I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
In view of the time limit that Mr. Speaker has placed on speeches, and in view of informal representations that I have received from both sides of the House, I will, if I may, not take the usual number of interventions. I do my best in all debates to take as many as possible, and I make myself available, as I did yesterday, to the European Scrutiny Committee for interrogation by Members on both sides of the House.
Order. I should explain to the right hon. Gentleman and the House that Mr. Speaker's decision was perhaps related in part to the well-known generosity of the Foreign Secretary in that regard.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Some of us feel that as Parliament has not gone through the European constitution line by line on the Floor of the House, the Bill lacks the legitimacy that it would have, had that process been enabled. I hope the Foreign Secretary will not allow us to miss some of the gems of explanation that he would otherwise have put before us.
I thought I was helping the Chair a moment ago, but obviously one can be wrong.
The Bill has two linked purposes: to enable the United Kingdom to ratify the European Union constitutional treaty, and to decide that ratification can take place only if there is a positive vote in a United Kingdom referendum.
Before coming to the Bill itself, let me first put it in context and explain why the new treaty is needed. The European Union's institutions and rules were designed some 50 years ago, for just six members. Since then, a succession of amendments in overlapping treaties has been agreed by the EU's member nations. But with the EU's biggest enlargement last year taking its membership to 25, and with the prospect of further expansion, it was clear that those successive treaties had to be consolidated and clarified. In addition, there was a need for reform of the European Union to make it more effective, efficient and accountable.
When the first draft of the treaty was produced in the Convention, I published a detailed White Paper setting out the changes that would be required by the Government and the House if we were to sign up to the treaty. Over the following 10 months of intensive negotiations, we achieved every one of our negotiating objectives—a success that was widely recognised across Europe. The French newspaper Le Monde called the treaty "a British victory". Corriere della Sera in Italy declared that
"the British won the day".
Laurent Fabius, leader of the French "No" campaign, said that
"the British concept has won".
Those comments reflect the nature of the new constitutional treaty—a framework for our kind of Europe, which gives us a strong role in a Union of free and sovereign nations.
The new treaty spells out in clearer terms than before that this is an organisation of freely co-operating nations—free to decide where to work together, free to stop doing so if they agree that it no longer makes sense, and free to take at any time a sovereign decision to pull out of the EU entirely. The constitutional treaty puts Europe's members firmly in control. It replaces the current system of six-monthly rotating presidencies of the European Council, the body in which the EU's member countries set the organisation's priorities, with a full-time Chair to ensure that it is we, the nations, who set the EU's agenda and get it implemented. That is a widely supported reform, and its supporters include, I am pleased to say, the new leader of the Conservative party in the European Parliament. The only opposition to the reform appears to have been led by the former European Commission, not the present one, and the British Conservative party.
The new treaty slims down the size of the European Commission. It states that the EU's common foreign and security policy will remain fully under the control of Europe's nations, who can agree a common approach only when every one of those nations wishes to do so. One person, accountable to the EU's members and taking orders only from them, will implement this policy, replacing the disjointed system that we have today involving a high representative and a member of the Commission whose loyalties are ambiguous and are to the Commission, not to the European Foreign Ministers of nations.
The new treaty ensures that national Parliaments must ratify any future changes to the EU's arrangements. The Bill gives that statutory effect in clause 2. For the first time, the treaty gives national Parliaments the power to send draft EU legislation back for review if one third of national Parliaments believe that the draft law infringes the principle that the EU should act only where it adds value—the so-called subsidiarity principle. That is an important and welcome reform, to which the Bill gives further statutory effect. It is not directly reflected in the treaty, but in the Bill I have added to the provisions of the treaty so as better to assist Parliament in that task. Under clause 3, the relevant Minister will have a statutory duty to lodge a written statement with Parliament certifying whether or not a given draft EU law, in the Government's view, complies with the subsidiarity principle.
We have that power at present, as we can object on subsidiarity grounds. I am a member of the European Scrutiny Committee. The Commission can ignore our objections, and that will also happen under the constitution. The Commission already has to justify its proposals on subsidiarity grounds. It can overrule our objections, and it will be able to do so under the draft constitution. What, therefore, is the advance?
There is a big advance, because there was a power on paper in the Maastricht treaty, but it did not have any procedure behind it. As every lawyer in the House knows, if we do not have procedure, we cannot access rights. By making provision for one third of national Parliaments to raise a yellow card to a proposal, the treaty ensures that in future there will be a proper procedure. Moreover, with help from Members from all parts of the House, I have sought to strengthen the role of the House and Parliament in scrutinising EU legislation. In my judgment, legislation is always improved if there is effective scrutiny, and that is as true of EU legislation as it is of domestic legislation. I wanted to introduce a duty on Ministers, and therefore officials and Departments, to check EU draft legislation to see whether or not it accorded with the subsidiarity principle. That is what we will have under the Bill, but we do not have it at the moment.
The treaty provides Europe with a fairer and clearer voting system for making decisions, giving the larger member states relatively more power. One of the many improvements that we achieved during the intergovernmental conference was the raising of the thresholds for qualified majority voting from 50 per cent. of EU member states and 60 per cent. of the EU population to 55 per cent. of member states and 65 per cent. of population, which helps this country. The treaty sets out arrangements known as "enhanced co-operation" to allow groups of member states within Europe to work together more closely in certain areas without everyone having to take part, but it ensures that there is a level playing field. Such co-operation is allowed only if it does not harm the interests of those nations not choosing to participate. Last year, that policy was advocated by the Leader of the Opposition.
The Foreign Secretary said that the House would have far more power to refer matters under subsidiarity, but when I asked the Leader of the House a question just a couple of weeks ago, I was told that no such proposals are yet in place and that the Government do not have any idea about the way in which that would operate. The Foreign Secretary is trying to suggest that we have new procedures and would have more power, but the Leader of the House made it clear that that is not the case.
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is misinformed. First, the Bill makes provision for a new procedure and, secondly, I have already made proposals to the House, the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and the European Scrutiny Committee about ways in which the House can better improve scrutiny arrangements. It is not for the Government to tell the House how it should exercise its scrutiny responsibilities. That is a matter for the House, and I look forward to receiving its recommendations. I simply say to the hon. Gentleman that he is pushing at an open door.
On immigration, asylum and frontier controls, the new treaty sets out effective provisions for working together across borders, but it gives Britain the choice to opt in to those measures in which we want to participate and to stay out of those in which we do not. The new treaty extends the application of qualified majority voting in the EU in that area and others to ensure effective decision making where it is in our interests. I am unapologetic about that extension, and I hope that that is the case, too, for the whole House, including Members who served as Ministers in previous Governments such as Mr. Ancram. It was Baroness Thatcher who, as Prime Minister, spelled out the case for qualified majority voting when it is in our interest. Majority voting stops individual countries blocking vital reform. If the status quo is against us, we must be at the head of reform. That is exactly what we have done with reform to the common agricultural policy, which we could never have achieved if countries with a vested interest in the status quo were able to veto any changes.
There are about 50 so-called improvement changes resulting from the change from veto to majority voting. Most are frankly trivial. They extend from procedures for repealing measures relating to the past division of Germany to the appointment of the executive board of the European Central Bank, neither of which affects the United Kingdom. At the end of the documents that have been laid before the House there is a complete table of such changes. Changes have also been made on asylum and immigration, although most of those were made under the Amsterdam treaty, and on criminal procedural law, but we have an emergency brake in certain areas and an opt-out in others.
Crucially, the new treaty sets limits on the European Union's powers and, for the first time, they are listed clearly. The powers of the EU are limited to those given freely by its members. Again, for the first time, there is a procedure to modify or reduce the exercise of those powers. The treaty guarantees that the national veto is maintained on crucial issues on which we need it, such as tax, social security, fundamental aspects of criminal law, the financing of the EU, treaty changes, foreign policy and defence. By incorporating the charter of fundamental rights, the treaty includes a consolidation of existing rights, freedoms and principles, thus limiting the scope of the EU institutions. The charter makes it clear that the EU must respect the fundamental liberties of our citizens whenever it acts. The treaty itself spells out the fact that the charter is not, and cannot, be used as a source of new human rights in this country. My right hon. and noble Friend the Attorney-General put it well when he described the charter in a speech last year as
"a brake not an accelerator".
The Foreign Secretary is suggesting that increased national powers are involved. Surely, however, the whole point of the new constitution is that it will remove Parliament as the root of our legal system.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised that, and I invite him to look at the treaty, the White Papers that I have produced, the evidence that I have given and the detailed commentary. There is absolutely no provenance for his statement. Remarks by hon. Members sitting next to him and by his Front-Bench team show that part of the Conservative party is trying to pretend that the proposed treaty changes the position of the primacy of European law in relation to the United Kingdom. It does not. The primacy of obligations laid out in international treaties arises in principle not from the treaty or previous EU treaties but from article 27 of the Vienna convention on the law of treaties. I urge hon. Members on both sides of the House to consider this: if a country entered into solemn treaty obligations but could then ignore them, there would never be any point in agreeing international treaties. Some countries have to incorporate every single part of international treaties directly into their domestic law—that is the case in the United States—but other countries, including the United Kingdom, take a dualist approach. The issue of primacy is present in international obligations. It was present when we joined the European Union, and it was at the heart of the argument during the 1975 referendum campaign. The position has not changed, and as one of the first articles in the treaty makes clear, European law, in respect of European competences but nothing else, has primacy. It is made clear that that is simply a restatement of the existing jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice.
Does not this exchange reveal that in practice the proposed referendum will not be about the terms of the constitution but will be a vote about whether or not we want to be a member of the European Union? In that sense, it will be a defining moment for this country and our relationship with Europe.
One can never tell exactly the basis on which individuals vote in the privacy of the ballot box. I hope very much that the vote will be about the merits of the treaty. I am confident about its merits, and the fact that it works for Britain and makes a European Union that is much more in the image that we seek. My hon. Friend is right to imply that some in the Conservative party—by no means all of them—wish to use a no vote in the referendum on the treaty as a Trojan horse to drive the United Kingdom towards withdrawing from the European Union altogether.
The new treaty fulfils every one of the commitments that I set out in the Government's White Paper in advance of the negotiations. All the institutional changes are beneficial to Britain and to the British people: a limit on the European Union's powers, a better-managed European Union, greater say for national Governments and Parliaments, and flexible arrangements to allow some members to go at a different speed from others. All those changes are proposals for which the Conservatives have called separately, but to which they now, incredibly, object, as illustrated in the rambling, rather oxymoronic reasoned amendment that they have tabled. That is why we have heard a litany of distortion and inaccuracy from them about what is in the text.
Let me be clear about what the new treaty will not do. It does not change the United Kingdom's position with respect to joining the euro. It does not hand control of our borders, foreign policy or armed forces to the European Union. It does not take away our seat at the United Nations, and nor—perhaps the most absurd claim of all—does it replace Her Majesty the Queen as Head of State. I can understand that the British public are concerned when they hear such claims about the treaty, but as discussion has gone on, so the myths and distortions have been exposed. People can increasingly see the reality, which is that the treaty will set a stable, predictable and limiting framework for the European Union.
Let me now turn to the second purpose of the Bill: a referendum in the UK and in Gibraltar to decide whether to ratify the constitutional treaty. I should point out to the House one of the many manifest absurdities of the so-called reasoned amendment tabled by the official Opposition. It asks that we decline to give the Bill a Second Reading. If there is no Second Reading, there is no Bill, and if there is no Bill, there will be no referendum. Having called for a referendum for months and months, the Conservatives have manoeuvred themselves into the extraordinary position of deciding to vote against it the moment they are actually offered one.
The provisions in part 2 fall under the general framework of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, which many hon. Members will recall. I recall it in every particular because I was a sponsor of that excellent Bill as Home Secretary. The European Union Bill sets out who will be entitled to vote in the referendum, the terms for any legal challenges to its result, and provisions on the conduct of the referendum. It also includes the question to be posed, which is a simple and straightforward one:
"Should the United Kingdom approve the Treaty establishing a Constitution for the European Union?"
I am glad to say that the Leader of the Opposition has said
"we do accept the question", and the Electoral Commission has now approved it.
In addition to the legislative provisions in the 2000 Act, we shall publish and make available to the House guidance on Government conduct, which will apply throughout the referendum period. It will take account of the requirements of the ministerial code, the civil service code, the special advisers code of conduct and guidance on the work of the Government information system.
Yesterday the Foreign Secretary told the European Scrutiny Committee that he did not see any need for the Bill to be repealed should there be a no vote in a referendum. That being the case, would the Bill remain on the statute book to be used for a second referendum on the treaty?
The Bill cannot be used for a second referendum. There would be no point in repealing it in such circumstances, because its purpose would have come to an end. I understand the question, but because he asked it—
Does the Foreign Secretary accept that some Labour Members who will vote for the Bill welcome the referendum, although they will argue against the Government's case during it, but do not accept, as my hon. Friend Tony Wright has argued, that it will be a defining moment for the country if it is lost, although it will clearly be a defining moment for the Government?
I am glad that my right hon. Friend is being consistent in his position, and I hope that his advice will be accepted as wiser counsel on the Opposition Benches. I look forward to a continuing discussion with him and one or two other hon. and right hon. Friends about the merits of the Bill. What we know of the public mood is that the more they see the good parts of the treaty, the more likely they are to support it.
There are those of us who support the treaty but think that the decision to hold a referendum was one of the weakest U-turns that the Government have performed on any issue in their history. Were I to vote for the Bill tonight, would the Foreign Secretary take it that I had been inconsistent in voting for the referendum? Would he advise me to vote against it, so that at least the dignity of Parliament and its right to determine the issue might be restored?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has taken a consistent position on the matter—he is against a referendum—and I respect him for that. Those on the Conservative Front Bench, however, are in a completely absurd position; he knows it, and so do they.
The Bill presents a choice on whether to approve the new constitutional treaty. It is important to be clear about the nature of that choice. If Parliament and the British people approve the treaty, we will fix the framework for our sort of Europe, with the reforms that I have described, but if we reject it, we are in unknown territory, and I suggest that we will be weak and isolated in Europe. We would have no option but to go cap in hand to Brussels to ask our partners to start all over again, reopening negotiations in which we had secured such a good result. If we got any deal at all, it would be a worse and not a better one, negotiated from a position of weakness, not of strength. The long-term effect would be Britain falling into a semi-detached position in Europe while others went ahead without us. We would be left without influence, out on the margins and with no say in Europe's future direction.
The choice is genuinely this: strength for Britain or isolation and weakness. We shall either endorse the reforms that we have secured, guaranteeing a strong Britain in our kind of Europe, or reject the treaty and step into the unknown, with all Britain's power and prosperity and all we have achieved in recent years at risk. Yet the official Opposition explicitly want to provoke just such a crisis in our relations with Europe. Indeed, just as many other nations are queuing up to join the EU, many in the Conservative party are doing their level best to reject it.
I apologise to my hon. Friend, but I am coming to the end of my remarks.
Let us be clear. The Conservatives say that they want not only a rejection of this new treaty, but a renegotiation of the texts of the existing treaties as well. At best, that is pure fantasy, and most will see it as deceit. Such an approach—to use the process as a Trojan horse to deliver renegotiation of existing treaties—is literally undeliverable. It would require the agreement of every other of the EU's 24 member states. Yet the Leader of the Opposition cannot point to one other member state that supports the Conservative party's position.
"like going to McDonalds and ordering a lobster thermidor".
That is, it is very nice to have, but it is simply "not on the menu". That is the truth of the matter. If the Conservative party's policy on Europe reflects nothing else, it reflects a deeply felt pessimism about its own future and the future of this country. The Conservatives say that their policy is about sovereignty, and that that is the purpose of their reasoned amendment, but it is not so. Their policy could represent only an inexorable weakening of Britain's power and influence. The Conservative party mistake isolation for sovereignty. By definition, a castaway on a desert island is sovereign, but he has no power. By playing a strong role in the EU, Britain strengthens the power of this nation. The alternative, offered by the Conservative party, is exactly the isolation and weakness that would be so damaging to our power and prosperity.
If, as I believe we do, we in Britain want to enhance our power and influence in the world, to shape global markets in our interests and to protect the British people from global threats—if we want to do all or any of those things—we must build strong alliances, not cut ourselves off. We have to be inside our largest market, shaping our rules, not outside it. With great respect to them, we are not Norway or Switzerland; we are one of the largest economies in Europe and in the world. The idea that we could simply take instructions from Brussels by fax, which is the alternative offered by associate status, is simple nonsense, but very dangerous nonsense.
Whether it is in getting proper elections in Ukraine, or in taking part in negotiations with Iran to suspend the processes that could produce fuel for a nuclear bomb, Britain is stronger when we work with others in Europe. We have to maintain that power and influence, not put it at risk.
There is a clear patriotic case for this constitutional treaty—for a strong Britain in a reforming Europe, for increasing our prosperity and our security, and for promoting our values and enhancing our power. As the debate continues in the House and in the country, I am confident that the patriotic argument for Britain in Europe will win against the narrow, pessimistic isolationism of the anti-Europeans. I say that because this is an argument about this country's future, about choosing to take our opportunities, to lead by engagement and to work with others to increase Britain's prosperity and Britain's power. I commend the Bill to the House.
I beg to move, To leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
That this House
declines to give a second reading to the European Union Bill because, whilst it enables the broadly-supported and necessary Referendum to be held on the Constitution for Europe, it also provides for the implementation into UK law of that Constitution for Europe;
it enshrines the primacy of European Union law and puts in place many of the elements of a state;
it transfers further powers to the European Union institutions and further promotes the concept of a common foreign and security policy and a common economic policy;
it further encourages the over implementation of European regulations;
it extends the powers to legislate by order;
it extends the competences of the European Union in many areas including asylum and immigration, criminal and civil law;
and it therefore further diminishes the sovereignty of the United Kingdom.
Despite the welcome provisions in the Bill for the holding of a referendum, our amendment shows clearly why we will decline to support this Second Reading today. The Bill seeks to do two very different things and deliberately ends up confusing them, and the Foreign Secretary's speech has in many ways tried to increase that confusion. First, it seeks to import into our own law the provisions of the constitution for Europe, and, secondly, it enables the referendum to be held. There should have been two separate Bills. As with devolution, it would have made sense for Parliament to know the public's mind before legislating to implement.
We were told in last week's White Paper that
"the process of Parliamentary scrutiny will inform the public debate" on the constitution. What did the Foreign Secretary mean by informing public debate—surely not the propagandist speech to which he has just treated us?
It is clear from the Bill and its timetable, and—I have to say with a certain amount of respect as this is probably the shortest speech that the Foreign Secretary has made on Europe—the length of his speech itself, that far from informing the public debate, the Government are desperate to keep it as short and as propagandist as possible. They have started already. Last week—he did it again today, and I am sure that he will do it over and over again—the right hon. Gentleman boasted that he had delivered a constitution that every other country in Europe is calling a great British success. Once again, he quoted one or two French sources, but he is obviously selective in his reading.
"this Constitution was wanted by France, and is largely inspired by France."
On the same website, Alain Lamassoure, one of France's constitution draftsmen, described the constitution—this is important in this context—as
"the coronation of what we call the French vision of Europe, as opposed to the Anglo-Saxon vision".
Even Nicholas Sarkozy, the leader of the UMP, has said that
"if the French said 'no' in the referendum, it would be the British . . . who would triumph".
There appears to be a severe breakdown of communications between the Foreign Secretary and his French colleagues.
The truth is, as Mr. Sarkozy suggests, that this constitution is bad for Britain and for all those who seek to retain and develop a Europe that is a true partnership of sovereign nations. That is why this reasoned amendment seeks to distinguish between the welcome prospect of a binding referendum, which we have long sought, and the rest of the Bill, which sets out to impose upon the United Kingdom a European constitution, which leads us through that gateway towards a country called Europe where we do not want to go.
I will give way in a second.
Last week's White Paper made the astonishing claim that this treaty makes Europe "easier to understand". What nonsense. It establishes a constitution of considerable obtuseness, 500 pages of it, so easy to understand that a fortnight ago the Government produced a commentary on the constitution of another 500 pages. That is aside from all the propagandist bumf on the treaty that the Government have been producing during the past six months that we are now told makes it easier for Europe to understand.
I should like to see a detailed parliamentary analysis of the constitution—
I will in a moment.
—a line by line examination, as I think Mr. Allen mentioned, in the course of the legislation. Yet proceedings on the Bill in this House are to be gravely curtailed to a day and half in Committee. Clearly the Government are frightened that the more we debate it, the more the British people will see it for what it is—a significant change in the relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union, the first formal step towards a politically united Europe, and, to coin a phrase, the capstone of a federal state.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman recall that it was one of his colleagues, I believe—I am not sure—Mr. Redwood, who asked the Prime Minister if the Government would produce a commentary setting out the old treaties and the new one side by side? That is what we have done. We do what the Conservative party wants and he should welcome that.
I asked a question on how widely that had been circulated, to which I received an answer, and if the Minister looks that up, he will find that not a lot of people in Britain will see that particular document. In an earlier debate I challenged the Minister to send a copy of this constitution to every elector, and on that occasion he was very encouraging in his reply, but I see that that has now disappeared from the Government's agenda.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is getting to one of the core problems here, which is that we started with a treaty, which is essentially a deal between various Governments, and have turned it into a constitution. Some of us favour a written constitution. We think that written constitutions are so good that they should not just go to Iraq or Europe, but to the UK as well. But will the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is now a contradiction, because instead of trying to win people to an inspiring written constitution for a very large project, whether he agrees with it or not, we now have a highly technical, treaty-oriented, Euro-babble-ridden document that will make it even harder for those of us who support a written constitution for Europe to sell it to the British people?
I have a great deal of sympathy for the hon. Gentleman in the difficulty that he will have in selling this to the British people. But the point about the treaty is that it is a treaty that, in its own terms, establishes a constitution for Europe. That is why we have to deal with it in terms of it being the constitution that the Government seek to implement, and deal with it in its detail. But from now on, rather than parliamentary scrutiny—we will have only a day and a half in Committee—it will be propaganda, mostly at the taxpayers' expense, on what the Government call
"making the case for the Constitution".
May I ask my right hon. and learned Friend a question to which I am genuinely not sure of the answer? What is the position of the Conservative Front Bench on the parliamentary scrutiny and a referendum if, as I trust, a Conservative Government are returned in a few weeks' time? Will there be a full parliamentary process before a referendum is held, and would that parliamentary process be conducted on an altogether more sensible timetable than is suggested for this, or is it the Conservative Front Bench's policy that we have no parliamentary process and go straight to a quick referendum on the whole thing?
