§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Ottaway.]9.34 am
§ Mr. William Cash (Stafford)
In the words of the Foreign Secretary last week:The issue of flexibility is probably the most important issue that is being discussed at the intergovernmental conference.It is on a par with monetary union. I consider the words "flexibility" and "enhanced co-operation" to be typical Euro-speak. They have all the characteristics of the gobbledegook of "subsidiarity". Such language is a cover-up for reducing our veto and increasing the power of the European Union. That is why I have initiated this debate, which goes to the heart of the European question. We are discussing sovereignty and enlargement. As the Deputy Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), said in his leadership speech to his constituents. "The issue is Europe." It was then, and it is now.
I have here the latest paper on flexibility and enhanced co-operation from the presidency of the European Union, dated 16 January 1997. It has not yet seen the light of day, but I shall put it in the Library after the debate. Referring to the Maastricht treaty—against which I voted 47 times on a three-line Whip—it states:EMU is probably the most highly developed form of flexibility"—and what a mess that flexibility put us in. The whole concept of flexibility—which we then conceded—and its effect on us are now being taken into other areas of European government in the European Union.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
The hon. Gentleman makes a great virtue of the fact that he voted against Maastricht 47 times. What, then, possessed him to vote for the Single European Act?
§ Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West)
But the Single European Act went way beyond trade. It was about co-operation as well as trade.
§ Mr. Cash
Trade and political co-operation are perfectly reasonable. The point that the hon. Gentleman is missing is that, under the rubric of economic and 270 monetary union, title 2 of the Single European Act was specified in brackets and referred to co-operation, not co-ordination. That is the distinction, and the Maastricht treaty took it that stage further. It is a case of, "Trade and political co-operation, yes; government, no."
§ Ms Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East)
I am listening with interest to what the hon. Gentleman has to say. Is it true that, at the time of the Single European Act, he said in a debate in the House that he thought that the dangers of qualified majority voting were very much exaggerated?
§ Mr. Cash
In the context of a number of matters in respect of trading relationships, there are perfectly reasonable arguments in favour of qualified majority voting. Otherwise, it would be impossible to remove the logjam and to increase the competition that is necessary for an enterprise Europe. That is the distinction.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (North Tayside)
Does my hon. Friend agree that the strength of this Parliament is that, if we make mistakes and get things wrong, we can put them right? One of the great problems is that, under European legislation, we cannot do that. If we get it wrong, as we did with the Single European Act—which I did not vote for—we can put it right: we could have put that right in the House. That is what the argument is about.
§ Mr. Cash
I agree. It is, in fact, essential for us to apply ourselves to reforming the Single European Act. The principle may be acceptable, but the problem is that it has gone badly wrong in a range of areas, the most recent example being the 48-hour working time directive, which came in through the back door. A raft of matters require reform—but that is not to say that the principle of freeing trade in Europe is itself a bad idea.
Flexibility is a Heath Robinson idea. It is like a clock with differentiated and disconnected parts. We are not facing up to the absurdity that is inherent in the idea of variable geometry. For example, it is inconceivable that the European Union would work properly if three member states worked together in defence within a treaty arrangement, five or seven members worked together in monetary union, some worked together in transport and others in energy. The whole thing is complete nonsense. It reminds me of a famous book written by Edmund Burke, which included a description of the constitutional arrangements of Abbé Sieyès. Within the legal framework that has been created, it would be impossible for the European Court of Justice to deal with the differentiations as and when we had a pick-and-choose policy within the flexibility arrangements, as they are being proposed.
We are being seduced into a vast and complex labyrinth of current European policy, which is partly politico-cultural and partly lego-political, and from which we must find a way out. We are not. The continental political culture is alien to our political way of life.
Hon. Members may have come across a book written recently by Thomas Kielinger, a distinguished German commentator, called "Crossroads and Roundabouts: Junctions in German-British Relations". Page 209 quotes Adenauer and states:Adenauer knew exactly what the British represented. To him they were an essential factor in building the future Europe. Britain's inherent stability and liberal tradition"—271 and these are Adenauer's words—stand in clear contrast to continental Europe.That is the point. There is a fundamental difference and it goes to the heart of the problem that we face today. There is a significant difference between what Conservative Members might call the Burkeian tradition—the British tradition—and the Napoleonic system. That difference was explained in Burke's famous memorandum, "Reflections on the French Revolution". There is a fundamental difference between our approach to politics and to law and that which prevails on the continent.
§ Mr. Giles Radice (North Durham)
Of course it is right to say that there are distinctions between us as an island people and the continentals, but most Europeans have wanted the contribution that the British could make, and that is why they wanted us to join the European Union. For example, Brandt gave strong support, as did Adenauer and Erhard. That is why Europeans want us to play a constructive role. That is why Chancellor Kohl does. Just because we can bring a different perspective to the European Union does not mean that that perspective is not also valuable.
§ Mr. Cash
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I speak in Germany, in France and in other countries throughout Europe, as he does, and I have found much enthusiastic support for the ideas that we are advancing today. We are becoming not merely an economic role model for Europe, but a political role model for many people who are disappointed and gravely disturbed by the developments since the single market.
Continental Europe has a great tendency to be authoritarian. It lacks genuine accountability and abhors scrutiny. In the past century at least, that has led to the rejection of democracy and, in its worst form, to disorder, instability and even war. The proposed solution of flexibility, which is lego-political, aims to defuse the possibility of war by containing Germany, in particular, within a new acquis communautaire of a single institutional and legal framework, which has been established by Maastricht. It will not work. Far from it: it will hand over to Germany legitimated power on a plate, as those economically and politically dependent on her vote with Germany on all the crucial issues.
Enlargement would be damaged either by the fragmentation created by flexibility or by collapsing integration. It can be achieved only by a sensible balance of sovereign member states in trade and political co-operation. The Leader of the Opposition has expressed his opposition to the Government's notion of flexibility, because he is prepared to go along with federalism, deeper integration and the European notion of flexibility. That does not make our own tendency any better or more credible, for the very reasons that I gave in the debate on the confidence motion on Maastricht, where we sold the pass and when there was underlying collusion with the Opposition over its objectives. For some, we are back there again.
