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6 Feb 2008 : Column 978

Treaty of Lisbon (No. 4)

(4th Allotted Day)

Mr. Speaker: I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague).

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have bothered you on a couple of occasions with points of order about instruction, and you have ruled on that. I raised a similar issue yesterday with the Deputy Speaker, who told me that, if I raised a point of order on instruction, which is in motion 41, before Committee, it was too late in the day. I am now trying a little earlier. Can you advise my colleagues and me about what we need to do to make the instruction more selectable, if it has a defect, and whether we can use any other procedure to have it selected?

Mr. Speaker: The motion on instruction has not been selected. The hon. Gentleman has been a Member of Parliament for a considerable time and he knows that my selection—or non-selection—is not for discussion on the Floor of the House. We have a Table Office and some of the best Clerks in the world with regard to parliamentary democracy. I reckon that the hon. Gentleman knows that by now. He would do best to go there for advice. The Speaker has a lot on his plate these days.

1.28 pm

The Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Mr. John Hutton): I beg to move,

I believe that the founding purpose of the European Union was to try to secure a lasting peace throughout our continent by establishing, first, a common market in the key industrial sectors that could drive economic growth, create jobs and raise living standards, and that could also bring European nations closer together and, in the process, replace decades of strife and war with a new era of prosperity and progress. I am glad to say that that has remained the driving force of the European Union.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): The Secretary of State just used the term “common market”, but does he accept that that is not the position today? It was, but it is not now, and those of us who believe in an association of nation states think that that was the most serious mistake made.

Mr. Hutton: If hon. Gentleman will let me make my speech, I shall try to make the point in my own way. I am talking about the historical development of what started as a market and the way in which it has evolved into a wider economic and political relationship that has profoundly benefited the United Kingdom and the continent. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will make his own contribution later. I do not want to deprive
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him of the opportunity of doing so, because we are all looking forward to hearing his remarks again—and again and again, probably.

The fundamental purpose that I have set out has remained the European Union’s driving force. Beginning as the European Coal and Steel Community, it has since expanded to take in more goods and more countries, and succeeded in achieving peace and clear economic and social benefits for business, consumers and citizens across Europe. I would hope that hon. Members from all parts of the House celebrate those achievements.

The European Union is now the world’s biggest single market, generating total gross domestic product of more than €12 trillion and comprising almost 500 million people. Since 1992, the single market has created more than 2.75 million extra jobs, led to a more than sixfold rise in foreign direct investment and increased trade by 30 per cent. By 2006, the single market had boosted GDP by an average of £360 for every person in the European Union. Eliminating border bureaucracy, for example, has slashed delivery times, reduced costs and opened hundreds of new export markets to British businesses both large and small.

Nearly 60 per cent. of our total trade in the UK is now with other EU member states and around 3 million British jobs are linked to the export of UK goods and, increasingly, services to the European Union. British citizens—all our constituents—benefit from both a greater choice of higher quality goods and services at lower prices and stronger protections to guarantee their consumer rights throughout the European Union. Every year, EU investment helps to create and protect UK jobs and generates trade. Those who recognise the best interests of the British people have long realised that expanding the single market can be made possible only within a clear legal framework that establishes a new set of rules.

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): I agree with the Secretary of State about the importance of competition and the market, but why is the treaty a step forward, given that it removes the phrase “free and undistorted competition” from the legal framework, which is what the European Court of Justice will use when making decisions in important cases?

Mr. Hutton: No, it does not do any of those things—

Mr. Harper: It does!

Mr. Hutton: No, there is no weakening of the competitive framework of European Union law at all, and if that is the hon. Gentleman’s point, he needs to go back and do his homework.

We needed rules that would tackle restrictive practices, vested interests and hidden barriers to trade between member states. Qualified majority voting was the essential prerequisite in establishing that new legal framework. Without it, Europe would not have made the same economic progress that it has in the past 20 years.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that Baroness Thatcher fought for qualified majority voting precisely because
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she knew that none of those matters could be carried through unless we all moved together? Is it not also true that qualified majority voting gives greater power to individual nations than the veto, because everyone else knows that they could be steamrollered if they do not join a common enterprise together?

