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27 Nov 2002 : Column 89WHcontinued
Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North): Good morning, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This morning I raise the important issue of the European constitution. If we are not careful, history will pass this Parliament by. In less than two years' time, there will be a European constitution and we will either surf that wave or be drowned by it. The European constitution will change for ever the power and status of Parliament as well as the way in which our citizens are governed.
I am glad that hon. Members on both sides of the House have helped to secure this debate on the outline of the European constitution. Five hon. Members requested it with the agreement that we would share the time if one of us were lucky. I send the apologies of the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) who is attending a Select Committee and those of the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) who isappropriatelyinvolved in a sitting of the European Scrutiny Committee.
I am glad to welcome the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). His view on the subject may be very different from mine, but I respect it just as I respect his often equally impenetrable spin bowling for the House of Commons cricket team.
The fifth person who co-operated in securing the debate is my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross). It is a pleasure and a privilege for me to participate in a debate with him: I regard him as my mentor in Parliament. All my mistakes are my own, but my hon. Friend has been a great friend and support to me over many years.
As usual, I shall try to make my remarks as non-partisan as possible. There is a surprising amount of common ground between what may at first sight appear to be disparate views on the European question, and there may be consensus about the way in which the European constitution should be framed. It will happen, so let us concede that, deal with the reality and make the constitution as effective as possible for British and European democracy.
A great many problems must be tackled in relation to the balance between the executive and legislative arms in Britain and Europe. Currently, some members of the Executives meet, often in Brussels, and carve things up between them. They decide what they want to do and the elected and legislative arms are an afterthought, as is so often the case with European scrutiny in this Parliament. That is a fundamental problem. Perhaps hon. Members have something to bring to the partyour sense of democracy and of involving our people and legislatures rather than decisions merely being left to people who know better because they happen to be in the Government of the day.
Why should we be so concerned about what is in the constitution? It will preserve and entrench the power currently vested in our European institutions and will decide how we participate effectively in future decisions that affect us all. It should also enable us to call to account those who make the decisions and, above all, to change those decisions, if we wish, democratically by voting in elections. I am examining the matter not purely
It is not a matter of not trusting our Prime Ministers or Presidents. In the old communist days in East Germany, when there were riots the Government issued a statement saying that the people had forfeited the Government's confidencein other words that the people should have somehow tried harder to understand the Executive's difficulties. We should look at things the other way round and ensure that the peoples and electorates of Europe participate in an exciting and potentially ground-breaking project to push Europe further toward consolidating gains that have been made.
There is also a question of defining relationships. Nation statesI say this with an eye to my Conservative colleaguesshould be clearly defined in the constitution. If we did that, we could eliminate the fear of federalism that is promoted, especially by centre and centre-right parties in this country, by use of the F-word, as it is called. If we defined what federalism is and what it is not, we could eliminate some of the fear in British politics.
We could place insurmountable roadblocks in the way of the minority who want a superstate by defining the role of the nation state. That minority frightens people, and people at large should be reassured that that is not the concept of Europe in which we want to participate. None of us should fear clarity in a constitution. Clarity will prevent the executive creep that we have at present. The phrase "ever-closer union" implies dynamism and that certain people can decide the direction in which we go, although we might not be consulted. Replacing that executive creep with the concept of a contract between individual nations and a clear, transparent set of rules that bind the nations together would represent real progress.
I hope that we can agree that the European constitution should entrench the doctrine of subsidiarity. That depressing piece of eurobabble conceals one of the most beautiful concepts in democracy: the fundamentally important principle that power should be exercised at the level of democracy that is closest to the people. If my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, whose brilliance in words and print is known to all of us, came up with a different word from subsidiarity, it would no doubt be emblazoned on his grave, but many of us would appreciate it. A beautiful concept hides behind that horrible word, and that concept should be at the head and heart of the new European constitution.
Subsidiarity is often thought of as protecting the rights of national Governments and Parliaments against those of European institutions, but it should also protect the rights of our devolved assemblies, regional assemblies and local government. Although subsidiarity is part of the treaties of the European Union, they have been completely ineffective and inadequate at enforcing the concept. A lower authority has never used subsidiarity to challenge successfully the power or decision of a higher authority in the EU. Several of us
The exercise of framing the European constitution has been likened to that of framing the American constitution several centuries ago by the founding fathers. However, I fear that we have a little further to go before we are in the same league as Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison and Washington. None the less, we should not stop trying. The Americans, of course, had an advantage: they created their constitution before they created a common currency and before they committed themselves to expansion into new territoriesI am comparing that with the enlargement of the European Unionwhereas the Europeans created a common currency, then decided to expand their territory, and only then, as an afterthought, decided to create a constitution.
We in Europe have an Executive-led, top-down process. Perhaps it had to be that way. We could not start in the same way as the United States of America, and I am not suggesting that, before we start with a clean sheet, we should eliminate all indigenous peoples, as was done in America. In the USA, there was a grass-roots movement. The constitution was a response to Executive over-mightiness rather than a product of Executive over-mightiness. It was an attempt to ensure that the Executive did not dominate and that the legislature and the people had a voice that was taken into account. Only they could create that Executive. The Americans did things the right way round; perhaps we will struggle. However, we can get there, despite the fact that we are doing things differently. The Americans knew that they needed a constitution to secure the will of their people behind the changes that were necessary not only to run a common currency and take in new states, but to provide an agreed system for resolving conflicts of interest between states and local and national interests.
There is one way in which we should draw on the American experience and try to replicate it. When the Americans were drafting their constitution, it was without question the most exciting time in American politics and probably global politics. It provoked a nationwide debateled by a Briton, Thomas Painethat engaged almost every American citizen with a vote. I have to admit that, in the pubs and clubs of Nottingham, North, people rarely debate the core competencies of the respective authorities. If you mentioned subsidiarity in Nottingham, most people would think that it was something nasty, related to previous coalmining, that might damage their house.
