I have now to announce the result of the Division deferred from a previous day. On the motion on race relations, the Ayes were 260, the Noes were 16, so the motion was agreed to.
[The Division List is published at the end of today's debates.]
I must remind hon. Members that between 5 pm and 6.30 pm, Mr. Speaker has imposed a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.
I was one of the House of Commons representatives on the Convention, but I was also our national parliamentary representative on the Praesidium and, since that was the drafting committee, I must probably plead more guilty than most of the final outcome. The draft is a good basis for the Government to work on, and I was delighted to hear the Foreign Secretary say so. It is a basis, not a framework within which only the Convention determines what should be debated further.
The United Kingdom Government will have a difficult job in a number of areas. I want to pass on some observations on how the Convention worked.
Some 28 countries were represented, including Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey. When the Convention started, 10 member states did not know whether their accession treaties would be finalised. Yet those states were asked for an opinion and an input into the way in which EU institutions should be reformed, without their having had first-hand experience of them. The prevailing zeitgeist was that of a group of people who clearly had a federal vision of a United States of Europe, and who clearly thought that the Convention provided a great historic opportunity. I think that some of the quotes that Mr. Ancram used were from the last day, when people were covering their disappointment. For the committed federalists, the outcome was a deep disappointment. Mr. Bercow mentioned the ratcheting and the seduction effect. Giuliano Amato said, "We wanted a boy, but we ended up with a girl." That means that the committed federalists and integrationists are now the most disappointed group.
The majority of members had to face up to the contradiction between wishing for deeper integration, which they saw not as a political project but one that allowed for effective working, and retaining national identity. To the new member states it was immensely important that national identity and elements of sovereignty were retained. In some cases, that is an irreconcilable contradiction, but we tried to find a way forward. For an effective union with 25 members, qualified majority voting is needed more often. Frankly, in practice—this is where the debate about the need for a national veto is disingenuous as regards the public—the national veto has an extremely bruising effect. It is used only rarely. With qualified majority voting, everyone has to negotiate an outcome on which they can agree.
I shall return to that matter.
The constitution is a challenge for all political parties and for the United Kingdom. It is a challenge for the Conservatives, who really must move away from the Thatcherite "Nothing good has ever come from this" and from thinking that if something has the word "Europe" in it, it must be bad. That is not true. It is also a challenge for the Labour party, because we have become accustomed to beating the Conservatives over the head with Europe. We have gone to the other extreme and said that it is all good, instead of being a constructive critical friend who says that the overall project has benefited us and the whole of Europe, but that if we want that process to continue in the wake of enlargement, drastic reforms are needed in the way the Union works.
From my experience in the Convention, the constitution is also a huge challenge for the Liberals. Andrew Duff said that the Liberal caucus collectively signed up to every word in the constitution and hoped that he would one day be able to return proudly to a United Kingdom where his fellow countrymen and women had shed their outdated nationalism and become true Europeans. Just because one thinks that one's party will never be in government, one should not want an ever-bigger kitchen in which to stir the broth—but I leave that to the Liberals.
This matter is also a challenge for the United Kingdom. What I have found extraordinary about the past few months is that in the international sphere we see ourselves as a strong and significant country that has huge influence and, some would say, that still punches above its weight. However, when it comes to Europe, we behave like a small country. We have become extremely defensive, rather than acting as France and Germany do and simply being assertive—going in early in a combative way.
I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary say that he wants to be greatly involved in the debate. I hope that that will encourage hon. Members on both sides of the House to engage much more constructively in the debate to make Europe work. That is the basic element.
I shall come back to that.
Three elements were important to me. One was accountability, and I do not agree with the right hon. Member for Devizes, who implied that power is conferred on the Union by national Parliaments; it is conferred by member states. The role of Parliaments—whether national Parliaments or the European Parliament—is to scrutinise the Executive. The scrutiny process will be strengthened, provided that Westminster lives up to the challenge. I am not yet convinced that hon. Members will use the extra powers conferred on them to challenge and scrutinise the Executive. I hope that they do, and that they will start to debate the Commission's annual programme in this Chamber so that they can no longer hide behind saying, "We knew nothing about this." The information is out there, and the new protocol will give the House the power to scrutinise and influence Ministers.
The openness requirement when the Government legislate will make clearer what Ministers have done on our behalf. By the way, that does not mean that I think that the new legislative council is a good idea; new institutions should be created only when there is a need for them.
I am listening closely and with great interest to what my hon. Friend is saying about scrutiny by this Parliament. She has appeared before the European Scrutiny Committee on more than one occasion and has been subjected to close questioning about her activities. She will be aware that that Committee is one of the most effective in Europe. One of the big problems is getting debates on the Floor of the House. What she should urge is that the Government take greater account of the recommendations of the European Scrutiny Committee so that issues such as those she mentions get prime time and prime publicity on the Floor of the House.
It is true that the United Kingdom's European Scrutiny Committee has been used as a model by a number of EU member countries looking at ways of taking the process forward.
On unanimity and qualified majority voting, some areas go to the heart of the nation state in terms of constitutional arrangements. On future treaty ratifications, for example, we need to be completely protected. I could not agree to a system under which a constitutional treaty would be amended by any process other than ratification by every member state. In virtually all other areas, however, what is important to me is whether we have the ability to change policy domestically and how we best achieve that. On asylum and immigration, therefore, it was right to move to QMV because unanimity has meant that we have been unable to force some of the other states in the Union to live up to their responsibilities.
On matters such as taxation and social security, however, I would insist on unanimity. The reason for that is best illustrated by one example: if I were asked what was the biggest achievement of the Labour Government who came into office in 1997, I would say that it was working tax credits. We changed the way in which benefits were delivered: no longer through benefit cheques but through the wage packet. The tools of taxation and social security are therefore vital for implementation of domestic policy. That is how I regard the trade-off between QMV and unanimity.
Let me give one example of how unanimity can be totally destructive. I talked to someone today who had spent 10 years of his life trying to secure an amendment to the E111 form, which covers people for medical treatment when they go to Europe, so that it would also cover pregnant women—the definition covered only illness, and pregnancy is not an illness. The attempt failed for 10 years because the Greeks insisted that a further line be added to say that pregnant women would be covered only if they did not travel on purpose. In circumstances where everybody wants an amendment but one country suddenly becomes unreasonable, the veto is not a virtue. That is why we need to consider the issues one by one. In areas of taxation and security, we need the veto, but in others it is not in our interests.
The hon. Lady is making a fundamental point. Is not one of the problems with those who have become so opposed to the European Union that they are effectively advocating withdrawal that they have lost sight completely of the added value that working together brings, whether in dealing with asylum seekers or with the environment? She is right to say that we must find out where the value is added, and where retaining our independence is added value. If one cannot approach the debate in that fashion, one cannot realistically take part in it.
Indeed. It could be argued that this area, rather than being one in which the Convention has failed or missed the trick, was not part of our mandate. We did not look at policy itself. Therefore, whatever the constitutional implications of the document that comes out at the end of the intergovernmental conference, if anyone were to ask how the life of a citizen has changed at this point, the answer would be that it had not done so at all, because all the policies are carrying on as they were. It could be argued that the exercise should have been approached as if one were a chief executive of EU plc, asking which areas of competency work well, which things we should not do, and where we need new institutions. We did not approach it in that way, however.
I want to challenge the hon. Lady's premise that it does not really matter which Executive, domestic or European, implements policy, but merely that there should be a chance to scrutinise it. I put it to her that there is an essential difference, on which my right hon. Friend Mr. Redwood touched in his intervention, which is that we should have the chance subsequently to change policy. There is a difference between this country choosing to legislate on social, cultural, environmental or economic matters, with the chance of change, and European institutions having the opportunity to do so, thereby removing from British parliamentarians the opportunity to secure change at a later date. That is the difference.
The point that I was trying to make was that the job of parliamentarians is scrutiny of the Executive. The Westminster Parliament's job is to scrutinise our Government and the European Parliament's job is to scrutinise the Commission. We need to learn to work much more closely with our MEPs so that we take the strategic approach that best represents our country.
It is not true that we shall lose the ability to implement nationally; we need to be much more clever about ensuring that we do at European level what is best done collectively.
Does my hon. Friend find it curious that 10 nations are clamouring to join the EU and have recently held referendums on that, yet the Opposition are doing their best to make out that the EU is a waste of time? They have gone as far as they could without saying that we should withdraw, even though we know that that is their real agenda.
It was a valid intervention. It is curious that part of this country seems to have forgotten that EU membership has been in our collective interest and has served us well for the past 30 years. We should have a constructive and open debate about how we can continue to make it work with a Union of 25.
I have been listening carefully to what the hon. Lady has been saying about the role of parliamentarians. On two occasions, she said that the job of Parliament is to scrutinise the Executive, but is it not also to authorise the Executive? The Executive take their power from the parliamentarians who are elected by the people. It is thus not quite right for her to criticise me for saying that power flows from national Parliaments. I repeat that they must be the fount of power, because their sovereignty stems from the people.
The right hon. Gentleman is right. However, the distinctions that I have been trying to draw for the past 15 months relate to how the sovereignty and authority that come from the nation state, through its rightfully elected Government—from Westminster in our case—are represented in the Council of Ministers. I do not want to turn national Parliaments into European institutions; that is not Westminster's job. National parliamentarians are at one remove from Europe. I was delighted to hear the Foreign Secretary say that he wanted to strengthen the early warning mechanism. It has already been strengthened in one way by giving a right of referral to the courts, but I should prefer there to be a red card saying "No".
The challenge is to Parliaments. An interparliamentary body—COSAC—already exists, almost unknown except by the small group of people who attend it. Over the 10 past years, COSAC has been unable to arrive at a common view. That is why the Convention document poses a huge challenge to national Parliaments.
I want to make a few comments about where I would draw the line, because that is how I shall judge the outcome of the IGC and whether the integrity of member states will be protected so as to ensure that the EU is not more than a union of states. I am not hung up about whether things are described as having a Community basis. Having spent the first 18 years of my life in a federal state, I realise that sometimes "federal" can mean decentralised.
In key institutional elements, the minority must not be overruled by the majority, so treaty ratification must be carried out by all member states. Similarly, the voluntary withdrawal clause in the document is a statement of the fact that a member may withdraw. If a constitution sets out that one can join a body, there must, logically, be provision for withdrawal. That is where we should focus our minds.
Opposition Members keep saying that we are going down a one-way street or that we are in a prison from which we cannot escape. I challenge them to make their case and to spell out the practical consequences of their view. They should not merely engage in scaremongering, but should really think things through. At some stage, I should like them to make the case that it would be in the United Kingdom's interest—
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but, under article 57, there is no right for member states simply to withdraw if they want to. It is all spelt out on page 44, which says that they can discuss proposals with the Commission, but the proposals must be approved by a majority of the Council, then by the European Parliament. So the idea that that measure gives anyone the right to walk out of the European Union is, sadly, not true. It would be much better to have a voluntary organisation from which people could withdraw. Article 57 does not provide that right at all.
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it does. It must be recognised that there is a Union interest if a member were to withdraw. Let us think through the political consequences if France, for example, decided to withdraw. There is a proper process. There is a time limit by which the European Council would have to take note of such a decision, but the political reality is that, for the first time, we have created a proper legal basis for that process. By the way, withdrawal was also possible before then; one country has withdrawn.
That was done under the Vienna convention, and it is much more proper, in my view, for the constitution to spell out a political process.
On the efficiency of the Union, the document proposes a smaller, much more effective Commission, and I had hoped that even Opposition Members would welcome that. I wish that the European Parliament would ask for the right to censor individual commissioners, as that would be the proper way to hold them to account. It gives a clearer delineation of responsibilities and a clearer way to take decisions.
I do not for the life of me understand why the Opposition oppose the President of the European Council. There is something ambiguous about the language—I would have preferred to use the phrase "Chair of the European Council"—but if ever a new institutional structure strengthened the representation of the member states it is that very function. The Commission is elected for five years and has a permanent composition. The European Council is elected for five years and has a permanent composition.
The third part of the institutional triangle, which has to have equal sides, will be the 25 representatives, and they will have general elections, so the membership will change. However, the presidency changes every six months and, from my experience of three presidencies and chairing the group of national parliamentarians, I do not think that the rotating presidency is a terribly good idea. Even in those 15 months, we experienced three different lots of people in the chair. So the proposed process will be hugely strengthening.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the rotating presidency merely demonstrated that the Council of Ministers was not a central institution of the EU, like the Parliament, the European Courts and the Commission? That is why there was a rotating presidency. If we move away from that, we shall turn the Council of Ministers from an institution that represented member states into a kind of semi-centralised institution of the EU. That is the difference.
Yes, but that ultimately strengthens the voice of the nation states. [Hon. Members: "No, it does not."] Well, time will tell who is right. From all that I have seen, the proposal represents a strengthening of the member states, and I am encouraged by the fact that the federalists opposed it most vigorously.
Does my hon. Friend accept that the very term, "president", which is in popular usage, implies considerable powers, position, an institution, an establishment and all the rest of it, and that that has great dangers? Would it not be better to consider the traditional Scottish term, "convenor", as it would more accurately convey the concept of convening meetings, rather than ruling?
Language is a problem. When we first started to discuss the term "president", a Dutch colleague came up to me and said, "When you talk about a president, do you mean the French kind or the German kind?" In French, there is only one word and no distinction can be made between a president and a chairman, so I would have preferred the term, "Chair" to be used. I have no idea how the term "convenor" would translate into the 20-odd languages—hence the job description.
I wish to consider briefly the job that the Government have on their hands as they go into the intergovernmental conference. I am glad that the Foreign Secretary has not heeded the suggestion, made by the president of the Convention, that the Convention itself should identify the areas that are as yet unclear or undecided. The Government say that there is a working basis.
We should not make compromises that will not produce a more efficient Union. I hope that the British Government will vigorously say no to several measures. I hope that article I-24.4—the passerelle clause that was mentioned—which would allow qualified majority voting to be introduced via the European Council, will be removed and that the measure on the legislative council will be removed. I also hope that the text will be improved.
