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Mr. Cash : My hon. Friend may have noticed in today's edition of The Times an interview with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) in which he says:

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Does my hon. Friend therefore agree that we are saying in express terms that we do not agree in principle with the constitution?

Mr. Spring: We have always made it plain, as the Government originally did, that there is absolutely no need for a written constitution for the European Union. The Government advanced that view, but because they move along in the slipstream of others, they have now adopted a different view.

The Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt recently stated:

some tidying-up exercise! I am afraid that I have as little faith in the Government's red lines as I do in recent anonymous briefings saying that they might consider vetoing the treaty. Several red lines have been adjusted and redrawn in a different place, and the most blatant example of that is seen from the Government's original pledge that the charter of fundamental rights would not be legally binding even though that view was rejected at the time of Nice by the European Commission and others. We await the outcome of the IGC to find out which red lines will remain and in what form. Whatever one's point of view about the proposals, what is before us is undeniably of considerable constitutional importance. In that regard, we trust the people, so today I once again call on the British Government to do the same and hold a referendum, as so many of our European partners are doing.

The regrettable truth is that an outdated bloc mentality still permeates the European Union's policy-making and strategic mindset. That mindset carries with it resonances of the 1950s and a way of thinking that moved the founding fathers of the EU, but it is wholly irrelevant to the needs of the EU today. The Government's policy on the EU has been characterised by an almost total lack of influence or results. I invite one example—just one—of a specific component of the emerging structure of the EU that can be ascribed to British vision, focus and direction. The written constitution and the incorporation of the charter of fundamental rights are clear failures of British nerve and influence. The concepts were originally opposed but then accepted and we have always been carried along in the slipstream of others. By contrast, this Government would never have achieved the creation of the single market, the substantial rebate or the opt-out on the single currency.

On 26 November, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) wrote in The Times:

She went on to say:

I do not think I could have put it better myself.

It is also extraordinary that the Government have made absolutely no effort to return fisheries to national and local control at the IGC, because there was a golden

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opportunity to do so. It is absolutely clear that the common fisheries policy has failed and that British fishermen get an especially bad deal, and the fact that the British Government failed even to try to put the matter on the agenda is yet another example of their ineffectiveness in Europe. We, with a clearer idea of Britain's priorities in Europe, would have done so. We would have made the restoration of local and national control over our waters a red line, as we will in any future IGC when we are in government.

The Foreign Secretary dismissed the idea of shared competence in a way that did not accurately reflect reality. He knows that article 11 of the draft treaty says:

we are talking about shared competence—

That is a very different message from the idea of a competence of equals. It is absolutely nothing of the sort.

Nowhere has failure been more marked than in defence. To enter into a defence agreement with France and Germany that has absolutely nothing to do with enhancing defence capability is monumental folly. The arrangements agreed within NATO at Washington and Berlin make the widest pan-European defence co-operation possible without duplicating NATO structures. The decision has absolutely nothing to do with defence, and everything to do with politics. It undermines the very principle on which NATO was founded and which has guaranteed our security for more than 50 years.

It is argued that the EU planning cell is very small. Does anyone think that those who favour an independent EU defence capability coupled to a common foreign and defence structure will rest content? Of course not. The Times on 1 December reported the comment of Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel that

I would prefer to believe the sentiments—[Interruption.] We will pass the Foreign Secretary's comment on to the Belgian Foreign Minister, whose record of accuracy on what goes on in the EU is infinitely better than the right hon. Gentleman's.

There are those who have long-held and freely expressed views of Europe being a counterweight to the United States, and who resent the US-British special relationship. There are those in the US who regard with alarm diminishing defence expenditures in Europe and the lack of political will to spend on defence capabilities. They see Europe beginning to create structures outside NATO for exclusively political purposes. Those who take a negative view of European motives and attitudes sense justification for their viewpoint. They find it incredible that our Prime Minister, of all people, should have gone along with it.

Regrettably, the British Government have played into the hands of those people on both sides of Atlantic who favour disconnection. Let us never forget that, whether European or American, we hold to the same democratic values. The world is simply a better place when we work together. The Government's commitment to the separate EU defence identity is an

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act of monumental folly and will yield nothing for our magnificent and rightly admired armed forces.

When the history of this Government is written, their failure to make any real impact on the architecture of the EU will be a defining feature. Just as they completely misunderstood how to react when Europe was divided by the Berlin wall, they have failed to argue for a flexible EU with overlapping and interconnecting relationships, co-operating closely and extensively without the centralisation and harmonisation that so obsess those who systematically and successfully are pushing political union. Throughout, Britain has been a bit-part player, never setting out its stall in the lead-up to enlargement in the way that other European leaders have done so clearly and unequivocally. The account is one of a typically lost opportunity, a failure of influence and abdication of their responsibility to the British people.

3.58 pm

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): I should begin by apologising to the House for having to leave early. I have a routine medical appointment early tomorrow in Edinburgh, and in order to keep it I have to make sure that I get to Edinburgh later this evening.

The Secretary of State has been accustomed on these occasions, but not today, to saying that

In a sense, that theme has already started to run through this debate, because the final version of the document that will be put before the Heads of Government in Brussels this weekend is not available to us—indeed, it cannot be made available. I shall therefore stick to principles that on previous occasions I have enunciated to the House and which will guide my judgment and that of my right hon. and hon. Friends when we hear the outcome of the Brussels summit.

The first of those principles is that we, in common with the Prime Minister and his predecessor, believe that the United Kingdom should be at the heart of Europe. It is in the long-term interests of the United Kingdom to be a member of the single currency. One cannot escape a certain feeling of irony that the draft Bill on a referendum on the single currency should be published today, as nobody believes that it will be utilised before the next election. It is in the best interests of the European Union to have a treaty embodying a constitution that defines the respective powers of Brussels and the member states, and draws together the provisions of the treaty of Rome, the Single European Act, the treaty of Maastricht, the treaty of Amsterdam and the treaty of Nice.

If any Government propose to agree to a major shift in control or any transfer of significant powers from member states to European institutions, or to agree to any alteration in the existing balance between member states and those institutions, there should be a referendum of the British people. The draft treaty fulfils those criteria. As I have said on the four or five occasions when we have debated this matter in the past

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five or six months, there should be a referendum on the constitutional proposals that are likely to emerge from Brussels.

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