I look again to the qualities of my hon. Friend the Minister: we must seek to excite people and involve them in this process. The Minister is well qualified, as is the Secretary of State for Wales and the Foreign Secretary. When they choose to be, all three are powerful advocates. We must not allow this debate to be dry and sterile, dealt with in eurospeak somewhere in Brussels. We should also involve this Parliament. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) and to the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) who have represented the House so well in the European Convention. However, they were selected by the Executive and not by the House, and, although they have done an extremely good job so far, that cannot be the full extent of parliamentary involvement. Parliament must come along with and understand the process. Should it have to give anything up, Parliament must agree to what it is to give up. We need to think very carefully about how the process is managed, otherwise, if Parliament or the public feel that something is being imposed on them, they will reject and resent it. That would be wholly unnecessary.
I hope that we could perhaps use pre-legislative scrutiny, which is coming into fashion in the Housethat is very welcome. We could hold sessions to debate the issue while allowing people to view our debates online and to e-mail their comments, which could be filtered through to hon. Members. Instead of having 40 or 50 eminent founding fathers as the United States constitution had, we could have several million founding fathers and mothers of a British input into a European constitution. That is a great prize indeed. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take away that idea and other ideas about how we might involve Parliament and the wider public.
With regard to the American constitution, the founding fathers decided to make their constitution memorable and portable: something that would fit into the hearts, brains and pockets of every American schoolchild. The founding fathers wrote their constitution in clear, uplifting, elegant language to inspire loyalty and sacrifice among their citizens. They created a constitution that people have been prepared to die for. I would be delighted if we in this place were able to contribute to making a European constitution of that nature.
I am afraid that the draft outline that was prepared by ex-President Giscard d'Estaing has all the inspiration of the EU sheep meat directive, with which I know all hon. Members are familiar. The draft outline is dense, opaque and full of eurolocutions that have already brought high levels of stress to readers and listeners throughout Europe. Some will blame the translators for the tortured language, but that is unfair. That document loses a lot in the original.
Mr. Allen : Mr. Deputy Speaker, you make the point far more eloquently than I do. One thing that I hope my hon. Friend the Minister will take away from the debate isseriouslythe need to look for a poet. We need someone like Madison who, after 40 or 50 people had decided what was needed at the heart of the constitution, was sent away to write it. The founding fathers said, "James, go away and write the draft"and he did
Mr. Allen : I am already hearing suggestions about who that individual might be. None the less, in all seriousness, I hope that my hon. Friend will find someone somewhere in Europe who can put together with coherence, elegance and inspiration some of the things that are currently being talked about.
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane) : The preamble of the American constitution is written in beautiful English, but if my hon. Friend delves deeper into its articles he will find exactly the lawyers' gobbledegook that was put into it in order to protect government from attacks by its citizens via the courts. All constitutions must, at some stage, have the precision and complex clarity that the constitutional lawyers always insist on. I invite him to read further; if he does so, he will find that a lot of that poetry disappears.
Mr. Allen : I will resist the temptation to read further. Although the functions are defined, the language in which that is done might be thought of in terms of the mists of history. However, as my hon. Friend the Minister is a highly literate person who is very well read, I hope that he will agree that even the worst parts of the American constitution read better than the best parts of the eurobabble draft that Giscard d'Estaing has put together.
I wish to make another point about the elegance of language and the American Declaration of Independence. We are going to sign a declaration of dependence. There is nothing wrong with that, and I hope that in doing soin subsuming some of our powers within a broader European contextwe might consider a form of words such as:
That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed".
If we employ words not only of that beauty, but of that precision, there would not be a European citizenregardless of whether they were a president or a pauperwho could mistake the intent that the people in Brussels and elsewhere derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. I hope that that sentiment will be expressed in the constitution.
Democracy, subsidiarity and inspirationrather than processshould be the guiding principles of the European constitution. The first draft has been started and it is going in the right direction, but it has not gone far enough to meet the needs of the peoples of Europe. There is now a great risk that the European constitution will become more fudged, obscure and remote from its citizens, as member states seek forms of words to resolve their differences.
What is to be done? When you want a job to be done, you must do it yourself. In my spare time, I have written a 20-article constitution that is two and a half pages long; I will leave it with my hon. Friend at the end of the debate. It sets out the principles of subsidiarity, democracy and human rights. I tried to imagine how the founding fathers in America might have undertaken their task, and my draft deliberately mimics their language, and directly borrows several of their provisions. I hope that the Europeans will not be too vain to deny themselves the benefit of American constitution making, the results of which have endured successfully for more than 200 years. My hon. Friend the Minister has a copy of those fundamental articles, and they can also be found on the YouGov website, which has a growing and creative list of comments from respondents.
I mention my own modest effort because it illustrates what our Parliament could collectively doall our citizens could participate in that through e-democracy. The House could generate that debate and thereby excite and involve young people who want to have a stake in our future and say what they want our institutions to look like and how our powers should be exercised in our society. This House should not monopolise the process of constitution making, but it should at least have a stake in that process, and then involve all our citizens in it.
My hon. Friend the Minister is making great efforts to involve the regions, academics, business people, trade unionists, students and many other people, but the Government must go one step further. They must get the British Parliament involved in a serious wayrather than in a nominal way by selecting the people who will represent us at the European Convention, or by having a bit of scrutiny at the European level, or even by having a debate on the Floor of the House on Monday.
