Mr. Ancram: The right hon. Gentleman has a selective memory. The letter that he, Sir Malcolm Rifkind and I wrote, against the advice of the Whips on both sides of the House, called for a free vote because a referendum was not available and we believed that the representatives of the people of this country should have as much free judgment as possible. I still take that view even if he does not. We have talked about the views of certain Conservatives on Estonia. It is strange that I am instructed that the views of people such as those whom he mentioned represent our party's policy. I could start suggesting that the views of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) on Iraq are suddenly the Labour party's policy. Members of the Conservative party are free to express their opinions and I am here to explain the Opposition's official line.
The criteria that the Government have set are cosmetic. We were told in June that there was no need for a referendum because, according to the right hon. Member for Neath, who has sadly left the Chamber, the treaty was largely a "tidying-up exercise" and according to the Foreign Secretary, it was a "streamlining process". They were trying to get across the message that the constitution was not important and that it did not really matter. How may the incorporation of the charter of fundamental rights in the constitution or turning justice and home affairs into a supranational rather than an intergovernmental matter be described as mere tidying-up or streamlining? That defence was ludicrous, and as the details of the draft constitution became clearer the idiocy of the defence became clearer and even now it has been dropped.
I thought that the right hon. Member for Neath might have been mistaken or that his memory was at fault, but the Prime Minister did not deny saying that when he was challenged in the Chamber last Wednesday. He was not being helpful to the Foreign Secretary when he said:
The proposed constitution is on any view a step change away from a Europe of nations to a European political entity or, to use the Prime Minister's word, a superpower. The EU will have a written constitution, a legally binding charter of fundamental rights, a single legal personality and a five-year presidency. There will be explicit primacy of EU law, an EU Foreign Minister who is allowed to represent member states at the United Nations, a currency, a flag, an anthem and, eventually, an army.
Mr. Straw: Of the many misconceptions that the right hon. Gentleman has uttered, one is completely and utterly untrue. A European Foreign Minister would not be allowed to represent the European Union member states at the United Nations, yet the right hon. Gentleman implied that France and the United Kingdom would lose their permanent seats as a result. That is simply not correct.
Mr. Ancram: If the right hon. Gentleman would listen, he would know that I did not say that: I said that the European Foreign Minister would be able to represent the European Union at the United Nations. That is what the words in the constitution say; all the Foreign Secretary's wriggling cannot disguise that fact. I say to him again: if all this does not change the fundamental relationship between the EU and its member states, what on earth does?
More important, the constitution is, on its own terms, irreversible. Once one is in it, one cannot change it back againit can be amended only in an integrationist direction. Uniquely among constitutions, it can be fundamentally amended by the executive decision of the Council of Ministers without further approval from national Parliaments or any need for new treaties. It has none of the checks and balances or restraints that one would normally expect to find in a constitution. I ask once again: if this is not a fundamental change, what on earth is?
Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart): I fear that the right hon. Gentleman may have misrepresented the Prime Minister's views when he quoted from his speech in Cardiff last year. He said, more than once, that the Prime Minister described Europe as a superpower. In fact, the Prime Minister said:
Sir Teddy Taylor: I am grateful. We must get this clear. Is my right hon. Friend saying that if the Government, as they seem to want to, intend to force through this new constitution against the wishes of the British people, and without seeking their support in a referendum, there is no way in which future elected Parliaments or Governments will be able to do anything about it? We should not play at party politics, but realise that we are discussing a very serious situation.
Mr. Ancram: My hon. Friend makes an absolutely essential point. This is a one-way street. When one signs up to such a constitution, there is no way back. That is why it is such a fundamental question that must be put to the British people.
The best way of assessing fundamental change in the relationship between the member states of the Union is to examine the effects that it would have in practice. First, it is worth considering what we would not be able to decide for ourselves any more. We would no longer be able to decide on our own immigration and asylum policy; and we are to have our economic and employment policies co-ordinatedwhatever that may mean. Secondly, we need to consider what we will, or can, be made to do against our will. Thirty-two vetoes are being given up, including those on judicial co-operation in criminal matters, establishing offences and penalties for serious crime, crime prevention, civil protection, intellectual property, and rules covering the self-employed. Those are all areas in which we are giving away and ceding our responsibility in the House to the European Union. The Government had better face up to that, as it is the reality of the situation.
Thirdly, we need to look at rights that we have retained but which can be eroded without further reference to treaties or the consent of national Parliaments in future. Under article I-17, the European Union may endow itself with the necessary powers to deal with any area touched by EU power, from defence
All of those, whatever gloss is put on them by the Government, fundamentally change the relationship between the EU and its member states. We might have hoped that that would change during the forthcoming intergovernmental conference negotiations, but that is a false hope. Last week's White Paper clearly indicated that the Government have effectively swallowed the draft constitution hook, line and sinker, and that its reservations are cosmetic. There is no real threat of a British vetothe one negotiating weapon with which the Government should have gone into the IGCeither explicit or implicit if the so-called red lines are not met. We see that in the Government's new-found ambivalence about the legal enforcement of the charter of fundamental rights. Previously, we were told that that was a red line that they would not concede, but now we are told, "We will see what happens in the IGC and make our mind up at the end."
One of the major lines of defence of British intereststhe Government amendments tabled by the right hon. Member for Neath at the Conventionhave simply disappeared off the table. There was a Government amendment dealing with asylum, which the right hon. Member for Neath described as fundamentally important, but it has been dropped. The Government said that they "did not accept" the title of "EU foreign Minister" because it was misleading, but that objection too has been dropped, along with the bulk of the 200 amendments that were tabled at the time.
When the right hon. Member for Neath said that there was no constitutional significance in the draft constitution, he was talking a language quite different from that of his colleagues in Europe. The German Minister of Foreign Affairs said: