Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Liz Blackman.]
I returned yesterday from the General Affairs Council. Tomorrow and on Friday, the Prime Minister and I will attend the European Council, which is the final summit of the German presidency. Discussions at the General Affairs Council were wide-ranging. In that, they reflected the pivotal role that working with and through the European Union plays in meeting the domestic and foreign policy priorities of this country. Not least of the subjects discussed was the ongoing and extremely difficult situation in the Palestinian occupied territories. I expect that the topics covered by the European Council and included in the final conclusions will be equally broad. If I may, I will return to some of them a little later.
There is no doubt that the main issue at stake at this European Council will be treaty reform. During my first pre-European Council debate in the Chamber, I recall that the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) said that he hoped that I would enjoy his speech because he feared that I would hear it on a number of occasions, since such debates tended to be attended by the same people and to have almost exactly the same content. However, this debate might be a little different.
Specifically, two years on from the rejection of the proposed constitutional treaty by Dutch and French voters, the Council must consider what treaty adjustments would help the European Union to work as effectively and efficiently as possible in the interests of its 27 member states. The report of the discussions that the German presidency produced last Thursday showed there were still significant differences among European countries about what those next steps could or should be. In the next two days, Europe’s leaders will be looking for a way to reconcile those differences.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I would like to get a little further into my argument.
Those negotiations cannot be conducted in public, let alone in advance of the Council itself. I could not and will not attempt to prejudge what the outcome of those negotiations might be, but I will be as plain and unequivocal as I can about what the Government’s position going into those negotiations will be.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me—normally I do give way, as he knows, and I will give way during my speech if he still wishes to intervene, but it would be helpful for the House if I give an indication first of where we are.
First, we want a European Union that is able to deliver and that makes a positive difference to people’s lives, but we want a European Union of sovereign nations, not a superstate. We want greater efficiency and more accountability. We want more say for national Parliaments and Governments. Above all, we want a European Union that takes action where it is needed, on issues like climate security, economic reform and energy, and leaves national Governments in charge of key areas including taxes, foreign policy, defence and the domestic economy.
In short, we want a European Union that delivers jobs, security, growth and influence in a globalised world—a Europe that helps to equip citizens in every member state to meet the challenges of, and to thrive in, the 21st century. That is our positive vision for Europe’s future—a clear conception of an EU that we want, and that we believe this country needs.
Let no one be in doubt that the reason we place so much emphasis on taking the right decisions over the next two days is nothing to do with the blocking tactics that we have seen in previous years. It is the exact opposite. We want a strong and effective Europe, but we want one that is focused on delivering results, not building bureaucracy. So let me be clear on some of the specific issues that we are likely to have to resolve over the next two days.
We support a charter of fundamental rights that brings together existing rights found in the European convention on human rights, current EC treaties and other instruments. We support qualified majority voting to unlock decision making in those areas where it is in Britain’s interest. Despite ridiculous claims that are sometimes made that no change at all must be made, let me remind the House that it was Lady Thatcher who first gave up the veto, and that under her, qualified majority voting was extended to 12 articles, and under her successor, John Major, to 30—three zero—policy areas. I do not criticise them for those changes. They made them because they knew that sometimes it was and is in Britain’s interest to do so when, for example, change that we in the House may all believe is wanted and needed might otherwise be blocked by those who resist that change.
We are in favour of a Europe-wide response both to organised crime and to international terrorism. I imagine that that, again, is common ground across the House. In fact, more than that, we think a Europe-wide response is a vital necessity, but we are equally clear that any EU initiatives should not affect fundamental aspects of our criminal justice system, should not undermine our ability to safeguard national security, and should not weaken control of our own borders.
We believe in a common foreign and security policy that will boost our collective influence abroad, but not in a single foreign policy. It must be based on consensus, by which I mean unanimity. We would support a reform of the Commission that promoted effectiveness, efficiency and strong leadership. We would like to see the subsidiarity mechanism in the current constitutional treaty proposals strengthened. We believe it will help us to find the best balance between action at regional, national and European levels, and in so doing will better connect Europe to its citizens. We would support a full-time Chair of the European Council with the same role and powers now exercised by the Council president of the day, because we believe it could help to ensure greater coherence and consistency in the EU’s agenda.
If we are able to agree such a package at the Council it would make the EU stronger and better able to deliver on its priorities. The House should make no mistake—that would be of direct benefit to the people of the UK.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for giving way. Officials in Brussels yesterday agreed a draft intergovernmental conference mandate which says that the object of the discussions will be to seek to clarify
“the respective competences of the EU and the Member States and their delimitation”.
At Foreign Office questions the Foreign Secretary said she hoped that
“that level of detail will not be in the amending treaty.”—[Official Report, 5 June 2007; Vol. 461, c. 120.]
That was in relation to the common fisheries policy. Is she going back on that position, or has it become clear in the past few weeks that there will be that degree of delimitation in the final agreement this week?
I think that there is a misunderstanding. I hope that I heard the hon. Gentleman correctly, because I do not want to correct him if I did not, but I think that he said that officials had agreed a mandate, and that is not the case. The document produced in Brussels yesterday was the German presidency’s proposal, and that is what we will be discussing at the weekend. It has not been agreed by anybody.
I have the document in front of me and it clearly says that the word “Community” will throughout be replaced by the word “Union”, that 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.
There cannot be a much more fundamental change than that, so will the Foreign Secretary agree that, on that basis, unless the proposals are rejected, there will be a referendum on them?
I can only say—I do not say this as a criticism—that I find it absolutely inconceivable that anybody could make proposals that the hon. Gentleman would not believe required a referendum. Whether one agrees is quite another matter.
It is perfectly possible to bring in these improvements to the way in which the EU works by building on and amending existing treaties, and without engaging major questions of national sovereignty or competence.
Europe has a choice. It could agree an amending treaty—that path is proven; it has delivered on many occasions in the past. Or it could try to bundle important and necessary reforms into a wholly unnecessary constitutional cloak—that path is very far from proven; indeed, it was explicitly rejected by the people of France and the Netherlands just two summers ago.
At this same debate exactly a year ago, the Foreign Secretary said that
“the EU needed to reconnect more closely with the people of Europe.”—[Official Report, 14 June 2006; Vol. 447, c. 781.]
Other than simply imploring that that happen, what efforts has the Foreign Secretary made in recent months to ensure that the EU really does reconnect more closely with the people of Europe?
For one thing, the very strong effort made by the Government over a considerable period of time, but made with particular strength in the run-up to the spring Council, to get the EU to agree to take a position well ahead of the pack in terms of energy and climate security, is exactly the kind of thing that reconnects the EU to the people of Europe. For a start, it is so clearly an area where no nation state acting alone can be effective, yet also an area that is of real concern to people when they think about their own future and that of their children.
On the subject of reconnection, do not we in this place have to look anew at how we debate EU proposals? In particular, is there not a political case to be made for one Minister to be answerable for all the various deals being reached in Brussels and to have a question and answer session on that?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. However, it might be rather more difficult to achieve than it sometimes sounds. I am reminded of the debate that always takes place, particularly around issues such as the environment, about whether this, that or the other policy area should be included, because surely this crosses them all. In the end, there is no substitute for having a Government and having different people who deal with the detail of what is being agreed, because otherwise we would get into considerable difficulty.
Yes, we will look with great sympathy at the proposals that have been made, for example, by the Netherlands. Not everyone thinks that this is the right course of action, but certainly this Government very much approve of efforts to increase the role and the opportunities of national Parliaments to contribute.
Even if we accept only part of what we have read in the media in the last few days, it is clear that the Government have a fight on their hands in defending this country’s national interest in these negotiations. In those circumstances, was it not weakening our position for the Prime Minister to say that we would not be having a referendum on the results of these negotiations? Could we therefore conclude that, given that the Minister is now sketching out carefully the grounds where the Government are intent on not giving way, if they are forced to do so in the negotiations, the British people will be able to reconnect with the Government and in Europe in having a say in what happens?
I understand the logic of my right hon. Friend’s comments. If we are able to agree an amending treaty, that will be a considerable achievement. For many member states it is a source of considerable discomfort that, having ratified a proposed constitutional treaty and having explained to their electorates—and in the case of the Spanish Government having had a referendum in which they succeeded in obtaining the approval of their electorate—that this was to their advantage, they may then have to go back to their people and say that there will not be a new constitution for Europe, but that there will be, as there has been in the past, an amending treaty. That would be no easier for them than it would be for us to say that we will go ahead with a constitutional treaty even though it has once been rejected.
However, whatever the logic of discussion about any potential referendum, one can only judge whether a treaty would require a referendum when one sees its content—assuming that it is an amending treaty; nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Secondly—I hope that my right hon. Friend will sympathise with this argument, which I feel quite strongly about—I see no reason whatever why we should have had a string of amending treaties from Conservative Governments that never attracted a referendum, no matter how much they extended, for example, qualified majority voting, but a Labour Government are somehow not allowed to do it.
I am grateful for that answer, but two wrongs do not make a right. Again, I am anxious about how strong our negotiating hand is. Is the Foreign Secretary saying that if in these key areas we are not successful in negotiating, at the end of the day the Government will think of vetoing?
I have already said that it is not inevitable that there will be an agreement this weekend. I very much hope that there will be, because if there can be an agreement that we can accept, Europe can put the issue behind us. I share the view, probably held across the House, that nothing more distances the peoples of Europe from the institutions of the EU than wrangling about legal texts and the division of powers.
Will the Foreign Secretary bear in mind in all these negotiations that the great majority of our people do not wish to see any extension of EU powers over this country, but rather a major repatriation of powers that we have surrendered to the EU to this sovereign Parliament?
I simply say that I always view these exchanges on this matter with some irony, since I am well aware of the many, many Opposition Members who campaigned vigorously for a yes vote in 1975 when I campaigned for a no vote. All I can say is, “Don’t come crying to me.”
Will the Foreign Secretary give way?
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s indication that foreign policy must be unanimous. Will she be equally clear that the Government would reject the amalgamation of the roles of external relations commissioner and external relations high representative, and say emphatically that we would oppose the creation of an EU diplomatic service?
I will not confirm that, because there is a great deal to be said for a more efficient means of operation. We will do everything that we can to ensure that it is made clear that the common foreign and security policy is an intergovernmental policy and that we retain the rights and powers that we believe that we should have.
The Foreign Secretary has stated that she campaigned against ratification in 1975. I was only three years old at the time, so I was unable to vote against it. Millions of people in this country under the age of 40 have never had a say over changes to our relationship with Europe. Surely the time has come to consult the British people—people of my generation—on whether we are prepared to hand over any more powers to the European Union.
It was only because of a Labour Government that anyone had a chance to vote. The Conservative party took Britain into the European Community and, despite having said that that would not be done without the consent of either a general election or a referendum, no such commitment was honoured. Perhaps we are seeing double standards here.
It should have come as no surprise to anyone—nevertheless, it was apparently a surprise to some—that the United Kingdom is strongly in favour of an amending treaty, not a constitutional treaty. Indeed, I think the General Affairs Council as a whole has at least tacitly agreed that that is the only course that we can follow. The type of amending treaty to which the United Kingdom would agree should be no different in style or importance of content from those brought to this House by previous Governments, including previous Conservative Governments.
In the past, such treaties have never been subject to a national referendum. Indeed, the only national referendum that we have ever had in this country occurred after the decision to join the European Community in 1972. An amending treaty of the sort that I have described would not involve a decision on anything like the scale of the decision in 1972, which the British people endorsed in 1975. Let me be absolutely blunt with the House and with the country: the UK will not agree to a treaty in Brussels that we judge would require a referendum in this country.
It is worth repeating that any treaty that results from this European Council and any subsequent intergovernmental conference would, of course, be laid before Parliament, where it would be subject to extensive examination and debate. It could not be ratified until any necessary amendments to the European Communities Act 1972 had been passed by this House.
On one point, I suspect that the shadow Foreign Secretary and I agree—it will not be sufficient simply to change the title of the document. An amending treaty must be different from the constitutional treaty that preceded it in content, in form and in purpose.
The European Union as a whole must acknowledge, as this Government have done, that the reality on the ground has changed. We accepted the constitutional treaty, and we were prepared—indeed we were preparing—to recommend it to the British people. We thought it was, on balance, a good deal for Britain—incidentally, so did many of our European partners, in many cases with considerable frustration and regret. However, the treaty was rejected by the voters of France and the Netherlands, two founder members of the European Union, which not only changed things, but changed them dramatically.
The people of those countries had spoken, and the leaders of Europe had to take heed. So we embarked on a so-called “period of reflection”. During that time, we deliberately shifted the focus of the European Union back on to those things that we judge matter most to our citizens, not least through the informal summit at Hampton Court held during the UK presidency. We made it clear that our priority was not internal institutional wrangling, but the challenges of globalisation—climate change, energy security, jobs and growth. It would serve Europe very ill indeed if now, two years down the line, we acted as if we had simply not listened, as if the period of reflection counted for nothing and as if we wanted simply to turn the clock back to before summer 2005.
