Previous SectionIndexHome Page


5.8 pm

Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): I am grateful to the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) for mentioning clause IV. We do not often hear it mentioned in this place any more. It brought a lump to my throat, and I almost felt a chorus of "The Red Flag" coming on, but it quickly passed, as it has done in new Labour.

I should like to pick up something that the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) said in his speech. In his usual modest way, he pointed out that there was something that none of us had seen or discussed in the debate: the definition of Europe. It is an interesting point. As a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, I know that the subject is discussed there from time to time. In Council of Europe terms, Europe stretches from the Atlantic to the Urals. One needs only to make the short journey across the Bering strait to Alaska to reach north America. He was right to say that the borders of Europe will continue to expand, and so they should.

Hon. Members who described the treaty of accession as an historic milestone are correct, and it is wonderful. The Foreign Secretary mentioned Europe's violent history. The map of Europe has been drawn and redrawn over the centuries, always on the basis of conquest, war and the imposition of treaties on unwilling countries. We are considering a completely different process. It is grotesque, especially in the context of the acceding countries, to suggest that one can compare the Commission to the Politburo. However, such language often creeps into discussions about developments in the European Union, especially in our media. We are drawing a new map of Europe peacefully, on a co-operative, voluntary basis. A dream is becoming reality.

In recent years, there has been much argument about whether we should broaden or deepen. Those who opposed the concept of the European Union believed that broadening it would avoid deepening it. They did not want to expand it on the basis of what was good for other countries but to prevent the European Union from deepening. I believed that we should deepen before broadening, but we cannot. We cannot stand aside and tell countries that have emerged from the shadow of the former Soviet Union that we must get on with our business and they must wait. We must therefore try both to broaden and to deepen.

We all have our personal stories about the accession countries. I am delighted about Lithuania's application. Not many people know—why should they?—that as a member of the Political Committee of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, I was responsible for a report on Lithuania. I was a rapporteur for its application to join the Council of Europe and I spent time in Lithuania, studying various institutions. It attained full status at the Council of Europe. All countries must do that before applying to join the European Union. The Council of Europe should be perceived as the democratic training ground for countries in transition from the totalitarian system of

21 May 2003 : Column 1091

the former Soviet Union to the family of democratic nations. When I produced the report, several institutions could not be favourably compared with institutions in our country and other parts of western Europe. An act of faith was required. We had to say that the willingness to democratise meant that association in the Council of Europe—and now the European Union—would hasten the creation and development of democratic institutions in Lithuania and the other accession countries.

There has been much discussion about the countries' reasons for joining. Of course there are economic benefits to joining the European Union, whatever the short-term difficulties they and we might encounter. However, the decision is essentially political. The accession countries want to join the European Union for political reasons rather than for the economic benefits that they hope will ensue. Although the debate is about the accession treaty, it is impossible to discuss it in isolation from other developments such as the Convention and the euro. However much we want to cloak the debates in the language of economics, though, they remain political. It is a political issue. When I heard the shadow Chancellor this morning—I hear him so often on the "Today" programme that I thought for a moment I was cohabiting with him—I agreed with most of what he said. An economic snapshot of convergence might be right on the day that it is taken, but a little further down the line it will not be. One cannot say that because we have economic convergence on one particular day it is right for us to join the euro. I should not like to say that we are misleading people, but we are trying to camouflage an essentially political decision in the language of economics. Frankly, it is not going to work, because our economies could be converging on one day and diverging on another.

It is a political argument, just as it was a political argument that led the French, Germans, Italians and Spanish into joining the euro. When I hear that we are giving up our sovereignty or that 1,000 years of our history are threatened, I wonder what one would say to the French and the Germans about that. I have always felt that the French and German Governments are as anxious to preserve their sovereignty, history, customs and pride as we are. Those countries have not descended into barbarism because they joined the euro. Whatever else one says about the short-term difficulties that they may be undergoing, my personal experience is that quality of life and living standards in France and Germany are at least equal to, and in most cases exceed, those of this country.

