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Mr. Cash: Very simply, with respect to the steel issue, America had to go through a process, as we did in the UKsome would argue, though I think wrongly in this instance, that it also applies to coalof restructuring. America has not dealt with the problems that it should have dealt with to restructure the economy and make it more competitive. The same applies to agriculture in the mid-west. I doubt whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman would put forward the common agricultural policy as a paragon of virtue compared with[Interruption.] I assume that he accepts that restructuring and change are necessary to accommodate the requirements of the modern world.
I do not think that the Americans are, by nature, protectionist, but I know that the French are. I am not just talking about modern French economics and politics. Those of us who have studied French history know that we need look only to the times of Colbert to realise that there is an intrinsic protectionist and statist attitudeRichelieu, Colbert and so forththat lies at the very core of the way in which the French think. That does not mean that we have to think any less of them for that. I happen to love France and I spend as much time as I can there. I speak French, but that does not mean that I have to agree that the French economic philosophy is better than that of Adam Smith, for example, which I happen to think is far preferable.
So many matters have been mentioned. For example, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) quite rightly stated that taxation is coming through the back door. Dealing with immigration is a problem under the Amsterdam treaty, even without mentioning what the present Government have done. Under that treaty, which I have to say we renegotiated, there was an agreement that the veto would be lifted in the five years following its coming into effectApril this year, I believe. That is one of the reasons why we have so many difficulties to cope with already.
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Dealing with fraud is another problem. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) made some strong points about that, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks. I believe that fraud is another matter that could be dealt with in this House. Various Conservative Members lost the party Whip during a debate on the Finance Bill in, I think, 1994, although I was not among them on that occasion. We nearly defeated the Government on the day in question, as that Government well knew. I stipulated in the debate that questions relating to fraud should be dealt with by adjusting our procedure to ensure that the Public Accounts Committee could keep an eye on how money is spent here. I urge the Minister for Europe to adopt that proposition.
The Minister for Europe intervened on a Conservative Member earlier and got quite heated about fraud. There is a simple answer to the problem, however, and I believe that the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee agree with me. If we took advantage of the opportunities available to us, and if the Government were to agree, we could get a handle on how European money is spent in the UK. Our PAC, National Audit Office and Comptroller and Auditor General are superb, and we would be able to hold proper investigations into how that money is spent. That would be a useful and practical way to try and solve the problem of fraud.
What is the way forward? I wish that the BBC and other media organisations could bring themselves to be less partial in their approach to these matters. I am engaged in a very extensive correspondence with the BBC director-general, and a few days ago received a letter that was four and a half pages long. I shall not go into detail, but it appears that some progress is being made.
A committee is being set up under Lord Wilson of Dinton to look into the question of pro-EU bias in the BBC, and a report will appear in due course. I trust that we will make some progress on that front. Experience has taught me not to be over-optimistic, but the matter is terribly important. The BBC is often the main source of information about what is going on in the EU. I told the director-general in one of my letters that I do not argue for one side of the debate by any means, but that the BBC charter requires matters of public policy to be presented in an even-handed fashion.
The Gilligan affair demonstrated some of the corporation's deficiencies in that respect and some very good lessons were clearly learned. However, we have the BBC charter on the one hand and the producer guidelines on the other. Those guidelines are, and must remain, subsidiary to the charter, as they arise from its application. We must press for those two factors to be combined with the agreement attached to the charter by which the BBC governors undertake to ensure proper impartiality.
Finally, where do we go from here? I think that the European constitution is dead in the water. I do not believe that it has a cat in hell's chance of being approved by the British people. I have said why I believe that the existing treaties do not work in various respects, but there are many others. Foreign policy and defence
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are other matters that could be looked at butas I have said in articles and other presentationswe must know what the alternative is. I say that with great respect to those other Conservative Members who have spoken, including my hon. Friends on the Front Bench.
It is not good enough for us to say that we do not want a constitution in principle and then expect the British people to vote against it. I believe that the British people have already discounted that possibility from the political market place, as they did our proposals for a referendum on the euro in 1997. As the ICM poll with which I began my remarks showed, the people of this country want to return to something along the lines of EFTA. The new arrangement may not be a precise replica of that, but it will be very close.
I urge my colleagues on the Front Bench and in the Government to accept that we cannot proceed without a plan B, which has to be a renegotiation of the existing treaties. Renegotiation has been mentioned, but it cannot be confined only to foreign aid, fishing, the social chapter and, perhaps, the common agricultural policy. It must go much deeper and address the political structure of Europe; the democracy question that I raised earlier; how we relate to the European Court of Justice, on which the House of Lords produced an important report recently; and how we co-operate, not co-ordinate, with other member states. In fact, as I have often tried to express it, we say yes to European trade, but no to European government.
We must look at how we would be able to renegotiate those treaties. The Prime Minister talked to the Leader of the Opposition the other day and said that renegotiation was all for the birds. He asked how we would get the agreement of 24 other countries. The answer is that it might be difficult, but I predictand some of my past suggestions have not been entirely wrongthat when we set a course with the political will to achieve constructive objectives in the interests of our own voters and those in other member states, and they see that the present set-up is not working, they will like what we offer. We will offer a renegotiation of the treaties combined with the serious and determined threat of withdrawal, because otherwise no one would take any notice. When the political will of Britain is set out on that negotiating table and we mean what we saywe must do sopeople will start to listen and they will act accordingly.
The tectonic plates of Europe are already moving. The tectonic plates underneath the Minister for Europe have moved in the past few weeks. The renegotiation is already on the agenda. I know that my colleagues on the Front Bench are grappling with how far down the road they can go. I believe that they are not going far enoughthey have not even begun to touch second base. They got to first base by saying that we will renegotiate in principle on fisheries. In the interests of Europe, of this country and of the Conservative party, it is essential that we have a properly formulated policy of renegotiation, combined with the threat of withdrawal, with the aim of associated status and free trade. And we must mean it.
The subject matter for the debate is drawn widely. Because it is European affairs does not exclusively mean the European Union. Nor is there a specific motion before us that demands action. A good friend of mine gave me some wise counsel earlier this afternoon, saying that Mr. Speaker expects hon. Members to refer to contributions made during the debate. I intend to do so, both in respect of a comment made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) and of the lengthy but interesting speech by the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash).
You will know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, from your long time in the Chair, that Whips on both sides occasionally visit the Tea Room to say, "The House is about to collapse. Can you come and do 10 minutes?" I always let rip at them, because I believe that that insults me and the House. However, whenas on this occasionI decide that I would like to make a contribution, it apparently does not go down too well with those colleagues who occupy certain areas of the Treasury Bench.
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