Mr. Hutton: This is a strange debate, but I agree with everything that the right hon. Gentleman has just said. My regret is that his views are not more widely held on the Opposition Benches, because if they were the United Kingdom would have a better prospect of securing more of the deals in the European Union to which he has referred. It is important that we learn the lessons of history. He was involved in a lot of the debates and discussions at that time. I pay tribute to him and to the work that Lady Thatcher did to pave the way towards progress in the European Union.

Since the Single European Act, which introduced qualified majority voting to the single market in 1987 and to which the right hon. Gentleman rightly referred, the Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice treaties have extended qualified majority voting into new areas, helping, not hindering, the process of economic reform in Europe. Those treaties have all adapted and strengthened both EU institutions and the policies that support enlargement and extend the single market. It is now again clear that we cannot rely on structures designed for the EU 15 to help us fully reap the economic and political benefits that we believe an enlarged Europe of 27 member states offers. That is why we must ratify the Lisbon treaty.

As our competitors continue to invest in their people, ideas and innovation, so should we. As there is still work to be done in opening up European markets to effective competition, we should concentrate on doing just that ourselves. It is for those reasons that I absolutely reject the view of those on the Opposition Front Bench that our response should be another period of introspection and constitutional navel gazing. That is the last thing that we should be doing, but it is exactly what their policy towards the treaty of Lisbon would inevitably involve. That approach would not create jobs, growth or prosperity, just years of fog and an inability to drive Europe forward. There is no benefit there for UK businesses, workers or citizens, just more time and taxpayers’ money spent on debates that are already long past their sell-by date.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the essential components of a strong and effective single market is strong EU institutions that can regulate and monitor it, and that anyone who argues in favour of a single market without strong EU institutions is full of hot air?

Mr. Hutton: I do agree with that. Although this issue is not the direct subject of our debate on the single market, the Lisbon treaty also significantly improves the functioning of the European Union institutions, with a new and stronger role for national Parliaments in particular, which many right hon. and hon. Members from all parts of the House have accepted as important. The Lisbon treaty helps us in all those regards.

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Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): In order to set the Secretary of State’s remarks in context, will he give us his estimate of what proportion of UK law now comes from EU institutions?

Mr. Hutton: I am not going to put a figure on that, for obvious reasons. [Hon. Members: “Very obvious reasons.”] Look, either we have a serious debate or we behave like this crowd of people on the Opposition Benches.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Hutton: No.

We are talking about the single market today, so perhaps I can help the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison). It is probably true that the majority of the laws established to drive forward the single market have originated from the European Union. The hon. Gentleman was a Minister in the previous Conservative Government; indeed, I believe that he might have had something to do with these issues. Personally, I find the argument that because laws originate from Europe there is something intrinsically wrong with them an astonishing one. Those laws have helped British businesses. The fact that they originated in the European Union is therefore irrelevant.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): To take the Secretary of State back to the substance of this debate, which is on the single market, is not the Lisbon agenda an illustration of how Europe has changed? For the first time, we have a set of benchmarks against which the success of individual nations’ economic policies can be properly assessed. That did not happen before Lisbon. Every five years we go back and review those decisions, to ensure that nations are up to speed.

Mr. Hutton: That is a strong and obviously correct point, which is why we particularly welcome the response to the Commission with respect to the single market review. Following what is happening and ensuring that people are delivering what they have said they will deliver is an important part of making progress.

Mr. Clappison: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Hutton: I am not going to give way to the hon. Gentleman now—perhaps I will do so later—because this is a shorter debate and I am anxious to ensure that as many hon. Members contribute as possible.

I think that, in essence, we need to press on with the agenda of economic reform, using the provisions of the treaty, once ratified, so to do, but we cannot do that if our focus is always on reopening debates about the treaty. What possible economic or political interest to our country could be served by a future Government taking the view that the provisions of the treaty did not bind the United Kingdom or that the UK could not sign up to further improvements to the single market in future because the proposals were being taken forward under the provisions of the Lisbon treaty? Such an approach would paralyse any future progress for an indefinite period on future reforms to the single
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market. It would negate any influence that we might have in the Council and elsewhere. Sadly, it is the policy of the Conservatives, should they ever manage to win an election, to follow precisely such a course of action.

Mr. Bone: I think that I understand the Secretary of State’s very cogent argument. He says that we want to be more involved in the single market and in Europe, so is it still Government policy that we should join the euro?

