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14 Jun 2006 : Column 840

He went on to refer to the Western European Union Parliamentary Assembly, which remained, in his words,

Norway and Turkey are classic examples. He went on:

I referred in an earlier intervention to a document that landed on my desk today from the Robert Schuman Foundation, which is not known for its Eurosceptic views. The document was written by a French Senator, Hubert Haenel, president of the EU delegation in the French Senate. He forcefully made the point that, given that we have not moved on with the constitution, the French no is a no and will remain a no for the foreseeable future. He continued with the point that the WEU Assembly was

That is quite clear if one goes back through the existing treaties. The European Parliament has no competence in European security and defence matters. He went on:

a view that I have heard, unfortunately, from a number of MEPs, most forcefully in a discussion with Mr. Elmar Brok, chairman of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee a week or so ago—

My point is to ask why we have to reinvent the wheel when we already have an inter-parliamentary body, on which several Members, including myself and the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North, sit. We are both members of that body’s Defence Committee, which, indeed, I have the honour to chair.

The UK Government have a critical role in determining where we go from here with parliamentary scrutiny. That is why I address my final remarks specifically to the Minister for Europe, who will be aware that the UK has held the presidency of the WEU for the last year. Our presidency comes to an end on 30 June. We held it for a year, long beyond our EU presidency, because Austria, not being a NATO member, could not be president of the body. On two occasions, the Foreign Secretary’s name appeared on the order paper for the Assembly’s deliberations to present the presidency’s report, but on both occasions the Foreign Secretary failed to attend, sending a British ambassador instead.

At next week’s meeting of the WEU, the Austrian Defence Minister, representing the outgoing EU presidency, is already scheduled to attend; and Finland’s Foreign Affairs Minister, representing the incoming EU presidency, is also due to appear. I hope that British members of the Assembly will not have the embarrassment of having to apologise for the fact that no Minister from the United Kingdom Government is yet on the agenda to attend that meeting. I wonder whether in his reply the Minister for Europe can tell
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me, the House and other UK members of the Assembly, which scrutinises European security and defence policy, which Minister from Her Majesty’s Government will be present in Paris next week.

4.55 pm

Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central) (Lab): I will keep my remarks brief, but I want to make one or two comments about the European summit later this week. I begin by remarking on energy issues. I understand that the question of energy will be discussed at the summit, and I very much welcome that, in view of what has happened to energy prices in this country over the past few months. The Government have embarked on an energy review and I understand that the summit will discuss a short paper that has been drawn up by Javier Solana and the Commission on security of supply, competitiveness and environmental sustainability.

The markets in Europe are not liberalised, and the problems that we experience in this country often stem from the fact that we have a liberalised market while our colleagues in Europe do not. I therefore ask the Minister what the discussion is likely to achieve. I understand that it is due to finish in the presidencies next year with another form of review, but I hope that our Ministers at the summit will press our European colleagues for the liberalisation of European markets in order that we can buy supplies of energy in other countries.

Earlier this year, our gas prices in particular were increasing rapidly, yet there was no shortage of supply world wide. We could not access other sources of gas in order to bring those prices down. Members will remember that in January the Russians turned off the gas supplies to Ukraine, and that generated fears that Russia would be in command of gas supplies to the rest of Europe. I understand that European Commissioners have suggested deals between the EU and the Russians to ensure that supplies flow to the rest of Europe. However, the Germans have already signed a separate deal with the Russians on a gas pipeline, which could well undermine the efforts that are to be made at the summit on agreeing a common energy policy. The point that I want to leave with my right hon. Friend the Minister is that he must press for the liberalisation of the markets in Europe in order that we can access them.

I also want to say a few words on the constitution. Those issues have been well rehearsed throughout this debate and references have been made to our Ministers perhaps needing to take a stronger line and to state that, in fact, the constitution is dead. The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) and I had an exchange on that, during which I referred to the fact that there were calls from politicians throughout the EU for further referendums, votes and the rest of it and that our Ministers would do well to be non-committal on the constitution in the light of those calls.

I understand that the period of reflection has been increased for another year, yet those calls still appear in our press. For example, Giscard d’Estaing has called for a second French vote—55 per cent. obviously was not enough for him—the Italians have called for
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further action on the constitution, the Germans have already said that they want constitutional issues to be resurrected, and the Belgian Prime Minister has drawn attention to the fact that about 15 states have now ratified the constitution and that, according to a clause in the constitution, if that figure increases to four fifths of member states, unique circumstances are created which mean that the constitution must be referred back to the European Council. I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe to resist such a reference back to the European Council and perhaps, despite what I said earlier, to be a little more vociferous in playing down the constitution and the possibility of its resurrection.

Another worrying development are the calls for a Europe-wide referendum. If that were to be agreed, it would negate all the no votes that have already happened and could lead to countries being drawn into a European constitution without having had the chance to hold their own individual referendums. I call on my right hon. Friend to resist those calls at all costs.

