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4.12 pm

Mr. Cash : This debate is about the freedom of the voters whom we represent. It is their Parliament. It should be their referendum, which would be authorised by Parliament, recognising the people's right of consent. The motion is not about the merits or demerits of the EU, and neither is it about being in or out. It is not anti-European to be pro-democracy.

Above all, the debate is about the voters, their families, their children and their daily lives. It is about what took young men to war—in the past and recently—to fight for the freedom of their country. It is about whom the voters choose to govern them, and how that is to be done. Ours is the patriotic case in the national interest—national, that is, not nationalistic.

The Prime Minister claimed the patriotic ground yesterday, and the Foreign Secretary did so again today, yet he refuses a referendum on how we are to be governed. That is because he knows that he will not win, and he dares not face the voters with the truth. The Prime Minister's version of patriotism is the last refuge of the loser.

The "Oxford English Dictionary" defines patriotism as the quality possessed by people who are devoted to their country, and who are ready to support or defend it. The proposed constitution cynically turns truth on its head, and freedom with it. It is the ultimate betrayal of the nation.

We have heard some notable contributions, among them those from my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), the shadow Foreign Secretary, and from my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). We insist that there must be a referendum if the constitutional treaty is agreed by the Government. That referendum must be held before the treaty is brought to Parliament.

This is an exceptional case for an exceptional treaty. It is exceptional because the Government have agreed with the principle of a European constitution, without a shred of legal, constitutional or political authority. The Government will use their Whips to drive the constitution through the House. No Member of Parliament, including the Prime Minister, has the right to undermine the rights of the voters of this country to

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decide their own form of Government, or the right to usurp the authority of the House of Commons. The decision must be the decision of the voters, in a fair referendum with a fair question based on full information.

The Government of no member state has so far objected in principle to the proposed constitution. It is therefore right to assume that it will go through the intergovernmental conference. Then the voters must have their say, and that say must be based on an explanation about the constitutional and legal implications in a White Paper, like the one issued by the Labour Government in 1967 even before European government became an issue. If then, why not now? I have repeatedly asked the Prime Minister on the Floor of the House for such a White Paper, and he has refused point blank. He does not want the voters—our constituents—to know the truth: that is the reality. The voters do not believe a word he says, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition stated last week.

The Government call the constitution a tidying-up exercise and say that it is not a major constitutional shift. Yet we do not know what constitutional arrangements the document will contain. Who do they think they are kidding? They clearly have not read the constitution, so let me outline what it says.

Mr. Allen: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cash: I am afraid that I cannot; the Government took up a great deal of our time.

We should note the words of the constitution. The opening words are:

Notice the distinction drawn between the will of the citizens and the will of the states: if there is no referendum, there is no will, and no connection with the citizen. It goes on, crucially:

adding reference to the competences to be conferred. It then says: "The constitution,"—that comma may be the biggest constitutional comma in modern European history—

That means this Parliament. That principle, with legal personality and exclusive and shared competences in the field of government, and the protocol that reduces national parliaments to mere involvement, steal the right of every voter in this country to govern themselves through their elected representatives.

John Bruton, former Prime Minister of Ireland and now a member of the Praesidium, has said, in effect, that the national parliaments are wasting their time and had better come to terms with it. Even apart from the other components of further integration, the Convention moves the strategic plan from theory to constitutional politics. It is no reply to say that the constitution states:

Identity is neither law nor constitution.

The constitution will repeal all existing treaties. Contrary to the Government's amendment to our motion, it goes far beyond any existing treaty, both in

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content and in principle. It incarnates a new treaty. It turns the European Court into the supreme court of Europe, adjudicating over the European constitution, which will absorb our courts and our parliament. The Government amendment breathtakingly claims that the proposed constitution does

The Minister for Europe said as much to me in answer to a parliamentary question. It is simply untrue.

The only justifiable means of giving our voters a free choice on such a vital issue must be to give them their say in a referendum. The onus is on those who are against the referendum to justify their refusal to allow the people to have their say. If the treaty went straight into a Bill under the European Communities Act 1972, who imagines that there would not be a programme motion and a three-line Whip? At the very least, the 1972 Act would need an express and unambiguous amendment to protect the voters' rights to govern themselves.

On 28 May, in The Times, the Foreign Secretary stated that

How on earth does he know? It was not in the Labour manifesto. Nor was it authorised by the Laeken declaration, as Lord Tomlinson indicated in the Convention the other day. The Foreign Secretary continued:

That is pure nonsense.

