HC Deb 02 December 2002 vol 395 cc673-724
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord)

Before I call the Secretary of State, I must inform the House that Mr. Speaker has not selected any of the amendments tabled to the Government motion. Let me also say that the debate is limited to three hours. There are four Front-Bench speakers—five including the Liberal Democrat—and Back-Bench speeches must be limited to 12 minutes. I hope that Front-Bench speeches will be as brief as possible; if not, there will be very little time for any Back-Bench speeches.

7.42 pm
The Secretary of State for Wales (Peter Hain)

I beg to move, That this House endorses the strategy of Her Majesty's Government in the Convention on the Future of Europe to establish structures for a Union of sovereign member states; rejects the alternative of a federal superstate; and resolves that the Order of 12th June 2002 relating to the Standing Committee on the Convention be renewed for the current Session of Parliament. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak as the Government's representative on the convention, which is designing a new political architecture for a new Europe. The debate also gives me an opportunity to be accountable to the House, and in that spirit I will be generous in accepting interventions.

We are at a defining moment in the history of the European Union, and the convention has two great tasks. The first is to make a success of the EU's biggest ever enlargement, with 10 countries joining our 15; the second is to reconnect the EU with its citizens. Within 18 months, 10 new countries will be able to share in Europe's success story—50 years of peace, stability and prosperity, and extraordinary achievements such as the single market and the single currency. But the institutional architecture devised for six nations is barely working for 15, and must be reformed to work for 25 or more.

As the Prime Minister said in his speech in Cardiff last week, we need a new constitutional order for a Europe reunited after the bitter legacy of the cold war. Our vision is of a Europe of sovereign nation states cooperating to tackle shared challenges such as pollution, international crime, terrorism and the need for economic growth. Our vision is of a Europe with full employment, social justice, democracy and human rights—a Europe that is a leader in the world, with Britain as a leading European power; a Europe that is a global force for good, aiming to banish international poverty, injustice and oppression.

Alan Howarth (Newport, East)

The social stresses generated in the weaker areas of the eurozone by the single interest rate and the single currency will obviously require substantially increased transfers of public expenditure from the richer to the poorer countries in that zone. Under what political authority has the convention envisaged that such transfers should be approved, and what arrangements for democratic accountability has my right hon. Friend told the convention that he considers constitutionally acceptable?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Before the Secretary of State answers, let me repeat what I said earlier about interventions and responses to them.

Peter Hain

I welcome my hon. Friend's question. Let me simply say that the single currency has not featured in discussions in the convention, at least so far.

The convention is a new way of doing business, with representatives of Governments not from member states but from candidates, and European and national parliamentarians. It was set four tasks by the Laeken European Council last December.

Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent)

Does the Secretary of State recall the fine articles he used to write saying that the single currency was unacceptable, that decisions were being made by bankers who were neither elected nor accountable, and that voting would become increasingly irrelevant?

Peter Hain

As I said, the single currency has not been discussed in the convention. I will happily answer the question, however. The single currency is a reality in Europe. Whatever debates we had 10 years ago, we must face up to that. Will Britain remain isolated for ever—if the Opposition's policies are adopted—or will we make a common-sense decision based on economic circumstances? That is the question.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)

Just before my right hon. Friend finishes his very short speech—[Laughter.] My right hon. Friend said that this was a defining moment in European history. Will he elaborate a little on how the Government see Parliament's role in endorsing a European convention, and also how he sees the electorate's role in defining a constitution that may govern them for many decades?

Peter Hain

One reason for my presence tonight is Parliament's importance in the debate. That is why I am accountable to Parliament. As my hon. Friend knows, however, if any treaty emerges from the convention's discussions following an intergovernmental conference it will be a new treaty, which, in the normal way, will require legislation here. The House will determine its position on that treaty. In the meantime, I think a debate is needed. That is why I spoke at a Foreign Office convened conference of local authorities last week and why I am joining any discussions that it is practical for me to join, as are other members of the convention team representing the House.

Mr. Allen

Will my right hon. Friend also answer the second part of my question—about the involvement of the people who will be governed by this constitution? Every western democracy that has had a constitutional settlement has involved the people. However difficult it may be, will my right hon. Friend consider how that can be achieved?

Peter Hain

The people are involved, through Members of Parliament such as my hon. Friend. That is the proper way to deal with matters such as this.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)

The Secretary of State has emphasised the importance of democracy and of Members of Parliament expressing their views. Can he explain a rather unusual motion passed on 12 June, which states that the Standing Committee on the Convention is not allowed to express an opinion of any sort on the work done by the commissioners, and can pass only a motion saying that it has considered the report from the United Kingdom representatives to the convention? If the Secretary of State believes that Members of Parliament should express a view, would it not be right to allow the Committee to express a view on whether what has been decided is good or bad for the people, or irrelevant in some respect? Is it not an insult to democracy to establish a Committee that is prevented from expressing a view of any sort by a motion?

Peter Hain

I am trying to make progress as you asked me to, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I will take interventions.

Parliament decided on the procedure, which is open and democratic. We have our own parliamentary representatives, who are present in the Chamber this evening, and the hon. Gentleman and everyone else will have a chance to question them. Indeed, they have already given evidence to a Joint Committee.

As I was saying, last December the Laeken European Council set the convention four tasks: to achieve a better division and definition of EU competences, simplification of the EU's instruments, more democracy, transparency and efficiency, and consideration of a new constitution. British representatives are playing a full and constructive role, and I welcome the contributions of Members of both Houses.

As the Government's representatives on the convention, Baroness Scotland and I have participated actively in its plenary proceedings and working groups. We are thinking radically and building alliances for British ideas to secure reform, in order to create our kind of Europe, but we are also listening. We have not gone into the convention with a rigid British blueprint; we have asked questions and entered into real discussions about reform, rather than simply repeating the same old nostrums. Where there are arguments to be fought on points of principle, we are getting stuck in. Where good ideas are proposed, we are embracing and fine-tuning them to make the system deliver what our citizens want.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North)

In the context of good ideas that need to be proposed, does my right hon. Friend agree that the future of the 1957 Euratom treaty, which has dominated energy policy in Europe for the past 50 years, needs to be on the convention's agenda, with a view to being included in the discussion at the intergovernmental conference in 2004?

Peter Hain

A friend of mine raised this issue with me for the first time over the weekend, and I am sure that it will be considered in convention proceedings if there is scope for doing so.

At the moment, too many people believe that the process of taking decisions in the EU is impenetrable and distant, that there are no clear means by which they can influence these decisions, and that the bureaucracy in place to implement them is complacent and inward-looking. People have lost a sense of what Europe is for—a point amply demonstrated by increased votes for anti-European parties during this year. So we need a new sense of Europe's purpose, to reconnect Europe to its people. This means identifying what citizens expect from the institutions that govern them and acknowledging that they will look principally to their national Governments to deliver answers, but demonstrating that co-operating with our European partners in many policy areas can add value, and that—where it does so—a willingness to pool sovereignty is in our national interest.

Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East and Washington, West)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the European Union has adopted many important measures that affect citizens, in areas such as equality rights, the environment, working conditions and so on? Does he further agree that the work of the convention should be about helping citizens to understand what measures have been adopted and their effect, and has he any plans to push for an easily digestible form of what the EU is about for our citizens, rather than the complicated treaties that exist at the moment?

Peter Hain

My right hon. Friend makes very telling points, particularly her suggestion for a concise new constitution to replace the current tangled web of impenetrable treaties. That is an objective that we must try to secure.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

If better definition of competences, greater democracy and an enhanced role for national Parliaments are key objectives of the right hon. Gentleman, can he please identify for the House a single example of a European Union directive or regulation that has been repealed under the terms of the protocol on subsidiarity and proportionality in the treaty of Amsterdam?

Peter Hain

It is precisely because we need to ensure that the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality are properly enforced and policed that we are proposing a new mechanism, to which the convention has agreed in principle. That is a British idea, which I shall explain to the hon. Gentleman in a minute.

We already pool sovereignty with the United States of America and others in NATO, because by doing so Britain has stronger defences. Pooling sovereignty in appropriate policy areas can make nations stronger; so, too, in the United Nations, the resolutions of which have the force of international law. Everybody, including Britain, has to respect them, but as a permanent member of the Security Council, we get to make the laws. We also pool sovereignty in the World Trade Organisation and the International Monetary Fund, in international treaties such as that banning land mines, and in the European Union. By pooling sovereignty, the British people have greater influence in building a safer, more stable world.

Pooling sovereignty can mean compromises. That is sometimes hard for certain commentators and politicians to understand, but real people know that in real life, we cannot always get exactly what we want. Nor can other countries in these international bodies, but we can better advance British interests by being right at the centre of NATO and the United Nations—and, indeed, of the European Union. That means creating a new, delivery-oriented EU, identifying and focusing on the policy areas in which the EU can contribute, and creating a decision-making framework to drive this through in an efficient, transparent and democratic way.

David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Do the United Kingdom Government totally dissociate themselves from the outburst against Turkey by the former President of France, who chaired the convention, and should not Turkey be welcomed as quickly as possible, once it meets the necessary conditions? Were not those remarks from the chairman of the convention totally wrong and anti-Turkish, and do they not seem to betray a belief that Europe should be a fundamentalist Christian affair?

Peter Hain

The answer to all my hon. Friend's questions is yes.

We must preserve Europe's ability to adapt quickly to new challenges, and to address old issues in new and innovative ways. It is the flexibility of our current system that enabled us to react to the new political realities, following the attacks of 11 September. The world changed, and the EU was able to reflect that change by agreeing on common policies and mechanisms to fight terrorism together. Acting together through the "justice and home affairs" agenda, with the Commission taking the lead, we can improve security for all Europeans.

We need a new European Union constitution, which, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin) said, must be clear and concise. It must have a short and inspirational preamble. It must clarify what the EU is, what its objectives and values are, and who does what. This would help to bridge the gap of understanding between the EU and its citizens. It would also mean a better-organised EU that is even better able to deliver practical benefits for citizens.

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda)

Does my right hon. Friend think that such a constitution might act as a very real and necessary brake on the Commission when it decides to interfere in the business of member states?

Peter Hain

Yes I do, and that is one of the purposes—although not the exclusive one—in designing this new constitution.

The chairman of the convention, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, has presented to it his draft outline constitutional text. Flesh now needs to be put on the bones of this skeleton. The drafting of individual chapters and articles will begin after Christmas, and a consolidated text is likely to be issued at or near Easter. The Giscard text mirrors our thinking in a number of key areas. It is founded on the basic premise of a union of sovereign states, not a blueprint for a federal super-state, and it aims to settle the relationship between the EU and its member states for the foreseeable future, halting the sense of permanent treaty change that disturbs so many of our citizens. The draft text also reflects our proposal for a subsidiarity mechanism whereby national Parliaments can monitor new EU proposals to ensure that it is acting only where it needs to act. Assessing subsidiarity involves a political judgment, which should be vested in national Parliaments. In practice, they will be e-mailed new Commission proposals for determining any breach of subsidiarity or—equally important—any breach of the principle of proportionality: whether new legislation, even if laudable, is too heavy-handed and intrusive. This new early-warning mechanism would make national Parliaments the watchdogs of subsidiarity and proportionality.

Mr. Allen

May I ask that my right hon. Friend seek the services of a poet, rather than someone who is competent in Euro-babble? Many hon. Members will fear that, if such descriptions are going to get longer, those outside this place will not understand them.

In my right hon. Friend's view, will the concept of subisidiarity be justiciable by local authorities and regional authorities within the countries of the European Union, rather than merely the nations—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)


Peter Hain

My hon. Friend does raise an important point. We are in favour of subsidiarity being determined not by the courts but by elected political representatives—a point that is also important in respect of proportionality. As he knows, national Governments and Parliaments have the right to go to the European Court of Justice, and that factor will doubtless form part of the outcome. However, we should not encourage the courts in a rush to judgment in determining these matters.

Mr. Bercow

I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way again. I am sure that he wants his answer to the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) to be complete. Will he confirm that the protocol on subsidiarity and proportionality says that the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality shall respect the general provisions and objectives of the treaty, particularly as regards the maintaining in full of the acquis communautaire and the institutional balance, and that it shall not affect the balance between national law and community law? That is the reality; that is the record. Will he confirm it?

Peter Hain

The answer is yes. I am always impressed by the hon. Gentleman's ability to recite from articles, treaties and legislation without a text in front of him.

We are pleased that the draft text also includes the idea of an elected President of the European Council, which we and others have been advocating in the convention. However, there are a number of proposals that we do not support, such as changing the name of the European Union. It is a successful brand name. Giscard's suggestion of a United States of Europe implies a federal superstate, and his Europe United sounds more like a football team. Significantly, nobody supported a name change when that was discussed in the convention.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in addition to the points that he is making against a name change, there is a danger that the process will be seen as focusing on cosmetic inessentials? What people really hope for from this process is a community, a union, that they understand. They see what the powers are and how they can influence them, and they do not care that much what the name is.

Peter Hain

I think that they do care about the way in which it is delivered, but my hon. Friend's essential point is correct. People want to see outcomes, practical benefits and clarity in the way that the European Union works and the accountability of its institutions to citizens.

For the EU of 25 and more to function effectively and efficiently in the future, we need more than a constitution that sets out the status quo. We need reform, and some of it needs to be radical. We want to maintain the institutional balance and strength in the European Union by making all of its institutions more effective. We have to begin with the Council of Ministers, because although democratic legitimacy should reside in many different parts of the EU's structures, democratic accountability lies first and foremost with the Council.

The EU's strategic direction should come from heads of Government in the European Council. The institution should also provide stronger political leadership. People expect their head of Government and Ministers to represent their interests and will hold them to account in their national Parliaments, media and elections, but how can a Council of 25 or more Governments drive the EU's strategic agenda?

The Council as it is today is not operating coherently or efficiently. The rotating presidency, for example, was originally devised for a community of six member states. When there are 25, each member state will hold the presidency once every twelve and a half years, or eight times a century. The presidency system has enormous attractions. It gives every member state, large or small, an equal stake in running the union. However, if a much larger EU is to be effective and cohesive, the six-monthly musical chairs presidency needs replacing with a much longer period to establish and deliver strategic objectives.

Ann Winterton (Congleton)

Surely the whole point of the EU is that the Commission is the driving force. The Council of Ministers cannot override the Commission, as we shall shortly see in respect of fisheries. Is the Minister suggesting that in future the acquis communautaire will not be binding on every member state?

Peter Hain

No, of course I am not suggesting that, but the Council should be the political engine.

Ann Winterton

It is not.

Peter Hain

Exactly—that is the point. That is why we need to reform it, making it stronger and more coherent.

One way of improving coherence might be to have four countries each chairing two of the eight Councils of Ministers for perhaps a year or longer. That would enable greater continuity and more systematic consultation between the Council, the Commission and the European Parliament than the musical chairs system allows at present. It would be essential to have a rotation system, of both Councils and countries, to ensure equality between member states. At any one time there should be three small countries and one big one making up the team presidency, since there will he 19 "smalls" and six "bigs" in the enlarged European Union.

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester)

Do the Government favour removing the power of initiative from the Commission to create legislation and placing it with the Council of Ministers?

Peter Hain

No, we do not propose removing the right of initiative; it is important to retain it.

The chairmen of the individual Councils should work together as a steering group—a team presidency—to ensure that the strategic direction given by the European Council was implemented. The work of the team presidency steering group would need effective coordination by an elected President of the European Council, as we and other member states have suggested, serving for five years to match the life of the Commission.

Mr. Bryant

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way again. A significant benefit of having an elected President of the Council for five years would be to put an end to the stop-start nature of much of the present process in the EU. What would it do to change the relationship between the President of the Council and the President of the Commission?

Peter Hain

The President of the Council would be a much more authoritative figure than at present, but that is not to diminish the role of the President of the Commission. They will need to work together, as already happens under the six-monthly rotating presidency system. Under these proposals, we will have a much more effective, full-time President of the Council, able to provide the coherence and strategic direction that heads of Government need.

Reforming and strengthening the Council does not mean downgrading the other EU institutions, as some of our opponents make out—quite the contrary. I want to see a stronger Commission, enforcing the general interest at the centre of Europe's institutional architecture. Only a strong Commission will be able to retain its vital independence, acting in the interests of the EU as a whole, and not subject to political interference or vested national interests. Without a strong Commission driving through change, none of the Council's decisions would come to anything. [Interruption.] Conservative Members want a weak Europe, one that cannot help defend us against terrorism, fight international pollution and deal with the need to generate jobs and greater growth throughout the European Union, with which we have 60 per cent. of our trade. It is in Britain's interest to have a strong Commission when it comes to asylum policy, agricultural reform, energy liberalisation and enforcing the lifting of the beef ban.

Dr. Palmer


Peter Hain

Although the European Council is populated by democratically elected leaders, it needs essential checks and balances, as does the Commission. That is a role for the European Parliament as much as for national Parliaments. We want to see a strong and influential European Parliament exercising its extensive powers responsibly.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

In the discussions on the convention and the concerns about giving the European Parliament a more prominent role, has there been any discussion among members about the most effective way of involving citizens in future elections to the European Parliament?

Peter Hain

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend. Apart from being an outstanding Member of this House, he was also a Member of the European Parliament, and his expertise is particularly appropriate. His suggestion is part of the convention's agenda. [HON. MEMBERS: "Get on with it."] I will, but I am open to taking interventions, including many from Conservative Members.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)


Peter Hain

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) admirably chaired the convention's working group on the role of national Parliaments, securing consensus in the group and the wider plenary for national Parliaments to play a greater role at the EU level and to increase contacts between Members of this House and Members of the European Parliament.

The Government have always made it clear that we support the charter of fundamental rights, which was proclaimed at Nice, as an excellent way of enshrining key values across Europe.

Equally, however, we have always made it clear that the charter proclaimed at Nice was not suitable for incorporation in the treaty. Issues of legal certainty would need to be resolved before we could consider that. We cannot support a form of treaty incorporation that would enlarge EU competence over national legislation. New legal rights cannot be given by such means, especially in areas such as industrial law, which are matters for domestic, not European, law.

By engaging positively in the discussions in the charter working group, my right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Scotland has been able to make colleagues aware of our views and of our difficulties. Some of our colleagues appreciated—perhaps for the first time—that they, too, would have problems with full incorporation of the charter in their countries. We have achieved a number of changes to tie rights back to existing treaty articles and to distinguish more clearly between aspirational principles and directly effective rights. Our key objective has been to insert strong horizontal articles that block the charter from being invoked to change nationally determined domestic law.

We have agreed to nothing yet, except to consider what is on the table. Given that what is on the table has moved very much in Britain's direction, we are obviously interested in it. The convention has agreed to set up a new working group—bringing the total to 11—on social Europe. The group needs to target social exclusion through creating more decent jobs in a dynamic and competitive European economy. It should be about pursuing the Lisbon agenda for economic reform even more actively.

I hope that members of the convention who take part in the group will not fall into the trap of simply rehashing tired old schemes for more rigid European-wide regulation of labour relations. Instead of protectionism for existing jobs, the agenda should be creating new jobs underpinned by decent minimum standards. We support the concept of a "social Europe" but it must be economically competitive and efficient; it must generate full employment, not entrench unemployment. It must give everybody the opportunity to work, and not protect only those who are in work.

Sir Teddy Taylor

Does the Secretary of State agree that it would help to strengthen the European Union and all that it stands for if provision were made in the constitution for member states to withdraw if they want to do so?

Peter Hain

The hon. Gentleman will no doubt support President Giscard's draft text because it proposes exactly that.

Sir Teddy Taylor

Does the right hon. Gentleman support it?

Peter Hain

I do not see a problem with it. If anybody is silly enough to want to withdraw from the EU, they should be entitled to do so. I guess that the hon. Gentleman would be in the lead.

Some critics have argued that the convention is about giving up even more national powers to Europe. That is simply not the case. The discussions that we have held about who does what, or, in Euro-jargon, "where competences lie", have not been about moving those competences to the EU; rather, the concern has been to make the current set-up clearer so that everybody knows where responsibility lies. That is a crucial element in making Europe more accountable.

The basic premise of our confident engagement in Europe is our ability to take decisions and support ideas that are in Britain's interests. Crime and immigration are at the top of people's agendas. Tackling those issues is partly a domestic policy matter for national Governments, but there is also a strong European dimension. Moving away from the unanimity rule in some areas of justice and home affairs will enable decisions on such crucial matters as crime, drug dealing, asylum and illegal immigration, for example, to be made more easily, and action to be taken more speedily, to make all of us safer and more secure.

Lifting our veto and agreeing to such common EU decision making on border security measures or a common arrest warrant is not selling out British interests. Quite the contrary, it is common sense. However, we have said firmly and repeatedly that we will not tolerate attempts to take fundamental decisions, for example about taxation and social security, out of the hands of national Governments. Such a move would clearly not be in Britain's interests.

Mrs. Browning

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the Franco-German proposal on tax harmonisation as it was clearly spelt out on the front page of the Financial Times today. Will he use the British veto on that matter?

Peter Hain

I understand that the French spokesman in Brussels said that no such proposal as that reported in the FT exists and that he said something even more uncharitable about the report off the record. I shall obviously not repeat that as the House is family oriented.

Nor do we countenance a shift away from the current intergovernmental approach to the EU's foreign and security policy or to defence. Yes, those areas must be made more effective and efficient—as must the rest of the EU—but such matters must remain in the hands of national Governments, co-operating freely. For example, we have said that we could support a single legal personality for the EU but not if it jeopardises the national representations of member states in international bodies; not if it means a Euro-army; not if it means giving up our seat on the United Nations Security Council; and not if it means a Euro-FBI or a Euro police force.

There have been, and there will continue to be, ideas in the convention with which we do not agree. Such is the nature of open and broad debate. However, we are at the centre of the debate. By engaging actively and dynamically and by working in partnership with others, Britain is helping to set and shape the European agenda, and our confident approach is getting results.

As the world becomes more global, people are thinking more locally. People only want the EU to act when it genuinely has something to add. They want it to work on the issues where working together is better than working alone; to combat cross-border crimes, such as drug and people trafficking, but not to tell us how to police the streets; to agree limits to the industrial pollution affecting our continent, but not to tell us whether we can build roads or houses on individual sites; and to provide opportunities for our students to study abroad, but not to tell us how to run individual schools.

The Government are clear about where we stand in Europe. We support the enlargement of the Union because it will make Britain stronger, safer and richer.

David Winnick

My right hon. Friend was good enough to say yes to the questions I put to him earlier. On enlargement, would it not be appropriate for him, given his special responsibilities, to make it as clear as possible that Britain welcomes the strong possibility that Turkey will join the EU and for him to dissociate himself from the notorious remarks that I quoted earlier?

Peter Hain

I welcome my hon. Friend's question. My answer is yes, we want to see Turkey join the EU. That is EU policy. Turkey is one of the officially recognised candidates for accession. The president of the convention was speaking for himself alone when he declared his opposition to Turkey's membership.

We support the work of the convention because it is the best way to deliver the practical benefits that British citizens want: more jobs, greater prosperity, safer streets, cleaner skies—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton) shakes her head. Does she not want cleaner skies or safer streets?

Ann Winterton

After European enlargement we shall actually have less of that famous influence in Europe that the Prime Minister is always going on about.

Peter Hain

There speaks the true voice of the Conservative Back Benches, opposed to enlargement, to reunifying Europe and to welcoming back Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and all the other countries that were divided from us by the cold war. Is that really Conservative party policy?

We relish the debate about Europe, conducted in the plainest terms, because we are confident, unlike the Opposition, about rising to the challenge to deliver in Britain's interests in the convention.

8.18 pm
Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes)

I shall try to be somewhat briefer than the Minister, given that more than a sixth of the time that we have to debate this issue has already passed.

The debate will inevitably touch on accountability in Europe—indeed, it already has—but I would like to ask some questions about accountability at home. Who in the Government leads on the future of Europe—the Foreign Secretary, who is not here, the Minister for Europe, who is here but did not lead, or the Secretary of State for Wales, who has led tonight, but not for Wales? Seriously, if in future we want to know the Government's position on the convention, do we table questions for the Wales Office or do we still table them for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office?

Peter Hain

That issue was made absolutely clear by the Leader of the House last Thursday, when the same question was raised. I remain the Government's representative on the convention. Is it not interesting that, since I have been in that position, Britain's agenda is finding favour and the French and Germans have put their Foreign Secretaries on the Convention on the Future of Europe? What does the right hon. Gentleman think I am doing here? I also appeared before the European Scrutiny Committee to answer questions only the other week.

Mr. Ancram

The right hon. Gentleman may not have noticed, but he is not the Foreign Secretary. I note that the Minister for Europe is not trusted to set out the Government's policy on the convention. Perhaps that is because of what he said last week: Electing a right-wing conservative Government is always a disaster for any European country."—[0fficial Report, Westminster Hall, 27 November 2002; Vol. 395, c. 112WH.] That cannot be very clever, when nine of the 15 member states have centre-right Governments, and Austria has just decisively re-elected one.

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane)

The difference is that all those centre-right Governments believe in Europe, unlike the anti-European right-wing party to which the right hon. Gentleman belongs, which will never be elected as long as it maintains its anti-European course.

Mr. Ancram

Once again, we see the hon. Gentleman correcting his words. He should be careful about what he says, because I am sure that his remarks last week will have been noted with great care in some of the chancelleries of Europe.

With enlargement—which we welcome—on course, Europe is at a crossroads. Its challenge is to give back to the peoples of Europe a sense of ownership over the EU institutions. A bigger European Union must not become an even more distant one. At Laeaken, it was rightly declared that the European institutions must be brought closer to its citizens". The convention has been disappointing in that regard. It had a great opportunity comprehensively to review how Europe was working and to jettison those practices and rules that were distancing it from its peoples. It has failed to do that. In particular, it has failed to tackle the problem of remote institutions.

Indeed, the Giscard draft treaty seeks further to centralise employment and social law, which even in the United States of America is left to the individual states—hardly a decentralising charter.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should declare the debate on the institutions a failure, given that the convention has not yet had that debate.

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Lady should listen. I said that, before it started any deliberations, the convention should conduct a fundamental review of how Europe is working. It is a great surprise to Conservative Members that, almost three quarters of the way through its time, it has not done that.

Recently—and very flatteringly—the Welsh Secretary adopted my phrase "a partnership of sovereign states", but everything that he and the Government are doing is moving slowly but surely in the opposite direction. Whatever he may have told the House tonight, the Government are integrationist. Last week, the Prime Minister called once again for a European superpower.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)


Mr. Ancram

Yes, he did, and it is about time that the right hon. Gentleman understood what his Prime Minister is calling for. He also called for a unified foreign policy and for a massive abolition of Britain's remaining vetoes. For Conservative Members, that is the voice of integration. It may not be the voice of the motion, but then again the motion would delight a sackful of weasels.

The Conservative party will continue to seek a Europe that is more accountable, more democratic, less centralised and more relevant.

Mr. Allen

I respect the right hon. Gentleman's position, but can he imagine a form of words that would reassure him on his greatest fears, of centralisation and a federal superstate, and see a place for those words in a European constitution, so that he need never fear what any Prime Minister or Executive might say in the future, because those words would be enshrined clearly in a constitution?

