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The summits draft conclusions say that the European Council has carried out a first assessment of the period of reflection based on information provided by the member states. I presume that, in Britains case, that means that the Government have passed on our adviceor someone elsesbecause they have had nothing to say about that period until this morning.
They now have another chance, and I hope that they will take the opportunity to make several things clear, not least on justice and home affairs.
Mr. Cash: In the context of the flexible, open Europe to which my right hon. Friend has referred in a recent speech, and of the regaining of national control of social and employment legislation, does he agree that it would be highly desirable for the Government to spell out that all this thrashing around in an attempt to bring a constitution in through the back door would best be resolved simply by stating that we would like an association of nation states, preserving the ability of those countries to govern themselves and ensuring that the democracy that we all want can be achieved in this House and elsewhere in Europe?
Mr. Hague: I actually think that this thrashing around, as my hon. Friend describes it, can best be dealt with by the Government taking a clear stand on some of the issues coming up at the summit and subsequently. I want to mention a couple of those issues before I give other hon. Members a chance to take part in the debate.
On justice and home affairs, the Government should reflect that Governments who do nothing have things done to them. That is indeed what is happening now, most seriously in the context of the EUs powers over justice and home affairs. Tomorrows summit will consider the Commissions proposal to move policing and judicial co-operation, under the remit of the Commission, the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice, from third to first pillar, and to abolish national vetoes. Not only would that be a profound increase in the European Unions power and a diminution of national sovereignty in an area where voters demand national accountability, but it would implement part of the constitution through the back door, which the Government promised that they would not allow.
The Foreign Secretary might recall that shortly before the Labour party came into government nine years ago, it explicitly promised that it would keep this area under intergovernmental supervision. It is therefore extraordinary that the Government refused to come out against that proposal in a recent written answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady). The Foreign Secretary has again refused to come out against it today. When the Minister for Europe winds up, will he tell us what the position is? Would not that move be a clear breach of the Governments promises?
One would have thought that the Government would learn the danger of accepting qualified majority voting from their experience with the recent directive on the free movement of EU citizens and their families, the decision on which was moved from unanimity to QMV by the Nice treaty. We warned the Government against that at the time. They expressed opposition to parts of that directive because they said that it would make it hard to deport EU citizens or members of their families who were not conducive to the public good. They were outvoted, however, and we all know how that contributed to the current mess over foreign criminals. Why are the Government now ready to allow an expansion of the EUs power in this area, when
recent history tells us that it will lead to them presiding helplessly over some new fiasco in the future, with their hands almost certainly tied by European law?
We are facing the usual EU fault in this area: rather than concentrating on practical measures that will be of real use and that will preserve our liberties, for which the Minister has been calling, it is still engaged in a desperate search for more Europe. Thus the recent European evidence warrant dispenses with the crucial safeguard of dual criminality, but the proposal for the harmonisation of criminal proceedings applies to an ill-defined list of crimes and fails to tackle urgent issues of terrorism and national security. Nor did the Commission consult member states where there are cross-border issues or real concerns.
John Bercow: My right hon. Friend has been talking about the importance of preserving liberties. On the principle that dictators make bad business partners, would he care to say something about the folly of lifting the embargo on the sale of arms to China?
Mr. Hague: I might not put it in exactly the terms that my hon. Friend uses, but yes, it would be a mistake to lift the arms embargo on China. That is a long-held position of the United States, and that is what my party and my predecessors as shadow Foreign Secretary have stated. I agree with the purpose of my hon. Friends intervention.
give further consideration to sharing of premises and support services for Member State and EU external representations in third countries,
and therefore calls, in effect, for an EU consular service. The direction of those proposals is the revival of the external action service contained in the constitution and the Commissions attempts to win a foreign policy remit. Let me remind the Government again that, before coming to office, they explicitly pledged to keep foreign policy an intergovernmental area. When I asked the Prime Minister on the Floor of the House in February 2003 about an EU diplomatic service, he said:
There is no way that the foreign or defence policy of this country will be conducted by an EU diplomatic service.[ Official Report, 25 February 2003; Vol. 400, c. 131.]
