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6.29 pm

Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): I congratulate the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) on his maiden speech. He may not be in the same moderate mould as his predecessor, but I am sure that he speaks for a substantial number of his constituents. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty). She said that she was somewhat surprised by her election. I understand that Conservative central office was just as surprised, and sent a note of congratulation to Nick St. Aubyn, whom we miss, as he was a highly popular Member. The hon. Members for Rayleigh and for Guildford have at least learned that their electorates will be far more interested in Rayleigh market and Guildford market than in the Common Market. If they continue to speak for their constituents in that way, they will do well.

The Nice conference was only seven months ago, but it now seems an age away. We have had a general election since then. We should ask ourselves what lessons we have learned from the election, which some people have claimed was a referendum on Europe. Some hon. Members have asked for a clear perception of where Europe is going and what Europe is for. I do not think that that is possible. In the 1950s, we could talk about the historic ending of the enmity between France and Germany, but now Europe is a far more muddled and complex. We are taking part in a great debate, and the conception of this and many northern European countries is somewhat different from that of other states.

I urge those who argue that the Nice treaty is a giant step forward to a federalist state to consider who exulted and who was miserable at the outcome of the summit. I can tell the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) that, shortly after the Nice treaty was agreed, I was attending the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee when Mr. Moscovici, the French European Minister, was mauled mercilessly by the federalists in the European Parliament. The hon. Gentleman would have noticed the tears of Mr. Prodi. Neither those in the European Parliament nor Mr. Prodi would share the picture of Nice that the hon. Gentleman and some of his colleagues painted. Few were satisfied. That is the nature of a package deal. None of the great treaties agreed in the past 15 years have been acclaimed—all have been rejected as failures in the days following agreement. The issues addressed—taxation, structural funds, justice and home affairs—are highly politically sensitive and wrangling is inevitable and hardly surprising.

We should consider carefully how decisions were reached in those all-night sessions. I think that we all agree with the Prime Minister's stricture that something

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must be done to avoid a repetition of those nights in Nice. Tired politicians make tired decisions. Some leaders did not know the details of what had been decided in the far reaches of the night.

The outcome is complex, and I am a little wary of the calls for referendums. In a poll conducted in March and April this year, 41 per cent. of European Union citizens said that they did not see, read or hear anything about the Nice summit last December. We must respect the Irish referendum result, but the 18 per cent. who rejected the treaty were an interesting rag bag. We must respect that decision, although the matter will no doubt be revisited. The decision was made in the context of the beef destruction scheme, and leaders of the European Community made some arrogant speeches. Sinn Fein grossly misrepresented the position by arguing that Nice equals NATO. The lesson that we must all learn is that Europe needs to reconnect with its citizenry.

The key part of the Nice treaty is the historic step towards enlargement. We may have wanted enlargement to come about in a different way, but Nice is the only treaty in town and it is the essential platform for enlargement. It was built on very successfully at Gothenburg in June during the Swedish presidency. We now have a set timetable for the first wave of enlargement in 2004. I was sceptical about artificial time scales because they reduce the pressure on countries such as Poland to reform their agricultural sector. The giant step on enlargement taken at Gothenburg was possible only as a result of what happened at Nice.

Was Nice essential? According to the Amsterdam treaty, only five new members could join the EU under the old structures. Who would choose those five members? It would have been impossible to decide whether to choose the Czech Republic as against Hungary, or Hungary as against Estonia.

The Foreign Affairs Committee met the former Foreign Secretary and his colleagues. We read the White Paper at the beginning of last year, and we saw the aims that the British Government had set themselves. No objective observer could deny that those aims were substantially achieved. We came out of the summit having achieved what we set out to achieve. Mr. Prodi has been quoted, and we have heard the Commission's view of who were the winners and who were the leaders. The Financial Times commented that Britain

That was achieved as a result of the constructive engagement that the Government have pursued with our European allies.

As we prepare for enlargement, we must ask ourselves whether we accept that this is an historic opportunity, or whether we should replay the debates that we had before the Nice treaty and the frenzied discussions we had before the election. In a recent speech in Hamburg, Lord Hurd referred to the exaggerations of that time, such as the idea that our European allies are enemies and that we have to win the game against them. I heard an echo of that in the speech by the hon. Member for Rayleigh. We have heard Conservative Members talk about strides being taken towards a wicked, federal superstate or an evil framework. That would isolate us and be bad for Britain. There would be serious repercussions if we were not to press forward.