Our policy, which we have made clear, is that after the election we will hold a referendum before the end of September of this year. We would take advantage of the example of the devolution referendums, where the legislation took place after the referendums, so that the House was aware of the feelings of the people who had voted in those referendums before the case was made.
The taxpayer should wake up to the extent to which they will be fleeced to pay for this shameless one-sided propaganda exercise. The Minister for Europe said that the Government plan to spend "serious money" promoting the EU constitution, and we now discover that for once he was not joking. A written answer on
"The Government of the day in future referendums should, as a government, remain neutral and should not distribute at public expense literature, even purportedly 'factual' literature, setting out or otherwise promoting its case"?
This Government are not taking account of that serious recommendation.
But that is not all. Last month, the PR company, Geronimo, was hired to run an extensive communications campaign costing the taxpayer another £40,000 by April. Apparently, its brief is to promote the idea that the EU constitution is a "success for Britain". Even the Electoral Commission has inferred that the current practice is "undesirable" and that
"in fairness the Government should operate under the same restrictions as everyone else."
We look to the Government to stop using taxpayers' money improperly in the run-up to a referendum that will, even on their own terms, be delayed for a very long time.
I should like to make some progress.
The combining of the paving measure for the referendum and the adoption of the constitution into our law is simply an attempt to muddy the water. Of course, we welcome the Government's belated U-turn on the holding of a referendum, which the Prime Minister once told us would be
"a gross and irresponsible betrayal of the true British national interest".
However, the Bill should be about the referendum and nothing else—that, I say to my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke, is what we would do in these circumstances. I accept that with amendments this Bill could still achieve that purpose, and I invite the Government seriously to consider that. In that case, a day and a half in Committee would probably be more than enough for the purposes of seeing the legislation pass through.
Then there is the question of the timing of the referendum. We have been told that it cannot be held during our presidency of the EU later this year. Why on earth not? Now that the final terms of the constitution are known, it would be better for the EU to get on with the referendum. It would also be better for the stability of Europe and better for Britain, which will become increasingly frustrated and suspicious at what is clearly unnecessary delay. I have heard no convincing reason for delaying until next spring, and I now hear rumours that the Government are considering October next year. The only conclusion that I can draw is that they are running scared of the British electorate.
As I have said before, I think in retrospect that there was a case for holding a referendum on Maastricht. In this case, where there is a fundamental shift in the relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom, a referendum is absolutely essential. I repeat that when we are on the Government Benches, after May, we will hold that referendum before the end of September.
Some Labour Members have been laughing at the right hon. Gentleman's saying that he would have voted in favour of a referendum on Maastricht. His embarrassment, if he has any, in changing his mind—which the electorate might welcome—is surely no greater than the embarrassment of many of my colleagues, who said right up to the last moment that we should not have a referendum but will vote for one tonight.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, but to save time I had not intended to rehearse points that we have made before—for example, reminding the Foreign Secretary of the days when he was not only against membership of the then Common Market, but campaigned vigorously to keep Greece out of Europe. He has changed his mind, and we can change our minds.
I turn to the matter of the referendum question. The Foreign Secretary said that it has received approval. I have asked him, in writing, for an explanation of why the question in the Bill refers to
"the Treaty establishing a Constitution for the European Union" when the treaty itself refers to "a Constitution for Europe", but so far I have received no answer. It is vital that there is no ambiguity in the question, and it must therefore be logical that it uses the same descriptive terminology as the treaty, namely: "A Treaty to establish a Constitution for Europe". Indeed, this week the Electoral Commission commented that it
"believes that it is important to refer to the name of the treaty in the referendum question."
It notes that the proposed question is a modification of the treaty title rather than the exact title. Its own model question, produced in October 2004, uses the correct name. If there is no significance, as I presume that the Foreign Secretary will eventually tell me when he replies, he will have no difficulty in accepting the amendment that I will table in Committee to achieve the same effect. It is interesting to note that the French question, which has been made public today, uses the precise title of the treaty by referring to the treaty that establishes a constitution for Europe. It would be sensible if our question did the same.
Turning now to the rest of the Bill, it will come as no surprise to the House that we vigorously oppose what is being proposed. We are against a constitution for Europe, and we are against this constitution for Europe. The Bill uses the existing machinery of the European Communities Act 1972 to give legal effect to the treaty under UK domestic law.
I am going to develop my theme; I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman later.
The Bill does not seek ratification—it seeks implementation. Even if its implementation depends on an affirmative vote in the referendum, it is nevertheless unacceptable to us, and we will vote accordingly in the Lobby tonight.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman used to be my pair. My latest pair has crossed the Floor, I am glad to say. The right hon. and learned Gentleman should take a leaf out of his book.
I find it difficult to believe what I am hearing. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is explaining what he is against, but I understand that he is in favour of a major renegotiation of our involvement in Europe. Can he name just one out of the 25 countries that is in favour of the position that he is advancing?
The right hon. Gentleman will have to wait until I reach that part of my speech. I remember with affection the days when the right hon. Gentleman was not trying to ingratiate himself as much as he is at the moment, and when he and I—and Sir Malcolm Rifkind—signed a letter to The Scotsman calling for a free vote on the 1972 legislation. I am not certain that we would have that support and co-operation from him today.
I will come shortly to the reasons for our objections to the constitution and to the myths with which the Government have sought to surround it, but I want first to deal with several points arising from the Bill. It automatically extends the scope of directly effective EU law to the additional areas, such as criminal justice, that are covered by the constitution. In addition, the fundamental provisions of the constitution, including those relating to legal primacy—to which we have long objected—will be given legal effect within our law. There is also a major extension of the Government's power to legislate by statutory instrument. Ironically, that extension of bureaucratic power at the expense of Parliament is not mandated by the adoption of the constitution. It is simply a Whitehall power grab; it is gold-plating the constitution on a grand scale. That from the Foreign Secretary who told us a year ago:
"Transposition of EU legislation into national law also needs attention. The risk of gold-plating the original texts . . . is real."—[Hansard, 11 February 2004; Vol. 417; c. 1417.]
I suggest that he looks again at the Bill in that context. Perhaps he has been too busy drafting pathetic attacks on our policy to notice what his own officials are doing. Far from dealing with gold-plating, the Bill is a new milestone in its onward march.
On top of that, parliamentary approval for constitutional changes in the EU, such as extending qualified majority voting still further, which until now has required primary legislation, will now only require an abbreviated procedure. Contrary to the Government's assurances, European Court of Justice decisions on the common foreign and security policy could have legal effect. We shall want to explore all those issues more deeply in Committee, but the Government's attempts to use time constraints to stifle proper debate may make that difficult.
The Bill is certainly not the inoffensive measure that the Government would have us believe. It sets out to create something that has not existed in this country that is of fundamental importance and creates a fundamental change. The Government know that, which is why they seek to hide it in a miasma of myths. I may have misjudged the Government in one respect. I had thought that their assertion that the real choice facing the British people is whether they want to be in or out of Europe—the Foreign Secretary was rather less assertive about it today, but the Minister for Europe keeps returning to it on the radio—was pure propaganda. I am beginning to conclude that they have become the victims of their own spin and that they genuinely believe it. That could explain why they surrendered on so many matters on which they told us that they would stand firm. It would explain why they are so prepared to sell out our sovereignty and our rights of self-determination.
When will the Government realise that the successful countries in the EU are those that are prepared to fight their corners and stand up for the national interest? France would never have stood by and watched while the EU destroyed a basic national industry, as we have watched our fishing industry being destroyed. No wonder the Government's record on Europe is such a dismal litany of caving in.
A moment ago, the right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned the common fisheries policy. I have asked the question three or four times: will he take the opportunity to apologise on behalf of the Conservative party for signing up to it in the first place?
We have made our current position clear and we intend to pursue such a policy after we win the election in May.
No wonder we are considering a Bill that asks us to sign away yet more of our sovereignty. We have a Government of the white flag and black propaganda. From the Government of the dodgy dossier, we got another dodgy dossier yesterday. It was based on false premises, coloured by false analysis and riddled with false conclusions, but then I read that Alastair Campbell is back. It was not about weapons of mass destruction but our EU policy. The Government use tactics of false myths, which we must expose again and again.
The Government claim, incredibly, that the constitution means more power for member states. Former Italian Prime Minister Signor Lamberto Dini was much nearer the truth when he said that, under the constitution
"the Union . . . will become an institution and organisation in its own right."
I heard the Foreign Secretary on the radio this morning responding to a comment that I had made by saying that what we were experiencing now was not irreversible. I refer him to the remarks of the Prime Minister of France, Monsieur Raffarin, who said in October:
"For the first time, Europe has a shared Constitution. This pact is the point of no return. Europe is becoming an irreversible project, irrevocable after the ratification of this treaty."
The Government claim that the constitution is essential to manage enlargement. Yet five years ago, the Prime Minister was arguing that it was not needed. Six years ago, the Foreign Secretary's predecessor went so far as to tell the House:
"For the record, we are not proposing a constitution of Europe."—[Hansard, 25 May 1999; Vol. 332, c. 184.]
There have been even greater myths. The Prime Minister declared that
"we have won every single thing we wanted to secure".
Who was he trying to kid? Of 275 Government amendments to the constitution's text, only 27 got through. That is a success rate of one in 10—hardly
"every single thing we wanted to secure".
The charter of fundamental rights, which the Government promised would only ever be a political declaration, is now legally binding. The Prime Minister said that giving the EU a single legal personality would be damaging and boasted after Amsterdam that he had blocked it. Yet under the constitution, the EU gets a single legal personality.
At the convention that drafted the European constitution, the Government tried to strike out the new chapter on energy policy. They failed. They said that the creation of a European Foreign Minister would be "unacceptable", yet in article 1–28, there he is. In 1996, the Prime Minister promised, as Leader of the Opposition, that
"we restate our agreement to justice and home affairs remaining outside Community competence" —[Hansard, 16 December 1996; Vol. 287, c. 617.]
Yet the constitution gives the Union jurisdiction over justice and home affairs. The Prime Minister claimed that
"we are not giving up the power to set our asylum laws".—[Official Report,
"we will retain complete control over our asylum policy".
However, the European Commission made it clear two weeks ago that that is simply untrue.
In another desperate piece of spin, the Government invented the famous "red lines", which would not be surrendered. However, they broke them, too. They failed to stop the potential establishment of a European public prosecutor. They gave up our veto on criminal procedure law and some penalties and definitions of crime, and they gave up our veto over social security.
Perhaps it is the depth of the Government's failure that explains the extraordinary myths that they have been prepared to propagate. The Prime Minister even claimed that
"national Parliaments . . . can in fact block Commission measures".
Even the Foreign Secretary said today that we are considering a yellow flag, not a red flag. All that can do is ask the Commission to review the position; it cannot force it to repeal legislation.
Behind the myths, the reality is that the constitution represents both a strategic defeat and a defeat in detail for the Government. Their trouble is that they have no real vision for Europe, other than a vague one of integration and a desperate fear of being isolated.
I shall not give way. The result of the Government's policies has been drift and failure. Hon. Members should not take my word for it but listen to Derek Scott, the Prime Minister's trusted chief economic adviser for six years. [Interruption.] It is wonderful that someone who leaves Downing street becomes a subject of mockery after being regarded as a guru throughout the time spent there. He said:
"The British Government never really thought through its own position."
He should know—he was in the centre of everything. He continued:
"First, it opposed a written constitution and then it put forward its own draft, which was treated with contempt. Then there was all that nonsense about 'tidying up' and the need to produce a clear document that could be tucked in your pocket."
The Foreign Secretary will remember that phrase.
Mr. Scott went on:
"The Government never saw the discussions on the constitution as an opportunity to stand back and think clearly about the appropriate political and economic framework to sustain the EU. There was no strategic thinking. The Government drifted into negotiating over specific details."
The result of that damning indictment is the document that the Government are trying to sell us today.
However, the most worrying aspects are in the detail of the constitution's effects. The charter of fundamental rights will lead to the European Court of Justice making decisions on matters from asylum law to employment law that are currently the province of elected Members of Parliament. As the president of the Court of Justice said, the constitution
"will bring new areas and new subjects under the Court's jurisdiction."
In this country, we are currently debating which party has the best policies to deal with the problems of asylum and immigration. Under the constitution, that debate would be redundant. The relevant decisions would be taken not here but in Brussels. The constitution will vastly extend the EU's powers over our criminal justice.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman's comments on the charter are simply untrue and he must know that. Article II-III-2 makes it clear that the provisions of the charter can be justiciable only in respect of interpretation of Acts in relation to EU law. As the Attorney-General said, it acts as a constraint and a brake on the scope of what the EU can do, not an accelerator. Why does the right hon. and learned Gentleman perpetuate something that is incorrect?
The man who will apply the constitution—the president of the European Court of Justice—said that the constitution would bring new areas and new subjects under the court's jurisdiction. He does not accept the Foreign Secretary's point of view. When the right hon. Gentleman talks about a brake, he should consult the opinion of Professor Sir David Edward, who said that the charter was not, in effect, a brake. We should discuss that in Committee because it goes to the heart of the Government's case.
My right hon. and learned Friend has mentioned asylum and immigration policy several times. I find some difficulty in following his argument and, indeed, the argument in the reasoned amendment, to which he put his name. As I read the document, the protocol on page 130 removes from the United Kingdom the application of the new provisions on asylum and immigration law. In other words, we are completely protected and allowed under the protocol to go on legislating about that for ourselves. In what way and why are provisions that explicitly do not apply to this country on asylum and immigration a reason for not acceding to the treaty?
My hon. Friend must learn from experience. We learned in the past three weeks that the Government have already opted into several protocols, which have removed from the House the ability to legislate on that subject. The constitution makes that easier and more likely in future.
He spoke to the European Scrutiny Committee. If I may, I shall write to the hon. Gentleman. I have the quotation in the bundle of papers and I believe that my recollection of Professor Edward's comment is accurate.
Despite protestations that foreign and security policy will not be harmonised, a new European Foreign Minister and diplomatic corps will appear under the constitution. There is even an extension of qualified majority voting in foreign affairs and the Foreign Minister, whatever the Foreign Secretary may say, would, in some circumstances, speak for us at the United Nations. In many other important areas of national interest, including energy policy, employment law and the entrenchment of the common fisheries policy, this constitution means that decisions will no longer be taken in this national Parliament but in the European Union's institutions. Above all, as Derek Scott says, this constitution would
"entrench Europe's failings and drag Britain down too. The constitution is a heady brew of bad politics and bad economics . . . its proponents are being disingenuous in their presentations to the British people."
Let us face it, the European Union is not performing as it should. If it had the same record as the United States on creating jobs, 28 million more people would be in work in the European Union today. It is time to take a fresh look, and rejection of this constitution would allow us to go back to the drawing board. The reality is that a European Union of 25—and possibly more—member states can work only if it is generally recognised that different countries want different levels of integration. Why should we not let each country find the level of integration with which it feels comfortable? We need a new, imaginative structure for the European Union, and a flexible approach would ensure that we could create a made-to-measure Europe in which the institutional arrangements comfortably fitted national interests, rather than an off-the-peg Europe that is ill fitting and, as we now know, splitting at the seams.
The Foreign Secretary holds the bizarre view that it is a fantasy to call for the return of powers from the EU to Britain, but surely the real fantasy is to assert that everything that the EU does is best decided at European level and that everything that it has done in the past is now set in stone.
No, I have given way to the right hon. Gentleman before.
There is a growing belief across Europe that some things that the EU does would be better done at national level. I know that it embarrasses Labour Members, but I am going to quote Derek Scott once more.
You are very percipient, Mr. Deputy Speaker; I was about to come to the point that the right hon. Gentleman asked me about.
Before I do so, however, I want to quote Derek Scott once more. He said that
"the point is there are alternatives to the EU constitution. Its proponents argue that returning competences is not on anyone's agenda beyond a narrow euro-sceptic fringe. This is patently not true . . . it should have been on the agenda of the Convention of the Future of Europe. If it was not, it was because the government was too gutless to put it there."
"the EU . . . should look expressly at those parts of common policy for which member states could take responsibility again."
And Commissioner Margot Wallström has said that
"in the European Commission, we must accept that more power is moved back to the member states".
So the Government's argument that there is no alternative to the constitution, and that it is absurd to call for powers to be brought back to the nation state, is simply bunkum. We, like the Dutch, think that we are better off out of the social chapter, which is adding red tape to British business. And it is because we want our fisheries to thrive like Norway's rather than continue to endure an unsustainable plundering that we believe that national and local control should be restored to our fisheries. By rejecting this constitution, and through negotiation, we can develop a European Union that works better for Britain and better for itself.
On renegotiating existing treaties, surely the question should not be what the EU thinks about that, but what the British people think. An ICM poll in November showed that the British people want renegotiation, and that even more younger people than older people support that proposal.
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and there is a further one to add to it. We have renegotiated successfully in the past. An example would be Lady Thatcher going to secure our rebate. The key to that renegotiation was determination and political will. The problem is that the Labour party has no determination and no political will in this regard.
No, I have spoken for long enough.
Europe is facing relative decline. The constitution embodies the ossified thinking that lies behind it, and it is time for a fresh start. The new Commission President's call for jobs and growth to be the priority is welcome evidence that at last new thinking is emerging. Our view is that the European Union is worth renewing. The single market has, despite its faults, been a force for wealth creation. Our air is cleaner as a result of European co-operation on pollution. Old enemies have been reconciled and young democracies have found a stable home through the European Union. We actually want the EU to succeed. But it will not succeed if it is railroaded by a political elite with an overweening ambition to create a European superpower, clinging to an outmoded social model.
The way forward—"forward" is a word the Government use frequently these days—is to reject this constitution. Opposition to it is widespread and growing. Yesterday's Institute of Directors poll of its members found that 49 per cent. were against the EU constitution, with only 29 per cent. in favour. A MORI poll of 100 of the UK's 500 largest firms in January this year found that 60 per cent. of Britain's biggest businesses were opposed to the EU constitution.
We shall now redouble our efforts to remind the British people that they have before them a clear choice between the Government, who are hellbent on giving Brussels more control over our lives, and the Conservative Party, which will reverse that conveyor belt and bring powers back. This Bill represents a defining moment for our country. It is bad for Britain, and I call on the House to support our reasoned amendment.
I see that Mr. Cook is trying to catch my eye. May I remind all right hon. and hon. Members that the 10-minute rule now starts to apply for Back-Bench speeches?
I speak to the House as a survivor of the negotiations on the Amsterdam and Nice treaties. As such, I fully understand the complexity of the task that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has had to face. I can share with the House the fact that we managed to get agreement on the complex voting formula at Nice only because, on the last night—and I do mean "night"—I smuggled in a laptop so that we could explain to the delegations how everything added up. I therefore congratulate my right hon. Friend on having at least produced a voting system that can be explained without the use of a laptop.
I sympathise with the patience with which my right hon. Friend has had to endure the 22-carat nonsense that has been talked about the treaty with which he has returned. One of the great instruments of our free press has said that this European constitution represents the greatest threat to English freedom for 1,000 years. Well, 1,000 years encompasses an awful lot of threats. Personally, I would have thought that Hitler, the Kaiser and King Philip of Spain's armada presented a greater threat than Valéry Giscard d'Estaing.
Mr. Ancram has just referred to the section on energy. Attempts have been made to suggest that if we signed up to the constitution, we should have to give away control of our North sea oil. Indeed, I have heard Members on this side of the Chamber argue that case. However, the section on energy could not be more crystal clear: there is nothing in it that affects the right of a nation to control the exploitation of its own energy resources.
It would be a tragedy if the debate on the constitution became dominated by rebutting the myths, fantasies and canards that are told by those in the no camp. It would be a tragedy because there is a powerful, positive case to be made for the constitution—a case, I am bound to say, that should be particularly appealing to those who are critics of the European Union.
I heard the shadow Foreign Secretary on the "Today" programme this morning, which rather interfered with my concentration on brushing my teeth. He claimed that we were once again on the one-way escalator towards giving greater power to Brussels. I have to say to him that that is not what is in the treaty. The treaty ought to be welcomed by those who want to put a limit on the creep of competence to Brussels. It specifically defines, limits and sets down what the competences of Brussels are. Indeed, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman cares to look up article I.13, which lists the exclusive competences of Brussels, he will find that they are modest and short. There are only four such exclusive competences, and only three of them apply to Britain because we are not a member of the euro. There is no substantial expansion of competence anywhere in the constitution. That is why I can understand that Romano Prodi expressed disappointment with the outcome. I cannot, however, understand why those who are worried about powers creeping to Brussels should be disappointed by an outcome that not only places a limit on those powers, but places a limit on them where they already are.
The shadow Foreign Secretary spoke about paving the way for a country called Europe, but this constitution does nothing of the kind. It is explicit that the power of the European Union comes from competences that are conferred by the member states. That is in the first sentence of the first paragraph of the first article of the constitution. One does not need to read 500 pages, just the first sentence, to grasp that elementary principle.
One of the big shifts in the balance with Brussels that the constitution will bring is the result of one of the new big beasts in the Brussels jungle—the full-time President of the European Council. Until now, we have had a deeply unsatisfactory system, with presidents who not only changed every six months—just when they were getting a grip on strategy and direction—but tried to run Europe in the spare time left over from running their own countries. Now we will have something totally different. There will be a full-time president, permanent for two and a half years, probably for five years because it is renewable, based in Brussels with his or her own staff—someone who will actually provide a change in the focus of Brussels to keep tabs on the Commission, initiate proposals and, as it says in the constitution, "drive forward the agenda". For the first time, the member states in the Council will have a full-time, permanent figurehead to set the agenda on behalf of the member states. That is a major shift away from the present balance held by the supranational institutions.
It is also very welcome, I have to say, that we will now know what goes on in the Council of Ministers. For the first time, as a result of the constitution, the Council of Ministers will meet in public whenever it passes legislation. I would have thought that everyone in this Chamber could welcome that, because it ends what was, frankly, an embarrassment. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the only legislative body left in Europe that met in secret was the Council of Ministers. It will now meet in public and we can see what is done there, which will make it more accountable, in turn, to the national Parliaments.
I am conscious that this infant constitution gets buffeted on both ears. It gets buffeted on the right ear by Conservative Members, who have a nostalgic yearning for the glory days of the old free-standing nation states, and it gets buffeted on the left ear by some of my hon. Friends who believe that the EU is not sufficiently aggressively socialist. I would encourage my hon. Friends to have a touch of humility when they address the question. Speaking as someone who was Foreign Secretary and, for a while, president of the Party of European Socialists, I know left-wing colleagues on the continent quite well. It may surprise my hon. Friends to hear it, but our continental partners do not think of Britain as a beacon of pioneering left-wing government—[Laughter.] It may astonish colleagues to know that most of the continental parties believe that we are not sufficiently aggressively socialist, and view Britain as being the strongest voice in the Council of Ministers for deregulation and market fundamentalism.
