Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Kelvin Hopkins rose—

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: Well, there is one, and we listened to the hon. Gentleman and agreed with him, but not on this point.
8 Jun 2005 : Column 1310

Whether people believe in competition or not, it is wrong that a country should sign up to a constitution that forbids competition being overruled. Under the constitution, it must be free and undistorted, as stated in article I-3 of the constitution, judiciable by the European Court of Justice. Of course, the entire constitution has primacy over the laws of member states.

Whether the French or anyone else vote for a socialist Government in the future, they will come up against that fact, in the constitution, which forbids the creation of a socialist economy and society. From a right-wing perspective, those of us who believe in the free market find much to object to in the new powers over economic and employment policy. From our different perspectives, we both believe that such matters should not be decided in advance in a constitution, but should be left to future electorates to decide through the democratic system.

A proper constitution, like the American one, is a boxing ring—a set of rules—into which people get to fight it out according to the democratic process. Once those decisions are removed from an electorate and entrenched in a constitution, there is less democracy, not more. That is why the French and the Dutch voted against the constitution.

The Government have retreated into a hope for European economic reform. I hope that they have told their Members of the European Parliament about that, because they recently voted against the working time directive opt-out in defiance of their Government. Labour MEPs do not believe that working hours should be set by national Parliaments. They want all such matters transferred upwards to the European Union.

Then there is the Lisbon process, which we all remember being launched five years ago. We also remember what the Prime Minister said about it. It marked

It did nothing of the sort. Many reports since then, including some from the British Treasury, have shown that nothing has changed. The only hard-edged proposal to come out of the Lisbon process is for the services directive, and that has been abandoned as an unsuccessful and futile bribe to the French electorate.

By all means let the Government promote economic reform, but it is essentially a matter for each country. If the French want to opt out of the world economy to have a protectionist system, let them do so. It is rather odd that the supreme aim of British foreign policy is to insist on reforming our business competitors. In return for struggling to reform the French and German labour markets, we face a blizzard of job-destroying and business-destroying regulations. We pay nearly £4 billion a year in an annual tribute only to be told what to do. We cannot even suggest the obvious reform in Europe, which is to get out of the euro. It is still Labour party policy—official Government policy—that we should join the euro and be submitted to the same rigours of economic policy as the wretched Germans.

The point is this: even if we succeed in magically transforming the entire economy of Europe, it does not    solve the problems identified in the Laeken
8 Jun 2005 : Column 1311
declaration—the alienation, the gap between rulers and ruled, the fantastic complexity of it all, which the constitution has, of course, made worse. I have here the existing treaties—bad enough at 184 pages of pretty complex provisions, but nothing like as bad as the Foreign Office version of the constitution, which runs to 511 pages even though the draftsmen were told to reform it, so in fact that is the simplified version. In the Convention I made the modest proposal that, if our aim was to simplify Europe, we might start by attacking the acquis communautaire. Of course, my proposal was ignored.

In fact, the position is getting worse. As I said, I was a member of the European Scrutiny Committee, which last year examined 1,080 new bits of European regulation—more directives, more laws, more regulation adding to the acquis communautaire. There is no appetite or drive for simplification, and if there is, it is not shared by the Government. It is all talk. My group of friends in the democracy forum in the Convention tabled specific amendments to prune the European institutions, to reduce the budget and to get the institutions to listen to the European Court of Auditors. Not one of our proposals was supported by the British Government representative on the Convention.

John Bercow: Does my right hon. Friend not think that his argument is strengthened by reflection on the wording of the provision on subsidiarity and proportionality in the treaty of Nice? That states:

In reality, where there is exclusive competence, subsidiarity and proportionality do not get—and are not intended to get—a look in.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: My hon. Friend makes an unanswerable point. The subsidiarity requirement has been in the treaties since 1992 and has been widely ignored. His other point is also extremely valid. Subsidiarity is exempted from those areas in which the European Union has exclusive competence—areas that the constitution expands, thus making the position worse. As long as it is in the hands of the very institutions that do so well out of defying it, there is not the remote possibility of subsidiarity being made a reality.

The ultimate arbiter of subsidiarity, as of everything else, is itself a European institution: the European Court of Justice. Just as the Supreme Court in the United States was the engine of federation after the republic was founded, so the European Court of Justice performs the same role in the European Union. My small group of genuine reformers in the Convention tabled more than 400 amendments to tackle some of those issues, all of which were ignored. However, I think that we had something to say—not on behalf of the Ministers and Governments of Europe, but on behalf of the people of Europe.

I believe that there is another Europe trying to be born. To my hon. Friends I say that, if we are to modernise the Conservative party, we must take it upon
8 Jun 2005 : Column 1312
ourselves to try to modernise Europe and our relationship with Europe as well. We can start to rise to that challenge by listening to the electors of France and Holland. In the short term, the task must fall to the Government. Rather than fiddling around with a few cosmetic reforms or trying to implement bits of this wretched and discredited constitution by the back door, the Government should grasp the opportunity for Britain to take a genuine lead in Europe. Deep surgery and fundamental reform are needed. The opportunity exists to take a lead in Europe and to create a people's Europe rather than a Europe for politicians.

4.35 pm

Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): Last week I went to Brussels, to speak not to Members of the European Parliament or to members of the Commission, but to a group of young people drawn from Belgium, the Netherlands and France. The purpose of my visit was to hear from them at first hand their views about Europe, the European Union and the referendums in France and in the Netherlands.

