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9.17 pm

Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston): Because of the short time available, I have deleted from my speech many of the topics on which I intended to speak, such as Afghanistan, enlargement, European defence, and euro notes and coins. I have decided to speak about the debate on the future of Europe, which is on the agenda for the Laeken Council. As many hon. Members know, it has been agreed that a convention will be set up to consider the future of Europe. Its conclusions will be fed into the next intergovernmental conference, which will take place in 2004.

The Nice summit set out several questions which the debate on the future of Europe should address. One concerns the delimitation of powers between the EU and member states. There should be a clear definition of the powers of the member states and of the EU, because an enlarged EU of 27 member states would otherwise grind to a halt.

I foresee a European Union in which first pillar issues are handled as they are at present, with a fairly integrationist agenda. Issues such as the single market, the environment, consumer policy and energy policy would be dealt with through assent, co-decision, co-operation and consultation. The European Parliament and Commission will still have an extremely important role in developing legislation with the Council of Ministers.

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Second and third pillar issues should remain mainly the preserve of member states through subsidiarity, but there should be mechanisms to allow for co-operation of an advanced type between member states. The details of possible options for such co-operation will no doubt emerge from the convention process.

The status of the charter of fundamental human rights will be discussed at the Laeken Council. The relationship of the charter to member state law will clearly need to be addressed by member states, as well as the question of how or whether it should be incorporated. The issue of possible overlaps with existing human rights legislation in member states also needs to be addressed.

On the simplification of the treaties—another issue that was raised at Nice—we all know that they are complex documents and that they constantly need to be cross- referenced for sense to be made of them. Any attempt to make them more concise and understandable is clearly desirable. Whether it can be done in 300 words, I do not know.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Denis MacShane): Yes, it can.

Mr. Hendrick: We will see, but the simplification process runs the risk of loss of content. Enlargement brings its own problems in that regard. Hon. Members may be interested to know that it has just taken Romania a year to translate the existing treaties.

I turn now to the role of national Parliaments. The phrase "bringing Europe closer to the people" is a hackneyed one that is used by politicians to get across the idea of the need to make the European Union and its institutions more relevant to the public. It is suggested that the involvement of national parliamentarians in the process would somehow achieve that and add to the legitimacy of the European Union. I believe that the creation of an additional chamber of national parliamentarians from EU states would find little favour with other member states and would, in many ways, make the role of the European Parliament more confusing.

However, it is important that the forthcoming convention deals with increasing the involvement of national parliamentarians in the making of legislation by other means. For example, it could deal with methods of enhancing the scrutiny of EU legislation by national Parliaments and ways of making the scrutiny process more open and transparent. Another possibility is the idea of setting up a delegation of national parliamentarians to meet regularly with the Council of Ministers to discuss legislative matters. The issue of more openness in European Council decision making is also a matter for discussion. I am reliably informed that this is the only legislature outside Pyongyang that legislates in secret. Again, I am sure that the convention will propose options on those matters. I look forward to seeing what options are available when it eventually meets.

9.22 pm

Mr. William Cash (Stone): Some comments have been made about the extent to which I would be expected to speak on European matters in my current role. My

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portfolio as shadow Attorney-General certainly includes a responsibility to examine questions relating not only to international treaties but to constitutional arrangements in the United Kingdom and between the UK and Europe—the matter about which I propose to speak now.

I want first to recall the comments made by the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), who said that the arguments for a constitution were unassailable and cited, for example, the speech of the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen), as well as those of other hon. Members. I find that an astonishing idea. The one thing that we can say for certain about the Government relates to a matter that I have raised with the Prime Minister many times, not only at Question Time but after statements and on other occasions. I have asked him many times whether we can have a White Paper—indeed, this issue has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring)—on the constitutional and political implications of where we are going. Here we are, embarking on a journey towards Laeken and the future of Europe debate. We know that we are being taken into the arena of European constitutional arrangements. Indeed, that has been happening for a long time. We know that there are people who would like such arrangements, because they would enable them to lock everybody in.

A constitution creates an entrenched situation. There is no room for the sort of reform to which the Prime Minister referred in a recent speech. He spoke about repatriating powers to the nation state. The ideas of those of us who have argued for repatriation and renegotiation are therefore being endorsed by those who have an uncontrollable vision of Europe that involves a constitutional arrangement. A huge contradiction is inherent in that view, and it makes me fear for the future of Europe. It means that there is no basis on which to apply subsidiarity to matters covered by the levers of European government and thus enable us to guarantee maintaining control over, for example, our defence arrangements or justice and home affairs.