Those are welcome steps, but they are only small steps; they do not involve Parliament and people as of right in their own constitution making. We must get this right, or people will turn against the whole concept of the European constitution, which would be totally unnecessary. We must start to see our Parliament and our people as partners in the political process, rather than as threats to it.
Once we have reached the conclusion of a process of national consensus, I hope that the European constitution will be put to a referendum in Britain. If the process has been conducted properly, it will sail through, because we will all have bought into it and put in the safeguards and roadblocks necessary to reassure those whopossibly with good reason in certain circumstancesare sceptical. I think of the right hon. Member for Wokingham. They need to be reassured, just as other people need to be inspired by the European vision. Their views are as valid as those of any pro-European and they need to be taken into account in the process of constitution making. Otherwise, a referendum, which I believe is essential, will fail. Were we to have a referendum today, a European constitution would not be accepted. I should like us to reach a position in which we have convinced people that a European constitution will not only be accepted but will have the support of all hon. Members.
Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester): Is reassurance needed because people believe that a constitution will slowly suck us into a position in which one day people wake up and find that their country has gone? Does the hon. Gentleman think that it might be a step in the right direction to add an exit clause to the constitution? That would provide reassurance. Most treaties, NATO, the European Council and the Council of Europe have exit clauses.
Mr. Allen : I very much agree. Having said that we have to learn from other constitution makers, not least the Americans, we should also learn from the experience of the United States during the civil war. Although I hope that we shall never repeat the difficulties of the last century, when European nations were at war, that is why I have included an exit clause in my draft. It cannot be done casually; it has to be worked on carefully. I know that the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) takes great care to think such matters through, as do his Conservative colleagues. If we cannot reassure open minded, thoughtful colleagues in all parties about the true intent of a European constitution, we should not have one, because it is designed to help them just as much as to further a concept of the European project.
I shall conclude my remarks, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West wishes to catch your eye, as does the right hon. Member for Wokingham, who assisted me in convening the debate. I hope that they will be successful. Governments should not regard debate and scrutiny as a threat, but as an opportunity to strengthen the British contribution to the European Union.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): I congratulate the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) on having secured the debate and on the spirit in which he made his contribution. He was exaggerating in his flattery of my spin bowling. I have never claimed to be a great bowler. I see that I share the problem with some who play for the England team, although they have achieved more in cricket than I have.
I wish to be a voice for democracyfor making decisions in the United Kingdom that make sense for the people whom we represent. I particularly enjoyed the passages in the hon. Gentleman's speech that stressed the need to carry people with us on this massive journey, to explain matters in language that they understand and to ensure that the politicians acting on their behalf do not over-reach or go further than people want, and that they surrender powers to a European Government only when that makes sense and can be sold to the British people as just.
I also enjoyed the fact that the hon. Gentleman introduced executive creepan interesting characterinto the debate. I am particularly worried about this character because it is working away in Brussels day by day. Often, I wake up to discover that Brussels has taken decisions on our behalf, yet we knew little or nothing about them and may not have agreed to them. Our Government may have been alert but lost the argument, or the decision may have gone through because the Commission, which is a very active executive body, with a lot of work to do, was in a hurry and did not carry all elected politicians with it. Equally, our Ministers have many other roles to perform.
Successive Prime Ministers of different persuasions have told us very similar things about Europe, and there is a surprising continuity in our debates with our partners in Brussels. Prime Ministers tell us that Europe is coming our way. They therefore accept that it was not in line with what we wanted when they took office, although they add that, thanks to their negotiating skills, it is definitely coming our way. That is not a party political point; the same thing has happened under Conservative and Labour Prime Ministers.
My worry is that Europe is far from coming our way. What is our way? Again, there is surprising continuity. Prime Ministers right, left and centre nearly always say that they want a Europe of nations and that the most important decisions must be taken in the United Kingdom through a democratic process. They are happy to co-operate with our partners in several
The draft constitution makes it clear, however, that Europe is far from coming our way. Indeed, many of the big decisions are sliding under European control. It is our duty in the House to expose that process and to cross-examine the Executive, who represent our interests, to find out how they will resist it. How will they deliver the Europe of nations that they say they want? How can they go on claiming that we have a Europe of nations when a group of dedicated men and women are settling on a constitution that goes a long way towards creating a united states of Europe? Indeed, one of the Convention's suggested titles for the EU is the United States of Europe. The phrase is credible, and a united states of Europe would be much more centralised and have a much more powerful Government than the free-trade friendly Europe that is coming our way, according to the euro myth in Britain.
The second argument that we hear from successive Prime Ministers is that our sovereignty is not at risk. What is sovereignty? It sounds like a rather abstract concept. Does it really matter? Of course it does. Sovereignty is the right to make our own decisions, to be boss of our own house and decide how we paint the front door, when we shut it and when we open it. If we are not careful, we will discover that all too many decisions that affect our daily lives are no longer made by a democratically elected Government in Britain, as we had thought.
As a British democrat, I would far rather live under an elected Labour Government, with a majority in the House of Commons, in the belief that I could criticise them, push them, influence them and, one day, I hope, get rid of them. That would be preferable to living under an unelected or indirectly elected Government in Brussels, whom I could scarcely ever influence, get at, cross-examine or throw out of office. Losing our sovereignty is that fundamental. It means that instead of being able to use our vote and our voice to influence those who govern us or to remove them when things go wrong, we are left almost powerless and are governed by people whom we scarcely know, can rarely influence and cannot throw out if they make a mess.
The third argumentin some ways it contradicts the idea that our sovereignty is never at riskis that pooling sovereignty is "good for you". That is based on people confusing sovereignty with power. It is self-evidently true that if 12 or 15 countries are put together and governed as one, that unit will be more powerful than any of the individual participants that predated it. However, that is not the same as pooled sovereignty, with individual countries being more powerful because they have joined a union. Each country has only one fifteenth of the influence, or a slightly higher proportion for larger countries, on the decisions of the much bigger grouping.
