New Clause 38 — Effects of Nice Treaty

European Communities (Amendment) Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:36 pm on 18th July 2001.

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'Within three months of the ratification by Her Majesty's Government of the Treaty of Nice amending the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community, the Government shall lay before both Houses of Parliament a White Paper on the economic, political and constitutional developments arising therefrom.'.—[Mr. Cash.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

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

We have been through something of a marathon and we are now coming towards the end of our consideration of the new clauses. We have an opportunity to look at the implications of what we have been discussing over the past few days. My clause would provide an opportunity for the people of this country to be properly informed about what will be achieved after ratification of the Nice treaty. It states that within three months of the treaty's ratification

"the Government shall lay before both Houses of Parliament a White Paper on the economic, political and constitutional developments arising therefrom."

Tomorrow, or shortly afterwards, the European Commission will produce a White Paper based on a report made to it. It will be a White Paper from Europe. I can give a sample of it. It says that the EU is a "laboratory of world governance". We have been witnessing a continual process towards an undemocratic and unaccountable Europe within a legal framework. The Division has denied us a referendum, just as we have been denied a referendum on the treaty of European Union itself. In my opinion, it is time that we had one.

Over the past year and a half, I have challenged the Prime Minister three times on the Floor of the House to give us a White Paper on the European issue—the constitutional, political and economic implications of what we have been deliberating on over the past few days, or indeed the past few years. Three times the Prime Minister has denied the people of this country the information that would enable them to make a judgment about what is going on. Why? The truth is that the Prime Minister dare not tell the British people what is happening. He knows perfectly well that if he were to provide a White Paper, he would have to spell out all the political and economic implications for the House and for the daily lives of the people of this country.

It is a denial of the information that is due to the British people. Churchill said that one should tell the truth to the British people because they are a robust people, and "if you do not tell them the truth, woe betide you on the morrow". That is what is going on here. That is why we have seen riots in Gothenburg and elsewhere. It is why there was a rejection of the Nice treaty in the Irish referendum and why the referendum in Denmark turned down the proposals for the euro. People are fed up with being governed by an elite. They are not being given the information that they require. My new clause would enable the British people to have proper information about what is being done to them.

It is a matter of fundamental democracy and, after the Division tonight, the Government will stand accused of not being prepared to provide the people with a White Paper.

Photo of Richard Spring Richard Spring Conservative, West Suffolk

I want to make it plain that we fully support the notion of a White Paper as contained in the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend Mr. Cash. It would mean that we could take a long, hard and proper look at what Nice was all about and the implications that flow from it. I remind hon. Members that the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs concluded:

"The Treaty of Nice has proved to be much more substantial than the United Kingdom Government and others initially envisaged."

We know from the Select Committee proceedings how the Government went disorganised and unstructured into the Nice treaty negotiations, and how they came out of them after signing up to the treaty without fully understanding its implications and what it is all about. In those circumstances, a White Paper would be the right way of taking a proper and considered view of what was agreed to at Nice. I am happy to support my hon. Friend's proposal.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

In the course of the Committee's consideration of the Bill many comments have been made about the need for clarity and transparency and the need to reconnect the people of the United Kingdom with the European Union. I think that a White Paper of the type that the new clause seeks to persuade the Government to provide would be a very important step in achieving those objectives. For those reasons, but not necessarily for those that have been advanced so far in the debate, I believe that this is a new clause worthy of support.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Minister of State (Europe)

Conservative Members have lost the argument in this debate and now they come waving a bit of white paper. It is not necessary to have a White Paper.

A White Paper on the effect of the Nice treaty, "Reform for Enlargement", was published in February 2000 and clearly set out the Government's position on the 2000 intergovernmental conference. Parliament is now debating the implications of Nice, and we shall continue to keep Parliament informed of developments in the European Union as they occur. We have laid before Parliament, and published yesterday, our six-monthly report on developments in the European Union. Additionally, Parliament will have ample opportunity to debate and contribute to the future of Europe in the lead-up to the next intergovernmental conference, in 2004. I look forward to the erudite contributions that Mr. Cash will make to those debates.

We believe that the treaty of Nice is a good outcome for Britain and will deliver a stronger Britain in a wider Europe. We have opened the door to enlargement, the fantastic prize of reunifying Europe. We have won more relative voting power for Britain. Conservative Members said that we could not achieve that, but we did. We have also won a more efficient Commission. We have secured more qualified majority voting when that is in Britain's interests, and we have preserved our veto by saying that we needed to do so. We have achieved a more effective system of justice in the European Union that will help to cut delays. We have also secured a more flexible European Union while safeguarding the interests of all member states.

We shall continue to engage at every opportunity in a discussion on all aspects of the Nice treaty as it evolves with Parliament and with the House of Commons—on the Floor of the House, in Committee, and in the Scrutiny Committee. I therefore do not think that a White Paper is necessary, and I do not think that the Opposition are serious about pressing the new clause to a Division.

Conservative Members have had their last fling today. When they return from the summer recess, they will have a new leader. Mr. Clarke has made it clear that he supports the Nice treaty. How will the hon. Members for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) and for Stone and all the other Conservative Members who have attacked the Nice treaty be voting on Third Reading in October?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Minister of State (Europe)

There we have it. A rebellion is already being planned, three or four months before Third Reading, by some Conservative Back Benchers. They will be voting against Third Reading and defying their new leader, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe. What a pathetic rabble they are.

As Labour Members, we are lifting our heads above that dreadful spectacle and saying that the real issues are about the unity of Europe, a more efficient Europe, a more prosperous Europe, a Europe that drives forward towards full employment, social justice and the protection of people's job security and rights, and a Europe that fights poverty and combats the environmental threat that is the scourge of our times.

We commend the Bill and reject new clause 38.

It being Ten o'clock, The Chairman, pursuant to Orders [4 and 11 July], put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

The Committee divided: Ayes 181, Noes 334.

Division number 35 European Communities (Amendment) Bill — New Clause 38 — Effects of Nice Treaty

Aye: 181 MPs

No: 335 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name


Nos: A-Z by last name


Question accordingly negatived.

Bill reported, without amendment.

To be read the Third time tomorrow.