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As a Minister going to the Council meetings, I would often question a matter of detail and say I did not think it was a very good idea. I would be told, “This is
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part of a package that we negotiated. It is part of the deal.” There is no problem with that, but someone should be answerable.

Mr. Cash: Does the hon. Lady accept that democracy, Parliament and its history and traditions of the best kind are being inverted? I agree that we should have a Cabinet Minister for Europe. That would restore the balance, and we could be sure that we were being properly represented. Given the authority that the hon. Lady brings to the subject, and having participated in the Convention, her colleagues should take on board the important speech that she is making, With all the experience that she brings to bear, it is important that they take note of her comments. Even if those do not lead in the direction that I would want to go, they go some way to explaining, by omission, what is wrong with the Prime Minister, No. 10 and the Foreign Office in relation to European affairs.

Ms Stuart: It is always dangerous when praise comes from the wrong side, but I accept it in the spirit in which it was delivered.

We are partly at fault. In a very funny intervention earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) pointed out that we are a sad and exclusive club of European debate attenders. I look round the Chamber and there are very few faces that I have not seen at such debates before.

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): In an attempt to give the hon. Lady support from another quarter that she may not want, it is great to hear former Front Benchers such as herself and the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) speaking honestly. Does she agree with me and with the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), a former Europe Minister, that having a Secretary of State for Europe—which, sadly, the Foreign Secretary rejected yesterday in the Foreign Affairs Committee—would force Her Majesty’s Opposition to have a policy on Europe and a Front-Bench spokesman on Europe, which might cast some light on what they currently think about Europe?

Ms Stuart: Yes, I think that it would raise the level of the debate tremendously and widen it significantly. As Back Benchers, we can table endless questions to the Department of Health, or whichever Department, but because of the nature and length of these negotiations we move on to matters that are more current.

The Government should put some firm proposals on the table on what should be in the new rule book that we will need at some stage. One thing on that wish list should be a proper legal basis that would allow for the return of competencies. At the moment, the passerelle clause allows only for unanimity to be changed to qualified majority voting, so the direction of flow is only ever one way. There needs to be an equally explicit mechanism whereby the powers flow the other way. The negotiation on what those subjects may be is neither here nor there, but that would give us a rule book that provides sufficient flexibility for a very long time.

All European Governments should accept that they will lose credibility if they pretend that things are not
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happening when they are. The classic example is that of the foreign diplomatic service. It does not matter whether we call them diplomats or say that they are not diplomats—they are representatives abroad, many of whom ought to be there. It is not a question of whether it is right or wrong, as most of the time it is something that we should be doing. If it is the right thing to do, why cannot we say so? We lose credibility when we do not even acknowledge something that is openly happening.

I offer one final piece of advice to my hon. Friends on the Front Bench. I read in today’s newspapers that the Leader of the Opposition has never been to Brussels to conduct official business. As he is in such extraordinary troubles over which political grouping his party should sit with, perhaps, in the spirit of co-operation, my hon. Friends should take him with them next time they travel to Brussels.

3.57 pm

Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): Reference was made earlier to the fact that during these debates the same message, the same words and the same ideas are articulated. I, for one, make no apology for speaking the same words and articulating the same lines, for the simple reason that it would be helpful if the Government were to take note of them in the first place, so that we did not have to keep on repeating them.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary on a speech that was characteristic of his usual performances, and whose message was very well put forward.

The European Union is at a crossroads, because there is a conflict between what some leaders want—further integration and “ever closer union”, as the treaty of Rome of 1957 states—and what the majority of citizens of Europe want. In sharp contrast, they would prefer an element of sovereignty, and their own Governments being held accountable, instead of unelected bureaucrats—and to some extent elected politicians—in Brussels.

The difficulty is that the leaders refuse to listen to the citizens despite the rejection of the constitution through referendums in France and Holland. For example, after the French no vote, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing said:

The Italian Foreign Minister, Giuliano Amato, said that the no votes in Holland and France were

When European leaders are blind to the obvious and obsessed with further integration regardless of the will of the people, Europe is bound to be at a crossroads and in conflict and crisis.

The same leaders view integration and political union as an end in itself. They should remember that the decisions that they are empowered to make on behalf of the citizens of Europe are intended for the benefit of those citizens, not to enable them to get on their hobby-horses and pursue their peculiar obsessions.

