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2 Dec 2002 : Column 714—continued

10.9 pm

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon), who had an important speech to make but, I sensed, delivered it rather rapidly.

Much has been said by many Members about a union of sovereign nation states, which, if we were starting now, would be highly attractive. It that union was working for global free trade and its members combined for the greater good on mutual interests and cross-border matters, I would wholeheartedly back it. However, we are not starting now. We are signed up to, or are about to sign up to, a common foreign policy and a common defence and security policy. We are well into a common agricultural policy and common fisheries policy, and face a common justice system. Most members of the European Union are already in a common currency controlled by the European Central Bank. We have already heard, although the Secretary of State denied it, that further economic policies, especially on the harmonisation of taxation, are on the agenda.

We have also heard how the convention will introduce a constitution for the European Union, incorporating the charter of fundamental rights. The EU has an anthem, flag, passport, a Supreme Court, and a President—in anybody's language, those are sovereign nation state requirements. We are therefore no longer facing the prospect of something further down the track. Ministers, including those in the Chamber, have always said, XOh no, that is not what we mean. We do not want to go that far, and that will not happen. We will make sure that everything is all right; trust us." Ministers

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throughout the decades have said that, not just this lot, but gosh, this lot are far worse and more enthusiastic about the convention than Ministers have been for a long time.

The convention does not offer something new or roll anything back. It merely adds the last few pieces to the jigsaw which the Prime Minister himself described in the past week as a superpower. I am opposed to such a concept, but I no longer regard it in the terms that have been used tonight. For many years, I believed that a fully federalist agenda would benefit a philosophy that subscribed to federalism. I have often argued the case for opposing federalism with many people, and shall no doubt do so in future. However, what is happening in the EU and the convention is not just about a political structure—it is about a political elite who will control Europe and have power in it. I pay great tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) for spelling that out much more clearly than I could. He has his finger on the pulse and, in my book, is at the heart of Europe—he has been to the convention, listened to the debate, and contributed to it. He has come back and spelt out exactly what is in store for us.

Over the years, especially in the United Kingdom, politicians have tried to tell other politicians and the wider public that what we see is not really what we are going to get. They say that things will not be quite as bad or bound up—there will not be such a big transfer of power. In stark contrast, however, if one studies carefully what leaders of countries across the EU have said throughout the decades, one realises that they are a lot more open and honest with their populations about the true agenda. Perversely, Labour Ministers are still denying that what we have been hearing at this late stage in the completion of the jigsaw is really going happen. On 16 February 2000, only two years ago, a former Minister for Europe, the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), reassured the House:

That was meant to placate us all. Some of us did not believe it then, let alone now. Only two years later, the superstate is almost a fait accompli.

The Government say so much, but they always cave in on Europe. Almost anybody can roll them over for little in return. The Secretary of State shakes his head, but if the Government had delivered a reformed common agricultural policy, he would be shown much more respect. They caved in on the collapse of the pillar structures, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) outlined. That applies especially to pillar 3 on justice and home affairs, which will be changed from being intergovernmental to EU. The jury is still out, but the outlook is not good, on whether Her Majesty's Government will stick up for pillar 2 on foreign affairs and defence. Another Franco-German axis is developing on that subject.

The Government denied the incorporation of fundamental rights into treaties, but it is clearly on the agenda. They have granted the EU personality and conceded that it will have a written constitution. Time and again, they have yielded to additional qualified majority voting.

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After the convention, the final pieces of the jigsaw might be put in place to create what most of us would recognise as a state. However often the Minister dismisses the proposals for a title or a name, the European Union will be a country called Europe.

10.16 pm

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): We have held an important debate, which was marked by several noteworthy contributions. I must begin with that of the Secretary of State for Wales, the right hon. Member for Neath (Peter Hain), the former Minister for Europe. It is a joy that we have not entirely lost him from European affairs. I enjoyed his book, which touched on Europe. It is entitled XAyes to the Right"—I am sorry, it is called XAyes to the Left: A future for socialism." Judging by right hon. Gentleman's gymnastics in changing his views on almost every subject, it could appropriately be titled, XEyes to the Main Chance."

The right hon. Gentleman showed great prescience in his book, XA People's Europe", when he wrote that Europe was imperilled by its self-imposed monetarist straitjacket. I wonder how he squares that with his new-found passion for the euro. He also writes about Europe's

The idea that that applies to the corporatist, interventionist, high tax mentality that prevails in much of the EU is patently absurd.

It is incredible that someone who nowadays keeps telling us that Britain is winning the argument in Europe argued in his book for a centralised European budget that was three or four times its present size. Prudence appears to have taken a bit of a knock in the past week or so.

Mr. MacShane: What has that to do with the motion?

Mr. Spring: It is the background to the Government's representative and his mentality.

We heard several good speeches. I especially commend those of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), who are members of the convention. I pay tribute to the hon. Lady's analysis; I agreed with much of it. However, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells hit the nail on the head when he said that the constitution was a centralising move with all the implications that flow from that.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) spoke about the need for the Government to be seen to defend the interests of the British people. I agree with him. The hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) spoke about the need for a referendum if a constitution is created. I have some sympathy with that. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor) took up the point.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) mentioned an exit clause. That should be debated and considered. My hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) spoke about the need for transparency in view of the fraud that has beset the

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European Union. My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) made a good speech about the jigsaw that leads to the creation of a superpower.

The hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) on the one hand said that he wanted to reinforce the powers of the citizen, and on the other called for a written constitution, a charter for fundamental rights and all the baggage of centralisation. That is completely contradictory.

The problem is that the Labour party talks flabbily about constructive engagement to address Europe's underlying problems, yet seems utterly incapable of coming up with specific, clear ideas for fixing them. It has forgotten that it must travel alongside changing times. We have seen its European bloc mentality, which is perfectly understandable, born as it was out of the second world war and the cold war during the second half of the last century. That mentality sought to mould the EU into a bloc, but it is now well past its sell-by date. Those old views simply endanger enlargement because they detract from the need to reform the EU to make enlargement really work. The Labour party was wrong in the 1980s about the big geopolitical issues of our time, and now, with the zeal of a convert, it has leap-frogged into a position of accepting in practice a supranational, integrationist agenda in Europe that has already been made completely irrelevant by the new global geometry.

The challenge that we must truly address is the growing sense of distance between the EU and its members: the democratic deficit. The vast majority of the British people know that what they want from the European Union is a partnership of sovereign nation states working together for their mutual benefit. That is the Europe that the Conservative party wants to help to build, but, if we are to do that, the EU must encourage genuine review and reform. My right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes has set out very clearly just some of the key practical ways of providing critical pathways to achieve that.

The draft treaty on the convention's deliberations insufficiently reconnects the EU to its members. In article 3, for example, we find a reference to the

as part of the EU's objectives. Of course, Europe needs to co-operate on foreign policy issues, but for us to abandon our own foreign policy capabilities would be to diminish our unique global reach and our historic understandings and links. On Thursday, the Prime Minister called for Europe to have a Xunified foreign policy". What on earth did he mean? It can only mean that the Prime Minister looks forward to the day when European countries have no foreign policies of their own but speak with a single voice agreed in Brussels. Yet in the same speech, the Prime Minister said that he was opposed to the so-called communitisation of foreign policy. That is simply doublespeak.

We should be working towards the politics of practical co-operation. No European country should force its foreign policy on another. Each country should be free to have a policy based on its capabilities. Of course, much can be accomplished by agreement, but

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not by a single voice. This measure will not reconnect the EU with the voters; neither, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells pointed out, will the charter of fundamental rights. One of the most important ways in which we can reconnect is by minimising the intrusive impact of judge-led law as appropriate. We had assurances that the Government would never allow the charter of fundamental rights to become legally binding, and that it was worth no more than the Beano magazine. It is, of course, already playing a part in the European Court of Justice's jurisprudence.

The current state of affairs is nothing compared with the powers that the charter would give to the Court if it were incorporated into the treaties. It would represent a vast extension of the EU's powers. Only last week, for instance, it was being mooted in the European Parliament that the charter's incorporation would allow the EU to act in the media market. The Government have, as so often, backtracked from their previous clear assurances. We now hear that the charter's incorporation would be acceptable provided that there were horizontal restrictions on its application—whatever that is supposed to mean in practice—and that it would have no influence over national courts. I hope to hear from the Minister a clear and detailed exposition of how that could possibly work.

Europe today is not crying out for greater centralisation; it is asking for less. In the Prime Minister's speech last week, there was only one passing mention of the role of national Parliaments in the European Union, and that was only to approve of the convention's subsidiarity working group's report, which I found to be very meagre. That shows how little idea the Government seem to have of the need to re-engage the peoples of Europe with the European institutions. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes outlined early in the debate, that can be done only by strengthening the role of national Parliaments.

Faced with ageing populations and high unemployment economies, the EU's main mission must be its original one of promoting its member states' economies to build prosperity. It is almost incredible that the Government are so ambitious for the EU to take on more when the single market is not yet complete. In the current economic climate, we must work for growth to create jobs, yet even now the EU is adding restrictions that militate against employment creation.

The Conservatives want an EU that does genuine good for its peoples in this century. It must concentrate on its core tasks and it must be more open, democratic and accountable. National institutions—above all, national Parliaments—must have much greater control over its direction. Europe must look to the challenges of the 21st century, not the understandable hopes and fears of the immediate post-war period, which informed the development of the European Community.

Europe needs a sense of finality—an end to the ratchet effect and an end to the sense that we are on a journey to ever-greater centralisation. We must break open the debate on Europe's future, and the Minister's idea of holding a national competition to find a better name for subsidiarity is excellent. We need to leave all the jargon of Europe behind, as only open, comprehensible institutions will meet the needs of today.

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This evening, we have proposed a practical path for Europe to take so that it can meet those needs. If it does so, Europe can help us all to deal with the challenges that the 21st century will inevitably throw at us, but if we take the Government's path towards greater centralisation and a de facto political union, we shall answer only the wishes of Europe's elites, not those of its peoples.

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