues in this business of enhanced co-operation, extending to enhanced judicial co-operation and the treaty establishing the European Community. Enhanced co-operation would extend to a range of matters. The vast impact that it would have is a matter of gravest concern. Every line of this Bill—it is subject to a programme motion, thereby preventing us from explaining precisely what is proposed in the treaty—is the equivalent of a whole Bill that it would take Parliament the best part of six months to consider and pass. That is what is so undemocratic about these arrangements.
We are legislating on a monumental scale. Many of the lines of this treaty which we shall be enshrining in statute are the equivalent of an entire Bill. I suggest that Labour Members carefully consider how democratic that is.
The First Deputy Chairman:
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 39, page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 2, paragraph 11'.
No. 71, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 2, paragraph 38'.
No. 72, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 2, paragraph 39'.
No. 73, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 2, paragraph 40'.
No. 74, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 2, paragraph 42'.
No. 75, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 2, paragraph 43'.
No. 76, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 2, paragraph 45'.
No. 77, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 2, paragraph 46'.
No. 96, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 3, paragraph 19'.
No. 97, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 3, paragraph 20'.
No. 98, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 3, paragraph 21'.
No. 99, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 3, paragraph 22'.
No. 101, in page 1, line 9, after "10", insert—
'other than Article 3, paragraph 24'.
We come now to an entirely different subject, social protection, which is very important and related to the blank cheque book that I have mentioned. What is actually happening is that we are introducing laws that are not capable of being reversed in any reasonable sense as any future amendment would require the agreement of all the member states. There is no apparent intention to amend the provisions, but they entail vast costs. It is perfectly right that there should be social protection in certain areas and I have never had a problem with that. Indeed, when my party was in government, we introduced laws—
The First Deputy Chairman:
Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could help the Chair and explain how what he is now referring to relates to the amendment on various institutional matters. We are debating amendment No. 54.
On a point of order, Mrs. Heal. With all due respect to the hon. Gentleman, whose diligence on these matters is well known, he is not speaking to the amendments and I respectfully suggest that either we should move immediately to a conclusion or that he should speak to the subject we are debating.
Under the circumstances, I am perfectly prepared to move on, as the Chair may request, but I believe that my hon. Friend Mr. Spring has some remarks to make on these provisions. By the time that he has finished, I will have had the opportunity to find the place in my notes. I understand what the Minister has said, and I am happy that my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk should take up the thread.
This group is another miscellaneous group of provisions, and I shall keep my remarks short.
Amendment No. 39 relates to the new Social Protection Committee. We will be discussing social policy in connection with new clause 6 at a later date, so at this stage perhaps the Minister could provide us with some further information on the role of that Committee.
The issue arises from the Council decision of June 2000 setting up the Committee to strengthen co-operation on social protection policies. It is meant to promote exchanges of information, formulate opinions and the like. Its remit under the treaty has been expanded slightly, so that it will now be charged with monitoring the social situation in member states.
This would appear to be another example of Ministers' views evolving somewhat during the Nice discussions. Dr. Ladyman asked Tessa Jowell, now the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, about the Social Protection Committee during a debate in European Standing Committee C in November. The right hon. Lady said the proposal for a Committee would need to be examined very closely before it was given support. Can the Minister say why the result of that examination was to change ministerial scepticism into support? What was the reasoning behind establishing a new treaty base for the Committee and broadening its remit? Can he assure the House that this will not lead to a further increase in the number of social policy measures, including harmonisation, arising from the EU institutions? Each member state appoints two members of the Committee. Can he tell us how the UK representatives are chosen?
Perhaps the Minister could also set out how he sees two of the other Committees included in this group developing in future years—namely, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. Both sets of members will now be appointed by qualified majority voting.
The Nice treaty stipulates that the Economic and Social Committee represents
"the economic and social components of organised civil society".
Finally, is it the intention that the role of the Committee of the Regions will increase? I appreciate that UK representatives on that Committee are all from local government, the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh or Northern Ireland Assemblies, but the same is not true of the appointments from other countries. There is some worry that the EU's concern for regions, including transnational regions, is intended to undermine Europe's national identities.
