Previous SectionIndexHome Page

5.51 pm

Mr. Peter Mandelson (Hartlepool): I strongly agree with all the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary when he opened the debate, especially those on the negotiations about the Nice accession treaty. Britain has secured most of, if not all, its objectives, and it would be profoundly against the United Kingdom's national interests if enlargement proceeded without ratification of the treaty. Again, the lesson is that it is better to be in there, fighting convincingly and competently for our British national interests, and using alliances and influences, than to stand isolated on the sidelines, as the previous Government did for many years.

The choice for Britain is not between a Europe that we find unacceptable and the Conservative delusion of being in Europe but not run by Europe, whatever that means. It is between being out of Europe—Conservative policies would inevitably lead to that—and playing a proper role in shaping the reformed and changed Europe that we need and want. That is the central point of my remarks.

Nice is essential to bring about reform so as to pave the way for enlargement, but it only gets us to first base in the wider task of EU reform. Pro-Europeans should be the first to recognise and argue that today's Europe, with its institutions, working practices and policy priorities, is not perfectly designed for the challenges ahead. Enlargement will profoundly change the European Union.

The EU's overall direction needs to be clearer, and I sympathise with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart). Our objectives for Europe need to be much clearer. There should be a much sharper focus on the core tasks that form the EU's priorities. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, Europe can add value through those tasks. We should also focus on the way in which we secure a proper balance between the responsibilities of the EU and those of member states and national Governments, and between the EU's institutions and those that rightly remain the responsibility of member states.

The EU is facing up to those issues and to the sheer practicalities of the way in which a new EU with 25 and possibly more members will work in practice. It behoves all member states to be brutally realistic about the paralysis that threatens the EU if we do not get enlargement right. When unanimity is required, it will be much more difficult to reach a meaningful agreement with such a large number of members. Even when the EU makes decisions through QMV, it will be much harder for 25 than for 15 member states to reach a good decision. How do we avoid paralysis creeping into the operation?

It is the job of the 2004 intergovernmental conference to grasp the nettle of fundamental reform in the EU. It will be difficult for Britain to grapple with much of it. There will be no easy debates or issues to resolve when we tackle fundamental reform in the EU. However, it will not be so uncomfortable for our country or our Government that we should stand aside and leave others to lead the debate. What are some of the key pointers that we might identify in distilling a British approach?

4 Jul 2001 : Column 301

First, we should not get hung up on semantics and words such as federal or federalism. They mean different things to different people. Federalism means decentralisation to the Germans but centralisation to the British. The EU is a confederation of nation states; it is a hybrid, which is part intergovernmental and part supranational. Sovereignty is pooled but not lost. That will remain the permanent basis for the EU, and we should not therefore go up hill and down dale in pursuit of semantic argument.

Secondly, an EU constitution is already set out in its treaties. It needs greater clarity and it needs to be fastened down. We need to work hard to derive some basic rules from it. However, we should do that instead of starting to rewrite an EU constitution from scratch.

Thirdly, the Commission fulfils an essential role. It is the motor of the EU, for example, in policing the single market and competition policy. However, the Commission should not have carte blanche to exercise its competence as it chooses simply because it has such competence in specific matters. It should conform to EU priorities that have been set out by the European Council. It should respect subsidiarity in our arrangements.

Fourthly, the European Parliament plays an important legislative and scrutiny role, and I want it to be effective. However, it lacks the legitimacy to set the strategy for Europe. It has been suggested that the European Parliament should be given the power to elect the President of the Commission. I believe that that would confuse the Commission's primary accountability, which is to the Council, not the Parliament.

Fifthly, the Council needs radical reform to be effective. It needs a fewer number of councils. It should have four or five instead of the current 17. It needs a co-ordinating group of senior Ministers to meet regularly to prepare and follow up Council meetings. The rotating six-month presidency should be replaced, and the way should be opened for the European Council to decide when it is willing to accept more QMV for specific decisions.

Sixthly, like others who have spoken, I support enhanced co-operation in an enlarged Europe. However, there should be no permanent inner group or presiding core, for which the French Government are canvassing. It would exclude Britain while we are not members of the eurozone.

Seventhly, in a larger Europe, there is already growing concern about the reach and accountability of the EU in terms of people's everyday lives and its relationship with the general public. We need to reassure Europe's citizens that their rights are respected and that democratic values are being entrenched. Perhaps we need, therefore, to reconsider the status of the charter of rights, as revised so as not to conflict with the European Court of Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998.

There is no doubt about the challenging and extensive agenda that the points that I have raised—and many others—represent in the coming months and year: an agenda which we must all address. There is much to confront. There is an enormous amount on which to find agreement among some disparate member states.

The future-of-Europe debate is vital. I sympathise with the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin).

4 Jul 2001 : Column 302

Irrespective of any issue to do with the single currency, the debate on the future of Europe should pre-empt or go alongside any separate consideration of Britain's membership of the single currency.

I suggest that the public will be much more likely to engage in any future debate about the single currency if they see that we are facing and fully debating the wider questions that are of great concern to them with the maximum transparency and frankness in the coming months and years. I hope and trust that that is what the Government will be doing.

6.1 pm

Sue Doughty (Guildford): I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my maiden speech today. I am conscious of the great honour that my constituents conferred on me in voting for me to be their Member. Some Members may have been slightly surprised at the result at Guildford, but it is important to remember that the people of Guildford are a thoughtful bunch with a wide range of backgrounds and experiences.