My final point relates to the completely incomprehensible call for a referendum at this stage. Calls for a referendum started even before the ink on the first draft was dry. If this were a football match, we would be moving into injury time, because if the Heads of Government reach agreement on Friday, the Convention will return to complete the draft. The draft will then go to the intergovernmental conference. If the Opposition intend to continue on their course, will the right hon. Member for Devizes clarify a point? Whenever there are calls for a referendum, we owe it to the people whom we ask to cast their votes to spell out the clear consequences of their answer. I presume that a yes vote would indicate approval, but would a no vote mean that Opposition Members would suggest that we withdraw from the Union?
May I clear that up by citing no better person than Valéry Giscard d'Estaing—the person who has presided over the Convention? He was asked on "Breakfast with Frost" what would happen if a member country failed to ratify the treaty, which would happen if there were a negative vote in a referendum, and he replied that there would be no treaty.
Do I take it that the new Conservative party policy is that future European Union treaties such as Maastricht and Amsterdam should always be put to a referendum? Has the party's policy changed?
My answer to that question would be yes. I think that people value a bit of candour and straightforwardness on such matters, so I put it to the hon. Lady that the argument sometimes made—albeit not by her on this occasion—that we have no case because there was a not a referendum on the Maastricht treaty is not compelling. There should have been a referendum on Maastricht—I was not in the House to do anything about that—there should have been a referendum on the Amsterdam treaty and there should be a referendum on this treaty. Two wrongs do not make a right. Let us get it right this time.
I am glad that we have had an indication of what the future leader of the Conservative party thinks about treaty ratification.
We have a good document, although it is not perfect. There are aspects to which the British object and aspects to which several other countries object. Many countries have hidden behind British objections for the past 15 or 20 years because it was convenient to do so. The French will find something in the document to criticise, as will the Spanish, the Danes and the Scandinavians. The document will be improved over the next six months through the IGC. I look forward to the worthy document being improved even further by the Government's work.
No one can complain about a lack of attention to European affairs in our Parliament during past weeks. We have debated such issues almost weekly. Indeed, the Foreign Secretary promised an even more sophisticated system of consultation when he opened the debate, which the whole House should warmly welcome. Mr. Bercow mentioned candour, and it is only right for such matters to be the subject of extensive discussion. Some might say that we need even more canvassing of the issues because a recent opinion poll showed that 7 per cent. of the British people think that the United States is a member of the European Union. Perhaps there is a lot to do.
When dealing with treaties, it is important not to read and extract only parts of them for the purpose of an argument. I think that Mr. Ancram—he has apologised for not being in the Chamber as he has another pressing obligation—was guilty of doing that to an extent.
If we are concerned about the nature of the treaty, surely it is right to look at the definition and objectives of the Union set out in paragraph 1 of article I-1. In that, we read:
"Reflecting the will of the citizens and States of Europe to build a common future, this Constitution establishes the European Union, on which the Member States confer competences to attain objectives they have in common."
Again, at paragraph 5 of article I-3, at the end of a list of objectives, we read:
"These objectives shall be pursued by appropriate means, depending on the extent to which the relevant competences are attributed to the Union in this Constitution."
So the principle is made clear at the outset of the document that the Union's capacity to operate depends on the extent to which individual member states are willing to confer power on it. It is important to have that in mind.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman has read the treaty from end to end.
On Union competences, article I-9 on fundamental principles states:
"The limits of Union competences are governed by the principle of conferral. The use of Union competences is governed by the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality . . . Under the principle of conferral, the Union shall act within the limits of the competences conferred upon it by the Member States in the Constitution to attain the objectives set out in the Constitution. Competences not conferred upon the Union in the Constitution remain with the Member States."
The scheme that the constitution sets out and embraces is clearly set out in the document itself. In my respective judgment, it is a long way different from the description attributed to it by the right hon. Member for Devizes.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is speaking complete rubbish. If he reads article I-12 on exclusive competence and article I-13 on areas of shared competence, he will see that they set out practically everything that Governments do. They cover monetary policy, commercial policy, customs union, marine biological resources, the internal market, freedom, security and justice, agriculture and fisheries, transport and trans-European networks, energy, social policy, economic and social cohesion, environment, consumer protection, common safety and, of course, common foreign and defence policy. It is a complete Government. They have got the lot.
The right hon. Gentleman has fallen into the trap that I tried to exhort and encourage people to avoid. He can only read that part of the constitution against the terms of those parts that I outlined. They make it clear that the scheme is one in which individual member states confer competences. The extent to which those are exercised, no matter what the list may say, depends on the extent to which the states have given those responsibilities to the Union. If the right hon. Gentleman does not think that that is the case, the European Court of Justice should be his first stop if the constitution is applied. I make him a modest wager that if he were to endeavour to prevent the exercise of a competence that had not been conferred from the list that he read out, he would be on something pretty close to a banker in making an application to the Court.
It is also important to read all the contents of the provision in relation to qualified majority, to which the right hon. Member for Devizes referred. Qualified majority is mentioned in article I-24. He said that the question of qualified majority is beyond the power of individual nation states in some respects. However, he forbore to read paragraph 4 of that article, which says:
"Where the Constitution provides . . . for laws and framework laws to be adopted by the Council according to a special legislative procedure, the European Council can adopt, on its own initiative and by unanimity, after a period of consideration of six months, a decision allowing for the adoption of such laws or framework laws according to the ordinary legislative procedure."
It is impossible to move to majority voting unless there is unanimous agreement for that proposal. That is a lock on the sort of progress that the right hon. Gentleman found so offensive.
It is inevitable in advance of this Council that the issue of the Convention should form such a substantial part of our pre-Council debate. I have, by good fortune, spent a day this week in Berlin and a day in Paris, meeting officials and politicians. If I may report back, I can tell the House that there is mild and rather polite surprise at the febrile nature of the debate in the United Kingdom. One comes away from both those capitals with the sense that people there wonder what all the fuss is about. They are concerned that the debate in which we are taking part is so different from the one that is of consequence for them.
The referendum was mentioned by Ms Stuart. Like others, I pay tribute to her and those who participated on behalf of both Houses of Parliament in the Convention procedure. I have no doubt that it was long and arduous, and that they all conducted themselves with great distinction, even though one does not necessarily agree with all their views or with all the views advanced by Mr. Andrew Duff.
I may be repeating some of the observations made by my hon. Friend Mr. Moore, who spoke last week, but let me begin on the subject of a referendum by saying that the Liberal Democrats under the leadership of Mr. Ashdown, as he then was, were the first to call for a referendum on the issue of the single currency. They did so because that is not just an economic decision, but a political and constitutional decision as well.
There was an exchange a moment or two ago about the need for a referendum on the Maastricht treaty. There was an opportunity for such a referendum. On
May I finish the point?
"That this House believes that the popular assent of the people of the United Kingdom should be sought through a referendum before any substantial alteration of the present constitutional settlement between the European Union and its member states."
I fancy that if the hon. Member for Buckingham had been in the House on that occasion, he would have voted with us. If he had, he would have voted on the winning side. The motion was carried by 43 votes to three. The Minister who was winding up for the then Conservative Government said to the House as he came to the end of his speech at column763:
"For the reasons I have set out, we do not consider that it is worth voting on the motion. It has been brought forward for short-term party political gain, and I advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to abstain."—[Hansard, 13 February 1995; Vol. 254, c. 763.]
I suppose that demonstrates that if one is in this place long enough, one sees everything.
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way, but his historical musings do not greatly advance matters. I was surprised by his reference to subsidiarity and proportionality, in respect of which the Convention offers very little by way of improvement. Is he not aware that the relevant protocol of the treaty of Amsterdam specifically states:
"The application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality shall respect the general provisions and the objectives of the Treaty, particularly as regards the maintaining in full of the acquis communautaire and the institutional balance; it shall not affect the principles developed by the Court of Justice regarding the relationship between national and Community law, and it should take into account Article F (4) of the Treaty on European Union, according to which 'the Union shall provide itself with the means necessary to attain its objectives and carry through its policies'."?
No improvement on that. Game, set and match.
No doubt the hon. Gentleman can recite the speech of Laurence Olivier in "Richard II" too. If his argument is that there has been insufficient application of the principle of subsidiarity—Mr. John Major never received proper credit for the issue, which he adopted and pressed very hard—I say yes to that. I shall happily sign up with him and others who want to ensure that subsidiarity is much better pressed in the activities of the European Union. All that I wished to say by referring to the treaty is that subsidiarity is expressly set out. Perhaps he and I can agree later on the best methods of ensuring that that principle is applied.
The important point—to some extent, this reflects what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston said a moment ago—is that the Convention has not quite completed its work. The forthcoming IGC has not yet started, and I think that there are some very optimistic prognoses as to how long it may take. I suspect that it may take rather longer than expected. With regard to
In the course of the IGC, the United Kingdom will have a veto. The House will also have a veto. When what the Government agree to comes back here, the House will have the opportunity for line-by-line scrutiny, as an issue of such importance will undoubtedly have to be dealt with on the Floor of the House. It will be subject to the veto not only of the United Kingdom, but of all the new members. It is wrong to assume the acquiescence of all the new members to the proposals. As has been said, some of them, having broken out of the hegemony of the Soviet Union and enjoyed freedom for 10 or 12 years, will be very reluctant to accede or give their imprimatur to anything that they understand to have the effect of being an unnecessary limit on that freedom.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to line-by-line scrutiny. That sounds wonderful, but in respect of most previous treaties, we have considered only Bills setting out areas where they change domestic law. We are not allowed to debate such treaties line by line.
I have participated in some of those debates along with the right hon. Gentleman, and I have never seen any inhibition preventing him and others, such as Sir Teddy Taylor, from raising issues that they thought relevant. He is correct to say that we scrutinise the Bill that is before the House, but as I understand it, that has never operated as a restriction on those who wish to raise other matters.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke about countries escaping from the hegemony of the Warsaw pact and the Soviet Union. When members of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs visited the applicant countries, that was always put to them as a major issue. Obviously, they do not want to leave that behind to enter another constrictive structure.
I wondered whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman might want to welcome the attitude of the sinners who repenteth in the Conservative party in relation to referendums.
One should always welcome repenting sinners, particularly if they want to adopt one's own Gospel.
If the constitution amounts to a codification of existing treaties, contains administrative changes to accommodate the increased membership of the European Union, is coupled with a greater definition of existing powers under treaties that have already been signed, is more definitive of the respective roles of the institutions of the Union and the individual member states and embraces the principle of subsidiarity, I would have thought that it should frighten no one. However, if the proposals that the Government eventually place before the House contain any major shifts of control and any transfer of significant new powers from member states to European institutions or alteration of the existing balance between the member states and those institutions—the test was clearly set out last week by my hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale—the Government would have an obligation to consider the constitutional implications for the United Kingdom and, in my judgment, to put those matters before the people of the United Kingdom in a referendum. If this is truly "tidying up", the tests that I have set out will not be met. We shall have to make a judgment when the process has been completed and not before, and those who judge wrongly may well have an electoral price to pay.
I think it is equally wrong to rule out a referendum in all circumstances and to insist on a referendum before the final form of the proposals is known. Although Mr. Cash is not present, I repeat my support for the view that he has expressed on many occasions—unsuccessfully so far—that it is time the Government published a White Paper setting out their proposals for Britain's role in the European Union. The Convention, and the procedures that will follow, provide a sound basis for such a White Paper. If we are indeed to have a wide-ranging debate in which those in all parts of the House, and the public, will be properly involved, where better to start than with a clear and unambiguous statement by the Government of the policies that they wish to pursue?
I for one remain firmly wedded to the view that foreign and defence policy should remain intergovernmental. I think that ultimate responsibility for both should rest with national Governments and Parliaments. On
The same applies to taxation. I am not one of those who get too exercised about the role of the Lord Chancellor and the sweeping away of 1,400 years of history, but taxation and representation lie at the centre of our reason for being here. The battle between Parliament and the monarch was about those twin issues. For my part, I do not think that the House should give up that responsibility either.
The common agricultural policy is a continuing source of frustration for both friends and foes of the European Union. I think that it is enough to state the figures. Half the European Union's budget—Euro43 billion, or £30 billion—is devoted to the CAP. It has enormous consequences for the third world, and may have significant consequences for our position at the World Trade Organisation talks that will take place in Cancun in September.
Some of the accession countries will be licking their lips at the prospect of access to the CAP, but the real risk is that the bank may be bust. The efforts that are currently being made therefore strike me as extremely significant. I hope that the Government will use all their political influence and power to persuade countries such as France and Germany that CAP reform is fundamental to the European Union's financial position, that it has important implications for our world trade position, and that we have a moral obligation owing to the CAP's continuing consequences for the third world.
I entirely agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Could he have a word with his fellow Liberals in parties around Europe to get them to support that policy?
Most certainly. I am afraid that such issues are decided on a national, rather than a party political basis, but that does not make them any less urgent. If the Minister wants to sign me up, among others, to go to make that case to parties elsewhere in Europe, I shall be happy to do so, for the reasons that I indicated.
Another point is worth making in relation to the CAP. At the moment, as the German Government are the largest net contributor to the European Union, Germany is essentially the paymaster for the CAP. Those arrangements have to be reviewed in 2007. If I may say so, the German economy will have to be in a somewhat healthier condition than it is now if it is to be able to continue that kind of financial commitment to the CAP, but I rather fancy that it will not be. That may provide a break in the argument that will allow for reform.
I said previously that I was of the view that foreign and security policy must remain intergovernmental. However, that does not undermine the desirability of seeking common positions. In my judgment, the amalgamation of the jobs that are being carried out by Javier Solana and Chris Patten makes considerable sense. The person who occupies that role should be answerable to the Council. However, there are questions of funding that I hope can be resolved to ensure that the individual, whoever he or she may be, will not find himself or herself being restricted in their activities by virtue of the fact that financial control and responsibility lie elsewhere. Although it makes sense for Javier Solana to produce a strategic doctrine, we should bear in mind that, as the Foreign Secretary hinted, if Europe is serious about its own security there will have to be some serious thinking about levels of defence spending. Some countries' contributions are, if not negligible, at least very insignificant by comparison with some of the political aspirations that they are willing to articulate.
