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Mr. Spring: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With this it will be convenient to consider the following: New clause 37—Referendum (No. 3)

'This Act shall not take effect until the laying before Parliament of the draft of an Order in Council making provision for ascertaining, by means of referendum, the preponderance of national opinion with respect to the provisions of the provisions of the Treaty signed at Nice on 26th February 2001 amending the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community, provided that the Order shall not be made unless separate provision has been made by Parliament for defraying out of public funds any expenses to be incurred by a Minister of the Crown or Government departments in carrying the Order into effect.'.

New clause 44—Referendum (No. 4)

'.—This Act shall not take effect prior to the laying before Parliament of a draft Order making provision for the ascertaining by the Government of the preponderance of national opinion with respect to the Nice Treaty by means of a referendum (providing that the Order shall not be made until provision from public funds has been made by Parliament in respect of expenditure incurred in the undertaking of such a referendum).'.

7.15 pm

Mr. Spring: New clause 12 calls for a referendum on the treaty of Nice, which would put to the test the direction in which the European Union is heading. At the beginning of the Committee stage, the question was posed whether the Bill would assist the development of an enlarged, diverse Europe that enhances the security and prosperity of the peoples of Europe. We believe that the treaty of Nice fails that test.

How can the European Union on the verge of enlargement think that the right course is to become ever more integrated? Surely trying to squeeze a continent of nations in all their diversity into a rigid straitjacket of conformity and uniformity is a recipe for discontent,

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disunity and disharmony. What was needed at Nice was a Government with the leadership required to press for an alternative approach resulting in a modern, reformed, flexible Europe.

There is a fundamental difference between the Government and the Opposition on the direction in which Europe should be heading. That difference is crystallised in the treaty of Nice. We believe that it is time to let the public have a say on the matter. Instead, as Europe moves further down the integrationist path, there seems to be an ever-growing gap between the views of the public and the leaders of the European Union. That view was endorsed by the newly plain-speaking and born-again Minister for Europe, so there can be no controversy about it.

The gulf cannot be allowed to continue to develop. We have all witnessed the undercurrent of discontent around the EU, which is highly regrettable. The EU cannot afford to remain impervious to the trends of change across the world and expect to succeed. Through the low turnouts in European elections and failing support in opinion polls, the people of Europe have sent a clear message to their Governments. That message is that real unity cannot be imposed by integrationist treaties and diktat, thereby disconnecting European institutions and structures from the legitimate aspirations of the peoples of Europe.

Last September the Danish people made their views clear when they voted no to membership of the euro. Then, in March, the Swiss rejected early membership of the European Union by a ratio of 4:1. Whatever the merits of the case for Swiss membership, the result ought at least to give those of us who are members of the EU cause to pause and think why it came about.

Does the Minister agree that the EU's reaction to the Irish referendum speaks volumes about the extent to which EU leaders have become detached from their citizens? Why did the Foreign Secretary, days after the referendum, sign up to the General Affairs Council conclusions, which stated that the Nice treaty would remain unaltered? What do the citizens of Europe need to do to get their leaders to listen?

Does the Minister agree with the diplomat who was reported as saying:

Does the hon. Gentleman have sympathy for the Irish Republic's Minister of Finance, Mr. McCreevy, who described the Irish rejection of the Nice treaty as a "remarkably healthy development", or for the Irish Republic's Attorney-General, who said:

It is time for the United Kingdom Government to show the same respect for the views of the British people on the Nice treaty. Following the Foreign Secretary's recognition of the fact that the Nice treaty is not legally or technically necessary for enlargement, the last remaining fig leaf for the treaty has been removed. Indeed, further integration will make enlargement more difficult, not easier.

If Ministers think that the Nice treaty is as popular as they claim, why are they so reluctant to put it to the test? Perhaps the reported comments of the Belgian Foreign

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Minister last week give us an indication. His remarks were specifically directed at Austria but clearly have wider application. He said:

That attitude of mind is deeply regrettable. When European Union leaders are not sure that they can win over the people on the benefits of a treaty, surely it is time to question the treaty itself, rather than the idea of giving the people a say.

In the past two days, the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe have set out what has been reported as a fresh Government approach to Europe. We welcome that, but the Nice treaty takes Europe in precisely the opposite direction of that in which they want to go. The Minister said that he wants a Europe of the people and not elites, but the treaty takes power away from the people and the Governments whom they elect and transfers it to the EU level. It increases the number of occasions on which the minority can be overridden by qualified majority voting. It enhances the role of the European Court and of the Commission and its President—a matter that we did not have time to discuss yesterday. Community competence is extended in commercial policy and the remit of the court is increased.

