European Constitution

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 8th July 2003.

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Photo of Graham Allen Graham Allen Labour, Nottingham North 11:30 am, 8th July 2003

If he will consult people in Nottingham, North on amendment of the draft European Constitution.

Photo of Denis MacShane Denis MacShane Minister of State (Europe), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I intend to visit Nottingham later this year as part of a programme of UK visits to raise awareness of EU enlargement. This will include discussion of the draft constitution, which proposes reform and modernisation of the EU to ensure that it can continue to function effectively following enlargement.

Photo of Graham Allen Graham Allen Labour, Nottingham North

Does my hon. Friend realise that the people of Nottingham, North—indeed, the constituents of all Members—can be involved in the consultation, as can all Members themselves, if he allows pre-legislative scrutiny of the European constitution before it goes to the intergovernmental conference? It is vital for Members to be involved before and not after decisions are made. I welcomed the letter I received from the Foreign Secretary saying that he would consider the matter, and hope that in tomorrow's debate he will be able to reassure us that we and our constituents can have a serious input in the IGC before everything is cut and dried.

Photo of Denis MacShane Denis MacShane Minister of State (Europe), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My hon. Friend is right. I am grateful to him for his practical suggestions, as is my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. The Foreign Office has set up an interactive website, futureofeurope@fco.gov.uk, to allow communication via e-mail.

We have had seven debates on the convention and the future constitutional treaty, and there will be another tomorrow in Government time. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will publish command papers on the subject, and I am visiting more than 100 UK towns and cities where these issues are, of course, discussed.

Conservative Front Benchers laugh. I suggest that if they occasionally listened to the voters of this country, they might learn where their disappearing support has gone.

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I am sure that, as part of the consultation process, the Minister will pay close attention to the reports of the European Scrutiny Committee. May I recommend its recent report entitled "The Convention on the Future of Europe and the Role of National Parliaments"? Paragraph 55 states:

"We are concerned about the prospect of exclusive EU competence in the 'Conservation of marine biological resources under the common fisheries policy' and how this might affect the management of marine resources at all levels."

May I strongly urge the Minister and the Government to consider that concern and act on it during the intergovernmental conference?

Photo of Denis MacShane Denis MacShane Minister of State (Europe), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

The hon. Gentleman is a doughty defender of the fishing interests of his constituents, but he is right to draw attention to the fact that under the constitutional treaty there is a strengthened role for national Parliaments. It is important that they should play a central part.

Let me quote from Hansard:

"It is indispensable to our system of government that Parliament should play its full part in all the important acts of state".—[Hansard, 8 December 1941; Vol. 376, c. 1358.]

That was said by Winston Churchill. In those days, the Conservative party was led by someone who believed in defending the rights of this House, not in surrendering them to the Rothermere press so that it could dictate policy.