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Mr. Bercow: The right hon. and learned Gentleman suggests that nothing of constitutional significance is imperilled by the extension of qualified majority voting, but why will not he accept that the merits of the case against discrimination in general, and the merits or demerits of particular anti-discrimination measures, should pre-eminently be matters for determination by

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democratically elected Members of the British legislature? Those matters should not fall within the rubric of the European Union.

Mr. Campbell: If I interpret that intervention correctly, the hon. Gentleman is saying that he does not believe that the European Union should take a position on, for example, the discrimination faced by women. That is precisely the sort of issue on which the EU should take a position. There should also be an EU position on discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity. The hon. Gentleman and I may exist on two different planets on the issue, but the progress of events since we joined the European Coal and Steel Community—to give it its technically correct name—has favoured those who share my view, not those who share his.

One of the more positive aspects of Nice was the pledge of member state Governments to launch a debate about the future of the European Union. That will result in the convening of an intergovernmental conference in 2004, specifically designed to establish a more precise delimitation of competencies between the European Union and the nation states upon which it relies for its legitimacy.

I do not shrink from the notion that there should be a constitution for Europe. The shadow Foreign Secretary set himself against that, but I believe that it is only by being clear and open about structures and aspirations that the European Union can hope to retain the support of the people of Europe. People have to be comfortable with the institutions designed to represent them and they are most comfortable in such circumstances if they understand the limits of the powers of these institutions.

In short, we need to know in clear and simple language what the European Union can and cannot do. The treaty of Nice does not achieve these objectives. It was, as the right hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West pointed out in an intervention, designed to deal with what were rather ungraciously described as the Amsterdam leftovers. However, the treaty of Nice provides a framework for enlargement and in my view it should be supported for that reason.

There is one point to which I hope we shall return in Committee. The enabling provisions in clauses 1(2) and 1(3) are, as I understand it, unprecedented. They raise the possibility of changes of law based on affirmative procedure. We will seek to inquire of the Government what is the justification for that apparent innovation in dealing in this House with matters connected with the European Union.

We should be swift to offer the benefits of European Union membership to those who wish to avail themselves of the opportunity to become members. We should ratify the treaty as soon as possible, which is why Liberal Democrat Members will support the Government in the Lobby this evening.

5.12 pm

Denzil Davies (Llanelli): The Bill seeks to amend the European Communities Act 1972 to incorporate into the laws of the United Kingdom various parts—most parts, it seems—of the treaty of Nice. The 1972 Act has been amended many times over the past 30 years, and some of

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the amendments to it, especially those made in the 1980s and 1990s, could be said to provide a map of the long march from the Common Market of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s to the centralised European state that is emerging.

It is fair to say that on the scale of integration, the treaty of Nice is not as high as, for example, the Single European Act, the Maastricht treaty or, indeed, the treaty of Amsterdam. Nevertheless, it is a further step in the integration process. That process can be effected and completed only by taking away powers from the Parliaments and peoples of member states and transferring them to the institutions of what I see as the emerging European state.

In the aftermath of the Irish referendum on the Nice treaty, Mr. Michael McDowell, the Attorney-General of Ireland, describes clearly—as one would expect from an Irish Attorney-General—that process of integration. He said in The Daily Telegraph that there is a widespread perception that developments in Europe were taking a turn, or moving in a direction, that caused deep unease. The article continued:

He said that few if any of those proposals carry popular significant support and continued:

That is the view of the Irish Attorney-General, whom I should have thought understood these matters very well.

The most integrationist aspect of the Nice treaty is that in about 31 of its articles, the unanimity rule in the Council of Ministers has been replaced by qualified majority voting. We have heard the Government line: "Who cares who becomes the registrar of the European Court? Why should those Poles be allowed to veto the appointment of a registrar?" Perhaps the appointment does not matter, but several articles from which the unanimity requirement has been taken away are quite important. For instance, there are the measures that allow the EC to give financial assistance—the payment of money—to states in "severe difficulties".

Negotiation, completion and conclusion of agreements relating to trade in services, which is very relevant to the GATT negotiations and the World Trade Organisation, are also now subject to qualified majority voting. Health and safety at work, working conditions, social exclusion, industrial policy, economic and social cohesion, certain environmental measures, and economic and financial co-operation with third countries are surely important matters, but we are losing the unanimity rule in respect of those as well.

Unanimity has also been removed from proposals to establish enhanced co-operation, as it is called. In the strange language of this Byzantine organisation, that is known as a "deepening" of the Community. Again, the veto has been taken away. Those matters are not trivial; they are of considerable importance, but a democratically elected British Government can now be outvoted on them.

The case for the veto lies not just with the importance or otherwise of the subject matter of the veto. In any international or supranational institution, the veto protects, and is the badge of, the democracy of the member state.

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That is why, in most supranational organisations, unanimity is usually the rule. The veto is under pressure not just because of enlargement but because the EU is moving away from what has been described as a supranational body, and is gradually moving towards an emerging state. As we have seen with other treaties, this is the beginning of the end of the supranational phase, and the beginning of the EU as a state in its own right. The veto is simply not compatible with such an arrangement.

Once the veto goes, a democratically elected British Government can be outvoted by a group of states whose Governments are not accountable to the British electorate; those Governments might not be of the political hue or persuasion for which the British electorate would vote. Let us consider France. It grieves me to say so but, from reading the newspapers every day, it is clear that financial corruption has been endemic at the highest levels of French Government for a very long time, regardless of which party is in power. That is a matter for the French electorate—they might like it or they might not care about it. However, I hope that the British electorate would not tolerate such financial corruption from a British Government. Yet a French Government, together with others, will be able to outvote a British Government, even though the other Governments are not responsible for, or in any way accountable to, the British electorate that put their Government into negotiations.

I am sure that the Italians are happy with the Berlusconi Government. However, I venture to suggest that a British electorate would not vote for the policies that Berlusconi stands for and that he has submitted to the Italian electorate. However, the Italian Government, together with other Governments, could outvote a British Government and impose polices on a British electorate that would never countenance supporting a Government such as Berlusconi's. What if—perish the thought—a neo-fascist Government were democratically elected in a European country? Recently, the Austrians had a wobble and perhaps such a Government could be formed again.

Apparently, we are not going to give up any more vetoes—we are going to fight to the death over the next lot. The next time, Ministers will be like the Spartans at the pass of Thermopylae. The corridors of power will be piled high with the corpses of British Ministers, as they fight for the remaining 31-odd vetoes.

Are we really saying that we are prepared to accept the votes of a democratically elected neo-fascist Government in Europe who will then, along with other countries, be able to impose their will on a British electorate, who would, I hope, never countenance the election of such a Government? The issue is not the exercise of the veto in votes on registrars, or even the importance of the veto in itself; the veto is the badge of, and the bulwark and protection for, the democracy of the nation state within a supranational or centralised European state.

To add insult to injury, I note that clause 3 will allow some vetoes to be given to the European Parliament. The Parliament does not call them "vetoes"; a veto is nasty, but a co-decision is wonderful. The Parliament is to be given the power of co-decision. A decision will be made by the Council of Ministers using majority voting and sent to the Parliament for a co-decision. If the Parliament says no, that is not a veto; it is the Parliament failing to exercise its power of co-decision. The Bill takes away our vetoes and gives some of them to the European Parliament. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister for

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Europe will accept a few amendments in Committee to restore those vetoes to this Parliament or, if we do not want to call them "vetoes", to give us the power of co-decision.

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