Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Steve McCabe.]
Tomorrow and on Friday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I will represent the United Kingdom at the European Council in Brussels. We expect discussions to focus on the constitutional treaty, enlargement and Hampton Court follow-up, as well, of course, as current world problems. This afternoon, the House has its customary opportunity to debate the Government’s priorities.
It is now a year since two founding member states of the European Union, France and the Netherlands, rejected the draft treaty establishing a constitution for Europe. Out of those two decisions and the intense debate that they provoked came a very clear message: the European Union needed to reconnect more closely with the people of Europe. They were wary of a European Union that seemed to set its own direction with minimal reference to what they actually wanted out of it, or what was relevant to and would improve their daily lives. That may be an unjust perception, but it was clearly a strong one. Citizens were looking for an effective Europe: one that helped member states to overcome problems together and by so doing brought concrete benefits to their citizens on the things that mattered to them—in short, a Europe that was part of the solution, not part of the problem. That is the kind of Europe towards which this Government are working.
Let me emphasise one point. An effective Europe is exactly that. I do not mean automatically less Europe, whatever that means. I do not mean a weaker Europe and I certainly do not mean a Europe in which the British Government fail seriously to engage, and in consequence fail to advance or defend Britain’s interests. This Government believe, as I do, that the best interests of the British people are served by this country being a strong member of a confident, effective, outward-looking European Union—one that delivers security and prosperity to its citizens. We are committed to working with our European partners to achieve that.
On that point, I have to say to the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) that it is far from clear to me that withdrawal from one of the major political groupings in the European Union will be of assistance in fighting Britain’s corner. I should say at once that I have every sympathy for him in the predicament in which he finds himself. When he was leader of the Conservative party, he sensibly chose to keep his party within the European People’s party. Now he has been lumbered with a foolish pledge made by his leader in a moment of desperation during the recent leadership contest, and I understand that he has been forced to meet some pretty unsavoury characters in his attempts to cobble together a new coalition. Indeed, one of his own MEPs called them
“a pretty unappealing ragbag of fringe politicians”.
From the point of view of the British public, it is a sorry state of affairs when the man who notably led clarion calls to save the pound and to prevent Britain from becoming a foreign land is now regarded as a moderate in his party on these issues.
Tomorrow’s is the first European Council that I shall attend, but it is only the latest development in a process of sustained engagement with the Union’s institutions. In negotiations both within Europe and at international level, I have seen just how great a difference our engagement in and with the EU can make. We want and need to be an influential part of that effective European Union. Many of the challenges we face as a country can be met only if we work together with our European partners.
The right hon. Lady started by saying that the discussions over the next two days would be about, among other things, the constitutional treaty. If my memory serves me correctly, when the constitutional treaty was signed, we were told that if it did not pass within two years, it would fall. What is the position now?
I do not recall hearing that, but no doubt my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe will deal with that when he winds up the debate.
Let me give one classic example of problems that, by their very nature, transcend national boundaries: environmental issues, not least climate change. Many of the substantial environmental improvements that we in the UK have seen in recent years—cleaner air and cleaner water—have been driven by regulation agreed at EU level and can be said to be “due” to the EU. There can be little doubt that climate change, the greatest long-term threat facing the world, is a trans-boundary problem. Climate change will have a direct impact on the lives of people in this country and across the EU, and people across Europe are demanding that their Governments take action. However, neither the UK nor any other member state can hope to succeed through unilateral action. Carbon emissions anywhere affect the climate everywhere, and international consensus and action within and beyond the borders of the EU are imperative.
It is because, under the present Government, the UK’s voice is recognised and respected within Europe that we have been at the forefront of European Union efforts to tackle climate change. Those efforts have led to concerted action among the 25 member states to reduce their own carbon emissions. There is still much more to do, but what we have already achieved would have been unthinkable if we had needed to rely solely on a network of bilateral agreements.
As my right hon. Friend has pointed out, many EU countries have implemented measures to combat climate change, often to the detriment of their domestic industries. By far the two greatest contributors to global warming and climate change are the United States of America and China. Does she envisage the EU taking a much more robust position to persuade those two countries to reduce their emissions?
We have always taken a forward-looking and robust position on climate change. The whole House will recall the tremendous efforts made by the Prime Minister last year, particularly during our G8 presidency, to create an atmosphere in which the US could agree to do as they did in Montreal and take forward the discussions—something that it had been resisting until then. Similarly, my hon. Friend will recall that, as well as the G8, we invited to Gleneagles what are known as the “plus five” countries—five major energy users now and in the future and consequently five countries that may have substantial emissions—and that we successfully drew them into the discussions. Both the United States and China are participants in the Gleneagles follow-up dialogue, of which the next meeting will be held in Mexico this autumn.
No. The G8 is a grouping in which the United States is a participant and China was invited to the meeting. However, one of the reasons why we were able to get that agreement at the G8 is the strength of the ties between the European members of that body.
It is no good the hon. Gentleman shaking his head—to disagree with that is to fly in the face of the facts.
Beyond the EU, it is as a negotiating group that we have a much stronger voice on the international stage. In five years of climate change negotiations, culminating in Montreal, I have seen it demonstrated time and again that the EU as a group plays a pivotal role in brokering agreement. We could not play that role or reach agreements such as the one reached in Montreal if Europe did not speak with a single voice.
The forthcoming European Council should adopt the EU’s revised sustainable development strategy. For the first time, we shall have a single, coherent and, I hope, accessible strategy that brings together all the Community’s internal and external objectives in that field. Two of the seven objectives within that strategy relate to climate change and clean energy. On climate change in particular, we want the European Council to make a clear statement on the need for a global consensus on the scale of the action that must be taken if we are to avoid dangerous climate change, including a long-term stabilisation goal and a truly global debate. That debate cannot only be between Governments; it must include business, investors, non-governmental organisations and consumers.
The Foreign Secretary mentioned business interests. Does she accept that it is open to the United Kingdom Parliament to legislate on its own terms unilaterally if negotiations fail on removing unnecessary burdens on business that emanate from the EU and to require the judiciary to give effect to that latest inconsistent, clearly set out legislation, so that we can remove those burdens ourselves?
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was listening other than to the thread of the ideas that he has honourably pursued for a long time. I pointed out that a huge proportion—I have never worked out a precise figure—of the environmental improvements that have been made in this country in recent years and which are rightly welcomed on both sides of the House have come directly as a result of European regulations, which I know he hates. He refers to burdens on business, but some of the changes that are beneficial to the public, not least in terms of the impact on their health, are regarded by some people in the business community as burdens because they regard all regulation as a burden. One of the reasons why the Government made better regulation a theme of our EU presidency is that there is such a thing as beneficial regulation—even, dare I say, if it comes from Europe.
I shall not give way again to the hon. Gentleman, at least not for the time being, although I do not rule it out for ever.
On energy, the European Council will discuss the external aspects of EU energy policy as agreed by the spring European Council, with a view to maintaining the momentum of the work and giving a clear mandate to the Finnish presidency to develop it further. We shall continue to press for external aspects of energy policy to be reflected fully in the Commission’s strategic energy review, which is due in spring 2007.
Does the right hon. Lady think that it would aid public understanding if the law-making process in the Council of Ministers was opened up to the public? That was Government policy until very recently—indeed, the right hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, South (Mr. Alexander), when he was Minister for Europe, wrote that it remained the UK objective
“to push for all of the Council’s legislative business to be opened up to the public”.
Yesterday in the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Foreign Secretary said that that is no longer her position. Will she explain why she has resiled from the commitment to openness, transparency and public understanding?
I agree that it would be beneficial if the legislative process were opened up to a greater degree. That is precisely why the Government made that proposal, which we stand by. However, I said to the right hon. Gentleman yesterday that I thought that he had misunderstood the remarks that my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, South (Mr. Alexander) made. My right hon. Friend was talking about all legislative business or items of legislative business and not necessarily every single aspect of the process. I shall return to the point.
Returning to an earlier point about emissions, the aim cannot be to stifle China’s economic development. Instead, Europe should assist China to develop methods of carbon capture, and we should adopt such a strategy in this country, as well.
My hon. Friend is right. He may know that, during our presidency last year, we presided over the EU-China summit and reached an agreement with China that the UK, through the EU, would help to pilot a clean-coal power station. China, India and the United States have substantial coal reserves that they are bound to use, particularly as development is the highest priority for China and India. There can be few more beneficial things both for development and for the cause of climate change than developing the capacity for clean-coal power
As I said at the beginning of my speech, we expect discussions at the Council on the constitutional treaty, enlargement and the Hampton Court follow-up. Since the rejection of the constitutional treaty last summer, Europe has been in a period of reflection. Throughout that time, the United Kingdom’s position has been consistent and clear. An effective Europe should focus on the things that matter to its citizens: creating jobs, cutting crime, tackling terrorism and protecting the environment. Those are the questions that face the European Union, and we strongly believe that the answer will not be found in more institutional wrangling which, to the outside observer, is at best opaque and at worst self-indulgent.
May I welcome the right hon. Lady to her post as Foreign Secretary? In Helsinki last week, members of the Select Committee on European Scrutiny were told by the incoming Finnish presidency that, during the period of reflection, it would seriously consider invoking the passerelle clause on justice and home affairs issues. That would be a radical development, so would the UK Government support it?
We would want to look carefully at the implications, but I will return to that in a few moments.
In his speech last June to the European Parliament, the Prime Minister set out the challenge for European leaders. That was the agenda we took forward, and which Europe agreed, at the informal summit at Hampton Court. It is the direction in which we will urge our European partners to continue at tomorrow’s council. In his statement to the House on 31 January 2006, my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, South said that the Hampton Court informal summit had already entered the European Union lexicon. I understand, however, that in French the Hampton Court agenda is known as “L’Europe des Projets”. Whatever the language, the tune is the same. It points to detailed, concrete work on matters such as improving European universities, increasing support for research and development, and finding a common European energy policy. We want the European Council to make a strong and clear statement in its conclusions that maintains the agenda’s momentum and profile and reaffirms the commitment of the whole of Europe to follow it.
My right hon. Friend has not touched on the important collective role that the European Union plays in negotiations in the World Trade Organisation. Does she believe, like me, that Europe’s position in that body is not facilitated by the protectionist stance that has emerged in some EU states and by our historical commitment to agricultural protectionism and intervention?
Both within Europe and outside, there are worrying signs of the growth of protectionism. I entirely share my hon. Friend’s view that that is harmful to the UK and to the world community, so it must be resisted in agriculture and in other fields. He may know that on Monday, the General Affairs and External Relations Council considered a report by the Trade Commissioner, who said that the world community accepts that there is scope for each group to move its position. They must do so if we are to achieve a Doha round agreement. He clearly does not despair of the prospects for such an agreement, and we all hope that he is right.
The Commission’s communication, “A Citizens’ Agenda”, which was published in May, suggests that it, too, has understood the message that building an effective Europe is key to Europe’s future. Europe is effective when it can make decisions that make it easier for the EU to tackle problems that have an impact on people’s lives. The hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) asked me about the field of justice and home affairs.
I should like to leave a thought about the period of reflection with the Foreign Secretary. We have all seen the poster that says, “Sometimes I sits and thinks and sometimes I just sits.” I am not entirely sure what the British Government are doing, but there comes a time when one just looks stupid doing so.
I am not accusing my right hon. Friend of sitting on the issue, which is difficult and complex. If we accept that there is still a period of reflection—[Interruption.] I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South-West (Mr. Davidson) is needed in the agriculture debate. Given that the EU has 25 members, and may have 27 members next year, we can move forward in some areas without the need for legislation, as that would help the transparency and efficiency of the EU. If we work with our colleagues on, for example, science and the proposed university, we could advance the agenda without the need for a constitution.
I am grateful that the matter has been raised. Is the Minister saying that the constitution has not been approved, but European leaders and the Government intend to implement bits of it anyway under existing rules? Does that not give the lie to the statement that was constantly made when the constitution was under consideration—that only by accepting everything in the constitution could we make progress on anything?
Perhaps my hon. Friend followed those debates more closely than I did before I took up my responsibilities but, with respect, I do not remember anyone making that point. There is a world of difference between trying to find a way to take forward bits of the constitution in the original package and considering measures that do not rely on a new treaty and legal basis. Inevitably, because the constitution drew together different strands and ideas that were discussed at the time, some issues in the constitutional treaty do not require a new legal basis, so it would be open to the European Union to consider them on the basis of existing treaties. A decision has not been made or even discussed about whether or not Europe should embark on the process. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) asked, quite reasonably, whether any thinking is taking place. It is, but we are not at the stage of making proposals, let alone decisions.
May I welcome the Foreign Secretary to this collection of Euro-obsessives who regularly gather together, doling out anoraks before we begin? I am sure that she will be enlightened by the end of the day. On a serious note, there are some areas in which treaty change is necessary. If Croatia joined the European Union, for instance, the voting strengths of council members would have to be redrawn, and the number of MEPs would have to be changed. That would require treaty change, but could it be achieved through accession treaties?
My hon. Friend invites me stray into territory which, with respect, I do not intend to tread today. We are rather a long way from the accession of Croatia and the legal issues that that raises. The subject is not likely to arise in that form at this week’s European Council.
The hon. Member for Moray asked me about problems in the field of justice and home affairs, such as cross-border crime, drug trafficking and people trafficking. It is precisely because some justice and home affairs issues are of their nature pan-European that we are prepared to keep an open mind on any potential proposals for changing the way we take some of the decisions in this area. The ideas that have been put forward in the European Commission’s “Citizens’ Agenda” paper on the so-called passerelle are complex. They deserve serious consideration and thought, and that is what we will give them. We do not intend to indulge in scaremongering about loss of veto or about introducing the constitutional treaty by the back door, neither of which is true.
Co-operation in this field can be vital. For instance, it was the European arrest warrant, which was agreed two years ago, that helped to ensure the speedy return to the United Kingdom of one of the suspects following the events of 21 July. In this area, as so often, it is solving the problems that matters more than gesture politics or grandstanding.
Similarly, I do not believe in gesture politics when it comes to transparency. I am sorry to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), who asked me about transparency, is not in his place. There is no doubt that opening up every aspect of Council deliberations, as is being proposed, may give a veneer of greater democracy and efficiency, but having spent seven of the past nine years in Councils which legislate, my firm belief is that it would simply mean backroom deals done away from the cameras, an EU that is less—rather than more—open, and potentially less effective as well, which would certainly be disadvantageous.
The right hon. Lady spoke about terrorism and about the need for the European Union to be effective. Given that the Government of Burma are guilty of state terrorism and massive human rights abuses, including rape as a weapon of war, compulsory relocation, the use of child soldiers and the use of human minesweepers, does she agree that this is a scandalous state of affairs, and that it is time that the French stopped putting the pursuit of filthy lucre before democratic values, and that we got a decent and robust common policy that might bring about change in that benighted country?
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. There is no doubt that there is a terrible situation in Burma, and that it is incumbent on us all to do everything we can to put pressure on the Burmese Government. However, the subject is unlikely to come up at this weekend’s Council, although no doubt there will be occasions to pursue it in the future. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that whenever there are, I will endeavour to do so.
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Lady. May I say to the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) that I still live in hope that we will get his interventions down to a more compact form, but when he tries to supplement them from a sedentary position, that is going a little too far?
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
On the status of the constitutional treaty, we do not believe that now is the time for the European Council to take a definitive decision. There was a clear consensus last June that a period of reflection was needed. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston asked me about that. The ongoing national debates on the future of Europe show that there is no clear consensus on the constitutional treaty. It seems to us that the European Council should respect that diversity of opinion and agree to extend the period of reflection.
With regard to enlargement, this European Council was due to take a decision on whether Bulgaria and Romania should accede to the Union in 2007 as scheduled or whether to delay accession until 2008. The Commission has now recommended deferring that decision until October, given its concerns about the readiness of both countries. There will be a report from the Commission in October. However, we expect that the topic of enlargement may still be raised at the European Council. Here, as in the debate on the future of Europe, the United Kingdom’s position has always been very clear, and I am pleased to acknowledge that it has received full support from both sides of the House.
There is no better example of how the European Union can bring tangible benefits to its citizens than through successive waves of enlargement. Those benefits have been most obvious in the countries acceding. They have gained both greater economic growth and greater political stability. That was true back in the 1980s when countries such as Spain and Greece emerged from dictatorship, and it was true in 2003 when the 10 new member states stepped out from the shadow of communist totalitarianism.
Existing member states have benefited too. Our peace and security have been enhanced by that spreading stability and by the spreading of the rule of law to an ever-wider circle of neighbours. As we have seen from the most recent wave of enlargement, it has opened up new markets and given us access to much needed skilled labour. Any enlargement has to be managed carefully. It must take into account a number of factors, including the ability of the European Union to absorb new member states, as the European Council acknowledged at Copenhagen in 1993.
Will my right hon. Friend draw the attention of her colleagues to the success that the United Kingdom has had in taking a more open approach to new members joining the European Union and the migration of labour that has been achieved with that, very much to the benefit of this country’s economy, by contrast with performance elsewhere?
My hon. Friend is right. I am not carrying all the details in my head at this moment, but he may like to know that a number of member states are reconsidering the decision that they made, and there may be another four or five that will open up to varying degrees to further movement of members of the work force.
While the capacity to absorb new member states must be considered, the accession negotiation process must be implemented rigorously and all candidates must meet EU standards, but the European Union should not use either of these perfectly valid concerns as a pretext to renege on existing commitments on enlargement, and it would be quite wrong for any changes to the EU’s policy to rule out the possibility of future, further enlargements.
I have spoken about the need for an effective European Union. That is just as true outside Europe’s borders as within them. The European Council will discuss a paper from Commission President Barroso on greater coherence on the EU’s external policies. It will contain proposals to improve internal Commission co-ordination, to develop co-operation between member states, the Commission, the high representative and the Council, and to enhance the visibility and accountability of the European Union’s external actions.
On specific aspects of external relations, we expect discussion of the middle east to take place. I will be discussing the peace process with my colleagues over dinner on Thursday night. I know that many Members of the House have a particular interest in that area and intend to use this debate as an opportunity to discuss some of the pressing problems in that region.
Are the foreign relations problems under discussion likely to include the situation in Uzbekistan, given the fact that the EU arms embargo and visa bans are both set to expire in October? Surely the time is right now to discuss their extension, which would be widely welcomed.
The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point. I do not anticipate that the issues of Uzbekistan are likely to be on the European Council agenda. As he will have observed, it is a fairly full agenda, but I am sure those issues will be on the agenda of the General Affairs Council before the next European Council meeting takes place.
My right hon. Friend mentioned the discussions on the middle east. Can she give us an indication whether the temporary implementation mechanism for assistance to the Palestinian people is likely to make any significant progress in the next few days, given the acute political crisis, the crisis of violence and the humanitarian needs of the people in Palestine?
My hon. Friend’s timing is, as ever, impeccable. I was about to turn to exactly that issue. I very much hope that those discussions will make progress over the next few days. As he and the House will know, the Commission is leading the development of the temporary international mechanism to help support the basic needs of the Palestinian people, and the UK is working with the Commission to try and get the mechanism set up urgently. My hon. Friend and the House will appreciate that there is a great deal of technical work to do, to make sure that the mechanism is accountable and transparent so that we can all know exactly where the money is going. As a result, the details of what it will support and how it will work are still under discussion. When that has been finalised, I will of course report on these matters to the House.
