EU Constitution Referendum

– in the House of Commons at 4:00 pm on 30th March 2004.

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Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means) 4:00 pm, 30th March 2004

We now come to the next debate on the Opposition motions. Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment standing in the name of the Prime Minister.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary 4:16 pm, 30th March 2004

I beg to move,

That this House
believes that the draft European Constitution constitutes a fundamental change to the relationship between the European Union and the Member States and should only be ratified if the British people have freely consented to it in a referendum.

I wish to apologise at this stage because, for personal reasons that I have explained to Ministers and to the Liberal Democrat spokesman, I will have to leave during the course of the debate and I will not be present for the wind-ups. However, I make no apology for once again initiating a debate on the draft constitution and the need for a referendum. This is a vital issue—

Photo of Mr Alan Howarth Mr Alan Howarth Labour, Newport East

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to develop my theme a little, I will give way to him in due course.

The Leader of the House may in the past have belittled the constitution as a tidying up measure. It has always been considerably more than that. That is why the failure to agree it in Brussels in December was greeted with such anger and frustration by Europe's arch-integrationists. Now it is back. I am not surprised: I know how much it means to those in Europe who seek a single European state and who were never going to let it rest. I watched with some amusement the attempts of the Government to pretend that it was off the agenda and was likely to be so for some time. That was always a typical new Labour smokescreen, behind which this coyly integrationist Government could seek to ensure that this integrationist constitution would come back with a vengeance, and with as little time to oppose it as possible.

Last Friday ended what must be the most bizarre set of gyrations and about-turns performed by a Government on a major issue for a very long time. It is worth recalling the sequence of events. In 1999, the then Foreign Secretary, Mr. Cook, told the House:

"For the record, we are not proposing a constitution of Europe."—[Hansard, 25 May 1999; Vol. 332, c. 184.]

The Prime Minister, in Warsaw in October 2000, told us that a constitution was "unnecessary". In Cardiff, in November 2002, the Prime Minister told us that

"we do need a proper Constitution for Europe."

Yesterday, according to the Prime Minister, it was apparently anti-European to be against a constitution. Even chameleons do not change their colours that quickly. But this is the party and the Prime Minister who, in 1983, stood on the platform of withdrawal from Europe. Whatever the reasons for the U-turns, high principle certainly is not one of them.

Let us consider the past four months. The constitution that the Prime Minister told us last summer was "essential" for enlargement of the EU was suddenly no longer essential in December. We were told that we could get by with the Nice treaty. A "senior Government source", later unmasked as the Foreign Secretary, remarked last November that a constitution would be "highly desirable" but not "absolutely necessary".

Furthermore, if we are to believe the article on page 21 of the Financial Times today, after the failure to achieve agreement on the constitution in Brussels last December, the Foreign Secretary sent a memo to the Prime Minister advising him to do nothing to revive it. That is until last Friday, when suddenly the newly revived constitution was apparently once more essential for enlargement to work. A lawyer or accountant giving such confused advice would quickly be sued for professional negligence.

Photo of Mr Alan Howarth Mr Alan Howarth Labour, Newport East

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is asking for rigour in these matters, so, given that the draft constitution is only a recommendation to the intergovernmental conference and that that conference has not yet made its recommendations to the legislatures of the member states, how can he know at this stage that the issues for decision would be worth a referendum? Is he not simply whipping up anti-European sentiment to exploit it for party political purposes?

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

The right hon. Gentleman has been in politics for a very long time and he can read the runes as well as I can. Does he really believe that the Irish presidency would have announced that it would return to the constitution without being pretty well assured that everything was signed, sealed and delivered? I think that there will be very few changes, but it will be interesting to see what happens on 18 June—when in this country we shall of course be celebrating the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Labour, Birkenhead

Is not the worry that the constitution is not already signed and sealed, and that the Irish Prime Minister is telling the truth when he says that it is still to be agreed and that further compromises are necessary? It is in those circumstances that it is so important to put the constitution to the people of this country. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that if that were the Government's position we would not need this debate?

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

That would certainly be the case but, unfortunately, that is not where we are. In politics, I am a great believer in starting from where we find ourselves, but I agree that the position outlined by the right hon. Gentleman would have been preferable.

Some changes have to be made in the positions that were held in December. For instance, we know that the Spanish and the Polish Governments will have to move from their former position on weighted voting, but all the indications are that both have decided to do so. I may be anticipating the final outcome, but I suspect that I shall be right in my judgment that the constitution will be much as it is now.

The only explanation for the twisting and turning of the past months is that the Prime Minister, in his much-vaunted determination never to be isolated in Europe, is fulfilling that ambition by simply going with the flow—always accepting the position in which the constitution happens to be at a particular time. I have tried hard to understand the Government's position. I have listened closely to the Prime Minister. I quote again from the speech he made in Cardiff on 28 November 2002, when he talked of a

"one-off opportunity for reform: to set Europe on a clear course for the future, a Europe that . . . can be a superpower".

In January 2002, according to the Leader of the House, the Prime Minister told his colleagues that the constitution

"will define the relationship between Britain and the rest of Europe . . . and it would last for generations".

In June last year, the Prime Minister suddenly told Parliament that the constitution

"does not involve a fundamental change to the British constitution."—[Hansard, 18 June 2003; Vol. 407, c. 352.]

From that series of remarks, one can pick whichever position one wants. They do not give us much confidence that the Prime Minister has a clear view of what the constitution stands for.

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour/Co-operative, Preston

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment, but I want to make some progress.

I have also been listening to the Leader of the House; after all, he was the Minister for Europe for a considerable period. On 21 March 2002, he told the Convention on the Future of Europe that he was looking for

"nothing less than the creation of a new constitutional order for a new united Europe".

That is very different language from that of the Prime Minister in the remarks I just quoted. Of course, the Leader of the House is the same man who, on 26 May last year, described the constitution as a "tidying-up exercise". Once again, on the Government's position, "you pays your money and you takes your choice". Either the Government, jointly and severally, have no idea what the constitution is about, or they are deliberately trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the British people and of Parliament.

What we can be clear about is that there is no such ambivalence or confusion across the channel. Our partners in Europe know what the constitution is about. The accession countries have their doubts, as I have discovered on recent visits, but they will be reluctant to push those doubts too far until they are full members. Traditional integrationist Europe—the Europe of Chancellor Schröder and Giscard d'Estaing—has no such doubts. The constitution is federalist, integrationist and, in their minds, urgent. The Belgian Prime Minister referred to it as the "capstone" of a "federal state". On 14 June last year, Joschka Fischer, the German Foreign Minister, described it as "worthy of the word historic" and as

"the most important treaty since the formation of the European economic community."

Last May, the Danish Prime Minister said:

"What is at stake is so new and big that it is right to hold a referendum."

Former Italian Prime Minister, Lamberto Dini, said:

"The constitution is not just an intellectual exercise. It will quickly change people's lives".

So why is it that our Government are so alone in arguing that the constitution is not significant? It can only be because their agenda is to try to get us into an integrationist Europe, effectively without anyone noticing. That is why, when they are challenged, as the Prime Minister was by my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition yesterday, they retreat into spurious and polarising arguments about the choice being not between the constitution and other solutions to the problems of Europe, but between being in Europe or getting out. That is a fraudulent argument, designed to divert attention from the Europe that they really want.

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour/Co-operative, Preston

I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way, but does he not agree that, even though enlargement could go ahead on the basis of the Nice treaty, the EU will have 25 member states and a multiplicity of texts will make up the treaties, so it is simpler to shrink those texts into a constitution and add a little bit as well, which is effectively what the constitution will do?

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

None of us argues that Nice alone is the perfect way to manage a Europe of 25 states, but I am absolutely certain that a full-blown constitution is not needed to do that. That is the point that we are making, and I shall come to it in a moment.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

Before we leave the right hon. and learned Gentleman's view of history, will he forgive me for finding it a little difficult to take? Does he recollect that he was the Conservative candidate against me in West Lothian in February 1974? I have the clear recollection—I do not think that I am wrong—that he was not a whit behind Edward Heath in being ardent for Europe.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

I hate to quibble with the hon. Gentleman's memory, but rather than February 1974, when I was fighting in East Lothian, I fought him in June 1970, when the situation was somewhat different. Indeed, I was one of a number of failed candidates who, having lost the election, wrote a letter to a national newspaper calling for a free vote on the accession Bill in 1972. That perhaps underlines the position that I took then and what my view is.

Unlike the Government, my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition set out his alternative European vision in a speech that he gave in Berlin on 13 February. He spoke of a flexible Europe—a live and let live Europe that is more co-operative and less prescriptive, more varied and less conformist, based on a completed single market, working together in areas where joint action is beneficial, but able, without tension, to differ where necessary. He spoke of a Europe where the sovereignty of the nation state is the foundation. That is not the Europe of the constitution. Ours is an alternative vision of Europe that we believe is more attuned to the challenges of an increasingly globalised 21st century.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee), Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the real choice for an enlarged Europe is whether to have a new constitutional treaty or to continue with the existing constitutional treaties? As it appears unlikely that, by the next election, all 25 member states will have ratified whatever treaty is eventually agreed, will he confirm that the pressure for negotiation only extends to any new treaty and that any Conservative Government would not try to reopen the existing treaties on which we function at the moment—all of which have been negotiated by Conservative Governments of which he and I were members or supporters?

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

My right hon. and learned Friend—[Interruption.] Labour Members obviously have difficulty hearing.

My right hon. and learned Friend asks an important question. We have always said—and we say again—that had we been in government now, we would have used the period of the negotiation and renegotiation, which has been part of what the convention has been doing for the past two years, to make changes to the existing treaties. For example, we have made it clear for some time that we are not happy with the common fisheries policy; we believe that it is destroying the fishing industry in this country. Had we been the Government, we would have made that part of what we were negotiating in the course of the run-up to where we are now. If there is not a ratified and implemented treaty by the time we get back to government, Europe as a whole will have to look to see what it is going to do in future.

One veto prevents the treaty from happening at all. If that happens, we will, of course, have renegotiation just as this Government have renegotiated every time—[Hon. Members: "Answer."] I have given the answer.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee), Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee)

Let us leave aside the fisheries policy on which our party has had the same policy ever since it went into opposition. If we say that the other member states were not persuaded that we should leave the common fisheries policy and one or two of them vetoed that, what would we then do? Presumably we would continue with the existing treaties.

My right hon. and learned Friend mentions the common fisheries policy and I am familiar with our position on that. I trust that the fish understand it as well as the fishermen. However, what other things would we negotiate in the existing treaties? Do we intend to open up anything from the treaty of accession, the treaty of Maastricht or the treaty of Nice? What are the other things that we would be seeking to negotiate?

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

My right hon. and learned Friend is, I have to say, asking speculative questions. The point is that—and it is a very clear point—if, by the time we get back to government after the next election, this treaty has not been ratified by every country in Europe and if we refuse to ratify it, as we would, there will be no treaty. We will then have to look at the current position and the existing treaties and will have to decide what can be kept and what cannot be kept in view of the enlargement of Europe. A whole area of renegotiation will be required. What we have been looking for all along is a simplification of the process in Europe and a simplification of the competences in Europe so that, at the end of the day, it is easier for the people of Europe to understand. I know where my right hon. and learned Friend is coming from, but he is not helping his cause by trying to open questions about the veto.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

My right hon. and hon. Friends should remember that the Conservative party opposed the Nice treaty and the treaty of Amsterdam, which were negotiated badly by the Labour Government. We object very strongly to this constitution and those treaties for transferring many powers too far from our democratic rights in this country. My right hon. and learned Friend has my full support and that of most Conservative Members in making these points.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for making that clear. I also remind my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke that, at Laeken, the remit given to the convention was to try to simplify the process by which an enlarged Europe would be run and also to reconnect the European institutions with the people of Europe, who are being increasingly alienated from them. That, in itself, was looking for a renegotiation of the way that Europe is run. If we have not got a treaty as I hope that we have not when we return to power after the next election, that is precisely what we shall be returning to.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee), Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee)

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend. I am intervening frequently and he is being extremely generous.

If we find we have the existing treaty, if we press points of renegotiation, and, presumably, if any one of the other 24 members does not agree with the points that we are making, it will veto them and we will be left with the existing treaty. What would we do if our negotiating points were blocked and we were not able to get unanimous agreement to reopen the treaty of accession, the treaty of Maastricht, the treaty of Amsterdam or the treaty of Nice that comprise the present constitution of the Union? What would we do if any one of the 24 blocked any particular change that we were seeking?

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

I do not know how my right hon. and learned Friend conducts negotiations, but I always go into them intending to try to achieve what I seek to achieve. When Lady Thatcher was Prime Minister she was told frequently that she was never going to achieve the rebate by negotiation. She went in determined to achieve it and negotiated brilliantly, as my right hon. and learned Friend remembers, and she achieved what she sought. That is the spirit in which we would enter renegotiations if such a situation arose.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

May I make a little progress?

