[Relevant documents: Twenty-Fourth Report from the European Scrutiny Committee of Session 2002–03, on The Convention on the Future of Europe and the Role of National Parliaments (HC 63-xxiv); Twenty-Sixth Report from the European Scrutiny Committee of Session 2002–03, on The Convention's proposals on criminal justice (HC 63-xxvi)]
I beg to move,
That this House
believes that the draft Constitutional Treaty produced by the Convention on the Future of Europe is a good basis for starting in the Intergovernmental Conference;
agrees that the procedures of an enlarged European Union require reform, and welcomes the commitment of the Convention to a Union which respects the national identities of its Member States and which has only those powers explicitly conferred on it by them;
congratulates the UK parliamentary, government and European Parliament representatives on the Convention for their contributions, and notes the valuable work of the relevant parliamentary committees of both Houses;
notes the Government's decision to table as a Command Paper Parts I, II and IV;
recalls that decisions on what is included in any forthcoming Treaty will be made by unanimity by the elected governments of all EU member states;
and reaffirms Parliament's role in scrutinising and approving legislation required to give effect to any future Treaty's provisions.
I first draw the House's attention to a very serious error in our motion. [Hon. Members: "Resign!"] I think that the jury is out on whether it is a resignation matter. More assiduous Members will have noted that the motion refers to the inclusion of parts I, II and IV of the Convention in the Command Paper, whereas only parts I and II were included. I own up to that. Part IV, although available, had not been finally signed off by the Convention. However, for the better information of hon. Members the Vote Office is kindly making available the existing draft part IV. I apologise to the House for the error.
I want to deal with five key questions. First, why did the European Union Heads of Government decide that a new constitution for the EU was needed and, related to that, why did they agree that there should be the two-stage process of the Convention followed by an intergovernmental conference? Secondly, what process will the IGC follow? Thirdly, what are the key elements of the draft constitutional treaty produced by the Convention? Fourthly, which of those elements will we wish to change in the negotiations at the IGC? Fifthly, how will Parliament be involved in the process of scrutiny before, during and after the IGC?
No, I will cover it when I come to the amendment.
Before I deal with those questions, let me again record my thanks to the parliamentary Members, of all parties, of the British delegation to the Convention, and to all the staff in this House and in my Department who supported them. Our team has garnered tributes from across Europe. One of the finest tributes comes from a leading French constitutional expert, Robert Badinter, who commented in a French weekly, Le Nouvel Observateur, that
"the search for consensus allowed the side showing the firmest will to take definitive control of the game, artfully trading concessions on the inessential to make sure of winning the essential . . . to the extent that we should dub this constitution for the Europe of 25 'la Britannique.'"
[Interruption.] I invite Conservative Members to look at many other such quotations, which I am happy to place before the House, and which come from a wide range of commentaries in a wide range of journals across the European Union.
Although we have reservations, which I shall discuss later, about aspects of the draft Convention, we embarked on the exercise with a considerable programme that was clearly set out in our manifesto. We have largely succeeded in achieving our aims.
I pay tribute to the work of the Convention's President, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. I did not know him before he took on that role, but I have had the opportunity to watch him at work and my respect and admiration for him has grown greatly. Brokering a text between all the participants is an extraordinary personal achievement.
My first point was about why European Union Heads of Government decided that the Union needed a new constitution and why they agreed to a two-stage process of Convention followed by intergovernmental conference. I say "new" because a constitution for the European Union already exists. It is found in several lengthy treaties, dating back to the treaty of Rome, and each grants the Union different powers.
His fellow lawyer from the same chambers in the Faculty of Advocates says that he is not a reasonable lawyer; I do not resort to that. However, Mr. Cash should know that the Convention will be a treaty if it is given legal effect; it has no other basis. There is no difference in power between the current legal instruments, which form the constitution of the European Union, and a new constitution, except that the existing constitution is found in a plethora of treaties. Some of the treaties are contradictory and part of the constitution is called the "treaties of the European Community" and the other part is described as the "treaty of the European Union". The current constitution is therefore confusion compounded. One purpose of the Convention is to simplify the treaties and put them into a single text. The Opposition should at least agree with us about that, if not about anything else.
Let me deal briefly with that. If my hon. Friend reads not only part II, which sets out the charter of rights, but especially article II-51, he will realise that there is a severe limitation on the application of the charter. Article II-52 provides for considerable restrictions on the scope and interpretation of its rights and principles.
The provisions of the charter are addressed to the institutions, bodies and agencies of the Union; they do not extend the Union's powers. Article II-52 requires that, in the case of overlap between the charter of rights and the European convention on human rights, the interpretation of the Convention would apply. Article II-52(4) states:
"Insofar as this Charter recognises fundamental rights as they result from the constitutional traditions common to the Member States, those rights shall be interpreted in harmony with those traditions."
Those are helpful safeguards and I hope that hon. Members will continue to scrutinise them. We shall take account of any further observations by hon. Members in our negotiations at the IGC.
If, as the Foreign Secretary claims, the Convention is simply another treaty, will it be possible freely to exit it other than through the new constitution?
I did not say that it was simply another treaty. [Interruption.] It is an important treaty that has been made under international law. For the first time, there are provisions for a member state to leave the European Union, which is important. Just as people should be able to decide freely whether to join the European Union, they should have freedom to decide to leave. Such provisions should be clear and on the face of the constitution, and they are.
European Union leaders have long recognised that the current constitutional texts are a recipe for incoherence in a Union of 15. Post-enlargement, that ramshackle framework would not be up to the task of forging consensus among 25 member states. Hon. Members of all parties supported enlargement—we recognise what that means for Britain's national security and prosperity. We all want the countries of the former Soviet bloc as well as Cyprus and Malta to become part of the European family. However, in practice, agreement ends there. The Opposition fail to recognise that if we want enlargement to succeed and the former Soviet satellites to prosper, we must overhaul the Union's institutional make-up in their interests.
At Nice, European Union leaders agreed technical changes to allow for enlargement. However, even as they agreed that treaty, they recognised that further reforms would be necessary. They followed their declaration at Nice with another, 18 months later at the Laeken summit in December 2001. They concluded that European
"citizens want . . . the EU's institutions to be more efficient and open."
They also set out a detailed mandate for the Convention on the Future of Europe. They agreed that it should examine whether the
"simplification and reorganisation of the treaties should not lead . . . to the adoption of a constitutional text in the Union" and
"what the basic features of such a constitution might be."
As the Convention unfolded, a consensus developed, supported by the Government, on the need for such a text.
The decision to follow a two-stage process of Convention and IGC rather than IGC alone had its origins in the IGC at Nice. Intractable issues were discussed at a technical level for six months, but at a political level only in the final stages of the summit. So a summit that was planned for a relatively short time—two working days—lasted four days and nights. At the end of that exhausting and not especially happy process, Heads of Government called for a wider and more open debate to prepare the ground for the next IGC, involving "all interested parties."
The Foreign Secretary mentioned the former Soviet bloc countries. To what extent has consultation taken place with the Administrations of the Baltic countries—for example, Estonia, which I know best—to ensure that they and the general public of future member states support what existing members are debating?
I know from my right hon. Friend Peter Hain, who led the British delegation, and from my hon. Friend Ms Stuart and their noble colleagues in another place that we in the United Kingdom and other delegates have worked hard to ensure that the accession countries are fully involved in the process.
At the Copenhagen summit, which took place almost six months ago, we insisted that the date for signature of any treaty should be May 2004, after accession. The new members would thus have the same rights, not simply by grace and favour, as anybody else to veto part of the treaty if they wished. However, I believe, not least through conversations with my opposite numbers in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, that the Baltic states are satisfied.
Perhaps I misheard the Foreign Secretary. Did he say that he could veto part of the treaty? How can he do that? I believed that he could veto or accept the treaty.
Countries can refuse to sign the treaty. That gives them a power of veto in the negotiations. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would understand that.
I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman speaks on behalf of the Conservative party, he will condemn the two leading Conservative Members of the European Parliament, Mr. Daniel Hannan and Mr. Roger Helmer—
The hon. Gentleman says that they are excellent men. I know Mr. Hannan and I respect his views, although I do not agree with them. He is not an eccentric outside the mainstream of the Conservative party. Those two MEPs travelled to Estonia to campaign for a no vote in the referendum, against the clear policy of this House and Conservative Front Benchers. I hope that we do not have the usual weasel words from the right hon. Gentleman when he answers the debate.
I was in Estonia with Mr. Roger Helmer, who did not advise the Estonians on their choice of whether they should join the EU, but instead warned them about the constitution about which they would have to decide after joining the EU. I was present when he made that speech and I should be grateful if the Foreign Secretary would therefore amend his remarks.
We have obviously been listening to two different Mr. Hannans. He calls for a no vote in Estonia and on
"I have a confession to make".
"If you are a Conservative Whip look away now. I am against the whole idea". of enlargement.
Mr. Hannan's views are very clear. He is against enlargement. He is entitled to that view, but what we need to hear from the deputy leader of the Conservative party is his total rejection of that view, on behalf of the Conservative party—a party that claims to be as fully in support of enlargement as we are.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. When I specifically intervene on the Foreign Secretary to ask him to withdraw an erroneous remark about a Conservative colleague and he refuses to do that by referring to another member of the European Parliament, is that not a breach of the rules of debate? Would you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, suggest to the Foreign Secretary that he answers the point that I made rather than answer the point that he would have liked me to make.
Will the right hon. Gentleman help me on this very important matter? Will the written constitutions of members going into this new constitution, and the practices of those that have no written constitutions, be subservient to this new overall constitution?
The position of countries that do not have a single written text themselves—the United Kingdom pre-eminently—is no different from countries that have their own written basic text. As the hon. Gentleman knows, under section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1973, EU law takes precedence over our law in any event, and the same position applies in any other member states.
When the European Council at Laeken decided on the mechanism for holding the debate on the future Europe it chose a convention, which not only included representatives of national Parliaments, the European Parliament, Commission and Governments, but took soundings from civil society, the regions and academia. People will of course argue about the product of the Convention, but I hope that we can all agree that an arrangement that has involved parliamentary representatives from the start, and which has conducted its debates in the public eye, is a vast improvement on the IGC alone.
My second question is: what process will the IGC follow? At the recent European council in Thessaloniki, Heads of Government agreed that the IGC would start in October and be completed in time for the June 2004 elections to the European Parliament. They also agreed that the IGC would be conducted by Heads of State or Governments of the member states, assisted by Foreign Ministers. The new Italian presidency is working on the more detailed arrangements.
My third question is: what are the key elements of the draft? I placed a 10-point summary of the draft in the Library of the House last month and I shall not repeat each of them today, but allow me to single out the central points, the text of which is before the House.
The draft reflects the ideas, which as it happens, the Labour party's manifesto set out as one of the remits for the IGC. We set out in our manifesto that the main sources of popular legitimacy in Europe remain national Governments and Parliaments. Therefore, national Governments should be seen to be setting the agenda of the EU with the European Council setting the EU's priorities. There should be a strong independent commission ensuring that the European interest is heard and enforced and an effective European Parliament improving draft legislation and holding the Commission to account. We then went on to say that Labour wants the next IGC in 2004 to address public concerns about the way in which the EU works, spelling out in a clear statement of principles what should and should not be done at European level.
In every particular, that is exactly what we have followed. We have followed the manifesto, and, to a significant extent, that is what has been delivered in this constitution.
Allow me to make some progress.
We have a draft that begins by reciting that the Union is based on certain key principles—dignity, liberty, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. It calls for a union of sovereign states of Europe, with decisions taken as closely as possible to the citizens. It specifies that the Union exercises only the powers that member states give to it, acting at the EU level only when it needs to. It gives this House greater powers to police the principle of subsidiarity.
The draft asserts the primacy of the nation state. It puts the European Council—the institution that represents the interests of the nation states, as we said it should do in our manifesto—in charge of the Union's political direction. It calls for common action where it makes sense to work together—for example, agriculture, transport, environment, illegal immigration and asylum. It calls on member states to act together in foreign and defence policy where their Governments all agree to do so.
The draft also includes one of our other central reform proposals—that a full-time President or Chair or the European Council should replace the current six-monthly rotating presidency. That will bring much needed consistency to the Union's most powerful body, the decision-making forum of its nation states.
At Thessaloniki, EU leaders agreed that the draft treaty represented a good basis for starting the negotiations in the IGC.
That is exactly our position. Much good is in it, but there are elements in it that we do not support. That brings me to my fourth question: which sections of the draft would we wish to change in the interests of the UK and Europe at the IGC? I emphasise that the list that I give is provisional and not exhaustive. Part III is being finalised at the moment by the Convention, which is why a number of hon. Members are not present today, and we shall publish that and examine it. Before we reach final decisions on the position that we will take at the IGC, we want to take full account of the views of Parliament and its scrutiny work. However, we will oppose, for example, proposals to include a common defence guarantee or a self-selecting inner core for defence in the draft treaty, or to communitise the common foreign and security policy. Neither would we agree to any changes on procedure, taxation, own resources or social security, which threaten the national interest. I have told the House in earlier debates of our objections to the passarelle clause, 1-24.
Other member states have concerns of their own. They each ultimately have the right to exercise their veto in the IGC to prevent the adoption of any measures that run counter to their national interests.
I was interested yesterday to learn that, according to a Financial Times reporter, Joschka Fischer, the Foreign Minister of Germany, which is generally known for its proposals to extend qualified majority voting, was saying that he wanted to insist on unanimity in respect of asylum and immigration, an area where we want to insist on QMV because we happen to think that it is more in our national interest and the national interest of Europe. That is an illustration of the fact that it is not just us who will be seeking changes, but other countries as well.
Regardless of whether the constitution has new elements or not, is it not none the less a symbol that allows Her Majesty's Government and anyone who is vaguely European to celebrate, promote and help understanding of the European project and therefore should be seized as an opportunity?
My right hon. Friend also mentioned the IGC timetable, and said that it will start in October. If Members of this House and our constituents are to be involved in this process, is it not absolutely necessary, therefore, that the conference take place before we begin our negotiations in October? There is very little time left to set up the appropriate mechanisms for this House and the public to participate.
I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes and I am grateful to him for the very constructive suggestions that he has made. I shall set out the process as I see it in due course, but I should point out that we are not starting cold. A great deal of work has been done already by this House and the other place.
The Foreign Secretary might like to answer the following questions. Why is there no reference to the opt-out for the euro in the treaty, where is the protocol that deals with it and where is the derogation in the text in front of him?
The opt-out stands. That question well illustrates the fantasy-land in which some Opposition Members now reside. They seem to believe that some sleight of hand is involved, and that rather than having a referendum on the euro, we will, by excising the odd clause and protocol, suddenly wake up one morning and find ourselves members of the euro. That may be the way in which the Conservatives would handle the matter if they were in government, but it is not our way.
Before the Foreign Secretary moves on from the question of the changes that the UK Government are seeking to make during the IGC, I draw his attention to the report of the European Scrutiny Committee, which states that the Committee is
"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."
I urge the Foreign Secretary to look at this issue with great seriousness. It affects many parts of the UK. Moreover and crucially, the idea that Norway or Iceland might seek to join in future, with fishing being an exclusive competence beggars belief.
I promise that I shall look at this issue with great care. I should point out that the protection of marine biological resources has been an exclusive competence of the European Union, under a ruling of the European Court of Justice, since 1979. Common fisheries policy is a shared competence, but the protection of marine biological resources has been an exclusive competence for 24 years. However, I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes and as I said, I promise to look at this issue with great care.
On the question of parliamentary scrutiny and authority, as my right hon. Friend will know from examining the Order Paper, a considerable number of his own Back Benchers believe that for this treaty to have the authority that it ought to have, it should go to a referendum. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] Will he remind the House which countries will be submitting, under their own constitutions, these proposals to a referendum? Which other European countries think that the step-changes in this treaty are so important that they will, for the first time, be submitting such proposals to a referendum?
I will arrange for my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath to give the list—[Interruption.] I am sorry, but I do not have the information. [Interruption.] I have now been given the information. Four countries—Denmark, Ireland, Luxembourg and Spain—have definite plans for a referendum. Three—Italy, France and Portugal—have not made formal decisions but are likely to hold a referendum. Thirteen countries, including Britain, have no current plans to hold a referendum. Five countries have yet to make public statements, but are considered unlikely to hold a referendum. It is obviously early days, but my guess is that about 40 per cent. of countries will decide to hold a referendum and 60 per cent. will not.
I have given way a great deal and, with respect to the House, I will not take any further interventions, as this is a relatively short debate. Hon. Members have, rightly, already had a number of opportunities to air their views on the work of the Convention on the Future of Europe. There have been three debates in the past six weeks. Last month, my Department hosted a seminar for parliamentarians on the work of the Convention, and we are happy to do so again if the demand exists. There have been four reports by the European Scrutiny Committee and 11 by Lords EU Committees. I have placed the reports on the Table, so that Members can read them and have some idea of the extent of the work that has already been done in both Houses. The Joint Committee on the Convention has held six sittings, in which Members of both Houses have questioned parliamentary delegations to the Convention. So there has already been extensive scrutiny, which has proved as helpful to the Government as it has to Parliament.
Last week, I wrote to my hon. Friend Mr. Hood and to Lord Grenfell to ask them and their colleagues to give urgent thought to the most effective way in which the Commons and the Lords can examine the draft constitutional treaty. As I said in my letter, this is a matter not for the Government, but for Parliament, and I am grateful for the consideration that both Committees are giving to my letter. My hon. Friend Mr. Allen wrote to me last month, suggesting an online discussion of the Convention's draft treaty, which would be open to parliamentarians and the public alike. A Command Paper is already on the Foreign Office website, and parts III and IV of the treaty will be. I am attracted to my hon. Friend's proposal. I have asked officials to examine the practical and resource implications, but I hope for a positive result.
I published a Command Paper to inform today's discussion, and I shall publish a second one as soon as parts III and IV of the treaty are available. In answer to the question from Mr. Campbell, we will be publishing a White Paper on our objectives in advance of the opening of the IGC, but we are leaving it relatively late in order to take account of the views and interests of the House.
One of the amendments to the Government motion calls for the treaty to be put to a referendum after the IGC negotiations. We have discussed this question in the House on three occasions recently, and on one of them the motion in question was entirely about a referendum. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister reiterated the Government's position yesterday. If the draft treaty entailed a change in the fundamental relationship between the nation states and the EU's institutions, there would be a case for a referendum, but it does not. To a degree, the draft Convention tilts the balance towards the nation states and the principle of intergovernmentalism. [Interruption.] It does, and as such there is no case for a referendum.