I would compare that to having a bank account with the neighbours. It would give someone more spending power if he and his neighbours had a single bank account. If he were clever at influencing it, it might even give him more direct power. However, people do not do that because they could not guarantee that they could
Even though people like their neighbours, want to co-operate with them and go to drinks parties with them, they do not have bank accounts with them. Ultimately, people know that that would be confusing power with sovereignty. When it comes to people's own affairs, they would rather be sovereign than potentially more powerful.
Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West): The right hon. Gentleman is wrong about that. The growth of credit unions in this country shows that ordinary people are putting their money together. I am sure that there is a growth of credit unions in his area. Debates on the need to support such unions take place in the House all the time.
Mr. Redwood : The hon. Gentleman makes my case for me. People volunteer to join a credit union, can leave it at any time, and always have access to their own contribution. I am happy with that kind of Europe. If everything is done by unanimityif this great House of Commons can decide whether or not it wants to enter into an arrangement, and in future can decide that it no longer wants to continue with such an arrangementthat is wonderful.
I want a Europe of nations in which we co-operate. That means many more decisions taken by unanimity and, I accept, that we would do fewer things and make fewer decisions together. On many occasions, the British view will be different from that of France and Germany, and why should that not be so? The credit union is a perfect analogy. By working together with unanimous agreement on occasions, we will have more power in the world as a whole. We want to do that, but we should not be forced to do it against our will. No hon. Member would join a credit union if it reserved the right to take his money and not give it back.
Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North): I am following the right hon. Gentleman's argument with great interest. Does he agree that the best example of a powerful group of nations in which sovereignty was not voluntarily pooled was the Soviet Union? The first thing that happened after the break-up of the Soviet Union was that the countries established their own sovereignty, with their own currencies.
Mr. Redwood : That is a powerful point. If a common currency was so good, would not those countries have kept the rouble? They could not wait to get out of it because they associated it with tyranny. I do not say that the tyranny of the EU will be as massive as that of the Soviet Union, but if we surrender the right of veto, we surrender the right to make our own decisions and have control over our own affairs, and we will come to rue the day. The British people will not thank us for it. At some point in future, an issue will become massivewho knows what it will be? The British people will say to their elected representatives, "How dare you give away our power to sort this matter out? Why did this happen? Why did it take place by stealth? Why weren't we told at the time? Why didn't we have a referendum?"
How right the hon. Member for Nottingham, North was to say that if the Government want to sign away more of our powers in the future constitutionI fear that they dothey should at least have the decency to put the matter not only to the House of Commons to debate and vote, but to the people at large. Too much power has been given away already without their express permission. It is high time that we had a full national debate on the issue, so that we could see where strength of opinion lay. Then we would see whether the Minister was right about what people wanted. He might get his endorsement, and I as a good democrat might have to admit that I had lost the case. However, if I am rightI suspect that I am and that most people are with me[Interruption.]
Mr. Redwood : I am grateful for your protection, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If, as I suspect, I am right, we will have our three weeks in court during the referendum campaign and we will have settled the issue and reconnected the views of the British people to the views of the elected Government.
Mr. MacShane : The right hon. Gentleman's argument is not with me. The draft constitution was drafted by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen)he is the one who wants a constitution. The right hon. Gentleman should address his remarks to
Mr. Redwood : Much as I admire the hon. Member for Nottingham, North as a fine democrat in the House, my argument is with the Government because it is they who will sign the real constitution for Europe. I have not heard the Government say that they would veto a single thing in the draft constitution and I have not said that the Government will take their bat away and refuse to play the game. My view is that the Government want to get us into the constitution by stealth. They will then say that the constitution is perfect for us, having played no real part in influencing, fashioning and shaping it. Then they will say that there is no need to put it to the British people because the Government judge that it does not represent much of a change. I think that it will represent a substantial further change.
Mr. Allen : I intervene to help the right hon. Member for Wokingham and my hon. Friend the Minister. Reference was made to my European constitution and I am flattered that it has even impinged on my hon. Friend's busy schedule. It may assist the Committee if I quote from article 2, which states:
So there is a way out, although I hope that it will never be necessary. It is there just in case. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will continue in the constructive vein in which he made his points because he sometimes makes the intellectual mistake of some colleagues who are opposed in principle to the European Union and who imagine that everything in the garden is lovely at the moment and that the British Parliament is sovereign and can deal with these matters. Subsidiarity will help him to make
I have some questions for the Minister. Have the Government signed up to the idea of five overarching, educational targets? When they do so, will not that mean that we are circumscribed in the education policy that we can follow in the United Kingdom, because our spending priorities and educational priorities will have to be geared to those five targets? Is that another sphere that will move from British national control to European control? Is it true that we have been requested by the European Union to denounce the open-skies agreement that this country successfully negotiated with the United States? I have confirmation in written answers that the EU is not yet empowered to negotiate a Europe-wide open-skies agreement on behalf of all 15 member states, but I have been advised by people who follow the matter carefully that the EU thinks that our open-skies agreement as a separate nation was wrong and is beginning to make moves to get us to rescind it? Why do we have to go through this process? Is not that a power too far for the European Union?
Many of the architects of the new constitution believe that the next big advance to be made by the EU, following in its view the successful introduction of the euro for most member states, is to have more common taxation. It wishes to have common rates of business taxation and to create VAT as the first truly Europe-wide tax collected by Europe and distributed from the European Government back to the member states on a formula of Europe's choosing rather than our own. Proposals for other independent EU taxes are also well advanced. How far will the process go? Will the Minister give an assurance that the Government will veto every proposal that wishes to take away the sovereign right of the House of Commons over taxation and give it in part to influences and control from Brussels?
