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Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): I am not entirely sure whether the hon. Gentleman, who is speaking on behalf of the Welsh and Scottish nationalist parties, would therefore argue in favour of independence for Wales. The parallel view would obviously be held by Scottish nationalists.

Mr. Thomas: It is important to put on the record that what the Scottish National party wants is independence in Europe. We have a core, central approach, as the hon. Gentleman would know if—as I hope—he listened to my opening remarks. Our approach is that the people of Wales and Scotland will decide their future. As the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) said in regard to federalism, the word is not important, and means different things to different people; what is important is what the people are working for.

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As for relationships, the Nice treaty is rearranging the deckchairs on the supertanker, if not yet the superstate. We are not changing the direction of the supertanker: we are still steaming ahead in Europe, but perhaps not taking enough cognisance of public disquiet and alienation among some European institutions and people within European countries.

There is, I think, some good news relating to institutional reforms for smaller and emerging nation states in Europe, such as Wales and Scotland. Let us consider parliamentary reform. Latvia and Slovenia will have eight and seven members respectively in the new, reformed Parliament, whereas Wales and Scotland expect to lose members. Anyone who believes strongly in the unionist tradition, whichever side of the House they may represent, should ask how new structures that are emerging in the new Europe could strengthen the UK's voice. If Wales and Scotland had their own voice in Europe, the United Kingdom level would indeed have a stronger voice in European processes.

A look at what is happening in the Council of Ministers and the changes relating to qualified majority voting is even more revealing. The United Kingdom is currently expected to have around 29 of the 345 votes that will exist on full accession—that is, the accession of 27 countries. I do not count Turkey, because I do not think it will be ready for some time: I certainly hope it will not. On a similar scale, Latvia and Slovenia will have four and seven votes respectively. England on its own could not fall below 27, which is what Spain has now. There is a UK block—consisting of Wales, Scotland and England—amounting to some 38 votes.

There is a question here for anyone who does not believe that Wales and Scotland should not be fully represented in Europe. What do they want for the United Kingdom? We are, in fact, weakening the United Kingdom by not allowing the full expression of the views of Wales and Scotland in Europe. Moreover—this may be a more important question in the context of today's debate—we are weakening the ability of communities and local people to relate more directly to European institutions.

No wonder The Economist considered that, when the agreement was eventually reached, it was as hard to understand as it had been to achieve. I do not think that we have changed the position significantly in regard to qualified majority voting. I considered the speech of the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Denzil Davies) to be misplaced, although it was scintillating intellectually. It failed to recognise current developments in Europe, and it failed to recognise that a new relationship between nation states must be built. We cannot have a veto in the case of issues that are of interest to all of us, such as the environment. We cannot hold out for ever, or we will never proceed to a stronger Europe.

I am glad that the Committee of the Regions is more recognised in the treaty, and welcome the emphatic requirement that its members must hold elected office in local and regional government. That constitutes acceptance of the political legitimacy of the committee, and its relevance to the citizens of Europe.

We welcome the common foreign and defence policy, particularly as it relates to the rapid reaction force. We should recognise Europe's failure to deal with what

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happened in the Balkans, and our need to appeal to America to sort out Europe's problems. I thought that the reason for our establishing a European Community in the first place was our wish to move away from all that. We really need a rapid reaction force to deal with such matters.

Some of what we are discussing today relates to what must happen after Nice: we must look at the post-Nice scenario. It is essential for us to reform the common agricultural policy, although the treaty does not refer to such reform. The World Trade Organisation must also be involved. There is no clear role for the charter of fundamental rights, which needs to be part of a treaty. We cannot allow the 2004 intergovernmental conference to take place as the Nice process did; we must involve other nations and regions in Europe, and we must involve the people. Nation states on their own will not be enough.

6.50 pm

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech in this important and fascinating debate. I should like to add my congratulations to the hon. Members for Guildford (Sue Doughty) and for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois), whose accomplished maiden speeches forced me rapidly to rewrite my rather poorer effort.

Although my constituency has been served extremely well by many accomplished individuals, I have the honour to be the first Member for Greenock and Inverclyde to come from Greenock and Inverclyde. I am also the first for almost 50 years not to possess a doctorate, although whether that is an advantage only time will tell.

My two immediate predecessors in a seat that has changed boundaries often have been Dr. Dickson Mabon and Dr. Norman Godman. Dr. Mabon is remembered for defecting from the Labour party to the Social Democratic party—an event that took place a week after he gave me a prize at school, although the two events may not be linked. I am pleased to report that he has since returned to the Labour party. The seat went back to Labour at the election following his defection, when Dr. Norman Godman was returned to Westminster.

Dr. Godman served in the House for 18 years. His great hard work and enduring commitment to the peace process in Northern Ireland earned him a great deal of respect and admiration among hon. Members of all parties and—perhaps uniquely—from all sides in Northern Ireland.