Given that the whole House takes the question of the content of manifestos seriously, let us make it clear that in our manifesto, we anticipated that there would be an IGC and that it would consider this range of issues. We never suggested—[Interruption.] Yes, we did talk about a single text, but we never suggested that the issue should be put to a referendum. Given that this text, and what we know of the content of parts III and IV of the treaty, does not involve any change in the fundamental relationship between the EU and its member states, we believe that there is no case for a referendum.
With great respect, I have already said that I will not give way any more.
The debate in this House on the Convention has, shall we say, been varied. I take some comfort from what we have achieved so far by the fact that the Opposition are having to resort to extravagance and hyperbole to make their case. Thus, Mr. Redwood claimed just three weeks ago that I would have to bow to the authority of an "EU Foreign Minister". He told this House that such a Minister would be able to veto my actions, and that the EU would take Britain's seat in the United Nations. The hon. Member for Stone claimed that the document represents a greater proposed constitutional shift
"than any in recent centuries, even going back as far as 1688."—[Hansard, 11 June 2003; Vol. 406, c. 747.]
That was a little over the top. Such comments betray—[Interruption.]
Is not the reference to 1688 particularly apt, given that it is the date on which parliamentary democracy began in this country and the Convention will take it away?
I am answering. Evidently, the hon. Member for Stone has not read this constitutional text—[Interruption.] I have read what happened in 1688. I have read the lot. Of course what happened then helped the introduction of parliamentary democracy, but it is typical of the hon. Gentleman that he thinks history stopped in 1688. He has forgotten that it was followed by a century of the most corrupt sort of elitist Government, which required action and agitation by the labouring classes before the universal right to vote was achieved and we secured the sort of Parliament that we have today.
Those comments disclose an all-too-familiar mindset. The Conservatives fought the last election—[Interruption.] I am sorry, but I must make progress. They fought the last election on an anti-European platform, and lost for a second time by a record margin. Today's Conservative leader has none of the subtlety or forensic skills of Mr. Hague. Furthermore, the opposition of Mr. Duncan Smith is visceral, as is that of his supporters. The drift of the Opposition is towards an unattainable renegotiation of the basis of the UK's membership, leading inevitably to this country's total separation from the Union. However, to sugar this bitter pill, which even the Opposition know would immediately be rejected by the British people, they have invented a fantasy comfort zone—
"an associate EU membership of some kind", in the words of Mr. Heathcoat-Amory, in which we could have a menu without prices and any benefits of membership that we chose with none of the obligations. Let me tell the Opposition that such a prospect is a deceit. No such never-never land would ever be available. An associate EU membership of some kind would involve obligations without influence—or, to paraphrase Baldwin, responsibility without power, the prerogative of the eunuch down the ages. Under such an arrangement, this great nation would be castrated of its power, removed of its vote, yet we would be bound to accept the last detail of the EU rules if we wanted any growing share of its markets.
There is no confusion at all. Baldwin was talking about power without responsibility, the prerogative of the harlot down the ages; and I am talking about responsibility without power, the prerogative of the eunuch down the ages. The Conservative party should think carefully about what it is proposing and reflect on where an associate membership of the EU would lead them. It would indeed lead them to responsibility without power and we would be bound to accept every last detail of what the EU imposed on us without any proper influence over it. That would be a humiliation for this nation, and the approach itself is born of a fundamental failure of the Conservative party's belief and confidence in itself and in this nation. Under its leadership we would always be the victims of some evil forces of darkness from the continent. We would never be able to win the argument and make the alliances that both Edward Heath—and, yes, Margaret Thatcher—managed, and which we have successfully strengthened and sustained in the national interest.
Ours is the patriotic case for Britain's membership of the European Union. I am confident that the final treaty that emerges from the IGC will be a good deal for Britain. But for an Opposition who are instinctively committed to undermining the European Union, the treaty will probably be a disappointment, because it should result in a strong Europe with efficient institutions, which better attract the support of Europe's citizens. It should deliver a more democratic Europe, anchored in the legitimacy of the nation state. I commend the motion to the House.
I beg to move amendment (b), in line 1, leave out from 'House' to end and add 'notes the draft Constitutional Treaty produced by the Convention on the Future of Europe;
and believes that no constitutional European Treaty agreed by the Intergovernmental Conference should be ratified without a referendum.'., standing in my name, the name of the Leader of the Opposition and the names of my right hon. Friends.
I start by joining the Foreign Secretary in congratulating and thanking hon. Members of the House and members of the European Parliament who served on the Convention. We all owe them a debt of gratitude for their work. This is the fourth of several debates on the European issue and I have to say that, of all of them, this must be the most surreal. I always rather respected the Foreign Secretary for the calm way in which he usually deals with debates of this sort, but having just listened to his rant, I can think only that it is a sign of insecurity and that he should perhaps take a little medical advice for his condition. We know that he has been under a lot of strain recently so perhaps we should forgive him.
I shall explain why the debate is surreal. Governments normally ask for the support of the House on proposals that are important significant and beneficial—but not on this issue. On the proposed European constitution the Government are at pains to tell us how unimportant it all is, how insignificant its impact will be and how wrong we all are to get worried. While the rest of integrationist Europe talks up the proposed constitution, the Government Front Benchers talk it down. While the rest of supranationalist Europe glows with pride at the overall impact of the proposals, our Government pretend that nothing much has changed.
When Joschka Fischer of Germany boasts:
"We have a draft constitution that is worthy of the word 'historic'", he is clearly not talking about a text, but a constitution. Yet the Leader of the House, in a previous incarnation, told us that it was just a "tidying-up" exercise. The Foreign Secretary said today that this was not a special document or a constitution, but the document before us is called a treaty to establish a draft constitution. We are talking about a constitution. The Spanish Convention member Inigo Mendez de Vigo commented that this was
"the most important text since the Treaty of Rome in 1957", but the Foreign Secretary tells us that we are not talking about a substantial expansion of EU-wide powers, or a radical overhaul of the Union's existing treaties and competences. How can he say that? What lies before us is a written constitution explicitly enshrining the principle of EU legal supremacy over our national laws.
I had noticed that, but I also noticed that the document is a draft treaty to establish a constitution, so the word is in the document, but apparently not in the mouth of the Foreign Secretary.
The Government's clear ploy is to set up a false debate, suggesting that all those who do not support their moves towards a more integrated and politically united Europe want to get out. The Minister for Europe was at it again in the "Thunderer" column in today's The Times. More a splutter than a thunder, as far as I was concerned! However, it is simply not true and Government Members know that it is not true. We are in the European Union. We do not want to leave it. That is not the debate. The debate is about what sort of European Union we believe is best suited to the challenges that lie ahead. That is the debate that the Government are so desperate to avoid.
On that point, the right hon. Gentleman tells us that his party is opposed to our country leaving the EU, so why have members of his party gone to Estonia and sought to talk the Estonians out of the benefits and privileges of the very membership that he assures us is important to the UK?
The Foreign Secretary kindly and helpfully quoted from Mr. Daniel Hannan, who made it clear that he hoped that the Whips were not looking when he made his comments, because he knows that that is not the policy of the Conservative party. He has always had a strong view, which he is pursuing with others. Having spent the past few days watching one Labour Back Bencher after another going into the opposite Lobby from their Front Benchers, I shall take no lessons about how to deal with disagreement from that party.
I have asked the Foreign Secretary about that before, and he has had the honesty to admit that in 1983 he, and most other Front Benchers, stood on a manifesto promise to withdraw from Europe. That was their position, but it is not our position now and has never been our position.
We reject the motion. Its intention is clear—to support the creation of a European constitution that is a step change away from the treaty agreements on which the European Union is presently based. It is a constitution, and no amount of play on words by the Foreign Secretary can disguise that fact. I cannot understand why the Government fell in love with this constitution so suddenly. The Prime Minister told us in 2000 that a constitution was not necessary. In our view, it is still not necessary, and the Foreign Secretary has never explained why it is necessary.
It may surprise the right hon. Gentleman if I say that I am with him so far on his view that the document is a constitution, but the weakness of his case is that he proposes a referendum because his party is anti-European, rather than because it would be democratic. The anti-Europeanism came from his party before the call for a referendum, which flies in the face of those who feel that a referendum is a way to involve people more widely in the European project.
The whole point of a referendum is to allow people to have a choice. That is what we want to do. If we had a referendum, we would campaign on the policy in which we believe and others would campaign on their policies, but the important thing is to have a referendum.
Will my right hon. Friend remind Labour Members that there are varying degrees of enthusiasm for the European Union on both sides of the House, just as there are varying degrees of enthusiasm for this constitution on both sides of the House? However, even Conservatives who have always stood steadfast behind the policy first enunciated by Sir Edward Heath believe, as do the Liberal Democrats, that this document should not be ratified until it has received the approval of the British people in a referendum.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point, which is reflected in our amendment. I will develop the points that he has raised later in my speech.
The draft constitution represents a significant step change. It has been said:
"Until now, Europe was mainly associated with a common market. Now Europe will be more and more a place of citizenship. Now people will associate Europe with a constitution".
"Anyone in Britain who claims the constitution will not change things is trying to sweeten the pill for those who don't want to see a bigger role for Europe. Eventually the Union . . . will become an institution and organisation in its own right".
Again, those are not my words, but those of Italian Convention representative, Lamberto Dini.
The draft constitution explicitly claims supremacy over national laws. In a clear move away from intergovernmentalism, it will set up a five-year presidency and get rid of the rotating presidencies that underline that intergovernmentalism. Against all the assurances given to the contrary, from the Prime Minister downwards, it will incorporate and give legal effect to the charter of fundamental rights. It will create a European Foreign Minister. It will dramatically extend qualified majority voting, thereby undermining and diminishing the ability of individual nations to determine their own futures. It will give the EU control of asylum and immigration. It will meddle in criminal trial procedures and increase EU powers over transport and energy policies. It will provide for further creeping integration, without recourse back to national parliaments. Economic co-ordination and a common foreign policy all hover in the wings. This is a constitution, and a fundamental constitution at that.
My right hon. Friend has mentioned the increase in powers in the constitution. Can he think of reasons why the Government keep saying that the veto will stay on defence, foreign policy and taxation, whereas Mr. Prodi keeps saying that it will not?
The question that I asked the Foreign Secretary earlier was valid. We keep being told that the Government have red lines. We need to know whether, if those red lines are crossed—and if the amendments proposed by the Leader of the House, which were not carried by the Convention, are not eventually agreed—they are prepared to veto the treaty? They do not get several vetoes: they get one, and they have to face up to that. If we had an answer to that question, it would provide the answer that my hon. Friend seeks.
The Convention will also give the EU a single legal personality. In the last debate, we were told that that would not add to what the EU can currently do, but that is not Romano Prodi's view. On
"Europe can now play its role on the world stage thanks to its legal personality."
Obviously in his view the EU has not been able to play that role without it. He has underlined the significance of the changes that will be made.
The constitution is not a collection of insignificant changes designed to make an enlarged Europe more manageable. It sets out the attributes of the constitution of an independent state. It signals the end of the democratic rights of the currently sovereign nations to determine their own affairs and therefore of the people to direct their own destinies. And that is why we reject it.
Indeed it is, and it is from Thucydides. It says:
"Our Constitution . . . is called a democracy because power is in the hands not of a minority but of the greatest number."
It uses the word "constitution" and talks explicitly about "the greatest number"—meaning the extension of majority voting and the elimination of the national veto.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding the House of that, and I congratulate him on his swift translation of ancient Greek, which might be beyond most of the rest of us.
"NATO has to be the superior alliance in terms of defence."
Yet for all the references to the European security and defence policy, there is a glaring omission in the constitution, because it contains no guarantee of the primacy of NATO. We should remember that NATO is about guaranteeing national sovereignty, but this constitution is about eroding it.
Our criticism of the constitution goes further. The task set for the Convention in Laeken was clear—to bring Europe closer to its peoples. However, as the Austrian newspaper Die Presse stated:
"The aim is to bring the EU closer to citizens. The EU, its goals and decisions, were meant to be made simpler and more comprehensible. And none of that has happened."
That is the truth about the outcome of this Convention. Rather than certainty, we have—in so many areas—fudged ambiguity. Article I-3(3) says that the Union
"shall promote economic, social and territorial cohesion."
What on earth does that mean, unless it is an ill-defined invitation for Brussels to expand its powers?
The Foreign Secretary has boasted about national Parliaments' rights to vet European legislation yet, under the draft constitution, that vetting would allow the Commission still to ignore Parliaments' objections. How does that give power back to national Parliaments?
Article I-10.2 states:
"Member States shall take all appropriate measures, general or particular, to ensure fulfilment of the obligations flowing from the Constitution or resulting from the Union Institutions acts."
Again, what on earth does that mean? On the face of it, the European Court of Justice will be endowed with enormous power. Article I-13 sets out shared competencies where the EU is to take the lead. Those open-ended provisions could allow a vast expansion of central EU power. Once again, that is centralisation, when we were told that the proposals were about returning powers to national Parliaments.
Article I-14 is extraordinary. It deals with the co-ordination of employment and economic policies. Again, it contains wide-ranging and loose imperative provisions that are unclear in meaning but could authorise sweeping powers for Brussels. One extraordinary provision relates to foreign affairs. Article III-196.(2b) states:
"The Council shall act by qualified majority voting when adopting a position on a Union action and position, on a proposal which the Minister has put to it following a specific request to him from the European Council made at its own initiative or that of the Minister."
If other Conservative Members can work out what on earth that means, they are doing a better job than I am. For instance, does it mean that any proposal made by the European Minister for Foreign Affairs on his initiative could, in the end, be subject to QMV?
I may have misheard the right hon. Gentleman, in which case I am sure that he will correct me, but I thought I heard him say that the draft makes no reference to NATO. However, article I-40 on page 29 contains many references to NATO. It states:
"The policy of the Union . . . shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States and shall respect the obligations of certain Member States, which see their common defence realised in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, under the North Atlantic Treaty".
The article refers to compatibility. Later, it uses the phrase
"to be compatible with the common security and defence policy established within that framework."
That is the reference that it makes to NATO. I was looking for an assertion of primacy. That is not there, and it is a glaring omission.
Then there are the "escalator" or "passerelle" clauses that allow the EU to expand its power or abolish QMV in a number of areas, without involving national Parliament. I heard what the Foreign Secretary had to say about opposing those proposals, but they remain in the draft for the moment. They are also integrationist.
The magazine The Economist put it well when it called the constitution a "blueprint for accelerated instability". In the end it will give power back not to people and national Parliaments, but to European judges. The proposed constitution is complex. Many of the dangers that Opposition Members see are in the small print and in the ambiguous language. It is a recipe for creeping integration.
The proposals need to be examined very carefully. I should like them to be examined line by line on the Floor of the House. Once implemented, it will be too late to complain that the impact of the detail had not been foreseen. The constitution is not some Bill which, if the House gets it wrong, can be put right by amending legislation. Constitutions are built to last, and this one would be no exception. I suspect that I will be told that line-by-line examination would not be possible because of time constraints. In that respect, I sympathise with the amendment in the name of Mr. Field.
I am delighted to hear that a White Paper will be published. That is important, but it should not deal merely with the Government's objectives, as we have heard them on many occasions. I want it to contain the Government's detailed analysis of the constitution's implications and of its impact on the life of the nation. The Government owe it to the House to explain how they see the constitution affecting the lives of ordinary citizens in this country.
The constitution must be considered by this House before the Government begin the IGC process of agreeing the treaty and the constitution. I should like them to restate the red lines, and the amendments over which they would be prepared to veto if they do not succeed in getting changes. In short, the Government must come clean with the British people.
That brings me to our amendment.
"What is at stake is so new and big that it is right to hold a referendum."
They are not my words, but those of the Danish Prime Minister.
"I am logically in favour of a referendum. It would be the only legitimate way."
Those are not my words, but—rather astonishingly—those of President Chirac on
Yesterday, the Minister for Europe, whom I normally spend a lot of time castigating, suggested that we
"listened to the voters of this country".—[Hansard, 8 July 2003; Vol. 408, c. 895.]
I agree. In an earlier incarnation, the Leader of the House announced on the radio that "the people will decide". Those welcome comments do not apparently represent the formal position of the Government, however. As we have heard today, they continue to reject a referendum.
What I said yesterday was that the Conservatives should begin listening to the voters of this country if they want to win back support. Their anti-European policies will not help them in that regard.
On that basis, I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would accept that he, too, should listen to the voters of this country. If he is so convinced that they would agree with him, let him press for a referendum so that they have the chance to do so.
What have the Government got against letting the people decide? Why do not they trust the British people? What are they afraid of?
Whatever the Foreign Secretary may say, the draft constitution prefaces a significant change in the nature of the European Union. It will have "substantial constitutional significance", as the Leader of the House was frank enough to admit to the Foreign Affairs Committee on
In the House, we can and will argue—as we are doing—the issues involved in the constitution, but the people should have the final say in a referendum. We should have the courage of our convictions and let the people decide. The House should make it clear, as my hon. Friend Sir Patrick Cormack has pointed out, that there should be no ratification of a constitutional treaty without a referendum. That is the position of my colleagues and I ask the House to support our amendment.
"Our Constitution . . . is called a democracy because power is in the hands not of a minority but of the greatest number."
I was surprised to see that quotation, and I cannot really understand why it was there. Perhaps it was to put us in awe of the erudition and learning of those who drafted the constitution, or perhaps those wily Greeks slipped it in at night when nobody was looking.
Well, it seems to me that the quotation demonstrates much of the humbug and hypocrisy in the way that the European Union works. As Members know, Thucydides was referring to the democracy and constitution of the small city-state of Athens. From my memory of my studies of ancient history, the Athenian citizen could walk down the high street with a pebble in his hand and put it in a pot, or an urn. If he got enough pebbles in enough pots, he could change the law of Athens.
The British citizen cannot change the laws of the EU, however. No matter how many pebbles he gathers together and no matter how many pots he fills, he cannot abolish the common agricultural policy, he cannot change the common fisheries policy and he cannot get rid of that dreadful bureaucratic tax, value added tax. Nor, indeed, can he change any of the laws in the 90,000 pages of the acquis communautaire or any of the other laws that will come about if the constitution is ratified.
