HC Deb 10 December 2003 vol 415 cc1100-64

[Relevant document: Minutes of Evidence taken before the European Scrutiny Committee (HC 1078-ii).]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Margaret Moran.]

2.48 pm
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs(Mr. Jack Straw)

The Italian presidency of the European Union will chair the European Council in Brussels this Friday and Saturday, 12 and 13 December. Today, the House has its customary opportunity to debate the Government's priorities. I also look forward to discussing them with members of the Foreign Affairs Committee when I give evidence to them tomorrow.

The main business of the Council will be negotiations in the intergovernmental conference—the IGC—for a constitutional treaty for the EU. The Italian presidency hopes to conclude those negotiations at this European Council. The Government support that aim. Equally, the Government's fundamental concerns, like those of other member states, will have to be dealt with in any final package that we can agree.

The concerns of the Government were well spelled out in the White Paper, which I published in September and which was debated in the House on 9 September. They include retaining unanimity for treaty change and other matters of vital national interest such as tax, social security, defence and foreign policy, key areas of criminal procedural law, satisfaction in regard to energy, and issues that have emerged as further priorities during our consultations.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab)

As my right hon. Friend knows, I have pressed him, the Minister for Europe and indeed the Prime Minister on the energy chapter—later to become the energy articles—because of the uncertainty that it has created in the United Kingdom offshore oil and gas industry. The revised wording that my right hon. Friend has secured through negotiation meets not only my concerns—the concerns, that is, of one who represents an oil and gas constituency—but the concerns of the industry. I can confirm that, having just left an industry event organised by the United Kingdom Offshore Operators Association, where industry representatives announced that they were very satisfied with the new wording.

Mr. Straw

I thank my hon. Friend for all his work on behalf of the industry. I am glad to hear its opinions. The result that we have achieved is a consequence of the way in which the two Houses have been involved in the negotiations. Without my hon. Friend's prompting and support, and without the involvement of members of all parties in the House of Commons, I should not have been able to deploy as much weight in the IGC and to secure what I consider a satisfactory result.

It is worth putting on record the amended proposal that arrived from the Italian presidency late yesterday evening, which amends article III-157 with an additional sub-clause stating: such laws or framework laws shall not affect a member state's right to determine the conditions for exploiting its energy resources and the structure of its supply without prejudice to Article III-130(2) (c)". That article also protects a nation state's use of its own resources.

We must be eagle-eyed to ensure that that text finds its way into any final treaty that we sign, and I promise the House that that will happen. I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) for what he has been able to achieve—with, perhaps, a little help from me.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD)

The proposal obviously came from the Italian Government, but what matters is getting investment into the North sea, reducing the uncertainty and protecting jobs in our constituencies. As the Chancellor recognised in his statement earlier, when pointing out how vital this industry is, it is important for the words to appear in the final text, not just in the draft.

Mr. Straw

We will ensure that they do. I have no reason to think that they will not. They emanated from the Italian presidency because it is running the IGC, but it took a great deal of discussion in the room and privately with our friends in the presidency. We also worked closely with the Government of the Netherlands. I signed a letter to the presidency, jointly with my then counterpart, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who is about to take over as Secretary-General of NATO, emphasising that this was the shared concern of two of the largest oil and gas producers in the European Union.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP)

Members of the European Scrutiny Committee were provided with the text of the United Kingdom amendment, including the fourth part, which we have been asked not to release because it could damage the UK's negotiating position. I do not want to press the Foreign Secretary on the exact wording, but having looked at the Italian presidency's proposal—which some Members have said they wholeheartedly support—I am slightly worried about the lack of any mention of fiscal safeguards. Can he reassure us that other sections of the draft constitution will deal with that?

Mr. Straw

As the letter from the Dutch Foreign Minister and me made clear, what overwhelmingly concerned us was what had been in the original energy articles, and the possibility that the Commission would use qualified majority voting to take control of oil and gas energy policy issues that are properly a matter for the House of Commons or for unanimity in the Council. Any fiscal regime is a separate issue. At present we are broadly reassured, but as the hon. Gentleman knows we will continue to try to nail down any remaining ambiguities.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con)rose

Mr. Straw

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, as I always do.

Mr. Cash

The Foreign Secretary announced the other day that there is to be a declaration about the primacy of Union law in the new arrangements, which no doubt he hopes will be settled this weekend. Even if he exercises a tentative veto, it could turn out to be a pyrrhic victory. Does he accept—here I refer to an answer given to me by the Minister for Europe on 8 December—that, when it comes to interpreting the constitution in the context of Union law, the issue should be decided in accordance with European Court of Justice rules rather than the rules of UK courts? Would he be good enough to explain which of the two should prevail in terms of the question of the constitution in principle?

Mr. Straw

I think that I can take that as a compliment to us on managing to secure something that the hon. Gentleman sought. I know that he may feel counter-suggestible about Ministers saying yes to some of his proposals.

Annexe 3 of the presidency's latest proposals includes a declaration for incorporation in the final Act concerning article I-5a. It states: The conference notes that the provisions of article 1-5a reflect existing Court of Justice case law. I shall give the hon. Gentleman the short version of my seminar on the primacy of European law as part of a treaty that we have signed. As he will recall from the detailed wording of section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972, we are—and have been for 31 years—subject to European law as it is in treaties, directives and regulations, as interpreted by the Court of Justice. That has been the case ever since we joined the European Union. As the annexe 3 proposal from the presidency makes clear, it will continue to be the case if we have a new treaty.

If the treaty cannot be agreed at this European Council, we will continue to talk for as long as is necessary for us to obtain the right result. As the Italian Prime Minister and Council President, Silvio Berlusconi, said last weekend, an agreement at any price would be a serious mistake". Of course we want an agreement as soon as possible. Those of us who have spent not just many happy hours but many happy days, weeks and weekends in the IGC—much as I admire those around the table—would be delighted to see its conclusion. The overriding question, however, is whether it is in Britain's national interest. That comes before everything else.

Let me reinforce a point that I made a moment ago in responding to my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney. Parliament has never before been involved so fully in the negotiations for an EU treaty. Thanks to the work of our Government and parliamentary representatives in the Convention, Parliament was fully briefed on proceedings there. Since May, towards the end of the Convention process, there have been seven debates or statements on the IGC or the Convention in the House. In September, we published the White Paper. I have twice given evidence since then to the European Scrutiny Committee—the first time, I am told, that a Foreign Secretary has ever done so—and twice attended the IGC Standing Committee, most recently on 1 December. My hon. Friend the Minister for Europe has attended the IGC Standing Committee three times. There have been two reports on the Convention or the IGC by our European Scrutiny Committee, and 13 by the House of Lords European Union Committee. All that parliamentary debate has been extremely helpful to the Government in the IGC negotiations, and as I have explained, it has helped to strengthen our negotiating position.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)

I pay tribute to the Foreign Secretary for making himself so available on these crucial matters; we are very grateful for the opportunity for such debate. Has he reflected further on the point that I recently raised with him about tabling a proposal to ensure that the European Court of Justice and other European institutions cannot interfere in British tax policy? I know that the Government wish to have a red line, but as he will know, the European Union is already crawling all over corporate tax, even without the draft constitution being in place.

Mr. Straw

The right hon. Gentleman will also be aware that other Governments share our concern in terms of pushing back the Commission's areas of activity in tax policy, and that will proceed. Separately, I can reassure him that ensuring that we get satisfaction in respect of tax being a matter for unanimity will be one of our overriding concerns this weekend, and for as long as the IGC takes.

It is in the nature of any negotiations that a consensus builds up from the relatively straightforward issues to the most difficult. That inevitably means that some of the issues that are key to the United Kingdom, including aspects of qualified majority voting or unanimity, cannot be settled—at least until this weekend—along with similar first-order issues for other countries. For example, Commission size and voting weights is not a first-order issue for us, but it is certainly an issue of profound importance to many member states.

The six meetings of the IGC that I have so happily attended have made considerable progress on many issues, and they have narrowed, but not eliminated, those issues of serious contention. We have been well served by the Italian presidency, and the meetings have been both well chaired and well managed by my colleague and friend Franco Frattini, the Italian Foreign Minister.

The presidency has responded to the six sets of discussions with two packages of proposals, the latest of which—an omnibus version—was tabled late yesterday afternoon in the French text. The English translation became available earlier today, a copy of which I have placed in the Library of the House. It includes the latest proposals, better language on the charter and on energy—we have already dealt with that—and on the so-called passerelle clauses, which are concerned with giving this or any other national Parliament a lock on any future extension of qualified majority voting. But there is still a lot of hard negotiating to be done on tax, foreign policy and other fundamental issues.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab)

My right hon. Friend will be pleased to know that I am not going to bend his ear again about the visa application of my constituent Rachel Ringham. Rather, I want to pay generous tribute to him for the way in which he and his colleagues have put themselves out to enable this place to be fully informed of what is going on in the IGC. I pay that tribute as one who has raised that issue repeatedly in this Chamber. As my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House is in his place, I should also point out that that is how legislation should be dealt with. Regardless of whether the outcome was the one that people wanted, no one could say that the Foreign Secretary did not do everything possible to keep the House informed.

Mr. Straw

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend. That part of the process, at least, I thoroughly enjoyed, and the House and the country are all the better for it. I very much hope that the matter of the visa, which he raised with me this morning, has been resolved or is well on the way to being so.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)(Lab)

I do not want this debate to sound like a love-in, but I should like to endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) said: the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe have indeed put themselves before the scrutiny of the House on this issue. But can the Foreign Secretary explain the Government's current position on the charter of fundamental rights?

Mr. Straw

The current position is as we set it out in the White Paper, and my hon. Friend will recall exactly what we said. On page 39, we recited the important safeguards that had already been achieved in the course of the Convention discussions—the so-called horizontal articles, such as article II-51, which states that the charter does not extend the field of application of Union law beyond the powers of the Union or establish any new power or task for the Union, or modify powers and tasks defined in the other parts of the Constitution. The additional language in annexe 4 of the latest version of the presidency's proposals includes a formal reference to the explanation relating to the charter of fundamental rights. Paragraph 5 of the preamble makes reference to the explanation, and includes the phrase and updated, under the responsibility of the Praesidium of the European Convention". There is also a declaration for incorporation in the final Act: The Conference takes note of the explanations relating to the Charter…prepared at the instigation of the Praesidium…which drafted the Charter and updated under the responsibility of the Praesidium, as set out below. Such text is then reproduced. That is an important development.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con)

In listing the issues to which the Government still had objections, the Foreign Secretary did not mention economic policy, even though the White Paper makes it clear that they oppose article 14, which insists on the compulsory co-ordination of economic employment policies throughout the member states. Is that still a red line issue? The latest draft from the presidency makes no changes whatsoever, so can the Foreign Secretary assure us that this is still a veto issue?

Mr. Straw

The right hon. Gentleman should not be quite so suspicious in thinking that, just by elision and an attempt to be relatively brief, I was dismissing this issue. As I said, there is a lot of hard negotiating to be done on tax, foreign policy and other fundamental issues, and that includes articles I-11.3, I-14.3. We have been arguing that those should be brought into line with article III-70, in which economic competence is given to member states. That is an issue not only for us but for the Union. At the moment, in respect of the same dossier, in different parts of the draft treaty, either the Union or member states variously have responsibility for co-ordinating economic policy. However, I take the right hon. Gentleman's point.

This is a good moment to remind ourselves of why we are negotiating this IGC. It is because the prize—

Mr. Blizzard

Did my right hon. Friend notice that the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), who was a member of the Convention of the Future of Europe, did not mention fishing in his worthy intervention? Yet last night in this Chamber, Conservative Front Benchers made a major issue of fishing, and suggested that this Government should go to the barricades for the removal of the common fisheries policy from the draft treaty.

Mr. Straw

That is an entirely fair point. The right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) is damned by his silence.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw

No, it is too late.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amoryrose

Mr. Straw

That is a separate issue, and there is no question but that we have been round this track on many occasions. The draft constitutional treaty provides for a shared competence in respect of the CFP in article 13. Except for the conservation of marine biological resources under the CFP, in article 12, that accurately reflects the existing arrangements of competences, and does not add to them.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Straw

I want to make some progress, and then I shall of course give way.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. When one hon. Member mentions another hon. Member in a debate and clearly misrepresents his position, should not that hon. Member be given an opportunity to respond if he is in his place at the time?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)

It is not actually a rule of the House, but lies in the hands, and is at the discretion, of the Member, in this case the Foreign Secretary, who is on his feet.

Mr. Straw

I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

I am most grateful. Will the Foreign Secretary accept my assurance that, in the Convention on the Future of Europe, I moved an amendment to exclude fisheries from the relevant exclusive competence article? To my great regret, I did not receive the support of the Government representative on the Convention at the time. I was battling for the British fishing industry, which was abandoned by the Government representative.

Mr. Straw

It is no wonder that the right hon. Gentleman's proposal failed, because he was obviously not forensic enough. The fact of the matter is that the fisheries are a shared competence, not an exclusive competence, such as the conservation of marine biological stocks. There are good arguments for that, and they have not changed. I accept the veracity of what he says, but I do not give him many marks for his effort.

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk) (Con)

Will the Foreign Secretary define for the House what exactly a shared competence is.

Mr. Straw

One that is shared between the EU and member states.

Now is a good moment to remind ourselves why we are negotiating in this IGC. As I said, the prize—a constitutional treaty that is right for Britain and for Europe—is very important.

On 1 May next year, eight of Europe's new democracies, along with Cyprus and Malta, will join the EU. Later, Romania and Bulgaria will follow, and the European Council should confirm the target of next year for the two countries to close negotiations, allowing them to join the EU in 2007. The Council will also discuss Turkey's progress towards meeting the criteria for opening EU membership negotiations. As the House knows, the Government strongly support Turkey's prompt accession to the EU once it meets those criteria.

The word "historic" is often overused, but I make no apologies for using it in the context of EU enlargement. Only 14 years ago, the iron curtain divided Europe, with central and eastern European countries trapped under communist dictatorship and sinking into economic and environmental neglect. Joining the EU will mark the culmination of those countries' transition to free and democratic societies and prosperous market economies. It is a tribute to their efforts and energy that they have made that transition so quickly.

Enlargement is overwhelmingly in Britain's interest, which is why successive British Governments have been its strongest supporters. Through enlargement, Britain will gain access to an expanded single market of 450 million people. New partners will help us better face the shared challenges of an uncertain and interdependent world. However, the problem is that the European Union of today has institutions essentially designed for six members, and it needs reform if it is to work effectively with 25. No reform is preferable to a bad reform, and, as I made clear in our White Paper on the constitutional treaty, the EU will carry on under its current arrangements if a new treaty cannot be agreed or ratified by every member state. However, if we can get the IGC right, the prize is a more efficient and effective EU that can meet the challenges of enlargement and is focused not on institutional minutiae, but on delivering security and prosperity to its citizens.

Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab)

I greatly welcome what my right hon. Friend is saying. Will he join me in expressing pleasure in the fact that the accession countries have been involved in discussions on the constitution, so they already have a sense of ownership in respect of areas where there is strong agreement? Does he also agree that all the talk about a superstate is complete nonsense, because the last thing that the new accession countries want is to be subordinate to a superpower, based in Brussels or anywhere else?

Mr. Straw

I strongly agree with my right hon. Friend on her last point, and I shall return to that theme later in my speech. On the first point, it is extremely good—and thanks, not least, to our Prime Minister at Laeken—that the new states have been able fully to participate in the IGC. Their view, particularly their strategic view of foreign policy—based on a Europe of independent sovereign nation states—is similar to that of the UK, so I have been able to develop natural alliances with almost all of them.

In an article that I wrote for The Economist in October last year. I set out how the Government wanted a new constitutional treaty for the EU to look. I said then that it should explain what the EU is—a union of sovereign states who have decided to pool some of that sovereignty, better to secure peace and prsperity in Europe and the wider world. I continued: It should confirm that the Union exercises only those powers which are explicitly and freely conferred on it by the member states, which remain the EU's primary source of democratic legitimacy. I also said that the new treaty should draw a clear distinction between supranational and national competences". At the start of the debate on a new constitutional treaty, it was by no means clear that that was the sort of result that we were going to get, and there has long been a debate about how Europe should work. On the one hand, there was the federalist view, which was often the result of a different history from ours or a different political culture. On the other, there were more practical Europeans—similar, I believe, to the vast majority of the British people—who wanted and still want to enhance our prosperity and influence by working together with our neighbours. The sort of constitutional treaty that I described in The Economist last year was based on that practical view.

The Government were clear about what we wanted from the IGC negotiations, but we had a choice in how to get it. We could have accepted everything that the most committed integrationists want—the view of the Liberal Democrat representative on the IGC—or we could have tried to rubbish the whole thing, which, generally speaking, was the approach of the Conservatives. However, we rejected both approaches, making it clear exactly what we wanted and working constructively with our partners to get there, while standing firm against changes that we could not accept. As a result, we already have many of the elements of a treaty that endorses our vision of a Europe of nation states that will work efficiently in Britain's interest. The idea of a federalist super state is yesterday's fantasy, not tomorrow's reality. The treaty that we sign will be not a federalist blueprint, but a framework for a Europe of sovereign nation states working together to achieve common aims and to combat shared challenges.

Let me cite what the House of Lords Select Committee on the EU said in a recent report. It said: The draft Treaty expressly states that the Union can only act within the limits of the competences which the Member States have conferred on it…We support this approach because the draft Treaty makes plain the intention that the European Union remains a union of sovereign Member States". Our European partners recognise that, too. The leading French commentator, Alain Duhamel, has said that the Convention's draft treaty set out a great British Europe

There is a myth put about by those who would take Britain out of Europe that paints the EU as a threat to British sovereignty. It is a profoundly defeatist view of what Britain can achieve, and it assumes that cooperation with our neighbours comes at the price of diluting our national character.

