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Alan Duncan: But not necessarily a member state’s control over those supplies, which is exactly what we are debating today. The history of European legislation
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in this country is that whereas the House and the country are assured that there are certain boundaries to such powers, those boundaries inevitably move and the powers creep forward. That is the concern with this treaty, as with so many others.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con) rose—

Mr. Kenneth Clarke rose—

Alan Duncan: I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) first, which may give my right hon. and learned Friend the advantage of a counter-comment.

Mr. Cash: I just thought it might be helpful to point out that the explanation just given by the Secretary of State—and, if I may say so, by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke)—does not fully explain what is going on. I do not have time to go through all this in an intervention, but the bottom line is that there are many provisions that are without prejudice to other provisions, and there about six in sequence that ultimately take us back to the approximation and harmonisation of laws in the internal market. In fact, it is quite clear that the Secretary of State is misunderstanding the position. I am sure that he will have an opportunity to explain later on.

Alan Duncan: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and, in the spirit of party solidarity, I shall now give way to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke).

Mr. Clarke: I thought that my hon. Friend was going to deal with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) and explain what it meant. A moment ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) was trying to challenge the view being taken by the Minister—and, embarrassingly, also by me—on these energy clauses, by invoking a court ruling on the primacy of European law that predates British membership of the European Union, and which was the main subject matter of debate when we first joined the Union in 1972. Ever since then, people have attempted to make my blood run cold by suggesting how this ruling might be used in various bizarre circumstances. Surely it is not the policy of our party to reopen the basic principles of the primacy of Union law. Furthermore, as the ruling has not been used to stop our agreements with Norway or anyone else in almost 30 years, why on earth does my hon. Friend think that the majority of European Governments are now going to start to use the rules on primacy of European law in a way that would be hostile to our interests?

Alan Duncan: I would never want the blood of my right hon. and learned Friend to run cold. We enjoy his good cheer. To summarise my argument, I believe that powers that are unnecessary should not be included in legislation. Enough already exists to cope with any kind of energy co-operation that we need. The vagueness—and, consequently, the almost unlimited scope—of these powers gives us cause for concern. The basis for that concern is the experience of the past few
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decades, which has shown that powers that we were told would hardly ever be used—or only narrowly used—have ended up being broadly used and changing the nature of our powers compared with those of the EU.

That is the concern that underlies so much of what is in this treaty, and in those that have gone before it. I have not been in the House as long as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe, but even I can remember that, from the Maastricht treaty onwards, the track record has been that the promises made in this House do not turn out to be true in practice on the ground thereafter. That causes a lot of angst, political distress and disapproval of politics in general among the broader electorate.

Mr. Hutton rose—

Alan Duncan: I will give way once more to the Secretary of State, then I will race to the finish.

Mr. Hutton: We all look forward to that. Can the hon. Gentleman give the House an example of how the current provisions on energy have been misused in the way that he has described?

Alan Duncan: The whole point about the current provisions is that we are actually rather happy with them. That is why we would prefer to stick with them and not muddy the waters by going into completely new territory—if I may mix my metaphors—by including them in the treaty.

I was about to address the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere on the deletion of the key phrase “undistorted competition”. This is a critical point, and the Government’s actions on this have been somewhat embarrassing. Throughout this whole process, there has been a palpable sense that the Government think that they have got away with it, that they have somehow fooled us, and that they have won.

The phrase that has been removed, following considerable pressure from Paris, is now covered in a separate protocol. But, to the trained eye, this is a bit of a fudge. Some of the seminal competition cases that have come before the European Court of Justice—and, indeed, some of the defining competition legislation—make direct reference to this clause, and some extremely distinguished European lawyers and academics have stated that this move will have a very damaging impact on EC competition law.

Mr. Sarkozy—now the great champion of our former Prime Minister’s bid to become President of the EU—who was thought to be the architect behind the excision of the phrase, has admitted quite openly that he wants to tinker with anti-trust policy. Immediately after his election, he said:

He also said:

France, which has every reason to oppose any measures to unbundle its tightly controlled power sector, can use this important concession to circumvent the Commission’s powers to break up monopolies.