The public have realised that, because at the last European election, as I understand it, the pots were pretty empty of pebbles. The turnout was 29 per cent.—the pot was less than a third full of pebbles—and, as we all know and are much concerned about, at the last general election the pots were only a little more than half empty of pebbles: about 59 per cent. So British democracy cannot change an increasing number of laws that come from Brussels. We have to pass them here, usually as directives, and they stay as they are.
As those hon. Members who have studied ancient history also know, Athens eventually became part of the country of Greece, which eventually became a rather tatty and down-at-heal province of imperial Rome. The European Union was created, as we know, by the countries of Europe, but the only way to create the Union is to transfer more and more power from the member states to the Union. As more and more power gets transferred from member states to the Union—we have all seen this happen over the years—the countries gradually lose their power of self-government and become more and more like provinces of a quasi-imperial, centralised European state. As that process happens, the democracies of the individual members states are diminished gradually, treaty by treaty, line by line.
As we all know—we have been told before and we understand it very well—that state has a flag, an anthem, citizens, a permanent bureaucracy in the Commission, a Parliament, a currency, a central bank and a supreme court. Of course, the supreme court is there to ensure that we all obey the laws of the EU. We have to obey them, but we cannot change them. We can no nothing to change EU laws, despite the fact that the supreme court is able to make us enforce them. Now, of course, we will have a constitution, which will apparently follow the flag, so we have a state.
Every negotiation in respect of a treaty is very a battle between differing institutions. As far as I can see, the greatest changes in respect of the draft constitution are those to the status of the Council of Ministers. The Council of Ministers is a Community institution, but it is different from all the others. Its main purpose was to protect and look after the interests of member states, which were, in fact, the members of the Council of Ministers. It was not just a collegiate body; it was there to represent each individual state on its own. The Council of Ministers did not have much of a bureaucracy. I remember going to Brussels a very long time ago, and the Council of Ministers obviously did not need a bureaucracy because the bureaucracies were those of the permanent representatives of the member states. Over the years, we have gradually seen an increase in the bureaucracy of the Council of Ministers.
Some time ago—this is a mark of a separate personality—the Council of Ministers acquired, I believe, a secretary-general. And with a secretary-general, something is bound to be an institution in its own right. Apparently, the secretary-general is also given the Gilbertian title of high representative. I do not know when he appears as high representative and when he appears as secretary-general, but that institution is now acquiring a personality of its own.
The six-month presidency was a recognition that the Council of Ministers was there not as a free-standing institution, but to look after the separate states. That is why there is almost a peripatetic president every six months. We know that the six-month presidency will go. It seems that the president will be elected for two and a half years, but if he wants another two and a half years, he will get it. So we are probably embarking on a five-year presidency, and the president will speak unto presidents. The president will represent the union and will be accountable to the union and its constitution. The link between the Council of Ministers—the only body that represents member states—and the member states will be weakened, and with it the democracy of member states.
Then there is the veto. Again, member states are allowed to use the veto in the Council of Ministers on certain policy matters, although they do not often do so. The veto has had a bad press, but it is the badge of the democracy of member states. In effect, it allows member states to represent their electorate. It can be obstructive and it can impede progress, but it ensures, as a last resort, that decisions in what should be a supranational body—I do not know if it is; perhaps it has gone beyond that—are taken by consensus, and that if a member state's electorate feel strongly about an issue, the member state has the opportunity to assert its democracy in certain cases. The veto is going to go.
My right hon. Friend has placed a great deal of emphasis on the veto, but he must recognise that a veto for one country is a veto for all countries. Does he accept that it will make it extremely difficult, in an association of 25 member states, to get agreement on many policies?
It might be more difficult to get agreement on some policies, but there is a fundamental proposition that we should operate on the basis of the best possible democracy. The veto exists to protect Poland and other countries—to protect France, which wants to safeguard its cultural interests—and to protect the democracy of the individual state. If we are concerned about democracy, it is a better way to proceed.
Under the treaty of Nice, 30 or so vetoes went. The Foreign Secretary said that they were trivial. Perhaps some of them were, but some were not. I have tried to count the number of vetoes that will go under the new constitution. I have counted 40—some people have counted up to 80, but I shall stay at 40. Will we be told that they are trivial, too, and that they can be done away with? Alternatively, are some trivial, and some not?
Perhaps my right hon. Friend did not use the word "trivial", but he made it clear that many, if not all, of the 30 or so vetoes under the treaty of Nice were really not important at all, and could be cast aside. If he wants to look at the record, we will do that. Is he now saying that the 40 or however many vetoes that are to be abolished are of no consequence? Alternatively, is there some other reason why they can be done away with?
Even if this draft constitution is ratified, I do not believe that it will be the treaty to end all treaties—there will be one, two or three more treaties before the process is completed. The Convention on the constitution provides a foundation for a centralised criminal justice system. Another treaty will probably be needed to complete that task. It establishes the basis of a common foreign and defence policy, and another treaty will be needed to finish that task.
As far as the vetoes are concerned, the veto on taxation will have to go. With the growth and stability pact in tatters, there will be economic pressure, and calls will be made for fiscal policy to be controlled from the centre, just as monetary policy is controlled now.
Once that process is complete, and there is a unified criminal justice system, a common foreign and defence policy, a single currency and fiscal policy controlled from the centre, we are pretty far down the road of becoming a province, not a country.
Finally, I have one request to make of my right hon. Friend. As we embark on these debates, could he do his best to remove Thucydides' name from the cover of the document, as he does not really deserve it?
Like others, I was much intrigued by the demonstration of classical scholarship that we have just heard from Denzil Davies. I do not intend to follow him all the way down that road, but let me remind him that the Athenian democracy was based on slavery. Those who had the right to throw the pebble to demonstrate their democratic rights were a very small proportion of the population of Athens and Greece.
The right hon. Gentleman suggested that the veto is an illustration of democracy, but I rather believe that much more often it is an illustration of the self-interest of a particular country that is determined not to allow itself to be prejudiced in certain matters that it regards as important.
Not for the moment.
On the question of whether a country ceases to be a country, Scotland entered into a Union of the Crowns and then a Union of the Parliaments, and I do not think that anyone could argue that, in spite of being in a currency union for all those years, Scotland ever ceased to be a country. Indeed, the fact that it never ceased to be a country is reflected in the new constitutional settlement that has had to be agreed for Scotland and Wales.
That may well be so, but I am not sure that it is necessarily an illustration of the application of the democratic principle.
Others have rightly paid tribute to the European Scrutiny Committee and to the United Kingdom members of the Convention. Although I do not always agree with what Mr. Heathcoat-Amory writes or says, it would only be right and proper to say that he has displayed a very remarkable degree of independence and, some might say—I certainly would—original thought about these matters. He certainly deserves to be recognised.
There is a recurring joke in the circles of the Democratic party in the United States. It asks, "Why is it that the convention of the Democratic party to pick a presidential candidate should last for four days when only two days would be sufficient?" To which the answer is, "Well, after two days everything has been said, but not everyone has said it." As we go over the same ground time after time on this issue, there is a sense that everything has been said but not everyone has said it. That is why I welcome, in particular, the announcement made on Monday in the other place, and confirmed today by the Foreign Secretary, that a White Paper will set out the Government's objectives for the intergovernmental conference.
With all due respect to the Foreign Secretary, today's debate is taking place in a vacuum, without a clear indication of what the Government's objectives are likely to be. That also points to the fact that, if a White Paper is to be published in advance of the IGC, which is scheduled to start in October, space must inevitably be made in the parliamentary timetable when we come back in September for consideration of that White Paper. It would be unfortunate were the IGC to commence and were discussion in the House of the White Paper to begin after the commencement of the IGC.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that he wanted to allow time for everyone to say what has already been said, but surely a debate on the Floor of the House at that time would be less useful than a debate in, let us say, the European Scrutiny Committee or another body established to examine the issue in more detail. Hearing the same speeches from—with great respect to him and those who have already spoken—the same people will not progress the matter much further and will not allow people outside the House to participate.
I have great deal of sympathy for the motion that the hon. Gentleman and Mr. Field have tabled, and I shall say a little more about it shortly. It is supported by Members of all parties. However, we should surely debate White Papers on the Floor of the House of Commons, because it is here that we are able to hold the Government to account for their policy rather than perhaps for the detail. That is why I very much hope that, when we return in September, we will have the opportunity to debate a White Paper that sets out clearly the Government's objectives in relation to the IGC. That will allow the House the opportunity to pass judgment on those objectives.
I am sorry but I must make progress. I might give way later.
To some extent, the vacuum in which we are conducting this debate is illustrated by the Government motion. When one examines it carefully, one realises that it is offensive only to the most Eurosceptic. It sets out a series of propositions that I, at least, regard as largely unexceptionable. Unfortunately, as was reflected again in the Foreign Secretary's speech, there is as yet no recognition of the need for a referendum of the British people if what is proposed at the end of the process on which we are about to embark constitutes significant constitutional change. Three amendments to the Government's motion—two stand in the name of the leaders of specific political parties and the other was tabled by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead—call for a referendum and are supported by hon. Members of all parties in the House. Only the Government have set themselves against a referendum.
Let me repeat a test that I have set out previously. If the provisions that the Government eventually bring before the House propose any major shift of control, any transfer of significant powers from member states to European institutions, or any alteration to the existing balance between member states and those institutions, a referendum would be necessary. I do not understand how the current contents of the Convention document can be described as "tidying up".
This is an especially important part of what I want to say. I would like to finish it and then I shall give way.
A referendum should be inevitable if the final proposals that the Government bring to the House resemble the Convention draft that we are considering today. I find it difficult to conceive of circumstances in which a referendum would not be necessary if the final proposals indeed resemble that draft.
On the White Paper, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain why he is confining himself to the Government's objectives? If a referendum were to be based on proper information, would it not be much better to have a White Paper on the legal and constitutional implications of the treaty, which would be similar to the one published by the Labour Government in 1967? When we reach that point, the British people may have a proper debate.
The hon. Gentleman is getting ahead of himself. The White Paper that I envisage, and which the Government have promised, will relate to the IGC. There might well be scope for a White Paper of the kind that he describes after the process has been completed and a set of proposals has been brought before the House of Commons. In those circumstances, the set of proposals will almost inevitably have to be put before the British people and, if so, a document such as that to which the hon. Gentleman referred and with which those of us who remember the 1975 referendum are familiar would be entirely appropriate—indeed, I suspect that it would be obligatory.
Without endeavouring to be exhaustive, let me outline the type of issues that raise constitutional implications. First, the provisions for the charter of fundamental rights have such implications. They mirror provisions relating to the European convention on human rights and, indeed, supplement them. However, the United Kingdom was always a signatory to that convention. The Labour Government introduced legislation not to allow us to join the convention but to allow convention rights to be pursued and vindicated in our domestic courts so that a litigant need not have recourse to Strasbourg. Given that such a measure was part of the 1997 manifesto on which the Labour party was elected, the Government had a mandate to repatriate the right to seek redress under the convention to the United Kingdom's domestic courts. However, that measure is in a different category from the proposal for the charter of fundamental rights.
Secondly, I have several reservations about the passerelle clause, which has already been mentioned. However, whatever one thinks about it, it would allow the Union to determine by unanimity that it may move toward using majority voting for specific additional matters. It is difficult to argue that that would not have constitutional implications.
The third issue in my illustrative yet not exhaustive list is the proposal for a permanent presidency of the Council. Whatever view one takes of the merits of such a proposal—there are merits to argue in its favour—it necessarily has constitutional implications. To that extent, I agree with the right hon. Member for Llanelli, not only for the reasons that he gave, but because it would reduce the influence that individual states have on the EU's agenda during the six-month presidency for which they are eligible.
The interesting question is whether any of the proposals taken singly would be enough to trigger a referendum. One could argue not, but we must consider their cumulative effect, and that has persuaded me of the inevitability of a referendum. That would be consistent with decisions taken by my party in 1993, when we debated a new clause tabled by Bryan Gould in relation to the Maastricht treaty, and again in 1995, when on a Liberal Democrat Opposition day we introduced and passed a motion which said that a material change in the relationship between the UK and the EU should be ratified and endorsed by a referendum. I also pray in aid the fact that the Liberal Democrats, under the leadership of Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, were the first to say that joining the single European currency raised issues of economic, political and constitutional significance which required a referendum.
Given that whatever else might be said about the Government, they are not renowned for their respect for precedent or tradition. Notwithstanding the right hon. and learned Gentleman's attraction to the idea of a European constitution, does he agree that the Government are so opposed to a referendum because they are scared that they will lose it?
It is dangerous to attribute base motives to individuals, parties or Governments. The Government should answer for themselves on that matter. Those of us who support the European ideal—I do not shrink from putting it in those terms—should have the confidence to argue it, not just in the Chamber, but in the country. The point made by Mr. Allen about the need to reconnect the individual voter with the EU is valid. There is no better way of effecting that reconnection than by arguing the merits of the case and inviting people to pass judgment on those merits by way of a vote.
No, I apologise, but I want to make progress.
We have to accept that the IGC will not in all likelihood produce final proposals that in all material respects coincide with the views of all hon. Members. But the process on which we are embarking has an IGC, a treaty and a process of ratification in the House. That treaty has to be signed by all 25 members. Any one of them will have the power of veto.
The Foreign Secretary and I are as one on the view that the veto has to be retained in foreign policy, defence and taxation. I took the opportunity to look again at article I-40.2. The apprehensions of Mr. Ancram—he has apologised for his absence; he has another pressing obligation—are not well founded. The second half of paragraph 2 contains three elements of the common defence policy. The first is that it
"shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States".
The second is that it
"shall respect obligations of certain Member States, which see their common defence realised in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation".
The third is that it
"shall be compatible with the common security and defence policy established within that framework."
So the three elements are prejudice, respect and compatibility. If we give those words their normal and natural meaning, it is difficult to argue that that article, at face value, does not provide for the primacy of NATO in such matters.
The reason why I am sympathetic to the Foreign Secretary and his views on foreign policy, defence and taxation is, as I have said before in the House, that I think that those are quintessentially the responsibility of a national Parliament such as our own. They are features of the constitutional settlement that we have recently arrived at in the United Kingdom. We have not given away those responsibilities to devolved Parliaments or Assemblies; they have been maintained here in this Parliament because we regard them as quintessentially ours.
The Foreign Secretary was right when he hinted at the fact that the existing system of treaties is complicated and opaque. The purpose of the constitution must surely be to set down and define the role and powers of institutions of the European Union. It is of course true that there could be enlargement without these provisions being enacted, but it would be a curious European Union which emerged as a result, and one that would be all the more likely to be subject to paralysis and sclerosis.
In spite of the rather powerful argument about other treaties made by the right hon. Member for Llanelli, there is a strong case to be made for an end to the endless tinkering with the EU's constitutional arrangements. It is little wonder that public incomprehension has been followed by public disinterest and a sense of disconnection. This process, once completed, must surely lead to a period of constitutional calm for the foreseeable future, if not for the 50 years rather grandly envisaged by Giscard d'Estaing; that would be in the interests of the EU, its member states and indeed its citizens. We cannot conduct the affairs of the EU as if we are engaged in a perpetual Maoist cultural revolution or, as the Foreign Secretary indicated, a culture of crisis characterised on some occasions by last minute compromise against a background of physical exhaustion and horse trading.
Subsidiarity and proportionality are particularly referred to in annexe 2 to the treaty. On the last occasion on which we debated these matters, I had an exchange with Mr. Bercow. I am sure that he has read the annexe, but others who have not would be well advised to take some account of it. It sets out in letter—I shall come to the question of spirit in a moment—a comprehensive set of principles by which subsidiarity and proportionality are to be advanced. It says that decisions are to be
"taken as closely as possible to the citizens of the Union" and that there has to be
"respect for the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality".
There must be consultation and the involvement of national Parliaments; proposals must be justified by reference to those principles; and the Commission can be required to review any proposal against those principles. The Court of Justice
"shall have jurisdiction to hear actions on grounds of infringement of the principle of subsidiarity".
I suspect, or at least hope, that the hon. Gentleman and I agree that it is not just the provisions and the language in which they are couched which matter; it is the spirit with which they are enforced. I shall be anxious to hear from the Government in their White Paper precisely what they propose to ensure that that spirit, which the words seem to embrace, will be influential and all-pervasive in the EU. I also want the Government to consider other measures to strengthen the application of these principles. Instead of the amber light for state Parliaments, as it has come to be called, why not have a red light if, say, two thirds of the Parliaments of the EU enter an objection? Ms Stuart sought to advance that proposal in the Convention, and it seems to me that it is a powerful idea that is worth serious consideration.
I have another proposition. Why should there not be an independent official with the responsibility to audit all existing and proposed legislation to see whether it conforms to the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality? Such an official should have the right to initiate action for breaches of the principles before the Court, as set out in annexe 2. That would go a long way towards helping to restore the connection between the citizens of the EU and the EU itself.
Whatever the objectives or motives of others in seeking a referendum, I have no doubt that it is in the United Kingdom's best interest to be at the heart of Europe, which is why I support UK membership of the single currency. I believe in the value of a common foreign and security policy based on the principle of consensus. I am seeking a referendum on the proposals for a constitution because I wish them to have both the political and constitutional endorsement of the British people. I am wholly opposed to any question of UK withdrawal or associate status. I am confident about making the case for continued membership, and I do not understand why the Government do not share that confidence.
First, may I add my congratulations to those already given to Mr. Heathcoat-Amory and my hon. Friend Ms Stuart on their outstanding work in the past year or so on the Convention? I am sure that they thought that it was a good idea when they put themselves forward for the job, but they must have felt differently many times when travelling backwards and forwards to Brussels. The House should nevertheless record its appreciation of the work that they have both done, along with that of their two substitutes in the other place.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his kind remarks about the reports produced by the European Scrutiny Committee and for his letter offering to discuss how the Committee can get involved in the work of the intergovernmental conference. I am sure that the Committee will respond to the letter very soon, but may I extend an informal invitation to him? As we have said before, we would be delighted if he gave evidence to the Committee, as that would be a good start to the process.