Mr. Hutton: We have set out our position on the euro on many occasions, and the position has not changed in relation to the economic tests and a referendum on the European Union. The hon. Gentleman graciously said that I am making a cogent argument, but I do not quite understand the point that he is trying to make.

Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire) (Lab): My right hon. Friend has indeed made a cogent argument on the power of the single market and our progress within it, which I very strongly endorse. Would he add to that the need to redouble our efforts at further reform of agricultural markets—an area where I am afraid that protectionism, quotas and other mechanisms proliferate?

Mr. Hutton: I certainly believe that we need to press ahead with reforms in that area. My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have repeatedly made it clear that we want further progress. I hope that other changes in the Lisbon treaty, particularly around co-decision making for the European Parliament, will act as further stimulus for such reforms. It is incumbent on us all, particularly in the context of the world trade round talks, to try to make further progress.

I believe very strongly that Europe has the ambition, commitment and the talent to succeed in today’s increasingly competitive global economy. It is absolutely time to deliver, and a ratified Lisbon treaty will help make it easier to do so.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): My right hon. Friend rightly refers to an increasingly competitive global economy. Will he confirm that article 118, which is on page 87 of the consolidated texts, refers to intellectual property rights, that this country has a fine tradition of design and innovation and that the protection of intellectual property rights both within the European Union and worldwide is particularly important for jobs in this country?

Mr. Hutton: I agree absolutely. The single market has been an evolutionary concept. We have made significant progress, but there are still obstacles in the way of creating a truly single market in many areas, and intellectual property is one of them. I believe that the Lisbon treaty provisions will help take that debate forward. We have important safeguards on language issues—I shall come on to them in a few moments—and requirements for multiple language translations of patents, but there is no doubt that this is one important area where progress needs to be made. We will not make that progress without qualified majority voting. I am afraid that it is as simple as that. Given the range of experienced Ministers on the Opposition Benches, I hope that they would understand that rather fundamental point.

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Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree with Commissioner Verheugen’s estimate in October 2006 that the cost to business of EU legislation and regulation was £405 billion a year—more than some other estimates of the value of the single market? If he does not agree with the commissioner’s estimate, what is his estimate of the burden to European business of excessive over-regulation, which is used as an excuse for the single market?

Mr. Hutton: I am making a point about the virtue of qualified majority voting, whereas the right hon. Gentleman is talking about the regulatory burden on business—a genuinely important issue. I believe that there are some cases of over-regulation in some sectors in the EU, but the right hon. Gentleman will know that we have been taking the lead in the debate in Europe about a totally different approach towards regulation, which emphasises the costs and the burdens on business in Europe. Impact assessments have now become standard practice in the EU, people have to justify a proposal for regulation and the benefits have to outweigh the costs that inevitably arise once it has been decided to regulate.

There is, however, no way of achieving many of the goals we want—I would hope that we all share them, particularly in respect of the single market—without regulation, necessarily bringing some costs and regulatory burdens for employers. There is no way of pretending otherwise, but the European Union and the Commission have targets to reduce the burden of regulation, which is a welcome first step. I think that significant progress remains to be made, but in a sense the right hon. Gentleman’s argument is not germane to my point about the benefits of qualified majority voting. That is my main argument today, yet the amendment to the motion and the amendments that we will debate later this afternoon would make it harder for us to make progress on single market issues in the EU.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) referred to article 118 and provisions on intellectual property rights, but I understand that Conservative Members want to ensure that we cannot proceed along the lines of qualified majority voting in those areas. I suspect that there will be a division of opinion among Conservative Back Benchers on that matter. It is striking to reflect on the extraordinary divergence between the rhetoric we hear in support of the single market and the content of the amendments, which would make it very difficult for us to make the further progress that we need.

Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge) (Con): Will the Secretary of State confirm that in the European constitutional convention, the UK Government sought an exemption for intellectual property rights?

Mr. Hutton: That is true— [Interruption.] No, it does not lead to a collapse of my argument. The important point about the treaty is that it contains essential protections that will help us to deal with restrictive practices, particularly the insistence on language requirements. The treaty contains important provisions that will advance the arguments that I am making about extending and deepening the single market.

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