Mr. Maples: Is not the problem that the Commission has powers of its own, including the sole power to initiate legislation? If the Commission were more subservient to the European Council and the Council of Ministers, the commissioners' nationalities would not be a problem because it would be more like a civil service. One of the problems with the constitution was that it made the Commission more powerful, which would have provided individual countries with a greater incentive to ensure that they had a player on the Commission.
Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman has made half a good point. The European Commission should be more like a civil service that works to the political direction of the Council. To achieve that objective, however, the Council must become more transparent, which is a sine qua nonLatin is the order of the day. The treaty made it clearer that the Commission is not always in the driving seat and that it is sometimes subservient.
Chris Bryant: I am hesitant to give way, because the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) just asked whether I was still speaking. I shall conclude my speech in the near future, but first I shall give way.
Mr. Hendrick: In his reply to the previous intervention, my hon. Friend might have mentioned that the Commission work programme must be agreed by both the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. The Commission does not come up with proposals that other people must swallow.
That is a good point, which takes me to anothernamely, that the rotating presidency process
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gives the Commission too much power. A much tighter presidency of the Commission established for two and a half, or possibly even five years, and based on the Council, would create a much better chance of keeping the Commission working to the political guidelines that have been set by the elected Governments of the member states of Europe, rather than the other way round. I hope that we will find some way of abolishing the rotating presidency. Again, this is an area where there is a great deal of consensus but where I suspect that treaty change will be required if we are to move forward.
The one area where I suspect that there will be no consensus between Labour Members and the Conservatives is the extension of qualified majority voting. In many of the areas in which QMV was extended in the constitutional treaty, it was only common sense to do so. In many of the more controversial areas, there werealthough this was rarely mentioned by no campaignersopt-outs, or opt-ins, for member states that wanted them. In many areas, Britain would be cutting off its nose to spite its face were we not to push for further extension of QMV, a classic instance being energy policy, whereby one country can all too easily prevent British companies from doing business elsewhere in Europe by using its veto.
I said earlier that there is a fundamental choice between a pragmatic and an ideological position and I have outlined a series of areas where one could pragmatically move forward to a new treaty. If that is cherry-picking, I am happy to cherry-pick, but I believe that it is simply being pragmatic. Interestingly, what we have seen over the past year from the Conservativesoddly, ever since the party changed its leadershipis a move towards a more ideological position. Many Conservative Memberssome are here today, although it is sad that the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) is not with usare entirely pragmatic in their attitude to Europe. However, as we have heard today, the prime Conservative argument is that we should move towards complete renegotiation on the basis of a position somewhere between that of the hon. Member for Stone and that of the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory)that is, to try to secure for Britain a different status of some kind from that of other member states, be it associate or whatever else one wants to call it. The difficulty with that objective is that, because it would require treaty change, in order to achieve it, one would have to get every other Government, and then every other member state in Europe, to agree to it. At the moment, I can discern only two political parties in Europe that would support the Conservatives' positionthe National Front in France and Herri Batasuna in Spainso they would find it difficult to argue their case.
Over recent months, that argument has been adapted towards withdrawal from specific pieces of treaty obligations such as the social chapter, the overseas aid provisions that were made in the Maastricht treaty and the common fisheries policy, as primarily advocated by the hon. Member for Stone. That is a dangerous path for the Conservatives to tread.
The hon. Gentleman is completely misrepresenting my position. Let me just give him one fact. In the Convention on the Future of
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Europe, I made common cause in the democracy forum with representatives from other countries who did not belong to established political parties to advance the cause of democracy. What is important to me is to get together with the people of Europe, as we have shown that we can, following the two shattering defeats in France and Holland. The hon. Gentleman would do better to listen to the people of Europe rather than casting false aspersions on someone who fought this right from the word go.
Chris Bryant: The right hon. Gentleman has made a series of different arguments over the past few years. I think that I have listened, as attentively as possible, to every single one of the speeches that he has made in this Chamber. Perhaps I am not as intelligent as he would want me to be, or perhaps his position is contradictory. The internal contradictions in the Conservative party position, from which I do not think that he wishes to dissociate himself, are so manifest that it is difficult to understand why Conservatives cannot see them. Without getting the Governments of other member states to agree to a renegotiation on the basis that the hon. Member for Woodspring wants to advance, I do not see how they can possibly argue their case with credibility.