I enjoyed the Foreign Secretary's contribution to our debate, and did not agree with Mr. Ancram, who described it as a rant. In fairness, it was an enjoyable, informative and—dare I say?—flamboyant contribution. If we can have the debates on Europe that he recommended, perhaps we will get greater participation on European issues in the House. When listening to Members on both sides of the House putting both sides of the argument, I realised how much I should appreciate being Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee. I enjoy quasi-independence because I can criticise both sides without being thought offensive, and have managed to do so for the 11 years since I first became Chairman. I enjoy my role, and I appreciate it all the more when it allows me to participate in events such as tonight's debate.
The European Scrutiny Committee has taken a close interest in the Convention. We held an inquiry and published a major report last year on democracy and accountability in the EU and the role of national Parliaments. We have recently published two reports—on proposals for national Parliaments, and on criminal justice—and they are cited as relevant documents on the Order Paper. We have also participated fully in the Standing Committee on the Convention. That Committee was an excellent innovation, but it would have been better if more Members had participated. It was attended by members of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and the European Scrutiny Committee, as well as by Members of the House of Lords. None the less, I would welcome the sort of interest that is displayed on the Floor of the House. When I see a lot of names attached to amendments, I think that it would be good if those hon. Members came to Standing Committees dealing with the same subjects. That is a plug for European Standing Committees A, B and C which do outstanding work in this place, but which very few hon. Members attend. More should involve themselves in that way.
The role of national Parliaments is at the heart of everything that the European Scrutiny Committee does. That theme was found in the Laeken declaration, which deals with better democratic scrutiny and transparency. I welcome the role in subsidiarity of the proposed early warning system, which is of symbolic importance, as for the first time national Parliaments will be fully involved in the European Union's legislative process. However, I need to put a marker down: I am not convinced that the good intention will work in practice. I welcomed the observations that the Prime Minister made in the Liaison Committee this week when I asked him about the issue. I also applaud the proposal made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston, who suggested a red-card mechanism and an extension to cover the principle of proportionality.
I intervene on my Committee Chairman with some trepidation. He mentioned the early warning system, which I agree is very important. Is he not slightly concerned that the Government have not confirmed how they envisage the devolved Administrations and Parliaments being involved in that process? After all, most of the sovereignty that we share with the European Union, for example, is devolved within the UK and is not a matter for this place to decide.
At long last, we have in the draft treaty an important provision ensuring that the Council will meet in public when it is legislating. We have argued for years for such an arrangement. I understand that the European Union is one of only two legislators that meet and legislate in private. The other is North Korea, so I welcome that provision.
I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman is congratulating the Convention on the fact that the Council will meet in public. Would he also be in favour of his Committee sitting in public?
I remember that the hon. Gentleman was a member of the Committee for a few weeks. Last year, we published a report in which we accepted the need to be more open and transparent. We are committed to considering that issue and keen to conduct more of our business in public. The matter is being looked at as we speak.
The single change to which I am referring will make it easier for national Parliaments to hold Ministers to account, although the detail will have to be watched very carefully. I have been a member of the European Scrutiny Committee for, I think, 16 years. During that time, Ministers from Governments of both persuasions have told us that they think that something will happen in the Council, but the result has not necessarily followed. We found out that we did not have any way of checking how the Minister was voting. I am sure that a proper procedure was being followed in respect of this House, as there will always be hon. Members who represent us in Europe. However, I do not know whether that was the case for everyone involved, as the votes were made in secret. The proposal could be improved by the inclusion of some form of written record of what is done. We would welcome the establishment of a European Union Hansard record of the Council meetings.
We also need to ensure that the Council takes national Parliaments' scrutiny reserves seriously—for example, by requiring Councils to give reasons for overriding them. A more orderly legislative process with less last-minute drafting would help, including proper intervals between stages—for example, a minimum of 10 days between COREPER meetings and Council. More co-operation between subject and departmental committees would be worthwhile, including on matters such as defence. Some Convention proposals, however, could cause problems for national Parliaments, especially the extension of qualified majority voting and co-decision. The latter, especially at its conciliation stage, needs to be much more transparent. I fear that that proposal has not been thought through; the Convention should have discussed it further before suggesting the extension of such an opaque system.
On institutional reform, the Convention seems to have been more interested in bargaining between institutions than in seeking to improve European Union democracy and accountability, but some important changes have been made. I welcome the end of the rotating presidency and the creation of a longer-term President of the Council.
Changes to the Commission deserve more attention than they have received. The intention to reduce the number of Commissioners to 15, with equal rotation, would mean that the UK would not always have a Commissioner. It is also proposed that the Commission President would choose each country's Commissioner from a shortlist of three. The IGC will want to consider that.
In relation to the recent report of the European Scrutiny Committee, on which we both serve, does the hon. Gentleman agree, given that we concluded that the harmonisation of criminal law should be rejected, that if it were not rejected we would have to veto the treaty?
I do not want to pre-empt anything that goes off in the IGC. Given the Prime Minister's answers when we questioned him on those matters in the Liaison Committee, I am sure that the Government intend to use their veto to ensure that that does not happen.
Further consideration should be given to the significant reduction in the threshold for qualified majority voting by removing one of the three elements agreed in Nice—weighted votes. QMV will need to be defended in some areas—for example, criminal justice, taxation and the common foreign security policy.
I must flag up my deep concern at the suggestions that there could be simpler ways of amending the treaties, or parts of them, without needing ratification in each country; that the new treaty could come into force when, say, 80 per cent. of countries have ratified; or that countries that do not ratify the new treaty will be regarded as having left the European Union. That is the route to the federal superstate of which many people are frightened, and which most of us do not believe could happen. It must be kicked into touch when the IGC meets.
I want to say a few words about criminal justice. The European Scrutiny Committee was particularly worried by the radical proposals agreed by the Convention working group on the basis of a very narrow range of evidence. On criminal procedures, the aim should be to limit harmonisation to matters that facilitate recognition of foreign judgments, rather than to give the European Union free rein over the whole of criminal procedure. Harmonisation would be limited to matters such as admissibility of evidence and the rights of individuals and victims, as in article III-166(2). Those categories are very broad, since virtually anything may concern the rights of individuals. Unanimity is therefore important: otherwise, we will not know where this is leading and minorities could be overridden.
It is especially unnecessary for the rules of evidence to be the same in all member states. Some do not have jury trial and others have different forms of it. It may not be fair to put before a jury what is fair to put before a judge. For example, if a trial is fair in country A, the judgment can be recognised and enforced in country B, even though the rules in the latter might be different. That should be examined.
I am grateful for the chance to take part in the debate. Never let it be said that debates in the House of Commons do not produce useful and constructive ideas. It is obvious from the speeches that have been made so far that it would be advisable to remove Thucydides from the preamble to the document. The reference means a slave state to Mr. Campbell, and it reminds Denzil Davies and I that Athenian democracy was a direct democracy in which every citizen had a vote. Any document that cites Thucydides in its preamble naturally requires a referendum. If the Government want to avoid that implication, they should remove the reference.
The debate has produced some good ideas. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife will be surprised that I agreed with many aspects of his speech. He suggested that the Government should fight for the inclusion of a two-thirds blocking power for Parliaments of the European Union. I note that the Minister for Europe said, "Good idea" sotto voce at that point. I hope that the suggestion will be added to the list of matters that the Government will negotiate.
Now he is dissenting. We have had a U-turn in a matter not of days, but seconds. However, he said that it was a good idea and we shall hold the Government to that. The right hon. and learned Gentleman's suggestion is excellent.
Another example of common ground among the speakers is the realisation that there is a decline in faith in politics, political institutions and politicians in this country. I know that especially well after the last general election, when there was a turnout of 59 per cent. At the last European elections, the turnout was less than 25 per cent. The Government agreed with the analysis that we have to give people faith in politics and political institutions. Their first annual report in 1997, in the days when they published annual reports with a great fanfare rather than smuggling them out in written answers, as they do nowadays, states:
"The Government wants to . . . make government more . . . responsive and accountable . . . to bring politics closer to the people . . . to restore the public's faith in the political process."
When we are presented with a proposal such as the constitution—it is a constitution—which conflicts with that, we should be ready to criticise it, if necessary to say no, and to give the people of the country a vote on it.
The Convention takes decision making further away from the people of this country. The compromise that has been reached gives all the institutions of the European Union more power. It will widen the ambit of the Commission, extend the authority of the Council of Ministers by providing an executive president and more qualified majority voting, and give greater co-decision powers to the European Parliament. However, politics is a zero-sum game, as Conservative Members well know. Holding power is a zero-sum game. If we give more power to institutions, national Parliaments lose power and the citizens of each nation will be increasingly divorced from the political decisions that are made in their name.
The Government mention bottom lines, red lines and negotiating positions, but they are soon surrendered. The Foreign Secretary set a few today. However, it is not long since Keith Vaz, when he was in the Foreign Office, said that there was no way that the fundamental charter of rights would ever be incorporated in law. He said that it would be like the Beano:
"People will be able to bring it up in the European Court of Justice just as if it was the Beano."
If that is the case, Dennis the Menace and Roger the Dodger will be starring in the European Court of Justice very soon, because the fundamental charter of rights will be there in the treaty, in the constitution. The Foreign Secretary is reduced to talking about safeguards against it now, rather than never having it there, which was the position only three years ago.
The case for the people to have their say on such dramatic change is a strong one. It is extraordinary to watch the Government's contortions in trying to deny the case for a referendum. The first position was: this is not important enough for a referendum. Peter Hain, now the Leader of the House, said that it would be more of a tidying-up exercise.
So he did say that most of it was a tidying up exercise. Therefore, it was not really important enough to have a referendum on it. That, of course, was blown out of the water by the huge excitement with which the document was greeted in many of the other countries of Europe. The German Foreign Minister said that it was
"the most important treaty since the foundation of the European Economic Community".
The French Foreign Minister said that it was "a new political age". The Spanish Foreign Minister said that it was
"a legal revolution, with no precedent".
The Danish Prime Minister said that it was
"so new and large a document that it would be right to hold a referendum on it."
Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that the President of the Commission, Mr. Prodi, said that when he read the document he burst into tears, so anti-communautaire was it?
Despite that cheering news, it nevertheless remains the case that the vast majority of the Governments of Europe think that it is a dramatic advance for the integration of the EU, which is something that they support, honestly and openly. It is our Government who are prepared to sign up to that without admitting their intellectual inconsistency. But that inconsistency is truly on display.
My right hon. Friend has been deceived, albeit unwittingly. Prodi burst into tears because he thought that Berlusconi could become President of the EU.
Well he is the President of the EU, so, yes, lots of tears have been shed.
Nevertheless, let us return to the consistency or otherwise of the Government's arguments against a referendum. Shortly after it was all a tidying-up exercise, just last week the Prime Minister made a speech in which he said:
"I am urged to say that Britain should have a referendum on the European Convention" but
"it would be a gross and irresponsible betrayal of the true British national interest."
The language of "tidying-up exercise" and
"gross and irresponsible betrayal of...national interest" do not easily sit together. When I was a teenager, my mother often told me that I had to tidy up, but she never said that it was a gross and irresponsible betrayal of our family's interests if I did not do so. One smells an inconsistency in the use of language that betrays the Government's uncertainty about how to deal with this point. We understand that Alastair Campbell has been too busy to think up the proper argument with which to deal with the referendum case, but the Government do need to do better.
Much attention was given to the Prime Minister's appearance at the Liaison Committee yesterday on many other subjects, but it is worth looking at all the arguments at which he clutched on the referendum issue when he was asked about it. First of all he stuck to the new notion, not that it is unimportant but that it is too important to have a referendum on it. He said:
"its very complexity means that parliamentary scrutiny is the right way to debate this."
The idea that the Prime Minister believes that parliamentary scrutiny is the right way to examine anything, strikes many of us in the House as a little short of hilarious. Here we are sitting through July passing large quantities of legislation with dozens of clauses that are not debated at all, and the Prime Minister says that complexity requires parliamentary scrutiny of the matter.
In any case, since when has complexity been an argument against allowing people a democratic decision? The Good Friday agreement was complex. My right hon. Friend Mr. Trimble knows that full well. Yet we had a referendum on it for the people of Northern Ireland. The Irish and the Danes are to have a referendum. Is there something about this that they can get their minds around that the British voter cannot because it is so complex? This is a patronising attitude.
Then the Prime Minister adopted a different approach. Ceasing to argue that it was unimportant or that it was too important, he fell back on the argument that it has the wrong sort of importance. He said that we should—[Interruption.] I will not give way again, because I now know how the timing works for Back-Bench speeches.
The Prime Minister said that we should follow the traditions of this country. When this Prime Minister advocates following the traditions of this country, we should be alarmed. I must have debated with him a couple of hundred times across the Dispatch Box, and I cannot recall—although I have not checked—his ever defending any proposition on the ground that it was in line with the traditions of this country; that does not normally enter his head. We have a Prime Minister who is happy to cast aside the post of Lord Chancellor—a post that has existed for 1,400 years—without even thinking about what would happen the next day. He emasculated the House of Lords without having the faintest clue what he would put in its place.
On taking office, the Prime Minister switched around the House's timings and procedures like a child playing with a train set—and now he talks about defending the traditions of this country. This cannot be taken seriously. He also said:
"The proper time to have a referendum . . . is when the basic constitutional method of governance is being changed."
Is the basic constitutional method of governance at stake here? I would say that it is, because many more decisions will be taken without consulting this Parliament or the people of this country. How can the Prime Minister and the Government argue that the creation of a President of the European Union and of a Foreign Minister, the extension of qualified majority voting even into criminal justice, the change in the Commission's role and the expansion of its ambit do not amount to a change in constitutional governance? How can they argue that, given that the right of people in Hartlepool to vote for someone dressed up as a monkey to be their mayor apparently does constitute such a change, and that they had a referendum on that issue?
The Government's intellectual inconsistency on this issue has now been exposed. The fact that members of all parties in this House have signed up to amendments to today's motion that call for a referendum shows the extent to which the Government have lost that argument. It is time for them to acknowledge the fact; otherwise, their use of referendums in recent years will be exposed as a political device, rather than a constitutional innovation. And it will be absolutely clear that they are happy to have a referendum when they think that they can win, but not happy to have one when they think that they cannot win.
I therefore believe it very important to have that referendum, but I also believe it very important for us to take the opportunity to criticise, or if necessary to say no to, the proposed treaty. There is no need for the extension of the EU's powers into criminal justice. I have never met a constituent who said that the one thing wrong with criminal justice in this country is that it is not like the Belgian criminal justice system. Indeed, my right hon. Friend Mr. Letwin has made a similar point before. There is no need to change that system, or for the European Union to take over those powers; yet that is what is being proposed.
At the moment, people can tell their Member of Parliament that because they voted for a particular measure, or because they did not, they can vote them out, or in. They can say that because they approve of what the Home Secretary has done in criminal justice, or because they do not, they can vote him out, or in. However, they will increasingly find that decisions have been taken in their name that were proposed by commissioners whom they had no role in appointing, that were approved by a Council of Ministers in which their country was simply outvoted, and were approved in a European Parliament by parties of which those electors have never even heard. That represents a divorce between the voter—the participant in democracy—and the democratic process and our political institutions. That matters so much to this country, which has evolved such an effective parliamentary democracy over time, that we should have the confidence to say no, if necessary. And we should have a Government with the courage and consistency to give people the chance to do so.
I rise to speak in favour of a referendum on the new European constitution and against the Government motion, although I do not do so lightly. However, we are going to see real shifts in political power, the draining of accountability and profound constitutional changes, which will have significant implications for this country.
There are three questions that have to be asked about the European constitution and the Convention that gave rise to it. The first is: was the process that gave rise to the constitution transparent, democratic and accountable? I have to say, without implying any criticism of my hon. Friend Ms Stuart or Mr. Heathcoat-Amory, that that process did not happen. It was not democratic; it was not accountable; and it certainly was not clear.
The second question is whether the proposals mean profound constitutional change to the British and other west European constitutions, and the answer is yes. The answer to the third question—if the answer to the previous question is yes, the third question is whether there should be a referendum on the constitution—is automatically yes. I am not a great supporter of referendums for any subject that happens to come along, because that would start to undermine parliamentary democracy and representative democracy. However, when there are real, profound and fundamental constitutional changes, which clearly affect the power of votes cast at the ballot box and votes cast in this place on behalf of the 60,000 or 70,000 electors who send us here, there must be a referendum to put the issue to the people.
Was the process that gave rise to the constitution democratic and accountable? The fact is that it was not. The praesidium, which was largely stuffed with Euro-fanatics, met in private and decided the agenda on a week-by-week or day-by-day basis. It decided what was being debated and discussed, and no votes were taken. Representations were made from outside public bodies, but from everything that I have read about the processes of the Convention, I know that many of those bodies had a peculiarly close relationship with the EU.
I would like to ask a question, though my right hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench—or anyone else—may not know the answer. How many of the bodies making representations—largely of a Euro-fanatic variety—had received funding from the EU? I would be fascinated to know the answer, and my guess is that quite a lot of them received EU funding in one way or another. They then went along to the Convention, made representations that were largely in favour of integration, handing more power over to the EU, merging the three pillars of the European community into one and extending the European Court of Justice. Of course they had a vested interest in making those sort of representations because they were financed by the EU. I shall give three examples of how the Convention and constitution will radically change representative democracy in this country. Article 10.1 states clearly:
"The Constitution and law adopted by the Union's Institutions . . . shall have primacy over the law of member states."
That is absolutely clear. European law will have primacy over member states.
Is my hon. Friend aware that that has been the case since 1957? That language is used in every single treaty since 1957. If we want a common trade policy, someone has to tell member states what the trading policy should be. There is nothing new in this.
That may be so, but the big difference is that the three pillars of the European Community are being merged into one. The two intergovernmental pillars are being collapsed into the pillar that supports the European Community, which means that the European Court of Justice will have massively enhanced powers of jurisdiction—[Interruption.] It will. That is how it works. If we examine the history of the European Court of Justice, its interventions and its decisions about western Europe, we find that it clearly always comes down on the side of the Euro-fanatics—in favour of more integration and greater powers going to the EU. Health is a good example. A case was taken to the European Court of Justice. It was previously thought that EU law did not affect health, but the European Court of Justice ruled that health was a service, that services can be traded, and that health therefore fell under the jurisdiction and law of the EU.
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman's interpretation. Does he agree that in the past the ECJ has based its decisions on case law only, but in future they will be based on the constitution? That is a new concept entirely, giving the constitution primacy over the rule of law.
That is true, and in line with what I was saying.
