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20 Jun 2007 : Column 1411

If that conference is not to be held until September, October or even November, we need to have established a mechanism in the meantime. If something tangible emerges next week, I will consult my Committee colleagues about how we can consider such a process, even through the recess. We have experience of that: the Minister for the Middle East came before our Committee last September, when the House was in recess. I cannot give an undertaking in that regard because my Committee will have to take the decision, but I certainly hope that Parliament will consider these proposals in detail before any ratification process is concluded, and before the intergovernmental conference is held. The long summer recess does present a difficulty, given that the Portuguese presidency starts at the beginning of July.

Kelvin Hopkins: Although I am absolutely in favour of a referendum, I have great sympathy with my hon. Friend’s view that we should have a strong debate before any agreement is reached. However, given what happened at the end of the British presidency, when the Prime Minister at the last minute gave away a deal on the budget without reference to anybody and astonished his fellow leaders in the European Union, does my hon. Friend fear that that might happen again?

Mike Gapes: No, I am not fearful of that, because I believe that these issues have been flagged up sufficiently. I am prepared to accept the Foreign Secretary’s assurance that there will be no agreement, except on the basis that she outlined. We will have to wait to see what happens next week.

We hope that we can engage in detail in this process, both up to the beginning of the Portuguese presidency and beyond. It is clear that getting such legislation through this House will not happen quickly—it must also go through the other place—so intensive debate into 2008 will, presumably, be required, taking up many hours. I remember well the hon. Member for Stafford, who is sitting on the Back Benches—

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): Stone.

Mike Gapes: I apologise. I believe that the hon. Gentleman’s constituency was once called Stafford and Stone.

Mr. Cash: Stafford and then Stone.

Mike Gapes: I thank the hon. Gentleman. I remember his lengthy contributions to and interventions in the various debates in 1992 and 1993, and the discussions after the Maastricht treaty. I look forward to the continuation of that tradition in this House.

I do not want to delay the House for too long, but I must say that I agree very strongly with the remarks made by the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore) about the importance of the situation in Kosovo. The Foreign Affairs Committee was recently in Russia, and it is very clear to us that there is a real problem—a potential blockage of a United Nations Security Council resolution that would permit deployment of UN forces and EU police in Kosovo post any settlement. There is a danger, flagged
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up by the recent remarks made by President Bush in Albania, that if there is no Security Council resolution, there might be a unilateral declaration of independence. If the Americans—and then, presumably, organisations such as the Organization of the Islamic Conference and other bodies of international opinion—were to recognise that, there would be a big problem within the EU.

The EU today is united around the Ahtisaari plan, but if that plan is not to be implemented, or is blocked or vetoed in the Security Council, there is a danger that that unity will go. We know what happens when such events occur. We saw what happened in the Balkans with the premature recognition of Croatia and the consequential divisions among EU states. EU unity and a collective EU voice on these matters over the coming weeks and months are vital.

I want to touch on some related matters, such as the vital role played by Mr. Solana in developments in the Balkans and in the engagement—so far unsuccessful—with the Iranians, as well as his general work. It is undeniable that the current foreign policy arrangements in the EU are a mess. Having an external relations commissioner as well as a representative of the Governments is confusing. The draft German treaty has an interesting formulation. It states:

the change, and

there are not four Xs, only three. We therefore have to find out what that denomination will be. In evidence given to our Committee yesterday, the Foreign Secretary that it might be very sensible not to call that person a Foreign Minister; otherwise, when they go on missions to different countries, they would be seen only by the Foreign Minister concerned and not by, for example, Mr. Larijani in Iran or another such person at a higher level.

However, there are more serious points relating to the external affairs representation of the European Community. Last year, the Foreign Affairs Committee was very critical of the fact that while the Foreign Office’s budget was being frozen, the EU seemed to be establishing “embassies” in a number of areas around the world and representatives who were called “ambassadors”. The EU clearly needs a presence in different countries—an office—but it does not need a fully fledged, bureaucratic and massively staffed foreign ministry. Such a presence raises very difficult issues and, for various reasons, it is not helpful. It might be of benefit to some of the smaller EU countries that are not themselves able to have diplomatic representation everywhere in the world, but it will create great difficulties for larger countries, and particularly for those—including us—who are permanent members of the Security Council, and who have Commonwealth networks and other international roles.

