Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Tom Harris : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ancram: I have taken enough time.

The Government's position insults the British people. They continue to play what I call the "big lie" card, saying that the debate on Europe is about going right in or coming out of Europe, and that they want in and we want out. That is dishonest spin of the worst sort—the kind of spin that has already brought them into

11 Jun 2003 : Column 712

disrepute, a lesson from which I hope they learn. The real Europe debate, which the Government are so keen to avoid, is the debate about the sort of Europe that we want to be in. Is it a Europe of sovereign nations that we seek, or is it the European superpower that the Prime Minister proclaimed in Poland in October 2000 and in Cardiff in November 2002? That is the real choice.

This motion is about trusting the people. It is a democratic motion. It exposes the arrogance of a Government who will not let the people have their say. What is the betting that the Leader of the House will shortly tell a newspaper that there are rogue elements in the electorate, let alone in the House, who are seeking to undermine the Government, and that that is why we cannot have a referendum? Only six years ago, the Government asked us to trust them. What we are saying is: "Trust the people." Why do they continue to say no?

We will trust the people. We will not take no for an answer. We will let the people decide. I call on the House to support the motion.

2.14 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

The heart of the case made by the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) is that changes proposed by the Convention are of such a scale that a referendum to endorse them is necessary. We take a different view. What the Convention is proposing—and what the intergovernmental conference is likely ultimately to agree—will not alter the fundamental constitutional balance between the European Union's institutions and the member nation states.

An important prior point should be made. The Convention can only make recommendations; it cannot decide. The draft constitutional treaty, which the Convention will submit next week to the Heads of Government at the European Council in Thessaloniki, has no legal status whatsoever. Like any draft, it is open to improvement and amendment. Like every other draft treaty in the EU's history, it will be subject to intense negotiations, in this case at the intergovernmental conference later this year, at which all decisions will be taken exclusively by the nation states on the basis of unanimity.

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon): The main part of the Foreign Secretary's argument that there should not be a referendum is that the constitution as drafted by the Convention does not alter the fundamental relationship between the Union and the member states. I take it from that that if he were to conclude that it did alter that relationship, he would find it difficult to resist a referendum, and I suggest that the incorporation of the

11 Jun 2003 : Column 713

charter of fundamental rights, which makes basic individual political rights justiciable by the European Court of Justice, and thereby enforceable on member states, does fundamentally alter that relationship.

Mr. Straw: I will come to the detailed issue of the charter. I simply say that the horizontal provisions in article II-51 provide a significant number of safeguards against the hon. Gentleman's anxieties.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): Given that both major parties rightly offered a referendum on the most crucial part of the Maastricht treaty—the common currency—why will the Government not offer a similar referendum on the common foreign and defence policy and the common immigration and justice policy in the draft treaty? Does he understand that I-39 of the draft gives the EU a veto over our foreign policy, which it does not enjoy today?

Mr. Straw: The reason is exactly that given by the right hon. Gentleman in April 1993 for voting against a referendum on Maastricht, which, on any basis, significantly changed the relationship between the European Union and its member states to a far more fundamental degree than is ever likely to be proposed in the Convention.

Mr. William Cash (Stone): The Foreign Secretary is speaking about changes of a fundamental nature. Does he agree that if and when Parliament were to implement the proposed constitution, that constitution would effectively acquire a greater constitutional superiority over this Parliament?

Mr. Straw: No. I shall come to the label to be accorded to the treaties: we propose, quite sensibly, to call them a constitution; the Tory party, so far as I know, has a constitution, and that does not, thank God, make it a nation state. The shadow Attorney-General is raising the spectre, which has haunted him for years, of EU laws being able to override the laws made in the House of Commons. That has been a fundamental part of our relationship with the European Union, and in our constitution, since 1972, as shown by section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972. There is nothing in the proposals from the Convention that alters or extends that fundamental fact.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North): Would my right hon. Friend accept that one way of allaying justifiable fears on both sides of the House and, indeed, in the country would be for Parliament to examine the text of the document—whether it is a constitution or a convention—prior to a final decision at the intergovernmental conference. In that way, as well as being executive-led, the constitution would have received serious parliamentary input, provided, of course, that we allow the Executive to negotiate properly at the IGC.

Mr. Straw: I completely agree with my hon. Friend. There should be the maximum parliamentary involvement and examination that he seeks in the final text for the Convention. I also pay tribute to the Government representatives and especially to the

11 Jun 2003 : Column 714

parliamentary representatives, the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) and to the right hon. Lord Maclennan for the way in which they have represented in the Convention their parties and the national interest. Week by week and month by month, they have tried to ensure that Parliament is engaged, but I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) that there should be extensive discussion, engagement and examination of the Convention's proposals, both on the Floor and upstairs in committees, and we shall be making proposals for that.

Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire): Will the Foreign Secretary veto any proposals that come before the IGC in the autumn for a single or common foreign policy?

Mr. Straw: There is an issue about whether qualified majority voting should be extended, which we are resisting. The hon. Gentleman has a terribly short memory. Common foreign and security policy is not being put into EU treaties by the Convention; it has been in those treaties since Maastricht, like the requirements for co-operation and so on. We are talking about the collapse of the pillars, but that is a distinction without a difference, as we are excluding what normally goes with pillar 1, namely the justiciability of decisions in the European Court of Justice.

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

Mr. Straw: No. This is only a short debate and, if there is time, I shall give way later on.

Every decision that we take over the next month, in the run-up to the IGC, and in the IGC, will be based on the national interest. What matters is that we secure the right text. Parliament will be the judge of that. Once a draft has been agreed, the House will have the final say. That was the approach adopted by the Governments of the day in 1986 on the Single European Act and again in 1993 on the Maastricht treaty.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw: I will give way later.

Maastricht is important, because what happened then tells us so much about today's Tory party and its attitudes towards Europe. Just 10 years ago, the Conservative party was led by someone who at least recognised the need for Britain to maintain a constructive relationship with Europe. He was supported in that—then—by the right hon. Member for Devizes whose speech during the passage of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill—the Maastricht Bill—sang to the tune of engagement with Europe. The right hon. Gentleman said:

11 Jun 2003 : Column 715

The real battle then was not between the Conservative Government and the Labour Opposition; it was a fight within the Tory party between those such as the right hon. Gentleman who—then—wished to see the United Kingdom play a constructive role in the European Union and those who, in truth, wished to see Britain's progressive detachment from Europe. Of course, in those days, the right hon. Gentleman and the sane tendency were in the majority. Not any more: for what 10 years ago was a marginal group of zealots, determined to undermine the UK's position in Europe and to wreck John Major's Government, now constitutes the leadership of today's Tory party. What was once a marginal militant tendency is in control, and the prejudices, myths and fantasies about Europe are confirmed party policy.

In an excellent speech in the House on 21 May, only two weeks ago, the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) described the then Maastricht wreckers as "nutters"—I quote directly from Hansard. Well, the nutters have well and truly taken over the asylum.

Next Section

IndexHome Page