The second example that I wanted to give was from article 14, which entails the compulsory co-ordination of economic policy. My bet is that we will be told that that has nothing to do with the ECJ and that it is only warm words, but that we will see cases taken before the ECJ which will, in all probability, rule in favour of greater EU integration. The third example comes from later in the document. It states:
"The member states shall work together to enhance and develop their mutual political solidarity . . . and . . . refrain from any action which is contrary to the interests of the Union or likely to impair its effectiveness as a cohesive force in international relations."
That is an oath of allegiance on foreign policy, and I have already given the example of the oath of allegiance on economic policy. Those will have major implications. Collapsing those three pillars into one will give massively enhanced powers to the ECJ.
The history of the ECJ is of decisions in favour of the European Community, the Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Union—every time. We also have the charter of fundamental rights, and I remember when it was published. We were told that it would be virtually meaningless. I remember that my hon. Friend Keith Vaz said that it would have as much meaning as The Beano. It is a good job that my hon. Friend did not use Viz as an example, because then we would have to watch out for Finbar Saunders and his double entendres in the Convention in the future.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if proceedings are taken on the charter, we will have almost perpetual litigation and the prospect of a conflict between the charter and the ECJ?
The conflict will probably be between the charter of fundamental rights and the ECHR, and that has already been pointed out in the Council of Europe. It is clear that conflicts will arise between the European convention on human rights, the charter of fundamental rights and the ECJ. Interestingly, the ECJ has a tendency to refer the odd human rights case that it receives to the European Court of Human Rights, because the ECJ has no real competence in such matters. I suspect that such cases will now stay with the ECJ and it will rule in a way that we can all predict.
If we adopt the constitution without holding a plebiscite so that people have the right to have a say on the future of the Convention, I predict that the reaction will be nationalism. If people in western Europe—and for that matter in central Europe and eastern Europe—have the constitution and the single currency shoved down their throats, without a full national debate and vote, we will see a backlash, and it will be nationalism. It might not happen tomorrow, or even the day after, but at some point that will be the reaction. That is my real fear.
We have seen increasing numbers of people refusing to vote in elections, in this country and in many other western European countries. I suspect that it is because so many people feel that they are losing control of their destiny. That is happening in all sorts of ways, and I do not blame only the European Union. If we sign up to the constitution, which will shift power and mean real constitutional change, without giving people the right to have a say, increasing numbers of them will depart from the mainstream and refuse to vote in general elections.
Given all the changes that are happening—the constitution, the euro, the stripping away of power over monetary policy and the introduction of a central tax-gathering mechanism, which will happen in the future and is even mentioned in the Maastricht treaty, for those of us who have read it—it is clear that Governments and political parties will eventually have to say to the people, "Well, we are sorry about the recession and the other problems, but there is not a lot we can do about it, because the power has gone. It is now vested with people who are not elected and are not accountable, but who can make decisions that have the most profound effect on your lives."
The Convention on the Future of Europe is very nearly at an end. Tomorrow morning, I shall travel to Brussels on what I think will be my 32nd visit in the past 16 months. I will be joining Ms Stuart, who is out there already. I am very grateful for the kind remarks directed at me and the hon. Lady in respect of our efforts to defend the British position and the powers of this House during the course of the convention.
I hope that tomorrow's session will be the final one, as further damaging proposals against the British interest have been inserted at a very late stage in each of my previous visits to Brussels. In essence, however, we now have the draft in complete form. It is very important that we have a fully informed national debate on the matter, but that debate needs honesty as well as information. I strongly agree with my right hon. Friend Mr. Hague, as I normally do. He made an outstanding speech, especially in his appeal for an end to the cynicism about politics and politicians.
People simply do not believe that they have been told the truth about Europe over the years. They are constantly referred back to the 1975 referendum, but the Union is unrecognisably different from what we thought we were voting on nearly 30 years ago. It is time that we squared matters with the electorate, and told them exactly what is in store. We must get away from the absurd pretence that this is a tidying-up exercise. The Government must describe accurately and honestly the radical proposals, and defend them. If they are so good for this country, the Government should have the courage to put them to the British people in a referendum.
One of the extraordinary facts about the European debate is that the Government have two radical—almost revolutionary—policies in respect of Europe. They want to give up the pound, and import a written constitution, yet it is I and other Opposition Members who are accused of being the extremists. All we want to do is retain powers at home, in the hands of people who are elected and who can be removed—that is, people who are clearly and directly accountable to those whom they serve. Is that radical or extreme?
The Government must explain themselves. I agreed with some of the points made by Mr. Campbell, who described some of the proposals as "inescapably constitutional". That is why it is called a constitution. We are making constitutional changes of enormous and far-reaching importance, as is widely accepted in other member states.
All the existing treaties, and all the articles since 1957, are going to be repealed. After amendment, some will be brought back into the constitution. The result will be longer than the treaties that we already have, so any idea that we are simplifying or tidying up is absurd. The volume is getting larger, but I do not believe that the result will be any clearer, for the lay reader at least.
For instance, we have been talking about the idea of shared competencies, but that is an example of eurospeak for shared powers. There is no clear idea about who does what. Do member states have 90 per cent. of a competence, and the Union 10 per cent? If that slowly evolves into the Union having 90 per cent. and member states 10 per cent., there will be no assurance to the public that the familiar power creep to the Union has finally been ended.
As for qualified majority voting, the score in the present draft is that 34 new areas will be transferred from unanimity to QMV. That number increases every time I go to Brussels. Incidentally, QMV applied to only 12 areas under the Single European Act, which prepared the way for the single market.
I share the alarm expressed on both sides of the House about the passerelle clause.
It was by no means as radical as the constitution that we are considering, as I think that the hon. Gentleman would concede. That treaty amendment was indeed far reaching, but it was focused on the single market, to which there was general assent. It was a liberating measure. What we are doing now is abolishing or repealing all the existing treaties and funnelling them into a constitution. That produces a new status and is a clean break with the situation that prevailed in the past.
That is shown by the extremely late proposal for the so-called passerelle clause, whereby the European Council will, within itself, be able to agree to abolish all that remains subject to the national veto, putting the whole lot into QMV, with no recourse to the House or to the people. I agree with John Cryer, who called in question the working methods of the Convention, whereby, at a very late stage, this far-reaching proposal can be got in.
Meanwhile, power is being centralised in the Union in some of the least efficient and most corrupt institutions in modern politics. Today, we heard the news that Eurostat has finally been raided. The scandal about the money expended by that EU agency has been rumbling on since 1999. We have heard the familiar denials and there has been the familiar suppression of evidence, but it is now conceded by the Commission that, to quote its press release,
"serious wrong-doing on a much more widespread scale than previously thought may have taken place".
Why then are we transferring more powers from national jurisdictions to those institutions?
The big losers are, of course, national Parliaments, contrary to the Laeken declaration, which recognised that, if the EU is to be brought closer to its citizens and made more democratic, national Parliaments had an inescapable extra role to fulfil. Instead of that, we have been fobbed off with a subsidiarity check that is no more than a request.
I strongly agree with the points made by the distinguished Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, Mr. Hood, about criminal law and procedures. They are to be subject to qualified majority voting and as the report notes, that is hardly an appropriate way for an enlarged European Union to increase its democratic legitimacy. The gap between people and rulers will widen, especially given the fact that we are considering the power to punish and imprison our constituents. We are going to the core of what a nation state is about and we are handing over those powers to a more remote institution—the European Union.
I want to raise a more fundamental issue: the very status of the constitution. Article I-10 states that Union law
"shall have primacy over the law of the Member States".
That is derived from case law at the European Court of Justice, and to put that in an unqualified and unconditional way in a treaty article is a controversial step; but the interesting thing is the primacy of the constitution. The constitution contains many other obligations: that member states should pursue the objectives of the Union and should comply with all its measures, legal and executive, or that in foreign policy they
"shall actively and unreservedly support the Union's common foreign and security policy in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity".
According to the text, all that is to be superior to any law that we pass in this place, which has enormous implications for parliamentary sovereignty. It has always been accepted by Parliament and the courts that no Parliament can bind its successor. That means that this Parliament, or any future one, could repeal or amend the European Communities Act 1972. My question to the Government is: will we still be able to do that if we ratify the constitution, which asserts its primacy over the law—including, by implication, the 1972 Act—and all the other laws of member states?
In other words, will our traditional parliamentary sovereignty and our certainty, until now, that we cannot be bound by previous Parliaments survive a constitution that takes unto itself the statement and assertion that it is superior to any law, passed by any member state? That is not simply a hypothetical question; it is based on a reading of the text, giving normal meaning to the actual words. I therefore hope—indeed, I require—the Government to address those legal points in the White Paper that they have promised.
It is clear to me that we are signing up to an entirely new constitutional order, subject to a supreme court, which reduces member states and their laws to a position of permanent inferiority. Whether that is good or whether it is bad, it is certainly very important. It is certainly not a tidying-up exercise. That brings me to the same conclusion that many other hon. Members have expressed today: this must be decided, by the people, in a referendum.
It amazes me that people on the radical wing of British politics do not understand that Governments must never define their own powers. That idea goes right back to Tom Paine and "The Rights of Man". He understood that only the people could agree on a constitution; it is not an act of government. We must found this on the consent of the people. In purely tactical terms, if the Government were to decide to hold a referendum on the outcome, as most other member states will do, they would enormously increase their own bargaining position and their negotiating strength.
When the Irish Government now say that they want something changed in the draft constitution, they can get their way because they have to sell their policy to the entire Irish electorate, but when the British Government ask for something, I am sure that they are told, "Well, you've got a majority of 160-odd, what are you worried about?" I conclude that, on constitutional grounds, on tactical grounds and on democratic grounds, the case for a national referendum is inescapable, and I will support the amendment to that effect.
I was a bit concerned that I would follow Mr. Hague, whose oration in the Chamber this afternoon was superb. The gift of an orator of that calibre is that he can often convince his audience that the case that he is making is right, and I am not convinced by the case that he made this afternoon. I mean no disrespect to Mr. Heathcoat-Amory. I applaud his oration today—it was excellent—but I still reserve the right to disagree.
Over the past few months, there has been considerable discussion about the European Convention, and we should not miss the opportunity that it presents. The intention was to bring European government and institutions closer to the people of this country. It is important to recognise that that was one of the key facets of the Convention. As a member of the European Scrutiny Committee and the Joint Standing Committee on the Convention, I have at times been disappointed that we did not have a quorum to listen to the contributions from hon. Members and those in the other place. Those Committees have worked diligently to report to both Houses, but it is important to recognise that we have not taken the opportunity to the full extent that we should have done. The media in general have ignored the Convention. They have ignored the fact that we are seriously debating the future of Europe and where we should go.
Enlargement is one of the important issues that we have to consider. The fact that we have a new constitutional treaty is inextricably linked to the enlargement process. Ten new countries coming in—an increase from 15 member states to 25—creates a need for a change as well as an opportunity within the European Union.
In relation to the original treaties, people do not understand references to first pillar, second pillar or third pillar. They will recognise, however, that we are attempting to bring the Union closer to the people, to change the structure of Europe and to make sure that we speak in a language that they can understand.
Some hon. Members today have dealt with the issue of a referendum. I am not sure that we should go down that line. At the last European elections, there was an average 29 per cent. turnout. The media largely ignore Europe unless they want to promote or make a joke about something silly. I do not think that they have taken Europe seriously enough.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for referring to the turnout at various electoral contests. Does he acknowledge that the last time that we had a referendum on the European Union, the turnout was well over 70 per cent., and in some areas of the country it is was over 80 per cent?
I accept the hon. Gentleman's point, but I am dealing with current position. No one can deny that people are disconnected from the European parliamentary process, which is what I see constantly.
The Union must be able to function when the number of states rises from 15 to 25. The gains that will result from welcoming so many states into the European Union should not be put at risk by allowing the structures and the working of the EU to grind to a glorious halt. The benefits of enlargement are clear. The accession states will bring in—or bring home—100 million more people, and the EU will become the largest international single market. Even the least optimistic models show a gain for current member states of Euro10 billion and a boost of nearly 1 per cent. of gross domestic product from enlargement.
As a member of the European Scrutiny Committee, I have been privileged to visit accession countries. The sense of excitement within their boundaries is easily recognisable. Some Opposition Members may find that hard to believe, but they look forward to being part of a united Europe—a Europe of 25 countries working in tandem and delivering for the people of those countries. For many states, it marks the conclusion of a long journey back to the European mainstream, while for others, such as Cyprus and Malta, it reflects a continuity of historical close links and relationships. The results of the referendums on accession have demonstrated the strength of feeling and the benefits that these countries believe they can achieve by becoming EU members. We should salute those decisions and recognise and welcome the expansion of the EU. It is a real opportunity not only for the accession countries but for the EU as a whole.
On the fears about what the Convention means for our constitution and sovereignty, I recognise that some individuals may feel threatened by proposals currently being put forward. Although most constituents in the UK are happy with the European Union and comfortable with the benefits that they have received from it, they rightly fear that federal and integrationist tendencies might work against their best interests. What I find completely distasteful, however, is that legitimate fears are being stirred up and hijacked for political gain, against the national interest, by those who are anti-European. I will concede that to be against the idea of a constitutional treaty is not to be in favour of leaving the EU, but I suspect that many of those who shout loudest at present would not be unhappy at the prospect of withdrawal.
I want to touch on three areas about which there is undue alarm. First, there is the relationship between decisions made at European level and legislation passed by Parliament, often described as the primacy of EU law.
In overturning the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act 1988, the Factortame case in 1990 set the principle that, where the United Kingdom had agreed to act through the creation of European laws, the UK cannot then make national laws that contradict what has already been agreed. That was decided in 1990, and this Parliament retains its authority and can, as many Conservatives Members would wish to do, repudiate the original treaty commitments. The proposed constitutional treaty merely makes this existing situation—one that the Conservative Government in 1990 did nothing to reverse—explicit and clear.
The UK is party to many other international treaties that, on occasion, have primacy over our wider law. I would be surprised and concerned if those who loudly condemn the situation with regard to Europe took their position to its full logical extent and sought to change, for example, our membership of the United Nations, the Ottawa convention and even the Geneva convention so that we were no longer legally bound by the commitments that come from those arrangements. An agreed framework for the EU ensuring that no country avoids its commitments should be something that we all welcome.
It was that legal basis rather than the Major Government's pointless posturing that led to the EU's legal action against France, which contributed to the lifting of the ban on British beef. Without that legal basis, France would have been within its rights to ban our beef despite its commitment as a fellow EU member. It would be a strange club that sought to negotiate a common agreed policy and then gave its members complete licence to do whatever they saw fit.
I turn to qualified majority voting. I admit that, for a Union of 25 to function properly, it is necessary to modernise policy making by extending QMV to some additional areas. I am, however, more than happy to see the strength of the Government's commitment to retaining unanimity in key areas such as foreign policy, defence and taxation.
We all understand that the need to retain unanimity over QMV is an important defence of our sovereignty and national interests. What concerns me is that QMV is often portrayed as little more than a sinister plot to force through decisions that the UK would always disagree with. That is surely based on a profoundly pessimistic and outdated vision of the UK, alone on the fringes of Europe standing against foreign hordes. I believe that we have many friends in Europe who, when they cast their votes on a decision, will cast them alongside us.
Finally, on the shape of the EU, the European Scrutiny Committee looked at the proposals for an elected president. We have heard about the six-monthly rotating presidency, and we could not continue with such an anomaly with 25 member states. That is why we need an elected president in Europe. We should not argue against that.
The Council of Ministers is by far the most important lawmaker, and it has been so for many years. However, it meets and takes decisions in secret, and I welcome the fact that its decisions will be open to the public and open to scrutiny. It is important that we are able to connect with the people of this country, and we can do that by having a sensible and open debate on the issues that concern them. I hope that the House will support the motion.
I must confess that I rise to speak on this subject with a certain amount of trepidation. As with most EU matters, those Members who are in a certain magic circle are well informed about what is happening, but the picture becomes clear to the rest of us only at the last minute and there is a flood of documentation that we endeavour to master. Over the past few weeks, I have been rather preoccupied with other matters and it has only been in the last day or two that I have had the chance to start to catch up with the new constitution. I have been reading the reader-friendly version by Jens-Peter Bonde, and I recommend it to other Members. He is a distinguished Danish Member of the European Parliament to whom I have been indebted on a number of occasions. I am indebted to him now.
"Obviously there is always a discussion to be had on how one takes a major national decision. In Britain, line-by-line scrutiny of international treaties by Parliament is the norm."
At that point I stopped in amazement. He said that line-by-line scrutiny of international treaties is the norm—rubbish. That is utter, complete nonsense. We have never had line-by-line scrutiny of a European Union treaty. We will not be able to scrutinise this treaty. If we follow tradition—I share hon. Members' amazement at the Government's conversion to tradition on this matter—a Bill will be introduced to give legal effect to the treaty after the process has concluded. There will be line-by-line scrutiny of the Bill, but it will drafted in such a way as to inhibit scrutiny of the treaty as much as possible. I remember the tremendous contortions through which hon. Members had to go to try to frame amendments to Bills to enable them to discuss specific parts of treaties. The process does not represent scrutiny of a treaty in any meaningful sense. It is an affront to parliamentary democracy to proceed in such a way, and that has been the case for a long time.
Ever since I first came to the House and had the opportunity to sit through the debates on Maastricht, I have been amazed that we continue to use the treaty-making power by royal prerogative to change part of our own constitution. European treaties form part of the British constitution, as will this treaty. Governments have used the royal prerogative to change the constitution to the exclusion of the Members of this House and, consequently, those who elect us.
The right hon. Gentleman's rebuke is justified to some extent. He gave me an excellent seminar on the subject several months ago in the Committee or Library Corridor, and I should have digested it better. The term "ratification" is used as shorthand.
Surely the right hon. Gentleman accepts that after the treaty is signed, the European Communities Act 1972 will have to be amended. The line-by-line debate will take place then. He went through the same process when the Maastricht treaty was considered—I was not a Member of the House then. The House will get its chance to consider the treaty and it will be able to reject it. If that happens, the instrument of ratification, which would take the country further along the road that would be offered under this treaty or a previous treaty, may not be deposited in Rome.
The right hon. Gentleman is intellectually and academically quite right and I hope that he will forgive my use of shorthand, but the House will debate the treaty after the intergovernmental conference.
