|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Harris: That is a valid point. On top of that, I suggest that, after hearing praise for the Government on the speed of this process, a move to a referendum, which would be a purely partisan political move at this point, would simply be seen as a way of delaying the process and delaying progress towards a constitution that is
Mr. Spring: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Harris: I have given way several times, so if the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I shall make some progress.
I do not believe that a federal Europe will ever happen. Those who want to draw comparisons between a hypothetical united states of Europe and the United States of America are barking up the wrong tree and are very wide of the mark. Two things helped to create the United States of America: first, a single common language, and secondly, a brutal civil war that killed one in 50 of the population. Shelby Foote, the civil war historian, was once asked, "What was the great cultural legacy left by the civil war?" His answer was that the civil war made the United States a singularbefore the civil war, the United States were; after the civil war, the United States was. Unless at some point in the future we miraculously have a single language in Europe and a brutal civil war, I would have to suggest that that path is not open to Europe. A federal Europe is nothing more than a Conservative chimera. It is something that nannies use to scare very young children who have an ambition to be Conservative Members into going to sleep: "If you don't go to sleep, the federal Europe will get you." Clearly, it will be used to scare voters, too.
What we have is a Europe of nation states co-operating on many levels. Each nation state fiercely guards its rights when necessary, and shares sovereignty when it is in its interest. I hope that we press ahead with the historic move to increase the size of the EU by 10 nationsan unprecedented number, and an achievement about which we should all be proud and happy.
Angus Robertson: I agree entirely with the intellectual thrust of the hon. Gentleman's argument. Is it not an irony, however, that he overwhelmingly welcomes the enlargement of the European Union so that those countries can have a state of independence within Europe, but opposes that for the country that both he and I represent?
Mr. Harris: Never let it be said that the Scottish National party does not have its finger on the pulse of political debate in this country. Given that it is three weeks since the party was decimated in the Scottish Parliament elections, now is not the time for the hon. Gentleman to start talking about tearing to bits nation states already in the European Union.
We should press ahead with this historic move. Ten more nations understandably want to add the economic freedom of the world's largest trading bloc to their new-found political freedom. Members of this House must extend a welcome to those nations, not slam the door in their face.
Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): The question of which nations should accede to the European Union is a matter for them, and I would not
Of course, those countries' accession will present an enormous challenge to the European Union. We have heard that several have a gross national product per head that is one seventh of the average in existing EU member countries. That will put an enormous strain on the European Union, and it is especially pertinent to clause 2 because if we are to avoid enormous population movement and migration of workers, it is vital to put in place measures to drive forward the single market so that those countries are swiftly brought up to a level of prosperity broadly comparable with that of the rest of the Union. In the short term after accession, we must avoid a situation in which the United Kingdom extends full free movement while the remainder of our European partners impose all sorts of restrictions, because that would mean that all the pressure would fall on us. The Government were wise to build powers into the Bill to deal with such an eventuality.
Mr. David: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that many parts of the United Kingdom, such as south-east England in particular, need more workers, especially skilled workers?
Mr. Swayne: I am not convinced of that, although I have an open mind and remain to be persuaded. It is clear that the current work permit system represents something of an abuse, especially because of the way in which it relates to information technology workers. That issue was raised with the Prime Minister today, but it goes beyond the scope of the debate because the system relates to non-EU members.
It is vital that newly acceded members do not rely simply on subsidy, which would make them a burden on other countries. They should develop as genuine engines of growth as we draw them into the free-trade benefits of the Union. If that is to happen, one of the requirements is growing flexibility in the rest of the Union, especially on labour practices, because an enormous strain will otherwise be placed on the Union. The economics of the Union need to advance and be reformed because there is otherwise a significant danger that the European Union as we know it might be consigned to the dustbin of historya point that the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Denzil Davies) drew to our attention.
I shall move on to an aspect of the debate that I had not imagined that I would intrude on. However, almost every speaker has mentioned it and the Secretary of State himself brought it into our discussion. Although I welcome the Bill, I had not identified any connection between it and the European Convention. It was the Secretary of State who made that connection. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris) reinforced the principle that the Secretary of State introduced: that being in favour of accession required acceptance of the reforms consequent on the Convention. I do not believe that.
