Previous Section Index Home Page

Rob Marris: May I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he and I would draw completely opposite conclusions from the research to which he has referred? My conclusion is that the current European Union framework relating to competition and the knowledge-based economy mentioned at the Lisbon 2000 Council has not worked, so we need to change things. The difference between us is that he would change them by what I would regard as the somewhat protectionist domestication of this stuff, whereas I would do it through the EU reform treaty. We agree that we need change; it is simply a question of what change we need.
6 Feb 2008 : Column 1059

Mr. Harper: I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can have been paying attention. I was not talking about a British Government legislating domestically in a protectionist direction; I was talking about moving in a pro-competitive direction and setting the bar higher, so as to set a powerful example for other European countries to follow.

I want to touch briefly on trade matters, and to remind Members that we do not have a trade policy any more, because such policy is now effectively governed by the European Union. We rely on influencing the single Trade Commissioner, Peter Mandelson, to make good agreements on our behalf. Using that model, however, the evidence is that some of the recent agreements have not been particularly successful. We all remember the agreements of a few years ago on textiles and shoes. They were protectionist in nature, so as to protect some of the southern European countries, and they damaged poorer countries in the third world. We should be giving those countries a leg up by trading with them, yet our agreements actually put poorer workers there out of work.

Those were very protectionist measures, and I do not want to see that kind of thing in the competitive field. I want the British Government to be pro-competitive, and I would like to see a bit more of that ability on the trade side. I want us to set a good example. That is why I support the amendments tabled by my hon. Friends, and why I do not support the Government’s approach.

Colin Burgon (Elmet) (Lab): As ever, Mrs. Heal, I hang on your every word. You have told us to be precise and to the point, so I shall try to do that. I know that many other Members wish to speak.

I rise to speak to amendment No. 224, which has been tabled in my name and those of other enlightened colleagues. It might appear to be a technical amendment, but I would argue that it goes to the very heart of the debate that many of us have wanted to have during the passage of the Bill. We are essentially arguing for a social Europe, rather than a neo-liberal Europe.

The amendment deals with a provision in article 2, paragraph 158 of the Lisbon treaty, which replaces the old article 133 establishing the common commercial policy. That part of the treaty forms the underpinning for the single market. The new article 188 includes the existing provision for a special committee appointed by the Council to advise the Commission when negotiating trade agreements. No doubt hon. Members are thinking that this sounds a bit boring and bureaucratic, but it is a tremendously exciting subject—they should not be put off by the anaesthetising language that usually emanates from Europe. I can already sense the vibration going round the Chamber.

6.15 pm

The so-called article 133 committee, perhaps to be known as the article 188 committee if the Bill is passed, is one of the most serious concerns among the international development non-governmental organisations. Ministers have constantly cited those NGOs when praying in aid their support for a few of the treaty provisions in the development aid sections of the treaty, although I think that they have somewhat over-egged the pudding. Either way, the Trade Justice Movement, representing all the major NGOs and trade unions and including the TUC,
6 Feb 2008 : Column 1060
has this afternoon issued a new statement on the treaty outlining its broad concerns about the trade sections of the Bill, in particular its objection to the operation of the article 133 committee. It is fair to say that the Trade Justice Movement supports the thrust of my amendment, and I hope that the Minister will take it as seriously now as the Foreign Secretary did when he mentioned it in support of his arguments on Second Reading. Its concern is that the European Union’s role in international trade is perhaps the biggest single force behind global neo-liberalism. At the same time, international trade is also perhaps the biggest single role of the EU.

However, that transfer of power to the EU has not been accompanied by a comparable increase in transparency, democracy or accountability, especially not to this Parliament. Indeed, Commissioner Mandelson—I nearly called him Comrade Mandelson—is now one of the world’s most powerful bureaucrats, and he will be even more so once this treaty is passed with the provisions for exclusive competence on trade. At this stage, I will resist a launch into a critique of neo-liberalism and move swiftly on. One influence that member states do still have over Commissioner Mandelson is through our representation on the article 133 committee, yet that committee is even less democratically accountable to us than even other EU institutions.

Most Members will be aware of the role of the article 133 committee, but in case one or two do not, I will summarise it. It scrutinises, amends and approves Commission proposals for EU negotiating mandates on trade arrangements. Its members attend the international negotiations as part of the EU delegation, and they are usually the largest single delegation at World Trade Organisation talks. Indeed, I believe that 800 EU representatives attended the last WTO talks, which demonstrates the EU’s sheer power in the WTO. The committee agrees EU position papers in principle which are, as I understand it—the Minister will put me right if I am not correct—passed for formal approval, first, by the Committee of Permanent Representatives, which again comprises unelected bureaucrats, and then by the Council, where they finally reach elected Ministers representing our national Governments. However, approval usually comes at what is called in Euro-jargon an A point, which means that the policies are endorsed without discussion.

