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5 Nov 2002 : Column 139—continued

Convention on the Future of Europe

9. Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): If he will make a statement on recent developments in the Convention on the Future of Europe. [77169]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): The convention is making progress. The outline constitutional treaty unveiled last week provides a useful framework for the next stage in the discussions.

Mr. Bryant : I am delighted to welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box in his new post, not least because of his sane, sensible and sound views on Europe—although knowing his reputation for speaking so many foreign languages, I am not sure whether I should say wilkommen, bienvenue, or welcome.

Does the Minister believe that it is time that we finally had a legible and concise constitution for the European Union, which clearly delineates the role of member states, the European Council and the European Commission?

Mr. MacShane: My hon. Friend is quite right. What we need is

Those excellent and wise words come from leaders of the United Kingdom Conservative party, including the Lords Howe, Heseltine and Hurd, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), and the right hon. Members for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) and for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer). That just shows that if the Conservative party unites on sensible policies in Europe, it need not die.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells): I welcome the Minister to his new brief. Does he agree that until recently the Government strongly opposed both a written constitution for Europe and a single legal personality for the European Union, they strongly supported the intergovernmental pillared structure of the European Union, and they promised that the EU charter of fundamental rights would not be made legally binding on British courts? Why, at the halfway stage of

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the Convention on the Future of Europe, have the Government abandoned all four of those policy positions?

Mr. MacShane: If the right hon. Gentleman refers to the excellent article in The Economist by the Foreign Secretary the other week on the need for a European constitution, he will find that that is fairly long-standing thinking on the part of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman had to resign from the group of Conservative parties on Europe because he is so far out to the right that he speaks for no one—not even, I suspect, himself. The task of the Government and all the parliamentary representatives to the convention is to defend the interests of the British people. I am content that they will continue to do so, and I wish that he were back with his colleagues arguing for Britain.

Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly): Will the Government support proposals for the greater involvement of national Parliaments in the European decision-making process?

Mr. MacShane: Yes, of course. It was the Prime Minister who set out the need for national Parliaments to be involved in the European decision-making process, and I am very pleased that Mr. Giscard d'Estaing has included that proposal in the draft outline constitution that he published last week.

Angus Robertson (Moray): I, too, welcome the Minister to his new role. Does he acknowledge the disappointment of many in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that the UK Government have never argued in the convention for the right of devolved legislatures or Executives to have direct access to the European Court of Justice? Does he not find it slightly inconsistent that the UK Government are arguing for greater transparency and democracy at EU level, which I am sure everyone supports, yet intergovernmental relations within the UK between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations are confidential and secret?

Mr. MacShane: The EU is an association of sovereign states and it is right that one state speaks for the constituent elements within it. There is the same problem in Spain and France. I think that the hon. Gentleman should park his nationalism and start speaking for Europe.

Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston): I welcome my hon. Friend to his new position. Given the absence of European government, is it not right and proper that the European Commission should continue to initiate legislation, given that we have a democratically elected European Parliament and democratic Heads of Government in the Council of Ministers?

Mr. MacShane: I am a democratically elected Member of this Parliament, and I want to see it playing a role in Europe. The convention and the discussions will continue, but I hope that at the end of this process the Prime Minister's vision of national Parliaments playing a strong role will be contained in whatever is the final outcome.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): I, too, congratulate the Minister on his promotion to the role that, given his

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track record, we must regard as Minister for a fully integrated and politically united Europe. Can he clear up some confusion about the Government's position on the convention, the constitution and the charter of fundamental rights? Did not the Prime Minister state in the House last week that the charter

How does that statement square with the comments on the convention by the then Minister for Europe, the right hon. Member for Neath (Peter Hain), the week before that the charter's incorporation into the treaties would be acceptable, and that he was willing to work towards such incorporation? May I help the present Minister for Europe to avoid such confusion? Can he state categorically today that any constitution incorporating and giving legal force to the charter would be totally unacceptable to his Government and that they would veto it—yes or no?

Mr. MacShane: It is always good to hear the word Xunited" from the Opposition Front Bench. I sincerely thank the right hon. Gentleman for his congratulations. The Prime Minister made the British Government's position clear last week. The discussions will continue. I am now the Minister for Europe and I will take a very great interest indeed in the matter.

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East): Does my hon. Friend accept that there is still some disquiet about the workings of the convention? In particular, the European Scrutiny Committee expressed its disappointment at the weakness of the report from the working group on the role of national Parliaments. In line with the comments from my hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood), does my hon. Friend agree that on questions of subsidiarity, when it looks as though Europe is going too far, we in Parliament, rather than just Ministers, should have the right not just to bark, but to bite?

Mr. MacShane: I have worked with my hon. Friend for many years, and believe me, he is a remarkable biter. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) sits for the House on the convention, as do some Members of the European Parliament and representatives from the other place. The general direction of incorporating a role for national Parliaments is the right way forward. My hon. Friend's point is well taken.


11. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham): What discussions he has had with the Ministry of Defence regarding the defence implications for the naval dockyard in Gibraltar of a shared sovereignty deal between the British and Spanish Governments. [77172]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary reaffirmed to

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the House on 12 July, we have made it clear that our current arrangements for the British military facilities in Gibraltar should continue.

Tim Loughton : I extend my congratulations to the new Minister and hope that he will succeed in being a better friend to the people of Gibraltar than was his predecessor. Will he confirm the news that the Royal Navy has moved two anti-terrorist boats previously used in Northern Ireland to Gibraltar, underlining once again the fact that the people of Gibraltar are in the front line of defence of British interests and have an important role to play as the closest British territory to the Muslim world—a role that they continue to accept loyally and unquestioningly? Does it not make a mockery of that loyalty for the Foreign Secretary to be negotiating a grubby backroom deal with Spain that would inevitably compromise the position of the naval dockyard as a strategic defence facility for the defence of both British and Gibraltarian interests?

Mr. MacShane: The hon. Gentleman asked a perfectly good question and made a perfectly good second point, then muddied it with some rant left over from the Front Bench. The answer, of course, is that it is not from the Dispatch Box that there should be an announcement of any operational activity in the area that he mentioned. I do not think that the reference to the Islamic world is particularly relevant or necessary, but given the role that the people of Gibraltar played in defending freedom and defeating fascism, I as Minister for Europe can give a guarantee that Gibraltar will be safe in my hands.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and thank him for what he has just said. Could he give the House an assurance that, in the event of hostilities, Spain would behave in every sense as a true NATO ally and not obstruct the use of the Gibraltar base in any way whatever?

Mr. MacShane: We are entering hypothetical waters, to put it mildly. Spain took a clear and democratic decision to join NATO some 15 years ago. Its officers, service men and king are, I believe, loyal members of the Euro-Atlantic alliance, and I have no doubt at all that Spain will stand by any NATO or alliance obligation that may be put upon her.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Greek army today, in evidence at the appeal of the British plane spotters, has said that one individual in particular took excessive notes and deserves a prison sentence. Have you, Mr. Speaker, been approached by the Foreign Secretary with an undertaking that, if there is a guilty verdict and any British citizens are sent to prison, he will make a statement?

Mr. Speaker: I have had no approach from the Foreign Secretary on the matter.

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