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Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead): I rise to speak to new clause 44, on which I welcome the concluding comments of the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring). Indeed, I am sure that the Opposition so welcome it that he will seek to withdraw the motion on new clause 12. In the same way, the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) will doubtless decide not to press new clause 37, and we will instead have the opportunity to vote on new clause 44, which provides a small test of how much Opposition Front Benchers genuinely seek agreement across the Floor of the House.

Mr. Haselhurst, I oppose many aspects—

Mrs. Anne McGuire (Stirling): Sir Alan.

Mr. Field: I am sorry. I almost feel that I should genuflect, Sir Alan. As always, I am grateful for the guidance of the Front Bench on these matters. Sir Alan, I think—

The Chairman: Order. I do not want to make the right hon. Gentleman uncomfortable. The phrase "Mr. Chairman" would do.

Mr. Field: Too many people have taken the poetry out of life, Sir Alan. I think that calling you Mr. Chairman would in some way detract from our proceedings.

7.30 pm

I oppose aspects of the Nice treaty. In it, this country surrenders the sovereignty that it currently holds over 39 areas. However, I may be wrong, and if the British people wish to surrender that sovereignty, it would be proper for the House to agree that approach. Some of my constituents who take an interest in such matters know that the argument that the Nice treaty will halt integration is bogus. The Amsterdam treaty grants the authority for introducing the next round of likely candidates. To question the Nice treaty is not to question the wisdom, the speed or the ultimate aim of including many new member states.

New clause 44 raises profound questions about this country's future and that of Europe. I, like my hon. Friends, speak as a citizen and friend of Europe and someone who knows that our destiny is bound up with the continent of Europe, as it has been since Tudor times. We also appreciate that those who began the journey in the early post-war years did so for the best of motives. They had witnessed two world wars—many had fought in both—which wrought havoc on the structure not only of their lives but of their country. In the 1940s, setting up a European Community was a most noble project. However, if we listened carefully to our constituents during the last European election campaign, we would know that their image of Europe is different from the objectives of the founding fathers all those years ago.

I want to repeat some of the phrases that my constituents used about the great journey on which we have embarked. They believe that we are on a juggernaut

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which has an automatic pilot. Its controls were set in the 1940s; it has no brake and no steering wheel. For those reasons, those of us who are friends of Europe, but critical of current developments in the European Community, support new clause 44.

There is a case for greater co-operation. Making it divides us into two camps on our perception of the nature of politics. Some believe that it is a technical process, which can be gleaned from books, and that one can write treaties and make policies in that way. Others believe that, although the technical process can play a part, successfully achieving our long-term political objectives requires understanding of the political culture in which one works and that of other countries with which we are increasingly integrated.

I want to emphasise the importance of natural developments, which the Nice treaty ignores. The Guardian produced a recent opinion poll of readers' views of European policy. It illustrates the divide that I mentioned. It showed huge scepticism about the single currency. Voters do not understand the reason for the way in which the project is presented, or the endgame. However, the same group of voters supported sharing sovereignty on issues such as the environment so that the policy in Europe could be more comprehensive. Such policies cannot be bound by the old nation states.

I tabled new clause 44 as a friend of Europe. However, I am not prepared to take just anything from a project that was conceived in the 1940s, no matter how noble the objective. During my vain efforts to persuade my constituents to vote in the European elections, the worst comments revealed that they viewed Europe as a thieves' kitchen. They notice that, for example, when the Danish people are consulted about the euro, they reject it, and that when the Irish people are asked about Nice, they reject the treaty. However, they also notice that when such votes are allowed in a small minority of countries, the machine tries to get the project on the road again by dismissing the voters' views.

The machine decides that the euro will be reconsidered in Denmark, and that, in time, the Danish people will accept it. The President of the European Commission has made absurd statements about the way in which Ireland will ultimately submit to his plans. To an enemy of the European Community, the President of the European Commission is worth every euro or penny we pay him, because we could not have a worse ambassador. He spells out his views of what other people's opinions should be.

New clause 44 goes to the heart of what the Prime Minister describes as the Government's approach in Europe. In a recent speech, he rejected the top-down approach. He perceived its limitations and failures, and said that the Government would adopt a bottom-up approach. How does that accord with pushing through the Nice treaty without giving the people of this country an opportunity to say whether they support its main ideas? Although the Prime Minister's name is not on new clause 44, I have tabled it in his spirit.

Our approach to Europe has entered a new age. The old brutal approach whereby a small group of people could ram diverse traditions into a technical process, conceived 50 years ago, should be rejected. If we are serious about

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reconnecting with the voters, and if that phrase is not simply the latest bit of cant served up to appease them, Labour Members will vote for new clause 44.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman's excellent speech, which has impressed me. I am worried about his initial comments. He referred to the possibility of the Opposition withdrawing new clause 12 in favour of new clause 44. What was the reason for that suggestion? It would be appalling for the Opposition to withdraw a new clause on such a fundamental issue. Was the right hon. Gentleman joking? We are not good at understanding jokes. However, perhaps he meant it. That has worried me throughout his speech, which I have thoroughly enjoyed and with which I agree.

Mr. Field: I am not sure whether that was a double bluff. The Opposition's position is well known. They believe that, from now on, the people of Europe, or at least of this country, should be consulted about any major rearrangement of the furniture of Europe. They do not need to make a point. They say that they wish to get past point scoring and standing on precedent—an approach that bores the voters—and I therefore believed that they would respond to a genuine appeal, which was based on nothing other than hope. My constituents hope that we shall cease to play the silly game of party politics on big issues, and try to be as grown up as them.

Mr. Cash: If the right hon. Gentleman is expecting the official Opposition to withdraw their new clause or, indeed, me to withdraw mine, will he give us an assurance that, if we were to vote on his new clause, the Government would reverse the situation that pertains at the moment and give us a referendum on the Nice treaty? It seems that the right hon. Gentleman is simply asking us to do something without having the capacity to deliver it.

Mr. Field: I have no capacity to deliver anything. We would have to win the vote before there could be any instruction to the House. I have spent most of my parliamentary life on the Opposition Benches, as part of a party that could not win elections, although, thankfully, we now can. But even in those dark days we realised that if we were trying to maximise a vote, it was always sensible for the Opposition to group behind any movement by the Government rather than, as a point of principle or for some kind of textbook reason, tabling their own new clause.

Mr. Cash: I am interested in the national interest and in having a referendum. If I thought that there was a genuine opportunity to defeat the Government, as we did on the issue of Select Committees a couple of days ago, I would be happy to withdraw my new clause in favour of the right hon. Gentleman's. Will the right hon. Gentleman give us some tangible evidence that, if I did that, it would do some good?

Mr. Field: Either the hon. Gentleman is trying to extend this debate until the crucial hour at which we all wish it to end, or he is genuinely confused about this matter. There is no way in which I can give him that assurance. The only way we can try to influence Government opinion is to pass a new clause tonight. The Government would then have to try to reverse it. All I am

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suggesting to the right hon. Gentleman is that the likelihood of winning that vote will be increased if we vote on new clause 44 rather than on those tabled by the Opposition or by the hon. Gentleman. It is in the spirit of doing what is best for this country that I have tabled new clause 44 and I hope that, between now and 9.30pm, sense will prevail on the Opposition Benches.

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