I beg to move,
That this House
believes that any Treaty providing a constitution for the European Union should only be ratified by Parliament once it has received the consent of the British people, democratically given in a referendum.
This is a straightforward and democratic motion that I hope will win widespread support across the House. It is also a timely motion, as it is being debated on the eve of the national referendum on a referendum that is being conducted by the Daily Mail. [Interruption.] I congratulate the Daily Mail on its initiative, and it is not alone. A referendum is also backed by The Sun, The Daily Telegraph, the Yorkshire Post, The Birmingham Post, The Scotsman and many other newspapers, but, most importantly—as shown in opinion poll after opinion poll—it is massively backed by the British people.
Let us quickly get back to the mountain heights, rather than the lower hills, of this debate. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that as most Labour voters are in favour of a referendum, and as there is a slight division between some of our leadership and the rank and file, the best course of action today would be for us to have a good debate and to call for many more debates, but for the right hon. Gentleman not to push the motion to a Division? If we divided on the issue, hon. Members would have to take a position in the early stages of this debate, but I am sure that once their constituents had got hold of them they would change their minds.
I listen with interest to the right hon. Gentleman's comments. The calling of a referendum has been Conservative policy for some six months—[Laughter.] The Foreign Secretary will recall that I announced that call in the House and that he asked me whether it was party policy. It has been our policy for six months, and it remains so. In that light, we will have to consider the comments of Mr. Field. We welcome his Bill, and we hope that the Government will give it a fair wind, so that the House may play a part in ensuring that people have a right to decide on this important issue in due course. We will try to assist him in any way that we can.
I apologise for missing the right hon. Gentleman's opening remarks. Does he realise that he makes pursuit of the Bill promoted by my right hon. Friend Mr. Field, and sponsored by me and many others, more difficult by turning it into a party political issue, when it can be portrayed—as it was at Prime Minister's Question Time by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—as a blocking attempt? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that a wiser course would be the one proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead? We could have the debate, which would allow hon. Members and—above all—the Government to think about the issue, so that a policy that is six months old is not made worse by a Government policy that is three months old.
The hon. Gentleman was kind enough to apologise for not being here for my opening remarks. Had he been, he would have realised that I have not mentioned the Government so far, and I agree with him that the matter should—as I said at the beginning of my remarks—win widespread support across the House. The terms of the motion are simple and straightforward. They are as politically neutral as possible, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will reflect on his position when we reach the end of the debate.
I hope that as many people as possible will register their opinion tomorrow, if only to show the Government that the British electorate will not readily be sidelined on major issues that involve the transfer of powers from this country.
I shall not give way at the moment, because this debate has been severely curtailed by the Government statement. I must make progress, because several of my hon. Friends wish to take part in the debate. At a time when referendums have become an instrument of our political system, and when popular involvement in decisions has become part of our national culture, it would be wrong for an important decision affecting the future of our country to be taken without reference to the people. We should provide them with the opportunity to choose,
"And then the people will decide".
Those are not my words, but those of the Secretary of State for Wales on the "Today" programme on
The words of the Secretary of State for Wales are important, because they reflect the purpose of this motion, which is to enfranchise the people, not through the European elections but through a referendum. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, who—I am sad to see—is not in his place today, will have the intellectual integrity to support us in the Lobby later.
What of the Liberal Democrats? I was pleased to hear Mr. Campbell say that
"If Convention proposals have constitutional implications, there should be a referendum."—[Hansard, 21 May 2003; Vol. 405, c. 1053.]
That sentiment is broadly reflected in the amendment that they have tabled today. Our motion refers to a
"Treaty providing a constitution for the European Union".
It is impossible to see how a constitutional treaty providing a constitution can, by definition, be said not to have constitutional implications. I cannot see how even the Liberal Democrats can, with integrity, avoid supporting our motion today.
We will be told that when we were in office we did not propose referendums on European matters of constitutional significance—that attack has been made on previous occasions—but was not it John Major who promised a referendum on the single currency? After six years of commitment from this Government, we are still waiting for that referendum.
I shall come to that point in my own time. I hope that the hon. Gentleman has lifted his eyes higher than The Beano since he last intervened in the debate.
There was a chance for people to exercise a view on Maastricht, because it was negotiated before a general election, in which it formed part of the Conservative party's manifesto, and implemented after it.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. I will address the issue in due course, because it is important, but I am reminded that during the debates on Maastricht the Labour party—including the shadow Cabinet—was not exactly united in its view on the need for a referendum.
We are told that we will still get a referendum on the euro, but we will have to wait and see. All that we are getting at the moment is the Tony and Gordon roadshow—the Government's answer to our ill-fated Eurovision entry Jemini, being ill matched and out of tune. After six years of being told that the single currency was simply an economic decision, with no constitutional significance, suddenly we are told that it has achieved constitutional significance again.
The Prime Minister said in Warsaw on
"if we recommend entry to the euro, it would be a step of such economic and constitutional significance that a referendum would be sensible, and right, which is why we have promised one."
The Prime Minister used the phrase "constitutional significance", but what about the Convention? At Question Time today, the Prime Minister said again that he did not believe that the Convention was constitutionally significant, but I ask the question again: if a constitutional treaty providing a constitution for the EU is not of constitutional significance, what on earth is? Surely it would be as sensible and right to have a referendum on the constitution as on the euro?
On the Government's judgment about whether joining the euro has constitutional implications, I and many other Opposition Members have questioned Ministers over a long period of time about their evaluation and judgment when they determined that there was no constitutional case to answer and that the argument for joining the euro was purely economic. In fact, we demanded that they put the relevant papers in the Library of the House. If the Prime Minister is now saying that there is a constitutional case to answer, should he not place the relevant papers in the Library immediately?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The Government have changed their position on the matter. We were told for a long time that the issue was solely a matter of economics. However, in order to justify a referendum on the euro and not on the forthcoming treaty, we are suddenly told that the euro has constitutional significance. It would be helpful if the papers relating to that change of view were placed in the Library of the House.
I want to make progress, as the debate was severely delayed by the Government statement that preceded it. Many Opposition Members want to take part in this debate.
I am sure that we will also hear the usual attacks for not backing referendums in the past. The answer is straightforward. Ten or 12 years ago, we did not have referendums. Even Labour Members argued in many debates—and I can give the House examples, if necessary—against referendums. However, nowadays we do have referendums, and that is because this Government have made them readily available as a political and constitutional device for allowing people to decide. There has even been legislation on the systems of referendums.
The Government have used referendums with gusto. There have been 47 referendums since 1997, on matters ranging from the Belfast agreement and devolution for Scotland and Wales to the London Mayor and Assembly and the much-canvassed mayor of Hartlepool; many more are promised on regional assemblies. This Government love referendums, as they have shown over and over again—but not on this matter, the most important and far-reaching issue of the lot. It is their instant ruling-out of one on the European constitution that stands out.
Why this matter? What are the Government afraid of? If the people's consent to set up a mayor of Hartlepool is so important, why is it to be denied for the setting-up of a European president of a European political Union? The answer, we were told by the Prime Minister again in Warsaw, is that neither the Convention nor the IGC represents
"a fundamental change to the British Constitution and to our system of parliamentary democracy".
How does the Prime Minister know what an IGC that has not yet begun is going to represent? On that basis, how can he rule out a referendum now?
In a moment.
Today's amendment changes the criteria. Out goes the phrase
"a fundamental change to the British Constitution", and in comes the phrase
"do not involve a fundamental change in the relationship between the EU and its Member States".
Those are two very different sets of criteria. In a sense, it is perhaps all about words, but what matters is the reality.
The right hon. Gentleman is making eminently logical points about a constitution being of constitutional significance, and that therefore citizens should be able to vote on the matter. The Government entered into the Convention process for two reasons, one of which was to reconnect with citizens of the EU. Surely the best way to reconnect with citizens is to give them a choice—in this case, whether they are for or against a constitution?
I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman. In my later remarks, I shall produce some interesting quotations to underline that point.
I was saying that it is the reality that matters, not the words. We are at the moment part of an albeit imperfect Europe of nations. I believe that the European Union is in need of reform, but if the Convention proposals as they stand were ratified in a treaty we would be part of something fundamentally different.
I do not mind whether we call it a superstate, a federal power or—the Prime Minister's preferred option—a superpower. I do not care whether we call it a politically united Europe or even Romano Prodi's "advanced supranational democracy". All I know is that it will not be what we have now. It will be a step change away from that. I do not understand how can the Government can claim that that does not involve a fundamental change of the relationship between the EU and its member states, because it changes that relationship: member states would go from being partners to being subservient components.
If we look at the overall result of the Convention's proposals, we begin to see what is happening. The proposals will lead to a legal personality, a constitution, a president and a foreign secretary. It will involve fundamental rights, including the right to strike, legally enforceable at a European level. There will be a common foreign and security policy, and a European prosecutor. European law will have explicit primacy, and it will have an increasing role in criminal law, especially in procedure. There will be shared competence over immigration and asylum, with no veto, and Europe's powers will be expanded into vast areas, from transport to energy. There could even be—who knows?—a common currency.
Each of those elements diminishes our existing national sovereignty in one way or another. Together, they build a new and distinct political entity that has many of the attributes of a country. That is the truth, however hard the Government seek to disguise it. To call this a tidying-up exercise is laughable, and simply not true.
"The Constitution is not just an intellectual exercise. It will quickly change people's lives . . . and eventually will become an institution and organisation in its own right."
That may not suit the Government's agenda, but Lamberto Dini is on the Convention, and that is what he believes will happen. That is the reality.
That is the point of view of that politician, but the right hon. Gentleman anticipates the result of the IGC. Does he not accept that Europe already has a constitution in terms of its working arrangements? If our Government handle our national interests in the IGC as I expect them to, the document that will emerge will not involve a surrender of crucial national powers to a federal structure in Europe, or whatever the right hon. Gentleman cares to call it. Would it not be wiser for us all not to be dogmatic at this stage? If a question arises of a fundamental transfer of power, there should be a referendum. However, should we not refrain from taking dogmatic positions on the point until we are presented with that question?
I was trying to suggest to the House that we look at the totality of what is being done. I used to practise in the courts, and one could take little bits of evidence and say that none of them amounted to much on its own. What matters is the eventual result of putting them all together. I am suggesting to the House that what is being created, whether one wants it or not, is very different from what we have now. If that is the case, it is of constitutional significance, and it should be the subject of a referendum.
Has my right hon. Friend seen the proposals for a European foreign minister? Will he try to tell us what that is all about? What would that minister do, and to whom would he be answerable?
Perhaps I missed the foreign minister out, but I meant to include him in the list of components that will be available at the end of the process. I believe that those components will change the nature of the EU. My hon. Friend makes the point that an EU foreign secretary and a common foreign and security policy would mean that the circumstances of the EU would be very different from what they are at the moment. We must consider that point as we determine whether a referendum is necessary or not.
The Government know that the proposals are far reaching. The Treasury's own single currency assessments published on Monday state:
"Many of the issues being considered by the European Convention could have far reaching consequences for the future performance of EU economies whether they are part of the euro area or not."
That means us, and it does not sound to me like tidying up. It sounds much more like the Prime Minister's criteria of economic significance as well as constitutional significance, about which he spoke in Warsaw, where he said that they make a referendum sensible and right. His words also apply to what we see coming from the Convention.
My party opposes the constitution, but that is not the point of the motion. The point is to give the British people the right to decide whom they believe and what choice they want to make about how this country goes forward in Europe. That is why we are pressing for a referendum. Parliament is sovereign, but, in my view, that sovereignty is granted to it in trust by the people. Parliament should not be able to alienate sovereignty permanently and irreversibly without the express consent, democratically given, of the electorate. In the absence of a general election, such authority can be given to Parliament only by a referendum.
Authority has not been given, nor have the Government sought it. There was no mention of a European constitution in their manifesto. That is another reason why a referendum is necessary. That is not just the view of the Conservative party or our country: Angus Robertson reminded us of the origins of the Convention, and I shall quote what Valéry Giscard d'Estaing said on
"Treaties are made by states and agreed by Parliaments, but constitutions are created by citizens and adopted by them in referendums."
