Question again proposed, That this House do now adjourn.
This is the first time that I have taken part in one of these debates on European affairs, not because I do not have a great interest in the subject but because there are always many Members who want to speak. We have already heard some very good speeches. I do not necessarily agree with all of them, but they have been well made and from a principled position. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) more or less summed up my views. I was going to echo the point of view expressed by the hon. Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins)—that Europe is more than the European Union—but my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) stirred up something that I wanted to say when he talked about business, and how a big board could not be run in the way the presidency is run.
As the House may know, I am a retailer by trade with a small independent store in Uxbridge. During the past 20 years, we became a member of the Association of Independent Stores—an admirable body that gives independent stores such as ourselves many advantages. For example, we can get better prices as a buying group. However, the association does not tell me everything. It does not tell me what days I can open, what hours I can open, or where I have to place three-piece suites and which ones I should buy. As an association of independent stores it works very well.
In the past 30 years, the face of Europe has changed dramatically. We have heard about the fall of the Berlin wall. New countries have come into existence, some of which were never countries before, and some that were proud countries that had been subsumed, mostly by the Soviet bloc. Of course, we all welcome that. The European Union has, in many ways, given those countries something to look forward to being part of.
One part of our continent remains rather unsettled—the Balkans. I could not let this opportunity to raise that subject pass, especially when I saw on the Front Bench a different Minister from those who have had to listen to my Adjournment debates in Westminster Hall. That is not because I am obsessed with the subject but because I believe that it is a very important area for Europe, and because, as in the case of so many of these difficult areas, we rather want to ignore it and wish that it would go away—but of course it will not.
We are now at a crucial time with regard to the final status of Kosovo. Unfortunately, its final status in the post-conflict world was never thought out properly. Forces went in, although I have a slightly different view, in terms of some aspects, as to whether the humanitarian intervention was quite as it was portrayed. Nobody thought about what was going to happen afterwards, and now the pendulum has swung the other way as regards ethnic cleansing. Kosovo has an almost entirely Albanian population; a lot of the Serbs have been driven out. Many are waiting to go back, in refugee camps or in camps for the internally displaced. There are some very sad places in Kosovo where people who were burned out of their homes three or four years ago are living in containers. As far as I can tell, most of Europe is ignoring those people’s plight.
Kosovo is a poor country. It is not only the Kosovan Serbs who are suffering; there are huge problems in that part of the world. However, we have the reached the position when, apparently, final status must be sorted out. I say “apparently” because I do not understand how we can unilaterally impose a solution on any set of people, and I am afraid that that is being done. Although a solution can be imposed for a while, it simply creates a problem—perhaps not for the next few years or even a generation, but for the future—that will never be solved.
Let us consider what we have done in this country with regard to Northern Ireland, the incredible advances in the peace process and the position that we have reached today. Ten or 20 years ago, it would have been impossible to imagine the personalities who are in Stormont today sharing power. However, that achievement has taken time and patience. At times, deadlines have been set and passed because the opportunity of achieving peace was too precious to say, “Sorry, that’s the end of it.” I am therefore greatly concerned about the position in Kosovo.
My hon. Friend knows that the President of America visited Albania last week and, to great satisfaction, called for independence for Kosovo, which Albania wants. Does my hon. Friend agree that an American President interfering in such a difficult, specifically European issue, is rather problematic?
It was far from helpful, but I understand why the President said that at the time. I am not entirely sure that, even in Europe, we understand the complexities of some of those matters. America may have competencies in many areas, but I am not sure that the Balkans is one of them.
However, we are where we are. I fear that if we are not careful, we will have a genuine problem in the coming years. All I ask from the Government is that when the matter is being discussed they should not try to reach a quick-fix solution, because that will not last.
When I last visited Kosovo in February with the all-party group, it was apparent that Kosovo has become de facto an independent state. I believe that Serbia recognises that it will never get direct rule from Belgrade over the area, and that is welcome. The sticking point is that we have arbitrarily changed the boundaries of a state. Kosovo is recognised to be part of Serbia, and for us to say that that can be changed will set an awful precedent around the world. Our Government, America and the Contact group, with the exception of Russia, disagree and claim that it will be a one-off. Things do not work like that. I cannot understand how Republika Srpska would not say, “You’ve allowed Kosovo to become independent. We want to join up with Serbia proper. Why can’t we do that?” We have only to look a bit further towards the Caucasus to Abkhazia and Ossetia to find other problem areas. There is no easy answer, but we must not rush into a solution.
The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee takes a serious interest in the region, but he was slightly in error when he said that the countries of the European Union were at one on the matter. Perhaps that just about applies on the surface, but underneath, there is a great deal of concern about what would happen if boundaries and borders were changed anywhere, but especially in Europe.
I ask the Government to look seriously into the various possibilities. I wonder whether it would be possible to provide something like a lease, whereby perhaps for the next 99 or 100 years Serbia held a lease on that part of the world, knowing full well that it had no control over it. It is the feeling of belonging to those heartlands that is so important to recognise.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the key considerations in any settlement should be the right of the Serbian people to go to Kosovo, particularly in view of the incredible heritage for the Serbian people that can be seen there? The Serbian people want to be able to visit the monasteries and other sights that are so important to their nation, but that should be possible while preserving the self-determination of the Kosovars.
I agree, and I am sure that people will acknowledge that that can happen. When we travel to Kosovo and see those sacred sites surrounded by barbed wire and heavily armed international forces, it makes us realise that the reality is not the same as what is being said. I will leave it there.
I am very concerned that when we speak of Europe in the House, we are talking about the European Union. It is, of course, fundamental—and something about which many of our constituents have grave concerns—but we need to recognise that there is a wider Europe. If the EU is to be of any importance, it has to grasp that fact. I cannot really see how we could ever have a single European diplomatic force with European embassies, because so many different views are represented among the different European countries. It would be a wonderful world if that happened, but I am not a dreamer and I believe that we have to be pragmatic. That is why the EU, this country and the contact group have to take a serious look at what is happening in Kosovo and Serbia.
Serbia has made some advances. The new Government are looking much more to the west and to European-oriented government. They have provided much more help in finding suspected war criminals, and two more have recently been found. I believe that Carla del Ponte herself has said that it would not be helpful at this stage for a settlement to be imposed on the area. That is my one plea: we must get this right, because of the consequences if we do not.
The whole House is listening with great attention to my hon. Friend, who knows an awful lot about this subject and speaks with great feeling. Has he considered whether the European Union itself might ultimately be the only solution to the problem? It has already solved so many problems in areas such as Alsace-Lorraine or Alto Adige-Sudtirol—areas where blood has been shed through the centuries. Once countries come together within the European Union, exactly where the frontier happens to be is no longer such an existential matter and problems can be resolved. Is it not possible to envisage a solution under which Albania, Kosovo and Serbia are one day all in the European Union? Might not that provide the solution that my hon. Friend is looking for?
Strangely enough, I agree with my hon. Friend, but that is a long way in the future. In the long-term future, that may well be the only solution, under which the Balkan countries could become a working group rather as the Baltic countries have become today. Perhaps the goal is for that to happen within the EU, but it will certainly not happen straight away, particularly if the EU becomes more difficult and more constricted, with more and more regulations. That is why I personally favour, for the very good reasons that my hon. Friend expresses, a much looser association so that we can get these countries in more quickly without having to wait a long time, with the horrendous prospect of even more bloodshed to come if we do not get it right.
It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), who spoke with such passion on a subject that he knows a great deal about, and to contribute to this afternoon’s debate.
It seems to me that on 1 January this year, it was absolutely clear to everyone that the period of reflection after the rejection of the treaty by the Danish and the French was over. The trouble was that it became all too clear to too many of us that for many countries and Governments, including our own, it had been a period not just of reflection but of hibernation. The opportunity for the period of reflection to become a period of renegotiation and reconsideration had been lost. We are under no illusions. Chancellor Merkel has always made it absolutely clear that she wanted to resurrect and breathe new life into the constitution, and she is right to do that because it is her stated aim and it is what the German presidency is going to do.
The EU has been enlarged. The right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr. Kennedy) said earlier that those on our Front Bench had not mentioned the need for a new direction, but he was wrong. My right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) had actually asked the Foreign Secretary why she thought we needed a new direction if everything was going so well. We have always been clear about the fact that the enlarged EU needs a new direction. It does not need a more centralised, more controlled bureaucratic body to which we surrender more national powers. My right hon. Friend has made it clear on several occasions that his vision is of a looser amalgamation, with a well regulated single market and an attempt to unbundle and repatriate further powers.
Many people in the House and beyond will find it ironic that the Prime Minister, in his last act, is seeking to take the EU in a direction that many of us deem inappropriate. Such a move would be particularly unpopular with the British people and unnecessary for the future of Europe. The Foreign Secretary said that some of the member states that had ratified the constitution were experiencing difficulty in going back and accepting a mere amending treaty. That may be so, but it is a matter for them. It is for us to stand up and ensure that our national interests are being protected by the Government.
For many years, I worked in the City as an investment analyst, and I saw a huge amount of development in the way in which companies funded themselves. We used an analysis that we called the duck analysis: if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and sounds like a duck, it probably is a duck. If the amending treaty has the content and the intent of the EU constitutional treaty, it probably is a constitutional treaty, and it probably—no, definitely—will transfer power. Any reasoned analysis will therefore have to ask whether the amending treaty is inimical to the constitutional treaty, where the transfers of power will take place, and what negotiating stance our Government are taking to protect our national interests.
It must be clear to everyone that the EU constitutional treaty of 2004 was a step towards greater integration. It had two aspects. The constitutional aspect would have given the EU legal personality, and given EU laws supremacy over national laws. It would also have merged three pillars into one. The institutional aspect would have resulted in an elected full-time President, and a new Foreign Minister to replace the high representative and the external affairs commissioner. Qualified majority voting would have become the general procedure.
It is still unclear whether the amending treaty would confer legal personality on the EU. We shall have to wait and see, but President Sarkozy has suggested in recent statements that he intends to support the Spanish proposition that it should do so. There is already a proposal for an EU Foreign Minister who would have the power to speak on foreign affairs at the United Nations without the power of national veto, and the power to speak on matters beyond the common foreign policy. All the institutional input that would have resulted from the constitutional treaty is still there in this so-called amending treaty.
The Foreign Secretary once again defined some of the characteristics of the Government’s position, what would be acceptable to the Government and where the red lines would run. She said that Britain would not accept a treaty that allowed the charter of fundamental rights to change UK law in any way. She also said that the Government would accept a charter of fundamental rights that brought together existing laws, but she did not say whether the Government would accept a charter that changed EU laws and, through that, UK laws. Will the Minister therefore clarify what “in any way” means to the Government?
The second red line relates to the acceptance of anything that displaces the role of British foreign policy. The Foreign Secretary referred this afternoon to agreeing a common but not a single foreign policy. Does she therefore agree with the Spanish position that there will be European embassies? Do we really want a tower of Babel? That must be unacceptable. Do we really want an embryonic EU foreign service to jump out of the so-called amending treaty? Again, the red line seems open to interpretation.
Supposedly, Britain will not agree to anything that moves qualified majority voting into our tax and benefits system, or that gives up control of our legal, judicial and police systems. Again, however, the Foreign Secretary has given no clarity to those red lines. Could not moving criminal justice to a Community competency give the EU competence to make third-country agreements over extradition, which will affect the United Kingdom?
My hon. Friend will have noted that the Foreign Secretary said in her opening remarks that she favoured qualified majority voting where it is in the interests of this country. Does he agree that QMV per se will lead inevitably to decisions that may not be in the interests of this country, and that will be outside our control?
I do agree with that, as it is the logical conclusion of what the Foreign Secretary said this afternoon. As my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary said, the red lines might be red herrings; they might defend British interests, but they might also be entirely worthless. Unless the Government, in their winding-up, give some clarity on the red lines, we are entitled to say that the red lines will give us no protection whatever.
The Foreign Secretary, in her concluding remarks, alluded to that popular television programme “Deal or No Deal”, when she said that the Government will not do a deal at any price. That is fair enough, but if what is in the box called “amending treaty” is actually a constitutional treaty—I think that this is proven—whatever the banker offers is not high enough.
The House should also remember that there is huge cynicism about politics at the moment. All too often, the public believe that we say one thing, mean another and do yet another. What they want are politicians who stand up and say exactly what they mean, and then act accordingly. The Prime Minister said, “Trust the people”, on which we wholeheartedly support him. In 1997, he promised a referendum if powers were moved. He also said, and we accepted, that the British people wanted a referendum on the 2004 treaty. Our position is absolutely clear: we want a referendum if the so-called amending treaty transfers powers to the EU. According to any even brief analysis, it is likely that the amending treaty, even after this weekend, will transfer powers. Therefore, let us trust the people.
Finally, there is the issue of the Government’s mandate to act. At the general election, the Prime Minister said that he would serve a full term. Within two years, however, we are to have a new Prime Minister, unelected and without a clear mandate. At a time when the will of the British people is that no further powers should be transferred to Europe, but the so-called amending treaty will do exactly that, there is all the more reason for the Government to trust and respect the British people, and offer them a referendum.
I have looked at the mandate of the intergovernmental conference. I have also listened with great interest to the Foreign Secretary, having cross-examined her recently in the European Scrutiny Committee, where she admitted in so many words that she did not know the position of the United Kingdom Government or, indeed, of the European Union.
The mandate has been produced by the German Government. I have no doubt that they are pressing ahead with the proposal because they believe it is in their national interest to have a European constitution, or something so close to it as not to make a real difference. I am glad to say that, after a good deal of pressure, my party decided to vote against the constitution in principle—on a famous day last year when the Government went through the Lobbies to support it.
The European constitution would have completely undermined our parliamentary traditions and democracy. The fact that the new proposals do not contain the repeal provisions that are in the constitutional arrangements—I had to draw that to the Prime Minister’s attention a couple of years ago, which I think had some bearing on the fact that we ended up with a referendum—is not specifically a point in their favour. Obviously we would not want the existing arrangements to be set out in the context of repeal, but as I said to the Foreign Secretary— and it should be carefully noted—under these proposals not only will there be a single legal personality, but
“The word ‘Community’ will throughout be replaced by the word ‘Union’”.
“Throughout” means throughout all the treaties. The mandate describes the so-called reform treaty as an amendment which will consolidate the treaty on the European Union and the treaty establishing the European Community. The treaty establishing the European Community is to be called the “treaty on the functioning of the EU”. The mandate would consolidate all the existing treaty arrangements, with amendments, as indeed did the European constitutional treaty. Anyone who examines the transitional provisions will see that they included provisions for repeal and amendment.