Today, we have heard a new development in Conservative party ideologythe single market is now up for grabs, too. The Conservatives want a renegotiation of the single market. I thought that that was simply the view of the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), another man of whom I am a phenomenal fan because he keeps the Conservative party in its current position. However, it is difficult to understand how the Conservative party could go to the people of Britain arguing for withdrawal from the single market.
A new Member, the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), advanced the extension of the Conservatives' ideological position. He called for a referendum on whether we should remain in the European Union. He did not reveal whether he would argue that Britain should leave the EU[Interruption.] Yes, he would argue that Britain should come out of the EU. It is good that some Conservative Members are finally coming out of the closet on the matter.
We should acknowledge our debt to the EU. Europe, not alone but with NATO, has brought peace to a warring continent. It has extended human rights in a way that many people would not have thought possible in the dictatorships of Spain, Portugal, Greece or the eastern bloc. It has made possible a shared market where many can share in the prosperity that was once enjoyed by only a few European countries. It has also enabled freedom of movement so that one in four British people take a European holiday every year.
Mr. Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech this afternoon. It is a great honour to follow the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who spoke with eloquence and passion. I could happily have listened to him for many hours except that I was anxious to break my duck. Although I do not know him personally, I have tremendous regard for his work as a parliamentarian and a constituency Member of Parliament.
I am the first maiden to speak in the debate and I therefore crave the House's indulgence. I am surrounded by some titans of the European debate and I feel them straining at the leash to make their points. I applied on Monday morning to speak in the debate, and although I did not know the subject, I had a shrewd idea of what might come up. Consequently, hon. Members will be relieved to know that I have had time to write a short speech.
As the new Member of Parliament for Wantage, I have won an especially poignant privilege. Whenever I walk into the Chamber, I pass under the shield of my most illustrious predecessor, Airey Neave, who served what was then known as the Abingdon division for a quarter of a century before his cowardly murder by republican terrorists. I never met Airey Neave but his name, spirit and reputation live on in my constituency. It is a matter of personal pride that I attended the same college as himMerton college, Oxford.
I was selected as the Conservative candidate for Wantage as long ago as 2002. From that time, I worked extremely hard and very closely with the sitting Member of Parliament. At the end of those three years, he joined the Labour party. I have tried not to take that personally. Despite that humiliation, hon. Members may be surprised to learn that I feel that I owe Robert Jackson a huge debt of gratitude. It is thanks to him that I achieved something that has been all too uncommon in recent electionsI took a seat from Labour and gained it for the Conservatives. Hitherto, my record in that respect had not been good. When I stood in Labour-held Bristol, East in 1997, I turned a Labour majority of 5,000 into one of 17,000. I am therefore delighted that history did not repeat itself.
Robert Jackson's decision to leave the Conservative party and join the Labour party caused his many friends and supporters in the constituency a great deal of pain, sorrow and not a little anger. However, I am sure that they would join me in acknowledging his contribution as the Member of Parliament for Wantage for the past 22 yearsindeed, for more than a quarter of a century if one includes his service as a Member of the European Parliament. Robert Jackson was an assiduous constituency MP. He was involved in a huge range of issues but, above all, he played a major role in maintaining the scientific pre-eminence of my constituency.
In my constituency is Harwell, the home of Britain's first nuclear reactor, which was built in 1947 and at the time generated enough electricity to boil a kettle. My constituency has a huge scientific heritage not just in Harwell but in Shrivenham, where the Royal Military college of science resides. During his time as a Member of Parliament, Robert Jackson championed that
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scientific heritage and played a major part in bringing the Diamond synchrotron, the largest UK-funded scientific project in this country for 30 years, to Harwell.
This morning, some of my hon. Friends, on seeing my tie, expressed concern, not because, as a so-called Tory moderniser, I was actually wearing a tie, but because of the colour of my tie, which I should explain to the many readers of Hansard is deepest red. However, my tie has nothing to do with politics. Although it is not an uncommon occurrence for Conservative Oxfordshire MPs to cross the Floor of the House, that is not my intention. My tie is related to something far more important than politics: football. This is the tie of Didcot Town football club, which last month won the FA Vase at White Hart Lane. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I am grateful for that. Hon. Members are free to sign an early-day motion recording that fact. Their victory has put a huge smile on the face of Didcot, which is the largest town in my constituencyI sometimes feel that it should be called Wantage and Didcot.
