Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
The Foreign Secretary is representing the United Kingdom at a meeting today in Luxembourg of the General Affairs Council, which will discuss the European Union's overall counter-terrorism policy in response to the atrocities on
I recently made my first visit to central Europe as Minister for Europe. In Hungary and the Czech Republic, I saw countries, Governments and people determined to be a part of the EU. I have also met Ministers from Poland, Cyprus, Malta, Estonia and Slovenia; they all look to the EU as their future and they look to Britain as their champion. They want EU membership, and they want it now. They think that the EU has delayed too long. They, and all other candidates like them, want to take their place as full members of the European family, which history has long denied them. They asked me with some bemusement how those in Britain who say that they are in favour of enlargement can at the same time be against the only treaty that will deliver it on time and in good order. I put that same question to the Conservative Opposition today. By voting against the Bill, they are voting against all Britain's friends and allies in eastern, central and southern Europe who are anxiously knocking on the door to enter.
I am grateful to the Minister. Like him, I have spoken to officials, particularly in Poland and Hungary, about their countries joining the EU. Did they ask him what arrangements the UK Government have tried to put in place to make sure that the common agricultural policy will work effectively? As he knows, agriculture is particularly important to those countries. What did they ask him and what did he reply?
Perhaps I have the advantage over the hon. Lady, as I have spoken to Ministers in those countries, not simply officials—[Interruption.] Okay, and officials as well. The answer to her question is simple. Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary have all completed negotiations on a range of chapters, up to the total of 31, which is their aim for full accession. Agriculture is one of those that still have to be negotiated. There are concerns, in relation to Poland especially, about the reforms that will be necessary in the common agricultural policy. We will tackle that agenda and tackle it with the candidate countries, as we are doing.
Reform of the common agricultural policy must not be used as an excuse to deny enlargement. A series of vested interests need to be overcome among some of our fellow member states in order to reform the CAP. It is important that we do not allow those vested interests to triumph by blocking enlargement. We want the candidate countries in, and we want to conduct both reforms in parallel.
I endorse the Minister's remarks. Can he confirm that in our efforts to achieve enlargement within the timetable set out, it will be necessary for all the applicant states to meet the full requirements of the acquis, and that there will be no political fudge at the last minute to achieve our political requirements of enlargement of the EU?
No. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that that cannot be the case under the treaty. Each of the applicants must sign off and agree the 31 chapters involved in the acquis, then they must ratify the treaty through their domestic process. There is no question of fudges. Detailed negotiations are necessary and much progress has been made. The Czech Republic, for example, has signed off 19 chapters. Cyprus is in a similar position. In the next year or so, we must redouble our efforts to make sure that the other candidates can come in, particularly those that are likely to be in the first wave. We are determined to play our part to ensure that enlargement happens on time, from
Mr. Bercow, whom I see sitting on the Front Bench instead of complaining from the Back Benches about European policy, says "Nonsense." Enlargement is the only show in town. If hon. Members want enlargement, and if they do not want all our friends in eastern and central Europe to be denied the opportunity of joining the European Union, they should vote for the Bill. If not, they are against those countries and their interests, and they should go out and tell them that that is their position.
I thank the Minister for giving way. As my hon. Friend Mr. Bercow cannot answer for himself, may I suggest an answer on his behalf? The Nice treaty covers many matters other than enlargement, such as the creation of a European military force outside the NATO structure. How can the Minister try to blackmail the House into saying that we must vote for the Bill, because if we vote against it for any reason whatever, we are voting against enlargement? That is, as my hon. Friend rightly said, utter nonsense.
Part of my duties is to educate Opposition Members about Europe. That is hard work in several cases, and the hon. Gentleman is an example. I thought that the edict from the new leadership of the Conservative Opposition was for them to take a low profile on European matters. I thought that they had instructions not to say anything about European policies that might deflect attention from the domestic agenda. However, I am not surprised. Their policies are not just unmentionable; they are unspeakable as well. We must make it clear, so that the House and voters understand, that Opposition Members such as the hon. Gentleman and the entire Eurosceptic Conservative Front Bench are not so much anti-Europe as anxious to be out of Europe, as the former Chancellor, Mr. Clarke so eloquently said.
Indeed. The hon. Gentleman is very quick, and I congratulate him on that.
Let us be clear that our Government want enlargement just as much as the candidate countries, not only because we have strong ties with each of them and because it is in their interests, but because it is in Britain's interests.
I am grateful that sense has prevailed at least somewhere on the Opposition Benches. The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. If we do not carry this Bill in the House and the other place, we will be unable to ratify the Nice treaty, which will fall apart. Britain would then be in a dangerous position, as it would be a champion of enlargement that could not introduce its own Bill to ratify the treaty that makes enlargement possible. I am sure that I have his support in saying that there is no alternative. If we want enlargement to occur on time and to ensure the entry on
My right hon. Friend stressed the importance of the House enacting the Bill so that the treaty can be ratified. Is he aware that Ireland has rejected the proposal on which the Bill is based? Does that mean that all our discussion is immaterial or does not the Irish rejection matter?
Neither suggestion is true. Three countries have already ratified the treaty and we intend also to be in the first batch that do so. The more countries that ratify it, the more progress can be made in securing the enlargement that we, at least, want.
On the Irish decision, my hon. Friend made an important point to which I want to respond fully. Consultations have taken place between the European Union leadership, including Britain, and the Irish Government. They have asked for time to consider their position. [Interruption.] It is interesting to hear scoffing, howls of laughter and cheering at that prospect. However, if ratification is not agreed by any member state, including Britain, enlargement cannot proceed. If enlargement is desirable, as I believe it to be, it must proceed.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that, although it is sometimes difficult to understand the exact position of the Opposition, it is clear that they are not against the enlargement of the European Union, but want an enlargement that will weaken or undermine it, instead of consolidating it and reinforcing its capacity to act?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I do not think that the Opposition are in favour of proper enlargement. They want to wreck the prospects of the candidate countries, as well as Europe, the Bill and the possibility of getting ratification from Britain. Fortunately, we have a clear majority over the Eurosceptics who sit on the Opposition Benches and it is just possible that the Bill will be introduced without their support.
Does the Minister really think that the Bill is indispensable for enlargement? From my experience of the Community, it seems to me that it would be perfectly possible to convene an intergovernmental conference tomorrow in Brussels to discuss enlargement issues in the Nice treaty that are completely uncontroversial and without any need to ratify the treaty itself. One could have such a conference tomorrow and get on with enlargement.
The hon. Gentleman is a formidable journalist, but if he imagines that he can convene an intergovernmental conference tomorrow and renegotiate enlargement, he is living in cloud cuckoo land. Britain increased its voting strength in the Council of Ministers under the Nice treaty. We got a better deal than any of the other larger countries; we increased the share of our vote under qualified majority voting. If we reopened the Nice agenda, does the hon. Gentleman believe that that increase, which is embedded in the treaty, subject to ratification, would be left untouched? Of course it would not. Several parties are not happy that Britain's share of the vote increased.
My hon. Friend Mr. Johnson is a formidable journalist, but I do not believe that The Spectator had correspondents at the Nice summit. He would otherwise know that the decision on the voting weight was exceedingly controversial and that representatives of several member states threatened to walk out. If the treaty falls through, the whole matter might have to be renegotiated with consequent enormous complications.
The hon. Gentleman is right; I shall continue to take his interventions if he wishes to make them. He makes a valid point: several other countries are extremely upset about the deal to which they agreed and they would desperately like to unravel it. The opposition of the hon. Member for Henley and his colleagues to the Bill would promote that outcome.
My right hon. Friend said that his mission was to educate the Opposition. He has shown them that their zealous anti-Europeanism would recklessly annoy many of our friends. However, will he also educate them about the changed attitude of the United States Administration to European security and defence policy? It undermines yet another plank of their anti-Europeanism.
My right hon. Friend is right. The President of the United States has been steadfast in his support for the European security and defence policy. He speaks for the Administration in Washington, and some of the offstage noises to the contrary should be ignored. As I shall make clear later, if I am allowed to get that far, the events of the past month have increased the importance of a European role in security. The progress has been endorsed.
I am sorry, but I shall make some progress before taking any more interesting interventions from the hon. Gentleman.
Enlargement is not a favour that we are doing the candidates. It is a favour we are doing ourselves. Why? It will reunite Europe at long last after the bitter divisions of world war two and the cold war. It will make us safer; war between the EU's members is now unthinkable. By enlarging, the EU will extend stability throughout Europe.
Enlargement will make us richer. Taking in the central Europeans alone will boost British gross domestic product by £1.75 billion. That is an important prize. It will create more jobs for British workers. Enlargement will create thousands of them throughout the UK. It will mean lower prices and greater choice for UK consumers. They will have access to a wider range of products at more competitive prices as the single market is enlarged to become the largest in the world, with a population of nearly 500 million.
It will also make Britain cleaner and greener. Common environmental standards applied in all EU member states, new and old, will reduce the cross-border pollution that affects our skies and rivers.
Enlargement will make our streets safer. Together, the EU member states are tackling cross-border crime, drug smuggling, people trafficking and illegal immigration. If we are to deliver lasting success, we need the candidates inside the EU, working with us on those tasks.
As I said earlier, enlargement is even more important after
Let me explain. On
We agreed on a European arrest warrant. The warrant will be most effective when it applies not just in the present 15 member states but across Europe, in what are now the candidate countries. It will, when they join. There will be nowhere for the terrorists to hide any more. A common definition of terrorism in each nation's laws was also agreed. When it applies across Europe, as it will when the candidates join, the days when terrorists could avoid justice through legal loopholes will be ended.
We agreed on quicker freezing of assets and evidence, through recognition by each EU member state of others' court orders. When that applies across Europe, as it will when the candidates join, terrorists will no longer be able to hide the funds that pay for their campaigns, or the evidence that will convict them across Europe.
We agreed on better intelligence-sharing between member states. When the candidates are part of that network, as they will be when they join, all Europe's eyes and ears will help to ensure that we can crack and pre-empt planned terrorist action throughout our continent.
Those are important prizes, which enlargement will bring.
Does my hon. Friend agree that in the fight against terrorism, one of the most important aspects of this treaty is the headline military goals? As has been revealed in recent weeks, many of our NATO allies have not the military capability to contribute to NATO. If the goals within the treaty for the European targets are achieved, the capability will exist.
I am not sure about that, but I take my hon. Friend's general point.
A bigger European Union will mean a stronger European defence policy too—which relates to what my hon. Friend just said. It will mean more troops able to handle the peacekeeping, humanitarian and crisis- management operations that Europe may need to run in the future. It will mean an EU better able to stop the kind of instability, on its borders or further afield, in which terrorists can hide and thrive.
I hope that the Minister will not be seduced by the intervention of his hon. Friend Mr. Smith—with whom I often agree, although I do not on this occasion. It would do nothing for the strength of NATO if it were somehow thought that to achieve the headline goals of the European rapid reaction force was equivalent to achieving the objectives of the defence capabilities initiative, and NATO itself.
I take the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point. He usually speaks with great authority, conviction and, indeed, persuasiveness about these matters.
Our biggest weapon of all in the fight against terrorism, however, is not more troops. It is not just better intelligence sharing, and not just enhanced extradition arrangements. It is international solidarity. The member states are showing that: not just Britain but all our European partners gave immediate and unconditional support to the US after
Let us remember that the candidates too have been steadfast in giving unconditional solidarity. They too have voiced their full support to the US, for the anti-terrorist measures that the EU is establishing, and for the broader fight against fear. All—each one—did that voluntarily and immediately. Without being prompted, they demonstrated that, at a critical time internationally, they were already embryonic members of the European Union. We welcome them and commend them for that. We need their support, for this struggle has no boundaries. We need their solidarity; their accession will consolidate it. We need their co-operation; their accession will strengthen it.
What kind of Europe will the candidates join? We want them to join our kind of Europe. We want them to join a practical Europe that delivers real things for real people: jobs, prosperity, cleaner air, safer cars, and the right to live, work and study anywhere inside the European Union. We want them to join an accountable Europe, whose agenda is set by the democratically elected leaders of the member states; an open Europe, which consults its citizens and makes decisions with full transparency.
We want them to join a comprehensible Europe that uses language that people can understand and procedures that they can follow, and a diverse Europe that cherishes the differences between its member states and empowers them all while respecting the national identity of each. We want them to join a Europe that stands in a strong transatlantic alliance with the United States—as it has so steadfastly in the fight against international terrorism, and as it must also do in opening up trade, on conflict prevention, on a new deal for Africa, on humanitarian assistance and in fighting world poverty. That is our kind of Europe. That is the Europe that our Government are building and the Europe that we want the candidates to join.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way again, and I very much agree with him on the merits of enlargement. Does he agree with me and Romano Prodi that, as Mr. Prodi said on
"legally, ratification of the Nice treaty is not necessary for enlargement"?
Does the Minister accept that?
I noticed renewed interest in the debate among Opposition Members when my hon. Friend mentioned Romano Prodi, who is very popular among Opposition Members. Legally we could have an accession treaty with each member state, one by one, and convene an intergovernmental conference to agree that. However, is my hon. Friend seriously suggesting—I hope that he is not—that that is a sensible way to proceed on enlargement?
We need a unified position to address issues such as the common agricultural policy—which Mrs. Browning raised—security, the single market and the various other issues raised in the 31 chapters. A single treaty to which each country joining the European Union has to accede makes far more sense than the alternative and is indeed the only practical way of proceeding. That is the only sensible and practical way of pursuing the matter. Legalistically, one could pursue the extremely unlikely strategy that my hon. Friend Mr. Davidson seems to be supporting, but that strategy would never deliver enlargement.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, although it would be perfectly possible to fix in each treaty of accession the number of seats that each new member state would have in the Council of Ministers, it is very hard to see how one could embody in each treaty of accession a voting weight for the current 15 member states?
The hon. Gentleman speaks great common sense on the issue. We are discussing blindingly obvious points. If we want enlargement, Nice is the vehicle by which to achieve it. If we wreck Nice, we will not achieve enlargement.
My right hon. Friend is very generous indeed. Romano Prodi and I are of the view that, as I said,
"legally, ratification of the Nice treaty is not necessary for enlargement."
We would both go on to say:
"It's without any problem up to 20 members, and those beyond 20 members have only to put in the accession agreement some notes of change, some clause. But legally it's not necessary."
As that was in The Irish Times, on
Does the Minister agree that the mechanism that he is proposing has the advantage of enabling us to underline that Europe is seeking to find a way of working together and a framework within which, by working together, each of us becomes stronger? The alternative does not provide that clear object lesson.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right and is speaking sense. The logic that he, like Mr. Jackson, brings to the debate is the only logic that can achieve enlargement. That is the point.
The majority of Conservative Members want to wreck enlargement. It is impossible to achieve enlargement for the first wave of countries by
Those Conservative Members should visit Poland, the Czech Republic, Malta, Cyprus, Estonia, Slovenia and all the other countries and tell them that they oppose their desire to join the EU on that date. The Conservatives should tell those states that they do not want an enlarged Europe, that they do not want to reunite Europe. Those countries are desperate to join the European family, and the Government are providing them with a vehicle to do so in this Bill.
I have described the Europe that will be made better for Britain by the Nice treaty. Nice is not the penalty that we have to pay to get to enlargement: it is part of the prize. It is a benefit in its own right for Britain. Why? Because, as we have already explained in the House, Nice will give Britain more power. It will give the UK more votes in the Council relative to the small and medium-sized countries. Nice will extend qualified majority voting where that is in Britain's interests—in the single market or to deliver a more efficient EU. It will preserve unanimity for decision making on key areas of national interest, including tax, social security, defence, the EU's own resources, border controls and treaty change—just like we said we would achieve.
Nice will reform the European courts to enable them to cut delays in the exercise of justice, which can penalise British interests. Nice will reform the Commission. It will make it smaller: there will be only one Commissioner per member state from 2005, and once the EU reaches 27, fewer than one. Nice will make the Commission more efficient. It will give the Commission President—the great buddy of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok—new powers to organise the Commission and sack individual Commissioners if necessary. Nice will make the EU more flexible. It will make it easier for groups of member states to act together without requiring all to join in, or undercutting the single market.
So Nice and enlargement are both in our interests. Both are necessary and both are urgent. The task now is to press on with the ratification of Nice.
On the point about the benefits to Britain, has my right hon. Friend received representations from British business on the desirability of enlargement? What assessment has he made of the benefits to British business and jobs of achieving enlargement as quickly as possible?
My hon. Friend is right. We have had discussions with British businesses, many of whom have taken advantage of the period before enlargement to visit those countries to obtain new markets and contracts, and the jobs that those will bring. Thousands of jobs will be created in Britain as a result of enlargement. It is estimated that 300,000 jobs have been created across the European Union member states as they are currently constituted, just by bringing in the first wave of enlargement. Enlargement will bring enormous opportunities for British businesses, jobs and prosperity.
We must press on with the enlargement negotiations, to conclude on schedule by the end of 2002, so that new members can join by mid-2004 at the latest. We hope that they will be able to join by
I have explained why we brought the Bill to the House soon after we were returned to office. The Bill is necessary for a treaty that, in turn, is necessary for enlargement on time and in a sensible form. All member states agree that the enlarged EU we want cannot work effectively without the changes that Nice will make to the EU's institutions and procedures.
All member states agree that Nice is necessary for enlargement. All member states also agree that Nice is all that is necessary for enlargement and that once Nice is ratified the EU will have completed all the institutional changes necessary for the accession of the new member states. That is the point. Nice will complete all the changes necessary—instead of a shambolic, treaty by treaty approach that would never reach a conclusion—and that is why the other member states support Nice. That is why the candidates support it. That is why the Government support it. That is why we brought the Bill to the House. That is why I urge the House to support the Bill today, and the stronger, safer Europe that it will help to build for Britain. I commend the Bill to the House.
It is some years since I faced the Minister at the Dispatch Box, and in those days he was a Minister at the Welsh Office. I am delighted that his breathtaking arrogance has not been altered by his promotion to the Foreign Office.
I come late to the legislative process on this Bill, which has now reached Third Reading. However, the jockey may have changed but the horse remains the same—although I hope that this slightly heavier jockey will not injure it. Moreover, it is clear that I shall have to learn the niceties of behaviour in the Chamber on this Bill. I was interested to note that, during his speech, the Minister was subject to friendly fire that came symmetrically from both sides of the Chamber.
The Opposition oppose this Bill, as we have done throughout its passage through the House. I shall ask my hon. Friends to vote against it tonight, for two reasons. First, we believe that the treaty agreed at Nice fails to achieve even the aims set out by the Government. Secondly, it fails to advance the vision of a flexible Europe that lies at the heart our policy. We believe that that flexibility is essential to the successful enlargement of the European Union, as we wish to see it.
We have always been in favour of enlargement. The Minister related a litany of all the benefits that would accrue from enlargement, which by and large I welcome, as they are broadly the same as those that we have identified. However, they are not what the Nice treaty is about—a subject to which I shall return.
We have long argued for a more flexible Europe, yet—as has happened again today—the unsubstantiated response that we receive when we do so is that we are flying in the face of achieving greater strength through political integration. Much of the debate on this Bill has centred on those two different basic positions.
It is worth pausing to consider those differing positions in the light of the current international situation. Europe is an essential part of the coalition that has been put together so painstakingly in the fight against international terrorism. As it happens, the European Union's ability to contribute constructively to the coalition has depended not on further integration but on the flexibility that currently exists in Europe. The Nice treaty, and other initiatives, would reduce that flexibility.
That flexibility has allowed our partners in the EU to be part of what has effectively been a layered coalition, with different levels of participation and, even, enthusiasm. If the supporters of integration had had their way—if the implied common foreign and defence policies had been established—would it have been possible for the Prime Minister to attach himself so firmly to the American cause? Would he have been able to sign up so readily to the longer-term objectives of the fight against international terrorism, and could he have committed armed forces to the military phase in Afghanistan? I think that the answer to those questions is: almost certainly not.
Does the right hon. Gentleman think that the remarks of Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi were helpful in building the coalition? Does he think that it would be in the interests of European unity—or of the Conservative party—for his party to continue its discussions with far-right former fascists in Italy?