Over the years, more and more issues have become settled by the article 133 committee, and Ministers rarely debate EU negotiating mandates at the political level. Nor do we have any power in this Parliament to mandate the Minister, let alone officials. We cannot even find out how people voted, because the committee does not seem to take formal votes. It seems very hard to get information about the committee. I understand that we are represented on it, but we still cannot find out the necessary information. It deliberates in secret and publishes neither agenda nor minutes, and records of how decisions are taken are not made available to the public.

It is true that copies of outcomes of meetings can be requested by members of the public, but they take several weeks to arrive and are so heavily censored as to be meaningless. For example, about two thirds of the text is often deleted, and all references to the positions taken by participants are simply blacked out. It is therefore impossible to hold our Government to account for the positions that they take in our name.

6 Feb 2008 : Column 1061

Rob Marris: Perhaps I have misunderstood my hon. Friend’s amendment. The situation as regards the article 133 committee is worrying, but his amendment would remove from the treaty provisions that would make the special committee more accountable. Article 207 in the consolidated texts of the treaties says:

that is the bit my hon. Friend wishes to remove—

Would his amendment not remove the accountability that he feels is currently lacking?

Colin Burgon: In many respects, my amendment is a tactical response to drag into the public domain one of the key issues that we should be facing, and the very fact that we are discussing these matters means that we have achieved that.

People may say, “Let’s use the EU’s freedom of information legislation to find out about the 133 committee.” A group of Irish parliamentarians recently made 32 written requests, submitted under the legislation, to find out about the article 133 committee and the Irish representatives on it. However, 31 of those requests were refused.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Colin Burgon: No, I am just drawing to a close.

I am minded at this stage not to press my amendment to a Division—[Hon. Members: “Oh no!”] Members should not tempt me. First, I want to hear the Minister’s opinion on these questions. Secondly, how can he assist us in opening up EU trade policy? Can he promise that the crucial information in question will be laid before the House? Will we be told who represents us on the committee, what their mandate is, what positions they will argue for and how they have voted? Will he guarantee to lay before the House the outcomes of the meetings and other relevant documents?

To be helpful, I shall not press my amendment to a vote, but we should revisit the matter because it is really important. The Minister may not agree with me on a wide range of issues, but I hope that I will get some response to some of the points that I have raised.

Mr. Cash: Today is Ash Wednesday, which is the day on which we ought to repent. I went to a service this morning in Westminster cathedral. I am going to repent the mistake that I made in 1986 of voting for the Single European Act. It was then called the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, which is not unlike the name of the Bill we are debating, except we are talking not about European Communities but about the European Union. I want to put that on the record because my hon. Friend—my dear friend—the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who voted against that Act, knows what it means for me to say what I say now.

I shall say one other thing, however. I tabled an amendment to that 1986 Bill that stipulated that nothing in the Act should derogate from the sovereignty of the
6 Feb 2008 : Column 1062
United Kingdom Parliament. As I was going through the Lobby, a certain other person came to join me—the predecessor of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), who has intervened a lot in this debate. It was Mr. Enoch Powell, and he said to me, “I have put my name to your amendment.” And those two names stood there on the Order Paper, completely alone on the sovereignty of this Parliament with regard to the 1986 legislation.

On 23 April 1986, I made several points about the internal market. I said that I had

I also pointed out—to pick up the points of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory)—that the CBI and other trade organisations should make proper representations. In the internal market, it is essential that representations are properly made so that we can respond on matters such as exclusive competence, shared competence and so on—the subject matter of the amendments.

At that time, I spoke after the then Minister for Trade. I said that we must put our British interests first. I emphasised:

I believe that that remains the case. In my short speech, I also mentioned that I had recently served on the Financial Services Bill Standing Committee, in which all the issues that crop up in the group of amendments arose. I said that

I said that, in all such matters—

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. With that amount of knowledge, perhaps the hon. Gentleman could address his remarks to the amendments.

Mr. Cash: I am simply making the point—I am not trying to avoid the ruling—that, ultimately, I had to say:

which are inherent in the problems of exclusive and shared competence that we are considering today. I continued:

By Parliament, I meant this Parliament. I simply wanted to get that point on the record.

I repent because it has become abundantly clear from all our debates in the past few days that the European Court of Justice and our inability to invade the acquis communautaire, unless we have a “notwithstanding” formula, will prevent us from achieving our objectives.

