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Ed Balls (Normanton) (Lab):
As I understand it, the treaty that most extended qualified majority voting, and was therefore of the greatest constitutional significance,
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was the Single European Act, which Lady Thatcher introduced. In retrospect, does the hon. Gentleman believe that we should have held a referendum on that treaty and, if so, how would he have recommended his supporters to vote?
Dr. Fox: It is disappointing that the hon. Gentleman, who has a high reputation, should ask such a poor question. We could spend our entire time going back over previous treaties. My view, for what it is worthI was not in Parliament at the timeis that any treaty that takes away power from the British people and hands it to Brussels should be subject to a referendum. I am entirely in favour of that particular treaty, but we must accept that we joined the single market in the belief that we would get a market of mutual recognition, but we have moved almost inexorably into a market of harmonisation, which inevitably means an increased body of law. That may not be the model of the single market that I would like, but the single market has undoubtedly benefited this country and the rest of the EU, which is why Conservative Members want to see its extension into services as quickly as possible.
Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman was not in the House in 1986, but he was in the House when the Maastricht treaty was considered. I wonder whether he will refresh our memories on how he voted on the Maastricht referendum amendment.
Dr. Fox: That is largely irrelevant, because[Laughter.] As I have said, any treaty that gives away powers from the UK to Brussels should be subject to a referendum. We could have saved ourselves a great deal of angst in this House, and in the Conservative party, by holding a referendum on the Maastricht treaty. Any British Government must understand one thing: they do not own the sovereignty of the British people, which they borrow from election to election, and they have no right to give away the British people's powers without the specific assent of the British people.
Ed Balls: If the hon. Gentleman likes, twice. Is he saying that the extension of QMV in the Single European Act was a good thing for Britain because it allowed us to have a deeper and more effective single market, which he would like to see extended to services through QMV?
We have all benefited from those innovations. I want to see a proper market in services because European businesses cannot operate efficiently on a global basis unless our current market is extended into services, which is a reasonable step to take. As I have said, however, anything that takes powers away from the UK and requires further treaty change should
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be subject to a referendum. We should put the widespread abandonment of the British vetoes in the constitution to the British people.
Most importantly, the Prime Minister told us that we would have a referendum irrespective of what happened in other countries. The Foreign Secretary has told us that the ratification process will continue in other European countries, so he may want to answer this questionwill Britain have a referendum? The lack of an answer shows that the promises made to this House are utterly worthless, because we were promised a referendum if the process continued. The Foreign Secretary will not tell the House whether the British people will have a say on the continuing ratification process. We have been told time after time that the British people's powers will never be given away without specific recourse to a referendum, but the Government are intent on the continuation of the process, which might ultimately lead to British powers being given away without the British people having a chance to speak.
This Government will waste a monumental opportunity to reshape the future of Europe if they refuse to give leadership in Europe on an issue as important as the constitutional treaty. We need a more flexible, outward-looking and decentralised Europe, and they are too short-sighted to provide it. We cannot simultaneously believe in a more flexible Europe and a Europe that is moving down the road to an ever-closer Union, and Conservative Members choose a more flexible Europe. The Government cannot be trusted with the future direction of Europe, and a great chance is being missed.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Mr. Speaker has placed a 15-minute limit on speeches by Back Benchers, which comes into operation now. I appeal to hon. Members to keep within that time by some margin if they can, because there is a long list of hon. Members wishing to catch my eye.
Mr. Jimmy Hood (Lanark and Hamilton, East) (Lab): I welcome the opportunity to take part in today's debate. I also welcome the new Minister for Europe to his post, which, I am sure, will be one step in his further promotion in the Government. However, I remind him that he is the eighth or ninthI have lost countMinister for Europe since 1997. Some of those Ministers for Europe went up and some of them went down, but, subject to his not receiving too many compliments from my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South-West (Mr. Davidson), I am sure that he will ascend further.
In my brief contribution, I will support the EU, the Government and, in particular, the position that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have taken over the past few weeks. In doing so, I seek to make common cause with other hon. Members on the need for better, more transparent scrutiny of all matters European by this Parliament.
I never thought that I would say this, but I pay tribute to President Chirac, who has done a momentous job in assisting our policy on European matters by irritating
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the Foreign Secretary. When I bumped into the Foreign Secretary in the Tea Room last night, I said that I like him more when he is angry. He replied that he is not angry or irritated, but forceful and responsive. Whether he was forceful, responsive, irritated or angry, however, I would welcome more of it in the future.
I wish to comment on how I would prefer Parliament to proceed from where we are to where I think the EU needs to be. The treaty may be as dead as the proverbial dodo, but we need to have processes in the EU that make decision making more transparent and closer to the people. As we have heard today, there were proposals in the draft treaty that did not need treaty changesfor example, the subsidiarity early warning system and the requirement on the Council of Ministers to legislate in public. Since I came into the House this afternoon, I am sure that I heard the Leader of the Opposition support that, and I believe that the shadow Foreign Secretary was supportive as well. I got the impression that he was even supportive of qualified majority voting, which was a boost for those of us who support such progressive changes.
The subsidiarity mechanism gives greater formality to something that Parliaments could already dothat is, send reasonable objections to the Commission, which it can then consider in order to do what it thinks is right. That did not need treaty change, but more formality was required, and that was why it was included in the treaty. The Foreign Secretary has stressed that the subsidiarity mechanism ought to go ahead, and I support him in that.
As for the Council meeting in public when legislating, again, that does not require treaty change, because it was agreed at the 2002 Seville European Council that it could meet in public, and it sometimes does.
If we are serious about encouraging the European Union to look to the futureand I applaud what the Foreign Secretary is seeking to achievelet us understand that the best way to lead in Europe is to walk the walk, not just talk the talk, in our own Parliament first.
Angus Robertson: I am grateful to my esteemed Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee over the last Session for giving way on this important point. Does he agree that when walking the walk one important signal to other countries would be to continue the scrutiny process in national Parliaments? Does he think it strange that this House's European Scrutiny Committee has not met for two months and that by the end of this month, more than 100 main items will not have been scrutinised by parliamentarians in the House of Commons but will still go to Brussels for decisions by Ministers in the Council of Ministers? What kind of message does that send out about parliamentary scrutiny in the UK Parliament?
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