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Sir Menzies Campbell:
I do not accept the metaphor of the ratchet, which is in common use on the right hon. Gentleman's Benches. I believe that Brussels should do only what it needs to do and that the principle of subsidiarity should be applied ruthlessly and rigorously. That was one of the advantages of the proposed
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constitutional treaty. It referred to subsidiarity and contained some measures that were designed to try to achieve that.
The measures were not strong enough. Indeed, the hon. Member for Buckingham, who is currently absent, and I agreed on several occasions that more should be done. When we held a similar debate the other daythere is a sense of déjà vu about the proceedingsI posited that there should be an annual audit of subsidiarity. There should be a report to the House on the extent to which the principle had been properly applied in Europe. One can take a variety of measures to ensure that Brussels does only what it has to do for the purposes of the competences that the member states of the European Union have conferred on it.
Another advantage of the constitutional treaty was that it expressly set out that Brussels had only those competences that were conferred upon it. That appears in the early part of the treaty. We have lost that if the treaty no longer has any viability.
Mr. Johnson: How can the right hon. and learned Gentleman possibly describe the constitution as a decentralising measure when it extends qualified majority voting to 63 further matters? Is he genuinely in favour of that? How can he call it decentralising?
Sir Menzies Campbell: I hope that the hon. Gentleman has been through the 63 matters. One is the appointment of the Court of Auditors. Do we need unanimity in the European Union before we deal with such issues? I have seen the 63 matters, and I believe that there are occasions when qualified majority voting is in our interests. It makes no sense to reject qualified majority voting on principle in all circumstances unless one is willing to accept that, in all circumstances, every country can have a veto, and that all progress and development in the European Union, for example, on strengthening the single market, should be subject to the veto of one aggrieved country.
As I have said, I believe instinctively in the European Union but I believe equally instinctively in the need for its reform. I also believe that, where criticism is justified and constructive, we should not shrink from such criticism.
Let me deal briefly with the constitutional treaty. As I think is more than clear from what I have said already, I believed that the treaty should be supported, and my right hon. and hon. Friends supported it throughout discussions in the House, as we did in the previous Parliament on Second Reading of the Bill designed to give effect to it. Of course, it was not perfect, but the
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treaty of Rome most certainly was not perfect, and whatever claims were made for the Single European Act in 1986 by the then Government, I do not suppose that it was perfect either. Nor was Maastricht perfect, nor Amsterdam, nor Nice. All, however, in due course, passed the test of this House. However sympathetic one might have been to the treaty, one must now accept that we cannot afford to ignore the most recently expressed political will of two countries of Europe. We should also recognise that the likelihood of the people of France and the Netherlands reversing their vote is remote, and that the likelihood of the Governments of France and the Netherlands asking their citizens to vote again is even more so.
The harsh, practical fact is that without Dutch and French assent this treaty cannot be enacted. I therefore do not believe that it would make any sense to have a referendum of the British people. I have described that previously as being quixotic, and it would be bizarre to ask the British people to endorse a treaty that could not be enacted. One needs only to ask oneself, as the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) did to some effect on a previous occasion when we discussed these matters, what sort of turnout we would achieve in a referendum designed to vote yes or no to a treaty that could not be enacted. I suspect, being rather partisan, that only the zealots who are opposed to Europe in all circumstances would feel motivated to come out and vote.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): I am certainly not a zealot opposed to Europe. Given what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just said about the sensible decision not to proceed, will he give some advice to his colleagues in the Dutch Liberal party who have been calling for precisely the opposite?
Sir Menzies Campbell: As I have demonstrated, I am not sure that I can give advice to Back-Bench colleagues in my own party. Setting myself up as an honorary and no doubt unpaid adviser to the Dutch Liberals does not seem to me to be a particularly constructive approach. We must all make up our own minds. If one were in a political party in Holland, perhaps one's attitude would be conditioned to a large extent by what had happened there. We are a little more detached and we are entitled to take our own view. I most certainly do not think that it would make any kind of common sense to seek a referendum on a treaty that cannot be enacted. In that regard, I find myself not for the first time wholly at one on these matters with the robust views expressed by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe.
Mr. Davidson : I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for making the point that he does not necessarily want to speak for the Liberals of Holland. Can he make clear, however, what is the view of the Liberal Democrats in the United Kingdom, given that their constitutional spokesman in the European Parliament, Andrew Duff, has said:
"My preferred choice, and that of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats, is to continue with the ratification process as planned. Meanwhile France and the Netherlands can reflect . . . on the real consequences of their negative votes."
[Interruption.] Oh, that was last week, was it? Do the Liberal Democrats have a position here and a position in Brussels, a position this week and a position last week? Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell us what the position will be next week?
Sir Menzies Campbell: There is a terrible sense of déjà vu about this. I said to the hon. Gentleman last week that I thought that he had missed a career in music hall. If he goes on to any greater effect, I might even think that he could have survived the Glasgow Empire on a Monday night.
We had this out last week. Labour MEPs voted in the European Parliament against their Front Bench's view in relation to the working hours directive. People have different views. I am telling the House the view of my party and what I believe to be the proper approach on this issuean approach that is likely to commend itself to the public rather more easily than the suggestion that we might have a wholly artificial test of public opinion with a referendum in relation to a treaty that could not be enacted.
To use the expression of the day, there ought to be a period of reflection. That period of reflection, however, must be used to try to re-establish confidence and trust in the European Union, remembering always that the structural problems with which the constitutional treaty was designed to deal still remain with regard to the operation of an enlarged Union. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Woodspring accept that a European Union of 25, perhaps soon to be 27, cannot be run on the same arrangements as those that obtained with a European Coal and Steel Community, as it first was, of six.
That does not mean that I do not remain of the view that any significant change in the relationship between the Union, its member states and its citizens would require a referendum. If there are non-controversial items in the treaty, however, which have the aim of greater transparency and efficiency, and which can be achieved by institutions changing their methods and without any significant transfer of power to the Union, those should obviously be enacted.
We have already had extensive discussionswe did so at Prime Minister's questionson the issue of transparency and the Council of Ministers. More can be done to involve national Parliaments and to allow national ParliamentsI was one who was rather more sympathetic to the idea of a red light than an amber lightthe opportunity to express their opposition to proposals coming out of Brussels. Indeed, the Commission itself could undertake that, when a significant number of Parliaments entered caveats, any draft legislation would be suspended to ensure that proper regard was given to the principle of subsidiarity.
The Commission could be streamlined. Under Nice, for example, every member state has the right to a Commissioner. If Bulgaria and Romania accede, the Commission will increase from 25 to 27 Commissioners. How can that possibly be justified? As I understand it, that can be done without constitutional change, and it would obviously be desirable
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