I am not certain what those questions have to do with the debate. I am making it clear that the coalition works because all partners are not being asked to give precisely the same response. I am sure that the Minister, if he has met Ministers from around Europe, will be aware of that. That is what flexibility means. The lowest-common-denominator approach that would have been adopted otherwise would almost certainly have restrained the valuable support that the Prime Minister has been able to give the USA. Almost certainly, it would have prevented military engagement by forces from the UK, France or Germany, and it would have militated against the best interests of this country in the fight against international terrorism.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the reasons for a layered response within Europe—probably the most important one—is the variation in the military capability of NATO allies in Europe and the fact that some could not contribute to the extent that we did? The headline goals in the treaty will help those assets to be developed within NATO as well as within Europe.
I was with the hon. Gentleman until his last phrase, because that is precisely my argument about flexibility. That is one reason why we believe that a flexible Europe is a stronger Europe, better placed to take on the enlargement that we all seek. The events of the past weeks have underlined the strength of flexibility, which is an asset that should not lightly be thrown away.
In the right hon. Gentleman's pursuit of greater flexibility within the European Union, is he limiting himself to opposing the treaty of Nice or would he, if he could, unpick previous treaties such as Amsterdam and Maastricht and even the Single European Act? Where does it stop?
We are dealing with the Nice treaty. However, we have made it clear throughout the debates on the Bill that we would have liked the Nice negotiations to be used to return certain powers to national Governments. That would be in the interests of a stronger Europe. People feel disconnected from what is happening in Europe, and I believe that that is one way to deal with that. I shall come to that in greater detail shortly.
I hope that when my right hon. Friend does so he will explain why he thinks we should reject the Nice treaty on the basis that it does not provide us with sufficient flexibility, when in fact it makes provision for enhanced co-operation to be extended and developed.
If this were an à-la-carte Bill, we could pick the bits that we thought were better for Europe and say no to the rest. However, we cannot do that, as the Minister says—we have to take this lock, stock and barrel, and we happen not to like the stock and the barrel. That is why I will be asking my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against the Bill tonight.
I would like to make some progress, but will give way later.
Nice was, in our view, a missed opportunity. It was a chance to create greater flexibility, to give powers back to national Parliaments and to create a closer connection, through those Parliaments, between the institutions of Europe and the people of Europe.
The debates on the Bill have all been conducted in the shadow of the Irish referendum. That referendum and its result cannot be ignored; it was symptomatic of people's feeling of alienation from Europe, which has been growing ever since the Maastricht treaty was signed. Nice was an opportunity to address that and find a way of reconnecting with people. The Minister said that that was one of his aims, but I do not believe that it has been achieved. It could have been a way of showing the disillusionment felt by so many at what they understandably see to be the immutability of European-made law, but the opportunity was missed.
The Government went to Nice with no clear view of the Europe they were seeking ultimately to achieve. To put it bluntly, they were ill prepared. They indicated before they went that they would not give way on qualified majority voting and then promptly did so when they got there. Now they do not seem to be able to make up their mind as to whether the areas of QMV that they conceded are unimportant or essential to the future workings of the European Union. They appear to be trying to play this both ways but they cannot do so. The extension of QMV was a further move towards integration.
The Government declared that they would not undermine NATO through the approval of the rapid reaction force, and then signed up to a report in the annexe to the treaty that clearly does so. They claimed that in approving the inclusion of the charter of fundamental rights as an annexe they would be doing more than agreeing its principles. Now there is every indication that they signed up to something very much more.
Suffice it to say that, in each case, the Conservative party gave the Government due warning. They chose to ignore those warnings. Tonight we will try once more. The Bill seeks to ratify a treaty that failed to achieve the Government's objectives. It flies in the face of our vision of a flexible Europe, and it is increasingly integrationist.
The strongest arguments made for Nice, which the Minister made again this afternoon, was that it enabled enlargement of the European Union to take place. Our opposition to it has been inaccurately described as anti-enlargement. I stress that nothing could be further from the truth. We are the long-standing and very committed supporters of enlargement. We were pursuing enlargement in 1990—11 years ago. We have always believed that the European Union should welcome the new democracies that emerged from behind the iron curtain at that time. That would not only bind them into the European family of democracies, but enhance the concept of the flexible Europe of nations of which we are a natural part and which has always been at the heart of our European policy.
Throughout this process, therefore, we have made it clear that we remain strong supporters of enlargement and that we would accept immediately those aspects of Nice that relate to enlargement, such as Commission size, which has been mentioned, and vote re-weighting. That remains our position, but this legislation does not allow us to do so. It would ratify a treaty that contains much more to do with integration, which carries within it the disincentive to enlargement, and much less that is central to the enlargement that we seek.
I will deal with the treaty of Nice, which is an important point in view of the Irish referendum. We have not had an answer from the Minister on that. We have been told again today that the treaty is necessary for enlargement. Until the Irish referendum, that was the firm position of the Government.
The Labour party election manifesto claimed that
"it is vital that we ratify the treaty of Nice which is essential to enlargement".
Those were the two key words—vital and essential. Like so much of that manifesto, we now discover that that is at best a distortion of the truth and that Nice is not necessary for enlargement, as my hon. Friend Mr. Johnson said.
When I have finished this point.
"Legally, ratification of the Nice Treaty is not necessary for enlargement".
Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Henley also pointed out to the Minister that the Foreign Secretary told Parliament on the next day:
"It is true that a treaty is necessary for enlargement; it is not true in a legal and technical sense that the Nice treaty is necessary for enlargement."
He then said:
"We would have to have an alternative treaty."—[Hansard, 22 June 2001; Vol. 370, c. 287.]
He did not tell us at that stage that we would have to have a series of treaties, which the Minister sprang on us today. I suspect that if he checks with his advisers he will find that one treaty would secure the accession and enlargement that is necessary.
There we have it. Nice is not and never was necessary for enlargement or capable of affecting it on its own.
I understand the right hon. Gentleman's argument, but does he believe that the countries that are seeking to join an enlarged European Union will understand those arguments? Does he not see a risk that they might think that British Conservatives are more concerned with the minutiae and with their own interests than with building bridges with other countries in Europe? At this time, is that not a dangerous signal to send to other partners beyond Europe?
The hon. Gentleman will have to speak for his party and its relationships with those countries. We have been in contact with them and they understand our position. In many cases, they understand our concerns, which would affect them if they continued with their applications for accession.
I will give way in a moment. I keep on being asked what will happen about accession if the treaty is not ratified, but what will happen if the Irish continue to vote against ratification? At the time of the referendum, many people thought that that was the end of the treaty. That was not the line being taken by Commissioners in Europe or by the Government earlier. I want to hear a categorical answer from the Minister. If the Irish do not ratify the Nice treaty, is he saying that enlargement will be impossible, or that there are other ways of achieving it?
I shall ask the question again. Is the Minister saying that if that treaty is not ratified by the Irish, accession and enlargement cannot take place? That is a very straightforward question; I ask him to give me an answer.
I have already answered it. The answer is, in the terms of this treaty, yes. The treaty cannot proceed—enlargement cannot proceed—unless all member states endorse it. The right hon. Gentleman wants us to follow the same course: to put another roadblock in the way of enlargement. That is what he wants to do.
I want to get this clearly on the record, because the Minister is now saying that if the Irish continue to refuse to ratify the treaty of Nice, enlargement is finished. It is not what has been said previously, so it is interesting to hear it being said now. I give the Minister a chance to correct himself if he is wrong, but that is what he has put before the House today: that if the Irish continue to say no, enlargement is ended. Is that right? The Minister does not know.
I must say, with great friendliness to my hon. Friend, that I spent some time dealing with the Irish people, in Northern Ireland and in the south, and I learned very early on not to try to tell the Irish people what to do. I doubt whether they would listen, particularly to what is being said in the House. They will continue, as they always do, robustly to make up their own minds.
I want to make progress; then I will give way.
We need to take the argument further, because Nice failed to address the single biggest obstacle to enlargement: the unreformed common agricultural policy. The truth is that enlargement cannot succeed with the CAP as it stands, and I believe that the Minister would agree with that—he is nodding.
Agriculture currently absorbs nearly 50 per cent. of the European budget—the Minister provided my hon. Friend Mr. Spring with an answer that says that the figure is just under 50 per cent. at the moment—but if Poland acceded, that figure would rise to 85 per cent. Therefore CAP reform must be a necessary precursor to enlargement, yet at Nice it was totally ignored. That treaty—that negotiation—which was to do with enlargement, did not deal with the single most important precursor to enlargement.
That precursor will continue to be ignored. The Minister talks about accession by 2004, but he should read what President Chirac said last week. He said, with an eye to his own domestic political requirements, that as far as he was concerned there would be no reform of the CAP until 2006. I should like to place on the record what he said, because we can speculate in the House, but we know that if there is no reform of the CAP, enlargement is in danger to a far greater degree than anything that my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage has suggested.
President Chirac said:
"On this plan, I would like to say first of all that, because it is an important point, and because it is not bad that the world should know the clearly expressed position of the French authorities, we are absolutely opposed, and we will do everything to oppose, a re-opening of the agreement of Berlin, that is to say a redefinition, a reform of the common agricultural policy before 2006."
Effectively, he is saying—this is another challenge to the Minister—that the precursor to enlargement will not occur because the French will not allow it to happen. What is the Minister's answer then, in terms of enlargement? How does he deal with that?
The answer, for the record, is that common agricultural policy reform is not necessary for enlargement. It is not necessary: it is desirable. It is not technically necessary, however. In any case, the treaty does not deal with common agricultural policy reform. [Hon. Members: "Exactly."] Exactly so. That is being proceeded with on a separate road; it has already started, as a result of the British initiative, and will continue. There is, as the right hon. Gentleman well knows, an agricultural chapter, which must be negotiated, state by state, in order for the accession of each of those states to be ratified, and that is one of the next sections of the enlargement process down the road.
Although I am new to this particular legislation, I am again astounded by the Minister's attitude. Is he really suggesting that the common agricultural policy does not matter as far as enlargement is concerned? How will an enlarged Community or Union pay for itself without a reformed common agricultural policy? Is he suggesting—
I will allow my hon. Friend to help the Minister in a moment, but I should like to ask the Minister the question first. Is he seriously suggesting that we could have an enlarged Community or Union of the sort that we are talking about without a reform of the common agricultural policy, and believe that it would work?
I have given the answer to the right hon. Gentleman on several occasions. The treaty does not include reform of the CAP. Legally under the treaty, agricultural reform is not necessary for those countries to ratify the treaty to enable their accession and, therefore, for enlargement to occur. Has he understood that point?
As I have already said, of course, such reform is desirable. That is why we have already started a process of reform—it began in 1999, and it will continue. In the meantime, 10 of the 12 applicants have already opened the chapter on agriculture, and those negotiations will proceed.
The right hon. Gentleman gives us the answer that reform is not legally necessary, but only about half an hour ago he said that his view of Europe was a practical one. How will an enlarged EU be paid for without reforming the CAP? He should take further advice from his officials on that point because, once again, he is in danger of misleading the House. I shall now give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage; I promised him that I would.
My right hon. Friend is a true friend of enlargement—indeed, I agree with that point of view—but it seems absolutely clear to me, and I hope that this will commend itself on reflection to my right hon. Friend, that to put the agriculture issue on the table before enlargement would effectively prevent enlargement from happening, because to do so would call forth vetoes from all the member states that have a great stake in the existing structure of the CAP. The significance of 2006 is that it is the year in which it has been agreed that negotiations will take place on whether to increase the own-resources ceiling. That is a point at which we could exercise our veto to enable reform of the CAP to take place.
To return to the racehorse analogy with which I started, at some risk, my hon. Friend may be dealing with carts and horses, rather than with two things that have to run alongside each other. I am asking the Minister an important question: without having done the work on reform of the CAP, how can he know that it will slot in at the time of accession; and can he actually say that the EU will be financed? That is very difficult to answer in the affirmative, and he has not sought to do so.
I should like to deal with the other side of the coin. If we were to take the right hon. Gentleman's argument to its logical conclusion—throwing out the Nice treaty and achieving enlargement by different means, thereby delaying it until 2006—the cost to British non-agricultural business would be nearly £4 billion, according to the figures that he has accepted as representing the benefit of enlargement. Is he prepared to pay that price?
I have never said that I want to delay enlargement until 2006. I was saying that one of the great co-operative leaders in the EU—one of the partners—has said that he is not prepared to change the CAP until 2006. So the hon. Gentleman's question is better addressed to him than to us. We have made it clear throughout that it is taking far too long for enlargement to happen. We want it to happen as quickly as possible; we are not the obstructionists. We will not be led down the path to further political integration behind the smokescreen that has been raised about enlargement.
I am happy to admit that we do not support further political integration. Indeed, we believe that it will only further alienate people from the institutions and processes of the EU. We have long made clear our view that further political integration will create a one-size-fits-all Europe, which would seriously undermine the basis for the sustainable, prosperous and harmonious Europe, in all its diversity, that is our aim. In pursuit of that, we would want some powers to be returned to national Parliaments, where the national interests can be most effectively pursued. That does not mean that we are anti-European, as our opponents like to suggest.
I had an Italian grandmother; I am by blood a European, but my belief in Europe is one of a Europe of nations, which are happy to be part of Europe so long as we retain our basic national rights of self-determination. The simple fact is that political integration is the enemy of an enduring community of nation states. It cannot be argued that the treaty of Nice was not integrationist. It includes several integrationist measures, including the extension of qualified majority voting, to which I have already referred.
I shall make some progress; I have given way often.
Extended QMV will make it even more difficult for our Government to block measures that are not in our national interest, and we should never forget that that is what we are all elected by our constituents to the House to serve. We have consistently opposed the extension of QMV for many years. We did so in our 1997 manifesto, and we continue to oppose it now.
This is part of the salami-slicing tactics by which integration proceeds and national self-determination is diminished. We believe that the salami has been sliced through quite far enough.
Yet alongside the treaty in the annexe lie two further integrationist initiatives. First, I shall deal with the charter on fundamental rights. The European Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs, Antonio Vitorino, said in Lisbon on
"The Charter will mark a definitive change in the Community which will move it away from the essentially economic raison d'être of its origins to become a full political union."
That is what the Commissioner believes; we could not have put it better ourselves.
The Government may seek to belittle the importance of the charter and I am sure that they will insist that they will block its incorporation in 2004. We shall have to wait and see, but the fact that it is integrationist cannot be doubted. In its extradition measures, it would increase the chances of interference in the ability of a democratically accountable British Government and politically accountable Ministers to act against threats. Instead, it would put decisions in the hands of unaccountable European judges. It would operate alongside the European Court of Justice, thus creating two sets of integrationist judges. Even unincorporated, it would undoubtedly affect the judgments of the court, which will seek inspiration from it as it does from other fundamental rights instruments.
The Commission's report on the legal nature of the charter of fundamental rights of the European Union was published on
"It can reasonably be expected that the Charter will become mandatory through the Court's interpretation of it as belonging to the general principles of European Law".
As a Scottish lawyer, I look to Mr. Campbell, who also shares the distinction of being qualified in the Scottish law. Like me, he will remember the strengthened force of principles in the Scottish law, which, after all, is part of the European tradition. When the report uses the word "principles", I believe that they have special significance.
Surely much of what the right hon. Gentleman said about the charter is redundant because, as the Government have made clear and as is clear in the treaty, it is a political declaration.
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has listened to what I and the Commission have said. The courts will take inspiration from the charter in the way that they take inspiration from other fundamental rights instruments. The courts, in their interpretation, will ensure that what is in the charter will, in practice, become law. The charter is integrationist and interventionist.
The second initiative is the report on European security and defence policy, which discuses how the rapid reaction force will relate to NATO. I will leave the more detailed analysis of that to my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk, who will wind up for the Opposition. However, although we have long supported the concept of pan-European defence co-operation in pursuit of the Petersberg tasks, we have firmly registered our opposition to the proposed rapid reaction force and we will continue to do so.
If ever the importance of NATO, and of our relations with the USA within it, has been clearly demonstrated, it is now. We must do nothing that would undermine the value of those relations within NATO. However, the rapid reaction force would endanger those relationships at this time.
I share some of the right hon. Gentleman's concerns, but members of the Foreign Affairs Committee have just returned from a two-day trip to meet representatives of the Belgian presidency, and we talked to members of NATO yesterday. No one there sees any threat at all. Can he substantiate his fears when even NATO does not have them?
We must consider not just the present but the future of such a proposal. Essentially, what is being proposed are the beginnings of a European army. The proposal already envisages a command, logistics and planning structure independent of NATO and the ability to act without the approval of NATO. That would undermine the relationship that I have mentioned.
Is not the real problem the fact that the Prime Minister has persuaded the United States that the proposal is totally benign in terms of NATO's command and control and planning? General Jean-Pierre Kelche, the French chief of staff, has said clearly that the annexe of the presidency report was deliberately worded to rule out any interpretation that would give NATO a decision-making priority. Is it not the case that the Prime Minister has spun the Americans a line that does not reflect what is in the treaty?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me of that. My point, which is important, is that we have to deal with realities, and the reality is to be found in the document to which she refers. It makes it clear that the dangers of the rapid reaction force undermining relationships within NATO are considerable. We must take that into account.
Third Reading is not the time to consider at length the future of Europe and the lead-up to the intergovernmental conference in 2004, but the Bill and the Nice treaty prompt certain questions about it. It is our strong belief that the integrationist agenda is the wrong approach for a diverse, enlarged Europe. Indeed, it is precisely that approach that has slowed down enlargement.
We will issue positive and constructive proposals for the IGC and reject the old-fashioned bloc mentality within which the Government are fixed. Through the concept of a flexible Europe, we will pursue a Europe of deregulation and decentralisation and seek a Europe that will be best placed to prosper in an increasingly globalised world. We will challenge the Government to produce their own positive vision, to which the Minister referred but on which he did not enlarge. I reiterate the challenge that if the Nice treaty is ratified, a White Paper should be published on its effects.
In the aftermath of the Irish referendum, we will oppose the Bill. The time has come to stop being driven by officials in Brussels and to start listening to the people of Europe again. They want enlargement; so do we. They want decision making closer to them; so do we. They want a Europe that is relevant to their needs; so do we. What is important is that there is still time to achieve that, which is why I invite the House to join us in voting against Third Reading.
My right hon. Friend the Minister dealt mainly with enlargement. and I do not criticism him for that. The Bill is, technically, the vehicle by which the provisions of the treaty of Nice will be incorporated into UK domestic law. Like most European treaties that we sometimes debate, the Nice treaty continues and accelerates the process of European integration and the transfer of power from the democracy of the House to the central institutions of the European Union.
Perhaps the Nice treaty is not as extensive as the treaty of Maastricht or the treaty of Amsterdam, but it continues the process that, over the past 30 years, has gradually denuded the democratic powers of all EU member states. We should not be surprised by that because that is what ever closer union means. The EU's powers are not conjured out of the ether somewhere in the sky; they come from the powers of the democratic member states of that union.
If we consider the treaties, as European institutions and their staff sometimes do, the main loser is usually the House. The winner in this case is the European Parliament. The treaty of Nice gives it the power of veto, which adds insult to injury. As I mentioned to the Minister when the Bill was debated in Committee, the European Parliament is to be given the power of veto on some decisions that are made by the Council of Ministers. Although the power is not referred to as a veto—it is not the right type of word—"co-decision" is mentioned. We would be happy to have co-decision-making powers with the Council of Ministers, but the treaty removes those powers from the Government and the House.
I did not say that it had not; I am merely relating my remarks to the treaty. My hon. Friend knows that it grants powers of veto to the European Parliament. It also removes powers of veto from this Parliament and affects the way in which the Government cast their votes in the Council of Ministers. The European Parliament gains powers of veto while this House loses powers of veto. The European Court of Justice does well out of the treaty, as does the Council of Ministers, in its newer form as a collegiate or collective body. Perhaps I can return to that point in a few minutes.
The national veto will be taken away in about 30 policy areas. As I argued in previous debates, the reason for the veto—or the unanimity rule, to give it another name—in many international and supranational bodies is to protect the democracy of the nation state. It is there to bridge the gap between decisions taken, more and more globally, in not only the European Union but other supranational bodies. However, that gap seems to be getting wider, which is a matter for real concern.
I will finish my argument.
The veto exists to bridge the gap between decisions taken globally, internationally or supranationally and the needs and requirements of accountability and local and national democracy. That is why most international or supranational institutions require the unanimity rule. In these days, when that gap is getting wider, surely it is a retrograde step to try to do away with the rule of unanimity.
