HC Deb 14 March 2000 vol 346 cc151-3
4. Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire)

What representations he has received on his White Paper on the IGC; and if he will make a statement. [112872]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook)

There have been no formal representations on the White Paper, but the response from the applicant countries has been universally positive. Over the past two weeks I have discussed the proposals with the Foreign Ministers of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Romania. All of them welcomed the fact that the Government are giving such a strong commitment to the reforms needed for enlargement.

Mr. Paice

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that such matters are outwith the real concerns of the majority of the British people? Their concern is that the European Union as at present constructed is still very imperfect, not least because many countries apparently flout many of the regulations to which they have appended their names. Many British people would not support the extension of the Community into other policy areas, be it the existing 15 member states or the applicant countries. Will the Secretary of State give his commitment that he will concentrate at the IGC on making Europe work better at what it is doing now—including the applicant countries as they join—rather than on any further extension of its activities into policy areas in which it is not currently involved?

Mr. Cook

I am happy to agree with the hon. Gentleman that those of us who support the European Union and want Britain's membership of it to be a success also want the European Union to be reformed. That is why one of the issues that we have proposed within the IGC is for reform of the European Court of Justice, particularly its rules of procedure. As I think the hon.

Gentleman may agree, although many of his colleagues may not, it will be easier to achieve that if we can get qualified majority voting as the basis for decision making.

Mr. John Cryer (Hornchurch)

Are there any areas into which my right hon. Friend would resist the extension of QMV?

Mr. Cook

Yes, there are, and I have repeatedly stated them to the House. They are border controls, defence, social security, taxation, treaty amendments and the financial resources of the European Union.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

Does the Foreign Secretary share my concern that the IGC and the enlargement programme might be jeopardised by strained relations with Austria within the EU?

Mr. Cook

No, I do not share that anxiety. I have heard the Austrian Foreign Minister address meetings of the European Union, particularly the General Affairs Council. She made clear her commitment, and the commitment of the Chancellor for whom she works, that they will make sure that the business of Europe continues. It is important that those in Austria who want the European Union to succeed and the other member states of the European Union make it plain that we will not allow Mr. Haider's xenophobic views to wreck the European Union.

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham)

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that the mainstream majority of the public are strongly opposed to further legislative interference from Brussels? Are there any areas of legislation where the Government are prepared to contemplate the extension of qualified majority voting in the course of the IGC, or is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to rule out today any further erosion of the legislative—I stress "legislative"—veto?

Mr. Cook

On public opinion, I was struck by The Daily Telegraph poll last week, which found that 50 per cent. of the public recognised the Labour party as representing their views on Europe, and that only 34 per cent. recognised the Tory party as representing their views. I warn the right hon. Gentleman that on this one, we seem to have more of the public with us.

Given the right hon. Gentleman's record, I do wish that he would give up posturing as the champion of the veto. He was, after all, not only the Minister who signed the Maastricht treaty, but who said that he was very happy to sign it. He owes it to the House to tell us now whether he is still happy that he signed it. Is he happy that he signed away 30 years of the veto? If he is, will he please give up posturing as the champion of the veto?

Mr. Maude

By harping on the Maastricht treaty, the Foreign Secretary illustrates the central point. He does not understand the difference between driving to the end of the pier, and carrying on driving when he has reached the end. Does he not understand that such equivocation encourages the Commission to introduce proposals such as it is bringing forward later today, which would get rid of the veto on taxation and social security? Is it because the Liberal Democrat Member of the European Parliament, Andrew Duff, was right when he said on the IGC recently that the Government's attitude is in fact much more flexible than certain public declarations suggest …? Is not that another example of the Foreign Secretary saying one thing in Britain and agreeing to something else in Brussels?

Mr. Cook

I cannot improve on the right hon. Gentleman's metaphor, since he speaks for a party which at the last election constituted the end-of-the-pier show.

We have not only repeatedly explained in the House where we stand on qualified majority voting, but I have published a White Paper on it. Eighty per cent. of decision making in the European Union is done by qualified majority voting, largely as a result of the extension to which Conservative Members agreed when they were in government. There is only limited room for further extension, but we are no more afraid of it than the right hon. Gentleman was when he was a Minister. He once told the House that the number of times we were outvoted "is tiny." That is why it is sometimes in our interest to agree to majority voting.

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