Mr. Ancram

I will explain later why I do not believe in a European constitution, but I believe that the words that we should see are "national Parliaments". That is where the strength should lie.

We are attempting to bring the EU closer to all its peoples. For all the Government's words analysing the problems of alienation, there have been few specific proposals to solve them. There is a worrying parallel with the common agricultural policy. For years we pressed the Government to make specific proposals on CAP reform, but virtually none has been produced. Instead, the vacuum was filled against our interests by France and Germany in October in Brussels.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) said, we saw today a report that the French and Germans are jointly proposing tax harmonisation. The Secretary of State's denial of that holds no water for me, given all the Government's previous denials that were then followed by actions that showed that the stories were right in the first place.

We will introduce detailed proposals—I wish to make some this evening—that will, in part, reflect aspects of the work done by respected senior members of the Conservative party earlier this year, but especially the important work being done by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) and our European parliamentary colleagues who are in the convention. They will in due course produce their own recommendations, and I look forward to taking them into account.

A reformed Europe should meet a number of criteria: it must add value, its power must not compromise national sovereignty, and it must demonstrably provide stability and prosperity. What is clear is that Europe does not need any more bureaucracy or regulation—it is already hobbled by red tape and a one-size-fits-all currency—nor does it require any more power; if anything, it has too much already.

Mr. Bryant

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ancram

I will give way, but this is the last time that I do so because I am very conscious of the time.

Mr. Bryant

I feel suitably chastened and grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I just wonder whether he feels that it is none the less important for the Commission to have a certain degree of power, especially in relation to the regulation of state aid. If we are to ensure that we have the necessary long-term stability and economic flexibility, we need a strong Commission in relation to competition law.

Mr. Ancram

I shall come to the Commission in due course in my remarks, and I will not pre-empt what I want to say.

The EU needs to re-engage with the peoples of Europe. Giving it a constitution will not achieve that; it will only vastly increase the authority of European institutions over the member states. We believe in a lighter approach to Europe through treaties, rather than putting Europe's future into the hands of lawyers and judges. I was interested to see the remarks of the EU ombudsman, Jacob Sōderman, who said last week that it seems to me that two of the ideas put forward—a president of the European Council and Congress—would take EU decision making to even higher levels rather than bring it closer to the citizens". That view reflects our concerns about what is proposed at present in the convention.

Until now, the EU has been created by treaties between sovereign member states. The institutions that those treaties have established and the relationships between member states are of a special nature, but the EU has throughout its existence fundamentally remained a partnership of nation states. A constitution would change all that. It would give the EU autonomous authority and be a crucial building block in the creation of a federal, supranational European superpower.

Two years ago in Warsaw, the Prime Minister said that Europe did not need a written constitution and that it would not have one. Tonight, the Secretary of State for Wales tells us that we need a constitution, which, for all his protestations, could well include the charter of fundamental rights and will contain all the elements of a constitutional basis for political union.

The Conservative party agrees with the European Scrutiny Committee that the concept of an ever-closer union is no longer desirable or realistic—for some of us, it never was. Nothing is more objectionable to the British people than the European ratchet effect—what the theorists rather splendidly call functional integrationism. We believe in an EU that is a genuine partnership of sovereign nation states. We believe that its legislative process must be a genuinely two-way affair. We want to forge a new partnership between the institutions in Brussels and national Parliaments throughout the EU.

Noticeably, the national Parliaments receive only a passing mention in the Giscard draft treaty, yet we in the House know that national Parliaments are the bodies with which people most identify. They are far closer to their electorates than any European body could ever be. National Parliaments must be put at the heart of the new Europe if we are to meet the democratic deficit and reengage the peoples of Europe with European institutions.

The importance and role of national Parliaments should be strengthened, therefore, and enshrined in any new treaty. It must be made clear beyond doubt that the EU has competence or shared competence only where the treaties grant it and that powers not explicitly granted to the EU remain with member states. The description of and limits to such powers granted must also be clearly defined. We support the need for a definition of competences to be included in the treaties, but not a constitution.

I welcome the convention working party's proposals on subsidiarity, but they do not go nearly far enough. I agree with the European Scrutiny Committee that we need new procedures to enforce subsidiarity and that decisions should be made by a political watchdog, not by the European Court of Justice. National parliamentarians should be able to intervene on subsidiarity at the level of national Parliaments and through a subsidiarity panel or watchdog. I was grateful for what I understood to be a general welcome to the proposition from the Secretary of State for Wales, as it was a proposition that emanated some time ago from the Opposition Benches.

Mr. Bercow

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Lord Mackenzie Stuart, a former president of the European Court of Justice, is on record as describing subsidiarity as "gobbledegook"? He went on to claim that the notion that it constitutes a constitutional safeguard shows "great optimism".

Mr. Ancram

As a Scottish advocate who practised in the Scottish courts for many years, I would be cautious about criticising a Scottish judge. In a sense, my hon. Friend is right that subsidiarity operates at the moment with the effect of gobbledegook. I am suggesting a manner in which we can make it mean something and properly enforce it.

One way in which I would like it to be enforced is that reservations on subsidiarity expressed by, say, five national parliaments should be enough to halt a piece of legislation. We believe that all national Parliaments ideally should have an EU legislative scrutiny committee to scrutinise legislative proposals before they proceed to the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. I see the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) smiling, but that is what happens in the Danish Parliament at the moment, and it is very effective. I believe that we can lead the way on this among other member nations.

All national parliaments, including ours, should be encouraged to enhance their scrutiny of European legislation. We continue to propose to replace our COREPER representative with a new Minister for European Affairs. We could lead immediately by example in that area. The new Minister would face questions in the House every two weeks. That could also help, in co-operation with our European parliamentary colleagues., to prevent "gold-plating" of European proposals by national Governments.

As for the exercise of power at the European level, we support the aim of clarifying and simplifying the treaties, but not when that entails transferring even more powers to the European Union. The intergovernmental method of decision making in foreign affairs, defence and criminal justice, through the second and third pillars of the European Union, must not be absorbed into a single EU structure. The ways in which human liberties are protected through the ECHR and our national courts are adequate. We therefore believe that there is no need for further protection. In particular, the incorporation of a legally binding charter of fundamental rights into a new treaty would lead to a vast increase in the power of the European Union over the member states and of European judges over the political process. That would further exacerbate the democratic deficit, which the convention is intended to try to fill.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

When might the result of a referendum on a treaty be binding on Europe? In Denmark and Ireland, the people spoke, but Europe did not accept the decision, and huge expenditure by the Governments of the day in those countries sought to reverse the decision of the people.

Mr. Ancram

Clearly, individual referendums are matters for the countries concerned, but I share my hon. Friend's concern in the respect that it is bad for democracy in Europe, and bad in terms of trying to interest people in the political process in Europe if, when questions are asked, and the wrong answer is given from the point of view of the Government or Europe, they continue to ask the question until they get the answer that they want. That is not necessarily the right way to proceed.

We propose, too, that there should be a rough European equivalent of the Law Commission, to examine the acquis communautaire, to identify out-of-date legislation and to slim down the 85,000 pages of EU law. We also want a simplified decision-making process. The EU currently has 30 different ways of making decisions. We propose to bring that down to just two: binding laws and non-binding recommendations. Binding laws shall, basically, deal with the rules for the single market and other essential areas. In other areas, the EU should have the power to issue recommendations for member states, which are always free to adopt higher standards if they so wish.

We support moves to make the Council a more open institution. It has been far too secretive, allowing Governments to blame each other for unpopular laws and for added bureaucracy. Council voting should be on the record and in public. We would also like the General Affairs Council to sit every two weeks in open forum and not just deal with foreign affairs issues. The Spanish Government have led progress on this issue.

With enlargement, the current system of rotating Council presidencies simply will not work. Something has to be done. We oppose, however, the proposal for an individual president elected by his peers for five years. Let us leave aside the Prime Minister's retirement plans—we believe that the concept is fundamentally wrong. It would do nothing to make the EU more accountable or democratic or to decentralise it. Indeed, it would do quite the opposite. We support team presidencies, with perhaps one large member state working with two small ones for one or two years. Such a reform would have many benefits. It would provide longer-range Council planning, it would be a model for international co-operation and, above all, it would not be a threat to the position of the small member states of the EU.

Peter Hain

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his opposition to a full-time president of the Council is shared by all the federalists in this debate? They do not want such a president because they want all the power in the European Parliament and the Commission. They do not want a strong Council. How is that compatible with his vision of a Europe of nation states?

Mr. Ancram

I will always gratefully receive support from wherever I can find it. My reason for opposing a five-year presidency has nothing to do with federalism. It is a centralising proposition that would make the post even more remote from the peoples of Europe than it is currently. One could have all sorts of anomalies. Someone might be a Prime Minister at the time that he is elected to a five-year presidency. He might lose a general election in his country two months later, but would remain in the presidency even though he had no remit from his country to exercise that authority. There are many anomalies, so a five-year presidency would not be the right way to go.

The Commission, too, is in need of reform. Its monopoly of legislative initiative compromises the EU's democratic standards. We want a streamlined Commission, with its powers of initiation curtailed. The Commission should move towards becoming a secretariat under proper democratic control, in which the European Parliament would have a central role to play. We would like directives to be issued once again on a genuine framework basis, with the Commission only stating the desired outcome. Methods of implementation should then be left to the national Parliaments.

Mr. Bryant


Mr. Ancram

We would like to see a new system of full and junior commissioners, with the larger member states being guaranteed full posts. Smaller member states would have a proper voice through their junior commissioners.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)


Mr. Ancram

I shall not give way again. I want to finish my speech as I have been speaking for too long.

We support the need for pan-European defence cooperation, but strictly and only within NATO. The Euro army should be finally laid to rest before its inadequacies embarrass Europe further.

There is another issue that the convention should just leave alone. The continued mad clash, boosted again by the Prime Minister last week, for a united foreign policy is to fly, particularly at this time, in the face of reality. It will not happen and it would not work if it did. We have a right to our own distinct view on international matters. We should fight to preserve that right and not to compromise it.

These are some of the ways in which we can build a European Union that is more dynamic, more adaptable and better able to play a role in the modern world. It is the antithesis of integration and centralisation. It disperses power back down the chain. I want the European Union to succeed as a partnership of sovereign nation states. However, to succeed, it must reengage with its peoples. Centralisation will never be the answer. It is interesting that politicians from the accession countries often tell me that they do not want a centralised Europe. Those countries have not freed themselves from the yoke of Soviet centralisation to submit to the same from Brussels.

Tonight's debate is useful, but we need a far broader national debate on the future shape and structures of Europe. This debate is too important to become a narrow discussion conducted by what I would call Euro technicians. The future of the EU will fundamentally affect the lives of all the peoples of Europe, including the people of Britain. We should ask them for their view. I would like the Government to publish a Green or White Paper upon which such consultation could then take place. The British people would make it clear in no uncertain terms just how much they believe is wrong with the European Union and how they would like to get the worst of it off their backs. They do not want the European superpower that the Prime Minister promised them last week. They want the same Europe as we do—a Europe less centralised, less intrusive and more responsive. It is time that the Government began to speak for Britain in Europe, rather than for Europe in Britain.

Madam Deputy Speaker

I remind hon. Members that Mr. Speaker has imposed a 12-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.

8.40 pm
Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

I am not starting as I intended 10, because I have been reminded of the words of Eli Weisel: It is not because I cannot explain that you do not understand—it is because you do not understand that I cannot explain. I was struck by what the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) said. He made me smile, not because I disagreed with him, but because if he cared to read and understand the convention documents, he would realise that the vast majority of the things that he called for have also been requested by a large number of people at the convention, including the British representatives. There is a huge amount of agreement. I wish that his desire to debate Europe were based not on calling for Green Papers and White Papers, but on listening. There is tremendous agreement on how the European Union can be improved. I accept there is disagreement on how best to achieve that, but there is no right or wrong answer at this stage. The point of the convention is to find the most satisfactory way forward.

When the convention started eight months ago, it was not clear what we would achieve. Some people thought that we would produce options. It is now clear that we will produce something that represents a constitution. The United Kingdom has been strongly represented. Despite Cabinet changes, and my delight that we have a new Minister for Europe, I was extremely pleased that the convention representation remained the same. My right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Peter Hain) has been strong and effective, and I would not have wanted a change, despite the fact that he is now Secretary of State for Wales.

It should be recognised that the convention breaks historic ground. Both national and European parliamentarians are involved in treaty changes for the first time. That is a huge step forward. Treaties used to be cooked up by civil servants and approved by Heads of Government. They were then delivered to Parliament, which could say yes or no. That has changed and we are involved, but that puts a huge responsibility on parliamentarians. I use that word deliberately. If the House, as a Parliament, wishes to play its role effectively, Parliament as an institution must find its voice. It has to stop name calling across the Benches. It must take stock and think about what is at stake for parliamentary sovereignty—I also use that term deliberately—rather than national sovereignty.

The real issue is not one of federalism or centralism. Instead, it is how parliamentarians—national and European—hold the Executive to account. If we are honest, we have been far from perfect in that. Some of the limitations have been institutional. If hon. Members care to look at the report of the working group, they will see that it supports the Seville recommendation that the Council of Ministers opens its doors. It also supports not only the much better flow of information, but the idea of making far more politically intelligent use of it.