I did not vote against the Government on that motion because it would have let the Labour party in under John Smith and we still had time to change direction. 272 The present Leader of the Opposition is clearly prepared, as is his shadow Chancellor, to go down the same unacceptable route. However, what I said to the Prime Minister on the day of the confidence motion debate was that, unless the Maastricht treaty was renegotiated, we would be faced with the unnecessary option of whether to leave the European Community.
Time is desperately short now, but we are still faced with the same option and, apart from some unclear shifts in phraseology, many of which I welcome, the need for renegotiation remains. The solution remains in the Government's hands. On last week's "Today" programme, following his meeting with our Prime Minister in Amsterdam, Mr. William Kok spoke of flexibility as a "compromise" solution. However, in reality, as with economic and monetary union in the Maastricht treaty, which should then have been fiercely resisted in the Conservative Cabinet and party, "flexibility" is not a "compromise", but an acquiescent, even appeasing concession to further and deeper integration and European government.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The hon. Gentleman uses the words "in reality". May I ask whether in reality the hon. Gentleman would be satisfied with anything less than our country leaving the Community?
§ Mr. Cash
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman made that point, because, as I have made clear time and again, and again today, my objective is not that we should leave the European Union. I am saying that the consequences of the direction in which we are being taken present a price to the British people, the electorate and the voters, which is taking us further and further towards that critical position. I am saying that, unless we renegotiate the treaties, we are set on a course that will lead us to the impossible question, which I put in the confidence motion debate, of whether we have to leave. That may be too high a price.
§ Mr. Randall
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that such talk is certainly not reflected in the opinion polls? The Gallup poll in The Daily Telegraph in December showed that there had been a 37 per cent. swing from the Conservative position in 1992, when we had the general election. Labour has a positive approach to Europe compared with such talk. According to the poll, the British people want us to be in Europe. There is no question but that they want us to play a positive role.
§ Mr. Cash
What complete rubbish the hon. Gentleman speaks. Apart from anything else, poll after poll shows that Britain wants a Europe that works within a single market, but that Britain does not want to come out. The tendency towards coming out is growing precisely because of the failure to clarify these questions. Much of the responsibility for that lies with the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford)
Is not the counter-proposal the case, because poll after poll shows that a growing number of people—still a minority, but a growing number—have determined that outright departure from the European Community is the only solution, which is worrying? Is not that my hon. Friend's 273 point? People recognise that there is an agenda and they do not wish to be part of it. That will grow if it is not faced up to.
§ Mr. Cash
My hon. Friend, who has fought many battles with me and other hon. Members who are in the Chamber, is right. The problem is the confusion and the lack of clarity, and the refusal to face the fact that the problem cannot be resolved unless we renegotiate the arrangements that are taking us deeper into the European Union. As that proceeds, it will lead us into greater difficulties.
§ Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)
I do not want to anticipate the hon. Gentleman's speech, but he said in reply to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) that repeated opinion polls had shown that people wanted Britain to remain in a single market. The Government have frequently stated that the completion of the single market to our satisfaction was made possible only by the use of the veto. In the new renegotiated relationship that the hon. Gentleman seeks, from which aspects of the current single market would he wish to reclaim the veto?
§ Mr. Cash
I have made it clear that some areas in the single market require reform and that those reforms cannot be achieved without treaty changes, which require unanimity. I shall come to that later. I should have thought that it was in the interests of everybody in Europe, let alone hon. Members, to try to make the European Union work effectively. That is the bottom line. I am saying not that we should come out but that we could reach the point—and we are getting close to it—where that became a serious possibility
§ Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells)
Perhaps I may offer the House an example. In European Standing Committee B. we shall shortly consider a particularly short-sighted proposal by the European Commission for a compulsory levy on the resale of all modern works of art. Not only is that a tax, but it will drive business away from London and the European Union to other art centres such as New York and Geneva. The tax is being imposed by the Commission on spurious single market grounds and can therefore be decided by majority voting. The issue is not only to retain the unanimity principle in central areas of taxation, but to ensure that the Commission does not try to circumvent those rules by proposing fiscal measures on single market grounds.
§ Mr. Cash
I am delighted by my right hon. Friend's intervention, because he has enormous experience in those matters, not least because he has been Paymaster General and Minister with responsibility for Europe, and was deputy Chief Whip during the Maastricht debates. I am delighted not only by the clarity and logic of his argument, but by his Damascene conversion, on which I offer him my heartiest congratulations.
We are being seduced into the slipstream of the critical mass of a federal Europe while claiming that we are against it. If it looks like a duck, talks like a duck and walks like a duck, it is a Euro-duck. The rejection of the word "federal" means nothing if we allow the other member states to go ahead, as we did in relation to economic and monetary union under the third stage 274 protocol. That accepts that the single currency cannot legally be vetoed by any one member state, including the United Kingdom. It also states that it is irrevocable, and we thereby condemn the United Kingdom to be on the sidelines.
It is ironic that it is we, the Euro-realists, who are often criticised by people who say that we are trying to put the United Kingdom on the sidelines. However, under the Maastricht arrangements, we were put on the sidelines by the opt-out. By failing now to insist on renegotiation, which we still have the right to undertake under article N of the treaty on European Union, we continue to sell the pass.
Renegotiation is not, as some of the more trivial commentators whom I shall not bother to mention have been stating, another way of calling for us to get out. However, renegotiation would wrong-foot the federalists. I hear siren voices claiming that we must renegotiate the treaty. I shall not mention names, because we have recently heard some of them. Stripped of all the camouflage, all that that amounts to at present is a proposal to renegotiate quota hopping or the 48-hour working week, while leaving intact the issue of economic and monetary union and the single currency, which would undermine our democracy.
We are prepared to veto the entire intergovernmental conference over issues such as quota hopping, but not on the question whether we can govern ourselves, which is what EMU and the single currency are all about. Why is that? I am afraid to say that it is simply because there has been an increasing concern that we are not admitting that we got it wrong over the disastrous exchange rate mechanism. That fed its way into our lack of credibility on tax and allowed the Opposition a field day, both on that subject, as we saw from what the right hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) said a few days ago, and on the whole question of vulnerability on public expenditure. All that is tied up in the issue and in our prospects for the general election.
There is also an agreement, accepted by the Opposition, to let the other member states, including Germany, go ahead with EMU, which is driven by the Chancellor Kohl's obsession with political union. This is an issue of political principle upon which there can be no compromise, but which, far from being renegotiated, is being extended under the current proposals for the extension of the treaty on European Union, under the same flexibility arrangements that are accepted in the paper which I have here. Dated 16 January, it states that the most perfect example of flexibility is economic and monetary union. We must say no to flexibility now.
