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2 Dec 2002 : Column 700—continued

Mr. MacShane: My hon. Friend was my friend, is my friend and shall be my friend. I cannot conceive of his being an enemy to anything except that which is evil.

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?

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman's time is up.

9.15 pm

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 it—but 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.

For instance, it is clear from the draft that the intergovernmental pillars that secure and protect the intergovernmental mode of decision making in the

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European Union are to go. Article 14 tells us that the Union has Xa single institutional structure" in its new form. We also read that it will have a single legal personality. Those developments alone have enormous implications for foreign policy, for defence and for this country's rights and abilities to participate in international agreements. The European Union will replace the right of member states to do that, and to engage with other bodies. The same applies to justice and home affairs; they, too, will be part of the new single constitutional structure.

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 besides—including immigration and asylum—will 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

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conclude that all this has been planned. The Government are, I am afraid, dissembling if they claim that this new constitution will not profoundly alter the relationship between this country and this House, and the institutions of Europe.

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 charter—I have a copy in front of me—makes 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:

in other words, by unanimity, including the Government representative—

How is that reconciled with all the promises that we received from the Prime Minister and other Ministers at the Government Dispatch Box? How do we expect the public to believe what we tell them about Europe? How do we have an honest, open and straightforward debate about these matters when the Government give copper-bottomed assurances in the House that are overturned a year or two later? The Government are still not admitting it, as we heard from the opening speech in the debate. The Minister said that the charter has been changed significantly. It has not been changed significantly—that is crystal clear from the text of the working group. On technical drafting adjustments, it says:

Yet the right hon. Gentleman was talking as though this was a great British triumph and that everything had changed. It is simply not true. The Minister on the working group, Baroness Scotland, should have told him the truth. [Interruption.] If the right hon. Gentleman is willing to intervene, I will accept his assurances to the contrary, but let us hear it from him.

Peter Hain: The right hon. Gentleman heard it from me earlier in the debate. We have secured in the draft

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report a series of horizontal articles that stop the charter being enforced to change our domestic law. That is the key.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: What are horizontal articles?

Peter Hain: The hon. Gentleman should study the report and the debate rather than relying on recycled prejudice.

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 correct—the 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 solution—to 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 want—the 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.

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