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26 Feb 2003 : Column 371—continued



7.28 pm

Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South): I present the petition of some 1,900 constituents in Blackpool, South who are supporters of restrictions on the sale and use of fireworks. I am delighted to do so and to give the petition—and the Bill sponsored this Friday by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan)—my strong support.

26 Feb 2003 : Column 372

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

Murder Sentence

7.30 pm

Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire): I wish to present a petition signed by over 13,000 residents of Burton upon Trent, South Derbyshire and other areas concerning the sentence passed on the murderer David Bond, who killed Debbie Buxton in my constituency in 1993. I am joined in this by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer), who represents another victim of the same murderer.

The petition reads:

To lie upon the Table.


7.31 pm

John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland): I am delighted to present a petition calling for the urgent review of existing fireworks legislation, a petition signed by over 3,758 of my constituents.

The petition is timely, as it comes just before—on Friday—my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan) introducing his private Member's Bill on the subject. My hon. Friend has today delivered to Downing Street an 80,000-strong petition. It

To lie upon the Table.

European Developments

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Dan Norris.]

7.32 pm

Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East): On 1 May next year, 10 countries will join the European Union. Anticipating this enlargement, the Laeken Declaration established the EU convention to come forward with proposals for reform. It would also recommend a wider agenda for the intergovernmental conference to agree in a revised treaty. It is this wider agenda on the future of Europe that has prompted this debate.

The debate is timely, because the convention has just published a draft treaty establishing a constitution for Europe which would give legal effect to a set of rights as defined in the EU charter of fundamental rights. This confirms fears that the outcome of the IGC will threaten the primacy of Europe's largest and oldest inter-governmental and inter-parliamentary institution, the Council of Europe, and in particular one of its principal assets: the European convention on human rights and the Court in Strasbourg.

To defend all that the Council of Europe continues to achieve and to ensure that the enlarging European Union will not threaten or undermine its future is the purpose of this debate. I initiate it as a member of the British delegation in the Parliamentary Assembly for the past 23 years, as the current leader of the Conservative delegation, and as chairman of the European Democratic Group, the Conservative centre-right group in the Assembly.

I am encouraged that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis), who is the leader of the Socialist Group in the Assembly, the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd), who is the leader of the British delegation, and the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce), who leads the Liberal delegation, also hope to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

It is a sad fact of life that, owing to the lack of resources provided for it, the Council of Europe is comparatively unrecognised by the public and is frequently confused with the European Parliament. Let it be recalled that it was established in 1949 by people of vision and courage committed to a Europe of justice and equality, freedom and peace, based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It is the forum within which our continent's disputes are resolved through dialogue and debate. In his Zurich speech of 1946, Winston Churchill foresaw it as

None of us who were present in Strasbourg in July 1989 will forget the historic moment when Mikhail Gorbachev described the Council of Europe as "the Common European Home" that Russia would one day join. Since then, 20 countries of the former Soviet empire in Europe have joined—a process that I had the privilege to preside over for four years as chairman of the committee responsible for non-member states, in addition to being the first rapporteur for the accession of Russia.

When European Union officials and members of the European Parliament say that the forthcoming enlargement of the Union will reunite Europe, they are wrong. Europe has already been reunited in the Council of Europe, which today comprises 44 member states. The principal message that I want to convey to the House is that the forthcoming intergovernmental conference must avoid the creation of a second common home at the expense of ours. It should avoid the EU charter of fundamental rights competing with the European convention on human rights, and the Luxembourg Court clashing with the Strasbourg Court. It should prevent the broad legal framework that already exists for Europe, based on our 185 conventions, from competing with double standards imposed by the European Union. It should recognise the unique work by practical politicians—ourselves—in monitoring commitments entered into by member states upon accession as invaluable in establishing the acquis upon which these countries are judged by the European Union. It should respect the work of the Venice Commission, of the European Youth Centre Budapest, of the North-South Centre in Lisbon, and of all the instruments established under the European cultural convention, which effectively replaces 1,000 bilateral treaties. It should also avoid duplicating the outstanding work of our Congress of Local and Regional Authorities in promoting local democracy and transfrontier co-operation. It should, in short, avoid decisions that will threaten the primacy of the work of the Council of Europe and undermine the assets that we have been developing for more than half a century.

During the past year, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has been seeking to address these concerns by introducing well prepared recommendations, resolutions and orders to ensure that our organisation becomes a natural partner to the expanding European Union, and not its rival: to ensure that it co-operates with it, rather than competes with it. The organisation's secretary-general, Walter Schwimmer, has submitted a memorandum to the EU convention along similar lines. Common to our representations has been urging the European Union to accede to the European convention on human rights, which would eliminate risk of the divergence in case law for the protection of human rights in Europe that we fear. In addition, we urge that a third Council of Europe summit of heads of state and Governments take place before commencement of the intergovernmental conference, so that it can take account of what the EU convention proposes, thereby avoiding decisions being taken that might introduce new divides.

Recently, my hon. Friends the Members for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman) and for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), the noble Baronesses Knight and Hooper and I submitted our own representations to the EU Convention. We appreciated the assistance of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), who is also a member. In our paper, we point out that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is the only inter-parliamentary Assembly exclusive to Europe, and that it will soon be representative of every European national Parliament. Thus our Assembly is the true democratic dimension of Europe. It can make up the so-called "democratic deficit" that, it is suggested, exists because national Parliaments are not represented in the European Union.That we represent non-EU member states should be considered an asset rather than an impediment when it comes to promoting a continental ideal.

In that context, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), who also represents us on the EU Convention. She took a personal interest in the assembly of the Western European Union in Paris. In her address to the last part-session in December, she recognised the need to maintain and develop mechanisms for inter-parliamentary scrutiny of the EU.

All of us were encouraged by the address from the Minister for Europe at last month's Strasbourg part-session, especially when he said that the Council of Europe would continue to play a vital role a common European forum, and that the place of the European Court of Human Rights in the European human rights architecture must not be undermined. However, we recall that his predecessor, the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), told the House that the EU charter of fundamental rights would be of no more legal significance than a copy of the Beano. In fact, that charter has now emerged as article 6 of the draft of the treaty establishing a constitution for Europe.

We fear that, in the casino of consensus and compromise that EU summits inevitably become, the forthcoming intergovernmental conference will decide that the Council of Europe is expendable, and that it will be allowed to wither on the vine as the EU, with all its considerable resources, takes on ever more of what we do best. I therefore urge the Minister to assure the House that the role and the work of the Council of Europe will remain pre-eminent throughout the continent until the nations of Europe can agree to the single, confederal institution that Winston Churchill saw would be a "United States of Europe", to which all of us should, eventually, belong.

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