I shall now say a few words about Turkey and Cyprus. Earlier this week, a small crisis in Europe was averted when the Cypriots gave way and allowed the accession negotiations with Turkey to complete chapter 1—an uncontroversial chapter relating to science and research. However, obstacles to Turkey’s membership of the EU remain, not least opposition from other countries within the EU—Germany and France, in particular—that are reluctant to see Turkey accepted.

There are also obstacles within Turkey itself: for example, the human rights situation in that country, especially in the Kurdish region, is a cause of great concern. Religious issues, including the question whether Turkey is a secular state, have come to the forefront in the past few days. A Turkish general attacked Turkey’s Government for not adhering more strongly to the secular state, and we hear stories of the “deep state”, as it is known in Turkey, where the military is influential. A few weeks ago, there was a disturbing incident when an individual walked into Turkey’s highest administrative court and shot dead the judge who was presiding in a case, simply because, as the offender said afterwards, the judge had made a decision on banning religious apparel.

Such incidents sound alarm bells for Turkey’s accession to the EU. Just as many people want our Government to say that the constitution is dead and we should not heed calls for further votes, perhaps we should decide once and for all whether it is appropriate to persist with the idea of Turkey’s accession in spite of all the problems in that country.

Mr. Jeremy Browne: I and Members of all parties in this House support the notion of Turkey’s accession to the European Union, but does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that, ideally, the qualities and virtues that we seek in terms of respect for human rights, the rule of law and democracy should not be put in place merely to meet entry criteria, but should come from within? Should that not be part of the common values of EU member states, rather than seen merely as measures introduced in order to comply with the obligations placed on states that aspire to EU membership?

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Mr. Illsley: I agree. We should strive to establish those values in all countries, regardless of whether they aspire to EU membership. I am aware that Turkey has taken great strides to improve its internal situation at the same time as pursing its entry to the EU, but I fear that we will build up problems for ourselves if we continue to encourage Turkey to enter the EU while knowing full well that, at the moment, it simply does not meet the criteria for entry.

5.4 pm

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): Having listened to European debates at periodic intervals in the past 22 years, I have noticed a fluctuation in sentiment. If we take a broad historical and political view, we can see that a new realism has at last begun to pervade debates in the House. The pity of it is that that is not reflected in the Government’s policies. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, for example, in his five economic tests, his subsequent remarks, the Treasury paper a few months ago and so on, has indicated a change of mood or tempo. If he became Prime Minister he might take a more Eurosceptic view—that is certainly the view of the journalists and distinguished commentators who have followed his career.

None the less, others continue to speak the same old language in an attempt to square the circle. It is impossible, as I said earlier, to persist with the waffle and try to pretend that everything is all right just because the existing treaties are still in operation. We need a radical, clear-sighted, fundamental review of the European Union. That would not be difficult once it is under way, but—and my motive in saying so is not party political—the Government, for all their talk, cannot bring themselves to face reality. The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) made their position quite clear shortly before he left the post of Foreign Secretary, when I pointed out that, to all intents and purposes, the European constitution was over and done with. The present Foreign Secretary tiptoed around the subject, but she was not prepared to spell out the Government’s position. That is not leadership.

In a recent debate on democracy, dialogue and debate in the European Standing Committee, the Minister for Europe, using the old Laeken language, said that we wanted to get closer to citizens. The new project, otherwise known as plan D, would provide an opportunity to reconnect with citizens and their opinions. However, when I asked him whether the Government were prepared to make the 16 million euros that that they have received in the past 18 months—indeed, there is much more to come—from the European Commission available to Eurosceptic organisations or whether that funding was a Europhile propaganda exercise driven by the Commission, he was not prepared to answer. I invite him to do so on the Floor of the House this afternoon. Will the money, after proper debate and dialogue, be disbursed on an equal and fair basis among the organisations, or will the power of the state, the Commission and the purse determine the issue?

That question arose, the House will recall, in the second referendum in Ireland. Having lost the referendum on the Nice treaty, the Irish Government changed the rules so that a lower proportion of money
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was available for the no vote campaign, with predictable consequences. Basically, we are wasting time, as the period of reflection is going to last another year. It is actually a period of deflection, is it not? As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) accurately pointed out, it is an attempt to prolong the silence.

In the last European debate, I said that an eerie silence had descended on the Conservative Front Bench with regard to European matters. I am glad to say that that has gone. We are beginning to speak a more realistic language. We heard from the shadow Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), some words which, although I cannot say they filled me with a deep glow of enthusiasm about the so-called benefits of some aspects of the European Union, revealed a hard bottom line which had been overlooked by many commentators, including many of my friends.

As I noted in a letter to The Daily Telegraph yesterday, my right hon. Friend specifically committed the Conservative party to regaining control over social and employment and similar legislation. I pointed out that it was one thing to say we would do that, which is extremely important, and another to spell out the methods of reasserting national control. I went on to point out that on the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, 130 Conservative MPs supported my new clause 17, which I am informed was cleared by parliamentary counsel’s office as I requested. The clause stated that it would be available to a Government, or to the Opposition when in government, to pass legislation inconsistent with the European Communities Act 1972 and, in particular, directives or regulations under section 2, and that the judiciary must be bound by that provision. That is the crunch point.

