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2 Dec 2002 : Column 719—continued

10.27 pm

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): I have a prepared speech that I could read to the House, but, if Members will permit me, I shall instead reply to the interesting points that have been made.

We have had a healthy debate on Europe, which is what our country needs. As always, I listened with great care and interest to the winding-up speech of the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring), who speaks for the Opposition on Europe. I am fascinated by his claim that we need a European finality. That is the demand of Herr Joschka Fischer for what we need from the convention. I believe profoundly—the Prime Minister made this point in his speech last week—that of course, Europe will evolve, change and grow in different directions. There will be no European finality.

I agree with the points made by a number of Members about sunset clauses and, as it were, drawing power back from Europe. That represents a good lesson for our Government, and—I shall try to make this my only partisan point, even though quite a number were put in the debate—some speeches, particularly those made from the Opposition Front Bench, conveyed a sense of the inferiority complex whereby we cannot be confident about Europe and cannot work in partnership on Europe.

Powerful arguments were advanced by some Opposition Members, but the notion that France, Germany and Poland—from where my father came as a soldier to fight with our forces in the second world war—want to dissolve themselves in a new common European state is so profoundly nonsensical that it is unworthy of what was once a great party. Some Members, but not me, may have the zeal of the convert, but one thing is worse—the complete nihilistic loss of faith of the apostate. Until that once-great party rediscovers its European vocation, it will remain without much hope.

One point constantly put in the debate was the fact that there is inadequate consultation on Europe. I would certainly say that there was inadequate coverage of it, or discussion of it—although we had an excellent debate in Westminster Hall last week, to which the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) and others who are present now contributed. I have appeared before two Scrutiny Committees. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has also appeared before Scrutiny Committees, as he has told the House. Next week we shall have a major debate on Europe before the Copenhagen Council; no Labour Member fears any debate that is intended to justify the position—and, indeed, to get things right. Contributions from all sides add to our store of value where Europe is concerned.

Moreover, there have been two consultations, one in 1997 and one last year. A clear choice was put to the British people: were they for Europe or against? They

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endorsed the party that was clearly in favour of Europe, just as in my time my own party, 15 years ago, put to the British people the policy of hostility to Europe—and, indeed, of withdrawal from it. The Conservative party was then in favour of taking us deeper into Europe. It was the party of the single market, the party of Maastricht, and it won its election.

Excellent speeches have been made by the representatives who serve on the convention in our name. Apart from the Government members, we have my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) and the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory). We also have three representatives from another place, Lady Scotland and Lords Tomlinson and Maclennan, and representatives of all the main parties, including the nationalist parties, and from the European Parliament—Linda McAvan, Andrew Duff, Lord Stockton, Timothy Kirkhope and Neil McCormick.

I do not think there has been any time before when Britain has agreed to pool sovereignty—whether in the World Trade Organisation, NATO or, very indirectly, in the Council of Europe and the European Court of Justice—and parliamentary and elected representatives of the British people have been allowed, indeed instructed, to take part in debates on drawing up the new institutions. I welcome that development.

In the most thoughtful speech of the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston stressed the need for parliamentarians to hold the Executive to account. For the first time, in the early stages of discussion of the preliminary draft constitutional treaty, we are hearing references to national Parliaments. The proposals will increase the power of national Parliaments to hold the European Executive to account.

My hon. Friend also rightly stressed the relationship between subsidiarity and proportionality. During last week's Westminster Hall debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) invited the whole country to find a replacement for the word subsidiarity. I must report that I tried to find one on the net—I went through Google, and thesauruses—and every time I typed out the word subsidiarity, the answer was XNothing known". I fear that we shall have to find the poet whom my hon. Friend asked us to discover.

Mr. Allen: May I throw two suggestions into the equation—Xdemocratic proximity", or perhaps even Xdemocratic intimacy"?

Mr. MacShane: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State described Europe United as a football team, whereas Xdemocratic intimacy" sounds like one of those perfumes advertised by scantily clad people. I leave it to my hon. Friend to come up with more metaphors.

The hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) complained that there was not enough publicity for United Kingdom ideas, but every proposal and every speech is on the web. They are published by the Foreign Office, and by the parliamentary office of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston. It is true that there has not been enough discussion. There has been discussion in the House, but perhaps we need more serious discussion in our media.

