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Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston): I am delighted that qualified majority voting will help us to reach consensus but still protect our vital interests. In respect of the prospectus directive, which affects the financial services interests of the City of London, does my right hon. Friend agree that what is taking place in London is larger than what is taking place in the rest of Europe? Qualified majority voting might result in the loss of our competitive advantage, and that would not be in our interests.
At Nice, we showed also that Britain is in the vanguard of reform and change in the EU. In the 12 months since Nice, the EU has agreed other practical measures that will directly benefit British citizens. These include new rules to speed up procedures for returning illegally abducted children home, new measures to limit emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and ammonia to make cleaner the air that we breathe and new airline safety measures so that we can fly the European skies more safely. Further practical benefits are in the pipeline for next yearagain with British influence.
There will be a new package of measures to liberalise the EU telecommunications market, which will increase consumer choice and should help to drive down phone bills. A new Community patent will encourage innovation and make it easier for business to protect intellectual property rights quickly, reliably and cheaply. There are measures to open up the pensions market so that people can shop around Europe for the best deals.
None of those measures could conceivably be implemented so quickly and efficiently without the familiar structures and procedures of the EU. They will be of immediate and obvious benefit to all our citizens.
Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East): My right hon. Friend has listed all the benefits of the treaty of Nice, and I would applaud each one of them. Unanimity seems to have been denied by the Irish referendum, and my Irish colleagues tell me that it may be denied if a second referendum is held. Can we proceed to enlargement without the treaty of Nice being approved by all the present members of the EU?
Peter Hain: In practical terms, the answer is no. The Nice treaty is the only realistic route to enlargement, at least on anything like the timetable that we have agreed. In practical terms, we could not proceed without a similar treaty.
Peter Hain: I am trying to answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty). I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) is an addict when it comes to these matters, and I shall come to him in a moment.
The Nice treaty needs to be ratified by the House; otherwise, we shall deny all our friends in Cyprus, Malta, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and all the other accession states the status in the EU that they have so desperately striven to secure. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok, who is about to interrupt me, will support the treaty and the Government in the negotiations.
Mr. Davidson: May I reassure my right hon. Friend that I am certainly not an addict? I am not nearly as sad as that. However, I take an interest in the plight of small countries. Is it the Government's position that they respect the decision made by the Irish people in a referendum, or is Britain pressurising Ireland to conduct a further referendum? Will he make it absolutely clear what Britain's position is on this matter?
Peter Hain: I am delighted to do so. Yes, we respect the Irish people's verdict; no, we are not pressuring the Irish Government to do anything. On the contrary, the Irish Government have come to us and our fellow European member states. They have said that they wish to offer advice, having further consulted their own people to ascertain whether there are any further assurances from the EU, and especially the European Council, that might enable another referendum to be called. The Irish people can then be invited to make up their own mind, as was done
Peter Hain: The hon. Gentleman has been told by his leader to keep quiet as the shadow Attorney-General. He is not supposed to say anything on Europe, but he says "blackmail" from the Opposition Back Benches. When the Conservative Government whom he supportedwell,
I return to my point about the British citizens who are detained in Greece following their arrest near a military airbase. I can assure the House that our officials in London and at the British embassy in Athens are providing the detainees with the consular assistance that they need, and are working closely with the Greek authorities to expedite the case.
The rapid pace of change in the world means that we in Europe cannot afford to stand still. Reform is not merely desirable, it is a survival strategy. At Nice, member states agreed to take the process of reform further forward at another intergovernmental conference, to take place in 2004. At Laeken, we shall agree the remit of a convention under which a wide-ranging debate will be held on the future of Europe in preparation for the intergovernmental conference.
Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell): Does my right hon. Friend think that we are exercising change at the right speed, given that the general public are perhaps rather disenchanted with the EU? Given the turnout at the last European elections and the fact that possibly there is only one referendum every generation, should we be doing more to address these issues?
Peter Hain: I agree. We are doing more. At the convention launched at the Laeken summit the weekend after next and at the following IGC we will address the key objective of closing the gap between the leaders and citizens of Europe.
The House will welcome the fact that its direct participation in the convention is already assured. Two Parliamentarians from each member state will be members. The rest of the convention will consist of one representative from each Government, 16 Members of the European Parliament and one representative from the College of Commissioners. The candidate countries will also participate. We expect the convention to address fundamental questions, such as how to demarcate the powers of the European Union and the member states; how to ensure that co-operation in the EU remains rooted in democratic legitimacy; and how to simplify the treaties so that citizens can better understand and appreciate what the EU does in their namethe point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Rothwell (Mr. Challen).
We welcome a debate to clarify who does what. We also welcome the simplification of treaties so that people can understand them, as I have sought to do in a new booklet summarising them in 300 words; it was published last night and I am happy to send a copy to every Member of Parliament who wants one. In addition, we want to
Denzil Davies (Llanelli): My right hon. Friend talked about simplifying the treaties; lawyers get a bit worried when they hear such talk. Will the simplified treaties be legal documents and, if so, will the European Court of Justice adjudicate on them?
Peter Hain: I am always reluctant to cross swords with my right hon. Friend who is an expert, not just on Europe, but on the treaties in particular. In fact, I venture to suggest that he knows a lot more about them than I do. He makes a legitimate point; there will be a disclaimer on the simplified directive and the treaties stating that they cannot be quoted in a court of law because they are a lay person's guide; I am sure that my right hon. Friend will welcome that.
The convention will not take decisions on the future of Europe; that task properly belongs to the Governments of the member states taking part in the IGC. The Governments of nation states will take that decision; in Britain it will be subject, as ever, to the final word of Parliament.
Angus Robertson (Moray): Returning to the convention and UK representation, will the Minister share with the House his thoughts on the make-up of the UK delegation? He will be aware that the German lander will be represented by the upper House of the German Parliament. He said that it is vital that national Parliaments are involved. Does he agree that the national Parliaments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should be represented directly on the convention delegation?