§ Mr. Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent)
In the context of renegotiation, would the hon. Gentleman care to look at article 107 of the treaty? That makes it plain that virtually all the major economic decisions will be in the hands of an unelected and unaccountable European central bank. Astonishingly, that article makes it plain that it will be illegal for democratically elected Parliaments or Governments to influence that unelected European central bank. If we allow that to happen or if the matter is not renegotiated, at the general election, those who are elected 275 will not have the powers to implement their manifesto, and those for whom people cannot vote will have power to make the economic decisions.
§ Mr. Cash
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. The central bank arrangements, which are within the aegis of the European Court of Justice, specifically state that the governors of the bank may not seek or take instructions from member states. That cuts across section 4 of our Bank of England Act 1946 and makes it crystal clear that the umbilical cord connecting Parliament and the electorate—the people who vote in line with their priorities, thus exercising the freedom of choice for which people in this country have fought and died—would be handed over to completely unaccountable, bureaucratic bankers with no guarantee that they will deliver. We have only to look at the mess of the exchange rate mechanism to imagine what would happen if the entire system were placed in the hands of the people who are running that.
§ Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)
My hon. Friend has been generous in giving way. Does he agree that one of the most sinister aspects of the matter is that those who are not even prepared to contemplate renegotiation are effectively saying that all the facts that my hon. Friend describes are so acceptable that one should not even contemplate renegotiation? What resonance does that have in the country at large?
§ Mr. Cash
My hon. Friend puts the matter well, and he is dead right. The problem is that, throughout the House, in the nation as a whole and elsewhere in Europe, concern has built up since the Maastricht treaty. That should lead us to re-evaluate the decisions that were taken at that time, but nothing is being done about that. I shall come to the mechanism that I propose to get renegotiation going. Everybody knows that the system is going ahead. Although the federalists are winning, there is a general protest that, somehow or other, we are doing something to stop the process. Some effective discussions are taking place, but they are neither negotiations nor renegotiations.
The Foreign Secretary—who, as I said, realises the importance of the issue—proposes to engage in a European tour, to explain to the peoples of Europe what is at stake. I entirely agree that we should do so. For what it is worth, for the past few years, I have spoken in Germany, France, Spain, Denmark and in other countries in Europe, at meetings and—as some may have noticed—in the media. The people of Europe are very receptive to the arguments.
I was very much encouraged by the Prime Minister's excellent interview with Hugo Young in this week's issue of The New Yorker, in which he rejected the idea that the United Kingdom would ever allow our right to determine our own electoral priorities at general elections—the very point made by the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith)—to be handed over to an unaccountable European central bank. As I have often asked—I asked the then Foreign Secretary, during the Maastricht debates—what could be more centralising than a central bank, despite the Government's and the Opposition's 276 claims at that time that the Maastricht treaty was a decentralising measure? What could be more centralising and undemocratic than a central bank?
§ Mr. Dalyell
I had better say that my question is based on the point of view that we should enter into the single currency at the first possible opportunity. Having been candid about that, may I ask the hon. Gentleman to be candid on another matter? How would he and his friends react if the Foreign Secretary of Germany or of France came to London, Stafford, Edinburgh or wherever, giving lectures on what we should do? What on earth would he say? What does he think that the Germans, the French and the Italians will say when our Foreign Secretary goes round Europe lecturing them on what to do?
§ Mr. Cash
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has made that point, because, only a short time ago, Klaus Kinkel effectively said that he thought that the British people should vote for the Labour party, as a soft option—which is precisely what it is. I hope that those following the debate will take that point on board. The tour shows considerable determination and a desire to get the issues out into the open.
Are we a European Community or are we not? The hon. Gentleman may wish to reflect on that point. If we are a community, and if the decisions being taken within the developing legal framework equally affect us and others, we have an absolute right—as I said when I went to Denmark for its referendum debate—to get in there to put our point of view. Otherwise, we shall be only affected by the debate, which relates to my concern about so much majority voting in European government.
Earlier this year, I went to France and gave a speech to a thousand Frenchmen from across France.
§ Mr. Cash
After I had spoken to them in French—which surprised them as much as it surprised me—they gave me the most tremendous reception. The speech was shown on "Panorama". Those people listened, because they know that their destiny is tied to ours.
How then do we resolve the contradictions? We do so very simply. We have the inalienable right—in line with the Prime Minister's comments in the interview—to put on the formal agenda the issues of a single currency and extension of the doctrine of flexibility. We should combine those issues with the issues of flexibility and the veto, and then, at the intergovernmental conference, take the issue of political principle into the heart of Europe. We should then combine the Foreign Secretary's approach with the Prime Minister's interview, and confront Chancellor Kohl and the political elite of the European Union at the IGC with the democratically expressed views of their own people and their media. If they subsequently did not listen, we would have to veto the entire conference.
The issues are causing much turbulence across Europe and much difficulty for the electorates of Europe. We would get a tremendous reaction from across Europe if we were not merely to walk around Europe speaking to single audiences here and there, but, as a function of government within the IGC, if we were formally to seek 277 to renegotiate the treaty by putting those issues on the agenda. Individual Governments and the leaders of the member states would then have to respond to the internal democratic pressures being exerted in their own countries. That proposal should answer the question of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) on whether we would be interfering in the affairs of other member states by raising the issues, as the Foreign Secretary is quite rightly proposing to do.
The Foreign Secretary, in raising those issues, will be participating in the European Union and in the European Community. Moreover, if we put the issues on the IGC agenda, the people in individual member states will rise up—as they are already rioting in some countries—against the political elite, forcing it to change the treaty so that it is in line with the people's wishes. There is no other way forward. If we do not raise the issues, we shall simply be helping—despite our protestations to the contrary—to create and even to encourage a federal Europe.
We must take a stand, and let the electorates of Europe have their own say—with the intense media interest that that would generate—as they move towards their own imminent elections. Consider the effect of Britain taking a lead in the IGC—as the Pandora's box is opened—on electorates across Europe. Opinion polls in the UK, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Austria already prove my point. There are riots and disorder in France and Greece. As the Maastricht criteria bite ever deeper, so my case will be proved. If we took a stand before our general election, whenever it takes place, our prospects would be transformed.
