Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok): The Foreign Secretary is making a fine speech scoring points off the Tories, but does he accept that that is too easy and certainly is not sufficient to justify the Government's refusal of a referendum to the British people? He mentioned earlier his condemnation of barking mad federalists, but that is ironic, given that many sit both alongside and behind him. Why are the Government afraid of giving the people of Britain a referendum?
Mr. Straw: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the wholehearted support that he has just offered me and I cherish the compliment with which he began his intervention. If we felt that the draft constitution represented a fundamental change in the nature of the relationship between ourselves and the other member states, we would of course put forward the case for a referendum.
Mr. Straw: It is not about fearing something. I have nothing to fear, let alone from the Conservatives. It is an issue of principle. We have had, and will continue to have, referendums when we join or leavethe issue in 1975 was whether we should leavean institution or when we seek to create a new institution. We have never held a referendum to change the powers of institutions to which we belong. The previous Conservative Government consistently refused to do sofor very good reasons, in my judgment. I voted with the right hon. Member for Devizes and 12 other members of the present shadow Cabinet against a referendum on Maastricht. On any analysis, the arguments then used against a referendum apply still more strongly against the current set of propositions.
In view of the time, I shall begin my closing remarks. I accept that there is one area of change in the draft treaty, and that is in respect of justice and home affairs. However, that is very much a British agenda, and the Government have long advocated better co-ordinated action against organised crime, terrorism and illegal immigration. These are shared problems that require shared solutionsas I proposed, for example, at a conference in Avignon in October 1998.
Some of the Convention's proposals in the area of criminal procedural law could result in more significant change, but I have made it clearin this House and in the White Paperthat these proposals would not be acceptable to us. We support the provision of minimum standards at EU level in some areas, such as access to an interpreter to protect British citizens facing criminal proceedings in other member states. However, we will oppose in the IGC any measures that would undermine our system of common law and criminal law.
It would be rash to predict the outcome of the negotiation in the IGC. What I can say, however, based on lengthy discussion with my EU counterparts in Italy 10 days ago, is that no member state will be seeking to surrender its national sovereignty.
As the IGC gets under way, there will no doubt be new ideas coming forward, some of which we will want to resist. Tomorrow, the European Commission will publish a white paper on its proposals. The Commission shared some of its suggestions with Foreign Ministers at our informal meeting 10 days ago. Let me make it clear that some of those ideas are not acceptable to us, nor to many others, not least any proposal that would remove Parliament's final authority over changes to international treaties. We are opposed to that, and we shall make that clear.
Mr. Straw: For all the froth and fury, what we are witnessing today is a Conservative party not so much raging against the proposed constitutional treaty before us but against the EUand, more particularly, Britain's place within it. The most impassioned comments of the right hon. Member for Devizescomplaints about the primacy of EU law, a common foreign and security policy, and many other mattersdealt with proposals that were not dreamed up for the future by the Convention. Those matters are existing elements of the EU and were signed up to by Conservative Governmentsin 1972, 1986 and at Maastricht in 1992.
Those were the issues that were before the House in 1992, and the House came to the decisions that we know about. The difference today is that the small group of zealotsI remember them very well who did their best to bring down the previous Conservative Government in 1993 are now in charge of the party. And the greatest zealot of them allthe hon. Member for Stoneis now writing the script for the right hon. Member for Devizes.
I listened with great care to the right hon. Member for Devizes, who denied that the Conservative party was intent on a policy that would withdraw a Conservative Government from Europe. He should have seen the face
In his heart of hearts, I suspect that the right hon. Member for Devizes recognises the hopelessness of that cause. He knows that none of the 24 other countries that will be attending the IGC over the next few months remotely supports what he says; nor do they recognise the illusory utopia of "associate membership" to which his party is increasingly attached.
Mr. Straw: There is a clear divide: between a party determined to take Britain out of Europe, undermining our living standards and our position in the world, and a Government who are working for Britain in Europe, to deliver peace and prosperity. I urge the House to oppose the motion and to support the amendment.
Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): The Foreign Secretary was visibly moved a little while ago when he paid tribute to Anna Lindh. He can most certainly be assured that when he attends her memorial service he takes with him the sympathy of the whole House and the sense of horror that some feel that such an event should have taken place in a society that prides itself on openness, tolerance and accessibility to politicians.
The right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), who spoke on behalf of the Conservative party, sought to introduce a Scottish constitutional concept to the debate. He argued that sovereignty rested with the people. That is an entirely Scottish constitutional concept, as set outas he will be well awarein the case of MacCormick v. the Lord Advocate. However, it is not a British, or United Kingdom, constitutional doctrine, at least not since the Union of the Parliaments in 1707. Furthermore, I am not sure that the concept assists the right hon. Gentleman in the case that he wants to make today. If Parliament is sovereign, it is entitled to repeal the 1972 Act and, as a consequence, the results of the passing of that Act would be rendered nugatory.
There is a distinction in that the Convention proposals provide for an express right of withdrawal, but my view has always been that there was at least an implied right of withdrawal, because of the doctrine of Parliament's constitutional supremacy.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that the provision allows for withdrawal only if the majority of member states in the European Parliament agree and if there is an acceptance of all the conditions laid down over two years of negotiations? The idea that there is an open exit clause is absolute rubbish. One can only get out if the others agree and if one accepts all the conditions.