The mandate states not only that
“The word ‘Community’ will throughout be replaced by the word ‘Union’”,
“it will be stated that the two Treaties constitute the Treaties on which the Union is founded and that the Union replaces and succeeds the Community.”
It then proceeds to the question of primacy.
We discussed the meaning of primacy a couple of years ago. It is well established, following the case of Costa v. ENEL, that there is an existing primacy in the European Union. I happen to take grave exception to the way in which it operates under sections 2 and 3 of the European Communities Act 1972, which is why I raised with my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), the shadow Foreign Secretary, the question of the legislative supremacy of this House. It is completely absurd for us to be in the position of legislating simply because a decision has been made at European level, irrespective of the impact on the ordinary everyday lives of the people of this country.
We have engaged in this debate over the past 15 years, but it is important to discuss the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised. Is not his criticism of the provision relating to the supremacy of Community law a criticism of this House and this Parliament, given that this House and this Parliament passed a provision in the 1972 Act accepting the supremacy of Community law?
Yes, it most emphatically is such a criticism. It was an enormous mistake to have done that in that way. An amendment of mine to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill—new clause 17—was supported by my party in the Commons and the Lords. It proposed in certain circumstances to override the 1972 Act, and, crucially, to require the judiciary to give effect to that latest expressly inconsistent enactment passed by this House on behalf of the electorate who put us in power.
Nothing is set in concrete forever; even the Minister will accept that things cannot remain static forever. In some circumstances, repatriation has blatantly become necessary. That is the sentiment of the British people, and it is probably also the sentiment of most other European countries. We must achieve the mechanism to deliver that, in the interests of the voters. [Interruption.] Is the Minister expressing approval? I think he must be, as he cannot disagree with my point. [Interruption.] I invite him to get up and disagree with me, by all means. We are talking about an important principle: democracy.
I do not dispute that the primacy of European law has been an established principle. That was set out under the Costa v. ENEL case of 1964—before we entered the EU—and there have been many other cases since. However, let me make my point on this subject by drawing an analogy with what happened in the 19th century, another time of enormous constitutional change. There was supremacy of Parliament before the passing of the Reform Acts, but it cannot be said that the supremacy of Parliament before the Reform Acts was the same as its supremacy after them. It was a new supremacy of Parliament, endorsed by its democratic accountability which came from everyone having been given the vote. Despite all the obfuscations and opaque and academic arguments about sovereignty that there are, the point I am making is simple. The question is whether the people of this country have the right to make the law through their elected representatives in line with their wishes in general elections.
The draft mandate states:
“Concerning the primacy of EU law, the IGC will adopt a Declaration recalling the existing case law of the EU Court of Justice.”
That is an unexceptional statement until that primacy is related to the new functions that are being conferred. Those new functions involve a structural change in the relationships between the United Kingdom and Europe—and between the United Kingdom Government and Parliament and the electorate of our country. That is a fundamental structural change. When we impose that new primacy, although there is no repeal provision as such, the proposed constitutional arrangements are so close to the existing ones under the treaty that the Minister and the rest of his party voted for, that any distinction that was made would be a distinction without a sufficient difference. That is the key point. If that argument stands up to scrutiny, which I believe it does, then it follows that we must have a referendum.
Something else follows as well. I am taking the trouble to explain my points on the mandate document because they are important. Between now and next Monday when the Prime Minister returns to the House and tells us what has happened over the weekend, I invite the Government to consider the following idea. Many people agree with me about the new mandate, and if am right it follows that there is a case for expressing a refusal to accept the proposals which is far more potent and useful than the case for offering a referendum. I ask my Front-Bench colleagues to listen to what I am about to say, too.
Although there is no technical opportunity to exercise a veto because the meeting is not an IGC—which seems to have escaped some people’s attention—it could be made clear that we will not accept these proposals on the following grounds: first, they confer further powers; secondly, this represents a fundamental change; and thirdly, it is perfectly clear that the provisions would be unacceptable to the people of this country.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. There is a logical flaw in what he his saying. He accepted a few moments ago that this Parliament accepted the supremacy of European law in the 1972 Act. If that is the case, this provision is not changing anything, and there is no need for a great debate about a provision that is not changing anything. It is the hon. Gentleman who is seeking to change something. I assume that there are some basic, fundamental membership rules of the Conservative party that have to be acknowledged and recognised. If someone wishes to change them, they either are able to do so or have to leave.
I have already made abundantly clear what my argument on primacy versus new primacy amounts to, and I do not need to repeat it.
The plain fact is that there is a whole raft of provisions that certainly require a referendum. I would like to see a referendum on all the existing treaties, and it so happens that on the Order Paper there is an early-day motion in my name, supported by well over 50 Conservative MPs, effectively endorsing that proposal. We have reached a watershed, and although we have reached various watersheds before, this one is fundamental because of the rejection of the constitutional treaty two years ago by France and the Netherlands.
The Minister for Europe has simply made the same excuse for not having a referendum as the Government used to make in respect of the constitutional treaty, before they conceded that they had to have a referendum on it because it represented a fundamental change.
Absolutely; I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The problem with this Government is that they are riddled with inconsistencies.
We have reached critical mass in terms of the accumulation of powers, which have gradually built up, treaty by treaty. We have been through the black hole of the constitutional treaty itself. Now there is an attempt to retrieve the situation, and despite the fact that it makes no substantial difference, to continue to pursue the idea, subject only to the Minister for Europe’s saying just a couple of days ago that there might be a referendum. However, we need to make it crystal clear that there should be a referendum. Because of the nature of this treaty—its accumulated text and its cumulative effect on the various functions—there must be a referendum on it, as if it were a referendum on all the existing treaties. I suspect that when the text of the treaty ultimately emerges, that is more or less what we will be dealing with. My early-day motion could turn out to be the basis on which we have to proceed—that there will be a referendum on all the existing treaties.
Although the treaty under discussion is called an amending treaty, it will consolidate all the others. It tries to pretend that it is something else but fails to make a sufficiently different distinction, and, finally, presents the British people with a simple question, which the new Prime Minister—the present Chancellor of the Exchequer—is going to have to run with. We have been watching him appoint people such as Jon Cunliffe—people who devised the five economic tests; the Foreign Office is being denuded of its influence; and the influence of people who clearly have a very Eurosceptic view is being carried into No. 10. All that gives me some hope that we will possibly end up with a new dispensation under the new Prime Minister.
Finally, it has been said that we will have a charter of fundamental rights that is different from the previous one, but which will nevertheless have legal value; however, if possible, it will be kept out of the clutches of the European Court of Justice. I have never heard so much tosh. As I said in The Times the other day, this is absolute rubbish. Well established case law shows that the charter, however it is referred to in these arrangements, will be part and parcel of the jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice. Much more needs to be said about this issue, and I am sure that my hon. Friends will continue this debate. However, I say with 100 per cent. certainty that we need a referendum. These proposals should be vetoed anyway, and we should jolly well have—
Order. The hon. Gentleman has had his 12 minutes.
I enjoyed the exchange between the Minister for Europe and my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), if only because the Minister has woken up. There is a placidity to these debates normally. I shall not follow that exchange, other than to note that all European treaties are of a constitutional nature. We need not fool around: the constitution was the last endeavour, and it is not called that any more, but from 1972 onwards, we have had a framework document—the originating treaty—that has governed the relationship of this House, this people and this nation to developing institutions in Europe.
Most of us in Britain—simple souls such as myself—did not understand the seriousness or greatness of the design. Why should we? I was outside the House in 1972. I believed in free trade areas and the decision was presented to the public as a free trade deal, so that was simple. But when I became a Member of Parliament, I began to read the documents and see what they actually entailed. The treaty is a clever, slowly evolving—not so slowly, because it is now rapidly accelerating—attempt to change the very nature of the Government of the UK. Other nations must speak for themselves.
The Foreign Secretary graced us with the inadequacy of her knowledge about the process by which we will arrive at our position over the next couple of days, and she bewildered us in that she has to maintain the position that, although we will have—or may have—a treaty, it will, if it does not meet the red lines that have been constructed by the Government but necessitates some change, be somehow not constitutional. That is what we are arguing about. We went from 1972 to the Single European Act, which Mrs. Thatcher ultimately said she would not have signed if she had known what would happen. She repudiated the decision in a sense, and to begin with I did not understand the difference between a single and a common market. America is a common market. The European government, in its approach to the market, is a single market. Which do I prefer? I prefer the common market, in which each of us competes, strives and controls, within the state system, what we judge to be best. That is not the ambition of that organisation.
By 1992, we had an opt-out. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister-to-be put conditions on it, but it contained a single currency. What does the treaty say about a single currency? It says that it shall be irrevocable and irreversible. Those are not words to be taken lightly. Having been told about the mutability of human life, we begin to appreciate that the treaty is a solid construction, with ambitions to be a grand and great constitution and to make the UK clearly, through usage and the passage of time, a subservient or subsidiary constituent of the union of Europe.
The European Economic Community became the European Community in 1992 in the treaty of union, in which the word “economic” was a limitation on the powers of the European Court. The burden of my argument is that whatever comes before us will be the first snapshot and opportunity—which I would take at every point of change—for people who were not born in 1972, or who did not understand what was happening, to have a vote on whether these arrangements should be allowed to take away a constitutional trust.
This country formed its own arrangements. We are in conflict about legal systems—about the civil versus the common-law tradition. There are many differences, but this Chamber, which Churchill called this “little room”, reflects something deep—the trust of those who send us here.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. We do not always agree in these debates but I have always admired his commitment to parliamentary democracy and sovereignty. We have only ever had one national referendum in this country. How does he equate his commitment to parliamentary sovereignty with his apparent support for referendums?
Very easily. I believe in the Locke premise, which is that we cannot give things away without reference to the people. Churchill said that the people are sovereign, and I believe that we are merely their representatives. When this or any Government attempt to sell off or assign to others responsibility for judgments on great matters of public policy, that is a matter beyond our competence. It is a matter for the competence of the people as a whole, after an informed debate leading to a referendum. That is what I am arguing for.
I understand that the Minister for Europe may not know his Locke, but the thinking about these matters is very old. I can reconcile my approach, because the sovereignty of Parliament and democratic Government that we now espouse and promote—I am here by virtue of it—began with the autocratic dictatorship of monarchy and progressed through oligarchy. Our struggle has always been to hold the Crown in check, and that is what we do in this Chamber. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister’s majority means that the Crown is now with him in Downing street, but that is no excuse for us if we forget what our business is and where the trust of those whom we should serve lies. That is why the EU cannot satisfy the democratic question.
I had not intended to indulge in that flourish. I was going to talk about Roman Herzog, the German Chancellor between 1994—the time of Maastricht—and 1999. After his time in office, he researched the extent of his country’s Government, looking at some interesting figures for the total number of so-called legislative instruments that had been passed. He found that most of the laws in force in Germany were no longer passed in the German Parliament, but in the EU.
It is hard for us to get to grips with that. When the Minister for Europe was Leader of the House, and therefore Chairman of the Modernisation Committee, we wanted to find out the extent of European legislation. Our inquiry was never concluded, but the Cabinet Office suggested that 40 per cent. of legislation came from Europe. When I asked about that figure, it disappeared from the Cabinet Office website, but figures from the German Ministry of Justice comparing the number of legislative processes in that country between 1998 and 2004 with the amount of EU legislation in the same period found that 84 per cent. of all laws were passed in Brussels, and only 16 per cent. in Berlin.
What was former President Herzog’s conclusion? In translation, he said:
“We have to ask whether the Federal Republic of Germany can still be unequivocally described as a parliamentary democracy.”
That is at the heart of why some of us are taking part in this debate. Can we be described unequivocally as a parliamentary democracy? I do not doubt that the balance of the legislative process in this country would reflect that of Germany, or of Lithuania.
I mention Lithuania, because it ratified the original constitutional treaty before it had been published in the European news circuit. Come on the new political classes that govern with their strange elections. What does public opinion matter? The document was a joyous expression; it had 400 inaccuracies after translation. We may be forming a union in which people expound their views by hallelujah choruses, but this Chamber to the last will go line by line through the detail of the constitutional arrangements that affect it.
The Minister is quieter now. Perhaps I have exhausted him, but the Foreign Office must pull itself together—or rather the Foreign Secretary must do so. We are in an absurd position. Two days before an important discussion about how the European Union will see its way through the misconceived judgments of the French and Dutch electorates, we are listening to a Prime Minister who is going out of the door having endorsed the constitution. That is the difficulty; he actually endorsed it.
The Prime Minister promised us a referendum should the constitution come about, although all his fingers and toes were crossed—we understand that—but the man who could endorse that and the Cabinet that could agree leave us doubtful as to their intent. I no longer trust the processes whereby Government proceed and accede to the European Union. It is disgraceful that we do not engage—that there is no way forward, no repatriation of powers and no understanding of what this country needs. That is why we must have a referendum.
I was not a Member in the 1990s but I watched the great European debates about Maastricht, so it is a great honour to follow speakers such as the hon. Members for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), for Stone (Mr. Cash) and for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies). It is easy to see why this place must have been electrifying during those debates in the ’90s—[Interruption.] Labour Members shake their heads—perhaps they had a different experience.
I apologise to the House for arriving late. Unfortunately, I was in Uxbridge for five hours being fitted for a gas mask for a forthcoming trip with the Select Committee on Defence. It was a frustrating experience. I thought that the congestion across the Forth bridge was bad until my experience of Uxbridge congestion, which was much worse.
This morning, I was reading about possible coalition deals with Labour, so when I saw the empty Labour Benches this afternoon I wondered whether crossing the Floor would increase my chances of being called to speak. However, I reassure Labour Members that we have no intention of crossing the Floor today.
I entered the House 15 months ago and this is my first European debate. I took part in a debate on the EU-China relationship in a European Standing Committee scrutiny session, which was attended by the Minister for Trade—I am sorry that he is not on the Treasury Bench at present. During that debate, we exposed a number of issues relating to China—on Africa, human rights, trade and the environment. They offered examples of why Europe is a good thing—why Europe can contribute to our nation and the rest of the world. If we were acting alone, we would not have the same influence on China as the EU has, which is why it is important that we have confidence in the EU, even with all its faults, and work with it to achieve a better world.
I do not go along with the approach of the hon. Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins), which is to muddle along in Europe. That gets us no further forward. Like many Conservative Members, we recognise that there are many faults in the EU, but muddling along is not the way to sort out the difficulties. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr. Kennedy) made an inspirational and honourable speech, which showed why we should be enthusiastic for Europe.