The March 1996 White Paper, however, pointed in exactly the opposite direction. Paragraph 12 stated:Revisions to the Treaty must be agreed by all. We must be realistic therefore about the sort of changes we can hope to achieve at the IGC, just as we are clear about the sort of changes we will not accept.It goes on to say that, if we do not do so, an integrationist agenda will be imposed upon us. Such an agenda cannot be imposed upon us. However, we can put the items on the agenda for renegotiation.
The central and hopeless passage in the White Paper states:If we were to press ideas which stand no chance of general acceptance, some others would seek to impose an integrationist agenda which would be equally unacceptable from our point of view.As I have said before, the White Paper is a monument to appeasement. It was endorsed by the Leader of the Opposition, who would not oppose it. The White Paper also endorses the principle of flexibility, promoted by the new paper of 16 January, from the presidency of the European Union, in line with the conclusions of the reflections Group. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office no doubt thinks back to his time as a participant in that group.
Paragraph 12 of the White Paper states:It is on this basis that the Government will be approaching theintergovernmentalConference.It goes on to say that there is no serious or real prospect, and that it is not "expected", that the single currency issue will be on the IGC agenda. I do not care whether it is 278 "expected" to be on the agenda. I am saying, for the reasons that I have already given, that it should be on the agenda.
There are merchants of doom, who see no way out at all; and there are merchants of despair, who subscribe to paragraph 12. A prime example of the merchants of despair is my right hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones). I invited him to come to the House to listen to what I have to say. I doubt whether he is interested and I do not know where he is at the moment. On 26 January, writing in the Sunday Express, my right hon. Friend falsely accused me of being "Europhobic". I suggested that he be here today because I am replying to him. In the newspaper, he is described asone of the Prime Minister's closest friends and adviserswhocalls for a Conservative pact with Labouron Europe. From the article, he seems to be comfortable with the Labour party on this subject, and he advocates a single currency.
I repudiate the proposal of a pact with Labour, and I repudiate my right hon. Friend's ludicrous assertion that I am Europhobic; my speech and my record show that I am not. My right hon. Friend should know that perfectly well because he was, after all, the deputy Chief Whip and he was the Minister with responsibility for Europe. I trust that he is no longer listened to by the Prime Minister.
I now come to the more important part of what I have to say about my right hon. Friend's article, the rest of which is of no importance. He is wrong in his assertion that the anti-Europeans, who, he says, will "squeal like stuck pigs", are a minority; they are not. When my right hon. Friend claims that, on a free vote, his ideas would prevail, he should take on board the fact that research by Professor Andrew Gamble of Sheffield university and our research in the House show that, on the fundamental Maastricht issues, a substantial majority of approximately 60 per cent. of Back Benchers who were whipped by my right hon. Friend had different views. Things had not been properly explained and certain circumstances had not arisen—I make no complaint about that. Despite that, 60 per cent. of those who replied to the private survey said that they did not agree with the Maastricht treaty. In a new Parliament, my right hon. Friend will be proved even more wrong and he knows it. That is the important point on which I wished to reply.
I now return to my fundamental theme. The 1970 White Paper claimed, contrary to the present assertions of my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), that we would not lose our sovereignty and that we would not give up our veto on matters that were of vital or essential national interest. In the light of my right hon. Friend's present views, I have challenged him on the Floor of the House to repudiate the statements made in the White Paper, but he has refused to reply. Indeed, the White Paper went further and said that for any member state to give up its right to use its veto in its essential national interest, even if in a minority, wouldimperil the very fabric of the Community.That is the point.
In other words, the whole concept of flexibility, which means moving down the route towards increased majority voting—that is implicit in the EMU arrangements, which 279 the presidency paper says is the best example of flexibility—is in direct contradiction to the 1970 White Paper, which said that to go down that route wouldimperil the very fabric of the Community.That comment is hardly surprising. Already, there are riots, disorder and all the rest of it. The unemployment rate is getting higher and there may be problems with defence and other matters. If member states create a compression chamber and then have majority voting inserted by treaty arrangement within a legal framework, who will be surprised if the fabric of the Community is destroyed? It is precisely for that reason that I repudiate the assertion made by hon. Members who oppose me when I say that I am in favour of the European Union—of the kind that I want.
Maastricht and its bedfellow, the doctrine of flexibility, will destroy the fabric of the Community. My criticism of those who advocate or acquiesce in the current proposals for the IGC—I include the proposals in paragraph 12 of the White Paper—is that they undermine our position in the United Kingdom and in the European Union. The treaty must be renegotiated in the present IGC and that requires a degree of political will among the political elite, who are far removed from present public opinion throughout the Union.
I invite hon. Members to look at the presidency conclusions of and the statement on the Dublin summit, which describe the single currency and the stability pact, which has yet to be debated in the House, in terms only of economic and not of political significance. That is a travesty. It is abundantly clear that the criteria are being fudged; that comes out in the Treasury paper and in my recent correspondence with Mr. Eddie George, the Governor of the Bank of England, which is referred to in The Times. We are seeing a welcome shift towards recognition of the fact that the criteria are clearly being fudged, even if people do not want to say so too openly. I am a plain speaker; I like speaking bluntly about these matters. The criteria are being fudged. Let us get them changed and let us renegotiate, so that we can start sorting things out.
We did not veto the stability pact when we could and should have done. The result is that, like the hard core of EMU, it has been allowed to go ahead, again under the doctrine of flexibility. One way or another, we shall pay for the stability pact as we have paid for so many other things. Indeed, even our opt-out from EMU is flexible and not permanent. Hon. Members may recall that the opt-out says that, even if we say no to begin with, we can say yes later.
The presidency paper of 16 January suggests that that approach would apply to all other policies brought within the doctrine of flexibility. Furthermore, as we already know with the social chapter and the European Monetary Institute, we are expected to pay for the running of policies under the doctrine of flexibility. That is made clear in the presidency paper under the heading "Financing". It says that it is expected that, if the doctrine of flexibility is introduced, member states within the general framework of the European Union will have to pay for the running of the institutions that service them. It is the same with the EMI and the social chapter; that is the name of the game. We are moving further and further 280 down that route. We are allowing the whole federal arrangement to go ahead without using the veto when it really matters.
