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Mr. Hendrick: I thank the right hon. Gentleman. In the light of his earlier remarks about timetables for enlargement, does he agree that timetables for enlargement would have been folly, given that the Irish have not yet given their consent in a referendum? Furthermore, is it not true that, as in the case of Denmark, there can be as many referendums as the Irish Government want?

Mr. Maude: That is a lovely idea, is it not? If one does not like the result, one just keeps on having referendums.

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On the same basis, I could say that I did not like the result of the general election, so let us have another one. Let us carry on having votes until we get the result that we want. The arrogance of that approach is breathtaking.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) rose

Mr. Maude: If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I must make progress.

There was an active debate in Ireland about the merits of the Nice treaty and the Irish people said no. Which part of that answer did the Government not understand? It is a pretty simple, straightforward answer.

On the point made by the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick), by agreeing a rigidly integrationist treaty, which the Nice treaty is, we—I mean we collectively, we the European Union—have set enlargement back, for two reasons. One is that more integration sets up more hurdles for the applicant countries to jump. The second is that, as the Irish referendum result itself confirms, proceeding further with the process of integration generates a degree of political controversy which slows the enlargement process.

There is plenty of evidence that enthusiasm in some of the eastern and central European countries for accession to the EU is dwindling. The central European correspondent of The Times recently observed:

Given the delicacy of the political situation in a number of the countries of eastern Europe—the case that all of us make for enlargement is that it is a way of stabilising those countries and bringing them into the family of democratic free market nations—we should be concerned about that.

The correspondent went on to say:

Those concerns about enlargement are genuine. They are nothing to do with the Conservative party objecting to the Nice treaty or the result of the Irish referendum. They are due to the fact that the negotiations about enlargement have been extraordinarily protracted and the big issues have simply not begun to be resolved.

We cannot accept the Bill or the treaty in its current form and we will oppose it. We will ask the House to vote for our reasoned amendment. As I said earlier, it would be wrong to proceed with the Bill at present. The Foreign Secretary has clarified for the House that the treaty will fall unless all member states have ratified it.

Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Maude: No, I want to make some progress.

There seems to be some reluctance through much of the rest of the EU to give voice to concerns about the treaty. Ex-President Giscard d'Estaing said in the French Parliament's debate on the treaty that, if the French people were offered a referendum,

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That is a lyrical way of putting it, but one sees the point that he makes. The French people came within an ace of defeating the Maastricht treaty in 1992. How can we be at all certain that there is popular support in Britain, France, or any other country for the treaty?

There will be a real problem if we in the EU give the impression that we treat the views of the public on these issues with disdain. A modern Europe cannot treat the views of its citizens as an awkward impediment that has to be overcome. We should be listening to the concerns of our people, particularly those raised in the Irish referendum.

The EU and its leaders have failed to dispel the impression that they propose to bash on regardless of public opinion, and nothing that the Foreign Secretary said today in any way draws back from that. It is sad to see that that is the case.

Angus Robertson (Moray): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Maude: No, I shall make progress.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that nothing could be more dangerous for public support for the EU, which I agree it is important to promote and sustain, than to treat the referendum result with the kind of contempt that we are hearing from him and from others.

Mr. Cash: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Maude: I shall in a moment.

To those who dissent from that, I have to say that the Government's determination to press ahead at full speed with the Bill at this time gives the impression that the views of the Irish public are set at nought. It shows no respect at all for the concerns that have been raised there. It is in that sense that EU leaders are treating the views of the public with contempt.

It is accepted that Giscard d'Estaing said that the French public may well not support this, and I should not be at all surprised. I suspect that the British public would not support the treaty if they were offered the opportunity in a referendum.

Mr. Nigel Beard (Bexleyheath and Crayford): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Maude: No, I shall make some progress.

There is a real danger here of the political leaders being genuinely alienated from the public whom we are meant to represent.

Mr. Cash: Having taken some part in the French and Danish referendums, as well as the recent Irish referendum, may I ask my right hon. Friend why we on this side of the House are not prepared at this juncture to have a referendum on the whole European issue, given that the single currency is certainly not the only issue at stake? There was no referendum when our referendum campaign managed to get 500,000 votes in favour of a

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vote on Maastricht. With the involvement of defence and foreign policy, we should be considering a broader referendum to obtain the full consent of the British people.

Mr. Maude: In the broad-ranging policy review upon which I feel the party is about to embark, I am confident that my hon. Friend will want to make that point. I am sure that he will be very active in that respect.

Mr. Straw: What is the right hon. Gentleman's view?

Mr. Maude: I take the view that the British public should have the opportunity to express their opinion on the treaty in a referendum, in the same way as the public in the Republic of Ireland.

Angus Robertson: Why does the right hon. Gentleman think it right for the people of the UK to be given a choice in a referendum on the Nice treaty, but not on the Maastricht treaty?

Mr. Maude: Since the Maastricht treaty was decided upon, we have gone considerably further down the path towards full-scale political integration. There is now a growing gap between what the public and the politicians think about these matters. Unless we make a connection by allowing the public to have a direct say on this specific issue, we will be in danger of allowing a big gulf to develop, which will undermine the very democracy upon which we depend.

In such a referendum, we would be very clear about what we favour. We will support parts of the Nice treaty that may be genuinely useful in enabling enlargement to occur. Protocol A of the treaty, to which the Foreign Secretary referred, deals with the reallocation of seats in the European Parliament and the reweighting of votes in the Council. I do not take as much pleasure as him in the fact that we can now override the wishes of smaller EU countries—a point upon which he dwelt rather gloatingly. His attitude did not seem quite in accord with the spirit of harmonious friendship in which we should be approaching the enterprise. The amendment to the size of the European Commission is also a welcome step and we support it.

