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I want to draw to the attention of the House the Commission’s response to the objections that were expressed in an early-day motion that I tabled some time ago. I do not have time to read out the whole text, but the Commission says that some stakeholders have raised concerns about the potential of cross-border health care to alter the overall choices of member states with regard to the mechanisms of control of access to health care. It goes on to say that, be that as it may, it may not be a bad thing if competition is introduced, because that may lead to the shortening of waiting lists, the increase of choice for patients and a shift from systems of distributions of health care such as the one
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in the NHS which is free at the point of delivery, to mechanisms involving such things as co-payments.

Co-payments were clearly rejected at the general election. They will no doubt be the subject of debate in future, but I hardly think it appropriate for the Commission—an unelected body—to echo the voices of the marketisers in the ECJ by saying that the UK’s health care is inappropriately distributed and that the mechanisms by which it is introduced should therefore be subject to change by what I regard as the inappropriate use of internal market principles, which have a generic application, rather than by the application of the principle that the United Kingdom Parliament should decide these matters. The way in which our health services should be distributed is a reserved matter.

That is the burden of my case. It is important for Labour voices to speak up for our national health service, and to say that it is something that we created and that we are proud of. We will fight for the principle that the distribution of health care should be done according to the principles of the forefathers and foremothers of the health service. Beyond that, however, there are major questions to be asked about the way in which the European Union is determining policy. If all the nations have agreed that health should be a reserved matter, it cannot possibly be right to adopt a policy of driving a wedge in so that the ECJ can apply other principles to that reserved matter and gain competence in that area, or for the Commission to say, “Well, the ECJ has established a principle, and we intend to build on it.” Yet that is precisely what is happening.

The purpose of my amendment is to allow us to have this debate tonight and to listen carefully to what the Minister says. I have to say that his earlier response was not entirely satisfactory, although he did go some way towards giving us some reassurance. I shall listen to any comments that he makes when he winds up the debate. I want to say to him, with all due respect, that, unless we are given clear assurances that the Commission will not be allowed to delve into health in this way, I shall seek to table an amendment at a future stage in the Bill’s proceedings, particularly on the health service.

Mr. Shepherd: I was grateful for that intervention by the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett), and I want to refer quickly to what the hon. Member for Elmet (Colin Burgon) said about accountability. The whole construct is not about accountability in any sense that this House, this country, this electorate or this people understand. No Minister will be responsible for the consequences of all these policies, including the health policy, in front of an electorate. That is what underlies this matter. We should therefore vote to ensure that this treaty is renegotiated. Some amendment has to be made to ensure that that happens; if not, there has to be a referendum.

The savagery of this guillotine is denying the House the opportunity properly to consider propositions such as the treaty’s impact on the national health service. Although I may not entirely agree with the conclusions of the hon. Member for Hemsworth, I agree with the principle that someone in this House must be accountable to the people who vote us here.

Let me turn to what my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) had to say between the pancakes of yesterday and the ashes of today. He recanted, in a
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curious way, on the single market. Twenty years ago, the great idea was that we had to have a single market. Mrs. Thatcher believed that this would open up Europe. The distinction, of course, is between a common market and a single market. I want very rapidly, in light of the time constraints and the fact that the Minister for Europe wants yet again to reprise the same arguments that we have heard for the past few days, to show wherein lies the more dynamic model. The United States, for all its sins and everything else, is a common market. The vitality of the American economy has outshone that of the European economy over the past 20 years, and it is still an enormous engine for growth. The competition between those accountable units of government enables the dynamic of capitalism, if that is what one believes in, to flourish.

We have been told that £450 billion of regulatory costs now rain down upon this structure. At the heart of all these arguments lies this question: who is accountable? We have a constitutional arrangement that means that the people of this country are sovereign in terms of the activities of this House. Within the amendment tabled by my hon. Friends, and within this group of amendments, lies the opportunity to give this Government a message about the treaty that they negotiated, despite the history. Unfortunately, the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee castigated my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) for remembering the past, but we should remember Cicero, who said that those who know nothing of the past will for ever remain a child. In a sense, this great parliamentary Chamber has collective amnesia as regards remembering to whom we are accountable and who should form our laws. A common market beats, every day, a single market as constructed by the Commission and this treaty arrangement.

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Jim Murphy): I am delighted to have the opportunity to respond to this evening’s debate on the amendments. I remind the House collectively that the structure of the debate, and in fact this afternoon’s debate, is not the structure initially proposed by the Government in their business motion but that proposed by Opposition Front Benchers in their amendment—three hours followed by three hours.

Mr. Francois: Let me nail this one now. In their amendment to the motion, the Opposition proposed 18 days of debate, and the Government turned that down. The Minister should not blame us for his bad motion.