To use scrutiny properly and not just as a replacement for sovereignty, it must have a proper political impact. When we scrutinise European legislation, it must be seen as scrutiny of the Executive. What are at stake in the convention are the mechanisms for doing that. The contention that federalists are the real threat is not true. There are true federalists at the convention, but they are in the minority. However, I must issue a note of caution to the Government. The long accepted British view is that in order to prevent the federalist influence, it is necessary to promote the intergovernmental alternative. That is not necessarily so, because the intergovernmental method can simply mean that we replace a remote federal structure with a remote group of Ministers, and although they represent majorities, they are not necessarily more accountable. How do we make them more accountable?

The step taken on subsidiarity is hugely significant. I agree with the mutterings that I detected in the House that subsidiarity on its own is not the issue. Subsidiarity was defined in the treaty of Maastricht, and a protocol requires its observance. However, on no occasion has a decision been blocked. Evidence concerning the observance of the principle is scant, and we ask for much more evidence. The British insistence on continually combining the word "subsidiarity" with "proportionality", and our success in doing so, has emphasised the importance of that combination.

The right hon. Member for Devizes suggested that five member Parliaments should make up the watchdog on subsidiarity. We decided that there should be a significant number, which was translated by many as being about 40 per cent. However, that structure on its own will not be sufficient. If Parliaments do not wake up to their responsibility and if parliamentarians do not develop a mechanism by which they share their experiences and exchange their views, there will simply be a process of divide and rule. The danger of the convention is that although we will refer to national Parliaments in the constitution and give them mechanisms, parliamentarians will not use them unless they wake up to their responsibility.

European Union decision making will have to be firmly based in the national institutions. If hon. Members will forgive the analogy, the situation reminds me of putting up a tent as a child. The tent is held on the ground only if we peg it down, and national Parliaments must be those pegs, because the electorate relates to them. If all the proposals in the convention and in the working group of national Parliaments are implemented and work as they should, the sign of success for me, and the desired outcome, will be evident in my Friday night surgeries.

At the moment, if people ask, "Did you agree with this directive?" I can honestly say, "I never heard about it. I did not know it was coming. I was never asked. They did it." The convention, and the constitutional structure on the table at the moment, will create a mechanism whereby I can say, "I knew that it was coming. I was asked whether I wanted it to go ahead. We collectively had a say, and we said yes." We have to put an end, once and for all, to the silly division and competition between parliamentarians at national level and those at European level. We have to start to work together, but operating at different levels.

Mr. Bercow

Does the hon. Lady envisage any reduction in the 80,000-page, 31-chapter acquis communautaire? If not, will she concede that she is effectively signing up to the doctrine of the occupied field?

Ms Stuart

Rather than proposing, as the right hon. Member for Devizes did, to set up an institution that would review all that, I want to make a precise point about it, and I shall return to the matter.

I turn now to the constitution. My right hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin) asked what would be a sign of the success of the new constitutional structure. For me, it would be an introductory part that is understandable by everyone, as well as more technical points. However, I would be looking for more fundamental points in the interests of logical coherence and of national Parliaments.

The first is that if there is a clause describing how to enter the Union, there must logically be a clause describing how to leave the Union. Whether countries do that is entirely up to them. If, in the constitution, we describe precisely how competencies from member states become shared competencies and sole competencies, there must be an analogous article clearly describing the way in which those competencies can travel back. That, in my view, must be there. That is my indirect answer to the question asked by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) about whether I could ever envisage a reduction. I think that there must a mechanism for travelling back.

I fundamentally disagree with the observation made by the president of the convention, who described the process a "refounding of the Union", the implication being that either the resulting constitution would be ratified by a country, or that country would be out of the Union. To my mind, the constitution will be a treaty like any other, to be ratified by the various countries and to come into effect only when all the member states have ratified it.

I have a final word of caution about the courts. In the convention, I have detected a tendency to regard the courts as the final arbiter of what is or is not democratic. The courts have a huge role to play, not least in enforcing the internal market, but there is a range of decisions that are fundamentally political. It is up to politicians to express themselves in clear terms on such issues, and they should be left in the hands of politicians. Matters of subsidiarity are political decisions. In the end the courts may have a role—analogous to judicial review—in determining whether proper processes have been followed, but judges must not replace political decision makers. Several members of the convention see things that way.

By next summer we will have a draft constitution. We do not yet know whether the Heads of Government will accept it; I very much hope that they will. The House has been extremely supportive of its representatives and I am grateful for that. I regard representing national Parliaments, not only at the convention but in the praesidium, as the most important role I have been asked to perform. I shall listen with great care to the debate so that in the convention the House's representatives will be able to reflect the view of parliamentarians.

8.51 pm
Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), who made a thoughtful contribution. I pay tribute to her and to her colleague who also represents the House in the convention for the work that they have been doing. I do not agree with every last opinion that has been expressed, but it is clear that they have been doing a thorough job.

We must welcome this Government-sponsored motion on the convention—the first since it began its work earlier this year. It is a shame that it has been a long time coming; it is none the less welcome now that it has arrived. The Government have stated that we should reform the European Union to create a strong and effective body. Ministers have stressed the need for Britain to be at the forefront of the debate on Europe, and argued that the convention must not represent another missed opportunity in the grand British tradition of watching developments in Europe from the sidelines.

In his speech in Cardiff last week, the Prime Minister spoke of the creation of a new Europe", which would be done methodically, inclusively and transparently". That is a fine ambition, which should set a high standard for the Government to live up to, but so far there is little in the public domain to support that aspiration. There has been no White Paper—not even a Green Paper—on the Government's position on the future of Europe. What we know has emerged from this short debate, or from media reports. Those reports make it obvious that the Secretary of State for Wales has made spirited contributions to the convention as a whole, but we here in Parliament are largely in the dark about most of the proposals being made, although their tone has become clear. A White Paper has been necessary from the outset; the timing has now become rather urgent.

As the Secretary of State for Wales said, the German and French Foreign Ministers are now taking their place at the convention. Without wishing to undermine his own contribution, I must ask why our own Foreign Secretary is not adding to Britain's firepower within the convention?

Peter Hain

A difficulty faced by both Joschka Fischer from Germany and Dominique Galouzeau de Villepin from France is the fact that the convention is a busy responsibility. Their appearances so far have been fleeting, and I do not think that there is any prospect of the Foreign Secretary being able to put the work in, as he has global responsibilities.

Mr. Moore

We shall not ask what is happening in Wales in the meantime. Surely it is accepted that the Foreign Secretary would not be present at all times. If the right hon. Gentleman had listened carefully, he would know that I spoke about adding to our firepower at the convention, not replacing it.

We support calls for the reform of the European Union. The continent is at a crossroads, with significant enlargement in prospect and the impact of globalisation becoming more obvious with every passing day. The EU's purpose has changed since the European Coal and Steel Community was founded in 1956 with six members. In size and scope, it is unrecognisable from the vision of 50 years ago. With those changes has come a growing remoteness from the people whom the EU is supposed to serve. Whether by design or otherwise, much of its activity has become inaccessible, non-transparent and unaccountable. Europe clearly needs to sort that out, but not with the fixes that have often characterised previous developments.

As the Governments and institutions of Europe prepare for a revolution, citizens need to be put at the heart of the Union. There should be proper recognition of the principle that decisions be taken at the most appropriate level within the Union, and there should be an overhaul of the institutions to make the Union effective and accountable. The convention's proposal for a constitution for Europe is an important way of achieving those aims. The details are not fully fleshed out yet, but they offer some useful pointers and plenty of opportunity for debate. Current treaties are cumbersome, virtually unreadable and come complete with thousands of pages of supporting detail. In the real world we cannot avoid the legislative load, but in a constitution we should set out the founding principles of the Union. As the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) set out in Westminster Hall last Wednesday, we should aspire to make the constitution, if not inspirational, at least readable.

We support the inclusion of a charter of fundamental rights in such a constitution, as that is the clearest way of ensuring that citizens understand their relationship with those who govern them, at whatever level. The Prime Minister has said that he opposes the charter and its incorporation. In a speech last week, he said: we cannot support a form of treaty incorporation that would enlarge EU competence over national legislation". I shall ignore the fact that earlier in his speech he had said plainly: we must end the nonsense of 'this far and no further"' A quick glance at the charter will show that the most common phrase states that any article should be in accordance with Community law and national laws and practices". Article 16, on freedom to conduct business, and article 28, on the right of collective bargaining and action, are just two examples covered by that stipulation.

That approach should not scare governments; if it does, that suggests that their commitment to reconnecting Europe with its citizens is paper thin. Ministers, in their contributions to the European debate, have spoken of a "Union of nation states", neglecting or downgrading the idea that it should be a union of peoples as well. The charter may need to be amended to so that that idea is expressed in treaty language, but if we are serious in our goal of the reform of Europe it must be included. Likewise, we must ensure that the principle of subsidiarity is enshrined in the new constitution.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

Did my hon. Friend notice the merriment among Conservative Members at the very idea that subsidiarity might be included in the new constitution? However, we all remember that the former Prime Minister, Mr. John Major, promoted that idea.

Mr. Moore

My hon. Friend has made a good and valid point—[Interruption.] May I continue?

Decisions must be taken at the most appropriate level in Europe. We welcome the absence from the draft document of the previous refrain of "ever closer union", which sits uneasily with that principle. In passing, we reject, as the Government motion puts it, the alternative of a federal superstate". We do not believe in such a concept. The Union is more than simply a union of sovereign states: the people must count as well. Subsidiarity is important to that end, and we need to ensure that when we make a commitment to the principle, there are proper ways in which to make it work.

The balance between the different parts of the different policies has shifted over the years. We need a clear statement in the new treaty. We support the idea proposed at the convention of an early warning system based on national Parliaments and the European Parliament. As the hon. Member for Birmingham., Edgbaston said, we should not shirk our responsibilities in Parliament and simply blame everything on Brussels, in time-honoured fashion.

Mr. Bryant

The hon. Gentleman has spoken at some length about subsidiarity. I am sure that he knows that the original concept derives from Catholic teaching, and a 19th century papal encyclical. To which definition of subsidiarity does he subscribe? Does he believe that the Committee of the Regions should play a more important role in the new Europe?

Mr. Moore

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding us of the origins of the concept, although I hope that they are not especially relevant to the debate. The appropriate level for decision making and scrutiny should be determined according to the subject. For example, education should be tackled in individual countries. In the past few years we have accepted the principle that decisions about education should be ceded to Wales and Scotland, and we hope that that will happen in the English regions, too.

Sir Nicholas Winterton

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Moore

I am still answering the previous intervention. On the environment, we are increasingly realising that pollution does not recognise boundaries and must therefore be considered accordingly. However, we must reform the institutions and make them more accountable and effective. So far, subsidiarity has not been sufficiently clear.

Sir Nicholas Winterton

I speak as the Chairman of the Procedure Committee. Does the hon. Gentleman support me and many other hon. Members from all parties who believe that the House deals with European secondary legislation in the most despicable way? We need much more effective scrutiny of such legislation, and the ability to amend it—and to reject it if hon. Members decide to do that.

Mr. Moore

I do not want to disappoint, surprise or upset the hon. Gentleman, but I agree with him. It is entirely fair that the House should take more responsibility and be better at scrutinising. There is a desperate need for improved scrutiny at all levels in the European Union. For example, the Council of Ministers could meet in public, and the President of the Commission could ensure that his state of the union address was subjected to detailed scrutiny and put to the vote in the European Parliament. It is also important to endorse the principle of freedom of information in the European Union

There is common agreement that Europe is at a critical point, and there is much speculation about where we will end up, not least about the United Kingdom's destination. We desperately need the blueprint to which the Minister said that he was not currently working. We need a White Paper and a commitment to further debate in the House. If we are to achieve reform, the people of Europe must be taken along with it. We must begin that process here.

9.3 pm

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok)

I support the Government's stated position of supporting a Union of sovereign member states and their rejection of the alternative of a federal superstate. When I listen to some of the Government's supporters, however, I wonder whether I support the Government's position more than the Government do. On some matters, we slide increasingly towards a federal superstate.

I have never been an expert on Euro-jargon and I do not want to approach the debate in that fashion. I want to consider democracy, because Europe is the greatest example of a disconnection between politicians and the public. For some time, debates in Europe and on Europe's development have been elite-driven, top down and marked by apathy and almost hopelessness among the population. That disconnection is dangerous for democracy, because if people feel that they cannot affect the decisions that have an impact on their lives they will look for non-democratic solutions.

It has often been said that we live in a post-ideological age, but it is almost as though a new ideology of Europeanism has infected the body politic in this country.

Mr. Bryant


Mr. Davidson

It is more than that. I do not see Europeanism as just internationalism. Indeed, in many regards it is the very antithesis of it, because it draws in the wealthy while putting up barriers against the rest of the world, particularly in relation to the operation of the common agricultural policy and the way in which it deliberately penalises the third world. I want to reject the drive towards Europeanism that we often see coming from some of the zealots in politics. I also want to reject the anti-Europeanism—which is often just "little Englandism"—that we hear from some Conservative Members. As in so many things, therefore, I find myself in the centre, speaking with the moderate's voice of reason, and seeking a third way. As a supporter of New Europe, and of saying yes to Europe and no to the euro, I seem to be in an ideal position to lead us forward in the name of moderation.

We need to consider not only the jargon that many of my colleagues have used, for understandable reasons, up to now; Europe needs to be translated for people in terms of its practical impact. No matter what we say about constitutions, structures arid the like, people in this country do not and will not understand why France can defend its farmers while we cannot defend our fishermen. Until Europe starts to work for people in this country in a way that they can comprehend, there will continue to be a disconnection. The need for a poet was mentioned earlier. I fear that many people might consider William McGonagall the most appropriate. For hon. Members who are puzzled by that reference, a trip to the Library might be advisable.