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Political union means precisely that. The European constitution does not refer to another treaty between nations but to legal responsibility, a separate Foreign Secretary and separate Parliaments. It proposes a federal structure for Europe. It can best be summed up by the words of a former German Europe Minister, who described it as

Instead of attempting political union, the European Union should make the current system more accountable, more respectable and more efficient. We need to start with a proper auditing of the European Union accounts. It is disgraceful that after 11 years, the European Union’s accounts still have not been properly audited. Worse still, when individuals have had the courage to speak out against the inaccuracies of the auditing system, they, rather than the perpetrators of the errors, have been penalised. It is vital to tackle the auditing of the European Union accounts as a matter of urgency.

We must also ensure that democracy and the rule of law are fundamental in all European countries, and most definitely in countries that want to join the European Union. That means no compromises with countries such as Romania and Bulgaria. They must be left in no doubt that we will not compromise our principles to accommodate their membership. They must tackle several issues, not least having a fair and honest judiciary, an absence of corruption, a proper and efficient administrative system and stamping out crimes such as the barbaric and inhuman practice of people trafficking.

We must also recognise that the success of the European Union lies in its economic strength. I refer hon. Members to the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks. The European Commission said that by 2050 the United States’ share of world output would be 26 per cent. while Europe’s would decrease to 10 per cent.

Mr. Jeremy Browne (Taunton) (LD): Is not the most interesting feature of that research the fact that the EU share of world output has gone down from 18 per cent. to 10 per cent., which many hon. Members may attribute to the growth of China and India, while the United States has managed to increase its share, albeit by a small amount, from 23 per cent. to 26 per cent.? The malaise does not therefore affect all developed countries but is particular to the European Union.

Mr. Vara: I agree with the hon. Gentleman entirely. The obsession with, and the enormous amount of time spent on, the pursuit of political integration in the absence of economic strength will be to the detriment of the European Union. It is high time the debate moved towards progressing the economic argument for Europe, rather than towards political union.

The challenge faced by members of the European Union, and by the European Union as a whole, is its potential economic decline. As the hon. Gentleman has just said, we face strong challenges from India and China, but let us not underestimate the other countries that will emerge as rivals for economic power in the not
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too distant future. They include Brazil, Indonesia and the economies known as the south-east Asian tigers.

One way of addressing the economic challenges that we face is to reduce the constant flow of regulations from Brussels that is stifling business in this country and elsewhere in Europe. Three quarters of the costs imposed on British business since 1998 are the result of new regulations emanating from the European Union.

Ms Gisela Stuart: When I hear such figures, I am always puzzled as to whether there has been any assessment of how many of those regulations the national Government would have imposed as well. If regulations deal with a European competence, they will come from Brussels, but how many such regulations would the British Government have introduced anyway, if they had not come from the European Union?

Mr. Vara: The hon. Lady raises a valid point—and it heightens the argument that Britain continues to accept without question everything that comes from Brussels. We need to ensure that when such proposals come forward they are discussed rather than simply accepted.

Ms Stuart indicated dissent.

Mr. Vara: The hon. Lady does not seem convinced. I am happy to take another intervention.

Ms Stuart: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman for giving me the chance to try again. Whenever figures for business regulations from Brussels are cited, I would like to see another set of figures telling me, for example, whether 98 per cent. or 75 per cent. of those regulations would have been imposed anyway, but just happen to have come from Brussels. Similarly, I would like to see the percentage of regulations that no British Government would have imposed, and that have been imposed on us by Brussels against our will and better judgment.

Mr. Vara: Perhaps the hon. Lady, with her experience of Europe, could try to find out those figures.

Mr. Cash: May I try to be helpful to my hon. Friend, whom I greatly respect and whose words I enthusiastically support, and suggest that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) may be asking a false question? Let us consider the kind of legislation that emanates from the European Union on social and employment matters—for example, the over-regulation and the burdens on business, and the massive increases that have come from the working time directive. There are so many examples of regulations that a good sensible Conservative Government would never have contemplated introducing. Perhaps that answers the hon. Lady’s question.

Mr. Vara: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for that contribution, with which I agree entirely.

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We are not assisted by the tendency of British civil servants to gold-plate all the regulations that come here. It is a bit trite to be told that prawn-flavoured crisps cannot be called “prawn” because there are no prawns in them, or that Yorkshire pudding cannot be called that unless it is made in Yorkshire. If that is a sign of the European Union to come, it will indeed be a sad state of affairs. I judge by the expressions on the faces of Labour Members that they clearly feel that there ought to be more regulation of that kind. Well, I for one am happy to disagree with them.