Last Friday, the Prime Minister called for a real debate to dispel what he called the myths. If his call were genuine, he would abandon the myth that we are seeking withdrawal. He knows that that is not true, and when he returned to the point yesterday, he diminished the value of the debate that he wants. He should also abandon the myths that he is not an integrationist and that the constitution is not the gateway to a single European state.

Let us consider briefly the constitution. It is no mere charter of competencies of the sort with which we would have been happy, as I said to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe. It does not just define lines and levels of authority, but sets out an agenda: the creation of a political entity that would soon become a single European state. It is a constitution, and states have constitutions. We oppose a single European state, so we oppose a constitution.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

Golf clubs have them.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

If the Foreign Secretary thinks that we are talking about a golf club with regard to the constitution, he should study it more carefully.

The constitution would create a single legal personality for Europe for the first time. A single legal personality is the hallmark of a state. For the first time, it will constitutionally assert the authority of European law over all national laws and constitutions. Totally contrary to the Government's pledged position, the constitution will incorporate the charter of fundamental rights, give that legal status and make it legally binding. Through the constitution, contrary to pledges made in Britain, the Government have agreed to a separate European military planning capability that will undermine NATO. It creates a five-year presidency and a Foreign Minister with his own diplomatic service—it is called an external action service to lessen the impact of that—that will increasingly move powers on asylum and immigration policy to the European Union. The constitution will abolish more than 30 national vetoes, and anyone who says that it is not a centralising and integrationist measure has not studied its details.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Shadow Spokesperson (Women), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Just to spare me from endless sleepless nights, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman clear up one little query that I have had for a considerable time after listening to Conservative Members debating the constitution? I am sure that he knows that the principle of the supremacy of Community law was established in—I think—1962.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Shadow Spokesperson (Women), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

It was 1964—I thank the hon. Gentleman, who always keeps me right. The principle was established in the landmark decision on Costa v. ENEL in 1964. The principle of the supremacy of Community law was well known to the Tory Government who took this country into Europe. This country's courts have applied and given supremacy to Community law for 30 years, so what is the big issue about it appearing in the constitution?

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

The simple answer to the hon. Lady's important question is that up until now, the primacy or supremacy of European law over national laws has flowed from treaties that were agreed by nations and could be changed by nations. We are talking about the creation of a constitution from which such authority will flow down. That is a different animal from the previous situation. We emphasise the point because we are talking about a changed animal—it moves from being a Europe of nations to something much closer to being a nation of Europe.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

In endorsing what my right hon. and learned Friend has said, does he accept that only a few days ago, the House of Lords European Union Committee issued a report that made it quite clear that the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary are wrong to state repeatedly that there will be no fundamental change to the relationship between the European Union and its member states? In fact, the House of Lords Committee says that there is a new arrangement for competencies. It was completely wrong of the Foreign Secretary to continue to assert that outrageous statement in Foreign Office questions today.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He has spent much time studying the technicalities, and I bow to his knowledge of them.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

I shall give way in a moment.

We are considering whether the constitution is a fundamental change in the relationships between the EU and its member states. That was the test for a referendum set by the Prime Minister. My argument is that when all the various points that I have outlined are added together, it is clear that the relationship and the direction of power are changing. That is why we are pressing so hard for a referendum.

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

It is important to have on the record that paragraph 25 of the House of Lords report states:

"The new wording of the primary obligation of the Court would be unlikely to bring about any change in the Court's role and approach in ensuring compliance with and the consistent application of Union law."

In other words, it underlines the very point made by Lady Hermon.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

Once again, as he so often does, the Minister for Europe has completely missed the point.

The constitution not only makes the changes that I have described, but sets out wider aspirations for the future. It does so in terms that leave little room for misunderstanding. On the economy, article I-14 states:

"The Union shall adopt measures to ensure coordination of the economic policies of the Member States, in particular by adopting broad guidelines for these policies. The Member States shall coordinate their economic policies within the Union."

Let me ask the Foreign Secretary how that general aspiration will work in the long term without tax harmonisation, and is that article as it stands in the constitution acceptable to the Government?

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. Having told me that there is to be no change, he will apparently be seeking change. Perhaps he will enlighten us.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

The wording of articles I-11 and I-14 is unacceptable. We have proposed amendments to change the wording so that it becomes consistent with the articles in part III—69 or 70, or thereabouts—and makes it clear that it is the role of member states, not of the Union, to co-ordinate their economic policies. We made that position clear as long ago as September last year in the White Paper.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for clearing up the question whether that remains the Government's position. May I ask him another question? Article I-15, on foreign and security policy, states:

"Member States shall actively and unreservedly support the Union's common foreign and security policy in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity and shall comply with the acts adopted by the Union in this area."

What does that mean in the long term if not a single foreign and security policy, subject—as it would be, if the constitution goes through as it is now—to the European Court of Justice? Is that acceptable to the Government?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

First, the current draft makes it absolutely clear that it will not be subject to the European Court of Justice. Secondly, if the right hon. Gentleman wants to know what the words mean, he should ask himself. They are identical to those found in the Maastricht treaty, for which he voted.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

I am asking the Government, who are, as I understand it, negotiating the treaty, what their view of its meaning is. Apparently, Ministers have no view other than the one held by Opposition Front Benchers. The House has a right to know what the Government envisage will be the outturn of such articles, if they sign up to them.

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory Conservative, Wells

My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. I hope that he picks up the mistake that the Foreign Secretary just made. The right hon. Gentleman asserted that the European Court of Justice will not have jurisdiction over article I-15. In fact, the relevant article, III-282, makes it clear that the Court has no jurisdiction only in respect of articles I-39 and I-40. Therefore, article I-15—the solidarity clause that imposes an obligation on member states—will be justiciable in the European Court of Justice. That clearly contradicts what we have just been told by the Foreign Secretary, who ought by now to have read the draft treaty that he is about to negotiate.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. The answers that I am trying to secure are coming from my right hon. and hon. Friends, not from the Government. That goes back to what I was saying earlier. The Government do not understand what this constitution is about and what they are trying to get the UK to sign up for. This is a one-way ticket on a line to a single destination. It can be called a step change or a gateway, but it cannot be called insignificant. It shifts sovereignty away from the nation states towards the centre, and in doing so it changes the relationships. I happen to believe that that is dangerous and wrong.

We are constantly being told by those on the Government Front Bench that we are alone in our views. However, what about the peoples of Europe? How many of them are straining at the leash for this constitution? How many of them raised their voices in resentment or concern when agreement on the constitution was not reached in December? How many demonstrations have there ever been? We must remember that the whole idea of the constitutional convention was to try to bring Europe closer to the people. It is time that Governments began to listen more closely to what their people are telling them.

Photo of Tony Cunningham Tony Cunningham Labour, Workington

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

No. I shall make some progress.

Indeed, that was what Laeken was supposed to be about. The task was to reconnect institutions to people, to give them a sense of ownership again. Under Valery Giscard d'Estaing, it did precisely the opposite. Within the constitution it centralised powers, it altered fundamentally the relationship between the EU and its member states, and it moved from a Europe of nations towards something that is profoundly different. That is not what the peoples of Europe want, as we saw from the recent survey, nor what we want.

It is apparently what the Government want. If not, why the rush to seek to ratify any June agreement as soon as possible, which I think were the words of the Prime Minister? They have no mandate for this constitution. It was not in the Labour party's manifesto. We will use every parliamentary device to thwart attempts to railroad this wretched constitution through Parliament.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has moved on rather from the point. I am finding great difficulty following his position with regard to the relationship between the domestic laws of the United Kingdom and what was Community and is now Union law. If Community and now Union law has supremacy over the domestic laws of the UK so far as is relevant, how can there be any material difference if that matter is now stated ex facie over the proposed treaty, as compared with the circumstances that have obtained since 1972?

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

I know exactly where the right hon. and learned Gentleman is coming from. He has been very consistent on his views on Europe. The misunderstanding between us is that we are opposed to a constitution because a constitution changes the nature of Europe. The primacy of law that flows from a constitution rather than from treaties, which are signed by individual member states, is a different thing. That is why we are taking the view that we are.

Photo of Richard Younger-Ross Richard Younger-Ross Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Local Government & the Regions

A moment ago the right hon. Gentleman told the House that the Conservative party wants to use every parliamentary opportunity to hold this process under scrutiny. Is this a change in policy, bearing in mind the number of times that the Committee considering the draft constitution fell and would be inquorate because Conservative Members did not bother to turn up?

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

I will say again that if there is an attempt, in our view, to railroad the ratification of this constitution through Parliament—some of the words that have been spoken over the past five days suggest that that is the Government's intention—I give warning that we will use every parliamentary device that we can to thwart that.

There is a simple, fair and democratic answer. That is a referendum that allows the British people to decide. This constitution irrevocably draws sovereignty away from the nation state towards the centre. I passionately believe that no Government and no parliament have the right permanently to alienate the sovereignty of the people without their express consent. That is why I believe that in the current situation a referendum is essential, and that to refuse one is to strike another nail into the coffin of democratic credibility.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

I really must make progress.

I cannot understand the Government's reluctance to hold a referendum unless they are frightened of the result and are frightened of the electorate. They can have no objection in principle. They hold referendums on almost everything else. Can they not understand the resentment that their refusal to hold a referendum invokes? The British people are not to be trusted with such an important decision, we understand. The Danes are, the Irish are, the Dutch are and the Portuguese are. There will be many other countries that will have the courage and honesty to hold a referendum. Apparently the British will not be trusted. That is a patronising insult.

If ever there has been an issue where the people have the right to say yes or no, it must be this. The decisions that we are about to take are historic. They will help to shape the future and surely people in such an instance have the right to have a say.

The coming European elections, despite the wild assertions of the Leader of the House last August, are no surrogate for a referendum, but I hope that the voters will use them to give the Government the clearest possible message that they want a referendum and that they will not be ignored. The Government should, for once, show some moral fibre, trust the people and let the people decide.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary 4:50 pm, 30th March 2004

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

"welcomes the intensified scrutiny of both Houses in respect of the draft Constitutional Treaty;
believes that the Government's policy of active engagement within the EU is in Britain's national interests;
supports its constructive approach to discussions within the Intergovernmental Conference to ensure that an enlarged Union works effectively;
endorses paragraph 66 of the White Paper (Cm 5934) in respect of issues which must remain the province of the nation state;
notes that provided there is a satisfactory outcome on these and other matters of concern, the proposals currently being discussed would not alter the fundamental constitutional relationship between the member states and the Union and therefore does not believe there is reason to depart from previous practice for constitutional treaties;
and reaffirms the primacy of Parliament to decide on whether any future Constitutional Treaty should become part of UK law."

I begin by warmly thanking the shadow Foreign Secretary for laying on the debate, which has exposed so acutely the fundamental divisions inside the Conservative party on the European Union and the incoherence of the case that he makes.

The Government's overall position on the new draft constitutional treaty was clearly set out in the White Paper, which I put before Parliament on 9 September last year and which stands as Government policy. In making the case for the proposed amendment to the motion before the House, I want to answer four key questions. They are: why is a new treaty needed? What did the Convention recommend? What changes are the Government seeking to make to any treaty to make it acceptable to the UK? What is our approach to a referendum in those circumstances?

I shall deal first with the case for a new treaty. As the Union has grown in size, so its functions have developed—most significantly through the Single European Act, from a customs union to a single market, and through the Maastricht treaty, to take in common foreign and security policy, justice and home affairs, and the single currency. As a result, the texts setting out what the Union is for and how it works are both dated and complicated. Its decision-making machinery is inadequate to cope effectively with 25 and more members, developed as it was for six member states. The treaties that embody the EU's constitution do not explain clearly where the division of powers rests between the nations and the Union.

The result of the Convention's labours is to be found in the draft constitution, which I put before the House in August. It revises some of the text, and proposes other changes that are essentially aimed at improving decision making in the Union and in respect of some of its powers. Article I-1 of the draft makes it clear that the EU draws those powers from the member states, rather than the other way round. Article I-9 says clearly that

"competences not conferred upon the Union. . .remain with the Member States".

That is the first time that such a clear statement has been made.

Article I-59 provides explicitly—also for the first time—for member states to withdraw from the European Union, if they so decide. It is not the case, as Mr. Ancram asserted a few moments ago, that if the draft constitutional treaty becomes our law and that of the EU, it will be any different a constitutional animal in terms of international or domestic law from the treaties that have gone before. It is exactly the same in every particular.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I shall make some progress; then I shall give way, as ever, to the hon. Gentleman.