My right hon. Friend is making admirable efforts to distinguish what is on the table now from the treaty, but the reality is that Chancellor Merkel, Mr. Barroso and others are determined to get through what they had before either piecemeal or all in one go. My right hon. Friend is making the case strongly, but is it accepted in Europe and is this not just a way to manoeuvre ourselves past the possibility of a referendum?
This is not a matter of manoeuvring. In the conversation on Sunday night among the General Affairs Council, it was clear that for a large number of member states that have ratified the constitutional treaty the notion of abandoning that treaty and instead having an amending treaty of the kind that we and others have suggested is extremely painful and difficult. Indeed, that idea has been resisted until this present time. We must all recognise what is required, if we are to reach an agreement over this weekend.
If there is an agreement such that the Government feel able to say after the weekend that there will no longer be a need for a referendum, may I take it that that position will be made explicitly clear to the House next week? If so, will the Government, in view of the importance of parliamentary and public engagement on those matters, set out how Parliament will be involved in any process towards an intergovernmental conference under the Portuguese presidency, particularly if that might be held during the recess or shortly after the House resumes in the autumn?
My hon. Friend has made an important point, and I will certainly take heed of his concerns. I was about to send a note to the shadow Foreign Secretary and others who are particularly concerned stating that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will make a statement on Monday. I will not be here, because I have an engagement in the United States that I am unable to change. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) that my right hon. Friend is aware of his questions.
The Foreign Secretary is making a powerful and important speech. May I ask her a specific question? When she said that the Government will not accept any new treaty that would require a referendum in this country, did she include in that any new treaty that provides opt-outs for the United Kingdom but that ensures that many of the aspects of the original constitution are still in place for the rest of the European Union?
The balance of treaty proposals is a judgment that we can make only at the weekend, when we will see the proposed amendments to the ideas advanced by the German presidency. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, we can only make that judgment at that point.
If it comes down to deal or no deal at this European Council, the UK Government are clear, as I said on record in Brussels on Monday, that no deal might be better than buying any old pig in a poke.
I am pleased to hear what my right hon. Friend has said about the possibility of no deal. Does she agree that if other countries choose to put the revised treaty to their people in a referendum after a deal is done, the British people should also have that opportunity?
No, I do not accept that. Apart from anything else—my hon. Friend may not be aware of this—the Irish Government have a constitutional requirement to have a referendum, so there is no question but that there will be at least one referendum. Whether there will be more than one is entirely another matter.
As I said a little earlier, this Council meeting will also acknowledge the wider achievements of the German presidency: things that Europe’s citizens will actually see and feel. Those include an agreement to open up Europe’s energy market and make it more competitive, action to cut mobile phone charges, and sharing information between police forces to tackle cross-border crime. And, of course, at the last European Council in spring, we saw Europe at its best. The EU took a vital step not only in leading the global response to one of the greatest threats that we face—climate change—but in so doing beginning the process of creating the world’s first low-carbon and energy- efficient economy. If we make that transition successfully, it will mean that Europe, and the UK, will have a competitive economic advantage for perhaps a generation to come. Similarly, the EU has recently agreed the services directive, which is set to add £2.5 billion, and up to 135,000 jobs, to the UK’s economy.
So Europe as it now stands can deliver and is delivering. It would not be in crisis—it would not be paralysed—if no agreement on institutional reform were reached.
The right hon. Gentleman has perfect timing, if I may say so. We on the Labour Benches are absolutely clear that we want such an agreement because it would mean that Europe could deliver even better and more efficiently. It would not be a crisis if we were unable to secure an amending treaty, but it would be an opportunity missed.
I do not intend to get involved in yet another wrangle about whether Britain should leave the European Union, but I notice that the Conservatives are, as ever, perhaps not entirely of one mind on the matter.
When this Government came to power in 1997, we inherited from the Conservative party an acrimonious and stagnant relationship with our European Union partners in which Britain had mostly been represented by, at best, an empty chair, with our voice not even being heard. The rest of the European Union viewed us with a mixture of confusion and frustration. The result was that we had little or no influence in the European Union and could not lead the European debate in the directions that we wanted. The attitude that the Conservatives had then, which some clearly still hold, was not only an abdication of responsibility, and with it influence, but was based on a circular argument. So sure were they that Europe was a bad thing and that the UK could never achieve anything in the European Union that they very rarely did. That was, and is, a self-fulfilling prophecy that did immense damage to our national interest.
Under this Government, the position is very different.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I must get on.
Last week, the French Minister for Europe, Jean-Pierre Jouyet, told Le Figaro:
“I want France to be at the centre of thinking in Brussels, which is currently dominated by the British and Germans”.
Can anyone in this House imagine such an opinion being aired in Paris when the Conservatives ran this country’s European policy?
I will not do so any more.
Positive engagement leads to positive action: the biggest reform of the common agricultural policy for 50 years; reform, after 40 years, of the sugar regime; and, for the first time ever, a budget whereby similar-sized economies such as France and Italy are making payments on a par with our own, which, despite all Margaret Thatcher’s talk of rebates and hand-bagging, is something that the Conservatives never came even close to achieving. We have, for the first time, European security and defence policy missions beyond Europe’s borders. We have, as I said, bold action on climate security and energy security. Through the Hampton Court agenda, we have brought a new focus on reinvigorating the European economy and on investment in the future. Just last year, UK exports to continental Europe were up by 24 per cent. to £150 billion.
Over the next two days, the European Union has the opportunity to agree improvements that will make it work even better. If it takes that opportunity, Europe will be stronger and more effective. That would be good for this country and for the people of this country. This Government have always recognised that a strong UK in a strong Europe is the only way in which to face the challenges of the next decade and the next century. It is for exactly that—a strong UK in a strong Europe—that the Prime Minister and I will argue in Brussels.
I have, as ever, listened with care to the words of the Foreign Secretary. The part of her speech when she reminded us that she was opposed to British membership of Europe in 1975, and that we should not therefore come crying to her about its faults, was said with some feeling, by contrast with the other parts of the speech, which were perhaps drafted in the Foreign Office and gave the rest of us a lecture about being more positive in our attitudes to engagement with the European Union.
No doubt there are some areas of agreement between what the Foreign Secretary said and the case that I want to put to the House. Nevertheless, as she acknowledged at the beginning of her speech, matters have now moved on sufficiently in European affairs that we have all had to prepare a new speech for this occasion. Very important things may be about to happen in the European Union over the next few days. Tomorrow, the European Union’s Heads of State and Government meet to try to negotiate a treaty of fundamental importance to the EU’s future. The European constitution, which was emphatically and rightly rejected by French and Dutch voters two years ago, is in many substantial senses being revived. That constitution was, as the Belgian Prime Minister put it at the time, the “capstone” of a “federal…state”. The German Europe Minister of the time said that it was the
“birth certificate of the United States of Europe”.
If the Government accept parts of that constitution under another guise, let us be clear that they risk taking another significant step away from what the European Union ought to be—a community of nations working together intimately for mutual benefit—and towards the integrated state that some in Europe honestly wish for, but that has never been the desired goal of the people of Britain.
The Government’s response to the efforts of other Governments to revive the constitution has been, in our view, truly extraordinary. As French and German leaders have proclaimed their views and sherpas have rushed round EU capitals, our Government have spent a great deal of time denying that any negotiations have been taking place. That has demonstrated neither forethought nor leadership. After the constitution’s rejection there was, understandably—the Foreign Secretary referred to it—a pause for reflection. There has since been a debate about Europe’s future to which the Government have made no notable contribution over the past two years.
I believe that this will go down in history as one of the great wasted opportunities for Britain to set the terms of debate on Europe’s future. The federalists had seen their great achievement—a constitution for Europe, to which this Government agreed—rejected by the voters. It was clear that the goal of ever closer political union was out of tune with what many of the peoples of Europe wanted. That was the time for British leadership to push for the only model of European Union that can work for all of Europe in the long term—a flexible, open Europe. It was time to look again at some failing policies.
Today’s Europe is ready, in large parts and for the first time, to listen to that alternative vision. Enlargement has profoundly changed the dynamics of the European Union. Countries such as the Czech Republic and Poland do not want ever closer political union; they have been calling for a different direction. In the Netherlands, political leaders have reflected deeply on the referendum result and the relationship between the European Union and the nation state. Yet instead of taking the lead, the Government have buried their head in the sand for most of the past two years. On Sunday, the Foreign Secretary said on the BBC that she now finds the prospect of the summit “nerve-wracking”—not something to strike terror into other countries’ negotiators, I am afraid. This should have been a time for a confident British Government to give a lead to those who question the need for a new treaty.
I thought that the right hon. Gentleman would expand on exactly what constitutes an open Europe before moving to personal attacks. I respect the right hon. Gentleman’s views and he knows that I like his writing, too. Are you saying that you wish to repudiate the Single European Act and Mrs. Thatcher’s work in Europe? Is that what you mean by going back?
No, I do not repudiate the Single European Act. I do not make personal attacks on the Foreign Secretary; I merely make personal teasers now and again, simply to pick up on her comments from time to time. I am not one for personal attacks.
I emphasise to the hon. Gentleman that there is a strong case—which I have set out in lengthy speeches; I am happy to send him copies—for a more open and flexible model of the European Union, which allows some powers to come back to the nation states of Europe and some powers to pass down from the European Union to the nation states. The Czech Government are asking for that in proposing their flexibility clause. There is a different model and this country should be its champion.
Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify the Conservative party’s position on fisheries? It has done a flip-flop on its policy on that subject in the past 12 months. Is it in favour of withdrawing from the common fisheries policy? That was the position just over a year ago.
My right hon. Friend will have discussed them when he met Mrs Merkel during the leadership election. I discussed them with her when I met her in Berlin last year. My right hon. Friend discussed those plans with other European leaders such as Mr. Sarkozy, who has since become the President of France. There is no shortage of discussion between the Conservative party and European leaders. Indeed, those discussions moved Mr. Sarkozy to send a good wishes message to the Conservative party conference last year. The hon. Lady need not worry about such matters.
I agree with my right hon. Friend that the Government have had their heads in the sand. That is especially true in recent weeks, when according to the diary of the Bundesregierung website, Mrs Merkel held one-to-one meetings with the Polish leader—on 15 May—the French leader, the Danish leader and the Swedish leader, and also had discussions with Ireland, Belgium, Italy, Hungary, Lithuania and so on. Meanwhile, our Prime Minister has been on a legacy tour and failed to stand up for Britain’s interests when he was most needed in the past six weeks.
Let me make two points. First, extensive conversations have taken place on the telephone—which exists—between the German Chancellor and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman might have noticed that the Prime Minister attended the G8 meeting.
Now we know that conversations have taken place, but they are distinct from negotiations in the Foreign Secretary’s world. Earlier, she said that discussions had taken place about the future of the constitution, and now she says that there have been conversations. That sounds suspiciously like negotiations, which she denies, to the rest of us.
My right hon. Friend refers to conversations and discussions, but we require action. It was noticeable that the Foreign Secretary was unable to give an example of what she has done during her tenure and Great Britain’s presidency. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government could have achieved the introduction of a common European gas market, which would have helped control gas prices in the UK, especially given that Russia has an increasing influence over prices?
That is another thing that people may seek. I do not claim that the Government have achieved nothing. Under the German presidency, with our Government’s encouragement, an important achievement, to which the Foreign Secretary referred, was made at the European summit a few months ago on climate change. However, on constitutional change and the run-up to the summit, the Government have not made the case for an alternative vision of the future of Europe.
The thrust of the right hon. Gentleman’s critique of the Government is rightly the proper use of British influence. If, in due course, he found himself occupying the post of Foreign Secretary and exercising powers and authority on behalf of a future British Government, his early days would be dominated by his leader’s wish to withdraw from the European People’s party and cast the new amorphous and intriguing group that might emerge from the British Conservatives in the European context. Will he give us a wee update on how he is getting on with that interesting scenario?
Speaking of amorphous groupings, I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is one of the Liberal Democrats who is looking to be in the Cabinet next week. That grouping would be very amorphous. Perhaps his interest in how a Foreign Secretary should behave is partly motivated by those negotiations.
I see. The right hon. Gentleman’s successor as party leader might agree to his joining the Cabinet. That is especially interesting. The Conservative party’s commitment to forming a new group in the European Parliament with our Czech colleagues in 2009 is categorical. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will show even more interest in it at that time.
The shadow Foreign Secretary has made much of an open Europe policy, which devolves power downwards. Does he accept that there are instances when power should be centred in Europe and that the way to build a new Europe is on an agenda such as climate change, on which there is agreement in Europe that sovereignty sometimes needs to be given to a greater authority? That is the way to build a new Europe—on an agenda of genuine issues rather than the theoretical basis with which the bureaucrats endlessly confront us.
I largely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Climate change should form an important part of building a genuine European agenda. However, he should not believe that that means that more power should be located in the European Union. The Foreign Secretary told the European Scrutiny Committee last week that everything on climate change
“can all be done, is being done and has been done within existing treaties.”
That is the way to proceed. Institutional change is not required.