I do not believe that there is any necessity to draw together accession and what is happening in the Convention and the constitution that is its product. I
Mr. MacShane: What institutional reforms would the hon. Gentleman propose?
Mr. Swayne: I want a completely different order of reform. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) said, we want reform that loosens tiesa dilution. That is one of the principal arguments in favour of expansion of the Union, although I accept that there are other more important economic arguments. Certainly one of the institutional arguments that was often advanced in the 1980s and 1990s for expanding the Union was that a wider Union would be a less deep Union.
Mr. MacShane: Will the hon. Gentleman name one institutional reform? I would like one concrete example.
Mr. Swayne: I shall concentrate precisely on what I do not think is desirable institutional reform, as advanced by the Convention. From that, I think that the Minister will be able to infer what I would be in favour of.
Mr. Menzies Campbell : Under the hon. Gentleman's proposals, how many Commissioners would there be?
Mr. Swayne: I am not interested in the number of angels that dance on the head of a pin, nor in the number of Commissioners that sit in the Commission. That is a matter of little consequence.
Angus Robertson: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be wholly welcome if, as proposed in the Convention, the Council of Ministers were opened up so that citizens could see how representatives of their Government argue and then decide on vital matters of national interest such as, for example, fishing? At least we would then know how hard people were arguing for us.
Mr. Swayne: Absolutely. I accept that that might be highly desirable, but we are talking about what has come out in the draft constitution. I urge right hon. and hon. Members to log on to the internet website where it is available. It is clear that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart has not done so, given his closing remarks. The Union so described is clearly described by the Convention as the united states of Europe.
Ministers have argued, as have Opposition Members, especially the Liberal Democrats, that it is legitimate for them to say, "It would be wrong in principle to commit to a referendum now, given that we do not know the magnitude of the changes. After all, this is only a draft constitution and the IGC has yet to take place. Perhaps we should consider later the real scale of change in terms of whether this is tidying up or whether it is something much more significant."
I accept that, in principle, that argument has some value, but we must consider the practicalities and bear in mind the months during which the Convention has been gestating. The product is to a large extent a done deal. I am sure that there will be a battle on defence and foreign policy. I have no doubt that the Government will return from the IGC trumpeting their triumph. I have no doubt also that they will triumph on defence, foreign policy and taxation. It would be extraordinary if they did not, but they will use that to mask the profound changes to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells referred, and pass them off as a tidying-up measure that makes no fundamental change in our relationship with the rest of Europe. The Foreign Secretary was explicit. He said that there would be no significant change. I argue that there is an absolute and fundamental change, and it is already clear from the draft constitution.
Our relationship with the Union now is set out in treaties that can be changed only by unanimity. The European Union enjoys its power and competence by leave of the member states. The constitution will fundamentally alter that relationship. We, as nation states, will enjoy our power and our competence by leave of the Union, through a constitution that can subsequently be changed by the Union, without requiring the absolute consent of all member states. That is a fundamental change in the nature of the Union, giving it its own legality and person. That is the enormity of what is being proposed. I do not believe for one moment that the Government will get away with passing that off as a tidying-up measure.
I tried to intervene on the Foreign Secretary as he concluded his remarksindeed, I had tried to intervene earlier. He concluded with a grand flourish about the process of enlargement. He said that he believed that it would be irreversible. I asked himfrom a sedentary position, admittedly, but I am certain that he heard mewhether he would tell us what he meant by "irreversible". Unfortunately, he did not. I hope that when the Minister winds up the debate, he will expand on quite what the Foreign Secretary meant by it.
There is a suspicionnot unnatural, given the way in which the constitution is expressed in draft form on the internetthat the position is irreversible because those that join have no way of getting out. I suspect that that is not what the Foreign Secretary meant. Perhaps this is part of Labour's search for some new belief. Having ditched clause IV, which of course contained the term "irreversible", it seeks some other article of faith. This European journey is it. I hope that the Minister will be able to enlighten us as to what the Foreign Secretary meant.
It is clear from the draft constitutionagain, I urge hon. Members to read it, so that they know precisely what they are talking aboutthat it is no tidying up, no codification of the existing treaties. There is a fundamental change in the nature of the organisation. All the other members of the Convention clearly accept, acknowledge and agree with that. Whether they are for it or against it, they acknowledge the singular nature of the change and its enormity. We cannot allow Ministers to pretend to the British people that it is something of