I come now to the areas of government now under threat and draw attention to an important distinction that must be made—the difference between trade and matters such as the social chapter, which are non-governmental, and those that are governmental, such as EMU, defence, foreign policy, justice and home affairs. It may be news to some that the new presidency paper includes defence as a "likely" candidate. I understand that the Government have, amazingly, not ruled that out. The reason is that, even if the other member states went ahead, they could not efficiently carry out a European defence policy without the United Kingdom. That idea needs to be hit on the head; it is dangerous stuff. If there is a serious intention that the doctrine of flexibility should be applied to defence, that is absolutely that. There is no question about it whatever. Monetary union, no; defence, no; foreign policy, no.
I recall Chancellor Kohl saying that the Union must not be slowed down to the speed of the slowest member. The U-boats knew all about that. No doubt their flexibility of movement was also regarded as enhanced co-operation.
Even taxation is mentioned in the presidency paper and there is a threat of action outside the treaty. In other words, if the federalists do not get their way, the gun will be put to our head and they will say, "We will carry on and we will do things outside the treaty if you do not do them inside." That is blackmail. Not only that, but it provides us with a perfectly reasonable basis not only to insist on renegotiation, but to veto the entire conference and put the federalists in the wrong. They are the ones who would say that they would do things on their terms, outside the treaty, whereas we would renegotiate under article N and would deal with all those questions in a proper and legal fashion. That is the difference. Why can we not take a lead on those lines?
Even the common agricultural policy is said to be inviolable under the proposed arrangements. My hon. Friend the Minister may shake his head; I hope that that is because he agrees with me that the CAP cannot be inviolable. However, my point is that that is the direction in which the presidency paper is taking us. It appears that the difference between our approach to flexibility and that of other member states is not one of principle.
We now know that EMU is regarded as the best example of flexibility. When I cross-examined the Foreign Secretary in the Select Committee on European Legislation in February last year, I asked him whether the single currency was a matter of principle. He said that he did not follow what I was saying. I know the Foreign Secretary too well to think that he could not follow what I am saying. I say that it is a question of principle and I am glad to note that even the Chancellor of the Exchequer has conceded that, saying that he has no objection to the idea of the single currency as a matter of principle.
All those issues are interwoven. I want the Government to win and I want Britain to win. I want us to renegotiate the treaty and to wrong-foot the federalists in Europe. If we do that, we shall be in line with the wishes of the people of Europe. We shall be performing a function of general benefit to the United Kingdom and to the people of Europe.
281 According to our White Paper, we are supposed to be against a hard core, but now we are refusing to rule it out. Perhaps we should not be surprised, in view of paragraph 12 of the White Paper, to which I have just referred. On 23 January—to show my hon. Friend the Minister that I have been following speeches on the subject closely—the Foreign Secretary said:Open to all, agreed by, all should be our watchword.I hope to hear from the Minister today that we shall veto the proposals now on the table, even if that means contradicting the thoroughly flawed policy of variable geometry, for the hard core is variable geometry. If we rule out one, we must rule out the other. Otherwise, we shall be letting the process of flexibility go forward.
§ Mr. Dalyell
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. As one who is not on your list to speak, may I point out that the hon. Gentleman who opened the debate has now been going on for five minutes more than half the time available—for 45 minutes? Was it the purpose of these Wednesday morning debates, which were meant to be a substitute for short Adjournment debates, that the hon. Member opening the debate should take more than half the time available?
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)
To the best of my knowledge, there is no ruling on that. Certainly, it would be normal practice for the proposer to allow time for other hon. Members, but there is no ruling.
§ Mr. Cash
I issued an invitation to many of my colleagues, asking whether they wished to speak. Only one said that he wished to do so. I have had a series of repeated interventions from Opposition Members, which have delayed me, but I shall press on.
We are letting the process of flexibility go forward. There is a world of difference between having a veto and exercising it. The Leader of the Opposition gets away with his policy on the use of the veto by blurring that difference time and again. We do too little to stop him. There is a determination not to highlight the Maastricht treaty because it would show how much the Government sold the pass then and how much we are liable to concede.
In the White Paper in March last year, the Government said that there must not be a two-tier Europe with a hard core of countries or policies, but that is precisely what was agreed at Maastricht over EMU and that is the direction in which we are going. I warned the Conservative party manifesto committee against that six years ago in the paper that the then Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd), asked me to write on Europe. I also warned against a two-speed Europe, because such a policy assumes that we have surrendered the principle of further integration. The same goes for words such as "variable geometry" and "multi-track".
That fits in with the concentric circles plan, which is what Germany wants in the pursuit of its national interest. It wants the European Court of Justice adjudicating over a federal Europe. Chancellor Kohl and his advisers, including Karl Lamers, make it clear that it is Germany's historic mission to use its will to achieve European integration. Karl Lamers even refers to one country, saying that the nation state isno more than an empty shell".282 It is our historic duty to prevent them. That requires us to be at the table at the intergovernmental conference for the renegotiation of the treaty on European Union. The Government are not attempting to do that. That is as bad as the "wait and see" policy.
The Government are not negotiating or deciding at the IGC table on the single currency, despite what was said at the party conference; nor are they renegotiating or deciding on the essential issues. I should like to know why. If we do not renegotiate, either we are drawn further in by flexibility or we are faced with the question of getting out. That is why the sooner we stop pretending that we can live with flexibility, the better.
§ Mr. Giles Radice (North Durham)
I thought that the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) was going to treat the House to an explanation of his position on the national veto, because that was what the debate was apparently meant to be about. Instead, he treated the House to his usual extremely lengthy, wide-ranging, anti-European Union rant, with which those of us who had the misfortune to listen through all the Maastricht debates are all too familiar. Perhaps he was trying to justify his right to write his own manifesto when the time comes—we shall see—or perhaps he is giving a hint to one or two of his colleagues on what they should put in their manifestos.
§ Mr. Radice
I understand that.
I should like to say a few words about the veto. I am strongly in favour of the Labour party policy of retaining unanimous voting—and therefore a national veto—on issues that are vital to Britain, such as taxation, immigration, defence, treaty changes, enlargement and the European Union budget, because they are so important. However, qualified majority voting has been valuable to the development of the European Union.
