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Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), but sadly I totally disagree with him. His analysis was very pessimistic and it may have more to do with the problems that he has had with other parties in Northern Ireland than with the constitution. He missed one thing completely: he was totally wrong to suggest that those in the Commission are the only people who can propose changes and legislation. The new powers given to the European Parliament through co-decision making will strengthen the democratic nature of the European Union; some of us have waited a long time for that and hope to see more of it.
I welcome the Bill and the proposed referendum, and I welcome the wording of the referendum, because it refers to establishing a constitution for the EU. People
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should recognise that it will be for the EU, not for Europe. Europe is a much bigger concept that is not necessarily covered just by the people currently in the EU.
On balance, I welcome the treaty. I say "on balance" because there are still some flaws in it, some of which were created by the Conservative Government. There were good arguments for shared competence on fisheries, for example, which we did not press for because the issue was not covered by any of the original treaties, but it might have been a useful move forward.
What worries me most is the combination of what I would call the anti-European zealotsthose in my party and the group led by the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) and his colleagues, with their "Be afraid; be very afraid" argument about the European Unionand the humbug and hypocrisy that I hear from those on the Conservative Front Bench. Is it opportunism rather than fear that I smell from them? Is it fear of the United Kingdom Independence party that is making them take the position that they have taken? We should never forget that the Opposition, when in government, not only signed up to a treaty that sold out the UK fisheries policy, but later, under Mrs. Thatcher, traded much of the Irish box to get the rebate, destroying a lot of the British and Scottish fisheries.
I was disappointed in some contributions. I will refer again and again to the attack by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) on the working time directive when I speak to trade unionists and working people in this country. The EU led the way in the working time directive, and it should not be forgotten that it has been a great improver of the working conditions of many people in Britain.
The right hon. Member for Wells sadly is not here. Again and again the European Scrutiny Committee discusses these matters, and shifting the balance of power of co-decision making to Members of the European Parliament will be welcome. They made it plain in their evidence to the Committee when I chaired it that they saw the constitution as a very positive thing. They included Members from Finland, born only 30 or 40 years ago, and from Hungary, born in 1939. They all had a vision of the constitution as a way forward for a balanced Europe.
It is important that we counter all these scary stories about the EU courts. The evidence that we received showed that it was still a matter of balance. With regard to primacy, if the European courts think that our laws are not compatible, it is for us to amend our laws; we are not overruled. The override that is referred to in both amendments, one selected and one not, will not undermine the will of the UK Parliament, contrary to what the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) said, and it will not further diminish the sovereignty of the UK, because eventually we in this Parliament must decide what we do when there is a conflict between our laws and interpretation of the laws in the EU.
If hon. Members take the trouble to read the evidence given to the European Scrutiny Committee, they will see that the academics disagreed on the possible behaviour
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of the EU courts. That is not a surprise; there would be no academic debate if that were not so. But even the most obviously Eurosceptic witnesses, some of whom were quoted today, said that the UK Parliament would have the right to decide if and how to respond to any of those decisions in the courts.
I come now to some Labour Members who are opposed to the measure. It is new words for old arguments; new weapons to fight old battles; and, unfortunately, old warriors dressed up in new uniforms. The treaty and the referendum that will follow are not about holding back the free-market process, or the common market process as it used to be called. They are not about challenging the right or the left-wing balance of opinion within the Commission. They will not be about the UK rebate. All those matters will be trotted out, rather than there being an argument about the constitution.
The Bill is not about the euro, immigration or the common fisheries policy, but, in the view of the hon. Member for Stone and his colleagues, it is about the possibility that if the Government are defeated in the referendum, the European Communities Act 1972 can be renegotiated and we can pull out of the EU. That is the real agenda for those on the Eurosceptic wing, and the official Opposition are in serious danger of being trapped into that argument because it is the only argument that they have to play towards.
I do not believe that the British people will respond to that. They realise that this is a mature and difficult treaty between countries, all of which want to hold on to their sovereignty as much as we do and to build a balanced, strong EU. I am not afraid of the fact that in treaties one has to give to receive, and in most cases QMV in the 53 areas that we are talking about will be to our advantage, as has been the case in more than 95 per cent. of cases to date. This is a treaty that I look forward to taking to a referendum and to supporting in the country. I support the Bill tonight.
