The fight against terrorism, a timetable for discussions on the EU's future budget, further EU enlargement and foreign policy issues are on the agenda, along with nominations for a number of EU posts. But the main business of the European Council will be negotiations on a constitutional treaty for the European Union. Let me begin by putting those negotiations in context.
Europe's history has been one of rivalry and war. That history could easily have been today's reality, save for the European Union, which has changed profoundly the political culture of our continent, and made war between former sworn enemies unthinkable. Indeed, it is fair to say that the EU has been "uniquely successful" as
"a bastion of stability and shared democratic values in a volatile world; the largest trading unit in the world; and the largest aid donor. We have much to be proud of".
Britain continues to benefit greatly from the EU, which, today, is the market for more than half our trade. Many of our companies rely on access to the European single market for their success. By working through the EU, and with the EU, we have cleaner beaches, air and water. British citizens are able to travel, study, work, retire, get fairer legal redress and obtain free medical help anywhere in Europe, without restrictions. We work together better to stop international gangs bringing drugs, terrorism and illegal immigrants into our country. It provides a network of trade, aid and co-operation that covers most of the world, giving us greater influence, stability and prosperity.
Of course, as with any level of government or politics, it is easy to knock the European Union. The fact that its institutions are more distant and more recent contributes to the unease felt by some about the way in which the EU works. Nearly five decades after its foundation, its institutions and procedures—designed originally for six members—are struggling to cope effectively with 25.
When speaking to constituents during the recent elections, I observed their continuing failure to become aware of the many practical benefits conferred by European intervention, excellent regulations and excellent rules on them and the firms for which they worked, and the effect on goods that they bought in the shops. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that was a characteristic of the elections? When talking to his European counterparts, will he see what we can do to improve public presentation of what Europe does?
I agree that that was one of the messages of last week's European elections, although we should bear in mind that the main message was that nothing like a majority favoured Britain's withdrawal from the European Union or its marginalisation within the EU.
Let me take up the theme that my hon. Friend has introduced. My Dutch colleague Ben Bot described the position eloquently in a speech in Berlin just before the European elections, a fortnight ago. Europe's leaders, he said, must "confront reality", "give citizens a say", and
"ensure that the rights and freedoms of member states and citizens are given adequate protection" if Europe is to succeed.
Those and similar considerations lie behind the British Government's approach to the constitutional treaty, as set out last September in our White Paper. While the EU does bring great benefits, it needs reform to become more effective, more flexible and more efficient. Institutions and procedures need to be clearer and simpler, and national Governments and Parliaments should have a stronger role. We want majority voting where it brings benefits, but we must retain the veto in areas of vital national interest.
In short, we want a treaty that strikes the right balance between the powers exercised by its sovereign nations and the powers that nations confer on the Union in order to act together better.
The Foreign Secretary has twice described what he is keen should be discussed in Brussels this week as the "constitutional treaty", as though that were somehow different from the constitution. For the sake of accuracy, will he confirm that the treaty is described in its own terms as establishing a constitution for Europe?
I shall come to that in a moment, but—for the sake of accuracy—let me make clear, as I will again, that the treaty is no different a legal animal in international law from any of the earlier treaties, including the Maastricht treaty, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman recommended to the House so eloquently in 1992.
A moment ago the Foreign Secretary mentioned not just his Dutch colleague but, rightly, the battle against drugs across Europe. I am sure he will recall, from his earlier incarnation as Home Secretary, the case of Curtis Warren. It was owing to the British Government's intervention that Curtis Warren walked away unconvicted in that major drugs case. The Dutch were able to teach us a lesson in how to apprehend such people. The fact is that drugs are not contained in one country; they are a Europe-wide scourge. Will the Foreign Secretary comment further on benefits to the fight against crime, in the light of that example?
Of course I remember the case of Curtis Warren. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The more we can co-operate in the EU on issues of justice and home affairs—drugs, crime, terrorism—as well as the issues that originally bound the Union and the single market, the better it will be for our citizens, and the more we should proclaim the benefits. There is no doubt that the streets of Liverpool were made safer by the actions of the Dutch police and the Dutch courts.
Given that we have repeatedly, for more than a decade, been promised the protection of national Parliaments through the application of subsidiarity, given that the Foreign Secretary admitted to me on the Floor of the House on
First, there is a quantitative target for reduction in the volume of regulation in the European Union. I have discussed that with Commissioner Kinnock, who has been taking a lead on that recently. Secondly, I have accepted that the subsidiarity mechanisms have not worked particularly satisfactorily. That is why the British parliamentary delegation, led by my hon. Friend Ms Stuart, took the lead in securing what is now a protocol and provisions for far better arrangements by which this House will be able to scrutinise draft EU legislation. That has been called a "yellow card" procedure, but it essentially enables this House, in combination with a third of other national Parliaments, to refer any draft legislation back to the Commission and the Council.
I have already brought forward proposals by which we will change our procedures in the House, if the House agrees, to make a reality of the subsidiarity mechanisms, which, I have to say, were raised in principle by the former Prime Minister John Major, but never followed through in practice.
"Fishing is still a shared competence, and we believe that that is right."—[Hansard, 20 April 2004; Vol. 420, c. 171.]
However, in correspondence and meetings with me, the Foreign Secretary has pointed out that the vast majority of fisheries policy is to be under exclusive competence. What hope is there, therefore, for a Prime Minister to negotiate on behalf of our fishing communities who is not even aware of the provisions of the constitution?
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is very well aware of the provisions and knows well, because he has seen it, that the early articles set down the conservation of marine biological resources as an exclusive competence, while the other aspects of fisheries are shared competences under articles I-12 and I-13.
I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should have raised fishing and the common fisheries policy, because he campaigned in Scotland on only one issue: the repatriation of the common fisheries policy. He contrived to claim that he was involved in some kind of negotiation with me when I had offered him a meeting, as I would out of courtesy to any Member, and explained to him that the conservation of marine biological resources had been an exclusive competence since before we entered the European Union and was laid down in the accession treaty to which we signed up. The hon. Gentleman campaigned on the repatriation of the common fisheries policy, and what happened? He was roundly defeated in the elections in Scotland. Just to rub it in, he would do well to read a devastating article against him in today's edition of the Glasgow Herald, with the headline, "With fishing, there's always some catch".
Order. The right hon. Gentleman is not giving way.
If agreement is reached, this treaty will give us the chance to achieve reform of the way in which the European Union operates. We will have a single document that sets out what the European Union does and does not do. It will make it clearer than ever before that the European Union is a Union of nations that freely choose to share certain powers in order to achieve objectives that they have in common, and which acts only where its members have given it the authority to do so and where it can add value.
The treaty contains four important innovations. First, for the first time, it would give the body where Europe's national Governments take decisions—the European Council—a full-time chairman, replacing the present six-monthly rotating chairmanship. That post will strengthen the European Council, ensuring that the nations of Europe set the European Union's agenda and drive it through. For the life of me, I cannot understand what those on the Conservative Front Bench find to object to in that, because it will strengthen member states.
Secondly, the treaty would give national Parliaments, for the first time, a serious role in EU legislation, including the chance to send back draft legislation that goes too far. Again, for the life of me, I cannot see what the Opposition find objectionable in that. It was not in Maastricht, but it is going to be in this draft constitutional treaty. It will strengthen the power of every Member of this House to hold the European Union to account.
It is a damn sight more than we ever got out of the Tories, or out of the hon. Gentleman when he was supporting the previous Conservative Government. My determination, if we get this treaty, is to make that mechanism work effectively. That is why I have already proposed new procedures for the House to decide on about where we would implement that mechanism.
Thirdly, we hear talk about the repatriation of powers. This draft treaty makes explicit provision, for the first time, for competences shared between the European Union and nation states—which is the vast bulk of them—to be transferred back to full national control when European Union members decide that they no longer wish to exercise them in common. We hear demands, including from the Leader of the Opposition a few minutes ago, for powers to be repatriated back to the United Kingdom and other member states. I assume that he was working on the basis of where we could get agreement with our partners. But the Leader of the Opposition's Government failed ever to achieve those powers. They are not in the existing treaties, but they are in article 1.11 of this treaty. Again, I completely fail to see what it is in provision 1.11 to which Mr. Howard takes exception.
Fourthly, the treaty would set out better procedures for what is known as "enhanced co-operation", allowing smaller groups of members who wish to co-operate more closely in certain fields to do so. Dare I say it—that is a live-and-let-live approach to Europe, exactly what the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition says that he wants. However, the Opposition are now setting their face against exactly the mechanism that would strengthen national Governments and Parliaments and enable member states that want to go faster than we do to do that.
Before we move too far from fishing, may I ask the Foreign Secretary as a senior and influential member of the Cabinet to do what he can somehow to resuscitate the original ten-minute Bill, in the form of a private Member's Bill, on marine conservation? That very important measure was scuppered in the other place, quite frankly frivolously and disgracefully. It seemed to be the will of the House of Commons to pass the Bill of Mr. Randall, and anything that my right hon. Friend could do for that Bill would be of great help to the fishing community and the marine cause.
I listened to most of the debate on that Bill, and of course we will take it seriously. I also listened to what my hon. Friend and Mr. Randall had to say today by way of complaint at the absence of any Minister on the Bench, and I listened to what you had to say on that, Mr. Speaker. I assure my hon. Friend that I will personally pursue the substance of the Bill, and I will also pursue the issue of the absence of a Minister on the Bench.
The right hon. Gentleman is claiming all sorts of new powers for national Parliaments in the constitution, but they simply do not exist. I am on the House's European Scrutiny Committee, and we already have the supposed right to scrutinise proposals on subsidiarity grounds, but the Commission may take absolutely no notice. The position will be exactly the same under the constitution, and there is no power for national Parliaments to block measures that breach the principle. That was spotted by the Government representative on the Convention, and the necessary amendment failed to pass. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that?
As an illustration, will the Foreign Secretary comment on the new declaration in the draft on combating all kinds of domestic violence? Is that not an immediate, standing, obvious breach of the subsidiarity principle being newly written into the draft constitution? Even before it has been ratified, the principle is being breached and this House will be able to do absolutely nothing about it.
The right hon. Gentleman's first point is half serious. However, page 152 of the document that I put before the House shows that the protocol provides a far better scrutiny procedure than currently exists. I commend the European Scrutiny Committee for its work, but the problem is that it does that work only at a late stage in the legislative procedure. The protocol proposes that that should happen much earlier. I and my ministerial colleagues in the EU are determined to make the protocol a reality, and it will then be up to this House to seize the opportunity. I repeat that I have been in the vanguard of making proposals to the House to strengthen how it and the other place scrutinise our work inside the EU. That is increasingly welcomed in Brussels.
The right hon. Member for Wells made a second point in his intervention. I wonder what his women constituents will think when they hear that he objects to a straightforward declaration—which has no direct legal effect—against domestic violence across Europe. The right hon. Gentleman's position is absolutely extraordinary.
As someone who supported with vigour the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill, I am very pleased by what my right hon. Friend had to say about domestic violence. However, does he agree that the question of a European constitution is often used by the Opposition to frighten people about a so-called European state? It is not as though only states have constitutions. The rugby and cricket clubs in my area also have constitutions, but none of them can claim to be a state. Is not the Opposition's attack designed to frighten people away from the benefits of Europe? Does it not have more to do with the Conservative party's natural Euroscepticism, the divisions within it and its confusion about the messages from the public than with the treaty itself?
It is all very well for my right hon. Friend to say what he has said about scrutiny, but what is the point of scrutiny if, when people in this country say that they do not want something to happen here, they are unable to implement that decision by means of the veto? Will not the constitution mean that we will lose the right to exercise the veto in 42 areas? A good practical example of that is the recent problem with vitamins. Many sensible people in this country wanted to continue to use certain vitamins. We made it clear that we did not want the proposed change to happen here, but it was simply bulldozed through by an elite in Europe that does not really care about ordinary people.
The Government will continue to ensure that the veto is maintained in respect of key areas of vital national interest. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has spelled that out, as have I. The White Paper also makes that very clear. The vitamins regulations have nothing to do with what is in the draft constitutional treaty, as they arise from existing legislation passed under the Single European Act and the Maastricht treaty, for both of which the Conservatives were responsible.
Secondly, my hon. Friend Kate Hoey worked with me on justice and home affairs issues. She will remember that we dealt with them not by walking away from the touchlines and out of the stands, but by getting engaged. Time after time, when we are engaged, we win for Britain. That was the experience for the Conservatives in the early 1980s, but the experience was the exact opposite when the Leader of the Opposition was running EU policy in the early 1990s. Finally, most of the 40 or so issues to which the question of the veto is relevant are pretty obscure.
I want to provide some further reassurance for the right hon. Member for Wells. I have spelled out many of the areas in which the roles of national Governments, nation states and national Parliaments will be enhanced by the new draft constitution. I have spelled out how the draft meets one of the Leader of the Opposition's key red lines—that some member states should be able to advance faster than others. That process is called enhanced co-operation.
Another reason why some hon. Members—those who want the UK to leave the EU altogether—should vote in favour of the draft constitution is that, at present, there is no procedure that allows member states to denounce the treaties and leave. The present provisions can only produce a mess. Article 159 provides a very clear procedure for member states to leave the EU. I do not believe that to do so would be in our interest, but the option should be available. The draft constitutional treaty provides for that option, where existing provisions do not.
No. I want to make progress.
One would have thought that the Opposition would welcome the benefits in the constitutional treaty most warmly. After all, they say that they want a more flexible Europe and a stronger role for member states and their Parliaments, and this treaty will deliver all that. Instead, even before we have the finalised text, the Leader of the Opposition is committed to rejecting it, whatever it says. It is no surprise that he and Mr. Ancram are busying themselves, not with arguments based on the reality of this text, but with spreading myths about it that bear little or no relation to the facts.
Let us look at some of those myths. First, there is the myth raised by my hon. Friend Kali Mountford—that the existence of a constitution makes the EU a country. My hon. Friend noted that plenty of organisations have constitutions. Golf clubs and the Boy Scouts have them—as does Kent county council, which covers the constituency of the Leader of the Opposition. Mr. Curry wrote a very good piece for his local newspaper the other day. In it, he placed the argument that having a constitution makes an organisation a state into the
"bears-are-black, this-is-black-therefore-it-is-a-bear category".
It is a complete nonsense to say that the existence of an EU constitution means that the EU must be a country. Opposition Members need to produce a much more intelligent level of debate and criticism.
Every international organisation needs a rule book, including the EU. The right hon. and learned Member for Devizes knows enough about law to know very well that the legal status of the constitutional treaty would be the same as its predecessors—that is, a treaty under international law. We will judge the treaty by what it does. It will not build a superstate, but it will strengthen the nations in a modernised EU.
No, I want to make progress.
Next, the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes has claimed that the charter of fundamental rights incorporated in the treaty will stop us from running our own industrial relations policy. It will not, as article 2.28 spells out very clearly. The text makes it clear that the charter would create no EU powers, and that general rights such as the right to strike are subject to "national laws and practices". We shall ensure that we have legal certainty in the way that that is interpreted.
Next, the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes says that we will hand over control of our foreign policy, but what he objects to is already in the treaty of Maastricht, which he wholeheartedly supported. The present shadow Chancellor, Mr. Letwin, wrote in The Sunday Telegraph of
"Post-Maastricht, Britain and France become the mouthpieces for the European Union at the UN."
That was the prediction but, when I appeared before the Security Council on behalf of this country, I did not get the impression that France was appearing as a mouthpiece of the EU, and neither was I there as a mouthpiece of the EU. France spoke for France, and I spoke for the UK. The prediction therefore turned out to be complete nonsense, but that has not stopped the Opposition from peddling the same myth 12 years on.
Any new treaty to which we agree will keep the national veto for foreign policy. That means that the EU will act together only when every member, including Britain, agrees to do so. There are other scare stories about the primacy of EU law, but the veto has been a fact since the EU's inception, and was part of the terms of our membership. It was written into UK law by section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972.
Today's Opposition spend a great deal of effort denigrating and demeaning the EU while suggesting, unconvincingly, that they still want Britain to remain a member. They square that circle by claiming that they would renegotiate Britain's membership. Far from representing some sort of centre ground, however, that policy of renegotiation has long been espoused by isolationist anti-Europeans both inside and outside the Conservative party. It was the rallying cry of the Maastricht rebels in the early 1990s, and it was taken on by Sir James Goldsmith in the run up to the 1997 general election. Until recently, the Conservative leadership rightly rejected it. Baroness Thatcher never touched the idea of withdrawing from EU membership. John Major called it "absurd". Even Mr. Hague refused to go there. Yet today's Conservative leadership—eager to appease the hard-liners and the Europhobes—is now committed to what Mr. Redwood described a few weeks ago as a "thoroughgoing renegotiation".
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for pointing out that the Conservative leadership has never suggested withdrawal from the European Union. Will he confirm that the only leadership of a major party ever to do so was that of his party in 1983? Will he also confirm that he supported his leadership in that?
What we did in 1983 provides, I think, a very good case study in how to suffer the most devastating defeat in electoral history. I invite the right hon. and learned Gentleman to pursue that course. He has, incidentally, given me an opportunity to give a wider audience to a most perceptive piece in The Times on Monday by Mr. Tim Hames, who wrote that the pledge of withdrawal and exit from the EU
"is not a pledge that the Conservatives can deliver and, if they could, Michael Ancram, the shadow Foreign Secretary, is hardly the figure to do so credibly. Mr Ancram is, somewhat grandly, to deliver a lecture next month entitled 'Whither India?' After his performance over the past few weeks, India might respond by organising an address called 'Whither Michael Ancram?'"
Let me be clear about what thoroughgoing renegotiation would involve. It would mean withdrawing from the common fisheries policy, as signed up to by the Conservatives. It would involve withdrawing from the EU's overseas aid system, as praised by Margaret Thatcher and signed up to by the Conservatives. It would involve "abandoning"—the word used by the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes—the common foreign and security policy, as signed up to by the Conservatives and actively supported in the House by the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself. And it would mean withdrawing from the social chapter.
The hard-liners do not even want to stop there, and why should they? Some want Britain to withdraw from the common agricultural policy. Some even question fundamental concepts, such as the primacy of EU law and qualified majority voting. It all sounds deceptively easy—a pick-and-mix approach, where you can have your cake and eat it. But it is a sham. The big problem for the Conservatives is that renegotiating the terms of Britain's membership requires the unanimous agreement of all 24 other member states of the EU.
For the Europhobes, that, of course, is exactly the point. Because when the so-called renegotiation failed—as it surely would—Britain would have no option but to withdraw. The Conservative leadership, notwithstanding the denials that we have heard today, is gradually being pushed into that place. Last Wednesday, we had the most extraordinary spectacle as the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe went on the radio—I heard every word—to offer his view about what would happen if "renegotiation" of the common fisheries policy failed to secure the agreement of the other 24 member states. He said, explicitly, that the Conservatives would not withdraw from the European Union:
"That was not the way in which it was done before, and I do not think it would be sensible again."
But then, within four hours, after huge pressure and panic in the Conservative party, the right hon. and learned Leader of the Opposition adopted the extraordinary device of writing a letter to his own shadow Fisheries Minister to set out the position in greater detail, saying
"should negotiation not succeed . . . we would introduce the necessary legislation to bring about full national and local control."
That is right, says the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes, but this is where the position of the Conservative party is simply a deceit and a sham. Unilateral withdrawal from international treaty obligations on that scale would completely undermine our continued membership of the European Union. Such an organisation can operate only if all member states agree to abide by the rules.
When the right hon. and learned Gentleman stands up to talk about withdrawing from the common fisheries policy and seeking to impose unilaterally legislation that undermines—[Interruption.] He mutters about the growth and stability pact, but that is not inside the treaties while the common fisheries policy is: if he does not understand that, he understands absolutely nothing about the legal basis of the European Union.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman must stand up and explain how, when and if a new fishing Bill is put through to "repatriate" the common fisheries policy, it will be consistent with obligations in the accession treaty that we entered into in 1972, and which his Government reconfirmed time, time and time again. Then he has to explain whether we would pay the fines that the European Court of Justice would impose on us for our breach of treaty obligations. Then he has to spell out what would happen in British courts when those disadvantaged by the change in national law claimed their treaty rights, which are also part of British law. I can tell him what would happen then: as long as we remained inside the European Union, the British courts would find in favour of the treaty rights. Next, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has to explain how his exercise would lead to absolutely nothing except the humiliation of the United Kingdom. He needs to stand up and spell all that out.
Were we to go down the road of withdrawal, as an increasing number of members of the Conservative party want to do, we must be clear that it would not be cost free, as the Conservatives try to pretend. I invite hon. Members to read the interesting article in The Independent today that spells out the fact that not being a member of the European Union would not be cost free.
Rubbish, we are told. But it would mean applying European legislation while having no say in deciding it. It would mean contributing to the European Union budget but getting almost nothing back—Norway alone pays €230 million a year to finance EU enlargement. British exporters, who can today trade free of obstacle throughout Europe, would have to fill out a 12-page form every time they wanted to send their products across the channel—extra red tape, extra costs and extra delays.
The right hon. Gentleman can say that, but I have the form here and will happily give it to him, all 12 pages of it. The Conservatives talk about trying to scale back bureaucracy and red tape, but withdrawing from the European Union would disadvantage every business in Britain and increase red tape.
Withdrawal would also mean losing the global influence that we have as part of the single market, with a quarter of world gross domestic product and a third of world trade. That is the vision that the Eurosceptics of the Conservative party have of Britain. It is not my view; nor, I believe, is it the view of the majority of British people.
At the beginning of this speech, I quoted a passage from Margaret Thatcher offering high and justified praise for the European Union. That was in the early 1980s, when the Conservative party was actively and constructively engaged in the European Union, campaigning for qualified majority voting to ensure that the single market would work and for a common foreign and defence policy. However, as the Conservative party became more and more despondent about its own long-term future, so it became about Britain's influence in the world. Therefore, as it has done repeatedly over two centuries, the Conservative party turned in on itself on the issue of the UK's relations with the rest of the world, particularly Europe. Conservative pessimism has produced a defeatist attitude to Europe and a similarly defeatist view of Britain's place in the world. It is a view based on the belief that Britain can never succeed in Europe, and that all we can aspire to do is to hold back the tide. It betrays a total lack of confidence in the force of Britain's influence.
We take a different view. By engaging in Europe, we can lead reform. If we put Britain at the margins, our partners will go ahead and, quite naturally, arrange things that may not suit us. If we want Europe to pursue the right policies to make us more prosperous and more competitive in the world, we need to be at the centre of decisions, making our case and winning the arguments. That has been our approach on the constitutional treaty. We have made clear what we will not accept, but we have also shaped the debate in our favour. Now we have the chance to agree a treaty that encapsulates Britain's vision of an effective, reforming Europe, in which 25 proud and rather different nations can work together to enhance their prosperity and their power.
It is a chance that the Government are determined to seize. If a treaty is agreed, we will make the case for that kind of Europe to Parliament and then to the British people, who will have the final say. The case will be for a Europe in which Britain is stronger, not weaker; winning, not whining; powerful, not powerless. And we will be negotiating for a treaty that sets out the framework of a modern and effective Europe of nations, in which Britain is leading reform to ensure that the organisations from which we have benefited so much in the past continue to deliver the jobs, growth and security that we want in the future.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry to interrupt this excellent debate, but I wish to apologise unreservedly to Mr. Randall, to you and to the House for not being in my place for his ten-minute Bill a few moments ago. It was a complete oversight on my part and I apologise for the discourtesy that was shown to the hon. Gentleman and the rest of the House.
Before that dignified apology by the Under-Secretary, the House was being entertained by one of the Foreign Secretary's famous rants. Interestingly, he spoke for 40 minutes before he came on to what his party stands for in Europe. He spent most of the rest of the time attacking what he said my party stands for. I have learned one thing about the Foreign Secretary, and it is that when he rants like that it is a sign of uncertainty.
Hon. Members will recall a debate earlier this year when I called for a referendum on the European constitution. In reply, we heard a remarkable rant from the Foreign Secretary, in which he told us how disgraceful an idea it was even to suggest a referendum on such an issue. He gave me all the reasons why a referendum would be wrong and then, 10 days later and apparently at his direction, the Government changed their mind. I am not sure what we should read into his rant today. Perhaps our wish will come true and the Government will go to Brussels and say no to the constitution.
These biannual debates on European affairs, which occur shortly before the meetings of the Heads of Government in the European Council, are traditionally useful occasions when Members of Parliament, as elected representatives of the British people, can express our views on the position that the Prime Minister should take at the summit. Rarely can there have been a debate as relevant and timely as today's. On the day before the Prime Minister flies to Brussels to finalise agreement on the European constitution and three days after the results of the European Parliament election results were declared, there can never have been a clearer message for him to carry to the Council: the British people do not want this constitution.
A year ago, when the full impact of the draft constitutions became apparent, it was publicly argued that if people did not like what they were offered, they could vote against the Government in the European elections this year. The elections, it was argued, would more or less coincide with the end of the process on the constitution, and we were given to understand that the Government would be
"quite happy to fight the . . . European elections on a Labour platform endorsing this treaty, and the Conservatives can oppose it, and then the people will decide."
Those are not my words, but those of the Leader of the House on the "Today" programme on
The Foreign Secretary referred to the votes of the Scottish people as an endorsement—he claimed—of his position on fishing. Interestingly, he did not talk about the national results. In last week's election, more than 50 per cent. of people voted for parties opposed to the constitution. If the Prime Minister presses ahead with agreeing the constitution, he will do so in the face of the democratically expressed will of the British people. If he does so, he cannot claim that he is representing the British people. That vote has rendered invalid his mandate to agree the constitution, if he ever had one. [Interruption.] Chris Bryant makes his usual protestations, but my understanding is that one has a mandate to do something that was in one's manifesto. Perhaps he could show me where the Labour manifesto for 2001 makes any mention of the introduction of a European constitution. After that vote, the Prime Minister has no moral authority to agree the constitution. He should heed the will of the British people and go to Brussels and say no. If he does, we for our part would welcome it.
Most of the British people are not aware of the detail of the constitution, so I do not see how the right hon. and learned Gentleman can say that they are against it. I think that they would welcome greater co-operation on measures to tackle illegal immigration and asylum, and the enhanced power of the nation state that the constitution contains. The Conservatives have got this all wrong.
