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5.55 pm

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim): I want first to speak about religious issues, which have been raised in debate in the European Convention and which will bring great problems to the so-called furtherance of European unity. The Library research paper, "The Convention on the Future of Europe: proposals for a European Constitution", touches on the matter, but apart from that there is very little on it.

We heard about Athens today, of all places. I am reminded of the apostle Paul's first visit there when he saw an altar to the unknown God, and he felt that it was time for him to speak up and explain who God was and the arguments for the being of God. There is a proposal before the Convention—I do not know whether it has had any debate at all—that the name of God should be written into the new constitution. Putting a God tag on the constitution will not make it godly or Christian, or make the people under it godly or Christian.

The House is opened each day with prayer to God. We might ask: what God? Is it an unknown God; is it everyone's God? According to the prayer book from which the prayer is taken, it is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I believe that he is the true and living God. Other hon. Members will have their own opinions, but I believe that God has set his Son over this world as sovereign, as king of this world. His kingdom is not forced on anyone; it is accepted not by persecution but by persuasion only. Those who are persuaded not to accept him do not accept him, and those who are persuaded that they will accept him crown him as king of their lives. Each one has a choice to make, and each one will answer to him personally on the great day of judgment.

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I do not accept that by putting the name of God somewhere in the new constitution is the way to make the new Europe godly and Christian. Putting a deity pin on the constitution would be an act of hypocrisy, not an act of truth. Christ the king reigns in the hearts of those who acknowledge him and have crowned him to be so. Those who reject him have made their decision. Pinning the name of God somewhere on the constitution is not to be advocated. Such an act will in no way change the real nature of the EU.

Having said that, the religious issues in Europe are of deep significance and importance. Many of them flow from the Reformation of the 16th century and are embedded in Church-state relationships in the various states. Mere mention of this is made in the document, but an examination of the states of Europe reveals different relationships between Church and state in almost every one. Such matters are now being raised in certain places in terms of a limit to human rights.

At the end of the document, we are told something that I would challenge: that in Europe, everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. One need only go to France to see the rising tide of persecution of those who belong to the smaller Protestant denominations. On this very issue, the Home Office is currently dealing with the question of whether a Frenchman should be sent back to France for trial. That case will be decided in the near future. Of course, anyone who has been to Greece will know of the great limits on religious liberty in that country. Similar things could be said of other European countries. This matter needs to be confronted—there is no use in our sweeping it under the carpet.

In answer to my question at the beginning of the debate, the Foreign Secretary made it plain that all written constitutions, and all countries that have no written constitutions, will be bound to and subservient to this new constitution. Nothing could be plainer than that, which brings me to the very heart of the matter: a referendum. Momentous changes are in prospect about the way in which we are to be ruled. Much of what is being proposed is counter to our vital interests and goes against the grain of what people really want. The Government do not have a mandate to agree to such sweeping developments, which will change for ever the future of this United Kingdom. If a referendum is required before we join the single currency, it is surely much more important that we decide for ourselves whether the Government should be under the authority of this overwhelming body. We need to keep that issue before us.

The pretence that the European Union is largely about trade cannot be maintained when the constitutional Convention's proposals are viewed. The Convention operates almost entirely divorced from contact with any of the representative groups that are opposed to the integrationist development that it proposes. This is proving to be an utterly undemocratic process—if not by name, then certainly by nature. A superstate is emerging; it is taking shape in the proposals that the Convention has discussed.

I do not believe that there is any victory in pulling the word "federalism" out of this document, because Europe is not dealing in federalism. Federalism is various Governments handing over to a central authority what they wish to hand over and forming a

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federation, but that is not what Europe is doing. Europe claims supreme and total power over us all, and it will give us the handout that it wants to give. [Interruption.] It is all very well Members laughing, but that is what has happened. I have sat in the European Parliament since representatives were first elected to it. I have put my case to the people of Northern Ireland, and I have had the highest vote in the whole of Europe on this issue. I have topped the poll in those elections five times, and I have seen what happens at first hand. If anything is against the real principle of undiluted democracy, it is the European Union and what it is doing. It is proceeding not towards federalism, but towards a superstate in which it will hand down and Mr. Prodi will decide what we do. That is the real issue before us.

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North): Will my hon. Friend explain why this Government deny a referendum when it is clear that people want such a say on the new constitution? In Northern Ireland, people want a vote in respect of the Assembly elections, yet the Government are quite happy to press a vote on people in areas such as the north of England, in which no such enthusiasm exists for a vote. Can he explain that dichotomy?