When the Minister replies to this debate, I hope that he can clarify the Government’s position on the external service of the European Union; on the role and title of “XXX” and how that post will be seen in future, including in relation to the work carried out by individual Governments; and on the permanent presidency of the Council of Ministers, if that post is
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also to be established. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on these matters today, and I hope we will have further such debates in the very near future.

2.28 pm

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): These Europe debates are not simply formulaic; they are about the powers of this House and, by extension, of the people we represent. There has been a transfer of power, authority and decision making from this House to the European Union over many years, but if this constitution, as amended by the German proposals, goes through in anything like this form, it will be a giant step—a further emasculation of the powers of this House and an erosion of national self-government.

Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: Will my hon. Friend allow me to develop my argument a little further?

Of course, there should never have been a constitution in the first place. The Government did not want one, and Governments of other member states never called for one. The Convention on the Future of Europe, on which I had the honour to serve and to try to represent the interests of this House, was not told to write a constitution for Europe. We were told to simplify Europe and to create a democratic Europe closer to its citizens. It all got captured by the Brussels machine, and it forgot reform and wrote a constitution instead. That is what the Prime Minister signed in October 2004.

As we know, that constitution was rejected convincingly by the voters in France and Holland. The Prime Minister then appeared to enter a phase of repentance. I remind the House that last year in a speech in Oxford he said:

I agree with the Prime Minister on that, but he has done nothing to correct the problem. We are now back in the tower. Indeed, the situation has got worse. The Convention on the Future of Europe at least met in public, and I and others could report to the House on what was happening. The Government could also table amendments, and they tabled hundreds of them. Not many were accepted and they did not really like the final text, but at least we could discuss the British position. This time, it is all being done in secret, and that is a disgrace.

Reference has already been made to the strictures of the Select Committees, and I agree completely with what the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) said about the importance of parliamentary scrutiny. I will serve as best I can on his Committee to try to subject the text to proper scrutiny. I am pleased that the Committee unanimously placed a marker when we censured Foreign Office Ministers for their refusal to come to our Committee. The same was done by the European Scrutiny Committee, on which I also serve, to give its views about what is happening in Europe.

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To make matters worse, all the way through the Convention on the Future of Europe, the Government told us sanctimoniously about the need to open up Europe, bring the citizens along and close the gap between the voters and leaders, but they do not do that at home. We are trying to export democracy to the middle east and we criticise China for its lack of democratic institutions, but when it comes to our own procedures, Ministers do not even tell us what has been happening in the negotiations.

Kelvin Hopkins: I agree with much of what the right hon. Gentleman says. Does he agree with the suggestion made earlier by the Liberal Democrat spokesperson that some of the countries in eastern Europe that have gained democracy might have it for only a short time before it is shoved upwards to the European Union? They might have only a short period of real, genuine national democracy between living under Soviet rule and the rule of the European Union.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is an irony that in many cases those countries have given up rule from Moscow and swapped it for rule from Brussels. Their liberation was an immensely important event in the history of Europe. However, having achieved self-government, they are now in the process of giving it up.

The Liberal Democrat spokesman repeated what the Government often say, which is that we need a new rulebook because we cannot operate with 27 members under a rulebook designed for six. That is false. The Prime Minister said that we would suffer deadlock or paralysis if we did not have the constitution. In fact, the pace and volume of European Union business has increased with every round of enlargement. The European Scrutiny Committee has to deal weekly with a blizzard of new directives, regulations, proposals and decisions from Brussels. The idea that we need more majority voting for more laws is a fantasy. Let us hear no more about why we need this new treaty, or whatever it is called, to make Europe work effectively.

We have on our hands a massive extension of majority voting that, by definition, is a diminution in the powers of this House. It means that we will not be able to block unpleasant or unwelcome proposals. The constitution brought majority voting into 63 new areas, which is far more than any other treaty. The Single European Act, under Mrs. Thatcher, introduced it to 12 new areas.

The red lines that the Prime Minister has drawn refer to only two extensions that he does not want—those into tax and social security. He has carefully crafted those red lines so that he can claim a triumph. However, I presume that all the other extensions of majority voting will be accepted. They are certainly not ruled out in the German document, of which we have only just received a copy.