We do not need a constitution to do any of the things that the hon. Lady mentions. She appears to scorn the advice given by the Leader of the House, who saw the elections as a chance for the British people to pronounce on the constitution. The British people took up that invitation and they have clearly spoken.
I fear that the Prime Minister will not return from Brussels having said no to the constitution. He will tell us proudly about his red lines, which are part of a carefully choreographed battle for British interests that have already been conceded by his European colleagues, but which must appear to be fought and won in the battle of spin to allow him to claim victory. It will be a hollow and deceptive victory, because it will not deal with the real dangers to British interests that the constitution poses.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the Prime Minister could veto every aspect of the constitutional treaty that he did not like, and he could go further and say that he would also veto enhanced co-operation, which France and Germany want, unless they give us our fish back? Would that not be a sensible approach in the negotiations?
My right hon. Friend sets out an important fact ignored by the Government, which is that negotiations are about such arguments—getting what one wants, sometimes in return for something that someone else wants. But this Government do not negotiate. They never argue Britain's corner. Indeed, from what they have said recently, they appear to believe that negotiation means saying to colleagues, "We want this, but if you don't want to give it to us, we will not press you any further."
In the next two days, we shall hear a lot about the so-called red lines. It has already started, with talk in today's newspapers of keeping national vetoes for treaty change, tax, social security, defence, criminal procedure and, as a general rule, foreign policy. We were told that there was no need for a European public prosecutor. I thought that the Foreign Secretary might tell us today what was happening on that, but he was too busy talking about us. Making the charter of fundamental rights anything other than a political declaration was also to be a red line. The Government will undoubtedly claim that if those points are met, the constitution will be acceptable.
I presume that the Foreign Secretary hopes to be able to tell the House when he returns that he has achieved all his red lines. However, he may remember that he told us in December that they had already been achieved.
Admittedly, if the red lines were not met, the constitution would be even worse. But, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition said earlier, in reality the red lines are red herrings—a last-ditch and somewhat desperate distraction from the fact that, even in the Government's own terms, the current text is very different from the one they originally aimed for.
During the course of the Convention on the Future of Europe, as my right hon. Friend Mr. Heathcoat-Amory will recall, the Government tabled 275 amendments to the text of the constitution. Only 10 were accepted into the final text. To put it in football parlance, the score to date is Giscard 265, British Government 10! So what happened to the other 265 important amendments? Let us look at just a few. Last year, the Leader of the House tried to strike out the article giving the constitution legal primacy. So why is that not still a red line?
On the question of an EU Foreign Minister, the Leader of the House wrote:
"We do not accept the title 'Foreign Minister' as it is misleading as he/she will have no Ministry . . . We suggest 'EU External Representative'."
What an extraordinary phrase. The Leader of the House continued:
"This is unacceptable as it stands."
So why is it no longer a red line? Is it because the Government are now hell-bent on creating an EU diplomatic service, with its own embassies and its own ambassadors working to its own Foreign Minister?
The Government wanted to rewrite completely the article on asylum. They described it as "a fundamentally important amendment". They failed. So why is that no longer a red line?
If the hon. Gentleman had read our manifesto for the European elections, he would know that we actually support the principle of what the Foreign Secretary called the yellow card provision to enable national Parliaments to exercise a veto, but we do not think that it goes far enough. Indeed, like us, some Labour Back Benchers have suggested that the yellow card should become a red card. That is how we can ensure that we achieve stronger support and ability for national Parliaments.
So is the right hon. and learned Gentleman saying that he does not want national Governments to have a greater and more enhanced role in the running of the European Union, which will be achieved by a full-time chairman but cannot be achieved by a rotating presidency that would take 12 and a half years to come around for each member state? Does he object to what is in article I-11, which for the first time provides, as the Leader of the Opposition called for only half an hour ago, for powers to be repatriated from the EU back to member states?
Once again, the Foreign Secretary raises the extraordinary idea that if the head of the Council is not an active politician in his domestic Parliament—someone who does not represent a Government in the EU—that somehow strengthens the position of national Parliaments. He should take the time to visit some of the accession countries, which feel that that would remove their ability to influence the European Union because they would never have a chance to take part in its presidency.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman will probably know that neither red nor yellow cards will have an impact on the exclusive competences of the EU. That being agreed, why did a Scottish Conservative MEP, Struan Stevenson, propose in the European Parliament that fishing should be an exclusive competence of the European Union?
I can say only that Struan Stevenson stood on the manifesto at the European elections—[Interruption.] Under our present system for electing our MEPs, devised by the Government, candidates stand only on their party's manifesto, and our manifesto makes it clear that our position on repatriating control over fisheries is maintained.
I was asking what had happened to all the other amendments. Why have they apparently been surrendered? I shall not try the patience of the House by going through the whole long list, but unless the great bulk of those amendments is secured by the Prime Minister this week, the Government will have done something quite extraordinary: they will have demonstrably failed—not in our terms, nor even in the terms of the British people, but in their own terms. What the Prime Minister will be facing tomorrow is not a tidying-up exercise, not a mere consolidation of existing treaties, but what the Belgian Prime Minister has described as the "capstone" of a federal state.
If we are to believe that the Government are fighting to protect British interests, there are some simple benchmarks. The Prime Minister should firmly say no to any constitution. Countries have constitutions; the EU is not a country and must never aspire to become one. Indeed, only three years ago the Prime Minister told us that a constitution was not necessary.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has read the EU constitution, but if he thinks that a political party, or a golf club—one of the other organisations that is often mentioned—has 175-page constitutions of intense and obtuse language, I do not know where he has been. I know constitutions. I know golf clubs. This ain't no golf club constitution.
Apart from one slip of the tongue, the Foreign Secretary told us again that this was a constitutional treaty and thus somehow not a constitution. That is a form of sleight of hand, because the treaty describes itself as
"establishing a Constitution for Europe".
Throughout, the document refers to "the Constitution" and until the Government accepts that it is a constitution we shall hear the sort of meaningless and irrelevant rant that we heard from the Foreign Secretary today.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has read the document—[Interruption.] I am about to give the hon. Gentleman an answer—the Foreign Secretary really must restrain himself. He sits on the Treasury Bench chewing away and I know that he is anxious about the next few days, but he must restrain himself.
The document is a constitution; when one considers the way it is set out, it must be a constitution—it cannot be anything other than a constitution. When one has an elephant it is worth calling it an elephant; if one calls it other than an elephant, one tends to get trampled on.
I shall give way in a moment. I want to make some progress.
The Prime Minister must meet other benchmarks. He has to say no to the constitutional imperative of a Europe "united ever more closely". We were told that that concept would be removed, but there has merely been a change in the wording—it actually means the same thing. Following on that, he should say no to giving the EU a single legal personality. It does not need one unless it is seeking to become a state in its own right. It has not had one in the past and can perform perfectly well without one.
The Prime Minister should say no, as the Government tried to do in their earlier amendment, to the article giving the EU constitution legal primacy over our own. He should say no to the EU having control over our asylum or immigration policy. Of course, we can co-operate, but we should not be told what our policy is by Brussels.
The Prime Minister should say no to the EU having any control over our criminal law. Of course, we need to work together to fight international crime and terrorism, but that must not mean the emergence of an EU criminal code that supplants our own.
The Prime Minister should say no to the charter of fundamental fights. If it has only the legal force of the Beano it is unnecessary. If it has legal force, which our Government promised us it would not have, it must be opposed. I seem to remember that the Government's exact words were, "There is absolutely no possibility of us agreeing to this". We can look after our own fundamental rights. We do not need Europe's judges to tell us how to do it.
I shall give way in a moment.
We must be wary of accepting bold assurances that attempts to harmonise taxes and to create a single foreign and security policy have been thwarted by the brave actions of our gallant Prime Minister. Left behind in the text will be the "aspirational" articles, I-14 and I-15, requiring co-ordination of economic policies within the Union and active and unreserved support for the Union's foreign and security policy,
"in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity and compliance with the acts adopted by the Union in this area".
The right hon. Gentleman keeps shouting about Maastricht, but Maastricht was about an intergovernmental system; this constitution is creating something very different and those words have a very different meaning when they form part of a constitution.
If, in a constitutional context, the first of those two articles does not mean a long-term aim of achieving tax harmonisation, it is not only hard to see what it means but even harder to see why it is still in the document. If the Prime Minister's claims to have achieved that red line are to be believed, that should have gone, too.
The second article is even more serious. It could make anything that is not an EU common foreign policy justiciable before the European Court of Justice. It is the backdoor to a single European foreign policy, something which would be disastrous for us and which the Government have also assured us would not happen. If the Prime Minister means that assurance, he must insist that that article goes, too.
I am most grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, although he has to some extent passed on from the point on which I wanted to intervene. He and I will have to agree to disagree about the word "constitution", but what does his party propose to do in the event that this legal instrument were not to receive the approval of the British people? Would his party be content to operate under the four existing treaties and the Single European Act? How would that provide the clarity that is necessary for a European Union expanded from the original six to 25?
We have never had a problem with looking at what might loosely be called a charter of competences that sets out clearly what the European Union can do and what national Parliaments should be able to do. However, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman thinks that this document is an example of clarity, his time in the law may have clouded his judgment as to what is clear.
We are still told that the proposed constitution does not cross the threshold between the room marked "A Europe of Nations" and the room marked "A Sovereign European State". Perhaps, in totality, it does not, but it certainly moves from the anteroom of one to the anteroom of the other, and it does not take an immense step to move from one room to the other anyway.
Let me quote from the evidence given to the Lords Select Committee on the Constitution by Professor John McEldowney of the university of Warwick on
"While the Constitution may constitute the sum total of the existing Treaties revised and refined, it is also endowed with the status of a Constitution—even though this status is not well defined or explained. Inevitably the status of a Constitution invites interpretation by the courts and this adds an additional dimension of how judges might interpret the terms of the Constitution."
That goes to the absolute heart of why the constitution is objectionable.
If the Prime Minister was true to his past words and recognised the strength of feeling expressed by the British electorate last week, he would go to Brussels to say no, and I still hope for Britain's sake that he will, but I fear that he will not. He is, after all, the Prime Minister who twice in the past four years has called for the creation—his words, not mine—of a European superpower. That is the Government's real agenda. They talk the talk of the Europe of nations; they walk the walk of an increasingly integrated and politically united Europe.
The signs are there. First, we saw recently a report of Romano Prodi's group, set up under the chairmanship of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, including a former Government Minister and confidant of the Prime Minister, Lord Simon of Highbury. The report says that the formation of the EEC was no more than a first step in the federation of Europe. It clearly maps out the desired path and states:
"The time has now come to take the second step: that of the march towards political union".
Mr. Strauss-Khan helpfully explains how it will all be achieved:
"As demonstrated by the draft Constitutional Treaty, there will be no 'revolutionary leap' to a political Europe: it will be built by small reforming steps."
He went on, very helpfully, to set out those steps. The first stage is to adopt the draft constitutional treaty produced by the European Convention. The second is to develop the context and the financing of Union policies in negotiations on the next financial perspective. The third is to bring to life the European model within the first European constitution. The fourth is to make use of the experience acquired to define the next political phase. He ended up by saying:
"The need to make further progress towards political union will become clear."
It is absolutely clear that that is a road map towards political union—he makes no pretence about it—and I find it strange that the Government are still denying that that is what the constitution is about, but we are told that that is not the Government's position. It might not be, except for another report—the declaration by the European Socialists party, published last February, called "Europe 2004—Changing the Future". That is an interesting document. For a start, it talks about eliminating
"all unfair competition between the national social security systems of our Member States."
Where would that leave the Government's red line? It says:
"The idea of an international tax continues to gain ground and should be explored, such as a tax on speculative movements of capital, on CO 2 emissions, or a global tax on multinational corporate profits."
Again, where would that leave the Government's much proclaimed red line? It talks about "a common immigration policy" and
"a move towards single EU seats in the different international organisations."
For a start, that would mean losing our seat on the United Nations Security Council to an EU representative who, on all past evidence, would rarely represent the British view—[Interruption.] The Foreign Secretary laughs. He ought to read that document; it is very informative.
We were told, much to my astonishment, that that was not the Government's position either. That argument does not work this time because that document—I have a copy here—is actually signed by the Minister for Europe. When that was disclosed, we were told, rather surprisingly, that he did so in his political rather than his ministerial capacity. Again, not quite: the document sets out against his signature the term "Minister for Europe, UK", so he signed it in that capacity.
Not in that capacity—if the Minister for Europe does not speak for the Government on Europe, who does? The Deputy Prime Minister told me last week that that was not Government policy. All I can say is why is the hon. Gentleman sitting on the Front Bench as the Minister for Europe if what he now signs is not the Government's policy?
There is something rather endearing about the Minister for Europe. When the Government are busy laying down the usual smokescreens, he invariably—if I may mix a metaphor—lets the cat out of the bag, and this time the cat is the cat of further European integration, which has always covertly been the Government's aim. To disguise that, the Government, led by the Prime Minister and aped by the Minister for Europe, set out, extremely foolishly, to suggest that the only question on Europe was whether to stay in or get out. They sought quite deliberately to polarise the argument and to deny that there was any position in between. The result of that polarisation was clear on Sunday and the Government have only themselves to blame. They deliberately set out to try to hide the fact that there is another option—a more constructive, more sensible and more forward-looking way. It is our way, and the results of the election show that it was the option that secured the most votes.
Our policy would make the EU more open, more accountable and more efficient. It would be an EU that would not try to do everything, but that would do what it does better. We want to build a flexible Europe, following the precedents set by the opt-outs from the euro and the Schengen agreement, which shows how flexibly Europe can work. Enhanced co-operation enables some member states to go ahead with further integration, even when others do not want to do so. So countries that wanted to integrate still further could do so, but others would not be compelled to join them. That is why we keep on stressing the importance of a flexible Europe.
I have heard many of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speeches, and as I understand it he is arguing that he would never sign up to, negotiate or start to negotiate anything that looked like a constitutional treaty or a constitution of any kind, but that he would like a charter of competences, as I think he referred to it earlier. However, I have yet to find another country in Europe that is prepared to take part in that negotiation with him. Therefore, unless he is prepared to sign up to the treaty to allow a change in the process of negotiating the treaty, there is no means to establish what he wants.
The hon. Gentleman should study not just this country's election result, but those right across Europe. If he did so, he would find some very strange results, with countries, particularly those that have just joined the EU—inasmuch as they bothered to vote at all—showing a very strong and healthy concern about the way that the constitution is directing Europe.
The Conservative approach will anchor national Parliaments at the heart of the EU law-making and decision-making process. As I said earlier, we want a red card system to be introduced: if, say, five or more national Parliaments object to new or existing European legislation on the grounds of subsidiarity or proportionality, it should be withdrawn or repealed, not just reviewed. The EU Commission should lose its monopoly right of initiative on legislation and share it with member states.
The current rotating Council presidency should be, and can be, reformed by establishing rotating team presidencies of perhaps one year, involving big and small members. That would allow the burden of chairing the Council of the European Union to be shared between members, rather than held by an individual character for five years. The acquis communautaire needs to be systematically reviewed, so that powers that would be better administered by the nation states are returned to them. Defence and foreign affairs co-operation should be defined in practical, organisational terms. That would allow ad hoc coalitions and pan-European action where desirable and task specific, but all within the NATO structure. The common fisheries policy is emptying our seas of fish and utterly failing our fishermen, so we will negotiate to restore local and national control over British fisheries.
That will be the start. For too long, we have sat back as powers were leached away from national Parliaments to Brussels.
I have given way to the right hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.]—I have given way three times—[Interruption.]
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way; I shall try to reciprocate. On fishing, let us suppose that we repatriate the powers by a decision of the House and the other place. What happens when that repatriation of fishing powers turns out to be completely inconsistent with the treaties?
That is the negative answer that we hear all the time. My criticism is that we have had two years of the renegotiation of treaties through the Convention and the process that has led to the constitution. The Government should have been arguing the case for our fishermen during those negotiations, but they did not. We will not find ourselves in that situation when we are in government. We will argue for British interests. Our case in negotiations will be strong, and we will succeed.
We have sat back for too long as powers were leeched away from national Parliaments to Brussels. We intend to reverse the conveyor belt by restoring to Westminster powers from Brussels that can be exercised better and more efficiently here. We are not alone, although the Foreign Secretary keeps trying to suggest that we are. The Dutch Foreign Minister, Bernard Bot, called for cultural policy, parts of the common agricultural policy and the social chapter to be returned to nation states' control. When the constitution fails, as I believe that it should and will, and Europe goes back to the drawing board, we will at last have the opportunity to negotiate a Europe in which the nations matter again.
The whole weight of evidence, argument and popular opinion is ranged against this wretched constitution. The opportunity to reject it and build a more people-friendly Europe is there. I fear that due to all the deeply inculcated arrogance of new Labour and its contempt for democratic opinion, that opportunity will be squandered. I fear that the Prime Minister will return to the House on Monday full of tales of negotiating derring-do and red lines protected, but with an agreed and damaging constitution in his hand. If that happens, in the face of British public opinion, he should accept one valid challenge: put the constitution to the people in a referendum now. He should not wait 14 months in the hope that he can bamboozle the British people into supporting it. He should have the courage of his convictions, get on with it, and let the people decide. He could do even better by the British people by going to Brussels this weekend and rejecting the constitution now.
Although this point has fortunately not flowed into the debate, I was surprised by the reaction of both major parties to the European election results because the most striking thing about them was the increase in the vote for the UK Independence party and the National—non-Jordan—Front. The reaction of the party leaders seemed to be that we should dismiss the support for UKIP and the National Front, but that would be like adopting the old Militant argument from 1983 that if people did not vote for our Trotskyite policies, we should change the electorate rather than our policies. I do not mind hearing a few jokes about how a permatan can be maintained in the European Parliament—it is quite possible to maintain one here in the British Parliament. Wondering about how my friend Robert Kilroy-Silk will maintain an income and an audience in his new role is harmless stuff. However, it would be dangerous to dismiss what the electorate told us through the vote.
I do not think that the electorate told us that they want to come out of Europe. That is not a salient issue, and we waste far too much time denouncing the possibility of withdrawal to create fear. If our only defence of the proposed constitution is that the alternative is withdrawal, it has no defence at all. The people were not making that point about Europe. Opinion polls show that British public opinion has consistently been divided, with about 40 per cent. of people thinking that our relationship with Europe is a bad thing and about 40 per cent. thinking that it is a good thing. The rest are undecided about, disinterested in, or bored by, the whole affair.
British people do not have a passionate belief in withdrawal, but they are not happy with Europe, our relationship with Europe, the stream of regulations and commitments that is handed down to us, or the projects of the Euro-enthusiastic elite for whom Europe is a matter of religion rather than national interest. The reality of the situation is that the Euro-enthusiastic elite are foisted on us, so the electorate are saying, "No more than that." However, the fact that they are saying such a thing means that it would be dangerous to rush into or propose any endorsement of the European constitution. Such an action would put an imposition on the people—they do not want that.
A pathetic argument on the front page of today's edition of The Independent predicts the horrifying consequences of withdrawal, such as national disintegration and dissolution. As if European countries would stop sending us manufactured goods. We are told that we do well with trade at present, but that we have constantly been in deficit, so this country would lose manufacturing jobs to Europe. As if European countries would stop forcing their overpriced food on us and stop us from buying food on the cheapest market, which is usually the world market. As if they would stop us passing social legislation for our purposes so that we may handle social provisions in our own way. All that is nonsense within the debate.
The hon. Gentleman has great experience of these matters, so will he explain why the constitution, as proposed, has only four exclusive competences: the customs union; the commercial policy of the single market; the euro, for those who are in it; and the conservation of marine biological resources under the common fisheries policy? Why is the Foreign Secretary so reluctant to correct an obvious historical blunder that has given the fisheries policy such a status?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman's point. The constitution must be the first in the whole world to include fish. I read several constitutions during my days as a political science lecturer, but I never found one that included the marine biological resources of the sea and fish. What is the basis on which that is being done? I think that the exclusive competence will extend competences because it will apply to not only the 12-mile limit, but right up to the beaches, which was not envisaged even when the Conservative Government signed up to the common fisheries policy. The inclusion of that competence is a mystery. However, the provision is ominous because the fact that it is included implies that it has a purpose, but that would have to be damaging to our national fishing interests. That is only one aspect of the constitution that worries me.
We were told that the constitution represented a tidying-up operation to make way for new member states, but we were also told that the Nice treaty would do that job for us—it was sold to us and pushed through the House on exactly the same basis. Evidently, more tidying-up is necessary, so I have no doubt that more will come later.
The constitution is a product of the European elite. Euro-enthusiasm and commitment to the European vision were prior requirements for those who participated in the Convention that produced it. Critics and Eurosceptics formed only a pathetically tiny minority of the people involved in its production, although Mr. Heathcoat-Amory, along with my hon. Friend Ms Stuart, maintained a consistently critical stance.
The arrangement shows how Brussels and its bureaucratic elite are constantly striving for an ever-closer Union. There is a constant desire to breed a 1950s-style centralising state that hands down rules and decrees along the lines of the model of the French state, which has a powerful bureaucracy to drive it. However, the time has passed for exactly that kind of state. People no longer want such states. Even the European bloc is less relevant in a world in which tariff barriers are falling, there is greater emphasis on corporations, globalisation makes for common standards and every barrier is coming down.
A bloc such as Europe is less and less relevant and less and less necessary, but there is still a drive from the centre to turn it into a state of a type whose time has passed. There is no need now for a European state that is constantly strengthened in that way. Enlargement sounded the death knell of that process, and this constitution is its last throe—an attempt to reverse the consequences of enlargement, which means that, as an association, Europe will be not only bigger but looser. One cannot impose the framework of a state on such a diverse, massive population or collection of nations. This is the last desperate throe of outdated centralism, but it is still dangerous and we in this country should oppose it.
We want national management of our fishery resources, and I support the desire to come out of the common fisheries policy, but it is not only on fishing that we should oppose the constitution. It will transfer more power to the centre and create a situation in which more power still can be transferred to the centre. I refer here to the excellent Fabian Society pamphlet "The Making of Europe's Constitution" by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston, in which she raises several of the dangerous points that are still implicit in the constitution. She says that
"assent for changes moves to the European institutions, without the further involvement of Westminster or other national Parliaments."
She argues further that the constitution
"gives the Commission wider powers to act where there is no specific treaty basis" for that action. She adds that
"the draft Constitution contains no mechanism to review and return powers from the Union to Member States" and it has
"rigid rules to determine future actions or how power is to be exercised but it also initiates processes."
My hon. Friend says that
"in practice the present scope of the acquis"— the acquis communautaire that all the new members have to accept—
"is not reconcilable with the professed objective of subsidiarity and taking decisions at the lowest feasible level."
That is absolutely true. We have a massive acquis of regulations imposed from the centre. My hon. Friend goes on to say:
"The draft Constitution proposes in at least 36 separate policy areas that the national veto is to be abolished".
Finally, there is the question of the EU having its own resources, which is central to the ideas of Giscard d'Estaing. The constitution is so long, so turgid and so complex that it is like the Schleswig-Holstein question beloved of Lord Palmerston, and anyone who says that they understand it and its implications is either insane or a genius. I do not think that there are many of either calibre on either Front Bench. I therefore think that the question of own resources is an open one, but steps seem to be being taken towards providing those.
The hon. Gentleman is mad and I have forgotten. I agree that a long document is capable of different interpretations, but, in my interpretation, on anything that is a shared competence we have the protection of article 1.11, which the Foreign Secretary specified, and we are covered by subsidiarity, but anything that is an exclusive competence has neither of those protections. That is why I am so concerned—as, I know, is the hon. Gentleman—that fisheries have ended up in the wrong category.
That may well be the position, and since we are dealing with abnormal psychology here, in which I am not an expert, although I accept that the Scottish National party may be, I will have to accept that explanation.
Our interests in Europe lie not with this constitution but in a looser association in which we can, if we want, pick and mix. There are proposals for strengthening the constitution's central core, but there are no proposals for allowing the kind of pick-and-mix process that is in our interests. All parties have been saying for decades that we will fundamentally reform the common agricultural policy, but it never happens. The CAP goes on costing more. It is a declining proportion of the Community's expenditure but a bigger total, and it is never effectively reformed. It is a drag on trade negotiations, particularly for this country, all over the world. We need to come out of that policy, but if the constitution is accepted there will be no possibility of doing so or of coming out of the common fisheries policy. It is interesting, is it not, that all the common policies of this European monster—the CFP, the CAP and the common economic policy—are the most disastrous areas of Europe's machinations.
We do not want to be subject to endless regulations about how many or what mixture of vitamins pills we can take. What use is it to regulate all that from the centre and impose it on the British market? Yet that is a classic example of the lunacy of this centralisation process.
What would be the situation, particularly for the CAP, if we did not participate at the centre of the EU and try to mould what is happening? Does my hon. Friend agree that the alternative to participation is total withdrawal from the EU? We cannot try to change anything from the periphery; we must either be in the middle or out of the EU completely.
I had hoped that my hon. Friend was going to intervene on the question of vitamin pills, which I am sure we both take. What he said is absolutely wrong. I remember the classic reforms proposed for the CAP in Agenda 2000. Reform was agreed, and we went along to the Council in Berlin. Giscard simply walked into the negotiations and said no, and all the reforms that we had agreed were scrapped. Our presence had no influence and we could not stop that. Our interest lies in allowing states to contribute what they want to their own agricultural policy and in our buying in the cheapest market. It is ridiculous to say that the alternative to reforming the CAP is to come out of Europe altogether. That is palpably absurd, and it would palsy the hand of Government in trying to secure any reform in anything. To say, "If we reform this, we'll be out" is no negotiating position for a British Government to take. That is the kind of despair that I want no truck with.
The problem that the Government face is deciding whether we should accept the constitution. If we do, we will have a weaker base from which to resist further depredations, regulations and impositions of central control. The threats that are held out if we do not accept it—that we will be on our own and out of Europe—are totally unrealistic. We face a simple question of whether or not we accept it. I do not expect the Prime Minister to be so bold as to take his courage in his hands and veto the constitution, saying "Up with this we will not put." However, he might attempt, as Pope put it, to
"Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer,
And, without sneering, teach the rest to sneer", providing a rallying post for those nations, mostly the smaller ones, who need support, who are unhappy with the provisions and want to oppose it and certainly to stick to the red lines. My position on the constitution is
"Thou shalt not kill"— and perhaps I may not be able to kill—
"but need'st not strive
Officiously to keep"— this farce—
There is no need for the constitution and the British people do not want it. If my Prime Minister comes back from Europe and, like his Conservative predecessor, proclaims "Game, set and match", which is what everyone comes back from European Councils triumphantly proclaiming, I have to tell him and my Front-Bench colleagues that the British people will simply not believe it.