As far as I understand the matter, my right hon. Friend poses two philosophical opposites that are not in fact opposites at all. He says that the rule of unanimity must be preserved, but that unanimity is anti-democratic because it means that only a few can determine the arrangements for everybody, whereas democracy has always preserved the rights of the majority, pure and simple.
My argument is that when a nation state is represented in a supranational body, the rule of unanimity generally applies. I was merely saying that the reason for that is to keep a link between the democracy of the nation state and decisions taken globally that may be in the interests of more than one country. That is why it is preferable that there should be a rule of unanimity in those cases.
The veto is, frankly, incompatible with the European goal of ever closer union. The veto has to go, because ever closer union can be achieved and advanced ultimately only at the expense of the democracy of the nation state. In the 30 or so policy areas in which the veto will disappear, the British electorate may in future have laws imposed on them that have been passed by the votes of Governments whom they have not elected. The votes of the British Government, whom they have elected, will be overruled by the votes of Governments whom they have not elected and, in some cases, by the votes of Governments whom they would perhaps never elect. I do not want to follow my hon. Friend Mike Gapes, who made some remarks about Mr. Berlusconi. However, the democratically elected Governments of other countries may one day be able to pass laws for the electorate of Britain who have not elected those Governments.
I do not know whether any Scottish lawyers are present who could tell us whether that is a novel constitutional principle. I do not remember it being in Dicey's "Law of the Constitution" when I read it many years ago. It may have happened before, but it seems to me to be a change. If we do away with the veto and move towards qualified majority voting, Governments who have not been elected by the British people may pass laws for the British people.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way when he was about to finish speaking. He made the point that the European Parliament was gaining powers of co-decision or, in his terms, veto, and was making decisions. He says that Governments of other nations are making European laws. Does he accept that the European Parliament is directly elected by the peoples of Europe, and that if they have a part in that decision making it is not purely and simply other Governments who are passing those laws?
Of course the European Parliament sometimes agrees laws for the whole of Europe, but I was referring to the nation state and the democracy of our nation state. If a proposition is made in the Council of Ministers and is carried by the votes of Governments other than the British Government, who vote against the proposition, and a law is made as a result of that vote, that law will be imposed on the British electorate, who will not have elected the people who actually passed that law. I do not know whether that is a novel constitutional principle; perhaps we can return to that issue at another time.
I do not know where it will lead us, but I consider it ironic that when the veto is abolished, power shifts in a curious way from the nation state to the Council of Ministers. The Council of Ministers was always intended to be the body that represented the democracy of the nation state, but over the past few years it has become a sort of collective or collegiate body. The other institutions of the European Union have criticised the development of the Council of Ministers into a collegiate body with a personality of its own. That has been revealed in the attempts to bypass other institutions in the so-called pillars—the second and third pillars affected by the Maastricht and Amsterdam treaties.
I think that the motives behind that development were good: Ministers and Governments felt that there was a democratic deficit in the EU and they wanted to redress that in some way, by increasing the powers, profile and bureaucracy of the Council of Ministers. However, in doing so they have made it into a collegiate body with a personality of its own.
Every time the veto is taken away and replaced with qualified majority voting, the Council of Ministers is backed further into the position of being unable to defend the democracy of the member state. Ultimately, even within the Council of Ministers, the veto is not compatible with current developments, because it cannot be allowed in a union in which constant progress has to be made towards an ever closer union.
We are told that the veto is to go in 30 policy areas. The Government argue that its loss does not matter in some cases because the policy areas involved are trivial, and in other cases it is not in the national interest to keep the veto. I have three points to make about that.
First, many of the areas so affected are not trivial. We discussed that in the Committee of the whole House, but I shall list some of those areas now. The rules on EU structural funds are not a trivial matter, nor is economic and social cohesion outside the structural funds. Implementation of agreed foreign policy, joint actions and common positions is not a trivial matter, nor is trade in services or intellectual property rights. The issue of who is to negotiate for the Community with, for example, the World Trade Organisation, is not trivial. The appointment of the head of foreign policy—its supremo—is not a trivial matter, nor is external representation of economic and monetary union. The implementation of rules on visas, issues relating to asylum, refugees and illegal immigration, and measures of co-operation in justice and home affairs are not trivial matters.
Secondly, even if those matters are currently perceived to be trivial, or even if worrying too much about the veto is not currently perceived to be in the national interest, circumstances change. Let me give an example. During debate on the Maastricht treaty, some of us tried to discuss whether it was possible for a member state, once it had subscribed to monetary union and signed up to the single currency, to finance a war. Those who spent a lot of time on the treaty will remember that it prohibits the printing of money, or words to that effect. In future, the situation may change. In the case of the Maastricht treaty, would this country not be able to finance a war if other countries in the monetary union did not wish to participate in it? That is one factor. Circumstances change, and policy areas that the Minister and the Government dismiss as trivial or not in the national interest could change. Once the power of the veto is entrenched in the acquis communautaire, that is the end of the matter; it cannot be retrieved or changed. However, states will come back and ask for more—next time, it will be taxation, social security or defence. The veto is not compatible with ever closer union.
The veto is also done away with in the proposal for enhanced co-operation. The French have a much better phrase for enhanced co-operation, which they translate as the "avant-garde". It was established by the Amsterdam treaty, which proposed that countries outside the potential inner core should have a veto. However, that did not satisfy France and Germany, which wanted to go ahead and establish the avant-garde, so, after only a few years, the veto on enhanced co-operation has gone and, subject to the conditions of the treaty, several countries can now go ahead.
The avant-garde policy has been well described by European statesmen. Mr. Fischer, the German Foreign Minister, gave a speech on
"The last step will then be the completion of integration in a European Federation . . . such a group of States"—
I assume that Mr. Fischer was referring to the avant-garde—
"would conclude a new European framework treaty, the nucleus of the constitution of the Federation. On the basis of this treaty, the Federation would develop its own institutions, establish a government which, within the EU, should speak with one voice."
A month later, Jacques Delors put it much more concisely, as one would expect. On
"We will have to create an avant-garde . . . We could have a union for the enlarged Europe and a Federation for the avant-garde."
That is what will happen; that will be the result of losing the veto even on the establishment of enhanced co-operation.
I am not party to Mr. Fischer's correspondence—I was merely quoting from an interesting and open speech. At least he was honest, which is more than can be said, unfortunately, for many British politicians in relation to the EU. Mr. Fischer's interesting views may not have been German Government policy, but, as I tried to show, they were echoed by Jacques Delors, a distinguished President of the Commission and a clear thinker.
The pressure is now on. The veto has gone. The pressure will be, in Jacques Delors's words, to create a federation of the avant-garde. Given the enthusiasm of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for such matters, Britain will have to be part of that, will it not?
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister will be in there with the Foreign Office, punching our weight, or punching above our weight—I am not sure; I stand to be corrected. Punching above our weight all the time must get a little tiring. We will certainly be in there, punching our weight as part of the federation of the avant-garde. That will mean more integration still.
The train rolls on, discarding national vetoes and national democracies as it goes along. The next pressure will come from joining the inner core. As my right hon. Friend the Minister said, the Government will easily win the vote this evening, but before the ink is dry on the Royal Assent, work will begin—it probably has begun—on the next treaty. Happily or unhappily, before 2004 we will be debating the next legislation incorporating the treaty of 2004 into the law of the United Kingdom. That will be an integrationist treaty, like the present treaty and most past treaties.
No, I am coming to an end.
Perhaps before long the member states of Europe will call a halt to the process, but they had better do it soon. If not, there will not be much left to halt.
I do not propose to delay the House over-long, as I confess that I do not have anything very new to say about the Bill. As some of the contributions so far have suggested, albeit that they were couched in elegant and even intellectual language, there is not much more to be said by many others, either. The speech of the shadow Foreign Secretary echoed some of the elegant contributions made by Mr. Spring during the various stages of the Bill's progress.
As we know, we are having the Third Reading today, after the summer recess, although it could quite easily have been held before the summer recess. However, an internal decision had to be taken in the Conservative party, and there were those who thought that the nature of that decision might determine their attitude this evening. That, as we now know, is not the case.
So far in the debate, we have traversed some pretty old ground. We heard from the shadow Foreign Secretary—who is no longer in his place, but who explained to me that he had another pressing engagement—that he had an Italian grandmother, which made him European. Well, I have a Glaswegian grandmother, which still makes me European. We should recognise that our Europeanism is determined not by the exotic nature of our relations, but rather by the fact that we are firmly embedded in the European tradition. In particular, the Scots law to which the right hon. Gentleman referred is, of course, a European legal system based on Roman Dutch law. Large parts of our life are firmly embedded in Europe, and the sooner we recognise that, the better.
The shadow Foreign Secretary was at pains to suggest that President Bush, whose perspicacity, maturity and sound common sense have been generally commended in the House in recent debates, had somehow been the subject of an exercise in duplicity by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The right hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways: President George W. Bush cannot be a great leader and at the same time a dupe of the British Prime Minister. The two are wholly incompatible. As was pointed out in an intervention, at NATO, where one might think that there would be real anxiety about anything that might undermine its effectiveness, there is no such apprehension as has now and previously been expressed from the Conservative Benches.
I should like to make one point about the rapid reaction force, returning to comments that I addressed to the Minister following an intervention by Mr. Smith. If we have a poor rapid reaction force, and the headline goals are not achieved and capability does not become an important part of what is done, we will damage NATO. A successful rapid reaction force will most certainly strengthen NATO. I suspect that many hon. Members share my anxiety that there does not seem yet to be sufficient commitment to providing financial support to ensure the military capability that will be necessary if we are to achieve either the levels required by the headline goals of the rapid reaction force, or those that are likely to be imposed on us—some might say that this point is more persuasive—by the defence capabilities initiative of NATO, which are higher than those of the rapid reaction force. That is why I was at some pains to suggest to the Minister that he should not be seduced by the intervention of the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan.
On the right hon. and learned Gentleman's earlier point, may I briefly defend my right hon. Friend Mr. Ancram in his absence? He pointed out reports that President Bush had said that Mr. Blair had assured him that the European defence effort
"would in no way undermine NATO . . . that there would be joint command" and
"that the planning would take place within NATO".
The fact is, however, that the report that is attached to the Nice treaty says exactly the opposite.
We know that things have moved on since then. As I understand it, there is now general acceptance that operational and strategic planning responsibilities must remain within NATO. It would make no sense to duplicate them. I have frequently referred in the House to NATO's right of first refusal, which is, as I understand matters, generally accepted. It is important to reflect in our discussion the fact that debate outside has moved on.
I should like to reinforce the points that my right hon. and learned Friend makes. The messages are coming loud, clear and strong from Brussels and the people who make these decisions that NATO will have first refusal and that planning, strategic and contingency elements will remain with it. That is the situation and it is agreed. Does he agree that the issue that must be addressed is the shortfall in capability in respect of NATO and the rapid reaction force, which is clear in the light of current circumstances?
I do not think that anyone doubts the validity of my hon. Friend's second point. His first point—I think that he has recently returned from Brussels—corroborates my own.
I entirely agree with what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said. I did not intend to seduce my right hon. Friend the Minister at all—far from it. I agree that the bottom line in this debate is military capability. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that, following the events of
I certainly hope so. I make no bones about the fact that I lost the argument in my party to propose in the shadow Budget that the Liberal Democrats produced for the last election a real-terms increase in defence expenditure. However, the current Secretary of State for Defence lost the same argument. Indeed, so did the shadow Secretary of State for Defence. All three of us lost the argument, but the events of
We are considering a framework treaty—an expression used by the Minister. Throughout the Bill's passage, we have consistently argued that the legislation should be enacted and the treaty ratified as soon as possible. Without the reforms that the treaty sets out in relation to the size and shape of the Commission, the weighting of votes in the Council of Ministers and modest extensions of qualified majority voting, it is difficult to envisage a European Union, perhaps comprising as many as 28 states, that could efficiently and effectively come to agreement.
Although it is technically true that the European Union could be enlarged without the treaty, it is difficult to envisage the timetable for that enlargement. I should not like to be the British Minister who went to Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic and said, "By the way, we're not going to ratify the Nice treaty. We've got an alternative set of arrangements, including an instant IGC, which we may be able to conjure up", like a magician at a children's Christmas party. I should not like to try to answer the subsequent question: "When do you think we might gain admission? What is your target date in these new circumstances?"
We already have a target date, and I hope that we meet it. Such dates sometimes slip, but the advantage of a target is that it gives people something at which to aim. The notion that we could find an alternative way of dealing with the alterations that are fundamental to enlargement does not stand up to scrutiny. If we enlarge the European Union under current circumstances, every country would have two Commissioners, and a minority of the population could overrule the majority. Decision making would become sclerotic, and it would not be long before the EU became unmanageable.
There is an interesting philosophical underpinning to the debate. I am sorry that the new shadow Attorney-General is not present because he is always an adornment to such discussions. He produced a pamphlet earlier this year. It was not set—although it may have been typeset—in stone. He argued—I thought rather persuasively—that although he supported a Community, he opposed a European Union. That fault line runs through the Conservative and Unionist party. Some distinguished Conservative Members—for example, Mr. Jackson—favour a Union. However, the mood in the Conservative party has moved back towards a Community.
It is difficult to envisage the current Conservative party supporting the Single European Act and consenting to its being driven through the House of Commons on a three-line Whip. It is difficult to envisage it supporting the Maastricht Bill; indeed, the current Conservative leader was diametrically opposed to it. The fault line shows a change of view. I believe that Keynes said, "When the facts change, I change my opinion." A change of opinion has undoubtedly occurred in the Conservative party. Its members no longer accept the notion of a Union and many would be content with that of a Community. Some of us perceive that as rather contradictory when compared with positions that they held only a few years ago.
Mr. Ancram did not mention holding a referendum on the treaty, although that appeared to be Conservative party policy for a long time. A referendum should never be used simply as an act of party politics; it should be held when a genuine constitutional issue is at stake. Such issues are not at stake in the Bill. It would be different if we sought to join the single European currency. In that case, economic, political and constitutional issues remain to be determined. We should not therefore join the single currency without the endorsement of the people of the United Kingdom.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman have a view about when the country should be allowed to decide whether we want to join an integrated, federal Europe? He appears to say that the treaties of Amsterdam, Maastricht and Nice do not require a referendum. Does he agree that the combination of the three treaties would constitute a good ground for a referendum? There is currently a drip, drip, drip or ratchet syndrome that will ultimately deprive people of choice.
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Will he tell me, and the House, when the people have had a real chance to talk about the federal Europe into which we are steadily marching, day by day? The only issue on which the right hon. and learned Gentleman says we should have a referendum is the single currency. Is there not more to a federal Europe than a single currency?
There is more to a federal Europe, as the hon. Gentleman defines it, than a single currency. If, for example, it was proposed that the decision to deploy British forces should be made in Brussels rather than here in the Chamber, that would certainly be an issue of fundamental constitutional importance that should be put to the British people.
When we had our debates about chinks of light, blank cheques and all the rest of it, I was at some pains to point out that the decision about the deployment of British troops should rest here, because it was our responsibility to answer to our constituents if we wanted to send their sons and daughters into situations in which they might lose their lives. I do not support that; but that is the kind of issue that I would regard as being of sufficiently fundamental constitutional importance to require a referendum.
I hesitate to suggest that the hon. Gentleman might find it easier to put that point directly to his hon. Friend.
I do not believe that this is a fundamental constitutional change. The right hon. Member for Devizes referred to the, I think, 30 or 31 treaty articles. Four relate to areas in which the United Kingdom has opted out; 17 refer to portions of treaties dealing with appointments to, rules of procedure of and the human resources management of the European Parliament, its Committees and its Courts; and the other 10 extensions of qualified majority voting relate to such matters as anti-discrimination practice, priorities for structural funds and environmental measures. I do not consider those matters to be of fundamental constitutional importance.
There are occasions when qualified majority voting is actually in our interests. There are areas in which we should seek to extend it, not least the liberalisation of transport throughout the European Union. That would be entirely in our interests. We should approach each proposal on its merits, asking how it best serves our national interests. We should not approach them assuming that any extension of any kind is to be resisted because it is part of some drip, drip, drip or ratcheting up of the process.
The shadow Foreign Secretary suggested that there would be some inhibition on military action if there were a more fully formed common foreign and security policy. I have some difficulty grasping that point. I see nothing in any of the arrangements, actual or prospective, that would prevent the United Kingdom from saying, in particular circumstances, "We choose, because it is in our own interests, to ally ourselves with the United States"—or, if a more historical parallel is desired, "We choose, because it is in our own interests, to expel the Argentinians from the Falklands."
There is no inhibition in the idea of a more integrated foreign and security policy. One might argue, indeed, that if any such inhibition exists it is to be found in the NATO treaty, which, in article 5, creates an obligation to go to the assistance of any other country that is attacked on the basis that an attack on one is conceived of as an attack on another. That is a giving up—a pooling, if you like—of sovereignty. It has never affected us, and indeed there are those—in virtually all parts of the House, I believe—who would argue that it has been entirely to our advantage, not least given that the article 5 decision made just a few weeks ago by NATO demonstrated the strength of the alliance.
It is also interesting that the queue for NATO membership, particularly by those countries that were formerly Warsaw pact members, is as long as, if not longer than, the queue of countries wanting to join the European Union.
Let us extend the right hon. and learned Gentleman's analogy of the NATO commitment. Although it is clear how to invoke article 5, it is not clear how long that article will remain open. The potential member states that are queueing up in much larger numbers to join NATO rather than the EU will become part of that existing obligation. As far as we can see, however, that obligation has been no deterrent.
I accept that. The use of the word "deterrent", which the hon. Lady has introduced to the debate, points to the fact that NATO is an alliance that is based on nuclear weapons. New members are therefore signing up not only to an article 5 obligation but to an alliance that still as a fundamental part of its policy and doctrine has a reliance on nuclear weapons. If there were anxieties, one would expect them to be produced not only in relation to the responsibility to go to the aid of all other members, but in relation to the issue of the nuclear deterrent.
I think that Denzil Davies said words to the effect that this treaty is not the end. I hope that we shall shortly have from the Government a White Paper setting out their views on precisely what will happen and what position they will take at the 2004 intergovernmental conference. A White Paper on the future of Europe has been over-long delayed, and I think that we are entitled to expect the Government to produce a coherent vision for that.
Other Liberal Democrat Members and I believe that it is right to argue for a proper constitutional basis for the European Union, to establish clearly and unequivocally the nature of the powers and responsibilities of the European Union itself and of constituent Governments, and to establish the rights of individual citizens. I believe that setting out those points in the proper constitutional framework would go a very long way towards making the people of Europe understand more clearly the nature of the European Union.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that one of the desirable features, as a Government objective, of such a White Paper and eventually also of such a treaty would be to drop the phrase "ever closer union", which is in the preface to the Rome treaty and certainly produces damaging reactions of the type expressed by the hon. Member for Macclesfield?
I have not often felt superfluous in the Chamber, but I am at risk of feeling so on this occasion. Perhaps it is time that Conservative Members established a working party on the future of Europe.
As the hon. Member for Wantage said, the disadvantage of the phrase "ever closer union" is its ambiguity. It means what anyone wants it to mean. That is why it is all the more necessary to have a constitutional framework for the European Union. If one wants, for example, to find where particular provisions lie, one has to consult a whole series of treaties. Measures may have been altered in some way, but that is never clear immediately on first reading. Some type of codification, as well as a careful delineation of the rights and responsibilities of the various levels of the European Union itself and of the Commission and the Council of Ministers, and delineation of the rights and responsibilities of individual citizens, would seem to offer a way forward out of the anxiety, which I do not believe is well founded, that we are engaged in a process of ratcheting up or of drip, drip, drip.
No. I should like, if I may, to make some progress.
The Government have been defective in one respect—the European single currency. I have no doubt that if that argument is to be won—it is in Britain's interests to be part of that currency, subject to the economic conditions at the time of joining being propitious—it cannot be left until the point at which the Chancellor of the Exchequer produces his tablets of stone and makes a statement to the effect that the five economic conditions, which are essentially political in character, have been met. The wind blows in various directions. For example, the Minister emerges as an apparent enthusiast for the single currency, but then someone in a different Department draws back. The country is entitled to look to the Government for a coherent and consistent view on the single currency, and if the Government wish their view to triumph they must accept that the argument must be made now.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman called—correctly, in my view—for a White Paper leading up to the intergovernmental conference. In view of the extraordinary movement in statements from the Government on the single currency, does he agree that it would be appropriate to have a White Paper that set out all the considerations—economic, political and constitutional—on the single currency? I hope that he would support that.
