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6.44 pm

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane ): I want to maintain the bipartisan approach that we just heard about. In fact, it is a tripartisan approach, because last week the right hon. Gentleman who speaks on Europe from the Conservative Benches, the right hon. and learned Gentleman who speaks on Europe from the

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Liberal Democrat Benches and I launched a wall poster on the enlargement of Europe that will be sent to every school. I am sending one to every hon. Member in case they would like to present it themselves to one of their local schools to get over the message that on enlargement the House speaks as one.

It is also a great pleasure for me personally to wind up this debate on what might be a rather small Bill but which represents a very big moment in the history of Europe, not simply because it happens to be my birthday today—[Hon. Members: "Ah!"]—although, as the years go by, I tend to reflect less on birthdays—but because I was born the son of a Polish army officer who was wounded in the 1939 campaign, and who fought through France and arrived in Scotland, where he met my mother. He died when I was very young. It is in "Who's Who"—MacShane is actually my mother's name. I think that the House of Commons will tonight send a clear message of friendship and solidarity to the people of Poland and of all the other countries that will be coming into the European Union. For new EU members, the European Union is a blueprint for freedom, for prosperity and for anchoring their democracy in the great family of nations combined in the Union.

We have heard some fine speeches today. We have heard from the club of ex-Europe Ministers: the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude); my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz); my right hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin); and the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory). At the close of the debate, we had a fine speech from the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie), and, in just two or three minutes, some remarkably effective points were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David). I make that point across the House to stress the issues on which we can all agree.

We have also strayed into the question of the euro and, of course, the question of the Convention. A number of remarkable allegations have been made about the Convention—some that we have read in the papers and others that we have heard in the debate this afternoon. I think that the right hon. Member for Wells said that the European Union was about to abolish trial by jury. I can assure him that that is not the case. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary says that that is a Labour proposition.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I made no such statement. What I said was actually the truth—and the Government must start telling the truth—which was that the draft constitution, which is not opposed by the Government, contains a provision for deciding criminal justice procedures by majority voting. Clearly, the draft constitution contains all the provisions for amending our entire common law tradition and merging and converging it with the inquisitorial system on the continent. That is the threat, and such provisions would render completely irrelevant the debates that we have had this week on the Criminal Justice Bill. That was the point that I was making.

Mr. MacShane: I do not want to get into a polemical exchange with the right hon. Gentleman, but Hansard tomorrow will record a reference by him to trial by jury: "Take it while you've still got it."

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We have read in the newspapers today that

Let me reassure the House that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor does not even clear the contents of his Budget speech with my right hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson). We also read last week that, under the Convention, Napoleon would replace Nelson at the top of Nelson's column. Well, I think that Nelson should stay there, but if people want someone who did real damage to the British way of life, why not put Margaret Thatcher up there? We have seen the most profound nonsense in the press about this Convention.

The plain fact is that the Convention will finish its work some time next month. We shall then have a pause for reflection, followed by an intergovernmental conference. Talking about a referendum seems quite nonsensical when we do not actually know what we would be having a referendum on.

Mr. Maude rose—

Mr. MacShane: May I just finish this point?

We heard a remarkable speech by the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor), who, like me, is an idealistic pro-European. He recalled that, during the debate on the Maastricht treaty, he was set about by a Conservative Whip and told to come into the House to make a speech because some "nutter" was calling for a referendum. That nutter is now the Leader of the Conservative party; we checked up on that.

The shadow Foreign Secretary was asked why he so adamantly opposed a referendum when he was a member of the Conservative Government, but is now in favour of one. He said that times had changed. It is not the times that have changed, but his party, which is now committed to a policy on which I again quote the leader of the Conservative party:

That statement appeared in The Irish Times in 1997. Opposition Members will say that that was six years ago, but do any of them believe that it is not the position of the leader of the Conservative party to move closer to a point at which we can say no to Europe? As the shadow Attorney-General so eloquently put it at the same time:

More recently, only last year, the leader of the Conservative party said:

Mr. Maude: I am sorry that the Minister is somewhat trivialising what has been a serious and non-partisan debate. Will he now address the specific point that has been raised several times? If the IGC starts before the accession countries join the EU, will those countries be able to take part fully in every stage of the IGC? Will they be able to do so no matter when it starts?

Mr. MacShane: The answer is yes. That has been said three times from the Dispatch Box. The trivialisation

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lies in the fact that a debate on EU accession that should have been wholly bipartisan was turned into a lengthy disquisition in which what is said in the flowing rivers of the Daily Mail and The Sun has been repeated from the Opposition Benches. I am disappointed about the new axis for popular plebiscites between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative party. I hope that the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) will reflect on whether his party now wants to call for a referendum on the IGC when we will certainly not, I expect, know the final contents this year or even next year.

Mr. Menzies Campbell: If the final form of the proposals is unknown, is it not entirely sensible to keep open the possibility of holding a referendum if constitutional issues are raised?

Mr. MacShane: The right hon. and learned Gentleman, who is one of the most distinguished contributors on foreign affairs in the House and a staunch pro-European, knows full well that the campaign for a referendum, about which we have heard all the clichés this afternoon, is actually about withdrawing from Europe, as the leader of the Conservative party has constantly made clear.

I now wish to address some of the points that have been made. My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, asked what we were doing to promote enlargement. With the help and support of the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce, the TUC and other Ministers—I will welcome any hon. Members who wish to take part—I will visit some 100 UK towns and cities in the coming months to promote the benefits of enlargement. I leave tonight on the sleeper to Edinburgh.

Mr. Spring: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Will he be kind enough to respond directly and clearly to my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude)? The fact is that, until 1 May, the accession countries will not be full members of the EU. If the IGC is under way at that time, having started towards the end of this year and the beginning of next year, and issues are brought up for consideration, those countries will not have the right of prevention by veto under the current arrangements. That is the point that we are trying to make. We are trying to extend that facility and I am amazed that those on the Government Front Bench do not understand that.

Mr. MacShane: Perhaps one of the distinguished former Ministers on the Opposition Benches who dealt with European matters could take the hon. Gentleman to one side and explain that the IGC does not vote on proposals line by line. It debates and discusses, and it is in the closing stages that one gets to what one calls vetoes. Those closing stages, in the sense of the ratification and signing of the treaty, will not take place until after 1 May next year, when the incoming states are full members. This is the fifth time that that has been placed on the record.

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