This is a moment to remind ourselves of what has been said in the past about various changes to the treaty base of our relationship with the EU. I understand fully why the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), the deputy leader of the Opposition and shadow Foreign Secretary, cannot be present. I am sorry that he cannot be here because it is worth recalling that, back in 1992, speaking from the Back Benches on the Government side, he shot down those who claimed that Maastricht would lead to a superstate. Indeed, he argued eloquently and persuaded most of the then Opposition, including myself, that we should vote against a referendum on Maastricht. On any analysis whatever, Maastricht represented a much more profound change in the nature of the relationship—setting out the single currency and common foreign and defence policy—than anything in the current treaty.

There were some people—I shall not mention their names, but they can identify themselves—at that time who ranted about the fact that the Maastricht treaty would lead to the creation of a superstate. If we wind forward to the modest set of changes in the Amsterdam treaty, the position of Conservative Front Benchers had changed. Only 27 days after their crushing defeat in the 1997 general election, the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood)—who had survived. I am happy to say-gave a balanced judgment on the Amsterdam treaty in The Times, when he wrote: If we sign the Amsterdam Treaty, we will abolish our country. Other, slightly more nuanced statements—which would be easy in comparison with the dramatic and apocalyptic view expressed by the right hon. Gentleman—made similar points about the Amsterdam treaty. The country continued, after all, and was not abolished.

Then we came to the Nice treaty, and the right hon. Gentleman decided to ratchet up the hyperbole. On BBC Online, on 19 April 2000, he said: The proposed Nice Treaty would do what Guy Fawkes failed to do—blow up parliamentary government in Britain. The right hon. Gentleman is an intelligent and pleasant fellow, but he should think about what he predicted would happen after the Amsterdam treaty, which was signed more than six years ago, and what he predicted would happen after the Nice treaty three years ago. Far from our country being abolished or parliamentary democracy being blown up, our country has not only survived but prospered as never before, as was well illustrated by the silence and glum faces on the other side of the House when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor spelled out in every detail the brilliant record of this Labour Government on prosperity and our position in the world, especially compared with our predecessor.

Mr. Redwood

My point was clear: that more and more Government powers were being taken out of democratic hands and given to unelected hands. That has happened and continues to happen, and it does mean the abolition of a democratic Britain. That is why we want the Foreign Secretary to stand up for the rights of the House of Commons, instead of transferring yet more power. The Department of Trade and Industry is discussing 37 major items of policy at present, every one of which emanates from directives and policies from Brussels. It is one of many Departments that are simply doing the will of Brussels, not responding to the democratic wishes of this House.

Mr. Straw

The fundamental flaw in the right hon. Gentleman's remarks is the assumption that everything that is decided by the European Union is against our interests. If that is his view, he should confirm that he wants Britain to withdraw from the EU and that he resiles from the policy of the Thatcher Government—not of this Government—which was to accept, through the Single European Act, qualified majority voting. The Thatcher Government also accepted the fundamental principle of the single market that decisions on the operation of that market had to be agreed by QMV, otherwise what was in the interests of British people, jobs and businesses could be subverted and undermined by other countries that would not observe the law in the same way as we would.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con)

Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw

In a moment. The truth is that for most of the time we get our way in the European Union.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)

What a ridiculous thing to say.

Mr. Straw

What that remark illustrates is the profound lack of confidence that the right hon. Gentleman had in the ability of any Government of whom he was a member to ensure that Britain's national interests were properly represented. This Government have much more confidence in Britain and in ourselves than that. We have shown that, by engaging constructively, rather than sulking on the sidelines, we can mould the debate in Europe. We recognise that we can increase our influence, and the security and prosperity of the British people, by working together with our partners.

Let us take problems such as illegal immigration, drug smuggling or organised crime. We cannot just wait until they reach Dover: we need to act with our partners to tackle them before they get here. So we support measures that would cut out "asylum shopping", and we have already agreed that asylum seekers' claims have to be dealt with in the first EU country in which they claimed asylum. We have agreed common minimum penalties for the most serious cross-border crimes. including terrorism and human trafficking, to ensure that they cannot go unpunished. Our police forces can now run joint investigations into drug traffickers, for example, with colleagues across the channel.

Europe is not just about tackling shared problems: it is of huge importance to Britain's prosperity, too.

Angus Robertson

Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw

No, I promised to give way to the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth).

Mr. Gerald Howarth

The Foreign Secretary repeats the popular myth that Baroness Thatcher anticipated all the consequences before she agreed to qualified majority voting. It was precisely because she did not anticipate all the consequences that she became disillusioned. The whole purpose of the Single European Act was to achieve a common market in goods and services, which is what most people in this country thought that the common market was about. It was because the European Court, through the acquis communautaire, acquired an extension of power beyond those areas that Baroness Thatcher had foreseen—and received assurances on—that she became disillusioned with the European Union and the direction that it was taking.

Mr. Straw

I was present in the House when the Single European Act was debated. I remember that Baroness Thatcher, in alliance with Geoffrey Howe and Nigel Lawson, her Foreign Secretary and Chancellor, knew full well what was involved in that Act. Although I had, and continued to have, several disagreements with Baroness Thatcher, I would never have suggested that she was not in full possession of her faculties in respect of every decision she made. She knew about the consequences of the Single European Act, just as she knew full well, when she made her fine speech at Fontainebleau in April 1984, about the importance of Europe developing a common foreign policy and defence. The hon. Gentleman can rewrite history as much as he likes, but that is the truth. It was Baroness Thatcher who laid the foundations for a common European foreign and defence policy, which the Conservatives brought into British law through the Maastricht treaty.

Looking ahead, Europe has an ambitious agenda of economic reform to deliver jobs and growth, in which Britain is playing a leading role. One example of that process is the European action for growth initiative, which the European Council will discuss this week. Its aim is to boost competitiveness and growth by encouraging investment in transport infrastructure, telecommunications, research and development and innovation.

Working with our European partners enhances Britain's security as well as our prosperity. Again, the agenda of the European Council is a good example. The Council will adopt High Representative Javier Solana's European security strategy, which should help us to tackle global security threats more coherently. The Council will also discuss strengthening the EU's relationship with the Arab world. Earlier this week, at the Foreign Ministers' meeting on Monday, we considered the middle east peace process, Iran and Iraq.

Acting together on foreign policy, when it is in our interests to do so, does not diminish Britain's sovereignty; it increases our influence. When I visited Iran in October with my counterparts from France and Germany, Dominique de Villepin and Joschka Fischer, I did so as the Foreign Minister of a sovereign nation state—as did they—working within a common EU position, and what the three of us achieved together, with the backing of the EU as a whole, was far more than ever we could have achieved alone.

It is also clearly in Britain's interests to work for stronger defence capabilities in Europe that complement NATO. The Atlantic alliance has been and continues to be the foundation of our security and we shall do nothing to undermine it, but it makes sense that Europe has the capacity to sort out problems on its own doorstep, such as peacekeeping in the Balkans, without always having to rely on the United States.

Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent) (Con)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw

As I am just coming to the close of my remarks, I shall not.

Cutting across NATO would weaken our defences and we shall not let it happen, but better European capabilities, for which the US has long argued, will help to strengthen our defence. The new articles tabled by Britain, France and Germany make clear for the first time in the EU treaty that NATO is the basis for the collective defence of its allies. Those draft articles also ensure that so-called structured defence co-operation is handled inclusively within the EU, not exclusively.

By engaging constructively and arguing firmly for what we want, we are helping to shape the debate in the IGC, and in the EU as a whole, in Britain's direction. That is what we were able to achieve in the Convention, and it continues to be our approach in the IGC negotiations. We shall carry on talking and working until we get the right result in those negotiations—for Britain and for a more effective Europe, ready to meet the challenge of enlargement.

3.30 pm
Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk) (Con)

I begin by paying tribute to the sometimes dangerous, often unrecognised, but highly professional work undertaken by our diplomats and consular staff throughout the world. Events such as the recent bombing in Istanbul remind us how dedicated our overseas public servants are, and I pay particular tribute to Roger Short, an exemplary diplomat, with whom I was in Istanbul very recently.

The Foreign Secretary is correct to say that we have had many opportunities to discuss EU matters and I thank him for making himself so freely available. However, it has been six months since we last debated what could broadly be described as "European affairs",and these bi-annual debates provide a useful opportunity to update ourselves—even more so in this debate in view of the importance of recent developments not only in the European Union but in the whole of Europe. Our relationship with all European nations—not only with our EU partners—is a key component of our country's foreign policy interests. We are inextricably bound together by ties of history and geography.

The Balkans are often considered a big potential flashpoint, the area of Europe where violence and conflict are most likely to break out, as has so often been the case in the past. Much has changed since the bloody conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990s, but their legacy remains with us, and even more with populations in parts of the Balkans and the peoples of the whole of that region.

It is right to remember and to pay tribute to the dedication and bravery of the British and other NATO troops who helped to end the inter-ethnic conflicts that killed so many people and displaced so many more. The peoples of former Yugoslavia demonstrated that they were anxious to have that assistance, and progress is being made in that area, although many people are still displaced, too fearful to return to their homes, and much remains to be done in respect of criminal prosecutions.

There is much that is positive and encouraging, however. The former Yugoslav states have made great strides. Such progress is certainly worthy of recognition and encourages me in the hope that one day they will join the EU, and that the prospect of membership will spur them on to further reforms.

A key player in the wings is Russia. The relationship that the UK and our European partners enjoy with Russia is of considerable and growing importance. It has recently assumed a greater role, not merely on the European stage but on the world stage. That development is positive and I hope that Russia will continue to play a part in promoting stability on its borders. In particular, I hope that Russia will exercise her influence as facilitator of a smooth transition to a new, popular, democratic regime in Georgia. I hope very much that President Putin will remain engaged with the EU, NATO and the accession countries in a constructive and positive framework and ensure that democratic values are fully upheld in his country.

The enlargement of the EU is a process that the Conservative party—and, indeed, every hon. Member, to my knowledge—supports and I personally have strongly supported it since its inception. The end of the cold war was the catalyst that brought about the accession process that made all that possible. Countries cut off from the rest of Europe for almost half a century emerged after the Berlin wall fell, and new opportunities and potential have opened to them.

The accession of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, and Slovakia next May will be a moment to rejoice for us all and symbolic of Europe having finally removed the remnants of the cold-war legacy. Of course, we have special links with Malta and Cyprus, too. The accession countries have achieved much reform already in their quest for EU membership. The eastern European countries have transformed themselves into successful, functioning multi-party democracies, with an adherence to the rule of law and respect for human rights and personal freedoms.

Angus Robertson

I agree entirely with what the hon. Gentleman says about enlargement, but does he agree that there is a certain irony in the fact that, among the accession countries, nation states such as Slovakia—a country of 5 million people, without a single centimetre of coastline—will have more direct say over the Scottish fishing industry than the devolved Government of Scotland?

Mr. Spring

I will be happy to refer to the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises in a few minutes if he will bear with me.

Political liberalisation has been matched by economic liberalisation and the values that accompany both. That bodes well not just for the countries themselves, but for existing EU member states, as fresh investment and economic opportunities open up in what was previously the eastern bloc. On their accession, those eastern European countries bring with them not only fresh ideas and expectations, but new challenges for the EU. Those countries do not bring with them the old-fashioned ideas of some existing EU members; they have only recently thrown off the influence of a centralising power, and they aspire to a close relationship with their transatlantic friends, as well as the EU, rather than being forced to make a false choice between the two. Their voices deserve to be heard. Britain should be the champion of the smaller countries of the EU, seeking to protect and promote their interests and creating an EU institutional structure to reflect that.

There are very real question marks revolving around the EU's whole direction and outlook that require much greater flexibility and a willingness to look outwards, rather than inwards, but they also involve the need to modernise the existing structure of common agricultural policy subsidy payments and structural funds. Fundamentally, the EU faces problems associated with its demography. Europe's birth rate is falling, and the population of the EU is ageing and declining. Over the next 50 years, it is predicted that Europe's median age will rise by 11.8 years. The European social model is completely unsuited to address that because of the lack of competitiveness and the human resources of countries such as India and China, which do not have expensive welfare support structures.

A further issue is how we formulate relations with countries on the borders of the enlarged EU. It is important that we come to an accommodation not only with countries in the Balkans, but with countries such as Moldova, Belarus and Ukraine. Not only is that important from the viewpoint of securing the EU's external borders, but, although their possible accession to the EU is many years away, the prospect of membership in the future for such countries will act as a spur to economic and political reform. Furthermore, we very much look forward to the date-we hope, in 2007—when Bulgaria and Romania become EU members.

In October, I had the opportunity of visiting Turkey—a country to which we are greatly indebted because of its steadfast commitment to NATO during the cold war. Turkey is anxious to join the EU, and I hope that a formal accession process will begin at the end of next year. Turkey is making remarkable progress in its political and judicial reform process, in the latter case assisted by us. Turkey faces a number of obstacles to EU accession. First, there is opposition in France and in Germany, which has a substantial Turkish minority. Prime Minister Erdogan has indicated that he will not press for the free movement of Turkish citizens, which is an issue with Germany in particular. Let me be blunt: it is a matter of the most profound political misjudgment to deny a country a relationship with the EU simply because it is Muslim. Given the current tensions in the middle east and other parts of the Islamic world, what sort of message would be sent out if the EU rejected a Muslim country, not because of any breach of the Copenhagen criteria but because it is Muslim, albeit committedly secular? It would be offensive and would reflect a total and fundamental misreading of one of the most important current geopolitical challenges that we face. Turkey should be judged by entirely dispassionate criteria, and I expect the Government to tell our European partners that loud and clear, as we certainly do.

Elections are imminent in north Cyprus. Obviously, we cannot prejudge the result. Whatever it is, however, a massive effort must be made to establish the basis for a settlement in Cyprus before 1 May. We have the juxtaposition of a prosperous, outward-looking and legally recognised republic of Cyprus entering the EU, while north Cyprus remains relatively impoverished and diplomatically unrecognised by others. The Annan plan must be the basis for a solution. Those who counsel Turkey to wait for a formal acceptance of EU accession before substantial movement to agreement about the island do Turkey no favours. Of course there is pain and mistrust on either side. There are real ties, however, of history, kinship and affection between Britain and Cyprus. We hope that it will not be long before Turkey formally becomes part of the European family of democratic nations.

In addition, Turkey has important relationships in the region, not least among which are its friendly ties with Israel, which are a shining example of how a Muslim country can co-exist productively with the state of Israel. Those long-standing and trusted links will undoubtedly, over time, prove most valuable in that volatile and difficult part of the world.

Turning to the European Council this weekend, it is true that core elements agreed at Nice dealt with accession. At Laeken, however, issues relevant to enlargement and to the EU's future direction were raised. We welcomed the recognition at Laeken that change was required within the EU and that the citizens of its member states wanted the European institutions to be less unwieldy and rigid. The Laeken declaration was clear: within the Union, the European institutions must be brought closer to Europe's citizens, and the Union needs to be more democratic, transparent and efficient. That is the agenda that we have been championing for a long time: an agenda for a flexible, modern EU, not one stuck in a time warp of irrelevant thinking.

The Labour party, on its big conversation website, states: Many citizens feel detached from its"— the EU's"— institutions. Too many of its priorities reflect the problems of the past not the challenges of the future". Typically, the Government analyse the problem correctly but fail to come up with the right prescription. The Convention on the Future of Europe was a response to the Laeken diagnosis of the challenges facing the EU—to remedy the democratic deficit, to reconnect the EU to the citizens of its member states, and to create an EU capable of meeting the economic and demographic changes of the 21st century. At this point, may I pay a genuine tribute to all those from both Houses—and to those among our MEPs—who sat on the Convention and who, faced with such a daunting task, carried our their work with dedication and a genuine desire to analyse and debate the issues? I am sorry that, despite the best efforts of many of them, what has been achieved by the Convention falls far short of what was needed.

Alas, what has emerged from the Convention, specifically the draft constitution, does virtually nothing to address and respond to the main points that were identified at the Laeken summit as being of such pivotal importance. This weekend, in the "News Review" section of The Sunday Times newspaper, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) wrote: I am not convinced the proposed constitution as it stands will meet the needs of a Europe of 25 countries. The government does not have to accept it. Enlargement will continue without it. and so will the EU". The hon. Lady, as we know, is better placed than virtually anybody in the House to understand what really went on at the Convention and what the constitution is really for. In the same article, she said: From my experience inside the convention, it is clear that the real reason for the constitution is the political deepening of the union". Is that not proof, if any were needed, of what we have been saying about the constitution having nothing to do with enlargement but everything to do with the remorseless desire for closer political union?

The Government have failed to engage in the genuine debate about the EU—a debate for which this country is crying out—mendaciously saying that anybody who disagrees with them is in favour of withdrawal. Let us examine the proposed constitution.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab)

I would not blame the Government for not engaging in a debate on Europe. We as politicians from all parties have failed over the past 30 years to engage in a debate with the public about Europe. This is our opportunity to engage in that debate.

Mr. Spring

I have some sympathy with the hon. Lady's point. Over time, there has been a sense of denial about what is going on in the EU and about the objectives of many of our European partners. Time and time again in the House, over many years, there has been a projection of reality that does not always accord exactly with the reality itself. I am afraid that we have reached, in this constitution and this Convention, new heights of disconnection between what is perceived among our European partners to be happening and the view projected by those on the Government Front Bench.