I certainly would support that proposal. One can hardly argue, as I have, that this is a matter of economic, political and constitutional importance without accepting the need for a proper statement of the Government's position, and the best way to enshrine that is in the form of a White Paper. The debate on the single currency should start, and as soon as possible.
I said that I thought there had been a change of mood in the Conservative party, for the reasons I mentioned and which I will not repeat. However, those of us who are advocates and supporters of Europe should be much more active in putting our case. Far too much of what the public learn of Europe is contained in curious stories in tabloid newspapers, most of which are founded on myth, not fact or reality.
I have no doubt that the United Kingdom has benefited considerably from our membership of the European Union and that our future best lies in a close relationship with it. That is why the Bill should have a swift passage through the House and the treaty should receive swift ratification. We should not exclude those who for such a long time lived under the shadow of communism from the benefits and advantages that we have enjoyed so long ourselves.
I do not wish to pre-empt the result of the vote tonight, but I welcome the fact that we are likely to conclude our part in the ratification of the Nice treaty today. I have listened to the debates on Second Reading and in Committee and they have been much enriched by the contributions of several new hon. Members, who have brought much to our debates from their experiences of various organisations and previous employment. They have made some very constructive comments.
Many pertinent questions have been put in the course of our deliberations. While I am light years away from the official Opposition's European policy, it is none the less right to pose hard questions from all points of view about how we best engage our population with the European issues that we have discussed. Mr. Jackson is right to say that there was no excited tide of anti-Europeanism that was somehow vindicated in the recent general election result. However, there was an alarming passivity and lack of engagement with the issues, and I agree with Mr. Campbell that it is important for the Government—and all of us in our constituencies—to address the issues and air them widely.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that part of the problem is that many hon. Members, on both sides of the argument, are committed in principle either to more or less union, whereas men and women on the street are more interested in what the European Union is going to do? They are less interested in the more arcane constitutional arguments on which we spend so much time.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. People respond more warmly to the European Union when they think that it is dealing with issues that are important. We all remember the sea change in the attitude to the European Union that took place among many trade unionists. That happened not because they suddenly got excited about enhanced co-operation or treaty provisions, but because they felt that the EU was talking about employment rights and conditions—matters very dear to their hearts. Similarly, when the EU was associated with a campaign to clean up beaches, many coastal communities took a great deal of interest. It is therefore important for the EU—and the House—to deal with the sort of practical tasks that co-operation among EU countries can address.
In many ways, it is ironic that European co-operation at the present time seems more important than ever. We need to use some of the existing European structures effectively. I was very glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Minister speak of the co-operation that is taking place to combat terrorism. Information is being shared between intelligence agencies, and practical ways to combat terrorism are being studied. For example, action is being taken to strengthen aviation security, and work is being done at a European level to deal with funds and bank accounts that might be used to help terrorists.
Those are extremely important matters, but addressing them is made easier by the fact that appropriate structures already exist in the EU that we can tap into. We do not have to take time to create many new structures before we can react to what happened on
The official Opposition's approach is to renegotiate or dismantle the EU. I am worried about that, as it will harm co-operation in many vital areas. When I was a Home Office Minister, I visited the British arm of Europol and was impressed by the way in which exchange of information had already led to the arrests of some serious transnational criminals. Such work is not often advertised, as to do so would alert the criminals to what is being done, but it is none the less important. I therefore hope that we can build on the efforts being made in that regard, rather than dismantle them.
I listened to the new shadow Foreign Secretary, and found his arguments extremely unconvincing. It is very hard to say that one is firmly in favour of enlargement, and then vote against measures designed precisely to facilitate enlargement. It is important to remember what happened in the Irish referendum and to look at ways of dealing with the issues that arose from it, but that does not mean that the whole process should be stopped as a result. As the hon. Member for Wantage pointed out so effectively, that is an absurd line to take.
I noted that, in a radio interview yesterday, the shadow Health Secretary, Dr. Fox, was trying to convince us that the European issue had been settled among members of the official Opposition, even though Lord Skidelsky had announced that he was leaving the Conservative party largely because of the European issue. Had the shadow Health Secretary been here for today's debate, he would have seen the wildly different reactions that the European issue has caused on his own Benches.
On Second Reading, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary advised the Opposition to learn from Labour's experience during the long years of opposition, but there are some differences. Our own slough of despond in the early 1980s was caused by an internal problem. What is causing such dissension in the Opposition's ranks is an external factor—the European Union—and its evolving nature. Unless the Conservative party can tackle the issue sensibly, it is in for a traumatic experience for a long time to come.
I know the history of this issue very well. No one can deny that there have been considerable changes in my party's attitude towards Europe during that time. None the less, over a period of many years, the European issue has been decided in our party with large majorities. Most party members whom I come across are very comfortable with the Government's approach to the issue.
On Second Reading, I urged the Government to go out into the country and sell enlargement to the various regions and communities. I still believe that that is extremely important, once our deliberations on the Bill have been concluded.
We can give the population of our country many positive reasons for enlargement. Obviously, we favour it because it completes the historic task of reconciliation after the end of the cold war. We also need to point out that enlargement has already promoted positive change in the applicant countries. It has helped to improve the treatment of minorities in those countries, resolve some border and nationality disputes and, very importantly, to underpin democracy. That is a huge advantage, and we should not undersell it.
I agreed with the right hon. Lady when she said on Second Reading that the Government should sell enlargement. I wonder whether she believes that that has happened. It is certainly not clear to me. Can she say why, increasingly, right across the European Union, not only in the United Kingdom, there is, regrettably, more opposition to the European Union and to enlargement, even in the accession states?
I do not see the problem in the same terms as the hon. Gentleman. I see a problem, which I mentioned earlier, of a lack of engagement in the issue and a somewhat passive approach. However, my postbag is not full of letters opposing European Union enlargement. When I have held meetings on the subject in my area, people's attitudes have, on the whole, been positive.
The economic advantages of enlargement, which benefit the existing members of the European Union as much as the applicant countries, should weigh effectively with many of our constituents. They are concerned not so much about the theories of European integration as about the likely prospects for jobs, employment, the environment and other practical issues.
There is no doubt that increased investment has already taken place in the applicant countries because of the prospect of enlargement. Investors know that those countries will be part of the European market in the future. The increased volumes of trade between us and the applicant countries is a welcome phenomenon. Those trade bonds have benefited us easily as much as they have benefited the new countries. Many industries in our towns, cities and constituencies are already benefiting from trade with the new countries. Those are all important points to make.
Indeed, on Second Reading, if I remember rightly, the Minister pointed out some of the expected gains in terms of growth in gross domestic product in both existing European Union member countries and the new countries as a result of this process.
I am also glad that considerable regional and structural support is already being given to the new countries—again, on the basis that enlargement is going to take place. I urge that that expenditure be speeded up in some areas. It is particularly important for rural development. The so-called SAPARD—special accession programme for agriculture and rural development—schemes have been slow to get off the ground in applicant countries, but could make a real difference and help to progress rural development in those countries.
The schemes could also help the cause of common agricultural policy reform. As many hon. Members have pointed out, that reform is of prime importance. I certainly do not want CAP issues to scupper enlargement, but the imperative for reform is very real and necessary. I want this country to lead in the negotiations for reform, as I believe we are doing, and to lead by example by using existing funds to the maximum extent for rural development rather than the traditional price and product support mechanisms, which have caused the CAP to overshoot its budgets, created so many difficulties and distorted agriculture in EU countries for a good many years.
There are positive messages that we can convey as a result of the ratification of the treaty of Nice and its coming into force. The Government achieved a very good deal for Britain during the Nice negotiations and I congratulate them on the way in which they have defended and promoted our interests. What was achieved will help to secure successful enlargement of the EU as a whole.
I come new to this legislation, but not new to the subject. In the years when I was involved with European matters, and lately when I have been not so involved, I have noticed the persistent habit of Governments of justifying controversial measures by an appeal to relatively uncontroversial overall aims. Just as the single market and the pursuit of free trade have been used to justify all sorts of harmonising and regulatory measures, so enlargement, which all right-thinking people are supposed to favour, is now being used to justify all sorts of disagreeable measures, including a good many in the treaty and the Bill.
When the Minister was pressed on that matter he asserted that the Bill was necessary for enlargement. He then retreated somewhat and said that it was simply necessary for ratification. I am not sure that that is technically correct. Ratification of treaties is a Crown prerogative and I think that it is technically true that the Government could proceed with ratification in the absence of legislation. In practical terms, however, it is obviously necessary for them to get the Bill through the House if they are to ratify.
Whether the treaty is required for enlargement is nevertheless a different question. Before the end of this debate we need a certain and clear answer to that question from the Minister. I believe that what is being suggested is highly misleading and untrue. It is certainly the case that the Nice treaty contains some institutional changes that are required for eventual enlargement of the EU, but those are written in protocols and could easily be removed from present legislation and eventually incorporated in the necessary accession treaties. I have some acquaintance with that subject because I was the junior Minister who negotiated the last round of enlargement, when Finland, Norway, Sweden and Austria were negotiating to join the European Union, and at that time the institutional changes—the majority voting, the weighting of votes in the Council and the number of seats in the European Parliament—appeared not in a treaty such as has come out of Nice, but in the accession treaty. However, if it was desirable, in advance of the detailed negotiations, for the European Union to declare exactly how many votes were to be distributed in the succession of enlargement waves, that could be done by a political declaration at this stage.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a difference between this enlargement and that enlargement? In this enlargement, there will have to be a reallocation of seats among the existing member states. In that enlargement, there was not.
Yes, but I do not believe that that alters the point I am making. It is simply not necessary, legally or politically, for those changes to be incorporated in an Act of Parliament at this stage. It could quite easily be done at the accession treaty stage, as was done before. However, if my hon. Friend wishes it all to be set out now in a document and agreed, that could be done by political agreement. The European Union is very good at finding ways to express itself politically to give certainty to future negotiations.
On this difficult and important issue, will my right hon. Friend look to the good advice of a Mr. Prodi, who used to say, until quite recently, that the treaty was vital for the extension of the European Union, but after the Irish referendum said that the extension of Europe did not require the treaty of Nice at all?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; Mr. Prodi made a series of mistakes. He started by trying to ignore the rejection of Nice by the Irish—a breathtaking degree of arrogance on the part of a European institution—but he then retreated somewhat and conceded, under pressure, that the Nice treaty was not required or necessary for enlargement. That is the case that I am now making.
As far as I understand the argument about Ireland's already having decided on behalf of the whole of Europe, perhaps those who argue that case would do better to advocate the idea that each time there is a treaty to be ratified, one country—to be chosen by rotation—should decide on behalf of the whole of Europe whether it should be ratified, because that is exactly the position that the official Opposition are now advocating.
I have given way to some pretty silly interventions in my time in the House, but that one takes the record. Is the hon. Gentleman now saying that he does not believe in the unanimity rule for treaty changes? Even the most enthusiastic pro-European, on the Treasury Bench or any other, could not seriously advance the proposition that we could simply ignore the treaty of Rome as amended, and ignore what the Irish have decided, not for the whole of Europe but for themselves. Under the present law it is a requirement that treaty changes be agreed by all member states. If the hon. Gentleman wants to find a way around that, I suggest that he take it up with the Irish and use his supposed persuasive powers to get them to change their minds in due course; but that certainly will not be done by bullying the Irish or threatening to ignore their decision or the underlying treaty requirement.
I have now reached my main argument. If the European Union were seriously preparing itself for enlargement—if it really was interested in making Europe fit to take on up to 12 new member states—why has CAP reform not taken place? It is simply irresponsible to proceed with enlargement when everyone knows that, under the present CAP, Poland's entry to the EU alone will bankrupt the budget. So it is one of this country's duties to ask these difficult questions in advance. To negotiate all sorts of wonderful institutional changes that involve weighted votes without dealing with the underlying problems of the CAP and the budget is to put things the wrong way around—and I shall say a word or two about the budget.
No, the earlier reforms may have gone some way to meeting the problem for existing member states, but they do not begin to measure up to the challenge of enlargement. The French have now made it perfectly clear that they have no interest in reopening the reform package before 2006. So Europe is simply not ready for enlargement in the crucial issues of agriculture and the budget.
We shall debate such matters at greater length tomorrow, but it is important to refer to the budget now, because everyone will concede that the present arrangements for contributions to and receipts from the EU budget are hopelessly arbitrary, unsatisfactory and unfair. The payment side of the budget is riddled with errors, misappropriation and fraud.
There is something almost comic in the fact that Europe lectures the candidate states that seek entry about budgetary discipline and that they will be required to put their own finances in order, given that the EU budget is riddled with fraud. That is not just my opinion; the European Court of Auditors has refused to verify the accounts as legal or regular for the sixth year running.
I am a chartered account, and if I had encountered such problems six years in a row in my professional life, I certainly would not invest in the company involved, and its directors would all face prosecution. The problems are like those faced by Railtrack, but they are worse because they happen every year, and the Government do nothing about them. We in the House can do nothing about them because large sums are sent to Europe, and some of them are returned, without any parliamentary authority from year to year.
I remind the House that, on average during the past six years, this country's gross contributions have been nearly £20 million every day. Enlargement will add to that problem, because we will bring into the EU states with even weaker administrative and financial systems. If we were serious about preparing Europe for enlargement, and doing so responsibly, such issues should have been discussed and agreed at Nice, rather than simply tinkering with the voting weights for each prospective member state.
The fact is that the Bill is not primarily about enlargement; it is actually another milestone on the way to a more integrated EU. European integration is not proceeding as quickly as some people would wish. Indeed, many people in the Commission and elsewhere are disappointed at the speed of progress. However, on qualified majority voting, we are still going down that road quite quickly. The Bill contains new proposals for QMV in 31 new articles, some of which are very important.
Industrial policy has not been described so far in the debate. It worries me, however, that we are signing up to a majority voting system for an industrial policy that will reinforce all the failings of the European Union economic model. It will do that by giving other member states opportunities for interference and meddling on a industrial scale by using the EU budget.
The Prime Minister goes to the United States on many occasions, and in less troubled times he would go there to learn. He has described to the House how he believes that the European model has much to learn from the United States about job creation, innovation, enterprise and economic growth. He has tried to sell such ideas to his European Union colleagues in the Council of Ministers. Therefore, after the Lisbon summit, he said that he had seen
"a sea change in European economic thinking"—[Hansard, 27 March 2000; Vol. 347, c. 21.].
It was nothing of the sort; that summit was an exercise in self-delusion.
The European Union persists in using qualified majority voting as a way of forcing through damaging and unnecessary measures against the interests of this country. I am not making a partisan point, so let me give an example of where this Government opposed such a measure. The information and consultation directive will impose on member states national works councils. It will have nothing to do with multinational companies or companies that trade and operate in more than one member state; it will cover companies that are based, trade and operate entirely in this country.
The Government rightly said that the proposal was a breach of the subsidiarity principle and argued as such, but they lost the argument. More importantly, they lost the vote. They therefore had to make the best of a bad job. An unnecessary, expensive, interfering and meddling European measure will be imposed on this country against the wishes of all parties, this House, the other place and the British Government.
I cite another example, and it is one that I feel particularly strongly about. The art levy directive has been debated in the past, but the House may not know that the directive has now been passed against the vote of the British Government. It will impose a levy on the resale of all works of art by living artists or by artists who have been dead for less than 70 years. The practical effect of that will simply be that any valuable work of art will no longer be sold in the European Union. Sales will take place in New York, Japan or any art centre outside the EU.
The directive will therefore destroy the London art market, which is the largest in the world and by far the largest in the EU. The Government understood that and, to be fair to them, they argued the case well and persistently, but they were finally outvoted. Art dealers in the United States cannot believe what has happened. A European directive will enrich not the London, United Kingdom and EU art markets but one on the other side of the Atlantic. They cannot believe how that can happen. I have no way of describing the matter to them other than in the terms that I just have.
The directive was passed under existing qualified majority voting, but the Bill will extend such voting into new areas. What I have described will happen in areas that we have not yet thought of. That is not just bad for the economy. This country will catch the EU disease of over-regulation and over-government; more seriously, such a proposal is bad for democracy.
How does the right hon. Gentleman square that argument with the view of politicians on the continent who are much in favour of a federal Europe? In their reaction to that part of the Nice agreement that deals with the qualified majority threshold and the number of votes for a blocking minority, they viewed the treaty as one of the greatest brakes on a federal Europe. In fact, we are in a confederal Europe.
As I said earlier, some people would like to go further and faster. The hon. Gentleman did not dispute the example that I gave, and it is inescapably the case that qualified majority voting—which has done acknowledged damage to the House and to the country in the way that I have described—will be extended into new areas. That is my point.
Such an approach is bad for democracy and the public have sensed that. The point has already been made that they do not worry all the time about the minutiae of EU decision making. They do not understand it for a start, but they perceive that something is wrong. It is striking that, when the electors in any member state are allowed near a decision about a specific European matter, they come up with unpredictable results.
A year ago, the Danes surprised everyone by voting against the proposal that they should join the euro. They did that by overcoming the Danish establishment—almost all the political parties, the trade unions, employer organisations and most of the press—and all their European neighbours. The people smelled a rat and voted no. In March this year, the Swiss—not a member state, but a highly democratic country—voted no to the proposition that their politicians should apply for membership of the EU, and in June, the Irish unexpectedly voted no to the treaty of Nice.
There are other manifestations of that malaise. One is the shamefully low turnout in elections to the European Parliament. That problem will not be solved by giving the EU more powers. People will not rush out and vote in European elections because of a great advance in co-decision making. Nor will it help that, under the Bill and the Nice treaty, the EU will be given powers to regulate and fund political parties on a pan-European basis. It will simply increase public cynicism about the whole enterprise when politicians dole out money to other politicians and their own political parties. That is also combined with the strong suspicion that political parties that do not sign up to, or endorse, the aims of the EU will not receive the money. There is a deep-seated malaise that the treaty does not begin to address.
The distribution of power within the United Kingdom also needs addressing. We need to find ways of shifting power downwards; I would like to revive local authorities and, in this Parliament, I hope to persuade my colleagues to re-examine the issue of local government finance. I know that other Members share that aim. However, if one has that aspiration, it is crazy to start to transfer more powers upwards to the most remote Government in the world—the EU. That will happen under the treaty by the extension of the competence and power of the EU, reinforced by the extension of qualified majority voting into new areas. That represents a transfer of decision making from people who have been voted for and can be removed—Members of the House, for example—to people who are unelected and cannot be removed. The process is irreversible and irrevocable.
It is sometimes claimed that all the little glitches and problems and things that we do not like are worth while because we gain so much influence. Why is it necessary to try to achieve some small influence over decisions in other countries by giving up all influence over decisions in our country? Is that not the negation of democracy and of the reasons why we have been sent here? In the current international crisis, can people seriously argue that our influence in the world or on the United States or middle east is diminished in any way by our opposition to some aspects of European integration, or that it would be extended if we signed up to a further ratchet of European integration?
I believe that the reverse is true. The seeds of the destruction of our influence are in the Nice treaty. The proposals for a separate European Union military structure outside NATO, which is what we are signing up to, will undermine what influence we have in the wider world.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the decision taken at last year's 46th plenary session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Berlin? It voted unanimously to support the creation of a European rapid reaction force and a European security and defence policy precisely because it would enhance NATO capability.
I disagree. The Bill will not add one soldier or one pound coin to the European Union's defence budgets or capability. There are profound misgivings about what is happening, which I share, throughout the American Administration.
We must consider the intentions and motivations behind the changes in the treaty. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman balance his rather rosy view of what he hopes will happen with what the French Government have in mind for the powers and structural changes that will occur after the Nice treaty is implemented.
I am convinced that the European Union is equipping itself with the attributes and powers of a state. That is the essence of the treaty changes. However, most people whom we represent do not want that. If we continue down that path, it will lead at best to apathy and disillusionment, which we are already witnessing, and at worst to alienation, resentment and perhaps an eventual reassertion of self-government in unpredictable circumstances. The House would therefore be doing its democratic duty if it rejected the Bill.
Listening to the debate, it seems that some hon. Members are developing a mentality of "Stop the world—I want to get off." They do not recognise that the world has changed. I make no bones about the fact that in the early 1970s I took part in the campaign to keep Britain out of the European Common Market, as it was at the time. I also make no bones about my position on our defence policy before the rapid changes of the 1980s. The world has changed, and serious political parties also need to change and recognise what is happening.
