Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Angus Robertson: Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Campbell: I should like to make a little progress before giving way in due course.

Our proposition on holding a referendum is entirely consistent with the support that my colleagues and I demonstrated for a referendum on the Maastricht treaty when Mr. Bryan Gould tabled an amendment. A number of Conservatives, some of whom are no longer MPs, also supported that amendment. Lord Ashdown was the first party leader to say that if a proposal were introduced to join the single currency, that would raise not just economic but political and constitutional issues, so it, too, should be put before the British people.

The Government have accepted the need for a referendum on a single currency. Indeed, why else would they publish the draft Bill today? The inference must be that they regard such a decision as having constitutional significance. In contradistinction, they do not make the same judgment about the Convention's proposals. I confess that I find it difficult to make that distinction, which appears to drive Government policy. A referendum of the kind that I have suggested would provide an opportunity to reconnect the people of the United Kingdom with Europe and make the case for Europe once again. In that regard, I share the sentiments expressed by the Foreign Secretary towards the end of his speech about the sense of vision that an enlarged European Union brings. If those brave Europeans who formed the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951 had been told that in 53 years' time there would be a European Union with 25 members, including those who, in 1951, were firmly behind the iron curtain and in thrall to communism, I doubt whether they would have believed that their sense of vision, however powerful, was capable of such implementation.

We need some stability in Europe, and there must be an end to the atmosphere of permanent cultural revolution in which Europe has existed for the past 10 years. A constitution would undoubtedly aid that objective. It is quite true, as others have argued—the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring), at least by implication, did so—that enlargement could take place without a constitution. However, I part company from the hon. Gentleman in my belief that that is not much of an enlargement. Indeed, a European Union so constituted and based on existing arrangements would be a recipe for sclerosis and ultimately instability. As I have said previously in the House, the Government are correct to seek to retain a veto on taxation, defence, foreign affairs, social security and own resources. There is common ground on both sides of the House about what the red lines should be. I also believe, as I have said on previous occasions in the House, that the Government are correct to seek to retain a veto on taxation, defence, foreign affairs, social security and own resources. In that regard, there is common ground in all parts of the House.

10 Dec 2003 : Column 1121

Angus Robertson: Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware of the consternation in the coastal communities of Argyll and Bute, Orkney and Shetland, Aberdeenshire and other parts of the country about the conservation of marine biological resources under the common fisheries policy being entrenched as an exclusive competence in the draft constitution? If it remains there, will it be the position of the Liberal Democrats to recommend a no vote in the referendum that he and I agree should take place?

Mr. Campbell: No, and I suspect it will not be the position of the Scottish national party, either. The Scottish National Party, I guess, like everyone else, will look at what comes out of Brussels in the round, consider what it regards as pluses and minuses and judge whether the final document justifies support. If the SNP takes the view that the hon. Gentleman has just expressed, it may find itself voting against a variety of proposals that it previously supported with some enthusiasm and which the people of Scotland might well regard as being substantially in their interest.

If I may say so, it is idle to speculate on how one would vote on a document that is not in final form and not before us. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position that the fisheries policy is one of his red lines. I do not remember him describing it as a red line on any of the previous occasions on which we have discussed the topic.

Angus Robertson: For the record—

Mr. Campbell: No. If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I do not remember him using language to the effect that the fisheries policy was a red line and that the Scottish National party would urge the Government to adopt it as one of their red lines. If I am wrong about that, no doubt I will be corrected, but I have no clear recollection of him having made that point.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok) (Lab/Co-op): Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman clarify how enthusiastic the Liberals are about a referendum on the constitution? Will he tell us whether, as well as speaking for his party in the Commons, he is committing his party in the Lords to support a referendum on the constitution?

Mr. Campbell: I cannot commit my party in the Lords because it is composed of individuals who take their responsibilities seriously and who will vote as they think proper. As regards my enthusiasm, the hon. Gentleman has been present on the four or five occasions that I previously described. He will have noted that my enthusiasm is unlimited and that I believe there are constitutional implications. Indeed, in the principles that I set out a moment ago, I went out of my way to say that it was entirely consistent with the view that the Liberal Democrats have taken on the matter in the past.