I will give the House two quick reasons why we need to reform. They are quite simple reasons and I am sure the public would understand them. Having 27 members of the Commission is completely unacceptable. It is not a way to run any kind of business or democracy. That is why we need to rationalise. To have any hope of building relationships with countries outside and within Europe, we need more than a six-month presidency of the European Union.
The hon. Gentleman is repeating the mantra that the EU cannot cope with 27 Commissioners. Can he give us an example from the last three years of when the EU has been stymied by having 25 or 27 Commissioners and has been unable to put forward its business?
The hon. Gentleman has pointed out many faults with the European Union in the past. I am sure that having 27 members of the Commission is one of the reasons why we are not able to advance. He is much more knowledgeable than me and can come up with many more examples than I can.
During the ’90s, I was often in eastern Europe, where I took part in training for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. I often came across European countries that were extremely enthusiastic about joining not just NATO, but the European Union. They saw membership as providing access to the modern world and as a way of improving their economies and internal processes. I wish we could inspire that enthusiasm for Europe, which has existed in the past, in this country.
There is enthusiasm for Europe in my local area. Rosyth ferry port provides access to the ferry to Zeebrugge. That is extremely popular with traders, as well as visitors to the European continent. West Fife Enterprise gives access to European grants to try to provide new opportunities for young people in training and enterprise. We even have motorbike shops that trade in euros. For that to happen is a sign of the enthusiasm for Europe in Fife.
I want to make two quick points before I move on the main thrust of my speech. Yesterday we found out that there has been movement on the official legal recognition of whisky. [Hon. Members:“Hear, hear!”] I hear cheers from Members, and quite right too. It is a great drink. I am sure that whisky producers in Scotland will welcome the legal recognition and that there will be the required economic boost. A slightly more negative point relates to the food supplement regulations that are being introduced. The efforts by the European Union to control the maximum limits on food supplements, vitamins and mineral are a negative step. I hope that the Minister will consider those proposals; I am sure that the Government are doing so already.
I wish to discuss Turkey, whose accession to the European Union has been 40 years in the waiting. In Europe, we have secured more than 40 years of peace and prosperity among member states, but we have often looked towards our boundaries to try to expand that peace. Turkey is one of the immediate neighbours that we should look to engage with further and ultimately welcome into a further expanded European Union. The European Economic Community promised Turkey membership, albeit conditionally, more than 40 years ago, and we have often repeated the commitment since. Turkey has been seeking integration into Europe ever since, economically and, as far as possible, politically. It has launched major internal changes to facilitate membership. Not admitting Turkey once it meets the EU standards would be extremely damaging.
We will all be aware of the recent political troubles in Turkey involving the ruling AK party and the debate about the election of the President. Of course, Turkish membership of the European Union is not just around the corner because stringent criteria must be met for it to be able join—and rightly so. The oppression of the Kurds in eastern Turkey cannot simply be forgotten, for example. However, the fact that the death penalty has been abolished is a hugely encouraging sign of progress. The issues that stand in the way of membership are not insubstantial, however, and will take time to resolve.
The current Turkish Government have presided over a number of consecutive years of substantial economic growth. Evidently, it would be folly to rule out the membership of such a diverse and strategically important country as Turkey. Members of the European Union should not create artificial barriers or unexpected hurdles. If Turkey fulfils its criteria, it is entitled to accession, but we should make it clear that Turkey cannot qualify on economic grounds alone and that pluralism, the rule of law and freedom of speech must be realities, not merely aspirations.
Britain has been robust in its support for the enlargement of the EU. In 2004, we supported the accession of 10 new countries to the EU, while in 2007, we have supported two more member states. We should maintain that position because a diverse and large Europe will benefit us all.
The Defence Committee, of which I am a member, has been scrutinising the European security and defence policy. We examined the importance of the policy during trips to Washington, Canada and European countries. As we try to meet the challenges of terrorism and rogue states, we need to ensure that we work together for the benefit of us all and the freedoms and rights that we protect in this country. However, the concept of simply relying on NATO is ill conceived.
The scaremongering of Eurosceptics, with their usual anti-European stance, is predictable on this front, as it is on many fronts. They complain when other countries try to introduce more qualified majority voting in the EU, presumably because they do not wish to be railroaded by those countries, but when it comes to NATO, they attempt to railroad other countries into participating in conflicts for which there is little domestic support. I encourage members of NATO and the EU to do their fair share in conflicts such as that in Afghanistan. Such countries have often not stepped up to the plate or reduced the number of caveats to their participation. However, it is extremely unreasonable simply to require them to participate in conflicts when they have difficulties at home. The approaches on NATO and the EU seem to conflict.
Does not the hon. Gentleman see the distinction between the European Union, which has a legislative aspect, and an organisation under the Washington treaty that is not legislated for by this place and, ultimately, cannot be mandated?
The hon. Gentleman makes an appropriate point. I am talking about the approach to the organisations. I am trying to make the broad point that we seem to try to lay guilt on other countries for not playing their part in NATO, but we reject other countries’ attempts to encourage us to become wider members of the European Union. There is in an inconsistency in the approach.
I am sorry to challenge the hon. Gentleman, but I think that there is an inconsistency in his argument. NATO has a straightforward remit. I will be curious to hear his views on this, but if there is any concern, it is the struggle over whether member nations should participate in both NATO and the rapid reaction corps with 60,000 members that the European Union is trying to set up. I do not believe that it would be possible to be part of both. At the moment, colonels and commanders are double-hatting, but they cannot be in two places at once.
The hon. Gentleman has a great deal of knowledge about this matter, but, in principle, he is wrong. There is no reason why we must have a simple process in order for things to work. Many comparisons regarding soft and hard power have been made between the ESDP and NATO. There is no reason why we cannot work together on different conflicts to try to find suitable strengths. If it takes the ESDP to make member states take on their responsibilities outside the boundaries of NATO and the EU, we should use that route. We must recognise that countries have problems with which they must deal, so it is not appropriate simply to demand that they play a greater part.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is right that the European Union can play a role on soft power. However, Bosnia is a great example of the European Union failing to provide the troops or the initiative to solve a problem. It was not until America came along—indeed, until NATO came along—and the Dayton peace accord was signed that we got peace in the Balkans. That would not have happened if the situation had been left to the EU alone.
I recognise that these matters are not simple and that there are often system failures. The fact that NATO and the ESDP do not communicate effectively is one reason. We need to work together. Just because it may seem on the outside that there is duplication or overlap, that does not mean that the two systems cannot work side by side. There is blind adherence to maintaining NATO, without considering a similar European body. That is inappropriate.
In conclusion, we need to work together through the European Union and other international bodies so that we can advance the cause of Britain in a larger whole, rather than working on our own.
Like my hon. Friends the Members for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) and for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), I have not previously spoken in a European Affairs debate. I understand that such debates take place twice a year. I was warned that it would be dangerous to speak in the debate, as I would become for ever part of a mythical group of people called “the usual suspects”. I was intrigued by that. I was also intrigued to hear the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) earlier describing an additional two species called the Euro-creeps and the Euro-lags.
I am struck by the fact that on the Government Benches there are virtually no suspects present. Despite the fact that this is a fundamental debate about the future of this country, the future constitutional arrangements of the European Union and its interaction with the United Kingdom, there are no Labour Members in the Chamber other than two Back Benchers, a Parliamentary Private Secretary and a Whip, as well as the Minister for Europe. It is a pretty poor show.
As a new speaker in the debate, I ought to outline some of my background. I am genuinely pulled two ways on Europe—between my heart and my head, or between my personal life and my political life. At various times for my degree I studied the German, Czech and Turkish languages. I lived and worked in Germany for over two years. I had been to 25 of the 27 EU countries, excepting only Cyprus and Malta, before I was aged 30, both on personal and on business travel. My wife is half German and half Russian. The language of choice for us at home is German. My daughter is being brought up bilingually, as my other children will be, and she holds two EU passports.
My constituency has the second largest number of EU residents anywhere in the country after Kensington and Chelsea. From a personal point of view, I should be a total enthusiast for the European Union and everything that it stands for. However, that is not the case. Why am I opposed to the current direction of the EU? Probably because I believe that it needs fundamental change. I strongly believe that we must be in Europe and make the case for a Europe that is in our mould. We have many declared and potential allies since expansion, to whom we are not talking enough. That is especially the case with the present Government. We want a grouping of sovereign nation states able to trade freely with one another, co-operating on areas of common political interest. Change is desperately needed. According to the European Commission’s own figures, by 2050 Europe’s share of world output will fall to only 10 per cent. The US will be on 26 per cent. at that time. That means that in just 40 years the average American will be twice as well off as the average European.
In February, I attended a speech on Europe by my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) at the Movement for European Reform. The speech had a great deal to commend it. My right hon. Friend spoke about how the EU, rather than focusing on itself, gaining more powers and expanding its remit, should focus on becoming what he called the 3G Europe, concentrating on global poverty, globalisation and global warming. I would add a fourth G—global terrorism. We should add to that list sovereignty and the paramountcy of Parliament in making UK law.
Much has been said today on the EU constitution, and there are real fears that the same treaty has come to us dusted off that was previously presented in 2004. Last month, I was in the audience for a speech in Potsdam by Angela Merkel’s right-hand man, Thomas de Maizière, the chief of the Chancellor’s office and the Federal Minister of Special Affairs. De Maizière was applauding the content of the EU constitution while criticising moves made more than two years ago to call it a constitution. His words were: “You don’t name the baby until after it’s born.” The implication was clear: the baby was a great thing but should not have been called a constitution until after it had been ratified.
The hon. Gentleman will recall that I was at the conference, sitting practically next to him, and I want to probe him on other comments made by Thomas de Maizière. Please correct me if I am wrong, but when asked, I think by the editor of the Financial Times, when it would be appropriate for Angela Merkel to hold discussions with the Leader of the Opposition on the state of Euroscepticism within the British press, Thomas de Maizière very clearly replied, “Never, for as long as the Conservative party plans to leave the European People’s party.” Is not that a damning indictment on the hon. Gentleman’s party’s policy?
I am delighted to be given the additional minute and to talk about the role of the Members of the European Parliament. It is of interest to me that, on 7 June, Labour Members of the European Parliament voted for the motion, which stated:
“To achieve a settlement of the ongoing constitutional process of the EU that is based on the content of the constitutional treaty, possibly under a different presentation.”
That is exactly the same thesis as was put forward by Mr. de Maizière in his comment that the baby should not be named until it is born.
I do not believe that my hon. Friend will be able to do justice to the matter in one minute, so I intervene to try to give him a second minute.
I am extremely grateful.
Order. I am in danger of taking time out of the hon. Gentleman’s speech, but only to say that I do not think that that practice should be encouraged.
Thank you for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon spoke about the Government being in a period of hibernation on the constitution, having done very little during the past two years.
In an attempt to add an extra minute, I was wondering whether the hon. Gentleman would answer my earlier question.
Yes. The answer is that the hon. Lady should be careful about throwing stones in glasshouses. If she looked at what the Socialist group of MEPs was presenting in terms of a deeply federal Europe, she would be genuinely alarmed. If I were her, I would more closely examine her own side first.
I have been looking at the timetable for the past six weeks in the lead-up to this crucial summit. I have been going through all the press releases put out by the German federal Government, the Bundesregierung, and comparing the movements of Angela Merkel and her wheeling and dealing to try to secure a deal on the European constitution with the complete lack of such activity by our own leaders.
I mentioned earlier that the German Chancellor had had one to one meetings with the leaders of Poland, France, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, Belgium, Italy, Hungary, Lithuania and so on. It is fascinating to compare what she was doing with what the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Deputy Prime Minister were up to at the same time. For example, when Angela Merkel was meeting the President of Poland, the Prime Minister’s office was trailing that, as part of his legacy tour, he would love to go back on “Blue Peter”. When the German Chancellor was meeting the new French President, our Prime Minister was on a plane to Washington. Obviously, going to Washington would usually be important, but as part of a legacy tour, when the constitution is up for negotiation, where was he? When the German Chancellor met the Danish leader, Mr. Rasmussen, on 22 May, our Prime Minister was doing an interview with Brian Williams of NBC, talking about how popular he is in the United States. On it goes. When the German Chancellor was meeting the leaders of Sweden, Ireland and Belgium, our Prime Minister was in Sierra Leone.
I also had a quick look to see what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been doing. I went to his website, “Gordon Brown for Britain”, which includes a section called “Follow Gordon” that allows people to follow his progress around the UK. The site helpfully includes a huge map of Europe that extends to Slovenia, Sweden and Italy. However, the map of Europe is absolutely blank, because he has not made a single visit to Europe or met a single European leader in six weeks, other than his conversation with Mr. Sarkozy on the telephone, because he has been too busy shadow boxing at the Labour party hustings. At a time when we have no Government to represent us and fight our corner in Europe, our right to govern ourselves is being given away.
The Government have been incredibly evasive. Last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) asked the Foreign Secretary to come clean on what discussions she has had with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor on the constitution. Her reply was brief, even by new Labour standards:
“All these issues are discussed among all members of the Government at all times.”—[Official Report, 5 June 2007; Vol. 461, c. 119.]
That was an incredibly helpful and informative answer.
Germany has been saying that the EU is unworkable without a new treaty and the constitution. Again, I shall refer to the federal Government press release published on 14 June:
“A new treaty is to prevent gridlock within the EU, even with 27 or more member states.”
There is significant evidence that there is no gridlock in the EU. I happen to sit on the European Scrutiny Committee, and every week we consider an enormous pile of documents, including the latest directives, Green Papers and White Papers from the Commission. I shall pick out three examples from recent weeks, because all the evidence indicates that there is no gridlock in the EU.
First, there are the foreign prisoner repatriation regulations. I got in there on the right of UK victims of crime to be told whether a foreign prisoner who has been repatriated will be released, which is a fundamental part of UK law on victims of crime. Unfortunately, that particular EU document does not contain any regulations about notifying victims of crime in the event of such a prisoner being released from a foreign jail.
Secondly, there is funding for integration and community cohesion. It stands to reason that the integration of minorities into societies and countries is, almost by definition, a job for nation states and national Governments. It is difficult to conceive how a supranational body can be in charge of integration, but there is a new EU integration fund. I agree with exchanging best practice, but for the EU to have competence on the integration of minorities is fundamentally wrong and potentially disastrous.
