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5.38 pm

Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): It is always a pleasure to take part in European debates. My constituency was mentioned a few speeches ago by the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), who talked about the large number of EU citizens coming into Hammersmith and Fulham. May I say that he is absolutely correct in describing that process? In fact, one in 11 of my population—or certainly of my electorate—is an EU citizen. That is true if we count the total electorate for a local or a European election. It is the second highest proportion anywhere in the UK—second only to my next-door constituency of Kensington and Chelsea. The most recent figures estimate that in Hammersmith and Fulham 6 per cent. of the population are Polish.

We have the largest French community, and we are also the centre of the Romanian community in London. However, it is not obvious that all that is down to the EU or, as the right hon. Member for Leicester, East said, down to the Nice treaty, as we also have the largest Australian community in the UK, as well as a large American community. The EU has played a role, but it would be simplistic to say that everything is down to the Nice treaty.

The five days since Ireland said no to the Lisbon treaty will turn out to be a tremendous missed opportunity for the UK. The UK should be taking a lead in the discussions that are now going on and in declaring the treaty dead while at the same time calling for immediate action radically to reform the EU. We may disagree on what direction that could come from, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory)
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touched on something important when he referred to going back to the 2001 Laeken declaration, and there may be merit in the proposals made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) for an √ la carte Europe.

We need to go back a little to Laeken and start the process again, but, unfortunately, UK Government policy was made pretty clear on Monday by the Foreign Secretary, who told us:

That sounds like the wait-and-see of the 1990s when the UK could be taking the initiative in Europe and trying to find a workable solution.

Our position could be very strong at the moment and we have considerable leverage. First, to state the obvious, we are uniquely close to Ireland. I am delighted to hear that the Prime Minister had a meeting with the Irish Prime Minister, but that is getting towards the heart of the problem: our Prime Minister met only the Irish, which implies that our official view is that the Irish are the problem, whereas in my view Brussels is providing the problem, not Dublin.

Secondly, the fact that we have not yet ratified the treaty—at least until later today—gives us considerable leverage in discussions on where to go from now. Thirdly, our people would certainly vote the same way as the Irish if they were given the chance. Again, that gives our Government, potentially, a lot of leverage. The contributions that we heard earlier and in previous debates suggest that there could be some cross-party consensus in the House on what the EU could and should be doing and the direction that it could and should be taking.

There seems to be, or there could be, a consensus. Remarkably similar speeches on EU reform have been made in the last year by, first, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), the Leader of the Opposition, and, some time later, by the Prime Minister. I was in Brussels last February for a speech given by my right hon. Friend in which he talked about a 3G Europe: global poverty, globalisation and global warming. He said that we do not need more integration, more centralisation and more powers. It was a compelling speech.

Let us compare that with the Prime Minister’s comment in the House on 22 October 2007, which he made when presenting his “Global Europe” document. He said that

Occasionally, we hear Liberal Democrat spokesmen, assuming that anybody can find out what Liberal Democrat policy is, sounding rather similar. Those should be the priorities for the EU.

There could be—I stress, could be—a consensus of some kind on the reformed direction that the EU could be taking. Obviously, there are strong disagreements here on the merits of the treaty, and certainly on the process for pushing it through, but there might, nevertheless, be a UK consensus on EU reform.

Returning to what has been going on in the past five days, I believe that time is of the essence. We should be
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active in European diplomacy. We should be convincing our partners that Lisbon is dead. More importantly, we should be discussing a new way forward for Europe, but we cannot, which is part of our problem. At present, our Government are as hobbled as the European Union. They are deeply divided and, in my view, are experiencing too many domestic problems—not least in their own party—to be able to fight the corner for British interests in Brussels.

I have seen the Prime Minister showing no leadership at all over the past five days, and barely playing a role in the process. Part of the reason, I think, is that he is fundamentally uncomfortable with foreign affairs. He is not willing to engage and is deeply uncomfortable with some of the arrangements, although he made a fleeting appearance in the monastery to sign the treaty in December. He talks of British jobs for British workers and so on, and he strikes me as someone who is not engaging with our partners.

We have very few friends in Europe, and almost no influence. It is very difficult for us to take the initiative. At a time when our Prime Minister is almost mute, President Sarkozy is meeting four central European premiers in Prague in an attempt to shore up support for the treaty. This is a great and unique opportunity, but I do not think we are going to grab it with the current Prime Minister in power. The opportunity may not present itself at such a convenient time for years, and I think history will record that this was a very unfortunate time at which to be leaderless and rudderless in Europe.

What is the immediate future of the Lisbon treaty? I believe that the worst thing that could happen would be a second Irish referendum. What is more, Irish politicians appear to agree with me. Back in March, the Irish European Affairs Minister Dick Roche made this interesting comment on his website:

A strong message has been sent, not only by the Irish people last week but by the Irish Government, that the Lisbon treaty is dead and it is time to move on.

