Sir Patrick Cormack: Does my right hon. and learned Friend not concede that his argument applies to most Governments in the European Union which, when they negotiate something of fundamental importance, have to hold a referendum? I do not particularly like those instruments, but my right hon. and learned Friend's argument is rather weak.
In my experience, referendums did not strengthen the position of Irish or Danish Ministers. Whatever they were arguing for, we knew they would have considerable difficulty in getting anything past their public when they got home. They were asked to go back and persuade the public to change their mind. It is a pity that the British, who have one of the strongest traditions of parliamentary democracy in the western world, are moving towards that position. I am resigned to fate. Such is the power of the media that all three major political parties have endorsed enthusiastically the idea of a referendum. The last to agree was the Prime Minister, and his was the weakest gesture, because he
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had already revealed his true opinion. Who am I to do anything but protest about the further sad decline of Parliament?
The importance of the treaty has been hopelessly exaggerated. I am genuinely surprised that it has become the centre of controversy, but the referendum is likely to prove a cathartic moment in this country's relationship with the European Union. I did not see it coming, because every supporter of the enlargement of the EU always assumed that there would have to be a revision of the treaties. There was an unsurprising declaration in Nice that we would have to readdress fundamental aspects of the consolidated treaties once enlargement had taken place. We all supported enlargement and noted the need for subsequent constitutional change to improve the efficiency of the union.
Enlargement is, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, one of the most dramatic political events of my lifetime. One of the objectives of the EU, which no longer needs to stop wars breaking out between us, is to consolidate parliamentary democracy, liberal values and market economics across the continent. Just as the three former fascist states of Spain, Portugal and Greece were admitted to entrench those values among their populations so, most importantly, eight former members of the Soviet empire have joined for the same purpose. That is the great political objective of most of the other 24 member states and, I hope, ourselves. The orange faction in Ukraine and the popular Government in Turkey aspire to join the EU while we debate the constitutional changes made to facilitate its enlargement.
I shall not go back over the efficiency gains that are the obvious and desirable consequence of enlargement. The end of the rotating presidency, for example, is an advantage. We could not have 25 six-monthly presidencies changing the agenda all the time, although that would be the result if we rejected the treaty. There will be one foreign affairs spokesman rather than two, and foreign policy, according to the treaty, will be determined by the Governments of member states and their Foreign Secretaries in council. I faithfully supported the extension of majority voting when it was proposed by Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister, and I advocated it when the Single European Act was passed in the late 1980s. The extension of majority voting to all the new areas is essential, otherwise there could be a Maltese or Latvian veto on details of business that we are trying to administer.
Most of the treaty restates the consolidated treaties. As the right hon. Member for Livingston said, 80 per cent. of it is simply a restatement of the great previous treaties, each and every one of which I supported. Most of them were supported by the Conservative party and negotiated by Conservative Governments. The treaty also makes it clearer than ever before that this is a union of nation states, not a superstate, that power is devolved to the union by the member states, and that there is an enhanced and clearer role for national Parliaments on subsidiarity.
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I want finally to comment on the merits of the treaty in response to all the extraordinary negative claims, most of which I have heard voiced before, every time we have had a European treaty over the years. It has always apparently meant the end of our monarchy, the beginning of higher taxation, the end of our control over our criminal justice system and all that other stuff. The reinforcement of the Union of member states and of the market economy is the concept that has caused the biggest reservations elsewhere. Recently, I met Laurent Fabius, the former socialist Prime Minister, who makes me look like a Eurosceptic, and I expressed my astonishment about his proposal to vote against the treaty. He said, "It is la Britannique; it is not European enough." That is the true opinion in France
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), partly because his views on Europe are identical to mine. Maybe that is due to the influence of Caius college on us during our education; all the MPs in the House today produced by it are pro-European.
I urge the right hon. and learned Gentleman not to get cross about the fact that we have a Bill on the referendum, or indeed, about the referendum itself. I urge him to save his energy for the referendum campaign because he is a voice of reason on the Conservative Benches. What has been important in the debate is the large number of speeches of high quality. We do not agree with some of the views expressed today, but it is important that we continue the debate in the country.
During the past few years, we have not had a sensible debate on Europe and European policy in the country at large, although we have, of course, had such debates in the House. We regularly hear from the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe about forthcoming summit meetings, and the relevant Adjournment debates are usually attended by some of the hon. Members who are here this afternoon. If we are to explain what Europe is about and deal with the myths that have been created, partly by some Conservative Members, but especially by the tabloid media, which hate anything to do with the European Union, we have to have this debate outside the House.
I commend the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe on the work that they have done in advancing the debate, but I say this to the Government: if we are to succeed during the next 18 months in explaining to people what we are planning to do with regard to the European Union, we ought to encourage other Ministers to do what the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe do so wellgo out into the country and explain how their portfolios are related to the way in which Britain has benefited from being part of the European Union.
Sitting next to my old boss, the former Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), reminds me of events in Nice. I shall reveal a secret about my right hon. Friend and how he conducted policy. It was, of course, brilliantly
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conducted, but those of us who worked for him knew when he was getting frustrated about the way in which the European Union operated, because officials were asked politely, as I was sometimes asked, to get him some frothy coffee. Frothy coffee was the drink that he had when he needed to be calm about the frustrations of the European Union.
It was because of the frustrations that I and other former Ministers for Europe witnessed that I welcome the European constitutional treaty. It will do what has not happened during the past few years following enlargement: it will reform the way in which the European Union operates. My right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston will recall, as will all former Ministers, the frustration of having to deal with a European Union of only 15 members; it now has 25, with the possibility of even more joining. The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe mentioned Romania and Bulgaria, which will join in 2007. Croatia is set to begin negotiations on 17 March, subject to the conditions laid down, and there is a possibility that Turkey will begin negotiations later this year. The right hon. and learned Gentleman also mentioned Ukraine. All those countries are desperately trying to join the European Union, but there are still those in the House and the country who want to take us out of it. It is therefore vital that we have this referendum and that we have a discussion about the way in which the EU can perform better. By reforming the way in which it operates, we will get better results for the British people.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) said that the EU does not deliver any services, that it is not as good as Birmingham city council. As I have said before, the British people will never learn to love the EU until it learns to love reform; the organisation and the institutions have to be reformed. It is doing what Britain has wanted it to do under the two outstanding Foreign Secretaries who have represented our country during the last eight yearsmy right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston.
The whole agenda of Europe has changed. When we arrived at the negotiating table in 1997, Britain was isolated. The agenda has moved forward because Britain has engaged positively; Ministers have engaged positively in the way in which the EU has operated. That is why, on EU policy, we have nothing to fear from qualified majority voting. We are right to be reminded that the Maastricht treaty extended QMV in 30 areas, and that treaty was voted for by probably the majority of the right hon. Members on the Opposition Benches. There was no call for a referendum on Maastricht when that was being discussed.