The Minister says that he wants Europe to modernise and that its economy should be reformed, and yet the treaty reinforces the social chapter, signalling further red tape and regulation. That is the very approach that has caused Europe to lag behind in terms of job creation and the economic outlook of eurozone countries. The treaty represents a failure even on the Government's terms.

Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East and Washington, West): The hon. Gentleman will recall that he voted against the idea of a referendum on the Maastricht treaty on 21 April 1993, when the matter was debated in the House. Presumably he did so because he supported the powerful arguments against a referendum that were advanced by the then Foreign Secretary, Lord Hurd. Which of Lord Hurd's arguments does he no longer support—and why, given that the Maastricht treaty was more far-reaching than the Nice treaty?

Mr. Spring: I thank the right hon. Lady for giving me the opportunity to clarify the situation. The past eight years have seen a remorseless and one-way process of political integration. Nice provided an opportunity for the Government to begin to reverse that process. I am sure that the right hon. Lady agrees that the great challenge for the European Union is to connect with the peoples of Europe and to deal with the so-called democratic deficit. One of the clearest ways of doing that would be to return powers to the national Parliaments. In the intervening eight years, the process of integration has advanced remorselessly. We want to draw a line at this point and to involve the peoples of Europe. The right hon. Lady will acknowledge that acceptance, appreciation and support of the European Union is now low in most countries and is still ebbing away. All hon. Members will accept that that is regrettable. It is now time to incorporate the peoples of this country and Europe into the process.

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Mr. David: Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that less legislation is now coming from the European Union than was coming from it four years ago?

Mr. Spring: We are dealing with the treaty of Nice and its implications. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has listened carefully to the Committee's debates. We have discovered not only that the Government repeatedly changed their mind before Nice, but that, as the Minister's answers have shown today, they simply did not think through the implications of what they agreed to there. That is the point about this Committee stage.

The Minister has said that he wants Europe to modernise and reform its economy, but the treaty represents a failure even on the Government's terms. The loss of the veto is far wider than they envisaged. Indeed, they originally opposed the measures on enhanced co-operation. The treaty increases the size of the European Parliament beyond the limit that they set for themselves. Steps have been taken towards the regulation and funding of Europe-wide political parties, but the Government originally resisted them. A bad scene was set earlier, when relevant new clauses were rejected and Labour Members declined to allow adequate scrutiny of that process to occur in the House of Commons. I believe that the Government will regret following the route that they have taken.

By contrast, where in the treaty is the evidence of the positive and determined engagement with our European counterparts for which the Minister is now calling? He says that he is a practical European, but where are the practical measures that he supports? Where is the signal that Europe will involve itself less in our daily lives? Where is the reform of the common agricultural policy, which Lord Haskins calls "one policy fits all" and is clearly the biggest single obstacle to enlargement? Where is the call for a multi-system Europe and real flexibility, which should move in a non-integrationist direction?

The lack of leadership from the United Kingdom Government means that even further integration is likely to be agreed upon at the next intergovernmental conference in 2004. As was clear in the Prime Minister's speech at Warsaw, the Government have lacked any clear vision of the architecture and structures that would enable the European Union to reconnect with the British people and the peoples of Europe. The idea that a second Chamber will achieve such a reconnection is absurd. Indeed, that was pointed out by Liberal Democrat MEP Nick Clegg in his pamphlet, which dealt with the matter very effectively.

At the Nice Council, European Union leaders agreed to discuss the status of the charter of fundamental rights, although British Ministers had tried to claim that the matter was settled. They agreed to discuss what would, in effect, be a written constitution for the European Union. Does not that alone illustrate the Government's complete failure to provide leadership in setting out an agenda that is right for a modern Europe and which reflects the wishes of the British people?

The Minister has emphasised in his recent statements the need for the European Union to start the process of reconnecting with the citizens of its member states. There could be no clearer signal that the Government mean what they say than putting the treaty to a referendum. It is time for the British people to have their say. I see from new

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clause 44 that that principle has support on both sides of the House. I welcome that support. The issue transcends the party political divide, as it is crucial to incorporate the people of this country into the process. I commend the new clause to the Committee.

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