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Mr. William Cash (Stone) rose-

Dr. Julian Lewis rose

Mr. Bercow rose

Mr. Straw: I give way to the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow).

Mr. Bercow: The Foreign Secretary is certainly making the best fist of a poor case, although his heart does not seem to be in it. As long ago as 18 June 1997, the Prime Minister trumpeted in this House the alleged merits of the protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality in the treaty of Amsterdam. However, since then no fewer than 4,995 European Union directives, regulations and decisions

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have impacted on this country. Can the right hon. Gentleman identify one practical example of a benefit to this country arising from the passage of that protocol?

Mr. Straw: Yes, I can. There are plenty of issues on which the Commission and the Council hold back, leaving matters to member states. We are Europeans and a huge amount of our trade depends on our membership of the European Union. [Interruption.] I am being asked to prove negatives, but there are a huge number of examples, when, by definition, if the Commission has not produced a directive, the matter has been left to individual member states. That has happened in a huge number of areas. Of course, such issues do not appear on the agendas of the Council or the Commission because they have not been brought forward as European legislation. Instead, they have been left to individual member states.

The hon. Member for Buckingham asked whether the directives have benefited this country. One set of regulations and directives that has benefited this country is that on the single market. We have tried to extend the single market into sectors—particularly all kinds of services—that are still the subject of unjustified competition. That cannot be achieved by individual legislation by the individual nation states. It requires that there should be legislation for 15 nations to ensure that practices that we regard as unjustifiable and restrictive are eliminated across Europe. Who benefits from that? Our constituents, this country and our economy. They would not benefit if we returned to the environment which the hon. Gentleman imagines we could achieve in a different world that I do not recognise.

A further important point about Nice was that, for the first time since we joined the then Common Market in 1973, we won an increase in the UK's voting weight. Our nominal voting power in the Council will rise from 10 votes to 29 votes, and although the total votes will increase as well, we shall have significantly more influence relative to smaller countries. For example, we used to have three times as many votes as Denmark, but under Nice we shall have four times as many. That also means that France, Germany and the United Kingdom together will still be able to block any proposal that they dislike. Moreover, the UK will retain voting parity with Germany, despite Germany's greater population.

At Nice, we also succeeded in providing for a smaller and better Commission. From 2005, there will be one Commissioner per member state. Once the EU has 27 members, the number of Commissioners will be capped below that figure and there will be a system of equal rotation. As I said in reply to the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor), we secured more qualified majority voting in areas where that is in Britain's interests. I have already explained why we need to extend qualified majority voting in some areas while insisting on the veto in others.

In Nice, my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and my predecessor secured for Britain all the goals that we had set out in our White Paper in February last year. That was an outstanding result, which was deservedly praised in the national press and media and in most parts of the House.

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Mr. Cash rose

Mr. Straw: I give way for the last time.

Mr. Cash: Will the Foreign Secretary note that, contrary to what he said, Britain's share of the vote has declined substantially, from 11.5 to 8.4 per cent.? Will he, if he is interested, be good enough to reply to the points in a pamphlet that I have produced today, entitled "Constructive Opposition to the Nice Treaty—the Dangers of European Integration"?

Mr. Straw: Of course, I will do my best to read the document, if the hon. Gentleman sends it to me. I am not sure what time scale he was using for his arithmetic. If he was going back to 1973, when the total number of member states was nine, all I can say is that of course we would have had a larger proportion of any qualified majority voting that happened then or shortly afterwards. There are now 15 member states; in future there will be 25, and eventually, if Turkey joins, there will be 28.

My point, which is incontrovertible, is that Nice gives us a relative increase in our voting strength. [Interruption.] That is a fact. During the Committee proceedings we can, and no doubt will, talk at great length about that aspect of the arithmetic. I have already given the House the comparison that we now have three times as many votes as Denmark, and under the Nice treaty, we shall have four times as many. It is important that the countries with the largest proportion of the population should be able to exercise, roughly speaking, a proportionate vote.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw: No, I need to make progress because many hon. Members, including no doubt the hon. Gentleman, want to speak.

Having set out what the Nice treaty does for the UK and for Europe, I should now like to set out what it does not do. Despite the warnings of some anti-European commentators, the treaty does not mean the end of the British justice system, a ban on political parties or an end to freedom of thought or religion. Nice is not a recipe for federalism, if by that is meant the creation of a centralised entity. It reinforces the role of national Governments and nation states because it ensures that we can go on making decisions in the Council of Ministers and at European Councils even in a greatly enlarged EU.

Nice does not represent a fundamental alteration in our relationship with the EU or a radical restructuring of the EU. Rather, it preserves and enhances the UK's ability to influence decisions and take initiatives for the benefit of our citizens. For that reason, it would be absurd to break with our tradition that Parliament should decide whether and how to amend treaties, and whether to hold a referendum on Nice—the more so since the Conservative Government did not hold a referendum on Maastricht, which involved much more wide-ranging changes.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw: No, if the hon. Gentleman will excuse me, I will not.

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To revert to the point that I was making about the Irish referendum, we have to find more effective ways of connecting the institutions of the EU to its people. Many activities and services are best carried out at the European rather than the national level, but unless and until the EU institutions become as responsive and accountable to our citizens as their national Governments are, it will always be hard to convince public opinion of that fact.

We need to deal with that democratic deficit. We therefore agreed at Nice that there will be another intergovernmental conference in 2004. It will be different from its predecessors because it will be preceded by a wider and deeper public debate about the purpose and scope of European Union activity.

We need to ask certain questions. Implicit in a question posed by the hon. Member for Buckingham is the important issue of subsidiarity, which has been difficult for the United Kingdom, with a political culture rather different from that of some European countries, to appreciate and accommodate. We have to ask what exactly is the European Union for. What precise purpose does it serve? To get the answer, we need to look at what the EU actually does, and analyse rigorously and frankly the tasks it does well, those it does less well and those that it does badly. Once we have a clear sense of our citizens and constituents' priorities, only then can we sensibly ensure that the EU's institutions are properly organised and equipped to deliver them. The European Union is for Europe's citizenry, not its political elites.

That means focusing discussion not on the process, but on the results of EU co-operation. Only ideologues and specialists are impassioned by esoteric technical issues like the extent of qualified majority voting or the limits of co-decision. People care most about the practical benefits and the added value that they may be able to derive from the EU: more jobs, cleaner streets and less crime. That is where the debate should begin.

The next IGC is an opportunity for us to decide what the EU does best and which decisions are better taken at a national level. It is a chance to simplify the treaties so that they are easier to understand, and to give national Parliaments a more defined role in the EU. We are determined to improve the democratic legitimacy and transparency of the EU.

The first and best way to bring the EU closer to the people is to make sure that they are informed about developments. More than any previous IGC, the Nice negotiations were carried out in full view of the British public and this House. A year before Nice, our White Paper set out the issues at length and outlined our negotiating objectives in detail before the negotiations even got under way. The key documents, including successive redrafts of the draft treaty, were available on the internet at every stage. Members of the Government gave many speeches and took part in debates up and down the country to get the message across and listen to people's views, both before and after Nice. The issues were raised in several debates in Parliament over the past year and a half. Of course, Parliament, as always, will decide whether the UK will ratify the treaty by enacting the Bill and making it law.

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