Does the Minister agree that genuine decentralisation should be to local government, and that regional government is more distant from local communities? Will he be cautious about any expansion in the role of regionalism in the European Union?
The first amendment in this group is No. 54. I have always found it useful if the hon. Member moving an amendment reads out the bit that locates the text to be amended. In this case, it is clause 1, page 1, line 9. The amendment states:
"after 'to', insert '4 and 6 to'"— which I assume means "to 10". The numbers refer to paragraphs in article 2. I am sure that I will be corrected if I am not right when I say that one of the amendment's purposes, therefore, is to delete paragraph 5 from article 2. Thanks to a piece of paper issued by the Foreign Office at the last minute, I have been able to find the treaty. Looking at paragraph 5 in article 2, I see that we are dealing once more with a subject that is an old friend. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister—whose letter I have not yet received—will not mind if I ask familiar questions.
I think that paragraph 5 refers to article 100 in the consolidated treaty of the European Communities, which is to be replaced. Thanks to the bit of paper from the Foreign Office, I have found that as well. Basically, article 100 allows qualified majority voting in certain situations where unanimity was previously required. It has been around for a long time. The draftsmen, out of a sense of tidiness, have inserted a reference to "natural disasters", but, except for the phrase "qualified majority", there is little to distinguish the proposed change from the original version.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can answer some questions on article 100, which, in its new version, will state in paragraph 1 that
"the Council, acting by a qualified majority on a proposal from the Commission, may decide upon the measures appropriate to the economic situation".
I do not want to be a pedantic Welsh lawyer, but what is the word "the" doing there? Which economic situation are we talking about?
The paragraph goes on to say
"in particular if severe difficulties arise in the supply of certain products."
That is a complete mystery. I apologise again if I sound pedantic, but the House is legislating. The treaty is not the gobbledegook that the EU might churn out almost every two years, and one must hypothesise that it will become British law. If the matter ever came before the courts, lawyers could make a lot of money out of those words.
To contend that the supply of certain products might be in difficulty in this world of global capitalism is a strange concept. Which products are we talking about? I presume that the supply will be difficult within the European Union. Perhaps the article is referring to oil. I do not know. Apart from Britain, none of the EU member states produce crude oil. May we be told which products? The type of products must be in the mind of the person who drafted article 100. That person did not pick the words "certain products" out of the air. What on earth is the first paragraph of article 100 getting at?
I presume that it refers to articles 95 and 96. My right hon. Friend is a far more able lawyer than me, but as memory serves me, those articles refer to state aid provisions. I presume that in that light article 100 makes sense.
I am not sure about that, although I do not criticise my hon. Friend. Article 100 comes under title VII entitled "Economic and monetary policy". Chapter 1 is entitled "Economic policy" and starts with article 98, I am sorry to tell my hon. Friend. Article 98 contains the terrible paragraph that upset the Irish. The powers in article 98.4 caused the Commission to issue a recommendation to the Irish Government saying that their economic policies were nonsense. That contributed to the defeat in the referendum. Article 98 comes under the heading of economic policy. My hon. Friend may be right—the article may be about state aids, but what are the products that are of considerable and fundamental importance to "the economic situation"?
That could be the case. We would like to know why we find concern about the supply of products in article 100.
What sort of measures could be deemed appropriate? Paragraph 1 of article 100 does not mention money, although it could be referring to state aids. I am sure that the Foreign Office is well aware of these things and that there are bundles of papers in the basement somewhere to explain the drafting of the clause.
I raised paragraph 2 of article 100 previously. It says:
"Where a Member State is in difficulties or is seriously threatened with severe difficulties caused by natural disasters"— we understand that; it was in the original article in a different place—
"or exceptional occurrences beyond its control, the Council, acting by a qualified majority on a proposal from the Commission, may grant, under certain conditions, Community financial assistance".
What exceptional occurrences?