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2 Dec 2002 : Column 685—continued

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston): I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should declare the debate on the institutions a failure, given that the convention has not yet had that debate.

Mr. Ancram: The hon. Lady should listen. I said that, before it started any deliberations, the convention should conduct a fundamental review of how Europe is working. It is a great surprise to Conservative Members that, almost three quarters of the way through its time, it has not done that.

Recently—and very flatteringly—the Welsh Secretary adopted my phrase Xa partnership of sovereign states", but everything that he and the Government are doing is moving slowly but surely in the opposite direction. Whatever he may have told the House tonight, the Government are integrationist. Last week, the Prime Minister called once again for a European superpower.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley): No.

Mr. Ancram: Yes, he did, and it is about time that the right hon. Gentleman understood what his Prime Minister is calling for. He also called for a unified foreign policy and for a massive abolition of Britain's remaining vetoes. For Conservative Members, that is the voice of integration. It may not be the voice of the motion, but then again the motion would delight a sackful of weasels.

The Conservative party will continue to seek a Europe that is more accountable, more democratic, less centralised and more relevant.

Mr. Allen: I respect the right hon. Gentleman's position, but can he imagine a form of words that would

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reassure him on his greatest fears, of centralisation and a federal superstate, and see a place for those words in a European constitution, so that he need never fear what any Prime Minister or Executive might say in the future, because those words would be enshrined clearly in a constitution?

Mr. Ancram: I will explain later why I do not believe in a European constitution, but I believe that the words that we should see are Xnational Parliaments". That is where the strength should lie.

We are attempting to bring the EU closer to all its peoples. For all the Government's words analysing the problems of alienation, there have been few specific proposals to solve them. There is a worrying parallel with the common agricultural policy. For years we pressed the Government to make specific proposals on CAP reform, but virtually none has been produced. Instead, the vacuum was filled against our interests by France and Germany in October in Brussels.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) said, we saw today a report that the French and Germans are jointly proposing tax harmonisation. The Secretary of State's denial of that holds no water for me, given all the Government's previous denials that were then followed by actions that showed that the stories were right in the first place.

We will introduce detailed proposals—I wish to make some this evening—that will, in part, reflect aspects of the work done by respected senior members of the Conservative party earlier this year, but especially the important work being done by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) and our European parliamentary colleagues who are in the convention. They will in due course produce their own recommendations, and I look forward to taking them into account.

A reformed Europe should meet a number of criteria: it must add value, its power must not compromise national sovereignty, and it must demonstrably provide stability and prosperity. What is clear is that Europe does not need any more bureaucracy or regulation—it is already hobbled by red tape and a one-size-fits-all currency—nor does it require any more power; if anything, it has too much already.

Mr. Bryant: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ancram: I will give way, but this is the last time that I do so because I am very conscious of the time.

Mr. Bryant: I feel suitably chastened and grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I just wonder whether he feels that it is none the less important for the Commission to have a certain degree of power, especially in relation to the regulation of state aid. If we are to ensure that we have the necessary long-term stability and economic flexibility, we need a strong Commission in relation to competition law.

Mr. Ancram: I shall come to the Commission in due course in my remarks, and I will not pre-empt what I want to say.

The EU needs to re-engage with the peoples of Europe. Giving it a constitution will not achieve that; it will only vastly increase the authority of European

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institutions over the member states. We believe in a lighter approach to Europe through treaties, rather than putting Europe's future into the hands of lawyers and judges. I was interested to see the remarks of the EU ombudsman, Jacob Söderman, who said last week that

That view reflects our concerns about what is proposed at present in the convention.

Until now, the EU has been created by treaties between sovereign member states. The institutions that those treaties have established and the relationships between member states are of a special nature, but the EU has throughout its existence fundamentally remained a partnership of nation states. A constitution would change all that. It would give the EU autonomous authority and be a crucial building block in the creation of a federal, supranational European superpower.