In May, the Foreign Secretary said: No one should get obsessed about the fact that it will be called a constitution."—[Official Report, 21 May 2003; Vol. 405, c. 1030.] He implied that it meant very little. Joschka Fischer did not seem to agree. He said: We have a draft constitution that is worthy of the word historic". Lamberto Dini said: The constitution is not just an intellectual exercise. It will quickly change people's lives…Eventually the Union will…become an institution and organisation in its own right". So which is it? I know what I believe. The Government are pathetically in denial of what is obvious to everybody else.

What those quotes illustrate are the Government's blatant attempts to create a false debate on this subject. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary will remember the Prime Minister saying after Nice: As for the idea of a future intergovernmental conference, it will deal primarily with the issue of subsidiarity."—[Official Report, 11 December 2000; Vol. 359, c. 355.] Well, that forecast turned out to be utterly untrue. The constitution deals with subsidiarity only as an aside. The Foreign Secretary has admitted that the current provisions on subsidiarity are inadequate. The only solution is for national parliaments to be able to enforce this principle to protect their rights. The current proposals for national parliaments are totally inadequate. The Government have boasted of how national parliaments can now "vet" proposed EU laws, but what use is this "vetting" given that the Commission can ignore it, when it really should be made to abandon a proposal if enough national Parliaments demand it?

As it stands, the Convention creates constitutional primacy over our unwritten constitution, a single legal personality for the EU and a legally binding charter of fundamental rights. It aspires to a new definition of a common foreign and defence policy and explicitly states and constitutionally enshrines the primacy of EU law, expanding its roles in criminal law, asylum and immigration, economic affairs and energy. How is that not a "fundamental change"? How on earth can anyone describe it as "tidying up"?

Although the Foreign Secretary and others may choose to ignore the cumulative effect of these changes, a ratchet mechanism is clearly at work. Once a power is granted away, rarely, if ever, is it returned. The ratchet turns in one direction only.

Mr. Cash

My hon. Friend may have noticed in today's edition of The Times an interview with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) in which he says: We don't agree with the principle of a constitution that sets in stone the supremacy of a European law-making institution above parliaments…The effect of the constitution would be to make the source of that authority the EU constitution, not the UK Parliament. Does my hon. Friend therefore agree that we are saying in express terms that we do not agree in principle with the constitution?

Mr. Spring

We have always made it plain, as the Government originally did, that there is absolutely no need for a written constitution for the European Union. The Government advanced that view, but because they move along in the slipstream of others, they have now adopted a different view.

The Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt recently stated: we observe that the European Union acquires all the instruments of a federal state…The capstone is the Constitutional Treaty, which must grow to become a genuine constitution"— some tidying-up exercise! I am afraid that I have as little faith in the Government's red lines as I do in recent anonymous briefings saying that they might consider vetoing the treaty. Several red lines have been adjusted and redrawn in a different place, and the most blatant example of that is seen from the Government's original pledge that the charter of fundamental rights would not be legally binding even though that view was rejected at the time of Nice by the European Commission and others. We await the outcome of the IGC to find out which red lines will remain and in what form. Whatever one's point of view about the proposals, what is before us is undeniably of considerable constitutional importance. In that regard, we trust the people, so today I once again call on the British Government to do the same and hold a referendum, as so many of our European partners are doing.

The regrettable truth is that an outdated bloc mentality still permeates the European Union's policy-making and strategic mindset. That mindset carries with it resonances of the 1950s and a way of thinking that moved the founding fathers of the EU, but it is wholly irrelevant to the needs of the EU today. The Government's policy on the EU has been characterised by an almost total lack of influence or results. I invite one example…just one…of a specific component of the emerging structure of the EU that can be ascribed to British vision, focus and direction. The written constitution and the incorporation of the charter of fundamental rights are clear failures of British nerve and influence. The concepts were originally opposed but then accepted and we have always been carried along in the slipstream of others. By contrast, this Government would never have achieved the creation of the single market, the substantial rebate or the opt-out on the single currency.

On 26 November, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) wrote in The Times: the European elite in their enthusiasm for ever-greater integration, which drives inexorably towards a superstate, is dividing itself from the people". She went on to say: The debate in Britain has been painted far too much as a battle between Little Englanders and the rest. But the reality is that pro-Europeans are driving a project that leads inevitably to a superstate, which most of us don't want. I do not think I could have put it better myself.

It is also extraordinary that the Government have made absolutely no effort to return fisheries to national and local control at the IGC, because there was a golden opportunity to do so. It is absolutely clear that the common fisheries policy has failed and that British fishermen get an especially bad deal, and the fact that the British Government failed even to try to put the matter on the agenda is yet another example of their ineffectiveness in Europe. We, with a clearer idea of Britain's priorities in Europe, would have done so. We would have made the restoration of local and national control over our waters a red line, as we will in any future IGC when we are in government.

The Foreign Secretary dismissed the idea of shared competence in a way that did not accurately reflect reality. He knows that article 11 of the draft treaty says: The Member States shall exercise their competence"— we are talking about shared competence— to the extent that the Union has not exercised, or has decided to cease exercising, its competence. That is a very different message from the idea of a competence of equals. It is absolutely nothing of the sort.

Nowhere has failure been more marked than in defence. To enter into a defence agreement with France and Germany that has absolutely nothing to do with enhancing defence capability is monumental folly. The arrangements agreed within NATO at Washington and Berlin make the widest pan-European defence co-operation possible without duplicating NATO structures. The decision has absolutely nothing to do with defence, and everything to do with politics. It undermines the very principle on which NATO was founded and which has guaranteed our security for more than 50 years.

It is argued that the EU planning cell is very small. Does anyone think that those who favour an independent EU defence capability coupled to a common foreign and defence structure will rest content? Of course not. The Times on 1 December reported the comment of Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel that We can say that the embryo of a European defence is under way and that it's an irreversible process". I would prefer to believe the sentiments—[Interruption.] We will pass the Foreign Secretary's comment on to the Belgian Foreign Minister, whose record of accuracy on what goes on in the EU is infinitely better than the right hon. Gentleman's.

There are those who have long-held and freely expressed views of Europe being a counterweight to the United States, and who resent the US-British special relationship. There are those in the US who regard with alarm diminishing defence expenditures in Europe and the lack of political will to spend on defence capabilities. They see Europe beginning to create structures outside NATO for exclusively political purposes. Those who take a negative view of European motives and attitudes sense justification for their viewpoint. They find it incredible that our Prime Minister, of all people, should have gone along with it.

Regrettably, the British Government have played into the hands of those people on both sides of Atlantic who favour disconnection. Let us never forget that, whether European or American., we hold to the same democratic values. The world is simply a better place when we work together. The Government's commitment to the separate EU defence identity is an act of monumental folly and will yield nothing for our magnificent and rightly admired armed forces.

When the history of this Government is written, their failure to make any real impact on the architecture of the EU will be a defining feature. Just as they completely misunderstood how to react when Europe was divided by the Berlin wall, they have failed to argue for a flexible EU with overlapping and interconnecting relationships, co-operating closely and extensively without the centralisation and harmonisation that so obsess those who systematically and successfully are pushing political union. Throughout, Britain has been a bit-part player, never setting out its stall in the lead-up to enlargement in the way that other European leaders have done so clearly and unequivocally. The account is one of a typically lost opportunity, a failure of influence and abdication of their responsibility to the British people.

3.58 pm
Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD)

I should begin by apologising to the House for having to leave early. I have a routine medical appointment early tomorrow in Edinburgh, and in order to keep it I have to make sure that I get to Edinburgh later this evening.

The Secretary of State has been accustomed on these occasions, but not today, to saying that

Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed."—[Official Report, 27 November 2003; Vol. 415, c. 150.] In a sense, that theme has already started to run through this debate, because the final version of the document that will be put before the Heads of Government in Brussels this weekend is not available to us—indeed, it cannot be made available. I shall therefore stick to principles that on previous occasions I have enunciated to the House and which will guide my judgment and that of my right hon. and hon. Friends when we hear the outcome of the Brussels summit.

The first of those principles is that we, in common with the Prime Minister and his predecessor, believe that the United Kingdom should be at the heart of Europe. It is in the long-term interests of the United Kingdom to be a member of the single currency. One cannot escape a certain feeling of irony that the draft Bill on a referendum on the single currency should be published today, as nobody believes that it will be utilised before the next election. It is in the best interests of the European Union to have a treaty embodying a constitution that defines the respective powers of Brussels and the member states, and draws together the provisions of the treaty of Rome, the Single European Act, the treaty of Maastricht, the treaty of Amsterdam and the treaty of Nice.

If any Government propose to agree to a major shift in control or any transfer of significant powers from member states to European institutions, or to agree to any alteration in the existing balance between member states and those institutions, there should be a referendum of the British people. The draft treaty fulfils those criteria. As I have said on the four or five occasions when we have debated this matter in the past five or six months, there should be a referendum on the constitutional proposals that are likely to emerge from Brussels.

Angus Robertson

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Campbell

I should like to make a little progress before giving way in due course.

Our proposition on holding a referendum is entirely consistent with the support that my colleagues and I demonstrated for a referendum on the Maastricht treaty when Mr. Bryan Gould tabled an amendment. A number of Conservatives, some of whom are no longer MPs, also supported that amendment. Lord Ashdown was the first party leader to say that if a proposal were introduced to join the single currency, that would raise not just economic but political and constitutional issues, so it, too, should be put before the British people.

The Government have accepted the need for a referendum on a single currency. Indeed, why else would they publish the draft Bill today? The inference must be that they regard such a decision as having constitutional significance. In contradistinction, they do not make the same judgment about the Convention's proposals. I confess that I find it difficult to make that distinction, which appears to drive Government policy. A referendum of the kind that I have suggested would provide an opportunity to reconnect the people of the United Kingdom with Europe and make the case for Europe once again. In that regard, I share the sentiments expressed by the Foreign Secretary towards the end of his speech about the sense of vision that an enlarged European Union brings. If those brave Europeans who formed the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951 had been told that in 53 years' time there would be a European Union with 25 members, including those who, in 1951, were firmly behind the iron curtain and in thrall to communism, I doubt whether they would have believed that their sense of vision, however powerful, was capable of such implementation.

We need some stability in Europe, and there must be an end to the atmosphere of permanent cultural revolution in which Europe has existed for the past 10 years. A constitution would undoubtedly aid that objective. It is quite true, as others have argued—the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring), at least by implication, did so—that enlargement could take place without a constitution. However, I part company from the hon. Gentleman in my belief that that is not much of an enlargement. Indeed, a European Union so constituted and based on existing arrangements would be a recipe for sclerosis and ultimately instability. As I have said previously in the House, the Government are correct to seek to retain a veto on taxation, defence, foreign affairs, social security and own resources. There is common ground on both sides of the House about what the red lines should be. I also believe, as I have said on previous occasions in the House, that the Government are correct to seek to retain a veto on taxation, defence, foreign affairs, social security and own resources. In that regard, there is common ground in all parts of the House.

Angus Robertson

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware of the consternation in the coastal communities of Argyll and Bute, Orkney and Shetland, Aberdeenshire and other parts of the country about the conservation of marine biological resources under the common fisheries policy being entrenched as an exclusive competence in the draft constitution? If it remains there, will it be the position of the Liberal Democrats to recommend a no vote in the referendum that he and I agree should take place?

Mr. Campbell

No, and I suspect it will not be the position of the Scottish national party, either. The Scottish National Party, I guess, like everyone else, will look at what comes out of Brussels in the round, consider what it regards as pluses and minuses and judge whether the final document justifies support. If the SNP takes the view that the hon. Gentleman has just expressed, it may find itself voting against a variety of proposals that it previously supported with some enthusiasm and which the people of Scotland might well regard as being substantially in their interest.

If I may say so, it is idle to speculate on how one would vote on a document that is not in final form and not before us. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position that the fisheries policy is one of his red lines. I do not remember him describing it as a red line on any of the previous occasions on which we have discussed the topic.

Angus Robertson

For the record—

Mr. Campbell

No. If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I do not remember him using language to the effect that the fisheries policy was a red line and that the Scottish National party would urge the Government to adopt it as one of their red lines. If I am wrong about that, no doubt I will be corrected, but I have no clear recollection of him having made that point.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok) (Lab/Co-op)

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman clarify how enthusiastic the Liberals are about a referendum on the constitution? Will he tell us whether, as well as speaking for his party in the Commons, he is committing his party in the Lords to support a referendum on the constitution?

Mr. Campbell

I cannot commit my party in the Lords because it is composed of individuals who take their responsibilities seriously and who will vote as they think proper. As regards my enthusiasm, the hon. Gentleman has been present on the four or five occasions that I previously described. He will have noted that my enthusiasm is unlimited and that I believe there are constitutional implications. Indeed, in the principles that I set out a moment ago, I went out of my way to say that it was entirely consistent with the view that the Liberal Democrats have taken on the matter in the past.

Without rehearsing what I said earlier, I believe that where there is a material alteration in the balance between Westminster and Brussels, there is an obligation to put that before the British people. There is a political imperative as much as a constitutional imperative. If we want people to be supportive and to be—if the House will forgive the colloquialism—signed up, they are much more likely to be signed up if they believe they have had a hand in the decision-making process.

Against that background, I shall deal briefly with a number of issues that may feature in the discussions in Brussels, starting with the European security and defence policy. Much of the discussion in recent weeks has turned on the issue of a headquarters, although that is not formally part of the constitution that will be under discussion. I have previously expressed reservations about the need for a separate operational headquarters, and I have yet to be persuaded that there is not scope for some form of double-hatting. It is not unknown in NATO and other institutions for individuals to have two sets of responsibilities, which they may be called upon at different times to discharge.

It is helpful and hopeful that the Tervuren option has been eliminated. It is also a relief that all sides publicly acknowledge the primacy of NATO. It also appears no doubt I shall be corrected from the Treasury Bench if I am wrong—that the United States is satisfied by what is proposed, to the extent that it is no longer maintaining any objection. That has appeared to be Mr. Rumsfeld's position in the course of the past week. If that is so, it is an important indicator of the extent to which the proposals may be acceptable.

Mr. Straw

I do not presume to speak for the Government of the United States any more than I do for the Government of any other country, but I think it fair to observe that the United States Government appear to have been reassured by the discussions that took place in the North Atlantic Council and by the significant changes in the draft articles, which we led and which were agreed initially with France and Germany. They are now in the presidency proposals, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to them.

Mr. Campbell

The Foreign Secretary spends more time with Mr. Rumsfeld than I do, and, although he does not speak on behalf of the American Government, I accept, as I think I am bound to do, the analysis, if I may put it that way, that he has given.

It is important to remember that we are talking about a hierarchy of operational control—first, NATO operations; secondly, Berlin-plus operations; thirdly, EU operations using a national headquarters; and, fourthly, EU operations from an EU headquarters. The last of those items seems the least likely. There is a sense in which the concentration on architecture obscures the fact that we should be concentrating on capability. From the characteristically trenchant interview that Lord Robertson gave yesterday morning on the BBC, it was pretty plain that the battle that he has fought over the period of his distinguished occupation of the position of Secretary-General has been about capability. I very much regret the fact that, when this topic is discussed, we spend more time on architecture than capability. If the position now is that there is no longer the same anxiety in the United States about what is proposed, it will be a substantial advance.

I believe that the expenditure of greater financial resources or the better spending of existing resources best secures an ESDP. One of the most interesting statistics to which Lord Robertson referred in yesterday's broadcast was that there are more than 1 million men and women under arms in Europe, but that at any one time a maximum of 55,000 can be put into the field. I have every reason to believe that that is a proper analysis, so a lot of time might usefully be spent on capability and, indeed, on embracing the principles of force specialisation, common procurement and interoperability, which are much more likely to give us an effective European defence capability than some of these occasionally arcane discussions about architecture.

I understand that it is expected that a security strategy will be adopted in Brussels. Those who have analysed Mr. Solana's proposals think that much more clarification is required of the circumstances in which Europe would be willing to use force. In some of the later drafts, the word "pre-emptive" has been taken out and the word "preventive" put in. Those are not simply questions of translation, as those words embody significantly different concepts. As far as Europe is concerned, by inclination, particularly since the second world war, and by economic necessity, we are tied to a rules-based approach to international affairs. It will be essential for the European Union to spell out what those rules are in order that a degree of predictability and confidence can be achieved in the strategy.

I understand that some discussion is going on about a mutual defence clause. I am agnostic on that, because I believe that it is unwise to embarrass countries with a tradition of neutrality, such as Austria, Finland, Ireland and Sweden, by insisting on a mutual defence provision that, as far as I can tell, almost exactly mirrors the provisions of article 5 of the north Atlantic treaty. Aside from the issue of legality, it is inconceivable, in the unlikely event that any member of the European Union were to be threatened or attacked, that other members of the EU would not give them military assistance if such assistance was requested. I understand that the neutrals have made the alternative proposal that instead of an obligation there should be a right to request assistance. That is entirely reasonable, because it reflects what would be the reality of the situation and has the consequence of not embarrassing those countries for which neutrality is a matter of considerable importance.

Talk of agnosticism leads me to my next point. I hope that the Government will resist any efforts to make the preamble to the constitution refer explicitly to one religious faith rather than another. There is a variety of religious faiths in Europe, as well as many people who, for their own legitimate reasons, have no faith at all. The comments of the hon. Member for West Suffolk have a particular resonance in that context, because Turkey's entry into the European Union is highly desirable not only for Turkey, but for the European Union. It is worth reminding ourselves that Turkey is a Muslim country with a secular constitution. It could easily find a commitment in the preamble to one form of religion to be an insuperable obstacle. Such a commitment is unnecessary, first, because there is a variety of traditions in Europe and we should not single out one and, secondly, because we should not have a preamble that might well prove to be an insuperable obstacle to a country whose ultimate membership of the European Union—on the assumption that it meets the Copenhagen criteria and makes the necessary economic reforms—is entirely in the interests of the European Union.