I listened carefully to Mr. Campbell. I agreed with everything that he said, except for one thing—he did not recognise that there has recently been a discernible change among the tabloid newspapers. Although it is not my usual bedtime reading, I commend to hon. Members the News of the World of
"The bad news is, you're going to have to get used to the euro no matter what happens in Britain."
However, it went on to set out six good reasons why there are benefits if Europe uses the euro—so even tabloid newspapers recognise that the world is changing.
We learned a little this evening about the parentage of the grandmother of Mr. Ancram and discovered that the right hon. and learned Member for North–East Fife also has a European grandmother. Although one was from Italy and one from Glasgow, they are nevertheless Europeans. Indeed, they might soon find out that they are related.
The debate is wide ranging and hon. Members have given interesting perspectives on the realities of European affairs. However, on a more serious note, one or two hon. Members referred to events on
We have opened the door to enlargement and a bigger single market. That will bring Britain huge benefits, including greater security, more prosperity and more jobs. There are important lessons to learn from terrorist attacks. My right hon. Friend the Minister referred to the special European Council meeting on
I know that that is a difficult idea to contemplate, but I put it to hon. Members in all seriousness. There has been lengthy speculation about what leaders of free nations would have to do if they faced such an attack. European countries are so small that the distances travelled in north America are the equivalent of crossing the airspace of several European nations. If that does not justify increased defence co-operation, I do not know what does.
The hon. Gentleman is making a typically fair-minded and thoughtful speech. However, in the event of a terrible decision having to be taken to shoot down an airliner, which I think is what he is getting at, surely that could be taken only through the medium of NATO. Such a decision would be taken at that level if it is not taken unilaterally. I cannot envisage a European military capability making a difference in the way that he suggests.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says and if such an awful event did occur, I would expect the decision to act to be taken at the highest level in this country and in the country where the airspace was crossed. However, we are talking about seconds and minutes of travelling time between countries. It takes just a few minutes to travel across Luxembourg, Belgium and a bit of France to get here. There are clear benefits in having close co-operation on such matters.
European Transport Ministers have made progress on some aviation issues, including classification of weapons, training of crew, checking and monitoring of hold luggage and protection of cockpit access. Those are important matters that demonstrate the need for a common approach to European aviation security, which hon. Members will recognise if, like me, they frequently hop from Heathrow to Brussels en route to another European destination.
Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman by giving a clear example of NATO's inability to fulfil the role that he suggests. Several days ago, Austria's air force was scrambled because a Turkish plane, which could not verify its course, was flying in Austrian airspace, and it was not clear whether it would continue to Germany or Italy. As Dr. Lewis is aware, Austria is not a member of NATO, so the co-operation that Mr. Miller is proposing could happen only in a European context, and not in a NATO one.
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point about future European security and military response. However, I must point out that the Nice treaty makes no provision for that because a terrorist attack would not be classed as a Petersberg mission. In fact, there is no such facility in the NATO strategic concept, and that issue will need to be addressed.
I accept my hon. Friend's point and bow to his greater knowledge of NATO. I was merely speculating about the need for closer co-operation between European defence forces because of the events of
I come now to issues in the treaty that seem to cause extraordinary objections, such as qualified majority voting. I bow to Mr. Heathcoat–Amory and his expertise in the art market. I have never found myself to be a significant player in the market, but I know what I like, as they say. I am not certain when this country signed up to the QMV to which he referred. I suspect that it was during a period of Conservative government. On the changes to QMV to which he referred, I have yet to hear an argument from any Member of this House, in any of our debates, about anything except headlines. My right hon. Friend Denzil Davies listed the changes to QMV, but at no point has anyone put forward a sustainable argument to show how the changes could be damaging in a particular treaty example. Such hollow opposition from Conservative Members weakens the logic of their case.
We object to the extension of QMV on principle, but I shall give the hon. Gentleman an example. Article 100 deals with measures in the event of severe difficulties in the supply of certain products as well as community financial assistance to member states in severe difficulties. The hon. Gentleman may know that there is something called North sea oil. We do not know, because we do not have an interpretation of the Bill, what would happen if there were difficulties in supplying energy. Could the European Union have access to North sea oil on the basis of QMV? What has happened with fisheries should clearly demonstrate the need for nations to protect their assets, and that is simply one of many examples from the Nice treaty that are not ultimately in our national interest.
The hon. Gentleman is simply taking article 100 and speculating on "what happens if", with no solid evidence that what he says is the case. I have heard no sustainable argument linking the issues of long-term energy policy to article 100. I understand the hon. Gentleman's fear, which may be worth exploring, but it is not being explored in a rational way in this debate.
If the hon. Gentleman expects the British public to swing towards his side of the argument, I suggest that he consider article 137(1)(k), for example, which might be included in the list of principal objections. I understand that there might be an ideological difference between our two parties about modernisation of social protection systems, provisions relating to health and safety at work, and so on. Some of the more esoteric examples that are being given, however, do not wash with me and certainly do not wash with the British public, as we discovered in the recent general election.
Will the hon. Gentleman comment on the example that I gave him, in which the information and consultation directive, which was opposed by the Government—presumably with the hon. Gentleman's support—went through by qualified majority voting as agreed at Amsterdam? That is a clear example of the Government giving way on majority voting. A measure came before the House, the Government opposed it—presumably with the support of the hon. Gentleman—but the measure was enacted over their heads. Is that not a clear example of the democratic wish of the House being overridden by a directive?
The right hon. Gentleman is trying to get me into deep trouble. As some of my hon. Friends may know, I encouraged the Government to go a little further on the issue to which he refers. I will not be drawn too far on that, as I might find myself in hot water.
The Tory objection to the rapid reaction force does not fit with reality, either. As my hon. Friend Mr. Smith eloquently said, since flesh was put on the bones of the project, opinion in NATO and other serious military circles has been in favour.
As for the common agricultural policy, everyone recognises the case for massive change. However, the logic of the argument on the CAP must have been just as correct when the previous Conservative Government signed the Maastricht treaty. Opposition Members seem to be crying wolf by introducing the issue at this point.
The hon. Gentleman may have been in the Chamber when the Minister for Europe, in an intervention, suggested that the Government had discussed with Ministers the preparation for changes to the CAP and expanding the Community, whereas the previous Conservative Government had not. I assure him that in 1995-96, as an Agriculture Minister, I discussed reform of the CAP in both Hungary and Poland, for example. The Conservative Government created a working party that produced a document for reform of the CAP.
What on earth have the hon. Gentleman and his ministerial colleagues been doing for the past five years? They fudged the situation because it was difficult. They kicked it into the long grass, which is why we are in this mess.
I accept that it is a difficult issue, but I do not accept that it has been fudged. From the discussions that I have had recently with colleagues from other countries, and from what my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe said at the start of the debate, I believe that significant progress is being made. However, I do not understand why this one treaty is suddenly supposed to be bound up inextricably with reforms to the CAP. Those reforms have been necessary for a long time, and I accept the hon. Lady's point that progress is needed.
The treaty was subject to a great deal of discussion on the fringes of a conference that I was privileged to attend in September. I was in the Estonian Parliament, with colleagues who included Mr. Luff, when the terrible events of
It became clear to me that existing member nations and applicant countries want to make progress and that they feel a degree of frustration with the conduct of the British Conservative party and the handful of others who adopt a negative approach to the process of enlargement. They all say that they want enlargement, but they do not offer a practical alternative approach, only the piecemeal, one-after-the-other process that would take for ever and would be an impossible way in which to increase EU membership to 27 or 28 nations.
It is right that Britain should commit itself to the treaty of Nice. In the coming years, we should work closely with our European partners and prospective partners to develop the interests of both our nation and our neighbours and to enhance the role of Europe, thereby enhancing Britain's position in the world.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the Third Reading debate as I was otherwise occupied during the Bill's previous stages and so unable to participate. I hope to put on record my concerns, which are shared by several of my right hon. and hon. Friends who have already spoken.
During the opening speech on Second Reading, the Foreign Secretary prayed in aid the same argument that we heard expressed tonight by the Minister for Europe: that the Bill is purely about enlargement. That is not so. Enlargement is an important aspect of the Bill, but it constitutes only 5 per cent. of that which appears on the face of the Bill. If we as the House of Commons are to do justice to any Bill laid before us, it is important that we analyse it, scrutinise it and consider the consequences of all of it, so we must examine that other 95 per cent. of the Bill. It is simply not acceptable for the Government to create a smokescreen by telling people that the Conservative party opposes enlargement of the European Union and that any criticism we might make of the Bill reveals that we are anti-enlargement. That is a travesty of the truth, given the small portion of the Bill that deals with enlargement.
On Second Reading on
Let us look at the progress achieved by other countries in ratification of the Nice treaty. Belgium, which one might imagine would be enthusiastic, has not yet initiated a discussion; Germany has had only a First Reading; and the Greek Parliament has not yet initiated any debate on ratification. The list goes on: Italy has not yet ratified; the position in Ireland is now a matter of record; Austria has had only a First Reading; other countries including Portugal and Finland have presented a Bill, but only in draft form; and Sweden has not yet initiated the debate. Yet here, the Minister for Europe—desperately hiding under the cloak of EU expansion—tells us that we have not got time to talk about 95 per cent. of the Bill, but if we simply sign up we will have done our duty. I do not accept that argument.
Let us consider why the Irish rejected the proposal. One of the reasons, although by no means the only one, was their concern about the EU's inability to address the vexed issue of reform of the common agricultural policy—a matter that has been mentioned tonight. Progress on CAP reform has to have been made before all the new countries enter the EU. People have argued that other countries have entered in the past, and that is true, but I recall that Spain and Portugal did not have an especially easy passage: there were problems, especially in the fisheries and agriculture sector. The economies of many of the countries that are lined up waiting to join the EU are highly dependent on agriculture and horticulture.
We should take a look at the Irish experience. Mr. John O'Dowd, who was deeply involved as a member of the committee of the National Platform for Ireland, writes:
"Right at the beginning of the Irish campaign our first important step was to get hold of a reliable English language text of the Treaty. As everyone knows, Nice was conceived in darkness and confusion, so it was hardly surprising that a reliable text was difficult to find. However, once we got that the long and slow process of working out what Nice did began. As with every other EU treaty, Nice was a mixed bag. It was important to understand what the issues were, how they were prioritised in the treaty, and what was at the heart of Nice. This was a long haul, but for us it was vital to be able to get a grip on what we were dealing with.
Once that was done (virtually a month of solid work) we could then proceed to organise the information we had."
I shall come shortly to those parts of the treaty that cause me concern, but the other 95 per cent. deserves proper scrutiny.
It is a matter of great regret that during the Committee stage, despite some excellent and constructive contributions by Conservative Members and the tabling of amendments and new clauses, the Government failed to consider properly or agree to a single proposal advanced by my right hon. and hon. Friends. The theme struck by the Foreign Secretary at the start of the debate on the Nice treaty was carried through, and we see it being finalised tonight. We are being told, "Either agree with the Bill, or you are against expansion of the European Union—and please don't bother us with the other 95 per cent." That is no way to treat either the House or a Bill of such importance.
As we have heard, every step of a treaty Bill causes a constitutional change. Individually, they may not be great changes, but their effect is incremental: they add up to a handing over of the powers and rights of the people who are represented by Members of Parliament to unelected people who sit in Brussels.
In that case, why debate it? Why not just have a statement from a Minister to which we can all nod our heads like little donkeys and say, "Okay, you go ahead"? That does not reflect my understanding of parliamentary democracy. If things threaten to get that bad—judging by the hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm, he might well encourage his colleagues to make things that bad—I will oppose it tooth and nail, as will my right hon. and hon. Friends.
I invite my hon. Friend to say precisely what parliamentary democracy is all about and to emphasise that the extent of the alienation and disconnection of the peoples of Europe from the institutions of the European Union is caused precisely by the attitude articulated by Mr. Bryant.
I agree. A distinguishing feature of the treaty is the big question mark resulting from the result of the Irish referendum. This evening, Members have said that treaties have been passed, even under a Conservative Government; I accept that. However, as we saw when other EU members took the single currency on board, what is distinctive is the fact that a referendum of the people by the people gave a result different from that expected by the Government.
May I finish this point before giving way?
I went to Copenhagen early in the Danish referendum campaign and shared a platform with various people from different countries, all of whom had been invited to speak by the Danes. I shared a platform with a Swedish trade unionist; I think that it was the first time in his life that he had shared a platform with a centre-right politician, and he looked a bit disconcerted. However—and this applies to every country in the EU—he said that the single currency was on the politicians' agenda and was not what the people wanted; unless the people had a voice of their own, and if they could not trust politicians to speak for them, we faced a dangerous future. I told him, "I agree with you comrade." He nearly fell off the platform.
If we, as representatives of the people, do not represent the views of the people and if, on important matters, they do not even have a referendum, then, not just in this country but throughout the European Union, we are heading for a situation that has already been remarked on by other Members tonight. Ultimately, the people will rebel and the consequences of that should not be underestimated. In democracies, people should be able to speak out. If they do not have an outlet through the people democratically elected to represent them, there is a big problem.
Several Government Members said that the recent general election gave a clear indication of what the British people think about Europe. I do not agree because a general election is not about a single issue, but about a whole range of issues. We know from every opinion poll that the British people—and it is the British people in whom I am interested—are concerned about giving up their national currency and the drip, drip effect of taking the nation further into an integrated union in which we are no longer an independent nation state. The Nice treaty is yet another step along that route. I now give way to Dr. Ladyman, who has been very patient.
The hon. Lady helped to lead the Conservative team that fought the last election, telling the people that it was their last chance to have their say on Europe. She was a member of that team; was she fibbing? If she is now saying that amendments to treaties passed in the House should be allowed, will she tell us how many amendments the previous Government allowed to the Maastricht treaty?
I am grateful for that reminder. We are honouring that pledge, unlike Government Members who must wonder when they are ever going to honour anything that they promised in an election. As an MP, European issues were not the only area on which I campaigned in my Devon constituency. I held more than 40 public meetings, and we discussed the euro, European matters generally and other things. My majority trebled; in fact it more than trebled. Now that I have found out how to treble my majority, I shall do the same next time.
The treaty, of course, includes other issues. My hon. Friend Mr. Spring mentioned one that is of great concern. We are all conscious of the tragic events of
I am all in favour of co-operation, but the treaty is not about flexibility and co-operation; it is about entrenching in statute things that bind us rather than give us the flexibility that we often need. In fact, flexibility, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk said in his opening remarks, is seen to be important in our defence commitment in Europe.
Indeed. As has been said, we know that the Nice treaty proposes that we take the first steps to introduce what has euphemistically been called a European army and certainly a European defence and security policy. I am in favour of EU countries playing their part and contributing their fair share. I am not being malicious but making a statement of fact when I say that many members of NATO have for many years—in fact since NATO was first formed—a record of not contributing from their defence budgets the amount that they would be expected to pay. Over the years, the Americans have said quite rightly that Europe should pull its weight on defence. I do not have a problem with that general premise, but we are concerned that the treaty is proposing a break in our alignment with NATO and the Western European Union.
I listened to the Labour Members who have contributed tonight. Never mind what is in the treaty; it is part of that 95 per cent. that they do not want to talk about. The Prime Minister gave his word; things are not quite how they look in the document, and there will still be command and control liaison through NATO. In fact, that is not the interpretation of other EU states, particularly France, as I have said.
May I add to the point that my hon. Friend is making? It is worth considering the remarks of the Finnish commander-designate of the rapid reaction force, who said that it
"will not bow to NATO".
General Gustav Hagglund described the planned 60,000-strong force as an important symbol of EU identity, similar to the euro and the flag. He said:
"We are not talking about a subsidiary of NATO. This is an independent body."
That point is well made.
It is compatible with the words of the French chief of staff whom I have quoted on the same subject. We have legitimate concerns about that aspect of the treaty and its interpretation by other EU member states, especially at this time when we all realise the significance not just of co-operation and flexibility but, as in previous times of trouble, clear structures. Ambiguity is the last thing that we want in defence and security. We do not want different nation states making different interpretations because we may discover that only when it is too late.
The other issue about which I, like my colleagues, am concerned is the extension of qualified majority voting. As a former Minister, I have been asked for examples of what it will mean. Basically, as a nation state, we will again give up some of our rights to veto matters that are in the British interest. I am particularly concerned that the so-called emergency brake, which the Government paraded after their negotiation of the Amsterdam treaty, is to be subject to qualified majority voting.
I shall briefly share with the House my experience as an Agriculture Minister. Having spent three years at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, I have no doubt that, with regard to food production, there are those in the European Union who use qualified majority voting not to expand the single market and competition, but the reverse. They identify food sectors where they see British products that are causing problems to their own domestic markets, they form a cabal of like-minded countries, and they raise objections. They use their block voting power under QMV to see off a competitive sector from another country. My experience as a MAFF Minister showed that clearly.
Anyone who has ever taken an interest in the fight that we had to put up just to maintain British milk chocolate over four or five years will know that the issue is not harmonisation but the raw competition of the marketplace, where QMV is used by pressure groups and companies in other countries to see off the competition from the UK. We saw the same in respect of mineral waters and soya milk. We had to ban in this country the name "soya milk" on a product that was sold only in this country as soya milk, because others did not want that competition. They wanted greater input into our market, and when they could not achieve that on fair competitive terms, they did it by using QMV, forming a cabal and seeing off the competition.
No one should think that QMV enhances the single market or open competition in the EU. It is used for horse trading, and horse trading is how the whole system works.
I was not a Member of Parliament at the time of the Single European Act, but the hon. Gentleman is right to say that I was in Parliament for the Maastricht treaty. I will say to the House not for the first time and probably not for the last time—I have certainly said it to my constituents—that I very much regret my support for the Maastricht treaty.
The implications of the hon. Lady's remarks are profound. Everyone recognises that the great achievement of the European Union is the single market, which is virtually complete. I thought that the Opposition supported the single market. Everyone also recognises that the single market would not have come about without qualified majority voting. The hon. Lady must surely accept that simple fact.
It depends what we imagined the single market would achieve, back in those early days when we first joined the common market. I voted in the 1970s that we should remain in the common market because I believe in free trade, and I could fully understand why colleagues in the party at the time of the Single European Act saw that we would bring about more free trade and remove both tariff and non-tariff barriers. I was all in favour of the principle, but in practice it did not work out that way.
For example, I had always expected that with the single market, if the Germans could make a better-quality toaster at a more competitive price than a British company, they would take our market share of toasters in the UK, and we would have to produce a better toaster. That is my rather basic understanding of the free market, but that was not the route taken by the European Community. It took the route of harmonisation in every blessed product and service, and now it is trying to integrate harmonisation into everything else that we do.
My point is borne out by the statistics. In 1992, when the single market was created, the rate of growth in trade between the United Kingdom and the rest of the European Union was the same as that between the United States and the European Union during the same period. In other words, the US increased its trade with the EU at the same rate as we did, but the US was not subject to being a net contributor to the EU.
The 1998 figures, which are the latest that I have, show that the average of the tariffs that the EU placed on imported industrial goods was 3.6 per cent. Leaving aside any possible retaliatory measures, an average tariff of 3.6 per cent. would have yielded £3.441 billion had it been levied on the UK. In other words, if we had traded with the EU at the same rate as do the US and many other countries around the world, we would have spent £1.748 billion less of UK taxpayers' money in our contribution to the European budget.
Yes, I am a great advocate of free trade, but I am not in favour of something that parades itself as free trade or a single market, when cabals work to see off the competition and take advantage of qualified majority voting to see off sectors that are perceived as competition. I am not in favour of the United Kingdom having to give up its fishing stocks and much else in order to be net contributors to the EU, if that is not fair and does not take into account the proper rules of free trade, which is what we signed up for in the first place.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. She argues that the United States has benefited more from the European Union than have EU members, and she contrasts the position of the United States and the United Kingdom. Is she not aware that the fact that we share sovereignty and contribute to a common pool of funds means that we can benefit in many other ways, unlike the United States? It is not a simple trade equation. It involves programmes and projects that spread throughout the regions in the EU and benefit many regions as net gainers, such as my region in the north-west.
But as a net contributor, the UK is paying for every EU-financed project that the Government agree to become involved in, as the balance sheet shows at the end of the financial year. There is no great pool of money that the EU in its largesse dollops out to regions of the UK. I know that the image of the blue flag with the circle of yellow stars is used to show that a project is EU-funded, but the hon. Gentleman must know that much of that funding is conditional upon match funding, and that the balance sheet shows that as long as we remain net contributors to the EU, we will be financing such projects ourselves.