It is instructive to look around the Chamber. I do not exempt my party from this criticism, but one would hardly believe that the debate is taking place only a few days after European elections in which one party achieved 12 Members of the European Parliament for the United Kingdom and 16 per cent. of the vote on the thesis that Britain should withdraw from the EU. Perhaps the proper argument about the EU and Britain's role in it should start in the Chamber, with a greater attendance of Members from all parties.
Mr. Ancram said that the debate was timely. I hope that he will not think it churlish of me to say that I am not so sure about that on this occasion, because we have mainly heard—I suspect that we will continue to hear, and I do not exempt myself from this criticism—a rehearsal of old lines by the same actors.
That makes me think, to continue the theatrical theme, that the debate is rather like the porter's scene in Macbeth. We are an interruption to the dramatic narrative, but there is little likelihood of our having any impact on the plot. We need to know, to inform this debate and the debate in the country, the outcome of the negotiations over the weekend and what, if anything, the Prime Minister will bring back.
I hope, therefore, that there will be an opportunity if not for a reprise, at least for the chance to examine in some detail, as soon as decisions have been made, what took place over that weekend and what the United Kingdom may be invited to endorse in a referendum.
We shall continue to reflect our policy in the terms of the manifesto on which we stood. In the most recent European elections we increased our number of Members of the European Parliament and we increased our percentage of the popular vote. I think that was a reasonable endorsement of our position. I wish we had been third rather than fourth, second rather than third and first rather than second but, unhappily, my wishes do not always prevail in these matters. I am confident that the position that we took was entirely legitimate. We shall not do anything other than stand on the manifesto on which we fought the election campaign.
I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would agree that access to the Liberal Democrat manifesto, or its summary, was not present in many election leaflets in the east midlands. The probable reason for the slight increase in the vote was the smokescreen of promoting Iraq as the prime issue on which people should elect Liberal Democrat MEPs. There was little about Europe in the leaflet that we received in the east midlands.
If the hon. Gentleman thinks that Iraq was not significant in the debate about Europe, let me try to help him. There is no doubt that the stand taken by the Government, and endorsed by a vote in the House, was one of staying close to the position of the Bush-White House Administration. In my view, that was not justified. My scepticism and that of my party is well known on this matter. If we had a properly formed common foreign and security policy in Europe, it is extremely unlikely that the United Kingdom would have allied itself with the Bush Administration. One of the compelling arguments for a common foreign and security policy is that Europe should operate together but, if necessary, independently of the United States on such issues. I therefore believe that Iraq has an important significance in the context of a debate about Europe.
I also say to the hon. Gentleman that as the European elections were the first universal test of public opinion in the United Kingdom since the decision to take military action against Iraq, it was inevitable that Iraq would feature in the minds of electors. To conduct a campaign and to say, "This is a campaign about Europe, but we are not going to allow you to talk about Iraq and we are not going to talk about Iraq", would have seemed to many people to be an abrogation of responsibility.
I have quite a lot of sympathy with some of the preliminary observations of Mr. Mitchell. He was right to say that the events of the election are of significance. I would argue that what came out of last weekend was, in truth, a warning for proponents of the European case that, without leadership in Europe, voters will hear only one side of the story on Europe, which will inevitably be in negative terms.
These have become questions of belief. I suspect that the debate has reflected that so far, and that that will continue as it proceeds. Opinions are almost preordained. Members enter the Chamber with a view about Europe and a view about the legal instrument that may or may not be called a constitution. I shall be surprised if any Member who takes part in the debate changes his or her mind as a result of what they hear during the day. I believe strongly, as I have said in many debates on this subject, that there is a case for a legal instrument, that it should be called a constitution and that, without a document of the sort that is contemplated, to seek to organise the EU on the basis of the four existing treaties—Rome, Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice—and the Single European Act would become increasingly difficult. In my view, it would be a twin recipe for instability and sclerosis. Some action must therefore be taken to reflect the fact that we have gone from six to 25 member states.
I accept—in my judgment, those of my persuasion on these matters would be wise to do so—that there will be little hope of an affirmative vote in a referendum campaign unless the campaign to achieve that begins now. As reflected in the votes of last Thursday, there is a substantial amount of anxiety about Europe and about Britain's role within the EU. One would be right to acknowledge that the campaign for a negative vote in the referendum has to some extent already begun, and can claim some early success.
Otherwise, why else within a month after the much-celebrated enlargement of the EU should the United Kingdom have elected 12 Members of the European Parliament who are pledged to wreck it? For the states that have just joined—for example, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania—that must be a bleak message. The future of the EU itself will be bleak unless those of us in all parties who believe that Britain should be at the heart of Europe—in the language used by Mr. John Major and more recently by the Prime Minister—argue that case with much greater vigour than has been experienced in this country since perhaps 1975.
I agree with many of the points that the right hon. and learned Member is making, but should he not be careful not to over-dramatise and give the importance to UKIP that it wishes to accord itself? In every European country there is a bloc of people who vote, for example, in France for the National Front, for the Vlaams Blok in Belgium, the Northern League in Italy, the June List in Sweden and the Leppers party in Poland. Those people seem to think that if we quit the EU, life will become a bed of roses. In a sense, all that we have seen in Britain is that we are becoming a normal European nation with aggressive anti-European politics represented, in this instance, by UKIP, with considerable support from the tabloid press and many Conservative Members.
I cannot hope to match the Minister's encyclopaedic knowledge of European political parties. The significance of UKIP is not on the issue of withdrawal so much as on the influence that it may have in a referendum campaign. We should take note of that, and people who believe in the cause, as I certainly do, have an obligation to argue the advantages with much greater vigour than they have since the 1975 referendum. I welcome the events of the past few days, which show that battle has been joined. The area of dispute is evident, and a resolution is desirable and, some may argue, inevitable. I therefore hope that at the weekend there will be a successful outcome, which would be an acknowledged political success for the Irish presidency.
I had some difficulty accepting the use of the word "mandate" by the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes and his argument about whether the Prime Minister had a mandate after last week's elections to agree the document and eventually put it before the House in legislation embodying a legal instrument that may, or may not, be called a constitution. We do not use "mandate" in the strict sense in our political system. No one in Parliament is mandated—we are representatives, and are not compelled to vote as our constituents direct. We come to the House with an obligation to exercise our judgment. Even if that parallel cannot be easily extended to the realm of international treaties, the mandate, if any, will be given in the referendum. As the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes pointed out, he and I have been at pains to argue that the Government need a popular mandate for a constitution, which is why we need a referendum. It appears that the intelligence and intellectual force of our view has prevailed, as the Government have now agreed to that course of action.
Some questions remain—for example, on voting weights. It would be helpful to know the Government's position on that issue, which was said, because of the attitude of Spain and Poland, to have been instrumental in preventing agreement when these matters were last considered by the Council of Ministers. Judicial co-operation in criminal matters is another significant issue, and we need some explanation of the emergency brake procedure that is being discussed. Under that procedure, any dispute would be referred back to the European Council and member states would be allowed to opt out. Are the Government satisfied with that position, and will they recommend it to the House if it is included in the final document?
In the past, I have expressed reservations about establishing a public prosecutor. National authorities should be able to pursue prosecutions in accordance with domestic procedure and rules of evidence. What is the Government's attitude towards the continuing suggestion that there should be a European public prosecutor? All parties in the House are at one in believing that a common foreign and security policy should remain an issue on which the veto can be exercised, and should be subject to consensus, not qualified majority voting, because foreign affairs and defence policy are national issues. The vote on
No doubt the Minister will confirm that taxation remains a red line issue for the Government, and the most recent draft of the treaty—a number of drafts are circulating, as right hon. and hon. Members know—proposes that there should be no incursion of EU competence into national affairs of taxation. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby made a number of points about own resources and financing, and it would be helpful if the Minister gave us a clearer view of the Government's position on those matters.
I understand the historical and emotional importance that many people attach to the British rebate. The rebate, however, is less important than the bottom line of the annual British contribution. In the next EU budget negotiations, the Germans will be extremely reluctant to make the net contribution that they have made in the past, not least because of the weakness of their economy and the domestic difficulties of Mr. Schröder, if he is still there. At some stage, therefore, we need a wholesale review of the EU's financial basis. That would have been too much to hope for on this occasion, but in due course there must be some consideration of the way in which those matters—
In a moment—the right hon. Gentleman need not be quite so impatient.
Those issues must be resolved not just in the United Kingdom but in the European Union of 25, which many of the most recent members joined with an optimistic expectation of access to the moneys of the common agricultural policy and the structural funds.
Did the right hon. and learned Gentleman not notice that we had a debate yesterday on that very issue, as we discussed the EU proposal to increase the amount that it takes from us by a quarter? It was one occasion when I agreed with the Government, as we both disagreed with that proposal. The EU also wants to impose new direct taxes on us. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman's party in favour of those things?
I am in favour of neither, and nor is my party.
A number of proposals are circulating about the charter of fundamental rights, including some that appeared on the front pages of national newspapers today. It would be helpful to know the Government's position on the issue, and whether they continue to believe that the legal terms that deal with the extent to which the charter has to be interpreted according to national conventions and norms should remain in the preamble or whether they should be incorporated in the main block of the treaty to have full legal force. It would be helpful if the Minister could provide further advice about that.
As is self-evident, I reject wholeheartedly any question of withdrawal from the EU. Withdrawal is a simplistic theory, and people who argue for it are obliged to explain how long it would take, what the financial and political costs would be and what would be the effect on inward investment. What would be the consequences of withdrawal for those aspects of economic life to which we have become accustomed? Equally, people who argue for renegotiation are obliged to explain which countries are willing to agree to that course of action. How long would renegotiation take, how much would it cost and what would be the consequences for inward investment? I was intrigued by the analysis that the Secretary of State gave of the view of the Leader of the Opposition that we should legislate to withdraw the United Kingdom from the common fisheries policy. I cannot think of any instance in history where the House of Commons has sought to legislate to withdraw from a treaty obligation without the agreement of other signatories to the treaty.
If the basis for the Leader of the Opposition's policies is to be found in the 16th century, perhaps we can understand the lack of enthusiasm for greater co-operation in what most of us would regard as modern Europe.
There is a serious point here. As I said, I cannot think of any instance where legislation has been introduced in the House of Commons for the purpose of departing from a treaty obligation, without there having been the agreement of the co-signatories to the treaty. An interesting question arises. Such legislation would seek to detract from section 2 of the Act of Accession 1972. I do not believe, therefore, that the legislation apparently proposed by the Leader of the Opposition would be possible unless it contained an express repeal of section 2 of the Act of Accession because, by definition, such legislation involves denying the primacy of European law in such areas.
An Act would have to be introduced stating that not only were we withdrawing from the common fisheries policy, but that we were, for that purpose at least and perhaps on a wider basis, seeking the repeal of section 2 of the Act of Accession. If that did not lead to withdrawal, it is difficult to see what other outcome there is likely to be. The proposal requires a little more scrutiny by the constitutional lawyers.
I have no anxiety about the use of the word "constitution". It is a legal instrument, but so is a treaty. The European Court of Justice is required to interpret treaties and it would be required to interpret this legal instrument. I was interested in the proposal from the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes for a charter of competences, which he may have mentioned before, but I do not believe that it has been fully discussed in any of the many debates that we have had. A charter of competences would also require negotiation and universal agreement, so even that remedy for what the right hon. and learned Gentleman conceives to be the ills of the European Union may not be easily achieved.
I cling strongly to the view that nations acting together can achieve much more in the service of the people in their countries than they can operating individually. I believe—this is a matter of belief—that the history of the European Union has shown that more convincingly than perhaps any other experiment in international co-operation. The EU has promoted economic growth across the continent, it has safeguarded human rights and it has safeguarded the environment in every member state. Were it such a failure, it would be surprising beyond belief that 10 countries should have been so enthusiastic to become its members in the course of the past few months—[Interruption.] As the Minister for Europe says in a sedentary intervention, there are more waiting outside, desperate to become members.
European rulings have protected consumers and have required Governments to adhere to higher environmental standards. I believe the United Kingdom needs to be part of such alliances. I say that because, as I hinted a little earlier, unquestioning allegiance to the American agenda does not always help the United Kingdom's international standing, nor is it conducive to the effective promotion of British values and British interests at a global level. We need to form a strong European Union that can operate in concert with and, if necessary, separately from the United States.
Britain being at the heart of Europe was one of the platforms on which the Government were elected. If a positive role is played this weekend and agreement is reached, that may go some way towards fulfilling the Government's pledge, which in recent years has seemed to many of us to have become rather more of a plea.
The debate has, naturally, focused on the constitutional treaty—I am happy to call it that—and the negotiations that will take place in the next few days and may continue into the weekend. As experience has shown over the past 30 years, the final outcome will no doubt depend upon haggling and late-night compromises, which have been the hallmark of the negotiations. At the end, if there is an agreement, as there probably will be, it will be hailed, as has been said by previous speakers, as a great victory or a triumph for Europe and for each of the member states, and of course for the intrepid negotiators, who have done so well to reach a conclusion.
Everyone will be a winner except, as often in the past, the democracies of the member states. Over the past 30 years, as treaty has followed treaty, we have seen a gradual slicing away of the democracies of the member states as a result of those treaties. I shall not attempt to analyse why people voted as they did in the last European elections, but I believe people do understand that, and not just in Britain. There is concern that the democracies, especially those of the old nation states of Europe, are being eroded, maybe for the common good and maybe not. That is a real concern, which was expressed at the ballot box last Thursday.
The European Union is faced with two fundamental problems, which are described in that somewhat inelegant language that one often finds in EU documents. Most hon. Members will know that one of the problems is the so-called democratic deficit. If I may create some inelegant language of my own, the other problem, in my view, is the unwieldy macro-economic structure of the Union itself. With regard to the constitutional treaty, being a fair-minded person, I am prepared to wait for what the Foreign Secretary called the final text, and to judge whether it makes the so-called democratic deficit worse. From previous experience, I do not think it will necessarily improve the democratic deficit of member states.
The constitutional treaty will certainly do nothing—I shall spend a short time on this; it may not necessarily be relevant to what happens at the weekend, but this is a debate on European affairs—to address the problems arising from the EU's inflexible and unwieldy macro-economic structure.
Economic and monetary union is in a mess. The EU as a whole and the countries at its core are stagnating, and the existing structure cannot withstand the onslaught of globalisation over the next few years. Continental Europe has not yet suffered from the globalisation pressures from which the United States is suffering. The United States is hanging on in there. It is doing quite well. With huge deficits and practically non-existent interest rates, it is just about managing to create economic growth despite the pressures on its economy, especially from China.
Europe has not yet experienced such pressure, but that will change. I understand that one of the two main Japanese car manufacturers—I forget which—is setting up a manufacturing plant in China. There is nothing new in that, except that that plant is to produce vast numbers of cars wholly for the European market. To borrow a transatlantic phrase, we ain't seen nothing yet in Europe. I do not believe that its macro-economic structure, monetary union and economic union, such as it is, are capable of withstanding that.
It is only fair to say that some of the countries have done quite well, and Britain especially so. Those countries are often on the geographical periphery of Europe or have not joined the euro. As we know, however, the countries at the core of the Union and the euro area—Germany, Italy and France—have been stagnating.
I shall briefly mention the Lisbon agenda in a moment. The point that I am trying to make—I do not really need to make it, as my hon. Friend agrees—is clear. In Germany, unemployment is currently at 10.5 per cent.—and that is in the summer. The average unemployment rate for the EU of 15 member states is about 8 per cent., and it is far greater for the EU of 25 members.
I am not quite sure what the EU's purposes are these days. Over my 30 years' experience in this House, I have found that they tend to change from time to time. As I understand it, one of them is to stand up to the Americans, eyeball to eyeball if necessary. That may apply to foreign policy, but the economy is also important. A country cannot have much of a foreign policy if its economy is going downhill.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to point out the problems, but will he concede that there are many good news stories? For example, why is it that a small independent member state of the European Union such as Ireland has managed to overtake the wealth per head of the UK and be a part of the eurozone?
I asked some Irish friends that question some time ago at a conference. Being charming and Irish, they said, "Mr. Davies, Ireland is crawling these days with economists trying to find an answer to that question." If one looks at the core, one sees that the problems are very great.
Analysts have suggested that the European Union's GDP per head is now about 60 per cent. that of the United States. That applies to the 15 original members; if one takes the 25 member states, the figure will obviously be less than 60 per cent. That is a problem in the economy of the European Union, especially among the euro 12—the countries that have subscribed to what is described as monetary or currency union.
I do not know all the reasons for that situation—there must be many of them—but I suggest that one of them is the dead hand of European bureaucracy. In most democratic countries, the bureaucrats do not propose legislation; it is proposed by democratically elected Ministers. Curiously, in the European Union it seems that the bureaucracy is the only body that is entitled to propose legislation. Others can look at it afterwards, but as we know, the person who produces the first draft has the advantage.
The bureaucracy churns out material. No doubt we all receive those wretched yellow forms among our parliamentary papers. I try to look at them from time to time. Sometimes, in an excess of enthusiasm, I even try to read some of the documents that are sent out. Most of them come from the Commission, although some come from the European Parliament. There are communications, regulations, directives, announcements and all sorts of different documents. Most of them, frankly, are incomprehensible except perhaps to senior partners in City firms of lawyers. I pity not only the larger firms that have to try to interpret such documents, but the small businesses, which are also affected. People in such businesses somehow have to try to run their business and deal with all the nonsense that is issued. If a particular regulation does not work very well, it will take a long time to change it, and the instinct of the bureaucracy will be to churn out another regulation to try to undo some of the damage caused by the last one.
I think that I know the history, but I ask why we need bureaucracy to be on a par with the more democratic elements of the European Union: the Parliament, which has very little legitimacy in my view anyway, and the Council of Ministers. I suggest that one reason—it may be a minor contributory reason—for the stagnation of much of the European economy is the dead hand of that bureaucracy.
On the Lisbon declaration—I think that it is a declaration or agreement—
I am sorry; one has to be very careful with the language.
As far as I can see, behind the words, the Lisbon agenda basically says, "Well you, France, Germany and Italy, must dismantle your welfare states." I think that that is what it says in general terms. It mentions what are called inflexible labour laws. Opposition Members will no doubt approve of that sort of Wall Street Journal agenda, which says that provided that we dismantle the welfare states in continental countries, their economies will surge forward and all the problems will be solved. I do not believe that. As far as Germany is concerned, I do not believe that such an approach is practical or possible. After the elections last Sunday, I do not believe that the Germans will take that route.
In my view, the main reason for the problems lies in the inflexibility and unbalanced nature of the arrangement and the fact that it is out of kilter with the macro-economic structure of the European Union. Monetary policy and the arrangements on interest rates apply to 12 member states and no more, although there are now 25 of them. Of course, the new 10 members have no opt-out and will have to try to bring themselves within the currency union. As a result, they will have no ability to fix their interest rates. A country such as Germany, which is the largest in the Union, cannot now fix its own interest rates. I feel sorry for the European Central Bank, because it does not know which way to move. It can move neither upwards nor downwards; if it goes one way, the rate will be too low for Ireland, and if it goes the other way, it will be too high for Germany. There is complete ossification among the three countries—France, Germany and Italy—that produce 70 per cent. of the GDP of the European currency union.
Fiscal policy covers public expenditure, public borrowing and taxation. Apparently, public expenditure is still the province of the member state—and correctly so—but that does not apply to public borrowing. I do not want to look into the entrails of the growth and stability pact, but I point out that it at least tried to restrict borrowing in terms of public expenditure, because it is not possible to allow each nation in a currency union to borrow as much as it wants. We have had great fun over the growth and stability pact, but it will have to be revisited in some way. I do not think that it is possible to operate a currency union without such an agreement. The problem is that nobody knows what to put in its place or how to draft a new agreement. If such an agreement is drafted, it will not, by its very nature, be able to foresee and deal with unforeseen circumstances. Again, the currency union is damned both ways; it is damned if it does not have such a stability agreement, and also if it does have one, because the entrenchment of such an agreement into the constitution and the treaties will mean that it cannot be changed until it is too late to do so. Of course, many of the new member states are now trying to get inside this somewhat dead growth and stability pact and to reduce their expenditure and borrowing so that they come within the 3 per cent. requirement. That is also contributing to the stagnation of the European economy.
On taxation, we have heard about the red lines. I think that the general view is that member states have an unfettered prerogative and power over taxation, but that also is not true. VAT produces the second largest amount of revenue for the British Government. It is a European tax. We can alter the rates up and down slightly, although the boundaries of change are getting smaller, but we cannot change the structure. No British political party can go to the country and promise to abolish that rather ridiculous and bureaucratic tax.
I am old enough to remember the Richardson committee, which was established before 1974 and headed by the Governor of the Bank of England to examine the wretched VAT. The committee concluded that we did not need it but Mr. Edward Heath, who was then Prime Minister, had to negotiate entry and VAT came with entry. We must therefore be careful: all taxation is not in the province of member states.
Let us consider income tax and corporation tax. It may be an esoteric point but if one goes through Finance Bills over the past four or five years and reads some of the taxation reports of the cases before the European Court of Justice, one sees that it is clear that the treaties encroach—especially when one considers freedom of establishment—on income tax and corporation tax and have cost the Treasury a considerable amount of money. Legislation cannot be drafted that contradicts case law and the acquis communautaire that the EU has built up on taxation.
The macro-economic structure is neither fish nor fowl. The central authorities of the EU have some but not all the levers of economic power that one would expect a nation state to retain. Member states have some but not all the levers of economic power that one would expect them to have. That puts the macro-economic strategy at a disadvantage when trying to compete in a global economy.
There are two solutions. The first, which I believe that the European élite—as my hon. Friend Mr. Mitchell refers to them—prefer, is to transfer more power to the centre. Under that solution, powers over taxation would be transferred to the centre and public borrowing—or, indeed, expenditure—would be controlled more stringently. The levers of economic power would therefore go to the centre. Whatever happens to the red lines, the pressure will continue for greater central control of taxation and fiscal powers, because those who want a stronger centralised state believe that the balance is not right.
In my view, any attempt to transfer fiscal powers, especially taxation powers, to the centre would be a step too far and would create a dangerous gap between economics, democracy and politics. However, pressure will exist, perhaps by the back door, to try to co-ordinate economic and taxation policy, to create the same sort of structure for corporation tax without touching the rates, at least for now, and to reduce the parameters whereby the rates can be increased. I believe that there are proposals to that effect for corporation tax.
The second solution is to bite the bullet and start dismantling the central powers. We could begin with the Commission. Why should the Commission be allowed to propose all that legislation? We often consider devolution for many parts of Britain yet I hear nothing about devolution in the EU. "Devolution" may not be an elegant word, but let us have some and start dismantling the central powers. Indeed, we may have to consider dismantling some of the monetary powers because I cannot envisage a country such as Germany, unless it managed to achieve economic growth, accepting that it had no control over the basic levers of economic power.
Of course, such dismantling will not happen. On the one hand, there will be no movement towards more taxation powers because I do not believe that people will accept it. On the other hand, the dismantling of powers will not happen because the political and bureaucratic élite will not allow it. What would they do then, poor things? They have a vested interest in attending the meetings, doing the drafting, standing up and declaring great victories.
A danger is that the external economic pressures of globalisation will create the change. As we know to our cost, such pressures can be haphazard and brutal. However, I cannot envisage the EU's doing anything about it except continuing to stagnate.
Is my right hon. Friend making a case for British withdrawal from the EU or for its total dismantling, irrespective of the wishes of 24 other member states, which are happy with the EU?
I was not making either case but my arguments have obviously been insufficiently lucid; otherwise, my hon. Friend would not have asked that question. I was trying to make the point that the macro-economic structure is ossified—it cannot go in one direction or the other. I should like it to move in the direction of decentralisation and more power reverting to member states. I do not believe that the current structure can withstand the massive pressures of globalisation.
We shall wait and see what happens to the final text. I do not believe that it will say much about the matter that we are considering. It will probably be irrelevant and the EU's economy will, sadly, continue to stagnate.
Denzil Davies and I probably agree on little about general social and economic policy, but we agree that the public should have a choice between us. That forms a bond between us that is perhaps more important than our political differences.
I believe that democracy becomes a sham unless people can choose between competing ideologies and political programmes. If all the powers go upwards to the European Union, to be decided by people whom we do not elect or know and, in many cases, cannot remove, we lose our democracy, there will be massive disillusionment with the political system and we will witness the rise of extremism. I am therefore pleased to follow the right hon. Gentleman, although he will understand that I approach the subject from a different perspective.
We have held a national election, and it is in the nature of such elections that every party claims victory. However, there is one indisputable result: a clear majority of those who vote in this country do not want the European constitution. The Government must heed that message.
I am intrigued by the right hon. Gentleman's point about giving rise to extremism in Europe. Does he view the rise in Britain of, for example, the British National party or, indeed, the United Kingdom Independence party, which is a party of wreckers on its own admission, as extremism? I would argue that those parties are extremist. Does he associate that rise with Europe or does it have more to do with domestic circumstances?
One of the things that fuels the British National party is its claim that we are losing control over our borders and our asylum and immigration policy. I witnessed similar circumstances in meetings on the Convention on the Future of Europe that took place during the first round of the French presidential election campaign. The French National Front candidate, Jean-Marie Le Pen, defeated an incumbent French Socialist Prime Minister. One of his claims was that only he could repatriate control over immigration policy. He characterised the contest between Chirac and Jospin as a sham, claiming that they had sold out to the European Union. So, yes, I do believe that if we continue to hand over the powers of this Parliament to the European Union it will drive feelings of frustration and resentment that will fuel the rise of extremism.
There is an even more direct link between the rise of extremism and Europe, because we have to have the Lib Dem proportional representation system in European elections, and PR systems breed extremes, whereas sensible first-past-the-post elections, such as those that we have for this House, prevent them.
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. The list system is an anti-democratic reform that the Government ought to reject. I certainly believe that our party should, if it is not too late, try to get back to a system of single-Member constituencies for the European Parliament elections. Luckily, however, I am not in a position to commit my party one way or the other on that issue.
