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11 Dec 2002 : Column 304continued
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.
Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): Walking home on Monday night, I bumped into a senior Labour politiciana 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 Europeandespite 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
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 treatyeither in draft or in actualityshould 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 Europefor example, Lithuania, which has fought so long for its independenceof 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. 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
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 agreeda 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: 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