The hon. Gentleman may be surprised to hear me say that as it is our money anyway, I would trust his Government to decide how those funds should be distributed to the north-west, the south-west or any other region of the United Kingdom, and to be answerable to the House for their decision. I would rather they used our money for our priorities so that they would be answerable, through Members of Parliament. We would not be the losers for it, as the money would still be spent—
I must move on. The hon. Gentleman and I will have to disagree. The money is ours. The question is who decides what it is to be spent on—people in Brussels or the United Kingdom Parliament, accountable to the people through hon. Members. I believe that accountability should mainly be here.
I have taken a considerable amount of time and, much as I am enjoying the debate, I ought to summarise my other concerns about the treaty.
My right hon. Friend Mr. Heathcoat-Amory spelled out his concerns about industrial policy, which I share. Every time the Government establish a deregulation taskforce, we know that it will not succeed. Once one signs up to the social chapter—lots more is going to come into it—one automatically puts a brake on Britain's competitive edge. There is no way out of that scenario and no exit strategy in respect of the social chapter now that the Government have signed up to it. Like my right hon. Friend, I am concerned about more integration in that hidden 95 per cent. of the treaty that affects our competitiveness through industrial policy.
I am also concerned about control of EU political parties, but I shall not speak in detail about it.
That is terrible, but, none the less, the hon. Lady's last engine, which ran for 150,000 miles, was exported from the UK during all the troubled times that she has mentioned. It went not only to mainland Europe but to Scandinavia and the United States. We have plenty of examples of good manufacturing successes that have occurred during the period in which she is saying our competitiveness was disappearing. When we have had the products, put in the work and acted in partnership with European counterparts, we have had genuine successes.
In future, whenever a Labour Member who represents a constituency in the north-east or north-west stands up to complain that he or she has just lost another 2,000 manufacturing jobs, I will be sure to repeat the hon. Gentleman's view to whichever Minister is at the Dispatch Box. That view is not usually expressed when such complaints are made.
I am concerned about the treaty proposals that will lead in future to the question of a constitution for Europe. I have heard arguments from below the Gangway about such a constitution. It seems to me that if there is a European army, constitution and single currency, as well as harmonisation in all the other spheres that have been mentioned, we will have a country called Europe. I want to see Europe as a combination of nation states that work together and co-operate. There is a great deal of advantage in co-operation. I do not want anybody to think that I do not recognise that fact or that I do not value co-operation. Once we have a country called Europe—we are going that way and are now very close to such an outcome—there will no longer be a country that one would recognise as the United Kingdom or as a democracy that is answerable to the people through this House. That is what I object to.
The average length of Back-Bench speeches is now more than 20 minutes. On that basis, many of the hon. Members who are present will be disappointed. I appeal to hon. Members to give some thought to their colleagues who want to speak in the debate.
I hope to return us to the subject of the treaty of Nice, rather than to speak about our fears of possibilities that I shall not even try to find the words to describe. If we are honest, we will all probably agree that the treaty is not a perfect vehicle. It has its failings, but in negotiations where 15 member states sit around the table it is necessary to agree with some conclusions that the majority believe to be right in order to make progress. Similarly, rightly or wrongly, the treaty of Nice is the vehicle that has been chosen to take enlargement forward. That is the world as it is.
Let us consider enlargement. I gained the impression from previous speakers that half the House of Commons is in the Baltics, Poland and other accession states. From personal experience, I know that various delegations run into each other in Vilnius. Such meetings mean that many of us can speak with first-hand experience. We probably all share similar experience, which suggests that enlargement is extremely important for accession states. They see not only EU membership but NATO membership as a vehicle for advancement. Many countries envisage that NATO membership will provide military security and that EU membership will provide economic stability and security. They wish to be part of those two frameworks.
The processes for securing NATO and EU membership are very different. In respect of NATO, an invitation is issued and the approach is, in many ways, much more positive. The EU process is a bit like an Ofsted report; it has many chapters and a country will not be let in unless it can tick all the boxes. It is very sobering. In the past few years, it has helped many countries to develop a structure that reflects the way in which they wish to shape themselves.
Most of the accession states—certainly those that hope to be in the first wave—have made it clear that they will hold a referendum even though they have no constitutional need to do so. They want not only to be democratic but to be seen as such. One of the reasons why it would be absolutely disastrous to delay the enlargement process unduly is the fact that opinion polls show that public support is dropping in some of those states.
We must deal with the reason for that and say something about the Irish referendum. I do not want to second-guess why the Irish people voted as they did or to tell them how they should have voted, but I suspect that some of them were saying, "Curses on all your houses." I suspect that the decision, rather than being a vote against EU enlargement or qualified majority voting, was directed against everything other than what is in the treaty of Nice.
In the long term, we must consider that disengagement by the electorate. I am not so arrogant as to say that they do not understand what is involved; they may understand only too well but still not like it. If so, we must accept it, but it would be wise for us to separate disillusionment from the very narrow aims of the treaty. I think that it is fairly unambitious and could have been much more ambitious. I agree with Members who said that it did not contain enough meat to make it an appropriate subject for a constitutional referendum in this country. It is the vehicle for enlargement. I agree with it and I believe that it should be taken forward.
One element of the treaty caused me some anxiety: the common foreign and security policy. I was concerned about the relationship between the EU and NATO. Interestingly, the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs makes the following statement in its fifth report:
"It remains to be seen just how soon differing interpretations of the report's conclusions can be reconciled, and what the statement that EU-led military operations will take place only 'where NATO as a whole is not engaged' will mean in practice."
That caused me some concern. Members of the Committee have just returned from two days in Brussels, where we met the Belgian membership. We also met Hageland representatives and NATO members. It is clear that the EU and NATO recognise that the latter will have first refusal. That is made explicit in the statement to which I have referred, but it has been made more explicit during the past few weeks.
The circumstances in which NATO would choose not to become involved and we would depend on the EU instead are extremely limited. They will be exactly those in which America will not have an interest and the EU will wish to take the first step. The two structures are parallel. While I know that the treaty does not add one extra soldier anywhere, I hope that it allows us to use NATO and EU capabilities far more effectively. Surely parallel and comparable structures are the way forward.
I hope that we will all learn the lesson from the fact that successive Governments throughout Europe—I agree with Mrs. Browning on this point—have shamefully underspent on defence. I suspect that when the shortfalls are considered, we will find that those in the EU and NATO are broadly the same. I hope that that will result in increased spending. Again, however, that is not part of the treaty itself.
Let us consider what we are deciding tonight: the vehicle for enlargement, on which it would be absolutely disastrous to stall at this stage. I believe that one of the main reasons for central Europe's democratic development is the prospect of membership, which has provided a framework for that to happen.
Perhaps today affords an opportunity for us to restate a United Kingdom interpretation of two matters. The nature of treaties means that there are slight differences of interpretation. First, the United Kingdom subscribes to NATO and the transatlantic model. I accept that a French school of thought suggests that building an alternative power bloc to the United States should drive the European Union. I do not subscribe to that model, and I should be surprised if many hon. Members did. Perhaps now is the time to restate that clearly. Secondly, our model of co-operation is intergovernmental. Important decisions should be taken at ministerial level by elected representatives of member states.
Those views are not incompatible with the treaty of Nice. As I said earlier, although the treaty is not perfect, it is vital. No one, apart from those of the most extreme little Englander mentality who want to reconsider all the treaties and to return to the time before we started negotiations for accession and rerun the 1975 referendum, should be unable to support the Bill tonight.
The speech of Denzil Davies from the Government Back Benches against the Bill means that there will be a pleasing symmetry, because I shall speak from the Opposition Back Benches for the measure. That reflects the reality of the European debate in this country: the division on Europe cuts across parties—there are different views in all parties.
I shall be brief, as you enjoined us, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I want to explain why I intend to vote with the Government tonight to ratify the Nice treaty. The Government and the Opposition are applying three-line Whips; there is therefore no doubt that the Bill will be carried. That was the consequence of the last general election. The easiest course for me would be to follow the Opposition Whip and vote against the Bill in the certain knowledge that that would make no difference. I could also continue to abstain, as I did until now, including on Second Reading.
I have decided to vote for the measure because I believe that the treaty of Nice and, therefore, the Bill is essential for the enlargement of the European Union. Nothing has been said in the debate to shake that belief. Like Ms Stuart, I believe that it is our duty and in our interest to act to secure the early enlargement of the Union.
The Nice treaty contains an essential prerequisite for enlargement: the reallocation of voting weights in the Council of Ministers between current and prospective member states. The battle over the reallocation of votes at the Nice conference was hard fought and acrimonious. Many member states would like the matter to be reopened. As my hon. Friend Mrs. Browning said, countries such as Belgium were losers in the reallocation, and that is one of the reasons for the failure of the ratification procedure to progress as fast as we would like. It is in Britain's interest not to reopen the matter, not least because the new allocation substantially increases our weight in the Council of Ministers.
In the light of the off-the-cuff remarks of the President of the Commission in the summer after the failure of the Irish referendum, my right hon. Friend Mr. Ancram has argued that the Nice treaty is not necessary for enlargement and that the necessary adaptations of European Union institutions can be accomplished through treaties of accession with the new member states. Let the experts and the non-experts in European law argue about that. I simply share the view of Mr. Campbell. I observe that Mr. Prodi has not repeated his words.
I appreciate that the votes of prospective member states can be fixed in their treaties of accession, which could state that Poland would have a specific number of votes, Hungary would have a specific number and so on. However, the difference between what we are considering and the position that my right hon. Friend Mr. Heathcoat-Amory described in respect of the previous enlargement is that separate treaties between the European Union and Poland and between the EU and Hungary cannot reallocate voting weights between the existing member states. Any attempt to proceed in that way would run the risk of the many discontented member states trying to reopen the question. That would delay enlargement and disadvantage Britain.
Conservative Members, supported by the right hon. Member for Llanelli, have argued that although the agreement on votes at Nice is positive from the British point of view, it is outweighed by negative features such as the extension of majority voting, the promulgation of the European Union charter of fundamental rights—not, of course, as a justiciable instrument—and the further development of the common foreign and security policy. I am not persuaded that all those developments are necessarily so negative from a British point of view; I am sure that their significance is far outweighed by the agreement on the new voting structure in the Council of Ministers.
The new leadership of my party appears, at last, to have grasped that the rhetoric of the past four years about the threat of a European superstate was at least overheated. That is the new leadership line, but the debate shows that it has not trickled down to all Back Benchers.
In the recent Conservative party leadership election, I undertook the task of answering letters from Conservatives and others about Europe to my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke, who was one of the candidates. Hon. Members will appreciate that that was not always an agreeable task. Many good people—and some who are perhaps not so good—have been persuaded that nothing less than a desperate battle for national survival is under way. A sort of 1940 complex—Britain against a united and hostile European mainland—has been generated.
The new leadership line is, thank goodness, that Europe is not such a big issue after all and that there is no need for the Tory home guard to fight on the beaches and elsewhere. That is a welcome and clear admission that the threat of a European superstate has been overstated. If the threat were real, Conservatives and all hon. Members would want to oppose it vigorously.
If the threat of the European superstate is being discounted and we are to put the 1940 complex behind us, why should not Conservatives examine the Nice treaty realistically? I say to my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes that, like its predecessors at Amsterdam and Maastricht, the Nice treaty constitutes a signal reverse for federalist ambitions. If the treaty is not to be regarded primarily as another milestone on the road to Britain's incorporation in a federal superstate, why are we voting against it? If it is to be so regarded, why are we putting Europe on the back burner? The Conservative party's opposition to the Nice treaty tonight and some of the rhetoric that we have heard in the debate is best understood as a hangover from the party's previous, discredited European policy.
I shall conclude by speaking briefly about why I support the early enlargement of the European Union. I do not support it simply because it will stabilise the politics and security of central and eastern Europe and secure the development of important and growing new markets for British goods and services. I do not support it simply because it will necessitate reforms of European policies such as the common agricultural policy and the budget policy, which should produce welcome improvements from the British point of view. By the way, that will happen only after enlargement, because if we try to achieve it beforehand it will simply block enlargement.
I support enlargement for different reasons. We in Britain have historic obligations in central and eastern Europe, and great states such as ours have a long memory for such matters. I spoke about the 1940 complex in the Conservative party. I want to consider the obligations that arise from another fatal year—1939.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes referred to his European ancestry. I hope that my words will hold some appeal for him because his distinguished forebear—I believe it was his great uncle—the Marquess of Lothian played an important part in those events, although he was more a man of 1938 than 1939. In March 1939, the British Government responded to the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the Germans in breach of the Munich agreement by extending guarantees to Poland. In September 1939, Britain went to war to uphold those guarantees.
The British policy of 1939 was not just an admission that Neville Chamberlain was shamefully wrong to speak of the central and eastern European lands as "faraway countries of which we know nothing". Fundamentally, the British policy of 1939 was a commitment by this country to enable the states and peoples of central and eastern Europe to play their full part in a Europe organised on the basis of equality and co-operation.
For reasons with which we are all familiar, it was impossible for this country to deliver on those commitments—in 1939, at Yalta and Potsdam in 1944 and 1945, or throughout the period until 1989. But today, after half a century, in the context of the enlargement of the European Union—an association of free and equal co-operating member states—the time has at last come for us in this House and in this country to do what we promised to do all those years ago. My vote tonight for the ratification of the Nice treaty by the House is my personal contribution to the fulfilment of that historic British obligation. 7.11 pm
We began considering the Bill in July, well before the terrible events of
Now as, perhaps, at no previous time in its history is the time for the EU to demonstrate to the people of Europe that the nations of Europe are made much stronger by being able to act together through the European Union than they are by acting alone. Indeed, what better mechanism could there be at this time to strengthen Europe's contribution to the international response to terrorism? What better mechanism could there be at this time to expand the European effort in the fight against terrorism than an intensification of European co-operation, and an enlargement of the EU as envisaged by the Nice treaty?
Some Opposition Members have given the impression today that it is business as usual in the European debate. Let me tell them that, in terms of where we pick up the debate about the Nice treaty this evening, we are in a different world from the world we were in when we left that debate before the summer break. Others may believe that consideration of the issues in the treaty should perhaps be postponed until after the immediate international crisis has passed. I believe we should treat the international crisis as a spur, or a wake-up call, to intensify efforts to produce important measures such as those in the Nice treaty, which will accelerate European reform.
We urgently need the introduction, at European level, of measures to counter international terrorism, to strengthen judicial and police co-operation, to tackle money laundering and to operate in many similar fields to strengthen the security of the people of Europe. We need those measures to be agreed quickly, and implemented across as wide a range of European countries as possible. For that reason too, it is important to ratify the treaty of Nice. We are now talking not just about the advantages of expanding the common market and the benefits of trade, but about the advantages that will flow from an enhancement of the ability of EU states to deliver perhaps one of the most fundamental public goods of all: the security of our citizens.
Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the Prime Minister would have enjoyed the freedom to perform the admirable role that he is performing on the world stage in helping the United States to tackle the crisis we all face by offering the military support that this country is offering if this country had subscribed wholeheartedly to a common foreign and defence policy that required us to make decisions on a European rather than a national basis?
I am coming to that, but I think part of the reason the Prime Minister has been able to play the role he has played is the desire that the United States has felt to act, together rather than alone in the world. It is for precisely that reason that I think we should exercise leadership within the European context as well, and strengthen our leadership role in Europe too.
The treaty of Nice will enhance the EU's capacity to act in the world. I think we all see and support, and we are debating, the leading role that Britain is playing through the present crisis, but, as I have said, we are able to punch above our weight in the world precisely because America is engaged. It is crucial that we also seek to play a leading role in Europe, and ensure that Europe too punches above and not under its weight during the current international crisis.
I am certainly not one who claims that the European Union is perfect. Indeed, through my work with colleagues in the European Scrutiny Committee I discover more and more of its imperfections every week. Nor do I claim that the EU would be made perfect by the implementation of the Nice treaty. I do, however, see the treaty as part of an historical process—a small new step following on from all the other treaties that made the European Union what it is today, starting with the treaty of Rome in 1958 and proceeding with the Single European Act, the Maastricht treaty and the Amsterdam treaty.
I believe that, in opposing the treaty of Nice, the Opposition seek to turn their backs on Europe at a time when Europe's citizens look to the European Union to deliver greater security, greater international leadership and greater stability as a foundation for peace. The people of Europe must and, I believe, will see that the EU is more than just a common market—that it must renew its historical mission of 50 years ago to strengthen international resolve in consolidating peace. The EU itself, however, is much in need of reform.
I was visited this evening by a constituent who had put in a green card, wanting to talk to me about the Nice treaty before this evening's vote. He came to lobby me—to ask me to vote against the treaty. When I asked my constituent, a Mr. Anderson of Graham road, Wimbledon, why he did not want me to vote with the Government for ratification, he told me a story about a European regulation concerning recycling of elements of his refrigerator, which would be more difficult as a result.
I said "Yes, we must look very critically at regulations presented at European level. Not all of them are doing the good that was intended. But are you aware of the work of the European Scrutiny Committee in the House of Commons? The Committee is there to look at individual regulations, and to weigh the costs and benefits of particular regulations as they relate to the United Kingdom." My constituent said that he was not aware of that.
I think there is a myth that there is no scrutiny of, and no accountability for, what happens and is proposed in Europe at the level of national Parliaments. A great deal that is done in the European Union is imperfect, and may indeed need to be improved—I am reminded of the suggestion that the EU should do less, but better—but the mechanisms for improvement are in place through, for example, the work of the European Scrutiny Committee. Moreover, as I reminded my constituent, decisions in Brussels are not made by bureaucrats. Regulations may be drafted by civil servants, but they are decided by Ministers of State, who have an important democratic legitimacy as a result.
It is important to strengthen the democratic accountability of the EU, and I should like that to be done through a continuation of the upgrading of the European Scrutiny Committee's work that took place during the last Parliament. It would be wrong to allow the Opposition to build an argument based on the idea, which is certainly not widely held among Labour Members or anywhere else, that people are claiming that the European Union is perfect. We need the type of reform envisaged in the treaty of Nice precisely because of the imperfection and precisely because we need to improve the capacity to make decisions and the quality of decision making at the European level.
Very many great challenges still lie ahead. Perhaps the greatest challenge is to overcome the disconnection between the citizens of Europe and the institutions of Europe, as is still being demonstrated in low turnout at European elections. Another challenge—which will not be resolved by the treaty of Nice—is to increase the transparency and democratic accountability of European institutions. Another important challenge, as I said, is to strengthen further the input and role of national Parliaments in the European Union decision-making process.
I hope that the Select Committee on European Scrutiny will continue to play the role of trying to improve the governance of Europe—a role that we played throughout the intergovernmental conference that led to the treaty of Nice. In future, I hope that not only our Select Committee but national Parliaments more generally will perform that type of role. I also hope that the role of COSAC—Conference of European Affairs Committees—which is the scrutiny committee that brings together representatives from national scrutiny committees, will be enhanced.
I am sure that, both in the House and across Europe, we shall have many interesting discussions as we prepare and look towards the 2004 intergovernmental conference, which will reshape the future of Europe. However, one thing is certain. Today, by Parliament's ratifying the treaty of Nice, Europe will take one more step towards that future. I believe that our ratification of the treaty will make it a better future.
To allow Conservative Members to prevent our ratification of the treaty of Nice, as they are seeking to do, would have the effect of diminishing Britain's role in the world and turning the clock back for the European Union by perhaps 50 years, to a time even before the treaty of Rome was signed. It would postpone, perhaps indefinitely, enlargement of the European Union. It would also, in the post-
I urge all hon. Members to join Labour Members in the Lobby to ratify the treaty of Nice. Our citizens want, need and deserve the security, prosperity and leadership that the European Union is being challenged—perhaps more so than ever before—to offer. I believe that the European Union now faces its greatest test: to show that it can deliver for the citizens of Europe. Let us ratify the treaty of Nice and enlarge the European Union, and let that test begin.
I am one of the diminishing number of hon. Members who voted in this place on the original legislation to take our United Kingdom into the Common Market. As is well known in the House, I voted against that legislation and am still opposed to it. We had a very warm and hot debate on that occasion, which ended with one of the Labour Whips using his Hansard report to batter the head of the then Liberal leader. There were other very warm scenes in that debate.