I also have to say that it is our partners, not us, who have insisted on language in the constitution that should be welcome to my colleagues. Among the European values listed in the early pages are combating social exclusion and discrimination, promoting social justice, achieving full employment and social progress. Half of the charter of fundamental rights, which I welcome being written into the constitution, is about economic and social rights, including the right to collective bargaining and collective action, freedom from discrimination, the right to equal pay, paid holidays and reasonable working time. My hon. Friends might like to reflect on the fact that it was precisely because of the prominence given to those rights in the charter that the CBI long vigorously opposed it, which is a reason why Labour Members should be supporting it as a progressive step rather than resisting it.
My right hon. Friend is trying to seduce the last dinosaurs on this side of the House, but does he accept that we have to reflect on the single market and all that it brings? That is why some of us—revisionists though we be—view this development as an unpalatable move that will lock us further into even more centralisation.
I would say gently to my hon. Friend that there is nothing in the constitution that represents increased centralisation. It certainly consolidates existing measures, but the Single European Act was passed a good two decades ago. Another reason why this development should be welcomed is that there are 3 million people who work in Britain on goods that are exported to the EU, which is the market for the great majority of our exports. I personally do not believe that it is a viable long-term strategy to say to our continental partners, "Go and jump into the channel—but do keep buying British". That would not be welcome news to the 750,000 British companies that export to the EU.
I am not quite sure about the point of the toothbrush.
My right hon. Friend mentioned 3 million jobs in this country, but does he accept that the EU exports more to us than we do to them, and that in the eurozone there are more jobs dependent on trade with Britain than there are British jobs dependent on trade with the eurozone? In those circumstances, they would not cut off their noses to spite their faces.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his Olympian confidence that Britain has much greater economic weight than the entire eurozone, but I suspect that if he gets down to negotiations it may not look like that, and I would invite him to reflect on the relative percentages. The exports that we send to the eurozone amount to some 10 per cent. of our total gross domestic product, but the exports sent from the eurozone to Britain amount to fewer than 3 per cent. At the end of the day, we need them—I put this gently; I do not want to exaggerate—at least as much as they need us. It may be a bridge too far for my hon. Friend, but I invite him to reflect on the fact that since the euro was created, inward investment coming to Britain as a share of European investment has tumbled to a quarter of the previous level. My hon. Friend should reflect further on what he said, before the economic consequences of that start to affect his own region.
I am terribly sorry, but I have now taken my two interventions for which I get injury time and I have no injury time to take any more. Fortunately, I am capable of counting to two.
I want to return to a point that was implicit in the intervention of my hon. Friend Mr. Drew on the Single European Act. Much of it is indeed consolidated inside this text, but although there some new matters are included, I would stress that 80 per cent. of it comprises the existing five treaties to which we have already signed up. Those who want Britain to vote no must be honest and tell people that they would not be voting no only to the new matter, but to the whole basis on which we have been a member of the EU for the last 30 years.
I listened carefully to what the shadow Foreign Secretary said about renegotiation, but when he claimed that Mr. Bot would agree with him to renegotiate, I would point out to him that Mr. Bot signed this constitution. His name appears in the early pages of the document; the idea that he is now going to start renegotiating something that he has already authorised and signed seems to me to be pure fantasy and delusion. In the end, if another dozen European countries have referendums and vote yes, we should not imagine that their Governments are then going to settle cheerfully down and have a look at renegotiating the terms that they commended to their own people.
Lastly, I want to say that when I was Foreign Secretary, I was impressed by the extent to which we live in an interdependent world. Our prosperity, security, freedom from organised crime—even our weather—depend on our success in achieving common approaches with the rest of our continent. The EU is an intelligent progressive model for trying to achieve such agreement. Of course, it is a condition of membership that compromises have to be accepted and that the option of going it alone has to be given up, but those are not just the conditions of membership of the EU, they are conditions of life in our modern interdependent world. In trying to reject the conditions of the EU, those hon. Members who are saying no to the constitution are also seeking to say no to modern reality. That is the case for voting yes to the constitution—for the sensible improvements that it makes to sensible arrangements for the modern world.
We have heard a lot of quotations so far in this debate. I wonder whether, during his time in No. 10 Downing street, Mr. Derek Scott was aware that he had acquired such an extraordinarily authoritative influence over the proceedings of the House of Commons. I shall not follow the style that has been established, other than to refer to a quotation to which Mr. Cook animadverted a moment ago. Title 1 of part 1 of the treaty states that
"this Constitution establishes the European Union on which Member States confer competences to obtain objectives they have in common. The Union shall coordinate the policies by which the Member States aim to achieve these objectives and shall exercise on a Community basis the competences they confer on it."
Those two especially well written sentences contain the essence of the document that we are invited to consider today. I welcome this Bill, and I especially welcome its provisions for a referendum. When Mr. Bryan Gould, as he was then, introduced what I think was new clause 51 of the Bill ratifying the Maastricht treaty—the new clause called for a referendum on that treaty—my Liberal Democrat colleagues and I, and other hon. Members from all parties, voted to support the proposal.
As I have said often in the House before, I believe that it is right, for constitutional and political reasons, to seek the endorsement of the people of the UK when the intention is to change the relationship between Brussels and Westminster. I very much hope that the Bill will pass into law before what we understand to be the date of the general election, although I have some doubts whether sufficient legislative time is available in both Houses of Parliament. If the general election is called for
As far as I know, at no time in history have any British Government signed a treaty that has not been ratified subsequently. However, the logic of those who would reject the Bill and the constitution seems to be that there are no circumstances in which this country would ratify a treaty entered into by our Government. That would be a very novel constitutional position to adopt. It would almost certainly put into very sharp contrast our relations with our EU allies. Therefore, rejection of the Bill would immediately provoke something of a constitutional impasse with the EU, and perhaps worse.
Many people say that the debate on the referendum, when it takes place, must be on the terms of the constitution itself, but I think that they are guilty of wishing for something that cannot be achieved. Does anyone seriously believe that the debate on the referendum, once it begins, will be conducted both in the country and in those newspapers that are most violently against the EU on anything other than the question of whether membership is good for us or otherwise? It will be beholden on us to argue for the principle of EU membership, as well as for the terms and merits of a particular document.
On many occasions I have argued in this House that we should never allow ourselves to forget the turmoil out of which the European Coal and Steel Community was formed, and the purposes of it and its successors. The aim was to avoid the continent of Europe being subjected to the destruction, war and loss of life that had disfigured it three times in the preceding 80 years. War between EU member states is now inconceivable. That is neither incidental nor fortuitous; it is a consequence of the EU—and, yes, of NATO as well. It is something of which I think that we are too often careless. We too often forget the genesis of the EU, and what it has achieved.
The Foreign Secretary said earlier that our membership of the EU allowed us to join France and Germany in seeking to influence the policies of Iran, in an area that is of vital importance for our security. The remarkable handshake that we saw yesterday may presage a new chapter in the relations between Israel and the Palestinians. The EU, collectively, will have an enormous influence on the outcome of the journey on which Israel and the Palestinians appear to have set out. That influence will stem from what we can contribute and from the political influence that we can bring to bear.
The argument for the EU that will inevitably form part of a referendum campaign must not be allowed to go by default. It is also worth reminding ourselves that only a few years ago eight of the new members of the EU were satellites of the Soviet Union, and that three member states—Spain, Portugal and Greece—were dictatorships. It is inconceivable that those countries would revert to dictatorships, or that the former Soviet satellites would do anything other than adhere to the principles of democracy and open markets that we in this country have taken for granted so long but to which they have sought to aspire.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is making a good, logical and well argued case, but is he not worried that his approach will not get over to the British public, because of the media? For example, The Sun would have us believe that 2 million people would be unemployed, that we could not have acted in the Falklands or the Gulf without President Chirac's approval, and that we would lose our seat on the UN Security Council. How can we counteract the myths, lies and rubbish peddled by The Sun and by people such as my hon. Friend Mr. Davidson?
However, Mr. Foulkes is right to say that there is a case to be made. As the Foreign Secretary will know, I have been critical of the Government in this matter. Since 1997, they have missed too many opportunities to make the European case. It has sometimes been said of the Prime Minister—perhaps a little slightingly—that he thinks that being at the heart of Europe means making a speech in Warsaw every two or three years. The Government could have done more since they have been in office, but I still believe that the referendum campaign can be won, so long as those in this House and outside it who believe that the EU project is worth while and that the constitution is in our interest fully engage in the argument. The campaign can be won, but it will require a great deal of application. We have not seen that application so far.
On the question of myths, we should take our lead from the right hon. Member for Livingston. Earlier, he underlined the importance of the EU in terms of prosperity, economic advantage and inward investment. That approach is more hard-headed than the historical case that I was trying to make earlier, but the two are not mutually inconsistent. Both approaches can march robustly side by side in the campaign for the constitution.
People are able to work, study, live and go on holiday in the EU. More than 750,000 Britons live abroad in EU member states, and at least 100,000 of them work in the EU. People understand the opportunity that the EU gives them, but the case for Europe cannot stand without an openness to reform. Europe has to enhance its democratic accountability, streamline the EU's powers and achieve political stability. The constitution is a necessary part of that.
Since we joined in 1973, there have been four treaties and four further waves of enlargement, from six founder members to 25 members today. That may rise to 27 with Bulgaria and Romania on the doorstep and other countries, such as Croatia and Turkey, knocking on the door.
The EU has more than 20 per cent. of world GDP, a powerful currency, of which the United Kingdom is not a member, and potentially a strong foreign policy role with the opportunity to promote freedom, stability and prosperity beyond its borders. The project is certainly worth while. I hope that we will not conduct our discussion on these matters as if we are engaged in some grand ideological contest, or a form of political combat in which victory is always equated with the successful defence of sovereignty in what is essentially a 19th-century concept, or even older.
In a modern and connected world, sovereignty is not preserved by disengagement. It is undermined by isolation and enhanced by co-operation. In trade, economics, crime, the environment, security, immigration and the campaign against terrorism co-operation is not merely beneficial; it is imperative. As the recent United Nations high-level panel report observes, there has been globalisation not just of opportunities, but of threats and challenges, and only co-operative action will equip us to meet those challenges. Some say—perhaps portentously, but there may be some truth in it—that those challenges have the capacity to damage the very values upon which our nation is based.
I believe that the treaty will provide institutional clarity. As I said, the competences are those conferred by a union of nation states upon the European Union, and those powers and competences now seem to be more clearly defined than before.
On primacy, the Foreign Secretary referred to international law. Going back to 1973, it is clear that under the instrument of accession passed by Parliament, European law has primacy, but to extrapolate from that the notion that somehow our criminal law will now be subjugated to Brussels is wholly contrary to principle and makes no sense whatever. On subsidiarity—I wish that the treaty had gone further—the so-called yellow card principle is worth while, but there would have been a lot to be said for a red card. I have heard the Foreign Secretary's answer to that point, but if we are considering the matter from the point of view of the extent to which domestic Parliaments are controlling what happens in Brussels, a provision that provided for prohibition rather than delay would have greatly enhanced the credibility of the idea that domestic Parliaments can exercise control over what is happening in Brussels.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that he would have liked national Parliaments to have a red card. Surely that is equivalent to a veto. One of the objections to the constitution is that Britain has given up its red card—its veto—in so many areas.
I pause to think, but I cannot immediately bring to mind areas in which the veto has been given up. My understanding is that we have retained it for foreign policy, defence, taxation, social security and own resources. The so-called red lines seem to be eloquent examples of where the veto has not been taken away.
May I take the right hon. and learned Gentleman back to the issue of the yellow card? We have had this debate before, and if one third of national Parliaments—effectively, one third of national Governments—tell the Commission that they do not like a proposal, it will have to be reviewed. Moreover, if 45 per cent. of national Parliaments—national Governments—tell the European Union that they do not like a proposal, there is a veto. However, we cannot have the system of yellow cards replacing the system of qualified majority voting.
I understand the constitutional point and I see Labour Members nodding, but I am considering the matter from the point of view of politics, and telling people in the United Kingdom that this is not an irreversible escalator. It would have had some advantage in that regard.
In support of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point, may I add that had we involved this House in more detail with certain areas in which there was a red card, pro-Europeans would have liked that because it would have removed many of the problems—some of which are justified and some of which are merely found by Conservative Members—and undercut the argument against a written constitution. My fundamental point is that we would have been trying to sell the constitution on the basis of an overarching common law instead of going for a referendum on the basis of political expediency.
I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will develop that theme if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
In answering the point made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok about vetoes, I did not acknowledge the fact that we have accepted qualified majority voting in a number of areas, but that was when it was in our interests to do so. As the Foreign Secretary pointed out effectively, the possibility of reform of the common agricultural policy depends on the exercise of qualified majority voting. If every country possessed a veto in that area, the prospect of making progress with reform would be remote.
May I assist the right hon. and learned Gentleman on the point about majority voting? I have a list of 63 new areas, which the Library has confirmed, that have been transferred to majority voting. They include the whole area of criminal justice, including criminal procedures, rules of evidence and rights of the accused. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman not think that that is a significant advance into a new area by the EU, particularly as such matters will be decided by majority voting, perhaps in defiance of this House? [Interruption.]
Well, as the Foreign Secretary says—not sotto voce, but magna voce from the Treasury Bench—we have either the right of veto or the opt-out. Let us suppose that the House decided to abolish jury trial. None of the provisions to which the right hon. Gentleman referred would prevent it from doing so. I hope that it is highly unlikely that the House would want to do that—[Interruption.] I hope that the Home Secretary is not listening to that. In such areas, the process and principle on which our criminal law systems are based, north and south of the border, are not being attacked by the provisions to which the right hon. Gentleman referred.
As for the presidency of the Council, continuity and coherence in the Council can only be enhanced by the proposals to be made for that office. The Commission is much maligned, sometimes justifiably, but it is worth reminding ourselves that it is half the size of Birmingham city council and has a budget of just over 1 per cent. of European Union income. It is not the monolith as which it is sometimes characterised.
On the accounting procedures of the European Union, if the hon. Gentleman had been present on previous occasions, he would have heard me criticising the fact that the accounts were not signed off. However, a more effective system of auditing the EU's accounts would have some implications. The auditors do not, at the moment, have the right to go to individual countries, but a more effective system would mean extending the auditors' powers to enable them to examine the books here in the United Kingdom. So far, there has been no particular enthusiasm for that. If the hon. Gentleman's point is that the use of public money should be subject to proper scrutiny, that applies as much in the European Union as in the House of Commons—and in that regard, we are at one.
I want to say a word or two about the security and defence policy. This is an important and significant development and already has practical application. The European Union has taken over command and responsibility for peacekeeping in Bosnia, which will be an enormous opportunity as well as an enormous test. It is important to remind ourselves, as it has not featured so far in the debate, that NATO is still affirmed as the bedrock of our collective defence. Indeed, the treaty says:
"commitments under NATO, which, for those States which are members of it, remains the foundation of their collective defence and the forum for its implementation".
I make that point because I do not believe that there is anything to fear in this document, nor do I fear its consequences.
The Guardian, in an editorial this morning, says that the European Union constitution is not a document "to die for". That seems to be a pretty accurate judgment. It also seems to embody sensible reform, which is why I am willing to justify it here, and ultimately in a referendum of the British people.
It is a great pleasure to be able to speak in this debate in support of the Bill, and to follow Sir Menzies Campbell, whose approach to these issues I often agree with. It is also a pleasure to follow the sparkling contribution of my right hon. Friend Mr. Cook, who, along with the Foreign Secretary, started to debunk some of the myths about this constitutional treaty.
My starting point is the opinion poll published in The Times yesterday, which showed that Europe was well down the list of issues that people felt were important. Indeed, it was in ninth place, with apparently only 10 per cent. of voters citing it as important. I was pleased that the Labour Government's approach was more popular with voters on this issue. None the less, despite the excitability of large sections of the press, the public do not seem to be very engaged with the issue, which should cause us concern given that those of us who are present for this debate are keen to give a wide public airing to issues on which the public will ultimately have the responsibility to judge.
I understand the public attitude as cited in the opinion poll, however, because despite all the alarmist comments, it seems that many of the issues that are uppermost in the public's mind at the moment—health, education, crime and other matters—are ones on which the European role is almost non-existent. In Prime Minister's Questions today, even though Members knew that the rest of today would be devoted to the European Union, Europe was hardly mentioned if at all, whereas identity cards, crime, the importance of British science and many other issues were much more prominent. We must recognise that, and realise that all of us, despite our own interest in this subject, will have to rise to a huge challenge to make it interesting to the public. Certainly, I hope that the constitution will be disseminated widely, although I sometimes worry that it might become a national cure for insomnia in the process.
Many comments have been made, especially in interventions, about the referendum question. I have not changed my attitude on that—I feel that this particular constitutional treaty was not an appropriate subject for a referendum. It is no different from Maastricht, Nice and other treaties on which we have not held referendums. I sometimes worry, given the increasing number of referendums that we are holding in our country, whether we should at least have some ground rules about the principles according to which we proceed to holding a referendum. After all, we have welcome legislation on the conduct of referendums, but nothing on the statute book—of course, we have no written constitution—to say in what circumstances it is appropriate to hold national referendums. I feel somewhat uncomfortable about the way in which we are proceeding in that respect.
My right hon. Friend talked about the ground rules for referendums. Does she agree that making sure that both sides in referendums have equal resources and limits on their spending in campaigns would be fair ground rules?
On this issue, I generally support the provisions contained in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2004, which provide a fair framework. Having been on the wrong side of a referendum in the north-east of England recently, I am well aware that both sides in that referendum felt that they at least had equal access to the media and that they were able to raise funds on an equal basis. There were not many grumbles about the conduct of the referendum, even though, to my mind, the result was a great disappointment.
Does the right hon. Lady think that it is fair that the yes and no campaigns in referendums have only a six-month period, but the Government can continue spending money until 28 days before the referendum takes place? After all, the Government are already spending a lot of our money on this campaign.
The hon. Lady should reflect that Government policies are continually tested in the House and in the media, and a wide public debate always occurs, as we found on the devolution question. Generally, the rules adopted on the conduct of referendums are satisfactory—I am not opposed to considering possible amendments in future, but the framework for holding a reasonable referendum exists.
This is a difficult subject for a referendum, however. I strongly support the idea of a referendum on the single currency, but that is on a fairly straightforward principle, with a fairly straightforward choice to be made. This constitutional treaty, which includes so many different aspects and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston pointed out, is 80 per cent. dominated by the existing treaties, is a particularly difficult issue on which to hold a referendum.
Ideas have already been put forward in the debate as to whether the referendum is about whether we should be in or out of the European Union or what issues will be involved. I well remember dealing with the Maastricht treaty and talking to some people who were understandably keen on animal welfare. They urged us to vote against the treaty if it did not have a strong reference to animal welfare. A huge treaty that deals with many different issues poses a danger that the debate can be hijacked by isolated subjects in an unhelpful way. I have real worries about that.
Having accepted that we are having a referendum, however, and that there is little point in crying over spilt milk, those of us who support the constitutional treaty will have to consider ways of making the arguments to the public and of trying to give as realistic and accurate a picture about what the treaty involves as we can. In that respect, I follow the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston and the Foreign Secretary. I believe that this treaty, in so far as it makes changes, makes sensible and welcome ones. It simplifies some of the existing text, delineates the areas where the European Union can and cannot act, provides for an increased role for national Parliaments and generally involves sensible institutional changes as a result of the welcome enlargement of the European Union.
It also gives us the opportunity to debunk the various myths about the Queen being replaced as our Head of State. In that respect, I was interested that The Spectator said way back in 1972 that if the Queen signed the then European Communities Act, she would be signing away her birth rights. Thirty or more years later, there seems no danger of that happening or being likely to happen in any kind of foreseeable future.
Indeed, some of the scare stories about taxation need to be debunked. It was established in the treaty of Rome that the European Commission has the power to make taxation proposals, but in reality, such matters still require unanimity. Rather than steamrollering towards a common taxation system, progress down that route—for those who want to make such progress—has been incredibly slow.
I have already given way twice and I am afraid that I am unable to do so again. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman.
The reality is that in a common market, taxation tends to approximate over time, not because people are being forced down that route by the European Commission, but simply because of the logic of the working of that internal market.
I hope that we will discuss today the regional considerations relating to the EU and the constitutional treaty. In my own area, the debate on Europe is sometimes somewhat different in tone from that in certain other parts of the country, perhaps partly because one of the major employers in my constituency is the Nissan car plant, which does most of its export trade with Europe and thinks along very European lines. The attitude towards the EU of my constituents who work in that plant is often different from that of others. It is important that we discuss during the referendum campaign not just the importance of Europe to our economy in general, but the way in which such importance breaks down in different areas of the UK.
The Labour Government have made many solid achievements in their approach to Europe. We negotiated very successfully in Amsterdam, at the Berlin summit and during discussions on the Nice treaty, when the disagreements were between the French and the Germans, rather than with us. We have therefore achieved what we set out to achieve, which is important, but I should point out respectfully to Ministers that sometimes, we overstate the case for a victory for Britain, as if we had secured such a victory against everyone else. In reality, on most issues, most of the time, we have many allies. I attended several Council meetings as a Minister with various areas of responsibility, and I was always struck not by the amount of conflict but by the great consensus that dominated such meetings. As a result, most of the time they proceeded very smoothly indeed.
The challenge of the referendum is daunting, but through that process we should aim to give our citizens more information, provide a more realistic picture of what the EU does, rebut some of the sillier myths that seem to abound, and put forward a vision of sensible, practical co-operation that is good for Britain and for Europe. I hope that we can prove successful in this task.
It is always a pleasure to follow Joyce Quin, who has further illustrated that this issue always causes divisions within parties, as well as across them. There are Members who are in favour of the treaty but against a referendum, while others take the opposite view. Reference has already been made to many British traditions being under threat, but this debate shows that the splendid British tradition of being utterly inconsistent and unpredictable, as the right hon. Lady has pointed out, on the question of when to hold referendums is fully alive, as it will be at the conclusion of this debate and when the Bill completes its passage.
That said, I welcome the fact that the Government have concluded that there should be a referendum. Like my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Ancram, I believe that the matter should have been dealt with in a Bill separate from that implementing the treaty, but it is good that the Government have executed this handbrake-turn just before the European elections.
