It would simply result in another round of negotiation if our partners in

It would simply result in another round of

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than the treaty, and no one suggested that they should leave the Union. It would simply result in another round of negotiation if our partners in Europe really wanted to push ahead with the treaty. We surely would also be able to obtain the concessions—the very substantial concessions, we are assured by the Government and the Lib Dems—that the French and the Dutch obtained as a result of their rejection of the original constitution. Ministers and a number of hon. Members who have spoken in the debate allege that we on this side of the debate—not on this side of the House, because Members in all parts of the House argue the points that I am making—exaggerate the implications of the treaty and have exaggerated the implications of previous treaties. I wish that were so, but the reverse is true.
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We—including Governments of whom I have been a member—always underestimate the implications of treaties that we agree to, because we can never foresee how the European Court of Justice will interpret a treaty that we pass. All we know from experience is that it will always expand competences more widely than originally anticipated. My own experience confirms that. My first role in Government was as Economic Secretary, and the first thing I had to do was implement a decision of the European Court of Justice that we had to apply VAT to building, electricity, water, homes and spectacles. It was an interpretation of the sixth VAT directive, passed in all good faith by the Labour Government back in the 1970s, which none of us had foreseen would extend VAT into previously zero-rated areas. We assured everybody that the zero rates were safe and secure. It was the first time, as I remember telling the House with some relish, the House has ever been required to pass a tax and given no option not to do so since the ship tax introduced by Charles I sparked off the civil war. I am glad to say that the measure did not have the same impact when I introduced it, and I gave my officials instructions that they were to introduce it 11 Mar 2008 : Column 238 in such a way as to raise the minimum amount of revenue possible. It was the first time they had ever been told to introduce a tax with that effect. Mrs. Villiers: Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the main reasons the treaty is such a significant shift in power is the criminal justice provisions? Criminal justice and the coercive power of Government over individual is one of the fundamental hallmarks of statehood, so transferring more power in that area to Brussels is a significant constitutional shift. Mr. Lilley: That is perfectly true. It is one of the areas, but by no means the only one, where we are making further shifts the full extent and implications of which we cannot fully judge at this stage but know from experience will be wider, not narrower, than any interpretation that we can put on them at present.
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  • Fall '08
  • Finklerberg

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