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Angus Robertson: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has forgotten the occasion last year when the votes of Liberal Democrat members of the coalition on the Scottish Executive reversed a policy that would have introduced a cod compensation scheme. Such a scheme would have been welcomed in the fishing constituencies represented by the Scottish National party in Banff and Buchan, Moray and Angus.
Mr. Davidson: I do not believe in tribal politics, so I am prepared to accept the hon. Gentleman's point, which seemed to be that the Liberal Democrats are a bad lot. Not many fishermen or fisherwomen live in Glasgow, Pollok, so I do not have a direct interest in the matter. However, I can see that the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) is bursting to enter the debate, and I shall allow him to impale himself.
Mr. Moore: The hon. Gentleman may have a false recollection of my party's position on the CAP, but I cannot allow him to characterise us as not wanting substantial reform. His father lives in my landlocked constituency, so he will accept that it is not an issue in which I have taken close personal interest over the years.
Mr. Davidson: I am sorry. I mistook the hon. Gentleman for a spokesman. I presumed that he would know about these matters. My father speaks highly of the hon. Gentleman, in that he says that he is better than his predecessor.
Many of the same criticisms apply to the CAP. It has been denounced in this Chamber since I arrived, 10 years ago. The changes have been infinitesimal: prices are still too high, subsidy goes to the wrong places, and the policy remains hostile to the interests of people in the third world and the developing world. Has there been reform? There has not been much. Will there be reform before the enlargement countries join? Someone said earlier that we must tackle the question of the CAP once we get enlargement, but that seems to be the wrong way round.
New members must be full members, not second-class members. A policy that will not be tenable if new countries are brought in ought to be changed before they join. We must get rid of a policy that means that we pay farmers to grow things that we do not need so that we can dump products in a way that ruins world markets, to the cost of the developing world and the third world.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud): My hon. Friend has made a strong point about why the CAP has not been reformed. The only arguments that the Americans have been able to advance for the way in which they have increased subsidies is that they still do not subsidise nearly as much as the Europeans do through the CAP. Does not a fair system of agriculture mean that we should get away from this obsession with the euro and look at how we can reform the CAP? In that way we might take the Americans along with us.
I turn now to the Irish referendum, which was mentioned earlier. I hope that the Government will say whether they go along with the idea that the Irish, having got the referendum result wrong, must go through the process again. Do they consider that the principlethat when a country implements its right to hold a referendum but reaches a decision that the centre considers to be wrong it must keep on going until it gets the matter rightshould be adhered to whenever there is a referendum in the EU?
Is it the Government's intention to intervene in the Irish referendum? Will British diplomats, civil servants, members of the machinery of Government, or British political leaders intervene in any way to influence the referendum result? I ask out of curiosity, but many people will want to hear the answer, as it has implications as to whether other EU countries are allowed to intervene in this country's euro referendum. Clearly, if we claim the right to intervene elsewhere, others will determine that they have the right to intervene here. It is important that we spell out the ground rules at an early stage.
Finally, I turn to the level of debate and discussion. It has been a cause of regret to me that much of the debate on the euro has been trivial and tribal. A number of Labour Members believe that we should not join the euro, and we have had a fair amount of vitriol directed at us by some parliamentary colleagues. That demeans politics in general.
Rather than be described as a dupe of the Tories, I fully intend to give up some other commitments to demonstrate my independence of mind on other matters. I hope that that will prove constructive for the Government. I have never before knowingly co-operated with the Conservative party, but I am willing to do what is necessary to prove that I am not hand in glove with it.
Some colleagues seem to believe that the height of political sophistication and argument is to wave euro notes before us, as if they were pieces of garlic being waved before vampires. They seem to think that that will make us disappear. A better level of exchange would be appropriate.
I do not often open my wallet, but I want to show my party's Front Benchers that it contains euros, dollars and yen. That demonstrates my internationalism, but it does not really prove anything. I should prefer it if hon. Members supporting the Government's position did not feel that waving euro notes proved anything with respect to their argument. We need a higher level of debate and discussion.
I accept that the argument can be difficult. I listened to our two representatives on the convention, and some of the issues are so intricate that one finds oneself losing the will to live. However, the essence of many of the relevant matters is relatively simple and straightforward and can be explained in ways that most people can understand. We do not need to have 256 pages on caramelisation read out to us to appreciate that there are major issues at stake.
