Previous SectionIndexHome Page

11 Dec 2002 : Column 333—continued

Mr. Spring: Was my hon. Friend a Member of Parliament then?

Mr. Luff: I certainly was a Member of Parliament at the time, but I have no recollection of how I voted. I rather hope that I voted against a referendum because referendums were then strange and alien tools in the British constitution, but this Government have made them commonplace.

Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire): That is an exaggeration.

Mr. Luff: There will be a whole stack of referendums in the so-called regions of England if the Government have their way. Referendums were held in Scotland and Wales. There will be referendums everywhere we turn, and I am glad to say that there will be a referendum on the single European currency if the Government ever have the courage to put that before the British people.

Angus Robertson: What about the Belfast agreement?

Mr. Luff: I very much thank the hon. Gentleman for reminding me about the Belfast agreement. So referendums are much more commonplace than they were. If we can have a referendum on the question of whether Birmingham should run Worcestershire's affairs—I emphatically think that it should not—there should be a referendum on a new constitution for Europe, if there is to be one, preferably before the treaty is ratified, not afterwards. I hope that that referendum will take place at the earliest possible stage.

The trouble is that the Government do not look for the right things at Council meetings and that so much of what Europe needs to do is rather boring and nitty-gritty. The great aspirations of enlargement are obviously important—we share them—but proper reform of the CAP is central to achieving them. That is said in every debate ahead of a Council meeting, but it just does not happen. Before the Berlin meeting, which took place three or four years ago, we were told that a major reform of the CAP had been achieved and that it would permit enlargement of the EU.

Nothing of the kind had been achieved at that Council meeting. Jacques Chirac talked into the early hours of the morning and continuously negotiated the

11 Dec 2002 : Column 334

CAP, wearing down the other Heads of State. The tape recordings were still being transcribed many days, if not weeks, later to work out exactly what had been agreed because the Prime Minister wanted, possibly quite reasonably, to cling to the rebate as the essential achievement of that meeting. He was prepared to squander any progress on CAP reform to hold on to that rebate. That may or may not have been the right tactic, but I wish that he could have been more effective in securing CAP reform.

Every chance must be seized to advance CAP reform, but it is just not happening. CAP reform is in the interests of the taxpayer and the farmer, as well as those of the developing world, so I hope that the Government will insist that CAP reform is pursued at successive Council meetings, as well as at every other opportunity.

I am not convinced that the fisheries issue should be on the agenda at the Council meeting. I am persuaded that the relevant DEFRA Minister, who has rather more experience of such issues than those who will attend the Council meeting, should pursue those negotiations. However, that is clearly another issue of great importance.

We still have not completed the single market. Public procurement remains a scandal in the EU. Unless those issues are addressed effectively, how can we say that the Government are negotiating in the interests of Britain and, indeed, an enlarged EU? The European negotiations that we need to permit enlargement are about very practical issues designed to make Europe work better and to be more diverse. That will strengthen, not weaken the EU.

The Prime Minister often says that the Conservative party is the enemy of Europe and that it is full of extremists who want to destroy the EU. He regularly says that literally and by implication. I think that he is absolutely and completely wrong. To belong to a club, to be critical of that club and to argue for its improvement is to support that club. To turn one's eyes from the problems that exist is to be an enemy of that club. I fear greatly that by driving the countries of the EU to excessive conformity—to bureaucracy rather than democracy—he risks a reaction that can destroy the EU, which he claims to support.

The Prime Minister risks economic failure through single interest rates; institutional gridlock, as issues are not properly devolved to national Parliaments but are maintained at European level; possible American hostility to the EU, as it seeks to assert itself against American interests, which is a matter of great concern; and, above all, a reaction of the peoples of Europe against the old federalist agenda, to which he and the Government are still tragically wedded. In a sense the issues never change, but, as we face a very exciting chapter in Europe's history, they have probably never been more important.

7.55 pm

Mr. Siôn Simon (Birmingham, Erdington): I shall begin with the parochial, by reassuring the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff). He is clearly losing sleep worrying about the possibly aggressive expansionist plans of Birmingham vis-a-vis Worcestershire. He may sweat at night worrying about lebensraum, but I reassure him that we have no such

11 Dec 2002 : Column 335

desire. In fact, we are sufficiently incapable of running Birmingham to be by no means keen to run Worcester any more than it wants to be run by us.

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): What about Sir Albert Bore?

Mr. Simon: I am sure that Sir Albert can hear from where he is.

Mr. Spring: In Birmingham, but not run by Birmingham.

Mr. Simon: Exactly.

I also wish to reassure the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), who is personifying—indeed, embodying—the Scottish National party in its entirety tonight, as well as the Welsh National party and apparently all the Irish parties. My constituency is entirely urban. It is in the middle of Birmingham city centre. It includes spaghetti junction. It is almost as far away from the sea as one can get. I know nothing about fish. There is no point intervening to ask me about fish. I have nothing to say about them.

Mr. Bryant: Is my hon. Friend aware that Winston Churchill once said that Baldwin was thoroughly bored by Europe and that Chamberlain thought that Europe was no more than a greater Birmingham?

Mr. Simon: I have nothing to say about that, but I thank my hon. Friend for that instructive intervention. I was terrified for a horrible moment that it would be about a piscine matter.

I hope that I have dispatched the parochial, so I wish to join the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire in offering my right hon. and hon. colleagues on the Treasury Bench some morsels of principle that they might take with them to Copenhagen and which they might, I hope, bring back again and continue to deploy thereafter. Two principles—maxims might be a better word—could be usefully applied widely in European matters. First, please let us get on with things to the greatest possible extent. Secondly, it would be wrong to say, XStart being honest with people", but perhaps I can recommend a move to an even more candid style of discourse.

For example, let us apply those two principles to the euro, setting aside, for the sake of argument, the Chancellor's five economic tests. For debating purposes only, let us assume that the tests could be met pretty much at any time and that the real political dynamic is not about the five economic tests, but about winning a referendum. [Interruption.] I am assuming that as a debating point for the sake of argument. There seems to be an assumption that the polling data militate against a referendum because there is apparently a significant, consistent majority of people who say that they would not vote in support of the euro. However, that number is offset by an almost equivalent number of people who say that they believe that euro entry is inevitable. The latter number is not a quirky figure but a significant percentage. The chattering classes dismiss it as a

11 Dec 2002 : Column 336

manifestation of the general contempt in which the public hold them—they think the public believe that they will implement that chattering class-project, whatever the people want. That tells us more about the chattering classes than about the people. Commitment to a referendum must be absolute, and we can adopt a new currency only if people vote for it. Everybody knows that.

When someone tells the pollsters, XI'm not going to vote for a single currency, but I think it is inevitable" they mean, XI'm instinctively suspicious of foreigners and loath to give up the pound, to which I have a sentimental attachment, but I'm not stupid—I know that a historic tide is swelling beneath me. I do not feel any enthusiasm for the euro, but I accept that it is right and I am going to vote for it." I am trying to gird the loins of my ministerial colleagues. XOpposed to entry" means emotionally and romantically opposed, and XI believe entry is inevitable" means XI know that it is right and I am going to support it."

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk): As the hon. Gentleman is talking about the Government being truthful, does he accept that if there is a single interest rate it follows, as night follows day, that there must be greater power at the centre, particularly over taxation, to deal with the consequences? Greater harmonisation of taxes is inevitable, whatever verbal assurances have been given by the Government. That has been recognised by Hans Tietmeyer, so why will the Government not admit it?

Next Section

IndexHome Page