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Let me say how much I—like every other Member, I am sure—missed the presence and contribution of the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell). We all wish him a speedy return to full health, and we look forward to experiencing his wisdom and vision again in our debates on European and international affairs.

My hon. Friend—and my good friend—the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) talked about Europe as being simply an association of wealthy clubs. However, surely what Europe will be doing in the next week or two is opening up the EU to some of the poorest European countries—I should mention in passing, without in any way wishing to be controversial, that all those countries are eager to join the euro—and, I hope, in due course, Turkey. That is the strength of the European Union: it has allowed countries that were certainly very poor when my hon. Friend and I were students—

Mr. Davidson: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. MacShane: I will not, as I want to deal with the comments of other colleagues. Countries that were very poor when my hon. Friend and I were young members of the Labour party are now doing much better, thanks to their membership of the European Union.

The right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory)—another Xconventioneer", to use the technical term—made a very thoughtful speech. He said that tonight the House had to endorse Mr. Giscard d'Estaing's preliminary draft constitutional treaty, but the motion before the House explicitly rejects a federal superstate. I hope that the House will not divide, but if it does it should support the rejection of a federal superstate. The motion also asks for the Standing Committee on the Convention, which comprises the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, to be sustained for the current Session.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. MacShane: I shall give way to the right hon. Gentleman, given his role as a conventioneer.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: Do I take it from the hon. Gentleman's comments that unless the constitutional draft is amended substantially, he will veto it as being unsatisfactory to the British Government?

Mr. MacShane: It is in fact called a provisional draft preliminary, so there is nothing to veto. We are going to modify it, and I hope that today's contributions from hon. Members will help us in that process.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North made a powerful plea for us to take this constitutional process seriously, and that is exactly what we are trying to do. What is a constitution but a set of rules? In my eight and a half years in this place, all that I have heard from hon. Members on both sides of the House—especially from those who are most critical of the

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European Union's work—is a demand for a set of rules. Now we are getting there, and some hon. Members do not like it.

In Bagehot's famous book, XThe English Constitution", he describes the need for a constitution:

That is exactly what we are trying to do with this convention: to make the way in which the European Union works more efficient, and to have clear rules that we all can understand.

We all pay tribute to the command of detail and the passionate opposition of the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor). I understand that nearly 30 years ago, he resigned from the then Government in protest at the House's vote to enter the European Union. Indeed, we will celebrate the 30th anniversary of that accession on 1 January 2003. He, too, asked for a set of rules that we can understand. At the end of this process we will see whether we understand them, but we will have such a set of rules. Article 46 of Mr. Giscard d'Estaing's preliminary draft constitution allows for withdrawal. It is for the Government to take a final decision on that matter, but in the end, this House can always decide to withdraw from the European Union. If that provision were included in the final constitutional treaty, I, for the life of me, would find it hard to object to it.

The hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) pointed out that our representatives on the convention should have had longer to speak. I cannot disagree with him, but that is a matter for the Chair. He pointed out that the accession countries want a union of European states, and he is right. He claimed that he persuaded Mr. Amato—and, perhaps indirectly, Mr. Giscard d'Estaing—of the virtues of an exit clause. I congratulate him most sincerely, but may I set him a greater task: to persuade his own party of the virtues of a staying-in clause, because that is the main problem?

The hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) listed examples of terrible fraud in the EU. He is absolutely right, but what he described is all the more reason to be in there, fighting in detail to ensure that such fraud is exposed. I read today that the National Audit Office notes that £150 million has been lost to the British taxpayer through that fraud. I am delighted to see that my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury has joined me. There is a biblical expression about motes and beams. Fraud involving the common agricultural policy in respect of our own farming community is not entirely exclusive to Brussels.

The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) said that the convention was trying to get elected Governments out of the way, creating a jigsaw that will lead to a country called Europe. Again, the notion that France, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Poland and Estonia will give up their identity, laws, culture and customs is nonsense. I cannot patronise them and I will not patronise the House by accepting these arguments.

We finish where we began, alas, on the debate between those in the House who want a stronger and more effective European Union in which nation states

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have a clear and defined role, and those who want us to leave the European Union. That, again and again, is the difference. I commend to the House the motion whereby we will allow our conventioneers to carry on with their great work. I am happy to debate this again and again, as necessary.

Question put—

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