In the course of the past couple of days, a common position has been adopted on weapons of mass destruction, and there will be a real opportunity to see the extent to which that is effective when we deal with the issue of Iran. The Foreign Secretary mentioned Iraq, but not the Iranian problem. Perhaps the Minister will be able to clarify the extent to which those issues are currently under consideration. I am in no doubt that a new security bargain has to be struck between the United States and Europe—one that is more of a partnership than a competition. The European Union may have a significant role to play in the forging of that bargain.
I understand that Mr. Putin is to visit. I hope that the Prime Minister will take the opportunity to say that the relationship between Russia and the European Union will to a large extent depend upon Russia's attitude towards Chechnya. The Prime Minister confirmed during Question Time that he would raise that issue directly. There will be relief and gratitude throughout the whole House that that is now the position, although it may have been slightly different in Westminster Hall earlier today.
On the single currency, I imagine that both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary are likely to be asked about that by other EU members. I am one of those who believe unashamedly that it would be in Britain's interest to join. I thought that the Chancellor was at his most persuasive and eloquent when he argued the principle of the single currency from the Dispatch Box some 10 days ago. However, it is important not only to embrace the principle, but to work towards achieving the convergence that the five tests set out. If the Government still take the view that they wish the United Kingdom to be truly at the heart of Europe, they should recognise that we will truly be at the heart of Europe and truly able to exercise political influence only when we have joined the single currency. We will then find at Councils such as the one that is due to take place in the next couple of days that we are rather more influential than we appear to be at present.
I have given you a commitment, Madam Deputy Speaker, to try to abide by the 10-minute rule that applies between 5 pm and 6.30 pm. I understand that, after me, you intend to call someone who has been a member of the Convention and may wish to take longer than 10 minutes. I accept a self-imposed restriction.
Mr. Campbell mentioned his discussions with politicians in Berlin and Paris and said that they found it difficult to understand the argument in the United Kingdom. With the greatest humility and respect, that is hardly surprising because their long-term agenda is totally different from that of the UK Government. The German and French Governments unashamedly pursue a federalist agenda, whereas the UK Government tell us that they have succeeded in the past few weeks in eliminating all references to "federal" from the Convention's articles. The lack of understanding is inevitable because those countries do not share the UK's aspirations.
However, I echo the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point about defence and security and taxation. Those matters should be ring-fenced, remain intergovernmental and out of the European Commission's clutches. I should love to continue the political banter, but perhaps I should get down to the subject under consideration.
The Convention may nearly have finished its work and I believe that most of us could agree with 90 per cent. of its proposals, but disagreement will continue on the remaining 10 per cent. Those disagreements will resurface with a vengeance in the IGC round that starts later in the year.
Although the Opposition do not accept it, the Government may be correct in their assertion that the Convention's proposals do not involve a further major constitutional shift in power from national Parliaments to the European Union. However, from my experience, the evidence of the past 40 years points to an inexorable drift in power to EU institutions. In the medium term, I suspect that the same is likely to occur with the Convention proposals.
I accept the Foreign Secretary's comments that the UK will oppose attempts gradually to eradicate national vetoes and make qualified majority voting the norm for EU policy making; the introduction of majority voting on taxation matters; moves to create a mutual European defence policy that could undermine NATO, and attempts to harmonise criminal law. I also accept that the UK Government will seek firm guarantees that the charter of fundamental rights will not override national law and create new rights.
I sincerely hope that the Government succeed in achieving those objectives. However, we all know—I am sure that that applies to the Minister, with his involvement in negotiations around Europe in the past few months—that, in the negotiations and horse-trading at the IGC, the Government may have to concede some of their aims to obtain concessions on other matters. I am not therefore as sanguine as the Foreign Secretary appears to be about the Government's long-term ability to achieve their objective.
I should like to be a little more welcoming of at least two of the proposals. I welcome the proposal that the Council must in future sit in public when legislating. This should at least ensure that the situation will no longer arise in which a Minister comes out of the Council saying that he has voted in a particular way when we all know that he has voted in a completely different way, contrary to his own country's public position. The Council's sitting in public when legislating should remove the possibility of that happening.
I also welcome the proposal to invoke national Parliaments in the EU decision-making process at the very earliest stage. As my hon. Friend Ms Stuart said, the Commission will have to send each national Parliament every one of its proposals, explaining the reasons for Europe-wide action and what the likely implications will be. Parliaments will have six weeks to examine the texts, and, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, if one third of the Parliaments oppose a proposal, the matter will have to be reviewed, or given the so-called yellow card. I only hope that we can succeed in establishing the possibility of turning the yellow card into a red one, because it is only through the ability to issue a red card that we can really begin to hold the Commission to account. Parliaments throughout the 25 member states will, however, have to ensure that their security procedures are adequate to make the new system work properly. We all have a vested interest in ensuring that all the national Parliaments are able to cope with that new proposal.
On security and defence, I would like to underline everything that was said by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife. The United Kingdom must continue to support the intergovernmental structure of the common foreign and security policy. I have been a delegate from the House to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Western European Union for the past 10 years, and I have witnessed the increasing pressure for defence Europe from many continental politicians. I accept that the European Union should be able to undertake the so-called Petersberg tasks when NATO does not wish to be involved, but the European security objectives must be complementary to, not in competition with, those of NATO. The primary security architecture of Europe must remain NATO, and we must resist moves to make the European Union a rival military power to the United States. I believe that we shall be assisted in that objective by the expansion of the European Union in 2004, and I understand that the Foreign Secretary believes that as well.
I agree with what the Foreign Secretary said about Turkey, which has been a staunch ally of ours in NATO over the past 50 years. During the past 18 months, it has introduced a raft of new legislation to protect human rights there. Now is the time for Turkey to be given a firm guarantee that it will be admitted to the European Union. That would be good for Turkey, and for the reputation of the European Union in the Islamic world, which would then see that the European Union was not just a Christian club.
It is always a pleasure to follow Mr. Marshall. I agreed with much of what he said, and especially his closing comments on Turkey, which I think has earned its right to be a European country. It is a beacon in the Muslim world, showing that there can be a secular Muslim state.
My time on the Convention is drawing to an end, and I would like to thank the House authorities and the Clerks for the help that they have given Ms Stuart and me over the past 15 months in our work in Brussels.
The Convention was not given a specific brief to draw up a constitution for Europe, although that was mentioned as a possibility. It was given the primary task of creating a more democratic, simpler Europe, closer to its citizens, and I judge the draft constitution on whether it does that. In my opinion it has failed, and that is why I did not sign it and instead, along with a few other colleagues on the Convention, submitted a minority report, which we believe more truly discharges that obligation. The constitution will now go to an intergovernmental conference, and we all accept that it can and will be further amended. However, I attended a previous IGC for an earlier enlargement, and it is striking how the parameters are set fairly early. One may win a tactical victory, but the strategic movement is already set in another direction.
The outcome of the Convention is not simply a starting point. It has produced a draft that will undoubtedly form the central part of what is before the IGC, and I would be very surprised if the eventual outcome differs markedly in its structure and architecture from the original—unless, of course, the Government are planning a much bigger revolt than has been suggested today. It could be that they will insist on their previous positions being respected. We were always told that they intended to fight to retain the intergovernmental pillars set up at Maastricht and guarded by all Governments since then.
The Prime Minister also promised that the EU charter of fundamental rights would not be legally binding, but now it is, as it forms the second part of the constitution and is therefore fully legally binding under the European Court of Justice. The various assurances and conditions surrounding it are wholly inadequate to prevent its having a profound and continuing effect on our own legal system. The Government are paying a price for having been far too conciliatory during the whole of the first year of the Convention. Most of what they do not want is already in the draft constitution, and it will now be difficult ever to get it out.
The Foreign Secretary gave us some examples of his red lines. There have been some very late additions, including the so-called passerelle clause, or bridging clause, which will allow the European Council, by unanimity, to move everything that remains from veto to majority voting. That is wholly unacceptable—certainly to this House—because it would allow the constitution to be amended from within, without any reference to national Parliaments or people. That was mentioned by the hon. Member for Leicester, South. I was rather surprised that Mr. Campbell approved of it, because if he is a champion, as he should be, of the rights of member states to amend the constitution in future, he should not allow it all to be done in-house by the European Council, without any further reference back to the Parliaments that sent their representatives there.
It is beyond doubt that the foolish remarks of the new Leader of the House should now be quietly dropped. It is absurd to call this whole exercise, which we have been involved in for the past 15 months, simply an exercise in tidying up the treaties. That was always a preposterous claim—and frankly, a dishonest one. I was pleased, therefore, that the Foreign Secretary did not mention it. I think that he is now moving to a slightly different position, which concedes that these issues are extremely important—indeed, I believe them to be of giant constitutional significance. However, he is still saying that nevertheless, we can all leave it to the Government—but I am not prepared to do that. When constitutional changes are to be made, they must be decided by a referendum of the people.
All the existing treaties will be completely repealed, which has never happened before. The constitution—and we note that this is not being contested by the Government or any other member state—will found a new Union with a unified structure, without the intergovernmental pillars. It will have its own legal personality, which goes way beyond the existing treaties. The European community has a legal personality already, but the Union does not. Criminal justice, policing, foreign policy, security and defence—all that is now to be rolled into a single legal structure with its own legal personality.
The powers given to the new Union go way beyond anything written in existing treaties. For example, the Union will have the exclusive right—or "competence" as it is called in Euro-speak—to sign international agreements on behalf of member states. That includes not just international matters, but anything at all that affects domestic policy. That is made perfectly clear in article I-12. One will look in vain in existing treaties to find anything as extensive and far-reaching as that, and those international agreements will be made, of course, by qualified majority voting.
We have already had some debate about shared competences. Incidentally, words such as "shared competence" do not make documents any more user-friendly for the people who have to read them. Nor has the instruction to simplify really been discharged. The draft treaty before us runs to 224 pages. Yet in an article in The Economist last year, the Foreign Secretary said that he would insist that the final constitution could be fitted into his pocket. Good luck to him in the IGC, but he is leaving it awfully late. Certainly the current draft is bafflingly complex, even to the specialist reader.
I shall return to the issue of shared powers or competences. As my right hon. Friend Mr. Redwood said, virtually everything is brought within the new Union. The list of shared competences cover just about everything that the House deals with when it legislates. Another new dimension is the fact that if the Union decides to legislate in a particular area, the member states are forbidden to do so. That seems a funny definition of "sharing" to me.
The economy is another important issue. The Foreign Secretary did not deal with the matter; perhaps he has given in. In any case, the Union is to be given a pretty awesome new power. Under article I-14:
That is not a power, but an injunction or an instruction about what measures "shall" be taken to "ensure" co-ordination. Very late in the Convention's life, employment measures were added, so we are talking about compulsory co-ordination of economic and employment policies right across the Union. It is difficult to understand how that means control of anything less than overall tax rates, public expenditure rates, interest rates—the whole lot. That is a massive transfer of power—or "competence" —from member states—or this House—to the new Union.
That is not simply "tidying up". It is worse. It completely contradicts what the Chancellor said in his statement, when he decided to shelve our membership of the euro. He said that we needed more flexibility to make it work in the future. That is another habit that the Government have of talking about the world economy, with its dynamism and flexibility, as a model for us. They suggest that it would make our own economy, and that of the eurozone, work better. However, at the same time the Government are converging our economy with the European Union model, characterised—unfortunately—by low growth, inflexibility, over-taxation, over-regulation and tragically high unemployment. That is no longer a game, because the European constitution, as drafted, will enshrine the European Union model for all time. We will not have the option ever again. We will have to converge, finally and completely, with a model that has delivered—in Germany alone—nearly 5 million people out of work.
My right hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Indeed, when a country such as Ireland rightly decides on a lower tax policy that attracts a lot of business and creates jobs—and then receives more tax revenue on lower rates of taxation—the European Union says it is anti-competitive and they must stop it. That is just the sort of thing that this wide-ranging shared competence—or massive power—will allow the EU to do, to stop people succeeding.
My right hon. Friend is right. Harmonisation is always upwards. Taxes and regulations always rise to the higher level. I repeat my point that that is not just a power being granted under the constitution, but an instruction. It will definitely happen, unless that provision is removed. I was surprised that the Foreign Secretary did not even mention that point. Still less did he argue against it.
The cession of sovereignty to which my right hon. Friend refers is the flipside of the coin of the cession of sovereignty in relation to monetary policy. Does he agree that it was foolish of the Foreign Secretary to cite Romano Prodi, for it was he who is clearly on record as saying that the euro can lead only to closer and closer integration of countries' economic policy. He went on, ominously and rather impertinently, to add that that demands that member states give up more sovereignty. We cannot say that we were not warned.
My hon. Friend is right. It was openly conceded on the continent among politicians at the Convention that that is the case. If we are to have a European state with its own currency, we need centralised economic management, including the management of taxes. The draft already contains provision for the erosion of the unanimity principle on taxation. That is one of the Government's red lines, but they will have to fight on many fronts. They need to take all the stuff about majority voting out before they start, and I know from bitter experience that international negotiation is not a one-way street. The bargaining process in the European Union is usually that one representative agrees to do something that is bad for his country, if the other also agrees to do something that is bad for his country. Everybody has to give way on something. The idea that we will be able to take everything within the red lines out, without having to accept anything in return, is fantastically innocent and naive.
Substantial areas of policy that must at present be decided under the unanimity process will be transferred to qualified majority voting. Giscard d'Estaing, the president of the Convention, last week mentioned 50 such areas. I have been able to count only just over 30, but I defer to his superior knowledge. The Foreign Secretary was asked early in the debate what the new areas of competence were, and I can add the example of energy, which has come from nowhere. There is presently no treaty base for EU legislation or action on energy policy in the existing treaties, but it now appears in the draft constitution. The power given will be to ensure the security of energy supply. I know from my earlier work as a junior Energy Minister that the Commission has been itching to gain some measure of control over North sea oil and gas, as a strategic reservoir in times of oil embargo or international disruption. That will give the Commission the ability to do that by majority voting. Clearly, that could override our own concerns.
The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned the debate about the move to QMV. The 50 areas identified by Giscard d'Estaing include matters such as court appointments. However, we must be clear that energy has been a shared competence, which the Commission adopted on the basis of article 308. As I understand it, the UK would prefer to put the matter on a proper footing in a treaty, rather then relying on that rather extensive article.