The background to the summit is a slow-burning crisis in the European Union. We know that many of Europes economies are performing poorly [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) says from a sedentary position that I said
that last time. I did say that, normally, 95 per cent. of the content of speeches in such debates is a repeat of what was said last time. I have tried to reduce that to only 10 per cent. in this speech. This, however, is an especially important point that needs repeating every time. On current trends, Europe faces the greatest loss of economic influence in the world of any group of countries in peacetime in modern history. The latest Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report says that,
at current trends, the average U.S. citizen will be twice as rich as a Frenchman or German in 20 years.
The assumptions of the past 50 years no longer hold true. Where once Europes priority was political harmony, it must now be economic dynamism. Thanks to the radical changes in Britain in the 1980s and 1990s, Britain is well placed to lead on that, to challenge some of the orthodoxies of recent decades and to call on Europe to replace habits of heavy regulation and rigidity with freedom and flexibility. Ministers should say clearly in speeches in the next few months that the attempt to create a politically united Europe was a response to the problems of the 20th( )century and the aftermath of world wars, and it is now time to bring the vision of Europe up to date and to advocate a Europe of decentralisation and diversity in the spirit of the 21st century.
That means emphasising some of the issues mentioned by the Minister for Europe. It means emphasising trade to a much greater extent, including the ideas that I and the Chancellor have raised for freer transatlantic free trade. We look forward to Foreign Office Ministers following that up with great vigour. That has not been the case with the Chancellors previous statements on such subjects, which have not been followed up in practice by the Government.
This is the call for the change that is needed in Europe. If nothing changes, and if the EU as a whole continues to think that the establishment of a constitution should be its chief priority, it will do nothing for our citizens and will give succour to those who claim that we now face a set of European institutions that are beyond reform. Ministers should have the courage to say so, and they should have the courage to say it this weekend.
Mr. Jimmy Hood (Lanark and Hamilton, East) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to her new portfolio. It is interesting, when discussing European issues, to remember that in 1998, when she was Leader of the House, she was responsible for giving us better Standing Orders and more powers of scrutiny. Over the past eight years, we have benefited from the pre and post-Council scrutiny, the increase in Standing Committees from two to three and the scrutiny reserve, which has been important. That has been helpful, but we need to move on and have more powers. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, when he was Leader of the House, was supportive of such progressive proposals, for which I give him credit, and to which I shall return later.
I am grateful to the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee for allowing such an
early intervention. On scrutiny of European business in the House, does he agree that there are two challenges? First, Members need to take their obligations seriously, whether in Standing Committees or the European Scrutiny Committee. I note the unfortunate new statistics that show that the Liberal Democrats participation in the European Scrutiny Committee is less than 30 per cent., so they miss more than 70 per cent. of meetings. Secondly, does he agree that if we are to have proper scrutiny, it is unfortunate that the Government keep timetabling debates on European business to clash with the European Scrutiny Committee, which means that Members like me cannot take part in those debates?
Mr. Hood: I understand what the hon. Gentleman says, and not for the first time he has a gripe about some of his colleagues among the Opposition who are on the European Scrutiny Committee. It is also fair to say, however, that the scheduling of Standing and Select Committees can be helpful. By coincidence or other means, the European Scrutiny Committee has unfortunately been busy with other matters when we have had such debates. I understand his position, and he has made his point.
Mr. Davidson: Surely it cannot be true that the Liberal Democrats attended only 30 per cent. of such meetings, given their enormous interest in the debate today, to the extent that the Liberal Democrat spokesman will not even be capable of getting a seconder should there be a vote before the end of the debate.
There are many topical issues under the heading of todays debateEuropean affairsbut I shall concentrate on two: the enlargement process and the period of reflection on the constitutional treaty, which, as I shall explain, are related. I should also like to talk about our system of scrutiny, which was alluded to earlier.
Ten new member states joined the European Union at the start of 2004, and so far it looks as though that rapid increase in membership has been a success. The economies of the new states are growingand not at the expense of the rest of the European Union. It has already been decided that Romania and Bulgaria will join at the beginning of either 2007 or 2008. The Council of Ministers has recently concluded that the final decision should be taken later this year, based on reports on how the two countries are progressing in meeting all the criteria laid down for accession.
This Parliament has passed a Bill to allow that accession to take place, and I believe that the widespread consensus is that both countries should join as soon as possible. However, although both have made great progress, we will do them no favours if we ignore the criteria and allow them to join for the wrong reasons. Not only would they have joined before they were ready; there would also be implications for further enlargements.
