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Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet): My right hon. Friend asks whether we will be giving power to democratically elected Governments with whom we do not agree. My quick calculation shows that to get an agreement on qualified majority voting, we would need about 120 votes, and as even the largest country would have only 29 votes, self-evidently we are not giving power to any one nation.

Denzil Davies: Not at the moment, but Governments change. I was making a point of principle: we are giving away power because at the moment we can stop things, but in future we will be unable to do so. The British electorate will be unable to have any influence on that process. I was making a democratic point, and if my hon. Friend cannot understand it, we really are in some difficulty over the European Union.

The Bill will lead to further diminution of the powers of this House and of the democracy of the British people. I do not believe that the majority of my constituents, or of the British people, want further integration. The Danes did not want that, and nor did the Irish—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman's time is up.

5.22 pm

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe): It is always a particular pleasure for me to follow the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Denzil Davies), who represents my home town, in which I spent the first 18 years of my life and where I went to school. That pleasure is greatly enhanced by the fact that I entirely agree with so much of his speech, and I congratulate him on it.

The treaty that the Bill will enable the Government to ratify is extremely wide ranging and far reaching. In addressing its provisions, it is difficult to know where to start and where to end. It is a treaty without a theme. Ostensibly, it is all about the enlargement of the European Union, and we are all in favour of that, but the most cursory glance at its provisions makes it clear that most of them have little, if anything, to do with enlargement.

Moreover, the important changes that enlargement would involve, such as reform of the common agricultural policy, are completely ignored in the treaty, as was pointed out by my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary. The treaty of Nice is, as treaties go, a great pretender. It purports to lay the ground for enlargement, but fails to do so; it contains many provisions that have nothing to do with enlargement and that we should not embrace.

The declarations that accompany the treaty cover many vital issues, some of which I have addressed before in the House. I shall not touch on them this evening because they are not part of the body of the treaty. There is more than enough in the body of the treaty to occupy the attention of the House, and it is on some of those provisions that I wish to concentrate. Some of them are welcome. They may be unnecessary for enlargement, and

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do not therefore have to be included in the treaty, but I have no particular difficulty with the provisions relating to the number of Commissioners or the weighting of voting.

I am also an enthusiast for what has come to be called variable geometry and what, in the Euro-jargon to which the right hon. Member for Llanelli referred, is known as enhanced co-operation. It is through variable geometry and enhanced co-operation that the EU can develop a new, essential dimension of flexibility. If those countries that wish to integrate more closely are permitted to do so without it being a requirement that every other member state should join in, we have the beginnings of an imaginative and innovative structure that may well prove to be the model for other parts of the world to follow. It would enable the United Kingdom to say to our partners, "We have no desire to stop you doing what you want to do, so long as you do not make us do what we don't want to do." It would mean that the UK could stop saying "no".

Nevertheless, some aspects of the provisions relating to enhanced co-operation in the treaty of Nice cause concern. The original provisions in the treaty of Amsterdam include what became known as the emergency brake—a kind of veto, as the right hon. Gentleman said—which enables member states to refer contentious proposals for enhanced co-operation to the European Council, where they have to be approved unanimously. That provision is deleted by the treaty of Nice, which is a mistake. Particularly in its early stages, it is important that enhanced co-operation has the blessing of all member states. The treaty of Amsterdam appeared to secure that; the treaty of Nice does not.

The provisions on which I wish to spend most of the short time available this afternoon relate to the extension of qualified majority voting. Two reasons are usually given in support of the proposals. Unfortunately, as is often the case, they are contradictory and mutually inconsistent. First, we are told that an extension of QMV is essential if the EU is to be enlarged. How can important decisions continue to be taken on the basis of unanimity, we are asked, if the union is to include so many new member states? Unanimity, it is said, would lead to paralysis, so an extension of QMV is essential.

The second justification is that, if one examines the areas to which QMV will apply, one finds that they are all technical, narrow and inconsequential. No essential national interest is involved, the areas concerned are of little importance and it is sensible for them to be treated in that way. However, many decisions that need to be taken by an enlarged EU will be important and will involve member states essential interests. If QMV is an essential means of preventing paralysis and enabling the decision-making machinery of the union to work when it is enlarged, why restrict it to technical areas? The flexibility which, indeed, will be essential when the union is enlarged, can be provided much more effectively by enhanced co-operation than by QMV. That is the best way forward; I hope that the EU will follow that path.

Let us examine in a little more detail the proposals for QMV and, in particular, the extent to which they are technical and unimportant. In doing so, let us give at least a passing glance to what has happened in the past. There have been many occasions when QMV has been extended, often under a Conservative Government, to areas where, we thought, it would not give rise to any problems. I shall

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give one specific example. I was a member of the Government, though not of the Cabinet, who extended QMV to decision making on issues relating to health and safety. I am not for one moment suggesting that I would have opposed that extension had I been in the Cabinet at the time; it seemed a sensible thing to do. Were we not, after all, enthusiastically in favour of proper health and safety provision? And were our provisions not among the best in Europe? Might it not have been the case that some of our partners with less stringent requirements were stealing a competitive march on us by avoiding their proper obligations? From every point of view, was not that measure clearly in our national interest?

I would have answered those questions in the affirmative. As we know, they were answered in the affirmative by the Cabinet and, in particular, by the Minister with responsibility for those matters, who was none other than my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke). I emphasise that I do not criticise him for agreeing to that step, which I supported at the time; I am sure that I would have done the same thing myself. But what happened? Far from restricting the scope of the relevant provision to legitimate questions of health and safety, we discovered, not long afterwards, that the provisions were being used to force through the working time directive, which has only the most tenuous connections with health and safety. Those of us who were concerned with these issues in the previous Conservative Government were outraged; outraged and impotent.

Indeed, I recall a discussion in which my right hon. and learned Friend, just as resolute in his opposition to the working time directive as the rest of us, said that had he known that the health and safety provisions were to be used to impose, by a qualified majority, the working time directive, he would not have supported the extension of QMV. So, in examining what may appear to be technical or innocuous measures in respect of which QMV is to be applied, it is as well to bear in mind the mischief that they may contain.

Mr. Hendrick: Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howard: I shall not give way; I am afraid that I have no time to do so.

I shall mention just one such example of the extension of QMV by the treaty of Nice. Article 100, on which the right hon. Member for Llanelli touched, provides that appropriate measures, including financial assistance, may be agreed to aid member states in severe difficulty. What might that mean? Let us explore hypothetically what it might mean.

We all know that pensions will be a considerable problem for many countries in future. We all know that, in the United Kingdom, we have made better provision for our pension liabilities and obligations than others. What if in future article 100 were used to provide for financial assistance to countries that get themselves into severe difficulties because they cannot meet their pension obligations? There is nothing in article 100 to rule that out.

If I am wrong in my analysis, I hope that the Minister who winds up the debate will point that out. If there is a flaw, I would like it to be identified. If I am right,

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however, can there be any doubt that it would be seriously and fundamentally contrary to the interests of this country that article 100 of the treaty of Nice should be permitted to go through?

My opposition to article 100 and other similar articles owes nothing to dogma, doctrine or any anti- Europeanism. It is based on the only principle that we should apply to every measure that comes before this House: is it in the interests of this country and the people whom we are here to represent? Any objective application of that principle to this treaty and this Bill would lead to but one conclusion. That is why I hope that the Second Reading of the Bill will be rejected.

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