I want to draw our attention to people outside this House, who will be puzzled by the criteria that we apply to this issue, to the question of the constitutional treaty. It is common ground in this House that there is a great deal of public disaffection with the political process, and that disillusionment with politics has grown greatly in recent decades. To the shame of all of us who were candidates or leaders of our parties, the turnout at the last general election was 59 per cent. Comparable figures in polls today show that the percentage of people who are certain to vote at the next election is perhaps in the lower 50s. Such great disaffection is partly the result of the increased gulf between the people of this country and the decisions that are made in their name.The increasing integration of political power in the EU, which is a key part of that process, is a fundamental part of my objection to this treaty and a fundamental test against which constitutional change should be judged.
We must ask whether, at a time of disaffection, such change makes matters better or worse. This constitution will make matters worse. Those who have followed the political debates of the past few weeks will have noticed that powers have been transferred to the EU in an alarming number of areas. When my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition proposed a limit on the number of immigrants to this country a couple of weeks ago—there will be different opinions in the House about the merits of that proposal—the European Commission made it clear that he would not have the power to implement such a limit. [Interruption.] The Minister appears to be contradicting that interpretation, which would be important news.
I think that the Commission simply pointed out that under the 1951 convention, to which we are committed, Britain cannot limit the number of refugees. It was talking not about economic migrants but purely about the terms of the 1951 convention, by which we are treaty-bound.
There is clearly a difference of opinion between Government and Opposition Front Benchers on this issue, which it is important to clarify. As I understood it, despite all the assurances about opting out, because the Government had signed the qualifications directive, thereby opting into the latest EU arrangements, this country was now committed to the additional immigration policies adopted by the EU.
What is beyond doubt is that the constitution would make it permanently impossible to leave the 1951 convention; indeed, such a principle is entrenched not only in the constitution itself, but in the EU charter of fundamental rights. So from that point on it would be impossible for any incoming Government, after winning a general election, to do anything about that convention.
My right hon. Friend has immense knowledge of this subject, and that sounds like the correct interpretation. [Interruption.] I hope that the Minister listened to it, although he is not showing much sign of having done so.
Let us consider other subjects, small and large. A couple of weeks ago, we debated in this House the European food supplements directive, of all things. People may wonder why on earth it is the business of any level of government to be supervising such a thing, let alone a layer of government beyond the control of the people of this country. Now, if people ask their Member of Parliament to do something about that issue, the answer is, "We cannot do anything about it." Even if we vote against the measure, it will still take legal effect.
A tax case is being heard in the European courts this very week. Marks & Spencer is in dispute with Her Majesty's Treasury, and that case may have bigger implications for taxation in this country than even anything that the Chancellor might wish to introduce in his forthcoming Budget. We are talking about vast sums of money. In that case, the European Court will decide British tax law. Marks & Spencer is taking the case under provisions that were never intended to transfer rights over taxation to the European Court.
Whether it is an enormous subject such as immigration or taxation or whether it is something much more minor in our national affairs such as food supplements, which are important to hundreds and thousands of people, people see each day that more and more power has been drained away from our national Parliament and is now under the control of the institutions of the European Union. The separation between the people of this country and the ability to decide the laws that are made in their name is very dangerous for a democracy. The power to set such policies is among the attributes of a nation, and the people's power to control the setting of such policies is among the fundamental attributes of democracy.
We come across relevant examples all the time. The working time directive was introduced years ago under qualified majority voting and against the opposition of the British Government, and years later, it has many different effects. Those of us who represent rural constituencies have seen services within the NHS become more difficult to maintain because of the working time directive.
This country did not agree to the working time directive. This country would never have initiated the directive, which was dreamed up by officials who do not live in this country and who know nothing of the circumstances in our health service. Although the Foreign Secretary can give assurances on occasions such as this, more and more power has been given away across a wide range of policies. The situation is dangerous, and the constitution will give away more power—the President of the European Court has said that the charter of fundamental rights will open new areas and subjects to the Court. Keith Vaz knows the charter very well because we often tease him about it. A few years ago, he said that it would have the legal force of the Beano. Now, the President of the European Court says that it takes in new areas and new subjects.
As my right hon. Friend Mr. Heathcoat-Amory has pointed out, the list of areas that have been added to qualified majority voting and from which the veto has been taken away is long. I am astonished that Sir Menzies Campbell is not familiar with that list, because it is a very long list indeed.
Large parts of the constitution are, of course, incomprehensible, and one cannot know what it will mean in the future. However, we know from our experience of the working time directive what such legislation can come to mean over time. The separation between the people, who are meant to exercise their democratic rights, and the institutions working in their name continues. In the United States' constitution, the separation of powers means the separation of the Executive, the judiciary and the legislature. In the European constitution, the separation of powers means the separation of the right to make laws from the people, who should decide democratically the laws that are made in their name. That separation will result in catastrophe in due course.
The Foreign Secretary has provided the reassurance that subsidiarity will come into play. However, the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife gave the game away when he said that subsidiarity should have been strengthened for political and presentational reasons. One gets the sense that the whole thing is for political and presentational reasons.
Subsidiarity has been described as a "yellow card", which sounds like a forceful sanction, but there is no referee to exercise it. Instead, one must get members of the crowd to agree to show the yellow card and to get other members of the crowd from other countries to show the same yellow card at the same time, as a result of which nothing can happen. A blocking provision—a red card—would have been better, but that would conflict with the destruction of the veto across a wide range of policies, so it is clearly impossible to introduce a blocking provision within the framework of the constitution.
We have been told that a new safeguard will be introduced against the abuse of European Union power, but it is unlikely to be used in practice in this House. It is highly unlikely that a majority in this House, which would normally mean a majority over the Government of the day, would object to an EU directive at the same time as the same thing is done in the Bundestag or the French National Assembly. Even if it were to happen, under the constitution the European Commission could turn round and say, "No; we maintain our previous opinion. You can all go away." Where will our country's democracy stand when we arrive in that situation?
Those are fundamental objections to the ever-growing power of European institutions, but there are many other objections. For example, those European institutions have a scandalous inability to control expenditure. That point has already been referred to, and when I raised it in this House a couple of months ago, the Minister for Europe shrugged his shoulders and said that a lot of the fraud occurs in the national Governments of the European Union. However, some of the worst fraud occurred in EUROSTAT, which is under the direct control of the European Commission. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife compared the European Commission to Birmingham council in its time, but if the district auditor had come back here and told us that for 10 years running, 95 per cent. of the expenditure of Birmingham city council had been open to fraud, corruption and abuse, we would have shut down Birmingham city council by now.
It is absolutely intolerable that this situation exists and I want to know from the Minister—as I asked him two months ago—when he winds up the debate, what he has been doing about it in the meantime, and when a British Minister will go to the Council of Ministers, bang the table and say, "If you want money from the hard-working British taxpayer, you have to show how it is being spent." It cannot be right to give more power to European institutions; this is the latest example of a string of treaties that do so, and they are not even fit to exercise the power and the money already placed in their hands.
There is a long list of other important objections, but I shall rest on that one and the more fundamental one that I have put forward—that a separation between the people who live in a democracy and the way that they are governed and the laws made in their name will be deeply damaging in the long run, and we will regret it.
I am delighted to follow Mr. Hague. I have listened to the speakers from both sides of the House; I am in exalted company today.
I believe that the constitutional treaty was a success for the Government, and I think that we were successful because we led from a strong position, because we are integrated with Europe. A treaty is necessary simply because when there are 25 states—when there is an enlargement of that degree—there is no choice but to look at the constitution and the existing treaties. The intention was that the treaties would be used to bring government closer to the people and bring Europe closer to the people. If we can effectively implement the treaty as has been suggested, I think we will give clarity to the European Union and could help to reduce people's disenchantment with Europe. Taxation, foreign policy, public services, the economy and defence were separated out, and in each case that separation was maintained by the Government. There were red lines that we decided we would not cross, and they have been secured; that was of the utmost importance.
The new treaty is important in itself. I accept that it establishes a constitution for Europe. I had some doubt about whether we should hold a referendum; I did not think that we needed to, because I did not believe that the changes were significant within the treaty itself. But we have taken a decision. We will have a referendum and we should move in that direction.
Much of the content of the new treaty is already set out in the existing treaties, and basic principles, such as the primacy of the treaty and the law made under it, remain the same. The primacy of Community law has been with us since 1964, and it is not a novel doctrine, as far as I am concerned, since a state has never been able to plead a provision of its own law as a reason for not complying with a treaty obligation. The 1964 provision existed, but we are not changing it in any significant way.
I believe that the new treaty is less integrationist than the existing treaties. For example, the new treaty confirms unambiguously that the Union has only the competences conferred by the member states. That point has been made by a number of speakers. The European Court, it is generally accepted, has been reluctant to develop any concept of "implied powers", and I believe that the new treaty may well discourage that further. Secondly, the new treaty makes express provision for a state to leave the Union, and the point is made that if we are so concerned about the powers of the European Union, the opportunity is still there for us to withdraw if necessary.
It may have been implicit in existing treaties that states had a right to withdraw, and I think that that will be confirmed. The new provisions confirm that member states are principal actors. The case of Costa v. ENEL in 1964 spoke of the permanent sharing of sovereignty. That would no longer be the case with the new treaty. It is also clear that no state could be forced to accept it against its wishes.
Much has been said about how bad the treaty will be for Britain and how we should be greatly concerned about it. We have to deal with the myths that have been perpetrated and consider the federalist proposals that have been rejected. They are: the EU should be named the united states of Europe; the EU should have certain competences organised on a federal basis; there should be EU-wide taxation; the Commission President should be elected by EU citizens; there should be majority voting for deciding EU foreign policy; there should be majority voting for treaty amendments and an end to ratification of treaties by national Parliaments; the Commission President should chair the European Council, with his presidency and the European Council presidency merged into one; there should be a European mutual defence guarantee, separate from NATO; unanimous voting should be abolished and replaced with qualified majority voting; and the EU Foreign Minister should be accountable to the Commission, not national Governments.
We have to deal with the issues before us today and those that are important to the people of this country. We talk about human rights. I wanted the European charter to go further and extend equal rights to trade unions and trade unionists in this country. We have maintained our dignity and peace in this country for a long time, and the EU has played a vital part in that.
In response to the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, we should be deciding whether the constitution makes things better or worse. I think that it will improve matters for this country. It will make things easier to understand. The treaty does not alter significantly what has been endorsed by previous Governments. I ask the House to support the Government because the concept is worth while.
I am a strong supporter of the new constitutional treaty for the European Union and I shall vote in favour of the Bill's Second Reading. However, I want to express, and this is probably the last suitable occasion on which I can do so, my strong reservations about one part of it. I shall vote for that part with great reluctance because I strongly disapprove of the provisions on the referendum.
The greatest change that we are making to our tradition of parliamentary democracy in this country and the role of this Parliament in our national life is the concession to determine the decision in a referendum. We will never again win back for Parliament the right to control the nature of our relationships with the European Union. The only other European referendum was widely regarded on all sides as a cynical manoeuvre by Mr. Harold Wilson, who had to finesse his party and to get around it to endorse our continued membership of the EU. He pretended to hold a referendum on a financial deal of no great importance that he had renegotiated when he came into office after 1974.
I very much regret the then Prime Minister of my Government persuading me to agree to a referendum on the euro. I am not going to go back on that. We may, in due course, have one, but I agree with Joyce Quin that at least it would be on one narrow finite judgment. I am not sure that a modern industrial democracy should be entrusting its monetary policy to a referendum, but so be it, and I shall take part in that debate, if and when it ever arises.
Is my right hon. and learned Friend proposing to vote on the reasoned amendment, which lays such emphasis on the supremacy of this Parliament in respect of the implementation of the treaty? Does he not recognise that if the part of the Bill that deals with implementation is defeated, there will be no need for a referendum?
Out of deference to the party system on which this Parliament is based, I almost certainly will remain seated in my place when the reasoned amendment is put. As the opinions of so many of my colleagues and of my party have changed so much over the years, I shall wait for them to veer back in my direction. I quite concede that my hon. Friend Mr. Cash has as good a record for consistency as I have on the subject, but he will know how unpredictable our course can be.
Going back to my point about the referendum, I support the treaty and I believe it is an important document, but I do not believe it makes such important differences to our relationships with Europe as did the European Communities Act in 1972, the Single European Act in the late 1980s or the Maastricht treaty in the early 1990s. They were all far more significant pieces of legislation determining our constitutional arrangements.
Parliament had more than one day for Second Reading on most of those. There was huge resistance to the idea of guillotining even a day's debate, let alone timetabling the whole thing, which was all taken on the Floor of the House of Commons. I took an active part in all that. I was one of the two Whips designated to be in charge of the original 1972 Bill, so I listened to hours of debate, even if I was silent during it. A huge, protracted, important, high-quality debate took place about the principle of the primacy of European legislation over British legislation in areas of European competence. That is what it was all about, and similar debates took place thereafter.
There was a free vote in 1972. Here we all are, proud parliamentarians, and what are we saying? The vote in the House is not going to decide the issue at all. At the general election, people can freely vote for their party, regardless of their views on Europe, because the general election vote will not determine a damn thing. We can have, if we wish, a treaty negotiated by the British Government, and we can have it ratified by the British Parliament, but the decisions on this treaty will be determined by a popular plebiscite in which the national media will endeavour to play as large and as influential a role as possible. I cannot allow that to pass without comment, even though it takes part of the 10 minutes which, under our present arrangements, we are allowed to express our views on the future of our relationships with the European Union.
The referendum will be a huge disappointment to practically everybody, not least to the side that loses. It will be a lottery. The history of referendums shows that they are a lottery. They have been a lottery in the rest of Europe, where most of the countries saddled with the need to hold referendums deeply regret it, but of course I hope the referendum lottery goes my way. It will be very difficult to get large numbers of people to vote in it. Most people will continue to say, as they do now, that they are not quite sure what it is all about and what the treaty will do. We will all infuriate the public as we debate it in ever more strident terms, because as is clear from this debate, there will not even be agreement within the two sides of the argument about what the treaty does.
We have had the most ferocious arguments. I have already debated the issues several times with my right hon. Friend Mr. Heathcoat-Amory, and as many audiences can testify, the two of us are quite incapable of agreeing on what the consequences of the treaty are. As that goes on, the danger is that even my right hon. Friend and I will lose adherents on all sides as people get exasperated by a Parliament so foolish as to put such a huge and complex subject to a popular vote.
How will British Governments negotiate in future, when everybody who negotiates with the British Government on anything with a European tinge will know that the Government can agree, the Government might have a parliamentary majority behind them, but the Government can guarantee to deliver nothing because they must go to a plebiscite on any deal they do? Far from strengthening the hand of a Minister, it is my judgment, and the former Foreign Secretary, Mr. Cook, may agree, that that will weaken the hand of every Minister in negotiations. Any negotiating partner will think, "We've got to watch these fellows. Anything they agree will get overturned afterwards."
I still have injury time, so I shall take an intervention from my hon. Friend, who is a particular old friend of mine.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend not concede that his argument applies to most Governments in the European Union which, when they negotiate something of fundamental importance, have to hold a referendum? I do not particularly like those instruments, but my right hon. and learned Friend's argument is rather weak.
In my experience, referendums did not strengthen the position of Irish or Danish Ministers. Whatever they were arguing for, we knew they would have considerable difficulty in getting anything past their public when they got home. They were asked to go back and persuade the public to change their mind. It is a pity that the British, who have one of the strongest traditions of parliamentary democracy in the western world, are moving towards that position. I am resigned to fate. Such is the power of the media that all three major political parties have endorsed enthusiastically the idea of a referendum. The last to agree was the Prime Minister, and his was the weakest gesture, because he had already revealed his true opinion. Who am I to do anything but protest about the further sad decline of Parliament?
I am afraid that I do not have any more injury time.
The importance of the treaty has been hopelessly exaggerated. I am genuinely surprised that it has become the centre of controversy, but the referendum is likely to prove a cathartic moment in this country's relationship with the European Union. I did not see it coming, because every supporter of the enlargement of the EU always assumed that there would have to be a revision of the treaties. There was an unsurprising declaration in Nice that we would have to readdress fundamental aspects of the consolidated treaties once enlargement had taken place. We all supported enlargement and noted the need for subsequent constitutional change to improve the efficiency of the union.
Enlargement is, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, one of the most dramatic political events of my lifetime. One of the objectives of the EU, which no longer needs to stop wars breaking out between us, is to consolidate parliamentary democracy, liberal values and market economics across the continent. Just as the three former fascist states of Spain, Portugal and Greece were admitted to entrench those values among their populations so, most importantly, eight former members of the Soviet empire have joined for the same purpose. That is the great political objective of most of the other 24 member states and, I hope, ourselves. The orange faction in Ukraine and the popular Government in Turkey aspire to join the EU while we debate the constitutional changes made to facilitate its enlargement.
I shall not go back over the efficiency gains that are the obvious and desirable consequence of enlargement. The end of the rotating presidency, for example, is an advantage. We could not have 25 six-monthly presidencies changing the agenda all the time, although that would be the result if we rejected the treaty. There will be one foreign affairs spokesman rather than two, and foreign policy, according to the treaty, will be determined by the Governments of member states and their Foreign Secretaries in council. I faithfully supported the extension of majority voting when it was proposed by Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister, and I advocated it when the Single European Act was passed in the late 1980s. The extension of majority voting to all the new areas is essential, otherwise there could be a Maltese or Latvian veto on details of business that we are trying to administer.
Most of the treaty restates the consolidated treaties. As the right hon. Member for Livingston said, 80 per cent. of it is simply a restatement of the great previous treaties, each and every one of which I supported. Most of them were supported by the Conservative party and negotiated by Conservative Governments. The treaty also makes it clearer than ever before that this is a union of nation states, not a superstate, that power is devolved to the union by the member states, and that there is an enhanced and clearer role for national Parliaments on subsidiarity.
I want finally to comment on the merits of the treaty in response to all the extraordinary negative claims, most of which I have heard voiced before, every time we have had a European treaty over the years. It has always apparently meant the end of our monarchy, the beginning of higher taxation, the end of our control over our criminal justice system and all that other stuff. The reinforcement of the Union of member states and of the market economy is the concept that has caused the biggest reservations elsewhere. Recently, I met Laurent Fabius, the former socialist Prime Minister, who makes me look like a Eurosceptic, and I expressed my astonishment about his proposal to vote against the treaty. He said, "It is la Britannique; it is not European enough." That is the true opinion in France—
It is always a pleasure to follow Mr. Clarke, partly because his views on Europe are identical to mine. Maybe that is due to the influence of Caius college on us during our education; all the MPs in the House today produced by it are pro-European.
I urge the right hon. and learned Gentleman not to get cross about the fact that we have a Bill on the referendum, or indeed, about the referendum itself. I urge him to save his energy for the referendum campaign because he is a voice of reason on the Conservative Benches. What has been important in the debate is the large number of speeches of high quality. We do not agree with some of the views expressed today, but it is important that we continue the debate in the country.
During the past few years, we have not had a sensible debate on Europe and European policy in the country at large, although we have, of course, had such debates in the House. We regularly hear from the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe about forthcoming summit meetings, and the relevant Adjournment debates are usually attended by some of the hon. Members who are here this afternoon. If we are to explain what Europe is about and deal with the myths that have been created, partly by some Conservative Members, but especially by the tabloid media, which hate anything to do with the European Union, we have to have this debate outside the House.
I commend the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe on the work that they have done in advancing the debate, but I say this to the Government: if we are to succeed during the next 18 months in explaining to people what we are planning to do with regard to the European Union, we ought to encourage other Ministers to do what the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe do so well—go out into the country and explain how their portfolios are related to the way in which Britain has benefited from being part of the European Union.
Sitting next to my old boss, the former Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend Mr. Cook, reminds me of events in Nice. I shall reveal a secret about my right hon. Friend and how he conducted policy. It was, of course, brilliantly conducted, but those of us who worked for him knew when he was getting frustrated about the way in which the European Union operated, because officials were asked politely, as I was sometimes asked, to get him some frothy coffee. Frothy coffee was the drink that he had when he needed to be calm about the frustrations of the European Union.
It was because of the frustrations that I and other former Ministers for Europe witnessed that I welcome the European constitutional treaty. It will do what has not happened during the past few years following enlargement: it will reform the way in which the European Union operates. My right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston will recall, as will all former Ministers, the frustration of having to deal with a European Union of only 15 members; it now has 25, with the possibility of even more joining. The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe mentioned Romania and Bulgaria, which will join in 2007. Croatia is set to begin negotiations on
My hon. Friend Mr. Davidson said that the EU does not deliver any services, that it is not as good as Birmingham city council. As I have said before, the British people will never learn to love the EU until it learns to love reform; the organisation and the institutions have to be reformed. It is doing what Britain has wanted it to do under the two outstanding Foreign Secretaries who have represented our country during the last eight years—my right hon. Friend Mr. Straw and my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston.
The whole agenda of Europe has changed. When we arrived at the negotiating table in 1997, Britain was isolated. The agenda has moved forward because Britain has engaged positively; Ministers have engaged positively in the way in which the EU has operated. That is why, on EU policy, we have nothing to fear from qualified majority voting. We are right to be reminded that the Maastricht treaty extended QMV in 30 areas, and that treaty was voted for by probably the majority of the right hon. Members on the Opposition Benches. There was no call for a referendum on Maastricht when that was being discussed.
I give credit to the hon. Gentleman, because he did call for one, but I meant from the then Government Front Bench. There was no call from the then Prime Minister, or from members of the Cabinet, including the current Leader of the Opposition, for a referendum on Maastricht. They were in favour of the House of Commons deciding on that treaty without the need for a referendum.
We should not fear QMV. Look at the results of decisions taken by QMV—this is Britain's agenda! They are what we have sought to do. We are rarely isolated on policy decisions with QMV, because we are in the majority.
I welcome the fact that we will have an EU Foreign Minister, because it is vital that one voice should speak on foreign policy when member states have made a decision.
The hon. Gentleman has shared with the House the secrets of the former Foreign Secretary's coffee-drinking habits. May I share another secret with the House? At the behest of the hon. Gentleman, I attended a dinner some years ago to celebrate the emasculation of the EU charter of fundamental rights. Was the dinner premature? Is he happy that we celebrated a success or failure?
I will come to the charter in a second, because I want to answer what Mr. Hague said about me.
One thing that we foresaw was possible tension between Javier Solana and Chris Patten, but the fact is that that never happened, because both gentlemen carried out their jobs with great distinction. It is absurd, none the less, to have two people speaking on foreign policy on behalf of the EU. The then American Secretary of State said that if he wanted to find out Europe's view on foreign policy he had to ring 15 Foreign Ministers. Now, an American Secretary of State will be able to talk to one person. It will, of course, be up to the member states to decide what that foreign policy will be, but it is essential that we have some kind of strategic approach to the way in which foreign policy is worked out. That began, not at St. Malo, but with Maastricht, the treaty signed by Opposition Members. They signed up to the start of the common foreign and security policy, which is now represented in this constitutional treaty.
