§ Amendment proposed [3 December]: No. 66, in page 1, line 13, after '2', insert '(except paragraph 13)'.—[Mr. Streeter.]4.17 pm
§ Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
§ The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael J. Martin)
I remind the Committee that with this we are taking the following amendments: No. 67, in page 1, line 13, after '2', insert '(except paragraph 32)'.
§ No.68, in page 1, line 13, after "2", insert "(except paragraph 33)".
§ No. 69, in page 1, line 13, after "2", insert "(except paragraph 26)".
§ No. 70 in page 1, line 13, after "2", insert "(except paragraph 45)".
§ No. 71 in page 1, line 13, after "2", insert "(except paragraph 52)".
§ No. 72, in page 1, line 13, after "2", insert "(except paragraph 53)".
§ No. 73, in page 1, line 13, after "2", insert "(except paragraph 54)".
§ No. 75 in page 1, line 13, after "2", insert "(except paragraph 31)".
§ No. 76 in page 1, line 13, after "2", insert "(except paragraph 55)".
No. 7, in page 1, line 13, at end insert
`(except Article 2 paragraph 44)'.
§ No. 61, in page 1, line 13, at end insert 'except Article 2(16)'.
No. 25, in page 1, line 13, at end insert
`other than in Article 2, paragraph 6)'.
No. 30, in page 1, line 13, at end insert
`other than in Article 2, paragraph 12)'.
No. 31, in page 1, line 13, at end insert
`other than in Article 2, paragraph 13)'.
No. 32, in page 1, line 13, at end insert
`other than in Article 2, paragraph 14)'.
No. 35, in page 1, line 13, at end insert
`other than in Article 2, paragraph 21)'.
No. 37, in page 1, line 13, at end insert
`other than in Article 2, paragraph 23)'.
No. 38, in page 1, line 13, at end insert
'other than in Article 2, paragraph 24)'.
No. 40, in page 1, line 13, at end insert
'other than in Article 2, paragraph 26)'.
No. 41, in page 1, line 13, at end insert
'other than in Article 2, paragraph 27)'.
No. 42, in page 1, line 13, at end insert
'other than in Article 2, paragraph 28)'.
No. 43, in page 1, line 13, at end insert
`other than in Article 2, paragraph 29)'.
No. 45, in page 1, line 13, at end insert
'other than in Article 2, paragraph 31)'.
No. 46, in page 1, line 13, at end insert
'other than in Article 2, paragraph 32)'.
No. 47, in page 1, line 13, at end insert
'other than in Article 2, paragraph 33)'.
No. 48, in page 1, line 13, at end insert
'other than in Article 2, paragraph 34)'.
No. 49, in page 1, line 13, at end insert
'other than in Article 2, paragraph 35)'.
No. 50, in page 1, line 13, at end insert
'other than in Article 2, paragraph 36)'.
No. 57, in page 1, line 13, at end insert
'other than in Article 2, paragraph 44)'.
§ Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale)
I began my speech on this amendment more than six weeks ago, in December, which makes it a rather lengthy speech even by my usual standards, so I shall try not to detain the Committee for too long. However, I should like to complete the point that I was making.
We were discussing qualified majority voting, and I was advancing the case that those who want a successful Britain in a successful Europe should not want ever greater extension of qualified majority voting. Last night, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle), paid me an enormous compliment by saying that Imade Baroness Thatcher look like a wet liberal."—[Official Report, 14 January 1998; Vol. 304, c. 446.]None the less, I want Britain to succeed in Europe, and the amendment will help that to come about.
Europe must be democratic, but extending qualified majority voting will not entrench democracy. Europe also needs to be open to possible new member states in eastern Europe. It would be wrong for the European Union to become so centralised that it was impossible to admit the countries of central and eastern Europe within a time frame of five to 10 years. The risk of moving down the route of ever greater qualified majority voting is that it would become difficult to bring in those states. It would also increase the quantity of the acquis communautaires to which those states would have to sign up before they could be admitted to the Community. The pace at which the European Union was moving would also increase, 502 making it much more difficult for states that were coming from a standing start to catch that train, to pursue the analogy that is constantly used in European debates.
Let us take a different parallel—that of NATO. Clearly, it would be easier for some eastern European countries to join NATO, although decisions there are taken on a unanimous basis, than it would be for them to join the European Union. That demolishes the traditional argument that extending qualified majority voting makes enlargement easier.
I shall concentrate the rest of my speech on the third argument—the need for a successful Europe. Europe needs to be competitive. If Europe is to be competitive, not only within its member states and within its own borders but globally, it must be dynamic, lightly regulated and able to help business to succeed in every market on this planet. It will not proceed in that direction if it burdens businesses with ever greater regulation. That is why the contrast that is always drawn between Conservative support for the extension of qualified majority voting in the Single European Act and our opposition to further such extension is inaccurate. We supported the extension of qualified majority voting on the Single European Act because, in order to create the single market, we believed, possibly naively in some instances, but philosophically and overall correctly, that such extension would tear down trade barriers, remove burdens on business and make it easier for businesses to compete.
No one should suppose that the extensions of qualified majority voting in the Amsterdam treaty and in the Bill will result in less regulation, fewer rules and lower burdens on business. It is clear beyond peradventure that those changes will impose greater burdens on business. No one supposes that the European Commission or other member states are champing at the bit for the opportunity to regulate to have fewer social and environmental burdens: we know that they are seeking to impose more burdens.
The result of the extension of qualified majority voting provided by the Bill will be a less democratic Europe. Decisions will be taken away from national Parliaments, and will be made by institutions that, at best, lack comprehensibility and, at worst, lack any form of accountability. The great purpose for which the European Community was originally created was to expand a zone of peace and co-operation across Europe. This measure will block the expansion of the European Union, and will be an impediment to competitiveness of European countries and European businesses across global markets.
I support the amendments, and I hope that they will be passed.
§ Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)
This group of amendments and, sadly, the next group, will not receive the scrutiny that they deserve. They deal with qualified majority voting, co-decision taking, institutional changes and flexibility. I have asked myself—and perhaps the Committee will think it a useful question to pose—whether the Amsterdam treaty provides a settled constitution for the European Union. How much is left to be done, and what areas are still in an unsettled state?
In our debates, including the interesting contribution that the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) began way back in December and has just 503 completed, hon. Members have asked whether the changes made by the treaty achieve constitutional stability, or whether there are more to come. Such an analysis of the Amsterdam treaty is one of the most interesting areas for the Committee to consider.
I was at the meeting of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs to which the Foreign Secretary gave his assessment of the extent to which the various changes in the treaty represent progress towards greater integration. He used robust language to explain the consequences of the Amsterdam treaty. He said:I think that the Treaty represents three major steps forward … On the major steps forward … it demonstrates that the high tide of integrationism in Europe was reached at Maastricht and that high tide is now at something of an ebb.Those are interesting phrases, and I recall Douglas Hurd using them when he defended the Maastricht treaty. For a start, the language itself is interesting—its tone and temperament. Perhaps I am more gullible than some, but I take comfort from its strength and robustness. It is clearly an objective of the present Foreign Secretary—and, therefore; presumably of the Government as a whole—to support the ebbing of the tide of integration. One would not use such language if that were not one's objective. The question is whether the Foreign Secretary's view of the treaty justifies such an assessment.
In subsequent evidence, the Foreign Secretary invoked, or cited, three developments in the treaty that encouraged him to believe that the tide was ebbing. I shall not dwell on this, because a later group of amendments deals with the subject, but one of those developments was the indication that subsidiarity would be justiciable under the new treaty. My right hon. Friend also took comfort from a phrase that had been introduced for the first time, requiring the Commission to respect the diversity of cultures among the nations that make up the European Union. Thirdly, my right hon. Friend had protected British interests in regard to external border controls. He also made the case to the Committee that the change in, and the limited character of, qualified majority voting was sensible, and, in comparison with the original demands, reflected the ebbing of the tide of integrationism.
Even if we accept the Foreign Secretary's assessment of the tidal condition of integrationism, we must make one huge, sad exception in respect of the enormous new tidal wave represented by monetary union. That constitutes a tidal wave of integrationism in every sense. When members of the Committee suggested as much, however, the Foreign Secretary rightly said that it was not the fault of the Amsterdam treaty, but the fault of the Maastricht treaty. I am asking—in a limited sense—to what extent the Foreign Secretary is justified in his belief that Amsterdam represents something of an ebb tide.
I have to say that the Foreign Secretary has some evidence with which to make his case in regard to qualified majority voting. It seemed from the original proposals that were scrutinised in the run-up to the Amsterdam negotiations that many EU members—at one point, apparently, most of them—had an agenda for a much greater degree of qualified majority voting than what eventually emerged.
I have read, with some interest, the various documents that have poured out of the European Parliament, and have noted their assessment of the Amsterdam treaty. I was particularly interested by a report from the Committee on 504 Institutional Affairs on the whole issue of qualified majority voting. What runs through that report is desperate disappointment that the Amsterdam treaty did not go nearly as far as everyone expected in terms of qualified majority voting. The committee believed that the extension of QMV constitutes a vital reform in terms of promoting efficiency, and in the context of future enlargement. I shall deal with that shortly, and shall invite my hon. Friend the Minister of State to comment.
The committee also said that a depressing feature of the Amsterdam treaty was the fact that, despite the belief of the entire reflection group that QMV should be a general rule on grounds of efficiency—with a modest number of exceptions—that objective had not emerged from the Amsterdam negotiations.
I realise that there will be differences of opinion between us on the Committee. I saw some of the committee's earlier work and the lists of what it hoped would be driven through by qualified majority voting, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has a point. Nothing like the tidal wave of change towards integration through qualified majority voting has emerged from Amsterdam. Amsterdam put a brake on the vaulting ambitions of a number of those who had developed arguments in the reflection group and elsewhere. My right hon. Friend has a case, at least in relation to QMV and the core decision-making process. It was more modest than we had feared.
It becomes clear when we read the documents—I suspect that the same is true within the Commission—that there is no settled constitutional arrangement in relation to QMV. There is no doubt that the European Parliament or the Commission will vigorously try to make QMV a general rule, with only a few exceptions, rather than the reverse.
I am going to turn on its head the argument of the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale. I believe that enlargement will be used as the excuse or reason for a massive extension of QMV. I thought that the hon. Gentleman was making the reverse case. I think that there will be a renewed battle over whether QMV is a natural, conditional necessity of enlargement.
Given the robust nature of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary's remarks about the ebb tide of integrationism, in the Committee and elsewhere, from which I take comfort, when the Minister of State replies to the debate, will he state clearly that he does not believe that enlargement should be used to justify a considerable extension of QMV?
We know that there will have to be institutional changes of one sort or another as a result of enlargement. The Amsterdam negotiations could not cope with those arguments, so there will be some future gathering—an intergovernmental conference of one sort or another—to deal with the institutional consequences of enlargement.
I suspect that the next big push, the next wave—to borrow my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary's phrase—of integrationism will be tied to, allied with and promoted alongside enlargement. It will be argued that there will have to be much more QMV in order to make enlargement work. I agree with the Government's support for enlargement, but I plead with my hon. Friend the 505 Minister of State to make it clear that he will not buy the argument that the large-scale extension of QMV is an inevitable consequence or condition of enlargement. We should state now that we detach those arguments from each other, otherwise the ebb tide of integrationism, about which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary gave such a robust statement, will turn out to be short-lived.
I do not know whether the draft resolution that I found among the European parliamentary papers has been amended, but even its language in draft form is revealing. I found a curious and interesting phrase, and I should be interested if my hon. Friend the Minister of State could comment on it. That draft resolution on Amsterdam, which was to be put to the European Parliament, says that the European Parliament
Considers that the Amsterdam Treaty marks the end of an historical era when the work of European unification could be undertaken, stage by stage, using the methods of classic diplomacy;Is convinced, instead, that politics should become the driving force behind shaping the new European Union".That is an interesting and curious observation.
What clearly upset those who drafted the resolution was that the intergovernmental conference, contrary to the wishes of those of a more integrationist nature, turned out to be a brake. IGCs generally are seen as a brake on development and integration. Those who drafted the resolution believe that we must find ways round the IGC process, because it has turned out to be an obstacle to the momentum that the integrationists want to achieve. That is what is behind the words:Considers that the Amsterdam Treaty marks the end of an historical era when the work of European unification could be undertaken, stage by stage, using the methods of classic diplomacy".I assume that those methods are IGC negotiations—the hard-bitten, businesslike way in which one has to get the consent of everyone, to make progress. That has turned out to be an impediment to the ambitions of those who want to go much further, who believe that that impediment should end.
I find it difficult to understand that viewpoint. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister of State can tell us whether there is any process other than the IGC through which the constitutional development of the European Union can take place. I do not understand how politics could be a replacement. Politics can be a driving force, but the process of classic diplomatic negotiation, represented by the IGC process, is the only procedure by which constitutional change in the European Union can take place.
§ Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire)
I have been following the hon. Gentleman's arguments carefully, and I very much agree with what he says. Is there not another constitutional process which works through the European Court and the acquis communautaire? I refer to the process by which there is a constant accumulation of power. Is that not precisely why we must at some point have a reversion of powers? It is no good just blocking things temporarily through the IGCs. We must have a reversion of powers, especially those accumulated by the court.
§ Mr. Rowlands
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. It is true that through the acquis 506 communautaire and the judgments of the European Court of Justice, there has been an accumulation of power. Indeed, the court's task originally was to promote European union. A constitution could be developed through the route that the hon. Gentleman suggests, but that would not be appropriate for institutional changes or the extension of qualified majority voting. In the light of the hon. Gentleman's intervention, we might get an answer from my hon. Friend the Minister of State on that point.
Those who wrote the draft resolution were fretting at the difficulty of making rapid progress towards integration through the IGC process. They are now looking for another means of promoting that integration and getting constitutional change. I asked a question about that and the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Sir M. Spicer), in his interesting intervention, also raised the point. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will reply. Is the IGC the only procedure by which constitution making can take place in the European Union, or is there some other method that can avoid the "classic diplomacy" of the IGC negotiations? That is an extremely important question.
My position on European issues is pretty well known—
§ Mr. Giles Radice (North Durham)
§ Mr. Rowlands
I am tempted, but I shall not.
I do not share the extreme interpretation of the Amsterdam treaty expressed by some Conservative Members. I remain, however, eternally sceptical and vigilant. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will repeatedly exercise vigilance, so that we ensure that we do not get a new tidal wave of integrationism and so that the ebb tide is real.
§ Mr. William Cash (Stone)
The matter of qualified majority voting goes to the heart of our democracy. Ultimately, if we are to allow an incremental increase in majority voting, it will—with respect to my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Sir M. Spicer)—be a question not so much, or exclusively, of the existence of the European Court of Justice, but of the functions to which enlarged qualified majority voting will be applied. As I said in response to an intervention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), if we are to have a European Community at all, it is inevitable that there will be a Court of Justice. The key question is not whether we should have a court, but on which functions the court should be allowed to adjudicate.
In signing up at Amsterdam, the Government have substantially—massively—increased not only qualified majority voting but the co-decision procedure that will effectively give the European Parliament a veto over legislation that it is asked to consider.
The difficulties can be demonstrated in a number of examples, such as the removal of the veto—by extension of qualified majority voting—on adapting or supplementing the research framework programme or on establishing joint undertakings in research and development. The Minister of State might like to recall that, when called upon to consider the fifth directive on the research framework programme, the Minister for Science, Energy and Industry severely complained and, because of the costs, rejected the idea that there should be an extension of jurisdiction. I should be interested to know the Minister's reply on that point.
507 It is, moreover, equally clear that the research framework programme is merely a jobs-for-the-boys operation. There has been an enormous proliferation of agencies and of one type or another of "expert groups", which are saddling Europe's, and particularly Britain's, taxpayers with enormous costs. It is extraordinary that we should no longer be able to veto arrangements that even the Minister for Science, Energy and Industry rejected. How can the Minister of State approve of removing the veto and of allowing qualified majority voting, whereas the Minister for Science, Energy and Industry said that he does not want QMV? It is extraordinary.
What does majority voting involve? When people cast their vote in a general election, they are making a decision about the type of Government and specific programmes that they want. If we develop the concept of majority voting and of extending it in the arena of government—not only for technical and trading reasons, some of which are understandable and acceptable in increasing trade and in removing the logjam of uncompetitive practices in Europe—which is what the Amsterdam and Maastricht treaties do, it becomes apparent that the individual who casts his vote in a general election to decide the type of Government he wants will lose that right, subject only to spurious claims that there is some democracy in the Council of Ministers.
We are back to the matter of accountability. If there is insufficient parliamentary scrutiny in the European Union, it will follow that there is no genuine manner in which Ministers can be held accountable for their decisions. I have been a member of the Select Committee on European Legislation for the best part of 14 years, and it has repeatedly become abundantly clear to me that Ministers will go out of their way to ensure that any matter that causes them difficulty in their decision making is bypassed. The Government's absolute determination to pack the current European Legislation Committee with Labour Members, so that they will always have a majority, is outrageous, disgraceful and goes completely against the provisions of the protocol on the role of national Parliaments in the European Union, which the Government themselves have endorsed.
It is no good for the Labour Government to pretend that they are somehow the leader in scrutiny arrangements, which go to the very heart of qualified majority voting, if in practice decisions are taken by a Committee packed with Labour Members and a Chairman who is himself a Labour Member—despite all the conventions established since 1972, to ensure the impartiality that is absolutely essential in making the system function properly.
The combination of the Government's actions in accepting the Amsterdam treaty and qualified majority voting and the draconian and almost totalitarian manner in which they are determined to maintain control over every aspect of the way in which this legislation is scrutinised is a contradiction and will cause them much difficulty in the next few years.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
Surely the hon. Gentleman is missing one rather important element: the House of Commons does not properly treat its responsibilities on the flood of rubbish from Brussels. We have Scrutiny Committees that do not have teeth, 508 and we do not debate on the Floor of the House the decisions of those Scrutiny Committees. The reality is that, unfortunately, the Government are following the appalling example set by previous Governments, who did not tackle the problem when they should have done; they have failed disastrously to do so ever since.
§ Mr. Cash
I am deeply grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention. I have enormous sympathy, based on some experience, with what she has said. Time and again, under the previous Government, I made representations in the Select Committee that those matters should be debated on the Floor of the House. Time and again, the then Leader of the House refused to accept those representations. However, the new Government are worse. The Government and the Leader of the House continuously refuse to allow those matters to be debated on the Floor of the House.
The process implicit in the idea of qualified majority voting and the democratic deficit which people constantly mention when discussing the European Parliament, is much worse when applied to national Parliaments. To include a protocol on national Parliaments at the back end of the treaty will be of value only if not only the United Kingdom but—as I deeply doubt—the rest of the Community have a fully effective scrutiny process.
I fully take the point made by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), and I sincerely hope that she will use such influence as she has—which I am sure is considerable—with the Government to ensure that they, too, understand the point. At the heart of what is happening—over time, in incremental additions—is the creation of institutional arrangements, the object of which is to create a European Union that will effectively deny to this Parliament the right to make decisions on behalf of the people who voted for us in general elections. It is a very simple matter; it is about a cross in the ballot box.
As I asked the Minister in an earlier debate, does he deny that progress in institutional integration is leading to the inevitable consequence of one country, one Europe? He knows perfectly well that it is. I suppose that some would say that, in a typically British fashion, we are allowing it to happen by increments, but it is in the provisions that we are currently debating, with respect not only to qualified majority voting, but to co-decision with the European Parliament.
§ Mr. Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that matters are worse than he has outlined, in terms of the lack of accountability and the fact that people will go to the ballot box and vote for Governments who are inhibited by such provisions? Under article 107 or 109 of the Maastricht treaty, it is illegal for democratically elected Parliaments and assemblies—I stress that, as I come from Wales—to influence the unelected and unaccountable European central bank to respond to such issues as unemployment or poverty. Therefore, the position is worse than the hon. Gentleman described, and this is one of the few occasions on which he can be accused of underestimating the problems related to the European Union.
§ Mr. Cash
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I am more than happy to take up his point. The voting arrangements with respect to economic and monetary union, and the flexibility arrangements that we shall 509 discuss when we consider the next group of amendments, are described by the Commission as the best form of flexibility that has yet been devised, yet they are governed ultimately by majority voting, and the central bankers are under a legal prohibition from seeking or taking instructions from member states. Therefore, in respect of monetary policy, which has a fundamental impact on unemployment, inflation and the whole conduct of our economy, the concept of majority voting—the Bill represents a substantial addition—is having a devastating effect on the right of the British people to make their own decisions at the ballot box. It is a complete and total abdication of responsibility and a denial of democratic accountability, which applies at the ballot box and in the Chamber. The Minister of State knows perfectly well that it is the case, and I doubt whether he would be prepared to deny a word of what I have said.
§ Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)
Does my hon. Friend agree that the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) has himself dangerously understated the seriousness of the issue in one key respect? It is not only not proper or permissible for democratically elected Parliaments to make representations to the European central bank about its conduct of monetary policy, but, moreover, the ones that seek to do so are potentially subject to fines.
§ Mr. Cash
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. They are subject to fines, penalties and sanctions.
Hon. Members will have to ask themselves some central questions about the concept of qualified majority voting and the continual denial of democratic accountability. How much further will we allow it to continue? Will we continue making speeches and operating on the basis of seeking to persuade, or will we take more immediate action?
The process is continuing in a manner that quite clearly will not be prevented by speeches and persuasion. I am convinced that the complete refusal to listen to the arguments that were engaged in respect of the Maastricht treaty and the Amsterdam treaty is leading inexorably to a position in which we shall have to take more specific action in order to stop the tide—otherwise, frankly, we are wasting our time.
§ Sir Michael Spicer
I hope that my hon. Friend will not sit down before spelling out what that alternative action is.
§ Mr. Cash
My hon. Friend will know that I do not make such a statement lightly. Indeed, there is no question but that there will come a time when the British people, who are overwhelmingly against the continuing loss of sovereignty that is implicit in the qualified majority voting arrangements, will take it no longer.
In conclusion, it is all very well for the establishment—on whichever side of the House—to continue to believe that, by encouraging the process or by not resisting it sufficiently, it will be able to allow it to continue. There is a central question before the British people, which eventually will culminate in a referendum in a few years' time. We should start preparing for that referendum 510 now—three and a half years ahead—to ensure that the British people have the proper information and are not deluded or misinformed by propaganda. I believe that when the time comes—and action will have to be taken in the interim—the British people will decide not to accept such provisions—in respect of qualified majority voting, co-decision or other devices—leading to the institutional integration of Europe into what will effectively be regarded as one country.
§ Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)
I am a little disappointed as I was looking forward to the denouement of the speech by the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) and finding out precisely what action he was proposing and how it would manifest itself on the streets of Britain, but we must wait another day for that.
I should like to return to the speech by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), to which I listened with great care. In one respect I certainly agree with him. We are in a transitional period. The Amsterdam treaty and the intergovernmental conference left many questions unanswered and I hope that they will be answered in the near future. It is clear that the Bill and the treaty cannot be the end product.
