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Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): This has been a slightly unusual debate in a number of respects. First, the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) departed from the sanctity of the ballot and revealed that he had voted for the Foreign Secretary—no doubt he had no ulterior motive whatever in doing so. A habit also seems to have arisen, almost like the congressional record in the United States, of making reference to local institutions such as local newspapers. Not to be left out on this occasion, I should like it to be known that I more than value the contribution of the St Andrews Citizen to the great political debates of our time.

There has been a warm and genuine welcome—an affectionate welcome—for the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), who demonstrated, in a
 
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trenchant speech, the considerable talents that he possesses and of which we hope to hear and see more in future debates. I have been trying to formulate in my mind how the change in personnel effected by his new leader could best be characterised in relation to him. I suppose the best way of putting it is to say that the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) shot the fox and gave us the comeback kid.

I shall discuss the issue of the deal in some detail in due course, but let me first point out that at one stage the Foreign Secretary said that no deal was better than a bad deal. The phrase has a certain resonance on occasions such as this, but when we analyse it we must ask what would be the consequences of there being no deal. What would be the political consequences in the European Union, and what would be the consequences for the influence of the United Kingdom? Can we be confident that if the matter were, so to speak, kicked into the arms of the Austrian presidency, a better deal would emerge from those circumstances?

Those are all questions that cannot, I think, be answered in this debate. Although we now have, in the form of a ministerial statement, an up-to-date indication of the Government's position, all the issues will be on the table on Thursday and Friday, Saturday, Sunday and perhaps even Monday, and the truth is that they may well change in material respects. The verdict on the proposals will have to rest until the Government, on Monday or perhaps even Tuesday of next week, return to report on precisely what they have achieved.

To an extent, that makes our debate a little artificial, but it is undoubtedly important because, as the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks said, the European Union stands at a very important point in its history and its evolution. It is worth reminding ourselves—and the right hon. Gentleman made some reference to it—that in his speech to the European Parliament on 23 June, the Prime Minister eloquently set out United Kingdom priorities for the presidency. The speech received considerable support from those who heard it in the Parliament: indeed, it brought the Prime Minister an unaccustomed ovation there.

The Prime Minister said in his speech that he believed that the French and Dutch rejections of the constitution constituted

In that speech, he raised expectations. He raised expectations that the crisis would be met, and that the hard questions being posed by the people of Europe would at least be the subject of an attempt to answer. I am afraid that, despite the Foreign Secretary's brave face on matters, history will judge that—with the exception of the opening negotiations on the accession of Turkey and Croatia—there has been, unhappily, a lack of substantial achievement during the presidency.

Some will say that the Prime Minister has failed his own test: that the political leadership to which he pointed in that eloquent speech has not been on display, and that the hard questions being asked by the European public have not been answered. I suppose one could say that the Prime Minister has been caught between the promise of his own rhetoric on that
 
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occasion and the failure of achievement that many will consider to be a characteristic of this period of the United Kingdom's responsibility.

Mr. Cash rose—

Sir Menzies Campbell: Like every other Member, I am always happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Cash: I am most grateful.

Is it not possible that the real reason why the Prime Minister is having so much difficulty and has failed is that, despite his best efforts to secure an open, competitive Europe, the others are not listening? They do not want to change the acquis, they want to stick to the constitution, and the Prime Minister has pretty well given up banging his head against a brick wall.

Sir Menzies Campbell: I think that the material phrase in that intervention was "despite his best efforts". If I were satisfied that we had seen the Prime Minister's best efforts in this regard, I might be more sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman's position, but I do not believe—although I realise that we are dealing here with value judgments—that over the past six months we have seen the best efforts to which he refers.

We must, of course, accept that the conditions for progress were far from encouraging. President Chirac and Chancellor Schröder have failed signally to support the reforms that are necessary to enable Europe to respond better to the challenges of globalisation. I have made the point before, but I do not hesitate to make it again.

The economic advance of China and of India should not be seen in a vacuum. Those countries will seek to exercise greater political influence based on that economic advance. One illustration is the extent to which China is now investing in its defence forces and adopting, to a degree, a more robust approach to Taiwan. India, meanwhile, is demonstrating an overwhelming conviction that it is entitled to—and should soon be admitted to—permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council.

It is possible, in a sense, to bury one's head in the sand in relation to the economic explosion that is taking place in those two countries, but it is certainly not possible to do so in relation to the political influence that they will seek to exert—a political influence that will definitely impinge on the interests of the United Kingdom and, of course, those of Europe.

Kelvin Hopkins rose—

Sir Menzies Campbell: Here is another Member to whom I am always happy to give way, in the sure and certain knowledge that I have some idea of where he is coming from.

Kelvin Hopkins: All of us in the Chamber take certain positions, but I should like to think that mine is rational.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman suggested that there was a failure of leadership in Europe on issues of reform. Is it not a fact that the peoples of Europe are simply rejecting what their leaders are telling them? At the last German election, when the Christian Democrats
 
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tried to win an election on that basis, people returned to the Social Democrats in droves because they did not want liberalisation.

Sir Menzies Campbell: That is a measure of the fact that the case has not been properly put. I do not think that any of us should have any confidence in a notion that things will continue as they have in the past. I believe that so far we have failed signally to understand what the economic and political impact of the resurgent countries will be. The sooner we get abreast of that, and the sooner it is understood in the chancellories of Europe, the better things will be both domestically and for the European Union.

One problem is that the United Kingdom, and the presidency, have had difficulty in exercising influence. I concede that much to the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). Nevertheless, I do not recall, over the past six months, any serious efforts to initiate high-level political dialogue on these political issues. In that respect, I agree with the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks. Part of the difficulty of initiating such dialogue is caused by the continuing legacy of the disagreement over Iraq. Whatever our view of the rightness or wrongness of the military action that was taken, that is the context and the background against which we may unfortunately have to continue to operate for some time.

Reference has already been made to the period of reflection that was supposed to follow the rejection by the French and the Dutch, in referendums, of the constitutional proposals. I do not think we need dwell on that document to any great extent, because I believe it is clear to those of us who supported it and to those of us who opposed it that it is moribund. What is likely to occur now is a period during which a European Union of 25 will be compelled to operate within the framework of the Single European Act and the treaties of Rome, Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice. It is my firm belief that the constraints imposed by the differing sources of the acquis, and by the fact that finding out where powers do or do not rest requires an extraordinary amount of investigation, will prove sclerotic.

In a European Union of 25, it will swiftly be realised that arrangements that were appropriate for a Union of six, 12 or 15 are simply not sufficient. Through force of events, we will come, one way or another, to a point at which people will say, "We ought to try to produce one document that incorporates the essentials." That will provide a further opportunity, which I hope will be taken, to embrace the principle of subsidiarity, to ensure that proportionality lies at the very heart of what the European Union does and to produce the constitution for which many in this House argued: a constitution that reflects rather more simplicity than the—in the minds of many people—complicated proposals that eventually emerged from the convention.


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