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7.23 pm

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim): I am one of the diminishing number of hon. Members who voted in this place on the original legislation to take our United Kingdom into the Common Market. As is well known in the House, I voted against that legislation and am still

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opposed to it. We had a very warm and hot debate on that occasion, which ended with one of the Labour Whips using his Hansard report to batter the head of the then Liberal leader. There were other very warm scenes in that debate.

I believe that the sovereign states of Europe should co-operate fully together when they willingly want to co-operate together, in the spheres in which they want to practise that co-operation. I do not believe in the incorporation of sovereign states in a super-European state. Today, we have heard talk in the House about federalism, but we are not talking about that. Federalism is a policy by which so many people with so much power decide voluntarily to surrender part of that power and establish a federal system. That is not the system in Europe.

Mr. Prodi thinks that he has all the power. He does not ask us whether we would like to give up some power, but tells us, "We have this power, and we give you some say in how that power is used." The hon. Member for Wimbledon (Roger Casale) referred to the many European directives. To deal with those directives, however, the House is offered only a scrutiny Committee. Even if that Committee said to Europe that it did not like a directive and voted unanimously against it, and even if the House endorsed that view, that would make no difference; the European law would stand.

In the earlier debates to which I referred one of the main arguments used to sell Europe to the House was that none of our sovereignty would be diminished. I do not think that, today, anyone looking back on our history would say that that is true; there has been a diminution in the sovereignty of the House. We know that because many cases of European law have made it clear that the House can only take note of decisions made in Europe. We do not have the power to change those decisions.

We were also told that we would have a power of veto, so that if the United Kingdom did not like what was being done in Europe, it could stop it. As we all know, however, there has been a great change in the voting system in Europe and we do not have a power of veto. In fact, much of the power of the majority is being diminished.

When we went into Europe, we had a master-card in one of our industries—the fishing industry. Britain had control of the largest part of the seas of the common market. What has happened? Now, we have to go with a begging bowl to Europe even to have the right to fish our own seas. I remind the House that we got into that serious situation because of the enlargement of Europe. Spain was one of the countries that entered the European Union, and it drove its ships right through the barriers that had been erected.

Some hon. Members know the sad story of our fleets. The Northern Ireland fleet has been cut in half, and now another third of it will be sacrificed. Around the shores of the United Kingdom mainland there is a dearth in the fishing industry. When we entered the common market we had full control and full authority in our own hands. Where did that control and authority go?

The new European Commission President, President Prodi, has taken to issuing statements on what will happen in Europe. The French Prime Minister, too, has issued his theory of what will happen in Europe. However, what is really happening in Europe is that the power of national

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Parliaments is being slowly diminished and debased, so that those Parliaments do not have the power to stop events in Europe.

Some have said that we have done well out of Europe, but Northern Ireland has not done well. Per head of population, Northern Ireland has not received back from Europe the money that it has paid in as a member of the United Kingdom. One would have thought that, by this time, we would have had that much. Until recently, the south of Ireland was receiving £5 million per day from the common market. That money has stopped now and, as we know, the Celtic tiger of its economy is going down the drain—we hear announcements daily on its vast economic drift. We have to face up to those issues.

Will our economy advance if we bring in other states? This country's farming economy will certainly not advance when we bring in the other countries of Europe. There will be produce on the market with which our farmers cannot contend. Our farmers have to meet the standards that we demand in our food production and ensure that those standards are upheld, whereas some of the countries that will be brought in adhere to very low standards indeed. Those of us who know something about the workings of the European Parliament know that when Greece joined with its low standards of agriculture, subsidies to the rest were withdrawn and an attempt was made to raise Greek agriculture to a decent standard. If that happens with all the countries that wish to join at present, I do not know what will happen to agriculture. More and more people are coming to realise that the common agricultural policy is not good for farmers or for the housewife, and the House should carefully consider that issue. I will, of course, vote against the treaty tonight.

7.31 pm

Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet): In my parliamentary career, I have usually been called at about ten minutes to 9, by which time the Whips are telling me to keep my contribution down to five minutes, so I am grateful to catch your eye so early, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, I shall bear in mind your admonition and be as brief as possible so that others can make their contributions to the debate.

It is an honour to take part in a debate that has included a contribution from the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson), who is unfortunately not in his place at the moment. He has the honour—if I may call it that—of being the only hon. Member who has beaten me in an election. I stood against him in 1987, but despite that he was the first Member to greet me when I arrived here in 1997 and to give me a kindly welcome to the House. It is a pleasure for me to be on the same side of the argument with him tonight.

It was also a pleasure to follow the passionate and eloquent remarks of the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley). He mentioned the pooling—or the loss, as he would put it—of sovereignty that this country has experienced as a result of joining the European Union, but we chose to do so voluntarily. We made a democratic decision to put our sovereignty into the pool because we perceived that we would get democratic benefits from doing so. If those benefits have not materialised, we have serious work to do to obtain them. The fact remains that

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we took the decision to give up some of our freedom because we felt that that would increase our influence and effectiveness.

