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Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend therefore support this simple change, which the British Government could introduce now and which has been advocated frequently: the European Scrutiny Committee should be able to accept and vote on amendments? If necessary, such votes could be brought to the Floor of the House. The change could be made immediately, and it would resolve many of the difficulties that concern my hon. Friend. It would also address the concerns of young Dutch people, who have not had the opportunity to vote on many of the things that have been imposed on them from above since the inception of Benelux.
My hon. Friend has made an interesting point, but I ask her to note that the European Scrutiny Committee currently has a scrutiny reserve, which it can
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ask the Government to take into accountif the Government were to fail to do so, they would have to account for their action in Committeeand that scrutiny reserve should be examined and possibly strengthened. I hope that hon. Members will take seriously the Modernisation Committee's recommendations on how European scrutiny can be improved in this House.
Frankly, it would be nothing short of a disaster if hon. Members assumed that we should not discuss European scrutiny in this House because the constitutional treaty has reached the end of its life. We should recognise that recent events are a catalyst for our taking our European obligations far more seriously in this House. I believe in the implementation of the principle of subsidiarity. Leaving aside possible religious connotations, subsidiarity is about national Parliaments exercising the greatest possible say about European legislation, and we must make sure that our own structures are as effective as possible in order to do so.
Whatever reservations people might have about the EU's economic role, there is a general consensus that if the EU has a meaningful function, it is to stimulate job creation through the single market. This debate has shown that the single market must be made more effective, and many of our continental partners must ensure that their markets are more in tune with what is happening in the UK, which is why the Lisbon agenda is vital. The Lisbon agenda is about improving efficiency and competitiveness, and we must use the British presidency to make sure that that takes place.
But let us be clear too that this is not an abstract economic debateit is all about creating a dynamic British and European economy because we are linked together in the interests not of a self-serving elite but of the ordinary people of this country. We are close to full employment in this country, and that is because of effective economic policies. We need to ensure that we move towards a situation of near-full employment in the rest of Europe, and the way to do that is to ensure that the Lisbon agenda is implemented effectively and vigorously. We must make the connection between what people want and need and what is possible through European action. That connection is not always made by politicians.
These and other issues must be debated vigorously in this House and across the length and breadth of this country during the next few months. The debate needs to be honest, as well. If some Conservative Members believe that the real agenda is not about how to make Europe more effective and more in tune with people's realities, but how to unpick the single market of the European Union and manoeuvre us towards a situation in which withdrawal becomes a serious option, then for goodness' sake let them say it openly, publicly and clearly, so that we all know where we stand.
Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): The hon. Gentleman talks about a full debate. Surely that includes listening to the people, and one way in which we could do that is by having a full referendum on the constitution.
I thank the hon. Gentleman. I do not know whether he was here earlier, when that issue was
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debated and, I would say, exhausted. Ultimately, we have to recognise that the constitutional treaty would come into effect only if there was agreement by all member states of the European Union. Two member states have already rejected the European constitution, and the conclusion is pretty self-evident.
Rev. Ian Paisley : I ask the hon. Gentleman this simple question: if, as he says, this situation has arisen because two members have voted against, why does the Prime Minister want us to go ahead and wait for the ratification by the rest of the members of the Union?
Mr. David: It is not for me to speak for the Prime Minister, but that is not my understanding of his position. The Government are saying, quite sensibly, that we should wait to hear what our partners have to say in the European Council. We are part of the European Union, and I would like to see a collective decision, but as far as I am concerned it is pretty obvious where matters are leading and in which direction we are pointing.
It is vital that we have an honest and open debate in the country. As some Members have said, we are at a crossroads in Europe's development. We have to take the debate away from elites, whether they be in the European Parliament, in the Commission, in the Council of Ministers or, indeed, in this Palace of Westminster, and have it with the people of this country. I am absolutely confident that the arguments are overwhelming, but if the debate is held openly, honestly and frankly, the people of this country will recognise the worth of European co-operation, as they have in the past. We have a marvellous opportunity to have that debate over the next six months when Britain takes the presidency of the European Union and will give an effective lead not only to Europe, but to this country.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Before I call the next speaker, I point out that many hon. Members are waiting to try to catch my eye and that unless speeches are considerably shorter, many people will be disappointed.
Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): As I sat and listened to the debate, I was reminded of what happened in the House, of which I was a Member, when we voted ourselves into the Common Market. I remember one incident in particular. The Tory Government depended on the votes of the small Liberal party but Labour colleagues thought that Liberal Members would remain faithful to them. The leader of the Liberal party was sitting in the seat directly in front of me and, at the end of the debate, a Labour WhipI shall not name himtook his Order Paper and smacked the Liberal leader over the head. The House was a bedlam. That was our entrance into the Common Market.
It is strange to note that people on both sides have changed their views. The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David) was a Member of the European Parliament, of which I was also a Member. The first time I went to Europe, the Labour Benches were filled with people who were anti the Market. The Tory party was divided. Some members were against the Market and others wanted it as it was. However, that has changed over the years.
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For the first time, everyone in the United Kingdom has to face the fact that the European Union has not been what the politicians painted it to beConservative, Labour and other politicians painted it to be something different. The reality for those of us who sat in the European Parliament for many yearsI sat there for a quarter of a centuryand watched the proceedings was that certain allies came together in the government of the Common Market. They were intent on doing what they wanted their way. I believe that the people of Europe have realised that and they are saying, "We will not be dictated to by the Government and elite of our country. We are going to show them that we have strong feelings about the European Union."
That feeling was manifested in the French. Who would ever have thought that the French would turn against the EU? Who would have thought that the Netherlands would turn against it? However, they have. We are now faced with deciding whether to heed those people's message or try to stop the people of other countries from giving their message. I believe that the United Kingdom and its people should have the opportunity to give its judgment on the matter.
It was convenient to have a referendum in the offing during the election campaign. It was a good way of putting off consideration. The EU was not an issue in the campaign because those who were asked about it simply said, "Oh, we're going to have a referendum," thus putting it on the back burner. However, the time has come for this nation to have an opportunity to express itself on the issue.
I was interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who told usanother hon. Member has already repeated itthat the Union was lying there and no one knew whether it was dead or alive but the machinery was working. He said that everyone would come and decide whether to switch it off. Do we want our country to be governed by such a Government? People are looking for a Government who know what people need and who will honestly face up to the wishes of the people and to what they promised the people.
It seems in this debate that, if someone speaks against what is happening in Europe, they are accused of wanting to get their country out of Europe. I fully believe that there needs to be co-operation between the states in Europe. We all need that co-operation. Anyone who has read European history knows that it is necessary for the European states and their national Governments and Parliaments to get together to pursue their own mutual interests and to deal with the issues that affect their people. I am all for sovereign Governments co-operating with other sovereign Governments on the things that they can do together to secure the best way forward for the people, but I do not believe that a superstate should be created.
Opponents who take a different view must realise that there are those in Europe who want to create a superstate. Federalism as we know it means handing over certain powers to a central body. If the people who hand over those powers want to recall them, they can do so, but the superstate then says, "We will give you a little bit, we will give you something more, but we will dish out what we want and keep the powers that we want." By doing that, it robs the Parliaments that make up the nations of Europe of real power.
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The people of Europe know nothing about a little village in my bailiwick called Ahoghill. Some of the Ministers from here who visit me say, "Ian, what about this village, Ahoghill?" I say, "You could go down and ask about it and you will never find it." The decisions affecting that village should be made as near to the people as possible. That someone in an office in Brussels should have the right to say "That will go there and that will go there" is nonsense. There would be bound to be opposition from the people. The people need to be heard. We will have respect in this nation only when the people can say that the politicians are doing what they said they would do, but we in this House cannot do what we promised if there is a superstate out there that can call the tune for us all. I do not want to dance to the European tune. I want to dance to the nation's tune. We all have to face up to that.
I have heard you say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you do not want long speeches. I am reminded of the apostle Paul, who in a certain part of scripture kept saying, "Finally, brethren." I am not going to do that. I am going to sit down now.
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