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8.30 pm

Mr. Cash: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. MacShane: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I am just coming to the end of my remarks.

Mr. Cash: They were a bit short.

Mr. MacShane: Well, I am trying not to follow the hon. Gentleman's example in these debates.

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The Opposition cannot support the principle of enhanced co-operation—

Mr. Cash: On a point of order, Mrs. Heal. In relation to the programme motion, it is pretty monstrous of the Minister to allege that somehow or other we are stringing things out when the Government are stringing us up.

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Sylvia Heal): That is entirely the Minister's responsibility.

Mr. MacShane: The thought of stringing up any Member in this debate might appeal to some but not to me. I am a pacifist kind of person. I shall make these remarks as short as possible, to leave more time for the hon. Gentleman to contribute to the next section of the debate. I would not deprive the House of that pleasure.

Mr. Spring: As the Minister is making his remarks so brief, I am sure he will not mind if I intervene on him. It is a little unclear to me what point he is making. He said that there was never any difficulty and, in practice, nothing happened on enhanced co-operation after Amsterdam. Nevertheless, the United Kingdom Government were willing to give up the veto based on the theoretical idea that, somehow, a member state would hold up that process. There has been no evidence of that happening so far, yet our national interests, which are obviously vital, have been given up. Some very confused thinking is coming from the Minister, in relation to practice and to theory. Will he clarify the Government's thinking on this matter?

Mr. MacShane: It is very clear that we are preparing for an enlarged EU. We want the great democracies of Europe to come home to join the European Union. Since the treaty of Nice, the Conservatives have said consistently that they wish to oppose that process. That is the huge difference between many Opposition Members and Members on this side of the House—and, I suspect, the man who emerged as winner of the poll whose result has just been announced. I hope that the House as a whole will now revert to where I think British interests lie, and call for the enlargement of the European Union, rather than seeking to put barriers in the path of that process, as some Opposition Members are doing.

Mr. Spring: I do not understand the Minister's difficulty in answering the question. Enlargement is one issue; enhanced co-operation is another, separate issue dealing with a more limited group of countries, which in no way impairs enlargement. I would like an explanation of the Government's thinking. I have not received one so far, and I am disappointed in the Minister. Will he please explain what has happened since Amsterdam to make the Government change their mind in this way?

Mr. MacShane: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the safeguards on enhanced co-operation have now been built more strongly into the Nice treaty by the reference to the Council, constituted by the elected Governments responsible to this and the other Parliaments of the European Union. The basic principle remains: one cannot

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support the principle of enhanced co-operation, as the Conservative party did in its manifesto, while demanding that the Nice provisions that will allow it to work be struck down. Unlike the Opposition, on their showing today, we see enhanced co-operation as an opportunity, not a threat.

There are a number of scenarios in which Britain might want actively to join in areas of enhanced co-operation, and it is right that I should put those to the House. In the community pillar, for example, the UK might want to join an initiative on scientific research while some other member states might not, or to participate in an initiative to improve transport links between the UK and neighbouring member states.

In the common foreign and security pillar, the UK might want to join other interested member states in implementing a common EU policy in Africa, such as managing election monitors. In justice and home affairs, it is possible to imagine the UK joining a group of member states to agree tough action on an issue that directly affected only a small group of countries, such as drug trafficking across the North sea. All in all, the improved enhanced co-operation arrangements are a valuable feature of the treaty. We strongly support them and, for that reason, we reject the amendments tabled on these issues.

Mr. Cash: By making such a brief and ineffective speech, the Minister has opened up an opportunity, which I shall not miss, to give a proper explanation of the implications of enhanced co-operation. I can do so in a manner that will undoubtedly illuminate the Government as well as, I hope, people outside who are interested in learning more about its operation.

We have already discussed the fact that enhanced co-operation can be undertaken only as a last resort when no further progress can be made in the Council of Ministers under the existing rules. Thus it can be seen from the provisions that countries with misgivings, such as the United Kingdom, apparently had the satisfaction of having many of their demands met. That is easier said than done.

The question is, who decides whether the provisions are satisfied or not? We see that, in the voting rules, enhanced co-operation in all areas can be decided with a qualified majority in the Council of Ministers. That means 62 of 87 votes at present, or 169 of 237 votes from 2005, or 258 of 345 in an EU of 27 countries. In an enlarged EU, the 13 smallest countries could be voted down by the 14 largest. In theory, the 14 largest countries could also introduce enhanced co-operation between themselves, or between eight of them, an arrangement with which 13 other countries would not be happy.

Conversely, three large countries, including Germany, could prevent enhanced co-operation, which might be desired by 24 other member states. Now that we have got down to a proper analysis of what is going on, hon. Members are perhaps beginning to see what a mess all this is. I shall continue until I finish explaining to the Committee for the record exactly what it is all about.

The qualified majority itself decides what is possible. The blocking minority can prevent the decision. If the opponents do not have a blocking minority of 26 of 87 votes, or the corresponding number after 2005, enhanced co-operation can be established. It may be

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possible to avert clear breaches of the agreed conditions with the aid of the Court of Justice, but as we all know, the Court of Justice, with its judicial activism, has been the most powerful engine of integration. It considers its task and its objective to be extending European integration, not bringing it to an end.

I move to a question that I regard as of great importance: the weakening of the small countries' negotiating position. There is something pretty disgusting about the manner in which people pontificate about this European Union as if it benefits everybody in equal measure. Let us cut the cackle and get down to the facts. [Interruption.] It is all very well for the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick) to laugh, but does he think it a good thing to bulldoze and blackmail the smaller countries?

Mr. Hendrick: I thank the hon. Gentleman for inviting me to intervene. The debate is about countries that want to get on with it, not bulldozing or blackmailing. Those who do not want to get involved can stay out. I would be grateful if he said what enhanced co-operation is about, instead of making up his own fiction.

Mr. Cash: I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman would include as a little bit of fiction the vote by the Irish in their recent referendum. Ireland is a small country, which is one reason why its people took such exception to being bulldozed. That was a main argument made by the no campaign and it is proof of what I am saying. The same goes for the Danes.

If we are to start trotting out remarks on what happens when the Danes hold a referendum, I should say that I was in Denmark when they voted on the Maastricht treaty. I campaigned for and with the Danish people with their consent, and enthusiastic consent at that. The bottom line is that we won that debate. And what happened afterwards? The Konrad Adenauer Siftung, in its journal "German Comments", said in an editorial—I paraphrase, but this is what it came down to—"Something very dangerous is going on in Europe today. Elections are being used as a means of protest. This must be stopped."

That is the kind of language that we are hearing. That is the kind of blackmailing and bulldozing that I am talking about. The British people must be told about it, and this forum—this House of Commons—gives me an opportunity to explain it.

There is a gentleman across the way who is shaking his head. I do not know his constituency, but if he wants to shake his head, let him rise to his feet and dispute what I have just said—or does he not have the nerve to do so?

Mr. Bryant: I thank the hon. Gentleman for enticing me to my feet, but his argument is completely fallacious. He seems to be saying that the people of Ireland should be allowed to make a decision on behalf of the whole of the rest of the European Union, which is fundamentally anti-democratic. A similar point was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Denzil Davies).

It is all important that, in any consideration of the use of enhanced co-operation, we take account of the views of smaller member states that might indeed constitute

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eight states wanting to co-operate. It would be profoundly anti-democratic of us to decide that we should be able to create a veto to prevent them from doing so.

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