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2 Dec 2002 : Column 707—continued

Mr. MacShane: It is not British Guiana—the Empire is all over; it is finished.

Sir Teddy Taylor: Of course the Minister is right. All I was pointing out is that, because of the instructions that the Government received, people are not allowed to give money from British Guiana, but they are from French Guiana. That happens to be true. It is shocking and stupid, and the fact that the Minister is laughing about it makes nonsense of the Government's attitude to democracy.

What can we do about spending, waste and extravagance? I have another written answer from the Government telling me that last year, as part of the EU food process, we had to destroy 47,000 tonnes of cauliflower, 153,000 tonnes of tomatoes, 118,000 tonnes of nectarines, 255,000 tonnes of peaches and 229,000 tonnes of oranges, costing a fortune. People get upset about that. They say that it is crazy and stupid, and they ask what we can do about it. The answer is absolutely nothing.

Mr. Davidson: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, although the cauliflowers were destroyed, all the turnips became Liberal MPs?

Sir Teddy Taylor: I accept that the hon. Gentleman is—I mean this sincerely—one of the more honest Members of the House. He must be as sick as I am about the billions of pounds spent on destroying food and on dumping food in the third world and doing damage to countries that are starving. What we can do? Can we go to Members of the European Parliament? No. If the European Parliament closed its doors tomorrow, no one would notice apart from the taxi drivers of Strasbourg.

What about the graft and corruption? I have a lovely story, of which the Minister must be aware, about a former lay preacher from Essex who was on the wanted list for all kinds of things. He went along to the European Union saying, XI've got a grand plan. I want to try to help the prostitutes of Hungary." He was given £140,000. This gentleman did not use the money to help the prostitutes of Hungary; he bought himself two new cars and a new house, and nothing was done to help the prostitutes of Hungary. When that kind of thing happens under a democratic Parliament such as the House of Commons, we can do something about it. That is the basis of democracy, but, unfortunately, in the European Union, nothing can be done.

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We cannot even discuss upsetting, distressing issues such as capital punishment and corporal punishment, because of the European convention, not the European Union. We have a Home Secretary who wants to do something about asylum seekers, but I have told him time and again about one individual in Southend-on-Sea who came here nine years ago as an asylum seeker from Turkey and who has been appealing repeatedly under all the various European rules. That is paid for by the British taxpayer, and, unfortunately, there is nothing that we can do.

Ms Stuart: I do not want to disagree with the hon. Gentleman, but I urge him not to mistake the European Union with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. I think that he has just done so, and that adds to the confusion. The issue of corporal punishment to which he referred had nothing to do with the European Union.

Sir Teddy Taylor: I assure the hon. Lady that I am well aware of the differences between the convention and the European Union. She will be aware of aspects—for example, the gentleman who was sent over at great expense to Germany—in which the European Court of Justice gets involved, as does the European convention and the European Court of Human Rights. Both are surrenders of and interference with our power, and we cannot do much about it.

On the issue of tobacco, does the Minister care or does he want to laugh about the fact that, last year, £1.2 billion of our money—European money, poor people's money—was spent on growing high-tar tobacco in places such as Greece, and was then dumped in the third world and eastern Europe? Does he worry about that? Is he concerned? What can we do about it? The answer is absolutely nothing. The tragedy is that our rights and freedoms are disappearing daily with every single treaty, all of which I voted against. Every time, the Ministers say, XThere's not much in this, we've got safeguards, everything will be fine," and the power simply disappears.

There are two things that we can do. First, it is vital to have the referendum. Secondly, perhaps the Minister will confirm that it would strengthen the European Union if there were an exit clause by which member states that wished to leave would be allowed to do so. Giscard D'Estaing has put forward an ambiguous clause, to which the Minister has said that we do not object. At least an exit clause would give people some freedom and protection.

I do not want to take up time. As someone who has been a Member of Parliament for a long time, however, it is appalling to see how people are simply switching off from democracy, and not just people such as ourselves. Young people think that it is pointless and useless. So many constituents say, XI know that nothing can really be done about anything nowadays." If people are concerned about issues such as the export of live cattle, what can we do? Absolutely nothing. I wish that Governments of all parties would realise that democracy matters. If we let it disappear, the people will suffer. I hope, therefore, that the Government will try to reclaim powers for democracy and not simply hand over more and more. Someone such as you, Mr. Speaker, who performs a great task in a democratic Parliament

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will be aware that our democracy is dying. It is time that people in all parties started to fight for its retention and to restore it.

