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Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): Had the voters of France and the Netherlands voted yes, would the hon. Gentleman suggest that the rest of Europe should listen to them and honour their wishes? If they were given time to reflect and an opportunity to vote again, would it not be advisable for them to know the mind of the people of the United Kingdom?
Mr. Hendrick: I take it that that is a roundabout way of asking whether we should have a referendum. The House will be aware, from my comments to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on Monday, that I am not in favour of referendums. However, I am not the Prime Minister, and never will be, and the decision is not in my hands. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman's question.
Angela Browning : It is the stated position of the Conservative party that we oppose the constitution in principle, as well as content. Constitutions are for countries, because they are a hallmark of nation statehood. Conservatives may have differing views on Europe and where it is going, but our stated position is opposition to the constitution in principle.
Mr. Hendrick: I accept the hon. Lady's interpretation, but I have heard differing views, not least in today's debate. Not everybody in her party takes that view, in the same way as not every Labour Member agrees with the Government's position in supporting the constitution or, for that matter, joining the single European currency.
The EU deals with many other issues of direct importance to our everyday lives, including citizens' rights; ensuring freedom, security and justice; job creation; regional development; environmental protection; and, of course, making globalisation work for everybody. Europe and society need rules. Globalisation needs rules, which is why we have the World Trade Organisation. Like many other Labour
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Members, I am not in favour of many of its rules and the way in which it operates, but we accept the need for rules.
I genuinely believe that the European Union has delivered half a century of stability, peace and prosperity. It has helped to raise living standards, built a single Europe-wide market, launched a single European currency and strengthened Europe's voice in the world. It has brought unity in diversity. The continent has many traditions and languages, but it also has shared values. The EU defends those values and fosters co-operation, promoting unity while respecting and preserving diversity. In the increasingly interdependent world of the 21st century it will be even more necessary that every European citizen co-operates with people from other countries in a spirit of curiosity, tolerance and solidarity.
To refer again to the intervention of the hon. Lady, I have no hang-ups about the terminologywhether the document is called a treaty or a constitutionbut we would not be having this debate if it had simply been called a treaty. People's hang-ups about the word "constitution" make it much more difficult to agree to the document, especially for people from the UK, which has no written constitution. However, it has been called a constitution, and simplifying the overlapping series of treaties and protocols that provide the current legal basis for the EU is important. It is important to enhance and streamline the decision-making procedures of the Union now that 10 countries have joined the previous 15. It is also important to enable citizens to feel much closer to the EU by giving national Parliaments more say in how it is conducted. That is what the constitution does.
Mrs. Dunwoody : I have been following my hon. Friend's argument closely. I point out that I have a long history of arguing with the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), and indeed with other members of his family, so I do not always accept his ideas, but does not my hon. Friend feel that the case being made, stated plainly by someone who was part of the negotiations, was that far from enhancing the powers of national Parliaments the constitution widened the number of subjects over which European institutions took control? Far from extending democratic involvement, the constitution narrowed it.
Mr. Hendrick: I take my hon. Friend's point about the comments of the right hon. Member for Wells, but he was part of the minority group on the Convention. The majority view was the one supported and signed up to by the 25 member states. For the first time, we have a treaty that has been agreed by European politicians rather than in smoke-filled rooms, as was the case before the European Convention was set up.
The treaty establishing a constitution for Europe is extremely important and although it is clearly not acceptable in its current form, as we have seen in other member states, something similar, changed to make it more acceptable, will nevertheless be required in the future. As I said earlier, the story does not end here. The Prime Minister's announcement that he would consult UK citizens created widespread concern, as we have heard today, about the possibility that the UK might reject the constitution, which in the longer term would
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jeopardise the ratification process. It might also give rise to the possibility, perhaps to the amusement and probably with the support of some Opposition Members, that the UK could one day be outside the EU, although that is probably extremely unlikely.
I think that the question should go even further, because as we have seen in today's debate, certainly from my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins), some people are saying that they not only oppose the new provisions in the treaty, but wish to vote on all the consolidated texts of previous treaties, which are in the new constitution. For me, that provokes only one question: should we hold a referendum on whether we should stay in the European Union, and inform people beforehand that if the result of the referendum is yes, a new treaty will be accepted?
Let us assume that, eventually, a treaty or a constitution will be adopted by all member states of the European Union. What will have been achieved? What will the European Union have become? Will Europe ever be truly and genuinely united? Earlier, I said that the European Union is a family of democratic European countries, committed to working for peace and prosperity. It is not a state intended to replace existing statescontrary to what some people have said in the Chamber, the EU was never intended to be a state or a superstatebut it is more than any other international organisation. It is becoming an economic superpower purely because of the size of the EU internal market; the fact that all trade agreements are now negotiated by the European Union, not by individual member countries, is an important testament to that fact.
Obviously, this negotiating power gives the EU weight in the WTO negotiations. However, it is not an economic superpower governed from the centre. The EU budget accounts for just over 1 per cent. of GDP and comes nowhere close to the size of a federal budget, such as exists in the United States. So the EU is an economic superpower but it certainly is not, and is never likely to be in the foreseeable future, a competing military superpower, as some Members have suggestedbut it has ambitions.
Justine Greening : Thank you for allowing me to intervene. You just talked about the size of the EU budget being minimal compared with that of the US. Are you saying that you believe it represents value for money?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. May I just say very gently to the hon. Lady that we do not use the word "you" when we are addressing people in this place; it is the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Lady has made her maiden speech now, so I hope that she does not mind my mentioning that.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the percentage of GDP spent in Europe on running the
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European Union and related it back to the United States. May I take it that he therefore believes that the European Union's budget represents value for taxpayers' money?
Mr. Hendrick: Well, at the moment I think it does represent value for taxpayers' money. I have certainly seen in my own region the benefits of European Union structural funding, which has created thousands and thousands of jobs and continues to improve the north-west of England.
Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): I commend my hon. Friend for his consistent argument. As a member of the European Scrutiny Committee, he was one of the people who scrutinised the European Union properly. This Chamber, including Opposition Members, has been criticised by some for not properly scrutinising the European Union over the last 10 years. However, when he mentions the economic factors, is not the truth that straw men are being made here? In Holland and France, the constitution became a symbol for the left, including the socialists, to attack because they did not want to restructure, modernise their economy, get flexible labour markets, and do what the Opposition have been calling for for some time, which is to perform as economic units without prejudice, and in a fair and equitable manner as we do in the UK. Is not the truth that we are debating the failure not of the constitution but of those countries to take the consequences of a proper European common market?
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