We would like the reforms to go further. We would like the Commission to revert to an institution whose nature resembles much more that of an impartial civil service. That was very much the conception of its founding fathers. We would like the balance of power to shift from the European Commission to the Council of Ministers. We would also like moves to be made to strengthen democratic accountability. Each country could place a national Minister at the head of its Brussels delegation, to be directly accountable to national Parliaments. That seems to us the right approach to filling the democratic deficit. I hope that the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues will respond positively to such approaches, which are the right direction for reform of the European Union as an institution and will become more necessary as time passes.

Institutional reform is only a fraction of the final agreement at Nice, whose focus clearly lies elsewhere. Tighter integration is the defining characteristic of the treaty, and qualified majority voting is extended in 31 articles. We believe that this one-way process, in

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which powers are transferred only in one direction, is not in British interests and is not the right way of creating European harmony. There is a great difference between European integration and European unity, although people have for some time tended to use the two phrases almost interchangeably.

We understand absolutely the desire of our partners in Europe to build structures that make unthinkable the sort of deadly and protracted conflicts that have devastated Europe all too often, but today, surely we could and should be seeking more modern and sophisticated ways of bringing Europe together. If one cares about European harmony, as we do, the very last thing to do is to extend the areas in which the majority can ride roughshod over the wishes of a minority. That is a recipe for discord, not harmony. It is a recipe for division, not unity.

The view from outside the European Union beltway is revealing. The Foreign Secretary referred to the Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic; I shall quote the Speaker of the Czech Parliament, Mr. Václav Klaus. [Interruption.] It is worth listening to the quote because hon. Members may learn something from it. Mr. Klaus said:

the entry of new members.

The important part follows:

That is a penetrating analysis with which we agree.

A brief look back at the words of the Government and the previous Foreign Secretary before departing for Nice confirms the accuracy of Mr. Klaus's view of the treaty's emphasis. The previous Foreign Secretary made several statements about what he would do at Nice. He leaves a difficult legacy for his successor. He said that he would not regard a change to qualified majority voting on most of the items on the list of 50 aspects proposed by the French presidency as acceptable. He believed that only a minority would be acceptable. However, he had a change of heart at the negotiating table and agreed to QMV for more than half of them.

The right hon. Gentleman said that extending QMV to anti-discrimination measures would be unacceptable. He had a change of heart at Nice. He said that he was not wildly enthusiastic about the move on European political parties. Again, he had a sudden change of heart in the sunshine of Nice. Perhaps it was not unconnected with the proposal that he would take on the presidency of the European party of socialists. From his first days in office, the current Foreign Secretary knows that agreeing to extend QMV means that we lose influence and power.

The Government agreed to the social chapter in the early days of the previous Parliament. They claimed that it would have no bad effects, and that there was nothing to worry about. However, they had to spend the election

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campaign trying to cover up the effect of the works council directive. The Government rightly object to it; we support them on that. However, it has gone through despite the Government's opposition because they gave up the veto.

There is clear evidence of the loss of the influence of the House and the British Government through giving up the veto. Perhaps the Foreign Secretary can explain the benefits that accrue from extending QMV to article 13, which applies to anti-discrimination measures. How will it benefit the British public? What are the implications of extending QMV to articles 100(1) and 100(2)? In terms of the article, what does a shortage in the supply of specific products mean? To which products does it apply? What measures can we deploy since the previous Foreign Secretary signed us up to QMV? What great benefits flow to Britain from that?

What would the Government's response be if the Foreign Secretary were outvoted on the choice of a common foreign policy representative? That could arise through a change that his predecessor agreed at Nice. Are the Government happy that, in principle, it is possible for European foreign policy to be run in the name of the British Government, represented by a person whose candidature they did not support?

I have outlined only a handful of the commitments that the Government have signed. It is right to scrutinise them, and we shall do that in Committee. However, surely it is sensible to call a halt to the Bill and broaden the debate on the treaty's implications through a referendum. The public could then participate and express their views on it.

Let us revert to enlargement and the idea that the necessary and desirable—in our view—reopening of the Nice treaty would delay enlargement. I have the direct quote to which I referred from the Foreign Secretary's predecessor, which comes from the debates after the Amsterdam treaty. He said:

A year later, the then Foreign Secretary opined that there was no

When that enthusiasm suddenly materialised, the right hon. Gentleman needed an excuse to justify the further intergovernmental conference and the further treaty, and he turned again to enlargement. He said:

That is what he said earlier this year.

We had earlier warned that further integration and further treaty changes that take us further down the path to political, old-fashioned, one-size-fits-all political integration will not expedite enlargement but delay it, as it is doing, by adding to the burden that applicants have to absorb. By generating political controversy, as evidenced in the Irish referendum, enlargement will be delayed.

I said at the time of the Nice treaty:

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We would have been a bit more relaxed if there had been any evidence that at Nice the Government were pressing for there to be a two-way street, with some powers being returned to member states for decision. That is how a modernising European Union should be developing. It should be aiming to decentralise.

When the Minister for Europe was a Back-Bench Member and a strong europe sceptic, he used to make the case for a decentralised EU. As time has passed and the process of globalisation has accelerated, the case for decentralising the EU becomes stronger and stronger. Let us be clear that the Bill is not about enlargement. If anything, it is an impediment to enlargement. That which is necessary for enlargement has not been addressed.

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