The Government should concentrate on the issues of principle, rather than the trivial, abusive or tribal. If that happens, we can conduct the debate in a way that restores respect for politics and politicians, rather than diminishing it.
Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset): This has been an excellent debate. The speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) was an old Labour tour de force against the euro, which I was pleased to hear. Then there was his revelation that he is not only a regular reader of The Daily Telegraph but believes what he reads in it and gets his inspiration from it.
We have had particularly interesting contributions from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) on the deliberations of the convention on the future of Europe. It is a matter for some regret that the House spends so little time discussing the important matters that are discussed and decided in the European Union by the Council of Ministers, the European Commission and other bodies. Reference has been made to the Scrutiny Committee, on which I served for nine months in the last Parliament. As I indicated in an intervention on the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston, it is a matter of regret that that Committee, which is our principal means of scrutinising European legislation, whether in the form of directives or draft directives, conducts its affairs in private. I believe that there should be open and transparent scrutiny of European legislation.
I served on the Committee with a number of colleagues, including my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). We tried to persuade the Committee on several occasions that the budget of the European Union
On 1 January next year it will be 30 years since we joined the European Community, as it then was, and not long after we had a referendum relating to our membership. Since then, British support for our membership of the European Union has been tepid at best because so much of the development that has taken place has been conducted by the political elites not only in this country but right across Europe. We have failed to take the people with us; we have failed to involve our electorate in the developments that we are trying to promote in the British national interest. This secret agenda is often picked up on in the popular press and sometimes appears in the form of misguided headlines in our newspapers.
The fact that this is not only a British problem but exists right across the continent has been exemplified in recent years by the difficulties of some of our partners who have tried to get referendums through on what they thought were perfectly straightforward matters only to find that the electorate revolted because they were not involved in the process or engaged in the debate. I fear that we run the risk of encountering the same problem in this country in the run-up to a possible referendum on our membership of the single currency.
We have failed to take the people with us. Politicians throughout Europe have become detached from the real world. For example, we have talked today about structures, systems, committees and working groups. Yet ordinary people do not see Europe in that context. My own children, for instance, simply see it as a place they go to and come back from; they have no great hang-ups about it and feel part of it. In the next few years, we will require the consent of the British people, whether that consent is expressed in a referendum or simply implied in terms of the votes that we take in the House, on a number of major developments that will affect our future and that of the whole of Europe.
A number of right hon. and hon. Members have talked about enlargement. If we accept all the applicants, it will mean bringing 13 new members into this family of nations. The reform of the common agricultural policy has also been mentioned. I share the frustration of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok about how often we have talked about that. I guess that it has been in every major political party's election manifesto since the day we joined the European Community. However, every reform process ends up costing the taxpayers of Europe yet more money, becomes more complex and gets into more areas of agriculture. Even the most recent reform, which was supposed to be the prelude to enlargement of the EU, ended up costing more than was the case under the previous regime.
We have to reform the CAP before we can accept those 13 applicants as full members of the Union. If not, the costs for Europe's taxpayers will be astronomical. To accept those 13 member states and enjoy the current
Many EU members have enjoyed a very generous structural funds regime, the most obvious examples being Spain and Ireland. Structural funds are also available in this country, France and a number of other countries in the existing European Union. However, those funds will shift, quite dramatically, to the new members of the European Union, which will have more justification for having them than those in the west.
We have lots of bright ideas about a common foreign and security policy, which goes back to the Maastricht treaty. However, that concept is at present totally inadequate. I have no problem with the common foreign and security policy as long as our fellow member states are prepared to make a commitment to it. I believe that the United States sees Europe having a greater presence in NATOwhether separate from the US but still part of the NATO structure, or additional to NATO. So far, however, there has been no new commitment from some of our EU partners to making available troops and materiel to make that structure work.
There could be some operational problems with the common foreign and security policy unless it is applied only to a small operation that could be handled by a national command and control structure. Any larger operation, especially one involving the 60,000 troops anticipated for the rapid reaction force, would still require the full commitment of the NATO command and control structure and SHAPESupreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europeat Mons.
We shall also have to face the challenges posed by free trade and by the World Trade Organisation. If Europe is to look outwards, it should be creating a North Atlantic free trade area which brings together the North American Free Trade Area and the European Union. We must break down the existing trade barriers that have worsened on the other side of the Atlantic. Beyond that lie the challenges of the developing world and, within the United Kingdom, the possible referendum on the single currency.