Without rehearsing what I said earlier, I believe that where there is a material alteration in the balance between Westminster and Brussels, there is an obligation to put that before the British people. There is a political imperative as much as a constitutional imperative. If we want people to be supportive and to be—if the House will forgive the colloquialism—signed

10 Dec 2003 : Column 1122

up, they are much more likely to be signed up if they believe they have had a hand in the decision-making process.

Against that background, I shall deal briefly with a number of issues that may feature in the discussions in Brussels, starting with the European security and defence policy. Much of the discussion in recent weeks has turned on the issue of a headquarters, although that is not formally part of the constitution that will be under discussion. I have previously expressed reservations about the need for a separate operational headquarters, and I have yet to be persuaded that there is not scope for some form of double-hatting. It is not unknown in NATO and other institutions for individuals to have two sets of responsibilities, which they may be called upon at different times to discharge.

It is helpful and hopeful that the Tervuren option has been eliminated. It is also a relief that all sides publicly acknowledge the primacy of NATO. It also appears—no doubt I shall be corrected from the Treasury Bench if I am wrong—that the United States is satisfied by what is proposed, to the extent that it is no longer maintaining any objection. That has appeared to be Mr. Rumsfeld's position in the course of the past week. If that is so, it is an important indicator of the extent to which the proposals may be acceptable.

Mr. Straw: I do not presume to speak for the Government of the United States any more than I do for the Government of any other country, but I think it fair to observe that the United States Government appear to have been reassured by the discussions that took place in the North Atlantic Council and by the significant changes in the draft articles, which we led and which were agreed initially with France and Germany. They are now in the presidency proposals, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to them.

Mr. Campbell: The Foreign Secretary spends more time with Mr. Rumsfeld than I do, and, although he does not speak on behalf of the American Government, I accept, as I think I am bound to do, the analysis, if I may put it that way, that he has given.

It is important to remember that we are talking about a hierarchy of operational control—first, NATO operations; secondly, Berlin-plus operations; thirdly, EU operations using a national headquarters; and, fourthly, EU operations from an EU headquarters. The last of those items seems the least likely. There is a sense in which the concentration on architecture obscures the fact that we should be concentrating on capability. From the characteristically trenchant interview that Lord Robertson gave yesterday morning on the BBC, it was pretty plain that the battle that he has fought over the period of his distinguished occupation of the position of Secretary-General has been about capability. I very much regret the fact that, when this topic is discussed, we spend more time on architecture than capability. If the position now is that there is no longer the same anxiety in the United States about what is proposed, it will be a substantial advance.

I believe that the expenditure of greater financial resources or the better spending of existing resources best secures an ESDP. One of the most interesting statistics to which Lord Robertson referred in

10 Dec 2003 : Column 1123

yesterday's broadcast was that there are more than 1 million men and women under arms in Europe, but that at any one time a maximum of 55,000 can be put into the field. I have every reason to believe that that is a proper analysis, so a lot of time might usefully be spent on capability and, indeed, on embracing the principles of force specialisation, common procurement and interoperability, which are much more likely to give us an effective European defence capability than some of these occasionally arcane discussions about architecture.

I understand that it is expected that a security strategy will be adopted in Brussels. Those who have analysed Mr. Solana's proposals think that much more clarification is required of the circumstances in which Europe would be willing to use force. In some of the later drafts, the word "pre-emptive" has been taken out and the word "preventive" put in. Those are not simply questions of translation, as those words embody significantly different concepts. As far as Europe is concerned, by inclination, particularly since the second world war, and by economic necessity, we are tied to a rules-based approach to international affairs. It will be essential for the European Union to spell out what those rules are in order that a degree of predictability and confidence can be achieved in the strategy.

I understand that some discussion is going on about a mutual defence clause. I am agnostic on that, because I believe that it is unwise to embarrass countries with a tradition of neutrality, such as Austria, Finland, Ireland and Sweden, by insisting on a mutual defence provision that, as far as I can tell, almost exactly mirrors the provisions of article 5 of the north Atlantic treaty. Aside from the issue of legality, it is inconceivable, in the unlikely event that any member of the European Union were to be threatened or attacked, that other members of the EU would not give them military assistance if such assistance was requested. I understand that the neutrals have made the alternative proposal that instead of an obligation there should be a right to request assistance. That is entirely reasonable, because it reflects what would be the reality of the situation and has the consequence of not embarrassing those countries for which neutrality is a matter of considerable importance.

