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Mr. Allen: Is the hon. Gentleman not in fact making a case for including in the constitution provisions that would reassure him, many of his colleagues and many of those outside this place who are sceptical—thereby making it the sort of constitution that would command widespread support in the House—rather than merely calling for a referendum? To many on the Labour Benches, such a call looks like an excuse to stop a constitution, rather than to build a constitution that would give the hon. Gentleman the guarantees that he seeks.

Mr. Shepherd: No—there is no conspiracy here. I am not trying to sell to the British people the idea that the

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loss of all these features of democratic and accountable government is a good. I believe in this institution, and in my nation as a democratic centre. I know how difficult it is to grasp what Governments do. Only last Wednesday, the Prime Minister told us about security and intelligence matters. How do we get him before a Committee? We know how difficult that is, but how difficult will it be to control Governments here, when all the apparatus is moved some 1,000 miles to a place where our voice does not prevail, and into the hands of other people? That is why many people in this country—with no ill will whatsoever to any continental power; many of them believe, as I do, in the comity of nations—feel that they should be able to express a view on being governed in an undemocratic, unaccountable form, whereby this House votes itself out of existence.

This motion is really about a principle. The hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) is right: we do not know what the outcome will be. But whatever it is, the people must be asked: is this right?

3.58 pm

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): I am very pleased at the news of the referendum in Poland. In my maiden speech in 1992, I spoke about my desire and hope for the enlargement of the European Union and of NATO to take in the various countries that are now indeed joining, such as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Their joining is important not just for them but for us, and it is the final closure of the awful events of 1939 and the disfigurement of Europe through the Yalta decisions.

I also note that there is talk in the press of a Government reshuffle. I shall not be standing by my telephone this weekend, but I mention the fact because there have been six Ministers for Europe since my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister took office, which is too many. I certainly hope that he does not move my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane). I say that not because of the great affection that I have for my hon. Friend, but for the more important reason that it is not in the interests of the United Kingdom to keep changing our Ministers for Europe. I hope that that point will be noted.

This debate has some resonance for me, and my observation that I will not be hanging around by the telephone this weekend is also relevant. My diary records a Liberal Democrat half-day debate in the House, when the Conservatives were in office, during Lord Ashdown's leadership of the Liberal Democrats. The Liberal Democrats called for a referendum on Europe. I thought that that was a rather good idea, as I do this afternoon. Later, I may intervene and supply the Hansard references.

The right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster), then our Chief Whip, sent for me and said, "Andrew, I hope that you are not going to vote for this nonsense." I said that I was not only going to vote for it, but speak in favour of it—and I did. The House was like the Mary Celeste, with neither of the two major parties applying a Whip. Only a few Liberals and a few people like me spoke in favour, but we placed on record our view—still my view this afternoon, as an enthusiastic pro-European—that we needed to go out and sell Europe. It has all been one-way traffic, with the hon.

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Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) and my good friend with whom I disagree, the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor), making all the arguments. The other side has never been out, campaigning and evangelising the positive case for Europe. I believe that a referendum would help us pro-Europeans to concentrate our efforts and take the issue to the people. I therefore disagree with Ministers.

The debate illustrates how Parliament can be brought into disrepute by the synthetic anger between the rival Front Benchers, with one side saying that the other side did not do this or that in office, and vice versa. I reminded my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in the Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday that he and I campaigned for a referendum in the early 1970s after Harold Wilson had, as they say, had a fundamental negotiation of Common Market entry terms. My right hon. Friend was generous enough to concede that he voted no in that referendum. I voted yes and have continued to vote and argue in favour of European union ever since. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend is now in my camp.

My diary also records the fact that in the debate on the Maastricht treaty the current Leader of the Opposition was pinned to the wall just outside the doors of the Chamber by a current member of the shadow Cabinet who did not want him to move in one particular direction. At the same time, another hon. Member, also in his place today, was pulling him by his tie in the other direction. Hence the confusion caused when the public see Front Benchers in each epoch altering their positions. Some hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East and me, have at least been consistent and never taken the Major or the Blair shillings—though I was never offered them. The hon. Gentleman has been consistently opposed, and I have been consistently in favour of Europe.

Mr. Allen rose—

Andrew Mackinlay: I hope that my hon. Friend will not think me discourteous, but I am going to move on, as promised.

We are prematurely working ourselves into a lather on the narrow issue of the Convention, because it has not yet been finalised. I believe that some of its proposals will have to be watered down because they are unlikely to be acceptable to 25 member states. Although it is not entirely satisfactory, I believe that we can reach agreement largely on the basis of existing arrangements that facilitate the enlarged Community.

I said to the Foreign Secretary yesterday that it is a pity that we become obsessed with the term "president", which does not translate well into our language. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as our Chairman, would be a president in any other Assembly. I cannot think why, in an English translation of any subsequent treaty, we cannot think of an English word for "president" that would be an acceptable substitute to colleagues elsewhere. In my view, that would help our electorate to understand the issues, which is preferable to allowing the malevolent press to imply that we need another term to describe someone such as the President of the United States.