Croatia and Turkey are on the accession waiting list, and we are expecting applications from the whole of the rest of the western Balkans. There will be many
advantages to us, and to them, in welcoming further states into the European Union, but all the tests have to be satisfied. If we do agree in principle to letting in further states, subject to their meeting all the criteria, we must be in a position to deliver on our own undertakings.
We need to ensure that the European institutions can cope with further enlargement, which cannot be done on the basis of the existing treaties and certainly not on the basis of the constitutional treaty, because, as we know, it has been rejected by France and the Netherlands. Much has been said about that, but to be fair there is a strong suspicion, which I share, that if the UK had a referendum on the constitutional treaty, the same result could occur.
When the European Scrutiny Committee visited Helsinki last week, we discussed this issue with our colleagues in the Finnish Parliament, who are in the process of examining and agreeing the constitutional treaty. I told them in as friendly and fraternal a way as possible that, in my view, that was not a wise thing to do. I told them politely but bluntly that, given that they know that the treaty has been voted against by two member states, agreeing it in their own Parliament would send out all the wrong messages. We are in danger of the political elite talking to the political elite. When the constitutional treaty was first debated, reference was made to the need to re-engage the citizen, but if we go down that route, we are in serious danger of getting further and further away from that goal.
Mr. David Hamilton: Is it not true that some three weeks earlier, when we attended a COSAC conference, the French delegation indicated that the French did not really know what they were doing, and that it argued for reintroducing the constitution?
Mr. Hood: We had a very interesting COSAC conference, at which that discussion did take place. Members of the European Parliament, at least, seem to be disengaged from the reality of where the European Union is and where we want it to be. Describing the constitutional treaty as being dead is not the best language to use when discussing it, but nor is it right to argue that we should carry on with it and wait until something else comes along. The very wrong impression has been given that if the French presidential elections go ahead and there is a change, the argument will settle down. I said to the chairman of the French Assembly that if we consider the situation from the perspective of a French or Dutch politician, it could be a bit insulting to suggest at a COSAC meeting that we welcome moves to ratify the treaty. I was surprised to hear him say, however, that he was comfortable with welcoming such ratification. That worries me. If politicians in France, where there has been a referendum and a substantial no vote, think like that, it will send out the wrong message.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con):
I have been listening very carefully to the hon. Gentlemans thoughtful and fair-minded comments. Does he think that it would have made any difference if a country such as the United Kingdom had gone ahead with holding a vote and had similarly rejected the idea of a constitution, as he and I suspect would have happened?
Alternatively, does he think that political elites in some of the other EU member countries would nevertheless have pressed on in the rather arrogant way that he describes so accurately?
Mr. Hood: In my usual, respectful way, I think that the UK Government were absolutely right not to have a referendum. Through their actions, they were saying that they respect the fact that the treaty had been rejected in two member states, so I do not support the view in favour of a referendum. We respected the decisions taken in Holland and France and called off our referendum.
Mr. Cash: I want to ask the Chairman of our distinguished European Scrutiny Committee a question that I perhaps should have put to the Foreign Secretary, but which he might be able to answer. Why is the European Union Bill on todays Order Paperas it is on every other daywith Queens Consent to be signified, a Ways and Means motion, and all that goes with it? Given that the Bill makes provision for a referendum, does the hon. Gentleman think it extremely important that it be taken off the Order Paper, thereby indicating that the Government understand that it cannot proceed? The Labour party voted for it, but the Conservative partythanks to the efforts of some of usensured that we voted against it on principle.
Mr. Hood: If the hon. Gentleman wants me to answer parliamentary questions, he should have a word with the Prime Minister, who might then want to put me in a position to do just that. So far, however, I am not in such a position.
Kelvin Hopkins: My hon. Friend attributes a noble motive to our Governments decision not to hold a referendumtheir respect for the results in France and Holland. However, were their minds not also concentrated by the fact that, according to recent figures, 86 per cent. of the British people would have voted against the constitution and only 14 per cent. would have been in favour?
Having said what I just said, the reality, to which I have referred, is that we need a treaty that is fit for purpose. Therefore, we have to have the arrangements for further enlargement in the treaty for the European Union. We cannot say to Croatia, Turkey or the states in the western Balkans that want to join the Union that we are prepared to welcome them, subject to their agreeing to various criteria, if we do not have a treaty that is fit for purpose and we have not carried out our own obligations with respect to the enlargement.
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