As the hon. Gentleman spoke, I was reminded of my experience in the past few years of coaching a boys' football team in my constituency. I started coaching them when they were nine, and finished last year when they were 16. When they were nine, they were tiny little boys who each felt that they had complete freedom to run anywhere they liked on the pitch. We more or less convinced the goalkeeper that he had to stay towards the back, but the rest felt that they could do whatever they liked. When one got the ball, it was head down and straight for the goal, with not a thought of passing it or involving any other member of the team. Over the years of coaching that football team, we convinced them that they would be more effective if, instead of playing as 11 individuals, they were a team of 11 players. They had more impact for their effort if they limited their personal freedom and one stayed on the left wing, one stayed on the right wing, one of them went up front, some of them stayed in the middle and some stayed at the back. They limited their freedom, but they became more effective and won more matches. They got more bang for their buck. In other words they pooled their personal sovereignty, but they got something back for it, just as we did as a nation when we joined NATO.

Earlier, we discussed article 5, which is a far greater pooling of sovereignty than anything in the treaty of Nice. It requires us, almost with no ability to modify our undertaking, to go to the aid of any nation in NATO that is under attack. We have no choice in the matter because we have agreed that if one of our NATO colleagues is attacked we will go to war to defend it. We gave up our freedom of action because it made us safer and gave us the power of those other countries at our back to protect us in our turn.

If the events of 11 September have done anything, they have made hon. Members of all parties rethink our views and positions in politics, and our country's position. We have seen how the freedom that we have as an individual nation has allowed us to act flexibly and forcefully. We have seen my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister take a position of influence on the world stage because we have acted effectively as an individual country. It may therefore have crossed some people's minds that we should be a power by ourselves again, forming ad hoc alliances and coalitions as necessary. However, the message that I get from the events of 11 September is that it is only by working together, pooling power, working with other people and forming coalitions that we will achieve anything.

The vision that I have continued to develop since the terrible events of 11 September is of a European Union that could find ways to make decisions more quickly and act on them more effectively. We have all seen how decisions in the United Nations can come down to the lowest common acceptable denominator. The European Union should not make decisions in that way, as has been part of the problem over the years, because we need a European Union that works collectively to look after its member states' interests. We should know that the interests of the Spanish, the Italians, the French and the Germans are our interests. We should do what is in their interests, knowing that they will do what is in our

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interests. Then we could make decisions together properly and effectively. The treaty of Nice is about starting that process.

The treaty is about extending qualified majority voting so that we can make decisions in that way. The only criticism that I have of the treaty in the light of what happened on 11 September is that the issues to which QMV will be extended seem puny and paltry. We should perhaps consider extending them to broader areas to improve our effectiveness. I therefore welcome the decision by the Swedish presidency to open up the debate on the democratisation of Europe and bringing power back to the people. I hope that we ratify the treaty of Nice tonight and move on to the next treaty, which should consider second chambers and the representation of national Parliaments in Europe. We should start the process of integration and of aiming to work together more effectively.

Sometimes our constituents do not recognise the arcane discussions that we have about sovereignty, the treaty and various articles. They look to what the EU can do for them, and I have no problem with that. My constituency of South Thanet is in east Kent, and we probably get more benefits from Europe than anywhere else. Enlargement will mean a large share for us of that annual £1.76 billion of extra business. It will mean more exports from east Kent businesses and more jobs in east Kent in transport, manufacturing and services.

I can already show my constituents what we have done with objective 2 money in Thanet, which still has one of the highest unemployment rates in the UK. It was the EU that came to our aid with money when the then British Government would not. I can show my constituents what Europe has built for us. I can show them estates where adolescents—they are just kids, really—are already alcoholics on bootlegged booze. The only way to deal with that problem is to address the movement of alcohol and bootlegging across Europe. I can show them drug addicts and tell them about what the EU is doing to crack down on the movement of drugs. I can tell them about our current security concerns regarding the channel tunnel, Manston airport or the ports at Dover and Ramsgate. We can deal with those security problems only as part of the European Union.

Big words like constitutional issues and democratisation are very important to us in the House when we talk about the future of Europe, but other things matter more in the street. We must always keep in mind the vision that the EU means that our country will be stronger and more prosperous.

Finally, it has been said that the EU has brought an end to war in Europe. We remember the horrors of the second world war, but the war in Europe has been going on for 3,000 years. Those who doubt that should come to my constituency. I can show them Richborough castle, which was built by Julius Caesar, or the beaches where the Vikings landed. I can show them where Hengist and Horsa arrived from Saxony, and decided to stay and build the English nation. I can show them Ramsgate, built to fight Napoleon, or the business park—now occupied by Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company—that was built as part of the fighting effort in the first world war. I can take them to Manston airport, one of the bases involved in the battle of Britain.

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We have been fighting the Europeans for thousands of years, but the existence of the European Union means that that battle is at an end. It means that we are bringing security to Europe, as well as prosperity. The treaty of Nice aids that process, and the House should ratify it tonight.

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