I hate to disagree with the hon. Lady—whom I sometimes think of as my hon. Friend. We used to march together, on occasions, in our attempts to defend the interests of this House. However, on this matter I must disagree with her. I would rather have energy dealt with under the existing flexibility clause, as unanimity at least gives us a veto. Once it is moved to its own treaty base, matters to do with energy will be dealt with by QMV. Britain's unique interest in energy could be overridden, so I do not agree with the hon. Lady on that matter.
My point is that whole new legal bases were put into the draft constitution at quite a late stage. A bigger example is that of criminal justice and policing. The draft constitution contains powers to harmonise criminal laws and procedures by majority voting.
This House debated those sensitive matters very recently. Our ability to control and hold accountable magistrates, judges and the police, and our sense of ownership of our criminal justice system, are vital. Those matters lie at the heart of our work in this place, as does the concept of the nation state. We are dealing with the coercive power of the state over its citizens. A state can imprison people, and giving up that power in favour of some more remote jurisdiction is very dangerous. It certainly contradicts the instruction in the Laeken mandate to design a Union that is closer to its citizens.
How is a close Union created by taking decision making away from the citizen and from this House, and passing it upwards to a more remote tier of Government? I asked that question persistently in the Convention, and I was never given an answer.
I think that I can assert without any doubt that the structure and essence of the draft constitution are now fixed and that the constitution will reduce the power of this House. We have been offered some crumbs in the form of a subsidiarity check. The Foreign Secretary said in a speech yesterday that the new mechanism would make sure that the Union
"respects the principle of subsidiarity."
I am afraid that it will do no such thing. The mechanism involved is only a request.
The Foreign Secretary went on to say that he was sure that the Commission would "get the message". I am afraid that that is all that it will get. If the Commission gets such a request from one third of member state Parliaments, the draft protocol provides that the Commission "shall review its proposal", after which it
"may decide to maintain, amend or withdraw its proposal."
Well, thanks very much, but we can do that already. We can send the Commission a message asking it to review a proposal, and it can say no. That situation is going to persist, and there will be no additional power for this House. Against that, we are losing massive powers as a result of the loss of the national veto in so many areas. Also, the whole area of criminal justice and policing is being moved out of the third pillar, where it was corralled precisely to protect its intergovernmental nature. It is now being put into the main treaty structure, with majority voting.
The draft protocol means that all the other institutions of Europe get more power, but not national Parliaments. The Council probably gets the least extra power; it has paid a heavy price for the symbol of having a full-time President to chair its quarterly meetings. The new president of Europe will not be a serving head of government, answerable to an electorate. That is specifically ruled out. The President of the Commission may take on the job, as that is allowed for in the draft, but I absolutely agree with Denzil Davies, that there would be a diminution in the concept that elected heads of Government or state should be in charge.
Many people are dismissive of the idea of the rotating presidency. I rather agree with it; it gives small countries in particular a feeling that they can occasionally have some real influence, and it brings the Union closer to citizens if the presidency is parked for a few months in individual capitals instead of always being run from Brussels. The proposals seem to go in the opposite direction to the constant injunction that we should bring the whole thing closer to the citizen.
Finally, I turn to the common foreign and security policy. There will be majority voting—that is a red line, if one defined in an extraordinarily contorted phrase, which I shall read out for the benefit of anyone interested in Euro-speak—
"when adopting a decision on a Union action or position, on a proposal which the Minister puts forward to it following a specific request to him from the European Council made at its own initiative or that of the Minister".
I have read that several times, and I am still none the wiser; suffice it to say that there is provision for some majority voting on a common foreign and security policy. The British Government are against it, and I am glad of that at least.
Even if the Government manage to take out that red line, however, there will still be a European Foreign Minister who "shall" conduct the Union's common foreign and security policy. The text is littered with obligations for member states to conform to the policy concerned. The best, and clearest, is in article I-15:
"Member states shall actively and unreservedly support the Union's common foreign and security policy in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity and shall comply with the acts adopted by the Union in this area."
It is sometimes said that something similar to that wording can be found in existing treaties. That is true, but they are treaties, and this is an enforceable constitution. We know that from looking at the new powers of the European Commission, which is given a new job:
"It shall ensure the application of the Constitution".
"shall ensure respect for the law in the interpretation and application of the Constitution."
Finally, and perhaps clearest of all, the draft states that the constitution
"shall have primacy over the law of Member States."
It is all down in black and white; we do not have to speculate about it.
We had a debate earlier about the significance of the primacy clause, and it has been alleged in some quarters that it is already in the existing treaties. That is not true. The case law of the European Court of Justice has established over the years that Community law is superior to that of member states, but we are adding that unconditionally into an article in a constitution. I know that the British Government are concerned about that from comments made by the Leader of the House in plenary sessions of the Convention and from the amendments that he tabled there. The point is rightly of concern to the Government, but are they going to try to have it removed?
The significant point is not that Union law will have primacy, although one can argue about the merits of that. The point is that the constitution will have primacy, and that is a wholly new concept, because there is no constitution at present. When there is one, it will, in all respects, whether in passing law or in demanding solidarity or mutual obligation, have primacy over the laws of member states. That is a giant step forward. It is completely new, and it is absurd to call the process a tidying-up exercise.
We must have a national debate between the end of the Convention and the start of the intergovernmental conference. For that to take place, we need a White Paper from the Government. I agree with what the Liberal Democrat spokesman said on the subject earlier—it is very important that the Government now tell us what they can accept, what they cannot accept, and what they hope to achieve so that we can have a national debate. An even more fundamental precondition is that we are all honest about what is in the draft. If these changes are so good for this country, let the Government argue the case for them. It is intolerable that they should pretend that it is merely a matter of tidying up what we have already. These changes are of giant constitutional significance. If they have merits, let us hear what they are. I will argue the opposite, and we can have an honest debate.
Finally, and most importantly, after all that is done, this matter can be decided only by the people. I often disagree with Valéry Giscard d'Estaing—I have had many spats with him in the past 15 months—but right at the start he said something that was true. He said that treaties are for Governments but constitutions are for people.
It is an interesting time for European affairs, as Mr. Campbell said. I welcome the statement on the single currency made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer a few days ago. I hope that this country can now start moving towards the convergence to which he referred in his speech and towards a single currency.
On the European Convention and the Thessaloniki European summit, I do not intend to follow Mr. Heathcoat-Amory save to say that his comments were only to be expected. I think that that was why the Conservative party suggested that he should be its delegate to the Convention—because of his history of Euroscepticism. The hysteria that Conservative Members generate towards aspects of the European Union never fails to amaze me. Some of the hysterical outpourings in recent times have been incredible.
The constitution is in draft form; it is not yet completed. It has to go to the European summit and then to an intergovernmental conference, yet we are debating it as though it were cast in stone and about to be deposited on us. It is some time away. To start talking at this stage about whether the matter should be put to a referendum is incredible. The right hon. Gentleman and other Conservative Members say that Maastricht and the other treaties were then, but this is now and we should have a referendum because this is a constitution. That is not the case. We did not have a referendum on Maastricht. The then Prime Minister rejected any such referendum. It was dealt with like any other treaty—it was put before the House in the form of an Act of Parliament.
I shall not give way as I am restricted to 10 minutes. Other hon. Members have taken longer than that, so I do not have time.
We have had no other referendums on such matters and I do not see why we should have one now. The right hon. Member for Wells went on about the constitutional changes and Mr. Ancram went on about the new competencies. Perhaps they are reading the wrong document. I do not see it like that.
As for the new newspaper polls that pass themselves off as referendums—obviously, I am referring to the Daily Mail poll and individuals were ringing radio programmes and contacting the press to say how many times they had voted in that—the figures quoted must be treated with a large dose of salts.
The constitutional Convention has been sitting for about 15 months. I pay tribute to both my hon. Friend Ms Stuart, who also serves on the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, and the right hon. Member for Wells as they have spent masses of time in Europe at meetings and all the rest and have worked hard. However, the process has been going on for 15 months without receiving any press coverage; now, it is generating anti-European hysteria. I find it surprising that we face a barrage of anti-European rhetoric about a draft document that is yet to be decided, and that will be decided over the next few months.
I want to consider some aspects of the draft constitution. I am beginning to think that perhaps "draft constitution" is the wrong title for it. Perhaps the Convention should have used a different title to avoid confusing it with, for example, a country's constitution, which was what the right hon. Member for Devizes was aiming at when he talked about a constitution superseding aspects of our constitution. Neither I nor many other people see it as taking over aspects of our constitution: it simply sets out and codifies treaties and European legislation that are already in existence. Again, the whole thing must be agreed unanimously by all member Governments and ratified. We are therefore a long way away from a final document.
When the final decision is taken we will have a single document setting out clearly all the European treaties and documents, whereas, at the moment, anybody who wanted to find the acquis communautaire or other European legislation would have to refer to a whole range of documents and treaties. The right hon. Member for Wells talked about bringing Europe closer to the people, and the fact that we will have a single document will bring it closer to the people, as it will be easier to see what European Union law will be. It will make the adoption of all European Union legislation subject to the prior scrutiny of national Parliaments and the double approval of both national Governments in the EU Council and directly elected MPs.
One problem with European legislation coming through this House is that it receives hardly any scrutiny whatever. We have European Standing Committees A and B, which I was instrumental in setting up a few years ago in the Procedure Committee, and now the European Scrutiny Committee. Draft directives debated in this House, however, are few and far between. We have seen that recently with the end-of-life vehicles directive being implemented in law, and the directive in relation to the disposal of refrigeration equipment. Little information was provided about those, and little scrutiny. An unsuspecting public therefore face European directives that the House has not really debated or had the opportunity to amend. I welcome further scrutiny of all EU legislation, as that is an improvement that gives us, as representatives of our communities, the chance to have an input into European legislation, which, so far, we have not really had. That would bring it closer to the people.
On qualified majority voting and the removal of some vetoes, Sir Teddy Taylor referred to an article, which probably appeared in a newspaper this evening, saying that the EU has rejected our proposals on asylum. Perhaps that has happened as a result of use of the veto. If the veto had not been available, and the decision had been taken by QMV, our proposals on that aspect of asylum and immigration might have been accepted. Having the veto in every area is therefore perhaps not the great thing that it appears to be. Moving to qualified majority voting in a number of areas might allow us to get some sensible proposals accepted around Europe that previously we have not been able to do.
The Government have said many times that there will be exceptions to qualified majority voting in which we will retain the veto, notably tax, social security, foreign policy and defence. I welcome that.
I welcome, too, the red and yellow card idea, whereby if several national Parliaments opposed a legislative proposal it could be rejected. That would give national representatives more chances to affect European legislation. We could lobby for changes and reject completely unacceptable aspects of legislative policy.
There has been discussion of the idea that an elected president or chair should serve for a term of two and a half years. Over the past few years, I have travelled in Europe with the Foreign Affairs Committee, meeting the holders of the EU presidency. Each of them is required to draw up a programme for their six months in office and to chair EU meetings in their country. That is an unwieldy situation that will get worse with enlargement and it cannot continue. We need some stability; we do not need the current six-month programmes but a long-range programme for the EU, without constant chopping and changing.
I do not understand the attitude of Opposition Members. We should deal with these proposals as we have dealt with treaties in the past—by means of a Bill in this place. We should reject the hysteria for a referendum. We have not held one on previous occasions. Furthermore, Conservative Prime Ministers repeatedly rejected them.
It then sets out what I presume is the speech that he has not yet made, unless I have missed something. Can you confirm that to issue such a press release is to presume that he would catch your eye? I am only a new Member, but he is an experienced Member and such a presumption on his part would surely be to go too far. After all—[Interruption.]
I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker.
This is not the US Senate where Members can simply issue a press release and it is then written into the record; we have to catch the eye of the Speaker. Are you not especially surprised by this press release, Madam Deputy Speaker, bearing in mind the number of times that the right hon. Gentleman has inveighed against the Government for issuing press releases before—
I am grateful to you for your courtesy, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have not presumed; I merely set out some comments for the press. The press release was embargoed and issued only on the basis that I might be called, so I am grateful that I was called—[Interruption.] When the press release was given to journalists, the basis on which it was issued was explained. The point of order was simply an attempt to put the Opposition off their stride, as they are making the House and the country aware of the revolutionary document that is the draft constitution.
The document represents a massive shift in the relative powers of the member states of the EU, creating a powerful centralised Union with its own legal personality. A big power grab is being accomplished in the field of criminal justice and law, and in immigration and asylum policy, which the Government welcome and urge on the EU. There will be a big shift in the relative powers on foreign policy and defence. I shall concentrate my brief remarks on those points.
The draft constitution makes it clear that the member states
"shall support the Union's common foreign and security policy actively and unreservedly in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity . . . The member states shall work together to enhance and develop their mutual political solidarity . . . and . . . refrain from any action which is contrary to the interests of the Union or likely to impair its effectiveness as a cohesive force in international relations".
The right hon. Gentleman is, of course, quoting from the existing treaties negotiated by the Government of whom he was a member. There is nothing new at all in what he has just said.
I am quoting from the draft constitution. What is new is that the three pillars are being collapsed into one, so such things are justiciable in the European Court of Justice for the first time and will become legally binding. That has to be seen in the context of the very wide-ranging aims for the Union set out for the first time in new language in the draft constitution.
If the United Kingdom were to accept the draft constitution and we wanted to undertake action with the United States of America in Iraq, and the European Union did not like that, the EU would have an effective veto against our action for the first time. The EU could appeal to the ECJ, which could rule that such action was against the interests of the Union and the objectives set out in the constitution. That is a very decisive shift in the relative powers of the member state and the Union in foreign affairs. That is clearly buttressed in the draft document by creating a very powerful minister for foreign affairs,
"who shall conduct political dialogue on the Union's behalf and shall express the Union's position in international organisations and in international conferences."
The document goes on to make it very clear that that very powerful man will chair the Foreign Affairs Council, so he will be senior to our Foreign Secretary, whoever he may be. He will have the most decisive power over setting the agenda of the Foreign Affairs Council and, in certain circumstances, he will be able to act without direct controls from the Council when things are fast-moving and he is given some discretion.