I was glad that the Minister started by conceding that my point was accurate, but he tried to diminish that by saying that it was academic. It is not academic—it is extremely important. Proper line-by-line scrutiny of the new constitution is desirable because it will form a significant part of the United Kingdom's constitution. It will become even more significant as the European Court of Justice interprets it in years to come. The most important aspect of the debate is the fact that views on the meaning of the treaty may come from the Treasury Benches and other parts of the House, but the only views that will matter will be those of the European Court of Justice. John Cryer was quite right about the drift and drive behind the decisions of that place.
We need line-by-line scrutiny of the constitution. To achieve that, we need to make fundamental changes to the way in which we conduct our business. I have long been of the view that the royal prerogative on treaty making should not be used on any European matter. Agreements that come out of intergovernmental conferences should come before the House in their totality so that they are scrutinised on a line-by-line basis.
Debates on the issue have been criticised for involving the usual suspects, who make the usual comments, and nothing is advanced far. There is an element of truth in that. Simply having more debates would not be adequate. It is clear that the European Scrutiny Committee and other Committees have done much work. It is equally clear, however, that the public are ignorant of it. I do not want to sound dismissive, but that work is an extended consultation by the Government before the event. It expresses opinions that the Government can consider with regard to their future conduct. They can decide whether to adopt recommendations, which they can take to Europe where they might not be carried.
When hon. Members criticised the draft constitution, the Minister commented from a sedentary position words to the effect of, "We don't yet know exactly what is going happen because the output from the IGC is the crucial consideration." However, by the time something emerges from the IGC, there will be virtually no opportunity for proper scrutiny of it. In an ideal world—I have no great expectation that this will happen—the House would consider the new constitution after the IGC in the equivalent of a Standing Committee, which would allow it to be scrutinised line by line. That would provide the opportunity for a thorough debate, focused on particular articles and paragraphs. It would take a long time, but as a result we would educate the House and the public. People complain about the lack of public interest, but that happens because the debate is not focused. The knock-about in the tabloid press and the usual comments by the usual suspects in the House are treated to the same weary expression that the Minister has on his face.
We need a detailed and focused debate, but that is not happening. Instead, we get the usual comments from the usual suspects, a mini-rant from the Secretary of State and a squib from the Minister in The Times this morning. The Minister did something very bad and it is not worthy of praise. Apart from the inaccuracy that I mentioned, he did something abhorrent: instead of engaging with the argument, he tried to pin the labels of Europhobe and xenophobe on those of us who doubt the policy and complain about it. That distorts the argument. He does not want to make his argument in detail, so he casts a slur on everyone who disagrees with him by saying, "Do you want to be in Europe or do you want to leave?" He tries to convince people that if we do not want to leave Europe, we must dismiss all the concerns and questions raised, and not allow any debate.
We know that there will be no debate after the IGC. Instead of proceeding in that intellectually dishonest way, it would much better if the Government said that they would provide a proper focused debate in the House after the IGC. If we had such a debate, it would become abundantly clear that the Convention is not a tidying-up exercise, but makes major and fundamental changes to our constitution. In those circumstances, it would be abundantly clear that it is right to hold a referendum.
It is, unfortunately, all too often the case in this country that any debate on Europe is dominated by the tabloid press, and as a consequence, we get more heat than light. I certainly think that that is the case in the debate, such as it is, on the Convention on the Future of Europe and the proposed draft constitution. We have heard all kinds of wild statements about 1,000 years of history coming to an end, and reference has been made yet again to square strawberries and straight bananas. [Hon. Members: "In this debate?"] I am talking about the debate in the country—hon. Members should pay attention.
I have hardly started to develop my argument, so I ask my hon. Friend to intervene later.
Much of the argument deployed in the House has been against the European Union as a whole. We have also seen such arguments used in the contributions of Members to the debate, such as it is, outside the House. Mr. Heathcoat-Amory has done a diligent job on the constitution, and I commend him for his work. Nevertheless, he has argued publicly not so much against the Convention's proposals, but in favour of this country having associate membership of the EU. That is simply not compatible with our present status of full membership. Conservative Members cannot have their cake and eat it. Either they should be prepared to engage in the EU, and to have a debate on the terms that are widely accepted, or they should argue for a different kind of relationship—in other words, that Britain should leave the EU. I wish that they would be honest in their arguments.
What I am saying is that if one argues for associate membership of the EU, one is arguing for a fundamental change in Britain's relationship with the Union which is tantamount to withdrawal from the EU. That is very clear. I urge the House to be much more honest in its arguments so that people outside know what is being said, rather than merely what is being implied.
On the referendum, again we have experienced more heat than light. We have heard various calls for a referendum on the Convention, but I have to say, in response to Mr. Hague, that it is important to have consistency. Where were Conservative Members in 1986, when the Single European Act introduced the largest ever single extension of qualified majority voting? Did they call for a referendum then? No, they did not. The Maastricht treaty, on economic and monetary union, provided an opportunity to advance the case for a referendum, but was such a case made? No, it was not. I say to Conservative Members, with all due respect, that if arguments are to be credible, they have to be consistent, and theirs are neither credible nor consistent.
My hon. Friend is talking about consistency, and I entirely agree with him. I would have held referendums on both those issues. Does he agree, however, that at the last election and the one before, one of the great strengths of our position was that we were giving the people a choice about whether they wanted to join the euro? Would it not be equally damaging if we went into the next election as the only party refusing to have a referendum on the Convention?
It is important to recognise that there is a fundamental difference between the issue of the euro and that of the draft constitution. Entering the euro would represent a fundamental change in our economic relationship with the EU, but given not only the text of the draft constitution but the negotiating position that the Government have made clear—their line in the sand—it is impossible to imagine a scenario in which it would bring about a fundamental change in Britain's relationship with the EU.
I shall give an example to show what I mean. It is important that we recognise the need for modest change in the EU because of a single factor—the biggest enlargement of the EU since its creation. Ten new member states will enter the Union next year. It will not be possible to continue the present processes; we need simplification to make those processes more straightforward. We need also to consolidate the umpteen treaties that amend the 1957 treaty of Rome so that we have one consolidated text. Lay people could then understand what the EU is and how it functions. That is what the Convention debated and that is what we should be talking about today.
The text that has been presented to us is a good basis for discussion and agreement, and I welcome a number of points in it. First, I welcome the proposal for a significant extension of qualified majority voting, which is needed for the reason that I have just given. If we want the European Union to function properly and develop policies to meet people's needs and address their concerns, we must have a mechanism in place that allows those policies to be made. QMV therefore makes sense. An issue that my constituents and I are concerned about, for example, is asylum policy. It does not make any sense in a union of 25 states to have a system that requires unanimity on an issue such as asylum. We need to work through the issue and establish common ground so that the EU can develop a policy that is in Britain's national interest. QMV has a better chance of bringing that about than the rigid maintenance of the veto, no matter what.
The hon. Gentleman has made an important point. All too often when we talk about the veto and the need to maintain it, no matter what, we do not recognise the fact that the maintenance of the veto for Britain means the maintenance of the veto for all the 15, soon to be 25, states. We should not worry about whether or not it is in our national interest and that of other countries to maintain the veto, but we should consider how we can work together to make sure that we go forward together and introduce policies that are of mutual benefit to us all. That is essentially what the debate is about.
I therefore welcome the extension of QMV. Secondly, I welcome the formal inclusion of the role of national Parliaments in the EU decision-making process. Subsidiarity has been talked about before, and has been referred to in previous treaties. At last, however, a formal mechanism is beginning to take shape that recognises the crucial role of national Parliaments in ensuring that that principle is maintained. There is also recognition that national Parliaments should not operate in splendid isolation in their own countries, but should work across national boundaries, co-operating with other Parliaments in other countries.
I particularly welcome the greater role to be played by the European Council. For me, the bottom line is that the European Union is an association of independent sovereign states. If the European Council had a two-and-a-half year presidency of the European Union, renewable for another term, that would provide a much more effective strategic direction for the EU. However, I also have some concerns. It is only right that such concerns be expressed, because we are talking not about a definitive document, but about a set of proposals to be debated and determined by the IGC. First, I would like much more discussion in the IGC about the role of national Parliaments. As we have heard this afternoon, an excellent report was produced by the European Scrutiny Committee, which builds on the commendable work of my hon. Friend Ms Stuart. I believe that the IGC should agree that when two thirds of national Parliaments reject a proposal from the European Commission, the Commission should be obliged to withdraw that text, reconsider it and offer something more appropriate.
My second big reservation about the text concerns the flexibility clause—article I-17, or the passerelle clause. One of the strengths of a consolidated text such as the draft treaty is that it sets out clearly, once and for all, what the EU is all about and offers clear procedures for the way in which policies are to be implemented. It is therefore something of a contradiction for the draft constitution to include an article stating that further amendments to the treaty can be made without reference to national Governments or national ratification processes. I think that that is a contradiction in terms, so I would like the flexibility clause to be either amended or removed completely.
Those are a couple of my reservations, and I agree with many of the reservations expressed by hon. Members, but I genuinely believe that this document is an excellent starting point for a serious and honest debate in this House and in the country. I hope that we will seize the opportunity and see Europe as a construction that enhances our well-being and future, rather than as a threat that is always to be feared. I think that this text represents the start of what will therefore be a positive process.
This has been an excellent debate in which arguments have been put forcefully on both sides of the House.
I should like to start by trying to bury the myth that my party is somehow the anti-European party that wants to leave the European Union, whereas the Government party is the one that is full of enthusiasts for it. It is evident that the Labour Benches are not packed this afternoon with enthusiasts for the Union, and I am not sure whether another speaker will be found on those Benches.
Let us not forget that it was a Conservative Government who first took Britain into the European Community. In 1975, when the then Labour Government renegotiated their membership of the Union, the Labour party could not get its act together, and it was the Conservative party, led by Margaret Thatcher, that was in the forefront of the campaign for a yes vote in that referendum. It was a Conservative Government who introduced the Single European Act. It was also a Conservative Government, although not necessarily with universal acclaim, who brought forward the Maastricht treaty, which incorporated for the first time the pillared structure that put in place the concept of subsidiarity and the opt-outs for various nation states.
The Convention was, as conceived, a very good exercise in its initial stages. It set out to simplify and—dare I use the phrase?—tidy up, if only by three quarters, various issues. However, in respect of any simplification and greater accountability or transparency, it has singularly failed. John Cryer, who has just left the Chamber, asked who had given evidence and made submissions to the Convention. I was one of those who did so, and I did so along with a group of others. We made a submission to the Convention laying out what we thought it should do. I am not aware that we were all funded by the European Union, as he suggested, but our signatories included two former commissioners—perhaps that is what he meant—as well as two former Foreign Secretaries, three former Chancellors and a former Deputy Prime Minister to boot.
We took it upon ourselves to be positive about the process and to set out what we thought the Convention should deal with. The first thing we felt that the Convention should do was to make clear to the citizens of Europe what the EU is, what it stands for, what it seeks to do for its citizens and what it does not seek to do. We felt that it should aim to enlist greater public support for, and knowledge of, the European Union and to involve national Parliaments more closely in its decision making; to modernise the institutions of the Union so that they can operate effectively in the enlarged Union; and to give the Council greater continuity and ensure that it is clearer and more open in what it does.
I am following the hon. Gentleman's comments with interest. Is it not rather strange that after 47 years of the European Union's existence we are still trying to decide what it is for?
I thank the hon. Gentleman. The European Union is a continually evolving structure. We have been a member for only 30 of those 47 years. We have reached the point where we need such a reassessment: we need to sit down and put on to one sheet of paper exactly what we are about in this relationship with our partners and neighbours on the continent.
We also said that we wanted the Convention to ensure that the Commission acts more effectively in those areas that are within its competence and is held more openly to account; to provide an institutional mechanism for giving the European Parliament a more coherent role alongside perhaps greater powers of scrutiny; and to enhance the rule of law.
I feel that the Convention has lost its way—that it is a bit of fudge, with some ideas going in one direction and some going in another. Although I am in favour of a referendum on the constitution, explaining the detail to the British people would be very difficult.
I want to pick up on one aspect of the constitution that I feel very strongly about. On first reading, a charter of fundamental rights for the citizens of the Union, which is outlined in the proposals, seems an entirely reasonable concept, given the fundamental principles of the founding treaties. However, membership of the European Union already requires accession to the earlier European convention on human rights. The Council of Europe—I sit in its Parliamentary Assembly—pre-dates the European Union. The convention, which it established in 1950, has some 44 European member state signatories and a long-established judicial process that leads up to the European Court of Human Rights. Most member states have incorporated the convention in their domestic law, as did the United Kingdom in 1998.
Given the number of existing national, European and international human rights instruments that have been ratified by EU member states, another human rights instrument will present a situation of duplication and rights saturation. Should the European Court of Justice gain jurisdiction over the new charter, and thus move extensively into the field of human rights, it will be faced with an unnecessary increase in litigation. That will be of little benefit, given the already large backlog of cases that it has to deal with. For the European Union, human rights protection might well be further improved, but for Europe as a whole the process could lead to a considerable loss. Europe would be split on human rights. Non-members of the EU would suffer enormously if the EU were to go its own way with its own charter of fundamental rights.
If the Union believes that the existing convention is deficient, surely the way forward is to improve it. The European Union should itself become a signatory to the convention, as is proposed in the document, then seek a new protocol to the convention that includes those vital new aspects contained in the proposed charter of fundamental rights that differ from those in the existing convention. It is unnecessary to create a duplicate human rights structure in the soon to be 25 member states of the European Union. It will inevitably lead to testing by litigants of both the convention and the charter.
I want to end by considering a referendum, which other hon. Members have raised. I do not know what the Government have to hide. I said in an intervention that when we last held a referendum, the turnout was more than 70 per cent. The British people appreciated having the basis of our membership of the then European Community explained to them and the opportunity to vote on it. The result was an overwhelming 2:1 majority in favour.
After 30 years of membership of the European Union, for those of us who believe that Britain's role is at the heart of that Union, that Britain has a contribution to make and that the European Union is about the future, the Convention or constitution will give us the opportunity to rehearse the arguments. I hope that we shall have a European constitution that we can defend. We may end up with a constitution that we find difficult to defend because it contains aspects with which we would not agree, given our fundamental belief—it is mine—in a Europe of nation states. I believe that we should act together on what we best do together and reserve for member states what should rightly remain with them. We should sell that message to the British people. If the Government shy away from that, they hide the fact that the document contains something that they do not want to expose to the people.
I commend Mr. Walter for his constructive speech. It was the first speech from the Conservative Benches that was made in that spirit. None of the other contributions from Conservative Members gave the impression that they believed that anything in the draft constitution was good. The hon. Gentleman adopted a more constructive approach.
A constitution that is drawn up by a process of consensus and involves 15 member states and 10 applicants is inevitably a compromise. We cannot write our own constitution. Those who claim that we can be an associate member or that we can somehow pick and choose fail to understand the dynamics of the organisation of which we form part. As Mr. David said, the Convention brings together, for the first time in a coherent and intelligible form, the basic mechanism for the operation of European Union.
I well remember when Mr. Clarke, who played a substantial role in ratifying parts of the Maastricht treaty, admitted in his inimitable way that he found the treaty totally incomprehensible, not least because it was full of references to previous committees and amendments, which rendered understanding impossible without a massive amount of research.
The value of bringing everything together in a single document, which any citizen can read and understand and take advice on is surely commendable and desirable. There is a danger of becoming fixated on whether we have a referendum. We have argued consistently that a referendum is desirable for major constitutional changes, but there is a danger of the matter becoming such an obsession that we lose sight of what we are trying to debate and discuss.
I am not sure whether the hon. Lady was present for the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Campbell, in which he made it abundantly clear that there are sufficient constitutional changes to justify a referendum. We could not say that until we had a text that could be analysed, but we would do a disservice to the document and its implications if we focused our attention entirely on that and lost sight of the fact that we are supposed to be trying to shape a document that will become a reference for Europe for a long time to come. Given the role that the United Kingdom has already played under the table and above the table—if I may put it that way—it is substantially shaped by British input, about which we have every reason to be satisfied.
I suspect that Mr. Heathcoat-Amory is already on the Eurostar to Brussels to join Ms Stuart. I noticed that he was happy to accept the accolades of the House about his role in negotiating substantial chunks of the constitution on behalf of the British people, British Parliament, British Government—however one wants to put it—and the United Kingdom, yet he turned up in Estonia and told people that it is a constitutional issue of which they should be wary, and that perhaps they should not join the organisation that would bind them into a constitution. There is a little inconsistency in his advocacy.
One of the problems is that it is becoming fashionable in the drawing rooms of the United Kingdom to be anti-EU, in a way that it used to just as fashionable to be pro-EU. A decision such as this is should be determined not by drawing-room fashion but by a fundamental assessment of what we are trying to achieve. There are people—I receive letters from them myself—who believe that there are cellars in Brussels full of gnomes, who are mostly French and German, who do nothing else from morning until night, and through the night and at weekends, but draw up measures, articles and amendments to treaties that will destroy a thousand years of British history. People should back off a little and recognise that every country has special interests for which it will want to argue, but that we all have a huge interest in the net sum added value that a successful EU can and should deliver.
I am probably the only Member so far who has introduced this aspect of the debate, but it is relevant that we are now in a world that is dominated by a superpower, which, to be frank, does not share our European values on matters such as human rights, international co-operation, the respect of law and international treaties. It is important that Europe stands for those values and finds the ability to produce common policies. There will be occasions—we have just witnessed one—where that will not be achieved, and there is nothing in the document that forces people to do anything. It is not about having a single foreign policy or defence policy, but about having a common policy wherever we can seek it. That is not just in the interests of Europe, but in the interests of the wider world.
I played a small part in the sustainable development summit in Johannesburg, where the EU negotiated as a single entity and where the British Government were only part of the EU team. We were outmanoeuvred by the United States because we did not have sufficient flexibility or ability to adapt policies at short notice, whereas the Americans did. We should learn from that. I never think that it is easy, but it is important and desirable for us to achieve such objectives.
The idea of the veto being waved around as a virility symbol is to fail to recognise, as has been said, that one country's veto is everybody else's obstacle. There are certain areas over which we do not agree that the EU should have power, either jointly or collectively. In reality, probably a majority of countries—certainly more than enough—do not believe that the right to deploy one's troops or set one's taxes is something that the EU should decide. [Interruption.] There is room for constructive harmonisation, particularly of indirect taxes, in the interests of a single market, but if we were to have a single currency, losing that flexibility makes it almost impossible to adjust to domestic circumstances.
