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Indeed, that was what Laeken was supposed to be about. The task was to reconnect institutions to people, to give them a sense of ownership again. Under Valery Giscard d'Estaing, it did precisely the opposite. Within the constitution it centralised powers, it altered fundamentally the relationship between the EU and its member states, and it moved from a Europe of nations towards something that is profoundly different. That is not what the peoples of Europe want, as we saw from the recent survey, nor what we want.
It is apparently what the Government want. If not, why the rush to seek to ratify any June agreement as soon as possible, which I think were the words of the Prime Minister? They have no mandate for this constitution. It was not in the Labour party's manifesto. We will use every parliamentary device to thwart attempts to railroad this wretched constitution through Parliament.
Sir Menzies Campbell: The right hon. and learned Gentleman has moved on rather from the point. I am finding great difficulty following his position with regard to the relationship between the domestic laws of the United Kingdom and what was Community and is now Union law. If Community and now Union law has supremacy over the domestic laws of the UK so far as is relevant, how can there be any material difference if that
Mr. Ancram: I know exactly where the right hon. and learned Gentleman is coming from. He has been very consistent on his views on Europe. The misunderstanding between us is that we are opposed to a constitution because a constitution changes the nature of Europe. The primacy of law that flows from a constitution rather than from treaties, which are signed by individual member states, is a different thing. That is why we are taking the view that we are.
Richard Younger-Ross: A moment ago the right hon. Gentleman told the House that the Conservative party wants to use every parliamentary opportunity to hold this process under scrutiny. Is this a change in policy, bearing in mind the number of times that the Committee considering the draft constitution fell and would be inquorate because Conservative Members did not bother to turn up?
Mr. Ancram: I will say again that if there is an attempt, in our view, to railroad the ratification of this constitution through Parliamentsome of the words that have been spoken over the past five days suggest that that is the Government's intentionI give warning that we will use every parliamentary device that we can to thwart that.
There is a simple, fair and democratic answer. That is a referendum that allows the British people to decide. This constitution irrevocably draws sovereignty away from the nation state towards the centre. I passionately believe that no Government and no parliament have the right permanently to alienate the sovereignty of the people without their express consent. That is why I believe that in the current situation a referendum is essential, and that to refuse one is to strike another nail into the coffin of democratic credibility.
I cannot understand the Government's reluctance to hold a referendum unless they are frightened of the result and are frightened of the electorate. They can have no objection in principle. They hold referendums on almost everything else. Can they not understand the resentment that their refusal to hold a referendum invokes? The British people are not to be trusted with such an important decision, we understand. The Danes are, the Irish are, the Dutch are and the Portuguese are. There will be many other countries that will have the courage and honesty to hold a referendum. Apparently the British will not be trusted. That is a patronising insult.
If ever there has been an issue where the people have the right to say yes or no, it must be this. The decisions that we are about to take are historic. They will help to shape the future and surely people in such an instance have the right to have a say.
The Government's overall position on the new draft constitutional treaty was clearly set out in the White Paper, which I put before Parliament on 9 September last year and which stands as Government policy. In making the case for the proposed amendment to the motion before the House, I want to answer four key questions. They are: why is a new treaty needed? What did the Convention recommend? What changes are the Government seeking to make to any treaty to make it acceptable to the UK? What is our approach to a referendum in those circumstances?
I shall deal first with the case for a new treaty. As the Union has grown in size, so its functions have developedmost significantly through the Single European Act, from a customs union to a single market, and through the Maastricht treaty, to take in common foreign and security policy, justice and home affairs, and the single currency. As a result, the texts setting out what the Union is for and how it works are both dated and complicated. Its decision-making machinery is inadequate to cope effectively with 25 and more members, developed as it was for six member states. The treaties that embody the EU's constitution do not explain clearly where the division of powers rests between the nations and the Union.
The result of the Convention's labours is to be found in the draft constitution, which I put before the House in August. It revises some of the text, and proposes other changes that are essentially aimed at improving decision making in the Union and in respect of some of its powers. Article I-1 of the draft makes it clear that the EU draws those powers from the member states, rather than the other way round. Article I-9 says clearly that
Article I-59 provides explicitlyalso for the first timefor member states to withdraw from the European Union, if they so decide. It is not the case, as the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) asserted a few moments ago, that if the draft constitutional treaty becomes our law and that of the EU, it will be any different a constitutional animal in terms of international or domestic law from the treaties that have gone before. It is exactly the same in every particular.
The draft treaty must be agreed in the same way by a process of political agreement, signature by member states, and then ratification by countries' domestic constitutional procedures. It must be changed in exactly the same way, with this difference: if a member state wishes to leave the EUas some Opposition Members wish to doa procedure allows them to avoid having to go through the rather complicated and uncertain procedure of renunciation of the whole treaty.
We set out in the White Paper our objectives for the intergovernmental conference. Far from trying to hide our position under some bushel, we have been explicit in debate after debate in the Chamber and in the Committees that we have established, in order that Parliament be fully involved in the process, as it should be.