When I decided to apply for selection by a constituency, Guildford was definitely my first preference. We who come from Yorkshire are hard to please. Nowhere else seems as beautiful as Yorkshire. However, in the Guildford constituency, there are lovely Surrey hills, beautiful villages such as Shalford, which is my home, Bramley, and Cranleigh, where there is a lovely food market. There are many nice shops, and little pubs and coffee shops to visit after the shopping has been done. It is a wonderful area in which to live.

We are about to have our own brand of locally produced food, bearing the name Surrey Hills. Look out for it when it comes. Like other farming communities, we have had to delay things this year. We will welcome support when we finally go to market.

There are other good things about Surrey and Guildford. As a Yorkshire woman, I think that I finally have a dispensation from the home camp to support Surrey cricket, and very welcome it is too. It is a fabulous cricket team to support. The Benson and Hedges cup is coming up, and Surrey won the county championship last year. The club is the mainstay of the British team, especially on its winning days. Surrey is a wonderful place.

Surrey cricket club does not represent our only champions. We have an ice hockey team too. I can tell right hon. and hon. Members who have not been to an ice hockey match that it is a lovely family sport which many Guildford families attend. The Guildford team won the British national league championship and the play-offs last year.

Guildford is more than a pretty town and a shopping centre. It is a thriving cultural, academic and social hub. It is dominated by its cathedral. The arts play a strong role in the community, and all right hon. and hon. Members will have heard of the Yvonne Arnaud theatre, which is much in need of support. It is a centre for commercial theatre in the south-east. For those who are still learning their skills in the performing arts, we have the school of acting and the academy of contemporary music.

Guildford has been home to famous mathematicians. We all know of Charles Dodgson, or Lewis Carroll. It was also home to Alan Turing, one of the most important mathematicians of the 20th century. He was born and brought up in Guildford.

4 Jul 2001 : Column 303

The university leads the way in technological advances. There is strong expertise in space technology, human biology and medical sciences. We lead the field in many areas. We have one of the most successful business parks in Europe. Situated between two airports, Guildford is ideally placed for those going backwards and forwards to Europe. Many people are based in Guildford to do just that.

We have a law college that has trained many people to become lawyers. Guildford college has received awards for the quality of its further education and for its vision for teenagers and old people with all skills and all backgrounds.

More important than the lovely surroundings are the people. We are a diverse community. Guildford is not just full of stockbrokers, which is its image. Many residents are on high incomes, but many others can scarcely afford to live in the area, and they are as an important part of the community as anyone else.

Guildford was last represented by a Liberal Member in 1906. It has taken us a long time to recover the seat, and we shall not give it up easily. I know that my predecessor, Nick St. Aubyn, is sad to have lost the seat after only one term, and understandably so. Times change, and so do loyalties. However, Nick worked assiduously in the representation of Guildford, and I share many of the concerns that he had, for which he fought on behalf of the constituency. In some respects we differed as to approach, but we were equally committed on issues such as education and the environment.

Nick cared deeply about human rights and was passionate about his desire for peace in the middle east and the problems faced by refugees. I wish him well for the future, whatever it holds.

In particular, Mr. St. Aubyn strongly supported his constituents in their opposition to the proposals for a large incinerator that would be the same size as Guildford cathedral, which stands on a hill and dominates the town. The incinerator, too, would dominate the town. It is a source of great worry and concern to the entire constituency. Nick put in much work on behalf of his constituents and I shall certainly be taking up the fight. My constituents expect no less.

We need more sustainable approaches to environmental matters, and especially waste management. In Cologne, it is illegal to put empty bottles in dustbins. They have to be sorted and taken to the bottle bank. Perhaps we can learn much more from best practice elsewhere in Europe, which our membership of the EU allows us to do. Austria already recycles more than 60 per cent. of its household waste. Germany manages 48 per cent. and France only 12 per cent., but in Britain we manage to recycle only 9 per cent. of our household waste. We have a long way to go, and much to learn from Europe, before we can compete.

On the doorsteps, I took various questions about Europe. Interestingly, no one disagreed about environmental issues and the fact that we should be looking to Europe to co-ordinate environmental approaches. We will be anticipating and welcoming the electrical and electronic waste directive, which would reduce the number of large items that go into our rubbish. The biodegradable waste directive would promote home and community composting. The packaging directive would require manufacturers to collect and recycle a

4 Jul 2001 : Column 304

significant proportion of their packaging. If we could work together in Europe to anticipate these directives rather than wait for enforcement, we would not need a large incinerator in Guildford. We must work with Europe much more closely on these matters, and we need much more Government encouragement for councils, so we can start to become much more sustainable in our approach to waste management.

Guildford is one of the most important commercial centres in the south of England, and has one of the most successful shopping centres. It also has one of the most vibrant economies. However, my constituents are worried about the threats to their health that an incinerator would bring, particularly to local schools and employees. They have strong concerns about that. We must bear in mind the fact that, wherever one looks in Guildford, one sees the surrounding hills, and wherever one would look in future, such a building would have an unacceptable impact.

We need to move forward in Guildford. It contributes enormously to business in Europe, and Europe contributes enormously to business in Guildford. I look forward, as its MP, to working in a much stronger area and, I hope, to bringing forward some of the European directives that will really help us. I started my political campaign in Newbury, opposing the mountains of rubbish there. The people of Newbury eventually saw the light and elected a Liberal Democrat council and a Liberal Democrat MP. I hope that Guildford will adopt a similar position and continue to return its Liberal Democrat MP.

Next Section

IndexHome Page