The European Union is well advanced in wishing to take over what was the third pillarhome affairs and criminal justice. The 32 offences under the European arrest warrant represent a significant advance towards an EU criminal jurisdiction. Will the Minister give us an assurance that we will resist the imploding of the third pillar into EU competencethe takeover by the EU of important parts of our criminal justice system? Or are
Mr. Allen : Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that if we define subsidiarity accurately in a European constitution, and it is justiciable, the very examples that he has just given would be illegal? In addition, were a euro state to seek such competences, we could take it to court, either as a nation state, or as a region or as a local government unit? That would be our strongest defence in retaining the integrity of all those subsidiary bodies.
Mr. Redwood : I have some sympathy, but I do not think that I am in favour of subsidiarity. I want to look at it the other way up and ask what powers we, as a sovereign nation, are prepared to entrust for the time being to the European Union. I would be happy to clarify and define those powers, but I would want unanimity. I would like us to propose that qualified majority voting should be rescinded. I see no need for Europe to go on legislating at the current pace. The argument for QMV is that it speeds up legislation, but Britain should now want to slow the pace down. The most obvious way of doing that would be to say, "Let us go back to a system where, if all members do not want a piece of legislation, it will not be rushed throughwe will wait until we can get our ducks in a row."
Do the Government plan to repatriate our much-maligned and damaged fishing grounds? The only solution is for the British fishing industry to take them back under British control and to have our own regime, so that we can try to nurse our stocks back to former levels. We will have to impose limits, but fishing should benefit the British fishing industry. Have we not been too generous? It is particularly unfair that there is no common fishery in the Mediterranean sea but that there is in the North sea. Why do we not harmonise and standardise by bringing policy for the North sea into line with that for the Mediterranean, and reassert our claim to our own territorial waters? I would trust the Government to manage it better than the EUno greater praise could I possibly lavish on the Governmentalthough, of course, I am sure that a Conservative Government could do it even better, but we will have to wait a while for that opportunity.
All parties agree that the common agricultural policy should be reformed. All seem to agree with the proposition, which I strongly support, that the common agricultural policy is an affront to the developing world and is not good for consumers or even for farmers in Britain. It achieves the triple whammy of doing damage to our legitimate competitors overseas, doing damage to our farming interests through its regulatory powers and doing damage to our customers by overcharging. It should be possible to design something better. Will the Minister assure us that the Government intend to do that? That should form an important part of negotiations on the convention. Will the Minister agree to veto any further moves towards a common defence
What should the UK do? In the negotiations, we should put forward a positive and forward-looking set of proposals that give reality to the fine words of a Europe of nations. We should say that we want true devolution of power. We would give Europe only those things that we think would make sense. We should base decisions on unanimity, not on qualified majority voting. We should strengthen the democratic checks on the exercise of EU government power. We should slow down the legislative process and open up that process to the press and public. We should be the voice of democracy and ensure that power is exercised where it truly belongs: in countries where people relate to that authority and feel part of that democratic system. Of course, we will need a referendum on such mighty issues, but will the Government not just talk the talk, but walk the walk, by proposing a constitution that creates a proper, open, democratic and fair Europe of nations?
Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West): First, I pay tribute to my very good friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen). We have known each other for more than 24 years. Let me tell my hon. Friend the Minister to "watch this space". When the former Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun and I were seeking to redefine the parliamentary Labour party, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North was our secret agent. We were two lone, small voices, with that large person behind us. We bought the parliamentary Labour party to its current point. It now has a constitution and standing orders. The sort of meeting that is taking place right nowand that we are missingdid not take place before we forced it on to the agenda. My hon. Friend has a very good track record on such matters. I would not simply put the proposed constitution on one side; I would look at it very seriously. I am sure that it will contain elements that my hon. Friend the Minister will want to use some time in the future.
It is always difficulteven frighteningto enter a debate on something such as article 14. I agree with the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) that we need to explain ourselves better. I would certainly recommend to everyone the tour undertaken by my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Wales, who was then Minister for Europe. They went round the country explaining what the European Union was about and what they were hoping to achieve. I would ask everyone from Scotland to read the speech that the Foreign Secretary made in Edinburgh on 27 August. It is a powerful speech and gives good reasons why the people in Scotlandpolls demonstrate that they are not afraid of Europeshould want to be involved in the European Union. It reflected the fact that as Scots we are proud of our nation. However, that does not make us insular or inward looking. We have always had the advantage of feeling that, as a small country, we need to express ourselves on a wider stage. Whether that is in the Government or in Europe, we have never been afraid to take on those challenges and to look at where Scotland should go. That should not be understood in a narrow,
However, we need to reassure the public. Even in Scotland, many members of the public want to know what Europe is about. They want to hear our agenda and to know that the dramatic decline in Britain's standing in Europe that was witnessed during the Labour party's 18 years in opposition has been reversed. As the Prime Minister said, we are now
If the right hon. Member for Wokingham genuinely wants to take part in the debate, he should join us in going round the country, saying how he thinks that there are difficulties and problems. He says that he is doing that, and I do not doubt it, though I do not hear people in Scotland saying, "We had John Redwood up last week. That's us opposed to Europe." That just does not happen. However, they do say, "We had the Foreign Secretary up, and we agree with a lot of what he said. We see the purpose and reason behind it, and we see it's in Scotland's interest." The Foreign Secretary demonstrated that we have used our own experience in the way in which we have tackled inflation and created jobs. The Labour Government have been good for Scotland.
Mr. Hopkins : My hon. Friend is quite right. The Government have achieved great things economically. Does that not stand in great contrast to the terrible problems that Germany now faces as a result of the eurozone, which the Governor of the Bank of England has today highlighted?