I would be interested to know what is the Government's position on voting rights. I hope—not piously, but wholeheartedly—that Britain's apparent support for Poland is not based on some narrow political interest. The Nice formula expires in 2009, and it would surely be sensible to review it now. When the review of the finances of the European Union takes place in 2007, it may not be easy to get a settlement if Germany, a net contributor whose attitude will be pivotal, still nurses a grievance that with twice as many citizens as Poland she has virtually the same number of votes. There has to be some effort to look ahead to try to anticipate possible difficulties. Of course, one understands the sensibilities of a proud nation such as Poland. but I would give two pieces of advice to the Polish Government, if I may be so presumptuous: first, they need to take a long view and, secondly, it is very important in these matters not to overplay one's hand.

On foreign policy, there is no doubt that where common positions can be agreed the European Union is greater than the sum of its parts. Assuming that trade is part of foreign policy, I am in no doubt that the European Union's position on the American steel tariffs was successful because EU retaliation, as permitted under the World Trade Organisation rules, constituted a much greater threat to the United States than anything that individual countries might have mustered. Accepting that fact is wholly consistent with the view that the Italian proposal for the extension of qualified majority voting to foreign policy is inappropriate. In my judgment, foreign policy should rest here, just as defence policy should rest here. Those who take a contrary view say that there is an inherent weakness in that position, because it means that Malta, for example, will have a veto. The argument is that the smallest country would be able to thwart the most powerful. That could well lead to frustration but, in my view, the principle of retaining national control over an issue of such importance clearly overrides any such disadvantage.

I have some sympathy with the Government in this debate, because it is necessary for them to fulfil their obligation to inform the House. Inevitably, however, they cannot reveal their hand, except on those issues on which they have already said that they will not give ground. They cannot conduct a public negotiation across the Floor of the House of Commons in advance of the weekend's deliberations. At the risk of overstraining a theatrical or musical metaphor, this debate is not really an overture to Brussels, but something between a dress rehearsal and a preview. We shall have a chance to assess the Government's performance when they report back next week to the critical audience of the British people.

It is true that, technically, we could do without this Convention. There have been reports—I have no doubt that they will be denied—of an apparent difference of emphasis between the Secretary of State and the Minister for Europe, but I would say to them that it is highly desirable that the Government should do all in their power to achieve a settlement that is in Britain's interests. A poor settlement would be worse than no settlement at all, but there is often a rhythm or a time for these issues, and if we were unable to reach an agreement this weekend it would leave the process open-ended. It would be a brave man or woman who would then predict when a settlement would ultimately be achieved.

I see that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) is in her place, so I shall make just one last point. I was a little surprised by her unexpected burst into print, but I suppose that we should congratulate her on overcoming her natural shyness and modesty in these matters. I feel that what has been attributed to her struck an unduly pessimistic note. I have not yet read the Fabian Society pamphlet, but I shall take an early opportunity to acquire a copy and to read it. It occurred to me that we did not hear the reservations that are now being attributed to her during the consideration of these matters by the House.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

She has seen the light.

Mr. Campbell

Perhaps that is entirely appropriate, as we approach the Christmas season.

I do not share the pessimism that is attributed to the hon. Lady, and neither do my right hon. and hon. colleagues. In proper terms, the constitution is in the interests of the European Union and the United Kingdom, and let us hope that that is what will emerge from Brussels this weekend.

4.22 pm
Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab)

First, I should like to reply to the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell). If he had been in some of the numerous committees at the intergovernmental conference and at the Convention itself, he would have heard many such comments over the past nine months—[Interruption.] And here as well.

While the Foreign Secretary is still in his place, I would like to remind him—if I may be so presumptuous—of some of the things that happened at the Convention, which he might find helpful. If he is told by Convention representatives that it was the Convention that had democratic legitimacy to arrive at compromises and conclusions, he will be justified in rebutting that presumption and saying, "No, it is Heads of Government who have democratic legitimacy to make those decisions." Those who were at the Convention could not bind the institutions that sent them, and the right and proper place for making such decisions is this weekend's meeting.

I would also like to put on record that, in many parts of Europe, the document is being described as a deeply British document. The reason for that is that one of the most significant institutional changes—the creation of the President of the Council—was strongly supported by the British to begin with, and accepted at a later stage with some reluctance, particularly by the smaller countries. I must offer a word of caution. Although that function significantly strengthens the institution that represents member states, it does not necessarily strengthen the representation of the individual member states. I simply point that out. There is a strengthening of that institution, which is undoubtedly recognised.

This weekend, the Secretary of State should keep in mind one thing about the document, which is that it contains three elements. One simplifies the procedures, whether those involve the new legal instruments or the decision making of the Council. All that is absolutely essential and it will be beneficial for enlargement. It is quite uncontentious and there would be a great danger if it were lost. The second element brings together various treaty provisions made over the past 50 years, which again I think is an achievement. It should not be lost.

What is contentious is the third element—the political one. If the Government do not feel at the end of the weekend that the political aspects are in Britain's and the Union's interest, they should not agree. It is perfectly possible to move away from the IGC and maintain the elements that are essential for enlargement. Here, I want to say something about the debate on a superstate. In an odd way, I am agnostic about it. If my children and grandchildren want to live in a United States of Europe, it is not up to me to say whether they can or cannot do so, if it is possible to create one.

I do not think that it is possible to create such a superstate, given our thousands of years of history and the commitment of the member states to the nation state but what would be damaging is an attempt to create a superstate that was contrary to a lot of traditions in Europe. It would be damaging for Europe if a small group of people tried to create something that, practically, would not work in the end. That is particularly so on the eve of enlargement, when it is so significant that those countries are coming in.

We must respect the Union's new motto, which is, "United in diversity". To respect that diversity, we need to pay far greater attention to principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. If I have one criticism of the constitution and the document as it stands, it is that I very much hope that the Government, either in the IGC or at a later stage, recognise that that aspect needs to be respected far more in practice.

That takes me to the role of the House. There is, undoubtedly, disengagement among the public in their support of the EU and the House needs to recognise that we have been guilty in respect of, or accomplices in, that disengagement. If half our domestic legislation derives from some Brussels initiative and we do not debate it, people will put all their worst fears and ignorance in one envelope and call it "Brussels", assuming that nothing good ever comes out of it. A lot of good comes out of it, but we need to start to debate it seriously here.

We spend five days discussing the Queen's Speech, which contains the Government's annual legislative programme, but we spend no time discussing the Commission's annual legislative programme. It is about time that we spent equal time on discussing the Commission's programme when the European Parliament discusses it. We had special sittings of the Standing Committee on the Convention and the Standing Committee on the Intergovernmental Conference, but even though this Parliament is the world's second-largest legislative body, with more than 1,000 Members, we struggled time and again in those sittings to be quorate—to find the 13 Members required to be present. Given that six of them had to be there and had no choice, we had to find only another seven.

Mr. Spring

The hon. Lady makes a good and interesting point on scrutiny of Commission proposals, but should this Parliament not like those proposals would she be satisfied as to the adequacy of the so-called vetting mechanism, as opposed to some form of rejection mechanism? Does the principle of subsidiarity need to be reinforced by some collective veto for national Parliaments of unwelcome Commission proposals?

Ms Stuart

I would certainly have preferred a stronger mechanism, but the real danger is that of mistaking the little pocket of power represented by a veto for influence. We shall have a problem if we do not take note of Commission proposals early enough here, regardless of whether they are welcome or unwelcome. The use of a red card at the end of the six-week period would constitute a blunt and brutal tool. The threat is actually greater than any influence that it might carry in itself.

Let me give a practical example. Earlier this year, the Italian presidency presented proposals on hallmarking, and industry in Britain began to alert MPs and MEPs. There was a very effective campaign involving MPs and MEPs with assay offices in their constituencies, who told the Government that they would not support the proposals. Eventually, the proposal disappeared. During the last six weeks, no red card would have been as successful as a mechanism enabling early note to be taken of what was coming, and the subsequent forging of alliances at Westminster and with Brussels.

Angus Robertson

Does the hon. Lady agree that, because of the nature of shared sovereignty, in many contexts, it is shared between Brussels and Holyrood rather than the House of Commons? Should not the Government give careful consideration to an early-warning mechanism ensuring that those elected north of the border to deal with these issues can have their rightful say?

At a time when the Government are saying that they want more transparency in the EU and welcoming the opening up of Council of Ministers meetings, is it not time for concordats in the UK to end the confidentiality of relationships involving European matters between the UK Government and the devolved Governments?

Ms Stuart

I must confess that I do not know enough about the concordats to comment on the second question, but I recall attending a Council of Ministers meeting with Scottish and Welsh colleagues. The important part of the proceedings is not one's arrival at the table in the company of a Minister from a devolved Administration; the important part always happens six, nine or 12 months earlier.

The House of Commons needs to be much more strategic and involved much earlier when it comes to Commission proposals; otherwise, we shall see more of what the latest Euro-barometer figures have shown us—about 48 per cent. support for the EU. The problem is disengagement and ignorance rather than genuine concern.

Let me say something about the Commission as an institution. I assume—I rather fear—that, as a result of one of the compromises reached at the IGC, each country will end up with its own Commissioner, and we shall not succeed in reducing the size of the Commission.

There is a logical incoherence in the fact that, while the Commission is supposed to be a single body representing the interests of the Union and Commissioners are forbidden by the treaty to take or to seek instructions from member states, that single body retains the vestiges of intergovernmentalism. A much smaller Commission would be far more effective. If we fail to reduce the Commission's size, as I believe we will, we should at least ensure that a duty of good governance is placed on it. It is massively disappointing that, for the ninth year running, the Commission has not signed off its accounts. If the Commission were a company, I know what would have happened to it by now.

I wish all who go to the IGC a short weekend, although I doubt that it will be short. I ask them not to be sidetracked by meaningless language such as, "If we do not agree to this, we will be in the slow lane of Europe". What does that mean, other than suggesting that it is desirable to be in the fast lane? None of that makes any sense. What does make sense, in the interests of the European Union and of Britain, is that that document be seen as a good one that provides a sustainable structure. If it is not seen as such, it is better not to sign up to it.

4.34 pm
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con)

I am very pleased to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart). I often found myself on the same side of the argument as her in the Convention on the Future of Europe, on which we both served. The House would expect that, because we were both sent from here to defend and to promote the interests of parliamentary democracy, and more generally to advance the principle of self-government. So it was natural that we agreed more often than we disagreed, and such agreement has been reflected in her comments this afternoon, most of which I support.

As an ordinary member of the Convention, I was often exasperated to discover that the drafting and many of the ideas that we had to consider came from above—from the praesidium—rather than from the working parties and our deliberations in the plenary sessions. So the bottom-up model that we were promised was in fact replaced by a top-down, rather familiar European model of decision making. It is apparent from the hon. Lady's recent pamphlet and from her writings that she, too, suffered from this problem in the praesidium. Many of the ideas advanced did not arise from below, but were promoted and initiated by the presidency, or by the European bureaucracy. But the hon. Lady certainly did her best to protect the interests of national Parliaments generally, and it is a matter of regret to her—as well as to us—that she was unable to strengthen significantly the subsidiarity provisions that, after all, have been part of treaty law for more than a decade.

We were promised that the constitution would provide an opportunity to entrench those provisions more assertively, and to give national Parliaments a real right to prevent the adoption of measures that are clearly against our vital interests. However, none of that is apparent in the draft that we are considering. We have only the right to object and to request a review if the subsidiarity principle is broken, which is really nothing more than we have at the minute. Parliament is already entitled to make objections, and the Commission is entitled to reject them. That situation, I am afraid, will continue, and I greatly regret the fact that the British Government have not made this a red line issue by backing up their assurances to this House with real negotiating vigour.

It was exactly two years ago that heads of state published the Laeken declaration, which drew attention to severe defects in the European Union, to public disillusionment with it, to the secrecy, and to the lack of effectiveness and efficiency. It declared that Europe was at a crossroads, and I agree with that analysis. Those same heads of government are now faced with a choice—one that they may well be making this very weekend. It is a choice between an open and democratic Europe that is closer to its citizens, as mandated by the Laeken declaration, or accepting the European constitution in its current form. That constitution, I am afraid, has all the familiar hallmarks: it is technocratic, centralising and undemocratic. That is the stark choice now facing the states of Europe, and I do hope that the Government, even at this late stage, will have the courage to go back to the instructions given to us all when the declaration was first published.

Of course, originally the Government did not want a European constitution at all. That was their established position, and indeed, Laeken alluded only elliptically to the possibility of a European constitution.

It is perhaps amusing—in a death-rattle sort of way—to note that objections to a constitution are still being expressed by Ministers even this week. The Guardian featured an article about the Lord Chief Justice, who advanced the proposition for a written constitution in this country. However, the Lord Chancellor—Lord Falconer—was definite in his objection to the very concept of a constitution. I quote: 'This is not up for discussion,' a spokesman for the department said. 'If we had a written constitution it would be open to judges' interpretation and lead to a clash between judges and politicians.' I rather agree with that, but does the noble Lord take the same view about a written European constitution, which will have exactly the same in-built conflict between the expressed wishes of elected representatives and that of judges, particularly when the constitution that we are likely to adopt is longer, and certainly more obscure, than the treaties that it will replace?

One of the requirements at Laeken was to simplify, but the document that we have to deal with now is longer than the text that it replaces. So we are getting a written constitution, but, oddly, not one that we are writing ourselves. We are importing a written constitution, and I know of no other country in the world that has ever done that. We were told at the start to act like the founding fathers in Philadelphia in 1787, but they wrote their own constitution for their own country. We have participated in a written constitution, which we are going to adopt whether we like it or not.

Mr. Cash

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the worst aspects of the arrangement is that the European Court of Justice will be given such extensive power to interpret the constitution that it—the Court itself, let alone the judiciary—would become the pre-eminent force in driving European integration forward?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Yes, I summarise the process under way here as powers being transferred from people we elect and can get rid of to people we do not elect and cannot get rid of. I notice that the British judiciary is complaining about Government plans for a supreme court, but the real supreme court will not be in this country: it will be the European Court of Justice. I agree with my hon. Friend about that.

When it became apparent that the Convention on the Future of Europe was drawing up a constitution, the Government then took fright and eventually—I would say rather belatedly—tabled more than 200 amendments. I have a copy of all the amendments here. Sadly, only a small number—about 11—were accepted in the Convention. and the rest have simply been quietly forgotten and dropped. That is a serious matter.

To take one example, asylum is a big issue, which featured prominently in the Prime Minister's party speech this year when he promised legislation and to take control of a system that had clearly broken down. The Queen's Speech promised legislation on asylum and immigration. However, it is the European constitution that will take over responsibility for that area of policy. It contains a long section on all the legislation that can be adopted by majority voting in the new Union under the terms of the constitution. The Government representative in the Convention tabled an amendment to delete those provisions and the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), who was the Minister for Europe at the time, emphasised the importance of the issue by saying that it was a "fundamentally important" amendment. Why, then, does it not appear anywhere in the list of red lines in the White Paper? It has simply been abandoned.

The Government do not really understand that the very fact that asylum and immigration will be a shared competence of the new Union means that this House will have only a residual right to legislate in that area. My hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) asked the Foreign Secretary earlier in this debate what he understood by the term "shared competence". The Foreign Secretary did not know. He said flippantly that it meant a competence that was shared, but the informed answer with which he might have enlightened the House is that when the Union legislates in an area of shared competence, member state Parliaments cannot. It follows that because freedom, security and justice are listed as a shared competence, alongside almost every other policy area that the House addresses, when the Union starts to legislate, we cannot. The promises of the Prime Minister in the Queen's Speech to bring forward Bills are empty. because at the same time his Ministers are agreeing to a European constitution that will prevent him from doing so.

I challenged the Prime Minister on that point at Question Time a month or two ago. He did not appear to know the answer, so I wrote to him. He wrote back a semi-abusive reply, questioning my motives. I wrote to him again, and I understand that my query has now been forwarded to the Foreign Office. I am still waiting for a reply, but it is now very late in the day. We have only a few days before everything is signed. It will then be taken through the House on a whipped vote, and it will be too late.

Many of the issues that arose in the Convention on the Future of Europe that the Government complained about have been forgotten. They are no longer red line issues that the Government have promised to defend in the final days of the IGC. I was glad that the Foreign Secretary confirmed that he would still veto the red line issues on the compulsory co-ordination of economic and employment policy. I hope that the same is true for the budget rebate, which is clearly under threat. The draft constitution refers to the modalities of the Union's resources being subject to European laws by majority voting. We know that the Treasury does not like that, so I take it that that is still a red line issue, as is QMV, in any form, on tax and social security. However, those issues remain in the final draft as we enter the endgame.

At least the Government have dropped the absurd conceit that the constitution is only a tidying-up exercise. They have finally admitted that it deals with some big and important issues that they will insist on changing. I am still suspicious that we may be being softened up for a massive fudge at the end, because the Government have been so bad at defending their proposals in Committee. For example, on 20 October, we discussed article 10, the so-called primacy article. It establishes that the constitution, and all the laws flowing from it, shall have primacy over the laws of member states. That is a bald and unqualified assertion of the primacy of the constitution, and all its objectives and obligations. We know that the Government do not like the primacy clause because they tabled an extensive amendment to it in the Convention on the Future of Europe, but they seem to have forgotten that. In the Committee, we pressed the Minister for Europe on the point. He said, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), the hon. Gentleman…invites me to become a Law Officer. Not having any legal qualification in or ministerial experience of that area, I am not sure that I should trespass on that territory."—[Official Report, Standing Committee on the Intergovernmental Conference, 20 October 2003; c. 20.] He could not answer that point. So the European Scrutiny Committee asked the Attorney-General to come to the Committee to debate those matters, but he has just written to us saying that he will not do so. The Government are thus either unable to answer the points that we are making or do not want to answer them.