The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney referred to the end of the historical era of classic diplomacy, but an alternative construction could be put on his words—there is a realisation that we have come to the end of the top-down assertion of the European project, where so much has been disguised or put into code. Rather, we are moving towards a stage at which progress—if there is to be progress—will be made with the assent of the peoples of Europe and with their informed consent. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman may welcome that, as I and my party do, as we believe that it is the right way forward.
§ Mr. Rowlands
I would like to believe that, but it is clear from the tone and tenor of the rest of the documents from which I was quoting that there is an institutional impatience among European parliamentarians that their will has not prevailed. I do not think that it was an expression from the bottom upwards, but more a political elite within Europe becoming impatient and fretting at the fact that the people of Europe were beginning to express concern about integration.
§ Mr. Heath
The hon. Gentleman may very well be right, but I cannot judge that without looking at the documents. Let us be optimistic that we are entering a new phase of European negotiations.
§ Mr. Bercow
The hon. Gentleman says that we are moving towards an era of integration by consent within the European Union. I am sure that he will agree that in order to consent to something, people must be aware of it. Will he therefore tell the Committee whether, in the course of his election campaign, he informed the electors of Somerton and Frome that he would support further extension to qualified majority voting and co-decision? Did he tell them that he favoured an increased arrogation of power to the Community institutions—yes or no?
§ Mr. Heath
As is so often the case, the hon. Gentleman used words that I did not use. I did not mention integration. I referred to progress on the European project, 511 whatever that might mean. It could indicate movement in any direction. The hon. Gentleman should listen to what I say rather than what he thinks that I say. Throughout my time in politics I have consistently said that we must be clear about those issues and put them to the British people and the other peoples of Europe to let them decide. That is why the Liberal Democrats were the first to call for a referendum on major institutional changes in Europe. That policy was finally matched by some other parties, although some were not prepared to accept the argument.
That is an aside, because we are talking about qualified majority voting. It may be an oversight, but I do not recall the speech by the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) on the subject. It was a long time ago—on 3 December—and I suspect that I may have been out of the Chamber at the time because of a surfeit of European affairs, in which case I apologise to him.
I have read the hon. Gentleman's speech carefully to make sure that I understand his arguments in favour of removing the parts of the Bill that refer to qualified majority voting. I am not persuaded by his arguments because, although he was generous enough to make it clear that he has happily moved away from the view that the modest changes to QMV represent the end of the nation state as we know it, he failed to address the problems with the proposals in the Bill. What is the difficulty for Britain's national interest if those measures progress? He considered the matter purely as a bargaining chip for negotiation on other objectives rather than examining the value of the measures.
I often observe the inconsistency of the Conservatives' avowed commitment to the concept of enlargement and their disavowal of the processes that are necessary to enable enlargement to go ahead. Qualified majority voting is a necessary prerequisite to enlargement in some areas. I mean no offence to the Governments of applicant countries, but I would feel uncomfortable if, 10 minutes after joining the European Union, Slovenia, Cyprus or the Czech Republic had a veto on matters appertaining to the whole European Union. There should be an element of force majeure in the European Union that recognises the strength of opinion of large population groups. Qualified majority voting provides that.
§ Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)
Would the hon. Gentleman be happier with the possibility of Cyprus, Slovenia and other new member states, 10 minutes after joining the European Union, overruling the wishes of the British Government and the British people?
§ Mr. Heath
It would require a strange mathematical process indeed for those small countries to be able to do that without the exercise of a veto against the wishes of the British people. That is my argument.
§ Mr. Heath
The hon. Gentleman has failed to make his point once. I am reluctant to let him fail to do so again.
The second point on which I failed to follow the logic of the hon. Member for South-West Devon was on the European Parliament. He appeared to suggest that, 512 because he did not like some Members of the European Parliament and their opinions, they should have no part in any decision-making process. I do not like the opinions of quite a few hon. Members of this Chamber, but I accept that they have a proper role in the political process. It is not entirely logical to claim that the value of an elected assembly is undermined because the hon. Gentleman takes exception to some things that some Members have said.
It would be preferable to consider the process of negotiation not simply in terms of bargaining chips and maximising advantage in other areas. That is an important part of negotiation, but we should also consider where the advantage lies for Britain in the measures that are put forward. There are clear advantages for Britain and for the European Union in the extension of QMV in limited areas. The most obvious example is the extension of QMV to measures on fraud. It would be wrong to allow individual national Governments to veto proper measures on fraud simply because they would be to their disadvantage.
§ Mr. Cash
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, in the light of our experience of other member states, proposals put forward by the British Government to improve surveillance of fraud would almost certainly be rejected by other member states because they have been conducting their affairs in a certain way for so long that they will not want to change their current fraudulent way of operating?
§ Mr. Heath
I am not entirely prepared to accept that every member of the European Union but us is a rogue. There are examples of fraud in this country and there are other member states that are equally keen to root out fraud. However, we do not have the necessary equipment and rigour to do that. Britain has a lot to offer with our audit processes, such as the Audit Commission and the National Audit Office. We should encourage other countries to take equally rigorous steps. Qualified majority voting provides us with that opportunity.
I am not incautious about QMV. There are areas in which it would not be helpful, but the areas in the treaty are good examples of QMV being to the advantage of the European Union and of Britain.
§ Sir Michael Spicer
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
§ Mr. Heath
I have been generous in giving way. I must finish my remarks so that we can make progress this evening.
If the European Union achieves proper subsidiarity, many of the concerns expressed by hon. Members will disappear. I share the scepticism of many about whether that subsidiarity will take root, but I recognise that there is a protocol that will enable us to monitor that. I hope that we shall move in the right direction of power being exercised at the lowest available level.
I recognise the European Parliament as an alternative Parliament with a proper electoral mandate, including British Members. It will have an improved mandate when the Bill is passed and we have sorted out our d'Hondts from our La Saintes and all the other necessary arrangements. The Members of the European Parliament could then be said to have a more proper claim to 513 represent the political views of this country than we shall until there are changes in our constitutional arrangements. The European Parliament will be able to hold the Council of Ministers to account to an extent. That must be right, because the Council of Ministers is immune from accountability in many ways, other than through the inadequate processes of national Parliaments. We shall have a proper avenue for parliamentary scrutiny. That must be right, ensuring proper scrutiny of matters by the elected representatives of the people of Europe. If the European Parliament, which costs a large amount of money, is not given powers to exercise properly, we must question whether it will misuse the powers that it has. We have seen examples of that in previous legislation.
The Bill is sensible. Its proposals are proportionate and will achieve a sensible outcome for this country and the European Union. I reject the arguments of the hon. Member for South-West Devon and I shall oppose them in the Lobby this evening.
§ Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)
I would like to exercise the Committee by raising the concept of co-decision, as hitherto we have dealt largely with qualified majority voting. There are 25 new areas in which co-decision will operate, excluding immigration, asylum and free movement, in which it may operate progressively. So there are already 25 areas and there may be more.
The problem with co-decision is that it is being given to a Parliament that manifestly is not a Parliament.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
It is an assembly.
§ Mr. Swayne
Absolutely. It is an assembly, because a Parliament requires a people and there is no European people. What is more, paragraph 3 of article 6 of the treaty purports to ensure that there should be no European people—but if anyone believes that they would believe anything. It is enough to make a cat laugh.
We have already seen all sorts of attempts to remove national differences and identities by degrees, and there is no doubt that the progression will be, as it always has been in the development of the European Union, that the cart will be put before the horse. Having created a Parliament, the Union then sets about creating a people for the Parliament to represent. However for the moment, and therefore for the operation of the treaty, there is no European people, so co-decision must be opposed.
Our European partners are clear on that point. In 1993 the Karlsruhe court ruled, in effect, that the European Parliament was not a Parliament. The French constitutional council was equally forthright, pointing out that the European Parliamentdoes not participate in the exercise of the national sovereignty of the French Republic".It does not represent France; it cannot represent the French people. Therefore, it cannot represent the French people in the exercise of sovereignty as part of the people of Europe—which, as I pointed out, does not exist.
Given that there is no people for the Parliament to represent, it must be fundamentally against our constitutional principles to hand co-decision to such an 514 institution. The only proper institution for the taking of such decisions and the exercise of that sovereignty is this House.
§ Mr. Brady
We must ask what is the logic in the treaty of extending qualified majority voting and the co-decision procedures. As we think about the excellent contribution by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), we must ask whether there is a continuing tide towards European integration or whether there is an ebb tide.
I can see no logic in the extension of QMV in the context of an ebb tide of European integration. If we examine why it was first extended by the Single European Act, we see that there was a clear and specific reason—to create a single European market. However, I fear that the logic of further extension of QMV has to be seen as aiming at achieving further single integrated European structures.
Certainly we see a drive towards a single social and employment regime across the whole of Europe. There is no doubt in my mind that the further development of QMV constitutes a massive move towards further integration. Even if at present we see in the Amsterdam treaty a minor ebb in the tide that has been flowing towards integration, we must accept the fact that the process of European integration has worked over time, and continues to work, by a ratchet effect. There may be a temporary slowing in the pace of integration—
§ Sir Michael Spicer
My hon. Friend is making an important point about what the logic of it all is. That was the point that the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), would not address. He said that he liked the measures in the Amsterdam treaty but that there were other measures involving QMV that he did not like. We were trying to intervene in his speech, because it showed that the Liberal Democrats are all over the place—or perhaps they are making a secret of their beliefs. My hon. Friend is making exactly the point that should have been addressed by the Liberal Democrat spokesman, and I look forward to his developing the theme further.
§ Mr. Brady
The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) did another service by inadvertently pressing the case even further, with his remarks about the effect that new members joining the European Union might have on the dynamics of decision-making within the Union.
The hon. Gentleman's suggestion that he was not quite sure whether he was in favour of further integration was not entirely consistent with the alarm that he apparently felt at the prospect of Cyprus, Slovenia and other new entrants having the power to prevent further integration by exercising a right of veto should the United Kingdom wish to move towards further integration.
That alarm was certainly not matched by a similar alarm about what might happen if we wished to arrest progress towards European integration and stop the loss of British sovereignty as it moves further towards Brussels and Strasbourg. The hon. Gentleman was not similarly alarmed by the prospect that new entrant countries, by adding to the weight of votes in a qualified 515 majority, could overrule what the British Parliament and the British Government, of whatever party, might wish to do.
That gave the game away about what the Liberal Democrats, with one honourable exception, seem to believe—that European integration is the supreme goal that we should all pursue to the exclusion of all else.
The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney said that we should soon see the prospect of a further drive towards integration, with economic and monetary union. That in itself would necessitate the harmonisation of tax and expenditure across the EU. It would drive us towards a need for co-ordinated programmes of regional and international transfer of funds, to iron out the economic differences between the member states.
As that process happens there is in prospect a further drive towards the extension of QMV and for integration not only in economic and monetary matters but in subsidiary areas. It will be believed that because we have a single currency we must have a single regime in allied respects—the same employment laws and the same social regime across the whole of Europe.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton
My hon. Friend is developing an interesting argument and drawing in support for what was said by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands). Is it not true that the drive for the extension of qualified majority voting exists only because the bureaucratic oligarchy of the European Union sees it as the only way in which to achieve European integration?
Overwhelmingly, throughout the countries that make up the European Union—give or take a Belgium or a Luxembourg—the people do not want that. We have heard a lot about "the people's Europe", but the peoples of Europe do not want integration. The reason why we are driving forwards with qualified majority voting is that the oligarchy of Helmut Kohl and others see it as the only way to achieve an integrated Europe.
§ Mr. Brady
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is not only the peoples of Europe who patently do not want further integration; we can see clearly from the attendance in the Chamber and the contributions today that the people of north-west England do not want it either. I am delighted to hear a fellow Cheshire Member of Parliament make such an eloquent point against an integration that is contrary both to the wishes of the British people and to those of the peoples of other European countries.
Several hon. Members have already said that we are now seeing part of a process that is putting power, sovereignty and the sacred link between this Parliament and the British people in danger.
There are other developments, such as the advent of the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. Last night, we were discussing the transfer of power to regional development agencies—the precursors of regional assemblies across England. All those measures compound the greatest danger, which we have seen in recent years, that the peoples of Europe have begun to feel increasingly estranged from the politicians who are meant to represent them.
It is disturbing that the Government are moving political power and sovereignty in two directions; on the one hand, to Brussels and Strasbourg, and on the other, 516 to Scotland, Wales and the regions. That might not matter if there were real democratic legitimacy in those institutions, but I do not believe that that is the case. The levels of interest have been shown most notably by the referendum on the Welsh Assembly, in which there was a tiny majority in favour; even that result has been called into question, as there may have been irregularities in the vote. Any similar referendums across the regions of England would show that there is no demand for any regional assemblies. If we move power to regional level on the one hand and to European level on the other, there will be a further diminution of the relationship between the people and their representatives, their elected politicians.
§ Mr. Collins
My hon. Friend is making an excellent point about the genuine level of European public interest. Does he agree that a problem with co-decision and with giving more power to the European Parliament is that, contrary to the point made by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath)—who implied that the European Parliament was somehow equivalent to a national Parliament—there is not one single member state of the EU where the turnout for elections to the European Parliament is remotely comparable with the turnout for the elections to the national Parliament? In this country, it is barely half the turnout for the election to the Westminster Parliament. The people want their national Parliaments to govern them, not the European Parliament.
§ Mr. Brady
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend's remarks. Furthermore, the Government's recent proposals to change the method by which we elect Members of the European Parliament compound the danger by removing the representative from any kind of meaningful constitutional context. We are to have MEPs representing the north-west, an area stretching from south of Chester to the Scottish border. There will be no relevance or interest for people to vote in European elections, as they will neither know nor care for whom they are voting. No democratic control can be exercised in the European Parliament by British MEPs on behalf of the British people. That is a cause for the greatest concern. This move, embodied in the Amsterdam treaty, is another part of the process which removes political and democratic control from the British people, and it is very much to be resisted.
§ Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)
I want to make only a few remarks—given the short amount of time we have to discuss this issue—about qualified majority voting and the effect that it has on a nation's ability to govern itself.
When the British Government—or, indeed, any Government—agree to extend QMV, they should do so in the sober knowledge that they are allowing their people, their Parliament and their Executive to be overruled by other countries. In terms of the Single European Act, I agreed with the case for handing away powers to ensure that opportunities for free trade could be pursued. Those of us who support free trade would argue that both sides benefit and that it is a way of getting rid of protectionism.
When the Government extend QMV into areas beyond the commercial sector, they should do so with great reservations. This Government came to office on a manifesto that contained four proposals to extend QMV. To be fair, they were endorsed by the British people at 517 the general election, but the Government succeeded in gaining acceptance for only one and chose to accept QMV in 13 others. In 13 new areas of policy, the Government have allowed this House, our people and themselves to be overruled by a combination of other European countries.
§ Mr. Cash
My hon. Friend is addressing these points with such skill that I do not want to upset his train of thought, but he said that the Government should consider giving away QMV in areas other than commercial spheres only with the greatest reservations. Does he agree that in respect of matters such as monetary union, a common defence and security policy and Government functions—all areas that deal ultimately with the right of the people to decide for themselves what sort of Government they should have—there should be a complete and total refusal to allow QMV?
§ Mr. Blunt
Yes. In the commercial sphere, we have been content to see QMV passed, in a sense, to the World Trade Organisation, which is able to ensure that companies can enter markets that otherwise would be protected. That is in our interest, as it is in the interests of the consumers of those markets supposedly being protected by the actions of their Governments.
I wish to address in particular the issue of the Slovenian veto. It is a canard to suggest that the little countries coming into the EU will behave in such a way as to obstruct the whole business of the EU unless we have QMV in almost every conceivable area. It is wrong to say that we cannot have enlargement without QMV. That argument is false. In terms of decision making in the EU, the pressures on a small country not to obstruct the rest of the EU are immense. The only circumstances in which they will consider behaving in such a way is if they believe that their national interests are being affected.
We must consider the bilateral regulations that these countries have with every other member state; we have seen, for example, the pressures brought to bear on Greece in terms of its dealings with Macedonia. It is only with the most serious contemplation of the consequences of exercising the veto that small countries will consider obstructing the clear will of their partner countries.
We need, as far as possible, to move by consensus to defend the vital national interests of the people of those countries. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation works perfectly well by consensus, and achieving consensus is the purpose of negotiations. When a country's national interests are affected, the strength of individual vetoes is that their partners are forced to come to the negotiating table to identify the key issues affecting the small countries. The small countries will exercise a veto only on the most minute number of occasions when their interests are threatened. The big countries—Germany, the United Kingdom and France—represent substantial populations and have a wider range of interests. They will feel freer to negotiate more powerfully and to exercise the veto if they wish to do so.
§ Mr. David Heath
What about Spain?
§ Mr. Blunt
Spain has 36 million people—a substantial number. The hon. Gentleman is clearly referring to 518 Gibraltar. We saw how Spain pulled a fast one on the Government during the negotiations. Gibraltar is a subject that exercises our vital national interest.
§ Mr. Heath
Will the hon. Gentleman say—yes or no—whether Spain should have a veto on Britain's entry into the Schengen agreement, should Britain wish to do so?
§ Mr. Blunt
I am perfectly content with that in those circumstances. I am arguing here for the preservation of the veto, so it must be perfectly proper for Spain to have it. The key point about the veto is that it enables nations to protect their vital national interests. The Government have given away that power in 13 new areas, with no electoral mandate to do so.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton
Earlier in his speech, my hon. Friend mentioned Slovenia. That country wants to join the European Union, and its economy is dominated by agriculture. Qualified majority voting may not be relevant to agriculture at the moment, but is not it interesting that, in their recent discussions, the ruler of Europe—sorry, the Chancellor of Germany, Mr. Helmut Kohl—made it perfectly clear to our Prime Minister, the current President of Europe, that he is not prepared to consider any amendment to the common agricultural policy because it would be against the interests of the Christian Social Union and the Christian Democratic Union to do so before the German elections in September? Does not that show the nonsense of Europe?
§ Mr. Blunt
My hon. Friend makes a clear point about the conduct of the common agricultural policy. It is a separate issue from QMV, because QMV already exists in that policy, and it should properly be there because agriculture is a commercial sphere.
I would like Ministers and hon. Members of all parties who hold dear the success of the European Union to understand that it will succeed when it can move by consensus, commanding the support of the people, and that it will fail when it tramples over the rights and privileges of millions of its citizens.
§ Sir Michael Spicer
I want to comment on two points: the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) quoted someone in the European Parliament as saying that intergovernmental conferences were a brake on the process; my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) mentioned the logic of the way in which matters are proceeding.
Of course it is right, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), when there is a proposal for 14 new areas for qualified majority voting—areas such as public health, social exclusion and research and development, none of which, incidentally, affects the single market, into which QMV was originally introduced, quite logically, with the agreement of my noble Friend Baroness Thatcher—for those of us who do not believe in a federal state of Europe to oppose it and to have a good debate. Of course it is right, when there are 27 new areas of co-decision involving a Parliament each of whose Members cost £1 million to support, that we should oppose such extensions; but the present question concerns 519 whether the intergovernmental conferences are a distraction, and the logic of the move towards a federal state.
If I believed in a federal state of Europe, I would do exactly what the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Radice) is doing today: I would sit and listen, and keep very quiet indeed, because one of the paradoxes of the present scene is that the people on the streets do not want a federal state, but someone has concocted the idea and it is now inexorably going ahead, even though I and many others cannot see any advantage whatever in it. Whatever the IGCs say, the system has been set in motion.
§ Mr. Radice
The hon. Gentleman and I are colleagues on the Treasury Select Committee and we know each other's views well. It is important not to use language as loosely as he sometimes does. He calls me a federalist, but I am in favour of joining other members of the European Union in areas in which it is in our common interest to do so, but not in those in which it is not. I do not believe in a European super-state as a single country. To use language so loosely is misleading, and when it comes to a referendum I shall be delighted to debate the issue with him, because I shall be able to expose the way in which he uses language and his extremely extravagant approach to this whole affair.
§ Sir Michael Spicer
The hon. Gentleman must speak for his own position. I do not want to debate the details with him. Let us generalise and say that the position of those who believe in a new state of Europe is precisely the one that he has just identified: they say that we will come together loosely in various areas of co-operation, yet they go along with—indeed, they encourage and fight for—common legal and monetary systems.
Once legal and monetary systems have been handed over, there is a new state. With the monetary system goes the economic system. I enjoy working with the hon. Member for North Durham on the Treasury Select Committee, and we debate these matters, but while I do not accuse him of being a federalist, the position that he has just enunciated is precisely that of those who want a federal state of Europe. They take such an apparently balanced approach because it is convenient to do so. They talk of a little bit here and a little bit there, but at the end of the day they want the central core of what constitutes a new state of Europe.
§ Mr. Bercow
Will my hon. Friend give way?
§ Mr. Swayne
Will my hon. Friend give way?
§ Sir Michael Spicer
I seem to have a lot of hon. Friends. I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne).
§ Mr. Swayne
I thank my hon. Friend. The vision that has been enunciated, in which we co-operate where we want and do not where we do not, is simply not available, because of the acquis communautaire. Once a competence has been achieved, there is no way back even if we decide that it is not in our interest to co-operate. The whole business of qualified majority voting reinforces that and makes the process irreversible.
§ Sir Michael Spicer
My hon. Friend has made the second half of my speech much better than I could have 520 done. I could not agree with him more. Let us now hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) has to say.
§ Mr. Bercow
I thank my hon. Friend for his generosity in giving way. Does he agree that there is a disconnect between the words uttered by Labour and Liberal Democrat spokesmen and the reality of the policies for which they vote, and that in order to make credible their claim not to be federalists they must, at the very least, identify examples of requests for extensions of QMV that they have opposed and that, better still, they should be able to cite examples of occasions on which they have sought the repatriation of powers away from the institutions of the European Union to the House of Commons?
§ Sir Michael Spicer
I completely agree with that. Several of us have tried to winkle that point out of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) during this debate. It is absolutely right that, if one picks and chooses but basically goes along with the process—with the logic, as my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West said—not only must one justify the end point towards which one is heading, about which the Liberal Democrats tend to be vague or even disingenuous, but, if one thinks there is a distinction to be made between those things that should and should not be accepted, one should say where the line is to be drawn and what the principles are behind that line-drawing process. The Liberal Democrats do not do that, so I could not agree more with what my hon. Friend said.
I wish to develop briefly my point about IGCs. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney made an interesting and valuable speech. He asked some interesting questions and I hope that the Government will answer them. Among those questions was whether the IGCs represent a brake on the process. In my view they are becoming a distraction and are convenient for those who wish the process to continue its inexorable way.
Various treaties in the past—notably Maastricht—laid down a momentum, a logic and a set of institutions, especially on the acquis communautaire and other political objectives that the European Court of Justice can now interpret as it thinks fit. The court may now enter territory previously untrodden by law and even create—or at least give backing to—new institutional arrangements, which make the IGC discussions almost irrelevant and, at worst, a distraction from what is really happening in Europe. After all, Governments usually get their way. The great hope on Amsterdam is that the Danes will veto it at the end of March, but if that does not happen the process will continue.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton
If memory serves me correctly—I speak as an officer of the all-party Denmark group—the Danes have voted against European issues in the past, especially the Maastricht treaty. What did the masters of Europe do on that occasion? To get their way, they forced the Danish Government to hold a second, and unprecedented, referendum.