The hon. Member for Stafford and others of his hon. Friends who argue in favour of retaining the veto in all circumstances forget that, with unanimous voting, Britain's veto is also Spain's veto, France's veto and Germany's veto, so other countries can block policies that we support. That simple fact persuaded the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, to support qualified majority voting on the single market. She realised that it was in Britain's interest to extend the single market as quickly as possible, but that without qualified majority voting others might block its development in areas vital to British national interests. There are many examples of how right she was. Qualified majority voting has helped to open up banking, insurance and public procurement to British firms.
Last June, for example, the electricity liberalisation directive passed through the Council of Ministers only because it was subject to qualified majority voting. Had the national veto been retained, France would have been able to block that measure. Qualified majority voting will also be needed to open up the gas market.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
In practice, the so-called opening up has not happened. Qualified majority voting may produce 283 a certain decision, as the hon. Gentleman claims, but the decision has not been put into effect: the two-way street in electricity is not in existence even now.
§ Mr. Radice
That, I am afraid, is totally incorrect. There is no doubt that the single market has been substantially successful. If the hon. Gentleman had read the European Commission report on the success of the single market, he would understand that many markets have been opened up to British exporters, among others. We have been one of the major beneficiaries of the single market, as Baroness Thatcher well understood. That was one of her sensible policies on the European Union.
The general agreement on tariffs and trade would not have been achieved if trade issues had not been subject to qualified majority voting. If the national veto had applied, France could have blocked the agreement and pushed for a more protectionist policy. For example, we would all like to see reform of the common agricultural policy, but the reforms achieved so far—the MacSharry reforms—would not have been passed without qualified majority voting. Further reforms will be achieved only with qualified majority voting.
Qualified majority voting has been extremely useful. The so-called Euro-sceptics are so defensive about these matters that they do not understand that it is possible to build up winning majorities and that Britain very often does so. I understand that the United Kingdom was outvoted only seven times out of 261 in 1993–94—the latest year for which figures are available. It is therefore sensible to consider qualified majority voting in a pragmatic case by case assessment of where the British national interest lies. That is exactly what the Foreign Secretary said in evidence to the Select Committee on European Legislation:If there were an area of European Union policy which could only be advanced through majority voting and which we were convinced would serve important United Kingdom interests, then it would be foolish and illogical of us not to support majority voting in that area.That is a sensible approach and one that we should adopt at the intergovernmental conference.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
Is not the hon. Gentleman emphasising the case of those whom he describes as Euro-sceptics? Every example of qualified majority voting that he has cited has been in relation to trade. Conservative Euro-sceptics are in favour of a proper and full trade arrangement with Europe, but do not want it to trespass into matters that we consider to be of sovereign and constitutional importance to Britain.
§ Mr. Radice
The single market was always much more far-reaching than Conservative Members supposed. It always had certain political implications and subjected more decisions to what they call the "interference" of the European Court of Justice. If a single market has rules, there has to be some means of settling any dispute. The Euro-sceptics would like to rule out the European Court of Justice altogether. I will cite some more examples, which the hon. Gentleman may find more difficult to rebut.
First, there is a case for extending qualified majority voting to regional and structural funds, which account for 25 per cent. of the EU budget. If EU membership 284 increases, the amount spent on structural funds will increase proportionately. If membership reached 27, for instance, those funds would double. Clearly reform is needed to prevent that from happening and to protect the British taxpayer. It will not be possible to reform regional and structural funds and keep them under control without qualified majority voting.
Secondly, we stand to benefit considerably from European research and development programmes, but the current system of negotiation works against British interests and denies us funds for which we would qualify on competitive grounds. Again, qualified majority voting in those matters would suit the British interest.
Thirdly, the Government say that they are in favour of tough anti-fraud measures; but these are subject to the national veto, and it is quite easy for national Governments to veto tougher measures if they consider them to be against their national interests. Again, qualified majority voting would help us and safeguard the British taxpayer.
I have drawn attention to three areas in which the extension of qualified majority voting would help our national interests. If the European Union accepts more members, there is a case for the extension of qualified majority voting; otherwise, the EU will be brought to a halt. I appreciate that that is exactly what certain Conservative Members want, but the vast majority of European people do not agree with them. That is a further argument for extending qualified majority voting.
I will not follow the hon. Member for Stafford down the path of flexibility, although I share his view. I am against the so-called French-German clause of strengthened co-operation as it will encourage a hard core, which would be against British interests. It was devised as a result of British obstructionism and I am not in favour of it; I share the concern of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition.
I have listened to the speeches of the hon. Member for Stafford on many occasions, so I am beginning to get the measure of the points that he makes. He boasts of having voted in favour of British entry into the European Union, but apparently he had not yet read the treaty of Rome. He says that he is in favour of a free trade area. The Common Market was always much more than a free trade area, so the hon. Gentleman misunderstood what it was all about.
The hon. Gentleman says that he is against British withdrawal, or at any rate that he is not in favour of it at the moment, but the problem is his attitude to the European Union. He says that in principle he is against Britain joining a single currency and he is quite prepared to wreck the intergovernmental conference on the veto, flexibility clause or any other issue, and that he wants to renegotiate our relationship with the European Union. That would amount, if not to total withdrawal, certainly to a semi-detached Britain. That is not a position for a major country to take.
As the hon. Gentleman knows—because his family has suffered, as has mine—anything that happens on the continent is vital to Britain, and it would be extraordinarily dangerous for us to detach ourselves from Europe in that way. The hon. Gentleman allows his anti-German prejudices—which he sometimes admits, and which he admitted again this morning—to cloud his judgment as to where Britain's national interest lies. Not only is he a danger to the Tory party—we do not mind 285 him splitting the Tory party, as he has been doing very effectively for the past four or five years—but he is a danger to Britain because he does not understand where British national interests lie. I hope that after the general election we shall have a Labour Government with a constructive policy on Europe to promote British national interests.
§ Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)
Time is short, but that shows how quickly time passes when we are enjoying ourselves. I thoroughly enjoyed the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash). As he said so much that I would have said, I shall be brief.
My first point is that we cannot go on in this way. Essentially, we are in the European Community under false premises. When we joined, we thought that we were entering a common market, for that is what it was called, although the intellectual elite among us—or those who like to consider themselves as such—might have read the treaty of Rome and realised that, far from being a Common Market, it was actually a mere stepping stone towards a federal destiny.