I know from bitter experience in the European Union that it is the Community method to ignore electors. Adverse referendum results are either ignored or overturned, and the electorate are treated with indifference or contempt. The priest class of bureaucrats and technocrats who run the European Union regard the electors as a kind of dumb collection of walk-ons and extras. It is therefore only in this Parliament—and, I hope, in this country—that we shall take the results seriously. Otherwise, disillusionment and cynicism about the European Union and the democratic system will only increase.
The turnout in member states elsewhere on the continent is an eloquent commentary on how people there see the European Union and the European Parliament. They have been told, as we used to be, that the reason people did not vote in the European parliamentary elections was that the Parliament did not have any proper powers. However, although every treaty change has given it more powers, the turnout has continued to fall. People there are sending a message that they do not regard themselves as adequately represented in the European Parliament and that it is not a Parliament to which they can relate. If we add to that problem by transferring more powers from their national Parliaments to the European Parliament, we should be defying that message.
In this country, people are unambiguously voting for less Europe, not more, at the same time as the Government are about to go to Brussels to negotiate, and possibly sign, a truly epic agreement on a European constitution which would give Europe a whole new impetus and status. If the Government persist in ignoring the fact that the people are going one way while the Government are trying to go another, we are in for a road smash in this country. It is the job of politicians to find a way around that and to respond to people's concerns by designing a truly democratic Europe in which they can feel happy and content.
It is perfectly true that the Government never wanted a European constitution. Up until two years ago, they made it clear in all their speeches that they did not, and would not, support any move towards consolidating the existing treaties into anything like a European constitution. Nor did they want any more majority voting when the last talks got under way.
"We see no need to revisit the deal on qualified majority voting made at Nice."
That was stated by the Government's representative on the Convention on the Future of Europe, in an amendment to an early draft of the constitution. Instead, however, majority voting has now been brought into upwards of 30 new areas. The House of Commons Library has calculated that there are 33. The Foreign Secretary rather remarkably dismissed that, saying that they were unimportant and peripheral areas. Does he think that criminal justice or asylum and immigration are peripheral? They go to the very heart of what government is for, and what this House regards as important.
The Government did not want a European Foreign Minister, and they tabled an amendment on that issue. Neither did they want a mutual defence guarantee as a rival to NATO; they also tabled an amendment on that in the Convention. They opposed giving up our seat on the United Nations Security Council when asked to do so by the European Foreign Minister. In spite of that, that requirement endures in the constitutional text that will form the basis of the final negotiations.
The Government did not like the proposed external action service either. That is a Eurospeak term for the Foreign Ministry that the new Foreign Minister will have. Remarkably, however, there is now provision in the draft constitution for that proposal to be put in hand even before the constitution has been ratified. After signature of the constitution, the setting up of that European Foreign Ministry will proceed, before this House or any other national Parliament has had a say on the constitution, let alone before any electorate has voted yes or no to it.
We then come to the exclusive powers, and I agree with what the Scottish National party is saying about fisheries being made an exclusive power. Angus Robertson joined me on the European Scrutiny Committee in interviewing the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry this morning about another matter: competition policy. That is also in the constitution as an exclusive competence. That means that, as defined in the constitution, we would have no power to set up any national competition policy or rules. That is what European exclusive competence means. That is not the situation under the present treaties, a fact that I think we finally managed to get out of the Secretary of State.
If we are going to descend into trivia—important trivia, but nevertheless genuinely peripheral—then, yes, there is that qualification. But everything relates to the internal market, as the hon. Gentleman knows. He is a member of our Committee and he will know that the European Commission now regards health policy as a single market issue because health care is a service that can cross borders and health products can be traded. It is using single market powers to drive through a new Community health policy. Those matters will now all be arbitrated and decided by the European Court of Justice—so once it is written into the constitution that competition policy is an exclusive competence, pretty well everything will be decided there. I repeat that this House will be legally unable to legislate on those matters, even when competition policy clearly relates only to our own domestic concerns.
The main point about all the amendments that the Government representative tabled in the Convention on the Future of Europe is that they have now all been abandoned and forgotten. They are not the red lines. In fact, Government policy has been one long retreat. At the same time, they have been conceding the ever-growing importance of what is at stake. We started in the Convention with the Government's representative, Mr. Hain, who never attends our debates now, of course. I think that he might be rather embarrassed about some of the things that he said at that time. He claimed that the constitution was only a "tidying-up" operation, but that view did not last very long. The Government then conceded that the constitution was indeed important, although not important enough to hold a referendum on it. Then, in a somersault, they agreed that it was important enough for a referendum.
In parallel with the ever-growing importance of the issues at stake, they have been conducting ever-greater retreats on the specific policy issues. By the end, the Government representative had tabled in excess of 200 amendments to the constitution, of which he only succeeded, if we are generous, with 12. That is a success rate of about 5 per cent. In negotiations, one wins some and loses some. It is remarkable, however, if one loses 95 per cent. of what one is aiming for, and succeeds on only 5 per cent. Yet the same right hon. Gentleman called it a strategic victory, and said that the Government
"achieved all of our strategic objectives".
I find it odd that if one is out-voted or ignored on 95 per cent. of one's demands, one still calls it a great victory. I would like to know what a defeat would have looked like. In relation to strategic victories, the details are important.
With regard to competition policy, once the door is open a chink, the Commission and the Parliament knock it down and legislate in the fields open to them. Therefore, if any new powers go into this constitution, of whatever sort, and if there is any move from unanimity to qualified majority voting, we can be sure that that will be exploited to the full by the European Union. The ultimate arbiter in any dispute is, of course, the European Court of Justice, which is an activist court that almost always finds in favour of greater centralisation and more European Union powers.
The Foreign Secretary was curiously silent on the question of red lines. Those were carefully self-selected about a year ago. They are a handful of issues that do not alter fundamentally the architecture or structure of the constitution, the distribution of powers or the primacy of European Union law, all of which are completely untouched by the red lines that the Government are demanding. We must assume that the Prime Minister will secure them. That is worth a pause, because we have before us the grisly record of the Prime Minister on the charter of fundamental rights.
It is part of our traditions in the House that when the Prime Minister gives an unambiguous assurance from the Dispatch Box about an area of national policy, we tend to believe it. Certainly, I did—I have come to regret it somewhat in relation to the Iraq war. Nevertheless, that is the default position that we must all adopt. The Prime Minister gave an unambiguous, clear assurance that the charter of fundamental rights would not be made legally binding. Rather innocently, I believed him at the time. That has now become a negotiating aim, however; in fact, worse than that, it has been abandoned altogether. Not only will the charter of fundamental rights be legally binding, but it constitutes the whole of part 2 of the constitution, which, under article 10, will have primacy over the law of member states. In its totality, therefore, it is put above anything that the House can do or any law that it may pass. That is perhaps the most remarkable U-turn of all, but we have never had an explanation of it from the Treasury Bench.
Does my right hon. Friend also agree that, under the proposed constitution, all the treaties and all the laws, including the entire body of the acquis communautaire, are to be revoked and then reapplied under the primacy of the constitution, which is a massive, fundamental change that also changes the character of the Union at the same time? That is why we are right and the Government are wrong.
Yes, the so-called primacy clause has had enormous implications that have never been explained or elucidated candidly by the Government. The Convention took the case law of the European Court of Justice—which is an activist court and is always seeking through its case law to expand its jurisdiction—and made that into an unqualified assertion of the primacy of Union law in all eventualities. I cannot reconcile that in any way with the sovereignty of national Parliaments or the sort of democracy or powers of the House with which we have grown up, and which have been accepted as a constitutional norm, certainly by all Members of the current House. That has been decided in the constitution unambiguously and categorically in favour of the Union, without any debate.
It is true that the Government tabled an unsuccessful amendment to try to restrict the primacy of Union law to cases in which there might be a conflict on individual and specific directives and regulation. That is the working compromise that we have reached with the European Union—we cannot pass national laws that conflict with directives to which we agree. The Government failed on that, and we have returned to the unqualified assertion that the constitution, and all laws flowing from it, shall have primacy over the laws of member states. Of course, when I say that the constitution shall have primacy, that means all the objectives in the constitution, generally expressed, and the charter of fundamental rights to which I have alluded.
Another aspect that would be funny were it not so serious is that I heard the Home Secretary complaining the other day about judge-made law. He was complaining that British judges are now interpreting his statutes in a way of which he does not approve, and saying that the House should decide those matters. If I may say so, he has not seen anything yet. The charter will be interpreted not by British judges but by the Luxembourg Court, which will interpret laws that have probably been passed, over a British objection, by qualified majority voting. Therefore, if the Home Secretary does not like judge-made law, I suggest that he reads the constitution, which entrenches judge-made law except that it will not be a British court doing it.
When the Minister responds to the debate, will he confirm, for the avoidance of doubt, that at least this self-selected handful of issues, on which he wants to dig in, are still red lines? Some doubts have been expressed. He will know that there is a provision in the constitution to harmonise compulsorily economic and employment policy—it is not a power but an instruction given to the Union to do that. When the Foreign Secretary gave evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee, he emphasised that that was unacceptable. It may be, but it is still in the constitution. The latest draft states:
There has been some change on economic policies, but compulsory co-ordination from the centre, by the Union, of the employment policies of member states is still in the constitution. That is a red line, and it must come out this weekend. I hope that that can be confirmed.
Exactly the same is true about social security, which, as the Prime Minister has often repeated, is a red line, on which there is to be no majority voting. But again, it is included in the draft that is now going to Brussels. Article 21, in part 3, provides for qualified majority voting on social security. A kind of emergency brake has been included, whereby if we object to what is a fundamental issue, we can appeal to the European Council—the European summit, meeting periodically— at Heads of Government level. A similar emergency brake is applied to criminal justice procedures.
The Government might think that that will meet their red line, but they should realise that it would be a fudge and completely unacceptable. There is already a torrent of legislation on such issues, and if they are to pull the emergency brake whenever social security or criminal justice arises it will be full on all the time. Last year, the Committee on which three of us sit examined 1,000 new measures from the European Union. Many of them are incremental. Once qualified majority voting is allowed on criminal justice and social security, and once the EU starts to co-ordinate our employment policies, no emergency brake in the world will be an adequate substitute for the veto that we were promised in the White Paper, which is now one of the red lines. I hope that the Foreign Secretary's silence in the debate does not indicate any kind of retreat. The point is, however, that even if he does secure his red lines they will be inadequate, given all the hundreds of amendments with which the Government failed.
The Government must stand back. Let us not become too obsessed with red lines; let us ask ourselves what is being attempted. The European constitution is a decisive break with everything that we have had in the past. My right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Ancram has been criticised for our modest attempts to repatriate powers over fishing or agriculture, but we have been engaged in a colossal renegotiation of the entire European Union for the past two years. I know because I was part of it: for 16 months I was in the Convention on the Future of Europe, and we undertook and carried through the most radical renegotiation that there has ever been.
All the existing treaties have been repealed and replaced by a new legal entity called the Union. The pillared structure—the intergovernmental method of making decisions on justice and home affairs, and foreign and security policy—has gone, or has been consolidated in that new legal entity. International agreements are now to be conducted exclusively—again, this is an exclusive competence—by the European Union, acting for member states. Wherever there is an internal policy on transport or the environment, or—as is increasingly the case—on such matters as health and social policy, it will not be us doing the negotiations with third countries in the far east or with the United States: that will be done by the Commission and the Council—the new Union—on behalf of all member states, by qualified majority voting in almost all cases. The implications are huge. I call it a renegotiation in completely the wrong direction.
To criticise us for having a modest go at repatriating some powers is to overlook the additional fact that that was shadowed as a suggestion in the Laeken declaration, which set the whole process in train. Let us look back at the instructions given to the Convention on the Future of Europe in December 2001. At the Heads of State meeting in Laeken it was suggested that we should repatriate some powers. They then said that might in the long term lead to a constitution, or a constitutional text. Instead, the Convention went straight to the constitution and completely ignored any suggestion of any repatriation of any powers. That is why I think that the Convention did not just ignore, but contradicted the instructions given to it.
The Convention failed in its task. It was supposed to simplify the existing treaties. I have here the latest version of the constitution—produced, incidentally, not by the British Government but by the British Management Data Foundation. It has put together all the text—all the new protocols and declarations—in almost 300 pages of A4, with writing on both sides.
The Foreign Secretary said at the outset, in an article in The Economist, that he thought a constitution should be a simple document rather like the constitution of the United States, which could fit in anyone's pocket and be accessible to the public. I do not know what sort of suits the Foreign Secretary wears, but he certainly could not carry this document around for long. It is also completely impenetrable by the public—the people whom we represent. It has failed even in its task of simplification: it is longer than the treaties that it replaces. Its main defect, of course, lies in the transfer of powers upwards, which again conflicts with the Laeken declaration instruction to create a more democratic Europe, closer to the citizen. How can taking more powers upwards from national Parliaments to the Union bring Europe closer to the citizen? It is a complete contradiction in terms.
The Foreign Secretary made the tired old point about subsidiarity and how everything would be different—how national Parliaments, including ours, would gain exciting new powers to enforce subsidiarity. That simply is not the case. Subsidiarity has been a treaty requirement for more than 10 years. It has not worked, and it will not be made to work simply by giving national Parliaments the right to ask the Commission to have another look at the position. There is no power to compel it to do so. That is a sham, and it was spotted as a sham by the European Scrutiny Committee before I was on it. In a press release, its distinguished Chairman said that the subsidiarity procedure being considered by the Convention was not a watchdog because it had no teeth. He rejected it, and he was right to do so. In another failed amendment, the British Government tried unsuccessfully to tighten it. Nothing in the constitution strengthens the position of the House of Commons in any way.
As for economics, my approach is somewhat different from that of the right hon. Member for Llanelli. I believe that the constitution would lock us into a failed and failing economic model. In my view, it crystallises everything that is wrong with the European Union—its centralisation and its regulatory bias. The European Union is an incredibly old-fashioned organisation, which has been overwhelmed by world trends. It features a high-tax model, over-regulation and a lack of competitiveness, accompanied by a tragically high unemployment rate. We must learn what the rest of the world is trying to teach us. At present we are taking everything that is wrong and putting it into a constitution, which means that it will never be repealed.
The constitution also does nothing to clean out the waste, incompetence and unpunished corruption that are all too prevalent in the European Union. The only people who ever lose their jobs in the EU are the whistleblowers. No one else ever resigns or is sacked, despite repeated scandals involving the EU's budget and its programmes. Yet these are the same institutions and the same people who will gain more powers and more money under the constitution. It makes no sense whatever.
However, the people have now seen through this situation. That has happened. The electorate have woken up and a different Europe is waiting to be born. We do not have to have this constitution—we could go back to the Laeken declaration and try to design something that is genuinely simple, democratic and closer to the people. The Prime Minister has no mandate to sign this treaty. There was nothing about it in the manifesto on which he won the last election, and the people have sent the Government a clear and unambiguous message that they should say no in the concluding negotiations. If the Prime Minister does that, he will do not only us, but the people of Europe generally, a favour.
It is always a pleasure to follow Mr. Heathcoat-Amory, and we all in this House appreciate the enormous amount of work that he has put into the task of representing the House on the Convention. Even though some of us disagree with what he has said, no one doubts the commitment and sincerity with which he has undertaken his task.
These debates have become surreal. I have attended almost every one of them since 2000, when I attended my first European summit as Minister for Europe, and they all take a similar format. The Opposition complain bitterly about what the Government are proposing to do, then after the summit is over they complain bitterly about something that the Government did not do. I wish the Minister for Europe, the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister well in what is a critical summit for this country and the rest of Europe. I know that they will work extraordinarily hard on behalf of British interests, which in my view is exactly what all Ministers have done when they have been to summit meetings to bat for Britain over the past 20 or so years.
I know that the summit is important because I have heard that Mr. Trevor Kavanagh, the political editor of The Sun, has decided to pack four clean shirts because he is convinced that it will take a long time. If my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe runs out of shirts, I am sure that Trevor will lend him one to enable him to complete the negotiations.
The summit is similar in importance to the Nice summit. It is crucial because it will affect the way in which this country sees the European Union. Of course, all the arguments put forward on both sides of the House are relevant to the debate, but I hope that we will have a constructive debate once we have an outcome to the negotiations. It is worth remembering that the negotiations are not yet concluded. The Prime Minister is going to the summit to take Britain's views forward, and only after he is satisfied that the best interests of this country have been met will he sign up to the constitution. We should have faith and trust in his negotiating ability, which has brought us a central role in the way in which the European Union operates.
Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that although an industry such as the fishing industry might be utterly peripheral to the UK perspective, it is utterly central to concerns in Scotland about the European Union? As a convinced European, I have grave misgivings that the UK Government will not bat on that vital issue. Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate what a devastating consequence that will have for the chance of ever getting a positive vote north of the border for a proposed constitution that entrenches fishing as an exclusive competence?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have no fishing industry in Leicester, although we have a by-election pending and several people are fishing for the seat. The hon. Gentleman is an eloquent advocate of his constituents and of Scotland, and I am sure that his representations have been listened to by the Government and will continue to be listened to by the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe. I am certain that they will be central to the discussions that take place.
I represent the city of Leicester, as does Mr. Dorrell, who is sitting opposite. We have just been through a European election and, as he and the House know, the United Kingdom Independence party did extremely well in the east midlands. Its flag bearer, if I may call him that, Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk, was elected at the top of the list for UKIP, which won a second seat. It is absolutely clear that it won its seats at the expense of the Conservative party and that the increase in the vote for UKIP was matched by a decrease in the vote for the Conservative party. That is primarily an issue for the Conservative party, and I think that it is the Conservatives' confusion over Europe that has led to the rise of UKIP. As a Labour Member of Parliament, I take enormous pleasure in any set of circumstances that causes the Conservative party to get fewer votes. However, although UKIP will damage the Conservative party in the short run, in the long run it will damage the country. It has slogans rather than a manifesto, and its election campaign was based entirely on slogans.
I do not recall receiving many leaflets from UKIP in Leicester, but I remember the television soundbites. The trouble with such campaigns is that they give rise to a great bubble that suddenly bursts. The responsibility for those of us who believe that Britain should remain in Europe is to challenge UKIP's slogans. The primary responsibility for that rests with the Government, who must push the European agenda forward.
It would be great if the Opposition were to join the Government in that task. In the run-up to enlargement, the shadow Minister for Europe joined my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe and the Liberal Democrat spokesman in launching a large poster welcoming enlargement. I was delighted at that cross-party unity.
I was also pleased to hear the Leader of the Opposition attack UKIP. He made it clear that the Conservative party believed that Britain's future was in Europe. I had not heard him say that before, in the House or outside it, and so it is clear that UKIP has a function—to remind the Conservative party of what might happen if Britain were to leave the EU.
The right hon. Member for Wells is very critical of the constitution and of the Government. As a member of the Opposition, he is entitled to be so, but I do not think that even he believes that Britain should leave the EU. If he did, he would not want to remain in the Conservative party but would much prefer to join Mr. Kilroy-Silk and the other UKIP members.
As my hon. Friend Mr. Mitchell said, it is important not to dismiss the election results. We should listen to what the people have said. Euroscepticism is on the rise because we are afraid to talk about European issues, either in the House or outside it. That is shown by the small number of hon. Members present for this debate.
European issues will be crucial for Britain over the next few years, and it is therefore vital that we campaign on them. Ministers must be prepared to do what my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe has done so successfully over the past two years—that is, they should talk to the British people about the benefits of EU membership.
If the constitution is agreed to this weekend—if my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister decides that it is in Britain's interests to sign up to it—I hope that every member of the Government will show the same passion and eloquence that he displayed at the Dispatch Box when he announced that there was to be a referendum on the constitution. The European issue is of importance to every portfolio held by every Minister.
Going out and campaigning on these matters should not be left only to the Minister for Europe and the Foreign Secretary. Ministers from all Departments attend the meetings of the Minicor committee, and the Minister for Europe will know that the message must be got across to the British people. If that does not happen, there will be a further rise in Euroscepticism, and the only arguments advanced will be those put forward by the Eurosceptics. That will damage the Conservative party, and the whole of Britain. We must make sure that that does not happen.
I know that my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe will do his best at the summit meeting, and I hope that an agreement is reached. There was concern that that might not happen, and that discussion of the matter would have to be adjourned until the next presidency begins later in the year. That would be a dreadful outcome: we must conclude the debate and reach a decision, so that we can move on.
The Opposition banged on for several months about the need for a referendum. The Prime Minister has given the country an opportunity to pass judgment on the constitution. Of course there will be parliamentary scrutiny: that is inevitable, as a Bill will have to go through the House. Moreover, I am certain that the matter will be dealt with on the Floor of the House, so that every hon. Member can participate in the debate. After that, we have to have a referendum campaign that informs the people, and whether it comes before or after the general election does not really matter since we have a timetable for two years. What is essential is that we are prepared to put the arguments before the British people so that they know exactly what we have planned for them and agree with it. Their ownership of the European project is absolutely crucial. We can pass all the Bills we want or have all the ministerial statements we want, but if we do not carry the people and do not explain the benefits of being in the European Union, we will not have a people who believe that they are stakeholders in the project.
I very much hope that the campaign will start as soon as possible. I hope that it will not be a short campaign; I hope for a long campaign interwoven with the domestic agenda, because Europe delivers on the domestic agenda, too, which people forget, thinking that it is something quite separate. Many of the things we do are relevant to what happens in Brussels, and vice versa.
Will the Minister tell us the Government's position on the appointment of a new President of the Commission? There has been a lot of speculation about who that might be. One candidate is the former Prime Minister of Belgium, who recently lost his election. Other candidates are in the frame: Mr. Chris Patten has been mooted. Whoever it is, I should hate the decision to be taken in haste, but we should know who will succeed Romano Prodi. If necessary, we should have a debate in the House: there would be nothing wrong in debating the choice once the Government have made their decision; indeed, it would be a very good idea.
We need to know whom Britain is supporting, and we need to know the name of our new Commissioner. Again, there has been a lot of speculation. I am not making a bid for the job, I assure the House.
I am quite happy. We have one by-election coming up in Leicester, and we do not need another.
It is important that we get a substantial figure to go to Brussels who can speak well on Europe and is able to forward the Government's agenda. Whoever it is, I hope that the decision is made as quickly as possible so that speculation can be ended. Our current Commissioners are coming home, so to speak: Neil Kinnock, who has done a splendid job, has become chairman of the British Council, and Chris Patten, who has indicated he does not want to continue, is chancellor of Oxford University and, I am sure, doing other things. We need to know who the Commissioner will be so that we in Parliament may, through various committees, question him or her, give guidance or direction, and be aware of what that person stands for.
A number of my right hon. and hon. Friends have mentioned the Lisbon agenda. We must not lose sight of that. My right hon. Friend Denzil Davies poked fun at it, but it is crucially important. Lisbon was the first summit at which there was a benchmarking of what Governments are supposed to do. Next year's spring Council will bring a review of what Lisbon has achieved. We must remind the House of what progress we have made on the Lisbon agenda.
We have talked about the constitution, but we need to keep talking about reform, too. It is essential that, once the constitution process is completed and we begin the long campaign on the referendum, we remember that ours is the country that has pressed the reform agenda. It started with the joint letter of the Prime Minister and Chancellor Schröder two years ago, in which they set out a list of things that they hoped to achieve at the Madrid summit. I keep revisiting that in all my speeches, and I shall not ask the Minister for Europe, although I am sure that he has the answer, how many of the 27 things that we said we would do we have actually done. I am sure that he will reply to that when he winds up the debate.
The reform agenda is crucial. The people of Britain will not learn to love the European Union until the European Union learns to love reform. It is absolutely vital that we continue pushing the whole agenda forward, and we should be at the forefront of that. That will be where the people understand what we are doing.
I know that my hon. Friend the Minister is looking forward to the summit and that he will have at least three sleepless nights, but I wish him, and my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary well, because I know that they will be there to do their best for Britain.
This debate on European affairs takes place following the elections to the European Parliament and on the eve of the European Council summit. It is, inevitably, concentrating on the future of the European Union. However, I wish to dwell on the future of Europe's largest and oldest institution, the greater Europe, that is the Council of Europe, within the context of the enlarged European Union.
When the Foreign Secretary met members of the British delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe recently, he was right to stress that the European Union could not have enlarged on
The work goes on. Today, the Council of Europe comprises 45 democracies. Later this year we expect Monaco to accede, once it has completed its negotiations on the transfer of full sovereignty from France. Only Belarus remains outside the European democratic community that is the Council of Europe, until President Lukashenko or his successor decides that it, too, must abandon all elements of its Soviet past.
Next week, in Strasbourg, the Assembly is likely to approve a recommendation that Turkey has now reached standards of membership that no longer require the ongoing scrutiny of our monitoring process. That will be because of Turkey's recent progress toward a parliamentary democracy, including the end of the veto of the military; its acceptance of the findings of the European Court of Human Rights; its support for the reunification of Cyprus; and its recognition of the cultural identity of its Kurdish citizens. I hope that the European Union will recognize that progress when deciding its response to the Turkish application in December, and will agree to commence negotiations on full membership as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, those historic contributions by the Council of Europe to the peaceful, democratic evolution of our continent continue to be overlooked, especially in the United Kingdom. The most blatant recent evidence of that is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office departmental report for the year ending
Perhaps that oversight is not surprising, given the undoubted lack of resources provided to the Council of Europe, especially compared with those available to the European Union. The Council of Europe's budget in 2003 of €175 million was exactly—and merely—the cost of shifting the European Parliament from Brussels to Strasbourg for its monthly sessions. This year is the sixth consecutive year of zero real growth in resources for our Assembly. That is despite the increased work load arising from our enlargement, and the post-conflict situations in the Balkans and the Caucasus. Unless that situation is addressed, the Council of Europe risks the same fate as the Assembly of the Western European Union, which is being allowed to wither on the vine.
Since the Laeken declaration established the EU Convention on the Future of Europe, I have been urging the Council of Europe to come forward with a clear vision for its role in response to an enlarging European Union. I have urged the Committee of Ministers to hold a summit of the Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe to agree what that role should be before decisions are made by the intergovernmental conference of the EU—in other words, that we should decide our future before others decide it for us.
Such a summit, which would be only the third in our organisation's history, should recognise the Council of Europe's prominence over the European Union in its areas of competence for the foreseeable future; in particular, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg should be confirmed as the pre-eminent judicial pillar in any future architecture. That such confirmation is necessary is demonstrated by the proposal in the draft EU constitution, to which my right hon. Friend Mr. Heathcoat-Amory has just referred and which would give legal effect in member states to a set of rights as defined by the EU charter of fundamental rights.