Rev. Ian Paisley: I do not understand what the Government's policy is. There was a referendum in Northern Ireland, and in order to put weight behind it the south of Ireland ran a referendum. We were told that that issue would never be raised, and that it was just something that they did. Now, in referring to that referendum, all Ministers talk about the fact that the wish of the people of Ireland is that we have the agreement. It was evident that the election, if it came, would put that in the Sadducees' grave with no resurrection. But the Government cancelled the election, and even in this House today we see what has happened to the official Ulster Unionist party. It has been completely halved. One half has said goodbye to the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) and all his works, and when he was in his constituency last night, a large number of people voted against him. So the position—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will now return to the amendments under discussion.

Rev. Ian Paisley: I shall be most happy to return to my theme, Madam Deputy Speaker; I was led astray by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds) and you should blame him.

Fewer decisions of any significance will be determined at national level if the new Convention takes over. Parliament will increasingly become a talking shop, rubber-stamping decisions already taken in Brussels. There is no effective way of controlling what the EU does in our name. The Convention proposes no effective, EU-wide democratic method of allowing the people to choose what policies they want. Indeed, power will be centralised within the Commission, which, we should not forget, still meets in secret. This is no substitute for the democratic system that has been built up over centuries in our nation and elsewhere. The real power of the EU is the Commission, which we do not

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elect and whose members we cannot remove. This power will increase greatly if the constitutional Convention's proposals go unchallenged.

The EU itself is not a democracy, even if its member states are. It has always been a bureaucratic organisation, albeit with the ornaments of democracy. Instead of dealing with its democratic shortfall, this Constitution is strengthening that shortfall and the democratic deficit.

6.8 pm

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): One of the themes of today's debate has been encouraging because it is genuinely cross-party, and the more interesting fact is that it has been adopted by people who perhaps hold differing views on where the European Union is going and our role in it. That theme is that the people of this country should be allowed a referendum to decide on this very important constitutional matter. The Government's argument that the proposal for an EU constitution is not a constitutional matter, and that on that basis, there is no need to offer a referendum, is quite bizarre. It is clear that this is not just a tidying-up exercise; it is a constitution that establishes a Union with its own legal personality. Constitution and Union law is enshrined in it, which will have primacy over the law of member states. The Union will also have exclusive competence in many areas in which no such competence currently exists. And bizarrely, shared competence is to be introduced for the first time. However, as the barrister, Martin Howe, stated:

Those are constitutional matters of great importance. Bizarrely, on 18 June, the Prime Minister, answering a question about why a referendum was acceptable on the currency, but not on the constitution, replied:

That simply does not make sense. I suggest that we are to be denied a referendum in that respect for the same reason that explains the Government's five economic tests and their reluctance to put our membership of the euro before the British people—purely because they know that they would not win.

Ministers chide—no, chide is a rather kind term, they vilify—Opposition Members for not holding the same views on the future of Europe as they do and for not supporting the constitution. They claim that the Conservative party is out of touch with the views of the British people. However, as often happens, the caravan has moved on. I would commend to Ministers a poll carried out in The Economist—not a tabloid journalist's poll—in which people were asked whether, in the event of a referendum on the proposed EU constitution, they would be in favour of or against Britain signing up for it. The results were: in favour, 18 per cent.; against, 44 per cent.; do not know, 33 per cent. That tells us that people want and need to know more. We need a full

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public debate, not just here in the Chamber, but out there. A referendum of the people would well serve their need to be informed before such a key decision is taken.

There have been allegations—particularly from the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) when he was in his place—that we Conservatives are all xenophobes who hate the French, the Germans and so forth. I have to say that, if I were married to a Japanese national, I would not be advocating the yen in favour of the pound sterling. It is a pernicious argument to accuse us of xenophobia simply because we hold different views. As in all debates, name calling from Ministers is usually an indication of a weak argument or a reluctance to put their case to the people.

This Tuesday's The Wall Street Journal was interesting in featuring an interview with Valéry Giscard d'Estaing about how he had conducted the Convention. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) spoke a few moments ago about how the word "federal" has been taken out of context. Let me quote the article, where Mr. d'Estaing said:

so much for prime ministerial influence—

So all the way through, we can see negotiations going on to make it easy for the British, because people know in their hearts that the British are not going to stand up for too much. When I examine the Government's little list for the IGC, I doubt whether they would stand up for much in any case.

I shall conclude because I want more of my hon. Friends to join in the debate and we are getting towards the end. In my book, and that of many people in this country when they come to assess the position, if we have a President, a constitution, a common currency, a common justice system, a flag, an anthem and all the rest, we basically have a nation state.

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