The Lisbon agenda has been mentioned several times and I especially commend the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper), who enlarged the debate to encompass subjects that matter. The internalisation of the market is in the
6 Feb 2008 : Column 1063
framework of the current proposals. We are dealing with an internal market but also with protectionism within it. There have been several exchanges about Mr. Sarkozy’s comments. Our main objectives should be to look outwards, as my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean said, to a globalised economy, as I attempted to predict—I believe correctly—some 20 years ago in 1986. I believed that the single market was intended to operate in that way. It has not worked in that way. Indeed, it has internalised, not externalised and it has therefore failed. That is why the Lisbon agenda has failed.

The Minister for Europe is not personally responsible for the documents that relate to the Lisbon agenda, which were submitted to the European Scrutiny Committee in January. However, he is representing the Government and I simply want to repeat the European Scrutiny Committee’s comments about those documents. We were given an analysis and I am sorry to say that we had to be critical of the Government’s response to them. In a nutshell, we said that the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury could not justify the report that she gave. That related to the entire Lisbon agenda and every single matter dealing with competition policy and the re-launching of all the initiatives that had failed since 2000, in respect of which Will Hutton, the rapporteur and an extremely distinguished economist, made some critical comments to the European Reform Forum, which I helped to initiate.

We in the Committee said that the degree of explanation in the

The Committee asked the Exchequer Secretary to ensure that the documents would explain things properly in the future, and so on. I mention that because it is made clear in the documents that those who run the European Community are aware of a thing called reform fatigue. There is a reluctance to tackle issues that require reform, and we are not getting the reform required.

Let me turn to the question of exclusive competence—I shall deal with shared competence in a minute. The article in question—article 2B—concerns the enhanced approach through which the Union will grab and maintain new areas of exclusive competence. In particular, it will dictate competition rules. We heard an interesting speech from the erstwhile temporary leader of the Liberal Democrats, the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable), but as I pointed out to him, he missed the main point. Although he explained the layer upon layer of development of the internal market, the reality is that we have reached an apex and have to retrieve the situation in order to prevent the over-regulation that is literally destroying British business and European business, too.

6.30 pm

In fact, the leviathan has engulfed the European single market. That is the problem, and it cannot be changed except by invading those regulations and the acquis communautaire, and by ensuring that we reform all the regulations—

6 Feb 2008 : Column 1064

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con) rose—

Mr. Cash: My right hon. Friend will have to restrain himself for just one second. I know that he does not agree with me, but that does not bother me one jot.

The reality is that the £450 billion of over-regulation described by Mr. Verheugen, who is the commissioner responsible, speaks for itself. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) correctly pointed out, if we evaluate the cost-benefit of the European Union—that is, assess the amount claimed as benefits of the Union against the actual costs described by Mr. Verheugen—the answer is that the European Union is not functioning as it was claimed when I voted for the Single European Act in 1986. However, I am delighted to give way to my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), because I know that he will attempt to disagree with me.

Mr. Gummer: I was present at exactly the same service as my hon. Friend this morning, but I am not saying that I was guilty of voting in the way that I did, either at that time or since. Indeed, I have been consistent. However, as a business man working over the whole of Europe and advising large numbers of international companies working in Europe, I have to tell him that the picture of the European Union that he has given is totally foreign to anyone who does the job. It is about time that people talking about business in the House showed that they knew about it and did it, rather than making the sort of comment that one can make only if one has no knowledge of how business actually works.

Mr. Cash: I am delighted that my right hon. Friend has said that. As it happens, for 20 years before I became a Member of this House I was advising many, if not most, of the biggest companies in the UK on the whole question of the impact of legislation. I have also written many articles on the manner in which business, as I mentioned in a speech in 1986, has failed to concentrate on getting the European regulatory system right. That is why I was so cross—as was my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells—when Lord Jones as he now is came as Digby Jones to the European Scrutiny Committee and had the brass neck to say that we were not doing our job properly, when the CBI under his director-generalship had actually made no representations to us at all. My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal should therefore be more careful about the amount of experience to which he alludes.

Mr. Bone: Speaking as someone who ran a manufacturing plc, which exported all over the world, including to Europe, I have to say that I recognise the analysis of my hon. Friend, not that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer).

Mr. Cash: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but in a spirit of amity with my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal, who I find to be a most engaging person, and because he went to church this morning—even though he did not repent—let me say how glad I am to move back to the issue of exclusive competence. If we carried on any further with our current topic of debate, I suspect that the Chairman might well intervene and encourage us to return to the issue of exclusive competence.

Next Section Index Home Page