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

Rev. Ian Paisley: I promised not to use too much time, so the hon. Gentleman will have to be quick.

Mr. Hendrick: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. How many people in North Antrim have said to him, "Well, I'm not very happy about this charter of

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fundamental rights"? How many have said, "We don't need a constitution", or, "We should at least have a referendum on a constitution"? How many people know what is in the constitution? How many people care?

Rev. Ian Paisley: They do care, because I keep them informed. As the Member for that constituency, I tell them what Europe is up to. We need to feed people the facts, and the fact is that this issue is fundamental. It is not a petty matter to tell the people in one breath that this is only a declaration, and then to enter into a thorough programme to turn it into a law that will be applied by a court that is entirely outside this country. The time has come for this Parliament to say, "We are appointed to rule the United Kingdom, and before we can part with any authority we must know how we can deal with wrong decisions coming from Europe." We do have wrong decisions coming from Europe, and everybody knows it.

In order to become part of the new constitution, we are going to duplicate the European convention on human rights. The matter will go the European Court of Justice, and there will be an overspill of much legislation and much argument. How will that benefit the people of this country?

In the past week, we have had an argument about Sweden. Some were saying that the unfortunate murder of the Swedish Foreign Minister would change the people of Sweden, but they had an issue to deal with and their minds were not to be changed. That issue was concern about their country, regardless of the pressures that were applied. Mr. Prodi had the cheek to say, "What has Sweden done! It has put itself outside the heart of Europe." What right has he, an Italian, to tell another country that it has put itself outside the heart of Europe? The Swedish people exercised their democratic rights. People are entitled to those rights, and they must be contested for.

Certain issues—I raised them in a previous debate—are conveniently forgotten, namely the constitutional and religious issues at the heart of each nation. We have heard not a word about them. They have been glossed over because they lead to controversy, and the Europe of today does not want to talk about controversial issues. So we need to have this debate. If the people of these islands want this new constitution, why do we not seek their support for it? Certain Members of this House say that the people want it, so let us find out whether they actually do. If the Prime Minister were convinced that he could win such a referendum, we would have it, but he is not.

The euro gives rise to problems far worse and more dangerous than just the single coinage, which I am against. We are dealing with matters that are at the heart of centuries of development of democracy in this country. We have to take a stand, and the day to do that is when we say, "Let us put the question to the people." As democrats, we will have to accept it if the people vote for it. However, I have learned that, in Europe, we always get rigging. The British public are being refused a say in their own political destiny. The Government of our country are still resisting a referendum on the constitution, and it seems that thousands of citizens from continental Europe may get the chance to vote on whether we in this country should have the single currency. According to the Financial Times of 3 August,

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725,000 EU citizens are being negotiated with, so that they can vote on an issue that has nothing to do with them. If they belong to Sweden, let them vote in Sweden, but why should we add to our numbers on the electorate almost a million voters to swing it against what many of the people of this country want? That is not democracy at all; it is rigging the answers. The House should be aware of that and take a stand.

Let us see the negotiations. Let us hear what the country and the Government are going to do. The Government have asked the questions, so how are they going to answer them? If the Government say, "We want this" and Europe says, "Well, you are not having it", will the Government cave in? That is what we want to know. Will they make a stand anywhere along the line on that issue? I say to the Government that they need to take a stand on this issue and they need to make it speedily, because we are drifting into a position in which ordinary people do not want to talk about it because they do not trust us. When trust between Parliament and the people disappears, the result will be anarchy.

6.36 pm

Jane Griffiths (Reading, East): Time is short, but I should like to add a few remarks to this important debate. I should like to quote a former Prime Minister who said:

That Prime Minister was, of course, Margaret Thatcher, now Baroness Thatcher, and the speech was the one she made in Bruges. It is highly relevant to our debate today. On great issues, the countries of Europe should speak with one voice. That is particularly important when we reflect on why we are debating the draft constitution and why a draft constitution or treaty exists at all.

Next year the 15 members of the European Union become 25. A Europe that was divided in 1988 will now come together again at last. The countries of central Europe will come back into the heart of the European family. That is a historic change, which is why we are having today's debate. As hon. Members have said, the rules and treaties agreed when there were six, nine or 12 member states have been difficult to make work when we are 15, and they will not work with 25. That is why we, as Europeans, have had to return to the treaties and associated issues. That explains the draft constitution and the draft treaty. We are not changing our constitution or our nation. There is no proposal to do that, so there is no need for a referendum. It is unnecessary.

What has been the response of Margaret Thatcher's party to the changes? Have they joined all good Europeans in welcoming the historic event of the coming together of Europe? Are they pleased that Europe is one again? No. Their response to one of the most important events in European history is to carp and to nitpick. They have opposed referendums in the past and their natural position is to continue to oppose

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them. I find their stance today to be in bad faith, which is what we Europeans must not have. We must have good faith and work together.

6.38 pm

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): May I first associate my colleagues and myself with the remarks made by the Foreign Secretary and the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) about Anna Lindh? It was indeed a terrible tragedy for a remarkable politician and a personal tragedy for her family. We all feel powerfully moved at this time.

At the heart of this debate is the issue frequently raised by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and, indeed, the current Leader of the House: how do we reconnect the peoples of Europe with the EU, how do we return to them a sense of ownership, and how do we rid them of the sense that the European project is being driven inexorably and undemocratically by the elites of Europe? Indeed, on the Foreign Office website we are reminded that at the heart of the Convention's considerations was the reconnection process, to make the EU's institutions more effective, efficient and democratically accountable, thus increasing transparency and simplification.

Well, we know what has emerged. The question is how what is proposed achieves those key objectives. How will that sense of ownership be returned to the citizens of the member states? Most importantly, can the draft constitutional proposals be significantly amended to achieve that? How can the public express their legitimate views?

In the foreword to the IGC White Paper, "A Constitutional Treaty for the EU", the Prime Minister confirmed that Governments had said that the treaty

However, the Foreign Secretary appeared to suggest that the essential text had been agreed. At the IGC, many European leaders certainly do not expect or favour substantial changes. It is worth remembering that the Prime Minister, in his Warsaw speech, originally rejected calls for a single, legally binding document called a constitution, and called instead for a charter of competences. In an excellent speech, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Stevenson) recalled that sentiment.

So the Government's difficulty is now simply one of trust. As the former Italian Prime Minister and Convention delegate, Lamberto Dini, has observed,

Joschka Fischer made a similar comment, when he said

That is indeed the case.

So we have a problem. There is absolutely nobody of any consequence who agrees with the Government's interpretation of the impact of the constitutional treaty. The simple starting point to remedy the sense of

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alienation that so many British people have from the EU and its powers is to tell the truth, and thus give the debate true legitimacy. If people believe that they are being told lies, invariably some will simply switch off or, more disastrously, take on extreme postures.

For example, let us look at the charter of fundamental rights. We heard that it would not be incorporated into the treaty, that it involved no new set of enforceable rights, and that it was not legally binding. It is now in the treaty, game, set and match. All the way through, other European leaders have made it clear that it would be incorporated and have powerful legal resonance, but the British repeatedly said that the reverse was the case. There is a legitimate argument about all this, but the starting point must be honesty. The idea that what is now before us at the IGC is of no constitutional significance is just untrue, and it ill serves the Government to say otherwise.

At the heart of the problem in the relationship between this country and the EU has been our almost total lack of influence under this Government. It would be inconceivable that the substantial budgetary rebate, the creation and driving forward of the single market and the opt-out on the single currency—so welcome to our people—could ever have happened under this Government, whose policy on Europe appears to be no policy at all. They are just carried along in the slipstream of others. What really significant part of the constitutional package before the IGC was driven by the British Government? It was not the written constitution, which they originally opposed. Nor was it the incorporation of the charter of fundamental rights, the EU diplomatic service or the collapsing of the three pillars.

Before the Convention, European leaders and Governments clearly set out their stall—their vision and view—about what an enlarged Europe should look like. It was others who drove this agenda, certainly not us. It has been a cataclysmic failure of British nerve and influence that Britain has been on the sidelines of the debate. The right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), the former Minister for Europe, proposed amendments to the Convention that were thrown out with monotonous regularity.

At Nice, a campaign should have been started to see off the important constitutional changes. Similarly, in six years not one power has been returned to the member states and our national Parliament in the name of subsidiarity—a principle instigated and fought for by a British Government who talk so freely about the democratic deficit.

However, we are where we are, and the policy of denial continues. I echo the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell), who spoke so tellingly. We know that Denmark, Ireland, Luxembourg and Spain will hold referendums, and that Portugal, Italy, France and the Netherlands may follow suit. The matter is now also being examined in Austria and Germany. Only the British Government deny the importance of this constitutional architecture, and they also want to deny the British people the chance to express their view, whether for or against. The idea that the matter is somehow of less significance than the mayoralty of Hartlepool is beyond parody.

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Opposition Members have been scouring the media for a rational explanation from Government Front Bench Members, to give us an insight into their thinking. At a time when the Prime Minister has admitted that the matter is of fundamental importance, the Minister for Europe gave us an entirely risible insight into this debate in an article in the New Statesman dated 25 August.

There is no time for me to quote from the article, but I invite hon. Members to read it. It is incredible that this should be the justification—the background, the mood music—for the huge constitutional change that is before us. His notion that cultural identities have not been undermined by the EU has nothing to do with the constitutional problems that beset us. If the Minister for Europe is so confident about his assertions, I invite him to let the people decide.

Additionally, there is a functional flaw in the Government's position. The Foreign Secretary has spelled out a series of red lines, or "insistences", that he will put before the IGC. Of course, our Government have the right of veto but I simply put to the Minister for Europe the very obvious point that, in the inevitable discussion and horse-trading at the IGC, we have already effectively sold the pass. How much better would it be if the Foreign Secretary were able to say that he could not accept a particular proposal because it has to go before the British people to seek their approval? Even the Adrian Mole school of diplomacy might suggest to the Foreign Secretary that that would greatly strengthen his hand. It might, for example, enable him to win much clearer rights for national Parliaments, including a power of referral back to the Commission, and real powers of rejection that would give real meaning to the principle of subsidiarity.

Finally, let us remind ourselves of how this Constitution opens. It says:

How can the Minister for Europe explain how it does that if the people have not been asked? How have the Government divined the citizens' will? They have certainly not done that through their website on the draft constitutional treaty, and the matter was not even in the Labour party's manifesto. They cannot have made the divination from opinion polls, because the polls' message is clear, or from talking to constituents, because we know that constituents do not want the constitution. There is some sort of Mystic Meg influence guiding the Government's thinking.

We believe that the constitution takes the EU in the wrong direction. Others certainly disagree with that point of view, but no rational and honest individual can deny that the matter has immense constitutional significance for a country that has never had a written constitution before. It will be to this Government's unending shame, when history makes its judgment, if the people of this country are denied the opportunity to express a view. To deny them that is a dereliction of the Government's obligations to the people of this country.

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