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8.44 pm

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): Many thanks, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me. I am particularly grateful as I lost my maidenhood only some 10 days ago. I apologise in case I miss anyone out, but it has been wonderful to hear excellent maiden speeches from Members representing Boston and Skegness, Guildford, Rayleigh, Greenock and Inverclyde, Argyll and Bute and Fareham. That sounds like the shipping forecast.

I am particularly delighted to have heard the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns), who has been a personal friend for many years. I hope that further legislation will make it possible for all anti-Catholic parts of the constitution that still remain to be removed. I also welcome the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), as I have been told by my Whip that he and I will be in adjacent offices from next Monday.

I should tell my hon. Friend that I stole a Tory fan earlier today. There are not many Tory fans these days, but I know that it is a Tory fan because it was in the room that says "Tories" on the door. There were no Tories inside, however, and the fan will be in the office on Monday. I note that we are to share the rooms that were occupied until recently by the former Member for Billericay, Mrs. Teresa Gorman. I doubt whether we can fill the space that she occupied.

Mr. Menzies Campbell: Have you had the tuck?

Mr. Bryant: I have not had the tuck and I am not fibbing about my age either.

I am delighted to speak in the debate on the treaty of Nice for the simple reason that it relates to substantial issues that are significant to my constituents in the

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Rhondda. The first is enlargement, which matters, and we sometimes have to remind ourselves why: every time the European Union has gained new members, Britain has gained trade. Look at what happened after Spain and Portugal joined—Britain significantly increased its trade with those countries. When Greece joined, again we significantly increased our trade.

I know that such an increase will be good for businesses in the Rhondda, whether they be newer industries or more traditional firms such as Burberrys, and I am pleased that we are extending the market in which the businesses of the Rhondda can trade. I am also pleased because enlargement will provide us with the opportunity to achieve greater political stability not just in the countries that we hope will join the EU, but across the world. We have a chance to establish long-term peace.

Enlargement will also give many of our constituents the opportunity to share and extend benefits that we have known in our own country when they go abroad for trade or leisure purposes. For example, following Spain's accession to the EU, water quality off beaches around Spain improved significantly. That is of great importance to many of my constituents. For my own part, I suffered from meningitis in Spain several years ago and, unfortunately, had to go to hospital. However, thanks to Spain having acceded to the treaty, I received prompt help from the Spanish health services.

It is good that we are discussing enlargement, but it is also good that we are talking about reform, and the Government are absolutely right to say that the treaty of Nice must involve the two coming together. Again, there are proposals that are of great value to our constituents, above all those on the battle against crime. The treaty gives us a chance to make a better fist of it by providing more opportunities to work together with other member states.

I am pleased that there will be a new system for appointing the President of the Commission, which is far better than either the previous version or the version before that. However, I am slightly nervous about the role that will be played by the European Parliament. It is important that the directly elected Members of the European Parliament have the chance to quiz everybody who is appointed to the Commission.

I am glad that the reforms in the treaty of Nice make it clear that it will be easier for the United Kingdom to get its way. We shall gain not only an increased share of the vote in the Council for the first time ever, but the ability to combine with others to create blocking minorities. We may get together with France and Germany or other members to achieve that and it represents a significant move forward, even for those who say that they are patriots who argue only for the benefit of the United Kingdom.

I am anxious about a few issues that will have to be considered in the future. My first concern is about the workings of the Commission after more members have joined but before we get to EU 27. EU 27 is fine and clear: it is all arranged. We know how many members of the Commission there will be. There may be a lengthy period, however, when there are 25 or 26 members of the EU, and a Commission of 26, 25 or even 24 members will be completely unworkable, and will lead to more problems than we have already.

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My second concern is about the retention of the veto in areas of trade. It has been removed from intellectual property, which is right, but it still applies to audio-visual services and cultural services. This issue was pushed by the French, and we need to be careful about how they use the veto in the future, because we should not harm our audio-visual trade opportunities around the world.

I am also concerned about the culture of the Commission. Too many people working in the Commission believe that their role is to meddle in the affairs of others. I am prepared to accept that the European Union will be better if countries work together more, but the Commission should think very hard before it intervenes. In the past, the Commission's Competition Directorate has tried to define the parameters of public service broadcasting, which is the subject about which I know the most. I firmly believe that it is for the member states to decide what is public service broadcasting, and no one else. It may be acceptable in Spain to have bullfighting on Spanish television on a Sunday afternoon paid for out of state funds, but that would not be acceptable in this country, and that is right and proper.

My final concern is about the rotating presidency. It is crazy that offices in both Strasbourg and Brussels are used at an inordinate cost to the European Union. It would be good to look into that in the future, and we should also consider that mechanism to find an efficient way of doing business.

There is a vacuum at the centre of the two Conservative amendments. The Conservatives' argument has always been that we must not surrender sovereignty to anyone else. The two amendments make the point that the Irish have already said that they do not want to go forward, so we cannot go forward. I am sorry, but to my mind that means that we should surrender our sovereignty to Dublin, never mind Brussels or Strasbourg—the Irish have decided, so that is the end of the story. I do not agree. I do not believe that the Irish should decide for us.

The right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) said that if the treaty is not ratified by the United Kingdom, it will not slow up enlargement. By golly, it would. If the United Kingdom did not ratify the treaty, the European Union would be in terrible difficulty and the enlargement process would be delayed by many years. That would be terrible for the United Kingdom, and especially for my constituents in the Rhondda.

