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The June European Council also welcomed the citizens agenda communication and its proposal to produce a 50th anniversary declaration. It is right that we should celebrate the anniversary of the treaty of Rome and 50 years of European achievement, including the spread of peace, security, prosperity and democracy. The Government look forward to engaging
constructively on the declaration setting out Europes values and ambitions next March.
Following the successful model of an autumn informal summit a year ago at Hampton Court, the European summit at Lahti on 21 October provided a welcome opportunity for EU leaders to take forward the delivery agenda. Discussions at Lahti focused on tackling the twin challenges of climate change and energy security, improving Europes record on innovation and addressing our citizens concerns on migration. EU leaders also discussed the grave situation in Darfur, and had a working dinner with the Russian President Putin.
The Lahti summit provides us with a good basis for further delivering the policy agenda outlined at Hampton Court. It is central to building an EU that continues to make life better for its citizens. Our vision is of an EU with a fully liberalised energy market and a strong dialogue with key energy-producing states, leading the way globally in tackling climate change by exporting ideas such as the emissions trading scheme. Our vision is of an EU that is more prosperous, because it will attract investment and compete effectively with the new economic giants of India and China. Our vision is of an EU where businesses can work across borders without red tape and be the home of European champions; an EU that is more effective, with a powerful voice in the world, working to eliminate poverty and promote development; and an EU that has successfully enlarged to include the western Balkans and Turkey, and has supported reform in neighbouring countries to bring them closer to European standards. Above all, we want an EU that is more relevant as it continues to make life better for its citizens, and one that enables Europeans to take advantage of, rather than retreat from, a changing world. This Government are at the forefront of that European agenda.
The Commissions commitment to delivery is entirely welcome. This Government are a long-time advocate of a modern European Union, assertive in tackling and responding to the challenges of the 21st century. We have an unequivocal and proactive engagement in the EU, working with our European partners to push for progress in those areas, such as climate change, terrorism and globalisation, in which
by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone.
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): I join the Minister in congratulating the European Scrutiny Committee, which has done a fantastic job in producing the reports, and its new Chairman, who will, I am sure, continue the excellent record of his predecessor in seeking to expose what is going on and ensuring proper scrutiny. Following the rejection of the constitution in two referendums, it is vital that the British Government make a clear contribution to the debate about the future of the European Union.
The constitution proposed more EU powers, more qualified majority voting, a move towards a single foreign policy and a single foreign Minister. In essence, it was the continuation of everything that has gone wrong with the EU in the past, including a burgeoning bureaucracy with decisions taken too far away from the people, a structure thataccording to one of its own commissionershas allowed the €600 billion cost of regulation to outstrip the direct benefits of the single market. No wonder that the ICM poll for Open Europe found that 52 per cent. of the 1,000 British business leaders questioned thought that the EU was going in profoundly the wrong direction.
The people of France and the Netherlands offered us an historic opportunity to turn things around. Their referendums knocked the wind out of the sails of the old-fashioned advocates of ever closer union. The chance was there for Britain to lead Europe towards a more open, flexible, deregulated and free-trading future. The tragic, or perhaps just farcical, failure of the Government to rise to that challenge is laid bare by the reports before us.
The 12-month period of reflection passed and was extended. The Austrian presidency called on members to report on their national debates so that a new plan could be synthesised, but nothing came from this directionless Government. As the Committee so scathingly observed in its 31st report
All in all it is hard to avoid the impression that the United Kingdom has been significantly less involved, at all levels, in the process so far than have other member states, parliamentarians and citizens.
The Minister referred to his belief that the Government are at the centre of the debate in Europe, but that certainly was not the view taken by the Committee and I do not think that any rational Member, considering what has happened in the past 18 months, could possibly share that view. Surely that was not what the Prime Minister had in mind when he stirringly told the European Parliament that the peoples of the European Union
are wanting our leadership. It is time we gave it to them.