I am much encouraged to hear my right hon. Friend say that we want some repatriation of powers, which is crucial. However, that poses the question of how we can achieve that, because we also want to achieve economic competitiveness. If we could not achieve our objectives through negotiation with other member states by tackling the problem through invading the acquis, will he reconfirm the party’s vote last year on the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, in this House and in this House of Lords, to override the European Communities Act 1972 when necessary and require the judiciary to obey the latest inconsistent Act of the Westminster Parliament?
In that vote, we simply recognised what we understand as the constitutional position, which the Prime Minister restated last week: that the House has ultimate sovereignty. However, it is not necessary to expand on that further today.
The Government are again faced with substantial parts of the constitution, which they privately but forlornly hoped would go away if they said nothing about it. The German presidency’s approach was spelled out in the questionnaire that it sent to European capitals a few weeks ago. It referred to preserving the substance of the constitution while making the necessary presentational changes. Such an approach is a profound mistake. I think that the Foreign Secretary believes that it is a mistake. As the Laeken declaration in December 2001 recognised, the crucial question is how the EU can be brought closer to its peoples. There can be no surer way of worsening the democratic deficit and disconnection between EU institutions and peoples than ignoring the verdict of the voters.
There are those who say that the EU is a project pushed forward by a political elite who do not care what ordinary people want because they think they know better, so what better way to confirm that argument than by saying that if the people democratically reject the EU constitution, we will just bring it back with a few presentational tweaks? If people do not feel ownership over the EU, they will steadily turn against it, which would not be in Britain’s or Europe’s interest. Further political integration must have the people’s permission. In our view, political integration has already gone too far. Either way, however, it should be for the British people to decide.
The Prime Minister appeared to recognise that when he agreed that there should be a referendum on the EU constitution. He famously discovered his reverse gear—we all watched him doing it in the House in April 2004—by saying, “Let battle be joined”. With the zeal of a convert, he gave cast-iron assurances that the British people would have their say. During the general election campaign, he told The Sun:
“We don’t know what is going to happen in France, but we will have a referendum on the constitution in any event”—
and that, he told The Sun, was “a Government promise”. He went even further by saying:
“What you can’t do is have a situation where you get a rejection of the treaty and then you just bring it back with a few amendments and say we will have another go.”
The Government have absolutely no democratic mandate to bring in parts of the constitution without a referendum of the British people. That is why, if there is a new treaty that transfers competences from Britain to the EU by bringing back parts of the constitution, we are clear that there must be referendum. That must apply whether the transfer of competence is handed over on day one of the new treaty or whether a ratchet effect is initiated that will see power shift to the EU as decisions and judgments are made over the years.
It most certainly did, and I shall make three points here. First, the Minister is clearly trying to make a point about consistency. He will recall that Labour MPs voted for a referendum on that occasion, so the argument about consistency can be made either way. Secondly, I remind the Minister that the most important thing in the treaty was the provision to join the euro if the Government wished it in the future—and on that, the Government of the time offered a referendum. Thirdly, I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that the situation is different now from what it was 15 years ago because the arguments have changed and the peoples of this and other countries have moved on in their belief that political integration has now gone far enough. That is why further political integration requires their democratic consent.
I was one Member who voted against the Maastricht treaty and who wanted a referendum. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it might help Labour Members who want a referendum if any changes are made to give more powers to Europe if he admitted that sometimes the Conservative party as well as the Labour party can get it wrong? Perhaps the Conservatives were wrong not to allow a referendum on the Maastricht treaty.
I readily admit that politicians of all parties get things wrong, but I would have to give longer thought to the particular question of whether we were wrong about Maastricht. As I said, however, the consistency argument can be levelled against the Minister for Europe, but the hon. Lady has made her point.
The Government’s position on whether there should be a referendum is more than a little unclear, and the Foreign Secretary has just added a twist to it in her speech. Perhaps the Minister for Europe will be able to expand on it when he winds up the debate. The Prime Minister has said that there will not be a referendum on the treaty. The Foreign Secretary said a few days ago—despite having stood on a manifesto promising a referendum—that she preferred a model of Government without referendums. I believe that she said yesterday to the Select Committee that we would be able to tell on Monday whether it would be necessary to have a referendum, but today she has said that the Government will not agree to anything that requires a referendum in their judgment, which means, of course, that it will not be necessary to work anything out on Monday. There are several contradictory statements there.
The Chancellor has said that we will have to wait and see and the Minister for Europe, who is now being touted as the Chancellor’s close ally—I have to tell him, however, that the Chancellor has about 330 close allies on the Government Benches at the moment, all hoping for what the right hon. Gentleman is hoping for next Thursday afternoon, namely, a telephone call with encouraging news—says that it will all depend on the final package. What is the Government’s view? Will they keep or break their promise? Will they let the British people decide or will they try to ignore them?
While they are at it—again, the Minister could deal with this in his winding-up speech—can someone in the Government clear up another intriguing point in their position? Both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have made much of the fact that the new treaty will not have the “characteristics of a constitution”, but what are those characteristics? The Government have persistently refused to say what those characteristics are. It is wholly illogical to claim that a treaty does not require a referendum because it fails to pass the test of characteristics, and then be totally unable to say what that test is. That is wholly of a piece with the Government’s utterly confused and disjointed approach to this matter.
The Government have had eight different policies in the past seven years. In 2000, the Prime Minister explained:
“It is perhaps easier for the British than for others to recognise that a constitutional debate must not necessarily end with a single, legally binding document called a Constitution”.
In 2002, he said that
“we do need a proper Constitution for Europe”.
By 2003, the current Northern Ireland Secretary was saying it was just a “tidying-up exercise”, and not important enough for a referendum. Later that year, the Prime Minister said that holding a referendum would be
“a gross and irresponsible betrayal of the true British national interest”—
in other words, it was too important to hold a referendum on this issue. Despite that, he was soon in favour of exactly such a referendum to resolve “once and for all” where Britain stood in Europe. It was “time to decide” what was “our destiny”, so we should let “the issue be put”.
Yet that vital statement of mission and purpose went the way of every previous statement on this subject. It was as if Nelson had said:
“England expects every man to do his duty”—
but then said, “On second thoughts, perhaps not, as we might do this in a few years’ time or forget it altogether”. Now, the Prime Minister says, having agreed to the constitution then, that we do not need a constitution after all and that we must “listen to the people”, which apparently means not asking them what they think. We now find that the constitution, which he had described as a “success for Britain” needs four “major changes”, without which Britain will veto the new treaty, although there is no explanation of why these red lines were apparently not a problem when the whole thing was negotiated the first time round.
The Government have had so many positions that they are now recycling the old ones. On Sunday, the Foreign Secretary told the BBC that the whole business was intended to “tidy up the rule book”, taking us back to the position of the Northern Ireland Secretary four years ago. That is the consistency, vision and backbone of a jellyfish. That is what we have had from the Government in recent years.
As the Prime Minister’s former chief economic adviser said the last time the constitution was on the table:
“The Government never saw the discussions on the Constitution as an opportunity to stand back and think clearly about the appropriate political and economic framework to sustain the EU… the Government’s response was tactical rather than strategic”—
and nothing has changed since.
I really must proceed, but I may give way one or two more times later. It is already becoming a long speech.
Instead of accountability, we have had desperate secrecy. Never before have I known three chairmen of Select Committees, all from the governing party, express such strongly and similarly worded frustration over the Government’s behaviour. The Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee has called it “non-transparency”. The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee has had to write to the Foreign Secretary to complain of the
“failure of accountability to Parliament”.
The Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee has pointed out that the Government have refused to say what position, if any, they have on the vital issue of whether criminal justice should be moved from the intergovernmental third pillar to full Community competence.
Indeed, when the Foreign Secretary told the European Scrutiny Committee last week that
“nothing that you could really call negotiations has taken place”,
we could not work out whether she had been kept so utterly out of the loop by the Prime Minister that she simply did not know what was going on, or whether she had a completely different understanding of the word “negotiate” from the rest of us. That very day, the French President told reporters how he and the Prime Minister had agreed the basis of a new treaty and the German Foreign Minister informed MEPs in Brussels how near to a conclusion he had brought the talks. Was that position reached without the Foreign Office being involved in any negotiation of any kind? That is an alarming thought, if it is true.
When the Prime Minister set out his so-called red lines on Monday, it was the first time that Parliament or the British public had heard what the Government’s view was. Indeed, it must have come as quite a surprise to the Foreign Secretary, who told the European Scrutiny Committee that nothing was going on at all, and that in any case
“the less I say about what we might in principle accept and what we might not, the more I preserve the maximum amount of negotiating space to resist anything that I think is not in Britain’s national interest”.
The Prime Minister took a different view on Monday. His remarks deserve serious scrutiny, because what he did not mention was more significant than what he did. He said nothing about the proposed permanent EU President, nothing about a single legal personality for the EU, nothing about the proposed primacy of EU law over our laws, and nothing about the hugely important points buried in the small print of the original constitution. He said that there would be no qualified majority voting on any provision that
“can have a big say in our own tax and benefits system”.
So would qualified majority voting that had a small say be all right? Will the Minister enlighten us on that when he winds up the debate?
The Prime Minister said that he would not agree to anything that
“displaces the role of British foreign policy”.
So why not put the case earlier that the Foreign Secretary, evidently uncomfortably, had to put to Foreign Ministers a few nights ago? She put the case against qualified majority voting and against an EU Foreign Minister having a diplomatic service in the European Union. The Prime Minister also said that he would not accept a treaty that allowed the charter of fundamental rights to change UK law. But would it be acceptable to give the charter legal standing so that it could change EU law, which would ultimately affect this country? He said that he would not agree to give up our ability to control our common law and judicial and police systems. Does that mean that the veto over criminal justice will be kept and that, crucially, criminal justice will remain in the intergovernmental third pillar?
It has taken weeks, while other Governments have staked out positions, proposed new articles and campaigned for their views, for our Government to set out their so-called red lines, four days before the summit itself. Those red lines turn out not only to be red herrings but, on examination, to prove to be so carefully phrased by the Prime Minister that he could sign up to an EU treaty that transferred substantial powers to the EU and enacted much of the constitution and yet not breach his four red lines. The Prime Minister could give the charter of fundamental rights legal standing, move criminal law to Community control, and agree to a Foreign Minister in all but name with an EU external action service and European embassies, a permanent President of the Council, a common asylum policy, widespread extension of qualified majority voting elsewhere and a broadening of EU competence over employment policy—and still say that his red lines had not been breached. Those so-called red lines in the sand are but chaff thrown up to con the British public that the Government want simply to defend the British national interest, when their central priority is to avoid holding a referendum at all costs.
The Foreign Secretary gave the game away when she said that any treaty that, in the Government’s judgment, required a referendum would not be signed. The idea is that the great leader will go forward on behalf of the British public, and that we do not have to worry because he would not sign anything—would he?—that would require the people to trouble themselves with casting their vote. That is a patronising attitude towards the electorate and a breach of the Government’s election promise.
As the right hon. Gentleman has been making a point about the importance of clarity, will he tell the House whether his party would seek any changes to the present framework in Europe and, in particular, whether it would seek a referendum on the proposal made by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) that we should reconsider our membership of the European Union?
No, I do not agree with that and will not be proposing a referendum on that subject, either now or at the next general election. We have put forward our preferred model for the development of the European Union—the right hon. Gentleman will be added to the list of Members to whom I must send my seminal speeches on these subjects—and I could go on about it at even greater length than I have been doing. However, the immediate issue at hand is what will happen tomorrow and on Friday at the summit.
If we had a Government with a clear vision for a modern Europe, the negotiations at the summit would present not only challenges but opportunities. The Foreign Secretary has mentioned one or two of the relevant points. The Dutch Government have proposed giving national Parliaments the right to block legislation that breaches the principle of subsidiarity. For far too long, and to the deep frustration of many on both sides of this House, this important principle has had no proper enforcement mechanism. The Dutch proposal at least attempts to provide it with an effective one and we urge the Government to support it, and not just to treat it with sympathy, as the Foreign Secretary said a little while ago.
The Czech Government have proposed a flexibility clause that would allow member states to return powers to national control where appropriate. For far too long, the EU has been a one-way ratchet, taking powers from member states but unable to return them. We hope that the Government will support the Czechs on that imaginative proposal. Perhaps they should have put forward the proposal with the Czechs and campaigned for it across Europe.
The Government declare themselves neutral on the question of voting weights, but I am not sure that Ministers have entirely thought the German proposal through. In particular, the new system, with its exact correspondence between population and voting weight, will make it harder to admit large but poor countries into the European Union. Indeed, some suspect that it was devised with that purpose in mind. Given the fundamental importance of the goal of Turkish membership of the EU, that area needs to be considered very carefully indeed.
However, the biggest omission of all by the Government is that they have missed the opportunity to say what I suspect the Foreign Secretary believes, namely, that we do not need a new treaty for Europe’s countries to act together. It is simply not true that a Europe of 27 is not working with the old rules. As the Foreign Secretary has admitted, the EU is coping perfectly well without new rules.
Yes, the Prime Minister should go to the summit saying that no deal is better than a bad deal—but he should also have been saying for a long time that the time for political integration is over, and that the time to look outwards to the great challenges of global warming, global poverty and globalised competition must begin. The EU’s focus should be on practical issues that matter—a point made earlier by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field)—such as success in the world trade round, going further with the single market and improving the emissions trading scheme to create long-term incentives for business to invest in green technology. Those should be the priorities and we do not need a treaty to accomplish them, as the Foreign Secretary has made clear several times.