I believe that the sovereign states of Europe should co-operate fully together when they willingly want to co-operate together, in the spheres in which they want to practise that co-operation. I do not believe in the incorporation of sovereign states in a super-European state. Today, we have heard talk in the House about federalism, but we are not talking about that. Federalism is a policy by which so many people with so much power decide voluntarily to surrender part of that power and establish a federal system. That is not the system in Europe.
Mr. Prodi thinks that he has all the power. He does not ask us whether we would like to give up some power, but tells us, "We have this power, and we give you some say in how that power is used." Roger Casale referred to the many European directives. To deal with those directives, however, the House is offered only a scrutiny Committee. Even if that Committee said to Europe that it did not like a directive and voted unanimously against it, and even if the House endorsed that view, that would make no difference; the European law would stand.
In the earlier debates to which I referred one of the main arguments used to sell Europe to the House was that none of our sovereignty would be diminished. I do not think that, today, anyone looking back on our history would say that that is true; there has been a diminution in the sovereignty of the House. We know that because many cases of European law have made it clear that the House can only take note of decisions made in Europe. We do not have the power to change those decisions.
We were also told that we would have a power of veto, so that if the United Kingdom did not like what was being done in Europe, it could stop it. As we all know, however, there has been a great change in the voting system in Europe and we do not have a power of veto. In fact, much of the power of the majority is being diminished.
When we went into Europe, we had a master-card in one of our industries—the fishing industry. Britain had control of the largest part of the seas of the common market. What has happened? Now, we have to go with a begging bowl to Europe even to have the right to fish our own seas. I remind the House that we got into that serious situation because of the enlargement of Europe. Spain was one of the countries that entered the European Union, and it drove its ships right through the barriers that had been erected.
Some hon. Members know the sad story of our fleets. The Northern Ireland fleet has been cut in half, and now another third of it will be sacrificed. Around the shores of the United Kingdom mainland there is a dearth in the fishing industry. When we entered the common market we had full control and full authority in our own hands. Where did that control and authority go?
The new European Commission President, President Prodi, has taken to issuing statements on what will happen in Europe. The French Prime Minister, too, has issued his theory of what will happen in Europe. However, what is really happening in Europe is that the power of national Parliaments is being slowly diminished and debased, so that those Parliaments do not have the power to stop events in Europe.
Some have said that we have done well out of Europe, but Northern Ireland has not done well. Per head of population, Northern Ireland has not received back from Europe the money that it has paid in as a member of the United Kingdom. One would have thought that, by this time, we would have had that much. Until recently, the south of Ireland was receiving £5 million per day from the common market. That money has stopped now and, as we know, the Celtic tiger of its economy is going down the drain—we hear announcements daily on its vast economic drift. We have to face up to those issues.
Will our economy advance if we bring in other states? This country's farming economy will certainly not advance when we bring in the other countries of Europe. There will be produce on the market with which our farmers cannot contend. Our farmers have to meet the standards that we demand in our food production and ensure that those standards are upheld, whereas some of the countries that will be brought in adhere to very low standards indeed. Those of us who know something about the workings of the European Parliament know that when Greece joined with its low standards of agriculture, subsidies to the rest were withdrawn and an attempt was made to raise Greek agriculture to a decent standard. If that happens with all the countries that wish to join at present, I do not know what will happen to agriculture. More and more people are coming to realise that the common agricultural policy is not good for farmers or for the housewife, and the House should carefully consider that issue. I will, of course, vote against the treaty tonight.
In my parliamentary career, I have usually been called at about ten minutes to 9, by which time the Whips are telling me to keep my contribution down to five minutes, so I am grateful to catch your eye so early, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, I shall bear in mind your admonition and be as brief as possible so that others can make their contributions to the debate.
It is an honour to take part in a debate that has included a contribution from Mr. Jackson, who is unfortunately not in his place at the moment. He has the honour—if I may call it that—of being the only hon. Member who has beaten me in an election. I stood against him in 1987, but despite that he was the first Member to greet me when I arrived here in 1997 and to give me a kindly welcome to the House. It is a pleasure for me to be on the same side of the argument with him tonight.
It was also a pleasure to follow the passionate and eloquent remarks of Rev. Ian Paisley. He mentioned the pooling—or the loss, as he would put it—of sovereignty that this country has experienced as a result of joining the European Union, but we chose to do so voluntarily. We made a democratic decision to put our sovereignty into the pool because we perceived that we would get democratic benefits from doing so. If those benefits have not materialised, we have serious work to do to obtain them. The fact remains that we took the decision to give up some of our freedom because we felt that that would increase our influence and effectiveness.
As the hon. Gentleman spoke, I was reminded of my experience in the past few years of coaching a boys' football team in my constituency. I started coaching them when they were nine, and finished last year when they were 16. When they were nine, they were tiny little boys who each felt that they had complete freedom to run anywhere they liked on the pitch. We more or less convinced the goalkeeper that he had to stay towards the back, but the rest felt that they could do whatever they liked. When one got the ball, it was head down and straight for the goal, with not a thought of passing it or involving any other member of the team. Over the years of coaching that football team, we convinced them that they would be more effective if, instead of playing as 11 individuals, they were a team of 11 players. They had more impact for their effort if they limited their personal freedom and one stayed on the left wing, one stayed on the right wing, one of them went up front, some of them stayed in the middle and some stayed at the back. They limited their freedom, but they became more effective and won more matches. They got more bang for their buck. In other words they pooled their personal sovereignty, but they got something back for it, just as we did as a nation when we joined NATO.
Earlier, we discussed article 5, which is a far greater pooling of sovereignty than anything in the treaty of Nice. It requires us, almost with no ability to modify our undertaking, to go to the aid of any nation in NATO that is under attack. We have no choice in the matter because we have agreed that if one of our NATO colleagues is attacked we will go to war to defend it. We gave up our freedom of action because it made us safer and gave us the power of those other countries at our back to protect us in our turn.
If the events of
The vision that I have continued to develop since the terrible events of
The treaty is about extending qualified majority voting so that we can make decisions in that way. The only criticism that I have of the treaty in the light of what happened on
Sometimes our constituents do not recognise the arcane discussions that we have about sovereignty, the treaty and various articles. They look to what the EU can do for them, and I have no problem with that. My constituency of South Thanet is in east Kent, and we probably get more benefits from Europe than anywhere else. Enlargement will mean a large share for us of that annual £1.76 billion of extra business. It will mean more exports from east Kent businesses and more jobs in east Kent in transport, manufacturing and services.
I can already show my constituents what we have done with objective 2 money in Thanet, which still has one of the highest unemployment rates in the UK. It was the EU that came to our aid with money when the then British Government would not. I can show my constituents what Europe has built for us. I can show them estates where adolescents—they are just kids, really—are already alcoholics on bootlegged booze. The only way to deal with that problem is to address the movement of alcohol and bootlegging across Europe. I can show them drug addicts and tell them about what the EU is doing to crack down on the movement of drugs. I can tell them about our current security concerns regarding the channel tunnel, Manston airport or the ports at Dover and Ramsgate. We can deal with those security problems only as part of the European Union.
Big words like constitutional issues and democratisation are very important to us in the House when we talk about the future of Europe, but other things matter more in the street. We must always keep in mind the vision that the EU means that our country will be stronger and more prosperous.
Finally, it has been said that the EU has brought an end to war in Europe. We remember the horrors of the second world war, but the war in Europe has been going on for 3,000 years. Those who doubt that should come to my constituency. I can show them Richborough castle, which was built by Julius Caesar, or the beaches where the Vikings landed. I can show them where Hengist and Horsa arrived from Saxony, and decided to stay and build the English nation. I can show them Ramsgate, built to fight Napoleon, or the business park—now occupied by Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company—that was built as part of the fighting effort in the first world war. I can take them to Manston airport, one of the bases involved in the battle of Britain.
We have been fighting the Europeans for thousands of years, but the existence of the European Union means that that battle is at an end. It means that we are bringing security to Europe, as well as prosperity. The treaty of Nice aids that process, and the House should ratify it tonight.
I enjoyed the speech by Dr. Ladyman, and the football analogy that he made. However, a football match lasts only for an afternoon, whereas when currencies, freedoms and vetoes are given up, they are given up for ever. That is an important distinction.
I certainly want a forward-looking Europe, but the Bill could lead to a regressive Europe. We want Europe to seek to expand its borders and to enhance its citizens' security, but the Bill will act to compound the introspective, exclusive, rich-member-club mentality that currently pervades many of Europe's institutions.
To my mind, the Europe of the future should place our destiny in the context of the world economy. The new reality is one of reduced tariffs, and there is a move towards ending protectionism. I fear, however, that this Bill will serve to hide Europe under a stone, and that it will defer the inevitable impact of world competition, improved technology and communications, and the massive strides achieved over recent years by the lightly regulated developing nations.
The weakening in the treaty of the position of the individual member state is clear. It is evident in article 4 of protocol A, which relates to the size of the European Commission. It reduces the number of Commissioners for Britain, France, Germany and Italy and will reduce the number again when the EU expands to 27 members.
That weakening is also evident in article 214.2, which provides that the Commission President would be nominated by member states acting by qualified majority voting rather than by unanimity. It is also evident in the re-weighting of member states' votes. That re-weighting means that, in a union of 27 states, the United Kingdom's votes will fall from 12.2 per cent. of the total to 8.4 per cent. That point has not been made yet this evening.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the UK's position will in fact be greatly enhanced? We have the same number of weighted votes—29—as Germany, even though that country has a population of 82 million, which is 25 million more than our 57 million?
That point has been made several times in this debate. The distribution of weighted votes changes as the number of member states rises. After enlargement, the UK's position is likely to deteriorate.
Of the existing 70 treaty articles requiring unanimity, some 29 are moved to qualified majority voting, and it is important that people fully realise how we will be undermining our current veto powers in many key areas. The point was made very clearly by my right hon. Friend Mr. Heathcoat–Amory. Those areas include external border checks, conditions for freedom of movement for third-country nationals, asylum laws, financial assistance to aid member states in financial difficulties, the introduction of the euro, trade policy, social provisions concerning working conditions and social exclusion, support for industry, economic co-operation with third countries, procedures and rules for the Court of Auditors and procedures for allowing other states to join. To my mind, there is therefore no doubt that the effect of the treaty will be to reduce our veto powers and thereby our power within the EU.
The treaty goes much further, however. The Bill assumes that by weakening the powers of individual nation states, European institutions will somehow become more adaptable to an enlarged union. To my mind, that is an exercise in papering over the cracks. The problems of the European Union will not be solved by tinkering with the voting systems of its institutions, as the problems do not mainly lie with how votes are cast but with the institutions themselves.
The European Union seems to find it very easy to blame its difficulties on what it sees as its current unwieldy voting systems. It frequently blames the slowness of the enlargement process on the candidate member states' economies, yet it remains reluctant to look into its own structural problems. We need to realise that countries in the east of Europe frequently operate their economies more efficiently than we operate ours. It is all too easy to assume that those countries are backward and ought to comply with our own—sometimes outdated—institutions and regulations.
The Nice treaty almost totally ignores that reality. It looks at ways of bolstering the inadequate institutions of the EU. For instance, its effect will not in any way amend the provisions of the common agricultural policy. Many hon. Members have mentioned the CAP in the debate, but the treaty will provide additional mechanisms to keep new member states out of the CAP.
It is true that there are more farmers in Poland than in the rest of Europe added together, and that the cost of the CAP would mean that it probably would not last a week there, if it were adopted. However, the position of agriculture will not be improved by banning Poland's access to the CAP and by effectively introducing double trading conditions for agricultural products from the east. I should be interested to hear from the Minister how the European institutions are likely to be strengthened by the treaty, or how the basic community concept of free movement of goods and services will be enhanced.
Article 137 of the treaty will subject to qualified majority voting social provisions concerning health and safety at work, working conditions, information and consultation of workers, social exclusion and modernisation of social protection systems. Again, it is quite clear what the aim is. The provisions will be used as a method of curtailing the competitive advantage of eastern states that have lower labour and production costs than we do. I predict that it will also be used to force the UK to adopt more and more European employment regulations, each of which will continue to chip away at our own country's relatively free economy—or what is left of it after this Government's adoption of the social chapter and the raft of new regulations introduced over recent years. Further proposed regulations—such as paternity rights, and statutory rights for paid leave for adoptive parents—will also have an effect. Article 137 will certainly not aid European enlargement in any way.
In the same way, article 157, which it requires the EU to ensure that the conditions necessary for the competitiveness of its industry exist, could well become a licence to intervene in the businesses of nation states, thus reducing their efficiency, disrupting market forces and creating yet more uneven and politically motivated playing fields. Furthermore, it would be interesting to know whether the Government have considered the costs involved in supporting outdated industries in the context of the Bill, as this policy could be extremely costly.
The days when the Government and the European Union said that they did not want a two-speed Europe are long gone. Now it is quite the reverse. The treaty of Nice is clearly aimed at enabling a multi-class Europe in which certain members can be made second-class citizens to shore up the outdated institutions that were formed on the premise of a single-speed Europe.
In theory, the new voting proposals adopting the concept of a multi-speed Europe could have been drafted so as to provide a flexibility that would have enabled member states to opt out of further integration proposals to which they may have objected, but the abolition of vetoes makes that unlikely. In practice, I fear that we will see the levelling down of members' competitive advantages, the banning of goods from new eastern European members, and the restriction of their people's freedom to work in the west. Unfortunately, rather than aiding enlargement, the treaty of Nice could be used as a baton to reinforce a sophisticated anti-dumping strategy against new eastern European members in particular.
So far I have expressed my concerns about the further loss of our national competitive trade advantages and about how the treaty could effectively be used to hinder rather than aid enlargement. However, I believe that we need to put the treaty of Nice into the global context. Here, too, I have concerns.
One of the effects of the Nice treaty will be to provide the mechanics to support the collection of values, many of them alien to the traditions of this country, that have been built up in western European countries over the past few decades. I refer to the cults of bureaucracy, politically motivated redistribution and inefficient welfare systems. Many eastern European countries are prepared to pay a very high cost for entry to the European Union, so they may well agree to bear the pain of entry—to lose their competitive advantages, to accept being regarded as second-class European citizens and to turn a blind eye to the excesses of "welfarism" to which they will have to subject their young economies. We can, at the same time, be fairly sure that the countries of the far east and the developing countries of the lndian subcontinent, Africa and south America are unlikely to follow the same route.
We live in a global economy—a massive trading area where competition is fierce, the World Trade Organisation is breaking down tariffs and protectionism against developing countries, and wage and production costs are already lower. That is the direction in which we are heading.
The dissolution of the old eastern bloc has made international relations more, not less, complicated. Our recent requests for developing countries' help in maintaining the so-called new world order might not come cheap. Is there any truth in the report that Pakistan is to have a number of the tariffs on its products cut or abolished as part of the arrangements for our war on terrorism? ln any event, my point is that the world is moving towards free trade and low production costs, while the Nice treaty will be used for the opposite effect.
I recently spoke to the owner of some call centres in the United Kingdom. The company has recently set up a call centre in India, employing graduates who speak perfect English and cost one fifth of UK equivalent employees. Modern communications mean that calls made to India cost the same as those to a call centre in Glasgow. Thousands of what would have been British jobs are to be lost and we do not seem to appreciate that globalisation is no longer a future threat but a present reality. Indeed, the European Union as a whole does not seem to appreciate that.
The question arises as to whether the forces of federalism in Europe actually want enlargement of the Union. If new member states join before federalism is achieved, it is unlikely that the cause of federalism will be advanced by any of the new members. Could this be part of the reason why a treaty that was meant to be instituted for the purposes of encouraging enlargement could be used for the opposite effect? Could member states that support federalism be holding back on allowing enlargement until such time as plans for federalism are in place, effectively using enlargement as a bargaining chip for their own ends?
The issue will become clearer as we head for the constitutional conference planned by the European Union for 2004. However, I suggest that the countries of eastern Europe are worth more than bargaining chips, and that we ignore the urgent need to widen the Union and enhance European security at our peril.
Europe is at an important crossroads. We can accept the inevitability of the global economy and use the opportunity of enlargement to restructure our European institutions, embrace the new economy and sustain our long-term viability. Alternatively, we can stifle what enterprise and competitive advantages still remain on our continent.
To my mind, the treaty of Nice will be used to facilitate the latter option. That will, I am sure, be to the detriment of British business and employment prospects. That is why I continue to oppose the Bill.
I had intended to start my speech by saying that the single word "Europe" seems to inspire extraordinary feats of imaginative power, but I had not reckoned on the speech of Mr. Djanogly. It seemed to beat even the imaginative powers of Nicholas Ridley, who said years ago of the European Union:
"This is all a German racket designed to take over the whole of Europe."
Myths and misunderstandings may not matter in many areas of life. I say that as someone who, as a child, believed for many years not only in Santa Claus but that the Lord's prayer went, "Our Father, a chart in heaven, Harold be thy name." Why Harold should have been His name, I have no idea. I was also confused in the collects by the author of peace and the lover of concord, which at least had some European context.
It is very important that we do not have myths and misunderstandings about this issue. When I go round my constituency in the Rhondda, it is very rare for anybody to mention the European Union to me. However, a few people do and one of the most common things said is, "I voted for a common market, not the European Union." We have heard that sentiment several times today from Conservative Members.
To say that there is a difference between a common market and the European Union is a false dichotomy. The free movement of goods when it comes to buying cars at EU prices in this country should, of course, be easier. However, without addressing issues of state aid and unfair competition from article 87, which was article 92 in the treaty, it will be impossible to bring about a common market.
The United Kingdom is the only country in the world, apart from the United States of America, that has a positive balance of trade in audio-visual services. If we are to achieve further gains in selling our television programmes, films and CDs in France, Germany and Italy, we will have to change copyright law and ensure further harmonisation across the EU.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way to me. As he is not certain about the difference between the common market and the European Union, may I ask him to comment on a specific example? I have friends in the police force who were forced to change their shift pattern as a result of a European directive. They did not want to, but had to change to a pattern that made them more tired and meant that they enjoyed the job less and did it less effectively. Why is it necessary for decisions about the shift patterns of our police forces to be dictated at a supranational level?
I do not know the instance to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but on the broader issue of how we achieve a common market, we have to stray into areas that might otherwise be considered to have nothing to do with trade. As I said, copyright could be considered to be an area that is primarily of cultural significance and, therefore, the prerogative solely of member states, but if we are to achieve a common market in audio-visual services, we have to consider copyright.
There is now a common European market in drugs. That is an established fact and, therefore, we have to have a common law enforcement policy. It need not cover every detail, but we need enhanced co-operation between the police and other organisations throughout Europe if we are to deal with a problem that affects us in this country.
One can produce countless examples to show that trying merely to produce a common market for which people originally voted requires us now to stray into areas that might otherwise be considered as creating a union. What people voted for many years ago is also no longer relevant because the world has changed. When I was born, people did not travel as much as they do now. The health service in other countries now matters just as much to my constituents as the health service in this country, not least because a quarter of them travel to Spain every year. Whether they receive support from the health service in Spain, and the quality of that service, are what matters to them. It also matters to them whether the aeroplane in which they are travelling has met certain safety standards and whether health and safety regulations are incorporated in the laws of Spain, France, Italy, Germany and all the other countries they visit. Consumer protection is an essential part of the changed world, which we must now incorporate to meet the original objectives of the union.
Another misunderstanding that has been perpetrated by Conservative Members is that it is an issue of either the United States or the European Union—we have to be with one or the other. That view is particularly prevalent on the Tory Benches and may, indeed, be shared by the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Duncan Smith. I gather that one of his prominent supporters in the Chingford Conservative party told him immediately after he announced that he was standing for the leadership that he would rather be in the 53rd state of America than join Europe, and apparently the right hon. Gentleman agreed. We will ignore the figures, which are obviously a mistake—but Conservatives are not very good on facts. It is patently untrue that Britain has to make a single choice between the United States of America and the European Union.
My rather more obscure difficulty with some of the views expressed today—another myth—stems from further back, to 1848, when Palmerston said:
"We have no eternal allies and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow."
Those words are often repeated. It is profoundly wrong that we should now try to maintain that view as the foundation stone of our diplomatic efforts. As we must know by now, allies for a day are not allies that are worth having any longer. True patriotic diplomacy builds long-term, not just short-term, alliances. Our interests change from year to year.
