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Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con):
The House heard a delightful maiden speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey). It was
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very competent, and we look forward greatly to my hon. Friend's future contributions. We also heard two contrasting speeches from Labour Back Benchersthe hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who sadly did not wait to hear comments about his speech, and the hon. Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins), with whom I have debated these matters on many occasions.
Those speeches showed that divisions on this European Union issue exist within the parties as much as between them. The hon. Member for Rhondda could offer no more elevating metaphor for the European Union than that of a corpse, or rather a near-corpse on a life support machine. All he could suggest was that the family, as he put itpresumably the other Heads of Stateshould gather round the bed to decide who should switch off the machine. That is not a very elevating or exciting vision of Europe with which to energise future electorates.
I agreed much more with what was said by the hon. Member for Luton, North, as I often do. He was right to tie the question of the euro to that of the constitution. It is pitiful to behold the dilemma of the German Government. They are trapped in a currency system that they do not control. They can do nothing. They have happily broken the ludicrous growth and stability pact, which was not delivering growth or stability, but they are still quite unable to change the value of their currency or let it adjust, or to change their interest rate. It is a pitiful sight to see the engine of European prosperity for so many years after the war reduced to that statusa terrifying warning of what happens when a country loses control of its currency.
Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): The right hon. Gentleman describes the difficulties of one-size-fits-all economic policies. I should like to point out that we in Scotland suffer from the same problems. Indeed, a former Governor of the Bank of England once said that the price worth paying for economic prosperity in the south was unemployment in the north. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that once-size-fits-all economic policies create difficulties; they have certainly done so in the European Union and, indeed, in my constituency, which has lost 11 per cent. of its population in the past 10 years.
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: If the hon. Gentleman would advance the case for Scottish independence and win an election on that basis, he might be able to set up not only an independent Scotland, but an independent currencyhe could debate that issue at that timebut I would observe that the United Kingdom is an optimum currency area because there is completely free movement and a great deal of labour mobility between the parts of the United Kingdom. I contrast that with the eurozone, which, as the chief economist of the European Central Bank has observed in recent days, is not an optimum currency area and is very unlikely to become one.
Within national economies, there is scope for substantial fiscal transfers, which can overcome the problem of having a single interest rate throughout an economy. However, within the EU, the fiscal transfers would be politically impossible because of their vast size.
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Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: The hon. Gentleman makes another telling point. Although there is no true analogy between the different situations, I would always examine the case for a Scottish currency in the spirit of rationality and fair play, but I would not recommend it.
I want to return to the Prime Minister's promise. It is a bad start to a new Parliament that the right hon. Gentleman has already broken a promise. It was quite explicit. In answer to me and the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), he said that in all eventualities, even if other countries said no, we would have a referendum on the issue. The Minister for Europe now says that the Prime Minister was answering a different question, but he was not, and the Official Report bears that out. Therefore, an apology, or at least a better explanation, is due from those who sit on the Treasury Bench before this debate is over.
Of course, it may well be that the Prime Ministerliving, as he does, in a world of supranational European politics, where the public hardly ever intrudehas never countenanced the possibility that the public could ever wreck this party. That is a pretty feeble excuse, because Ministers were warned repeatedly and emphatically throughout the European Convention that those proceedings were not just ignoring but contradicting the instructions given to the Convention in the Laeken declaration of December 2001.
The Laeken declaration, drawn up by Heads of Government, was fairly candid about what was wrong in Europe. It referred to the gap between the people and the leaders, to the excessive bureaucracy and to the complexity of the treaties, and it mandated the Convention, on which I had the honour to represent the House, to create a more democratic, simpler Europe, closer to its citizens. That was the phrase used. It mentioned the possibility of creating a constitution only as an afterthoughtthat was not the instruction given to the Conventionbut once the Convention started to sit, some of those involved forgot the instructions and went ahead with the constitution. Almost all the members of the Convention regarded it as their duty and priority to give more powers and influence to the very European institutions that were causing the problem in the first place, with every encouragement from the British Government. It is a bit late to say now that there should have been more thoroughgoing reform.
It is rather puzzling that Government spokesmen bait the Opposition about our demand for renegotiation. The process was the most profound renegotiation possible because it was envisaged that all the existing treaties would be repealed and replaced by the constitution and a new legal order. What could be more radical than that? Our position is that we want a genuine renegotiation that gives not more but fewer powers to Europe. I am not scared of the allegation that we want renegotiation. I lived through a failed renegotiation, so I want a proper one.
Even more scary is the fact that the Foreign Secretary is catching the European disease of trying to implement failed proposals by the back door. I was in the Chamber to hear his statement on Monday, in which he said that certain changes could be introduced by "other means". He even gave some examples, such as strengthening the role of national Parliaments. That is a complete fraud, because the constitution would not strengthen national Parliaments. The right hon. Gentleman might have been
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referring to the subsidiarity proposals, but that rule already exists in treaty, so the constitution is not needed to enact subsidiarity.
The only measure that was devised was that if national Parliaments objected to a proposal on the grounds of a breach of subsidiarity, the matter should be referred to the Commission so that it could decide whether to proceed, but we have such a system at the minute. I was a member of the European Scrutiny Committee in the last Parliament. The Committee often objected to measures on the grounds of subsidiarity and wrote to the Commission, which wrote back to say, "Sorry, we're still going ahead." There is no advance from that in the European constitution, so it is completely untrue to pretend that there would be a new great role for the House under it.
The Foreign Secretary cited changes to the voting system as a good example of a measure that should be implemented by other means. The constitution would introduce qualified majority voting in 63 new areas, including sensitive matters such as social security and the criminal justice system. That is intensely controversial, but according to the Foreign Secretary, it is a modest measure on which we can all agree, so he can slip it in without a referendum or even a proper treaty change.
The introduction of more qualified majority voting will simply give the European institutions the ability to legislate, but we do not suffer from too few directives and regulations. What is more, the Foreign Secretary has not explained that the mechanism for taking decisions by majority voting will become much easier. Rather than more than 70 per cent. of weighted votes being required to implement a measure under qualified majority voting, the percentage required will fall to 55 per cent. of member states, representing 65 per cent. of the population.
So, not only will qualified majority voting be extended to 63 new areas, but it will be much easier to get votes through. Does the Foreign Secretary think that the people of Spain were voting for that, and does he really think that the people of France and Holland did not object to it? I submit that that is precisely what people were objecting to. How can it bring Europe closer to the citizen if decisions about matters such as immigration, asylum, the rights of the accused in criminal trials and criminal procedures are taken away from member state Parliaments and the electorate after a general election and given to the European Union? It is a complete contradiction of the instructions given to the Convention on the Future of Europe. That is why people are saying no.
The problem transcends matters of left and right. The hon. Member for Luton, North comes at such things from the perspective of the left. I respect that. Of course, a great deal in the constitution should be anathema to a socialist, such as the instruction that competition shall be "free and undistorted". I do not know how many socialists there are left in the Labour party
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