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Mr. Ancram: That is centralising.

Mr. Straw: No, it is not. It will ensure greater power in the hands of member states against the overbearing power of the Commission. I believed that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would be in favour of it. The president will have no decision-making power. It is striking that only two groups are against the proposal—the Conservative party and the European Commission. That underlines the incoherence of the Conservative party's position. The proposal means that member states will remove power from the Commission. The right hon. and learned Gentleman should consider its merits instead of dismissing it in the pursuit of a myth about a European superstate.

Another claim that the peddlers of the superstate myth make is that the draft treaty massively extends majority voting. Let us consider the reality. The Single European Act of 1986 introduced majority voting for almost all matters to do with the single market. As Lord Heseltine told radio listeners last Saturday, that measure was

his words, not mine—

He added that "it never occurred to" Mrs. Thatcher "to have a referendum".

Mr. Ian Taylor: The Foreign Secretary is right that the Single European Act was the most significant step forward. It was agreed under a Conservative Government and, incidentally, supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), who voted for it. Before that Act was passed, was not it subject to scrutiny in the House of Commons? Is not that the best way in which to consider the detail of any constitutional treaty that might emerge after Dublin?

Mr. Straw: Let me make it clear that I am committed to the maximum scrutiny for any constitutional treaty. I say to hon. Members who may be worried about that that they do not have to look into the crystal ball, because they can examine the record. I have been complimented by hon. Members of all parties on the amount of scrutiny of the draft that has already been achieved. I only regret that the shadow Foreign Secretary has not bothered to turn up to one sitting of the Committee that considers the intergovernmental conference report.

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Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Will the Foreign Secretary acknowledge that many of us do not accept the doom-laden hyperbole, as he put it, and are sceptical of those fair-weather friends of referendums who allowed referendums on nothing while in government and now want referendums on everything in opposition? Nevertheless, we feel strongly that when there is a significant change to the relationship between the European Union and the people of this country, it should be with the informed consent of the people of this country, not simply through a vote in this House or in the Council of Ministers?

Mr. Straw: I respect the hon. Gentleman's position, as his and his party's position has been consistent, and it lies in his mouth, not in the mouth of the Conservative party.

Mr. Frank Field: I am grateful that my right hon. Friend says that he believes in as much detailed discussion as possible. Can he tell us how many times the Cabinet has considered this draft treaty in detail? Was it a Cabinet decision that we should not have a referendum?

Mr. Straw: We have considered it endlessly. The draft White Paper was crawled over by my right hon. Friends, on which I insisted, and I was responsible with officials for drafting it. I spent a large part of what was otherwise classified as a summer holiday working through its detailed text, as I regarded it as an extremely important document, and I also made sure that each of my Cabinet colleagues, who had responsibility for areas in it, knew exactly what they were signing up to. It has therefore been a Cabinet decision. I invite my right hon. Friend to come along—I cannot recall his assiduous attendance at various Committees and debates on the Floor of the House, but I look forward to it—to further considerations.

Mr. Field: On the issue of a referendum, was it a Cabinet decision?

Mr. Straw: It has been a Cabinet decision, of course.

Let me make some more progress. After the Single European Act, we had Maastricht. The shadow Foreign Secretary always tries to forget about Maastricht, and we know why. The Maastricht treaty introduced majority voting to fundamental areas of policy making: the Union's broad guidelines on economic policy; its excessive deficits procedure; education; public health; consumer protection; trans-European networks; overseas aid; and the implementation of decisions within the common foreign and security policy. This was a treaty that John Major proclaimed as

The Leader of the Opposition and most of the existing shadow Cabinet, including the shadow Foreign Secretary, trooped into the Lobby in support of Maastricht, proclaiming it as a great triumph of European diplomacy. The shadow Foreign Secretary made a wonderful speech in favour of Maastricht—he did not just skulk into the Lobby following the Whip—in which he was even moved to say:

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It is a complicated sentence, but essentially he was saying that on balance he was in favour of a superstate—which, let me say, I am not—rather than against it.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is adept at switching his position backwards and forwards. We have debated this issue a number of times. I recall—I am sure that he has forgotten—that back on 11 December 2002, I asked him to refresh the House's memory about whether he had voted on the Maastricht treaty itself and on the issue of a referendum? At column 307, I said:

The right hon. and learned Gentleman said:

That is very careful wording, because he may have been out of the House at the time of the treaty, but for sure he was in the House when it came to be considered. He was suffering from the most extraordinary amnesia, because I pressed him again and he said:

This was the key and critical issue facing the Conservative party, splitting it apart, and he could not remember whether he was in favour of or against a referendum, even though he had spoken against it.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw: No. It is important that the right hon. and learned Gentleman learn a bit from this. Finally, when I produced the voting list, which has his name on it, he owned up and pleaded guilty to having voted against a referendum on Maastricht. By God, it was difficult to get him to own up to the truth. The truth is that he has always been a closet pro-European. The reason he is so unconvincing today is that neither his heart nor his brain is in the task that he is having to undertake.

Mr. Ancram: The Foreign Secretary has accused me of being a closet pro-European. I wonder what he is. Let us look at his election address—not from 1983, when we know he had to be loyal, but from 1979. We were told:

Is that the Foreign Secretary's position today?

Mr. Straw: No, but it was my position then. I have been very straightforward about this. Moreover, I do not suffer from amnesia. I am perfectly willing and ready, and always have been, to explain the position that I took. After all, it was entirely public. I was active in the no campaign in 1975.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman needs to think about the position into which he is trying to push the Conservative party. He was appalling, even by his own standards, when answering questions put by his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe

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(Mr. Clarke). What his right hon. and learned Friend was asking—and what will be asked right up to the election and throughout it—is, "What is the Conservative party's policy in respect of the European Union?"

We know what the Conservative party's policy is in respect of this draft treaty, but let us say that for some reason it did not become European law. That is perfectly possible, although I do not know what the odds are. Let us say that we were left with the existing treaties—the treaty of Rome, the Single European Act, Maastricht, Nice and Amsterdam. Would the Conservatives accept them or not? Most of what they are objecting to today is not in the new constitutional treaty. Most of the provisions to which they object so violently were negotiated by them in 1972.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman starts rabbiting on to me about the clause relating to mutual solidarity and loyalty. That is a lift from article 11 of the Maastricht treaty, which states:

The right hon. and learned Gentleman signed up to that. Is he going to tell the country that he will tear all that up? What process will he employ? How will he deliver on a promise that is easy to make but impossible to fulfil, on the common fisheries policy? He will certainly not deliver on it if he tears up this constitution. The right hon. and learned Gentleman does not have an answer to that.

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