As I sought to describe in my Adjournment debate on
"different interpretations of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Charter would seem inevitable . . . such divergences risk putting the national authorities in a difficult dilemma when they have to implement diverging judgements".
In the light of that, I hope that the Government will ensure that the pre-eminence of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg is recognised and confirmed at this weekend's European Council.
A third Council of Europe summit should also consider a second threat to the long-term effectiveness of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg: the enormous increase in the number of applications to it. There were less than 10,000 in 1999 but more than 30,000 in 2002. We should not, of course, deplore that increase; we should welcome it. It means that ever more of the 800 million citizens of Europe are realising their rights and are using the Court to protect those rights when they are violated.
The outcome, however, is that the Court cannot cope. Of the 30,000 applications received in 2002, 12,000 were not dealt with. At present, it can take up to six years for cases to be heard. That cannot be justice for those who were denied it for so long in their one-party states. Reform of the European Court in Strasbourg is essential; the matter is urgent and it must be addressed.
When the EU Convention was established, it was expected to come forward with recommendations to bring
"the EU closer to the people"— as was mentioned by Denzil Davies—which would address the so-called democratic deficit. As a contribution to that process, the Prime Minister, in a speech he made in Poland four years ago, to his credit, promoted the concept of a second chamber to the European Parliament that would be representative of national Parliaments of member states. Such an interparliamentary upper chamber could have responsibility for scrutinizing policies that continue to be intergovernmental, such as foreign affairs and defence, and matters concerning the entire continent, including the cultural heritage and the environment.
The disappointing voter turnout in last weekend's elections to the European Parliament, especially in the 10 new member states—for example, turnout was only 16 per cent. in Slovakia and 20 per cent. in Poland—is an additional argument in favour of a second chamber, made up of national parliamentarians, to the European Parliament. Just because that suggestion was not wholly applauded at the time, I hope that the Prime Minister will not abandon the concept, but will revive and pursue it. In so doing, he will be able to avoid proposing the creation of a new institution, because the basis of an upper house for the European Parliament already exists. It is the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
I have looked across the Chamber during today's debate with a mixture of trepidation and déjà vu, because many of the hon. Members who set out to destroy any Government initiative when the roles were reversed and we formed Her Majesty's loyal Opposition during the long years of the Major political night seem to be hellbent on doing so again today. They are fixated on aspects of the European Union that are, to many people, at best academic and, to others, certainly resolvable. It seems as though their antagonism to Europe is both visceral and immutable—time does not heal it in any sense.
In fact, I take a very different view on Europe. I, too, like the Opposition, am critical of Her Majesty's Government, but from a different perspective: I do not think that the Government are enthusiastic enough. I own up to being one of that band—admittedly, a minority—who look forward to the benefits of a deepening in the European commitment and European ties.
Those who go to constituencies such as mine, particularly to the schools, recognise that a massive change is already taking place. The fact is, whether because of the increased prosperity that we have all enjoyed for a number of years or the wider opportunities to taste what at one time, certainly in my childhood, were rather exotic things, our younger generation are far more inured to a European dimension than we ever were. There is a danger in a place such as this that we are all seen as being tied into a middle-aged perspective, coloured by our own experiences and generational undertakings.
When I visited one school, I was mystified to hear all the different languages being used around the place. Unbeknown to me, it was a European day at the school. The school was in a deprived area and performing poorly at that time, but everyone there had managed to key into the European dimension. The pupils had made lots of European dishes. They had learned basic phrases in a range of languages. Of course, when I talked to the kids themselves, I learned that many of them went on holidays abroad, although that was not particularly common. They had no fear of Europe, which seems to be at the heart of many of our debates on European affairs. Even if only with a simple thing such as football, they understand that we can learn from the European dimension.
Indeed, when we complain so bitterly about Europe—it is as though we have to put up with matters European—I often ask myself why the Europeans put up with us, when the only things that we seem to give to Europe are football hooligans and carping critics of everything that Europe comes up with. Obviously, we have to be a little more circumspect in the House during debates on what Europe means to us, but I think that a deeper, more involved and more committed Europe is very much in our national interest.
My right hon. and hon. Friends who sit on the Front Bench will not agree when I say that, if we had had that deeper involvement, that greater integration with Europe, I doubt very much whether we would have embarked on the folly of the Iraq war. I do not expect Conservative Members to agree with me; they were more in tune with the Government on that issue. Indeed, they were more gung-ho about that adventure than even the Government. Nevertheless, a more integrated, responsive, interconnected and focused view in Europe might have acted as a brake on such a matter.
I tend to think, too, that greater involvement in Europe would help us in many other ways in our national interest. For example, we all know that the Murdoch press rants, raves and rails against Europe, presumably because that is in its interests. I should like to think that greater co-ordination and, indeed, greater regulation—yes, that dreaded phrase—across Europe would stop some of the blackmail that takes place and leads, with regular monotony, Leaders of the Opposition, admittedly including the Prime Minister when he was Leader of Opposition, to bow the knee in front of Murdoch to be elected in our own country. I would like to think that it would be an exercise in democracy if we regulated at the European level against such a pernicious influence on the political process.
There are further simple measures from which we profit that show that it is beneficial to the national interest to be deeply involved in Europe. I listened carefully, albeit with some dismay, to my right hon. Friend Denzil Davies. I admire him greatly and he made a good and cogent case on certain points. He asked key questions, but he approached the debate from a negative perspective. I could say that he ranted about some points, but that would be an inappropriate word to use in his case. He spoke about the democratic deficit and the burden of regulation and bureaucracy. He told us how initiatives come from bureaucrats rather than elected people. However, he did not say that presumably the way to tackle the democratic deficit is to intensify the democratisation of the European institutions rather than backing off and ignoring the good things. If he were in the Chamber now, I would be happy to point out to him what happened in my city as a result of the bureaucratic approach.
Commissioner Bruce Millan, aided and abetted by Graham Meadows of European Commission Directorate-General XVI, enabled objective 1 money to be allocated to England, against the wishes of the then Conservative Government. We benefited from that money enormously, and it has now been spread throughout Wales, and in South Yorkshire and Cornwall. We can argue all we like about the esoteric nature of that funding and about how it is a rebate of our contributions. That is true, but the positive initiative to focus the money on areas of greatest need came from the European Commission.
Much has been said about the elections, and Mr. Heathcoat-Amory spoke at length about last Sunday's result. Let me tell him and other hon. Members what happens when one takes a positive and proactive view of the benefits that accrue from the so-called bureaucratic approach in Europe. In my home town of Liverpool, we actively promoted the benefits that had come to the city. The Labour party received four times as many votes as the Conservative party in the European elections. It received twice as many votes as the Conservative and United Kingdom Independence parties put together. If the Labour vote was combined with the Lib-Dem vote, people voted for a positive view of Europe by the factor of 7:1. Hon. Members might say that that is perfectly reasonable because Liverpool has benefited from structural funding, but so have many other parts of the country. We should be proud of that, praise it and try to augment it in any way we can.
Before the Jeremiahs start talking about the local elections, I can tell them that there was a huge difference between the votes. People stopped to think about how they voted in the elections. There was no doubt that the winners of the local elections in Liverpool were the Liberal Democrats, but there was a clear distinction between that election and the European vote. People were sensible and acted according to what was in their interests.
We must consider not only our national interest. We are our brother's keeper in a globalised world that is ever more fraught with dangers from hitherto unknown sources. What we have in Europe represents the culmination of the vision of the early Community on how to secure peace in Europe. I do not say that the situation is perfect or that there will not be more problems along the way. For example, we seemed to go slightly amiss with the dismemberment of Yugoslavia. Nevertheless, despite the European Union's problems, history will well regard its effect on Europe as a continent, especially on major conflicts.
We cannot glibly pass that dimension by. We are too often accused of being little Englanders lost on the peripheries of Europe—well, we are. But if we really want to be at the heart of Europe, politically as well as economically, we need to change our attitude towards it.
I was not quite clear what the right hon. Member for Wells was saying, and I raised a point of information. He explained to me that he was arguing that the problems with Europe encourage extremism—that is a very general summation of what he said. I put it to him and to others that there are those who are using Europe to encourage extremism. It is not a one-way flow. The right hon. Gentleman used the example of Europe-wide problems with asylum and immigration policy encouraging the growth of extremism, but I am sure that he will agree that there are people who are deliberately distorting the images of Europe to foment an extremist prejudice in our country. That is to be deplored, I hope by everybody.
I want to take up another point that has had some currency in this debate. It is always being said that this House is losing powers to Europe. For people at the bottom of the pile in this country what happens in this House does not matter a fig. Whether we like it or not, much of the reason that people are not turning out to vote is the fact that they do not see the House as the ultimate repository of democracy. They see it as a talking shop and a fig leaf for whoever is the Government of the day. It does not seem to affect their lives directly. We can argue cleverly how in fact it does impact on every aspect of their lives, and any sensible person would know that, but the people out there do not necessarily know it. They do not make the fine distinctions that we make. That is not to say that we should make those distinctions. When we are trying to put across a message to the people we should not delude ourselves that they look to this House positively and constructively to lead in all things—they do not, and that is one of the problems that we need to address.
I have heard a lot about red lines. The only red line that really bothers me is the one between those who are antagonistic towards Europe and those who are enthused by it. That line crosses parties—I know that. I have heard colleagues today who, on this issue, could happily sit on the Opposition Benches. Europe is about vision as well as practicalities, and that vision is sadly lacking. I wish, and I mean this in the kindest way, that my Front-Bench colleagues would go out and enthusiastically promote the cause of Europe. I make an exception for certain of my hon. Friends, of course, but too many want to hide their light under a bushel.
It is true that the Conservatives have found a middle ground, but the problem is that it is between Euroscepticism and Europhobia. They are not in the middle ground of British politics; they are between a rock and a hard place. Most of what they have said in recent days and weeks shows that they have a political problem that is about their party, and not necessarily about the national interest.
The Foreign Secretary treated us to an uncharacteristically weak performance. He is that rare exception in this ministerial team: a man who respects the House of Commons, reports regularly to it and is keen for us to debate these important issues. Unfortunately, today he failed us and the nation. He treated us to a rant. He gave us some elementary Euro-myths, got more aggressive the weaker his case was and failed to take the House, line by line, through the crucial discussions and debates in which he, the Prime Minister and his ministerial colleagues will participate on our behalf in the next few days. That is a great pity.
As a strong believer in parliamentary democracy, I feel that this Parliament should hear from our Government today, in this crucial debate, what they believe are the main issues that are now outstanding in the discussions on the draft constitution. They should tell us where they wish to go, what changes they are proposing and how they wish to pursue their amendments. Of course they need to keep a little mystery in their negotiating position. I would not expect them to set out the full bottom line, but I would expect them to set out the top line of their position and to tell us more about what they are trying to do for Britain to improve or perfect the draft constitution. It is even more incumbent on the Foreign Secretary to do that in the wake of the remarkable elections and the results that we learned subsequently—the elections that were held on Thursday and the results that came through on Sunday. If we consider the nationwide position, we find that about half the electorate voted either to withdraw from the European Community altogether or for much less Brussels power and interference in our daily lives, and back to the Conservative position of a renegotiation in favour of member states and member state democracies.
Compared with that, only a little over one fifth voted for the Government line—the lowest level that an incumbent Government have ever had in a nationwide election in this country in the past century. One might have thought that Ministers would explain that to the House. One might have thought that Ministers would show a little more humility and modesty in the wake of that shattering result for them, and would have genuflected at least a little in the direction of the British electorate's mood in what they said today in the House.
Instead, we were treated to a rather juvenile rant. There were two main arguments that the Foreign Secretary used to explain why we should sign up to something like the draft constitution, and why electors should learn their lesson from the Government that they are not Euro-friendly enough and must do better.
The first argument that the Foreign Secretary advanced was that the EU and its predecessor, the European Economic Community, have prevented wars in Europe over the past 50 years. We should be treated to something a little more serious than that. Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that if France and Germany had not been members of the EEC and its successor body over the past 50 years, one of them would have invaded the other? Does he not realise that both are now, and have been since the second world war, stable democracies and peace-loving countries, and that they were never likely to express aggressive intents towards each other with or without the EU? Was he suggesting that bold and doughty Luxembourg was suddenly going to make territorial requests of its neighbours that might have fomented some hot conflict? He should understand that no one will believe the twaddle that peace in Europe was settled by several great developments post-1945.
The most important development was that all the major players became democracies, which tend to be peace-loving rather than aggressive, as tyrannies so often are. The second most important development was to put in place NATO for our common defence. The third was the maintained presence of the mighty American forces for many years just in case there were any signs of instability in the post-war period. That is why we have been blessed with peace in our time. It would not have mattered whether we had the EEC or not from that point of view.
The Foreign Secretary went on to say that the other main reason why we needed something like the constitution was that half our trade is with Europe. That again is a mistaken notion. It is true that about half of the trade in physical goods that our country does is with fellow member countries of the EU. However, it is a much smaller proportion of our trade in services and a smaller proportion again of the crucial investment flows that characterise so much of economic activity today.
Investment flows are in many ways evidence of a deeper economic relationship than trade and physical goods. It is quite easy for countries to buy and sell cars or washing machines without having a deep relationship. It is necessary to have a very deep relationship if we invest in one another's countries, putting long-term money into factories and employing one another's people in those factories. We have that sort of relationship, on a much greater scale, with the United States of America and with Asia than we do with our fellow partners in the EU.
The Foreign Secretary does not come to us and say that we must develop something like the EU relationship with the United States of America or with India, or with China, to preserve those important jobs and economic relationships. Again, he is guilty of misleading the House by suggesting that that is why we need to sign up to something like this constitution.
Before my right hon. Friend concludes that part of his argument, is it not relevant to recall that, sadly, manufacturing now employs less than 20 per cent. of our work force? Even more sadly, we have an enduring and enormous trade deficit with other members of the EU, which must be borne in mind when we hear empty threats that altering our relationship with those states would have dire consequences and result in protectionism?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. I do not believe that Germany and France would suddenly not want to sell us their motor cars, whatever happened to our relationship in the EU. They would not want to turn their back on such a lucrative trade. We should renegotiate, and I obviously wish to preserve and develop our trade with EU member states and the individuals and companies in those countries, which is why I support the position of the Conservative party rather than that of the United Kingdom Independence party. It is sensible to proceed by renegotiation and to seek to do so in a friendly way. However, we should do so with confidence in our own position. We are not the beggars in this scenario—we are offering other member states, as my right hon. Friend said, an extremely good deal. Not only do they sell us much more than we sell them, but we pay them for the privilege by making a large contribution to the club. We need to take such things into account when we begin renegotiation.
The Government have two big arguments against the Conservative policy of renegotiating to achieve more democratic control of our lives in Britain. First, they say that everyone knows that there is no opportunity for renegotiation in the EU, but they cannot get away with such an absurd proposition. My right hon. Friend Mr. Heathcoat-Amory said that we have taken part in a two-year radical renegotiation of everything to do with the EU, with the proposed abolition of existing treaties and the rewriting of the whole works. We have repeatedly told the Government that, because that huge renegotiation is under way, they should take the opportunity to achieve the things that Britain wants for a change instead of operating according to the Valéry Giscard d'Estaing Franco-German federalist agenda. Unfortunately, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day, the Government have failed to take advantage of that great opportunity. Once more, I remind the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary that they will not get a better chance to renegotiate than when everything is on the table. The whole thing is up in the air, so Her Majesty's Government must show that they have influence and use it not just for the sake of Britain and British democracy but for the sake of free peoples throughout the European Union who, as was recently demonstrated at the ballot box, want more local democratic control and want more things devolved from the centre to local jurisdictions.
It was obvious from the election results of the new member states, where there were big rebuffs for the governing parties and massive abstentions, that they are already disillusioned and think that the EU is too bureaucratic, centralised and overweening. It is not listening to them or following their agendas. Our solution, to give more power to the democracies of individual member states, would help those countries and electorates just as it would surely help to further the British national interest. It might head off the dangerous flight to extremist parties, which is occurring across the EU as a result of disillusionment and an electoral system in which people cannot choose individual candidates but have to vote for parties. Their votes are counted in a strange way, so some people think that it pays to go to extremes to get their view across instead of voting for sensible, balanced coalition parties such as the Conservatives or, without wishing to flatter it, Labour.
The Government should seize the opportunity offered by the negotiations. There will be more negotiations, and I am sure that when the Conservatives come to power, EU member states will be sitting round the table trying to redesign the treaties and the constitution yet again. The present negotiations, however, are our best opportunity. This is the big one—everything is up for grabs, and we still have a veto over a considerable number of issues, which we could use to good effect to try to move things in our direction.
That brings me to the Government's second objection to the Conservative position. They try to make out that no one would listen and that the United Kingdom would have no influence if it wished to move the debate in the direction of more local government and national democratic control, and away from more centralising control, which is always favoured in these discussions. Again, the Government are misleading the public. Of course it would be quite possible for the British Government to propose all the amendments necessary to move in that direction. More importantly, it would be quite possible for the British Government to win many of those points and arguments by using the considerable powers and authority at their disposal.
I find myself in the curious position of saying to the British Government, "Be courageous. Believe what you say. You are always telling us that you have great influence in the EU. Here is a marvellous opportunity to prove it. Prove that you can get more than 10 out of 200 amendments through. Prove that you can table amendments that bring back to Britain things that we need to control here. Prove to us that you can save our fishing industry from the depredations of too much fishing under the common fisheries policy. Prove to us that you can reform the common agricultural policy in a way that would not only do good for Britain and British customers, but would do good for the developing world, which currently finds access to our markets blocked or restricted by a cruel policy designed to favour some on the continent, but not those everywhere else."
The right hon. Gentleman rightly highlights the difficulties posed to many coastal communities by the common fisheries policy. Does he believe that fisheries should be a red-line issue, as opposed to those on his Front Bench, who think it should not be, or have I misunderstood?
Fishing should be one of the crucial issues in the renegotiation, as my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Ancram said in his many remarks. We do not have red-line issues. That is a Government fiction that will be used for spin purposes. They will choose certain topics as red-line issues, and claim that they have managed to get some adjustments to the text or they will draw on what is already in the text to say that their red lines have been observed, and claim a victory. It will be an entirely specious performance, as we have seen before, because the draft constitution is in no shape for any self-respecting British Government to accept.
I do not wish to see the EU's competence in fisheries extended, as the draft clearly does, but I am going much further, along with my party. I welcome the proposals from our Front Bench. They are clear that we wish to take fishing back under British democratic national control—rightly so. We are not saying that we want a reform of the common fisheries policy. We are saying that we tried that, it did not work, it did a lot of damage and we need to make our own decisions about who fishes in and how we can protect our waters.
Is it not ironic that the policy is not a common fisheries policy at all? There are swathes of waters round the European Union where it does not apply. It applies to us dramatically.
That is why many British people—50 per cent. overall—voted Eurosceptic. They feel that things are not fair, and the fishing policy is one of the best examples of that. We cannot send our boats off to the Mediterranean to pillage their seas, but we have to watch while Danish industrial fishing vessels hoover large amounts of the seabed and do enormous damage to the grounds in which our fish would otherwise live, breed and develop. We cannot stop them because the common fisheries policy says that that is perfectly reasonable conduct. At the same time, we see our own trawlers tied up day after day in harbour because the EU says they are the cause of the over-fishing.
The right hon. Gentleman is generous in giving way. If his Front-Bench team say that fishing is a red-line issue, and he is clearly very concerned about it, why has his colleague, the Scottish Member of the European Parliament for the Conservative party, Struan Stevenson, proposed in the European Parliament that fishing should be an exclusive competence in the constitution of the European Union? That is an utter contradiction.
I am not Struan Stevenson's representative or spokesman in the House of Commons. I do not know that he said that, and I therefore have no idea why he said it, if he said it. I do know, as the House heard earlier from my Front Bench, that he stood on our common manifesto. I therefore assume he believes in our common manifesto, which clearly states what I and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes told the House earlier—that we want our fishing back. We think that is the only way to rescue what remains, and the matter is urgent.
We have to ask how that could be achieved in the difficult and complex negotiations that we would like the Government to undertake in respect of the draft European constitution. Let me suggest a way. The Government could go through the draft constitution and identify the aspects that are earnestly sought by France, Germany and the other leading players in the European Union that we could allow them to have. We might need an opt-out on some items that we would not want to apply to us, and some might already be in the form of an opt-out. That might apply to the enhanced co-operation powers, for example, which France and Germany want. The United Kingdom could say that it was not keen on those powers, but that it could see how important they were to France and Germany, and that if they really wanted the enhanced co-operation clause, our price would be to have our fishing back.
That would be a perfectly normal way of negotiating in the European Union. Many of my colleagues on the Opposition Benches and I negotiated endlessly in the European Union in previous jobs, when we were in government, and we always had to decide when to apply pressure and when to horse-trade. In big negotiations such as those in question, in which the Government have a veto over everything—they do not have to accept anything at all—they have an enormous number of cards to play, and they should certainly put fishing on the table as one of the things that they want.
If I were the British Government, I would not settle for just getting our fish back in return for a lot of things that France, Germany and the Commission want the draft constitution to include, because it is so wide-ranging and fundamental. Some of my right hon. and hon. Friends have already drawn attention to some of the aspects that the United Kingdom could not sign up to, but we must remind ourselves how wide ranging the draft constitution is. The incorporation of the European convention on human rights would change British law in unspecified ways in a wide range of areas, so there is no way in which the British Government should accept such provision if they believe in British parliamentary democracy and in elections having a purpose in settling for a period of four or five years who will propose the laws and who will have a chance of passing them.
We should not accept the categorical assertion in article 10 that Union law will always be superior to and "have primacy over" the law of member states. We should not accept the clause that allows the Union to
"promote and coordinate the economic and employment policies of the Member States", especially when the United Kingdom, under successive Governments, has been much more successful in securing a higher level of activity and lower unemployment than the poor countries on the continent. We should not accept the Union having
"competence to define and implement a common foreign and security policy, including the progressive framing of a common defence policy."
We should not accept a number of the areas of shared competence set out in article 13, and we should expose the dangers of the whole idea of shared competence. It is not shared competence at all. The European Union's idea of sharing is very different from anybody else's, because it says that if it shares a competence with us, it can do anything that it likes, and we are allowed to do anything that does not conflict with what it is doing.
The right hon. Gentleman said that we should not accept that
"The Union shall . . . define and implement a common foreign and security policy", but he was in a Government who signed up to that very policy in the treaty of Maastricht.
I certainly was not, and I would not have supported such a thing. We had intergovernmental co-operation under that treaty, which I am very happy with. It is rather like the NATO model; one does something if one wants to do it, and one does not have to do it if one does not want to do so. The constitution is very different, and the Minister should understand that fact before he goes off to negotiate on our behalf and sign away our birthright. As the subsequent clauses on the common foreign and defence policy show, if we sign up to the constitution there will be a growing stranglehold on the UK, limiting our course of independent action more and more until in every major aspect of foreign policy, if we cannot carry other countries in the Union with us, we will have to do as they say. Enormous moral pressure will be applied, and the gradual introduction of qualified majority voting will complete the process.
The Minister should remind himself of the language that is used; we have tried to get this point across to him in the past, but we obviously have not succeeded.
"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. They shall refrain from action contrary to the Union's interests or likely to impair its effectiveness."
The last sentence is especially wide ranging because it means that the Union does not even have to have a defined, agreed common policy to prevent a member state from acting. The Union, in the person of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, could decide that an action that Britain wanted to take was against the Union's interests, even though that view was not reflected in a unanimous vote. If the United Kingdom disagreed, and the moral pressure on it did not work, the Minister for Foreign Affairs could take the matter to the Foreign Affairs Council, which he would chair and whose agenda he would set, or he could take us to court for infringing the fundamental treaty and constitution.
Perhaps I am abusing my winding-up time, but let me read the right hon. Gentleman a quote:
"The Member States shall work together to enhance and develop their mutual political solidarity. They shall 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, as a member of the Government, not only a Member of Parliament, signed up to that in the treaty of Maastricht.
The Minister tries to pretend that we did not understand what we were doing and that we had not thought all that through at the time. We kept matters intergovernmental so that they were not justiciable, we could not be taken to court if we disagreed and the European Union could not force us to do things that we did not want to do. The Minister is falling for the trap. I believe that he does not understand that, if we sign the current version of the draft constitution, everything changes. We can no longer shrug our shoulders and say to the European Union, "We don't agree with you so we're doing what we want because we are Britain and we have a democratically elected Government with a Foreign Secretary."
If we accepted the constitution, we would be under the thumb of the Court, the unelected Union Minister for Foreign Affairs and his ability to manipulate the agenda of the Foreign Affairs Council, which he would chair. Instead of our Foreign Secretary being a most important man among the statesmen of the world by virtue of his office, he would be a junior to the Union Minister for Foreign Affairs who, on most important matters, would speak for us at home and abroad and, doubtless, in the United Nations Security Council, as he is entitled to do under the draft constitution.
One of the Government's biggest mistakes in the negotiations so far is not to delete the creation of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and all that goes with him or her in article 27 and beyond.
Surely my right hon. Friend is not surprised by the Minister's intervention. Did not the same Minister recently sign up to a socialist programme in the European Union, which not only reflected but exceeded the thrust of the constitution? Might not the Minister be regretful that the constitution does not go nearly far enough and his bluster result from embarrassment?
My right hon. Friend makes his point effectively and he may be right. I fear that the Minister simply had not grasped the difference between intergovernmentalism and bringing everything under the European Union and its panoply of institutions, whose power the draft constitution enhances. Many members of previous Governments who worried about too much European Union power were keen on the intergovernmental arrangements, which affected home affairs and foreign policy, because they protected all that we wished to protect. We never had problems with unwanted Union interference in those matters in all the time that they remained intergovernmental. The Foreign Secretary would not know what had hit him if he signed up to the constitution and subsequently discovered how strong the Union Minister for Foreign Affairs would be and wish to become.
The Minister should also head off at the pass the idea of new ways of legislating. The European Union already has too many ways of legislating that are too powerful. However, they are as nothing compared with the common provisions under articles 32 and 35, which provide for giving the European Union direct power to make European laws of general application binding in their entirety and directly applicable to all member states. I believe that more and more of that will happen, thereby cutting out democratic input from this country almost entirely.
We are also considering European regulations of general application and the ability to delegate to the Commission the power to enact delegated regulations to supplement or amend some European laws.