The draft treaty must be agreed in the same way by a process of political agreement, signature by member states, and then ratification by countries' domestic constitutional procedures. It must be changed in exactly the same way, with this difference: if a member state wishes to leave the EU—as some Opposition Members wish to do—a procedure allows them to avoid having to go through the rather complicated and uncertain procedure of renunciation of the whole treaty.

We set out in the White Paper our objectives for the intergovernmental conference. Far from trying to hide our position under some bushel, we have been explicit in debate after debate in the Chamber and in the Committees that we have established, in order that Parliament be fully involved in the process, as it should be.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

In a moment.

We stated at paragraph 66 of the White Paper that we would not sign any treaty that removed the veto for treaty change or for

"areas of vital national interest such as tax, social security, defence, key areas of criminal procedural law and the system of own resources".

In the 10 weeks of the intergovernmental conference process between October and December last year, we sought, and obtained, many important changes to the draft text—I moved the amendments and got them accepted. We have made it absolutely clear that the so-called European Foreign Minister remains responsible to member states through the Council of Ministers, and is not responsible to the Commission. We reached an agreement on defence co-operation, which will give the EU the capacity to intervene militarily—which I thought would be welcomed on both sides of the House—but only in a way that complements NATO, which remains the cornerstone of our territorial defence.

Among the other changes that we have made, we have altered the so-called escalator clause, which was of genuine concern, by ensuring that further treaty changes can happen only if all national Parliaments, as well as member state Governments, explicitly agree to them. The escalator clause was unacceptable.

The issue should be of particular interest to the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes. Last October, he was interviewed on "Today", and he spelled out in his usual modest and understated way how the Government were about to sell out 1,000 years of history. It was put to him that the Government were successfully winning the arguments in the intergovernmental conference on the key areas, to which he said:

"Well, let's test that. Are they"— the Government—

"going to get rid of the so-called escalator clause . . . which means that in the future the vetoes can be changed by decision of the Council of Ministers without reference back to Treaties or to national Parliaments . . . If that escalator clause stays in they're whistling in the wind and they know it."

Well, we have passed the right hon. and learned Gentleman's test because we got the escalator clause changed. The draft agreement proposed at Naples satisfactorily changed that part of the treaty, in a manner that I proposed. We will not sign up to any final treaty unless that change, and a number of others, are in it.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

On the question of which court should have the final say on whether a matter is within the competence of the Union, the Foreign Secretary will know that the House of Lords European Union Committee report—I am sure that he has read it—states explicitly:

"What is new is the classification and division of competences set out in . . . the draft Treaty. The critical question is which court . . . will finally decide whether a matter falls within Union competence. This is not just a drafting question . . . but an issue touching upon the fundamental nature of the Union and its relationship with the Member States."

In line with the Foreign Secretary's assertion that this Parliament is supreme—at last he agrees with me—is not the only answer to introduce a Bill to put the matter beyond all doubt, so that, if Parliament decides that they should do so, our judges will bring into effect any provision that is expressly, clearly and unambiguously inconsistent with the European Communities Act 1972?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I agree with the hon. Gentleman every time he makes that proposition. We could have a Bill to that effect tomorrow, and no one could prevent us from passing it if it were the will of this House and of the House of Lords. However, all our actions have consequences, and although he could have such a Bill, he could not be a member of the European Union as it is constituted, and he could not be a member of the European Union as it would be constituted under any future constitutional treaty.

I have addressed the issue of primacy with great care because a number of Government and Opposition Members have raised it as a matter of concern. The purpose of the high level of scrutiny that the Government have established is to ensure that, when hon. Members on either side of the House raise issues that are worth pursuing, we pursue them. We did that on energy, for example, which the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, my right hon. Friend Jane Kennedy, first identified. That issue had not been identified before, concern was shared on both sides of the House, and we got the article changed satisfactorily.

EU law has had primacy over domestic law since the European Court of Justice decision in 1964. So far as the United Kingdom is concerned, EU law has had primacy over domestic law since we signed up through the 1972 Act. We have been round this track, and I will not bore the House again.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

No, I will not. I am answering the hon. Gentleman's question, and I ask him to listen, as I listen to him.

Section 2 of the 1972 Act makes absolutely explicit this Parliament's decision to recognise European law as supreme. That was a condition of our entry to the European Union. We could withdraw from that if we wanted—the hon. Gentleman could have his Bill—but we cannot have our cake and eat it. He should bear in mind that there will be many opportunities to examine the issue of primacy further. Our judgment in the Foreign Office, and that of the Council's legal adviser, is that article 1(10) and the declaration alongside it mean that the status of primacy will not be altered. I am happy to examine in detail the House of Lords report and the additional points made by the hon. Gentleman, and if we decide that we are wrong, I will be happy to pursue them.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich

Will my right hon. Friend clarify a matter that concerns me? If, in the course of demands for harmonisation, it was decided that the principle that the national health service should be free at the point of use was incompatible with health systems throughout the Community, which rely almost entirely on insurance-based schemes that are differently organised so that up-front payment is essential, would we be able to retain our system, or would we be told that it was incompatible owing to European law?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I very much doubt that that would ever happen. In any event, the issue of primacy is not affected by the draft treaty. Let me be clear, however, that if the European Court of Justice sought to do that, there would be a political crisis that would affect our membership of the European Union and be a matter for concern for all Members on both sides of the House.

The intergovernmental conference process was suspended last December because no agreement on the voting system was possible. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the House yesterday, we expect negotiations to resume shortly. Parliament has been involved in those negotiations to an unprecedented degree.

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party

The Foreign Secretary glossed over an important point. A few months ago, the Government were happy to see discussions at the intergovernmental conference run into the buffers. Now, they are very anxious to advance the issue. In the course of the past week or two, there has been a distinct change in the Government's approach. I would be grateful if the Foreign Secretary gave a detailed explanation for that, because in its absence many will conclude that it flows from events in Madrid a few weeks ago.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

There has been no change in the Government's approach. Had Spain, Poland, France and Germany been ready to reach an agreement on voting systems, it is highly probable that, by the end of the Italian presidency or very early on in the Irish presidency, we would have agreed on all the other outstanding issues, including those that were outstanding for the United Kingdom. That was impossible because of the total disagreement between those four nations. The position of two of those countries—Spain and Poland—has changed, and as a result the negotiations have opened up.

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party

The Foreign Secretary is identifying the changes in Poland that flowed from the changes in Spain—which changes were produced by what? We are left with the impression that this Government's policy and approach have changed as a result of the actions of al-Qaeda.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

Of course I understand the high sensitivity to terrorism in Northern Ireland. I have no wish to subscribe to the view that is current in some circles that the Madrid bombing caused the change of Government in Madrid. All I can say to the right hon. Gentleman is that we will never know exactly what led to the late change in voting intentions in Spain. There have been many other examples of voting intentions changing at a late stage of a campaign. However, Prime Minister Zapatero has said repeatedly that, as far as he is concerned, he won the election as a result of four years of campaigning, not because of the events of four days. The previous Spanish Government might have changed their position after the elections in any event. We simply do not know. To pick up a point that the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes made, we must deal with where we are. It is where we believed that we might be in November and December but happened not to be—namely, with the negotiations in hand.

Let me deal with the fourth question, which is about our approach to a referendum. The main case for a referendum is founded on the assertion that a constitution for the European Union will be such a decisive step towards a European superstate that it will end Britain's sovereignty. The right hon. and learned Member for Devizes came close to asserting that this afternoon. Yesterday's Daily Mail put matters in its customary way and stated:

"The constitution will destroy our power to govern ourselves".

It continued by saying that it would

"dismantle Britain as a functioning nation state".

That doom-laden hyperbole is so far removed from the facts that it is tempting to ignore it. However, we cannot do so because that systematic exaggeration of the threat to our nationhood has, over the years, set the framework for a national debate on Europe. So the answer to the question, "Will the draft European constitution end the sovereignty of the nation?" has to be: no. The House of Lords Select Committee on the European Union explicitly stated that

"the draft Treaty makes plain . . . that the European Union remains a union of sovereign Member States".

Its earlier report stated that

"it is clear that the balance of power in the European Union is going to shift from the Commission in favour of the Member States if the"

Convention's "proposals are adopted".

Of course, that does not stop some Conservative Members wilfully misinterpreting the draft treaty. Let us consider the example of the proposed president of the European Council. The right hon. and learned Member for Devizes said that that was further evidence of development into a nation state, ignoring that there is already a president of the European Commission and a president of the European Parliament. The constitution as drafted will ensure that the Union's agenda is better set by elected representatives of national Governments in the European Council. Instead of the manifest inefficiencies and inconsistencies of the rotating six-month presidency, the member states will choose a president of the European Council to chair their meetings and ensure that their decisions are followed up.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

No, it is not. It will ensure greater power in the hands of member states against the overbearing power of the Commission. I believed that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would be in favour of it. The president will have no decision-making power. It is striking that only two groups are against the proposal—the Conservative party and the European Commission. That underlines the incoherence of the Conservative party's position. The proposal means that member states will remove power from the Commission. The right hon. and learned Gentleman should consider its merits instead of dismissing it in the pursuit of a myth about a European superstate.

Another claim that the peddlers of the superstate myth make is that the draft treaty massively extends majority voting. Let us consider the reality. The Single European Act of 1986 introduced majority voting for almost all matters to do with the single market. As Lord Heseltine told radio listeners last Saturday, that measure was

"far and away more significant in the surrender"— his words, not mine—

"of British sovereignty than anything involved in the present constitution".

He added that "it never occurred to" Mrs. Thatcher "to have a referendum".

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor Conservative, Esher and Walton

The Foreign Secretary is right that the Single European Act was the most significant step forward. It was agreed under a Conservative Government and, incidentally, supported by my hon. Friend Mr. Cash, who voted for it. Before that Act was passed, was not it subject to scrutiny in the House of Commons? Is not that the best way in which to consider the detail of any constitutional treaty that might emerge after Dublin?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

Let me make it clear that I am committed to the maximum scrutiny for any constitutional treaty. I say to hon. Members who may be worried about that that they do not have to look into the crystal ball, because they can examine the record. I have been complimented by hon. Members of all parties on the amount of scrutiny of the draft that has already been achieved. I only regret that the shadow Foreign Secretary has not bothered to turn up to one sitting of the Committee that considers the intergovernmental conference report.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Will the Foreign Secretary acknowledge that many of us do not accept the doom-laden hyperbole, as he put it, and are sceptical of those fair-weather friends of referendums who allowed referendums on nothing while in government and now want referendums on everything in opposition? Nevertheless, we feel strongly that when there is a significant change to the relationship between the European Union and the people of this country, it should be with the informed consent of the people of this country, not simply through a vote in this House or in the Council of Ministers?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I respect the hon. Gentleman's position, as his and his party's position has been consistent, and it lies in his mouth, not in the mouth of the Conservative party.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Labour, Birkenhead

I am grateful that my right hon. Friend says that he believes in as much detailed discussion as possible. Can he tell us how many times the Cabinet has considered this draft treaty in detail? Was it a Cabinet decision that we should not have a referendum?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

We have considered it endlessly. The draft White Paper was crawled over by my right hon. Friends, on which I insisted, and I was responsible with officials for drafting it. I spent a large part of what was otherwise classified as a summer holiday working through its detailed text, as I regarded it as an extremely important document, and I also made sure that each of my Cabinet colleagues, who had responsibility for areas in it, knew exactly what they were signing up to. It has therefore been a Cabinet decision. I invite my right hon. Friend to come along—I cannot recall his assiduous attendance at various Committees and debates on the Floor of the House, but I look forward to it—to further considerations.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Labour, Birkenhead

On the issue of a referendum, was it a Cabinet decision?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

It has been a Cabinet decision, of course.

Let me make some more progress. After the Single European Act, we had Maastricht. The shadow Foreign Secretary always tries to forget about Maastricht, and we know why. The Maastricht treaty introduced majority voting to fundamental areas of policy making: the Union's broad guidelines on economic policy; its excessive deficits procedure; education; public health; consumer protection; trans-European networks; overseas aid; and the implementation of decisions within the common foreign and security policy. This was a treaty that John Major proclaimed as

"good . . . for Europe, and a good agreement for the United Kingdom."—[Hansard, 11 December 1991; Vol. 200, c. 862.]

The Leader of the Opposition and most of the existing shadow Cabinet, including the shadow Foreign Secretary, trooped into the Lobby in support of Maastricht, proclaiming it as a great triumph of European diplomacy. The shadow Foreign Secretary made a wonderful speech in favour of Maastricht—he did not just skulk into the Lobby following the Whip—in which he was even moved to say:

"I do not want to find myself in a country that is outside a European superstate, with our industries unable to penetrate it."—[Hansard, 4 November 1992; Vol. 213, c. 343.]

