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We must now accept that that botched reform is over and we need to try something entirely different. There is
another Europe trying to get outa Europe of co-operation
and joint working. It is quite wrong to suppose that the EU is the only way that Europe can work together. I am an internationalist. I believe in the fullest measure of international co-operation to tackle common problems not just with our European neighbours, but with the rest of the world. I am not a narrow-minded little Englander or nationalist. I will leave the little European attitude to those who believe that the EU has a monopoly of international co-operation in Europe.
During the passage of the Lisbon treaty Bill through the House, the Government were fond of pretending that the treaty was all about tackling climate change. There are only six words about climate change in that treaty. All the measures now being taken on climate change are being taken on the basis of the existing treaty, and I happen to believe that a lot of that is quite damaging. The absurdly unrealistic target on renewable energy will create fuel poverty in this country, because we have discovered a way to transfer money from poor people in towns, who are having their fuel bills increased, to quite well-off farmers who are having wind farms put up on their land. That is all given momentum by European directives. I also believe that we are making an error on biofuels.
I do not think that the EU is wise on those matters, but the point is that any co-operation that we need to undertake can be done under existing treaty powers. The same is true of enlargement. One of the lies we were told during the Convention process was that the European constitution was essential for enlargement to take place. I was accused of being against enlargement because I was against the European constitution. We were told that Europe faced paralysis and that it was quite impossible for Europe to get any larger and accept new members under the existing treaty powers, but we then had two large waves of enlargement and there has certainly been no paralysis.
Today, the European Scrutiny Committee met. I am a member of that Committee. Thanks to the usual genius of the House authorities, all the foreign affairs and European Committees meet on the very day that we debate Europe, so we cannot attend. However, I can tell the House that the European Scrutiny Committee would have looked atand probably did look at, if it had a quorum42 new measures, proposals, and draft directives and regulations from the EU. That is not paralysis. We could do with a bit of paralysis, actually. It might slow down the rate of European legislation. The fantasy that was peddled to us all as fact, which was that we somehow needed all the institutional changes in order to admit new members, has been shown up.
We need to get away from the old top-down, regulatory, legalistic EU. The EU is fantastically old-fashioned. No other trade bloc in the world has followed the EU model. I was interested in the reform plan advanced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind). It is exactly that kind of creative thinking that the EU now needs. His idea is for a flexible EU in which countries can opt in and out of specific measures in accordance with their national interest and the priorities of their Governments and electorates. That might be a way forward, but I personally am cautious about assigning a core area of responsibility, because that would prompt a number of important questions.
For instance, I believe that my right hon. and learned Friend said that it was essential to retain the single market. I am not so sure. I am a free marketeer. I believe in the free exchange of goods, services and capital. I believe in free trade as one of the great dynamic enrichments of the modern world, but the single market in the EU has become an excuse not for free trade but for over-regulation. Indeed, the single market articles in the existing treatyarticles 94 and 95have been used to expand the EUs jurisdiction into areas such as health in ways that were not foreseen by those who were trying to promote free trade. Again, the customs union model that has been followed by the EU has not been replicated elsewhere.
I am ashamed that this country does not have a trade policy that might do much to conquer or alleviate world poverty. It is illegal for this country to make trade reduction agreements with poor countries. It has not been illegal for North American Free Trade Agreement members to do that, but it is in Europe because we have a customs union so all our trade negotiations must take place in Brussels via the European Commission. The unique structure that we have created and called the single market, which has its own rules and over-regulation, is a model that we need to re-examine. I would certainly prefer a free trade agreement in Europe to the existing free market.
Mr. Jenkin: Not only does the imposition of the economic partnership agreements on some of the poorest countries in the world guarantee to make them poorer and less advantaged than they are under the existing trading arrangements, but we also lose influence by pooling our trade negotiations with the EU. Norway and Iceland have more influence directly over the world trade negotiations than we do, because we have to agree our position in advance with France, Germany and all the other member states. Is that not an example of how an international institution can add up to less than the sum of its parts, so that Europe as a whole has less influence and less of a voice than if we were negotiating severally, and perhaps in co-operation, rather than through one institution?