The Prime Minister should point out those facts to some of his colleagues. He should be advising other leaders to respond to the unhappiness in their own countries, rather than choosing to ignore it in his own. He should be saying that Britain does not support a revived constitution. If he did these things, and if he had done them over the past two years, he would at last, in Europe, have something that he could call a legacy.
I should like to say to the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) that if he wishes to send me any of his writings, he should not send me anything that I can read in Hansard, because I have already read those, and I am not convinced that he is not still just playing the game. If he were ever to become Foreign Secretary, he might take a more positive view of the need for an amending treaty—or a number of amending treaties—to allow Europe to continue to advance.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about the backbone of a jellyfish, and about the need for the Government to be responsive and reflective. As the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, I believe that we have made remarkable strides in the past two years. Perhaps there was not a dialogue or a conversation, but there was certainly one-way traffic from those of us who did not think that the convention would bring in a proposal for a constitution, which was unnecessary, and that what should have been proposed was an amending treaty. That would have taken on the recommendation in the Laeken proposals to get closer to the people of Europe.
I would like to see the introduction of a red card. Such a card would be held not by the Government using the Whip, but by Parliament, where we could have a free vote on whether to demand that something be taken back by the Commission. There is now talk of an orange card being added to the yellow card. Anything better than a white card will suit me. The role of Parliaments should be strengthened with regard to the decisions that should be taken at this level under subsidiarity. I do not mind whether that involves repatriation on an item-by-item basis or a method of preventing the Commission from creeping—a term I use often—even further along with its proposals.
I am concerned that those who are demanding a referendum are not really debating the constitution proposals, but are trying to portray the European Union, as it currently stands, as a malevolent force. I do not see the European Union as a malevolent force, and I am sure that the shadow Foreign Secretary does not, although some of his Back-Bench colleagues might. I see it as a positive arrangement. It does need amendment, and he is wrong to think that an amending treaty is unnecessary. It is clear that the Commission is too large, and that the proposal to bring a series of presidencies into one consistent presidency title and process works. Recently, we went to Germany and then Portugal to see the informal troika arrangement. Rather than distinct changes from presidency to presidency, a consistent synergy and purposefulness can be achieved from one presidency to the next over five presidencies. The proposal is similar to that whereby the European Parliament renews its officers after a two-and-a-half-year term.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will not take interventions at the moment.
We need to consider seriously whether we would accept an amending treaty if the constitution is not introduced.
I agree that those who spend time in either the European Parliament or the European Commission have a tendency to go native. Perhaps those who get tied up in European Council meetings also move increasingly close to the Commission’s view. We must find a way of countering that, and the concept of a stronger card than a yellow card would deal with that. Clearly people went native on the convention, which was taken over by Giscard d’Estaing and other powerful figures and members of the Commission. They produced a treaty for a constitution, which was not what we thought they were setting out to produce. That has since been repudiated by the members of the convention from this Parliament—both the member representing the Opposition, who signed up to an amended treaty, and the member representing the Labour Benches. Questions have also been raised about whether the then Minister for Europe has doubts about what he signed up for. I could not necessarily be accused of undergoing that process, either at the time or afterwards. Last week, in a speech on the future of Europe, I said:
both Parliament and people—
“will not be lectured, hectored or bullied”
into signing a treaty detrimental to the people of the UK.
We should pause to consider some facts. Many people outside do not necessarily understand the matter being discussed, and they are confused by the language that we use. People might want to read a good note in the Library about the concept of treaties. There is only really one treaty—the treaty of Rome. Every other treaty has merely amended the treaty of Rome. Even the treaty of Amsterdam—which changed all the numbering of the original treaty of Rome—and the Maastricht treaty were amending treaties. The treaty proposed by the convention, however, would have been different. It would have been a new treaty, because it collapsed all other treaties and proposed a constitution. People reacted against that more than anything else.
Even the shadow Foreign Secretary talked about EU law, but my understanding is that there is no EU law; there is EC—European Community—law. All the directives and regulations are EC directives, not EU directives. If the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash)—he has left the Chamber quickly, probably to attend my Committee—is correct that the EC is to be changed to the EU, that would be a significant and fundamental matter, which I have not heard addressed by those on our Front Bench or anyone with whom I have debated the issue over the past couple of years. I would like that to be clarified.
What made the constitutional treaty a constitution were the fundamental points addressed by the Prime Minister. It is irritating that we have not been able to have an open dialogue during the period of reflection of the past couple of years. At the Liaison Committee, the Prime Minister made clear what he believed those points were. I am sorry that the shadow Foreign Secretary did not think that that changed the nature of what is proposed from Europe. Those with whom I have debated the issue in the European Parliament, COSAC meetings and future of Europe debates are certainly of the opinion that if the four points referred to by the Prime Minister are taken out, it will not be the constitution that they voted for. They do not want us to take those points out, but they should be taken out.
The Prime Minister made the position clear:
“What it does not need is a Constitutional Treaty or a treaty with the characteristics of a constitution, to put it in the words that the Dutch have used.”
“First, we will not accept a treaty that allows the Charter of Fundamental Rights to change UK law in any way.”
Other countries want that and have spoken strongly in favour of it. If UK law is not affected, we should not stand in the way of those countries, because, as I think the shadow Foreign Secretary was saying, other countries have the right to make their decisions independently and to sign up to them.
The Prime Minister went on:
“Secondly, we will not agree to something which displaces the role of British foreign policy and our foreign minister.”
It is wrong to hold out as a threat the idea that those doing peacekeeping on behalf of the EU in, I think, 16 countries, should not be supported by some kind of bureaucracy that allows them to continue such fundamental work. That should not replace ours, or our seat at the UN, and the Prime Minister has made it clear that he would not allow that to happen.
The Prime Minister continued:
“Thirdly, we will not agree to give up our ability to control our common law and judicial and police system.”
That means that justice and home affairs, as recommended by the Home Affairs Committee, should not be transferred from the third to the first pillar, and should not therefore become subject to qualified majority voting. That is fundamental.
The Prime Minister went on:
“Fourthly, we will not agree to anything that moves to Qualified Majority Voting, something that can have a big say in our own tax and benefit system”.
In other words, we still have the veto. He made the position clear:
“we must have the right…to determine it by unanimity.”
Those four fundamental changes have been the result not just of the comments made by Opposition Members but by members of the European Scrutiny Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee and like-minded people across the Chamber. I hope that that will change fundamentally the outcome of the Council meeting. If so, we will be talking not about a new constitution but about another amending treaty to the original treaty of Rome, which does not do any of the threatening things that the shadow Foreign Secretary has suggested. If he were in the Government and negotiating, at any time in the future, with his European counterparts, I am sure that he would agree with most of the common-sense proposals left in the original treaty. Some of them could be stripped out, and some of them, especially proposals relating to the power of parliaments, as opposed to the power of Executives, could be strengthened; I would certainly support that.
The institutional changes might founder on the Polish problem. When Poland signed up to the treaty of Nice, it was given a great deal, whereby it would have 27 votes, and Germany would have 29. Of course it signed up to that. It was rather strange that the convention then brought forward a proposal that would give Germany twice as many votes as Poland. How can one ask a country to enter a new system, and then change the voting balance? A wondrous system has been suggested whereby the number of votes a country has should be based on the square root of its population. Actually, it is quite simple: if Germany had nine votes, the UK would have eight votes, and Poland would have five and a half—alternatively, those countries would have 18, 16 and 11 votes respectively.
We need to deal with those institutional matters to get a solution. Agreement should not founder, however, on the myth that if the four fundamental parts of the amending treaty are taken out, a referendum will be required. I do not like referendums; they are not a sensible part of the system of government of this country. We have a liberal press, who would run the referendum according to what they thought the conditions were. With the best will in the world, even people like me, who are Euro-anoraks, could not make people understand the complexities of what we were voting on. It would be an emotional vote.
I hope that people will stop all this posturing, and wish the Prime Minister well in the coming Council. I hope that he will get an amending treaty that will safeguard Britain’s position, and I shall certainly support him in that.
Our debates on European affairs are among the most reliable features of the parliamentary calendar—reliable in that they turn up on schedule twice a year, and reliable in the predictable way in which they unfold—and that comforting familiarity has been on display in the Chamber again today.
With a few topical flourishes, today’s debate so far has been almost a rerun of the many debates on Europe that littered the period before and after the constitutional treaty finally appeared on the scene in 2004. It has been characterised by precious little being given away by the Secretary of State, save hints at red lines that have been well trailed in the media, and precious little being held back by the shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), who demanded that pretty well anything resembling a treaty—let alone a constitution—should merit a referendum. The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) made a characteristically robust speech.
I make no apologies for entering into the spirit of the afternoon by going over some old ground myself. However, as we have also observed today, there are topics other than the amending treaty that deserve some of our attention, and I hope to touch on one or two of them later.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the treaty of Rome. Whatever our thoughts about the future, we ought at the very least to reflect on that, and on what has been achieved in the intervening time. In the course of the expansion of the European Union from six to 27 member states, communist and fascist states have been transformed, and the risks of war within Europe have been largely put behind us. Democratic values and institutions have been the priorities for many countries striving to join the European Union, and those values have become entrenched once the countries have joined. Similarly, their prosperity has increased many times as they have become embedded in Europe’s trading system and economy of nearly 500 million people.
Over the last five decades Europe has learnt to work as a whole, and to tackle problems that are beyond the control of individual countries. In an era of globalisation, climate change and international terrorism, the requirement for countries to work together has not dimmed. Britain has been a beneficiary of that co-operation, not least in dealing with terrorism. We should remember that one of the suspects involved in the failed attempts to bomb the London Underground two years ago was extradited from Italy within days of his arrest in Rome. Such a fast-track process has only been made possible by co-operation in justice and home affairs. It is just one example of the importance of being part of the European Union. Rather than displaying the ambiguity of some in the Labour party or the barely concealed antipathy of many Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats’ approach recognises the importance of the European Union and the importance of the United Kingdom’s playing a full part in it.
The hon. Gentleman spoke of new European member states putting aside some of their communist and fascist past, but does he not agree that in countries such as Italy, Austria and Poland, proportional representation has allowed political views of that kind to rear their ugly heads again?
I do not wish to be distracted into a debate on voting systems, tempting as that might be. The point is that by embracing those countries within the European Union, we have strengthened their democratic traditions and the values that underpin their Governments and way of life in this modern era.
It is now some two years since the French and Dutch referendum votes cast Europe into what was politely termed its “period of reflection”. The Liberal Democrats welcome the German presidency’s efforts to leave behind that period of doubt and uncertainty, particularly as the recent accession of Romania and Bulgaria has only emphasised the inadequacy of the current institutional arrangements. However, we need to move beyond the current navel-gazing: the time has come for the Union to refocus on the real tests in Europe and abroad. Globally, the EU’s combined political and financial clout should be used to tackle global problems, not least in furthering international development as a force for good in the fight against poverty.
The hon. Gentleman suggested that the European Union could do better in the world as a collective than as a group of individual states. Surely that does not apply to aid, in respect of which Britain, for example, does a much better job than the European Union. Is there not a case for saying that although some of the very strong countries such as Germany, France, Italy, Britain and many others could work as a loose collective if they needed to, individually they can do tremendous work in the world, and indeed may be held back by the restrictive nature of the European Union?
I respect the hon. Gentleman’s view, but I do not agree with it. I acknowledge that difficulties that may arise, but I believe that when countries can work together they can get more from their pound or euro than they necessarily can on a bilateral basis.
Europe needs to accept that it must enhance its capabilities on the global stage, and it needs to look carefully at the way in which it does that. In the context of the growth of India and China, Europe still has much to do to address the economic disparity among its member states, and to complete the single market in line with the objectives of the Lisbon agenda. Those are some of the real challenges for Europe and its leaders—challenges that affect everyday lives in our constituencies and those of our European counterparts. It is on those issues that people look for action, not constitutions and their associated trappings.
To deal with those key issues, however, we need a new institutional settlement. It is unsustainable to continue arrangements designed for a Union of six nations when there are now 27. There are obvious areas crying out for reform. For a start, it is essential for the principles of conferral, subsidiarity and proportionality to be put explicitly at the heart of the Union and its operation. We desperately need to tackle the lack of transparency in the institutions, and to clarify the roles of European and national Parliaments.
It is pretty obvious that the Union needs more continuity and direction in delivering its agenda, so it makes sense to replace the six-month rotating presidency with a longer-lasting arrangement. Equally, the large—to an increasingly embarrassing degree—Commission creates unnecessary bureaucracy, and should be slimmed down to create a more efficient and effective body. There is surely no disagreement about the fact that we need more efficiency, effectiveness and transparency in the Union. The need for institutional reform should unite us all. If only!
Three years ago we supported the constitutional treaty as a package that was, on balance, in the interests of Britain and the European Union as a whole. The treaty was certainly not perfect, however, and it raised important constitutional questions. Indeed, we believed that it contained some measures that altered the balance of power between the Union’s institutions and the member states sufficiently to require a referendum.