Of course, the foreign affairs minister is also the man or woman who will attend the United Nations Security Council and put our case—the case of the EU—whatever the UK or France might think was the right case to put and whatever they might like to do with their seats on the Security Council. The Government's defence is to say that the EU foreign affairs minister could not become a member of the UN Security Council without changing the charter and the arrangements at the UN. That is where the draft constitution is so clever. Ministers are correct in saying that, but, to get round that point, the constitution says that member states that are members of the Security Council will in the execution of their functions defend the positions and the interests of the Union and that the member states that are members of the Security Council
"shall request that the Minister for Foreign Affairs be asked to present the Union's position."
We will not be requested to allow the EU Minister for Foreign Affairs to represent us. There will be no dialogue; nor will we have any influence in the matter. It very clear that, for the first time in foreign affairs, there will be a legally binding requirement under the draft constitution, if approved, for the EU Minister for Foreign Affairs to put our case at the UN and effectively to override our independent seat on that very important body.
As other hon. Members have already said, the power to override and construct international agreements will be generally given to the Union—it is a prime competence, where the Union will have the first say—so not just in foreign affairs, but in practically every area, the Union can bind us by virtue of having the power to settle international agreements. All the Union has to do is find a few other countries around the world that will do a deal with it and enter into an international agreement, which will be legally binding on the member states under the clauses of the constitution, and we will then be circumscribed in our powers to legislate on such matters.
As we have heard during the debate, the Government say that there is no need to worry because we already have a veto on EU foreign policy and that that veto will remain in place. Of course, that is quite true, but the Government are suppressing from the House the secret veto—the veto that the EU will gain over anything that we might wish to do, by virtue of the very strong clauses on mutual solidarity and loyalty to the Union's policy. We will have to explain to the Union anything that we might choose to do, and the Union could use the very clever structure of the constitution to say that anything that we wanted to do was against the Union's aims and objectives. That would be justiciable in the ECJ, and we would face injunction or infraction proceedings against us if we tried to preserve our current independence in foreign affairs.
In this debate, we are invited to refer to the interesting report by the European Scrutiny Committee on the role of national Parliaments. One good aspect of the draft constitution, if it survives, is that the Council of Ministers would be open to the public when it meets as a legislature. Although that would be a distinct improvement, the measure does not go far enough. The Council of Ministers, as a legislature, lacks a formal opposition. No one in the legislature is charged with saying that a law is not needed, that a law is bad or that a draft does not work.
The Minister knows, as do I from attending many such meetings, that the process works by virtue of negotiation among countries to broker national interests. No formal group is charged with the duty of opposing draft legislation by questioning the overall need for it and providing sensible commentary on its detail, which is thought to be entirely appropriate in this House. We should think about how a formal opposition could be implemented in the powerful legislature of the Council of Ministers given that the draft constitution says that it could presume to legislate on practically everything of interest to Governments.
The Minister thinks that the situation is terribly funny but he presumably believes sufficiently in British parliamentary democracy to accept that the Opposition have an important role when dealing with national legislation. However, no one has a similar role in the Council of Ministers because its proceedings are based on a different presumption. The system means that we already get far too much legislation from Brussels and if the draft constitution is passed, we shall be deluged with even more legislation, much of which will be agreed by qualified majority voting, on many matters on which the Commission is establishing more territorial control and exercising more power.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the European Scrutiny Committee's excellent report. Does he agree with the report's recommendation for an early-warning mechanism through which national Parliaments could receive recommendations from the Commission, deliberate on them and, hopefully, say no if they disagree with the Commission's suggestions?
I would like as good a measure and as much advance warning and opportunity for debate as possible. It would help if this Government's Ministers adopted a practice that I adopted as a Minister—when my colleagues allowed me. [Interruption.] There were times when I was allowed to adopt it. Ministers should give hon. Members a sufficiently early opportunity to debate an EU proposal that is likely to become a law that would affect Britain, or a directive for us to introduce a law, so that the House may form a view and offer Ministers advice before they negotiate the law on our behalf. It is a more productive use of our time to debate a draft law while Ministers still have the opportunity to influence it than to debate it after it has been agreed by the Council of Ministers—the effective legislature—and passed into law because at that time what we think does not matter and our views are of little use.
If the draft constitution is accepted, we could try to claim that a law offends the rules of subsidiarity but I doubt whether the proposed system will work. I cannot imagine any law being rejected on the ground of subsidiarity under the weak and feeble provisions of the current draft constitution. I urge the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe to take the mood of the House seriously. The rather weak yellow card should be upgraded to a red card because the concept of subsidiarity will otherwise have no meaning.
I am most preoccupied by the way in which the attitude in the constitution shows that the European Union has more or less completed its task of establishing its supremacy and occupying territory on every major aspect of government for which it wants to take powers. If one reads the fundamental rights and aims and the many words describing what the Union is all about, no one can doubt that the state and its Government are more or less complete. It is not a federal state; it is highly centralised with enormously powerful ambitions. The state wishes to move quickly toward having a common military force and it wants Europe to re-arm. For that reason, the draft constitution establishes an armaments agency, which will urge member states to make good the deficiencies in their current pattern of armaments and, obviously, to spend far more on armaments. One thing that disturbs the architects of the new European superpower is that although it has great ambition, it does not have well-equipped military forces that can be projected abroad easily, because it does not have the transport or the sophisticated weaponry. The draft constitution is in no small measure about trying to remedy that defect through that powerful agency and the powers that the Union wishes to take to urge, and then probably to demand, that member states re-arm so that its power can be projected by strong transport and better weaponry around the world.
I put to the House—
The disconnection between the public and the political elite is greater on Europe than on any other policy. The divergence between what is being done in the name of the people and their actual views is wider on that than on anything else. We have to take that seriously. For some time, this Government and other Governments have proceeded almost against the will of the general public. That has contributed to the general sense of alienation from politics that we experience in Britain, as demonstrated by low turnouts, votes for extremist parties and other symptoms.
The air of inevitability about many of the European initiatives and ventures does not mean that the public at large have enthusiastically adopted those proposals; rather, it reflects the public's assumption that they will be unable to affect the direction in which the political elite are leading the country and that things will happen irrespective of their opposition. That is not a healthy environment. In the light of those circumstances, I am extremely supportive of the calls for a referendum on the new European constitution.
A referendum would act as a brake on the implementation of the constitution until the public are convinced that that they want to move in that direction. I have no doubt that without the clear commitment to hold a referendum before deciding whether to join the euro, the Government would already be in the process of taking us into it. What they have been unable to handle is the test of public opinion. The commitment to a referendum for such a major step forward is essential.
I do not accept—indeed, I did not accept it at the time—the assurances given to us by the former Minister for Europe that the new constitution was simply a tidying-up exercise. Many hon. Members who are more knowledgeable than I am gave the details of some of the proposals. It was always an insult to people's intelligence to suggest that it was mainly a tidying-up process. As my hon. Friend Mr. Marshall suggested, there has been an insidious process of accretion of powers to the centre throughout the life of the Common Market, the European Community and now the European Union. The development of a new constitution takes that process a step further.
Although I accept that matters are not yet agreed, as several Labour Members explained, we are entitled to be extremely suspicious of the proposals that have so far come forward and to seek clarification on the Government's negotiating position. Previous treaties contained the assumption of ever-closer union. I should like the Minister to clarify whether the Government have been working and will work to have that removed, so that there is no assumption of the ever-greater accretion of powers to the centre. We need a clear statement that, if the process is completed and a new treaty is agreed, what has been achieved is the end of the road until such time as another treaty revision takes place, and there will not be a continuing process of accretion. We are entitled to ask the Government for a clear statement on that.
We are also entitled to ask whether provision will be made for some of the powers already taken to the centre to be brought back. If the Government are prepared to negotiate that, and if they achieve it, what powers and areas of responsibility that have previously been sucked into the centre do they believe should be the subject of subsidiarity? What powers will they wish to bring back to us?
I have always taken the view that a free trade area, which was the purpose for which the Common Market was established, would inevitably develop its own currency, constitution and state, and that many people would welcome that. I was struck by the picture on television at the end of the Convention process, when we saw the then Minister for Europe standing to attention with the other delegates while the "Ode to Joy" was played. That seemed to demonstrate that the creation of a European superstate was under way. There is an argument for that, but the Government would be more honest and have a much better chance of commanding public opinion if they came out and argued the logic of their position and explained why they thought that that was desirable and essential—which presumably they do, if they support it.
This may be a conversation for the Tea Room, but is my hon. Friend about to argue that at their football matches, all Scots should stand to attention when the British national anthem is played and treat it with full respect, honour and dignity?
What a silly point. I do not generally attend football matches, but I attend rugby matches. The British national anthem, which I understand to be "God Save the Queen", is usually played as the English national anthem when England are playing. I am quite prepared to support it in those circumstances.
I am tempted to say, "What exactly is your point, caller?" If it is suggested that the "Ode to Joy" is a national anthem, and therefore that it was appropriate for the Minister for Europe to stand to attention, exactly whose national anthem is it? As far as I am aware, the "Ode to Joy" is not the national anthem of any individual member country of the European Union. The Ministers were standing to attention on the basis that it was the anthem of the European Union. That was the point that I was trying to make, which the Minister has greatly helped to clarify, to the edification of the assembled multitude.
I turn to the European Union's achievements to date. We are entitled to ask whether we should continue to go down that road and whether the EU has been an enormous success. The questions can be answered by examining the common agricultural policy. Any organisation that runs an agricultural policy in the way that the CAP has been run is not entitled to much further support. I cannot help but think that we could do worse than be out of the CAP.
Another policy area that we can consider to see how the European Union has behaved is fraud. The scale of fraud, waste and corruption in the EU would never be entertained in a local authority or any other establishment or organisation. The scale of fraud cannot even be accurately estimated. The very body to which we might look for statistics, EUROSTAT, is currently the subject of fraud investigations. The tolerance of such malpractice for some considerable time damns those who have been responsible for the running of the EU.
If I did not believe that aspects of the European Union had brought gains to my constituency, I would be in favour of withdrawal, but I am not. I am in favour of drastic reform and abolishing some aspects of the EU's work that it does not do well. I am in favour of returning some powers to a national level, but I believe that we should still have a European Union. If we cleaned up its act, it would continue to provide some gains and could in some circumstances produce even greater ones. However, we should be much more vigorous in pursuing reform.
I am conscious that speeches are subject to a time limit, but in the few moments that remain to me I wish to refer to the question of a referendum and its impact on the Government. The momentum for a referendum on a question that relates to Europe is virtually unstoppable. By standing in the face of that momentum, the Government will be alienating even more public opinion than they have already alienated on this question. This is a question not only of Europe, but of the Government being prepared to listen to the people and willing to take account of public opinion. The fact that we are not doing that on this issue could dangerously imperil the Government and their re-election, to which I am completely committed. That is what will happen if we continue to stand against the tide of public opinion about a referendum.
I therefore hope that the Government will be able to ignore the fact that the referendum proposal is also supported by the Conservatives, examine it on its own merits and recognise that, if they are genuine about building a pro-European consensus, they must do so by persuasion and not by ramming the changes through without allowing the people a voice.
Mr. Davidson made a sincere and powerful speech. I only hope that Ministers will have listened to what he said on the basis of the sincere points that he made. He did not try to score any political points, but simply pointed out that the people of Britain are getting fed up to the back teeth with what they see as an ever-increasing process of taking away from their sovereignty and are annoyed about having no right to say anything about it.
The hon. Gentleman was also right about voting figures, which I wish all Governments would bear in mind. Turnout in European elections has dropped to 25 per cent. I also have with me the figures for national elections. Between 1979 and 2001, the number of people voting Conservative fell from 13.7 million to 8.4 million. Labour numbers did not rise, but fell from 11.5 million to 10.7 million, and the Liberal Democrat figure rose a little, from 4.2 million to 4.8 million. The strangest thing, however, was that the only parties to increase their vote substantially were the other parties—the strange, unusual ones with all the nutty ideas. People are getting fed up with our democracy, which is being undermined.
What depresses me is that throughout all the debates—as an old man, I have been in the House for a long time and I have had the opportunity to vote against all the treaties—no matter who is in power and who the Minister is, we always get the same speech. It is the same speech that we heard from the Government Front Bench earlier: "There is nothing much in this proposal, there is nothing to worry about and we have got safeguards." Every single time, however, a substantial amount of power has gone and Britain has been much damaged.
In relation to what the Government have said about asylum, for example, I should like to mention a story that appeared on page 4 of today's Evening Standard. As you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, take life very seriously, I am sure that you will remember that in March the Home Secretary announced new plans to deal with asylum seekers. He said that we would control the problem by setting up centres outside the European Union and that we would put all the asylum seekers in Albania or on an island and consider things carefully. The proposal was welcomed by some and widely discussed. Some people said that it was silly and others said that it was a great idea, but the Government announced it, and now a Foreign Office spokesman has made a statement saying that, sadly, it has gone. It is out and it has finished, basically because the EU does not want it. That is one area out of a whole series in which powers have gone—something that should concern us all.
I should like briefly to put to the Government five simple points. First, notwithstanding the attitude that he seems to take to those who criticise the Government, will the Minister assure me that he will do all in his power to prevent the passing of legislation on the Convention that would reduce our rebate from the European Union? When Mrs. Thatcher was Prime Minister, she fought hard for that rebate because we were paying far too much. We know—not from anything that the Government have done, but because we have a very hard-working Committee—that part of the arrangement means that the rebate could be reduced. I simply ask the Government to do all that they can to remove from the treaty, the constitution or whatever it is called the clauses that would give the majority an opportunity to undermine us.
Secondly, will the Minister try hard to ensure that the new proposal to allow withdrawal—which can be found on page 46 of the progress report, dealing with article 1-59—is clarified? This is the first time any treaty or similar arrangement has contained a provision allowing a member state to withdraw. As has been pointed out, the only country that has ever got out is Greenland, and it got out only because every other member state approved a law allowing it to do so.