Mr. MacShane: A small footnote to the process is my suggestion that the term "president" be changed to

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"chair" or "chairman". That now increasingly appears in the English text and I hope that it will be in the final text of the constitutional treaty.

Andrew Mackinlay: That is very good news, and I hope that other Front Benchers follow the initiative of the Minister for Europe by using that terminology time and again. If the Convention and subsequent treaty are agreed, we need to be clear about the functions of the new person, who effectively amounts to a Secretary-General, as understood in many international bodies.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok): May I suggest that we use the good Scottish term "convener"?

Andrew Mackinlay: I have made my point and I promised not to take long, so I cannot pursue that comment.

I am pleased to place on the record my renewed enthusiasm for the European project, which I do not fear at all. However, it is in the best interests of Parliament that we take the people with us. We should have a reaffirmation by the British people of their support for our membership of Europe. It is logical and a matter of common sense, so we could persuade them. We should have the full consent of both Parliament and the people, not only because of the treaty on the constitution but because of the numerous treaties that have reinforced and deepened the project since the early 1970s. There will come a time—perhaps not this year, but in a few years' time—when we need to reaffirm our commitment to Europe.

4.5 pm

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): Time is short, so instead of the long and brilliant speech that I was going to make, I shall make a few brief points. The Foreign Secretary has not been in his place since he made his own speech and it is sad to see the Government treating the House of Commons with the same contempt as we have had year after year, whenever a European treaty has come forward.

Every time a treaty is presented to us, we are told, "Don't worry, there's nothing in it. It is all in previous legislation and there's nothing new." Of course, on every occasion, the reverse has been true. The Single European Act is a perfect example: we were told that it was only a means of extending free trade within Europe, and we know that that was not the case. It is appalling that on this occasion, as on all previous ones, the Foreign Secretary simply concentrated on saying nasty things about delightful Conservatives, instead of saying something about the treaty.

I hope that the Minister will answer a few questions when he winds up. Why do we need a European Foreign Minister? The proposal, set out in article 127, is something new. What will that Minister actually do? Where will his office be? For whom will he speak? We will also have a European ombudsman. Well, we have an ombudsman in Britain who does not appear to be a wonderful success. What will the European ombudsman do? To whom will he be responsible? How much will it

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cost? What is it all about? [Interruption.] There should be no confusion, because the provision is on page 21, article 148.

Is article 159, about voluntary withdrawal from the EU, a load of the usual nonsense or is it real? A country that decides that it wants to leave the EU voluntarily has to come to an agreement, which could take about two years, and then it has to be approved by the Council, after the consent of the European Parliament has been obtained. I hope that the Minister will answer those straight questions, instead of blethering his usual nonsense. Will a nation have the right to withdraw or will that be totally subject to the Council and the Parliament?

We should have a referendum, because people are fed up to the back teeth with the European Union, although that is probably why the Government are not having one. People were enthusiastic some years ago, but now most people are fed up. They point out that the EU costs us a great deal of money—£1.4 million every hour. I am sure that other hon. Members could think of better ways to spend that money. Most of the money we send to Europe is wasted on the most silly things. More than £1 billion will be spent this year on growing high tar tobacco in Greece. We do not want to consume that because it s bad for our health, but it is dumped on the third world and eastern Europe, and we can do nothing about it.

People are annoyed about the instructions to the Government to change their policies and do daft things. For example, the winter fuel payment was introduced to help old people in cold weather. As the Minister will be aware—and he probably approves, being the sort of person that he is—the EU instructed us that we had to make that payment to people in the overseas territories of the EU, including those in Guadalupe, Martinique and other places with year-round sunshine. That costs the taxpayer £10 million a year—on the Government's figures—but what can we do about it?

We find that people are fed up to the back teeth with what is being done to the fishing industry, but again Parliament is basically useless.

Whenever the powers of the EU are extended, the Government say that we must accept it because of the advantage to our trade. I hope that the Minister will read the document entitled "Global Britain Briefing Note", the latest edition of which was published this week. It makes the simple point that, although the single market was established to help our trade, exports to the EU from the US—which had to overcome the hurdle of not being in the EU—grew twice as fast as those from France and Germany. It also states that Japanese exports to the single market grew 27 per cent. faster than French and German exports to the same destination.

My final point concerns a matter that I hope that the Government will consider. Why have we eliminated a number of matters from the treaties that appear to me to be rather important but which unfortunately seem to have been treated as of no significance? The draft constitution states:

What does that mean for a democratic Parliament and Government? What is the obligation that means that we must support such policies "unreservedly"?

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The draft also states that the constitution

That is not entirely new, but what does it mean?

I have 10 seconds left, so my final point for the Minister is to ask him what is meant when article 11.19 on page 5 states that nobody will be removed by any member state when there is a risk that that person could be subject to the death penalty. Does that mean that we cannot send a person out of our country who is here illegally if the result will be that he is sent to a country that has the death penalty?

I could offer many other examples, but unfortunately do not have time to do so. My point is that the draft constitution contains a huge number of provisions that are major extensions of European power that would undermine our democracy in important ways. It is time that the Government woke up to the fact, and gave the people the right to say whether they want to proceed with the proposals, or not.

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