It is appropriate for me to thank the House itself for allowing me to take up my seat. As a former cleric, I was until recently barred for life from membership of the House. I say from the heart that I am extremely grateful that the House saw fit to amend the ancient statute and to allow people in my position to be chosen by the electorate to serve in the House.

I should also like to say a word of thanks to those who helped to bring about that change. I am most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien) for expertly steering through the House a Bill dealing with the most obscure statutes, from the time of the reformation and before. I owe thanks also to Professor Robert Blackburn of King's college, London, who is a leading expert on our constitutional law. He was a great source of knowledge and precedent as well as personal support.

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The Bill was passed with support from hon. Members of all parties, and I am grateful for the commitment of my party, locally and nationally. In particular, I am indebted to the unwavering support of the Labour party's outstanding general secretary, who will be sorely missed when she moves on to pastures new.

Above all, however, I want to offer my deepest thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh). Acting as my constituency Member of Parliament, she did more than anyone to highlight the absurdity of the previous law. With her characteristic persistence, she made sure that the case for reform was unanswerable. If I can serve my constituents half as well as she serves hers, I shall be doing all right.

At that point, I wanted to leave the subject of the House of Commons (Removal of Clergy Disqualification) Act 2001, but the presence of the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) compels me to mention two outstanding speeches that he made at the Dispatch Box in favour of reform. They were rendered all the more outstanding by the presence beside him of his boss, the shadow Home Secretary. She opposed reform, and sat well within handbagging distance of the hon. Gentleman, who is to be commended for his display of intellectual clarity and courage.

Greenock and Inverclyde is often described as an urban seat in a rural setting. That about sums it up. The constituency is composed of the towns of Greenock and Gourock, as well as the villages of Inverkip and Wemyss Bay. We are surrounded by some of Scotland's most glorious natural beauty. From atop the Lyle hill in Greenock, one can look down to Gourock's Cardwell bay and watch the ferries head off to Argyll. Across the Clyde, one can see the Gare loch, the Holy loch and Loch Long. Beyond the Roseneath peninsula lies Ben Lomond and the majestic Lomond range. To the west, there is the unmistakeable figure of the Sleeping Warrior of Argyll, and to the south lies the Burns country of Ayrshire.

Throughout our history the river Clyde has been the life blood of my constituency. We are a maritime people, either seafarers or shipbuilders, and our two most famous sons are connected in that way. One of them, the great inventor and scientist James Watt, captured the power of steam; the other, the pirate Captain Kidd, captured rather a lot of Spanish gold.

We built the finest ships ever to set sail, but—sadly—those days are long gone, thanks in part to the shortsighted and ignorant policies that failed to see that shipbuilding is a modern industry which, around the world, is growing, not shrinking. Be that as it may, it took us a long while to recover from the devastation of the closure of our shipyards. Our population went into a sort of freefall that is only now showing signs of levelling off.

However, recover we have, and these days Inverclyde proudly boasts the title of "export capital of Scotland", thanks in the main to our thriving electronics sector. We were recently honoured with a visit by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, to mark the 50th anniversary of the arrival of IBM at Greenock. Over the years, that company has been joined by National Semiconductor, FCI and many others.

The Greenock and Inverclyde constituency relies on exports, so Europe matters to us. We have done well out of our membership of the European Community. I therefore

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welcome this Bill, which paves the way for important new markets to open up for us, and the greater prosperity that they will bring.

Despite the best efforts of some, the issue of Europe did not figure prominently during the recent general election, which in some ways was a shame. In my constituency, it arose as an issue only once during our campaign. I was leafleting outside the Oak Mall shopping centre in Greenock when I was joined by my Conservative opponent. He was carrying a large pile of "Save the Pound" leaflets. He proceeded to brandish them above his head, calling out "Save the pound, save the pound." To my considerable consternation, he was quickly mobbed by people keen to get their hands on his leaflets. However, it transpired—to my relief—that the canny shoppers of Greenock and Inverclyde thought that they were being offered a "pound off" coupon, and were duly horrified once they realised the true nature of what they were being handed.

A maiden speech is no place for the minutiae of the treaty of Nice, but I hope that it is not too glib a point to make that, in all the entirely necessary and detailed examination of qualified majority voting and the precise composition of the European Parliament, we can hold on to the great vision of a Europe that is both prosperous and at peace. That vision crosses party lines—or it used to—and the goal has been striven for by great parliamentarians, such as Healey and Heath, Grimmond and Ewing.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) that, even with all its compromises, frustrations and Euro-fudge, the Nice treaty not only keeps alive the great European vision but extends it to all those nations who wish to share in our union. As such, it represents a wonderful opportunity to extend prosperity and enhance democracy and freedom. It is a great prize, and one that I wholeheartedly endorse.

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