|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Spring: I invite my hon. Friend to say precisely what parliamentary democracy is all about and to emphasise that the extent of the alienation and disconnection of the peoples of Europe from the institutions of the European Union is caused precisely by the attitude articulated by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant).
Mrs. Browning: I agree. A distinguishing feature of the treaty is the big question mark resulting from the result of the Irish referendum. This evening, Members have said that treaties have been passed, even under a Conservative Government; I accept that. However, as we saw when other EU members took the single currency on board, what is distinctive is the fact that a referendum of the people by the people gave a result different from that expected by the Government.
I went to Copenhagen early in the Danish referendum campaign and shared a platform with various people from different countries, all of whom had been invited to speak by the Danes. I shared a platform with a Swedish trade unionist; I think that it was the first time in his life that he had shared a platform with a centre-right politician, and he looked a bit disconcerted. Howeverand this applies to every country in the EUhe said that the single currency was on the politicians' agenda and was not what the people wanted; unless the people had a voice of their own, and if they could not trust politicians to speak for them, we faced a dangerous future. I told him, "I agree with you comrade." He nearly fell off the platform.
If we, as representatives of the people, do not represent the views of the people and if, on important matters, they do not even have a referendum, then, not just in this country but throughout the European Union, we are heading for a situation that has already been remarked on by other Members tonight. Ultimately, the people will rebel and the consequences of that should not be underestimated. In democracies, people should be able to speak out. If they do not have an outlet through the people democratically elected to represent them, there is a big problem.
Several Government Members said that the recent general election gave a clear indication of what the British people think about Europe. I do not agree because a general election is not about a single issue, but about a whole range of issues. We know from every opinion poll that the British peopleand it is the British people in whom I am interestedare concerned about giving up their national currency and the drip, drip effect of taking the nation further into an integrated union in which we are no longer an independent nation state. The Nice treaty
Dr. Ladyman: The hon. Lady helped to lead the Conservative team that fought the last election, telling the people that it was their last chance to have their say on Europe. She was a member of that team; was she fibbing? If she is now saying that amendments to treaties passed in the House should be allowed, will she tell us how many amendments the previous Government allowed to the Maastricht treaty?
Mrs. Browning: I am grateful for that reminder. We are honouring that pledge, unlike Government Members who must wonder when they are ever going to honour anything that they promised in an election. As an MP, European issues were not the only area on which I campaigned in my Devon constituency. I held more than 40 public meetings, and we discussed the euro, European matters generally and other things. My majority trebled; in fact it more than trebled. Now that I have found out how to treble my majority, I shall do the same next time.
The treaty, of course, includes other issues. My hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) mentioned one that is of great concern. We are all conscious of the tragic events of 11 September, but I urge Members to read the debate on the Bill in July in Hansard and look at the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for RuislipNorthwood (Mr. Wilkinson), who spelled out clearly the problems in those parts of the treaty that revise articles 1, 17 and 25 of the treaty on European Union. My hon. Friend also examined the consequences of those revisions for our defence and security policy. He mentioned terrorism, unaware of how telling his words would become. I urge Members to read his speech because we need to be sure of the terms of this country's co-operation.
I am all in favour of co-operation, but the treaty is not about flexibility and co-operation; it is about entrenching in statute things that bind us rather than give us the flexibility that we often need. In fact, flexibility, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk said in his opening remarks, is seen to be important in our defence commitment in Europe.
Mrs. Browning: Indeed. As has been said, we know that the Nice treaty proposes that we take the first steps to introduce what has euphemistically been called a European army and certainly a European defence and security policy. I am in favour of EU countries playing their part and contributing their fair share. I am not being malicious but making a statement of fact when I say that many members of NATO have for many yearsin fact since NATO was first formeda record of not contributing from their defence budgets the amount that
I listened to the Labour Members who have contributed tonight. Never mind what is in the treaty; it is part of that 95 per cent. that they do not want to talk about. The Prime Minister gave his word; things are not quite how they look in the document, and there will still be command and control liaison through NATO. In fact, that is not the interpretation of other EU states, particularly France, as I have said.
Mrs. Browning: It is compatible with the words of the French chief of staff whom I have quoted on the same subject. We have legitimate concerns about that aspect of the treaty and its interpretation by other EU member states, especially at this time when we all realise the significance not just of co-operation and flexibility but, as in previous times of trouble, clear structures. Ambiguity is the last thing that we want in defence and security. We do not want different nation states making different interpretations because we may discover that only when it is too late.
The other issue about which I, like my colleagues, am concerned is the extension of qualified majority voting. As a former Minister, I have been asked for examples of what it will mean. Basically, as a nation state, we will again give up some of our rights to veto matters that are in the British interest. I am particularly concerned that the so-called emergency brake, which the Government paraded after their negotiation of the Amsterdam treaty, is to be subject to qualified majority voting.
I shall briefly share with the House my experience as an Agriculture Minister. Having spent three years at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, I have no doubt that, with regard to food production, there are those in the European Union who use qualified majority voting not to expand the single market and competition, but the reverse. They identify food sectors where they see British products that are causing problems to their own domestic markets, they form a cabal of like-minded countries, and they raise objections. They use their block voting power under QMV to see off a competitive sector from another country. My experience as a MAFF Minister showed that clearly.
Anyone who has ever taken an interest in the fight that we had to put up just to maintain British milk chocolate over four or five years will know that the issue is not harmonisation but the raw competition of the marketplace, where QMV is used by pressure groups and companies in