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I agree with what my hon. Friend has said about trade. It is disgraceful that the fifth biggest economy in the world does not have its own trade policy, when we could be an influence for good. I also agree that if we were nationally represented at some of the meetings, we might have more direct influence. In fact, the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), who was the British Governments representative on the Convention on the Future of Europe, said at the Convention, countering the idea of a single UN voice for Europe, that he could not see why one voice attempting to represent all members was somehow better than having 15 country voices at such international negotiations. I agreed with him, but the Government gave way on that, as on so much else.
We need some fresh and creative thinking. We need to return to Laeken. If the Government picked this up, they would be in the lead. What we need is a different, democratic European Union, and if Ministers argue for that at the weekend, they will be speaking not only for us but for the Irish people.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): It is always a pleasure to speak after the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) in a debate on European affairs just before a European summit meeting. I know that he has been following my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) around Europe on this subject for many years. I was surprised that he did not show his delight at the Irish referendum result even more than he did: in fact, I am surprised that both he and my hon. Friend did not simply say I told you so and sit down. As the result was exactly what they had predicted, they must take great joy in the news. I do not, and I shall explain why.
This is the usual debate before a European summit meeting, involving the usual suspects. I was very impressed by the Foreign Secretarys speech: I thought that he spoke extremely well. In only 10 days he will celebrate the end of his first year as Foreign Secretary. He has the second best job in the Governmentafter, of course, the job of Minister for Europe, held with such distinction by the right hon. Member for Wells on the Opposition Benches and by my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr. Murphy) in the Government.
The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) also made his usual speech. It included some cracking jokes, but I had hoped that the biographer of Pitt the Younger would try to be more of a statesman than a comedian. It would be nice during one of these debates to hear something of substance from the right hon. Gentleman, who I know has a pretty large intellect and has made many contributions to debates on Europe outside the House, but who somehow fails to put that across on occasions such as this.
How wonderful, though, to hear the former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), deliver his heavyweight speech on what Europe is really all about. The right hon. Member for Wells thought that he was directing his comments at the House, but I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was primarily directing his comments at the Conservative Front Bench. He expressed the viewwith which, obviously, I disagreethat the Conservative party was on its way to government, and said that it was therefore important to think deeply about the European issue rather than to oppose for the sake of opposing. His comments will be well worth reading in Hansard, because they illustrate the importance of a substantial debate on the European Unionwhich, sadly, the House never has, partly because some event always overtakes us, such as the result of the Irish referendum.
I think that the Governments position on the Irish referendum is absolutely right. It must be up to the Irish people to decide what is in their best interests. They have elected a Government, who will make their position very clear this weekend at the summit in Brussels. That is the right time, and the right opportunity, to find out exactly where the Irish Governments policy on the issue is going.
Of course the wishes of the Irish people cannot be ignored. It is important for us to be able to test public opinion on the wider European issue, but specifically, as the Irish have decided to do, on this particular issue. The result has to be respected, and it is now up to the
Irish Government to decide how to proceed. It would be complete madness to stop the ratification of the treaty in the House. How and why should a result in Ireland halt democratic processes in the British House of Commons and House of Lords?
weve got everything to gain by an open debate, to assure the public that Parliamentary powers are being respected in this matter...Its absolutely right that that should be discussed and thrashed out in the House of Commons which is ultimately the guardian of our liberties.
Mr. Shepherd: I do not quite understand why it would be outrageous not to proceed with ratification here, given that after the decisions of the French and Dutch, such action was, to use the right hon. Gentlemans words, an absolutely sensible course. Surely he is just a man for all seasons.
Keith Vaz: I did not say that after the French and Dutch referendums. We have chosen a course of action on ratification, and other countries will choose what they wish to do. As the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea said, it is up to countries to decide what is best for them, but this process is best for us. There cannot be a situation in which everything stops until each of the 27 countries has taken its decision in turn, because that would paralyse the operation of the European Union.
