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The basic principles of the NHS would therefore remain pretty much intact, as I understand it.

However, I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman to some degree. He was right to say that the Liberal Democrats were sympathetic to the Watts ruling. The question that we would ask is this: if it is right for people to buy a house, travel or exchange goods in Europe, what is wrong with their trying to pursue a higher life expectancy in countries that have better cancer treatment? Surely common sense would say that that is a reasonable expectation in an integrated market. People will do that, and as long as the basic frameworks of the NHS remain intact, I do not see anything fundamentally wrong with enlarging the concept of a single market to include health.

Frank Dobson: If someone buys a house in Europe, they are spending their own money. If someone gets NHS treatment in Europe, they are spending somebody else’s money that might have been spent in the national health service.

Dr. Cable: That is absolutely true, but the right hon. Gentleman was also questioning people’s ability to spend their own money, was he not, through co-financing? That is a much bigger debate, and I understand the
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sensitivities around it. We share a commitment to the British national health service, but we also want choice to be extended.

Finally, I shall deal with the issue on which the Conservative spokesman spent so much time: the threat to the competitive market within Europe presented by the Sarkozy approach to national champions. The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge is right to stress the current spasm of economic nationalist thinking about energy companies and so on, not just in France but in Spain and Italy and sometimes in Germany and elsewhere.

We should not be totally self-righteous about this. We have had and continue to have national champions of our own, but they take a different form. The debates that I have tried to provoke in the House on BAE Systems relate to a British national champion where politics and commerce have become rather dangerously intertwined. We should not be too pious on the matter, but the hon. Gentleman is right that there was a retreat from a commitment in the treaty to an undistorted internal market.

The objective legal position remains very much as the right hon. Member for Leicester, West said: we have exactly the set of rules governing the single market and competition policy that prevailed before. Neelie Kroes, the Dutch Liberal who presides over competition policy, has spelled out clearly where we currently stand. The protocol on the internal market and competition which was agreed at the European Council clearly repeats that competition policy is fundamental to the internal market. It retains the competition rules that have served us for 50 years, and reaffirms the European Commission’s duties as the independent Commission enforcement authority for Europe. Nothing formally has changed, although the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge is right that there is a change of mood that is potentially worrying and it is right to signal our concerns about that.

In conclusion, it has always been understood that we on the Liberal Democrat Benches are strong supporters of the European project. We are not uncritical. There are areas where we have fundamental disagreements. We have been critical of agricultural policy, particularly its protectionist features. We have been critical of the European budget and voted against it a few weeks ago. We believe that there should be more subsidiarity, including in areas of social policy, which should not be prescriptively applied at a European level. None the less, the fundamentals of the European project are sound, they are reflected in the treaty, and that is why we support it.

3.12 pm

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): The single market is central to the European Union. We know that in the 1950s the forerunner of the European Union grew out of the agreements between France and Germany for the benefit of their coal and steel industries. Fast-forwarding to the early 1990s, we eagerly anticipated the advent of the single market, with its principles of the free movement of people, goods, capital and services. Inevitably, that cannot be achieved Harry Potter-style by the wave of a magic wand on a single date. It is a process of slow evolution, and the treaty that we are debating today is one further step in that process of evolution.

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I remind the House how much we depend on the single market—3.2 million UK jobs are dependent on exports to the rest of the EU, and some £550 million-worth of goods and services are exported every day to other EU countries. Some 63 per cent. of our exported goods go to other EU countries. Without the customs union that the EU single market provides, those markets would be much more difficult to access.

The creation of the single market has cut companies’ overheads and much of the red tape, especially if one compares the difficulties of exporting to non-EU markets. It also ensures that EU countries recognise one another’s product standards. That means that UK manufacturers can save on the considerable costs involved in retesting and modifying products to meet specific standards required in non-EU countries.

One would expect more services to be marketed to people in their home countries; nevertheless, some 40 per cent of services exported by the UK go to the rest of the EU. A large amount of foreign investment from other EU countries also comes into the UK. The EU provides a better deal for consumers—we have lower prices and less red tape, we have full consumer rights when we go shopping in another EU country, and we have fairer competition.

Of course things are not always right, and there will always be details that we want to work on further. For example, we know that work is being done on roaming charges for mobile phones. We know, too, about the energy market in which there has been some liberalisation but where some aspects are still not right. One domestic problem that we have is the tremendous disparity between what a poorer household pays for electricity and what a richer household pays, based on the difference between payment for electricity on a meter and payment by direct debit. There will always be problems that we need to put right, but the structures are in place to allow a pan-European approach to resolving them.

We hear a good deal about migration. We hear about the thousands of EU migrant workers who have come to the UK and who make a valuable contribution to our economy, but we often forget about the 1.6 million Britons who are living in other parts of the EU. They go there for various reasons—for work opportunities, to travel and broaden the mind, because of family ties, or simply because they enjoy the climate. The main countries that they like to go to are France and Spain.

We may have an image of such people being rather privileged—possibly top company executives—but travelling back by boat from northern Spain on a stormy Christmas eve one year, I met numerous people who were working in Spain and coming home for Christmas. What were they doing out there? They were plumbers, painters, builders and all manner of small business people who were making a good living in another EU country. They were immensely helped by the single market in so many aspects of their working lives. Even though they encountered Spanish bureaucracy, which is a law unto itself, they were grateful for the many issues that they were able to sort out much more easily because of the single market. All together, we make 51 million journeys to other EU countries, and 21 million visitors come to the UK. Tourism is an immense source of income for us.

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People criticise EU legislation but we have benefited from it. Without legislation from Brussels, we would have to legislate about the same issues in this place, so it is a help to us and it can even out the differences and the competitive disadvantages between EU countries. We have the right to 20 days’ annual leave. Our pensioners can claim their pensions in mainland Europe. We have minimum standards of paternity and maternity leave, and equal pay and protection against discrimination in the workplace. All those important advances have been brought to us through the single market and EU structures.

Objective 1 status has been a tremendous help to us in Wales. It represents the principle of resourcing less advantaged areas that are often disadvantaged precisely because of their geographical location on the periphery of the EU, as opposed to the motor regions of France, Germany, northern Spain, northern Italy and the southern part of the UK, which are nearer the centre. Objective 1 money has provided immense benefits to Wales. For example, more than £3.2 billion of investment has been made in west Wales and the valleys in all sorts of projects, such as the techniums, which attract and nurture small businesses and provide opportunities for local people to develop their own businesses or attract investment from outside. In Llanelli the extraordinary task of clearing away a huge coastal area of derelict industrial ground, cleaning and restoring it and preparing it for new state-of-the-art factories has been possible with the use of EU funds.

I conclude with a few words from Giscard d’Estaing, who has not yet been quoted in today’s debate.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): Not today, but once or twice before.

Nia Griffith: Indeed. The hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) did not let me intervene on him in the previous debate during which that individual was mentioned. Apart from speaking about the constitution and the treaty, Giscard d’Estaing also stated clearly that

That is an important feature of the treaty: we can have our cake and eat it. We have got what we want from the negotiations. That is why I commend the treaty to the House and I will not vote for the amendment.

3.19 pm

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): We have to be very careful about being curmudgeonly about the European Union. The truth is that we are all immensely better off because we are a member of it, and the single market is the key part of that. No single market works unless justiciable responsibility is accepted; there has to be a court that makes decisions. Sometimes we do not like its decisions and sometimes we do, but the court is part of what is necessary if the thing is to work.

We have to recognise that the European Union has changed other countries significantly more than it has Britain. We always talk as if Britain has had to change. I declare an interest: I have done business in France for 40 years. That means that I know about the enormous changes that have taken place in France because of its membership of the European Union and because of the single market.

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We have the curious view that somehow or other we are a sort of victim in this. One of the reasons for that is, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) has said, that Governments of both parties have talked about “going to Europe”—as if it is somewhere else and we are not in it—and discuss it as if they always had to go there for a battle. The truth is that we go there to sit round a table and make decisions together. Historically, we could either not make such decisions or had to fight to make them.

We should be much more willing to be enthusiastic about the successes of the European Union so that we can improve it. I say to my hon. Friends on the Front Bench that they would be more credible if they showed enthusiasm for the good things and then went on to say that they would like to improve the European Union. I would like to improve it a good deal. I have to say to the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) that I do not understand his argument at all. If we exclude people from making choices in the European Union about the bits of his choosing, we will only open the gates to the protectionism of, say, the French—and exclude other things. The deal is for all of us, and all of us have to accept it.

Frank Dobson: The existing treaty and new treaty provide that there should not be a European Court of Justice intervention to overrule the protection for health care systems in respect of considerations of the internal market. My objection is that if that is in the treaty, the court should be bound by the treaty.

Mr. Gummer: I have always believed that courts have to make decisions on the facts put before them; the bits that we get are often very partial. I prefer my constituents to have more opportunities rather than fewer. For many years, I have been seeking in the House to extend them.

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Gummer: I think I should go on. I say to my hon. Friends in particular that their arguments sometimes compare the European Union with perfection, as if there were a perfect alternative. I merely suggest that although the European Union is not perfect, the alternative is very much worse. A comment was made about having 27 different sets of regulations rather than one, and that was perfectly reasonable, particularly as we are largely at fault because we have gold-plated almost every EU regulation. The recent arguments about what might have happened with Northern Rock show that the very issues raised were issues gold-plated by this Government, not by the EU itself.