The sovereignty of the House depends ultimately on that formulation in the new clause. It states specifically that the provisions of any subsequent enactment inconsistent with the European Communities Act shall be binding in legal proceedings in the United Kingdom. That binds the Law Lords, which is where the problem lies.

I see the sphinx-like look of the Minister for Europe. For almost two years, throughout the Maastricht debates, he and I jousted. He was—I hesitate to say the bag carrier—the runner for the late John Smith on that Bill. He and I were direct opponents on it, although his job was to table amendments that were as close to mine as possible, so that when we called a Division, the Opposition would be able to try to claim that it was theirs as well. In fact, they were following us into the Lobby, not the other way around. I will not mention your role, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as that would be inappropriate.

Mr. Jeremy Browne: The hon. Gentleman said that he detected signs of encouragement from his Front Bench and a changing stance on the European Union. Has he received any private assurances that the Conservative party will remove itself from the European People’s party soon? Will he remain vigorous and rigorous in ensuring that the Leader of the Opposition does not go back on his word to his party?

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Mr. Cash: I have noticed a continuing trend—it happened in the debate in the Chamber the other day. The Liberal Democrats are beginning to show a degree of realism. I have never before, for example, heard them making Eurosceptic noises, but they are beginning to do so. Although I am sure the hon. Gentleman is trying to get me to make some statement on the EPP that would suit his purposes, I can say unequivocally that both before the leadership election and subsequently, I have been given clear assurances that we will withdraw from the European People’s party. I do not need to enlarge on that matter, which I know a great deal about because, when I was shadow Attorney-General and shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, I was directly responsible for advising the then leader on those very questions—I was unequivocal and wrote a clear letter in which I said that we must withdraw from the European People’s party forthwith.

The matter is tied up with the European constitution. Despite the one-year period of deflection, as I call it, Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, clearly stated on 17 November last year that she is determined to bring back the European constitution. If that is the case—I take Angela Merkel’s statement at face value—why are we having another year’s reflection or deflection? I have always maintained that the European Union is a national objective for Germany, because Germany wants a European Union that it can dominate through the voting system. That is Germany’s national interest, but the European constitution is most emphatically not in our national interest.

Those points are part and parcel of a bigger, broader and deeper political and historical debate about where Europe goes in the 21st century. Ultimately, it will be a question of political will and realism—the realism is apparent from the various noises off, but the political will is not apparent. In his speech to the European Parliament a few months ago, the Prime Minister stated that he wanted to show leadership, but the reforms that he said that he sought have manifestly not been delivered.

As other hon. Members have said, an opportunity has been wasted. I accuse the Government of shirking their duty and of cowardice on a massive scale. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) did not use the same language as me, but she has said that it is time to get rid of the idea of the European constitution, which has failed and cannot sensibly be put back on the rails. It is not for us to go into the past—there are occasions when we must look at the development of those arguments over the past 20 years— because we need to live in the present. Whatever people’s aspirations at the time of Maastricht, that was then and this is now, and this is not the time to hunt the snark without a compass. We need clear objectives. The British Government, the new Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Europe, who is very experienced, need to start dishing it out to the other member states in tomorrow’s meeting. They need to get a sense of realism out in the open and to exercise political will.

I have mentioned the vote by my hon. Friends in support of my Back-Bench amendment to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, and I trust that the House of Lords will carry my amendment through. Front Benchers agreed to put in Whips as Tellers for
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my amendment, which was unusual, but none the less the amendment was an important statement of policy. I have suggested privately to some of my senior colleagues that it would not be a bad idea if they went out and told the rest of the world, which is why I wrote to The Daily Telegraph yesterday.

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): The rest of the world?

Mr. Cash: Well, The Daily Telegraph’s world, anyway. It was also published in The Financial Times, and I am pursuing several other avenues. I trust that my hon. Friend is not demurring from the principles that were enunciated by going through the Lobby on that occasion.

It is important that we come up with a design for a new Europe that is thought through, but not carried through unless serious discussions take place around the table. There will be no renegotiations or answers to these important questions unless there is a serious attempt to get down to sorting out what we want and where we are to go. Step 1 is to repudiate the European constitution. I suggest to the Minister that in parliamentary terms, a good starting point would be to remove from the Order Paper the daily reference to the European Union Bill, because that reasserts the idea that that Bill, and therefore the implementation of the European constitution, is still part and parcel of the business of this House. This is not some arcane constitutional point—it is about demonstrating political will. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston and many other Members made it clear that it is time that we abandoned the project of the constitution. Of course I would say so, but it is interesting that it is coming from so many different quarters.

I greatly recommend a very good book called “Design for a New Europe” by Professor Jack Gillingham from the United States. It is an endorsement from the United States by somebody who has for the past 25 years made a careful study of the way that Europe has been going. I want to use this opportunity to give a flavour of what he has to say:

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