The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks teased me about the charter of fundamental rights, but he should be careful whom he teases, because he should recall that I gave him his first break in politics when I made him secretary of the all-party leather and footwear industries group when he had been here for only six months. That was not because of a personal interest in leather and footwear industries; it was a constituency interest that he shares with me, and look how well he has done.
The point about the charter is that it was negotiated by our present Attorney-General. He had conduct of that policy. When he went into those negotiations, he was on his own, and he managed to convince all the other people and countries represented to turn towards this country's point of view. The point that I made at that time, many years ago—I remember where I was when I made it—was that the charter, like any other legal document or any other publication, can be produced before any court in the land.
The fact is that the charter is not being extended to include more rights. I know that my hon. Friend Mr. Tynan wants it extended to make such provision, but what is to be incorporated does not do that: it consolidates what is there and talks about the proper and appropriate rights that my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston mentioned—rights of which we should all be proud.
It is not enough to pass the Bill. What is important is the campaign that follows it. That means that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House who believe that Britain's place is right at the centre of Europe—engaged in it rather than isolated—need to come out and fight for the right to be part of the European Union. Unless we do that, and unless the Government are prepared to do it, I fear that we might do badly in the referendum campaign. Let the Bill not be an end: let it be the start of a proper campaign that will bring to the attention of the people of this country the real benefits of Britain being right there at the centre of Europe.
I have seen the European Union as a journalist, as a Member of the European Parliament, from the perspective of the Council of Ministers and from the perspective of a Select Committee. The conclusion that I have drawn from all that is that Europe ought to be a great deal more about politics and a lot less about religion.
Europe does not have an indelible character, and it does not have a predetermined route. It is a product of member states that have joined at different times with different cultures, political traditions and priorities. So those who say that they want to know where the train is going before they are accused of missing it will never have a permanent destination on the engine, because it goes to different places simultaneously. That is the nature of the beast. People who are looking for the sort of coherence that we hope for in national politics will never find it in the European Union. It is an absolutely unique organisation with its own chemistry, and we have to apply different rules to it. Of course, some rules must be the same, such as the rules of sound accountancy, but it is very many years since the Department for Work and Pensions was acquitted by its auditors, so we might look at the motes in our own eye as regards finance.
I shall vote yes tonight on Second Reading, for the simple reason that what this treaty proposes is better than what is there now. It is not as much better as I would like, but, none the less, the role of national Parliaments, the coherence of decision making, the European Union's ability to operate external policy, the safeguards for member states, and the increasingly intergovernmental philosophy are positive gains.
I understand the criticisms that the constitution reflects what people believe to be too inward-looking an institutional regulatory attitude on the part of the European Union, and that it fails to establish clear enough frameworks to compete in a global world. However, by and large those are much more failures of the member states than of institutional arrangements in Europe. They call for political will. The painful steps that the French Government are taking to liberalise the 35-hour week and the flak that Chancellor Schröder has taken in Germany for what we regard as relatively modest steps to free up the pension system show how difficult that is.
Those who advocate voting no have not demonstrated to me that any of those problems will be solved by doing so. My own Front-Bench spokesman talked of going back to the drawing board. It is fantasy to think that the European Union will go back to the drawing board in response to a British no in order to fashion a treaty that many of them think reflects British priorities even more than we do. One need only look at the demonstrators in Paris to see how much opposition is born from precisely the opposite interpretation to that of the United Kingdom.
Voting no would risk the Franco-German creation of an inner core and I do not subscribe to the view that it is in Britain's interests to encourage a sort of implicit disintegration or fragmentation of the European Union through everybody doing the bits that they like at their own pace, and ad hoc movement. That would lead progressively and incrementally to the United Kingdom's being on the margin of more and more activities until we were on the margin of the entire institution. Such fragmentation would also lead to the absorption of the EU in internal repair and maintenance at the expense of promoting the very policies—the economic liberalism—that we want, which at last are beginning to come from the Commission.
The second reason to vote yes is to enable the United Kingdom to seize the historical opportunity to change the terms of trade in an EU of 25. Enlargement has tipped the scale against French hegemony. It is no use our trading individual quotes from French politicians. What do people expect President Chirac to say about the treaty? If we examine the continuing dialogue and commentary in the French press, it is clear that France is preoccupied with its decline. That is the current debate in the political class and it dates from the treaty of Nice, when the French used the expression "the end of the French hegemony." A no vote would therefore betray the new member states, many of which look to Britain for their ideas. They bring a liberal economic model and an Atlanticist attitude to the EU, which we welcome.
I do not believe that a no vote would somehow liberate the United Kingdom from what some perceive as the chains that are forged in Brussels. It would lead to colossal dislocation in our national political life. Some people would push for associate status and others would advocate leaving the EU. We would not resolve the persistent neurosis and ambivalence about Europe that prevails in the United Kingdom. We would simply ensure its prolonging.
I see no shadow of a superstate. Too often, the EU is incoherent and disunited. Frankly, a few more of the attributes of coherence would have been welcome in past years. The primacy of Governments and the increasing favour of intergovernmental models of co-operation are reinforced, not challenged in the treaty. Of course, I would prefer a treaty that did not contain the charter of fundamental human rights, but the charge that that will enable Luxembourg judges to rewrite the entire body of national labour laws represents an unjustified elevation of current fears into what Milton called "horrible imaginings."
The next reason to vote yes will not be shared widely in the House. It is a special reason. I believe that a yes vote will go a long way towards exorcising the demons about Europe that reside in my party. We keep talking about the new society and a changed Britain yet we also keep discussing things that manifestly disconnect us from a large part of the new Britain. I would like to exorcise the phantoms that lurk in the party's psyche and liberate us so that we can start challenging effectively for government by devising policies for the things that people want—the aspirations of contemporary society. I expect that some Labour Members, who want a Parliament with an effective Opposition, share that view.
Since it is 4.33 pm and anything that I say here will remain so secret that not even the Freedom of Information Act 2000 will get it into the public press, may I say that what frightens me, as a Labour politician, more than anything else is the prospect of the Conservative party becoming sensible again on Europe?
I am delighted that that prospect, which I regard as inevitable, terrifies the hon. Gentleman. This Government's sheer lack of guts on Europe, the sheer unwillingness of the Prime Minister to get out there and argue his case, and their absolute refusal to take on this challenge mean that, if the referendum is lost, the Prime Minister will have only himself to blame. Sir Menzies Campbell suggested that the Prime Minister gave a speech on the European Union only about once a year, usually in Warsaw. It would be a bit more helpful if he spoke more frequently on the subject in the United Kingdom and argued his case more effectively.
An awful lot of idiotic claims are made about Europe, both for and against. The sword and shield of our post-war world have been provided by NATO, not the European Union, but the European Union has been its ploughshare. The rooting of democracy in Europe and the establishment of civil society in previously dictatorial and communist regimes represent a colossal achievement for Europe. That civil society would not exist had the aspiration to join the European Union not existed, and had not the rules been laid down to specify what criteria had to be met in order to do so.
We are now seeing that aspiration, that impulse to move towards the European Union, in Ukraine and Turkey—two extraordinarily different countries. That should tell us how fundamental a part that institution has played in the organisation of the post-war world. The six have become 25, and the Balkan states are knocking on the door. Such countries increasingly see the European Union as the anvil of their modernisation. In Britain, however, we are still impaled on the ambivalence resulting from a resentment at what Brussels does to us and a fear of exclusion. The constitution will not solve that problem, but it will take us one step down the road to the solution.
I rise with some joy to make my speech as the first Labour Member to speak against the constitution. It is important to make it clear that the Government party is divided on this issue, just as the main Opposition party is. I am going for the treble here. It is important to recognise that the people who are most enthusiastic about the constitution are also those who wanted to give us the euro. We were successful in beating that proposition back. Indeed, I was disappointed that my hon. Friend Keith Vaz did not repeat the comments that he made only last week when we were on the radio together. He said that he wanted the referendum on the euro to be held on the same day as the referendum on the constitution. Bring it on, I say. At a time when 5 million people are unemployed in Germany, the more we can link those two together, the better it will be for my argument.
The second question on which I was glad to be able to persuade the Government was whether there should be a referendum at all. I am glad that my side won. Some of the arguments heard today against consulting the people smack of sheer snobbery. The implication seems to be that people are too stupid to understand the issues, which is presumably also a strong argument against having general elections. That might be the position of some Opposition Members, but it is certainly not my view.
I recognise, having listened to the speeches of some of my colleagues, that I am in a minority among Labour Members. All that I have on my side are the facts and the people, and I look forward to proceeding, with them, to a victory in the referendum. I recognise, however, that the results of some recent polls show that we should not be complacent. Those on my side of the argument have perhaps taken too much for granted. So, as far as I am concerned, there will be no more Mr. Nice Guy. We need to step up the argument against the constitution.
My hon. Friend talked about the elitism and snobbery of Governments throughout Europe who think that their peoples cannot make the right decision. Has not a lesson been learned in that regard in Sweden, where the elite and the establishment took one view, while the people took another and gave them a bloody nose?
Indeed. Not only did the people of Sweden give their Government a bloody nose on the question of the euro, but their Government have now decided that they are not going to take the chance again. They are therefore going to refuse the people the right to a referendum on the European constitution. That will certainly spare them the possibility of a bloody nose, but it is not particularly democratic or illuminating. It shows us that so many of those who are in favour of the constitution are against consulting the people in a referendum.
I recognise that this Government have lumped two issues together here: the referendum, of which I am in favour; and the constitution, which I oppose. There is therefore a dilemma about which way to vote. In the circumstances, I shall vote for the referendum, because I shall have my opportunity to defeat the constitution in the referendum thus achieved. I will be able to ask all my colleagues in the Labour party and the labour movement who are opposed to the constitution to vote enthusiastically for the Government in the general election, especially in marginal seats, and then to poke them in the eye when it comes to the constitution. If anyone wants to send a message to the Government on a variety of issues, the time to do it is when we decide on the constitution.
We heard earlier some talk about myths and the question of the monarchy was raised in that context. If anyone could provide me with more information on how the monarchy could be abolished under the new constitution, I would be very happy to receive it. Also in the context of myths, the question of the United Nations seat was mentioned. That is not simply a myth, because the relevant European Commissioner said within the last month that the Commission wants Britain to give up its UN seat in favour of an EU place on the Security Council, so there is substance to that accusation. We also need to be clear about the myths peddled by the yes side. The issue of withdrawal is not, in my view, on the table.
The hon. Gentleman seems to have misread the text. Many people want us to give up our Security Council seat, but that is no change and has probably always been the case. The constitution simply provides that, in the event of agreement on a common foreign policy—under the treaty, it must be unanimous, so we would be in favour of it by definition—the European Foreign Minister would be allowed to borrow one of the permanent seats in the Security Council held by Britain and France in order to present the policy on behalf of the EU. If we are in favour of that—as I said, we should be by definition, as agreement has to be unanimous—surely we want that foreign policy to be expressed with the greatest possible force, so it makes sense to deliver it in that way on behalf of the European Union as a whole. That is what the treaty says and any claims that it goes beyond that are simply myths generated by the tabloids.
It is very helpful to hear the yes side clearly support the idea that the EU should be able to borrow, when it so desires, Britain's UN seat. We would never be quite sure when we could get it back again, but giving it on a temporary basis is the thin end of the wedge and will end with us giving it up altogether. It is very helpful to have that view put on the record.
I return to the issue of the myths peddled by the yes side. Those who are against the constitution—on the Labour party side, at least—are not in favour of withdrawal. If we were in favour of withdrawal, we would say so. We are not in favour of it, so those on the yes side should stop peddling that suggestion. They should also stop peddling the suggestion—my right hon. Friend Mr. Cook raised it—that there are 3 million jobs at risk. More jobs in the EU are dependent on trade with Britain than British jobs are dependent on trade with the EU. Under World Trade Organisation or other world trading rules, there is no suggestion that we could be cut off from access to those markets, so let us not have that myth peddled either.
I believe that the constitution is about the creation of a European superstate. It is not an isolated event, but part of a wider process, as those who drew up the constitution have made clear. Another constitution or a revised version of this constitution will be along in a while. The accession of Bulgaria and Romania lies ahead: a degree of renegotiation will be necessary, and then another constitution.
What of Turkey? When that country joins, as the British Government hope, changes will undoubtedly be made to the constitution. I look forward to hearing from the Minister for Europe whether he proposes amending the constitution or producing a wholly new constitution, going through the same sort of process as this one. There are important implications and people need to know what they are letting themselves in for. Is a vote on Turkish accession included or will it be the subject of a separate parliamentary vote later?
We have to be very careful about how the Government run the referendum. Every opportunity will be taken to influence and manipulate it. Mention has been made already about how the question is to be worded. It will be interesting to hear from the Minister for Europe whether the wording resulted from focus group research or opinion polling, or whether it was merely plucked out of the air at random. It is clear that it has been chosen to try to manipulate the outcome.
It is interesting too that the Bill allows the referendum to be held as a joint vote, perhaps on the same day as local elections. That is a deliberate attempt to blur the division between the yes and no camps in the constitution argument by means of the partisan battle that will take place during the local elections.
My final point in respect of the referendum has to do with propaganda. Recently, the Minister for Europe gave me a wonderful answer to a question about Government propaganda. He said:
"the Foreign and Commonwealth Office works to ensure that all information it issues on the subject of the EU and the EU Constitutional Treaty is objective, explanatory and is in line with and supports Government policy."—[Hansard, 19 January 2005; Vol. 429, c. 1020W.]
That Government propaganda can be objective and at the same time support Government policy is a claim that belongs in some sort of Orwellian world, where it is assumed that anything said by the Government is objective and that politics applies only to what other people say. We must be careful about that, just as we must be careful about the extent to which the EU is free to spend enormous amounts of money, either directly or through the various front organisations that it funds.
I am listening intently to my hon. Friend. He has made it clear that he is robustly against the European constitution, but I am having difficulty in understanding exactly why. The only reason that he has adduced so far is that it might put our seat on the UN Security Council at risk, and I believe that he is mistaken about that. He has produced no other argument to explain what is wrong with the treaty. What is it he objects to? Is it the charter of fundamental rights, or something else?
I was too generous in giving way, as I was about to say that the constitution is not all bad. I have always supported EU expansion, and I look forward to further expansion in the future. I accept that the EU can be a force for good, and I recognise its influence in spreading democracy throughout eastern Europe. I hope that it will do the same elsewhere in the world in the future.
I and others have three main reservations about the constitution, and they can be headed Thatcherism, militarism and centralisation. The constitution is Thatcherite in that it is formulated in such a way as to open up free markets and drive down the social wage, and it does not give trade unions and other organisations extended powers. It is militaristic in that it clearly favours the establishment and use of a European armed force, and it is centralising in its approach to taxation and immigration, as we have heard already. People granted residency papers in Spain will be able to come to the UK, just as Somalis granted papers in the Netherlands are able to come here.
I want there to be reform and renegotiation. I want the CAP and the fisheries policy to be renegotiated, and the same applies to the EU's aid programmes and its structural and cohesion programmes. I want an end to fraud. Moreover, I find variable geometry in the EU to be acceptable, as the present structure is outdated and based on myths originating in the second world war.
Fortress Europe has had its day, and I look forward to defeating the constitution.
Mr. Davidson and I do not agree on many issues. However, we do agree that a democratic system exists to resolve differences, so the choices made by electors should lead to definable outcomes in accordance with democratic principles. It follows from what he said—I agree with him here—that all that will be at risk if those decisions are transferred to another jurisdiction so that the link between choices and outcomes is fractured for ever. Therefore, I agree with the hon. Gentleman's strictures about the constitution.
Constitutions have gone in and out of fashion over the centuries. Napoleon said that a constitution should be short and obscure, so the European constitution is only half right: it is certainly obscure, but at more than 500 pages long, it breaks the first rule of a constitution—that it should be comprehensible to the public. The European constitution is not; it is a document written for politicians by politicians, and there is no chance of our electors reading or understanding it, let alone giving it their allegiance. The instruction given to the Convention, which drew up the constitution, to close the gap between the rulers of Europe and the people of Europe has been ignored.
The constitution should never have been. The Government did not want it and said so, but when the Convention started to it draw up, the Government said that they wanted one after all, provided that it was short. When it became a long one, the Government tabled more than 200 amendments, only a fraction of which were adopted. It is odd that we are getting a written constitution in this country for the first time since the 17th century, and we have not even written it ourselves. It was written for us by others.
Yes, I could almost hear it from my office. The relief was not just in Downing street but in the Foreign Office. That was a much unloved document, but the Government must now make the best of it, and the Foreign Secretary was at it again in his speech.
Surely, the first job of any constitution is to solve the problem of who does what and to draw a distinction between what Europe does and what member states do. It should also overcome the wide perception, which happens to be true, that the European Union obtains more powers with each treaty, and that we have an activist Court in Luxembourg, which always interprets documents in a way that is in favour of more centralisation. The first job of a self-respecting constitution is to solve that problem, but this one does not. I shall give just one example. Most of the familiar policies that make up the daily work of this House are listed in article XIV of the constitution, but they will be so-called shared competences, which is Eurospeak for shared powers. The definition of "shared" is that when the European Union legislates in those areas in future, we will lose the right to legislate.
What is more, only the principal areas have been listed. Anyone reading the constitution will not have the slightest idea of who does what in five years or so, particularly when almost all those policies will be decided by qualified majority voting. It may be news to the Liberal Democrats that 63 new areas will be subject to majority voting, but it is a fact.
Another point that the Government have ignored is that the definition of majority voting has been changed in the constitution, which makes it much easier for a majority vote to be obtained. That means more legislation, more regulations and more interference. The European Scrutiny Committee, on which I serve, examined more than 1,000 new measures last year. That will accelerate and we will have more legislation, but less chance of stopping anything.
We heard again the tired argument about this new power for national Parliaments over subsidiarity. That is not new; we can object already. It is certainly not a power, as we can object all we like, and the Commission can go on ignoring us. All that we get in this constitution is a new right to be ignored. The Government know that, as they tabled an amendment to try to upgrade the power for national Parliaments to a so-called red light, and were overruled and ignored.
We have heard about the EU charter of fundamental rights, and I will not have more fun at the expense of the Government about how they promised that it was only of declaratory value and no more important than the Beano, whereas they must now make the best of it, as it will not only be legally binding but form the whole of part II of the European constitution. Another point about the charter is the uncertainty. The European Scrutiny Committee has received witness statements and taken evidence from constitutional lawyers about the charter. They agree that the ambiguities in the charter make it quite impossible to know what the future European Court will make of it. What they say is that the so-called safeguards trumpeted from the Treasury Bench, in order to prevent the charter seeping into national laws, will be inoperative and no safeguard whatever.
Does not my right hon. Friend also agree that those same witnesses were extremely concerned that our judges, when faced with competing jurisdictions with the European Court, could go in the wrong direction—towards giving too much power to the European Union?
Yes, that is the so-called primacy point, which asserts unconditionally that everything in the constitution, all the laws flowing from it, and the charter, have primacy over the laws of this country. There has been a stand-off, which nobody has resolved—but if a Parliament and a people sign up voluntarily to that assertion, it is certain that national courts will start to interpret national laws as inferior to everything that comes out of the constitution. What this charter does, at the very least, instead of ending an uncertainty, is to extend and create one.
No, I have used up my allowance of interventions.
We have heard today about the need for reform in Europe. Some criticism has been expressed of my party's position that we will seek a renegotiation of the treaty. Why should that be such a shock? We are engaged in a colossal renegotiation. The Convention on which I served was undertaking the most fundamental reform of the European institutions ever attempted. All the existing treaties are repealed by this constitution. We are therefore engaged in an enormous renegotiation. The point, however, is that that reform and renegotiation failed. Instead of creating that democratic simple Europe which was to be closer to its citizens, we have created a centralised, technocratic, legalistic, undemocratic Europe. If we say no to this constitution, the brief will return to the drafters of the constitution—but next time they will have to listen to the instructions given to them, instead of creating a Europe in their own image. Today, however, this House will have to decide.
Of course we will have a referendum. I notice that the Government have already rewritten the rules on funding to ensure that they can go on spending taxpayers' money up to a month before the referendum, whereas the rest of us will be limited. The wording on the ballot paper refers to the constitution for the European Union, which implies that it is simply a rule for the existing Union—which, incidentally, simply gets abolished if the constitution comes into effect. They do not like the idea of the true wording, which is "a constitution for Europe", which perhaps sounds more ambitious and threatening. They cannot even get the wording right on the ballot paper.
Our task today is to decide what this House does. It is not our power that we are giving away, but that of the people whom we represent. What is British history if not a long struggle to get power under the control of people who are accountable to the electors, and who can be removed by those electors? What is British history but a long struggle to secure a parliamentary democracy, so that policies can be changed after elections and people can give effect to their democratic choices through a political system?
This constitution and this Bill reverse all that. We will be giving up these powers and transferring decisions about criminal justice, asylum and immigration, external relations, social security and everything else upwards, to the most remote tier of government of all—the new Union. Indeed, we heard a very good example concerning asylum and immigration. It really is outrageous, but when my party win the next election on a clear pledge to do something different about asylum and immigration, we will be told that doing so is illegal even under the existing treaties, because of everything that the Government have signed up to. Such action will be constitutionally illegal once we have adopted and ratified a constitution, because the UN charter on refugees is embedded in that constitution, and withdrawal will not be possible. So people will not vote at all. Why vote—why express choice?—if such choice cannot, by constitutional law, lead to different outcomes? That is the democratic reality that we must face up to today.
We do not have a serious choice. We are being invited to give up powers that are not ours, so I ask this Chamber and this House to strike the first blow for the people whom we represent, and for democracy, by saying no to this constitution and this Bill this evening.
This is a very curious Bill; in fact, it is a Bill of two halves. Five clauses deal with the referendum and just five with the treaty—the constitution is actually a constitution masquerading as a treaty—thereby establishing the treaty in British law. Today is the only opportunity that we will get to discuss this issue, because today is the only opportunity to pass legislation on the new European treaty before the referendum. In effect, if we pass the Bill, we pass the treaty. We have prepared the way for implementing it in British law, if the people give their consent in a referendum.
That is a very curious way to proceed, because as a result the House is not contributing its skill and knowledge, testing the argument or debating the issues. Nor is it examining the treaty at the same length or in the same detail that we examined the far less important and less substantial Maastricht treaty, which had far weaker effects on British polity and did not pose as a constitution. We are being asked to accept something that will change this country's constitution, and which establishes a European constitution affecting this country, on the basis of this Bill and three days' discussion on the Floor of the House. Frankly, that is not good enough for a major change such as this.