The First Deputy Chairman
Order. The hon. Gentleman keeps making speeches, not interventions, which should be brief.
§ Sir Michael Spicer
I answer my hon. Friend rather blushingly, because unfortunately the presidency was held 521 by the British Government when the Danes were being bullied on that point. The legitimacy of that second referendum is certainly open to question. However, I shall leave that point, because we are discussing the future and Amsterdam and the only possible brake on the process is a Danish vote against it.
§ Mr. Winterton
Will the same thing happen?
§ Sir Michael Spicer
My hon. Friend asks an interesting question, but we have on record a Government statement that the same thing probably will not happen. Back in July, I asked the Government what plans they had for the implementation of the Amsterdam treaty if it is not ratified by one or more member states. The Minister with responsibility for European issues replied:The Treaty must be ratified by all 15 Member States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements, before it can come into force. Should any Member State fail to ratify the Treaty, it could not be implemented in its current form."—[Official Report, 16 July 1997; Vol. 298, c. 186.]We therefore have a firm position from the British Government on the issue.
§ Mr. Winterton
That was also the case in the past. The Danes were supposed to ratify the Maastricht treaty by 31 December of the year in question. They failed to do so and the second referendum took place after that date. Will not the masters of Europe resort to the same duplicitous actions as they have in the past?
§ Sir Michael Spicer
It would certainly be a resigning matter for Foreign Office Ministers if they ratted on deratification in that situation. I must draw my remarks to a close because I had not intended to speak at such length.
If the IGCs are a distraction from what is really going on—the inexorable advance towards monetary union, via Maastricht, the ECJ, the acquis communautaire and the other principles that the court has established—the discussions at them cannot achieve very much. If we as a nation believe in the continuation of the independence of the nation state—and all the other issues in which the hon. Member for North Durham said that he believes—the Government of the day must make a firm decision to retrieve powers from the European Court.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) is one of the few people who has given specific examples of areas in which he wants a retrieval of powers. Once powers had been retrieved in any area, the acquis communautaire would have been torn apart and we would have started the process of bringing powers back to this country. That is what is now at stake, because we have moved on from discussions about tinkering at the margins of the process. We must of course argue against any extension of powers, but in reality the process will be stopped only if we retrieve powers from Europe. Any retrieval will demand the breaking apart of the acquis communautaire and, one day, someone will have to grasp that issue.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton
I shall be brief, but I wish to touch on one or two of the issues that you felt I was speaking on at too great a length in my interventions, Mr. Martin.
522 I understood that all the countries of the European Union had to ratify the Maastricht treaty—we are talking of an extension of the Maastricht treaty when we discuss Amsterdam—by 31 December of the year in question. Some countries ratified the treaty by way of referendum. France held a referendum although, even in a country that is at the heart of Europe, the majority for a yes vote was only 1.5 per cent. over the no vote. In Denmark, there was a no vote, but the establishment, the powers that be, the bureaucratic oligarchy that now governs Europe—because we have not a people's Europe but one ruled by a limited number of people who wield considerable power—forced the Danish Government and people to hold a second referendum after the date by which the Maastricht treaty should officially have been ratified.
I speak with some knowledge of the issue, because I visited Denmark with colleagues from both sides of the House and talked to all the political parties. I regret to say that a number of the parties that had voted no and campaigned for a no vote in the first referendum campaign told me that they would not campaign for a no vote in the second referendum. That was not because they did not want a no vote, but because they did not believe that the United Kingdom would support them as it had promised. Those political parties did not wish their country to be isolated in Europe.
It is clear that the overwhelming majority of people in the countries of the European Union do not want a federal Europe, or any further integration of their cultures or laws. They certainly do not want an integration of their currencies. By the way, if the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Radice) believes that a single currency would not lead to a federal Europe, he is living in fairyland. Undoubtedly, if any country loses control of its currency it loses control of its economy, and if it loses control of its economy, it loses control of the country and the government of that country, and that inevitably means that its people become subservient to some other form of government, which in this case would be Brussels and Strasbourg.
The hon. Member for North Durham is living in cloud cuckoo land if he believes that he is in favour of a nation state and is not in favour of a federal Europe, because much of what he stands for will inevitably lead to a federal state of Europe. Any extension whatever of qualified majority voting is another notch on the ratchet to integration and to a federal Europe. For that reason, I strongly oppose what the Government are seeking to do.
It is not easy to stand up against the power of Government. I did it when the Conservative party was in government; I have done it previously when I have been in opposition. I find opposition quite easy to understand and to accept. As I have said in the Chamber before, some people say, "The hon. Member for Macclesfield has been in opposition for all of the 26 years that he has been in the House." However, Mr. Martin, let me say to you and the Committee, that there has never been an occasion in those 26-plus years when I have not sought to represent what I, personally, fervently believe to be the interests of the people of the United Kingdom, and especially the people of the Macclesfield constituency, whom I have the great honour to represent.
Any extension of qualified majority voting is not merely to ensure the better implementation of the Single European Act and the single market. I believe in the free market. I also believe in fair competition and a level 523 playing field. I believe that the hon. Member for North Durham—for whom I have the greatest affection and regard—believes fervently in everything that he says, but I believe that he is fundamentally wrong in much of what he says and believes. He could not have highlighted that better than by the intervention that he made on my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Sir M. Spicer). My hon. Friend challenged him about a single currency. For the hon. Gentleman to say, as he did, that a single currency for Europe will not inevitably lead to a single Government in Europe and a federal states of Europe, shows that he must be living in an entirely different world from myself.
Sadly, we shall not win the argument. As my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) said in his excellent speech, the people of this country do not want a federal Europe. They do not want any further integration into Europe. They want to work as a nation state within Europe. They want the free market of Europe, but they do not want a federal state of Europe. That is clearly shown by the level of interest in Europe, as my hon. Friend said—
The First Deputy Chairman
Order. It may help the hon. Gentleman if I remind him that the subject of amendment No. 66 and the other amendments grouped with it is "Qualified Majority Voting and co-decision procedure"—not a federal Europe.
§ Mr. Winterton
If "Qualified Majority Voting and co-decision procedure" has nothing to do with a federal Europe, Mr. Martin, I do not know what does have anything to do with it. I am—
The First Deputy Chairman
Order. There could be a connection, but I am saying that that is the idea of amendments: that they are specific, and that the hon. Gentleman must tie himself into the specifics of the amendments before us and not go too wide.
§ Mr. Winterton
That is what I am trying to do. Mr. Martin, I find your comments remarkably effective, and I take your advice. From the Opposition Back Benches, I can accept the way that you have put it very readily.
I am saying to the Committee, with great emphasis—in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West—that the people of this country do not want what is being done in their name. They do not want further co-decision making; they do not want further integration; they do not want what inevitably flows from what is happening in that area—and they have shown it by their lack of interest in voting in elections. If it is the people's will, the people will reflect that by going out to vote.
§ Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham)
They did on 1 May.
§ Mr. Winterton
I say to the hon. Gentleman, who has a wonderful apartment in some ski resort and who is extremely good on the ski slopes—the hon. Member for Verbier, or is it Les Diables?—that, in any European election, the vote is less than half of that in a parliamentary election. People believe in their national Parliament, not in the European assembly.
524 I am saying that we do not want further transfers of power and I believe that, as history proceeds, the speeches that have been made by Conservative Members will be shown to have reflected the views of the British people.
§ Dr. Rudi Vis (Finchley and Golders Green)
The hon. Gentleman says that the low turnout in Britain for European elections suggests that there is no desire on the part of the British people to come closer to Europe. In my country of birth, the Netherlands, where there are many federalists—and I am one—by the hon. Gentleman's definition, the turnout in the European elections is no higher. That shows that there is no evidence, empirical or otherwise, in the points that the hon. Gentleman just made.
§ Mr. Winterton
That is a matter of opinion, and I only hope that the Government of the day have the courage to put the whole matter of Europe to a referendum in this country. They have promised to do so, as have the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrat party.
In answer to the hon. Gentleman, I suspect that my view will be proved to be the one that represents the majority view of the British people. He said that the view that I expressed about the level of turnout in elections was not relevant; I can say only that I believe that it is. The Labour party received a very substantial vote in the general election on 1 May. Members of the Labour party took full credit for that; they said that it gave them a mandate. I am not sure that a mandate of about a 28 to 30 per cent. turnout in a Euro-election gives those who are Euro-federalists the mandate that they seek. I believe that it does the opposite.
I say to my hon. Friends that I concur entirely with the arguments that they have advanced. As a believer in history, I believe that history, which is the best teacher in life, will prove us, in due course, to have been right.
§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Doug Henderson)
It is difficult to know where to start, given that we began this debate in early December and have been going for about an hour and a half this afternoon.
We have all enjoyed the opposition of the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) during his 26 years in Parliament. I have watched, enjoyed and respected his opposition in the 11 years that I have been in the House, and I enjoyed it no less today.
I was surprised by the contribution from the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), whom I had always believed to be the hard rock of anti-Europeanism in the House. The hon. Gentleman conceded that qualified majority voting might be desirable in some circumstances related to trade. I am beginning to think that he has gone soft compared to some of his colleagues who joined us at the last general election. However, those hon. Members who joined the hon. Gentleman in previous debates, such as the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Sir M. Spicer) and the hon. Member for Macclesfield, redeemed the reputation of the old guard in their contributions.
§ 6 pm
§ Mr. Cash
The hon. Gentleman will know that I have argued consistently in favour of free trade in Europe. I have also argued that the Single European Act is 525 acceptable—although it needs reform—because it delivers just that. The Minister fails to distinguish the difference between qualified majority voting on trade and commerce and matters of that kind and QMV in the arena of government, which is what monetary union and common foreign and defence policies and so on are about. There is a fundamental difference. I said earlier that I am concerned about the answer to the question, "Who governs Britain?" and about the democratic rights of the British people. For that, I shall fight to the death.
§ Mr. Henderson
I am glad to hear the hon. Gentleman's protestations—he obviously does not want to be left out of the coterie comprising his hard-line anti-European colleagues.
I shall begin by referring to the contribution of the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) on 3 December. In essence, he made the accusation that the treaty and the clauses to which we are referring in this debate have transferred influence and power from this Parliament to the organs of the European Union. He claimed that that was a damaging process and that the Government have given away power without charge. In later debates today, and possibly on Monday, I shall turn to what has been achieved and at what cost. I am happy to explore that issue now, but I shall have to repeat myself later.
I shall restrict my comments to the question of qualified majority voting. It is not acceptable for the Opposition to argue that, ideologically, there is no case for extending qualified majority voting. They claim that, if we agree to qualified majority voting, it will be the end of a democratic European Union. That is the accusation levelled by Opposition Members. However, they should recall that the previous Conservative Government agreed to 15 extensions of qualified majority voting in the Amsterdam treaty and 12 extensions in the single market. There were 30 extensions of qualified majority voting in the Maastricht treaty, which enjoyed Conservative Front-Bench support. In case I should forget, I am sure that the hon. Member for Stone would remind me that not all of those extensions were related to economic and trade matters—some of them went beyond that classification.
It ill behoves the Opposition to complain about the extension of qualified majority voting as a matter of principle. That does not mean that I shall endorse qualified majority voting on every issue that comes before the institutions of the European Union—that is not my position. However, when it is in the interests of Britain and of the European Union to support the extension of qualified majority voting, I think that Parliament has a responsibility to consider those matters objectively and to deal with each issue as it arises.
It is not acceptable to oppose the anti-fraud provisions in the Amsterdam treaty because it is claimed that they will lead to further integration of the European Union—to which the Opposition are ideologically opposed. Those measures are crucial if we are to ensure that the money of British taxpayers and of taxpayers throughout the European Union is used effectively and spent in the manner intended. That is why it is essential to extend qualified majority voting.
If the finger were pointed at a country and redress demanded because of the misdemeanours of that country's officials or institutions, without qualified majority voting, 526 it is extremely unlikely that the European Union—as a corporate organisation—would be able to ensure that that country used the money that it was allocated for that intended purpose. If there were no qualified majority voting and if unanimity were required, that country could veto any measures proposed. That is clearly a nonsense. If one believes in an effective European Union, any objective examination of the issues leads one to conclude that qualified majority voting must be extended in that case.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Radice) summed up the effect of the treaty's provisions, which will afford the limited extension of qualified majority voting and co-decision. When matters are agreed only by majority, it makes sense to allow the European Parliament to have a say on those issues also so that minority groups have another opportunity to air their views. That is essential if we are committed to the effectiveness of the European Union.
My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) raised several points in his contribution today. The question whether a settled constitution has been achieved in the European Union as a result of the treaty of Amsterdam has no answer. The hon. Member for Macclesfield mentioned history. History tells us that we can never predict what will happen in the future—and it is often foolish to try to do so.
There have been many changes in Europe in the past 10 years, to which the European Union must respond. For many years, both sides of the House condemned the political and economic structures of central and eastern Europe and demanded change. When totalitarianism was overthrown, we had a responsibility to respond—to offer the hand of friendship to the people of central and eastern Europe and, where necessary, to change the way in which we operate politically in the European Union to accommodate their needs and priorities. That makes sense. I do not believe that there will ever be a settled constitution politically. Change will occur in any dynamic process—and it is right that it should.
Those who oppose further change in the form of more co-operation within the European Union are engaging in the politics of the past. That is the politics of isolation and remoteness, and it ignores the changes that are taking place in the world. As a country that seeks to provide a democratic example to other parts of the world, we should look forward. We should judge issues on their merits and consider when it is in our interests to enter into international agreements with other countries through the European Union and in other forums. We should begin to make those changes that are necessary to ensure that we are forward looking and can respond to the real issues.
§ Mr. Llew Smith
My hon. Friend said that we should take the lead and set a democratic example to other countries. I am sure that every hon. Member agrees with that. However, what sort of democratic example is set by article 109 of the Maastricht treaty, which makes it illegal for a democratic and accountable Parliament to put pressure on, or try to influence, an undemocratic and unelected European central bank? Does my hon. Friend accept that that is what the treaty says? Will he comment on that point?
§ Mr. Henderson
My hon. Friend knows that that is a narrow point—although I concede that it is an important 527 one. We must look at a much wider area of economic involvement. When Britain signed up with the International Monetary Fund in 1944, it was the beginning of co-operation on economic matters. In that sense, Britain could no longer adopt an economic policy, regardless of what the IMF would say about it. That was not possible under the agreements that were reached. We are witnessing an extension of international agreements over a wide area. The European Union is one of the principal extensions. The matter must be seen in that democratic context.
§ Mr. Cash
On a point of order, Mr. Martin. It is outrageous for the Minister to refer to international agreements. He knows perfectly well that that is a matter of a legal framework; it is nothing to do with international agreements.
§ Mr. Llew Smith
Does the Minister accept that it is right that democratically elected Parliaments and assemblies, as we shall have in Wales, will not have the legal right to try to influence an undemocratic and unaccountable European central bank? That is not a narrow point, because it relates to the power of Parliament. If we as a Parliament do not have that right to control our community, people will increasingly pose the question, "What is the use of elections, if the people for whom we vote do not have the power to change things, and the people for whom we do not vote—that is, the European central bank—have those powers?"
§ Mr. Henderson
I say to my hon. Friend that we operate in a global world. There are international economic links of immense importance to his constituency, as to mine and to most constituencies in this country. It is necessary for us to view economic policy in that context. This Parliament has the ability to take the Executive out of office, if it chooses to do so. That is one way in which the Government, contributing through their decisions to the decisions in Europe, are accountable to the people. I stick to that.
§ Mr. Rowlands
§ Mr. Henderson
We have had a long debate, starting on 3 December. We have had an exhaustive discussion this afternoon. I do not accept the amendments.
§ Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon)
I should be delighted to give way to the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), something that the Minister failed to do. I think that we know why.
The Minister's response to the debate, like his negotiating performance at Amsterdam, has been extremely disappointing. He has failed to explain why, at Amsterdam, the Government made so many concessions, with so little in return. He has failed to deal with the excellent points raised by his hon. Friends about enlargement being used as an excuse for further QMV. He has failed to deal with the substantial points raised by many of my hon. Friends about the ratchet effect of QMV and co-decision. He has again used the bogus argument about voting arrangements on fraud.
528 Why does not the Minister accept that no one is talking about enforcement measures being drawn up by unanimity? We are talking about making the law itself on fraud by unanimity, and the enforcement measures by QMV in the ordinary course of events. We have made the point repeatedly.
The Minister's response has been woeful. He has failed to deal with the arguments. We are left with no alternative but to press the matter to a Division.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 135, Noes 284.531
|Division No. 129]||[6.13 pm|
|Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)||Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David|
|Amess, David||Horam, John|
|Ancram, Rt Hon Michael||Howard, Rt Hon Michael|
|Arbuthnot, James||Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Hunter, Andrew|
|Baldry, Tony||Jackson, Robert (Wantage)|
|Bercow, John||Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Body, Sir Richard||Key, Robert|
|Boswell, Tim||King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia||Laing, Mrs Eleanor|
|Brady, Graham||Lait, Mrs Jacqui|
|Brazier, Julian||Lansley, Andrew|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Letwin, Oliver|
|Browning, Mrs Angela||Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)|
|Burns, Simon||Lidington, David|
|Butterfill, John||Lilley, Rt Hon Peter|
|Cash, William||Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)|
|Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)||Loughton, Tim|
|Chope, Christopher||MacGregor, Rt Hon John|
|Clappison, James||McIntosh, Miss Anne|
|Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington)||MacKay, Andrew|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)||Maclean, Rt Hon David|
|Clifton—Brown, Geoffrey||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Collins, Tim||Madel, Sir David|
|Cran, James||Malins, Humfrey|
|Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)||Maples, John|
|Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen||Mates, Michael|
|Duncan, Alan||Maude, Rt Hon Francis|
|Duncan Smith, Iain||Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian|
|Evans, Nigel||May, Mrs Theresa|
|Faber, David||Moss, Malcolm|
|Fabricant, Michael||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Fallon, Michael||Norman, Archie|
|Flight, Howard||Ottaway, Richard|
|Forth, Rt Hon Eric||Page, Richard|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman||Paice, James|
|Fox, Dr Liam||Paterson, Owen|
|Fraser, Christopher||Pickles, Eric|
|Gale, Roger||Prior, David|
|Garnier, Edward||Randall, John|
|Gibb, Nick||Redwood, Rt Hon John|
|Gill, Christopher||Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)|
|Gillan, Mrs Cheryl||Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)|
|Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir Alastair||Ross, William (E Lond"y)|
|Gorman, Mrs Teresa||Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)|
|Gray, James||Ruffley, David|
|Green, Damian||St Aubyn, Nick|
|Greenway, John||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Grieve, Dominic||Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian|
|Gummer, Rt Hon John||Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)|
|Hague, Rt Hon William||Spicer, Sir Michael|
|Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie||Spring, Richard|
|Hammond, Philip||Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Hawkins, Nick||Streeter, Gary|
|Hayes, John||Swayne, Desmond|
|Heald, Oliver||Syms, Robert|
|Tapsell, Sir Peter||Whittingdale, John|
|Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangford)||Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann|
|Taylor, John M (Solihull)||Wilkinson, John|
|Taylor, Sir Teddy||Willetts, David|
|Thompson, William||Wilshire, David|
|Tredinnick David||Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)|
|Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)|
|Trend, Michael||Woodward, Shaun|
|Tyrie, Andrew||Young, Rt Hon Sir George|
|Walter, Robert||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Wardle, Charles||Mr. Stephen Day and|
|Wells, Bowen||Mr. Nigel Waterson.|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Corbyn, Jeremy|
|Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)||Corston, Ms Jean|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)||Cotter, Brian|
|Alexander, Douglas||Cousins, Jim|
|Allan, Richard||Cox, Tom|
|Allen, Graham||Crausby, David|
|Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)||Cryer, John (Hornchurch)|
|Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)||Cummings, John|
|Ashton, Joe||Dalyell, Tam|
|Atherton, Ms Candy||Darvill, Keith|
|Austin, John||Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)|
|Baker, Norman||Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)|
|Banks, Tony||Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)|
|Barnes, Harry||Denham, John|
|Bayley, Hugh||Dismore, Andrew|
|Beard, Nigel||Dobbin, Jim|
|Bell, Martin (Tatton)||Dowd, Jim|
|Bennett, Andrew F||Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)|
|Benton, Joe||Edwards, Huw|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Efford, Clive|
|Berry, Roger||Ennis, Jeff|
|Betts, Clive||Etherington, Bill|
|Blackman, Liz||Fisher, Mark|
|Blizzard, Bob||Fitzpatrick, Jim|
|Boateng, Paul||Fitzsimons, Lorna|
|Bradley, Keith (Withington)||Flint, Caroline|
|Bradshaw, Ben||Follett, Barbara|
|Brake, Tom||Foster, Rt Hon Derek|
|Brinton, Mrs Helen||Foster, Don (Bath)|
|Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)||Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)|
|Browne, Desmond||Foster, Michael J (Worcester)|
|Buck, Ms Karen||Galloway, George|
|Burden, Richard||Gapes, Mike|
|Burgon, Colin||George, Bruce (Walsall S)|
|Butler, Mrs Christine||Gerrard, Neil|
|Cable, Dr Vincent||Gibson, Dr Ian|
|Caborn, Richard||Gilroy, Mrs Linda|
|Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)||Goggins, Paul|
|Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)||Golding, Mrs Llin|
|Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)||Gordon, Mrs Eileen|
|Canavan, Dennis||Grant, Bernie|
|Cann, Jamie||Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)|
|Caplin, Ivor||Gunnell, John|
|Caton, Martin||Hain, Peter|
|Cawsey, Ian||Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)|
|Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)||Hall, Patrick (Bedford)|
|Chaytor, David||Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)|
|Chidgey, David||Hanson, David|
|Clapham, Michael||Harris, Dr Evan|
|Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)||Healey, John|
|Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)|
|Clark, Paul (Gillingham)||Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)||Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)|
|Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)||Heppell, John|
|Clelland, David||Hesford, Stephen|
|Clwyd, Ann||Hill, Keith|
|Coaker, Vermon||Hinchliffe, David|
|Coffey, Ms Ann||Hodge, Ms Margaret|
|Cohen, Harry||Hoon, Geoffrey|
|Coleman, Iain||Hope, Phil|
|Colman, Tony||Hopkins, Kelvin|
|Howarth, Alan (Newport E)||Murphy, Paul (Torfaen)|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N)||Naysmith, Dr Doug|
|Howells, Dr Kim||Oaten, Mark|
|Hoyle, Lindsay||O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)|
|Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)||O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)|
|Hurst, Alan||O'Hara, Eddie|
|Hutton, John||Olner, Bill|
|Iddon, Dr Brian||Öpik, Lembit|
|Illsley, Eric||Palmer, Dr Nick|
|Ingram, Adam||Pendry, Tom|
|Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)||Perham, Ms Linda|
|Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)||Pickthall, Colin|
|Jenkins, Brian||Pike, Peter L|
|Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)||Plaskitt, James|
|Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)||Pond, Chris|
|Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)||Powell, Sir Raymond|
|Jones, Helen (Warrington N)||Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)|
|Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)||Prosser, Gwyn|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)||Purchase, Ken|
|Jowell, Ms Tessa||Quinn, Lawrie|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Radice, Giles|
|Keeble, Ms Sally||Rammell, Bill|
|Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)||Rapson, Syd|
|Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)||Raynsford, Nick|
|Kelly, Ms Ruth||Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)|
|Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)||Roche, Mrs Barbara|
|Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)||Rooker, Jeff|
|Khabra, Piara S||Rowlands, Ted|
|Kilfoyle, Peter||Ruane, Chris|
|King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)||Ruddock, Ms Joan|
|Kumar, Dr Ashok||Russell, Bob (Colchester)|
|Ladyman, Dr Stephen||Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)|
|Lawrence, Ms Jackie||Salter, Martin|
|Laxton, Bob||Sawford, Phil|
|Lepper, David||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Leslie, Christopher||Sheerman, Barry|
|Levitt, Tom||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Liddell, Mrs Helen||Short, Rt Hon Clare|
|Linton, Martin||Skinner, Dennis|
|Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)||Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Lock, David||Smith, Angela (Basildon)|
|Love, Andrew||Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Smith, John (Glamorgan)|
|McCabe, Steve||Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)|
|McCafferty, Ms Chris||Soley, Clive|
|McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)||Southworth, Ms Helen|
|McFall, John||Spellar, John|
|McGrady, Eddie||Squire, Ms Rachel|
|McIsaac, Shona||Stinchcombe, Paul|
|McKenna, Mrs Rosemary||Stoate, Dr Howard|
|Mackinlay, Andrew||Stringer, Graham|
|McNulty, Tony||Stuart, Ms Gisela|
|MacShane, Denis||Stunell, Andrew|
|Mactaggart, Fiona||Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Mallaber, Judy||Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)|
|Marek, Dr John||Taylor, David (NW Leics)|
|Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)||Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)|
|Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)||Tipping, Paddy|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)||Todd, Mark|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Tonge, Dr Jenny|
|Marshall-Andrews, Robert||Touhig, Don|
|Martlew, Eric||Trickett, Jon|
|Meacher, Rt Hon Michael||Truswell, Paul|
|Meale, Alan||Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)|
|Michael, Alun||Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)|
|Milburn, Alan||Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)|
|Miller, Andrew||Tyler, Paul|
|Moffatt, Laura||Vaz, Keith|
|Moran, Ms Margaret||Vis, Dr Rudi|
|Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)||Wallace, James|
|Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie||Wareing, Robert N|
|Mudie, George||Watts, David|
|Mullin, Chris||Welsh, Andrew|
|Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)||Whitehead, Dr Alan|
|Wicks, Malcolm||Woolas, Phil|
|Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)||Worthington, Tony|
|Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)|
|Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)||Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)|
|Willis, Phil||Wyatt, Derek|
|Winnick, David||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)||Mr. David Jamieson and|
|Wood, Mike||Ms Bridget Prentice.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Mr. Streeter
I beg to move amendment No. 5, in page 1, line 13, after '9', insert`(except Article 2 paragraph 40)'.
