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8.15 pm

I want to illustrate what this means in practical terms, and so explain how it affects issues raised by members of all parties and their constituents. Those will be the issues on which there will be conflict in the future. Even in the short term of this Parliament, the Government have embarked on a robust and interesting debate about the role of the private sector in public services. We have been told that none of the arrangements involved in the GATS—general agreement on trade in services—negotiations would automatically apply here, because we can choose what we will not be a part of. However, as the issue moves into the sphere of Community competence, two things happen.

First, our Ministers have no relevance in the negotiations; they are conducted solely and exclusively by the European Commissioners. The Nice treaty offers the Commissioners a wonderful resolution of something that really cheesed them off following the Uruguay round. They took their case to the European Court of Justice, which ruled that countries had ceded the right to negotiate in the trade in goods but not the right to negotiate in the trade in services, and that the arrangement did not apply to commercial aspects of intellectual property rights.

The Nice treaty has tied things up nicely for the Commissioners. They win the battle for the sole right to negotiate on everyone's trade terms, because we decide to give them that right. The mechanism of qualified majority voting will be much easier to manipulate than an arrangement giving individual countries the right to say no. That is profoundly important to those with an interest in environmental sustainability. In the Montreal convention, we set out the right of countries to apply the precautionary principle—to say no when they did

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not know. Handing over the negotiating rights for all trade leaves us one step short of being told by the Commissioners that we no longer have any such authority.

The Welsh, who have fought hard for Wales to remain a zone free of genetically modified organisms, may well be told that they have no right to restrict the planting of GM crops there, because that would constitute indirect interference with trade. The patent rights that the biotech companies have acquired are followed by rights to plant, grow and sell. For those with environmental concerns, it is just tough luck. They no longer have authority to make decisions in their own right in areas in which they have ceded decision-making and negotiating rights to the European Commissioners.

If we wanted warning of that, we should have paid attention to the role that Pascal Lamy attempted to play as trade negotiator in Seattle. We were saved by the role played by some of our own Ministers, who flatly stated that they would not reach an agreement with the biotech corporations. Pascal Lamy is on public record as saying, "I will go and negotiate an agreement." Only the fact that he had not the authority to do so stopped the process, and allowed us to make those decisions. We will have to explain to the British public why we no longer have any authority to implement policies on which they feel passionately.

The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) asked where the postbag was. The postbag will bypass us if we hand over the pass on the right to make responsible decisions relating to our stewardship of those people's environment and the shape of their society. As for services, a remit will be extended to the Commissioners to address rail services, postal services, health services and education services.

We should not kid ourselves that we can have a debate here that presumes that we can make decisions. Perhaps we should remind those in Downing street that the party stands for a strong commitment to public delivery of public services; but even if we do that, Downing street may tell us, "You can say what you like, but the policies are no longer made here. We now have obligations that are determined at European level, rather than prerogatives that can be determined at national parliamentary level."

Provisions on intellectual property rights will extend to the whole domain of our policies in respect of GMOs. On sustainable trade, when we seek to deal with climate change and to impose payback economics—pay back to the planet, not just to shareholders—we are likely to find that that is in breach of the decision-making authority that we have handed over to the European Commissioners, who will conduct the negotiations.

On environmental protection, I have a particular interest in the notion of producer liability. There is a desperate cry for the UK to introduce legislation that will at least define who is liable for genetic contamination of the environment in respect of GM crop trials. Farmers, supermarkets and local communities want to know that. There is huge pressure on us to bring in producer liability legislation.

Mr. Cash: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Simpson: May I finish the point?

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Europe is discussing producer liability legislation. People are already saying, "It is an interesting idea, but why don't we leave it and see where the European roundabout takes us?" The reality is simple. The biotech corporations have been working hand in glove with European Commissioners, saying, "We do not want any liability regime that would make us legally responsible for the damage that we do, so spin it round for the decade and then come out with a policy that is anodyne and useless." If we sign up to the measure, we will sign away any ability to say, "No. It is an inadequate resolution of a real environmental threat and the ducking of a legitimate environmental liability."