Talk of agnosticism leads me to my next point. I hope that the Government will resist any efforts to make the preamble to the constitution refer explicitly to one religious faith rather than another. There is a variety of religious faiths in Europe, as well as many people who, for their own legitimate reasons, have no faith at all. The comments of the hon. Member for West Suffolk have a particular resonance in that context, because Turkey's entry into the European Union is highly desirable not only for Turkey, but for the European Union. It is worth reminding ourselves that Turkey is a Muslim country with a secular constitution. It could easily find a commitment in the preamble to one form of religion to be an insuperable obstacle. Such a commitment is unnecessary, first, because there is a variety of traditions in Europe and we should not single out one and, secondly, because we should not have a preamble that might well prove to be an insuperable obstacle to a country whose ultimate membership of the European Union—on the assumption that it meets the

10 Dec 2003 : Column 1124

Copenhagen criteria and makes the necessary economic reforms—is entirely in the interests of the European Union.

I would be interested to know what is the Government's position on voting rights. I hope—not piously, but wholeheartedly—that Britain's apparent support for Poland is not based on some narrow political interest. The Nice formula expires in 2009, and it would surely be sensible to review it now. When the review of the finances of the European Union takes place in 2007, it may not be easy to get a settlement if Germany, a net contributor whose attitude will be pivotal, still nurses a grievance that with twice as many citizens as Poland she has virtually the same number of votes. There has to be some effort to look ahead to try to anticipate possible difficulties. Of course, one understands the sensibilities of a proud nation such as Poland, but I would give two pieces of advice to the Polish Government, if I may be so presumptuous: first, they need to take a long view and, secondly, it is very important in these matters not to overplay one's hand.

On foreign policy, there is no doubt that where common positions can be agreed the European Union is greater than the sum of its parts. Assuming that trade is part of foreign policy, I am in no doubt that the European Union's position on the American steel tariffs was successful because EU retaliation, as permitted under the World Trade Organisation rules, constituted a much greater threat to the United States than anything that individual countries might have mustered. Accepting that fact is wholly consistent with the view that the Italian proposal for the extension of qualified majority voting to foreign policy is inappropriate. In my judgment, foreign policy should rest here, just as defence policy should rest here. Those who take a contrary view say that there is an inherent weakness in that position, because it means that Malta, for example, will have a veto. The argument is that the smallest country would be able to thwart the most powerful. That could well lead to frustration but, in my view, the principle of retaining national control over an issue of such importance clearly overrides any such disadvantage.

I have some sympathy with the Government in this debate, because it is necessary for them to fulfil their obligation to inform the House. Inevitably, however, they cannot reveal their hand, except on those issues on which they have already said that they will not give ground. They cannot conduct a public negotiation across the Floor of the House of Commons in advance of the weekend's deliberations. At the risk of over-straining a theatrical or musical metaphor, this debate is not really an overture to Brussels, but something between a dress rehearsal and a preview. We shall have a chance to assess the Government's performance when they report back next week to the critical audience of the British people.

It is true that, technically, we could do without this Convention. There have been reports—I have no doubt that they will be denied—of an apparent difference of emphasis between the Secretary of State and the Minister for Europe, but I would say to them that it is highly desirable that the Government should do all in their power to achieve a settlement that is in Britain's interests. A poor settlement would be worse than no settlement at all, but there is often a rhythm or a time for these issues, and if we were unable to reach an agreement

10 Dec 2003 : Column 1125

this weekend it would leave the process open-ended. It would be a brave man or woman who would then predict when a settlement would ultimately be achieved.

I see that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) is in her place, so I shall make just one last point. I was a little surprised by her unexpected burst into print, but I suppose that we should congratulate her on overcoming her natural shyness and modesty in these matters. I feel that what has been attributed to her struck an unduly pessimistic note. I have not yet read the Fabian Society pamphlet, but I shall take an early opportunity to acquire a copy and to read it. It occurred to me that we did not hear the reservations that are now being attributed to her during the consideration of these matters by the House.

Next Section

IndexHome Page