I seek clarification from the Government on a number of points. We need to boil some of this down to basics. I am not clear whether any proposed constitution would stop the drive towards ever-closer union that was incorporated in the treaty of Rome, and which has been reiterated in subsequent treaties, or whether such a constitution would make it clear that the objective of European linkages was no longer, inevitably or irrevocably, ever-closer union. If ever-closer union remains the text, people will see that consistent centralisation is in progress. We need to be clear about that.

There is no doubt that we are in the process of creating a European superstate. We already have the flag, the anthem, the drive towards an army, the move towards a president, the propaganda division, the drive towards centralisation and, indeed, the rights of initiative. I see the rights of initiative as a drive towards ever-closer union. When mention is made of the need for the Commission to have political independence, it is not clear whether that independence would be in the best traditions of our civil service—dealing with matters in a non-partisan fashion—or whether it would involve the Commission as an actor in its own right. If the Commission is to be the civil service of the Union, political independence has to mean civil service-type independence, rather than an independence that would allow the Commission to act in its own right, with its own drive and direction.

I also want to clarify the issue of the departmentalisation, based on the French model, that the European Union has consistently pursued. I understand subsidiarity, and I support more powers for the regions, but the departmentalisation model that the European Union is driving forward is about breaking up nation states into departments, divisions and smaller areas, and linking them to an ever-stronger centre. There would be an imbalance of power between the ever-stronger cent re and the individual departments, so departments would become supplicants rather than partners. We need to be clear about how that operation would work.

We also need to be clearer about harmonisation. I heard with interest and some happiness the indication of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales that he is not aware of any French or German aspiration to harmonise taxes. I cannot help but think that he is perhaps ill informed on that matter, but if that is his view, it is the best understanding he has at the moment.

We must be clear about whether we are prepared to harmonise taxes—in the first instance, corporation tax and valued added tax. I can understand why people want that as part of the creation of a single market, and its logical extension is, of course, harmonisation of personal and property taxes—the harmonisation of almost all taxes. I am not clear about whether the Government remain wedded to their view that there should be no move in that direction or whether they will carry their view in the discussions on the convention.

The single market needs to be reined back in some areas, particularly where it impinges on issues such as health, which are restricted to or remain with national Parliaments but where the single market may have influence. I have always believed in high taxes on tobacco as a health issue, yet the single market undermines this country's policy of putting high taxes on tobacco for health reasons, as people can import cheap tobacco from the rest of the EU—there is an allowance. We must state that there are areas into which the single market will not move and that the assumption must not automatically be that the single market will prevail in clashes with other policy areas.

I am a supporter of modernisation and there are a number of areas in which the Government must look for substantial EU modernisation before they say that they are prepared to move forward. I can think of three examples that would be immensely popular in this country. First, we need modernisation of budgets so that we can reduce the fraud, corruption and waste that the Court of Auditors consistently reports on. I cannot see why we wish to cede further powers to or move forward with an EU that is incapable of running its own financial affairs. That is an overdue and essential element of modernisation to which any Government who say that they favour modernisation in principle must stick.

The second example is the common agricultural policy. I cannot understand why a Government who are wedded to the concept of modernisation have been prepared to accept the almost total absence of progress on modernising the CAP, which not only taxes poor people in my constituency and every other area by raising food prices to inappropriate levels but ruins agriculture in and the economies of many third-world countries. I always regarded the dumping of CAP surpluses as an obscenity at a time when much of the world was starving, yet the Government have been unable to modernise in that area. They must consider it with substantial urgency. The third example is foreign aid, on which progress is necessary.

My final point is on political language. A number of my colleagues disagree with me on a variety of issues, but I believe that debates ought to take place in a comradely fashion. To me, being described as an enemy by people on my own side with whom I disagree is entirely inappropriate. Saying that the enemies of Labour are the enemies of the euro is absurd, as it equates being an opponent with being an enemy, being anti-Labour with being anti-euro and being anti-euro with being anti-Labour. I hope that the Minister, as one who has been a member of this organisation for a considerable time, will make it clear in his winding-up speech that he rejects such partisan tribalism.

Mr. MacShane

My hon. Friend was my friend, is my friend and shall be my friend. I cannot conceive of his being an enemy to anything except that which is evil.

Mr. Davidson

I welcome what the Minister says. Can I take it, then, that he will go back to Britain in Europe and the Labour Movement for Europe and say that they should never produce material that describes opponents as enemies?

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman's time is up.

9.15 pm
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells)

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson). He spotted that the harmonising and centralising drive in the European Union has become almost an ideology of its own, which not only threatens democracy but brings in its train grotesque mismanagement and even corruption from the policies and administrations that have been centralised in Brussels.

The publication of the draft constitution that we are considering will give further impetus to those very forces. It is a hugely significant event. It means, for instance, that although this country has done without a written constitution throughout its history, a written constitution will now be imposed on it—but a constitution that we have not drafted or written ourselves.

Until very recently the Government opposed a European constitution, with good reason. A constitution is an attribute of statehood. The draft constitution published in Brussels offers us dual citizenship: in other words, it already equates the European Union with a state. It is highly disingenuous of the Government to claim now that their previous opposition was all a mistake, and that for the first time Europe will somehow be able to achieve certainty and clarity in regard to respective powers. The truth is that the constitution that has been published will be a centralising force.

For instance, it is clear from the draft that the intergovernmental pillars that secure and protect the intergovernmental mode of decision making in the European Union are to go. Article 14 tells us that the Union has "a single institutional structure" in its new form. We also read that it will have a single legal personality. Those developments alone have enormous implications for foreign policy, for defence and for this country's rights and abilities to participate in international agreements. The European Union will replace the right of member states to do that, and to engage with other bodies. The same applies to justice and home affairs; they, too, will be part of the new single constitutional structure.

I am a member of the working group in the convention, which is about to report. I am the only dissident, or the only person who will oppose the recommendations. I will do so because under the recommendations cross-border crimes of all sorts and crimes against what are described as the interests of the European Union will be approximated across all member states. In this context, "approximated" means harmonised. Moreover, the decision will be made under qualified majority voting.

This Session, the House has before it six criminal justice Bills. They deal with extremely important matters that are of great concern to our constituents: penalties, sentencing, criminal justice procedures, rules of evidence, and whether this country should adopt double jeopardy. I oppose the latter proposal, but at least it is a matter to be debated and decided in this House. However, I have to warn the House that if, as is certain, the working group's recommendations are adopted by the convention and form part of this new constitution, all those matters and more besides—including immigration and asylum—will be decided at European Union level by qualified majority voting, and will come under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

These matters are at the heart of the nation state and of parliamentary democracy; they are about the coercive powers of the state and they raise very sensitive issues of accountability and control. They are about our common law traditions, which differ from those on the continent. Yet it is now proposed that these decisions be transferred upwards to the European Union and centralised there. What is so damaging is that the convention was set up to try to close the gap between the institutions of the European Union and the people of Europe. The European Union is widely regarded as remote and technocratic, but if we remove decisions about criminal justice, sentencing and immigration further away from the electors and from this House, that gap will widen even further, and the democratic deficit will be uncontrollable. Of course, that will play into the hands of the extreme right. Why have elections and change Governments here if it makes not the slightest difference to criminal justice, immigration policy or whatever?

I am extremely worried by the fact that the Government representative on the working group, Baroness Scotland, who displays great charm and knowledge, has agreed to most of that, which goes well beyond established British Government positions. I have offered to help on a cross-party basis. I wrote to her three weeks ago, offering to defend what I regard as the British interest, but I have yet to receive a reply, so I conclude that all this has been planned. The Government are, I am afraid, dissembling if they claim that this new constitution will not profoundly alter the relationship between this country and this House, and the institutions of Europe.

The same is true of the charter of fundamental rights. Members will be aware that it was negotiated two years ago on a clear understanding that it was only a political document containing aspirational rights, and that it would not be legally binding then or in the future. These promises were given repeatedly, explicitly and emphatically from the Government Dispatch Box by the Prime Minister, and by the former Minister for Europe, the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), who is not in his place. It was even said that copies of the Beano would be just as legally significant as this new charter of fundamental rights. The Government were, of course, right to oppose the charter's being legally binding, because when those rights become judiciable and enforceable by the European Court of Justice a huge new mechanism for centralisation and EU action will be opened up.

Those assurances did not last very long. The working group's final report, on incorporation of the charter—I have a copy in front of me—makes it absolutely clear that it will be incorporated into the constitution, and will be legally binding. Page 3 explains that the charter will become legally binding either in the text of the constitution, or as a protocol. It states: The Group as a whole"— in other words, by unanimity, including the Government representative— underlines that both these basic options could serve to make the Charter a legally binding text of constitutional status. How is that reconciled with all the promises that we received from the Prime Minister and other Ministers at the Government Dispatch Box? How do we expect the public to believe what we tell them about Europe? How do we have an honest, open and straightforward debate about these matters when the Government give copper-bottomed assurances in the House that are overturned a year or two later? The Government are still not admitting it, as we heard from the opening speech in the debate. The Minister said that the charter has been changed significantly. It has not been changed significantly—that is crystal clear from the text of the working group. On technical drafting adjustments, it says: It is important to note that these adjustments proposed by the Group do not reflect modifications of substance. On the contrary, they would serve to confirm, and render absolutely clear and legally watertight, certain key elements Yet the right hon. Gentleman was talking as though this was a great British triumph and that everything had changed. It is simply not true. The Minister on the working group, Baroness Scotland, should have told him the truth. [Interruption.] If the right hon. Gentleman is willing to intervene, I will accept his assurances to the contrary, but let us hear it from him.

Peter Hain

The right hon. Gentleman heard it from me earlier in the debate. We have secured in the draft report a series of horizontal articles that stop the charter being enforced to change our domestic law. That is the key.

Sir Nicholas Winterton

What are horizontal articles?

Peter Hain

The h on. Gentleman should study the report and the debate rather than relying on recycled prejudice.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

I have these wonderful horizontal articles and they do not add up to a row of beans. I have just quoted from the report, to which the Minister from the upper House has signed up. It says that apart from certain technical drafting adjustments, the text that we are presented with is exactly the same. That is what has been agreed. Which is correct—the right hon. Gentleman's slightly evasive assurances from the Dispatch Box or what appears in black and white in the conclusion to the treaty?

There is only one solution—to ask the people in a referendum. I agree with the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) and have signed his amendment to that effect. Let us ask the people what they think. My right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) advanced a good alternative treaty. I think that it could be worked on and improved, but let us ask the people who they trust and what they want—the constitutional settlement advanced by the Government, with its centralising momentum and all that is wrong with it, or a treaty between free and self-governing states of Europe along democratic lines, as proposed by my party.

9.27 pm
Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)

It is a pleasure and a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory). He and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) have represented this House and all of us in the discussions that have been taking place. It is not an easy task and they have both carried it out very well in their own very distinctive ways.

The differences between hon. Members should not obscure the fact that Members on both sides of the House and from all political points in their party signed up to an amendment put before them asking that proper and due consideration be given to the European constitution that could govern our way of life for decades. Everyone in the House found that it was possible to sign up to that. It may be procedural; it may just be democratic. It does not go specifically for one viewpoint or another, but it reflects, I hope, a parliamentary wish that is evident in all parties, which is that this place is nothing and has no role if it cannot have a say on whether the country has a constitution. That is why there was a broad sweep of opinion, even in the brief time that was allowed for us to table an amendment that supported our Parliament and our people, in putting forward our views and having a sensible and open debate.

I happen to be pro-European and pro-constitution, but my views should prevail only after due argument, after all of us have debated the matter and after the nation has considered the possibilities. After all, the right hon. Member for Wells signed the amendment not because he thought that a national debate would arise and that it would find in my favour, but because he thought that such a debate would find in his favour. I am prepared to fight those battles in public, on television or in the Chamber, because I and those who share my view must win others to our position. There is no short cut. There is no way, by sleight of hand, that we can impose a constitution on the people of the United Kingdom.

I am sorry that the shadow Foreign Secretary has left the Chamber. He made many points to which Members of all parties should pay great attention. Some colleagues may argue that those points resonate with the prejudices of British people. Whether or not that is true, they resonate with the views of British people. Many people fear that the European project is moving too quickly and without checks. The right hon. Gentleman put those points to the House clearly and openly. As I pointed out when he kindly allowed me to intervene, if he feels that we should not acquiesce to certain aspects of a European constitution they should be made clear in the constitution itself. If, like the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), the right hon. Gentleman feels that subsidiarity is a dead letter, the constitution should make clear how subsidiarity could work. If, as many Opposition colleagues believe, the role of the nation state is under threat, the constitution should make it crystal clear, in words that reassure them, that that is not so and that it would not be legal to undermine that role.

There must be a clearly written constitution and if we are to achieve it, our Parliament must be given rights in the process. It is nice to hold a debate such as this, but it was granted on a grace and favour basis. The Government have kindly allowed us to speak on the subject. We are not debating it as of right; we are not debating it because Parliament decided that it was a good thing to do and that it was an essential prerequisite for the development of a European constitution.

Parliament must establish certain rights in respect of the process. With great respect and admiration. I point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston that a constitution that arises from an illegitimate process will itself be illegitimate and can but fall at the first serious hurdle. We must build in a process for the appreciation and acceptance of a constitution and we must make clear what it stands for in words that reassure not only the British people but the majority of Conservative Members.

I have to take some issue with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, much though I am loth to do so because he has been a strong and articulate advocate of the European project and on that matter I put trust in him above almost anyone. However, there is a clear distinction between coalescing existing powers in a treaty and forcing that treaty through the House on a three-line Whip and agreeing to a wholly new constitutional settlement for the people of this country.

The first is a legitimate function of the Executive. That is the role and the right of the Executive—much as some of us may object on occasion. However, the second—the constitution—cannot possibly be seen either as being in the gift of the British Executive or of a collection of European Executives. It must be something that the people of this country sign up to and are prepared to accept.

