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The Under-Secretary smiles wanly because he knows that I have outlined the true position; perhaps he is in favour of that. I wonder why he wants to remain a Member of Parliament when he is so keen for all the decisions that we used to make to be taken elsewhere by QMV or by the executive order and fiat of Commissioners whom we have not elected.
We are considering the negotiating powers of member states, and whether they have the right to defend their national interest. When I was a Minister, I attended some 21 Councils of Ministersprimarily the single market Council, but others as welland I got a range of experience. Whenever I went with a veto, I found negotiating a pleasurable and relatively straightforward experience. I could guarantee to my colleagues in the Government that I would never come back with an answer that we could not accept.
All the time that there was political support in the Government for the line that I wished to takethat was another issueI could guarantee to my colleagues that I would either come back with a vastly improved draft because I had threatened to use the veto until I got the draft that I wanted, or come back empty-handed, and often happier that way, saying that I had used the veto because the proposals were totally unacceptable and that the British position had been preserved by exercising that veto. There was never any danger: we got either good law or no law. I would normally favour no law, although there are rare occasions when one might want a good law. With a veto, one can guarantee either good law or no law. Surely that makes sense for any Minister.
Mr. Redwood: Not as often as I would have liked. It is entirely reasonable that member states should protect their national interests. It is also reasonable, in a world of subsidiarity, that in most cases there should be not a European law but national laws passed by each member state according to its wishes. I want a trading arrangement, primarily, and a single market that works. I do not believe that we get a single market by having lots of laws. We pass too many laws in the name of the single market.
A single market is about traders, freedom of movement and removing barriers. It is also about having no customs dues, about having the ability to sell a product or service here as well as there, and about Governments not getting in the way. As always with the European Union, it tries to turn the single market into a massive extension of state power. It has proposed some 300 laws, many of which we finally agreed to because we had to under QMV,
When I tried to negotiate under QMV, I found it far more time-consuming and expensive in every way. There were times when I was able to persuade my partners and colleagues and win them over. However, that might take three to six months of intensive campaigning involving international telephone calls, getting on planes to foreign capitals to persuade friendly Ministers, horse-trading on particular issues, developing parliamentary tactics or making people sit up late into the nightwhich they were not used to doingin the hope that they would give in to me on a vital clause because they wanted to go home.
All those things had to be done, and it was not a pleasurable experience. I often had to come back and report to the House of Commonsas I always did, because I thought that that was importantthat we were making law that was not ideal, but that it was the best we could do in the circumstances because we had given away our right to make, in the House and on behalf of the British people, the laws that we thought were correct.
I urge the House to support the position of my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk and of the official Oppositionsupporting whatever amendments are necessary in the light of the advice that we get on the documentation from the Foreign Office, which seems to be a bit of a shamblesto ensure that we do not give away any more qualified majority votes. Before the Minister says, "We can't do that, because Britain has given its word", I would say that Britain is surely still sufficiently democratic that, if the British people and their parliamentary representatives think that this treaty goes a step too far, we can go back to our European partners and say that it goes a step too far. We have the opportunity to do that now, because the Irish people have said that it goes several steps too far, and that, as far as they can see, the treaty of Nice is a dead letter.
Many good points have been made on individual items. I do not want to take up much more time, as others wish to contribute, but I am worried by the proposals on product intervention and the surrender of the unanimity clause. I find those proposals ambiguous, and I am not sure that the Government have protected our position on oil in the way that they claim. Whenever I have raised the issue, their defence has always sounded rather shrill. They are clearly worried by the issue, and I would like to hear their legal advice on it.
I am also worried by any hint of dilution of the veto on the common foreign and security policy. This country should control its own foreign policy, and its own Army, Navy and Air Force. The Government are on the slide on that issue. I trust that they will offer leadership in Europe, but I want them to do so by power of persuasion, not by giving away our right to go it alone should the need arise. I am worried that the rules on structural funds might now pass out of veto territory into qualified majority voting territory. I fear that we might not do as well as we would wish if that were to happen.
My final observation is about the extraordinary texthighlighted by the right hon. Member for Llanelliconcerning the European Central Bank and the ecu. I thought that the ecu had been pensioned off some time ago, and was being replaced by the euro. I was always worried about the legality of that move, because the ecu is the currency in the treaty and it has a specific value, which could be different from that of the euro at any given point because of the way in which currencies move, and the fact that it is a weighted basket currency. We now see the ecu coming back in the language of the treaty of Nice.
I hope that the Minister will explain why we have reinvented the ecu when the Germans and others were trying to polish it off, and why we did not have proper amendments to the treaty confessing that the whole third stage plan for the ecu had gone wrong. That plan was blown up when the exchange rate mechanism fell to pieces, and when the German Government decided that the ecu was an embarrassment because it had sunk so far against the deutschmark. I hope that the Minister will also explain why we do not have proper treaty amendments for incorporation into the Bill to make the euro an honest currency in the legal sense, even if it is still a devaluing currency in every other sense. It is not a currency that I welcome. I see the Minister laughing. He would be well advised to make it legally honest, even if it is never going to be honest money.
I have great pleasure in supporting my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk and a united Conservative party in saying that we do not want all this qualified majority voting. It undermines our liberties and our democracy, and it is taking away the rights entrusted to us by the British people. Our tenure in this place is leaseholdalthough some have longer leases than othersand it is wrong to give away the freehold.
Mr. David: The treaty of Nice is an exceptionally good deal for the United Kingdom. There is much in it that deserves to be commended. For example, it contains proposals for sensible changes to the European Parliament, for well-thought-out changes to the European Commission and for significant changes to the European Union's legal system. There will also be significant changes to the Council of Ministers, especially with regard to qualified majority voting and to voting in the Council of Ministers.
As the Government explained in their White Paper in the lead-up to the Nice summit, QMV does not weaken Britain's place in Europe. The opposite is the case: a sensible extension of QMV will strengthen the United Kingdom's position. It is interesting that, in this philosophical debate, the Opposition have conceded that there are many circumstances in which QMV has already operated to the material benefit of the United Kingdom. The greatest single achievement of the European Union to date is the single European market. No one in this debate has doubted for a moment that that single market, although not yet complete, would not have proceeded as far as it has done without qualified majority voting.
I am, therefore, happy to see an extension to qualified majority voting. Some of the measures proposed in the treaty of Nice advocate an extension of QMV in areas of no tremendous significancefor example, with regard to the Committee of the Regions and to the Economic and Social Committee. Not many people would argue that those two bodies were institutions of great significance. In fact, they are decidedly not European Union institutions.
However, I accept that other areas in which an extension of QMV is proposed are of some significance. The structural funds have already been mentioned. The extension is also proposed in areas of industrial and commercial policy and in environmental measures. It is also suggested that it be extended to ensure that the single European market is made complete.