So we are looking at a big increase in the power of the European Union to make its own law and, in some areas, of the Commission itself to make law without reference to the elected representatives of the member states, let alone their Parliaments. That is not compatible with a strong defence of British democracy or with the devolution of power that the Government claim to believe in, in other contexts.
Article 40 of the draft constitution states that the common security and defence policy
"shall be an integral part of the common foreign and security policy. It shall provide the Union with an operational capacity drawing on assets civil and military . . . This will lead to a common defence".
We are told that there is not going to be a Euro army, but that sounds remarkably like the beginnings of one to me. Ministers should clarify how far this is going to go, how many of our so-called assets—which primarily means our service personnel—are going to be required, and how this will tie in with the European armaments agency. How far will the agency go in telling us what we can and cannot buy, in standardising equipment and, perhaps, in forcing rearmament on the parts of the European Union that, in its view, are not doing enough?
Article III-94 of the draft constitution also states that we shall treat our exchange rate policy as a matter of common interest. In so doing, it says, we shall
"take account of the experience acquired in cooperation within the framework of the exchange-rate mechanism."
Are the Government really happy with that? I seem to remember that, after they saw the disaster of the exchange rate mechanism—which they fully supported when we went into it, of course—they became rather leery of it. Why, therefore, are they now signing up to a document which provides for some of the exchange rate mechanism for those who are not in the single currency?
Under the general provisions, we see that we are going to have a common policy on asylum, immigration and external border control based on solidarity between member states. Why are the Government prepared to give away most of our powers to decide those most important issues, such as who should be invited to this country and who should become a citizen? Surely that is part of being a nation, and those questions are best settled democratically in this House. The Government are not doing a very good job in that area at the moment, and I would not recommend what they have been doing in the Home Office, but it is much better to have an argument about these things and try to improve them—or perhaps have a change of Government—than to delegate them upwards to the European Union.
The Union wants to go even further on asylum, stating in article III-167:
"The Union shall develop a common policy on asylum"— subsidiary protection—
"and temporary protection with a view to offering appropriate status to any third-country national requiring international protection and ensuring compliance with the principle" of the international conventions. Clearly, the aim is to take over asylum policy.
The Government should also be wary of the establishment of a European public prosecutor under article III-175. This would be a massive extension of European power into the field of criminal justice, which has always been an intergovernmental matter under our own democratic control.
I have given just a few examples from the draft constitution. It is a radical and revolutionary document, which will create a new state called Europe. We cannot interpret it in any other way. It is not intergovernmental, it is not a "tidying-up exercise", it is not a few modest measures and it is not a simplification of the existing treaties. Neither is it essential to ensuring the smooth running of the Community now that it has 25 members. It is a massive leap forward for those who want to build a united states of Europe. That is an aim that I can understand, but I think that it is quite wrong for Britain and I will oppose it vigorously.
I wish that the Government would come out and openly admit that that is what is going on, and then define with us how much they wish to go along with it and to what extent they will robustly say to our partners, "This might work for France and Germany, but it doesn't work for Britain." Until we are honest with our partners, this relationship is not going to work. Until the Government are honest with us and with our partners, the electorate are not going to like their policy. That is why they only got about a fifth of the votes in the European election. The people do not trust them on this issue. They do not feel that they are being told the truth, and they know from what they read and see that there is a mighty European project that involves neither a "tidying-up exercise" nor a free trade area. They know that it is something so much bigger.
This Government say that they wish to defend the main points of our democratic control in this country. But tax is going anyway—a series of court decisions are giving European Union officials more and more power to interfere not just in VAT, which is a European tax, but in corporate taxes and, in due course, income taxes. Under these proposals, our control over borders will go, criminal justice will start to go, an independent foreign policy will go, an independent defence will start to go, and asylum will have gone.
This Government should stop trying to tell us that we can never negotiate powers back from the European Union. They should stop pretending that they have enormous influence, when to date they have not wielded their influence at all to get what we need. They should start to learn how tough one must be in negotiations in the European Union to pursue the British national interest and the wider democratic interest for the sake of Europe as a whole.
This Government have a great opportunity in the next few days. They could go to Brussels and set out a proper democratic model for a new and enlarged Union, which would give many more powers back to the individual democracies that are the member states. They could be the champions of all those people who voted last Thursday for exactly that kind of looser Europe. They could use our veto to say, "We will not accept any of these centralising federalist proposals in this draft constitution until you talk to us about Britain having a deal that makes sense for Britain," with perhaps some other member states joining Britain in that more favourable, looser federation deal.
We need a Government of steel and determination, who care enough about British democracy to say no to this constitution, and who have enough charisma to speak to all those people throughout western Europe who now want something different. They want democracies at home, and trade and friendship abroad. They do not wish to be frogmarched into a superstate.
First, I apologise to hon. Members for not being able to be present for the whole debate. I was here at the beginning, however, and I have heard some of the debate from outside the Chamber, notably the good speech by my right hon. Friend Denzil Davies, with whom I generally agree.
Clearly, the European Union is becoming less popular with its citizens. The elections last week showed, if anything, that there was a combination of scepticism and apathy, even in the new member states, which was significant. This disenchantment is less because they want to leave than because of economics and the structures of the European Union, and the policies being pursued. They want to have a good relationship with other member states in the European Union. I favour the looser association of member states about which our Government talk so much. That is what people want, not a European superstate.
People are becoming disenchanted because of economic problems. Even Governments of the left in eastern European countries that have joined are privatising public services, for example. Citizens do not want that. What they want is a different approach to running their economies. Scepticism about the European Union is not just a right-wing preserve. Many on the left, including me, have a sceptical view. Last year, in the Swedish referendum on the euro, it was not the right wing that voted it down, but the left. A mass revolt by social democrats voted down membership of the euro, which is not likely to arise for at least another decade in Sweden, if at all.
The Swedes are sensible to vote not to join the euro, but it was people of the left—working people, trade unionists and social democrats—who did so, not people of the right. They feared loss of control of their economy. Above all, however, they feared that their welfare state might be dismantled. They could look at the eurozone and see slow economic growth and high unemployment, and then look at Sweden, which, like Britain, is doing much better outside the eurozone. The Swedes have a degree of control over their macro-economic policy and social institutions, particularly the welfare state, which they like and want to keep. The left decided to keep that position.
I think many other citizens throughout Europe want a different Europe. Some may take a right-wing view: Conservative Members here, for instance, may want a much more free-market approach, while others may want the more social democratic approach that I would like. It should be the member states that decide, however, not the Commission in Brussels, the institutions of economic and monetary union or a central bank. Member states and their citizens, through democratically elected Governments, should decide what economic arrangements they want. That is what I want to happen in Britain. I do not want to see the election of a Government who share my view of how we should run our economy and social institutions, and then find that they cannot act because the rules will not allow it. Such arrangements will cause ongoing stresses and tensions throughout the European Union. We ought to live up to what our Ministers keep saying—that we should have a Europe consisting of independent, democratic member states working together to their mutual benefit, but not governed by a strong centrist bureaucracy. Even if it became somewhat more democratic, I think we would want member states to be independent.
Socialists and social democrats throughout Europe have had a difficult time because they have been seduced by neo-liberalism—by the move towards a free market and privatisation. In Germany we have seen Mr. Schröder shredded by his own supporters, who have drifted away.
How does my hon. Friend explain the success of the socialists in the European elections in Spain, which has joined the euro? He presented Sweden as a glowing example, but both Sweden and Denmark—unlike the United Kingdom—are still in the exchange rate mechanism and bound by its rules. How can the hon. Gentleman justify that, given that those countries are not governed by a central bank?
I do not think they are in the exchange rate mechanism in the sense of having to adhere to a particular exchange rate. When the euro was depreciating, the Danes wisely chose to allow their currency to depreciate as well because they did not want to be at a competitive disadvantage with their big next-door neighbour, Germany. I think we should have allowed our currency to depreciate too. We have survived quite well, but our manufacturing sector has suffered because we have let our currency appreciate too much. We should have intervened to pull it down, and I hope that we still might.
As for what happened in Spain, that was caused by a particular set of events. We all know what it was about. We should also remember that Mr. Aznar, the former Prime Minister and leader of the conservatives, was the most avid supporter of the strong neo-liberal approach to economics in Europe. There has been a significant shift to the left. I imagine that the socialists are so pleased to be back in power that they will not rock too many boats at this stage, but if as a result of their policies unemployment starts to rise and Spain gets into difficulties, I suspect that pressure will be put on them.
The Spanish socialists do have an advantage, of course. Spain was one of the countries that joined the euro at a relatively low parity, and the interest rates that it was obliged to apply were rather too low for its economy. It was a bit like what happened in Ireland. Bigger economies like that in Germany experienced the opposite problem: the common interest rate was too high, and there was built-in deflation.
All those problems can be overcome only if countries can choose interest rates appropriate to their economies. If I were a German Finance Minister I would want to be able to choose a different interest rate, to relax my fiscal policy, and even—dare I say it—to adjust the parity of my currency. Countries cannot do that if they are inside the euro, locked into something that is not even a fixed parity but a single currency. We have the luxury, and I hope that we retain it, of being able to adjust our currency as and when we need to and to choose our own interest rates and fiscal policy. That works well, and it is significant that we countries outside the eurozone have done better than the eurozone itself, with the exception of one or two countries that have had the benefit of going in at low parity. The eurozone, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli has said, has had serious difficulties.
To return to the point that I was making, Chancellor Schröder in Germany has been shredded by his determination to forge ahead with a neo-liberal approach and what would be regarded as a right-wing policy in many fields, instead of resisting the pressure for cuts and privatisation. There are great tensions in the German Social Democratic party, and he has been losing popularity as a result. If parties of the left continue to pursue those policies, they will lose support among their natural supporters, even if the alternative is a party of the right. That is the tragedy. Those parties pursue right-wing policies, and the only alternative on offer is another party further to the right, which would have even harsher policies. The choice is not a happy one.
We want to see countries and Governments able to take up political stances that have the mass support of their people and that give them a genuine choice of the kind of politics by which they wish to be governed. If people are socialists, they should be able to choose a socialist Government with a socialist policy, and if they are conservatives, free-market supporters or neo-liberals they should be able to choose those policies. That is what democracy is about. I would not choose the latter approach, and Opposition Members would not choose my approach, but at least we should have the choice. Democracy must be about choices—real choices, not pretend ones.
I should like to see a Europe in which we can move towards a world more akin to the post-war world, in which we had a high degree of redistribution in the economy, so that the gulf between rich and poor narrowed, and a well funded and extensive welfare state. I should like to see good employment laws so that people are protected at work. My constituents who worked at Vauxhall Motors, for example, lost their jobs without warning because they were not sufficiently protected. I want to see such laws strengthened in our own country, and I wrote an article in my local paper last week suggesting that the great thing about Europe that we want to have over here is its strong labour laws. Opposition Members would say the opposite; they do not want those laws, but I believe that working people want security at work and the kind of labour laws that exist on the continent. However, those should be our choice, not the choice of the European Commission or the European Union in any of their forms. They should be the choice of the British people, the German people, and the people of every other individual member state in Europe.
I should like to say something on the draft treaty. It has already been mentioned that it covers elements of economic and monetary union. We are not members of the euro, and it is my strong view that it will be a long period before member states in eastern Europe will be members of the euro. That might never happen. I recently met some Polish Government representatives who said that it was unlikely that Poles would consider membership of the euro before 2010 at the earliest. That is a long time ahead, and a lot could happen in the meantime.
However, the draft treaty makes specific references to the institutions of economic and monetary union, which apply to only a minority of member states—and some of those are having difficulty with it. My suggestion, or my red line—it would be a red line, not a blue one in my case—would be that the treaty, even if we supported it, should cover only those things that relate to all of the European Union, not just part of it. Economic and monetary union, and certainly the euro, covers only a minority of nations. That should require a separate document, to be voted on by those nations as and when they choose. We should not impose such a vote on ourselves, as that would amount to an implicit acceptance that one day we will be a member of that arrangement. I think that that is highly unlikely, and that we will sensibly retain our independence from the euro. That is why the part of the treaty that deals with European economic and monetary union should be a separate document, to be voted on only by members of the eurozone. Any other member states that choose to join the euro—I would not advise them to—can sign up to the separate treaty at the appropriate time.
Any agreement covering the whole of the EU should relate only to things that member states have in common. We have much in common, but economic and monetary union and the euro are not among them. My red line is that I will not support the treaty if it includes references to institutions of economic and monetary union. Many other Labour Members feel the same, as do many of our fellow citizens.
A freer and more independent Europe would involve a looser association of member states, in which decisions were made according to nations' internal democratic procedures. States would co-operate voluntarily on matters of mutual benefit, and the EU would be much more friendly as a result. That is the way forward. We should not centralise, or impose treaties and rules that cannot be changed at the level of the nation state. I want a genuinely democratic Europe, and not a Europe that is centralised and bureaucratic.
The speech by Mr. Hopkins was almost nostalgic. He presented a view of economics that has been in retreat for some years. I am afraid that he lost me when he said that the present German Government's policy was a headlong dash towards neo-liberalism. That does not describe accurately my perceptions of events in Germany.
The hon. Gentleman felt that it was important that we did not sign up to aspects of the treaty that did not apply to us. He said that the clauses on the euro, for example, should be taken out of the treaty and used as the basis for a separate agreement between those countries that subscribe to the euro.
That approach caused me to wonder what the remaining provisions of the treaty, which the hon. Gentleman thought should apply to all member states, would look like. The old-fashioned, socialist approach to economic policy that he clearly espouses is presumably inconsistent with what I regard as the core obligations of the treaty of Rome. Those obligations include the building of a single market and of a pro-competitive environment in that market. There must also be a commitment to make the market economy work efficiently for the benefit of all the citizens in all the member states of the EU. If the EU is not about that, it really is just a talking shop, with very little purpose at all.
My right hon. Friend Mr. Redwood and I share a commitment to making our membership of the EU work for the citizens of this country, and for those of other member states as well. We also share a perception that there is almost no set of amendments to the draft treaty to which the Prime Minister could—or is likely to—agree that would result in the treaty passing the test that it works in the interests of the citizens of our country.
I am strongly committed, and I believe that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham is too, to the view that it is in this country's interests to build a set of structures in the EU that are better attuned to the world in which we live. Those structures would be better able to respond to the competitive pressures that we face, and more likely to create a successful economic zone for the benefit of the citizens of all the countries involved. That is the commitment that we share and which we believe is implied by our shared commitment to supporting this country's membership of the EU. However, it is very hard to see how that commitment could be rendered compatible with the present draft of the new European constitution.
I am not one of those who think that the word "constitution" means that the text must be unacceptable. I can conceive of circumstances in which a text would be called a constitution but I would sign up to it. It is harder to conceive of circumstances in which primacy of the constitution, as opposed to pieces of legislation, can be accepted within our domestic law. It seems to me that in becoming a member of a club, it is inherent in signing up to membership that the rules of the club will apply. What is objectionable about the draft before us is, among other things, that it gives primacy not just to legislative provisions but to the constitutional text itself.
Stepping back from the detail, I can conceive of circumstances in which I could support a constitution, but I do not support this one, and I want to make it clear why that is so. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham sought to argue that the constitution fundamentally changes the nature of the project and introduces a major new drive in what is often described as a federalist direction. In support of that argument, he cited the principle of the primacy of the constitution itself. He also cited the introduction into the constitutional text of the charter of fundamental rights, the changes planned to the evolution of the common foreign and security policy, and the nomination of a foreign minister and creation of a foreign policy bureaucracy. With considerable force, he cited the European Court of Justice's track record of institutional creep, by which I mean its interpretation of texts in such a way that it extends the power of the European Union into what Douglas Hurd used to call the nooks and crannies of our national life in a way that was not intended when the texts were drawn up. All those arguments can be adduced to say that the constitution is a text that drives the federalising process forward.
Defenders of the constitution make other arguments, which my right hon. Friend, fairly naturally, did not adduce because they do not support his case. Defenders can point to elements in the text that insist that the Union's future powers should be based on the principle of conferral: that is to say, powers rest with member states unless and until they are vested in the Union. It can be argued that the present text does not extend the competence of the Union into fields in which it has not previously gone. My right hon. Friend, however, rightly drew attention to the importance of the fact that the institutions of the Union are developing into the fields of foreign and domestic policy in justice matters, which were previously dealt with intergovernmentally. Under the text, they will be dealt with, albeit subject to a series of checks and balances, within the mainstream of European structures. The Minister for Europe shakes his head at that, but he is wrong to do so.
We can argue the points for and against, and we can go on doing so far into the night. However, my opposition to the constitution is not that it changes the European Union too much, but that it changes it too little. To make that case, I need to stand back from legalistic arguments about the balance of power within the different institutions of the European Union and to understand what is going on in the background, in the world in which we live today and with which those institutions will have to deal.
If we look at the present political structures in Europe and, in particular, the economic developments and trends, we can see that we face if not a crisis, at least a period of incipient trouble that the constitutional texts will make us less able—rather than more able—to deal with. The warning signs are there, but if we sign up to those texts we will continue to take the wrong direction.
The key economic fact of the modern world is the ever-quickening change that is being driven by the process of globalisation. I know of no better way of summing up the power of that change than asking people to reflect on the change that Japan—a country of 100 million people—drove through the world marketplace in the 30 years between 1960 and 1990, and then consider that we now face two genuine economic superpowers, in the form of India and China, whose combined population is roughly 30 times that of Japan. Consider the impact that Japan had on the world economy and then consider the impact over the next 30 years of a force potentially 30 times more powerful.
Change is often identified as a huge threat—especially by Denzil Davies in this place—but for those who work in a marketplace it is both a threat and an opportunity. It is the fact of fast economic change that creates huge opportunities for growth and wealth creation and, at the moment, our competitors in north America are being much more successful at taking advantage of those opportunities than our competitors in Europe. The American experience—and our own domestic experience—should teach us the premium that we should attach to economic flexibility and ensuring that all the wealth creators in our economy have the minimum of burden and maximum of opportunity to take advantage of change. Every threat creates an opportunity.
The markets within Europe—including markets in goods, and all the other manifestations of markets in modern-day Europe—are less flexible than they need to be if we are to take advantage of the change process that I have described. We have already heard reference to the Lisbon agenda in this debate, but the response of the European countries to that agenda has been laughable. Little or no progress has been made towards the liberalisation of European markets that is the necessary precondition to earning our living in the world I describe.
I am strongly of the view that we should not contemplate joining the euro now, but in the long term I am agnostic about whether it will work. However, it is unarguable that if one adopts the single European currency, as our partners on the continent have done, against a background of relatively rigid markets, one has made circumstances that are already high risk substantially more risky. Our partners have failed to address the requirement for greater market flexibility, and at the same time enhanced the penalties for failure by adopting a set of monetary disciplines that are wholly admirable but which reinforce the requirement for greater flexibility.
Couple with all those economic phenomena the fact that in last week's elections there was—not just in this country, but throughout the whole of the rest of Europe—a consistent pattern of voter distrust of authority, and we can see that we are creating what could be a dangerous mix, where people feel the pain of economic change, are denied the chance to take advantage of its opportunities and look around for scapegoats. That is why my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham was so right to say, in response to Mr. Kilfoyle, that the growth of extreme parties, such as the United Kingdom Independence party and the British National party in this country, and similar types of voter reaction elsewhere in Europe, is the sign of a growing divorce between the people to whom we are responsible and the political class that they increasingly view as not responding to the world as they see it.
As not many Members are queueing up to speak, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman and I can have some exchange of views while he is grappling intellectually with these problems. Is he not a little nervous about making those rather wide generalisations? Each European economy is distinct, with growth rates ranging from between 7 and 8 per cent. at the top to less than 1 per cent. at the bottom. Spain has cut unemployment by half over the past five years. Poland's economy is growing at 6 per cent. annually. Perhaps he was talking about Germany, France and Italy, but car plants from Asia are springing up all over eastern Europe. That is a good thing, as a middle class is coming into being in that area.
At present, we trade as much with Catalonia as with China. I want our trade with China to grow as much as I want UK-Catalonia trade to grow. We must be careful not to dismiss the varied economic developments in Europe by setting out a generalised position that is not true of every country.
I accept that the position is varied in different parts of Europe; the Minister is right about that. But it really is not good enough to say, "Of course, it's bad in France, Germany and Italy, but it's not bad in Catalonia". Good for Catalonia. However, in Europe as a whole, France, Germany and Italy—the three countries that the Minister seemed to be asking me to set quietly on one side—account for 70 per cent. The core statistic, on which I invite the Minister to reflect, is that current broad trends appear to suggest that the growth rate in north America is more than double that of continental Europe.
The point about China is not simply that our bilateral trade is relatively small, albeit growing strongly, but the effect that the arrival of China and India in the world marketplace will have in driving the process of change that affects every country; it is way, way beyond the effect of the bilateral trade between that country and India or China.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, economically and politically, the European Union is the biggest experiment that the world has ever seen? We have 20 languages across 25 countries and to expect so many diverse and different cultures to come together and form a market that is almost as homogeneous as those of north America, China or India is to stretch credibility a little.
I accept that what is being attempted in the EU has no historical precedent and, as I said, I am supportive of the principle because I believe that it is something important and that it needs to be made to work. With respect to the hon. Gentleman, however, it is no good contemplating the world I described, where those markets are being opened and there is nothing we can or should do to try to stop it, because the only effect will be the impoverishment of somebody somewhere on the planet, and call for the process to be slower because it is the first time that it has ever happened. We have created a set of circumstances that are overwhelmingly benign but whose effect is to demand of us a process of fast economic change in our own interests. All I am doing is pointing out that, having created that set of circumstances and those opportunities, we cannot now wish away the consequences: we must be prepared to change as fast as our competitors in north America at the very least.
Sometimes, when people in this country consider the high unemployment rates in France and Germany and the fact that they have emerging problems, there is a tendency for their reactions to be tinged with schadenfreude, but our reaction must be much more adult; it is much more dangerous than that. Those countries are among our largest customers. They are also our political neighbours, so opening their markets, making their markets work more effectively and ensuring that they are politically stable is as much in our national interest as it is in theirs. That is the core; that is why I am supporter of the EU. However, I am also a strong supporter of the proposition that the EU needs to take a step back and understand how it needs to change to serve the people who live in it, in the world as it is now, rather than the world as it was in 1958.
All that background is the reason why I was so pleased when the Laeken declaration appeared to provide the opportunity for a complete rethink of the EU institutions. I hoped that setting up the European Convention would provide us with the opportunity to stand back, to look at the world as it is now—which is fundamentally different from the world of 40 years ago—and to reassess what those institutions now need to look like and what their objectives now need to be to deal with the world as it now is.
Against that background, it seems inescapable that the EU needs to have a much more limited set of competences than it has had historically. It needs to focus much more accurately on its core priorities, including signing up to what the hon. Member for Luton, North would describe as neo-liberal values, because unless we sign up to them we are presumably adopting the Albanian alternative.
Is the choice in the world seriously between neo-liberalism and Albania? Is there not something called social democracy, which worked extremely well after the second world war?
All I was seeking to do, with a throwaway line, was to reinforce the point that the EU that we joined—and I am strongly in favour of our continuing to remain an active member, and I want it to be taken forward for the next 40 years—is an EU built on the principle of open, free markets. That is how, in the world that I have described, we will be able to provide improving living standards for our people.
My right hon. Friend is making a powerful speech with which I entirely agree, but does he agree that the EU institutions do not seem to have recognised that there are seven times as many people in China and India as in the enlarged EU and that their populations are growing and the EU's is falling, so that when they reach a third of our income per head, which they will do in the not-too-distant future, they will be twice as important as an economic group as the EU? We do not seem to have recognised that or made ourselves competitive to handle it.
My right hon. Friend uses another statistic to make the same point: not today, but in the foreseeable future, those countries have the potential to be the most important trading blocs in the world if they get their domestic policies right. For the EU to focus on its own domestic arguments, rather than considering what the world looks like when under the influence of those drivers of economic change, is massively short-sighted.
I forget which American coined a vogue expression that was used a few years ago, but he talked about the need to reinvent government. I know of no institution with responsibility for exercising political power that is now in more urgent need of reinvention than the European Union. As the treaty that is on the table signally fails to do that, I am strongly of the view that we should reject it.
I talked about Laeken and the kicking off of the Convention process. I mean no disrespect to Giscard d'Estaing, who is a man with a long and distinguished career behind him, but, given the nature of the challenge that Europe faced, it was extraordinary that an octogenarian former President of France, who learned all his political instincts in the world of the 1960s, was chosen to lead the process of reinventing the European Union. The result of the process was regrettably all too predictable: it was more of the same. There was no serious attempt to reinvent the European Union, and huge tracts of the text reflect 1960s thinking. I suspect that the charter of fundamental rights is one of the bits of the text that could easily have been drafted by the hon. Member for Luton, North. It was more likely to have emerged from the Trades Union Congress than from No. 10 or even No. 11 Downing street because it reflects old-fashioned thinking.
There is something slightly emblematic about the fact that discussions on the constitution, including considerations of the evolution of a common foreign and security policy, were taking place at exactly the same time that our Prime Minister and the French President were barely on speaking terms on the subject of Iraq. How could people be so unreal as to talk about the development of a common foreign policy when the Prime Minister and the President could barely stand to be in each other's company?
The European foreign aid programme has not taken note of the development of the Washington consensus of 10 years ago. Not only China and India, but the rest of the developing world, have learned a set of market disciplines that has not impinged on the programme. We are still talking about developing European culture, education and health policies, despite the fact that none of those should be anywhere near the heart of what we should be trying to do at EU level to respond to the huge economic challenge that I described.
A specific bugbear of mine is the fact that a set of legislative provisions has grown up in Europe that we now describe as the acquis communautaire. Most of the provisions were brought forward from the political environment of the 1960s and 1970s. It is considered to be somehow un-European, or anti-communautaire, to propose a set of repeals and reforms for that body of legislative arrangements, although we would think it normal to have a debate to revisit such matters in our domestic political environment.
I am delighted about one thing: the Prime Minister has accepted our case for a referendum on the constitution before it comes into effect. It is vital that the constitution is thrown out, so if the Government will not do that, I am delighted that all the evidence shows that the voters will. When the Giscard constitution is dead, I shall strongly support a second attempt to reinvent the European Union. I hope that the second attempt will meet the challenge because that certainly did not happen first time around.
