Previous SectionIndexHome Page

2.19 pm

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): It would not be a debate on Europe in this House if some reference were not made to Sir Winston Churchill—perhaps endorsing his success in the recent BBC poll—but it is always important to put quotations from the great man in context. He once said that Britain, when faced with a choice between Europe and the open sea, should always take the open sea. I believe that he was First Lord of the Admiralty when he said it, so such a view is perhaps hardly surprising.

This Second Reading debate on accession takes place against the background of a debate that has recently commenced in the country—or at least, in some parts of it—which has very quickly assumed near-frantic levels, characterised by apocalyptic predictions and extravagant language. The truth is that we have heard such language on many occasions before.

The language being used now evokes for some of us a very considerable feeling of nostalgia. Much of it is familiar from 1972, when Sir Edward Heath took the UK into the European Economic Community—without, of course, holding a referendum. Some might argue, on the basis of Damascene conversion, that he ought to have held one.

In 1975, the referendum instituted by Harold Wilson was accompanied by the same sort of language. Language of the same kind was employed night after night when the previous Conservative Government pushed the legislation on the Maastricht treaty through the House on a three-line Whip, and we heard similar expressions and sentiments in respect of the treaty of Nice. Is it too much to hope that some day we may be able, in the country at least, and, I hope, in the House, to hold a debate about Europe that is not characterised by such extreme positions?

The Bill is not strictly about the European Convention—although much of the debate has been taken up with that subject and I want to say a word or two on it in due course—and neither is it about the single currency. However, if the events of the past 24 hours are going to be replicated between now and 9 June, I am not sure that I can wait: the excitement may prove to be too much. I was much impressed by the loyalty of the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), who said that he would follow whatever the Chancellor said. I wonder how many members of the Cabinet have adopted a similar self-denying ordinance.

The Bill is about an enlargement that many people predicted would never happen. They said that Europe was too introspective, exclusive and narrow. Those claims were made not all that long ago, but they have been firmly laid to rest by the enlargement process.

Like the Foreign Secretary, I hope that further enlargement, when it takes place, will include Turkey. The right hon. Gentleman offered the very powerful reason that Turkey is a Muslim country and that Europe is open to all those capable of subscribing to its

21 May 2003 : Column 1050

economic values and its standards of human rights and civil governance. All applicant countries have to meet those standards, but if Turkey joined the EU it would continue to emphasise that Europe, far from being introspective, is constantly looking outwards and willing to accept countries that can achieve the standards and principle on which Europe is built.

It is worth reminding ourselves that eight of the countries covered by this treaty spent far too many years under the arid and unproductive domination of the Soviet Union. The Berlin wall fell some 14 years ago, in 1989. Now both NATO and the EU welcome those countries as full partners, and not in any subordinate or second-class role.

I cannot help thinking that the applicant countries, and especially those freed from recent Soviet domination, would hardly be likely, in the first bloom of the exercise of freedom, to submit to the EU that the imaginations of the most fervent Eurosceptics continue to try and conjure up. A country is hardly likely to escape from the hegemony of the Soviet Union and then, in the first blush of freedom, subscribe to the perceived hegemony of Brussels if that involved signing away its new rights to democracy and self-determination, and its ability to decide about joining the EU or NATO.

Angus Robertson: The right hon. and learned Gentleman is making a very powerful argument. Does he agree that it has been underlined by the overwhelming votes in favour of accession achieved in the majority of countries that held referendums? The yes vote in Slovenia was 60 per cent; in Hungary it was 83 per cent; in Lithuania it was 89 per cent; and in Slovakia it was 92 per cent. Those are positive votes from people who understand that they are not giving up their independence in exchange for some sort of tyrannical governance from Brussels.