To bring in the constitution through the 1972 Act, without a referendum, would be constitutional suicide, establishing by reverse takeover a constitutional sovereignty higher than that of Parliament itself. By any standards, that is a greater constitutional shift than any in recent centuries, even going back as far as 1688. In 1649, there was regicide; now, it would be suicide.

I have five constitutional tests for the Prime Minister, so that he can explain the proposed new constitution to the British people in plain English. First, what does the constitution really do? What does it tidy up, and how? What do the Government mean by "substantive" and "fundamental"?

Secondly, how is our national primacy to be preserved under the constitution? Thirdly, how much control will our Parliament retain, and how? Fourthly, why will not the Prime Minister give the British people a White Paper? Fifthly, how can he expect the voters to trust him without a referendum?

The Prime Minister has conceded a referendum on the principle of the loss of sovereignty involved in the euro yet, like a Russian doll, that inner principle is separate from, but encased in, the greater principle of the constitution itself, under the constitutional treaty. If one deserves a referendum so, irrefutably, must the other. The truth is that the Prime Minister refuses to let British voters decide because he knows that they will not give him the answer he wants.

Who governs us, and how? The difference between the Opposition and the Government is that we trust the British people and they do not. I commend the motion to the House.

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4.21 pm

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): This has been a good debate. Unfortunately, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House did not announce it last Thursday, so hon. Members did not know about it until Tuesday morning. As the debate has had to be compressed, I shall not take interventions.

The debate has reflected the concern of the House, as is right. We have intensively debated the Convention both in Westminster Hall and in this Chamber. The European Scrutiny Committee has considered it. Next Tuesday, 17 June, a parliamentary seminar on the Convention on the Future of Europe will be held in the Foreign Office, and I invite all hon. Members to attend. I can confirm that once the Convention text has been published, we shall find a day in Government time for the House to debate these matters before it rises. Neither the Government nor I have any problem about debating them as thoroughly as possible.

We have heard some good contributions, especially from my hon. Friends the Members for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) and for Caerphilly (Mr. David). My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly, like my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), mentioned Poland where, on Sunday, we heard a strong yes to Europe.

It is interesting that only Labour Members have mentioned the historic decision of the Poles to vote positively for Europe. The Poles are working hard in the Convention. They look forward to a new constitutional treaty because the Europe that they want to join cannot be run on the existing rules, which may satisfy the Opposition but do not satisfy the incoming member states.

The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) made a passionate statement about the strength of the House, and I hope to return to his speech before I conclude.

The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor) said that an EU ombudsman had been sneaked into the new Convention treaty. In fact, that institution has been part of the EU since 1991, and was voted on by the House. Similarly, language about loyal co-operation is also part of the EU. I realise that loyal co-operation is a concept unknown to the Opposition, but it is generally helpful when nation states have to work together.

The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), who has just spoken, looked deeply shocked when he heard that his party's policy in favour of a referendum was only six months old—of course it has been his policy, and that of the leader of the Conservative party, for more than a decade. It was not ever thus: the hon. Member for Stone, who was then the hon. Member for Stafford, told the House:

That was in 1986, but at some stage the hon. Gentleman saw the light.

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The Opposition speeches did not contain much about the referendum. The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) made a very good speech but did not mention the referendum once, and yet the Order Paper states that the debate is about the referendum. He, of course, was the Conservative party's original nominee to sit on the Convention but was dismissed—cast aside, because he is too sensible on Europe. Similarly, I regret the fact that it is not my opposite number, the shadow Minister for Europe, who is speaking in the debate, but the hon. Member for Stone, who has usurped his task and returned to the Front Bench to give us the benefit of his views on Europe.

This is about a return to the Conservative party of the 1930s, because it is about tomorrow's anti-European propaganda stunt, organised by the Rothermere press. I am a great fan of the Rothermere press. The Daily Mail has been telling us that under the constitutional treaty, we will all have to drive on the right, Napoleon will replace Nelson on top of Nelson's column, and trial by jury will be abused. What else have we got? Oh yes, that under compulsory metrication, shopkeepers will be put

I am a great fan of the Daily Mail, but I prefer its solid and sensible articles. Among those that I have read recently were, "Mission Impossible: How a squirrrel cracked the toughest problem to reach a prize of nuts" and, "After weeks of research in hundreds of shops we present the best bras in Britain—Bra none!" But I seriously warn the House that when Rothermere editors turn their attention to Europe, they often get it wrong. Those of us who know our history remember the isolationism of the Rothermere press in the 1930s, their slavish admiration of Neville Chamberlain and his description of Europe as a faraway country of which we know nothing.

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