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6 Feb 2008 : Column 1014

The main thing that we are beginning to learn is that the Conservative party today does not understand what is on offer. I exempt from that observation the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), who made his position very clear. I agreed with almost everything that he said about a modern Britain in a modern European context. The rest of the Conservatives who have tried to take part in the debate have, however, failed to be precise about what they actually stand for.

The right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) seemed to want no regulation at all in the European Union, and to send the kids back up the chimneys. He seemed to want a kind of pre-mercantile anarchic capitalism, if there is such a thing. I know that some members of the Conservative party want a customs union, and some of them might want a common market. I have to say to them, however, that none of those things is on offer. When the Conservatives talk to British business and British work people about what is on offer, there is no point in talking about pre-mercantilism, anarchic capitalism or customs unions, because they do not apply.

What is on offer is a single market and a social market. We cannot have just a single market. I think that most Members on both sides of the House want a single market, but, if that is what we want, we also have to agree that there is a social market. The Conservative party—although not all Conservative party members—are now pretty much isolated in the whole of Europe. Apparently, it has only one ally, which is some right-wing fringe party in the Czech Republic. That is the only party with which the Conservative party is prepared to sit down and talk about common positions before entering into negotiations in the European Union.

Some Conservative Members have been here before. I see the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), who has been in the European Union and knows how negotiations take place. One cannot build alliances only with fringe parties in the Czech Republic if one is going to represent British business—

Mr. Francois: The party to which the hon. Gentleman is referring is the ODS, which is the party of Government in the Czech Republic. Is he saying that the Czech Government are a fringe party?

Mr. Henderson: If the hon. Gentleman is accurate, it is one of the coalition parties in the Government, and it is considered to be a relatively fringe party. That is the view that I have picked up, and I am sure that it would be confirmed by anyone else in the European Union. It is not akin to a main conservative party in Germany, France or suchlike.

Mr. Hendrick: I support what my hon. Friend is saying. The ODS is a fairly new, right-wing party. Does not that show the degree to which the Conservative party is going off the rails? The main conservative parties across Europe—the Christian Democratic family—accept the economic dimension of the single market, the social dimension that the European Union now has, and the political dimension that has come with the development of the European institutions.

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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Before the hon. Gentleman responds to that intervention, may I say that although we have a time limit of eight minutes on Back-Bench speeches, an awful lot of Members are still trying to catch my eye and it would be helpful if any hon. Members feel that they can take less than their allotted time.

Mr. Henderson: I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This hon. Member will feel able to take less than his allotted time.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick). The tragedy for the Conservative party’s relationship with British business is that British business knows that the party is off the rails but does not know where or how it is off the rails. The Conservative party cannot face up to the realities of modern-day participation in Europe, as British business has to. British business and the people who work for it have to face up to the realities. Would Nissan in Sunderland, or Sanofi Aventis or Nestlé in my constituency in Newcastle, have any trust in a Conservative Government with such an unclear and, where it is clear, negative policy towards Europe? When there are issues that matter to them—in Nestlé’s case, the sugar agreement negotiated by the European Union—they want to know that the British Government can sit down cogently with other Governments and other parties throughout Europe to find a negotiated solution that is sensible for Europe and sensible for British interests? If companies such as those were considering investing in Britain, before doing so they would think about it very seriously were there a Conservative Government with a policy as unclear and as negative as that of the current Conservative Opposition.

All those things are very damaging, not only for the Conservative party but for British industry. One thinks back to the days of Macmillan and Heath. In Heath’s time, I used to attack the Conservative party for being too close to British business. It is miles away from British business now, with no comprehension of what is entailed in trying to build a product, trade within Europe and seek investment from Europe.

Michael Connarty rose—

Mr. Henderson: I am not taking any more interventions, as I promised Mr. Deputy Speaker that I shall not take my full time.

In the short term, it is crazy to believe in a competitive economy and not to accept the fairly modest changes in the Lisbon treaty to extend liberalisation through qualified majority voting in the energy markets—that is vital for the companies that I mentioned but also for everyone else—in telecommunications, where Britain has a fairly strong role and it would definitely be in our interests, and in financial markets and services. In the long term, were I speaking on behalf of British business generally—I am speaking only on behalf of businesses in my constituency—I would worry that a major political party in Britain has such a low commitment to the European Union that it puts at risk all the benefits that were mentioned by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal and which are available from the single market.

All those companies and all the people who trade in Europe recognise that by any sort of definition of a civilised industrial scene, it is not possible to have a
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single market without a social market. Both are taken together, and then we look for reform. It is important to reform them both so that they both work effectively.

