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Mr. Bercow: Does the hon. Gentleman concede that the rejection of qualified majority voting in respect of taxation, by this Government as by the Conservative Government, is not of itself a guarantee of the retention of sovereignty in relation to tax matters? That is transparently obvious to most observers. As proof of that point, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the fact that the Paymaster General has voluntarily chucked away no fewer than 85 tax advantages that this country enjoyed, simply to satisfy the European Union.
Mr. Miller: We could get into a deep philosophical argument about definitions of sovereignty here. Perhaps it is time that the nation became engaged in such a debate and we moved away from some of the trivial nonsense that the Conservative party seeks to portray as definitions of sovereignty. The hon. Gentleman and I will, I am sure, agree on one thing: Britain still has a veto over taxation.
The Government have spelled out the key areas on which they have not given ground, and it would be helpful to hear in detailpoint by pointfrom the Opposition their reasons why the Government should not have given ground on the other measures. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) mentioned
In conclusion, I return to the observations made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North. He said that in some sectorshe cited the example of information technologywe may have to reach agreements with our European partners. Those agreements would be for the benefit of Europe's competitiveness, as they would enable us to move faster than, for example, the Asiatic countries or north America.
Although we have a broad idea of what will happen to the IT industry over the next few years, none of us can predict its future exactly, and we cannot envisage what its long-term structure will be. As Europe may have to move faster than its competitors to maintain its edge over them, it would be absurd for a Government not to leave the door open to the possible extension of QMV.
Yet the Opposition appear to believe that, as a matter of principle and irrespective of what might happen in the future, their 1997 gospel that there should be no extension of QMV must be adhered to. That is an absurd position, and it cannot be logically sustained. It merely typifies the naive view of a very split Opposition.
Mr. Cash: Amendment No. 1 focuses on qualified majority voting, which covers a series of articles. That puts me in a quandary, as each of those articles merits discussion on its own account. QMV has two aspects. On the one hand, there is the problem of its practical application, which requires changes to domestic British legislation; on the other, there is a matter of principle.
As I pointed out in my interventions on the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) and the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson), QMV raises a matter of principle with a difference. I certainly voted for the Single European Act, and Britain adopted QMV on a variety of matters when it joined the European Community in 1972.
There are a number of amendments to which I need to speak, so I hope that the House will forgive me if I deal with them all in this speech. I shall be as brief as possible, but I do not want to jump around from one subject to another. I shall try to deal with the amendments in the order in which they have been selected for debate.
I shall begin with the general point that debates such as this are hugely important to people outside the House. It is the duty of hon. Members to do their best to make them intelligible, so we must be careful to distinguish the wood from the trees.
In that connection, I am reminded of the White Paper published in 1971, which clearly stated that Britain would retain the veto, because to relinquish it would damage our national interest. The White Paper went further, stating that relinquishing the veto would damage the very fabric of the European Community.
The point being made in that White Paper was simple. It was that the members of a harmonious community do not railroad and bulldoze each other by the use of qualified majority voting. They allow discussion to take place and understandings to develop; they do not push people up against a wall and say, "We will shoot you with qualified majority voting if you don't agree." That is particularly relevant when it comes to government.
There is a distinction between arriving at a degree of understanding and compromise and changes in legal processes in an arena such as the European Union in which there is a degree of co-operation, with which I agree. My party is conscious of the advantages that can come from greater co-operationas am Ibut not at the price of giving up our own government. That is the key point. Therefore, the Single European Act is, as I said in an intervention on the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North, distinguishable from the treaties of Maastricht, Amsterdam and now Nice, because those are, with qualifications, primarily to do with the creation of a European Government.
The Irish vote has a lot to do with this. The application of qualified majority voting in relation to the enhancement of the powers of the larger states caused great concern in Ireland. My travels with the Select Committee on European Scrutiny around eastern and central Europe have shown that there is deep concern there as well. Those countries do not make too much noise about it because they see certain advantages in being in a European union. Even so, they hope that the Government and the Oppositionor the unofficial Opposition, if I can put it like thatwill help them to maintain their democracy, acquired at the "springtime of nations". That is an important message for the Government.
The European Union will not survive if it creates tensions as a result of qualified majority voting, which alienates the populations of the countries concerned. It is primarily devoted to getting through whatever technocratic decisions may be taken by the lego-wonks of the European Commission and the politico-wonks that exist in some parts of the European elite.
The extension of the use of qualified majority voting, which reduces the need for unanimity and the value of the national veto, has had a serious detrimental effect on the confidence that member states have in the European Union, full stop.
Mr. Hendrick: Will the hon. Gentleman consider the converse of what he has just described? For example, Jean-Luc Dehaene was rejected because of the use of the veto and Jacques Santer eventually became head of the European Commission. We found that the Commission
Mr. Cash: I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has raised that instance. It was Mr. Jens-Peter Bonde and the Eurosceptics who led the campaign to get rid of the Commission, despite the fact that the MEPs in the Labour party and my own claimed rather more influence over what happened. The bottom line is that the Commissioners went because they were no good. The tragedy is that they were reappointed.
Mr. Menzies Campbell: May I take the hon. Gentleman back to his intervention during my speech and pick up the theme of what he has just said? Am I right to understand that he believes that there are circumstances in which qualified majority voting is essential? If so, on what principles does he base his view? He gave an illustration with regard to the abduction of children, but perhaps he could go a little further and tell us the principle upon which he holds that view.
Mr. Cash: I shall indeed. The principle is that the whole of the European Union needs to be renegotiated. If we reached a point at which we had to reduce the functions of the EU and that was done properly and we continued to accept the principle of political co-operationas we shouldwe could get down to the business of deciding the arenas within which it should apply. We do not have the time or the disposition to go into that at present, although I tabled a new clause on the subject that was not called, much to my chagrinto use a French expression. However, everything has grown like Topsy and the bottom line is that we developed qualified majority voting on a continuous escalator with no discrimination.
My principle is that we should go back to the drawing board: save Europe, as Edmund Burke once suggested about the depredations of the French revolution, and get the thing right. That is the principle on which we should operate. It is in the interests of democratic nation states not only that they should have their say but that they should not be bulldozed by this monumental leviathan.