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The Government say that they wish to be professionals in the centre of Europe, but this abject failure has exposed them as amateurs. They say that these new clauses in the treaty will improve the Commission’s efforts to create greater competitiveness, but they have signally failed to retain a key structural phrase that will uphold exactly that aim. The Government might brag, but the brutal truth is that they have been outclassed, outgunned and outmanoeuvred. As a result, Britain has been ill-served by this Labour Government.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Before I call the next hon. Member, may I observe, while not decrying spontaneity, that the convention of notifying us in advance of a willingness to take part in the debate has not been exhibited on all sides? It is helpful if such notification can be given, because, if a debate is oversubscribed, the Modernisation Committee encourages the Speaker to consider putting a time limit on speeches. So we are flying by the seat of our pants in this debate, and priority will be given to those who did notify us in advance.

2.36 pm

Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to appear for the first time in these debates on the European Union. They coincide with the 400th anniversary of the writing of the authorised version of the Bible under King James. Listening to some of the contributions and interventions, I have the feeling that if those authors in Jerusalem Chambers had been making similar points, they would probably still be sitting there, 400 years on.

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan), who has considerable experience of the energy markets, although it might be some time since he gave up working in them to enter politics. Perhaps the world has moved on since then. He spoke of the Government’s position on this paper being oblique, mysterious and evasive. He also cited Mr. Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, and I must reveal my age by telling the House that I had lunch with Mr. Giscard d’Estaing at Chamalli√®res on the day he became President of France in 1974. Listening to the various references to him over the past few months has given me indigestion, although that indigestion has been delayed for some 30 years. Most of the comments on Mr. Giscard d’Estaing from the Conservatives have been self-serving, and they consistently overlook the fact that he has said that, while the treaty was about 80 per cent. similar, the red lines organised and agreed to by the British Government make it a different treaty. I shall not be tempted to explore whether this is the same or a different treaty, because if I did, I, like the authors of the King James Bible, would still be here many years from now.

The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton made a number of points, which I am trying to assimilate. The one thing that strikes me when I listen to Conservative Members in this debate is that they give the impression
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that we must be a very small nation state with about 3 million citizens and have no say whatever on what happens in the European Union. The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who is no longer in his place, made reference to that. In a speech in Quebec, Winston Churchill said of the Germans:

What kind of people do the Conservatives think we are when we are dealing with the European Union? We are not softies, and we are not here to be pushed over. We are here to play a significant role in the European Union. That is what this amending treaty is about and what we are about.

Mr. Cash: The hon. Gentleman cited Sir Winston Churchill on these matters. Churchill also said that we should be “associated but not absorbed” in relation to the European Community.

Sir Stuart Bell: I do not think that Sir Winston Churchill was talking about the European Union in 1942, but he did say that the price of freedom was “eternal vigilance”. I would commend such vigilance to the Conservative party in looking at this treaty, as vigilance has certainly been given another meaning in these debates.

The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton also talked about the sufficiency of the powers in existing treaties. He said that they were sufficient, but the fact is that it is rather like driving a car at 70 mph: if we take the foot off the accelerator, the car will slow down over a period of time. There are now 27 member states in the European Union, so it cannot be governed entirely on the basis of existing treaties. That has been looked into very carefully by many people, including many experts, which is why the amending treaty is before us now.

The hon. Gentleman amused the House—I am not sure whether he intended to—when he spoke about gas rationing from Bavaria to Birmingham. He also referred to gas from Milford Haven but, as he will know, it is supplied from Qatar. At the risk of extending this debate, can you imagine, Mr. Deputy Speaker, having to tell the Government of Qatar that instead of their vessels on the high seas going to Milford Haven, they should be diverted to Bavaria? [Interruption.] I am trying to be courteous, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in the face of some of the oddest and most ridiculous arguments I have ever heard put in the House. I will nevertheless try hard to stay courteous. The hon. Gentleman knows because of his experience in the Gulf that such a fanciful suggestion has absolutely no meaning at all.

Reference was also made from the Back Benches to the shortages in 1972. By my reckoning, that is some 35 or 36 years ago. The right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) needs to know that that was before we even joined the Europe Union. The hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor), who I am glad to see is still in his place, talked about solidarity. He rightly pointed out that solidarity is in the national interest. We have no interest whatever in not being “solidaire”, if I may use the French word, with the European Union. What kind of country are we to be if we cannot be solidaire with our European partners in this interconnected world?