It is a pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend Mr. Dorrell, and I substantially agree with what he said. I may not come to quite such a definitive conclusion but my logic is very similar. Indeed, I rather shared his concern when Giscard d'Estaing was appointed to head the constitution.
I was a Financial Times correspondent in Paris when Giscard was the President and Mr. Raymond Barre was, I think, le meilleur premier ministre de France. There is hardly anybody more known for the sheer hauteur of his approach to the population—les administrés—than Mr. d'Estaing, although he did institute the innovation of having d-ner chez les peuples, as he would arrive to dine with some unsuspecting dustmen, in order to demonstrate the common touch. I have great admiration for him, and his political technology is enormous, but if we are out to rejuvenate, reinvent and generally communicate Europe to its new generation of citizens, one does not instinctively think of Mr. d'Estaing as the front man for that task.
Having made that observation, I must say that having, like everybody else, watched the football match and noted that more than 50 per cent. of the French line-up are employed by English football teams and that the French manager is about to go and run Tottenham Hotspur, I think that some of the sentiments that we normally reserve for the French might be put into proper perspective.
I was delighted to have the Foreign Secretary make reference to an article that I had written in what he described as my local paper, which happens to be the Yorkshire Post. I was also interested to note that he started two thirds of the way down the article, and I wonder whether I could refer him to the first two thirds, in which I said that if UKIP made a spectacular breakthrough one of the reasons would lie at the door of both the major parties, but predominantly at that of the Government because Governments make the weather. The Prime Minister having stood on the doorstep of No. 10 when he arrived in power and said that his historical mission was to resolve the ambiguity of Britain's relationship with Europe, I can think of no man who has failed more dismally to meet his own aspiration to use his considerable advocacy powers to argue the case for the active and permanent engagement of Britain in the EU. I am very happy for the article to be put in the Library because it is extremely well written and quite short.
It is an extremely good article; I quoted it myself last week and drew it to the Foreign Secretary's attention. The right hon. Gentleman may recall, however, that he strongly chastised all those politicians who talk about us marching towards a European superstate. I believe that he said that it sounds like the Armageddon from "The Lord of the Rings" and is childish and nonsensical language. Will he convey that point of view to his absent Front-Bench colleagues who have been telling us that we are heading for a European superstate on every possible occasion for as long as I have been Minister for Europe?
The hon. Gentleman need not fear—I shall come to that point in a short while. Curiously, having written it, I have exact recall of the article.
I am grateful to UKIP for one thing. Because the party has asserted so aggressively its belief that we should quit the EU, my party has spelled out categorically that it does not wish to quit the EU. Since the Prime Minister constantly uses that particular canard, accusing us of wanting to do so, I am delighted that we can put it to rest.
I am also grateful to the Prime Minister for conceding the referendum, although I have to say that the terms in which the Foreign Secretary described the Prime Minister's performance at the Dispatch Box were not ones that I recognised. The Prime Minister looked singularly like one of those unfortunate prisoners who have been captured behind enemy lines and forced to appear before the television cameras to demonstrate the fact of their capture, surrounded by people with Kalashnikovs, of which one was, of course, the Foreign Secretary. At least we can now talk about the substance, and not about the process, of Europe. We spend so much time talking about the process and about whether we want to belong to a Union that could do these things, rather than about what things we want it to do. The temptation to do that is one of the abiding problems of the House.
I do not want to make a diversion into fisheries, except to say that we should be a little careful before we talk about national control because, frankly, I do not think that one can ever have pure national control. Even if we repatriated the fisheries policy, we would have to have zonal controls. The riparian states would have to get together to organise conservation. In the Irish sea, traditionally one of the areas where fishery stocks have been under the most pressure, deals would have to be done between riparian states whose fishing industry exploited those stocks. We would also need to make sure that other member states did not see an opportunity to withdraw from the policies inconvenient to them. The UK has a strong interest in an effective European competition and state aids policy, and I would not wish to see member states deciding that that did not suit their interests.
Sometimes it might be helpful to spell out the Europe that we want to see rather than the Europe that we do not want to see. I shall therefore approach this subject not from the direction taken by most of my colleagues but by setting out what I think the needs of Europe are and then measuring the constitution against those needs.
It seems that we need change in Europe in four areas: first, in the machinery of governance; secondly, in the political capacity to respond to crisis and issues; thirdly, in the way that we manage the economy or the European levers that are relevant to the way that we manage the economy; fourthly, how we deal with the question of the democratic accountability of Europe to its citizens.
As for governance, we need better decision-taking machinery so that a Europe of 25, 27, 28 and eventually 35 works efficiently. I think that the situation left by the treaty of Nice will function but I am not sure that it will work as well as we want in terms of the machinery of decision-taking. Therefore, there is a case for saying that we need a successor to Nice. The argument about the shape that it could take is the substance of the argument that we have in this place.
In political terms, over the past few years we have seen a sorry spectacle of Europe. That is one of the reasons for the public's response. We have seen an incoherent looking Europe, a Europe that has not looked as if it could get its act together, a Europe that has looked rather incompetent. Institutions have tended to diminish in public esteem and not to meet the challenge. In a sense, the Commission has been the most obvious example of that. It is perhaps emblematic—an expression that has already been used—that the President of the Commission appears to be having a great deal more success in running a party in Italy simultaneously with his job as Commission President than he has in running the Commission.
We need a coherent approach to issues such as the World Trade Organisation. Reference has been made to countries such as China and India, which are already economic super powers. There is a series of candidate super powers. For example, Brazil is already one of the great agricultural super powers. It is foreseeable that it will probably become a more important agricultural power than the United States. Argentina is not all that far behind. The architecture of world trading power is changing dramatically.
We need to have a more effective response to regional conflicts. One thinks only of the middle east situation and what a small voice there is, effectively, from Europe. I think of humanitarian crises as well. I have given three illustrations of where a more coherent ability to respond more quickly would be seen to be necessary by citizens.
In terms of the economy of Europe, we need to create a genuine European open society. How we order our affairs within Europe determines how well we compete outside Europe, so we need to remove the barriers to the freedom of individuals and businesses to trade, invest, work, compete, study and live anywhere in the EU, and therefore to be able to compete in and embrace the global economy. The record is not good. Of course, it is patchy. Some member states have been very successful in appearing to combine at least a liberal market economy with quite a strong framework of social support. The Netherlands has done relatively well in that regard.
The fortunes of other major players—France and Germany, and Italy as well—are crucial to us because they are neighbours. They are major political interlocutors in Europe and they constitute our major marketplace on a reciprocal basis. The ability to sustain the political momentum for reform has been lacking in these countries. We have seen instead Mr. Schröder, for example, complaining that the new Baltic states happen to have low levels of business taxes. What is his response? Do we find a way of competing and accepting the judgment of a market? No, the new Baltic states should be compelled to raise their taxes so that we are relieved of the need to make an unpleasant and painful reform ourselves.
We have seen between France and Germany an argument over whether there should be national champions. Mr. Sarkozy, who is the French Finance Minister and seen by many, certainly by himself, as the heir apparent to Mr. Chirac, is an effective and, in many ways, an attractive politician. We look to be moving back towards the French solution and the idea of the national champion. Even Mr. Schröder has found that a rather uncomfortable development. In Britain, we tend to deliver lectures on liberal economics to the continent, so one is glad to know that a surprising number of French people wonder whether the economic miracle of the '50s and '60s was achieved in France despite the state or because of it. If France underwent liberal economic reform it would be a frightening competitor.
We need to promote active citizenship in Europe as much as we do at home. We need clear and accessible lines of accountability. There must be a high road to accountability so that people can access it and the question of where the buck stops can be answered. To achieve that, we must start work at home. To return briefly to the points that I made in my article, the Government have not sought to engage the public effectively in the European argument. The Prime Minister makes the occasional speech on Europe, usually in Poland, and there are various roadshows, but he never commits himself as he did, for example, to the Northern Ireland peace process. Whether or not one agreed with him over Iraq, his advocacy skills are potent and effective, but he has never deployed them on the European argument. He must therefore bear some responsibility for what has happened.
In my article, I pointed out that the Leader of the Opposition has made a great effort to achieve a new consensus in the party on Europe, so he is not included in my strictures, but there is a long legacy in my party of conveying the impression that Europe is a permanent battlefield. One can then hardly blame people for asking why, if it is so damned awful, we are in it. Our essential argument is that we can defend Britain's interests in Europe better than the Government, so I advise my Front-Bench spokesmen to do two things, not just one—first, to demonstrate that we are capable of defending our interests and, secondly, to argue the case for doing so in Europe, and not presuppose an acceptance of that argument. Millions of perfectly normal, sensible people voted for UKIP last week to send a message. We hope that that will be the only occasion that they do so, although we cannot be certain, but we should not denigrate them as a crackpot minority. The truth of the matter is that they are a substantial part of the electorate, and everyone in the political class who believes in Europe must demonstrate the need to engage completely in Europe, as well as the opportunities and, indeed, the penalties for doing so.
The language of European politics is invariably the language of war and military analogy. That is peculiar to Britain—no one else feels the need to resort to that curious vocabulary. It started with Mr. Wilson, who used footballing and laddish analogies. We never hear the language of opportunity used about Europe—it is almost entirely absent from our political vocabulary. The way in which the constitution measures up to the criteria that I have set out is a mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly. As was the case with my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood, the fact that it is a constitution does not give me the twitches. We should not be against something simply because it is a constitution—what matters is what it says and does. I do not think that is an instrument of grand federal design. I am looking hard through the fog, but I do not see the outlines of a superstate moving towards me. Looking back, I can see the incoherence of Europe rather than the frightening coherence that is the hallmark of a superstate.
As for governance and political authority, the treaty is, on balance, positive. The permanent presidency of the Council of Ministers has many common-sense management features to commend it. I hope that we achieve a streamlined Commission, as far too many people are seriously underemployed at the moment. I am not put off by the prospect of a foreign minister or a foreign representative reporting to member states through the Council of Ministers. There is a perfectly reasonable case for that, to meet the arguments that I put forward recently.
The tentative role of national Parliaments is welcome. There is much more that can be done, as various colleagues have mentioned, but at least it is the beginning of a weakening of the Commission. It is a feature of the treaty, though as I said, the UK should be a little careful. Where we want the effective enforcement of a Europe-wide policy, we need a strong Commission to do that. The idea that our role will be enhanced and we will benefit from a Commission that is undermined is not sensible, which is why the search for a new president of the Commission is so important. There is a certain Gaullist imprint on the constitution.
It is with regard to the economy that my concerns are most serious. I leave aside the issue of red lines and endorse what my colleagues and the Government have said about the need to defend those red lines. I shall not rehearse that argument. What concerns me is the structures that we build, within which the economy must operate. The market needs liberating and deregulating, not constricting, so that it can be job, wealth and opportunity-creating. That is the purpose of a market. The charter has implications, particularly for the labour market, that must be addressed. On the whole, I would prefer that it did not exist at all, but if it must exist, I want to make sure that it cannot seep into British law and practice in any way. For me, that is a crucial criterion for the constitution.
Mr. Hopkins, who is no longer present, spoke about the protection of the work force. He said that what people wanted was protection in the work force. What people want is work. The liberal market economy, the opportunity to move into work and the ability of businesses to adjust their work force are the most important guarantors of that. I remember having an argument with a French Minister at a Council meeting many years ago, in which she said that we must find ways of protecting many more people in work and build more barriers to protect people in work. I said that we needed to get rid of the wall so that people could move in and out of work much more effectively, because that is how businesses recruit. There is a fundamental culture that must be addressed.
On democracy and accountability, there are some pluses. The role of member states is enhanced, at the expense of the Commission, but again, we need to be careful about the balance there. The role envisaged for national Parliaments is welcome, but it is still tentative. We would like it to acquire more substance. The increased competence of the European Parliament is welcome. Too often we tend to think of accountability as a zero sum game—if it is not exercised here, it cannot be exercised elsewhere.
We have a semi-federal organisation in Europe, and in order to encapsulate that sovereignty we need an organisation operating on the same basis. We need a Parliament that is embraced within the same sort of architecture. However much people denigrate the Parliament—denigration is one of the fashionable habits of the United Kingdom—it has a powerful role in shaping the environment in which we live, work and consume. There are few aspects of our daily lives that are not affected by decisions taken by the European Parliament.
As Europe gets bigger—there are 25 states and there will be more—there is a serious argument for looking hard at the functions that it performs. More and more, it should be looking to perform the functions of the holding company, in which the essential corporate identity is held and the essential policies are discharged and managed, but as my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood said, it does not need to get involved in the nooks and crannies of everyday life. It needs to make sure that it holds the ring, as it were, but that the line managers have the responsibility for delivering the day-to-day tasks.
There are, of course, things that must be done at the centre. One thinks immediately of the single market, state aid, competition, which is crucial to the United Kingdom, environmental matters and trade matters. Those are fairly self-evident and there would not be enormous dispute about that. There is a very large range of other activities in the employment and social sphere, however, that I do not believe are central to a market. I do not believe that they will be easy to manage in the heterogeneous Europe that is being created. It would not be a bad thing if Ministers were to say to themselves that what it is not necessary to do at the centre, it is necessary not to do at the centre.
Judged on that basis, the draft constitution is not the constitution that I would like to see. I will look hard to see what it delivers to us, but beyond that, a hard look will need to be taken at the way in which Europe operates in terms of the much larger conglomerate that now exists.
The right hon. Gentleman may be getting to the point at which I might just slightly disagree with something that he says, which is a rather nerve-wracking business when one is sitting on the Government Benches. In France, which he knows very well, a great deal of left-wing, trade union and worker organisations are saying that they will campaign against the constitution unless it takes into consideration the citizen's desire not for protection, but for recognition of the social dimension in employment. I want a Europe with full employment too, but if that were all that we were asking people to vote for, it might open the way to the UKIP-ism of the left. He knows full well how the Communist party, the Trotskyites and even the national front in France have mammoth support from working people in opposing Europe. Will he comment on that particular problem?
There are distinct political cultures in every member state, and the relationship with government and the concept of what it is there to do differ dramatically among member states. I have no fundamental difficulty in saying that a significant part of those cultures should be satisfied with the relationship between the citizen and the member state. If we try to enlarge that arrangement across Europe, we will almost certainly satisfy nobody, because it will not meet the British demand that Europe should not be seen to be engaged, and it will not meet the French concern that Europe is seen as a merchant's charter.
I know that finding the balance is difficult. In a sense, every initiative in Europe will have contradictory elements built in to it, because it will bear the imprint of everybody's needs. Such an initiative will not be pristine, and the balance will inevitably turn out to be unsatisfactory. The virtue of Europe, however, is that whenever one is locked into a negotiation, one is condemned eventually to break the deadlock and move forward. That gets one into the next deadlock, but that is the dynamism, however halting, of the organisation.
I wish to conclude by saying a word about France. After the match on Saturday, members of the English team complained that the French team were apparently celebrating in a fairly boisterous manner in their bath. Given that the French "Marseillaise" was jeered, hooted and whistled down by thousands of English fans in the stadium during the singing of the national anthem—a practice that I am afraid is almost entirely English—I have scant sympathy for that complaint. Frankly, the fans were only re-enacting on the fields of Portugal what is re-enacted in the press in Britain almost daily. Let us be frank about that. I find such behaviour vulgar and uncivilised, and it is a great discredit to this country. I am sorry to sound so frightfully middle class and Daily Telegraph about it, but there we are. I am allowed to do so very occasionally.
If one looks at the position of Britain and France in Europe and asks who is in the better position and who should think that they are more on the winning and losing sides, to use that old military analogy, I think that one sees that the United Kingdom has much better reason than France for having confidence. The French press is full of the end of the French hegemony and the idea that things are changing and that enlargement is not a French victory. Enlargement may not even be seen to be in French interests when it is looked at in terms of the creation of a Francophile Europe.
Let us consider Britain's position. Europe is becoming more Anglo-Saxon, more English speaking, more Atlanticist, more diverse and more open. Enlargement therefore gives us a great chance. The French hegemony is over and the only way in which it can be prolonged is through our disengagement. We have a huge opportunity, which we can either take and transform the debate, thus standing a fairly good chance of transforming Europe as well, or surrender. That would be another surrender in the enormously long line of missed British opportunities.
In June 2000, President Chirac made a powerful speech to the Bundestag in which he called on Germany to join France in leading the drive towards European integration and asked for a timetable for that process to be set out. He said that there should be a European constitution in a few years and a pioneer group of European Union states that wanted to move faster than the others towards closer integration in political and economic matters. It should therefore come as no surprise, four years later, that the Government are on the eve of signing up to such a constitution.
More recently, the agenda—the project, as some have described it—was identified as the solution to the problems outlined in a report that Romano Prodi commissioned and that my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Ancram mentioned. The report was honest and detailed and described the position of the EU today. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former French Finance Minister, chaired the round table of experts who produced it. It concluded:
"The European Union has reached a turning point in its history . . . Its institutions are functioning badly: they are threatened with paralysis and challenged on the grounds of their democratic deficit. Its project has run out of steam: today no satisfactory answers are being given to the questions of why we need Europe and where it is going . . . for the first time, the Union is having to ask itself where its ultimate boundaries lie".
The report, "Building a Political Europe", offers some solutions, some of which are enshrined in the draft treaty that the Government will tackle in the coming days. Its solution, however, is not that suggested by some of my hon. Friends: examining the need for liberal markets; recognising the change in the global economy; and instituting reform in those European countries that have yet to follow the United Kingdom example of examining trade union reform and the way in which regulation, especially employment legislation and regulation, makes Europe less competitive as a trading bloc than other such blocs around the world. Europe has not grasped those challenges, many of which our national Governments, especially the previous Conservative Government, understood.
We have reached a watershed. It is no surprise that the people of this country are confused about the exact purpose of Europe today. In 1975, when the UK voted to stay in what was then known as the Common Market—the old European Economic Community—people, and I include myself, believed that they were voting for free trade, of which we could perceive the advantage, and mutual co-operation expressed by independent sovereign states.
I was born in 1946 and grew up in the aftermath of the second world war. I can understand why the political leaders of Europe in the 1940s and 1950s had reasons other than purely pragmatic trading reasons to come together. Twice in that century, the mainland of Europe was ravaged by world wars. They caused huge damage, whichever side one was on, to the youth and the well-being of countries that lost millions of their citizens. People prayed that they would never have to put their youth through that again.
I have to agree with my right hon. Friend Mr. Redwood, however, that the peace argument should not be prayed in aid today as a reason for being in an organisation that we thought was to be a trading bloc but which we now see clearly from other European countries is in fact a political and economic union. Why are we afraid of recognising the reality that that is a legitimate aspiration for the people of all the European Union countries and those still seeking to join? It would not be my wish to go down that road, but I would not wish to deny any individual or country the opportunity in a free, democratic society to open negotiations, to come together and to proceed with that project.
Over the last 29 years, since we had the opportunity to say whether we wanted to stay in the Common Market, successive British Governments have tried to persuade the British people that what was happening in other European Union countries to promote and proceed with greater political and economic union was not really the agenda. It behoves all politicians, wherever we sit on the spectrum of views on the future of Europe and the United Kingdom's role in it, to remember one very important lesson. The people out there who spoke last Thursday by putting a cross on a ballot paper and recording their view—whichever side of the argument they took—are our masters. They are the people who send us here, and if we are not absolutely honest with them, and if we do not set out for them the choices and agendas involved—whether we agree or disagree with them—we do them a grave disservice.
Here we are on the eve of this constitution, having received a clear signal from the British electorate that what many of them thought was the real agenda for Europe has, over the years, become one in which they have lost confidence. They have lost confidence in their understanding of what we, as politicians, would do with the power that is already enshrined in Europe. Government after Government have signed treaty after treaty, each of which has moved us further forward into political and economic union, while declining to be totally honest with the British people that that was the real agenda for many countries in the European Union. It is folly to try to deny the reality of that to the British people.
I hope that, at this watershed on the constitution, whatever party we belong to, we shall not betray the elemental trust that the British people place in us when they send us here as their representatives. We are representatives, not delegates; we use our judgment. If we, as individuals, use our judgment wrongly on this issue—or on any other—the British people have the opportunity to call us to account at the ballot box every four or five years at a general election. Those are the terms on which we enter this Chamber. On this important issue, we now have an obligation to spell out to the British people where we are.
For the last year, I have sat in this Chamber and repeatedly heard the Prime Minister and other Ministers on the Treasury Bench deny to the House that this constitution was a constitutional matter. I shall say that again, so that people do not think that I have made a slip of the tongue. The Prime Minister has repeatedly denied to the House that the EU constitution was a constitutional matter. It was the main plank of his argument for refusing repeatedly a referendum on the matter, for which the Opposition have been arguing robustly, both inside and outside the Chamber, for nearly two years. I am pleased that he has now made this concession. When the people cast their vote in that referendum—I am sure that, red lines or no red lines, the Government are going to do a deal—it is important that they have an opportunity to hear both sides of the argument about what is at stake. This is not yet another European treaty but the last piece in the jigsaw for closer economic and political union. Many colleagues have spelt out in this long but welcome debate what the consequences are.
It is no surprise that, for many years, many people out there have paid no interest to the subject of Europe. The pollsters in the newspapers, and sometimes the pollsters who do surveys for our parties, show us that Europe is not at the top of everybody's agenda. Of course, people are more concerned about our health service if they have someone sick in hospital, about our education service if they have to pay student fees, or about what is going to happen to them in retirement if they are worried about their pension. Of course those issues dominate our political agenda, as they properly should.
It would be a grave mistake, however, were we to move into that greater political and economic union with the people out there not realising what was being done in their name. When they found out, the consequences would be dire—I would go so far as to say that the consequences would be very dangerous for this country. Others have touched on this issue. We have seen the resurgence of extremism for some years now in other countries, which should be of just as much concern to us as votes cast for, say, the British National party, as we saw at last week's election. That should sound warning bells to all of us.
At the heart of this should be the need to be absolutely clear and honest with the British people. It is no surprise that sometimes this subject is a big turn-off. It is dry. Only gadflies such as me read these treaties and have some of the literature by their beds to read late at night—[Interruption.] It is sad and suspect, but necessary. If we examine the language associated with this subject over the years, we find that it not just a turn-off but positively confusing for the British people. There are phrases such as variable geometry, which means that some forge ahead but others stay behind and move at a different pace, yet still move towards the same destination with the same objective: closer political and economic union. Other examples are concentric circles, a hard core and a three-phase system, put forward particularly by the French and the German Christian Democratic Union. If one can get to grips with that, it means another variation on moving towards the same destination.
When we have heard all that over the years, particularly from other EU countries, they have not been resistant to closer political and economic union—that is their agenda, although politicians in this country have denied that. When they look for different ways of proceeding, it is not because they are opposed to it in principle but because they are looking for flexibility and the ways in which they can achieve that objective.
It is true that treaties signed when the Conservative party was in office have added to the progress towards that destination. Even Margaret Thatcher, who was mentioned several times in Ministers' speeches, has acknowledged that, with her natural enthusiasm for free trade, the Single European Act to bring in the single market was achieved at a price that she now regrets. John Major sought to protect us by insisting on subsidiarity. That, too, was mentioned earlier.
I remember, as an agriculture Minister, receiving a letter from someone representing—I think—a food company about some European legislation that was impeding his business. Civil servants drafted a letter for me praying in aid subsidiarity. I sent it back to them asking for two examples. When it was returned to me, all references to subsidiarity had been removed. Over the years, little carrots have been dangled before us, causing us to think that perhaps, despite all these treaties, we in this Parliament can have some control over what happens when they are implemented—but the power is not with this Parliament.
There was discussion earlier about whether, through this treaty, which I am sure the Government will sign, we could somehow give the House more powers through greater scrutiny. Most of the regulations about which we all complain emanate from the single market and the Single European Act. We deal with them in Committees, as statutory instruments. By the time we are scrutinising them, however, they have been signed on behalf of the British Government, whichever party is in power. That is how the system works. As for the few regulations debated in detail by Committees, the Committees are weighted in such a way that the Government have a whipped Bench to ensure that regulations are automatically endorsed. The House of Commons has no power to overturn a statutory instrument—secondary legislation from the European Union—if the Government of the day have already signed up to it.
I do not want to engage in a debate on the substance of what the hon. Lady is saying. Does she agree, however, that we should be concerned not just about the matters she is raising but about the fact that only a small proportion of members of all political parties in the House are even remotely interested in whether Europe works well, badly or indifferently? Should we not work in our parties to foster more interest, and to improve scrutiny across the political spectrum?
We should all take these issues seriously. We all have quite a lot to say about red tape, the burdens on business and the consequences of European legislation. The fact is, however, that all of us who are here at the behest of the British electorate are impotent in respect of those things. I am happy to hear people debate reform, but that is not where we are today. We are at a watershed: all the matters that have been discussed in past years are coming together in the new constitutional treaty, which rolls together all the treaties that we have signed.
Many have described what they believe to be the changes and the dangers inherent in the constitution: the legal personality that it will have, and a range of issues connected with our common law, our foreign and defence policy and our social policy. All that is clearly spelt out in the treaty. The Government attempt to persuade us that their red lines will make the treaty as neutral as possible in terms of the House's power, on behalf of the people of this country, to make decisions; but that is not what it is about.
I regard the Minister as a Euro-enthusiast, yet he does not appear enthusiastic about this project. He and his colleagues still seem to be in denial, not really wanting to admit what the treaty is. I wonder why the Government have not the courage of their convictions. It would be more respectable to spell out what is in the treaty, and to say "We support this, because it is what we and the other European countries that want it believe is right for our country." If they genuinely believe that it is the right thing for this country, I will oppose them in the debate and the argument, but at least that debate will be honest and respectable.
The argument on peace cannot be maintained today. It may well have been correct for Konrad Adenauer and others in the previous century but I believe, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham clearly set out, that it was the presence of NATO and, specifically, of American soldiers funded by American taxpayers that kept the peace in Europe during the cold war, and we owe them a great debt for their support to NATO in that role, which they played for many years. They were there not to hold France and Germany apart but to protect mainland Europe from the clear threat of the Soviet Union and the old Soviet bloc, a nuclear power—something quite new after the last war.