Mr. Ross : The target is to create 20 million new jobs throughout Europe. In the first couple of years, we have not done as well as we should, but that does not mean that we should give in and become more protectionist. It simply means that we must argue our agenda for lighter regulation within the economy to help to create those jobs. That is what the Foreign Secretary said in Edinburgh. We need to argue that our model is a good one, which we could not do under the last Conservative Government because they only wanted the table. We can argue our case, saying "Here is our experience, learn from our experience because it is not a bad one." Of course, we have made mistakes and there have been moments when people did not agree with our policy. However, we can now look back and see that we have created 300,000 jobs.
Mr. Redwood : The present Government are no more at the table on eurozone matters than were the last Conservative Government. Does the hon. Gentleman think that that is a huge mistake? Would he urge his Front Bench to hold a referendum immediately to solve the problem?
None the less, the right hon. Member for Wokingham raised concerns that also concern us. The common agricultural policy is probably the issue that causes people most concern. At the recent world summit, with reference to our programme of sustainable development throughout the world, we had to accept that the common agricultural policy was a problem. Interim reform proposals were in the pipeline, and I wonder how far they have progressed and where they are. Are we any closer to those interim proposals, which would help us to do what we want to do in the world?
I part company with my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North, good friend that he is, on the word subsidiarity. He thinks that we need to find a new word, but that is always dangerous. I remember the first time that the word was used in Scotland. A member of the Scottish National party challenged one of my colleagues, on a television programme, to tell people what it meant. My Labour party colleague did not have a clue, and he stumbled and trawled around in trying to find out what it meant. That is not surprising, however, as the word was not generally understood then. I believe that it was first used in the Catholic Church. The religious persuasion of our candidate in Govan is not important, but he had clearly never heard of it. I might have heard of it at that time, but I did not really understand what it meant. It certainly floored my colleague on the television programme, and he never really recovered.
So, we have subsidiarity, and we now understand what it means. The Government have launched the most radical overhaul of our constitution since the Reform Act 1832. Unlike the right hon. Member for Wokingham, who voted against the Regional Assemblies (Preparation) Bill last night, we have given Scotland a Parliament, and Northern Ireland and Wales an Assembly each. We are preparing to give people in English regions assemblies as well, if they wish it.
Mr. Allen : It seems that however consensual one tries to be, there will always be colleagues who stretch the elastic to get back to their partisan positions. Subsidiarity is not an especially appropriate word, as it is confusing and people often do not know what it meansthey would have to be in the know to know what it meant. Perhaps the word democracy would be sufficient, but it has been so abused over the years that I shall leave it in the capable hands of my literate hon. Friend the Minister for Europe to provide something that will sparkle and excite the British people.
Mr. Ross : I was about to ask a specific question. In his Edinburgh speech, the Foreign Secretary drew attention to the need for a mechanism to ensure that subsidiarity works, but have we yet found that mechanism? He said that
When I tried the marvellous exercise of weeding through all this stuff, I just gave up. I realised that if I started to read through it all, I would miss the whole point. Surely a few simple points could be made. Currently, EU treaties are long, complicated, confused and overlapping, but we need clear and concise treaties to clarify what the EU is, what it does and how it does it. That would help to bridge the gap of understanding between Europe and its citizens. A better organised European Union would then be in a better position to deliver practical benefits.
Unlike my hon. Friend, I welcome the draft text. At least we have something to work with and to provide the basis for debate over the next six months. We must build the text up. I do not want to get into name changes. We do not need a united states of Europe or a federal superstate. Let us stick with what we havedual citizenshipsand try to keep it as simple as we can. The Minister should watch this space because whatever my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North says will happen on day one is likely to arrive on day 10.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) on securing the debate and I applaud his democratic sentiments. I share them entirely, but I am unsure whether the European Union shares them. I also applaud the statement made many times by the former Minister for Europe, now Secretary of State for Wales, that the British Government support an association of independent democratic states in the EUprecisely what I support. I agree strongly with my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North that if we cannot achieve a democratic constitution for Europe, we should not have a constitution at all. The detail is important.
Parliament was foundedlong before it was democraticto keep control of spending. It was all about the barons trying to control the King's spending. If Governments do not have control over their economies, they are undemocratic and illegitimate. That is the problem with the European Union. We have already seen the problems that have arisen when sovereignty over economic matters has been taken away from members of the eurozonenot yet, one hopes not at all, from our own democratic Parliament.
The European Central Bankappointed for eight years and outside political controlcurrently controls interest rates. It was set up at the insistence of the Germans, who have recently tried to press that bank to bring down interest rates, which are too high for their economy. However, they are too low for the Spanish and Irish economies, which causes serious problems. The growth and stability pact represents another attempt to shift power away from democratic Governments towards an agreement that will, through the Commission, automatically control the fiscal stance of member states. Once again, it is a move away from democracy. Some democracy is maintained through the Council of Ministers. I support a strong Council because it allows democratic Governments a major say about what happens in Europe, and I base most of my hope there for the time being.
What of the European Parliament? Today I read a report by a Liberal Democrat MEP, suggesting that the legitimacy of the European Parliament needs to be questioned. Indeed, during the most recent European election when we had for the first time the list system of proportional representation, which I deeply oppose, there was in my constituency an 18 per cent. turnout for a Parliament that is supposed to have a major role in democratic government.
I have seen the European Parliament in operation and believe that it is a farce. There are no thriving, live debates in which hon. Members can intervene on each other and debate the issues in depth. Instead there are three-minute statements by hundreds of Members of the European Parliament from all over Europe who get views and small globules of information on the record but have no real power. The democratic institutions of the European Union are deeply flawed.
