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Mr. Rifkind: The European Union cannot take that right from us. What is possible, of course, is that this Parliament and the people of the United Kingdom, through a referendum, might one day provide the authority for such a change, but it is not something that can be taken from this country unless this country were expressly to give its consent. I think that that point has been fully clarified.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye): Will the Foreign Secretary clarify further the point raised by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) about the European Court? I am sure that the Foreign Secretary would not want to raise his right hon. Friend's hopes unnecessarily. Given the limited, and rather sensible, reforms that the Government propose to the ECJ, will the Foreign Secretary confirm that there is no question whatever of the British Government failing to send people from this country to the European Court to be active participants in its work and decision making? His right hon. Friend should not be left with the illusion that somehow we are about to disengage.

Mr. Rifkind: It is of great importance to have people of the highest legal calibre serving in the European Court of Justice. The present British judge, David Edward, is of a very high calibre indeed and serves this country extremely well. It is worth remembering that we have, as a country, won more cases in the European Court of Justice than we have lost, but that is not to say that we are not entitled to make criticism of the ways in which it sometimes performs. Where it acts in a way that we

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believe is over-political, or that is contrary to the interests of the United Kingdom, we shall draw attention to that point.

Mr. Cash: Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham): Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr. Rifkind: I shall give way first to my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel).

Mr. Jessel: My right hon. and learned Friend used the words "over-political". Does that not mean that the European Court is not an ordinary traditional court of justice merely trying to act fairly and justly between litigants within the law as the United Kingdom knows it, but that it has a somewhat different agenda in that its terms of reference require it to advance the cause of European union? It is not, in that sense, a pure court of justice: it makes up the law as it goes along, and it goes beyond what is acceptable to people in this country.

Mr. Rifkind: My hon. Friend is certainly correct that in one crucial respect the European Court of Justice is unique: it does not, as an international court, simply determine the rights between Governments or states, but can intervene directly and create rights for individual citizens of member states. We cannot hide from the fact that the UK Parliament agreed to give it that power. When we joined the European Union, it was an existing power that the European Court of Justice had. It is not a power that has been imposed more recently.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Rifkind: I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash), but then I must make progress.

Mr. Cash: There was, of course, the European Communities Act 1972, but does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that since then we have been giving way more and more powers by successive treaties? The real point that we must address is that the European Court of Justice adjudicates over those functions, and the only way in which we can resolve that is by repatriating the powers that have been given away, which would deal with the very point causing so much concern--the political nature of the European Court of Justice. Repatriation--yes.

Mr. Rifkind: My hon. Friend grossly over-simplifies the situation, because he does not take into account the fact that if we--as a Government and a country--believe in the single market, it is necessary for that single market to be enforced, and that requires the European Court of Justice and the Commission to continue with many of the powers that they currently have.

Mr. Dykes: Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr. Rifkind: No, I must make progress.

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I have been referring to the achievements that have been realised over the past 17 years. In some areas, we have led the debate within the European Union; in others, where there was a specific British interest at stake, we stood out alone to protect that interest. The budget rebate, the social chapter opt-out, our opt-out of the Schengen agreement and our opt-out of the single currency give us the choice when the time comes to decide.

The Government believe in European co-operation, but not in ideologically motivated integration, which is the preserve of the European purist. Opposition Front Benchers have become instinctive integrationists. The whole purpose of the Leader of the Opposition's excursions abroad has been to reassure their socialist partners in Europe that a Labour Government would be more willing to deepen integration in a manner that we believe to be fundamentally against the British national interest. It is not just that the Leader of the Opposition talks about "never being isolated" in Europe. That phrase in itself is a massive hostage to fortune in the context of the hard, tough negotiations ahead. The Labour approach is as naive as it is potentially damaging to our interests.

There is a real fault line between ourselves and the Opposition on European policy. For their part, the presumption is for integration. For the Conservative party, the presumption is against integration unless we can be convinced that the national interest is served and that the benefits of greater integration would be sufficient for our quality of life and for employment that it would justify the loss of some national decision making.

Within weeks of the final possible date for a general election, the intergovernmental conference will conclude at Amsterdam. [Interruption.] The electorate will have to decide who they believe will better stand up for British interests at Amsterdam.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes): Order. I am tired of the running commentary coming from hon. Members on the Benches further from me. I should be grateful if they would keep quiet.

Mr. Rifkind: The differences between the two Front Benches and between the two parties are substantive and very real in the context of decisions at Amsterdam.

What weakens the United Kingdom's position in Europe is the possibility of an alternative Government who is committed to giving up many things from which we have fought hard to protect this country. We are guided by the national interest: the Opposition seem to be guided by what others in Europe want.

Labour has proposed to extend qualified majority voting to four new important areas of policy: social, industrial, environmental and regional. It is an extraordinary negotiating position to offer up major concessions to integration before the real work of the intergovernmental conference has even begun. It also displays a Labour naivety that has not been matched by European Governments.

Each member state was asked by the presidency to put forward ideas on where qualified majority voting should be extended, but only two countries out of 15 put forward specific proposals. Thus, in the game of poker that the Prime Minister talked about on Sunday in his television interview, Labour has already shown its hand. Its inexperience and folly are unmatched in Europe.

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Labour would give up our opt-out on the social chapter. Despite Labour's attempts to reassure business, we all know that that would be a blank cheque to open up new routes to social regulation and integration, which would profoundly damage Britain's competitiveness and job prospects. It is truly a job-destroying chapter. How ludicrous it would be to sign away our competitive advantage at a time when unemployment is 7 per cent. and falling in the United Kingdom, and 10 per cent. or more and continuing to rise elsewhere in the European Union. There is a fundamental philosophical and political divide between us and the Opposition, in that they actively want to conform to a European social model that is shown, day by day, to be well past its sell-by date and damaging to Europe.

Similarly, Labour has fallen head over heels for writing an employment chapter into the treaty. It is no use the Labour party saying, "That would mean nothing, so don't worry because it's only warm words." That is dangerous enough in itself. Why raise people's expectations that the European Union has some magical wand to cure Europe's unemployment ills, when the policies currently being pursued under the social chapter are creating the opposite effect?

However innocuous the words, we are long enough in the tooth and wise enough to the realities of life to know that by proposing Community competence we would deprive Britain once again of taking decisions on what is a matter for this House and this Parliament. Not only would an employment chapter not create a single job: it has the potential to destroy many of them.

Labour want all legislation currently decided on by qualified majority in the Council of Ministers to be subject to a simplified form of co-decision in the European Parliament. Every increase in the powers of the European Parliament reduces, by definition, the powers of this Parliament. That would not enhance democratic accountability: it would merely centralise more powers, taking them out of the hands of the elected representatives of this House. It would be another step on the slippery slope which says that European centralisation should become the natural order of things.

An intriguing, growing divide is emerging between the Leader of the Opposition, his shadow Chancellor and his shadow Foreign Secretary. The Leader of the Opposition said boldly that he would

Yesterday, The Times reported the shadow Chancellor as saying:

    "We are not afraid of isolation in Europe".

Who are we to believe? Is the Leader of the Opposition isolated in his shadow Cabinet, even if not in Europe? Or does the soi-disant "Iron Chancellor" speak for Labour? We need to know.

Then again, the redoubtable shadow Chancellor rebukes the Prime Minister for daring to suggest that Labour would give up the veto. He protested on the "Today" programme:

any question of giving up the veto

    "is a myth that is perpetuated by the Conservative Party."

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    Well, if it is a myth, it is not being created by the Conservatives. It is a myth being spread in a most sinister fashion by the shadow Foreign Secretary.

Following the shadow Chancellor's protest, the shadow Foreign Secretary declared:

    "If you want reform, frankly in many cases you do have to have majority voting".

He confirmed that Labour would end the veto on social, regional, environmental and industrial policy. He stated quite boldly:

    "There will have to be some majority votes against those individual nations that stand in the way".

What if those individual nations included Britain? On that, there was a resounding silence.

The shadow Foreign Secretary and the shadow Chancellor should reconcile their differences. Perhaps we need a conciliation service. Alternatively, we could return to the device used during Harold Wilson's referendum on Europe, when Labour Cabinet Ministers were licensed to attack each other throughout the length and breadth of the country.

Yet another damning admission by Labour was its declaration that it rejected permanent opt-outs. That has alarming implications. It has revealed to every other European Government that the British budget rebate, the Schengen opt-out to protect our frontiers and the Maastricht single currency opt-out are just temporary aberrations to be abandoned by a Labour Government in due course.

The Opposition, through their inexperience and naivety, have become a menace to Britain. They are weakening Britain's position in these crucial negotiations by encouraging other Governments to wait until after our general election in the hope that some of their crucial negotiating objectives will then fall into their laps. They are a menace, and they need to be resisted. They need to get their act together and remember the national interest. It is the national interest that will be our guiding principle in the weeks and months ahead.

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