Mr. Spring

That is precisely the point. It is disgraceful that the Foreign Secretary had no idea what something as important as shared competences actually meant. We are constantly told that the primacy of EU law is already incorporated in the treaties and that its incorporation in the constitution is thus of no consequence. My right hon. Friend has shown how the Government fought against answering, but is not it extraordinary that the Minister for Europe is so ignorant of one of the cardinal elements of that constitutional arrangement? That is typical of the sloppiness with which the Government have approached the whole matter.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

My hon. Friend is right and there are many more such examples. The Minister for Energy, E-Commerce and Postal Services appeared before the Committee to discuss the articles relating to trade and industry. We asked him about competition policy, as all competition policy will become an exclusive competence of the Union, even domestic competition policy—the rules to promote competition in our own jurisdiction. Under the terms of the constitution, competition policy unambiguously becomes an exclusive competence of the Union. When we asked the Minister about that, he replied lamely that he would go back to his office and write to us later. Well, we are still waiting for that letter.

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane)

As my comments have been prayed in aid, would the right hon. Gentleman also care to read into the record all my lengthy replies to the questions put on the primacy of the Union, rather than selecting the one sentence in which I announced that I was not a qualified lawyer? Perhaps he will read everything that I said so that Hansard can record my reply, otherwise the point he made is neither fair nor accurate and is really quite mendacious.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

That is a big word to use against a colleague and I certainly should not use it against the Minister in return. I would not say that he is my favourite living author, but I read what he writes. However, that is no substitute for debate. I shall not accept a mere letter from a Minister defending the position; we want to scrutinise it and subject it to debate. That is the point of Parliament and the object of the European Scrutiny Committee. It was that that the hon. Gentleman denied us when he lamely said that he was straying into legal matters and that he had no answer. Then, when we asked the Government's legal man to speak to the Committee, he said that he would not come. That is my objection.

Mr. MacShane


Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

I will give way again.

Mr. MacShane

The right hon. Gentleman is very kind. I withdraw any adjective that is inappropriate for what has been a friendly and well-mannered debate.

I was actually asking the right hon. Gentleman to repeat not what I said on the issue in a letter but what I said in debate, in Committee, at very great length. We held a proper discussion and I am happy with the points I made. I am happy to repeat them all in my wind-up, although that may take much more time than I shall probably be allotted.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Of course I have the account of the debate—I was there. I know what the hon. Gentleman said and I have read it subsequently, but it did not satisfy us. We wanted to probe and to get to the bottom of the matter. We tried again today when the Foreign Secretary gave us another unconvincing account of the primacy clause. We do not accept his view that the constitution merely establishes that the case law of the European Court of Justice should be entrenched in it. Apart from anything else, case law is, by definition, dynamic—it changes—so we are committing ourselves for ever to accept the case law of the ECJ. So much for the idea that the constitution will bring finality and certainty to the division of powers between member states and the Union.

Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab)

Much of the right hon. Gentleman's argument is based on the premise that we are discussing a constitution, but does he accept what Sir John Kerr has said—that we are in fact discussing a constitutional treaty?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

I do not accept that. The document is called a constitution—[Interruption.] I know that the Government call it a constitutional treaty but if the hon. Gentleman consults the document, he will find that the people who drew it up call it a treaty establishing a constitution for Europe". It is a constitution; it has always been called a constitution, so we are entitled to believe that it is a constitution.

Lady Hermon (North Down) (UUP)


Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

I must press on because other hon. Members wish to contribute.

Lady Hermon

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Very well, I will give way once again.

Lady Hermon

I am very grateful indeed to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I apologise for not being present at the beginning of the debate. I had to take part in the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission. May I gently remind the right hon. Gentleman that the principle of the supremacy of Community law was established by a very famous case, with which I am sure that he is familiar: Costa v. ENEL in 1962?

Mr. Cash


Lady Hermon

I thank the hon. Gentleman. I stand corrected, the year was 1964—some years before the Conservative party acceded to the European Community, so the principle of supremacy was well known to the Conservative party and the then Prime Minister when the European Communities Act was passed in 1972.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

I am not going to engage in a long legal wrangle with the hon. Lady, but I ask her to glance at the article in question, which says that not just the law, to which it refers, but the constitution itself has primacy over the laws of member states. Even if one accepts that the treaty law has a kind of superiority, what we are debating now is whether that law can automatically have primacy over the domestic law that we make in the House.

Under our constitutional arrangements, Union law only has effect in domestic law by virtue of the European Communities Act 1972, and it has been always understood that we can repeal or amend that Act to disapply EU regulations, laws or directives. Will that still survive if we sign up to a constitution that contains an unqualified assertion that the constitution and all the laws that flow from it have primacy over the laws of member states? That conflict is unresolved. We were seeking to ask the Government about that, but they have refused to answer so far, and we are entitled to our suspicions about the fact that they are not coming clean about some of the fears that they may harbour about the future direction of court judgments, both in this country and in the European Court of Justice.

Mr. Cash

Will my right hon. Friend be kind enough to give way on that very point?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

I will give way once again to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Cash

On 8 December, I asked the Foreign Secretary for a precise answer to the very question that my right hon. Friend has just put to the House. In effect, I asked him which would prevail—the European Court of Justice, or the United Kingdom courts—in relation to an Act subsequent to the constitution Act but inconsistent with it? The answer that I received was not only that it would be existing European Court of Justice case law"—[Official Report, 8 December 2003; Vol. 415, c. 245W.]— but that the constitution "should be interpreted accordingly." In other words, it would be up to the United Kingdom courts to interpret whatever emerged from the process and that they would be bound by the European Court of Justice. That is a constitutional revolution.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

My hon. Friend, with legal training, makes the point very well. A massive transfer of power and authority is taking place under the constitution. We have before us a revolutionary document, so we need to scrutinise its contents with the very greatest care. We have been unable to do that because Ministers have refused to give straight answers to what we consider to be straight questions.

I have no time now to go into foreign policy—particularly the establishment of a European Foreign Minister, to which the Government no longer object, and the fact that our United Nations Security Council seat must be given up to that Foreign Minister on request—but I want to squash a myth that has been circulating: the Commission will somehow lose relative power to the Council of Ministers under the constitution. It is true that a lot of squabbling is going on about the number of Commissioners. It is rather typical of those in the European elite that they appear to be more interested in who gets the jobs at the top and who becomes President and how many Commissioners there will be than in the other powers of the constitution.

The fact is, however, that under the constitution as it is drafted the Commission gets more and stronger powers. It will get explicit executive powers, powers of enforcement, a monopoly of initiative and the ability to negotiate and sign international agreements on behalf of member states across a wide range of policy areas. The Foreign Minister for Europe will be a member of the Commission, and the Commission will get new lawmaking powers in particular to make what will be called a non-legislative Act, which will be binding on everybody—all the people whom we represent—without the intervention of this House. It is an abomination that the least democratic institution in Europe, which sits in private—none of its members are elected—should be able to pass non-legislative Acts as if they were Acts of Parliament. That is a new power that has been put into the constitution. It is therefore a complete myth that the Commission is in any way to become a secretariat supporting and servicing a stronger Council of Ministers.

The truth is that the constitution represents a massive transfer of power upwards to the Union. There are more policy areas in which it will operate, of which I have mentioned some. There is more majority voting in around 37 new areas—I have asked the Government for a precise number, but they cannot give it to me. Majority voting becomes easier under the new formula. In addition, all the people at the top—all the existing EU institutions—become more powerful. The only people who do not become more powerful are the ordinary people of Europe. That democratic deficit—that disconnection between ordinary citizens and European Union institutions—will become worse not better. We have not brought Europe back to the people; we have taken more powers away from the people and the national Parliaments and given them to the new Union.

Nor does the constitution in any sense bring finality or certainty to the division of powers. On that I disagree with the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), who has had to leave the Chamber. The incorporation of the charter of fundamental rights opens up a whole new front on new powers to be decided for us. Those shared competences, which I and others have described, again open the way to huge new powers and competences being acquired by the Union at the expense of member states. Our instructions to create that democratic Europe have therefore been completely contradicted.

I end with a solution—I never want it thought that I simply criticise the Government or am in any sense solely negative. Let the Prime Minister give the final decision on all this to the people. After all, it is their rights that are affected. The constitution starts with the following words: Reflecting the will of the citizens and States of Europe". Let us ask the people what they think. In practical terms, and in terms of hard-headed, negotiating tactics, declaring that he will have a referendum would enormously strengthen his bargaining position in the endgame at the intergovernmental conference. He would then not simply have to convince a supine Cabinet and whip the proposals through the House of Commons; he would have to convince his fellow citizens that he had done a good job for them. On those grounds, and on grounds of high principle, he must take that democratic road, however late in the day, and declare that there will be a national referendum.

5.3 pm

Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie) (Lab)

The right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. HeathcoatAmory) said that he did not have time to go into foreign policy. I want to do so, although I doubt that I will have the same concerns as him.

I want to talk about one aspect of the proposed constitution: the relationship between foreign policy and development policy—the world of international development. I do so as a supporter of the Department for International Development, which has been one of the great successes of this Government. What I fear is that some of DFID's achievements may be undermined, or put under some kind of threat, by the arrangements that are being made in Europe. Those arrangements do not have to lead to a step backwards, but I would like an assurance from the Minister that such points are being taken into account.

DFID has been a great success. That is the experience of members of the Select Committee. Every one of them, of whatever party, feels that DFID has been a major step forward. When we go to the countries to which we give assistance, they are lavish in their praise of DFID in comparison with other international development departments. When we go to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund or any other international forum, we find that DFID is considered a great step forward. Within a very few years, it has become the pre-eminent international development department in the world.

It was right for the Overseas Development Administration to stop being a section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and for it no longer to be controlled by the FCO. However, under the EU, the development and co-operation remit will be moved back firmly to the control of the equivalent of the FCO. That remit would become part of the foreign policy area that is considered by the treaty. Activities in the common foreign policy other than development issues would become pre-eminent and those issues would be downgraded, which would be unfortunate.

EU development assistance and that provided by each of the EU's individual nations come to more than half the development assistance made available in the whole world. If development assistance becomes subservient to foreign policy considerations, I fear that development issues will take a step backwards.

Let me refer to some of the gains that we have obtained from the establishment of DFID. The first and most important is that aid and development have become principled and focused. Our statute now says that the purpose of development aid is to end poverty. We hold to the millennium development goals for ourselves and were influential in saying that they should become an enormous global commitment. It is DFID's ambition that 90 per cent. of our aid will go to the poorest countries by 2006.

British development money cannot be used for purposes other than the reduction of poverty. The International Development Act 2002 insists that development policy is maintained and operated on the basis of its developmental principles, institutions and instruments. That means the reduction of poverty, which is a very simple and powerful purpose.

We use development assistance for development. It is a long time since the Pergau dam, when aid money was used to provide sweeteners for trade or foreign policy goals. It was important that DFID broke free from the FCO and established its own mandate. I am not criticising the FCO, which has different goals and purposes, but it was important to give development its own pre-eminence and budget.

We banned tied aid so that it became clear to all concerned that the reason for development assistance was not the furthering of British industry, but the needs of the recipient country. That is in total contrast to the United States Agency for International Development, whose money is spent on American goods. It makes it clear that its purpose is to further American foreign policy goals. The principal recipient of the assistance provided by USAID is Israel. That would not happen under our policy, because our goal is the relief of poverty. For example, we would not write in provisions on assistance such as those introduced by the Americans when they consider giving AIDS money to an African country. They may say that it is a condition of the aid that the recipient country's Government buys American genetically modified food, but such an approach is anathema to us. We would not say that a country must embrace American goals before it may receive assistance.

DFID did more than just establish its independence, because the fact that it became independent brought other big players in the British Government along with it. The alliance between DFID and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been enormously important in getting momentum behind debt relief. DFID does not go round the world as a small and marginal Department. It always has a key economic Minister involved, which is probably why its budget has increased more quickly than those of other Departments. The Chancellor's international finance initiative is the world's only show in town if we are seriously to increase aid, which needs to be done, and achieve the millennium development goals.

The situation in Britain is different from that faced by Development Ministers in other countries. The common position of European countries is similar to the one from which we moved because their senior Foreign Ministers are generally responsible for all external relationships, including development co-operation. European development policies frequently resemble foreign policies rather than development or aid policies.

During the Doha round, there could be no doubt that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry was fully behind DFID in attempting to deliver fairness to the poorer nations of the world and against the sickening unfairness with which richer countries treat trade. The sustainable development goals of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are based on the same principle. It would be interesting to hear about how the Minister for Europe is working actively with DFID to pursue the millennium development goals. Are the goals at the heart of British foreign policy? I shall not be critical of him if his answer is no or say that that is wrong, but if it is his answer, there is not a natural fit between foreign and development policy. I am worried that, as the European constitution develops, we will lose what we have gained.

I praise the European Development Commissioner Poul Nielson for his contribution over the past few years. He had to work extremely hard to improve the EU's performance on development, and it has improved modestly. He has had some success in asserting development priorities and his policy has been similar to DFID's policy of pursuing the millennium development goals. Who or what will succeed him? He inherited a situation in which development policy was subsumed by foreign policy and great patience was required before the pledge of European development money could be fulfilled. There were multiple Development Commissioners and the allocation of assistance reflected a requirement to keep the neighbours of Europe happy rather than a consideration of need.

The tying in of development and foreign policies could be a major step backwards. Although there is European commitment to the millennium development goals to end poverty, only just over 40 per cent. of European development assistance goes to the poorest countries and the situation remains unsatisfactory. The head of the Overseas Development Institute, Simon Maxwell, gave evidence to the House of Lords European Union Committee. He pointed out that, in 2002, India, which has one of the highest concentrations of poor people in the world, received €14 million in new commitments and that Bangladesh received €32 million. Incredibly, Morocco received €124 million and Romania received €696 million. How can it be justified that Mauritania—a small country—received 15 times more than India in new commitments from the European Union?

In Europe, where the development function has not been separated from the foreign policy function, aid money is not put to best use. My concern is that the gains made by Poul Nielson and those working with him will he lost by aid being returned to stand securely under the foreign policy heading—after all, international development is an alternative form of foreign policy, another means by which we interact with the world. DFID has been extremely successful in that respect, but there is a huge difference between the foreign policy pursued by the United States and that advocated by ex-President Havel of the Czech Republic. Havel said: The time when Europe conquered the world is over. I hope the time is about to begin when Europe will stand as an inspiration to other parts of the world. As a source of effective assistance and as an example of how people and nations can live together in peace and co-operation using the world's resources with caution and mutual support. That is what development assistance should be about; it is not the language of common foreign and security policy. There can be no doubt about the purpose of American foreign policy: it is to pursue the military, business and resource interests of the United States. It is as simple and as brutal as that. However, that form of foreign policy is incompatible with development policy and rests very uneasily under that heading.

Mr. MacShane

I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the White Paper "UK International Priorities: A Strategy for the FCO" which was presented to Parliament last week by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I do not want to go into the details, but on page 39 my hon. Friend will find the language that he seeks in respect of progress towards poverty reduction, sustainable development, international finance facilities, and the New Partnership for Africa's Development. All that is at the heart of British foreign policy.

Tony Worthington

Perhaps the Minister can say where else in that lengthy document the issue is mentioned. The point is that it contains a token reference to overseas development, but the rest of the document is devoted to other purposes of foreign policy. Obviously a reference had to be made in the Foreign Office paper to matters such as sustainable development, the poorest countries, and the millennium development goals, but if the paper that I have in mind is the one that he cites, it contains little elsewhere about development goals.

Let us consider EU enlargement. That in itself is welcome, but it must be clear that the new 10 member states will come in with their own claims for assistance and for agricultural and military support. The focus of attention in the Community will swing inwards. As the new members join the EU, a new group of neighbours who want EU assistance will come closer. I do not oppose that, but we must not call the provision of such assistance international development.

Our aim in our Budget is to devote 0.7 per cent. of our income to development assistance. It must be made clear that that money is for the poorest in the world in pursuit of the millennium development goals. That funding must not be damaged by foreign policy expenditure robbing the development bank. If assistance is to be given—as it will need to be—to neighbours or those now inside the EU tent, it must not come from the British allocation that we intend to go towards helping the world's poorest people.

Lady Hermon

Great play has been made of the fact that the European constitution gives the European Community the capacity to enter into international treaties but, if my memory serves me well, it could do so before the constitution was drafted. In fact, it signed up to the Lomé convention to help poorer nations. Would the hon. Gentleman's concerns be answered if, following the introduction of the new constitution, the enlarged European community entered into more international treaties such as the Lomé convention to help the world's poor?

Tony Worthington

That is a different ball game. Funding for the Lomé convention, which was replaced by the Cotonou agreement. was not included in the EU's general budget, and was not subject to scrutiny by the European Parliament. The Minister may wish to tell us whether, in the light of what the hon. Lady said about the Lome convention, he favours the budgetisation of the Cotonou agreement. Those special agreements will lose value over time if the Doha rounds come to a successful conclusion because they provide a privileged position for some poor countries, but not others. Doha, if it is ever successful, would bring about an agreement on a principled basis rather than on the basis of previous association with European states. That is another interesting matter that deserves consideration.