The first time I read the treaty of Rome, it was in my red box when I had to go to Europe to speak on some matter because another Minister was ill. I realised then that we had been misled by the Government of the day.
§ Mr. Nicholls
I am sorry, but I have very little time.
When I read the treaty, I realised for the first time that we would have to have a great deal more sympathy with our European partners' perception that we were not very good Europeans. We joined what we thought was a common market, but it was no such thing. At the time, we were assured by my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) that any idea that we were moving towards a federal Europe was scaremongering. He said:There are some in this country who fear that in going into Europe, we shall in some way sacrifice independence and sovereignty … These fears, I need hardly say, are completely unjustified".We know now, under the 30-year rule, that the advice tendered by the Lord Chancellor of the day was that there would be an inevitable and crucial compromise of sovereignty.
Although it may be our fault that we went into the European Community under false premises, that is the position that we are now in. We have to say to our European partners, "You have a vision of the future and if you want to follow it, that is entirely right for you; there is nothing ignoble about wanting a federal destiny, but it is not right for us." We must say that the Europe in which we could participate as good and enthusiastic Europeans is essentially a trading arrangement.
I and others like me say that we do not want to leave the Community, and indeed we do not. In some ways, it would be much easier for people like me to say, "Yes, I am in favour of leaving the Community," but I am in favour of a European relationship with which we can feel comfortable—and that means renegotiation. Before there can be any possibility of such renegotiation, however, one crucial event must take place: the Conservative party must win the next election. Despite what people try to suggest 286 about some great split in the Conservative party on Europe, there is more than sufficient in common in all shades of opinion in the Conservative party for us to be able to offer a unique and distinctive alternative to the Labour party.
Whatever differences the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I might have on Europe, we would be at one in saying, "This far, and no further," on federalism. That is my position and that of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor and it is completely distinctive from that of the Opposition parties. As we have seen today, their idea of renegotiation is to put in a pre-emptive cringe and go along with federalism because, they say, we cannot stand on our own two feet in the world. I look forward to a time when we can renegotiate and when we can have a relationship with Europe that is good and comfortable for both sides, but the prerequisite for that to happen is a Conservative victory at the next election.
§ Ms Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East)
I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) on his success in winning the ballot. This seemed a surprising subject for an Adjournment debate as it is so wide-ranging, although I could understand it if the hon. Gentleman felt that there had not been enough occasions to debate the issues on the Floor of the House. I share the criticism that the Committees which scrutinise European legislation and others have made that the Government have not allowed enough time for many of the wide-ranging European issues to be discussed and have tended to hide the discussions away in Committee rather than allow them to take place on the Floor of the House for more widespread scrutiny and debate.
We heard a lengthy speech from the hon. Member for Stafford, which I regret, as there were certainly Opposition Members who wanted to speak. The hon. Gentleman said that he had ascertained which of his hon. Friends wanted to speak and that there was not much demand. If he is really as keen on democracy as he says he is, it would have been courteous to ascertain how many Opposition Members would have liked to contribute to the debate. I have come to the place in my notes where I noted that I should refer to the speeches made by other hon. Members. Unfortunately, there were only two because of lack of time, but I welcome the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Radice), who showed himself to be more of a Euro-realist, to use the hon. Member for Stafford's term, than the hon. Gentleman himself.
I also listened with interest to the contribution of the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls). He referred to his right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), who played such an important role in this country becoming part of the European Community. I must point out, however, that the right hon. Gentleman contests the view put forward by the hon. Member for Teignbridge. A recent article in The Daily Telegraph pointed out that at that time—as those of us who followed to debate will remember—it was not simply a question of joining some kind of free trading agreement or common market. Many speeches were made by right hon. and hon. Members from all political parties pointing to the issue of sovereignty. I remember those debates taking place in my party and I remember reading about those debates taking place in Parliament.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
I remind the hon. Lady that between 1972 and 1975 those of us who had read the treaty of Rome 287 and pointed out what was involved were constantly told that we were wrong. We said that the treaty of Rome was much deeper and much more than just a common market, but we were told that we were wrong.
§ Ms Quin
The fact that the hon. Gentleman says that he pointed out those issues shows that they were raised in the debate, and anybody who took an interest in European policy at the time knows that they were raised by many people. The most perfunctory reading of the treaty of Rome, especially the preamble on the first page, would have made the position completely clear.
§ Mr. Randall
Did not the heads of state refer in that preamble to the ever closer union of their peoples?
§ Ms Quin
My hon. Friend cites the preamble, with which we are all familiar. The hon. Member for Stafford said that he was proud of his record in having opposed the Maastricht treaty, although he seemed less forthcoming about his role in supporting the Single European Act, which, as we know, was guillotined through the House of Commons by the Government, led by Baroness Thatcher.
§ Ms Quin
No, I will not give way any more because of lack of time.
At the time of the Single European Act, the hon. Gentleman said that he believed that the dangers of qualified majority voting were much exaggerated. It is, of course, fair for him to change his mind, but it is not fair for him to claim that he has been entirely consistent on the matter.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to the working time directive and said that it had come in through the back door. I have to contest that, as the working time directive is based on the health and safety provisions contained in the Single European Act, which the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends supported. The fact that the Government then negotiated an opt-out from the social chapter does not negate the other legal possibilities for social and employment legislation, including the health and safety provisions of the Single European Act. Far from being a back door, that is an obvious route if one is concerned that excessive working hours and lack of holidays have an effect on health and safety, which has been well proved even by information from by the Department of Health.
The Government now tell us that the working time directive is a make-or-break issue for the intergovernmental conference, although somewhat confusingly they tell us that quota hopping is also a make-or-break issue. Other issues raised in the Government's White Paper also seem to be make-or-break issues. When the Minister replies—I appreciate that he has not so much time to respond to the debate as he might have wished—perhaps he will tell us what support he is getting from other Governments on those various make-or-break issues, so that at least the House can be better informed by the Government than we have been up to now.
Many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Stafford, have raised the issue of flexibility and I agree with the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham on the subject. Certainly, if "flexibility" is simply a code for a two-tier Europe in which Britain loses 288 influence, we would not approve, but at this stage most of the discussions about flexibility are not entirely clear and we must see exactly what is proposed.