The trouble is that before a member state can withdraw there must be an agreement between the Council of Ministers and that member state, which must then be approved by a qualified majority and also by the European Parliament.That provides no guarantee whatever. It means that a country wishing to withdraw—certainly, I think that any organisation is strengthened by the granting of an opportunity to withdraw from it—will not have the right to do so unless it can present a proposal that is acceptable to the Council of Ministers and to the European Parliament. There should be a provision entitling a country wishing to withdraw to do so. There should be a guarantee, and the possibility of an independent choice.
Thirdly, I simply want to ask the Government what on earth we are going to do about agriculture. We had a splendid Secretary of State for International Development, who sadly resigned. I feared that the new Secretary of State might not be quite so good—that she might be a softie—but she too is a splendid person, called Lady Amos. I received a letter from her today, which thrilled me. She wrote:
"EU citizens provide Euro45 billion of taxes to fund the CAP and a further Euro50 billion from their pockets to buy more expensive products. This situation is not only morally bankrupt, but also economically and environmentally unsustainable. We cannot preach fair trade abroad while practising protectionism at home."
That is the clearest message we have had from a Minister about the CAP. It accepts that the CAP is one of the most shocking, appalling, disgraceful arrangements that we have ever had in any democracy, that it costs a fortune, that the farmers who did pretty well when it began are now not doing well at all, and—crucially—that the people who are suffering horribly as a result of it are those in the third world.
If we have to give a lot of money to farmers and if, because we have too many farmers, we have to give more, that is a matter for us. What we are not entitled to do is engage in the horrible business of dumping food on the world market in a way that causes devastation in the third world. The perfect example is sugar. One would think that the EU should be importing sugar because other countries, unlike us, can grow it successfully, but in fact we export it at a price four times the world value. We also spend a fortune dumping it in the third world, and those who live in some of the poorest areas suffer.
The situation is shameful. It is horrible. It is shocking. We all know that—we have been talking about it for years. Moreover, it is getting worse and worse. It will get worse still following the extension of the EU to include such countries as Poland and Romania. There is no way in which we will persuade the EU to reform the CAP, because that would mean some countries suffering more than others. Although Governments of all complexions have shouted that the CAP will be reformed, as indeed have Liberal Democrats—those who are sincere—it is a non-starter. It will not happen; it cannot happen. The situation can only get worse. I would like the Government to say what they are going to do about it. People in the third world are suffering enormously, and it seems to me that the only way in which we can take action is to say, "No more treaties unless we have some reform", and certainly to put a block on money. That is absolutely vital.
I ask the Government in all sincerity whether, to assist people and to try to tell the truth about Europe, they could issue a balance sheet that tells us about the money that we have to pay in. Many people are shocked when I tell them that every hour—24 hours a day, seven days a week—we send a cheque for £1.4 million to the EU. It would make a huge difference to people in places where there is a great deal of poverty, misery and degradation, and where money is needed because their local authorities do not have it, if they could get a cheque for £1.4 million. Those people would like to know how much we have paid into the EU since we joined and how much we have got out. A lot of the money that comes in is totally wasted, of course, but nevertheless it is half of the amount that goes out. Could we not have a note saying what the cost has been?
On trade, it appals me when people say, apparently sincerely, that we must stay in Europe because of the trade. That is a load of codswallop. Just last week, figures were published showing that when we established the single market, which was meant to offer guarantees of more trade to people in Britain, France and Germany, the countries that enjoyed more trade than any others were America and Japan. Although America was not a member of the EU, in the period from the establishment of the single market to 2000, American exports to the area went up by twice as much as those of France and Germany, and Japanese exports went up by 27 per cent. more.
The idea that we must simply stay in because of jobs and trade is a load of codswallop. If anyone doubts that, they should have been with me in Norway and Switzerland when they had their referendums. All these clever EU people were saying, "You've got to join, otherwise jobs will be destroyed and the people will be ruined", yet of course those countries are among the most prosperous in the world.
I was one of a band—sadly, rather a small band—of Members who regularly attended the Standing Committee on the Convention on the Future of Europe. I pay tribute to our representatives on the Convention, my hon. Friend Ms Stuart and Mr. Heathcoat-Amory, both of whom represented robustly and vigorously the interests of this House and of the British people. I congratulate them on that and on the way in which they reported back to us.
I have long been a supporter of enlargement. Indeed, almost all hon. Members seem to support it, primarily for the reason that it will make the European Union a much more sensible organisation. It will inevitably lead to a loosening of the relationship between the nations of Europe: that will make it work much better. It is interesting that the most effective speech against enlargement that I have heard was made during the previous Parliament by Sir Edward Heath, the former leader of the Conservative party, who feared that it would lead us away from federalism and a strong, concentrated, state of Europe towards a looser arrangement of independent, democratic states, which is what the great majority of British people, and the great majority of Members of this House, really want. That is why I support enlargement. Some are concerned that smaller, weaker nations want to share in the wealth and prosperity of western Europe. We may hope that that will be one of the by-products of enlargement, but that is not necessarily so. I shall come to that in a little while.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said that the 25 nations of the proposed enlarged European Union would constitute the geographical limits of Europe. I would refer him to my hon. Friend Mr. Marshall and to a trenchant and impressive speech made by Mr. Johnson some weeks ago, in which he asked how we define Europe. I think that it goes well beyond the definition that the Foreign Secretary used. One might say that it stretches from the Atlantic to the Urals, but the Urals are well east of where it is proposed that the European Union will stop. If we are talking about a cultural Europe, I suspect that there are Russian-speaking citizens of Vladivostok who like Pushkin, Tchaikovsky and football, who are in many ways not dissimilar from ourselves, and who would equally call themselves Europeans, yet Vladivostok is a long way from the European Union. So we have to be careful about the way in which we define Europe and I look forward to possible further expansion in future.
I want to devote most of my speech to the euro, not only our membership of it but its future. If anything will undermine and destroy the European Union, it is the euro and it is time that Europe considered getting rid of it and embarking on another economic way forward. Since last week, we have entered a new era beyond the five economic tests. The political landscape in both Britain and Europe is different. Britain will not join the euro for the foreseeable future and even a referendum appears to be some years ahead. To me, all the warm words resemble those of a lover who says to his girlfriend, "I love you, but we're incompatible and I don't want to marry you."
The euro is a serious matter for existing members of that currency and us. Clearly, the Treasury has considered it and does not want to have much to do with it. It was badly burned by the exchange rate mechanism experience and noted our strong and rapid recovery once we departed from the ERM. We had the strongest growth perhaps for some decades immediately after we got out of the bind caused by being tied to the European currencies. Doubtless, the Chancellor has considered that and spoken to his Treasury colleagues and I am pleased by what he said.
Perhaps the Chancellor has read the wise words of Professor Wilhelm Nolling, who, until some years ago, was a SPD politician—effectively on our side—in the German Parliament. After that, he was a director of the Bundesbank and now he is an economics professor at Hamburg. He recently said:
"The present euro zone structure is devastating for Germany . . . Our economy is bleeding. And I am convinced the UK would be crazy to join—you should stay out for as long as I can foresee."
Those are the words of a former director of the Bundesbank. As for the German economy, Professor Nolling continued:
"Deflation has already arrived, in that our economic dynamism has disappeared . . . There is no willingness among the private sector to invest, and euro zone rules have cut back public investment to an extent we haven't seen since the war."
Germany has some serious problems inside the eurozone because it cannot adjust interest rates to suit its economy, yet interest rates for the zone are too high for Germany. It cannot depreciate its currency, yet the euro is appreciating strongly against the dollar, increasing Germany's problems. In a sensible world, Germany would want to depreciate its currency significantly to become more competitive again, yet it cannot relax its fiscal policy and has been told to tighten it. When a country is in a recession and anticipating serious deflation, being told to deflate the economy by tightening fiscal policy is clearly economic nonsense.
Let us consider enlargement and the euro. When weak economies are dragged into such an arrangement and bolted on to strong economies, they can experience serious problems, especially if their internal economy is inflating faster. In the past couple of years, Argentina was overcome by disaster when it bolted its currency to the dollar in the hope that it could squeeze out inflation. That almost destroyed the economy, which began to recover only when it left the arrangement and devalued. Every country must retain the ability to flex its exchange rate to meet the needs of its economy. If we do not do that, the world will suffer. When big economies, such as Germany's, go down, it affects the whole world.
Smaller, weaker economies are joining the European Union and being encouraged to join the euro. Of course, they will accept almost any terms that are offered to them because they are so desperate to join. Portugal's experience is a warning. It is a smaller, relatively poor economy in the European Union that has decided to adopt strict rules on public spending. It is determined to pursue that policy of economic anorexia. The Financial Times recently published an article on it, entitled "Austerity persists as recession bites". The Portuguese Government are determined to stick it out to the bitter end, cutting their economy, deflating and, I believe, travelling to economic oblivion.
At some point, something has to give. These policies could be catastrophic for the European Union unless we allow some flexibility on exchange rates. We cannot, by definition, do that inside the euro. We shall have to look towards a time when we unravel the euro and start again.
I quote again from Professor Nolling:
"Certainly, the more countries that join, the more ungovernable it will become. In that sense, the euro was born to die."
This man is a senior political figure, economist and banker in west Germany, which was the strongest economy in Europe. Simply by joining the euro and adopting the deflationary policies of the eurozone, Germany has put its economic miracle into reverse. We must consider seriously the future of the euro, not just for Britain but for the whole of Europe, and I urge my right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Foreign Secretary to raise these issues with their colleagues in the European Union.
It is a real pleasure to follow Mr. Hopkins. It is interesting, and quite revealing, that despite the fact that people have spent nine months to a year discussing the Convention on the Future of Europe and have come to conclusions that most hon. Members find abhorrent—apart from Mr. Illsley, who took the view that there was nothing to worry about at all—the Government tell us that there is no problem because it is only a draft Convention and nothing will come of it.
We all know better than that, however. As Mr. Marshall said, both in an intervention and in his excellent speech, there are always compromises when Governments get together. They agree on some things, they disagree on others, and they make compromises. I fear that some of the issues raised in the excellent speech of my right hon. Friend Mr. Heathcoat-Amory will have to be accepted by the House because of the very compromises that have been mentioned.
I am not planning to say a great deal about the Convention on the Future of Europe, which has already been covered by many hon. Members. Before I reach the issue that I want to concentrate on, however, I want to say that we have to accept that, in some respects, the European Union has been an agent for good. I believe that the democratic processes that have taken place in Portugal, Spain and Greece came about sooner because of those countries' desire to join the European Union and to enjoy the benefits that membership has given them. I also believe that there has been greater co-operation between the member states of the European Union; that, too, should be applauded.
The Foreign Secretary talked about the absence of war, but I think that he was going a bit too far. I do not believe that an absence of war stems from membership of the European Union, although membership will certainly not have done any harm in that regard. I believe that the absence of war came about as a result of our membership of NATO and of the common threat of the Soviet Union. Most hon. Members feel very strongly that the European Union should do nothing to undermine NATO, yet there is a very real risk of that happening. That must be avoided at all costs, particularly at this time.
I want to move on to a subject that dare not speak its name. The moment anyone raises it in the House, they are accused—especially by the Government, at the moment—of talking about withdrawal. I hope that the Minister will not be tempted to accuse me of that. It is a subject that was raised by my hon. Friend Sir Teddy Taylor: the cost of the European Union. Mr. Davidson said in his excellent speech that he wanted to remain in the European Union and that he felt strongly that there were benefits to be accrued from membership. The problem is that we do not know how much that amounts to.
At Foreign Office Question Time about a month ago, I asked the Minister for Europe a question, having told him before the sitting what I was going to ask him. He very helpfully answered that no real analysis of the costs or benefits of membership of the European Union had been made since 1997. In fact, the analysis carried out in 1997 was only into the effects on the European Union of its enlargement when the 10 new member states join.
I raised the matter with the Chancellor only last Thursday, and having done more research it seems that neither John Major's Government nor the present Administration did any such analysis. When the Government were elected in 1997, very early on they adopted the shibboleth that the European Union creates 300,000 jobs in this country. I think that the Foreign Secretary cited that figure again today.
The figure was certainly cited by the Chancellor, and has been used by Foreign Office Ministers in the past. It is fair enough, but we do not actually know, because no such analysis has been undertaken since at least 1992. I find that very strange indeed. I do not know of any company or individual who would belong to an organisation and not occasionally check what the costs or the benefits are. After all, if I were a member of a club and knew the costs and benefits of membership, it would give me an opportunity to negotiate and get a better deal.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East gave us some statistics on the balance of trade, and I have some further statistics, which I obtained from the Library. From about 1998 onwards, the balance of trade deficit in goods and services has fallen in respect of our trade both with the European Union and with the world. It is only with the United States that we have a balance of trade surplus. The figures have risen remorselessly year after year.
Our balance of trade in goods with the world is minus £35 billion, with the EU it is minus almost £10 billion, but we have a surplus with the United States. For goods and services—in other words, the entire balance of trade position—in 2002, the last year for which figures are available, we had a deficit with the world of £18.8 billion and with the European Union of almost £14 billion, but we had a balance of trade surplus with the United States of £13.5 billion. Perhaps those figures give the lie to the notion that we necessarily benefit from EU membership—it might be far worse for us if we were not in the EU, but the point is that we do not know.
According to an analysis undertaken by the US Treasury, the World Trade Organisation gives us access to European markets regardless of whether we are members of the European Union. I have an interesting document produced by the US Treasury about two years ago. It goes into considerable detail about the direct and indirect costs and benefits accruing from our membership of the European Union. Its strange conclusion—it is strange because it runs contrary to everything that we are told—is that the net benefit to the United Kingdom is minus US $40 billion a year. Putting it crudely, that is equivalent to about £500 for every man, woman and child in this country every year, or to almost doubling our state pension overnight.
We know that that cannot be true, because everyone tells us how much we benefit from the European Union. After all, people tell us that we benefit by 300,000 jobs. My simple message and plea to the Minister today is this: I am sure that those figures are wrong; I am sure that we benefit from the European Union—but let us not guess at it. Will the Government conduct their own cost-benefit analysis, publish the methodology and the results, and set out all the direct and indirect benefits and costs that arise from the EU? Only then can we really know the cost or the benefit of our membership.
We have had a good debate, in which several issues have been raised. I am not going to go into the detail of the EU constitution, because my right hon. Friend Mr. Heathcoat-Amory has already eloquently done so. His speech will be widely circulated and read in my constituency.