The First Deputy Chairman
With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 6, in page 1, line 13, at end insert`(except Article 2 paragraph 41)'.
No. 24, in page 1, line 13, at end insert
`other than in Article 2, paragraph 5)'.
No. 52, in page 1, line 13, at end insert
`other than in Article 2, paragraph 39)'.
No. 53, in page 1, line 13, at end insert
`other than in Article 2, paragraph 40)'.
No. 54, in page 1, line 13, at end insert
'other than in Article 2, paragraph 41)'.
No. 55, in page 1, line 13, at end insert
'other than in Article 2, paragraph 42)'.
No. 56, in page 1, line 13, at end insert
`other than in Article 2, paragraph 43)'.
New clause 17—Preparations for enlargement of the European Union—
`.—Pursuant to the Protocol on the Institutions with the Prospect of Enlargement of the European Union annexed to the Treaty of Amsterdam, stipulating a conference of the Member States in order to carry out a comprehensive review of the provisions of the Treaties on the composition and functioning of the institutions, Her Majesty's Government shall—
§ Mr. Streeter
Of all the changes agreed by the Government in Amsterdam, those set out in article 2, paragraphs 40 and 41 carry the most long-term significance. That may be why the Government have sought to curtail debate on those paragraphs. Nowhere in the treaty is Labour's negotiating failure at Amsterdam more clear; nowhere in the treaty is the great new Labour give-away more apparent than in the reforms to the appointment of the President of the Commission and new Commissioners from member states.
Being composed of experts, the Committee will understand that, under the current arrangements, the President is appointed by common accord by member states after consulting the European Parliament, so the 532 power to appoint the President currently lies, quite properly, with member states. The Committee will be aware that, under Maastricht, the nomination must be unanimously agreed by the member states. That is an important power. We all recall one famous occasion when unanimity could not be reached because the Conservative Government were not afraid to stand alone in Europe to defend the national interest.
Under Maastricht, each member state has an unfettered right to put forward its own nominee to become a Commissioner, although there is a duty to consult the President of the Commission. That, however, is simply consultation. Member states are free to ignore the President's views if they choose, which means that they can, in practice, appoint whom they want. That has been the position since the treaty of Rome. Every time a Conservative Government renegotiated the European treaties, we successfully defended the arrangement, but new Labour failed at its first attempt.
All that will be changed: those important national powers were given away at Amsterdam. Under article 2, paragraphs 40 and 41, it is now proposed, first, that the European Parliament should have a veto over the agreed nominee for President of the Commission. In other words, the person whom all the member states want can be blocked by the European Parliament. That clearly takes away an important power from member states and gives it to the European Parliament. Secondly, it is proposed that the President should have a veto over the nominee for Commissioner of each member state. Thus, if the United Kingdom, France or any other member state wants a particular person as its Commissioner, the President of the Commission can say no.
I detect that Labour Members are beginning to feel uncomfortable at that news, perhaps in disbelief that their Government have agreed to such a proposal. I am saddened to tell them that it gets worse still. Article 2, paragraph 41, says:The Commission shall work under the political guidance of its President".The "political guidance of the President" is an apparently innocuous phrase in what many people say is an innocuous treaty, but like so much at Amsterdam, just a moment's reflection reveals the true picture.
First, does the Minister think that it is in our national interest that no President of the Commission can be appointed unless the European Parliament agrees? The European Parliament can veto before breakfast, lunch or dinner until it gets the person it wants, and we can be sure that it wants a person who is unreservedly committed to its interventionist agenda. Secondly, does the Minister think that it is in our national interest that member states can no longer choose their own Commissioner?
Now that the President is to have a veto, can he not effectively pick the other 19 Commissioners? On what criteria will selection by the President be based? What assurances are there in the treaty that the Commissioners who take office in 2000 will not all be drawn from one political party, from one point of view, or that all members will not share a common federalist view? None whatever.
What assurances did the Minister seek on those issues? If he sought none, why not? If he did, why did he get none? The President can use his veto again and again to ensure the right result for himself and for the Commission, 533 but possibly the wrong result for Britain. Once the President of the Commission is appointed, the Commissioners must all work under his political guidance.
Whichever way we look at the matter, it clearly amounts to a fundamental shift in the nature of the Commission. We are entitled to ask what possible justification there could be for agreeing those proposals. What justification is there for removing our right to decide who we want as our British Commissioner? Why has the independence of Commissioners been removed? What mischief are the proposals designed to correct? What was wrong with the present arrangements? The people of Britain require answers.
The proposals are a significant step towards an overtly political Commission. They concentrate unprecedented powers in one individual's hands. In that sense, it is after all a typical new Labour solution, but it is bad for Britain and for Europe. Why did the Minister agree the proposals? Taken together with the extensions in qualified majority voting and the substantial additional powers for the European Parliament that we have already debated, the Minister must admit that the treaty he signed represents a significant shift from the nation state to the central institutions of the EU. What did he bring back in return? Absolutely nothing.
I am afraid that there is even worse to come. Article 160, left unchanged by Amsterdam, provides:If any Member of the Commission no longer fulfils the conditions required for the performance of his duties…the Court of Justice may … compulsorily retire him.That is worthy of careful reflection. Clearly, article 2, paragraph 41 imposes a new condition on each Commissioner—to work under the political guidance of his President. If he, in the President's opinion, fails to toe the presidential line or shows too much independence of thought, or if he questions the President's political direction or disagrees with it, the Commission can apply to the European Court of Justice to remove him. If the Commissioner has failed to follow the President's political guidance, the court will have little option, under the treaty, but to remove him.
In practice, those matters would not come to court, because the President would simply use all those powers to force a Commissioner's resignation. The significance of that is that the President has now acquired the power to hire and fire. That is a radical new departure. He now has the ability to gather around him political placemen and placewomen to do his bidding. If I am wrong in my interpretation of the treaty or my logic, I invite the Minister to intervene now and tell me. He does not do so.
The whole balance of power in Europe has therefore shifted still further away from nation states and towards the centre—away from intergovernmental control and towards a political Commission, led by a political President. From experience, we can have little doubt that the direction set by such a body will be an increasingly centralised and inward-looking Europe. Just when Europe needs to become more flexible and outward-looking to survive in an increasingly competitive world, the Government have agreed to proposals that have the opposite effect.
This is a major change, but it has been tucked away in the small print. It was not even mentioned by the Prime Minister in his statement to the House on 12 June 1997.
534 The Minister has a duty to tell us when he replies to this debate why he agreed to those proposals and to confirm that he has fully considered the implications for Britain and found them to be in the national interest.
This group of amendments also raises the issue of flexibility. We welcome the inclusion of that concept in the treaty. Not for the first time, the whole of Europe agrees with a reform suggested by the Conservatives, often in the teeth of fierce opposition. We have always advocated the concept of a flexible Europe. Flexibility is essential if the European Union is to be enlarged successfully. A wider Europe makes the case for a flexible Europe more compelling. We cannot force a diverse, enlarged Europe of 25 member states into a rigid straitjacket of uniformity.
We believe that flexibility must be carefully introduced following certain key principles, the most important of which is that any arrangement that allows groups of fewer than 15 member states to use Community institutions must be agreed by all. Sadly, the Amsterdam treaty does not grasp the essential point that any future projects must be agreed by all member states.
Under the treaty, a group of member states can decide to go ahead with further integration in any area without the support of the full European Union. New article 5a provides that only those member states that want to take part in a new activity have any part in that decision. It is obvious that a new activity operated by just a few states could have significant implications for all member states, and should be sanctioned by all before it begins.
There is provision for a veto similar to the so-called Luxembourg and Ioannina compromises. Does the Minister accept that, for the first time, that provision appears in the text of the treaty and not as a Council declaration? We would have dealt with the matter as a declaration, to ensure that the Council of Ministers alone and acting unanimously had the power to interpret the use of the veto.
Having agreed to incorporate the form of words into the treaty for the first time, does the Minister not realise that he has opened the door to rulings from the European Court of Justice on the veto, and has given the court the power to overrule the use of that veto? I look forward to his response on that point.
§ Mr. Cash
Does my hon. Friend accept that, as the Commission said, the arrangements under the Maastricht treaty for allowing other member states to go ahead with proposals for economic and monetary union amounted to the best form of flexibility yet devised? Does he agree that we should reflect on that, and do something about it?
§ Mr. Streeter
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. The difference is that economic and monetary union is within the exclusive competence of the European Union, whereas these provisions allow some member states to go beyond that.
There are real concerns about the additional powers that are being given to the European Parliament and to the President of the Commission under paragraphs 40 and 41 of article 2. It is now clear beyond doubt that, in a number of vital areas, the Government failed the nation 535 at Amsterdam. I invite the Minister to answer all my questions, and to explain how on earth these changes could possibly be in the national interest.
§ Mr. Cash
The issue I just raised goes to the heart of the amendments on flexibility. I secured an Adjournment debate on this matter about 18 months ago, so, having put my arguments against flexibility on that occasion, I do not need to delay the Committee now.
My remarks are directed at the Government, as they have responsibility for the conduct of the treaty. What worries me is that flexibility—or variable geometry, as it is sometimes called—is a cop-out. The object of the exercise is to allow a legal framework to be created, so that institutional arrangements can be put in place for the Community as a whole as part of a legal instrument enforceable by the Court of Justice.
Within that, with what I often refer to as weasel words, we can go for an opt-out or an opt-in, the object of which is to allow the other member states to go ahead on the assumption that, sooner or later, through pressure or after the passage of time, and faced with the problem of whether we remain outside the institutional procedures that have been created, we would have to catch up and join in.
One point regarding the protocol and third stage of monetary union is not often appreciated. Although we had the right to opt out in the first place, under the protocol we have the right to opt in later on, as we have with other matters, such as immigration and visas.
A common legal area and a new process are being created. It is not, as the Minister said, a matter of international agreements. I am astonished at the Minister's ignorance: he could not possibly justify such a statement—which he made twice in his speech on the previous amendment.
A legal framework is being created: it has not been fully consummated yet. It is not merely partly on the way—it is substantially on the way: in many respects, it is already in place. The Minister knows that. Flexibility enables that process to continue, while pretending that the opt-out represents a reservation over the process. Theoretically, that is so, but in practice it is not a sustainable argument, and that is the problem.
During the debate on the confidence motion on the Maastricht treaty, I made the point to our previous Prime Minister that, sooner or later, under the process that includes flexibility as it is now interpreted, we will have to renegotiate the treaties, go along with everything contained in them or get out altogether. That is a serious but avoidable problem.
I agree with hon. Members who said in the previous debate that the process of flexibility is being allowed to go ahead, and no real restraint is being imposed on it. There are reservations and doubts, or so we are told, but in practice the whole thing is being allowed to go ahead.
I invite the Government to consider the enormity of the problem. This process of salami slicing is going on the entire time. However, we are moving beyond thin slices to enormous chunks of our sovereignty being taken away from us, or being pooled with those of other countries and 536 put into a legal framework, which will create impossible difficulties for us in the future. That is why I am so resistant to the concept of flexibility.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) on institutional changes. It is an outrage that the Commission will be given these powers, and that the President will, in effect, have the role of a political commissar, which is what it boils down to, because he will be accountable to no one. That is the worst concession made during the negotiations, because it is the ultimate concession. The process is undemocratic.
Furthermore, under the common foreign and security policy, the high representative—I think that the deputy Secretary-General will be given that role—will be able to conduct foreign policy on the basis of so-called co-operation and on his own initiative. We should reflect on what happened in Bosnia, because that was a total and unmitigated disaster.
In fact, the arrangement does not work. As I recall, Lord Owen—who was in the area for a long period, and was at the rock face when everything was going on—witnessed the absurdity of the attempts to enable the European Union to co-ordinate foreign policy through a high representative. As I have said, the whole business was an unmitigated disaster. The Americans and NATO had to come in to save the day.
As I said earlier, my accusation is that the amendments represent a complete cop-out. We are kidding ourselves if we think for one minute that the arrangements in the amendments, and in the treaty, can possibly be justified. They are thoroughly undemocratic. They will not work. They will bring the whole European Union into a state of chaos within years. Otherwise, as is intended—the Minister knows this perfectly well—we shall end up with what I described earlier: the eventual creation of a country called Europe, for which these provisions are ultimately designed.
§ Mr. David Heath
I wish to speak to new clause 17, which I tabled along with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell). First, however, let me say something about the amendments tabled with it.
I listened carefully—as I always do—to the case made by the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter), who spoke to his amendments Nos. 5 and 6. I still believe that he sees the Commissioners as delegates from national Governments. I prefer to see them as functionaries of the Council and the European Union—as, in effect, civil servants, working within the confines of settled policy and settled decisions; instigating policy, of course, but instigating policy for decisions by elected Members.
I find it extraordinary that the view can be taken that a Commissioner can be mad, bad, incompetent or worse, and still cannot be removed on the recommendation of the President of the Commission, if the member state that sent the Commissioner there happens to believe that that person is acting in the interests of one nation. That, surely, is an abuse of the democratic process, rather than an underlining of its strength.
I also listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman's explanation of his support for moves towards greater flexibility—the so-called variable geometry, a concept that the Conservative party rightly instigated and followed 537 through. The hon. Gentleman seemed to be trying to find reasons why he could not accept and, indeed, applaud a recommendation promoted by a previous British Government—a previous Conservative Government—which was now finding its way into a treaty obligation. His arguments struck me as spurious rather than founded in common sense.
As the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) said, the amendments deal with the high representative—who is the Secretary-General of the Council, was appointed following a unanimous decision of the Council, and can act only within the compass of policies decided unanimously by the Council. In the amendments to which he did not speak, the hon. Gentleman argues against moves that increase the transparency of the Council. Our only criticism is that such moves do not go far enough: they are going in the right direction. I am not persuaded by those arguments, and would not support them if they were pressed to a vote.
New clause 17 addresses one of the key omissions from the Amsterdam process and the treaty. The process did not address the institutional changes that are required for enlargement; it skirted around the problem, rather than meeting it head on. The wording of the treaty almost constitutes an admission of failure. We know that the protocol is there, and it must be returned to in a conference of member states. The new clause seeks to ensure that the British Government are clear about their intentions in regard to such negotiations.
Of course, we do not intend to bind British Ministers in advance of negotiation. That would be foolish. We note, however, that the last Government were able to indicate the main heads of negotiation that they would pursue at the intergovernmental conference. We believe that it would be common sense and good practice for the new Government to take the same view. The special conference will have to tackle four key questions, some of which were mentioned earlier in the debate.
When the first wave of enlargement takes place, the big member states will lose their second Commissioners: that is inevitable. How will the process be managed, and what will be the compensatory mechanism to ensure that those states retain influence in decision making? Let us look further ahead, to even more enlargement of the Union. What will happen to the Commission then? What will happen if, at some stage in the future, we have a European Union with 25 members? Will each have an individual Commissioner, and what jobs will those Commissioners do?
The structure will become unwieldy and top-heavy. It is clearly sensible to establish some form of agreement at this stage about how such a development may take place, so that we do not have to keep coming back to conferences on institutional change. How will the votes in Council be re-weighted to reflect the new balance of members and the loss of the second Commissioners? We have heard indications from the Government that they have discussed that, but there has been no firm resolution in regard to the direction in which they are moving.
The European Parliament currently has 626 Members and a cap of 700. If all the applicant countries gain admission to the European Union, who will lose seats—proportionally, in terms of the population—to maintain 538 the cap at 700? That question has not yet been dealt with, but there is clearly a de minimis requirement for some of the smaller states, if they are represented at all, to be over-represented in the European Parliament, just as some smaller communities are over-represented in the House of Commons in order to be represented in any meaningful way. We must find a mechanism for divesting some of the larger states of some of their European Parliament membership. That is not an easy process: it is not one in which we can engage without careful thought about the consequences.
New clause 17 provides a mechanism enabling the British Government to make plain their negotiating objectives and their view on these important issues. It also provides an incentive to ensure that the new member conference will take place at an early stage, and with a sensible agenda that the British Government will effect through their presidency over the next six months. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure me that the issues are being considered carefully, that there is an agenda that he can share with the House and that he will, in due course, make the British Government's position plain.
§ Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset)
I should like to restrict myself to what I believe the Minister will refer to as a narrow discussion of what he will probably call a narrow point. The Minister's view is, presumably, that a murderer armed with a stiletto is engaged merely in a narrow action of piercing the heart.
I shall restrict myself to amendment No. 6, which deals with article 2, paragraph 41, which in turn relates to what used to be called article 163 and is now article 219, which my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) has not only alluded to, but admirably exposed. I should like to take his discussion a little further.
A new Member of the House often feels impatient when others are called ahead of him. When you, Mr. Lord, called the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), I felt impatient, but your wisdom was demonstrated because from the hon. Gentleman's speech I learnt the necessity of making my own.
§ Mr. MacShane
Come to the point.
§ Mr. Letwin
I am coming very much to the point.
The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome made the Committee believe that he preferred to see the Commission as functionaries. The Commission, which is dealt with in article 219, is described in article 211, which has existed since the treaty of Rome, and is given four functions, the third of which is that it should have its own power of decision. There has never been a body of civil servants on the face of the earth who have been given their own power of decision; nor have they been asked to deliver opinions or initiate legislation. The Commission has not been, was not conceived as and is not intended to be a mere civil service. On the contrary, it is one of the fundamental pillars of the European Union; its nature and how it conducts its affairs are critical to the development of the European Community and the European Union as a whole. [Interruption.] I am surprised that Labour Members are reacting to that as if it were a controversial statement; I am quoting almost verbatim from Monet, who made that point very clearly in his original propositions.
539 The amendment deals with the article in which the treaty gives the President the right to guide politically the actions of the Commission. What does that mean? I took the trouble to investigate the texts in the other languages, to check whether the English was giving us a false impression, and I found that it does a little. The other languages make it clear that "policy leadership"—the most accurate translation of the German—or "policy orientation"—the most accurate translation of the French—is being given.
The article introduced by the treaty is saying that the President of the Commission is to give directions about the policy to be undertaken by the Commissioners. To return to the observations of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, it is odd for a group of people who are, in his view, extensively civil servants, to have a policy orientation or to be driven in a particular policy direction. What is the article building up to? What is the intention of giving the President policy direction over the Commission?
In order to understand that question, we must refer not to Monet or Schumann, but to Spinelli, who spent much time thinking seriously about this issue. Were the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Radice) present, his long disquisitions on the views of Spinelli would drive him to the same conclusions as I have reached. In 1972, Spinelli said thatthe Commission, the central driving force of the Community"—not, as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome said, a civil servant—has been unable to play its full partbecause ofthe absence of a political image".Spinelli continued:successive Commissioners have only at rare moments been able to pursue a line of action resulting from a political choice".It seems clear that the article is intended to remedy what Mr. Spinelli saw as that defect and to allow the Commission, not on rare occasions, but continuously, to pursue a line of action resulting from a political choice—in particular, the political choice of the President of the Commission.
Why should those framing the treaty desire to give the President the ability to drive forward the Commission and to make political choices on a continuous basis? Spinelli tells us; it is interesting that in 1972 he foresaw the article—that suggests that it did not arise by accident. Spinelli tells us that if that objective were to be achieved, thePresident could devote himself entirely to the direction of the college, to political contacts, and to prospective political developments.He also said that that was necessary
if the Commission is to take an effective part in the formation of a political Europe.That is what underlies the article. The intention is to give the President of the Commission the ability to make the Commission a driving force towards the formation of a political Europe. I cannot see what that could conceivably mean, other than that the Commission is to be used by a President to drive towards the creation of a 540 nation state, a state that governs the politics of Europe. It is extremely difficult to put any other construction on the article, or its intentions.
We must take this a step further. It must be that if a President is chosen in the manner suggested in article 2, paragraph 40, to which my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon referred in the early part of his speech, that method of selection will be thought inadequate by the peoples of Europe once it becomes clear that the President is acting as a driving force, through the Commission, towards political ends. It is too undemocratic for the President to be selected merely by the member states.
What is the end of the process? We do not have to refer to Spinelli or the Government for an answer, as we have a higher authority. Mr. Delors made the agenda quite clear. The President having been given the power, the agenda is to speak of the democratic deficit and then to assert that it is necessary to elect the President directly. We have a clear stepping stone, a sort of scala mobile. As we move up the staircase, we shall discover ourselves being remorselessly drawn by the logic towards the direct election of a President in a way that exactly mirrors the position of the President of the United States, who gives political guidance to a Cabinet which he chooses and which he can cashier in order to further the interests of a nation state. That is where the article is taking us.