There are also problems in the Czech Republic. V√°clav Klaus, its President, welcomed the Irish referendum result, calling it a

by the common people over

The chairman of the Czech senate called for EU ratification of the treaty to be halted. We await the decision of the Czech constitutional court. It should be borne in mind that the decision was referred to the court by the ruling ODS party in the senate, which voted 48 to four in favour of the referral. My main point is that we need leadership from Britain, and we need it desperately now, when this opportunity has been presented to us.

I want to say a little about another issue that is unconnected with the European Union: our relations with Russia. Let me raise two points briefly. First, there
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is continuing concern about the interruption of the BBC World Service Russian language service. The World Service teamed up with various local FM partners a couple of years ago. Unfortunately—some would say predictably—the FM partners have dropped us. A couple of years ago, the eastern European language services of the World Service were generally closed down. A few of us thought that that was a pity, but that it was somewhat understandable that we should no longer subsidise broadcasts in Polish, Czech and Romanian. However, I think there is a compelling reason for us to subsidise broadcasts in the Russian language. Our local partners let us down, and while it was almost predictable that pressure would be put on them, I think it very regrettable.

Mark Lazarowicz: I am sure that Members in all parts of the House will agree with the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the situation in Russia and the pressure placed on the BBC World Service. As for the relationship between Russia and the European Union, does he not at least accept that the EU would be able to speak much more firmly to Russia if there were a permanent President and a high representative, rather than the rotating presidency with which the current position leaves us?

Mr. Hands: I am afraid to say that I strongly disagree with that statement. We are much stronger with Russia when we are a collection of strong voices, rather than a single strong voice. It is deeply regrettable that the direction in which the EU is heading is forcing us to give up our independent voice.

I do not want to stray too far off the topic of Russia, but the European Scrutiny Committee considered something last week that would mean that Britain no longer had an independent position on whaling, because a common EU position would be agreed before each meeting of the International Whaling Commission. It was argued that all our EU partners share our view on whaling—they happen to be rather anti-whaling. I have no particular axe to grind on whaling, but the UK should be able to have an independent policy on whaling, and it is absurd to have a common European position on it.

Returning to Russia, I want to mention briefly the desperate need to bring about justice for the family of Alexander Litvinenko. I recently met his widow, Marina Litvinenko, who is a very brave lady who is visiting as many capitals as possible to publicise the case of her late husband. She recently went to the US Senate and she has met the all-party group on Russia. She has also held extensive meetings with her Member of Parliament, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea.

It is a year and a half since the deed happened and we might be in danger—I very much hope not—of forgetting what a terrible act took place in late 2006. A British subject was assassinated—murdered in cold blood—somewhere on the streets of London. I cannot remember whether it was entirely clear whether that happened in a sushi bar or in a hotel. I am not sure whether it happened with the connivance of a current foreign Government, but a foreign Government must have been involved in providing the polonium-210 isotope in the first place. I urge all colleagues to sign early-day motion 1601.

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When the Prime Minister meets the Russian President at the G8 this summer, I urge him to press again for the extradition of those whom we want to question about the assassination. Since the deed took place in late 2006, there has been a new Prime Minister of this country and a new President of Russia, and I fear that either or both will seek to brush this unfortunate incident under the carpet instead of confronting it and ensuring that justice is done. I hope that our Prime Minister will show strength on that issue when he meets the Russian President, because it would be a great tragedy if the Litvinenko family did not see justice.

5.52 pm

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): I do not know whether the lack of Members in the Chamber is any reflection on the circumstances relating to the Irish vote. However, speaking for myself, I am a very angry politician, because it is outrageous that, after an electorate have a referendum, the rest of Europe—I will not mince my words—gangs up on them, which is basically what is going on, even though that referendum was held under article 29 of the Irish constitution of 1937. That electorate were entitled to make a choice, and they did so by a substantial majority and on a 51 per cent. turnout, although some say that it was slightly higher.

The actions of the British Government now are unlike their actions on the European constitutional treaty. Under the former Prime Minister, when the Government realised that the French and Dutch were no longer prepared to go ahead with that treaty, they abandoned their Bill on it, even though that Bill had received its Second Reading. I tabled 400 amendments after Second Reading and I would have been interested to hear Ministers’ responses to them.

That Bill was dropped at the end of that Session and reintroduced in the second Session. Nothing was done about it—it never had a Second Reading: the Government recognised that the Bill could not proceed because the treaty could not be ratified. Now, we have a similar situation, despite the fact that the Bill in question has been through this House and through many of its stages in the upper House. Today, as I speak, the matter is being debated in the House of Lords on Third Reading, but the principle remains the same: there is no basis on which this can be legitimately validated.

I went to the High Court yesterday and made an application for judicial review. It has been turned down, and I do not complain about the fact that there is a difference of opinion on this issue, but what I do say is that there is no political basis—and, I believe, no legal basis—on which the Government can proceed to ratification.

