European Constitution

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 27th January 2004.

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Photo of Mr Andrew Rosindell Mr Andrew Rosindell Conservative, Romford 11:30 am, 27th January 2004

What discussions he has had with the Slovak Government about prospects for a referendum in Slovakia on a European constitution; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Mr Peter Viggers Mr Peter Viggers Conservative, Gosport

What discussions he has had with the Slovene Government about prospects for a referendum in Slovenia on a proposed European constitution; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Mr Jack Straw Mr Jack Straw Foreign Secretary, Foreign Secretary

I spoke to the Foreign Ministers of Slovakia and Slovenia yesterday. They confirmed to me that neither country is planning referendums on a European Union constitution.

Photo of Mr Andrew Rosindell Mr Andrew Rosindell Conservative, Romford

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his reply, but does he agree that although an overwhelming majority of people in Slovakia voted to join the European Union, that does not automatically mean that they are willing to accept the imposition of a European constitution? If other countries in Europe, such as the Czech Republic, Spain, Denmark, Luxembourg and Portugal, are willing to have a referendum, does he not believe that all EU countries should give their people the right to make the decision?

Photo of Mr Jack Straw Mr Jack Straw Foreign Secretary, Foreign Secretary

I am sorry that I gave the hon. Gentleman a disappointing answer, but a fundamental rule of cross-examination is that before one asks a question, it is a good idea to anticipate the answer. I offer that as friendly advice.

The position of Slovakia and Slovenia is consistent with that of the United Kingdom. A Labour Government gave the country a referendum on whether we should stay in or leave the EU, but, like Slovakia and Slovenia and the majority of other EU member states, we do not judge that any likely content of the constitutional treaty will affect the fundamental relationship between our country and the European Union.

Photo of Mr Peter Viggers Mr Peter Viggers Conservative, Gosport

The constitutional treaty completely changes the position. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the serpent of the European constitution is not dead but merely sleeping? Does he genuinely believe that his explanation is sufficient reason to deny public opinion, which is clearly in favour of a referendum?

Photo of Mr Jack Straw Mr Jack Straw Foreign Secretary, Foreign Secretary

The hon. Gentleman asked me about Slovenia and obviously thought of it as a paradigm for the United Kingdom. Slovenia had a referendum on whether to join the EU, as we did in 1975.

Photo of Mrs Ann Winterton Mrs Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

How did you vote?

Photo of Mr Jack Straw Mr Jack Straw Foreign Secretary, Foreign Secretary

I voted no.

Photo of Mr Michael Martin Mr Michael Martin Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady should not shout across the Floor.

Photo of Mrs Ann Winterton Mrs Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

I apologise, Mr. Speaker.

Photo of Mr Jack Straw Mr Jack Straw Foreign Secretary, Foreign Secretary

Slovenia, like us, has judged that there are no grounds for a referendum, given what we believe will be in the draft constitutional treaty.

Photo of Mr Keith Vaz Mr Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that, rather than being obsessed with the European constitution, as Conservative Members are, the Government and people of Slovenia and Slovakia look forward to EU enlargement on 1 May and the continued agenda for reform? How many points for reform that were mentioned in the letter sent by the Prime Minister and Chancellor Schröder on 25 February 2002 has the European Commission ticked off?

Photo of Mr Jack Straw Mr Jack Straw Foreign Secretary, Foreign Secretary

I thank my hon. Friend for that question; I shall write to him. I have a lot of information and statistics in my head, but I do not have an immediate answer to that specific question.

Photo of Mr John Bercow Mr John Bercow Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

Disgraceful!

Photo of Mr Jack Straw Mr Jack Straw Foreign Secretary, Foreign Secretary

I accept the disapproval of the House. However, my hon. Friend is right to say that as well as discussing the important draft constitutional treaty, we need to ensure that the EU delivers on its core functions of greater prosperity, better growth, better investment and, where it can be agreed, a more effective common foreign policy.