Meanwhile, the German Chancellor has argued for a relaunch of the constitution and the French debate has become a significant part of their presidential election, with talk of a mini treaty and various other options. The British Government still have not said whether they support the constitution now or have some other vision. We read last week reports that the Foreign Secretary denounced the constitution as a grandiose project that had failed. That is welcome, but the Prime Ministers signature remains on the constitution and motions for its implementation remain on the Order Paper. Today the Minister said that at some point in the near future he will give an outline of his views on the future of the European Union, but that will come after a protracted period in which we are meant to have been having a national debate about the issue. I think that we deserve rather more, especially as we stand just a few months away from the Berlin declaration, which is due in March next year, and the German Governments plan to relaunch the drive for a new EU constitution. However, the British Government, after 18 months of pathetic vacillation, have failed to shape that debate at all.
Mr. Borrow: Following on from my question to my right hon. Friend the Minister, would the hon. Gentleman care to explain whether his party believes that a 27-member EU will need changes to its internal management? If so, what ideas will it propose in the coming debate?
Mr. Brady: The internal management may well need changes, but it is also important that the EU seeks to do less so that it can cope with its existing agenda. A central problem is that the EU is failing to make the necessary progress in matters such as energy policy in the single market precisely because its ambitious political agenda is diverting attention from the things that matter. However, our highest priority is to remove social and employment regulation in this country from European control and bring it back under British control. That would be an important start in the process that the hon. Gentleman has in mind.
The national debate called for in the document entitled Plan D for Democracy was never allowed to happen in this country. The Finnish presidency has called for new powers over our police and courts. A Citizens Agenda calls for
an initiative to improve decision taking and accountability in areas such as police and judicial co-operation and legal migration.
Mr. Drew: I know what Conservative policy is in respect of bringing back the social union, but is that not hypocritical if the single market is retained? Workers can be exploited across Europe, yet they will have no protection. That is ludicrous: surely we should get rid of the single market as well.
Mr. Brady: That may be the hon. Gentlemans policy, but it is not mine. It was rather amusing when the Minister suggested earlier that there were great differences of opinion among Opposition Members, given that he was clearly glossing over the large divergence of opinion on the Benches behind him.
The fact that the debate has not been allowed to happen means that I and many others feel left in the dark about the Governments policy and intentions. In its 31st report, the European Scrutiny Committee says, in reference to the Ministers explanatory memorandum, that
it is not clear...whether the Minister supports or rejects the Commissions proposals for using Article 42 EU to move police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters to the First Pillar, where unanimity in the Council would not apply.
That opacity was maintained as we approached the Council meeting at which the proposals were discussed. Astonishingly, it was maintained by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan), when she appeared before the European Scrutiny Committee last week.
Mr. Brady: I do not support the treaty, I oppose it. I wish that we had had the opportunity to hold a referendum on it, as I and my party would have opposed it very vigorously. I am sure that we would have secured a very large majority against it, and it is a shame that we had to leave it to the French and the Dutch to do that job for us.
The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department was asked by the European Scrutiny Committee whether the Government supported the use of the so-called passerelle to extend EU powers over justice and home affairs. According to the uncorrected transcript, which I think is accurate, she said:
Can I just say on your first comment, the fact that I have not ruled it out does not mean that I am ruling it in. It means that I have not done either. I would like to be clear with the Committee on that point.
I think the situation we are in now is that it is up to the Finns, who hold the presidency, to handle the proposal to decide where we go next.
So here we have an area of policy in which just three years ago the Government said that they were opposed to the extension of qualified majority voting whereas now Ministers are happy to drift along with proposals from the Finns without even telling the British people where they stand.
Especially bizarrely, the Home Office says that its concerns are the same as those that arose in relation to the EU constitution, passing over the fact that the same Government signed that constitution and have yet to withdraw their support from it. Why can we not have the same honesty, clarity and leadership that has been shown by the Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell, who said:
My vision for Europe is that instead of constantly seeking to enlarge the competence of the union that the justice and home affairs ministers concentrate on practical measures of co-operation between states to enhance security and combat terrorism.
would seriously affect the operation of Irish criminal law and give the commission the exclusive right to propose matters in this area which is now shared with member states.
The Irish Justice Minister has been clear about where the Irish Government stand on this issue while the vagueness and lack of direction of the UK Governments European policy has been a constant theme of all the papers before the House.
Mr. Cash: I concur with much of what my hon. Friend has said. Will he be good enough to enlighten me on one point? We are against the constitution; we voted against it in principle in the House and we are setting our face towards the idea of some form of association of nation states. However, if it were to transpire that the other member states were not prepared to accept our rejection of the constitution and our idea of movement towards a form of association of nation states, does my hon. Friend agree that it would be more than sensible for us to consider the option of withdrawal from the EU?
