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Mr. McWalter: I am about to conclude, but I shall address the point. In any loosely liberal political system, there is always an ebb and flow between the different participants in any power regime. Sometimes powers are given to central authorities, sometimes they are removed. On the basis of the conduct of the previous British Government, many people might have concluded that the consolidation of power by the Cabinet and the Prime Minister was so excessive that there would never again be the prospect of effective devolution or impetus to local government. Luckily, however, there was a rising up against that philosophy, and, as a result, we now have a Government who are committed to devolution, to local

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government and to empowering people to take more control over their own lives. What applies in Britain also applies in Europe.

I thank the House for listening to me, and I conclude by saying that this is an excellent treaty and I am very happy to support the Bill.

Mr. Cash: Article 3b of the Maastricht treaty and the rubbish that that generated, the con trick that it involved and its amplification under the Amsterdam treaty, show that, effectively, member states are saying, "We can do what we like, but we shall wrap it up with minimal reservations so long as the lawyers are well paid for dancing on the head of a pin." Basically, the whole issue boils down to that.

We have heard some superb speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins), for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) and for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin). I pay tribute to them, as they addressed the heart of the matter, arguing the case intellectually and with reason. In the context of the development of the European Union, for practical purposes nothing has been changed by the provisions of the Amsterdam treaty, although, where Maastricht ran into difficulties, there have been spurious attempts to produce alternative arguments and to put a spin on it.

As my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset pointed out, the acquis communautaire lies at the heart of the problem. It is spelled out in article B of the treaty, which states:


    "to maintain in full the acquis communautaire and build on it with a view to considering to what extent the policies and forms of cooperation introduced by this Treaty may need to be revised with the aim of ensuring the effectiveness of the mechanisms and institutions of the Community."

When one puts forward proposals to ensure the effectiveness of the mechanisms and institutions of the community, no notice is taken.

The treaty goes on:

That means that we shall continue as before. We set out certain objectives, and everything continues inexorably towards a process that includes the acquis communautaire, the ratchet effect and the fact that nothing that has been decided can be challenged. As my hon. Friends the Members for Westmorland and Lonsdale, for Buckingham and for West Dorset have pointed out, the moment that we raise any objections, we are thrown back on to the objectives of the treaty. Inevitably, we go in a complete circle.

The process is a disgrace, because it puts forward, in words set out in a treaty that are justiciable and subject to the European Court of Justice, arrangements that are self-fulfilling and self-denying. On the one hand, they set out the objectives, but on the other they purport to give rise to the possibility of questioning them. However, questioning takes us back to the objectives, which include the application by the European Court of Justice of original objectives that go back to the intentions incorporated in the Maastricht treaty and, in many

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respects, before that. That is a continuous process. The more one looks at the protocol, the more obvious that becomes.

The objectives of the treaty are not what is necessary to achieve the kind of Europe that is essential for harmonious relations into the next century. The treaty says:

As my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset said, that takes us back to what is necessary to achieve the objectives of the treaty, which are set out in the preamble. It is well known that the Court of Justice has to have regard to the preamble to decide how to interpret the provisions. That is different from the way in which we have interpreted law in the United Kingdom. We come back again and again to the circular argument.

Paragraph (3) of the protocol says:

So we get another circular argument within the circular argument. The Court of Justice has to prevail if the question arises whether it should have jurisdiction. The whole thing is gobbledegook, as Lord Mackenzie- Stuart pointed out. It makes nonsense of the process of European integration.

I do not understand how the Minister can justify the provisions. The worst of it is that, after going through all the arguments and making attempts to persuade, no further argument can be engaged in. What do we do now, given that we get no answers from the Minister and no arguments from Labour? There is only one Labour Member present on the Back Benches. We are going nowhere--[Interruption.] Well, there are some on the left- hand side of the Chamber who are doing and saying nothing. We have to take more effective and immediate action to stop the nonsense that is going on.

6.15 pm

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): I shall be brief. Indeed, my contributions to the Committee have been becoming increasingly brief. I should like to pick up on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) about the circular argument.

The protocol says:

That is what we had all understood subsidiarity to mean--powers could be given back. That is what it says clearly in the second part of the third paragraph of the protocol. However, the first part of that paragraph says:

    "The criteria referred to in the second paragraph of Article 3b of the Treaty shall relate to areas for which the Community does not have exclusive competence."

In other words, subsidiarity means control over what we have not given to the Community--it is what is left. We must enjoy it while we still have it.

Mr. Doug Henderson: The hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) should enjoy it quickly.

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In reply to the point made by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), let me say the Government cannot accept the amendment, but I hope to announce, in a future debate this evening, a review of the way in which matters discussed at the Council of Ministers are reported. I hope that that will cover issues of subsidiarity.

We have had an interesting debate. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter) was able to intervene. He provided some necessary balance, making some important points on the sensible provisions in the treaty.

The debate started with the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Sir M. Spicer), who is not in his place, saying that the Conservative party believed in devolution. That is an interesting revelation. I was not aware of that policy change. We have heard a lot of arguments about subsidiarity in the European Union, but we have not heard much from the Conservatives about subsidiarity within a nation state, as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome pointed out. If the Conservatives are to be consistent, they must examine subsidiarity not only in the European Union, but in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Letwin rose--

Mr. Henderson: I shall not give way at the moment, because I fear that I may run out of time.

We have witnessed an internal debate in the Conservative party on the provisions. The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), whose contributions we look forward to in every debate, said that, when he was a special adviser to Jonathan Aitken in the previous Government, he felt that he had been fobbed off with the provisions on subsidiarity that were drawn up at Edinburgh.

Mr. Bercow: If the Minister wants to make a debating point, he ought at least to get the chronology right. The original subsidiarity proposal was enshrined in the treaty of Maastricht in 1991. I had the pleasure to serve as the special adviser to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury in 1995. Get it right, Minister.

Mr. Henderson: It is a minor but interesting point whether the hon. Gentleman was fobbed off before he worked for the coin of Jonathan Aitken or while he was working for the coin of Jonathan Aitken.

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