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Mr. Hague: Will the hon. Gentleman respond to an actual point in my speech and explain why Ministers cannot go to the Council of Ministers with an adamant insistence that the hopeless accounting procedures of the European Commission be reformed?
Mr. MacShane: That is a perfectly fair point, and I shall deal later with the question of accounting, which was raised by other hon. Members. The right hon. Gentleman's new book, which we are all reading avidly, is, in one sense, about how Britain had to deal with Europe in the past. It was impossible for Britain to act co-operatively with all our European partners because of the divisions and conflicts to which some hon. Members wish to return. The right hon. Gentleman praises William Pitt's
That is exactly what the new treaty isit is a redesign of the rule book that allows Europe to function. The right hon. Gentleman, however, embraces the revolutionary prospect that Britain should dishonour the treaty that it signed, resile from it and refuse to ratify it. While the Turks want in, the Tories want out. As he comes to reflect on where his once great party will be after the next election, I hope, and I am confident, that like every sane person born in Rotherham, he will be with me on the British side of the debate, in favour of honouring the treaty that our great country has signed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) took us sensibly into the future Europe of 34 or 35 countries. That is precisely what this treaty seeks to doto allow a Europe that expands to have a sensible rule book. She asked me specifically about whether the President of the Commission could also be the President of the Council. If she reads article I-22, she will see that the task of the President of the Council shall be to work
It is therefore stretching the interpretation of the new treaty a bit too far to say that the two posts can be merged into one, when, clearly, under the rule book, they cannot. Her point, however, is important.
Ms Stuart: With the greatest respect, my hon. Friend is not answering my question. It was not my interpretation. If the Dutch legal services, under the current Dutch presidency, report to their Parliament that, in their legal interpretation, it is a possibility, what is our answer other than saying that we do not agree? Is there any mechanism of pinning that down further?
Mr. MacShane: This is a serious problem. Of course, one can find lawyers in The Hague, Berlin, Paris and in every Inn in the Strand who will give an interpretation. I have read out to my satisfactionwhether the House is satisfied will be seenthat the treaty clearly separates the two, and says that one cannot do the other's job. We will have to have that discussion with the Dutch, and I am happy to write to my hon. Friend.
I am delighted that that is laid down as a fundamental European value and written into a solemn treaty. Only the Conservative party, with its blind anti-European hostility, could see in that anything other than something for which British academe, British scientists and the House of Commons have fought for a long time.
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: For the third time of asking, will the Minister for Europe understand the point that I have made, not the point that he would like me to have made? I was not disputing the merits of that right. I was simply pointing out that it is a new right, whereas the pamphlet that he issued said that there were no new rights in the charter of fundamental rights. I was therefore contradicting what his pamphlet said, not disputing the merits of the issue.
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) said that there should be no more free trade in tobacco and alcohol, and that Britain should somehow have an opt-out on the exchange of tobacco across the channel. If I have misinterpreted him, he can correct me.
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Mr. Hopkins: I was merely saying that an opt-out on standardised tobacco duties and free trade would be sensible for a very good reason: we have the right levels of tax and duty, and continental Europe has the wrong levels.
Mr. MacShane: Many European countries are moving towards our levels, and we do not have the highest ones. My hon. Friend should think about whether his argument should apply to 24 other countries, whose different sectors might say that they are losing fiscal gain or other advantages because of British goods and services. I can well imagine that some state-subsidised airlines are not keen on competition from easyJet and Ryanair, and he should be careful before he goes down the road that begins to hintI am sure he did not mean itat the kind of protectionism that every socialist has fought against all their lives, and that the Conservative party now seems to be embracing.
The hon. Member for Banbury asked about the Cotonon agreement, which deals with trade between the EU and the Asian, Pacific and Caribbean countries. He read out an important speech, much of it addressed to colleagues of mine in other Departments. I will ask them to write to him, although I mean no discourtesy: we in the Labour party entirely agree with his substantive point about the need for more debate in Europe.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) listed many of the advantages that we gain from being in the EU. I hope that he circulates them all to his constituents and every other British citizen. They will then realise that there is only one future at the election: voting for the party that supports those advantages, and against the party that wants to stop Britain from enjoying them.
The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) made a lengthy speech, in which he made his usual points but also revealed the new thinking of the Conservative party. He rightly said that he was against not just this treaty but the one before itand the one before that, and the one before that. He unashamedly used the word "withdrawal" in announcing that that was where the Conservative party wants Britain to go. What he said in 1992 had become the thinking of many members of the Cabinet by 1997; what he said in 1997 became Tory policy in 2001; what he says today is Tory policy for the future. We need to tell every business man in Britain that that is the Conservative party line: that the Conservatives want to pull us out of our biggest trading bloc.
As for the important question of errors in the European Commission budget, it is a budget of about €100 billion. As one of my colleagues said, about €1.5 billion of that is contested. Both the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office have drawn attention to lost moneys, accounts that cannot be signed off in Ministries and municipalities, and indeed direct fraud. I do not think that that calls into question the way in which Britain tries to deal with the problems. I fully accept, as do we all, that the EUlike most of its member statescurrently operates a cash-based accounting system rather than the accrual system required in the UK public sector. Our public sector has only recently adopted an accrual system, and we are fighting hard to get the EU to do the same.
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About 85 to 90 per cent. of the EU budget goes back to member states. The complaint is really with Ministries here. Anyone who looks at the accounts in detail will see that some of the payments not just of the countries mentioned, but of Ministries here, cannot be accounted for properly: I fully accept that. In fact, the Commission employs fewer people than the BBCeven the slimmed-down BBCand its budget is about a quarter of the size of the Pentagon's. That is a relatively small amount of money, those are relatively few people, and we have 25 countries co-operating as never before.
The alternative, of which we have heard from the Conservatives, is the old Europe of conflict, division, confrontation and not seeking to speak with one voice. Every Member knows that in the new treaty we have preserved control over tax, vetoes on foreign policy and defence, and our permanent seat on the Security Council. In the European constitution we have given new powers to Parliament and Government. That is why the French are calling it "la constitution anglo-saxon".
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