The document represents the credibility of a sensible discussion, and people must focus on what it is we want out of the EU, recognising that it is, by definition, a compromise among 25 countries, in which we have to give to get, but the art of negotiation is to give as little and get as much as we can. What we must not do is become so introvert, so introspective and so obsessive about what we see as the plots and the wickedness underneath that we lose sight of our real national interest. It matters that Europe works together, it matters for the world, and it matters that Britain plays a full part in that.
I want first to speak about religious issues, which have been raised in debate in the European Convention and which will bring great problems to the so-called furtherance of European unity. The Library research paper, "The Convention on the Future of Europe: proposals for a European Constitution", touches on the matter, but apart from that there is very little on it.
We heard about Athens today, of all places. I am reminded of the apostle Paul's first visit there when he saw an altar to the unknown God, and he felt that it was time for him to speak up and explain who God was and the arguments for the being of God. There is a proposal before the Convention—I do not know whether it has had any debate at all—that the name of God should be written into the new constitution. Putting a God tag on the constitution will not make it godly or Christian, or make the people under it godly or Christian.
The House is opened each day with prayer to God. We might ask: what God? Is it an unknown God; is it everyone's God? According to the prayer book from which the prayer is taken, it is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I believe that he is the true and living God. Other hon. Members will have their own opinions, but I believe that God has set his Son over this world as sovereign, as king of this world. His kingdom is not forced on anyone; it is accepted not by persecution but by persuasion only. Those who are persuaded not to accept him do not accept him, and those who are persuaded that they will accept him crown him as king of their lives. Each one has a choice to make, and each one will answer to him personally on the great day of judgment.
I do not accept that by putting the name of God somewhere in the new constitution is the way to make the new Europe godly and Christian. Putting a deity pin on the constitution would be an act of hypocrisy, not an act of truth. Christ the king reigns in the hearts of those who acknowledge him and have crowned him to be so. Those who reject him have made their decision. Pinning the name of God somewhere on the constitution is not to be advocated. Such an act will in no way change the real nature of the EU.
Having said that, the religious issues in Europe are of deep significance and importance. Many of them flow from the Reformation of the 16th century and are embedded in Church-state relationships in the various states. Mere mention of this is made in the document, but an examination of the states of Europe reveals different relationships between Church and state in almost every one. Such matters are now being raised in certain places in terms of a limit to human rights.
At the end of the document, we are told something that I would challenge: that in Europe, everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. One need only go to France to see the rising tide of persecution of those who belong to the smaller Protestant denominations. On this very issue, the Home Office is currently dealing with the question of whether a Frenchman should be sent back to France for trial. That case will be decided in the near future. Of course, anyone who has been to Greece will know of the great limits on religious liberty in that country. Similar things could be said of other European countries. This matter needs to be confronted—there is no use in our sweeping it under the carpet.
In answer to my question at the beginning of the debate, the Foreign Secretary made it plain that all written constitutions, and all countries that have no written constitutions, will be bound to and subservient to this new constitution. Nothing could be plainer than that, which brings me to the very heart of the matter: a referendum. Momentous changes are in prospect about the way in which we are to be ruled. Much of what is being proposed is counter to our vital interests and goes against the grain of what people really want. The Government do not have a mandate to agree to such sweeping developments, which will change for ever the future of this United Kingdom. If a referendum is required before we join the single currency, it is surely much more important that we decide for ourselves whether the Government should be under the authority of this overwhelming body. We need to keep that issue before us.
The pretence that the European Union is largely about trade cannot be maintained when the constitutional Convention's proposals are viewed. The Convention operates almost entirely divorced from contact with any of the representative groups that are opposed to the integrationist development that it proposes. This is proving to be an utterly undemocratic process—if not by name, then certainly by nature. A superstate is emerging; it is taking shape in the proposals that the Convention has discussed.
I do not believe that there is any victory in pulling the word "federalism" out of this document, because Europe is not dealing in federalism. Federalism is various Governments handing over to a central authority what they wish to hand over and forming a federation, but that is not what Europe is doing. Europe claims supreme and total power over us all, and it will give us the handout that it wants to give. [Interruption.] It is all very well Members laughing, but that is what has happened. I have sat in the European Parliament since representatives were first elected to it. I have put my case to the people of Northern Ireland, and I have had the highest vote in the whole of Europe on this issue. I have topped the poll in those elections five times, and I have seen what happens at first hand. If anything is against the real principle of undiluted democracy, it is the European Union and what it is doing. It is proceeding not towards federalism, but towards a superstate in which it will hand down and Mr. Prodi will decide what we do. That is the real issue before us.
Will my hon. Friend explain why this Government deny a referendum when it is clear that people want such a say on the new constitution? In Northern Ireland, people want a vote in respect of the Assembly elections, yet the Government are quite happy to press a vote on people in areas such as the north of England, in which no such enthusiasm exists for a vote. Can he explain that dichotomy?
I do not understand what the Government's policy is. There was a referendum in Northern Ireland, and in order to put weight behind it the south of Ireland ran a referendum. We were told that that issue would never be raised, and that it was just something that they did. Now, in referring to that referendum, all Ministers talk about the fact that the wish of the people of Ireland is that we have the agreement. It was evident that the election, if it came, would put that in the Sadducees' grave with no resurrection. But the Government cancelled the election, and even in this House today we see what has happened to the official Ulster Unionist party. It has been completely halved. One half has said goodbye to Mr. Trimble and all his works, and when he was in his constituency last night, a large number of people voted against him. So the position—
Fewer decisions of any significance will be determined at national level if the new Convention takes over. Parliament will increasingly become a talking shop, rubber-stamping decisions already taken in Brussels. There is no effective way of controlling what the EU does in our name. The Convention proposes no effective, EU-wide democratic method of allowing the people to choose what policies they want. Indeed, power will be centralised within the Commission, which, we should not forget, still meets in secret. This is no substitute for the democratic system that has been built up over centuries in our nation and elsewhere. The real power of the EU is the Commission, which we do not elect and whose members we cannot remove. This power will increase greatly if the constitutional Convention's proposals go unchallenged.
The EU itself is not a democracy, even if its member states are. It has always been a bureaucratic organisation, albeit with the ornaments of democracy. Instead of dealing with its democratic shortfall, this Constitution is strengthening that shortfall and the democratic deficit.
One of the themes of today's debate has been encouraging because it is genuinely cross-party, and the more interesting fact is that it has been adopted by people who perhaps hold differing views on where the European Union is going and our role in it. That theme is that the people of this country should be allowed a referendum to decide on this very important constitutional matter. The Government's argument that the proposal for an EU constitution is not a constitutional matter, and that on that basis, there is no need to offer a referendum, is quite bizarre. It is clear that this is not just a tidying-up exercise; it is a constitution that establishes a Union with its own legal personality. Constitution and Union law is enshrined in it, which will have primacy over the law of member states. The Union will also have exclusive competence in many areas in which no such competence currently exists. And bizarrely, shared competence is to be introduced for the first time. However, as the barrister, Martin Howe, stated:
"This is not sharing competence in any meaningful sense: the competence of the individual state is residual, it's on sufferance and in vast areas the competence of the member states would simply be progressively taken away as more and more Union measures are made."
Those are constitutional matters of great importance. Bizarrely, on
"What we have promised is a referendum on the single currency, should we recommend it . . . We will keep that promise. We have never promised a referendum on the European Convention, for the simple reason that, as I said earlier, it does not involve a fundamental change to the British constitution."—[Hansard, 18 June 2003; Vol. 407, c. 352.]
That simply does not make sense. I suggest that we are to be denied a referendum in that respect for the same reason that explains the Government's five economic tests and their reluctance to put our membership of the euro before the British people—purely because they know that they would not win.
Ministers chide—no, chide is a rather kind term, they vilify—Opposition Members for not holding the same views on the future of Europe as they do and for not supporting the constitution. They claim that the Conservative party is out of touch with the views of the British people. However, as often happens, the caravan has moved on. I would commend to Ministers a poll carried out in The Economist—not a tabloid journalist's poll—in which people were asked whether, in the event of a referendum on the proposed EU constitution, they would be in favour of or against Britain signing up for it. The results were: in favour, 18 per cent.; against, 44 per cent.; do not know, 33 per cent. That tells us that people want and need to know more. We need a full public debate, not just here in the Chamber, but out there. A referendum of the people would well serve their need to be informed before such a key decision is taken.
There have been allegations—particularly from Malcolm Bruce when he was in his place—that we Conservatives are all xenophobes who hate the French, the Germans and so forth. I have to say that, if I were married to a Japanese national, I would not be advocating the yen in favour of the pound sterling. It is a pernicious argument to accuse us of xenophobia simply because we hold different views. As in all debates, name calling from Ministers is usually an indication of a weak argument or a reluctance to put their case to the people.
This Tuesday's The Wall Street Journal was interesting in featuring an interview with Valéry Giscard d'Estaing about how he had conducted the Convention. Rev. Ian Paisley spoke a few moments ago about how the word "federal" has been taken out of context. Let me quote the article, where Mr. d'Estaing said:
"I knew the word 'federal' was ill-perceived by the British and a few others. I thought that it wasn't worth creating a negative commotion, mostly with the British, which could prevent them from supporting something that otherwise they would have supported. So I rewrote my text, replacing intentionally the word 'federal' with the word 'communautaire' . . . The text I wrote was distributed at the convention after my meeting with Tony Blair so people thought it was at Downing Street that I changed the wording"— so much for prime ministerial influence—
"No. I did it a few days before. But of course it makes it easier for them."
So all the way through, we can see negotiations going on to make it easy for the British, because people know in their hearts that the British are not going to stand up for too much. When I examine the Government's little list for the IGC, I doubt whether they would stand up for much in any case.
I shall conclude because I want more of my hon. Friends to join in the debate and we are getting towards the end. In my book, and that of many people in this country when they come to assess the position, if we have a President, a constitution, a common currency, a common justice system, a flag, an anthem and all the rest, we basically have a nation state.
The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head—really. It is not that I am against the EU or any of its member states. I am not anti-German or anti-French. I count many people on mainland Europe as personal friends. However, I am British and ultimately we should decide what is in the British national interest, both constitutionally and economically. I am not afraid to say that that is why I am here and why I represent the people of my constituency, and I do not believe that it is in the British national interest to take on this constitution.
I have particular concerns about subsidiarity, the charter of fundamental rights and the way in which the Government intend to proceed in this matter without democratic legitimacy. As my hon. Friend Mr. Walter rightly underlined, subsidiarity did not start with discussions about the constitution. It took root in the Maastricht treaty, article 3b of which was sadly unsuccessful.
We then proceed in this important debate to negotiations over the treaty of Amsterdam. I remember the Government's proud, self-indulgent, flag-waving approach to the incorporation within that treaty of the protocol on the application of subsidiarity and proportionality. That protocol said:
"The application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality shall respect the general provisions and objectives of the Treaty, particularly as regards the maintaining in full of the acquis communautaire and the institutional balance; it shall not affect the principles developed by the Court of Justice regarding the relationship between national and Community law, and it should take into account Article 6(4) of the Treaty on European Union, according to which 'the Union shall provide itself with the means necessary to obtain its objectives and carry through its policies'."
Any close inspection of that protocol would offer no serious crumb of comfort. It is certainly not a charter for decentralisation, still less a guarantee of the primacy in our affairs of national self-government.
Nevertheless the Government were conscious of, and preoccupied with, the second part of the third paragraph of the protocol, which allowed for circumstances in which Community action could be "restricted or discontinued" where it was no longer required. That was the fig leaf on to which the Government clasped and was presumably the rationale behind the Prime Minister's decision on
"No, and the practice has been unsatisfactory."—[Hansard, 21 May 2003; Vol. 405, c. 1023.]
So now their course of action is to say, "Ah, but things will get better, because there is now a proposal that when one third—in terms of voting strength—of the national Parliaments object to a particular proposal, there will be an obligation on the European Commission to review it." There is, of course, an obligation to review, but I invite Mr. Campbell to bear in mind, and regard as dramatically significant in this debate, that that is where the obligation ends. Having reviewed the legislation in question, the Commission will be entitled to maintain, amend or withdraw it. That is why the European Scrutiny Committee—being properly sceptical, in the best sense of that much maligned term—observed on
I remind the Leader of the House that we have been here before and we have heard similar assurances. Why should it be any different now? There is no obligation on EU institutions to respect the principle of subsidiarity, in the terms in which my hon. Friends and I understand it. As if that is not bad enough, we must take account of the context in which we are addressing the issue, which is that in the 10 years from 1992 to 2002 no fewer than 28,681 directives, regulations and decisions flowed forth from the institutions of the EU to impact on the member states. That is what gives urgency—nay, immediacy—to a proper resolution of this important matter.
I am also concerned about the charter of fundamental rights. It is a legitimate set of aspirations and declaration of good intent, but I have two concerns. First, we would be giving our assent to something that has been drafted in accordance with the continental insistence on highfaluting declarations of good intent, rather than the more practical and reliable British insistence on specificity. In other words, we do not know what we will get when we sign up to it, or how it will be interpreted by the courts of the EU and the UK, given that the matters it contains will be justiciable.
Secondly, I am alarmed that a Government policy to change the law on double jeopardy could be threatened by the incorporation of article II-50 of the charter. That is not because I believe that the double jeopardy rule should be changed, although there are arguments about the significance of DNA and whether changing circumstances justify a revisiting of that law. My point is not about the detail of the law but who is responsible for it. The future course of criminal justice policy, including the issue of whether people should be able to be tried twice for the same offence, is a matter of legitimate concern to democratically elected Members of the British legislature. It is, with respect, no business of the European Union, which—as my right hon. Friend Mr. Hague spent much of the last Parliament underlining—should do less, but do it better.
On the question of the referendum, the Government do not have a leg to stand on. There are three elements to the issue. The first is the characteristic, ping-pong attitude of the Government when they say, "You didn't have a referendum on the Single European Act or the Maastricht treaty, so there is no reason why we should have one now." I am prepared to confront that argument and say that I think that there was a powerful case for a referendum on the Single European Act and an even more compelling argument in support of a referendum on Maastricht. I argued the latter position on
I was implicitly, though gently, rebuked by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife for apparently impugning the motives of Ministers. In reflecting on the rationale of the Government for saying no to a referendum, my concluding observation is that we should think back to Sherlock Holmes, who said words to the effect that when all the other possibilities have been eliminated, the remaining possibility, however improbable, must be the truth. The Government cannot be motivated by respect for tradition, by concern about precedent, or by a preoccupation with the niceties of decent behaviour and respect for the views of others to say, "While we would dearly love to put our centralising proposals to deprive the British people of the power of self-government in so many new areas to them, it would not be fair on them and they are not really capable of making the decision." The truth is that the Government are scared. They are frit. They have not the intellectual or political self-confidence in their case to put it to the people. Instead they want to deny the British people a choice and to abuse those of us who came into this House to defend the cause of parliamentary democracy and national self-government.
I congratulate all those who have participated in this debate and I thank the Foreign Secretary for sponsoring yet another parliamentary debate about the EU and the European Convention. I particularly thank our two parliamentary representatives at the Convention, my right hon. Friend Mr. Heathcoat-Amory, who spoke brilliantly this afternoon, and Ms Stuart, for their contributions over many arduous months.
Of course, it is the greatest possible unalloyed joy to have with us this afternoon, in his very busy life, the Leader of the House and Secretary of State for Wales. He was described breathlessly in an article in The Times on Monday as follows:
"Fifty-three, tanned, trim, and handsome, he strides into his office in the Commons bursting with the joys of his day."
I hope that he will send a signed copy of the article to his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is clearly so eager to receive his advice on taxation. The Leader of the House famously wrote a book, "Ayes to the Left", in which he suggested that the European Union was some sort of capitalist plot. It was rubbish then, and his latest pronouncements on the European Union similarly qualify as rubbish—or, to use the new word, Horlicks.
The best bit in the article in The Times states:
"He says the public has become disillusioned with politics because of hype and spin."
However, the right hon. Gentleman has gone out of his way to paint a picture of what has emerged from the Convention that is totally different from the perceptions of everybody else in Europe. Now the Government tell us that they will fight hard to amend some of the Convention's proposals, especially in respect of the collapsing of the three pillars. We wish them well, but if they fail, will they veto the treaty? I would be interested to hear the right hon. Gentleman's response to that.
None of this should ever have been allowed to happen in the first place. Long before the Convention actually got under way, European Governments were setting out clear views of what the EU architecture should be. Our Government, I regret to say, produced virtually nothing. They opposed the written constitution and the binding incorporation of the charter of fundamental rights, but—needless to say—we have signed up anyway. That reflects a pathetic lack of leadership and focus.
As the Library has accepted, at the IGC there will be renewed discussion of some of the more controversial articles but, very importantly,
"it is generally agreed that the IGC should not unpick the text agreed"— by the Convention. So there we have it. We know in essence what will emerge at the IGC, and we can make judgments on what that will mean for us, and indeed for the whole of the EU.
Why did the Government agree to a written constitution? Either it is of lesser significance than what was agreed to at Maastricht or in the Single European Act—as the Foreign Secretary tells us—or as the German Foreign Minister said, reflecting pretty well everybody else's view, it is
"The most important treaty since the formation of the European Economic Community."
I think I know whom to believe on that score. At the heart of the Convention's proposals lies the constitution. To all intents and purposes, it will be the first time that Britain has had a written constitution.
The Foreign Secretary has said, in effect, that golf clubs have constitutions, so why should not any other organisation? Once it was clear that the Government, in their lack of conviction, had abandoned the rejection of a constitution, the right hon. Gentleman sought to reassure us last autumn with an article in The Economist. As we re-read it, it is almost beyond parody. It states:
"The constitution of the world's most complex international organisation—the United Nations—fits easily into my jacket pocket. The constitution of one of the world's oldest and most successful democracies—the United States—would fit neatly into the other pocket . . . Size is important—the smaller the better when it comes to constitutions! But size tells us another, more important, story—that of coherence."
Well, I am holding the proposed constitution, all 250 pages of it: some constitution, some jacket—indeed, some pocket. One wonders what the Foreign Secretary would make of the ten commandments.