Mr. Shepherd: The right hon. Gentleman misunderstands me. The fact is that, after the French referendum, although some countries had ratified but others had not, ratification proceedings were stopped across Europe while a way forward was sought. He proposes that continuing with ratification is now more appropriate. As he knows, there is a fearis it not genuine?that the process is merely a device to intimidate the Irish electorate.
Keith Vaz: I have enormous respect for the hon. Gentleman, but I do not agree with him. None of the steps taken by any member state since the announcement of the result of the Irish referendum represents an attempt to bully or intimidate the people of Ireland. I do not believe that the rest of Europe would expect the Irish people to keep voting until they say yes. We should await the outcome of the deliberations of the Irish Government, who will report to the European summit at the weekend, and then a decision can be made on the course of action that is best for Ireland. What is best for the United Kingdom is what the Government have set out: ratification. The European Union (Amendment) Bill will receive its Third Reading in the House of Lords today. Of course, as the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea said, that does not mean that there will be implementationof course that cannot happenbut people will have the opportunity to discuss the matter further.
The right hon. Gentleman is eloquently and deliberately trying to avoid answering the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for
Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), so I shall put it to him again. What is the difference between the Dutch saying no and the Irish saying no, given that when the Dutch refused the treaty, the process was stopped?
Keith Vaz: There is a fundamental difference. Since the treaty was rejected on the previous occasion, each sovereign EU member state decided how it wished to proceed. This is the second time around, and we cannot keep doing this time and time again. Given Irelands constitution, the decision was taken that it should have a referendum. Everyone else, including the French and the Dutch, decided that they would not have a referendum. This result must be explained by the Irish Government and they must take a decision. We must listen to their views on how to take things forward.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind: The right hon. Gentleman makes a mistake by trying to draw a technical distinction between the matters. There is a simple reason for the difference cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski): a political judgment was taken. When the French and Dutch electorates rejected the original treaty, it was perceivedprobably rightlyas a far more dramatic political event than the Irish result. The difference is not constitutional, but entirely due to a political judgment about significance.
Keith Vaz: I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his interpretation of that result. I would prefer my words, but I of course defer to his knowledge in these matters. I think that it is up to us to decidewe cannot allow the Irish people to decide what is best for the British people, and he would be the first to complain if we did. It must be up to this Parliament, this sovereign country, to make those decisions.
We should pay tribute in this debate to the Slovenian Government for the way in which they have conducted their presidency. We are coming to the end of the first presidency by one of the A8 countries, and they have done it superbly. That is also a tribute to the work that this Government have done over the past 10 years. The enlargement of the European Union has enormously benefited the EU. As we can see from the Slovenian presidency, it has been possible for one of the A8one of the very small countriesto run Europe in the manner that it has with the co-operation of all the other 26 member states, to ensure that many of the most important decisions that we have faced in the past six months have been properly implemented. I hope that when the Minister accompanies the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary to the summit meeting, as I am sure he will, the meeting acknowledges what Slovenia has done. We look forward to the other new member states, as we still sometimes call them, being part of that.
The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) gave a very good speech a couple of weeks ago on the importance of the Polish community in the United Kingdom. I supported his ten-minute Bill and I wish him well with its success. The arrival of the A8 and the importance of enlargement is very clear to this House, even though for some time, of course, the Conservatives opposed enlargement of the EU by asking for [ Interruption. ] I am glad that the hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands) is sitting next to the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham, because he, too, has supported eastern European
communities coming into his constituency. I think that he was the only Opposition Member who supported the lifting of restrictions on the Romanians and Bulgarians. Well done to him, and I give way to him for that.
Mr. Hands: My particular point of objection, however, is related to the charge that the Conservatives were not in favour of enlargement. May I take the right hon. Gentleman back to the very first debate held in this House after the fall of the Berlin wall in November 1989? The first person to speak out in favour of enlargement was actually my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude), in his then capacity as, I believe, Minister for Europe. It is actually the Conservatives who called first in this House for enlargement into eastern Europe.