That leads me on to my next point—that all European Union countries should abide by all the rules equally. It is a sad state of affairs that Britain will adhere to all the rules without question down to the last letter, whereas some of our friends in the European Union overseas and abroad would rather cherry-pick the rules and regulations to which they would like to adhere. If we are to take a lead in making sure that the European Union is run properly, we must make sure that all the other member states adhere to the rules equally, and with equal efficiency.

Mr. Hood: Who does the hon. Gentleman mean by our European friends “overseas and abroad”?

Mr. Vara: It is heartening that the hon. Gentleman is paying attention to my grammar, but I would prefer him to pay more attention to his Government’s lack of action. There are more pressing and urgent matters to be discussed.

Central to all this is leadership by the Government. Despite the warm words and fine-sounding rhetoric from the Foreign Secretary earlier, sadly, they are not matched by the actions and record of her Government, who have shown anything but leadership. At first the Prime Minister was happy to disagree with having a referendum on the European Union constitution. After a while, he was happy to say that we ought to have a referendum. During Britain’s presidency, the Prime Minister said that our rebate was not negotiable, only to give away £2 billion a year in return for a meaningless promise to review farming spending in 2008.

If ever there was an example of a Minister living in a parallel universe, it was the description of the constitution by the person who is now the Secretary of State for Wales and for Northern Ireland as a “tidying-up exercise”. When the new Minister for Europe spoke today to try to clarify the Government’s position on the European Union, he fudged the issue again. There we have it. The French have said no to the European Union constitution, the Dutch have said no, and the Prime Minister has said no and yes to a referendum. The Prime Minister held the presidency of the European Union for six months, there were many statements and speeches, and the bottom line is that the Government are still undecided what to do about the European Union. If ever there was an example of a lack of leadership, that must be it.

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford) (LD): Will the hon. Gentleman therefore apologise to the British people on behalf of his party for the fact that the Conservative Government did not give them a referendum on Maastricht?

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Mr. Vara: The present debate is about the future of the European Union. Bearing in mind that the Liberal party has only one policy on Europe—

Mr. Keetch: Give the people the choice.

Mr. Vara: No, its policy is simple. It would like to lose British sovereignty and integrate even more closely than envisaged under the treaty of Rome. Fortunately for Britain, the other parties are happy to discuss the broader picture, rather than simply having one view.

Mr. Cash: On the question of a referendum on Maastricht, for which I campaigned with other colleagues and got a petition presented to Parliament with no less than 500,000 signatures, does my hon. Friend accept that it was precisely because those of us who fought for that referendum managed to get the British people on our side—ensuring at the same time that the dark forces on both sides of the House who were against asking the British people were defeated—that we now have an established policy of insisting on a referendum? He is therefore on the side of light and new horizons, whereas those who opposed a referendum have been abolished.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. That was a fairly long intervention, and I should remind the House that although we ought to have sufficient time for our debate this afternoon, if interventions—and, indeed, contributions—are too long, some hon. Members may get squeezed out. Perhaps hon. Members would care to think about that when making their contributions.

Mr. Vara: I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for those comments—and to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) for being so articulate, enthusiastic and correct in his historical analysis.

My hon. Friend’s comments lead me—if we are to discuss Maastricht—on to another point. The previous, Conservative Government won a number of concessions, but sad to say, this Government have quietly given way and conceded on several issues on which we had preserved the right of veto; instead, we will now be faced with decisions of unanimity. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) shakes her head, but the history of this Government will say more than her shaking of her head. What is required is decisive leadership, and a Government with principles for which they have the courage to stand up and fight, rather than simply looking for the next headline in the next news bulletin.

Britain’s future lies in and with Europe, but that future must be based on co-operation and mutual support, not on a central Government of a “United States of Europe”. European leaders must start to listen to the wishes of their citizens and put aside their personal obsessions with further integration. We have European Union leaders who are keen to promote democracy to those in the European Union, to those who wish to join, and, indeed, to the rest of the world. Yet when, under the process of democracy, people in the European Union spoke and decided in a referendum that they did not want a constitution, those same leaders, who preach so fervently to others, refused
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to listen to the message of, and the answer to, that referendum. There is an irony in that, and those leaders who preach abroad should listen to their own citizens.

The citizens of Europe have spoken. They have said that they do not wish for further integration. They have said, “Enough is enough,” and that phrase has the same meaning regardless of which language it is said in: enough is enough.

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