Mr. Murphy: There are four Conservative Back Benchers here at the moment. The hon. Gentleman’s amendment to the business motion suggested one day on this issue, divided into two parts of three hours each, which is exactly what we have had today, so we are following his recommendation.

Mr. Shepherd: This is entirely nonsensical—the fancy dance before the guillotining of a constitutional motion. This debate could have had an open theme, and we would have been able to discuss the issues. Look at the home affairs debate, look at today’s debate—huge rafts of matters have been unable to be discussed properly and functionally. The line that the
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Minister is taking is to say that the repression of the House of Commons is in the best interests of the House of Commons.

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. We are now getting on to the mechanics rather than the substance of the debate.

Mr. Murphy: The only point I was making was that the framework for today’s debate has been the one set out by Opposition Front Benchers.

On the amendments that were proposed and discussed during the past three hours or so, the debate started with the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne) making his debut in our proceedings. He is a leading Liberal Democrat orange booker—or the leading orange booker. I did not know that before he rose to speak, but the House was in no doubt about it by the end of his contribution. He is a leading ideologue in the Lib Dem party on such matters. Despite that, his speech was very well informed and on occasion, where appropriate, it was remarkably self-deprecating—something that we do not hear often enough in his House.

We also heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Crawley (Laura Moffatt), for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) and for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris). On several occasions, my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley talked about the crucial need for stability in Europe and businesses in what she described as the Gatwick diamond—I have no idea where that is— [ Laughter. ] It sounds very expensive. She talked about fact that the stability that businesses in her constituency relish is offered by the European Union.

We also heard an authoritative speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty). Publicly—on television, in this House and in Select Committee hearings—we have not always seen eye to eye. We have disagreed on occasion, but the whole House respects the dogged and determined way in which he carries out his job as the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee.

The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) is now in his place, so it is appropriate to mention him. He has made his contribution on this Ash Wednesday. Unfortunately, but understandably, I had to miss mass today in order to listen to the hon. Gentleman. I have not yet decided what to give up for Lent— [ Laughter. ] Thus far, my life, because it has been lived this Chamber. The hon. Gentleman repented, on this of all days, his previous votes. I was counting: he denied himself three times during his speech. I wish to congratulate him and the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) on what, in my 11 years in Parliament, is a first—a parliamentary innovation. It is the first time I have ever heard hon. Members quote as an authoritative source in the debate none other than themselves, from their previous speeches.

Mr. Cash: In the same spirit, the Minister cannot blame us for quoting predictions we made in those days if, as far as we are concerned, they appear to have turned out to be right.

Mr. Murphy: I cannot blame the hon. Gentleman. I missed his speech the first, second, third, fourth and fifth time that he gave it, so I was delighted to hear a reprise of it this evening.

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We also had an uncharacteristic contribution from the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory). He is not here now, so perhaps I shall refer to it later. In passing, I shall just say that he had all the passion of a convert in paying penance for his role in almost single-handedly achieving parliamentary ratification of the Maastricht treaty while deputy Chief Whip. If he returns to his place later, I shall respond to him in more detail, if time allows.

The first group of amendments represents a systematic attempt by those on the Conservative Benches to undermine, in specific ways, the basic foundations of the single market—foundations that have been accepted by successive British Governments since the UK’s accession. Amendment No. 237 is a good illustration of that point. The right hon. Member for Wells celebrated the fact that every market needs rules, which of course, it does. However, that amendment would remove the principle of exclusive EU competence over competition rules for the single market.

As the House will be aware, EU competition rules are an exclusive competence. How could they be otherwise? The Lisbon treaty defines competition rules as rules that are

In other words, they are EU-wide rules. By definition, only the EU can adopt rules that apply across the EU. That is not new. Competition rules that are necessary for the functioning of the single market have always been an exclusive EU competence. It is important to note that the EU already occupies that well-established competition ground. The core competition rules are contained in articles 81 to 89 of the current treaty and their effect is carried over unchanged.

7.45 pm

Amendment No. 232 attacks the recognition in the Lisbon treaty of the fact that the single market is a shared competence between member states and the EU. It would remove the UK from the operation of the single market, which cannot work except as a shared competence. For the single market to operate effectively throughout all 27 EU member states, it is essential to manage some activities at EU level. Thanks to the shared competence, barriers have been removed throughout the single market, making free movement of goods a reality. That has brought billions of pounds of additional income to UK citizens.