Mr. Brady: The crucial thing for my hon. Friend to understand, as I am sure he doeshe has such a clear understanding of these mattersis that treaty changes need unanimity. Therefore, when the British people were to have the opportunity to vote against the constitution, which I am sure that they would have done convincingly, there would have been no possibility of the change proceeding.
Ms Gisela Stuart: Do I take it from what the hon. Gentleman said that a future Conservative Government in the very distant future would commit themselves to a referendum on any treaty changes, and that that is a firm commitment?
Mr. Brady: I am not in a position to speak for Conservative Governments in the very distant future, but I can say that the forthcoming Conservative Government will ensure that there is a referendum if any treaty change is proposed that would transfer further powers from this country to the EU. It is our policy to bring powers closer to the people and not see them go further away. We do not believe that power should be ceded without the express support of the people in a referendum.
Although the Ministers explanatory memorandum is significantly better in explaining the Green Paper than his departmental colleagues in explaining the Commissions proposals on Europe in the World...
it is no better in explaining the Governments view on the proposals therein. We do not consider that support for the broad thrust of this Green Paper is adequate, and would instead like to know what the Minister thinks of the proposals, and what reply the Government plans to offer.
We are less clear than the Minister that the position taken by the Foreign Secretary on the question of double-hatting and his are one and the same. He seems to be arguing that the Foreign Secretary was referring only to a situation where an in situ EU Special Representative was also made head of an extant EC delegation, and that this is in some way significantly different from the possibility that he describes in a future Bosnia and Herzegovina. If there is a distinction, it is one that at present escapes us.
The debate on A Citizens Agenda will also provide the House with an opportunity to explore the Governments thinking on this and other relevant issues, which the Minister continues to be regrettably reluctant to share with it at present.
I was hopeful that the Minister would take this opportunity to share some of his thinking with the House, but all he has promised is an outline at some point in the future. The Committee went on to note that
the Minister says that he hopes we find his Explanatory Memorandum informative. On the contrary, its cursory summary of the Communication is uninformative, as is his statement of the Governments views.
The Governments general position appears to be to shelter behind the obvious absence of any consensus on the future of Europe and to say that it will inform the House of its views once there is one. This is somewhat at odds with the notion of increasing the involvement of national parliaments in decision-making.
We consider this stance unacceptable, and ask that the Minister provides the governments views, now, on the detailed proposals in the Communicationwhich ones he does not agree with, and which ones he endorses.
I hope that the Minister is embarrassed to hear that catalogue of criticisms from a Committee of the House, and that, even at this late stage, the Government will be prepared to engage in a debate about the future of the EU.
The Commissions initial premise in the document, A Citizens Agenda was the right one: the EU should concentrate on addressing the real expectations of the peoples of Europe. However, the document is punctuated by references to rebuilding the political project that was rejected last year in two referendumsthe need to embed projects in a coherent political agenda; the political ambition of a new institutional settlement; the need for a political declaration as the precursor to a new treaty and the commitment to the Hague programme, extending EU powers to justice and home affairs. None of that is wanted by the British people, yet the Government have failed to set out an alternative vision. We are left completely in the dark as to their intentions, as was the EU Scrutiny Committee.
We should make it clear now that the EU needs a profound change of direction. We should be calling for the centralising projects of the constitution to be consigned to the dustbin and for an end to efforts to take justice, policing and criminal affairs away from national democracies. We should call loud and clear for a more flexible, deregulated European Union and we should start today.
Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): I am stuck between a rock and a hard place. The rock is being damned by the Oppositions faint praise for the work of the European Scrutiny Committee; the hard place is trying to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton, East (Mr. Hood) as Chair of the Committee.
My hon. Friend held that position from 1992, when the Committee was the European Legislation Committee, until he demitted office on 18 October 2006. He now represents Parliament on one of the NATO Committees. It is a great honour, but greatly difficult, to follow someone who outlasted 10 Europe Ministers and five Committee Clerksquite a record. He may have been the longest serving Chair of a Select Committee. He made many friends and many important contributions to progress in Europe, especially in strengthening the role of COSAC.
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