I understand the constraints of this weekend’s agenda. Given that the Minister used the words “accountability” and “transparency”, what is wrong with public excoriation of EU member states which prop up regimes that abuse human rights? What is wrong with that tactic?
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I do not intend at this stage to enter into a theoretical discussion about the circumstances in which member states may or may not criticise each other’s courses of action, especially as I am almost at the end of my speech and conscious of how many other hon. Members wish to speak. I simply say to him that he has made a very important point about the position in Burma and he knows that the Government share his concern for that unhappy country.
Iran will be probably be a main topic of the Council discussions. The Council is also likely, so far as we can judge, to hear a report on how discussions with the Iranian Government are taking place, and it will be conscious of the importance of achieving success in that arena.
The EU needs to continue to play an active role in all these matters. Returning to the middle east peace process and the issues surrounding it, the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and I met Prime Minister Olmert on Monday and Tuesday and discussed with him how to take the peace process forward. We have no wish to go down any path other than that of a negotiated settlement, and we agreed with Prime Minister Olmert that that should be our primary objective. However, the process has to advance, and if it proves impossible to proceed on that basis, which we all must hope does not happen, then other ways will need to be considered. Let me be clear that, as our Prime Minister himself set out, not least in his press conference, it is our task in the international community, the UK, the EU and the broader Quartet to do everything that we can to ensure that there is the best possible chance for a negotiated settlement.
Both cases—Iran and the middle east peace process—are striking examples of how joint European action can make a real difference to peace and stability beyond Europe’s borders, and in so doing enhance security and stability within those borders.
Much of what this Government and the people of this country want to achieve can be achieved only by working with and through the European Union.
I would have given way earlier but I am on my final sentence, so the hon. Gentleman will have to forgive me.
It is for that reason that we will continue to press for the European Union to be as effective as possible in tackling the challenges that face our citizens and in delivering the real benefits that they expect; and we will continue to play an effective role on behalf of Britain’s goals and to maintain our influence in the European Union.
I begin by welcoming the Foreign Secretary to her first full-scale debate in the House as Foreign Secretary, although we have had a chance to congratulate her before. Let me say on behalf of all Members in all parties that we wish her well in her post, because many of the matters that she has to deal with, such as the middle eastern issues that she mentioned and the difficulties with Iran, go far beyond party politics and the scope of this debate. There will be many crises during which we will all look to her to act in the national interest, and I wish her well in doing so.
In her role, the Foreign Secretary will be able to look forward to the traditional six-monthly debates before European Council meetings. She will notice that it is also traditional for the same Members to attend them and make a speech that is 95 per cent. the same as the one that they made on the previous occasion. I will try to break out of that a little bit this time, as no doubt will other hon. Members. It is very important that we have such debates before European Council meetings, but it leads one to reflect that there may be additional ways whereby parliamentary scrutiny of Government policy at European Councils could be improved. I hope that the Government will want to consider those in future.
The Foreign Secretary has already discussed European matters at a Select Committee meeting yesterday, after which the press referred to her ability to say a great deal without saying very much—probably an essential attribute of a Foreign Secretary. It was noted in the press that when she was asked whether European issues required Cabinet representation in their own right, she uttered an immediate and abrupt no—a very straightforward answer. That perhaps helps to explain the oddity of the fact that the Minister for Europe gave a speech about Europe at the Centre for European Reform just three hours ago, before the commencement of this debate. His objective, so far as one can discover, was to restart the debate in this country about the European Union. I say, “so far as one can discover”, because even two hours ago the Foreign Office website was not immune from the wave of public apathy that greeted his speech, so I have not yet been able to examine it in detail.
Once again the Government are talking about restarting the debate on the European Union. Only two years ago, the Prime Minister stood at the Dispatch Box and said of Europe:
“Let the issue be put and let the battle be joined.”—[Official Report, 20 April 2004; Vol. 420, c. 157.]
Since then, he has made hardly any speeches about Europe and has tried to resist debating it at all, apart from one other speech at the European Parliament that I will come to in a moment.
On restarting the European debate, people living in fishing communities around the country have been interested to learn that the Conservative party, which shamefully took us into the common fisheries policy, has now reneged on its policy to withdraw from it and is content to stay within it. Is that part of the new Tory approach in Scotland—vote Tory and get a Labour Government?
I am not aware of any such approach. The common fisheries policy has failed economically and environmentally; we are very clear about that, as is the hon. Gentleman. We have long sought more local and national control in fisheries policy and agricultural policies. In our policy review, we will want to look closely at ways of achieving policies that encourage sustainable fishing, do not place excessive burdens on taxpayers, and enrich and protect the environment. We have not come to any conclusion about that, but we will of course do so before the next general election. Other parties should be engaged in that process instead of being content not to try to change such a failing policy.
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I should like to develop my opening remarks a little.
It is rather a shame that the former Leader of the House, who is now Minister for Europe, chose to restart the debate on Europe somewhere else—neither in our debate nor sufficiently in advance of it that hon. Members have had a chance to digest and analyse his speech. If that is revealing, the content, so far as it is possible to discern it, was a little more so. He said—I agree with him about this—that people in Britain have come to associate Europe with “obscure constitutional arrangements”. He also refused to rule out the revival of the European constitution. I must warn him that in doing so, he is taking a different path from the former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), who has pretty much said in this House that the European constitution is dead. In fact, the last time that he was asked about it by my hon. Friends on the Front Bench, he said:
“it is difficult to argue that the constitution is not dead.”—[Official Report, 10 January 2006; Vol. 441, c. 147.]
He went on to say that it is in “in limbo”. Whatever theological contortions that may have led him into, it is apparent to all that one cannot be in limbo without being dead. While he did not like to put it bluntly, his message was pretty clear. The deeply flawed constitution—a centralising, integrationist treaty whose time has truly passed—could not be revived, as the Dutch Foreign Minister has stated categorically. It is a pity that Ministers do not have the courage to say that bluntly.
Is the aggression that the right hon. Gentleman is unfairly directing at my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe partly due to the fact that on reshuffle day he issued a press release condemning the creation of a Department of European Affairs that was never actually created?
I think that the Minister thought that it was going to be created, which was one of the reasons why he accepted the job. Yes, there was certainly some confusion among the Opposition as to what was going on, but that was nothing compared with the confusion in No. 10. I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman thinks that this is aggression—it is merely good-natured advice to the Minister for Europe, to whom I bear no malice whatsoever. However, it is well known that he was offered a job and that, a couple of hours later, No. 10 had to ring up and explain that it was an entirely different job. That is doubtless because the Foreign Secretary asserted herself in no uncertain terms and I do not blame her for that.
Before the Minister for Europe says anything more about reviving the European constitution or refusing to rule it out, does not he realise the extent of the relief in the Government and the barely concealed sense of heaven-sent reprieve in 10 Downing street and the Foreign Office when the constitution was defeated in the referendums in France and the Netherlands? Does he believe that, if the constitution were put back on the rails and won approval elsewhere and the Government had to hold a referendum in this country, the Prime Minister or the Chancellor would think that that was a good idea? He has just experienced one downward move in his ministerial career—I say that in the continuing spirit of friendly advice—and if he comes back with the European constitution alive and kicking, he will be junior Under-Secretary for paperclips in no time.
I probably share some of the right hon. Gentleman’s concerns about the constitution. However, in fairness to my right hon. Friend, recent press reports show that Italy, France, Germany and Austria have all spoken about the revival of the constitution. Indeed, the Belgian Prime Minister said that 15 states have already ratified and that, when we get to four fifths, the matter should be referred back to the European Council. The decision about reviving the constitution could well be out of my right hon. Friend’s hands.
The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to efforts to revive the constitution in other parts of Europe—including, bizarrely, some countries where the people have rejected it, for example, France. That is all the more reason for our Government to make their position clear and speak out. This country would not be alone in rejecting the constitution in a referendum. Indeed, if the Governments of some of the countries that approved it had had the courage to put it to their people, it would have been rejected.
Yes, the hon. Gentleman is right. That happens because there is a growing public and political sense in Europe that the combination of the vast enlargement of the European Union, the pace of globalisation and the rejection of the constitution require new ideas about the future of Europe that are different from the failed orthodoxies of the past 20 years. I should like the Government to move on to those new ideas.
Why did not the Minister give the speech in the debate rather than outside the House? I am the bearer of news of his speech and am thus doing the House a service, but it should not be necessary for me to do that.
The Minister said that the debate in Europe should be about globalisation, the developing world and environmental concerns. So it should. During the British presidency last year, where were all the proposals on globalisation, the developing world and environmental concerns? With the Lisbon agenda stalled, where were the new proposals from Her Majesty’s Government in their presidency to drive forward the European response to globalisation?
Of course I have not forgotten. We agree about much of that. However, when the Government caved in on common agricultural policy reform and agreed to a reduction of £7 billion in the British rebate with no guarantee of reform, where was the concern for developing countries which the Minister claims is at the forefront of the Government’s mind?
That is the trouble with what we have gleaned so far of the Minister’s speech. It represents the identification of vague priorities after a major opportunity has been lost. It conveys no sense of energy or vision in tackling those priorities, or of being prepared to stand up and say that the defeat of the constitution, the vast enlargement of the EU and the pace of globalisation require a change in the way in which Europe develops. The speech has all the hallmarks of Ministers sitting in a room, saying, “We will be accused of saying nothing in the debate, so let’s say something just before it, even if it amounts to very little.”
People throughout Europe have unfortunately become cynical about British ministerial pronouncements that are trumpeted and followed by little of the action for which they call. In the Prime Minister’s other recent speech about Europe—his speech to the European Parliament last year at the beginning of the British presidency—he said:
“The people are blowing the trumpets round the city walls.”
That caused some alarm among Members of the European Parliament, who thought that a crowd had formed outside for the first time in their experience. He continued:
“They are wanting our leadership. It is time we gave it to them.”
One can imagine the Prime Minister with the crowd outside: “What do we want?” “Leadership!” “When do we want it?” “After an indefinite period of reflection.” That is the position that we have reached and it is time for the Government to give clearer leadership in Europe than they have shown so far.
I am always grateful for career advice from the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) and I acknowledge that we are both in reduced circumstances these days. However, when he gave Conservative Members of the European Parliament advice as party leader, he advised them to remain allied to the group of the European People’s party in the European Parliament. What has changed since then?
On careers, I go down and up but the right hon. Gentleman goes down and down.
The Minister criticises us for trying to form a new group in the European Parliament and people ask, “Why do you want to talk to people in Poland and be allied with them?” Yet, only on Monday, the right hon. Gentleman said:
“Poland and the UK are old friends in the new Europe and links between the two countries have never been stronger.”
What on earth is wrong with political parties in this country aiming to forge closer links with other countries and political parties in Europe with which they agree?
I am listening carefully to the right hon. Gentleman’s characteristically witty speech. Perhaps the answer to his question is that it depends on what those other parties stand for. I stand with him in wishing for closer alignment with Poland but surely parties’ ideology and commitments must be examined, too.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the need for fresh ideas. Although he always delivers wit and sometimes considerable acerbic grit in his speeches, I have not yet heard any substance. His remarks on the common fisheries policy suggest that we will not have any in his speech today.
Yes, it is the fault of the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd)—[Interruption.] I am glad that he takes responsibility for it.
I want to ask several specific questions about the forthcoming summit. The Foreign Secretary referred to aid to Palestinian people and specifically answered the question about that. I hope that the Minister can enlarge on that in his winding-up speech, because the Quartet agreed more than a month ago that urgent delivery of aid to Palestinians was necessary and instructed the EU to take the lead on a temporary international mechanism. When I was in the occupied territories only a few weeks ago, I got the impression that the need was urgent, that the Palestinian economy is contracting more sharply than might have been expected and that that is likely to cause great hardship. Reports have emerged that the United States has rejected the European proposal. Is it true that the United States has asked the EU to go back to the drawing board? What is the state of the preparations for establishing the temporary international mechanism? Will the Foreign Secretary take steps—her speech implied that she would—to resolve the matter at this week’s summit? Will the Minister tell us more about the mechanism and when it is likely to be in place?
Secondly, may I press Ministers further on the transparency issue, which the Foreign Secretary addressed briefly in her opening speech? One item to be discussed at the summit is greater transparency at meetings of the Council of the European Union. We have long supported an end to closed meetings of the Council, for reasons that the European Scrutiny Committee set out in the relevant report. First, national Parliaments and electorates cannot hold Ministers to account if it is not clear how they have acted in the Council. Secondly, it is easy for Governments to blame Brussels for decisions that they might themselves have agreed to in closed meetings. Thirdly, closed meetings can result in deals that no Government fully accountable to their own Parliament would have agreed to. Lastly, the arrangement makes a large part of the EU’s business invisible to the citizen.
I hope that I can clarify this matter for the right hon. Gentleman because this is an issue on which there might be some misunderstanding. What we proposed—and what was accepted—in our presidency was that legislative proposals, especially those that involved co-decision and perhaps others, should be open to much greater scrutiny than hitherto, and that the initial sets of proposals should be open to public scrutiny and on public view, as should votes, explanations of votes and so on. We proposed a great deal more transparency than we have now. However, what has been proposed in these Council conclusions is to take a significant—to my mind—step further and to say that every bit of deliberation on such detailed negotiations should be in the public domain.
I would draw an analogy with the way in which we conduct ourselves in this place. Of course the decisions that are reached, what they mean, the extent to which they are considered to be an advantage, and how they can be defended are all in the public domain. However, the detailed deliberations of the parties, for example, on how they come to their views are not in the public domain and are never likely to be.
I am not sure that the analogy with this place is to the Foreign Secretary’s advantage on this issue. The deliberations of Parliament are fully open to the public—not just the decisions reached. And the Council of Ministers is now, in effect, a legislative body. In fact, the Council of the European Union and North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly are now the world’s only legislatures that meet in secret. Those of us who are fond of our 18th century history will remember that, in the 1770s, the case was still being put in this House that its proceedings could not possibly be reported in public because Members would not be able to speak frankly and would be open to influence by the public. That is what people in this country thought more than 200 years ago. Now the same case is being made, as I understand it, by the Foreign Secretary in the Council of Ministers.
So strong has been the case for transparency that we have had cross-party consensus on the matter in this country. The leaders of all the British parties in the European Parliament signed a declaration to that effect and the Government put forward a paper during their presidency proposing to make Council meetings and business more open. Those proposals contained two options. The European Council agreed to partial openness, which is what the Foreign Secretary has just referred to. However, the then Minister for Europe, now the Secretary of State for Scotland, the right hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, South (Mr. Alexander), then wrote to the European Scrutiny Committee to assure it that the British objective
“remains to push for all of the Council’s legislative business to be opened up to the public”,
although the more ambitious option favoured by the UK would have required a change to the Council’s procedures. However, it seems that the Foreign Secretary has now thrown a spanner in the works by saying that there would be too much openness, so we might have to keep some of the same old secrecy.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to clarify something? If he is in favour of greater openness and transparency, and of the ability for people to understand what is being decided—I am sure that he has been in meetings where just throwing open the doors would not create understanding—would he, if there were ever a Conservative Government again, support the notion of a Europe Minister at Cabinet level to explain all the decisions made at Brussels level that have domestic policy implications?
I would support the Minister for Europe setting out his policy for Europe in this House rather than elsewhere. I cannot say that that would involve having a Minister at Cabinet level; I think that the Foreign Secretary and I agree on that issue. Those matters should be the responsibility of the Foreign Secretary in Cabinet. However, I do believe that this House’s procedures for scrutinising European Council proceedings and European legislation need many improvements, and that such improvements would be part of making the workings of the European Union more accountable to the people of this country.
My question to Ministers on this matter is the same as that of the French Government, who are reported to have asked
“how can you not be in favour”
of more transparency? The Labour manifesto of 1997 said:
“Unnecessary secrecy in government leads to arrogance in government and defective policy decisions.”
We need Government U-turns on Europe, but this is not one of them.
I am conscious of the time, so I shall miss out some of the subjects that I was going to raise—[Hon. Members: “The substance!”] Hon. Members are so generous with their interventions.
Enlargement is an issue that we also need to address in the debate. This week has marked the opening of the first chapter of accession talks with Turkey. We strongly welcome that, and I offer my congratulations to the Government on the strong and consistent stance that they have taken in favour of Turkey’s membership. We should be proud of the fact that there is cross-party consensus in this country on this wider enlargement. Will the Minister confirm, however, that no member state can ultimately join the EU if it does not recognise another or give its vessels access to its ports and airspace? This is an area of extreme delicacy, but does he not agree that it is vital that we do not leave the Cypriot problem frozen while accession negotiations proceed, because in the end neither process can succeed without the other?
Does the Minister also agree that enlargement cannot stop with Turkey? The Foreign Secretary touched on this in her opening remarks. We want our European neighbourhood to be stable, democratic, rich and peaceful. We know that offering EU membership is the best incentive to persuade countries to make the hard political decisions that mark the road to that end. We also know the likely cost of refusing entry to the EU. In the Balkans and Ukraine, it would be nationalism, populism, corruption and criminality. So will the Minister join us in pledging that, while their accession might take many years, the western Balkans, Ukraine and Belarus have every right, in the long term, to join the EU, should they wish to do so?
The summit is important in many other ways, as the Foreign Secretary has made clear. It comes a year after the rejection of the constitution. We have had the period of reflection, which has now been extended for another year. The constitution is a subject that has not been sufficiently debated in this country, yet it is of profound importance. Some people in Europe want it brought back, while others want it left on the shelf while being implemented through the back door. Perhaps we should recognise that the peoples of Europe do not want this kind of integration, respect their verdict and look again at what the EU should be doing.
The summit’s draft conclusions say that the European Council has carried out a first assessment of the period of reflection based on information provided by the member states. I presume that, in Britain’s case, that means that the Government have passed on our advice—or someone else’s—because they have had nothing to say about that period until this morning. They now have another chance, and I hope that they will take the opportunity to make several things clear, not least on justice and home affairs.
In the context of the flexible, open Europe to which my right hon. Friend has referred in a recent speech, and of the regaining of national control of social and employment legislation, does he agree that it would be highly desirable for the Government to spell out that all this thrashing around in an attempt to bring a constitution in through the back door would best be resolved simply by stating that we would like an association of nation states, preserving the ability of those countries to govern themselves and ensuring that the democracy that we all want can be achieved in this House and elsewhere in Europe?
I actually think that this thrashing around, as my hon. Friend describes it, can best be dealt with by the Government taking a clear stand on some of the issues coming up at the summit and subsequently. I want to mention a couple of those issues before I give other hon. Members a chance to take part in the debate.
On justice and home affairs, the Government should reflect that Governments who do nothing have things done to them. That is indeed what is happening now, most seriously in the context of the EU’s powers over justice and home affairs. Tomorrow’s summit will consider the Commission’s proposal to move policing and judicial co-operation, under the remit of the Commission, the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice, from third to first pillar, and to abolish national vetoes. Not only would that be a profound increase in the European Union’s power and a diminution of national sovereignty in an area where voters demand national accountability, but it would implement part of the constitution through the back door, which the Government promised that they would not allow.
The Foreign Secretary might recall that shortly before the Labour party came into government nine years ago, it explicitly promised that it would keep this area under intergovernmental supervision. It is therefore extraordinary that the Government refused to come out against that proposal in a recent written answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady). The Foreign Secretary has again refused to come out against it today. When the Minister for Europe winds up, will he tell us what the position is? Would not that move be a clear breach of the Government’s promises?
