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Mr. Bercow: Arguing by advocacy rather than by evidence, the hon. Gentleman contends that the single market is a tribute to qualified majority voting. If that is his positionit is a perfectly honourable onecan he tell the House how and why the free trade agreement that Switzerland has with the European Union is inferior to participation within the formal confines of the single market?
Mr. David: The free trade agreement with Switzerland is a positive measure, but it is only the beginning of what, we hope, will become a more complete arrangement. I hope that, as many people have advocated, the Swiss will reconsider their position and develop an ever-closer association with the EU in future. The current arrangements are a step in the right direction, but there is further to go.
Mr. Hendrick: Does my hon. Friend agree that the position of Switzerland and Norway will become untenable as the EU expands further, as they will have the benefits of the EU but none of the costs, and that those benefits, if they wish to retain them, will have to be looked at carefully?
Mr. David: I agree with my hon. Friend that the position is not ideal, but not that it is untenable. It is satisfactory at present and points us in the right direction. The position of Switzerland and Norway indicates that a deeper association is mutually desirable.
Further to my points about the single European market, it has been accepted that there were difficulties in securing the legislation that we wanted in our national interests when unanimity was required. Given that there were difficulties with an EU membership of 15, we can imagine how much more difficult it would be with a membership of 27. It would be enormously difficult to try to achieve unanimity. The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) told us that when he was a Minister he used to fly around Europe making deals and arrangements. Even he would find it difficult to fly around 26 member states trying to secure agreement on different items of policy.
Mr. Redwood: The hon. Gentleman is making my point. One has to fly around Europe dealing with all these people because of qualified majority voting. If we had a veto there would be no need for that. If there was a silly proposal the British Government would simply say no.
Mr. David: On the other hand, instead of voting everything down, seeking to destroy everything and being entirely negative, as the Opposition would like us to be, would it not be far better if we had an imaginative, powerful agenda for Europe, as the Government have, and the power of advocacy to fulfil that agenda?
We have heard a lot about the United Kingdom being able to exercise a veto, but we should not forget that if we have a veto so will every other member state. At the moment the EU comprises 15 member states. If there were 27 member states, they would all have a veto and that would be a farcical situation. Apart from the Opposition, very few people in Europe are trying to argue that proposition.
Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): Does not the hon. Gentleman betray the mindset with which he and his hon. Friends come to this House by suggesting that the great enterprise of additional legislation will lead us to some utopia? Is it not a matter of the danger of additional legislation that we can prevent by the exercise of a veto, but not through qualified majority voting?
Mr. David: I return to the point that I was making earlier. The Government have a positive agenda for Europe. We want to build a better Europe. We are not satisfied with simply maintaining the status quo or attempting to turn the clock back. We want the EU to develop so that we have a single market, supported by a strong social backdrop to produce the wealth-creating capacity that we all want.
Let me give an example of what could happen if we had enlargement without the extension of qualified majority voting. Reference has been made to the structural funds. Let us imagine that the British Government, negotiating the new financial perspective from 2007 onwards, negotiated a very good deal for the regions of the United Kingdom, drawing substantial sums of money from the structural funds, but at the last moment one of the new member statessuch as Slovenia, with a population of under 2 millionsuddenly refused to accept that and decided to exercise its veto. It would be perfectly entitled to do so. What would happen if Cyprus, with a population of 700,000, decided to exercise its veto? It would be perfectly entitled to do so. What would happen if Malta, with a population of under 300,000, decided that the deal negotiated by the United Kingdom was unacceptable and chose to exercise its veto? That would be an untenable and farcical situation in which deals negotiated by our democratically elected Government could be scuppered by a small minority of people in a far-flung section of the EU. That is not democracy.
Mr. Turner: The hon. Gentleman must surely not need reminding that we are a net contributor to the EU and the vetoing of a structural fund allocation is not something over which we should weep if we were able to retain the money and distribute it among our own regions as we wished.
Mr. David: That is a much broader argument that goes far beyond this debate. It is not an argument against the Nice treaty, but in favour of our withdrawal from the EU, which I suspect many Opposition Members would like to happen.
Let me return to qualified majority voting and the proposed changes. With regard to the weighting of votes at the Council of Ministers, it is worth pointing out that under the present formula the United Kingdom has 10 votes, which represent 11.4 per cent. of the 87 votes. Under the Nice treaty it is proposed that, with a membership of 15, the United Kingdom would have 29 of
I wish that the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) were in his place, as it is worth noting that Germany, which has the largest population in the EU, will have the lowest voting strength in relation to its population. I find it objectionable that the hon. Member suggests that there is some kind of plot whereby Germany is trying to take the lead and subvert democracy. What has been negotiated at Nice demonstrates that that is absurd.
As we have already heard, qualified majority voting is not being advocated across the board. It is important for us to recognise that in some areas such as taxation, social security and border controls, there is an argument for maintaining the principle of unanimity. We are not arguing a maximalist position, but a reasoned pragmatic position that will take Europe and the United Kingdom forward.
In conclusion, I believe that the treaty of Nice is absolutely essential for EU enlargement, as is qualified majority voting, and enlargement is in the interests of all the candidate countries. Clearly, those countries would not be applying for membership of the EU if it were not in their best interests to do so. Let me stress, however, that it is also in our best interests. It will mean more jobs and more trade and will allow us to tackle common problems. It will mean fewer pressures for economic migration. Perhaps above all else, it will mean greater economic stability, with peace and security. It will mean an end to the east-west divide that has scarred our continent for too long.
That is why I honestly believe that the amendment will be rejected and that the House will eventually lend its support to the treaty of Nice.
Mr. Swayne: My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) said that he wanted to press amendment No. 233 to a vote. I ask hon. Members to look at the amendment paper, where they will see that people have subscribed to that amendment whom one would normally regard as the standard bearers of rectitude in matters European. One would have thought that they were the people to follow, given the reputation that they have established in these matters.
My hon. Friend was persuasive in his arguments for amendment No. 233. He told us of the agony experienced by a mother who had her children abducted and could not gain access to them. Those emotional arguments were so powerful that he abrogated the principle that my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) set out at the beginning of the debate: that the Opposition were opposed to any further encroachments of qualified majority voting.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stone said that such was the extremity of this one case that we should take a further leap and place family law into the domain of qualified majority voting, and many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have been persuaded by him and subscribed to the amendment.
The problem of child abduction in Europe is very much, though not exclusively, a German one, under laws that date back unreformed to national socialism. My hon. Friend was forensic in his exposition of how majority voting has changed under the treaty of Nice and how the Germans will increasingly get their way as a consequence of their increase in the share of the qualified majority, and particularly the double majority voting. That entirely undermines his case for the amendment. The consequence will be that we will have cast family law into the pot for qualified majority voting, but the Germans, by the strength of his own argument, will get their way anyway. Far better, I urge my hon. Friends, to oppose the amendment and stick with the principle established by my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk, dealing with such matters by bilateral negotiations.