I do not think that this is an apocalyptic vision: it is based on the theories and doctrines exposed by the leading proponents of the European Union on the continent of Europe. If we in the House accept this part of the treaty, we are signing up to that process. I fear; I prophesy; I am wholly confident that some years from now when these things have happened, we in the House will be told that we accepted the logic because we accepted the article.
Assuming my Front-Bench team asks me to do so, I shall go into the Lobby tonight with more fervour than at any time since I entered the House and, possibly, with more fervour than at any time in the future.
§ Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings)
I am delighted to follow my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin). He spoke of the necessity of speaking after hearing the contribution of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath); given the alacrity of my hon. Friend's remarks, I follow him with some trepidation.
I wish to draw particular attention to the nature of the institutions with which the group of amendments deals. Those institutions lack democratic and political legitimacy. How do we test this assertion? First, do they enjoy popular support? Secondly, are they structures that deliver political accountability? Thirdly, are they rooted in coherent political traditions?
Democratic support for institutions must be founded, first, on a degree of comprehension and on some suggestion of empathy. To take a parochial example, parishes, local authorities and even this Parliament itself depend for their democratic legitimacy not only on an understanding of what they do, but also on a feeling of empathy with and sympathy for them as bodies. I suggest that the European institutions fail this test comprehen-sively; people neither understand nor care what they do. The problem was referred to earlier with particular respect to the turnout in European elections, but any measurement—polls, surveys or any other test of public opinion—suggests that my assertion is close to the truth.
541 Secondly, I suggest that the European institutions are unaccountable because of a mismatch between the exercise of political power and the expression of popular will. There is no better example of this than the Commission. It typifies the paradox because it is not an organisation of functionaries, as suggested by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, but it is an organisation that takes political decisions entirely detached from the exercise of popular will.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset suggested that some democratic legitimacy might be considered to be offered to the Commission in terms of its relationship with and communications with the President. As my hon. Friend so accurately pointed out, however, the President himself currently lacks democratic legitimacy. My hon. Friend suggested that to give the President that necessary legitimacy—Labour Members might believe that my hon. Friend is being fanciful, but I believe that he is being pertinent—there will ultimately be a call for him to be directly elected. The European institutions, therefore, also fail the test of accountability.
The third test of legitimacy is that the European institutions must have some connection with the history of the nations that they represent. There must be a sense of evolutionary, democratic political development. The European institutions have no such connection to history; they are not part of an unbroken tradition. They are the creations of a blueprint; a dream; a big idea. They are not born of the pragmatism that the Minister recommended when he talked about the need for a flexible, forward-looking and imaginative view of international affairs—far from it.
The problem with the institutions is well illustrated by new clause 17, a point to which the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome drew attention. Paradoxically, the very flexibility and pragmatism that are necessary for enlargement run entirely contrary to the rigidity of institutions that jealously guard their existing power and vie for more power among themselves. This rigidity in Europe will make the imaginative, pragmatic view that the Minister recommended and to which the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome also referred impossible.
I assert that this treaty goes no way towards dealing with these fundamental problems. One could say that the problems are inherent in the European institutions, but one would have hoped that the treaty would at least have taken steps towards addressing the issues. The treaty fails by that measure, too.
Against that background, we heard the Minister comparing the European Union to an international treaty organisation. We must remember that the EU is a lawful political structure, which sees itself as being constitutionally valid and, in its most extreme form, as a sovereign political superstructure. How then can we compare the EU to the International Monetary Fund, to NATO or to any other international treaty organisation entered into freely by sovereign, independent nations? It is a farcical comparison, which is not worthy of a Minister. In fact, the comparison displays either a remarkable lack of understanding of the subject or an attempt to mislead not the Committee, because the 542 Committee is far too wise to be misled in such a way, but the British people. For all those reasons, I support the amendments.
§ Mr. Swayne
I shall be extremely brief because I have only one point to make. I wish to draw the Committee's attention to the way in which all the different elements in the treaty are of a piece. When we discussed the previous group of amendments, we saw how the right of co-decision given to an assembly makes it a Parliament. To be a real Parliament, a people must be found for that Parliament to represent.
In this group of amendments, we see exactly the same process in train. Powers are given to the President which, for the first time, make him politically responsible for the operation of his Commissioners—in effect, his Cabinet. By giving him political direction over them, we shall make him a President in the sense in which we ordinarily understand the word. The search must, therefore, be on for a state or country for him to be President of. That is the process by which all the different elements of this super-state are gradually falling into place.
§ Mr. Doug Henderson
I shall deal first with new clause 17. I have some sympathy with the views expressed, but I cannot accept the new clause because the requirements laid down in it would be too rigid and would not permit the British Government of the day sufficient scope for negotiating in any institutional matters that were before the European Union. On such matters, it is essential not only to know where one is going, but to know that there are a number of different avenues that could be followed to get there. It would be a little counter-productive to say too much about that in advance. In addition, unless there was already a relevant legislative provision, anything agreed under the scope of the new clause would require legislation, either primary or secondary, depending on the nature of the business.
As a general principle, we want to see an extension of scrutiny, and we have made our position clear on that. I made it clear when I appeared before the Select Committee on European Legislation that in principle it would be helpful to see further scrutiny of legislation under both the second and third pillars. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will shortly make an announcement on a wider range of issues. I hope that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) will accept my assurances on that point.
The other issues raised in the debate include the question of flexibility. The flexibility provisions were widely debated, as the Opposition will realise from their time in government, and the matter was discussed over many months in the IGC negotiations. I was personally involved in dealing with those aspects before the Amsterdam meeting, and they were again dealt with at Amsterdam. All along, the principle that I adopted in negotiation—I hope that the Opposition accept this principle as essential—was that flexibility might be required in some instances, but that it should not be used as an excuse for breaking up the single market. The integrity of the single market and moving forward in the single market are extremely important for a trading nation such as Britain. It is very much in our interests that that should be the case, and we do not want flexibility to undermine that.
543 We would also not want flexibility to be used as a method of making the circumstances that pertained in countries that wished to accede to the European Union different from the circumstances that pertained in countries that were existing members. If it is necessary for there to be a period of transition, the transitional arrangements should be quite separate from any general flexibility provisions and should be dealt with as part of the negotiations for the accession of those countries.
I do not believe that flexibility should be used widely. In the original IGC talks, there was a long list of circumstances in which flexibility could not be used, and it was subsequently agreed to outline in principle the circumstances in which it could be used. Those uses are limited, and I do not think that flexibility will be used greatly in the near future.
I should remind the Committee of the safeguards built in by the Government in the IGC negotiations. I do not know, but I presume that the previous Government might have wanted to win some of the same safeguards.
The first safeguard is that any flexibility must involve a majority of member states. Secondly, it can be used only as a last resort measure. Thirdly, non-participants' interests are fully protected. Fourthly, flexibility must be open to all who subsequently wish to join. Fifthly, flexible actions will be transparent. Sixthly, non-participants in a flexible action may attend and take part in discussions. Seventhly, flexibility must not distort competition or restrict trade, discriminate between nationals of member states or affect existing Community policies.
Eighthly, and critically, although flexibility proposals can be agreed by majority voting, the Government ensured in the Amsterdam negotiations that the clauses will be subject to the emergency brake—the veto mechanism—that allows any member state that opposes a specific flexibility proposal to veto it by bringing it back to the Council.
Those safeguards deal with tightly defined circumstances, and they therefore have my full support as part of the treaty package. I hope that the Committee will accept that and reject the amendments that would undermine those safeguards.
§ Mr. Cash
Does the Minister accept that although the consequences of the concept of flexibility will be to allow the process to move forward as a legal framework, by accepting those who do not wish to join with the others on certain functions, the net result of the process will be to advance the integration process, which—as with economic and monetary union, as the European Commission has stated—has always been the intention?
§ Mr. Henderson
I should hope that everything in the treaty is movement forwards—from Europe's previous political and economic circumstances, to anticipating the circumstances that we may face in the future. Flexibility will undoubtedly be part of integration in some circumstances. The single market is part of the concept of integration, and it is very much in the United Kingdom's interests, which is why the Government support it.
§ Mr. Streeter
Before the Minister leaves the issue of flexibility, will he confirm that the point I made about the 544 European Court of Justice having the final say in interpreting whether a member state has validly exercised the emergency brake or veto procedure is correct?
§ Mr. Henderson
The European Court of Justice will have authority to intervene, should it be asked to do so, to ensure that the rules on the flexibility clause have been properly applied. That will be its remit, and it is a very sensible involvement of the court. If the Union does not follow those rules for some reason and if the safeguards have not been guaranteed, the court will be able to judge the matter.
The second issue dealt with by this group of amendments is the structure of the office of the President and of the Commissioners. It has been said, especially by Conservative Back Benchers, that this is the thin end of a wedge, which will lead to the direct election of the President, who will be the executive and President of the European Union state, under whom the Commissioners will act as his Cabinet. Those concerns reflect an unreal world.
Opposition Front Benchers, who were in government, will know how the European Union works, will be aware of the Commission's role in relation to the Council of Ministers and will realise the resolve of nations other than the United Kingdom to ensure that sovereignty is retained except when we agree to pool it, to influence decisions. They will know also that, on crucial decisions, unanimity is required, and that the Commission cannot force through any proposal regardless of the views of the Council or a nation that is a Council member.
The changes are very much in Britain's interests. They are about the nations of the European Union agreeing on who will be the President, and about the European Parliament also giving its approval. Those requirements can be justified on the ground of democracy. Nevertheless, I am a practical person, and I cannot foresee a situation in which the European Parliament would reject someone as President if the Council had agreed on who he or she should be. It is not a realistic scenario.
The European Parliament will, of course, want to express its view on who is President. However, as Members of the European Parliament come from the same countries and political parties as Council members, I do not think that their views will be very much out of line with the majority Council view. The fear is therefore unrealistic.
Currently, states nominate a Commissioner, who then takes his or her post. Although it has not happened in the eight or nine months that the Government have been involved in the process, and although it does not happen with British Commissioners—who have been very co-operative and helpful, backed the President and seriously undertaken their responsibilities to the Commission and to the Union—some Commissioners do not always take the Commission or European Union view and grind their own axe. Some Commissioners have a view of their own and go off on their own track, regardless of what might be the Commission or the Council policy.
The changes are intended to minimise those risks, so that those who are appointed as Commissioners will work with the President in undertaking the Commission's 545 responsibilities. The clause will do nothing more than that. It is necessary to modernise and to give the Commission greater impact and effectiveness.
§ Mr. Hayes
I should like to draw out from the Minister the implications of his comments. He said that some Commissioners grind their own axe, by which he presumably meant that they stand up for their own national interests. Therefore, is he not really saying that the changes minimise opportunities to defend national interests within the institutions and deliver a more communautaire perspective of Europe, which will lead to the type of contradiction that I tried to describe in my earlier comments?
§ Mr. Henderson
The hon. Gentleman has returned to political theorising, because he has not described how the Commission works. When Commissioners express idiosyncratic views, the views tend to deal more with party politics than with nation states. The changes are to combat a Commissioner pursuing his or her own track, rather than following the consensus agreed after all the arguments. The changes will not guarantee that that will happen, but they will encourage the Commission to work as a body and give it greater unity and effectiveness.
I recommend that the Committee should reject this group of amendments.
§ Mr. Streeter
I am grateful to the Minister for responding to the debate. I am sure that he read the Amsterdam treaty before he signed it—I certainly do not suggest that he did not—and that he understood the words in it. As I listen to his responses to our debates, however, I increasingly believe that he has not thought through the long-term implications of what he has signed. While the Government are undertaking constitutional reform on domestic issues without considering the long-term implications of unstitching our Union, the Minister has agreed matters at Amsterdam without considering their long-term implications.
The Opposition understand that, ultimately, it is for member states to decide by unanimity the big issues in Europe, but we would be blind if we did not realise that the Commission drives the European Union forward and sets the agenda. The Commission is very much more than the civil service described by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath)—who will be delighted not to have to correct my pronunciation of his constituency.
I should like to make two points, because the Minister's reply to the debate was again unsatisfactory. If, as he says, the European parliamentary veto over the appointment of a President could never be used—he said that it was inconceivable that the Parliament would set aside the unanimous view of member states—why on earth was it written into the treaty? Why are the words in the treaty if they will never be used? Of course they could be used and there are no safeguards against their being used promiscuously.
546 Secondly, it is an alarming development that the President of the Commission can gather around himself political placemen and placewomen to set off on a frolic of their own. The Minister has failed to give me the assurances that I was seeking.
§ Mr. Doug Henderson
The hon. Gentleman should understand that before the President can agree to a Commissioner, that Commissioner has to be nominated by a nation state.
§ Mr. Streeter
I am grateful to the Minister for making that point, but it does not address the point that a nation state can nominate a Commissioner, but the President can reject him. The President has an unlimited veto.
I appreciate that we are now coming up against the limit imposed on us by the cruel guillotine that is clearly stifling debate on an important group of amendments. We do not find the Minister's answers satisfactory. We believe that he has not thought through the long-term implications of what he has signed, and we intend to press the amendment to a Division.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 132, Noes 260.549
|Division No. 130]||[7.30 pm|
|Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)||Gibb, Nick|
|Amess, David||Gill, Christopher|
|Ancram, Rt Hon Michael||Gillan, Mrs Cheryl|
|Arbuthnot, James||Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir Alastair|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Gorman, Mrs Teresa|
|Baldry, Tony||Gray, James|
|Bercow, John||Green, Damian|
|Blunt, Crispin||Greenway, John|
|Body, Sir Richard||Grieve, Dominic|
|Boswell, Tim||Hague, Rt Hon William|
|Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)||Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia||Hammond, Philip|
|Brady, Graham||Hawkins, Nick|
|Brazier, Julian||Hayes, John|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Heald, Oliver|
|Browning, Mrs Angela||Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David|
|Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)||Horam, John|
|Burns, Simon||Howard, Rt Hon Michael|
|Butterfill, John||Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)|
|Cash, William||Hunter, Andrew|
|Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)||Jackson, Robert (Wantage)|
|Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Clappison, James||Key, Robert|
|Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington)||King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)||Kirkbride, Miss Julie|
|Clifton—Brown, Geoffrey||Laing, Mrs Eleanor|
|Collins, Tim||Lait, Mrs Jacqui|
|Cran, James||Lansley, Andrew|
|Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)||Leigh, Edward|
|Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen||Letwin, Oliver|
|Duncan, Alan||Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)|
|Duncan Smith, Iain||Lidington, David|
|Evans, Nigel||Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)|
|Faber, David||Loughton, Tim|
|Fabricant, Michael||Luff, Peter|
|Fallon, Michael||MacGregor, Rt Hon John|
|Forth, Rt Hon Eric||McIntosh, Miss Anne|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman||MacKay, Andrew|
|Fox, Dr Liam||Maclean, Rt Hon David|
|Fraser, Christopher||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Gale, Roger||Madel, Sir David|
|Garnier, Edward||Malins, Humfrey|
|Maples, John||Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian||Streeter, Gary|
|May, Mrs Theresa||Swayne, Desmond|
|Moss, Malcolm||Syms, Robert|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Norman, Archie||Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangford)|
|Ottaway, Richard||Taylor, Jonn M (Solihull)|
|Page, Richard||Tredinnick, David|
|Paice, James||Trend, Michael|
|Paterson, Owen||Tyrie, Andrew|
|Pickles, Eric||Viggers, Peter|
|Prior, David||Walter, Robert|
|Randall, John||Wardle, Charles|
|Redwood, Rt Hon John||Wells, Bowen|
|Robertson, Laurence (Twk"b'ry)||Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann|
|Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)||Wilkinson, John|
|Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)||Wilshire, David|
|Ruffley, David||Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)|
|St Aubyn, Nick||Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)|
|Sayeed, Jonathan||Woodward, Shaun|
|Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian||Young, Rt Hon Sir George|
|Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Spicer, Sir Michael||Mr. Stephen Day and|
|Spring, Richard||Mr. Nigel Waterson.|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Cohen, Harry|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov"try NE)||Coleman, Iain|
|Allan, Richard||Colman, Tony|
|Allen, Graham||Corbyn, Jeremy|
|Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)||Corston, Ms Jean|
|Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)||Cotter, Brian|
|Ashton, Joe||Cousins, Jim|
|Atherton, Ms Candy||Cox, Tom|
|Austin, John||Crausby, David|
|Baker, Norman||Cryer, John (Hornchurch)|
|Banks, Tony||Dalyell, Tam|
|Barnes, Harry||Darvill, Keith|
|Bayley, Hugh||Davey, Edward (Kingston)|
|Beard, Nigel||Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)|
|Bell, Martin (Tatton)||Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)|
|Bennett, Andrew F||Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)|
|Benton, Joe||Dismore, Andrew|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Dowd, Jim|
|Berry, Roger||Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)|
|Betts, Clive||Edwards, Huw|
|Blackman, Liz||Efford, Clive|
|Blizzard, Bob||Etherington, Bill|
|Bradley, Keith (Withington)||Ewing, Mrs Margaret|
|Bradshaw, Ben||Fisher, Mark|
|Brake, Tom||Fitzpatrick, Jim|
|Brinton, Mrs Helen||Follett, Barbara|
|Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)||Foster, Don (Bath)|
|Browne, Desmond||Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)|
|Buck, Ms Karen||Foster, Michael J (Worcester)|
|Burden, Richard||Galloway, George|
|Butler, Mrs Christine||Gapes, Mike|
|Caborn, Richard||George, Bruce (Walsall S)|
|Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)||Gerrard, Neil|
|Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)||Gibson, Dr Ian|
|Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)||Golding, Mrs Llin|
|Cann, Jamie||Gordon, Mrs Eileen|
|Caplin, Ivor||Grant, Bernie|
|Caton, Martin||Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)|
|Chaytor, David||Gunnell, John|
|Chidgey, David||Hall, Patrick (Bedford)|
|Clapham, Michael||Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)|
|Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)||Hanson, David|
|Harris, Dr Evan|
|Clark, Paul (Gillingham)||Harvey, Nick|
|Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)||Healey, John|
|Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)||Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)|
|Coaker, Vermon||Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)|
|Coffey, Ms Ann||Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)|
|Heppell, John||Naysmith, Dr Doug|
|Hill, Keith||Oaten, Mark|
|Hinchliffe, David||O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)|
|Hodge, Ms Margaret||O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)|
|Hoon, Geoffrey||O'Hara, Eddie|
|Hope, Phil||Olner, Bill|
|Hopkins, Kelvin||O'Neill, Martin|
|Howarth, Alan (Newport E)||Öpik, Lembit|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N)||Palmer, Dr Nick|
|Hoyle, Lindsay||Pendry, Tom|
|Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)||Perham, Ms Linda|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)||Pickthall, Colin|
|Hurst, Alan||Pike, Peter L|
|Hutton, John||Plaskitt, James|
|Iddon, Dr Brian||Pond, Chris|
|Ingram, Adam||Pope, Greg|
|Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)||Powell, Sir Raymond|
|Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)||Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)|
|Jenkins, Brian||Prescott, Rt Hon John|
|Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)||Primarolo, Dawn|
|Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)||Prosser, Gwyn|
|Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)||Quinn, Lawrie|
|Jones, Helen (Warrington N)||Radice, Giles|
|Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)||Rapson, Syd|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)||Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)|
|Jowell, Ms Tessa||Reid, Dr John (Hamilton N)|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Rendel, David|
|Keeble, Ms Sally||Roche, Mrs Barbara|
|Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)||Rooker, Jeff|
|Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)||Rowlands, Ted|
|Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)||Ruane, Chris|
|Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)||Ruddock, Ms Joan|
|Khabra, Piara S||Russell, Bob (Colchester)|
|Kilfoyle, Peter||Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)|
|King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)||Salter, Martin|
|Ladyman, Dr Stephen||Sawford, Phil|
|Laxton, Bob||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Lepper, David||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Leslie, Christopher||Shipley, Ms Debra|
|Levitt, Tom||Short, Rt Hon Clare|
|Liddell, Mrs Helen||Skinner, Dennis|
|Linton, Martin||Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)||Smith, Angela (Basildon)|
|Lock, David||Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)|
|Love, Andrew||Smith, John (Glamorgan)|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)|
|McCabe, Steve||Soley, Clive|
|McCafferty, Ms Chris||Southworth, Ms Helen|
|McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)||Spellar, John|
|McDonnell, John||Squire, Ms Rachel|
|McFall, John||Stinchcombe, Paul|
|McIsaac, Shona||Stoate, Dr Howard|
|Mackinlay, Andrew||Stringer, Graham|
|McNulty, Tony||Stuart, Ms Gisela|
|MacShane, Denis||Stunell, Andrew|
|Mactaggart, Fiona||Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)|
|McWilliam, John||Taylor, David (NW Leics)|
|Mallaber, Judy||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Marek, Dr John||Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)|
|Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)||Tipping, Paddy|
|Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)||Todd, Mark|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)||Tonge, Dr Jenny|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Touhig, Don|
|Marshall-Andrews, Robert||Trickett, Jon|
|Meacher, Rt Hon Michael||Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)|
|Meale, Alan||Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)|
|Michael, Alun||Tyler, Paul|
|Milburn, Alan||Vaz, Keith|
|Miller, Andrew||Vis, Dr Rudi|
|Moffatt, Laura||Wallace, James|
|Moran, Ms Margaret||Ward, Ms Claire|
|Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)||Wareing, Robert N|
|Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie||Watts, David|
|Mudie, George||Welsh, Andrew|
|Mullin, Chris||Whitehead, Dr Alan|
|Wicks, Malcolm||Wood, Mike|
|Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)||Woolas, Phil|
|Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)||Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)|
|Willis, Phil||Wnght, Dr Tony (Cannock)|
|Willis, Phil||Wyatt, Derek|
|Wilson, Brian||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Winnick, David||Mr. David Jamieson and|
|Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)||Ms Bridget Prentice.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Mr. Cash
I beg to move amendment No. 58, in page 1, line 13, at end insert 'except Article 2(3)(b)'.
§ The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael Lord)
With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 28, in page 1, line 13, at end insert`other than in Article 2, paragraph 9.)'.
No. 29, in page 1, line 13, at end insert
`other than in Article 2, paragraph 10)'.
No. 33, in page 1, line 13, at end insert
`other than in Article 2, paragraph 15)'.
New clause 1—United Kingdom accession to Schengen Acquis—
.—No notification shall be given to the Council of the European Communities of a request from the United Kingdom to take part in some or all of the provisions of the Schengen acquis under Article 4 of the Protocol integrating the Schengen acquis into the framework of the European Union unless Her Majesty's Government has laid before Parliament a draft of the request, together with a statement affirming that its request extends to Gibraltar and will not be pursued unless accepted by the Council without qualification.'.
New clause 28—Border controls: implications for Gibraltar—
.—The opt-in to border controls pursuant to Protocol 4 to the Treaty of Amsterdam shall be exercisable by Her Majesty's Government only when each House of Parliament has come to a Resolution on a motion tabled by a Minister of the Crown considering the implications of the voting arrangements for such opt-in for the people of Gibraltar.'.