Those of us who do not like the constitution and who will oppose it are being asked to vote for it because we will then get a referendum—which we should have been given anyway from the start. The powers that are being handed over and the roles that are being imposed on us are matters for the people to decide on. They should be able to decide whether to give their consent in any case, so the blandishment that we will get a referendum—if we vote for the treaty—means nothing. A referendum on an issue as big as this is essential. We are talking about the people's power, and they have to give their consent before any of it is handed to Europe, or any other changes are made.
This approach was taken in order to get the issue out of the way before the general election, and it is true that we have had a lot of fun. The spectacle of my Euro- enthusiastic friends standing on their heads has been fascinating. My hon. Friend the Minister for Europe did so particularly elegantly. First he said, "No, we don't need a referendum; it's unimportant." Now he says that we must have one—but we should have taken that view from the start.
I support the provision to hold a referendum, but I have some doubts about the wording. A referendum is a conservative device that supports the status quo, and the Bill presents the constitution as the status quo:
"Should the United Kingdom approve the Treaty establishing a Constitution for the European Union?"
That suggests that the constitution is a fait accompli, that it is pristine, new and gleaming in the distance, that everybody else is accepting it, so it would be churlish to turn it down. It would be better to ask the people whether they want Britain to accept the "proposed" European constitution—a more honest wording, which would favour my side of the argument.
It is crucial that the referendum include equal funding and equal time for both sides of the argument. That period of equal funding and equal time should be extended, because I do not want the Government telling a series of half truths and distorting the argument in the long period before the referendum. A balance must be maintained for a longer time than just the simple campaign. We do not want my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe rampaging around the country in his red socks putting across an incorrect view of the constitution. I do not want to see a massive outpouring of Government propaganda, and the votes should be published by constituency at the end of the referendum.
The constitution is an unnecessary, unwanted, unloved product of the European elite that has been foisted on the electorates of Europe, who are being conned into accepting it. The Convention on the Future of Europe started out loaded with Euro-enthusiasts, which was a condition for membership. The American constitution proudly states "We, the people", but all the European constitution can say is, "We, the Euro-enthusiast Euro-elite" think that this or that is self-evident.
The document is turgid, unreadable, stolid and legalistic. It has all the intellectual excitement of cold porridge; it weighs 2½ lb; and our two representatives on the central councils of the Convention, my hon. Friend Ms Stuart and Mr. Heathcoat-Amory, both rejected it.
I cannot accept the constitution, which strengthens the centre and is another step towards ever closer union. It also represents further progress towards the creation of a state with a full-time permanent President, a full-time permanent Foreign Secretary and an agreed security and defence policy, which will strengthen the ability of that state to overrule UK law.
The effects of the constitution are unpredictable and I do not believe any of the forecasts. If anything, I am inclined to believe Martin Howe's argument that the constitution will create uncertainty, which will create more opportunities to overrule British laws because of the surrender of our veto in so many areas. Although my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary might be right that we will do better with qualified majority voting, he might also be wrong. The Government say, "There has been a change of mood in Europe. Britain is now more respected." Mood is, however, effervescent, and the psychology and nature of the European Union has not altered fundamentally.
Many new clauses have been added to the constitution. One trivial example concerns the common fisheries policy, which originally concerned the marketing of fish. The policy then became a matter of equal access to a common resource, and under the constitution it would become an exclusive competence over the marine biological resources of the sea. The Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament rejected that as unnecessary, but the provision remains. Why? Why should seals or jellyfish, vertebrates or invertebrates, be part of a constitution? Why do they have to be there? Is it some extension of power? What is it all about? It is simply madness on the part of those drafting the constitution.
Those are my fears. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary tells me that I am wrong. I always listen to him; he is a wise and sage individual and I am a big admirer of his. He tells me that my fears are wrong, that things will not work out that way and that the constitution is a triumph for Britain. Fortunately, he did not come back saying "Game, set and match", as people have said before him. But it is always the job of the British Foreign Secretary to make the best of a bad Eurojob, and my right hon. Friend is falling into that role.
The constitution does not allow for the uncertainties of the European Court of Justice—whether it will assert its power or whether its composition will be affected. However my right hon. Friend tells me that I am wrong, so let us put the argument to the test. Putting it to the electorate is no way of doing that, because the argument is likely to be detoured into simple half-truths, such as, "If we vote against it we shall be alone in the world," or, "We shall lose 3 million jobs," and all that kind of nonsense. The arguments to be put to the electorate must be prepared through argument and long discussion in the House, by our testing the argument to show what is happening.
As that is not the case, it will be difficult for me to vote for the Bill. In fact, it will be impossible for me to vote for it, because I am flatly opposed to this European verbiage-mountain of a constitution. My Eurosceptic friends have put it to me that I should maintain the ranks—[Interruption.]
As we have an understanding that we do not want to divide the party before the election, I should vote for the Bill—but I cannot. I shall devote the rest of the debate to deciding whether to bring the Government to their knees by voting against the Bill or, sagely, to abstain.
I had 25 years in the European Parliament and I saw its evolution, if I may use that term. Those who, like me, went there to represent the people and to try to get a deal for those who needed one discovered that the powers that be had other objectives and aims. Slowly but surely, those aims are coming to fruition.
I am opposed to this constitution because it changes a treaty-based agreement between nation states to a supranational entity based on its own constitution. We must face the fact that there is a distinct difference between democratic Parliaments deciding matters that they need to decide for their own people and the coming together of a number of states that determine that they should decide what is best for the people.
I do not know what the people of Brussels know about a place called Ahoghill, which is in my constituency. In fact, they know nothing about it; when one of them visited my constituency they pronounced it "A hog hill". Those people are not interested in the ordinary people who need our representation; they have a policy of their own. This constitution formalises the primacy of EU law over national laws. The Foreign Secretary will remember that in a debate last year I asked him which came first, the supremacy of EU laws or the supremacy of laws in this House. He told me rightly that the laws of Europe have supremacy. That being so, Parliament deteriorates into a subordinate council of Europe and, over and again, we can see that powers are being taken to give more power to Europe.
The constitution bestows legal personality on the European Union, so that it can make treaties and binding international agreements on its own. That policy is the basis for its own Foreign Minister and common foreign and defence policy. In other words, there is no doubt that an organisation is being constructed in Europe today that will be in complete control of our people and our nation. It also puts in place the apparatus and trappings of statehood.
People ask me why Europe has not cleaned up its act with regard to fraud. I was in the European Parliament when we decided to put the former leader of the then Labour Opposition in charge of that. I had every confidence that he was a man of integrity and strength who would certainly do a good job, but he had to return and tell the European Parliament that he had come to an impossible impasse because the Governments of Europe were not prepared to face up to their own folly. So if the Governments are not prepared to face up to fraud, who will face up to it? That was not because of any non-diligence on his part and those associated with him, but because a blockage was put in the way, yet that is where we are asked to put our faith.
We know that, as we look upon the present situation, the devolution of powers to Europe reduces the powers of national Parliaments. More and more, we have creeping out of the national Parliaments those items and business that should be strictly under the sole authority of the nation, but outside interests from Europe seem to be able to exercise a strange, mystic power over those who attend to represent the various nations, and Brussels becomes stronger and stronger each day. We need to face up to that.
On the powers that we had, I remember that when we heard about going into Europe, everyone said that all was well because we had the veto, and if Britain did not like what was going to be done, just one vote and Europe could not do it—it would be stopped. Now, we have the wonderful words, "qualified majority voting". One has only to look at the list of matters where the previous rule of unanimity does not apply: the election of the President; the election of the Foreign Minister; setting conditions for control by member states of the Commission's exercise of implementing powers; approximating national laws to achieve an area of freedom, security and justice, which is vital to asylum control—that is an interesting one; authorising annual expenditure; and proposals to promote social and economic cohesion. There is a whole list more: freedom of movement for migrant workers; measures necessary for the use of the euro; matters of particular interest for economic and monetary union; the prioritising of structural funds; measures on border controls, and so on. Those matters will all be covered by the new rule of voting, but qualified majority voting makes it impossible for one Government with strong views to stop such measures.
Anyone who has been to Europe knows that a lot is done by trading off, through which one country gets something and another gets something else, so they reach agreement. Before we know it, countries that have made deals stand by them, but other countries get no deal and go to the wall. That is happening over and over again.
Several aspects of the charter of fundamental rights are good, but others are bad. I was interested to read the other day that some people in France say that they should not go back to the days when the British won victory over Napoleon. They say that the keeping of Trafalgar day should be abolished in England altogether. That reminds me of things that are said in my country about great historic events—usually those that happened around 1690, as my friend along the Bench, Mr. Trimble, will well understand.
In France today, the situation surrounding civil and religious liberty is dicey. I am sure that many hon. Members from the various cities and towns of England will know of the Elim Pentecostal Church. I had the great pleasure of knowing the founder of that Church, Mr. George Jeffreys. France is now moving along the lines of the charter of fundamental rights and has decided that the state has the power to determine whether a Church is a sect, or a Church.
After a European debate a few months ago, Mr. Jenkin—I still think of him as an hon. Friend—remarked to me that it was interesting that the supporters of the measure that we are considering always refer to the "European constitutional treaty", while its opponents refer to the "European constitution". That theme has emerged extensively during the debate, not least in the speech made by Mr. Heathcoat-Amory. For myself, I say that it is just another European treaty, and I am glad that the question to be put in the referendum brings that out clearly. We have had the treaty of Rome, the Merger treaty, the Single European Act and the treaties of Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice. We now have the latest treaty in the series. In typical European language, it will probably end up being called the treaty of Rome bis, and I can well understand that Rev. Ian Paisley would oppose it for that reason, if no other.
Each of those treaties moved the European furniture around in different ways, and as it has been pointed out, some did so more drastically than the one now before us will. For example, the Single European Act, which was passed under Margaret Thatcher, extended qualified majority voting more widely than this treaty will.
I shall be happy to discuss that point with the right hon. Gentleman. Of course we must consider not only the number of areas, but their weight and significance. He must accept that qualified majority voting on nominations to the European Court of Auditors is not quite as serious as other matters.
The Maastricht treaty gave a treaty base to various forms of interstate co-operation among member states, and thus did more than this treaty will to extend the sphere of European responsibilities. But the basic reason why I regard this as just another treaty, rather than a constitution, is that it leaves many constitutional questions unresolved, which is why I think that the language of the Opposition, particularly in their amendment, is unwarrantedly exaggerated.
The fundamental constitutional question must be whether the European Union is to remain as it is—an association of sovereign states, pooling their sovereignty in certain limited areas—or whether it will become a new political entity, somehow transcending the member states and reflecting a new European citizenship. On this fundamental question, this treaty maintains the radical ambiguity of the earlier treaties, going back to the treaty of Rome. To put the point more positively, this treaty preserves intact the unique hybrid nature of the European Union: not a federal state, but using shared supranational institutions for certain limited purposes. As long as this radical ambiguity—this unique hybridity—persists, none of the arrangements for shared decision making upon which the member states may from time to time agree by treaties between them can accurately, in my opinion, be described as a "constitution". Nor, therefore, can they be rejected in the fundamentalist terms that have been adduced by, for example, Mr. Hague, who seemed in his remarks to discard the possibility even of common rules to apply to a common market. I thought that that at least was part of the acquis communautaire accepted by the Conservative party, but the right hon. Gentleman now seems to reject it.
The political reality of Europe remains what it has always been—that power rests with the member states. Let me give two instances. The stability and growth pact of 1997 imposes legally binding constraints on the budgetary policies of those countries that have adopted the euro as their currency. Indeed, those provisions are embodied in the treaty that is now before the House. It is notorious, however, that they are not being observed by France and Germany, for the simple reason that it does not suit them to do so.
In 1992, the Maastricht treaty introduced legally binding requirements for mutual consultation and common action in the field of foreign policy. Those are retained in the current treaty, and its opponents make much of the constraints that that will supposedly impose on foreign policy. For example, we have had a discussion about Britain's Security Council seat.
I want to finish this point.
Two years ago, we saw no evidence of such constraints having any effect at all when the chips were down over Iraq. There were no such constraints either on the foreign policy of the majority in the enlarged Union led by Britain, which supported the war, or on the foreign policy of the minority, led by France, which opposed it.
Europe will have a "constitution" only when it has acquired a real-world identity of its own—an identity that is more than the limited fiction of "legal personality" contained in this latest treaty. It will have a "constitution" only when there are genuine European citizens, as opposed to citizens of member states carrying a common-format passport. Neither of those things is actually happening, and with each successive enlargement of the European Union the prospect becomes more and more remote. The Opposition's fantasies about "a country called Europe" are simply that—fantasies.
In conclusion, let me sum up the question that the country will have to decide in the referendum, as I see it. The Leader of the Opposition has told us that Britain has no interest in the political development of continental Europe. He says, "If they want to federate, let them get on with it—so long as Britain is not involved." What an abdication! What ignorance of the lessons of history! Will the country heed that siren voice luring us on to the rocks, or do we want Britain to go on as it is now, exerting a growing influence from within a European Union in which the balance of real-world forces is steadily moving in the direction that suits Britain and Britain's historic national interests? That is the choice that the British people will have to make in the referendum on the treaty, and I am confident, in the words of what used to be a Conservative slogan, that they will once again vote for "a strong Britain in a strong Europe".
Order. As a significant number of hon. Members are still seeking to catch my eye, in accordance with the Order of the House of
I would love to debate this subject at length with Mr. Jackson, and I am grateful to him for mentioning me. The fact that I am not able to do so underlines the extremely unsatisfactory way in which his new party is handling the legislation.
I believe in the basic principle of democracy: that a people have the right to govern themselves. Article I of the UN charter sets out the principle of "self-determination of peoples". It is not envisaged as something that requires the permission of a higher authority; it is an absolute.
Only three fundamental questions are raised in the context of a constitution for the EU. First, what constitutes "self-determination"? Secondly, what constitutes "a people"? Finally, does the constitution respect the self-determination of peoples? The Opposition's reasoned amendment is absolutely right to lay emphasis on the question of primacy. Ultimately, government is not about identity or particular issues, events or interests, but about the framing and implementation of laws. Therefore, to have self-determination, the people must have the means to frame and implement their own laws and system of government. In turn, that system of government must have the means to sustain and protect itself. That means it must be sovereign—it cannot be subject to a higher authority.
I note that my hon. Friends' reasoned amendment uses the term "sovereignty". This is very basic stuff, but let us define our terms because the word has been misused. Sovereignty is not power, as Sir Menzies Campbell suggested. It is a different quality from power. It is not authority. Power is the ability to produce intended effects. It need not be legal power—to exercise power legally, one requires authority. The various written and unwritten laws of this country grant authority to our Ministers to exercise power legally. Where does that authority come from? The sovereign authority is the ultimate source of our law. Sovereignty is, therefore, a narrow legal concept. It is another absolute—it cannot be shared or limited. We either have it or we do not. Legal self-determination rests on the ability of a people's absolute authority to frame their own laws and to have the final say.
The second question is: what constitutes "a people"? Clearly, the EU is made up of many peoples. There is no such thing as a European people. I have always considered that the credibility of the so-called European People's party is somewhat undermined by its insistence that the apostrophe is in the wrong place. The flaw in the idea of the European Parliament is that politics remains national. At European elections, people elect MEPs on the basis of national political considerations, which is why the European Parliament remains such an utterly obscure and irrelevant institution.
The many peoples of the EU are properly represented by the Governments and Parliaments of its member states. It is the nations of Europe that are the democracies. To comply with the UN charter, therefore, we must strive to maintain the self-determination of the peoples of Europe.
Whatever the EU is or may become, it is not a democracy, but a bureaucracy. Governments from the Single European Act onwards have been much too eager to hand over more and more powers without regard to proper democratic scrutiny. Every time we do this, we take power from democracies and give them to a bureaucracy.
Despite that, I have never had a problem with the principle behind the existing legal basis of our membership of the EU. That is the principle of the delegation of national powers to the EU institutions. However problematic our relationship with the EU has become, it has only ever been a voluntary association of sovereign nation states. In the context of this debate, the only question that we must answer is whether the EU constitution represents a fundamental change to that principle of voluntary delegation of powers. Of course it does. Article I-6 states:
The Government will say—we have heard this already—that that merely reflects the existing precedence of the European Court of Justice, whose views on primacy are intended by the constitution to have full effect. The ECJ's view is that EU law has primacy over all national law, including national constitutional law. However, our courts rejected that idea, as recently as the "metric martyr" case in 2002. Our courts do not recognise the primacy of European law. By ratifying the constitution, the United Kingdom would effectively be committing constitutional suicide. Everything becomes subjugated to the ultimate sovereign authority of the EU. That is the intention that our courts will read, because we have enacted it on our statute book. It is utterly untrue for Ministers to claim, therefore, that the constitution is not a fundamental change. A secession clause needs to be added to the European constitution, because the present implicit right of secession would be compromised.
If the Government allow an honest debate on the subject, there is no possibility that the British people will vote for the constitutional treaty, but I fear it will fall to opponents of the EU constitution to make that explanation. Of course the Government will try to frighten people into believing that this is some kind of "in or out" debate, but the Minister for Europe has contradicted the Foreign Secretary by insisting that the constitutional treaty is not the final resting place of the European Union and that there will be further treaties. Why did he contradict his right hon. Friend?
I support the Bill. I am a strong advocate of both its form and its content. I represent one of the many areas in the United Kingdom that has benefited hugely from the positive outcomes of the European Union. I note that Rev. Ian Paisley is a resident and a representative of a similar area, and I do not understand the position that he takes.
We should concern ourselves with the attitude of the Opposition. I was intrigued by the contribution from Mr. Ancram. After telling us about Geronimo scalping the taxpayer for propaganda purposes, he made an extraordinary statement. He criticised the Government for not allowing enough time for discussion, debate and scrutiny, but in answer to an intervention from Mr. Clarke, he made it clear that in the unlikely eventuality of the Conservative party being returned at the next election, there would be no scrutiny of any sort. That leads to a great deal of confusion not only in the minds of right hon. and hon. Members, including Opposition Members, but outside.
In another intervention we heard that in the Scrutiny Committee Mr. Cash had legitimately asked whether the Bill could be used as the basis for a future referendum. I assume that implicit in that question is the belief among at least a section of the Conservative party that whatever is done as a result of the Bill will be undone at some future time. That underlines an almost visceral opposition to the European Union in any form that it might take.
I was equally taken by the exchange between Mr. Heathcoat-Amory. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that they go round the country and debate these matters, and I do not doubt the sincerity with which their opposing views are held. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said he did not understand why they could never get to the basis of the argument. That is because of the difference in their visions of the future of Europe. They are so different that it is like trying to compare the vision of Michelangelo with that of Hieronymus Bosch. The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe and the right hon. Member for Wells see the world from totally different perspectives, and that colours their outlook on everything to do with Europe and the EU.
And far wider, as my hon. Friend suggests.
Those who oppose the Bill always fail to draw attention to the irreconcilable tail that is wagging the Conservative dog. They fail to say what they would put in place of a United Kingdom which, in their heart of hearts, they want out of Europe. Will we no longer be the bridge to America? Are we supposed to be a dwindling and irrelevant piece of real estate floating off the edge of Europe? Will we increasingly become a client of America, and will the notion of the United Kingdom as an American aircraft carrier hold true? All the Opposition's views are vague and indeterminate, but they stem from a visceral antagonism towards the European Union and things European.
I take great pride that on issues as disparate as the environment, Iraq—even allowing for my personal view on war against that country—arms trading with China, and the preference for diplomacy over military muscle in the case of Iran, I look to Europe for support, succour, help and common sense. That is not to deny Europe's failings and failures. I acknowledge them, but I also take on board the overwhelming advantages of the European position. I hope that we make expeditious progress on the Bill and that when we go to the country we can convince people of the good sense of such things as an improved presidency with greater continuity and objectivity. There are obvious benefits, as has been said, in not having two representatives to deal with foreign affairs. Preconceived notions are not endangered by the proposal that Javier Solana should be, for want of a better description, the first Foreign Minister under the constitution. Qualified majority voting on measures against criminal activity is also desirable. I just wish that the previous Government had introduced proposals on better co-operation with Europe, as that might have prevented leading criminals from being able to escape jurisdiction and being held to account before 1997.
Once again, we have a thoroughly unsatisfactory procedure whereby a new 500-page constitution will be made part of our law in just five clauses. We can only debate those clauses and not the 500 pages. I repeat that it is thoroughly unsatisfactory that agreements made through the exercise of the treaty-making power deal with Europe as if it were a foreign country on the other side of the Pacific. That is not appropriate, and it is using the royal prerogative to change our constitution. That is quite unacceptable in this day and age, and I hope that the Government will reassess such matters in future.
There are clear differences of opinion on the construction of parts of the measure. It is no longer purely about consolidation. The Government argue that they are moving things back towards the nation state, but others regard it as yet another step in the long trail towards a federal state. When the original statement was made, I said that it does not matter what view the Government or others express because, at the end of the day, the European Court of Justice will decide these matters, and we know what its bias and approach are. After I made those comments, a Government supporter told me that I should not worry, because the Government had managed to remove the phrase "ever closer union" from the new treaty. Because they were no longer committing themselves to ever closer union, the European Court would cast a different eye on things. After finally getting hold of the text, I can confirm that "ever closer union" has gone, only to be replaced with the phrase "united ever more closely". If that does not make it clear that there is an absence of significant change, there is an express reference to continuity in the acquis communautaire. That continuity will be accompanied by continuity in the drift towards greater federalism in these provisions.
When we were presented with the treaty, I told the Government that they had missed a huge opportunity. What we really need in Europe is fundamental reform, but we do not have it in the treaty. There is a little tinkering around the edges, but that will not stop the progress towards a federated Europe. If the Government had plucked up the courage to veto the constitution, they could have started to argue for fundamental reforms, as they would no longer be trammelled by the report from the European Convention.
We need fundamental changes. Europe exists, and we will continue to be a part of it in one form or another. We need a democratic Europe, and the Europe we have is not democratic. For example, we have a situation in Europe where a group of unelected people have a total and absolute veto on legislation; that is another way of describing the European Commission's exclusive right of initiative. The only legislation that can be enacted is legislation proposed by the Commission, which in itself shows the absence of democracy.
I concur entirely with the comments of Mr. Hague about the danger we are in when there is a gap between the people and those who make laws affecting them. That is why we need reforms to make European institutions more democratic and more democratically accountable.
