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9.35 pm

Mr. Michael Trend (Windsor): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) for kindly inviting me to wind up the debate. He is a well-known titan of the Dispatch Box, but I am grateful for the opportunity, and I shall enjoy it. I have a sense of deja vu, as I used to wind up debates on Europe a few years ago when I was my party's spokesman on the subject. We have heard a number of thoughtful speeches this evening; I sympathise with those who were not called, but, as we all understand, there were many reasons for that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) touched on some important legal and constitutional matters. The quotation that he read out about Europe's lacking the traditional constitutional legitimacy goes to the heart of the issue. As other Members have pointed out, there is no understanding between the ruled and the rulers in terms of the European Union. That is the fundamental problem. It is not, as some Members have suggested, simply a question of economic tests—say, for joining the euro. The all-important political and constitutional questions that need to be settled with the people of this country must come first; and if the people of Europe have no sense of belonging to the European institutions, those institutions cannot work.

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I was impressed by what my hon. Friend said about the importance of the scrutiny process. I wish more could be done in that respect. He was also right to raise the important question of arrest warrants, which was also raised in the excellent speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory).

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wells referred to the droit de suite, as did the right hon. Member for Newport, East (Alan Howarth). I lost track of it some months ago, and was surprised to discover a few weeks ago that it had been slipped through with no chance of further discussion in the House. That is shameful. The droit de suite will have an impact on many people and organisations, including a firm in my constituency. As my right hon. Friend said, it will have serious implications for people running small businesses. It will have a devastating effect throughout the country, and I wish the Government could have found a way of giving us an extra chance to debate it.

When I listened to the right hon. Member for Newport, East, the years seemed to roll back: I agreed with nearly everything he said. I must warn him, however, that his new colleagues listened stony-faced, as I believe the expression is.

In his interesting speech, my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk referred to Belarus, in which I have a personal and particular interest. I now run my party's international office, and, as the Minister probably knows, I am a governor of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. As I think he also knows, I have a special interest in Belarus, and was very disappointed by the recent presidential election there. It was neither free nor fair, and I look to the Government to state that clearly on behalf of our country. Our thoughts must be with the brave democrats who continue the struggle against tyranny and Lukashenko's Belarus. I think it can be said that, following the fall of Milosevic, he is far the most tyrannical leader in Europe.

Will the Minister say what steps have been taken to reconsider the disastrous closure of the British Council in Minsk? I think that that decision needs to be revisited as soon as possible.

Three years ago, when I last spoke from the Dispatch Box, on enlargement, I was fairly pessimistic about progress. I am less so now because I think that the will to get on with enlargement is shared more widely. I also note that many of the applicant countries have made huge efforts to fulfil the requirements that have been placed on them. I am particularly delighted—I think that this is the point that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) was making—that Lithuania and Latvia have moved on so well in the process and are catching up Estonia.

I also agree that a big bang of 10 countries entering at the same time is highly desirable. However, I still think that there are mountains to climb before enlargement becomes a reality. The main problems associated with agriculture and the structural funds remain. With the presidential election in France, where agriculture has suddenly gained a new intensity as a political issue, and with Spain—the largest winner of regional funds—holding the presidency for the next six months, this will not be an easy time for the enlargement process.

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There are already noises coming out of Madrid casting doubt on the target date for enlargement. One does not have to be a political genius to know what that is all about.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk also mentioned Gibraltar. Many distinguished Labour Members have often debated Gibraltar, and I am sorry that they are not here today; we need to return to that subject. The citizens of Gibraltar have of course been full citizens of the EU for some time, but they have been treated shamefully in the past. I am very pleased that they will now be able to vote in European elections.

I believe, however, that the British Government are playing cruel games with the wishes and affections of the people of Gibraltar. I cannot understand the message that the British Government are trying to send out to Gibraltar. Of course Spain has the presidency next and it would be good if in the next six months we could resolve all our outstanding differences with Spain, but, on Gibraltar, the Government have so far only made a bad situation worse. They have embarked on a process that I think can only end in tears.

The Government have already hugely annoyed the people of Gibraltar by sending out signals that the British guarantee of self-determination has a rubbery rather than a steely quality to it. I think that that feeling will only grow worse in the coming weeks and ensure that the people of Gibraltar say no to whatever question is asked of them.

