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6.59 pm

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): There is for me a certain piquancy in following the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns). It was a model of its kind—witty, incisive and thought provoking—and I congratulate him warmly on it. He told us, with justifiable pride and no little eloquence, about his constituency and its beauties, about his predecessors and their strengths, and about the principles and values that will inform what I hope will be the many more distinguished contributions that he will make, long into the future.

When I looked at the Bill that became the House of Commons (Removal of Clergy Disqualification) Act 2001, it seemed eminently sensible. There was no good reason to deny the hon. Gentleman his legitimate entitlement to sit in this House, if he were able—as he was—to secure the support of the people of his constituency. I wish him well here, and I hope that from time to time we might break bread together.

We have also heard two other outstanding maiden contributions in the course of the debate. I have not met the hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) and I doubt that we will agree about much, but she made a measured, sincere and thoughtful contribution. She is obviously a dedicated and committed person who understands the interests of her constituents. On a personal note, I especially

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appreciated the generosity and appropriateness of her tribute to my former hon. Friend, Nick St. Aubyn, who was indeed an assiduous and effective representative of his constituents. I trust that she will be, and I wish her success.

I hope that neither of the hon. Members to whom I have just referred will think the less of me or take offence if I say that above all it is a pleasure for me this evening to be able to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois). He and I have known each other for 16 years. I knew that he would eventually get into this place and it is to his enduring credit that he has now done so. He delivered a brilliant maiden speech—eloquent, authoritative, passionate and sincere. Rarely is it that one hears a maiden speech delivered with the self-assurance that he brought to bear.

I trust that my hon. Friend will forgive me one other banal but, I hope, valid observation. I have always been supremely untroubled by my 5 ft 6¼ in. It has never bothered me in the remotest instance. Nevertheless, it is no bad thing to have a little company and he is probably the only Member of this House, certainly on the Conservative Benches, who is even more vertically challenged than I am. Size is not everything—I know that he will immediately concur with that observation—and he has enormous principle, reserves of energy and outstanding dedication. He will be a brilliant representative of the people of Rayleigh and a formidable addition to these Benches.

In my judgment, the Foreign Secretary was unwise to invoke the result of the general election on 7 June as a vindication of Europhilia in general or the contents of the Nice treaty in particular. If we are honest with each other about the significance of issues during the general election campaign, all the evidence shows—and the Prime Minister himself, in his understandable caution about the euro, has demonstrated that he recognises—that the body of opinion in the country is broadly sceptical about European integration and hostile to British entry to the euro. It is fair for me to say, as a Conservative representative, that the British people did not disagree with the Conservative party's position on the euro or on Europe: they simply did not think that it was top of their concerns. It was not that salient.

The Government were successful in relegating Europe down the list of political issues, not least by the offer of a referendum. Whatever we thought about the likely terms of the question in the referendum or the disproportionate advantage that the forces of europhilia would enjoy by virtue of the legislation on the funding of referendum campaigns, the public did not want to determine the election on that basis. They talked about health, education, crime and transport. However, we would be unwise to ignore the significance of Europe as an issue.

I shall focus on one aspect of Europe that is notably absent from the treaty of Nice, and that is subsidiarity, to which several hon. Members have already animadverted today. The famous, or perhaps I should say infamous, article 3b of the Maastricht treaty defined subsidiarity. What did it say? It said:

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That was, of course, a model of the linguistic clarity that we have come to expect from our rulers in the European Union. It was widely and popularly supposed to signify an intention to ensure that decisions were taken at the lowest possible level. In fact, it meant nothing of the kind. It pre-supposed, as it continues to pre-suppose, the existence of a central authority that will decide in its wisdom what crumbs from the table it is prepared to flick in the direction of the autonomy of nation states. The reality is, notwithstanding the support of that principle and the inclusion of article 3b in the treaty of Maastricht, not a single directive or regulation has subsequently been repealed as a direct consequence of the inclusion of that article.

The debate moved on to the treaty of Amsterdam. The Government boldly asserted that they could do much better. As a result of the efforts of the former Foreign Secretary and his Minister for Europe, the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson), from whom we heard earlier, a protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality was included in the treaty of Amsterdam, which stated:

If one strips away the verbiage of the protocol, what emerges with crystal clarity is that that protocol was not intended to divert attention from the continued pursuit of an ever greater arrogation of powers to the European Union. That arrogation of powers, in the case of nation states, will be from institutions that we elect and can remove to institutions that we do not elect and cannot remove.

Since 1992, we have seen a constant, remorseless and inexorable ratchet of European integration. Between 1992 and 1997, after the passage of Maastricht, there have been 20,564 directives, regulations and decisions from the European Union that impact on this country, and since 1998, and the passage of the treaty of Amsterdam—for which many, but unjustified claims were made—a further 4,995 such directives, regulations and decisions have impacted on this country. That process cannot continue indefinitely without the most massive protest and resentment on the part of the people of the United Kingdom.

The power of self-government, the right to hire and fire our rulers, and the capacity freely to chart our own destiny as an independent nation are the inalienable birthrights of every citizen. They should not be traded in, now or at any time, for a mess of pottage, otherwise known as a back-row seat at a show called the heart of Europe. That ratchet must be arrested and reversed, because too much power has been taken from too many people over too long a period. That is wrong in itself, it is undemocratic and it diverts attention from the proper priorities of the European Union: to reform agriculture and fisheries, to cut fraud and to re-establish the primacy in independent nation states of national self-government.

