|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Bercow: The Minister should know that the run-up to every treaty represents a renegotiation. But let the Minister now answer the question that was ducked by the Foreign Secretary. Following the passage of the protocol on subsidiarity and proportionality in the Amsterdam treaty, can the Minister identify one directive or regulation that was repealed in consequence?
Peter Hain: My right hon. Friend answered that question very directly. The difference between this Government negotiating a new treaty or an amendment to an existing one is that we go in to try to obtain the best deal for Britain, not with an excuse to try to pull out, which is what the Conservative position amounts to.
When I considered the absence from the debate and from the Chamber for most of the past few days of those rather embittered serried ranks of Conservative Eurosceptics, I wondered what they had been up to. What they had been up to was canvassing for the different candidates for the coming leadership of the Tory party.
I have a revealing quote from the distinguished political commentator, Peter Oborne. He referred to his conversations with Conservative Members when they come back from consulting their constituents on the leadership election. He said:
The hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), another Conservative leadership candidate, interestingly said that, during the debate on the euro, and indeed during any possible referendum campaign, he would "temporarily stand down" all those pro-Euro Tories in leading positions.
There we have it. Iain would put Ken in the sin bin, David would not be obsessed with him being there, Spanish Michael would be friendly, and noble Michael had much to learn from himand Ken actually wants to lead that lot. Instead of 14 pints a day, he would need 20 pints a day to keep sane.
The hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green made an extraordinary statement yesterday, and it was backed by the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), who spoke with his usual force tonight. I recognise his principled commitment on the European question. We have often debated it together and sometimes we have been on the same side of the argument in the past, but on different sides of the Chamber.
The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green want a referendum now, but even the most fervently pro-euro person knows that it is not in Britain's interests to rush into the euro now.
Mr. Cash: I have discussed European matters with the Minister many times, including in Papua New Guinea, where we agreed on a considerable number of issues. There is one thing on which I think all the Conservative leadership candidates, with perhaps one exception, would agree. As Disraeli said, the Tory party is a national party or it is nothing. That is not to say that it is nationalistic, but it is patriotic, unlike the Government.
The Conservative position on the Nice treaty, as annunciated by both Front-Bench speakers, is essentially politically dishonest. They say they want enlargement, but they deny us the vehicle for achieving it and making it possible. If they got their way on Nice, Britain would lose the increased share of votes in European decision making that we secureda point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick). We would also block the much-needed European modernisation that is necessary to speed up decisions and to increase efficiency, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) pointed out. Furthermore, we would lose the enormous opportunities for increased prosperity and jobs that will be provided when 200 million extra people join the single trading market, free of border tariffs and controls.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant) said in an excellent contribution, the British share of trade has increased and British companies have done more business as every new country has joined the European Union. That will continue to happen through enlargement. If the Tories got their way on blocking the Nice treaty, we would insult our friends and allies, including the Cypriots, Maltese, Czechs, Lithuanians, Poles and others, many of whom my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have been meeting in recent weeks and days. They desperately hope to join and want us to sign up to Neath[Hon. Members: "Neath?"] I would like us to sign up to Neath as well.
If the Tories got their way, they would deny Britain the increased stability and security that will be created when more countries are absorbed under the banner of European democracy and peacea point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Ms Munn). They made the last election a referendum on Europe, to use their leader's words, and they lost it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Roger Casale) said, they are stuck in the past. Labour is part of the future, driving forward economic and political reform in Europe to make
Mr. Menzies Campbell: As the Minister knows, the Opposition amendment seeks a referendum on the Nice treaty. Has he been able to identify an essential constitutional component in the treaty that would justify a referendum, but which was absent from the Maastricht treaty? The previous Conservative Government did not think that that treaty required a referendum of the people of the United Kingdom.
Peter Hain: I was coming to that point, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman made very well in his speech. For all the treaty's importance in respect of enlargement, it is far less important and momentousto use his wordsthan the Maastricht treaty. The Conservatives denied people the opportunity for a referendum on the Maastricht treaty, yet they want one on a treaty that is far less complicated and momentous. They employ double standards, but we have got used to that. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson), whom I greatly respect, joined the Conservatives in requesting a referendum on Nice.
It is important to take heed of the point made by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife and my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda that if we delay ratification, we delay the whole programme of enlargement. In that case, the goals of 2004 could not be achieved and many countries would be denied the opportunities and security which they crave and which we are trying to provide.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Denzil Davies), who always makes eloquent and expert speeches on Europe, made several points about qualified majority voting. It is important to answer them in detail. We shall agree to QMV when it is in Britain's interests; when it is not, we shall not agree to it. It is as simple as that. The Opposition agreed to move from unanimity to QMV, and they gave away the veto, as they call it, in the Single European Act 1985, to which Margaret Thatcher signed up, and in the Maastricht treaty, which John Major signed, on some fundamental articles. They include all general single market legislation and almost all the environment provisions. Good. I supported that. It has clearly been in Britain's interest to facilitate cleaning up the environment and implementing the single market.
We do not therefore oppose QMV in principle. Now that we have established that, Conservative Members should explain why they oppose QMV on such measures in the Nice treaty as appointments of common foreign and security policy special representatives. Unanimity could clearly delay important work, such as that done by envoys, or allow one member state to hold out against the best candidate for the job. Why do the Conservatives oppose QMV for the salary and pension of the registrar of the Court of First Instance? What is so earth-shattering for our national interest that a British veto is required for that?
Why do Conservative Members oppose QMV for the rules of procedure of the European Court of Justice? In that case, QMV would facilitate introducing changes to improve efficiency so that justice will no longer be delayed or denied to British companies that seek redress. Those questions are important and Conservative Members need to answer them.
At Nice, we agreed to extend QMV when it would have genuine benefits for Britain's interests and increase the efficiency of European Union institutions. We said that we would not agree to QMV on tax, social security and the European Union's budget. As before, we would insist on Britain's agreement before any EU action was taken on those issues. Qualified majority voting has delivered for Britain. When more QMV would deliver for Britain, we backed it at Nice; when it would not deliver, we opposed it.