Thirdly, we have already heard about the European security and defence policy. An amazing document on the progress made on the ESDP during the German presidency came before the European Scrutiny Committee last week. It mentions civilian capabilities, military capabilities, the European capability action plan, various battle groups and operational activities. A group of countries is effectively behaving like a state through the ESDP.
I want briefly to discuss one subject other than the future of the EU, namely, our relations with Russia, which, surprisingly, have not been raised in this debate. Relations are certainly worsening, which is a problem. Last week, I was interviewed by a Russian business magazine, Profil, and the interviewer could not work out why people in the UK are upset about the Alexander Litvinenko affair. I had to explain that the man concerned was a UK citizen—whether or not one agrees with aspects of our asylum and immigration system, he was, nevertheless, a UK citizen, and he should have been protected by the UK Government. In my view, he was badly let down. A British citizen was assassinated in cold blood in a restaurant, hotel or bar somewhere in London by the use of a radioactive isotope, which is deadly serious in every sense.
In terms of our relations with Russia, the key area to consider is how we are engaging, or not engaging, with the countries of the former Soviet Union. Almost all the disputes that are happening between the west and Russia have at their heart countries from the former Soviet Union—they concern the war memorial in Estonia, the direction of political change in Ukraine, energy through Ukraine and Belarus, Georgia’s bid to join NATO, oil deliveries to Lithuania, gas pipelines, and so on. Britain and the EU need to engage a lot more.
Finally, I want to throw out an idea that brings the two things together: whether it is possible for Russia to join the EU. I think that that is fundamentally possible. Are we going to say that Russia is the only country in Europe—the only Orthodox country; the only Slav country with a Slavonic tongue—that cannot join the EU? We should seriously consider that, because it would do the EU an enormous amount of good, as would the accession of Turkey when the conditions are right. Obviously, an awful lot has to change.
It is a genuine pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands), who is, as we have all seen and heard, as educated, cerebral and dextrous a contributor to our debate as we could hope for on this important occasion.
I confess that my starting point is somewhat different. For 34 years, under successive Governments of both colours, Britain has been a member first, of the European Community, and subsequently, of the European Union. That is because a judgment was made that it was in our interests to be so. My view is that it remains in our interests for two principal and highly compelling reasons, the first economic and the second political. The economic argument has not fundamentally changed—if anything, it has strengthened. The arguments made in support of initial entry—the opportunity of massively expanded trade, the creation of a vast new raft of jobs, the deregulation of markets and increased consumer choice—seem to me, if anything, more potent now than they were back in 1972. That is because, first, a great deal has been achieved since then in terms of liberalisation, consumer choice and competitive capitalism, and secondly, there was then a market of 250 million or 350 million people, but there is now a market of well-nigh 500 million people.
Secondly, there was and is a political reason for our membership. We were conscious, as we are now, of a huge number of challenges which, with good will and flexibility among member states, can be more effectively tackled together than if we insist on choosing to consider matters only for our individual constituent nations. In the process of trying to overcome some of the transnational problems that beset us, we seek also to promulgate and disseminate essentially democratic values that we nurture and cherish in this country, and which we recognise as underpinning the democracies of other member states of the European Union. The reality is that if one is in government, whatever the anxieties, frustrations and disappointments, one probably acknowledges that when it comes down to it and one has to make a choice, it is more sensible to be part of the European Union than not to be part of it or so to detach oneself from the mainstream as effectively to neuter one’s influence. We can all make Eurosceptic speeches—I have done so myself and can do it virtually in my sleep—but I would politely suggest that there is a difference between what one does when one is charged with the responsibilities of government and what one does, or says, when one languishes in the impotence of opposition. My personal view is that we should put the issue of membership to bed.
Let me underline the argument for the avoidance of doubt. Of no fewer than six Prime Ministers —Ted Heath, Harold Wilson, Jim Callaghan, Margaret Thatcher, John Major and the present Prime Minister—none has seriously entertained for one moment the notion of exit or departure from the European Union. That is the starting point. We need to be in there, punching our weight and making a contribution. We need to try to be constructive at all times on every issue.
Let me try to pursue the point that I attempted to make earlier, but to which I did not get an adequate answer. Following the hon. Gentleman’s chain of logic, would it not be unwise for the Conservative party to leave the European People’s party if that means that the Chancellor of Germany will not speak to his party’s leader?
That is a fascinating intervention, to which I would happily respond in appropriate detail and with all my arguments marshalled on another occasion. If the hon. Lady is interested in joining me for a cup of tea, for which I am happy to pay, I am willing to debate the matter with her at another time. However, I shall not be diverted, even by the quick-wittedness of her interventions, from the central thrust of the argument on which I should like to focus.
The logical corollary of accepting the principle and practice of continued membership is recognition of the need to co-operate. There must be a basic pre-disposition for members of the European Union to try to co-operate. Moreover, co-operation in the European Union is not a one-off instance or an isolated act but a continuous and recurrent process, which is implicit in our commitment to membership. It is striking and interesting that several hon. Members from different parties have acknowledged the merit of co-operation but paid lip service to or genuflected at it. They have not gone on logically to develop the argument and to explain in what respects, for what reasons and in what instances co-operating is worth while.
Let me therefore give some examples of working together on a co-operative basis, which is indispensable for the future interests of the United Kingdom, irrespective of the outcome of the forthcoming Council meeting and any subsequent intergovernmental conference. First, let us consider defence co-operation. European Union countries spend approximately £250 billion a year on defence procurement. I should have thought that it logically followed from that state of affairs that it is worth trying to co-operate to achieve better value for money and interoperability of personnel and kit, and to safeguard and promote this country’s defence industrial base. That argument is almost unanswerable. Perhaps that can be done under existing arrangements and does not require an extension of legislative power, but one does not need to take an absolutist stance. The issue is how to advance and bolster the UK’s interests.
Let us consider co-operation on energy policy. It is manifestly clear that it is to our advantage for energy policy purposes and in the attempt to combat climate change to try to pool our resources and hunt as a pack. We all know that we need significantly to free up the energy market and that there is a commitment to try to ensure 20 per cent. renewables use in future. That requires collective action. We also know that there are huge gains to be made in energy efficiency. Several hon. Members have alluded to the reality that China is a growing power, that there are concerns about Iran, that India is an increasingly significant force in the world and that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham pertinently reminded us, there is Russia.
For security of supply, seeking to marshal our resources and maximising our value for money, it makes a great deal of sense to try significantly to extend defence co-operation in the European Union.
On defence co-operation, it is worth thinking about a project such as the Tornado fighter, which was set up by four sovereign countries. Indeed, when it was first set up, Spain was not even a member of the EU, so it is perfectly possible to have co-operation and joint effort without having the EU—but my hon. Friend has already said that.
That may well be so—for the time being.
The point that I would like gently to underline to all colleagues is that one does not need to die in the ditch on an abstract principle, which is in a sense a violation of the Conservative tradition, unless one needs to do so.
I hesitate to say this because I so rarely disagree with anything that my hon. Friend says. I am listening very carefully to his argument about the importance of co-operation. Does he agree that one of the biggest concerns of the people of this country is that all too often, co-operation within the EU is about doing deals behind closed doors? It feels to many people like decision-making power through their elected representatives is being taken away from them and becoming a process over which they have no control. Will my hon. Friend address that concern, about which many people feel strongly?
I understand the point, I recognise the concern and there is an extent to which I share it. I politely suggest to my hon. Friend, however, that that concern does not invalidate the merit of or need for co-operation. It underscores the importance of having greater transparency, which is partly a matter of scrutiny by this House. We need dramatically to improve our procedures in that regard and perhaps those of the EU as well.
I would like to warm to my theme of co-operation, which I think is true in respect of a number of aspects of the challenge to tackle crime. Cross-border crime, for example, is estimated to cost the EU something in the order of £20 billion a year—a huge sum of money. If we ask people, “Do you want the European Union to control criminal justice policy?” they will say no to that, but if we break down the issue into a series of bite-sized chunks, people are much more amenable to the argument. If we ask about the exchange of data, the contribution of Europol or the role of Eurojust, I believe that there is growing recognition that it is simply not sensible to die in a ditch and insist on the preservation of complete independence where that independence tends to entail an element of impotence—[Interruption.] Others have had their opportunity to contribute and I am going to develop my argument.
I happen to believe that asylum policy is also an area on which we should co-operate. It was referred to en passant by my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), who spoke from the Front Bench about the pursuit of a common European asylum policy as though that were somehow a bad thing. Actually, as I have been arguing for the last two years in pamphlets and elsewhere, it would be a good thing. Why? Asylum is a phenomenon that confronts all EU member states and a great many other countries to boot. If we want seriously and effectively to tackle the growing phenomenon of asylum shopping, to share the responsibility for people seeking sanctuary, and to sign up to and enforce the principle of non-refoulement, we need some sort of collective agreement.
Let me simply say that I do not know whether there will be a deal; I do not know whether it will be a deal worth having; and I do not know whether the House will judge it to be a worthwhile deal. What I do know is that the issues will not go away. We really have to take a hard-headed, pragmatic and self-interested view of how we can advance the cause of United Kingdom plc.
I strongly agree with a great deal of what my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) had to say. The Commission is too large and it should be reduced. I happen to think that merging two roles—of the High Representative and the External Affairs Commissioner—that currently operate entirely separately would, as my hon. Friend suggested, make a great deal of sense. Like my hon. Friend, I am a member of the International Development Committee and I believe that it is manifest and arrant nonsense for the European Union to be represented by two separate individuals giving conflicting impressions. I also think that the rotating presidency as it operates at the moment is corrosive of the interests of the EU and, yes, we can look for a simpler, better and more efficient deal in terms of qualified majority voting.
There is a slightly neurotic strand to some of the critics’ arguments. On the one hand, people are hugely critical of the European Union and flay it at every turn, but on the other, when suggestions for reform, improvement, transparency and efficiency are made, they then seem somehow to retreat into the laager that suggests that any change must necessarily be for the worst. That seems to be a mistake.
Let us return to the best tradition of British foreign policy making, which entails a degree of pragmatism, of jealous regard for the national interest, and of recognition of the need for flexibility. The British national interest should come first, second and third in our deliberations over the next few weeks, and in the months and years ahead.
I do not want to get into a competition with my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands), who made a very good speech—but I feel that I have an even stronger claim to being socially and continentally minded. He informed the House about the languages that he spoke; I speak five European languages fluently, I have lived in Sweden, France and Poland for a total of nine years, and I have a Polish grandfather, now deceased, and a totally unpronounceable foreign surname. Despite that continental pedigree, however, I feel increasingly alienated by further EU integration.
Rightly, a great deal has been said in the debate about the constitution, and it is vital that we should now have a referendum. I am the chairman of the national campaign for a referendum, which has cross-party support. I am grateful that the hon. Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) is here, because he is a key part of that organisation. In The Times newspaper today, there is a full-page article from an organisation called Speak Out asking members of the public to ask their Member of Parliament to lobby on the need for a referendum. The Chancellor of the Exchequer says that he will have a new kind of Government and that he will be a Prime Minister who listens to the people. It seems, however, that he will listen to the people, but not on the issue of a referendum on the European Union.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that listening to the people and then moving on without taking any notice is different from listening to them and acting on what they say?
I concur with that 100 per cent.
So much has changed since 1972 when we entered the then EEC. As I mentioned to the Foreign Secretary, there are millions of people like me who, because of when they were born, have not been consulted on the process of further European integration. I was three years of age when the referendum took place, so I did not have the opportunity to cast my vote.
Everyone talks about the importance of the European project gathering pace and moving forward, but no one mentions the potentially huge backlash that we will face in 20 or 30 years’ time if we continue to ignore people and to refuse to allow them to have referendums, and if we suddenly find ourselves in a European state. People will start to rebel against that, and it might be excessive to say so, but there could be serious social tensions as a result.
Shropshire is having a huge public consultation on proposals for a unitary authority at the moment. People are being consulted through referendums on an issue as parochial as the way in which our local councils are run. The Government also gave a referendum to the people of the north-east on the regional assembly, yet they are not prepared to give the British people a referendum on the vital issue of the new constitution. The Foreign Secretary likes to call it an amending treaty, but it is nevertheless a constitution that will impinge on our sovereignty.
The problem with the European Union is its size. It has 27 countries with huge differences in culture and focus. The constitution is trying to nibble its way towards the one-size-fits-all concept; it wants all of us to be in a one-size-fits-all straitjacket. When I was in business, as many Conservative Members have been, I worked for a telecommunications company for many years, and my job was to try to create a pan-European strategy so that we could better service our international customers. That was extremely difficult to manage, because when I tried to get those in other European countries to comply with a common pan-European strategy, they were not interested. The French wanted to do their own thing, as did the Swedes and the Germans. It is difficult to force such proposals through.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), in a typically excellent speech, mentioned the fact that Lithuania passed the constitution before it had even been published. Today, in anticipation of this debate, I met the Estonian ambassador and three Estonian MPs. I tried as hard as possible to convince them, on the House of Commons Terrace, to be more Eurosceptic, and to be against the constitution. I failed miserably. The Estonians are very keen on the constitution, and 85 per cent. of Estonian citizens want a constitution.
I spoke with Marko Mihkelson, the chairman of the EU affairs committee in the Estonian Parliament, who made some relevant comments. He said that Estonia, as a relatively small country, had been a member for only three years, had had serious tensions on its border with Russia, was concerned about gas supplies, and did not want to rock the boat. That is fine—I understand and respect that position. But it is not the position in which our country—a hugely important military and economic power—finds itself. We should be able to challenge the concept of a constitution and have more sovereignty devolved down to us.
My hon. Friend is making a series of heartfelt criticisms of the European Union, and I respect and understand that, clearly. But will he tell the House why the membership of the Union, notwithstanding all its weaknesses, has increased in recent years to 27?
As always, my hon. Friend asks a pertinent question. The reason is that for many countries, joining the EU is the thing to do. Were I a Maltese or Lithuanian citizen, I would want the umbrella, or comfort blanket, of the European Union. I see that there are Whips in the Chamber, so let me say that I do not want this country to leave the European Union—perish the thought. However, I do not want our sovereignty to be gradually eked away, either. That is a fundamental difference.
I said to the Estonians that a time would come when the European Union would ultimately focus on other issues. I, the hon. Member for Luton, North and others from all political parties across Europe will want to bring the European Union back to what it was originally designed as—a trading bloc. I told the Estonians to look at all the important blocs around the world—we need to operate in blocs, because of the World Trade Organisation and other issues—in the Pacific, Asia and the Americas. All those vitally important blocs in this globally competitive world focus on international trade, and on trading and working together to maximise their input in the world. We do not find Paraguay and Argentina, or Vietnam and Laos, talking about federalist matters. They are simply not interested. They want to focus on trade.