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Looking ahead, there is a major debate on the future of Europe, with the new intergovernmental conference in 2004. The right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) made rather a good speech in Berlin, in which he set out his vision. It is not one that I share and, alas, it is not shared by any other serious party in the European Union. That should lend a certain humility to the Conservative Opposition as they approach this debate. They should realise that they are on their own in Europe.

We shall listen carefully to the debate on the implementation of the Nice treaty to discover whether the Opposition will play their proper role in providing a critical analysis of the treaty, or whether they will exaggerate and produce scare stories, as Lord Hurd suggested. If they pander to an anti-European theme, like latter-day Bourbons they will have forgotten nothing and learned nothing.

We all need a certain humility in our approach to the European question. I sometimes shudder when I hear our continental colleagues talking airily about European construction, but I reject the view that the referendum was merely about a minor European getting together. Written into the treaty was "ever closer".

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman has used up his time.

6.39 pm

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): I welcome the Minister for Europe, the hon. Member for Neath (Peter Hain), to his new position. I sincerely hope that he will last longer in this post than he did in his last—although I know that that was not his fault. I also pay tribute to the two maiden speeches that we have heard. Let me say in passing that both reminded me of the diversity that we have in this United Kingdom, as well as the diversity that we have in Europe. We were taken on a gallop around the two constituencies, and the place names that we heard were as foreign to my ears as Pontrhydfendigaid and Penybontrhydybeddau would doubtless be to theirs.

I am very pleased to be able to speak in support of the Bill, and also to speak for the first time on behalf of the Plaid Cymru-Scottish National party group in describing our joint approach to the Nice treaty. We naturally have a different perspective from that which has mainly been outlined today. Our initial premise is a fundamental belief that the people of Wales and Scotland must decide the future of those countries. Our view may lead some Members to suspect that we are Eurosceptics, but, although we want the future of Wales and Scotland to be decided by the people of those countries, we want to go into Europe with full national status within it.

We also think it important to issue a plea for the sovereignty of the people of Wales and Scotland when it comes to deciding their future, and a plea for subsidiarity, which has already been mentioned.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Thomas: I am afraid not. The hon. Gentleman has not been present for the whole debate.

In the context of the alienation that people sense between European institutions and themselves, it is important for us to try to make subsidiarity work, and try

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to make a relevant relationship work. We in Wales and Scotland feel that strengthening the powers of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, and strengthening the institutions in those countries—which have an indirect relationship with Europe—is a viable and realistic way of improving relations between people in the United Kingdom and European institutions. I agree with many earlier speakers that those relations have been weakened.

We do not believe that the Nice treaty is perfect, but we welcome its broad aims. We accept that it is necessary if enlargement is to go ahead, and we are very much in favour of that. The treaty also presents an opportunity for us to restate and reinvigorate our arguments about the reasons for Europe. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) made a perceptive speech, although I do not think that we have heard any answers yet: we seem to be stumbling around in the dark looking for them.

This is a time to re-emphasise that we are building peace and co-operation in Europe. If we want just one example of why we need to do that at European level, we should look to Kyoto. We should consider climate change, and the need for European countries to work together. It was put to the Deputy Prime Minister that we had not yet ratified Kyoto, even though we were complaining that President Bush would not do so. The reason is, of course, that we want to ratify it as a European Union, with all the power, resources and expertise that we have behind us and all our extra ability to speak as a large and important bloc—albeit a large polluting bloc—in the climate change negotiations.

What we also see in the Nice treaty is a retreat from any vision—I must admit that our party Plaid Cymru, the Party of Wales, once had such a vision—of the development of a different kind of Europe: a Europe of smaller regions, nation states, autonomous regions and so forth. The treaty has, in fact, re-emphasised the central role of the nation state. I do not agree with the criticisms of Conservative Members in that regard. We have heard a great deal about the fact that Britain's interests are observed in the treaty, and I have some sympathy with Ministers who say that they set out to secure a certain amount of the UK interest in it—and achieved that, according to their own lights.

What Nice has not done is review or change the structure. It has rearranged the present structure in order to accommodate more members, rather than creating a new structure that could have been viable for the future.

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