I shall just touch briefly on economic matters, which is another area in which we need huge changes. How many years ago did the Union commit itself at Lisbon to making changes? Has it made any? Is Europe more competitive or productive? No. The economic failure of the European Union gets worse, and it is important to realise that we are dealing today with economic failure. Mr. Curry was worried that a British no vote would lead to a Franco-German inner core. France and Germany are economic failures, and their failures are getting worse because of their failure to change their economies. The lower performance in those countries' economies dates from 1992 and it flows from Maastricht. The Minister may shake his head, but that is the case, and until major economic changes take place there, particularly with regard to the euro and the European Central Bank, the economic failure of Europe will get worse.
The Bill also provides for a referendum, and I welcome the fact that we will have a referendum, and that it will give whoever is in Government at that stage a second chance. I believe and hope that the people will reject the constitution, and flowing from that rejection will come an opportunity to look at the matter again. Europe cannot afford to treat the United Kingdom in the dismissive way it has treated Ireland and Denmark by telling people to go back and think again.
A rejection of the constitution will provoke the opportunity for some real changes in Europe, which are clearly needed. I hope very much that the British people will take that opportunity when it is presented to them. That is, of course, if the opportunity is presented; I still have a thought at the back of my mind that we might never see a referendum.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr. Trimble, but sadly I totally disagree with him. His analysis was very pessimistic and it may have more to do with the problems that he has had with other parties in Northern Ireland than with the constitution. He missed one thing completely: he was totally wrong to suggest that those in the Commission are the only people who can propose changes and legislation. The new powers given to the European Parliament through co-decision making will strengthen the democratic nature of the European Union; some of us have waited a long time for that and hope to see more of it.
I welcome the Bill and the proposed referendum, and I welcome the wording of the referendum, because it refers to establishing a constitution for the EU. People should recognise that it will be for the EU, not for Europe. Europe is a much bigger concept that is not necessarily covered just by the people currently in the EU.
On balance, I welcome the treaty. I say "on balance" because there are still some flaws in it, some of which were created by the Conservative Government. There were good arguments for shared competence on fisheries, for example, which we did not press for because the issue was not covered by any of the original treaties, but it might have been a useful move forward.
What worries me most is the combination of what I would call the anti-European zealots—those in my party and the group led by Mr. Heathcoat-Amory and his colleagues, with their "Be afraid; be very afraid" argument about the European Union—and the humbug and hypocrisy that I hear from those on the Conservative Front Bench. Is it opportunism rather than fear that I smell from them? Is it fear of the United Kingdom Independence party that is making them take the position that they have taken? We should never forget that the Opposition, when in government, not only signed up to a treaty that sold out the UK fisheries policy, but later, under Mrs. Thatcher, traded much of the Irish box to get the rebate, destroying a lot of the British and Scottish fisheries.
I was disappointed in some contributions. I will refer again and again to the attack by Mr. Hague on the working time directive when I speak to trade unionists and working people in this country. The EU led the way in the working time directive, and it should not be forgotten that it has been a great improver of the working conditions of many people in Britain.
The right hon. Member for Wells sadly is not here. Again and again the European Scrutiny Committee discusses these matters, and shifting the balance of power of co-decision making to Members of the European Parliament will be welcome. They made it plain in their evidence to the Committee when I chaired it that they saw the constitution as a very positive thing. They included Members from Finland, born only 30 or 40 years ago, and from Hungary, born in 1939. They all had a vision of the constitution as a way forward for a balanced Europe.
I am sorry, but I have no time to give way, even to my good friend.
It is important that we counter all these scary stories about the EU courts. The evidence that we received showed that it was still a matter of balance. With regard to primacy, if the European courts think that our laws are not compatible, it is for us to amend our laws; we are not overruled. The override that is referred to in both amendments, one selected and one not, will not undermine the will of the UK Parliament, contrary to what Mr. Cash said, and it will not further diminish the sovereignty of the UK, because eventually we in this Parliament must decide what we do when there is a conflict between our laws and interpretation of the laws in the EU.
If hon. Members take the trouble to read the evidence given to the European Scrutiny Committee, they will see that the academics disagreed on the possible behaviour of the EU courts. That is not a surprise; there would be no academic debate if that were not so. But even the most obviously Eurosceptic witnesses, some of whom were quoted today, said that the UK Parliament would have the right to decide if and how to respond to any of those decisions in the courts.
I come now to some Labour Members who are opposed to the measure. It is new words for old arguments; new weapons to fight old battles; and, unfortunately, old warriors dressed up in new uniforms. The treaty and the referendum that will follow are not about holding back the free-market process, or the common market process as it used to be called. They are not about challenging the right or the left-wing balance of opinion within the Commission. They will not be about the UK rebate. All those matters will be trotted out, rather than there being an argument about the constitution.
The Bill is not about the euro, immigration or the common fisheries policy, but, in the view of the hon. Member for Stone and his colleagues, it is about the possibility that if the Government are defeated in the referendum, the European Communities Act 1972 can be renegotiated and we can pull out of the EU. That is the real agenda for those on the Eurosceptic wing, and the official Opposition are in serious danger of being trapped into that argument because it is the only argument that they have to play towards.
I do not believe that the British people will respond to that. They realise that this is a mature and difficult treaty between countries, all of which want to hold on to their sovereignty as much as we do and to build a balanced, strong EU. I am not afraid of the fact that in treaties one has to give to receive, and in most cases QMV in the 53 areas that we are talking about will be to our advantage, as has been the case in more than 95 per cent. of cases to date. This is a treaty that I look forward to taking to a referendum and to supporting in the country. I support the Bill tonight.
It is disgraceful that the House has such a short time to debate such an important matter.
It is clear that with the referendum during the next year or 18 months Britain will face a defining moment in our history. Over that time, 25 Governments will be going through the ratification process. It is virtually certain that 23 or 24 of them will achieve ratification through their Parliaments, or, many of them, through referendums. The idea that when they have achieved ratification and have democratic mandates, including in many cases through a referendum, those countries will simply be prepared to tear up the whole project to accommodate this country is absurd. It would also be extraordinarily arrogant to assume such a thing.
Those who talk about renegotiation cannot therefore mean renegotiating this treaty but the EU's continuing on the basis of this treaty and our renegotiating something other than full membership. We might be able to get back into the European Free Trade Association or to negotiate the kind of special associate status that the French recently proposed for the Turks, and which the Turks rejected because it was so insulting, but we certainly would not be full members. Above all, we would not be part of the decision-making structures or the structures of democratic accountability.
I am always amazed when colleagues say, "Well, we could always negotiate some access to the single market." They appear to be happy with a situation in which we would have to observe the rules and the laws decided by the European Union while playing absolutely no part in it. We would find ourselves paying over taxpayers' money without any representation, as do current associates in the North American Free Trade Agreement, Switzerland and elsewhere. The prospect of taxation without representation seems to worry my colleagues not at all.
The European Union is a formidable achievement. I need not dwell on the single market, because even Eurosceptics admit that it is vital that we remain part of that, whatever happens, but we do not talk about the human importance of the Union—the fact that it provides a larger stage for all of us, and our children, to conduct our lives and to exercise our liberties: not merely to trade, but to work, live and study on a much wider field than merely on this island.
Over the years, it has proven a remarkable engine of peace. Let us consider some of the sources of conflict and bloodshed over centuries that it has dissolved over the past generation or two, such as Alsace-Lorraine and Alto Adige. As shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I came to the view that the only way of reconciling the views of those who want to remain part of this country and those who think it absolutely essential that they become part of the Republic of Ireland was within the context of a successful European Union, where the precise line of the frontier is no longer an existential matter, and certainly not one to die for.
The EU represents the only way in which we can exercise any influence in the world on key issues for the future such as world trade, international stability, sources of tension and potential conflict, nuclear threats, terrorism, and sources of migration. We cannot possibly influence those things standing alone in this country, and it would be absurd to think that we could.
Should we really walk away from all that because of this constitution? It would be completely crazy to do so given that 80 or 90 per cent. of it is a consolidation of what we have already signed up to, leaving six key changes, all of which seem to be very much in our favour. There are two substantive changes, the first of which is the mutual defence pact. We already have such a pact with 21 out of the 25 countries—it is called the Washington treaty. This simply removes the anomaly whereby we do not currently have a mutual defence pact with the Republic of Ireland, Sweden, Finland and Austria.
The second substantive change concerns the common foreign and security policy and the Foreign Minister. This is triggered under the treaty only by unanimity. It makes no sense at all to say that we want to leave the mainstream of the European Union because of a common foreign policy, because we have a veto on every occasion before a such a policy can emerge.
In addition, there are four procedural changes. On the two-and-a-half-year presidency, we all know that it does not make sense to continue with the six-month presidency and to have Malta and so forth as President of the Union. I have to tell my right hon. and hon. Friends that their system of shared responsibility, as occurs in the Council of Ministers, makes no sense. In the Council of Ministers, responsibility can be divided up—one country can chair the trade and industry committee, another can chair the agriculture committee, and so on. The presidency cannot be divided up in that way.
On double majority voting, I understand that the Spanish and the Poles did not want that because they had the artificial advantage of a weighting in their favour under the previous system, but I cannot see why it is in the British national interest that the Poles and the Spaniards should have that advantage.
The yellow card system has been denounced as inadequate, but only a fool or a fanatic does not go for half a loaf instead of no bread. It would be nice to go further in giving national Parliaments an even greater role, but this is a major change in a positive direction, and I cannot believe that it is a reason for opposing the Bill.
As for the new withdrawal procedure, I should have thought that my Eurosceptic colleagues would be delighted about that. Of course, Parliament is sovereign, and we always could have withdrawn, but that is now recognised in the treaty.
All in all, I fail to understand the rationality of opposing this treaty from the point of view of the British national interest.
I am pleased to participate in the debate because I tabled the first early-day motion that called for a referendum in May 2003. I was delighted when the Government decided to hold a referendum and I congratulate them on that. I understand that there was a little soul searching in Downing street before it happened, but the right conclusion was reached.
I am pleased that my hon. Friend and I agree on that—as we do on so much.
However, I remain profoundly opposed to the constitutional treaty. Along with millions of Labour supporters and trade unionists throughout Britain, I shall vote no in the referendum. I have often spoken about EU matters in the Chamber and I shall not dwell on all the issues today. I have reservations other than those that I shall express but other colleagues, including my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) and for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) have covered them.
The constitutional treaty is, at its heart, hostile to social democracy. The thrust of today's EU is deeply anti-socialist and the neo-liberal philosophy is being driven forward. There has been a conflict in the EU between the two forces and, unfortunately, the neo-liberal force is winning against the social democratic force. I want to reverse that drift.
The drive to marketise and privatise public services under the bland-sounding term of liberalisation threatens to turn back the clock and unpick the fabric of social democracy, welfare states and social protection that has transformed the lives of working people in post-war Europe.
We hear the term "flexible labour markets." A couple of years ago, I was on holiday in Portugal, and although my Portuguese is not good, I understood a sign on a building site that said, "No to flexible labour markets". The Portuguese construction workers understood perfectly what labour market flexibility means. The Swedish no in the referendum happened because Swedish social democrats and trade unionists perceived the threat and voted no.Where countries are already advanced in liberalising service areas, article III-148 of the treaty commits them to
"undertake liberalisation of services beyond the extent required by the European framework laws".
It gives the Commission more powers to promote privatisation of key public services.
Even without the treaty, the new Commission attempted this week to relaunch what it described as the flagging Lisbon agenda. There is serious anxiety, especially among trade unionists, that that will be to the disadvantage of working people. The European Trade Union Confederation, which is now led by John Monks, a good friend and former colleague, stated:
"This is a disappointing start for the new Commission because it risks presenting Europe as an agent for lower social standards, worse welfare states and poorer environmental standards".
That is happening in the EU now and the treaty will reinforce it.
The treaty will consolidate Maastricht and the Single European Act, both of which I opposed. I believed that the Common Market or European Community was jogging along nicely before the Single European Act, which constituted a step change towards a much more neo-liberal construct. That is where things went wrong. I would be happy to revert to the position before the Single European Act and I would probably complain only about the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy. We could work happily with our European colleagues on that basis.
My colleagues have made several points about the referendum. I believe that the Electoral Commission has criticised the wording although it has acquiesced in what the Government have done. We probably will not be able to persuade the Government to make the wording more neutral, but it is significant that the Electoral Commission questioned it.
It is right to place limits on campaign spending. I remember the 1975 referendum when the amount of money spent on the yes side was grotesque when compared with that spent on the no side. I was on the no side at the time, and I remember well the pathetic resources that we had, compared with the massive resources used to persuade people to vote yes. We want to see more balance this time.
This referendum should not be held on the same day as other elections. We want a separate day for it, so that people can focus on the issue, rather than thinking, "Oh, well, it's just another election", which might lead them to vote yes or no in a casual way. They need to focus specifically on this important decision that Britain has to make. I also want a constituency count. My constituents know very well what my views are on these matters, but I would like to know what their views are. They might be different from mine, but I would like to know what they think. Every other hon. Member should also be aware of what their constituents are saying, so a constituency count would be important.
It has been said that the constitutional treaty is just a "tidying-up exercise". If that were the case, it would not be that important if we did not adopt it, would it? We should still have what we have now, and it would not be that significant. However, so much effort is being put into ensuring that the whole of Europe votes for the treaty that I suspect that it is rather more important than just a "tidying-up exercise". There is a lot more to it than that.
I have said before in debates on European matters that the constitutional treaty includes references to eurozone institutions. Those references should be taken out and voted on separately—
I am very pleased to follow Mr. Hopkins. I have listened carefully to this afternoon's debate. I have had the opportunity to speak on this subject twice in the past year, and I do not want to repeat a lot of what I have already said. I would, however, like to build on some of the points that have been raised today.
I do not regard the treaty as just another European treaty, and I certainly do not regard it as benign. We have to look at the end agenda. There are legitimate debates to be had on both sides of the argument. I say "both sides of the argument", rather than "both sides of the House" because this is not a party political issue. It is a matter of national importance involving our future relationship with the European Union. I have no problem with people who do not share my view that we have already gone too far down the road of European integration. However, I say to the Government—and I reflect on this in regard to previous Governments—that I have difficulty with the fact that, over the years, politicians have not spelled out clearly what they were signing up to in the name of the people. That has caused the feeling that we, as a nation, have lost control of our right to govern ourselves in many important areas of policy.
I do not share the view that signing up to the common market, as it then was, led to peace in mainland Europe at the end of the last century. I respect the views of those who genuinely believe that, but I personally do not think that the common market prevented France and Germany from tearing each other apart as they have done in previous centuries. I believe that it was the presence of the Soviet bloc, the cold war and the formation of the NATO alliance and the link with north America that kept the peace in mainland Europe.
We are talking about the type of relationship that we want with Europe. I fully share the views of those who have flagged up the additional powers in the treaty—the euro-creep, as it is euphemistically called. These significant powers are being given to people who have not been elected by the people of this country, and who are not answerable to us as our elected representatives. We cannot call them to the Dispatch Box to answer our questions. As my right hon. Friend Mr. Hague so eloquently spelled out earlier, this illustrates the democratic deficit that we are experiencing.
I know that this subject is not the public's idea of a hot political topic. They have more important things to concern them. However, if we do things by stealth in one treaty after another, and if we erode people's right to elect through the ballot box every four or five years those who make decisions on their behalf here, when they suddenly wake up to the fact that that right has gone, it will not simply be a matter of their not turning out to vote in general elections. Voter apathy will not be the only price that this country pays for such stealth; I believe that there will be a reaction on the part of the public when they realise that their democratic rights have been taken away from them. Yes, we all take our democratic rights for granted and it is already possible to see in some countries what can happen when extremism feeds on the lack of democratic accountability. It is a very dangerous path to go down.
I say to Ministers and colleagues that, whatever side of the argument they are on and whatever they believe the right relationship between this country and the EU should be, at least be honest in telling people what is being done in their name. Let us not have spin or gloss; let us not keep telling people that they have not really signed up to this or that. They know. We all receive hundreds and hundreds of letters about it. The phone rings in the office: it is another small business; it is another person who wants to know why they have to do such and such, why they are bound by various rules. As their MP, I have to tell those people, "I am very sorry, but there is nothing I can do about it, because these decisions are not taken in the House of Commons. The people who have put these decisions before us are not the people"—
My hon. Friend says, "Blame No. 10". Well, I was a Minister in the last Conservative Government and I have to tell him that, as a Minister, I had great difficulty trying to argue the case when some of these proposals were made.
We talk about competition within the single market and I am a great believer in free trade, but there are 22 other countries out there that have free-trade agreements with the EU and a further 69 countries are currently negotiating such agreements. None of them is shackled by the regulation and statutory requirements that we have to face here. That is apparently the price that this country has to pay in order to be a member of this club. We hear all these euphemisms about where the train is going, what the destination is and so forth, but I say it is time to pull the communication cord.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in the debate, albeit at a somewhat late hour and with just six minutes to run. I am glad to see that the reasoned amendment that we shall vote on this evening bears fair comparison to the one that I tabled a few days ago. I am equally glad that the issue of supremacy, extensively discussed today, relates closely to the decision taken last week by my party to support a proposition that I tabled in an amendment to the Constitutional Reform Bill.
The problem with the constitution, as I have said many times before, is the question of primacy. I do not need to repeat the argument today, as I have already explained it in my own terms over and over again. The plain fact is that the Foreign Secretary is blatantly wrong about the effect of the constitution on the United Kingdom. He mentioned the Vienna treaty, particularly article 27, but it is inconceivable that the people of this country could be governed on the basis of a decision taken by a treaty.
I return to what the Foreign Secretary said about 18 months ago—that international treaties took precedence over national laws. That led to an exchange of correspondence, and a series of questions, between myself and him. At the end of that 18-month period, on 8 or
The way in which the Foreign Secretary replied to me yesterday in the European Scrutiny Committee is also inconceivable. I put it to him that the treaty could receive a no vote when the referendum is called and I asked him whether, if that happened, he would repeal the legislation that is being pushed through Parliament now because of the massive majority. He said that he would not repeal it, and then said—twice—that to do so would be a waste of time.
What arrogance. The Foreign Secretary would not repeal this legislation, even though it had been rejected by the British people. He relies on his prerogative powers to tell the country what laws will govern it and the extent to which Parliament will be governed by the new EU constitution.
Mr. Jackson suggested that this treaty was just one in a series. That is arrant nonsense. Article 1.6 of the treaty states clearly that the EU constitution will take precedence over the laws of member states. When I put it to the Foreign Secretary that that precedence also included this country's constitution, he said that of course it did.
On the question of European Court of Justice case law, the treaty makes it clear that article 1.6 reflects the Court of Justice's existing status in that respect, and of course it does. Yesterday, I discussed with the Foreign Secretary the matter of the competing jurisdictions that flow from the European Communities Act 1972. Evidence from distinguished academics on constitutional law makes it clear that our judges are duty bound to give effect to decisions made by the House of Commons on behalf of the British people. However, the European Court maintains that existing case law—such as Enel v. Costa, or the Simmenthal verdict—means that it has the right to decide questions of law in this country.
The fundamental question is one of political will. Who governs this country? People have fought and died over that question.
The Bill should be rejected. The referendum should be the subject of a separate Bill so that we can ensure that this country is governed by legislation passed by this House, whose composition is determined by the will of the British people as expressed in general elections.
Some intriguing polls have been published in the past few days. In The Times, a Populus poll showed that 36 per cent. of people would say yes to the question whether we should approve the treaty, with 29 per cent. saying no. However, an ICM poll showed that 39 per cent. of people would respond negatively to the official question and that the same proportion—39 per cent.—would respond positively. When the same poll asked people whether they would sign up to the European constitution in a referendum held tomorrow, 54 per cent. said no and 26 per cent. said yes.
A poll by the Institute of Directors found that 49 per cent. of its members intended to vote no in the referendum, with only 29 per cent. planning to vote yes. That caused IOD director general Miles Templeton to say:
"Business leaders remain ready to hear the case for both sides."
I shall use that as my starting point.
I have been a great supporter of Britain's membership of the EU ever since we joined 30 years ago. However, I am seriously concerned that in that time we have failed to take the people with us on the journey that has been the EU's development and evolution. We have now reached the stage where most people have little understanding of, and little confidence in, what is being done in their names.
Euroscepticism is not unique to Britain. It exists throughout Europe and the democratic deficit seems to be worse in some other European states, where people feel that it is inevitable and that they can do nothing about it. However, they will have the opportunity in referendums on the constitution to send a message to the political elites of Europe saying that they would like an explanation of what is going on and what has been done in their names during the past 30 years in this country, and somewhat longer in some other member states.
For all the Foreign Secretary's spin on the treaty, it does not provide the answer. When I read the Laeken declaration back in 2001, I thought that we were beginning to go in the right direction and to pose some of the right questions. However, when I read the treaty—all 511 pages—I remembered one phrase from the Laeken declaration, which mentioned
"Simplification of the Union's instruments".
There is no simplification in the constitution, and it contains so much detail that it can hardly be described as a constitution; it is a management textbook. The explanatory commentary, which runs to 500 pages, is supposed to explain it to anyone who does not understand the first 500 or so pages. The constitution is nowhere near being a simplifying treaty. It contains minutiae of management detail that one would expect those responsible for looking after our interests to come up with as their modus operandi.
Much of what is in the document could soon be out of date. What we now need is what the Laeken declaration referred to—the creation of European institutions that are closer to their citizens. Mr. Cook referred to the fact that the Council will make decisions in public. That goes some way towards making the institutions more transparent and accountable. However, what is the point of making the decisions in public, but not holding the general proceedings of the Council in public? That is rather like putting cameras in the Division Lobbies here but taking them out of the Chamber, so that we can carry on our business in secret.
Most of our citizens support the broad aims of the Union, but they do not always see the connection between those goals and the Union's everyday actions. We all know that Europe has changed and is changing. With the 10 new countries that joined last year, it now has 25 member states. The enlarged Europe needs to be more effective and democratic, so we need a simple and transparent constitutional treaty, which is what the document was supposed to provide.
An effective European Union is in Britain's interest and it is in our national interest to be a member of that Union, because we have so many aims in common. We need a new treaty that spells out in black and white the powers of the various parties. It should state explicitly that the EU has only the powers that member states choose to grant it. It should clarify what the EU can and cannot do.
