Previous SectionIndexHome Page

2 Dec 2002 : Column 672—continued

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Have the Government approached you wishing to make a statement about the significant changes in the way in which they intend to deal with smallpox? They appear to have made at least two statements to the press, but none to the House of Commons. Could you ask whether there has been a mistake and the message has not yet reached Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I know of no such statement.

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Why did the House not divide on the amendment to the motion, although strong voices were saying XNo"? Has the House so little power now that even a tiny minority cannot express its freedom?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I do not think that the hon. Gentleman ever has any difficulty in expressing his thoughts. It is for the Chair to decide whether Divisions are called.

2 Dec 2002 : Column 673

Convention on the Future of Europe

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Before I call the Secretary of State, I must inform the House that Mr. Speaker has not selected any of the amendments tabled to the Government motion. Let me also say that the debate is limited to three hours. There are four Front-Bench speakers—five including the Liberal Democrat—and Back-Bench speeches must be limited to 12 minutes. I hope that Front-Bench speeches will be as brief as possible; if not, there will be very little time for any Back-Bench speeches.

7.42 pm

The Secretary of State for Wales (Peter Hain): I beg to move,

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak as the Government's representative on the convention, which is designing a new political architecture for a new Europe. The debate also gives me an opportunity to be accountable to the House, and in that spirit I will be generous in accepting interventions.

We are at a defining moment in the history of the European Union, and the convention has two great tasks. The first is to make a success of the EU's biggest ever enlargement, with 10 countries joining our 15; the second is to reconnect the EU with its citizens. Within 18 months, 10 new countries will be able to share in Europe's success story—50 years of peace, stability and prosperity, and extraordinary achievements such as the single market and the single currency. But the institutional architecture devised for six nations is barely working for 15, and must be reformed to work for 25 or more.

As the Prime Minister said in his speech in Cardiff last week, we need a new constitutional order for a Europe reunited after the bitter legacy of the cold war. Our vision is of a Europe of sovereign nation states co-operating to tackle shared challenges such as pollution, international crime, terrorism and the need for economic growth. Our vision is of a Europe with full employment, social justice, democracy and human rights—a Europe that is a leader in the world, with Britain as a leading European power; a Europe that is a global force for good, aiming to banish international poverty, injustice and oppression.

Alan Howarth (Newport, East): The social stresses generated in the weaker areas of the eurozone by the single interest rate and the single currency will obviously require substantially increased transfers of public expenditure from the richer to the poorer countries in that zone. Under what political authority has the convention envisaged that such transfers should be approved, and what arrangements for democratic

2 Dec 2002 : Column 674

accountability has my right hon. Friend told the convention that he considers constitutionally acceptable?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Before the Secretary of State answers, let me repeat what I said earlier about interventions and responses to them.

Peter Hain: I welcome my hon. Friend's question. Let me simply say that the single currency has not featured in discussions in the convention, at least so far.

The convention is a new way of doing business, with representatives of Governments not from member states but from candidates, and European and national parliamentarians. It was set four tasks by the Laeken European Council last December.

Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent): Does the Secretary of State recall the fine articles he used to write saying that the single currency was unacceptable, that decisions were being made by bankers who were neither elected nor accountable, and that voting would become increasingly irrelevant?

Peter Hain: As I said, the single currency has not been discussed in the convention. I will happily answer the question, however. The single currency is a reality in Europe. Whatever debates we had 10 years ago, we must face up to that. Will Britain remain isolated for ever—if the Opposition's policies are adopted—or will we make a common-sense decision based on economic circumstances? That is the question.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North): Just before my right hon. Friend finishes his very short speech—[Laughter.] My right hon. Friend said that this was a defining moment in European history. Will he elaborate a little on how the Government see Parliament's role in endorsing a European convention, and also how he sees the electorate's role in defining a constitution that may govern them for many decades?

Peter Hain: One reason for my presence tonight is Parliament's importance in the debate. That is why I am accountable to Parliament. As my hon. Friend knows, however, if any treaty emerges from the convention's discussions following an intergovernmental conference it will be a new treaty, which, in the normal way, will require legislation here. The House will determine its position on that treaty. In the meantime, I think a debate is needed. That is why I spoke at a Foreign Office convened conference of local authorities last week and why I am joining any discussions that it is practical for me to join, as are other members of the convention team representing the House.

Mr. Allen: Will my right hon. Friend also answer the second part of my question—about the involvement of the people who will be governed by this constitution? Every western democracy that has had a constitutional settlement has involved the people. However difficult it may be, will my right hon. Friend consider how that can be achieved?

Peter Hain: The people are involved, through Members of Parliament such as my hon. Friend. That is the proper way to deal with matters such as this.

2 Dec 2002 : Column 675

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): The Secretary of State has emphasised the importance of democracy and of Members of Parliament expressing their views. Can he explain a rather unusual motion passed on 12 June, which states that the Standing Committee on the Convention is not allowed to express an opinion of any sort on the work done by the commissioners, and can pass only a motion saying that it has considered the report from the United Kingdom representatives to the convention? If the Secretary of State believes that Members of Parliament should express a view, would it not be right to allow the Committee to express a view on whether what has been decided is good or bad for the people, or irrelevant in some respect? Is it not an insult to democracy to establish a Committee that is prevented from expressing a view of any sort by a motion?

Peter Hain: I am trying to make progress as you asked me to, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I will take interventions.

Parliament decided on the procedure, which is open and democratic. We have our own parliamentary representatives, who are present in the Chamber this evening, and the hon. Gentleman and everyone else will have a chance to question them. Indeed, they have already given evidence to a Joint Committee.

As I was saying, last December the Laeken European Council set the convention four tasks: to achieve a better division and definition of EU competences, simplification of the EU's instruments, more democracy, transparency and efficiency, and consideration of a new constitution. British representatives are playing a full and constructive role, and I welcome the contributions of Members of both Houses.

As the Government's representatives on the convention, Baroness Scotland and I have participated actively in its plenary proceedings and working groups. We are thinking radically and building alliances for British ideas to secure reform, in order to create our kind of Europe, but we are also listening. We have not gone into the convention with a rigid British blueprint; we have asked questions and entered into real discussions about reform, rather than simply repeating the same old nostrums. Where there are arguments to be fought on points of principle, we are getting stuck in. Where good ideas are proposed, we are embracing and fine-tuning them to make the system deliver what our citizens want.

Next Section

IndexHome Page