§ Mr. Cash
Thank you for calling my amendment, Mr. Lord. I also thank Madam Speaker and the Chairman of Ways and Means for selecting the amendments in my name.
I have grave reservations about the provisions to which my amendments refer. The Minister woefully failed to address flexibility in detail in the previous debate. It is at the heart of this group. We are on a slippery slope. The Government's negotiated opt-out on border controls and Schengen is another example of allowing the other member states to go ahead with the process and then claiming that we have secured a tremendous advantage.
I accept the distinction between the opt-out for monetary union, which is an on-going process of integration that continues to cause extreme embarrassment and difficulty and should have been vetoed at Maastricht, and this opt-out. There is a physical difference between us and the rest of Europe on border controls. Leaving aside the channel tunnel, I accept, as do the Irish Government, that being an island puts us in a different situation from the other member states. In that respect, the border controls opt-out is better than that for economic 550 and monetary union. However, the arrangements presuppose that we will be able to opt in later. Although that would be subject to unanimity, it is still a serious failure by the Government. They are clearly keeping open the possibility of opting in. Given their European philosophy, I believe that they intend to do so in due course.
The Government have displayed considerable subtlety and, if I may say, some deceit in their approach to the issues. They know that the issue of border controls is contentious, as is immigration and asylum. They know that conceding the idea of the removal of border controls in the treaty would have been trespassing on dangerous territory. The negotiations that were being conducted by the previous Government with a view to ensuring that we would have an opt-out were well intentioned, although, for the reasons that I have already given, I believe that we should have shown more deliberate intention and action. I like to believe that a Conservative Government would have vetoed the Amsterdam treaty, including the provisions that we are discussing. I have heard it said that that was our intention. I sincerely hope that it was. I was also glad to note that we once mooted a referendum on the treaty. That idea has now been disposed of, as far as I can tell. There is not much enthusiasm for the new clause proposing a referendum.
§ Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)
In view of the hon. Gentleman's remarks about referendums, will he say that he is very disappointed that the Conservative party has changed its position? Why does he think that that has happened?
§ Mr. Cash
The Conservative party is committed to the idea of a referendum on the single currency, for which I campaigned during the Maastricht debates in 1993 and with my Referendum Bill shortly before the general election. I am delighted that the Government have also been forced to accept a referendum.
I have expressed before my views on a referendum on the Amsterdam treaty alone to my hon. Friends on the Front Bench. My views are, in a sense, not dissimilar to those expressed by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) on the previous group of amendments. We need a review of the whole process and there should be a referendum on the treaty on European union as a whole.
§ Mr. Cash
I shall not give way just yet because I want to finish my argument.
For reasons that I have already given, it is illogical for us to allow the process of integration to continue, nibbling opt-outs and opt-ins here and there in the desperate hope that, like King Canute, we shall somehow be able to prevent the onward flood of the Rhine, as Chancellor Kohl described it in 1990.
The fact is that there is a total intention. We are kidding ourselves with the opt-outs if we believe that we shall be able to stem the flood, and we are creating more and more difficulties. The Amsterdam treaty, in particular, makes the position more difficult.
551 There is only one answer, and clearly it is not the Government's answer. It is to renegotiate the treaties. My suggestion in the amendment that I tabled on renegotiation was that a conference of all member states should be held—as should have happened with the intergovernmental conference that led to Amsterdam—to review not only provisions such as Schengen, border controls, immigration and so on, but all the treaties. The conference should make a judgment about the state of the Union, decide where it has been going wrong and then, by a process of review and renegotiation as proposed in my new clause, make a European Union or Community capable of working in the interests of all the member states. That would also avoid the difficulties inherent in opt-out arrangements such as those before us now.
The idea that we are not intended to be included in the areas of the opt-outs at a later stage is somewhat naive, to say the least, especially when one considers the fact that the opt-out from the social chapter was accompanied by provisions in a schedule saying that we would have to bear the administrative costs of running the operation when it went ahead. Of course, the same applies to other provisions in connection with the opt-outs.
With that general point in mind, and having expressed my grave reservations about the nature of the opt-outs—or opt-ins, whichever one cares to call them—I shall now deal with the question of what is inherent in the provisions before us. During the negotiations and discussions, much of the argument turned on the interpretation of article 7a, which had caused trouble and on which the European Commission had strong opinions.
The Commission and other member states believed article 7a committed them all to work towards the abolition of internal border controls for both Community and third-country nationals. However in 1986, at the time of the Single European Act, the United Kingdom had negotiated a declaration consistent with what was understood at that time. I must admit that the declaration was not legally binding.
Under the previous Government the United Kingdom consistently refused to accept the Commission's interpretation. I would have thought that the wording of the declaration was pretty clear:
Nothing in these provisions shall affect the right of Member States to take such measures as they consider necessary for the purpose of controlling immigration from third countries, and to combat terrorism, crime, the traffic in drugs and illicit trading in works of art and antiques".However, after the intergovernmental conference we discovered that the negotiations, including the Government's acceptance of the Commission's interpretation, took us beyond that. The Government may argue that they established and obtained an exception for the United Kingdom, and that Ireland did the same for itself, but in fact they allowed the process to go ahead in line with the Commission's interpretation. For that they are woefully in default.
In article 63 there is a provision with respect to the five-year timetable for new measures on immigration into the Union, including those affecting refugees, displaced persons and the granting of asylum, which says that there should be
a balance of effort between Member States in receiving and bearing the consequences of receiving refugees and displaced persons".552 That is accompanied by a further provision in article 64 which says:This Title shall not affect the exercise of the responsibilities incumbent upon Member States with regard to the maintenance of law and order and the safeguarding of internal security.Anybody can see that there is an inherent conflict between those two provisions. It is clear that the legal significance of that quotation from article 64 is not intended to contradict the ultimate commitment to abolish internal border controls. For that reason too, the Government are in default.
The Government have put a plausible but spurious spin on the negotiations that they conducted. Indeed, on 18 June when the Prime Minister came back from the intergovernmental conference he stated:
We have the power within the treaty to go into any of these areas if we want to. If we do not want to, we need not, but if we do, no other country can block us going in".—[Official Report, 18 June 1997; Vol. 296, c. 319.]That was about the provisions in respect of the new title on immigration, asylum and visas.
Moreover, the Government's opt-out was entirely contrary to their declared policy of having no permanent opt-outs. In October 1995 I was rather encouraged when I heard the Labour party in opposition saying:we reject permanent opt-outs or 'variable geometry'".Yet we have just heard the Minister advocating a policy of flexibility that is precisely the reverse of his party's 1995 position.
I have opposed the concepts of flexibility and variable geometry for reasons that I gave during the debate on the previous group of amendments, and I make the same point in connection with the group before us: it is a slippery slope. In my judgment the policy is one of weakness and appeasement, because it will eventually lead to our being put in an impossible position.
That policy has already led us into an impossible position on monetary union. The European Commission was right to describe it as the best form of flexibility yet devised. None the less, what the Prime Minister said on 18 June was totally wrong, because the opt-outs have to be decided by unanimity.
That gives any of the member states the right to veto future opt-ins, so although the Government have the right to exercise a veto on future opt-ins—for Ireland, say—at the same time other countries will be in a position to veto our going in.
To make the situation even worse, we have allowed the others to go ahead already, so in many respects we shall get the worst of both worlds. I must make my point yet again, because the fact that for the time being we have what I prefer to call an exception, gives us at least a breathing space and an opportunity to renegotiate, so that we can have the comprehensive review of the state of the Union that is not only necessary but—I believe, as I see what is going on in Europe now, despite all the talk and claptrap—increasingly essential.
Sooner or later Europe will find that the British people will not accept the arrangements. We know that there is serious disquiet in other countries too. The problem is that the task of giving expression to that disquiet, and of revealing the uncertainty and unsettling nature of the 553 arrangements, is not helped by the lack of attention given to the matters that we are discussing today in the media, including much of the British press.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
My hon. Friend is making some very important points. Do not the influx of Kurdish refugees into Italy and the substantial influxes of Czech and Slovak refugees—largely of Romany origin—into the Federal Republic and on to the UK demonstrate the grave threats that large movements of population pose to internal social harmony within the member states of the European Union? A number of Governments of the Union are clearly of the opinion that the Schengen arrangements cannot work and potentially pose a real menace to their societies.
§ Mr. Cash
That is true, and the Albanian situation in Italy last year makes that point. There is no point in people who are full of optimism and idealism, which is wholly misplaced, constructing legal frameworks in the belief that somehow we will end up with a single political union—in my judgment, one country—by taking down all border controls, and then, in the context of enlargement, imagining that we will not have floods of people coming in to take advantage of what they see as a honeypot. That will cause great civil unrest.
Those are my reasons why the arrangements for enlargement will cause so much difficulty. If we are to continue to exercise a degree of sensible discretion over the people who are allowed to come in, things should stay as they are now. We should retain stability.
My objections to the provisions are not merely that they are the slippery slope to flexibility, but that we will be affected and contaminated by the civil unrest which I believe will visit the other countries when they are affected by influxes of refugees within the external borders that will be created around the new European entity called "Europe". That entity will be one legal area as well.
There is a proposal in directive 23 to create what is known as a corpus juris which would have the most dramatic consequences for the legal systems of the countries concerned. It would invade domestic jurisdiction with respect to extradition, habeas corpus and trial by jury. I would be departing from the central provisions of the amendments if I went into all those matters, but the Minister knows what I am talking about. He knows that this is a serious proposal and although it is not incorporated in the treaty at this juncture, it is all part of the thrust.
The reason why those involved want to bring down the borders is that they want to create one country. It is not just a matter of the free movement of goods, or anything like that. These provisions concern the freedom of persons—but which persons?
Not only was the Prime Minister entirely wrong in his interpretation of the proposals at the IGC, but the Foreign Secretary had to admit that there had been a misunderstanding, as he conceded in November last year. The Spanish Prime Minister moved an amendment early in the morning during the negotiations which meant that 554 opt-ins were subject to unanimity. We do not know what was on their minds at the time, but the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary—and, no doubt, their advisers—must have nodded off.
Unfortunately—I suspect that other hon. Members will want more of an explanation of this with respect to Gibraltar—the effect of the amendment was to give Spain the ability to insist on concessions on Gibraltar if the British Government ever decided to exercise the opt-in. In other words, it would be able to exercise the veto over us because unanimity is needed to allow the process to continue. I suspect that those more expert in that area will explain that.
§ Mr. MacShane
That has nothing to do with Schengen.
§ Mr. Cash
I hear the parliamentary private secretary muttering from a sedentary position that I have somehow departed from Schengen. It is quite astonishing that when we are talking about the removal of border controls—and about Gibraltar in particular—he should even consider raising objections. This matter is of grave concern to the people of Gibraltar.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
Have not these blackmailing tactics been used effectively by the Spanish before; particularly at the Edinburgh summit, where they said that unless they gained access to the Irish box and gained greatly enhanced arrangements for their fishing fleet, they would not allow enlargement to go ahead as previously envisaged?
§ Mr. Cash
My hon. Friend makes not only a good point on fishing, but an extremely good general point about the extent to which a country wishing to defend its national interest must be prepared to exercise the veto. It is the kind of arrangement currently under discussion where I believe the veto should have been used. We hear that the Dutch are threatening to use the veto with respect to the prospective entry of Italy into monetary union.
§ Mr. Doug Henderson
§ Mr. Cash
The Minister shakes his head. He knows more about this than me—I only know what I have read in the newspapers. It has certainly been circulated that that is the case.
The group of amendments raises questions about the validity of opt-outs or opt-ins and their worth, and I have shown that they are not worth much when we are dealing with the question of Gibraltar. I have grave differences with some members of my own party on this matter, as some Labour Members have differences of opinion with their colleagues. However, the 1971 White Paper said clearly that it was essential that we retained our sovereignty and the veto so that we could exercise it in our national interests. The interesting thing is that it went on to say that to do otherwise would imperil the very fabric of the Community.
The retention of the veto is regarded—as the Spanish understood—as a means of managing to preserve one's national interests. I am not saying that I agree with the Spanish, but they were smart enough to make sure that they did not lose out. By going for opt-outs as the second-best option and by a policy of appeasement and flexibility, we have ended up prejudicing our position and we are left swinging in the wind.
555 The other matters which arise in the context of this group of amendments include article 68, with respect to the European Court of Justice. Normally, being a part of the treaty establishing the European Community would mean that the ECJ would have jurisdiction. However, article 68 makes a substantial change. It modifies article 177, which deals with references by national courts to the ECJ for preliminary rulings on matters relating to Community law. Now, instead of references being able to go through the lower courts, only the highest national courts will be entitled to make references. I do not know if it is specified what the "highest national court" means. It could mean—although I am open to correction—the House of Lords, and that would be a serious matter.
I would like to hear from the Minister about that: is it intended that the highest national court should be only the House of Lords—after all, Factortame was initiated there—and that the other courts, such as Queen's Bench, should be excluded? There are procedural rules that would enable us, if we so wished, to initiate actions that could have direct applicability. If my concerns are justified, there could be a serious inhibition of the rights of people in this country to initiate action, because people cannot simply walk into the House of Lords and ask it to make a reference.
I have not heard that point made before, and I am not absolutely certain of my ground, but I am entirely sure that it is a matter that needs careful consideration because of the way in which article 68 is formulated, and that this is the time to do it. I hope that the Minister will have an answer for me by the end of this debate.
Furthermore, not only are the highest national courts the only ones entitled to make references, but they must do so when they consider that a European Court of Justice ruling is necessary to enable a judgment to be given.
That takes us back to section 2, I believe, of the European Communities Act 1972. It is certainly true that under that legislation we are obliged to give effect to judgments of the European Court, but article 68 puts the position the other way round: it is not only a matter of whether, as a result of due process of law, a provision ends up in the European Court; as I read it, an obligation is imposed on the national courts to go to the European Court. That could lead to some extremely expensive and difficult situations that would otherwise have been avoidable.
Article 68 is an "Open, sesame". Instead of our being able to decide, as the previous Government sometimes rightly did, that we do not need to refer a matter to the European Court, it appears that the presumption is being reversed. With the obligation on a court to make the reference where it is deemed necessary, it will be extremely liable to make such a reference. That should have been thoroughly analysed and dealt with in the treaty.
A great deal of criticism has been heaped on article 68 by the United Kingdom-based Immigration Law Practitioners Association. I do not agree with its conclusions, because it would prefer more movement towards allowing people to enter the country willy-nilly, but it takes an objective view about the article, and says:In view of the length of time which it takes for a case to make its way to a court of final instance in any Member State, this means that we can expect at least five years of major legal uncertainty in this field.556 The association specialises in European law, and I do not know whether the Minister has had a chance to assess its statement, but I hope that it has had a satisfactory answer from the Government.
The new title, because it is a separation out of the original third pillar, has brought such matters into Community competence, and therefore, for the first time, within the aegis of the Court of Justice. It also has the overall effect, which I deplore, of increasing the influence of the Court of Justice over the national courts. I do not know what the reasoning behind that is. It is a retrograde step.
Every time that we examine such treaties, we find that almost all the concessions are running in one direction. Everything is a concession to more and more jurisdiction by the Court of Justice and more and more administrative controls by the European Commission; and so it goes forward inexorably.
The other provisions that cause me concern add up, in a nutshell, to the creation of a new border arrangement that will have extremely detrimental effects on the rest of Europe and that, in my judgment, will also have an extremely detrimental effect on the United Kingdom, because the cumulative uncertainty and instability that they will create will ultimately damage all the member states.
§ Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)
I want to speak mainly to new clause 1 and, coincidentally, to new clause 28, which relate to Gibraltar. When the parliamentary private secretary to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase), and I visited Gibraltar with some other hon. Members last autumn, as the guests of the Gibraltar Government, the real democratic deficit that exists for Gibraltar came home to me. That, in a sense, is why I am standing here today: there is nobody else to articulate the Gibraltar people's concern about the implication of the articles relating to the Schengen acquis.
I do not want to rake over old coals or to refer to how we got into this position, which I have done on several previous occasions both in the Chamber and in the Foreign Affairs Committee, but clearly there is a need to table the new clause so as to probe the Minister on how he intends to ensure that the interests of the people of Gibraltar are protected, not only for as long as he holds office but in relation to his successors, be they Labour, Tory or whatever.
People may ask what all the fuss is about, given that we do not intend to sign up to Schengen. That may be the position at the moment, but it could change. I am a pro-European, but I join company with those who are opposed to Europe in believing that there will inexorably be a move for us to sign up, wholly or in part, to some aspects of Schengen in the foreseeable future. It may be in the next decade or in the next score years, but I believe that, as sure as night turns into day, a United Kingdom Government will find that they have to sign up to some of it.
Under the treaty as it is, that Government will have to seek the unanimity of the other states to sign up to the acquis, and it seems to me pretty certain that Spain will exercise its veto in relation not to the United Kingdom 557 of Great Britain and Northern Ireland but to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland along with Gibraltar.
The present Government have closed down the option to go in, having given an undertaking that they will not surrender the interests of the people of Gibraltar, but I am not confident that future Governments, whatever their political complexion, would not sacrifice the people of Gibraltar if they considered that it was in the interests of the United Kingdom as a whole to go into Schengen. That is the great problem that we face. All too often, successive Governments of both parties have disregarded the interests of the people of Gibraltar. It is time that that stopped. I hope that my being awkward about the issue means that someone in the Foreign Office has had his backside kicked and will be a bit more sensitive in future to the interests of the people of Gibraltar. I also hope that that message will endure for some years to come.
In the Amsterdam treaty and the other treaties, references to the United Kingdom are always deemed to include Gibraltar. If a future Government decided that the United Kingdom should sign up to Schengen, would it be possible to hive off Gibraltar, or would the Government be bound by the treaties to include Gibraltar? If that were so, my new clause 1 would not be necessary.
To buttress my argument, I remind the Committee that the United Kingdom has opt-outs on the social protocols. As a result, Gibraltar is also outside the social protocols. It does not say in the treaty, specifically, that Gibraltar is "outside", but because the United Kingdom is out, Gibraltar is out too. It follows that treaty references to the United Kingdom include Gibraltar unless the contrary is specifically stated. The provision under which the United Kingdom and Ireland can apply to enter the Schengen acquis, in whole or in part, contains no specific exclusion for Gibraltar.
I hope that the Minister will tell me that new clause 1 is unnecessary because the Government and any future Government would be bound by the treaties to take Gibraltar along if they applied to sign up to Schengen. I invite the Minister to say that I am wrong in believing that the new clause is necessary, because the issue is buttoned up by the treaty.
The Gibraltar Government and I fear that the treaty has also closed down a constitutional option for the future of Gibraltar. Under the treaty of Utrecht, it is possible for Gibraltar to be incorporated into the United Kingdom and we should not close down that constitutional option. The future constitution of Gibraltar is open to discussion, but by suggesting to the Spanish Government that we might be prepared to separate Gibraltar, we prejudice our ability to incorporate Gibraltar into the United Kingdom for electoral and other purposes in the future. That would be a pity.
I hope that I have made it clear that reference to the United Kingdom in the Amsterdam and other treaties must also include Gibraltar. I hope that the Minister will confirm that it is not within the competence of the Government to exclude Gibraltar, as a matter of expediency, if and when they make an application to join Schengen. If that is not the case, I hope that I will obtain support for new clause 1. My hon. Friend the Minister of State is an decent man and will not let the people of 558 Gibraltar down, but we do not know who will sit on the Treasury Bench in future. Future Ministers must not forget the interests of the people of Gibraltar. I want it locked into the Bill that the interests of the people of Gibraltar cannot be disregarded.
§ Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)
The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) made some cogent points and I shall return to the subject of Gibraltar myself in due course. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will receive answers from the Minister at the end of the debate.
The provisions in the treaty relating to the free movement of persons and citizenship, and the attitude of the Government towards them, are among the most significant to come before the House of Commons. It is an absolute outrage that we are allowed barely an hour under the guillotine motion to consider matters of such fundamental importance.
The treaty incorporates the Schengen agreement, which provides for the dismantling of internal frontiers in the European Union and free movement of persons within its area. It is ironic that within such a short time of the treaty being agreed we read daily reports of action taken by various member states to strengthen their border controls.
The questions raised by border controls pose in acute form the dilemmas that arise when a choice has to be made between different desirable, but irreconcilable, objectives. In an ideal world where there is no threat to the stability of nations from the prospect of unlimited immigration, where there is no sudden shift in populations as a result of political or economic changes and where there are no dangers from the importation of drugs or arms, the free movement of persons unhindered by frontier controls would be desirable. It would be desirable not only in the European Union, but across the world. It is undoubtedly an attractive concept, but we do not live in an ideal world. We live in a world where there are such threats, such shifts and such dangers and where nations need the protection of frontier controls.
I suspect that the future course of these provisions will be fraught. I believe that the member states of the Union, when the provisions are in force no less than now, will wish to escape their full vigour and to retain an element of control. They may find that it is too late. The provisions will be subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and if it adopts its customary approach to the interpretation of the treaty the countries involved may find themselves defenceless.
The previous Government had a clear view on the matter: we always refused to join the Schengen agreement and we made it plain that we would never join it, but we had no objection to other member state incorporating the agreement into the treaty as long as we had a watertight opt-out from it. The Labour party's attitude in opposition was equivocal, as it was on so many issues. It proclaimed its devotion to frontier controls, but it also insisted that it was against opt-outs, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) pointed out. The Labour party's policy document of October 1995 stated:we reject permanent opt-outs or 'variable geometry'".How those contradictory positions were to be reconciled was never explained.
In any event, agreement was reached before the election by the previous Government. Other member states would get what they wanted, which was the incorporation of 559 Schengen into the treaty, and we would get what we wanted, which was a watertight opt-out. That was a done deal. It does the present Government no credit to claim it as their own.
The present Government were left with the difficulty caused by their previous opposition to opt-outs, so the Prime Minister hit on the characteristically disingenuous tactic of describing the provisions as an opt-in. When he made his statement to the House on 18 June, he said:Under the treaty, the United Kingdom can also participate in areas of interest to us if we so choose, at our option. That is not an opt-out but an opt-in, as we choose.He later stated:We have the power … to go into any of these areas if we want to. If we do not want to, we need not, but if we do, no other country can block us going in."—[Official Report, 18 June 1997; Vol. 296, c. 313–19]We now know that the Prime Minister was utterly wrong. He had not achieved what he thought he had achieved and what he told the House he had achieved. The truth is that any country can block our going in because the treaty provides that we can go in only with the unanimous agreement of the other member states. That is bad enough, but what has made matters so much worse is the inability of the Foreign Secretary and the Minister to give any consistent explanation of how that blunder, on a matter of considerable importance, came about. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone advanced one scenario. He says that it happened because in the early hours of the morning, in the closing stages of the summit, the Spanish Prime Minister put forward an amendment and, literally or metaphorically, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary were nodding off and they failed to spot it.
My hon. Friend incorporated into his criticism the advisers to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. I must say on their behalf that they are immune from criticism: they were not present. At the closing stages of the summit, only the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary are present, so no criticism should be attached to advisers for what may or may not have happened in the early hours of the morning in the closing stages of the summit.