Mr. Cash: There is a lot of talk about product liability, directives and so forth in the European Union. I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. He had not got on to the producer liability directive when I tried to intervene. That is the problem. Everything is being subsumed.

Mr. Simpson: Fundamentally, it comes down to the right of the British public to decide. They may feel that there is a greater good to be had in going down the path along which the Nice treaty takes us one step further. I doubt it. After an informed debate, we would not wish to sign up to that model of an inclusive European future. There are better models. It is just that we have not had the right to address them. We face a fundamental test of our long-term credibility. If we deny the public the right to a say, it takes us one step closer to defining ourselves as of no relevance to the big issues that confront their lives. That is why I do not welcome the measure.

Whatever disagreements we have on policy issues, there is an imperfect virtue about the nature of parliamentary democracy. It gives the public and parties the right to change course, to change positions and to be changed. If we surrender that, we have to accept responsibility for increasing numbers of the public saying that, as an institution, we have less and less relevance in determining the issues that affect their lives, and they will look elsewhere.

There is a danger that the European project has already become hijacked. Ten thousand corporate lobbyists permanently besiege Brussels to ensure that their policies are the ones that become EU directives. There is an agenda there. The priorities of corporate Europe are directly at odds with the long-term interests of civic Europe. If we do not deliver on-going democratic accountability, the danger is that we will prepare the ground for citizens legitimately to conclude that parliamentary democracy has become a farce or a facade, and that change will have to come through a direct challenge by citizens to corporate greed. There is huge instability in any country's going down that path. If we do not make a stand to defend the rights of citizens to decide, they will decide to do so themselves in other ways.

Mr. Cash: I would like, as it were, to begin at the end of the debate, by taking up the point made by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). He invited us to withdraw our new clauses and to allow him to go ahead with his. They are substantively the same—there is no real difference between the three new clauses—but I asked him whether he had any tangible evidence that that would deliver the type of result that I would, obviously, want. I believe passionately that we should have a

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referendum on this treaty, as we should on the whole treaty on European Union. Another new clause that I tabled to that effect was not selected, but that was because it was outside the scope of the Bill, not because it did not have any intrinsic merit.

I am not inviting the right hon. Gentleman to give the same answer as before. I merely point out that no useful purpose would be served if the position that some of us have consistently adopted in principle over a long time—that matters that come within the ambit of the treaties should be referred to a referendum—were adopted by a relatively small number of rebels on the Government Benches. In the heady days of Maastricht, the dividing line was narrow enough for us to be able to press matters to some effect. Therefore, although I will be guided by the Front-Bench team, I do not see any reason why we should not press the matter to a Division on our own account.

I welcome the speech made by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead and the thoughtful speech made by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson). I do not agree with all his arguments, but I agree emphatically with the underlying idea of the necessity, in principle, to obtain the consent of the electorates. This treaty, like the consolidated treaty on the European Union, is of increasing and vast importance for the daily lives of our constituents.

I have said repeatedly that every time we deal with a line in the treaty, if we implement it in our domestic law we are doing the equivalent of what would otherwise require a Bill which could take as long as six months to consider. We are conducting a monumental exercise.

The hon. Member for Nottingham, South talked about Poland. In my travels with the Select Committee I have been all over central and eastern Europe. I have noticed over the past few years that since negotiations for accession began, those countries have been required to change and consolidate virtually every page of their statute books so that they become consistent with the acquis communautaire. That is the blackmail deal being conducted.

I know from my discussions with Members of Parliament and members of the public in those countries that they are deeply disturbed by the extent to which their elite have driven the legislation through their respective Parliaments. Charts supplied to me through the European Scrutiny Committee and given to me by the prospective member states show that they have complied with certain chapters of the acquis communautaire. It has been a relentless process of attrition. However, the key point is that there has been no consent from the people. Slice by slice, they have had their intrinsic democracy taken away by negotiations conducted on their behalf by their elite. As far as I can make out, that has taken place without any reference to the people or any information about what is going on.

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