There are many reports on the current state of negotiations on the successor treaty, but we do not know for certain what will be presented at the Council meeting this weekend. The Foreign Secretary repeated today what she has said in the past—that she will not reveal her negotiating position in public—but as the shadow Foreign Secretary observed, not everyone has been quite so discreet. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor have allowed the media to know their views, which have been well trailed by Members who have spoken today. They are all perfectly valid, but there is a rather hackneyed feel to them. That is not surprising, as they bear more than a passing resemblance to the red lines that were set out—and not breached, the Government told us, thanks to opt-outs and emergency brakes—in the original constitutional treaty. It is surely more than a little implausible that a mini-version of that treaty will seek to breach them now. As the shadow Foreign Secretary said, the red lines could more honestly be described as red herrings.
The hon. Gentleman referred to his party’s previous position of support for a referendum on the constitutional treaty, but he also said that the current situation was not yet clear. Has he seen the draft intergovernmental conference mandate document produced by the German presidency? It would change some aspects of the constitutional treaty’s proposals. If he has seen that document, does he believe on the basis of it that the Liberal Democrats will still support a referendum?
The hon. Gentleman tempts me into dangerous territory. I have seen the mandate—it has been kicked around—and there are many different interpretations of it. As I will come on to say, we will do best to wait and see the actual documents before making judgments, rather than get ahead of ourselves.
If the outline—or the detail—of an amending treaty emerges from the summit this weekend, that will be welcome. Of course, if the Government do not succeed in their declared aim of much reducing the scope of the treaty, we will have to consider carefully how it should be ratified. We firmly believe that any significant changes, other than overdue institutional alterations, ought not to be introduced by stealth, and we will have to assess the text carefully to determine if a referendum is the appropriate way forward again. We cannot make that assessment at this stage. We will undoubtedly return to this issue time and again. We seem cursed to do so—and no doubt an excited public can barely wait.
The summit has an ambitious agenda, but we must hope that time will be found to discuss some pressing foreign policy issues. In particular, there ought to be an urgent discussion about the situation in Kosovo. Some eight years have now passed since NATO intervened to halt the murderous campaigns by Serbia. The “transitional arrangements” which were put in place then are now unsustainable. As many others have done, I visited Kosovo earlier this year, and the tension there was obvious. It is clear that the desire for independence and autonomy cannot be contained indefinitely. If there is no progress, there is a genuine risk of a new crisis.
We know that there are difficulties in the Security Council about the way forward. There are reports in today’s press about the latest initiative; perhaps the Minister will comment on that in his speech. We must be careful, particularly in the light of Russia’s position. The threat of the veto remains a key obstacle. There is a danger that the carefully worked out proposals put forward by Martti Ahtisaari will be scuppered.
We have a particular responsibility to the people of Kosovo, who are fellow Europeans. The European Union is central to the future status of Kosovo. Preparations for civilian support for the Administration are already under way and any new settlement is likely to be policed by an EU mission. It is therefore imperative that the European Council agree a robust position that can withstand Russian and Serbian attempts to prevent a solution. Britain’s and Europe’s interests in this dispute and in the region are clear and legitimate. The intervention in Kosovo was one of the high points of the Prime Minister’s foreign policy, but it remains unfinished business.
There is one other foreign policy issue that is rarely far from our minds, and which will demand time from the heads of Government this weekend. The serious and destabilising events in the occupied territories in the past fortnight have rightly already occupied some of our time in the House this week. Financial aid is essential to the ordinary Palestinians, who are most affected by these events but who have least say in them. Over the past year, aid has been severely restricted as a result of Hamas winning the Palestinian elections, with the Israelis holding back tax revenues and the European Union joining others in restricting the flow of funds through the temporary international mechanism.
There are serious problems with Hamas; we cannot duck that. In particular, its stated intent to obliterate the state of Israel is repugnant. But international attempts to force it to recognise Israel or to force it out of office have so far failed, and now the military wing of the organisation has asserted itself over the political wing. Hamas and Fatah are solely responsible for the violence of recent times, but the international community has failed to make any progress on the key Quartet principles by marginalising the political wing of Hamas.
Peace, the recognition of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements are nowhere in sight. There will have to be a new approach when the immediate priority of humanitarian aid is resolved. The United States, Israel and the European Union have already decided to restore direct funding to the Palestinian Authority and its emergency Government, which we welcome. However, the new reality in Palestine is that there are two Governments: one in Gaza and one in the west bank. Given that the emergency Government have little or no influence in Gaza, it is essential that the European Union explore ways to ensure that vital aid reaches the desperate and impoverished people there as well. That must be a priority for the European leaders later this week.
The risk of failure at this week’s summit is high. Europe desperately needs to show that it has found a new direction and sense of purpose after two years of introspection. It needs to show that it can lead on the key foreign policy issues of the day. While leadership in our country is changing hands, we cannot afford to be distracted. More than ever, it is vital that the United Kingdom finally play a central part in Europe and help to make a new European Union a reality.
Last July, the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs published a report on developments in the European Union, in which we said:
“Although the Treaty is not dead, it is comatose and on life support. At some point, Europe’s leaders are going to have to decide whether to switch it off. We conclude that the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe is unlikely ever to come into force, although attempts may be made to enact some of its provisions by other means.”
The Foreign Secretary yesterday told the Select Committee that many EU countries had been in denial about the facts that we pointed out. I have to say that not every member of our Government was saying last year that the treaty was dead; there was obviously a diplomatic reluctance to say so, even though everyone in this country knew that there was no prospect of a treaty that had been rejected in France and the Netherlands being endorsed in the United Kingdom.
We are where we are, and the negotiations this weekend will be difficult. Not only have 18 countries ratified the constitutional treaty, but about three others would do so through their Parliaments if they thought that there was any point. Other Governments, including ours, are in a different situation. The French and the Dutch rejected the treaty, the Poles have a particular position and the Czech Government also have some problems. It is not only the UK that has difficulties, red lines or concerns, but it will not be easy to get agreement on the basis of what has been put forward so far.
I have read the draft intergovernmental conference mandate document produced by the German presidency and made available yesterday, and I have studied certain aspects of it. It is unfortunate that Members of this House and parliamentarians across Europe have had such a late opportunity to consider it. As I have already said, I believe that whatever comes out of the negotiations at the weekend, if it is decided that we in this country will not conduct a ratification process by means of a referendum, there must be thorough engagement by parliamentarians. I do not like referendums. I agree with Clement Attlee’s remarks about devices of demagogues and dictators—a phrase that Baroness Thatcher also used in a debate in this place.
We need Parliament to be sovereign on these matters—Parliament as the expression of the popular will, able to engage in, debate and consider such provisions clause by clause. If and when we get something that can be put forward for ratification, it is essential that we have a parliamentary process leading up to the intergovernmental conference envisaged under the Portuguese presidency.
If that conference is not to be held until September, October or even November, we need to have established a mechanism in the meantime. If something tangible emerges next week, I will consult my Committee colleagues about how we can consider such a process, even through the recess. We have experience of that: the Minister for the Middle East came before our Committee last September, when the House was in recess. I cannot give an undertaking in that regard because my Committee will have to take the decision, but I certainly hope that Parliament will consider these proposals in detail before any ratification process is concluded, and before the intergovernmental conference is held. The long summer recess does present a difficulty, given that the Portuguese presidency starts at the beginning of July.
Although I am absolutely in favour of a referendum, I have great sympathy with my hon. Friend’s view that we should have a strong debate before any agreement is reached. However, given what happened at the end of the British presidency, when the Prime Minister at the last minute gave away a deal on the budget without reference to anybody and astonished his fellow leaders in the European Union, does my hon. Friend fear that that might happen again?
No, I am not fearful of that, because I believe that these issues have been flagged up sufficiently. I am prepared to accept the Foreign Secretary’s assurance that there will be no agreement, except on the basis that she outlined. We will have to wait to see what happens next week.
We hope that we can engage in detail in this process, both up to the beginning of the Portuguese presidency and beyond. It is clear that getting such legislation through this House will not happen quickly—it must also go through the other place—so intensive debate into 2008 will, presumably, be required, taking up many hours. I remember well the hon. Member for Stafford, who is sitting on the Back Benches—
I thank the hon. Gentleman. I remember his lengthy contributions to and interventions in the various debates in 1992 and 1993, and the discussions after the Maastricht treaty. I look forward to the continuation of that tradition in this House.
I do not want to delay the House for too long, but I must say that I agree very strongly with the remarks made by the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore) about the importance of the situation in Kosovo. The Foreign Affairs Committee was recently in Russia, and it is very clear to us that there is a real problem—a potential blockage of a United Nations Security Council resolution that would permit deployment of UN forces and EU police in Kosovo post any settlement. There is a danger, flagged up by the recent remarks made by President Bush in Albania, that if there is no Security Council resolution, there might be a unilateral declaration of independence. If the Americans—and then, presumably, organisations such as the Organization of the Islamic Conference and other bodies of international opinion—were to recognise that, there would be a big problem within the EU.
The EU today is united around the Ahtisaari plan, but if that plan is not to be implemented, or is blocked or vetoed in the Security Council, there is a danger that that unity will go. We know what happens when such events occur. We saw what happened in the Balkans with the premature recognition of Croatia and the consequential divisions among EU states. EU unity and a collective EU voice on these matters over the coming weeks and months are vital.
I want to touch on some related matters, such as the vital role played by Mr. Solana in developments in the Balkans and in the engagement—so far unsuccessful—with the Iranians, as well as his general work. It is undeniable that the current foreign policy arrangements in the EU are a mess. Having an external relations commissioner as well as a representative of the Governments is confusing. The draft German treaty has an interesting formulation. It states:
“The terminology used throughout the Treaties will reflect”
the change, and
“the term ‘Constitution’ will not be used, the ‘Union Minister for Foreign Affairs’ will be called [XXX]”—
there are not four Xs, only three. We therefore have to find out what that denomination will be. In evidence given to our Committee yesterday, the Foreign Secretary that it might be very sensible not to call that person a Foreign Minister; otherwise, when they go on missions to different countries, they would be seen only by the Foreign Minister concerned and not by, for example, Mr. Larijani in Iran or another such person at a higher level.
However, there are more serious points relating to the external affairs representation of the European Community. Last year, the Foreign Affairs Committee was very critical of the fact that while the Foreign Office’s budget was being frozen, the EU seemed to be establishing “embassies” in a number of areas around the world and representatives who were called “ambassadors”. The EU clearly needs a presence in different countries—an office—but it does not need a fully fledged, bureaucratic and massively staffed foreign ministry. Such a presence raises very difficult issues and, for various reasons, it is not helpful. It might be of benefit to some of the smaller EU countries that are not themselves able to have diplomatic representation everywhere in the world, but it will create great difficulties for larger countries, and particularly for those—including us—who are permanent members of the Security Council, and who have Commonwealth networks and other international roles.
When the Minister replies to this debate, I hope that he can clarify the Government’s position on the external service of the European Union; on the role and title of “XXX” and how that post will be seen in future, including in relation to the work carried out by individual Governments; and on the permanent presidency of the Council of Ministers, if that post is also to be established. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on these matters today, and I hope we will have further such debates in the very near future.
These Europe debates are not simply formulaic; they are about the powers of this House and, by extension, of the people we represent. There has been a transfer of power, authority and decision making from this House to the European Union over many years, but if this constitution, as amended by the German proposals, goes through in anything like this form, it will be a giant step—a further emasculation of the powers of this House and an erosion of national self-government.
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
Will my hon. Friend allow me to develop my argument a little further?
Of course, there should never have been a constitution in the first place. The Government did not want one, and Governments of other member states never called for one. The Convention on the Future of Europe, on which I had the honour to serve and to try to represent the interests of this House, was not told to write a constitution for Europe. We were told to simplify Europe and to create a democratic Europe closer to its citizens. It all got captured by the Brussels machine, and it forgot reform and wrote a constitution instead. That is what the Prime Minister signed in October 2004.
As we know, that constitution was rejected convincingly by the voters in France and Holland. The Prime Minister then appeared to enter a phase of repentance. I remind the House that last year in a speech in Oxford he said:
“we locked ourselves in a room at the top of the tower and debated things no ordinary citizen could understand.”
I agree with the Prime Minister on that, but he has done nothing to correct the problem. We are now back in the tower. Indeed, the situation has got worse. The Convention on the Future of Europe at least met in public, and I and others could report to the House on what was happening. The Government could also table amendments, and they tabled hundreds of them. Not many were accepted and they did not really like the final text, but at least we could discuss the British position. This time, it is all being done in secret, and that is a disgrace.
Reference has already been made to the strictures of the Select Committees, and I agree completely with what the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) said about the importance of parliamentary scrutiny. I will serve as best I can on his Committee to try to subject the text to proper scrutiny. I am pleased that the Committee unanimously placed a marker when we censured Foreign Office Ministers for their refusal to come to our Committee. The same was done by the European Scrutiny Committee, on which I also serve, to give its views about what is happening in Europe.