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Alan Duncan: In a way, the hon. Gentleman’s attempt to point out the absurdity of diverting an LNG ship headed to Milford Haven from Qatar poses the other side of the question. What would or could be enforced by the EU in the spirit of solidarity to iron out difficulties of energy supplies other than intrusion in private contracts of that sort?

Sir Stuart Bell: Under no circumstances would the European Union, which believes in a liberal economy and free competition—I shall return to the hon. Gentleman’s views on undistorted competition in a few minutes—wish to interfere with private contracts. This has been put to the hon. Gentleman before, but repetition has considerable merit when it comes to dealing with the Conservatives. Article 176A states:

If the Opposition concentrated on the serious matters posed by the treaty instead of trying to invent a whole series of fanciful forecasts of what might happen in the future, we would be able to have a better debate.

Peter Luff: I hold the hon. Gentleman in high regard, but as Chairman of a Select Committee I am obliged to rise above the party political hurly-burly and attempt to view these issues objectively. As far as I can see and with the best will in the world, what the hon. Gentleman has just said is wrong. The treaty really does give significant power to Europe. For example, when Russia cuts off gas supplies to east European countries, that is precisely to do with what my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) suggested. I believe that we should leave it to the discretion of national Governments to decide what is appropriate in the circumstances, rather than hand over further competence and power to the centre.

Sir Stuart Bell: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and I noted his earlier intervention about Russia. I will deal with that and his point about giving powers away a little later. As we all know, we have never given powers away to Europe; rather, we have pooled our power. Back in 1972, Edward Heath talked about pooled sovereignty and we are still talking about pooled sovereignty today. We have never given a single power away to Europe.

Mr. Gummer: Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me that by pooling our powers, we in fact get greater powers than we would have had if we merely held them to ourselves? One of the ways we get things wrong is that we always invent ways in which we, Britain, might have to do this or that, without ever remembering that there are 26 other members who would, if we were in difficulty, have to be part of the overall pooling of powers and help.

Sir Stuart Bell: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman and I agree entirely with what he says.

The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton made much of the phrase “undistorted competition” and the fact that President Sarkozy had wished to modify it in the present treaty. He also made scathing—or passing—references to the protocol, quoting what
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President Sarkozy said. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, with his wide reading, will have got round to studying the report of Jacques Attali on the state of the French economy, which calls for free competition and the opening up of the French economy, and which has been accepted by President Sarkozy. He will see a modified attitude towards competition within the European Union and beyond. It should also be noted that President Sarkozy was opposed to entry negotiations with Turkey on certain chapters, but when he became President, he quietly dropped that opposition.

Ms Hewitt: My hon. Friend is making an extremely important point. On the issue of competition policy, is he aware that the excellent guide to the Lisbon treaty produced this week by the British Law Society confirms that the protocol leaves unchanged the legal treaty base in the EU for competition policy?

Sir Stuart Bell: I thank my right hon. Friend for that, but the Conservative belief seems to be never to let the facts get in the way of an argument. If the fact is not convenient, it is set aside. In an intervention, the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), who unfortunately for me has left the debate—he and I go back a long way and I have a high regard for him—asked the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton what was going on. I have to tell him that we are going on with this treaty. Reference was also made to that indefinable future when we have a Conservative Government. At any such time as the hon. Gentleman wants to work on energy policy, he will work on it along the lines of this treaty as specified under article 176A. Conservative Members know that they will never seek to renegotiate it, but act within it. I know that, the hon. Gentleman knows that, the House knows that and I presume the country knows it, too.

The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe talked in his intervention about the various contracts that we have already made, which the EU could not an did not interfere with. We have made contracts with Norway, Qatar and Algeria for the supply of gas. Contracts in Bulgaria were also mentioned, which, like the others, have been freely negotiated within the EU. I thus have great difficulty understanding the Conservative position. I suppose I can understand the need they feel to push for a referendum, but my view is that the Conservatives spend too much time watching “The West Wing” on television. They come back to character, trust and all the rest of it, but it does not play at all with the public. That is a matter for them, not for me.

The Secretary of State, in his speech and in the documents he gave us, talked about the lead that the United Kingdom has in the development of EU policy on energy. That was the fruit of the Hampton Court discussions under our presidency in 2005, which flowed through to the spring conference of 2007, and led to an energy package and energy policy for Europe approved by the Council on 8 and 9 March 2007. The principle of solidarity applies—a theme that I shall develop later.

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