The constitution is unacceptable, but that does not mean that I have become anti-European, that I do not want the European Union to succeed, or that I want us to be relegated to the position of Norway and Switzerland, with an expensive, subservient and passive relationship with the European Union. That is not an option for the British people. We need a tidying-up and simplifying treaty, but that is not what we have. I can happily say that the leaders of Europe should go back and reconsider the constitution.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Mr. Walter, who put his pro-European case against the constitution before us. It may be helpful if, at the outset, I put on the record the reference for which the Father of the House asked my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Ancram. It was a reference to comments made to the European Scrutiny Committee by Professor Sir David Edward. On the subject of the so-called emergency brake, he said in reply to a question from Mr. Tynan:
"The procedure involves going up to the European Council but the brake is not absolute. I think it is at that point that politics would overcome law, so to speak."
That is the reference that was sought.
We have had a splendid debate, with a good tone to all the contributions. We enjoyed particularly Keith Vaz revealing the secret about Mr. Cook frothing at the mouth during difficult EU negotiations on the treaty of Nice, and the right hon. Member for Livingston saying that the treaty did not involve any significant extension of competences. As he must well know, however, the list of 63 extensions of qualified majority voting is on the record. It includes such things as social security, structural and cohesion funds, agriculture and fisheries, transport, space policy, energy, culture, tourism, sport, civil protection—and much more that I do not have time to read into the record. Those are all new transfers to qualified majority voting—[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position that they are not new competences—but they are new to qualified majority voting. I hope that he now accepts that point.
The hon. Gentleman's reference is accurate in that I said that there was no substantial extension of competence. None of the list that he has given argues that I was in any way wrong about that. He is talking about something entirely different: an extension of qualified majority voting. In the European Union, 85 per cent. of all decisions are already taken by qualified majority voting, primarily because the 12 extensions of qualified majority voting under the Single European Act, passed by a Conservative Government, are the basis on which the great majority of decisions are taken in the Council of Ministers.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for making it clear that we are both talking about an increased transfer of powers from the House and the United Kingdom to the European Union—[Interruption.] He is starting to froth at the mouth again; he really should try to contain himself.
The right hon. Member for Livingston also made much of the public meetings that the Council of Ministers will hold. I heard the Foreign Secretary's comments in front of the European Scrutiny Committee yesterday, however, and he made it clear that decisions must still be made behind closed doors, and that the decision-making process would not work if it was in public. We are therefore hearing different things from different Labour Members.
The right hon. Member for Livingston also said that a vote against the constitution was a vote against the modern world. In 1999, however, on
"For the record, we are not proposing a constitution of Europe."—[Hansard, 25 May 1999; Vol. 332, c. 184.]
Was he then saying no to the modern world?
Sir Menzies Campbell seemed to suggest that Parliament could not exercise powers not to follow the decision taken by the Executive to endorse this treaty, putting the Liberal Democrats firmly under the royal prerogative and apparently denying the right of the House to make such decisions.
One of the greatest pleasures in the debate, however, was the contribution of my right hon. Friend Mr. Hague who spoke about public disaffection with the political process and the extent to which the public see a gulf between the people and the institutions of Government. As he said, this constitution will make it worse, citing instances from food supplements to asylum policy.
My right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke spoke of his strong opposition to referendums. We differ from his views but respect his principle and consistency in these as in other matters. He put the view that Ministers are weakened by the use of referendums. All that I would say on that is that Ministers are weakened only if they are out of tune with the views of the people. We are in tune with the views of the British people, and we will be strengthened by the referendum if we see that no vote, whenever it may come.
The House has, in the short time allowed, been discussing a momentous decision. Contrary to the Government's claims, the new constitution would be a decisive step towards political integration. If we talk to politicians or diplomats anywhere in Europe, they will tell it to us straight: the constitution is part of the process of creating an economically and politically integrated Europe. Only in Downing street or the Foreign Office is the pretence maintained that this is a mere codification of existing treaties.
I will not, because I have limited time. I apologise to my hon. Friend.
But even as the Government try to flog this outrageous porkie to the British people, they cannot get their own story straight. On the "Today" programme this morning, the Foreign Secretary said that the constitution
"literally limits the powers of the European Union", and that
"What this does is say 'this far and no further'".
That directly contradicts the Prime Minister, who claimed in Cardiff on
"we must end the nonsense of 'this far and no further'".
It also contradicts the Minister for Europe, who said at Durham university in November that "this treaty"—the constitution—
"won't be the last word".
The Government maintain that the constitution is a great triumph for Britain, but as we heard earlier, the French are giving the game away. We have heard the views of President Chirac and of Alain Lamassoure, both of whom have made it clear that the constitution is regarded as a victory for the French vision of Europe over the Anglo-Saxon vision. Nicolas Sarkozy, leader of the UMP, said:
"If the French said 'no' in the referendum, it would be the British, who want a fiercely competitive market, who would triumph".
The fact is that whatever this untrustworthy Government say, the British people have the good sense to see through it, and so, I am thankful to say, does British industry.
There is emerging evidence that the referendum question may need changing, but we welcome the fact that the Bill does provide for a referendum. Indeed, the British people are being allowed one only because of the pressure being applied by the Opposition. This Government saw no lofty principle in the idea that the voice of the British people should be heard. They struggled, blustered and resisted, but then, as the Minister for Europe told the New Statesman—I am paraphrasing, but one can imagine the scene as he and the Foreign Secretary sit there side by side—"I turned to Jack and I said, 'Jack, we're stuffed. We've got to give a referendum. I don't think we can hold out.'"
Now we have the Government's grubby attempt to push the referendum back to autumn 2006—the very last moment—to prevent the people from having their say. What rich irony there is in a Prime Minister who once boasted of wanting Britain to lead the way in Europe now being found cowering in a corner, hoping and praying that the French vote no and get him off the hook. Even now, as Mr. Mitchell has said, the Government are trying to pull a fast one by smuggling the 448-article European constitution through Parliament via five clauses of an incomprehensible Bill that is supposedly about the referendum.
In promoting this constitution, the Government are missing the real challenges for Europe, including sorting out the mess of the EU institutions, which are riddled with financial mismanagement and fraud and have not been approved by the auditors for 10 years. Moreover, Britain's net contribution to EEC institutions is projected to rise, according to the Chancellor's own figures, from £2.4 billion in 2003–04 to £4.5 billion in 2007–08. Perhaps the Minister will explain in his response why such an increase is necessary.
As I said earlier, I do not really have time to give way. I apologise to my hon. Friend.
Why have the Government done nothing to tackle the scandal of the EU accounts, and why, when I asked in November, had the Chancellor and Foreign Secretary not even bothered to discuss the problem that needed to be tackled?
I am most grateful. My hon. Friend will doubtless be aware that the auditors have invariably signed off the accounts of the Commission and the Union's institutions; the problem has been that many of the disbursements are carried out through the mechanisms of the member states. I do not imagine that my hon. Friend is proposing the very federalist and centralising idea that the Commission take over responsibility for disbursing all these sums, even if that might lead to greater transparency and a better audit record.
My hon. Friend is right in at least one respect, in that I do not propose that idea. But I should point out that one of the most scandalous examples of fraud in the EU involved EUROSTAT, and money that was directly controlled by the Commission. Indeed, it was one of the most startling instances of financial mismanagement and malpractice. Amazingly, the Chancellor has not taken the trouble to talk to Marta Andreasen, the whistleblower who exposed EU fraud and who was fired for her trouble.
The real challenge is not—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks said so powerfully—creating a constitution that cedes more powers to Europe and takes decisions further and further away from the people, but tackling the massive burden of cost and regulation that is holding back our businesses and making them compete against China and India with one hand tied behind their backs. That is why such a large majority in British business oppose the constitution. An Institute of Directors poll found that 86 per cent. of its members believe that the constitution would mean more red tape, while 3 per cent. of them believe that it would reduce red tape.
The EU economy has stalled. A few weeks ago, the United States National Intelligence Council issued a devastating indictment of EU economic prospects:
"The current EU welfare state is unsustainable and the lack of any economic revitalisation could lead to the splintering or, at worst, disintegration of the EU, undermining its ambitions to play a heavyweight international role."
It adds that the EU's economic growth rate is dragged down by Germany and its restrictive labour laws. Structural reforms in Germany, and to a lesser extent in France and Italy, remain key to whether the EU as a whole can break out of its "slow growth pattern".
The only action proposed by the EU is yet another relaunch of the Lisbon agenda. The response is set out in the joint statement by the Irish, Dutch, Luxembourg, UK, Austrian and Finnish presidencies called, "Advancing regulatory reform in Europe":
"The four Presidency statement drew attention to the economic cost of poor and excessive regulation, and the benefits that respected and independent research shows could flow to European growth and productivity from improvements to the regulatory framework . . . . The Spring Council focused in particular on refining the integrated impact assessment process, by enhancing a competitiveness dimension, and on developing a methodology to measure administrative burdens for business. It also invited the Commission to take account of the Council's views in relation to priority areas for simplification and invited member states to commit to accelerated implementation of national regulatory reform initiatives . . . This statement, presented at the end of the Dutch Presidency of the EU"— this is priceless—
"builds on the valuable progress that has been made by the European Commission, Council and Parliament over the course of the year and sets out our objectives for reform in the coming years."
Instead of action, we get statements filled with vague aspirations and meaningless words—the EU just does not get it.
Only by rejecting the constitution can we lead Europe to a better, freer and more prosperous future. Astonishingly, however, this clapped-out Government have no plan for the way forward if one or more of the member states votes no. Ministers even admit that they have no plan B. Having started off opposing the constitution, they have no idea what to do when there is no constitution.
We know what to do. A Conservative Government would lead the way towards a more flexible, less regulated Europe that recognises the differences between 25 different cultures and economies. Some 20 years on, there is a widespread acceptance in the EU that for Europe to compete, it needs the kind of economic reform and deregulation that Conservative Governments brought to this country in the 1980s and 1990s. The tragic lesson of the Lisbon process is that Europe does not know how to do that. Given the choice between real deregulation and increasing the jurisdiction of EU institutions and adding new layers of bureaucracy, the wrong decision has been taken yet again.
Conservative Members will be proved right on today's big constitutional question, just as we won the economic arguments of the past 20 years, and the rejection of the constitution presents a huge opportunity for Britain, and for Europe as a whole. In a recent debate, Ms Stuart—it is sad that she is not here today, because she contributes well—said that the proponents of the constitution often seem like old men talking about their dreams. Those dreams may have had a place in post-war Europe, but they have no relevance to the Europe of today.
The real challenge in modern Europe is not internal aggression, but external competition, a challenge that the EU is disastrously failing to meet. Instead, we have the so-called Lisbon agenda, which halfway through its 10-year programme was described by the President of the Commission as a "catalogue of worthy aims". Europe is subject to continuing economic stagnation, over-regulation and rising costs. In the words of Derek Scott, a popular figure in this debate and the Prime Minister's former chief economic adviser, the constitution would
"entrench Europe's economic failings and drag Britain down".
However out of touch the metropolitan clique around the Prime Minister may be, I know that many Labour Members are not so out of touch with the people whom they represent. Those Members know that their constituents do not want this latest shift of powers from our democracy. They know, too, that this constitution would be bad for Britain. If they vote for the amendment, they, like us, will be able to stand on the doorstep at the forthcoming election, look their constituents in the eye and say that they have represented the interests of their constituents and of our country.
I urge all hon. Members to do what is right this evening, and to vote to reject this outdated and unwanted constitution.
We have had a good debate; 26 colleagues, right hon. and hon. Members, have spoken. It is the most enjoyable European debate that I have listened to during the decade or more that I have been a Member of the House. Colleagues have responded to one another and taken forward proper dialogue and discussion. For the most part, there have been no set-piece, speak-your-weight, pre-written speeches.
The debate is part of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary's clear commitment to bring these issues to Parliament. Since the intergovernmental conference of October 2003, we have had no fewer than 16 debates, 14 of them on the Floor of the House, which have dealt wholly or in large part with the EU constitutional treaty. There have been a further 13 debates in the House of Lords. Commons European Scrutiny Committees and House of Lords European Committees have undertaken detailed inquiries into aspects of the treaty. Ministers, including myself, have given evidence. There have been Westminster Hall debates and, of course, the unprecedented creation of a Standing Committee on the Intergovernmental Conference—the only time in parliamentary history when Members have been allowed to question Ministers about the negotiation of a treaty while it was under way.
We want to maintain that, which is why I welcome the part of the new treaty that strengthens the role of national Parliaments. It is true that we shall have to adapt our ways of thinking. We shall need to talk and communicate with colleagues in other national Parliaments, but Labour and other Members will want to use the occasion of the treaty to strengthen parliamentary accountability for what is done in our name in Europe.
The hon. Gentleman has been in the Chamber throughout the debate but has not spoken, so I shall give way. I do not, however, want to take many interventions because I want to answer the points made in the debate.
I want to pick up on a point that has not been covered so far. Part of the Bill that I very much welcome is the innovation that, should the treaty go through, any future amendment must go through the House. As the Scottish Parliament will be involved in that, under the yellow card arrangements, will the Minister tell us what thought has gone into the involvement of devolved institutions in aspects where sovereignty is shared between them and the European Union, and not the House?
The yellow card issue is for national Parliaments. As the hon. Gentleman will know, there is a procedure known as a Sewel motion that allows the Scottish Parliament to take forward relevant matters under the treaty. I hope that we can have a full discussion of that.
I have some good news for the Conservatives. Yesterday, the Conservative—believe me, it is very conservative—party in Denmark won a thumping victory in their national elections. The new Prime Minister, Mr. Fogh Rasmussen, who is a very conservative European gentleman, said that the first priority for his new Government was to get the constitutional treaty through in Denmark. I am sure that all Conservatives in the House will join us in wishing him full speed.
There are three broad questions we have to consider. This has been a wide-ranging debate, but, my goodness, it has not actually been on the Bill itself. We have been up and down the highways and byways of the problems of Europe: how Europe is run, the economies of Europe, and the fraud and mismanagement of accounts in Europe. Those are all important issues, but they are not remotely relevant to what we shall have to vote on shortly.
The second part of the Bill relates to the referendum, while the first part gives effect to the part of the treaty that requires a change in our domestic law. That is normal in treaties. The question of "the question" has been raised. I am glad that, in a statement to the Press Association on
"We do accept the question."
On the same day, the shadow Foreign Secretary said:
"The referendum question seems straightforward."
I am glad that we have their agreement on that.
I have written to the Foreign Secretary to ask about the terminology that describes the treaty. Why does the treaty refer to the establishment of a constitution for Europe, when the question refers to the establishment of a treaty for the European Union? I am sure that there is a very simple explanation—it would be nice to have it.
I will answer the point in my own way. The Electoral Commission has considered the intelligibility of the question against its published guidelines, and it said:
"The Commission welcomes the brevity of the proposed question . . . The Commission is content that the question is structured in such a way that it prompts an immediate response and encourages each voter to interpret it in the same way . . . The Commission is satisfied that the referendum question makes it . . . clear what decision the voter is being asked to make."
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman turns to article I-1 of the treaty, he will see that it says that
"this Constitution establishes the European Union."
So it does seem fairly sensible to put that question to the British people.
The third point is that this is a treaty under international law. Winston Churchill notably said that jaw-jaw was better than war-war, but in a sense what we have been developing in the United Kingdom, particularly since 1945, between the parties is the idea that there is obviously one thing better than war-war—jaw-jaw—and that there is one thing better than jaw-jaw, and it is law-law: we can shape the rule of law that governs many of our international relations. Churchill himself signed 162 multilateral treaties. Lady Thatcher signed 316 multilateral treaties—she really was a treaty queen—and the present Prime Minister has signed only 153 multilateral treaties, but he has a number of years in office to continue, and that 153, of course, includes the new treaty of Rome.
Let me now turn to what is actually on the Order Paper. Forgive me, Madam Deputy Speaker, if I refer to what we must vote on tonight. The Conservative party in the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition says that the treaty
"provides for the implementation into UK law of the Constitution for Europe".
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is perfectly right: every time that we have signed a treaty, we have had to change domestic law. The amendment continues:
"it enshrines the primacy of European Union law."
Again, he is perfectly right: that has been the case since 1972. As is made clear in article I-6 of the treaty:
That has been the case now for 32 years.
Hon. Members will also note that, under article I-11 of the treaty,
"the Union shall act within the limits of the competences conferred upon it".
I am trying to reply to the points made in the speeches. A number of colleagues referred to fisheries policy, which has been included in all the treaties since 1972.
Other colleagues have referred to directives under the Single European Act. Mr. Hague made a powerful point, but he was talking about what is contained in the Single European Act. As other hon. Members noted in the speeches that they made after he left the Chamber, the thrust of his speech was very much against the Single European Act. That shows the huge danger that we now face.
The Conservative party is embarked on saying no not just to this treaty, but to the treaty before it, the treaty before that and, above all, the crowning jewel of Lady Thatcher's achievement under the Single European Act, which was to make market economic relations the norm in the European Union. That is buttressed by the social chapter, and in a powerful speech that set the tone for our debate, my right hon. Friend Mr. Cook cited the treaty at length and showed the extent to which it contains references to what citizens want to hear: the guarantee of their social rights and the guarantee of full employment.
The amendment contains the extraordinary allegation that the new treaty
"promotes the concept of a common foreign and security policy".
What a surprise! That has been in every treaty since Maastricht. The whole idea of a common foreign and security policy was first put forward by Lady Thatcher in a famous speech in 1984. Here we are, 21 years later, and the Conservative party finds that the new treaty refers to a common foreign and security policy.
May I especially pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Joyce Quin, who will be leaving us after the election? In a characteristically calm, measured and steady speech, she showed just how much she has contributed to the House for a number of years on Europe—we will miss what she has to say. Similarly, my hon. Friend Mr. Tynan will not be coming back to the House after the election. He spoke by representing his trade union, Amicus—it used to be known as the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union—which has always taken a constructive and positive position on Europe. We have heard the opening shots of the giant campaign on whether we say yes or no to Europe through the referendum, and I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will play a part in it.
I cannot let the speech made by the shadow Foreign Secretary go by. Most of it was a kind of Lord Rothermere rant. The right hon. and learned Gentleman would have been a perfect Chamberlain-ite during the 1930s with his obscure conversion to isolation, because we know that he is a pro-European and a one-nation Tory. Although Mr. Ancram might have to toe the party line today and say no, the Marquis of Lothian will say yes when the referendum comes.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman prayed in aid Ben Bot. I agree with Mr. Bot because I think that we need more power for Parliaments—there is a way forward for that in the constitution. However, Mr. Ben Bot, the Dutch Foreign Minister, of course signed the constitution. The right hon. and learned Gentleman also prayed in aid Mrs. Thatcher's sturdy work to secure the abatement, but she achieved that only because she won a majority set of votes in the then Council of Ministers and the measure was not written into the treaty. That shows exactly why we have to keep negotiating on the many great interests that we must defend in Europe, but we would not be able to do that if we followed the advice of the Conservative party and isolated ourselves permanently from it.
I pay tribute to Sir Menzies Campbell. He located the debate in history and recalled why the European Coal and Steel Community was founded. Some dismiss the question of peace, stability and democracy as irrelevant, but is it not interesting that Lithuania, Slovenia and Hungary, the three member states that have already ratified the treaty, are all countries that know the effect of the absence of the European Union, the rule of law and democracy?
The House must make a decision tonight. I am grateful for the measured tone of much of the debate, although I cannot address all the issues raised by hon. Members. I am especially grateful for the tone of those who said that we should vote for the referendum tonight and perhaps leave debate on the constitutional treaty itself for another day. Tonight the House must fundamentally decide whether it wants to move Britain forward, not back. Forty years ago, a Labour leader announced that entering Europe would mean the end of 1,000 years of English history.
Rab Butler, a Conservative leader, said that while he respected the reference to 1,000 years of history—[Interruption.] He was the best Prime Minister the Conservatives never had. He said that while he respected the reference to 1,000 years of English history, the Conservatives believed in the future. That was then; today they do not. Like the fantasy island where all the asylum seekers will be placed, they believe in a fantasy Europe—a Europe to which they can say no, and then the rest of Europe will quietly say yes to the demands of the Conservative party. To read the Conservatives' language and to listen to some of their contributions today is to enter a world of make-believe.
Reference has been made to the length of the treaty. I have it here in a reduced form. It is about 150 pages long and quite readable. It is half the length in words of the excellent biography of William Pitt by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks and a lot shorter than the latest book by Mr. Redwood, "Singing the Blues", in which he discusses the view that, in negotiating with Europe, the threat of withdrawal should be used only as a last resort. He writes:
"I liken it to the use of nuclear weapons before you have tried invasion by conventional forces."
What a remarkable metaphor. His friend and fellow European, Mr. Heathcoat-Amory, who has taken part in this debate, goes a step further. Speaking at the Conservative party conference, he said:
"If we vote 'no' in a referendum on the constitution, the world is at our feet. We could unilaterally call for the repatriation of the Common Fisheries Policy and dictate to the rest of the EU".
Dictate to the rest of the EU? Even if there is a no vote, it still leaves us with the existing constitution of Europe, a mishmash of treaties, so we could repatriate the fisheries or other policies only by being in breach of existing treaty obligations. But I leave that for a later debate.
What an amazing language this is: the nuclear option from the right hon. Member for Wokingham and the world at the feet of the right hon. Member for Wells: pressing the nuclear button and dictating to Europe. Wokingham and Wells, the Ant and Dec of the anti-European movement. At least Robert Kilroy-Silk, our former colleague, was honest when he described—[Hon. Members: "What?"]—when he described the people that he worked with in the United Kingdom Independence party as a bunch of right-wing fascist nutters. UKIP responded by putting out an immediate statement saying that it was true that UKIP had a right-wing fascist nutter element, but Robert Kilroy-Silk had now left the party.
What, alas, we have heard today in too many speeches from the main Opposition party is language to appease UKIP and not promote Britain. I would say to the Conservative party, appeasement and isolation is never the way forward. Every other mainstream Conservative party in Europe understands the need to support this new treaty. I have to say, on the day after President Bush sends his Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to open, as she put it, a
"new chapter in the relationship between" the United States and Europe, we hear from Conservative Front-Bench Members only arguments about isolating ourselves from Europe.
What a message to send to the world—to the investors who want to come here and to those who have already ratified the new treaty. The Conservative party wants to plunge Britain into a feast of hostility to Europe over the next few months and the next year. Little wonder that the Leader of the Opposition is totally unwelcome in Washington, just as he is unwanted in Europe and unelectable in Britain. This party, this Government, and I believe a majority of us in the House and the nation, will not allow the Tories to turn the clock back to their vision of Europe—a Europe of conflict instead of co-operation, of beef wars and empty chairs, of rejecting partnership.
This treaty is good for Britain. We will defeat the isolationists. We will move forward with Britain and not back to the anti-European isolationism of the Conservatives. I commend the Bill to the House.