The Foreign Secretary appeared before the Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday, but—as we have heard—she said nothing. She had nothing to say. She said that no substantive discussions had taken place, thus repeating her earlier remarks, but we know that the Prime Minister has been having discussions with other Heads of Government, and, back in January, two officials were appointed to negotiate on this very text.
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The sad fact is that the Foreign Office has been cut out of the discussions. I find it very sad that at a time when Europe is crying out for reform—there is a coalition position on the need for reform—the Foreign Office has nothing to say about it.

We know that Europe is inefficient, wasteful and has lost the confidence of the public, but all that the Foreign Secretary does is sit tight, let the worst happen and then try to make the best of it.

Mr. Cash: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I am under some time pressure but as he knows, I respect his views.

Incidentally, I hope that the Minister for Europe, who is in his place, goes to the conference tomorrow. Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary said that she did not know whether he was going. I was Minister for Europe once and I went to all the summits. It would be a further denial of democratic accountability if the Minister for Europe were not among the army of officials and diplomats who go to the summits. Again, that is a sad reflection on the status of the Foreign Office in the negotiations.

The German presidency document, which we have only just seen, includes some radical proposals, such as the single legal personality. We know that the Government do not like that. It is referred to specifically in the document, which means that the present intergovernmental pillars of the European Union are to be collapsed, in favour of a single legal personality, so that such matters as policing and criminal justice would be decided by majority voting. The Home Office has recently complained about how its laws, especially anti-terrorism measures, have been overridden by the European convention on human rights, so how can the Government even contemplate any reference to the even stricter EU charter of fundamental rights—also in the German document—or any extension of majority voting into that area? It would be supervised by the European Court of Justice, which would decide any dispute. At a time when we are already feeling the pressure of having our judgments about our own security overridden by the European Union, the Government will apparently sign up to a further massive extension.

I am one of the sad people who occasionally look at the constitutional text, which runs to 511 pages. We know that the Prime Minister has four red lines, so some of the pages may be removed, but what will happen to the other 500-odd pages? Do the Government agree with them? There is nothing in the German IGC text that suggests that the rest of the constitution is to be forgotten. Thus we will have, by the back door, the revival of the great majority of the constitutional text—without it being called a constitution, of course. It includes such things as an energy chapter; the security and marketing of energy is to come under the EU.

Now, I am an internationalist. I believe in reaching treaty agreements with states all over the world on matters such as climate change, global warming, energy, extradition and global security, but that is quite different from irrevocably handing over powers to a law-making body that will decide such matters on our behalf by majority voting. Those difficulties can be
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solved only by a referendum, as was promised by the Prime Minister. The sorry story of the zig-zags towards and away from national referendums is a text-book example of the victory of expediency and party advantage over the national interest.

During the Convention on the Future of Europe, the Government steadfastly and emphatically opposed any referendum, then did a sudden U-turn. The parliamentary Labour party, which had voted against a referendum one week, a few weeks later trooped through the Division Lobby in favour of one. Then the French said no in their referendum, so the Prime Minister changed his mind and said that Britain would not have one. Then the Labour party manifesto said that there should be a referendum on these matters, but recently the party has gone back on that and said that no referendum would be held. Now, it appears that it is saying that there may be a referendum.

That is not the way to deal with an electorate already sensitised to the loss of their powers and whose disillusionment about politics and the political process is very deep. The Prime Minister should keep his promise on the referendum. He wanted to put the matter, although not the red-line issues, to a national vote. He said:

I want to make a final point, about the transfer of power to which I have referred already. It is not some dry, academic exercise but has to do with the essence of democracy. Who makes decisions, and where? To whom are they accountable? Are they voted in, and can they be removed? Those are the questions that need to be answered, and they are crucial. This House is a forum where majorities come and go and Governments change, where laws are enacted and withdrawn. That is what democracy is about. Handing such matters over to another jurisdiction, irrevocably, means that we will be losing the powers of the people we represent. We should let them decide whether they want the constitution.

2.42 pm

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby) (Lab): First, I must say how much I enjoy these six-monthly games between the Eurocreeps and the Eurolags. They are always an entertainment, and it is always interesting to participate in a regurgitation, each time in a new light, of arguments that we have been making for the past 25 or 30 years.

At the moment, we face a new danger. We are formulating our views on the European constitutional treaty, but in a couple of days decisions will be taken that will remain largely uninfluenced by those views. Then, as usual, we shall find that the Government have climbed down from their good intentions and that they are putting to us a treaty that is less than acceptable.

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