Mention was made of the Foreign Secretary's tour of Europe to appeal to the peoples of Europe over the heads of the Governments. I appreciated the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) on that subject. As he pointed out, when Mr. Kinkel made similar comments about the United Kingdom's position, that was criticised by Members on both sides of the House as interference. It therefore seems strange that the Foreign Secretary is embarking on that tour of Europe.
It is also rather strange because the Foreign Secretary seems to have a great deal to do to convince his own party and the British people that he is representing them effectively in Europe. He seems unaware that we shall be having a general election, and proposes to spend most of his time abroad converting European populations to his cause, or perhaps he has already admitted defeat in the general election.
The hon. Member for Stafford also referred to the Government's White Paper. He was one of those who were most vociferous in calling on the Government to produce a White Paper, but was of course extremely disappointed when it was produced. In an earlier debate, he called ita whited sepulchre … dead on the inside."—[Official Report, 21 March 1996; Vol. 274, c. 567.]Today he even seemed to consider it a monumental mistake. We believed that the White Paper was schizophrenic because it was trying to appeal to two different audiences. It was trying to placate the remaining Europhiles in the Conservative party while at the same time placating Conservative Euro-sceptics. Not surprisingly, therefore, it failed woefully.
One of the issues of which the Government made great play in the White Paper was the role of the European Court of Justice. The Government were again schizophrenic in saying on the one hand that they wanted a strong European court to defend the rights of countries in the single market and to ensure that countries were compelled to live up to their obligations, while on the other hand they wanted a weak European court where obligations would have to be fully complied with only in serious or manifest breaches of Community law. Those two attitudes seem completely inconsistent. Will the Minister resolve that inconsistency and tell us how much support other countries have given to their comments on the European Court of Justice?
We believe that the dangers of some conspiracy against the British veto, which the hon. Member for Stafford seemed keen to point out, are not present in the European Union in the way that the hon. Gentleman described. During the Government's policy of non-co-operation in Europe, we saw the large number of issues that are decided by unanimity. We do not propose to make those issues not subject to the veto—certainly those that came up during the period of non-co-operation.
I recommend that the hon. Gentleman studies the list of proposals that were blocked at that time. The number of issues that are dealt with by unanimity in the European treaties may give him some comfort. The draft document being put forward by the Irish presidency, which looks ahead to the intergovernmental conference, is cautious, pragmatic and realistic in tone rather than super-federalist, and does not fulfil the conspiracy theories of which the hon. Gentleman seems to be so fond.
289 Although the veto is obviously important, it is also important in the European Union to build alliances. In many ways, whether something is determined by unanimity or qualified majority voting is not always the point. Despite the fact that QMV operates in agricultural policy, which has been mentioned in this debate, in practice countries tend to talk around the issues to reach a consensus. That is very often a sensible way forward in the European system.
I very much agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham that we need a different approach to the European issue. We need an approach that will give the British people a better deal from their EU membership and make for more constructive co-operation on economic, environmental, employment and social matters, all of which are important. The British people will get that better deal only under a Labour Government.
§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. David Davis)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) not only on securing this debate but on the best speech that I have heard him make on this subject in all the many years I have listened to him. I grant that it was not the shortest speech, but then that is a pretty difficult race to win. Although I obviously do not agree with everything that he said—not least his apparent comparison between Neville Chamberlain and myself in respect of appeasement—I certainly felt that he addressed the issue vigorously, as did the whole House.
A number of very perceptive interventions on my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford highlighted how important and central the issue of flexibility is. I am sure that flexibility will be the central axis of the negotiations in Amsterdam, and there will be a great deal of movement around it at that time. I am delighted that he has taken the role of John the Baptist in going around Europe before my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, preparing the way for him. I trust that my hon. Friend will have a better fate than the original John the Baptist.
The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) highlighted perfectly the issue that is at the heart of flexibility: the difficulty of squaring the circle between those who want one vision of Europe and those who want a federalist Europe. His input was very good. I also enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Radice). He and I do not agree on many aspects of Europe, but I recognise how hard he has fought his case in his own party over the past decade.
§ Mr. Davis
I was asked that question on the radio. After five minutes of discussing what Mr. Kinkel said, the radio interviewer attacked me for not being more critical of him. I think that the hon. Gentleman is trying to ask what right my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary has to put his views. The answer is a very great right. Our argument is recognised and supported by many of the peoples in Europe, and it is perfectly right for my 290 right hon. and learned Friend to say, "This is a better future for Europe than the one being offered by some distinctly federalist Governments around Europe."
The debate has largely focused on flexibility, which has been hung on the hook of enlargement of the Union in the past. Enlargement to include the new democracies of the Union is certainly this generation's greatest challenge and opportunity. It is a vital vocation for the Union. Flexibility within it is driven by two views of the future after enlargement. On the one hand, there are those countries which argue that widening should mean deepening, to use the jargon of the art.
That view is virtually adopted by the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), who in December attacked the idea of maintaining Britain's veto after enlargement on a number of grounds. He said:let's disentangle those two quite separate concepts … let's take first the issue of majority voting and then we can look at the issue of centralisation".He missed the point entirely, of course, because majority voting is quintessentially about centralisation. By definition, majority voting means overruling nation states, and overruling nation states means moving power from the nation state to the centre. However, I shall not labour that point for too long, as I have only a few minutes to address the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford.
The other view of Europe is our view: Europe's strength lies in its diversity. That is the British vision. The approach that we support is designed for a Europe which respects the differing political traditions, social cultures, historical experiences and geographical features of member states, a Union with which all member states feel comfortable, which develops on the basis of consensus as well as diversity—exactly the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge.
Flexibility is already a reality in Europe. Not everyone agrees with it, and my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford highlighted that. The obvious examples are the provisions on monetary union and the United Kingdom's social protocol opt-out, but there are other, less obvious, examples of flexibility. The issue of zero rating of value added tax has been somewhat controversial recently. Britain and Ireland are the only two countries in Europe to maintain a derogation on zero rating on VAT on food and various other items. That demonstrates flexibility within Europe.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford raised the question whether flexibility would make Britain a second-class citizen and aid the on-rush of federalism in Europe. We differ on that issue. However, if he was describing the effect of the Franco-German proposal, I would agree with him wholeheartedly. That would certainly have the effect that he described. France and Germany have proposed a form of flexibility in which no member state would have a right of veto: it would be a veto bypass—there is no other way of describing it—and we oppose that wholeheartedly. That is—