It is a complicated sentence, but essentially he was saying that on balance he was in favour of a superstate—which, let me say, I am not—rather than against it.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is adept at switching his position backwards and forwards. We have debated this issue a number of times. I recall—I am sure that he has forgotten—that back on 11 December 2002, I asked him to refresh the House's memory about whether he had voted on the Maastricht treaty itself and on the issue of a referendum? At column 307, I said:

"am I right in thinking that he voted against a referendum on Maastricht?"

The right hon. and learned Gentleman said:

"The Secretary of State might remember that I was out of the House at the time of the treaty."

That is very careful wording, because he may have been out of the House at the time of the treaty, but for sure he was in the House when it came to be considered. He was suffering from the most extraordinary amnesia, because I pressed him again and he said:

"I do not recall a vote on a referendum."—[Hansard, 11 December 2002; Vol. 396, c. 307.]

This was the key and critical issue facing the Conservative party, splitting it apart, and he could not remember whether he was in favour of or against a referendum, even though he had spoken against it.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

No. It is important that the right hon. and learned Gentleman learn a bit from this. Finally, when I produced the voting list, which has his name on it, he owned up and pleaded guilty to having voted against a referendum on Maastricht. By God, it was difficult to get him to own up to the truth. The truth is that he has always been a closet pro-European. The reason he is so unconvincing today is that neither his heart nor his brain is in the task that he is having to undertake.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

The Foreign Secretary has accused me of being a closet pro-European. I wonder what he is. Let us look at his election address—not from 1983, when we know he had to be loyal, but from 1979. We were told:

"Jack Straw was against Britain's entry to the Market and has campaigned ever since against its nonsenses."

Is that the Foreign Secretary's position today?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

No, but it was my position then. I have been very straightforward about this. Moreover, I do not suffer from amnesia. I am perfectly willing and ready, and always have been, to explain the position that I took. After all, it was entirely public. I was active in the no campaign in 1975.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman needs to think about the position into which he is trying to push the Conservative party. He was appalling, even by his own standards, when answering questions put by his right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke. What his right hon. and learned Friend was asking—and what will be asked right up to the election and throughout it—is, "What is the Conservative party's policy in respect of the European Union?"

We know what the Conservative party's policy is in respect of this draft treaty, but let us say that for some reason it did not become European law. That is perfectly possible, although I do not know what the odds are. Let us say that we were left with the existing treaties—the treaty of Rome, the Single European Act, Maastricht, Nice and Amsterdam. Would the Conservatives accept them or not? Most of what they are objecting to today is not in the new constitutional treaty. Most of the provisions to which they object so violently were negotiated by them in 1972.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman starts rabbiting on to me about the clause relating to mutual solidarity and loyalty. That is a lift from article 11 of the Maastricht treaty, which states:

"The Member States shall support the Union's external and security policy actively and unreservedly in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity."

The right hon. and learned Gentleman signed up to that. Is he going to tell the country that he will tear all that up? What process will he employ? How will he deliver on a promise that is easy to make but impossible to fulfil, on the common fisheries policy? He will certainly not deliver on it if he tears up this constitution. The right hon. and learned Gentleman does not have an answer to that.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

No, I want to make some progress.

I said that there were four questions, but there is a fifth, which defies adequate explanation. It concerns the position of the Conservative party. As we know, it is now led by Mr. Howard, his support for Maastricht notwithstanding. He is leading the party towards an anti-European view, which underlines a profoundly defeatist view of Britain's position in the world. Beneath that lies a sense, based on the Conservatives' experience of the Major Government, that Britain lacks influence and will be unable to punch its weight in any international forum, including the European Union.

The leader of the Conservative party is now calling for a referendum on this treaty. He said before that there had to be a referendum on the Amsterdam treaty, because it was

"an unacceptable step towards an integrated federal superstate".

I have looked at the Amsterdam treaty again, and I cannot see for the life of me what caused such a fuss. What is it about the treaty that the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes thinks will lead us towards an integrated federal superstate? He does not know, although he keeps quoting it. The leader of his party said that Amsterdam would lead the way towards an integrated federal superstate. Can he name just two or three items in that treaty that would lead the way towards an integrated federal superstate? He cannot name one.

There is one thing in the Amsterdam treaty that the right hon. and learned Gentleman might have begun to support, if Conservative Members had even bothered to read it before coming out with this nonsense. The Leader of the Opposition talks of supporting a more flexible Europe, in which groups of countries can come together and do their own thing without necessarily having an impact on other countries. That was in the Amsterdam treaty. It is called flexible co-operation. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman welcome it or reject it? Every time a treaty has been produced since we came to power—though never before it—the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his leader have said that it will take us towards a superstate. Subsequently, however, it becomes apparent that we are nowhere near a superstate, which rather undermines the right hon. and learned Gentleman's judgment today.

I gather that Mr. Redwood is half back in favour with Conservative Front Benchers. He said of Nice that

"the proposed . . . treaty would do what Guy Fawkes failed to do—blow up parliamentary government in Britain".

Several years have passed since the Nice treaty came into force, and parliamentary Government seems to me to be alive and well in Britain. Indeed, the Conservative party is making use of it.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I shall give way in a few moments. Contrary to the myths peddled by Conservative Members, no superstate has appeared: Britain maintains its seat of the UN Security Council; NATO remains the cornerstone of European territorial defence; and Her Majesty the Queen remains our Head of State.

Photo of Richard Shepherd Richard Shepherd Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills

The Foreign Secretary's parliamentary sidestepping is one thing, but the truth is that the people who should be asked about the Amsterdam, Maastricht, Nice and other treaties are the British public, who have never been consulted. That is the crucial question that lies before the House today.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

At least the hon. Gentleman is being consistent—[Interruption.] I know that he has consistently argued for a referendum, and may I say that my party is the only one ever to have provided a referendum on the EU, back in 1975? The hon. Gentleman can make his point, but the Conservative Front Benchers cannot. The issue now is not the aggregation of the treaties, but whether or not we have a referendum on this specific constitution if it becomes law.

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

Notwithstanding the sins of the Conservative party—signing up, among other things, to the common fisheries policy—is there not a wider issue concerning the disconnection of the wider public on European issues? Would not a referendum be a good way of closing and ending that disconnection? In that context, is the Foreign Secretary aware that there is a Bill before the Scottish Parliament to legislate for a consultative referendum on the constitution? Would it not be odd to have a vote north of the border—I would, of course, welcome that—but deny the voters of England, Wales and Northern Ireland their say on such an important matter?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I understand the hon. Gentleman's case, which has been made by several other Members who support the draft and our membership of the EU. In our current judgment, it is better to scrutinise it here.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

The Foreign Secretary has repeatedly stated that this is no more than an accumulation of treaties. Does he not accept that the final provisions of the proposed constitutional treaty state that all those treaties will be revoked, but reapplied without prejudice to the acquis communautaire, so they will fall within the legal framework of the new constitution, which is quite a different thing?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, I have never said that it is just an accumulation of treaties. I said rather that it is a consolidation of existing treaties, which partly changes the decision-making process and partly provides for new powers. We need to examine it in each particular respect. I do not subscribe to the Conservative view that we should exaggerate the effect of the draft treaty, but equally I have never sought to minimise it. What we need is a straightforward debate. On any analysis, however, I do say that it involves less significant change than either the Maastricht treaty or the Single European Act. I believe that that is absolutely the case.

Even on the role of European Court of Justice in respect of common foreign and security policy, article III-282 states clearly:

"The Court of Justice shall not have jurisdiction with respect to Articles I-39 and I-40"— they are the paving provisions for foreign, security and defence policy—

"and the provisions of Chapter II of Title V of Part III concerning the common foreign and security policy."

So everything that relates to common foreign and security policy, with some tiny exceptions, is excluded under that provision.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

No; I want to make progress and there are others who want to get in.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

All right—I shall give way one last time.

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory Conservative, Wells

I am grateful, but it is pure sophistry on the part of the Foreign Secretary, who ought to know what is in the draft constitution, to deny that the European Court of Justice will have jurisdiction over the whole of article 15, which binds member states to giving active and unreserved support to the common foreign and security policy

"in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity".

If a state strays from that obligation, it will therefore be breaking the constitution, and that question will be decided not by this House but by the European Court of Justice. That is what the constitution clearly says, and no amount of talk about paving clauses or other articles can alter that fact.

Can we get back to some honesty and clarity in this debate, and stop the Foreign Secretary trying to pretend that the constitution contains elements which it does not, and that it lacks elements which it does in fact contain?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I should tell the right hon. Gentleman, as he calms down, that I understand the point he makes. I raised it during the intergovernmental conference, and with the legal experts who work for the Council, not the Commission. Their counter-argument is that there is no need to exclude the jurisdiction of the ECJ under article 15 because it has no jurisdiction under that article. Its jurisdiction only arises operationally, under chapter 2 of part 3, and after examining this issue in immense detail I am satisfied that that is so. If I can be convinced that we are wrong—by just slightly better lawyers than the right hon. Gentleman—we will reconsider the charge, but there is no issue of principle here. What we need is a mature debate. Rather than creating the myth that this provision will lead to the ECJ's telling the House whether or not we should be loyal to the European Union, or that we should take a different view in respect of Iraq—such things could never happen—we should apply ourselves to the text and recognise that much of the wording on the common security and defence policy was first included in the draft not by the Convention, but by those who drafted Maastricht.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I am going to close. The myths about the constitution leading to a European superstate are now the stock in trade for today's Conservatives, who would put British jobs, British trade and British influence at risk by marginalising this country within Europe. This is the clear political divide on Europe: between a party of isolation and weakness, and a Government who are getting on with the job of reforming the structures of an enlarged Union, so that it can better deliver on the issues that matter to people. In the light of cross-border threats and of the chance to develop a market with which we do half our trade, the idea that Britain should withdraw into splendid isolation and detachment from the European Union is frankly absurd. We need to engage in Europe to make it more effective at dealing with common threats, and more effective at delivering the jobs and growth that people want.

We are negotiating a treaty that, if satisfactorily concluded, will help Europe better to deliver on these issues. The treaty sets out clearly the framework of an effective Europe of nation states. It acts only where its member states have conferred power upon it, and it is able to function more efficiently. Parliament has already been involved in this process to an unprecedented degree, and it will be for Parliament to decide whether the treaty becomes part of British law. I therefore urge the House to oppose the motion and to support the amendment.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs) 5:28 pm, 30th March 2004

I doubt very much whether a single vote will be changed as a result of these proceedings, or whether any hearts and minds will be significantly changed either. In a sense, these debates, which have almost become part of parliamentary punctuation, have enabled Members to restate cases that have been stated with varying degrees of eloquence for some time—at least since the constitution was first mooted.

I still have some difficulty with the question of the primacy of European law. I raised this point with the shadow Foreign Secretary, who has another engagement and has apologised for his absence. If such primacy was part of the jurisprudence of the European Community from 1964 onwards, inevitably, by virtue of our accession in 1972, we must be taken as having accepted it. I find it difficult to understand that a distinction is to be drawn as far as the application of that primacy is concerned simply because a document will be produced that asserts it once again.

The only way to look at this properly is to put oneself in the position of a domestic judge. Today, a domestic judge faced with an issue to which European Union law is relevant is obliged to apply that law. The day after a constitution or treaty was ratified by this House, that judge would be in precisely the same position as he is today. It seems to me that a wholly artificial distinction is being drawn.

My right hon. and hon. Friends will vote for this motion. We do so for reasons that I hope to explain in a moment or two, but I want to make the point that we have consistently argued that a test has to be applied when any question arises of a change in the nature of the relationship between Westminster and Brussels. Looking again, as I did in preparation for this debate, at that test as we have set it out on previous occasions, I freely accept, as I hope others will, that tests of this nature are inevitably subjective; they can never be empirical.

The test that we have set out on previous occasions is that if the provisions that the Government eventually bring before the House involve any major shift of control, any transfer of significant powers from member states to European institutions or any alteration to the balance between member states and those institutions, a referendum will be necessary. The Foreign Secretary argues that those criteria are not fulfilled. However, a document such as that which failed to achieve agreement in Rome would necessarily trigger a referendum because in our judgment it would meet the criteria that my right hon. and hon. Friends have set out.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, I have great respect for many of his views on this subject, but does he accept that the House of Lords report to which I have already referred says explicitly in the context of the European Communities Act 1972:

"In short, Parliament did not hand over a blank cheque, legally or politically. The Government should set out their view on the Kompetenz-Kompetenz question clearly to Parliament and to citizens in the UK."?

Does that not imply that it is essential not only that the Government should set out their views but that they should put the matter beyond all doubt by introducing domestic legislation that would ensure that our judges gave effect, if necessary, to clear and unambiguous law inconsistent with the 1972 Act?

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman put that point to the Foreign Secretary. In the interests of brevity, I simply adopt the Foreign Secretary's response and ask the hon. Gentleman to put himself in the position of a judge today and a judge the day after a document of the kind that we have been discussing had finally been ratified by the House.

