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The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane) rose—

Mr. Ancram: I am coming to the end of my remarks.

The Prime Minister's attack on those who call for a referendum is laughable. It is an insult to the British people, it mocks their genuine desire to have a say and it trivialises what, in the rest of Europe, is a serious debate. That debate is about reforming Europe with the consent of its peoples. It is about involving people in decisions about their own future. Substituting puerile accusations for genuine argument indicates only fear of what the people might decide.

That is the real key. Unlike us, and unlike the Liberal Democrats, the Prime Minister and the Government do not trust the British people. They are prepared to ride roughshod over the views of the voters, and to drive through fundamental and irreversible reforms of the EU without seeking the consent of the British people. That is simply wrong. In their hearts and even, reportedly, in the Cabinet, according to one newspaper yesterday, the Government know that that is wrong.

The right hon. Member for Neath almost offered a referendum next June by way of the European parliamentary elections. In June this year he told the BBC that


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He went on to say:


He knows, and the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary know, that none of the arguments against a referendum holds water any more. The British people will not forgive a bullying rejection of their right to decide on something so fundamental, so irreversible and so far-reaching. The message of the motion is clear and simple: let the people decide.

4.41 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:


With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, before I proceed to deal with the debate, I should like to pay a brief tribute to Anna Lindh as this is the first opportunity that I have had to do so in the House.

As the House knows, Anna Lindh was murdered in a Stockholm department store last Thursday, 11 September. For all of us who knew her, Anna was an exceptional individual. She earned huge respect in Sweden and well beyond its shores for her commitment to her principles, for her great skills and for the transparent honesty with which she pursued her cause. Her death is a tragedy, above all for her family, for she leaves a husband and two children of school age. I shall attend the memorial service in Stockholm this Friday, and I know that I will carry with me the sentiments of the whole House in conveying our grief and our condolences to her family, her friends and the people of Sweden.

The heart of the case presented by the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), as we heard, is that the changes proposed in the current draft of the European Union's constitutional treaty are of such a scale that a referendum to endorse them is necessary. We take a different view, and I want to use the opportunity this afternoon to explain why.

What the Convention proposes in its draft treaty does not represent a radical break with the past. It emphatically does not take us down the road to a European superstate. As I will explain—and nothing that the right hon. Gentleman said a moment ago suggests otherwise—the text does not alter the fundamental constitutional relationship between member states and the Union. If anything, the draft tilts the balance towards the European Council and national Governments.

The European Union Committee of the House of Lords has been assiduous in its examination of the draft proposals, producing 14 reports. Its report in May

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examined texts to give national Parliaments an effective role for the first time in European Union draft legislation. In commenting on those texts, which were very similar to the final treaty, the Committee concluded:


[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) mutters that the Committee members are unelected, with the implication that they know absolutely nothing about these matters. Some of them have never served in an elected position, but they have something to say and understand about the European Union. That includes Lord Williamson, former secretary-general of the European Commission, and Lord Hannay, the former British Government permanent representative in Brussels. The list of members—there is no sign of any minority report—also includes the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, an individual not known as a raving Euro-fanatic, formerly Mr. Norman Lamont and now Lord Lamont. Evidently, having at least examined the text with care, he concluded that the proposals in the draft Convention will, if they are adopted, shift the balance of power from the Commission in favour of member states.

The purpose of the treaty is much more prosaic than the confection that the right hon. Member for Devizes has whipped up this afternoon. It seeks to consolidate much of the European Union's existing constitutional framework, which extends over at least four separate and overlapping treaties, and introduces new measures that aim to equip the Union with the institutions and decision-making processes that are needed to cope with the demands of 25 members. As I explained to the House last Tuesday—he refuses to face up to this point—the enlargement of the European Union is the engine of these changes. It should be as plain as a pikestaff that a Union whose institutions were designed to operate with six members has been creaking in trying to operate with 15, and would find it very difficult to operate practically with 25.

I shall deal in a moment with some of the key arguments that the right hon. Gentleman advanced in pursuit of his claim, but I should like first to pick him up on one comment, which, if it were true, would certainly be an argument for a referendum. We all heard him say that the treaty is irreversible. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] "Irreversible" was the word that he used, and there is approbation from Opposition Members. However, that is simply not the case. It is untrue and shows that he has not applied himself to the texts. Article IV-7 of the draft treaty, as reproduced on page 148 of the Command Paper, sets out very clearly procedure for revising the treaty establishing the constitution and spells out that amendments can enter into force only after being ratified by all the member states in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.

Moreover—I shall return to this point later—there is one measure that has not featured in previous treaties and that will be of huge importance to members of the true faith of the Tory party: explicit provision allowing for the first time a member state to withdraw from the European Union if it so wishes. In the past, there was an objection to the fact that the method for withdrawing

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was unclear, albeit that the document is a treaty among member states. There is now the most explicit provision through which, over a two-year period, if the British Parliament decided to withdraw from the European Union—in my judgment, it would certainly need a referendum to do so—it would serve notice and withdraw.

Mr. Redwood: I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for giving way. When there is an EU Foreign Minister under the constitution, will not he or she be the boss and the British Foreign Secretary the office boy? Will not the important people around the world want to see the EU Foreign Minister, knowing that the British Foreign Secretary has to go along with anything agreed by consensus in Brussels and initiated by that Minister, who will be the man or woman with the power?

Mr. Straw: It comforts me that the Opposition have to invent arguments about the nature of the text to oppose our actions. Shortly, I shall deal in some detail with the contents of the draft constitution and compare them with those of draft constitutions or constitutions on which the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) voted 13 years ago. He voted against a referendum on a specific draft constitution.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North): Does not my right hon. Friend have the slightest anxiety that every time we take a step towards European integration without the British people's understanding or consent, we may unwittingly be preparing the ground for what he fears most: a British public who would ultimately be amenable to withdrawal?


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