Didcot has hitherto been known mainly for its railway station and its power station. It now has a cup winning football team and a new town centre is being built. Rightly, there has been a huge surge in civic pride in Didcot. Didcot is a boom town, home to more and more highly qualified professionals attracted by its rural setting, excellent transport links and first-class job opportunities. It sits at the centre of one of the most economically dynamic areas of the country.
In Milton park, next door to Didcot, we have hundreds of modern, dynamic businesses, including RM, the largest private sector employer in Oxfordshire and, for aficionados of trivia, the largest manufacturer of personal computers in the UK. Nearby in Grove, we have Williams Formula 1, and elsewhere companies such as Oxford Instruments and numerous other hi-tech and bio-tech firms.
Despite the economic dynamism of the constituency, it is still overwhelmingly rural in character. It is an area steeped in history and tradition. Wantage is the birthplace of King Alfred, and the nearby village of Uffington is the birthplace of Thatcherism, because it is where the late Sir Denis Thatcher's forebears hail from. To the south of Wantage lies the ancient Ridgeway, and nearby can be found the ancient chalk horse that gives the Vale of White Horse its name, as well as the hill where St. George slew the dragon.
At the eastern border of the constituency sits Wallingford, a town which celebrates its 850th anniversary this year, but which I think over the next few years will become known as the town that educated my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson), who I should acknowledge as a former youth team player for Didcot Town football club. Looking at him now, he seems ready to take them into the upper leagues.
Near the western border of my constituency sits Faringdon, which still bears the physical scars of the English civil war, and which has recently become the first fair trade town in the south-east. In Grove, we have the largest village in Europe, and in Steventon we have the largest village green in England.
Truly this is a constituency of superlatives. If hon. Members feel that my hymn in honour of my constituency sounds too much like a tourist information
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brochure, I make no apologies. If I do not sing its praises, nobody else will, because the Liberal Democrats have just closed all the tourist information centres.
The subject of today's debatethe future of Europeprovides, for me, an interesting symmetry, because it was the subject of Robert Jackson's maiden speech as a Conservative Member of Parliament. While his views on Europe may have had much in common with those of the hon. Member for Rhondda, they had much less in common with mine. Nevertheless, in that maiden speech, Robert Jackson said, rather prophetically, that
I believe that recent events have proved him right. In my view, the European constitution was a step too far for the European Union. That is why it has been roundly rejected by the peoples of two of the founding members of the original European Community.
For far too long, the agenda of the EU has ignored the desires and wishes of the peoples of Europe. The nation state, far from declining, is reviving on our continent. The new members of the east, as the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) pointed out, are rejoicing in the rebirth of their sovereignty and enjoying the opportunity to run their own affairs at last. If I may be so bold as to say it, they do not necessarily owe their independence and freedom to the EU, but to America and NATO. Even in old Europe, national pride remains a strong emotion. After all, as London, Madrid and Paris compete to win the venue for the Olympics, they do so not for the glory of Europe, but for the glory of their nations.
The European Union must work with the grain of national identity, not against it. It should seek to evolve and develop, not to impose an artificial blueprint on unwilling peoples. The death of the constitutionthat is what it ispresents, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) mentioned, a unique opportunity to re-evaluate the role of the EU in the 21st century. That means several things. It means a much lighter touch from Europe; it means far fewer laws made in Brussels and a vast swathe of laws returned from Brussels; it means a focus on reform that encourages enterprise, growth and job creationnot, I hasten to add, in Brussels, but in the whole of Europe. It also means an approach that binds us together only so far as it is essential and beneficial for all.
Today, to my generation at least, the EU seems out of touch and a relic of the past. I come from a generation that has travelled not only in Europe, but all over the world, whose horizons extend far beyond Europe. If we have the courage and foresight to take advantage of the current crisis, we can build a new European consensus for a new ageone that looks forward, not back; one based on honesty and transparency, consent and not compulsion. We want a Europe of nation states trading freely with each other, not subsumed within an artificial construct. That seems to me a vision worth fighting for. Any other approach should be one that we fight against as vigorously as we can.
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