On the treaty, we need to ask only three questions. The first is whether further reform is desirable and/or necessary. We have already heard the Conservative answer. We heard it in May 1992 when, in his maiden speech, the Leader of the Opposition said:
"If now is not the time to put the line in the sand and say, 'Thus far and no further', when are we to say that?"—[Hansard, 20 May 1992; Vol. 208, c. 357.]
He was referring to the Maastricht treaty—and Conservative Members clearly agree with that view now, judging from what they have said today.
At that time, however, the right hon. Gentleman seemed to oppose any change. Even if that treaty had been changed, as the shadow Foreign Secretary suggested we might change this treaty in some a-la-carte way to make it acceptable, it would not have been improved in his view—this is obscure, I fear. He also said that a bite from a Rottweiller hurts just as much as a bite from a Pekinese. [Interruption.] That was the view of the Leader of the Opposition, who was wrong then and is wrong now.
Enlargement is vital. Whatever some hon. Members have said, it is at the heart of the issue under debate. Improved trade for United Kingdom businesses will undoubtedly follow from enlargement. Rev. Ian Paisley referred to the problems when Spain acceded to the EU, but British trade with Spain increased by 40 per cent. in the two years following its accession. We can expect similar benefits for British industry with the accession of the other 12 applicant members.
United Kingdom industry needs to compete on a level playing field with that of Poland and the other countries that will be coming into the EU. That will not happen unless we advance enlargement at some speed. Furthermore, we need the applicant countries to adopt the principles that we have to adopt on state aid. Improved travel safety throughout the 12 applicant countries would also be good. Hon. Members have also said that politics in eastern Europe will be stabilised, which would be an essential result of enlargement. I submit to Conservative Members that that cannot happen unless the decision-making processes of the EU—in the Council, the Commission and the Parliament—change. There are too many Commissioners. There should be fewer if the Commission is to do its business effectively and expeditiously. It is unimaginable for 27 countries to produce 35 Commissioners. The process of appointing the President of the Commission is unsustainable now, and would be even more so. If we do not make the changes required by the treaty of Nice, it will lead to poor decisions. The common commercial policy of article 214 is a significant advance, as is the improved article 31, which will make a significant difference for this country.
We need to improve the effectiveness of the EU in international negotiations. The French determination to ensure that cultural and intellectual property issues are always treated under unanimity may in the long term prove to be a mistake for this country. Of course, we need the speeding up of the Court of First Instance and the European Court of Justice, which will be expedited by the treaty.
Therefore, the first question we must ask is whether reform is desirable and/or necessary, but the next question is whether it is a good deal for the UK. Contrary to what Mr. Djanogly said in his inaccurate portrayal of re-weighting in the Council and the reassignation of votes, Britain will get a better deal. Furthermore, our ability to block proposals that will not be in our interests will be improved. Unanimity on tax, social security, defence, budget, border controls and treaty change will be preserved, which is essential—it is what we went into this process hoping to achieve.
Finally, we must ask ourselves whether this is the right time for us to ratify the treaty. Contrary to what several Conservative Members said, if we vote against ratification this evening we will undoubtedly delay enlargement. One hon. Member suggested that it would be possible to call an intergovernmental conference tomorrow if we really wanted to. Clearly, that is living in cloud cuckoo land. The processes of unpicking the treaty and reconstituting another would take a considerable number of months. Furthermore, if this country were to say that we did not want to go forward with ratification, I would doubt that we would see enlargement in the next 10 years, let alone the next 10 months.
On the Irish referendum, I recognise that the unanimity principle should, and always will, apply to treaty change, but that does not mean that because one small country has voted, every other country must adopt exactly the same position as that first country. It is a profoundly undemocratic process to say, "They have decided, so we cannot even take a decision for ourselves."
What was my hon. Friend's view on the slogan that was used by the eventual victors in the referendum in Ireland:
"If you don't know, vote No"?
Was it a victory for ignorance or for common sense?
I thank my hon. Friend. I started my comments this evening by saying that the great myth-making machine that has spread itself throughout the European Union, largely assisted by members of the Conservative party as they wander around Europe, has been profoundly unhelpful to the debate and has made it far more difficult for Britain to get advantages for our country.
I agree in the end with the words of de Gaulle in 1959:
"Yes, it is Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals, it is Europe, the whole of Europe that will decide the fate of the world."
It is a unique moment in the post-war history of the world for Europe to act as the world champion for democracy, for internationalism, for justice and, indeed, for peace. We can take that forward only if we ratify the treaty.
We have gone over quite a lot of old ground this afternoon, leading me to misquote the late great F.E. Smith—leaving me perhaps none the wiser, but certainly better informed. I shall try not to cover that old ground, but instead concentrate on the matter before us tonight.
The treaty of Nice, we were told, is vital to the enlargement process. Indeed, the Government's election manifesto claimed:
"It is vital we ratify the Treaty of Nice which is essential to enlargement"— so it must be true. But as we heard this afternoon, on
"a slap in the face of the applicant countries".
The Germans "regretted the Irish decision". The Slovaks were "disappointed by the vote". Those sentiments were understandable. After all, was not the treaty about enlargement? The treaty was dead, or at least on hold, so it stands that enlargement, too, must be in the same predicament. As if to confirm that view, Romano Prodi hot-footed it over to Ireland to reassure the Irish that they had misunderstood the treaty and that all would be well.
However, enlargement was not totally dead. In an interview with The Irish Times—these are not off-the-cuff remarks, as suggested by my hon. Friend Mr. Jackson—Mr. Prodi explained that "thankfully", the treaty of Amsterdam allowed for enlargement of up to a total of 20 countries. He continued:
"It's without any problem up to 20 members, and those beyond 20 members have only to put in the accession agreement some notes of change, some clause. But legally, it's not necessary. This does not mean the Irish referendum is not important. But from this specific point of view, enlargement is possible without Nice".
"would not affect the enlargement process. We would continue with the same speed and the same quality."
Could enlargement be possible without Nice? It must be so, despite mixed signals from the Foreign Secretary, who said in the Chamber:
"It is true that a treaty is necessary for enlargement; it is not true in a legal and technical sense that the Nice treaty is necessary for enlargement. We would have to have an alternative treaty. Nice is what is available at the moment."—[Hansard, 22 June 2001; Vol. 370, c. 287.]
Those sentiments were reiterated this afternoon, and are reiterated now and again, by the Minister for Europe.
Was Nice about enlargement? After all that hype and hot air, was it really relevant to enlargement? Closer examination of the documents that emanated from Nice reveal a different story. The truth is that the bulk of the business at Nice had nothing to do with enlargement. Members may have been surprised to hear from my hon. Friend Mrs. Browning that the annexes detailing the process for enlargement account for only about 5 per cent. of the contents of the treaty and the presidency conclusions. So much for Nice being all about enlargement. The amendments proposed by the Nice treaty are not yet in force, nor will they be until at least the end of 2002. It is reported that a second Irish referendum will not take place until after the Irish general election, which must be held by June 2002, and no doubt pressure will be brought to bear on the recalcitrant Irish between now and then.
As I have said, we are assured that enlargement will go ahead irrespective, so I ask again, what was Nice really about? Opposition Members have been strong supporters of the enlargement process. We said—and speaker after speaker has said it again this afternoon—that we would ratify tomorrow a treaty that was genuinely about enlargement. Therefore, we are right to oppose the Bill. It has virtually nothing to do with enlargement, and anyway, as my right hon. Friend Mr. Ancram said, we may like the lock, but we do not like the stock and the barrels.
I add one remark before I finish. Our Belgian friends hold the presidency of the European Union. To put them out of their misery, will someone please tell them the truth behind the Nice treaty? They, too, are labouring under a misapprehension. The Belgian presidency makes much of future enlargement:
"With the new Treaty of Nice, the door has been opened once and for all for the biggest enlargement operation in the history of the European Union"— not, as we have heard this afternoon, that the Belgian Government have done much to ratify the treaty.
Only one thing will genuinely pave the way for successful enlargement, and it is not the Nice treaty. I say that as one who passionately believes in enlargement. My right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes has an Italian grandmother. We heard that Mr. Campbell had a Glaswegian grandmother. Well, I have a Slovenian mother-in-law, desperate to be enlarged—or rather, desperate for the land of her birth to be admitted into the family of Europe—and I suspect that she is influenced by her upbringing in a communist environment, an experience that she no doubt shares with the late grandmother of the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
It is my belief that the only thing that can pave the way for a successful enlargement is reform of the common agricultural policy—a subject that, I note, is treated, whenever mentioned, like the plague. The last attempt, as we all know, at limited reform of the common agricultural policy was made by the German presidency in 1999. I agree with my right hon. Friend Mr. Heathcoat-Amory, who argued that it is time for the issue to be addressed once and for all. That is certainly what the people to whom I speak in Devon and the west country generally are saying. Without the immediate reform of the CAP, they view all the other arguments and discussions as irrelevant. There is no doubt that people have been left feeling alienated, disconnected and, frankly, bewildered by our discussions on the extension of qualified majority voting and other matters that seem to them to be far removed from their everyday lives.
In conclusion, the Nice treaty represents a missed opportunity. The Conservative party envisages a modern, forward-looking and flexible Europe, which also addresses the inherent problems that have been discussed in this debate. We will continue to work to that end, but we do not recognise any of that in the Nice treaty, and that is why we shall oppose its ratification.
I do not agree with Mr. Swire, who seems to approach the EU with almost theological principles—as, I am afraid, do some of my hon. Friends, but from another point of view. I approach the EU from the point of view of a pragmatist, and most people in Europe share that view. Many of my hon. Friends who have pressed the case to accelerate integration and the deepening of the EU should be very careful about their desire to press forward.
The people of Europe have generally indicated that they are somewhat disconnected from the political process, especially in relation to the EU. We would be ill advised to disregard the increasing scepticism that the people of Europe feel towards the political class and the European project. To its credit, the EU recognised that problem in a discussion document that was issued during the summer. It is an amazing document; it says, "Look at us—aren't we unpopular?" Some 87 per cent. of the people sampled by the EU for the document said that they had no connection at all to the debate about the Nice treaty—it had no relevance to them. That view occasioned breast beating in the Commission and by the presidency. To try to improve things, they proposed to wipe away 80,000 pages of treaty text and documentation and to simplify the vocabulary that they use in an attempt to increase transparency and accountability.
If we were to apply the Hemsworth test, or that of any of our constituencies, to the EU, we would find that the problem was not so much one of the various treaties, which we may or may not have signed, containing superfluous pages, but whether our constituents and the people of Europe felt that they had access to prosperity. That is the test that we should use to judge the processes of enlargement and integration.
It is undoubtedly the case that prosperity probably will be enhanced by the EU's enlargement. The Minister referred to a £4 billion increase in gross domestic product. That figure may or may not be accurate, but I have no doubt that an enlarged market would generate increased wealth over time. We know that market economies do not operate in ways that guarantee the equality of access to that prosperity for all the people in that market. The EU's founding fathers and mothers well understood the processes of social exclusion and social division that can work alongside the enhancement of wealth and prosperity. That is why they devised several mechanisms to attempt to safeguard the communities that would suffer from exclusion because of the enlargement and strengthening of the European market.
I accept that the British economy will benefit from the increased prosperity generated by the EU's enlargement, but it would be preposterous to argue that that will have a completely even effect across all the communities that we represent. It is clear that further restructuring will take place in the British economy as a result of enlargement. If labour costs in the east are compared with those in the United Kingdom, it is apparent to everyone that British companies may well seek to take advantage of the larger market, but not necessarily by using British labour. In fact, British jobs may be displaced by labour in the east. To take a long-term, historical view, that may not be a bad thing, but we will be failing in our duty if we do not acknowledge that that will be an inevitable consequence of enlargement. The treaty of Nice and the Bill should be used to enhance some of the powers contained in the instruments that the EU devised. I am afraid that, by that test, the treaty of Nice fails.
I shall briefly refer to three of the available mechanisms, the first of which is the ability of a national Government to use their tax and spending powers to help to control economic activity within their national boundaries. That will certainly be circumscribed if we are to enter into the later stages of monetary union. Most hon. Members will know about the growth and stability pact, which has already led the EU and the Chancellor to cross swords over his spending plans. Given the possibility that the economy will go through a rough period, the growth and stability pact may well impact on the British Government's public expenditure and tax plans. That is worrying and may lead to the circumscribing of the national Government's powers to protect those communities that could be affected by enlargement and the world downturn.
My second point is that the structural funds were devised in the knowledge that the European market would have a differential impact on different communities—for example, some would suffer from exclusion. That will be the case in the future. Women, migrant groups and those in peripheral areas or areas of traditional industry have all suffered from the restructuring promoted by the EU. All of them were recipients—perhaps insufficiently in some respects—of structural funding, but enlargement of the community to the east poses big questions as to whether structural funds will be adequate to protect communities such as the one that I represent.
The third mechanism is contentious, but it is an important tool in the armoury of anyone wishing to resist the processes of fragmentation and social exclusion. Article 137, the so-called social chapter, is barely moved forward by this Bill. Given Mr. Deputy Speaker's strictures, I will not go into that matter, but I have studied in detail the social chapter and the documents on it produced by the Library. I believe that it is possible to argue that article 137 has been weakened. It certainly has not been strengthened and we need such instruments to protect us and to ensure that the prosperity that Ministers and those leading the British nation's negotiations have promised is to be shared by all our communities.
I utter a word of caution. If we find that enlargement produces further social division and exclusion as the result of the aggregation of wealth elsewhere, we will pay. We have already received a clear warning in the European elections, in various referendums and in the general election that people are becoming disaffected. If they believe that powers are escaping from the nation state and they do not regard the EU as an ally, I fear for the future. With that warning, I look forward with interest to the rest of the debate.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, having spoken on earlier stages of the Bill.
I speak on behalf of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru. Our position on EU matters is well established. We are in favour of full national status for Scotland and Wales, with their having equality of status with other member states. We seek a seat at the top table and do not wish to hang on the coat tails of Westminster Ministers. We do not believe that Scotland and Wales are too poor, too stupid or too peripheral to have a direct say at the top table in Europe.
As a democrat, I am always in favour of pushing democratic policies. That is the future for Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom and Europe. Perhaps even the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that, from a Scottish and Welsh perspective, there is a certain irony in the fact that our nations are about to be overtaken by accession nations that were formerly members of the Warsaw pact. Quite rightly, they will take their seat at the top table before us.
I wish to discuss the specifics of the Bill and the two guiding principles of the SNP's and Plaid Cymru's attitude towards it. Many Members have spoken about enlargement and the wish to end the artificial division of our continent—Mr. Jackson put that case most eloquently. To achieve that end, we will, in a bipartisan spirit, join the non- Eurosceptic parties in the House and vote for the Bill. That is our first guiding principle.
The second relates to the fact that the Bill will not hinder the progress of Scotland and Wales towards the normality of full national status, should the people of Scotland and Wales desire that. Contrary to the view expressed by some Conservative Members, the Nice treaty entrenches the rights of nation states. Through qualified minority thresholds and provisions for minorities, the EU is a confederal and not a federal Europe. We welcome that.
In the past, some people hoped for a strong Europe of the regions, and that model has been outlined by my Plaid Cymru colleague, Mr. Thomas. Everyone acknowledges that that is no longer a prospect and that the only show in town is full national member status.
On the re-weighting of Council voting, it is interesting that the Nice treaty makes it explicitly clear for the first time that direct representation by the nations of these islands would secure more votes than Britain is currently entitled to under the treaty. According to the re-weighting and the predication on a population basis incorporated in table 2 of the declaration on the enlargement of the European Union, Scotland would have seven votes, which is seven more than at present; Wales would have four votes, four more than at present; and England could have no fewer than 27 votes. That would give a grand total of 38 votes as opposed to the planned 29. If, as unionists on both sides of the House argue, we always share the same interest, surely it makes sense to increase our voting strength by 40 per cent.
There are some unresolved issues. During the Committee stage, I asked the Minister to clarify
"how many MEPs Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will have after the ratification of the Nice treaty" and enlargement. He replied:
"That matter has still to be addressed. I am being absolutely frank with the hon. Gentleman when I tell him that the reduction from, I think, 87 to 72 MEPs is a long way into the future."—[Hansard, 18 July 2001; Vol. 371, c. 380.]
That may be the case, but three months have elapsed since then and it appears that the matter has still not been addressed. That is not good enough. If the reduction is universally applied, Scotland will have the same number of MEPs or fewer than Luxembourg, which has a population similar in size to that of Edinburgh. Scotland has a six-party parliamentary system, so democratic balance will not be served. Wales will have fewer MEPs than Malta, which has a population about the same size as that of Cardiff. Wales has a four-party system and, again, democratic balance will not be served. I was not present when Rev. Ian Paisley spoke, but I know that all parties in Northern Ireland are extremely alarmed at the prospect for cross-community representation should their numbers be reduced.
We were disappointed that Conservative Back Benchers and Government and Tory whips made no effort to allow time for our amendment to deal with that anomaly to be debated or voted on in Committee. If we face a reduction in Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish MEPs, the point will have been made with great clarity that once again the big UK parties acted against the interests of our countries.
I want the Minister to address that concern and would welcome an intervention by Labour MPs who represent Scottish or Welsh constituencies. I see that Mr. Luke has just left the Chamber. I think that he hopes to speak and I will welcome his contribution. Unfortunately, the sole Conservative Member who represents a Scottish constituency has not attended the debate. [Hon. Members: "Yes, he has."] If he returns to the Chamber perhaps he will say whether the Conservatives agree that Scotland and Wales deserve to have their levels of representation in the European Parliament reduced. Should Scotland and Wales be directly represented, that difficulty would be academic because our representation would increase to 13 and seven respectively.
The Nice treaty gives rise to other problematic issues if viewed from a Scottish and Welsh perspective. They were presented during the negotiations in Nice and vetoed by the UK Government, so they are not part of the treaty. That has created an ironic situation. The Labour and Liberal Democrat Executive in the Scottish Parliament have endorsed the policy that there should be direct Scottish representation in the European Court of Justice, but the British Government vetoed that. Again, I should like to know whether our Welsh and especially our Scottish colleagues support the UK Government's policy, which does not favour increasing Scottish direct representation, or whether they support our colleagues in Edinburgh who do.
It is useful to raise the problematic issues that arose when the Nice treaty was negotiated because it allows hon. Members from outside Scotland and Wales to be aware of the difficulty that we face because of the lack of representation in the UK. When the treaty was negotiated, Scottish Executive Ministers had attended only 9 per cent. of the meetings held by the Council of Ministers. [Interruption.] I hear a Labour Member say, "Shame." I agree entirely. It is disgraceful that they do not take seriously their important role of representing our interests in Europe, although some hon. Members might rightly say that representation at the Council of Ministers is not the most important consideration because many decisions are made beforehand in working groups at an EU level.
Interestingly, Scottish Executive civil servants attended only 75 of about 4,500 working group meetings—an attendance record of a paltry 1.6 per cent. When the Nice treaty was negotiated, Scotland's Europe Minister, Jack McConnell, had never attended a Council meeting. The Scottish Justice Minister, the Liberal Democrat Jim Wallace, had attended only one and had missed the previous seven. There is absolutely no excuse for that.
The difficulties in the negotiations and the unsatisfactory results in many cases show that the current intergovernmental method of treaty reform cannot tackle the challenges that the EU faces. The European Council was well aware of the shortcomings of its decisions and decided therefore to annex to the treaty a declaration describing the steps for the next reform of the EU. The Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru, as part of the Green-European Free Alliance group in the European Parliament, believe that the declaration is ambiguous and postpones for many years—at least until 2004—the deadline for a decision on which direction the EU should take. Furthermore, member states' Governments intend to decide about the next reform of the EU with the usual inefficient and undemocratic method that failed at Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice—namely, an intergovernmental conference, which would happen in 2004.
In the declaration there are also aspects that can prepare the way for a decisive change of direction for European integration, away from a mere diplomatic negotiation towards a process open to the participation of member state and sub-state Parliaments, the European Parliament, the Commission and civil society. Building on an inclusive bottom-up democratic process from now to 2004 could also offer a vital opportunity to define new priorities facing the EU.
Having listed many shortcomings, I return to the key principles with which I started. Is it right that this Bill should be passed to allow enlargement to go forward? The Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru clearly believe that that should be the case; that is why we will be voting with the Government. The second and equally important reason for our support for the Bill is that it does not preclude Scotland and Wales from moving to the normal status of being independent member states of the European Union.