We do not have such final proposals before us today; nor inevitably could we have them. However, we are entitled to assume that what is likely to emerge from the process into which the Irish have put additional force and life is likely to bear substantial similarity in substance to the previous proposals that formed the basis of the discussion in Rome. It is my judgment—I accept that it is a matter of judgment—that the proposals raise constitutional implications that it would be right to put to the people of the United Kingdom. I say that as a matter of law, but also as a matter of politics. One of the features of the debate about Europe and our relationship with Europe is the extent to which we—the people of the United Kingdom—have become disconnected. One of the ways in which that connection could more effectively be restored is to give people the opportunity to endorse what is a very substantial change.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee), Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee)

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that any new treaty will be subject to close parliamentary scrutiny? If we then had a yes-no referendum on whether to endorse it, he—like me—would no doubt campaign for a yes vote, if the treaty emerges in the form that seems likely. A yes vote would be a clear endorsement, but what would a no vote mean? We cannot anticipate the result, but it appears that a no vote would be interpreted as giving a mandate for a blank cheque to negotiate further changes to the existing treaty, the Single European Act, the Maastricht treaty and the treaty of accession, and even to reopen the issue of the primacy of European law. If a no vote could be interpreted in that way by those who are demanding a referendum—notably, the right-wing press—would not it be a dangerous further step to take after comprehensive parliamentary scrutiny, which has been regarded as adequate on all previous occasions?

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will not seek to visit the sins of his Front-Bench colleagues on me. The point that he made to Mr. Ancram was not answered with quite the cohesive intellectual response that one would expect from a prominent member of the Scottish Bar. On 1 May, we will admit the new member states without any constitutional change, under the existing arrangements enshrined in the treaty of Nice. When the proceedings on the constitution became becalmed, I suspected that all we would have needed was 18 months of trying to live under the arrangements in the Nice treaty and there would have been a clamour for a constitution, because of the sclerosis that would undoubtedly have occurred and the inability of the European Union to operate in the absence of a constitutional document of the kind that we are discussing. I do not seek to reopen any of the previous treaties, but I accept the Foreign Secretary's point that in many respects they are opaque and difficult to understand. It is often difficult to find the details of particular competences, which require substantial searching. The argument in favour of a constitution that sets down clearly the competences—and the extent to which they are restricted to Brussels or domestic Parliaments—is essential.

Photo of Richard Shepherd Richard Shepherd Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills

The sincerity of the Liberal Democrats on referendums on such matters is not in question. Indeed, Paddy Ashdown sought a referendum at an early stage of the Maastricht process and he supported a private Member's Bill on the issue. However, it cannot be enough to say at each stage of the constitutional changes, "We are for a referendum", and then when no referendum takes place, say that the matter is closed. The argument relating to a referendum on this new measure is that in a sense it is reopening the position that the Liberal Democrats took—that a referendum was appropriate on Maastricht.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

I see it not as reopening those issues, but as an effort to consolidate them. The hon. Gentleman is right about consistency. My recollection is that Mr. Bryan Gould, who was then a Member of Parliament, introduced a new clause during the Maastricht debates that would have required a referendum to be held on the issue, and the Liberal Democrats voted for it.

In 1995, we had a rare Liberal Democrat Opposition day that resulted in the motion that we had tabled being passed. The motion argued that if there was a material change in the relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union, such change should be ratified and endorsed by a referendum. Not all those who now argue either for or against a referendum found time to vote on that occasion. The result was something like 33–0, which was a considerable victory for us, but the occasion did not command, I am sorry to say, much parliamentary support.

Mr. Shepherd referred to Paddy Ashdown, who was the first of all the party leaders to say that entry to the single currency involved not only economic considerations but constitutional and political implications and that therefore there should be a referendum on it. That is now the view of almost all Members.

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Conservative, South West Bedfordshire

I do not think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has adequately answered the question put by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke about what would happen if the British people voted no in a referendum. What would be the position and how would we proceed?

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

It would be deeply damaging to the European cause; it would be foolish to do other than admit that. We cannot refrain from giving people the opportunity to pass judgment on issues of that kind, if we believe that is the right thing to do, simply because we are concerned about the outcome. I hope that my confidence is not misplaced, but I am confident that such a referendum can be won. Indeed, it most certainly will be won; Mr. Clarke, Mr. Taylor and I certainly spend enough time going around the country arguing the case.

The case should be argued and the referendum can be won. Indeed, if I had a complaint about Members on the Treasury Bench, it would be that there has been reticence about arguing the case for Europe. To some extent, that has been overtaken by the enthusiasm that the Prime Minister displayed yesterday during his report of the EU summit that he had just attended.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour/Co-operative, Glasgow Pollok

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

No, I want to make progress. I have been generous in giving way, and although I am not subject to the time limit on speeches I do not want to trespass unnecessarily on Back Benchers' time.

Those in favour of a constitution for Europe should be prepared to argue their case in order to reconnect the individual electors of this country with the EU. There is a large amount of shadow boxing in these matters. Foreign policy, defence and taxation are red-line issues for the whole House and exchanges designed to suggest that the Government are somehow willing to make concessions on them are artificial. Those matters are the quintessential responsibility of this Parliament; it is notable that they have not been devolved to Wales or to Scotland.

Earlier, I said that the existing treaty system is opaque. It certainly needs clarity and the purpose of the constitution is to set down and define the role and powers of the institutions of the European Union. As I have already said, we will be able to admit the accession states on 1 May; it is not constitutionally necessary to have the proposed constitution but it is politically essential.

As I have said before, we must bring an end to the constant tinkering with the constitutional arrangements of the European Union. We cannot continue to conduct the affairs of the EU as if we were engaged in a perpetual Maoist cultural revolution. When we consider what things have been like under the existing membership, we can imagine how difficult they are likely to be when there are 25 members. That culture has too often been characterised by last-minute compromise, set against a background of physical exhaustion and horse-trading.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

If only.

My support arises from my unabashed enthusiasm for the European Union, which dates back to the 1975 referendum campaign when I shared platforms for the yes campaign with such distinguished parliamentarians as Lord Whitelaw, Brian Walden and Lord James Douglas-Hamilton. The yes campaign was very distinguished—even aristocratic. I believe firmly that, as the Prime Minister and his predecessor have said, Britain should be at the heart of Europe.

As I have said before, I believe that Britain should be a member of the single European currency. I believe in an effective common foreign and security policy, which is what Maastricht envisaged. Indeed, Maastricht went on to envisage the possibility of a common defence—something that is not much talked about these days, but it most certainly was in the treaty. A constitution of the type proposed will be entirely advantageous not only to Europe but to us, too.

The background for that is my overwhelming belief in the need for co-operation with our European partners. Let me take the illustration of international terrorism. Does anyone really believe that we can achieve success in that campaign, unless there is much more co-operation than we have previously experienced? The exchange of intelligence and the movement of individuals and money all require co-operation with our European partners. How would we make environmental advances, unless we do so co-operatively?

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Shadow Spokesperson (Women), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am extremely grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for taking an intervention. I have waited patiently for him to address the fundamental rights aspect of the constitution, and it would be enormously helpful to those of us who have some doubts about the wisdom of the European constitution if he would do so. I raise that issue in particular because he mentioned the supremacy of community law at the beginning his speech. Of course he will be aware that five years' work has gone ahead in Northern Ireland to produce a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. Bearing in mind that the provisions on fundamental rights in the constitution will also have supremacy, have we all been going through the razzmatazz in Northern Ireland needlessly on a Bill of Rights?

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

I would hesitate to suggest that razzmatazz in Northern Ireland had been needless. The hon. Lady, who is an expert in the field, knows much more about it than I do. Of course the charter of fundamental rights supplements and, in some respects, adds to the European convention on human rights, but the convention is one to which we have always been a signatory. The change that occurred when the Government came to power was to pass legislation that allowed British citizens the right to invoke the provisions of the convention and to seek to vindicate their rights under that convention in British domestic courts, without having to go Strasbourg.

The fact that the fundamental rights have now been introduced seems to be one of those constitutional implications to which I have previously referred. The charter introduces something new and not something for which the Government had a mandate, given their manifesto. So my answer to the hon. Lady must be that I do not purport to pass judgment on the position in Northern Ireland, but I most certainly believe that the European convention on human rights and the charter raise, as a consequence of the charter in particular, some fundamental questions of a constitutional nature, hence justifying the argument—in my view, in part at least—for a referendum.

On a number of occasions, I have talked about the need to reconnect the citizen with the European Union. Hardly a day goes by when we do not open our newspapers to find dire predictions about the number of people who are likely to vote in the next general election to the House, but how many people are likely to vote in the European elections, no matter how vigorous the campaign might be? That will be a measure of the extent to which Europe is not seen as something of significant importance in the lives of many people. That is why I argue that a referendum on the issues with which we are concerned today, allowing the British people the opportunity to pass judgment and to endorse what is proposed, would be entirely in their interests and in ours as well, so I have no doubt that the opportunity offered by a referendum is one that should not be passed up.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind all right hon. and hon. Members that Mr. Speaker has imposed a 10-minute time limit on Back-Bench speeches.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour/Co-operative, Glasgow Pollok 5:49 pm, 30th March 2004

I take as my opening text the Prime Minister's words when he spoke at the Labour party conference a couple of years ago:

"We're at our best when at our boldest."

It seems that this is an opportunity for the Government to be bold, to take the risk and the chance to trust the people. We are also currently engaged in an exercise called the big conversation, and we have an opportunity to have a conversation with the British people that will result in a conclusion—a vote at the end if we go down the road of a referendum. This opportunity should not be missed, because I fear very much that the big conversation is being driven by the ideas of those American political theorists, Simon and Garfunkel, who in their seminal text, "The Boxer", said:

"Still a man hears what he wants to hear

And disregards the rest".

The only opinions that will be listened to are those that fit what is already acceptable. However, an open-ended decision to hold a referendum and to be bound by the result would galvanise political opinion in Britain.

The suggestion that line-by-line political scrutiny by the House would be sufficient misses the point about the disconnection between the political process and the people in the country. Endless hours in which lawyers quibble over details that are fascinating to them is not the same as forcing the British people to make a decision that we, who see ourselves as their political masters in many ways—regrettably in my view—would agree to be bound by. That opportunity should not be missed.

To those who ask what no means, I would have thought that no in a referendum clearly means that we will not accept what is being offered. Those who suggest that this would be a problem only for Britain are missing the point. A no by any country that is given the opportunity in any way to ratify the constitution and declines to do so means that the constitution has to go into the melting pot. If the Portuguese decide to vote it down, it will not be a problem solely for the Portuguese, and it will not be a solely British problem if we decide to vote it down. It will be a problem for all those who are gathered together to debate how matters should be progressed. We must reject completely the assumption that we cannot have a referendum in case we come out with what the Government would see as the wrong decision that leaves us isolated in Europe. We must recognise that other countries are prepared to trust their peoples. Why are we not prepared to trust ours?

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

Let us follow my hon. Friend's train of thought. If there is a no vote and the Government bring back a new treaty, will there be a second referendum—and a third and a fourth?

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour/Co-operative, Glasgow Pollok

That is an interesting point. I remind the Minister of what happened in Ireland when the people had the temerity to turn down a treaty. They were then obliged under international pressure to hold another referendum. If the Government tell us that they are willing to hold a second referendum if the people vote no in the first one and they then make substantial changes to the treaty, I would support them in those circumstances. I would be willing to support a second referendum if the first referendum resulted in rejection of the constitution. The assumption is again being made that we are the only people who might turn the constitution down. If other people reject it and we have a completely new constitution, it seems fair that the people should have the opportunity to make a further decision.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

Does the hon. Gentleman recall that, in the two instances in which there has been a second referendum, the outrageous situation emerged in which the rules were changed in respect of financing, advertising and the rest of it? In the case of the Irish referendum, that occurred on 24 December when most good Irishmen were in the pubs.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour/Co-operative, Glasgow Pollok

I certainly hope that the Government in this country would have sufficient integrity not to seek to change the rules for a second referendum should we get to that stage. That would be outrageous. We would need to pay attention to how much both sides spent and we would have to consider whether the allegedly impartial information provided by the Electoral Commission and others was, in fact, impartial. None the less, the pattern of the referendum should not then be changed.

I want to raise with the Minister the issue of how people will express their views. I want to avoid a situation in which the European elections or the general election are seen as referendums on the European constitution. Issues relating to Europe—as we know from the Conservative party—can split parties. A substantial minority of Labour Members favour a referendum and would wish to oppose the constitution as it is currently put forward in such a referendum. People should not have to choose in such a way given that there are two cross-cutting cleavages and we have the opportunity to park the European issue in a referendum so that a decision can be made on it separately from the European or general elections.

