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2 Dec 2002 : Column 700continued
Mr. Davidson: I welcome what the Minister says. Can I take it, then, that he will go back to Britain in Europe and the Labour Movement for Europe and say that they should never produce material that describes opponents as enemies?
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson). He spotted that the harmonising and centralising drive in the European Union has become almost an ideology of its own, which not only threatens democracy but brings in its train grotesque mismanagement and even corruption from the policies and administrations that have been centralised in Brussels.
The publication of the draft constitution that we are considering will give further impetus to those very forces. It is a hugely significant event. It means, for instance, that although this country has done without a written constitution throughout its history, a written constitution will now be imposed on itbut a constitution that we have not drafted or written ourselves.
Until very recently the Government opposed a European constitution, with good reason. A constitution is an attribute of statehood. The draft constitution published in Brussels offers us dual citizenship: in other words, it already equates the European Union with a state. It is highly disingenuous of the Government to claim now that their previous opposition was all a mistake, and that for the first time Europe will somehow be able to achieve certainty and clarity in regard to respective powers. The truth is that the constitution that has been published will be a centralising force.
I am a member of the working group in the convention, which is about to report. I am the only dissident, or the only person who will oppose the recommendations. I will do so because under the recommendations cross-border crimes of all sorts and crimes against what are described as the interests of the European Union will be approximated across all member states. In this context, Xapproximated" means harmonised. Moreover, the decision will be made under qualified majority voting.
This Session, the House has before it six criminal justice Bills. They deal with extremely important matters that are of great concern to our constituents: penalties, sentencing, criminal justice procedures, rules of evidence, and whether this country should adopt double jeopardy. I oppose the latter proposal, but at least it is a matter to be debated and decided in this House. However, I have to warn the House that if, as is certain, the working group's recommendations are adopted by the convention and form part of this new constitution, all those matters and more besidesincluding immigration and asylumwill be decided at European Union level by qualified majority voting, and will come under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
These matters are at the heart of the nation state and of parliamentary democracy; they are about the coercive powers of the state and they raise very sensitive issues of accountability and control. They are about our common law traditions, which differ from those on the continent. Yet it is now proposed that these decisions be transferred upwards to the European Union and centralised there. What is so damaging is that the convention was set up to try to close the gap between the institutions of the European Union and the people of Europe. The European Union is widely regarded as remote and technocratic, but if we remove decisions about criminal justice, sentencing and immigration further away from the electors and from this House, that gap will widen even further, and the democratic deficit will be uncontrollable. Of course, that will play into the hands of the extreme right. Why have elections and change Governments here if it makes not the slightest difference to criminal justice, immigration policy or whatever?
I am extremely worried by the fact that the Government representative on the working group, Baroness Scotland, who displays great charm and knowledge, has agreed to most of that, which goes well beyond established British Government positions. I have offered to help on a cross-party basis. I wrote to her three weeks ago, offering to defend what I regard as the British interest, but I have yet to receive a reply, so I
The same is true of the charter of fundamental rights. Members will be aware that it was negotiated two years ago on a clear understanding that it was only a political document containing aspirational rights, and that it would not be legally binding then or in the future. These promises were given repeatedly, explicitly and emphatically from the Government Dispatch Box by the Prime Minister, and by the former Minister for Europe, the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), who is not in his place. It was even said that copies of the Beano would be just as legally significant as this new charter of fundamental rights. The Government were, of course, right to oppose the charter's being legally binding, because when those rights become judiciable and enforceable by the European Court of Justice a huge new mechanism for centralisation and EU action will be opened up.
Those assurances did not last very long. The working group's final report, on incorporation of the charterI have a copy in front of memakes it absolutely clear that it will be incorporated into the constitution, and will be legally binding. Page 3 explains that the charter will become legally binding either in the text of the constitution, or as a protocol. It states:
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I have these wonderful horizontal articles and they do not add up to a row of beans. I have just quoted from the report, to which the Minister from the upper House has signed up. It says that apart from certain technical drafting adjustments, the text that we are presented with is exactly the same. That is what has been agreed. Which is correctthe right hon. Gentleman's slightly evasive assurances from the Dispatch Box or what appears in black and white in the conclusion to the treaty?
There is only one solutionto ask the people in a referendum. I agree with the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) and have signed his amendment to that effect. Let us ask the people what they think. My right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) advanced a good alternative treaty. I think that it could be worked on and improved, but let us ask the people who they trust and what they wantthe constitutional settlement advanced by the Government, with its centralising momentum and all that is wrong with it, or a treaty between free and self-governing states of Europe along democratic lines, as proposed by my party.