I am conscious of time, so I shall get on to my main point. Sovereignty in terms of the constitution is important, but I want to talk about another aspect, which has not been picked up on—our ability to protect our borders. There has been a huge flow of African migrants to Europe over the last few years. Many boats have arrived in the Canary islands from Mauretania. That is a threat to our sovereignty because we are not able to police our common European Union frontiers, but it is also a human tragedy because of what has happened to those poor illegal immigrants.
I attempted to form an all-party parliamentary group on Mauretania so that we could interact more with that country over its tremendous problems in trying to stem the flow of illegal immigrants. Now that Mauretania has democracy for the first time, I hope that the Minister and the Government will start to work with that country to ensure that it is helped not just to police the flow of illegal immigrants to Europe, but to gain jobs and prosperity so that people do not feel the need to migrate.
I am sorry that my attendance at a memorial service caused me to be late for the debate.
If both the present Government and their predecessor had been more active in the European Union in trying to work with our neighbours, we could have made the policing of those borders more effective. The problem is that we in Britain are always semi-detached, and never play our part as we ought to. If we did play our part, that would do more to achieve what my hon. Friend wants than almost anything else.
I entirely agree.
Illegal immigrants are now coming not just from Mauretania, but via Libya to Malta and the Italian island of Lampedusa. Malta, our common fraternal ally, is struggling to cope. It is a tiny island in the Mediterranean, and the refugee centres are full to the brim with illegal immigrants. I have spoken to many Maltese members of Parliament who are very angry and disappointed. They feel let down by the European Union, and by Britain. They feel that Britain has an inherent responsibility to help them, but I believe that we are doing absolutely nothing to help Malta.
If the problem in the European Union were a lack of consensus, would the hon. Gentleman approve of measures to deal with precisely that problem if they were agreed by qualified majority voting?
Replying to that question would move me away from my argument about illegal immigration, so I will leave it for another time.
I know the Minister will support me when I speak of the terrible tragedy and fiasco of African migrants stranded on a tuna-netting platform in the Mediterranean. There was a dispute between Italy, Libya and Malta over who should save those people standing on a fishing platform in the middle of the sea. It was an appalling situation. We should be focusing and working together on issues like that, not on intricate specific constitutional matters that detract from the matters on which our constituents want us to focus.
My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) made some heartfelt statements about Kosovo. I share his interest in that part of the world, and I believe that the issue needs further debate.
There are countries in the European Union, notably Romania, Greece and Russia, that are also concerned about full independence for Kosovo. I was very upset and annoyed when the American President went to Albania and said that Kosovo should gain independence straight away. It is not the business of the President of America to dictate the intricate independent machinations of countries in Europe. Neither I nor anyone else in the Chamber would dream of telling the Americans how to run their affairs in their own back yard, and we do not expect the President or his Administration to tell us what should be happening in the European Union.
The best speech today was without doubt that of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills, a man for whom I have the utmost respect. He called for a referendum. I think that we sometimes make our greatest mistakes when we choose not to listen to senior, experienced citizens, particularly those like my hon. Friend who have so much experience.
It is a pleasure to participate in this debate, which has been engaging, thought-provoking and entertaining. It is also a delight to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), who has shown that he is our Conservative Phileas Fogg, as he has wandered around Europe so much and gained so much experience. I did not realise that he also speaks five languages. He towers over us in so many ways.
The debate is on European affairs but we have focused on the European summit, as that will take place shortly, and in particular on what might be on its agenda. We have agreed that the idea of a constitution will certainly be there, and the background to that has been thoroughly discussed. In 2004, all the European Union countries were asked to participate in a referendum, and our Government pledged that we would have one, but everything came to a grinding halt when Holland and France voted no. Therefore, the great plan for a European constitution ground to a halt.
What did we do? Instead of seizing the initiative, we began a two-year period of reflection, for some of which we held the EU presidency. The big EU bus was parked right outside No. 10 Downing street, the keys were handed to us, and what did we do? We twiddled our thumbs, rather than grasping the wheel, revving the engine and driving the bus in the direction we wanted to go. We have missed the opportunity to take the country, and Europe, in a new direction.
Germany has a different approach. Its “Vorsprung durch Technik” attitude has meant that it has not been idle while holding the EU presidency. It has done some homework, and its intentions for the summit are clear. Angela Merkel said recently:
“I absolutely want this constitutional treaty. . .we need a constitution to have a Europe that has the power to act.”
Germany wants to set out a plan at the EU summit: it wants to push for an intergovernmental conference next year, and for this new treaty.
We should consider what the new constitution will lead to. There will be a permanent President of the European Council, a permanent EU Foreign Minister and the EU’s own diplomatic service, and there will also be action to give legal force to the charter of fundamental rights, which could allow the European Court of Justice to rule on matters such as strikes. There will also be a new system of weighted voting for member states and the abolition of national vetoes over police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters. If that is not enough, there will also be the ability to sign treaties. All in all, there would be quite a change, and a major step towards a federal state of Europe. We need an opportunity not only to debate that, but to vote on it.
The situation is ironic, because the last time we had a debate on a constitution, the UK, Ireland, Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, the Czech Republic and Poland postponed their referendums following the results in France and Holland. Only two of the 27 EU countries ratified the constitution via a full referendum: Spain and Luxembourg. Sixteen out of 27 nations did not offer their citizens the chance to vote. The people of Europe have not had an opportunity to participate fully in this debate. That is wrong.
Why have some Members, who have lived all their lives in a parliamentary system under which MPs are elected to Parliament to make decisions such as the one we are debating, suddenly decided that the foreign attitude of holding referendums, which we in Britain have never had before, should be adopted? I have always voted against referendums on any basis. We are Members of Parliament; we are elected to represent our constituents and we should vote on these issues, just as we should vote on whether to go to war or not.
My right hon. Friend makes a powerful argument. We could debate what matters are worthy of a referendum and what matters should be designated to be debated in Parliament. I believe that a precedent has been set, in that there was a referendum on our joining the European Community. That fundamental change was worthy of a referendum. That is my view, and the position that I shall state.
I am spoilt for choice, but I think that I shall return to my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer).
My hon. Friend is, I think, mistaken. We entered the European Union by a vote of this House, which I was proud to take part in; indeed, it was the proudest day of my life in this House and the most important thing that we did. We entered the EU because this House decided to do so. It was the Labour party that tried to use the referendum to cover its own divisions. That is precisely what always happens with referendums.
We can wander back in history, but the point is that there was a referendum on remaining in the European Community. I am saying that we deserve a referendum now. That is the position of this party, and the one that we should move forward with.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I want to make a little progress; then I should be delighted to give way.
We certainly deserve representation and an opportunity to vote. The Germans have pre-empted the summit by saying that the constitution will help on issues such as climate change and illegal immigration, and that those are better tackled when the approach is co-ordinated from Brussels, rather than dealt with by sovereign nations. That is perhaps an example of the shift in the balance of power between sovereign nations and Brussels. I agree that there should be co-ordination of policy—that is sensible—but implementation must be conducted and monitored locally, reflecting existing laws, attitudes and priorities, which can differ greatly from country to country. Where power lies is absolutely critical.
The intervention that my hon. Friend took from my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) was very curious. My right hon. Friend was a member of Mr. Major’s Government, and part of the single currency deal was to have a referendum—should the issue arise—so he, as a member of that Government, would have supported such an approach.
I am grateful for that intervention. I fear that it might be wise for the three of us to discuss this issue outside the Chamber, where we can have a good debate on it. I will remain focused on what I am trying to say.
What the EU does and what it should not do is at the heart of our discussion today. The European Community, to which we originally signed up, was a trading base designed to stand up to the might of Japan, the USA and others. In terms of what the EU can do today to unify 27 countries that are so different in many ways, there is a threshold. A trading platform, yes; political master of 27 nations, no. The European Parliament can of course improve its track record in many ways, without trying to expand what it does.
We have discussed all sorts of issues today, and in the time remaining to me I want to cover a couple of them, the first of which is the structure and spending of the EU itself. The accounts have failed 11 years in a row, which is not a good starting point in trying to win over hearts and minds regarding what goes on in Brussels. There are two Parliaments, which is ridiculous and a colossal waste of money, and does not make people enamoured of the running of that democratic process. Regional assemblies and regional development agencies are ideas that stemmed from Brussels. They have been imposed on the UK without our having a say in the matter. In Bournemouth, Dorset and the south-west in general, regional assemblies are having a hugely negative impact. They are imposing development plans and building 20,000 houses in our area, without our having any say. That structure has been imposed on the south-west, thereby taking power away from local authorities, simply in order to fit into a European model that I do not agree with at all.
My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) made an interesting speech in which the discussed further integration on defence matters. He mentioned sharing defence technology. The French Leclerc, the German Leopard, the British Challenger and the American Abrams tanks are all made by different companies, and they are made better because those companies compete with each other. That point must be reconciled with my hon. Friend’s desire for greater integration. I am very concerned that there is a huge overlap—the Minister for Europe, who is back in his place, was partly responsible for that—between what NATO and EUFOR are doing. We cannot have 60,000 troops ready to move as a rapid reaction force without taking away from NATO’s ability. I am not saying that the EU does not have a role to play in, for example, peacekeeping, which it is doing in certain areas, but it cannot participate in war fighting or launching a rapid reaction ability, without jeopardising the current NATO set-up.
A great example of that point is Sudan. There is not only a NATO operation with 60 or 70 troops, but—just down the road—an EU operation. They are both sending messages back to different locations in Brussels, both doing exactly the same thing. That is a complete waste of effort. Afghanistan is another example, with EU operations mimicking what NATO is doing. The EU could work much more positively, as I have suggested to the Minister before, by co-ordinating international development. It could do that in a way that no other country or organisation can. The UN is no good at that, because it does not have the might. The EU is sitting on a ton of money; it could co-ordinate the US aid money and all the other international development pots. We are failing in Afghanistan partly because of the lack of co-ordination between the international development groups. The EU could take the lead if it had a robust level of authority and people were allowed to work only through it. That would be a positive role for the EU.
We have talked about climate change, but as there are time limits, I will not touch on that issue. On the issue of energy, I suggested to the Minister when we had the presidency of the EU that a low-lying fruit that we could easily have plucked was the creation of a common gas market. That would have protected gas prices in the UK. Every time there is a problem in Russia, it ripples across Europe and affects gas prices for all our constituents in a way that we cannot control. The Germans can control what happens, because they own most of the infrastructure.
I agree with the point that my hon. Friend has just made about the gas market, and there would probably be a strong consensus on that point. However, I am interested to know why he thinks that the present rotating presidency constitutes perfection.
I shall have to discuss that later with my hon. Friend, as I want to make my final points. He tempts me to return to the detail of the structure of the EU, but I have some other points to make in the remaining time.
The Galileo satellite system is another example of a massive project that is failing. We are trying to mimic the US global positioning system because the French have pushed for that. It is clear from last month’s talks that we have lost the funding for the project.
This debate has focused on the summit, but it has also proved that we have wasted two years and Germany is now seizing the initiative. The 27 nations have much in common, but we are also very different. The challenge is where to draw the line. We have mutual interests and they must be maximised without threatening individual authority. I hope that the Foreign Secretary has listened to the debate, and that if a constitution is put before the UK we will have an opportunity to vote in a referendum. Until we finally agree what the EU is really for, how much power it should have, and what the limits on that power should be, we will continue to have a tug of war between states, leaders and parties, inhibiting Europe from reaching its full potential.
I welcome this debate for two reasons. First, I made my maiden speech in a European debate immediately after the Dutch and French referendum results. I have not had an opportunity to speak on the issue since, although it is a matter of considerable concern to a minority of people in this country. Those who hold views about it do so very strongly, as has been evident from this debate.
Secondly, I welcome the debate because today is the first time that the Government have been prepared to engage in discussion on their negotiating stance before the summit that begins tomorrow. That is in stark contrast to the approach adopted by many other European Governments. I was recently in Denmark with the Public Accounts Committee, and we had the opportunity to meet the Danish Parliament’s EU scrutiny committee. Its chairman told us that the responsible Minister attends the committee every month to brief its members on the Danish stance as negotiations take place. That seems an entirely appropriate way to inform those in the Danish Parliament with an interest in the subject, and it is very regrettable that this Foreign Secretary in particular has chosen to duck the issue and to refuse to discuss it at all.
It is not my job to defend the Foreign Secretary, but I must point out that she appeared before the Foreign Affairs Committee for two hours yesterday. Some of the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues were present. In addition, she appeared —I think last week—before the European Scrutiny Committee.
I accept what the hon. Gentleman says about the Foreign Secretary’s actions in the past two weeks, but they are very belated. We have been trying to establish the Government’s position for two years, and this is the first time that the right hon. Lady has been prepared to discuss it in this Chamber. She has been challenged previously on the matter at Foreign Office questions, and she has declined any opportunity for debate.
We know why the Government have been reluctant to get involved in debate on these matters, and their flip-flopping in respect of Europe was well illustrated earlier by my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary. It has become apparent that there is open disagreement between the Prime Minister, the next Prime Minister and the Minister for Europe about whether there should be a referendum, and, if so, on what basis. The Government’s position seems to change from week to week.
I want to focus on some of the points that the Foreign Secretary made about the constitutional implications of the proposed treaty and the need for a referendum. She said that she supported having a full-time chairman of the European Council, with the current powers. She could not bring herself to use the word “president”, but my concern is that any move to having a full-time president appointed for, say, the two and a half years set out in the original constitutional treaty would have a profound impact on the conduct of EU business, and on the influence of member states on the determination of future policy.
Having a full-time chairman of the Council would also instantly remove the revolving presidency. Views are divided about whether that is an efficient way to conduct business in Europe, but it provides a focus for each country, when it assumes the presidency, to get engaged in Europe and to identify its priorities in trying to change and progress the European agenda. To give credit where it is due, the Prime Minister moved Africa and the millennium development goals up the European agenda, something that might not have happened had we not had the presidency, but the ability to do such things would disappear if a full-time president were appointed.
A president of the Council would have no direct link to the electorate in any member state. Inevitably, that would serve to institutionalise the post and render it bureaucratic and centralised, lacking the legitimacy provided by election. In addition, and by definition, the person performing the role would not be allowed to hold a current national office. That means that he or she would be either retired, or recently rejected by national voters.