8.54 pm

Roger Casale (Wimbledon): I am delighted to contribute briefly to the debate, although I am sorry that I am unable to be in my constituency of Wimbledon with the hundreds of thousands of British tennis fans who are celebrating the outstanding victory of Mr. Tim Henman. We all send our congratulations to him, and wish him well in the semi-final. However, my absence from Wimbledon is more than made up for by my being here as the Labour Member of Parliament for Wimbledon working with the Government and winning so convincingly the argument on Europe—so convincingly in fact that many Conservative Members are no longer present.

In the last Parliament I was a member of the Select Committee on European Scrutiny, whose 17th report, published during the 1999-2000 Session, is one of the relevant documents listed on the Order Paper. During that Session, the Committee conducted, on behalf of the

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House, an extensive investigation of the intergovernmental conference that led to the Nice treaty, and of the way in which the British Government had conducted themselves during the negotiations. Our conclusions appear in the report.

I want to challenge—I think the report will back up my challenge—the view expressed by many Opposition Members, notably the shadow Foreign Secretary, that the institutional reforms decided at Nice were not a necessary precursor of EU enlargement. Those who study the report—I urge Members to do so, although it seems that the shadow Foreign Secretary has not—will note our recommendation that the scope of the IGC that led to the treaty should be restricted to the practical reforms that we considered necessary to pave the way for enlargement. We did so exactly because we saw those changes as a precondition of enlargement, and we wanted enlargement to take place. We argued, successfully, that the Government should resist pressure from the European Commission and the European Parliament to widen the IGC's scope, in order not to jeopardise the chance of achieving the real, practical reforms that would allow enlargement.

The shadow Foreign Secretary suggested that the EU was pursuing some starry-eyed federalist agenda through the IGC, but if he reads our report he will see that the Government's focus was firmly on the ground beneath our feet, and on the practical steps that were necessary for the widening of EU membership.

Let us remember what constituted those limited but significant changes to the mechanics of the EU decision-making processes. There were changes to the size of the Commission: it was right for us to drop one of our two Commissioners if other countries that would join the EU in future were not to have a Commissioner at all. There were also changes to the weighting of votes. Now that those changes have been accepted, the three largest states, if opposed, can constitute a blocking majority. A further safeguard—an important democratic safeguard—was established, in the form of a supplementary condition that the member states constituting a majority should represent 62 per cent. of the population of the EU.

Those changes may be technical, and they may not be easily understood by those who are not aficionados of the EU and its evolving institutional architecture; but, notwithstanding what we have heard from those on the Opposition Front Bench, they were essential if we were to prepare for a potential membership of 27 rather than the present 15 EU states.

Behind the rather bald statement of the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude), which flies in the face of the facts—behind the stubborn refusal to acknowledge the reality of what was achieved and decided at Nice—lies a vision of Europe, and Britain's relationship with Europe, that would take the country back half a century or more. I must tell Opposition Members who will oppose ratification tonight that European integration has always been about much more than the creation of a free-trade area or a common market for goods and services, and it is about much more than that today.

The Union of which we are a member has never been devoid of political content; nor does the European marketplace lack a social foundation. Not a single existing

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member of the European Union would want that to be the case, and certainly no applicant would wish to join the kind of Union that the right hon. Member for Horsham and his hon. Friends wish to create. Nor do I believe that any European member state or applicant state would believe that the EU described by Opposition Members could deliver the sort of practical improvements on which continued public confidence in the EU depends. However, the Conservative party has moved so far to the right on Europe that it has put itself well outside the mainstream of European Christian democracy. It would be difficult to name another party, let alone another Government, in the EU that would agree with the vision of Europe, and of its future, that the Conservative party is trying to put forward.

We know that the vision put forward by the Tories was flatly rejected by the British people on 7 June. We also know that it has not gone down well with public opinion in other member states. When I researched this speech in the Library this afternoon, it was interesting to read the press comments that appeared in Germany, France and Italy at the time of the election about the Conservative party and the virulent form of Euro-scepticism that it was putting forward. One piece, by Stepfan Berger of Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, caught my eye. Published on 6 June, it stated:

The Conservative party must understand that its ideas about Europe and about Britain's relationship with Europe have been rejected not just by the British people. Labour Members and others must take on those ideas and propose a more confident and positive vision of Europe; otherwise, we risk appearing ridiculous in the eyes of European public opinion and of those European partner nations that we want to influence and with which we want to co-operate.

However, the Tory election manifesto boasted:

as if a Conservative Government were going to twist the arms of 14 other European nations and take them in a direction that none of them wanted to go.

How were the Tories going to do that? They would do it be refusing to ratify the treaty of Nice. The manifesto stated:

a veto that Britain had already lost as a result of the Maastricht treaty and other treaties to which the previous Conservative Government had signed up.

The right hon. Member for Horsham is not in his seat. However, although it is all very well for him to say that globalisation requires co-operation but not integration, it is not acceptable then to argue that Britain should fail to co-operate when the means for such co-operation exist. The right hon. Gentleman said that he wanted an EU that is stable, prosperous, outward-looking and democratic. He should therefore support the ratification of the treaty of Nice.

The right hon. Member for Horsham said that the French referendum on Maastricht nearly plunged Europe into chaos, but he wants to plunge the EU into chaos by

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refusing to ratify the treaty of Nice tonight. He should remember that the near-failure of the French to ratify the treaty of Maastricht also catapulted Britain out of the European monetary system.

The Tory party must learn the lessons of the election on Europe. It is fantasy to believe that we can reverse 50 years of European development. It is not credible to claim that we can influence the future of Europe by carping from the sidelines. Before they vote to oppose ratification of the treaty of Nice tonight, Tory Members must take a moment to reflect on the fact that the Nice treaty is a limited treaty that makes the practical reforms necessary for enlargement. To oppose the treaty of Nice would give the impression that the Opposition want little more than to see the EU paralysed by lack of reform, or to block this historic opportunity to unite the two halves of Europe—

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