One would have thought that the Government would learn the danger of accepting qualified majority voting from their experience with the recent directive on the free movement of EU citizens and their families, the decision on which was moved from unanimity to QMV by the Nice treaty. We warned the Government against that at the time. They expressed opposition to parts of that directive because they said that it would make it hard to deport EU citizens or members of their families who were not conducive to the public good. They were outvoted, however, and we all know how that contributed to the current mess over foreign criminals. Why are the Government now ready to allow an expansion of the EU’s power in this area, when recent history tells us that it will lead to them presiding helplessly over some new fiasco in the future, with their hands almost certainly tied by European law?
We are facing the usual EU fault in this area: rather than concentrating on practical measures that will be of real use and that will preserve our liberties, for which the Minister has been calling, it is still engaged in a desperate search for “more Europe”. Thus the recent European evidence warrant dispenses with the crucial safeguard of dual criminality, but the proposal for the harmonisation of criminal proceedings applies to an ill-defined list of crimes and fails to tackle urgent issues of terrorism and national security. Nor did the Commission consult member states where there are cross-border issues or real concerns.
It is not only in justice and home affairs—
I might not put it in exactly the terms that my hon. Friend uses, but yes, it would be a mistake to lift the arms embargo on China. That is a long-held position of the United States, and that is what my party and my predecessors as shadow Foreign Secretary have stated. I agree with the purpose of my hon. Friend’s intervention.
No, the hon. Gentleman has had one intervention. I shall move on and try to conclude my remarks.
Another recent Commission paper on the subject calls for the EU to
“give further consideration to sharing of premises and support services for Member State and EU external representations in third countries”,
and therefore calls, in effect, for an EU consular service. The direction of those proposals is the revival of the external action service contained in the constitution and the Commission’s attempts to win a foreign policy remit. Let me remind the Government again that, before coming to office, they explicitly pledged to keep foreign policy an intergovernmental area. When I asked the Prime Minister on the Floor of the House in February 2003 about an EU diplomatic service, he said:
“There is no way that the foreign or defence policy of this country will be conducted by an EU diplomatic service.”—[Official Report, 25 February 2003; Vol. 400, c. 131.]
Should not the Government therefore express strong opposition to proposals for this embryonic EU consular service at the forthcoming summit?
The background to the summit is a slow-burning crisis in the European Union. We know that many of Europe’s economies are performing poorly—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) says from a sedentary position that I said that last time. I did say that, normally, 95 per cent. of the content of speeches in such debates is a repeat of what was said last time. I have tried to reduce that to only 10 per cent. in this speech. This, however, is an especially important point that needs repeating every time. On current trends, Europe faces the greatest loss of economic influence in the world of any group of countries in peacetime in modern history. The latest Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report says that,
“at current trends, the average U.S. citizen will be twice as rich as a Frenchman or German in 20 years”.
Such assessments are ominous.
The assumptions of the past 50 years no longer hold true. Where once Europe’s priority was political harmony, it must now be economic dynamism. Thanks to the radical changes in Britain in the 1980s and 1990s, Britain is well placed to lead on that, to challenge some of the orthodoxies of recent decades and to call on Europe to replace habits of heavy regulation and rigidity with freedom and flexibility. Ministers should say clearly in speeches in the next few months that the attempt to create a politically united Europe was a response to the problems of the 20th century and the aftermath of world wars, and it is now time to bring the vision of Europe up to date and to advocate a Europe of decentralisation and diversity in the spirit of the 21st century.
That means emphasising some of the issues mentioned by the Minister for Europe. It means emphasising trade to a much greater extent, including the ideas that I and the Chancellor have raised for freer transatlantic free trade. We look forward to Foreign Office Ministers following that up with great vigour. That has not been the case with the Chancellor’s previous statements on such subjects, which have not been followed up in practice by the Government.
This is the call for the change that is needed in Europe. If nothing changes, and if the EU as a whole continues to think that the establishment of a constitution should be its chief priority, it will do nothing for our citizens and will give succour to those who claim that we now face a set of European institutions that are beyond reform. Ministers should have the courage to say so, and they should have the courage to say it this weekend.
I welcome my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to her new portfolio. It is interesting, when discussing European issues, to remember that in 1998, when she was Leader of the House, she was responsible for giving us better Standing Orders and more powers of scrutiny. Over the past eight years, we have benefited from the pre and post-Council scrutiny, the increase in Standing Committees from two to three and the scrutiny reserve, which has been important. That has been helpful, but we need to move on and have more powers. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, when he was Leader of the House, was supportive of such progressive proposals, for which I give him credit, and to which I shall return later.
I am grateful to the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee for allowing such an early intervention. On scrutiny of European business in the House, does he agree that there are two challenges? First, Members need to take their obligations seriously, whether in Standing Committees or the European Scrutiny Committee. I note the unfortunate new statistics that show that the Liberal Democrats’ participation in the European Scrutiny Committee is less than 30 per cent., so they miss more than 70 per cent. of meetings. Secondly, does he agree that if we are to have proper scrutiny, it is unfortunate that the Government keep timetabling debates on European business to clash with the European Scrutiny Committee, which means that Members like me cannot take part in those debates?
I understand what the hon. Gentleman says, and not for the first time he has a gripe about some of his colleagues among the Opposition who are on the European Scrutiny Committee. It is also fair to say, however, that the scheduling of Standing and Select Committees can be helpful. By coincidence or other means, the European Scrutiny Committee has unfortunately been busy with other matters when we have had such debates. I understand his position, and he has made his point.
Surely it cannot be true that the Liberal Democrats attended only 30 per cent. of such meetings, given their enormous interest in the debate today, to the extent that the Liberal Democrat spokesman will not even be capable of getting a seconder should there be a vote before the end of the debate.
My hon. Friend makes his point.
There are many topical issues under the heading of today’s debate—European affairs—but I shall concentrate on two: the enlargement process and the period of reflection on the constitutional treaty, which, as I shall explain, are related. I should also like to talk about our system of scrutiny, which was alluded to earlier.
Ten new member states joined the European Union at the start of 2004, and so far it looks as though that rapid increase in membership has been a success. The economies of the new states are growing—and not at the expense of the rest of the European Union. It has already been decided that Romania and Bulgaria will join at the beginning of either 2007 or 2008. The Council of Ministers has recently concluded that the final decision should be taken later this year, based on reports on how the two countries are progressing in meeting all the criteria laid down for accession.
This Parliament has passed a Bill to allow that accession to take place, and I believe that the widespread consensus is that both countries should join as soon as possible. However, although both have made great progress, we will do them no favours if we ignore the criteria and allow them to join for the wrong reasons. Not only would they have joined before they were ready; there would also be implications for further enlargements.
Croatia and Turkey are on the accession waiting list, and we are expecting applications from the whole of the rest of the western Balkans. There will be many advantages to us, and to them, in welcoming further states into the European Union, but all the tests have to be satisfied. If we do agree in principle to letting in further states, subject to their meeting all the criteria, we must be in a position to deliver on our own undertakings.
We need to ensure that the European institutions can cope with further enlargement, which cannot be done on the basis of the existing treaties and certainly not on the basis of the constitutional treaty, because, as we know, it has been rejected by France and the Netherlands. Much has been said about that, but to be fair there is a strong suspicion, which I share, that if the UK had a referendum on the constitutional treaty, the same result could occur.
When the European Scrutiny Committee visited Helsinki last week, we discussed this issue with our colleagues in the Finnish Parliament, who are in the process of examining and agreeing the constitutional treaty. I told them in as friendly and fraternal a way as possible that, in my view, that was not a wise thing to do. I told them politely but bluntly that, given that they know that the treaty has been voted against by two member states, agreeing it in their own Parliament would send out all the wrong messages. We are in danger of the political elite talking to the political elite. When the constitutional treaty was first debated, reference was made to the need to re-engage the citizen, but if we go down that route, we are in serious danger of getting further and further away from that goal.
We had a very interesting COSAC conference, at which that discussion did take place. Members of the European Parliament, at least, seem to be disengaged from the reality of where the European Union is and where we want it to be. Describing the constitutional treaty as “being dead” is not the best language to use when discussing it, but nor is it right to argue that we should carry on with it and wait until something else comes along. The very wrong impression has been given that if the French presidential elections go ahead and there is a change, the argument will settle down. I said to the chairman of the French Assembly that if we consider the situation from the perspective of a French or Dutch politician, it could be a bit insulting to suggest at a COSAC meeting that we welcome moves to ratify the treaty. I was surprised to hear him say, however, that he was comfortable with welcoming such ratification. That worries me. If politicians in France, where there has been a referendum and a substantial “no” vote, think like that, it will send out the wrong message.
I have been listening very carefully to the hon. Gentleman’s thoughtful and fair-minded comments. Does he think that it would have made any difference if a country such as the United Kingdom had gone ahead with holding a vote and had similarly rejected the idea of a constitution, as he and I suspect would have happened? Alternatively, does he think that political elites in some of the other EU member countries would nevertheless have pressed on in the rather arrogant way that he describes so accurately?
In my usual, respectful way, I think that the UK Government were absolutely right not to have a referendum. Through their actions, they were saying that they respect the fact that the treaty had been rejected in two member states, so I do not support the view in favour of a referendum. We respected the decisions taken in Holland and France and called off our referendum.
I want to ask the Chairman of our distinguished European Scrutiny Committee a question that I perhaps should have put to the Foreign Secretary, but which he might be able to answer. Why is the European Union Bill on today’s Order Paper—as it is on every other day—with Queen’s Consent to be signified, a Ways and Means motion, and all that goes with it? Given that the Bill makes provision for a referendum, does the hon. Gentleman think it extremely important that it be taken off the Order Paper, thereby indicating that the Government understand that it cannot proceed? The Labour party voted for it, but the Conservative party—thanks to the efforts of some of us—ensured that we voted against it on principle.
My hon. Friend attributes a noble motive to our Government’s decision not to hold a referendum—their respect for the results in France and Holland. However, were their minds not also concentrated by the fact that, according to recent figures, 86 per cent. of the British people would have voted against the constitution and only 14 per cent. would have been in favour?
That is a rather negative view; my own opinion is that the Government did the honourable and right thing. My hon. Friend can look into his own conspiracy theories.
Having said what I just said, the reality, to which I have referred, is that we need a treaty that is fit for purpose. Therefore, we have to have the arrangements for further enlargement in the treaty for the European Union. We cannot say to Croatia, Turkey or the states in the western Balkans that want to join the Union that we are prepared to welcome them, subject to their agreeing to various criteria, if we do not have a treaty that is fit for purpose and we have not carried out our own obligations with respect to the enlargement.
Some have suggested that the moment of reflection will be followed by an attempt to bring the old treaty proposals in by the back door. I do not see it that way and I would not support that, but the proposals included other matters, especially the role of national Parliaments, that we should support. Some national parliamentarians have said that we are cherry-picking—but if it is cherry-picking to argue the case for more powers for national Parliaments, I support it.
The hon. Gentleman mentions fitness for purpose, but is not that impossible to achieve? As far as the Dutch are concerned, the problem with the treaty is that it is too threatening to sovereignty, but for the French it is that it is economically too liberal. The treaty cannot possibly be made fit for purpose.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend does not share my confidence in our Parliament to argue the case for more powers, because that is what we are doing. Dissatisfaction with our process for scrutiny—and it should be improved in some areas—is no reason to argue against increased powers for national Parliaments. Indeed, other Parliaments claim to scrutinise European legislation more than the UK Parliament. I am critical of our process of scrutiny and it could be improved, but we scrutinise European legislation better than most and as well as any. We have been given examples with which I do not agree.
The hon. Gentleman may have received this morning, as I did, a document published by the Robert Schuman Foundation, which is not known for its Eurosceptic views. It was written by the leader of the EU delegation in the French Senate and makes the same point as the hon. Gentleman. I was surprised by his comments about COSAC and the French National Assembly, because the document acknowledges the no vote in France and calls for stronger national Parliaments. It is even called “National Parliaments: a bulwark for Europe”. The hon. Gentleman is on the right lines.
The person who wrote the document must have been reading some of my speeches to reach the same conclusion. However, it was not a member of the French Senate who made the comment at COSAC, but a member of the French Assembly. It is not unusual for members of both Houses here to disagree, so that is perhaps what happened in that case.
We need to improve our scrutiny. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, in his brief time as Leader of the House, responded progressively—which may have rung the alarm bells among the establishment here—to the modernisation report, but it has not yet been brought to the House almost a year later. I appeal to those who have influence on the matter to act. I have already made arrangements to talk to the new Leader of the House so that we may return to that report, bring it to the Floor of the House and discuss it. We should also consider some of the proposals made by my right hon. Friend, because his progressive approach was surely influenced by his 10 years’ experience in the European Parliament before he came here. He was a Leader of the House who—shock, horror—knew what he was talking about on European scrutiny. The House should look favourably on his proposals for scrutiny, and do so as soon as possible.
There is never a satisfactory way of scrutinising the Executive, but it is important that parliamentarians on both sides of the House accept our responsibility and duty to hold it to account, regardless of which party is in government. It is so important that Parliament knows, on behalf of the people whom we represent, what the Government do in their name. That is why we all have a collective interest in improving the process of scrutiny. I hope that we will return to the issue as soon as possible and do just that.
It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton, East (Mr. Hood), especially given the comments that he made about the scrutiny of European legislation in this House and elsewhere. I am especially grateful to him for the generous way in which he handled the constructive interventions from the hon. Members for Moray (Angus Robertson) and for Glasgow, South-West (Mr. Davidson) who, mysteriously, are no longer in their places. No doubt they will return to make their usual contributions at some point soon.
Like the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton, East and the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), I pay tribute to the new Foreign Secretary and wish her well in her new post, especially as this is her first major debate on Europe. As the right hon. Gentleman said, these debates take a familiar form and pattern, and the contributions do not necessarily change much from year to year.
At least in the past few years, the European summits have had a clear area of focus. We had the Convention, then all the discussions about enlargement and the constitutional treaty, followed by the shock and horror of the European political classes in the aftermath of the French and Dutch referendums last year. The sense of shock may have dissipated in this period of reflection, but the sense of unease remains, and it has affected the debate in this country and the participants in it.
Last summer, the Prime Minister made what everyone reckoned was a barnstorming speech in the European Parliament, which is perhaps unused to a style of delivery with which we are more familiar here. The speech was, obviously, focused on Europe, as was one that he gave at St. Antony’s college in Oxford earlier in the year. However, it was revealing that when he made his much vaunted package of three foreign policy speeches in the past couple of months—in London, in Canberra and at Georgetown university in the United States—he made virtually no mention of the European Union. Indeed, the debate at St. Antony’s revealed a former idealist who may have become more than a little scunnered over the years.
In the constitutional treaty process, the former Foreign Secretary, who is now the Leader of the House, was very focused on red lines and on never giving in, but I hope that it is not unfair to mention his barely concealed joy when he spoke about the constitution being either dead or in limbo. The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks reminded us of that earlier. Being a son of the manse in the Church of Scotland, I do not know the precise theological equivalent of limbo in my faith, but I think that we can all understand what the right hon. Gentleman meant.
The former Foreign Secretary was very keen and proud about the prospect of greater transparency, better scrutiny and more openness in the EU. For that reason, it is especially sad to hear the new Foreign Secretary apparently retreat from what was to be a symbolic breakthrough for openness in EU matters, and even at this late stage, I hope that the Government will reconsider their approach. When the Minister for Europe responds to the debate, perhaps he will explain why, after years of the Government championing the treaty as a great example of what the new Europe would be about, the Foreign Office has suddenly got cold feet.
In particular, I hope that the Minister will say what the Government’s attitude will be if the Austrians proceed with their proposals to reverse the burden of proof—which would mean that the European Council would have to establish that there was a good reason for not having openness before people were excluded. That would be a good arrangement, and it is a shame that the Government appear to be backtracking away from it.
In his characteristic style, the shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, used attack as the best form of defence. He cantered through many of the difficulties of the past year, but did not say much about the European People’s party. Perhaps the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) will deal with that at the end of the debate, although, beyond talking about fruitcakes and loonies, there may not be much scope for comment at present.
The shadow Foreign Secretary also said very little about his proposed British free trade area with the US. He mentioned it, and it would be interesting to get more details in due course, although I do not think that the Republicans will provide much cover for the Conservatives in the European Parliament.
The period of reflection has been largely a period of inactivity, but I do not want to be too churlish, as the UK presidency saw the start of the very important negotiations on Turkey’s entry into the EU. That was a major breakthrough, and there was also the budget deal—of sorts—that we have debated here previously. Yet we have not heard much about reflection and re-engagement with the peoples of Europe. The European Commission’s famous plan D—for democracy, dialogue and debate—may have been well intentioned, but it has hardly been gripping. That was made clear by the report earlier this year from the European Scrutiny Committee that was debated in European Standing Committee a few weeks ago, and it reinforces the need for this House to improve our scrutiny of what is going on.
Earlier, the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton, East (Mr. Hood) spoke about the welcome that he gave the proposals from the Minister for Europe, when he was Leader of the House, to look again at our procedures for scrutiny of these matters. I hope that the Minister’s new interest and new Foreign Office perspective will cause him to be an agent for change, helping to deliver better transparency and openness. That is especially important, as it will allow the House to focus on the important question of subsidiarity that is, quite rightly, of such concern.
As many as 15 of the EU’s 25 member states have ratified the treaty, but not many people still believe that the present version will survive. We learn that there is more reflection to come, and there is little prospect that a target date for reform will be agreed at the forthcoming summit. Institutional life in Europe will be very difficult in the medium term, and we must hope that that serves to focus minds. We will need to make a virtue of pragmatism, but if we want a sustainable long-term outcome, we will have to resist the temptation to indulge in comprehensive cherry-picking, as opposed to undertaking a proper review of the treaty.
We supported the treaty, but whatever its merits or otherwise, we cannot win trust for it if we introduce large chunks by the back door. We need to design a new process that involves both national Parliaments and the citizens of member states, but in the meantime, we must get on with dealing with voters’ concerns. The problem goes beyond subsidiarity, transparency and openness. There is plenty of debate about the democratic deficit in Europe, but we need to focus more on the delivery deficit, as some commentators have noted. That deficit applies to the economy, the security fears that arise from illegal migration and trafficking in human beings and drugs, other organised crime, and the environment.
Over the years EU leaders have promised much, but the rhetoric—such as the Lisbon agenda’s aim to create the world’s most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy by 2010—has always looked a bit overblown. It certainly does now, however much the Hampton Court summit tried to give it new focus.
Uncertainty about the economy is the biggest single problem across the EU, and was very influential in last year’s no votes in France and the Netherlands. Some people fear the impact of enlargement, but we think that that fear is misplaced. Enlargement brings challenges, but we supported the Government when they decided, from the outset, to allow workers from new member states to come to this country and be part of the work force here. That was the right decision, and it has proved to be a success.
However, I hope that the summit will consider the realities of globalisation. Some of the reaction to the proposals in the treaty betrayed a desire to wish away the realities of the modern economic world. That is a temptation, especially given the economic whirlwind blowing around us, but we cannot put the genie back in the bottle.