The president would have power over the some 3,500 civil servants in the Brussels bureaucracy. Inevitably, that would tend to accrete power to the role, as the postholder would seek to direct the civil service to do more. That is an unavoidable consequence when a bureaucracy has a figurehead who is essentially responsible for managing that bureaucracy and who would not be rotated out of position regularly.
The post of president would fundamentally change the nature of the legislative process in Brussels, with individual member states no longer taking the lead in negotiating with others over issues that come before the Council. Legislation would be developed between the Commission and the Council, with member states having only a tangential relationship to the process.
My second point relates to the Foreign Secretary’s comments about a common foreign and security policy. She said that the Government were supportive of such a policy, but she indicated that it would need to be achieved by unanimity, which sounds like shorthand for accepting the notion of an EU Foreign Minister and, as we read yesterday in the Financial Times, that is confirmed by the Spanish Minister for Europe who said:
“We were prepared to find a title other than foreign minister, but we are not prepared to change the substance of his role.”
If that goes through, it sounds as though the Government will support that position.
What would be the consequences if we had an EU Foreign Minister? It would give the Commission a foreign policy role long opposed by British Governments from both sides. The scope for divergent views would gradually be eroded, despite what the Foreign Secretary said, because the original treaty proposed that the Foreign Minister should have power to make proposals by majority decision rather than by unanimity; to run a powerful EU diplomatic service, which would undoubtedly try to take over the responsibilities of our diplomatic representation; and to speak for members at key international meetings such as the United Nations Security Council. The post itself would put pressure on all those aspects of British Foreign Office representation internationally, which would be difficult to resist. In the past, the Government have always resisted such proposals, but they were prepared to give way at the time of the last constitutional treaty.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and Shropshire neighbour for giving way. Does he agree that, because of our historical relationship with Commonwealth countries, it is extremely important that we retain foreign policy decisions for the House and the Foreign Secretary?
My hon. Friend and neighbour makes an interesting point. The interests of the Commonwealth are of relatively little importance for other European member states; it is for our Government to stand up for the Commonwealth in international forums, and that representation would be lost if the powers of our Foreign Secretaries were gradually transferred to an EU Foreign Minister over time.
My third point is about the UK veto and blocking powers. The Foreign Secretary talked about support for measures for improving efficiency and subsidiarity, and I am sure that almost everybody in the Chamber would sign up to those. Our concern is how they would translate into practice. The proposal in the original constitutional treaty was to reduce the ability of member states to block legislative proposals they opposed, and that treaty would have done so by approximately a third. At present, there are three hurdles to overcome before securing the passage of legislation: 72 per cent. of weighted votes in Council, plus 62 per cent. of population plus 50 per cent. of member states. The constitutional treaty proposed scrapping one of the hurdles to leave only two: 65 per cent. of population and 55 per cent. of member states. By definition, that would inevitably make it harder for a country—even a large member state such as the UK—to block measures that it felt were not in its national interest.
Although the procedures of the European Commission may need some strengthening, it is of concern that we are considering watering down our ability to protect British interests, in particular as they affect British business, where there may be conflicts between one member state and another—between large and small countries or particular styles of conducting business.
Three aspects apply and I shall touch on them briefly. The first is the UK’s derogation from the 48-hour working week. A number of countries, notably France and Spain, and the Commission itself want to scrap the derogation. The Department of Trade and Industry has estimated that the cost to the economy of losing our ability to derogate from the 48-hour working week would be £9 billion a year.
The second point relates to a measure that has recently gone through and will come into force later this year. In the financial services sector, London has overtaken New York as the global capital of finance and has a far more significant role to play than any other capital in Europe—in fact, I think that I am right in saying, than all other capitals in Europe combined. London has by far the biggest influence over the financial markets. The markets in financial instruments directive was significantly amended as a result of the stance that the British Government were able to take. Had the procedures for making decisions been watered down, it might well have been impossible to have secured those amendments. That would have damaged our financial community.
The third issue, which is topical, is the temporary workers directive. The UK has some 700,000 more temporary workers than any other country in Europe. The British Chambers of Commerce has said that if states seek to force through equal rights for temporary workers—compared with full-time workers—that will have a significant impact on reducing employment in this country in particular.
Yesterday, the president of the CBI, Richard Lambert, was quoted as saying that the revamped constitution poses a major threat to Britain’s labour laws and commercial ethos. He referred in particular to the charter of fundamental rights. That has been characterised as a red line of the Prime Minister’s. However, as was said earlier—notably by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash)—there are aspects of the charter of fundamental rights that are already capable of being enshrined in English law. Mr. Lambert said:
“Giving the Charter any kind of legal status would run the risk of opening up our employment laws to damaging challenges.”
“We would run the risk of allowing the European Court of Justice—a purposeful body, looking to stamp its own interpretation on the law—to overrule carefully crafted rules on how strikes operate in the UK.”
That could, for example, extend to cross-border picketing and the like—not something that anybody in business in this country would welcome.
In conclusion, the arguments that the Government are making in relation to the referendum are extraordinarily convoluted and confused. In 2004, the Prime Minister argued that the original treaty did not change the fundamental relationship between the UK and the EU, but he still accepted that there was a need for a referendum. Today and last week, the Foreign Secretary argued precisely the opposite in relation to the treaty, to justify a referendum.
According to the next Prime Minister, only if the Government are defeated in their negotiations will he sanction a referendum. That just shows that in 2004 the referendum was granted by the Prime Minister purely for reasons of political expediency. The refusal now to hold a referendum shows the Government’s disdain for the people. While travelling round the country, the next Prime Minister has been claiming that he wants to listen to the people. He should have the courage to do so and allow a referendum if there is any transfer of power to Brussels through the treaty.
I am pleased to be called to speak in the debate. I must apologise to you and the House for not being present throughout, Madam Deputy Speaker. Among other things, I have been speaking in an Adjournment debate concerning a matter in Hertfordshire on which many thousands of my constituents have written to me.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak because, beyond any doubt, I feel that there are highly significant constitutional issues at stake—on any view of the situation. The Commission and other member states are seeking significant constitutional changes and our own Prime Minister has been talking of the red lines that he is going to adopt in response. It is absolutely right that we should debate the proposed changes in the House.
I also believe that an issue of trust is at stake. There is a perception in some quarters that there is a need to restore trust in government. We have heard a little about that—we might hear more. The question of the referendum touches on the issue of trust. My hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Dunne) rightly reminded the House that the Prime Minister promised the country a referendum on the constitutional treaty in April 2004. It is worth bearing in mind the fact that the referendum was promised no matter what happened in other countries that voted on the treaty beforehand. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) asked whether a no vote in a “small country” would stop the referendum, the Prime Minister said:
“The referendum should go ahead in any event.”—[Official Report, 20 April 2004; Vol. 420, c. 164.]
There have been two no votes in member states, and the promise has come and gone.
The Government now accept that there should be a referendum if negotiations lead to a new treaty that has the “characteristics of a constitution”. The Government seem to have adopted that key phrase, which has been repeated by both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, as the criterion against which the need for a referendum should be judged.
Does my hon. Friend agree that this relates to what the Prime Minister has described as the structural relationship between the United Kingdom—the Government and Parliament—and Europe? The very fact that the mandate proposals would merge the treaties into one would mean that the structure would be changed because that would affect the pillars, majority voting and the whole basis on which the system functions.
My hon. Friend has a distinctive view on Europe and a great interest in it. There are differing opinions on Europe. However, whatever one’s opinion and past views on Europe, people should stop to listen to my hon. Friend’s points about the constitutional consequences of the treaty and the effect that it will have on the relationship between the House and our country, and Europe and the European institutions. The matter should give people cause to stop and think, as I shall point out in my own way. I agree unreservedly with my hon. Friend.
What are the “characteristics of a constitution”? I am tempted to say that the Government’s approach seems to be that they will know the characteristics when they see them, but they have been a little more forthcoming in the past. The previous Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), was asked that very question in June 2005 when the Government were setting out the course that they proposed to take following the no votes in France and the Netherlands. His colleague the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), who has attended today’s debate, asked him whether any future agreement that resulted in the establishment of an EU president and an EU Foreign Minister would have the characteristics of a constitution. The then Foreign Secretary was quite open, saying:
“Those points are central to the European constitutional treaty, and of course I see no prospect of their being brought into force, save through the vehicle of a constitutional treaty.”—[Official Report, 6 June 2005; Vol. 434, c. 1001.]
In June 2005, a constitutional treaty would have included provisions to establish an EU president and an EU Foreign Minister.
Most reasonable people would say that any instrument that would bring into being a president and Foreign Minister would amount to a constitution. For goodness’ sake, if the local golf club proposed to have a president, it would need a new constitution. We are talking about not only an EU president, but an EU Foreign Minister, and thus a significant change to the EU’s structure of foreign affairs. What matters is not the label applied—the way this is dressed up—but whether any agreement includes the substance of what was originally proposed in the constitutional treaty: the merger of the high representative of the European Union and the foreign affairs Commissioner to create a quite different individual in a different constitutional position. Any reasonable person would regard that as a significant constitutional change in itself, but it is not a change that stands in isolation. It must be seen in conjunction with the other changes proposed in the constitutional treaty, which make it an even more serious constitutional step than merely creating a post. It goes further than that because the EU treaty, the negotiations and the original constitution proposed giving the European Union a legal personality, as opposed to the treaty institutions created under the treaty of Rome.
That was a significant step because it would enable the president of the European Union and the Foreign Minister of the European Union to go around the world representing Europe, to speak on behalf of a body with a legal personality and to conclude treaties on behalf of a body with a legal personality. That has not been entirely clear up till now, but it would certainly create a very important change.
Does my hon. Friend agree that preserving the single legal personality and overcoming the pillar structure, which is also part of the proposals, would bring in the Community method for adopting measures in relation to criminal law and procedure, which at present is done intergovernmentally and by unanimity under the EU treaty? Would it not also involve the Commission having power to bring infraction proceedings against member states in respect of the implementation of criminal measures, with the European Court of Justice being the final arbiter? Can it get worse than that?
My hon. Friend anticipates my next point. I was about to turn to the merging of the third pillar into the first pillar, which would have the effect of bringing judicial and home affairs under qualified majority voting and the Community method, as he described, and giving the European Union a whole new range of competences. That underlines the point that I made a moment ago about my hon. Friend’s position and that of other people. His comments about the significance of the proposals are shared not just by people who take his view of Europe, but by a considerable number of others.
Before my right hon. Friend intervenes—I know that he will make an excellent point—may I conclude my own point by saying that when the Home Affairs Committee, an all-party Committee of the House, considered the matter, it unanimously reached the conclusion that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) has just set out? In a recent report, the Committee concluded with respect to the criminal law:
“The Constitutional Treaty proposed making elements of criminal law subject to qualified majority voting in the Council of Ministers, and the Commission still supports this proposal. The evidence we have seen does not persuade us that, as things stand at present, there are sufficient benefits in terms of tackling crime, either here in the UK or across the EU, to justify such a major transfer of power away from Member States as would be entailed by a switch of criminal law from the third to the first pillar.”
My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) is extremely persuasive and reasoned. He might persuade me to take a different view, but I doubt that he will persuade me away from the view that I took, together with all the members of the Select Committee.
I shall not try to persuade my hon. Friend to change his view on that. I am trying to bring unanimity. The case that he is arguing is that we should not have a referendum at all on these issues, which is my position, or we should have a referendum in either circumstance. The Government have been trying to have a referendum when it is convenient to them and not have one when it is not convenient to them. That is the most intolerable position to uphold. The Government are wholly wrong in both cases.
I am happy to agree entirely and unreservedly with my right hon. Friend. He has expressed an honourable point of view. I was far from convinced by some of the exchanges that we heard across the Dispatch Box earlier today, particularly when my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) was speaking on behalf of the Opposition about the case for a referendum, and the case that the Government made in response.
We were reminded of what had happened over Maastricht, Amsterdam and the original treaty of Rome, and we went back to 1975. It does not matter what happened then; what matters is what this Prime Minister promised this House and the country when he made his commitment in the House, which—I shall be corrected if I am wrong—also appeared in the Labour party manifesto at the last general election. That is an issue of trust here and now for this Prime Minister. He did not stand up and say, “I promise you a referendum on the constitutional treaty, but I may change my mind in view of everything that has happened in the past.” He made an unequivocal pledge and an issue of trust arises as a result.
These are vital constitutional issues that would amount to a major shift of power and competence to the EU, particularly on the question of criminal law. The criminal law obtains to a nation itself, and a nation should make its own decisions on that. It is a characteristic of a nation that it has the opportunity to make decisions on the criminal law and to decide what types of conduct it wishes to criminalise and which it does not, after debate in individual national Parliaments.
In practice, as a result of the merging of the third pillar into the first pillar, qualified majority voting and the acquisition of existing community law, criminal procedure and substantive criminal law could be decided not in this House but in Europe, where we may find ourselves in the minority, and as a result of qualified majority voting the criminal law of this country could be changed even though there was a majority in the House and in the country against such a change. That is a fundamental line to cross.
I agree with my hon. Friend. If one builds into that the European arrest and evidence warrants, one finds that not only is the criminal law being changed against the wishes of the majority of the British people, but they would then find themselves being subjected to arrest warrants from other countries because of the abolition by the Government of the dual criminality safeguard.
My hon. Friend makes another important point. I am not critical of the co-operation that has taken place between Governments on criminal matters, and I am more than happy for Governments to work together, as I am for police forces to work together across borders, but this is eminently a matter that should be in the domain of individual Governments. It should be kept on the basis of intergovernmental co-operation.
My hon. Friend is the embodiment of reasonableness and moderation. Does he accept that there is a compelling case on asylum policy for much closer co-ordination of European activity?
I am happy with the basis of co-operation between Governments. This is something different. It is a major change. I do not have time to deal with the charter of fundamental rights, which also carries huge implications.
There is a danger on the subject of Europe of saying yes to everything or no to everything, but I happen to believe that the constitutional changes that the treaty contains are so significant and so fundamental that they should give everybody pause for thought. They should be given long consideration, and our country should in time be called on to decide whether such constitutional changes should take place.
I am particularly pleased to have an opportunity to participate in the debate, because as a former Member of the European Parliament between 1999 and 2004 European policy was my life for that period. I am pleased that a number of Tory Members were elected when my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) was leading the party. Dare I say that it was possibly his finest hour when not only did we win the European election in the country, but we gained more votes in Yorkshire and the Humber than the Labour party, and that resulted in my election? I agree with every word of my right hon. Friend’s opening remarks.