Therefore, one outcome for the British Government will be to destabilise the Gibraltarians to no practical effect. The other outcome will be to irritate the Government of Spain by appearing to sympathise with their position but then being unable to deliver. As so often, our Government will end up by failing on both fronts. The empty chair is there at the table, but it is for someone who wants to talk about sovereignty. The people of Gibraltar of all parties, all Members of Parliament and all former Speakers have made it absolutely clear—and they believe that the British Government should support them in this—that there is nothing to discuss on sovereignty.

Mr. Bryant: That is not true.

Mr. Trend: We have different opinions on what sovereignty and other such difficult conceptual words mean. If the Government of Gibraltar are being invited to discuss fundamental principles of sovereignty there is no doubt that they do not wish to do so. There are ways in which that could be discussed, and the First Minister of Gibraltar has made that clear. However, if the empty chair is for someone who, as the British Government have made clear, is meant to discuss the fundamental principles, clearly no one from Gibraltar can occupy that chair.

I am very encouraged by the European Union's approach to Cyprus, and I very much hope that minds can be concentrated on finding a just solution to the island's problems as part of the enlargement process. Conservative Members remain committed to Turkey and wish to encourage it in the necessary reforms that will bring it, too, into full membership of the European family. However, Turkey has to understand that it cannot stand in the way and that Cyprus's place in the enlargement process is not negotiable.

Many hon. Members have rightly discussed the world situation and how it will affect the development of Europe. What we have seen in the past few months is a

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demonstration of how power is really exercised in today's world. After all the grandiose rhetoric about common defence and military structures that we have had to listen to over the years, the EU is not and never shall be the right forum to take action of the sort that the current world situation so evidently requires. Romano Prodi's performance in recent months has shown how tetchy and difficult the Eurocrats can be on that subject. We watched the press conference with Guy Verhofstadt, the Belgian Prime Minister, when Mr. Prodi sulked his way out of the room and told the BBC that the EU needed power in military and foreign affairs because it was powerless in the big united global war. Splendid, let us keep it that way for as long as possible.

The Government know that we wholeheartedly support them in their recent actions, but I also hope that they are learning the lesson that their earlier rhetorical gestures on common policy were mistaken. Once again, we have clear evidence of the close and practical relationship that exists between us and the United States. Moreover we have had an important demonstration of how important flexibility is in defence, and vain rhetoric on the EU's future in that respect has been undermined by the reality of the present situation.

The circus is moving on to Laeken and I wish the Minister a jolly time of it. I do not see anything in the Laeken approach that will cure a problem that has been identified by many hon. Members tonight. Nothing that will happen at Laeken will bring the EU's affairs one inch closer to people throughout the Union, especially after the experiences of Denmark and Ireland, as my right hon. and hon. Friends mentioned. Trying to make some sense of Europe for the people is, as we have long been telling the Government, the real challenge for the EU.

The biggest noise around at the moment, as many Labour Members have confirmed, is the proposed convention. We are told that one way in which the EU can grow closer to the citizens of Europe is through the new convention, but that is nonsense. Instead, the convention will be a chance for Europe's budding Thomas Jeffersons to sharpen their pencils and head for the equivalent of Philadelphia. The hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen), who is unfortunately no longer in his place, is becoming an expert on making new constitutions and I am sure that he would love to take on that task. I disagreed with much of what he said, although I am always interested in how he puts things. We can agree on the analysis of problems without necessarily agreeing on the prescription of the cure.

I have not done this debate for a while, but my sense of deja vu tells me that things have moved on but much remains the same. In particular, as hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber have pointed out, the EU still uses the same tedious jargon, weasel language, skewed language and hectoring tone that have for so long marred its progress. My suspicions also go into overdrive when I am sure that we have been given only half the picture. Romano Prodi recently told the College of Europe that some of his major reforms would consist of technical provisions only. I am sure that that will raise the hackles of my right hon. and hon. Friends. When the Minister said earlier that sovereignty shared is sovereignty regained, I felt a judder inside me and questioned whether that made any sense whatever.

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EU leaders, however much they protest the opposite, are responsible for the unnecessary double-speak, muddle and confusion that surrounds their utterances. They are responsible, too, for the arrogant reputation that is synonymous with the EU. When the Irish told Brussels to hold its horses, Prodi went to see them and told them that their views did not matter. Clever stuff. The great paradox of Europe remains the same as it has been for the past 10 years or so. It is the people at the top who are trying to drive the EU too far and too fast who do the damage. It is their closed doors and their private language that alienate ordinary people. It is their indifference to the lack of democratic accountability based on units of government that people understand that prevents sensible progress.

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