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6.47 pm

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): We have had a good debate. I welcome the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) to his new duties. He began with a bang of anti-Europeanism and finished with a cry of anti-Europeanism, but in the middle there were some solid points, to which I shall return. I see that he has removed the little pound sterling sign from his lapel, obviously under orders not to manifest his earlier crude anti-Europeanism.

The Government have tried to insert Parliament, as we did today, into the heart of our enduring debate on Europe. So far this year, we have had more than a dozen debates on the intergovernmental conference. I and other Ministers have responded to 16 separate Committee reports on the IGC. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have attended eight Committee sittings on the IGC this autumn alone.

We launched a constitutional innovation this autumn by setting up a Standing Committee on the IGC. I cannot find any precedent of a Government subjecting a treaty negotiation to full-scale interrogation by hon. Members while the negotiations were taking place. Important points were raised by hon. Members in that Committee, notably on energy policy. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard), the chairman of the all-party group on the offshore oil and gas industry, for raising those issues. I am happy to report to the House that we now have

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language on energy that meets his concerns and ours. As he told the House earlier, that has been welcomed by the North sea oil industry.

Andrew Selous rose—

Mr. MacShane: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I must make progress.

That example shows how parliamentary scrutiny can work if hon. Members come along and take the issue seriously but, alas, the Opposition have not done so. Although both the Foreign Secretary and I were present at that important Standing Committee for its long sittings, no member of the Opposition Front-Bench team bothered to turn up. Of course, hon. Members read out their Rothermere press rants at the Dispatch Box, but leave to others the hard work of ensuring parliamentary scrutiny of the IGC.

At the first sitting of that important Standing Committee, only one Conservative Member was present: the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash)—who else? At the second sitting, he was joined by the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory). At the third sitting, that duo was joined by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). That is a golden trio. Out of the 160-odd Conservative MPs, the three anti-Europeans of star quality who helped to destroy the last Conservative Government with their rabid anti-Europeanism were the only ones who bothered to turn up to subject the IGC to parliamentary scrutiny.

Mr. Bacon: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. MacShane: I will not do so, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.

The hon. Member for Stone and the right hon. Members for Wells and Wokingham can rest content that their new leader remains determined to uphold the Conservative party as the most extreme anti-European party of any of the major parties of the right in Europe. That is their affair. They are welcome to dwell in the dark recesses of anti-Europeanism for as long as they like, but the British people do not share that position. If I may make a personal statement, I see


Those are not actually my words, but those of Lord Hurd of Westwell. They show how far the Conservative party has travelled into the depths of anti-Europeanism.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) made a particularly powerful contribution. When she was interviewed on "The World at One" about her new pamphlet—I have a copy with me and recommend that all hon. Members give it a careful reading—she told Mr. Nick Clarke that she had advanced many of her arguments in the House or in Standing Committees. I have certainly had useful conversations with her about the issues that she raises

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and I agree with much of what she says. She calls for a new Cabinet post for the Minister for Europe, but I am not quite sure how far that will go.

Mr. Straw: Not far.

Mr. MacShane: I hope that that will be recorded by Hansard.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston will be aware that almost any Question Time involving any Minister will deal with European issues. It is difficult to say "Here is a category called Europe", as Europe now touches transport, the environment and defence, as we have heard, as well as other matters. She referred in the pamphlet to one article in the constitutional treaty:

and said that that was unacceptable in her view. I am glad to report to her that the new draft that we will be discussing in Brussels states:

to any such passage,

In a sense, by arguing her case, she has helped in winning a lot of it.

The right hon. Member for Wells taxed me with the confession that I was not a qualified lawyer. I have looked at the Hansard of the Standing Committee on the Intergovernmental Conference, however, and I could read out at interminable length section 2(1) of the European Communities Act 1972, which underlines the primacy of EU law. He is quite clear in what he says about the issue, but treaties are international law. If we sign them, we have an obligation to honour and abide by them. Pacta sunt servanda is the old Latin term, and it is honoured and enforced by tribunals and courts. There is no other way in which we can have relationships with other countries in treaty form. When the constitutional treaty is signed, it will be another European treaty. However, we have a present for him, the right hon. Member for Wokingham and the hon. Member for Stone—article 59, which allows for withdrawal. They should be honest and make it clear that that is now Conservative party policy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington) made an extremely important point about development aid.

Mr. Hopkins: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. MacShane: No, if my hon. Friend will forgive me.

I cannot read out all the references to millennium development goals, humanitarian aid and international development that are in the new Foreign Office White Paper entitled, "UK international priorities", but let me assure my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie that I am proud, and every Labour Member is proud, of the work of the Department for International Development and the massive increase in international and humanitarian aid that it has achieved. We will never allow a return to the cuts in international aid and Pergau dam policies of the Conservative party.

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The European Union is itself a powerful poverty reduction mechanism—that is why so many poor nations are anxious to join it. The Government do not support budgetisation—a technical point to which my hon. Friend may want to return in due course.

The hon. Member for Stone, who is not here—he apologised in advance for his absence—managed in his first sentence to patronise Germany and France. I say to Conservative Members that this incessant Francophobia and Germanophobia—this rancid hostility to our European partners—does their party, and the House of Commons, no credit.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) said that he was in favour of a European superstate. I cannot share that vision, because we are an association based on the nation state, one of the most important manifestations of which remains football. I hope that the behaviour of our football fans during Euro 2004 will finally lay to rest, for this new century, the lingering memories of bad behaviour. My hon. Friend discussed in considerable detail the issue of Commissioner Monti and television rights. That is being dealt with seriously by other Departments.

The hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) talked movingly about his relationship to his electorate, which we all share. I am therefore surprised that he wants to dissolve it by adopting the campaign by the isolationist Rothermere press for a plebiscite on whether we stay in Europe. Fewer and fewer countries in the EU of 25 are going down that road. The shadow Foreign Secretary, who has just returned from eastern Europe and the Baltic states, found no support there for his incessant clamour for such a plebiscite. He has not yet apologised, nor has any Conservative Front Bencher, for the dispatching of senior Conservative party members and elected representatives to campaign against accession countries deciding in their referendums to join the EU. That was shameful.

My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David) underlined the great importance that we attach to the need to strengthen the role of Parliament. I agree that we have a crisis in parliamentary scrutiny, but the system will not be effective unless hon. Members are prepared to turn up to do the work.

The hon. Member for Aldershot made some important points about defence and NATO, but let me quote to him a certain gentleman who said:


Those are the words of President George W. Bush; I am happy to quote the President of the United States in support of what the Prime Minister is seeking to achieve.

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We finish where we began. Today, we had the first major statement on Europe by the Leader of the Opposition, who told The Times that he would seek to wreck the constitutional treaty. We have the promise that the Conservatives will spend the next year refusing to accept the new treaty—even, it appears, if it is approved by Parliament. The Conservative party will sing the same old anti-European tunes under its new leader. His former Cabinet colleague, the then Foreign Secretary, now Lord Hurd, writes in his memoirs that, if we failed to ratify such treaties—then, the Maastricht treaty, tomorrow, the new constitutional treaty—

The Conservatives wish to live that nightmare. The Government will uphold British values and be strong in the European Union. We will support a strong Europe. We will be in Europe and help to run Europe. The Conservatives want us to get out of Europe and to run away from Europe. Their policy has got worse under their new leader. They have nothing to say to the House, to the nation or to Europe.

It being Seven o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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