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I give credit to the hon. Gentleman, because he did call for one, but I meant from the then Government Front Bench. There was no call from the then Prime Minister, or from members of the Cabinet, including the current Leader of the Opposition, for a referendum on Maastricht. They were in favour of the House of Commons deciding on that treaty without the need for a referendum.
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We should not fear QMV. Look at the results of decisions taken by QMVthis is Britain's agenda! They are what we have sought to do. We are rarely isolated on policy decisions with QMV, because we are in the majority.
Mr. Burnett: The hon. Gentleman has shared with the House the secrets of the former Foreign Secretary's coffee-drinking habits. May I share another secret with the House? At the behest of the hon. Gentleman, I attended a dinner some years ago to celebrate the emasculation of the EU charter of fundamental rights. Was the dinner premature? Is he happy that we celebrated a success or failure?
One thing that we foresaw was possible tension between Javier Solana and Chris Patten, but the fact is that that never happened, because both gentlemen carried out their jobs with great distinction. It is absurd, none the less, to have two people speaking on foreign policy on behalf of the EU. The then American Secretary of State said that if he wanted to find out Europe's view on foreign policy he had to ring 15 Foreign Ministers. Now, an American Secretary of State will be able to talk to one person. It will, of course, be up to the member states to decide what that foreign policy will be, but it is essential that we have some kind of strategic approach to the way in which foreign policy is worked out. That began, not at St. Malo, but with Maastricht, the treaty signed by Opposition Members. They signed up to the start of the common foreign and security policy, which is now represented in this constitutional treaty.
The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks teased me about the charter of fundamental rights, but he should be careful whom he teases, because he should recall that I gave him his first break in politics when I made him secretary of the all-party leather and footwear industries group when he had been here for only six months. That was not because of a personal interest in leather and footwear industries; it was a constituency interest that he shares with me, and look how well he has done.
The point about the charter is that it was negotiated by our present Attorney-General. He had conduct of that policy. When he went into those negotiations, he was on his own, and he managed to convince all the other people and countries represented to turn towards this country's point of view. The point that I made at that time, many years agoI remember where I was when I made itwas that the charter, like any other legal document or any other publication, can be produced before any court in the land.
The fact is that the charter is not being extended to include more rights. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan) wants it
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extended to make such provision, but what is to be incorporated does not do that: it consolidates what is there and talks about the proper and appropriate rights that my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston mentionedrights of which we should all be proud.
It is not enough to pass the Bill. What is important is the campaign that follows it. That means that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House who believe that Britain's place is right at the centre of Europeengaged in it rather than isolatedneed to come out and fight for the right to be part of the European Union. Unless we do that, and unless the Government are prepared to do it, I fear that we might do badly in the referendum campaign. Let the Bill not be an end: let it be the start of a proper campaign that will bring to the attention of the people of this country the real benefits of Britain being right there at the centre of Europe.
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): I have seen the European Union as a journalist, as a Member of the European Parliament, from the perspective of the Council of Ministers and from the perspective of a Select Committee. The conclusion that I have drawn from all that is that Europe ought to be a great deal more about politics and a lot less about religion.
Europe does not have an indelible character, and it does not have a predetermined route. It is a product of member states that have joined at different times with different cultures, political traditions and priorities. So those who say that they want to know where the train is going before they are accused of missing it will never have a permanent destination on the engine, because it goes to different places simultaneously. That is the nature of the beast. People who are looking for the sort of coherence that we hope for in national politics will never find it in the European Union. It is an absolutely unique organisation with its own chemistry, and we have to apply different rules to it. Of course, some rules must be the same, such as the rules of sound accountancy, but it is very many years since the Department for Work and Pensions was acquitted by its auditors, so we might look at the motes in our own eye as regards finance.
I shall vote yes tonight on Second Reading, for the simple reason that what this treaty proposes is better than what is there now. It is not as much better as I would like, but, none the less, the role of national Parliaments, the coherence of decision making, the European Union's ability to operate external policy, the safeguards for member states, and the increasingly intergovernmental philosophy are positive gains.
I understand the criticisms that the constitution reflects what people believe to be too inward-looking an institutional regulatory attitude on the part of the European Union, and that it fails to establish clear enough frameworks to compete in a global world. However, by and large those are much more failures of the member states than of institutional arrangements in Europe. They call for political will. The painful steps that the French Government are taking to liberalise the 35-hour week and the flak that Chancellor Schröder has taken in Germany for what we regard as relatively modest steps to free up the pension system show how difficult that is.
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Those who advocate voting no have not demonstrated to me that any of those problems will be solved by doing so. My own Front-Bench spokesman talked of going back to the drawing board. It is fantasy to think that the European Union will go back to the drawing board in response to a British no in order to fashion a treaty that many of them think reflects British priorities even more than we do. One need only look at the demonstrators in Paris to see how much opposition is born from precisely the opposite interpretation to that of the United Kingdom.
Voting no would risk the Franco-German creation of an inner core and I do not subscribe to the view that it is in Britain's interests to encourage a sort of implicit disintegration or fragmentation of the European Union through everybody doing the bits that they like at their own pace, and ad hoc movement. That would lead progressively and incrementally to the United Kingdom's being on the margin of more and more activities until we were on the margin of the entire institution. Such fragmentation would also lead to the absorption of the EU in internal repair and maintenance at the expense of promoting the very policiesthe economic liberalismthat we want, which at last are beginning to come from the Commission.
The second reason to vote yes is to enable the United Kingdom to seize the historical opportunity to change the terms of trade in an EU of 25. Enlargement has tipped the scale against French hegemony. It is no use our trading individual quotes from French politicians. What do people expect President Chirac to say about the treaty? If we examine the continuing dialogue and commentary in the French press, it is clear that France is preoccupied with its decline. That is the current debate in the political class and it dates from the treaty of Nice, when the French used the expression "the end of the French hegemony." A no vote would therefore betray the new member states, many of which look to Britain for their ideas. They bring a liberal economic model and an Atlanticist attitude to the EU, which we welcome.
I do not believe that a no vote would somehow liberate the United Kingdom from what some perceive as the chains that are forged in Brussels. It would lead to colossal dislocation in our national political life. Some people would push for associate status and others would advocate leaving the EU. We would not resolve the persistent neurosis and ambivalence about Europe that prevails in the United Kingdom. We would simply ensure its prolonging.
I see no shadow of a superstate. Too often, the EU is incoherent and disunited. Frankly, a few more of the attributes of coherence would have been welcome in past years. The primacy of Governments and the increasing favour of intergovernmental models of co-operation are reinforced, not challenged in the treaty. Of course, I would prefer a treaty that did not contain the charter of fundamental human rights, but the charge that that will enable Luxembourg judges to rewrite the entire body of national labour laws represents an unjustified elevation of current fears into what Milton called "horrible imaginings."
The next reason to vote yes will not be shared widely in the House. It is a special reason. I believe that a yes vote will go a long way towards exorcising the demons about Europe that reside in my party. We keep talking about the new society and a changed Britain yet we also
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keep discussing things that manifestly disconnect us from a large part of the new Britain. I would like to exorcise the phantoms that lurk in the party's psyche and liberate us so that we can start challenging effectively for government by devising policies for the things that people wantthe aspirations of contemporary society. I expect that some Labour Members, who want a Parliament with an effective Opposition, share that view.
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