The European arrest warrant and proposals for an extradition Bill were mentioned today. They will be considered next year. However, the constitutional arrangements that will provide for those measures apply to regulations and the sort of provisions that are included in section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972. At the moment when the Minister and others are considering the need for more information and a wider and clearer debate, we are being led into an arena of obfuscation and denied the necessary information that would be provided in a proper debate in prime time on primary legislation. Yet we are considering the important subject of the abolition of extradition in Europe.

That matter involves not only extradition, but bail and trials in absentia. It also raises the question of who is a judicial authority: is it the state prosecution service by another name in other countries? We have been considering monumental issues in the Select Committee on European Scrutiny. Some questions remain unresolved. Whatever happens on 7 December, there is a scrutiny reserve for good reasons. They are inherent in the democratic accountability to Parliament of its scrutiny Committees, which report to the House and ensure that decisions are not made without the provision of proper information. That cannot happen without debate.

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European Standing Committee B dissolved in chaos the day before yesterday. There is no time for a full debate, the scrutiny reserve continues to apply and the decision on the European arrest warrant requires unanimity, yet it will apparently be made on 7 December. Perhaps the Minister will be good enough to listen because I should be grateful if he could tell us what exactly will happen.

The current proposal is that the decision will be made on 7 December, but, as I said, the scrutiny reserve applies and no debate has taken place. Will the Government defer the decision? The Minister appears to be engrossed in conversations this evening. Will he be good enough to tell us whether the Government will make the decision on Friday on a third pillar question that requires unanimity, or will they defer it because scrutiny has not been completed?

There is no point talking about constitutional arrangements when democratic accountability is being infringed in the House. That is a serious matter and I am sure that the Minister, who is a responsible person, understands that. There will be a massive row if the decision is not made according to the proper procedures and with justification.

In the context of the desire to move towards a new constitutional arrangement, I want to refer to the Government's White Paper. I do not know whether hon. Members realise that the preliminary proposals for the White Paper state that the objective towards which the Laeken conference is to be directed is a "laboratory for world governance". That is there in black and white. What on earth is it supposed to mean? There are serious constitutional questions involved here. These are serious issues relating not just to the appearances of subsidiarity, which simply endorse the hierarchy and lock it into a new, enhanced constitution for Europe, but to the central question of democracy.

Labour Members know perfectly well that I have argued over and over again for more democracy and accountability in the European Union. I have not been against the single market. I have been in favour of a reformed arrangement to provide proper governmental and democratic arrangements that ensure that people are properly heard, and that they have an opportunity to have their say when policies are made. I have argued consistently for referendums, for that reason. That is why I have played a part in—as some have kindly said to me—helping the Irish in their referendum. I was very glad to have been able to do that, as I was in Denmark and France before that.

If the Whip system in this Parliament operates, as it has, to prevent the opportunity for proper consideration of some of these matters, it is essential that some decisions should be taken by referendum. I was, therefore, delighted when that opportunity arose and the decisions were transferred down to the people at the grass roots. In the case of the Irish, they had to hold a referendum under their constitutional arrangements. When they did, every citizen was sent a clear, concise, accurate document—like a White Paper, perhaps—to their doorstep, stating what the Nice treaty was all about, and they rejected it. It is a function of a properly democratically run country that people are given proper information.

We have made requests over and over again for a White Paper, and for other information. There has been a fundamental failure on the part of the Government to

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respond. I am extremely surprised and disappointed that the Minister, for whom I have the highest regard, should be party to these shabby arrangements, including the arrangements in clause 109 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill. He and other Ministers in the Foreign Office must be involved in those provisions to a degree. Those arrangements will be fundamentally unconstitutional and undemocratic.

An interesting paper by a number of political scientists and constitutional experts, entitled "IGC 2000: The Constitutional Agenda", is described as rethinking the European Union. In it, J. H. H. Weiler—a great political and constitutional expert—states on the question of whether there should be a European constitution:

because—I am now paraphrasing—in practice, there is not the necessary degree of common consent and democratic grass-roots agreement over what is going on, as exemplified by the results of the recent referendums.

This issue presents Europe with a monumental problem, which is that Europe is sliding down a slippery slope on the pretext of some high-flown idea that it can have a constitution, when in fact it lacks legitimacy at the grass roots. Nothing is more dangerous, either for a nation state or for any putative superstate or federation, than to fall between the two stools of the determination to achieve a greater degree of rule making at a higher level and the lack of consent from the people concerned.

Fundamentally, consent is about freedom. As Vernon Bogdanor said the other day in evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee—the record of which I strongly recommend that Members read—if the European Union does not adopt the principles of democracy and accountability represented by the British system, there will be no real hope for the future of Europe.

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