China and India show average growth of about 9 per cent. per annum, and that is anticipated to continue over the next few years. People in Europe, whether they be in the eurozone or here in the UK, can only dream of a performance like that.
The hon. Gentleman has spoken about the problems and failures of the Lisbon agenda and of the whole European economic project, but does he agree that far too many people waffle on about such matters? I do not accuse him of doing that, but we need to get real and admit that the treaty project is not working. We should then introduce a proper project that would enable member states to run their own economies in their own fashion. Countries could co-operate where possible, as part of an association of nation states, but there would be an end to the nonsensical attempt to square a circle. It is increasingly obvious that that is impossible.
The hon. Gentleman is generous to me, but I hope that he does not mind if I say that I disagree with him on this matter. That seems to be the sad pattern of our dealings on matters European, although I admire his consistency and dedication of purpose. Nevertheless, he hits on some real issues that we need to tackle. We will get nowhere if we pretend that there are not serious problems, which national Governments and the EU as a whole must try and resolve.
This year we witnessed an energy crisis, and the development of economic patriotism in France and elsewhere that involved the attempted blocking of certain mergers. Each of the individual countries will have to face up to structural reform, which in some cases is long overdue. They will have to accept that getting Europe’s economy into shape is essential if we are to cope in the new globalising world economy. This year, we have at least had a services directive, although it is not the full-blown one that we were originally promised, and there are signs of life in the Commission, with initiatives to tackle mobile phone roaming costs. All those things are worth while, but, relatively speaking, not as good as they might be.
The big prize is surely the World Trade Organisation. As many have already said, this is a vital trade round, particularly for our commitment to the developing world. Selfishly, for us in Europe, it is also crucial for our economies. The summit will need to recognise what is at stake—and not just for the developed world’s credibility or in relation to the trade benefits of new arrangements between the key economic blocs. Increasingly, the very existence of the WTO itself is at stake, with the increased risk of bilateralism, increased protectionism and a general undermining of the rules-based international trading order. The EU needs the WTO and our constituents need a credible European Union. The Trade Commissioner, going into bat on behalf of all of us in Europe, is much more effective than a single national Government. If we are to cope with the tides of globalisation we need the rules of the system to work, and the EU’s negotiating stand needs to reflect that.
Sometimes in Europe we forget the basics about security, democracy and prosperity, which brought the founding members together and attracted many more to the Union over the years. The lure of the European Union is still powerful, and future enlargement matters a great deal. There has been widespread concern about the difficulties being experienced by Romania and Bulgaria. Let us not lose sight of the massive progress that they have made. We must hope that they can show that they have caught up with expectations by the time of the next summit. Elsewhere, the development of Croatia, and in particular its compliance—eventually—with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, was a major step forward and has to have something to do with the prospect of membership of the European Union.
Like many others, I celebrate Montenegro’s vote earlier this month to become a separate country, and I welcome the fact that the British Government have now recognised it as such. Countries such as Montenegro may in future aspire to membership of the European Union. It is important that we have that prospect there for them, and that we help them in that desire. Right now, our focus is increasingly on Turkey. It was nearly a bad week for the talks, but it was important that the discussions began in earnest. The wrangles are a reminder of the problems, but it is vital, not just for Turkey but for all of us, that progress can be seen to be made on its behalf, however slow the road to membership may be.
Quite apart from those important matters, as the Foreign Secretary herself remarked, a lot of time will be required for debates on foreign policy matters at the summit over the next couple of days. I am glad to hear of the issues that she expects to be up for discussion at the summit—particularly in relation to Iran. After months, if not years, of growing concern, recent developments there have been reasonably encouraging. I think that there is complete agreement that for Iran to obtain nuclear weapons would be completely unacceptable. Any enrichment process for a civil nuclear programme has got to have adequate mechanisms and safeguards—and crucially attract trust—to win support across the world. What matters about our negotiating position with Iran is that we get the balance right between the opportunities and the threats if Iran does not respond. In recent weeks the willingness of the United States to talk to Iran has been a major breakthrough, and we must welcome that. The six nations talks have been able to make some progress, and we hope to hear more about that after the weekend.
In the middle east this is as sensitive a time as ever, in the context of Prime Minister’s Olmert’s visit to Europe and the international community’s funding for the Palestinian Authority. As the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks already observed from personal experience, having been there, the situation is stark. The assessment of the United Nations is that a quarter of the Palestinian Authority’s people are dependent on salaries from the Palestinian Authority, and that without external funding, poverty rates in the occupied territories are expected to rise from 56 per cent. to 74 per cent. over the next couple of years. That estimate may be on the cautious or conservative side.
We recognise the need for Hamas to support the Quartet principles: to renounce violence, to recognise the state of Israel, and to accept previous peace agreements. However, we need the most careful diplomacy and some assistance from all sides if we are to make some progress. After his final visit to the middle east as Foreign Secretary, our present Leader of the House hinted that the international community had to be prepared to give a little bit of ground—as well as elsewhere. I have written to the Foreign Secretary to seek clarification of that, and I hope that the Minister might be able to answer that point in his closing remarks. What is the international community willing to do, and how will it ensure that we get the temporary international mechanism in place as soon as possible? The delay in establishing that mechanism is surely exacerbating the situation, and it is not yet clear whether the funds to be provided will be sufficient, nor is it clear how long they will last. The summit must attend to that urgently.
In anticipation of the United States-European Union summit, which will follow in a week or so, I hope, too, that the European Union will have some discussion of rendition. We have seen today’s Amnesty International report, which is highly critical of the particular cases in the United Kingdom. Last week’s Council of Europe report was scathing. Like many hon. Members—the matter was raised under points of order earlier—I have tabled questions to the Home Secretary asking about particular flights that came to the United Kingdom; they have yet to be answered after three months.
The Government have been explicit that they do not support extraordinary rendition. However, they do not seem at all willing to ask questions of the United States to find out the answers to the serious questions that are being put. Far from it: we learn from a letter that I received from the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence that the United Kingdom is content to have standing arrangements of which the three wise monkeys would approve. We have got to do better than that. There may be a great deal of embarrassed shuffling of feet around the summit tables, but Europe has got to come to terms with the issue and clean its hands.
The expectations for this summit are desperately low. Perhaps ahead of the French presidential elections and the Dutch general election nothing much can be achieved. Certainly, there is not a diplomat I have spoken to or a commentator I have read who expects anything much at all. That is a great pity. There is much that could and should be done, not just for the credibility of the European Union but for the reality of everyday life in Europe. It will not be hard to beat expectations; let us hope that there is a real attempt to do so.
It has already been said that the same people participate in these debates on every occasion, so I suppose that I should plead guilty to being one of the usual suspects. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson) is nodding approvingly. It has also been suggested that 95 per cent. of what is said in these debates was said during the previous debate before a Council meeting. I must admit that I was surprised about that, because I imagine that few in the Chamber can remember 5 per cent. of what they said six months ago, far less 95 per cent. We must all be operating on automatic pilot to an extent, so I suppose that I should plead guilty to that, too.
Before I mention the summit, it is important to point out the development of the European Union. It started in 1956 as an economic treaty, which was a response to a Europe that had been badly divided militarily, politically and economically in the early 1950s. For the next 35 years, the European Economic Community, which became the European Community, concentrated largely on social and economic issues, so those matters dominated the summits. However, by the time of the Maastricht treaty in 1992, developments began to occur. The Community recognised that one cannot have a cogent economic policy in a global world without having a cogent foreign policy because, for example, political events in the middle east clearly affect the world economy. The Maastricht treaty thus empowered the Community to take a common view on foreign policy.
Developments took place in the 1990s and the Community started to say, “We want to take action on foreign policy.” It was absolutely right to do so, although I know that not everyone in the Chamber agrees. It was illogical to have economic and foreign policy wings without a defence wing, because intervention on foreign policy often cannot take place without a defence capability. By the Nice summit in 2000, therefore, the European security policy was developed. If one believes that the European Union is necessary to bind together European nations with common values and cultures and a desire for the same kind of things in life, the Community must have those wings, which is why I support the approach.
I am not saying that every structure is right. I have followed the arguments that have been made about transparency, although a little more has been made about the openness of European Council meetings than might be merited, given the reality of the way in which the meetings are conducted. I have never known a President, Prime Minister or Foreign Minister say anything in a Council meeting that was not reported in every newspaper in Europe that wanted to report it. What happens at European Council meetings is no secret. The positions that are stated are immediately reported. I have some sympathy with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary because we know that if every meeting is completely open, there will be meetings on the side in which confidential positions might be expressed. It is thus not right to pretend that such transparency will do anything to open up or democratise the European Union, so we must examine other approaches.
The role of national Parliaments is important. The European Parliament has no locus with regard to defence policy, so it is important that national Parliaments take a keen interest in what happens on their behalf in the European Union, and that is the area on which I want to address my comments about the summit.
As the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore) said, expectations for the summit are limited. I was in Helsinki last week with the Western European Union Assembly Defence Committee. We were given a preview of what the Finnish presidency might consider following the Austrian presidency. One of the country’s ministry of defence officials said that his aim was to make sure that he did not drop the baton during his six months. I understand that and, in some ways, it reflects the reality of EU presidencies.
Each presidency lasts only six months, but not much changes or moves politically over six months. A process that starts during a presidency might be taken forward a little by the next presidency, with something happening in three or four years. The fact that a presidency lasts only six months makes it difficult to do anything, although that problem was addressed by the constitution, to which hon. Members have referred.
The second problem is that it is difficult to have continuity and coherence in the selection of matters for discussion when 25 views are presented and each country has an equal opportunity to put its views. Some nations—Finland was quite open about this—do not have the capacity to run a presidency in the way in which Germany, France or the United Kingdom may do because of their size. It is thus understandable that success for a Finnish presidency would be not to drop the baton.
A general point needs to be made. We all have these debates before summits. Every nation sets out its stall and then has six months to do what it can, after which there is reflection. However, it is rare that the agenda that is promised two or three months before the start of a presidency—the Finns are going through that process now—reflects the issues that are discussed in the Council meeting six months later. The matters that will be discussed at the Council meeting in Vienna tomorrow are not those that the Austrians promised six months ago, which becomes clear if one looks at the content of our debate at that time. Enlargement is clearly important, but there was a lot more talk at the time about making progress on the economic front, such as on the Lisbon agenda and the financial services directive, although, to my knowledge, little has changed on that over the past six months and, indeed, it has not been addressed to any great extent.
One of the problems with the structure is that one must always monitor what is happening across the three faces of the European Union: the economic, foreign policy and defence fronts. No presidency can concentrate on all three fronts, but an event that happens during the six months, such as an oil price shock, the invasion of a country that affects the interests of the European Union, a civil war, or a major migration, can immediately become important. If no focus is put on the structures necessary to deal with such events in advance, the European Union becomes an impotent organisation. That is why even though the Austrians tell us that European security and defence policy is not a main focus for the summit, given some of the things that I want to anticipate—I will not go on for too long—ESDP will be important. We should thus monitor it to ensure that we are doing what we should to execute the policy.
We are all aware of the threats that we face under ESDP. There is complete agreement about the threat from failed states of terrorism and the threat of environmental and other natural disasters. Although I am a strong advocate of a European Union that is bound together, I am also strongly in favour of NATO because of the defence interests of the United Kingdom. Many EU member states have also realised that their defence is crucially dependent on NATO. Before some argue that ESDP is all very well, but the real defence of the country is something else and we do not want a European army, I point out that the argument that is put for a European defence policy is not against NATO, but an argument that NATO should be complemented. I have found that that is the case in not only this country, but, increasingly, throughout Europe.
Was the hon. Gentleman as surprised as me that the Foreign Secretary did not refer at all in her opening remarks to ESDP and, particularly, the decision taken by the European Union to send 1,500 troops next month to Congo, to which the United Kingdom is making both a financial and physical contribution?
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary had a lot on her plate. She will be aware that she will have to respond to points like that tomorrow or the day after, which I am sure she will do very effectively in support of all our interests.
My first point about ESDP is that preparation must be made in advance. There is no point in our finding out that we need 1,500 troops to go to the Congo in three weeks’ time, and that foreign policy is in favour of that, if we cannot deliver.
My second point is this. We heard another interesting speech from a Finnish Member of Parliament at one of the meetings that I attended last week. He said, “The real threat today is not to a nation; it is to a people and communities.” In some senses, that is true. The dangers posed by terrorism and the like do not threaten any nation in particular, but they threaten communities and peoples across nations. That has been recognised by countries such as Austria. It will be interesting to hear what the Austrians have to say at this week’s summit. Their traditional neutrality, which enabled them to remain outside the threat from the cold war, is no longer a defensible position. To defend their nation, they need to do more. They are beginning to recognise that the most effective way for historically neutral countries to become part of European defence is through the European Union as it combines with NATO countries to strengthen European defence. That is not a new development, but I think people are more conscious of it than they have been in the past.
Capability requires the addressing of strategic issues. First, have enough resources been allocated by the various European Union countries? At summits, everyone talks of their enthusiasm for foreign policy and co-operation on defence policy, but they must also commit themselves to allocating the necessary funds within their own nations, or their armed forces will not be able to deliver their share.
Secondly, there always needs to be a very sensitive assessment of European public opinion. If European defence is truly to defend Europe, the policy must have the backing of the European people. If the European people believe that the European Union is not operating as effectively as it should, we will lose a great deal of our international defence capacity.
Thirdly, we must ensure that the systems are there to execute the policy. I shall not dwell on this in depth, but it has been recognised that the battlegroup concept that reinforces a 60,000-strong rapid reaction force cannot always be appropriate. Smaller units, but coherent units, are needed, and that is where the battlegroups come into play. The various European Union nations are now committing themselves to joining battlegroups, which is an important development.
My hon. Friend mentioned a 60,000-strong force. Is it not regrettable that the Helsinki goals have not been met in the European Union? We have a real problem. A number of countries—not ours, but Germany and some of the bigger EU nations—have not delivered even on the rather limited commitments to changing defence capabilities in Europe that were made a few years ago, since when there have been more and more commitments on which they have not delivered.
I agree, although I recognise the difficulties encountered by nations whose attitude to defence post-1945 has traditionally been different from those of Britain and France.
I think that the battlegroup concept is quite a good way of building up a momentum that will, I hope, bring about a rapid reaction force that is a combination of larger battlegroups. What is needed is more interchangeability. We must all be able to operate each other’s equipment. I believe that there are some 18 different armoured personnel carriers in Europe, and about 15 different radio systems. That is common gear; it is not sophisticated technology on which any one country wants to be ahead of another, but it does not operate in a unified way, for historical reasons. The European Defence Agency may help to deal with that, but I think we also need a great deal of political will on the part of our leaders at the summit tables.
The civilian response is also important. It is all very well having a rapid reaction force, a common policy, battlegroups and interchangeability, but much of the European Union’s work depends on civilian support. Much more needs to be done, and I hope that the subject will be raised at this week’s summit. Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Minister will refer to it when he winds up the debate.
There is clearly no point in sending 1,500 troops to the Congo to try to secure law and order unless we also help to strengthen the economy of the Congo, and make larger aid contributions than we have made historically. There is no point in sending the troops if there is not the medical capacity to ensure that people are remaining that little bit healthier while they are being given some law and order.
In such areas as Bosnia, it is crucial for resources to be invested in training. We in the United Kingdom have a good record in that regard. We must liaise with the new gendarmerie force. We have a different approach from the French and the Spanish. It is important for the summit or one of its committees to address that, as part of a civilian response team.
Governance is also an important issue. It is not about telling people how they should lead their lives, but about saying that there may be better ways of doing things, and that people may wish to consider them. In that context, democracy is a core value. We must devote more effort to conveying that message.
I do not think that there will be a reduced need for the ESDP in the future. The European Union has a crucial role in that regard. The ESDP will be brought into focus in connection with the growing environmental challenge. Existing commitments must be honoured: we currently have some 14 commitments, mainly in Europe. We need a debate on to what extent, and in what circumstances, the European Union should intervene beyond the boundaries of Europe. There must be international coherence on that.
We all foresee continued instability in Kosovo, which, although the position is better than it was seven or eight years ago, is still a dangerous and divided place. I expect the EU to be called on to take action there.
Would the hon. Gentleman care to reflect on the question of what legal powers exist for the creation of the European Defence Agency and, indeed, the enhanced role of Javier Solana as the proposed Foreign Minister for Europe? Whether or not he continues to be called the high representative, the question of what functions he performs remains.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that all the talk of defence policies—the common foreign and security policy, the European security and defence policy and all the rest—means nothing if the money is not available and that the commitment in the individual countries is to reducing defence expenditure rather than increasing it?
I took a note of what the hon. Gentleman said, because I know that he is always very precise and will not let me get away with giving him an imprecise answer.
I have already said that the resources must be there or none of this will work: it will just be hot air. As for the European Defence Agency, many European defence companies supply the EU nations. In a sense, the agency is a common procurement agency operating on a voluntary basis. That is a good development. I do not envisage the creation of compulsory procurement systems through the EDA; the aim is to encourage different nations.
On Solana’s role, the European Union is a major economic and political unit. If it sits down at the World Trade Organisation or at other international agencies and if it liaises with NATO and the United Nations on the contribution that it can make in, for example, Afghanistan, someone of high standing must be present to articulate the views of the EU. That does not mean that the high representative or co-ordinator of foreign policy in the EU is higher in the pecking order than the Foreign Secretary in Britain or her equivalents in Germany and France. That is not the case. Anyone who does not believe me need only go to a European Council meeting where it will become immediately obvious that the high representative is not the main player. However, he is an important player, and it is right that he should be.
There is instability in Kosovo and the problems with energy policy in Nagorno-Karabakh may well require a military intervention at some stage in the future. Moldova is a problem and I see trouble potentially moving from the middle east into Turkey if it does not spill over into Turkey from Iraq, which is also possible at some stage. Many border issues will be crucial to the interests of the European Union in the coming period, so there are many reasons why the ESDP is an important pillar within the EU’s structures. It should receive serious consideration at all summit meetings and not just when there is a particular emergency. I am sure that that is the overwhelming view of people in Europe. We have the same values and the same cultures and we want the same things. We want to be defended and co-operate in our defence, and that is why these issues are important for the Austrians in the next weeks, for the Finns in the following six months and for the other nations that take over the presidency in the future.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson). He is a glutton for punishment in these debates, and I suspect that I am becoming the same. In my four years as shadow Foreign Secretary, I spoke from the Front Bench on, I think, eight occasions. I missed the last European debate, because I thought that it would be a great relief not to have to be here, but I have been tempted back today. I see that the former Foreign Secretary—now the Leader of the House—has not been so tempted after the many times that he addressed the House on European issues, although he pushed his nose around the door just now to see what was going on. He took one look at us all and fled. Unlike the rest of us, he is not a glutton for punishment.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary on his tremendously powerful, positive and aggressive speech. The arguments that he deployed have given many of us comfort about where our party is going on Europe at this time. I was delighted that he was able to produce so much new material; I think he said that about 85 per cent. of it was new. I managed to find new material for my first two speeches but, after that, I started altering the order in which I delivered the paragraphs, if only to keep myself awake.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak. I wanted to do so because I think that something serious is happening within the EU, but that we are somehow missing the plot, in that we all assume that the European constitution is dead. We do not like using that word, but that is the impression that has been created in the past months in many debates on the subject. If we really persuade ourselves of that, we will be taken for a very big ride.