That was his view then; I believe it remains his view today. The Danish Prime Minister, Mr. Rasmussen, was reported as saying on
"What is at stake is so new and so big that it is right to hold a referendum".
From all corners of the debate in Europe, people are telling us that the constitution is a significant move forward and that it is a subject fitting for a referendum. The case for a referendum is compelling.
The motion refers carefully and deliberately to
"a treaty providing a constitution for the European Union".
That makes it even more difficult for me to understand how, without their knowing the eventual shape and contents of the treaty, the Government are able instantly to rule out a referendum. If they do not know what they will be looking at in the long term, how can they say that there will be no referendum? Why are the Government so frightened? Are they frightened that their smokescreen will be blown away, and is that why they dare not let the British people decide? Other countries will let their peoples decide. Denmark and Ireland will let the people decide. France, Portugal, Sweden, Finland and Austria may, in various ways, let their people decide. The Netherlands has just decided on a non-binding referendum. Only Britain, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Greece refuse point blank to let the people decide.
I have taken enough time.
The Government's position insults the British people. They continue to play what I call the "big lie" card, saying that the debate on Europe is about going right in or coming out of Europe, and that they want in and we want out. That is dishonest spin of the worst sort—the kind of spin that has already brought them into disrepute, a lesson from which I hope they learn. The real Europe debate, which the Government are so keen to avoid, is the debate about the sort of Europe that we want to be in. Is it a Europe of sovereign nations that we seek, or is it the European superpower that the Prime Minister proclaimed in Poland in October 2000 and in Cardiff in November 2002? That is the real choice.
This motion is about trusting the people. It is a democratic motion. It exposes the arrogance of a Government who will not let the people have their say. What is the betting that the Leader of the House will shortly tell a newspaper that there are rogue elements in the electorate, let alone in the House, who are seeking to undermine the Government, and that that is why we cannot have a referendum? Only six years ago, the Government asked us to trust them. What we are saying is: "Trust the people." Why do they continue to say no?
We will trust the people. We will not take no for an answer. We will let the people decide. I call on the House to support the motion.
I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
"notes that previous governments rejected referendums on previous constitutional treaties such as the Single European Act and Maastricht, both of which involved greater change than the draft Treaty proposed by the Convention on the Future of Europe;
believes that since the proposals of the Convention do not involve any fundamental change in the relationship between the EU and its Member States, there is no case for a referendum;
and notes that any proposals from the Convention are a matter for unanimous agreement by an Inter-Governmental Conference, and then endorsement by the Parliament of the United Kingdom."
The heart of the case made by Mr. Ancram is that changes proposed by the Convention are of such a scale that a referendum to endorse them is necessary. We take a different view. What the Convention is proposing—and what the intergovernmental conference is likely ultimately to agree—will not alter the fundamental constitutional balance between the European Union's institutions and the member nation states.
An important prior point should be made. The Convention can only make recommendations; it cannot decide. The draft constitutional treaty, which the Convention will submit next week to the Heads of Government at the European Council in Thessaloniki, has no legal status whatsoever. Like any draft, it is open to improvement and amendment. Like every other draft treaty in the EU's history, it will be subject to intense negotiations, in this case at the intergovernmental conference later this year, at which all decisions will be taken exclusively by the nation states on the basis of unanimity.
The main part of the Foreign Secretary's argument that there should not be a referendum is that the constitution as drafted by the Convention does not alter the fundamental relationship between the Union and the member states. I take it from that that if he were to conclude that it did alter that relationship, he would find it difficult to resist a referendum, and I suggest that the incorporation of the charter of fundamental rights, which makes basic individual political rights justiciable by the European Court of Justice, and thereby enforceable on member states, does fundamentally alter that relationship.
Given that both major parties rightly offered a referendum on the most crucial part of the Maastricht treaty—the common currency—why will the Government not offer a similar referendum on the common foreign and defence policy and the common immigration and justice policy in the draft treaty? Does he understand that I-39 of the draft gives the EU a veto over our foreign policy, which it does not enjoy today?
The reason is exactly that given by the right hon. Gentleman in April 1993 for voting against a referendum on Maastricht, which, on any basis, significantly changed the relationship between the European Union and its member states to a far more fundamental degree than is ever likely to be proposed in the Convention.
No. I shall come to the label to be accorded to the treaties: we propose, quite sensibly, to call them a constitution; the Tory party, so far as I know, has a constitution, and that does not, thank God, make it a nation state. The shadow Attorney-General is raising the spectre, which has haunted him for years, of EU laws being able to override the laws made in the House of Commons. That has been a fundamental part of our relationship with the European Union, and in our constitution, since 1972, as shown by section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972. There is nothing in the proposals from the Convention that alters or extends that fundamental fact.
Would my right hon. Friend accept that one way of allaying justifiable fears on both sides of the House and, indeed, in the country would be for Parliament to examine the text of the document—whether it is a constitution or a convention—prior to a final decision at the intergovernmental conference. In that way, as well as being executive-led, the constitution would have received serious parliamentary input, provided, of course, that we allow the Executive to negotiate properly at the IGC.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. There should be the maximum parliamentary involvement and examination that he seeks in the final text for the Convention. I also pay tribute to the Government representatives and especially to the parliamentary representatives, Mr. Heathcoat-Amory, my hon. Friend Ms Stuart and to the right hon. Lord Maclennan for the way in which they have represented in the Convention their parties and the national interest. Week by week and month by month, they have tried to ensure that Parliament is engaged, but I entirely agree with my hon. Friend Mr. Allen that there should be extensive discussion, engagement and examination of the Convention's proposals, both on the Floor and upstairs in committees, and we shall be making proposals for that.
There is an issue about whether qualified majority voting should be extended, which we are resisting. The hon. Gentleman has a terribly short memory. Common foreign and security policy is not being put into EU treaties by the Convention; it has been in those treaties since Maastricht, like the requirements for co-operation and so on. We are talking about the collapse of the pillars, but that is a distinction without a difference, as we are excluding what normally goes with pillar 1, namely the justiciability of decisions in the European Court of Justice.
No. This is only a short debate and, if there is time, I shall give way later on.
Every decision that we take over the next month, in the run-up to the IGC, and in the IGC, will be based on the national interest. What matters is that we secure the right text. Parliament will be the judge of that. Once a draft has been agreed, the House will have the final say. That was the approach adopted by the Governments of the day in 1986 on the Single European Act and again in 1993 on the Maastricht treaty.
I will give way later.
Maastricht is important, because what happened then tells us so much about today's Tory party and its attitudes towards Europe. Just 10 years ago, the Conservative party was led by someone who at least recognised the need for Britain to maintain a constructive relationship with Europe. He was supported in that—then—by the right hon. Member for Devizes whose speech during the passage of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill—the Maastricht Bill—sang to the tune of engagement with Europe. The right hon. Gentleman said:
"I fear that those who say that we should turn our backs on Maastricht are taking a tremendous risk—the black risk of a centralised Europe, the risk that Europe will go on without us if necessary, and even if we are part of it, our colleagues will say, 'You've had your chance. In future you can take it or leave it.'"—[Hansard, 4 November 1992; Vol. 213, c. 343.]
The real battle then was not between the Conservative Government and the Labour Opposition; it was a fight within the Tory party between those such as the right hon. Gentleman who—then—wished to see the United Kingdom play a constructive role in the European Union and those who, in truth, wished to see Britain's progressive detachment from Europe. Of course, in those days, the right hon. Gentleman and the sane tendency were in the majority. Not any more: for what 10 years ago was a marginal group of zealots, determined to undermine the UK's position in Europe and to wreck John Major's Government, now constitutes the leadership of today's Tory party. What was once a marginal militant tendency is in control, and the prejudices, myths and fantasies about Europe are confirmed party policy.
In an excellent speech in the House on
I am very grateful to the Foreign Secretary for giving way. I have two brief questions. First, did he stand in 1983 on a manifesto that committed him to withdrawal from Europe, and what has happened to his view, which I am sure that he held sincerely at the time?
Secondly, in relation to his comments about our current position, he will have heard today and during the past few months that we have a consistent view: it is right for the people of this country to have a chance to say whether they want to go into a fundamentally different Europe or to stay where they are at present. I am surprised that the Foreign Secretary is using this opportunity to launch a smokescreen political attack, which is part of an agenda that has been running for some weeks, trying to pretend that the argument is about staying in or getting out of Europe. When will he understand that this is a serious debate about the democratic rights of the people of this country and that he should concentrate on that?
The manifesto that I stood on in 1983, along with many other loyal members of the diminishing band of Labour MPs from that era is a matter of record. It proposed that we should leave the European Union. To respond to the right hon. Gentleman, I reinforce an excellent point made yesterday by my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe: in every election since 1970, the party that stood on a rabid anti-European platform was rightly defeated. We were defeated in 1983 and the Conservatives were defeated in 1997 and again in 2001. We learned the lesson; the sad fact is that, far from learning the lesson, the Conservatives have been reinforced in their ignorance and their blind conviction that the policy that led them to defeat in 2001 was right rather than wrong.
The one person who at least has the merit of consistency is Mr. Cash who was the lieutenant-general of the Maastricht wreckers. It is a real delight to see him in his current position, directing the policy of the rest of the Conservative Front Bench. What a humiliation for the right hon. Member for Devizes. We know his real views, yet he is forced—squeezed between the hon. Member for Stone and the leader of the Conservative party—into an excruciating position, in which he palpably does not believe.
It is hard to reconcile the views of the Tory party with continued United Kingdom membership of the European Union.
Well, three weeks ago, an interesting interview was published in the Financial Times about
In other words, that we should get rid of the central requirement of our membership of the EU—that EU laws, if we agree with them in our system, should override United Kingdom law. The article continued:
"One shadow cabinet member said: 'There's a Bill Cash . . . camp that want him"—
"to commit to renegotiation of Britain's relationship with Europe, which they will deny is code for withdrawal but it is code for withdrawal . . . There are others, including Michael Ancram . . . who is saying no, let's say something positive about Europe'."
The "let's say something positive about Europe" tendency has not been markedly in operation today, or during the past six months.
Every word that the Foreign Secretary utters demonstrates that he does not understand the treaty that he is supposed to be negotiating. The fact is that under our present arrangements, if this treaty went through we would need to change the European Communities Act 1972 in order to guarantee the sovereignty of this Parliament; because otherwise, the constitution would be like a cuckoo in the nest and would take us over.
I simply say, Madam Deputy Speaker—arguing the case against a referendum—that the shadow Attorney-General is yet again drifting into the realm of fantasy. There is no substantive difference between the draft provisions in the draft convention, which yet could still be improved—we will look to that—and what is in section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972.
I must make progress; this is a short debate.
Given that the tendency that now wishes to see the United Kingdom gradually forced out of the European Union is now in control of the Tory party, the British people are presented with a clear choice: a choice between a party that seeks to play a patriotic role in the European Union to boost British jobs, British prosperity and British influence; and a party that seeks—[Interruption.]
I will not give way for the moment because I want to make progress.
Now, Madam Deputy Speaker, I come to the issue that you asked me to address directly. In the United Kingdom there is no hard and fast rule about which issues should go to a referendum and which should not, and the weight of an issue—its gravity—cannot be the sole test. We have routinely held referendums on second-order issues such as Sunday drinking in Wales. We have never held referendums, nor has any other country of which I am aware, on the most critical question that can ever come before any Government, but particularly a democracy: whether to go to war. Nor have we held referendums, nor would I ever suggest that we should, on crucial issues of taxation or public spending.
I promise to give way in a second.
