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Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): Is my right hon. Friend making a case for British withdrawal from the EU or for its total dismantling, irrespective of the wishes of 24 other member states, which are happy with the EU?
Denzil Davies: I was not making either case but my arguments have obviously been insufficiently lucid; otherwise, my hon. Friend would not have asked that question. I was trying to make the point that the macro-economic structure is ossifiedit cannot go in one direction or the other. I should like it to move in the direction of decentralisation and more power reverting to member states. I do not believe that the current structure can withstand the massive pressures of globalisation.
We shall wait and see what happens to the final text. I do not believe that it will say much about the matter that we are considering. It will probably be irrelevant and the EU's economy will, sadly, continue to stagnate.
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): The right hon. Member for Llanelli (Denzil Davies) and I probably agree on little about general social and economic policy, but we agree that the public should have a choice between us. That forms a bond between us that is perhaps more important than our political differences.
I believe that democracy becomes a sham unless people can choose between competing ideologies and political programmes. If all the powers go upwards to the European Union, to be decided by people whom we do not elect or know and, in many cases, cannot remove, we lose our democracy, there will be massive disillusionment with the political system and we will witness the rise of extremism. I am therefore pleased to follow the right hon. Gentleman, although he will understand that I approach the subject from a different perspective.
We have held a national election, and it is in the nature of such elections that every party claims victory. However, there is one indisputable result: a clear majority of those who vote in this country do not want the European constitution. The Government must heed that message.
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Mr. Kilfoyle: I am intrigued by the right hon. Gentleman's point about giving rise to extremism in Europe. Does he view the rise in Britain of, for example, the British National party or, indeed, the United Kingdom Independence party, which is a party of wreckers on its own admission, as extremism? I would argue that those parties are extremist. Does he associate that rise with Europe or does it have more to do with domestic circumstances?
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: One of the things that fuels the British National party is its claim that we are losing control over our borders and our asylum and immigration policy. I witnessed similar circumstances in meetings on the Convention on the Future of Europe that took place during the first round of the French presidential election campaign. The French National Front candidate, Jean-Marie Le Pen, defeated an incumbent French Socialist Prime Minister. One of his claims was that only he could repatriate control over immigration policy. He characterised the contest between Chirac and Jospin as a sham, claiming that they had sold out to the European Union. So, yes, I do believe that if we continue to hand over the powers of this Parliament to the European Union it will drive feelings of frustration and resentment that will fuel the rise of extremism.
Mr. Redwood: There is an even more direct link between the rise of extremism and Europe, because we have to have the Lib Dem proportional representation system in European elections, and PR systems breed extremes, whereas sensible first-past-the-post elections, such as those that we have for this House, prevent them.
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. The list system is an anti-democratic reform that the Government ought to reject. I certainly believe that our party should, if it is not too late, try to get back to a system of single-Member constituencies for the European Parliament elections. Luckily, however, I am not in a position to commit my party one way or the other on that issue.
I know from bitter experience in the European Union that it is the Community method to ignore electors. Adverse referendum results are either ignored or overturned, and the electorate are treated with indifference or contempt. The priest class of bureaucrats and technocrats who run the European Union regard the electors as a kind of dumb collection of walk-ons and extras. It is therefore only in this Parliamentand, I hope, in this countrythat we shall take the results seriously. Otherwise, disillusionment and cynicism about the European Union and the democratic system will only increase.
The turnout in member states elsewhere on the continent is an eloquent commentary on how people there see the European Union and the European Parliament. They have been told, as we used to be, that the reason people did not vote in the European parliamentary elections was that the Parliament did not have any proper powers. However, although every treaty change has given it more powers, the turnout has continued to fall. People there are sending a message that they do not regard themselves as adequately represented in the European Parliament and that it is
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not a Parliament to which they can relate. If we add to that problem by transferring more powers from their national Parliaments to the European Parliament, we should be defying that message.
In this country, people are unambiguously voting for less Europe, not more, at the same time as the Government are about to go to Brussels to negotiate, and possibly sign, a truly epic agreement on a European constitution which would give Europe a whole new impetus and status. If the Government persist in ignoring the fact that the people are going one way while the Government are trying to go another, we are in for a road smash in this country. It is the job of politicians to find a way around that and to respond to people's concerns by designing a truly democratic Europe in which they can feel happy and content.
It is perfectly true that the Government never wanted a European constitution. Up until two years ago, they made it clear in all their speeches that they did not, and would not, support any move towards consolidating the existing treaties into anything like a European constitution. Nor did they want any more majority voting when the last talks got under way.
"We see no need to revisit the deal on qualified majority voting made at Nice."
That was stated by the Government's representative on the Convention on the Future of Europe, in an amendment to an early draft of the constitution. Instead, however, majority voting has now been brought into upwards of 30 new areas. The House of Commons Library has calculated that there are 33. The Foreign Secretary rather remarkably dismissed that, saying that they were unimportant and peripheral areas. Does he think that criminal justice or asylum and immigration are peripheral? They go to the very heart of what government is for, and what this House regards as important.
The Government did not want a European Foreign Minister, and they tabled an amendment on that issue. Neither did they want a mutual defence guarantee as a rival to NATO; they also tabled an amendment on that in the Convention. They opposed giving up our seat on the United Nations Security Council when asked to do so by the European Foreign Minister. In spite of that, that requirement endures in the constitutional text that will form the basis of the final negotiations.
The Government did not like the proposed external action service either. That is a Eurospeak term for the Foreign Ministry that the new Foreign Minister will have. Remarkably, however, there is now provision in the draft constitution for that proposal to be put in hand even before the constitution has been ratified. After signature of the constitution, the setting up of that European Foreign Ministry will proceed, before this House or any other national Parliament has had a say on the constitution, let alone before any electorate has voted yes or no to it.
We then come to the exclusive powers, and I agree with what the Scottish National party is saying about fisheries being made an exclusive power. The hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) joined me on the European Scrutiny Committee in interviewing the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry this morning about another matter: competition policy. That is also in the constitution as an exclusive competence. That
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means that, as defined in the constitution, we would have no power to set up any national competition policy or rules. That is what European exclusive competence means. That is not the situation under the present treaties, a fact that I think we finally managed to get out of the Secretary of State.
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I have overlooked the distinguished contribution of the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David), who is also a member of the Committee. Perhaps he will be able to confirm what I have just said.
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