I asked the Foreign Secretary about the completion of the process on the constitution. I said that when I was shadow Foreign Secretary, I was given to understand that, two years after the signing of the constitution, it had to be ratified by all 25 member states. That was made clear to us in a particular way; not least, it was made clear when I pressed for an early referendum from the Government on the issue and was told, “No, no. We’ve got two years in which to ratify and we intend to hold our referendum towards the end of that two-year period rather than towards the beginning.”
Suddenly all that has changed. At a relatively unnoticed meeting of the Council of Ministers the other day, the Foreign Secretary and other Ministers decided that they were going to extend the period within which the completion of the constitution could take place. The Foreign Secretary described it today as the extension of the period of reflection for a year, which sounds innocuous. I take what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) says about sitting and thinking and just sitting. But what is happening is neither. What is on offer is a means of trying to find a way to fly in the face of the verdicts of two members of the EU who expressed quite clearly through referendums their view that they did not want the constitution to go through.
We talk about coming closer to the people of Europe and listening to what they have to say, but what we have here is our Government being complicit with many other Governments in deciding that if they keep the process of reflection rolling on for long enough, the constitution will come back again in the end. That is a dangerous precedent to set in a Europe that is asking its citizens to have faith in what it is doing. It is an extraordinary move and I believe that, in some ways, it drew its inspiration from the almost incredible fact that, since last year’s no votes in France and Holland, the reaction from the Government in this country on the vital question of the future structure of Europe has been a spectacularly deafening silence. I listened with great care to what the Foreign Secretary said today. She did not mention structure. She talked about the nuts and bolts, but she did not talk about the machine or the vehicle. Yet only two or three years ago in all the debates that we had on the constitution, those issues were the important ones for the Government in the development of Europe. Now there is just deafening silence, and that is why we are in danger of being taken in.
In that context, I very much welcome the speeches of my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary—the one that he delivered today and the one that he gave last week. If I may say to him in a friendly way, they have been somewhat long in coming, but it is important that they have now been made. However, for everyone else there is almost the feeling that the future structure of Europe is the issue that dare not speak its name. I was amazed to be told by a senior journalist on a national newspaper—I will not say which paper—that “We don’t do Europe any more.”
I am not a conspiracy theorist by nature, but it is almost as though the political class—that informal alliance of politicians, journalists and academics—is somehow conspiring to ensure that the natural Eurosceptic instinct of the British people is contained. It is almost as though they hope that, with enough silence, the British people will lose their antipathy to the European project and will allow it to be achieved by default. If they believe that, they will be disappointed, because I do not think that the British people will so easily be turned round. However, if we are not careful, that conspiracy of silence will allow us in the House to be misled.
I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that there is the danger of a conspiracy of silence and I would not wish such an accusation to be made of Conservative Members. I hope that he will tell us what the Conservatives will actually do. I keep listening to them analysing the problem, but I have no sense of what they would actually do.
The hon. Lady may well hear, as my speech progresses, what I think should be done. I no longer speak from the Front Bench, but she may recognise some echoes of what I said before, when I did speak from it.
What is really irritating about the silence is that it comes at a time when the opportunity to influence the future development of Europe has never been greater. I use an analogy that I have used before, but for the last 30 years the development of what is known in Europe as the project has often been described as a single-track train journey towards a country called Europe. We were told that if we were not on the train, we were somehow out of the game. That was the argument put to us. Those who have sought to stand in the way of the train—I see some in their places today—found themselves well and truly bulldozed. The treaties of Maastricht and Amsterdam, Nice and the second treaty of Rome all drove forward in one direction only. That was the train moving forward. It seemed unstoppable, indivertible and irresistible. Those who argued otherwise and sought another way for Europe were parodied by people in Brussels as prejudiced politicians whistling in the wind.
Then, suddenly, the wind dropped. Suddenly, the train ground to a halt, not because Brussels lost heart or saw the light, but simply because the peoples of France and Holland looked towards the country of Europe and said no—as, indeed, we would have done in this country, had we been allowed our referendum. That allowed, for the first time in my political lifetime, a real chance to reopen the debate on the future structure of Europe, to explore different structures, to look at different shapes and different tracks.
What I call the Europhiles could no longer argue that the issue was settled and non-negotiable, that the acquis could not be revisited, that the pass was sold. Indeed, the Prime Minister, in last year’s speech to the European Parliament, effectively accepted and positively proclaimed that the post-referendum era provided a new opportunity for reform. We had the chance at long last not only to press for but to achieve progress on the renegotiation of the treaties as the price for agreeing a sustainable European Union for the future. We had the chance, in my view, to retrieve some areas of sovereignty that we should never have surrendered in the first place as the bottom line for building a more flexible Europe that could absorb and manage EU enlargement.
I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) talk last week about the work that needed to be done to complete the single market, on which we all felt strongly that the benefits of the EU for the peoples of Europe would depend. He also spoke about co-operation on energy and pollution. We all know that positive measures can be taken and built on to allow the EU to serve its people. Equally, however, I am looking for us to use this opportunity to go further and look for fundamental treaty reform, which we were told was impossible because the train was running. Now that the train has stopped, why cannot we begin to examine it in detail again? Instead of grasping that opportunity, we are now in danger of seeing it squandered.
I suggest to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we are in grave danger of misleading ourselves if we use the wrong comparison. I refer particularly to his train analogy, which implies that there is a single object that is moving in a single direction and that if it is stopped, it can be rolled backwards. Is it not a far better analogy to think about water flowing down a hill? If it is blocked at one particular point, it will find a way round and continue to flow. Simply because the train of the constitution has been blocked, it does not mean that the flow of legislation and the drive to centralisation has been halted. Those who believe that everything has led to a diminution of centralisation have made an enormous mistake.
I used the train as an analogy only because it was presented to me by those who promoted the EU and political union as the end of the track. What I am saying is that if they were right in the past, which we can argue about, they can no longer use that argument because the momentum has gone. What I am saying is that at last we have a real chance to kill this wretched constitution and ensure that it cannot be revived. We have a real chance to press for a more flexible and less regulated Europe within which the primacy of the nation states, which has been undermined in recent years, can be reasserted. We can now create a Europe of nations rather than a nation called Europe.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) may not agree with the idea of a Europe of nations. He would probably talk about an association of nations, but I think that we would both agree that a healthy Europe—a Europe that will be able to take on expansion, a Europe that will be able to serve people in the future—is one with which people are able to identify through their own nation states. That is the closest way to get that identification, particularly as Europe gets bigger, and we now have the chance to roll back some of the issues on which the nation state has been undermined and to recreate that supremacy again.
I am frustrated about the efforts towards comprehensive and fundamental reform—while the constitution lies inactive—because this country has done nothing to advance a workable alternative and nothing to retrieve the wrongly surrendered areas of sovereignty. I will mention some of them, as I have before.
I happen to think that it was wrong to sign up to the social chapter. There are areas of sovereignty under that that we need to get back. I think that it was wrong that we lost control of our fisheries. I have travelled the country to visit fishing communities only to find that they no longer exist because we got that policy so badly wrong and signed away our ability to look after our fishermen. I come from a farming community and represent it in my constituency, and there are many areas of sovereignty in that respect that we gave away, which meant that we have not served the British farmer. Yes, there are many areas in which we can work hard to try to persuade our colleagues in Europe that, in exchange for a sustainable and workable Europe, changes have to be made.
What worries me is that whenever I advance that view, I am told that it is not worth trying because I will not get anywhere. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston has said that to me on occasion, but let me tell her something: if we do not try, we will never get there. There is now an opportunity to try that has never existed before.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that we were told repeatedly that we would not have a referendum? Were we not told repeatedly that we would not be able to secure a no vote in a referendum—yet that happened in other countries? Is it not really down to our having to exercise our political will? That is how we will take the opportunity that he advocates.
I agree with my hon. Friend. My experience in politics is that if one does not try, one never achieves. I want to use this opportunity to try, because I believe that there is a chance of success, but somehow there is a timidity in this country—a desire to shy away from that.
Those on the other side of the argument have not been so timid. Faced with the referendum blows, they have determinedly set about reviving the constitution; they are quite open about it. Whatever the Foreign Secretary says, Brussels is working feverishly by means of regulations and directives and through the European Court of Justice to introduce significant elements of the constitution through the back door. What the Foreign Secretary said about external policy and what would be discussed at the coming summit sounded awfully like the common foreign policy about which we argued on the constitution. If we are not careful, all those little bits will be brought back—not openly, but quietly and surreptitiously through the back door.
Some are doing that through the front door. Chancellor Merkel, President Chirac and Romano Prodi of Italy have openly joined other leaders in saying that they want to seek ways to reverse the two referendums and to put the constitution back on its single track. They are not dissembling, so why should we pretend that it is not happening? Yet we do; what was our reaction again today on the question of the future structure of Europe? Silence. It is almost as though we are shocked to find ourselves in a position to lead Europe in a better and different direction. It is almost as though we have no confidence in our ability to secure change.
What a moment to lose our nerve—when people in Europe are beginning at last to question the inevitability of a federalist destiny, which one finds when talking to people in France, Germany, Holland and other places too, and when many of the new members of the European Union, alarmed at what they see as the anti-American sentiment of so much of old Europe, are waiting for a new lead and a new direction. They are astonished by our inaction.
International success is about opportunities taken, about the courage to take risks, about conviction and determination. My fear is that the supporters of the European project show all those in abundance. For our part, never has such a golden opportunity to do so as well been so pathetically missed.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman seems to have a particular view with which, obviously, I disagree. Do not all of us fear that it was national protectionism that drove a lot of the arguments on the referendum and that failed to deliver the Lisbon agenda and the very things that we wanted, such as a single market and an economically dynamic Europe? Surely he recognises that in the UK people are using that train of thought in order to talk about pulling out of any federal or economic unity. This is not about going forward but about going back.
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. At the Council in Laaken, the leaders of the EU suddenly woke up to the fact that what was wrong with Europe was that it had lost touch with its citizens, and it said to the European Commissioners, “Go away and find a way of reconnecting.” I say, while aware of the presence of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston, that the Convention could have done that, but as she has admitted, it totally failed to do so and went in the opposite direction. In my view, that link can be recreated only through national states and the democratic processes within them.
There is a strong element of truth in that. We must be careful not to attribute to those leaders the feelings of their people. As I go round Europe, I find that people are not seeking ever closer union—they do not understand what it means. What they want is a Europe that actually makes their lives better.
To be honest, I do not think that the Government are interested in pursuing fundamental reform. I believe that the federalist path suits their command philosophy, which falls in rather nicely with the centralisation that will be created if that path is taken. The Liberal Democrats have never made any secret of their desire to be part of a united states of Europe, so they will not be too unhappy with that prospect. The Conservatives are now the only party that can fight to prevent the stalled European train from building up a head of steam again, but we need to do much more than we are doing. We must not only be active at home; we need to go out to the new accession countries. I have visited them all and I am told, “As long as the constitution is there, we will accept it because that is what we signed up for, but if it is no longer there, we want to be part of the process of developing a future structure for Europe.” Those countries are looking to us to lead. The Conservatives are the only party in this House that can provide that leadership, and I look to my Front-Bench colleagues to do so.
I am happy to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), even though I did not get a chance to ask him how the Conservatives will provide that great leadership outside the European People’s party. However, I leave that problem to them to solve.
When preparing my speech, I went through all the possible jokes about the constitution, becoming more and more desperate. In the end, I decided on what Bertolt Brecht said in 1953 after an unsuccessful election in the then East Germany: “Would it therefore not be better to dismiss the people and elect a new one?” That is what is going on in Europe in relation to the constitution.
Rather than rehearse the old arguments, I want to put to Ministers three reasons why the constitution did not address certain faultlines, and why, even if it were possible to revise the document, reintroducing it would not be in the interests of Europe in the next 10, 20 or 30 years, but first I should like to make a small confession of my most significant error during the negotiations. Just before the end of the process, French colleagues, in particular, were strongly in favour of inserting a clause stating that a country that failed to ratify the constitution within two years would be asked to leave the European Union. I fought against that provision because the French and others favoured it only because they were absolutely convinced that it would be Britain that said no in a referendum. With hindsight, I think it would have been rather amusing to see what happened with France and Holland if the clause had been inserted.
My three main points can be summarised as: buns and babies, big ones and little ones, and ins and outs. Buns and babies was a phrase that Giuliano Amato, one of the vice-chairmen of the Convention, used in its latter stages. He kept telling us that we had to make up our minds whether we wanted to create buns or babies in the constitution. Some people wanted buns—something that was defined and that could not grow or change in nature. At one stage, the Germans were keen on the idea that the constitution should clearly delineate the powers of the Commission and member states and could not be altered. Those who were in favour of babies, particularly the Liberal Democrats, wanted organic law—something that would allow within itself the creation of new powers.
The constitution does not answer that question. It does not define powers, but it allows an element of organic development. The debate across Europe on whether the constitution should be a defining document has not been resolved. It remains one of the big faultlines, as we see in the statement that the Foreign Secretary made to the Foreign Affairs Committee. My right hon. Friend said that the Council would discuss the provisions of article 42 of the treaty of the European Union, known as the passerelle, whereby decisions are transferred from requiring unanimity to requiring a qualified majority. That is a classic organic law mechanism, and it is still available. I am not suggesting that the proposal is wrong—it is probably necessary in a union of 30—but it has not been debated and there is no accountability.
I share my hon. Friend’s disquiet about the use of the passerelle clause in some circumstances and believe that it should be resisted, but does she accept that it is not a new feature of the constitution, as it was part of a much earlier treaty signed by the Conservative Government?
I agree, but that does not negate the need to take a position. European Union debates are always stifled by the fact there are certain points that one is not allowed to debate or discuss. Just because something was agreed 20 years ago does not make it right for ever. I am not suggesting that the passerelle clause is wrong in itself. However, the way in which we have approached the constitution does not address the question of whether or not we want an organic system.
Secondly, the institutional structure of the constitution remains stuck in the system of the early days, when there were three big countries and three small ones. Disproportionate powers were given to Luxembourg, which is the size of Birmingham, yet has four MEPs and its own commissioner. That arrangement was fine when membership consisted of three big and three small countries but, depending on the way in which one classifies Poland and Spain, there are now 19 small countries and six big ones. Ten days ago, The Times published an interesting map showing that 18 independent states have been created in Europe since 1991. It projects that there will be another 17 or 18 such states by 2020-25. The number of small countries in the EU with disproportionate rights has grown, so the problem has become more serious. Do we wish to give each of those countries its own commissioner? France, Germany and Britain have one commissioner each, but the western Balkans could have six, seven or eight. We will cap the size of the European Parliament, but we will give each new state four representatives. The constitution does not even begin to address that serious faultline.
I have always said that we must separate the desire for a constitution, which is a political statement, from the need for a proper rule book, which would allow for further expansion. Negotiations on the constitution, whether we regard it as a treaty or a rule book, will not deal with those problems, so we may as well start again.
Thirdly, the ins and outs of the eurozone are less of a problem for the United Kingdom than they are for the rest of Europe. I will not spend much time on the issue, but history shows that certain requirements had to be fulfilled before the dollar became an effective single currency. The four freedoms are important, but far deeper political integration is required, as well as much greater transfers of resources between countries in the eurozone. The 0.6 per cent. that we spend on regional aid does not even begin to address the problem. In the USA, about 35 per cent. of taxes are redistributed from the centre, making the dollar an effective single currency. Countries in the eurozone must address that problem because, once again, the constitution does not offer any answers or solutions. At the same time, however, we agreed without any debate the need for a permanent head of eurozone Finance Ministers. The UK must engage with the issue—it is not a question of whether or not we join the euro—so that we are not left out of important developments in the EU.
I urge Ministers to be bold for once. Whether we like the language or not, and whether the constitution is dead or not, they should say plainly that that document will not help us in the next 30 or 50 years, and it is bad for Europe. They should put their cards on the table and have done with it. Instead, they are engaged in displacement therapy. They go on talking about the constitution to avoid talking about the things that really matter.
Like Opposition Members, I care deeply about the career prospects of our Minister for Europe and I want him to move up again. I share the view that we should have a proper debate. One of the most effective ways of making European decisions explicit and letting members of the public know what we have decided would be to create a Cabinet post that deals with European matters. The post should be taken out of the Foreign Office. It is extraordinary that all the domestic policies agreed in Brussels remain within the Foreign Office. I know why that happens—it is because of the European federation of Foreign Secretaries, who guard that arrangement because it is part of their power structure. Other countries have struggled with the same problem.
If we had a politician who had to appear at the Dispatch Box at regular intervals at Question Time, reply to written questions and answer for all the domestic policies—health, education, trade and industry and so on—which had been negotiated at Brussels level, the nature of the debate would change tremendously. The most significant political post in European politics is our permanent representative in Brussels—UKREP. How many people can name our UKREP? Not many, but the kind of deals being done there are of great political significance and should be answered for. Would any Member like to intervene and give the name of the UK representative? [Hon. Members: “Tell us.”] It occurred to me that I am no longer sure who it is. I was asking for help.
As a Minister going to the Council meetings, I would often question a matter of detail and say I did not think it was a very good idea. I would be told, “This is part of a package that we negotiated. It is part of the deal.” There is no problem with that, but someone should be answerable.
Does the hon. Lady accept that democracy, Parliament and its history and traditions of the best kind are being inverted? I agree that we should have a Cabinet Minister for Europe. That would restore the balance, and we could be sure that we were being properly represented. Given the authority that the hon. Lady brings to the subject, and having participated in the Convention, her colleagues should take on board the important speech that she is making, With all the experience that she brings to bear, it is important that they take note of her comments. Even if those do not lead in the direction that I would want to go, they go some way to explaining, by omission, what is wrong with the Prime Minister, No. 10 and the Foreign Office in relation to European affairs.
It is always dangerous when praise comes from the wrong side, but I accept it in the spirit in which it was delivered.
We are partly at fault. In a very funny intervention earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) pointed out that we are a sad and exclusive club of European debate attenders. I look round the Chamber and there are very few faces that I have not seen at such debates before.
In an attempt to give the hon. Lady support from another quarter that she may not want, it is great to hear former Front Benchers such as herself and the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) speaking honestly. Does she agree with me and with the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), a former Europe Minister, that having a Secretary of State for Europe—which, sadly, the Foreign Secretary rejected yesterday in the Foreign Affairs Committee—would force Her Majesty’s Opposition to have a policy on Europe and a Front-Bench spokesman on Europe, which might cast some light on what they currently think about Europe?
Yes, I think that it would raise the level of the debate tremendously and widen it significantly. As Back Benchers, we can table endless questions to the Department of Health, or whichever Department, but because of the nature and length of these negotiations we move on to matters that are more current.
The Government should put some firm proposals on the table on what should be in the new rule book that we will need at some stage. One thing on that wish list should be a proper legal basis that would allow for the return of competencies. At the moment, the passerelle clause allows only for unanimity to be changed to qualified majority voting, so the direction of flow is only ever one way. There needs to be an equally explicit mechanism whereby the powers flow the other way. The negotiation on what those subjects may be is neither here nor there, but that would give us a rule book that provides sufficient flexibility for a very long time.