Lest the Minister be in any doubt about the scale of pubic opinion in his party, I tell him that opinion polls conducted among the major trade unions affiliated to the Labour party show that 81 per cent. of Unison members polled, 78 per cent. of Amicus members, 88 per cent. of Transport and General Workers Union members and 80 per cent. of GMB members favour a referendum. It is clear that those who speak up on the matter are not necessarily in the majority, but as the Minister knows, expressing dissent from the Government's view on anything is not necessarily a career-enhancing move. Several people would prefer to wait until a later stage before expressing their view. All that the minority of Labour Members have is the people, the arguments and the capitalist press, and that combination managed to cause a fair amount of damage on the question of the euro. I notice that those who were on the losing side—the Government side—during the euro debate are exactly the same people who are against a referendum and in favour of ramming through the creation of a European superstate.

In the debate that we are having tonight, and the one that will go on, I hope that people will not revert to citing the smears and distortions that we often hear from spinmeisters in the Government, especially the accusation that those of us who are against the Government proposal to ram through the measure without a referendum are simply little Englanders. I might be little, but I plead not guilty to the other charge. A number of us are linking up with "Democracy International", which is a multinational campaign to try to achieve referendums throughout the European Union. I hope that the Government recognise that the argument for referendums on such an important issue is widespread throughout the European Union, and that they appreciate that those of us who argue for referendums in this country and elsewhere in the European Union are doing so in the spirit of internationalism.

I also hope that the Government will refrain from arguing that those of us who are in favour of a referendum and against the new constitution are automatically in favour of withdrawing from the European Union. To the best of my knowledge, no Labour Member who argues in favour of a referendum is in favour of withdrawing from the European Union. Repeating that accusation, even though it is repeatedly denied, is a deliberate attempt to distort the terms of the debate. The Minister is not a stupid man. Indeed, he is a bright man and, on occasions, a pleasant man. He has bought me libations on several occasions—perhaps too seldom to recall them all just now. I hope that he will intervene on his perhaps less fastidious colleagues to ensure that that accusation is not repeated.

I have touched on the question of what will happen if the constitution is rejected. That will be a problem not only for us, but for Europe. If the constitution is rejected by several European states, the problem will be much more collective than would otherwise have been the case.

I regret the opportunistic way in which what happened in Madrid and elsewhere is advanced as an argument in favour of the accretion of more powers at the centre. How can we possibly trust those in the European Union who are incapable of stopping thieves and vagabonds robbing the common agricultural policy blind to police against terror in the EU? It is clear that before there is any further accretion of powers to the EU, it must put its own house in order. The British Government have made insufficient efforts to reform the way in which the EU operates, to increase the financial probity of the schemes it runs, or to examine the value for money obtained, for example, in foreign aid programmes. Before we give the EU more money to spend, we should ensure that it uses the powers and assets that it has better.

We must remember that we in Parliament have power as a result of the votes of the people. The referendum is important. At a time when there is severe dislocation between those who govern and those who are governed, we have an opportunity to give the people a choice. We should do so.

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory Conservative, Wells 6:01 pm, 30th March 2004

The constitution is the most important measure that I have faced in my 20 years as a Member of Parliament, and which the House has faced since this country entered the European Economic Community in 1973. However, the Prime Minister's sole preoccupation is to get it through quickly.

I respect those—we have heard some of them speak in this short debate—who argue for a highly integrated Europe with a single structure, a new legal order, a permanent President, a Foreign Minister and extensive new powers over immigration, criminal justice and the economies of member states. I do not agree with them, but I can at least debate with them. I have no respect whatever for those who deny the epic importance of what the House is now considering—who refer to it as "a tidying-up exercise". The cure for that is simply to read the constitution in its draft form.

The draft constitution defines and limits the powers of member states probably better and more extensively than those of the European institutions. It is just as much a written constitution for this country as it is for Europe, and we in this country have not had a written constitution since Cromwell briefly introduced one following the civil war. There is a massive transfer upwards of powers to the new Union. That fact is inescapable—it is written on almost every page of the draft.

We have again debated the primacy clause today, and the Government have again claimed that article 10 simply repeats what is in treaty law. It does not do that. There is nothing in existing European treaties about the primacy of the European Court of Justice or of those treaties over national laws. It is a convention that has been established in the case law of the European Court of Justice that where directives and regulations conflict with national laws, those directives and regulations shall prevail, but on those foundations the draft constitution erects an unqualified assertion of the primacy of the constitution and all the laws flowing from it over the laws of member states.

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour/Co-operative, Preston

If, as the right hon. Gentleman says, the draft is some sort of integrationist plot, will he tell me why the Conservative party is happy for there to be a President of the European Commission and a President of the European Parliament, yet, in terms of the Heads of Government, unhappy for there to be a President of the Council?

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory Conservative, Wells

Oh yes, we are creating a Europe of presidents all right. I can add to that. There will be a president of the European Court of Justice, a president of the European Central Bank, a permanent President of the Council, a President of the Commission and a President of the European Parliament. It is a presidents' plot, if it is a plot at all. It is not a people's Europe that we are developing—it is a politicians Europe with jobs for more politicians. If that is the Europe that the hon. Gentleman wants, he has it in the draft.

The point that I was making, which has not been contradicted from those on the Government Front Bench, is that the primacy clause, article 10, will extend far further than anything in the existing treaties. It will implement the same primacy over the intergovernmental pillars—that is, justice and home affairs, and the common foreign and security policy—for the first time. It is not just the laws of the new Union that will have primacy, but the constitution itself—that is, the obligations in the constitution—the solidarity obligation on member states and the entire EU charter of fundamental rights. That takes up the whole of part II of the constitution. The charter of fundamental rights—all of it—will therefore have primacy over the laws of member states.

In his remarks, the Foreign Secretary claimed that there was a House of Lords report that showed that there is a shift from the Commission to member states. It would have been less disingenuous of him if he had not told us that that report came out long before the end of the Convention—before the Convention even defined or debated the powers of the Commission. So if anyone is peddling myths in this debate, it is the Foreign Secretary.

It has been asserted that the constitution will be simpler than the treaties. It is, in fact, longer than the treaties that it replaces. It has been claimed that it will bring clarity to the division of power between member states and the new Union, but most policy areas will be shared. There is no other constitution in the world that defines all the policies to be shared. What is the definition of sharing? When the Union legislates, member states will have to leave that area of policy entirely to the new Union. I hope that none of us have to share a flat with someone whose definition of sharing is that when they move into the flat, we have to move out. That is the definition written in the draft constitution and it is not under review. It is not a red line issue for the Government.

Criminal justice, perhaps, gives us the best overall example of what is at stake. There are 21 completely new articles covering justice and home affairs in the draft constitution. They cover the definition of serious crimes and the penalties that will attach to them in general areas such as corruption, computer crime and organised crime. All that will be harmonised and decided by the Union by majority voting. The same is true of criminal procedures, rules of evidence and the rights of the accused. All these things will be decided by majority voting.

The Minister for Europe tabled an amendment in the Convention disagreeing with that in unequivocal terms. I give him credit for that, at least. He said that it is essential that the relevant article is rejected in its present form and made subject to unanimity if it survives. Why, then, do the Government now say that they have so-called wriggle room in respect of the criminal justice procedures? Those go to the heart of what the House is about. We have just had a Criminal Justice Bill going through the House that attempted to define and, in some cases, limit court proceedings and the rights of the accused. It is the essence of democracy that such matters are debated here where we are answerable to our constituents and ultimately to an electorate. All that goes upwards to the new Union.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we simply put into our criminal justice Bill the words "notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972" and followed that with what we wanted, we would be able to achieve our objectives?

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory Conservative, Wells

With his ingenious Bill, which I have signed, my hon. Friend would go a long way towards establishing a bulwark against the new constitution. I wish him well with that, but it forms no part of the Government's case in the forthcoming negotiation. The irony is that the entire exercise was supposed to be not about writing a new constitution—that is alluded to only at the end of the instructions given to the convention—but about bringing democracy to Europe. That means bringing Europe closer to its citizens. That was the instruction given to us. How does it bring Europe closer to the citizen to take more decisions away from member states, away from the people and upwards to the most remote tier of Government of all in Europe? That is why this is in essence a democratic issue.

In my view, this is not only wrong, it is dangerous. It breeds alienation and despair, and ultimately extremism, if decisions that should be taken here about the coercive power of the state, about imprisoning people, about our foreign policy and about the conduct of our economic and employment policies, are taken away from the Chamber, which is answerable to an identified electorate, and given to a Union that is beyond any sort of democratic control.

There is only one solution and that is to ask the people. I entirely agree with Mr. Davidson that that is not merely an option, it is essential. The Government have no mandate for this European constitution. I have a copy of the relevant part of the Labour party's manifesto on which it stood at the last election. There is nothing whatever in it about a European constitution. That differs from the Maastricht treaty, which featured prominently in the Conservative manifesto of 1992. In any event, we shall have a referendum about Maastricht when and if the Government make up their mind about the big issue of Maastricht, which is the European currency, the euro. As I have said, there is nothing in the manifesto, on which the Labour party won the last election, about a new European constitution. That is why we need to ask the people.

If the Government are right, and conceivably they could persuade the people that this is only a modest consolidating measure of no great consequence compared with weighty issues—such as whether Hartlepool should have a mayor, or whether Sedgefield, I think that that is the next one, will decide whether it will have a mayor—let them have the confidence to advance that argument and win that argument. That is, if they really can persuade the people that this European constitution is of no great importance. I will put my case, and that of my right hon. and hon. Friends, to the arbitration of the British people.

Let us remind ourselves that the opening words of this constitution are about reflecting the will of the citizens and states of Europe. How do the Government know that it reflects the will of the citizens of Europe without asking them? It would be an outrage if the Government were to bounce this issue through a supine House of Commons in which they have a temporary majority and take us into a binding written constitution for the first time in our history without asking the people for their consent. That is why federalists and those who want an integrated Europe joined forces with us in a common endeavour to ask the people, to trust the people, and to get a vote on the issue this year.

Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell Second Church Estates Commissioner 6:13 pm, 30th March 2004

I am grateful for the opportunity to follow Mr. Heathcoat-Amory. I listened with great care to what he said. He confused a series of concepts. The idea of having a referendum for a mayor is a local issue and entirely separate from a national issue as to whether there should be a referendum on joining a European constitution. In the United States they have many referendums on, for example, whether people want a supermarket. That is not the same as a national referendum on a national issue, which would lie within the heart of this Parliament.

One of the earliest stories that I learned many years ago was that a senior figure, Lloyd George, brought in a younger man called Harold Macmillan. Harold Macmillan asked him what was the essence of a good speech. Lloyd George said that it was to choose one's themes and to stay with them. I will do that in the time that is available to me.

My first theme is that of ever-closer union. The right hon. Member for Wells referred to the people, the citizens of the European Union. The citizens of the European Union benefit from free trade and the single market because the Single European Act was signed in 1986 under Lady Thatcher's leadership. They benefit from the sense of security, because the continent was ravaged by wars for 1,000 years.

Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell Second Church Estates Commissioner

I will come to NATO in a moment, and it is part of my theme—I am always grateful for sedentary interventions by Mr. Forth.

We will discuss the global war on terrorism, but EU citizens have those two major benefits, which bring the citizens of Europe closer to the concept of the European Union. The concept of the ever-closer union was adopted by Sir Edward Heath way back in 1972, when we signed up to it for the first time. We moved closer when we signed the Single European Act; we moved closer still when we signed the Maastricht treaty; and we will go closer again when the European Union moves eastwards and grows to 25 states—as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, it may grow to 27 states. That is the ever-closer union that we are debating tonight.

In this debate, I have been struck by how the House of Commons has suddenly become a Chamber for barristers. Perhaps that is because the Foreign Secretary and Mr. Ancram are barristers.

Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell Second Church Estates Commissioner

I shall make my confession in a moment. Sir Menzies Campbell is a QC, and I must humbly admit that I, too, am a barrister. However, I will not dwell on the legality of the debate. We have examined clauses, interstices in Lords reports, article 12 and article 13A—I almost stood up and asked what article 15 says in the hope that someone would give me an answer. The debate is not about the pernickety points of the various articles in such a huge constitutional document; it is about the principle of ever-closer union and whether it should be put to the test of a referendum.

When I listened to the right hon. Member for Wells I was struck by the reversal of Conservative policy. Over the past century, Conservative party policy was to win an election, govern the country and, after four to five years, to return to the country, render an account and seek a further mandate. What has happened to that principle? The only time that principle slipped was on the Maastricht treaty, when, in order to keep the Tory party together, the Prime Minister at the time offered a referendum on the single currency. The only time that a Conservative Government have ever offered a referendum was on joining the single currency, and the only reason for that was to keep the Conservative party together.

I shall make another confession, since I have made one already: in opposition, I would never have agreed to a Labour Government having a referendum on a single currency. I take the single currency not as a constitutional matter, not as a matter of profound significance to our country, but simply as completing the architecture of the single market, which Lady Thatcher introduced in 1986.