There are concerns about humanitarian assistance under the constitution. I do not mean all development assistance, but the narrow area concerned with emergency relief because of hunger, flooding, war and so on. It is important that humanitarian relief is independent and not subservient to foreign policy. The EU has strengthened that priority over the years, having established ECHO, a distinctive and, to some extent, independent body. The 1996 regulation establishing its legal status says that humanitarian aid is accorded to victims without discrimination on the grounds of race, ethnic group, religion, sex, age, nationality or political affiliation and must not be guided by, or subject to, political considerations". Aid must therefore be given because of need, not because people are on the same side as us.

During the Iraq war, there was severe criticism of the US practice of providing humanitarian relief through the Pentagon. Hon. Members will remember the establishment of General Garner's operation, about which there was widespread apprehension. If humanitarian relief was seen to be associated with people on the side of the combatants, that would remove a precious principle. Bodies such as non-governmental organisations, the Red Cross and the United Nations were not on anyone's side. There have been tragic outcomes in Iraq, and the people responsible for the attacks on the United Nations and the Red Cross are reprehensible in their despicable behaviour. If we are to have satisfactory humanitarian relief operations, we must ensure that the independent approach to humanitarian affairs established by ECHO remains. Parts of the proposed constitutional treaty make it look as if humanitarian aid is part of the foreign policy remit of the European Union. I would welcome assurances from the Minister that the independence of ECHO and other humanitarian efforts will be maintained and not subsumed in foreign policy.

I hope to receive assurances that the huge gains brought about by the establishment of DFID will not be lost. A great deal of our assistance goes through the EU. It is important that the recent relatively modest improvement in European development assistance is maintained. What will replace the post currently held by Commissioner Poul Nielson? What guarantee can the Minister give me that development principles will determine the use of the money given for development policy? We must maintain the improvement that has taken place, which to some extent is taking money away from the neighbours on political grounds, and make sure that it goes towards the millennium development goals. I look forward to the Minister's response.

5.26 pm
Mr. William Cash (Stone)

This morning we saw the Euro-barometer showing that only 48 per cent. of the people of Europe now support the European Union. Listening to the Foreign Secretary, as I have done on many occasions over the past few months, I do not think he would see an elephant in the room, even if it sat on him. It is crystal clear that there are numerous dangers inherent in what is proposed under the constitution, as I explained in a letter in The Daily Telegraph on 1 December and in a pamphlet entitled "The European Constitution—a Political Time-Bomb" published by the European Foundation on 8 October. I shall not repeat those arguments, as they are on the record. I mentioned some other aspects of this matter in the debate on the Queen's Speech when we discussed economic affairs.

I shall briefly point to the big issues that need to be faced this weekend. The entire process has been characterised by mendacity. When people say one thing, they mean another. Shared competence was mentioned, for example. When EU supporters say shared competence, that is not what they mean at all. When they speak of subsidiarity, they mean hierarchy. When they refer to proportionality, they mean disproportionality. When they speak of variable geometry, it is an oxymoron. There is no such thing as variable geometry. Either it is geometry or it is not geometry.

The worst example is that relating to defence. Enhanced co-operation is not co-operation at all. It is the creation of a hard-core Europe dominated by France and Germany. In the words of Thomas Mann, who postulated either a European Germany or a German Europe, it will be a German Europe. The French will not be able to hold out. They are engaged in the modern version of the Maginot line, yet President Chirac is quoted in The Irish Times today as saying: The chancellor and I will not accept an accord at any price. We want an accord that reflects our idea of a future Europe. The article states that President Jacques Chirac and Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said they were optimistic about reaching a deal but it must be on their terms. That is not co-operation; that is an ultimatum. Against that background, it will be interesting to see how the Prime Minister handles the situation.

When those involved refer to structured co-operation, they mean destructive co-operation. When they refer to sustainable growth or a social market economy, they mean an economy with low growth or none, and high unemployment. When they speak of democracy, they mean bureaucracy. That is the problem: the bottom line is that the whole process is about as honest as the accounts of the European Union, which the European Court of Auditors has not discharged for nine years.

We have dealt at some length with the principle of the constitution. It is crystal clear that the words of article I–10, in relation to which I have previously asked the Minister an extensive series of questions, have now arrived at a certain point. The Minister has said that, whether or not there is an Act subsequent to the constitution Act, the wording will be interpreted in accordance with the rules of the European Court of Justice. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will say that that means that the European Court of Justice ruling in the 1964 case of Costa v. ENEL to which the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) referred, will be displaced as far as the British courts are concerned. It would be very interesting to hear him say that, though, as in doing so he would be contradicting almost everything that the Government have said in the past couple of years.

On the fundamental questions, those of us who have generously been described as Europhobes, little Englanders or whatever can point to a number of modestly reasonable predictions that we have got right. We were right on the exchange rate mechanism and the growth and stability pact, and on the European constitution and where it was going. Anyone looking to strike a balance and see where the arguments have been proved right will find that it is among those of us who have consistently argued the case for a European Community that will work, rather than a European Community or European Union—which is what it has turned into—that will be dangerously unstable because of hard-core Europe and will have high unemployment and low growth. Furthermore, reports suggest that that Europe is now infected by a new tendency towards anti-Semitism that is developing in that unstable environment. Some of us—some of our forebears have fought and died for the democratic Europe that we would like to see—have rightly been disillusioned with the way things have been going. The fight will continue. We will face a political and constitutional revolution if the Prime Minister does not veto the treaty this weekend. I do not think he will—so where will that take us?

In conclusion, I return to a point that I made in a speech in Yeovil as long ago as 1995, in which I called for associated status. The argument about being in or out is not about withdrawal but about having a sensible European Union where we can co-operate but into which we will not be absorbed. I suggest that we must move to a new parallel treaty arrangement involving on the one hand a treaty of associated status with the European Union, allowing us to maintain all the best elements of what the European Community could offer, and on the other, a new treaty arrangement ensuring that there was associated status with the United States as well. That would be a true bridge that would depend on the notion of a proper and workable relationship in which we would maintain our sovereignty and independence in relation to the levers of government, but co-operate by treaty on a bilateral basis with the European Union and the United States.

5.34 pm
Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham)

I agree with little of the analysis of the impact of likely developments in the European Union that was given by the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), but I will say this for him: he is remarkably consistent in what he says. I am only grateful that on this occasion he said it so briefly—I shall try to emulate him in that regard if no other.

I want to raise a couple of issues that are slightly tangential to the debate, but significant to large numbers of people outside, if not inside, this House. Before I do so, I must point out for the record that I speak as an enthusiastic supporter of the European Union and the draft constitution. Nevertheless, in terms of the subject that I want to discuss—sport—the constitution is remarkably inadequate, and a lot of work remains to be done. If we are trying to bring the European Union closer to the people, there is particular relevance in the context of sport, as we have seen in recent events in this country and this city.

I personally want to see a European superstate—it certainly does not frighten me—although we have to make it democratic and accountable. History does not show that political and social development has to stop at the borders of the nation state; and who says that it is the highest form of political, cultural and economic and human organisation that we can possibly aspire to? Politically and economically, the imperative has always been towards federations, larger groupings, alliances and single markets. Logically, therefore, the governance of such institutions must reflect that. No hon. Member, whatever their feelings about the European Union and the constitution, would seriously believe that in 50 or 100 years the structures of Europe and the EU will in any way resemble those that we are contemplating today. The trend towards a European unitary state is irresistible. That is not to say that we should simply sit down and let it happen—we have to shape the process to ensure that we maintain a high degree of regional decision making.

I want to leave those heady issues for the moment to consider how the EU affects football in this country and the way in which European football is developing. As hon. Members are well aware, I have been a Chelsea supporter for more than 50 years, despite the fact that I am the Member of Parliament for West Ham: that gives rise to some embarrassing moments from time to time, but I can live with those. I trust that several Members had a chance to see last night's match between Besiktas and Chelsea in the AufSchalke arena in Germany. It is unfortunate that the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr Spring), who talked in glowing terms about Turkey, is no longer in his place. I do not disagree with him about the country and its people generally, but I hope that he would join me in condemning the behaviour of the Besiktas fans, which was utterly appalling.

If the scenes that we witnessed on our television screens had been replicated in any football arena in this country, UEFA, the European governing body led by Mr. Gerhard Aigner, would already be denouncing the club concerned, whether it be Chelsea, Manchester United or Arsenal, and demanding that we be struck out of European club competition. I detect more than a whiff of hypocrisy around the halls of UEFA in terms of the way in which it handles clubs and the national team in this country and clubs and national teams elsewhere in Europe. We are still suffering from a reputation as troublemakers in European football, largely derived from the so-called fans who follow the English national team. Club supporters whose clubs are playing in the UEFA Champions league or the UEFA cup behave very well indeed. I travel around Europe a lot with my club, and we certainly do not deserve the kind of treatment that we get from clubs and authorities when we visit the various cities of Europe.

We make European club supporters who come to this country very welcome. Yes, we segregate them, but we do not keep them back for more than an hour after the game has finished until all the transport links have gone, so that they cannot get back to their hotels or to the airport, as I found out had happened in Rome when I was there a couple of weeks ago. We treat them decently. Our police tactics are efficient, effective and sensitive. That is not the experience that we, as football supporters, have when we travel in Europe.

What we ask of our Ministers and our Government is that they stand up for the decent English club supporters and national team supporters when we travel. We do not leave our rights behind. We have dealt with the problems as we see them: our stadiums are well regulated, and in no circumstances would we allow the kind of scenes that we saw in Germany last night to be repeated here. Yet we know that if something like that—or even an incident of a far lesser nature—had happened here last night, UEFA would have condemned us. I believe that UEFA should take immediate steps to expel Besiktas from the UEFA cup; anything less would give rise to the justifiable accusation that UEFA was anti-English in its sentiments, its bias, and its hypocrisy. I look forward to hearing Mr. Aigner condemn Besiktas in the same way that I know he would condemn any English club, had its supporters behaved as the Besiktas supporters did last night.

The other subject that I wish to raise is summed up in early-day motion 242, which is tabled in my name and has been signed by 57 Members of all parties. It is entitled, "The effects of EU proposals on English football". It arises from the demands being made by the Commissioner responsible for the Competition Directorate, Mario Monti, who appears poised to issue a statement of objections to the Football Association premier league over the television deal with BskyB. If a prohibition notice is served, the premier league will have two months to respond before a full prohibition notice is served. At that point, the premier league would end up in the court of first instance, with the real possibility that its TV deals would be struck down. If that were to happen, league football in this country could face meltdown.

It appears that the Commissioner does not like the principle of collective selling of broadcasting rights within football. The premier league and the football league have done their very best to try to meet the Commissioner's demands half way; they even split the broadcasting rights into four live packages, which were put to a transparent and open tender policy. The Commissioner now appears to want to overturn a fair, free-market process and to break up the present deal between the premier league and BskyB.

If that happens, a number of dire consequences will follow, and that is not only my view but that of the premier league. If, for example, the premier league were forced to award a set of live matches to another broadcaster in an artificial process, it would achieve—at best—a marginal impact on UK broadcasting markets, but it would have a devastating impact on the premier league's rights, which would be reduced by 40 to 50 per cent. in value. If that were to happen, what would be the impact on the premier league—the most interesting, the most watched, and some would say the most exciting, if not the most technically proficient, football league in the world? If the deal were to be struck down, there would be no premier league matches broadcast on television from August 2004. A number of our premier league clubs—we know that Leeds are the most obvious example, but there are others—face a great many financial problems and some will clearly go straight into administration.

Clubs will be forced to sell off their top players, though God knows where or to whom they will sell them. Youth academies and youth development programmes will be threatened. The premier league's £20 million three-year funding programme for the football league to bail it out of the ITV Digital fiasco will of course go, which will leave a large number of football clubs in a precarious state. The Football Foundation, which receives £67 million from the premier league over four years, will itself be threatened and be in crisis, as will the Football Association, due to the loss of revenue. That will have a knock-on effect on the national stadium at Wembley.

Those are the problems that we face. I do not want the House to sleepwalk into such a crisis, which will be faced in football. It will all arise from the actions of the Commission and of Commissioner Monti himself, who appears not to understand that football needs to be organised in leagues. Those leagues need to sell their rights collectively if they are to spread that wealth among the various clubs and prosper.

To suggest, as the Commission is doing, that each club should negotiate individual rights is dangerous nonsense and if it is pushed through it will do enormous damage to football. That is happening in Italy, where the individual clubs are negotiating individual rights. The result of that was a delay to the current season as the small clubs were left with no one ready to take up the broadcasting of their matches. They could not sell their rights and therefore had insufficient revenue to pay either their players or the people who work for them or to make any further improvements to their grounds. Meanwhile, of course, the big Italian clubs were able to secure enormous and lucrative deals, but they did not have anybody to play. That is the nonsense.

Members should consider the conflict in the constitution between the competition sections and the woefully brief and inadequate item on sport. That conflict is obvious and it needs to be reconciled. I must say to my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe—I have spoken to him about this—that the matter is one of great significance to vast numbers of our citizens. If the consequences that I have described come about, I am afraid that, although that will not be the Government's responsibility, they will find themselves, as they inevitably do in such situations, very much in the frame.

We do not want clubs selling individual rights in this country, as our football would be changed absolutely, utterly and for the worst. We would end up seeing countless matches involving Manchester United playing Manchester United reserves or Arsenal playing Chelsea. That is not what people want. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Minister for Europe suggests that Chelsea could play Rotherham. Who would Rotherham sell their broadcasting rights to? With great respect to and due regard for Rotherham, I cannot see them being a big draw on terrestrial or satellite television, so Rotherham would likely go out of business. My hon. Friend should bear such issues in mind when he is talking about other issues: these events, which may take place at the lower levels, could have dire consequences for the organisation of our sport.

I pay tribute to the work of the premier league and to David Richards, Richard Scudamore and Philip French, who are doing their best to negotiate. The negotiations are ongoing. As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, usually I go straight for it—lashing out, boots and fists flying—but that would not be helpful in this case as the negotiations are poised at a delicate stage and I do not want to disrupt the situation. However, I want the Government to be fully aware of what is going on. I know that the Prime Minister is aware of this matter, because I have raised it with him directly, and apprised him of the significance—the potential implications—of these events.

I believe that the Government understand the situation. I know that they realise how significant premier league football is, what it means to the great majority of our population, and what a political and economic disaster would result if the current deal between the premier league and BSkyB were struck down by the Commission led by Mario Monti. I hope that the Minister will assure me not just that he is acutely aware of the problem, but that he is doing his very best to solve it.

5.50 pm
Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con)

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), who is invariably a fluent and entertaining speaker. He was straightforward about his desire to see a European Union superstate. Although I profoundly disagree with his sentiments, I respect his honesty. He probably shares my view that the real difficulty involves those who share his agenda but pretend not to, and approach the objectives espoused by him in a less than straightforward way.

In a debate on European affairs, it is important to step back a little and look at the big picture. Unlike my father and grandfather, who left school to go straight into world wars, I—along with the rest of my generation—have not had to go through that. We should pay tribute to the European Union for playing some part in the preservation of peace on our continent during its creation. As we should all recognise, it is the first duty of any Government to preserve peace and security for their citizens.

It is right for us to welcome enlargement. The Foreign Secretary was right to describe it as historic. The fact that 10 countries that were behind the iron curtain until 1989 are about to join the European family of nations is indeed an historic event that we should all welcome. Let me point out for the record that every member of the Conservative party supported it in the House, and that it can proceed without ratification of the European constitution should that not come to pass.

I also welcome the results of the single market, which was pioneered by the British Conservatives under Lord Cockfield. I pay tribute to successive Governments who promoted that agenda: a common market without tariffs, in which we can sell our goods, is enormously valuable to us.

I have a small caveat, however. I refer to the European Union's behaviour at Cancun. I do not think that it behaved well, in a moral sense, by taking such a protectionist stance in relation to the developing countries. That was raised by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) in a recent article in The Times. The European Union should be careful to maintain a good record in this regard; otherwise, the World Trade Organisation could easily take over its function in ensuring free and fair trade between all nations.

I am a new Member of Parliament, elected only at the last general election. I am well aware of my close link with the 71,000 or so electors of South-West Bedfordshire who sent me here, and to whom I am directly accountable. The relationship is very clear: they know who their MP is, and I have a duty to respond to their problems and to be their champion. That is very precious, but it does not happen so far as Members of the European Parliament are concerned, under the existing, regional-based system of proportional representation. When asked who their MEP is and who their MP is, most people are unable to answer the former question with anything like the confidence that they can answer the latter.

The European constitution contains a number of threats to our parliamentary democracy, and such concerns are shared by Members on both sides of the House, regardless of their political tradition. For example, my near neighbour, the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins), who sits on the Labour Benches, shares many of those concerns. As has already been pointed out, until the possible signing of the constitution this weekend, this country has always had the right to repeal the European Communities Act 1972. With the prospect of that constitution looming before us, it appears that we will lose that right. As a result, for the first time ever, European law will be supreme in this country.

Ms Stuart

The debate about supremacy of law has continued for months, and there seems to be no answer to it. But for the first time, an explicit exit clause will be provided in the constitution, spelling out the ability to leave. How does the hon. Gentleman combine the two arguments?

Andrew Selous

I can answer that question very easily. Neither my party nor I wants to withdraw from the European Union; my point is that we have always had the theoretical right to repeal the 1972 Act. The intolerable tragedy of this debate is that we have not had a straight answer, despite the best efforts of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. HeathcoatAmory) and many others, to the question of what the position will be after we sign the European constitution this weekend, if indeed we do sign it. This is a hugely important issue, and the lack of clarity should worry us all, whatever our perspective on these matters.

We have already talked about the importance of national Parliaments continuing to have a vital and meaningful role in the affairs of the European Union. Reference has been made to the fact that meetings of the European Scrutiny Committee are not terribly well attended on occasion, and I wonder whether my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien) has the explanation for that. He says that when Members do attend those meetings and European Union documents are placed before them, the Chairman will often move at a fast pace, taking 100 pages at a time and asking whether there are any objections to them. On one occasion, my hon. Friend sat up virtually all night to examine such documents in detail. He raised objections to several of them on behalf of British business, and the meeting was duly adjourned. He is under the strong impression that subsequent meetings were set at times when he was unable to attend. Concerns certainly do arise as to how effectively we in this House are able to scrutinise European Union directives and regulations.

This debate has helped to clarify the question of shared competence. To many people, the phrase "shared competence" will suggest that a national Parliament has some role in the matters being debated by the country in question and the European Union. But it has been made clear during this debate what shared competence means: if and when the European Union decides to legislate in a particular area, at that point the United Kingdom and other EU members cannot. That should be a great worry to us, as should the charter of fundamental rights, which I and many others believe will simply lead to an increase in European Union, judge-led law.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) said that she believes that the real reason behind the convention is furthering the political deepening of the Union. Given the 16 months that she spent as a member of the European Convention, she should know very well about that.

I think that we should look at the EU far more flexibly. If France and Germany wish to forge ahead and form a much closer relationship within the EU, neither we nor any other European country should stand up and stop them. By the same token, however, countries that want to go at a slower pace and retain more powers for their national Parliaments should not be forced to go further than they want.

Above all, we have to get rid of the absurd notion that Britain could be left behind in Europe—a point raised earlier in the debate. Europe is not a bunch of teenagers karting up the M1 to see who can get there first. It is very different from that, being about the relationship between the peoples of respective countries, how they are governed, democracy and accountability—all very important matters. The whole notion of being left behind has no real meaning in the debate. The duty of this Parliament and the British Government is always to secure in our relations with Europe the best possible deal for the British people.

What my constituents and I fail to understand is that if issues about the European constitution are—on the grounds that they are of significant constitutional importance—worthy of being put before the peoples of Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain and other countries, why not here? I was in Denmark last week, so I know that the Danes take the issue very seriously indeed. How, then, can the British Government say that these are not constitutionally significant matters, when they clearly are to so many of our EU neighbours? If they are constitutionally important there, why are they not here?

The whole process that led to the creation of a European constitution began with the Laeken declaration, but it had explicit principles and purposes, which we seem to have moved away from rather than towards. The Laeken declaration said that the EU should move closer to its peoples; become more, not less, democratic; and be made more efficient and transparent. No one from either side of the argument seriously believes that the European constitution before us at the moment achieves any of those objectives whatever. It is also important that for the last nine years, the EU's accounts have been qualified. We know that the EU does not even use double-entry bookkeeping. Can any hon. Member name a single reputable or properly constituted organisation that does not use such bookkeeping? I find it astounding.

At the start of my speech, I spoke about the importance of defence, which I personally believe is the prime responsibility and duty of any Government. I am very concerned that the current position of the British Government is to reverse a policy that has always been clear about never disrupting the operational importance of NATO. I speak as a former Territorial soldier who has participated as part of the UK delegation in NATO congresses. I remember the briefings that we received from British diplomats, which always stressed that it was important to boost the European capacity within NATO; that the European pillar in NATO was tremendously important, but under-resourced; and that we should always act under the operational command system of NATO.

In respect of those matters, we can say that the establishment of an EU defence headquarters is, at best, wasteful duplication and, at worst, runs the risk of decoupling Europe from the defence support of the United States of America. It could also aid those in the United States who would like that to happen. When we consider that American blood has been shed twice in the last century to keep our continent free, we should reflect on the seriousness of what that could mean. I do not think that we should always follow the United States, or that it is always right in everything it does, but history has shown on many occasions that we were right to act alongside the Americans and that their friendship is precious.

A Labour Member raised the issue of international development aid and made many points that also concern me. The European Union gives five times more aid to countries within Europe and its immediate neighbours than it does to the developing world. That has to be a travesty of the proper principles of international development aid that aid should always go to those who are most in need. The European Union gives India €14 million and Bangladesh €32 million, but it gives Morocco €130 million and Romania €690 million. Romania hopes soon to join the European Union, and no one would seriously claim that it has as much significant poverty as India and Bangladesh. That aid distribution displays a warped sense of priorities.

We have also heard about the real problems of our fishing communities and I was present yesterday when those issues were debated at more length. I am pleased that my party is committed to coming out of the common fisheries policy, because that is the right approach. I wonder how many people realise that the CFP does not apply to the Mediterranean. It applies to all the waters around our own country, but it does not apply to the Mediterranean. That is fine for Spain, Portugal and other countries because the CFP does not apply to some of their offshore waters, but they are able to benefit from the CFP in UK waters.

Mr. Banks

Assuming that we had a Conservative Government who had come out of the CFP, what fishing policy would they implement? Surely the hon. Gentleman does not suggest that no controls on fishing or protection of fish stocks are necessary. Without such controls, fishermen would fish out stocks and there would be no fish left for anyone to eat.

Andrew Selous

I agree, and were we to repatriate fishing policy to the UK, as we should do—that is also the policy of the Scottish National party—it would continue to be important to take into account issues such as the sustainability of stocks. However, to give a specific example, haddock in Scottish waters is bracketed with other fish that are threatened to a much greater degree. The UK might be able to differentiate between species in a way that some of the rulings by the European Union have not done in recent months.

I am also greatly concerned that it appears that the UK Parliament is about to lose its authority over asylum policy. Originally, that was one of the Government's red lines, because they wished to retain control over it, but that is no longer the case. People on both sides of the political debate agree that our asylum system is far from perfect, but they agree that it is right that those who seek asylum in the European Union should do so in the first country they come to. Many people will remember the hijacked plane that overflew 12 EU countries before it landed in the UK at Stansted. That example makes my point powerfully. Imperfect as our current asylum policies and procedures are, the British people at least know that the ultimate responsibility and accountability for them lie with Ministers who can be questioned directly by the representatives of the British people in the House.

Those points may seem a little highbrow to many people, but I shall give the House a specific example of the effect of EU directives and regulations in my constituency. To the north of Leighton Buzzard the old Linslade road has a number of bridges, one of which has been strengthened, at a cost to Bedfordshire county council of £150,000 so that it can carry 40-tonnes lorries. That is all well and good and perfectly sensible; we need bridges to carry lorries to support trade and commerce. What could be wrong with that? A European directive required that the bridge be strengthened.

There is a problem, however. Not 100 yd down the road is a bridge owned by British Waterways. It has a weight limit of 7.5 tonnes and British Waterways has informed me that it has no requirement to strengthen the bridge and no intention of doing so. Furthermore, when the parish council of Heath and Reach, the adjacent village, found out that £150,000 of the county council's money had been spent strengthening a bridge, under the direct requirements of an EU directive, while the council had been trying to set up traffic-calming measures for years and years yet had been told by the county council that no money was available, local people were intensely irritated. I am sure that all hon. Members can understand that. Such incidents do the EU no favours.

I am not someone who brings up every example of European idiocies to muddy and blacken the name of the European Union, but where things go wrong and something is obviously not sensible, we need to give serious consideration to the wasting of British taxpayers' money at the insistence of the EU.

I want to conclude by proposing an alternative view to the remarks that we heard earlier about references to Christianity in the EU constitution. I very much hope that Turkey, a Muslim country, will join the EU. As a Christian, I have no problem with that and would welcome Turkey to the European family of nations. Turkey would be a welcome and important addition to the European Union. However, reference to Christianity is not a matter of opinion; it is a matter of fact. I shall not back that up by turning to the words of a politician, but shall quote briefly from the poet, T.S. Eliot, who said that

the common tradition of Christianity…has made Europe what it is…It is in Christianity that our arts have developed; it is in Christianity that the laws of Europe…have been rooted. It is against a background of Christianity that all our thought has significance. He makes the point more eloquently than any of us in the House could do.

I question the notion that secular humanism is the sensible, moderate, acceptable default position for all our institutions and public bodies. I want to make a small plea for tolerant, loving Christianity, as people of all faiths in this country would probably feel far more comfortable with that than with some type of secular humanist regime. I do not think that Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs or people of any other faith are worried by the fact that the established Church of this country is Christian, nor by the fact that there are Christian prayers before every sitting of Parliament. I hope that the Government will take up that matter and that they will not be offended. I do not believe that it will cause offence to people of any other faith or of no faith at all.

6.14 pm
Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab)

For my sins, I have followed the process of drafting the European constitutional treaty for some time. I have read very carefully the 2001 Laeken declaration. I have followed the deliberations of the Convention on the Future of Europe. I have been closely following what has been discussed so far at the IGC, and the parliamentary scrutiny in the House has been very effective indeed so far. Credit has to be given to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) and the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) on their active participation in the Standing Committee that both Houses have established to scrutinise the whole deliberation process.

Thanks, too, should be given to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe for their participation in the Standing Committee on the Intergovernmental Conference. That has certainly increased the knowledge of at least a minority of hon. Members about what on earth has been going on in those deliberations. However, it is sad that so few Members of both Houses have attended both those Standing Committees. Frankly, there is no excuse for that because their meetings have been open to all Members. We are constantly told that Opposition Members place such great emphasis on scrutinising things European, but they did not make the effort to play their part in those Committee's deliberations. Unfortunately, the rhetoric does not match the reality.

Andrew Selous

I wonder how the hon. Gentleman would respond to the point that I made in my own contribution: perhaps many hon. Members are not attending those scrutiny Committees because they feel that they will have no real opportunity to contribute to the debate, to get answers, which are not forthcoming—we heard about that earlier—and to influence and change the regulations before them. If hon. Members feel that their time will not be productively spent in that way, perhaps that is the reason why they are not turning up.

Mr. David

I was referring to the Standing Committees that have been following the deliberations of the bodies to which I have referred. The hon. Gentleman is referring to the work of the European Scrutiny Committee, of which I am a member. That Select Committee is not open to all hon. Members. Nevertheless, we are pursuing an active programme of work not only to contribute to the wider debate on the future of Europe, but to scrutinise the legislation that comes to the House from the EU.

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be better if the European Scrutiny Committee, of which I am also a member, were able to meet in public and that the Standing Orders should be changed to enable that to happen?

Mr. David

Speaking personally, I agree, but I want to address later in my contribution how the work of Committees needs to be considered very carefully if agreement is reached on the European constitutional treaty. I hope that that agreement will be reached, and it is important not to believe that we have somehow to put our national interest to one side to secure it. Our national interest has been protected and enhanced so far by the Government—I am sure that that will continue to happen in the deliberations this weekend—but reaching an agreement with our partners is also in Britain's national interest because Europe is at a crucial point in its development.

Next year, we will see the enlargement of the EU from 15 to 25 member states. Although enlargement has happened in the past—it is part of Europe's natural evolution—we have never seen an enlargement of such size and significance before. We would be extremely foolish if we believed that the current arrangements inside the EU could simply be transmuted into a situation where we would still work effectively with 10 more members. Such would not be the case. We need an agreement on the treaty, so that we can move forward to make the EU work more effectively, and those of us who are pro-Europeans certainly want that to happen.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab)

Like my hon. Friend, I have attended many sittings of the IGC Standing Committee. At the last one, I drew attention to the fact that even the Foreign Secretary had said that it was possible that the constitution will not be approved. He seemed fairly relaxed about that, according to the quotation—I am afraid that I was not present when he made that comment. There is also the possibility that a number of states might vote down the constitution in their referendums. If that happens, cannot we carry on happily as we are?

Mr. David

I agree with my hon. Friend that it would not be the end of the world if agreement were not reached this weekend. I would still argue, however, that it would be in our national interest, and our best interests, if agreement were reached. The European Union will not suddenly collapse. Enlargement will still occur. If we get agreement on a good treaty, however, things will be better for everyone, and certainly better for the European Union. For that reason, I hope that it will happen.

On enlargement, I referred to the enlargement that will take place next year, but I hope that that will not be the end of the process. I hope that Romania and Bulgaria will join soon thereafter, and Turkey too. I am glad that something of a consensus is emerging in the House about the desirability of a Muslim country such as Turkey joining the European Union. I welcome that. As well as those three states, however, we should open our arms and ensure that there is a warm embrace for the Balkan countries, which are in the process of putting forward applications. If they meet the criteria, both economically and politically, they should be able to join the European Union too. If our vision is of a European Union of that size, it is therefore all the more important that we have a European Union that operates effectively, and that the issues that have been addressed so far are successfully addressed in the foreseeable future.

I want to refer briefly to one or two of those crucial issues. A strong intellectual case exists, if we are serious about making the EU work more effectively with an enlarged membership, to have an extension of qualified majority voting. On the one hand, it is possible to protect our national interest—red lines have been drawn where we will maintain the veto—but at the same time, generally, an extension of QMV is preferable. I am also well aware that this is a controversial area in terms of how votes are weighted in the Council. Perhaps I should declare a slight interest as chair of the all-party group on Poland. I have a great deal of sympathy with the Poles when they say that the formula agreed at Nice should be adhered to, because it is on that basis that the people of Poland cast their votes to join the European Union. I hope that the Government will bear that in mind over the weekend and during the delicate negotiations that will take place.

Andrew Selous

The hon. Gentleman will know well that the Poles are particularly concerned to have some reference to Europe's Christian heritage in the preamble. Does he also share their concerns on that point?

Mr. David

I understand the points that the Poles make, but I think that that is one of the areas on which they may be persuaded that it would be better to adopt a different course. I am therefore optimistic that agreement can be reached on a sensible way forward for all parties.

One of the most important issues to have emerged so far from the draft constitutional treaty is that an objective evaluation of where power will lie in the future will point us to the Council of Ministers as giving the future strategic direction of the European Union. There has been concern for many years that the European Commission in particular has been more proactive than it should have been and too assertive. The new treaty will make it absolutely clear that the ultimate power inside the European Union rests with the Council and with the member state Governments. I welcome that.

That is a big issue. One of the smaller issues, but one of considerable importance, is that of subsidiarity and proportionality—unfortunate terms that do not mean a great deal to many people. They are important, because subsidiarity is the principle that defines where decisions are taken. It means that decisions should be taken at the most appropriate level as close to the people as possible. Proportionality means that the EU should not do other than what is necessary for it to do.

There is a protocol at the end of the draft treaty on those two principles and one of the key proposals in it is that national Parliaments should have a new and key role in the EU's decision-making process. I shall be frank with the House. I would dearly have liked to see that protocol strengthened so that, instead of there being a so-called yellow-card proposal, there is a red-card mechanism. However, the distinction between them is more apparent than real. The protocol explains that if the European Commission, after consultation, comes forward with a set of proposals to national Parliaments and one third of those Parliaments object to the proposals on the basis of subsidiarity, the Commission is obliged to take the proposal back and to review it. Given that there is a close relationship between national Parliaments and national Governments, such a warning to the Commission would mean that its proposal would be dead in real political terms. The provision will add something that is new and innovative. It will give greater responsibilities to national Parliaments and this House in particular, which considers its European scrutiny role to be so important.

To return to a point I made earlier, if that important protocol is agreed, it will be incumbent on the House to consider carefully how we conduct our debates on European affairs and how we conduct European scrutiny. Although I have commended the work of the House, its Standing Committees and the European Scrutiny Committee, that will not be enough if the protocol is agreed. It will therefore be important that the House—in its Committees and on the Floor—devotes far more time and effort to European issues. Given that the United Kingdom now has a number of devolved institutions, it is important that a specific and clear relationship is worked out with them on how they can express their views on the European matters that they will be asked to implement.

It is also important that the House develops links with national Parliaments in other member states and with the European Parliament. I shall again be frank, and I speak as a former Member of the European Parliament. All too often, we are parochial and inward looking in our attitudes. We need to take a broader perspective and to be true internationalists. One of the surest ways to do that is to extend our hand of friendship to other national Parliaments and the European Parliament and to make sure that we have meaningful dialogue with them so that we can together develop the EU in the way that we want.

In September, the Government published a White Paper on their approach to the intergovernmental conference. If we study the White Paper and what has so far been agreed at the IGC, we will be able to see two things. First, we will see that the Government have been true to their words and have consistently argued with a great deal of success for the things that they announced in September. Secondly, we will see clearly that they have been successful in setting the agenda for Europe in a way that was not possible a few years ago. That is important not just in terms of our immediate considerations but in terms of Europe's future development as well.

Finally, I wish to refer to a comment made by Sir John Kerr in the Financial Times on 25 November. He was responding to a point that many Conservative Members have made. They say that we are talking about a constitution for Britain and not a constitutional treaty. There is a key difference, and Sir John Kerr said that the constitutional treaty

is not a real constitution… Valery Giscard d'Estaing's convention on the future on Europe had no mandate to lay the foundation of a state, and it did not. Instead it drafted a treaty—an agreement between sovereign states—to simplify and replace the current confusion of treaties. He went on to say: It makes no claim…to a grassroots legitimacy bypassing states and governments. Sir John Kerr is not just any person or diplomat. He is probably one of our most distinguished diplomats and he was the secretary-general of the European Convention.

Mr. Bacon

First, does the hon. Gentleman accept that at the last COSAC meeting in Rome, the document that was circulated in English did not say constitutional treaty on the cover, as the cooked-up document that the Foreign Office has printed does, but constitution for Europe? Secondly, no matter what Sir John Kerr's views are, once the thing goes through—if it gets through—the adjective will get dropped and the document will start to be referred to using a noun.

Mr. David

I am not sure about the use of the English language. It is my understanding and that of Sir John Kerr that we are discussing a constitutional treaty. That is clearly recognised by the Government, which is why the words printed on the cover of the document that we are debating make that crystal clear. The important factor is not only the words that we happen to use, but their legal implications. If the treaty is to have force in Britain, it must be approved by Parliament because we are the sovereign body and that is what counts.

As we approach this important weekend, it is more important than ever for the House to make its collective position clear. We are Europeans and Britons at the same time—being both is not a contradiction. I am proud of being a member of the European. Union, I am proud of being British and, incidentally, I am also proud of being Welsh. In the complex modern world in which we live, we need such a perspective on how we may all live and work together on the basis of mutual respect. As I said early, I hope that the treaty will be agreed so that we may co-operate on that basis in the future.

6.32 pm
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con)

When I arrived at the House in the early hours of the morning, I saw a splendid-looking John Bull character carrying a placard—it made a great change from the other demonstration that is taking place outside—that said, "No surrender, stuff the Euro, rule Britannia". I would have said that those were entirely my own sentiments if my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) had not been sitting within striking distance of me.

We have had a good debate, although it is a shame that there were not more Members in the Chamber to participate and listen. I salute the Foreign Secretary for setting a good example to his fellow Ministers on how to treat this place. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) said, we appreciate the fact that the right hon. Gentleman attends the House assiduously and makes himself available to participate in debates rather than coming only to lecture us.

I also single out the two members of the Convention: the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory). I am sure that the whole House is indebted to them for the extraordinarily hard work that they have put in over the past two years on such an important project. My right hon. Friend has been assiduous and incredibly well focused, and I salute him personally for expressing his arguments so clearly and forcefully.

At the risk of imperilling the political career of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston, I think that she has been courageous enough to admit that she has seen the light. All of us will have been horrified, although not entirely surprised, to learn about her discovery that those on the Convention who did not support deeper integration were sidelined, because that speaks poorly of the Convention itself.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) has been a consistent critic of the accretion of power by the European institutions, and I believe that the whole House owes him a debt of gratitude for his constancy in that respect. The hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), who, I am sorry to see, is no longer in his place, was a brave man to refer in this week of all weeks to football played with a round ball. As one of those who was at Heathrow terminal 4 in the early hours of the morning when our victorious team returned home from Australia, I thought reference to the game with the round ball was particularly inappropriate. But he is a cheeky chappie and we all love him anyway.

This has been a broad-ranging debate. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), who we know cannot be in his place because he has had to return to Edinburgh, made a typically gracious contribution. There was much in what he said with which I could agree, although I think that the whole House was interested to learn that Liberal Democrat Members of the other place are not expected to be bound by party policy. The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington), whose interest is in development issues, spoke fluently and enthusiastically about the work of the Department for International Development.

My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) made a significant point about the importance that we in this country attach to the connection between a Member of Parliament and his or her electorate, and the serious responsibility and accountability issues that flow therefrom. He drew the analogy with the European Union, where not only has such accountability already been lost to a large degree, but there is a great risk that even more will be lost. The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David) rounded off the debate by saying that, basically, he was in favour of everything—but he is a former Member of the European Parliament, so we might have expected that.

That brings me back to my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk, who, in opening the debate for the Opposition, entertained us as is his custom to a well-informed and thoughtful tour d'horizon of European issues.

Mr. MacShane

Was that French?

Mr. Howarth

It was indeed. I speak French and German, which slightly undermines those who have accused me of being a little Englander.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk drew attention to the Government's woeful failure to protect Britain's essential national interests in the European Union, and he touched on defence—a subject on which, the House will not be surprised to learn, I intend to concentrate, because we face a serious predicament in defence policy that has in large measure been caused by the Government's inability to placate both the US Administration and our EU partners.

As has been acknowledged throughout this afternoon's debate, it is NATO that, since its inception in 1948, has provided for European security. Throughout the cold war, it tied together European and north American security. It provided a counterweight to Soviet power in the east, and without NATO, history might have proved quite different. Today, NATO continues to be relevant to the security environment shaped by the events of 11 September 2001. It remains the only guarantor of European security and the best way to address the capabilities gap between Europe and the United States.

Developments within the EU threaten the primacy of NATO. The European security and defence policy began with unnecessary duplication, and is now beginning to threaten the future of the NATO alliance. We agree that Europe needs to assume a greater role in providing for its own security: currently, only Britain and France spend anything like the amount that needs to be spent on defence. We support the push to increase European defence spending from its current low base of 2 per cent. of GDP and to develop a greater European defence role, but we believe that that increased role for European countries in defence is best achieved through NATO.

NATO already has the planning and command structures in place. It already has the resources, capabilities and experience. European defence would best be achieved through NATO, which brings the advantage of involving north American allies and non- EU European countries. NATO has developed links deep into eastern Europe through the partnership for peace. It is therefore best placed to provide regional security in future. However, as I said earlier, it is under threat.

As we speak, there is a struggle between those who recognise that NATO should continue to be the cornerstone of European security and those who are obsessed with the creation of an autonomous EU defence capability which, in the words of the Anglo-French declaration at Le Touquet on 4 February this year, can match

the worldwide ambition of the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy". Some people on the continent want to challenge what they regard as the domination of the United States. Unable to do so on their own, they are trying desperately to drag other EU states with them to create an alternative pole to the United States. As Romano Prodi said at the end of March:

It is evident that the Iraq crisis has brought us to a new crossroads in transatlantic relations, we must choose a different path. Jacques Chirac said as long ago as 1999 that the European Union

could not fully exist until it possessed autonomous capacity for action in the area of defence". I emphasise the word "autonomous".

There is a serious danger that Britain's national interests will he betrayed if the Government try to assure the United States that we are four-square behind NATO and, at the same time, seek to assure our EU partners that we are at the heart of Europe. However, that is the typical stance of "Mr. Facing Both Ways", our Prime Minister. I remind the House that he famously told The Sun how much he loved the pound, but now tells us that in principle that he is favour of ditching the pound as soon as the five economic tests are met—meaning as soon as the opinion polls indicate that the Government might win a referendum. As long ago as February 2001, the US President said that the Prime Minister had assured him

that the European defense would no way undermine NATO. The President said that the Prime Minister had also assured him

that there would be a joint command and that planning would take place within NATO". The Prime Minister repeated those assurances to the President earlier this year. Indeed, an agreement was hammered out under the Berlin-plus arrangements whereby NATO's extensive planning and force generation structures would be made available to the EU in the event of NATO declining to become involved in a military operation. By that means, the EU would have all the cost advantages of having existing structures available to it while avoiding duplication or the risk of establishing a competing institution. Yet, as we know, in September, the Prime Minister finally signed up to structured co-operation with France and Germany, agreeing to an EU planning cell outside NATO, thus flatly contradicting the assurances that he gave President Bush.

It is hardly surprising that US Secretary of State Colin Powell has expressed his anger. Last Thursday, he said at NATO that the US cannot accept independent EU structures that duplicate existing NATO capabilities. He is not alone in that belief:

I have been as robust as anyone in my opposition to unnecessary duplication between NATO and the EU. We need more capabilities, not paper armies and wiring diagrams connected neither to soldiers nor to reality. So said not a US neo-con but Lord Robertson, NATO Secretary-General, at a Royal United Services Institute conference in London last Monday. To remove all doubt, yesterday morning, he told listeners of the "Today" programme:

We cannot afford any sort of competition between the EU and NATO. He is right, but it is significant that as he leaves his post, he thought it essential to emphasise the vital importance of not undermining NATO.

As my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire said, the Government risk decoupling the United States from NATO. We will be told that the change is simply a modest one, and does not have the significance that we attach to it. However, I draw the attention of the House to a succession of statements from European leaders that reveal the agenda behind the European security and defence policy. The German Foreign Affairs Minister, Joschka Fischer, described the Anglo-French St. Malo communiquè of 1998 as

an important step for the development of the European security and defence identity, another pillar of the process of European unification". Romano Prodi said earlier this year that Europe should abandon the NATO alliance if it wants to have a meaningful say in world affairs.

We need to take note of those clear statements about how European leaders see the role of EU defence in building a greater united states of Europe. Why do we pretend that their motives are different, when they make no secret of their integrationist ambitions? There has been much mention in our debate of the European constitution. As we know, it would, for the first time, include key elements of defence policy in an EU treaty, thus incorporating them at a fundamental level in the new European structure. It is clear that one of the effects will be that the treaty is subject to the European Court of Justice. It creates a judicial identity for the EU.

Everything in the treaty is up for grabs, even though article I-40 speaks of

the progressive framing of a common Union defence policy and states: This will lead to a common defence, when the European Council, acting unanimously, so decides. Although the article goes on to state that the policy of the Union shall respect the obligations of certain Member States, which see their common defence realised in the North Atlantic Treaty", it is hard to see how the existing treaty commitments of member states will survive the progressive acquisition of the attributes of statehood by the EU.

The defence of the whole of Europe, including the UK, has been assured this past half-century by NATO. Those driving the development of an EU defence identity are concerned not with enhancing capabilities, but with investing the EU with the trappings of a nation state. They have a Parliament, a supreme court, an anthem, a flag and a currency. Add a common foreign and defence policy and a constitution, and the jigsaw is complete.

This weekend, the final drafting session on the proposed constitution takes place. Just a few weeks ago, Ministers dismissed our warnings by saying that the proposal was simply a tidying-up operation. Now the Government have been forced to accept our judgment and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells said, they are threatening to withhold their consent, but I suspect that that is sabre-rattling rather than any realistic attempt to renegotiate, let alone to walk away from the constitution if they feel that it cannot be justified.

The constitution will result in energy policy, asylum policy, criminal procedure and a raft of other policy decisions being removed from Westminster. We are, as my right hon. Friend said, importing a written constitution into our laws, and importing non-legislative Acts issued by people who are not accountable.

It was reported yesterday that support for the EU project has fallen below 50 per cent. across Europe, even in France, and that it is down to 28 per cent. in the UK. We say that this sovereign Parliament has no right to surrender a vast range of powers that we hold in trust for the British people, without their express consent. In the name of the British people, we demand a referendum now.

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

We have had a good debate. I welcome the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) to his new duties. He began with a bang of anti-Europeanism and finished with a cry of anti-Europeanism, but in the middle there were some solid points, to which I shall return. I see that he has removed the little pound sterling sign from his lapel, obviously under orders not to manifest his earlier crude anti-Europeanism.

The Government have tried to insert Parliament, as we did today, into the heart of our enduring debate on Europe. So far this year, we have had more than a dozen debates on the intergovernmental conference. I and other Ministers have responded to 16 separate Committee reports on the IGC. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have attended eight Committee sittings on the IGC this autumn alone.

We launched a constitutional innovation this autumn by setting up a Standing Committee on the IGC. I cannot find any precedent of a Government subjecting a treaty negotiation to full-scale interrogation by hon. Members while the negotiations were taking place. Important points were raised by hon. Members in that Committee, notably on energy policy. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard), the chairman of the all-party group on the offshore oil and gas industry, for raising those issues. I am happy to report to the House that we now have language on energy that meets his concerns and ours. As he told the House earlier, that has been welcomed by the North sea oil industry.

Andrew Selous


Mr. MacShane

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I must make progress.

That example shows how parliamentary scrutiny can work if hon. Members come along and take the issue seriously but, alas, the Opposition have not done so. Although both the Foreign Secretary and I were present at that important Standing Committee for its long sittings, no member of the Opposition Front-Bench team bothered to turn up. Of course, hon. Members read out their Rothermere press rants at the Dispatch Box, but leave to others the hard work of ensuring parliamentary scrutiny of the IGC.

At the first sitting of that important Standing Committee, only one Conservative Member was present: the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash)—who else? At the second sitting, he was joined by the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory). At the third sitting, that duo was joined by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). That is a golden trio. Out of the 160-odd Conservative MPs, the three anti-Europeans of star quality who helped to destroy the last Conservative Government with their rabid anti-Europeanism were the only ones who bothered to turn up to subject the IGC to parliamentary scrutiny.

Mr. Bacon

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. MacShane

I will not do so, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.

The hon. Member for Stone and the right hon. Members for Wells and Wokingham can rest content that their new leader remains determined to uphold the Conservative party as the most extreme anti-European party of any of the major parties of the right in Europe. That is their affair. They are welcome to dwell in the dark recesses of anti-Europeanism for as long as they like, but the British people do not share that position. If I may make a personal statement, I see the EU as a huge historical achievement compared to anything Europe has ever seen", and To our vigorous membership of the most hopeful organisation Europe has ever seen I feel a robust commitment which comes from both brain and heart. Those are not actually my words, but those of Lord Hurd of Westwell. They show how far the Conservative party has travelled into the depths of anti-Europeanism.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) made a particularly powerful contribution. When she was interviewed on "The World at One" about her new pamphlet—I have a copy with me and recommend that all hon. Members give it a careful reading—she told Mr. Nick Clarke that she had advanced many of her arguments in the House or in Standing Committees. I have certainly had useful conversations with her about the issues that she raises and I agree with much of what she says. She calls for a new Cabinet post for the Minister for Europe. but I am not quite sure how far that will go.

Mr. Straw

Not far.

Mr. MacShane

I hope that that will be recorded by Hansard.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston will be aware that almost any Question Time involving any Minister will deal with European issues. It is difficult to say "Here is a category called Europe", as Europe now touches transport, the environment and defence, as we have heard, as well as other matters. She referred in the pamphlet to one article in the constitutional treaty:

Article 24[4] allows for the move from unanimity to Quality Majority Voting", and said that that was unacceptable in her view. I am glad to report to her that the new draft that we will be discussing in Brussels states:

If a national Parliament makes known its opposition within six months to any such passage, the European decision…shall not be adopted. In a sense, by arguing her case, she has helped in winning a lot of it.

The right hon. Member for Wells taxed me with the confession that I was not a qualified lawyer. I have looked at the Hansard of the Standing Committee on the Intergovernmental Conference, however, and I could read out at interminable length section 2(1) of the European Communities Act 1972, which underlines the primacy of EU law. He is quite clear in what he says about the issue, but treaties are international law. If we sign them, we have an obligation to honour and abide by them. Pacta sunt servanda is the old Latin term, and it is honoured and enforced by tribunals and courts. There is no other way in which we can have relationships with other countries in treaty form. When the constitutional treaty is signed, it will be another European treaty. However, we have a present for him, the right hon. Member for Wokingham and the hon. Member for Stone—article 59, which allows for withdrawal. They should be honest and make it clear that that is now Conservative party policy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington) made an extremely important point about development aid.

Mr. Hopkins

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. MacShane

No, if my hon. Friend will forgive me.

I cannot read out all the references to millennium development goals, humanitarian aid and international development that are in the new Foreign Office White Paper entitled, "UK international priorities", but let me assure my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie that I am proud, and every Labour Member is proud, of the work of the Department for International Development and the massive increase in international and humanitarian aid that it has achieved. We will never allow a return to the cuts in international aid and Pergau dam policies of the Conservative party.

The European Union is itself a powerful poverty reduction mechanism—that is why so many poor nations are anxious to join it. The Government do not support budgetisation—a technical point to which my hon. Friend may want to return in due course.

The hon. Member for Stone, who is not here—he apologised in advance for his absence—managed in his first sentence to patronise Germany and France. I say to Conservative Members that this incessant Francophobia and Germanophobia—this rancid hostility to our European partners—does their party, and the House of Commons, no credit.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) said that he was in favour of a European superstate. I cannot share that vision, because we are an association based on the nation state, one of the most important manifestations of which remains football. I hope that the behaviour of our football fans during Euro 2004 will finally lay to rest, for this new century, the lingering memories of bad behaviour. My hon. Friend discussed in considerable detail the issue of Commissioner Monti and television rights. That is being dealt with seriously by other Departments.

The hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) talked movingly about his relationship to his electorate, which we all share. I am therefore surprised that he wants to dissolve it by adopting the campaign by the isolationist Rothermere press for a plebiscite on whether we stay in Europe. Fewer and fewer countries in the EU of 25 are going down that road. The shadow Foreign Secretary, who has just returned from eastern Europe and the Baltic states, found no support there for his incessant clamour for such a plebiscite. He has not yet apologised, nor has any Conservative Front Bencher, for the dispatching of senior Conservative party members and elected representatives to campaign against accession countries deciding in their referendums to join the EU. That was shameful.

My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David) underlined the great importance that we attach to the need to strengthen the role of Parliament. I agree that we have a crisis in parliamentary scrutiny, but the system will not be effective unless hon. Members are prepared to turn up to do the work.

The hon. Member for Aldershot made some important points about defence and NATO, but let me quote to him a certain gentleman who said:

Let me make sure you understand our position. We believe that Europe needs to take on more of a defence posture and should act independently of NATO—if NATO chooses not to take on the mission. Those are the words of President George W. Bush; I am happy to quote the President of the United States in support of what the Prime Minister is seeking to achieve.

We finish where we began. Today, we had the first major statement on Europe by the Leader of the Opposition, who told The Times that he would seek to wreck the constitutional treaty. We have the promise that the Conservatives will spend the next year refusing to accept the new treaty—even, it appears, if it is approved by Parliament. The Conservative party will sing the same old anti-European tunes under its new leader. His former Cabinet colleague, the then Foreign Secretary, now Lord Hurd, writes in his memoirs that, if we failed to ratify such treaties—then, the Maastricht treaty, tomorrow, the new constitutional treaty— we would by our foolishness have helped to bring about the nightmare which has always alarmed our predecessors: a continental union influencing British lives at almost every turn over which we had no control. The Conservatives wish to live that nightmare. The Government will uphold British values and be strong in the European Union. We will support a strong Europe. We will be in Europe and help to run Europe. The Conservatives want us to get out of Europe and to run away from Europe. Their policy has got worse under their new leader. They have nothing to say to the House, to the nation or to Europe.

It being Seven o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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