Mr. Campbell: That intervention also underlines the fact that it is not just a question of not submitting to some tyranny of Brussels: people also see the positive advantages to be derived from the EU. In the early days, the possibility of NATO membership for former Warsaw pact countries was being discussed. Many of those countries said that membership of NATO and the EU was a necessary insurance against any reversion to the sort of political system under which they had laboured since the end of the second world war. Those countries wanted to secure what might be called an entrenchment, to ensure that the democratic principles that they had been able to espouse could never be watered down.

It is self-evident that an enlarged EU would transform the countries that join it, and those that are already members. The advances in economic stability, competitiveness and democratic reform already evident in the applicant countries have been underpinned by the promise of EU membership, which is now to be delivered.

Moreover, although the EU is not a military or security organisation, the coming together of countries for economic and political purposes that it represents will reduce the risk of instability on Europe's borders. That risk was very real, and some might argue that it remains so. Conflict can erupt during periods of significant economic and social change, and the Balkans are a constant reminder of the perils of that instability.

21 May 2003 : Column 1051

In his speech, the Foreign Secretary rightly referred to the disappointment felt by many people that the whole of Cyprus may not join the EU. However, some encouragement can be taken from the way in which citizens of both the north and the south of Cyprus appear to be taking matters into their own hands. In the north, people do not consider the view of Mr. Denktash to be representative of the sort of lives that they want to live, nor of the relationships that they would like to have with their neighbours in Cyprus. That demonstrates that the prospect of EU membership can be a powerful encouragement to solving what appear to be intractable problems. Of itself, the opening of the border between northern and southern Cyprus was highly symbolic, but it may be even more significant in practical terms, given the change of heart and mind that it clearly brought about in many of the citizens of that unhappily divided island.

It is also worth pointing out that, essentially, the European map has been redrawn. Countries that we opposed before 1989, and against which we might have used nuclear weapons, are now our allies and partners. We may be anxious about the CAP or the consequences of extending qualified majority voting to transport or financial services, but we must remind ourselves again and again that accession represents a quite remarkable political transformation. It ought to be recognised as such.

For example, Germany is part of that transformation. It was split for the best part of 40 years, and its reunification was not achieved without difficulty. There were problems in relation to the prosperity of East Germany, and some would argue that the former Chancellor's over-generosity in agreeing to exchange one Deutschmark for one Ostmark contributed to the economic difficulties presently facing Germany as a whole. Even so, such matters are measures of enormous political advance. That should never be forgotten amid our anxiety about intervention prices for grain or the support to be given to milk producers.

Mr. Banks: I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way, as he is reminding the House what a remarkable historical development we are witnessing. Given the enormous changes in the map of Europe over the past 60 years, does he envisage that a European superstate will emerge in the next 50 or 60 years?

Mr. Campbell: No, I do not. Countries that have won their independence will not give it up lightly. Furthermore, the balance of the argument in the United Kingdom has undoubtedly shifted to some extent. Fervent pro-Europeans such as me should recognise that. In respect of the common foreign and security policy, upon which we received an eloquent tutorial from the Foreign Secretary, the events of the past six months—although I took a different position from the right hon. Gentleman—have underlined for individual Governments the fact that there may be issues on which for moral, political or other reasons they may want to take an independent position. The British Government, and the House of Commons by a majority, took an independent position by comparison with, say, France.

Let us suppose the circumstances had been different and the United Kingdom had wanted to hold back on military action. Members of the House would have

21 May 2003 : Column 1052

wanted to retain that right—that obligation to our constituents. I speak as someone with a front-line RAF base in his constituency: RAF Leuchars. Young men and women went from my constituency to fly fast jets over Iraq. I shall not cede my responsibility for their welfare and the decision as to whether they go to war. Indeed, the vote was an interesting precedent that I hope will continue. Nor shall I cede my obligation to scrutinise the Government who send those young people to war. That is a much more common view both in the countries that are becoming members of the EU and in the existing membership. The events of the past six months may have served only to underline the importance of those matters.

Reform in the candidate countries has brought economic benefits to their citizens. Increased levels of trade and investment in those countries have benefited the UK and all those within the single market. Trade with the 10 candidate countries has increased by 400 per cent since 1990, merely against the promise rather than the fact of accession.