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7.9 pm

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): I wish to add my own warm tribute to the three hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches tonight and to take up some of the points that they made. It was wonderful to hear the warmth and affection that they all have for their constituencies and the generosity with which they described their predecessors. However, their most important contributions were their visions for the future of Europe.

The hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) referred to diversity, and the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) spoke of respect for the Irish. I am relieved that when he conducted his own referendum proposal over the bay of Galway, he did not meet with the same "No" from his wife that the Irish population gave to their Government. Finally, I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) is here and is comfortable about representing both Church and state in the House. However, I am sure that there will be times when he will ask himself who exactly was responsible for saving his soul for Parliament.

The issue about the European democratic agenda—the vision to which my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde referred—is the fundamental test of what we are seeking to sign up to. The tragedy is that although I share that vision and want to sign up to that expanded vision of a pluralist, inclusive Europe that is at peace with itself, nothing in the treaty of Nice will deliver that.

I will not be supporting the Conservative amendment, because I have never signed up to the Conservative vision of Europe, which I believe to be underpinned by presumptions about an economic free-for-all against a backcloth of social insecurity in a Europe never at ease with itself. That is not the Europe that I want to construct, but the one that I want to construct will be fatally flawed if it is pursued according to the Nice treaty.

I want to address three key failings about which we must be honest tonight and as we take the arguments around the country. First, the process of economic decision making is fatally compromised in the proposals enshrined in the Nice treaty. Secondly, we must consider the economic implications of political expansion. Thirdly, we must accept the real cost that we will have to pay for the democratic contraction that will follow from the treaty.

I was pleased that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was robust in his dismissal of the comments of Romano Prodi following the Irish referendum. A country has the right to hold a referendum, and the outcome must be respected. It is arrogant and outrageous to say, "We don't like the outcome. The public had their say; we had better get rid of the public and find a better one." If the Irish do not endorse the Nice treaty, it will not and cannot proceed. We will be forced to think in wider terms about the basis on which we wish to build a broader and inclusive Europe. I want us to address that; I do not want to retreat from it.

One of the issues confronting the House is why we will not offer a referendum on the same treaty. We have already embraced the notion of referendums—we held them on the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and we are considering holding one on regional assemblies. There is even a referendum in my constituency about whether people want a parish council. Citizens'

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organisations that gather outside every meeting of the European elite do so to challenge it fundamentally because it presumes to have the right to make decisions from which citizens are excluded. We cut ourselves off at our peril from our lines of democratic accountability to the public who put us here. I would not support the Bill in its final stages unless a condition were included that its final form is subject to the test of a referendum requiring the approval of the British public.

On 25 June, Agence France Presse produced a wonderful report on the concluding negotiations inside the unified Germany about the fiscal transfers between east and west. It was well reported in the Financial Times and The Daily Telegraph but not reported much elsewhere. It is important for this debate because the issues that almost tore apart the German debate about the cost of unification are a microcosm of those that we will have to address if we are serious about an extended and inclusive Europe.

Following German unification, the West Germans acknowledged that the wealth gap between east and west was unbridgeable. It was no partnership of equals—it was a unification of the soul. That unification had a price that the Germans, to their enduring credit, were willing to pay. We ought to be honest about that price. It was a self-imposed tax surcharge of 7.5 per cent.—7.5p in the pound went on personal and corporate income tax. In 1997, it was revised to 5.5 per cent.

The report at the end of June was significant because the richest states in Germany—Bavaria, Baden- Wurttemberg and Hesse—challenged that tax because they had grown tired of the costs of carrying the poor. They felt that it was unfair for the burden of that solidarity tax to fall on the rich, and wanted it renegotiated. The German constitutional court made a decision that shifted the burden away from those states in favour of a greater contribution by the German Government as a whole.

Let us be clear about the figures; they are very simple. Over the next 19 years, Germany has agreed to transfer a further £100 billion from west to east to pay for the solidarity and inclusion that is so precious to it. The total bill will come to £250 billion—the price of unification between rich and poor.

That is important because the gross domestic product per capita of the former East Germany is almost exactly the same as that of people in the Czech Republic, which is in the first wave of would-be entrants into the expanded Europe. The Czech Republic is twice—in some cases three times—as wealthy as many of the other applicant countries that we wish to join the EU. Yet they are all seeking entry without the rest of us signing up to a single penny of fiscal transfer that remotely equates to the scale of support and transfers made from West to East Germany as the price of sustainable unification.

We kid ourselves if we believe that a sustainable, stable, broader European economy and society can be underpinned without one of two things happening. There must be huge fiscal transfers from the rich to the poor to make life viable in the poorer parts. If not, we will go back 200 years to a Europe driven by a view of monetarism based on the gold standard in which people moved in pursuit of cash. Are we prepared for the 105 million people in the entrant states who want to have the right to the same sort of economic prosperity that we wish to share? No, we are not even talking about that.

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My final point is about democratic loss. There was a huge debate in the European Union following the Uruguay round of negotiations with the World Trade Organisation. European Commissioners were hacked off because they thought that they had the right to negotiate on our behalf and that individual nation states had no right to a say. The European Court of Justice ruled that those nations had the right to negotiate over trade in goods but that trade in commercial services, including health and education, is subject to universal agreement among the member states.

The transfer from unanimity obligations to majority voting will remove that right first from member states and then from the Council of Ministers and give it to the European Commissioners. They are the architects of a new European autocracy. They are the agents of corporate control, which will take Europe into a corporate feudalism, in which we will all act—

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