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Mr. Cash: During the passage of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993, I tabled an amendment regarding fraud and the issue of the relationship between the Court of Auditors and national Parliaments. Although, Sir Alan, I am sure that, you would not want me to impugn your integrity and impartiality during this debate, I am sure that as a former co-member of the Select Committee on European Legislation, you will recall that I have pursued this question diligently for many years.

I intend not to make a long speech but simply to respond to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), so I merely say that I do not believe for a minute that there is the slightest chance of the other member states agreeing to scrutiny arrangements of the type that are available to us in the United Kingdom in the form of the Public Accounts Committee and the Comptroller and Auditor General.

It is unnecessary for me to go into detail, as I have spoken on the subject many times, but I am deeply apprehensive about the proposals in the treaty of Amsterdam, and I do not believe for a minute that the improvements that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome said he hoped for will take place. If there is no improvement, I am afraid that our taxpayers will be taken to the cleaners over and over again. I need not enlarge on

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that point, although I could easily make a speech of one and a half hours about it. In this case, one and a half minutes will suffice.

Mr. Doug Henderson: I cannot accept the new clause. I fear that it could lead to an increase in bureaucracy, which is not what the Government would wish. As I understand it, the National Audit Office is content with the present arrangements for co-operation with the Court of Auditors. It is looking into what improvements can be made to the current system; it has the Government's support in doing so. It would be much better to await its review and to see how improvements can be put in place before establishing any unnecessary additional bureaucracy.

Question put and negatived.

Bill reported, without amendment, pursuant to the Order [17 December].

Order for Third Reading read.

8 pm

Mr. Doug Henderson: May I first convey to the House the apologies of the Foreign Secretary--I believe that he has already conveyed them to the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard)--who is on important Government business in China.

We are bringing to a close this stage of the parliamentary scrutiny of the Amsterdam treaty. We have spent many hours in detailed examination of the treaty, and I believe that the scrutiny by the House has been conducted with the thoroughness which this important treaty merits. We have discussed amendments relating to virtually every clause of the treaty, but, thanks to the Government's timetable motion, we have also been able to make reasonable progress.

I cannot agree with Conservative Members' claims that scrutiny has been inadequate. I do not regard a total of about 30 hours' debate in the House as a cursory examination; and compared with the scrutiny given in other EU Parliaments to similar measures, we have done very well.

By passing the Bill, we will be able to bring into UK law the parts of the treaty that give rise to Community rights and obligations, and thus to proceed to formal ratification of the treaty. I hope that progress on the Bill will continue to be as good, and that the United Kingdom will be one of the first member states to ratify the treaty of Amsterdam. With our presidency of the Union, that will send an important signal to our European partners that the new British Government are committed to full engagement in Europe. That contrasts with the Maastricht treaty which, in the hands of the previous Government, we were virtually the last to ratify. The ratification process is well on track in other member states, and we are optimistic that the treaty will come into force early in 1999.

Much has changed since the treaty was agreed in June. In those heady days of summer, the Opposition were strident in their advocacy of an immediate referendum on Amsterdam in the United Kingdom. I am pleased to note that they have now fallen in line with the Government's view that that would not be appropriate. I welcome Conservative Front Benchers' conversion, even if some Tory Back Benchers take a different view.

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I pay tribute to hon. Members on both sides for the high quality of the debates on the Bill. The Daily Telegraph, no less, reported on 17 December that these debates had seen some of the most impressive Opposition speeches since the general election. I should add that there have not exactly been many runners in the contest, but I am happy to give credit where it is due. There have been many interventions by Labour Members, too, of great sincerity and quality.

The minority in the House who seem to remain opposed to the Bill have struggled to find any rational reasons for opposing it. The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe has shared with us his nightmare vision of the sanctions clause--our 14 partners will gang up on the UK for no good reason and impose sanctions on us. The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), however, has pointed out that that is so far from reality as to be laughable. Anything that makes Conservative Members laugh is to be commended--they have not had much to laugh about of late.

The shadow Foreign Secretary has repeatedly castigated the Government for signing up to more qualified majority voting. That is somewhat hypocritical, given that the former Government signed up to QMV for a whole raft of single market legislation under the Single European Act; and for 30 other areas under Maastricht. The Tories disregard the fact that it is in our national interest to sign up to majority voting in a number of areas.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has also tried to suggest that allowing British people the same benefits as are enjoyed by their European counterparts, who have incorporated the social chapter already, will bring the British economy crashing to its knees. The truth, as the vast majority of hon. Members recognise, is that this is a good treaty for this country.

The new treaty marks a new direction for the Union as it moves towards the new priorities of enlargement and working better for its citizens. The EU faces a host of new challenges: the need to compete in global markets; to adjust to profound social changes; to respond to external political developments; and to tackle new threats to the EU's security at home and abroad. We are determined that the Union should be in good shape to meet those challenges. As president, we are actively promoting policies to meet those challenges head on.

