Previous SectionIndexHome Page

9.37 pm

The Minister for Europe (Peter Hain): I always enjoy following the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring). I attribute his great fluency and charm to the fact that he was educated at the university of Cape Town. I agree with at least on one thing that he said. He wanted a flexible, open and transparent Europe, and I totally agree with him about that. However, I deprecate the fact that, when he refers to the Irish referendum result, he always seems to gloat and to be delighted that the result could wreck the whole enlargement process. As I have reminded Conservative Members before, the candidate countries know who is on their side. They know that the Labour Government back them and that the Tories try to sabotage them.

On the recent election results in Europe, the voters of Britain will remember when the next general election comes that those right-wing Governments elected in France, Denmark, Portugal and Italy have all found that their national footballs teams have been knocked out of the World cup. I am sure that that will be a key factor in the next general election campaign here in Britain.

It has been a particular pleasure to hear Conservative Members' interventions, given their uncharacteristic silence on matters European in recent months—so much so that The Independent reported on 5 June that the Leader of the Opposition was planning to take a back seat in the no campaign because of fears that his party's unpopularity would damage it.

Dominic Cummings, the Leader of the Opposition's director of strategy, memorably said:

As Clint Eastwood said:

What the Tory director of strategy is saying is that Tory support is the kiss of death. Perhaps we should ask the Tories to pledge their wholehearted support to the Brazilian football team ahead of Friday's match.

The director of strategy at Conservative headquarters also commented that

18 Jun 2002 : Column 243

The difference, of course, is that the euro is increasing in value and credibility, while voters have been selling shares in the Tories for a decade. Many Tories want their party to run the no campaign. One Conservative was quoted as saying:

I presume that the fourth horseman of the apocalypse was unavailable.

I fear that we heard nothing new in Conservatives' contributions today. We heard the same old scratchy record of suspicion rather than engagement, and the same feverish defensiveness, rather than our confidence in driving forward the agenda in Europe. Several spurious points, to which I need to reply, were made by the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram). He asked about the Laeken declaration and implied that it was some kind of vehicle for a superstate. He should read it. It states:

I acknowledge that he said that he wanted enlargement to be on track by 2004. We want that, and we are determined to achieve it, which is why ratification of the Nice treaty by all countries of the European Union, including Ireland, is essential to keep it on track.

The right hon. Gentleman may want further elucidation on the common agricultural policy. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary attended yesterday's General Affairs Council meeting, and I attended its meeting last Monday when the CAP was discussed. Our agenda and the leadership given by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary secured a position whereby direct payments were not part of the policy on the agricultural chapter. That was left to be settled at the October meeting of the European Council. That would not prejudice the outcome of the mid-term review, whose initial proposals are due to be published in a few weeks' time. If some countries, including France, had ensured a reference to direct payments in the GAC conclusions, that might have prejudiced the Commission's draft proposals. That was a major achievement.

On Zimbabwe, we expect it to be on the agenda of the next GAC meeting. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will ask for that to happen.

On common foreign and security policy, I remind the right hon. Gentleman that it is an intergovernmental matter and will remain so. I also remind him that common foreign and security policy—which he seems to deprecate and about which he seems deeply unhappy—was established under the Maastricht treaty, which the Conservative Government of which he was a member in the early 1990s introduced. The treaty was taken through the House on a three-line Whip with timetable motions all the way through. I remember that because I was speaking against it. Maastricht established the single currency, the European Union, and the objectives of a common defence policy and a European Union citizenship. It was also a treaty to advance European integration—a Conservative agenda.

Mr. Ancram: The Minister for Europe asked me to read the Laeken declaration, which I have done. I want to quote one part of it. Paragraph 2 states:

Will he explain what he understands by that?

Peter Hain: Yes. That is what was in the Maastricht treaty, which the right hon. Gentleman's Government introduced.

18 Jun 2002 : Column 244

My right hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) made an eloquent, formidable and authoritative contribution describing enlargement as an historic opportunity that must not be missed. He argued wisely that the reform process that we are seeking to achieve in the convention on the future of Europe—on subsidiarity, the role of national Parliaments and the key issue of European Council reform—is absolutely critical to establishing intergovernmental control of the European agenda. That is what the reforms are about, and they include a proposal for an elected president of the European Council.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) made key and important points about the role of national Parliaments. She informed the House that she is the chair of the working group on national Parliaments in the convention on the future of Europe, and that is an important recognition of the key role that she plays.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool made a key point about Europe's future global role and its potential as a force for progressive internationalism on the world stage. I agree with him that it is punching below its weight, and it needs to punch at its full weight. It needs to be in partnership with the US, but as a progressive force that stands its ground on issues such as Kyoto and opening up world trade to poor countries. That is Europe's mission as a force for good in the world, and that requires a strong common foreign policy. My right hon. Friend made that point very well.

The hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) said that there was no Government debate on the future of Europe. I have done my best to stir up apathy in six visits to the nations and regions of Britain. I have tried to carry the debate to the grass roots and to generate discussion at a much more local level. That has been quite successful, but I would not make exaggerated claims about the visits. I intend to visit the rest of the regions of Britain. There is a website seeking to involve people and everyone can contribute to another one about the convention on the future of Europe. [Interruption.] If the right hon. Member for Devizes is inviting me to his constituency, I shall give the invitation the serious consideration that it deserves.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston is doing an excellent job on the convention on the future of Europe and is an excellent representative of this Parliament. She is extremely influential and that should reassure us about the outcome.

I sort of enjoy working in the convention with the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), some of the time. He asked the specific question whether it was the Government's policy that the charter of fundamental rights should become legally binding. The Government's policy remains that the charter should not create new legal rights. That is imperative. The horizontal provisions negotiated by Lord Goldsmith in the convention on the charter state, in article 51:

The right hon. Gentleman may have found, in talking to fellow members of the convention, that the people who say that it is a great idea to have a charter of rights do not seriously appreciate what the implications would be if it

18 Jun 2002 : Column 245

were incorporated wholesale in the treaty. I agree with him about that. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has made it absolutely clear that we shall not do that and that we shall ensure that the debate is approached in a rational fashion. For example, I pointed out to German representatives that their ban on strikes for essential workers could be overridden if the charter were imported wholesale in the treaty. They had not been aware of that point. There is a sense that people want a charter of motherhood and apple pie at one level, but are not willing to recognise what full incorporation would signify.

Next Section

IndexHome Page