We do have concerns, because although it is only in draft form, we can see that the constitution is heading towards a federal state with a president, a foreign minister, a legal personality and more qualified majority voting. Attempts were made at the Convention—and attempts may still be made—to circumvent the process whereby the constitution has to come back to national Parliaments for further changes. There are many dangers in what is being proposed. I would feel a little more reassured if Government Front Benchers had been more robust in defence of our national interests.
I am concerned when I hear a Minister who is negotiating our position describe what is happening as a minor tidying-up exercise, and I believe that my constituents and the people of this country will be horrified when they see the implementation of the changes, particularly in the sphere of criminal justice, policing, asylum and immigration. It will come as a shock to many people when they see what eventually emerges.
The point of the Laeken declaration and of setting up the Convention was to bring Europe closer to the people. One way of achieving that is to consult people far more widely on whether they approve of the changes. If the Government are convinced that the new constitution is the right way for Britain and Europe, why not trust the people to take the decision on the choices available?
The Government have used referendums widely. We have had referendums to decide whether Hartlepool or North Tyneside should have a mayor, and whether London should have a Mayor. Amendments tabled in the other place to the Water Bill may lead to referendums to decide whether certain areas of the country have fluoride in their water. Many of my constituents write to express their concern about fluoride, and I am not opposed to having referendums on that matter. However, it is a strange world in which we are happy to consult people on such issues, but not on what could well set the course of the nation for many years to come. The Government should consider having a referendum on this important subject, and trust the people to make the choice.
As the debate has already shown, one of the main reasons why the Government are adamantly against a referendum is that, when the last Conservative Government announced that they would accept a referendum on the euro, the Labour party, then in opposition, felt that it should adopt the same policies in preparation for the election of 1997. If the Government mean what they say and wish to join the euro, they have been stopped for one simple reason. They have undertaken to consult the people, but it is evident from polls, or even from talking to people at bus stops, that the euro is not, at this time, an issue that is likely to secure the consent of the British people. That has become a block on Government policy.
In the circles in which the Minister for Europe moves, I can envisage people saying to him, "If we concede a referendum, there will be a great danger of the Government's policy being blocked." The Government should reconsider their position. If they really have confidence in it, they should be prepared to argue the case on the streets, in the town halls and in the villages of our nation to convince people about the right way to go.
We have heard in the debate that this is only a draft constitution, that it is early days yet, and that it is not all done and dusted. Much of that argument has come from the Government side, yet Labour Members supported referendums on devolution for Scotland and Wales even before legislation was introduced, and even before the long detailed debates had been conducted. Therefore, they should make a commitment to have a referendum now. Even if changes are made—I hope that they are—at the final IGC, the Government should have the confidence to let the British people make the decision. If they adopted that policy, it would certainly strengthen the hand of the British negotiators at the IGC.
If the hon. Gentleman decided that the final version of the constitution would not in fact make any major constitutional changes to the way in which Britain is governed, would he say that we no longer needed a referendum? Or does he believe that we should have a referendum whatever the constitution says?
The final shape of the constitution is already clear from the draft documents that have been produced. I hope that the Government will stand up for British interests and gut much of what is proposed. If that happened, I would be happy to say that we would not need a referendum—but nothing I have heard from Ministers suggests that it is likely to happen.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the likelihood of a referendum would change the nature of the proposals? That would be a benefit, because the proposals would then have to be in line with what was likely to be acceptable to the people.
That is right, but the Government have an alternative. If a general election were held before the constitution was ratified, they could put it in their manifesto and run for election on it. Over the years, Governments have signed up to European treaties. Indeed, Labour Members have criticised Conservative Governments for ratifying treaties without referendums. However, Maastricht was in the Conservative manifesto that was put before the people. The waters are muddied, because people vote on many other issues, but ratification could be justified because it had appeared in an election manifesto as one of the issues on which the Government went to the country.
As many of my hon. Friends have pointed out, the Convention was not in the Labour manifesto in 2001. I do not suggest that the Government's majority would have been much lower had it been there, but it would have provided a legitimacy for the Government's decision not to consult the British people on the issue. They could claim that people had already taken it into account when they voted.
The hon. Gentleman advances a dangerous argument. He mentioned Maastricht and 1992. Is he claiming that the Conservative Members who harassed the Major Government about the Maastricht treaty were ignoring the wishes of the British electorate?
That was clearly in the Conservative manifesto, although I am sure that individual Members put their views in their election addresses and had to decide on their actions accordingly. The essential element of this issue is the euro, and we have a pledge of a referendum on that point. Many of the ambitions that people had for Maastricht have not been fulfilled, simply because it has not got us into the single currency. A referendum is the right option, if the Government have confidence in their position and their negotiating skills at the IGC. The British people should have their say.
We have had some interesting contributions on the euro. We can see from what is happening in Europe at present that a single currency and a single interest rate cause significant problems, especially for Germany, which has 5 million unemployed. When I was growing up, it would have been incredible if Britain's employment record had been significantly better than Germany's.
Part of the problem is the inflexibility of the single currency. We have had much discussion of convergence and the right rate for entry, but economies change. The rate may be right when one joins, but economic circumstances can change substantially, and it can become the wrong rate. Fixing one aspect of economic life throws other aspects out of kilter. I have always believed that when we are faced with deprivation, unemployment and difficulty, our national Government can at least deal with problems related to currency and interest rate policy. In contrast, an insulated central bank that cannot be lobbied will cause great difficulties.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate, and to follow some distinguished speakers on both sides of the House, all of whom have expressed sincerely held views. The relationship between the UK and Europe, and the direction in which it develops, are of profound importance to the future of our country. It is worth mentioning the differences between Europe the continent, the European Union, which is the alliance of 15 different countries, and the euro, which is the single currency. They are all distinct and separate in our minds, but not always in the minds of the general public.
First, I shall try to dispel the myth that I—or any other Eurosceptic—must be somehow anti-Europe. The two qualities are very different. Europe is the name given to a group of countries that are geographical neighbours. One cannot be against Europe any more than one can be against Australia, Africa or any other continent. Most of us visit countries in Europe regularly, for holidays or, in my case, to visit my family in Sweden, which I do regularly. We all enjoy the variety of cultural and culinary treats that Europe has to offer. They include the horses on the Camargue, the Vatican City, the Vasa museum, Roquefort cheese and champagne, gnocchi and baklava—the list is endless. Let us therefore hear no more about anyone who happens to be Eurosceptic being anti-Europe, because the phrase is meaningless.
This country's entry into the single currency depends, according to the Chancellor, on his five so-called economic tests. The Chancellor says that if those tests are complied with, it would be in our best interests to join. That is not so—absolutely not so. The economic argument is only one facet of a whole spectrum of aspects to consider in making that momentous move. The decision is a political one. It would be an irrevocable step towards membership of a European superstate—the ever closer union that is openly talked about in all the other member states. For some reason, however, a pretence is maintained in this country that the decision is merely economic.
Joining the eurozone would mean that Britain would sign up to common policies that are set for all member countries. Given those countries' widely differing circumstances, those common policies could not possibly be right for all of them. For the lucky ones, it would be a case of one size fits one or two, some of the time; in contrast, the unlucky countries would have no power to do anything about the policies imposed on them. Moreover, who would be making the decisions that would affect the lives of everyone in this country? The answer is bureaucrats in another country, for whom nobody here had ever voted, and whom nobody could dismiss from office.
Britain is a successful country. We attract more inward investment than the rest of the EU. There is no groundswell of demand from the electorate to hand over control of our economy—and much, much more—to Europe. There is no need to join the single currency, there is no justification for joining, and we should not join.
At least we have been promised a referendum on joining the common currency, and the electorate will have the opportunity to make its views known. There is, of course, an incipient problem attached to that. The Government have already made up their mind. They think that they know what is best for us. The yes campaign will be generously tax-funded. People will be bombarded with television adverts and literature that they have paid for themselves, persuading them to give up the pound and the independence of their Government, just so that they do not have to bother changing their currency when they go on holiday.
However, the British people are not so shallow or short-sighted. They will not agree to surrender the sovereignty of their country. That explains the delay in holding the referendum, as the Prime Minister knows that he will lose. How many people realise that England's name has not featured on the map of Europe for several years? England is sub-divided, rather prematurely and optimistically, into regions, ready for the long-term objective of absorption into a new country called Europe.
Just as we thought that matters could not get worse, along came the constitution—a constitution that, according to the Government, has no constitutional implications. It is designed to establish a fully fledged political state. That is the "tidying-up exercise" to which the Government intend to commit us without so much as a by your leave.
Of the European constitution, in the Labour party election manifesto, mention was there none. My right hon. Friends the Members for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) and for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) have, at a much higher academic level than I can even attempt, made forensic analyses of the draft provisions of the constitution. We must have another look at what the Government intend to sign us up to. Existing European treaties will be repealed, and the new Union—not the one that the 10 candidate countries have applied to join—will have its own legal personality and extensive new legal powers.
The constitution and Union law
"shall have primacy over the law of the Member States."
Europe will have exclusive competence—for competence, read power—over policies such as trade and commerce, the free movement of people and negotiation of international agreements. There will be shared competences, for which we are supposed to be grateful, in other areas, including the internal market, agriculture, fisheries, energy, social policy, environment, public health, consumer protection and freedom, security and justice. What could be more important than those areas?
We should note the weasel words, mentioned by other speakers, which say:
"The Member States shall exercise their competences" only if, and
"to the extent that the Union has not exercised . . . . its".
On, for example, criminal justice—a topical subject if ever there was one—Europe will be able to tell Parliament what is or is not an offence in our own country. The constitution allows for the creation of a European public prosecutor's office, and for making a European Court the final arbiter overseeing British law. Europe will pass a series of laws over visas, border controls and asylum.
Brussels will be in charge of our economic policy. Under the constitution, it will have major influence over our public spending and borrowing, even if we do not join the euro.
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, but I will not, because I am short of time.
The constitution provides a way for Brussels to get round our veto on taxation decisions by qualified majority voting on "administrative co-operation"—interpret those words as you will. Employment and social policy will be dictated, so that our advantage in having a flexible labour market will be lost. European terms and conditions of employment could damage British businesses.
There will be common foreign and defence policies, and we will have to rely on the EU to guarantee our security. In fact, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham said, there will be little scope for this Parliament ever to make any decisions at all. The authority to run our country will have been given away, without the consent of the general public and without so much as a whiff of the cost-benefit analysis to which my hon. Friend Michael Fabricant referred.
Oh yes, there is another small matter—the vote demanded in a referendum on the constitution arranged by the Daily Mail, which the Prime Minister has signalled he intends to ignore, but in which 1.5 million people took part. I know that that has no legal status, but one cannot ignore 1.5 million people, 97 per cent. of whom said that they wanted a referendum.
The Prime Minister has no mandate to sign us up to the constitution. This treaty is of even greater significance than the euro. It will change this country fundamentally. It will sweep away democracy as we know it, replacing our Government with an unelected judiciary answerable to no one. We have been promised a referendum on the euro. The people now demand one on the constitution.
There is a different way forward. It is the better way forward for those of us who love our country, support the monarchy, and cherish our long history on which our traditions have been built. We could be part of a Europe of democracies—an enlarged, flexible, co-operating European partnership of independent, self-governing, free trading, good neighbours, lightly regulated, decentralised and outward-looking to take advantage of global opportunities—and the massive savings from our contribution to the current-style Union could be spent at home.
We certainly have had a fine debate with some excellent speeches. We heard a variety of views that all reflected a common sense of concern about where this is all leading us. Ms Stuart has just arrived and I pay tribute to her. She has done a lot of work that we value on the role of national Parliaments. I think that we can all draw some encouragement from what the Foreign Secretary said this afternoon about turning her yellow cards into red cards. We need to explore that and I hope that the Government will do so assertively in the coming months. We shall certainly support them if they do that in a way that really returns powers to national Parliaments.
That echoes the argument of Mr. Campbell, who said yes to subsidiarity, but posed the question of how we effect it. It is an essential point. We have put forward plans to do it. Unless we assert subsidiarity, instead of just talking about it, the disconnection between the peoples of Europe and its institutions will only grow.
We heard an excellent speech from Mr. Marshall. Among other things, he touched on how important it is that NATO and the transatlantic relationship are maintained and nurtured in these difficult times.
My right hon. Friend Mr. Heathcoat-Amory made an outstanding speech. He said that the constitution has been set in stone, which is correct: it is obvious what it will be. He also talked about the so-called escalator clause, which would again diminish the role of our national Parliament. He mentioned the European Union legal personality, with the impact that its security, defence and policing policies would have—all important areas. I entirely agree with him about the rotating presidency. It is hugely important that the smaller countries feel part of this and that the permanent presidency is not some stitch-up by the larger countries for some former Prime Minister or President.
My right hon. Friend Mr. Redwood talked about the role that the European Court of Justice will play in foreign affairs as well as that of the proposed minister for foreign affairs and the impact on diminishing national Parliaments.
Mr. Davidson said that one of the difficulties with the attitude of the British people towards the European Union is that there has been no sense of finality; I absolutely agree. As people do not know where the process will end and there has been a ratchet effect over the years, of course there has been a suspension of belief in what politicians are saying. Where it will end must be defined.
Mr. Hopkins talked about the euro. He warned of the dangers and cited the problems in Germany. My hon. Friend Angela Watkinson very tellingly took up that point. Indeed, my hon. Friend Michael Fabricant talked of the cost of the European Union and the need for us to appraise objectively trade flows, the net costs and the benefits to the United Kingdom.
Finally, my hon. Friend Mr. Syms said that Laeken would bring the institutions of the European Union closer to the people. I do not believe that that has happened.
In his speech, "A Blueprint for the New Europe", which I believe the Foreign Secretary gave yesterday, he talked about the final draft treaty that emerges from the intergovernmental conference and said that it would be judged against a number of standards. He asked
"first, and above all, will the draft provide the institutional blueprint the Union needs to make EU enlargement work?"