The Minister for Europe, who is on the Front Bench, is also a former Member of the European Parliament. Furthermore, not many people know that the Deputy Prime Minister—we enjoyed his swan-song at the Dispatch Box today—was a Member of the European Parliament.
I have listened with interest to the views expressed about the effectiveness of the rotating presidency and the question whether we should have a full-time president of the European Union. It would be a big mistake to opt for a full-time president, but the rotating presidency does not necessarily serve our needs. Small countries often surprise us by how well they perform in the chair when they have the presidency. Equally, some of the big countries—I am thinking of the last French presidency—have disappointed us by trying to push through an ambitious agenda. It is not the job of the presidency to try to push things through.
We often view with dismay the amount of European Union legislation. It is little surprise that so much legislation is instigated, when every six months a new presidency arrives with a shopping list for legislation almost as long as that with which my children present me before Christmas. Such legislation never reaches the statute book during the six-month presidency, but the Commission’s wheels are put in motion, which results in sausage-machine legislation. That is beneficial in some cases—for example, the environment—but in other cases it means that our businesses are wrapped in bureaucracy and red tape, which prevents them from generating the wealth that we need.
The European Parliament has come of age. When it was first formed, it was a talking shop that tended to attract people who were enthusiastic about the European project. In recent years, Members of the European Parliament have served our nation with a more pragmatic view. Many of them can be described as Eurosceptic, and I am proud that that soubriquet was attached to me.
The co-decision process has helped the peoples of Europe to have their voices heard. In a Parliament such as the European Parliament, where no party is in overall control, the co-decision process works very well. I was environment deputy co-ordinator for the European People’s party and European Democrats group, and we achieved a lot through the co-decision process. I was often telephoned on a Monday morning by Ministers from UK, who said, “We are having no luck with our Socialist group. They are all toeing the line. Will you try to push things in our direction?” I am pleased to say that we spent a lot of time working with Transport Ministers on trying to make the legislation on vehicle emissions have less of an impact.
Does my hon. Friend agree that our membership of the EPP was important in allowing us to do that and that working in a bloc, of which he has given us some excellent examples, is an important part of the European Union?
In a Parliament with no overall majority, the smaller groups often have a disproportionate impact and influence on legislation. Compromises are often struck not in meetings, but in coffee bars. Although it is true that if the Socialist group and the EPP were to get together they would have a majority, in many cases smaller groups such as the Greens or the Liberals have a lot of influence. I look forward to the formation of our new group in the European Parliament. We can work with our former colleagues in the EPP on matters on which we agree, but it is important when we disagree that we can put a man on the front row of the European Parliament to argue the case for the UK. I look forward to the formation of a group involving Czechs and other colleagues and hope that it will contribute to our voice being better represented in the European Parliament and the British interest being better represented generally.
The Economic and Social Committee is well past its sell-by date. It is only a talking shop, and we should scrap it. Similarly, on the Committee of the Regions, how many hon. Members can tell me that they get good feedback from that committee or that views expressed in their region are being represented and are having an effect in Europe? That Committee is also past its sell-by date. It is interesting that an amendment that I proposed in the European Parliament calling for the regions themselves to co-fund the Committee was roundly thrown out because people realised that if that happened the regions would not wish that talking shop to perpetuate itself. The European Parliament has come of age. It can speak for the people of our country and our regions; we do not need the Economic and Social Committee or the Committee of the Regions.
It is a genuine pleasure to sum up this debate for Her Majesty’s Opposition. It is also a pleasure to see my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) in his place. As he will know, I have always had considerable time for him, and since I was appointed to this new job I understand that he has put aside considerable time for me. I look forward to spending some of that time with him.
I will not attempt to compete with my hon. Friends the Members for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands) and for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) in terms of their pan-European credentials. I can claim a French surname and the fact that my late mother was Italian, but having heard their speeches they could probably beat me hands down.
Several themes have been touched on. For instance, several right hon. and hon. Members mentioned Kosovo, including the Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), who, as usual, spoke very knowledgeably on the subject; his speech bears further reading.
However, the topic that has dominated today’s discussion has been the proposed attempts to revive the European constitution, which was so clearly rejected by the French and Dutch people back in 2005. Although the debate was sometimes eloquent, unfortunately it has left us none the wiser about exactly which powers the Government propose to cede to the European Union on our behalf as a result of this process. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), in a typically passionate speech, said that all treaties are important. He is right; and this one could be especially important.
That being the case, I ask why at some points during the debate not a single Labour Back Bencher was sitting in the Chamber. We had one loyal Parliamentary Private Secretary—I hope that her Whips have noted it—and the duty Whip, but for long periods not a single authentic Labour Back Bencher was here to debate the matter or to support their Government’s position. In contrast, 13 Conservative Back Benchers spoke on this important issue. I will attempt in the time that I have to refer to at least some of those speeches.
As we know, following a period of what was obviously very thorough reflection, the German presidency, in particular, began moves to seek to revive a treaty that many of us had genuinely been led to believe was already dead. The Prime Minister himself stated:
“What you cannot do is have a situation where you get a rejection of the treaty and bring it back with a few amendments and say: ‘have another go.’ You cannot do that.”
Nevertheless, this spring a questionnaire was circulated to EU member states which, inter alia, suggested that the revived treaty should use
“a different terminology, without changing the legal substance.”
Since that time, and despite protestations to the contrary by Ministers, discussions have clearly taken place between European capitals on how the treaty might be revived, while our own Parliament has, until very recently, been kept deliberately in the dark. For instance, when the Foreign Secretary appeared before the European Scrutiny Committee last Thursday, she amazingly insisted that
“nothing you could really call negotiations have taken place.”
However, on the same day, President Sarkozy of France told a journalist:
“Tony Blair and I have just agreed on what might be the framework for a simplified treaty. That is quite something.”
Indeed it is. The Foreign Secretary was at it again yesterday when, after a long delay, she finally gave evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee. I note that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) serves on that Committee. He spoke well today and we should acknowledge the valuable role that he played on behalf of this House in the detailed negotiations on the original constitution.
I do not wish to be ungallant to the Foreign Secretary, but perhaps she will allow me, to use the phrase of my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks, a little tease. Her performance before the Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday was not the strongest evidence session that I have witnessed from a Secretary of State. She still tried to insist that serious negotiations were not under way, when the President of France had already told us that much has been agreed. She denied at one stage that any sherpas had been involved in the treaty process, only to correct herself as she knew that those sherpas had already met several times. She even had to be corrected in public by her officials on the single legal personality for the European Union.
Conversely, on Monday at the Liaison Committee, our negotiator in chief, the Prime Minister—who is running the show, as most people realise—laid out four so-called red lines, and was adamant that he would not allow them to be breached. He declared that if they were adhered to, there would be no need for a referendum. My right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks effectively demolished that claim in his opening speech and showed that the so-called red lines have been carefully drafted to give the appearance of maintaining key powers while potentially surrendering significant powers. I shall give one example rather than go through the entire list again.
The fourth red line, as outlined to the Liaison Committee, mentions that
“we will not agree to anything that moves to qualified majority voting something that can have a big say in our own tax and benefits system”.
That means that we might accept QMV on something that constitutes a “small say” in that vital policy, but of course, the difference is not defined. The so-called red lines have been carefully worded and are effectively red herrings, which are designed principally to distract attention from what is being given up without the need for the Government to keep their word and hold a referendum.
The Government’s position on a referendum has shifted back and forth. In announcing a referendum on the original European constitution back in April 2004, the Prime Minister clearly stated:
“Parliament should debate it in detail and decide upon it. Then let the people have the final say.”—[Official Report, 20 April 2004; Vol. 420, c.157.]
The 2005 Labour party manifesto rather bullishly stated:
“We will put it to the British people in a referendum and campaign whole-heartedly for a yes vote.”
On Monday, the Prime Minister declared that, provided that his new red lines were not breached, there was no need for a referendum.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I will gladly give way to my right hon. Friend, not least because he kindly wrote something sweet about me in a trade magazine a few weeks ago.
Will my hon. Friend please be a little less kind to the Prime Minister? The history of the referendum is nonsense. The Prime stalwartly upheld the principle that one should not hold referendums until the press pushed him into saying that he would have one. He used precisely the same arguments for both positions. One either believes in referendums, in which case one holds them, or one does not—as I do not—so one does not hold them. One cannot have them when it is convenient and not have them when it is inconvenient.
I hear what my right hon. Friend says but, for the past 10 years, this country has been graced with a Prime Minister who can passionately believe several different things at the same time. So, at first, the Prime Minister adamantly opposed a referendum, then he was adamantly in favour of letting the people have their say. Now he is adamantly against a referendum because that suits his purposes. I am not responsible for his mental machinations. [Interruption.] That is for others to judge. If my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) is worried that I am being too nice to the Prime Minister, if he will just wait two minutes, I will resolve his worry.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I am so tempted, so I think I will.
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that there should be a referendum on any new treaty?
I will come on to that in just a moment. Now that the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) has finally joined us, let me say that I was hoping that he might turn up. I have with me a copy of an interview that he gave to the New Statesman on 13 December 2004. I quote the article:
“MacShane admits that he was won over after a Commons debate in which not a single speaker discussed the substance of the constitutional treaty, but merely the question of whether people were to be given a say. When the Liberal Democrats demanded that it be put to a vote, ‘I turned to Jack and said, “Jack, we’re”—
“defeated” was not quite the word he used then, but he then said:
“We’ve got to go for a referendum. I don’t think we can hold out.”
I am therefore delighted that the right hon. Gentleman has come here this evening to give me a chance to read that article out. It was very good of him to turn up—even at the 11th hour.
Let me focus briefly on the position of the Minister for Europe. He was Secretary of State for Europe for 15 minutes, but he is the Minister for Europe now. At the weekend, he effectively defied No. 10, hinting that there might be a case for a referendum after all. He told the BBC:
“Clearly a judgment has got to be made in terms of what is in the final package. It is important not to prejudge the outcome of the negotiations”.
That is what he said last Saturday on “The World this Weekend”. Subsequently, that was brutally contradicted in a No. 10 briefing, which described that suggestion—if you will forgive me, Madam Deputy Speaker—as
“a load of old cobblers”.
Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary told the Foreign Affairs Committee that the Government would probably be able to give a decision on whether or not to call for a referendum by Monday—presumably when the Prime Minister makes his post-summit statement to the House. We would welcome that clarity, but I noticed that in her opening speech, the Foreign Secretary appeared to be rowing back slightly from that position, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks picked up earlier.
In the meantime, whom are we to believe? Is it the Prime Minister, who now seems firmly opposed to a referendum? Is it the Chancellor, who is now apparently committed to open and transparent Government, but who remains as opaque as ever on this question, as indeed he was yesterday morning on GMTV? Is it the Foreign Secretary, who I am afraid to say is struggling to remain in the loop at all on this, or is it the Minister for Europe who is tacking between No. 10 and No. 11, just struggling to remain in a job?—[Interruption.] While we have the Minister for Europe’s attention, when he replies, will he tell us whether he is going to the European Council or not? Given that he is supposed to be the Minister for Europe, some of us would like to know whether he is going to be present. Perhaps he could provide a simple yes or no answer on that!
This will be better than a mention in a trade magazine. Is the hon. Gentleman really saying that in the unlikely event of a Conservative Government, each time there is an additional alteration in the management and stewardship of the European Union, that Government would, on every occasion, put the matter to a referendum?
Our position—I will reiterate it later, but the hon. Gentleman has asked me now—is that if the new treaty represents any further transfer of powers from Westminster to the European Union, we demand that it be put to the British people in a referendum. I hope that that is quite clear.
No, I am not giving way again. The hon. Gentleman has had his go. I gave way to him, not least because he is a fellow Essex colleague, but I have just made quite clear what our policy is.
Now, we still need to decide who in the Government we are likely to believe. Given the present confusion—[Interruption.]
That is most discourteous.
The hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position that I am not courteous, but it is not courteous for someone to turn up an hour before the end of a debate and to start intervening on people when he has not even attended for most of it. [Interruption.]
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have been waiting at Milan airport for four hours trying to get back because a plane did not deliver me. The hon. Gentleman is therefore doubly discourteous—and not for the first time.
Order. As I anticipated, that is not a point of order for the Chair. I call Mr. Mark Francois.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Having flown to Italy several times because of my mother’s family, I realise that there are a number of problems with Italian air traffic control, but I am not responsible for them any more than the right hon. Gentleman is.
Given the apparent confusion of the Government, we might wish to bear in mind the perspective of a senior Foreign Office official who was quoted in The Sunday Times last week. He told the newspaper that he sat in on the weekly strategy meetings relating to all this, which started as long ago as Christmas. He stated that the bottom line for the Chancellor of the Exchequer was to avoid having a referendum at all costs. As the official put it,
“We can’t have one because we’d lose. It’s that simple.”
The whole process has been badly handled from the start, and the House has largely been kept in the dark until almost the last moment. We in the House and those in the nation outside are now left in the unenviable position of seeing an unpopular Prime Minister at the fag-end of his premiership playing games with our birthright in a desperate search for any legacy at all other than Iraq. We are witnessing what amounts to a deception of the British people as a result.
Even Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who led the original constitutional convention that devised the original treaty—and whom even the Minister for Europe would struggle to describe as a Eurosceptic—has been scathing about the methods being employed to mask the true nature of this new document. He said in Le Monde on 14 June:
“The public are being led, without knowing it, to adopt the proposals we dare not put to them directly”.
Similarly, The Independent, a newspaper hardly renowned for its Euroscepticism, argued in an editorial entitled “The wrong way to conduct business” just four days after that statement in Le Monde:
“The question is whether or not a package of fairly weighty changes that will undoubtedly affect Europe’s shape and destiny should—in this country at any rate—be decided in a referendum. The answer is simple: it should and it must.”
The Government’s game plan is now fairly evident for all to see. Whatever is agreed at the EU Council, they will declare it a great victory. They will insist that their red lines remain fully intact and say that such a “tidying-up exercise”, as they would describe it, does not require a referendum. I do not believe that the British people are so gullible as to believe that; they will see the stitch-up for exactly what it is. In contrast, our position remains clear. If this new treaty, whatever it is to be called, represents any further transfer of power from Britain to the EU, we will demand that the people of this country be allowed to have their say in a free and fair referendum.