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour/Co-operative, Preston

Does my hon. Friend agree that we are watching an Opposition tactic? Because they cannot win votes in the House, they are trying to persuade the wider public, with the help of certain friends in the media, in order to obtain a no result. Hon. Members such as Mr. Heathcoat-Amory want not only a no vote from the country in a referendum on this issue, but to unravel the Amsterdam treaty, the Nice treaty, the Maastricht treaty and earlier treaties, which were agreed by previous Conservative Governments.

Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell Second Church Estates Commissioner

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. We are seeing opposition for the sake of opposition. Everybody who watched the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes could see the great difficulty in which he found himself, which happened because he does not believe in the argument.

On opposition for opposition's sake, I sympathise with the Opposition because day in, day out we sat through the debates on the Maastricht treaty. I remember coming into this Chamber in daylight and going out next morning in daylight, never having seen the evening.

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Conservative, South West Bedfordshire

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that political power is given to this House by the British people at the time of a general election and that that power is not ours to give away to any other body without the express consent of our electorate?

Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell Second Church Estates Commissioner

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for bringing me to my third theme—leadership. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe is in his place, because with his French background he, too, will remember Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin. He is nodding, of course, because he has read his history books. In 1848, that gentleman was the leader of a faction that stormed the National Assembly. Afterwards, he was found at the very back of the crowd, and someone said, "What are you doing? You're their leader." He replied, "Yes, I am their leader. That's why I'm here at the back—I'm following them." We saw from the leadership of the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes that he was following the crowd behind him. That is in the interests of neither the Conservative party nor the country.

My fourth theme is NATO, which the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst mentioned from a sedentary position. A significant event took place yesterday, when seven new nations from the east joined NATO and added to the sense of security to which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary referred. NATO is responsible for our territorial defence; it is equally responsible for those other countries and for the European Union as a whole.

So, as Europe moves into this new century, we have the security of NATO, ever-closer union, the free market, and stability and prosperity the likes of which have never been seen before. We have to decide whether we will do our constitutional duty by debating this ever-closer union in this Chamber, taking into account the views of our new-found barrack-room lawyer friends on both sides of the House.

I am glad that my hon. Friend Mr. Davidson is still in his place, because he and I have debated many issues. Sometimes we are on the same side of the fence, as on first past the post as opposed to proportional representation, but we found ourselves on different sides on the single currency. I should like to refute a comment that he made earlier. Those who support the single currency have not lost any battle. We regret the fact that a referendum did not take place early in 1997, but it will take place eventually when the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has set down the most rigorous conditions for entry and has twice said that we have not met them, agrees that that has happened. The battle is not lost: my hon. Friend and I will meet again on this economic battlefield.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

It is important that we have a referendum on the single currency. I wish that we had already done so, because the people would have had their say, almost certainly to vote no overwhelmingly. The hon. Gentleman says that this constitutional issue should be debated in this Chamber. That is true, but why not debate it in the country as well? Why does he not trust the people to debate the very serious issue of how we are to be governed in future and let them have a say in a referendum?

Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell Second Church Estates Commissioner

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. I respond by saying that the day must come when the bridge between civil society and political society is cleared of the distortions of the media; then we can have a proper, genuine debate on a whole host of issues. We know full well that those debates cannot be held on equal or neutral terrain.

Let me make another point to those who claim that a referendum is in the interest of this country. In 1969, when General de Gaulle held a referendum on regional assemblies and reform of the Senate, it was converted into a debate about whether people wanted him to stay in power. It is therefore not sensible to hold a mid-term referendum on such an important issue. I make a distinction between local referendums, which the right hon. Member for Wells mentioned, and a national matter, which falls back to the Chamber. We are elected; we have a mandate. The people—our constituents—expect us to do their work for them and make a decision in the interests of our country.

Photo of Wayne David Wayne David Labour, Caerphilly

Does my hon. Friend agree that the House's conducting of a debate through the Standing Committee on the Convention on the Future of Europe is exemplary, and that a similar mechanism is needed to discuss the draft treaty and then the treaty?

Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell Second Church Estates Commissioner

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. The Foreign Secretary made it clear that the treaty is a constitutional treaty, which will be fully debated. The debate will be long and we may spend many a night rather than many a day here. However, the House is the place in which to hold the debate. We can have knowledge, information and a free flow of ideas, and ultimately the House will decide. At the next election, the country will follow that decision.

Photo of Richard Shepherd Richard Shepherd Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills 6:26 pm, 30th March 2004

Many Labour supporters, especially old Labour supporters, must be distressed to find that, when the glorious day in 1997 was repeated at the subsequent election, they elected a Bourbon Government. "L'état c'est moi"—what I say must go; I do not want to hear the views of others.

The struggle has been long. It was almost inconceivable in 1970 that we were on the threshold of constructing a new system of government that grants rights beyond the call of the British people. That is what we are considering—who is sovereign. The Labour party struggled to expand the vote because it knew that, through gaining seats and a majority here, it could establish what the law is and shall be. It could set wrongs right and look backwards and forwards. That glorious struggle formed part of our modern constitution. Today, we hear arguments that all that counts for nothing and that the House is sovereign.

I believe, however, that our modern constitution was declared at the turn of the last century by the new Labour party of the day. It declared that the people were sovereign and that the House was the means whereby that sovereignty was expressed. We send elected representatives here—they are here today and gone tomorrow. We may change them and by changing them, we change our law: the law that can send us to prison and the law that can make us free. Through that law and this institution, we protect and preserve our liberty. This place is about that essential trust.

Yet the Government say that they can redesign the constitution because they understand its essential vulnerability. It is not entrenched and no constitutional court secures it. That is why we have witnessed the mashing of the conventions that made our constitution work. The brave, new, Bourbon Labour Government say that they will sweep away the principle that no Parliament may bind its successor. In the past 30 years, the people of Britain have understood but a glimmer of that. The process of European integration and the new judicial and legal system have never received the direct attestation and consent of the people who sent us here. That is the heart of the matter. The sovereignty of Parliament is the sovereignty of the people. And when Labour Members are asked by their constituents, "Why don't you change the law to prevent the export of live horse meat to the continent?", the brave new Bourbon Labour Government say, "Oh no, it's not for us. We've given that power away." By what authority have they done so? By the transient authority of a temporary Government that in time will give way to another Government, which in time will give way to another Government.

The continuing constitutional necessity of this country is to ensure that the people are sovereign. The denial of the proposition that the people may make a judgment on any of the Acts that have removed power from their Government and the jurisdiction of their courts is wholly to be opposed. We will fight, and there are millions out there who are no longer prepared to tolerate the nonsense that goes on under the protestations of these Bourbons, who say, "It is a matter for us, but once we have cast our view, we want it to be immutable." Nothing in this world is immutable.

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour/Co-operative, Preston

Is the hon. Gentleman making a case for no trans-national legislation whatever? If so, can he tell the House how pollution can be persuaded to stay within national borders, or, as Mr. Clarke put it, how fish can be persuaded on which side of a line in the sea to stay?

Photo of Richard Shepherd Richard Shepherd Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills

This Bourbon must return to his constituency and assure those poor, benighted people whom he represents why their views do not matter.

Mrs. Dunwoody went to the heart of this debate with a question about the national health service, to which the Foreign Secretary replied that there would be a constitutional crisis. That is what we are reduced to—the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom, having allegedly read the treaty, saying, "In the event that they do something that goes to the heart of what we stand for, we will have a constitutional crisis." It is not good enough.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

My hon. Friend is making a powerful and important speech. Does he agree that the Foreign Secretary's argument that because a few powers were given away under a previous treaty it is all right to give all the rest away under this constitution is a falsehood? Is that not analogous to my ordering a pint of beer, drinking a quarter of it, and the Foreign Secretary coming along, drinking the rest, and saying, "It serves you right, because you wanted the glass empty"? That is what this Government are doing to our pint of beer.

Photo of Richard Shepherd Richard Shepherd Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills

I am lifted by my right hon. Friend's contribution.

Let us consider the sophistry of the Bourbon Front Bench which purports to represent the national interest no less but will not allow anyone else to look over their shoulder to say, "We do not want this," or "We do want that." The concept that the Government set themselves—the test that was high—was that a Government in their maturity seek the consent of the people, not merely their acquiescence. This dire Government are satisfied at best with acquiescence and never go for consent.

The expression of consent on this measure, as has been pointed out by the Liberal Democrats, does much more for the body politic than this stonewalling. It would lend dignity to the Government if they would accept the proposition that these matters are profound, and that the constituents whom we temporarily represent cannot lose their inalienable right to determine who shall govern this country.

Photo of Richard Spring Richard Spring Conservative, West Suffolk 6:34 pm, 30th March 2004

On 1 May, the whole House will celebrate the enlargement of the EU from 15 to 25 member states, a process ratified unanimously in this place. This enlargement process, however, could have been achieved by a simple accession treaty, which everybody in the House would have supported. Instead, this wonderful historic moment on 1 May will be overshadowed by the controversy surrounding the proposed constitution, with all its attendant baggage, which has nothing whatever to do with the enlargement, as the Prime Minister has in effect conceded.

The Laeken summit called for the simplification of EU treaties, for more openness and transparency, and for an attempt to reconnect the peoples of Europe with EU institutions. At the time, stirring speeches identifying the need to address the democratic deficit were made by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the then Minister for Europe. Yet—here I echo the words of my right hon. Friend Mr. Heathcoat-Amory—no one in their wildest imaginings would believe that simplification, openness, transparency and reconnection characterised the constitutional package that is likely to be agreed in 12 weeks' time; quite the reverse.

This constitution was idiotically described by the former Europe Minister as a tidying-up exercise, and even more absurdly described as a constitution no more important than a golf club's, which would fit into a jacket pocket. Those were the words of the Foreign Secretary. In fact, the constitution is riven with contradiction and ambiguity—a veritable beanfeast for lawyers. In no way does it give the people of Europe any more control over EU institutions, or any enhanced level of accountability.

Tellingly, most of the constitution was opposed at different stages by the British Government, but then meekly accepted. Virtually nothing in the constitutional package bears the stamp of British influence; but what is most shameful is—once again—the truly terrible lack of leadership by Britain in the European Union. Britain has always been carried along in the slipstream of others, always—in this respect—wrongly and pathetically trying to secure influence by giving in on the constitution itself, the charter of fundamental rights, the single legal entity, the new Foreign Minister and the diplomatic service.

What is the result? Ten years ago, 72 per cent. of EU citizens saw their country's membership as a good thing. Today, less than half of them do. In Britain, only 29 per cent. do. The dangerous disillusionment grows, and by no stretch of the imagination will this constitution deal with it.

The key question is simply this: why do we need a constitution? It is a question that my right hon. Friend David Davis and I have posed both in the House and to so many of our European partners, but we have never received a satisfactory answer. The constitution has nothing to do with enlargement, it does not increase accessibility, and its hundreds of pages are the reverse of simplicity.

The Foreign Secretary knows perfectly well that there is no real and universal enthusiasm for this constitution. The technical elements for enlargement were agreed at Nice. Everyone agrees that, in essence, that could be enough. Everyone knows that the gulf between the elites of Europe and the people is growing, and that turnouts will no doubt be down again in the European elections. So why do the Government not speak out against a constitution to which they were originally opposed? It is like the emperor's new clothes. If the Government could just once in our relationship with the EU—even at this stage—say no, others would be only too pleased to agree.

Why do the Government not do that? They lack the principled courage that would enable them to do it. That is entirely characteristic of a Government whose failure to show leadership ill serves the British people, and who have not managed to secure the return of a single power either to this Parliament or to the people of this country since they came to office.

Photo of Mark Prisk Mark Prisk Shadow Paymaster General

The Foreign Secretary spoke at length about the balance of the relationship between member states and Brussels. He never once chose to mention the relationship between the governed and the governing—the citizen and the state. Does my hon. Friend share my deep concern about that?

Photo of Richard Spring Richard Spring Conservative, West Suffolk

I entirely agree. That is at the heart of the Government's attitude to the British people on this key matter.

Let me say this to the Minister. As we have seen in other countries, influence in the EU arises because member states pursue and protect their national interests vigorously and with determination. This constitution could have been strangled at birth if the British Government had insisted.

The devil is in the detail. We know from the ambiguity that surrounds the text that the unwelcome EU jurisprudence will spread in our national life. We need only read the House of Lords European Union Committee report on the future role of the European Court of Justice to see that. It envisages a considerable extension of the powers of the European Court of Justice, which will become the new constitutional court and the new supreme court for the Union. It is the self-same European Court that has repeatedly forced forward an integrationist agenda.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

Does my hon. Friend share my understanding that most Government areas become shared with the EU, and that "shared" means that it tells us what to do?