Although there is no iron rule on the holding of referendums in the UK, in practice we have held referendums to determine whether to change our constitutional arrangements dramatically. Contrary to the implication of what the shadow Foreign Secretary said, there has been only one United Kingdom-wide referendum in our history. That was 28 years ago—the 1975 poll on whether to stay in or leave the European Union. In our judgment—I do not think that it is a matter of argument across the Chamber—whether Britain should adopt the single currency or not belongs in the same category of constitutional importance. However, all the other referendums have taken place in separate parts of the United Kingdom. Thus in the late 1990s we held referendums about whether to have a Scottish Parliament, a Welsh Assembly or a London Mayor.
In each of those examples, the choices have been very stark and the alternative consequences have been clear. You stay in the Common Market or you leave. You have a Scottish Parliament or you do not. You have the euro or you have sterling. What successive Governments have not done is to hold a referendum on whether to approve changes to the existing institutions to which we belong. Back in 1993, the anti-European zealots, led by the hon. Member for Stone and the present Leader of the Opposition, used the referendum device as a tool to disrupt and delay the Maastricht treaty, and for that reason a majority of Conservative MPs would have nothing to do with it. I am glad that the deputy leader of the Conservative party says that he has changed his mind on that in the past six months. I cannot imagine the significance of six months ago—December 2002—given that the Convention has been in operation for the past year.
The least that the Foreign Secretary could do is to listen to the debate, even if he is not going to answer it. I said that we formulated this policy in relation to the Convention six months ago, when we understood the direction that the Convention was going in. Had we done so a lot earlier, we would have been in exactly the position that he is in, saying that he will not hold a referendum whatever comes out of it.
It is lucky that the Tory party does not have a freedom of information Act; otherwise, we would discover the real reasons for this extraordinary change of policy by the right hon. Gentleman, when he not only voted against a referendum on Maastricht, with 11 other members of the now shadow Cabinet, but actively argued against it on strong grounds. He has turned on his head and changed his mind.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his generosity in giving way yet again and for making it clear today that Parliament will have a role in this matter prior to the IGC. First, will he let us know when he can come to the House or in some other way let hon. Members know the format of such debates? Secondly, obviously the IGC is in the hands of the Executive, but in order that Parliament's decision is not in the hands of the Executive, will he make it clear that he will press for a free vote among all hon. Members, as we go through the steady discussions on these matters? Otherwise, we shall merely be rubber stamping what he is saying at the IGC.
We shall come forward with detailed proposals about examination upstairs. As far as debates on the Floor of the House before we rise for the summer recess are concerned, there will be a full day's debate next Wednesday on the business for the Council at Thessaloniki the next day, on a Government motion for the Adjournment. There will then be the usual statement in response to that Council. We have also already agreed internally—I do not think I am giving anything away; it is too bad if I am—that there should be a full day's debate on the Convention thereafter, before we rise for the summer recess.
On the other matter about whether we have a free vote, I am afraid that I cannot accommodate my hon. Friend, for reasons of which he was well aware when he was a Whip.
The Foreign Secretary says that we want a referendum simply because we want to withdraw from Europe. I do not believe that; that is not our position. But if that is the case, why is the Foreign Secretary so afraid of holding a referendum? I do not believe for a moment that the British people would want to pull out of Europe, but I do think that they might have serious concerns about this constitution. Is the right hon. Gentleman just too afraid of losing the referendum and being in the same position as the Irish Government and the Danish Government were in when they asked the people what they thought?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will give me credit for this. I am not afraid of having an argument with anyone. That is not the issue. There is a serious issue here, and the hon. Gentleman knows very well that there is. It is that the default setting for determining issues, including whether we sign treaties, must be this Parliament. I believe that Parliament should be sovereign. I have spent 25 years in this place arguing for that. I accept that there are sometimes occasions when referendums are appropriate. I have set out the basic rule that Governments of successive parties have tended to follow. As I have said, I do not believe, on any analysis, that this set of proposals involves a fundamental change in the nature of the relationship between the European Union and its member sovereign states and therefore I believe that a referendum is not appropriate.
I want to make progress. I am very sorry.
We must draw on our previous experience. Given the contents of the Single European Act in 1986, or of the Maastricht treaty, each of those changed the nature of the relationship between us and the European Union far more fundamentally than the current proposals would. The Single European Act in 1986 introduced qualified majority voting on all internal market measures, from free movement of workers through transport policy to health and safety of workers. Thousands of directives and regulations have been passed using articles extended to QMV in the 1986 Act.
Maastricht extended the scope of the Union's activities over a much wider area. It produced the pillar structure, with chapters on justice and home affairs. European political co-operation became a common foreign and security policy and we agreed on a possible future common defence policy. There were new chapters on economic and monetary union, social policy, culture, public health and consumer protection. There were further extensions of QMV, including on visas, public health, education, and mutual assistance in the event of balance of payments difficulties. Maastricht also introduced the concept of citizenship of the Union and it boosted the role of the European Parliament by introducing the co-decision procedure.
Is the Foreign Secretary saying that whatever the outcome of the Convention, he will deny us a referendum? Let us suppose that he is wrong. Supposing there are very big changes in our relationship with the new Union, supposing all these new constitutional changes come to pass, is he saying that in all eventualities, whatever the outcome, he will deny us a referendum? Is that his clear and settled position?
First, the Convention is deciding nothing, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. The crucial issue is what is decided at the intergovernmental conference. Whatever the Convention decides is a matter for the IGC. The best judgment that we can make is that the outcome of the IGC will not fundamentally alter the nature of the relationship. We shall be one of the countries at the IGC with a veto on what goes in the treaty—there is a completely different operation to that of the Convention—and we shall be able to ensure that safeguards exist. I understand why the right hon. Gentleman asked his question but the situation would not arise.
Let me go on and deal with the constitution, because this is the Conservatives' time.
Let us be clear that the EU already has a constitution. It already has the authority for its laws to override those of member states for matters on which we have agreed that it should be able to do so. The problem is not whether the EU has a constitution but the fact that its constitution is to be found in several lengthy treaties, each of which grants it different powers. The EU already has a legal personality with respect to European Community treaties but the right hon. Member for Devizes maundered on about that as if it were a new idea. It is not a new idea because otherwise it could have not signed up to other treaties at a EU level. However, that situation means that our citizens' ability to access information about the EU is undermined.
I have consistently supported a single coherent text. The crucial thing is not the text's label but what it contains. We need a document to set out what the EU is, what it does and how it does it. The document should define the role and powers of the Union's institutions and its relationship with member states, and it should improve the Union's ability to deliver practical benefits to Europe's citizens.
I shall not give way because I want to make progress.
Contrary to the assertions made by the right hon. Member for Devizes, we have not sacrificed vast swathes of national sovereignty through the Convention and nor shall we do so at the IGC. The Convention's president has declared that the outcome will be a union of states. There are no references to a federal union in the current text, for one good reason: it will not establish a federal union—I would not be part of the process if it did. There will be no such reference in the final draft.
The right hon. Gentleman failed to mention why it was decided at Laeken two years ago that we needed the Convention on the Future of Europe. The reason was not because there were barking-mad zealots on the other side who were trying to wreck the sense of national identity of the French, the Germans, the Italians, the Estonians and the British and to turn us all into clones of Brussels. The proposals were made at Laeken because the way in which the Union was established in the 1950s was appropriate for a Union of six nations, but not for a Union of 15 nations. The Union can still less operate efficiently or effectively with 25 nations.
We are sensibly accepting the case for extending qualified majority voting on several matters. The right hon. Gentleman's arguments implied that several smaller European countries, three of which contain a population of fewer than 1 million people, should have the right of veto over key changes that we believe should be made. We also want the Council of Minister—the council of nation—to operate more strongly and effectively against the Commission, which he completely failed to mention. At the moment, power has shifted from the Council of Minister—the council of nation—to the Commission because the Commission is permanent while the other institutions have a rotating presidency. That is okay with six members and is just about okay with nine members, but the system does not work with 15 members and it would be impossible to make it efficient with 25 members. A permanent chair of the European Council would be directly accountable to member Governments and member states and would create greater efficiency and effectiveness on our behalf.
I turn to the constitution proposed by the Tory party. I am an assiduous reader of Conservatives.com. [Interruption.] The Tories are not. When I read it, I found that Timothy Kirkhope, the Conservative party's official representative on the European Convention, has unveiled his alternative to the European constitution. He says that he has consulted widely with European colleagues and other Conservatives.
Timothy Kirkhope proposes an amendment to the Praesidium's draft that would provide that the European Parliament should have the right to initiate legislation. Does the right hon. Member for Devizes understand what the Conservative party is proposing? We have heard about European superstates but we would end up with a European federal superstate if the European Parliament had the right to initiate legislation.
The Conservative party's official representative on the Convention goes a bit further. He says on Conservatives.com that the Commission should cease to operate between the European Parliament and the Council and should become the civil service of the Parliament. If the Parliament initiated legislation, it would have to do that through representatives. I rather fancy that they would be called Ministers, such as the Minister for social security and the Minister for the economy, and they would have a civil service. Does what the Conservative party's official representative on the Convention has described on Conservatives.com represent official Conservative party policy?
May I tell the Foreign Secretary that the debate is about letting people decide? We are prepared to let people decide, but is he? That is what we are waiting to hear.
I have a final question: what the devil was the document doing on the Conservative party's official website? Why was Timothy Kirkhope described as the party's official representative on the Convention if his document is not official policy? Even the new model leadership of zealots in the Tory party cannot agree among themselves. The right hon. Member for Devizes protests about minor changes to the nature of the relationship but his colleague, the official representative, has produced page after page of proposals to give the European Parliament legislative power.
While the Foreign Secretary is praying in aid representatives on the Convention, will he repudiate the comments of the Labour representative, Lord Tomlinson, who said in the Standing Committee on the Convention the other day that the Laeken declaration did not give authority to the production of the constitution?
On the issue of party unity on key issues, the Foreign Secretary will be aware that the extension of exclusive competence over fisheries is a matter of controversy in Scotland. His colleague, the Labour First Minister of Scotland, told my friend the Leader of the Opposition in Scotland in the Scottish Parliament two weeks ago:
He also said that the UK Government had written to the European Union to oppose the extension of exclusive competence over fisheries. Have the UK Government written to the EU, or is there a split in the Labour party on the issue?
We are an indivisible whole, as ever. With respect, I do not claim expertise on the common fisheries policy but I shall write to the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] Well, either he wants an accurate answer or he does not.
I shall write to the hon. Gentleman.
Having established that the Conservative party has two policies—one against any change, one in favour of complete change to alter fundamentally the role of the European Parliament—let me say what we want. We want the Convention to define more clearly matters on which the EU has exclusive power, on which powers are shared between the Union and member states and on which the EU should act only to support national policies. There is an emerging consensus in support of the UK's position for the introduction of a new mechanism to ensure that the Union respects the principle of subsidiarity, acting only to achieve things that national or regional Governments cannot do for themselves. Under our proposed system, national Parliaments would quickly review each EU proposal, judging whether action is being taken at the right level and in the appropriate way. That would not amount to a veto, but should a majority of national Parliaments judge that a proposal infringed the principle of subsidiarity, the Commission would quickly get the message.
To deal with an issue raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House, an EU-wide consensus on aspects of foreign policy is sometimes unattainable, as we saw during the months preceding military action in Iraq. As a country with global interests and as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the UK firmly believes that the process must remain intergovernmental, recognising that national Governments have to be accountable to their own Parliaments for their decisions on foreign, security and defence policy. It is in our interests to arrive at a common policy with other member states wherever possible, but to attempt to manufacture a single policy on every issue would be absurd. We have resolutely opposed proposals in the Convention to "communitise" common foreign, security and defence policy. We will continue to do so in the IGC.
In other areas—not least the single market—qualified majority voting has long served our interests. That was why Mrs. Thatcher supported the principle of QMV. Indeed, the text of the draft constitution, which the right hon. Member for Devizes has clearly not read, proposes that QMV should be the standard method of making decisions unless the treaty provides otherwise. Judging by some of the remarks that we have heard, however, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Opposition are opposed to QMV in any way. One area that is ripe for an extension of QMV is asylum, to help provide firm, collective action to deal with illegal immigration and the criminality that underlies it.