I agree with the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) that one way forward would be a White Paper, which would open up the debate and let us all see what is at stake. The House could then get involved in proper pre-legislative scrutiny. It will not surprise the Chairman of the Procedure Committee if I say that such a process would involve all Members of Parliament, and that if it was online the whole nation could participate. If we created a constitution in that way, it would not have 40 or 50 founding fathers, as the United States constitution had, but several million founding fathers and mothers. Such a constitution would enjoy the support of the population as a whole.

In the end, however, that would have to be endorsed by the British people in a referendum. There may be some who wish that we were not committed to the referendum on the euro—many Members, both Government and Opposition, have expressed that view—but if we accept that it is legitimate to have a referendum on that subject, it must be equally legitimate for constitution making, which cannot be a lesser process than mere monetary union, as a European constitution would influence our lives for many years to come.

Those in government should not be afraid of partnership or of bringing the House along with them and trying to persuade colleagues; rational argument may prevail in the end. Equally, we should not be afraid of entrusting to the British people, after a thorough national debate, the decision whether to sign up to a constitution.

We have heard again the old chestnut about judges ruling the roost. Judges are all over statute law already, but they would only ever come into this equation if politicians disagreed so fundamentally that no reconciliation was possible or if those politicians acted illegitimately. Many hon. Members could give a whole series of examples of where that has happened. In those circumstances, the judges may be a protection for the peoples of Europe, and not the problem that some fear.

We were reminded earlier of the quotation about needing a poet to draft at least the preamble, although I think that a poet could do the whole lot. President Giscard d'Estaing's draft is up to about 300 pages of Euro-speak. It is impenetrable and makes the EU sheepmeat directive seem a racy read. We need to pull together the vision, motivation and drive that were evident in the US constitution. Although the principles of that constitution were agreed in a large committee of 40 or 50 people, Madison was then sent away with a quill pen and ink to compose something that people would be prepared to die for. Giscard's Euro-speak might cause a number of fatalities, but not for reasons of the poetry, artistry and elegance that Madison was able to contrive.

The challenge for the Minister is not merely to find a beautiful word for that most beautiful concept in democracy of subsidiarity, so that schoolchildren can carry the idea around in their pockets and in their heads, but to find the poet—perhaps someone who is here tonight or someone in some corner of Europe—who can pull together the inspiration that will mean that people are prepared not, we hope, to die for, but to fight for a constitution that will unite the peoples of Europe, so that when we go to France we never again have to do so with a rifle over our shoulder but can do so simply to enjoy the wonderful wine.

9.39 pm
Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)

The hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) makes a very important point in suggesting a referendum because the one thing that he and all colleagues in the House must be aware of is that there is a feeling of hopelessness among the general community on matters relating to Europe. People are concerned about what is happening.

People who are sickened about it realise that they can do nothing, that their Members of Parliament are powerless and useless in these matters and that things are getting worse. Certainly, if we take the further major step to have a written European constitution, which will interfere with virtually every aspect of our work in Parliament, they will feel particularly angry if it is forced on them without their agreement. Of course a referendum is not a means to ensure that one point of view prevails, but if the people vote for something and it turns out to be horrendous, miserable and horrible, at least we can say that they have responsibility for it.

Quite frankly, what is upsetting me is the fact that the House of Commons has not realised the extent to which power has already gone. I shall give two brief examples. Colleagues are well aware of the fact many elderly people in Britain now receive the great benefit called the winter fuel payment. They got that from the House of Commons because we agreed that elderly people living in Britain were entitled to money to help them with the cost of the cold.

How many people are aware—I was told about this in a parliamentary answer on 6 November—that, because of an instruction from the EU, we now have to pay the winter fuel allowance to people from the United Kingdom who go to live in places such as Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Reunion, the Azores, Madeira and the Canary islands, where the sun shines all the time and it is not cold? According to the Government, that will cost £10 million. How on earth is that sensible? How is it correct for us to say that if people go to live in cold Canada, they do not get a penny, but they do if they go to the Azores or the Canary islands? Quite honestly, that is nutty, crazy and a stupid waste of money, but what on earth can we in the House do about it? The answer is, sadly, nothing at all.

The Minister may remember that the Government introduced a great Bill to say that foreign nationals could not give money to British political parties. Because of people's worries about foreign companies and individuals—perhaps in Hong Kong or elsewhere—giving money to political parties, the Government introduced that great Bill to make it unlawful. The Bill was presented to Parliament, but in the House of Lords, where the Government have such clever Ministers, they had to say that, unfortunately, they could not go ahead with it in its present form. It had to be adjusted because they were not allowed to exclude parts of the EU.

It was apparently all right for a company in Germany, France or Portugal to give money to the Labour party, the Conservative party or any other party in Britain, but not for people who lived in Turkey, Canada, Guadeloupe or places like that to do the same. However, the Government then made a second surrender: they had to say that, sadly, because of EU instructions, they could not exclude places that were EU overseas territories. That put us in the absurd position whereby individuals living in British Guiana were not allowed to give money to the Liberal Democrats, but people were able to do so if they lived in French Guiana. That was madness, crazy and illogical, but what on earth could we do about it? The answer is absolutely nothing. [Interruption.] This is not funny; the Minister should not laugh about it. When a democracy is dying, Ministers should get upset about it. We should not have silly twits trying to pretend that nothing will happen although new things are being introduced.

Mr. MacShane

It is not British Guiana—the Empire is all over; it is finished.

Sir Teddy Taylor

Of course the Minister is right. All I was pointing out is that, because of the instructions that the Government received, people are not allowed to give money from British Guiana, but they are from French Guiana. That happens to be true. It is shocking and stupid, and the fact that the Minister is laughing about it makes nonsense of the Government's attitude to democracy.

What can we do about spending, waste and extravagance? I have another written answer from the Government telling me that last year, as part of the EU food process, we had to destroy 47,000 tonnes of cauliflower, 153,000 tonnes of tomatoes, 118,000 tonnes of nectarines, 255,000 tonnes of peaches and 229,000 tonnes of oranges, costing a fortune. People get upset about that. They say that it is crazy and stupid, and they ask what we can do about it. The answer is absolutely nothing.

Mr. Davidson

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, although the cauliflowers were destroyed, all the turnips became Liberal MPs?

Sir Teddy Taylor

I accept that the hon. Gentleman is—I mean this sincerely—one of the more honest Members of the House. He must be as sick as I am about the billions of pounds spent on destroying food and on dumping food in the third world and doing damage to countries that are starving. What we can do? Can we go to Members of the European Parliament? No. If the European Parliament closed its doors tomorrow, no one would notice apart from the taxi drivers of Strasbourg.

What about the graft and corruption? I have a lovely story, of which the Minister must be aware, about a former lay preacher from Essex who was on the wanted list for all kinds of things. He went along to the European Union saying, "I've got a grand plan. I want to try to help the prostitutes of Hungary." He was given £140,000. This gentleman did not use the money to help the prostitutes of Hungary; he bought himself two new cars and a new house, and nothing was done to help the prostitutes of Hungary. When that kind of thing happens under a democratic Parliament such as the House of Commons, we can do something about it. That is the basis of democracy, but, unfortunately, in the European Union, nothing can be done.

We cannot even discuss upsetting, distressing issues such as capital punishment and corporal punishment. because of the European convention, not the European Union. We have a Home Secretary who wants to do something about asylum seekers, but I have told him time and again about one individual in Southend-on-Sea who came here nine years ago as an asylum seeker from Turkey and who has been appealing repeatedly under all the various European rules. That is paid for by the British taxpayer, and, unfortunately, there is nothing that we can do.

Ms Stuart

I do not want to disagree with the hon. Gentleman, but I urge him not to mistake the European Union with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. I think that he has just done so, and that adds to the confusion. The issue of corporal punishment to which he referred had nothing to do with the European Union.

Sir Teddy Taylor

I assure the hon. Lady that I am well aware of the differences between the convention and the European Union. She will be aware of aspects—for example, the gentleman who was sent over at great expense to Germany—in which the European Court of Justice gets involved, as does the European convention and the European Court of Human Rights. Both are surrenders of and interference with our power, and we cannot do much about it.

On the issue of tobacco, does the Minister care or does he want to laugh about the fact that, last year, £1.2 billion of our money—European money, poor people's money—was spent on growing high-tar tobacco in places such as Greece, and was then dumped in the third world and eastern Europe? Does he worry about that? Is he concerned? What can we do about it? The answer is absolutely nothing. The tragedy is that our rights and freedoms are disappearing daily with every single treaty, all of which I voted against. Every time, the Ministers say, "There's not much in this, we've got safeguards, everything will be fine," and the power simply disappears.

There are two things that we can do. First, it is vital to have the referendum. Secondly, perhaps the Minister will confirm that it would strengthen the European Union if there were an exit clause by which member states that wished to leave would be allowed to do so. Giscard D'Estaing has put forward an ambiguous clause, to which the Minister has said that we do not object. At least an exit clause would give people some freedom and protection.

I do not want to take up time. As someone who has been a Member of Parliament for a long time, however, it is appalling to see how people are simply switching off from democracy, and not just people such as ourselves. Young people think that it is pointless and useless. So many constituents say, "I know that nothing can really be done about anything nowadays." If people are concerned about issues such as the export of live cattle, what can we do? Absolutely nothing. I wish that Governments of all parties would realise that democracy matters. If we let it disappear, the people will suffer. I hope, therefore, that the Government will try to reclaim powers for democracy and not simply hand over more and more. Someone such as you, Mr. Speaker, who performs a great task in a democratic Parliament will be aware that our democracy is dying. It is time that people in all parties started to fight for its retention and to restore it.

9.50 pm
Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester)

This debate was intended to provide an opportunity for my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) to report to the House what has been going on in the convention. It is regrettable that their speeches were restricted to 12 minutes. I would very much have liked to have heard much more from them. They made extremely thoughtful speeches, and I agree with much of what they said.

I wish to pick up an enormously important point that the hon. Lady made. I hope that I understood her correctly when she said that the acquis communautaire could be addressed by creating a mechanism to enable competences to be repatriated. She also said that a second crucial element of dealing with the acquis communautaire would be an exit clause. Both are crucial, but I hope that she understands that all attempts to create a reverse ratchet in the EU have failed. That is why many of us have become sceptical about more proposals of the same ilk. I shall say a bit more about the exit clause shortly.

I want to discuss the original purpose of the convention. The task set of it by the Laeken declaration was to enable the institutions of the EU to adapt to enlargement and to tackle the so-called democratic deficit. In addressing those questions, the convention needs fully to grasp two points. First, an enlarged EU will unambiguously have to be an EU of nation states. The applicants from eastern Europe will not accept anything else. For them, membership is a means of expressing their newly won sense of national identity. The countries that have shrugged off socialism imposed from Moscow do not want another form of suzerainty to come from Brussels.

Secondly, if the convention is to make any progress, it must grasp and accept that the democratic deficit cannot be cured by rearranging constitutional pieces on the EU chessboard. A little more power to the Parliament here and a little less to the Commission there will not work. Proposals that enable the EU to acquire some of the trappings of a state—passports, flags and the like—do nothing to help, either.The European Parliament cannot plug the democratic legitimacy gap. Does anyone believe that the electorates of Europe will look to the European Parliament to articulate their sense of identity? No one believes that, and the hon. Lady made that point when she said that national Parliaments are the face to which the electorate relate. If the members of the convention are to make progress, they must realise and say that they have realised that democratic legitimacy comes from nation states and only from nation states. It comes from nowhere else. I have certainly not heard that point made clearly enough in the debate about the convention over the past few months.

The origins of the democratic deficit in the EU lie deep, but it was the Single European Act, and the erosion of the veto that came with it, and not Maastricht, Nice or Amsterdam that began to make many of our electorates uneasy. The Act triggered the search for safeguards and the recognition of the need for reassurance of the electorates. What has been the product of that? We have had the so-called doctrine of subsidiarity, proposals to create lists that clearly distinguish between national and EU competences, proposals for a states' right clause and proposals to enhance the role of national Parliaments among much else before and during the convention. I do not believe that any of them will achieve very much. I hope that the convention has grasped the fact that none of them will do anything to ally the deep concern that is growing in many parts of the electorates in the EU. It will not address their fears that any further transfers of power and, indeed, the exercise of some existing powers erode what many people consider to be their sense of national identity.

Some might say that those fears are unjustified, and we could have a debate about that. I would not necessarily agree with those who argue that point. In any case, that argument is irrelevant. Those fears, right or wrong, are a political fact and cannot be wished away. They touch on instinctive loyalties of nationality and are not easily assuaged. The only way to do that is for the EU to start explicitly acknowledging that democratic legitimacy flows from nation states and nowhere else. That is why I have long argued for an exit clause to be added to the treaty of Rome, as set out in my amendment.

For the first time tonight a Minister suggested that the Government might support an exit clause, although he did not seem to appreciate that the value of such a clause lies in getting at the heart of people's deep concerns not, as he put it, in suggesting that it might be of interest only to those "stupid enough" to want to leave the EU. Its value goes far wider than that. Such a clause could, over time, fundamentally improve the quality of debate about the EU in Britain. It would bring a greater sense of rationality and practicality to all sides of the debate.

Proponents of further integration would have to bear in mind the effect that any proposal might have on the balance of arguments for membership. It could act as a brake on some of the wilder ideas occasionally heard, especially from abroad. Those Eurosceptics who favour withdrawal—I am not one of them—would have to stop arguing that the EU was an irreversible and stealthy assault on nationhood. An exit clause would make it clear that the EU was not part of a final and irreversible treaty. The EU would join the long list of other institutions that also have exit clauses—NATO, the World Trade Organisation, the International Criminal Court, the European convention on human rights, the Council of Europe and so on.