That scenario, suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone, is very far removed from the extraordinary series of explanations, each of them inconsistent with the rest, that have been put forward by the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of State. The first explanation was that the presidency's note keeping was not what it should have been. That was what the Foreign Secretary told the Foreign Affairs Committee on 4 December 1997.
Then it was a hole in the corner deal done between Spain and the Dutch presidency, kept secret from the other member states and incorporated in the treaty after the negotiations had finished. That was the explanation given in an oral answer at Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Question Time on 25 November 1997.
The next explanation was that it was a deal done not after the negotiations, but during the summit on the night of 16–17 June before the negotiations had finished, but still kept secret from the other member states and incorporated in the treaty without their knowledge. That was what we were told on 2 December 1997.
560 Then it was both—a deal done in the margins of the summit and discussed afterwards. That is what we were told by the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson), when he wound up the debate on the European Union on 4 December 1997.
What we do know is that the Dutch Government sent a letter to the British Government about this matter on 16 July 1997. Alas, we could only surmise about the contents of that letter. Despite the Government's lip-service to openness—indeed, despite the provisions on openness in the Amsterdam treaty—they will give us no clue about the contents of the letter.
Why, given the seriousness of the allegations, have the Government taken no action? I hope that the Minister of State will tell us tonight why they did not raise the matter at the Luxembourg summit. Why are they not insisting that the procedures of these summits are revised so as to ensure that nothing of the kind ever happens again? We are entitled to a full explanation. We have not had one, but we shall continue to press for one.
Whatever the cause, the upshot of it all is that any single country can block any application by the United Kingdom to join any part of the Schengen arrangements. It is not an entirely academic question. The hon. Member for Thurrock says that the Government have no intention of joining any of the Schengen arrangements, but he knows that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office submitted a memorandum to the Foreign Affairs Committee that is printed in that Committee's report. The memorandum says that there may well be advantage in applying to join the information arrangements of the Schengen agreement. So this is not an academic question; it is a live question. This is something that matters, and it matters now.
Any country, as a result of what is a bungle for those who believe my hon. Friend the Member for Stone, treachery and underhand dealing by Spain and the Dutch presidency for those who believe the Government—
§ Mr. MacShane
§ Mr. Howard
Oh yes. Is it not treachery and underhand dealing to do a hole in the corner deal that is kept secret from the other member states? That is the allegation made by the Foreign Secretary.
§ Mr. MacShane
§ Mr. Howard
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head in disbelief. I quite agree that it is an absolutely extraordinary state of affairs, but that is the allegation made by the Foreign Secretary. If the hon. Gentleman is in any doubt, I invite him to read Hansard for 25 November 1997, column 754. It is all set out there.
Spain can therefore block any application for the United Kingdom to join any part of the Schengen arrangements and we are told by the Government that Spain was responsible for the extraordinary shenanigans over this matter.
Spain has a history of using any and every bargaining counter to further its claim to Gibraltar and putting as much pressure as possible on the United Kingdom in relation to Gibraltar. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) and 561 I tabled new clause 28. The exigencies of the timetable motion mean that we cannot press it to a vote, but it marks our concern at the incompetent bungling that was the hallmark of the approach of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary to the negotiations at Amsterdam.
§ Mr. David Heath
I shall be brief because I know that other hon. Members wish to speak before the guillotine strikes.
To my surprise, I agree with the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) that the position on opt-ins and opt-outs is not satisfactory. I also agree with him that there is a need for regular review of the Schengen arrangements. Britain is not currently part of those arrangements, but it is appropriate, now that the Schengen acquis is to become part of the acquis communautaire, that those arrangements are regularly reviewed, and I hope that they will be.
One of the aspects that I hope will be reviewed in the near future, given the prospect of enlargement, is the unnecessary—but perhaps unavoidable—waste of the continual shifting of the entire border control mechanism from border to border as each country accedes, and the inevitable expense. I can see no one easy way around that—other than an arrangement to make it possible to purchase second-hand border control points—but there appears to be a need to see how the Schengen acquis works in the context of enlargement.
My principal reason for speaking is to take up the matter of Gibraltar, which was amply illuminated by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) and the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). Questions must be answered about Gibraltar.
I am very disappointed that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is not including Gibraltar in the independent territories review, because there are serious questions to be asked about the democratic deficit in Gibraltar—and in the other dependent territories. Those issues should be addressed. The specific aspect that applies only to Gibraltar is that it is part of the territory of the European Union by treaty yet has no access to the democratic machinery of the European Union. That position is unsustainable.
I shall now discuss the failure of the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister, or whichever of them was involved, to realise what was happening in the Amsterdam negotiations. As I have said, I believe that the appropriate response of the British Government is to say sorry that they failed to do their clear duty to the people of Gibraltar and to the people of Britain: to ensure that their interests were properly protected.
The episode in which the Foreign Secretary tried to explain his position to the Foreign Affairs Committee, of which I am a member, and failed utterly to be convincing in doing so, followed by a memorandum from officials in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that did nothing to assuage the feeling that a blunder had occurred, and the extraordinary allegation that this was a matter of poor record keeping, was extraordinary.
The conference at Amsterdam was an intergovernmental conference under the Dutch presidency. I do not believe that the Dutch are especially renowned for being an inefficient people, yet it is claimed 562 they cannot keep a simple record of proceedings that accords with the recollections of members present. That claim beggars belief. If it is impossible to examine the records and check what happened, that reveals a huge gap in the record keeping processes.
All that is history. We now have a Spanish veto. In the previous debate, the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) supported the fact that the Spanish had a veto. I find that hard to reconcile with what his Front-Bench colleagues say, but in any event the Spanish have their veto. We now need some assurances from the Minister.
First, we need assurances on the argument that the hon. Member for Thurrock made about the definition of the United Kingdom. I fear that the hon. Member for Thurrock will not be satisfied on that. I fear that the definition of the United Kingdom will not include dependent and Crown territories unless they are specifically included, so any future United Kingdom Government who apply to join the Schengen arrangements will have expressly to include those areas.
Secondly, the Minister should announce what strategy he will employ to overcome any future Spanish veto during negotiations. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office must have thought about that. The Government have been landed in a position in which they may wish to accede to all or part of the Schengen acquis, and they must have some way of overcoming the Spanish veto.
Thirdly, the Minister should tell us how he will ensure transparency of the British position that gives confidence to the people of Gibraltar that they will not be left out. That is what the amendment—and new clause 1, tabled by the hon. Member for Thurrock—would achieve. If they were put to the vote, I would support them, but it appears that that will not occur, so we shall have to accept the Minister's assurances—if any are forthcoming.
§ Mr. Gapes
I am pleased to see that the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) has re-entered the Chamber in order to hear my speech. He used some interesting language in his contribution. He talked about the establishment of a new European entity called Europe. Whatever one calls it, the British people have lived on the continent of Europe for many thousands of years. The reality is that Europe is a complex entity that is changing. It comprises individual sovereign states that have chosen to co-operate and to come together for mutual benefit.
I must address the interesting remarks of the hon. Member for Stone about borders. Many of the countries of Europe share land borders. The United Kingdom is unique in that it is an island and shares only the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. That is an interesting border. For many years, people have moved freely from the Irish Republic to Northern Ireland and vice versa. There is passport-free travel between Holyhead and Dublin on the ferry and citizens of the Irish Republic are able to live, work and vote in elections in the United Kingdom. According to the hon. Member for Stone, we should have put up the barriers, built the watch towers and stopped those people entering the country. Had we done that, Britain would not have benefited from the significant contributions to its economy by the Irish in Britain over many years.
Another interesting example is the border between two recent members of the European Union, Sweden and Finland. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to 563 travel a few years ago along the Nordkalloten highway through Sweden, Finland and Norway and north of the Arctic circle. People can travel from Rovaniemi in Finland, through a border post at Pello and into Sweden. There is no physical means of preventing them from doing that; there is no impediment to travel—people simply carry on along the road.
As I like to collect mementos of my travels, I wanted to get a stamp in my passport to show that I had crossed from Sweden to Finland. When I went to the passport control office on the Finnish side of the river in Pello to get my passport stamped, I was greeted warmly by officials who acted as though they had not seen anyone in days or weeks—perhaps even years or decades. My passport was duly stamped with the Finnish entry stamp, and it was obviously a great occasion for passport officials who were not used to doing that.
The fact is that people travel freely across European borders. Sweden and Finland are sovereign independent states with an interesting history. Anyone who has visited southern Finland will know that the relationship between the two countries has not always been amicable—in the past, there were conflicts, wars and questions of national identity. Nevertheless, there is no physical barrier to travel between those two countries.
The countries of continental Europe that share land borders have decided that they wish to allow ease of movement in order to facilitate trade, human contact and relationships between towns that are situated either side of common borders. Anyone who has visited Strasbourg will know that a suburb of that city is situated in Germany and that people travel across the border without any complications. Countries have taken that step for perfectly good, logical reasons.
Britain is in a different position geographically: we are an island with our own history. Therefore, our Government took the appropriate decision when the matter was discussed during negotiations at Amsterdam. There is no doubt that there are problems with Schengen. Difficulties have arisen with Turkish immigrants, many of whom are fleeing oppression and some of whom are pursuing economic opportunities. That movement is putting great pressure on several European Union countries.
If we are to have a single market and if people are to travel easily between countries, we must work out a common relationship regarding the external frontiers of that economic union. That is why the proposals make a great deal of sense to countries such as Germany, France, Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg.
However, the proposals do not make absolute sense in all circumstances. We are in a different position: apart from the channel tunnel rail and road links, we do not share common land borders with other countries. We can exist quite happily outside the Schengen arrangements adopted by other European Union states. I think that that answers the questions raised by the hon. Member for Stone in one of his familiar scare stories.
§ Mr. Howard
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, as a result of the guillotine motion for which he voted, only 10 minutes remain for debate on this question? Is he further aware that several hon. Members have put forward 564 specific questions for answer by the Minister of State? Is the hon. Gentleman engaged in some kind of filibuster to protect the Minister from having to answer those questions? Labour Members are among those who put questions to the Minister of State. Will the hon. Gentleman please conclude his remarks so that we may hear the Minister's answers?
§ Mr. Gapes
The right hon. and learned Gentleman should refer his remarks to the hon. Member for Stone. I came into the debate from a Committee upstairs, where I had to listen to what could have been regarded at certain times as a filibuster by Conservative Members, so I could not take part in the debate in the Chamber until the present set of amendments. I have been present for that entire period, and I believe that I have a right to speak, as does any other Member. Although I am not a former Minister or a Privy Councillor, I believe that I have the right, like every other Member, to raise matters that are of concern to me. I shall continue to do so for one more minute, and then sit down.
Amendment No. 28 deals with citizenship. It is clearly designed to undermine the Amsterdam treaty and stop the United Kingdom ratifying it. The amendment does not take account of the fact that the Amsterdam treaty is a great improvement on the Maastricht treaty, because a phrase was inserted in the Amsterdam treaty at the suggestion of the Danish Government which makes it clear that citizenship of the Union shall complement and not replace national citizenship.
I do not understand why those who have emphasised national aspects wish to remove that from the Bill and the treaty. That is ridiculous. If they are keen to emphasise the national aspect of the European Union, they should welcome the fact that the Danish Government, supported by our Government, inserted that provision in the treaty.
§ Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)
I am appalled that the guillotine on this important matter prevents me from making the speech that I wanted to make, particularly with reference to Gibraltar. Fortunately, most of the questions relating to that serious problem have been posed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and the hon. Members for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) and for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath). I shall sit down so that the Committee may have the opportunity of hearing the Minister answer those important questions, which the people of Gibraltar want to hear answered satisfactorily.
§ Mr. Doug Henderson
I am grateful to colleagues on both sides who have restrained their remarks to allow me to make important responses to important questions. The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) should not blame my hon. Friends. The Opposition have had since 4.30 pm today to discuss a series of amendments. If it was the Opposition's judgment—I can tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman that I know about being in opposition—that a three-hour debate on this matter was necessary, they could have had it. Until this set of amendments, only one contribution from the Government Benches was not directly in support of the Government's position. The Opposition have the authority and could have insisted on a three-hour debate.
I would not have raised the matter, if the point had not been laboured by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Within the period allocated to this subject, his colleague, 565 the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), took 35 to 40 minutes to make his point. I am not complaining about that. It is up to the Opposition how they divide their time. There are important issues to discuss, and I must move on.
In the sections of the treaty covered by this group of amendments there was a recognition of the British system of border controls, which is so important to our nation, as both sides of the Committee would acknowledge. Such recognition was never obtained by the previous Government. We have recently seen further evidence of the difficulties experienced by the Schengen countries in regulating the flow of people. That draws attention to the different systems, and emphasises the strength of our system.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) described in his contribution, other landlocked countries prefer to adopt different ways of regulating the flow of people. The Amsterdam treaty provides, for the first time, protection for both systems. That is a major achievement which the British people will recognise as a huge gain for this country.
The hon. Member for Stone asked what was achieved in return for movement by the British Government. That was a major achievement, which the previous Government could not make. No decisions were taken, in effect, by the IGC for about six months before the British general election, because there was no engagement in the issues by the then British Government, which would have allowed our partners in Europe to say, "This is an important priority to you; these are important priorities to us. Can we put them together and produce an acceptable formula that we can present to the summit in Amsterdam, which would allow decisions to be made?" That is how progress is made. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is not correct to say that, before the fall of the previous British Government, they had the agreement of the other EU partners.
§ Mr. Howard
The Minister is distorting history shamefully. Is he aware that we were not asking the other countries for a favour? They wanted something from us. They wanted the Schengen agreement to be incorporated in the treaty. We had a veto over that. We agreed to accede to their request, as long as we had a watertight opt-out. That was the basis of the agreement that was reached at the Foreign Affairs Council in March last year.
§ Mr. Henderson
I hear what the right hon. and learned Gentleman says. He demonstrates my point. I am not suggesting that the previous Government did not know what they wanted to achieve in the negotiations. However, because of the ossification of those negotiations, there was no movement, and no confidence from the other partners. They made that clear to us. When I walked through the doors of the IGC in May, the first thing that they asked me was, "Are you here to pontificate to us or to negotiate?" I replied that I wanted to be positive and constructive. By implication, I recognised that I could not have my way all the time. That was a realistic position.
I shall move on, in the time that is left, to the case presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay). I assure him that, in relation to Gibraltar, it is the British Government's intention to 566 protect the interests of Gibraltar and to do that in co-operation with the Gibraltar Government and the people of Gibraltar. He asked whether Gibraltar would automatically be covered by any agreement reached in relation to Schengen, were it the British Government's intention at some time in the future to enter into the Schengen acquis.
The answer is that, where a measure is introduced under the European Community treaty—in other words, a first pillar measure—Gibraltar is included by virtue of article 227, paragraph 4, of the treaty, except where Gibraltar remains outside a Community policy—in some instances in the past, the Gibraltar Government have wanted to remain outside a Community policy—or where it is expressly excluded. The answer to the first part of the question is that, in pillar 1, Gibraltar would not necessarily be covered.
In the third pillar, in relation to Gibraltar, as in the case of anything else, the Government would have to take a position at the time. Gibraltar may or may not be included, depending on what was desired. That would be determined in conjunction with the people and the Government of Gibraltar. I hope that that answers the point.
The hon. Member for Stone raised a fairly complicated legal point. I could give him an answer now if he wished, but I would run out of time. Therefore, in the remaining minute, I propose quickly to summarise the position, and I shall write to the hon. Gentleman before Third Reading with the answer that I would have given now. If he wishes to raise the matter again then, I am sure that, given his parliamentary ingenuity, he will be able to find a way to do so.
In essence, many things could be said about this section of the treaty. It is vital for Britain's interests that included in the treaty are the provisions that we believe are essential to protect our traditional system of border control. We do not have the same system as many other countries in landlocked Europe of identity cards, where the forces of law and order traditionally check people's identity where required. That is not the way in which we operate or want to operate.
Our system has served us well. That does not mean that it will not change. It will have to change technologically and in other ways to meet the demands of the day. However, those changes will be determined by the British Government, and the same is true for the Irish Government. That was a major achievement in the treaty, and that was something which the previous Government found unobtainable.
§ Mr. Cash
Having listened to the debate and expressed my grave reservations about the provisions in question, it will not be necessary for me to press the matter to a vote. However, I feel strongly that the Minister has completely failed to answer some severe criticisms—
§ The Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Alan Haselhurst)
Order. I take it from what the hon. Gentleman says that he seeks the leave of the Committee to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.567
§ 9 pm
§ Mr. Cash
I beg to move amendment No. 26, in page 1, line 13, at end insert`other than in Article 2, paragraph 7)'.The amendment deals with the question of discrimination and arises by virtue of article 6a inserted into the Amsterdam treaty. Article 2, paragraph 7 states:Without prejudice to the other provisions of this Treaty and within the limits of the powers conferred by it upon the Community, the Council, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission and after consulting the European Parliament, may take appropriate action to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.My concern about that provision is simple. Within the context of the principle of subsidiarity, and the argument that we hear over and over again that that which is better dealt with at a national level should be dealt with at that level, there is no reason whatever for that provision. I note that it states that the Council would have to act unanimously, but the reality is that it is a step forward in the total integration of the cultures of the European Union.
There is, I am afraid, an underlying theme, which is to undermine the individual decisions that may be taken within any one member state as to the kind of provisions that they wish to have made in terms of sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. No one could accuse the United Kingdom of having anything other than an enlightened statutory framework in respect of those matters. Any attempt to impose standards and requirements upon us in the context of those various matters would be wholly inappropriate.
Let us for a moment consider what the words "may take appropriate action" are intended to mean. Do they mean that we could be visited by not only directive but regulation, which would be enforceable upon us as a matter of law without further legislation? I do not know. If it had said that there would be a power to introduce these matters by way of directive, I might have taken exception to that. We have the right and the power to decide such matters for ourselves. We already have the effective Race Relations Act 1976, and I see nothing wrong with that. I am completely against any suggestion of discrimination on the ground of race, and, as far as I am aware, the United Kingdom has long operated perfectly satisfactorily with those laws. I think that those laws were passed as long ago as 1965 or 1968.
Before Labour Members get stirred up—I see them looking through their papers—in the hope that they can cause me some embarrassment because they think that I am about to say something that gives rise to the idea that I am in favour of discrimination, I must tell them that I am not. I am concerned that the proposal is outside the proper jurisdiction or understanding of how the European Union should function. On the principle of subsidiarity, it is completely and utterly outside the arena where such laws should be implemented.
Some difficult questions arise with respect to age, for example. Does the Commission propose to change the law with regard to compulsory retirement? People do not seem to have thought the matter through. I speak as a member of the European Select Committee, which considers over and again provisions that are merely called "communications". Would it be appropriate for there to be a communication, or would it be a directive or a regulation? We do not know. Perhaps the Minister can throw some light on the matter. He may have given it no thought—to judge by his face, he has not.
568 The idea that we should be subjected to a flow of legislation on those questions is extraordinary. Let us consider the words:to combat discrimination based on … religion".What is the reason for that? Why is it thought necessary to have a Europewide arrangement to deal with such questions? I cannot believe that it is necessary in the United Kingdom, and if it is good enough for us to govern ourselves as we do at present, why should we think in terms of accepting a provision in a treaty that makes a different provision for the Community as a whole?
Discrimination in respect of religion in the United Kingdom was dealt with more than a century ago. My family happened to be Quakers in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, when there was severe discrimination. Indeed, a famous case in the House of Commons was that of Bradlaugh, who refused to take an oath and was suspended from the House as a result—and worse, I think. As it happens, I am also a Catholic, and I have experienced no discrimination whatever in the United Kingdom. I see no reason why it should be necessary for us to be a party to a treaty that applies legislation across the whole of the Community—even if it is proposed that it should be unanimous—with respect to religion. What on earth is going on? What is the purpose of that?
We know that the real purpose is to create a homogeneous society—to change individual countries' cultures, and thereby also change their identities, to produce a degree of homogeneity in respect of matters relating to sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion, belief, disability and sexual orientation. The object of the exercise is to try to create uniformity in law across the Community. That fits in with title II of the Maastricht treaty, which deals with citizenship. The question of citizenship was raised in the last group of amendments.
I distinctly remember that title II of the Maastricht treaty states that citizenship should be left undefined for the time being, but that the blanks should be filled at a later date when the manner in which it should be prescribed is decided. This provision is an attempt to put flesh on the bones of citizenship in a European context. Its purpose is to deal with discrimination based on sex, race and ethnic origin, but it will cause great difficulty.
I am concerned about the implications for age, agism and the elderly. Who is to say that legislation would not be introduced by the Council of Ministers, which would not be described as discrimination as it would come from such a high authority, that would alter the provisions on age or sex in a manner prescribed by member states acting together, but which would change the laws of the United Kingdom in a way that no one had envisaged?
The reference to sexual orientation is extraordinary. Is not paedophilia a sexual orientation? There has been a spate of serious cases in Belgium and in the United Kingdom. Will people pray such provisions in aid to generate the impetus for bringing paedophilia into a homogeneous European legal framework? I envisage serious difficulties as a result of this ridiculous attempt to create such a European law. The argument that what I have described is far-fetched can be repudiated by reference to the United States, where laws are being strictly construed by the courts along those lines in individual states. Those laws have been introduced to combat discrimination, but they have had the reverse effect. Tensions are created by politically correct laws, 569 and that is causing enormous embarrassment to the people who originally introduced them with the best of intentions.
I have no doubt that such issues as race should be covered by proper legislation. However, I cannot for the life of me understand why it is thought necessary for the treaty to provide, albeit with the requirement of unanimity, a framework within which such matters can even be conceived of as matters to be dealt with at a European level. What is the reason for that?
Some Labour Members are brimful of political correctness and want to lower the age of consent to 16, but many other people in this country are not at all happy for such a provision as is set out in this article to be applied in this country, let alone at a European level.
A simple question lies at the root of my amendment. Why is it thought necessary to deal with these matters at a European level? The Minister obviously considers this a laughing matter, but I should be grateful if he would explain it. Will he answer my simple question? Why is it thought necessary or desirable for these measures to be taken at a European level, albeit with unanimity?
If the Minister says that he does not think that we will ever exercise the powers—because, with unanimity, we would veto any such provisions—I am bound to ask him a second question. Why did he not prevent the provisions from being introduced in the first place? The provisions are in the Bill—with the consent of this Labour Government—for a reason, and I think that the House is entitled to know what that reason is.
§ Mr. Tony McNulty (Harrow, East)
I happily accept that the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) is not pro-discrimination. It would be silly to charge him with that, and I am grateful to him for clarifying his position. I have to say, however, that his interpretation of the part of the treaty that is under discussion was, to say the least, perverse.
I have been reading Hansard. In an earlier debate, the issue of paedophilia and sexual orientation was raised. It seems that we are now really digging in the dirt to create an anti-European, indeed Europhobic, dimension. In fact, the situation is quite the reverse. I hope that the Government will support this part of the treaty, because—as the hon. Gentleman said—Britain has such a good, strong record in all these legislative areas, although its record is not impeccable.