Keith Vaz: It is good that the hon. Gentleman reminds us of those words, because the words are very different from the deeds. Yes, the Conservative party has said that it is in favour of enlargement, but it also sought a referendum on the Nice treaty in an attempt to block enlargement of the European Union. I was the then Minister for Europe, and I remember clearly being at the Dispatch Box when the Opposition spokesperson time and again called for a referendum on Nice. The purpose was to go to the country to try to block the Nice treaty. If we had done soif the hon. Gentlemans party had had its wayall those wonderful eastern Europeans who have settled in Hammersmith and Fulham would not be here.
Daniel Kawczynski: A very important differentiation to make is that only three European Union countries allowed eastern Europeans to come in straight away, and the United Kingdom was one of them. The problem, of course, is that the then Labour Government should have worked harder to ensure that all the European Union countries opened their borders to the eastern Europeans, not just those three, because that obviously created a huge desire to go to only those three. It is the fault of a Labour Government, not of the Conservative party.
Keith Vaz: I have a great deal of time for the hon. Gentleman, but I am surprised at him, the promoter of a Bill to give a public holiday in support of the contribution of the Polish community to our country. It was a Labour Government who allowed, rightly, the A8 citizens to come here. It is not our job to tell the Germans and the French what to do, and they lost out because the presence of so many people from those central and eastern European countries has hugely benefited our country. I am glad that the Germans and the French did not raise the restrictions and that we were one of only three countries that did so, because we have benefited so much from the Polish, Hungarian, Czech and Romanian citizens who have come to this country. In the end, those countries will all lift their restrictions, because they will realise that that is the right thing to do.
Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op):
I apologise for missing the beginning of my right hon. Friends speech. I was at the annual general meeting of the all-party group on Poland, and I am happy to inform the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) that he was duly re-elected as its treasurer. If he follows the logic of his position, he should surely argue for qualified majority voting on
immigration policy across the European Union. Does not the fact that he is not arguing for that indicate the internal contradictions in Conservative party policy on this issue, as on so many others when it comes to Europe?
Keith Vaz: That is the first time that an announcement on an office in the all-party group has been made on the Floor of the House in a debate of this kind. No doubt, it was because of the unique position that the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham holds in the affections of this House that the announcement had to be made then. I do not think that either he or his Conservative colleagues would be in favour of qualified majority voting on immigrationno Conservative Members are rising to support that view. They like the fact that we have kept an opt-out on that area, so that it is under our absolute control.
Although not many Labour Members wish to speakI do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) will speakbecause we agree so passionately with the Governments policy and we do not really dissent from what the Foreign Secretary said earlier, I know that many Conservative Members wish to speak, so I shall make just two final points.
It is important that our Government make the case for Europe, although not because of what has happened in Ireland, as the Irish people have rejected the treaty. I, like other Members of this House and, indeed, like Europe itself, was surprised that the Irish people did so, because Ireland is one of the countries that has most benefited from the European Union. It is a wake-up call for this Government, in order to remind them of their responsibility constantly to make the case for being part of the European Union.
I did not know whether the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks was being cheeky when he suggested that the Foreign Secretary was off on a roadshow around the country or whether he just used that as an opportunity to talk about my previous roadshow, allowing me to make fun of his previous roadshowthe one designed to save the pound, whereby he sat on the back of a lorry. It was rather like Wacky Races going round the country. I do not know whether that suggestion was trueperhaps the Minister for Europe could tell us in the wind-upsbut I would welcome the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe taking part in a roadshow around the United Kingdom. Perhaps one of them could travel on the top deck of the bus and the other on the bottom deck. Why do we not want to go to make the case for Europe to the British people? [Interruption.] I am glad that the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) remembers my roadshow. I did not visit his constituency, but I hope that the Foreign Secretary will, because it is important that we make that case to the British people.
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