I am being signalled that I should conclude my remarks. I have made most of the major points. This very day, Germany is in economic crisis. It wants to reduce interest rates to relax its fiscal policy, but it cannot do soit has been told to do the opposite. As I mentioned earlier, the Governor of the Bank of England said in The Times today that Germany's problems arise from its membership of the eurozone. As long as we have the eurozone and members still joining it, the democratic legitimacy of the European Union will be in question. I suggest that the looser association of member states that should be the future of the European Union will result eventually in the abandonment of the euro and economic and monetary union, and in much more relaxed economic management so that democratic governments can control their economies.
Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale): I congratulate, as others have, the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) on securing the debate, along with a consortium of other hon. Members who are interested in the issue. Clearly, he has not lost his whipping ability of recent time. I also commend him on his recent accolade by The Spectator as Back-Bencher of the year. I am sure that he was pleased to receive it and that it is not an embarrassment to him.
We have heard a range of views. Much of the analysis can be shared among and within parties, although perhaps at times aspirations are different. The hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) specifically agreed with the proposition that any constitution that is put in place must be democratic. I absolutely endorse that view although I also point out that not having a constitution does not necessarily lead to democracy. What we have at present is certainly open to legitimate challenge on the lack of democracy across the EU and its institutions.
The central themes that we are discussing are founded on the basis that the EU is often remote, bossy and unaccountable and that the democratic settlement between the EU and its citizens is deficient. As we contemplate enlargement in the next couple of years, it is vitally important that we address such issues. The future of the European Convention is very significant in that respect. I hope that we will have an opportunity to
It is clear that the Convention's work is gathering momentum and is being taken seriously. Any doubts about that are dispelled by the fact that the German and French Foreign Ministers have become delegates to the convention. I wonder whether our Foreign Secretary has any plans to follow suit. Britain certainly must not miss another opportunity, in the grand British tradition within Europe.
A constitution is undoubtedly necessary because at present we have a series of complex treaties with truckloads of supporting legislation. It is surely questionable whether the experts understand all the documentation, and there is no question of ordinary people doing so. I believe that the Convention's first draft is worth while but rather thin on detail. What we must hope for when it finalises its work is a clear statement of what the European Union is and how its various institutions and member states fit together. That must be the first stage of reconnecting the EU with its citizens. Recognising the rights of EU citizens will be important, too, and in that respect we would support the incorporation of the charter of fundamental rights into the constitution.
Apart from setting out those rights, the most important challenge will be to clarify the competencies of the EU as opposed to member states. There has been a debate about the elegance of the word subsidiarity, but no question about the need for the principle to be at the heart of the EU's activities. Decisions affecting the lives of citizens throughout Europe must be made at the most appropriate level. Lip service is paid to that principle, but too little scrutiny occurs and too much goes by default. There must be not only a clear restatement of subsidiarity, but adequate scrutiny of the reality by Parliaments at national and European levels.
We may not disagree on the nature of the road map to a new European constitution, but we must be absolutely clear that the constitution-building process is a great opportunity for us, not the worrying threat that some portray it to be.
Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) on his highly original, interesting and well-prepared speech. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) for making some excellent points that reflected great originality. Several good speeches were made, but I particularly applaud the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) for his work over a number of years as chairman of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy.
Valéry Giscard d'Estaing's draft constitutional treaty is the result of a considerable amount of hard work and effort by several distinguished European politicians. It is thoughtful and imaginative, but in many ways fundamentally misses the point. The main challenge in Europe is how to address the democratic deficit, and we minimise that challenge at our peril. Europe stands on the brink of a new era. Within the next two years, substantial enlargement will take place. To make the European Union viable for the long term, its structures
That will require a revision of the treaties, but it does not require a new constitution that, for the first time, would explicitly give the EU an autonomous authority of its own, thus changing the very basis of the structure of relationships that has existed between its members. It was frankly absurd for the Foreign Secretary to compare a European constitution with that of a golf club. A constitution would vastly increase the authority of European Union institutions. He called for a simpler statement of principles, but, as we know, constitutions have a great ability to snowball, gathering more importance over time. Accountability and democracy must be the standards by which we judge any new treaty. Although I am pleased that under article 8 any new competency that is not conferred on the EU by member states remains with member states, the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality must lie at the heart of our thinking. In considering the architecture of the European Union, it is important that national Parliaments play the key role. However imperfect, they are the expression of a country's democratic will, and to override that with a supranational written constitution would be to go in entirely the wrong direction.
There needs to be a clarification of the EU's powers, including a clear set of competencies. That would certainly make the EU more accountable and comprehensible, but I do not believe that a treaty of competencies needs to be reinforced on a constitutional treaty basis.
The EU's proper direction is clear: it must be more accountable, involve national Parliaments and clarify its rules. It does not need a supranational structure, which is the implication of many articles in the draft constitution. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham pointed out, there are also provisions for joint citizenship and the abolition of the EU's three-pillar structure. Could anything more absurd be conceived than having our foreign policy governed by qualified majority voting? That would certainly increase the unelected Commission's authority over justice and home affairs, and make the Union more distant and less democratic.
The draft constitution anticipates the incorporation of the charter of fundamental rights, which would represent a vast increase of the EU's competencies and of judge-led law. Nothing alienates people in this country from the institutions of the European Union more than judge-led law, and the incorporation of the charter in any constitution would see a massive extension of that, exacerbating the question of the democratic deficit.
Since the EU's inception and during its evolution, much has been accomplished, and much of that has been wholly desirable and good for the people of Europe. We are now at a crossroads. We must re-engage people and find an architecture to do that. The idea of a supranational authority in the form of a written
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane) : This has been an enjoyable debate and I join in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen)a very good friend, mentor and adviser over many yearson securing the debate. He pooled his independent sovereignty as an MP with other right hon. and hon. Members to command an hour and a half of debating time. On Monday, we will return to this matter in a major debate on the Convention.