I do not know why we accept the European Union's lack of good governance, or why as a country—I imagine that this applies as much to the Labour Government as it does to my Front Bench—we somehow seem to accept that fraud just happens. We accept the fact that accounts cannot be properly audited, when they involve spending the money of the taxpayers of this country, for which we, as representatives of the people, should be held to account. It should be incumbent on us as MPs to press for good governance in the European Union, yet the only people to identify the problems are vilified by the elite bureaucracy in Brussels. It is those whistleblowers, who are actually doing the British taxpayer a good service, who lose their jobs. Why is good governance not required in the European Union, although we insist on it in third world countries when we are considering passing money to them to help their pressing needs? Good governance is made an integral part of those negotiations.
I agree with what many of my colleagues have said on the European Union's economy and its role as a trading bloc in a global market. The European Union negotiates for the United Kingdom Government in global trade talks. Yes, Ministers attend the talks, but they do not have a seat on our behalf at the table. What sort of deals do they do on our behalf? They certainly do not protect British businesses, such as the cashmere industry and the decorative packaging industry, when the United States falls out with the European Union at those global talks. I ask again, as have others: where is this Government's negotiating hand? Throughout the years, if we have worried about how the European Union has developed and how it works in practice, we have been told, "Don't worry; we will use our influence and negotiating skills to sort these matters out." But they do not get sorted out.
The people of this country have woken up—some of them—to what is on the table, to where we are now in our relationship with the European Union and, more particularly, to where the European Union is going. I support the view that at this point, on the eve of the signing of this constitution, if those countries that want closer political and economic union want to proceed with the treaty, we should wish them Godspeed. Let us face it, we do not want to see them in dire straits as their economies crumble, but if they genuinely believe that that is the right thing to do, let them proceed. My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Conservative party has described that position as "Live and let live". It is certainly more understandable than variable geometry.
However, if that approach is adopted, our relationship with the EU will be different from now on. It is not about saying no to the constitution in principle or to joining the euro—although I do say no to both possibilities—but about looking at where we are now. Where the treaties that we have signed have not worked, we must make sure that we give back to the British people those things that they may not have realised until now that they have lost.
We must do that constructively; otherwise, we risk damaging ourselves and our allies. We want to work closely with our allies, and trade with them. They certainly want to trade with us. However, last Thursday's vote was an angry message to the two main parties in this country that the British people feel let down on Europe. It behoves Members of Parliament to be totally honest with them from now on, for that is what they deserve. If we are not honest, the consequences will be grave for all parties.
I represent a traditional shire county seat in the heart of God's own county of Devon. My constituents are very down to earth. They are lovely people, and it is a great pleasure to represent them. They are not fools, though: the good people of Devon will not tolerate any party that tries to pull the wool over their eyes.
Mr. Mitchell has returned to his place. Earlier, he concluded his remarks with a literary quotation. I shall do the same. The quotation that I shall use will be familiar to the House, but it sums up how my constituents feel about this matter. G. K. Chesterton wrote:
"Smile at us, pay us, pass us; but do not quite forget.
For we are the people of England, that never have spoken yet."
I want to thank all those who have contributed to this afternoon's debate, in which there were some excellent speeches. I seek your indulgence, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as I want to allude to various other aspects of the EU's activities before I deal with the substance of what has been discussed this afternoon.
Inevitably, the main thrust of today's debate stemmed from last week's elections and from the important events that will take place in the next few days. The whole House welcomes the enlargement process and the fact that new member countries were able to vote for the first time in the recent European elections, but I know that all hon. Members share one regret—that so far we have not found a solution to the division of Cyprus.
We were all saddened at the rejection of the Annan plan, but I hope that the Cyprus problem can be resolved sooner rather than later. Even so, a number of issues remain—especially among members of the Greek Cypriot community, which voted no—that require some sort of resolution before a settlement can be reached.
I want to touch on two matters very briefly. The first problem has to do with the Turkish settlers from mainland Turkey who now occupy land and property in northern Cyprus, and the second—and the more important, for many Greek Cypriots—is the permanent presence of Turkish troops in northern Cyprus.
Our country is a guarantor power, so the successful and peaceful reunification of Cyprus is an objective of considerable importance for us. We need to improve the poor economic circumstances faced by the Turkish Cypriot community, and the communications link. I hope very much that the Government, as a guarantor power, will use their good offices, and Britain's unique relationship with the Cypriot people, to resolve the tragic situation that obtains in that most beautiful island.
Also, we must take this opportunity to congratulate Turkey on what it has done to try to resolve the matter. It has moved towards the Copenhagen criteria for EU membership, which all hon. Members agree is a necessary objective. Turkey is also making considerable improvements in its human rights record, especially in respect of the Kurdish minority. Moreover, anti-torture legislation is being strengthened and there are moves towards establishing a more functional market economy. That is why, at this particularly difficult time in our relationships with the Islamic world, Turkey can act as a bridge to that world. As a country with extraordinarily good contacts both in the Arab world and, historically, with Israel, it can play a part in the middle east peace process, which has, unfortunately, ground to a halt.
The EU, as an enormous single market, has a huge impact on surrounding countries. The jewel in the crown of the EU is the single market, and we want to extend the benefits of trade and market liberalisation that we have enjoyed within it. The EuroMed agreements should be viewed in that light. The specific provisions vary in those association agreements, which currently exist with Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority, but there are certain key common aspects, including building political dialogue, respecting human rights and making a real move towards economic liberalisation and market economies. We must continue with that, but a problem has arisen: we have an important objective now of combating the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, which raises a difficulty as regards those countries that may sign up to agreements and in dealing retrospectively with those countries that already have. In the context of the middle east, where we want economic improvement, it is important to resolve that problem in respect of Syria and the other countries prospectively coming through. Our relationships with the countries that border us, given economic circumstances, the high growth of population and so on, are important to our continued prosperity.
We have heard some excellent speeches this afternoon, and I first congratulate Mr. Mitchell on his. He talked about political élites wanting to forge a constitutional structure that he felt was unacceptable to people, and I think that he was entirely right. He talked about the problems of the common fisheries policy and the common agricultural policy. Those are massive problems and, as many hon. Members have said, the negotiations should have provided the Government with an opportunity to take a really tough line on resolving the question of fisheries, which has been so damaging to this country.
Sir Menzies Campbell talked about the need for some reorganisation of the treaties, saying that four were in existence and that they could be brought together. We accept that, of course, but the point is that there is a huge difference between establishing an overarching constitution and bringing together the essential elements of the treaties in an open and simplified way by adopting a charter of competences very much in the spirit of Laeken. There is something fundamentally different between that animal and this constitution, which has emerged in a hugely complicated way.
Denzil Davies quite correctly said that no matter what happens, the Prime Minister will no doubt come back announcing a great triumph. I agree with him that there is a sense among our citizens that democracy is being eroded in the European Union. He talked about the difficulties of a lack of competitiveness in the European Union, the fact of permanent deflation being exported from China and India, the failure, thus far, of the Lisbon agenda, and the need to decentralise decision making among the economies of Europe rather than having an overarching macro-economic structure that does not seem to be delivering employment and prosperity.
My right hon. Friend Mr. Heathcoat-Amory talked about the democratic deficit, and he was right to do so. The threat of democratic deficits is that if we do not bridge them, we will see the rise of extremism. He pointed out that it is vital for us, as politicians, to respond to what people say. The massive extensions of qualified majority voting proposed in the constitution would see the extension of involvement by the European Union in our criminal justice system, in asylum and immigration and in other matters. As he correctly pointed out, it is unbelievable that even before the constitution is agreed we are to have a European Foreign Ministry, with a diplomatic service, pre-empting any agreement or ratification. He also talked about the Government's failure to produce amendments that were accepted—some 90 per cent. were rejected. We were also assured that the charter of fundamental rights would not be legally binding, but—as we know from lawyers and the European Commission—that is what will happen.
It was a joy to hear again from the former Minister for Europe, Keith Vaz. As much as we all have great affection and regard for the hon. Gentleman, we also remember that what he told us would be in the Nice treaty before it was agreed was entirely different from what was eventually in it. He also said that the Nice treaty was of minimal importance, but we still carry the baggage that was associated with it. We warned at the time that the charter of fundamental rights would lead increasingly to the involvement of EU jurisprudence in our national life, and that is happening. As ever, I enjoyed listening to the hon. Gentleman, but his views have not been borne out in practice.
My hon. Friend Mr. Atkinson talked tellingly of the role of the Council of Europe, and reminded us that there would have been no enlargement without the work done by that organisation. I take this opportunity to salute my hon. Friend who, for many years, has worked so effectively in the Council of Europe. It will be a great loss to the House when he leaves us at the next general election. He pointed out the likely clash between the charter of fundamental rights and the European convention on human rights. What a beanfeast it will be for the lawyers.
It is always a pleasure to hear from Mr. Kilfoyle. He talked about the need for greater integration in Europe, and I do not particularly agree with him about that. He also talked about the fact that the EU had been part of preserving peace on our continent, and—alongside NATO and the changing circumstances—that is true.
My right hon. Friend Mr. Redwood talked about how the electorate voted, and he discussed the speech by the Foreign Secretary. My right hon. Friend also correctly pointed out that the renegotiation of the treaty base and the emergence of the constitution provided a real opportunity to create a different sort of European Union. If we had had the leadership that we should have had from the Government, we could have been in a radically different situation. As he said, it was the best opportunity for years to construct a modern, flexible and different Europe, but the Government failed to take it. As he said, so few of the amendments tabled by representatives of the Government were accepted.
Mr. Hopkins talked about citizens wanting a different sort of Europe. He said—and I agree—that it is up to member states to decide what welfare structures they should have: it is not a matter to be decided centrally. He was also correct about the need for interest rates to be different in various parts of Europe to ensure continuing prosperity.
My right hon. Friend Mr. Dorrell talked about the need to support our continuing EU membership. Of course, we are absolutely committed to that, but he also pointed out that our continued membership will not be enhanced by our joining the EU constitution. Unfortunately, we see less and less economic flexibility in this new world. The real issue is how we create flexible structures to enable the European Union to survive and prosper in the years to come. My right hon. Friend, too, rejected the notion of the constitution.
My right hon. Friend Mr. Curry also contributed to the debate. I need hardly repeat that we want to remain part of the European Union, but unless we are honest about what that means—and unless we reform it and bring it closer to the people of Europe—the desire for withdrawal will grow, in this country and in other parts of Europe. We want the EU to succeed; it has made considerable accomplishments over many decades but unfortunately, as I think my right hon. Friend, too, accepted, the constitution will not bring about the changes that would be desirable.
Finally, my hon. Friend Mrs. Browning talked about the Dominique Strauss-Kahn document, which illustrates the point that the constitution does not represent finality. Those who want to pursue political integration regard it merely as a stepping-stone to take the process further forward. My hon. Friend was right to say that successive Governments have not been honest with the British people as to what the European project is all about. We can agree or disagree about whether political integration is a good thing but there has certainly been a suspension of honesty, especially since the Government came into office.
The events of the past week have shown the deep concern felt by the British people about the future direction of the EU and our place within it. The Government have idiotically spent the past year talking at the highest level in terms of "in" or "out", of whether to accept the ever-ratcheting process of integration and the constitution, or whatever is thrust on us, or to withdraw from the EU. It was a crass political error to put the case in those terms, because many people answered in a way that would be unacceptable to many, many Members of Parliament. It was a false choice and has served dangerously to polarise debate on the EU and has certainly exaggerated the instincts of those who might favour withdrawal. I am afraid that the Government have been responsible for the tide of rejection and disconnection that has grown in this country.
No one can believe that what has emerged in the constitution actually embraces the Laeken principles, which were simply to reconnect the European Union to its citizens. The constitution fails to recognise that when the diversity at the heart of Europe is coupled with non-coercive co-operation, the EU can flourish—when it is governed by a live-and-let-live, flexible approach. When the Dutch Foreign Minister, Bernard Bot, called on the EU to look for aspects of policy that could be returned to member states it was a welcome demonstration of the growing recognition, at least in some countries, of the real need for, and the practicality of, reform on the lines that we have indicated.
That approach is completely at odds with the implications of the proposed European constitution. In practice, the constitution will lead to further integration and much greater involvement of the European Court of Justice, as the Court itself has acknowledged.
We are not the only ones to take that view. On
"The Laeken Declaration of December 2001 that set up a constitutional convention promised that the distribution of power between the centre and the member countries would be re-examined from first principles. It raised the possibility that powers could flow in both directions: the EU might gain authority to act in some new areas, but other powers could be repatriated. The draft Constitution does not contain a single proposal for the EU to cede a policy area. The flow of powers is all towards Brussels."
It was a wise British politician who said that the British public would not be comfortable with our relationship with the EU until there was an institutional finality about it and creeping integration was halted, not by the completion of integrated political union, which the proposed constitution brings a step nearer, but by a clear commitment that we would integrate no further.
The Government finally accepted the weight of public opinion and the democratic imperative and conceded a referendum on an EU constitution. They must now heed the message sent by the British people last week when they voted for parties opposed to the EU constitution. The Government seem to pay little heed to the growing rejection of closer integration, but they do so at their peril, a point extremely well made by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Ancram.
The Minister for Europe, in that capacity, signed up to a European socialist platform that calls for even greater harmonisation and European integration. I have a copy here: it is the most wonderful document—people would hardly believe it—and it goes absolutely against all the spin that we have heard from the Government. The reality is in that document, signed by the Minister for Europe.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton pointed out, the group set up by Romano Prodi talks about building a political Europe and sets out 50 proposals to enhance Europe's power and create a European sense of identity—including, for example, the first European taxes.
All this, frankly, is the product of a misplaced world view by the Labour party. In the cold war, it misunderstood the nature of the threat at the time and how to deal with it. Today, in an era when the blocs of old are irrelevant, the Labour party clings, like some others in Europe, to an outdated bloc mentality. Just as, when the Berlin wall came down, it embraced multilateralism, now that the blocs are obviously irrelevant it starts to embrace such ideas with enthusiasm. That is absolutely characteristic of a party that has failed to grasp contemporary geopolitical realities.
Indeed, it was just the same when President Reagan, whose memory we cherish, started to talk about taking on the old Soviet Union. All sorts of people said that that was utterly impossible and that no such thing was conceivable, but he, with the help of Margaret Thatcher and others, determinedly set about doing so. I say that because there is an echo of that sort of rubbishing, defeatist rhetoric from the Government—either accept the European project as it is, or withdraw—and I hope that, like President Reagan, we and the British people will have the last laugh.
I shall now refer to the Foreign Secretary's speech this afternoon. We have come to know the Foreign Secretary very well. Indeed, he is very generous to the House. He is always very polite, and he comes to the House to explain the situation. However, over the past few years we have learned that the more he disbelieves something, the more he rants. When he is sure of what he is saying and believes it, he is very calm and considered. This afternoon, we heard the most unbelievable rant that I have ever seen from the Foreign Secretary, who either does not believe in what he is saying or knows that there will be rather less than a triumph in the negotiations in the next few days. I am afraid that we heard the nonsense postulated that either we accept what is before us as important and necessary for our membership of the EU or we get out—the in-and-out postulation, which is precisely wrong. The difficulty is that the Government have consistently repeated that view.
The other problem with the Foreign Secretary is that, unlike his contemporaries in other parts of the EU, he has consistently come to the House to represent what has gone on in the Convention and what has been discussed at various meetings of his contemporaries and Prime Ministers as something entirely different from what individuals in his position in other parts of the EU are saying. That is why people in this country have suspended belief in what the Government have to say about the EU.
Rather than attempting to bind all nations in the EU into some sort of supranational structure, the interests of existing and future members of the EU are best served by tackling its structural, demographic and competitive problems, by attempting to do less, better and by building a partnership of nations that agrees because doing so is in their interests and because it will work. That is the way that success and realism lie. Indeed, that is exactly what the spirit of Laeken was all about.
All that will require leadership, focus and determination—characteristics that have been wholly absent from the Government's approach to the EU. None of the largest countries of Europe has pathetically exerted so little influence on the constitutional architecture that is before us as this country. Regrettably, that is the case with the United Kingdom under a Labour Government. History will most certainly judge them accordingly, as the people of Britain judged them so unequivocally last week.
We have had an enjoyable debate. I share the concern of Mr. Spring about Cyprus. I assure him that we will do our best, as will Members from all parties with good contacts with and knowledge of Cyprus, to try to move it towards membership of the European Union on the basis of being a united island.
I tell hon. Members that we
"clearly believe on this side of the House that, if we have the confidence and the determination to play a full part in this European Union, we can build a Union in which this House and this country can feel at home."—[Hansard, 16 May 1994; Vol. 243, c. 647.]
Those are not my words, but those of Mr. Heathcoat-Amory in a debate on
"We believe in creating a people's Europe"—
I thought that that was a Labour phrase. He continued:
"That means responding to people's day-to-day concerns . . . That has meant patient work in the Council of Ministers with other member states that share our aims in particular areas of policy . . . That means that decisions will be taken by member states unless the policy objectives require action at Community level, as was the case with the GATT negotiations. To give effect to that principle, last year the British and French Governments submitted a joint list of directives to be withdrawn, amended or repealed. Most of them were accepted and the Commission is now working up details for implementation."—[Hansard, 16 May 1994; Vol. 243, c. 557.]
It is useful to revisit some of our past debates. In the debate that I cited, we heard a powerful speech from Sir Edward Heath. My right hon. Friend Denzil Davies and the late Peter Shore made powerful speeches against the European Union, and several Conservative Members spoke in favour of it. Tonight, alas, only one Conservative Member, Mr. Curry, spoke strongly in favour of the European Union.
Any foreign observer who listened to our debate would have been surprised by the oozing pessimism, defeatism, derision, scorn, indifference and hostility shown towards the European Union by Conservative Members. The situation is not the same across the channel. An article in the French newspaper Le Figaro on
"the draft Constitution will seal the victory of the nation-states over the European 'super-state'."
"I do not believe that current developments are going to give rise to a European federal state."
Indeed, he envisaged
"a revival of the nation-state principle again."
May I make a little progress? I will try to address all hon. Members' speeches, but if I start giving way now, I will not have time to talk about the hon. Lady's excellent speech.
The Minister is very kind. Although I mentioned the Franco-German project, I did not suggest that it was a conspiracy. I was trying to point out that those countries have always been open about what the objectives were, whereas this country's Government have constantly denied what was on the agenda.
The hon. Lady makes her point, but perhaps we should invite several French commentators to pack some shirts and do a day shift on the Daily Mail or The Sun. Mr. Alain Duhamel, who is probably the leading French political commentator, says:
"Giscard has created a great British Europe".
Wherever I travel on the continent as part of my job, I hear comments, and often complaints, that during the constitutional treaty negotiations, the British way and British ideas and values broke through and were widely accepted.
Everywhere I go, I find—this point was made by the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon—that many countries in Europe turn to Britain and want us to be a leading partner in the EU under the constitution, if it is finally agreed at the end of this week. That is because our ideas, whether on liberal market economics or investing in social Britain, are those that make the most sense to the rest of Europe.
The speech of the shadow Foreign Secretary, Mr. Ancram, was defeatist and isolationist. It was an invitation to retreat to the era of the beef war and of turning our back on Brussels. He said that there was no reference to the current process in Labour's 2001 manifesto, and as usual his researchers have not done their work. The manifesto says:
"Labour wants the next Inter-Governmental Conference in 2004 spelling out in a clear statement of principles what should and should not be done at European level" and continues:
"Labour supports a stronger role for national Parliaments in European affairs."
The hon. Gentleman will remember that what I said was that there was no mention of a constitution, but that is what is now being offered to the House. Perhaps he could look again at his manifesto before he accuses me of being wrong.
In a wonderful document to which he added his name, the hon. Gentleman signed up to this phrase:
"We must eliminate all unfair competition between the national social security systems of our member states."
Is that Government policy?
What we are dealing with at the moment is an intergovernmental conference. If I may reveal an exchange from a meeting at the Council of Ministers on Monday, in which British Ministers were not involved, I can tell the House that one of the colleagues there, who is from quite a big state, said that he wanted the constitution to start with, "We, the people". The President, from Ireland, who was chairing the meeting, said, "I'm sorry, but it's a treaty, so it will start, 'The President of France, the President of Germany, the Queen of England, et cetera.'"
I refer the Minister to article 10.1 of the constitution, on Union law:
I do not know what a constitution is meant to be if it is not written as a constitution in this particular publication.
Well, let me deal with that. If the hon. Gentleman had contained himself, I would have come to it. I shall provide a helpful quote from a report presented in a debate in the other place on
"It is not surprising that . . . the Constitutional Treaty includes a statement of the primacy of Union law. The doctrine is a well established and key element of the Community's legal order."
I am not prepared to enter into a debate with the noble Lord, but the point is that he refers to a constitutional treaty, and in our manifesto we talked about the IGC, which is 25 sovereign member states coming together to create a constitutional treaty—a rule book—that brings together existing constitutional treaties to allow the Europe of 25 to proceed.
The right hon. and learned Member for Devizes prayed in aid Ben Bot, the excellent Foreign Minister of the Netherlands. In his Humboldt lecture, to which I think the right hon. and learned Member was referring, he said:
"I believe the draft treaty proposes real improvements on a number of points in the existing treaty text. For instance, it takes more account of citizens' views and includes a charter of fundamental rights."
One will not find anti-constitutional treaty statements by our friends in the Netherlands.
Colleagues have referred to last week's election result. In the beautiful county of Devon, where Mrs. Browning has her constituency, the greatest number of votes went to UKIP. I am glad to say that in the great city of my hon. Friend Mr. Kilfoyle, the Labour vote outnumbered the Conservative and UKIP vote combined, which just goes to show what good Labour leadership can provide. Of course, many people are likely to vote UKIP—they have been fed myths and propaganda by the Conservative party and the absent gentlemen of the press about what Europe and the new constitution are all about. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has to decide where he stands. He said in his letter to the shadow Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Mr Whittingdale, that if negotiations do not succeed on the repatriation of the fisheries policy, which has been a common policy of the EU since the 1970s:
"it remains the case . . . that the British Parliament is supreme and we would introduce the necessary legislation to bring about full national . . . control."
If words have meaning, actions and consequences, and the only way to restore "full . . . national control" of our fisheries policy if negotiations do not succeed would be either to be in permanent breach of our treaty obligations or to leave the EU—let us be clear about that. That is the position of all of UKIP.
Other Conservative Members also say, "Hear, hear."
Mr. Helmer was asked by the BBC interviewer whether the Conservative party would be looking at withdrawal. He replied:
"well, it's a vote winner for UKIP perhaps because we haven't been sufficiently clear. But I don't think you need to offer withdrawal with a capital W."
There are Conservative Members who believe in withdrawal with a small w. It is time that they came out and were honest on that.
"Old politicians chew on wisdom past,
And totter on in business to the last."
I know that the last speech that my hon. Friend will make in the House will be the first speech that I heard him make 10 years ago, which was for detachment or withdrawal from the EU. He has been completely consistent and honest.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. All these insults are taken in the playful spirit in which they are intended. I am sure that they are meant very kindly.
Of course not. We are at the table—certainly since I entered the House—seeking a share of the EU budget going to agriculture. It has come down by about 10 per cent. That has been done by agreement. My point is that we require the consent of 24 other member states. To pretend otherwise is dishonest, and to say that a law will be passed in the House to take back control of our fishing waters or to leave the CAP, and not accept the consequences of that, means withdrawal—whether with a capital W or a small w. I ask hon. Members to be honest on this point.
Sir Menzies Campbell called for a further and full debate on the EU constitutional treaty. I cannot promise him that from the Dispatch Box—but, through the usual channels, I do not think that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State or I would object to such a debate if time were found.He asked a serious question on voting weights, which is a big issue that does not directly involve the United Kingdom. Every country in Europe has so-called red lines. I hope that we can achieve a deal at the end of this week.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about the charter of fundamental rights, and it is important that we get that right. Mr. Elmar Brok, the leading German MEP who speaks for the CDU on European matters, said on "Newsnight" on
"has no impact on national legislation, national law and national jurisdiction."
Either he is right or the lurid scare stories that we have heard from Opposition Members are. I believe that Mr. Brok is closer to the truth, as will become clear over the weekend.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli talked about the need for a sensible economic policy in Europe, and I continually make speeches on such issues when I travel around the continent to speak about Government policy. I am happy to share those speeches with the House another time, but it is a responsibility of national Governments to make decisions in Berlin, Paris, Rome and elsewhere that ensure that Europe is as competitive as possible. That brings me to the point made by Mr. Dorrell, as an absence of constitutional treaties is not helpful for Britain. As I said, a constitution for Europe is present in the existing treaties, and the new constitution restores power to national Governments. If taken seriously by hon. Members, it would restore power not just to our Parliament but to all the Parliaments in Europe. There is a notion that Britain can stand alone outside Europe or make a dramatic breakthrough under the existing constitutional treaties—but we need to be at the table making the arguments, as Digby Jones of the CBI said.
I cannot accept interventions, as I need to refer to the speeches of other hon. Members.
The right hon. Member for Wells made much of the question of primacy, which I have dealt with by citing Lord Justice Scott. I fundamentally agree with the right hon. Member that the job of politicians is to avoid a road smash, but when will his party work with the other centre-right parties of Europe to argue the British case, whether on Turkey—on which there is no divide between the parties—or on the liberal economic policies to which the right hon. Member for Charnwood referred? Parliament is one-legged in Europe because the main Opposition party refuses to work with its fellow centre-right politicians on those important issues.
My hon. Friend Keith Vaz said that Europe is a crucial issue for Britain, and that it needs to reform. Ministers, he said, should go out and explain to the British people the benefits of EU membership. I could not agree more. I fully support the praise that Mr. Atkinson lavished on the Council of Europe, an extremely important organisation. There is more to Europe than the European Union. Interestingly, every single country outside the EU that I deal with is knocking on the door to join, including Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, other Balkan states and Turkey. Amazingly, while the rest of Europe wants to become part of the European Union and work in partnership with us, often looking to us for inspiration and leadership, the Opposition have been so thoroughly UKIP-ised that all we hear is talk of withdrawal from Europe.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton stressed the importance of the EU as a force for peace. If he travelled west of the Balkans, he would see how right he is. The EU is a great and noble construction that we should support in every possible way.
Mr. Redwood talked about giving away our birthright, which is the kind of language that debases the entire debate. The constitutional treaty will increase the power of national Governments and national Parliaments, while one new clause gives UKIP and many Opposition Members a present that they have long wanted—the chance to leave the European Union. Labour Members, most other hon. Members and the British people will vote yes to Europe and yes to a constitutional treaty to make the Europe of tomorrow work yet more efficiently and effectively.
It being Seven o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.