All European Governments should accept that they will lose credibility if they pretend that things are not happening when they are. The classic example is that of the foreign diplomatic service. It does not matter whether we call them diplomats or say that they are not diplomats—they are representatives abroad, many of whom ought to be there. It is not a question of whether it is right or wrong, as most of the time it is something that we should be doing. If it is the right thing to do, why cannot we say so? We lose credibility when we do not even acknowledge something that is openly happening.
I offer one final piece of advice to my hon. Friends on the Front Bench. I read in today’s newspapers that the Leader of the Opposition has never been to Brussels to conduct official business. As he is in such extraordinary troubles over which political grouping his party should sit with, perhaps, in the spirit of co-operation, my hon. Friends should take him with them next time they travel to Brussels.
Reference was made earlier to the fact that during these debates the same message, the same words and the same ideas are articulated. I, for one, make no apology for speaking the same words and articulating the same lines, for the simple reason that it would be helpful if the Government were to take note of them in the first place, so that we did not have to keep on repeating them.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary on a speech that was characteristic of his usual performances, and whose message was very well put forward.
The European Union is at a crossroads, because there is a conflict between what some leaders want—further integration and “ever closer union”, as the treaty of Rome of 1957 states—and what the majority of citizens of Europe want. In sharp contrast, they would prefer an element of sovereignty, and their own Governments being held accountable, instead of unelected bureaucrats—and to some extent elected politicians—in Brussels.
The difficulty is that the leaders refuse to listen to the citizens despite the rejection of the constitution through referendums in France and Holland. For example, after the French no vote, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing said:
“It is not France that has said no. It is 55 per cent. of the French people.”
The Italian Foreign Minister, Giuliano Amato, said that the no votes in Holland and France were
“a request for more Europe, not less”.
When European leaders are blind to the obvious and obsessed with further integration regardless of the will of the people, Europe is bound to be at a crossroads and in conflict and crisis.
The same leaders view integration and political union as an end in itself. They should remember that the decisions that they are empowered to make on behalf of the citizens of Europe are intended for the benefit of those citizens, not to enable them to get on their hobby-horses and pursue their peculiar obsessions.
Political union means precisely that. The European constitution does not refer to another treaty between nations but to legal responsibility, a separate Foreign Secretary and separate Parliaments. It proposes a federal structure for Europe. It can best be summed up by the words of a former German Europe Minister, who described it as
“the birth certificate of the United States of Europe”.
Instead of attempting political union, the European Union should make the current system more accountable, more respectable and more efficient. We need to start with a proper auditing of the European Union accounts. It is disgraceful that after 11 years, the European Union’s accounts still have not been properly audited. Worse still, when individuals have had the courage to speak out against the inaccuracies of the auditing system, they, rather than the perpetrators of the errors, have been penalised. It is vital to tackle the auditing of the European Union accounts as a matter of urgency.
We must also ensure that democracy and the rule of law are fundamental in all European countries, and most definitely in countries that want to join the European Union. That means no compromises with countries such as Romania and Bulgaria. They must be left in no doubt that we will not compromise our principles to accommodate their membership. They must tackle several issues, not least having a fair and honest judiciary, an absence of corruption, a proper and efficient administrative system and stamping out crimes such as the barbaric and inhuman practice of people trafficking.
We must also recognise that the success of the European Union lies in its economic strength. I refer hon. Members to the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks. The European Commission said that by 2050 the United States’ share of world output would be 26 per cent. while Europe’s would decrease to 10 per cent.
Is not the most interesting feature of that research the fact that the EU share of world output has gone down from 18 per cent. to 10 per cent., which many hon. Members may attribute to the growth of China and India, while the United States has managed to increase its share, albeit by a small amount, from 23 per cent. to 26 per cent.? The malaise does not therefore affect all developed countries but is particular to the European Union.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman entirely. The obsession with, and the enormous amount of time spent on, the pursuit of political integration in the absence of economic strength will be to the detriment of the European Union. It is high time the debate moved towards progressing the economic argument for Europe, rather than towards political union.
The challenge faced by members of the European Union, and by the European Union as a whole, is its potential economic decline. As the hon. Gentleman has just said, we face strong challenges from India and China, but let us not underestimate the other countries that will emerge as rivals for economic power in the not too distant future. They include Brazil, Indonesia and the economies known as the south-east Asian tigers.
One way of addressing the economic challenges that we face is to reduce the constant flow of regulations from Brussels that is stifling business in this country and elsewhere in Europe. Three quarters of the costs imposed on British business since 1998 are the result of new regulations emanating from the European Union.
When I hear such figures, I am always puzzled as to whether there has been any assessment of how many of those regulations the national Government would have imposed as well. If regulations deal with a European competence, they will come from Brussels, but how many such regulations would the British Government have introduced anyway, if they had not come from the European Union?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman for giving me the chance to try again. Whenever figures for business regulations from Brussels are cited, I would like to see another set of figures telling me, for example, whether 98 per cent. or 75 per cent. of those regulations would have been imposed anyway, but just happen to have come from Brussels. Similarly, I would like to see the percentage of regulations that no British Government would have imposed, and that have been imposed on us by Brussels against our will and better judgment.
May I try to be helpful to my hon. Friend, whom I greatly respect and whose words I enthusiastically support, and suggest that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) may be asking a false question? Let us consider the kind of legislation that emanates from the European Union on social and employment matters—for example, the over-regulation and the burdens on business, and the massive increases that have come from the working time directive. There are so many examples of regulations that a good sensible Conservative Government would never have contemplated introducing. Perhaps that answers the hon. Lady’s question.
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for that contribution, with which I agree entirely.
We are not assisted by the tendency of British civil servants to gold-plate all the regulations that come here. It is a bit trite to be told that prawn-flavoured crisps cannot be called “prawn” because there are no prawns in them, or that Yorkshire pudding cannot be called that unless it is made in Yorkshire. If that is a sign of the European Union to come, it will indeed be a sad state of affairs. I judge by the expressions on the faces of Labour Members that they clearly feel that there ought to be more regulation of that kind. Well, I for one am happy to disagree with them.
That leads me on to my next point—that all European Union countries should abide by all the rules equally. It is a sad state of affairs that Britain will adhere to all the rules without question down to the last letter, whereas some of our friends in the European Union overseas and abroad would rather cherry-pick the rules and regulations to which they would like to adhere. If we are to take a lead in making sure that the European Union is run properly, we must make sure that all the other member states adhere to the rules equally, and with equal efficiency.
It is heartening that the hon. Gentleman is paying attention to my grammar, but I would prefer him to pay more attention to his Government’s lack of action. There are more pressing and urgent matters to be discussed.
Central to all this is leadership by the Government. Despite the warm words and fine-sounding rhetoric from the Foreign Secretary earlier, sadly, they are not matched by the actions and record of her Government, who have shown anything but leadership. At first the Prime Minister was happy to disagree with having a referendum on the European Union constitution. After a while, he was happy to say that we ought to have a referendum. During Britain’s presidency, the Prime Minister said that our rebate was not negotiable, only to give away £2 billion a year in return for a meaningless promise to review farming spending in 2008.
If ever there was an example of a Minister living in a parallel universe, it was the description of the constitution by the person who is now the Secretary of State for Wales and for Northern Ireland as a “tidying-up exercise”. When the new Minister for Europe spoke today to try to clarify the Government’s position on the European Union, he fudged the issue again. There we have it. The French have said no to the European Union constitution, the Dutch have said no, and the Prime Minister has said no and yes to a referendum. The Prime Minister held the presidency of the European Union for six months, there were many statements and speeches, and the bottom line is that the Government are still undecided what to do about the European Union. If ever there was an example of a lack of leadership, that must be it.
No, its policy is simple. It would like to lose British sovereignty and integrate even more closely than envisaged under the treaty of Rome. Fortunately for Britain, the other parties are happy to discuss the broader picture, rather than simply having one view.
On the question of a referendum on Maastricht, for which I campaigned with other colleagues and got a petition presented to Parliament with no less than 500,000 signatures, does my hon. Friend accept that it was precisely because those of us who fought for that referendum managed to get the British people on our side—ensuring at the same time that the dark forces on both sides of the House who were against asking the British people were defeated—that we now have an established policy of insisting on a referendum? He is therefore on the side of light and new horizons, whereas those who opposed a referendum have been abolished.
Order. That was a fairly long intervention, and I should remind the House that although we ought to have sufficient time for our debate this afternoon, if interventions—and, indeed, contributions—are too long, some hon. Members may get squeezed out. Perhaps hon. Members would care to think about that when making their contributions.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for those comments—and to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) for being so articulate, enthusiastic and correct in his historical analysis.
My hon. Friend’s comments lead me—if we are to discuss Maastricht—on to another point. The previous, Conservative Government won a number of concessions, but sad to say, this Government have quietly given way and conceded on several issues on which we had preserved the right of veto; instead, we will now be faced with decisions of unanimity. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) shakes her head, but the history of this Government will say more than her shaking of her head. What is required is decisive leadership, and a Government with principles for which they have the courage to stand up and fight, rather than simply looking for the next headline in the next news bulletin.
Britain’s future lies in and with Europe, but that future must be based on co-operation and mutual support, not on a central Government of a “United States of Europe”. European leaders must start to listen to the wishes of their citizens and put aside their personal obsessions with further integration. We have European Union leaders who are keen to promote democracy to those in the European Union, to those who wish to join, and, indeed, to the rest of the world. Yet when, under the process of democracy, people in the European Union spoke and decided in a referendum that they did not want a constitution, those same leaders, who preach so fervently to others, refused to listen to the message of, and the answer to, that referendum. There is an irony in that, and those leaders who preach abroad should listen to their own citizens.
The citizens of Europe have spoken. They have said that they do not wish for further integration. They have said, “Enough is enough,” and that phrase has the same meaning regardless of which language it is said in: enough is enough.
When the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) was speaking—unfortunately, he is not in the Chamber at present—he talked about a conspiracy in terms of stopping the debate and the period of reflection in this country. He referred to a conspiracy in the media and in the Government, but if he was being fair, he should also have referred to a conspiracy on the Opposition Benches.
All Opposition parties have done very little to engage in a real debate about Europe, because the issues involved have become very difficult for all parties. I am not going to comment on the remarks made by the putative sister party of the Conservatives—the ODS, the civic platform in the Czech Republic—which referred to the position adopted by the Polish putative sister party of the Conservatives as being dangerous and populist. Instead, I want to discuss the nature of the ongoing internal debates in each of the parties in our country. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) pointed out, what we have not had in the past year—the Government are largely responsible for this, but the Opposition also bear a significant responsibility—is real reflection and discussion. We now have another year. The Foreign Secretary told the Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday about there being a further year for further reflection. I hope that in the coming year, we can have a real discussion in this country about the options and the way forward. Many of us assumed, a year ago, that the constitutional treaty was dead, but recently the Foreign Minister of Finland, Erkki Tuomioja, said—
No, that is his name. If my hon. Friend cannot pronounce it, he can call him Erkki. Mr. Tuomioja said the other day that it was wrong—and everybody agrees—to call it a constitution. We have already been reminded of the absurd remarks by former French President Giscard d’Estaing that somehow France has not decided because only 55 per cent. of the people voted no. Presumably, in his view of democracy, 101 per cent. would have to vote no before a decision could be reached. That attitude reflects a problem with engagement with reality that is found in many countries.
At the same time, we have to face the fact that 15 countries have ratified the treaty, either through parliamentary mechanisms or referendums, and another four or five—potentially more—could do so. Therefore, the issue is not going away and in 2009 or thereabouts we will have to confront it seriously. That might coincide with the next general election, so all the parties will have to get out of the comfort zone in which they are at present, because nothing is happening. I would be grateful if, when my right hon. Friend responds to the debate—as he is well qualified to do, because of his great expertise and experience in these matters—he can tell us how the debate can be taken forward in this country in the coming months.
We also need to confront the potential further enlargement of the EU. The question of Croatia is the most straightforward, but Macedonia is also a possibility. Therefore, we need to think about what will happen with the rest of the Balkans. One of the few positive things in the Balkans is the aspiration of everybody there almost to recreate Yugoslavia within the European Union. The way forward to ending the nationalistic conflicts and divisions is to get the people back together, and allow free movement of people, by bringing them into the European family. If we put up barriers to the Balkan countries, we could face serious difficulties, including conflict, in Bosnia-Herzegovina and with the Serbia-Kosovo issue, which has already been mentioned. If the latter is not resolved, it could become very difficult in a few months’ time, because the Kosovars believe that they will get independence and the Serbs are adamantly opposed. There is no possibility of any significant shift in those positions at present.
We also face the problem of definition of the Europe of the future. What will be the ultimate borders of an enlarged European Union? People have talked about the absorptive capacity of the existing institutions, but the Polish Government have argued that Belarus and Ukraine should be in the EU. That means that we need to think not only about that capacity, but about the potential borders of the EU. We have seen demonstrations in the Crimea and tensions between Ukraine and Russia. I attended a meeting in the European Parliament two weeks ago at which Members of the European Parliament and representatives from national Parliaments in the Baltic states denounced the Foreign Minister of Austria, Mrs. Plassnik, because the Austrian presidency had not raised strongly enough with the Russians the territorial disputes between Estonia and Russia that predate Estonia’s accession. I was never aware that the Estonians, in the process of negotiating the acquis and joining the EU, raised territorial issues with Russia as something that the EU should resolve. Nevertheless, problems will occur if such matters are not handled carefully. For example, another difficulty will arise if—or rather, when—Romania joins the EU. A few months ago, a senior Romanian politician told me that 20 per cent. of Moldovan citizens already had Romanian passports. Moldova is not in the EU and is not close to joining it, for all sorts of reasons.
A very interesting article talked about the consequences of the referendum in Montenegro and the growth of new states in Europe, but the frozen conflict in Moldova and Transnistria continues. If we are to enlarge the EU, therefore, we must also think about the strategic and political implications for Europe’s borders.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) spoke about the need to consider the EU’s defence capability and collective security. He was right to do so, but other questions arise. For example, if there is a conflict between neighbouring EU states, at what point does the EU collectively become engaged? We need to consider such matters when we think about the future of Europe, but there is either a conspiracy of silence or people get obsessed with the constitutional minutiae. As the hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara) put it, people do not want to mention the war or the Maastricht treaty because to do so would raise embarrassing questions about our own past beliefs.
All hon. Members have an embarrassing past when it comes to Europe—
All right, all of us bar my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) have an embarrassing past when it comes to Europe. I freely admit that I campaigned for a no vote in 1975 and I was totally wrong to do so. However, whatever our approach in the past, it is time for many hon. Members to recognise that the EU of today is a magnet to very many people in very many countries. That is the Europe that we have to deal with.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will intervene again to say where he stands in respect of the Maastricht treaty, but he does not seem to want to.
A few weeks ago, the Foreign Affairs Committee visited China. Everyone talks about China and India now, but there is little recognition of the enormity of the changes taking place in Asia as a whole. Massive foreign investment is going into Vietnam and Indonesia, and there is massive economic growth in various countries in the region. The 21st century could belong to Asia, and we Europeans will have to think carefully about the consequences.
That is why it is so vital that we achieve agreement in the Doha round negotiations, and adopt a constructive approach to global trade and economic issues. It will be to the detriment of all us if we do not, but it will be especially hard on Britain. We are a global trading nation, with a global reach and involvement. The European Commissioner responsible for the Doha round talks is Mr. Mandelson, but he and the rest of the Commission must be far more flexible and imaginative. They need to make progress on agriculture policy, as does the US: without that, we face disaster in the negotiations.
I shall conclude with a consideration of the EU’s role in diplomacy. The way in which the British, French and German Governments, the EU three, have worked with regard to Iran—and Mr. Solana’s role—has been very positive. That could not have happened without someone—a figure in the EU—with the authority to play the role that he has been playing. Whatever that person is called, if we are going to work collectively and effectively, we need to have someone to play that co-ordinating role in the European Union.
We also need to look to the middle east issues and the engagement of the EU in support of the democratic process with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. If a referendum is to be held in the Palestinian territories, I hope that the European Union can find ways to assist the monitoring and the validation of that result, because it is important for the future of peace and security in that region that we are able to take politics forward and get away from the violence and the current terrible human rights issues.
We were warned at the beginning of the debate that we were the same old anoraks, saying the same old things every six months on the subject of the European Council meeting, as if we were unaware of the agenda of that meeting. However, we have heard some quite interesting new thoughts and fresh ideas in this debate. We have not all been rehearsing the same old ideas—certainly not so far—although occasionally we have tended to go back and refer to thoughts on the constitution.
The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, may have misunderstood the French language in his reference to Giscard d’Estaing, who acknowledged that 55 per cent. of the French people had voted against the constitution, but said that that did not mean that France was against the constitution. That rather reminds me of a headline in Le Figaro a couple of months ago which said that Dominique de Villepin spoke to France, but Nicolas Sarkozy spoke with the people of France. That reflects a nuance or difference in the minds of the French political elite as to what constitutes France.
I want to refer to some thoughts that have been rehearsed by other Members about transparency and scrutiny in the European Union. I also want to look a little at our relationships with our neighbours outside the Union—particularly Norway and Turkey—and to concentrate some of my remarks on an issue that the Foreign Secretary did not talk about: European security and defence policy. I mentioned in an earlier intervention that the European Union took the decision in April to launch a new military mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which will take place next month, surrounding the elections there.
I was amazed—a number of other Members have referred to this and the Foreign Secretary did respond—that there appeared to be some backtracking on something that was even in the constitution. I am talking about the idea that we should have greater transparency in Council of Ministers meetings and European Council meetings. The Foreign Secretary gave the regrettable impression that the Council of Ministers, which is, after all, a legislative body, even if it is not a Parliament—it does not always discuss legislation; sometimes it has reflective debates, rather like today’s debate—should for ever and a day continue to hold its deliberations in private and in secret. If we are going to scrutinise effectively and re-engage effectively with the peoples of Europe, we have to have greater transparency in the meetings of the Council of Ministers.
I criticised the provisions of the constitution during previous debates because they seemed to suggest that cameras would be allowed in only for the vote. The debate would thus take place, with the cameras then coming in to record how Ministers were voting. It is suggested that if we replicated that in the House, we would take the cameras out of the Chamber and put them in the Division Lobby, which would allow us to hold our debates in private.
The Division lists are published fairly soon after we have all trooped through the Lobby.
Parliamentary scrutiny should be on the agenda of the European Council meeting, given the absence of any progress that we will ever make on the constitutional treaty. I was intrigued by the comments of the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton, East (Mr. Hood), the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, about his visit to Finland last week. I was also in Finland last week, although I was with not his Committee, but another parliamentary group. I had a meeting with the Chairman of the Grand Committee of the Finnish Parliament. That Committee is very large and meets every Friday to hear the positions that Finnish Ministers will be taking prior to Council meetings. The Committee then deliberates on whether it agrees with those positions and if it disagrees, it calls the Ministers back so that there can be further discussion. The great effectiveness of the Committee perhaps reflects the fact that Finland has a coalition Government, but we could none the less take an interest in that procedure.
I was interested to hear that the Grand Committee meets every Friday, including when the Parliament is in recess. If there is a Council of Ministers meeting during a recess, the Ministers who are representing Finland at the meeting are called before the Committee to present their positions.
May I invite the hon. Gentleman to reflect on what he learned in Finland? The same thing is often said about the Folketing Committee in Denmark. From our perspective, that Committee is not scrutinising its Government, but is part of the legislative process. If a Committee in our Parliament was mandating a Minister to go to the Council, it would be part of the legislative process, rather than carrying out scrutiny.
