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Mr. Miller: The right hon. Gentleman is trying to get me into deep trouble. As some of my hon. Friends may know, I encouraged the Government to go a little further on the issue to which he refers. I will not be drawn too far on that, as I might find myself in hot water.
The Tory objection to the rapid reaction force does not fit with reality, either. As my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) eloquently said, since flesh was put on the bones of the project, opinion in NATO and other serious military circles has been in favour.
As for the common agricultural policy, everyone recognises the case for massive change. However, the logic of the argument on the CAP must have been just as correct when the previous Conservative Government signed the Maastricht treaty. Opposition Members seem to be crying wolf by introducing the issue at this point.
Mrs. Browning: The hon. Gentleman may have been in the Chamber when the Minister for Europe, in an intervention, suggested that the Government had discussed with Ministers the preparation for changes to the CAP and expanding the Community, whereas the previous Conservative Government had not. I assure him that in 1995-96, as an Agriculture Minister, I discussed reform of the CAP in both Hungary and Poland, for example. The Conservative Government created a working party that produced a document for reform of the CAP.
What on earth have the hon. Gentleman and his ministerial colleagues been doing for the past five years? They fudged the situation because it was difficult. They kicked it into the long grass, which is why we are in this mess.
Mr. Miller: I accept that it is a difficult issue, but I do not accept that it has been fudged. From the discussions that I have had recently with colleagues from other countries, and from what my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe said at the start of the debate, I believe that significant progress is being made. However, I do not understand why this one treaty is suddenly supposed to be bound up inextricably with reforms to the CAP. Those reforms have been necessary for a long time, and I accept the hon. Lady's point that progress is needed.
The treaty was subject to a great deal of discussion on the fringes of a conference that I was privileged to attend in September. I was in the Estonian Parliament, with colleagues who included the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff), when the terrible events of 11 September unfolded. During the proceedings on the
It became clear to me that existing member nations and applicant countries want to make progress and that they feel a degree of frustration with the conduct of the British Conservative party and the handful of others who adopt a negative approach to the process of enlargement. They all say that they want enlargement, but they do not offer a practical alternative approach, only the piecemeal, one-after-the-other process that would take for ever and would be an impossible way in which to increase EU membership to 27 or 28 nations.
It is right that Britain should commit itself to the treaty of Nice. In the coming years, we should work closely with our European partners and prospective partners to develop the interests of both our nation and our neighbours and to enhance the role of Europe, thereby enhancing Britain's position in the world.
Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the Third Reading debate as I was otherwise occupied during the Bill's previous stages and so unable to participate. I hope to put on record my concerns, which are shared by several of my right hon. and hon. Friends who have already spoken.
During the opening speech on Second Reading, the Foreign Secretary prayed in aid the same argument that we heard expressed tonight by the Minister for Europe: that the Bill is purely about enlargement. That is not so. Enlargement is an important aspect of the Bill, but it constitutes only 5 per cent. of that which appears on the face of the Bill. If we as the House of Commons are to do justice to any Bill laid before us, it is important that we analyse it, scrutinise it and consider the consequences of all of it, so we must examine that other 95 per cent. of the Bill. It is simply not acceptable for the Government to create a smokescreen by telling people that the Conservative party opposes enlargement of the European Union and that any criticism we might make of the Bill reveals that we are anti-enlargement. That is a travesty of the truth, given the small portion of the Bill that deals with enlargement.
On Second Reading on 4 July, the Foreign Secretary said that he wanted to put the Bill in the proper historical context, but he rested his argument solely on the enlargement aspects of the Bill. Since then, we have witnessed the dramatic outcome of the referendum in the Republic of Ireland. It has been implied during today's debate, especially by the Minister for Europe, that if the House does not approve the Bill tonight, of all the member countries of the European Union ours will be the one that is pilloried for failing to do its duty.
Let us look at the progress achieved by other countries in ratification of the Nice treaty. Belgium, which one might imagine would be enthusiastic, has not yet initiated a discussion; Germany has had only a First Reading; and the Greek Parliament has not yet initiated any debate on ratification. The list goes on: Italy has not yet ratified; the position in Ireland is now a matter of record; Austria has had only a First Reading; other countries including
Let us consider why the Irish rejected the proposal. One of the reasons, although by no means the only one, was their concern about the EU's inability to address the vexed issue of reform of the common agricultural policya matter that has been mentioned tonight. Progress on CAP reform has to have been made before all the new countries enter the EU. People have argued that other countries have entered in the past, and that is true, but I recall that Spain and Portugal did not have an especially easy passage: there were problems, especially in the fisheries and agriculture sector. The economies of many of the countries that are lined up waiting to join the EU are highly dependent on agriculture and horticulture.
Once that was done (virtually a month of solid work) we could then proceed to organise the information we had."
It is a matter of great regret that during the Committee stage, despite some excellent and constructive contributions by Conservative Members and the tabling of amendments and new clauses, the Government failed to consider properly or agree to a single proposal advanced by my right hon. and hon. Friends. The theme struck by the Foreign Secretary at the start of the debate on the Nice treaty was carried through, and we see it being finalised tonight. We are being told, "Either agree with the Bill, or you are against expansion of the European Unionand please don't bother us with the other 95 per cent." That is no way to treat either the House or a Bill of such importance.
As we have heard, every step of a treaty Bill causes a constitutional change. Individually, they may not be great changes, but their effect is incremental: they add up to a handing over of the powers and rights of the people who are represented by Members of Parliament to unelected people who sit in Brussels.