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2 Dec 2002 : Column 693—continued

Mr. Bercow: Does the hon. Lady envisage any reduction in the 80,000-page, 31-chapter acquis communautaire? If not, will she concede that she is effectively signing up to the doctrine of the occupied field?

Ms Stuart: Rather than proposing, as the right hon. Member for Devizes did, to set up an institution that would review all that, I want to make a precise point about it, and I shall return to the matter.

I turn now to the constitution. My right hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin) asked what would be a sign of the success of the new constitutional structure. For me, it would be an introductory part that is understandable by everyone, as well as more technical points. However, I would be looking for more fundamental points in the interests of logical coherence and of national Parliaments.

The first is that if there is a clause describing how to enter the Union, there must logically be a clause describing how to leave the Union. Whether countries do that is entirely up to them. If, in the constitution, we describe precisely how competencies from member states become shared competencies and sole competencies, there must be an analogous article clearly describing the way in which those competencies can travel back. That, in my view, must be there. That is my indirect answer to the question asked by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) about whether I could ever envisage a reduction. I think that there must a mechanism for travelling back.

I fundamentally disagree with the observation made by the president of the convention, who described the process a Xrefounding of the Union", the implication being that either the resulting constitution would be ratified by a country, or that country would be out of the Union. To my mind, the constitution will be a treaty like any other, to be ratified by the various countries and to come into effect only when all the member states have ratified it.

I have a final word of caution about the courts. In the convention, I have detected a tendency to regard the courts as the final arbiter of what is or is not democratic. The courts have a huge role to play, not least in enforcing the internal market, but there is a range of decisions that are fundamentally political. It is up to politicians to express themselves in clear terms on such issues, and they should be left in the hands of politicians. Matters of subsidiarity are political decisions. In the end the courts may have a role—analogous to judicial review—in determining whether proper processes have been followed, but judges must not replace political decision makers. Several members of the convention see things that way.

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By next summer we will have a draft constitution. We do not yet know whether the Heads of Government will accept it; I very much hope that they will. The House has been extremely supportive of its representatives and I am grateful for that. I regard representing national Parliaments, not only at the convention but in the praesidium, as the most important role I have been asked to perform. I shall listen with great care to the debate so that in the convention the House's representatives will be able to reflect the view of parliamentarians.

8.51 pm

Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale): It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), who made a thoughtful contribution. I pay tribute to her and to her colleague who also represents the House in the convention for the work that they have been doing. I do not agree with every last opinion that has been expressed, but it is clear that they have been doing a thorough job.

We must welcome this Government-sponsored motion on the convention—the first since it began its work earlier this year. It is a shame that it has been a long time coming; it is none the less welcome now that it has arrived. The Government have stated that we should reform the European Union to create a strong and effective body. Ministers have stressed the need for Britain to be at the forefront of the debate on Europe, and argued that the convention must not represent another missed opportunity in the grand British tradition of watching developments in Europe from the sidelines.

In his speech in Cardiff last week, the Prime Minister spoke of

which would be done

That is a fine ambition, which should set a high standard for the Government to live up to, but so far there is little in the public domain to support that aspiration. There has been no White Paper—not even a Green Paper—on the Government's position on the future of Europe. What we know has emerged from this short debate, or from media reports. Those reports make it obvious that the Secretary of State for Wales has made spirited contributions to the convention as a whole, but we here in Parliament are largely in the dark about most of the proposals being made, although their tone has become clear. A White Paper has been necessary from the outset; the timing has now become rather urgent.

As the Secretary of State for Wales said, the German and French Foreign Ministers are now taking their place at the convention. Without wishing to undermine his own contribution, I must ask why our own Foreign Secretary is not adding to Britain's firepower within the convention?

Peter Hain: A difficulty faced by both Joschka Fischer from Germany and Dominique Galouzeau de Villepin from France is the fact that the convention is a busy responsibility. Their appearances so far have been

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fleeting, and I do not think that there is any prospect of the Foreign Secretary being able to put the work in, as he has global responsibilities.

Mr. Moore: We shall not ask what is happening in Wales in the meantime. Surely it is accepted that the Foreign Secretary would not be present at all times. If the right hon. Gentleman had listened carefully, he would know that I spoke about adding to our firepower at the convention, not replacing it.

We support calls for the reform of the European Union. The continent is at a crossroads, with significant enlargement in prospect and the impact of globalisation becoming more obvious with every passing day. The EU's purpose has changed since the European Coal and Steel Community was founded in 1956 with six members. In size and scope, it is unrecognisable from the vision of 50 years ago. With those changes has come a growing remoteness from the people whom the EU is supposed to serve. Whether by design or otherwise, much of its activity has become inaccessible, non-transparent and unaccountable. Europe clearly needs to sort that out, but not with the fixes that have often characterised previous developments.

As the Governments and institutions of Europe prepare for a revolution, citizens need to be put at the heart of the Union. There should be proper recognition of the principle that decisions be taken at the most appropriate level within the Union, and there should be an overhaul of the institutions to make the Union effective and accountable. The convention's proposal for a constitution for Europe is an important way of achieving those aims. The details are not fully fleshed out yet, but they offer some useful pointers and plenty of opportunity for debate. Current treaties are cumbersome, virtually unreadable and come complete with thousands of pages of supporting detail. In the real world we cannot avoid the legislative load, but in a constitution we should set out the founding principles of the Union. As the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) set out in Westminster Hall last Wednesday, we should aspire to make the constitution, if not inspirational, at least readable.

We support the inclusion of a charter of fundamental rights in such a constitution, as that is the clearest way of ensuring that citizens understand their relationship with those who govern them, at whatever level. The Prime Minister has said that he opposes the charter and its incorporation. In a speech last week, he said:

I shall ignore the fact that earlier in his speech he had said plainly:

A quick glance at the charter will show that the most common phrase states that any article should be

Article 16, on freedom to conduct business, and article 28, on the right of collective bargaining and action, are just two examples covered by that stipulation.

That approach should not scare governments; if it does, that suggests that their commitment to reconnecting Europe with its citizens is paper thin.

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Ministers, in their contributions to the European debate, have spoken of a XUnion of nation states", neglecting or downgrading the idea that it should be a union of peoples as well. The charter may need to be amended to so that that idea is expressed in treaty language, but if we are serious in our goal of the reform of Europe it must be included. Likewise, we must ensure that the principle of subsidiarity is enshrined in the new constitution.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): Did my hon. Friend notice the merriment among Conservative Members at the very idea that subsidiarity might be included in the new constitution? However, we all remember that the former Prime Minister, Mr. John Major, promoted that idea.

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