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Bob Spink (Castle Point): I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument carefully, and I think that he is becoming slightly confused. Is he arguing that individual nation states are unable to co-operate on these important matters without the treaty, and therefore that the treaty is unnecessary?

Mr. Hendrick: I am saying that the mechanisms will make any such co-operation more effective. If two countries wish to co-operate on an individual project, they will be free to do so. When eight or more member states wish to contribute on an important issue, the proposed mechanism will be extremely useful. Co-operative action should not prejudice the fight against crime and drugs in non-participating countries.

A number of hon. Members have threatened us with the spectre of the treaty acting as a back-door mechanism for killing the veto on taxation or on energy taxes in particular. In fact, the changes affect only the countries that want to participate and will have no other effect on other countries, except indirectly, that want to alter their policies as a result of the co-operation that is taking place. There is nothing to be frightened of. I must re-emphasise the fact that non-participating countries are under no obligation to become involved.

8 pm

The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), who unfortunately is not in the Chamber, said that, with the exception of child abduction, he opposed extensions of qualified majority voting. He also opposes the treaty's new mechanisms for enhanced co-operation. I have a simple question: how can the 28-member European Union that we envisage make decisions if we do not use QMV

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in more instances and do not introduce a mechanism of enhanced co-operation? Without those changes, the European Union would be unworkable and it would be impossible to make decisions: refusal to accept them would cause a sclerosis, would make the European Union inoperable and would be a recipe for disaster. That is why Labour Members and some hon. Members from other parties will support the treaty.

The mechanisms proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Denzil Davies) to enable this Parliament to amend the treaty would also be a recipe for disaster. If each of the 28 national Parliaments—assuming that we achieve an enlarged European Union—could amend the treaty, we would end up with 28 different versions that could not be resolved into a single treaty. The Opposition have sought to achieve such a recipe for disaster by tabling their amendments, which aim to throw a spanner in the works of the European Union so that member states feel that it is better to give up their membership rather than continue down our current route.

We have also heard the old chestnut that the treaty is all about Germany and is a German conspiracy. Under the procedures agreed at Nice the UK now has 29 votes in the Council of Ministers; Germany has the same number, although it has a population of 82 million compared with our population of only 57 million. At least 258 votes in favour would be needed for the adoption of a Council agreement, so the fact that Germany has only 28 votes demonstrates the ridiculousness of the argument that the treaty is about Germany taking over Europe.

We know that a minimum of eight states will be involved. If eight states want to proceed with an agreement or project, who are we to stop them? If we want to go ahead on a project with seven other members of the European Union, why should other member states prevent us from doing so? Opposition Members spoke of spin and hype, and the hon. Member for Stone used words such as "unworkable", "implosion", "damage", "difficulty", "chaos" and "outrageous". All those words are obviously meant to scare the British public and to frighten them away from a measure that is modest, workable and likely to bring great benefit to members of the European Union.

I also find it strange that Opposition Members argue that a single member state should be able to do as it wishes, but that a number of member states should not be allowed to get together and reach an agreement through enhanced co-operation. That argument seems very strange and anti-democratic, as the Governments of those member states were elected by their people. If they want to act through enhanced co-operation, they should be free to do so.

We have a recipe for flexibility and a European Union that works. I believe that the amendments should be rejected on that basis.

Mr. Spring: First, I want to pay tribute to two hon. Members who made their maiden speeches today. The hon. Member for East Lothian (Anne Picking) generously paid tribute to her predecessor, John Home Robertson, whom we all remember as a formidable parliamentary champion of Scotland and home rule. She spoke about the many battles in her constituency and recalled the Deputy Prime Minister's visit on the day after the famous punch. She also spoke about her career as a nurse; she was,