3.39 pm

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson). I do not agree with everything he said, but he is extremely well informed about this subject. It is also a pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), with whom I am in complete agreement on these matters. It has been a strange debate because, as the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North illustrated and implied, we have had a general debate about the single market and its history, rather than line-by-line consideration of the changes that the Bill makes, which is what we were promised.

There is another reason why this debate has been strange. Perhaps we should rename it the Lady Thatcher debate, because her achievements in introducing the Single European Act and the single market have been lauded throughout the House. There is now a consensus. Thinking back, I cannot remember Lady Thatcher being decked with garlands of praise by the then Opposition. Labour and Liberal Democrat Members might be provocative in the debate, but I have quotes of what they said at the time. I will not use them because I do not want to disturb—[Hon. Members: “Go on!”] A good précis would be that she got it all wrong and that Britain was isolated in Europe. Suffice it to say that I would rather have Mrs. Thatcher negotiating for me on the rebate when she is isolated, than certain other leaders with plenty of allies.

The hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) is right when he says that the single market has been at the heart of public perception of the European Union in the UK. As he rightly reminded us, that goes back to the referendum of 1975, when being part of the trade bloc was the first of the three main reasons that the Government of the day gave for saying yes. The other two reasons were a guarantee of secure supplies of food and getting more European Community money spent in Britain. In view of the subsequent history of the common agricultural policy—about the only European matter with which the Liberal Democrats would now disagree—and the tangled history of the UK contribution to the budget, perhaps it is best to draw a veil over both those issues.

To the credit of the Government of 1975—a Government who had some impressive and significant figures, and some very good parliamentarians—they were clearly worried about the impact of the European Union on this House. A large section of the explanatory document that they issued was entitled, “Will Parliament lose its power?” The electorate of the day were told:

That solemn safeguard has long since fallen by the wayside.

Mr. Simon: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clappison: I will later, if I get time.

Mr. Simon: Will he give way on that point?

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Mr. Clappison: All right, very briefly.

Mr. Simon: The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Single European Act and the Maastricht treaty in glowing terms, but did not those treaties bring about the two greatest—by a massive margin—extensions of qualified majority voting?

Mr. Clappison: It would have been better if the hon. Gentleman had waited until the end of my speech. I shall give way to him once he has heard my whole argument.

We now see a consensus on the Single European Act. That Act did indeed establish qualified majority voting to complete the market, but the problem is—and it is also a problem for the hon. Gentleman—that it did not stop there, as far as the European Union was concerned. We now see, particularly in this treaty, an extension of qualified majority voting into fields far beyond the single market. I asked the Secretary of State what proportion of our law came from the EU, and he did not know. I am not sure that he would know how much of our law is determined by qualified majority voting either. The ink was barely dry on the Single European Act when the process began that led to the treaty of Maastricht, to which the hon. Gentleman also alluded, and the Conservative Government of the day, very much to their credit, negotiated to put in place the safeguard of a pillar structure. The ink was barely dry on the treaty when the European institutions moved to new ground and set about collapsing the pillars.

We moved on—this is the real answer to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon)—to the European area of justice, freedom and security, more developments in the common European foreign and security policy, and developments that we were told might lead to common European defence. We then came to the long list of policy areas that the treaty contains. The right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) gave a good example. He complained that the health service would not be the sole responsibility of the House and was worried about the influence of US health corporations.

Whatever our view of the Single European Act, we must ask whether it was the genuine aim of the European Union or simply a tool to accomplish other, different objectives. That is a live debate in Europe—perhaps it should be heard more in this country.

The outcome of the negotiations on the treaty provided one answer to that debate. After the French no, the Government experienced the humiliation of “competition... free and undistorted” being removed from the list of the objectives at the beginning and put into the protocol at the back.

The Government are trying to get round that political humiliation with an argument based on legal technicalities about the effect of law in the protocols and law in the body of treaty. The objective was moved expressly and deliberately through the intervention of the French Government. It was at the beginning of the treaty and would have determined the shape of the EU
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and the shape of things to come. Our Government’s negotiations on that failed and we suffered the humiliation, which has been trumpeted in France and many other parts of the EU, that free and undistorted competition is not the EU’s objective. Whatever the legal force of the Government’s achievement, it is not the same as having competition as an objective.

Time and again, the Government return to the House from negotiations and try to put a brave face on their defeats. They have had to accept provisions that they opposed and subsequently performed contortions, with Ministers describing them in the House as a great step forward and good for the country while simultaneously introducing proposals to ensure that they would not apply here.