Interestingly, even in her wildest moments as Premier, Lady Thatcher did not touch legislation on sexual discrimination, race relations and similar matters. That is not because our legislation was perverse; indeed, I do not think that it goes nearly far enough—but, as has already been pointed out, it is probably the jewel in the crown in terms of anti-discrimination legislation in Europe. Why not use such experience and expertise, which until recently could be used in a non-partisan way?
With the best will in the world and the greatest respect, I must say that, until the cranks took over what appear to be all aspects of the official Opposition's policies, there was cross-party support for all anti-discrimination proposals. That being the case, why not go further? 570 Why not proselytise, and exploit that strength and expertise in a European dimension? Who could oppose Europewide anti-discrimination directives?
It is interesting to note that one shibboleth that the hon. Member for Stone could not employ was the word "unanimity". Time after time, we have heard the words "albeit by unanimity". I do not understand how combating, Europewide, discrimination based on sex, race or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation—short of the perverse interpretation of "sexual orientation" that has just been mentioned—can be opposed. Perhaps we need to look further to discover some of the underlying reasons.
As I have said, I fully accept that the hon. Member for Stone is as opposed to discrimination as anyone else, but I do not extend that generous interpretation to some others in his ranks. The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) is not present, but it is nevertheless worth pointing out that part of his rich and varied history involved his being secretary of the race and repatriation committee of the Monday club. That is entirely up to him, but, if he had tabled the amendment in the terms used by the hon. Member for Stone, I would find it rather more difficult to believe that he was against discrimination.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
On a point of order, Sir Alan. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, before making personalised attacks of this kind, it is normal to inform the Member concerned in advance, so that he has the opportunity to hear the observations and, if necessary, defend himself and his motives?
§ The Chairman
It is not so much a matter of order; it is a matter of courtesy to the House that an hon. Member who intends to refer to another hon. Member should advise him beforehand or refrain from making such comments.
§ Mr. McNulty
With the greatest respect, I was merely quoting historical fact in relation to some of the confreres of the hon. Member for Stone in order to challenge their reasons for supporting the amendment in the Lobby if and when there is a Division. I fully accept that the hon. Member for Stone is not in favour of discrimination, but it is entirely appropriate to suggest that others in his ranks are not of that persuasion. I would say further—
§ The Chairman
Order. The hon. Gentleman is teetering on the brink of great discourtesy. The point has been well explained: if an hon. Member refers to another hon. Member, he should, out of courtesy, inform him beforehand.
§ Mr. McNulty
I accept that, Sir Alan, and am grateful.
In general terms, there is a wing, a faction, in what is currently called the Conservative party—at least, in England, although I think that it is changing its name in Scotland—that has, at best, a murky past when it comes to issues of discrimination.
§ Mr. Swayne
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is a body of religious opinion which extends well beyond the bounds of the Conservative party and which believes that homosexual practice is immoral? That opinion is based on scripture. How does the 571 hon. Gentleman view the treaty's provisions with respect to the right of those people to practise discrimination in their own affairs on the basis of that belief?
§ Mr. McNulty
The hon. Gentleman has missed the point entirely. It is not a morality or anti-morality clause in the treaty; it is an anti-discrimination clause. Clearly, those—and I accept that there are plenty—who, on moral grounds, take the rather intolerant view that homosexuality is perverse or wrong are fully entitled to that opinion. But they are not entitled to have that moral position frozen into law, whether on a European or a British basis.
§ Mr. Swayne
If I were to believe that homosexuality was odious to men and detestable to God, and based that view, as many do, on scripture, would I not have the right if, for example, I owned a small shop and wished to take on an employee, to ensure that that employee was not a homosexual?
§ Mr. McNulty
That has proved my point entirely; no, the hon. Gentleman would not have that right under employment law. He would not have that right any more than I, were I the proverbial small shopkeeper, have the right to decide that people with frazzled, grey hair were not suitable employees—that is as perverse a point as the one that the hon. Gentleman made. I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman has made his position on discrimination against women clear—it is equally as daft as some of his other suggestions, and I do not think that it is appropriate.
It is appropriate to challenge, at least in part, the underlying motives behind at least some of those who will support the amendment. Some—there has been a litany of them tonight—will do so purely to wreck things so that we cannot ratify the treaty, which is fine; they are entitled to that position. Others, who shall remain nameless as a courtesy to them, belong to the wing of the Conservative party that agrees with comments such as those made in an immigration and repatriation committee report in the early 1980s. In that committee
it was formally agreed that the policy of the Committee should be an end to New Commonwealth and Pakistani immigration; a properly financed scheme of voluntary repatriation, the repeal of the Race Relations Act, and the abolition of the Commission for Racial Equality; particular emphasis on repatriation".That is an historic view that has been prevalent, albeit among a minority, in the ranks of the Conservative party. Happily, I have no evidence that it is prevalent among those who are here tonight. But there are those who sit in the twilight zone of intolerance and who are not in favour of anti-discrimination legislation, whether in a British or a European dimension.
Under our presidency, we have a real opportunity to say to most of the rest of Europe, which in many cases has dragged its heels in anti-discrimination legislation, "Here is the starting point. Here is Britain's happy record which was established on a cross-party basis throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Not even Lady Thatcher changed our approach." Britain can be a beacon for European legislation.
Some would say—I would not necessarily say this—that there are far too many caveats and qualifications in terms of the implementation of anti-discrimination legislation. There are references to unanimity and to 572 legislation being appropriate to the legislative body of each member state. Those qualifications mean that, by the time anti-discrimination measures come before national legislative bodies, they will not be as effective or as strong as our proud history of anti-discrimination legislation, which is a pity.
From the 1960s onwards, Britain has been in the vanguard—one of the few instances where this has been the case—in achieving a level playing field in employment practices. We now want to take that forward on a European basis. All hon. Members should be saying that we have a lesson to teach Europe on anti-discrimination legislation.
We should not go for some of the perverse interpretations of anti-discrimination legislation. We should fully support article 6, and we should have no truck with the wrecking nonsense proposed by the hon. Member for Stone or with the more intolerant, cranky and frankly racist views of some Conservative Members. I repeat that none of them is present tonight. I ask the Committee to reject the amendment.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
I support amendment No. 26, partly because I was not fortunate enough, as a result of the guillotine so shamelessly imposed by the Government, to speak in the debate on citizenship. Amendment No. 26 illustrates the ramifications of the concept of European citizenship being universally applied, whether with or without their consent, to all nationals of countries within the European Union.
Article 6a will codify a power for the European Union to be at its most intrusive in those aspects of its citizens' lives which are particularly private or sensitive, and which ought in any normal jurisdiction to be a matter for them. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) rightly argued, the article demonstrates the total fallacy of the Labour Government's claim to be upholders of the principle of subsidiarity. How can a bigger organisation at the centre of the ramshackle and often fraudulent and corrupt empire that is the European Union presume to have any legislative role in people's domestic, social or employment arrangements in the member states?
I am sure that the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) and others will argue that there are safeguards, inasmuch as the Council will have to act unanimously. Over the years, however, we have come to learn the hard way that, by a process of horse trading, moral blackmail and political intimidation, powers encapsulated within the treaties can be used by member countries of the European Union to impose their will in other areas on other countries of the Union.
Let us examine the detail of the provision. First, a proposal must come from the Commission. Under the treaty, the citizenry of the European Union have the right, do they not, to petition or to make representations to any institution of the European Union? Presumably, therefore, if a citizen feels that he cannot in this country get adequate redress from the Commission for Racial Equality—if it is a matter of racial discrimination—off will go his submission to the Commission. That type of representation can be replicated throughout the European Union.
The Commission, as the guardian of the treaty, with the European Court of Justice, will wish to justify its existence in this area of competence. Man hours and 573 expenditure will therefore be devoted to a matter that is properly one for national Governments and not for the bureaucratic institution—the Commission—at the centre of that ramshackle empire.
The European Parliament will also be involved, because it must be consulted. Presumably, therefore, in the Parliament's busy schedule of peregrinations between Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg, it has time to consider those matters, too. That will mean further cost and a further burden on the citizens of the European Union. How can Members of the European Parliament—more remote as they are, because they do not hold the same surgeries as we do and are not in the same daily contact as we are with our electors—presume to have better understanding than elected representatives in the nation states on matters of discrimination
based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation"?What will be the appropriate action in the eventuality that, by means of that horse trading or blackmail, an individual country is induced to relinquish its veto and accept European jurisdiction in that sphere? There would, I presume, be a directive; there might be a regulation. Whatever it was, it would not be as appropriately tailored to the needs of the individual nation state as a nation's own legislation. We know that from the way in which directives are discussed in our European Standing Committees. We cannot amend European directives, or even vote them down. As for European regulations, they are imposed from above our head, without any consultation in this Parliament.
There could, I suppose, be some other type of measure—some countervailing measure—that is perhaps harder to envisage now but that could be equally a nuisance to individual countries.
The matter may seem trivial, and we may seem far-fetched in our objections. However, we are witnessing yet another attempt—in which the Government are wholly content; they acquiesce in and encourage such activity—to make the Commission and the institutions of the European Union even more intrusive in the daily lives of our people than they are already.
In our country as in other countries of the European Union, a feeling of deep resentment and of bitterness is understandably building up. They—our people—have never been consulted on those matters. They assumed that their own Parliament was the custodian of their interests and their civil liberties—but no. We look now to a superior authority in Brussels. Even in such intimate matters as sexual orientation, belief, religion or ethnic discrimination, Brussels will have the final say—to some extent by virtue of the treaty—rather than national Governments.
§ Mr. Fabian Hamilton (Leeds, North-East)
Before I came to the House, I had heard that the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) was somewhat anti-Europe, so I was taken aback by some of his views as to why the article was included in the Amsterdam treaty. He said that it was a step towards the total integration of the European Union, that the United Kingdom's enlightened legal and statutory 574 framework was quite sufficient and that we needed no more legislation to prohibit discrimination in the rest of Europe. I totally reject that view.
I represent a constituency with one of the largest and most diverse multicultural communities in the United Kingdom. People from different parts of the Commonwealth and the world now reside in my constituency as British citizens. They have different religions and different colour skins. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has asked anyone such as Norris Pyke, one of my good friends who was born in St. Kitts, who is a British subject and who is a black West Indian, whether he has had problems when travelling in Europe and whether he has ever suffered discrimination. Of course he has, simply because of the colour of his skin.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that in that respect the United Kingdom has excellent legislation—the Race Relations Act 1976. Indeed, we have led the way internationally in showing how legislation can overcome discrimination, especially against people from different racial backgrounds. We do not have the type of political correctness to which the hon. Gentleman alluded. The Race Relations Act outlaws positive discrimination.
In the United Kingdom, we do not believe in positive discrimination. It was deemed illegal to have women-only shortlists for Parliament, as positive discrimination went against the spirit of all the legislation that we have passed over the years, which promoted equality of opportunity. Positive discrimination has brought into disrepute many of the laws in the United States that were supported by those who believed that political correctness would overcome discrimination. We do not have that in the United Kingdom. We have a model set of laws, which have gone a long way in fighting racial discrimination.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned religious discrimination. He said that he was brought up as a Quaker and is now a Catholic and that many of the laws that discriminated against Catholics and other denominations of Christianity were passed in the last century. However, there is still enormous discrimination against Muslims in the United Kingdom and in Europe.
One of my constituents, Shakeel Razak, was born in Karachi, came to the United Kingdom when he was three years old and was brought up in Leeds. He is a citizen of the United Kingdom, but he has encountered discrimination in the United Kingdom and in Europe. When travelling as a British citizen abroad, he has suffered a great deal of discrimination in Europe because of his religion.
The article could help to block the appalling material that is appearing on the internet, especially some of the 250 or so websites about holocaust denial, for example. Tomorrow I am travelling to Bonn with Lord Janner, a former Member of this House, to meet the President of the German Bundestag and members of the German Government responsible for trying to police the internet. They have ideas that could be adopted Europewide, given that the internet knows no boundaries. Such legislation could help us to counter the racist and offensive material that is increasingly appearing on websites.
I hope that that trip will make us better informed here. It will certainly give us a lot of information on how Parliament can frame legislation through Europe and conduct a Europewide fight against the horrible material that appears regularly on the internet.
575 The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) said that the provision was part of a tendency to be increasingly intrusive in the daily lives of the citizens of Europe. It will give us a Europewide framework to help us to overcome some of the discrimination that is seen and felt by our citizens from different racial backgrounds and religions travelling in Europe, as well as such citizens who live in France, Germany and other parts of Europe. Overcoming racial discrimination and bringing us closer to racial harmony, multiculturalism and a way of living together throughout Europe, embracing not just the different nations, but the different cultures, religions and racial backgrounds, will help to produce a better Europe for all the citizens of the United Kingdom and abroad.
§ Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)
The hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Hamilton) spoke with great sincerity. I hope that I can convince him that he is wrong. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) has left the Chamber. Harrow may be a lovely place, but it has a nasty habit of returning Members of Parliament of all parties with whom I disagree. He said very clearly that we should not worry about the measure and that anyone who voted against it was anti-European. Now he has departed, after making a scandalous and offensive speech, but he should appreciate that those of us who agree with the amendment moved so ably by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) support democracy.
Considering how the Labour party has fought so vigorously in the past for the rights of individuals to have a say in their own affairs, it is very worrying that a Labour Government are bringing forward a treaty that takes more powers away from democracy. I am sure that the Minister appreciates, as Conservative Ministers have found before, that to get what he wants at European meetings, any Minister has to agree to lots of other little clauses being inserted. The Government would not necessarily have inserted the provision on their own.
The protection of unanimity has been mentioned. If the Minister speaks to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, he will be well aware that many measures are introduced in Europe simply because one Government are anxious to get a measure through. Because they are so anxious for something to be done, they agree to bring forward legislation that they do not want. That is the basis of horse trading, not democracy, but that is how legislation is put through.
I hope that the hon. Member for Leeds, North-East appreciates that using European institutions is not necessarily the best way to get the right law. When there are 12 people sitting round a table, the result is often a thorough mess.
Handing over more power to the European Court of Justice will not necessarily give us the right sort of justice. The rulings of the European Court of Justice are not an interpretation of law or fairness. It brings forward crazy proposals, based on its desire to be a legislative assembly without democracy. Recent decisions of the European Court of Justice on discrimination have had devastating consequences for member countries.
For example, if hon. Members speak to their friends from the Republic of Ireland and ask about the consequences of the Grogan judgment in 1991, they will 576 be horrified. They could also look back to 1994 in Cornwall, when the most unusual decision was made about someone who had changed sex.
Hon. Members should be well aware that if we pass over powers to the European Court of Justice, we are passing that power totally outwith any democratic control. For example, on a different subject, we should look back at the repeal of the Merchant Shipping Act 1988, which was passed by the House of Commons on the basis that it had been approved not only by the House but, by the back door, by the Commission. Yet it was retrospectively repealed by the European Court. We must realise that that was a huge intervention in the democratic process.
It is appalling to hand over more power to Europe, because it means the passing of legislation that we cannot change. If, after his appalling speech, the hon. Member for Harrow, East ever comes come back into the Chamber to listen to a debate, I hope that he will appreciate that the principle of democracy in this country means that if we pass a law that does not work or turns out to be unfair—to a particular ethnic minority, for example—we can do something about it. The tragedy with Euro-law is that once it goes through, nothing can be done.
I have not spoken in the debate before, so I hope that I shall not be accused of wasting time when I say that anyone who doubts what I say—especially if he or she believes in democracy, as true socialists should—should ask himself or herself why such an organisation has not been able to resolve problems. An example is the appalling protection racket of the common agricultural policy, which is so unfair to the poor and wastes so much money.
If, following the proposal before us, we hand over more power to the European Court and European legislation, we are simply taking away the power of the people. Some people feel that that does not matter, because at the end of the day the same people will decide the same things. I know that some individuals in the House regard the whole business of democracy as a bit of a joke and say that the same people decide things, no matter which system we have. I do not believe that.
If we pass over such a massive chunk of activity to Europe, it will simply mean bad law, not because Europeans are nasty people, but because when 12 countries are sitting round to try to determine something, we never seem to get the right or the fair answer. Moreover, the people's power to do anything about that bad law will fade away.
Finally, I shall say something about the views that have been expressed about the measure. The organisation Christian Action, Research and Education was worried about the proposals, especially those on sexual orientation. It was concerned about what they would mean for its employment policies, so it wrote to the Foreign Office asking whether litigation could arise. The answer, on 7 July, was that although the Foreign Officewould not expect litigation to arise",it could not be ruled out.
If Euro-legislation comes forward, it will be interpreted by the European Court, and that is not good news. Unfortunately, we find that rather than interpreting law, 577 the European Court tends to expand the powers of the European agencies. I therefore hope that the Government will do one simple thing arising from the amendment.
I ask the Minister, and especially exciting new Members such as the hon. Member for Harrow, East, why more and more power has gone away from democracy to the European Union since we signed the treaty of Rome, and nothing has come back to democracy. Does the hon. Gentleman think that it is a good idea to pass such treaties giving additional powers to Europe when nothing comes back to the democratic process?
Would it not be a great thing if at the next meeting of the European Council, Ministers, some of whom I greatly respect, because on some issues they have achieved a great deal, for which I am grateful, set up some kind of committee or tabled a proposal to ask whether some things could come back to the democratic process and away from the European situation?
If we simply sit back and let more power go to the European process, which is devoid of direct democracy and in which nothing can be resolved even if it turns out to be nonsense, and more power is given to the European Court, over which the people and their democratic assemblies have no control, it will be bad not only for democracy in this country but for the whole of Europe.
I therefore hope that after such a silly proposal, which could produce nasty results, the Government will take the initiative and concentrate on trying to find out whether there is some way of taking some power back to democracy from non-democratic organisations, rather than taking away powers from democratic Parliaments that could do something about the problems. Issues of sexual and racial discrimination are important, and we have a duty to protect minorities and people with problems. I believe that a democratic assembly that can pass laws and then change them if they are wrong, unfair or offensive is the right way to pass law—not simply giving more power to non-democratic institutions in the EU.
§ Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow)
First, I wish to refer to the comments of the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor). From the speeches that I have heard from him in the Chamber, I can say that I respect his belief in democracy and that he speaks with passion and conviction on these issues. However, I have to say that he is fundamentally wrong, and I ask him to reflect on some of the points that he made.
The hon. Gentleman referred to issues of concern to him within the European debate, such as the money wasted on the common agricultural policy—a view that many of us share. Part of the problem with the CAP is that it was designed when Britain was not participating in Europe and was not involved in the discussions. Therefore, the CAP was framed for the needs and concerns of other countries that had different farming industries from Britain.
In terms of a single European currency, one of my fears is that we might miss the boat, but will be forced to join later because we shall not be prepared to pay the price of staying out of a strong single currency. However, the key decisions will have been made on the framing of the currency. I ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect on that.
578 I was also interested in the hon. Gentleman's remarks on the European Court of Justice, about which many criticisms can be made. One of the issues about which I am concerned is that the European Court of Justice has difficulty in interpreting European Union law because it has no access to the deliberations when the law is framed. The key decision-making Council, the Council of Ministers, is not open and members of the European Court are not aware of the discussions that have taken place.
The remarks of the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) caused me great concern and confusion. He said that, in his experience, there was resentment and bitterness among the British people with regard to Europe and the EU. Genuinely, that is not my experience from talking to people on the doorstep about the treaty, the European Union or other European matters. However, there is confusion and a lack of understanding about the way in which Europe works.
We have heard comments this evening about the low turnouts at European elections. The turnouts are low not because people lack interest in what is happening in Europe, but because they treat the European Parliament with the respect that they believe it deserves in terms of its power. They do not believe that the Parliament has power and teeth, and therefore accord it the power that they think it deserves.
I was also taken by what the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood said about anti-discrimination legislation which, he said, intrudes on private and sensitive areas of people's lives. I struggled to come to terms with what he meant by that. In my view, discrimination is about the use of power actively to discriminate against someone because of their sex, race, ethnic origin, disability or sexual orientation. That is not a private activity: it is a public abuse. To say that the state has no role in combating discrimination shows an unwarranted disrespect towards the issues.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
The hon. Gentleman touches on the core of the issue. If the power were to be vested in the state—the nation state—whose Government's actions are modified by an elected Parliament that is close to the people, those people could have confidence. The article gives to Brussels, a more remote and bureaucratic institution, the power to intervene in matters that are often for subjective judgment and on which the Commission for Racial Equality in our own country finds it hard enough to give an opinion.
§ Mr. Rammell
If Brussels and the operations of the European Union are remote from people's understanding and experiences, that is an argument for opening up decision making in the European Union, opening up the Council of Ministers and improving the scrutiny process. A person who has directly suffered from either sex or race discrimination will not be concerned whether the relief comes from Brussels or from a national institution.
The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) said that we did not need any proposals or articles from Europe because Britain had an enlightened attitude and record. I ask him to reflect on the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996, pushed through by the previous Government, whereby responsibility was placed on employers to check the nationality status of their employees; small employers' groups took the view that that undermined confidence in race relations. That is not an enlightened approach.
579 I ask the hon. Gentleman also to reflect on what was known as clause 28, which went out of its way to pillory people because of their sexual orientation and to encourage discrimination against them. That was not an enlightened approach. Before we get on our high horse and say that everything is perfect in our back garden and that discrimination is a problem only in Europe, I would ask Conservative Members to reflect on what has happened in our country in the past 18 years regarding discrimination and equal opportunities.
The hon. Gentleman asked the rhetorical question where the instances of sexual discrimination were, and said that we did not have a problem in the United Kingdom. My hon. Friends have already drawn attention to some problems that we have. One of the most pressing issues in the House at the moment is the struggle to find a resolution to the conflicts in Northern Ireland; communities on both sides of the divide would say that discrimination on the basis of religion at the very least has something to do with the situation. It is wide of the mark to say that such problems are nothing to do with us.
The hon. Gentleman said that he was not in favour of discrimination. I accept that, because I know, from working with him on the Select Committee on European Legislation, that he is indeed an honourable Gentleman; but he went on to distort completely the aims of the article and of the treaty. He said that article 6a was about changing the culture and the identity of the nation states and the people in them. I ask him to reflect on his contention that it was about changing cultures and identities. What aspect of British culture would be eroded by preventing discrimination?
There is often a problem with the language used by Conservative Members in debates such as this. They do not bring enlightenment or open up the issues to ordinary people, but distort what is taking place. That was especially the case, regrettably, when the hon. Gentleman mentioned paedophilia and claimed that it was a sexual orientation that could come under the auspices of that part of the treaty. That is wide of the mark and his accusation had no basis in fact. Paedophilia is illegal in every state of the European Union and that position will not be affected by the legislation. The hon. Gentleman was making an unworthy attempt to smear the treaty and the proposal.
It seems as if we have been participating in debates on the Bill for a lifetime, since before Christmas. I sometimes feel as if I am participating in a meeting of a strange sect, or at least a caucus meeting of the Members of Parliament who were expelled from the Tory party and lost the Whip before the general election.
§ It being Ten o'clock, THE CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report progress and ask leave to sit again.
§ To report progress and ask leave to sit again tomorrow.—[Mr. Dowd.]
§ Committee report progress; to sit again tomorrow.