Yesterday, the Lords Scrutiny Committee asked me some of the questions that have been raised today. I should love to find another word for subsidiarity, and I promise my hon. Friend that I shall open the Foreign Office thesaurus to find one, but it may be difficult. I invite him to read the Bill of Rights, which is the closest that we have to a constitution. There, he will find language, beyond its rather flowery opening, that is as deeply impenetrable as only an English constitutional lawyer can produce.
Before we drifted back into the dreary swamp of Conservative euro-hostility, which slightly diminished the rarefied quality of the debate, we had been exploring interesting conceptual ideas. A couple of nights ago in the House, I faced 40 or 50 giggling, hysterical Opposition Members chortling about the plight of Gibraltar. I am glad to say that today's debate is being conducted in a more serious and mature fashion.
Several hon. Members referred to the American constitution, which was drawn up by 52 men meeting in secret, which is not a privilegeif that is the right wordthat we can grant ourselves in the 21st century. I note that no hon. Lady Members have taken part in this debate, and I am constantly worried that when we set about our business of putting Europe together in a better way we are ignoring the half of Europe's population that is not male.
There is a theory that Britain does not have a constitution. With next Monday's debate in mind, I commend "The English Constitution" by Walter Bagehot to hon. Members. He specifically understood the nature of the British constitution, and he contrasted itI put this point to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North, who is, like me, a great friend and fan of things Americanwith the American constitution. Mr. Bagehot wrote:
Speaking personally and as a Minister, I think that whatever arrangement we come to in Europe, a European constitution should not be static, fixed or immovable. It has to be elastic and able to change because Europe is an organic process and there is no ultimate European finality.
Mr. Redwood : Will the Minister confirm that the British Government will either negotiate out or veto any proposal that would give the EU power over taxation, criminal justice or the way in which we run our Army?
Mr. MacShane: In the brief time available, I should like to discuss the general issue of a constitution. It is well known that the British Government, along with a number of other Governments, do not favour qualified majority voting and wish to keep the unanimity principle on matters of taxation; of course, that also applies to common foreign and security policies. I shall go on to some of the points that the right hon. Gentleman made in his very interesting speech. He is a distinguished intellectual and a quondam fellow of All Souls.
Mr. Allen : Before my hon. Friend the Minister moves on to further points raised by the right hon. Member for Wokingham, I want to make two points. First, does he accept that a constitution is not static? A constitution is subject to endless interpretation, as the American constitution, the French constitution and others have been. A constitution is like a boxing ring in that it provides a framework in which political, social or judicial conflicts can be played out. The American constitution both permitted and abolished slavery; it moves with the times. Secondly, will he consider starting a competition to find a better word for subsidiarity? We have got to get over to people that subsidiarity is a great boost for democracy, and not a problem for democracy.
Mr. MacShane : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, and if he wants to join with me in launching such a competition I would be delighted. He is of course right that constitutions are living things, and judges interpret them all the time. The concluding comment from the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring), however, was that we are against judge-led law. I am sorry, but the Supreme Court of the United States is the essence of judge-led interpretive law, and any constitutional arrangements will require checks and balances.
In the short time available to me, I cannot go into all the comments that hon. Members have made. Returning briefly to the right hon. Member for Wokingham, he denounced the notion of sharing sovereignty, but we share it in NATO, the World Trade Organisation and, above all, the United Nations. When the UN orders Britain to do something, we do it and oppose those in breach of UN orders. The right hon. Gentleman's vision was, I have to say, Hobbesianall against all, each in his individual garden. My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) was right in his comments about people acting together, pooling their rights and their money.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins), with whom I have exchanged many a friendly word on these and other matters, should look a little at history. The 4 million unemployed in Germany were inherited from the conservative Government of Chancellor Kohl. Interest rates in the eurozone are 1 percentage point lower than ours. There is no great desire in Germany, a country that I know well, for Japanese-level interest rates, which have not helped move the Japanese economy forward. There is a need to break through the structures of vested interests, many of which are on the business side as well as on the employers side and the church side, or connected with subsidiaritythe vested interest of some regional governments that will not accept a compromise with the wider national interests of the German nation. However, if people want to know who was responsible for the disaster in Germany, they should look at its previous right-wing Government. Electing a right-wing conservative Government is always a disaster for any European country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West was absolutely right to say that people want to know. They want facts not fiction, but all they ever hear from the Conservative partywe heard it again this morning and we shall hear it again next Mondayare fictions about Europe. I am happy to paint the European Union, warts and all.
It was very clear from the closing remarks of the hon. Member for West Suffolk and the tone of the remarks of the right hon. Member for Wokingham that they do not want a certain kind of European constitution. They do not want the type suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North; they do not want a Bill of Rights; they do not want the excellent proposals that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary set out in his article in The Economist entitled "A Constitution for Europe", which had a marvellous image of him as Thomas Jefferson Straw. They do not want any constitution at all, because they are fundamentally opposed to Europe. That is the real division on which this country will have to make a decision at the next election. The party that stands against the interests of the British people in Europe will be defeated again and again and again.
Of course I support reform of the common agricultural policy. So does the Socialist Worker. So does the Daily Mail. So does every bishop. So does every Torywell, at least every Labour Member. However, the reason that we have this common agricultural policy, with its common fisheries policy, is that we were
I think that the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) was discussing the dignified elements of a putative constitution. I want a constitution that is effective and efficient. Europe does not need more pretty words. We want a Europe that delivers for its people and that is what the Government and, I hope, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North will work towards during the next few months.