Agreeing the new treaty of Amsterdam was the first step in this process. We achieved what is widely regarded across Europe as a very British treaty which reflects the British Government's priorities on: employment, fighting crime, protecting the environment, subsidiarity and an increased role for national Parliaments, measures to counter fraud in the Community, greater openness in the Union, fighting discrimination, and animal welfare. To that list could be added foreign policy co-ordination, a recognition of NATO's key role in defence, and retaining the veto for key common foreign and security policy decisions. On all those issues, we went to Amsterdam looking for results--and we got them. We showed at Amsterdam that it is possible to have a constructive relationship with Europe to our mutual benefit.

We will accept no lessons from Conservatives on how to negotiate in Europe or anywhere else. They fail to understand that the EU is not a zero sum game. So we shall continue to play a full and active part in Europe,

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looking for consensus, not conflict, as the best way of securing the national interest. This treaty shows that that can be done, and the benefits of doing it. I look forward to telling the House about more such success in the future, and I commend the Bill to the House.

8.7 pm

Mr. Howard: The fact that we are now less than two hours away from the end of debating this Bill is an outrage. It gives effect to a major treaty which provides for the transfer of substantial powers from the Parliament of the United Kingdom to sources of power and authority outside this kingdom. It provides for the surrender of our veto, for an extension of qualified majority voting and for an increase in the powers of the European Parliament. It subjects us to the social chapter. It neuters any substance in the concept of subsidiarity. It will increase the extent to which laws can be made binding on the people of this country without their consent or that of their Parliament or Government.

Yet, as a result of a brutal exercise of the guillotine after only 12 hours' debate in Committee, completely free of filibuster, the whole of the Bill's scrutiny in Committee of the whole House has been confined to just over 20 hours.

Reporting progress a few moments ago, the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones) used the time-honoured phrase when he said:

Rarely has that been a more hollow claim. The Minister said that scrutiny had been conducted with thoroughness. It is true that we have done what we could in the very limited time available, but the fact that the Government have imposed such a draconian guillotine on the Bill is a disgrace. I hope that, when another place comes to consider it in detail, that will be borne in mind. The best that the Minister could say when he was defending the guillotine was that the scrutiny that the House had given to the Bill compared favourably with that in other Parliaments of the European Union, as though that was supposed to be some consolation to us.

It would be foolish to consider the Bill in isolation. While power is being transferred from Britain to Brussels and Strasbourg, it is also being transferred from Westminster to Edinburgh, to some as yet undesignated seat in Wales, and in due course, no doubt, to the English regions.

It is all of a piece. Those who want to see a Europe of the regions, in which the important decisions in Europe are increasingly taken in Brussels and in the regions of Europe, with less and less being decided in national Parliaments, would applaud that agenda with enthusiasm.

Those of us with reservations about that agenda are not hostile to Europe or to the European Union. We are not anti-Europe or anti-European; on the contrary, we want to see a European Union that works, with Britain as a prominent part of it, but we believe that further and deeper integration, far from contributing to that objective, will have the opposite effect.

We believe that the strains and stresses that will result will undermine and fragment the cohesion of the European Union. We believe that they will increase the resentment felt in this country as more and more decisions are taken without the consent of the Parliament of the United Kingdom

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That is why the Bill and the treaty to which it gives effect should have been given proper scrutiny. That is why enough time should have been made available for that scrutiny to take place. That is why the Government's approach to these important matters is such a scandal.

Last Thursday, to add insult to injury, we had the bizarre spectacle of the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes), who is not in his place, taking up time with the apparent intention of protecting the Minister from the need to reply to the debate, and then blaming Opposition Members. It was the hon. Member for Ilford, South and the Minister who voted for the guillotine. They were responsible for the fact that the amount of time available was so limited, and they had the gall to point the finger at us.

During the debates that we have had, we have done the best we could to give the Bill due scrutiny, to identify its many shortcomings and to ask the questions that need answering. We have done that in a responsible way, as was shown by our attitude to the last amendment that we pressed to a Division. We do not make unnecessary points. We do not vote for unnecessary amendments. There is enough in the Bill to warrant justified opprobrium to make that unnecessary.

The Minister, to give him credit where credit is due, has made a brave effort, especially in the earlier part of our scrutiny, to answer our questions. It is not his fault that he could not, for the most part, give satisfactory answers or proper assurances. The fault is in the treaty and the Bill, and with the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister for signing up to the treaty.

The Government claim to want to create jobs. By signing up, in the treaty, to the social chapter, they will destroy jobs. The Government claim to want to lead Europe. By signing up, in the treaty, to more qualified majority voting, they will ensure that they can be ignored on major issues. The Government claim to want to improve democracy. By signing up, in the treaty, to measures that will weaken Westminster, they will undermine the basis of our democracy. In almost every area, the measures to which the Government have signed up in the treaty will achieve the opposite of what they intend.

The treaty is at least as bad for what it omits as for what it contains. It will bring about no progress on enlargement or on quota-hopping, and will do nothing to justify the Prime Minister's bold words before the election. The Prime Minister went to Amsterdam seeking to decentralise power within the Union. He failed. He went to Amsterdam promising to prepare the way for enlargement. He failed. He went to Amsterdam having given an explicit pledge to our fishing communities that he would secure a better deal for them. He failed.

For the reasons that we have given in our debates, and for the reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) in his excellent article inThe Times this morning, the treaty is a bad treaty--bad for Britain and bad for Europe. That is why Conservative Members will have no hesitation in voting against the Bill tonight.

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