I am delighted that we have heard contributions from two of our members of the convention on the future of Europe and I look forward to hearing from the third as part of the winding-up. For the first time since we moved to a directly elected European Parliament in 1979, Members of national Parliaments are formally part of the EU process. I welcome that development; we are beginning to get some joined-up government in the EU.
We must move on from that, however. Not only in the UK but throughout Europe, national Parliaments and national political debates have become detached from the reality of what takes place in our name at the European level. Also detached from those debates is the reality that every year millions of Britons travel in Europe on holiday and on business. They work and live on the continent, but we conduct our debates as though those people did not travel. Our debates are often conducted in the language of 1942 rather than that of 2002. We must try to set up a more adult and grown-up debate about the future of our continent.
We must stop contemplating our navel and start to look outwards. A Europe that looks outwards across the Atlantic to north America and to the wider world to genuine free trade and recognises that globalisation can be harnessed for the benefit of the whole world is a Europe that will survive.
There is, however, an issue on which Europe must start looking inwardsthe whole question of accountability. I was a little disappointed by the Foreign Secretary's response to my intervention when he told us that the Council of Ministers was to be televised but that we would not actually see any of the discussions, as that might be slightly embarrassing, but only the votes. That will probably be a waste of television time, as the voting process is not terribly interesting. A piece of paper would tell us how our Ministers had voted. What we really want to know is what our Ministers are saying in the Council. Are they representing our national interest in the Council of Ministers? What is the French Minister saying? What is the German Minister saying? Why are we agreeing or disagreeing with them? Why have we arrived at the compromise that the Councilas it often doesvotes for unanimously? We deserve to see the Council in action as a legislative body, rather than being treated to the sight of 15 people putting their hands up, which would make for rather boring television and would receive even less coverage than our debates in this place.
I am also concerned about the scrutiny process in our national Parliaments. As a first step we must crank up that process in this place. So much comes from Brussels. At meetings of the Scrutiny Committee, umpteen documents are listed by number. The Chairman of the Committee reads through the listas the Committee meets in private, I hope that I am allowed to say thisand if one is really smart, one can propose that the Committee discuss a particular point. If one feels that it is especially important, one might at least get the Committee to consider referring it to one of the European Standing Committees.
The meetings of those Standing Committees are rarely covered in the press. I sit on European Standing Committee B which yesterday held a most important debate on asylum seekers and their common treatment throughout the European Union. There have been acres of newspaper coverage of that subject but I do not recall seeing any reference in this morning's press to the only debate in this place on the scrutiny of proposals that will be brought into legislative effect throughout the EU. I am also somewhat scepticalas was the Scrutiny Committee briefabout the Government's optimism as to the effect of the proposals.
We must involve our national Parliaments much more closely in what goes on in the European Union. Our electorates look to us when they criticise what comes from Brussels. Those directives that Christopher Booker and
I have a great deal of respect for many good friends who sit in the European Parliament, who spend hours discussing the detail of such documents, but our electorates look to us, and not to our friends in the European Parliament, for such scrutiny. That is why we must have a much more transparent debate on what occurs in the European Union.
I want to refer briefly to the euro. This is neither the time nor the place to discuss the merits or otherwise of whether we should join the European single currency, but I am somewhat saddened that one of our newspaper proprietors has seen fit to instruct his editorsor so it is reported in the Financial Timesto give only one side of the argument in their papers. If the British people are to be asked to take that decisionas I believe they should be asked in a referendumthe facts need to be put before them and both sides of the argument should be expressed to them dispassionately.
The decision should not become some sort of xenophobic or tribal decision about whether or not people are British or whether joining represents the end of sovereignty and democracy as we know it. We should actually look at the facts. That involves treating the British people as though they are adults, and considering not only the infamous economic tests but the political questions that my constituents certainly want asked about whether the decision is in Britain's national political interest.
If the Government and those who believe that we should join the European single currency can convince the British people that this is not about the creation of a European superstatethat they believe that Europe is a union of sovereign nation states and that that sovereignty will ultimately rest with the nations statesthe British people will be far more amenable to considering the economic tests that the Chancellor has laid down. So the challenge for the Government and those who believe that Britain's future lies with Europe and membership of the single currency is that they have to convince the people that Britain is strengthened, not weakened, by an enhanced role in the EU.