To make matters worse, all the way through the Convention on the Future of Europe, the Government told us sanctimoniously about the need to open up Europe, bring the citizens along and close the gap between the voters and leaders, but they do not do that at home. We are trying to export democracy to the middle east and we criticise China for its lack of democratic institutions, but when it comes to our own procedures, Ministers do not even tell us what has been happening in the negotiations.
I agree with much of what the right hon. Gentleman says. Does he agree with the suggestion made earlier by the Liberal Democrat spokesperson that some of the countries in eastern Europe that have gained democracy might have it for only a short time before it is shoved upwards to the European Union? They might have only a short period of real, genuine national democracy between living under Soviet rule and the rule of the European Union.
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is an irony that in many cases those countries have given up rule from Moscow and swapped it for rule from Brussels. Their liberation was an immensely important event in the history of Europe. However, having achieved self-government, they are now in the process of giving it up.
The Liberal Democrat spokesman repeated what the Government often say, which is that we need a new rulebook because we cannot operate with 27 members under a rulebook designed for six. That is false. The Prime Minister said that we would suffer deadlock or paralysis if we did not have the constitution. In fact, the pace and volume of European Union business has increased with every round of enlargement. The European Scrutiny Committee has to deal weekly with a blizzard of new directives, regulations, proposals and decisions from Brussels. The idea that we need more majority voting for more laws is a fantasy. Let us hear no more about why we need this new treaty, or whatever it is called, to make Europe work effectively.
We have on our hands a massive extension of majority voting that, by definition, is a diminution in the powers of this House. It means that we will not be able to block unpleasant or unwelcome proposals. The constitution brought majority voting into 63 new areas, which is far more than any other treaty. The Single European Act, under Mrs. Thatcher, introduced it to 12 new areas.
The red lines that the Prime Minister has drawn refer to only two extensions that he does not want—those into tax and social security. He has carefully crafted those red lines so that he can claim a triumph. However, I presume that all the other extensions of majority voting will be accepted. They are certainly not ruled out in the German document, of which we have only just received a copy.
The Foreign Secretary appeared before the Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday, but—as we have heard—she said nothing. She had nothing to say. She said that no substantive discussions had taken place, thus repeating her earlier remarks, but we know that the Prime Minister has been having discussions with other Heads of Government, and, back in January, two officials were appointed to negotiate on this very text. The sad fact is that the Foreign Office has been cut out of the discussions. I find it very sad that at a time when Europe is crying out for reform—there is a coalition position on the need for reform—the Foreign Office has nothing to say about it.
We know that Europe is inefficient, wasteful and has lost the confidence of the public, but all that the Foreign Secretary does is sit tight, let the worst happen and then try to make the best of it.
If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I am under some time pressure but as he knows, I respect his views.
Incidentally, I hope that the Minister for Europe, who is in his place, goes to the conference tomorrow. Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary said that she did not know whether he was going. I was Minister for Europe once and I went to all the summits. It would be a further denial of democratic accountability if the Minister for Europe were not among the army of officials and diplomats who go to the summits. Again, that is a sad reflection on the status of the Foreign Office in the negotiations.
The German presidency document, which we have only just seen, includes some radical proposals, such as the single legal personality. We know that the Government do not like that. It is referred to specifically in the document, which means that the present intergovernmental pillars of the European Union are to be collapsed, in favour of a single legal personality, so that such matters as policing and criminal justice would be decided by majority voting. The Home Office has recently complained about how its laws, especially anti-terrorism measures, have been overridden by the European convention on human rights, so how can the Government even contemplate any reference to the even stricter EU charter of fundamental rights—also in the German document—or any extension of majority voting into that area? It would be supervised by the European Court of Justice, which would decide any dispute. At a time when we are already feeling the pressure of having our judgments about our own security overridden by the European Union, the Government will apparently sign up to a further massive extension.
I am one of the sad people who occasionally look at the constitutional text, which runs to 511 pages. We know that the Prime Minister has four red lines, so some of the pages may be removed, but what will happen to the other 500-odd pages? Do the Government agree with them? There is nothing in the German IGC text that suggests that the rest of the constitution is to be forgotten. Thus we will have, by the back door, the revival of the great majority of the constitutional text—without it being called a constitution, of course. It includes such things as an energy chapter; the security and marketing of energy is to come under the EU.
Now, I am an internationalist. I believe in reaching treaty agreements with states all over the world on matters such as climate change, global warming, energy, extradition and global security, but that is quite different from irrevocably handing over powers to a law-making body that will decide such matters on our behalf by majority voting. Those difficulties can be solved only by a referendum, as was promised by the Prime Minister. The sorry story of the zig-zags towards and away from national referendums is a text-book example of the victory of expediency and party advantage over the national interest.
During the Convention on the Future of Europe, the Government steadfastly and emphatically opposed any referendum, then did a sudden U-turn. The parliamentary Labour party, which had voted against a referendum one week, a few weeks later trooped through the Division Lobby in favour of one. Then the French said no in their referendum, so the Prime Minister changed his mind and said that Britain would not have one. Then the Labour party manifesto said that there should be a referendum on these matters, but recently the party has gone back on that and said that no referendum would be held. Now, it appears that it is saying that there may be a referendum.
That is not the way to deal with an electorate already sensitised to the loss of their powers and whose disillusionment about politics and the political process is very deep. The Prime Minister should keep his promise on the referendum. He wanted to put the matter, although not the red-line issues, to a national vote. He said:
“Let the issue be put and let the battle be joined.”—[Official Report, 20 April 2004; Vol. 430, c. 157.]
I want to make a final point, about the transfer of power to which I have referred already. It is not some dry, academic exercise but has to do with the essence of democracy. Who makes decisions, and where? To whom are they accountable? Are they voted in, and can they be removed? Those are the questions that need to be answered, and they are crucial. This House is a forum where majorities come and go and Governments change, where laws are enacted and withdrawn. That is what democracy is about. Handing such matters over to another jurisdiction, irrevocably, means that we will be losing the powers of the people we represent. We should let them decide whether they want the constitution.
First, I must say how much I enjoy these six-monthly games between the Eurocreeps and the Eurolags. They are always an entertainment, and it is always interesting to participate in a regurgitation, each time in a new light, of arguments that we have been making for the past 25 or 30 years.
At the moment, we face a new danger. We are formulating our views on the European constitutional treaty, but in a couple of days decisions will be taken that will remain largely uninfluenced by those views. Then, as usual, we shall find that the Government have climbed down from their good intentions and that they are putting to us a treaty that is less than acceptable.
This six-monthly reunion is a poignant moment. It comes at the end of what was supposed to be a period of reflection that turned into a comedy hour reminiscent of the “Dead Parrot” sketch in “Monty Python”. The EU is trying to breathe new life into a dead parrot. The hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore) said that Europe was being led in a new direction, but the truth is that it is being led back into the dead-end street that it tried and failed to enter in 2004.
The period of reflection became a prelude to the attempt to give a new birth certificate to what is nominally a new constitution. The German Chancellor, Mrs. Merkel, has made what is happening absolutely clear. She has taken away the trimmings of the constitution, and put up some sops for the British Government to knock down easily, as long as they accept the substance of the proposals—which bring back the old constitution in the new form of a treaty. In fact, the old constitution was a treaty too, and the new proposals adopt the same form.
Of course, the word “constitution” is not used. To my great regret, the national anthem of the EU has gone too. I have a great fondness for Beethoven’s Ninth, which was also the national anthem of the failed Rhodesian state under Iain Smith. It has been misused many times, by Europe and various other entities, but I like the music and regret its deletion.
However, dropping the trimmings means nothing, as the promised treaty creates a legal entity to which this country will surrender some of its sovereign powers. We are bringing in by the back door what the electors in France and Holland threw out by the front. Our electors, if allowed to, would do the same.
I cannot see why the German Chancellor is going down this path, as Germany’s economic problems have been caused by the euro. As the dollar falls, the euro is bound to rise, thus making German industry and exports less competitive. The funny money flowing out of the dollar will go into the euro, and the consequential economic damage in Germany, which is already precluded from having the big expansion of demand needed to stimulate its economy, will be severe. Instead of dealing with Germany’s real problem, however, Mrs. Merkel is determined to go down the dead-end street that is the constitution and give the kiss of half life to the dead treaty.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the German economy is currently growing at 2.7 or 2.8 per cent. per annum? That is roughly the same as the British economy.
Well, that has had a deflationary effect. I am alarmed by the rise in the euro. It will go on, because the dollar will continue to fall, and it is a simple statement of fact that a higher euro will damage the German economy. It has certainly damaged the French economy, and Germany exports a lot to France, so the two countries are tied together to that extent.
All the arguments for trying to revive the dead treaty have been put forward today, although the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk added some new ones, saying that we must agree to the new proposal in order to help Kosovo and deal with Hamas. I had not thought those matters were pertinent to the constitution, but all the other arguments are being trundled out.
Yet Europe moves in mysterious ways, even if it does not perform any wonders, and what has been happening is a perfect illustration of that. The EU constitution is an artefact and product of the European elite, who for a long time have imposed their views on the people of Europe. If the European people do not like the elite’s views, that is too bad: if they vote against a treaty, let them have another referendum and give them a chance to rethink. Alternatively, the result of the original referendum can be interpreted as a vote on another issue, and not on the pristine beauties of the constitution.
The constitution is an elite artefact and committing our country to it is to commit ourselves to the sort of imposition that I have described. It is the opposite of democracy; it is plutocracy as a system of government gone mad.
I do not see why such a clarification is necessary. The tenor of my argument is that the constitution is unnecessary, and that it is being foisted on British and European opinion in an attempt to reintroduce it by the back door without a referendum. If that is not clear, I despair. The argument is not about the EU: it is about whether we should go further down the dead-end street of a stultifying constitution that will increase the power of the centre and diminish the sovereignty of the EU’s component parts. That is the essence of my argument.
No doubt at the end of the day, there will be a treaty called a constitution that will go further towards creating a Eurostate as a legal entity, which will mean further sacrifices of UK sovereignty. Our Government said that there are four red lines that must not be crossed—ils ne passeront pas. Unfortunately, they are an attenuated version of the six red lines we laid down in 2004, and although we did not actually achieve them then the Prime Minister still accepted the constitution and signed it. Now we are down to four red lines and I fear they will be surrendered just like the others. Two of the 2004 red lines have already been surrendered by acceptance of the constitution.
We have accepted even more than that in our efforts to show good will to Europe. At the end of the British presidency we accepted a doubling of our net contribution over the next seven years, which will be a horrendous burden on the British economy, yet it was blithely accepted in return for concessions on the common agricultural policy that we cannot obtain because it will not be renegotiated until 2013. That indicates a state of mind about Europe that gives me no great faith in the stand that is being taken.
A report from the Swedish Institute for European Policy Studies analysed and compared the comments of European leaders. It noted:
“Blair’s influence is typically seen as less extensive than his spin-doctors make it seem, and with the important exceptions of the Lisbon process and transatlantic issues”—
that is, Iraq—
“he is not really in the game, although destroying the games of others.”
That describes a very unsuccessful performance, which I hope will not be repeated at the dawn of socialism next Thursday.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. We would have been in a stronger negotiating position now if we had not been waffling about whether to have a referendum but had said adamantly that we would put the treaty to a referendum of the British people. It would have been clear that we would never get the British people to accept large chunks of the constitution, so as unanimous agreement was needed our negotiating position would have been stronger and the demands on the British Government would have been less. Our inability to take a firm negotiating position has weakened us all along.
I was not excited by the statement of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary that we shall not agree to any treaty that requires a referendum. The Prime Minister has already told us—last week—that the treaty does not require a referendum so there will not be one, thereby abdicating the position before we had even reached it. We should have insisted on a referendum, because that is necessary for any sacrifice of the sovereignty and powers of the British people. We are giving up their powers, not ours. We are abdicating our responsibilities to them.
I regret the fact that in consideration of matters European the Labour party and, to a degree, the House do not speak for England. Our Euro-enthusiasm does not represent the people of the UK. I know that critics say that the people of this country are misled by Murdoch and Dacre, but that is to assume that the people are fools. In fact, they have basic instincts about Europe and they want no further surrender of powers. If we reckon to abdicate those powers without consulting the people we shall produce alienation and division that will tell against us in the long term.
My fear is that we shall climb down, as we did in 1939. Once again, Poland is on the front line. We are not even promising to come its aid this time, although it would be commendable if we did so; we are leaving the fighting to Poland and not putting up a very convincing argument.
Next week we shall probably discover that the red lines have turned orange and possibly even green, because Europe is reinventing itself as an environmental organisation that will lead the battle against climate change. The Government have the voting strength to put through almost anything they want, but if they accept the treaty that calls itself a constitution two problems will arise. First, we shall weaken UK sovereignty and hand over to the European state powers that belong to the British people. We shall strengthen the development of a European superstate and frustrate the possibility, which exists at present, of Europe developing along a new path, of looser and more flexible associations that are appropriate to a Europe of 27, and not a Europe dominated by France and Germany as it has always been. I want Europe to develop in a natural fashion, not to have solutions imposed on it by the European bureaucracy and the two dominant powers—France and Germany.