I accept the subtle difference that the hon. Gentleman makes. None the less, if we are to re-engage with the British people on where we are going in Europe and the decisions that Ministers take in the name of the British people, we might have something to learn from the rigorous procedure that takes place in Finland.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is not just a subtle difference between mandating and scrutiny roles? One of the disadvantages of mandating Ministers is that when those Ministers go to the Council, their voting position is known, so their colleagues simply take them as part of the equation regarding building a blocking minority and those Ministers are thus not players in the negotiations, which can be quite a drawback at the European level.
I accept that point. We must examine the matter in different ways to take account of our traditions and practices. However, as I said in response to the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton, East, that does not mean that we cannot learn something from the Finnish procedure in practice.
According to a movement that has existed in this country for some time in certain quarters, we could somehow establish a different relationship with the European Union. The example of Norway is often cited. I was encouraged by the robust confirmation and reinforcement of our commitment to Britain’s EU membership that we heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). I do not think that this country can have any role in some kind of semi-detached or associate relationship.
Norway is one of the Scandinavian countries that I visited. The Norwegian Parliament and Government have a better record on implementation of EU directives than most EU member states. The House of Commons Library kindly provided me with some data. The European Commission has an implementation report score card based on the percentage of directives that have not been implemented by EU member states and members of the European economic area. Norway has failed to implement l per cent. of directives. The Commission’s target allows a country to have a non-implementation record of up to 1.5 per cent. The United Kingdom has failed to implement 2.5 per cent. of directives. Our non-implementation record is 2.5 times worse than that of Norway, which is not even a member of the EU but implements its directives none the less, sometimes with some enthusiasm.
I do not know whether those who suggest that a Norwegian relationship would be advantageous to this country are thinking of the fact that Norway is a signatory to the Schengen acquis, and therefore has open borders with the rest of the EU and no border controls in relation to the EU and its member states. Its only border controls relate to states outside the EU, states that are not party to the Schengen agreement—including the United Kingdom—and its own territory of Svarlbad, or Spitzbergen, for those with older atlases.
The other point about Norway is that it makes budget contributions to the European Union. Over the coming year it will contribute some €33 million, which is a fair amount of money for quite a small country. Norway’s contribution works out at about €50 a head, while that of the United Kingdom is only €76 a head. The financial benefit of our moving to a “Norwegian position” would amount to about €26 a head. I would not be prepared to make a saving of that order if it meant sacrificing our position in the EU in terms of control and government.
Along with Turkey, Norway is also one of the major contributors to the European security and defence policy. Accounts of EU missions in connection with the ESDP often reveal Norway and Turkey, which are not members of the EU, to be major contributors of troops and finance. For example, I think that Norway has more than 1,000 troops committed to Operation Altea in Bosnia, which is the largest of the EU’s military operations.
I hope that the Minister for Europe will be able to respond to my next point. On 27 April, the Council of Ministers took the decision, through a joint action, to send troops to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Theoretically, this should have been the first test of the EU battlegroup concept. However, there has been a sad failure to test the concept despite the fact that the European Council took a decision in 2004 to create 13 battlegroups with about 1,500 troops each. They would provide the rapid reaction force capability that we are also sadly lacking or getting anywhere near to achieving. Four of the 13 battlegroups would be made up of members from a single nation and the other nine would be multinational and also include members from non-EU states such as Norway. The plan was to have the interim operational capacity of the battlegroups up and running in 2005, but we have still not got that, and they were supposed to come to full operational capacity in 2007. We are only six months away from that, but have just missed the first opportunity to test the battlegroup concept.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the fundamental failures of the grand plan for such military deployments is that other EU member states have consistently failed to invest in lift capability, defence forces and defence research? None of the plans can be put into action without going to NATO to provide the lift capability that is necessary for deployment. The plan is just something on a bit of paper.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, but I remind him that the concept of the battlegroups was for them to be within the NATO architecture. My point is that they have failed the first test. Germany is at the top of the roster in the current cycle for battlegroup deployment yet even it is unable to fulfil the commitment to providing 1,500 troops for a battlegroup formation in a German-led mission to the Congo. As a result, the Congo mission has had to be put together under existing procedures. Although it is German led in the sense that Germany has the lead role and operational control is in Potsdam, the commander will be a French general and the group will be made up of 500 German troops, 500 French troops and 500 from other European nations. The United Kingdom has had to plead overstretch, so we will offer only one officer for the headquarters in Potsdam, although we will make a financial contribution of about €3 million towards the administrative costs of the venture.
If we are to increase the number of EU military missions and the 13 battlegroups in operation, we must come to terms with what is required. My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace) made the point very well: we cannot have a commitment on paper by European nations to participate in such exercises if they cannot actually fulfil their commitment to service the battlegroups.
The Maastricht treaty was mentioned earlier, and it is worth reminding the House that the whole process is a second pillar, intergovernmental process. As an intergovernmental process, it should also be subject to the scrutiny of national parliamentarians and, at the European level, to European inter-parliamentary scrutiny.
The former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), said in a statement last year:
“Scrutiny of European defence and security issues by national parliaments is essential.”
He went on to refer to the Western European Union Parliamentary Assembly, which remained, in his words,
“a unique forum that facilitates interparliamentary dialogue and discussion. The Assembly is inclusive and reaches beyond the boundaries of the EU”,
Norway and Turkey are classic examples. He went on:
“It continues to offer an important link between EU citizens and Governments in security and defence—vital issues our citizens care deeply about”.
I referred in an earlier intervention to a document that landed on my desk today from the Robert Schuman Foundation, which is not known for its Eurosceptic views. The document was written by a French Senator, Hubert Haenel, president of the EU delegation in the French Senate. He forcefully made the point that, given that we have not moved on with the constitution, the French no is a no and will remain a no for the foreseeable future. He continued with the point that the WEU Assembly was
“thus above all a temporary halting place in the absence of a satisfactory formula for interparliamentary scrutiny of the European Security and Defence Policy… The European Parliament has no real legitimacy in this field.”
That is quite clear if one goes back through the existing treaties. The European Parliament has no competence in European security and defence matters. He went on:
“National Parliaments… authorize the commitment of forces to a conflict. If the WEU Assembly were to disappear”—
a view that I have heard, unfortunately, from a number of MEPs, most forcefully in a discussion with Mr. Elmar Brok, chairman of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee a week or so ago—
“it would have to be replaced by an interparliamentary body adapted to the characteristics of the ESDP.”
My point is to ask why we have to reinvent the wheel when we already have an inter-parliamentary body, on which several Members, including myself and the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North, sit. We are both members of that body’s Defence Committee, which, indeed, I have the honour to chair.
The UK Government have a critical role in determining where we go from here with parliamentary scrutiny. That is why I address my final remarks specifically to the Minister for Europe, who will be aware that the UK has held the presidency of the WEU for the last year. Our presidency comes to an end on 30 June. We held it for a year, long beyond our EU presidency, because Austria, not being a NATO member, could not be president of the body. On two occasions, the Foreign Secretary’s name appeared on the order paper for the Assembly’s deliberations to present the presidency’s report, but on both occasions the Foreign Secretary failed to attend, sending a British ambassador instead.
At next week’s meeting of the WEU, the Austrian Defence Minister, representing the outgoing EU presidency, is already scheduled to attend; and Finland’s Foreign Affairs Minister, representing the incoming EU presidency, is also due to appear. I hope that British members of the Assembly will not have the embarrassment of having to apologise for the fact that no Minister from the United Kingdom Government is yet on the agenda to attend that meeting. I wonder whether in his reply the Minister for Europe can tell me, the House and other UK members of the Assembly, which scrutinises European security and defence policy, which Minister from Her Majesty’s Government will be present in Paris next week.
I will keep my remarks brief, but I want to make one or two comments about the European summit later this week. I begin by remarking on energy issues. I understand that the question of energy will be discussed at the summit, and I very much welcome that, in view of what has happened to energy prices in this country over the past few months. The Government have embarked on an energy review and I understand that the summit will discuss a short paper that has been drawn up by Javier Solana and the Commission on security of supply, competitiveness and environmental sustainability.
The markets in Europe are not liberalised, and the problems that we experience in this country often stem from the fact that we have a liberalised market while our colleagues in Europe do not. I therefore ask the Minister what the discussion is likely to achieve. I understand that it is due to finish in the presidencies next year with another form of review, but I hope that our Ministers at the summit will press our European colleagues for the liberalisation of European markets in order that we can buy supplies of energy in other countries.
Earlier this year, our gas prices in particular were increasing rapidly, yet there was no shortage of supply world wide. We could not access other sources of gas in order to bring those prices down. Members will remember that in January the Russians turned off the gas supplies to Ukraine, and that generated fears that Russia would be in command of gas supplies to the rest of Europe. I understand that European Commissioners have suggested deals between the EU and the Russians to ensure that supplies flow to the rest of Europe. However, the Germans have already signed a separate deal with the Russians on a gas pipeline, which could well undermine the efforts that are to be made at the summit on agreeing a common energy policy. The point that I want to leave with my right hon. Friend the Minister is that he must press for the liberalisation of the markets in Europe in order that we can access them.
I also want to say a few words on the constitution. Those issues have been well rehearsed throughout this debate and references have been made to our Ministers perhaps needing to take a stronger line and to state that, in fact, the constitution is dead. The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) and I had an exchange on that, during which I referred to the fact that there were calls from politicians throughout the EU for further referendums, votes and the rest of it and that our Ministers would do well to be non-committal on the constitution in the light of those calls.
I understand that the period of reflection has been increased for another year, yet those calls still appear in our press. For example, Giscard d’Estaing has called for a second French vote—55 per cent. obviously was not enough for him—the Italians have called for further action on the constitution, the Germans have already said that they want constitutional issues to be resurrected, and the Belgian Prime Minister has drawn attention to the fact that about 15 states have now ratified the constitution and that, according to a clause in the constitution, if that figure increases to four fifths of member states, unique circumstances are created which mean that the constitution must be referred back to the European Council. I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe to resist such a reference back to the European Council and perhaps, despite what I said earlier, to be a little more vociferous in playing down the constitution and the possibility of its resurrection.
Another worrying development are the calls for a Europe-wide referendum. If that were to be agreed, it would negate all the no votes that have already happened and could lead to countries being drawn into a European constitution without having had the chance to hold their own individual referendums. I call on my right hon. Friend to resist those calls at all costs.
I shall now say a few words about Turkey and Cyprus. Earlier this week, a small crisis in Europe was averted when the Cypriots gave way and allowed the accession negotiations with Turkey to complete chapter 1—an uncontroversial chapter relating to science and research. However, obstacles to Turkey’s membership of the EU remain, not least opposition from other countries within the EU—Germany and France, in particular—that are reluctant to see Turkey accepted.
There are also obstacles within Turkey itself: for example, the human rights situation in that country, especially in the Kurdish region, is a cause of great concern. Religious issues, including the question whether Turkey is a secular state, have come to the forefront in the past few days. A Turkish general attacked Turkey’s Government for not adhering more strongly to the secular state, and we hear stories of the “deep state”, as it is known in Turkey, where the military is influential. A few weeks ago, there was a disturbing incident when an individual walked into Turkey’s highest administrative court and shot dead the judge who was presiding in a case, simply because, as the offender said afterwards, the judge had made a decision on banning religious apparel.
Such incidents sound alarm bells for Turkey’s accession to the EU. Just as many people want our Government to say that the constitution is dead and we should not heed calls for further votes, perhaps we should decide once and for all whether it is appropriate to persist with the idea of Turkey’s accession in spite of all the problems in that country.
I and Members of all parties in this House support the notion of Turkey’s accession to the European Union, but does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that, ideally, the qualities and virtues that we seek in terms of respect for human rights, the rule of law and democracy should not be put in place merely to meet entry criteria, but should come from within? Should that not be part of the common values of EU member states, rather than seen merely as measures introduced in order to comply with the obligations placed on states that aspire to EU membership?
I agree. We should strive to establish those values in all countries, regardless of whether they aspire to EU membership. I am aware that Turkey has taken great strides to improve its internal situation at the same time as pursing its entry to the EU, but I fear that we will build up problems for ourselves if we continue to encourage Turkey to enter the EU while knowing full well that, at the moment, it simply does not meet the criteria for entry.
Having listened to European debates at periodic intervals in the past 22 years, I have noticed a fluctuation in sentiment. If we take a broad historical and political view, we can see that a new realism has at last begun to pervade debates in the House. The pity of it is that that is not reflected in the Government’s policies. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, for example, in his five economic tests, his subsequent remarks, the Treasury paper a few months ago and so on, has indicated a change of mood or tempo. If he became Prime Minister he might take a more Eurosceptic view—that is certainly the view of the journalists and distinguished commentators who have followed his career.
None the less, others continue to speak the same old language in an attempt to square the circle. It is impossible, as I said earlier, to persist with the waffle and try to pretend that everything is all right just because the existing treaties are still in operation. We need a radical, clear-sighted, fundamental review of the European Union. That would not be difficult once it is under way, but—and my motive in saying so is not party political—the Government, for all their talk, cannot bring themselves to face reality. The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) made their position quite clear shortly before he left the post of Foreign Secretary, when I pointed out that, to all intents and purposes, the European constitution was over and done with. The present Foreign Secretary tiptoed around the subject, but she was not prepared to spell out the Government’s position. That is not leadership.
In a recent debate on democracy, dialogue and debate in the European Standing Committee, the Minister for Europe, using the old Laeken language, said that we wanted to get closer to citizens. The new project, otherwise known as plan D, would provide an opportunity to reconnect with citizens and their opinions. However, when I asked him whether the Government were prepared to make the 16 million euros that that they have received in the past 18 months—indeed, there is much more to come—from the European Commission available to Eurosceptic organisations or whether that funding was a Europhile propaganda exercise driven by the Commission, he was not prepared to answer. I invite him to do so on the Floor of the House this afternoon. Will the money, after proper debate and dialogue, be disbursed on an equal and fair basis among the organisations, or will the power of the state, the Commission and the purse determine the issue?
That question arose, the House will recall, in the second referendum in Ireland. Having lost the referendum on the Nice treaty, the Irish Government changed the rules so that a lower proportion of money was available for the no vote campaign, with predictable consequences. Basically, we are wasting time, as the period of reflection is going to last another year. It is actually a period of deflection, is it not? As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) accurately pointed out, it is an attempt to prolong the silence.
In the last European debate, I said that an eerie silence had descended on the Conservative Front Bench with regard to European matters. I am glad to say that that has gone. We are beginning to speak a more realistic language. We heard from the shadow Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), some words which, although I cannot say they filled me with a deep glow of enthusiasm about the so-called benefits of some aspects of the European Union, revealed a hard bottom line which had been overlooked by many commentators, including many of my friends.
As I noted in a letter to The Daily Telegraph yesterday, my right hon. Friend specifically committed the Conservative party to regaining control over social and employment and similar legislation. I pointed out that it was one thing to say we would do that, which is extremely important, and another to spell out the methods of reasserting national control. I went on to point out that on the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, 130 Conservative MPs supported my new clause 17, which I am informed was cleared by parliamentary counsel’s office as I requested. The clause stated that it would be available to a Government, or to the Opposition when in government, to pass legislation inconsistent with the European Communities Act 1972 and, in particular, directives or regulations under section 2, and that the judiciary must be bound by that provision. That is the crunch point.
The sovereignty of the House depends ultimately on that formulation in the new clause. It states specifically that the provisions of any subsequent enactment inconsistent with the European Communities Act shall be binding in legal proceedings in the United Kingdom. That binds the Law Lords, which is where the problem lies.
I see the sphinx-like look of the Minister for Europe. For almost two years, throughout the Maastricht debates, he and I jousted. He was—I hesitate to say the bag carrier—the runner for the late John Smith on that Bill. He and I were direct opponents on it, although his job was to table amendments that were as close to mine as possible, so that when we called a Division, the Opposition would be able to try to claim that it was theirs as well. In fact, they were following us into the Lobby, not the other way around. I will not mention your role, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as that would be inappropriate.
The hon. Gentleman said that he detected signs of encouragement from his Front Bench and a changing stance on the European Union. Has he received any private assurances that the Conservative party will remove itself from the European People’s party soon? Will he remain vigorous and rigorous in ensuring that the Leader of the Opposition does not go back on his word to his party?
I have noticed a continuing trend—it happened in the debate in the Chamber the other day. The Liberal Democrats are beginning to show a degree of realism. I have never before, for example, heard them making Eurosceptic noises, but they are beginning to do so. Although I am sure the hon. Gentleman is trying to get me to make some statement on the EPP that would suit his purposes, I can say unequivocally that both before the leadership election and subsequently, I have been given clear assurances that we will withdraw from the European People’s party. I do not need to enlarge on that matter, which I know a great deal about because, when I was shadow Attorney-General and shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, I was directly responsible for advising the then leader on those very questions—I was unequivocal and wrote a clear letter in which I said that we must withdraw from the European People’s party forthwith.
The matter is tied up with the European constitution. Despite the one-year period of deflection, as I call it, Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, clearly stated on 17 November last year that she is determined to bring back the European constitution. If that is the case—I take Angela Merkel’s statement at face value—why are we having another year’s reflection or deflection? I have always maintained that the European Union is a national objective for Germany, because Germany wants a European Union that it can dominate through the voting system. That is Germany’s national interest, but the European constitution is most emphatically not in our national interest.
Those points are part and parcel of a bigger, broader and deeper political and historical debate about where Europe goes in the 21st century. Ultimately, it will be a question of political will and realism—the realism is apparent from the various noises off, but the political will is not apparent. In his speech to the European Parliament a few months ago, the Prime Minister stated that he wanted to show leadership, but the reforms that he said that he sought have manifestly not been delivered.
As other hon. Members have said, an opportunity has been wasted. I accuse the Government of shirking their duty and of cowardice on a massive scale. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) did not use the same language as me, but she has said that it is time to get rid of the idea of the European constitution, which has failed and cannot sensibly be put back on the rails. It is not for us to go into the past—there are occasions when we must look at the development of those arguments over the past 20 years— because we need to live in the present. Whatever people’s aspirations at the time of Maastricht, that was then and this is now, and this is not the time to hunt the snark without a compass. We need clear objectives. The British Government, the new Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Europe, who is very experienced, need to start dishing it out to the other member states in tomorrow’s meeting. They need to get a sense of realism out in the open and to exercise political will.
I have mentioned the vote by my hon. Friends in support of my Back-Bench amendment to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, and I trust that the House of Lords will carry my amendment through. Front Benchers agreed to put in Whips as Tellers for my amendment, which was unusual, but none the less the amendment was an important statement of policy. I have suggested privately to some of my senior colleagues that it would not be a bad idea if they went out and told the rest of the world, which is why I wrote to The Daily Telegraph yesterday.
Well, The Daily Telegraph’s world, anyway. It was also published in The Financial Times, and I am pursuing several other avenues. I trust that my hon. Friend is not demurring from the principles that were enunciated by going through the Lobby on that occasion.