Mr. Maples mentioned the constitution. It will include a statement of rights. I, for one, think that our citizens should be told the rights that they have vis-à-vis European institutions. We can accept such a statement provided that it does not extend the powers of the Union. We have not yet taken a final decision on whether we will agree to the proposals to incorporate the charter. Like much else, that will depend on the precise terms of the final package. Perhaps I should have told the House this earlier, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and my hon. Friend Ms Stuart are not here because there is an important meeting of the Convention in which both are participating. We still do not have the full text. Mr. Heathcoat-Amory has decided to be here, but it is right that my colleagues remained in Brussels.
The point I was making was not whether the Convention extends the competences of the Union, but whether it gives rights to individuals or groups to challenge their domestic legislation on the ground of something that is contained in the charter, which is largely about political rights. If the European Court of Justice is able, on the basis of the charter, to review domestic legislation of a member state, that is a fundamental change.
We have negotiated two important safeguards. To pick up on a point raised by my hon. Friend Mr. Allen, those should be examined in great detail once we have the Convention's final proposals before we go to the IGC. We want to ensure that what we are doing at the IGC has the support of the House.
The two safeguards are amendments to the so-called horizontal articles, which apply across the board to all treaties, to help define the scope and meaning of the charter's provisions, in particular those that correspond neither to the European convention on human rights nor to community law. We have also secured agreement to give the commentary on the charter's provisions enhanced status. That, too, is vital in guiding an interpretation of the charter. The net effect of that should be to ensure that the charter does not extend the Union's competence or powers. Those are important safeguards and I hope that we discuss them much further in due course.
Contrary to much of the hysteria and hyperbole that we have heard today, the current draft constitutional treaty shows that we are making progress towards our kind of Europe: a union of sovereign nations, not a superstate. The Convention's text is a good starting point for the lengthy negotiations in the IGC. It should help to settle the balance between nations and the Union to ensure that it is where it should be—with the nations as the anchor of the Union.
In the IGC we will continue to play a central role in the process of reform aimed at making Europe more efficient and more easily understood, not least so that we can use it more effectively to advance the interests of the British people. We are not talking about substantive fundamental change in EU-wide powers. There is therefore no case for a referendum. We are talking about a treaty that can bring much needed clarity to European citizens and equip the Union with the machinery that it needs to embrace the challenge of enlargement. This is a great prize for Britain, a prize that we will pursue unrelentingly in the coming months.
I urge the House to accept the amendment and to reject the motion.
In recent debates on Europe we have heard plenty of arguments about the principle of having a referendum on the proposed developments in the European Union. Today that issue is right at the heart of the debate. Once again we have had history lessons which, not for the first time, reach opposing conclusions from the same basic set of facts. I do not want to dwell on those spats between those on the Conservative and Labour Front Benches. What is surely of importance now is that we make clear how we should assess the need for any future referendum, and at what stage that might take place.
In the absence of written constitutional guidance, the development of the use of referendums in this country has been haphazard. On Second Reading of the European Union (Accessions) Bill on
"Although there is no iron rule, in practice we have had referendums to determine whether to change dramatically our constitutional arrangements."—[Hansard, 21 May 2003; Vol. 405, c. 1031.]
That may not be an iron rule, but it is surely not a bad basis for the tests that we should set.
We also need to understand the context. Talk of referendums tends to get people rather excitable—so before we all get too carried away we need to reflect on what is at stake for the United Kingdom. Last week we completed the Commons stages of the European Union (Accessions) Bill, welcoming 10 new states into the Union, and so marking the most significant development in Europe in decades.
The impact of enlargement of the EU from 15 to 25 has yet to be realised, or even to sink in, but it will be unlike anything we have seen before. For many of the accession countries it is a further symbolic and real break from their communist past. It offers unprecedented opportunities for them to enjoy greater security, for their economies to grow significantly and for democracy to become further entrenched. As we see from the referendums held so far in the new member states, those benefits are widely recognised and supported by the people in each country. Existing members, too, stand to gain from significantly enhanced trade and greater European security.
The scale of change is unprecedented. Never before have so many new members been admitted at one time. Indeed, more countries are expected to join the EU in one go next May than in all the previous enlargements put together. Nobody can fail to realise that that scale of development requires significant change in the way in which the EU operates. In the Convention on the Future of Europe, delegates have been toiling for months to produce a new template. In a few days' time, it will be offered to Heads of State and Governments as a draft treaty for consideration. At that point, we will be able to begin the assessment of what the treaty may mean for the United Kingdom.
Regardless of enlargement, the EU is in need of reform. Successive treaties and laws have made the European institutions hugely complex, bureaucratic and increasingly remote from the people whom they are meant to serve. What is needed is clarification and rationalisation—a codification of the purpose of the European Union making clear links with its citizens, setting out what it can and cannot do, enshrining the principle of subsidiarity, and making it clear that it is a union of sovereign nation states, not a putative European superstate.
The hon. Gentleman is doing something which is often done in the House. He is giving a wish list, and is describing the way in which he would like the European Union to develop. That is not on offer. When the treaty is made, it will deepen the role of institutions in the European Union, and will not achieve what the hon. Gentleman wants.
The hon. Lady will have an opportunity to set out her case if she catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely, however, we are having this debate because at this stage we do not know what the Convention's final solutions or suggestions will be.
Are not the people who want to move fastest on the European project its greatest enemies? Without taking others with them, they will produce a wider distance between the project and the people who are meant to be supporting Europe. People fall into that trap by not, for example, going out and campaigning now for a referendum on the euro, or by not campaigning for one, two, or perhaps even three years on a European constitution. That helps to confirm the Opposition in their view of the content of that constitution, so we are in danger yet again of distancing the people from the European project.
I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman. On the euro, for example, we have long argued that a case needed to be made for it, and we should get on and make it. As for what is on offer as the Convention and the IGC proceed, I ask the hon. Gentleman to bear with me for a few minutes, as I am about to set out our position.
I was saying that we need clarification and rationalisation of the EU. It is right that there should be a statement of rights for individuals, which is the key to citizens understanding their direct link to the EU and what it means for them. It is also right that there should be an explicit statement of the respective roles of national Parliaments, Governments and the EU institutions. Beyond those important principles, it is right that new structures should be developed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the European institutions.
I am listening with great interest to my hon. Friend. Is it not a simple fact that if John Major had pursued his policy of subsidiarity, which many of us feel is an integral part of this exercise, there would have had to be a constitutional settlement in Europe? I do not understand why some Conservatives oppose any constitution for Europe.
My hon. Friend makes a good point.
We do not yet know how far the Convention's final draft treaty will go, but clear statements of principle, simplifying the complex mess of existing treaties and embracing reform, should scare nobody. If that type of reform were packaged and described as a constitution, that would not be particularly dramatic. If, however, there were major shifts of control, such as transferring significant new powers from member states to the European institutions or altering the existing balance between the states and those institutions, we would have to assess the constitutional implications for this country. Those are the tests against which any call for a referendum should be measured. However, we do not know the outcome of the Convention's deliberations and it would be foolish to prejudge them.
We must hope that when the Convention's deliberations are completed the Government and parliamentary representatives, as the Foreign Secretary suggested, will report back to the House and we will have the chance for a full and proper debate on its conclusions. That would also provide an opportunity for the Government finally to publish a White Paper on their policy for the intergovernmental conference which will follow.
If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I will not, as I have given way a number of times.
Ministers have resisted calls for a policy paper, but surely once the draft treaty has been published they cannot resist any longer. As we are talking about increasing openness and accountability in the European Union, why should the Government not lead by example and set out their proposals clearly and concisely? We hear much about the diplomatic red lines around issues that they will not concede, but what about the vision? Where is the grand plan? The IGC will no doubt be long and arduous, but it may surprise us and surpass historically low expectations, delivering more the proposals with which it began. We will not hold our breath but, whatever our expectations, only when a final treaty is available will we be able to assess the constitutional impact for this country and for Europe. Only then should we decide whether or not a referendum is needed.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree with Lord Ashdown, who said some time ago:
"The only way to debate these issues and to arrive at a popular conclusion that will stick is through a referendum in which voters are, at last, welcomed in the secret garden of European policy"?
That is a sensible comment. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with it?
My noble Friend has made a number of very sensible speeches over the years, and that is one of them. If the right hon. Gentleman had been listening to me, he would have learned which tests we think are necessary to establish whether or not there should be a referendum.
Already the Government and Opposition spokesmen have run for cover, digging themselves into their bunkers and making decisions before common sense suggests that it is wise to do so. Having set out a perfectly sensible case for determining the need for a referendum, the Government have now prejudged everything. Without even a final draft from the Convention, never mind the IGC, their amendment states boldly:
"there is no case for a referendum".
We cannot support the amendment in the form in which it has been drawn up, and will vote against it if we have the opportunity.
As for the Conservative spokesmen, let me try to be charitable. Perhaps their efforts today are not simply a response to the cries from certain hysterical sections of the press. Perhaps their motion is not simply a device to allow them under the cover of a referendum to question the UK's continued membership of the European Union. But it seems strange that they, too, have prejudged matters. If what emerges from this process is long-needed reform of the EU, a clear statement of the citizen's place in Europe, and a better codification of the relationship between member states and European institutions, that will be very welcome. But the changes will not necessarily have constitutional implications for this country, whether the word "constitution" is slapped across the front of the treaty or not. We should not prejudge that process, and for that reason we cannot support the Conservative motion.
As the Convention concludes its work and the Government prepare their position for the IGC, we should turn our attention to the specific proposals that have been made. It is crazy to rule a referendum out, but it is equally daft to demand one now. Let us see the treaty, judge its character and then make the decision.
I shall be brief because I know that time is short. It is right that Mr. Moore should remind the House of why the Convention was set up. What depresses me about the Conservatives' policy on this issue, and, indeed, more generally on Europe, is the fact that they keep trying to tell the House and the country that they are in favour of enlargement but, at the same time, they want to use every opportunity to send a message to this country and the countries that will be part of the European Union that they are against enlargement. The Convention's purpose is to modernise the way in which the European Union operates and prepare it for enlargement. What was good enough for six countries was just about good enough for 15, but it will not be good enough when the 25 are formed on
What a sad message the right hon. Gentleman is sending out. The Conservatives' policy was opposed to the Nice treaty. They wanted a referendum on the Nice treaty. In other words, they wanted to block enlargement. That would have been the effect of their campaign. [Interruption.] Exactly. The referendum would have been lost and enlargement would have been blocked—exactly what the Conservatives wanted. The purpose of Nice, of the decisions taken at Laeken and of the Convention is to prepare us, as the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale has just said, for the enlargement process.
None of the applicant state members on the Convention, of which I am a member, has ever made the point that the constitution is necessary for enlargement. They are joining on the basis of the Nice treaty, and they will probably join on
No, they are not. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, after the proposals are put forward, as the Foreign Secretary said, there will have to be a discussion at the IGC, of which the applicant states—the new members, as they will become on
As a former Minister, the right hon. Gentleman will know that when he went to the Council of Ministers, as did other former Ministers on the Opposition Benches, he went there to fight for the interests of Britain. He did nothing that was not in the national interests of Britain. That is exactly what my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary do when they go to European Union Councils of Ministers. They go to represent our country and to do what is best for us.
What has been set out is a simple process. The Convention will put forward its proposals. As backing for that assertion, I can quote Valéry Giscard d'Estaing on the "Today" programme on
I respect the views of the right hon. Member for Devizes on a number of issues, and I am saddened that he is not prepared to be more specific as to why he supported parliamentary scrutiny of the Maastricht treaty, but suddenly, because there is a referendum in Hartlepool, he has changed his mind and decided that we must have a referendum on every single aspect of European policy.
The right hon. Gentleman knows, as does his hon. Friend Mr. Cash, the huge implications of the Maastricht treaty. That is why the hon. Member for Stone has been so consistent, and I respect him for his consistency. He called for a referendum on Maastricht because of the huge significance of its proposals for the common foreign and security policy, qualified majority voting and all the other issues. But that was not the opportunity, in his mind, for a referendum on the Maastricht treaty, and there is no need for a referendum on the Convention. The work of the Convention is still not over.
As the mover of an amendment in the debates on a referendum on Maastricht, I am conscious that many hon. Members across the House appreciated that it was a major constitutional issue. The gathering together of such major constitutional issues without any endorsement, validation or action of consent by the people has diminished the effectiveness of the European Community in this country. That is a matter of principle. Nothwithstanding the minor amendments to the treaty that the Government postulate—although I do not think that that will happen—ought not the Government to give the people an opportunity to take a view? They have had many years' experience of the ever increasing powers of the institutional arrangements.
I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but what diminishes Europe in the eyes of our people is not the failure to hold a referendum, but the hysteria that surrounds every discussion of a European issue. Right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench will jump on any passing European bandwagon in order to do down Europe. It is the intention of Members such as the hon. Member for Stone to get Britain out of the European Union. That is the purpose that they are trying to achieve.
The failure is our failure as a Parliament, and the failure of our press properly to reflect the views of the country, as expressed in a general election. I should like us to campaign much more as a Parliament and as individual Members of Parliament about the benefits of Europe. I know that the Minister for Europe is doing exactly that, with his excellent campaign to go to 100 towns and cities in the United Kingdom to tell the people about enlargement. That is what the Prime Minister spoke about on Monday and Tuesday, when he spoke about the need for us to talk about the euro in a positive and constructive way.
We will have a referendum on that, but if we start screaming and shouting every time the word "Europe" is mentioned, and we have referendums conducted by the Daily Mail, why bother about Parliament? We can get the Daily Mail to conduct the next general election. People can cut out tokens from the Daily Mail to vote for their local MP. The point of Parliament is that it should scrutinise major constitutional issues.
Why does the hon. Gentleman refuse to view the option of a referendum as a tremendous opportunity to put the case for a European Union that is a confederation of sovereign states, not a Eurosceptic vision? There are many in the House and elsewhere, including the principal opposition party in Scotland, who are committed to a referendum so that we can make the case for a reformed European Union. Why not jump at the opportunity and make the case?
There would then be no point in having a Parliament. What is the point of Members of Parliament? What is the point of Mr. Heathcoat-Amory and my hon. Friend Ms Stuart going to represent Parliament? I do not agree with what the right hon. Gentleman has done and said, but I pay tribute to him for his hard work. What is the point of having Members of Parliament and Ministers? Let us have a referendum on everything. I know that that is the policy of the Scottish national party.
We are to have a referendum on the euro—in the lifetime of this Parliament, I hope—if the conditions are met, but I do not believe it is necessary to have a referendum on every single aspect of European policy. If it was not good enough for Maastricht, which massively increased QMV, then it is not good enough for the Convention. We are dealing with the first stage of the proposals. The House need not take that from me—take it from the President of the Convention. The Heads of Government have not even considered it. Ministers in our Government have not done what all Ministers have done for the past 20 years, which is to look at the final proposals and act in the interests of the United Kingdom.
My final point is about the necessity for the proposals described by the Foreign Secretary to come before Parliament at the earliest opportunity. I hope that the Minister for Europe will tell us more about those when he winds up the debate. I valued the fact that the right hon. Member for Wells and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston have come before the House in Committee on a number of occasions to tell us about the work that they are doing. Those proceedings have been chaired by my hon. Friend Mr. Cook in a Room on the Committee Corridor. There has not been enough time to go through all the various issues that have been raised and I hope that the Committee will have more sittings before the Convention completes its work. But it would be good if that Committee had an opportunity to go round the country to our major cities and listen to what people have to say about Europe. It would provide us with the opportunity to listen to local people on the issue. The final decision must be made by Parliament, but we should listen to local people, and that is one way in which we can take Europe to the people. Making Europe more accessible to ordinary people is exactly what the Convention intended to do, and perhaps we can achieve that by using our Standing Committee procedure.
I shall support the Government amendment today. This is not the kind of matter that should be put to a referendum. It is quite different from the deliberations on the euro. I hope that the process of going out to the country will embrace all hon. Members, not just the so-called pro-Europeans. We all—including the shadow Foreign Secretary, the deputy leader of the Conservative party—have an interest in going out and selling the benefits of Europe. If the right hon. Member for Devizes does not do it, it will mean that he backs the hon. Member for Stone in his desire to take Britain out of the European Union.
Keith Vaz seems to inhabit, as do so many other enthusiasts for the ever-advancing European Union, an Alice in Wonderland world in which they consistently pretend that things are otherwise than they are. If one listens to what people say, talks to a German Christian Democrat in the European Parliament, listens to Mr. Prodi or most of the Commission, or reads what is in the Convention's output, it is pretty clear that we are on an inexorable road towards a federal Europe, or whatever one wants to call it. To deny that seems to be to deny reality.
There is a perfectly respectable argument for a united states of Europe. It is a position held by some Liberal Democrats, some Labour Members and some Conservative Members. One can argue that the only way that Europe can be successful in the modern world is to group its resources, power and influence, and that the price of sacrificing a great deal, if not all, of one's national sovereignty is worth paying. Or one can argue the case that I and a great many of my colleagues argue. But what one cannot do is pretend that what is happening is what I want to see happen, because it is not. It is radically different.
Last week, a team of Members of the House of Commons competed in a sort of "University Challenge" against members of a team from The Times. I will not mention who was on the team, but they did not do very well. I want to ask the Minister—if the Foreign Secretary were here, I would ask him too—to imagine that we were on that team and that the following question was posed to us. I think that it is one that my hon. Friend Mr. Cash would have answered correctly, but I think that I know what the Minister would have said. The question is this: what does one call an organisation that has a constitution, a president, a foreign minister, a parliament, a Bill of individual rights, a supreme court, a currency, a central bank, citizenship, the power to accede to international treaties, a police force, a public prosecutor, a common foreign and security policy, military capability and common criminal law and procedure, and where federal law overrides state law?
Apparently, the Minister and his boss the Foreign Secretary would answer that question by saying, "That sounds to me like a grouping of individual sovereign states that have pooled limited amounts of sovereignty to achieve specific objectives." I suggest that they would have done no better than my hon. Friend and his team. My hon. Friend would have answered, "It sounds to me like a state." The fact is that it does sound like a state. Those are the characteristics of a state. I suggest to the Minister and the House that that is where we are heading. I do not think that we are there yet, but in a series of inexorable steps, over the past 20 years and during the next five or ten years, that is where we are going.
There will come a point down that road at which most of us will want to call a halt and at least examine some of the things that are being done. Let us stop pretending that we are not heading there. Let us stop pretending that that is not what the great engines of the European Union—the French and particularly the German Governments, the Benelux countries, the German parliamentarians in the Commission itself—want, because it is. It is even where most Italian and Spanish centre-right politicians of the European Parliament want to go too. It may be that we are in a small minority, but the fact is that they are at least honest about it, which is more than the Government are, and more than most of the proponents are.
Could the hon. Gentleman name a single Head of Government—Mr. Aznar, Mr. Chirac, Mr. Schröder—who is up for abolishing the national identity of his country to merge into a European superstate?
Certainly the Prime Minister of Belgium is a pretty willing participant in that process, and I would suggest that Herr Schröder is too. They are willing to have an awful lot of their national identities subsumed. I am not saying that we are there now. I am not saying that the draft constitution will get us there, but it is another step on the road.
Let me set out for the Minister six fundamental points. If they are dealt with in the negotiations of the IGC, I would be reasonably happy with the treaty, but if they are not, I shall be unhappy with it.
The first is the pillar structure. The Convention proposes the final collapse of pillar three—that home affairs matters should come under the Commission with qualified majority voting in almost all cases. This is a perfect example of how the EU advances. Home affairs started at Maastricht as pillar three. At Amsterdam, a bit of it came into pillar one. Now the rest of it has gone into pillar one, and we have gradually moved from unanimity to qualified majority voting. That is what happens. When it starts, it all looks perfectly innocent as intergovernmental co-operation, but we end up with the supranational organisation making our laws about nationality and asylum.
Secondly, I have some real issues about the common foreign and security policy, but the Government have dealt with the most important one, which is maintaining unanimity on setting that policy and in anything to do with defence. But I am concerned about the dual-hatted foreign minister. The position that Solana occupies is perfectly acceptable. We need an instrument for a common voice in areas where we can and do agree. No one would deny that. We have a lot of interests in common and we need to be able to promote them. Señor Solana does a magnificent job in that respect. His position as secretary-general of the Council is right. But if that person is to be the foreign minister with a position in the Council, and dual-hatted as a vice-president of the Commission, I do not see how that will work. He will have divided and dual loyalties with different responsibilities to both. But what worries me far more is that this is the start of the collapse of pillar two. This is the start of bringing the Commission into foreign and security policy. That must remain intergovernmental. That is a fundamental sticking point, and I hope that the Government will resist the dual-hatting of the foreign minister. I do not particularly care what they call him. I would rather that he stayed as secretary-general, but it is important that he does not have a role or responsibility in the Commission.
Thirdly, as I said to the Foreign Secretary, I am very concerned about the charter of fundamental rights. If it were like the United States Bill of Rights—about freedom of speech, due process and cruel and unusual punishments—few would have much objection to it. We certainly would not want this House ever to pass a law that we felt breached those things. However, it does not deal with that. It is a Bill of political aspirations. It is not a Bill of fundamental legal rights.
For instance, everyone has a right to a free placement service. Everyone has a right of access to preventive health care. I think that another says that everyone has a right to vocational and continuing training. I am concerned that eventually that will mean that somebody who does not like the provisions that the elected British Government have made in this place for continuing training or preventive health care will be able to challenge them in the European Court of Justice. That is a fundamental alteration in the relationship between member states and the European Union.
I have looked at the so-called parallel articles. I am continually told by intelligent British diplomats, "Oh, we can get around all this incorporation." The fact is that the Government did not want incorporation. They did not want it in the Nice treaty. They did not want it in this constitution. I hope that they will fight to get it out. I do not believe that any of the articles that they have got in, or for that matter any parallel articles that they could draft, will protect us from the consequences that I have tried to outline. We know about the constructivist nature of the European Court of Justice. If there is a chink in the armour, they will find their way around it, and before we know it they will be telling us, as the United States Supreme Court tells the United States Congress, what we can and cannot pass as legislation.
It goes way beyond it. It allows a supreme court—the European Court of Justice—to say that everyone has a right to a free placement service. I do not know quite what that means; I assume that it is something to do with helping people to find jobs. I am happy for us to pass laws about that, because we can repeal them, but if the European Court of Justice can tell us that such laws are unconstitutional, that is a central ingredient—a keystone—of a federal European state.
Fourthly, we need to strengthen subsidiarity, which is weakened by these articles. We are told that, if enough national Parliaments do not like that, they can—to use the Foreign Secretary's words—deliver a message to the European Commission; a fat lot of use that is. The Commission is not democratically responsible to us, or indeed to anybody, and in the past it has taken no notice at all of the subsidiarity provisions. If subsidiarity is to mean anything, those provisions must be strengthened.
Fifthly, articles 95 and 308 of the treaty establishing the European Community—which essentially allow the Council to do virtually anything in pursuit of establishing the internal market, and go very wide indeed—must be reined in, because although that mechanism has not yet been exploited to the full, it might well be.
My sixth point concerns the provision on the right to withdraw. I hope that that remains. That is not to say that I want to withdraw—[Interruption.] I think that the hon. Member for Leicester, East knows that I do not. None the less, the fact that it is there gives us some comfort, because we know that we will not need to have a civil war to decide what the constitution means—if there comes a point when we do not like it, we can get out. That is fundamental.
Does my hon. Friend accept that it is not actually the right to withdraw, but the right to withdraw subject to the approval of the European Parliament?
Yes, I understand that the European Parliament has a role under QMV. However, the right to leave is pretty clearly established. If any member state were to decide that it wanted to do so, it would surely want to negotiate a treaty with the European Union that set out what its relations would be in future. I take my hon. Friend's point, but I think that of my six tests, the Government have comprehensively met that one.
People will say that a lot of what is in the constitution is in the existing texts. That is of course true, although not all of it is there. That shows how far we have come in 20 years. By a series of salami slices—the Single European Act, Maastricht, Amsterdam, Nice, the Convention—
I am not saying that we did not play a part in it, but that by a series of salami slices we have come an enormous distance from a grouping for economic purposes—[Interruption.] I wonder if my hon. Friend the Member for Stone could keep his conversation a bit quieter—he is rather putting me off.
We have come an awful long way from the situation in 1984 to that implied by the Convention. We have moved from a simple grouping of sovereign states to what is very close to a united states of Europe, and we have done so without realising that it has happened. It is an inexorable process that always starts as a series of aspirations—for example, the social charter winds up as the social chapter—that are ultimately enforceable by qualified majority voting. We see that again and again. On any particular matter, one need only get a competence, get it to QMV, get it into pillar one, and that is it—the end of national decision making.
I should like to propose an alternative. The Minister and the Foreign Secretary say that the Conservative party just wants to get out of Europe, but I do not. My alternative—I first proposed it when I held the job of my right hon. Friend Mr. Ancram—is to have a more flexible Europe. Some articles in the treaty, which are repeated in the new constitution, allow for flexibility. They allow a group of member states that want to continue through enhanced co-operation to do so. If a group of member states want to set a similar policy on nationality, asylum, continuing education or the right to placement services, I am all for their being able to do so, but such policies should not be imposed. There should be a core of trade and business—a single market. I am perfectly prepared to subscribe to that, because it is of great benefit to us. In fact, for the sake of argument, I would be prepared to draw the line where we are now and go no further, although I should prefer to roll the clock back a little to before Nice. There is a real role for Europe and for a constitution that builds in such flexibility and makes it clear what people's rights are.
The federalists argue that the only way in which to make a 25-state European Union work is through qualified majority voting everywhere and the Commission having a role in everything. However, I believe that there is an alternative method, through flexibility. That would be a better model.
The European Union is constantly guilty of trying to run before it can walk. It has a massive unfinished agenda of completing the internal market and its free trade agenda—15,000 individual external tariffs remain—successfully completing enlargement and the long overdue reform of the dreadful common agricultural policy. It would have been far more productive and better for all of us if the huge energy and brainpower that has convened in Brussels to dream up the Convention had been applied to trying to solve some of the problems.
We are on the wrong track. We are heading inexorably, piece by piece, year by year, competence by competence, QMV session by QMV session towards a united states of Europe. We should be heading in a different direction, towards flexibility. We should stop pretending that our action is other than what it is.
Before I became a Member of Parliament, I was a lawyer dealing with tax matters. We tried to dream up tax planning methods and schemes that would pretend that something was not quite what it was—for example an insurance policy that did not resemble one. It would be slightly different and have a few characteristics that enabled one to argue that it was not an insurance policy. I asked an American lawyer whether he thought that it would work with the internal revenue service. He replied, "John, the IRS takes the view that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck." This is a duck.
It would be useful to begin by briefly examining the point that we have reached in the debate about the future of Europe. It is worth remembering that the Convention on the Future of Europe has not concluded its deliberations. When it does, it will present a report to the intergovernmental conference, which will begin its consideration. The IGC has not determined its timetable for consideration; it has not even met. Nobody is clear about the timetable or the exact way in which it will consider the Convention's report. However, it is clear that the British Government have made several points of principle clear. Time and again, they have made it abundantly clear that they oppose the idea of creating some European federal superstate. They have stated clearly that, if necessary, they will draw lines in the sand on the extension of qualified majority voting and will not accept it for defence, tax or treaty changes.
If hon. Members are not prepared to accept the comments of our Government representatives, it is worth noting the objective comments of the former President of France, Mr. Giscard d'Estaing, who is president of the Convention. On "Today" on
"The decision will be taken later in what is called an intergovernmental conference, and the decision will be taken by unanimity. So if Britain or another country does not agree, it has a perfect right and a practical right to oppose".
In other words, if Britain does not want a set of proposals that other countries make—I do not believe that they will make such proposals—the Government have the right of veto. They can say no and that such proposals are unacceptable. Nobody can force them on the United Kingdom. Nobody can dictate to us. What we accept is up to the Government, and their position is clear.
Nevertheless, the Opposition claim that whatever comes from the Convention and whatever the intergovernmental conference agrees, a referendum must be held. I therefore deduce that they are articulating a point of principle: there must be a referendum, whatever the circumstances and terms. However, if the position is to be credible, it must have some consistency.
Let us consider the broad development of the European Union since the treaty of Rome in 1957. There are two historic landmarks in its development. Two significant treaty changes brought about fundamental alterations in the nature of the European project.
The first was the Single European Act in 1986, which was introduced and agreed when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister. That was the treaty change that effectively brought about the European Union as we know it today, and made possible the single market, with the free movement of capital, labour, services and goods. That was all made possible by a huge extension of qualified majority voting—the biggest extension of QMV that we have seen to date. But did we have a referendum on that? No, we did not. Was a referendum suggested by the Government of the time? No, it was not. If the Conservatives had wanted to make a principled case for a referendum, they should have made it then. They did not. In fact, the opposite was the case. As I understand it, a guillotine was introduced by the Government of the day to get the measure through as quickly as possible.
That was one major landmark. The second was the treaty of Maastricht, which brought about a huge extension of the powers of the European Union. It introduced the pillar structure and brought about the basis for economic and monetary union, which we have been debating in earnest this week, and a still further extension of qualified majority voting. It also introduced the concept of European citizenship and a major extension of the powers of the European Parliament. I was an MEP at that time, and I remember being delirious with joy in Strasbourg at the new process of co-decision that was being introduced with the full support of the United Kingdom, which effectively gave the European Parliament the same powers as a nation state over certain issues of policy. But did we have a referendum on that? No, we did not. In fact, as has been mentioned, Mr. Ancram argued passionately against a referendum on that profound change in the European Union.
When we look back, from 1957 to the Single European Act in 1986 to the treaty of Maastricht in 1992, we see that Conservative Members argued against any formal consultation of the British people in the form of a referendum. Yet today they argue for a referendum on something that might come forward some time in the future when all the discussions and debates have come to an end. I have to say that that smacks of supreme political expediency.
I also have to conclude that many Conservative Members—there are exceptions—do not seem interested in having a debate on these complex issues. Sadly, they are not interested in having a treaty that will make the European Union function more effectively. That is a great shame, because it seems likely that 10 new countries will join the European Union next year, and they will want to join a European Union that functions effectively in their own best interests. I suspect that that is what all citizens in all European countries want. That is what the debate in the Convention has been all about, and it is what the debate in the intergovernmental conference will be about as well.
The hon. Gentleman must be aware that the new countries that will come into Europe in May, if their referendums go well, have already signed up to the acquis communautaire. They have, therefore, signed up to Europe exactly as it is today. What would their reaction be, having worked very hard to meet the criteria and to bring their people along with them, if there were any major changes in what they had signed up to? Will they not be able to use their own veto if they do not like some of the ways in which the European constitution is developing?
The hon. Lady asks an interesting question. It is worth noting that we have seen the prospective accession countries play a full and active role in the deliberations of the Convention. Without exception, their contribution has been positive. They have not agreed with every point, but they have not disagreed with every point either. They have been very involved in the process. I believe that that involvement will continue, and as soon as those countries become full members of the European Union in May 2004, they will have a full legal involvement in the intergovernmental conference. I welcome that.
It is also important to recognise that one interesting political configuration that is developing between the United Kingdom and many of the accession countries is a unity of purpose. I genuinely believe in the Government's vision of a Europe of people working together that is also a Europe of sovereign independent nations that decide to pool their sovereignty from time to time. Countries seeking to join the EU have the same vision.
I know that the Poles—who have suffered under German domination in the past and, in the more recent past, under the Soviet Union—will not celebrate their new nationhood by accepting domination from Brussels. They realise that that is not what the European project is all about. They are proud of their independent sovereign status, and want to celebrate it within the European Union. They believe, rightly and perceptively, that the EU will preserve and enhance their new sense of identity. I think that much can be learned from countries in central and eastern Europe.
I am glad that Ann Winterton mentioned the attitude of the accession countries. It would be a huge shame if the House sent a negative message to other EU members and the accession countries, suggesting that some Members of Parliament wanted to destabilise the EU, provoke a crisis and make the Union dysfunctional. We must map out a way forward, sensibly and rationally.
The Convention has brought a range of issues to the attention of the people of Europe. Although it has yet to reach definitive conclusions, I suspect that much will emerge that many of us will welcome. A few proposals may prove unacceptable, but we should recognise that such differences in opinion must be discussed by our representatives and the people of Europe, and that those discussions will be reflected in decisions made at the intergovernmental conference.
The Government's commitment to parliamentary democracy means that we will have a full and honest debate, on the Floor of the House and elsewhere, on the merits of the final treaty change and the new so-called constitution that will emerge from the IGC. If we engage in a sensible, rational debate rather than one laced with unfortunate nationalism, we can have a new constitution that will take the enlarged European Union into a new era of peace and prosperity.
The Government's position, and the Foreign Secretary's typically sophistic speech, have been characterised by a fear of seeking popular endorsement of what the Government have set out to do. The Foreign Secretary ably charted the huge changes that have taken place in the character of what we have come to call the European Union. What was once a common market is now a European union. He made much of his argument that huge constitutional changes had taken place in the Single European Act and the Maastricht treaty, and that at each stage Governments had rejected the idea of a referendum.
Before the 1992 election I tabled a Bill demanding a referendum, and during the debates on the Maastricht treaty I tabled an amendment to the same effect. I believe that only through a referendum can the people to whom we are accountable express the oldest notion of democratic government: consent. We seek more than acquiescence. We seek consent—or, at least, that is what the Government should do.
In a very revealing response during Question Time today, the Prime Minister said that people want a referendum because they want to paralyse the European Union. That was part of the Foreign Secretary's argument—that, in some way or other, it would derail the European Union. There is no open mind when the fear is that what they personally believe in and personally promote may be rejected if it is put to the British people. That is the dichotomy that faces the Government.
I oppose these profound constitutional changes because they strike at the heart of our constitutional arrangements, bearing in mind that it took 200 years to bring about democratic and accountable government. A distinguished Member of Parliament left the Government Benches at the last election: Mr. Tony Benn. He used to ask the House, when looking at constitutions and Governments, what are their powers? Where did they get them from? In whose interest are they exercised? To whom are they accountable, and how do we get rid of them?
Under our constitutional arrangements, we know how to get rid of a Government and how to change the law. The Convention's constitutional proposals do not amount merely to tidying arrangements. As my hon. Friend Mr. Maples said, they set out a constitution—it quacks like a duck, it walks like a duck, it is a constitution. We heard the sophistry of the Foreign Secretary, who says that it is nothing very much, but we heard that sophistry from Lord Hurd and from John Major. That sophistry has run through the debate on the European Union. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, each stage is a salami stage. We used to call it a ratchet. One starts at a very low base, and each stage is gained and then claimed as absolute.
The Maastricht treaty sought something that this constitution could never countenance—no democracy could, in truth—and, similarly, these constitutional arrangements seek something that is, in the words of the Maastricht treaty, irrevocable and irreversible. Therefore, it is not a trivial matter. We know that the Convention is trying to overset deep constitutional principles of accountable government, whereby each generation may make provision for the matters and affairs of state that they regard as important, and legislation passed yesteryear can be gainsaid by the judgment of a new generation expressed through the ballot box.