I described as disreputable the statement that the Secretary of State the made the other day and I regard it as disreputable that the Irish people should be pushed around in this way. That is basically what is going on and I, for one, in common with many other people in this country, am baffled and angry. This is symptomatic of the overall attitude, the culture, of the European Union.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) has argued for an √ la carte Europe. I am not quite sure what its core functions would be under his prescription. I personally have always argued for a Europe of co-operation—as I put it, European trade, yes, European
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government, no. As I have argued for as long as I can remember, I do not believe that we should let the supremacy of this House be subsumed by the will of other nations where our vital national interests are involved. I am in favour of European co-operation and of European trade, but I do not believe that we should voluntarily so neuter ourselves as to preclude our passing enactments that are inconsistent with the European Union when it is in our vital national interests to do so.

I know that the leader of our own party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), has said repeatedly that we will repatriate powers in respect of economic competitiveness. I take him at his word, because it is absolutely essential and in our vital national interests that we do so where we need to achieve economic competitiveness. I would go further. I believe that there is a whole range of matters on which we need to renegotiate. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) spoke of renegotiation. I agree with that entirely and have argued for it for many years.

We also need to revisit the treaties that this Lisbon treaty would have given us the opportunity to revisit. The Lisbon treaty amalgamates all existing treaties under an arrangement, as the European Scrutiny Committee said, substantially equivalent to the previous constitutional treaty. It affects all the treaties, and this was the moment when we should have reasserted our supremacy.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: My hon. Friend has indicated this evening, as he has done on other occasions, that his objective is a renegotiation of the treaty. He does not explicitly say that he calls for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, but he must know as well as the rest of us that if he wishes in any form—even after a renegotiation—for the United Kingdom to remain in a European Union, the Union must at least have some element of supranational identity. He has indicated that he would not support any supranational dimension to the EU. Have I misunderstood him, because if I have not, he is talking not about a renegotiation but about withdrawal?

Mr. Cash: No, I am not talking specifically about withdrawal. That has never been one of my objectives, but it may happen for the reasons I have just given. If there is not a proper renegotiation, we are moving, particularly in the light of the Irish vote, the French and Dutch votes and, previously, the Danish vote, into very dangerous waters. We are moving towards a situation where it is in the interests of all member states to sit round the table to renegotiate these arrangements.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: I remain slightly confused by my hon. Friend’s position. In the kind of European Union that might be renegotiated, is he willing to accept some element of supranational responsibility, whereby the United Kingdom shared at least an element—perhaps a much smaller one than at the moment—of sovereignty? Alternatively, is he saying that no such supranational dimension would ever be acceptable?

Mr. Cash: No, I have said many times that I can recognise the idea of having a European Court of Justice, which, in a way, encapsulates the question of supranationality, in relation to those functions conferred on the European Union. I am saying that the European Union does not require more than very limited functions,
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primarily on matters relating to trade, although I think that the Single European Act, for which I voted, needs radical reform. My right hon. Friend the Member for Witney is right to argue for economic competitiveness. I think that the Maastricht treaty was a terrible mistake, but I could say the same of the Amsterdam treaty, which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea negotiated, before it was taken over by the Labour party, and of the Nice treaty.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: My hon. Friend will be aware that the Conservative party is committed to a renegotiation, because it is party policy to seek to repatriate employment and social legislation—that has been repeated by the shadow Foreign Secretary and by the leader of our party. Does he agree that that in itself entails an examination of the role of certain surpranational institutions, such as the European Court, because otherwise there is a danger of an activist Court seeking to reintroduce obligations through the back door by using other treaty articles? Therefore, we are already committed to this profound renegotiation.

Mr. Cash: I believe not only that we are committed to the renegotiation, but that it is a thoroughly laudable process. I know that my right hon. Friend agrees with me on that subject. Fundamentally, this European Union is not working. It is not working in relation to the economy—in an earlier intervention on the Foreign Secretary, I cited the examples of Italy, Greece and Spain in that regard. The European Union is not working in many of the eastern European countries, and it is clear that the Irish people have concluded that it is not working for them either. It is not working on the questions of agriculture and foreign policy. We hear all this talk of a European army, but where are the Germans and where are the French in respect of the front line in Afghanistan? Their grand talk about a European army is outrageous.

The same applies to the question of stability in Europe for the business community. Mr. Verheugen tells us that there is £600 billion a year of excessive regulation, and the Better Regulation Commission tells us that there is £100 billion a year of over-regulation in this country alone. Such matters require renegotiation.

We cannot escape the fact that this system is not working. That is why the French, the Dutch and the Irish are taking the positions that they are. This dangerous situation could lead to civil disorder in the countries of Europe as food prices increase, as there is a degree of pressure on commodity prices and as we feel the impact of the fuel situation and all these other matters that are being discussed today in a broad context, some of which the Foreign Secretary addressed. When such issues start to bite, it is a prescription for disorder in a system that is inherently undemocratic—and which overturns decisions legitimately arrived at by the people—and which has a landscape that could be renegotiated and changed, but those in power do nothing about it. People will take power into their own hands if they are treated in that arrogant way.

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