Historians will have an interesting time investigating the background of and motivation for the UK negotiating position last June and earlier, when the rebate was lost. My hon. Friends talk of incompetence and it may be part of the historians’ remit to investigate that. However, such failure is partly inherent in the UK’s relationship with the supranational authority of the EU.

It is a shame that Ministers cannot admit the truth to the House: sometimes, because of the nature of the institution, they cannot get their way in negotiations and they have not been able to secure what they and this country’s electorate would have preferred. We must therefore be careful and jealous of the power of the House. We must be careful about the matters for which we permit the EU to exercise power over our electorate.

Power is either exercised here, where we are accountable to our constituents and Governments are accountable to the people, or it is not. In the latter case, it is exercised elsewhere and the relevant authority is not so accountable. We sometimes pretend that, in the history of our relationship with the EU, there is some huge, underground storage facility beneath the House, containing unexercised and undistributed power.

I reiterate that power is exercised either here or in Europe, by a supranational authority, over which we have limited ability to shape what takes place. Of course, we go to the limit of that ability, but it is not the same as national parliamentary accountability. That is the shame of our current proceedings, which are a travesty. We have been denied line-by-line consideration of the treaty. There could be no more compelling evidence of the way in which power has passed from the House and the House has been degraded. That is to the House’s discredit.


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I now have to announce the result of the Division deferred from the previous day.

On the draft Wiltshire (Structural Change) Order 2008, the Ayes were 269, the Noes were 158, so the motion was agreed to.

[The Division Lists are published at the end of today’s debates.]

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Treaty of Lisbon (No. 4)

Question again proposed .

3.49 pm

Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) (Lab): I am grateful to follow the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), who made a sound and strong speech.

We have heard some great names thrown around the Chamber, such as Mr. Giscard d’Estaing, President Sarkozy and Baroness Thatcher; indeed, we have even gone as far back as the rebate, which she negotiated after 1979. However, I should point out to the hon. Gentleman that it was Jim Callaghan who first raised the rebate when he was Prime Minister in 1978. It was not Lady Thatcher alone who secured it; rather, it was already a Government policy to get some rebate back.

There is a paradox in the Conservatives’ policy on Europe. The one thing that they should support is the single market, because a free trade area is what they essentially believe in, yet they walk away from it. The hon. Member for Hertsmere touched on that when he talked about supranationality, but I should remind him that from 1957 the goal of the European Union, as it now is, has been ever closer union. The Union is a political space, an economic space and a geographic space—it is all three, together as one. Today we are debating the economic space proposed by the Lisbon treaty and the essence of the Common Market, or the single or internal market, as it is now called.

We have, rightly, been given quite some time to deal with the motion, to which the amendment standing in the name of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) has been moved. We have heard interventions from the hon. Members for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) and for Hertsmere and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Ms Hewitt), as well as a speech by the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond). It is as well that we use this time to lay to rest the issue of the protocol—that is, the idea that we moved away from having undistorted competition in the new amending treaty.

It is a surprise that the Conservatives complained about the constitutional treaty—they say that it is not defunct, but what we are dealing with now—because the phrase “free and undistorted competition” was in fact contained in article 3 of the now defunct treaty. When the constitutional treaty was abandoned, so was that article. The protocol is indeed legally binding, as my right hon. Friend said last week, quoting the Law Society. The internal market, as set out in article 2 of the treaty on European Union, includes a system ensuring that competition is not distorted. We can go as far back as the European Coal and Steel Community or the treaty of Rome, whose essence was the idea that the great nation states of Europe would never fight again, because trade would prevent them.

Mr. Lilley: The hon. Gentleman is saying that the Lisbon treaty is somewhat worse than the original constitution, on which he promised his constituents a referendum. How can he, as a man of integrity whom I greatly respect, justify not fulfilling his promise when he is now offering them something even worse?

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Sir Stuart Bell: I have the same respect for the right hon. Gentleman, as he will know. We go back a long way and I always congratulate him on his Europeanism, with his house in France. It is very nice of him to be so European and to have a domicile in France as well as one here.

I shall not try to quote Shakespeare again—you did not want me to do so last week, Mr. Deputy Speaker—but there are so many arguments that could be made on the Single European Act and the single market, yet they are not made, even by the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge or the right hon. Gentleman. However, I would like what we mean when we talk about this legally binding protocol to be put on the record at least once, properly and coherently, because there are those in this country who follow our debates in Hansard. The former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said:

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