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Mr. Campbell: Not for the moment.

What lies behind that is the suggestion that with qualified majority voting, the interests of the United Kingdom are irreparably damaged on a regular basis. The fact is that in the past two years Britain has been outvoted in the Council of Ministers on only five occasions, while in the same period Germany was outvoted 20 times and France eight times. Those statistics do not suggest that the rest of Europe is somehow ganging up on us and damaging our significant domestic interests so much that we cannot consider the extension of qualified majority voting in future on a case-by-case basis.

Mr. Redwood: I do not understand why the right hon. and learned Gentleman failed to understand my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring), who speaks for the official Opposition with great clarity. He put forward the proposition that we do not wish more powers to pass to Brussels. That was agreed by every Conservative Member present—a goodly number of us—because we believe very strongly in that case. Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman understand that the United Kingdom has not been outvoted recently because we have such a craven Government, who never stand up for the British national interest because they do not want to test the system, as they know that they would lose the vote?

Mr. Campbell: There may be still be time for another leadership candidate, Sir Alan.

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The right hon. Gentleman is entitled to his view that the Government are craven. I think that they have demonstrated timidity over Europe, and that the case for a single European currency should have been argued with much more vehemence than it has been so far. However, the position that the Opposition seek to adopt on qualified majority voting simply does not stand up to any logical scrutiny.

Reference has already been made to the Single European Act, and I have referred to Maastricht. It is interesting to consider the attitude of the Government of the day—a Conservative Government—to some of these issues. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) is not present. I understand that he has other responsibilities, but it is notable that when talking about the process of signing up for the Maastricht treaty, he said that


I cannot think of a better way of encapsulating the value of qualified majority voting. It allows us to seek, so far as we can, and as quickly as we can, the kind of liberal Europe that is in our interests, and enables us to overcome protectionist resistance from those who may believe that they have some special interest that must be defended to the death by the exercise of a veto. If we have an enlarged European Union, which we all apparently want, qualified majority voting will be necessary to ensure that it functions, and that it does so in a way that accords with our domestic interests.

Mr. Bercow: Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that there is a clear conceptual difference between the acceptance of qualified majority voting for the purpose of creating or bolstering a single market and dismantling barriers, and for the adoption of policies that interfere with the autonomy of nation states in relation to the labour market? The two are radically different.

Mr. Campbell: I would accept that the hon. Gentleman's argument had some force if he were not supporting shadow Ministers who say that there should be no extension of qualified majority voting in any circumstances, and that a line must be drawn in the sand. If there are circumstances in which it can be shown that it is in our interest to cross that line, I cannot understand why it is necessary to maintain a blanket ban on any extension.

It is perfectly reasonable to have an argument, as we did on Second Reading, about whether it is appropriate to have QMV with regard to discrimination, but I part company with the Conservative party, and in particular with its Front Benchers, over the idea that we should take a blanket approach and not have an argument on the merits.

Mr. Cash: As on the programme motion, I find that I am in agreement with the right hon. and learned Gentleman, although on a limited point. Amendment No. 233 deals with the incredibly important question of child abduction. Under the treaty—at the specific behest

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of Germany and Austria, as I understand it—family law is subjected to unanimity. There are certain cases that lead me to believe that in this particular instance, qualified majority voting is the only way of breaking the stranglehold, and that is why I tabled that amendment.

Mr. Campbell: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point, but he will forgive me if I ask why he did not make it to the hon. Member for West Suffolk, because it drives a horse and cart through the position adopted by the official Opposition.

Qualified majority voting is now extended to 31 articles, over half of which refer to technical portions of the treaty, dealing with appointments, rules of procedure and the management of the European Parliament and European committees and courts. A further four of the articles refer to areas that Britain has opted out of. Of the remaining 10, the extensions are in such areas as anti-discrimination practice, support for industry and environmental measures. Exercising my best judgment, I cannot believe that those are matters of such fundamental constitutional importance that the United Kingdom's interests can be properly regulated only if we maintain our veto over them. That is why I cannot support the amendment.

Mr. Miller: I am following the theme started by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell). Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) was a little cruel to suggest that the Opposition were being hypocritical. I think that they are simply so confused that they are facing several ways at the same time. That seems to be the case with everything on which we have to deal with the official Opposition in this House.

I had the pleasure of being in Nice the week before the treaty negotiations, speaking at a conference involving a wide range of groups from the applicant countries. The only negative point is that to get to Nice, I would certainly advise hon. Members never to fly Sabena, which seems to leave things around Europe, including my luggage.

Interesting points were raised at the meeting by a number of the smaller countries, which were represented by people from outside the main political arena, and by people representing businesses and aspects of industry in their respective nations. They did not see how it would be possible to make the new Europe work effectively without some change in the voting patterns,

There was some merit in the earlier arguments of the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring), but that slipped away. As I understood him, he argued that, as a matter of principle, no extension of QMV could make sense. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North said, it is blindingly obvious that within the future evolution of the European institutions, in some circumstances it will be easily agreed that there are matters to which it would be beneficial to extend QMV.

I am totally confused by the Opposition position. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North said, they rely on the 1997 manifesto rejection of any extension of QMV. The hon. Member for West Suffolk said that the Government did a bad job in Nice, but did not go on to explain the logic by which, on a case-by-case basis, the extension of QMV was a bad thing. If there is an ideological principle I have yet to hear

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it. If the case is based simply on dogma, perhaps nothing has changed in that wing of the Conservative party, as represented by Mrs. Thatcher all those years ago. [Hon. Members: "Who?"] Conservative Members are trying to erase their memories. If Mrs. Thatcher is being airbrushed out, the Conservative party really is moving to the right.

Last week I referred to earlier negotiations involving Peter Carrington and Ian Gilmour, and to their conflicts with the then Prime Minister. The dogma has now reached a point of total and utter absurdity. Now the official argument seems to be that, as a matter of principle, QMV is a bad thing. That is all we have heard from the official Opposition.

5.30 pm

The Opposition have not recognised that in Nice the British Government insisted that certain issues should be decided by unanimity. Britain has, of course, a veto over such issues as taxation, social security, border controls, defence, the financing of the EU and future changes to treaties. That is a good, solid, principled position because in all those areas no new rules can be introduced unless the British Government agree.

Let us start with what the Nice treaty actually says. If the hon. Member for West Suffolk had presented to the House a logical reason why the Government should not have given ground on any of the articles in the Nice treaty, perhaps the House would listen more readily to the Conservatives.

Mr. Spring: I did.

Mr. Miller: Frankly, I did not follow the hon. Gentleman's logic. He started by saying that he was opposed to the extension of QMV as a matter of principle.


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