The second problem, which is more important for us, is that we shall increase the alienation of the British public. They no longer believe us and our conversations and statements about Europe are one of the main reasons why they do not believe politicians. We promise one thing but another thing happens. We talk in incomprehensible gobbledegook about transferring powers from an intergovernmental pillar to a bill of rights that is not a bill of rights, and to a court that will not adjudicate on them—although it almost certainly will. The whole dialogue is incomprehensible, and what the public see is a betrayal of their deepest instincts, which are not enthusiastic about Europe. The public are sceptical; they are saying, “Thus far and no further”, which is what we should be saying about the treaty.
Listening to the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), my great personal friend of more than 20 years, with whom I share almost 25 years coterminous service in the House, I reflected that this is the first time that we have spoken back to back. He will understand me when I say that the ghost missing from this feast is Sir Julian Critchley—we miss him much.
Although as I speak from an unashamedly pro-European perspective I largely and fundamentally disagree with the hon. Gentleman, there is none the less a sense in British politics and in wider European politics that one door has closed, or is closing, and another one could be opening. The closing door is the ending of the Blair premiership, mirrored by recent events on the continent—the leadership changes in France, Germany and Italy, and even in Belgium—and the failed referendums following the earlier votes cast by the French and the Dutch.
As has been said before, despite the big obstacles that face us, Europe now has the potential for a fresh start. We have heard that phrase many times over the years, but we now have a real opportunity, although I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the terminology and conduct of the debate, and the incomprehensibility of much of it, is in itself enough to put people off, never mind judging the merits or demerits of particular arguments. We need the arguments to be properly engaged, especially those of us on the pro-European side, because we have too often been guilty of allowing much of the case to go by default.
It is not good enough for us to lament the fact that we have a Eurosceptic press in this country, because Parliament could be doing a lot of things—they were referred to during the Foreign Secretary’s speech—that would improve the substance and quality of the debate about Europe. For example, we could have a regular designated European issues day on the Floor of the House, where many of the things that go through, and are never reported or analysed properly outside certain hard-working Committees and never really get the intensity of scrutiny that they should command, could be much more in the public gaze. We could have a Secretary of State for Europe operating at Cabinet level. I certainly agree that it would be extraordinary if the Minister for Europe were not at the summit. I hope that he can confirm that he will definitely attend, because it would be strange indeed were he not to do so.
Let us consider our own procedures in the House. I remember being here for Question Time one Monday afternoon at half-past two, all those years ago. The Berlin wall had come down that weekend. William Waldegrave was the Minister at the Dispatch Box and an emergency request was moved by my colleague at the time, Russell Johnston MP, as he then was, saying that surely the House of Commons could debate the implications of that monumental development, which was way beyond our wildest imaginings—but alas no. Speaker Weatherill was very sympathetic, but the procedures of the British House of Commons did not allow us to discuss in the mother of Parliaments the fall of the Berlin wall the Monday after the weekend it happened. We are right to make our critiques of Europe, but we should look in the mirror sometimes and consider the way in which we do things here, as well.
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned that. I also checked the Hansard for the debates in the weeks following the fall of the Berlin wall. Will he confirm that the first person to call for the new eastern European democracies, as they were to become, to join the European Union, was my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude), the current chairman of the Conservative party?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is correct and I am happy to say so. Without wishing to be over-partisan, I have to say that that shows a clearer reading of the situation following the fall of the Berlin wall, vis-à-vis the former East Germany and West Germany, than Mrs. Thatcher achieved at the time—if the hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands) recalls his history.
On the point about improving the procedures of the House, does the right hon. Gentleman think that it might be worth exploring the possibility of establishing a European Grand Committee to bring together Members of this House and of another place, Members of the European Parliament and perhaps our British Commissioner from time to time?
In the words of the song, “What a swell party that is.” Anything that gave greater legitimacy to those with an elected parliamentary position—or I suppose, where the House of Lords is concerned, an as yet unelected parliamentary position—and enabled them to come together and scrutinise what is coming out of the European Commission would be a healthy development. Under the new Prime Minister—I want to refer to him in a moment—we may see some more imaginative thinking in that respect.
There is no doubt that every British premiership—of successive parties—since de Gaulle famously first said “Non” to Macmillan has been profoundly affected by Britain’s role in Europe. We saw that with the success of Edward Heath in getting us in and with Harold Wilson’s machinations in holding his party together while Callaghan carried out the supposed renegotiation—whether it was or was not—and the referendum that followed. We saw it with Mrs. Thatcher’s rather schizophrenic relationship with Europe. She was the person who pushed through the single market—in reality, probably something more far reaching than anything that will be decided this coming weekend—but at the same time she was an arch Eurosceptic. We saw it with John Major, who started out by being friends with Helmut Kohl and by saying that we must be at the heart of Europe but who ended up in the quagmire of Maastricht. Those of us who were involved remember that night without end, when the Conservative nightwatchmen, in particular, kept the House going and going—quite properly—using parliamentary procedures to put their case.
In terms of the coming summit and the change of premiership in our country that accompanies it, I want to point out that the present Prime Minister missed two golden opportunities if not to finalise, certainly to largely settle down much of the European debate in domestic British politics. Following the 1997 general election victory, I think he could have carried a referendum on Europe. That is also true of the 2001 general election victory. The referendum might have been on the principle of a single currency or, later on, the issue of a constitution. Either way, he would have carried the case. More lately, British politics has been largely a case of waiting for Gordon. However, with the current Prime Minister, it has been a case of “Waiting for Godot” in so far as European policy has been a two-act play—the only problem is nothing happened twice. I hope that the new Prime Minister will learn that lesson.
The present Prime Minister became a bit like the Grand Old Duke of York. He kept assembling all the pro-European forces from across the political spectrum and outside formal party politics. He marched us up to the top of the hill on more than one occasion, only to march us all down again. It was dispiriting and a great waste of time. My neighbouring MP, my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Danny Alexander), who was involved with Britain in Europe, will remember as vividly as I do the high hopes at the launch in December 2001. What became of it all? It was a campaign, but it did not appear to have a figurehead or a cause, even though there was so much talent available.
Broadly speaking I endorse the Government’s red lines and their stance on the referendum generally—that is, I did until I heard the Foreign Secretary today. I do not know whether this is deliberate or whether it is simply a cock-up, but over the last week every time a Minister, from the Prime Minister downwards, has opened their mouth about a referendum—this could be clever, subtle tactics, although I have to say I am not sure about that—the picture has become more muddied. Every utterance seems hellbent on sowing more seeds of confusion about the Government’s position.
I have always said to my friends on the Eurosceptic end of the argument that those who are sceptical—honourably so—about Europe should be most in favour of the referendum on the constitution, as they are now, but that they should argue for a constitution. A constitution is the one thing that will codify properly for the first time what Europe can and cannot do, where the line of accountability falls, what the jurisdiction is and what the right of appeal mechanism for individual citizens will be if they feel that they have been let down, abused, or undermined in terms of their civic rights as a result of a European institution.
When I was our party’s European spokesman, I voted on the issue in a free vote 15 years ago. The vote was split about 50:50. Interestingly, it was a generational split. People such as Russell Johnston, David Steel and Bob Maclennan voted against a referendum on Maastricht. Those of us of a slightly younger generation voted for a referendum. None the less, I took the view then and I still do now that, at some point, perhaps not as a result of this weekend’s machinations—we will see what if anything emerges from this country’s point of view, and I endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk said—but as surely as night follows day, there will have to be some kind of European referendum within domestic British politics. Perhaps it will not be on this issue. There was no referendum on the currency issue. Perhaps there will be a referendum on something else in a few years’ time, but, one way or another, we have to lance the boil when it comes to the European issue. I cannot see how we are ever going to achieve that either in this forum, as we go about our discussions on European policy, or in the parliamentary European forum, where there are such frustrations built in.
I hope that the new Prime Minister will provide leadership. That leadership is all the more essential, because the leadership of the Conservative party, as the second half of this Parliament wears on, is going to veer more and more—for reasons that we understand—in a UK Independence party direction. That is no good for proper engagement on the issues of substance. Indeed, the most startling comment made by the shadow Foreign Secretary was an almost throwaway aside towards the end of his speech, when he said that the Conservative party saw no need to revise or revisit the existing arrangements for the 27 members of Europe because the EU was working perfectly well from that point of view. Are we to understand that the British Conservative party wants to keep a rotating EU presidency while there are 27 members of the EU, with perhaps more to come in a few years? Does that make sense? Do we want a Commission of that size? Have the Conservatives spoken to people in the Commission who say that one of the net effects of the way in which things are constituted with 27 Commissioners—everyone must have their slice of pie and their national Commissioner—in addition to the slowness and bureaucracy attached to such a large Commission, is the fact that Mr. Barroso, the President of the Commission, inevitably brings to himself more authority because the body is too big to function properly? Unless the Commission’s present arrangements are streamlined, it will become less democratic than it would be as a result of implementing the practical issues that must be considered.
I hope that the Government will adopt a sensible, constructive approach and I wish them well in the coming discussions. A good and true friend, which our country should be to Europe, is not an uncritical one. However, simply standing on the sidelines berating everything that emerges from Brussels without a sensible reform package cannot be a good way forward, either. In the longer term, we need the broad pro-European forces in Britain to regroup and re-engage. If that does not happen, our status as a country will diminish in Europe and the world. We will thus suffer economically and politically. That would be bad for not only our domestic aims, but our wider global aims and aspirations. There is therefore a need to inject fresh energy, idealism and integrity into our domestic European debate. If we did that, it would be beneficial for UK politics in general.
At this point of the debate, hon. Members have already made many valid points. I welcomed the opening remarks of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, in which she outlined the areas that should remain the concern of individual nations. She also mentioned areas on which there is already EU co-operation. I do not wish to repeat the excellent clarification of the situation given by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee. Both he and the Foreign Secretary are aware of, and sensitive to, the need to find an appropriate level for decision making.
The Government have recognised and implemented the principle of bringing decision making as close to the people as possible, both through the devolution settlement and the Government of Wales Act 2006, which enables the Assembly to reflect the will of the people in the new legislative competence orders. Likewise, my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government has been working hard on both the Government’s local government legislation and making the Sustainable Communities Bill workable. Again, he has the aim of practically bringing power as close to the people as possible.
I welcome the Government’s cautious approach to the EU negotiations. I am confident that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will not be signing away the so-called red line issues. He will be aware of the feelings of the House. I have no doubt that the negotiations will be difficult because the member states have such differing views. However, there might be room for some sort of tidying-up measures, and there is certainly a need to make the presidency more cohesive. The six-month presidency can lead to things becoming fragmented, depending on the negotiations between countries at the time of handover.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David) said, we need to ensure that we strengthen the role of national Parliaments. At the recent COSAC meeting that I attended, we found that the Dutch and the French were strong allies on that issue. Their parliamentary delegations were supportive of the idea of national Parliaments having greater involvement. That was extremely significant because they had probably studied the constitution, as it first was, in more detail than any other EU colleagues. They clearly see the need for a strong voice for national Parliaments.
With such focus on the constitution, I would not want us to forget the important matters on which we are already co-operating, one of which is tackling climate change. We must ensure that the EU emissions trading scheme is effective. Its first phase unfortunately got a bad reputation because of some Governments’ lax approach to setting appropriate emissions levels. I have the privilege of being a member of the Committee that is considering the draft Climate Change Bill. We have taken evidence from a broad range of interested parties, including leaders in business and manufacturing. They welcome the framework of the Bill and its target of a 60 per cent. reduction in emissions by 2050. However, many refer to the importance of EU and worldwide attempts to limit emissions. When we took evidence by video link from California, it was clear that people there also valued EU initiatives in the field.
The Foreign Secretary has a detailed understanding of the EU emissions trading scheme, so I ask her to use her influence with her colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and her role in Europe to help to ensure that the scheme is appropriately implemented throughout Europe so that a level playing field is created for UK industry. She will be well aware that the effectiveness of the first phase of the ETS was seriously marred by the fact that some EU countries allocated carbon quotas too generously. It is important that a Union of comparatively rich and influential countries take a lead on the issue.
Even under existing arrangements, there has been helpful co-operation on issues such as terrorism, as the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore) said. We need to use the existing channels so that we can co-operate on cross-border crime. In particular, we must tackle the despicable practice of human trafficking, the very existence of which is a real disgrace to a European Union that likes to pride itself on its progressive and civilised traditions. While it is important that we are not blind to the shortcomings of the EU, we must continue to use the existing channels to tackle the major issues that concern us all.
We all know people who have identity crises of one kind or another. They do not really know what sort of people they want to be, what their values are, or what sort of life they want to lead. Such people are among our friends and relations. Some do not know whether to get married, while others do not know whether they should get divorced. Some do not really like the job that they are doing, but cannot think of one that they would rather do, while others cannot quite make up their mind about where they want to live. On the whole, most of us treat such people sympathetically. We tend to hope that with the passage of time and the advent of maturity, they will be able to sort things out and feel happy in a role that they have consciously chosen for themselves.
