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Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): On renegotiating existing treaties, surely the question should not be what the EU thinks about that, but what the British people think. An ICM poll in November showed that the British people want renegotiation, and that even more younger people than older people support that proposal.
Mr. Ancram: My hon. Friend makes an important point, and there is a further one to add to it. We have renegotiated successfully in the past. An example would be Lady Thatcher going to secure our rebate. The key to that renegotiation was determination and political will. The problem is that the Labour party has no determination and no political will in this regard.
Europe is facing relative decline. The constitution embodies the ossified thinking that lies behind it, and it is time for a fresh start. The new Commission President's call for jobs and growth to be the priority is welcome evidence that at last new thinking is emerging. Our view is that the European Union is worth renewing. The single market has, despite its faults, been a force for wealth creation. Our air is cleaner as a result of European co-operation on pollution. Old enemies have been reconciled and young democracies have found a stable home through the European Union. We actually want the EU to succeed. But it will not succeed if it is railroaded by a political elite with an overweening ambition to create a European superpower, clinging to an outmoded social model.
The way forward"forward" is a word the Government use frequently these daysis to reject this constitution. Opposition to it is widespread and growing. Yesterday's Institute of Directors poll of its members found that 49 per cent. were against the EU constitution, with only 29 per cent. in favour. A MORI poll of 100 of the UK's 500 largest firms in January this year found that 60 per cent. of Britain's biggest businesses were opposed to the EU constitution.
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We shall now redouble our efforts to remind the British people that they have before them a clear choice between the Government, who are hellbent on giving Brussels more control over our lives, and the Conservative Party, which will reverse that conveyor belt and bring powers back. This Bill represents a defining moment for our country. It is bad for Britain, and I call on the House to support our reasoned amendment.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: I see that the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) is trying to catch my eye. May I remind all right hon. and hon. Members that the 10-minute rule now starts to apply for Back-Bench speeches?
Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston) (Lab): I speak to the House as a survivor of the negotiations on the Amsterdam and Nice treaties. As such, I fully understand the complexity of the task that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has had to face. I can share with the House the fact that we managed to get agreement on the complex voting formula at Nice only because, on the last nightand I do mean "night"I smuggled in a laptop so that we could explain to the delegations how everything added up. I therefore congratulate my right hon. Friend on having at least produced a voting system that can be explained without the use of a laptop.
I sympathise with the patience with which my right hon. Friend has had to endure the 22-carat nonsense that has been talked about the treaty with which he has returned. One of the great instruments of our free press has said that this European constitution represents the greatest threat to English freedom for 1,000 years. Well, 1,000 years encompasses an awful lot of threats. Personally, I would have thought that Hitler, the Kaiser and King Philip of Spain's armada presented a greater threat than Valéry Giscard d'Estaing.
The right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) has just referred to the section on energy. Attempts have been made to suggest that if we signed up to the constitution, we should have to give away control of our North sea oil. Indeed, I have heard Members on this side of the Chamber argue that case. However, the section on energy could not be more crystal clear: there is nothing in it that affects the right of a nation to control the exploitation of its own energy resources.
It would be a tragedy if the debate on the constitution became dominated by rebutting the myths, fantasies and canards that are told by those in the no camp. It would be a tragedy because there is a powerful, positive case to be made for the constitutiona case, I am bound to say, that should be particularly appealing to those who are critics of the European Union.
I heard the shadow Foreign Secretary on the "Today" programme this morning, which rather interfered with my concentration on brushing my teeth. He claimed that we were once again on the one-way escalator towards giving greater power to Brussels. I have to say to him that that is not what is in the treaty. The treaty ought to be welcomed by those who want to put a limit on the creep of competence to Brussels. It specifically defines, limits and sets down what the competences of Brussels
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are. Indeed, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman cares to look up article I.13, which lists the exclusive competences of Brussels, he will find that they are modest and short. There are only four such exclusive competences, and only three of them apply to Britain because we are not a member of the euro. There is no substantial expansion of competence anywhere in the constitution. That is why I can understand that Romano Prodi expressed disappointment with the outcome. I cannot, however, understand why those who are worried about powers creeping to Brussels should be disappointed by an outcome that not only places a limit on those powers, but places a limit on them where they already are.
The shadow Foreign Secretary spoke about paving the way for a country called Europe, but this constitution does nothing of the kind. It is explicit that the power of the European Union comes from competences that are conferred by the member states. That is in the first sentence of the first paragraph of the first article of the constitution. One does not need to read 500 pages, just the first sentence, to grasp that elementary principle.
One of the big shifts in the balance with Brussels that the constitution will bring is the result of one of the new big beasts in the Brussels junglethe full-time President of the European Council. Until now, we have had a deeply unsatisfactory system, with presidents who not only changed every six monthsjust when they were getting a grip on strategy and directionbut tried to run Europe in the spare time left over from running their own countries. Now we will have something totally different. There will be a full-time president, permanent for two and a half years, probably for five years because it is renewable, based in Brussels with his or her own staffsomeone who will actually provide a change in the focus of Brussels to keep tabs on the Commission, initiate proposals and, as it says in the constitution, "drive forward the agenda". For the first time, the member states in the Council will have a full-time, permanent figurehead to set the agenda on behalf of the member states. That is a major shift away from the present balance held by the supranational institutions.
It is also very welcome, I have to say, that we will now know what goes on in the Council of Ministers. For the first time, as a result of the constitution, the Council of Ministers will meet in public whenever it passes legislation. I would have thought that everyone in this Chamber could welcome that, because it ends what was, frankly, an embarrassment. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the only legislative body left in Europe that met in secret was the Council of Ministers. It will now meet in public and we can see what is done there, which will make it more accountable, in turn, to the national Parliaments.
I am conscious that this infant constitution gets buffeted on both ears. It gets buffeted on the right ear by Conservative Members, who have a nostalgic yearning for the glory days of the old free-standing nation states, and it gets buffeted on the left ear by some of my hon. Friends who believe that the EU is not sufficiently aggressively socialist. I would encourage my hon. Friends to have a touch of humility when they address the question. Speaking as someone who was Foreign Secretary and, for a while, president of the Party of European Socialists, I know left-wing colleagues on
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the continent quite well. It may surprise my hon. Friends to hear it, but our continental partners do not think of Britain as a beacon of pioneering left-wing government[Laughter.] It may astonish colleagues to know that most of the continental parties believe that we are not sufficiently aggressively socialist, and view Britain as being the strongest voice in the Council of Ministers for deregulation and market fundamentalism.
I also have to say that it is our partners, not us, who have insisted on language in the constitution that should be welcome to my colleagues. Among the European values listed in the early pages are combating social exclusion and discrimination, promoting social justice, achieving full employment and social progress. Half of the charter of fundamental rights, which I welcome being written into the constitution, is about economic and social rights, including the right to collective bargaining and collective action, freedom from discrimination, the right to equal pay, paid holidays and reasonable working time. My hon. Friends might like to reflect on the fact that it was precisely because of the prominence given to those rights in the charter that the CBI long vigorously opposed it, which is a reason why Labour Members should be supporting it as a progressive step rather than resisting it.
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