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Human Rights

6. Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): What steps are taken to co-ordinate foreign policy with other member states of the European Union on human rights. [117943]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell): By working with our EU partners, the UK is better able to promote human rights than we are by working alone. The EU this year has secured UN resolutions on Iraq, North Korea, Turkmenistan, the Congo and Burma, at the Commission on Human Rights. The EU holds regular dialogues with third countries, it promotes human rights globally and it has made respect for human rights a key condition for EU membership.

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Mr. Viggers: The Attorney-General and others have given robust assurances that UK law will not be undermined by the European constitution, but what use are those assurances when the charter of fundamental rights is to be interpreted by judges of the European Court? The former Minister for Europe, the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), once said, memorably, that the charter had no more legal standing than the Beano. However, the opposite is true, and the result will be cataclysmic. In those circumstances, is it not right to put the European constitution to the British people for a vote? I suspect that they might prefer the British tradition exemplified by Dennis the Menace and the Bash Street Kids to the Euro-imperialism of President Giscard.

Mr. Rammell: We welcome the declaration, in the charter to which the hon. Gentleman refers, of the basic rights, freedoms and principles common to all European citizens. However, we have consistently made it clear that we cannot support a form of treaty incorporation that would enlarge EU competence. The hon. Gentleman makes a specific call for a referendum, but that would carry more credibility if the previous Conservative Government had called for a referendum over the far more fundamental changes to the workings of the European Union that flowed from the Single European Act and Maastricht.

Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): My hon. Friend has given a number of examples of welcome developments on human rights in the EU, such as those in connection with Iran and China. But does he agree that the human rights profile should be higher? For example, none of the clauses in the relevant agreements with third countries in respect of human rights have been activated. Is there not also a need to have personnel with serious human rights experience—such as those from non-govermental organisations—in the EU's key foreign policy structures?

Mr. Rammell: My right hon. Friend is right that we in the EU must constantly seek to do more, although I must point out that the articles to which he refers were activated in the specific case of Zimbabwe. We pushed for that strongly, and very much welcome it. However, there is no doubt that there are further matters that we need to push and press, and we shall do so.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): When co-ordinating foreign policy on human rights, will the Minister take account of the human rights of the nine UK subjects held in Guantanamo Bay? Will he seek to achieve a common EU position that holds that those nine UK subjects should either be charged or released, and that their present detention is both illegal and intolerable?

Mr. Rammell: The right hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware that the Foreign Office has sought reassurances about the health and welfare of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay on a number of occasions. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear consistently, the situation is difficult and unusual and it cannot go on for ever. We are pressing on the matter.

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EU Constitution

7. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North): If he will visit Nottingham, North to discuss the EU constitution; and if he will make a statement. [117944]

9. Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): If he will make a statement on the latest draft of the constitutional treaty from the Convention on the Future of Europe. [117946]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): At the Thessaloniki European Council next week Valéry Giscard d'Estaing will present his final report on the Convention on the Future of Europe. The convention will be followed by an intergovernmental conference, where decisions will be taken by unanimity.

I can inform my hon. Friend that I visited Nottingham on 27 February to discuss Europe. I plan to do so again as part of a series of visits to 100 UK cities and towns to get over the truth about Europe and dispel the propaganda myth.

Mr. Allen: That greatest of Britons, Tom Paine, once said:

Does my hon. Friend accept that there can be no short cuts to winning people's consent, either to the euro or to a new constitution that will influence this country? While he is about it, will my hon. Friend tell the House how successful he has been in his pan-European search for a poet who can rewrite some of the Euro-babble that Giscard uses in his first draft into an inspirational text—something a little more inspiring than a sheepmeat directive?

Mr. MacShane: We should render unto poets that which poets can do and render unto the responsibility of good government that which we have to do.

My hon. Friend is both right and wrong. He is right to quote Tom Paine, but he may recall that a number of countries have managed quite well without the need for a written constitution. At the end of a conference of 25 sovereign and independent nation states, we shall have a constitutional treaty that we shall bring back to the House of Commons to debate line by line. Thereafter, I know that my hon. Friend and I will continue to argue the case for being in Europe and helping to run Europe—unlike the Opposition, who want to isolate us from Europe and many of whom want us to withdraw altogether.

Mr. Bryant: The hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) just referred to Valéry Giscard d'Estaing as a Euro-imperialist, but is not the truth that, despite being French, the president of the Convention has actually produced a remarkably un-French document? Bearing in mind the Chancellor's announcement yesterday that he hopes to take Britain into the euro—eventually—is it not all the more important that we ensure that future amendments to the constitutional treaty do not include proposals for tax harmonisation?

Mr. MacShane: On the latter point, my hon. Friend is right. He is right, too, to note that Valéry Giscard

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d'Estaing has been widely criticised by Euro-federalists, by a number of small countries which think that he has given far too much power to the role of the nation state. The president of the Convention has also been criticised by the Opposition—so between the Euro-federalists who think he is doing a bad job and the fanatical anti-Europeans in the Conservative party who think he is doing a bad job, perhaps he is getting something right.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): As we have no written constitution in this country, is there not an unanswerable case for putting a written constitution to the people of this country?

Mr. MacShane: We are already fully signed up to the constitutional treaties that make the rules that allow us to make the European Union work. That is what will be brought back to the House. Yesterday, I heard the hon. Gentleman constantly make the point that it is this Parliament that should decide the affairs of our British people, not the Daily Mail with its populist plebiscites. That is why I look forward to bringing back the constitutional treaty for the House to debate and examine line by line.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): The Prime Minister has said that there will be no referendum on the EU constitution because it is not constitutionally significant. Can the Minister explain how on earth the introduction of a constitution in a constitutional treaty is not constitutionally significant? Why do not the Government have the courage of their convictions and promise a referendum so that people can actually decide—or are they scared that "rogue elements" in the electorate might seek to undermine them?

Mr. MacShane: The people actually have decided, consecutively, on Europe—whether in 1975 or thereafter, when generally one party has put forward a position in a general election of isolation or withdrawal from Europe and one party has said, "Let us go more strongly into Europe." In the 1980s, the former was the Labour party and we lost again and again. Today, it is the Conservative party—the Opposition—and if they maintain their hostility to Europe and their calls for isolation from Europe and insist that the Daily Mail decide the future of our European policy, they will remain on the Opposition Benches for years, if not decades, to come.

Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly): I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that there was a wonderful result in Poland at the weekend. Does he agree that the likely enlargement of the EU to 25 member states next year makes it essential that we have a streamlined constitution to meet the needs not only of the present but of the future?

Mr. MacShane: I am glad to welcome from the Government Benches the remarkable yes vote delivered by the Polish people on Sunday and I am sorry that we have heard no expression of support from the Opposition for that yes to Europe. To quote the Polish ambassador in today's edition of The Daily Telegraph:

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For once, we might follow the example of Poland and say yes to Europe and drop this populist plebiscite nonsense that is shaped only by those who want a no vote to Europe and to isolate Britain still further from Europe.

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