Today’s debate on the forthcoming meeting of the European Council has been lively, familiar and only occasionally repetitive. Despite what the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) said, I have heard his speech before. The hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore) observed that it was a single transferable speech. I suspect that most of us could have recited the speech made by the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) for him; I have certainly heard it a number of times before, starting as long ago as the Maastricht debate, when he was at the extreme edge of what was then a pro-European Conservative party. He now occupies the centre ground of what has, sadly, become an anti-European party. At least he can say that he has been consistent, however, which is not something that can be claimed for his Front Bench with any confidence.
Will the Minister give way?
In a moment; let me make a little progress.
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the hon. Members for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) and for Buckingham (John Bercow). They are rare and exotic creatures these days, in that they are pro-European Conservatives who are prepared to speak up. It is rather sad to see the emasculation of the pro-European Conservatives. Even the noble Lord Heseltine ducked a question on Europe on the “Today” programme the other day.
I might have begun to think that such pro-Europeans were extinct, had it not been for the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) bobbing up and down and asking good questions, if I may say so. He has experience of government, however, and he knows that these questions on constitutional change are important. The Conservative party needs to think about that. If it claims that it wants to be a party that seeks to protect our environment, it must recognise that it might be necessary to change the rules in order to do so. The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal has had that experience, and understands that one country out of 27 blocking measures to deal with climate change is a totally effective way of stopping the kind of progress that is necessary. The Conservative party must choose. If it is a party that wants to protect the environment, it must decide whether it will engage with the European Union to try to ensure that there are the kinds of rules that are necessary to achieve the policy changes required.
If the Government are so united on the issue, why have we not heard a single Labour Back Bencher speak in favour of the Government’s position in the past five hours?
Because we are so united, our Back Benchers simply did not feel the need to turn up and demonstrate their consistent and loyal support for the Government.
The Minister is deliberately oversimplifying what took place over the past five hours. It is wrong to suggest that Opposition Members who have expressed concerns about the constitution are anti-European or anti-European Union. I believe in the European Union and I want us to continue to be members of it. Just casting doubt on the constitution does not make me anti-EU.
I asked the hon. Gentleman a question. He spoke eloquently about the need to take effective action to deal with immigration. Others among his colleagues have talked about the need to protect this country from international terrorism. The truth, however, is that measures to take effective action in those areas can be blocked by one member state out of 27. If we are serious about dealing with international terrorists who cross borders, we must take decisions by qualified majority voting; otherwise, a single country can stop it. He cannot speak eloquently in favour of dealing with immigration and tackling terrorism unless he is prepared to will the means to do so. So far, he has not done that.
After the United Kingdom joined the European Community under a Conservative Government, the first treaty changes took place in 1986 when the Single European Act was ratified by Parliament. Despite the then Prime Minister’s reputation for being a hard-line Eurosceptic, the noble Baroness Thatcher agreed to the substantive changes introduced by that Act, which set out a timetable for the creation of the single market, with most legislation being voted on by qualified majority. The Act considerably extended the scope of European decision making and the use of qualified majority voting in key areas, from the environment to health and safety at work. The latter is, for example, the legal basis for the working time directive. The hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Dunne) claimed that double majority voting would lead to the loss of our opt-out on the working time directive. I assure him that that is simply not the case. It would not change our blocking minority.
In fact, the Single European Act gave rise to almost 300 pieces of legislation as part of the efforts between 1986 and 1992 to complete the single market. The right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) said that the Single European Act contained only 12 new areas of qualified majority voting. Actually, it gave rise to hundreds of different directives—significant legislation transforming our relationship with the European Union. The Single European Act also gave extensive new powers to the European Parliament. For the first time in our history, Members of the European Parliament could have a real say on European legislation, rather than simply being consulted, as was the case previously.
Two years later, the noble Baroness Thatcher declared:
“Britain does not dream of some cosy, isolated existence on the fringes of the European Community. Our destiny is in Europe, as part of the Community.”
I sometimes wonder whether those anti-Europeans on the Conservative Benches who kneel at the altar of Baroness Thatcher’s reputation have read those words. The approach of Opposition Members has changed dramatically. Far too many of them seem to believe that little Englanders can somehow solve the cross-border problems of the 21st century in splendid isolation.
The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, for example, talked of the need to create a flexible European Union. He probably dreams about it, but that is the only thing that he is capable of doing at the moment, as he seems to have failed to notice that in order to get a flexible European Union, we would have to change the treaties. Those treaties would have to be changed by unanimity, there would have to be a constitutional debate, and he would have to secure the support of 26 other countries. So far, he has secured the support of one—on a good day, with the wind in the right direction, and with an “R” in the month. All subsequent treaty changes have been ratified through Parliament: the Maastricht treaty in 1993, the Amsterdam treaty in 1998 and the Nice treaty in 2002.
The Maastricht treaty, arguably the most fundamental of all existing European treaties, involves the most extensive transfer of power, or competence, from Westminster to Brussels. It provided for the introduction of a common and foreign security policy and a European security and defence policy, and a new competence for the European Union in justice and home affairs. The first reference in the European Union’s history was made to the European convention on human rights, on which the charter of fundamental rights is based. Qualified majority voting was introduced in 32 articles, 15 articles were moved to co-decision, and for the first time in history the European Parliament was given legislative powers equal to that of the Council on a range of policies. The Maastricht treaty introduced European citizenship and the European Union. It was ratified by this House in July 1993.
I will make a little more progress, if I may.
In 1999, apparently, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks said that the Maastricht treaty was
“one of John Major’s achievements”.
As well as voting for it, he obviously approved of it—all of it, I assume. He was one of the many Conservative Members of Parliament who voted, on a three-line Whip, against a referendum on Maastricht. Every single member of the shadow Cabinet who was an MP in 1993 voted against a referendum on the Maastricht treaty.
Have we been told why?
I am hoping to provoke Conservative Members into telling us.
I may have misunderstood the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks. In answer to a question from me during his speech he suggested, perhaps inadvertently, that the Labour party had also voted against the amendments. The truth is that the overwhelming majority of Labour Members of Parliament voted against a referendum at the time. The only Members who voted for a referendum, on both sides of the House, were the anti-Europeans. Nearly all the members of the then Government who are still in the House were in the same position.
The truth is that the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks and I were on the same side in that debate. His problem is that he has changed his position and I have not.
The Minister is, of course, right on the referendum issue, although he should reflect that in the 1980s some members of the Labour party—I cite our departed colleague Tony Benn, the former right hon. Member for Chesterfield—were committed to a referendum.
The quotation read out by the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) was accurate. I did say to the Foreign Secretary that because the Liberal Democrats had changed their approach and come out in favour of a referendum, we would probably not be able to secure a majority in the House. I hope that the Liberal Democrats will now stay true to their pro-European position and reject the anti-European referendum calls from the Benches to their—
I anticipate that my right hon. Friend may be a little disappointed if he relies on any sort of consistency from the Liberal Democrats.
Is the Minister not advancing an extremely good argument for the fact that the Prime Minister was wrong to give way not to the Liberal Democrats, but to the Murdoch newspapers by allowing a referendum because, although he knew that the circumstances were wrong, he decided that it was convenient? Is not the problem with the referendum that we really must treat it as a matter of principle? Are we a parliamentary democracy or are we not? If we are, we do not have referendums.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman to the extent that it should be a matter of principle. The principle that seems to govern the use of a referendum—in this respect, my view is not so far from that of the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd)—is whether significant constitutional change is involved. We had a referendum in 1975, there have been referendums on Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, there is provision for a referendum in the Northern Ireland Act 1998, and we have committed ourselves to a referendum on the euro. Those are all fundamental changes, but not the sort of day-to-day changes that have been made in the House on a three-line Tory Whip without a referendum.
That is the area of principle with which Conservative Front Benchers have failed to deal. They have simply failed to explain why their position has changed so dramatically. The only difference appears to me to be that they are now in opposition, and will remain in opposition.
Does the Minister accept that the Government ultimately decided that they had to have a referendum on the constitutional treaty because it was demonstrated—I think that I played some small part in this—that as there was a repeal provision there was a fundamental change in the structural relationship? I have tried to demonstrate that again today. Will the Minister not accept that the distinction between that constitutional treaty and what is now being proposed is a distinction without a sufficient difference and therefore, on the Government’s own terms, a referendum is required?
I do not accept that argument. I have set out a proper principle, and it is reflected in the constitutional arrangements of several other countries: the requirement for a referendum follows a judgment that there is significant constitutional change. That is true of the Netherlands and Denmark. If the hon. Gentleman were to look at the practice in our country, he would recognise that it is the same here.
Our debate shows that each party and Member has a different threshold for what, in their opinion, constitutes a major constitutional change. Therefore, we have to make judgments on that as individual Members. The Conservative Front Bench has avoided explaining what would happen in the unlikely event that they were to return to office. Whenever there is a new IGC, a new treaty, or a change or a tweaking, would they put that to a referendum? I hope that the Minister will encourage a Conservative Front-Bench Member to stand up and answer that. What would they do? If there were a Conservative Government, would they put a comparable change to a referendum?
While the Conservatives are in opposition, they certainly will say that they would do that, because in opposition they can make political capital out of such matters. That is what is happening. They are taking the opportunity to be an Opposition. No serious thought is going into what might happen in the unlikely event of the Conservative party forming a Government. It simply does not have an answer to that.
I have looked into the Conservative party’s position. The hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) waxed lyrical on that subject in his speech. He was asked recently why his party was calling for a referendum on an amending treaty when John Major’s Government voted against a referendum on the Maastricht treaty. His total explanation of the Conservative party’s constitutional position was:
“The caravan has moved on”.
That was his answer to the question.
I am glad that the Minister was awake at 7.10 am last Friday when I was on the “Today” programme. I spoke for about three minutes; does he want to read out the rest of what I said? I said that the caravan has moved on especially for the Foreign Secretary, but does he want to read out the rest?
I am slightly sorry that I gave way. I gave the hon. Gentleman the opportunity to set out in a few brief sentences the principle underlying his position, as he has failed to give any principle. All he has done is simply give an exposition on why it is now important to have a referendum. The Conservative party has changed its position so frequently on this subject that it is difficult to know what he might like to say on it.
The Minister is being most generous in giving way. The Chancellor is reported to have said on GMTV yesterday that he would be prepared to hold a referendum on changes to the way the EU is run “if necessary”. If the Government consider it to be necessary to hold such a referendum, will they pledge to fulfil their manifesto commitment to campaign for a yes vote?
The position in the manifesto was straightforward: that we would hold a referendum on a constitutional treaty. I have demonstrated that we have had a series of amending treaties—it has been pointed out that the original treaty of Rome has been amended. None of those amending treaties has required a referendum. The most significant of them, with the extensive constitutional change that I set out, was passed through this House in the usual parliamentary process with a three-line Whip on Conservative Members to vote down the proposal for a referendum. That is the clear history of this matter. The Conservative party’s current position is driven simply by political opportunism.
Will the Minister explain simply and succinctly what is the substantive difference between the constitutional treaty that was proposed and what is now proposed in the IGC mandate?
I am in the slight difficulty that that has not yet been agreed. As the hon. Gentleman may have noticed, the European Council summit does not start until tomorrow. He is trying to anticipate the result of what will be a complicated negotiation.
It is important to look through the list of changes that have occurred, as a result of amendments to the treaty of Rome, in the Single European Act, in the Maastricht treaty and in all the amending treaties. To be fair, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks accepted promptly that there was a substantial transfer of competence by the Maastricht treaty. No one looking at the list that I read out could have said anything else, and in those circumstances it is inexplicable why the Conservatives are arguing today for a referendum. To be fair to the hon. Member for Stone, he argued for a referendum during the debate on the Maastricht treaty, as did the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills. They were consistent—they voted in way that is consistent with the position now being argued by Conservative Front Benchers. It is the latter who have a problem. They are simply using this as an opportunity to make political capital. So long as we all recognise that and are straightforward about it, there is no problem, but to try to dress it up in any other way is simple political dishonesty.
May we focus on some specifics? Of course, in areas that do not fall within the exclusive competence of the European Union, the principle of subsidiarity and proportionality should apply, but all of us in our different parties know that as things stand, the subsidiarity provision in the treaties of Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice is manifestly unsatisfactory and weak. Will the right hon. Gentleman argue for a yellow-card proposal, for a red-card proposal or for what else? An answer might offer some reassurance to the House and to the country.
The hon. Gentleman, as ever, raises a good and a principled point. There will certainly be a thorough discussion at the European Council summit of proposals to strengthen the role of national Parliaments. That issue was raised by a number of Members, and it is important that that discussion take place, not least because of the votes in the Netherlands and France. The Dutch Government will be advancing that argument, I anticipate, fairly vigorously.
The Government have made it clear through the Prime Minister that we will only support any negotiated outcome if our red lines are respected. I should make it clear to my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) that those red lines will remain red. They have been negotiated within the Government, and they are the clear position of this Government and will not be breached. Again, the difference between this Government and the Conservatives is that they simply have not understood or reflected the strong tradition of parliamentary democracy in this country. John Major said at the time of the Maastricht treaty that it is not in our parliamentary tradition to hold referendums in this country. The then Foreign Secretary, the noble Lord Hurd, put it rather well:
“The House considered the option of a referendum and decisively rejected it...We decided to do the job for which we were elected rather than to pass that job back to those who sent us here.”—[Official Report, 20 May 1993; Vol. 225, c. 383.]
That is a very authoritative statement by a leading Conservative, the then Foreign Secretary, about the position on referendums. I repeat that this present political opportunism on the part of the Conservatives does them no good.
Over the past 10 years, this Government have put the UK at the heart of Europe. We are driving the European agenda and working with our partners. Indeed, our relationship with France and Germany has never been better, at a time when the Leader of the Opposition cannot even get a meeting with the Christian Democrat Chancellor. The Leader of the Opposition claims to be modernising the policies of the Conservative party, yet when it comes to the European Union, he has taken a backward step in the direction of isolation. According to the spin from Conservative central office today, he is too busy tomorrow to attend a meeting before the summit of a large group of influential centre-right leaders, consisting of 11 heads of state and government from the European Union and members of the Commission, including the current President of the European Council, the German Chancellor, and the French, Czech, Dutch, Swedish and Greek Prime Ministers. The hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands) seems fascinated by other people’s diaries. Perhaps he could tell us what the Leader of the Opposition is doing. Perhaps he is visiting a grammar school in Buckinghamshire with the hon. Member for Buckingham, or visiting a museum somewhere. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Buckingham shakes his head. It demonstrates the isolation of the Conservative party and the Conservative leadership. Harold Macmillan lodged the first application to join the common market and Edward Heath took this country into the European Union. Margaret Thatcher signed—
It being Seven o’clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.