EU Constitution

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 20th March 2007.

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Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport) 2:30 pm, 20th March 2007

If she will make a statement on the future of the EU constitution.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Minister of State (Europe), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

At present there is no consensus among EU Governments on the future of the constitutional treaty. The German presidency will present a report on the state of discussions with regard to the treaty and possible future developments to the June European Council. I set out the Government's approach in a written ministerial statement on 5 December 2006.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

I thank the Minister for that reply. When the Foreign Secretary was asked on the BBC on Sunday whether she could envisage any circumstances in which the UK would ratify a treaty without a referendum, she said that

"if we can get agreement and common ground, that ... could be in an area where it wouldn't ... trigger a referendum".

What exactly did she mean? What exact competency would not trigger a referendum, and why has the Government's position changed?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Minister of State (Europe), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

The Government's position has not changed in any way. We have made it quite clear that should the constitutional treaty return, there will be a referendum. However, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, as a student of constitutional history, will have looked carefully at the decisions taken by Conservative Governments on amending treaties. They resisted vigorously the idea of holding a referendum.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

The Minister for Europe will be off with the Prime Minister to Berlin this weekend for the 50th birthday party of the EU. When the Prime Minister gets there, he will sign the new Berlin declaration. Is the Minister confident that the Government have been fully consulted on all the values that will be expressed in that document? When the text is agreed on Saturday, will he ensure that he uses it as the basis for a campaign to show the people in this country the enormous benefits of our membership of the European Union?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Minister of State (Europe), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My right hon. Friend is quite right that in celebrating 50 years of success of the European Union it is important to set out right across Europe the benefits that have flowed. It provides a platform for discussion in the UK and other member states of the considerable achievements that have been made. There has already been an extensive discussion with the German presidency of the main principles contained in the declaration. The UK will also celebrate and offer our contribution to 50 years of EU success by joining our schools with others across Europe in a learning together programme that will allow schools to take advantage of talking online in real time with other schools in other parts of the EU— [Interruption.] Conservative Members would do better if, instead of scoffing, they looked more carefully at the benefits for their constituents and for schools in their constituencies provided by this opportunity.

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Shadow Minister (Europe)

With just five days to go before Angela Merkel's Berlin declaration, it is still not clear from any of the Minister's answers whether the British Government now support an EU constitution or, if so, what they want it to say. Even the former Minister for Europe, Keith Vaz, says in early-day motion 1155 that he

"fears that writing the declaration in secrecy goes against the key European values of transparency and openness".

Will the Minister now be open with the House and state clearly whether he has pressed for Sunday's declaration to rule out further transfers of power to the EU, for which there is clearly no public support in this country?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Minister of State (Europe), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

The hon. Gentleman appears to be confusing the negotiations and discussions on the future constitutional treaty with Sunday's declaration, yet they are clearly two separate documents. We have made it clear that we believe that the declaration should be a celebration of 50 years of success of the EU and should set out the way forward in principle. It should not, however, try to solve in detail the issues that will be addressed later at the June European Council meeting.

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

I thank the Minister for clarifying to the Opposition that what happens on Sunday will not be a conclusion to any declaration; it is only the beginning of discussion on the declaration as put together by the Sherpas on behalf of all the Governments. We have between now and June in which to do that. Will the Minister assure us that if institutional changes need to be made that can be done by treaty—without a referendum—we will not allow Europe to continue as it has with the current confusion of institutional arrangements. Will he confirm that our Government would support a sensible move through a quick treaty to allow Europe to continue with 27 members?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Minister of State (Europe), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

We have always made it quite clear that it is important to the UK—and I hope to all Members—that the EU should have the institutional arrangements that allow it to take efficient and effective decisions. That is in the interests of the UK and I hope in the interests of the wider EU. I repeat that, as yet, there is no agreement and no consensus on a way forward. Obviously, the Government will be positive and constructive in negotiating with our partners, but unless and until there is an agreement of all 27 member states, there cannot be any further amendments to the treaty.