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Dr. Julian Lewis: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw: No, I will not, because I am coming to the end of my observations.

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Conservative Members, too, have played their part. Their wish to deny Europe the benefits of Nice—and hence enlargement—was the main plank of their election manifesto. It was they, not the Government, who said that they wanted the general election to be a referendum on Europe—[Interruption.] I said a moment ago, to approbation from the Opposition, that we should not quibble with the results of democratic votes. The only thing that I heard from the Conservative party throughout the campaign was that the election was a referendum on Europe. As I drew to the attention of the House during debate on the Loyal Address, that has now become non-history, as the whole Conservative manifesto has been wiped off the internet—[Hon. Members: "It has not."] It is true; I tried it myself. If one calls up and types "manifesto" into the site's own search engine, one gets a blank.

The Opposition must understand what happened at the election; they decided to campaign on Europe—and, by implication, matters like Nice—and they failed. It is not just me saying that; in The Times today, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), the shadow Foreign Secretary's predecessor, made a proclamation. The headline states:

In the article, he said:

There we have it; the former shadow Foreign Secretary simply could not stand the contradictions and twists and turns inherent in the Opposition's position.

Passing this Bill is of very great importance. It will give a clear signal to Jan Kavan, Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic, all applicant nations of eastern and central Europe and to Cyprus and Malta that Britain is committed to righting the wrongs of history and to reuniting Europe. It will strengthen Britain's influence at the heart of this Europe of nation states. I therefore have no hesitation in commending the Bill to the House.

Mr. Speaker: Before I call the mover of the amendment, I wish to inform the House that Back-Bench speeches will be limited to 10 minutes.

4.11 pm

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham): I beg to move, to leave out from 'That' to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

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The treaty of Nice was a great opportunity for the European Union. It was an opportunity to put and make the case for the modern, reformed, outward-looking EU that its citizens plainly want and which enlargement will require. It could have been the moment to bid farewell to the old dogma of "one size fits all" political integration. It could have been the time to embrace the need for a decentralised and flexible EU. It could have set deadlines for enlargement, which we, as the Foreign Secretary has been good enough to accept, wholeheartedly support. Sadly, none of that transpired. The Nice treaty, I am afraid, was the triumph of old-think; it was locked in the past.

Eleven and a half years after the fall of the Berlin wall, it is shameful that, with the solitary exception of the German Democratic Republic—East Germany—no central or eastern European country has been admitted to the Union. I remember attending meetings with Foreign Ministers from the region in 1990, at which they were told that enlargement was five years away. Here we are in 2001 and most of them are still five years away. Why has enlargement not been achieved?

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe): How does the right hon. Gentleman reconcile those remarks with his opposition to a treaty that would allow access? Does he believe that that opposition would gain the support of a single one of the Governments of the applicant countries?

Mr. Maude: I reject the premise of the hon. Gentleman's question—that the treaty is essential to enlargement. He need not rely on my word; the Foreign Secretary himself said at the Dispatch Box during debate on the Loyal Address that he accepted that the Nice treaty is not technically necessary for enlargement.

Mr. Straw rose

Mr. Maude: The point that I suspect the Foreign Secretary wishes to make is that a number of Governments have said that they will not permit enlargement unless the process of deeper integration goes ahead in the meantime. They have of course said that, but it is simply a statement of political preference. The treaty is, in no sense that anyone would recognise, a necessity for enlargement. There is no such legal necessity.

Mr. Straw: This is extremely tedious for most of our citizens and constituents. We can call for the record if the right hon. Gentleman wants, but the simple fact is that, in debate on the Loyal Address, I was asked whether the treaty was technically required for accession. The answer is that technically and in legal theory we do not need this treaty, but we do need a treaty, which would still have to come before the House.

The second point is that, politically, it would be impossible to conceive of accession without the modernisation and reforms of the Nice treaty. The question that the right hon. Gentleman must answer is: how on earth does he think the EU would work with 15, 20, 25 or 28 member states without such changes?

Mr. Maude: I shall have something to say about how the European Union would work without these changes. Other changes may be needed, but the idea that the proposed changes are the only possible changes that are needed to make it work is fantasy.

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It is correct to say that even if the treaty goes through, another treaty—an accession treaty—will be needed. No one can deny that. It is not only the Foreign Secretary who has said this. The President of the European Commission said that, legally, ratification of the Nice treaty is not necessary for enlargement. That is clearly the case. I hope that we can have an end to the nonsense that the Nice treaty is necessary.

The previous Foreign Secretary made the same point, although he did not know it, in the aftermath of the Amsterdam treaty, when he announced proudly to the House that now that the Amsterdam treaty had been agreed, all the obstacles to enlargement were out of the way. Suddenly we find that there is another obstacle: the Nice treaty. [Interruption.] That is almost exactly what he said. We can call for the record if there is a dispute about it. He said:

Funnily enough, it was not clear, according to the present Foreign Secretary and all his hon. Friends. Suddenly there is another obstacle.

Dr. Julian Lewis: I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. Did he notice that only a few minutes ago the Foreign Secretary conceded that if, in the end, the Irish do not ratify the Nice treaty, that treaty will be dead? Would my right hon. Friend be as interested as I would be to hear what the Foreign Secretary would propose with regard to enlargement if the Nice treaty were not ratified? Presumably, he would propose precisely the alternative treaty to which my right hon. Friend is rightly referring.

Mr. Maude: The case that my hon. Friend puts in such a measured way is exactly the case that the shadow Cabinet and the then Leader of the Opposition put in 1992, after the Danish referendum result. They argued for postponement of discussion of the Bill, in order that the difficulty with the Maastricht treaty could be properly resolved, so that the House could know what treaty it was being asked to ratify.

For the Foreign Secretary to take refuge in a decision of the General Affairs Council, and to say, "Oh well, the Council decided that matters had to go ahead, so we had no option" is a little feeble, to say the least. As the right hon. Gentleman made clear, without ratification and without a further referendum in Ireland which gives the consent of the Irish public to this treaty or to a treaty, this treaty is dead. It cannot proceed.

Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) rose

Mr. Maude: I give way to the hon. Gentleman, then I must make progress.

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