It is important that we come up with a design for a new Europe that is thought through, but not carried through unless serious discussions take place around the table. There will be no renegotiations or answers to these important questions unless there is a serious attempt to get down to sorting out what we want and where we are to go. Step 1 is to repudiate the European constitution. I suggest to the Minister that in parliamentary terms, a good starting point would be to remove from the Order Paper the daily reference to the European Union Bill, because that reasserts the idea that that Bill, and therefore the implementation of the European constitution, is still part and parcel of the business of this House. This is not some arcane constitutional point—it is about demonstrating political will. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston and many other Members made it clear that it is time that we abandoned the project of the constitution. Of course I would say so, but it is interesting that it is coming from so many different quarters.
I greatly recommend a very good book called “Design for a New Europe” by Professor Jack Gillingham from the United States. It is an endorsement from the United States by somebody who has for the past 25 years made a careful study of the way that Europe has been going. I want to use this opportunity to give a flavour of what he has to say:
“The EU was never democratic; it had always been a project run by an elite, which in turn justified its existence by results…To save the EU, one must rethink the whole integration process…the EU has long since broken down…The malfunctioning Brussels institutions are now out of control…What’s required is less a heroic feat of engineering than a new principle of construction—democracy instead of elitism…A design for a new Europe is needed now.”
As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I have said much the same myself over many years, as have many of my colleagues.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has not always agreed with me on these matters. I have been constant, but not in pursuit of any vainglorious aim. This issue is too big for anybody to attribute to themselves any particular prophetic ability. So many people said at the time that they were right and we were wrong, but through being very clear and consistent, things have ultimately moved increasingly in the right direction.
I cannot resist commenting on the hon. Gentleman’s own consistency. He says that things are moving in the right direction. What is clearly moving his way is the entire bulk of the Conservative party. In former days when we debated these issues, he was very much in a minority on the Conservative Benches—one of a handful of people. I will not use the expression that the former Prime Minister used to describe them, but it was not at all complimentary. Nowadays, Conservative Front Benchers support his position. He is in the mainstream of Conservative party thinking, and I congratulate him on that.
I accept that compliment. However, the essence of Conservatism is building organically upon change in a realistic, practical and pragmatic fashion. For example, Disraeli had to take a position on the policies of the mid-19th century and he helped, with John Bright from the other side of the House, to promote democracy in the late 19th century. Those who resisted that point of view 25 years earlier came around to it. The same applies to the appeasement policies of the 1930s, home rule and tariff reform. The bottom line is that we make changes and the European issue is an example of that.
I shall conclude with a quote from the excellent book that I cited earlier. It states:
“Electorates must be made aware that withdrawal from the EU is not an act of aggression or a betrayal of the European Idea but a simple political and economic necessity.”
I have never specifically advocated withdrawal. However, if the Government, leaders of other member states and the European Commission are not prepared to face up to the challenge of being realistic, exercising the political will to save Europe and sorting out the boundaries between co-operation and European Government—and to do something about it tomorrow, when the summit takes place, thus changing the nature of the European Union—they will betray Europe and this country.
The Government have an opportunity to save democracy and ensure that we move into the 21st century with economic competitiveness to answer the challenges of the new globalised world. The failure of the Lisbon agenda gives them a reason to do so; otherwise, they merely whistle in the wind. It is the moment of truth. They can do it. I do not believe that they will but, when they fail, it will be their responsibility and the people of this country will turn against them and turn them out of office. Just as those in favour of the constitution failed in France and Holland, so the Government would have failed in this country had the question of the future of Europe been put in a referendum, as it should have been many years ago.
Some hon. Members complained that others made the same speeches in debates on European affairs. We now have the ultimate solution to the problem: we can read the book. We do not even have to participate in the debate. Even better for the Minister for Europe as he gets on his RAF plane tomorrow morning and heads off with the Foreign Secretary, the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) could record tapes for my right hon. Friends to enable them to listen to the contents of the magnificent book on their way to the European summit.
I hope that my contribution will be as brief as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley), because others wish to speak. The shadow Foreign Secretary said that 95 per cent. of the speeches were the same—and as has been the case since he was made shadow Foreign Secretary, 95 per cent. of his speech consisted of jokes about Ministers. I admit that the jokes were funny and had hon. Members rolling in the aisles. I am sorry that you missed it, Mr. Deputy Speaker—but perhaps you watched it on the monitors. The jokes were funny but the speech contained no substance.
First, the right hon. Gentleman complained that the Minister for Europe had made a speech about Europe earlier today. He then complained that the Government, including the Minister for Europe, had shown no leadership. He ended his speech by saying that he agreed with several points that the Minister for Europe made in his earlier speech. I am sorry that I have not seen a copy of that speech, because it sounds like just the kind of speech that a Minister for Europe should be making.
I wish my right hon. Friend well in his first European summit since becoming Minister for Europe, and I know that he will do a splendid job, as will the Foreign Secretary. They are a pretty powerful team. I know that when they go to the European summit they will be batting for Britain, as all Ministers, no matter from which political party they come, have done over the past 20 years—although I am sure that the Minister, being a football fanatic, will ensure that there will be a television screen on the margins of the summit so that he can watch England versus Trinidad and Tobago tomorrow. Sadly, Derby County have not made it to the World cup this year.
I want my right hon. Friend to consider three points at the summit. The first, of course, relates to enlargement. Britain is rightly seen as the champion of enlargement. Since 1997 we have consistently supported the enlargement of the European Union that has brought so many benefits to this country. The recent Ernst and Young report on the result of the latest wave of enlargement and the arrival of the 10 new countries showed that it had benefited the economy of this country by £300 million. It is therefore no surprise that we continue to press the case for enlargement.
I would like the Minister to come back from the summit and give us firm assurances about Bulgaria and Romania. I realise that there are problems about the admission of those two countries, but they have gone way down the line as far as the opening and closing of the various chapters are concerned. They were told that they might be admitted on 1 January 2007, although there might now be a slippage to 2008; we are told that the decision is to be put back to October 2006. It would be helpful for those two countries, and for us, if we had a firm timetable by the time the summit ended. It is also important that the Government stick to the commitment that they made earlier this year that there would be an indication by August this year on the most important aspect of enlargement as far as Romania and Bulgaria were concerned—people’s freedom of movement.
I returned last week from Bucharest, where I had been with the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. Many of the Romanian Ministers to whom we spoke highlighted very honestly their lack of readiness to join in January. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman shares those concerns, and I hope that he will continue to seek assurances from the Minister on this matter. I do not think that Romania’s entry on 1 January is as clear-cut as we once thought.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention.
In the end, this will be up to the Commissioner for Enlargement when he presents his report. But whatever happens, we need to know about it. We do not want a repeat of the fiasco that took place before the last enlargement, when we did not have a position on whether workers from the 10 new countries would have the right to work here, or whether they would have to register. That was followed by hysteria from the Conservatives, who said that all those people would come into this country, take our jobs and our homes and cause misery for the people of Britain. Of course that turned out to be perfectly unfounded. Let us have a clear timetable, so that there can be no hysteria from the Conservatives about what we are going to decide on freedom of movement.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) mentioned Turkey and Cyprus, and I too am concerned about the progress of those negotiations. They have just started, and I know how hard my right hon. Friend the former Foreign Secretary worked to get Turkey to start those negotiations, and about the drama at the airport as the Turkish Foreign Minister arrived. I am disappointed with what has happened; we need to ensure that if Cyprus and Turkey are going to continue their long-standing dispute, the EU will act as an honest broker to try to sort out the problems. It would be terrible if, now that we have worked so hard to get Turkey to this stage, there were further delay. Obviously I understand the concerns of the Cypriot people as well.
Will the hon. Gentleman comment on the fact that unemployment is now at a four-year high? If that trend continues, it might lead in coming months and years to tensions when those who seek a manufacturing job who might not have considered doing so previously find that people from other European countries are in those jobs? That is a serious point, and we should consider it in relation to the prospect of other migrants coming into the country.
It is a point, but I urge the hon. Gentleman to read the Ernst and Young report, which examines specifically the arrival of Poles, Hungarians and others from EU countries and finds that they have been a benefit to our economy. If there is new evidence, that will have to be considered. Enlargement has benefited us, however, to the tune of £300 million. In addition, other countries, having seen what Britain did, have decided to do the same. The French have agreed to open their categories so that people from the states that joined in 2004 will be able to work in France too. Obviously, we will need to keep all of that under consideration. As for Bulgaria and Romania, we should have a clear timetable and a clear decision from the Government so that we know where we stand on the issue of freedom of movement for those from the new member states.
On the constitution, I do not object to a period of further reflection. There are still major problems with the constitution. If we had put it to the British people, I, too, believe that they would have rejected it, as the Government did not do enough work prior to any possible referendum to explain to the British people what the constitution was about. I also defer to the knowledge of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) and the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), who both represented the House on the Committee that considered the constitution. When such Members, who represent this House, scrutinise what is happening in Europe and come back here to talk about their concerns, we should listen. They would be the first to say that they raised those concerns long before the conclusion of the discussions, and many of us did not listen to or hear what they had to say. Let us reflect again, but let us debate precisely what we want from what is left of the constitution.
Let us not, however, leave Europe unable to move forward on crucial issues. There is a difference between a constitution and a rule book. We cannot run Europe according to the rules for a Europe of six or 15. We must consider the European Union as a Europe of 25—and, in 2007 or 2008, of 27. We really must change. Who do we have to thank for extending qualified majority voting and making sure Europe operated in a much more efficient way? We thank the Conservative Government who held office before 1979, who extended QMV more than any other Government in history. If we consider the results of QMV, we will find that we have been on the winning side on QMV votes on a much larger scale than any of the other big countries. The last time I looked at the figures, 90 per cent. of the times that we voted according to QMV, we won. Therefore, saying that QMV was in some way bad for Britain is wrong, because both Conservative and Labour Ministers used QMV to push through our agenda.
The hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) raised the issue of the Tampere agenda, which of course has been renamed Hague 2, which dealt specifically with justice and home affairs. As we face a Europe-wide terrorism threat, it is vital that we should work with our European partners to combat international crime. The European arrest warrant, which has come into force, has been extremely important in enabling us to combat fraud. It is equally important that we should find justice and home affairs institutions that ensure that we can work together with our European partners to combat crime. What are we so afraid of in dealing with European allies and supporters who wish to combat crime?
I am grateful to the former Minister for Europe for giving way. I agree that we should co-operate with our partners to fight crime and terrorism, but will he be clear about whether he advocates giving up the veto in these areas and opening them to qualified majority voting, which we oppose?
The Foreign Secretary has said that she will look into this whole area, as we are obliged to do, having taken part in the entire Tampere process, which started during the last Finnish presidency in 1999. We must look at that process and see whether it is in our interests. The Government will propose it if it is in our interest to combat crime by moving forward in that way. In making such a decision, I do not want to substitute my view for that of the Foreign Secretary and her experts. However, when that decision is made, the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) should have the sincerity to say that it has been done in the interests of this country and of our police and intelligence services, in accordance with how they wish to combat crime.
I make two further points in conclusion. First, ever since my time at the Foreign Office I have advocated that there should be a Minister for Europe at Cabinet level, with a department of European affairs supporting that Minister. The Foreign Office mandarins are wonderful and I pay tribute to them—the people who used to work for me at the Foreign Office were among the finest civil servants in the galaxy; they were top-quality, first-class diplomats—so I will have no problem if we have one diplomatic service for Europe. I do not think we will ever get such a service, but if we do, I am willing to bet anyone in this House that the civil servants will all be British, because they are the best in Europe. However, the problem is that the Foreign Office is very concerned about structure. Let me give an example by telling an anecdote.
The day after I became Minister for Europe, the then Foreign Secretary took me to lunch and asked whether I would expand my portfolio. He wanted to give me responsibility for entry clearance, as well as Europe. I agreed to take on entry clearance, even though it was a very large portfolio to add to Europe, and many people thought that I was mad to do so. The Foreign Secretary said, “Because your portfolio is so big, I’m afraid you’re going to have to give up Russia. Russia is so huge, as part of the Europe portfolio, that it will have to go to another Minister; otherwise you’ll have more than 50 per cent. of all those portfolios.” So I agreed to give up Russia.
When I got back to my office—a wonderful office, which is now occupied by the current Minister for Europe, and I wonder nostalgically whether I might have left some of my papers in his desk—the then permanent secretary, who is now in the other place, came to see me. He said, “You can’t give up Russia in exchange for entry clearance, because Russia is part of Europe in terms of the way in which the Foreign Office command is organised, so to take it out of Europe would require a complete reorganisation of the civil servants in the Foreign Office.”
Such language was possibly used to dissuade our modernising Prime Minister from doing what he should do, which is to create a ministry of European affairs. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston said, that is the position in a number of other European countries. They have dedicated Ministers for European affairs and a dedicated Foreign Secretary, and there is enough work to enable all the Foreign Office Ministers to get on and do all that they have to do.
If we take such a step, that will allow a Minister to come to the Dispatch Box regularly to be scrutinised by the European Scrutiny Committee, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton, East (Mr. Hood), so that we can ensure that there is a proper dialogue between Brussels, the United Kingdom and the British people about what is happening in Europe. The Conservative party is of course opposed to that step, because it would give Europe a profile in the British Government that Conservatives do not want it to have. They want to scrutinise more, but they do not want a Ministry for European affairs, although that would mean more scrutiny.
I fully support what the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee said about this House moving on, about ensuring that we scrutinise properly what is happening in Europe, and about papers arriving in time for his Committee members to read, rather than the day before, or even on the day itself; indeed, they sometimes arrive even while he is deliberating.
I will not, as I have nearly finished.
I turn to my final point. I heard on Radio Leicester this morning that the Minister for Europe is going to start a quest in England and Wales to make the European Union more interesting. I fully support my right hon. Friend in that proposal; it is a great idea. As well as going to mainland Europe, he ought to spend time going around this country—[Interruption.] No, not just Derbyshire. He should go around making the British people more interested in this great concept. I tried, and sadly failed, to do that when I was Minister for Europe, but I know that my right hon. Friend will succeed.
The British people know the benefits of Europe, as demonstrated by the World cup competition, in which friendly European nations play football against each other—it is Germany versus Poland tonight—and that is one way in which we can explain how important those international relations are. I wish my right hon. Friend enormous success, but he cannot succeed if Members of Parliament are not prepared to help him. We have a role to play in explaining to our constituents the benefits of Europe and Britain’s successes in Europe. Unless we remain fully engaged with Europe, we cannot remain a successful nation.
Bearing it in mind that the test of a free society is how decently it treats its minorities, I hope that I am not about to put that too much to the test in relation to my Front-Bench colleagues and the Whips. It is a pleasure to make what is for me a rare speech on European matters, and I have enjoyed the debate this afternoon. I take the point made by other hon. Members that the atmosphere is not dissimilar to that of an end-of-term Adjournment debate, and there are some familiar faces who have taken part in all of those.
I share strongly with the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) the opinion that Europe is much too important a subject to be left to a handful of aficionados who either take an interest in the matter outside the Chamber, as I do, or take part in our debates. I suggest to the Minister for Europe that one way to deal with that might be to have this debate on a motion that we could divide the House on, with a free vote. There are precious few free votes in this House. The hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor), my successor in that constituency, introduced a 10-minute Bill earlier designed to engage people more in political affairs, but we could achieve that by having many more free votes. We all know what our postbags are like on free votes, especially when the issue is in doubt and Members can say what they think and influence policy by doing so. I am not saying what the motion should be and I have no idea what the result would be, but it would fill the House and the Galleries and create the interest that we want.
I would welcome a free vote on British entry to the euro and on the constitution, because it would of course be extended to Ministers and Parliamentary Private Secretaries. I am certain that in those circumstances it would be clear that those of us who oppose the constitution and the euro are in a substantial majority on this side of the House.
As soon as I suggest the idea of a free vote, ideas and suggestions about possible votes emerge. However, I digress so let me move on.
We have had an enjoyable debate. As someone who takes part in such debates only intermittently, I always learn a great deal from colleagues on both sides of the House. Over Whitsuntide, I travelled to Serbia, Macedonia and Albania. While the legacy of communism is not hard to find in eastern Europe, it is always encouraging and illuminating to see what has survived despite it. The reason for my visit was to celebrate the activities of a remarkable group of young people whom I have come to know in recent years. They come from many different countries in the Balkans, but they share a determination to go into public life with integrity in lands where trust, honesty and integrity have been heavy casualties in a dictatorship of fear. Working together, and mostly sharing a belief that the principles of Jesus Christ form an opportunity to come together and not divide, whatever one’s religious background, they have slowly begun to emerge in more senior positions in politics, business and the media in their own countries. That has been the result of great commitment and dedication. At the third Balkan gathering in Belgrade, more than 150 people came together to celebrate the fact that the human spirit could not be crushed, and that faith and principle had been reduced only temporarily by repression and corruption. As with apartheid, the agony is not that dictatorship fails—it always does—but that it succeeds all too well in damaging mind and soul, leaving a moral and material vacuum that takes time to fill.
The countries that I am talking about are on their way. They boast busy capitals, where young people enjoy cafés, bars and restaurants. The atmosphere is open and modern but, under the surface, all three countries are poor. Unemployment is at around 35 to 40 per cent., and foreign investment is low. Politics is fiercely contested but democratic—the recent referendum to detach Montenegro from Serbia rested on a knife edge. The forthcoming election in Macedonia will be close, but is likely that a centre-right Government will be returned. A Government of similar colour was returned in Albania last year, after losing power for eight years. That is an example of the sort of turn-and-turn-about politics of which this House would be proud.
Infrastructure is poor. Roads, services and transport links need investment, and professionals are poorly rewarded. A teacher in Albania, for example, will work for €240 a month—not an uncommon salary for a public-sector professional.
Old socialist attitudes die hard. An excellent private university in Skopje struggles with a Government who are not impressed with its initiative, but students pay and flow through the doors for quality teaching. A private company is told by the Government to employ people full-time, even if the contracts are not there to support such a work force. People want domestic economic reform along lines very familiar to Conservative Members, but they fear that it is happening all too slowly.
The worst damage has been done by the corrupt nature of government and its impact on trust and integrity. Public confidence is low, so too many talented and qualified people believe that their future can lie only outside their own land. Those who work abroad—and 1 million out of 4 million Albanians do so—send their remittances home and make a vital contribution.
Those people, both in government and out of it, who are working to combat the trend, need our full support. I met Ministers and politicians in every country determined to make a difference. So let us salute Samuel and his team in Belgrade for their faith in their country, and for their determination to fire people with a desire to stay and work for a brighter future
Let us also acknowledge the work of Vilma Trajkovska in Macedonia. She is the widow of a reforming president who was a key architect of the agreement that brought peace between Macedonia and Kosovo in 2001, yet who tragically died in a air crash three years later. Madam Trajkovska now heads an international foundation established in her husband’s memory, and continues his work of defusing conflict and building a modern Balkans.
Finally, let us hear it for Arian and Dorian, two young men from different political parties in Albania. They work tirelessly in a sceptical environment to bridge gaps and divides in a land where the word “opponent” normally means “enemy”.
One further theme unites all those people, and virtually all the political parties in their countries—the importance of joining the EU. It is very easy, in the democratic security of these islands, to forget the EU’s political origins. We find little need to recall the shattered remnants of continental Europe, but we were never occupied. The legacy of a century or sometimes more of racial, ethnic and nationalistic conflict is the reality of everyday memory for millions of people in continental Europe. The EU’s political impact as a force for stability, a yardstick for advancement and a barrier to all that ever happening again should never be discounted. There are very few members of the “Better Off Out” brigade in the western Balkans.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond