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11 Dec 2002 : Column 304—continued

Mr. Straw: The best thing that I can do is to praise the constructive efforts that, to my certain knowledge, are being made in respect of Cyprus by both the Greek and

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Turkish Governments. In the past few years, there has been a sea change in relations between Greece and Turkey—a dramatic change, for those who know the causes of the conflict. These days, it is the Government of Greece who are in the vanguard, pushing for an early and a firm date for Turkey's accession to the European Union. Of course there are some deep historical divisions that must be resolved, and both sides must take account of their own public opinions. However, in respect of Turkey's accession and of seeking unity on the divided island of Cyprus, both the Greek Government and the new Turkish Government have shown considerable statesmanship. I hope—I cannot be certain because it is fraught with difficulties—that that will pay off. I hope, too, that the diaspora communities of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots in this country will recognise the huge importance for their relatives and friends in that divided island of ending the very long-standing conflict.

The three-monthly meetings of the European Council are the most important events in the EU calendar. The accession of 10 new members, which we hope will be agreed, will represent a profound change for the European Union; so will further work on Romania and Bulgaria. As I have already made clear, we want the Copenhagen Council to chart the course of Turkey's future accession to the European Union. Above all, reuniting Europe will be the greatest achievement of the current European generation. I hope that a further chapter in making Europe one continent will be opened at Copenhagen this weekend.

6.11 pm

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): Walking home on Monday night, I bumped into a senior Labour politician—a keen European. I remarked how cold it was and he looked at me and said, XEuropean weather." I decided that I had heard it all: an instinctive integrationism whereby even the weather is now European—despite the fact that the current weather may be known to northern Europe but is hardly known to the Mediterranean. There is no European weather any more than there is European foreign policy or European defence policy. Europe cannot be forced into conformity, yet that is precisely what the Government, often by stealth and very gradually, seek to do.

I listened to the Foreign Secretary's speech with some interest and, I have to say, with some enjoyment. I noticed that, unlike the Secretary of State for Wales, who has decided that the title of a lecture that I gave last year, XA partnership of sovereign nations", is now Labour policy, we heard very little from the Foreign Secretary about the partnership of nation states. The Foreign Secretary's Government and his party are instinctive integrationists. He made that clear tonight when he referred to the Europe that he was looking for as a Xunified political and economic Europe". That may be his view, but I am glad that he stated it tonight, because I believe that that is the Government's position, rather than that set out by the Secretary of State for Wales.

We see that that is so from the Government's actions and words. They signed, to this country's cost, the social chapter. At Nice, they gave away the veto on 31 articles, and now they have only five areas in which they wish to keep the veto. We saw the Prime Minister's instinctive

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integrationism when he spoke in Cardiff of a unified European foreign policy, of Xcommunitising"—a terrible word, but it was in his speech—most of the justice and home affairs pillar; of a Europe without a fixed limit; and, in his words, of establishing Europe as

Despite what they say, the Government seek political unity, perhaps not as fiercely as Romano Prodi, but just as doggedly. After Cardiff and last week's debate on the Convention, the extent and nature of the changes in the EU that the Government seek are now becoming clear. We have also had Mr. Giscard d'Estaing's draft treaty and Mr. Prodi's proposals. Any new treaty is likely to represent a step change in the EU's structure, and I doubt whether anybody in the Chamber would deny that.

Angus Robertson: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ancram: I shall give way in a moment.

The new structure will be more centralist and less democratic, and will mean a further loss of sovereignty from nation states. All those changes will last long beyond the life of this Government. I believe that this is a constitutional change so great that the assent of the British people must be sought, and that if it is sought it will not be given.

I therefore call on the Government to assure the House and the country tonight that there will be a referendum on the draft treaty produced by the Convention. If the Government believe in democracy, the new treaty—either in draft or in actuality—should be put before the country before the forthcoming intergovernmental conference or, at the very least, before ratification.

Angus Robertson: Let me say at the outset that I would be the last person to defend the Government's policy, but would the right hon. Gentleman accuse the acceding countries of central and eastern Europe—for example, Lithuania, which has fought so long for its independence—of selling out to Brussels and getting rid of their independence when they become full members of the EU?

Mr. Ancram: I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was here for last week's debate; otherwise, he would have heard me say that many of the accession countries have complained to me about what Brussels has demanded of them in the negotiations. They have told me that they did not get themselves out from under the centralised bureaucracy of the Soviet Union merely to find themselves under another form of centralisation.

Mr. Straw: The right hon. Gentleman has just committed himself to a referendum on the treaty. I am trying to remember whether he voted against the referendum on Maastricht.

Mr. Ancram: What I am saying to the right hon. Gentleman—[Hon. Members: XAnswer the question."] This is very important. We said before the last election that a major transfer of sovereignty of the sort that we

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understand is likely under this treaty and a move away from intergovernmentalism should require the assent of the British people.

Mr. Straw rose—

Mr. Ancram: Will the right hon. Gentleman give me time to respond?

If the treaty is to be ratified before the next election, a referendum should be held, and I ask the Foreign Secretary to assure the House that one will be.

Mr. Straw: The question that I asked the right hon. Gentleman can be answered with a yes or no: am I right in thinking that he voted against a referendum on Maastricht?

Mr. Ancram: The Secretary of State might remember that I was out of the House at the time of the treaty.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East): How convenient to be out of the House at the time.

Is it still Conservative policy to hold a referendum on the Nice treaty? If so, would it be held before or after the referendum that the right hon. Gentleman proposes on the Convention? It certainly was the policy when he spoke for the Opposition on these matters.

Mr. Ancram: The hon. Gentleman will remember that we called for a referendum on Amsterdam. He asks me about Nice, but Nice has been acceded to. I am talking about a treaty that has not yet been signed or agreed—a treaty that will make a major transfer of sovereignty from the nation states to the centralised institutions of Europe. In those circumstances, there should be a referendum before any decision is taken.

Mr. Straw: I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman wants to correct the record. My memory could be playing tricks on me, but my recollection is that the Maastricht vote took place after the 1992 election. XDod's Parliamentary Companion" shows that the right hon. Gentleman was in the House and that he was an Under-Secretary and a Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office between 1994 and 1997. Thus, he was in the House. He knows the answer and there is no point in his being coy. He talks about frankness with the British public. Will he answer yes or no to my question about whether he voted against the Maastricht referendum?

Mr. Ancram: I voted for the Maastricht Bill, because I was here then, but I do not recall a vote on a referendum. If there was—

Keith Vaz : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I can confirm that there was such a vote, because the Secretary of State for Foreign and

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Commonwealth Affairs asked me to come back from my honeymoon to vote. I can confirm that that is the case; my wife still remembers it.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. Regardless of those circumstances, I have to say that that is a point for debate, not a point of order.

Keith Vaz: Not for my wife, it isn't.

Mr. Ancram: To avoid getting into the more intimate details of the honeymoon of the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), I will check the record; if I did vote as has been suggested, I will certainly come to the House and admit that I was wrong. If I did so, may I say that, in the light of what is happening now, I regret that we were unable to seek the assent of the British people? I think it right that we should do so—

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