I do not believe that the Bill or any of the proposals so far in the Convention will lead to a European superstate. I do believe, however, that we are on the road towards a united states of Europe, and personally I very much welcome that. It might not be a view that sits well in this House or, at the moment, in this country, but there is an historical inevitability about it. I asked the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) what he thought about that, and I should like to hear his answer. Given the enormity of the institutional, political, social and geographical changes that have taken place in Europe in the past 50 to 60 years, I cannot believe that in another 50 to 60 years we will be looking at anything like the Europe that we are

21 May 2003 : Column 1092

discussing today. We will have a European superstate—a united states of Europe—and that does not frighten me at all.

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon): It does not frighten the hon. Gentleman, but it worries—indeed, frightens—quite a lot of people. Would he be prepared to support a campaign to have a referendum on this and abide by the will of the people?

Mr. Banks: A referendum on what? That is the important point. If the hon. Gentleman is asking whether I would put the question, "Do you want to have a European superstate?", that is a no-brainer, because I know exactly what everyone, in the House and in the country, will say: no. Perhaps not everyone—there must be a few more like me.

I am simply asking the House to look beyond what is happening today, or might be happening in two or three years' time when the Convention is a reality, to what sort of a Europe we think we will be living in in 60 years' time. I can see the inevitability of a Europe with a president, a Government and the national Parliaments being more like state parliaments in a federal united states of Europe. After all, why should we stop at the borders of the nation state? Who is to say that the political entity of the nation state is as far as we can ever go? I am sure that the people of Wessex, Mercia and Essex did not particularly want to join England in a united state—

Mr. David: Nor did Wales.

Mr. Banks: Wales certainly did not. However, by virtue of conquest, it happened. Nowadays, we are talking not about invasion and conquest but about voluntarism and people willingly surrendering an element of their sovereignty, as we have already done in order to provide a greater European good. Whatever it does to the rest of the House, a united states of Europe most certainly does not frighten me.

5.19 pm

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): It is always a privilege to follow the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks). Chelsea football club, which we both support—he rather more actively than I—is of course a wonderful manifestation of the ever-closer union of the peoples of Europe, although I think that it has a few more English players these days. When I listen to the hon. Gentleman speak, I reflect on how I could perhaps be persuaded of the case for a common criminal justice policy, because a single policy on hunting would be unlikely to lead to a ban—but that is another matter.

I apologise to the House for having been absent for some of the speeches in this debate, but as you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I had important parliamentary business elsewhere on the Selection Committee. I apologise to you for that discourtesy, but fortunately I have not missed many speeches. This is only my second speech on European affairs since I came to the House just over 11 years ago; my first was six months ago. That was perhaps the more statesmanlike version; today's might be a little more knockabout.

21 May 2003 : Column 1093

The right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson), the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, made an interesting contribution to our proceedings. He regretted the lack of consensus in the debate. I have to tell him that the reason for that on our side is, in part, that the Prime Minister started it. I had not intended to speak in this debate but I was absolutely infuriated by what he said last week during Prime Minister's questions. A lengthy exchange—it runs to a full page of Hansard—is perhaps best summed up in what he said about my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition:


That is simply untrue in every particular.

I intend to give the House a history lesson on the Conservative party's engagement with the issue of the enlargement of Europe. We were in favour of it when the Labour party was still in favour of the United Kingdom's withdrawal from Europe. Today, the Prime Minister compounded the sin. I cannot quote his exact words, because I have not seen how they will appear in Hansard, but I noted them down like this: "The true agenda of him"—my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition—"and his colleagues is to get Britain out of the European Union." That is complete nonsense. Why he feels this compulsive need to misrepresent his opponents, I just do not know. He seems to need to believe that the Conservative party is a distillation of the purest evil, so that he can define himself in distinction to what he needs to believe that we are—which we actually are not.

That also applies to other opponents of the Prime Minister. He does not just misrepresent us on our positive attitude to enlargement of the European Union. He misrepresented the House of Lords, alleging that it had killed the Bill on hunting introduced by the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster). That Bill never got to the House of Lords. He misrepresents our position on debt relief, saying that it effectively began in 1997 when this Government came to power. It did not—it began with the last Conservative Government. He misrepresents us over the issue of a 20 per cent. cut in public expenditure—a malicious Labour lie if ever there was one.

Again, today, at Prime Minister's questions—


Next Section

IndexHome Page