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Angela Watkinson (Upminster): I hope the fact that my paternal grandmother was Welsh would satisfy the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), if he were here, of my European credentials.
The Nice treaty is a crucial step in the development of our relationship with Europe. Although enlargement is only a small element of the Bill, it is welcome. Most applicant countries have large tracts of agricultural land; for example, Poland, which has been mentioned several times this evening. The common agricultural policy
It is unfortunate that the treaty is a package deal, which includes the European rapid reaction force. Despite assurances, I continue to have reservations that NATO would be weakened by it. It also covers qualified majority voting, which I shall consider later.
Europe is our nearest neighbour, and we should be on the best possible terms. There are countless ways in which we can co-operateenvironmental issues, trade, tourism and international crime are obvious topics on which to do that. The current crisis of international terrorism is an opportunity for Europe to demonstrate whether it can act and speak as a single entity with support from all its members. However, we must respect the differences of member countries, which have widely varied economies, cultures and needs.
The differences will be even wider if the treaty is ratified this evening. It will lock them together by increased qualified voting into policies of one size fits all. They may benefit some countries, have a neutral effect on some and disadvantage others. In that way, the loss of control over our own domestic decisionsin which I include how much we spend on our public services, and on local government financecould lead to policies agreed on the basis of qualified majority voting being imposed on this country when we had voted against them. That would constitute a fundamental erosion of democracy.
The electorate have the right to expect that representatives for whom they have voted in an election, and could subsequently vote out of office if not satisfied, will formulate the policies that govern their lives. Nice is a further step towards a inward-looking, protectionist, over-regulated, centralised Europethat politically bound federal European state that is the openly acknowledged aim of France, Germany, Italy and other members.
Nice would take us in the wrong direction. The future of Europe should be what Charles de Gaulle described as a "Europe des patries"a flexible group of co-operating but independent self-governing nations. It should focus on clear, overriding issues that transcend national boundaries, with which national Parliaments cannot or do not wish to deal effectively. If the nation state is not able to regulate an area completely or exclusively, electorates will have nothing to lose and everything to gain from international co-operation.
The question before us tonight, however, is "Who governs Britain?" Europe is our friend, neighbour and trading partner, but we do not need to give up the independence of our Government to prove itand that would be the effect of our ratifying the Nice treaty tonight. It is a step too far, and I shall vote against it.
I hope very much that all of us who believe that Britain's future lies within the European Union will be willing to put the case for continuing constructive participation in the shaping of our joint European future, and for the enlargement of the European Union. We also
As one who grew to maturity as a close observer of the positive and peaceful development of the European Union, first visiting Spain and Portugal when they were in the firm grip of ageing fascist military dictators, I believe that the case for Europe and what it has achieved in the last 50 years must be constantly reiterated.
No democracy or other organisation can be described as perfect. Indeed, the House of Commons may be a case in point. One of the major recurring themes of civil society has been the efforts of citizens to ensure that the political constitutions by which their lives are directed, regulated and controlled are structured to allow balance, redress and a share of responsibilities between rulers and ruled. In the context of the European dimension, the path to this treaty cannot be seen as a pursuit of political perfection; it must be seen as meeting the need to accommodate the national interests and aspirations of the member states of the European Union. The treaty is just another step on that road.
The Conservative party's opposition to this parliamentary process of ratification is a spectacle both ironic and distressing. It is ironic in that all the major steps along the road so far have been initiated by the major Opposition party, as a party in government. The accession treaty represented the high point of Edward Heath's premiership, indeed of his whole political career. Mrs. Thatcher willingly agreed to the Single European Act, although it is rumoured that she later had regrets. The Maastricht and Amsterdam treaties were bravely and successfully piloted by John Major, in the face of the rebellious opposition of a then new Membernow the new leader of the Conservative party.
As I have said, what we have heard from the major Opposition party tonightas in earlier debatesis both ironic and depressing. We see the remains of a once great party, now in the process of rejecting the European ideal so eloquently proposed by Winston Churchill in the aftermath of the second world war when he argued for a united states of Europe. Now, in contrast, for the first time we have a Conservative leader and a Conservative party not just rejecting the European ideal, but actively and seriously believing that we should remove ourselves from the mainstream of European decision making and political life.
Conservative Members have trumpeted in this debate that the treaty of Nice represents a further significant loss of British sovereignty and is a serious attack on what they regard as the British way of life. What rubbish. I do not subscribe to the view that the closer we come to our fellow EU members and the closer we work with them, the less British we become. Indeed, in response to some of the comments made earlier, I ask a question from a specifically Scottish perspective. Has 300 years of membership of the United Kingdom made the Scots less Scottish? The answer is no. I believe that as a nation we Scots have played, and continue to play, a full and active part, in the Union while keeping a distinctive cultural context.
Both the Government and the Opposition Front-Bench membership contain a fair smattering of Scots making their mark. Some of them come from an elevated position, whereas others come from a less-elevated one.
Will this treaty or the euro have any effect on the essential nature of the English or indeed of the United Kingdom dimension? Does EU membership make the Germans less German or the French less French? Does membership make them less likely to promote their national prosperity and jobs? The answer is no. Individual citizens are more concerned about jobs, prosperity and well-being. Ultimately, qualified majority voting has had little impact on those people's daily lives and consciousness.
Therefore, putting all the humbug to one side, one should view the Bill's proposals as they really are. The proposals are very positive, modest and useful improvements to the way in which the European Union operates, paving the way to enlargement. An enlarged European Union will in turn provide a larger market for British goods and bring greater prosperity to new and current member states and to our constituents.
The arguments in support of the United Kingdom's continued active involvement in the affairs of the European Union also are true of Scotland's continued membership of the United Kingdom. The case for an independent Scotland in Europe made by the Scottish National party has been rejected several times. That case, just like the one made today by Conservative Members, runs contrary to the economic, political, social and cultural realities that we face as a country and as parliamentarians. It is a recipe for job losses, unfulfilled potential and an introverted obsession with the past and its redundant jingoism.
I firmly believe that the best possible deal for Britain will be achieved by staying on the inside track rather than by crashing along the hard shoulder with an eye on a possible early exit from the European Union.
Last year, in his final speech to the Labour party conference, just before his sad death, Donald Dewar made the point that he was proud of being a Scot, a Briton and a European. For me, those sentiments set the framework in which I shall serve as a Member of Parliament, to achieve the best possible deal for my country and my constituents.