I come back to Tony Benn's questions. To whom are these institutions accountable? To whom is the Commission, the sole initiator of legislation, accountable? How does the citizen in Aldridge-Brownhills say, "I will not wear this Bill"? They cannot. In what way can they sack these people? They cannot. That is why the aim is to make the arrangements irrevocable and irreversible. The principle—that is what my right hon. Friend Mr. Ancram, the shadow Foreign Secretary, was arguing for—is that this generation should give or withhold its consent.
I am not a soothsayer, unlike the Prime Minister, who is now, ridiculously, trying to sell Europe. The former Minister for Europe went around the nation trying to meet Eurosceptics. I think that Kevin and Keith were the only two Eurosceptics whom he met when he did the Foreign Office bus trip around Britain to try to sell the euro. If we descend to those levels, things become farcical. The principle that is being enunciated is shared by those who deeply believe in the integration of Europe, and by those, such as me, who believe that this is an abnegation of democracy. That is the essence of this debate—not the fripperies of Ministers, who are playing around, as I have often seen Ministers play around before.
The Government need to raise their game. Yesterday, the Prime Minister suggested that they were going to sell Europe. Heaven only knows, we have had nearly 20 years of being told that everything that happens in the European camp is for the benefit of this country. If that is so, let the British people announce it loud and clear in a referendum—but no, the Government fear it.
The Liberal Democrats used to be in favour of referendums. I say that because I sought the support of their then leader, Lord Ashdown, for a referendum on Maastricht. He was for it, because the Liberal Democrats believed in these matters. However, we heard a very curious contribution from Mr. Moore. He spoke of wee advances, wee this and wee that, as though it were just a little matter. It is not a little matter; it is the gathering together of all that forms a constitution.
Is the hon. Gentleman not in fact making a case for including in the constitution provisions that would reassure him, many of his colleagues and many of those outside this place who are sceptical—thereby making it the sort of constitution that would command widespread support in the House—rather than merely calling for a referendum? To many on the Labour Benches, such a call looks like an excuse to stop a constitution, rather than to build a constitution that would give the hon. Gentleman the guarantees that he seeks.
No—there is no conspiracy here. I am not trying to sell to the British people the idea that the loss of all these features of democratic and accountable government is a good. I believe in this institution, and in my nation as a democratic centre. I know how difficult it is to grasp what Governments do. Only last Wednesday, the Prime Minister told us about security and intelligence matters. How do we get him before a Committee? We know how difficult that is, but how difficult will it be to control Governments here, when all the apparatus is moved some 1,000 miles to a place where our voice does not prevail, and into the hands of other people? That is why many people in this country—with no ill will whatsoever to any continental power; many of them believe, as I do, in the comity of nations—feel that they should be able to express a view on being governed in an undemocratic, unaccountable form, whereby this House votes itself out of existence.
This motion is really about a principle. Mr. Allen is right: we do not know what the outcome will be. But whatever it is, the people must be asked: is this right?
I am very pleased at the news of the referendum in Poland. In my maiden speech in 1992, I spoke about my desire and hope for the enlargement of the European Union and of NATO to take in the various countries that are now indeed joining, such as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Their joining is important not just for them but for us, and it is the final closure of the awful events of 1939 and the disfigurement of Europe through the Yalta decisions.
I also note that there is talk in the press of a Government reshuffle. I shall not be standing by my telephone this weekend, but I mention the fact because there have been six Ministers for Europe since my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister took office, which is too many. I certainly hope that he does not move my hon. Friend Mr. MacShane. I say that not because of the great affection that I have for my hon. Friend, but for the more important reason that it is not in the interests of the United Kingdom to keep changing our Ministers for Europe. I hope that that point will be noted.
This debate has some resonance for me, and my observation that I will not be hanging around by the telephone this weekend is also relevant. My diary records a Liberal Democrat half-day debate in the House, when the Conservatives were in office, during Lord Ashdown's leadership of the Liberal Democrats. The Liberal Democrats called for a referendum on Europe. I thought that that was a rather good idea, as I do this afternoon. Later, I may intervene and supply the Hansard references.
Mr. Foster, then our Chief Whip, sent for me and said, "Andrew, I hope that you are not going to vote for this nonsense." I said that I was not only going to vote for it, but speak in favour of it—and I did. The House was like the Mary Celeste, with neither of the two major parties applying a Whip. Only a few Liberals and a few people like me spoke in favour, but we placed on record our view—still my view this afternoon, as an enthusiastic pro-European—that we needed to go out and sell Europe. It has all been one-way traffic, with Mr. Cash and my good friend with whom I disagree, Sir Teddy Taylor, making all the arguments. The other side has never been out, campaigning and evangelising the positive case for Europe. I believe that a referendum would help us pro-Europeans to concentrate our efforts and take the issue to the people. I therefore disagree with Ministers.
The debate illustrates how Parliament can be brought into disrepute by the synthetic anger between the rival Front Benchers, with one side saying that the other side did not do this or that in office, and vice versa. I reminded my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in the Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday that he and I campaigned for a referendum in the early 1970s after Harold Wilson had, as they say, had a fundamental negotiation of Common Market entry terms. My right hon. Friend was generous enough to concede that he voted no in that referendum. I voted yes and have continued to vote and argue in favour of European union ever since. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend is now in my camp.
My diary also records the fact that in the debate on the Maastricht treaty the current Leader of the Opposition was pinned to the wall just outside the doors of the Chamber by a current member of the shadow Cabinet who did not want him to move in one particular direction. At the same time, another hon. Member, also in his place today, was pulling him by his tie in the other direction. Hence the confusion caused when the public see Front Benchers in each epoch altering their positions. Some hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East and me, have at least been consistent and never taken the Major or the Blair shillings—though I was never offered them. The hon. Gentleman has been consistently opposed, and I have been consistently in favour of Europe.
I hope that my hon. Friend will not think me discourteous, but I am going to move on, as promised.
We are prematurely working ourselves into a lather on the narrow issue of the Convention, because it has not yet been finalised. I believe that some of its proposals will have to be watered down because they are unlikely to be acceptable to 25 member states. Although it is not entirely satisfactory, I believe that we can reach agreement largely on the basis of existing arrangements that facilitate the enlarged Community.
I said to the Foreign Secretary yesterday that it is a pity that we become obsessed with the term "president", which does not translate well into our language. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as our Chairman, would be a president in any other Assembly. I cannot think why, in an English translation of any subsequent treaty, we cannot think of an English word for "president" that would be an acceptable substitute to colleagues elsewhere. In my view, that would help our electorate to understand the issues, which is preferable to allowing the malevolent press to imply that we need another term to describe someone such as the President of the United States.
A small footnote to the process is my suggestion that the term "president" be changed to "chair" or "chairman". That now increasingly appears in the English text and I hope that it will be in the final text of the constitutional treaty.
That is very good news, and I hope that other Front Benchers follow the initiative of the Minister for Europe by using that terminology time and again. If the Convention and subsequent treaty are agreed, we need to be clear about the functions of the new person, who effectively amounts to a Secretary-General, as understood in many international bodies.
I have made my point and I promised not to take long, so I cannot pursue that comment.
I am pleased to place on the record my renewed enthusiasm for the European project, which I do not fear at all. However, it is in the best interests of Parliament that we take the people with us. We should have a reaffirmation by the British people of their support for our membership of Europe. It is logical and a matter of common sense, so we could persuade them. We should have the full consent of both Parliament and the people, not only because of the treaty on the constitution but because of the numerous treaties that have reinforced and deepened the project since the early 1970s. There will come a time—perhaps not this year, but in a few years' time—when we need to reaffirm our commitment to Europe.
Time is short, so instead of the long and brilliant speech that I was going to make, I shall make a few brief points. The Foreign Secretary has not been in his place since he made his own speech and it is sad to see the Government treating the House of Commons with the same contempt as we have had year after year, whenever a European treaty has come forward.
Every time a treaty is presented to us, we are told, "Don't worry, there's nothing in it. It is all in previous legislation and there's nothing new." Of course, on every occasion, the reverse has been true. The Single European Act is a perfect example: we were told that it was only a means of extending free trade within Europe, and we know that that was not the case. It is appalling that on this occasion, as on all previous ones, the Foreign Secretary simply concentrated on saying nasty things about delightful Conservatives, instead of saying something about the treaty.
I hope that the Minister will answer a few questions when he winds up. Why do we need a European Foreign Minister? The proposal, set out in article 127, is something new. What will that Minister actually do? Where will his office be? For whom will he speak? We will also have a European ombudsman. Well, we have an ombudsman in Britain who does not appear to be a wonderful success. What will the European ombudsman do? To whom will he be responsible? How much will it cost? What is it all about? [Interruption.] There should be no confusion, because the provision is on page 21, article 148.
Is article 159, about voluntary withdrawal from the EU, a load of the usual nonsense or is it real? A country that decides that it wants to leave the EU voluntarily has to come to an agreement, which could take about two years, and then it has to be approved by the Council, after the consent of the European Parliament has been obtained. I hope that the Minister will answer those straight questions, instead of blethering his usual nonsense. Will a nation have the right to withdraw or will that be totally subject to the Council and the Parliament?
We should have a referendum, because people are fed up to the back teeth with the European Union, although that is probably why the Government are not having one. People were enthusiastic some years ago, but now most people are fed up. They point out that the EU costs us a great deal of money—£1.4 million every hour. I am sure that other hon. Members could think of better ways to spend that money. Most of the money we send to Europe is wasted on the most silly things. More than £1 billion will be spent this year on growing high tar tobacco in Greece. We do not want to consume that because it s bad for our health, but it is dumped on the third world and eastern Europe, and we can do nothing about it.
People are annoyed about the instructions to the Government to change their policies and do daft things. For example, the winter fuel payment was introduced to help old people in cold weather. As the Minister will be aware—and he probably approves, being the sort of person that he is—the EU instructed us that we had to make that payment to people in the overseas territories of the EU, including those in Guadalupe, Martinique and other places with year-round sunshine. That costs the taxpayer £10 million a year—on the Government's figures—but what can we do about it?
We find that people are fed up to the back teeth with what is being done to the fishing industry, but again Parliament is basically useless.
Whenever the powers of the EU are extended, the Government say that we must accept it because of the advantage to our trade. I hope that the Minister will read the document entitled "Global Britain Briefing Note", the latest edition of which was published this week. It makes the simple point that, although the single market was established to help our trade, exports to the EU from the US—which had to overcome the hurdle of not being in the EU—grew twice as fast as those from France and Germany. It also states that Japanese exports to the single market grew 27 per cent. faster than French and German exports to the same destination.
My final point concerns a matter that I hope that the Government will consider. Why have we eliminated a number of matters from the treaties that appear to me to be rather important but which unfortunately seem to have been treated as of no significance? The draft constitution states:
"Member States shall actively and unreservedly support the Union's common foreign and security policy".
What does that mean for a democratic Parliament and Government? What is the obligation that means that we must support such policies "unreservedly"?
The draft also states that the constitution
"shall have primacy over the law of the Member States."
That is not entirely new, but what does it mean?
I have 10 seconds left, so my final point for the Minister is to ask him what is meant when article 11.19 on page 5 states that nobody will be removed by any member state when there is a risk that that person could be subject to the death penalty. Does that mean that we cannot send a person out of our country who is here illegally if the result will be that he is sent to a country that has the death penalty?
I could offer many other examples, but unfortunately do not have time to do so. My point is that the draft constitution contains a huge number of provisions that are major extensions of European power that would undermine our democracy in important ways. It is time that the Government woke up to the fact, and gave the people the right to say whether they want to proceed with the proposals, or not.
This debate is about the freedom of the voters whom we represent. It is their Parliament. It should be their referendum, which would be authorised by Parliament, recognising the people's right of consent. The motion is not about the merits or demerits of the EU, and neither is it about being in or out. It is not anti-European to be pro-democracy.
Above all, the debate is about the voters, their families, their children and their daily lives. It is about what took young men to war—in the past and recently—to fight for the freedom of their country. It is about whom the voters choose to govern them, and how that is to be done. Ours is the patriotic case in the national interest—national, that is, not nationalistic.