It is clear that with the referendum during the next year or 18 months Britain will face a defining moment in our history. Over that time, 25 Governments will be going through the ratification process. It is virtually certain that 23 or 24 of them will achieve ratification through their Parliaments, or, many of them, through referendums. The idea that when they have achieved ratification and have democratic mandates, including in many cases through a referendum, those countries will simply be prepared to tear up the whole project to accommodate this country is absurd. It would also be extraordinarily arrogant to assume such a thing.
Those who talk about renegotiation cannot therefore mean renegotiating this treaty but the EU's continuing on the basis of this treaty and our renegotiating something other than full membership. We might be able to get back into the European Free Trade Association or to negotiate the kind of special associate status that the French recently proposed for the Turks, and which the Turks rejected because it was so insulting,
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but we certainly would not be full members. Above all, we would not be part of the decision-making structures or the structures of democratic accountability.
I am always amazed when colleagues say, "Well, we could always negotiate some access to the single market." They appear to be happy with a situation in which we would have to observe the rules and the laws decided by the European Union while playing absolutely no part in it. We would find ourselves paying over taxpayers' money without any representation, as do current associates in the North American Free Trade Agreement, Switzerland and elsewhere. The prospect of taxation without representation seems to worry my colleagues not at all.
The European Union is a formidable achievement. I need not dwell on the single market, because even Eurosceptics admit that it is vital that we remain part of that, whatever happens, but we do not talk about the human importance of the Unionthe fact that it provides a larger stage for all of us, and our children, to conduct our lives and to exercise our liberties: not merely to trade, but to work, live and study on a much wider field than merely on this island.
Over the years, it has proven a remarkable engine of peace. Let us consider some of the sources of conflict and bloodshed over centuries that it has dissolved over the past generation or two, such as Alsace-Lorraine and Alto Adige. As shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I came to the view that the only way of reconciling the views of those who want to remain part of this country and those who think it absolutely essential that they become part of the Republic of Ireland was within the context of a successful European Union, where the precise line of the frontier is no longer an existential matter, and certainly not one to die for.
The EU represents the only way in which we can exercise any influence in the world on key issues for the future such as world trade, international stability, sources of tension and potential conflict, nuclear threats, terrorism, and sources of migration. We cannot possibly influence those things standing alone in this country, and it would be absurd to think that we could.
Should we really walk away from all that because of this constitution? It would be completely crazy to do so given that 80 or 90 per cent. of it is a consolidation of what we have already signed up to, leaving six key changes, all of which seem to be very much in our favour. There are two substantive changes, the first of which is the mutual defence pact. We already have such a pact with 21 out of the 25 countriesit is called the Washington treaty. This simply removes the anomaly whereby we do not currently have a mutual defence pact with the Republic of Ireland, Sweden, Finland and Austria.
The second substantive change concerns the common foreign and security policy and the Foreign Minister. This is triggered under the treaty only by unanimity. It makes no sense at all to say that we want to leave the mainstream of the European Union because of a common foreign policy, because we have a veto on every occasion before a such a policy can emerge.
In addition, there are four procedural changes. On the two-and-a-half-year presidency, we all know that it does not make sense to continue with the six-month
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presidency and to have Malta and so forth as President of the Union. I have to tell my right hon. and hon. Friends that their system of shared responsibility, as occurs in the Council of Ministers, makes no sense. In the Council of Ministers, responsibility can be divided upone country can chair the trade and industry committee, another can chair the agriculture committee, and so on. The presidency cannot be divided up in that way.
On double majority voting, I understand that the Spanish and the Poles did not want that because they had the artificial advantage of a weighting in their favour under the previous system, but I cannot see why it is in the British national interest that the Poles and the Spaniards should have that advantage.
The yellow card system has been denounced as inadequate, but only a fool or a fanatic does not go for half a loaf instead of no bread. It would be nice to go further in giving national Parliaments an even greater role, but this is a major change in a positive direction, and I cannot believe that it is a reason for opposing the Bill.
As for the new withdrawal procedure, I should have thought that my Eurosceptic colleagues would be delighted about that. Of course, Parliament is sovereign, and we always could have withdrawn, but that is now recognised in the treaty.
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