I accept that that is a necessity. He also said that clarity should be introduced so that people have a better understanding of the European Union, about which I agree. It was telling, however, that probably the single most important thing that was left out of the checklist was returning a sense of ownership of the European Union and its institutions to the peoples of Europe. That must be at the heart of all the arrangements that he talked about. What has emerged out of the Convention, and what is most likely to emerge from the intergovernmental conference, does not satisfactorily address that point.
I pay tribute to the UK members of the Convention, particularly the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells. In the context of my comments, however, it is worth noting the observation of Lord Tomlinson, who said:
"I am also critical of the fact that the Convention gold-plated its mandate. Nothing in the Laeken mandate told the Convention that it had to draw up a constitutional treaty."
Last week, the Foreign Secretary told us that what is likely to emerge at the intergovernmental conference, based on the Convention's proposals, will not alter the fundamental constitutional balance between the European Union's institutions and the member nation states. He echoed implicitly the view of the Leader of the House that it had all been a tidying-up exercise. That very afternoon, in the Palace of Westminster, the two former Ministers for Europe hosted a celebration party for the accession countries. It was attended by distinguished representatives of our EU partner countries and accession states, with whom I discussed the view of the Foreign Secretary that the Maastricht treaty and the Single European Act were far more important constitutionally than the tidying-up exercise that we are now facing. Their reactions ranged from disbelief to the utterly unprintable.
On Friday last week, two days after the debate, the German Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, whom we are told is a strong candidate to be the first European foreign minister, declared that it is
"the most important treaty since the formation of the European Economic Community".
I certainly know whom to believe. My right hon. Friend Mr. Ancram and I meet dozens of politicians and political commentators from our EU partner countries, and let me tell Ministers that not one shares the view of the Foreign Secretary and the Leader of the House about the Convention and its constitutional importance.
That leads me to the point made explicitly in the House last week by my hon. Friends the Members for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples): successive Governments have sought to put a gloss on developments in the EU and have all too often been in denial of the reality of unfolding events and policies. Whatever one's view of the EU, that is a simple truth, which was a point made by my hon. Friend Sir Teddy Taylor.
Let us look at the Government's performance in its dealings with the EU. Before Nice, a view had been expressed that the accession process could be simple, but in the event we had a major treaty. We were told that there was no need for substantial extensions of QMV, but that happened at Nice, and then we had the proclamation of the charter of fundamental rights. We had understood that the Government did not even favour a Convention. They started off being opposed to a written constitution—certainly one that included the charter of fundamental rights—but, typically, they changed their mind, being carried along in the slipstream by others.
The simple truth is that in the build-up to the enlargement, our Government, unlike other Governments, never set out a clear view of what the European Union's architecture should look like. I very much agree with the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife that we should have a White Paper setting out the implications of the proposed changes in the constitutional relationships within the European Union. We have had speeches from the Foreign Secretary and the Leader of the House correctly analysing the disconnection between the peoples of Europe and EU institutions, and endlessly talking about how elites were running the show, but never producing policies to address those challenges. The only major policy commitment that we have ever heard from the Government was the truly fatuous idea, proposed by the Prime Minister, that there should be a second chamber of the European Parliament.
When the charter of fundamental rights was being proclaimed at Nice we were told that it had no significance whatever, yet, even then, the European Commission told us:
"It can reasonably be expected that the Charter will become mandatory through the Court's interpretation of it as belonging to the general principles of Community law."
Indeed, it has already been invoked in court cases. The idea that the charter has no application in British law and no impact on our country is palpable and misleading nonsense.
The Commission stated that the charter would mark
"a turning-point in the integration of Europe, moving it away from the essentially economic logic of its origins to becoming a real political Union".
The incorporation of the charter is part of the European Court of Justice's jurisprudence; it affects the Court's judgments and will form part of European law. The idea that it will not apply to us is ridiculous. We shall increasingly have judge-led law in this country, and there is nothing that the British people dislike more than judge-led law over which they can have no control.
We have heard about the reform of the common agricultural policy. The reform process was hijacked from under the very nose of the Government—it was breathtaking. For all the Government's talk about their influence in Europe, the whole reform process of the CAP has been moved away from them by the French and the Germans, greatly to the disadvantage of the whole enlargement process. It is a matter of great regret that the Government had so little influence in that debate.
As we have heard, Laeken was supposed to bring European citizens closer to European institutions, but the march of centralisation and harmonisation has continued. The ratchet process has proceeded unimpeded.
In the Chamber, we heard the Foreign Secretary admit that he was wrong about the greatest geopolitical challenge in the latter half of the 20th century—how to face up to the challenge of totalitarianism in Europe. I respect him for his honesty. However, once again, the Labour party has characteristically made a fundamental misjudgment.
I should be happy to supply the right hon. Gentleman with the Hansard reference. I remember the occasion well; it was when he accepted that his view on unilateral disarmament had been wrong in a particular judgment. We all thought that it was impressive for him to have owned up to that—[Interruption.] Fine, I am glad that he accepts that.
The EU evolved from a wholly legitimate desire to bring peace and stability to our continent, and it succeeded admirably. Unfortunately, the bloc mentality that informed the thinking of many post-war European politicians is completely frozen in time; it is irrelevant to the needs of a modern, functioning, successful European Community of 25 nations. The interventionist and dirigiste mentality that would centralise and harmonise the functioning of the member states is wholly unsuited to the world in which we live.
Our European demography, our lack of competitiveness and our inability to create employment are problems that require flexibility and competitive tax structures, not a political structure that incorporates a job-destroying social agenda. That is the product of ossified thinking that has no relevance in the 21st century, but it will be enforced and put into effect by judges, constitutions and charters.
All those matters should be challenged and addressed by the Government at the meeting in Thessaloniki, but I very much doubt that that will happen, judged on the Government's performance in their relations with the EU since they took office. I passionately want the EU to work, but it will not do so unless and until we return a sense of ownership to the people of Europe. The way to do that, at this hugely important moment in the history of the EU, is to listen to the voice of the people and to offer them a referendum.
We have had a good debate—about the third or fourth in this Chamber or Westminster Hall almost entirely devoted to the Convention, and there will be another such full-scale debate before the House rises for the summer recess. I hope that hon. Members will then take away the draft constitution and read it carefully, day after day, on the beaches, whether they are in Europe, Britain or further afield.
We all know and like Mr. Spring, who speaks on Europe for the Opposition. He is terrific fun to be with, but when he starts to talk about Europe, I am reminded of the ranting Trotskyists whom I used to listen to at trade union conferences 25 years ago. That is the problem. There is a kind of Tory-Trotskyist mentality on Europe. He does not want a referendum to consult the people; he wants a referendum simply to say no to Europe. That is the Conservative party's policy.
I had hoped that the debate would be about the Council, for which the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and myself will leave tomorrow. What are the issues there? One of the more important issues that we will discuss is the remarkable vote in favour of Europe by all our allies and friends in eastern and central Europe. They are saying yes to Europe, as the Czechs did on Friday and Saturday and as the Poles did two weeks before.
Have we had a word of welcome today for those new members? We have not. All I hear when I meet representatives of the Conservative, Christian Democrat and other right-wing parties in government or opposition anywhere in the existing Union of 15 states is, "What is wrong with Britain's Conservative party?" or "Why are they so fanatically anti-European?", and they read the literature like anyone else.
Last week, in the House, I drew attention to the views of the Conservative MEP, Mr. Roger Helmer, who stated in his newsletter:
"It is not yet party policy to withdraw from the EU. But it is, perhaps, an idea whose time is coming".
I find that, not so long ago, the same Mr. Helmer said:
"EU membership is the greatest threat to Britain's prosperity, democracy and security."
Speaking for the Conservative party in the European Parliament, not disowned by anyone, he said:
"The great task of our generation is European deconstruction."
That is what the Government have to deal with—not a reasoned, rational debate about Europe, but the obsession with saying no to Europe and with premature withdrawal. Some Conservatives would like to negotiate a withdrawal; others would like to withdraw after a referendum, but there is a constant message.
I shall address some of the points that the right hon. Gentleman made, and I shall give way to him then.
There is an obsession with withdrawal. Indeed, Mr. Heathcoat-Amory states in his latest pamphlet that it would be possible to stop the constitution coming into place. Of course, that would effectively make enlargement unworkable. He said:
"In practice, if a country voted no to the Constitution, the matter would eventually have to be resolved politically. The state concerned would probably allow the others to go ahead, having negotiated an associate membership of some kind, from a position of some strength."
That is the Conservative party's policy.
In 1996, the leader of the Conservative party expressed that view when he sought leave
"to bring in a Bill to amend the European Communities Act 1972 so as to provide by Order in Council for the disapplication within the United Kingdom of judgments, rules and doctrines propounded by the European Court."—[Hansard, 23 April 1996; Vol. 276, c. 198.]
So that is it: an end to the Common Market, an end to the single market, an end to the free trade area and an end to the powers handled through the EU to make such things work, which have to be enforced and have been enforced since 1957 by the European Court of Justice.
We can see such views again on the Order Paper in early-day motion 1355, entitled "Euro Poll". Do the hon. Members who tabled it demand a referendum to consult the British people? No. That early-day motion says:
"The UK should never join the euro; welcomes this view; and calls on the Government to . . . rule out the euro in the foreseeable future."
In other words, the early-day motion does not demand a referendum, it simply says no to Europe.
I shall finish this point before I give way.
We have seen the extraordinary sight—a collectors' item—of Mr. Howard, who is a member of the hard core of anti-European fanatics with Mr. Cash and the leader of the Conservative party, being interviewed on Sky Television by Adam Boulton. Boulton did a Paxman on the right hon. and learned Gentleman. He asked him six times whether he would accept the result of a referendum on the euro if the result were yes. The right hon. and learned Gentleman could not bring himself to accept that. He refused to answer the question, just as he refused to answer Jeremy Paxman's question during that wonderful moment that we all enjoyed on "Newsnight" a few years ago.
The fundamental point with which we must deal and which the British people must understand is that the Conservative party is opposed to Europe. It wants to withdraw from Europe and to renegotiate our position in Europe. It is right that the British people should understand that.
The hon. Gentleman and other Conservative Members could have addressed the current issues facing the European Union and the agenda at the European Council, but instead they repeated Daily Mail editorials in favour of isolating us from Europe.
Order. I have to deal with a point of order. The Minister will have heard what the hon. Gentleman said, and I do not think that it was a point of order for the Chair.
Mr. Ancram asserted that the proposed constitutional treaty would lead to the creation of a European federal superstate. He could not make that speech in Paris and tell President Chirac that he is about to sign away the sovereignty of France to a federal superstate. He could not make that speech seriously in any other capital.
The hon. Gentleman refers to Vichy. We can see the real nature of the Conservative party on the Opposition Benches: anti-French, anti-European and unpleasant about everyone with whom we must deal as our partners. I am sure that those remarks will be well noted in Paris and well noted by the conservative parties of France.
I promised the right hon. Gentleman that I would give way and I always keep my promises.
My hon. Friend Ms Stuart cited a wonderful quote from Mr. Amato, who said that the constitutional conventioneers wanted a boy and ended up with a girl. [Laughter.] I believe that I am quoting my hon. Friend correctly. As the father of four daughters, I find that comment wonderfully encouraging but, of course, our party has allowed women to have some place—although not enough—on the Benches of the House. When the Conservative party reflects the population of the country, it might actually come forward with some serious points.
Mr. Campbell talked about the necessity of reforming the common agricultural policy, and I agree with him. We need to take forward that argument, but not to the British people—we are all agreed. Sir Teddy Taylor referred to my noble Friend Baroness Amos and her denunciation of the CAP. We need to have the argument in French, Italian, German and Spanish. I invite the Opposition to play the European game seriously and talk to their opposite numbers on the continent if they want to change the CAP, but they are so isolated from them—perhaps because they have no opposite numbers—that they cannot do that.
I am about to deal with the right hon. Gentleman's point. In the press release that he distributed and in his speech he referred, I think, to a revolutionary and dangerous new point in the constitutional treaty and set out what the constitutional treaty was putting before the people of Europe. His press release states:
"Member states shall actively and unreservedly support the Union's common foreign and security policy in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity and shall comply with the acts adopted to the Union in this area."
It then goes into capital letters—we all know what it is like to get letters from our constituents that have been typed in capitals—to say:
The revolutionary new language which the right hon. Gentleman said would be imposed on the British people by a secret veto comes from existing Union treaties signed by the Government of whom he was a member. It is the same old language in existing treaties and the same old anti-EU speech from the right hon. Gentleman.
The whole point is that that policy would then be justiciable under the European Court of Justice. I said that in relation to the wide-ranging aims of the new document, which is revolutionary. Will the Minister stop this travesty and understand that the Conservatives want to negotiate a much better deal for the British people? What is he going to negotiate out of this document so that we still have a country left to govern?
It is exactly that sort of language that makes the case for those of us who want to stay in the EU. The right hon. Gentleman will know as well as I do that the common foreign and security policy is explicitly excluded, even in the existing draft constitution, from the Court's remit.
My hon. Friend Mr. Davidson asked whether the language referring to ever-closer union would be in the constitutional treaty. I am happy to tell him that it will not. Instead, language is used that refers to Europe in the context of helping
"the weakest and most deprived; that it wishes to remain a continent open to culture, learning and social progress; and that it wishes to deepen the democratic nature of its public life, and to strive for peace, justice and solidarity throughout the world".
Peace, justice and solidarity are not concepts that Conservative Members usually support. I hope that my hon. Friend agrees that we want such language not just for our EU, but for the new neighbours that want to join it.
I am afraid that I cannot. There will be another long debate on the Convention and we can exchange views then.
I agree with Michael Fabricant. It is important to get his comment on the record because he is a Conservative Member. He said that the EU is an agent for good. Let it be quoted from Hansard that at least one Conservative MP said that.
The question again and again was whether the British people will have a say. Yes, they will have a vote. They will have a veto. They will vote at the next general election on whether they support a party or parties that believe in British membership of the EU or whether they support the Conservative party. As we heard today, the Conservative party is not only opposed to Europe—it does not even make cheap remarks about France—but calls for a renegotiation that will mean withdrawal from Europe. As long as this Government are in office we will speak up for Britain in Europe. The British people will vote for the party that says yes to Europe. They will vote no to the party that wants us out of Europe and express their veto that way.