Two years ago in Warsaw, the Prime Minister said that Europe did not need a written constitution and that it would not have one. Tonight, the Secretary of State for Wales tells us that we need a constitution, which, for all his protestations, could well include the charter of fundamental rights and will contain all the elements of a constitutional basis for political union.

The Conservative party agrees with the European Scrutiny Committee that the concept of an ever-closer union is no longer desirable or realistic—for some of us, it never was. Nothing is more objectionable to the British people than the European ratchet effect—what the theorists rather splendidly call functional integrationism. We believe in an EU that is a genuine partnership of sovereign nation states. We believe that its legislative process must be a genuinely two-way affair. We want to forge a new partnership between the institutions in Brussels and national Parliaments throughout the EU.

Noticeably, the national Parliaments receive only a passing mention in the Giscard draft treaty, yet we in the House know that national Parliaments are the bodies with which people most identify. They are far closer to their electorates than any European body could ever be. National Parliaments must be put at the heart of the new Europe if we are to meet the democratic deficit and re-engage the peoples of Europe with European institutions.

The importance and role of national Parliaments should be strengthened, therefore, and enshrined in any new treaty. It must be made clear beyond doubt that the EU has competence or shared competence only where the treaties grant it and that powers not explicitly granted to the EU remain with member states. The description of and limits to such powers granted must also be clearly defined. We support the need for a definition of competences to be included in the treaties, but not a constitution.

I welcome the convention working party's proposals on subsidiarity, but they do not go nearly far enough. I agree with the European Scrutiny Committee that we need new procedures to enforce subsidiarity and that decisions should be made by a political watchdog, not by the European Court of Justice. National

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parliamentarians should be able to intervene on subsidiarity at the level of national Parliaments and through a subsidiarity panel or watchdog. I was grateful for what I understood to be a general welcome to the proposition from the Secretary of State for Wales, as it was a proposition that emanated some time ago from the Opposition Benches.

Mr. Bercow: Is my right hon. Friend aware that Lord Mackenzie Stuart, a former president of the European Court of Justice, is on record as describing subsidiarity as Xgobbledegook"? He went on to claim that the notion that it constitutes a constitutional safeguard shows Xgreat optimism".

Mr. Ancram: As a Scottish advocate who practised in the Scottish courts for many years, I would be cautious about criticising a Scottish judge. In a sense, my hon. Friend is right that subsidiarity operates at the moment with the effect of gobbledegook. I am suggesting a manner in which we can make it mean something and properly enforce it.

One way in which I would like it to be enforced is that reservations on subsidiarity expressed by, say, five national parliaments should be enough to halt a piece of legislation. We believe that all national Parliaments ideally should have an EU legislative scrutiny committee to scrutinise legislative proposals before they proceed to the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. I see the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) smiling, but that is what happens in the Danish Parliament at the moment, and it is very effective. I believe that we can lead the way on this among other member nations.

All national parliaments, including ours, should be encouraged to enhance their scrutiny of European legislation. We continue to propose to replace our COREPER representative with a new Minister for European Affairs. We could lead immediately by example in that area. The new Minister would face questions in the House every two weeks. That could also help, in co-operation with our European parliamentary colleagues, to prevent Xgold-plating" of European proposals by national Governments.

As for the exercise of power at the European level, we support the aim of clarifying and simplifying the treaties, but not when that entails transferring even more powers to the European Union. The intergovernmental method of decision making in foreign affairs, defence and criminal justice, through the second and third pillars of the European Union, must not be absorbed into a single EU structure. The ways in which human liberties are protected through the ECHR and our national courts are adequate. We therefore believe that there is no need for further protection. In particular, the incorporation of a legally binding charter of fundamental rights into a new treaty would lead to a vast increase in the power of the European Union over the member states and of European judges over the political process. That would further exacerbate the democratic deficit, which the convention is intended to try to fill.

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