Of course Britain, or any other country, could, in practice, leave now and no panzers would roll through the channel tunnel to stop us, but, as I said, our electorate, and those of eastern Europe, need to be reassured. Nor should any attempt be made to make life difficult for a leaving country. That is why it is so important that an exit clause also contains clear provisions to ensure that remaining countries assist the leaver.

Ms Stuart

Fundamentally I agree with the hon. Gentleman's argument on an exit clause. However, what is his opinion of the proposal by the European People's party, part of his political family, to have an exit clause but only if it is agreed unanimously by all member states?

Mr. Tyrie

That is a trite remark. I am trying to make a serious political point about whether the EU should have an exit clause. I am not making a trivial debating point about what may be going on in the European Parliament.

I am not a sudden convert to the idea of an exit clause. I have pressed the case for such a clause for at least 15 years. I started thinking about it when the Delors report was first debated. There are good arguments for and against currency unions, and reasonable men can disagree about them, but one of the most ludicrous arguments is that the loss of monetary control involved in a currency union is inevitably a one-way ticket and involves the surrender of our nationhood. Currency unions have come and gone over the centuries, and they will do so again. It has always struck me as much better to have the ground rules for withdrawal from a currency union laid out at the start. That could have been done without destabilising the markets and it was a profound mistake that we did not put such a rule into the Maastricht treaty.

I have discussed an exit clause with a good n umber of people on the convention over the past few months. Initially, I faced strong opposition, including from some senior people. I am pleased that Guiliano Amato, whom I spoke to, and Giscard, whom I did not, appear to be coming around to the idea. I just hope that they fully grasp and articulate the importance of such a clause for entrenching the primacy of the nation state because only if they do that will they get full political value from it. The EU is not—it would be foolhardy to try to make it—anything more than a highly sophisticated set of reciprocal obligations between member states. Perpetuating the illusion that it is anything more, and many try to do that, particularly in continental politics, will at best waste a great deal of bureaucratic and political time; at worst, it will mix a dangerous nationalist cocktail. We are already seeing some evidence of that lethal mix in the domestic politics of France, Austria, the Netherlands and possibly Germany.

My deeper worry about the work of the convention is the lack of appreciation of the scale of the problems that the EU is accumulating, and I say that as somebody who is not a paid-up Europhobe. Those problems are not only the failure of so many policies. Is there anyone in the House who could honestly say that there is any major area of EU spending with which they could agree? There are no takers—not even the Minister, who is frowning. That is the scale of our problem in explaining these issues to the electorate. The convention has not fully grasped the scale of the problems that we are trying to deal with.

There are two straightforward commitments that the Government could make tonight—they have edged towards one of them—which would indicate an appreciation of the scale of the problems. First, it would be helpful if the Government said unequivocally that they fully support an exit clause, not only that they do not see a problem with it. The second, equally important point is that they should put any constitutional arrangement to the electorate in a referendum.

10.1 pm

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk)

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie). I have enjoyed listening to the debate, and I want to focus on an area that has received little attention this evening or in the Standing Committee on the Convention. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson), with whom I serve on the Public Accounts Committee, referred briefly to the matter, which is of huge importance to the future of Europe. I refer to financial accountability and the control of fraud in the European Union.

I first took an interest in the issue when I read the House of Lords report, "Financial Control and Fraud in the Community", in July 1994. I shall quote at length from page 1 of that report because it predicates what follows. It says: This is the Select Committee's fourth report since 1989 on fraud and financial irregularity in Community spending. Our 1989 report found that huge sums of Community money were lost each year because of fraud; that financial management was weak; that the failure both to detect fraud and take action when it was detected allowed the fraudsters to continue in business: and that for years there had been no political will to tackle the problem. By 1992 we detected some signs that the situation might be improving, although there was a long way to go. We were too optimistic. According to the Court of Auditors' Report of November 1993 on the year 1992, there has been 'little or no improvement' in the Community's financial management, despite repeated criticisms made in previous reports. That report made me realise, back in 1994, that this was something that one should keep an eye on, and I decided that I would do that. The 1995 accounts were qualified by the Court of Auditors, which says that the statement of assurance provides numerous illustrations of unsatisfactory accounting and financial management". The same thing happened for the third year in a row when the 1996 accounts were qualified, saying that the Court declined to provide positive global assurance as to the legality and regularity of … the payments", and it was estimated that about £3.1 billion went missing through fraud. It appears that there had been no change by 1998, for which the report says: For the fifth year in succession the Court found significant weaknesses in the management of the Budget and an unacceptably high rate of error in the transactions underlying payments. When we reach the reports for 2000, we find the National Audit Office commenting that it remains a matter of serious concern that little progress has been made in reducing the high level of error, which meant that for the sixth year in succession the Court was unable to provide positive assurance on the legality and regularity of the transactions underlying payments. Page 1 of that report says: Overall the Court's Annual Report and Statement of Assurance for 1999 showed little evidence of improvement in the financial management of the European Union compared with previous years. In May this year, N AO reported on the accounts for last year, and once again the accounts were qualified. The report said: For the year 2000, the Court drew similar conclusions to previous years and for the seventh year in succession qualified its opinion on the reliability of the Community's accounts. A number of points in that report caught my eye. First, The Court found that during the year the Commission had entered into legal obligations in excess of the amounts provided for in the Community General Budget. Secondly, The Court found that the Commission was unable to produce complete and reliable information distinguishing between advance and final payments. It noted that, following similar findings in the Court's report on the financial year 1999, the Commission had said that it would take steps to set out detailed rules for each sector of activity and would apply classifications for different types of payment, in advance of revisions to the Financial Regulation being approved"— but The Court found no such progress. In relation to the accounting system, it was noted that As in the previous two years, the Commission experienced difficulties in providing the Court with a set of accounts for audit. Last Thursday 28 November, the Court of Auditors report, which will not be reported on by the NAO until next year, was published. Once again, the accounts were qualified. The report stated: The Court has been concerned that, while in the past the Commission has recognised at least some of the deficiencies pointed out by the Court, it has not given sufficient priority or devoted sufficient reflection and appropriate resources to overcoming them within a reasonable timescale. The Commission has stated in its reply … its commitment to the modernisation and improvement of the accounting system. It now needs to develop urgently a detailed action plan with the necessary resources and a timetable that is both realistic and reasonable. In other words, after eight consecutive years of qualified accounts, the Commission has not yet come up with a detailed action plan. Consider for a moment what would happen if the accounts of Marks and Spencer or Boots plc were qualified—the directors would be hauled over the coals straight away, in year one.

Angus Robertson (Moray)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Bacon

No—I am sorry, but many hon. Members still want to speak.

Earlier this year, at the beginning of January, the Commission appointed Marta Andreasen to two jobs—budget execution director and accounting officer for the European Union. She quickly pointed out serious and glaring shortcomings: there were no accounting books and no double-entry bookkeeping; staff of the Commission could enter the budget computer system and change entries without leaving a fingerprint or an audit trail. She raised her concerns and was rebuffed. She then tried to raise her concerns with the Court of Auditors and the European Parliament's Budgetary Control Committee, for which she was disciplined.

Compare that with what would happen in this country. In this country, if accounting officers for Departments, who are legally responsible for the way in which money is spent, do not like what a Minister is telling them to do, they are obliged to seek a direction from the Minister. That automatically triggers a process whereby the NAO is informed of what is going on. Having acted in that way, if the accounting officer subsequently comes before the Public Accounts Committee, he or she will be exonerated. In Europe, the exact opposite happened to the accounting officer for the whole of the EU. She tried to act honourably and to draw her superiors' attention to her concerns about the serious irregularities that were occurring, but she was rebuffed. What does that say about the EU's seriousness about getting control of those matters?

We are discussing the powers of the EU and its institutions and whether those powers should be extended—whether the European Parliament or the Council of Ministers should have more power, and whether there should be an elected president. What does that track record tell us about the competence of the EU to have any powers at all? What does it say about the competence of the European Union to have any money at all if it cannot look after the money it already has? The solution was eloquently stated in an article in The Times by Rosemary Righter, who said: Member states should put the Commission on notice that they will finance only those parts of expenditure that get a clean bill of health. Taxation is a cardinal matter. It is hard to think of anything other than the acts of making war or imprisoning people that more closely defines what it is to be a state—what it is to have the powers of Government. My constituents work extremely hard to earn the money that they then pay in tax. It is not easy for them to earn enough money to clothe their children and pay the supermarket bills and still have enough left over to go on holiday. If the EU institutions cannot safeguard the moneys entrusted to them by the taxpayers of this country, it is at least open to question whether they should have them at all.

10.9 pm

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon), who had an important speech to make but, I sensed, delivered it rather rapidly.

Much has been said by many Members about a union of sovereign nation states, which, if we were starting now, would be highly attractive. It that union was working for global free trade and its members combined for the greater good on mutual interests and cross-border matters, I would wholeheartedly back it. However, we are not starting now. We are signed up to, or are about to sign up to, a common foreign policy and a common defence and security policy. We are well into a common agricultural policy and common fisheries policy, and face a common justice system. Most members of the European Union are already in a common currency controlled by the European Central Bank. We have already heard, although the Secretary of State denied it, that further economic policies, especially on the harmonisation of taxation, are on the agenda.

We have also heard how the convention will introduce a constitution for the European Union, incorporating the charter of fundamental rights. The EU has an anthem, flag, passport, a Supreme Court, and a President—in anybody's language, those are sovereign nation state requirements. We are therefore no longer facing the prospect of something further down the track. Ministers, including those in the Chamber, have always said, "Oh no, that is not what we mean. We do not want to go that far, and that will not happen. We will make sure that everything is all right; trust us." Ministers throughout the decades have said that, not just this lot, but gosh, this lot are far worse and more enthusiastic about the convention than Ministers have been for a long time.

The convention does not offer something new or roll anything back. It merely adds the last few pieces to the jigsaw which the Prime Minister himself described in the past week as a superpower. I am opposed to such a concept, but I no longer regard it in the terms that have been used tonight. For many years, I believed that a fully federalist agenda would benefit a philosophy that subscribed to federalism. I have often argued the case for opposing federalism with many people, and shall no doubt do so in future. However, what is happening in the EU and the convention is not just about a political structure—it is about a political elite who will control Europe and have power in it. I pay great tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) for spelling that out much more clearly than I could. He has his finger on the pulse and, in my book, is at the heart of Europe—he has been to the convention, listened to the debate, and contributed to it. He has come back and spelt out exactly what is in store for us.

Over the years, especially in the United Kingdom, politicians have tried to tell other politicians and the wider public that what we see is not really what we are going to get. They say that things will not be quite as bad or bound up—there will not be such a big transfer of power. In stark contrast, however, if one studies carefully what leaders of countries across the EU have said throughout the decades, one realises that they are a lot more open and honest with their populations about the true agenda. Perversely, Labour Ministers are still denying that what we have been hearing at this late stage in the completion of the jigsaw is really going happen. On 16 February 2000, only two years ago, a former Minister for Europe, the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), reassured the House: Let us not get carried away with the European super-state, with the charter of rights as a European constitution".—[Official Report. Westminster Hall, 16 February 2000; Vol. 344, c. 243WH.] That was meant to placate us all. Some of us did not believe it then, let alone now. Only two years later, the superstate is almost a fait accompli.

The Government say so much, but they always cave in on Europe. Almost anybody can roll them over for little in return. The Secretary of State shakes his head, but if the Government had delivered a reformed common agricultural policy, he would be shown much more respect. They caved in on the collapse of the pillar structures, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) outlined. That applies especially to pillar 3 on justice and home affairs, which will be changed from being intergovernmental to EU. The jury is still out, but the outlook is not good, on whether Her Majesty's Government will stick up for pillar 2 on foreign affairs and defence. Another Franco-German axis is developing on that subject.

The Government denied the incorporation of fundamental rights into treaties, but it is clearly on the agenda. They have granted the EU personality and conceded that it will have a written constitution. Time and again, they have yielded to additional qualified majority voting.

After the convention, the final pieces of the jigsaw might be put in place to create what most of us would recognise as a state. However often the Minister dismisses the proposals for a title or a name, the European Union will be a country called Europe.

10.16 pm
Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk)

We have held an important debate, which was marked by several noteworthy contributions. I must begin with that of the Secretary of State for Wales, the right hon. Member for Neath (Peter Hain), the former Minister for Europe. It is a joy that we have not entirely lost him from European affairs. I enjoyed his book, which touched on Europe. It is entitled "Ayes to the Right"—I am sorry, it is called "Ayes to the Left: A future for socialism." Judging by right hon. Gentleman's gymnastics in changing his views on almost every subject, it could appropriately be titled, "Eyes to the Main Chance."

The right hon. Gentleman showed great prescience in his book, "A People's Europe", when he wrote that Europe was imperilled by its self-imposed monetarist straitjacket. I wonder how he squares that with his newfound passion for the euro. He also writes about Europe's preoccupation with free market competition". The idea that that applies to the corporatist, interventionist, high tax mentality that prevails in much of the EU is patently absurd.

It is incredible that someone who nowadays keeps telling us that Britain is winning the argument in Europe argued in his book for a centralised European budget that was three or four times its present size. Prudence appears to have taken a bit of a knock in the past week or so.

Mr. MacShane

What has that to do with the motion?

Mr. Spring

It is the background to the Government's representative and his mentality.