Several things are clear about the proposed European constitution. First, no one in Europe apart from the Government pretends that it is simply a tidying-up exercise. There will be large transfers of sovereignty from the EU's member states to the EU's institutions, and a profound reshaping of Europe's legal order. This country badly needs an open and genuine debate on this momentous change for the EU. That cannot happen while the Government, absurdly, play down the consequences of the constitution.
I therefore appeal to the Government to have the courage of whatever convictions that they may have and acknowledge that this will be one of the most fundamental alterations to the EU since the treaty of Rome and, if they believe in it, to argue for it honestly. Along with Mr. Campbell, we look forward to a comprehensive White Paper, to which the Foreign Secretary has already referred. I hope that that will elevate the debate. We also seek the assurances about our legal status that were spelled out by my right hon. Friend Mr. Heathcoat-Amory.
This constitution adds little in the way of the clarity that this Government said that they wanted. Indeed, it leaves some fundamental points quite unclear and no doubt they will be decided, regrettably, by judges in Luxembourg, as Mr. Trimble and John Cryer noted. The sad fact is that this Government have never set out a clear vision of their own for Europe. The French have, the Germans have, the European Commission has, but the Government have not. It is no wonder that the charter of fundamental rights, which the Prime Minister claimed would be no more than a political declaration, is now to be legally binding. In Europe, this Government have been, in the end, content to follow, and not lead.
The Convention on the Future of Europe has been a considerable missed opportunity, as my hon. Friend Mr. Walter said. The Laeken declaration that established it asked many of the right questions, but they have simply not been answered.
Why are the Government so hostile to letting the people decide whether or not they like what the Government, quite clearly, are going to agree to? I can tell the Foreign Secretary that the party of European socialists website is rather more generous than he is. The president of that group is his predecessor, Mr. Cook. Its "website of the month" is one that is given over to the European referendum campaign. In marked contrast to the apparently closed minds of its brothers on the Government front Bench, the campaign makes an appeal that an EU constitution should be
"submitted to the citizens in a European referendum in all the countries concerned . . . that the Parliaments of the states concerned make the appropriate legal and constitutional provisions for a binding referendum" and that
"the EU Constitution or Constitutional Treaty can only be adopted in the countries in which a majority vote in favour of it."
The website confirms other facts that we already know. We read that a significant number of other countries will go for a referendum. Even Giscard d'Estaing appears to be in favour. In Britain, referendums can be held even down to the municipal level, but it is beyond belief that, as we acquire the first written constitution in our history, the British people are excluded from holding a referendum—a point made by my hon. Friend Mrs. Browning.
No one with whom my right hon. Friend Mr. Ancram and I have discussed these matters has not expressed surprise at Britain's contribution to the debate about the architecture of the EU. Of course, many of them are delighted, because they are the ones who have shaped the structures, when Britain has simply been tinkering around the edges.
What has the Government's policy of so-called constructive engagement yielded, as we approach enlargement? My hon. Friend Mr. Bercow asked that question. How many powers have been returned to Britain, in the name of subsidiarity? The answer is none. It took a previous Government to deliver a substantial rebate, obtain the single currency opt-out, and drive on the single market. What, by comparison, have this Government achieved? Many believe that the Lisbon process has effectively run into the sands, yet the Government have won agreement on a limited number of elements.
I am sorry, but I want the Leader of the House to have a substantial amount of time in which to wind up.
At the heart of the issue before the House lie two extremely important questions. Do the recommendations of the convention close the gap between the institutions of the EU and its people, returning a sense of ownership to them, or do they simplify the architecture of the EU, so as to increase people's understanding?
Before the convention began, the Leader of the House and the Foreign Secretary made a number of speeches highlighting the so-called democratic deficit. They were right to do so, of course. As my right hon. Friend Mr. Hague observed, the major challenge facing all democracies is lack of participation and lack of interest. Many commentators and others feel that the EU is running ahead of the capacity of people to absorb the rapid structural changes in it. As the Leader of the House has said, it is the elites of Europe who cause that sense of lack of accountability and control.
Yet the Foreign Secretary and the Leader of the House have signed up to a vision of Europe that is not only old fashioned and completely ill suited to the way that global relationships are evolving, but which is actually what they themselves have warned against. The democratic credentials of the two right hon. Gentlemen go back many decades. When they consider what has come out of the convention and the fact it does not address the problem of the democratic deficit in any substantial way, I hope that they will pause and consider what they have signed up to.
The British people must be given an opportunity to express their views. Every pathetic, third-rate excuse is employed to deprive the British people of that opportunity. Why should the British people be denied the opportunity that has been extended to many millions of our fellow Europeans? It is ironic that the Foreign Secretary and the Leader of the House, who in their youth were motivated with such a zeal for democracy, should suddenly get all coy and pretend that a written constitution is inconsequential. They say that it is just tidying up, when every other major EU leader totally rejects that view. They refuse the legitimate aspirations of the people of Britain to have their say. In its long history, Britain has never had a written constitution before, and this is their response.
The British people are entitled to take a view, whatever that view may be. It is a sign of the Government's total lack of self-confidence and substance that, at every level of our national life, they are failing our people. Their attitude on this subject says it all, yet again.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr. Spring again, as I used to do when I was Minister for Europe. He performed with his normal courtesy and skill. As I have been constantly accountable to the House for the past 17 months, during the period when I represented the Government at the Convention, I am grateful for another opportunity of being thus accountable—probably for the last time, as my role on the Convention has ended.
We got a good deal for Britain, protecting our key national interests and placing ourselves well, so that the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and their team can negotiate outstanding issues in the draft constitutional treaty during the forthcoming intergovernmental conference.
Mr. Ancram called for a referendum, a point echoed by many of his colleagues. May I refer him to sensible Conservative comments about a referendum? For example, on "The World at One" on
"I think there's no case for a referendum. Parliament's got to be left to do something and if Parliament can't analyse the ultimate version of this long new treaty . . . then Parliament isn't much use for anything."
Another leading Conservative, who speaks with far more authority than anyone currently sitting on the Opposition Front Bench, Chris Patten, the European Commissioner—[Interruption.] Mr. Cash laughs and sneers, but Chris Patten was a Conservative party chairman during the period when the Conservatives used to win general elections. In The Spectator of
"are popular with unelected newspaper owners. Tories should oppose them . . . This Tory notes that the intellectually honest position of many of those in the forefront of the present campaign for a referendum is complete British withdrawal from the European Union."
That is the Conservative agenda.
I want to reply to some of the points made in the debate before taking interventions.
The right hon. Member for Devizes made a point about NATO, but my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary had to point out to him that he clearly had not read the draft constitution text very well, as the same wording is used in article 40, paragraph 2, sub-paragraph 2 as is used in article 17, paragraph 1, sub-paragraph 2 of the existing European Union treaty. So we had another Tory porkie on that matter.
My right hon. Friend Denzil Davies criticised the Government's advocacy and the way in which we had succeeded in achieving, in the draft constitutional text, a strengthening of the role of the Council of the EU. I am puzzled by that. He also criticised the achievement of the objective that an elected full-time president should chair the Council. I should have thought that he ought to support the institution that represents elected Governments and their heads, because the intergovernmental nature of the EU has been at its weakest recently. The British objective to strengthen the intergovernmental process through the European Council and its Council of Ministers was set because we believe that nation states, not Brussels federalists, should lead Europe.
I am surprised at the criticism, made in similar terms, from the Conservative Benches. Why do the Conservatives think that, until the very last day of the Convention, the federalists in Brussels fought like mad the proposal for a full-time elected president of the Council? It was because they saw it for what it is—a strengthening of the role of Governments. I should have thought that not only my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli but all hon. Members would support that.
Mr. Campbell raised an important question about the publication of the White Paper. I am grateful that he did so. Publication depends a little on when the date for the beginning of the intergovernmental process is declared by the Italian presidency, but we shall publish it if we can, as the Foreign Secretary promised. I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that, for a period, we need to end constitutional tinkering in the EU; we need a period of stability and the present negotiations provide such an opportunity.
My hon. Friends the Members for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) and for Caerphilly (Mr. David) raised important questions about the role of national Parliaments. My hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale asked specifically about the role of the devolved Administrations. We have secured agreement that when the Commission brings forward a new proposal it is immediately e-mailed to national Parliaments, so that, for the first time ever, we have the chance to vet it. That is a big democratic advance, and I think that I was the only Government representative who argued for it. The proposal can then be copied on to the devolved Administrations so that their views, too, can be taken into account by Parliament.
My hon. Friend asked for full transparency and accountability, on which he made important points. That is exactly what the British Government have been arguing for and it is exactly what we have achieved: all legislation should be dealt with in public so that the process is transparent and accountable.
Mr. Hague reminded us of the brilliant debater that he is—a much better debater than his successor. He called for a referendum, but perhaps there should be a referendum of Tory supporters on the leadership of the Tory party. We know why they will not call such a referendum: they are afraid of the result.
I thought that my hon. Friend John Cryer made an unworthy criticism of my hon. Friend Ms Stuart. The truth is that she has held herself accountable to the House constantly, often turning up to Standing Committees on these matters that have been poorly attended. I do not think that she should be criticised—[Interruption.] I shall withdraw if my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch wants to clarify that point.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. I made no criticism, either explicit or implicit, of my hon. Friend Ms Stuart. I said that the Convention process was not entirely accountable or democratic, but I made it clear that that was no criticism of my hon. Friend.
I apologise to my hon. Friend.The point that I was making is that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston has been constantly accountable to the House, as have my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe and I, in my role in the Convention. We have constantly attended Scrutiny Committees in both Houses, as my hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale knows, and many debates have been held.
It is significant that the Convention process has been more transparent and thus more accountable to the people of Europe than any other process. Never before has the preparation for an IGC been negotiated in public in that way. I should have thought that hon. Members would welcome that.
Before I take interventions, I shall respond to Mr. Bercow, who raised some important issues about the charter. The reason that we objected to the incorporation of the charter of fundamental rights in the treaty in 1999 is that the proposal then was simply to shove it into the treaty, such that it would have provided, in effect, an open door for the European Court of Justice, and, perhaps, the Commission behind it, to change our domestic law and thereby extend European competence and powers. We were not prepared to accept that. That is why, to stop it happening, we negotiated a strong horizontal clause in the charter, together with several other blocking mechanisms, including a reference to the commentary in the treaty—an important point to which the ECJ will have to pay due regard. After the final IGC negotiations, which my right hon. Friend will lead, we shall see whether we can accept the proposal.
When the Opposition spokesman, Mr. Spring, was winding up, he said that there is no gap between the Convention and the IGC; there is no room for manoeuvre—I hope that I am right in saying that. Can my right hon. Friend make it clear that Parliament can have a view on this matter and that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is making provision for that? I hope that he and his colleagues will take notice of what the House has to say. I hope, too, that it will not be a case of the Conservatives taking their ball away if they cannot have their referendum. Later in his remarks, can my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House elaborate on the form that the pre-legislative scrutiny might take?
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has already given the commitment that we will ensure that the House is fully involved. My hon. Friend Mr. Allen has made some valid proposals and we want to consider them carefully. The IGC process will take about nine months, so there will be plenty of opportunities to debate the matter. The Foreign Secretary constantly makes himself accountable to the House; he is one of the most accountable Cabinet Ministers because he is a strong believer in House of Commons accountability.
The right hon. Gentleman, with his characteristic diffidence and charm, has been telling everyone what they should think and how brilliantly the Government have done. When the treaty is finally debated in the House, I may well even be on his side, but why is he afraid of putting it to the country? He is only afraid because he thinks he might lose. Will he, as the Leader of the House, give me a categorical answer to a question that he is equipped to answer? Will he give us an absolute guarantee not only that the treaty will be debated in its entirety on the Floor of the House, but that no guillotine will be imposed on it and, bearing in mind that so many of his own hon. Friends want a referendum, that there will be a free vote?
I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman a guarantee that the treaty will be debated on the Floor of the House, as has been the case with all previous treaties. If he is saying that we should not have a programme motion in the normal fashion to take the debate through, I am afraid that I have to disappoint him.
In arguing that we should not have a referendum, the right hon. Gentleman ignored the fact that not only Conservative Members, but Members representing Northern Ireland and Scotland, Liberal Democrat Members and many Labour Members, including those who take different views about political integration—I include the distinguished comments of Mr. Allen and Mr. Field—all think that we should have a referendum. Indeed, they believe, in the words of his hon. Friends' splendid amendment to the motion, that
"the European Constitution must receive the endorsement of the people to be legitimate and binding".
The Conservatives never had a referendum on anything—not on Europe, not on anything. Only Labour Governments have held referendums—in 1975, on whether we should be in Europe—and we will hold a referendum on the euro if we decide that it is in Britain's interests to enter.
I want to make some progress. The big picture is that Europe needs reform. As my hon. Friend Mr. Tynan said, it has outgrown institutional structures, designed for six countries in the 1950s. There are 15 countries today and there will be 25 next year, with more to follow. That enlargement is a fantastic achievement, reunifying a Europe bitterly divided by the cold war and extending our zone of peace and security from 370 million people to 560 million. It will create the largest and richest single market in the advanced world—larger than the world's two biggest economies, America and Japan, combined—producing more opportunities for Britain: more trade, more jobs and more prosperity. It will also produce a safer, cleaner and better world for British citizens. That is the prize, but to win the prize we must will the means.
Europe must modernise. It must be more democratic; it must be more efficient; and it must deliver more for its citizens: more and better jobs, a better quality of life, more stability and security, cleaner air and water, and safer food. So under our Government, Britain is engaged enthusiastically in the Convention process, to shape our kind of Europe—a Europe that is a union of nation states, not a federal superstate—and we won the argument hands down.
Why else were the federalists so unhappy with the outcome? Why else did almost every European commentator, from Le Monde to El Pais, report a good outcome for Britain? The French radio station, RTL, lamented the shaping of "a great British Europe". The Belgian newspaper, De Standaard, commented:
"almost nobody seems to be happy with the new constitution apart from Tony Blair".
The Convention's work was "an extraordinary disappointment" to leading German federalist MEP Elmar Brok.
The right hon. Member for Devizes cited President Prodi as part of his case on the European constitution. The president is another leading federalist, and what did he say? He said that the new constitutional treaty is
"in some respects a step backwards."
It is a funny old world when the only others who have joined the federalists in denouncing the outcome are the Tory Eurosceptics and their friends in the British media, but then they were denouncing the outcome months before they knew what the outcome would be—telling plain porkies and frightening people about the end of British civilisation, because they want Britain isolated and out of Europe.
The truth is that Britain always has been a leading European power, and it stands proudly as one today. Under our Government, we are not isolated, whinging on the fringe. We stand up for Britain's national interests by engaging positively, fighting our corner and shaping the new Europe. Unlike those desperate times when the Tories were in power, the Government have been confident in Europe, confident in our influence, confident in our arguments and confident of winning a good result for Britain.
When the official Tory representative on the Convention, Mr. Heathcoat-Amory, submitted his alternate Tory vision, he could find only six other Convention members prepared to sign up to it. [Hon. Members: "So what?"] Six out of 204 delegates. Those, like him, who do not want the new constitutional treaty genuinely do not want Britain to be in Europe. He has made it clear that their alternatives are renegotiation or associate membership, but they are vague and ill thought out. Their alternatives effectively represent a ticket out of the EU. They want to reduce Britain to second-class status in Europe.
I think that Britain deserves first-class status. Just as new countries queue up to join, the Tories and the sceptics want Britain to leave. That is madness—and here is one of the maddest.
There is no way that the constitution is the same as the Maastricht treaty. By the way, the hon. Gentleman voted for a referendum on the Maastricht treaty. The right hon. Member for Devizes voted against a referendum, because the Tory Government denied the people of Britain a referendum on the euro, which came through the Maastricht treaty.
The madness is also based on Tory porkies and Tory myths. Every time we knock down one myth, they produce another. Look at what the Tories and their tabloid allies have said when fulminating against the draft constitutional treaty in these past few months. They have said that we will give up our veto on tax. We have not, and we will not. They have said that we will have an army run from Brussels. We will not. They have said that we will pick up the bill for Europe's pension black hole. We will not. They have said that we will lose control of our own borders. We will not. They have said that we will be bound to obey a European foreign policy unreservedly. We will not.
The Tories and their tabloid allies say that the EU will take our seat at the UN. It will not. They say that British citizens will be sent to prison by EU judges. They will not. They say that we will all be forced to be European citizens. We already are European citizens. The Tories agreed to that in the Maastricht treaty, and a good thing too—it gives Britons travelling elsewhere in Europe rights because they are EU citizens. They say that European law will have primacy over national law. Shock, horror, sell-out, betrayal! That has been the case since 1957, under successive treaties endorsed by Tory Governments. They say that the EU will steal our North sea oil. Of course it will not. They also say that the new constitution is a
"blueprint for a Brussels tyranny" and the
"end of a thousand years of history".
It is not.
What is this constitutional treaty really about? It is a simple and clear statement about what Europe is for; its aims and objectives; the rights of its citizens; and the powers and responsibilities of its institutions, which take forward the policies agreed by its member states. It will ensure that, after enlargement, the EU is more efficient, more effective and better able to tackle the issues that no country can solve alone, such as asylum, the environment and economic reform. It offers the prospect of stability in the way that Europe works.
Contrary to all that Tory and tabloid nonsense, the constitutional treaty will deliver a more democratic Europe, and it makes it clear in its very first article that the Union has only the powers that the member states give it. Let the House dismiss all that Tory prejudice and paranoia that Europe is about fiendish foreigners doing us over. We are confident that in the intergovernmental conference we will get a good result that makes the new Europe better and stronger: a new Europe in which the Government intend Britain to be a strong leader, not a weak whinger. I commend the motion to the House.
Question accordingly agreed to.
That this House believes that the draft Constitutional Treaty produced by the Convention on the Future of Europe is a good basis for starting in the Intergovernmental Conference; agrees that the procedures of an enlarged European Union require reform, and welcomes the commitment of the Convention to a Union which respects the national identities of its Member States and which has only those powers explicitly conferred on it by them; congratulates the UK parliamentary, government and European Parliament representatives on the Convention for their contributions, and notes the valuable work of the relevant parliamentary committees of both Houses; notes the Government's decision to table as a Command Paper Parts I, II and IV; recalls that decisions on what is included in any forthcoming Treaty will be made by unanimity by the elected governments of all EU member states; and reaffirms Parliament's role in scrutinising and approving legislation required to give effect to any future Treaty's provisions.