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of course, president of Unison. In addition, she praised the people of Northern Ireland; all hon. Members would join her in doing that. I congratulate her on her speech and wish her well in her parliamentary career, in which I am sure she will make many more speeches. She is the first woman MP for East Lothian, which is another basis for congratulations.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison). I thank him for his kind tribute to David Faber, who made an important contribution in the House in many aspects of parliamentary life. He expressed doubts—I think that they are widely shared not only this country, but in many parts of the European Union—about the wisdom and development of a future European army. He spoke about the beauty of his constituency. His desire to do so is understandable, as it is one of the most beautiful parts of England. He welcomed the Prime Minister's decision to spend some of the summer in England. I hope that he is right and that the Prime Minister will visit Westbury as part of his holiday. Finally, he spoke about defence medical services with considerable knowledge. I am sure that, after making such a competent maiden speech, he will make such first-rate contributions while representing his constituents in this House. I applaud him and the hon. Member for East Lothian for their speeches.

The amendments apply to general provisions on enhanced co-operation and to specific provisions on the Community pillar. We are also considering two new clauses tabled by Opposition Front Benchers. One of them concerns effective enhanced co-operation in the UK, while the other relates to UK participation in any enhanced co-operation measure.

Conservative Front Benchers take a relaxed approach to the principle of enhanced co-operation—the procedure under which groups of countries can integrate more closely if they wish to do so without taking everyone with them. Indeed, we called for a flexible Europe well in advance of the Government. As my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary observed in his speech in Berlin in June, we believe that the way forward for Europe is the gradual development of a Europe of interlocking and overlapping groupings and relationships, and of nations combining in different combinations and purposes to different extents: a multi-system Europe. Europe has already edged in that direction with the Maastricht opt-outs, Schengen and the single currency.

I fully appreciate that some of my hon. Friends may fear that such opt-outs have a tendency to be given up and that enhanced co-operation will therefore drive forward uniform integration, but there is nothing inevitable about opt-outs being given up. The Danish people showed that in their single currency referendum, and I trust that the British people will continue to share that attitude to the single currency.

In a European Union—especially a substantially enlarged one—where the needs and wishes of member states differ, the development of a more flexible, multi-system Union is natural. We should respect the desire of other countries to integrate more closely in certain areas, just as they should respect our desire not to do so if we so choose. Without such mutual respect, the logical consequence will be endless tension, as different countries try to pull everyone else in different directions.

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Foreign Office Ministers had appeared to be extremely sceptical of flexibility, fearing that Britain would be left behind, kept out of the guard's van, missing the boat, and all the other mixed metaphors that tend to be used in this context. The notions of an inner circle and an outer tier, of concentric rings and of first and second-class members belong to yesterday. Some may fear that accepting enhanced co-operation for ever condemns Britain to being on the edge, excluded from this elusive heart of Europe. But that misses the point. As The Economist said,

That old argument continues to be used, however. Ministers doubted the need for any substantial change at all at the IGC.

The White Paper of February 2000 on the IGC said:

At that time, the then Foreign Secretary said:

As late as October last year he said:

One can only imagine the surprise of Foreign Office Ministers when the Prime Minister announced in his Warsaw speech that he was now going to support the principle of enhanced co-operation. He said:

He also said:

He went on to say:

It seems that later that year the Government showed as much pathetic lack of leadership on that issue as they have on all the other issues surrounding the Nice treaty. Having been told by the Prime Minister to support the principle of enhanced co-operation, Ministers not only cast aside

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all their previous reservations but, in their haste to agree to anything put before them, signed away essential safeguards as well. It is the usual story.

It would be interesting to hear from the Minister where, if anywhere, the Government stand on the matter. Do Foreign Office Ministers still have their previous reservations about the concept of enhanced co-operation, or do they share the Prime Minister's seeming enthusiasm? Did they reverse direction out of principle, or in order to get through the negotiations? Perhaps we shall have an answer from the plain-speaking Minister.

The Opposition have been willing to support some changes to make the enhanced co-operation procedure easier to use—for example, a reduction in the number of states that want to be involved in a measure before it can go ahead from a majority to eight. That makes sense in an enlarged Europe of 27 or 28 countries: but at Nice the Government went much further. They abolished the national veto, the so-called emergency brake, in two of the three pillars. A right of reference to the European Council remained, but not a veto. In the case of the first pillar, that is covered by amendment No. 56.

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