Most of those young people had voted no in the referendums. When I pressed them on that there was no simple and straightforward answer by any means. Many of those young people felt alienated from the political system in their respective countries. Many of them also felt alienated from political elites. That was not only at a European level, but also at a national level. Many did not relate to politics in the traditional definition of that term. That alienation found expression in voting no in the referendums.

Many of those young people felt aggrieved by the policies being pursued by their respective Governments. There was some personal hostility to President Chirac and Prime Minister Raffarin. There was no uniformity in terms of what the young people were rebelling against but there were certain European policies which they did not relate to, understand or see in their best interests. Those sentiments also led those young people to vote no in the referendums. Let us just say that what happened among young people in France and in the Netherlands defies simplistic analysis—it is a complex phenomenon. What happened is not, however, peculiar to young people in France and in the Netherlands. We must be careful not to say that it is all down to the EU because people feel alienated from it. The malaise goes much deeper than that, and we must be honest in appreciating that.

Although there was a difference of opinion between the young people whom I met about why they voted no, there was no widespread opposition to the idea of European co-operation and association. Many recognised that the EU had contributed to the fact that we have had peace in the European continent for the longest time in its history. They recognised that, appreciated that, and wanted that achievement to be preserved.

They recognised also that on issues such as the environment it was necessary in the modern world for national Governments to co-operate and not simply tackle the problems of environmental despoliation nationally. They understood that there was a need for European and transnational co-operation generally on such an issue.
8 Jun 2005 : Column 1313

A few of them recognised, too, that there is a need in a global economy, where increasingly we see trade blocs being established, for the EU, on behalf of the people of Europe, to have a powerful voice in organisations such as the World Trade Organisation. Above all else, although there was a raft of reservations, they recognised that people in different countries in the EU see themselves as not located in one particular or narrowly defined labour market. They understood that people see themselves as perhaps having a choice to work in their own region, their own country or elsewhere in the continent of Europe. They understand that the single European market has helped to bring that about. We are seeing more and more young people travelling across the EU and across the globe, taking advantage of the new opportunities that are opening up.

I took some encouragement as someone who believes in European co-operation, in which I believe our best interests lie. The young people to whom I spoke were not embracing a narrow, inward looking nationalism. They were groping towards a future new definition of their involvement in Europe. That is something that this country needs to take into account.

I was intrigued by the comments of Opposition Members, particularly the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox). There was a significant elaboration of Conservative policy today, the likes of which we have not witnessed for some time. If I analysed the hon. Gentleman's comments correctly, he was questioning not the usual things that Conservative Members question such as the extension of qualified majority voting, but a fundamental cornerstone of the European Union—the single European market. In the past, many Conservatives called for a rapid completion of the single European market, and Labour Members are doing so now. However, the hon. Gentleman called for a re-examination and unpicking of the whole ethos of the single European market. That has profound implications, because the single European market is the most important part of the European Union. It has proved to be of great economic benefit to the UK, let alone other countries.

In contradistinction to Opposition Members—I am sure that they will make their arguments more vehemently in the coming months—Labour Members, in association with members of other parties who wish to join us, will make a positive restatement of the case for European co-operation. It is incumbent on us, however, to say clearly that we do not want a centralised Europe or a European superstate. We do not want what some continental Europeans call a federal Europe. We want a Europe based on individual nation states working in co-operation and harmony. Where there is commonality, there must be deeper co-operation. If that is our starting point we can begin to hold a long overdue debate with the British people. If we are honest with ourselves we will accept that there is a great deal of misapprehension, confusion and, without wishing to be patronising, ignorance among the British people about what the European Union is and what it could be. We must go back, as I said, to basics, and talk about what European co-operation involves. The fine detail of the constitutional treaty or the ramifications of directives and regulations are not important, but there is a basic necessity for us to work together as European people
8 Jun 2005 : Column 1314
with mutual self-interest. That fundamental case has to be made in the UK, and our presidency of the EU provides us with the ideal opportunity to do so.

As well as providing an opportunity to make the case for Europe, the British presidency will allow us to consider what happens once the treaty receives its official death knell. It is important that we are not locked into the view that it is a take it or leave it document. Some members of the European Commission have hinted that we might accept it through the back door, but that would be quite wrong. On the other hand, some believe that the whole enterprise is dead and the treaty is best forgotten. We should be honest and accept that there were good things in the constitutional treaty, which is why many of us were prepared to argue vigorously for a yes vote in a British referendum. It is therefore incumbent on us to look carefully at which parts of the constitutional treaty can be implemented in a constructive and consensual way.

I was pleased that the Foreign Secretary suggested on Monday that we could focus on increasing the involvement of national Parliaments in the European decision-making process. I listened carefully to the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) on that matter.

I must be honest and say that I would have liked the    stipulations on national Parliaments in the constitutional treaty to have been stronger, but I nevertheless recognised that it was a good starting point. We must build goodwill among national Governments and, indeed, members of the European Commission, so that when the Commission floats ideas on a European level, the initial stages of legislation come to national Parliaments for consideration. That does not happen now because, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, much of the European legislation that comes to this House, and to the European Scrutiny Committee in particular, has already travelled some way down the line.

The draft constitutional treaty proposed that as soon as the European Commission had an idea—a law in gestation—it would be considered by national Parliaments. I want national Parliaments to continue the process of extending co-operation at a European level through organisations such as COSAC, so that they can exercise a collective voice as well as their individual voices.

Next Section IndexHome Page