We heard several good speeches. I especially commend those of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), who are members of the convention. I pay tribute to the hon. Lady's analysis; I agreed with much of it. However, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells hit the nail on the head when he said that the constitution was a centralising move with all the implications that flow from that.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) spoke about the need for the Government to be seen to defend the interests of the British people. I agree with him. The hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) spoke about the need for a referendum if a constitution is created. I have some sympathy with that. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor) took up the point.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) mentioned an exit clause. That should be debated and considered. My hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) spoke about the need for transparency in view of the fraud that has beset the European Union. My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) made a good speech about the jigsaw that leads to the creation of a superpower.

The hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) on the one hand said that he wanted to reinforce the powers of the citizen, and on the other called for a written constitution, a charter for fundamental rights and all the baggage of centralisation. That is completely contradictory.

The problem is that the Labour party talks flabbily about constructive engagement to address Europe's underlying problems, yet seems utterly incapable of coming up with specific, clear ideas for fixing them. It has forgotten that it must travel alongside changing times. We have seen its European bloc mentality, which is perfectly understandable, born as it was out of the second world war and the cold war during the second half of the last century. That mentality sought to mould the EU into a bloc, but it is now well past its sell-by date. Those old views simply endanger enlargement because they detract from the need to reform the EU to make enlargement really work. The Labour party was wrong in the 1980s about the big geopolitical issues of our time, and now, with the zeal of a convert, it has leap-frogged into a position of accepting in practice a supranational, integrationist agenda in Europe that has already been made completely irrelevant by the new global geometry.

The challenge that we must truly address is the growing sense of distance between the EU and its members: the democratic deficit. The vast majority of the British people know that what they want from the European Union is a partnership of sovereign nation states working together for their mutual benefit. That is the Europe that the Conservative party wants to help to build, but, if we are to do that, the EU must encourage genuine review and reform. My right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes has set out very clearly just some of the key practical ways of providing critical pathways to achieve that.

The draft treaty on the convention's deliberations insufficiently reconnects the EU to its members. In article 3, for example, we find a reference to the development of a common foreign and security policy, and a common defence policy as part of the EU's objectives. Of course, Europe needs to co-operate on foreign policy issues, but for us to abandon our own foreign policy capabilities would be to diminish our unique global reach and our historic understandings and links. On Thursday, the Prime Minister called for Europe to have a "unified foreign policy". What on earth did he mean? It can only mean that the Prime Minister looks forward to the day when European countries have no foreign policies of their own but speak with a single voice agreed in Brussels. Yet in the same speech, the Prime Minister said that he was opposed to the so-called communitisation of foreign policy. That is simply doublespeak.

We should be working towards the politics of practical co-operation. No European country should force its foreign policy on another. Each country should be free to have a policy based on its capabilities. Of course, much can be accomplished by agreement, but not by a single voice. This measure will not reconnect the EU with the voters; neither, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells pointed out, will the charter of fundamental rights. One of the most important ways in which we can reconnect is by minimising the intrusive impact of judge-led law as appropriate. We had assurances that the Government would never allow the charter of fundamental rights to become legally binding, and that it was worth no more than the Beano magazine. It is, of course, already playing a part in the European Court of Justice's jurisprudence.

The current state of affairs is nothing compared with the powers that the charter would give to the Court if it were incorporated into the treaties. It would represent a vast extension of the EU's powers. Only last week, for instance, it was being mooted in the European Parliament that the charter's incorporation would allow the EU to act in the media market. The Government have, as so often, backtracked from their previous clear assurances. We now hear that the charter's incorporation would be acceptable provided that there were horizontal restrictions on its application—whatever that is supposed to mean in practice—and that it would have no influence over national courts. I hope to hear from the Minister a clear and detailed exposition of how that could possibly work.

Europe today is not crying out for greater centralisation; it is asking for less. In the Prime Minister's speech last week, there was only one passing mention of the role of national Parliaments in the European Union, and that was only to approve of the convention's subsidiarity working group's report, which I found to be very meagre. That shows how little idea the Government seem to have of the need to re-engage the peoples of Europe with the European institutions. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes outlined early in the debate, that can be done only by strengthening the role of national Parliaments.

Faced with ageing populations and high unemployment economies, the EU's main mission must be its original one of promoting its member states' economies to build prosperity. It is almost incredible that the Government are so ambitious for the EU to take on more when the single market is not yet complete. In the current economic climate, we must work for growth to create jobs, yet even now the EU is adding restrictions that militate against employment creation.

The Conservatives want an EU that does genuine good for its peoples in this century. It must concentrate on its core tasks and it must be more open, democratic and accountable. National institutions—above all, national Parliaments—must have much greater control over its direction. Europe must look to the challenges of the 21st century, not the understandable hopes and fears of the immediate post-war period, which informed the development of the European Community.

Europe needs a sense of finality—an end to the ratchet effect and an end to the sense that we are on a journey to ever-greater centralisation. We must break open the debate on Europe's future, and the Minister's idea of holding a national competition to find a better name for subsidiarity is excellent. We need to leave all the jargon of Europe behind, as only open, comprehensible institutions will meet the needs of today.

This evening, we have proposed a practical path for Europe to take so that it can meet those needs. If it does so, Europe can help us all to deal with the challenges that the 21st century will inevitably throw at us, but if we take the Government's path towards greater centralisation and a de facto political union, we shall answer only the wishes of Europe's elites, not those of its peoples.

10.27 pm
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane)

I have a prepared speech that I could read to the House, but, if Members will permit me, I shall instead reply to the interesting points that have been made.

We have had a healthy debate on Europe, which is what our country needs. As always, I listened with great care and interest to the winding-up speech of the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring), who speaks for the Opposition on Europe. I am fascinated by his claim that we need a European finality. That is the demand of Herr Joschka Fischer for what we need from the convention. I believe profoundly—the Prime Minister made this point in his speech last week—that of course, Europe will evolve, change and grow in different directions. There will be no European finality.

I agree with the points made by a number of Members about sunset clauses and, as it were, drawing power back from Europe. That represents a good lesson for our Government, and—I shall try to make this my only partisan point, even though quite a number were put in the debate—some speeches, particularly those made from the Opposition Front Bench, conveyed a sense of the inferiority complex whereby we cannot be confident about Europe and cannot work in partnership on Europe.

Powerful arguments were advanced by some Opposition Members, but the notion that France, Germany and Poland—from where my father came as a soldier to fight with our forces in the second world war—want to dissolve themselves in a new common European state is so profoundly nonsensical that it is unworthy of what was once a great party. Some Members, but not me, may have the zeal of the convert, but one thing is worse—the complete nihilistic loss of faith of the apostate. Until that once-great party rediscovers its European vocation, it will remain without much hope.

One point constantly put in the debate was the fact that there is inadequate consultation on Europe. I would certainly say that there was inadequate coverage of it, or discussion of it—although we had an excellent debate in Westminster Hall last week, to which the hon. Member for Working (Mr. Malins) and others who are present now contributed. I have appeared before two Scrutiny Committees. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has also appeared before Scrutiny Committees, as he has told the House. Next week we shall have a major debate on Europe before the Copenhagen Council; no Labour Member fears any debate that is intended to justify the position—and, indeed, to get things right. Contributions from all sides add to our store of value where Europe is concerned.

Moreover, there have been two consultations, one in 1997 and one last year. A clear choice was put to the British people: were they for Europe or against? They endorsed the party that was clearly in favour of Europe, just as in my time my own party, 15 years ago, put to the British people the policy of hostility to Europe—and, indeed, of withdrawal from it. The Conservative party was then in favour of taking us deeper into Europe. It was the party of the single market, the party of Maastricht, and it won its election.

Excellent speeches have been made by the representatives who serve on the convention in our name. Apart from the Government members, we have my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) and the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory). We also have three representatives from another place, Lady Scotland and Lords Tomlinson and Maclennan, and representatives of all the main parties, including the nationalist parties, and from the European Parliament—Linda McAvan, Andrew Duff, Lord Stockton, Timothy Kirkhope and Neil McCormick.

I do not think there has been any time before when Britain has agreed to pool sovereignty—whether in the World Trade Organisation, NATO or, very indirectly, in the Council of Europe and the European Court of Justice—and parliamentary and elected representatives of the British people have been allowed, indeed instructed, to take part in debates on drawing up the new institutions. I welcome that development.

In the most thoughtful speech of the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston stressed the need for parliamentarians to hold the Executive to account. For the first time, in the early stages of discussion of the preliminary draft constitutional treaty, we are hearing references to national Parliaments. The proposals will increase the power of national Parliaments to hold the European Executive to account.

My hon. Friend also rightly stressed the relationship between subsidiarity and proportionality. During last week's Westminster Hall debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) invited the whole country to find a replacement for the word subsidiarity. I must report that I tried to find one on the net—I went through Google, and thesauruses—and every time I typed out the word subsidiarity, the answer was "Nothing known". I fear that we shall have to find the poet whom my hon. Friend asked us to discover.

Mr. Allen

May I throw two suggestions into the equation—"democratic proximity", or perhaps even "democratic intimacy"?

Mr. MacShane

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State described Europe United as a football team, whereas "democratic intimacy" sounds like one of those perfumes advertised by scantily clad people. I leave it to my hon. Friend to come up with more metaphors.

The hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) complained that there was not enough publicity for United Kingdom ideas, but every proposal and every speech is on the web. They are published by the Foreign Office, and by the parliamentary office of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston. It is true that there has not been enough discussion. There has been discussion in the House, but perhaps we need more serious discussion in our media.

Let me say how much I—like every other Member, I am sure—missed the presence and contribution of the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell). We all wish him a speedy return to full health, and we look forward to experiencing his wisdom and vision again in our debates on European and international affairs.

My hon. Friend—and my good friend—the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) talked about Europe as being simply an association of wealthy clubs. However, surely what Europe will be doing in the next week or two is opening up the EU to some of the poorest European countries—I should mention in passing, without in any way wishing to be controversial, that all those countries are eager to join the euro—and, I hope, in due course, Turkey. That is the strength of the European Union: it has allowed countries that were certainly very poor when my hon. Friend and I were students—

Mr. Davidson

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. MacShane

I will not, as I want to deal with the comments of other colleagues. Countries that were very poor when my hon. Friend and I were young members of the Labour party are now doing much better, thanks to their membership of the European Union.

The right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory)—another "conventioneer", to use the technical term—made a very thoughtful speech. He said that tonight the House had to endorse Mr. Giscard d'Estaing's preliminary draft constitutional treaty, but the motion before the House explicitly rejects a federal superstate. I hope that the House will not divide, but if it does it should support the rejection of a federal superstate. The motion also asks for the Standing Committee on the Convention, which comprises the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, to be sustained for the current Session.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. MacShane

I shall give way to the right hon. Gentleman, given his role as a conventioneer.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Do I take it from the hon. Gentleman's comments that unless the constitutional draft is amended substantially, he will veto it as being unsatisfactory to the British Government?

Mr. MacShane

It is in fact called a provisional draft preliminary, so there is nothing to veto. We are going to modify it, and I hope that today's contributions from hon. Members will help us in that process.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North made a powerful plea for us to take this constitutional process seriously, and that is exactly what we are trying to do. What is a constitution but a set of rules? In my eight and a half years in this place, all that I have heard from hon. Members on both sides of the House—especially from those who are most critical of the European Union's work—is a demand for a set of rules. Now we are getting there, and some hon. Members do not like it.

In Bagehot's famous book, "The English Constitution", he describes the need for a constitution: So changing is the world, so fluctuating are its needs, so apt to lose inward force, though retaining outward strength, are its best instruments, that we must not expect the oldest institutions to be now the most efficient. That is exactly what we are trying to do with this convention: to make the way in which the European Union works more efficient, and to have clear rules that we all can understand.

We all pay tribute to the command of detail and the passionate opposition of the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor). I understand that nearly 30 years ago, he resigned from the then Government in protest at the House's vote to enter the European Union. Indeed, we will celebrate the 30th anniversary of that accession on I January 2003. He, too, asked for a set of rules that we can understand. At the end of this process we will see whether we understand them, but we will have such a set of rules. Article 46 of Mr. Giscard d'Estaing's preliminary draft constitution allows for withdrawal. It is for the Government to take a final decision on that matter, but in the end, this House can always decide to withdraw from the European Union. If that provision were included in the final constitutional treaty, I, for the life of me, would find it hard to object to it.

The hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) pointed out that our representatives on the convention should have had longer to speak. I cannot disagree with him, but that is a matter for the Chair. He pointed out that the accession countries want a union of European states, and he is right. He claimed that he persuaded Mr. Amato—and, perhaps indirectly, Mr. Giscard d'Estaing—of the virtues of an exit clause. I congratulate him most sincerely, but may I set him a greater task: to persuade his own party of the virtues of a staying-in clause, because that is the main problem?

The hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) listed examples of terrible fraud in the EU. He is absolutely right, but what he described is all the more reason to be in there, fighting in detail to ensure that such fraud is exposed. I read today that the National Audit Office notes that £150 million has been lost to the British taxpayer through that fraud. I am delighted to see that my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury has joined me. There is a biblical expression about motes and beams. Fraud involving the common agricultural policy in respect of our own farming community is not entirely exclusive to Brussels.

The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) said that the convention was trying to get elected Governments out of the way, creating a jigsaw that will lead to a country called Europe. Again, the notion that France, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Poland and Estonia will give up their identity, laws, culture and customs is nonsense. I cannot patronise them and I will not patronise the House by accepting these arguments.

We finish where we began, alas, on the debate between those in the House who want a stronger and more effective European Union in which nation states have a clear and defined role, and those who want us to leave the European Union. That, again and again, is the difference. I commend to the House the motion whereby we will allow our conventioneers to carry on with their great work. I am happy to debate this again and again, as necessary.

Question put

Hon. Members


Division deferred till Wednesday 4 December, pursuant to Order [28 June 2001 and 29 October 2002].

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