9.50 pm

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester): This debate was intended to provide an opportunity for my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) to report to the House what has been going on in the convention. It is regrettable that their speeches were restricted to 12 minutes. I would very much have liked to have heard much more from them. They made extremely thoughtful speeches, and I agree with much of what they said.

I wish to pick up an enormously important point that the hon. Lady made. I hope that I understood her correctly when she said that the acquis communautaire could be addressed by creating a mechanism to enable competences to be repatriated. She also said that a second crucial element of dealing with the acquis communautaire would be an exit clause. Both are crucial, but I hope that she understands that all attempts to create a reverse ratchet in the EU have failed. That is why many of us have become sceptical about more proposals of the same ilk. I shall say a bit more about the exit clause shortly.

I want to discuss the original purpose of the convention. The task set of it by the Laeken declaration was to enable the institutions of the EU to adapt to enlargement and to tackle the so-called democratic deficit. In addressing those questions, the convention needs fully to grasp two points. First, an enlarged EU will unambiguously have to be an EU of nation states. The applicants from eastern Europe will not accept anything else. For them, membership is a means of expressing their newly won sense of national identity. The countries that have shrugged off socialism imposed from Moscow do not want another form of suzerainty to come from Brussels.

Secondly, if the convention is to make any progress, it must grasp and accept that the democratic deficit cannot be cured by rearranging constitutional pieces on the EU chessboard. A little more power to the Parliament here and a little less to the Commission there will not work. Proposals that enable the EU to acquire some of the trappings of a state—passports, flags and the like—do nothing to help, either.The European Parliament cannot plug the democratic legitimacy gap. Does anyone believe that the electorates of Europe will look to the European Parliament to articulate their sense of identity? No one believes that, and the hon. Lady made that point when she said that national Parliaments are the face to which the electorate relate.If the members of the convention are to make progress, they must realise and say that they have realised that democratic legitimacy comes from nation states and only from nation states. It comes from nowhere else. I have certainly not heard that point made clearly enough in the debate about the convention over the past few months.

The origins of the democratic deficit in the EU lie deep, but it was the Single European Act, and the erosion of the veto that came with it, and not

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Maastricht, Nice or Amsterdam that began to make many of our electorates uneasy. The Act triggered the search for safeguards and the recognition of the need for reassurance of the electorates. What has been the product of that? We have had the so-called doctrine of subsidiarity, proposals to create lists that clearly distinguish between national and EU competences, proposals for a states' right clause and proposals to enhance the role of national Parliaments among much else before and during the convention. I do not believe that any of them will achieve very much. I hope that the convention has grasped the fact that none of them will do anything to ally the deep concern that is growing in many parts of the electorates in the EU. It will not address their fears that any further transfers of power and, indeed, the exercise of some existing powers erode what many people consider to be their sense of national identity.

Some might say that those fears are unjustified, and we could have a debate about that. I would not necessarily agree with those who argue that point. In any case, that argument is irrelevant. Those fears, right or wrong, are a political fact and cannot be wished away. They touch on instinctive loyalties of nationality and are not easily assuaged. The only way to do that is for the EU to start explicitly acknowledging that democratic legitimacy flows from nation states and nowhere else. That is why I have long argued for an exit clause to be added to the treaty of Rome, as set out in my amendment.

For the first time tonight a Minister suggested that the Government might support an exit clause, although he did not seem to appreciate that the value of such a clause lies in getting at the heart of people's deep concerns not, as he put it, in suggesting that it might be of interest only to those Xstupid enough" to want to leave the EU. Its value goes far wider than that. Such a clause could, over time, fundamentally improve the quality of debate about the EU in Britain. It would bring a greater sense of rationality and practicality to all sides of the debate.

Proponents of further integration would have to bear in mind the effect that any proposal might have on the balance of arguments for membership. It could act as a brake on some of the wilder ideas occasionally heard, especially from abroad. Those Eurosceptics who favour withdrawal—I am not one of them—would have to stop arguing that the EU was an irreversible and stealthy assault on nationhood. An exit clause would make it clear that the EU was not part of a final and irreversible treaty. The EU would join the long list of other institutions that also have exit clauses—NATO, the World Trade Organisation, the International Criminal Court, the European convention on human rights, the Council of Europe and so on.

Of course Britain, or any other country, could, in practice, leave now and no panzers would roll through the channel tunnel to stop us, but, as I said, our electorate, and those of eastern Europe, need to be reassured. Nor should any attempt be made to make life difficult for a leaving country. That is why it is so important that an exit clause also contains clear provisions to ensure that remaining countries assist the leaver.

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