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Mr. Hendrick: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Maples: Would the hon. Gentleman forgive me if I do not? I will make a short speech by the standards of this debate because I know that one or two others want to speak.
8 Jun 2005 : Column 1338

I do not know whether that is a revolutionary thought or not—it is not to me, although it may be to others—but I want to introduce another. I hope that this does not cause too many headaches either on the Labour or the Conservative Benches. That agenda on economic performance, budget reform, tariff reform, common agricultural policy reform and the services directive is hugely valuable to us. If we could get half of that, it would be worth billions of pounds a year to our GDP. What is our rebate—£3 billion?

Everyone says that the rebate is unnegotiable. I hope that they do not really mean that. It is a good starting point in the negotiations but, if we could get half of the things that we would like—the model of a flexible Europe with a core of economic competences that we subscribe to and a more flexible, à la carte second tier around it—it will be worth us putting quite a lot into play. If we secured some of those reforms, the rebate would probably be less anyway, because budget and agricultural reform would mean that there was less of a disparity between our payments and receipts. We should be a bit careful about saying that the rebate is not up for negotiation. However, I would negotiate it only in the context of getting at least half the things on my list in the model for the future that I want.

To recap, we have to move on from where we are. I do not want to see the European Union collapse. We should try to stop the integrationists reviving their agenda and pretending it is not dead. The Prime Minister is in an ideal position. He has the political authority to do that. It suits our economic and international interests to pursue the model of a much more flexible Europe. If he did that, he could end up creating a national consensus on the issue. There has not been one for a long time. The Minister for Europe is looking amazed. The Prime Minister has to move a long way to get there but most of us in the House do not want to get out of the European Union. I speak for most Conservative Members, too. We do not want to get out. We do not want to see it collapse. We want it to be more relevant, more democratic, more responsible to people and to pursue the issues that are of interest to us. The Prime Minister is in an ideal position to do that.

Mr. Douglas Alexander: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Maples: No, I am finishing. I hope that the Prime Minister starts next week.

6.24 pm

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak. I will be as brief as I can. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) on his very interesting comments. It is a pity that we did not hear a bit more from him. I offer my heartiest congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey), who sadly is not in the Chamber. I was pleased to see that, although a good Tory moderniser, he was wearing his tie, socks and shoes. He clearly has his head screwed on and it was good to see the Tories gain that seat.

It was great to see a Tory gain in Shropshire, and I wholeheartedly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Dunne) on a fine maiden
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speech. It is splendid to have someone who is local, who stuck his head above the parapet to become a local councillor and who has good local business contacts and interests. I look forward to working with him closely on local and national issues.

There is a link between our two constituencies. My hon. Friend mentioned the Windsor-Clives. Robert Clive originally came from Market Drayton, where we have all sorts of jolly occasions because Pézenas in southern France is twinned with it because Clive went there when he was recuperating from India and taught them how to make pork pies. The hon. Members for Preston (Mr. Hendrick) and for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) mentioned that "Europe" has become an abused word, but we in Market Drayton are all in favour of trade links: we have a hugely successful Müllers yoghurt factory, producing about 2,000 million pots of yoghurt a year. The fact is, however, that we also now use the word to refer to the new political construct—the European Union.

To follow up the comments of my other neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), the EU was always intended to be a supranational, undemocratic system. Its authors were Jean Monnet and Arthur Salter, an unsung and hugely influential British civil servant. They worked in the League of Nations in the inter-war period and experienced at first hand the failures of that organisation. They mistakenly believed that the single factor most responsible for that failure was the veto in the hands of democratically elected politicians. They conceived a similar organisation, with a Commission, a Court, a Parliament and a Council of Ministers, but operated ultimately through civil servants, in which the democratic veto could be progressively eliminated. They quite deliberately created something that was supposed to be politician-proof.

The supranational concept has been reaffirmed in recent days by senior officials in the EU. The Commissioner for Institutional Relations and Communication Strategy, Margot Wallström, wrote on her website last week:

Like British Rail's problems with the wrong kind of snow, this commissioner complains about the wrong kind of no. She went on:

However, the elites simply cannot ignore the voices of the peoples of France and Holland, and the frustrated voice of the British people.

I was riveted to hear the Minister say that he had to wait for the French Government to decide, but it is the French people who have decided. It is absolutely clear that both the French and the Dutch people have rejected the treaty; and it is quite clear from the polls that the British people, if the Government had honoured their promise, would have rejected the treaty. The elites have got to move on and face up to the fact that there is now a real crisis. My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon was absolutely right that there is now a crisis of legitimacy, which the elites ignore at their peril.
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Intergovernmentalism means co-operation with other sovereign nation states, but the key is that it preserves national sovereignty by retaining the right to say no when national interests are affected. The proposed constitution would have topped out the structure that was originally conceived by Monnet and Salter, and effectively put all Government competences in the hands of unelected elites, under qualified majority voting, with a drastic reduction in national vetoes.

My main drift is that the current system, following successive European treaties, is failing. About three quarters of the new treaty is derived from articles carried over from previous treaties. The current system is simply not working, which is clear if we look at agriculture, for example. I was at the Stafford show last week and heard senior members of the industry saying that, because of the deluge of regulation, they simply could not farm legally any more.

I am the Opposition spokesman for fishing, and we have recently seen the devastation of our fisheries, and the contrast with sovereign nations such as Norway, the Faroes and Iceland or Canada and the US state of New England could not be more marked. There, they take decisions on a day-to-day basis; here, we have Ministers going bog-eyed tired through three days of negotiations and coming up with a regulation such as that which came before us in European Standing Committee A—on one Monday, we had 887 pages dumped on us for a Tuesday debate. The decisions had already been taken.

I also have the privilege to sit on the European Scrutiny Committee, which was mentioned earlier in the debate. Our record was debating 78 documents in two minutes. That is not scrutiny, which is why the peoples of Europe are so utterly disillusioned. This is not the way to engage people in politics. It is the exact reverse mirror image of how we used to make law in this place—with open debate on Second Reading, Standing Committees in which every detail could be scrutinised and where interested parties could amend and, above all, repeal law. European law cannot be repealed, which is why the people feel helpless and why we have seen these tremendous no votes. The elites have to wake up to that fact. The people believe that they send us here to make laws and that it is their right to remove real rulers by voting.

If the constitution is agreed, virtually all competences of Government will pass to unelected Commission members. It will be impossible for constituents in Shropshire to remove their rulers by the exercise of their vote. It is the duty of elected Members to bring those powers back. We must make sure that the laws imposed on our benighted constituents are good ones, that bad laws can be repealed, and that we can be removed if we make bad laws.

6.30 pm

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