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Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement, and for giving me advance sight of it. We fully understand why the Prime Minister cannot be here today, and we are delighted to hear that he is fully restored to good health again. I wish the Foreign Secretary well in his trip to Iran; it is an important trip and we hope that he succeeds in making some progress.

The summit was wide ranging, and we have heard the Foreign Secretary's report on many of the important issues, such as the reform of capital and labour markets. I regret, however, that the Lisbon agenda is apparently still regarded as "an abstract idea", and was not substantially advanced at the Council. I very much share the concern that the Foreign Secretary expressed about the situation in the middle east, and I hope that the Government will provide time for us to debate that important issue as soon as possible.

On Iraq, we welcome the new United Nations resolution, and we agree that there should now be a realistic schedule for handing over political responsibility to the Iraqis. Has the Foreign Secretary a date in mind?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, however, the real interest in this Council was in the more fundamental issues that were discussed by the Prime Minister in the margins. Those issues go to the heart of our relationship with the European Union, which is, I suspect, why the Foreign Secretary spent so little of his statement dealing with those issues, and so much of it dealing with other issues not concerning Europe.

It is time for the Government to start being honest about Europe. On Friday the Prime Minister told the media:

Take it from him? Why should we take it from him? We took it from him three years ago when he told us that a constitution was not necessary. Now he tells us that it is. We took it from him when he told us that the charter of fundamental rights would not be legally binding. Now we are told that it will be. So why should we take anything from him, or from his Foreign Secretary, now?

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned European defence. In February 2001, President Bush told the press that the Prime Minister had assured him that

Yet in Berlin last month it was reported in Der Spiegel that the Prime Minister had agreed with his French and German counterparts—[Interruption.] That was supposed to be a minute of the meeting that was held; let the Foreign Secretary deny it if it was not. It said that the Prime Minister and his French and German counterparts agreed that

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No wonder that over the weekend the United States has expressed outrage, with its NATO ambassador Burns describing this as

The United States obviously does not share the view of that policy set out today by the Foreign Secretary.

So what is the Government's current policy? I presume that they are setting it out at the convened emergency meeting of NATO, which the Americans felt was necessary in the circumstances today. Apparently that policy is not what it was two years ago. Does the Foreign Secretary deny that structured co-operation under article 213 of the draft European constitution will undermine any UK veto over EU military planning? Is that not why the Prime Minister supported Chancellor Schroeder and President Chirac in Berlin last month?

What will be the effect of the constitution on our relationship with the EU? The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have told us time and again that it does not involve fundamental change. How does that square with Joschka Fischer's description of it as "historic" and

Closer to home, the Chancellor of the Exchequer wrote in The Wall Street Journal last Thursday that the

Why are the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary so apparently out of line with their colleagues? Does the Foreign Secretary agree with his French counterpart, Mr. de Villepin, who said last night that, if Europe wants to hold its own in the world, it must have

He went on to say:

Is not that, in a nutshell, what the draft constitution is about, and would it not be better if the Government came clean and began to admit it? Why do they alone pretend that this is, to quote an official this week,

How stupid do they think the British people are? Why will they not have the courage to let the people decide?

Why will the Foreign Secretary not accept the French Prime Minister's advice that

or President Chirac's comment that a referendum

Why will the Government not follow Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Denmark and Ireland in trusting their voters? Why are the Government so frightened of the British people? The Foreign Secretary should promise them a referendum today.

Mr. Straw: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks about the Prime Minister and for his best wishes for my trip to Iran. I shall, of course, make my report to the House as quickly as I can. The right hon. Gentleman asked about the possibility of having a debate in Government time on the middle east.

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Personally, I accept that case, but he knows that it is a matter of the allocation of time and should be dealt with through the usual channels.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about a date for handing over power in Iraq. Resolution 1511 provides a clear date—15 December—by which the governing council, in consultation with the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the coalition provisional authority, should produce its own time scale for developing a draft constitution and a handover of power. We await those proposals. We felt that it was important that, rather than imposing a time scale on the most representative body in Iraq today, it would be better to encourage that body to come up with its own time scale in two months' time. It is bound to be discussed both with the Secretary-General's representative and with us before being reported to the Security Council.

The right hon. Gentleman made several points about the draft constitution. He dismissed all the other issues that were discussed as somehow "not concerning Europe". However, my statement today properly reflected the balance of discussion in the European Council between economic reform, foreign and security policy and the intergovernmental conference. I know that the right hon. Gentleman and some of his Front-Bench colleagues are absolutely obsessed with the issue of the draft constitution, but I have to say that the rest of us are not, and nor are the British people.

The simple fact remains that, however one analyses the draft constitution, it does not represent any fundamental shift in the balance of the relationship between ourselves and the EU. If anything, as the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues in the House of Lords European Scrutiny Committee pointed out, it shifts the balance back towards member states. Moreover, again on any analysis, as a former distinguished Conservative Home Secretary, Lord Howe, pointed out in a debate in the House of Lords, the treaty of Maastricht and the Single European Act of 1986 involved far more significant changes than does the proposed draft constitution.

The right hon. Gentleman professed shock and horror at the idea of the creation of a European defence policy. [Interruption.] He is muttering about the American ambassador, Mr. Nicholas Burns, who is an excellent man. I believe that I probably know more about Mr. Burns' views than does the right hon. Gentleman. I also recall in exquisite detail, as will others who were Members of Parliament in 1992, that the right hon. Gentleman made a terrific speech, banging the drum against a referendum on Maastricht and fully in favour of every last dot and comma of the treaty. The treaty states—[Interruption.] He should listen to this, because this is what he supported. It states that the Union shall aim

That is what the right hon. Gentleman signed up to in 1992. I have heard him say nothing in the endless debates that we have had to resile from that. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, that policy was enthused and inspired by none other than Baroness Thatcher, who

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wrote a terrific, ground-breaking pamphlet for presentation to the European Council held at Fontainebleau on 25 and 26 June 1984, in which she said:

The right hon. Gentleman is trying to create a confection about what is in this draft treaty. He claims that it will lead to the creation of a superstate and the end of civilisation as we know it, but that is exactly what the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) said, when he was the Leader of the Opposition, about Nice. In statement after statement, he claimed that Nice would lead to a superstate and that we should have a referendum. We did not have a referendum and Nice is now in force. Where is the superstate? The right hon. Member for Devizes did not even mention Nice.

Time and again, we hear confection and invention from the right hon. Gentleman. He dared to quote my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but he misquoted him. In his excellent article in the The Wall Street Journal, my right hon. Friend did not say that Europe's new constitutional debate is Europe's most significant political change for decades. In fact, he said:

That is a completely different statement, and my right hon. Friend was right in what he said. The time to be honest on Europe, to coin a phrase, is the time for the Conservative party to be honest about its policy. If it ever got a chance to lead this country, it would move inexorably towards detaching Britain from Europe and setting this country up as a free trade area—as the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), the shadow Attorney-General, has suggested. That would not relieve us of any of the obligations of European Union membership or of paying a higher contribution than many other member states pay, but it would relieve us of any influence, thus damaging British industry, British jobs, British prosperity and British security.

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