My experience of environmental issues suggests that the single market has benefited us considerably and that many of our most important decisions would not have been made without the pressures of the EU. If anyone really thinks that we would have had a proper water system in this country if we had not signed up to the water directive, they do not know the history. People can certainly not argue that we could have a clean air or clean water policy, within which the single market has to operate, if there were no EU.

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We have to be a bit serious about the effect of the changes. I agree with the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable), who referred to the symbolic concession made by the British Government. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) explained what he said experts thought of the matter, but his quotation was not from experts, but from Mr. Sarkozy. That is like explaining the Iraq war by quoting Mr. Blair—we are not talking about an expert, but about someone who is parti pris. I want to look at independent sources. Mr. Sarkozy was putting forward his case, as politicians do. I would much prefer to listen to the Law Society, which clearly tells me that the change does not water anything down. It is symbolic; I think it a pity that it was made and that the Government did not argue well enough, but the fact is that fundamentally there is no change and nobody should be worried about the treaty as far as a single market is concerned.

We should recognise that if we want to change and improve the single market, that will mean Britain agreeing to do things together with others so that together we can create a more effective market. Instead of complaining about that, we ought to be out there explaining why it is worth while. It is better for my constituents that they can travel and know that there are the same standards of health and hygiene throughout the European Union. It is better for business men in my constituency to know that they can trade in the EU and that the standards are the same. Above all, it is because the EU is the world’s largest single market that it can get the terms of trade that we need in the world, and that is so important to us.

Having been president of the Agricultural Council, I have negotiated on the international trade in agricultural products. I can tell the House that the agreements were made between Europe and the United States. The other countries made speeches, but the decisions were made between the world’s two biggest trading units. Anybody who undermines Britain’s membership of the EU undermines our ability to play a proper part in the international trading arrangements on which we, of all nations in the world, depend most.

Some of my hon. Friends ask, “There’s a bigger world out there—why do we concentrate so much on Europe?” I say to them simply this: in the European Union we have a voice in the formulation of trading policies that enables us to create the conditions in which world trade is carried out.

Mr. Cash: My right hon. Friend is making a cogent case for his point of view, with which I do not agree. Given what he has said and all the advantages that he claims for this great European Union, why is the gross domestic product of European nations, in aggregate, plummeting?

Mr. Gummer: The one advantage that I have over my hon. Friend is that I am in business, have been in business and continue to be in business. He says that the GDPs of member states are plummeting; I say to him that outside the EU they would reduce significantly more. Any business man will tell him that. My hon. Friend’s theory would destroy Britain’s ability to trade within our largest trading unit and, more importantly, its ability to arrange the terms of trade in a way that was beneficial not only to the whole of Europe, but to Britain in particular.

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I would simply say to my hon. Friend that, if he wants to relegate us to the edge of the world trading system—where we would constantly have to place our future in the hands of other people and play no part in deciding how our future was regulated—then let us do what he wants. Let us make a so-called free arrangement, with none of the systems that enable us to make such decisions. I direct him to The Wall Street Journal, a newspaper that I read every morning. It said recently that it was the European Union that was laying down the terms under which trade took place, and making the decisions on the environment that were laying down the environmental terms under which people were increasingly manufacturing.

I say to my hon. Friends that we can interpret the term “social market” in two different ways. I hope that they do not really believe that competition is the only issue. No one could be a stronger supporter of competition than I, but I do not want competition that means that the Bangladeshis do not get proper payment for their work. I do not want unsafe factories to undermine British businesses. Competition must exist within a sensibly regulated market. That is what we have always believed. That is what “one nation” means. It means that we believe that competition drives the market—

Mr. Cash: Europe—one nation.

Mr. Gummer: The one nation that I was referring to, as my hon. Friend knows, was that of Disraeli, who was not talking about Europe. I am not keen on my hon. Friend trying to put into my mouth words that he knows perfectly well I have never said. I would just remind him that the one nation principle—the principle that we are together trying to raise the standards of all of us—applies more widely in the European Union, because we want standards to rise there, too.

3.30 pm

Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North) (Lab): The Lisbon treaty does not change the original single market very much. There are some technical points, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Ms Hewitt) drew our attention, about definitions in the main treaty and in the protocol, but the single market itself is not changed dramatically by anything in the treaty.

I know that, in a debate that is structured like this, Oppositions have to try to table an amendment that relates to the issue, and I know that the Opposition have tried very hard in this regard. However, they have not been very successful, except at incriminating themselves, because the only term that catches my eye in their amendment is “undistorted competition”. We have already heard exchanges on that subject between the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) and me. What we have learned from this debate—and we might learn more—is that we are beginning to understand more about the Conservatives, the single market and the European Union itself.

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