The Prime Minister claimed the patriotic ground yesterday, and the Foreign Secretary did so again today, yet he refuses a referendum on how we are to be governed. That is because he knows that he will not win, and he dares not face the voters with the truth. The Prime Minister's version of patriotism is the last refuge of the loser.
The "Oxford English Dictionary" defines patriotism as the quality possessed by people who are devoted to their country, and who are ready to support or defend it. The proposed constitution cynically turns truth on its head, and freedom with it. It is the ultimate betrayal of the nation.
We have heard some notable contributions, among them those from my right hon. Friend Mr. Ancram, the shadow Foreign Secretary, and from my hon. Friend Mr. Shepherd. We insist that there must be a referendum if the constitutional treaty is agreed by the Government. That referendum must be held before the treaty is brought to Parliament.
This is an exceptional case for an exceptional treaty. It is exceptional because the Government have agreed with the principle of a European constitution, without a shred of legal, constitutional or political authority. The Government will use their Whips to drive the constitution through the House. No Member of Parliament, including the Prime Minister, has the right to undermine the rights of the voters of this country to decide their own form of Government, or the right to usurp the authority of the House of Commons. The decision must be the decision of the voters, in a fair referendum with a fair question based on full information.
The Government of no member state has so far objected in principle to the proposed constitution. It is therefore right to assume that it will go through the intergovernmental conference. Then the voters must have their say, and that say must be based on an explanation about the constitutional and legal implications in a White Paper, like the one issued by the Labour Government in 1967 even before European government became an issue. If then, why not now? I have repeatedly asked the Prime Minister on the Floor of the House for such a White Paper, and he has refused point blank. He does not want the voters—our constituents—to know the truth: that is the reality. The voters do not believe a word he says, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition stated last week.
The Government call the constitution a tidying-up exercise and say that it is not a major constitutional shift. Yet we do not know what constitutional arrangements the document will contain. Who do they think they are kidding? They clearly have not read the constitution, so let me outline what it says.
I am afraid that I cannot; the Government took up a great deal of our time.
We should note the words of the constitution. The opening words are:
"Reflecting the will of the citizens and the States of Europe to build a common future".
Notice the distinction drawn between the will of the citizens and the will of the states: if there is no referendum, there is no will, and no connection with the citizen. It goes on, crucially:
"this constitution establishes the European Union", adding reference to the competences to be conferred. It then says: "The constitution,"—that comma may be the biggest constitutional comma in modern European history—
"shall have primacy over the law of the Member States."
That means this Parliament. That principle, with legal personality and exclusive and shared competences in the field of government, and the protocol that reduces national parliaments to mere involvement, steal the right of every voter in this country to govern themselves through their elected representatives.
John Bruton, former Prime Minister of Ireland and now a member of the Praesidium, has said, in effect, that the national parliaments are wasting their time and had better come to terms with it. Even apart from the other components of further integration, the Convention moves the strategic plan from theory to constitutional politics. It is no reply to say that the constitution states:
"The Union shall respect the national identities of its Member States inherent in their fundamental structures, political and constitutional".
Identity is neither law nor constitution.
The constitution will repeal all existing treaties. Contrary to the Government's amendment to our motion, it goes far beyond any existing treaty, both in content and in principle. It incarnates a new treaty. It turns the European Court into the supreme court of Europe, adjudicating over the European constitution, which will absorb our courts and our parliament. The Government amendment breathtakingly claims that the proposed constitution does
"not involve any fundamental change in the relationship between the EU and its Member States".
The Minister for Europe said as much to me in answer to a parliamentary question. It is simply untrue.
The only justifiable means of giving our voters a free choice on such a vital issue must be to give them their say in a referendum. The onus is on those who are against the referendum to justify their refusal to allow the people to have their say. If the treaty went straight into a Bill under the European Communities Act 1972, who imagines that there would not be a programme motion and a three-line Whip? At the very least, the 1972 Act would need an express and unambiguous amendment to protect the voters' rights to govern themselves.
"the new European Constitution is also something Britain supports".
How on earth does he know? It was not in the Labour manifesto. Nor was it authorised by the Laeken declaration, as Lord Tomlinson indicated in the Convention the other day. The Foreign Secretary continued:
"It will create a stable rule book setting out clearly the primacy of nation states."
That is pure nonsense.
To bring in the constitution through the 1972 Act, without a referendum, would be constitutional suicide, establishing by reverse takeover a constitutional sovereignty higher than that of Parliament itself. By any standards, that is a greater constitutional shift than any in recent centuries, even going back as far as 1688. In 1649, there was regicide; now, it would be suicide.
I have five constitutional tests for the Prime Minister, so that he can explain the proposed new constitution to the British people in plain English. First, what does the constitution really do? What does it tidy up, and how? What do the Government mean by "substantive" and "fundamental"?
Secondly, how is our national primacy to be preserved under the constitution? Thirdly, how much control will our Parliament retain, and how? Fourthly, why will not the Prime Minister give the British people a White Paper? Fifthly, how can he expect the voters to trust him without a referendum?
The Prime Minister has conceded a referendum on the principle of the loss of sovereignty involved in the euro yet, like a Russian doll, that inner principle is separate from, but encased in, the greater principle of the constitution itself, under the constitutional treaty. If one deserves a referendum so, irrefutably, must the other. The truth is that the Prime Minister refuses to let British voters decide because he knows that they will not give him the answer he wants.
Who governs us, and how? The difference between the Opposition and the Government is that we trust the British people and they do not. I commend the motion to the House.
This has been a good debate. Unfortunately, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House did not announce it last Thursday, so hon. Members did not know about it until Tuesday morning. As the debate has had to be compressed, I shall not take interventions.
The debate has reflected the concern of the House, as is right. We have intensively debated the Convention both in Westminster Hall and in this Chamber. The European Scrutiny Committee has considered it. Next
We have heard some good contributions, especially from my hon. Friends the Members for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) and for Caerphilly (Mr. David). My hon. Friend Andrew Mackinlay, mentioned Poland where, on Sunday, we heard a strong yes to Europe.
It is interesting that only Labour Members have mentioned the historic decision of the Poles to vote positively for Europe. The Poles are working hard in the Convention. They look forward to a new constitutional treaty because the Europe that they want to join cannot be run on the existing rules, which may satisfy the Opposition but do not satisfy the incoming member states.
Mr. Shepherd made a passionate statement about the strength of the House, and I hope to return to his speech before I conclude.
Sir Teddy Taylor said that an EU ombudsman had been sneaked into the new Convention treaty. In fact, that institution has been part of the EU since 1991, and was voted on by the House. Similarly, language about loyal co-operation is also part of the EU. I realise that loyal co-operation is a concept unknown to the Opposition, but it is generally helpful when nation states have to work together.
Mr. Cash, who has just spoken, looked deeply shocked when he heard that his party's policy in favour of a referendum was only six months old—of course it has been his policy, and that of the leader of the Conservative party, for more than a decade. It was not ever thus: the hon. Member for Stone, who was then the hon. Member for Stafford, told the House:
"I have for many years been a supporter of the European Community in the broadest possible terms . . . We tend to exaggerate the dangers of majority voting."—[Hansard, 23 April 1986; Vol. 96, c. 378.]
That was in 1986, but at some stage the hon. Gentleman saw the light.
The Opposition speeches did not contain much about the referendum. Mr. Maples made a very good speech but did not mention the referendum once, and yet the Order Paper states that the debate is about the referendum. He, of course, was the Conservative party's original nominee to sit on the Convention but was dismissed—cast aside, because he is too sensible on Europe. Similarly, I regret the fact that it is not my opposite number, the shadow Minister for Europe, who is speaking in the debate, but the hon. Member for Stone, who has usurped his task and returned to the Front Bench to give us the benefit of his views on Europe.
This is about a return to the Conservative party of the 1930s, because it is about tomorrow's anti-European propaganda stunt, organised by the Rothermere press. I am a great fan of the Rothermere press. The Daily Mail has been telling us that under the constitutional treaty, we will all have to drive on the right, Napoleon will replace Nelson on top of Nelson's column, and trial by jury will be abused. What else have we got? Oh yes, that under compulsory metrication, shopkeepers will be put
"in jail for three years for daring to sell potatoes by the pound".
I am a great fan of the Daily Mail, but I prefer its solid and sensible articles. Among those that I have read recently were, "Mission Impossible: How a squirrrel cracked the toughest problem to reach a prize of nuts" and, "After weeks of research in hundreds of shops we present the best bras in Britain—Bra none!" But I seriously warn the House that when Rothermere editors turn their attention to Europe, they often get it wrong. Those of us who know our history remember the isolationism of the Rothermere press in the 1930s, their slavish admiration of Neville Chamberlain and his description of Europe as a faraway country of which we know nothing.
I will not, I am afraid, because I really do not have time.
That demand to isolate us from Europe has been reiterated today, and is again in front of the British people. When the Leader of the Opposition tells newspapers:
"The public is ready to go for Britain repatriating its powers from the EU, which could eventually mean pulling out", we should take him at his word. He told the Irish Times:
"I welcome everything that moves us closer to the point where we can say 'No' on Europe."
That is why he is calling for this referendum; to be fair, he did the same in 1992.
The hon. Member for Stone, too, did the same in a Bill put before the House in 1996. He also did it for the Amsterdam treaty and the Nice treaty. He has taken every opportunity to insist on a referendum, because he wants to say no to Europe; he wants us to withdraw from Europe. The hon. Gentleman told the Sunday Telegraph:
"We would prefer it if the EU did not exist".
He suffers, as do so many Conservative Members, from irritable vowel syndrome: he and his leader cannot say E and U without feeling very disturbed and ill indeed.
However, the hon. Gentleman has always been consistent. He told the Bruges group:
"We have to get down to the serious business within the Conservative party of recognising that the arguments that those like myself have been presenting, have got to be adopted by the Conservative party as a whole."
I advise him not to worry; his party is nearly there. As a Conservative MEP, Roger Helmer, said in his newsletter, "Straight Talking", last month:
"It is not yet party policy to withdraw from the EU. But it is, perhaps, an idea whose time is coming."
That is the golden thread that weaves through all the Opposition speeches that we heard this afternoon, and their incessant clamour for a referendum.
I genuinely do not see how anyone can call for a referendum on a proposition that is not even before the British people. The Conservative party and the Rothermere press do not want a referendum to find out what the British people want; they want a referendum to enable them to say no to Europe.
Their slogan is "No to Europe. Europe, Europe, Europe: out, out, out." They are saying that, while the people of Poland and our other great friends and allies in central and eastern Europe and the Baltic states are saying yes to Europe. The hon. Member for Stone wants every member of his party to sew on a nametape to identify them as saying yes to a referendum and no to Europe. That represents traditional populist politics, aimed at parliamentary democracy. As Walter Bagehot rightly said:
"The distinguishing quality of Parliamentary Government is, that in each stage of a public transaction there is a discussion; that the public assist at this discussion; that it can, through Parliament, turn out an administration which is not doing as it likes, and can put in an administration which will do as it likes."
The Conservative party is calling for the power and authority of this Parliament to be handed over to the Rothermere press and its populist plebiscites of the 1930s.
I say to the House, as I have said before, that the people will decide, just as they decided in 1983, 1997 and 2001 when they rejected the anti-European party. People and Parliament will decide, not the press and those in the Conservative party who call for us to withdraw from Europe. I ask my hon. Friends to vote for Parliament and the people of Britain, and to reject the Opposition motion.
Question accordingly agreed to.
Mr. Deputy Speaker forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.
That this House notes that previous governments rejected referendums on previous constitutional treaties such as the Single European Act and Maastricht, both of which involved greater change than the draft Treaty proposed by the Convention on the Future of Europe; believes that since the proposals of the Convention do not involve any fundamental change in the relationship between the EU and its Member States, there is no case for a referendum; and notes that any proposals from the Convention are a matter for unanimous agreement by an Inter-Governmental Conference, and then endorsement by the Parliament of the United Kingdom.