Photo of Richard Spring Richard Spring Conservative, West Suffolk

Exactly, a shared competence is one that has evolved from the European Union. It was notable in an earlier debate that the Foreign Secretary did not even know the definition of a shared competence. It is typical of Ministers to diminish themselves in the eyes of their European counterparts by interpreting EU decisions here in a way that would be laughed out of court everywhere else.

The truth of the matter is that six EU countries will be having referendums— and quite possibly the Czech Republic and Poland, too. Others may follow. I challenge the Government to let us have a proper, open and transparent debate and to let the nation hear us argue our corners. The way to achieve that is through a referendum campaign. I entirely agree with Mr. Davidson, who said that being in favour of a referendum does not mean being in favour of withdrawal. The Government's suggestion that it does is entirely incorrect.

When the Foreign Secretary was Home Secretary in 1998, he spoke about an electoral system for elections to Westminster. He said:

"Confidence in our political system has been significantly eroded in recent years. Our challenge is to restore confidence in our democracy, to bring decision-making closer to those who are affected by decisions, and to restore trust in the way in which we are governed. That is why we have embarked on a major programme of change."

He also said:

"Voters, not politicians, should have the final say . . . Whether there is change or no change, the referendum will provide the popular legitimacy that is essential for our working democracy. It is the British people's right to have that say, and our responsibility to provide it."—[Hansard, 2 June 1998; Vol. 313, c. 190–01.]

That was what our Foreign Secretary said in this Chamber when he was Home Secretary in 1998.

Some will be in favour of the constitutional package before us, and I respect their democratic right of opinion, but we take a different view. What unites so many across the party political divide is a clear recognition that this is of constitutional significance. If the good burghers of Hartlepool are allowed a referendum, so should be the voters of the United Kingdom. In that regard, it might be of interest to hear what Mr. Mandelson said in a speech in Berlin in March 1998:

"It may be that the era of pure representative democracy is coming slowly to an end. Today, people want to be more involved. Tony Blair's Government has already held two referendums and three more are at some stage in prospect, not to mention more citizens' movements . . . Democracy and legitimacy need constant renewal. They need to be redefined with each generation . . . This requires a different style of politics"; and he went on to talk about the necessity of involvement via the internet and referendums. He continued:

"People have no time for a style of government that talks down to them and takes them for granted."

I could not have put it better myself.

The Government have sponsored dozens of referendums to legitimise change since 1997, but when we are confronted with the first written constitution in our history, suddenly every excuse is offered. Interestingly enough, Nigel Smith, who successfully led the yes campaign for Scottish devolution, recently described the same issue as follows:

"Consciously or unconsciously, through the use of referendums Tony Blair has completely changed the constitutional landscape in this country. Up until this point, whenever it has contemplated a constitutional change—nationally, regionally or even locally—this Government has rightly sought the specific endorsement of the people affected in a referendum. It is therefore deeply worrying to observe the inconsistency with which Ministers have approached the question of the proposed EU Constitution. This has naturally changed the expectations of the voters.

For those of us who believe in referendums, the draft Constitution—whenever it comes—presents a classic case for initiating a national debate, followed by a binding vote for the people, all the people."

My hon. Friend Mr. Shepherd talked about the sovereignty of Parliament and of the people of this country; such sovereignty is at the heart of the democratic process. To deny that this step is of constitutional significance is entirely wrong, and simply widens the gulf that exists between the people of this country and government. Frankly, what is good enough for the people of Ireland, Portugal, the Netherlands and many other countries is certainly good enough for us. Our people are becoming increasingly alienated from the political process and we cannot afford to alienate them further. I invite the Government to think again and to do what is absolutely right: to give the people of this country a choice on a vital matter that affects our future.

Photo of Denis MacShane Denis MacShane Minister of State (Europe), Foreign & Commonwealth Office 6:45 pm, 30th March 2004

We have had an enjoyable debate, even if some of it has consisted of a re-run of speeches that we have heard for some time. Sir Menzies Campbell said that Ministers should make the case for Europe. I try to do my modest best—probably not with sufficient success—but I wish that he, too, would occasionally make the case for Europe, instead of constantly making the Daily Mail case for a referendum. Yet again—I address my remarks specifically to him—we have had an essay on form, not substance. I want to talk about the important issues that Europe faces, and the important need to secure a constitutional treaty that brings together the elements of the existing constitution.

Of course, we do indeed already have a constitution for Europe. It can be found in the existing treaties, and it talks about ever-closer union—a phrase that will be removed under the proposed draft.

In my view, that constitution gives excessive power to the President of the Commission. The proposed draft will counterbalance that power with a new authority for the nation states of Europe, which are united through their Council of Ministers and their new standing chairman. My one small contribution to British diplomatic parlance was to persuade my Foreign Office colleagues to start describing that gentleman as the "standing chair" of the Council. In some other European languages, the word is the same as "President"; however, that term clarifies the situation.

NOTHING

NOTHING

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I am grateful to the Minister. We have had no referendum on the euro because the Government know that they would lose, and we have not been offered a referendum on the constitution because they know they would be slaughtered. Trade unionists and Labour voters, as well as Conservatives, would love to vote this disgraceful treaty down.

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

As a rugby union fan, I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that we would win. I shall come to the important question of why the gravediggers of parliamentary democracy, many of whom we have heard from today, should not get their way.

My hon. Friend Mr. Davidson has always taken a consistent position on Europe. He opposes the euro.

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

I am not quite sure where he stands on other issues. He invited me to park the question of the constitution, but as a Minister it is not my job to park anything. I want to see a functioning and effective Europe.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

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

My hon. Friend gave way to me, so I must reciprocate.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour/Co-operative, Glasgow Pollok

I have always made it absolutely clear that I was not opposed to the euro in all circumstances, but that now and in the immediately foreseeable future it would be economically illiterate for us to join. I am not opposed to European defence; indeed, in that regard I am more European than the Government. I also took the European view on Iraq, so I do not accept for a moment the Minister's suggestion that I am anti-European.

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

The majority of EU member states were in favour of intervention in Iraq. It is a debate that we perhaps need to have at another time.

The right hon. Member for Wells made his traditional passionate attack on Europe, but I have to put myself at times in the place of citizens elsewhere in the world. The notion that somehow the French and German constitutions would be abolished by this new European superstate simply is not an argument that can be advanced. Poland and Hungary believe that their sovereignty has been enhanced by joining the EU, even if the right hon. Member for Wells went and campaigned in Poland to stop the Poles from voting yes to joining Europe. The right hon. Gentleman was honest. He was not arguing for a referendum as a point of principle about how we would consult the British people. He wants a referendum campaign to say no. Other hon. Members who intervened in the debate, even if they did not make speeches, have taken consistent positions of relenting hostility to our membership of the European Union.

My hon. Friend Sir Stuart Bell, on the contrary, spoke in favour of Britain staying in Europe. He made a speech that I do not have time to make this evening. All our recent debates have been focused on form and the question of the constitution, not on the substance—what we need to do to make Europe a success and ensure that Britain works effectively in our national interest within the European Union.

Mr. Shepherd made the shortest speech of the debate and for that reason a very effective one, if I may say so. I think that he spoke passionately—I hope that I do him no disservice in saying that—in favour of Britain leaving the EU. He talked about the Bourbons incessantly. I thought that the definition of a Bourbon king was not "L'état c'est moi"—that was a bit ahead of their time—but those who had learned nothing and forgotten nothing. I gently put to the hon. Gentleman as a passionate parliamentarian that that is very much the position of his Front-Bench team today. My party took the same point of view almost exactly 20 years ago. We have learned from that experience. I gently suggest that if the Conservative party wants to be taken seriously as a party of government, it too has to start learning the truth that it would be a disaster for the British people to continue this ranting against membership of the European Union.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

The Minister refers to the national interest. How does he equate the national interest with undermining the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament, and does he not agree that the House of Lords report to which I have referred, which I am sure he has read, clearly states that there is a fundamental change in the nature of the relationship between member states and the EU in respect of the matter of competence and many other matters that go with it.

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

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has allowed me to make a slight diversion from my speech and refer to the conclusions of the excellent House of Lords European Union Committee, which have just been published. In paragraph 157 it says:

"We welcome the fact that Article I-10(1) makes clear that primacy only applies to the Constitution and to Union law that has been adopted in the exercise of competences assigned to the Union's institutions."

In other words, the European Court of Justice is exactly the court that defines what the EU does.

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

No, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me. Paragraph 161 states clearly—

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Minister—inadvertently, I am sure—is misleading the House. He quoted paragraph 157 of the report. It clearly goes on to say:

"There remains some uncertainty as to the scope of application of the principle."

In paragraph 158, it says:

"More clarity is needed to address these two concerns".

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

I am happy to take another intervention from the hon. Gentleman, but paragraph 161 says:

"The draft Treaty reaffirms and strengthens the position of the national courts".

We could have a debate about what is in the constitutional treaty. I argue that the authority of the national institutions of Europe—those that the people of Poland and the Czech Republic have so bravely won in recent years—is upheld under the terms of this draft treaty. But we are not allowed to have that discussion. Instead we are having a discussion about whether to have a referendum.

I am a defender of the House of Commons. I was elected 10 years ago and I love this place. It has been good to me and I cannot think of any greater honour for any citizen of this country, especially one such as me, whose parents did not come from here, than to sit in the House of Commons. Therefore, it is extraordinary to me that it is proposed that this House should tonight casually throw away its supreme duty to be the guardian of the interests of the British people and surrender itself to the populist plebiscites of the Rothermere press.

The Liberal Democrats' position is even odder. I can understand why the Conservatives, with their obsessive dislike of Europe, want to command headlines in the anti-European press. But I do not understand why the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish Nationalists and the Ulster Unionists also wish to join the tribe of monkeys on the organs of the Rothermere press. Let us not forget that the Liberal Democrat party is composed of two halves. We know where the Liberals came from, but the other half was a breakaway from the Labour party on the exact issue of the incessant clamour for a referendum to take us out of Europe in the early 1980s. I know from conversations with Liberal Democrat MEPs and Members in the other place that they are distressed that the party has given new lustre to the opportunism of the main Opposition party in supporting this incessant clamour for a plebiscite.

I am a great fan of Edmund Burke, who argued that Britain should be governed by people with "long views". When the Conservative party was led by Churchill, Macmillan and Margaret Thatcher—in her early days—there were times when it took the long view that it was in Britain's vital interest to be in Europe and to help to run Europe. Today, the Conservatives' idea of Burke's long view is anything that fits into a Daily Mail headline.

Burke also liked Parliament because it was where we, the elected representatives, could express our views freely

"even though against a predominant and fashionable opinion."

I know that the predominant and fashionable opinion in London in much of the press is hostile to Europe. I am happy to nail my colours to this Dispatch Box and say that I am passionately pro-European, and I invite all hon. Members who believe that our country's interests can never lie in adopting the isolationist policies of the Opposition to vote against the motion this evening.

I also agree with Bagehot when he wrote that

"the distinguishing quality of Parliamentary government is, that in each stage of a public transaction there is discussion: that the public assists at this discussion; that it can, through Parliament, turn out an administration which is not doing as it likes, and can put in an administration which will do as it likes."

I invite the Opposition to remain anti-European, to continue to speak against active and involved membership of the European Union and to deny the necessity for making the Union of 25 work by supporting a new rule book in this new constitutional treaty, which will take us forward. The longer the Conservatives remain anti-European, the longer they will stay in opposition.

Over the years, this nation has signed solemn treaties such as the ones joining the World Trade Organisation, which removed powers from this House over commerce, and NATO, which removed powers from this House over defence policy. We have shared sovereignty to grow and add value to what we do. The European Union is part of that process.

I invite the House tonight to uphold parliamentary democracy. I invite the House to say yes to Europe. I invite the House to reject the anti-European and anti-parliamentary nonsense of the Conservative party.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 212, Noes 328.

Division number 117 EU Constitution Referendum

Aye: 212 MPs

No: 328 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments):—

The House divided: Ayes 319, Noes 202.

Division number 118 EU Constitution Referendum

Aye: 319 MPs

No: 202 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Question accordingly agreed to.

Mr. Speaker forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House welcomes the intensified scrutiny of both Houses in respect of the draft Constitutional Treaty; believes that the Government's policy of active engagement within the EU is in Britain's national interests; supports its constructive approach to discussions within the Intergovernmental Conference to ensure that an enlarged Union works effectively; endorses paragraph 66 of the White Paper (Cm 5934) in respect of issues which must remain the province of the nation state; notes that provided there is a satisfactory outcome on these and other matters of concern, the proposals currently being discussed would not alter the fundamental constitutional relationship between the member states and the Union and therefore does not believe there is reason to depart from previous practice for constitutional treaties; and reaffirms the primacy of Parliament to decide on whether any future Constitutional Treaty should become part of UK law.