When it comes to our membership of the European Union, that description sadly applies to a large number of people in this country and the majority of members of my party, both on these Benches and in the country as a whole. Of course, there are many exceptions on both sides of the argument. I pay tribute to colleagues such my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) and my hon. Friends the Members for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and for Stone (Mr. Cash), who have always taken part in these debates. Those men know very clearly where they stand on this issue and have taken immense time and trouble over 20 years to master the brief. They have expended energy, and when their stance was not in fashion in the party they suffered owing to the damage caused to their careers and the great pressure that their colleagues exerted on them. However, they have not been put off standing up to speak what they believe to be the truth that they feel they must proclaim to the House and the nation. I sincerely admire them for that; they are great parliamentarians. Other colleagues have signed some sort of petition or undertaking calling for us to get out of the European Union. Still other colleagues have not signed, but have put it about that they sympathise with that call.
On the other side of the party, there are those of us who have a long track record in standing up for the European Union and who believe that it is the most magnificent asset created by the generation immediately preceding us, which we should do everything possible to nurture, strengthen and hand on to future generations in an even more effective and democratic state. The European Union has, after all, been the framework in which we have enjoyed unprecedented prosperity in western Europe over the past two generations. It has been a major factor for world peace and a pole of stability in the world. It is the institution that has enabled countries to make an astonishingly successful and rapid transition from communism to democracy, and it has diffused and dissolved the appalling ethnic and national conflicts in eastern Europe that have been endemic for centuries.
It is now clear to us that the European Union is the only vehicle available to us to address the major challenges and achieve our major collective purposes in the years ahead. Among those challenges are global warming—which has rightly been mentioned so often in the House this afternoon—energy security, and relationships with difficult, unpredictable, autocratic Governments in countries such as Russia and Iran.
It is an inconceivably naïve illusion that such countries or Governments, or those of India or China, would take much notice these days of Her Britannic Majesty’s ambassador or Her Britannic Majesty’s principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs sending them a note indicating that he or she was not entirely happy with their conduct. Such things would have worked well 100 years ago, but they do not work now.
If we want to contribute to a world trade agreement; perhaps to a global emissions trading scheme in due course; or, in the immediate future, to get acceptance for quotas for carbon emissions, which we desperately need; and if we want to have an impact on world terrorism or world poverty, we can no longer use the purely national instruments and institutions that we used with great pride for centuries. There is a natural human tendency not to adapt to new conditions—a natural psychological inertia. Many people are very attached to those institutions and believe that they represent the end of the story.
I very much hope that the current position may change. Ever since I have been in the House I have hoped that people would wake up and recognise that the idea of one foot in, one foot out makes no sense. That is the most hopeless and helpless approach to getting the best out of any relationship in life or any institution. One cannot run a family, a business or a country that way, and one cannot get the best out of the European Union that way. As a country, we must grow up and decide which way we are going.
If we are staying in the European Union—my colleagues on the Front Bench are not currently calling for us to leave it—let us throw ourselves into it with wholehearted commitment, not agreeing to anything that happens to be suggested, but making it clear that we are thoroughly committed to the success of the venture, that we are 100 per cent. part of it, and that we recognise it as essential for achieving our national purposes in the future. At that point, we should say clearly that we want to take a pragmatic view of the powers, rule changes or mechanisms that need to be revised from time to time.
It is absurd to say that there should not be another instance of qualified majority voting. “No more qualified majority voting,” I hear my hon. Friends saying from the Front Bench. “We are not going for that. It is beyond the pale. No more powers should go to Brussels.” That is not a pragmatic view—it is a dogmatic view that ill serves the interests of this country. There are many situations in which it is very much in the national interest that there should be more qualified majority voting. That goes for many parts of the third pillar, justice and home affairs. We should be having a pragmatic argument, not an essentially childish argument about no more of a particular type of decision-making mechanism.
The great Margaret Thatcher did not believe that. She brought in and pushed through the House a Single European Act, which introduced the concept of qualified majority voting. Now the heirs and successors of the great Margaret Thatcher are saying mindlessly, “No, no, no. No more increases in qualified majority voting. Whether or not that is in the national interest, we are dogmatically opposed to it.” I tell my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) on the Front Bench that I have no sympathy with that point of view. I cannot and will not go along with it. I hope that he appreciates that.
Let me deal with some of the concrete opportunities that we have in the next few days at the European summit for real progress in making that valuable institution even more effective. It is abject nonsense to say that there are no practical reasons for the proposals for new mechanisms and rule changes. For example, the Commission currently consists of 27 people. A number of us in the House have sat on the boards of quoted companies. I cannot conceive of a board of a company comprising 27 people and operating effectively. It defies imagination. It is glaringly obvious that something needs to be done about that. We have an opportunity in the next few days, so let us do so.
I take as another example the External Relations Commissioner and the High Representative. I have the honour to sit on the International Development Committee and I see the whole time how dysfunctional that distinction is. Developing countries—the same goes for developed countries, although I do not happen to get involved so much in that context—need an interlocutor from the European Union who can take part in the same conversation, in the same room, at the same time about the whole range of issues that need to be discussed between us, including aid and trade, which are the responsibility of the External Relations Commissioner, and the human rights issues, foreign policy, anti-terrorism measures and so on, which are the responsibility of the High Representative.
That makes no sense at all. If, instead of Mr. Javier Solana and Mrs. Ferrero-Waldner going round the world on the same plane, one is present but not the other, they will be able to cover only half the agenda. As we all know, if international relations are to be successful, they depend on packages being put together. The present situation is nonsense. We have the opportunity to do something about it—let us make sure that we do so.
The same is true of the presidency. The idea of a country holding the presidency for six months and then not again for another 15 years makes no sense. It leads to a total lack of continuity. The idea of asking Malta, whose population is slightly less than that of the city of Bristol, to provide the whole bureaucratic structure to manage the business of the Union for six months makes no sense. I do not say a word against the Maltese. I would not think that Lincolnshire was capable of taking over the conduct of the European Union’s affairs for six months, and I have the highest admiration for the people of Lincolnshire.
We need to get away from dogmatism and get back to the good Conservative principle of pragmatism—the good Conservative principle of taking a fair-minded, open-minded look at the national interest and being brave enough to draw the conclusions that emerge from that.
I am pleased once again to have an opportunity to speak on European matters. I disagree profoundly with the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies), who gave his game away by talking about Europe as a company, with a managing director running the show. Government is about democracy—choices, competing philosophies and people choosing which philosophy to be governed by. That is what democracy is about.
I commend the Foreign Secretary on doing the best possible job with an almost impossible brief. She is a very competent Minister whom I have always admired, but on this occasion she has had a difficult job to do. I congratulate the shadow Foreign Secretary on his speech, which as usual was witty, intelligent and competent, and I agree with almost everything that he said. The difference between the shadow Foreign Secretary and myself is one of political philosophy. I want the British people to continue to have the right to choose to be governed by a Conservative Government, governed by Conservative principles, or a Government of democratic socialism, which I would support. If we do not watch what Europe is doing, we will not have the choice in future.
We are at another significant moment in the European Union saga. There is another attempt to bounce Britain and other member states into a legally binding constitutional treaty by another name. We have seen a week or two of spin and counter-spin in our media. There is no doubt in Chancellor Merkel’s mind what she wants; she is pretty plain in what she says. She wants to get the treaty through in one form or another, either in pieces or by deception. Our newspapers have been full of leaks, I suspect from different addresses in Downing street, and perhaps the Foreign Office as well. I hope that the Prime Minister will not mind my suggesting that he has hung on as long as possible to get his deal on Europe and to dig a hole for his successor to fall into. I hope that his successor will not be taken in by that and will make his own decisions when he becomes Prime Minister in nine days’ time, which I look forward to very much. I hope that he will have a much more sensible, pragmatic and democratic approach to Europe than the present Prime Minister, who has been rather gung-ho about matters European.
This week we are in danger of a pretty dodgy deal being stitched up, effectively without the consent of this House and certainly without the consent of the British people. I, for one, want a referendum on whatever comes out of the summit, if it is agreed by our leaders. If there is no agreement, that will suit me fine, and it would suit the British people fine. The people of Europe would be quite happy to muddle along with the status quo. The skies will not fall in and life as we know it will not change. We will just carry on. Many things are wrong with the EU. I would like to see many dramatic changes, making it more democratic, and more powers being given back to Parliaments. If the treaty does not go through, it may upset Chancellor Merkel, but it will not upset many other people, certainly not the British people, who would probably have a little drink to celebrate.
As I say, I am confident that the Foreign Secretary will fight our corner behind the scenes. She portrayed a little less enthusiasm for all things European by mentioning the fact that she voted no in the 1975 referendum. I myself was chair of the Luton “Vote no” campaign at that time, so there is no secret about my views. Unlike others, who may have wobbled a bit, I have not changed. However, I have thought about European matters ever since. I keep talking about Europe, but it is the European Union. Europe is a geographical entity and the EU is a political and economic construct thrust upon part of Europe, because we must not forget that quite a bit of Europe is outside the EU, so I must refer to the European Union, not to Europe.
To those who say that they are gut Europeans I say, “So am I.” I love everything about Europe, except the European Union. I am European in every sense, culturally, politically and historically. I go to Europe for my holidays and I love European culture, particularly European music, and I have even been known to drink a glass or two of European wine, which is splendid stuff. I am absolutely in favour of Europe. I even struggle to speak a few European languages—not very well, but I do try. None the less, I do not believe that the European Union as it stands is good for Europe or its peoples. I believe that we should move towards a much looser association of democratic independent states, working together on matters of mutual benefit.
The hon. Gentleman talked about what great things Europe could do, but there is no reason why we cannot co-operate to do those things without the structures that have been imposed upon us. We could perfectly well work together in this peaceful world. We have a great deal in common politically; certainly the people do. Broadly speaking there are socialists, social democrats and conservatives in Europe, and some liberals as well. We would get along without such structures and we could do all sorts of good things, perhaps rather better, if we were not corralled into this straitjacket called the EU. It would suit us all if there was no deal
The “better off out” campaign has been launched recently, but I am not signed up to it. I do not want to be destructive in the sense of walking away and saying, “A plague on all your houses.” I want to co-operate with other European nations. But that campaign does have some points. The most recent figures for Britain show that there are tremendous disadvantages in our membership of the EU, which are not balanced by advantages. Our gross contribution to the European budget is £12 billion a year rising to £20 billion by 2013, which is a lot of money. Our current net contribution is about £4.7 billion, which will rise to £7 billion by 2013, largely as a result of the deal, of which I have been so critical, done by the Prime Minister at the end of the British presidency. There are other problems, too. The common agricultural policy costs us an estimated £15 billion a year in food prices. We could save people a lot of money on their weekly shopping simply by not having the CAP, which we should get rid of.
I am in favour of some regulation, but it has been estimated that European regulation costs as much as 2 per cent. of GDP, which is £45 billion a year and rising. That is a vast amount of money. Sensible, democratic socialist regulation would be less onerous, but it would still have an effect on the economy. Economic growth is about 0.5 per cent. less than it would be were we not constrained by the European Union. Over 10 years, that would amount to £65 billion in economic growth, which is a vast sum of money.
People often talk about how the trade balance is advantageous to us as a trading nation. We have a gigantic trade deficit with the European Union—it is about £2.5 billion a month and possibly £30 billion a year—and it is a structural deficit. One hopes that because we are not members of the euro, we may see some reduction in the value of our currency relative to the euro, which would help our trade balance. A structural trade balance strongly implies that we have a misaligned currency. At least we are not part of the euro, which means that we can do something about it.
Finally, I support what the Czechs have been saying about a Europe in which more power is devolved back to Parliaments, which I would welcome. I have already mentioned agricultural policy and aid policy, and the point also applies to the common fisheries policy. We have the longest coastline in Europe, and we suffer the greatest disadvantage from the CFP. It is obviously nonsense that we signed up to the CFP in the first place. If fisheries policy were repatriated to member states, it would benefit us and the situation would be much fairer. Other areas should also be returned to national Parliaments, and I would not like to see more economic power given to the European Union.
We have a lot to offer the peoples of Europe, because we are more pragmatic and realistic about Europe than many other countries, and it is interesting that the peoples of Europe are starting to wake up to that. Until the referendums in France and Holland, and indeed the referendum on the euro in Sweden, many people in Europe were sleepwalking. The European Union was like motherhood and apple pie—something that people went along with—but people do not think that any more.
People are looking more critically at Europe. Perhaps as a result of some of the debates that we have had here, people in Europe are aware that there is a choice. The French and the Dutch people have started to make that choice, which I want others to have. I want to see a much more democratic Europe to which we can all sign up, with which we are all at ease and on which we can work together democratically. I do not believe that the constant drift towards the formation of a centralised superstate with power in the hands of bureaucratic and political elites is what the people want. It is certainly not what I want. Mr. Barroso has rejected what he calls “à la carte Europe” in favour of a Europe that is centralised and run by bureaucrats. That is completely unacceptable, and we should say so. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary will say that.
We have got a message to get out to citizens in Europe: we want more democracy, and I am sure that they do, too. I look forward to a drift away from a centralised superstate towards a more democratic association of member states in a new European community, not a European Union.