Amendment No. 195 would prevent the UK from effecting the protocol on the internal market and competition. It attacks the legally binding protocol language that the UK secured to reproduce the competition wording from the current treaty, which guarantees that the legal effect is unchanged. The legal nature of a protocol has been the subject of much conversation before today, as well as in today’s proceedings. However, 17 protocols were annexed to the treaty of Maastricht. Protocol 11 was a legal guarantee that the UK was not obliged or committed to move to the third stage of economic and monetary union. That was arguably the most important item in the Maastricht treaty for the UK. Claiming that protocols matter less than treaties is therefore nonsense.

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The Lisbon treaty states:

Former Prime Minister John Major said that the protocols agreed at Maastricht would become an integral part of the treaty of Rome and have equal legal force.

Mr. Cash: We are obliged under the protocol to which the Minister refers to comply with convergence criteria and a range of other matters, which are mentioned in the Red Book that the Chancellor produces every year, and are inimical to this country running its economy. The protocol creates a framework, which, unfortunately, does us no good whatever.

Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman makes a case for the effectiveness of the protocol, not the opposite.

The majority of Conservative Back Benchers who attended this afternoon’s debate are members of the Law Society. The Law Society has made it clear that a protocol records that the EU’s internal market includes a system that ensures that competition is undistorted. It also says that that does not change the current legal position. Those views were expressed not by some foreign unaccountable entity, about which Conservative Members have spoken, but by the Law Society of England and Wales.

Conservative Members have launched regular tirades against President Sarkozy. Yet he has occasionally described the Lisbon treaty as the British treaty, because the changes that we put in place are so important.

Amendments Nos. 224, 231 and 235 would exclude the provisions in the Lisbon treaty that define a competence on common commercial policy from having an effect in UK law. The EU has had exclusive competence over common commercial policy since the treaty of Rome, and that has brought great benefits to the UK.

Four amendments seek to remove articles and declarations that relate to the reunification of Germany. No Opposition Member saw fit to speak about them, but the Opposition nevertheless tabled them. They are of limited benefit and have consequences only for Germany.

Mr. Cash rose—

Mr. Murphy: Unfortunately, I have only two minutes left and I wish to conclude.

The fact is that those amendments have consequence only in respect of Germany and German reunification, although I have no idea whether the Opposition have discussed in detail with their friend Angela Merkel whether she would wish the House of Commons to alter the treaty as it applies to Germany alone.

In the limited time that I have left, let me deal with the points that my hon. Friends raised. They raised specific points about the role of the article 133 committee, which has existed since the treaty of Rome. The committee is not a conspiracy at the heart of the European Union, but my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Colin Burgon) raised some important points about European trade policy and the way trade negotiations are conducted. Decisions are ultimately taken not by the committee but by the Council of Ministers. However, my hon. Friend’s point is important: we have to have more detailed discussion, and on occasion perhaps even scrutiny of
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the workings of that committee or other relevant committees, undertaken by this House and the European Parliament in particular, which has an increased role.

My hon. Friends also raised the issue of health, but were fair enough to acknowledge that the consolidated text makes the matter absolutely clear:

Public health was the important point in that text. The consolidated treaty continues:

Jon Trickett: Will my hon. Friend therefore agree to veto any Commission directive of the kind that we have seen, should it re-emerge?

Mr. Murphy: There is currently no proposal on the table, but we will look at the detail of any Commission proposal, and that issue will rightly be discussed in the House. I cannot be invited to veto a proposal that does not yet exist, but the text in the Lisbon treaty is very clear and strengthens the language about the autonomy and authority of member states in respect of their health services.

The hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) rightly wants to respond, so to conclude, the amendments in the group would remove the protocol on competition and the provisions on self-employment, EU trade policy and intellectual property, the removal of which, in turn and cumulatively, would undermine the provisions of the single market. I invite my hon. Friends to oppose the amendment.

Mr. Francois: Following your instructions, Mrs. Heal, we will not reprise the debate about the business motion, but I cannot help but observe that yet again, three groups of amendments have not been touched at all. We therefore did not get a chance to discuss social policies, intellectual property, or economic and monetary policy. Again, this is not the line-by-line scrutiny that the Prime Minister promised the House.

The Government have prayed in aid some businesses in defence of their position. I remind the Minister that the Institute of Directors pointed out the strong similarities between the EU constitution and the treaty of Lisbon, and that 90 per cent. of members of the Federation of Small Businesses, which was polled internally because of concerns about the business implications of the treaty, said that they wanted to have a referendum. I put that to all on the Government Benches and to the Liberal Democrats.

The Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, who was polite to me, said that we needed the changes in the treaty to promote the single market, but he made a mistake. He said that the Commission had undertaken infraction proceedings against a French utility to break up a monopoly. He is right, but the Commission is doing so under the existing treaty base, so Lisbon is not necessary for that. I need to correct the hon. Gentleman on that.

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