Both the European Union as a whole and Britain within it stand to gain from a larger economic bloc with increased weight. The EU will have a combined population of more than 500 million and a market twice the size of the United States. In international trade negotiations, the EU is already the most powerful member of the World Trade Organisation, and can only become more powerful.

Along with those privileges and advantages come responsibilities. I very much regret that we have been inadequate in the face of one the most overwhelming of those responsibilities: reform of the common agricultural policy. The CAP takes 50 per cent. of the EU budget and also stymies or makes difficult the development of some of the poorest countries, whose principal commodities are agricultural. We have an overwhelming moral obligation to provide equitable market access for products from developing countries. Reform of the CAP is a necessary precursor to the fulfilment of that moral obligation.

I do not share the reservations, or anxieties, of the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) about clause 2, although we shall listen carefully when he and his colleagues propose amendments and consider whether they have substance. However, the explanation proffered by the Foreign Secretary as to why the clause is in this form in this Bill is entirely reasonable and sensible and I am disposed to support it.

Reform would have been of great value for its intrinsic worth and merit, but we should all recognise that enlargement has largely been the driving force behind it. As the right hon. Member for Devizes rightly said, enlargement can take place without the Convention. However, what sort of European Union would we have if enlargement took place under the existing arrangements? It would become sclerotic and incapable of decision making. Individual countries would have the capacity to stand in the way of the legitimate objectives of the whole of the rest of the Union. It is thus inevitable that arrangements suitable for six must be revised in the light of 25 and—who knows?—28, or even 30. That is why I support the principle of the Convention. It will clarify precisely the

21 May 2003 : Column 1053

role of European institutions and will define the rights and responsibilities of states, their citizens and the Union.

The right hon. Member for Devizes made a sound point about subsidiarity. Subsidiarity was one of the principles by which Mr. John Major, as Prime Minister, sought to underpin the Maastricht treaty. However, it is a reasonable admission that the application of that principle has been less than rigorous. If there are any mechanisms that would make subsidiarity more effective, including the one suggested by the right hon. Member for Devizes, we should not only embrace them but look for other measures as well. Brussels should do only what it is necessary for Brussels to do. The rest of government should be the responsibility of individual states.

I have no anxiety about the use of the word "constitution". A constitution would be a much-needed improvement in both transparency and accountability. If hon. Members ever have to have recourse, at the request of a constituent, to some issue of competence, they will know of the problems of finding their way around the Rome, Maastricht and Nice treaties. It is by no means straightforward. It is something of a safari, or even a voyage, and is as likely to end up in the Sargasso sea as anywhere. It is thus essential that there is a far higher degree of transparency, and hence understanding, of the treaties and their consequences for us and for our daily lives.

As I think is clear, my right hon. and hon. Friends' approach is generally supportive of the Government. I want to make one distinction, however. The Prime Minister and, in rather more colourful language, the Secretary of State for Wales were wrong to rule out, in all circumstances, a referendum on the Convention. If Convention proposals have constitutional implications, there should be a referendum. If they are, in truth, no more than a tidying up, a referendum will be unnecessary. However, I do not see how we can make that judgment at this point, when even the procedures of the Convention have not yet been completed, when the intergovernmental conference has not begun and when our Government have not come back to Parliament to indicate what they are about to agree.

I have no difficulty about referendums. The former leader of the Liberal Democrat party, now Lord Ashdown, was the first to call for a referendum on the single currency. Why? Because it is not merely an economic issue. The tests may be economic, but there is both political and constitutional significance. If the proposals that emerge from the long and elongated process that I have tried to describe raise any constitutional implications, there is an obligation to put them to the people in the form of a referendum. Furthermore, there is political advantage to the Government in so doing, because we must get away from the notion that Europe is somehow only the responsibility of legislators and Parliaments and is not something on which we ask individual citizens to exercise judgment.

Next Section

IndexHome Page